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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
Many chapters contain brutal violence.

The Mantis Equilibrium - Book Two - 17. Chapter 17 - Auntie Peg

The return of our beloved drag queen!

The winter sun was already ducking behind the jagged horizon of the inland mountains, when Auntie Peg heard a knock on the door to the front of her shop. She often locked up early during the shorter days of the cold season, and there was an event in the evening that she was looking forward to attending. She stepped out from behind her counter, approached the door, and she saw Tchama’s smiling face through the window.

Auntie Peg opened the door and the young woman asked, “What does all secondhand mean?”

Below the sign for Peggy’s Potions, those two words were painted in yellow.

All secondhand means,” Auntie Peg explained, “I purchase the potion-making products in my shop for a considerable discount, because I get them from other healers or mystics who are going out of business, or shops that have already closed. Down the street, a Demifae man died this week, and I’ve got six boxes of his unused ingredients in the back that I will be putting out on display around the shop over the next day or two.”

Auntie Peg continued. “What all secondhand means is that no Shift died by my hands in order to procure all of these really quiet miraculous ingredients that we use these days for healing. Unfortunately, it’s true that everything in my shop has been charmed by a mantis gland at some point or other,” she explained, “but all of these ingredients would have just been thrown away, and they are still very beneficial to us. So I collect them and try to make sure the life of the Shift that was lost in order to create these magical ingredients, was not in vain. Now,” Auntie Peg concluded, “what can I do for you this evening, my dear?”

Tchama was beaming as she stepped in the door and closed it behind her. “You have to meet Ninyani! He’s staying with Lahari and her dads.”

“Well, that’s very exciting,” Auntie Peg replied. “I look forward to meeting him someday. Is there something else you need from me right now? I’m headed out to a fundraiser, and I’d really like to get there early.”

“Yeah, okay, erm,” Tchama said, furrowing her brow and making a concerned expression, “I don’t mean to assume, but I wanted to tell you; I think Ninyani is like you.”

Auntie Peg looked intrigued. “Tell me more.”

“I guess the long and short of it,” Tchama stumbled over her words, “is, erm, I mean, so…” She gathered her thoughts. “Okay, a bunch of us traveled north to Bluewood, and Ilya saw smoke on the horizon, so she flew towards it and found Ninyani. He’s just a young boy, but he ended up borrowing a bunch of clothes, in particular, from us girls.”

“How marvelous!” Auntie Peg declared. “I know something about being a boy who likes girls’ clothes,” she said with a grin. Then she paused with a contemplative expression. “Actually, were you hoping I would meet him now? He might really enjoy and benefit from going to the show with me tonight, and you are more than welcome to join me, as well.”

Auntie Peg continued in a pleasant tone. “Also, I understand why you told me and are excited for me to meet him, but it’s not really someone else’s place to make major declarations about another person’s personal feelings and experience. Especially since he’s young, this may be the first time he’s experimented. I am excited to meet him, and I look forward to getting to know the person he grows into.”

Tchama looked appalled. “I didn’t mean to tell you a secret of his!”

Auntie Peg interrupted her. “No, no, it’s okay. This type of thing is a learning experience,” she explained. “You will meet people in the future who seem a certain way to you, but your perception may not be congruent with how they see themselves, or who they are on the inside. It’s very normal for us to assume and make judgments about other people. What’s difficult,” Auntie Peg said, smiling at Tchama and putting her very large hand on the young woman’s shoulder, “is not assuming, allowing people to open up on their own.”

“I’m sorry,” Tchama said in a pleading tone.

“My dear,” Auntie Peg replied in a calm voice, “you have nothing about which to be sorry. Why don’t you lead the way and bring me to him? And please, tell me his name again.”

“Ninyani,” Tchama replied. “Oh yeah,” she added, “and I really, really don’t mean to out him in a different way, but I think it’s important you know that he’s a Shift.”

“Ah, it makes sense that he’s staying in Shifton with the boys.” She waved her hand towards the door to her shop. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the mystic wants to join us tonight at the event, as well,” Auntie Peg added. “Shall we head out?”

The two exited and locked the shop behind them. Before long they were passing under the shadow of the Messiah temple, and after several more blocks, they reached the entrance to Gate Town.

“The venue is not far down that street,” Auntie Peg commented. She pointed at a crossroad as they passed it.

“What’s the fundraiser for?” Ilya asked.

“The hosts are trying to raise money in support of the people who were most affected by the attack on Gate Town. They are also trying to bolster peoples’ spirits.” Auntie Peg sighed. “Last I heard, the death toll from the attack was up to 37, and who knows how many were injured.”

“Messiahs shouldn’t be allowed to live in the city,” Ilya declared.

“Don’t let the wrong people hear you say that,” Auntie Peg warned. “We’re almost there.”

After a little farther, they entered Shifton.

The sky was darkening and the air was brisk.

Tchama pulled her jacket tight as they approached the house.

Auntie Peg knocked on the door, and a moment later, Theolan opened it.

“Why, hello, lovely ladies! Please, come in!” He stepped back and bowed as they entered. “To what do we owe this unexpected delight?” he asked.

Auntie Peg leaned towards him and they gave each other air kisses. Then she said, “I hear you’ve got a new friend staying at the house, and I would love to meet them!”

The mystic and Ninyani came out from the back room.

Lahari’s voice called from upstairs. “Who’s here?”

Her father hollered back up to her, “It’s Peggy!”

Auntie Peg turned towards the stairs and said in a bright voice. “Hey, gurl!”

Hey, gurl!” Larhari repeated back down to her.

Auntie Peg then reached out her hand to Ninyani, and he took it. “Hello, there,” she said to him. “It is so delightful to meet you. I’m sorry, Tchama has told me your name already, but would you please remind me of it?”

The boy was starstruck. He stared up at Auntie Peg’s large bouffant, her dramatic makeup, the billowing and cinched gown she was wearing. “Ninyani,” he gasped in awe.

“Ninyani,” Auntie Peg dutifully repeated, “that is a beautiful name! You can call me Auntie Peg or Peggy.” As Auntie Peg released his hand, she reached out and caressed the frilly pink and yellow scarf that was still wrapped around his neck. “And that is just lovely,” she cooed.

The boy’s face lit up.

“Tchama gave it to me,” he declared.

“Well, I think it looks stunning on you!” Auntie Peg turned to the mystic and his husband. “I’m headed over to the Shady Lady, and I think our new little friend here would enjoy it. Do either of you have any interest in coming along?”

The mystic perked up and turned to his husband. “You don’t mind if I tag along with them, do you, my dear?”

Theolan smiled from ear to ear. “I know how much you love a good show,” he replied.

“Theolan, why don’t you come, too,” Auntie Peg recommended.

“Oh, thank you,” he replied with a grin, “but I’m very happy staying home with a good book. Maybe Lahari and I will play cards or do some cooking.”

The mystic gave his husband a peck on the cheek and turned to Auntie Peg. “Peggy, let me change, and I’ll be ready to go.” He disappeared upstairs.

Auntie Peg looked back at Ninyani. “Would you like to tell me a little bit more about yourself?” she asked.

The two sat together, and he shared with her about his life and answered some of Auntie Peg’s questions. A few minutes later, the mystic was in a different outfit that was brightly colored indeed.

“Ready!” he declared.

“I haven’t even asked you yet,” Auntie Peg said to Ninyani. “Would you like to join us and see a performance?”

He gave her an excited nod. “Will there be dancing?”

Auntie Peg stood, raised one hand above her head, and snapped her fingers. “There better be dancing!” she declared with a laugh.

Ninyani broke out with a beaming smile.

Auntie Peg led him, the mystic, and Tchama back out into the cold evening.

The streets were still busy and bustled with people, and after only a moment, they left the Shifton neighborhood.

Auntie Peg turned them down a side street towards a large crowd that was gathered not far ahead.

“Almost there,” she informed the others with a smile. She looked down at Ninyani.

His eyes were wide and his mouth was agape with wonder.

“They’re a fancy bunch, aren’t they?” Auntie Peg asked him.

He looked up at her in amazement.

The crowd ahead was exuberant. People were cheering and chanting and cackling with glee. A few people were indeed dancing, right in the street. Music was coming from one of the nearby buildings.

Despite everything Ninyani was seeing, he could not take his eyes off the dancers. There were three of them in continuous movement, but their enthusiasm made others temporarily join in before the dancers moved on to other partners. They danced in ways Ninyani had never seen before. The three swerved and dipped and leapt through the air. They dropped and popped and bounced and bumped.

The formulaic and ritualistic dancing in Frostflower seemed rigid compared to the fluid and free movements of the dancers. One of them approached a group of several men, and all of them suddenly began dancing, as well!

Ninyani burst out with a delighted laugh, but then he covered his face with one dainty hand and blushed at himself.

The larger group dance lasted only a few moments, before they again returned to standing.

Ninyani’s eyes lingered on them, even as the other dancers continued. The boy was suddenly taken aback by what he realized he was seeing, the costumes, oh, the costumes!

Massive teased wigs donned people’s heads. Glittering gowns flowed from bodies. Exaggerated makeup and gaudy jewelry decorated many of the gathered folk. Ninyani’s eyes moved over the diverse variety of fashion. There were sequins and animal print and ruffles; there was lace and leather and silk and satin.

“Gobsmacked, are we?” Auntie Peg asked with a knowing and playful smirk. She paused at the edge of the crowd, took a compact out of her purse, and she opened it.

Ninyani watched her check herself in the mirror.

“A face dusted to perfection!” she proclaimed. “Should we give you a little something?” Without waiting for his reply, she offered, “How about a little gloss for your lips? Or maybe a touch of eye shadow or blush?”

Ninyani looked confused.

Auntie Peg smiled at him, then she grabbed the hand of someone in the crowd.

A mustachioed individual turned, beamed at her with recognition, and exclaimed, “Peggy!” The person wrapped her in a tight hug.

She laughed and replied, “I’d like you to meet our new friend, Ninyani.” Auntie Peg released the embrace and turned towards the boy.

He looked up at the other person. They were wearing a dress and lots of makeup. However, a large handlebar mustache also graced their upper lip.

“Wow,” Ninyani whispered, and Auntie Peg’s friend gave the child a toothy smile.

“You can call me,” she said in a deep voice, “Miss Cleopatra.” She stroked her mustache.

“You’re so pretty!” Ninyani replied.

Miss Cleopatra guffawed. “I should hope so!” she declared. “Look at all the time and effort that I put into me,” and she struck a pose.

Ninyani giggled, and for a moment, some of the people behind Miss Cleopatra applauded for her and Tchama joined in with them.

“I was just offering Ninyani some makeup,” Auntie Peg commented to Miss Cleopatra.

The mustachioed woman moved again and the cheering died. She pulled an exaggerated look of surprise and proclaimed, “Of course, he wants some makeup! Let’s beat that mug until it’s sickening! Do you have any spare sparkles? The boy should be dripping in eleganza!”

Auntie Peg knelt beside the small boy and pointed up at Miss Cleopatra. “Would you like some lipstick, like her? Eye shadow? Blush?” she added.

Ninyani’s eyes glittered with delight, and all he could do was nod yes.

“Thank you, Miss Cleopatra,” Auntie Peg said.

She gave them an elegant curtsy and turned back to the crowd.

Auntie Peg reached into her purse and pulled out a case with three lipsticks in it. “How about just a touch of shimmer?” she offered. “You can go red, like Miss Cleopatra there, or if you’d prefer something subtler, I’ve got it soft pink. However, if you’re in the mood for something crazy, I also have a stick of green lipstick!”

The boy looked like he could barely comprehend what he was being offered.

“Let’s go for the soft pink,” Auntie Peg suggested, “and see how you feel.” She popped the cap and said, “Pucker your lips a little, like this.” She demonstrated.

The boy followed her instruction, and she spread of thin layer of gloss across his bottom lip.

“Now, rub them together like this,” she added, and she showed him again. Then Auntie Peg turned her compact towards Ninyani, and the boy saw himself in the mirror.

He stopped breathing.

“I agree,” Auntie Peg said with a grin, as if reading his thoughts. “That looks just lovely! Why don’t we go inside and see what all of this commotion is about?” She shot him a mischievous grin. “You’re in for a treat, my new friend. And I think you look marvelous just like that! Let’s head in.”

Ninyani and Tchama followed Auntie Peg into the club.

The mystic was laughing with a group of people, and he remained outside in the street.

Ninyani tugged on Auntie Peg’s sleeve and she looked down at him.

“Why did Miss Cleopatra say to beat me and make me sick?”

“Didn’t you see yourself in the mirror?” Auntie Peg asked with a smirk. “You are sickeningly gorgeous! That’s what she was saying,” and she smiled at him.

The place was packed and Auntie Peg pushed through the thick crowd and made her way over toward the bar. A few people greeted her by name and a couple of folks gave her air kisses on either cheek.

An inebriated character with a bright pink wig that was rather askew was yammering loudly over people at the bar.

“Mrs. Venus,” Auntie Peg said to her, “you’re getting a little sloppy. Time for Madame Petunia to take you home.”

Auntie Peg hoisted Mrs. Venus from her seat, and despite mumbling protests from Madame Petunia, Auntie Peg convinced her to take Mrs. Venus away. She then reached down to Ninyani, put her hands under his arms, and hoisted the boy off of the floor. She planted his feet on the chair where Mrs. Venus was just sitting.

Ninyani looked at Mrs. Venus and Madame Petunia with a bemused expression, then he turned to Auntie Peg. He asked her, “Is Mrs. Venus a man?”

Auntie Peg burst out laughing. “Honey,” she said to him in a pandering tone, and her voice dropped an octave as she replied, “most of us are.” She gave the boy a beaming smile. Her voice returned to its normal timbre. “Mrs. Venus, Madame Petunia, Miss Cleopatra with her luxuriant mustache, and even yours truly are all queens! Underneath all of this fabulousness,” and Auntie Peg waved her hands in front of herself, “there is indeed a boy hiding, but when I am all done up, I’m only Auntie Peg. I am exactly who I am supposed to be.” She could see the wonder in Ninyani. “And don’t you worry, you’ll figure out who you’re supposed to be also, my young friend.”

Ninyani looked like he suddenly felt alive for the first time in his life.

Movement caught his eye, and he carefully turned on his perch; Auntie Peg placed her palm against his back to help keep him steady.

The hall that they were in was large. At the opposite end from the bar was a stage with a catwalk that extended out into the middle of the crowd. The sight that greeted Ninyani surprised and delighted him.

Two women were strutting across the stage. Both were in high heels. One was dressed in sheer lingerie that hugged her body, and a sparkling tiara was on her head. The other was only wearing a black thong and a very short jacket with a collar of thick white fur. The coat only came partway down the model’s ribs, and her stomach, low back, and legs were bare.

The two women’s sexy clothing and exposed bodies neither aroused Ninyani, nor made him feel uncomfortable. Instead, he simply gazed in awe at their beauty. The spiked platform heels they both wore were tall, and the fancy footwear added to their impressive height. They towered over the cheering audience.

Music was playing, but it was almost drowned by the noises of the onlookers. Their praise for the pair of parading divas was overwhelming, and Ninyani could not help it, and he surprised himself when he cheered aloud. He brought both his little hands up and covered his mouth again in embarrassment.

Auntie Peg was looking up at him with a wide smile, and she suddenly let out a whooping cheer for the women on stage. She leaned towards Ninyani and said, “The one with the skimpy jacket is my brother. Her name is Dame Angelica. She’s not my biological brother, but when I first came here to Teshon City, she was the man who gave me a place to stay and helped me find the Auntie Peg who lives within me.”

Ninyani asked again, “That’s a man?”

Queen,” Auntie Peg corrected gently. “It sort of doesn’t matter what’s underneath,” she explained, “but anyone can be a queen. When he’s not Dame Angelica, he just uses his regular name, but all dressed up, she’s a queen! However, for the other woman up there with the see-through bodysuit, it’s a little different. Her name’s Zular, and she lives her entire life as a woman. Whether she’s in costume and dressed up for a performance, or she’s just going to the market for apples, she is always Zular.”

“I don’t understand,” Ninyani said. “Does your brother not go to the store as Dame Angelica?”

“Very rarely,” Auntie Peg replied, “usually she just goes as her basic self. However,” and she pointed at the stage, “Zular is always Zular.”

Ninyani scrunched up his face in concentration and asked, “Does that mean Zular used to be somebody else before she became Zular?”

Auntie Peg beamed at him. “That is an interesting question, but the answer is hers to tell. Maybe you’ll get the opportunity to ask her someday. Zular is exactly who she is supposed to be. She’s exactly who she wants to be, and anyone can do that. I am who I am supposed to be, even though I was born and raised to be very different than this,” and Auntie Peg again brought her hands up the length of her body. She then framed her face and struck a dramatic pose for Ninyani.

He laughed at her display.

Then the music stopped, and the two women on the stage bowed and strutted off it. Another song began. The curtain opened, and the master of ceremonies stepped out on the riser.

Ninyani’s mind tried to describe the character in terms that he understood, and he thought to himself that he was looking at a man, but the fellow was in even higher heels than the two women who just left the stage. He was also wearing fitted leggings that were striped in multiple shades of pink, with a matching pink bra, and no shirt. His chest was very hairy.

A frizzy green wig was on the man’s head, and despite several strong head-swishes, it did not move. His makeup looked less intentional than some of the other folks at the fundraiser, and instead, more like he just slapped himself in the face with a handful of glitter. He absolutely sparkled. The man looked older than Auntie Peg or the mystic, but he pranced around the stage with youthful enthusiasm.

The onlookers hollered and whistled and cheered for him.

“What did you think of that, then?” he asked the crowd, and they roared their approval and appreciation for the performers. “Stunning!” he continued. “They’re stunning! Our ladies are downright pummeling the catwalk tonight, and I am alive because of it! Give me life. Give it to me, now!”

The audience screamed.

“Up next,” he declared, “our three models will be judged on their coiffeurs, on their…” he paused and took a dramatic breath, “hair to the ceiling!

The crowd erupted and re-doubled its cheering, as the first woman walked onto the stage. She was in a corset and skirt that puffed out from her hips. Her legs were long, and her heels were high, but her hair was the main attraction. The blond wig that sat atop her head crowned her in an immense halo of gold. The hair stretched out to the sides wider than her shoulders, and it reached up above her head just as tall. It looked like a lion’s mane, and when she turned her head, the wig moved with her.

Ninyani burst out laughing with delight from up on his chair, but then his jaw dropped as the second woman stepped out. Her hair was styled in rigid spikes that protruded in all directions from her head, but the spaces in between were completely bald.

“That is quite a wig,” Auntie Peg commented to Ninyani. “Can’t imagine how long it took to style.”

The final performer stepped out onto the stage in multicolored locks that flowed all the way down to her ankles. She was skinny and tall, and her rainbow hair swept like a cape behind her.

“Stomp that stage!” Auntie Peg called out to the performers.

“Yeah!” Ninyani agreed, unsure what he should yell.

Auntie Peg was delighted that the boy felt comfortable. She leaned over the bar and held up to fingers to the person behind it. A moment later, a pair of bright red beverages was placed before her.

“Here you go,” she said to Ninyani. “Give that a sip. It’s sun-cherry juice.” She took a swig and smacked her lips at him.


While all the patrons at the Shady Lady were enjoying the fundraiser festivities, clear across Teshon city, a massive building ruptured and collapsed to the bedrock of the peninsula

Who doesn't love Auntie Peg? ❤️
Copyright © 2023 Adam Andrews Johnson; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for sticking with my crazy story!
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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  • Site Moderator

Ninyani has gone to what must be for him Wonderland.

It's hard to contemplate casually walking past the Messiah's Tower, especially after their recent attack. I wonder if it's the target.

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Whay an outrageous, glamourous, outsized, fun time, Auntie Peg introduced Ninyani to a new world or drag queens, colorful clothing, makeup, dancing and new types of joy. Ninyani was in heaven and unleashed and free. It was a festival of delight and expression with new insights. No discouraging word was spoken of thought.

But. elsewhere a huge building collapsed. Were many killed? Wil more retribution result? Like drpaladin, I wonder if the half-destroyed Messiah Tower was finally collapsed. The Messiahs will be out to kill more shifts soon. The shifts will need to be prepared for a major attack. 

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Such a joyous night with this group; sad that tragedy struck elsewhere.

I am so glad that Tchama was able to catch Auntie Peg and get her to meet Ninyani.  And for Ninyani to be exposed to this wonderful world and allow it to help him blossom is wonderful.

I hope that Ninyani gets to enjoy this; even if just for the night.  To live a life of denial and then to have something this fabulous open before you is truly life changing.

A truly wonderful chapter.

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I hope that everyone at the show remains safe and gets home safely...

We do not know who was impacted by the events alluded to in the last two chapters, I suspect the aftermath will not be pleasant...

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