She has been waiting for you a long time, fingers stained blue-black with nicotine and blood vessels, cheeks scraped raw and painted over, again and again. She has waited there by the doorway, in the sunlight, the edge of a glass(more) hovering at her lips, waiting for you to sit down.
"Are you a friend?" you ask in a small voice, hesitant, unwilling.
"Yeah," she says, and coughs, and you feel like you have opened the door of your childhood home only to find that all the air has been replaced with watered-down whiskey - sweet as milk, dead as coffee creamer. (less)
I slammed open the door and was almost immediately blasted away by a wave of sterilized, icy-chrome air conditioning. The apartment was nothing short of what I'd expect from him - sleek and lavish, fresh ice in the refrigerator, televisions whirring away to the tune of at least four(more) natural disasters.
He was sitting by the window, smirk painted on as if he had expected my arrival. Indeed, when he looked up, he didn't look surprised. He looked rather like he did when he showed up halfway through my stunt at making the Heisenburg Globe disappear, and promptly left, taking the entire Arboretum with him.
"Henrik," I said. "I thought you were crazy, but this is just plain ridiculous."
"Patience, grasshopper," he purred, crossing one satin-encased leg over the other. "Maybe someday you'll understand the work of the true masters."
I grabbed him by the padded shoulder and yanked him upright. I wasn't going to deal with his self-absorbed nonsense today. "Henrik, the stunts were fun. The rivalry, who can make the bigger thing disappear. And yes, the Pythagoras thing was pretty impressive, I'll admit." I took a shaky breath, trying to sound more assertive than I felt. "But this is just... mad."
Henrik brushed an invisible speck of dust from his collar. "Oh, good. I thought you were going to say 'impossible.' There may be a spark of hope left in you, Casper."
"You can't disappear the entire damn universe!" I yelled. I stared him in the face, trying to see the madness behind the man, trying to wonder what could drive someone to such a ridiculous and terrible feat. He was going to hurt himself.
He stared me right back down.
"I want what I want," Henrik said softly. "And there's nothing you can do to stop me." (less)
He's been out there, fishing, for as long as you can remember.
You don't know how old he is or what he puts in the pasty little pail at his side, because his eyes are always downcast, and his breath always smells of briny sardines. But you hear(more) him reeling, day after day, at six-o-clock sharp without fail.
As far as you know, he's never caught anything.
You think sometimes that the fisherman must be the ghost of the lagoon, brought back to search endlessly for his murdered body, buried deep beneath the layers of grime and filth. That story doesn't make for a good one without any proof, so you sometimes just call him a traveler, and stare off sadly into the distance as if he were a long-lost lover. People pay attention to you then, and they murmur about how deep and mysterious you are, the girl who knows the story behind the little old fisherman at the lake.
But in your heart, you know he's a ghost, because a traveler would never stay here for so long.
December thirty-first comes and there is a small announcement in the local paper, noting the death of one Mr. Henry Branislaw. The next day the fisherman doesn't come - or the day after that. Now when people ask you where he went you give them a sad little smile and say he moved on, but in truth, you have no idea. Maybe he found his body. Maybe he gave up.
Alice's first impression upon entering the room is, Oh my god, I've died and gone to Starfleet.
The workshop is white and chrome, and blanketed overhead by a wall of glass-encased blackness. She is certain that if not for the tiny, hovering droids swirling annoyingly around her an(more)d dragging strange objects to and fro, she could spend hours staring up and counting the constellations.
"Finally, you're here!" calls a voice from across the room, and Alice has to take a moment to identify who's speaking. The man in question is completely upside-down, and despite his ruddy face she can see that he is very pleased to be standing casually upon the ceiling.
"Hover-boots!" he grabs a pair from a passing droid and tosses them to Alice. They're heavier than she expected, but she catches them. "Wonderful inventions, if I do say so myself. Got the idea from an old Looney Toons cartoon. So what's your resume?"
Alice stares at him. "I'm Alice. Who are you?"
The man yanks his foot off the ceiling and promptly flips upside down, landing not altogether gracefully on a mountain of papers. Looking sheepish, he stands up and dusts himself off. He's in his thirties and he's got a messy head of black hair under some kind of tinfoil helmet.
"Johann Henry Morrison the third," he announces. "Everybody calls me Snow, though."
"No idea," says Snow happily. "Well, are you gonna try those boots on or not? You are my new apprentice, aren't you?"
Bemused, Alice slips the shoes on. Without warning, she flips on her head and crash-lands unceremoniously into the ceiling. She looks down - er, up - at the immense blackness behind the glass and feels nauseated.
Snow just laughs. Alice is beginning to have second thoughts about this internship. (less)
"Andy, you're gonna get yourself killed if you keep doing this."
"Yeah, so's your mom."
"Real mature," Ingrid groaned, slumping down at the dingy table with a pronounced sigh. "What are you, six?"
Andy traced the lines of somebody's initials in the wood musingly. "No, I'm(more) serious. Mom's going crazy lookin' for us, you know. I gotta do something to get her off our tail."
"You act like she's the cops or something!" Ingrid threw up her hands. "This isn't funny, Andy! You're doin' what you gotta do, yeah, I get that. But she has a right to know, too."
He glared up at her. "I came to you for a reason. So you wouldn't ask me any questions."
"Yeah, well, you picked the wrong person for that, didn't you?" she huffed, slapping her hand on the table and pushing herself upright. "I'm your sister, and I'll protect you no matter what. But Mom knows I'm with you, and she's not the only one. They're coming after us, Andrew."
"So we'll get them first."
Ingrid snorted. "Big words from a guy with half his face torn up." Ignoring his scowl, she tossed him another cold compress and a bottle of painkiller. "You're getting too old for this crap."
"San Francisco," I said unnecessarily. I remember it felt unnecessary because of the way he looked at me, like I'd just told him the sky was blue.
He said, "I see."
We sat and watched the trains clatter by for a while, and all the people rushing about as if their lives depended on it. The station was always dirty - a grainy, oily kind of grime, like a giant had sneezed and not quite wiped the creases between his fingers. I found myself coming here a lot.
"You see that train over there?" The man beside me said, gesturing to a crooked little caboose with halfhearted graffiti scrawled down its side. "It went off the rails six years ago. They never bothered to fix it up."
"Why don't they get rid of it?"
He shrugged. "Sentiment?"
I felt the rusted screws beneath me rattle in anticipation, and a trickle of oily steam dragged itself into the station. Meandering behind it was a train, flashing "FINAL DESTINATION: TOLEDO" in vivid red.
The man picked up his suitcase and went to stand beside the tracks. I remember marveling at how very small he looked all of a sudden. But I suppose it does that to you, standing by the rails like that, as if you were one step forward or one step away from anything at all.
"See you around," I called to him, as he climbed aboard the train.