Quiddlopolis, Part 2

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by Coranna Howard in Fiction
Frame: railyard.

Piles of strewn railroad ties and a confusing layout of railways pierce the foggy fringes of the yard. The ground is covered in large, dark gray gravel, illuminated by several bright, elevated lights and blinking orange signal lights along the center track. This lighting and the blowing wind render strange shadows from flapping tarps. A slow, punctuating metallic creak sets the background.

Amer is leaning against a stack of rail segments, holding his hoodie over-shoulder, looking at the ground. He is Middle Eastern and stands 182cm, with muted blue-and-gold eyes. His face is lightly tanned, narrow, and textured by thin black stubble along his jaw, chin, and around his lips, with a sharp jawline, long nose, and short black hair. He is wearing a long, dark gray overshirt and dark khaki pants. An empty bottle sits next to him.

The rear of a train slowly rolls into the center of the railyard, butted by a caboose, followed by an indiscernible number of cars. The caboose's coat is dark blue with a red stripe running horizontally across the body. White lettering above the red stripe reads “RCR” and “1104”.

The train creaks to a halt and a door opens at the rear of the caboose.

Frame: apartment.

The science balloon™ is lying on the ground with little pockets of helium here and there. The room is lit in a natural sunny hue by a lamp next to the couch. Muffled music of various dispositions and fake television laughter from about the building are melded together into a weird neo-genre Amer calls “avant moderne”. (Merla often chastises him for his French.)

Merla is sitting on the couch and tapping away at her cell. She is wearing a loose, hip-length heather gray cotton T-shirt emblazoned blue-on-white with “But have you tried The Internet? No? Don't!”, and form-fitting pink-on-white striped hipster panties. Her damp, dark brown, shoulder-length hair is pulled around and brushing her right shoulder in a messy bunch of strands. Her light green eyes reflect a small bluish white rectangle from her cell screen.

She locks her cell, places it on the table next to the couch, and begins to ponder the short, sad life of the science balloon™. Balloons should have a union, she sleepily decides, to protect their right to a somewhat longer (though possibly sadder) life as uniquely peculiar party decorations. Mr. Duckster squeak-quacks in agreement, completely of his own volition.

*yaaaawn*

Merla turns off the lamp.

Her headache has gone down somewhat since the shower, but it's still throbbing rather painfully. She grabs a blanket from the other side of the couch, poofs up a pillow, and attempts to sleep. On the couch. Y'know, because couches have exceptional restorative powers.

Her breathing slows and deepens.

Frame: convenience store.

“QUICK MART” in bold, white Arial (…yep!) crowns the front of the building. A neon sign on the window reads “24/7”. Low pop music and the hum of refrigerators play in the background. A streetlight illuminates a boring swath of the sidewalk outside the store. Its marginally-perceptible, high-frequency flicker suggests a grating buzz. A thick fog envelops the quiet vicinity, though a railroad-crossing sign is visible just beyond the streetlight.

A young woman is sitting on a hard, wooden stool behind the counter, quietly reading with hazel eyes from near the end of a red, worn hardback book, which she is holding on her lap. She is wearing black, narrow-frame glasses, thin black cotton sweatpants, and a heather gray, tight-fitting hoodie zipped to brow-level, emblazoned with “RU” in a red-on-white collegiate font. She is short and fit, with light skin, messy chin-length brown hair, and bowed eyebrow-level bangs.

The young woman turns a page in the red book.

The door bell chimes as the door opens. An old man walks in wearing a dark green beanie, a dirty, patched light brown jacket, and two or so layers of pants, the top being dulled dark blue polyester windbreakers. He is muttering something or other and moving with a bit of a jitter. The door bell chimes as the door closes.

The young woman looks up at the muttering old man and analyzes his threat level, considering different aspects of his figure and behavior.

She keeps a glancing eye on the unlikely patron and returns to the red book as the muttering old man looks around and grumbles at random items on the shelves.

The door bell chimes as the door opens. The muttering old man stumbles through the door, pushing it with the left side of his body. The door bell chimes as the door closes.

The young woman leans slightly forward and looks over the counter to examine the area where the muttering old man walked and the door he touched.

She sits back and pushes up her glasses before returning to the red book.

A short-haired white cat with blue eyes and a misshapen right ear hops up to the young woman's lap. She raises the red book to eyebrow-level in front of her, still reading as the purring white cat rubs its cheeks against her elbows. White lettering along the spine of the red book reads:

Les —
Passages

The young woman closes the red book.

Frame: restaurant.

Samantha and Dezora are sitting at a dining table. Apart from the two, the place is vacant. Samantha stirring ice in her cup and the whirr of the air conditioning are all to hear.

Samantha's curly highlighted brown hair is wrangled into a small, poofy tail. She is African-European and about 169cm tall, with smooth, medium brown complexion. Her face is round and narrows towards her chin, with dashed freckles across her nose and beneath her brown eyes. She is wearing a long ochre sweater that extends to her hips, a wide-pleated black-on-white polka dot skirt extending to just cover her knees, and thin, thigh-high black socks under black low-top sneakers with white laces. A colored penguin pendant is strung around her neck by a thin, silver metal chain. A gray-and-white wide-striped scarf is on the seat to her left.

Dezora is sitting to the right of Samantha, peering down and drawing on a sketchbook on her lap. She is distinctly Asian and around 175cm tall, with soft round cheeks, dark brown eyes, and chin-level black hair. A small brown mole sits next to her left eye, sometimes visible under the hair laid across the mid of her forehead to her left ear. The hair on the front-right and right side of her face comes down and back, stopping just past the jawline, making a curved, Λ-shaped section of forehead visible above her right eye. Some of her hair strays in other directions towards the back of her head, but the majority is folded up & down and pinned at the back, making a narrow loop. She is wearing a loose, low-cut, black tank top over a thick teal camisole, black cropped jeans, teal-and-red diamond on mid-gray shin-high socks, and red, paint-speckled, short-top Converse with teal laces. A small silver earing pierces her left earlobe.

“How's Merla?” inquires Dezora.

Samantha locks her phone and slides it away to arm's length.

“No good. She just said she's gonna try to sleep it off.”

“Oh, too bad.”

“Hey, do you remember that junior girl back in high-school who went completely psychotic during gym class?” (rubbing eyes).

“… Sorta-kinda. Why?” (looking up from from her sketchbook).

“I dunno. The subway thing reminded of someone or something. I think it was her” (placing her elbows on the table and looking to Dezora).

“I don't remember it that well.”

“It's eerie.. something familiar. … Merla would have a phrase for this sense” (looking down, holding & stretching her neck)

“Déjà vu” (now looking out the front windows).

“Aaaai guess.”

“No no, I mean I'm having déjà vu.”

Dezora places her sketchbook and drawing implements on the table and hastily slide-hops out the right side. She quickly walks out the front door and makes a few steps before crouching and holding out her hand to something dark & partially obscured by reflected light from the windows.

Samantha slides out the left side of the table and walks out to see what Dezora is doing.

Dezora is holding her left hand out to a short-haired black cat with green eyes, who is sniffing her fingers. Dezora scratches the black cat's head and cheeks, but it's still interested in sniffing.

“Look Sam, I found a kitty.”

“Awww” (squatting to reach the black cat with her right arm).

The black cat had begun to rub against Dezora's hand, but is now more interested in sniffing Samantha's hand. And her shoes. And her socks. And her skirt.

“He's onto you, Sam.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Whoa, check out his ear.”

“Yeah, that's weird.”

The black cat has accepted the existence of Samantha and is now weaving between Dezora's hands and Samantha's legs.

“What happened to your ear, little guy?”

The black cat stands still between the two and looks at Dezora, tail still wagging. The black cat meows at her, fast-walks across the street, and turns down an alley.

“Uhh, sorry I asked?”

“Ouch. So he was your déjà vu?”

“Yah. He seems so familiar, but I can't remember having seen any black cats around the city before.”

“That makes two of us.”

“Must be their natural ninjutsu talents. Next time, you get to ask about his ear.”

“I think he liked me better anyway.”

“Uh-huh.”

“… I will never get used to the fog in this city.”

A thick fog has crept around the restaurant, obscuring the sidewalks across the street, with streetlights forming tinted blobs in the fog, but not improving the visibility.

“Such is the nature of RAVENHALLOW, DREAD LAND OF THE FOG MONSTERS!” (in a standing squat with claw-up hands and an aghast expression to suggest suspense).

Samantha laughs at Dezora.

“AND RAVENS!”

“C'mon inside before the fog monsters swallow you whole, adventurer Dez.”

“And.. HALLOWS!”

Dezora has returned to drawing in her previous position. Samantha is resting on her crossed arms on the table, watching Dezora work.

“This must be a world record for longest tea preparation time” jests Samantha.

“Maybe we've been forgotten” ponders Dezora.

“How many people are still here?”

“One or two. They do their training alone now.”

“I'm gonna see what's up.”

“Probably just forgot.”

Samantha walks over to the bar. No one present. Expected, seeing as Quiddlopolis is technically closed. She walks around to the kitchen door and peers through its small window.

Huh.

She walks into the kitchen. The door swings back and flaps against rubber stoppers. The kitchen is overtly metallic and floored with white tiles. There is an aproned Asian man to the far left on a cold metal stool, with his arms crossed on the polished metal counter. He is resting comfortably against his left arm, with his head somewhat upright. Short-sleeved white T-shirt, small cap, short black hair — a cook. On the stove to the right of the aproned man, calm steam rises from a pot heated by a gentle blue flame.

Samantha steps to the pot. Only boiling water. A hand touches her right shoulder. She jumps in surprise, reaches her right hand to her chest, and quickly turns around.

“Oh—”

No one is there. Her eyes jump around the room as she breathes sharply.

You're imagining it, Sam… it's just your imagination.

She looks at the aproned man.

“'Oy.”

“'Oooy”, this time poking him.

She waits and watches carefully for any shift of the aproned man's body.

Is he even breathing? She shakes his shoulder cautiously. His head tweaks to the left and his right arm falls off the table, limp.

Oh shit.

She feels for a pulse on his neck. Fuck. She runs out of the kitchen to fetch her cell.

Dialing EMS. Dezora looks at her, alarmed.

“State your emergency.”

“This guy isn't breathing I couldn't find a pulse I think—”

“Sam?”

Samantha looks over to De— no one? Paper with bold scrawl sits on the table.

“Ma'am?”

SAMANTHA?

“Where are you?”

“WHERE ARE YOU?” screams a furious, disembodied male voice.

“I WILL CALL THE POLICE IF YOU AREN'T BACK BY MORNING.”

“THEN I'LL TELL THEM EVERYTHING!” cries Samantha.

“JUST RETURN, okay, and I WILL let them GO!”

“I'M NEVER COMING BACK!”

“GOD DAMMIT, SAMANTHA!” (raucous rage and slamming through the earpiece).

Samantha shudders and closes her eyes.

Enveloping dead-line tone. The lights shatter and she free-falls into the darkness.

“Saaam.”

*sharp gasp and uprighting*

Samantha is sitting at a dining table. Dampened electronic music fills the background. Steam rises from teacups on the table. An aproned man holding a tray yawns and walks into the kitchen. *flap flap flap*. And… *giggling*?

“Samantha.”

Dez?

“… Huh?”

“You're drooling.”

Samantha wipes the drool off her left cheek with her sweater. The penguin pendant falls from her cheek. With a newly-awakened dizziness, she feels the impression it left on her cheek and stares blankly at the teacup in front of her.

“Were you dreaming?”

Samantha leans over to Dezora and hugs her waist, burying her face, sobbing.

Frame: narrow alley.

A large man in a white tuxedo is standing cross-armed in front of a nondescript door. His wide, large white face is textured by a full & short dark brown beard; his dark brown hair bows over his forehead, just above his eyelashes, and trims across his ears, confusing his presumed image of muscle-for-hire with that of a … professor? Neon signs and paper lanterns across the streets give an amalgamation of ambient lighting. Occasional vehicles blink past the outlets of the alley. Pedestrians shuffle by the outlets with purpose in their step.

Amer is pacing in front of the tuxedoed man, who is watching him pace. Amer is holding up his right arm to his chin with his left arm. Amer is doing this to imply pondering.

Amer's pacing is slowly increasing in speed.

The tuxedoed man extends his right arm, holds his sleeve in place with his left, and reads the time on his large silver watch. 03:42.

“Well?” he asks, sounding somewhat bothered.

“I can't remember!” Amer exclaims in annoyance, throwing his arms up.

“That has been established.”

“Have I ever mentioned how unusually intellectual you are for a door guard?”

“I'm not a door guard, but no, you have never complimented me.”

“It's not a compliment — who would want that in a bouncer?”

“Those who have no interest in unreliable people such as yourself.”

“You're supposed to be big and dumb and strong!” Amer exclaims, moving his arms in tandem visual suggestion.

Frame: apartment.

Dark & cozy, but punctuated by muddied Zimmerian film music and bassy thuds. A sliver of moonlight seeps beneath curtains opposite the couch of exceptional restorative powers, where Merla is sleeping. Her breathing is gentle and quiet. Various blue, red, and green LEDs flicker and pierce the vision. Merla's cell is sitting on the table next to the couch.

An unseen hand turns on and unlocks Merla's cell. 02:04.

The unseen hand taps to the messaging app.

  • 15:01 – You – “⋮ come’ and ‘the witch demands you’ and a bunch of nonsense”
  • 15:01 – You – “It's spooky”
  • 15:02 – Sam – “Wow that dude was definitely on something”
  • 15:03 – You – “Yeah”
  • 15:03 – Sam – “Now I don't wanna go anywhere”
  • 15:04 – You – “Right?”
  • ———
  • 23:43 – Sam – “How are you feeling?”
  • 23:44 – You – “A little better”
  • 23:44 – You – “I'm gonna try to sleep it off”
  • 23:46 – Sam – “Ok. Goodnight and good luck ♥”
  • 23:46 – You – “Night Sam”
  • 23:46 – You – “♥”

The unseen hand scrolls through the messages.

↓ ↓ ↓

  • 11:30 – Sam – “Do you know why you're t here?”
  • 11:32 – You – “What? I'm at home”
  • 11:32 – You – “What a strange question.”
  • 11:33 – You – “Saaamm... Where's your brain?”
  • 11:34 – Sam – “Oops.. uhhh I don't even know”
  • 11:36 – Sam – “Sleepy Sam just woke up”
  • 11:37 – You – “Amer says hi ‘with a capital H because you're ... Healthy’”
  • 11:38 – Sam – “Hi Amer with a capital A because you're Asinine”
  • 11:42 – You – “No comeback. I don't think he was going anywhere with that”
  • 11:42 – Sam – “Of course not. Tell him Elena says the stuff for the thing dun work”
  • 11:43 – You – “He said ‘try harder’”
  • ———
  • 14:54 – You – “Did you hear about that guy who freaked out on the subway?”
  • 14:54 – Sam – “No. What happened?”
  • 14:55 – You – “He was screaming and hitting people. The police are ⋮”

The unseen hand returns to the initial position.

↑ ↑ ↑

Merla's cell turns off.

Frame: narrow alley.

Amer stops pacing and turns to face the tuxedoed man.

The tuxedoed man looks at him expectantly.

“What time is it?”

The tuxedoed man extends his arm, holds his sleeve in place, and checks the time on his large silver watch.

“03:59. Don't you have a phone?”

Amer hands the tuxedoed man a bright green USB thumb drive. The tuxedoed man looks down at the drive, then back to Amer.

“Give that to the missus. I have better things to do.”

“That's not how it works.”

Amer starts walking quickly to the left side of the alley.

“Don't care!” exclaims Amer, raising & waving a hand in dismissal. “You're smart, do it yourself!”

The tuxedoed man watches Amer cross the left corner out of the alley. Illuminated, unimaginative signage across the street reads “MASSAGES”. The muffled sounds of a street musician's erhu and a distant electronic beat are swirled together.

The tuxedoed man sits on an upturned plastic crate and rotates the thumb drive in his hand. Worn print on the nondescript door behind him reads “721”. The nondescript door is now the numbered door.

A short-haired white cat with blue eyes, a misshapen right ear, and a somewhat yellow-stained & matted coat of fur walks in front of the tuxedoed man from the right side of the alley, stops, and looks at the tuxedoed man. The tuxedoed man looks at the white cat and holds out his hand, making clicking sounds with his tongue.

“Here kitty. … C'mere.”

The white cat turns and quickly walks around the left corner out of the alley.

Frame: restaurant.

Samantha is resting her head against the shoulder of Dezora, who is holding her near. She wears a sad but empty expression, with reflective channels streaking down from her eyes.

“That place is an age and world away; they don't know who you are or where” says Dezora, soothingly.

“Doesn't make any difference.”

“We won't let anything happen. You're safe, Sam.”

“If it were that simple, if I could wish it away, I would have already done it” she chokes, her eyes welling up.

Dezora turns and hugs her. She grasps Dezora and cries.

Frame: apartment.

The weekend ambiance of dogs' barking, fake television laughter, and muffled music has been replaced by the dull hum of the refrigerator and the white noise of indiscernible things & non-things.

Soft morning light bleeds through the curtains opposite the couch of exceptional restorative powers, where Merla is laying on her back in some state of sleep. Her breathing is deep and somewhat punctuated by smaller breaths. She groans and briefly shifts to face the back of the couch before returning to her original position. Her right knee raises and her left arm forms a raised ridge on her blanket down to her waist. She gently bites her lower lip; it rolls out from under her incisors as she gasps sharply.

—————

Merla sits upright and slowly rolls her head in a circle to test the effects of the headache. She raises her arms in a half-yawn half-victory cry.

“Yeeush!”

She stands up from the couch of exceptional restorative powers and stretches her arms, shoulders, and torso. Her thin, light-skinned French figure is around 164cm tall, with smooth, bare legs and slender arms.

She notices the poor science balloon™ under her foot as she reaches her arms to the floor. She picks up the science balloon™ and deposits it in the garbage bin next to the refrigerator.

She walks back to the couch of exceptional restorative powers and picks up her cell from the table. 07:22. 4 unread messages.

  • 02:16 – Sam – “Scrumptious ~”
  • 02:23 – Sam – “Amer came”
  • 02:24 – Sam – “Arriveeddd*”
  • 03:01 – Sam – “We saved you some. Call me when you're up.”

She rubs her face and *yawns*. She walks into the bathroom and turns on the faucet.

She loosely gathers up her hair to the back of her head and holds it together with a hair tie. She shifts a section across the top of her head to the left, pins it in place, and fiddles with fringes at the sides. Spindles jut out at the tie, and small, loose sidelocks sit above her soft jawline.

She swishes water in her mouth, spits it out, turns off the light in the bathroom, and walks past the couch of exceptional restorative powers to the bedroom. She shivers, looks around for a moment, and flings her T-shirt off. Her ribs are somewhat bony, with goose bumps all over, and perky, unsupported B-cup breasts. Her form is slim; her abdomen raises slightly just below her ribs and forms a raised ridge down the center to her pelvis, dually dipping along her innie navel. She jumps into a pair of black cotton sweatpants, fits into a black bra, slides a white camisole over her head, and raises her arms into a thin heather light blue zip-up sweater.

She walks out to the refrigerator, takes a cup from the counter with her left hand, and fills it up from the water dispenser on the refrigerator. It takes 11 seconds to dispense 350ml into the cup. She takes a draught and opens the refrigerator door with her right hand.

Frame: small room.

The walls and ceiling of the room are gray and padded. The floor is black and dull. There is an opaque, reflective window to the left. Florescent lights flicker above a cold, thick metal table bolted to the floor. A disheveled young man is sitting on a cold metal chair, handcuffed to a loop in the table. His black hair is short and his skin is a medium-dark brown; he is possibly of South American descent. He is muttering incomprehensibly, shivering, gazing downward, with tremors contorting his face.

A door suddenly opens to the left and a low heel clicks into the room. The disheveled man gasps and lowers his head to his cuffed hands, much too afraid to turn to the intruder. The door creaks shut with a click-thud.

A tall, broad-shouldered Asian woman steps out of the shadow. She is wearing a black suit, with black hair bunched up at the back of her head by a black plastic clip. The top button of her white shirt is unfastened. She places a small paper folder on the table and side-steps into a metal chair opposite the disheveled man. She postures upright, opens the folder, and examines the first two papers within it.

“Do you know why you are here?” she asks, still examining the papers.

She looks up at the disheveled man. He is still.

“Do you know what you are?”

koome… nihis… nih… naaih… nnNight… Night… is come. she… is come. Night is come. it… is… Night is come. Night is come. … come come … Night is come.nnnight is … come come is night.”

The disheveled man suddenly lurches forward and bites towards the broad-shouldered woman.

Frame: wide alley.

Towering buildings. Dogs barking in the distance, for a moment. An old man in dirty clothes and a dark green beanie teeters on sleep, slowly nodding back and forth, muttering something incomprehensible. A short-haired white cat with blue eyes and a misshapen right ear is crouched near a garbage bin, waiting for its prey.

The white cat looks 'round as a tall man lugging a large duffel bag emerges from a brightly-lit door, opposite the muttering old man. His long-haired, gruff figure casts a long shadow on the ground, and his baseball cap occludes his face with a dark visor. His left hand is buried in a pocket of his muted dark green trench coat. The duffel bag droops in its center. He stands for a moment outside the door as it swings shut.

The tall man tugs his cap down and walks out of the alley, disappearing around the corner.

A hand holding a bottle appears several stories up, opposite the muttering old man, and pours out some kind of liquid. It lands directly on the white cat, who was just moments ago waiting for the perfect time to strike an unknowing rodent. The now-berserk white cat frantically runs out of the alley, shaking its coat and legs along the way.

To be continued…

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