Tuesday, April 2, 2013
“We live on an island. How are you scared of water?” Aster leaned recklessly against the rails of the ferry that was taking her and Quincy to the mainland in order to visit the zoo, an event they had been greatly looking forward to for perhaps a week but what felt like to both of them to be an eternity. She inhaled the salty air, letting it sting the back of her nasal cavities. “What about when we first got here for school?”
“I was asleep,” Quincy replied. He stayed a safe distance from where Aster was without looking to conspicuous. He greatly detested letting anyone know he was afraid of anything. After all, he, a man, should have no fears- or so he had always assumed based on the examples of Aster’s father and older brother Alexander.
“No you weren’t, Quincy.”
“Well at least I don’t think a cow haunts the main house because older brother Alexander went cow tipping that one time.”
Aster turned around sharply, which Quincy wasn’t expecting. Rouge covered her cheeks. “Hey hey hey, you didn’t have the room the ghost cow mooed by every night. Bovinospiraphobia is a legit thing.”
“Whatever.” The heterochromnic boy sunk to the ground. “What do you think happened to Basil? I kept pointy things under my pillow in case he came to my room. I even made Eugene stay up to keep watch.”
“Keep your roomie up so you can be rested for the zoo. Good thinking.” Aster nodded her head in approval. “Sam told me this morning he went back to Basil’s room and he was gone. He asked around and nobody’s seen him. He just vanished with all his stuff.”
“I feel like we should have invited Sam to the zoo. You know, as thanks for saving my life or whatever.” With an extended finger Quincy started spelling out words on the floor of the ferry, like Komodo dragon, koala and marsupial.
“I thought it might be nice to invite the raincoats.”
“We’re kind of the bomb-diggity, I don’t know if you knew that Quincy. We intimidate new people.”
The rest of the boat ride was uneventful, and by uneventful it was painfully mediocre in Aster’s mind. The zoo itself was much more entertaining. Upon first arrival and much pushing of little children out of the way, the dynamic duo stopped in front of the zoo directory in order to plot out the places which would most interest them. And, of course, the bear house was at the very top of the list. When Aster pointed it out, Quincy was rather reluctant to go.
“That place is obviously a joke, Aster,” Quincy said as he started his journey to the lizard house. He had always had this ridiculous fascination with lizards, especially the ones who could regrow limbs. That was an ability he thought would be totally boss to have.
“Quincy, bears exist. What happened in life to make you think otherwise?” Aster had been with Quincy practically non-stop for sixteen years and for the life of her, through vigorous, rigorous, even, searches through her mind, not one event she could think of would lend itself to giving Quincy this ridiculous notion. So, unfortunately, it was probably Aster’s fault when she first created him. One of these days she would find herself riddled with guilt. But she would let future Aster worry about that.
As Quincy was about to respond, he ran into a stocky man with an antique looking camera. Quincy apologized, and focused his attention on the camera for it had a strange fuzzy aura around it that he found to be alluring, curious. Like it didn’t belong. He pointed at it.
“Hey, what kind of camera is that? It looks pretty sweet,” Quincy said.
“The kind that steals souls,” said the man with a gravelly voice. The response was creepy, unexpected, and didn’t interest Quincy in the slightest because he didn’t believe him much like how he didn’t believe in the bear house.
“Uh, yeah. Whatever,” Quincy replied disappointedly.
“That’s nice. Come on, Quincy.” Aster grabbed his arm, ignoring the gravelly-voiced crazy camera man completely. She was, after all, on a mission. “Let’s go see the bears so I can prove to you they exist and let the creepy man play with his toys. We’re not missing this opportunity.”
“Whatever, they’re probably-”
“If you say robots I’m tossing you in the baboon pit.”
“I don’t think there are baboons here.”
And so the trip started, with a sort of foreshadowing fizzle that neither cared to acknowledge. They were on vacation; anything pertaining to the stealing of souls was to be kept on campus for their club activities. They were at the zoo to view animals, which wouldn’t have been a problem if any of the animals had actually been out and about.
“I told you this was a joke.” They had made it to the bear house, which was really a pit, and Quincy leaned on the safety protection bar surrounding it.
“No it’s not, there’s one right there.” Aster pointed to a brown lump that was obviously, to her anyway, a bear. A sleepy bear. A sleeping bear. Or a rock. Yes, that was definitely a rock, and Aster felt blood rushing to her face from embarrassment. Hopefully Quincy wouldn’t notice.
“I’m pretty sure that’s a rock.” Quincy has assumed correctly, and turned his back to the pit, folding his arms against his chest in a frumpy manner.
“Don’t be a frump-a-lump. A bear will come out. Eventually.” Aster put her weight on the bars around the pit’s perimeter, leaning in to see if she could spot any signs of a bear. Really, any bear would do. Big bear, little bear, fat bear, polar bear— She was tired of Quincy’s ridiculous non-belief in the animal.
Quincy, rather effortlessly, did a front flip, a cartwheel, and then a hand stand to get Aster’s attention. None of those worked, and Aster kept on leaning over the rail but some very kind zoo goers and their children took notice and provided light applause for the boy. This did not please him. Well, the applause pleased him greatly, but Aster not focusing on him was not pleasing. The least she could do was pretend.
“Aster,” Quincy whined, still upside-down. “Let’s go to the lizard house! I think they might let us hold a komodo dragon if we find a worker and ask.”
“If we can find any workers. I haven’t seen any since the front gate. You know, I bet you could run a zoo pretty easily without many employees. You only really need the ticket people, and they can be replaced by machines. Then you just need the animal trainers.”
Aster’s rather unromantic view of the zoo left Quincy feeling rather empty and hopeless for approximately fifteen seconds, just long enough for him to literally get back on his feet and sigh a tiny little sigh reminiscent of his eight-year-old self. Then he got over it and grabbed Aster by her shoulders (which were soft- like, baby skin soft, which meant she was using the lotion Quincy got her for her last birthday), forcing her to face him and then tossing her over his shoulder. This action would shock any normal person, and it also, honestly, shocked Aster, who was too busy looking for a bear in a pit to assume something like that would happen and properly prepare herself.
“Come on! I want to hold a komodo dragon!” Quincy made sure to annunciate every syllable in Komodo.
“I don’t want to hold a komodo dragon,” Aster complained, getting over the initial shock of being tossed over the shoulder of her five-year-old self’s creation. “It’ll steal the poetry of my soul.”
Quincy stopped walking. “Your soul has poetry?”
Aster patted Quincy on the butt, that being, unfortunately, the closest thing to her reach. “I created you, didn’t I?”
Quincy set Aster down and, with a serious expression, shook his head in disagreement. “Definitely no poetry,” he said, “definitely not.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Aster said with a flip of her hair. “If I created you there’s definitely no poetry in there. Come on; let’s go see ourselves a dragon.”
The duo looped their arms together and were off.
Sometime later, near the evening as the zoo was readying to close, Aster looped Quincy back to the bear pit. The day had not been enthralling in the slightest. Most of the animals were either asleep or missing, the few workers that they could find each lying, saying that the animals were only asleep.
Carelessly, Aster leaned over the railing again.
“It’s got to be so easy to run a zoo without any animals. All you have to do is tell people the animals are asleep.” Quincy said while slurping down the last bit of over-priced lemonade they had gotten somewhere near the birds where Quincy had wanted to see a kiwi, only to be told they were only viewable on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at ten A.M. and only if he were to be one of the first twenty-five people in line. The entire zoo experience was blowing hard core.
“That’s called a scam, Quincy.” Aster lowered herself back to her feet and turned to face Quincy. “What’re you looking at?”
Quincy pointed a little ways off into a small crowd of people, which didn’t help Aster in the slightest to see what he was observing.
“Give me a hint?”
“What? I pointed. There.” Quincy pointed again with his finger, as if the extra jabbing motion would suddenly make things click for his biffle. “The guy with the camera from earlier.”
“What about him?” Aster asked, still unable to see him.
“He doesn’t belong.”
Those three words meant more to Aster than any hand gesture. Without another word, she and Quincy ran over to the gathering of people and as they grew closer they could hear murmurs of fear. The group of people were all gathered around something, and Aster had to push her way through to see what it was they were all staring at. There, in a crumpled heap in the center, was a young man no older than twenty, his eyes lifeless and the ground around him torn up.
“Quincy, call an ambulance!” Aster shouted, kneeling by the young man. Someone in the crowd muttered that an ambulance had already been called and somebody else asked what Aster was doing. She assured them that, as a pre-med student at Plumfield University, she knew what she was doing. Of course she knew, but she also knew the boy was dead. It didn’t stop her from trying.
After a few minutes of trying chest compressions, Quincy tapped her on the shoulder. She turned her head to look at her friend. He shook his head.
“He isn’t in the crowd anymore. Let’s go.”
Aster took her leave of the body and pushed through the crowd with Quincy, surprised that it had grown so much. What surprised her even more was that another crowd was forming just a little ways away near the lizards. The camera guy was leaving a trail.
The sun had all but set by the time the duo of Q & A had found their man sitting underneath a bench, a flickering light above him, dimly illuminating him. He caressed his camera, which frankly disgusted Quincy and sent shivers down Aster’s spine. But it was not the time to be afraid. It was the time to stand. The tiny birds near them, pecking at the ground for food, helped give both of them that sense of serenity and clarity of mind that they needed.
“Hey. You. Guy with camera. I made a mistake not thinking you were interesting,” Quincy said in a commanding voice. “I knew your camera didn’t belong.”
“Doesn’t belong? You sound so pretentious,” Came the gravely response. His voice bothered Aster. He didn’t look to be over forty, but his smoker’s voice said otherwise.
“Be happy he admitted he was wrong,” Said Aster. She held up a tiny sketchbook filled with drawings of animals and weapons. “Those people are dead. What did you do?”
“I stole their souls,” He explained, standing up. He brought the camera to his eye and gave a short whistle. “You’d look good on film, little lady. Better than scruffles over there.”
Despite the fact that he now sounded like a cowboy, unable to obtain a real personality other than ‘villain,’ Aster had to agree. While Quincy thought he was terribly good-looking and quite the natural athlete, the reality was his face was a little rough from random fights he got from demons and club activities like boxing alike. He was also only so-so at sports, definitely being, as some might say, a hot-dogger. Aster on the other hand knew her place; she was definitely at the top of her class. Not necessarily better than everyone else, but probably smarter and a lot more funny and talented. Her ears were, however, crooked, so at least she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she was far from perfect. The point was she would obviously be the most photogenic of the two. She applauded the creepy man for recognizing this, but silently as it would be inappropriate to do so out loud.
“There’s tons of energy coming from his camera,” Quincy pointed out. He was the only one who could see the energy surrounding and spilling out of the camera, and when he squinted his eyes he saw dozens of souls trying to escape, only to be drawn back in. He clenched and released his fists at least half a dozen times. “What do you have the energy to create?”
In response, Aster pushed Quincy out of the way, a crunching noise following. He swore, Aster smacked him for using foul language, and then she pointed to where they had been. A chunk of the ground was missing, and the birds that had been pecking at the ground were all on the ground, motionless. Dead.
The cameraman whistled again in the dark night. Everyone else at the zoo was gathered around the ambulances, talking to police, all on the other side of the establishment. They were all alone. Quincy pushed Aster aside and zig zagged towards the man. Quincy was quick enough to avoid the lens, narrowly avoiding having his created soul stolen and dodging the pot-holes the camera was taking one by one.
Crunch, there was a chunk of ground missing. Quincy zigged.
Crunch! Another chunk next to Quincy’s foot. He zagged.
Crunch—the cameraman was causing a lot of property damage and Quincy was right in front of him…
Squish. Quincy was missing part of his arm. It was possibly the seventh grossest thing either of them had seen.
Aster screamed louder than she ever had before, louder than she thought possible for herself. Quincy collapsed to his knees, grinding his teeth and clutching his bloodied and disfigured right arm. The cameraman laughed in his husky voice, adding subtle undertones of terror with Aster’s scream. Even when her scream died down, he continued, his laugh evolving into a distant, dystopian sounding whistle. It all sounded like it belonged in some cheesy horror film’s soundtrack.
He lifted up his camera. He focused on Quincy.
“Accept the pain. It’ll make you look prettier than the girl.”
There was more laughing, and Aster yelled at the man to shut up because she was so sick of hearing any noise coming from his face, whether it was the laugh or the whistle or his unnatural voice, she was sick of it. But then she noticed that his mouth wasn’t moving, and the chills started crawling up her spine. She let out a shudder, an inaudible gasp, her breath naked— or perhaps clothed?—for the world to see.
She whispered, “Something gloomy this way comes.”
She was right.
Aster Archer, something cooed beneath the laughs. The name Chesterton soon followed. The cameraman looked around, frazzled, and took a step back in the boundary of the zoo’s streetlight. If Chesterton was really his name then Aster almost didn’t blame him for turning out to be an evil prick.
Aster, Chesterton, Aster, Aster, CHESTERTON, ASTER! The callings got louder, more forceful, and the laughing got more haunting, taunting. Little red and white eyes surrounded them, and unnatural blackness oozed them, swallowing the immediate vicinity. It was just like the encounter at Lady Barkhurst’s, and if she had anything to do with the monsters this time around Quincy would make sure to loiter in front of her store because he was seventy-five percent sure that would piss her off the most while Aster would give her store yet another poor review in the school newspaper. First they’d have to get past the Gloomies.
A Gloomy leapt out at Aster and she kicked it in the jaw, making it yelp. She sprinted to Quincy before the darkness completely surrounded them, grabbing him and pulling him into the circle of light created by the streetlamp, shoving the stunned cameraman partially out of the circle of safety in the process.
“We’ve got to get out of here.”
“No duh. How about fixing my arm first?”
“Both of you shut up!” Chesterton spat out. He dropped the camera then held up his hand as a book appeared. “Idiots, whistling in the dark. Of course demons showed up.”
Of course Chesterton was delusional. Quincy was more than willing to point out that Chesterton was the idiot who whistled—unless the pain made him imagine that—yet he found himself not caring enough to say anything. The jerk would probably get himself eaten by the Gloomies anyway. Aster was more focused on the grimoire Chesterton made appear. She assumed that was probably how he had gotten the camera, by creating it himself and not discovering it by chance, and she started to think that maybe it would be in her best interest to have her own book of spells to carry around. You know, for occasions such as this when Quincy was injured and drawing a sword to fight with probably wouldn’t cut it.
Chesterton was in the process of casting a very French-sounding spell when from the shadows, the mouth of one of the Gloomies grabbed his leg and started dragging him out of the light. Thinking quickly, or perhaps not thinking at all as people in these situations tend to do, Quincy extended his damaged, dominant arm to hold on to the man but the pain he had momentarily forgotten about shot through his body once more. He let go, and Chesterton was dragged away, screaming.
“Your fault for hurting my arm!” Quincy shouted bitterly, his hand landing outside the circle of light. Something bit down on his wrist and next thing either he or Aster knew his right arm came right off.
The shadows, apparently accepting the magical menace Chesterton and Quincy’s less than perfect offering of an arm as their meal, dissipated much quicker than they had appeared, leaving two shell shocked college students. Blood stains were left on the ground, presumably from Chesterton, and his camera, his lonely camera, split open, spirits pouring out of the device and dissipating.
The biggest question on Aster’s mind was how they were going to sneak an armless Quincy past people and Quincy was wondering if he could get out of his next French test by showing his professor his missing limb. The second thing he thought was ‘oh no, the pain,’ followed by the realization he could never be a lefty and Aster wondered if she’d ever be able to make a color of paint that looked realistically like blood.
“We should probably go,” Quincy said through gritted teeth. Aster was quick to agree.
Aster and Quincy stood impatiently in front of the oddly white door of Sam’s dorm room. As a freshman, he was obliged to live on campus but how he had managed to convince the school to let him paint the door, which stood out terribly compared to the other doors filled with clutter, was beyond Aster or Quincy. Aster pounded on the door.
The door opened at a mediocre pace, which meant it was too slow for Aster so she forced it open the rest of the way. Sam, nearly naked in a tanktop and colorful boxers, rubbed his eyes.
“Why…” He trailed off and yawned. There was an awkward silence before he continued. “No, that’s it. Why? It’s three in the morning.”
“I told you we’d be a while. Ferry rides are longer than you’d think.” Aster said impatiently.
“Right, you called! You needed a favor!” Sam apparently finally remembered that he was supposed to be helpful in the current situation and invited both Aster and Quincy inside his room, which was frighteningly tidy. “Sorry, I fell asleep watching videos online. What was it you guys needed?”
“I need you to hide Quincy here for a few days.”
“What?” Sam glanced over at Quincy, who waved at Sam.
“Hey, what’s up? I’m Quincy.”
“He knows who you are.”
“What’s your point?”
Sam was obviously perplexed, but Aster didn’t exactly want to go into a long explanation. She tore off the hoodie Quincy got at the zoo to try and hide the fact he was missing an arm, causing a bit of commotion. It probably looked like she was trying to do inappropriate things to him, but somehow she got the jacket off and pointed to Quincy’s bloody shirt.
“Quincy lost his arm. Can’t let his roommates at his apartment see this and I need a few days to make him a replacement.”
Sam looked exceptionally perplexed, which greatly amused Quincy. He even went to pat his head and was confused at first why his arm wouldn’t do what his mind told it to do when it hit him all over again that it was, regretfully, missing in action and required something new to fill the vacancy it had left behind.
Sam stared at Quincy. “Is this why you asked if I had a roommate?”
“Can I get an arm with super powers?” Quincy interjected.
“You can do that?” Sam stared at Aster now.
She shrugged. “It’ll take longer to build up the energy I need. So, what do you say?”
“How’d you stop the bleeding?”
“Too gross to talk about. Let’s say that it took some, well, unique drawings to fix.”
“You couldn’t have gotten him a new shirt?”
“Do you know how much energy I used? My powers take a lot out of me, I’ll have you know. I had to buy that hoodie.” Sam was about to say something else but Aster interrupted. “Couldn’t make a prosthetic, either. Are you going to help?”
“What if a friend comes over?”
This time it was Quincy, who was getting a headache from all the boring talk, that spoke next. “Do you have any other friends?”
“Depends on your definition.”
“Is that a yes?” Aster asked in frustration.
Sam continued to stare at Aster, which made her uncomfortable until she remembered he was in his underwear, which made the whole thing a little comical instead. Quincy didn’t even notice Sam’s lack of clothing because, as a guy, he was used to people he lived with walking around in their undies and because, you know, his arm was missing. He wasn’t thinking about a whole lot of things. Finally, Sam responded.
“Are you God?”