Break a Leg
A bunch of them are talking over there.
I nod and smile and follow the cues, but we all know how this goes.
I never learned how to be someone.
Turns out we have a lot in common, but I can’t shake the feeling I don’t belong here.
The urge to connect comes and then goes.
These situations never amount to more than nothing.
(There - Bo Burnham)
People have always loved pointing out things that're wrong
and people have always hated change.
Death wears a beige wool sweater and back-seam stockings, apparently.
Sucking the blood from his teeth so he wouldn’t have to deal with the flavour anymore, he rolled onto his side and blinked into the flames. He strained clumsily against gravity, planting a palm against his knee and a heel against the street, pushing himself up into a sort of sideways, half-standing position. He spat onto the asphalt. It sizzled. He took a limping step forward.
“Hey!” he shouted, and his voice ricocheted off the walls of the burning city square, cracking under the pressure of his smoke-filled lungs. He raised his arms in weak incredulity. “C’mon! This is just bad therapy.”
The woman emerged from the haze with crossed arms, raising one of her heavily-penciled brows inquisitively. Her dark lips pursed in disapproval. “This is for your own good,” she told him, and her hair fluttered forward—obscuring her face—as a wave of fresh flames emerged from behind her, barreling towards him like something alive. Something starved for burning flesh. He dropped to his knees.
He closed his eyes.
“Mister Clarke? Mister Clarke.”
He raised his head, not sure when exactly he had dropped his gaze to his shabby sneakers in the first place. Dr. Hesther sat with her ankles crossed and peered at him expectantly through horn-rimmed eyeglasses. Her hair was grey again. Not red. Not fanned around her face like a fiery halo. The cloak of flames had vanished, and she no longer expressed a determination to hunt him down and turn him into a pile of ashes—not in the literal sense, anyway. Instead, she studied him placidy like he was something behind glass. Something fascinating. It made him feel unpleasantly small.
No wonder they were called shrinks.
“What are you thinking?” she asked, the tip of her fountain pen fixed to her clipboard. She promptly tapped it against the page once, but not in an impatient way. “Is it about your mother?”
“Ah...” He blinked. His thoughts were still transferring back to the reality of the room; the potted plants, the maroon upholstery, the motivational wall decor. It wasn’t necessarily an ugly set up, but he couldn’t help his distaste. He found himself missing the dingy walls of prison cells. “Were we talking about my mother?”
“We were talking about your childhood.”
“Oh.” That must’ve been when he’d started to drift off. “Ah, no. I mean, yes. Yes, I was thinking about my mother. The dead one. The one who died. Boy, am I sad about that whole thing.”
Dr. Hesther gave him a soft half-smile and tilted her head slightly to the right. Aw, that little head-tilt said. “Mr. Clarke, you don’t have to tell me what you think I want to hear. You can tell me how you really feel.”
Way to cliché, doc. He felt bored and cranky. Was that honestly worth analysing? “That is how I really feel,” he told her. “You think I wouldn’t be sad about the death of my own mom?”
“I don’t doubt you would,” Hesther said, dropping her gaze to her board. “But you and I both know that your mother is very much alive and well, living with your father and brother in, emmm...” She lifted a page. “Green River, Wyoming. You knew that, didn’t you?”
He offered her a half-hearted shrug. “Well, she’s dead to me anyway.”
He should’ve known Hesther would know about his family. She and those magic files knew everything about him, it seemed. Everything except what was going on inside his head. This seemed to be the ultimate goal for her. The ultimate prize. That, and the hefty fees the government was paying her per session.
“Mr. Clarke,” she continued, when he said nothing more. “Are you familiar with the term ‘compulsive liar?’”
That was a new one. He coughed out a brisk, single-syllable laugh. “Is that another diagnosis? Are we about to add that to the obsessive-compulsive disorder? And the paranoid schizophrenia?”
“Borderline schizophrenia,” she corrected him, and raised her eyebrows. “Do you think you’re paranoid?”
“I think this is bullshit.” He didn’t raise his voice. He wasn’t angry. He was just tired. He wanted a warm meal, and a nap. Maybe a bath. “If you really wanna know what I think, then write me a prescription so we can close the book on this whole thing. It’s a waste of both of our time, and you know it.”
Hesther’s brows knit and her dark lips narrowed in a way that was strikingly similar to his previously flame-filled imaginings. But the real Dr. Hesther would make for a terrible supervillain, because her features smoothed out again almost immediately. Effortlessly. She swiftly reassembled her expression of default neutrality. She uncrossed her ankles. She cleared her throat. “You think you need medication.”
“I think I need whatever you think I need,” he said monotonously, “so I can go on my merry way and you can see a patient who’ll actually get some benefit from your help.”
“I see.” She re-crossed her ankles. “And is that the only reason you’re requesting pharmaceuticals?”
His laughter this time was a little longer than the first, but equally mirthless. “So I’m a junkie now?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you are, Mr. Clarke.”
Hesther’s gaze was somber. He returned it with an easy nonchalance and leaned forward in his seat; he spoke coolly. “I’m a superhero.”
There was a faint beeping sound, and Hesther glanced down at her wristwatch. She stood. “I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for today, Mr. Clarke,” she told him, smoothing the wrinkles in her skirt and walking around her armchair to the always tidy desk, returning her files—his files—to their designated drawer. “Maybe next time we can discuss some truths about your situation, hmm?” Her tone was not unkind. She walked him to the exit. “And before you go; I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do you think you might feel more comfortable here if I started calling you by your first name? Sebastian?”
“Ah...” He fought the urge to wrinkle his nose, or scowl, or cringe. “I think I’d rather stick with the last name thing. For now.”
Her smile never dimmed as she held the door open for him. “Have a nice evening, Mr. Clarke.”
It was hardly sunset, and the streets were already hot tonight—in the literal sense. Apparently the daydream that had transpired during this afternoon’s therapy session had been something of an accidental prediction, because the forecast tonight called for smoke clouds and hellfire.
Sebastian looked down from where he knelt on his favourite lookout spot and glowered at the squat, box-ish building nearby—completely encircled in a ring-like wall of flames. Smoke gathered over the city like a beacon. Police cars surrounded the scene, flashing and wailing and serving to be more or less entirely useless. Sebastian sighed.
Why not send some goddamned firefighters?
He made his way quickly off the fire escape, slinking down the steps and swiveling around each pole and railing without so much as fluttering the leaves beneath his shoes. This was kinda his whole deal. He didn’t really have a gimmick—unlike most of the type who spent their free time pursuing this sort of thing—but he was silent and stealthy and knew how to catch people off guard. It was why he preferred to work at night; it was when he felt he was most useful. He was also quite strong, at least as much as was required to get by in this profession, and he had a good head on his shoulders when it came to strategy. Still, he always felt a little cheated in the superpower department; flight or laser vision would’ve definitely come in handy on more than one occasion in his endeavours.
He made his way promptly down the street, taking advantage of the shadows despite how scarce they were. Downtown was the type of place that stayed bright long after the sun went down. It was also a hotspot—ha—for criminal activity, which was why he had become accustomed to utilising every shady patch of sidewalk, every awning, every nook and cranny. He crept noiselessly along until he made it to the street that hosted the towering wall of flames.
He began to climb.
The flame-gated building was an old but popular jewelry store, owned by a man called Almond, and the building Sebastian climbed now was directly next door; a local pawn shop that was only slightly taller. It was tall enough. He balanced on the lip of the pawn shop’s flat roof and peered down into the raging inferno, and, beyond that, the unharmed jewelry shop nestled safely inside. On the outside, police swarmed like ants and shouted unintelligibly over the roaring flames, seeking out gaps into the hostage jewelry store, aiming their weapons as though they expected to shoot the fire away. Sebastian empathised with their efforts, sucked in a deep breath of clean air, and leapt.
He just barely cleared the fire wall. There was a ruffling sensation as the cuff of his left pant leg caught fire and he felt a sharp sting above his heel, but he was falling and the wind was whipping against his body and the tiny flame was diminished almost instantly. He landed with a graceful roll onto the roof of the jewelry store. The pain in his ankle remained.
Carefully, he scaled the walls, clutching the paparapet that wound around the outer center of the building until he came to one of the arched windows up front. After a handful of tries, he successfully kicked in the glass and swung himself through the empty frame, landing soundlessly inside. The room was well lit due to the ordeal outside, but there were shadows. He clung to these like blankets, evading any light patches as he shouldered by cabinets and crouched along the display counters, all of which were open and bare. Picked clean. After a few moments of investigating he spotted the door to the back room. It was slightly ajar. A bright line of light shone through the crack, and there was the clear sound of someone rummaging. Sebastian snuck silently to the door and pushed it open, slowly.
Would it have killed Mr. Almond to invest in some WD-40?
The culprit who inhabited the room whirled around in alarm as the door creaked noisily, practically deafening despite the faint roar of flames outside, like a whining child. Internally, Sebastian cringed and shook his head, before regaining his composure and defiantly facing his foe. Playing the part.
“Well, well, well.” The villain sneered. “Look who’s here.”
Inferna had the sultry, smoky voice of an actress in a 1940′s noir film, and the look of a grouchy dwarf from a fantasy cartoon. She was short and stocky with a pursed mouth and snub nose, but nevertheless she was intimidating as she stood across from him with her chest puffed out and her fists clenched. A half-filled sack of diamonds sat open against her stubby legs. Her hair was a wild frizz of reddish-orange, like a live spark on top of her head, and a jet of white smoke emitted through the gap in her teeth—the same way it would through the nostril of a dragon.
“Couldn’t be a little more inconspicuous, could you?” Sebastian said, gesturing out the shattered window at the ocean of flames beyond. “Y’know you probably could’ve gotten away with it without all the glitz and glamour.”
Inferna was fully grinning now, cracking her knuckles together. “I like to make an impression.”
The first blast came suddenly, but Sebastian was expecting it, and he ducked his head in the nick of time. He spared a brief glance over his shoulder and saw that a smoldering chunk had been taken out of the door frame, like a bite. He leapt out of the way of the next hit with a little less grace.
“I had a dream like this once,” he yelled over the clanging blare of the third and fourth fireballs as they slammed into the filing cabinets he was crouching behind, “only you were my therapist. Honestly, I think I might prefer your company.”
Inferna had never been one to banter. She launched herself over the cabinets and Sebastian scurried away just in time, high-tailing it out the door just as a whizzing jet of flames annihilated the hardwood floor where he had been standing mere seconds before. He hopped behind one of the glass counters in the main room and obscured himself in shadow, blending in perfectly with the mannequin heads that displayed necklaces and tiaras. When Inferna barrelled in after him a split second later, she looked right in his direction and still trudged on by.
As soon as her back was turned, Sebastian tackled her from behind.
Inferna let out a shrill screeching sound and ever more flames, reaching backwards to claw at him as though he were an itch she couldn’t quite get. He made a risky grab for her wrists, squirming hastily to evade her akwardly-aimed attacks, and grimaced when he felt a jet of intense heat skim his elbow. He kicked up to bury a knee between her shoulderblades and successfully knocked her to the ground. A heavy whoosh of flames escaped her lips as the air was knocked from her. Sebastian took advantage of this momentary disorientation by reaching up for the handles of the nearest display case and pulling its glass doors open, and, in one quick motion, he lifted Inferna by the shoulders and slammed her inside, snatching an open padlock off the ground and snapping it closed around the handles.
Inferna fumed. Within seconds, smoke filled the inside of the display case like black fog, swallowing her from view and swirling madly against the inner surface of the glass. She was trying to melt her way out. It seemed there wasn’t enough space or oxygen to produce much heat, however, because after a few moments the flames subsided and Inferna’s face re-emerged, blotched red with sweat and fury. The glass was scorched black in some places but otherwise fine.
“Aw, would you look at that,” Sebastian said, clicking his tongue sorrowfully as he strolled up to the cabinet’s front doors. “Guess you’ve got about as much power as a little bitty campfire in there, huh? Shame you couldn’t handle the heat.” He made to lean an elbow smugly against the glass and immediately pulled away, wincing and swearing when it burned him like a casserole dish, searing through his shirt sleeve and leaving an angry-looking patch on his skin.
There was the hissing, sizzling sound of flames being met with moisture, and Sebastian turned to see the walls of flames lowering through the windows. Evidently someone had been smart enough to bring in firefighters after all. This was a momentary distraction for him, but it was long enough for Inferna to ram her elbows against her glass cage and shatter the walls around her. But she only made it a few steps towards freedom before Sebastian had her ankles in his hands and she toppled onto her stomach, emitting another breathless oof. He wrenched her hands behind her back and sat down hard on her calves, cross-legged, while she shrieked and tossed her head from side to side furiously. Fire shot uselessly from her bound hands, hitting various spots on the walls and ceiling, and she spat more flames alongside profanity and threats, until the front doors were kicked down and a stream of armed officers flooded the room.
Sebastian took this as his cue to skedaddle. As the police scuffled around to identify Inferna amidst the labyrinth of counters and shelves, Sebastian slipped back towards the darkness and disappeared out the window. He turned back briefly to watch half a dozen cops dogpile Inferna, and turned away with a simper. He was feeling quite pleased with himself. He had done his part. Now, he wanted snacks and coffee.
Iced coffee, in this case.
He made his way swiftly down the sidewalk, always undetected, past the lit up cop cars and the blaring firetrucks and the steaming puddles of water that complemented the whole scene. The burn on his arm ached dully somewhere in the back of his mind. He was about to turn the corner into a nearby alleyway when an abrupt noise made him pause.
No, not a noise. A ruckus.
This was also part of the deal; intuition. He could just feel things sometimes. Not necessarily in a spidey-senses type of way, but with reliable and deep-rooted intstincts. He’d been in this business a long time. It was undeniable that something was amiss. And as much as he would’ve liked to convince himself that it was just the wind knocking over some patio furniture, and as much as he wanted to sit in a questionable diner somewhere and enjoy a large mug of cold sugary caffeine, ”amiss” just happened to be his specific area of expertise. After all, it was his duty. Or something.
Reluctant nobility had to be better than none at all.
Fighting the urge to sigh again, he turned on his heel and looked up at the building he had passed; the source of the sound. It was the pawn shop he’d utilised to gain entrance to the jewelry store. Either it had been done fairly recently or he hadn’t noticed before, but the front doors were ajar and swinging idly in the nighttime breeze. Busted open, by the mangled look of the lock. He gathered his bearings and slipped through the door, this time careful to avoid any creaking.
This room was dark save for the blue and red flash of the police lights next door, which were dimmed considerably by the tinted glass of the shop windows. The room was also fairly open; unlike the jewelry store, all the tall shelves stood up against the walls, and only a few short ones took up space in the centre, along with a mish-mash of furniture and musical instruments. This made for a relatively convenient view of the entire shop, which is why it didn’t take long for Sebastian to notice the tuft of fabric hanging loosely from a low-hanging pipe behind the shop counter. It fluttered gently in the soft breeze that drifted through the open door.
Cautiously, he made his way toward the pipe, keeping a wary watch of his surroundings as he hopped soundlessly onto the counter and examined the scene. There was a narrow line of space behind the counter. Several items littered the grubby carpet behind the register; a shattered wall clock, a dart board, several broken picture frames. Things that had clearly been knocked from the wall. He tugged the slip of cloth from where it was caught on one of the pipe’s rusty flange bolts, and he turned it over in his hands. It was a sturdy but thin material. Amost sheer. A vibrant, swirling pattern of green and purple and red. He recognised it instantly. He dropped his hand to his side and turned around to face the shadowy store.
His whisper was cut off by a pair of knees slamming into his chest, knocking him off his feet and into the clutter behind the counter. The back of his head clipped the ornate frame of the wall clock, and he groaned, feeling simultaneously pissed and amused. He didn’t even bother to struggle against the weight that pressed against his torso. He looked up into the silhouetted face of his captor, gasping a little in an effort to recapture some air into his lungs.
“Kipling,” he breathed.
There was a crescent flash of white as she smiled. She leaned in close to him, her large hood slipping forward to further obscure the top half of her face.
Her hood was made from the same fabric material he had clutched in his fist.
“I knew it,” she said cheerfully. “You have been stalking me.”
Why did she have to sound so pleased about coming to such a conclusion? “Not stalking,” he wheezed, still painfully out of breath. He squirmed a little in the hopes of widening some airways. “Doing my job. I stop crime, and you’re robbing a pawn shop. Not well, by the way—using Inferna’s burglary as a diversion didn’t do much for your case. I could hear you all the way down the street.”
“I fell.” She sat back, removing her legs from his lungs and planting them firmly on either side of his hips. He tried to ignore the heat that crept up from his neck to his cheeks.
Very different from Inferna’s flames.
“I didn’t know it would be so loud,” Kip continued, reaching up to shove her hood back from her face—and unleashing a bouncy mess of dark glossy curls. Her eyes, several shades lighter than her swarthy complexion, glimmered limpidly in the light from the window. “I was trying to be sneaky.” She smiled again. Sheepish. “Like you.”
“Hm.” He grunted as he strained to sit up on his elbows, and offered her a sideways smile of his own. He thought her eyes brightened even more. “Might wanna work on that, huh?”
She bent down abruptly and pinned her mouth against his, briefly, before skimming her lips down sideways to speak softly into his ear. “I want you to show me that thing again, from before,” she told him, a little breathlessly. “Can you do it again?”
Her whisper was a miniscule vibration that quaked through his veins. He blinked. Cleared his throat. Made an effort to keep his voice from cracking.
“That, ah... that was just a one-time thing.”
“Twice,” she said, fidgeting idly with the collar of his shirt. “You did it in the science museum last week; the one on Beeker Street. It was raining. Remember?”
He felt a pang of pride at the fact that she’d bothered to savour the details, but still made a casual attempt to steer the conversation elsewhere. “What were you stealing from a science museum, anyway?”
“Don’t change the subject.” She adjusted herself on top of him, wriggling more snugly against his waist, and his mind drifted. He became painfully aware of their surroundings. The empty store. The tall counter and dim lighting that served to conceal them in a quiet nest of darkness and privacy. He knew the odds of someone strolling by this time of night were slim. It would be easy to pull Kipling down to him. To do as she asked. It was tempting.
Fortunately, restraint was one of his many strong suits.
“Sorry, kid,” he said, sitting up straighter and hoping his face didn’t look as flushed as it felt. “I think we ought’a stick to the basics this time. You being the bad guy, and all.”
“I’m not a kid,” she said indignantly, and he silently begged to differ; he doubted she was a day over twenty-five. Gently, he fit his hands beneath her arms and hefted her off of him. She didn’t protest. Instead, she slouched against the wall and crossed her arms. Pouting. “And I’m not a bad guy,” she continued. “Like that time at the museum—I only wanted some geodes. For my rock collection. It’s gotten pretty impressive, y’know. I even have seashells now.”
Sebastian could never tell if she was joking or just nuts. She was like a cartoon character. The places she tended to target were unusual for sure, and the things she stole were even stranger. This was part of the reason he secretly enjoyed her company. Manic pixie weirdo or not, he found her genuinely interesting.
“What were you trying to take this time?” he asked, glancing around the shop as he brushed the dust and carpet fuzz from his clothes.
Kip dropped her gaze self-consciously and nodded toward the nearest corner of the shop. A glossy black case leaned crookedly against the wall, just beside the backroom door. It was squat and very awkward looking. Sebastian stared at it for a moment.
“Sousaphone.” She shoved her hands into the roomy pockets of her knee-length cloak (Hoodie. Poncho? Thing) with an innocuous shrug. “I’ve been wanting one for awhile.”
“Well, you’re not getting one,” he said, speaking in his best too bad voice. “Not today, anyway. Not like this.”
She didn’t banter back. Her smile faltered a little, and he saw her eyes flash tensely to the windows. To the cop cars still parked down the street. “Are you really gonna turn me in this time?”
“That’s kind of how this is supposed to go,” he told her, despite having already decided from the beginning that, no, he was not.
He’d made up his mind the second he had recognised that strip of fabric on the pipe, and even before then, when he’d first made a less-than-professional move on her, and even before that—when he had laid eyes on her for the first time almost six weeks ago. He had found her stealing goldfish from an uptown pet store after hours. Completely accidental. He had been preoccupied with the task of pursuing a fleeing mugger down an alleyway and, after yanking the guy into a headlock, Sebastian’s eyes had happened to stray to a nearby window.
And there had been Kip—caught in the act of sticking her hand into a fish tank like a child with a cookie jar. The soft backlights had illuminated the curve of her jaw. Her brows. The single sprig of curls that spilled from the rim of her colourful hood and dangled between wide, startled, honey-coloured eyes.
It was the most hilarious thing he had ever seen.
Sure, she was cute—in an odd, clueless, Harley-Quinn-meets-Little-Orphan-Annie sort of way—but he wasn’t about to let her know that. He had an obligation to fight crime, not dote over quirky women with pretty eyes and kleptomanic habits. And if she knew how he felt about her—that is, if she found out just how clumsy and harmless and benign he perceived her to be—she could seriously take advantage of things. She could catch him off guard. Maybe this had been her master plan all along. Maybe he was the gullible one, quick as he was to assume she was so naive and innocent. Maybe she knew exactly what she was doing.
This could potentially be the most clever and wicked person he had ever faced.
...or groped behind a dinosaur exhibit.
He looked at her now, through the dust and shadow of the empty pawn shop, and tried to imagine any of this being true. He tried to spot the sneaky conniving villain hiding somewhere behind all the klutz and fumble. But all he saw was her face as he already knew it, framed by its massive hood, her hands clutching each other within their oversized sleeves. She continued to stare at the windows, chewing anxiously on her lower lip. She looked like a scared kid who knew she was in deep shit. Knew, and felt sorry about it.
Again, Sebastian sighed.
“Look, it won’t be so bad,” he told her, stepping toward her. “Compared to the other criminals in this town, you’ve barely done anything wrong. Easy sentence. They’ll probably have you pay a fine and pick up trash with sticks for a few months.”
“Yeah. Okay.” She continued to chew her lip. “But what if they send me to prison?”
He suppressed laughter for her sake, and before he could think better of it he took her face in his hands, tilting her chin up with his thumb so she would meet his eyes. “You won’t go to prison. Trust me. You’ve gotta do something really bad to go to prison. Like kill someone.” His mouth suddenly went dry at his own words, and he quickly moved on. “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.”
This coaxed a small smile out of her, and he closed the difference between them to meet it with his own.
She fell into him eagerly, pulling him closer and tilting her head to angle the kiss better. Her hands trailed idly down his shoulders, along his forearms, then back up again, and he felt the pads of her fingertips meet the frayed fabric of his sleeve. The coarse surface of the burn on his arm. He didn’t need to open his eyes to sense her curiosity—he could feel the scrunch of her eyebrows, the shift in her lips as she made to pull away and produce a slew of inquiries that he didn’t feel like answering right then. She wasn’t supposed to care or worry about him. They were rivals. They were breaking plenty of rules as it was. So he pulled her more fiercely against him and muffled any questions she might’ve tried to ask, deepening the kiss, the embrace. The silence. They staggered sideways until her back was pressed flush against the wall, and Sebastian took her wrists in each hand and pinned them securely above her head, relishing in the soft sound of approval that fluttered from her throat.
Restraint had never been one of his strong suits.
When he felt the nagging pressure in his lungs that meant he needed to breathe, he pulled back to run his lips across her jaw, down her throat, tracing the goosebumps that cropped up along her neck and nudging the fabric of her cloak away with his nose to kiss at her collarbone. She twitched and gasped and squirmed fervently against him, clearly wanting something more. To be properly touched. But his hands were occupied with her wrists at the moment, and he continued to nip and tease at the space just above her cleavage, taunting her. Distracting her.
When he finally pulled away, Kipling’s eyes drifted open and met his own with a hooded and glimmering gaze that—in that split second, at least—seemed to confirm every dark theory he had about her.
She knew exactly what she doing.
Then her eyes widened in alarm and flit upwards to look at her hands, which were securely fastened to the pipe above her head. She had been bound by the torn strip of fabric from her own cloak. The corner of her mouth quirked up as she returned her gaze to his.
“Really.” He planted a final kiss on her cheek. “Have fun with community service.”
He had made to turn away from her, but paused at the sound of her voice. It didn’t hold the familiar cadence of a prsioner intending to bargain, or plead, or curse. She had a strange gleam in her eye—the same one he might have mistaken for deceit. Now it looked like something else. Reverence, maybe? That wasn’t quite right. It was a dazed, dreamy sort of look. Which begged the question: was she evil or not? How was she so successful at evading his loyal intuition? It baffled him. It was frustrating.
Her voice was soft when she spoke. “What’s your name?”
She was doing it again! Despite its subject matter, her question struck him as totally unceremonious. Innocent, even. The way she asked it, he knew she wasn’t sleuthing for his identity or slinking for his trust; much in the same way he knew she wanted to steal precious geodes for a personal collection and not for their fetching price. There was something seriously off about this woman, as though she genuinely didn’t how any of this was supposed to work. As if she wasn’t just new to crime, but also to society and the world in general. It was probably best to turn her into the police. It’s what he should have done from the beginning, rather than humour her. And ravish her.
He found himself wondering—not for the first time—where she had come from, and how she had gotten here, and why the hell she chose to do this with her free time. It obviously wasn’t a financial last resort. Everything she stole was useless. Maybe she really was crazy. Or just bored.
He wondered if she had a family outside of all this. He wondered if she’d ever had a friend.
Then, Sebastian came to the abrupt conclusion that he didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about this girl and her potentially tragic background. He definitely didn’t want to answer her question. So, instead, he turned away wordlessly from her daunting honey-coloured eyes and hopped the counter. He made his way to the exit—but not too quickly. He took his time. He dawdled. He approached the door and pushed it open, appraising the quiet night and empty street and moon-less sky. A handful of cop cars still remained next door; a gaggle of policemen huddled in idle groups in the jewelry store parking lot. They were just barely audible from where Sebastian stood. He could’ve gotten their attention if he wanted.
After several lingering moments, he finally turned back toward the pawn shop and peered inside, unsurprised to see the colourful strip of fabric dangling tauntingly from the otherwise bare pipe—fluttering in the breeze just as it had when he’d first found it. There hadn’t even been a sound. He felt a smile curve the side of his mouth.
She was gone.
So was the sousaphone case.
Pins and Needles
This place has become her Iron Chair. Her inhibitions snag on the spikes.
She stays put.
She sits still.
Each day, she abides by her reluctant lifestyle. She stares down at plastic meals. Blank magazines. Thousand-pound shoes. She locks her tongue and chokes quietly on the keys. The blood-dotted patterns that freckle her flesh never quite fade away before being pierced afresh by another morning. She bleeds faster than she heals. She's draining and somehow not dying.
Still, she follows the rules. Her rules.
She remains sedentary.
She avoids every door.
She endures the perpetual state of restless leg syndrome.
If she quirms, the needlepoints only dig further.
The Things I Said While You Were Sleeping
I am not a good person.
If white lies were good deeds, I’d be called a saint. I substitute nihilism for wit and self-deprecation for charm. I’m too scared to believe in God.
You could do better.
I’m so pretentious. I equate big words with big feelings, and I overuse the semicolon. I don’t know how to tie my shoes properly. I’m afraid of grasshoppers. I get anxious when things stay the same for too long, and change frightens me. I’m haunted by the people I’ve ghosted. I’m daunted by my own heartbeat. Everything I do looks like a cry for help.
Why are you even here?
You are so beautiful. I’ll never deserve you.
I’m the shade to your sunshine.
You rest comfortably beneath me,
but I’m stunting your growth.
I’m holding you back.
I’m obscuring your view of the sky.
Please be patient with me.
I’m a wagon with square wheels.
You bring so much light to the world around you, the sun might be your mirror.
I’m a squalid, pathetic little hermit,
holed up within the confines of his own head.
You’re everything Julie Andrews sings about.
if your open eyes don’t halt my heart,
I promise I’ll tell you everything.
Sophia So Far
She has cream-coloured patches on her elbows and knees, as though God changed his mind halfway through painting her. The summer rain is the sequins on her shirt. It’s her hair gel. Her lip gloss. She wears her heart on her sleeve like it’s the latest trend. Dauntless. Lion-hearted.
Arms splayed out effortlessly to balance barefoot along the short stone railing. Feet kicking pedals to send fallen rain flying from her wheels. All rangy legs smudged with earth. All dark tangles, doe eyes. A voice like jazz and playground pebbles. A certain sense of freedom not yet tainted by adulthood
She sings me colourful strings of profanity and innuendos, made even more scandalous by our adolescence. She sings me giggle fits and ghost stories. She sings me philosophy, and film quotes, and I love yous.
She makes it easy to forget how much pain she’s in.
Safe and Sound
I think of you while I brush my teeth. If I saw you every time I looked in a mirror, I’d feel beautiful.
You’re like good books and jigsaw puzzles; not necessarily thrilling, but nice to spend time with after a long day of doing difficult things.
You’re a cartoon marathon on a Saturday morning.
You’re every shade of blue and green.
When birds sing in spite of the rain, it’s just like how you speak with me.
I see you in the faces of all the people who tip their waitresses and smile at children and hold doors open for strangers.
You’re a long shower and a homemade meal.
You’re clothing fresh from the dryer.
You’re the original Star Wars trilogy.
You’re the ever-present narrator in the back of my head, and you always have something interesting to say.
I was homesick every day before I met you.
Into The Blue
Thomas Bailey lives in a second-story flat with popcorn ceilings and bare windowboxes. Two of the power outlets in his living room don’t work, but he doesn’t mind; he doesn’t like to bother maintenance.
He’s never had trouble finding his name on novelty keychains. He keeps a plastic ivy wreath on his front door year-round, because it’s nice to look at. Every night before bed, he watches cable on a sturdy box television and treats himself to a glass of filtered tap water. No ice.
Thomas fancies himself a writer. He knows he’s a good one, because he uses words like “precipice” and “effervescent” and “perpetual,” though he’s careful to dish these out sparingly in his works so they don’t seem overused. He’s tried several times to keep a journal, but always eventually quits. The entries look too similar.
At night, he lies beneath a set of plaid flannel sheets and watches his ceiling fan turn. He lets the steady tick of his analog clock lull him to sleep. In the back of his head, like a faint radio someone forgot to switch off, he thinks about that one Talking Heads song.
A fireplace gaze and a labrador smile; you suffered the lingering effects of your own kind of war, yet you still gave valiant aid in mine. I hope you ended up wherever dogs end up. I hope you can enjoy fireworks again.
Something Tookish Woke Up Inside Him
″...and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
It felt cliché to use the words of others as conduits for my own emotions, but somehow Tolkien managed to convey what I felt at that moment with hardly any effort at all. It was an innocent enough line in an innocent enough scene; perhaps it wasn’t even intended to strike readers as particularly consequential. But damn it if I didn’t feel that distinct, hollow pang in my chest when I first read it; that ache like the ghost of a bruise behind my ribs. It was reminiscent of a diagnosis, the way it simplified things. To have words for a feeling, even if they were exaggerated and taken out of context from a story about magic and dwarves, was simultaneously soothing and foreboding. It gave a name to that inherent subconscious desire to do something great—something different—in spite of inhibitions, fears, and an utter lack of spontaneity or personality.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part is that, much like wizards and magic rings and good overcoming evil, embarking on uncharacteristically grand adventures is a concept that might only exist in fairytales.