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5.2

I woke up on the floor. It was soft — plush. I sneezed.

“Where am I?” I mumbled, looking around the room. Lusu was standing there, as well as two elves I didn’t recognize. We were in a bedroom, but I wasn’t on the bed.

The ocean looked at me. “Turns out The Hero has a couple of admirers,” Lusu said.

“We’re in a bedroom,” I asked, putting my hands on the carpet, moving to get up.

“Somewhere to hide from the Elf Guard,” Lusu said.

I looked at the two elves standing on either side of Lusu. The one was dressed in a black sweater and jeans. The other wore a leather jacket with a translucent cape.

“I don’t know why I’m wearing this either,” the elf with the translucent cape said, looking at me like she’s had to explain herself a hundred times. “All I know is that I am wearing this, because it’s what I’m destined to wear.”

“That’s sad,” I said.

“Not really,” Lusu said. “It’s strange, but strange and weird are two different things. Wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah,” the caped elf said, smiling. “I like that.”

I looked over at the bed and saw The Hero there. His arm bled.

“What happened?” I asked, moving towards The Hero.

“The Hero may have fans,” Lusu said, “but you don’t. We were coming here to figure out what we should do — what our game plan should be to stop Evan. We didn’t get very far before the Elf Guard pulled us over and found you. I really didn’t realize the Elf Guard cared so much for the temporally dislocated.”

“Usually they don’t,” the elf in jeans said. “That’s what so weird. It’s like they have a trace on you or something. Name’s Trixie, by the way.”

“Elsa,” the caped elf said.

“He going to be alright?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Trixie said. “I’m sure he’s seen a lot tougher shit in his time. You know, like minor deities.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Deicide isn’t an easy thing.”

“So who the hell are you, anyway? What do the Guard want with you?” Trixie asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what the Guard want with me. Maybe it’s because I’m one of their own.”

“Nah,” Trixie said. “Elves go crazy all the time — even the Guard. You seen some shit you shouldn’t have seen?”

I chuckled — couldn’t help it. “Yeah. I’ve seen some shit I shouldn’t have seen.”

“You seen anything interesting?” Trixie asked.

“Our friends are thieves by trade,” Lusu said. “They want to know if you know any spots that the Elf Guard wouldn’t be able to guard correctly.”

“You don’t speak for me,” Trixie said.

“Am I wrong?” Lusu asked.

“No,” Trixie said. “But that don’t mean you speak for me.”

“Sorry,” she said, hands in the air and head down.

“So, do you know of anywhere that the Elf Guard haven’t been able to protect?”

“Not really,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Sorry.”

“Nowhere?” she asked. “You don’t remember anything good? Before you answer, lemme also make sure you remember that we just saved your life.”

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I don’t know.”

“Trixie,” Elsa said. “We can always–”

“No,” Trixie said.

“But Trixie, we can–”

“You heard what I said.”

“I heard what you said,” Elsa said, “but we can do it now. We’ve got five bodies now, and one of them has an Elf Guard badge.”

“For all the good it’ll do us,” Trixie said. “Face is practically famous in this town.”

“We can just use the badge,” Elsa said. “One of us can use it, and the Elf Guard doesn’t have to show her face. We can do it, Trixie. I’m telling you we can do it.”

“Alright,” Trixie said. “We’ll do it.”

“You guys want to use my badge?” I asked.

“We’re not asking,” Trixie said.

“I–”

“We saved your lives and got shot at ourselves,” Trixie said. “It’s not like that badge is good for legal purposes anymore, anyway. So we’re not asking. You’re just going to give it to us.”

It never was, for me. Held back a laugh. It felt like the wrong time — the wrong place — for a laugh.

“So what, exactly, do you want us to do?” Lusu said.

“That’s simple,” Trixie said. “We want you two to help us carry out a heist.”

— — —

Makeup caked my face: blush, mascara, foundation. Trixie even made a somewhat realistic scar for me to wear.

My impulse was to want to wipe it all away. It just wasn’t me. What was all the shit doing on my face? But of course, I knew better. I had to put up with this shit to get along in society — to have people not notice who I actually was. Or, at least, to see who I looked like.

Lusu, the two elves, and I walked down the street. If I hadn’t been so nervous, I might’ve enjoyed it. The Elf City was beautiful: tall, baroque spiralling upwards, reaching for the heavens. I’d written a couple articles on them, a lifetime or two ago.

Elves would start building them when they were young, knowing what the perfect base was for what they’d later want. Build one floor, then add on, nothing looking out of place, a lifetime’s worth of shifting tastes being submerged under the desire for unity.

There was something beautiful about it, if a little boring. No brick looked out of place.

“They’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching,” the elf said, repeating herself over and over again. She lay in the alleyway, wrapped in a quilt, repeating herself over and over again.

It broke my heart — made me wonder if my life wasn’t the worst in this goddamned awful world.

I’d been lucky to have a friend in Beckett. I’d been lucky to have a sometimes-friend in the Angel of Death. And I’d never gone homeless. I’d had a helluva lot of problems, but never that.

“They’re watching,” the elf said, stopping her repetition suddenly. I stopped in my tracks as she stopped her words. We looked at each other for a moment. There was a spark there, a connection.

I took a cigarette out of my pocket, snuck it in-between my lips, muttering “Fiat lux.” A flick of the fingers, and flame appeared.

“You want a smoke?” I asked the elf, squatting down in the dirty street.

“Don’t smoke,” the elf said.

“I’m sorry, about everything.”

“You’re not real,” the elf told me.

“I’m–”

“Wrong, somehow,” she said.

“I think you’re right,” I said, chuckling. I was a helluva lot of wrong, to tell the truth. Having someone acknowledge that without hate was nice.

“Are you an alien?” she whispered.

I sighed. “No. No, I’m not.”

— — —

The elf handed my my coffee order before I had the chance to make it. I stood there, not saying a word, foolishly surprised. He stood there, apron bulging out with his stomach, stained with coffee.

“What’s the problem?” he asked me, while I stood there dumbfounded. “You gonna take the drink?”

I grabbed the drink out of his hand. “Thanks.”

He nodded his head, then went back to one of the coffee machines, even though no one else was waiting for coffee.

I walked towards Lusu and the two elves. Took a sip of coffee a little too early. Burned my tongue, surprised it’d actually hurt.

Guess this tongue was sensitive.

“They’ll know we’re coming,” I heard Lusu say as I sat down.

“Obviously,” Trixie said.

“You elves are abominable.”

“Obviously,” Trixie said.

Lusu rolled her eyes.

There was something funny about the sight: Lusu the Death Cultist, not worrying anyone around her. That said, they didn’t have anything to be worried about, did they? It wasn’t like she was going to do anything to her. They knew she wasn’t going to do anything to her.

No need for worried looks.

Made it hard to bluff an elf, though.

“They have to not know we tried breaking in,” I said.

“Or they have to figure it out late enough that it doesn’t really matter,” Lusu said.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Trixie said.

“But how do we actually do that? You’re not even sure what’s in the building.”

“No one is, except the Elf Guard,” Trixie said, pointedly looking my way.

“I don’t remember,” I said. “I don’t know that I ever saw inside the tower.”

“I’m just saying, it would make a lot of sense,” Trixie said. “It would explain why the Elf Guard has such a hard-on for you.”

“They want all elves to get rehabilitated back into the time stream,” I said.

“Yeah, but they tend to give up pretty quickly on that one,” she said. “They want you to get better, but they’re not willing to take the time required to make it happen. You either get better real quick, or they let you rot on the streets.”

“Sounds like you care a lot” Lusu said.

Trixie snapped a glare at Lusu. “I don’t like seeing people left to rot in the streets. That a problem?”

“Father?” Lusu asked, putting coffee up to her lips. “Mother? A sibling, a kid, an ex of some sort? Who got lost in the time stream?”

Trixie leaned back in her chair, folding her arms. “Disconnection runs in the family. They all dissociate, lose themselves.”

I scratch my head.

“Of course, you don’t look all that crazy,” she said.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” I said.

“You really got no idea why the Elf Guard wants you so bad?”

“Wish I did,” I said.

— — —

Trixie and I stood outside the place we were trying to break into. She had no idea what was inside; me neither. But the way she figured it, something so heavily guarded had to have value.

Made sense to me, but we had to figure out what was inside before we thought about stealing it.

So Trixie and I stood outside the place, across the street, leaning against a wall and just talking. Trixie wore my clothes and I wore hers. They felt strange, but I’d gotten used to strange.

“Fiat lux,” I said, lighting a cigarette.

“Cold?” she asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “You never get cold in this outfit?”

“I do get cold,” she said, “but I like it. Makes me feel alive.

“Huh,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“Just makes me feel cold,” I said, taking a drag. “So what’s the plan?”

“We watch.”

“That’s the plan?” I asked. “You learn a lot by watching, but I thought…”

“What’d you think?”

“Thought you had a plan,” I said.

“My plan was to use your Elf Guard knowledge,” Trixie said. “But clearly you got jack-shit of that, so this is my back-up plan.”

“To watch,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Not sure you can call watching a plan. Sounds like you had one plan, it didn’t work, so now we’re sitting here trying to come up with another plan.”

The two of us stood there like that, talking but not really saying anything, watching the building ahead of us. It did look pretty conspicuous, and I was surprised that more people didn’t spend time looking at it. Instead, a lot of the elves had their gazes planted firmly on the ground, walking from one place to another in their tattered suits and timid dresses.

I stood there, taking a real good look at the building, figuring Trixie and I might be the only ones really bothering to look at the thing before us.

It was a silo, interesting in that there wasn’t anything concrete about it: no corners, no cracks, no edges, no character. It was a steel thing, about three stories high — high enough to be normal, low enough to be normal.

But the shape of the thing was strange. Felt a bit of vertigo, like looking at it for too long convinced me of its unreality.

Half an hour passed, Trixie and I pretending to say things but really saying nothing at all. Nobody’d left and nobody’d come. We just sat there, floating through life. I actually liked it a lot — the waiting. When you were waiting for something to happen, there wasn’t so much to worry about. Your task was to stand there, not to do things.

Would’ve been easier if I could just be a passive observer in life. Would’ve been easier than having to fuck and kill and run and love.

I wondered if that was the key to paradise — inaction.

Trixie looked beautiful in my clothes. I wondered what that said about me. I mean, I just couldn’t like my clothes when they were on me. But when they were on someone else? They just looked so damn beautiful.

Ironically, she looked so good in my clothes that I wanted to take them off of her. I imagined myself…

No.

The mission.

We were standing in front of the creepy silo, waiting for something to happen. Because something had to happen, right?

We were floating, right now. Existing. It was nice to think of that as enough.

I glanced over at the silo. Nothing had changed.

It was important not to keep an eye on the silo. After all, if the elves knew something was going to happen — if anything suspicious happened in the future — they could use that information now to look at anyone acting suspicious.

So Trixie and I had to act as normal as possible.

They couldn’t hear us, though, so I felt comfortable asking, “You know what’s going to happen in the future.”

“Obviously,” she said.

“It’d be nice if you told me.”

“You know I can’t,” she said. “Kind of a dumb question to ask. You used to hide the past from people, too. Until you went and did whatever you did that caused you to become disassociated from time.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I felt myself getting ready to think about that — about how I kept finding myself in other identities, in identities I didn’t want. But I didn’t have much time at all to think about it, because I saw Trixie clutch her head.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Head hurts,” she said.

Her eyes grew wide, so I asked again, more seriously, “What’s wrong?”

“The time stream,” she said. “Behind you, not supposed to happen.”

I turned around and saw an elf walking towards me.

“No. Shit. What the fuck are you doing?” she asked.

I grabbed her arm. “Let’s go.”

“That’s not what I’m supposed to do!” she hissed.

“Let’s go,” I said, pulling her up.

She got up. The elf was getting closer.

“You don’t know who he is?” I asked.

“No clue.”

“This ever happen before?”

“What?”

“Not knowing the future.”

“No.”

The man barked at us, “Freeze!”

I did. Trixie did, too.

“Turn around,” the elf barked.

Trixie did, slowly. I followed her.

The elf had a gun pointed at our heads.

“Just fucking kill me,” I told the elf, laughing. “Seriously, just fucking shoot me.”

The elf stood there, emotionless.

“You need me to threaten you?” I asked. “Is that it?”

I reached into my pocket, pulled out the gun. I couldn’t shoot him, not really. But he didn’t know that.

Or did he? He didn’t even flinch. Maybe he still knew what was going to happen, even if Trixie didn’t. I wanted to shoot him.

He began walking towards me.

Fuck it. Shoot him.

But I only had one bullet left, a bullet that could save the world, stop the apocalypse.

My mind wanted my finger to move, but it didn’t.

The elf smacked me across the head with the butt of his gun.

I hit concrete. Hard.

— — —

The Angel of Death stood in the gas station bathroom, wings furled. I saw her in the reflection of the mirror. I gripped the gas station’s sink.

The place smelled so awful. I felt bad for dragging such a beautiful thing into such an awful stink hole.

“It’s time to come with me,” she said. “I can bring you to a better place.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “No, no, no.”

“George, you’ve wanted this for a long time.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I have, but you didn’t take me then, remember? Do you remember me trying to hang myself, and what you said?”

“I do,” she said.

“You wouldn’t let me kill myself then, and dammit I’m not going to let myself die now.”

“This world is dying, George.”

“I’m not ready to go!”

“Every era thinks it’s nearing an apocalyptic age. I’ve always found that interesting — decade after decade, century after century, people were convinced that the apocalypse was coming to claim them. Probably some sort of desire to see the completion of something. Because that’s when something gains value: when it’s finished. That’s when we can determine whether something was a worthwhile endeavor. Of course, the apocalypse never came until now.”

“Right,” I said, looking over at the toilet, which was filled with puke. I leaned over and flushed it. The Angel of Death did me the favor of not looking at it — not even reacting to it.

“I know a place where you can be safe,” she said, “I know a place where you can survive.”

I sighed. “This is my destiny. The world’s going to end, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, I guess I’d like to be here til the end,” I said.

— — —

My back felt cold. So did my wrists, bound by metal.

My eyes snapped open and I saw a metal grating above me. A fan whirred softly, blowing ice cold air into the room.

I felt so damn cold. Tilted my head up a few inches, so that my chin touched my chest.

I was naked. Pulled against the restraints on my arms and legs. No go.

“Bad dream, my sweet?” a heavily accented voice asked. Turned my head, only to see a man in an apron and black bask. “Go back to sleep. Sleep, and all this will be over when you wake up.”

A sharp pain in my neck.

A needle.

The cold embrace of sleep.

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