This was my musical backdrop in case you want some context in that way
The face of the moon sinks with sadness.
Thousands of trees. Larger than life, but from down here, they just look like bars. The warmth of down around me gone, the work of a mother forgotten too far above for me to ever climb. Is this what happens when you fail? Are you left, back broken, neck twisted into an impossible shape, staring up through a canopy of trees with the face of an ungodly moon staring down at you with such disapproval? Is it wrong that I want to be that moon?
An obnoxious set of tones chip through the air like a woodsman’s ax.
My eyes slowly focus on the world before me as I realize that I was caught so far in a daydream that I was looking through the world again. The muscles in my face ache a little and I realize that I am wearing the mask. Slowly, I reach up and remove the shining, alien thing… my own face.
The ring tone of my phone doesn’t offend me so much anymore. I fish it up off of the bedside table, as I swoop out of the covers, all swirled into a mess in the center of the bed even though I’ve not used them. My finger passes over the surface of the device and suddenly I can hear someone very far away. Once I wouldn’t have needed an extension to realize this feat.
“This is Louise.”
“Hello, Mr. Napier. I’m sorry if I’ve woken you.”
My voice must sound groggy. I cough the phlegm out of my throat. They tell me that everything I say comes out a little French… or Polish… or German. Perhaps this a byproduct of how far away the modern world has strayed from the first language. Though I rarely sleep, I often have a certain husk in my voice that I can neither quite recall crawling into my larynx nor account for why it is there.
“No need for apology. May I ask who this is?”
I wander to my window, pulling at the shades. It is not dark yet, but the sky is mercifully overcast.
“Y-yes of course. I have your card you see, from a bulletin in my building. There was a Mrs. Fisher that you helped and-”
“And your name is?”
“And what can I do for you, Ms. Ramsey?”
“It’s actually Mrs.”
“Ah… My apologies, Mrs. Ramsey.”
“No-no, it’s alright. Call me Caroline.”
“What can I do for you, Caro-”
“Could you meet me? I would like to hire you, but I… I would rather do it in person. It’s-it’s urgent. It’s about my-”
“Alright, I can be in my office in-”
“Actually, could you meet me at my place? I mean the place where I work?”
A slight frown crosses me.
“Sure. Text me the address.”
She is a lie
I look at the polished white of the unearthly face staring back at me from the bedside table where I set the mask. The eyeholes are always looking straight at me, no matter where it sits. It has eyes for no one else. I quickly dab the red button with an image of a telephone. A moment’s wonder at such an antiquated symbol possessing such meaning, and I snag the mask while placing one of the cigarettes filled with incense older than this city, this country… maybe this continent, and I light a fire.
I have pulled on a list of cliches. It makes me feel better to be so armored… A long coat, a disheveled suit, one of those cheap fedoras, and my half-burnt cigarette. I make them long, and I make them myself, so they last longer than the average thing might… Allows me to play out the act with a little less maintenance. I itch a little, anxious that I’m not wearing the mask… Stepping into a new place like this… The voice that called itself Caroline has brought me to a large building filled with offices. All I can see are the eyes… All I can hear are the vague chittering sounds of humanity at work. Phones and squeaky cart wheels, typing fingers and doors both automatic and manual, everything slamming quietly against me like raindrops too dry to satisfy a parched and dusty road so that all is left is a cloud of me… a ghost hovering through…
“Excuse me sir!”
I shake my head. Ah, yes, the receptionist. I was slipping again. I guess I am a little tired. I can feel one hand fondling the mask inside of my coat.
“Can I help you?”
“No, thank you. I know my way up.”
I know no such thing, but these buildings tend to all work the same way. With the blessing of Agrippa, this place will be no different. The incense is going to my head again. I blow out a cloud of smoke, no mean feat, and while the young girl is caught in a fit of coughing and hollering at me that there is no smoking inside, I slide into a place more adjacent to the visual spectrum of light so that I need deal less with her or anyone else for that matter. Elevators are amazing things, but stairwells are much less populated in general, and slipping through the door is as easy as opening it, which I rarely do anymore.
Once I have found her floor, I slip through the walls until I have found the appropriate office number. There is a someone there. She doesn’t look like a Caroline, but that is what the nameplate on the desk calls her. He dark hair hanging about her shoulders, pale skin slightly blemished from exposure to the sun, visible freckles. She wears age well, only a few wrinkles here and there about the eyes and mouth. She has handled herself well too, probably attends a gym by the look of her toned musculature, apparent in bare arms and a slim figure. She is harried by something. I slip back into a place where I can be seen as easily as I slip into the chair in front of her desk.
She jumps visibly, looking at me and then at the door which never opened.
“How did you?”
“You recognize my voice from the phone call. It is Lousie Napier.”
“Yes I… but how…”
“You wanted to hire me for a job. You wanted to tell me about the job.”
She is slowly adjusting some thought in her head to explain my entry. Even more slowly, she begins to fish about among the papers in front of her until she pulls out a photograph. It is a young man. Rapid calculation sets him in his late teens and if my estimations about her own age are correct, and the resemblance I see in the hair and eyes are any indication this is her-
“It’s my son, Mason. He has-there are some bad men that he has…”
As long as I have lived in Pumpkin Hill, I’ve never heard of a gang called the Gilded Thorn. The assertions that the woman made, how she knew what she supposedly knew… It doesn’t sit well with me.
She is false. She could be made to tell the truth.
I know where I can find the truth. I’ll start with the Soldier. Emily might have some idea. Enough people slough through that place eventually.
The truth was within arm’s reach. All that had to be done was to reach out and-
I need a drink.
Street lamps flicker a bit as we walk by and I just smile. Adriana is laughing now that we are away from the fracas at the bar. She lost a few of her books, she tells me, and she is worried about her friends, especially a young girl that she keeps calling Thea. She says that Thea rushed towards the brutes who attacked the place. I just smile and let her know that I will go back and take care of everything once I’ve made sure that my charge is safe at home before the stroke of midnight. She always accepts my pitiable attempts at humor with that light attitude and just pushes one hand through her mess of red hair. She’s still worried, but she also knows that once I’ve given her my word that there is nothing that stops me.
The sun is out before I make it back to the Soldier. I remember the night before. I remember the shouting, the violence. The attackers got a lot more than they bargained for. They did not get it from me, though. That towering woman stepped right from the wet nightmare of some diseased enthusiast of television and novel. She was horror blended of blade and death. The young man who had rushed so headlong at the attackers… A city of villains and despots and I stepped into the bar full of heroes. Gory, terrifying, and misguided heroes, but Adriana made it out relatively unscathed. I have no complaint. But ninjas? The Gilded Thorn are a bunch of hooded men with swords? What kind of nonsense world vomits these sorts of people up? Then I remember how the night ended, and I am given pause. If Rafael ever finds out that I projected an image of his wife in the nude into a public place like that… ninjas are going to be the last nightmarish haunt that I will be having to worry about.