“Bright Lights, Scamp City”
The Bay Square Drive sign over the road had seen better days, looking like it was melting off of the metal. It appeared Texas was as warm as I was led to believe.
Amos dropped me off at a large entrance, with doors that opened themselves for consumers. I’d seen as much on television, but what I didn’t expect to see a Sears sign looming overhead. I recalled the catalogue — Sears, Roebuck, & Co. — and here it was, a larger-than-life version I imagined filled with objects that could be held, purchased, and taken home.
Inside, I walked as far as I could before stopping to sit on any convenient bench when I grew tired. Amos was correct: elders were indeed making use of the indoor city, Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, and I was getting lapped. It was very bright — too bright — from the sun streaming through glass skylights to artificial lighting illuminating store fronts.
For those I supposed couldn’t afford a shop of their own, vendors took up the spaces between them like street carts in a Turkish bazaar. One sold eyewear in different colors, with so many styles and choices it was dizzying. One pair and style stood out to me, with lenses like black circles and very different from the modern angularity of other frames.
“Want to try those on?” a pleasant woman asked.
In the mirror she provided, I looked like Casey Stenge waiting for a pop-fly into the Dodgers’ outfield.
There was a discount for two pair, so I accepted, and wearing them took away the strain from my eyes. Why didn’t everyone wear these? The frivolity of goods and merchandise in this time were excessive but also individual, with myriad options with which to make up one’s own fashion.
The centralized Court of Food (not it’s name, but the amusement was there) was where people finally stopped, seated themselves, and dined with disposable cutlery. Every age, race, and class passed through the court, oblivious to anything outside of their individual little worlds. Talking on their telephones; stuffing their faces; ferrying shopping bags between establishments to buy more.
Dressed in gray clothes suitable for exercise while watching everything through dark lenses, I was wholly ignored, among them but not with them, the disconnection of a mere observer. My circumstance, however, was by no means unique.
I wouldn’t have even noticed the little scamp if they hadn’t moved.
A slight figure in oversized clothes, their chin was exposed from the cowl of a woven poncho with a red-gray Spanish motif, with their fingertips extending from loose sleeves. It fit more like a cloak down to their knees; have I mentioned how fascinating the textiles and colors are in this era? Sea-green bellbottomed leggings peeked out from beneath the poncho, too long and dragging behind closed-toe sandals.
What drew my attention was the person didn’t move like the child they could be mistaken for. There was no awkwardness or missed steps, only deliberate moves — like a dancer or a scavenging squirrel — and utterly silent. It was the periodic moments of stillness that held my eye, as if the person might disappear if I dared look away. The scamp was removing individual potato sticks to eat from the cartons from various diners, none of whom seemed aware of the obvious thefts.
A particularly large man — with seemingly two of everything in the court on the table in front of him — made the scamp hesitate, presumably weighing the risks of being caught. I imagined what someone’s head would feel like caught in the grip of the man’s enormous hands. Instead of the confident swipe from other victims, fingers moved with caution as a wry smile widened beneath the scamp’s cowl.
I wouldn’t do that, I thought, as if I could dissuade the act by will alone.
The scamp froze. The smile soured.
When I blinked, they vanished from my sight as though never having been.
For a moment, I began to reconsider my early release from the infirmary, wondering if the neurologist had been correct after all.
“How dare you influence me!” came the lilted voice from behind, almost in a giggle.
Turning to look, the scamp was perched atop a table, the cowl pulled back. A smooth youthful face was framed with sandy pixie-like hair, but I couldn’t decide if they were a boy or a girl… or a child at all. Mischievous eyes sized me up, perhaps deciding what kind of threat I was. I said nothing and waited.
The wry smile returned. “Dude, turn down the surface thoughts. Think in lowercase. It’s like you’re screaming at me. Is this seat taken?” The androgynous scamp plopped down onto the bench next to me.
I grew more certain I had lost my mind. “What shall I call you?”
“Aaron,” came the reply. Or had it been “Erin?”
I chose not to ask the obvious question.
“Fun, right? They have a great word for it here: ‘fluid.'” There was a waiving hand gesture to go with the term. “I’ll go easy on you today, not-so great old one: I’m leaning feminine, but I reserve the right to change my mind on a whim. I mean, shouldn’t everyone?”
“Spell it for me, if you please. Your name.”
“Gasp! You’ve tricked me.” The giggle again. “It’s E-R-E-N. Does that settle it for you?”
“It will do, Eren. Now, what are you?”
Eren leaned back, reassessing. “Oh wow. You’re still working it out, huh? Lucky I found you this soon so I can get on your good side. How long’s it been this time?”
“How long’s what been?”
Those mischievous eyes took on a curious expression. “What do you remember? What’s clouding your thoughts and trying to poke through?”
I was about to describe my patchwork of interests, but Eren appeared to be seeing whatever popped into my head, even looking overwhelmed by it. As an obvious figment of my imagination, it never struck me odd Eren could read my thoughts or move without me seeing, but it did bother me someone might take notice of me talking to myself.
“The Roar!” Eren leaned back onto the bench with outstretched arms and closed eyes, drawing in a deep breath in fond recollection. “A time when we were whispered about as part of the natural order, not cast out onto the fringe or viewed as bad omens.” Eren turned and fixed me with a stern look. “And I take offense to being thought of as imaginary. What if I said I made you up? How would you feel? Jerk influencer…”
“You say that like it’s a title.”
“It’s what you are.” That unblinking stare again. “Have you even picked a name yet?”
“You have. You’ve already answered to it… Professor.”
“‘Professor’ isn’t a name; it’s a title.”
Erin smiled wide and leaned in close. “In your case, it’s a prefix. ‘Professor Tenebris Cultro,’ the soon-to-be influencer of all things terrestrial… once you come into your own. I can help you with that, if you want.”
“Out of the goodness of your heart?”
“What heart? It’s gonna cost ya, dude.”
Continue reading In Chapter 8
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