Even much later, after months had passed, Alice would be unable to explain what possessed her into taking that first bite.
There she was, fresh from hell; half-delirious, half-manic, smattered in foul smelling blood from shoe to throat. She’d fallen on all fours. The closet door, that big green slab was beneath her. But the green paint, the undercoating, the graffiti and smears of crusted blood, it had all burned and gone. The sturdy sheet of iron that was left spread beneath her hissing waves of cherry red and gold. The linoleum around her shattered. The molten iron roiled and belched. Behind her, the simple metal closet sagged into itself, the wall behind it coughing thick black smoke and flames.
Alice fell back onto her haunches. Around her, the corridor smoldered. The fires climbed. Moments later alarms blared to life over the intercom.
It was nighttime now. Alice curled up on her bed, her back to the headboard. A fingernail moon was out, the stars were up, every light in the house was off, in hers and beside hers and across the street, and she sat in that perfect dark, a spoon cupped in her hands. She took a breath.
The spoon collapsed. A puddle of red-gold light bloomed in her palms, pleasantly cool to the touch. By that light Alice saw her hands, her knees, her feet, the foot of her bed. Beyond that, the suggestion of a dresser, the back of a chair, a cluttered desk, and finally the far window with her own reflection in it. Alice bit her lip. What a ghastly underlit face it was…
Alice turned away from her reflection and watched the molten steel, for minutes or maybe hours. If she looked close enough she could almost see herself in it. But this reflection was different. Warmer. Flattering somehow. She gently blew on it and watched the surface ripple with strange viscosity. She wondered what would taste like. Salt and pennies? Would it be warm? Too hot? Soft? Smooth or grainy?
Alice lifted her hands to her lips. The sensation that flooded her mouth was – like taffy, the inviting way that her mouth began to water and the steel played against her tongue. The flavor was unlike anything she’d ever experienced, salty, chalky, earthy, sharp and cold and smooth and-
. . . . .
They were calling it arson. Talking about charges and ‘we’ll do this when we find whoever did that.’ Standard affair for anything that happened in East – Wile E. Coyote came in and painted the illusion of concern over a tarp. More likely than not nothing would come of it. Still the chance remained – it wasn’t like they couldn’t figure out who – It was the closet right by her locker.
Alice probably should have been concerned. But she hadn’t been to school in days, closed for repairs as it was, and the weekend was just ahead. School seemed like a different world. Different from her own, separate and distinct, and that was the world with problems, not hers. She felt no guilt or stress, no pressing urges to confess or run. She had begun to think like that more, lately.
Time passed simply for her. Alice slept at night. She rose in the morning. Her father seemed conflicted, but when they talked at those breakfasts and dinners, she was smiling, and so for the moment he asked no questions. Those first days Alice roamed the house, sampling the odds and ends that wouldn’t be missed.
Cluttery things like wood or plastic were awful. Just awful. Blegh.
Metal was thoughtful. like chocolate and black coffee. Not bad. Not great. Filling. Missing something.
Oh, but glass. Glass was sweet. Like cotton candy and hugs and good dreams and lazy Sunday mornings. It chewed and stretched like soft taffy, and in the right light the sun would catch and spin inside it, caught fast. Alice could watch it gleam for hours, coaxing it into shapes in her palm. If she could resist the urge to eat it. She rarely could.
. . . . .
She hadn’t gone to school Monday, shit was missing, and honestly her excuses were getting worse. Her dad could only pretend to believe her for so long.
Barging in that evening saying, “Alice did you – augh wow your room is an oven!”
“I’m cookin’ up dreams, dad.”
But could he blame her? If he knew how it felt – the soft satisfaction dripping down her throat like velvet.
Tuesday over breakfast asking, “Alice what happened to the bathroom mirror?”
“Oh it uh – broke. I’m fine I just was, I – I took it to the dump – took it to dumped… I dumped it on a corner. Somewhere else. So you wouldn’t… cut yourself on it.”
It was harder to feel guilty. Maybe if she tried, if she really tried. But her head was swimming most times. Soothingly warm and easygoing, so unconcerned with her own public standing it was as though she was dreaming.
Wednesday afternoon looking two shades concerned. “Alice what happened to the microwave?”
“That’s a good question father I’d better go investigate.”
Was she eating enough? She hadn’t had much actual food in what seemed like days. Was that alright? She felt alright. Better than alright. Warm and tingly, every second of every day.
Thursday morning waiting for her. “Alice, what happened to t – “
But her happiness could only counteract mandatory schooling and ‘everything being completely broken’ for so long. Judging by the face he’d made when she ran out the door, that length was nine days. So she’d been getting more impulsive, so what? You know what else was impulsive? Like. Tigers or something. And they totally had their shit together.
The point was, she had to stop eating her house.
It was with this in mind and not much else that Alice found herself prowling around the skeleton of Baytown’s shipping industry.
Huge abandoned warehouses, stacks of tanker-sized shipping crates, crunchy gravel-sprinkled tarmac, dandelions and thistles, mosquitoes and cicadas, and in those rare instances where she had an unobstructed view of the bay she could see undulating waves of masts and rusted hulls, a second ocean just above the first.
There was no route. She went whichever way looked the least sketchy. But it was night in Baytown’s docks so that was an exercise in futility. No one seemed to be out, except her, which was strange but welcome, and she decided not to question it.
Alice tried brick. It was a complicated taste, like running your paper cup through the whole soda bar. In this metaphor this included the iced tea, a classic novice mistake. The taste didn’t want to leave her mouth. Alice flossed the brick remnants with her tongue and spat the glob of molten rock at a puddle, then squawked and ran away giggling because holy goddamn tits was it loud.
But those industrial size glass panes! Wowzers. Alice took a chunk from a warehouse she was nearly almost maybe positive was abandoned and nibbled as she wandered, the glass liquefying around her teeth as she bit down.
As she ate, and ate, and ate some more, completely lost to hedonism, her head seemed to blow up, feeling heavy and fuzzy, and her chest began to tingle, hot flashes coursing down her, leaving her flushed and stumbling.
Things went downhill, or perhaps uphill from there. She felt hot. Unseasonably hot, and thirsty and hungry. She roamed the docks as a belligerent drunk: kicking bottles, cackling, spitting glass at mosquitoes, all those things that drunks do. She left an imprint of her face melted into the side of a warehouse. Every impulsive and intrusive thought was fully realized. But as the night went on the veneer began to peel away.
Was it day? Night? It was harder to think. Her internal monologue got quieter and quieter, and now it didn’t seem to be there at all, and she was simply… simply was. This was not entirely unwelcome. The complications, and aches and worries all peeled back, and it was only her, just her. No Kate. No dad.
The day-night spun and swirled. Was that the sun coming up? Stars burst behind her eyes, her ears rang and ached, every sound seeming to come from right beside her, and as she stumbled to her knees it seemed as though she were in a hurricane, a calamitous racket of crashes and gasps, battering at her sides.
She saw her own hands on pavement, fingers splayed and bloodied from where they’d split on something sharp. But that wasn’t quite blood, was it? It looked like a demented oil slick; coils of glimmering red and silver and orange. It smoked as it spread on the pavement.
Alice’s mind surged in like pounding headache, hissing forwards, and for a brief moment filling her head to burst, searing hot and cold and terribly loud. She wanted to scream. She tried to scream.
Why the hell did I come out here
What is happening to me
What did I
Why did I
Am I dying
I don’t want to die
Something grabbed her and yanked and she was flying back, through twisting lines and swirling fractals, hands and legs and eyes and alien things; senseless pulsing flesh laid out in mountains and valleys. It pulled her under, smothering her. She gasped and it flooded her mouth, wiggling, clawing down her throat.
Alice blinked. She was on her hands and knees. She was warm, but the night was deliciously cool. She was alive, still. Not dead. That was good. Not dead was good.
None of the frantic, heart pounding terrified thoughts from before had carried through. Instead that space between her ears was quiet. She could almost cry. That quiet…
She stood and wiped her hands on her pants. When she checked, she found that beneath that swirling, hissing blood lied smooth unmarred skin.
The time was – Alice looked up – probably around two in the morning, going by the light. Alice was tired. She should get home.
. . . . .
Michael was asleep on the couch. How he’d managed to sleep with that much worry on his face Alice had no clue. Was it proper to wake him or to let him sleep? If he slept like that he’d wake up with a crick in his neck.
Alice poked him good. Poke. “Dad.”
Michael jerked awake with a grunt, rising unsteadily once his brain caught up.
Alice hugged him. “Love you. Go to bed.”
Michael contributed to the hug on autopilot, saying things and making sounds that a human might make at three in the morning, two seconds after waking up.
Alice said, “Goodnight.” She went to bed. Holy hell was it comfortable. “Wow,” said Alice, wrapped in fireplaces and clouds.
She was up again four hours later and no worse for wear. Michael was at the table when she entered the kitchen.
He said good morning.
Alice said good morning.
She sat down. He’d made her fried eggs. They weren’t bad, all things considered. And it was remarkably nice of him, given how tired he looked. Also considering that the little skillet had vanished Wednesday so he’d probably had to use the saucepan. Pretty pro, dad.
He asked how she was.
She said great.
He said good.
Clattering forks. Rustling paper.
He asked if she was going to school.
It was Friday, right? Yeah, sure. Why not.
She asked about his work.
He said things were chugging along. Like a very old, busted steam engine.
Alice sighed contentedly.
The teapot whistled. He stood and filled an old French press.
He asked if there was anything she needed.
Alice beamed. “I got all the stuff I need right here, pops.” It was the truth. There was an all-she-could-eat buffet out there, near the water’s edge. Also perhaps in the water. It was a two birds one stone situation if she could make it work.
He smiled. Some of the tension left his face.
Alice washed her plate. “Have a good day at work.” She stepped foot out the door.
“Oh right. Thanks dad.”
It was a complicated expression that saw her out.
. . . . .
The school was open again, fortunately. It’d have been a wasted bus trip otherwise. The metaphorical foot of East was all tarps and char and smoke damage. The whole place smelled like burning, even from the edge of campus where Alice walked.
She got to class.
Baker said things.
The day passed like that, a blur of sit talk ring bell sit ring bell talk, and then suddenly it was lunch.
Though in fairness it couldn’t really be called lunch. Alice envied Hollywood high schools, with their sneeze-panes and actual food variety. She loaded her tray with spaghetti and plastic forks.
Alice found a seat at an empty table and prodded her meal, not really feeling the lunch vibe. Seriously, what was she supposed do to with plastic? Open a plastic store? Stupid. But actually smart, because this place having metal utensils? That would be stupid. As was opening a plastic store.
Shadows fell across the table. Alice looked up. She recognized these people.
“What are you doing in here?” Kate asked. “You know pigs are supposed to eat outside, right?”
Insults aside, that was actually a good question. What was she doing at school? A favor to her father, but beyond that Alice wasn’t sure. She remembered dreams of English and teaching and having a little apartment to call home. But that was before, when Kate was with her, not against her. After that was always so nebulous, put in terms of stomach-this and turn-the-cheek that, outlive, outgrow. ‘To where’ never had an answer.
Kate said something horrible. Daphne sneered and was physically imposing, and yet also… slightly off. Was her heart not in it? It didn’t look to be. Brittany was there as well, being Brittany.
Alice knew she should react somehow, but she hadn’t been listening. First due to introspection, second due to something about Kate’s lip gloss and the way it just… gleamed as she talked.
“Well?” asked Kate, having kept on talking while Alice tried to figure out what was going on.
“You’ve got pretty lips,” Alice said, honest and a shade fond. For a moment she drifted back, caught in nostalgia as Kate worked up a zinger. “Do you remember when we practiced kissing?”
Kate blanched. Daphne quirked an eyebrow. Brittany drifted back a bit. “It doesn’t even really feel that long ago. Three years, maybe?” She snorted. “Tongue. Like, you don’t think it’s going to be that loud right? But then here comes dad clomping up the stairs-”
Kate cut her off with a probably biting remark involving the word ‘freak,’ Alice knew because she caught the sharp ‘F’ – Kate had this way of saying F’s that had made her giggle nine times out of ten. Alice bobbed her head to the side, full of sass and marmalade: “Fah-reaky. And really, what was he worried about? What did he expect to find? It was just us. Like he wouldn’t have been happy for us were that the case, you know? You were already family.”
Kate, the closest a human can come to being spiritually parried, made noises that didn’t quite resolve into words but came appreciably close all the same.
Alice looked at her. Really looked. Angry was a bad face on her. But this wasn’t quite anger, not just. Anger wasn’t supposed to burn that much. And anger didn’t look like it was about to cry.
They’d drawn a crowd. A movie crowd; butts down feet up, awaiting entertainment. Alice could understand. She knew how things like this were supposed to go. How they’d always gone. Brittany was off in the wings, there in spirit if nothing else. Daphne hadn’t moved, but she was resting on her heels now, away from the conversation.
Kate said something. Something pretty terrible, going by a nearby eavesdropper’s scandalous gasp. Alice didn’t hear it. She was watching the lines play over Kate’s face.
Kate stepped back. Then a glimmer of frustration flashed across her face and she took two steps forward, her jaw clenching to hide the tremors, something strange flashing in her eyes as she rounded the edge of the table and waited for Alice there.
Alice walked around the table. Now they stood face to face.
Kate said something more.
Alice hugged her. In the two seconds that it lasted Alice noticed how much taller she was now; Kate was nearly a full head shorter. Her hair smelled like strawberries. She was small, or maybe Alice was long, the way her arms fit around Kate with room to spare. Alice remembered getting pencil lines drawn on their doorway, Kate standing on her toes, nudging the tip of the pencil higher up with her head like they couldn’t all see it.
Then Kate shoved her to the floor, snapping her from her daze. She looked furious. Tears beaded in the corners of her eyes.
Alice propped herself up on her hands. Kate took her tray of untouched spaghetti and emptied it over. She said something, her lips still hypnotizing and gleaming, and then she stormed away, out of the cafeteria. Brittany followed hot on her heels. Daphne lingered.
Alice rose to her feet leisurely. Spaghetti and sauce slopped down her shirt. Daphne approached. When Alice had gotten enough off to her satisfaction she glanced up and noticed Daphne there, waiting just inside her personal space.
“Do you want a hug too?”
Daphne’s eyebrows rose. She shot a meaningful glance at the spaghetti sauces stains. “No thanks.”
Alice hummed. “Well.” She looked down at herself. “I should probably go.”
Daphne hummed. “See ya later, Kos.”
. . . . .
The weekend came and went. Monday afternoon found Alice playing hooky.
She had been thinking about her future. What she really needed was money. It was all that anyone needed.
The house needed money, too. She could see the writing on the walls. More importantly, she could see the writing on their mail. Bills. So many bills. Now she understood why they didn’t have phones; he couldn’t afford them. She wanted to help.
Alice had ideas of how her power could be used for profit. But she needed to investigate. Alice Kos, investigator.
Sunday night, after Michael was off to bed, Alice skulked around the docks again. This time she took her backpack. She filled it with slabs of glass and metal, a smorgasbord of clears and greys and rusted browns.
She also explored a great deal. Not for any grand reason, just the siren call of the inner child that delighted in finding new places, new caves and forts, and the adventure of it all. She melted her way into shipping crates. Opened big thundery warehouse doors. Drew a flower on a wall with her finger. She toyed with the idea of swimming out and poking around those dilapidated boats, but no, she’d save that for a full moon. And a swimsuit.
Monday afternoon Alice went to the boardwalk. It was all beachfront and stalls and hot-dog vendors. The vibe was that of a giant vaguely-elitist farmers market. Probably the best place for her to sell odds and ends and not need to worry about permits or advertising. The light there was good, too. Clear in the morning, gold in the evening. Shimmery. The kind of light that would catch and spin.
“Excuse me,” Alice said. The T-shirt vendor turned. “Hi. Could you tell me if there are hoops I need to jump through to get a stall like yours?”
He smiled. “Well you’ll need a table. And a beach umbrella, something to keep the sun off you.”
“Okay,” Alice said, committing that to memory. “What else?”
A cursory internet search revealed an unhelpful list of compounds that, when combined with molten glass, would produce colored glass. But… Cobalt? Gold? Uranium? Where was she supposed to get uranium?
A day passed in their garage, Alice sitting cross-legged, kneading mixes of glass and random metals together. She found that combining the compounds by chewing them together made them significantly prettier. But also significantly more delicious. Such was the duality of man. Or something.
Honestly there were probably videos of the subject but it was more fun to just screw around and see what happened.
She tried her metal stash, she tried vitamins and metal-y sounding supplements from around the house, she tried money, nickels and pennies. The glass spun with blues and violets and yellows, the colors keeping separate somehow instead of muddying together into brown or grey. No reds. She got a beautiful, fiery orange, but no reds. Another time, then.
By the end of the day she a modest selection of products. Amulets, paperweights, small vases. Boring but reliable, and they’d shine like no one’s goddamned business.
Goddamn. Look at ‘em go. Alice ate a little glass bear. “Shit.”
. . . . .
Tuesday morning found Alice setting up her little folding table near the ass end of the boardwalk. The best spots were taken or too official looking for her to seem anything but a sham.
She found herself parked between that friendly T-shirt vendor from before and a struggling artist; the man sat in a wicker chair framed by wall dividers that were cluttered with frames and prints.
The first day was uneventful. A woman passing by summed up the situation, remarking, “Eh,” as she shrugged and then carried on. Alice empathized. She didn’t look particularly legitimate, sitting at her no-shade table in a T-shirt and jeans.
Later that day came her only and most baffling sale.
An older woman picked up her heart pendant. At least it was probably the heart, it could also have been the bird. Her sculpting was a work in progress.
The woman held it to the light. She tapped it with her nail. She weighed it in her palm. She also sniffed it, Alice was the least sure about what that was about. Finally she asked, “How much is this?”
Alice said, “Two-fifty.”
The woman handed her two hundreds and a fifty.
Alice, having meant two dollars and fifty cents, said, “Um.”
But the woman was gone. Alice watched her fast-walk away, hurrying off into the distance like she’d stolen something. “Alright.”
She closed shop and bought a proper half-tent and card stock.
Alice set up shop again the following morning, feeling prim and proper beneath the shade of her half-tent.
Things sold slowly and without incident.
That afternoon a pretty blonde stopped by, all green eyes and freckles. She held a pendant to the light. “Oh wow. What is this?”
Alice’s eyes narrowed and she leaned forward in her chair. “A bird? Or – he might be a bear. My sculpting is a work in progress, sorry.”
“Oh,” she said. “That explains the wings? Or is it a heart? I meant what’s it made of.”
Alice nodded. It was glass, after all. Glass mixed with some metals she’d salvaged for color, but that was just how glass was colored. The internet told her so. And would the internet lie? Answer’s no.
The blonde pursed her lips and then held up the birdbear. “And you make these yourself?”
“Huh.” She returned the bearbird to its natural habitat, looking over the rest of Alice’s table as she did. “I’ve never met a glassmith before. Neat. You must have some serious equipment to get this kind of quality. What’s your setup?”
Alice wouldn’t know where to even begin with that lie. “Trade secret,” she said. “Or whatever.”
The blonde smiled unnervingly; sly and wily. The look suited her. “Well, I wouldn’t know what you were talking about anyways. Just curious. Say, how old are you?”
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
She laughed. “Well what are you doing out here, then? Shouldn’t you be off having fun? That’s what skipping school’s all about.”
“This is fun,” Alice said. And it was. Those green eyes were ten shades of gorgeous, moreso when they flickered with I know something you don’t.
The blonde’s grin softened. “You really need the money, then?”
“It wouldn’t hurt.”
“Do you take commissions?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Neat.” Bottle green eyes glimmered as she smiled. “Cause. Much as I like Mr. Bearsy here-“ she jostled the pendant look at that sucker gleam “-I’d like something or a more… birdy, flappy variety.”
“I can do flappy birds,” Alice said. “That said it might come out more triangular than bird-ular.”
“I find that risk acceptable. How much is this going to run me?”
Alice shrugged. “Twenty bucks?”
Another angular smile. “Let’s say fifty, and you need to work on your pricing.”
“You do.” Green eyes roved her table. “A shade amateurish, but endearing, and fantastic color.” She gestured from left to right, jabbing a finger at each of her price tags in turn. “Twenty, forty, fifty, eighty.”
Alice, looking at the same objects and price tags as the girl was, asked, “Are you sure? That seems…”
“I’m sure – what was your name?”
“Lara. And yes, I’m sure. Even that’s pretty modest, honestly.”
Alice looked over her dominion once more, in all its glimmering delicious glory. Were they really worth that much? The woman from the day before had seemed to think so. “Well. Thank you – for the advice, Lara. I’ll have your flappy bird by tomorrow morning, same place. Stop by and pick it up whenever.”
Lara grinned. “See you tomorrow then, champ.”
Alice watched her whisk off, bemused and charmed. She re-wrote her price tags.
And hour came and went. Alice passed the time tracing the fractals of light dancing inside one of the vases near the edge of the table.
She sold three pendants, a paperweight and a vase. Among them, confused mister bird-bear. She almost didn’t want to let him go – but there he went, jostling away around the neck of another woman. Alice wouldn’t have minded, but it didn’t seem like the woman had even wanted him.
Alice bit her lip. Goodbye, sweet birdbear. A flight of angels carry thee to thine box in her attic.
Finally, the day came to a close. A hundred-forty-five bittersweet dollars warmed her pocket as she packed and left.
. . . . .
One cramped bus ride home later Alice lugged her shop upstairs to her room.
Another less-cramped bus ride later Alice was wandering around her new haunt – the boat graveyard. The sun was almost gone, the air cooling down, the sky was dark blue and getting darker. She had the whole day left, it felt like.
The distant tide called her. Alice puttered around on the concrete edges of the docks and yards, the bay on one side, the docks on the other, waking along concrete dividers like balance beams.
She lost a solid twenty minutes trying to pet a stray cat. It possessed the sort of demeanor that left it casually pattering ahead instead of running, moving faster when Alice did, slower when she slowed – preserving a taunting separation between them. It was one tricky customer.
As she wandered Alice filled her backpack with even more odds and ends.
It got dark soon enough. Very dark, actually. She forgot a flashlight yet again, and so walked by the light of a handful of steel.
It wasn’t terrifically bright. It probably did more bad than good – keeping her eyes from adjusting properly. But the dim orange light it cast was so eerie and candle-y, this thin circle around her that quickly faded out in to blackness – it felt like walking down a spooky hallway; delicious. Alice crouched and skulked around like she was in a horror film.
She poked around those shipping crates again – the giant ones that get stacked on super-tankers; twenty feet long, eight feet wide, nine feet tall. There was a pile of them next to a defunct warehouse, and Alice climbed up the pile, politely knocking on the ones she passed to check for occupants before making her handholds and footholds. No one responded to her knocks – how they’d resisted the allure of these clubhouses-in-the-making Alice would never understand.
She reached the one at the very tippy-top of the pile, two and a half stories up, and melted her way inside. It was largely empty. Some dust and debris cluttered the floor – Alice swept it out with the sides of her shoes. To make the crate hers, she cut out a square out of the wall with her finger, replacing it with a cobbled together sheet of glass.
It was tough work getting the big glob of glass to play nice. Alice discovered that she could sort of – move it, when it was melted. Make it wiggle and ooze, or not wiggle and not ooze. She gathered the mass into her hands, keeping it balled up, like a big jiggly water balloon. It was fiercely pretty, and she lost about two minutes playing with it and making bloob bloob noises with her mouth – arguably the most fun she’d had since that morning.
She made it flat next, straining some part of her she hadn’t known existed beforehand. And then, suddenly, the crate had its first window; a crystal clear portal to the bay, the surface of the glass rippling and swirling in unintentional fractals. When Alice lookout out through it, the sliver of moon caught in it, trapped in its web, and traced out sharp white lines and circles, as though it were filling a hollow carving with incandescent liquid. Alice wondered how it would look in the sun.
It got late. More late. Alice shouldered her score and headed home, nibbling at a stick of rebar as she walked.
It was a long trek though bad neighborhoods. Alice thought she might get accosted. She was surprised it hadn’t happened already, she was in Merchant territory after all. But no one stopped her. It was strange, really, but she decided not to worry about it.
Michael wasn’t up waiting for her this time. Alice was relieved. He worried too much.
She wasn’t tired yet, and so snuck down into the basement, adding her haul of scrap and parts to a pile in a corner. Next she sat down against a filled-to-bursting gorilla rack. Alice recalled an order for a flappy, birdy thing from earlier that day, and set to work.
. . . . .
“Wow,” Lara breathed. The blue bird twirled on the end of a string. In the afternoon glare it looked like it was on fire, the way sparks seemed to gather in the center and pop. “Who’s gonna wear who, huh? Pretty.”
Alice said, “…Hm?” How hard she resisted the urge to eat the commission would be her little secret. Provided Lara stopped lording it over her like that. “Do you like it?”
“Very much. Ah, and here you are, master glass-smith.” Fifty dollars in crisp tens changed hands. Lara set the pendant around her neck. It suited her, but she had the features to make anything look good. “How’s it, then?” She struck a pose.
Alice was salivating. “I – uh… Great.” Them glimmery collarbones, yowza.
Lara smiled, seeming inordinately pleased with herself. “You up for another commission?”
“’Course I am,” said Alice. “Anything for my favorite customer.”
“I’m thinking something to put on a hair clip. A little flower, bout yay big.” She spread her fingers an inch apart. “What do you think?”
Alice could picture it on her already; a simple metal clip holding back a lock of hair. She could see the flower on it. Green for her eyes; simple and elegant. Alice liked it. “I like it.”
They squared away the details. Lara left with a parting wave, but Alice’s smile refused to leave, even when the older woman from days prior appeared in the distance and started shooting her suspicious looks. Did she have something on her face? Alice checked – just that goofy smile.
The woman approached, looking over her wares. “These are new,” she remarked, looking over a few vases.
Alice nodded. “Made them yesterday – er – last week. Whichever sounds the most reasonable.” Smooth.
The woman made an even more suspicious face at her. “You make these yourself, then?”
The woman nodded to herself. Her eyes went to one of her new vases, and then to the card stock with the price. “You’ve raised your prices.”
“I uh –“ Was that poor form? Alice had no idea. “Yes?”
The woman picked up a vase. It was blue and green – the same way the water in the Philippines was blue and green. Warm and alive, somehow. “Eighty, for this?”
Alice checked her memory. “Yeah.”
The woman hummed. She fished a hundred dollar bill out of her purse. Alice handed her a twenty. The exchange felt oddly tense and standoffish, and once it concluded the older woman seemed to hang there, unsure if she should leave.
“Thank you,” Alice said.
The woman cleared her throat and left.
The rest of the day came and went without issue. Two hundred and sixty dollars warmed her pocket as she packed up her shop and caught a bus home.
Her dad wasn’t back yet, same as yesterday. Alice tossed her shop into her room and her money into a sock in her dresser. Then she caught another bus to a worse part of town.
Her haunt had been waiting up for her. It was eight or nine-o-clock. Bright enough to see by, but only barely. Alice passed that indecisive gloomy period brightening up her fort on the shipping crate pile.
She ferried up backpacks of sand from the bay, heaving her backpack onto to crate-roofs like a shot-put, taking it up one level at a time and dumping it out inside, until a reasonable mound occupied the far end of her crate.
Inside, she working by the dim light coming through the window, and the glow given by small bracelets of molten glass she kept wound around her wrist. She made handles on the sides of the crate, then used those handles to reach the roof of the crate, melting a five foot section out of the roof and replacing it with smooth glass.
It was a long, involved process. Alice got a lot of practice coaxing oozing glass across the ceiling to spread out into the hole – from the inside it looked like the sky was being devoured by some kind of alien blob monster.
By the time she was done the moon was overhead, a slightly bigger sliver than yesterday. She could see it through her new skylight, it and the stars, both clearer than in town. The inside of her crate smelled like burning. Alice left it open to air out when she left.
It was fiercely dark still. In the areas with no streetlights Alice fished a length of rebar from her pack and made it into a glowing whip. It was intoxicatingly woobly, undulating this way and that way as she padded along, and she amused herself by helicoptering it around, snaking it along the ground, dazzling herself in the dark.
Her father wasn’t up waiting for her, and Alice took care to be extra sneaky when she got home. She spirited away to the basement, not tired at all, and eager to get to work on things for tomorrow.
Alice upended her backpack full of sand near her pile of cluttery odds and ends. Most of of the sand, at least. Ten pounds or so she kept in reserve. What if she got hungry later? Forward thinking, all part of growing up.
She snagged a handful of sand from the pile and went to work. Lara was owed a flower, wasn’t she?
Well with eyes like hers it would need to compliment them. Alice had her artistic integrity.
That left green or red. She didn’t have a way to get a hold of gold ingot to make red. She’d hoped to find some on circuit boards and the like, but found exactly zero of any sort, for whatever reason. So the flower would have to be green.
Alice bit off a mouth full of glass, then took a nibble out of a chrome-finished engine part, one she’d “salvaged” from a seductively shiny motorcycle.
Bleuh. She drooled it into her hands. It was a pleasantly sharp emerald, leaning more towards light than dark. Well, actually it was cherry red with heat, but Alice could tell. Good color. She flattened the blob into a small disk in her palm, and as she narrowed her focus the surface rippled like a Ferrofluid, blossoming up and blooming.
She called back the heat, and cherry red turned to glittering emerald. It was a simple daisy. Ovular petals sprouting out of a round bud; an inch across.
. . . . .
Alice saw Lara coming from ten seconds out, the girl looking fetching in a pretty blue sundress. So she’d been keeping an eye out, so what?
“Alice!” Lara called, tossing out a wave that Alice enthusiastically returned. “Good to see you. How’ve you been?”
“Been great,” Alice said, beaming. “You?”
“Oh I get by,” Lara returned. “Well. The ceremonial pleasantries have been exchanged. Is it done? Is it? I’m excited. Can I see it?”
Alice reached down into her bag beneath the table, hidden by the tablecloth on the front and both sides. She pulled out the flower.
Lara let out a soft gasp, then fetched a simple metal clip from her pocket and handed it over. “I don’t suppose you can attach it here?”
“I was planning on it.” Alice bent over and performed her magic beneath the table, pretending to be rummaging through her bag and using strange tools. She probably wasn’t fooling anyone, and had the sneaking suspicion that Lara could tell – going by the knowing smirk spread across her face. Alice’s work done, she handed Lara the clip.
Lara clipped a section of her bangs and smiled winningly, striking a pose. “How’s it, then?”
“You look like summer.” Like a summer spirit. Gold and green in a swirling blue dress. All she needed was a field of wheat behind her.
Lara chuckled warmly. “Sweetheart. Here you are.”
A crisp hundred dollar bill changed hands. Alice frowned and tried to hand it back. “I can’t-“
As Alice’s deliberations began Lara grabbed a vase from the table, held it over the tarmac, and dropped it. Alice winced in anticipation of the crash.
The vase hit the tarmac with thud, like she’d dropped a mallet. It didn’t bounce or roll around. Just thump, the corner of the base hit the ground, a small spray of dusted tarmac heralding the landing. Then clunk, it fell on its side. Alice’s noise of alarm tangled in her throat at the anticlimactic ending.
Lara put the vase back where it belonged, leaning over and whispering as she did, “Glass doesn’t hurt the ground when you drop it, Alice.”
“… Ah.” Speaking of, glass probably didn’t glow like hers did either. For a moment she felt something like worry, the closest she’d come to it since that first night on the docks.
Lara smiled easily, still leaning over the table, and the worry was gone, poof. How could Alice worry with bottle green eyes gleaming like that? “So you can. Believe me, you can. You’re trying to make money, aren’t you?”
“I’ve been where you are. You can do better.” Lara handed her a card. “Call me.”
Lara left with a wave. Alice looked over the card. On the front was a phone number. On the back was a doodle of a flower. The petals were dollar signs. The middle was a smiley face. Alice put it in her pocket, careful to keep it from bending or creasing.
An hour or so passed in silence. Then a woman walked over, dark haired and olive skinned. Around her neck – Alice saw and almost gasped – birdbear?!
“Hey,” the woman said, a smile blooming across her face as she took in Alice’s expression, and her stall. “ I think you sold this-“ here she jostled the necklace, birdbear sparked, “-to a friend of mine a few days ago?”
“I did,” Alice said.
“Good, good. I um.” She cast a nervous glance around and then leaned in a bit. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”
The woman leaned closer still. When she spoke Alice could see pearly white, perfect teeth peeking out from behind her lips. “I have another friend, and he took a look at – oh, I meant to ask to, what is he?”
“He is a birdbear, miss.”
Another smile, and a chuckle. “Well, a friend of mine happened to take a look at Mr. Birdbear, and noticed that he wasn’t exactly… Normal?”
The woman pursed her lips and leaned closer still. “You wouldn’t happen to be a parahuman, would you?”
Alice replied, innocuously, “Um…”
“Oh – it’s fine. I can keep a secret, I don’t want anything. I just was worried for you. I’m pretty up to date on the cape scene. It’s very dangerous for new devicers, you know?”
New devicers? Was she a devicer? More to the point – “Dangerous?”
The woman nodded. “Mmm. My friend works with the Guild. We talk sometimes. The gangs keep an eye for new supers. They keep people stationed around docks and old industrial zones – most new devicers end up salvaging parts around there when they’re starting out. I would advise you to avoid those areas.”
Alice thought back to how she’d spent the last few nights and replied, “Um.”
“Oh don’t worry, you’ll be alright, as long as you keep a low profile until you’re ready.”
Alice cackling, spitting glass, swinging a whip of rebar around.
“Well, that’s all I had to say. I like Mr. Bearsy very much, by the way. And – here.” The woman handed her a card. “My friend wanted me to give you this.” And then she left, with a parting flash of those pearly white teeth.
When she was gone Alice turned the card in her hand. It was from the local Guild. She shrugged and put it in her pocket next to Lara’s.
Another half-hour passed. A little girl bought a starfish necklace. As she bounced off to her parents a familiar old woman approached, looking her table over.
“These are new,” she said, gesturing.
Alice hummed in the affirmative.
“You really do make these?”
“Yes, I do.”
The woman looked over her wares once more. “Well I’ll be…” She turned her eyes to Alice, not suspicious for the first time since Alice had watched her scurry away days prior. “How much do you make a day?”
Alice shrugged. “Around two hundred?”
The woman fished a card from her purse, writing a phone number across the back. Then she offered it to Alice. “How would you like to add a few zeroes to that number?”
Alice took the card. The woman left with a matronly smile. Alice turned the card in her hand. It belonged to a jewelry store she didn’t recognize. The woman had crossed out the number printed on the card and written a different one beneath it. Alice bit her lip. She put the card in her pocket with the others.
The day slowly wrapped up and came to an end. Alice packed her shop and left, two hundred and twenty dollars and three ‘business’ cards warming her pocket on the bus ride home. She looked out the window on the ride back, mulling things over. Money. Safety? Green eyes and a smile…
It was clear who she had to call.