Alice walked around the docks, an opened can of tuna in her outstretched hand. She clacked the side of the tin with a metal rod. The sound was as a siren song to cat-kind, luring them in through foamy waves to be dashed upon the rocks. In this instance Alice was perhaps the rocks, and the flea-medicine was also the rocks.
She stalked along alleyways and crunchy gravel-strewn tarmac, keeping her eyes peeled for a flash of that elusive cat. She found nothing.
The possum approached, undeterred.
Alice retracted the can of tuna, making it clear that it was off limits. “Go away. Shoo.”
The possum hissed.
The possum skittered at her.
Alice ran away.
Her lack of luck made empirical sense. Cats were a peculiar mix of wise and bumbling; avoiding doom one moment and getting their heads stuck in things the next. Such was the way of the world. And so Alice played the system, taking advantage of this perplexing duality. She put the can of tuna somewhere only a foolishly brilliant cat could get at it – on top of the first level of her shipping crate pile. Ideally it would climb up and get stuck on the top, unaware that it could just jump off and be fine. The odor of the tuna could be described as pungent, and she hoped that the wind from the bay would take the stink-lines to the cat, far, far away from her.
Alice worked on her lair as she waited. Alice began to turn that part of her crate that jutted out over nothing into a proper veranda. She pulled out the bay doors, she melted down the roof, she expanded the floor. She almost fell off. It was scary.
No sign of the cat. A seagull dropped by on his behalf, taking the can in his beak and attempting to waddle off with it, but Alice was wise to his game and scared him off. Now she kept both eyes peeled, one for the cat and one for the sneaky bird-thief. She made a railing for the veranda, arguably the first thing she should have done. It felt much safer after, and Alice passed some time leaning over the railing, looking at the ocean, relishing the feel of the wind on her face. She really needed some chairs.
It was near dark when she finished her veranda’s chairs and table. The sky was deep blue headed towards black. As her final hurrah of the night Alice made a staircase up her crates – finally a proper way to get up. They weren’t much, just planks jutting out the sides of the metal in a vaguely staircase-ish fashion, but they worked, and they felt neat. She danced up and down them imagining they were piano keys.
. . . . .
Michael was in bed when she got back. He’d left her some of that night’s dinner, a plate wrapped up in tin-foil, placed on the kitchen table where she would usually sit, with a nametag on top. It was sweet of him. Alice ate the tinfoil and tossed the rest into the trash.
Aluminum was sort of like a marshmallow; the airy-nothingness of them, but minus the sweetness. Pondering and almost lemony. Alice snuck a quick tear from the roll in their kitchen drawer, confirming the taste in her mind.
They had breakfast together the following morning.
“Hey pops,” Alice said as she entered the kitchen.
He was at the table this time; the coffee-and-newspaper-dad-combo. “Morning. Sleep well?”
Alice puttered about the fridge aimlessly. She wasn’t hungry, and if she was, would sooner walk to the beach. But she couldn’t have breakfast with him from the beach. “Mm-hm. You?”
His mouth went to a corner of his face in contemplation. “Mmmmm – hm.”
Alice took a seat and started reading the back of the newspaper.
“I got another call from the Guild yesterday.”
“They left a number for you. I wrote it on a napkin somewhere. I think I put it with your dinner – did you see it, by the way?”
The dinner – yes. The number – no. But she had their number somewhere, anyways. “I got it, thanks pops.”
They talked about nothing. Casual and lighthearted. He drank his coffee. Alice puttered about the kitchen, opening and closing things. He left for work. Alice hugged him goodbye, wishing him well.
He hadn’t mentioned anything about school one way or the other. As far as Alice was concerned that was tacit permission, at least with regards to things she didn’t want to do. With this in mind she collected her going-out gear: a bandana, a backpack half-full of sand, flea medicine, a can of tuna, and her bus pass. Truly she was ready to take on the day.
Before stepping out, Alice went to the phone and dialed. They answered on the second ring.
“Alice?” Lara sounded sleepy. Alice shot an accusatory glance at the microwave. It supplied the figure 7:32. “Mmn… Morning. What’s up?”
“Oh nothing. Bad time?”
“Long night. Headache.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I can call you back later?“
“No, no. I’m good. I need to…” Lara groaned. “Need to get out, anyways. What were you thinking?”
Alice twiddled the cord, and she rested her weight against the wall, letting her head clunk against it. “Well I know we just hung out yesterday, but it got cut short, I think? I finished up my porch. My lair-porch, that is. It’s really, well, pretty good. Do you want to eat lunch there later?”
“I… I’d like that.”
Alice grinned. “Cool. I’ll um – I’ll bring the food. Actual food, not just – sand.”
A brief pause from the other end of the line. “You know, I knew that you ate those things, and yet still I am surprised.”
Alice chuckled. “You can try it if you want?”
“Well what do you want?”
They bartered about what Alice would bring for lunch, and whether or not she would be reimbursed, eventually settling on chicken salad and pizza sticks from a pizza place not far from her lair, and ‘no.’ Alice’s treat. Go away headache, leave this place, you are not welcome here.
“That sounds good,” Lara said.
“Yeah,” Alice said.
A pause formed between them: Alice smiling goofily at the receiver.
Lara cleared her throat. “I um. I‘ll see you later today? Around two?”
“Good. Um. Goodbye. See you then?”
Another pause. Alice smiled goofily-er. Lara laughed and the line went dead.
Alice was out the door in the next breath, so light on her feet she could well have been floating. She caught a bus up north, plotting out her day in her head. She would pass time until afternoon, pick up the food, hang out until Lara showed up, maybe she’d even find that cat. Maybe.
She arrived at her super-secret lair only to discover that it was already occupied. A group of five people were loitering around the base of her stairs, men in baggy pants, hoodies and bandanas – they’d stolen Alice’s look. They caught sight of her, and Alice noticed the grips of gun poking out of their pockets as they stood from various crouches. Still she approached, undeterred.
The leader, probably, fixed her with a mild look. “Hey.”
“So… Kid.” He took a step forward, hooking his thumbs in his pockets. His right hand brushed up against the gun, but there were no signs of hostility in his posture. He was on the tall side, taller than her. Shrewd brown eyes peered out behind a fringe of hair, his skull-motif bandana tossing at his breath as he spoke. “You’re the cape that started hanging out here, then?”
Alice skirted around them, unshouldering her backpack and placing it on the first step of her stairs, heedless of the way one of them men made to draw his gun and was stopped by another. “Aliiiiii… Uh. Oh, my ‘cape’ name?”
The leader’s stance loosened slightly. “Well, yeah.”
“I don’t think I have one?” She unzipped her backpack, fishing out a tube of the flea medicine and putting it in her pocket. “I haven’t picked one, at least.”
“… Alright.” The leader walked closer to her, like Daphne had once, before, just inside her personal space. “What are you doing out here?”
Alice blinked up at him. “Sorry?”
“What do you want? Why’d you make this?” He gestured up at Alice sprawling be-staircased and be-terraced lair. “What are you doing? Are you recruiting? Are you starting up a gang? Are you looking for protection? What are you doing out here?”
Alice hadn’t been listening to him. Her eyes went wide as he talked, narrowing on flash of motion from behind him. As he finished speaking Alice hurried over and crouched down by her stairs, pressing flush against the side of the crate. She hissed and gestured with her hand, “Get down, get down!”
They followed suit quickly and without question. A few of them pulled guns, one pulled a knife, the last pulled nun-chucks and had them slapped out of his hand.
“What is it?” The leader asked, inching toward the end of the crate, sneaking a peek around the corner. “You got competition, kid? Shit… Damn well knew it. Who’d you piss off, huh? We ain’t gonna defend you, kid. Traders didn’t last this long screwin’ around with-“
“Shh,” Alice hissed again, and he bit off the rest without comment. She crawled forward beside him and poked her head around the corner. “You’ll spook him.”
The tip of his gun lowered fractionally. “What?”
“The cat,” Alice hissed. She fished the flea meds from her pocket, opening it and popping the tube with the pointy cap. “Okay, no one move alright? I think this cat might actually be magic.”
The leader’s gun-hand lowered until the muzzle touched the ground.
Alice gestured for him to be silent, her eyes focused on a swishing white tail. She got on all fours, army-crawling along the ground. She was making good distance, sneakily closing behind him as he licked his paw.
Then there came great crunching-stomps of boots in gravel. The cat perked and turned to her. His eyes narrowed haughtily, and he turned and gently pattered away. Alice collapsed onto the ground, limp.
“A fucking cat.”
“You spooked him,” Alice said morosely. “Aw man… I’m never gonna’ get him am I…”
“Why a cat?”
“He has fleas.”
“What the – so?”
Alice stood and turned to him, brushing herself off. He had his hands on his hips, gun still in one hand, looking very put-off. “Well, I mean… Fleas are bad. So I’ve been trying to put some flea meds on him. But he keeps running away.”
The leader seemed to mull something over, his eyes softening as he returned his gun to his pocket. “Are you for real?”
“How old are you?”
“I’m f-sssseveneighteen. Eighteen.”
He nodded. “Uh huh… Alright, come on kid. Take a seat, let’s talk.” He waved the other guys off, and then it was just Alice and him. They sat on her stairs. Alice took the third step up, her feet swinging, toes barely brushing the ground. He took the second step, his extra height canceled out so they were properly eye to eye if they turned.
It was still early in the day; the beginnings of a breezy perhaps-Friday afternoon. He pulled a carton of cigarettes from his pocket and lit up, putting the filter in his lips via a hole in the bandana. It looked silly, but Alice held in her giggle. Curlicues of smoke rose from the end, and Alice traced them out of the corner of her eye, watching them waft up and vanish.
He offered her the carton. Alice refused. He put the carton away.
“Really, kid… What are you doing out here?”
“Just having fun.”
“Fun?” He repeated, a shade incredulous, and looked around. “Here?”
He took a long draw and let it out. The smoke unfurled from beneath his bandana. “You been in any fights?”
Alice shook her head. “No.”
He nodded. “Good… That’s good. Smart. You in school?”
“Keep it that way. Don’t be a dumbass like me.”
Alice made a face.
He chuckled. “What, you don’t think I’m dumb? Five grown-ass men sent out to mess up a high schooler. If that ain’t fuckin’ dumb…” Another plume of smoke issued from beneath his bandana. “Sorry, kid.”
“It’s alright,” Alice said. “I understand. Or… I can understand.”
“No, it ain’t alright.” He looked at his hands, fiddling with a lighter. “You’re smart, kid. Keeping out of this shit. You know what I would’a done if I had powers? I think I would’a done dumb shit. Fights and drugs and whores… And I’d end up exactly where I am now, not a damn thing different.” He flicked the lighter open. It rang out, this clicky metal sound, and then he closed it again.
“Alright.” He rose. “I got what I need… You be careful, alright kid? It’s dangerous out here, being a cape… Other gangs don’t really come out this far often, but… You see ‘em, you be smart, alright? Don’t let ‘em pull you into their bullshit.”
Alice smiled at him. He couldn’t see her mouth, and so she made sure her eyes crinkled extra. “Okay. I’ll be careful. Thank you.”
He gave a slow nod. Then he left.
“Goodbye!” Alice called. He waved over his shoulder.
There was enough time left before noon for Alice to put the finishing touches on her veranda. Smoothing some edges, add some flourishes, make absolutely sure her chairs would be comfortable. Afterward she was off to the pizza place to grab their food. Chicken-salad and pizza sticks, and two lemonades. The take-out containers went into her backpack, above the sand but below the bandana.
It was a little past one-thirty when she stepped off the bus and tied her bandana back around. The sun was still high in the sky, warm on her back as she walked back to her haunt. She crossed a familiar face on the way.
“Hey,” Alice said.
“Hey,” Lara said. She stood from where she’d been leaning against a corrugated wall. She was dressed in concealing clothing again, her bandana tight around her face. She looked tired. Her eyes weren’t quite as bright as they should be.
Alice nodded toward where her base was and they started walking.
“Long night?” Alice asked.
“Long night… It happens, sometimes.” Lara didn’t elaborate further. Alice let the walk pass in silence.
Not much later they arrived at her lair.
“You made stairs,” Lara said. Her eyes followed the twisting, coiling line of the steps all the way up to the crate at the peak, and then out to the new veranda hanging over the edge.
Alice hopped ahead of her, onto the first step. It held her weight without complaint, and she gestured to Lara from it. They hopped up to the peak, into the glass-top crate and out onto the veranda. The fixture was at least three stories up, and the view of the ocean was unobstructed.
Alice put the food out on the table. Lara took her drink and popped the cap. Then they were reclining back in their chairs, bandanas off, hoods down, facing the ocean and the gentle breeze. Lara finally seemed to relax.
“I’m sorry.” She took a bite from her paper-plate of chicken salad. “I’m not being a very good guest right now.”
“It’s alright,” Alice said. “Does this help?”
Lara took a long draw of the ocean air and let it out. Her eyes ran out over the horizon. “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”
Alice vanquished a pizza stick. It was pretty good, just like her father’s breakfasts were pretty good. But still it lacked that oomph of her other diet. Lara seemed to be mulling something over, the air heavy with that special brand of contemplative silence, the need to say something, and so Alice was content to let silence stretch between them.
“People don’t give you enough credit, do they,” Lara said.
Alice glanced at her. Lara didn’t return the look, focused entirely on chasing the last of her chicken salad around her place with her fork.
“I go by the alias AllSeeingEye online, sometimes… But you know what they should call me?” She speared a strip of chicken. “Homewrecker.”
That wasn’t the end. Alice took a bite out of her glass blob and waited.
Lara let out a long breath. “Just… Work troubles. It happens now and then. If I had a supervisor to complain to, I think I’d ask them why it is that eighty percent of the time, out of all the things I could tell them, people just ask for dirt, so they can smear it on things.”
“I didn’t think it was like that,” Alice said.
“My job? Did you think it was like a detective agency, or something?”
“That’s exactly what I thought it was.”
Lara chuckled. “If only… No. I don’t know. I hoped it would be, when I started out. And sometimes it is like that. But mostly, just…” She trailed off into a breathy sigh, fumbling around the right words, the kind that wouldn’t sour the mood and still be true, and at the same time not leave her too bare.
“Don’t worry so much,” Alice said. “I like talking to you.”
Lara made a pinched expression at her and then sipped her lemonade.
Things weren’t fine, and something was left unsaid, something that mattered, clearly. Still Alice was content to leave it be, for now. “I ran in to some people earlier,” she said, flawlessly changing the subject. Her hand sneaked into her backpack and pulled out some glass.
Lara fiddled with her food. “Yeah?”
“Mm. Some Traders.”
“Oh.” Lara looked her over. “You’re alright… So that’s good. What did they want?”
Alice thought on it. She balled the glass in her palm, coaxing it through shapes and fractals, struggling to remember if anyone had actually made any claims. “I… I don’t know.”
Lara cracked a grin. “Alright… What happened…”
Alice told her.
“Only you seem to get into these kinds of situations. Are you sure that’s not your true power?”
Alice laughed. “I don’t know, I mean… He seemed nice. Or, not bad. I think most people are good people. And sometimes all it really it really takes is giving them a chance. And when you do, they can surprise you.”
Lara didn’t reply. She seemed to mull over what Alice had said. The rest of their lunch passed in relative silence, neither of them bringing up topics of importance, and the conversations never lasted on for long. The ocean hissed. Birds cried. Alice blew glass bubbles like she was chewing gum.
Lara’s phone beeped. She pulled it out of her pocket and checked the screen. “I… eugh. Yeah, I need to take this.”
They wrapped up lunch after that, and when they were done Alice took the slide down, sticking the landing like a pro. She looked behind her and saw Lara peering down from the top.
Lara settled down into the top of the slide, her hands on the sides. “This is perhaps the least safe slide I’ve ever seen.”
“I know, right?”
Lara let go. She whooshed down the track and off the slightly raised end with a startled sound, catching herself with little stumbling hops to bleed off the momentum. Alice caught her at the end, even if she didn’t really need to.
“Thanks,” Lara said.
They were standing close together. Lara’s eyes were dazzlingly green, and thanks to the dangerous slide, and also hopefully their lunch, they were not quite as tired as earlier. Lara made a call. Alice walked her to her ceremonial cab. They waited along the curb in a better part of town, side-by-side in the afternoon sunlight.
“Sorry for bailing early, again,” Lara said. “No one really tells you. When you start your own business, as much as the freedom is nice, you’re always on call.”
“It’s alright. I had fun. We can just try again some other time.”
The cab pulled up. Alice wrapped Lara in a hug, and Lara returned it.
Lara squeezed her. “Thanks for lunch, Alice.”
Alice squeezed her back. “You’re welcome.”
Lara squeezed her again. “Really. Thank you.”
“You’re still welcome.”
. . . . .
Alice didn’t stay out long that night. She headed home before twelve. The next morning Michael wised up to her game.
“Are you going to school today?”
What the hell, it was still a weekday? “Um, yes,” Alice said, faintly snide in her attempt to sound convincing.
He smiled into his coffee. “We can talk about a GED or something after school, or over the weekend, alright? But for now-“
Alice pouted. “Yeah, alright.”
Michael left for work. Alice shouldered her backpack and was out the door. She would get to see Kate, at least. It had been a day or two. She held to this thought all thought he bus ride to campus, that thought quickly becoming the only thing keeping her from pulling the cable early and bouncing off after more interesting things.
She stopped by her locker before the class started, hoping to pick up the odds and ends she’d left in it however many days ago. It had maybe actually been two weeks since she’d opened it. As Alice looked at her locker door, taking in the new paint and new lock and new door, she realized that she hadn’t actually opened her new locker once, nor did she know the combination. She bit her lip and tried her old combo.
Alice turned her head, and there was Kate. Just her this time. She looked tired. Her hair was slightly frazzled, not the smooth, sleek shine of yesteryear.
“You keep coming back.”
Alice jiggled the latch to her locker, hoping that maybe some magic would happen. “To school? I mean, I think I missed a few days.”
“Yeah, I thought you finally understood. That no one wants you here.”
“Well dad does, so that’s at least one.”
“And hey, if your mommy wasn’t dead it’d be two.”
Alice looked over at her, bemused. “That’s true. She’d probably be very upset with me, actually.”
“Upset enough to cry for five days straight?”
Alice pursed her lips. That one didn’t quite work. “No? I hope not. That would be terrible. Honestly, I think the most upset I’ve ever made her was – remember when your dad picked us up from school, and I ended up staying over? But like, no one told her, and these weird coincidences had everyone missing her calls-”
“Just shut up. Is that all you can do? Bring up things we did when we were younger? You’re stupid. We’re done, do you understand? I dropped you. And it’s pathetic that you can’t let me go.”
“I don’t think it is,” Alice said. “Some of the best times of my life were with you. I couldn’t let that go even if I wanted to.”
“What the actual hell is wrong with you.” Kate stepped into her personal space. “Are you retarded? Are you literally retarded?” Kate went on to call her disgusting and revolting and other mean things. She was really on a roll. Working herself up into a frenzy, trying to tear Alice down. Alice watched her. The look, the attitude didn’t suit her. Not at all.
They were close enough already. Alice hugged her.
Kate jerked in her arms like she’d been electrocuted, and shoved her off, hard. Alice’s back bounced against the lockers.
“You – you freak!”
The sharp ‘f’ was still there, Alice could hear it. But it wasn’t nostalgic this time. She sighed. “I know you remember.”
Kate started up again, revving her engine, but Alice stepped closer to her, gesturing for her to stop, and whatever Kate had started to say sputtered off.
“It wasn’t that long ago. A year. Two years. You were my girl, do you remember? All the time we spent together, since we were kids. Sleepovers, and just sitting around, talking… My mom making us breakfast… Watching a late night movie and falling asleep on the couch. I didn’t forget. I don’t want to forget.”
With every word Kate sputtered less and less, her handholds falling away, betraying her, and now she was reflexively backing away, preserving a distance between them. Alice slowed her approach, and made her voice quiet.
“And I know you remember too. I can tell. Or you wouldn’t care, would you? And I wondered why you changed. And I still do. What happened, Kate? Please, what happened? What can I do? You were there for me when I needed you. You remember that, don’t you? I must have cried for a week straight. I kept getting snot on your shirts, using you like a tissue, but you never complained, not once. So it’s my turn now. Please…” Alice stepped forward. “Please, Kate. Just talk to me-“
Kate’s hand blurred forward. Alice’s head jerked. Her cheek felt hot.
“G – get away, Alice,” Kate said, fiercely trying to look angry, but her voice was shaking, her snarl fracturing in the corners. “Just get away.” Then she left, aiming for her usual deliberate stride, but there was an obvious hurry in it.
Alice let her go. She wasn’t her mother. Not right now, at least. Right now patience was more important. And she had time. They both had the time.
School dragged on. Her confrontation with Kate slid into the back of her mind, overtaken by more pressing things. Like how she didn’t have a pencil, or any paper, or really any scholastic materials at all. Once school ended Alice caught a bus to her lair up north.
. . . . .
Conventional means had failed her, so now Alice resorted to her last, most desperate gambit.
She created a thin metal box, and a stick, and some wire, and these, together with a can of tuna, Alice assembled a most devious trap. A box on a stick with a pull-away wire. She set up the box in an alley a block from her secret crate base, taking cover around the corner.
The wire was coiled around her hand, and her arm was ready, so ready to tug. This cat would be de-flea’d, tonight. Maybe.
It was this reckless determination that allowed Alice to maintain her silent prostration for upwards of two hours. It started getting dark.
She amused herself by pulling globs of glass from her backpack, and letting them loose on the ground, still tethered to her like she was walking pet slugs. She made them duel for her amusement. But all that really happened was they fused and became one mega-slug. She ate it. As Alice chewed on her most fierce of combatants, someone cleared their throat behind her.
Alice said, “Ahhck!” and rolled over onto her back. She inadvertently yanked on the wire, and there came the distant tinny crack of her box falling onto the tarmac. But alas – it trapped only air.
Americana looked down at her; the both of them totally rocking the bandana look.
“Hello,” Americana said.
“Amerhicthana?” Alice said, and then swallowed. “Ahem. Americana, hello.”
Americana seemed to be trying not to laugh. “Am I interrupting something?”
“No, no,” Alice hurried to say. She stood and brushed herself off. “Well, kind of. I’m not having a lot of luck.”
Americana sneaked a glance around the corner. “With…?”
“I’m trying to catch a cat.”
Americana’s eyebrows remained raised.
“So I can help with his fleas.”
“But he’s avoiding me.”
Americana didn’t seem to have a response for that. She cleared her throat, donning the heavy cape of professionalism. “I believe you are the cape who’s made a claim on this area?”
“Yeah, people keep saying that. I didn’t really do anything, though.”
“Alright… Well, I am here on the behalf of the Baytown Guild, and also as a favor to a friend. Do you have time to talk?”
“Of course,” Alice said, “Just let me prime the trap again.”
Alice reset the box and stick, and took her place around the corner, her back to the wall. Americana remained where she was. Alice gestured for Americana to sit next to her. After a moment of hesitation she did, first swiping away a few bits of gravel with her boot. She was wearing a duffle bag over her shoulder, and she put it down between her and Alice as she sat.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Alice said, offering her free hand. “Really just super cool to meet you, actually. In person.”
Americana took her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, too.” There was a brief pause, and her eyes crinkled. “I like your bandana.”
Alice’s face scrunched up like she’d eaten a lemon. She replied thickly, “I like yours too.”
The sun was almost down. The light was dusky gold. They sat in the shadow of the warehouse, a column of light extending from the alleyway beside them.
“From what we understand, you’ve been out here for a few days now, at least. Has everything been alright?”
“No problems,” Alice said.
“No fights? Harassment?”
“No, people seem to leave me alone. I mean, I did have a run-in with some Traders earlier, but-“
Americana cut her off. “Traders? What happened?”
Alice told her.
Alice recapped for her.
“No, you… Traders, right? They were with the Traders? The gang?”
“Yeah, I think so. I never really asked, but I think they did mention it.”
“They seemed nice.” Alice saw a shadow moving in the alleyway and poked her head around the corner. There was nothing there.
“Well, that’s… good. I suppose. Before we go any further, there was the matter of…” Americana fished something out of a pack on her hip and held it up.
Alice actually gasped – birdbear! Then her eyes ran over Americana, taking in the dark hair and the olive skin. “You were Americana?” In retrospect she felt a whole lot better about that sale, now. She always knew he was destined for greatness.
“I was,” Americana said. “A friend of mine ran mister… birdbear, I believe, through some tests. And he would like to extend a trade offer to you.”
Though Alice made a face at the word tests, picturing needles and x-ray’s and pokey-proddy machines, she realized that this was likely not the case and answered in the positive. “Okay. What does he want?”
“He would like a square foot of this material, as thin as you can make it. And in exchange-“ Americana jostled the duffle bag between them, “you get this.”
Alice poked the bag. “What is?”
Americana seemed to smile. “Open it.”
Alice unzipped it. The duffle bag was full of square panes and clinking, cluttery things. Rods and wafers and containers with twisty tops. It probably weighed about thirty pounds.
“It probably doesn’t look like much,” Americana said. “But from what I understand these materials are very difficult to come by without funding.”
Americana hadn’t needed to explain at all. Alice ran her fingers over the edge of a series of square plates. She could tell that they were special just by looking at them. One was deep shimmering blue, another was steely grey, dark black, silver. She picked up a container with a twisty top. It was filled with a coil of gold, the type used for soldering. It was gold, glimmering gold!
Alice realized she was drooling and slurped. Her eyes went to Americana, deadly serious. “I agree. Tell your friend I love him.”
Americana laughed. “Well. You know where we’re located. You can take the bag now, just get the material to us as soon as you can.”
“I can just do it now, would that work?”
“Yes?” Americana said. “But don’t you need-“ She trailed off when Alice reached into her backpack and pulled out a handful of molten glass. “Um.”
Alice pulled down her bandana and took a bite. “Oh, did you wan’ any color?”
Americana said, “No. Did you just put that in your mouth?”
Alice blew a bubble. It didn’t so much pop as sadly-deflate. “Yeah.”
As Alice continued to chew, maybe eating just a little of it in the process, Americana remarked, “Many things just started to make more sense.”
Alice pulled the blob out of her mouth and stretched it between her fingers, slowly stretching it out and flattening it down in the air. It turned out Alice could make it surprisingly thin, and so the commission ended up larger than anticipated; less the size of a floor tile and more the size of half a beach towel. She cut it into quarters and lined them up in her hands, then passed the stack over.
Americana accepted the stack. “Thank you. So… that is how you make these things?”
“Mm-hm. The pretty stuff, at least.”
Americana’s eyes fell to her hip-pack, birdbear residing within. “Huh.”
“Was there anything else you wanted?”
“Oh, yes. Just a few questions. Have you considered joining the Guild?”
“I have. I’m on the ropes, at the moment. Weighing some options.”
“Good. You do have options, don’t forget it. Would you be willing to stop by the Guild building downtown for power testing in the future?”
Alice mulled it over. “Maybe? Would I get to explore?”
Americana nodded. “We would show you around.”
“But would I get to explore?”
That was the end of that line of questioning.
“Have you picked a name?”
“Like a super name? Nah. I don’t want one.”
“Really… Usually that is the first thing new supers do, especially ones around your age. Alright. Well, that’s all. You’ve been very forthcoming, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You’re off now, then?”
“Alright. Well it was really cool meeting you – again, technically.”
Alice pulled one of the little squares of metal from her new duffle bag and took a bite. It was – murky. The smell of mahogany in taste form. She wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. As Alice contemplated this, Americana stood, and Alice sneaked a glance around the corner at her box-trap. It was empty still. But it was only a matter of time. Boxes were as magnets to cat-kind, and that Tuna was giving off literal stink lines, even in the dark. It was inevitable.
Americana watched Alice’s face cycle through these thoughts, and hesitated where she stood, shifting her weight back and forth. “Actually… Would you mind if I stuck around, a little longer?”
Alice eagerly patted the ground beside her. Americana took a seat there once again, seeming more at ease now.
“Do you… eat those things?” she asked. “Metals? And glass?”
“I do,” Alice confirmed around a mouthful of mystery-metal.
Americana pulled up a knee and rested her chin on it. “What do they taste like?”
That sparked a very long, very in depth conversation. Alice sampled things from the bag, making faces as things were too sour or too salty, or too delicious or too awful. Americana asked her about other things, mundane and ordinary, and Alice answered her earnestly. Before long it was properly dark; the sun all the way down, the moon up over the bay. The wire was coiled around Alice’s hand, and she was ready to spring the trap.
“Why don’t you want to join?” Americana asked, quietly. “The Guild, that is.”
Alice took a thoughtful bite from a different plate. She took a handful from it, too, coiling it around her wrist. It glowed beautifully. “There was a time where I would have wanted to. Recently, even. Very recently. I’d have been kicking down your door, asking where to sign.”
“I changed.” Alice took another bite. “I had a lot of anger in me, I think. Or something like anger. Frustration. Confusion. So it wouldn’t have been so much ‘I want to be a hero,’ as ‘I want to hurt someone and be right.’ Does that make sense?”
“It does,” Americana admitted. “A lot of sense.”
“Well… Good. Or, not good. But accurate. As for now… Well.” Alice looked over at her. “Why did you join?”
“Why?” Both of Americana’s legs were drawn up, her arms crossed over her knees. She ran a hand over her hair, and left it there, her fingers curled around her nape. “It’s…”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“Oh, it’s not like that, don’t worry. It’s just not very flattering. I was very young, and in a terrible place. At the time it was my only option. The only option that wasn’t horrible. I don’t regret it. But, all the same, I would not be used for a Guild commercial, if that makes any sense.”
“It does,” Alice said. “Lots of sense. My dad said that people get powers in bad places. So you can’t be the only one with that kind of story, right?”
“I suppose not.”
“Mm. Well… As for now, why I’m not really keen on the idea… Oh, hold on. Shhh…” Alice heard something. Americana went to speak, but Alice held up a hand to quiet her. She could hear it clearly now, the rumbling purr cats sometimes made when they ate. She sneaked a glance around the corner-
Alice yanked on the wire. The box fell. For a moment there was only stillness, then the box started jostling about.
“I did it!” Alice cried. She patted down her pockets and retrieved a tube of flea meds. She popped the cap, got it ready, and then and only then did she approach the box. It was go-time. She was pumped. Americana followed along behind her, unnoticed.
Alice took hold of the box, mentally preparing herself for what was to come. She lifted a corner up. There was a flash of fur. She grabbed it and caught it. It was the cat, but it wasn’t, too. There was none of the pride, none of the bravado. No haughtiness, no taunting. It squirmed and writhed in her hands, clawing and keening with abandon. Alice grabbed it about its shoulders, struggling just to keep it from wriggling away.
Americana appeared before her. “What do you need me to do?”
Alice went with it. “Tube in my sweater front pocket, get it.”
Americana did. “What now?”
“A thin strip between his shoulders, how much toothpaste you’d put on a toothbrush. Part the fur, try to get it on the skin.”
Alice kept the cat steady, ignoring the frantic clawing and hissing. Americana parted the fur between his shoulders and applied a strip of flea medicine.
“Okay,” Alice said, “Stand back.” Americana took a step back.
Alice let him go. The cat seemed to spin in place, a blur of limbs and fur, and then he was bounding off into the dark, devilishly fast. Alice fell back onto her butt, her energy suddenly leaving her. “Wow.”
“He really did not like that,” Americana said.
“No he did not,” Alice agreed. “But it’s fine. Things are like that, sometimes.”
“Are you alright? He clawed you pretty bad.”
“Hm?” Alice looked down at herself, only now noticing the stark lines drawn across the backs of her hands. They weren’t bleeding, not bleeding blood at least, thought it would have been hard to tell in the moonlight. Instead a glowing goo was slowly oozing out, incredibly viscous, congealing into beads along the wounds. Alice ran her tongue along the cuts. It tasted strange, unappealing somehow. When she pulled her hand away the cuts were gone.
Alice decided not to worry about it. She turned to Americana. “Thank you for helping me with him. You didn’t have to. This is probably pretty far below your pay-grade.”
“I…” Americana decided not to worry about it as well, apparently. “You’re welcome.”
Alice stood and brushed herself off. “I’m done for the night, I think.”
“It was nice talking with you,” Alice said. “You’re as nice as I thought you were. I’m glad.”
Americana didn’t seem to know how to respond. There was a soft smile lurking beneath her bandana. “Have a good night, Alice.”
Alice beamed. “You too.”