0.1 -Strangers

*Beep*

*Beep*

*Beep*

I roll over in bed as I slap at the small digital alarm clock on top of the small wooden bedside table beside the blue and white lamp. I finally smack the thing with the palm of my hand as I sit up in my bed groggily rubbing my eyes and trying to clear away my usual waking-up-headache. My room in our four room apartment is a small plain square room with enough room for a steel framed twin bed, my dresser, a bedside table, and a lamp. I turn on said lamp as the alarm stops mid beep and brush my short scruffy brown hair back from my eyes with one hand as I get out of bed. I fumble through the dresser as the last remnants of sleep melt away from my mind leaving the usual burning rawness of a migraine. Dressed in a grey shirt and jeans I grab my old black backpack from atop my dresser and step out into the apartment of my adopted family. Aunt Dayl, a kind tall stick of a woman with a thin pale face, and brown eyes sits on the small green couch in the apartment’s small living room adjacent to the similarly small open kitchen where Uncle Dayle is preparing breakfast. Aunt Dayl turns briefly from her usual CNN morning news on mute with the subtitles on and smiles at me briefly before returning to the small screen of the television by the three large windows opposite the sofa. I return the smile as I walk behind the couch to the kitchen. Uncle is a short balding man with ruddy skin and a mustache a walrus would find familiar; he hands me a blue flower patterned plate loaded with scrambled eggs with a silent smile. “Thanks Uncle.” I sign to him with a grin as I sit down on one of the four stools arranged by the small hardwood bar half separating the kitchen from the living room.

As usual Uncles egg’s are warm hot and fluffy helping the burning behind my eyes to subside. I scarf them down before washing the dish off in the small sink, placing it in the drying rack and quickly grabbing my sneakers by the apartment door. I grab my grey hoodie from it’s place on the coat rack by the door and check to make sure my keys and my bus pass are in my pockets before I step out into the long hallway of the red brick apartment building. I walk down the stairs at the end of the hall for two flights of grey concrete stairs before I reach the first floor hallway and walk out the faded blue door into the wall of sound, wind, and cold that is February in Seattle Washington. The sounds of  traffic are constant at seven twenty on a blustery Friday and I turn up my hood against the noise as I walk down the short flight of concrete steps from the small red apartment building. I turn right at the bottom and start my usual walk along the street towards the bus stop at the end of the block.

I dodge a few early morning bikers as I progress in silence towards the bus stop. Around me the city is already fully awake as men and women in coats with briefcases bags and backpacks make their way to work or school. Halfway along I stop by ‘Teller’s Coffee’s and Teas’ a strange little basement coffee shop and bar that is locally known for both for the strangeness of its clientele, and for those willing to brave it the quality of it’s unusually flavored coffee.

Naturally this is the morning haunt of Brandon Denis, my best -and to be entirely honest only- friend.

Brandon usually waits outside the shop in the small stairwell below the apartment building owned by the manager of Teller’s with a cup of the strange light purple colored Acadia flower coffee he loves, but he’s not there today. I let out a long sigh… must be inside. Probably lost track of time like he does with everything else.

I am cautious to descend the stairs once more and knock. Not because the usual problem of reputation- as the naturally quiet adopted weirdo son of a deaf couple I really don’t have a good rep to begin with so going in the subject shop of the local spook story’s won’t hurt.

It’s because it’s Tellers. Normally even in Seattle any place with coffee as good as Teller’s no matter the weird menu would have a following of regulars from the local area.

Teller’s does not. Hell even dog’s refuse to go near the place.

But the shop has been there for as long as anyone can remember, and the cops have never even had to break up a fight there so the place remains in the basement of the apartment building in the middle of the block.

I stare at the ordinary red brick stairwell for a good five minutes as the morning crowed passes around me as I stand sort of just hoping that something, anything really- will make Brandon emerge from the shop on his own.

He does not.

Not that I really expected him to considering how easily distracted Brandon can be at times, but it was worth a shot even with the biting chill in the air.

So do I go in, give up, or just walk away?

Ah fuck it- he is my best friend and besides we have chemistry club after school today. The stairs are old and worn but I quickly walk down them to the ordinary red door with a brass knocker and a sign hanging from it reading Open. I knock briefly and wait for about a minute before I reach for the small brass doorknob and grasp it turning and pulling… And the door opens perfectly normally with a little jingle so I walk in. I close the door to the large open basement bar with a click as the conversation of the three people at the bar in the center of the room stops leaving only some unidentifiable jazz music playing over hidden speakers in the background. The room is about twenty odd feet (7 meters) across with four booths on either side of a small square old wooden bar at the center of the room with several stools, and a mirrored backing for the rack holding up numerous bottles. Behind the bar is a pale blonde and very pretty twenty-something woman with green eyes, her hair drawn up in a pony tail where she sits in jeans, a T-shirt, and a brown apron leaning on the bar across from the shop’s two patrons. The place is dark, the little lights over the booths are off, and the only light comes from the bar overhead lamps, and the string of yellow Christmas tree lights wrapped around its wooden front side.

Brandon sits at the end of the bar staring at me like the other two with his strong apparently handsome face with a perfectly proportioned nose, mouth, clean skin, and those storm-grey eyes that several of the popular girls in our class can never shut up about.

Why the near-idol of our school is friends with someone like me should be apparent by this point in that Brandon is extremely weird.

Then again I consider a bastardized mix of American, British, and German sign language to be my primary language so I probably shouldn’t talk.

Beside Brandon on the next  stool over is a tanned muscular scruffy thirty something man an with blond hair, stubble and a trench coat, a battered old fedora in his lap. He holds a cup of the same strange purple stuff Brandon loves so much. Brandon normally drinks the stuff up quick, and the smell of the stuff is very light so it is only now that I am in the enclosed space where the stuff is presumably brewed that I get more than a brief whiff of the strangely familiar smell that I have sometimes noticed when Brandon is late and pops out the door as I arrive. Something flowery, but definitely not the feint fruit smell the stuff normally has, almost buttery but it smells absolutely delicious. The man examines me carefully with silver eyes before the barista asks me “So what’s it going to be?” in a way that seems oddly loaded.

I nervously begin signing my answer before realizing that she want’s a verbal response, and that I need to get to school. After a moment I say something entirely different out loud.

“Ummm I’m just here to tell Brandon we need to get going to the bus. We probably already missed the first one but if we get the next one we will only miss first period.”

I glance at Brandon as the man, and the barista exchange a look. Brandon gets a long one from the man before he turns back to me and stands up. “Well bye Solomon, bye Faye.” he grabs his grey backpack from the dark recesses of the closest stall and all but pushes me out the door as we hurry to the bus stop. As we sprint up the Stairs and out onto the corner Brandon says in his best imitation of a grave tone of voice.

“You were signing again, you know of what I speak.”

I let out a sigh at Brandon’s typical shenanigans.”You know I do that when I am nervous!”

He gives me a worried look as we dash across the crosswalk.

“You aren’t going to go mute again like you were when they found you right? I mean last time it took you seven years to re-learn-”

“I know I know OK? I am nowhere near as nervous as after that alright? Can you just shut up and run your ass off?”

We sprint the remainder of the block just as the bus to the east center city right by Roosevelt high school stops and the passengers begin to board under the grey sky.

The dark green and yellow city bus is just pulling away from the stop as we sprint across the sidewalk, pavement tinted red by the rising sun. The driver sees us but he continues accelerating. The driver’s name is Jeremy- I know because he lives next door to Brandon in the apartment building over Teller’s and Brandon has this habit of forgetting his keys and trying to use the fire escape… Anyway it’s not his fault even though both I and Brandon spend roughly the next minute or so cursing him- Jeremy’s boss keeps the bus drivers on an impossibly tight schedule so he really had no choice.

Of course if I had known what this simple action of missing the bus would result in I would have chased the gods damned bus. But I didn’t know, and I didn’t chase it. It was from that point on where my life went in a very different direction.

It was at exactly that moment when we stood in the shelter of the little metal and plastic bus stop shelter that Brandon and I made the decision that would  decide the rest of my life.

As is so unfortunately common with such things, I had no idea.

All I was thinking was that I was going to miss chatting with that girl Rebecca in first period today. I stomp my feet to keep out the autumn chill as I talk.

“So, since the next bus isn’t until noon do you want to go back to Teller’s with me and grab a cup of coffee? I know you love the coffee there and I have been meaning to try it sometime.”

Brandon just grins.

“Alright then. I always figured I would manage to convert you to my caffeinated ways though you may regret the loss of your morning date with Rebecca-San. Let us be on with it! Our ship sails at noon!” He stands on the bench under the plastic roof striking a pose and peering off dramatically into the distance… At the Starbucks across the street about thirty feet away; his left hand raised to shield his grey eyes from the terrible glare of the overcast sky reflecting off numerous small puddles…

I let out a sigh at the dopey grin on Brandon’s face. “Remind me why I am friends with you again?”

Brandon just clicks his tongue as we start walking back along the sidewalk. I roll my eyes at Brandon’s usual sudden lapse into silence whenever he thinks someone should know the answer to something, or he fell asleep from not having caffeine withing the previous five minutes, one of the many reasons our little duo has never kept any of the other friends we tried making since we first met in Elementary school and we sort of just clicked together. Other reasons for this include my tendency to lapse into an entirely different language when I am nervous or angry, or confused, and the fact that Brandon used to believe he was a faerie changeling.

Though to be honest neither of us really tried very hard either.

The streets are really beginning to fill with morning pedestrians and we shoulder together along the crowded sidewalk towards Teller’s. In case you can’t tell this is actually the first time I have been the one who suggested this course of action after missing the bus, though after missing it three times this week Friday is just the day I decide to humor Brandon’s love of weird coffee as opposed to waiting in the Starbucks across from the bus stop.

It takes us a little over fifteen minutes walk to return to Teller’s and the red door at the bottom of the small brick stairwell greats us with a chime as we return to the small dark shop. The man in the trench coat -Solomon I think? Is still there slowly nursing his coffee and quietly talking to the barista at the bar. They turn at the sound of the door opening as Brandon and I shut the door against the cold wind that has started to pick up sweeping down the arrow straight street turning the space enclosed by tall side to side buildings into an icy wind tunnel.

Brandon holds up two fingers and the Barista gives me a pleasant little surprised smile as the man turns back to the bar and to a strange leather bound book in front of him around the size one would expect of a large hardcover novel, clearly very old with the words “The Dancer in the Mirror” on the worn, and cracked spine of  the book in silver block letters that seem to shine.

Brandon takes a seat at the bar as the Barista whose name tag reads ‘Faye’ in green glitter pen turns away and ducks to use the shining steel machines bellow the bottle rack to presumably make two purple coffees. I can’t help but wonder at the book as I don’t think I have ever heard of it before despite my own obsessive perusal of the local library and yet the book itself seems to hold my gaze as I wonder what’s inside…?

The man turns slightly and I raise my eyes to his own friendly blues. I am going to be here for a while so I may as well make conversation. I walk over to sit on the stool beside Brandon and the man and ask “So ‘The Dancer in The Mirror’ that is an unusual title for a book. Is it any good?”

The man’s casual smile freezes, Brandon’s eyes stop roving across the baristas rear as she goes still. The man’s eyes widen as he quickly exchanges a glance with Brandon and the barista again. They seem to have an extremely brief discussion through the use of inscrutable weird looks and raised eyebrows mostly directed at Brandon who appears to mostly be confused by this until they both glare at him and he finally shrugs slightly.

“Uhhh is asking about a book some sort of massive social Faux Pas here? I didn’t mean to cause trouble or anything, just trying to make conversation…” I trail away as the Barista goes back to the machines, and Brandon says “Excuse me I… Need to go to the bathroom.” Despite very clearly needing no such thing. Brandon is tapping his leg with his right hand under the bar – taptap taptap- a nervous tick that completely ruins his current bland poker face as he stands and walks into the darkness on the right side of the bar past the man, and disappears into the shadows past the second booth.

The an turns towards me with his hand on the book. I swallow, my throat suddenly dry. Brandon was very nervous. I can tell by the tension in the baristas shoulders that something is wrong as the man in the trench coat turns towards me, the bar lights on one side leaving half of his rather narrow well proportioned pace in darkness in a manner that can only be described as melodramatic. The man seems to consider me for a moment as he fiddles with the brim of his hat with one hand and slides the book towards me with the other hand resting on top of it as though offering it to me.

“So can you read this man, or are you just looking for it?” The man’s voice is calm with a California accent reminding me of some sort of noir crime novel themed surfer. I try to fight back laughing at the sudden inexplicable image.

“It’s written in English, in clear block capital letters so yes.” The man turns the spine of the book back towards me. ‘No, it’s not.” he says with an odd grin, and I look at the title… That is written in some kind of curly wavy lettering.

 

I stare at it in confusion, especially regarding the fact that it is clearly written in another language with  the letters seeming to shift slightly but I can still clearly read the title. The Dancer in The Mirror.

“I could have sworn that… Wait why can I still read it?

The man slides the book across the bar to me, “No clue. You can open it up if you’d like and read some.”

I know this situation is just too surreal, and that in general opening books with shifting letters in an unknown language offered by strange men is probably not the smartest thing to do if H.P Lovecraft has taught me anything… But I have always been far to curious for my own good. I pick up the surprisingly light tome cupping the spine in one hand with my fingers across the back cover and I open the book.

The introduction, scrawled across the yellowed parchment in thin lack script is unusual.

“To those who would use this tome for good, ill, or naught-

The book you hold is the sixth of the twelve Books of Magic I have penned regarding all I have found in my studies regarding the entities of the Old Court. Indeed of the many tomes I have penned upon which the masses have placed the title ‘Grimoire’ these manuscripts are perhaps those which would be deemed most heretical by Man, Elf, and Mer. The Fair peoples would have all believe that the old world, the very ground upon which magic was born is a myth.

But I have walked upon it’s ruined surface scarred by unimaginable conflict long ago, and I have seen the cratered and crumbling edifices that dot the dust lands deep beneath the void of stars and sea. It is within these places beyond Demon, God, or Mortal eyes where neither darkness nor light ever venture I have found what so many have sought to ensure lay forgotten and undisturbed for eternity. I know now what my wanderings have woken in these halls older than time itself where the dead, the dying, and the sleeping are one as The Old Court seeks to return to council an empty throne long sealed. A traitor in their midst seeks to stop them one by one and yet the Court must live so others may die. The Dancer, entertainer of The Court is favored as a servant of The Crown Princess one of four servants to attend the Court even in death. The often ignored lash of color in the corner of the eye in a relm of decadence a graceful display that goes unseen. A shifting spiral of light as intangible as the mist that haunts these halls.

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