The town bustles. Smells. Sounds. Shouts.
So many shouts.
He hides behind the man with the painful storybook shoes.
Excuse me, he smiles.
The man with storybook shoes continues to shout, adding to the din, the hum.
So he runs.
The streets run from bright to dim to dreary.
There is mist.
The town no longer bustles.
Now it slides. Slithers. Sneaks.
The woman in the long red dress wears a with a black veil over her face.
The tiny little man that stares at him through the mist utters a laugh.
He moves quickly away. Walking. Not running. Not drawing attention.
The tiny little man’s laughter follows him down the street that gets narrower with each step. The buildings on either side are now so close that he worries that if someone else comes down the other way, they’ll have to climb each other to pass.
An approaching woman in a black coat turns her pale mouth into a silent “o” and then drifts away backwards, still staring at him with wide eyes.
There is a door. He turns back to the street. But it is another door. He turns back around again and now it is a small walkway.
He is lost.
He chooses the walkway, turns a sharp corner and is back in the maze of misty streets.
A tall woman standing under a street lamp speaks.
So young to be out so late.
A pop. And the tall woman is towering over him now looking down.
Do you belong here?
The woman sniffs at him like an animal.
I could arrange it that you do belong out here if you don’t have anywhere else to go.
He runs now. No longer afraid of attracting onlookers. The fear of being caught and kept in these misty streets is now worse that the fear of being seen.
When he reaches the first door he beats his fists on it.
He runs to the next door. Fists.
A hand on his shoulder. The woman touching him has green eyes, white hair. Her face is lined and somehow familiar.
It’s him, says a voice he knows, from somewhere behind him. He turns and sees him, his guide, through the mist.
Why’d it take you so long to find me?, he asks but the other man only smiles and takes his hand, moving him away from the woman with green eyes and white hair who begins to wail.
As his guide walks him back through the maze of dark streets, all the women in the long red and black dresses with the veils sputter and lurch into view, their white faces whispering, mouth’s shaped like “o’s.”
Not fair, they say.
Not your business, he says.
Not today, perhaps, they say.
The women murmur.
He walks along, following his guide out of the mist, away from the women in black and red. A man moves past him now, pale, red, dreamlike-slow.
Not fair, he also says, his words blending into the hum.
Only when they reach the wider streets and he can smell the water does he hear a different phrase through the echoes of “Not fair.”
We are still with you, one of the women says. Still.
He closes his eyes and moves into the light. No, he says quietly. Not like that. Not anymore.
Not fair, he hears still as he steps onto the departing boat, his guide at his side, as it should and will always be.
The town does not bustle. But it smells. It is quiet. There are no people. But there are whispers.
Joel Enos has written comics (Sonic the Hedgehog) and graphic novels (Ben 10) and published short fiction in Whispers from the Abyss, Visibility Fiction and FLAPPERHOUSE. His comics adaptation of Anais Nin’s “Under a Glass Bell” with artist Fiona Meng, was published in A Café in Space. He’s also edited many best-selling manga series including Naruto and Tokyo Ghoul.
Betty Rocksteady is a Canadian author and illustrator. Learn more at www.bettyrocksteady.com.