No one blinked. I don’t normally notice whether or not people blink, but it turns out when a room full of people sit there not blinking at you, it’s eerily obvious. At first I thought everyone was a statue. Frozen. But as I stared back I saw signs of life. Martin tapped his ear-pen against his desk. Sandra ground her over-large teeth. Andrew’s chest heaved like it always did when he breathed, but right here, right now, he sounded like a gasping beluga amidst the sea of silence.
“What’s going on?” I said loudly. I didn’t know if I was speaking to my coworkers or the woman on the phone. “Why is everyone staring at me?”
No one responded. They just breathed, and tapped, and stared. The longer I looked at them the less I could see them. No, that’s not quite it. I could see them just fine, but the image in front of me start to make less sense. It filled up with some kind of pixelated haze that I could only almost see. A photoshop filter effect over reality. When I tried to actually observe it, or when I shook my head to clear my vision, it vanished.
“You are operating outside of the convergence point,” said the voice in my ear, “and you don’t know how to operate subtly. They are attempting to extra-cognitively parse it, but they can’t. It’s a common reaction. It’s how you’ve reacted in the past, when you’ve observed the phenomenon.”
“Yes. Do you see anything strange?”
“Do I see anything strange? Are you fucking kidding?”
“No. Please answer the question.”
“Do I see anything strange? Do I fucking see anything…” I was about to curse her out again. I was about to go off on a really fantastic rant about what an idiotic question that was and what a fool she was for asking it, complete with colorful language, literary references, and aspersions on her character that she’d be crying about to her grandchildren.
Then I saw it. Right in my field of vision, impossible to see, impossible to miss. A woman I knew I had never seen at Lucky Travel before, because up to this point I still had a thin grasp on reality. My mouth dropped open, but words refused to come out.
She stood behind Jeff, my boss, who was frozen in the act of tearing the wrapper off a snicker’s bar with his teeth. I call her a “her”, but she didn’t look like a person. More like a spiraling mass of colors that swirled around a single point in space like a hurricane made of paint samples. But there was no doubt it was a woman because–there’s no delicate way to put this–she had an absolutely fantastic pair of breasts. Impossibly fantastic, like the images in a swimsuit magazine that take a team of graphic designers and a few hours with editing software to perfect. I couldn’t tell where they was positioned on her form, or how I could even identify them among the chromatic cacophony, but there they were, in all of their splendor.
“What do you see?”
“A…woman. No, a whirlpool. Like…a tie-dyed whirlpool made of light.”
“What is she doing?”
“She’s looking at me.” I had no idea how I could tell that, either, because she didn’t have eyes. But she had a gaze, and it hooked into me like two fishing lines. All I could do was wriggle.
“Don’t respond,” said the woman on the phone.
“Don’t respond. Don’t give any indication that you can see her.”
“You tell me that now?”
“Don’t move, Dendrite. And stop talking. You are in a tremendous amount of danger. Do you see anything else? Like an Egyptian mummy, only wrapped in the US Constitution? Or a section of carpet ripped up from the floor and bolted to the ceiling? Don’t answer out loud.”
I had no idea how to even think about responding to that. But no sooner did she ask the question than I saw something else. Again it was right there, and I could barely believe I hadn’t seen it before. Another being, strange like the she-color but completely different. It was human-shaped, only carved out of darkness, like the darkness was a piece of stone. I could see the chisel marks.
It walked towards the colors with a slow, confident stride. In its left hand it held a cigarette, and it took a long drag. The insane thought flashed through my mind that it wasn’t supposed to smoke in the building and that someone was going to bitch it out. It walked up to the color. It was right behind her. It started to reach out.
Danger poured out from the statue-thing like sweat, and all of a sudden I wanted to shout. I wanted to scream to the color-woman and tell her that there was something behind her and she needed to run away as fast as she could. But my throat was full of cinnamon. The dark-stone thing’s hand stretched towards her. It’s obsidian face stretched into a grin. It uncurled a single finger, black as Turkish coffee spiked with coal dust. The finger hovered towards her. Seeking. Hungry. I tried to wave my hand. To scream. Anything to warn her.
“Don’t!” yelled the voice in my ear. The sound of 80 different Nickelback songs with the volume blasted to 11 exploded in my head, and I clasped my hands over my ears.
The black statue’s hand descended, and tapped the swirl of colors right where her shoulder should be.
“Alright, that should do it,” said a pleasant voice in my ear. “Thanks for all your help!”
“Zuh?” I stared at a customer’s info on my computer screen.
“I said thanks for your help,” said the customer. She sounded like she meant it.
“Oh,” I stammered. “Um…you’re welcome.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I think I might have just had a little stroke there, for a minute. I’ll be alright.”
She laughed. Apparently I had charmed this woman. Wait, no that didn’t sound right. I was standing up, starting at a swirl of colors that needed a bra and a stone statue with a nicotine addiction. Wasn’t I?
“You’re funny,” said the woman on the phone.
“Thanks,” I said.
I was sitting down at my desk. The babble of my coworkers doing anything but their jobs filled the air around me. I stood up and took a look. N one was staring at me, and there were absolutely no swirling masses of pureed Skittles. I had spent the last few minutes on the phone with a woman, helping her with a vacation package. I could even sort of remember doing it, now that I was here. It made so much more sense.
All of the other stuff felt so real. Embarrassingly real. But that was just some brain thing. Dreams feel that real sometimes, too. I’d go home and kill the part of the brain responsible with euphoria-inducing compounds and get on with my life. Confusion and relief mixed inside of me, like I was the Boston shaker for one of those weird cocktails that they serve at the after party of a science fiction convention.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” the woman asked again.
“Definitely. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No. I’m perfect.”
“Well then I’d like to thank you for choosing Lucky Travel, and I hope you have a fantastic trip. And sorry again for getting weird there for a second.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Have a good rest of your evening, Dendrite.”