The bangle reverted to its original size, leaping into Walter’s lap from the floor. His eyes almost popped out of his skull. Looking around, he wondered if anyone else saw it. Then, he realized so many things at once--her ring, her laughter, her knowledge of his birthmark. It was all connected to that stupid letter!
He shook his head, unwilling to put any more thought into it. He hated this. All he wanted was to go home. Holding the ring in his hand, Walter got out of the bed.
“Hey, whoa!” called one of the nurses, getting in Walter's way. “You’re in no condition to be getting up now," she told him, "just lay back down and wait until the fever’s gone, at least.”
Walter sat back down. “At least let me call my employer. What time is it?”
She checked her watch. "Eleven past ten.
A strange shock coursed through Walter’s body. He was already over an hour late. Trying to remain calm, he asked her, “Where is my phone?”
“Here,” she said, walking past him. Leaning on the wall beside his bed was his backpack; she scooped it up and handed it over. “We put all of your belongings in your bag,” she said. “Though I don’t know if they found a phone…”
Walter almost ripped it open, rifling through the contents like a madman. Until—a small relief washed down his back. He’d found his phone intact, though the battery was close to dead. He wasted no time dialing the number to the theater.
“Cosmos Theaters,” answered a familiar voice, “this is Andres speaking. How can I help you?”
“Andres! It’s Walter. Is uh…can I talk to a manager?” He couldn’t remember who was on the schedule today.
“Uh…sure, hang on.”
Uneasy, Walter bounced his leg—he stopped when it irritated his wound. A few minutes passed until Andres spoke again.
“Hey Walter, Roland’s here, but he can’t come to the phone. He’s busy upstairs since the projectionist didn’t show up.”
Walter swore under his breath. “Um…let him know that—well, I just woke up in the hospital.”
“Dang, dude! What happened?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine. Just, have him call me back when he can, okay?”
“Okay, cool. And have him do it soon, because my phone is about to…die.” Looking at the display, that’s what had happened. Was it enough? He wondered. Would they take his word for it?
Giving up, Walter resigned to the bed. Maybe it would be best to get some sleep. But it wouldn’t come. Despite being up all night and his eyelids feeling heavy, he was restless. That strange woman was right, he wanted to know more. Although, what did she want from him in return?
The only other patient in the room began to wail in pain. Walter tried to muffle the noise with his pillow, folding it over his ears. A moment later, he felt something slip off his body and onto the floor—the ring! He sat up, wincing as his abdomen pinched his wound. Eyes darting around the room, he watched for the girl. He knew, she could appear from anywhere! When nothing happened, he sighed. A nurse had begun tending to the other patient, and his wailing stopped.
Walter sighed, looking over the edge of his bed for the ring. He didn’t see it on the floor; it must have rolled underneath him, where he couldn’t see it. He lay back down to rest—though instead of a soft pillow to meet him, he fell onto something more like a human hand.
Gasping, Walter twisted around—it was the girl! …Half of her. From the waist up, she had sprouted from Walter’s bed, laughing at the look on his face. Next, she jumped out of the hoop that had separated her halves. Along with her, the chair also reappeared. Casual, she sat down next to the bed as she had before, and the staff around them was none the wiser.
“Lay back down,” she whispered, “before the nurse sees you.”
He looked around the room—again, he was the only one that had noticed her trick. “What do you want from me?” He demanded, ignoring her order.
The young woman sighed and stared at the floor. “To offer you another chance...though I don’t think that’s even an option anymore.” She looked him in the eyes and grinned. “Do you wanna get out of here?”
“And go where?”
“Anywhere we can talk. I know you don’t want to stay here, and I can redress your wounds if you need me to.”
Walter shook his head in thought. “You’ll take me through one of those portal things?”
She grinned again, and nodded.
He nodded. "Okay." Before he could blink, a golden twinkle flashed in his vision, and the air around him became much cooler. He was outside—they were outside, surrounded by a clouds and sunlight. She took his hand and pulled him out of the circle that separated where he was from where he used to be. His bare feet hit hard concrete and loose bits of gravel. As the wind gusted around his shoulders, he realized--they were on the roof. “Wow,” he whispered to himself. He’d never experienced anything quite like that before. It was like a dream, though he hoped to wake up soon.
“Here,” said the ring girl, handing him his backpack and shoes. “They cut your shirt off, so I grabbed this for you, too.” She handed him a stolen scrub top. “You like black, right?”
Walter scoffed, Not quite my choice, he thought, pulling it over his head. Besides, it was more of a dark velvet. Perhaps she thought he wouldn’t catch it, nor care. He didn’t. “So what’s this opportunity you mentioned?”
“Where do I start?” she wondered. “Have you ever heard of Navei Island?”
Who hadn’t? Walter said to himself. Navei Island was one of the better known natural wonders of the world. It lay in the center of Biddock’s Ocean[WH1] , leagues away from any major land mass. Inhabited for thousands of years, it was first discovered by Frissodian[WH2] explorers. Settlers charted the island and found that it had the shape of a human being's right hand. Geologists admitted that they weren't sure how it had formed that way. All that they knew was that it wasn’t formed by volcanic activity. Instead, had simply risen from the sea eons ago. Since then, it had become a tourist attraction for the wealthy. He had also remembered something about the sand having special properties that made for some kind of indestructible glass.
Walter nodded. “What about it?”
“Uh…everything!” she said. “I would go so far as to say that your future is there.”
Walter folded his arms, squinting at her.
She grinned. “This is strange to say out loud, but you’re…” She paced back and forth as she considered her words. “Let’s just say you’re very…important. To a lot of people.”
He caught her ogling at his birth mark again. “Right. So what does this have to do with it?”
Culpable, she looked away. “It’s different from the rest,” she answered. She placed a hand on her abdomen like her breakfast wasn’t agreeing with her.
“The rest of what? You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard of them! I mean, some people have.”
“You’ve never heard of people with stars on their skin?”
Walter groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. A flood of painful memories cropped up. The stars she mentioned referred to a phenomenon affecting few people in his age group, all over the world. They were children born with similar birth marks, all depicting a five-pointed star. Walter had never associated himself with these weirdos. “My birth mark, as it so happens, is not a star,” he said, folding his arms again. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“No,” she defied, shaking her head. “I know you’re one of us. Just ask him.” She looked past Walter, and to his left. Walter looked too, and stepped away as he realized they were not alone.
Standing much too close for comfort was a tall, thin man in a grey-and-black hoodie. Most of his face obscured by the shadow of his hood, all that could be seen was a wide, toothy grin. His long legs covered by a tattered pair of faded jeans, ending in worn out sneakers that had once been white. By his side was a familiar bike, and all at once the realization struck.
“Nice to finally meet you, Walter,” said the stranger. “I’m James.”