“You prick!” Walter shouted, lunging at the grey stranger. “This is all your fau—!” Before he could get close, his whole world flipped upside-down. His back hit the stony roof, knocking the wind out of him. Something long and silver had hooked around his ankle, sweeping him off his feet. And now it pinned him down by his wound.
The stranger chuckled. “Smooth moves,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his toothy smile.
“You’ve done enough damage already,” hollered ring girl as she pushed him aside.
“Come on, I didn’t hurt him!” he said, releasing the pressure of his weapon from Walter’s bandages. He turned onto his side, moaning in agony. Ring girl knelt at his side to help him stand; he refused her, staggering to get up on his own.
“I’m fine,” he said, rubbing the extra bump forming on the back of his head. He could feel blood trickling from his wound and down his leg.
“Your wound’s opened up again,” she observed, breaking out a fresh set of gauze and tape. “Here, let me help you.”
Walter looked away from her, trying to ignore the way she touched him. His eyes landed on James, still smirking at him from under that hood. The instrument held by his left hand rested on his back. A long, silvery staff that ended in a jagged hook shape, rising like the crescent moon above his opposite shoulder.
“There,” she said, smoothing out the last strip of tape. Then she pulled down his shirt like she was his mother. A handkerchief appeared from thin air to wipe the blood off her hands, vanishing again through another one of her rings. “Walter, this is James. James…Walter.”
James nodded at him as he approached, then extended his right hand. “Let’s see it.” He grabbed Walt by the elbow, lifting to see it up close. A loud clanging rang through the air. He dropped his staff to take off his hood, revealing the rest of his face. Above a long, sharp-ended nose and under a messy tangle of jet black hair were two narrow eyes. Both seemed clouded, blurry and grey. Is he blind? Walter wondered. No, there was intent in those eyes, darting around to inspect every detail. “A familiar pattern,” he observed, smiling over at ring girl. That’s when he noticed; James’ eyes weren’t totally featureless. In his right eye was a thin, dark shape that circled around like a sickle—a crescent moon.
Walter pulled away from him. “You guys couldn’t pick a better approach? You had steal from me? Put me in the hospital?”
Ring girl opened her mouth as if to answer, though James stopped her with a shake of his head. “It had to happen this way,” he said to her.
They both gave him a queer look.
James scratched his head and smiled again. “The way I see it, Walter has no choice but to come with us now.”
She hid her arms behind her back, looking at her feet while Walter raised his arms in defiance. “So now you’re gonna kidnap me?”
“Depends,” James elaborated, plucking his staff off the roof. “You can pick the easy way, or the hard way. Either way, you will come quietly.” He smiled wider. “But know that one way might involve a lot of duct tape.”
She explained, “He wants to arrest you.”
James raised a hand in defense. “No, no that’s not what I said! But if it comes to that…tsk tsk tsk….” He bobbed his staff in his hands.
Ring girl turned to Walter. “I am so sorry about this; I didn’t want to have to--!”
Letting out a yell, Walter kicked an exhaust fan—it popped off with a small, fiery burst. James whistled, watching the crumpled metal sail over the street and onto the next building.
“I just got my life back together!” Walter shouted at the both of them. “I’ve got an apartment, a job…” Walter put his back to an air conditioning unit, sliding down until seated. “I even got a date.” He put his head in his hands.
James looked up at the sky, bouncing his staff off his shoulders again. “This isn’t really a ‘for the rest of your life’ kinda thing. You can always come back…Oh, did I mention there might be money in it for you?”[WH1]
Walter looked up at him, his brow in a tense knot. Then he looked at ring girl—she avoided his gaze. He shrugged and asked with a sigh, “How soon do we leave?”
Stumbling backwards, Walter bumped into something and landed on his seat—a toilet. Teleporting was going to take some getting used to. Gathering his dropped supplies, he exited the stall. A middle-aged man stood at the sink, in the middle of shaving. When their locked eyes in the mirror, he joked, “Sometimes it’s almost like you live in the airport, huh?”
Walter gave him a forced smile, “Yeah.” On his way out, several of the urinals to his right inexplicably flushed themselves. As the older guy paused to consider it, another young man appeared—from the same stall.
James gave him a polite nod and a smile, leaving casually. He met Walter in the terminal, and ring girl joined them from the women’s restroom. Her face was beet red. “What happened?” he asked her.
“Don’t worry about it,” she muttered, zipping past them. “Come on, our flight is this way.”
From the hospital, they had visited Walter’s apartment, giving him enough time to pack and take a shower. While he bathed, they had put everything he owned into what ring girl called a, “Portal Pocket”.
“You said I didn’t have to stay!” Walter had snarled at James while he raided his fridge.
“I didn’t say it was short term, either,” was his reply, sipping on his last bottled water.
At the time, Walter also learned the ring girl’s name. “Did you say it was ‘Kristin’, or ‘Katy’?”
She chuckled at him. “Kriskin,” she answered, “with a K.”
Once they reached their gate, Walter asked Kriskin for his phone charger. “Are you going to call your folks?” she asked as she retrieved it from her portal.
He glanced at her with disdain. “Yeah.” He found a place away from them and plugged in his phone. As it powered on, the screen flashed multiple alerts. Most of them from work, the others from Victoria. Oh, crud, Walter thought. Was she at home when we got there?
His fears were confirmed as he opened the messages:I think there’s someone in your apartment.
Are you still at work?
I’m going to go check it out.
Walter let out a groan, running his hand through his hair. That was her last message, sent around the time he was in the shower. He looked over at James and Kriskin. Had they answered the door? What did they tell her? He wished he’d known she was home, then he could have at least said goodbye to her in person.
Hey. I’m really, really sorry. Something huge came up. I’m not sure what to tell you other than that I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I’ll let you know what’s going on when I know more about it myself. Again, I’m really sorry.
He stared at the screen for a while, wondering when she would answer. A few minutes had passed when Kriskin approached and sat beside him. “Our flight’s been delayed,” she muttered. “We’re stuck here for an extra hour. You want to get something to eat?”
Ignoring her, Walter dialed a number and put the phone to his ear. Put off by his surliness, Kriskin huffed, crossing her arms and legs. When his landlady answered, he explained to her that the check from yesterday would be his last. The apartment still had its furnishings, and he was sorry he couldn’t give her any more notice. To his surprise, Miss Carr was pleasant, even supportive throughout the phone call. They exchanged goodbyes and well wishes before hanging up. Next up to call was his work place, though he wasn’t sure what he’d tell them. Maybe it was best just to tell them the truth.
While it was ringing, something from behind swiped the phone from his ear. “Whoa,” James said, smiling from ear to ear. “Making unauthorized calls, Walter?”
“Give it back!” Walter insisted, nearly jumping over his chair to get at him.
“James, knock it off!” Kriskin scolded. “Give him back his phone!”
“Hello, is this Walter Helrath’s employer?” It was too late. Walter sat down, trying to contain himself. As much as he wanted to see James’ face turn inside out with one explosive blow to the head, he didn’t want so many people around to see it. James smiled. “Yes, this is Doctor Wiles. Mr. Helrath is under my care. I’m calling to inform you that there were some complications with his injuries, and—well, one thing led to another, and now he’s in a coma.” Walter cursed aloud, slamming his fists onto his knees while Kriskin gave him the death glare. “No, we can’t be sure when he’ll wake up….Oh, it’s no trouble! Just thought I’d let you know so you can open up whatever position he had…Well, I’m afraid we can’t allow visitors outside of family, you understand…alright. Thank you. Have a pleasant day!”
Smiling still, James passed the phone to Kriskin. “You’re a jerk,” she called him, then offered it to Walter.
“Keep it,” he said, waving her away, “Just…keep it.” He stood up and walked away from them, heading toward the food court.
Kriskin glared at James again, who only shrugged. “Just going with the flow.”
She replied, “Just…keep your mouth shut.”