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The Problem with Wandering

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One night after closing a cafe, Mason is walking home when he is killed. He wakes up with no memory of what happened. Soon after, he meets Shay, a Watcher tasked with maintaining the Wards in the Wandering Plane. Taking pity on Mason, Shay takes him under her wing and helps him navigate his new reality. Realizing the need for him to find answers, Shay leads Mason to the Department of Reincarnation, a bureaucratic atrocity that helps people to "move on." Mason soon finds out that he will have the opportunity to investigate his own death; however, a larger threat begins to rise. Ultimately, Mason will have to choose to move on or help deal with this mounting threat.

Fantasy / Mystery
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: Mason

“Masy!” A shrill voice reverberated through the young man’s ears. The sound was followed by the tapping of a solid object on his temple. He ran his tongue across the roof of his mouth a couple of times to chase away the dryness from his last cigarette. As he did so, the bitter taste of coffee, mixed with stale cigarette smoke, began to bring him back to his senses. Knowing that if he did not respond soon he would regret it, the young man took a deep breath. Involuntarily, his nose wrinkled from the wave of patchouli that assaulted it. He began to blink away the last vestiges of his nap and not more than three inches in front of his face was Kailyn staring at him. He started, not expecting to see her that close to him. He looked to his right to see the end of an old broomstick being held to his right temple.

“Can I help you?” He asked, the slight hint of slumber dampening his voice.

“Masy-y” she said emphasizing the non-existent second “y.” “Did you fall asleep while I was telling you about Trent?” Her eyebrows had nearly run together in a look of annoyance.

“Who’s Trent?” He asked jokingly and trying to get a reaction from her.

He succeeded. Kailyn fell back onto the stool that rested behind her. Arching her back and allowing her head to hang over the back of the stool, she placed a hand to her forehead.

With her gaze trained on the ceiling, Kailyn began a monologue, the intent of which was to fantasize more about this so-called Trent and to guilt the young man for his earlier faux pas, namely falling asleep when Kailyn needed attention. “Masy! He may only be the love of my life. How dare you not listen to me before,” she drew out the final syllable, a vocal fry she had adopted after living in the city. She drew herself up so she could look into the young man’s eye. “Honestly, I thought better of you,” she said as she pouted.

Rather than reward her dramatics, the young man turned his attention to the clock. Its little hand had almost hit the 10, meaning it was just about time for them to begin closing up for the night. It had been a slow night at the cafe, only five or so customers after 7:00 p.m. The last customer had left about forty-five minutes ago, which is what led to the young man being able to catch some shut eye. Kailyn had the broom out getting ready to sweep, which the young man would inevitably have to redo because her first sweep would only be perfunctory.

To avoid further blow ups from her, the young man turned his attention back to Kailyn. As he suspected, she had continued to talk without noticing that she had lost his attention for just a bit.

A high pitch ring began to go off and the young man quickly reached into his pocket. “I guess it’s time to close,” he said turning his phone to Kailyn. The digital numbers clearly displaying 10:00 p.m.

Kailyn jumped up from the stool and ran over to the front door of the cafe. She gave the blinds a quick tug and they rattled down into place. She turned back towards the young man and reclined against the door. Once again, she tilted her head back and feigned exhaustion.

“Finally, this hellish day is over,” she said with more than a bit of flourish.

“Be careful. I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself,” the young man retorted. “Besides, you barely did anything besides chat with this new love of your life. I made all of the drinks!”

“How dare you, Masy,” she said putting on airs. “Even if that were true, someone has to entertain our guests. It just so happens that I am the one that fits the bill for that.” She had dropped the pretentious voice and returned to her normal, sultry tone.

“Entertainment? Does that happen before or after you ogle them?”

“Ogle? Never. Evaluate? Of course!”

“I appreciate the sacrifices you have made and continue to make for those around you,” he said, the words dripping with sarcasm.

Kailyn ignored him and turned her attention to the stereo. Calm, soothing jazz made way to reverberating thrum of bass guitars. Kailyn began to sweep and the young man counted the till.

While he counted, the young man silently thanked her for keeping the closing routine interesting at least. The other options for closers were Ted who would ceaselessly drone on about philosophy, most of which would go over the young man’s head, which he hated to admit, and Brenda, the owner, meaning he would be at the cafe until at least midnight ensuring that every closing task had been done to her very high standards. On the other hand, Kailyn had a habit for doing more dancing with the broom than actual sweeping. Kailyn kept it interesting.

“Any fun plans tonight, Masy?” She asked, again using the pet name she had for the young man, which she gave to him the first time that they met.

Kailyn’s first shift was a closing one with the young man and he was training her. With being so close to the university, the cafe, unfortunately, would get some students who had already had a little too much to drink. During her first shift, one such student came in and vomited in the men’s bathroom. The young man told Kailyn that she would need to clean it up, and her response was, “Do I have to, Masy?” The young man would soon learn that Kailyn’s bestowing of a nickname meant that she liked you. The young man dropped by the cafe when Kailyn and Ted were working. He heard Kailyn speaking in a clipped tone to Ted and she addressed him as “Theodore.” Turns out Ted had told her that her shirt looked ugly. He has been “Theodore” ever since.

Realizing that he hand’t yet answered, he quickly responded. “Nah, I don’t think so. Camille will probably be waiting up to make sure I get home okay. She’s pretty busy with her internship, so I don’t want to make her stay up too late.”

“You could just text her, Masy. I’ll be heading to O’Rourke’s if you want to join. I think Trina will be there, too!”

The young man was even less inclined to go knowing that Kailyn’s friend Trina would be there. The last time he and Trina had been around each other, it had ended with him yelling at Trina because she poured her drink on him for no reason. Wanting to avoid any potential gin and tonic downfalls, he told Kailyn he would pass.

Kailyn pouted as she made cursory passes with the broom. Those passes did little to clean the debris that was still on the floor. From the till, the young man heard a loud sigh every twenty seconds or so.

“Hey, why don’t you head out? O’Rourke’s has to be more exciting than the sweeping,” he said with a warm and sarcastic tone. “I can finish closing up.”

Immediately perking up, “Are you sure, Masy? I don’t want to leave all of this for you to do, she said. At the same time, she already laid the broom against one of the tables and was removing her apron.

“Not a problem! I’m almost done with the till, then it’ll just be a matter of sweeping,” he said eyeing the floor again. His words caused Kailyn’s cheeks to flush only slightly. Continuing, he said, “Then, mopping. No problem at all.

“Thank you so much, Masy!” She barreled towards the young man and wrapped him in an embrace. Her arms were like a vice. The young man cringed and tried to separate from her, but it was harder than he expected. These hugs were becoming more frequent, but the young man had yet to return the gesture as he would stand there awkwardly.

After taking a half-step back, Kailyn leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.

“You know I only give those out to the best of my friends, right? Think of it like a good luck charm,” She said with a playful wink.

A bellow of laughter escaped from the young man. “I know, I’m lucky to be so blessed,” he said exaggeratedly and with a bow. As he straightened, he thought about the new ritual that had formed between them. It was only recently that Kailyn began to leave him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He wasn’t sure what caused the change, but he didn’t necessarily dislike it. It had been a long time since he felt remotely close to someone like that.

“Everything okay, Masy? You look like you zoned out for a second there.”

With a slight shake of his head, he said, “Yep! Just thinking about all of the sweeping that hasn’t been done.”

“Okay, good,” she said with a toothy smile. She began to walk toward the back of the cafe. “I’m going to get changed, then head out,” she called back to the young man.

“Sounds good. Let me know before you go out the back,” he replied. Then, he walked around the counter and picked up the broom that Kailyn laid against a table. He picked up where Kailyn left off, which really meant he was just beginning the task. After about ten minutes, half of the cafe had been swept. Kailyn emerged from the bathroom.

When she entered the bathroom, she had still been wearing the flannel and jean uniform that Brenda required. Now, Kailyn exited the bathroom in a tight, black blouse under a distressed denim jacket. A long, red skirt flowed behind her as she trotted back to the front of the cafe.

“How do I look, Masy?”

“Amazing as always,” he said honestly and with a slight hint of envy. She always managed to pull off whatever she was wearing. “About to head out?”

“Uh-huh,” she grunts. After receiving the compliment, she reached behind the counter and grabbed her purse. One strap was currently in her mouth as she rummaged through the bag. She pulled out her phone and began to type aggressively. She dropped the bag onto the counter and spit the strap out. “Trina is there already, so I have to hurry. Can I help with anything else, Masy?” She said with her back still turned to him.

“I’m all set but thank you. Just try not to get too drunk tonight,” he responded in a concerned voice. His gaze was trained on her, almost like he was looking through her to the cash register.

“Don’t be such a dad, Masy. It’s not a good look on you,” she retorted as she turned towards him and stuck her tongue out.

“I wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to worry you’d end up like last time!” The last time they had gone out, Kailyn had more than her fair share and had ended up becoming familiar with the toilet at the young man’s apartment.

“Masy-y, it was only one time!”

“One time my ass!” With that, both of us begin to laugh, knowing that Kailyn was severely underestimating the number of times she and the cool touch of porcelain had occurred.

“Fine,” she says grumpily, her acting training again making an appearance. Her tone only belied by the smile that began to spread. “Let me know when I can cover for you,” she stated as she began to stride towards the door leading to the kitchen of the cafe.

“Of course. I never said you wouldn’t pay me back for this,” he said only slightly jokingly.

The pair enter the kitchen, which is modest. For the most part, the cafe sold baked goods, which were often bought day of from local bakeries, and salads. There wasn’t a great need for more than a sink to wash dishes, a microwave to heat up the odd item, and a refrigerator to keep ingredients cold.

The pair passed by the large stainless steel preparation table and continued towards the back of the kitchen. At the back, a solid, black wood door was closed and locked. Kailyn turned the lock and shouldered the door open. The young man shot a hand out to the door and held it open for her to leave. The door opened to an alley.

Kailyn left and began to skip down the alleyway. She stopped briefly and turned back to the young man to shout a goodbye, then continued to skip away. The young man watched until she turned the corner. Then, he closed the door and re-engaged the lock. He took the doorknob in hand and gave the door a little shove to ensure it was secure.

The young man retraced the pair’s steps out to the front of the cafe. He went to the cash register and counted the till. After completing his count, he picked the broom up and continued that task. After about ten minutes of making passes with the broom, the young man retrieved the dust pan and deposits the piles of debris. With a flick, he dumped the debris into the garbage. He returned tot he kitchen to place the broom back in the closet and to pull out the mop and its bucket.

The young man splashed some of the wholesale cleaning solution that Brenda was so fond of—apparently, it was half the price of the brand name cleaners—and moved the bucket to the nearby sink. He pulled the retractable faucet and placed it over the edge of the bucket. Just when he was about to run the hot water, he heard what sounded like knocking on glass, which originated at the front of the cafe. Thinking he had imagined it, the young man turned his attention back to the handle of the sink, but he heard the definite sound of knocking on the window. Returning the faucet to its position, he turned back towards the door leading to the front of the cafe and begins to walk.

He opened the door and stuck his head out. He looked at the front door and saw the figure of a person with a black hood over their head. He isn’t able to make out the person, so he grabbed the nearest thing to him, which was a wood block attached to one of the bathroom keys. Slowly, he made his way to the door trying to see if he could figure out who the person was. As he was about two feet from the door, the person lifted their head, and the young man saw a familiar face—the now water-logged face of Kailyn.

The young man sighed, equal parts relieved and annoyed. He unlocked the door and let her in. “You scared the shit out of me!”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, Masy-y. I forgot my charger and it was quicker to just come to the front of the store,” she said quickly. She ran behind the counter and grabbed her charger. “Okay, I’m gone for good now, but one more peck before I go,” she said as she returned to the front door. She leaned over and gave another quick kiss to the young man. “See you later!” She quickly exited the cafe and ran down the street.

“You too!” He yelled behind her. He closed the door and locked it again. Recovering from the whirlwind that was Kailyn, he took a few deep breaths. Once he was back to breathing normally, he returned to the kitchen and began to fill the mop bucket again.

The hot water sloshed into the bucket and, almost immediately, the cleaning solution bubbled, threatening to spill over the sides of the bucket. Trying to prevent an overflow, he turned the water down to let the bubbles recede. After about twenty seconds, the mop bucket was full. He steered the bucket from the kitchen to the front of the cafe. He dipped the mop and set to the task of cleaning the floor once more.

After about thirty minutes, the cafe floor looked new, or at least as new as the floor of a twenty-five-year-old cafe could look when it hadn’t had new floors in its lifetime. He returned to the kitchen with the bucket. He tipped the bucket into a basin sitting low to the floor, which drained directly to the alleyway outside the building. The, now gray, soapy water slowly swirled down the drain in the basin. That was one of the young man’s favorite parts of closing the cafe. Discarding the dirty water down the drain felt like he was able to wash away any negative emotions he had been feeling. He felt it was stupid, but he couldn’t help it.

As he was lost in thought, a familiar sound struck throughout the cafe—the rapping of knuckles on the window front. Thinking that Kailyn forgot something else, he took his time lowering the mop bucket to the floor. He leisurely walked to the front of the store. Looking at the window of the cafe, he expected to see Kailyn huddling in the rain; instead, there was no one. Not a single person stood there and no explanation for the tapping he heard on the glass. Thinking it had been his imagination, he returned to the kitchen to continue cleaning.

After some time, the young man completed the last of the closing tasks. He approached the cash register and entered his employee number. Going through the menus of the operating system, he navigated the time section and clocked out. It was already 2:00 a.m. He hadn’t been expecting that late of night. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow move in front of the window of the cafe, but when he turned his full attention to the front, he didn’t see anything. He figured that his mind was playing tricks on him due to his long day.

In an attempt to clear his mind, he shook his head. He needed to get to bed; he had another day shift tomorrow, so he would only get a few hours of sleep. He quickly went to the front door and made sure that it was locked. Confirming that it was, he wound his way back through the cafe front to the kitchen, then to the back door. He disengaged the lock, gave the solid door a push, and stepped won into the alleyway. Behind him, the door shut and he turned towards it. He pulled out his keyring and locked the door. He jiggled the handle to ensure that it was locked. He turned toward the end of the alley and began his way home. At the end of the alley, he turned right and made his way to his apartment.

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