Dead Weight

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Wrong Move

The look he gave me was downright degrading, almost as if he couldn’t believe I just asked something so stupid.

“Do you see anyone else around here?” he retorted impatiently. “I don’t.”

I pressed my lips into a thin line and glared at him, my initial shock rapidly turning into irritation. I knew he was unfriendly, but I didn’t know he was such an ass. I was beginning to understand why his co-workers hated his guts.

His shitty attitude aside, I was confused with this whole situation. How come he could see and talk to me?

Am I dreaming?

It was the only plausible explanation at the moment, as there was no way I could have travelled from Axel’s room to this subway within seconds. Or maybe I could; maybe spirits could wander at night, but it still wouldn’t explain how Axel was here in front of me when he was supposed to be sleeping…

A possibility crossed my mind at that moment, like lightning striking a wire in my brain. Perhaps we met here because he was asleep? Whether it was I who crossed into his dream world, or it was him who floated into the realm of spirits, I wasn’t sure, but I was almost positive that this was the only way we could communicate with each other. And I wasn’t going to waste this chance.

“Listen,” I said, putting on my no-nonsense face, “I’ve been sent here to help you. Apparently, your life is a mess.”

There was no other way to say it; it had to be straightforward, since I wasn’t really good at small talk and I hated beating around the bush. Besides, I was doing him a favor by not wasting his time with senseless chatter.

Axel didn’t seem to appreciate my thoughtfulness, though. His gray eyes grew darker, and a scowl so deep marred his pale face. “What did you just say?” he asked scathingly.

I had dealt with scary faces like this countless times, and I could no longer be intimidated. I looked at him coolly, secretly pleased that I seemed to have upset him. I still hadn’t forgiven him for being a smartass, after all.

“I said, your life is a mess and you need my help,” I answered, loud and clear.

He looked absolutely livid. “What,” he started, clenching his jaw, “gives you the right to just barge in here and say shit about my life?” His eyes were so sharp, it felt like he was cutting me. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

The venom in his words was lethal, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

“Getting mad at me won’t do you any good,” I said matter-of-factly. “We should use this time to talk about everything that’s wrong with you, and then go through all the possible solutions to fix them. The sooner we get this done, the better. Actually,” I paused, running a hand through my black hair, “I think we should set a deadline.”

For a fraction of a second, his expression changed from cold fury to utter disbelief, as if my words had stunned him into temporarily forgetting his anger. And then his fury returned, and I could tell it was worse because his hands balled into fists and he was trembling. He said one word.

“Leave.”

I cast him an incredulous look. “What? No, you don’t understand. You have to—”

“LEAVE!”

His voice was so loud, so astronomical, that the train visibly shook, and I had to grab the edge of my seat to keep from sliding off it. Then I saw patches of black quickly eating the scene away, taking over the whole train like an unstoppable plague. The last thing I saw were his eyes—dark and loathing, hatred that was directed at me and no one else. And I could only wonder why he hated me so much; why he couldn’t understand that I was only trying to give him a hand. Soon, there was nothing left but the resounding darkness, and I knew that the connection had been broken.

I opened my eyes and saw the faint sliver of sunlight passing through the narrow slit between the curtains. I blinked a few times, trying to get my bearings. It was astounding; I had stayed in the dream world for only a few minutes, yet it seemed hours had passed in the real world. It was already morning.

Axel was awake. He was staring at the ceiling, seeing something that wasn’t there. It didn’t look like he had a recollection of our little encounter because he didn’t seem angry in the least, but he most definitely looked tired. If I had to guess, he was thinking about the day ahead—the same boring routine he subjected himself to—and he was dreading it.

A shrill, persistent sound broke the silence. It was his alarm, announcing that it was already six in the morning. Axel let the alarm ring for a full minute before sighing and switching it off. He didn’t get up from the bed, though. He just stayed there, lying motionless, still staring at the ceiling. It looked like he was trying to convince himself to go to work.

It was half past six when he finally managed to get up from the bed. As he went out of the room to take a shower, I walked over to his work desk and scrutinized the mess that was left on it. There was a messy pile of unused paper, then another messy pile of used ones with sketches on them. They were mostly sketches of houses and commercial establishments and the designs were innovative, to say the least. There was no doubt that his sketches were pretty good, and I thought it could easily pass off as the work of a professional.

Hastily shoved to one side of the desk were a cutting mat, a bunch of liner pens and pencils, a ruler, and a tool that I remembered using at school to measure triangles. A small portion of the wall was dedicated to four pinned sketches; I guessed these were his most favored works. One was a fancy dog house with a mini chimney and a windmill; second was a futuristic spiral building that resembled a spring; third was a two-story house with huge windows, a lavish balcony, and a pool; and the fourth was a sketch of the same two-story house, only it looked like it was drawn by a kid—the lines were unstable and crayons were used instead of liner pens. It was obviously not as refined as the other sketches, but it was certainly the most colorful and vibrant of them all.

Did Axel draw it when he was a kid and then used it as a basis for his dream house?

“Maybe,” a voice said, suddenly ringing in my head and making me jump. “Maybe not.”

I gritted my teeth as I tried to calm my racing heart. “Can you please not do that?”

“Do what?” the man asked innocently.

“Just barging into my head out of nowhere,” I said acidly.

He chuckled. “What, am I supposed to ring a doorbell or something?”

I glared at the space in front of me, imagining that was where he would be standing if only he was able to take form.

“Exactly,” he said. “I cannot take form, so you’ll just have to get used to hearing my voice in your head once in a while.”

“Why are you even here?” I snapped. “I thought you’re busy.”

“I am, but I sure can spare you a moment or two,” he replied. “So how was your first day in this house?”

“What’s the point in asking? You can just read my mind,” I muttered sullenly.

“That’s true, but I want to hear it from you.”

I sneered. “Wow, what a true gentleman.”

“I know, right?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you talk like that? You are so not from our generation.”

“I learn from you people,” he said simply, and I could imagine him shrugging his shoulders. “I communicate to my… clients in the most effective way possible.”

“Clients, huh?”

“Dead people like you, yes. You might want to invest in this field—it’s the only business that doesn’t go out of business, if you know what I mean.”

I decided to humor him. “Uh-huh, and you get paid, like, what?”

“Stories,” he answered, his voice suddenly sounding deep and ominous, “and secrets.”

The air around me felt heavy, and it took me a few seconds to respond. For some reason, my eyes were drawn to the colorful sketch of the two-story house. “Axel has secrets, doesn’t he?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself from sounding so nosy.

“Angela, everyone has secrets,” he said. “Even you.”

I could hear the smile in his voice, but it wasn’t the kind of smile I liked.

“You’re curious, aren’t you?” he pressed, and it felt like a snake was offering me an apple. “You want to know more; you want to find out what he’s hiding.”

“I don’t care about his shit,” I said defiantly. Throughout my life, I made sure that I didn’t stick my nose in anyone’s business, and I wasn’t going to change that now. “It’s none of my business.”

“Or is it?” His tone was teasing.

At that moment, the door opened and Axel came in. He had a white towel wrapped around his torso, and another towel on his head which he used to dry his hair. I watched as he faced the mirror and stared at his reflection, but his eyes seemed far away again. His body may be here, but his mind was elsewhere.

What was he thinking?

“You could ask him that, you know,” the man whispered, “now that you found out a way to communicate with him. Didn’t you have an interesting first talk last night?”

“Interesting? Not quite,” I grumbled. “It was dreadful. He got mad out of nowhere and chased me out. What is that place, anyway? How come we could talk to each other?”

“The world works in mysterious ways.”

I waited, but he didn’t say any more. “You’re not going to tell me how exactly it works, are you?”

“I don’t think I have to,” he said. “You’ll figure it out as you go along. And instead of worrying about that, why don’t you work on your social skills?”

“Excuse me?”

“Tell me, Angela, when you work with clients and you want to make them sign the contract, what do you do?”

“I explain what they’re going to gain once they sign the contract, of course, but where are you going with this?”

“You worked as the head of the department for too long, you forgot what it was like to source clients.”

His emphasis on the word made me remember the times I spent as a marketing associate. Suddenly, it made sense. When I was sourcing clients, I befriended my prospects and the people close to them. I found out what they liked, what they disliked, what their dreams and goals were, and I used all of that information to my advantage. I pretended to be nice and pleasant while I conditioned their brains into accepting my propositions.

Axel was no different from a client.

In that case, I’d like to talk to him again and try a different approach.

“Will I be able to talk to him tonight?” I asked, expecting a response, but my head was completely silent. I waited for a few more minutes before saying, “Hello? Did you already leave?” Still, there was nothing. I sighed irritably. Where were his manners? He should have at least said goodbye.

And here was another guy without manners. Axel was taking off his towel while a lady was in the room. I knew it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t see me, but I still found it annoying.

Without so much as a glance at his little guy, I walked out of the room and waited for him to get ready for work.

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