When Charon Met Eurydice
Outside, Glowbank more than earned its namesake. Neon lights of nearly every color bombarded Win as he followed Lia and Monty onto the street—which at the moment, was a narrow river of creeping cars. At the sight of the clogged traffic, Monty turned to Win, saying: “I suppose this means we’re walking?”
Before Win could answer, Lia’s glass eyes had whirled around too. Despite the drone of the Neon City around them, her clear, neutral voice carried clearly to Win’s ears. “We’ll take the chute,” she said. Decided, Win realized.
Monty made a noise that suggested he was against the idea of traveling underground, but he simply shrugged his bony shoulders and followed Lia’s lead.
No one asked Win’s opinion, so he took a deep breath of the city smog, and, sipping his coffee, fell in line.
The once-silvery enamel of the sidewalk lacked the luster that the Glowbank’s founders were so proud of when it was first cemented. From the edge of the walkway where it met the street, rust had appeared, snaking its way inward, over weeks, months. Like a slinking, orange-brown shadow.
When Win looked up from the sidewalk, he didn’t recognize anyone. Clumps of Dians obscured his view of the path before him. Then two small beads of light blossomed amid the crowd—Lia’s Nguyen-Costanzo’s catching the glare of some streetlight or screen.
When he caught up, Lia and Monty were soliciting a brightly-colored food stall: a moderately-sized, bulbous tent filled with trays and pots of yellowy meats and soups. Lia was speaking with the purveyor in the Hindi-English dialect of the Pole-Aitken.
Pulling Monty aside, Win asked, “This going to take long?”
He shrugged. He was doing a lot of that lately.
Win tapped his foot on the ground, the sound of his sole on the sidewalk lost to the hum of the city. “I assume you’re paying for that?” Win asked Monty, nodding toward Lia, who was returning with what looked like some kind of grilled meat on a skewer.
“Gotta buy the lady dinner, don’t I?”
Win suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.
“Sorry,” she said, as she came up to them. She didn’t seem sorry. “Let’s go.”
Win was looking at the shiner, but in his periphery, he thought he saw Monty shiver.
“Thank you,” Lia added to Monty, as if it were an afterthought, and then yanked a piece of meat off the skewer with her teeth. It left a smear of curry glaze on her lips.
As Lia turned to go, and Monty after her, the door to a nearby building opened, and a teary-eyed couple filtered out, followed by cold, sterile air. Win glanced to the sign above them. It read, COFFINS BY CORMAC, in a flowery, cursive script.
This time, when Win breathed, all he could smell was curry and formaldehyde.
The reddish tint of the subway windows made Win uncomfortable. But then again, everyone who rode the chute—especially at this time of night—seemed to be uncomfortable for some reason or another. Win sat apart from Monty and Lia; the latter had just finished her food and was nonchalantly stabbing the skewer beneath her seat cushion to hide it.
“What’s your interest in Darkin House?” Win found himself asking.
Lia, whose manufactured eyes seemed somehow brighter underground, answered almost immediately. “I’m a photographer.” She tapped her glass eyes with a pinky finger. “These are useful in that regard.”
“Those things take pictures?” Monty asked.
“So you’re just going to take photos,” Win said.
“Darkin House is one of the oldest buildings on Diana,” she replied, as if Win had asked a question. “Probably the oldest in the Pole-Aitken. If it’s going to be deleted soon, then I want photos of it. Personal ones.”
Win couldn’t look into her eyes anymore. His gaze settled on the red windows, and the darkness that sped away beyond them.
“And you?” Lia inquired. “Why are you going to Darkin House?”
“I like urban legends.”
At this, Monty re-asserted himself into the conversation. He turned to Lia, saying, “Did you know there’ve been ten disappearances within Darkin over the past year?”
Lia shook her mohawked head. “I didn’t know there were that many.”
Monty nodded vigorously. “It’s a certified haunted house.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Lia replied skeptically.
“We all go farther than we think,” Win said. “Than we’d like to.”
Monty and Lia were silent at that, but thankfully the chute’s overhead speakers weren’t.
“You have reached your destination,” it said in a disembodied, female voice. “Please exit now, and thank you for using O&E Transportation Services.”