Chapter 5 - Friends and Hostilities
All of us stepped out of the car and onto cracked pavement that laid beneath a rusting lamp post. I squinted my eyes through the darkened mist at a large building in the distance. This building stood several stories high and resembled an abandoned factory.
“Inside there?” I asked.
We approached the factory, it’s crumbling exterior becoming more noticeable, proving it’s age. Soiled patches of filth covered the factory’s walls, giving off a strange, pungent odor.
“Not what you were expecting, huh?” Edith retorted, ”Well being hunted by a discriminatory corperation doesn’t exactly give us many options.”
“I didn’t mean to be rude Ms. Edith, I just-”-”Wasn’t expecting an abandoned factory?” She huffed, her attitude cut short by Catori’s menacing glare.
Despite Catori’s seemingly non confrontational manner, she managed to project her passive aggression on Edith. “A nicer area.”
I felt my collar grow sweaty,“Yes, ma’am. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
“I’d hope not.”
We turned the corner to face the Gowanus canal, where the entrance of the factory was. There, Edith clasped the handle of an enormous door and pulled, it’s rust squeaking against the chiseled concrete under the half lit moon.
“Of course, Ma’am.”
“Stop calling me ‘Ma’am’.” Edith stated coldly, entering the pitch black building.
I opened my mouth to reply but Blake interjected, “He’s just being respectful.” They informed, anger trickling off their tongue as they stood closer to me.
I nodded in agreement but she didn’t see. We delved into the darkness, only the soft strides of our footsteps echoing behind us. Blake pulled out a black box from her pocket, and suddenly I could see in front of us. The light shining from the box allowed for me to see Blake’s uneasiness as we approached the far side of the floor. A glimpse of light poked through the stairwell, revealing thick dust that collected itself onto tan bricks. Although the railings remained spotless, an odd detail for an abandoned factory.
A couple of minutes passed by once we reached the top floor. Catori and Bhaskar both dismissed themselves and made their way across the floor to separate tan colored curtains, and disappeared. These curtains lined the long side of the building, appearing to be sectioned off rooms. Soft light brought clarity across the wide space, leaving me out in the open.
This building gave off a completely different feeling than the chaotic, crowded streets of the city. It was empty. And the uncomfortable tension between Blake and Edith began to rise once more.
As I turned to Edith, I noticed a cut along her forehead that I didn’t notice before. It’s thin appearance traveled right down to her eyebrow. “Have Ralph take care of him, and then come talk to me when it’s finished.” Edith instructed, quick to take to focus off of her.
Blake nodded, “I have work in a couple of hours, I need to leave shortly. But I’ll come back after work.” Edith’s face grew stone cold, causing Blake’s body to go stiff before Edith walked away.
As much as I wanted to, I decided it was best to refrain from asking Blake about the hostilities between Edith and them. Instead, I asked, “So who’s Ralph?”
Blake swallowed any ill thoughts with a fake smile, “He’s another one of us with powers. In his time here he’s learned how to track the Lothar corperation’s whereabouts and design new technology to rescue people like you. He arrived in the present the same time they tried to take me. He’s a good man and will take that tracker out of your neck.”
Unlike Edith, Blake’s sincerity towards Ralph brightened their smile. It didn’t take an expert to observe how meaningful this Ralph was to them…
Within a couple of feet we turned into an open room within the floor. This room, much like the rest of the building, held barren walls. Which, were lined with little cots along the far right side while the other laid a small table overflowing with futuristic objects. Strips of green, red, and yellow poked out of their confusing designs. In the center of the room laid an even bigger table that also held an assortment of objects I did not recognize. Two large, yet rather slim boxes resided on the left of the table, facing away from me but facing who I assumed was Ralph.
His muscular stature slumped beside the boxes, a small glint gleaming from his golden glasses that perched upon his defined facial structure. His hand rested on his chin with his finger placed on his lip in concentration. The glow from the boxes flashing an array of colors through his glasses.
His thin lips sighed as he leaned back from his seat, folding his arms. The frustration in his expression evaporated once Blake came into view. “Blake??” He called, excitement ceasing his task.
The sound of his voice brought a new sense of livelihood to Blake, “Hey Ralph.” They spoke.
Both adults moved themselves for a greeting. Although, Ralph had moved into view by different means… As he pulled away from the center of his table, his elevation did not change. His arms moved in unison, pushing a wheelchair around the desk. But not some flimsy, wooden one. No. This one resembled the aesthetic of the future. Slim wheels carried the chair’s sleek black design. It’s seat reminded me of the car we rode in. Simple and clean. Classy, almost. His plaid pants covered in dark green tucked perfectly between the wheels.
But only one of his legs hung low to the ground, the other stopped at his knee with the pants fitted around his amputation. My mind itched to question, but I knew better than that… Ralph outstretched his arms as Blake leaned their tall body to his height, embracing them foundly.
“Why didn’t you text me? I would have made you some tea! And.. wait. It’s 4 in the morning, what are you doing here??” He bombarded Blake with questions, pacing back and forth with impatient arms.
“I could ask the same for you! And I wasn’t planning on coming over for a couple of hours. I was planning on texting you then.” Ralph cocked his head to the side, intrigued by their narrative, “Edith put a hole in my wall…”
Ralph’s eyes widened in disbelief, “Wait why? Edith joined Bhakar and Catori after her shift to find…” His eyes landed on me, “Oh. Wait, a hole in your apartment??”
“He crashed into me while running away from one of Lothar’s men. I saved him and took him to my place…” They explained.
“And you didn’t turn off the tracker?”
“I didn’t know how. I was going to call you but Edith cut a hole in my wall first.”
“Dammit. If I didn’t forget to put your apartment in the system that would never have happened. I’m sorry-”-“You have no reason to be. I’ll get it fixed.” Blake interrupted Ralph’s apology as they placed a hand on his shoulder.
Ralph’s face hardened in self-criticism, parting his lips but deciding to nod instead. Blake exchanged a sympathetic frown before Ralph focused on me. His olive green eyes examined my figure with a perk of his lips. A nervous heat began to swell across my body as he looked up at me.
“Hello, Mr. Walter.” He extended his hand for a shake.
Where was I supposed to look? At his hand? The chair? His face?? I’ve never seen someone in a wheelchair up close before… Do I acknowledge it? No. That’d be rude. Right? Manners Raymond. Manners…
I took his hand, which was much larger than mine. “Raymond is just fine.” A peculiar feeling hallowed my stomach.
“Pleased to meet you, Raymond. I’m Ralph. I’m able to remove that tracker from your neck, if that’s alright with you.” His words were gentle and kind, much like Catori’s.
“Uh, yes. Thank you.”
Blake’s teeth were visible by their relief, “I’m glad you two are getting along. But I need to go talk to Edith real quick.”
Ralph’s brows scrunched together, “Why?” He said.
“She wanted to talk to me. She’s been grumpy ever since she came for Ray. What made her be such a bitch?” My eyes widened by their vulgar description.
Ralph’s confident tone shifted, “We haven’t made any progress since you’ve last been over. She’s growing a bit restless. The corporation’s strengthened their security. It’s getting harder for me to know what’s going on.”
“Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. You’re doing your best. And that’s all anyone can ask of you Ralph.”
Ralph pursed his lips, “What else am I going to do? Disappoint Edith?”
Blake’s cheerful expression hardened, “You aren’t disappointing her. Like you said, she’s just growing restless. None of us could ever come close to what you’re doing. And besides, maybe you could leave the factory for a change.”
“Do you know how pale my skin is?” He laughed, “I might shrivel up and die if the sun touches me.”
“Oh whatever,” Blake rolled their eyes, taking small steps away from us, “I’m going to talk to her now, so I can end my night with you two. Hopefully, I'll be right back.” They said, leaving us alone in the open room.
“So Raymond..” Ralph turned to me, “How are you doing?” His muscular body shifted with unintentional intimidation.
“It’s been an interesting couple of hours.” I admitted.
“I can imagine, I felt similarly when I came through the machine too.” He trailed, moving himself to the table in search of something.
It felt good to know someone who understood, “You came through too?” I asked to continue the conversation.
“We all did.” Ralph came back and observed my neck, although his gaze trailed down my body, “Let me guess… You’re from the 20s?”
I grabbed the rim of my sweater, “Is it that obvious?” I gulped, unsure whether to be frightened by his observation.
“With your outfit, yes… Not that you look bad in it!” He panicked, once again those inner thoughts of criticism washed over his features.
My face went hot with embarrassment. How was I supposed to respond to that? Thank you??
“I’ve never met anyone from that time period. Well, aside from my family.. How was life in the ‘Roaring Twenties’?” Ralph caught the awkward air with his words.
Roaring Twenties? “Well, I only made it to 1920. I wouldn’t know.”
“So World War 1 just ended for you. An interesting time, wouldn’t you say?”
Interesting? Being constantly berated to join the war effort was far from interesting in my book. “Not the choice of words I would use. But, yes.”
Ralph clenched his fists, not expecting my cold response, “I take that you aren’t fond of war. That’s good, I’m not either. I came from a time of war too, the… 2nd World War…” He spoke hesitantly.
Excuse me? “A 2nd World War?” My mouth gaped open, searching for the slightest hint of sarcasm but there was none to be found.
A sharp pang stitched across my chest. All the blood… All the devastation brought from the war amounted to nothing..?
“About two decades later, yeah. Due to the aftermath of the first one.”
“Good to know our society hasn’t changed.” I shook my head, breaking contact with shame.
Ralph positioned himself to be in my sights once again, “It has, I know you’ve just got here. But a lot of improvements have happened since your time. Once I get this tracker off of you, and you’ve adjusted a bit, Blake and I would be happy to show you around.” His compassionate smile re-appeared to lift my spirits.
“Thank you. Ralph, was it?”
The frame of a young woman entered the room as I spoke, who seemed oblivious to her surroundings. Her fingers tapping away with a small black box in her hand. I needed to ask Blake what those were… Her golden locks and pale skin matched Ralph’s. She paused, popping a piece of gum in her mouth as her large foot tapped impatiently against the floor.
“Yes. Now, if you follow me over here, it’d be easier for me to work…” He gestured towards a cot, catching the attention of the mysterious young lady. “Helda, if you’re just going to stand there could you atleast fetch the tools please?”
The loose fabric of her shirt scrunched by her movements, “Yea! Gimme a sec!” Helda looked up at me, immediately knowing the situation as she almost tripped over her long pants.
Helda’s lanky arms fumbled around the desk as Ralph spoke, “Now, if you’d please lay down.”
As I laid down Ralph planted himself next to me. Now I understood his request, the cot and his chair were perfectly aligned. Ralph and Helda spoke briefly about the procedures following the removal of the tracker as I laid uncomfortably.
Ralph guided my body to the side, his keen eyes fixated on the device gorged into my neck. “I’m going to put my hand beside your jaw, don’t be alarmed.” His rather large hands were surprisingly gentle. From the corner of my eye Helda handed off an intricate tool, and a thin pinch sliced a fraction of my skin. “Hold still.” I winced. My neck tensed as the pain carved deeper, which only intensified my straining, “And there!”
The device slid out between my sliced skin with a path of blood trailing down my neck. “Thank you.” I sighed, surpized by how quickly that took.
Ralph nodded, cleaning up my neck and handing the tool off to Helda, who wiped it off and perched herself on the center table.
“Raymond, meet Helda. Helda, this is Raymond.”
The bubbly girl perked up her face, “Hi! I’m 1987, are you’re from..?”
Her lips stretched into an "o" shape, “Oh that’s cool! I’ve read about that time in school.”
“Helda’s still in highschool,” Ralph clarified, “And your time in history is very popular…” As any war is...
“So is yours Ralph!” She crossed her arms with pouty lips.
“I don’t need reminding,” A forced chuckle escaped his lips, “And shouldn’t you be in bed? Why are you up?” Ralph quickly changed subjects, folding his arms.
“Well… I couldn’t sleep. And I heard the others return and wanted to see if they brought Raymond back. Seems like they were successful.”
“Go to bed. You need a full night’s rest for school tomorrow.” Ralph scolded, prompting Helda to huff in protest.
“Fine... “ She slid off the table, “It’s nice to meet you, Raymond. See you guys in the morning!” She waved and turned towards the wall of curtains, disappearing to the left.
“Is she your sister?”
“Helda? Oh no, we’re from different times. She came here about a year ago. She’s a little tech savvy herself and helps me with my research.” He looked fondly in her direction.
My eyes scanned the floor aroud me, “Who else haven’t I met?” Trying to spot anyone else.
“It’s just us. I assume you’ve met the others.”
“Blake made it seem like there was more of you.”
The lack of people and the abandoned factory didn’t exactly fulfill my expectations. A part of me wished for more. For this entire area to be filled with people who were stolen from their lives..
“There used to be, but that was long ago. Back when Edith first came here. Now there’s only five of us, and Blake of course.” He explained as Blake came into view.
“Sorry I took so long, I hope everything’s okay.” The conversation with Edith seemed to have left them frazzled.
“Is everything okay?” I asked them, concerned over their weighted lids.
“Me? Oh yeah I’m fine. I see Ralph got the tracker out.” Blake gestured at my neck, which stung whenever I moved.
“Yeah, Helda and I got it all taken care of.”
“That’s good to hear. Sorry to make my visit so short, but I need to get home, I have work in a couple of hours…”
My chest tightened, “Are you coming back?” I shot up.
Blake flinched, startled by my sudden movement. “I’ll come back as soon as I finish work. Do either of you want anything while I’m gone?"
For my one friend in this world not to leave... “I’m fine.” I stuttered.
"No, but thank you." Ralph answered.
Blake's eyes shifted with their lips, expressing sympathy, “Do you need a hug or something?”
“I… Uh, wha-” A large embrace caught me by surprise.
The warmth of Blake's body grounded me to reality. I leaned in, taking advantage of the one person I felt like I could fully trust. Their presence told me everything was going to be okay. That I wasn’t alone. And that I could trust Ralph, Catori and the others to keep me safe while they were gone…
“It’s okay,” Blake giggled, “Everything’s going to be alright.” Their words pierced my heart, unmasking their upbeat facade just for me to see. “Get some sleep if you can. And that goes for you too Ralph!”
Ralph’s jaw gasped as he raised his hands in defense, “I feel called out.” He playfully teased.
“Both of you, seriously, try to get some rest. I’ll be back later.” They pointed at both of us, smiling brightly before leaving our sight.
“Raymond.” Edith immediately came into sight, “I have prepared a room for you.” She gestured me to follow, her arms held behind her back.
Afraid of upsetting her, I quickly joined Edith’s side. Ralph followed us briefly before parting to a curtain two rooms down, “Goodnight Raymond. Edith…”
Edith nodded and unveiled the curtain to the room. We stood around a neatly designed layout. A bed, it’s size exaggerated by fluffy bedding. A stool and desk, small and wooden. And an empty dresser.
“Make yourself comfortable. And sleep until you’re rested.” Her politeness sounding more like a demand.
I stepped into the room, trying to grasp my sense of placement. A sturdy oval fixed to the ceiling provided the only light source in the room. A large window sat in the middle of the wall, almost touching the ground which outlooked the sleeping city.
“I.. I understand how unsettling this situation is, we’ve all been through it. Get Catori if you need anything. I expect to see you in the morning." Edith's tone slipped from her unsual coldness. The hesitation in her voice proved her sincerity.
For the first time since I met her, Edith appeared to be sympathetic. “... Thank you.” Edith nodded her head respectively in response and left before anything else could be said.
As I pulled at the light's drawstring the darkness from outsight blanketed my vision. I wrapped my body around the poofy covers, the soft sheets hugging my frazzled body. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over the softness of modern bedding. This.. This was luxury.
My head sunk into the pillow while my hand wrapped around my bicep. Like these sheets, meeting a group of people like me brought a sense of comfort. The lack of sleep coaxed my anxieties into a deep slumber. The fight that disturbed my restless slumber drained my body more than I thought. This time, I slept without an issue. That was, until a gentle knock hit the wall outside my room…
“Good Morning Raymond, It’s Catori, may I enter?” Catori asked politely behind the curtain.
I sat up in a haze, “Uh, yes.” I scrambled out of my bed, trying to fix the wrinkles I made.
Catori emerged from the curtain in a graceful manner with her long hair flowing behind her. “I apologize if I woke you up. How did you sleep?”
“Fine, thank you. How about yourself.”
Catori’s wore an outfit drastically different from the night before. A long brown skirt flowed down to her shins with a white turtleneck tucked into it. Her soles were covered by tan flats that exposed the top part of her feet.
Her tall frame stood innocently as she spoke, “Well…” A wide smile grew over her puffy cheeks, “I spent the morning gathering items I thought you’d enjoy having around…” She disappeared briefly and reentered with her arms full of stuff.
“You shouldn’t have.” I insisted, guilt fueling the tension in my muscles.
“I wanted to make you feel at home here. A uh, temporary home anyways…” She said nervously.
Catori reminded me of Poppy. Her innocent kindness, acknowledging the bad in this world yet choosing to focus on the light. She stood strong and powerful despite her kindness, something I hoped Poppy maintained as she went through life without me. I would go back, kick Father out of the house and take care of Mama and Poppy and live a life knowing that the future held many changes. They deserved better than that. I deserved better than that.
Catori set an arrangement of items on the desk to my left. A record player, from my time. One that I only saw in fancy stores that I could only dream of purchasing. Bits of dust collected at it’s base, but the sleekness of the brass made it obvious Catori cleaned it before bringing it in. She also held a worn journal, a paperweight, some candles, a couple of old posters, and a vase of flowers.
“I thought having some flowers would help liven up the place.” She set the large vase at the center of the desk.
My heart stopped once I noticed what was in the vase; Sunflowers. Along with other small flowers of blue and pink. But their large petals dominated the vase. Their coffee-color interior reflecting the soft light pouring in from the window. I missed her eyes. I missed her embrace but I couldn’t reach her… Tears pooled at the base of my lids. And now she’s gone. The overwhelming weight of depression blanketed my shoulders.
“Are you okay?” Catori’s brows curled as she sat beside me.
“Yes.” I fixed my posture, “Everything is fine.”
Catori tilted her head, seeing through my lie, “I’m not judging you if things aren’t. I know we’ve just met, but you can talk to me about anything you’d like.”
“Thank you, Catori…" How could someone be this kind? "Those sunflowers remind me of someone very special to me.” I nodded towards the vase.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want me to take them?”
“No, it’s okay. I like them.” The corners of my lips met in a pained smile.
“I’m glad.” She rested her hands on her lap, “Are you hungry by chance?” She tried hard the change the subject.
The last thing I felt was hungry. The concept of eating was too much for the swirling thoughts in my brain. “No, but thank you.”
“Would you like to join the group for lunch?” Catori stood, her long legs standing at the curtain, “You do not have to, if you prefer, it’s only an offer.”
“Um, no thank you.” I said softly, fidgeting with my fingers.
“And that’s perfectly okay. I’ll bring you something later, take your time. I hope decorating your space helps.” She smiled, exiting through the curtain, and left me with my thoughts.