So he went on, hands against the rails, hair blown back ceaselessly amongst the sky.
On the cold and brisk winter’s day of December 8, 2032, Phoenix Newman spent the night at Alex’s house. The décor was pretty much what you might expect from a working couple, but Phoenix thought the living kitchen was the most interesting of the lot. Wow. The last time he’d been here was when he went to her thirteenth birthday party in March of 2029. Back then everything was different; the government hadn’t yet discovered that light could be used to power industrial machinery, and they also didn’t know that electricity was scarce in a city that dwarfed Manhattan by comparison. Probably the biggest difference of all: there wasn’t a giant hole in the atmosphere, and neither was there a UFO perusing about somewhere deep in the cosmos. There was none of that. None that he could think of, anyway.
Despite this, his wonderment didn’t change. Now the walls were a beautiful shade of white with butterfly patterns etched into the fabric.
Phoenix had told Alex and Katherine his situation, what he did, what he planned to do, but what he didn’t fully understand was the possibility of multiple disappearances. He hadn’t thought about such things, nor would he ever think about how the others went missing in the first place. His parents were all that mattered to him. His parents and his dog.
"You’re not alone,” Katherine had told him. ”Carlos didn’t turn up last night either."
So she let him stay at their house. Perhaps until things blew over.
Alex was perched on the edge of her couch, fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube that she would never solve. At least not in the time frame that her mother provided. She and Phoenix had to go to sleep by 10:00 P.M. (“I’m not letting you stay up that late ever again. Phoenix, you can sleep in the guestroom upstairs,“).
They did indeed have a guestroom upstairs. One with nothing more than a bed, a busted radiator, and a small television that stood upon a nightstand. All else was blank.
Alex’s short brown hair was unbrushed. She wore a light purple T-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. Phoenix was still dressed in his silver jacket. He did nothing but sit down at the other side of the couch and stare at her. She glared back, listening to the sound of the clock tick on towards nine.
It was pitch-dark outside by then – with the exception of the The Spire’s glow. The night sky did indeed possess a great deal of differences. Alex made a point to tell Phoenix about the radical changes to the atmosphere.
It was, for the most part, a nominal change with no underlining effects. There also was the idea that it may develop into something much worse in the future. And Alex thought that would be the case.
“What you starin at?” asked Alex, her face without expression.
“Nothing.” Phoenix slouched against the armchair. “Just bored.”
“I don’t imagine you have anything better to do than just sit around and watch me mess with a Rubik’s Cube, do you?”
“Nah,” said Phoenix, “I ain’t got nothin, chief.”
“Nice. Maybe when this all blows over we can grab a crunchy roll, how’s that sound?”
“What, the subscription or the food?” He laughed.
“How’s my fist in your face sound for food?” Alex said, smiling.
“Sounds like a plan – I mean, sounds like pain.” He laughed again.
Alex was perched on the arm of the sofa opposite him. In front of them, there was a coffee table with three cans of Coca-Cola – two diets, one regular – a remote, a vase, and a coaster. “But really, though. This Rubik’s Cube is impossible to solve. I don’t know how people do it, let alone in two microseconds, like damn!”
Phoenix sat upright, brushed some crumbs off his pants, and snatched the cube from Alex’s hands.
“Hey –” Alex said.
“Watch,” Phoenix said.
“What are you doing?”
He began twisting and turning the cube about, flipping it to edges it had never been before, rotating corners to new places and taking them on journeys they’d not yet witnessed. It took him all of ten seconds to solve the puzzle. “There. Easy.”
He tossed the Rubik’s Cube into her hands.
She didn’t believe that he’d solved it that quickly at first. Then she checked each of the sides. By God, he did it.
“I would’ve been able to do it, if someone didn’t rip it from my hands,” Alex said. “Not that any of it matters now.”
“You want me to unscramble it then?” Phoenix asked.
“No!” said Alex. “Just don’t touch my stuff.”
Phoenix gave a puzzled smile – one of those goofy grins that went from ear to ear. “Aight, then, Bonnie.”
“Bonnie?” said Alex. “Who’s Bonnie?”
“You.” Phoenix smiled.
“And I suppose you’re Clyde, huh?”
The lines in Phoenix’s brow furrowed. “Nah,” he said. “I’m the king of puzzles. Just call me Schizophrenic Stephen.”
That made him think for a moment . . . Andy.
It had felt like ten eons had gone by since they’d last seen each other. Yesterday was like a mountainous climb . . . and they’d each went a different route.
Phoenix’s laughter slowly relaxed, fraction by fraction, until all that could be heard was the soft tick-tock of the living kitchen clock.
“What was that all about yesterday night? About getting an alien back to their rightful owners. Do you think that’d be the case?” said Alex.
“Too early to say, as far as I’m aware,” said Phoenix. “Right now, honestly, I just wanna find my parents. Everything else will solve itself. Kinda like that Rubik’s Cube.”
“What do you mean?” said Alex. She was smiling, but her face was sharp.
“Well,” said Phoenix, leaning forwards, “every puzzle starts with a simple plan. Think of it like a game of chess: the more strategic the plan, the greater the result. But it ain’t always like that, is it? Sometimes you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing until you’ve done it. And sometimes the problem doesn’t exist; you just think it does. So that Rubik’s Cube: you only thought it was impossible because you had no plan. But eventually, if you kept at it, it would have solved itself.”
It was then than Alex remembered that Phoenix indeed did have a way of putting things in perspective. “Never thought of it like that before. Nice job, Stephen.”
“So I gotta know something,” Alex began happily. “And you have to answer truthfully, right?”
“Bruh,” said Phoenix, “you already know I ain’t ever lie, dayum!”
“Alright then.” Alex placed the Rubik’s Cube on the coffee table in front of them. She grabbed a regular Coca-Cola and tossed it to Phoenix. It had still been ice-cold. Then she grabbed a diet. “If you could go anywhere in this whole universe – across the trillions of intergalactic stars – through the envious oceans of nebulae – anywhere you want – where would you go? Why?”
She cracked open the can and drank it. No straw. No nothing.
“That’s a tough one,” said Phoenix. “I suppose I wouldn’t be able to settle on just one place. Like I mean, you hear everyone talkin bout how they finna go to the moon, but let’s be real, that prolly ain’t gonna happen.”
“So where would you go?” Alex sipped her Coke. “Not where others wanna go. Not where I wanna go. Where do you wanna go?”
“Honestly . . .” Phoenix turned his head to look out the living kitchen window. “I’d like to see where that black hole leads – or whatever it is. It must be somewhere interesting if it’s not sucking us all up. And who knows? Maybe it’s better than the life we live here.”
“So . . . what you’re saying is . . .” Alex’s lips flicked for a moment. “You’re insane.” She grinned.
Britishly, Phoenix said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying, fam.”
“Innit,” said Alex.
“Innit, bruv!” said Phoenix.
“Mmm,” murmured Alex. “But that is true, though. I mean – we ain’t gotta a damn clue what that is, let alone where it goes.”
“That’s true, that’s true. You know, Alex, it’s been like a week since all this shit started – and you’ve managed to stay so chill about it the whole way. Like I ain’t know how you do it, but damn! The whole world losin its shit – and you out here like all that came about was some like drizzle.” Phoenix laughed a little. “You needa show me your technique. Maybe then I’ll show you how to confidently solve any Rubik’s Cube.”
“You’re all wrong,” said Alex. “I still miss my dad. I hope he’s okay, and hope yours are, too.”
“Ay,” said Phoenix. “I know they’re fine. There’s no way anything drastic could have happened in such a small period of time.”
“You think so?” Alex stood up and grabbed the remote off the coffee table. She switched on the TV and scrolled through multiple channels.
“Yeah,” said Phoenix.
“TV! Open up Netflix!” Alex said.
The TV responded, in a female’s voice, “Opening Netflix.”
“What you tryna watch?” said Alex.
“Pff.” Alex sat up straight on the couch. “Beats me. How about an anime?”
“Now you’re talkin my language,” said Alex.
Alex didn’t speak for another minute or so. Then, when she found the perfect show to watch, she said, “How’s this?”
"Your Lie In April is a goddamn masterpiece,” said Phoenix.
“We’re gonna be here all night – well, until Mom tells us to shut it off.”
“Hey, where is your mom anyway?”
“Upstairs in the shower, why?” said Alex.