“Yeah?” A raspy, grouchy voice said.
My grip on my phone tightened, despite my sweating. “Uh… Alex Murdoch?”
“That’s me. And you would be?”
“Right, um, Jennings, Dr. Jennings. Your daughter came to see me just today-”
I’m not sure, but I think I heard him mumble something about approval.
“How did she pay for that?”
“Actually, sir, that’s kind of why I’m here.”
“Listen here, I didn’t set this appointment and I’m not going to pay for it-!”
“No, sir. It’s taken care of. I don’t suppose you sent any scary men in dark suits to pay me for this, did you?”
The other end was silent for a long time. “No, no I didn’t.”
“Mr. Murdoch, what’s happening?”
“…I don’t know. Listen to me, Dr. Jennings, this is serious. We need to talk again, and we will, but I have things I need to do, to investigate. Until then, act normal, keep seeing Rebecca and pretend you never spoke to me. For now, everything is normal, okay? Okay.”
He hung up. I tried calling again. There was no reply. I sat there for five whole minutes, trying to process whatever in the world it was that had just happened. Eventually, though, I decided to put it out of my mind. Whatever this was, whatever was happening to me, I’d take it as it came. For now, though, I was hungry. I thought about making myself dinner, but tonight, in particular, my apartment felt so empty and so gloomy that I couldn’t stand the thought of spending the night in.
After debating my options, I found myself walking from the lobby of my building and onto the street. I live in a pretty busy area of town, so the streets were still abuzz with lights and cars and activity. It was chilly that night, but nothing that a simple leather jacket wouldn’t fix. As I got close to the club I was approaching, I noticed that something about this area felt a little off. I know I said that about Rebecca and that man in black, but this wasn’t like either of them. Something about the layout of the streets and the size of the city blocks felt different. What that was was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t name it.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I was going out to stop thinking about this strangeness, not to let it follow me everywhere I went. So, with that, I made my way into the club. In my opinion, it wasn’t a pleasant place; with blaring dubstep; choking fog; and blinding, seizure-inducing lights all around. With the various goths and ravers that surrounded me, I stood out like a cactus in the arctic. Still, I liked this place. I liked seeing what happened here. People acted differently here. I recognized a few people from places that were decidedly less wild. There was something about this place that brought out a different side to people, and it was, still is, fascinating to watch. Also, Cyberia serves the most amazing fries.
Within minutes, I was munching on my crispy, salty, succulent fries, and engaging in my favorite activity, people watching. At the other end of the room, there were two guys tipsily flirting with a very inebriated woman. There were several people on the dance floor, one of which was swinging his fists around so much that it was a wonder a fight hadn’t broken out. I could see a gaggle of what looked to be college students, and only one of them was dressed appropriately for this place. There was one girl in particular in the group, wearing a very pretty dress with a floral vine pattern on it. She was very visibly nervous and uncomfortable about being here, and I could see her scanning the room for anyone like her she might talk to. Then, she locked eyes with me.
Immediately, I began to sweat as she started cautiously walking towards me. She was just some college student, and now some creepy guy over a decade older than her was staring at her from across the room! What if she yelled at me? What if she called the police?! I couldn’t defend myself, how could I? I’d look bad no matter what I said! She was getting closer, and my eyes darted around for an escape. No use, crowds and distance blocked any way I could escape before she arrived. Besides, if I ran, I’d look even more guilty. No, it was better to stay here and be calm, make my case no matter what she said.
“Sorry!” I put up my arms like I was warding off a blow.
I looked up at her, and she was just staring at me with one raised eyebrow.
“Nothing,” I said, heaving a sigh of relief, “it’s just, it’s not everyday people watching turns into an interactive experience, you know?”
To my surprise, she giggled nervously at my lame joke. “Do you mind?” she motioned towards the table at which I was sitting. I nodded slightly.
“What brings you to Cyberia?” I asked her, “This hardly seems like your type of place.”
“Oh, it’s not.” she gathered her thoughts a little bit, “I’ve just been doing a lot of schoolwork lately, and I needed a way to unwind. An acquaintance suggested coming here.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Well, if things are too much for you,” I pulled out my business card and handed it to her, “You can talk to me.”
The uneasy smile on her face disappeared, and she sighed heavily, her lips pressed and her chin low.
“Thanks, but I’ve got a therapist.” With that, she got up walked away. I leaned over the table and tried to say something to her, but I had no idea what would’ve made sense. Besides, she was already gone. I sat down and tried to enjoy the rest of my fries. I didn’t really taste them. I got up and left the club. I didn’t go home for a while. I just walked around my usual route on the street. I stopped for a Big Mac at one point, but that was about it. I don’t know what made me look up and see it, or when it happened. At some point though, I looked across the street and saw something that made my blood run cold.
Across the street, there should’ve been a laundromat and an apartment complex right next to each other, separated by an alleyway too narrow to drive through. Instead, there was no alley. Instead, nestled in between the two buildings was a closed coffee shop! Suddenly, as I looked around, I realized what had been wrong with the streets. The city block that now held that coffee shop was awkwardly slanted and expanded, with all of the streets around breaking from the grid to accommodate it. It was like somehow, someone had pushed the apartments and laundromat aside and taken all connecting blocks and streets with them, all to make room for this establishment that, I swear to you, was never there before. Things got worse when I looked at the window and saw the sign out front. “Julia’s Java” it read.
I turned around and started walking briskly back to my apartment. I’d seen too much that day. The only option I had left that could possibly calm me down was a bottle of wine and some late-night TV. If I ever saw that man in the suit, I’d be ready to tell him where he could stick Ms. Murdoch, because I was not about to get any more involved than I already was. That was when I was grabbed from behind, and a bag was pulled over my head.