dude, are you seeing what I'm seeing? Who: Charlie and Samuel and a good friend call alcohol What: See Charlie make friends. Drinking, and then the building starts morphing. Alcoholic visions? You wish. Where: 707 When: Around midnight of Oct. 1 Warnings: Language. This should be a given.
She'd done a pretty good job of avoiding just about everyone in the bulding, with exception of that guy in the elevator. Her days had been little more than going to and from work on her bike, or else just tuning it in her spare time. Decorating her apartment was a no go, so it remained sparsely furnished and looked relatively unlived in - she spent little time there anyway, so it wasn't of terrible importance. But even an antisocial convict gets lonely every now and again, and Charlie was starting to think of taking Samuel up on his offer regarding Irish whiskey; she hadn't gotten around to meeting any of the other residents of the building, though she wasn't kicking herself for that. Besides, there was that nagging voice in the back of her mind that wanted to put a time and a place to him.
So, with somewhat dragging feet, she walked the short distance down the hall from her apartment to his, and, hesitantly, raised a fist to knock on the door.
I cannot believe I'm doing this.
It took Samuel a moment to hear the stirring at the door. For the last hour he had been engrossed in an especially cutthroat round of ‘wanted’ mode in the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood pre-beta; between the pixellated bloodletting and the frequent shots of whiskey he took to get through the inane chatter of players coming through the speakers, he was distracted to say the least. But belatedly his head popped up, turning to the source of that small sound. The round ended, and when he found himself at the safety of a loading screen, he rose to see who had come to call.
A quick glance through the peephole in the door showed it was neither Lia nor Brighid, but the absolute last neighbor he would ever have expected to see even at such a late and unorthodox hour. A positively wicked smile curved his lips as he threw open the door, swinging it wide. With a sweeping gesture he beckoned her into the flat, bending at the waist in a mockingly overdone bow.
“Charlie, do come in,” he said, his voice dripping with honeyed gentility.
He’d taken awhile to get to the door - she’d started contemplating walking away, calling it a moment of stupidity that had been generously avoided by fate. And then the door had opened. She was still considering just turning and pretending she’d done nothing of the sort, but that’d be damned embarrassing. So she gave him a sneering smile and stepped past him into his apartment.
“I was going to see if that offer of whiskey was still on the table, but it looks like you have a head start on me,” she drawled, spying the bottle next to a glass next to a controller. The whole apartment wasn’t nicer than hers, necessarily, after all they had the same floor plan, but it had a shit-ton more stuff in it. Nice stuff. Expensive stuff. Her fingers itched for a moment, but it was a passing fancy at best these days. The game machine the controller belonged to was hooked up to a large television, proffering colorful displays of people in weird outfits killing each other in manipulative ways. There was a bar working its way across the screen, which meant absolutely nothing to her.
“Believe me, I’m just as fucking surprised as you are that I’m here,” she added, a strange bit of honesty that suddenly found its way past her lips. She glanced back to him, pointing at the tv screen.
“So this is what you do for fun? Are you a closet psychopath or something?”
“Jack Thompson would say so,” he quipped, grinning all the wider. He pushed the door shut, locking it behind them. “But he’d be less uptight if he grabbed a controller and skewered somebody in the neck with a giant syringe once in a while.” He strolled leisurely past her, headed toward the kitchen. The first order of business was to procure another glass and a less expensive libation; afterward they could discuss what brought her here, and perhaps continue their little game of animosity - however feigned or real it might have been.
When he returned to the living room it was with lowball glass and Jameson - original, hardly the blue-blooded version currently dressing up his coffee table - in hand. He passed her the glass, then set the green bottle alongside its darker counterpart. “The drink offer does still stand.” He plucked the bottle of Rarest Vintage Reserve from the table, pouring two fingers into her glass. “For one glass, anyway. After that it’s on to the lower octane stuff. I’m a nice guy, but not that nice.” All the same, he topped his own glass off before returning the expensive import back to its place. Languidly he lowered himself to the couch, settling in against the cushions. His eyes flicked back to the screen, where the count of active players seemed to have stalled at four of six; it seemed they had time for a little conversation yet.
“Dare I ask what brings you here?” he asked. “Or was it really just the booze?”
Her eyes roamed around the room for the few moments that he left the room. A perfect opportunity to pocket something small, anything, but the tight jeans she was currently sporting would give away anything she grabbed. And she was supposed to be over that - she was, she insisted mentally, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t think about it. He came back, offering the promised drink. She took the glass, eyeing it, no expression on her face, and found a position leaning back against the rear of his very nice couch. No stranger to alcohol, she hadn’t actually had a glass yet since gaining parole. Knowing that Jimbo would definitely disapprove gave her a perverse pleasure, probably a better rush than anything the booze would do for her.
“Considering that there’re a dozen places around here where I could get drunk for free by just taking off my shirt,” she started, folding an arm around her chest and holding the glass in the air off kilter. “There is, surprisingly, another reason.” Two reasons, actually, but the first she’d never willingly admit to. The second one just gave her an excuse to cover up the first. But before she started elaborating she put the glass to her lips and tipped it into her mouth - a little something to grease the wheels. A moment of gritted teeth as it burned through her mouth dissolved into a pleased smile. It might’ve been cliche to compare it to the taste of freedom but, hell, the warm feeling in her belly was just too damn good.
“Not bad.” The empty glass still in her hand stayed in the air with a finger pointing towards him as though she were about to deliver a lecture, the other arm still wrapped around her middle, she went straight to the heart of the matter. “Have I met you somewhere before?”
“You know, I was wondering that myself.” He tipped a slight measure of the fine liquor down his throat, sighing contentedly at that welcome warmth. After spending what seemed a long time savoring that single slow sip, he cast her a clearly disapproving look from beneath an upraised brow. “You know, that isn’t Jim Beam. You don’t just toss this shit back, Charlie. Actually taste it.” He sighed, gingerly placing his glass on the table and reaching for the PS3’s controller.
“I never arrested you,” he said, thinking aloud. In truth he was sincerely interested in putting this point to rest. It had nagged at him since they had first met, always nipping just at the edge of his thoughts. “You don’t seem the Texas type, so I doubt I met you before I moved out here.” He looked up to her as he joined the queue waiting for an ongoing game. “You ever do USMC mud runs or anything?”
She just shrugged a little at his disapproval of how she’d finished her drink, her hair partly covering the apathetic expression her face displayed. He’d offered it to her, after all, as a guest; she didn’t realize there were rules to his hospitality. Everyone disapproved of everything she did, and all of that negativity hadn’t taken yet. Why start now?
“Do I seem like the fuckin’ charity type to you? I’ve never been outside of California.” Nope - born and raised, although the raised part didn’t apply to any particular section of the Golden State. Any benevolent families looking to adopt outside of her home state often passed over the problem child. She moved around the couch, plopping down and then setting the empty glass on the coffee table. Her fingers still held on to the top like octopus tentacles, latching and unlatching, spinning it lightly on the wooden table top. Would she have remembered screwing him? There’d really only been a handful of men, if even that, and rarely was she under the influence of anything when it had gotten to that stage. Except with TJ, but that was different, and she’d been with TJ for a long time. Had she stolen something from him? Unlikely, since she’d never stuck around long enough to see anyone’s face. Her eyes watched the TV screen while she thought.
“I’d like to think I’ve got a mind for remembering faces, but...what the hell is that guy wearing?” Distracted by the screen, she watched as a person dressed head to toe in black but sporting a white mask with a beak and a tricorn hat stabbed another person - dressed just as strangely in clothes that looked far too feminine for a man - in the neck with a syringe, blood spurting obnoxiously into the air in only a way a video game could deliver. “That is seriously fucked up.”
“Plague doctor,” he said. His computer generated counterpart walked casually up to the character in question, ending its brief moment of victory with a hidden retractable blade through the throat. Samuel laughed aloud, clearly pleased with himself. “And the mud runs aren’t for charity.” He flicked a glance back over to her, appraising her unhappy expression. “They’re just running a course and getting your mud-covered ass kicked. I’m not suggesting that’s something you’re familiar with, but...” He shrugged, looking back to the screen just in time to see a scantily clad figure drop violently down onto his own. “Fuck. Anyway, yeah, I don’t know. Soon as I saw you I thought I knew you. But I meet a lot of people, one way or another. Maybe we’ll remember eventually.”
He scooped up his glass as he waited to respawn, taking a short and languorous sip. He tilted the controller toward her. “Want to play?” he asked, his tone playfully lascivious.
She gave no response to his explanation regarding the mud runs - she’d been mistaken on dozens of things before, but the secret was to never let them see you sweat - and instead she glanced at the controller and then at him. After a moment she took the controller, wrapping her hand around each side and letting her thumbs find the joysticks.
“What the fuck do I do?” His character spawned in the middle of the field; what looked like a marketplace set in some distant location, and probably far-set time as well. The fact that Charlie had never finished high school did not help her identify what she was looking at - she swiveled the joysticks, moving the character around, and started tapping the buttons to see what she could do. As she screwed around trying to figure out the controls, a large figure dressed like an executioner came up beside the character and sent an axe into its neck, nearly cleaving the head from the body.
“Shit, man, this is violent.” The screen moved around, following the character that had killed her, a timer in the bottom corner of the screen counting down to another respawn. Directions were written across the top of the screen and she studied them for a moment, trying to read the ridiculously small type against the splashy background of the loading screen.
Briefly Samuel considered letting her flounder, but then he realized her points (or lack thereof) were being appended to his own totals. His lips pursed against a laugh, and he leaned over, glancing at the controller to jog his memory. “Stay out of sight as much as you can,” he said. “Don’t run except through doors that glow - those close when you’re being chased. Follow the circle at the bottom toward your target, and hit square to kill them when you’re close enough.”
He settled back, his eyes flicking from his companion to the screen and back again. He was content now to nurse his drink and enjoy the little show. “No throwing, kicking, or otherwise destroying anything of mine when you die,” he added. “Somehow I feel like I gotta say that.”
Yeah, he probably did. Charlie died three more times - once from a chick who came out of no where, slicing and dicing with a fan, and twice more from the executioner character who seemed to delight in removing body parts - and each time it took all her strength of will to not put the controller through the television screen; a clenching of her knuckles and an ever deepening frown denoted her emotional state. Finally, though, she managed to kill what Sam had referred to as a plague doctor, sending the claw on her character’s hand through the man’s neck. A grin lit up her face, maybe a little too maniacal, and she quickly maneuvered her character away from the scene of the kill and into hiding.
“Shit, they should’ve let us use this stuff in prison. Then again, after seeing the way people would shank each other just for control of the TV remote, maybe not...” She kept her eyes on the screen, feeling that she couldn’t look away for a moment.
“So you’re from Texas? Where’s your cowboy hat, and how big’s your gun rack in the back of your monster truck?” Her tone was derisive, but to those paying attention, also playful. The questions were sarcastic, but also revealing of her other intention for invading Samuel’s private dwelling.
“Traded my cowboy hat for a surfboard when I was seven,” he said, cutting her a sidelong glance. His smirk was deep but pleasant. “Good guess on the truck, but no gun rack. My personal stash is all concealable. And locked up tight, should you be getting any ideas.” He let slip an earnest smile, then, but hid it beneath the rim of his glass.
The game was steadily growing more interesting to watch as Charlie learned the controls and began to put up a far better fight. He sipped idly at his whiskey as the match continued, now and again warning her of an attacker or pointing out an opening for a kill. Samuel found himself wondering what sort of scene it might have made, a women’s prison filled with cheering, jumpsuited lawbreakers screaming at one another over a taxpayer-funded PS3. He laughed aloud at the thought, picking up the thread of conversation as if it had never been dropped. “I guess this could’ve been some kind of anger management therapy,” he allowed. “But that’s a little progressive even for California.”
“Exchanged one stereotype for another, huh. Thank god you don’t talk like a surfer,” she commented lightly, going back and forth between subjects with him as though it were perfectly natural. Somewhat surprisingly, she took his suggestions and warnings without too much backtalk, gaining on the others in the game and becoming passably good for someone who’d never touched a controller before. She added two more kills to her count, and was really starting to enjoy the game for what it was.
Her mind switched back to the other topic. Having the game in prison would certainly have been an outlet, but pressing buttons to induce violence didn’t have the same feel as slamming your fist into another person’s face. And the adrenaline of winning a virtual contest versus the adrenaline of trying to make sure that knife in the other person’s hand didn’t make friends with your stomach was also a key difference in Charlie’s mind. Though she would not have minded having Daphne try to kill a pixellated character rather than her any day, but the satisfaction was missing. And the satisfaction was what it was all about.
“Yeah, giving games that kill people into the hands of people who kill people doesn’t seem like that smart of an idea, even to me.” And I’m almost one of those people.
“Well shit,” Samuel said, laughing. “We agree on something. Maybe I should get my head checked.”
The game was turning especially engrossing; Charlie continued to improve, and soon Samuel left off foisting upon her his overly helpful suggestions. When the walls began to shift around them, the floor itself changing into something very like wooden planking, he very nearly failed to notice. It was only during the brief pause between one round’s end and another’s start that Samuel began to sense something markedly off in their surroundings. He rose from the sofa, glass still in hand, his mouth agape as he studied the room. His furniture remained, and the floor plan itself showed no change, but even a quick study of their environs showed wood-hewn walls, weaponry, and at least one threadbare tapestry lining the hallway back toward his bedroom. “Charlie,” he said, his eyes falling back to her. “Do you see this, or am I actually going crazy.”
“Hang on a second, that fuckin’ priest is fast...” she mumbled, closing in for the kill on yet another character. The character’s blades sank home and Charlie threw her arms into the air in victory. “What is that, like, ten...kills...now?” The words faded nearer to the end of the question as her eyes looked around the room to take in the decorative changes. Her jaw hit the floor as her arms descended slowly. The sight of battleaxes and swords, well used as stated by the chips in the blades and the faint coloring of past stains, and shields on the walls gave the room a much more masculine feel than it had before. Sam’s furniture looked starkly out of place. Charlie joined Sam in standing, turning all the way around so she could view the entire room. She rounded on him, one hand still tightly clutching the controller and pointing it at him accusingly.
“What the fuck was in that whiskey?! Wasn’t it supposed to be some high end shit or something?” Worry tinged with anger laced her words. If this was some elaborate plot for him to get her kicked out of the apartment, well...shit.
“You better not be accusing me of drugging you,” he snapped. There was as much uncertainty in his tone as in hers, and anger to match as well. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither Brighid nor her father would tamper with a gift in such a way; but that left no explanation at all, and they were worse off than before. “I’m a cop, Charlie, and I like my job, and I’d like to keep it. I damn straight don’t sit around with drugged up liquor just in case a neighbor I’m not sure about shows up at fuck o’clock.”
He leaned down to the coffee table, dropping his glass down to its surface. Muttering a curse under his breath, he moved to the wall. Without hesitation he lifted his hand to the edge of a scarred battleaxe. The blade was yet sharp; when he drew his fingertips from the hard, cold metal, a line of unzipped flesh and slowly welling blood greeting his downturned eyes. Samuel laughed. “Well I’m not totally disappointed with this,” he said. He looked back to Charlie, lifting his bloodied finger for her appraisal. “But I have no fuckin’ idea how to explain it.”
She opened her mouth to retort, but once her only idea had been gutted and left hanging, it honestly scared her that there was no explanation for what was happening. And then seeing his hand bleeding just brought it all home. Even the atmosphere of his living room had changed - before it had been comfortable, suddenly she found it dry and a touch too warm. The lighting was off as well, as though it weren’t coming from the ceiling fixtures.
“Fuck.” Dropping the controller to the soft couch cushions, she walked towards the wall herself, a Doubting Thomas needing proof on its own merit. A sword hilt came to hand, feeling rough and solid to her bare palm, and when she took it down, slowly, the weight made her arm sag unexpectedly. “This shit’s fuckin’ real. How...” She wrapped two hands around the sword, needing the extra help to lift the heavy blade. Then she realized that she was an ex-felon holding a very large, very dangerous weapon, and put it back as quickly as she could. Hands wiped on her jeans as though to destroy any evidence of her actions, she turned on her heel and walked to his front door. She swung it open wide, peering from side to side before taking a step out. Charlie turned to lean back into his apartment, nodding her head to the side for him to come look.
“The halls, too. Maybe it’s the whole fucking building.” While her fear took the anger out of her tone, it certainly didn’t help the swearing.
He trotted up alongside her, his eyes widening as he looked out into the corridor. “Well fuck me,” he mumbled, shaking his head. “We either have the most low-key maintenance staff or I blacked out at some point.” Samuel pushed the door wide, slipping past Charlie and into the hall. “This is a serious redecoration to have happened so quick.” A thick gold chain hung upon the wall, its links securing it to the wooden wall and the weapons affixed to it. He traced this broken line, following the places it seemed to sink into the wall itself, touching those weapons it seemed to chain down. “If this is real gold,” he said, laughing, “neither of us will ever have to work again.” He turned back to face her, somewhat pleased to see she appeared as confused as he felt. “Too bad it’s probably just a prop. Some of our neighbors actually work for Disney; maybe they thought this would be a cute prank.”
“So Disney just has a couple dozen real blades, complete with bloodstains, just lying around for anyone to borrow?” Samuel shrugged, not entirely convinced of the impossibility of such a statement. She took a few more steps into the hall, eyes still wandering as she took in the scene more completely. “Though I bet they have more than enough gold lying around, but I didn’t know they kept it in chains. That’s kind of messed up.” Not that she would mind never having to work again, it was just that Jimbo would probably make her continue to work. Reintegration and all. Her mouth settled into a hard line at the thought of her own apartment; no doubt it had gotten the same treatment as his, though whether that was an improvement or not was something to be decided.
“And how the hell did they change all of this without us seeing?” Her hands waved through the air to indicate the halls. “I mean, we were both sitting in your apartment, and bam. Maybe somebody put something in the ventilation systems. Now that would be a cute prank,” she ended sarcastically. Having not met most of the other residents put her at a loss for who else might have done such a thing. Her mind was still grasping for a logical explanation for what was happening here, and very few were presenting themselves. She pressed a hand to the walls, feeling the grain under her fingertips - sanded smoothly but not in a way that suggested factory manufacturing. It felt real, and strong in the way something’s built to last for years, gaining confidence in age.
Samuel merely shook his head again, watching her careful perusal with no small interest. His eyes flicked down to his finger, the narrow cut there having finally slowed its bleeding. The pad of his thumb brushed over his fingertips, smearing away what faint sanguine streaks remained. He began to reconsider his ‘prop’ theory, at least in part; if anything about them seemed false, he trusted to Charlie to call a spade a spade. That she was buying into the ruse, however unlikely, troubled him on some level, and made him take more seriously something he would otherwise easily disregard. But he said nothing of this, content to merely catch up to her where she stood in the hall, and watch her in her investigation of their corridor with unveiled interest.
“Cute, or fuckin’ impressive,” he allowed. “Want to see what happened to your apartment? I’m kinda curious now.” She shrugged and without replying moved past him to her own door, pulling out her keys from the bulge they were making in her front pocket. A click and a moment later had the door open and she stepped in to see a similar makeover as his, though the new objects were more prominent than her own belongings, which were few and far between.
The walls had turned a deep mahogany, where before they’d been a stark, bare white; two large, worn tapestries adorned spaces, one near the door to the bathroom (did she even want to look in there?) while the other was just outside the hall to her bedroom. The floor, similarly, was now slats of a rich, dark wood that she couldn’t place. Two swords were crossed on one wall across from the front door, and shields with dents and varying fields of arms were placed throughout, filling up the space more than she had with her own presence.
“Well, now I don’t need to worry about a decorator, though this wouldn’t have been my first choice,” she drawled, muttering more to herself than anything. She moved to touch one of the shields, the metal rough and warmed by the suddenly tepid air of the seventh floor. “Everything feels so fuckin’ real. I’ve never tripped this hard, I mean, this is just...” There really wasn’t an explanation for it. She looked back at him. “I’ve lived in a lot of shitty apartments before, but this takes the cake.”
“I’m not sure ‘shitty’ is the right word,” Samuel said. It was clear he was distracted; there was too much to see. Her apartment differed little from his, save the somewhat varied selection of weapons. Still, there was enough to fully capture his attention, and he took a moment to sate his burgeoning curiosity. He wandered through her apartment as if it were his own, heedless of any sense of decorum in light of the situation they found themselves in. He laughed aloud as he pressed his palm to the blade of one sword, feeling its surface - aged, but still unreasonably sharp. “Weird, sure,” he allowed. He turned his palm upward, staring at the narrow impression the edge had made in his skin. “But at least they didn’t get cheap shit, right?”
Samuel found himself searching the apartment for what little evidence of her remained. Even a passing survey of the room made it clear Charlie appeared to have few enough personal effects. It was depressing, somehow; were Samuel the pitying sort, their surroundings might have provoked such a response. As it was, however, it merely made him gladder still he had stopped to talk to her. Whether they were shaping up to be friends or some strange sort of frenemies, Samuel felt certain it might do the girl good to feel some sense of belonging - or at least camaraderie - in the bizarre building she now found herself. His good-natured needling might even help her settle in. Or so he told himself as he strode back to her side, his hands spread wide in a gesture of sympathetic lack of understanding.
“Well,” he said, “damned if I know what’s going on. Want to head toward the lobby, see what else has changed?” He shouldered past her toward the door, a smirk tugging at his lips. “Maybe one of the staff down there can tell us what the hell is going on.”
Sure, it wasn’t cheap shit, but she didn’t care for the decor up and changing just in a moment’s notice. Things were supposed to be normal, whatever that was, nothing in Charlie’s life had ever been normal. It was probably time to accept that, especially because she had never worried about others’ opinions before. Now wasn’t the time to start. Snapping back to reality, Sam pushed past her and she nodded in agreement about finding someone who knew what the hell was going on. She followed him into the hallway, not really seeing anything else to do. Not like there was much to do in her apartment to begin with; the door closed and locked behind them, she glanced at the elevator.
“I don’t know about you, but if the building’s gone all medieval, I’m going down the stairs,” she said over her shoulder, passing him and heading for the door that led down the seven flights of stairs it was going to take to get to the lobby. The redecoration continued into the stairwell, but what was even more bizarre was that the sixth floor stairwell gave way to marble and columns; below that, the fifth floor looked like stone with sand covering it, and the fourth returned to wood similar to the floor she was standing on.
“Fuck,” she breathed, pausing for a moment to wait for Sam to catch up to her. She didn’t notice it, but she was starting to regard his presence as an accepted quantity, almost enjoying it. Her remarks were still cutting and harsh as they were with everyone else, but he seemed to deal with them easily, and that, she liked. For the most part, he seemed to accept her for who she was and rather than pity her, he returned her shit with that of his own, forcing her to either stay on her toes or back down. Once this occurred to her, she would deny all of it. “As if it couldn’t get any weirder...”
Samuel grinned. If anything, he seemed to enjoy the uncertainty; the shift in their surroundings seemed to energize him, and he paced the typically dull stairwell with all the feral alertness of a lifelong combatant assessing a new battlefield. When he turned back to his floormate, it was with a grin so wide it was almost embarrassingly boyish. “Choose your poison,” he said. “Any preference as to decor?” He stepped further into the stairwell, his hand raised to run along the wall as he passed. Stopping just at the top of the stair, he pressed heated palms to the railing, peering over to the floors below. The limited view only frustrated him, and within seconds he was traipsing further down the stairs.
The marble flooring at the sixth floor landing gave him only a moment’s pause, being potentially too effete and tidy for his tastes. The fifth floor, however, most assuredly caught his eye. “If medieval isn’t your style, maybe something older will be,” Samuel quipped, wrapping a hand around the unnaturally warm door handle. If he thought to ask her opinion of his chosen floor, he did not act upon it. Instead he pulled open the door, striding in on the barest assumption she would follow - or perhaps simply not caring if she followed or not. Beyond the entryway, limestone walls lined the corridor. Where their walls had weapons, these had hieroglyphs carved into their surfaces, and at intervals, alcoves set with painted urns. He stopped a pace inside the hallway, trying to take it all in. “Goddamn,” he said, laughing. “They must have had a fleet of decorators. What kind of Home Depot army must it take to pull something like this off?”
Giving an annoyed groan at his suggestion, she followed him down the stairs as though she’d been following in his wake all her life. Man, he is really getting off on this, she noted, but somehow found his excitement contagious. It was starting to abate her anxiety about the shifting surroundings, though a new ache was born in her chest because something essential was missing, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She would follow, because he would provide the missing piece that she longed for so badly - something that wasn’t sexual, but was certainly physical, perhaps the most of all. Following him into the fifth floor hallway, she stopped just behind him. If she had thought their hall had looked shitty, well, the fifth floor was even worse.
Moving around him, she put a hand to one of the walls as she took steps, feeling the rock press and scrape at her hand, coming away with grit and dust. How he was still able to delude himself was beyond her - maybe it was her lack of education that made it easier to believe that this building had just changed on its own, or maybe she was just that gullible. She didn’t care either way, and crossed her arms, drawing again on the tough biker chick persona that she often adopted, though she did find herself inexplicably enjoying the sudden change in surroundings. At least she wouldn’t have to go very far for a vacation?
“What, this is the Halloween special? And these...what are these, paintings? They look like a five year old did them.” She seemed to remember a special on the History Channel that she’d managed to catch once in the TV room before someone had demanded to change it to WWE. They were hieroglyphs, depictions of life from a land long ago. This floor was...Egyptian? Was that the word? The place with the mummies and the cats and pyramids. The thought of the dead here didn’t really appeal to her - death certainly suddenly appealed to her, but not the long dead that would be found on this floor. No, something fresh and screaming and still bleeding out, after battle, after conflict where the only outcome was... She shook herself, wondering why the fuck she started thinking about dead people.
“Going to the lobby, now, you can stay in this fucked up floor if you want,” she suddenly decided, almost yelling it out, turning on her booted heel and walking back through the door they’d entered through.
“You really do love raining on parades,” he said, kicking idly at a small pile of fine-grained sand. “How can you not find this interesting?” In spite of his somewhat puerile accusations he followed along behind her, already wondering what surprises the lobby might bring. The space there was vast compared to the floors above, the marble floor and columns already an impressive sight by any standard. The thought of those things anachronistically defaced in some way was as intriguing as it was slightly disappointing. Still more amusing was the thought of the placid, dull bank of silver-fronted mailboxes remade in the image of some ancient culture. Samuel found himself wondering what magic the building’s staff could have worked with such a thing.
“So what’s your bet things stay this way?” he asked, earnestly curious. “Maybe they’re planning on changing up the floors from time to time. Keep us on our toes.” His brow furrowed as a clearly unpleasant thought crossed his mind. “My rent better not go up for this.”
“If it stays this way, I can use this and your endless harassment to get Jimbo to move me to another apartment building,” she muttered. She found it plenty interesting, all right, and was at least thankful that the beach hadn’t decided to vomit on her floor. She hated getting sand in her boots. No, it was the inexplicable emotions that came with these changes, these thoughts that were hers and yet weren’t. To be frank, it was scaring the shit out of her - the last thing she needed were some homicidal urges that were going to express themselves at some later date and have her ass landed back in jail.
“So, what, this is some sort of community bonding thing? Apartment Survivor? Or some candid camera shit?” She wasn’t precisely flying down the stairs, but she was moving at a good pace, the the echo of her boots changing as the floors did. “You’d think they’d need to announce this sort of stuff in the lease. Guess nobody checked the fine print close enough.” She reached the lobby floor again, which repeated the limestone walls and archaic paintings of the fifth floor. Pushing the door open, stepping back into the tomb of some ancient Pharaoh who liked the California weather enough to set up shop in the afterlife there. The columns rose up, lit by firelight emanating from torches. No one was present, however, although it was beginning to be the small hours of the morning.
As he strode into the room behind her Samuel gave a long, low whistle. The space bore a strong resemblance to the floor she had so hastily left moments before; but being more open, it allowed for a great deal more exploration, a fact Samuel could not help but enjoy. He drew close to one wall, his hand flat against its surface. As before, it felt like solid stone, covered with the dust and sand of age. A momentary flicker of doubt nagged at him, proving far more difficult to dismiss than he cared to admit.
“Candid camera sounds like a pretty good bet,” he said, distracted. He smirked, thinking of the thrill their voyeuristic property managers would likely get upon seeing video of their tenants’ responses to this. If his and Charlie’s own experience was anything to go by, their reactions would run the gamut. Some, he imagined, might even truly lose their shit. He made a mental note to peruse the forums in the coming days, trolling for the best and most interesting comments if not actually putting forth his own.
“You know, places I’ve been before, a community event was a poolside cookout or something. I never thought I’d miss those days.”
She grimaced, displeased that the floor she’d tried to escape seemed to be following her. “Considering I’ve never really had those, I’m kinda pissed I’m missing out,” she responded dryly, walking further into the lobby. The sand underfoot wasn’t making it difficult to walk, but she disliked it all the same. She took a closer look at one of the walls, trying to make sense of the mishmash of pictures - the hieroglyphs, she recalled - people with the heads of animals, depictions of what looked like some kind of plant, maybe wheat, and a dozen other things that really didn’t make a lot of sense to Charlie.
“I’m not signing any kind of waiver for them to put my face on TV with this crap.” She didn’t need anymore attention than she was already getting, but the sentence wasn’t truly angry, just a run of the mill sentence that periodically came out of Charlie’s mouth because her brain wasn’t entirely connected in on that transaction. She eyed the jars for a moment, tempted to pick one up, but refrained. Turning to glance out the doors, at least the parking lot looked the same - whatever the changes were, they didn’t apparently extend to outside the building.
Samuel had only just noticed the same. For reasons he could not fathom he found himself grateful for the reassurance that only their building had undergone this bizarre renovation. The rest of the world lay outside, and by all current appearances it was only as insane now as it had ever been. Thus calmed, Samuel returned his attention to the inside, moving toward the bank of post boxes. Their silver facades were replaced with stone, their familiar Arabic numerals given over to chiseled pictograms whose meaning eluded him. “I’m with you there,” he said. “Not sure my employer would have great things to say about me being all over TV playing with crazy weapons and wandering through the fuckin’ Indiana Jones set. With a convict, no less,” he added pointedly, throwing an impish grin her way.
“How long are you gonna give this before you ask Jimbo to let you out?” he asked. His brow arched, his smile deepening. “By the way, what’s Jim’s last name? I bet I do know him after all.”
She’d opened her mouth to respond with a mocking sarcastic ha ha at the convict comment - yeah, that never got old - but her teeth clacked shut when she realized she’d let slip the first name of her parole officer. Couldn’t keep your mouth shut long on that one, could you? Charlie favored Sam (when had she started thinking of him as Sam?) with a level glare, disliking that he’d picked up on her mistake; at the same time, she couldn’t see a further reason to withhold the information aside from simply irritating Samuel (she intentionally thought of the full name). Not to mention now that the building was going schizophrenic, she could probably use a good word or two to reassure Jimbo that she’d had no hand in it nor was pleased with the situation. Surprisingly, she gave up the ghost.
“Kannes. You two’d make great pen pals,” she sneered, though only half-heartedly. This whole experience was turning out to be more than she’d expected - after all, she’d only gone over to Sam Samuel’s apartment to...what, make friends? Play nice? She had no idea. Now she was wishing that she’d stayed in her apartment, though that wouldn’t have stopped the building from doing its Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers crap.
“Feel free to get me kicked out, right now anywhere would be better than here.” She crossed her arms over her chest, turning her gaze away from the cop and back to the wall as though she were trying to figure out what it said; perhaps there was some kind of cryptic explanation embedded in the wall, giving away answers to why this was all happening.
“I’ve got no reason to get you kicked out,” he said. “Yet, anyway. But thanks for satisfying my curiosity.” He beamed a bright smile her way even as his eyes searched the lobby, seeking out any sign of a staff member willing to answer a few pointed questions. The longer he looked through the torch-lit, open space the more it became increasingly clear no employees were to be found - a maddening turn of events. The sheer scope of the building’s alterations made it impossible for anything short of a brigade of attendants to have finished the conversion in so short a time, and to find not a single soul now was almost infuriating. For the first time, Samuel felt a faint twinge of something less than amusement.
“Some concierge service,” he muttered. “I wonder if the deluxe-and-above crowd were given any more warning than us plebes.”
He turned back to Charlie, his expression calmed to something far less childishly enthusiastic. A sense of strangeness pervaded everything now - the lavish authenticity of the rooms was difficult to deny, the comfortable familiarity he felt with his combative neighbor equally so - and Samuel found himself wishing he had opted out of this little adventure. “I think I need another round,” he said, the comforts of whiskey and gaming already back on his mind. “I’m going up.”
Mouth set in a hard line, she considered following him back up. Well, it hadn’t been an offer, but it certainly felt as though she were welcome to tag along. It was like they’d known each other for years and no such thing as ‘you coming?’ needed to be said. But she suddenly didn’t want to be in this building anymore, though she wouldn’t be able to go far without her bike and she certainly couldn’t ride that without her helmet or jacket, not without earning a ticket which really wouldn’t make Jimbo happy.
“I need to get out of here,” she abruptly stated.
She went back to the stairwell and started to climb the stairs once more back up to the seventh floor, keeping her hands off of what railings there were (some looked pretty rickety). The floors flew by quickly enough, and soon she was back on the seventh floor amongst all of the hardwood and weaponry.
Samuel watched her as she moved, sidling past him in the stairwell. Her body language made it clear this need for escape was no mere wild hair. She seemed discomfited in a way Samuel could not entirely understand, though he hardly begrudged her the feeling. He caught himself hoping a trip out would ease her mind, and wondering what might clear his own; briefly he considered phoning Pia for a late-night visit, but put the thought aside as quickly as it came. His fingertips skimmed the golden chain where it worked through their walls, his sharp footfalls on the hardwood carrying him back to his door. “If you wanna stop by later, I’ll be up,” he offered. “You need anything, or see anything else even weirder, you’ll let me know?”
Already heading towards her apartment, she was unlocking the door and had it pushed open when she heard his offer. She took a moment to pause, as though she were going to turn and spit some off-handed remark in his face. With her hand still on the knob, she turned back to him and said probably the most surprising thing of the evening.
“Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.” And with that, she was inside her apartment, grabbing her bag, helmet, and jacket, then slamming her door shut. A quick turn of the key locked it and she was striding back downstairs, leaving Samuel to do whatever he damned well pleased for the rest of the evening.