The man was wearing a suit. There wasn’t enough light for Jessie to tell if it was a good suit or not, but it didn’t fit. It had either been made for someone else, or the man had lost a lot of weight at some point. The pants rode too low on him, and folded into crinkles at the ankles; the shoulders were too broad, the cuffs of the garment hung out over his hands somewhat, and the waist hung slack with black shadows gathering where it folded in odd places.
Taking in his other features Jessie decided the man had probably lost weight. His cheeks were so hollow they vanished into black shadows, and his forehead was tight and round as though stretched by the skull beneath. He was bald, or had shaved his head, and the ends of his fingers were like twigs. Jessie couldn’t tell if his complexion was healthy or not. Under the sodium bulb, his skin looked as yellow as a daisy.
“Come on,” Jessie hissed to Suma then started to tug her away.
There was a sharp bang from behind them, and Jessie looked back again. The man had been standing in the center of the alley. Now he wasn’t. It took her a moment to find him again. Now he was perched on the edge of a dumpster that had been a full five paces in front of him when she’d last looked. How had he moved so quickly?
The man answered her question by leaping into the air. The jump carried him into the blackness beyond the street lights. Jessie couldn’t tell how high it was, but the lights were hung at the top of the first story of the buildings to either side of them – at least 10 or 12 feet up. A moment later the man fell back out of the gloom and landed exactly where he had been on the edge of the dumpster. He was in the same crouching posture in the same spot. Were it not for the bang echoing through the alley they might have imagined his jump.
He repeated this feat another 4 times while both women watched, stunned. At least I know what the noise was about earlier, Jessie thought.
“Enchanted,” Suma whispered.
A spell could be cast on a human. Such a spell could do a host of things, sensory and cognitive enhancement was common, and spells had medical uses. Physical enhancement, as in the man’s case, was also a possibility. Such casting was almost almost always illegal, despite its usefulness, because it quickly became addictive. Sometimes the addiction was purely psychological, people just liked being able to hear a whisper at 50 yards. Sometimes there was a chemical factor as the brain got used to its altered state, and sometimes the addiction was magical. That was probably the case here. The man was probably always somewhat under the effect of the spell. It had probably become entangled in his subconscious mind or DNA such that he couldn’t stop casting it on himself even if he wanted to. Such a person was known as an Enchanted, and they were frequently twisted and unpredictable due to their magic.
Jessie looked forward again. They were only ten steps from the more brightly lit and hopefully more heavily trafficked street. She wanted to run for it, but that wouldn’t have been smart. There was a chance the man behind them had nothing to do with them at all. Perhaps dumpster jumping seemed like a great workout plan once your mind was jacked with some strange chunk of magic. But if they ran he might get angry for the perceived slight. Alternately he might think it was fun to chase them. It was safest to treat him like an unpredictable dog and retreat slowly with confident body language.
Jessie took a step forward tugging Suma after her as she did so. She felt the other woman stumble then lurch into motion as she took a second step. Jessie looked up and caught Suma’s eyes. They were wide and scared, but all trace of alcohol seemed to have fled and the Indian woman seemed to be on board with the plan. Together they took a third step. Jessie ignored the bangs coming from behind her. That’s fine, she thought, just dumpstersizing.
Only 7 or 8 more steps to go. Jessie tried to straighten her back. There was nothing to worry about, they were just walking to the bus. Everything was fine. It wasn’t even an alley they were in, just a narrow street. One way, perhaps, but at the very least a dump truck must drive through here regularly. It wasn’t the sort of place crimes happened.
Then a dark shape rushed through the air above them. And with a rustle of loose suit the man landed in front of them. He was as perfectly still as he had been at every other point when he wasn’t jumping. He still seemed thin and unhealthy. He was looking right at them, but he wasn’t wearing much of an expression. Then he pulled his lips slowly off his teeth letting them gleam yellow in the off colored light of the alley. He took one slow step toward them.
Jessie decided a change of strategy was in order, “Run!”