Two weeks before, Jessie had assumed the job at Finer Things wouldn’t be that hard to replace. It was just retail, after all, she’d even imagined finding something better. The previous two weeks had changed her mind. She’d just spent the day getting rejected by teenagers in paper hats at fast food places. No one was hiring. She had no idea why everything was so dead, and she’d quit caring about 4 hours ago. Now she just wanted to get back to her apartment and rest. Only that wasn’t going so well either.
“Expand the search for a parking spot by one block,” Jessie instructed her car.
It responded with some sort of affirmative, but she hit a bump while it was half way though agreeing with her and, instead of whatever the machine had intended to say, the right hand speaker emitted a loud buzz and a crack. She didn’t bother to have it repeat itself. Both sides of the road slid slowly by uniformly parked totally full. The cars were old, the neighborhood was rundown.
At last, three blocks from her apartment the cars along the left hand side of the street switched on and started slowly inching backwards to make space for her. She was able to pull in between a minivan that seemed to contain more bondo then original bodywork, and an unidentifiable hulk of a truck that was more rust then anything else.
“Destination reached. Deactivate?”
“Destination reached my overworked hind end, I’ve got nearly a mile to walk.”
The car shut itself down. Jessie looked at the street to confirm it was empty and reached into her purse to find a bottle of stun spray before she climbed out. She’d been jumpy since the encounter with the enchanted. It was just after dusk, and the streetlights were nearly nonexistent. Though she hoped it was early enough to avoid trouble.
She got out of the car and started walking toward her apartment. Walking quickly. The sidewalk echoed with the tap of her heels. The moon was up and bright enough to cast a shadow against the pavement. This time of night the air smelled fresh though there was a hint of ozone.
She was a block from her house when she saw him.
There was a bang from behind her and a car alarm began bleating an angry cry into the night air. Jessie looked over her shoulder bringing her stun spray up as she did so. A man was leaning against a car that was still rocking slightly. He was tall, thin, and wore a suit, but beyond that, she couldn’t make anything out about him in the dim light. She stood watching him for a long moment. The man looked back at her, but didn’t give any gesture of acknowledgement, nor did he do anything that would explain his presence in the street.
His body shape fit the enchanted from the previous night. Jessie told herself she was imagining the resemblance and that he could be anyone. He continued to stand by the car looking at her and she had to force her gaze away from him before she could hurry down the street trying to to find reflective surfaces to see if he was following her.
It seemed he wasn’t, and she made her apartment safely.
Inside, the room felt hotter than it actually was after the cold outdoors. She slipped her shoes off by the door closed it and walked over to the couch where she landed with a thump next to Suma who was engrossed in her TV show.
Jessie watched it for a moment letting the banality calm her, but she couldn’t guess which one it actually was. Suma had a taste for sappy soap operas even she admitted were bad. She recorded them during the day and watched them at night. In this particular episode some square jawed and overly blow dried man seemed to be dying of an evil curse. The doctors said it was changing his blood, and the mage said it was fiendishly clever. Perhaps he could be saved if an archmage would chose to intervene on his behalf but the characters were spending a lot of time moaning about how unlikely that was. Jessie supposed it would depend on the focus group ratings of the character in question.
A commercial came on flogging some knockoff brand of ReJuv that was guaranteed to be just as effective even though it was non-magical. It was probably nothing but caffeine, but remembering her own experience with ReJuv made Jessie shudder. Maybe a good old fashioned stimulants were for the best.
“You got some calls today,” Suma told her looking up from where she sat on the couch
“Oh?” Jessie said hopefully. Maybe her applications weren’t all useless after all.
“Bill collectors,” Suma clarified.
“Oh.” She’d only been out of work long enough to miss one payment, but when your credit was shot and your loans had been sold to collection agencies that was all it took. They didn’t let it slide for a month like the credit card companies.
“Ohmygod! You know what else? I thought I saw that man!”
“What man,” Jessie asked.
“The one from the other night, the Enchanted! I was coming home from class, it was about 2. There were a lot of cars in the street but I saw this tall, thin, scarecrow looking guy watching our door from across the street.”
Jessie felt cold. “It was probably someone else,” she said, trying to convince herself more than her friend. In the background the show came on again.
“Maybe,” Suma turned back to face it.
“What did you do?”
“I came inside and locked the door! What could I have done?”
“Called the police.”
Suma sniffed. “Well, if I see him again. I was seriously creeped out, but when I looked out the window he was gone. It might not have been anything.”
“Yeah, maybe not.”