Prologue: a knot of threads
Mick first noticed him sitting on the curb in front of the corner store, staring into the sun. At the time she might have made a blisteringly snide remark or a brilliant, but short, quip teasing him about his dull habits, but it had been hot and she didn't know him so she had let it pass. The second time was at the bridge in front of the school, where he was dropping rocks lazily into the depleted trickle that remained of the river every summer, two weeks later. Her third sighting was on a humid night a few days later; he was wandering along the road as she passed by on the evening bus from the marketplace.
It was likely because of the humidity and her general bad temperament that she got off the bus to say something. Her initial thinking was that he was a bit stupid, bored and overly downtrodden due to some silly notion he had developed that life was just too terribly hard. She thought maybe he was upset that his parents had refused to buy him a cell phone or maybe insisted that he get a job to help pay for his new iPad or something else tedious and infuriating. Instead, she was slightly shocked at his expression. It wasn't dark or moody; it didn't even have any sort of special angst or depression. In fact, when she stood in front of his path as he shuffled along the road in dirty, faded, torn clothing, he barely reacted at all. His face had no real expression; it was disturbingly inhuman. Mick was slightly horrified at the alien appearance he had especially when compared to her own animated expressions. So instead of an insult, or even an uninspired 'stupid,' she went through a range of internal and external emotions and confronted him.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
She decided to take him home with her.
Even worse-she hadn't had enough money for them both to ride the bus back, so the last four miles were achieved on foot at a snail's pace as he didn't like to move faster than a shuffle. He refused to answer so Mick had resorted to glances of pure loathing and verbal insults to pass the time. Realistically though she only had herself to blame for taking him home like a lost puppy, and it was her own fault that she had worn cheap shoes and blisters had formed the moment she had realized she'd have to walk all the way home. Even with the sun down the humidity of the night rubbed her sweat into her popped blisters and she hated everything, especially the boy behind her, more and more with each step.
After running through the list of possible insults about one's mental faculties, she began to lecture herself.
"Why am I bringing him home with me?"
"Why did I decide to walk home, I should have just left him alone."
"Why did I get off the bus?"
Towards the last mile, she too had developed a pronounced shuffle. "You're weird," she remarked over her shoulder as they moved from the main road to the dirt one that led to the older area of town where she lived.
"Yet you got off that bus and insisted I follow you," he replied steadily, his eyes still focused on the ground.
"Oh?" Mick was surprised but too tired to really react; "Now you talk. I suppose you were waiting for me to be too tired to yell at you anymore?"
"No, I just don't feel comfortable talking to someone when they're talking to themselves." He kicked a small rock, "There are no lights out here-do you still know the way?"
"Are you really giving me attitude after I kindly decided to give you somewhere to stay for the night?"
"I don't recall requesting any assistance."
"You're a jerk," Mick stopped and turned towards him suddenly but he didn't even bat an eye, "AHHH! Forget it, it's over here, I preferred it when you were quiet." To Mick's joy he followed her orders and quietly followed her back to the big old house where she and her father lived.
There was an old shed in the back that was mostly filled with crap but had enough floor space for the cushions off the porch chairs to be laid out in a corner. It was dusty and patrolled by various small creatures and insects, but it was likely not any worse than him sleeping on the ground. The sudden thought of him sleeping on the ground was slightly upsetting to Mick; which was a surprise when she considered how much she had decided to hate him.
He was small and shortish with black hair that was a bit too long to be short but too short to be purposely long. His clothes were torn, old and not at all memorable. He was really tan, probably from staring at the sun all day, and his eyes were a really dark brown though they may have been lighter in better lighting. At the end of her critical assessment as he settled down on the makeshift bed, he was really pathetic and she really pitied him. For some reason, she found that more annoying than his general lack of personality.
"What's your name?" She demanded. He just stared in a horrible way that made her flinch. It wasn't normal to have no expression; even his eyes lacked any real spark of intelligence. "Name," she insisted, "give me something to call you at least."
"Lan," he said a moment before he lay down and seeming instantly fell asleep.
For whatever reason, Mick was still even more annoyed.
If Mick had been cursed with more attentive parents she might have been noticed dropping a bagged lunch and a few water bottles through the window of the old, sun bleached shed. Luckily enough her father was a man of routine and she doubted if he'd actually looked at their wreck of a backyard since the day he decided that he had no use for it. He was a practical man which meant that Mick never had two words to say to him at the end of the day. Practicality was boring and her father was boring, no matter how nicely he acted when they went out to do family things.
School was also boring so she wandered back home on her blistered feet during lunch. It was strange, but no matter how annoying her new shed friend was, he was still absolutely fascinating and Mick couldn't help herself from being intrigued.
"Get inside," she ordered the second after she opened the door. He hadn't left, which was fantastic, and she actually got to see him squint at the sudden light, which was as near a reaction as she'd seen him display yet.
Without responding he got up slowly and walked towards her, so Mick led the way. As the old door screamed and the wood flooring crackled she peered over her shoulder in an attempt to see a reaction. She had three goals in mind. Ideally she'd like him bathed, fed and comfortable so that he'd be more presentable when she demanded answers.
After showing him the area and supplies for what needed to be done, she settled down in her room across the hall from the bathroom with her door opened so she could see when he was done. As it was taking quite a while she decided to touch up her nails while she waited. Digging through her supplies she came up with five colors of fun and painted each nail on her right hand one color each and reflected the same order on her left. Mick was admiring the colors happily when Lan emerged wearing an old pair of her more unisex jeans and a souvenir t-shirt she got from the coast a few years back. It was clean but unimpressive as his smaller stature forced him to roll up the legs of the jeans a bit higher than would be considered fashionably appropriate, though it wasn't a huge concern at the moment.
They watched each other for quite a few minutes before Mick issued another order, "Sit down over here."
He complied and looked up at her with his dark eyes, "Well?"
"I asked you yesterday, what the hell is wrong with you?"
Mick tapped her nails irritatingly on the glass of her computer desk, "You're really weird, and it kind of freaks me out."
Lan didn't say anything, instead opting to focus on crossing his legs.
"I've seen you before you know, wandering around town," Mick frowned, unsure of what she wanted now that the moment had come about, "you're weird, but," her frown deepened, "it's fascinating."
"Why?" He asked looking up; his face still blank and frightening.
Instead of flinching away or finding something else to focus on, Mick took on the challenge and stared at Lan straight in the eyes, "You don't seem crazy or all that childish. I don't think it's an act."
"Why do you say that?"
"You're so blank-it's kind of alien."
"Don't say that," Lan mumbled, breaking eye contact.
Mick, feeling slightly victorious, settled her head on her hand and smirked a bit, "I'm so bored recently," she continued, "and there's something so frightening about you."
"Who are you?"
She blinked at the fact that she'd failed to mention it before now, "I'm Mick. My dad's really weird," she found herself explaining without being asked by this point, "it was actually Mickey but I shortened it because it's the lesser of two evils."
"Why are you so bored you'd bring me to your home?"
Mick sighed, "I don't know really but, recently I feel like I'm going a bit crazy." She let her head slide from her hand and rested her cheek on the cool glass, "You're so strange; when I looked at you I thought maybe I'd come across something amazing. Are you just some homeless kid?"
Lan went to get up; his hand pressed against the wood of the floor which gave a horrid groan that reigned in the silence. He wasn't facing her and his shoulders were tensed. After a moment like this he twisted back to a sitting position and looked at her straight in the eyes, his face as unsettlingly blank as ever. "No."
Mick waited until her toes began to curl in frustration before she sat up and put her face in his, "That's it?"
Lan backed away from her face but maintained eye contact, replying, "I made a deal with a devil."
It should be said that Lan was not a stupid sort of person who simply followed people around and lived in various sheds around the country. In fact, Lan found, Mick was quite odd and he couldn't help but wonder about her real motives. When he awoke in the morning and finished the food she'd left behind, he invited himself into her home and had a look around. It was odd.
Nothing was especially dirty or disorganized but it had the feel of being empty and abandoned. He saw no real sign of life beyond the bit of a mess in the dark kitchen and, upon climbing the stairs, the postered walls of a teenage girl's bedroom. The two other rooms had beds and dressers but, upon exploration, the dressers and closets were empty and the beds, nicely made, were musty and seemed unused. The bathroom he had used the night before saw some use but everything, even Mick's room, seemed dead. It was eerie.
The most suspicious part of the whole meeting was Mick's attitude towards him. It was a bit hostile and incredibly unusual compared to what he was used to. He had wanted a better place to sleep for one and the bath, while nice, should have been followed with some food and much needed rest. Lan rarely made requests so to have her not only feel discomfort around him but to barely respond to his request was strange and unsettling. Seen in a deeper context, it was an amazing breath of fresh air and something he hoped would have a greater meaning.
So, when Lan told her about his deal with a devil, he expected, unlike the hundreds he'd told before, that she'd not only hear what he said, but actually acknowledge it.
The reaction he got was a mixed bag. Mick's brow furrowed, she frowned deeply and slapped him in the face. Hard.
"W-what?" He managed to get out before she slapped him again, turned on her heel and walked away locking the door to the shed behind her.
He heard her muffled voice through the window, "Stay there."
Both of Lan's cheeks were beginning to swell a bit by the time she came back, opened the door and stood before him again. "Come inside," she instructed in a slightly distracted way. He had to jam his foot in the doorway so she wouldn't shut the house's back door on him. "Sit down."
"Again, tell me, truthfully, what's up with you." Lan didn't reply, "What's wrong now?" She noticed his cheeks but didn't seem at all upset about her actions, "Oh whatever, you have no ability to hold a decent conversation. If you surprise people they're going to react; maybe this will serve as a lesson."
He bit down a reply and surprised himself by answering again, "I made a deal with a devil."
"Fascinating," she spoke more to herself than to Lan, "and what was the deal?"
Lan was torn by this. On one hand, it was the first time someone had actually heard him. Mostly, the statement seemed to pass over the heads of those he told it to. Other times, he had to repeat it or the person he spoke to was unable to comprehend what they'd heard. They didn't laugh or joke; they didn't hear it because the statement, outrageous as it was, seemed unable to be comprehended by normal people.
So Mick was not normal. The question remained to him: Was she someone he could talk to? Finally? A person who might even be able to help? Or hinder. Was she some sort of negative element? A truly ferocious enigma?
Fortunately or unfortunately, Lan was unable to ignore the first person to hear the truth and his loneliness and general exhaustion prevented him from being cautious, "The first I can't tell you," he said, because, in truth, he physically couldn't, sometimes, even he forgot what it was, "the second is that, if I have a need, I only need to request it from people and they'll fulfill it."
"Request?" Lan could watch Mick's mind break down what he said, "like when I brought you home, because I really didn't want to you know. So, how do you request things? Like telepathically or something?"
"No, I just say it aloud."
She laughed, "You never said anything aloud you know, you…" she frowned, "you did, oh, hmm…"
There was a long pause as she processed the information and Lan sat, confused. "Are you really just going to believe it all?" Mick nodded absentmindedly and sat down on the edge of the old wooden table. She traced the grain of the wood with one hand and started humming to herself softly, "All of it? Really? Do you really understand what I've told you?"
"No," she said, still focused on the wood, "but I'm thinking about it." She jumped off the table and started going through the drawers in the kitchen, looking for something, "You can sleep in the spare room; it's the one next to mine. The sheets are a bit dusty but at least it's better than the shed," satisfied, she pulled out a small bag and shoved it in the pockets of her jeans, "there's plenty of food in the cabinets and there should be some usable clothes floating around in some of the drawers."
"Just like that? What about your parents?"
"It's just my dad; he won't be home, don't worry." She finally looked at him in the eye, "It was a deal right? What was the price?"
Lan paused just a moment, "Isn't it obvious? My face, among other things that I haven't figured out yet."
Mick laughed, "You have a face but, oh, I see, like your expressions and stuff?"
"What do you want to do Lan?"
He studied her for just a second, he saw a lot in her face, a fierce interest and something frighteningly untrustworthy. Lan already regretted telling her as much as he had. She understood, this Mick, and no one had ever even followed the beginning. Just how much, he thought in that spare moment, how much should he say at this point? It was silly to wonder though, because to hold back at this point seemed silly and, in the face of her interest, likely dangerous.
"I want to undo my wish."
"You miss your face that much, do you?"
"It's not that," he replied, "I think that price is unimportant. I think that the price I don't remember is something bad. I can't succeed because I don't want the devil to grant my wish."
"Your wish," Mick said slowly, "is the part you can't say."
"So what are you doing to stop it?"
"If I stay in one place too long, people start coming to me wanting to fulfill requests, even if I haven't made them. So I've kept moving."
"That seems pointless," she smiled suddenly, "but I want to be involved anyways. Tomorrow we'll talk more. Eat what you want and sleep and whatever else. Don't," she said suddenly, looking him in the eyes, "leave without me Lan." Mick then turned on her heel went up the stairs into her room, slamming the door behind her.
It seemed to Lan, at that moment, that Mick was not quite right but, possibly, something that might work.