The rain the previous night had left a humid feeling in the air to go with the sudden intense heat that September morning. I could've sworn summer was over, and spring long gone,
but that's Mother Nature for you. The sun had yet to really appear, however the faint blue light against the fading storm clouds seemed more peaceful than a sunrise. I was in the lobby, which, for
once, did not contain anyone named Annie. I was alone, tired, and leaning against the wall near the picture of Paul.
A favored story of my childhood, as well as hundreds of other children who grew up in my generation, was The Adventures of Pooh. I watched all the movies over and over until I'd had them memorized. This was mostly because, at the time, there was little else to do but listen to my parents argue and get teased by my older brother. My favorite scene, one I remember to this day, is when Christopher Robin explains to that silly old bear what 'doing nothing' is. For some reason, this fascinated me to no end, and a lot of what I did during those days was stand around doing 'nothing'.
So it was no surprise to me then that when Kumar walked through the glass doors and asked what I was doing, the answer that came to my mind was "oh, nothing." What I actually said was "chillin'," to mock those darn teenagers, but it sent the same message either way.
"You might not be chillin' here in a minute. I've been eavesdropping." He wiped the dewy, newly cut grass off his shoes before venturing further towards me. I noticed a stack of papers in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
"Careful with that." I stopped leaning and followed him to Annie's desk. "I'm pretty sure coffee and I are confirmed enemies."
"Albert's up to something, I can feel it." He moved a picture of Dawson (which didn't exactly flatter him; if flattering Keith was at all possible) and laid the papers out on the desk so I could see them. "See here?" One of the papers was a receipt from some place that had a name spelled out in a kind of Asian lettering. Pasteur'd placed an order for a lot of fish.
"And this proves...?" I looked up at him.
"I'm not sure. But it feels suspicious to me."
"Liking sea food isn't exactly a crime we can pin on them."
"I know, I know. But it's not only that. There's been no word on how far they've gotten in this little race of ours. It's almost as if they've given up on finding their own cure for that sneezing sickness."
"Whatever. Pasteur doesn't just give up, Todd. They're like the fly who always shows up at a barbeque. No matter how many of his buddies you kill, he keeps coming back for more of your hot dog."
"Nice choice of words." I sifted through more of the papers. Most were receipts for things like steel, wood and a few things with names I couldn't pronounce. Other papers had to do with various awards both Pasteur and Albert had won, as well as a few photographs. What caught my eye was a small pink paper hidden under the rest of the pile. I pulled it out. "What's this?"
He smiled. "That, is where it gets interesting. Apparently Pasteur was involved in a little 'missing persons' case awhile back. I couldn't find anyone who knew the full story, but it got bad quick. Albert almost lost the company."
I looked at the paper a little uneasily. It wasn't like I didn't appreciate him going out and keeping tabs on our 'pals'; I just wasn't entirely sure where he was going with this. Pasteur and Heisenberg weren't on good terms (hell, that was an understatement) but I wasn't in the mood to start something. Especially since we were finally getting the recognition we deserved. I'd almost fooled myself into believing we'd get to keep it.
"Uh... thanks?" I could get real creative with my conversations sometimes.
"Just wanted to make sure you were aware of all this in case my little hunch is right." Kumar gave me a friendly pat on the back just as Annie walked in.
"You better not be snooping through my stuff." She scoffed as she came up next to me.
"Nah." I said. "We're snooping alright, but through other people's stuff. Well, Kumar's the one who did the snooping."
He shrugged. "I just know the right people."
The chilled air of the lobby combined with the humidity Annie let in and created a strange sensation as I forced the loose papers back into their original pile. I looked at the pink piece of paper for a moment, wondering what exactly had been going on on the date in the corner (almost ten years ago), before stuffing it in my pocket. I'd probably just shred it later.
Annie was wearing her usual green outfit with the silver name tag, along with her purple rimmed glasses. She'd tied her hair back, and some of the strands danced gracefully as the outside air battled with our own icy warriors. She set her purse down with a yawn, noticing the coffee in Kumar's hand. She looked at me, and we shared a private smile.
"God it's early. I'm going to see if I can catch a few winks before everyone starts yelling at me to hurry up." My male friend turned away from us and headed towards the stairs.
"I'm going up too." I began to walk in the other direction. "And I'm taking the elevator, thank you!" I added.
"Fat-ass Aryan!" He answered from somewhere behind me.
"Get out, Indian!" I turned and called back. Annie raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
The trip to my office involved nothing in particular other than me almost tripping over a trash can someone'd left in the middle of the hallway for some reason. I felt calm, relaxed, and pretty much at peace with everything. I never would've thought I'd miss feeling that way so much.
The phone was already ringing when I opened the door with the golden lettering that proudly proclaimed my title. I picked it up, unsure of whether I should be surprised that it was Albert Campbell.
"Evening." He said in response to my 'hello'. "It's Al. How are those pills of yours coming along?"
He sounded friendly enough, but there was something smug about it. The kind of smug that says 'I know something you don't.' I wouldn't have trusted him even if he wasn't being suspicious, however. I mentioned before that I didn't want to start anything, but that didn't mean he didn't want to start something. "Fine. Just fine." I said simply. We were actually nearly there; only a few more details to work out, but I wasn't going to tell him that just yet. Boasting was being reserved for a later date.
"No doubt everyone's excited over there, eh? For once, Harrisonburg Laboratories is actually doing something."
"Heisenberg." I corrected automatically. If he was trying to push me, he wasn't doing a very good job of it. Still, I was curious as to why he'd called in the first place. And there was that smugness. It did not escape my mind then that maybe Kumar was right about something.
"Sure. Well, Anderson, I suppose I owe you an apology. I underestimated you, hell, that's an understatement itself, and maybe I was thinkin' too much about Paul when I saw you last. I knew him back when we were both a lot younger, and I gotta say, you're the splitting image. But you ain't like Paul, and Paul ain't like you."
"Is that a compliment?" The last time I'd seen him was at the picnic; the last time I'd spoken to him was right after The Lab first released what it'd discovered about the yawning sickness. I didn't know which instance he was talking about, but I didn't think it mattered. Either way, we'd gotten off on the wrong foot each time we interacted. This conversation was actually turning out to be almost friendly.
"From me, yeah. I ain't gonna lie to you; Paul was an ass. Believe what you want, but that there's the truth. Oh he looked like a regular Santa Claus to most, but once you got to know him, once you really spoke to each other..." Albert's voice turned bitter, probably calling up a past feud or something. "Anyways, I know we're not on good terms, Anderson. I'm not blind. But as far as I'm concerned, we ain't enemies. Not yet."
I find that hard to believe. I thought, and somehow I knew that somewhere the Megaleioths was nodding its head in agreement. If it had a head. "What do you want, Albert." We hadn't even been on the phone for five minutes and I was already losing my patience.
"You better watch yourself, kid. You don't want to mess with us. I'm talking about all of Pasteur and our buddies. One slip, and we'll send you over the edge, is that clear?"
"That sounds like a half baked threat. Call me back when you have something to say that's worth my time."
"Those pills belong to us." Ah, so that was it. This was beginning to sound like the phone call we'd shared that last time we spoke. Albert had gotten it into his head that, since Pasteur were oh so much more experienced and better than us, they should be the ones to find the cure first. Heisenberg getting in the way was like us sticking our tongues out and going 'na na!'
I was no longer in the mood to deal with him. "Whatever floats your boat." I hung up, which was probably a bad idea. I knew Albert wasn't kidding, but pride kept me from really admitting it to myself. What could he really do, anyway? Most likely nothing, although my paranoia didn't see it like that.
I sighed and sat down in the chair that had replaced Paul's. Ever since the funeral, when I had nothing else to do, my thoughts almost always returned to Paul, along with other thoughts like: What if all of this was too much for me? What if the Megaleioths suddenly grew bored of me? What if I became so incredibly anti-social no one wanted to speak to me? Questions like these felt stupid when you said them out loud, but when they rattled around in your brain, that was a different story.
I knew there were side affects to the Megaleioths, as well as the power I now had. Those side affects hadn't really scared me until the yawning sickness had appeared, mostly because now the Megaleioths spoke to me more than ever, and I was beginning to notice subtle differences.
I'd never been one for appearances, but now it seemed I was better looking than I'd ever been, and my face looked more... trustable. It was easier to deal with things I didn't understand with that invisible friend of mine (who could very well have been a figment of my imagination) guiding my hand. When I talked to people, I no longer felt quite as awkward during long pauses. I felt in control of everything. That same feeling I'd had with Officer Owens, the one where he was below me, returned often. And, this one I was probably making up to scare myself, my eyes looked like they had changed color a little each time I looked in a mirror.
Another gift I'd received since the funeral was the blessing of reoccurring head aches. A large one just so happened to swing by when the Megaleioths barged its way into my thoughts.
Albert's nothing. You and me can take him any day.
I yawned, my eye lids drooping a little. I don't feel like taking him anywhere. Plus, I don't think he was bluffing.
I say somebody ought to hit him so hard his head spins.
Well, it wont be me.
Why not? Remember what Paul said? You can get away with almost anything when you got me.
"Is it just me, or does Paul show up in every conversation I have?" I muttered aloud. My head pounded in response.
He was like the captain of the football team around here. People are probably going to associate him with you 'till you die. Or until you somehow manage to impress them more than he did.
"...Whatever..." I yawned again.
I'm serious. That dude was pretty much considered better than everyone else. That might be why Albert over there didn't like him. Or it could be because of the whole thing with the- Todd? ...Todd?
But I was already asleep.
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