My room was on the 8th floor. It took less then half an hour to move my stuff from my old apartment to there. Just by looking at the door, I knew this place was going to make my
former one look like a complete trash heap.
The room was divided into three sections. To the left of me, a TV sat with a couch and a coffee table. To the right, a small kitchen with counters separating it from the 'living room'. In front of me a short hallway led into a bedroom. About halfway down the hallway there was a door to the bathroom.
The floors were wooden, with a white carpet in the bedroom and black and white checkered tiles in the bathroom. Each room had a different colored paint on the walls, but they all followed a grey/blue spectrum. The bed was two-person, and ridiculously comfortable. My room was on one corner of the building, so I had windows in both the room with the TV and the bedroom.
When I asked Paul how the hell I was going to pay for all of this, he just laughed and walked away. Still, I felt guilty. Ever since I'd agreed to be Paul's successor, the company had been sending me checks, as if I was already working there. I felt... well to be honest I felt like Gary.
I walked into the room and practically fell on the couch, a book in my hands. I was never one for reading, but I had nothing else to do, seeing as it was six in the morning. I felt incredibly tired, despite having not done really anything physically exhausting. I knew I should probably have been in bed at that point, but some stubborn instinct of mine was insisting that daily activities didn't require sleep.
Eventually, however, the words on the pages began to blur, and I couldn't seem to keep my eyes open any longer. The book fell with a thud from my hands. I was asleep almost instantly. Only, somehow, I had the sense that I was also awake at the same time.
I began to get the sensation that I was falling, falling deep into a dark abyss that would swallow me whole, with not a trace left to be found. In the dream, I tried to open my eyes but found I couldn't. I couldn't hear, I couldn't speak. I felt a cold sensation enveloping me, and I imagined myself sinking through a strange black liquid. Suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I opened my mouth to scream and the liquid flooded inside it, choking me. It was tasteless, but the texture of it was enough to make me want to hurl.
Then, as soon as it had come, the liquid began to dissipate, and I could breathe again. The coldness left me, and I opened my eyes. I was falling. Through space.
Bright stars twinkled around me, the brighter ones like priceless jewels. I found myself wanting to touch one of them. I couldn't see any planets, nor was I close enough to one of the stars for it to seem like the sun, but I didn't care. This dotted sky was enough for me.
I caught my breath as I spotted something new. A nebula, glorious and red, seemed to stare at me, like a giant. I felt small, incredibly small. And I was. How could I possibly compare to something like this? I wished I wasn't floating uncontrollably, so that I might bow before this vast god.
As I gazed at the nebula, I began to feel like I was being watched. I tried to turn, but it was like moving through molasses. After a few moments of trying (and failing) to move, I decided to resort to simply freezing in place. However, the feeling did not falter, and I suddenly wished to be anywhere but there.
I like the way you think. It was more like a feeling then a voice. I looked from side to side, but still I could not see anything but the nebula. For a moment I wondered whether it had come from the nebula itself, then I decided against it. Somehow, I knew the nebula was just a nebula. You've managed to spark my curiosity. That's more then most of the others could accomplish. I can't wait for you to be mine. We will have fun, yes, so much fun.
Who are you? I tried to ask, but my mouth could no longer open. Fear replaced wonder as I floated silently through whatever the hell space is made up of. This was worse then the liquid somehow, and I prayed for it to be over so that I might keep at least some of my sanity.
I was a helpless bug. And whatever was watching me knew it, it just didn't feel like pointing it out, as if it were holding it in for a later date. I could feel it smiling, no, grinning, though it had no mouth. I closed my eyes. I wanted to beg for mercy, or at least hope for a swift death so that I might escape this beautiful place that had become a nightmare.
No. I thought suddenly. Rage began to boil inside of me and my eyes snapped open. I would not beg, I would not break before this being who grinned at me though it had no mouth. If I had to float through endless space for eternity, so be it, but I would not [i]ever[/i] give up to this thing.
And that's why you're my new favorite.
Fuck you! I screamed at it.
So much fun. Whaddya say we start World War III together, huh buddy? We could do it. Bam. Done.
Get the hell away from me!
Just say the word and the world is yours. Hell, I could just make Paul kick the bucket right now if you like.
I could open my mouth now. I started screaming in rage, my lungs feeling like they were going to explode. The thing was laughing now, I could hear it echoing in my head. I wanted to kill it, to strangle the voice until I could no longer hear it, but I couldn't see it, I couldn't find it!
I felt a dull sensation of pain as I hit the floor. I had fallen off the couch.
I groaned, my head pounding as I stood up uneasily. Already the dream was fading slightly, but I didn't think I could forget it completely. After all, this was my first conversation with the Megaleioths.
I looked at my watch, yawning. My eyes widened. It was 10:43. "Shit!" I yelled as someone knocked on my door.
I hesitate a moment before opening it, sure it was someone there to yell at me for being late to my next meeting with Paul. Instead, it was a smiling Kumar.
"You ready?" He asked.
I stared at him in confusion. "For what?"
He laughed a little, as if I was joking, but stopped when he saw I was serious. "Oh! Did no one tell you? There's a picnic scheduled today for every employee in here."
"Really?" I asked. I had heard of no such picnic, but I didn't really have reason not to believe him either.
He nodded. "I was going to offer to give you a ride, if that's alright."
"Sure, just ah, give me a few minutes to get ready."
"I'll be in the lobby."
I dressed, combed my hair and headed to the elevator. People were gathered in the lobby, much like the day I had gone to see the flying car. Annie, for once, wasn't at her desk. A few people looked at me, but not as many as before. I was old news, and that was just fine with me.
After battling my way through the crowd, I found Kumar standing by the door. He led me outside to a small dark green car that looked like it seriously need a car wash. While riding shotgun, I asked him what the picnic was for.
He shrugged. "Sometimes Paul just throws parties. I guess it's his way of giving back to the other workers." I decided to take this into account. If I was going to live up to Paul's reputation, I was going to have to work hard.
The picnic was being held at a local park near the edge of town. The park was green, despite the recent lack of rain, and dotted with trees. A walking path wound its way through the area, and a jungle gym resided near some picnic tables. The tables were heavily decorated, and food was piled on top of them. The crowd was even larger here then it had been in the lobby, and I noticed more then a few children running around. I wondered whether everyone here actually worked in The Lab, or were just close friends of Paul.
I followed Kumar past a large gazebo where music was playing and people were dancing. Kumar appeared to be simply wandering without aim, but I was looking for Paul. I spotted him laughing with a pair of older women, but before I could go to him a voice stopped me.
"Well well, if it isn't Captain Kumar and his sidekick Coffee Guy." Annie winked at me. I smiled, and Kumar burst into loud laughter.
"And what a pleasure it is to see the both of you." My smile faded. Dawson had walked up beside Annie, a plastic cup in his hand. "You must be Todd." He held out his hand for me to shake. I looked at it, and hesitated before I shook it, narrowing my eyes at him.
"Yes. You must be Mr. Dawson." My voice held virtually no emotion. Annie appeared not to notice.
"I thought you said you were going to help set up." She said accusingly to Kumar, though the humor never left her eyes.
Kumar stopped laughing and nervously cleared his throat. "Well, you see I had to-"
"Yeah, sure. Come on. You get to help bring in the desserts." She looked at me and Dawson, apparently oblivious to the starring match we had started a few moments ago. "You two should get to know each other while we're gone." Then, she was dragging Kumar off to a group of people who were unloading a large van.
We stood there like rival tom cats, waiting for the other to make the first move. "I thought I told you to get lost." Dawson said, his dark green eyes gleaming.
Surprisingly enough, a smirk formed on my lips. "And I thought you actually had a sense of fashion." I gestured to the blue suit he was wearing and his shit-brown shoes.
My smile widened when I saw the frustration flood his face, as if he couldn't believe his methods of intimidation hadn't worked. "You better wipe that smile off your face before I do it for you." He was visibly angry, but he kept his voice low.
"Whats the matter?" I asked. "Worried your girlfriend might hear you? Have you done this to one of her friends before I wonder?"
"You shut the hell up!" He reminded me of an animal on the end of a chain, ready to break free at any moment, but I was having too much fun to care. I had promised myself I would tolerate him, but nothing had been mentioned about a little teasing here and there.
As I looked at him, I suddenly noticed that Paul had moved away from his previous spot and was watching us. "Watch it." I said, walking past Dawson. "This is your future boss you're talking to."
"Not for long." I heard him mutter, but still I found a lack of caring within myself.
Paul gave me a friendly wave, and I returned it. As I neared him, he said, "I see you're getting to know your employees. I'd be careful if I were you though, not all of them can recognize humor." He was smiling, but I caught a hint of seriousness in his voice. Don't get too cocky. Was what he was really saying.
I nodded in understanding. "Sorry I didn't stop by your office this morning, I slept in a little."
"No problem. I wouldn't have been there anyway. Also, sorry I didn't tell you about the picnic, I was so busy planning I guess I just forgot. But have you seen the buffet yet? The hamburgers are fantastic!"
And so, that was where we headed. Occasionally, we stopped so Paul could shake hands and exchange a few words with some people, as well as introduce me. Again, it was like that day in the lobby, but I felt far more confident and less like... well, a dog on a leash. I tried to make the best first impressions I could, especially with people who looked like I'd be seeing them again. One of these people, whose name I had once heard mentioned before, was Morgan Walsh.
Morgan was the main supplier of anything metal or rubber for The Lab. He was tall, muscular, and had a few teeth missing. He was also half blind in one of his eyes. He gave me the impression of someone who would have been hired as a body guard in his youth. Or a bounty hunter. He shook my hand with an iron grip, his crooked smile framed by a salt-and-pepper beard.
"Well lookie here! This young chap looks promising! And boy-howdy does he resemble you Paul! If I didn't know any better, I'd think this feller were your son!" Morgan seemed incapable of turning down the volume on his voice, but I liked him. He was like a cuddly gray haired grizzly bear.
Paul laughed. "Na, we ain't related. By the way, have you seen Thomas anywhere around here?"
Morgan scratched his head. "I reckon I haven't! You should try down where the alcohol is though! Knowing Tom, he's probably guzzled more then anyone else here combined!" He and Paul laughed. Suddenly, Morgan's head did a little snap upwards, as if he had just gotten an electric shock. Paul stopped laughing.
"You got something you need to tell me Morgan?" Moore spoke slowly.
Morgan blinked, standing as straight as a statue. He spoke in a voice that was monotone and quiet. "Albert's by the sweets." Paul sighed. Then, Walsh was back to his previous self, only now he seemed agitated. "I tried to tell him to get lost, you better believe I did! That son of a bitch ain't no good, no good at all!"
"No problem Morgan, I'll take care of it." Paul thumped him on the back and we changed direction, Morgan shouting a farewell behind us.
"What was that? He looked like he was about to have a stroke or something..." I kept my voice low, trying not to draw attention.
"It's his twitch. He's had it ever since some idiot dropped a cinder block on his head. When he gets an idea about something, or a secret he can't hold, he blurts it out. It's nothing serious, he's lived with it for years, but it can get him into trouble." The old man shook his head as we walked through the never ending crowds of people.
I could see Annie organizing cookies at the dessert table as we walked towards it. Kumar was struggling to carry a large, multi-layer cake over to the table. I wondered briefly where Dawson had wandered off to.
I remembered Albert's picture in the newspaper, and tried to spot him without success. Paul paused, surveying the scene. "Guess he took off. Good." We continued. Annie spotted us.
"Hey guys! Just finishing up over here." She set down a small clipboard and headed over to us.
"You're ability to complete something like this in under thirty minutes astounds me Annie." Paul said, looking over the pastries. I nodded in agreement.
"You guys should try the brownies. Mrs. Ward made them." I'm pretty sure both mine and Paul's stomach growled at the same time. I realized that, once again, I had gone almost an entire day without eating. In fact, I had barely eaten anything since the day me and Paul met.
"I think we'll try the buffet first." Paul grinned.
We took another long walk through the park, saying 'hi' and shaking hands as we went. I felt relaxed, more then I had in years. Here was a place I could wander without people looking at me, clutching at their purses and quickly walking away. The sky was a clear blue, and the horizon was beautifully outlined by a line of trees. Balloons and streamers were everywhere, and everything felt just right. Normally, I'd take that as a bad sign, but that day was one of the few where nothing truly terrible happened.
I realized, as we approached it, why the buffet table was so far away from the dessert table. The long walk in between would burn off some of the many calories the various things on this table would readily provide. Hot dogs, hamburgers, mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, fruit salad, potato salad, bread rolls, beans of every color, and pickled beets were just a few of the dishes that had been lovingly made by friends, neighbors and employees. I had to refrain from drooling.
As I heaped things onto a paper plate, Paul said, "ain't nothing like homemade food, that's for sure!" I couldn't have agreed more.
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