Late For His Shift
By Peter G. Reynolds
Ron left the cafe, hands balled into fists, ignoring the stares of customers and staff. He walked for hours, passing streets with names like Ballytruckle, The Folly and Five Alley Lane. He passed Reginald's Tower, built by the Anglo-Normans in the 13th century, but he paid it no more attention than Gallagher's Late Night Pharmacy. He then started running, but the song stayed with him no matter how fast he ran.
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.
The street lights came on, and Ron paused in front of a shop to catch his breath. The sign said Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones. He wanted to rest, but the song quickly caught up to him, and he began running again.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any Reindeer games.
The city became a blur of faces and places. Many of the buildings were painted with giant, colourful portraits. Ron didn't recognize any of them, but he felt like their enormous eyes were judging him. He knew he was being irrational. This was precisely why everyone treated him like some helpless or hapless puppy. His mind raced, repeating the same thoughts over and over.
This trip was supposed to change all that. I'd finally be able to prove myself.
Ron stopped abruptly, finding himself in front of Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones.
"What the hell? "said Ron aloud. He thought back to his route. Have I been running in circles?
He started moving again. This time reading the street signs as he passed. Philip Street, Lower Yellow Road, Newport's Square, Emmet Place…
Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones.
This is crazy, Ron thought. Are my eyes playing tricks on me?
He was about to start running again when he stopped himself, mentally slapping his forehead. Look Human. Act Human. His father's words were so ingrained in him that he sometimes thought he was human.
But he wasn't. He was Faoladh, a shifter, a descendent of Laignach Faelad. His senses connected him with nature in a way no human could comprehend. He didn't need to see to find his way; a single sound or smell could tell him a place's history, its energy. Even its mood.
Ron enabled deeply. Ooh! Pizza!
He could smell raw dough and hear the impact of hands as it was kneaded back and forth on a marble countertop. Smell freshly sliced pepperoni, mushrooms and onions and hear them roasting in a stone oven; mozzarella cheese bubbling.
He closed his eyes and held that image in his mind. He breathed in again. Now he could smell raw fish, not from the harbour, but from a sushi restaurant about a hundred metres North, a combination of wild salmon, tuna and that strip-of-egg-thing he could never remember the name of.
From the West, the smell of stale beer, tobacco and… a combination of sweat and anticipation? Desperation? Ron couldn't tell, but there was also music, loud and kinetic. Something Ron enjoyed very much.
He held these three images in his mind and used them to move away from Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones. He moved slowly at first, letting his other senses take over. Soon he was able to quickly walk among the crowds of people, seeing each of them in his mind as shifting echoes of sound & smell. He felt the wind swirl around them. It was wonderful.
When he had walked for perhaps twenty minutes, he opened his eyes. He was surrounded by several shops, a large park and a busy-looking club with people standing in line outside.
No stores selling headstones insight.
"He's got skills," said a woman's voice from behind.
"他也很可愛." Said the other. Ron thought it sounded Chinese, but he couldn't be sure.
Ron turned and was greeted by two young women. One was leaning up against the hood of a parked car, the other was trying to open one of its doors unsuccessfully.
They were twins, Ron noted. Pretty, with long brown hair that ended in white tips. They were a little thin for his taste, but they still radiated strength. Pretty, but intimidating. Their features sharp, their eyes suspicious.
"Do you like walking around with your eyes closed?" Asked the one leaning on the hood of the car.
"No," Ron replied. He was feeling much better. He always felt better when he connected with his true self.
The other twin stopped fiddling with the car door and approached Ron. They were both wearing, well, Ron didn't know what to call it more than a "dress," but it was black, shiny and showed a lot of skin, particularly around the midriff. Ron approved.
"Where are you from?" They asked in unison. Then giggled, "Jinx!"
"Canada." Ron answered, then added "Toronto."
Both girls smiled. "Well, we do love Canadians." Said the girl closest to Ron."
"So polite," said one.
"So Canadian," said the other.
They began to circle him, finishing each other's sentences. Ron was starting to get confused about which was which.
"I think he should come…."
"….with us to the club."
"Would you like that…"
"…Canadian from Toronto?"
Ron knew one-hundred percent he'd like that very much. In fact, He could now think of little else, his previous pity-party a distant memory. He inhaled deeply.
The two girls looked at Ron, their expressions a mixture of confusion and annoyance.
"Do we stink?" Said one
"He thinks we stink." Said the other.
Both then turned and began walking in the direction of the club.
"你好可怕..." They said in unison.
"Wait. No. I don't think…." Ron shouted. Moving to catch up. The two girls laughed and linked arms with him.
"He's so nice."
Ron wasn't sure he liked being described as "nice" and "polite."
"I'm Ron." He said, his voice a little deeper than before. He pushed back his shoulders as they walked, trying to add a little swagger.
"I'm Hǔnluàn." Said one.
"I'm Wěnluàn. Said the other.
"But you can call us May and Kay." They said in unison.