Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alyssa Perdita (2)

Alyssa almost felt invisible.

It must have been two weeks since she'd heard from any of her friends or family, despite the calls she'd made and the messages she'd left. Not a one had been answered, yet. This sort of thing happened to her sometimes, but usually she had incoming calls to ignore in favor of being left the hell alone.

Then she had always felt invisible in her classes, but now as ever, any attempt to defy her invisibility had gone ignored, as if she had too much momentum in non-participation to change it - or too little momentum to get moving? She wasn't a science major so she didn't know how that stuff went. Either way, it was the same problem. Raising her hand the couple of times she'd braved it had still gotten nil in return. So she'd given up on that, once again.

Simultaneously with everything else going all wonky, her only friend in any of her classes had become unhealthily interested in grades, and snubbed Alyssa for a seat in the front few rows. Alyssa couldn't help but shy to the back of the lecture. They never seemed to meet each other outside of class now, not even in passing.

Her new room mate this semester was similarly unapproachable. They rarely even saw one another and never spoke. She must have had either a very jealous boyfriend, or a very serious drug addiction. Or maybe she was more like Alyssa - just a bit depressed and overwhelmed by college life. To Alyssa though, it seemed this girl must be a ghost, the way she never talked. Always seemed too busy, preoccupied somehow.

Strangely enough, it didn't seem isolated - it even seemed like random people on the street were ignoring her. They seemed to jostle her and bump into her without apology. Had they been able, they probably would have passed right through her. It was only the attention of some of the people which convinced her that she was substantial rather than some ethereal wisp. And the jostling, which was a nuisance. And so rude! Kind of depressing to think: this is the sort of world we live in. Full of assholes.

It was mostly the stranger-looking people who noticed her, but some who did were normal enough. It was almost like the streets around her college had been infested by weirdos and creeps, recently, who hadn't displaced the other people. The city had never seemed to crawl with so much life. Sometimes strange women reached out to her, many wearing pure black burkas on street corners. She never quite understood them, but thought it must be some sort of protest group, she'd heard something about women wearing black for...war victims?

If nothing else, they at least had some greater purpose than the other strange people, and she imagined that the women were beautiful beneath their veils. They held windswept black scarves out toward her and almost seemed to sway in an impossible way , turning to face her as she passed, gaze transfixed - Alyssa wasn't sure what made the motion so otherworldly. They seemed so plaintive and graceful, though. Patient without limit.

Some of the other people smiled at her so strangely, she felt threatened at times. Most seemed disfigured, disheveled, dirty, unstable. Homeless. The men and women both said rude things, some muttering to themselves, others loudly accosting people; still more of them seemed silent, hopeless, utterly without energy. Gray. The city was gonna have to do something about this, since it was only a matter of time before it became a safety issue. Someone else would have to take care of it because Alyssa had no idea what to do to fix it.

And people besides these had also seemed to come from nowhere - had there always been so many men in suits hurrying every which way down the street? It didn't seem like she was near a school, it was more like a business district somewhere. Maybe Wall Street.

But other people could only be a passing distraction: what kind of rut had she gotten herself into?

The weather was not helping any. Though it was spring, it was always gloomy, except on days when the sun seemed so remote that it warmed not at all. This wasn't what she'd expected - the weather forecasts had gotten less accurate. Or maybe Alyssa was so out of whack that she
was wrong about the weather.

That thought made her pause and wonder if she was cracking up, right up until some jerk with a briefcase plowed through her, knocking her flat on her ass.

It was so hard to get any sense of reality when she'd lost all meaningful human contact. Being knocked down by a careless stranger with no apology almost felt good, compared to no contact at all. This wasn't the first - or even second or third - time in her life that she'd hit such a low, but it seemed like the worst case by far.

Having stood up and readjusted her fragile-looking glasses, she was walking back to her dorm from the store with renewed vigor. Funny how falling down and being abused and ignored could make her feel better. Maybe she should try dating some jerks - but then dating almost anyone at all would be an improvement.

Something nagged at her for a moment, something she'd seen when falling - the ground. She suddenly realized that some graffiti artists must have gone crazy overnight - there was a strange sort of path painted in luminously bright colors. It led further up the street then disappeared around the corner, spiraling in an orange-yellow near double-helix pattern which leapt out at her from the gray sidewalk as it slithered along.

She had to smile - she scoffed at the run of the mill teenage graffiti, but things like this were like art. It had never occurred to her that there might be interesting graffiti in this part of town. What kind of paint did they use? It was like the paint used for marking road construction, but subtly different. It seemed like a more natural color, somehow.

Without thinking about it, Alyssa took to following the paint trail, not realizing that it soon led her down the sort of alley that she was ordinarily too afraid to so much as look down. She had been mesmerized by the vividness of this. It was like a thousand crosswalks had been lifted from around the city, tangled and twisted and joined together, then strewn out along the sidewalk in a messy path, straying sometimes onto walls and streets; even over a couple of cars that had been in its way.

This flight of fancy suddenly ended when the painting disappeared under a heavy, green, riveted metal door halfway down the alley. It seemed to glower down at Alyssa darkly as she looked up at its dull vastness.

Just as she was about to give up, she realized that her path actually angled sharply in the alcove of the door, then continued up the ceiling of the small space and up the side of the building from there. Whoever had managed this was brilliant! It seemed impossible: there must have been a team of people working so fast that they painted over the inside of the door while it had been left open! Then they'd climbed the building and still painted seamlessly.

Amazed and standing in wonderment, Alyssa almost didn't notice the sudden darkening of the narrow space where she was standing. A shadow seemed to loom over her, but even the vivid paint seemed to grow more dull in this shade - this caught her attention.

Turning, Alyssa only had time to see a dark figure towering over her before she ran back down and out of the alley in sheer fright, releasing a mildly choked shriek of panic.

After running for some time, she had to stop, being too out of shape to keep it up. She realized that the figure behind her couldn't have been that menacing - the sound it made, in hindsight, was probably just him clearing his throat, or a grunt of dismissal. He probably worked in a kitchen behind that door or something. This city was not so dangerous in broad daylight!

She assumed it was a he - the figure had seemed large and masculine. To someone the size of Alyssa - who made the exaggerated complaint that she was a twenty-one year old in a twelve-year-old's body - anyone over 5'7 seemed 'large and masculine'.

Something bothered her about the encounter, but she dismissed it as nerves. You're nothing if not nervous, Alyssa, she told herself.

Too winded to feel embarrassed by the way she'd chickened out, she turned to humor by self-deprecation. You lard-ass, she thought to herself, good thing nobody was actually trying to get you or you'd be fucked. Well aware that she had to work to keep any kind of meat on her frame, she smiled while she ribbed herself.

Besides, it'd been fun. She'd not had that much adventure in forever. The image of the graffiti warpath she'd followed stood out in her mind and it dawned on her that she'd absent-mindedly wandered a couple of blocks into a bad area, and people were looking even shadier, sketchier. Men in drab colors smoking who-knows-what, packing and selling who-knows-what else. The few women in sight were mostly accompanied by these men, dressed only slightly more femininely than their murdering drug-dealer gangbanger boyfriends. No 'normal' people seemed to be around, not even suits like the one who'd knocked her over.

A homeless man eyed her suspiciously, hopefully not lecherously. Alyssa simply tried not to look, avoiding eye contact like anyone does in a big city, discreetly making sure he wasn't following her after she passed the pile of boxes he sat upon.

Maybe she had been in danger earlier.

Soon she was safely back on course, wondering if this weird experience meant things were going to change. Alyssa hoped they would, and for the better, but was only very cautiously optimistic. Even the fun part of her little adventure had now been clouded in a sinister light.

With difficulty, Alyssa kept herself from taking the sudden dimming of the sun behind a dark gray cloud as an ill omen.

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