Jitterbug

Lexie was pretty sure the Jitterbug was the center of the universe. People pumped in and out of it as though it was the heart of the city. The cold and tired were sucked in, mingled, and then flowed out rosy and rejuvenated, clutching steaming go-cups of the elixir of life.

Lexie stepped off the bus and collided with the bus stop sign. Scowling, she kicked it, which seemed to affect neither the post nor her heavy boot. Okay, so insult might be better than injury in the case of an inanimate object. She raised her eyes to the face of the sign. Above the blue 36, someone had spray-painted over the words so that it now read "Buzz stop." Lexie stuck out her tongue, waggled her ears, and flashed a couple of inappropriate hand gestures.

When the sign continued to ignore her, she rolled her eyes and continued up the sidewalk. She really needed her coffee. There was the coffee shop, but its lights were dim and no-one pulsed in or out. Like a band-aid over a wound, a Closed sign was plastered to the front door.

Lexie didn't know what to do. Cautiously, she crept up to the windows and peered inside. It was silent and still. Dead.

That was it. The world was ending. Imminent death approached.

As it turned out, Lexie wasn't far from the truth. In fact, it was just 30 metres from the doors of the Jitterbug. Behind a crowd of orange cones wrapped in yellow Caution tape, people were being drawn like white blood cells to a lesion.

"Please, ladies and sirs, there is nothing to be concerned about. Please, for the love of electricity! Continue on your way." An exasperated officer, tears in his eyes, was flapping his hands at a clot of curious people, all twitching their wings and standing on tiptoe. "It's just a rent in the fabric of the time-space continuum, very standard. Sirs and ladies, please! It's very unstable, if you could please back away…"

Lexie rubbed her eyes and once again lamented the lack of caffeine in her system. She just couldn't connect the officer's words with the monstrosity behind the Caution tape without the aid of her morning hit of coffee.

It looked like someone had ripped open the air, and the frayed edges crackled with threads of static electricity. More surprising, there was a layer underneath. It looked like another world, with—yes, a bright coffee shop shining like a beacon.

The tired officer caught her wrist as she leaned over the Caution tape and pushed her back. "Hey, kid, seriously now. Backup should be here any minute and if you're still endangering yourself like that I'll have to order them to remove you from the—" but Lexie clearly wasn't listening.

"You've never seen one of these before, have you, girl?" a blue-haired, flamboyantly-dressed faerie standing next to her asked. Lexie grunted something that sounded like a negative. "Yeaaaah, they're getting to be more and more common. Third one I've seen this year. But I travel a lot, so… you know." He shrugged and switched his sticker-clad guitar case to the other hand.

Lexie gave the blue-haired guy another look. He had tattoos on his wings and several piercings all the way up the ridge of one pointed ear. She shook her head. Nahhh. It couldn't be Ravel Kesh. What would the lead guitarist of the Revel Scum be doing at a little Jitterbug in the middle of Eue Norck City? Lexie twitched her wings in puzzlement. Either she needed caffeine more than she realized in order to function, or this just proved that the Jitterbug was the centre of the universe.

The sound of sirens reached her ears. Several more officers leapt off of their vehicles, waving radios and magnix wands threateningly. The outer layer of clamouring faeries peeled off at the sight of the advancing officers and hurried away into the wintry morning. Lexie looked over her shoulder at a worried mother questioning one of the new officers. The mother was clutching the hand of a small child quite keen on investigating this crackling rent thing on her own. "Yes, ma'am," the sharp-voiced officer was explaining, "we're calling the Time-Space Mechanics in, and they'll get it sutured right up, don't worry about a thing. The spot might be slightly more prone to lightning strikes, but other than that, there won't be any side effects."

"No, Saski sweetie, stay with Mummy. Ma'am, are you quite sure there won't be a scar or anything like that?"

Lexie watched the little girl carefully. She didn't seem the least interested in the technical surgeon talk occurring between her mother and the woman officer. She had actually managed to free three of her fingers from her mother's grasp and was slowly working her thumb out of its trap.

"—may be small rents nearby, or holes—" the officer was saying. Lexie only caught pieces of the conversation.

"—not dangerous, I hope?"

"—don't usually explode, this one looks pretty stable, but time-space rents aren't my area—mechanics will do a thorough examination of the area—yeah, a few minutes, I should expect—"

"Mummy, I needa go pee," the little girl whined.

"Shh, Saski. Mummy's talking to the nice officer."

The little girl ran her free hand through her frizzy curls and stuck out her bottom lip. Then quite suddenly, she yanked her trapped hand hard, freeing it, and tumbled forward. She was sprawled on the concrete with her pudgy little hands only a few metres from the frayed edge of the fissure. She began to cry and flick her wings rapidly.

Three officers restrained the mother, who had immediately dived for her daughter. "I'm sorry ma'am, but we can't let you get any closer to the rent. It is unstable; a static tendril could quite easily catch you and that wouldn't help either of you."

"Everyone, give us some space or I swear I will arrest you all for disobeying an officer of the law!"

Reluctantly the remaining people took a few steps back. "For spark's sake, someone help that little girl," one of the bystanders said. Saski was still crying, her saliva making a little puddle on the concrete and her face turning red.

"She can't even hover yet, can't you tell?" someone else complained.

"Oh, for the love of light," Lexie cried, and she dodged around legs, wings, and magnix wands and ducked under the Caution tape. As soon as her fingertips touched the little girl's shoulder, a spark of static electricity passed between them and a thread of crackling lightning from the edges of the rent shot forward and pulled at both girls. All the little hairs along Lexie's skin frazzled and her whole body tingled.

When she opened her eyes, she was slumped on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, with one hand still brushing Saski's shoulder. There was the rent, and there was the bus stop sign—except that it still said Bus Stop, and the route number was 17.

She swiveled her head to stare at the coffee shop. The lights were on and people poured in and out, hands in their pockets and wings—none of them had wings! Not a single one gave her a second glance, though plenty gave her a first, and everyone ignored the electrically-charged rent that split the air above the sidewalk.

Saski had stopped crying, having found that her thumb fit quite nicely in her mouth.