Julien

Chapter 1

Buildings stood lopsided, arched towards centers of crooked streets with names like "Pines" and "Quill." The highest tower leaned sideways, lingering dangerously over the adjacent building. Its peak reached past the grey clouds.

The girl descended as the skyline, blinking against the black night, appeared before her.

Emma's mind was no clearer than one's consciousness in a dream; that state where one will accept anything that happens without asking questions, never truly searching for reality.

Once the cloud hovered just a foot above the ground, Emma stepped off— it seemed this was her purpose— and took a few steps back before looking at it, the white mist rising again.

It reached a certain height in the sky when a young girl appeared at the top, not much younger than Emma herself, and giggled delightedly. She was enchanting; her long, black hair playfully parted with the wind, her eyes smiled a deep blue— but it was her voice that caught Emma. This girl's voice had the most incredible sound Emma had ever heard. Each syllable of her laughter had a lingering effect leaving want for more. She could not grasp words to describe it: bells? the wind tangled with a rush of laughter? No comparison sufficed.

In the midst of her amazement, the girl and the cloud disappeared with a twist of the surrounding vapor. Emma quickly scanned the sky for her, but the girl had vanished.

And she was alone.

Emma turned warily to face the city she had before her; a dull orange glowed from the stubs of wax dripping off a few scattered street lamps. A long dirt path stretched at least a mile towards the city's border.

She moved one bare foot onto the pavement, and just as soon regretted her thoughtlessness.

Emma was not prepared for whatever journey she was about to embark on. Her nightgown reached to her calves and forearms. Her feet and hands were bare, and the night threatened her with a sharp chill. Paying no mind to the fact that she was just dropped in front of an unfamiliar city, Emma decided her top priority was getting something to cover her bare feet.

Without further consideration, she stepped forward, towards the dark city.

Walking deeper in, Emma vaguely started to recognize how foreign this place was to her. Somewhere in her mind a voice of reason was expressing concern; she did not know where she was, or how or why she got there. Yet she paid little attention to the voice, which was muffled out of her head as she was overcome by the sight of a startling building.

It was defaced. The building crept to a height above all else on the street, colored with the same grey on an old man's beard.

She took one step forward. The floor-ceilings separating each level had wires springing out of them, with grey floor bits and wall tiles hanging, broken, over the edges.

It should have been a sad sight; a city wrecked under some horrible, universal phenomenon, or so she assumed— yet people were about continuing daily work.

In the rooms secretaries typed out memos onto letterhead paper. A faint sound of the typewriters clanked throughout the air, as if to remind anyone on the desolate streets that people still existed, somewhere. It was this call that drew her to that one building— not the extraordinary height, nor the lack of wall— the quiet clicks of the typewriters.

It was everywhere, though. Few people were scattered amongst the base of the buildings, smoking cigarettes and conversing over limp sandwiches. Workmen beat at the roads with drills and wore hard-helmets. Lawyers must have been in other buildings, for in the defaced one business-like-men dressed for court walked between translucent walls as they barked orders at secretaries, argued over discrepancies with clients on the phone.

Despite the lack of vehicles, Emma quickly turned both ways before scampering across the rough street, sharp tar braising against her delicate skin.

Emma could not immediately muster the courage to step closer to the building, once she reached the closest edge of the sidewalk. The eyeing suspicion of some rugged-looking men forced her to take the few steps necessary, however warily, towards the building.

Next to the entrance door was a waxy-looking sign, which read:

MAYNARD FIRM

Under the writing was the silhouette of a small bird. Emma pushed the grime covered door, stepping onto a black floor-mat.

Inside was not very much; she had not seen it because the first three floors still had their brick walling to them. Out of nothing more than meager human necessity, Emma decidedly had to use the bathroom. She had known this was one of the reasons why she had entered the building, however subconsciously, but knew the important objective was to ask the man at the desk exactly where she was, other than Quail Street, building number 3849, and if there was a shoe store nearby. But, although it was a pathetic human desire, she felt that first she really must use the bathroom.

In the entrance room there was not much. A man stood at a long, rectangular white entrance desk, dressed in a black suit with slicked-back, black hair. He could have been middle-aged, a bar-tender looking man of sorts, maybe a croupier at one time. His skin was a rough texture, tan, bringing forth his very brown eyes which were, at this moment, preoccupied with some papers at his desk.

Besides this one man, whom she mentally deemed "The Clerk," there were three younger men on her right: two maybe in their older thirties, the other, standing by himself and leaning against the bright white walls, young twenties. The two older men were conversing, lounging in black plastic chairs, the type found in schools, with an end-table between them, littered with magazines and a grass-like plant.

Emma approached the clerk with quiet steps, and stood in front of his desk. Although a bell had rung as she entered the room, nobody seemed to take notice of her.

She made a small noise, one she hoped was helpless enough to gain some sympathy, or better, attention. The Clerk continued to rummage through papers. "Yes, miss?" he said, his tone clearly implying that whatever she needed was of little importance.

"I was wondering," she started, forefinger tracing warped lines on the marble desk's edge, "if there was a bathroom in this building I could use...?"

The Clerk lifted his left hand and pointed to the door in the back corner. "That way, second door on the left."

"Oh," she said off-handedly, and with a small twitch, turned towards the door.

Two doors stood next to each other in the new corridor. Emma, fatigued from the whole concept of being in some other place, took the first door instead of the second.

The room was dark, and the only light was flickering from an old-fashioned wall lamp branching out from another wall on her right. She felt along the walls for a light switch, but could not find one.

Emma decided to enter the room further, now with curiosity, for clearly this was not a bathroom. Within her first few steps, it seemed as if a light had risen from the ground, lifting to the ceiling and creating a warm glow down the long hall.