Halfway across the town of Grangemont, a young woman was securing the locks on her front door and starting to walk in the direction of the grocery store. Because it was so close, and the night air was mild and pleasant for 1 AM, she had decided to walk. She could have saved this trip for the morning, but she wasn't at all tired. Shrugging on a coat, she began her trek and soon arrived at the store, a quant market called The Meridian Sun.
As soon as the woman entered the store, she was met with the harsh smell of pine and walls the color of hospitalish green-beige. Looking around, she saw that the place was absolutely deserted. No clerks stood at the checkout counters, and no customers were nosing through the goods. Grabbing a nearby shopping cart, she walked down the first aisle, picking up what she needed and still, strangely, seeing no one.
At the back of the store, there was a counter used to slicing and selling meat. Well, half of the counter, that is. The other half was used for cutting and arranging flower bouquets. The woman walked up to the half selling meat and rang the little bell she saw.
From behind the counter she heard a slight scuffle, and the face of a young man popped up seemingly out of nowhere, to the woman's surprise. She stumbled back before composing herself.
"Uhh…slow night, I see," she said.
The man stared at her for a second, before nodding his head very slowly, his cornmeal blonde curls bobbing at he did so. His name tag was upside down, but with a slight turn of her head the woman could see that it read 'Ante'.
"Well…I guess I'll take two pounds of smoked turkey."
The man apparently named 'Ante' nodded, faster this time, and reached his gloved hands down into the meat case and pulled the turkey out. He looked up at her and held up his hand, all five fingers outstretched. Then he motioned for her to continue with her business. The woman paused, before suddenly she understood.
"Oh! You must be mute!" she said, smiling.
Ante glanced at her, his eyebrows raised, his expression not amused. He nodded slowly again, before motioning with that 'continue on your way!' signal again. The woman flushed before walking on, embarrassed at her rude outburst. Poor guy probably got stared at all the time for not being able to speak.
She collected the rest of the few things she needed before walking up to the checkout. To her surprise, she found Ante there, looking bored with her turkey set in front of him.
As the young woman set all of her groceries on the counter, she noticed that he was staring at her intensely from under his light eyelashes. She paused a moment to regard him, and the side of his mouth upturned in a smirk, his gaze still unwavering. The woman's cheeks turned red, and she cast her eyes downward, uncomfortable. She continued with picking up the rest of her things, her movements hastened by her growing desire to get out of there as fast as she could.
He rang up all of her purchases in no time, and glanced at her pointedly. Gasping an 'Oh!', she handed him her credit card and he ran it through the machine. Her receipt printed out, and he slid it across the counter to her.
When she passed it back to him, he read over it, the signature at bottom of the slip of paper replying to him the young woman's name. The woman in question had gathered up her sacks and was rushing out of the door, a bit anxious to get away from The Meridian Sun. He watched her as she left, tripping over the curb and stumbling across the street in her haste. He smiled and looked down at the receipt still in his hands. He mouthed the words at its bottom, no sound escaping his lips.
Tesla Carol was a woman who blasted her stereo in the middle of the night with little to no regard as to what the neighbors would think. She was adverse to the idea of headphones, choosing instead to share her latest musical conquest with the rest of the world, ignoring whether or not the world wanted to hear it.
Because of this, she had few friends in her new home. Grangemont, a modest yet curiously empty city best described as a backwater, was Tesla's latest excursion from her parent's home in the Northeast. Her parents, a couple of electricians, also had terrible senses of humor when it came to naming their children. As a result, Tesla much preferred to be called 'Tess'.
At this moment, Tess Carol was struggling with the locks on her home, her grocery bags at her feet. The building whose door she was battling against was an old department store which she had rented a few weeks previously. Located on main street, it had only two levels, both of which were divided into different sections. The first level had been converted to an art studio years previously, and this contributed to why the artistically inclined Tess Carol had started renting the building in the first place.
Breathing a sigh of relief as soon as she got the door open, she bent down to pick up her bags and walked inside. She didn't know exactly what it was, but something about the man named 'Ante' unnerved her. Looking down at her watch, she was that it was 1:20. So, her trip to the store had taken only twenty minutes…but for some reason it felt like she had been in there for hours.
Sighing, she pushed the door open and was met with the sight of a dozen easels, canvases set up on them and, most unfortunately, blank. She proceeded to the elevator at the far end of the room and pressed the button for 'Two'. She rode the elevator to the second level, bags in hand, and walked out into her living quarters.
The spacious room was dreary, to say the least. The walls were made of brick and didn't do well with holding heat in. A sweet fragrance reminiscent of incense was noticeable, leftover from the days when this level was used to sell perfumes. The floor was a patchwork of small rugs and wooden planks.
Tess walked over to her makeshift kitchenette which consisted of a fridge, an oven, and a few counters and cabinets. She quickly put all of her groceries away before stumbling over to her bed.
She fell asleep, unperturbed by anything.
At least, not until morning, that is.
'My name is not important, and today I am going to die. Don't ask how I know; I just do. I am going to have a little 'accident', and tomorrow I will not wake up.
The man whose thoughts these were tipped his head back and downed the rest of his bottle of alcohol, drowning out the cheerful sounds of laughter coming from right behind him. There wasn't anything cheerful about his life right now.
A week ago he'd lost his girlfriend. The week before that, his job. And a few weeks before that, he'd been robbed of his most valuable possessions, just because he'd forgotten to lock his house just once.
'Today, I am going to die, and tomorrow, the pain will stop.'
Another burst of raucous laughter echoed behind him, and he winced. He gestured to the bartender to bring him another one, but the bartender just shook his head.
"I'm cutting you off, buddy," he said.
"No, please," the man muttered, looking down. "I'm…celebrating."
The bartender just shook his head, but brought the man another beer any way. He could see a dog when it was down.
The man took another large gulp of his drink, and let out a long, winded breath.
"Mind if I sit here, sweetheart?" said a voice to his left, and the man looked up into the face of a woman who looked to be in her late thirties.
"Uh...sure," he said, uncertain why any woman would want to sit next to him. She let out a little noise that sounded like 'Ha!' and sat.
"So, doll, what's your story?" she said to him, smiling and ordering a glass of red wine.
"What story? There's nothing to tell. I'm just a guy having a good time at a bar."
She laughed, a deep laugh that held an edge. As she was laughing, she tossed her head. Her hair was sunset orange, pulled back but with a few strands hanging on either side a little past her jaw line. The man couldn't think of any other word to describe her better than 'handsome'. What she wore was a bit too dressy for a backwater bar like the one in Grangemont; it was a majestic floor-length dress caught somewhere between the colors of red and purple.
"What's your name, honey?" she asked.
"Not important." His eyes glanced back down to his bottle.
"Oh, I'm sure it is." she said, patting his shoulder. He eyed her warily.
"No really, it's not important. Last name Important. First name Notte. Spelled 'N-O-T-T-E," he explained.
"How intriguing," the woman said, still smiling at him.
"I wouldn't say so. My parents had terrible senses of humor, naming me 'Notte'."
"My name isn't much better," she said.
"Oh yeah? What's your's?" Notte asked, not in the least bit interested but only asking in the interest of polite conversation.
"You may called me Madame. Madame Domingo." she said, flourishing her hands and speaking with the tone of someone very proud of themselves.
"Really? Madame? And how did you get such a prestigious title?"
"Let's just say my parents also had terrible senses of humor. Now, enough about me, I want to hear about you."
"Nothing to tell," Notte said, shaking his head.
"Well, that can't be right, not someone as interesting as you." Madame Domingo said, grinning at him. Notte sighed and took another drink, becoming exasperated. He just wanted to be alone. He turned to the strange woman.
"Listen lady, what do you want from me?"
"Oh, nothing." Her eyes glinted at him over the rim of her wine glass as she took a sip. "I'm just very good at seeing when people want to die."
Notte froze, his blood turning to ice. How did she…?
"Who are you?" he said, his voice shaking.
"A friend. I hope." she said, still smiling in that slightly off-putting way.
"A friend, my ass. I don't know what you're playing at, or who you've talked to, but you can just leave me the hell alone." He stood up, knocking his barstool over in the process, and ran for the door.
Notte was struggling with the lock on his screen door fifteen minutes later, paranoid because of his recent robbery. Just as he was finished with his third lock, he heard a voice call to him from the bench on his front porch.
"Running won't do you any good, you know. No one can outrun me."
Notte must have jumped three feet off the ground, because somehow he ended up on the ground, his heart beating incredibly fast with the sudden shock.
"How the hell did you get here?" His eyes flickered to his driveway and saw no car other than his own.
"Now, now, my little Notte, I'm not about to tell you all of my secrets yet." Madame Domingo grinned down at him, now standing just above him.
"You going to kill me? 'Cause trust me, that wouldn't do you any good. You should now, seeing as how you 'know when people want to die'. " Notte said, standing up and brushing himself off.
"Heavens no, that would be illegal!" Madame Domingo sighed, bringing her hand to cup her cheek as if in surprise.
"Your don't seem like a woman who follows the rules." Notte said, sardonically.
"You're quite right. But that doesn't mean I'm going to go around breaking the law." She paused. "Often."
There was a long silence in which Notte stared her down, willing her to say something and wanting her to get the hell off his porch. After a long while, Madame Domingo spoke up.
"Well, aren't you going to invite me in?"
"What are you, a vampire?" Notte said, remembering some random piece of lore.
"No, just a courteous woman who knows her manners, unlike the man I'm talking to," she said, crossing her arms and upturning her nose.
"Alright, this is just too weird. I just want to go inside, stare down at a handful of pills only to put them back into the bottle, and then cry myself to sleep."
"Interesting, isn't? How it's so easy to die, yet so hard to do it?" She smiled at him in that strange way again.
"I've been trying for days now." Notte muttered, staring down at his shoes. He had no idea why he was being so straightforward with this woman.
"To answer your question, it's because I just seem to have that effect on people." Madame Domingo said.
Notte jumped back against the nearest wall. "What the fuck are you and how did you know what I was thinking?!"
"I can't read minds, honey. Just a thought or two." She shrugged and still smiled.
"The hell does that mean?"
"I'm not exactly sure."
Notte couldn't believe this. If anything, he was probably dreaming. Or maybe he was dead. Maybe his suicide had been a success, and he was just in the afterlife. Yes, that was it. He was dead.
"You're not dead, sweetheart." Madame Domingo interrupted.
"Again with the mind reading thing! It's really freaking me out." Notte said, his words tumbling out in a rush.
"Well, maybe if you didn't think so loud I wouldn't hear you."
Notte just stared at her.
"Why are you here?"
"Notte, there are things going on in this world that you don't realize, and probably never would have had I not sat next to you in that bar tonight."
"Things like what?" the man asked, hesitantly.
"Well, I can't tell you that. I told you, I'm not about to tell you everything yet." She grinned at him like this was funny.
"Who sent you here?" Notte asked, not knowing if he wanted to know the answer.
"Who else? Your father."