A few days later, in the still-impossible heat, Blaine sat with Sophie and Piper on Piper's roof. Piper extended an almost nude leg, and began to gently sway and twist her foot to let fall a grass-green sandal, which dropped ten, maybe twenty feet to the ground.
"Fuck, that almost hit me."
Blaine sighed, recognizing the voice. He leaned over the side of the roof, and looked down to see Jules looking upward, smoke pouring out of his mouth.
"How do I get up there?" he asked, intently.
"You get invited."
A dog started barking, distant and angry. It set off a few more dogs, scattered throughout the neighborhood, answering the distant call in a vast and mysterious network of animals.
"See what you did now?"
"Fuck yourself, I need to talk to Piper."
A neighbor was practicing some instrument, a violin maybe, it sounded like something from a '70s mob movie. It grew louder and louder.
"Is there like a fucking ladder?"
Sophie and Piper laid silently on the roof, tanning, as if Jules never showed up. As if they couldn't hear him over the dogs and violins and far-off lawnmowers.
Blaine had started wearing sunglasses, to seem normal. He didn't really need them, of course, but they were helpful sometimes. The light was still there, usually - faint and fleeting, like rainwater leftover from a nighttime shower. The light formed puddles on the sidewalk and crowded into empty plant pots. When Blaine wore sunglasses it almost seemed like nighttime, though.
He stood up, carefully, steadying himself on a slanted overhead gutter.
"Are you leaving?" Piper asked. He looked down at her, as she glanced up, curling her toes. She was wearing one sandal, like Jason standing before a stunned Pelias.
Blaine spotted an abandoned hornets' nest hanging from the ledge overhead. It looked like a rotted piece of fruit still on the vine.
"Well fuck you guys, I'm going!" They heard Jules walking away, coughing. Blaine climbed in through the window, and drove home, leaving Piper and Sophie on the roof in a thick and insuperable cloud of silence.
Blaine had been showing up to work early lately. As the heat ceased, and summer became a nauseous and tiring blur, a dry, grey cold settled into town. The vibrant and cloudless blue was replaced with a brownish-grey haze, making cloud and sky indistinguishable. Blaine hadn't seen the sun, or the moon, since a few days before Halloween (or that's how he remembered it.) He had started to forget about it, and guessed that you could go ahead and live with just about anything. You could be pushing boulders up hills for eternity, or continually failing to quench a deathly thirst, and after a while, it's all the same. "C'est la vie," he had begun to mutter to himself.
He was pulling into the parking lot of The Green Grocer around 2:30 pm (his shift started at 3:15) when he saw an owl hopping around in the back. He drove around the corner of the store to the deserted back lot where the owl was languidly pacing over the concrete. It moved as little as possible, and when Blaine drove dangerously close to it, it casually hopped inches from the tire.
Stepping out of his car, it started misting. When the door slammed, the avian anachronism lifted it's night time wings and flew into the fog.
Ever since the whole ordeal with the sky, Blaine began to notice the restorative qualities of his job. As a cashier at a supermarket that usually had thirty customers a day, his duties were extremely limited. The "natural" light that flooded the store revived him like something pumped into your veins at the hospital.
The sporadic interactions with customers ranged from the comical to the spiritual. He discussed brands and taxes with the smokers, school and gossip with the parents, and frozen dinners and television with the elderly.
He was walking up and down the hollow and sterile aisles, searching for another employee. There were two cash registers, both were closed. He took a can of orange soda from a cooler, and started sipping it while he searched the store. He saw a shaking old woman with an empty basket hanging from her arm inspecting a honeydew.
"They're good this time of year," he said passing her. She smiled as he walked into the back of the store.
Eric, his manager, was smoking a bowl on the picnic table in back of the store with Lily and Jake.
"Who's inside?" he asked when he closed the battered metal door behind him, stepping onto the grass.
Eric shrugged his shoulders, blocking the wind from the lighter.
"Some old lady," Lily said, extending an upturned hand, catching the imperceptible rain drops.
"I mean who's working?"
"We are" Eric stammered, holding in smoke. He handed the bowl to Lily, who shook her head, and Jake snatched it out of his hand. Eric sat motionlessly gazing at Lily, who pretended not to notice.
They were all in their mid-twenties, and were born and raised in town. They would most likely work here for another twenty years, and never leave town. Their friends went off to college, and they had been seeing each other just about every day since in The Green Grocer, selling fake E to Sophomores and collecting DUIs.
Blaine was noticeably shivering. Lily was looking at him suspiciously, and eventually asked if he was on something. He shook his head, and put up the hood on his sweatshirt.
"Somebody should be on the fucking register" he said.
Eric looked at him, checking the time on his phone. "You don't start until 3:15, bro. I wouldn't worry about it. You're just a customer right now."
Blaine looked down at the 5-gallon bucket filled with cat litter and cigarette butts (and roaches) that sat next to the picnic table. He sat down and lit a cigarette, and started reading the graffiti scratched into the table. "Aimee is a nympho," "Justin + Gwen '96," "420," savagely scrawled over a massive pot leaf.
"Heavy cloud cover," Lily said, staring strangely at Blaine. She stood up, dramatically extinguishing her cigarette and dancing slightly in noiseless and stagnant rain.
Eric stood up, blowing the ashes out of his bowl. "Well, I'll see you inside, killer."
The other two wordlessly followed him in.
Blaine lived in a small and relatively stable town. There were neighborhood watches, security cameras at traffic lights, devoted public servants, and the infrequent (and still victorious) drug bust.
Recently, a man had been robbing pharmacies. He would walk in through the sliding front doors at midnight, every time. Generally he would hit the chain-stores, the types that sell liquor and are constructed in a disturbingly identical manner across the nation.
He wore a mask: a plain white plastic theatre mask. However, erupting from the nostril (the right one,) was a dried and dark streak of blood. The unlucky pharmacists who nervously gave him handfuls of Oxycotin, Vicodin, Ritalin, and Xanax (at gunpoint) all stared directly at this. They weren't sure if it was real or fake. The first time it happened they assumed his nose was bleeding at the time, which of course is explained by his apparent dependency on prescription medication. The second time the blood looked dry, and almost brown.
Local news stations, and a few national channels, dubbed him the "Phantom of the Drug Store," but only after trying "The Bloody Bandit," and "The Pharmer." He left no signs of his robbery, never fired (or revealed) his gun, and every druggist who he robbed didn't even remember what color his hair was (brown) because they were staring at the blood.
Sketches of a man wearing a mask, with disheveled hair sticking out of the top, and the bloody mask, were plastered at every convenience store and restaurant. He was obviously a local, he never robbed anyone outside of town. He had run out of pharmacies, and begun robbing gas stations, video stores and coffee shops.
Various people who Blaine knew claimed they knew him, and bought cheap pills from him, they said sometimes he'd just give them out for free. He didn't believe them, but they seemed so sure. They wouldn't say a name, and they'd only boast about it drunkenly and sincerely at four in the morning.
Blaine was staring at one of the flyers, which looked more like a scaled-down version of a poster for a horror movie, as it lackadaisically drifted in the mist outside The Green Grocer. Eric told him to "get the fucking carts in the bays," but there was only one, slowly rolling across the pavement.
He looked up, and realized he didn't even see the light anymore.
"You should quit your job," Sophie said after a long stretch of silence. She looked up as she tilted a massive cup of coffee toward her mouth. They were sitting at a coffee shop, outside ("in the freezing cold," as she said,) because Blaine wanted to.
"The fucking Bloody Phantom."
"I don't think they call him that."
"Whatever it is now, you know who I'm talking about. I'll give you whatever money you want."
"I like my job."
"Jesus, does this have to be a whole thing?" Blaine said, almost too angrily.
She stopped talking and set down her coffee. She zipped up her sweatshirt and gaze him a quizzical, admonitory stare.
He tried to stop looking at her directly in the face. At a certain point she became unattractive to him. He tried to only look at reflections, as if he were fighting Medusa: he'd watch her in the rear-view mirror, as she stared out the window. When she stirred her coffee, he watched her in the spoon which she set on the metal table.
He decided to just say it.
"I can't see the sun."
"Like a vampire?"
"What? No, not like a vampire. Listen, I'm serious."
He looked into her eyes. He watched them as she blank, her eyelashes intertwining like a closing Venus Fly Trap.
"A few days before Halloween, I stopped seeing the sun. Then, the moon . . . I don't really know why. I mean, I'm still alive. I'm cold, sometimes, and then other times I'm fine. I don't really . . ."
"What?" She interrupted him, loudly.
He stared at her in the cold silence. She opened up her phone and started texting, then shut it loudly.
"So you should quit your job." she said, picking up the spoon and dropping it into the empty coffee cup.
Someone had realized that it had been a year since the game was invented. It was never named, and quickly forgotten by most of it's participants.
The same night, over the same vacation the game was invented the year before, nobody could think of a story and everyone sat in the silence, drinking from full glasses, and somebody was breathing very loudly.
"Wait," said a girl named Anna Ophelia Madison, who insisted she be called Anna Ophelia Madison each time she was referenced or addressed. "If we're out of stories, why don't we make new ones?"
Following this train of logic, the nights started going downhill, and Sophie stopped insisting that Blaine come with her to these parties. They both ultimately stopped speaking with many of the people who threw and attended these all-to-frequent gatherings, and the whole thing sort of faded into the awkward and obscure domain of memory.