Chapter 2: More Than Meets the Eye
A couple minutes later, I was inside. The impression I had gotten outside about the strangeness that permeated the place intensified inside, as if I had entered a different universe, with different rules than our own. Of course, many of these facts I discovered later, after a thorough inspection of my feelings at the time; but as my feelings were so affected by the oddness of the time, I feel the only way to rightly explain them is as just that: odd.
The Asylum's Reception, however, had nothing strange. I mean, you could perceive the oddness, but you couldn't exactly see what caused it. It was as normal a reception as you could get: some benches to wait, a TV mounted on the opposite wall showing a cheap local air station, some pamphlets of local stores for newcomers like me, and a desk with a PC for the receptionists.
What wasn't normal was the woman behind the desk, or rather the cloths of said woman. It could be said she wasn't dressed at all, but for a sexy red bikini. A very small sexy red bikini. She got her red eyes away from the PC monitor, and looked angrily at me.
The woman was very weird too, actually. She had bright red eyes, and a gaze commonly described as fierce. Her skin had a sexy olive tan, made more notable by her very scant garments. Her long, bright red hair accentuated her skin. Her figure wasn't exactly hourglass like, and her age was starting to show (she couldn't be a year below forty, possibly even more); still, she had that aura, that graciousness, of someone used to seduce. She was, in a word, a seductress. Even I felt a certain attraction to her, and I don't swing that way.
–What? –she rudely said–. Can't you see I'm busy here?
–Umm… –I was definitely fazed by her reaction, and couldn't think of an appropriate answer–. My name's June, I'm the new girl here…
–New girl? –the red eyed woman was still rude, but a little curious–. Nobody told me about a new girl, you see? Today was my day off, but Millie got in trouble again. Let me see in the records…
The strange woman typed some info, looked at the screen, and then went *GASP* and typed some more. She was murmuring something on the lines of "What do we have here…", but I can't be sure.
At last, she looked back at me and said:
–A truly strange one, aren't you?
This time she wasn't rude, only curious. She kind of reminded me of a kitten.
–People keep saying that. Even Lady Azath mentioned something along that line.
–You have spoken with Lady Az on the first day? –I could swear she was truly surprised by now–. My, my, aren't you the strangest one yet? And a human, no less! It's a wonder you haven't go mad yet!
–I… think I may have. Wait, did you say human?
I then saw a glimpse of horns on the woman, and what seemed like a pair of wings in her back. It was just a moment and they were gone, but it was very real. I was dead scared by then, and kept thinking I had arrived to a mental asylum. Not that it was such a bad thing; it seemed like I belonged to one already.
–Never mind, girl. You'll figure it out, eventually –she stood up, took a key, and approached me–. My name's Ursula Lovejoy, and I'm one of the Asylum's receptionists. We usually have Millie receive the women; she is more sociable than me, and I prefer men. She's indisposed now, however, so I'll take you to your room and show you around.
–Thanks –it was all I could answer, as my mind was busy reviewing things up to this point. "Where am I, exactly?" was what my mind kept asking me. I had yet to arrive to a definite answer. I barely noticed we were going through the Asylum corridors.
–So –continued Ursula–, what makes you strange, Miss N-?
–Wait –I quickly interrupted–. Please, Mistress Lovejoy, I don't like to be called that. Just call me June, and pretend I have no surname.
–Don't call me Mistress, it makes me feel old. Just Ursula is fine. And I don't think I can remember your name, so I'll either call you N- I mean, call you by your surname, or girl.
–You don't think… but me name is four letters long, and a month!
–Yes, and there are twelve months –Ursula replied matter-of-factly–. Sure, you gave that other rule, about the letters, but I have limited space for female names in my mind. Even for female Asylum tenants. Surnames are a different thing altogether: I have to learn them as it is my job and expected of me.
–Then just call me girl –a strange silence crept over us. I felt in the obligation to end it, as I had been the last to speak–. So, you only remember men's first names? That is… –I then remembered Lady Azath's advice about the unanswered question–. Is that what makes you strange?
–Somehow. I'm a succubus, after all –I was shocked by this, especially as she said it in her natural tone. She wasn't lying, I could tell; was she mad? I had no answer for that, that's for sure.
–Okay, here we are –she continued, opening a door–. It's kind of empty now, as the furniture will be moved when you sign the contract with Lady Azath. And remember, there are no fees as long as you have answered the question.
–But… I haven't.
–Oh –something very akin to sadness appeared on Ursula's tone–. I see. Then, you'll have a week after the contract is signed to pay. I'm not exactly sure what the fee is, since nobody has ever failed or refused to answer the question.
–Sorry girl, I didn't mean it like that. In any case, you should speak with Lady Az about them.
–Where's her office, then?
–You'll find it when you need to, where you need to;as with everything else around here. Possibly even today.
And with that encouraging advice, she turned on her heels and went out of the room, not bothering to even say "goodbye" or "see you later". I tried to go after her –I had a lot of questions yet unanswered, the most important of them the one I had yet to answer myself–, but she had somehow disappeared.
The corridor was empty, a single door on the wall opposite to mine. Not a painting, not even a plant. I then decided to do what every other human being would have made in my situation: introduce myself to my neighbor and either confirm or deny my hypothesis about the Asylum's actually being a mental institution.
I crossed the couple meters separating my door from the other one with a brisk pace, raised my hand, and then froze in terror as an inhuman sound reached my ears. It was like a flute, but swifter, and had neither rhythm nor melody. It was clearly being made by a living creature, by means not from this planet. It may sound melodramatic, but that's exactly what crossed my mind at the time.
The sound came from somewhere behind me, so I turned around. I was extremely scared by then, but I had always faced my fears directly; mostly because I wouldn't be able to face them at all otherwise. I was fully turned, then, when I decided to open my eyes. That's when everything went bananas. Seriously.
What… stood on the other end of the corridor was clearly alien in origin. It looked kind of like a mushroom, but a mushroom one would see in a really bad nightmare, or a really crappy B movie. It was at least two meters tall, possibly two and a half. The shape reminded me of a barrel, as it was cylindrical, with three bands crossing it at roughly constant intervals. It had no head, instead replacing it with a fleshy something that instantly made me think about a starfish. It had several tentacles and… thingies, coming out of the bands and the star-shaped head. Instead of feet, the thing had another star-shaped thing, only it was bigger and green. A pair of wings covering the whole creature as a cloak completed the picture. If I didn't scream and ran away in terror, it was merely because the shock had left me paralyzed.
As I stood there, the creature looked at me through the points of its star-head-thing, and started clashing its teeth. It even had teeth! I then snapped, and quickly dashed into the closest room I could find, conveniently located right next to me. Which, if you remember, wasn't mine, but my neighbor's.