Complete Summary: Larissa has everything: a loving family, a hot boyfriend, and more money than she could spend in a lifetime. So when she suddenly dyes her hair hot pink, publicly converts to Satanism, and runs away from home, her friends and family are baffled. Now alone on the mean streets of Empire City, Wisconsin, Larissa is completely and hopelessly lost. That is, until she meets Kotik, a pathologically nonchalant boy with no last name, a mismatched glass eye, and an unhealthy obsession with cats. Kotik is funny, clever, and, more than anything, a complete enigma. Before she realizes it, Larissa is pulled into Kotik's surreal world of forgotten gods, sewer-dwelling mermen, and hyper-intelligent rats. Along the way, she learns a thing or two about life, love, and the true meaning of happiness, for better or for worse.

The Waffle House

I was born next to a dumpster behind a Waffle House. Metaphorically, of course. I was a runaway; a true American Gypsy, wandering the country aimlessly with only the wind as my companion. Well, I actually did have an aim, and its name was Empire City, the New York of the Midwest. I was no longer the girl that I had been for the past eighteen years, and I was determined to start fresh. I stood up from my resting spot and entered the Waffle House. There was no air conditioning, only a fan to circulate the stale, stuffy air.

"One waffle, please," I said to the cashier. "Shaken, not stirred." The girl didn't even look up from her magazine. Many people found it difficult to appreciate my sense of humor.

"Do ya want somethin' to drink?" she asked.

"No, just a waffle will be fine," I said. I gave her my currency and she stuffed it into the cash register while the lone cook poured batter into the waffle iron.

"Take a seat and I'll get Tasha to bring it to you when it's finished," the girl said before getting back to her magazine. So, I did just that. There was only one other person in the restaurant. It was an old woman with a lone waffle on her plate and a cup of black coffee on the table in front of her. Flies had begun to gather on the waffle, but she made no move to shoo them away. The woman was wearing some kind of head scarf, even though the heat outside was blistering. I sat down in the chair across from her.

"Hello there, girly," she said in a thick Russian accent. She looked positively ancient, but there was a vibrant aura about her that made me want to get up and dance. "I've been waiting for you."

"Hello," I said, unsure of what else to say. How do you respond to something like that? She smiled sweetly and sipped at her coffee.

"You sure are a long way from home, aren't you?" she said. She sounded as though she were twenty years old, not two thousand.

"I guess you could say that," I said, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. I wished that I hadn't sat down here, but I didn't want to seem rude, so I stayed where I was.

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, little one. It's just that I've been sitting here for so long with nobody to talk to. It's gotten quite lonely, so it has." She took another sip of her coffee. "It's nice to see a fresh face. Nobody ever comes here, you know. It's just those two girls, and we never leave."

Suddenly, the old woman began to dig around in a huge handbag that sat on the floor next to her seat. A few awkward moments later, she produced a small glass bottle containing a liquid the color of fire.

"This is very special to me," she said, slowly caressing the bottle. "I brought it with me from the old country. It's made from a special flower that grows there. My mother told me that if you rub it on your eyelids, you will have very good luck for the rest of your life. Would you like to try?"

"Sure, why not?" I said, reaching for the bottle. After all, I needed all the luck I could get.

"Ah ah," she said, moving the bottle out of reach. "First you must do me a favor, dearie."

"Of course," I said. "What is it?"

"I need you to cut this rope for me," she said, holding out her wrist. Tied around it was a thin, silvery piece of ancient rope. I didn't know why she wanted me to cut it, or why she couldn't do it herself, but who am I to argue with crazy people? I whipped out my pocket knife and severed the rope almost effortless just as a girl, who I assumed was the cook, came bearing my waffle. For a second the girl stood there, her jaw slightly ajar, staring at the little piece of rope. The plate fell from her hands, shattering on the floor. My waffle bounced off the linoleum as if it were made of rubber, which wouldn't have surprised me.

"What have you done?" she said, her hands flying to her mouth. I didn't know what to say. Was this whole Waffle House full of crazies or something? The girl turned and ran for the front door as if the walls were made of snakes.

"What was her problem?" I asked, turning to the woman. But she was gone, as if she had never existed at all. All that was left was a small glass bottle full of red snot and a lingering smell of pine trees.

I arrived in Empire City four days later, almost completely broke. I thought momentarily about selling the snot, but who would buy something like that? Instead I sold my extra set of clothes and my toothbrush. I didn't need them, anyways. Toothbrushes were for people who had dignity. For me, my finger would work perfectly.

I spent my nights in a roach motel, but I never stayed in one for more than two days. I'm not sure why, but settling down felt almost unnatural. Maybe I had been on the road for too long. After a little searching, I found a decent apartment and got a job as a waitress at some greasy spoon diner. I had never worked a day in my life, but it felt good. There was something very…liberating about earning my own money. The hours were torture, the girls were catty, and the place smelled like toe jam, but it put bread on the table, as they say.