Friday Fiction: The Thin Man (Sleepwalkers)

Writing 150(I wanted to get away from Abigail for a moment and explore the story of someone else. I think the setting needs a lot of work; the magic and tone have yet to feel really grounded, though the characters are slowly but surely taking shape. I like the idea of moving fairy-tale creatures into the hard world of the urban center, but I’ve been so far removed from it I’m not sure if it feels authentic or if I come off as an interloper making my best approximation. This is very first draft-y, a proof of concept for the kind of scenes I’d like to have in an eventual novel of this. 

The Thin Man is based roughly on Eshu — both the African trickster god and the kith from Changeling: the Dreaming.)

Even though he walked down the street like he owned it, everyone on the block new the thin man had no business there. He floated down the cracked sidewalk as if those shined brown oxfords never touched the ground. His suit cut far too clean and sharp a silhouette. His dark skin shined under the street lights, and he was surrounded by a sweet smell, an aroma of coconut and cinnamon. He shared nothing in common with the usual people hunched over the marble steps in front of packed rowhomes. They sagged beneath the weight of their baggy clothes. They dragged their boots through the ever-present trash in the gutters. They smelled like Olde English and blunts.

He always seemed to be directly under a street light whenever anyone looked at him. The halogen bulb made him glow, outlined his features clearly enough that you could make him out a block away. The thin man in his shined shoes and tailored suit and precise, squared-off haircut held an expensive-looking phone in his hand. His fingers were long and thin and well-manicured.

Normally the men on the street would have swarmed this fool the moment he stepped into the neighborhood. They would have ruffled his clothing, threw him into the gutter, relieved him of his wallet and phone. But for some reason they couldn’t quite place they left him alone. They would look at him, think about rolling him, and then there would be something about him that gave them a bad feeling. It kept them away from those pools of light he stood in. They stayed stooped in the shadows and mumbled.

If they had thought about the voodoo priests down south, or the Sufi who danced through Turkish markets, or the old man who sat on a stump and told stories down by the river; if they had looked at him with their back facing the nearest library and their feet pointed in the direction of the nearest blues hall; if they had smoked a little bit more and talked a little bit less, they would have seen what kept them away. It was a set of eyes too large for the human head, sharp and clear and as purple as void. It was ears that were long and pointed like daggers, cutting through words he heard until they bled. It was the way his features were sharp and angular, put together all wrong but in such a way that they couldn’t come together any other way. They would know he was not one of them, and not just because of his suit.

The thin man himself walked down the street, glancing at his phone, looking up to double-check its findings. The street was dark and mostly deserted. Half of the rowhouses were boarded up, their marble stairs dirtied with soot and grime. The street lights were busted or burned out everywhere he wasn’t, an impossible fact he took for granted. He briefly wondered what he could do to revitalize this place. Despite appearances, it wouldn’t take much — maybe a new business here or there, a couple of gentrified residences. A graffiti artist painting a mural, a community garden. That might do nicely.

But first he had to find the kid. The app told him that the child was close, and that he was close to having his Grand Dream. It was not a good one, if the lights were any indication. The next block over, he could see tendrils of smoke curling around traffic signs, railings, cars. Alarms were going off, and the halogen bulbs sputtered and died. In a few minutes, he supposed, neighbors sleeping in their beds would be seized by a powerful nightmare.

The man quickly walked down the street, unbothered by the cowed and hostile stares he received from the people around him. One more glance at his phone told him that the kid was in the house right in front of him, halfway down the block. He stopped and turned. The house’s porch light, long sinced burned out, turned on to illuminate him. From the cracks between the walls, dark and shadowy tentacles writhed around the building. There was no doubt about it. This was the place.

He looked around and picked up the lower half of a broken bottle, setting it down in front of him. It took a little bit more doing to find a whole bottle, but he managed it and set it just behind the broken one, closer to the rowhome. Then, a 2-liter plastic bottle he found in the gutter. He stacked these, one behind the other, shortest to tallest, then placed a hand on the top of the bottle. He felt it cut into his skin, a small trickle of blood running down the side.

He put his hand on top of the next bottle, then the next, leaving a small red print on the cap. Then, just a little higher behind the 2-liter, he placed his hand on nothing at all. There appeared a small red plane of light, about the size of a two-by-four. Higher still, another lit rectangle, and another, all the way up to the house’s second-story window.

The thin man climbed the stairs he had made, looking down towards the porch light. It turned off as soon as his feet left the ground, bathing him in darkness. If anyone were to look his way, they’d see a man in a suit walking on thin air. The impossibility of the magic in the eyes of the uninitiated would dispel it, and he’d collapse the twenty feet or so to hard concrete. And that simply wouldn’t do when he was trying to save a small child from himself.

Inside the window, he saw a child’s bedroom with no one in it but a large, hulking monster. It was black all over, enormous and hunched under the ceiling, covered in a constantly-writhing mass of little black tentacles. It slid its glowing red eyes around the room, then towards the window. The man smiled. Classic bogeyman. Powerful, but easy to deal with if you knew how.

He pulled a buzzer from his pocket and stuck it to the outside wall. The window opened once he pushed the button. As he climbed in to the kid’s bedroom he pulled out a small laser pointer, flicked it on, and turned it on the monster.

The effect was immediate and dramatic; the room lit up in a flash, as bright as daylight. The monster’s surprised expression instantaneously burned into the wall around the closet door it had emerged from, its tentacles raised as if in surrender. The horrific shriek was cut off once it was slammed back from this world and into the next, leaving behind nothing but its shadow. The residue was crude and roughly drawn, a child’s crayon painting of a monster. The man winced. He would need to clean that off. But first, he needed to make sure the kid was all right.

He settled down on his knees, then hunched over as low as he could to peek under the bed. The kid was there all right, wide-eyed and panting. He was right on the cusp of his Dream, the traumatic and wonderful incident where his true nature would awaken and he would claim his birthright as a Sleepwalker.

“Hello,” the thin man said, smiling as he felt the magic of the kid’s transformation wash over him. His suit faded to reveal a lavender thawb under a bisht as richly purple as a desert sky.

“Hi,” the kid said, the word short and panted through his breath.

“Just breathe. It’s going to be OK.” The man felt his eyes change, enlarging and taking on an almond-shape. The iris, pupil and sclera merged into a solid, jeweled purple. “I’m here now.”

The kid’s own eyes widened. Horns erupted from his forehead, and his legs squirmed as they grew fur. “Who…who are you?”

“I’m your Dreamcatcher,” the thin man said, and closed his eyes as the kid erupted into his new life.

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