An original ficlet written for the Sensory overload challenge. Includes the prompts: Sight - brown Sound - purr Smell - lilac Touch - smooth Taste - mint Told in first person POV.
I'd survived being hit by a bus with millimetres to spare, and Caleb was dragging me back home as fast as he could. Typical, I thought to myself. I wasn't really shocked, because I'd known Rata left me with some protection before he disappeared. I'd expected to survive it.
Caleb looked like he had been the one in the crash. He'd aged a good lot since he'd met me, though I suppose that was only natural, considering. Still, I rested on his shoulder all the way back home, and he never once complained.
"Rata's not here anymore, Jon," Caleb told me. I was inside my own house and making coffee, and nearly spilled it.
"Yeah, I know," I said, though I hadn't realised what it meant until now. I stirred the coffee and took a sip. Perfect. I never let Caleb make us drinks, because he'd always give me black tea. Apparently, that was what Rata liked. I waited for Caleb to start talking again, and he did.
"You do know what that means, right?"
"Yeah," I said. I wasn't stupid. "You can bugger off and bother the next poor soul, while I go back to my boring existence." Sad, but true, I started to think, and then I realised. It really didn't work like that.
Caleb smiled in that annoying way he had and said, "No. You're the one bothering the poor soul. I can't tell where Rata is anymore."
And I could tell. There was this lonely feeling, sort of like when you wake up in the middle of the night and everywhere's not just dark, but strange. Well, actually it's very little like that, but that's as close as any of the others got to describing it. Caleb was one link removed from the chain, and I'd become his replacement. I'd have to search for whichever "poor soul" had Rata inside him, and help him with it.
Knowing how important that was didn't help matters much.
Caleb's smile faded, and he placed a hand on my shoulder. "You'll know how to find him," he said, "and you've got to. The quicker you find him, the easier it is to deal with."
I knew that for the truth, because I hadn't bought into Caleb's plan until later. He'd been a bit late-
Wait, I thought, and said, "How do I know when he is? If he can be in anyone at all, surely he can be in the past or future?"
Caleb smiled again. "I was told to find the one I could at the time. It's good advice." He raked a hand through his messy hair and stood up.
"You're going already?" I didn't expect him to just leave me here afterwards. I didn't know what I had expected, except that it involved more friendship than this semi-cheerful and brief goodbye. I'd just about died back there, but Caleb was running off like he thought it was nothing.
"Not my journey anymore," Caleb said. He put on his suit jacket and dusted it down. I saw a bitter look on his face before he controlled himself again. "It's yours. Again." And he walked out the door without another word.
I swore at him once he had left, but I knew he'd just wanted to go. I felt lonely and empty in the flat, knowing that Caleb had nothing to leave behind, no evidence he'd ever been in there. I'd never had much use for friends before this, either. I'd never needed them.
I started to feel like crying, before I forced myself to get up and make another cup of coffee. Anything to take my mind off the loneliness.
It took some time for me to realise that the loneliness wasn't all to do with Caleb. Rata was behind it, and that was the solution to finding him. I'd searched the double memories that I still had for evidence of places he liked, but the feeling was reliable. Like it or not, I would have to follow it, or become more and more depressed.
So I bought a car from an acquaintance of mine named Vince. It was a brown bombshell of a thing, but he assured me that it "purred like that cat in the backseat". Obviously, he took the cat before selling the car to me rather cheaply. It wasn't as silent as Vince had said, but it drove and had recent papers.
Driving led me all over the place, as I could never take the most direct route. There was always some delay or other, and I had to stop to sleep at motels every few nights, just to get a decent shower and shave, and to go to the toilet comfortably. It was actually quite peaceful for the most part, and I started to realise that I wasn't quite as lonely or upset as before.
Whoever Rata was in this time, he wasn't that far away. Wonderful, I thought, not sure whether I meant it genuinely or in the most sarcastic way possible.
The next drive took me to a small town just outside the capital. I booked into the nearest motel and went to sleep as soon as I could.
Once I woke up, I staggered out of bed to check the time. It was nine in the morning, the clock on the wall said, which was good. I still had the rest of the day to find Rata.
I wasn't really a morning person, but I had been asleep for a while. So all that really showed was a bit of clumsiness as I made a wake-up coffee with that heat-treated milk in the cupboard. It was foul, but I started to feel a little more awake, and to start thinking about the day in a bit more detail.
First, I had to find him. That wouldn't take too much, I guessed, feeling a bit optimistic. The real difficulty would be in finding the right time to approach, and what I'd say when I did.
It seemed a bit like I was stalking him, but I had to do it. I could help him if anything went wrong, and I wasn't going to soon forget that aching feeling. It was a vicious cycle, but I didn't have the guts to end it, and I was curious enough not to want an end yet.
I had a thorough wash, shaved, and put on the clothes I'd saved for the occasion. They were still clean, and that was what mattered. I brushed my teeth, in case the coffee had given me bad breath, and made the inside of my mouth ache with mint. If I looked or smelled suspect, he'd probably get scared. And Rata would be the one who reacted.
Packing the car again, I walked over to pay the motel owner. He looked rather happy about my leaving as he'd been just about to send the cleaners through. I drove out of the motel carpark, wondering why nothing had tried to stop me yet, as I'd managed to make Caleb's search rather difficult. I'd done a lot without realising it, and I started to wonder just what else had happened to him that he hadn't told me about. I could almost mistake the feeling for love, now, if I didn't know better.
The first sign of any warning came when I turned on the radio. David Bowie's voice yelled through the speakers, and I switched it back off, wondering what exactly he had against Americans. I couldn't remember buying the tape, but it could have been the radio. I did take it as a warning, though, for lack of any others.
After a bit of driving around, I found where he lived. It was on a road called Chilcott Street, a no-exit place surrounded by large houses that looked very similar. I hadn't been surprised, as I'd lived in a flat, but I still felt his place should be a bit different.
The emptiness almost faded as I stepped up to the door. He was at home, definitely. The door looked a lot older than it had seemed at first. There was a garage to one side, and the grass hadn't been mowed as well as the others. I'd started to like the place already.
I checked for a doorbell, but wasn't too surprised when I didn't find one. There was a metal knocker on the door, just a ring and a metal pad to tap it on. I ran my fingers over the smooth, cold metal, figuring it for bronze. Then I tapped it firmly, knowing there was probably no better time than this.
The door opened, and I saw a girl standing there. I knew that she had Rata inside her, because I could feel it. I didn't know Rata hid inside women, but I thought that this might be a first, somehow. Caleb had never said anything about girls at all.
And this one was pretty, in a way. She had long blonde hair, a bit like sheep's wool at the ends, and she was quite slim. Her eyes were plain brown, with bushy eyebrows. She wore normal clothes, but was barefoot.
I cleared my throat and said, "Can I come in?" I didn't explain myself, because usually people do the explaining for you. But she just nodded, and moved out of the way. I decided that she knew something, if not all of it.
Inside was smaller than I had actually thought. It smelled of lilacs or freesias, and I spotted a vase filled with flowers in one of the rooms. The main impression, though, was of comfort. Everything was as the owner liked it, not fashionably spacious and barely lived in. I noticed that she hadn't said another word to me yet, but had boiled the jug.
She made my coffee the way I liked it, so I knew she had some foresight. She drank tea, with milk and two sugars. I picked up my cup of coffee and sipped it. This one was far better than the cup I'd had in the morning. I smiled at the girl, and she smiled back.
"Um," she said, once she'd swallowed a sip of tea, "I think you should know that I know most of what's going on."
"I kind of knew that."
She smiled. "Yeah... but if there's anything I don't know, you should probably say it. Young Grasshopper's not entirely accurate."
I almost choked when I heard her name for him. Mine was a little pretentious, but Caleb had used it. She must have seen my expression, because she clarified for me.
"That's what I call him," she said. "I don't think he had a real name." She looked rather sad at the thought.
"He didn't," I agreed. I started to tell her about what Caleb had told me. The story soon grew into what had happened with me, including the time before Caleb, when I had found out my incredible luck with guessing. How Caleb had decided to change things a little, and that ended up with me being nearly run over by a double-decker bus and Rata disappearing. I told her about how quickly Caleb had left afterwards.
"Why'd he leave?" she asked me.
"Which one?" I didn't know why Caleb had left, but I had a suspicion. I did hope that I would see him again, after this.
"Grasshopper," she said, after sipping her tea. "He should have known you wouldn't die."
"He gets paranoid," I explained, "and leaves long before someone dies. I think he's scared he'll be trapped in a dead soul, so he finds someone else. That's his way of escaping death, apparently."
"He's just gonna leave one day, and not come back," she said, looking a bit surprised.
"If you're lucky and don't want him to, maybe he won't. And you must have noticed that life's been a lot luckier with him around."
She was silent again for a while. I drank some more of my coffee, not wanting to force conversation. Eventually, she made eye contact with me again.
'I'm Clare Grahams," she said, and stretched her hand out across the coffee table.
"Jon Pyre," I sad. We shook hands, and I noticed she had an intentionally strong grip.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," she said with a very snooty voice, then burst out laughing.
I just looked a bit confused. Rata... or Grasshopper, not that I was going to call him that, did tend to pick the strange people.
"I just always wanted to say that to someone," she said, and grinned.
"I guess it was."
I drank the last bit of my coffee, and reluctantly put the cup down on the coffee table. That had been a good cup of coffee.
Clare got up and put the cup in the dishwasher without a word. Then she picked something up from the bench and threw it at me. A keyring landed on my lap, hurting me a little. It had about five keys on it, and a metal teddy bear with a clock embedded into it.
"What are these?" I asked.
Clare took them and pointed them out to me as she said, "Front door, back door, safe, garage, car. And the Teddy was just from the place I got the keys cut, because I liked it. You were late, so I got everything ready."
I couldn't really say anything to that, except to protest. I was about to, when she kissed me.
In that moment, I knew exactly why Caleb had left. I must have looked surprised, because Clare grinned at me and handed the keys back.
"You'll probably want to unpack," she said, then added, "Your room's upstairs. Told you I got everything ready."