“He’s staring at you again,” Rurik said as he palmed through another rack of vintage clothing in the dim-lit shop. He passed by a chartreuse shirt with a highly pointed collar, a pair of purple plaid shorts, and a vest with six pockets stitched to look like music notes.
“Occupational hazard,” Lily responded, and pointed to the thick streak of turquoise blue that lined the side of her face and blended into the rest of her brownish-blonde hair.
“How can a hair color, as non-natural as even that one, be considered an occupation? It’s not like I have blue eyes because I’m a bus boy.”
“The front one’s an occupation,” she continued, looking through a bucket full of belt buckles and measuring them against the bust of Dracula currently on the front of her pants. “The back one,” she flipped her hair over to show off another large chunk of colored hair, this one a deep purple, “is recreational.”
“Doesn’t answer the question,” he replied, putting on a large black fedora that fell past his eyes. “Points for off-the-cuff wittiness, though. At least two, but not more than five. Work on the delivery and get back to me; I’ll be mailing your experience points.”
“Six to eight weeks to deliver,” she responded, picking up a belt buckle with the Grim Reaper raising his scythe past the limit of its metal box. “So, this is supposed to continually poke whoever wears it in the belly so that he’s constantly reminded of the threat of death? Like Damocles’ Sword, in belt-buckle form.”
A woman screamed outside of the shop and the three of them – including the cashier who had been staring at Lily through thick, plastic black frames – looked out the window to see the originator of the shriek running by, nothing more than a blur of brown hair, pink shirt, and blue jeans.
“You need a potato peeler,” Rurik whispered, handling the belt buckle and then finally choosing a checkered bowler hat to purchase. When Lily gave him an eyebrow, he explained. “For all the eyes.” He jerked his head towards the cashier who had lost interest with the screaming woman and returned to the old-fashioned register and began punching in the prices from the items Lily had brought to the counter. He would only look up from his work to stare at her and breathe a little heavily.
“I like your hair,” he said, stifling a racking cough.
“Thanks,” she replied. “It’s a gateway to another dimension.” She took her belt buckle out of the box and proceeded to undo the bust of Dracula and put on the macabre death’s head as the cashier began to look from her to Rurik as if to gain entry into the joke. “The woman was running from one of the things let out while I was sleeping last night. We only came in here from our hunt because I didn’t want it to know we were following it, but then I saw your buckles and I’m kind of a collector.”
“Don’t look at me,” Rurik said. “I’m the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. The real one, I’ll have you know.”
The clerk stared at the both of them before Rurik stuck his arm out and ran toward the cashier, knocking him with the flat of his elbow; Lily jumped over the glass counter and landed on the clerk, pinning his chest with her legs.
“What’s going on?” he yelled before Lily put a hand over his mouth and Rurik ran to the front to flip the open sign and lock the door. “Wha ur oo doin’?” His voice was slurred behind Lily’s fist.
“You, my dear magpie, have been bled. Your—Rurik!” she yelled and popped her head over the counter to see her compatriot sauntering over to her, “left eye?” Rurik nodded and began browsing through the clothes again. “Your left eye has been bled of its color by the thing that came out of my hair last night and I’m afraid I’m going to have to borrow it in order to track it down.”
“Hmpph?” he questioned, his face going pale.
“I’m going to need to borrow your left eye.”
He shook his head and began thrashing underneath her.
“I’ll give it back!” She pushed her fingers through his skull and they passed through it like a ghost walking through a wall. When she felt the squishy orb in-between her index finger and thumb she popped it out and stuck it in her mouth while she pulled out her own – again, passing through her own flesh – and simply traded out the two.
After blinking her new left eye a few times, she began to see the world in color through the left one, and her normal black-and-white through the right. In her left vision, however, was their culprit’s trail leading out of the door. It looked to her like someone had left a leaking paint can in his pocket, splattering the floor with blue drops. Within seconds, though, the vision began to waver and lose focus.
“You need glasses, bro,” she said and looked down only to see that the cashier had fainted.
“He’s wearing glasses,” Rurik said, picking up one of the guy’s arms and dragging him underneath the counter.
Lily picked up the pair from the floor and put them on, closing her right eye so it wouldn’t interfere. “Well, I didn’t think they were real. You know how these guys can be sometimes. Glasses with no real prescription,” she said. She put them on top of her head and opened both of her eyes to look at Rurik.
“Only through the sublimation of your vast pop-culture awareness do I know of the type you call, ‘hipsters,’” he replied and held a hand to pick her up. “You getting the trail?”
Lily nodded and they both walked out of the store, hearing the slight tinkling of the bell as the door closed behind them.
They went several yards – past more shops on the streetwalk that followed the course of a river – until Lily put an arm on Rurik’s shoulder and pointed to the ground where a brown splatter had joined the blue. There were great big puddles of it until it too, faded off to a mere trickle not ten yards from where they were standing.
“In a world where another person’s gotten the very life sucked out of them in order to make a material body for a creature from another dimension. . .” Lily narrated in a dramatic voice and then squatted, looking around for the woman they had seen earlier. The brown was the same color as her hair had been. “If you had to have an actor play you in a movie, who would you choose?”
“Fyodor Komissarzhevsky played me in the opera Boris Godunov. Well, he played the False Dmitry Grigori, but there would have been no False Dmitris without the real thing,” he said, pointing to himself and looking around for the young woman as well. He couldn’t see the trails of color on the floor, but, unlike Lily, he could see colors and therefore, the colorless. “And yes,” he said as Lily began to open her mouth, “that’s a real last name.”
“I was going to ask who watches opera anymore—Bingo!” she yelled.
“You want a dog to play you in a movie?” he barely said before she pulled him along and found the young woman lying in the bushes outside of a pizza parlor.
“Is that her?” she said, alternating between putting a hand in front of her left and right eyes and pulling up and pushing down the glasses.
Rurik looked at the prone form and realized that not only had the creature taken the color from her hair, but part of her right hand as well. Even the vibrancy of her pink shirt seemed faded in contrast to the dark blue wash of her jeans. He nodded.
“Enough to make a shell,” he replied and they both stood up.
“This thing is going to be a lot harder to track once it takes a tangible form!”
“I know, Lily,” Rurik said, trying to wake the young woman up. He then squinted. “Wait, are you narrating again?”
“Occupational hazard,” she commented, leaning down to pick up some of the color on her fingers and taste it. She immediately spit it out and tried to brush her tongue off with her other hand. “I should stop watching cop shows.”
The woman began to moan and her eyes fluttered. Rurik took off his jacket and folded it into a pillow. He gently placed it on the concrete and lowered her head while brushing back a bit of her now gray hair. Her forehead felt cold to the touch.
“You want her hair?” he asked Lily before the woman regained full consciousness.
“A piece, yeah.” She bent down, took a lock of the woman’s hair and substituted a small portion of the purple from the back of her own head.
“What does this look like, The Addams Family?” Lily said as she began to rub the woman’s hands to get a little warmth back into them. “Though it might be kind of cool to have a possessed hand. You know: kill, kill, kill.” She made her hand into a claw and began to attack her face with it, using her other one to pretend to keep it at bay.
“Kill?” the woman repeated, slurring her words. “Please don’t kill me. I—”
“No one is killing anything,” Rurik said and gave Lily a stern look while helping the woman back onto her feet. “You just had a bit of a…” he trailed off and tried to think of a word, “an encounter that’s left you a little shaken.”
“I—what happened—do you—?”
“I have a thing to go catch before it sucks the color out of anyone else, m’kay?” Lily said, standing up and jumping onto her feet and stomping in the direction of the trail. She closed her right eye and pulled down the glasses. “That just might be more important than ogling some girl in a tight pink sweater and some skinny jeans and a brown, colorless pompadour.” She looked back at Rurik and, when he didn’t even raise his head to meet her eye, she started talking louder. “I don’t even have enough hair to make half a pompadour, which would be like a circumstance-a-dour, which is a hairstyle that changes depending on the weather and the emotions of the Norse god the day is named after. . .”
A few more colors – the flesh tone of a freckled person with pale skin and the faded white pearlescence of someone’s coffee-stained teeth – splotched the cement and then trailed off.
The walkway of the pedestrian mall was slowly turning into a subdivision with houses from the 1950s lining either side of the street with the accompanying tall ash and maple trees to go with it. The sounds of people talking and laughing were slowly filtered through the sound of wind skipping through brittle, fall-tainted leaves that scattered to the air when a big gust lifted them from their branches.
Lily stopped walking as they found a small dirt trail that led down a hiking route in the middle of the dense enclosure of trees. The trail had slowed to just a few trickles of the cashier’s blue eye and two small drops of a stranger’s teeth before it went cold.
“What is she doing here?” Lily asked. The woman was now walking with Rurik’s arms around her in order to steady the hypothermic reaction of her limbs.
“. . .bested the dragon myself, saying, ‘Come back down and try to bite me again so I can stab out your other eye with my dagger! I already have your mother’s tooth around my neck and yours shall soon join it!’” Rurik was saying, brandishing a small, invisible dagger and acting out his bravado on a nearby, innocent maple tree that shed a few leaves in terror.
“Dragons exist too? Are they from another dimension?” the woman asked in wide-eyed disbelief.
“No, they are merely—” Rurik began before Lily interrupted him.
“Figments of his imagination. That’s a plotline from his last session of D & D. Did he mention to you that he’s obsessed with that game? God, he acts like they didn’t have role playing games in the 16th century,” she explained, still irked at the fact that he wasn’t paying as much attention to their mission as he should have. “Trail ends here. Either we’re close or he’s manifested and we’ve lost him.”
“Well, what could it mimic from your house?” Rurik asked. “So we’re not just walking around, jumping on every hobo we see because we think he might be an interdimensional derelict looking for free room and board. Not that some sorts of hobos don’t enjoy that type of thing.”
“Mimic?” the woman asked, playing with the end of her hair until she stopped when she came to the purple streak. A puzzled look crossed her face and she flipped her hair so that it hung behind her shoulders and kept it out of her sight.
Lily sighed. “Beings from other dimensions don’t necessarily look like us or even maintain the same rules of physics. These particular beings from the blue part of my hair are incorporeal until they gather enough color in order to make a tangible body to affect things in this realm. Since where they come from they’re just floating, glittering blobs of pure thought, they need a reference guide in order to manifest. Try to pay attention, will you? I don’t want to have to give you a quiz at the end of the semester. I ran out of grad students to grade for me and my hand cramps terribly after a few moments of writing. With red pens especially.”
“She hates the color red,” Rurik added in a conspiratorial tone. “The things that come out of her hair when it’s red are particularly nasty.”
“What if she were just to keep it normal?” the woman whispered back.
Lily slowly turned around until she was eye-level with the woman and about two centimeters away from touching noses. “The first thing ever to come out of my hair killed my parents. How about we wait around for a few months for the color to fade and see if something comes out and eats you?”
“I’m—I’m so sorry, I don’t know—”
“People who get lost in time come out of her hair when it’s her natural color. That’s what happened to me,” Rurik explained. “Her parents are alive and well and living in Fresno. She just gets a little temperamental when she hasn’t had anything to eat for two hours.”
“Ow!” the woman said and then turned again to face Lily. “You don’t have to pull my hair. What are you, twelve or something?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Lily responded and shrugged. “Don’t foist your childhood insecurities on me just because you’ve had naturally voluptuous hair since the age of three and everyone pulled on your braids.”
“Ow!” she yelled again. This time Lily watched as the small chunk of purple hidden in the nestles of gray lifted of its own volition and was pulled to the south. A jogger ran by them and Rurik almost pounced before Lily held out a hand to keep him back and pointed to the phantom-possessed lock of hair.
“Reverse sympathy. The polarity of my dimension-closing purple has mated with the after-aura of the creature and it’s creating a vortex in order to show us the way!” Lily squealed, pushing the woman in front so as to follow the direction of the hair.
“You made that up,” Rurik gasped as he dodged low-hanging branches and a bicyclist who yelled at them to be more cautious and share the trail. “You need to stop watching sci-fi cop shows.”
As they trudged along the dirty path, purple sparks began issuing from the back of Lily’s head and she had to stamp out the small, cold purple-tinged fires that started on her coat. “We’re getting warmer.”
In the middle of a small clearing there crouched a man who looked to be tying his shoe. Lily had just passed him over in her mind when she realized that he didn’t have a left leg. He was leaning over his right so that his knee was at the same level as his shoulder, but he had angled his body in such a way that it wasn’t readily apparent that a whole quarter of him was missing.
“Rurik!” She got the prince’s attention and began to nudge her head in the direction of the mysterious stranger. “Seems like he’s going to get a leg up on the competition.”
Rurik gave a small nod and circled around so that he could get a better view of their quarry. Lily awkwardly shuffled around the path to try and block anyone else from seeing what they were about to do. Rurik began to speak in a guttural, chewy language with lots of consonants and soft vowels that Lily knew to be Russian; what he was saying wasn’t really important, but her scalp began to tingle and then burn. The longer he spoke, the louder he became until her hair was standing on edge like someone had rubbed a balloon on it and it crackled with purple static. Through the corner of her eye – she was still keeping her focus on the crouching man – she could see Rurik, a veneer of what he must have looked like in all of his princely splendor from 500 years previous flickering in front of his jeans and faded T-shirt of an obscure band.
“What’s happening?” the woman yelled over the growing noise of Rurik’s chanting and the gathering of wind. Leaves were so thick in the air, it was almost as if it were raining.
“He’s unstable through time! The more he thinks about when he came from, the more corrosive the atmosphere around him. It creates a sort of bubble that disrupts anything not firmly rooted in this universe, like a hitchhiker!”
Rurik stopped and Lily felt the hair fall back down to her shoulders as the crouched man stood up on his one leg. Lily was almost about to ask why he stopped when the man hobbled around to face her. From the foggy annals of high school literature class, she recognized the face that stared back at her.
“It’s another time-traveler!” Rurik screamed, but Lily shook her head.
“Shakespeare?” the woman asked, more confused than ever about what was happening. “He’s lost through time?”
“He’s incomplete! I know it’s the hitchhiker!” Lily shouted back. “Shakespeare wasn’t an amputee!”
“Time-holes are tricky! You never know what you’re going to find!” Rurik said, sweat coming off in droves from his brow.
“Just keep on channeling your father’s hatred of the boyars and folk tales involving Baba Yaga and glue-sniffing, or whatever it is the serfs did for fun,” Lily said and grimaced as she put her hands around Rurik’s wrists and nudged him forward. She felt her entire being vibrate as if she were on an airplane experiencing horrible turbulence and dropping, causing her stomach to churn with every passing second. “I know you want to find another traveler, Rurik, but my roommate has a poster of Shakespeare hanging in the hallway! He’s only mimicking!”
She pushed him forward with all of her might until his body relaxed and he allowed her to guide his hands until they were resting on the shoulders of the Shakespeare impersonator. He began to shiver and Lily felt an intense cold radiate from the spaces where Rurik wasn’t shielding her, like blasts coming from a walk-in deep freezer.
A scream sounded and Lily popped her head over Rurik’s left shoulder so that she could see the woman sinking down onto her knees. She held her colorless hand out, grasping it with the other as pain shot up her fingers; it was a white-hot stickiness that felt like she had stuck her hand into a vat of ice-filled water. She watched in horror as the color began to drain from her elbow out through her fingers like a line of flesh-colored ants marching down onto the concrete and into Shakespeare’s outstretched hand.
“Lily, he’s killing her!” Rurik said.
“Didn’t your father once requisition a marriage proposal from Queen Elizabeth?”
More color began to trickle down her fingers, this time a bigger stream that left the woman numb. Her breath started coming out in tangible puffs of steam as Lily pushed Rurik further toward Shakespeare and, keeping the man between them, shifted her body so that her back was now touching his. She put her head underneath his armpit and waited, staring at the wavering spaces around Shakespeare’s body that looked like heat waves.
“Actually,” Rurik said, “my father was gruffly turned down with a proper British refusal. Broke his heart, I think.” He was gritting his teeth, trying not to lose his own sense of time as Shakespeare became more and more unstable.
“There!” Lily cried, pointing through his armpit with her hand, “left foot!” A small stream of what looked to be phosphorescent blue fireflies were swirling in the vortex, confused as to which dimension they were in and just where exactly they should go. “We just need to get a few feet closer!”
“Tell that to the Bard! I don’t think I can keep time from swallowing me up if I press on it anymore.”
“Just a few …more….inches!” Lily yelled as she dropped to her knees and reached for the string of blue vacillation and finally caught just one tiny burning blue speck. Shakespeare reared up and began clawing the air and Lily’s hair whipped upwards as Rurik was lifted off his feet and sucked into a spiraling time stream. “No!” She held out one hand to Rurik and tried to keep the other on the quickly unraveling string connected to Shakespeare’s foot. The poet was slowly sinking into the ground as he disintegrated. “Rurik! You’re going to have to braid my hair because I can’t do it without letting you go!”
“Lily! Does it look like I like to wear dresses and get my hair done?”
“Is now really the time to be speaking about what you do in your spare time? It…is…a…matter…of…life…and…death! BRAID…MY…HAIR!” Lily yelled, feeling her arm getting pulled out of its socket as Rurik was lifted higher and higher. He pulled himself along her arm and grabbed a lock of her purple hair and, taking the small blue strand, began to weave it in.
“I don’t know—how does this work again? I should have paid more attention at all of those sleepovers,” he sighed, eventually giving up and simply twisting it together. Once he reached the end of her hair – “Split ends? You need a haircut” – Shakespeare stopped moving and burst into a thousand strands of immaterial blue dust that began winding themselves into the small purple hole that started at Lily’s scalp. Within seconds, all that remained of the creature was a small blue spark that winked out of existence with a blink.
The woman stood up, holding her head in her hand and leaning on a nearby park bench in order to steady herself. All of the color had returned to her, save for the purple streak that remained a flat gray color. Lily slowly shook her head and sighed as her vision returned to its normal black and white. She watched as the woman stumbled off back into civilization without a thank you; or even a cursory, “your purple streak is gone and your mascara is running.”
She looked around for Rurik and didn’t find him. After calling his name, she began to worry that he had been sucked back into the slipstream and was going to skip through time for another couple hundred years like he had before. She was about ready to rub her hands through the normal parts of her hair to create some static electricity in order to attract any lost time travelers when Rurik fell out of the sky and landed on her stomach. He was holding a longbow and wearing a helmet from a suit of armor.
“How much do you think we can hawk those on the internet for? I need some more hair dye.”
MK Sauer is the author of CHRYSALIS, published by Devilfish Review [Fall 2012], and THE RETRIVER, with an expected publication by Apparatus Publishing [Summer 2015]. She has a degree in Russian Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated summa cum laude with distinction in the fall of 2008.