Vibrant Night - Chapter 1

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Vibrant Night
By Okami Carroll

Chapter 1

Lacie could tell it would be dull without leaving her dorm room, and she lied in bed staring at the dust on the windowsill, illuminated by bright rays of light.  Her brown, shoulder-length hair was as messy as her bed, and her shady but sociable roommate was as distant as desirable food in the mini-fridge.  And for a groggy second it seemed like there was color in the dust, until her alarm remedied her comatose state.  So the pale white girl let out a zombie-like moan and forced herself to sit up.

The eighteen-year-old girl, Lacie, rubbed her eyes wishing she could sleep in and take her chances with dreams instead of going to class.  The room was cheaply decorated around her but now its initial charm was wearing.  She reached for her glasses, feeling around the table next to her bed for the familiar sensation of the glossy frames.  After knocking over a notepad and prescription bottle stacked on the top of other notepads and books, she located her spectacles and restored vision to her brown eyes.  

Lacie rose lazily.  She immediately went sifting through the closet shared with her distant roommate.  The brunette grabbed what she needed including an old shirt; it had the white-lettered name of a restaurant from the South on it.  Then, she retreated to the restroom to get ready and try out the strawberry shampoo she had bought the night before.

After Lacie got her class materials and outfitted herself in comfortable clothes and the familiarity of her trusty brown boots, she headed off into the residential halls.  There were fewer people drifting around the campus than usual this Tuesday-- probably staying in, sleeping in, or already in class.  Various information was posted along the white brick of the walls.  Lacie would peer at the posters on occasion, but she was still taking in her environment with a dose of anxiety.

A blond-haired girl around Lacie's age approached; the girl was the resident assistant who was in charge of watching over the hall, though she wasn't any taller than Lacie.  The R.A. was wearing well-ironed professional clothing and always had her long hair in a braid.  Lacie sometimes thought Amanda might drink expensive liquor along with her appearance, all to keep in tune with her major.

"Lacie!  Just who I wanted to see.  I like your shirt." The R.A. smiled as a group of other students walked past.

"Thanks.. its green." Lacie replied awkwardly.

Amanda laughed but it came across as somewhat faked or rehearsed, "Okay, just a heads up.  But your roommate is leaving college.  Apparently something happened and she's going to rehab."

"Oh." Lacie let out a sigh as though she wasn't surprised.

"But there's a girl that should be coming to move in with you tonight or tomorrow."

"Alright," Lacie couldn't help but smirk at Amanda's optimism. "Thanks.. for the heads up."

"No problem." Amanda beamed.  Lacie picked up on some kind of glimmer of blue and green, like the thinnest lines of color in Amanda's eyes.. and then a flash of red and maybe yellow, and then orange.  It all happened quickly and then disappeared, and it startled Lacie so much she couldn't say anything back to the young woman.

“Well you have a good day.” The resident assistant said.

After parting ways with Amanda, Lacie ventured through the nearest exit into the bright outdoors.

It was a beautiful Summer day pardoning that it had rained the night before and showed in the parking lot.  Puddles, some blindingly reflecting the sun, were scattered around, only to be hidden by stationary vehicles.  There was a fresh breeze in the air and students were hanging around underneath the shade of trees with books, phones, and sometimes tablets and laptops.  Regardless of the embracing weather, Lacie felt a lingering sense of isolation.  She couldn't help looking at the puddles and thinking of the rain the night before.

The English major made her way in a hurried walk, long past the students enjoying their breakfast, past the wide parking lot, and various buildings to where her class was.  She entered the corridors, similar to the resident halls, but with tiled floor hiding years of wear behind the last time they it been buffed and waxed.  And seeing that the door to the classroom was ajar Lacie simply let herself in.

The classroom was an average English college classroom but had nobody in it.  Lacie looked at the clock on the wall.  The young woman realized that she was early, but it was strange that nobody was around.  In the habit of being a private person, the girl made sure that the door behind her was almost closed.

Upon taking a seat and opening her book to the page the class would probably start from, she found in the vacancy of her surroundings-- a perfect opportunity to sleep in.

Lacie knelt the side of her head against her now crossed arms and shut her eyes.  She remembered the colored dust; maybe it was the medicine she was taking, or maybe it was just a dream, or a fluke of the mind.  Then the whole world, or the last of it, seemed to slowly disappear into sleep-- like walking through an unknown door into a pitch black room, always with the hope that a light could be found.

* ~ *

Lacie awoke, lifting her head slightly.  Upon seeing her surroundings she jolted upright, which caused her glasses to almost fall off her nose.  She found herself in a clean-cut restaurant, but how did she get here?  Surrounding her were windows filled with darkness rather than daytime, and the artificial lights that accompanied it.  She remained unaware of her shirt, which now read, "Out of Business."

Lacie noticed a large desk in front of racks full of donuts.  Some of these pastries were floating.  Behind the desk there was a young woman who was of a complexion pale enough to compliment Lacie's lack of a tan.

Upon seeing Lacie bolt upright, the taller employee had a look of surprise, biting her lower lip and widening her eyes.  The strange girl behind the desk had ocean-blue eyes accented with eyeliner, long hair with red tips, and a solid black dress hidden by a crimson colored apron that was covered with a wash of donut residue.

Lacie looked down at her charred English book and then fixed her glasses, "Where am I?"

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop." The employee spoke with a meek British accent and donuts floated around as if they were underwater.

There was a pause where Lacie's mouth opened but nothing came out.  The young lady behind the counter stared off to the side, twirling the bottom of her long hair with her lower lip still in her mouth, as if she hadn't had a customer in months.

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop?" Lacie asked, in a condescending tone of disbelief.

The employee stared at a chair on the other side of the room.

Lacie looked back and forth before returning her gaze to the strange girl, "How.. what's-- what's your name?"

"Elizabeth." The employee stated directly.

"Where is this place?"

"Mr. Bagel-"

"No!  I mean the town, where is this?" Lacie almost demanded in confusion.

Elizabeth began cracking her knuckles from under the desk, "N'Qevna."

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop?  N'Qevna?" Lacie sat back down and sighed. "I must be dreaming."

Elizabeth had finished cracking her knuckles and stood in silent, attentive listening to the four-eyed girl across the room ramble on about her predicament.

"I was in college and I fell asleep in class.  I couldn't have woke up here.  Why does this feel so real?" Lacie looked down at the remains of her open English book lying on the table with the sudden urge to throw it across the restaurant.

"Usually.. usually people come in here to buy food." Elizabeth stated nervously.

Lacie stood up with her chair loudly sliding backwards across the tile which caused Elizabeth to squint her face with a tinge of fear.  The college girl ventured to the front of the counter, "Look, my name is Lacie.  Was there someone who brought me in here?"

"No..  One minute there was nobody here, then you appeared with your book, sleeping there." Elizabeth mused.

"Well.." Lacie glared at a floating, cherry-filled jelly donut.  She put her hands down on the hard counter as though it wasn't real. "How do I get back to where I was?"

Elizabeth looked to the upper right, holding the underside of her pointy chin in thought as if scrapping her mind for information, "You could speak to my dear Uncle Herbert.  He's very knowledgeable of such things."

"Can you take me to him?" Lacie pleaded, her hands forming into loose fists.

"I suppose, as long as you don't leave me out there alone.  Okay?"

Lacie pulled her hands from their negotiating stance letting them drop comfortably to her sides.  She smiled as if hoping to wake from a dream, "Okay."

Elizabeth slid her apron over her head and tried to pull it off in a comical struggle while Lacie waited by the door.  Then the black-clad girl turned off the machines in back and jumped repetitively trying to grab some object beyond her stature.  When Elizabeth was finally ready, she headed off with Lacie into the uncertainty of a most vibrant night.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Lacie gazed in wonder and horror at her environment with Elizabeth trailing close behind.  The sky was a midnight blue with streaks of black, pink, red, indigo, and violet under glowing, white stars.  In a center streak of jet black there was a full moon with smoke rising around it from its bottom half over its top.  Worn-down franchises and businesses mostly one floor high littered the sides of the road with light.  On Lacie's second glimpse of a burger joint, it rocketed up into the air until out of vision.

A few other buildings seemed to change completely as though they were unaware of their existential state.  There was a far-off cluster of people venturing around in the distance with one muffled man's voice booming out from them.  Pairs of men on the exterior of the distant crowd carried stained-glass windows.  Skeletons, mostly human, were scattered around various places.

Lacie found herself in shock of these wondrous and terrifying surroundings and attempted to retain her sense of sanity with one of many questions, "Okay, why is the moon smoking?"

Though it was warm outside, the moving air freely gave up its comfort.  However, the breeze of the night did not have its direction decided upon, and would rock back and forth in various intervals of minutes from different directions.  Elizabeth's hair shifted with the different directions of the confused wind, "The moon has a smoking problem."

Elizabeth spotted a skeleton grinning at her, its arm outstretched towards the manic hues parading against the smoky pallor of the moon.  She attempted to hide inconspicuously behind Lacie.

"What are you doing?" Lacie sporadically turned, hair in her face.

"Don't stop walking." Elizabeth pleaded.

An adult black and red cat darted from the parking lot of one of the businesses, where lights flickered and cars were parked upside down.  The feline lingered between the girls and followed inconspicuously, its greenish-yellow eyes in a dim stare forward, a small cactus atop its head.

“Why are you hiding behind me?” Lacie asked with tension forming in her voice. “You're scaring me.”

"I'm afraid of the dark." The black-clad girl stated timidly.

"You're dressed in all black and you're afraid of the dark?"

Elizabeth furrowed her eyebrows, "I try not to ever leave the donut shop."

The girls both passed the low, mumbling voice of a male for a product of their imaginations, "I know, I've seen her.  She doesn't."

Lacie noticed a shadowy stranger in a black trenchcoat, sitting on a bench from a few businesses down.  She guessed that it was a guy, though the face was too dark to be visible.  The figure and his surroundings were outlined with blue light from the restaurant behind him.  He had a lighted, metal sign next him that pointed to him and explained, "This person is eating chicken at a sea-food restaurant."

"So I just keep going down this road to that four-way up there?"  Lacie adjusted her glasses trying to ignore the creepy, dark figure, and the sign about creepy, dark, sea-food restaurant chicken.

"Yeah." Elizabeth had noticed the stranger by now. "I'll be right behind you."

As the girls made some distance from the stranger, Lacie began prying Elizabeth's knowledge. "So where are you from?  Your not originally from here are you?  Is anyone?"

Elizabeth looked down, "I don't know, I don't remember."

"Is, is it always night here?"

"Yes, and it is quite unpredictable in certain places." Elizabeth twirled the red and black tips of her hair around her finger and bit her lower lip.

Lacie adjusted her glasses nervously, "Like where we're going?"

"Yes," Elizabeth replied softly as though the world was eavesdropping. "And right now out here."

Lacie got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, and kept walking at a brisk pace along the sidewalk.

Upon arrival at the intersection a new car barreled forward from the abyss into a traffic pole which caused both of the girls to jump.

The sound of the collision was made to be so eccentrically loud that an orchestra appeared from the shadows of a nearby driveway, increasing the volume of the event with a single orchestral hit of sound-- which triggered a small, overhead explosion in the sky; afterwards the orchestra faded, returning to the dark.  And this alerted the nearby religious crowd.

The driver who emerged from the wreckage was a husky black man in formal dress with glasses over large brown eyes.  The man boomed with his hands on his head, "This can't be happening.  I had everything worked out for her, she was paid off!"

There was a huge puff of white smoke making a loud poof.  When the smoke started to clear, fence appeared all around the wreckage of the car.  Lacie did not know how to respond and stood in shock which led Elizabeth to shyly chime into the driver's predicament. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." He scratched his head in a pause, then formally held out his hand towards Elizabeth. "I'm Mr. Dreary-Gravy, but most call me Mr. Greary."

The girls introduced themselves and shook Mr. Greary's hand.

Lacie was amused fairly, "You uh..  You smell like beef gravy."

Mr. Greary chuckled drearily, "Hence the name, young lady."

"But why dreary, Mr. Greary?" Elizabeth tried not to seem shady.

Mr. Greary sighed wearily, "Such is the dreariness of beef gravy."

The nearby religious group was in the vicinity of the four-way now.  Outer pairs lugged around heavy stained-glass windows full of multi-colored pictures of rocks.  A grey-suited preacher in his fifties made way through the crowd holding onto a large book with a collective of rocks on the cover; the preacher had an exuberant demeanor and grey hair pointing out diagonally at the sides in the back of his head.

The preacher introduced himself, "Hello, my name is Thomas Limestone.  By The Rocks, I believe we were destined to meet!"

Lacie and Elizabeth just looked at each other as though they didn't want to converse with the man.  There was something odd about him and he was covered in gravel dust.

"I really must be going, I have to go buy eggs." Mr. Greary hastily impressed.

The preacher cried out almost squeaking at Mr. Greary, "You sir, who smells precociously of Thanksgiving, who admits to idolatry of eggs-- have you yet discovered the profound beauty of the rocks all around you?"

"What are you talking about sir?" Mr. Greary seemed intrigued.

There were people from the group of all ages looking over the rocks in the road and their patterns.  They were completely enchanted with the rocks around them.  A little girl in a pink dress fell into the rocks and began crying; she had skinned her knees and they were bleeding.  The sky began sprinkling with rain.

The daughter's father came to her aid, picked her up and with a calm voice, "Shhh.  That's just part of the rocks' plan hunny."

The preacher held out his open hand out at the little girl in a pointing manner, "Why can you not see?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't think I want anything to do with that." Mr. Greary stated calmly.

Lacie motioned Elizabeth, "We should probably go too."

"I'm all for it." Elizabeth half-whispered.

Mr. Greary overheard the two young women, "Are you headed off to All-Mart?"

There was much commotion in the environment.  Far-off trees came to a sort of consciousness, uprooted themselves, and flew around like out-of-control airplanes.  Some trees however, felt more like individuals in refusing to leave their places, even to the point of moving their branches like crossed arms.  Two of the buildings broke apart into pieces, forming themselves together into a kind of arch across the road ahead: from here, hanging light bulbs were in constant swing on their electrical cords.  Strangely colored creatures scurried about all over the place like little shapes squiggling across the cement.

"Excuse me to have bothered you all." The preacher steamed, his joy dissipating.  In a fit of disgust the preacher led his congregation backwards, literally speaking.  Pairs of men huffed as they heaved, back-tracing with the stained-glass windows.

"Ye- Yes.  We are heading to All-Mart." Elizabeth half-turned her head at Mr. Greary, both her and Lacie were breaking from the spell of the curiosities going on around them-- as much as one could.

There was a nearby pounding on the ground.  A menacing, six-foot-tall statue with wings and horns came barreling through the intersection, stepping on Mr. Greary's car, further damaging the vehicle and knocking over some of the surrounding fence.  The middle-aged man put his hands on his head again in shock.

As the gargoyle ventured further away the rainfall subdued.

On Lacie's face, behind her spectacles, there was an expression of both fear and general confusion, "We should get inside a building as soon as we can."

And so without further hesitation, the unlikely trio made their way down the road "You Is Twenty Three," towards the enigmatic fortress called All-Mart.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Lacie and her newfound accomplices found themselves in a massive parking lot expanding over a vast area of land (with All-Mart due North of they're general direction).  The store itself was one-story but expansive, with red and blue brick, and the name "All-Mart" in huge, black-outlined, white lettering.  Fake birds and copper nests were perched atop the store sign, with parts of the birds’ machinery showing as they twitched or rotated their heads and wings.

There were thick, black clouds looming with distance above the area and blocking out the colorful sky.  Enormous fissures in the parking lot could seldom be seen, far away and next to a run-down mini-mall where all the businesses appeared closed for the eternal night.  Near the center of the parking lot was an empty trailer with rust on one end and a fresh coat of black paint on the other.  A group of six, fancy-dressed, older people were sat down at a black, metal-frame table chatting in front of the store.  There was an identical table next to the old people three times larger that was vacant and seemed to be more enshadowed.

Elizabeth spoke quietly, with anxiety, "Well it seems we're in company."

Mr. Greary turned to Elizabeth and smiled, pointing his finger in the air which made him seem like some sort of cheesy superhero. "There is always company at All-Mart young lady.  Now to the Dairy aisle!"

Elizabeth's ocean-blue gaze widened for a second as though Mr. Greary had lost it.

Lacie suddenly noticed rips and scratches at random intervals in her vision of the world around her and she became fearfully preoccupied with them.  She reached out at one of these rips out of nervous curiosity and gently teared it.  Her vision went starry black and she was filled with a feeling that she held an unstable piece of some cosmic structure.  As her hand slightly pulled at what was a paper-thin wall, there was a sensation as if she was dreaming and the dreams were switching so fast she could barely process them.  She quickly released her grip in more terror than wonder, as though having just touched a hot stove-top.

The table that was three times its size fell over and crumbled into pieces of debris, and the black clouds above ceased allowing return of the colorful sky.  The bricks making up the store were completely white with the logo lettering gone black.  Now in the center of the parking lot, there was a shouting man in suspenders and a pink hat who stood next to a pile of pink hats that towered at least a hundred feet into the sky from the trailer that was in the middle.  The six old people sitting at the adjacent table were now all in their late twenties.  Mr. Greary had simply disappeared.

Lacie felt her knees weakening, "I feel dizzy.  I think I just need to-- where is Mr. Greary?"

"He's.. waiting for us inside the store." Elizabeth replied unknowing of what had just happened.

"Oh.. okay."

The girls attempted to pass by the unstable tower of pink hats without being bothered, but the man in overalls and a hot-pink fedora boomed at them, "The end is near!  Get a pink hat to protect against The Fifty!  Giant bunny rabbits descend upon us!  Fifty giant bunny rabbits will wreak havoc upon our world!"

Lacie was sucked in by the idea of defending herself against any aspect of this town, "How much is a hat?"

"I have a bad feeling Lacie, we should probably go." Elizabeth whispered peering in fear at the unstable tower of hats as though they could fall at any moment, as a gathering, black cloud appeared some distance away.  Upon seeing this dark cloud, the young people conversing at the table from in front of the store all vanished simultaneously in puffs of grey smoke; Lacie didn't notice.

"Well they are free of course, as a measure of survival for a universe void of towels; and my hats are worn as high as the moon."  The hat man made his statement with certainty, though Lacie didn't understand exactly what he meant by the last bit.

Lacie took a pink sombrero, put it on, and then stared blankly at Elizabeth from behind her spectacles. "Aren't you going to take one just in case?"

"I--" Elizabeth seemed frustrated for some reason. "I guess."

The Gothic girl went for a pink trilby, similar to a fedora with a shorter brim.

The man with a pink fedora grabbed her wrist, "No!  One from the outside, this whole tower could fall!”

Lacie's face changed to concern and she froze for a second from the man's sudden outburst.

Elizabeth stood meekly as the man continued, holding herself to keep warm against the undecided breeze.. she whispered again to Lacie, "Please can we go.  I have a bad feeling."

Unbeknownst to the donut shop employee who now kept her eyes shut, a treadmill had materialized in the ground underneath of her; this caused her to move backwards at a slow crawl.

The man had quite an attentive attitude to his tower of hats, "I'll help you find just the right one.  Let me see, hmm..  The cloche seems too much like you've got a bag on your head."

From the black cloud a man appeared in solid black: a longcoat with a sash, gloved hands, boots and a head made of similarly dark marble.  He began treading clomp by clomp towards Elizabeth with a trail of thick, ebony cloud behind him.

The man in suspenders paced around looking through his extensive hat collection. "This cowboy hat is too tom-girl, that baseball cap is too common and the top hat over there would clash with your personality.."

Lacie crossed her arms and spoke with anxiety-laced optimism, "Whatever works, so we can be prepared."

"Machinagess!  THE NEWSBOY!" The man seemed extraordinarily excited about hats. "Or newsgirl as you would probably have it.  The question is what news do you have to bring?"

The marble headed man was behind Elizabeth now and cupped his hand over her mouth covering her scream.  Thick, black clouds surrounded them both (and the treadmill).

"Elizabeth!"  Lacie reached through the jet black cloud frantically as its whole trail dissipated.

It was too late.  Elizabeth and her captor were gone (and the treadmill).

The man in the pink fedora sighed, "Its my fault, I spent too time trying to find the perfect hat for her."

Lacie deduced the captor was probably the blue-silhouetted stranger that the two girls had seen earlier.

"No its mine." Lacie's voice broke in unison with a crackle of thunder in the sky. "I left her without seeing it."

“Was she your friend?”

“No, she was my guide to get out of this weird place.” Lacie replied.

"Its only a parking lot.” The man offered up the newsgirl hat, “Take her hat, maybe you'll find her."

Lacie took the hat, "Thanks."

The student descended past the man and his tower, past the solid table, and table rubble to All-Mart's crooked entrance.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The automatic doors opened with a haunting laugh booming from the walls surrounding Lacie, "Testing, testing, is this on..  Okay.  Hahahahaa!"

Lacie looked around, clutching her pink hats in nervousness.

Small hands from outside painted the glass doors with dark blue, the world behind swirling into darkness with the laughter of children.  The young woman decided not to open the door to see what exactly was on the other side.

Lacie crossed her arms shivering, she could see her breath each time she exhaled.  There were huge snowdrifts all around the foyer to the extent that they leaned against benches, pop-deposit machines, and a few random carts.  The Ladies Restroom had the doorway rotated ninety degrees as though the entrance was laying down.  The Men's Room was blocked off by a flickering soda machine with a puddle underneath it that looked like urine.  What was even worse, "Nobody Was Here" was written in large print on the floor tiles, with what appeared to be blood.

The bench nearest to Lacie was covered in snow.  There was a plaque above the seating that read, "Bench Reserved For Odis."

The bench next to that bench had a sleeping older black man hidden behind the snowdrift; he looked like an old Blues player with swimming goggles on his foreheard, slip-on shoes that showed his brown socks, and a white cotton dress-shirt with tiny polka dots.  The wooden sign above this bench was more make-shift and read, "Odis's Vacation Bench."

Lacie decided it would be best, before entering the store, to wake this man and ask where to find Herbert.  Anyone wearing polka dots and swimming goggles should be friendly, Lacie thought.  But first, Lacie had to go to the restroom very badly.

So Lacie crawled through the rectangular doorway near the floor trying not to touch the floor with her hands which it turned out was sticky from soda recycling residue.  She found the room quite normal if not a bit dim-litted, where the temperature had went back to the warmth of the outside night.  There was even a couch.. but with two more uglier couches on top of it.  As she went to open one of the two stalls and she came across a fishbowl full of water with a comical-looking skeletal fish centered inside of it.

The skeletal fish spoke, "I am the last remaining, mystical repository of knowledge in the vicinity of your un-kept toilet.."

“What the fuck!?” Lacie backed up as the fish spoke.

Then the fish jumped into the toilet which flushed immediately.  After this.. event, Lacie decided to use the other stall.  When the young woman was finished with her business she found that instead of hot water the sink pumped out hot chocolate, so she washed her hands with it.. and then inconspicuously tried some of it.

Lacie crawled back through the doorway finding that the store temperature immediately dropped again.

Lacie was now ready to wake the old man sleeping on his bench.  She adjusted her glasses and ventured towards him, "Excuse me sir."

The man just continued snoring.

"Sir!" Lacie screeched.

"You wake me up again I'll steal your shoes!" The ancient man caused Lacie to jump back, losing both her hats and almost causing her glasses to fall off.

The young woman readjusted her glasses and left the hats on the ground, collecting herself.

"But I'm wearing boots." She mused.

The old man's eyes jutted open, "BOOTS!?  Who the hell around here wears boots?  Are you on drugs?"

"I thought I was off them.  But now I don't even know how to process all of this." Lacie replied.

"Well what do you want?" The old man corrected his posture.

"I need to find someone named Herbert."

"HERBERT!?" The old man's velocity made it seem like he was straining his throat.  Lacie was becoming physically annoyed by the old man's shouting.  She could tell he thoroughly enjoyed it as a mode of cheap vengeance for having been woke.

"I don't know anyone named Herbert except that chain-smoking, drunken animal in aisle three.  You can't see him until you go to the Technology Department to get feed for the technacles..  Oh.. if you find a man named Victor tell him he owes me cheese.  Now if you'll ex-cuuuse.. me!"

"But--" Lacie whined.

Odis quickly shut his eyes and tilted his head into an “asleep” position.

Finding that anymore conversation with Odis would be futile, Lacie picked up her pink sombrero and newsgirl hat.  She left the foyer through the second set of automatic doors which had already been painted over in swirls of blue.

Growling bass poured out as the second set of automatic doors opened to a well-lighted store in utter disarray.  Lights flickered different colors and exchanged dishes of food with seemingly invisible limbs-- two bulbs in particular were somehow conversing over Japanese customs.  A couple jump-ropes hung from the ceiling, one straight while the other was in a noose.  Strangely-colored tumble-weeds flew at high speeds over the aisles, some of them venturing in dark brown or blue hats.  Most of the aisles were crooked and full of curious collections of things.  There were a couple huge, dangerous-looking sink holes in the floor some distance ahead.

A muscular young guy around Lacie's age stood next to the automatic doors, with a cooler full of beer, and a stereo system currently blasting hip-hop music.  He was dressed head to toe in pink with star-shaped sunglasses.  His shirt had white-letters saying, "Fo' the chicks."

The shelves to the right of Lacie were mostly full of cobwebs, sand buckets, bouncy balls and miscellaneous products.  A rough-looking man rested on one of the bottom shelves with his back turned.  He was fearfully mumbling to himself about multi-colored talking cats and unions.

The young man in pink offered Lacie a beer, "Welcome to Null-Mart, you will never find a more wretched closeout of scum and villainy.

“Thanks, I guess.” Lacie replied.

“Nice hats, care if I have that sombrero as your ticket in?"

Lacie reluctantly gave the young man in pink that hat and reclined the booze.  The unofficial greeter promptly put the hat on and beamed a huge smile.

"So.. from your angle, how sexy is the hat?  Would it look better with stunna shades?"

"Uh.. its fine..  What's going on here?" Lacie asked.

"Its a party up in here till the whole place comes crashing down!" The man in pink gestured with both hands.

"Null-mart?  Crashing down?"

The greeter cocked his head up looking over the store like security.  He cracked open the beer in his hand and took a sip, still grinning, "Inside, we call it Null-Mart.  It's all comin' down tonight though, soon as the time comes and the Technology Department empties, the technacles are gonna rip the foundations down..  Might as well get plastered for the show!"

In the distance there was a young man in all black, including a trenchcoat and circular shades, but he did not have a marble head and was human.  He sat on a reclined, beach chair atop shelving between aisles and seemed quite drunk.  Some sort of large, black, dog-like creature flew some ways behind him from the ceiling and into an aisle-way.  The stranger raised his non-beer hand in devil-horns with a black magic marker grasped in his fist.

"Hey, could you put your hands on your head?" The greeter asked.

"Why?" Lacie inquired.

"I want to smell chocolate-covered strawberries."

Lacie looked off to the side for a second afraid that she might blushing.

An older individual emerged from a nearby aisle in a shimmery blue, rayon suit covered with flashing blue LED lights.  He also had glittery, blue hair matching blue eyes, and a short, white beard with a dyed tip of similar surreal color.

The theatrical man grabbed a brew, and joined Lacie and the man in pink proving to possess a deep, Scottish accent, "That 'Nobody Was Here' outside-- half of that was done with the blood of Red Squad, the other half with Russian salad dressing.  Trouble is, there may not be a difference.  Ha ha ha ha!"

"Damn." The Man In Pink shook his head smiling.

Lacie decided to pretend that the Scotsman wasn't being serious.

The Scotsman took a gulp of beer which had turned a similar glimmer of blue as the tip of his pointed beard-- though you couldn't see it through the brown glass.  He shook hands with Lacie who appeared speechless, "Hello young lady.  You may call me Cuithbeart Cobalt.  The youthful renegades of The Midnight Brigade have been painting all the door windows in sways and swirls!  But forgive me, what is your name?"

"Its Lacie and why are they painti--"

"Lacie!  I don't really care for that, I think I'll call you Four-Eyes McPhee." Cuithbeart had the matter settled upon himself.

"That's kind of offensive." Lacie remarked.

Cuithbeart raised his thick eyebrows, "Well at least its not defensive.  Ha ha ha ha!"

"I need to find someone named Herbert." The girl inquired.

The Man In Pink scratched his dirty-dish blond hair, "Yeah, Aisle 3.  Hope you got some DVD's or something."

Cuithbeart pulled out an action movie from his suit pocket.

"Well, I suppose I'll take you to the furry bastard.  No true scotsman would call him anything else!" Cuithbeart laughed.


Cuithbeart’s face went sly, "You'll see.  Oh.. so furry."

"Okay.. thank you." Lacie expired.

Cuithbeart picked up another bottle of beer and put it in his pocket.  With a deep, grizzly resonance of his Scottish accent, " for the road.."

As the Scotsman spoke, the light reflecting from the floor seemed to reflect just slightly brighter, if only for a second or two.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Lacie and Cuithbeart made their way past countless registers and respective aisles with the rap music behind them abnormally dissipating.  One further aisle had countless balloons rising from it, going up through one of many crevices in the ceiling.  The registers were all open and filled with soda-soaked confetti, junk food, and small bells.  The floors were covered with green and violet tiles; the tiles were stained with black and white paint and popping out at different corners.  From the holes in the popping corners, smoke rose, and from behind the smoke came distant, echoing screeches from some unknown form of life.

More jump ropes of neon colors dangled from the ceiling, some of them knotted together and swinging.  Other jump ropes worked together to swing a third jump rope, though there didn't seem to be any form of mechanics powering them.  Lacie was aware enough to duck.

"Ah!  Damned jump ropes!" Cuithbeart tried to navigate the ropes while keeping his beers from shaking up. “What a bunch of magical bullshit!”

Lacie giggled somewhat mutely at Cuithbeart until her laughter was cut short by the loud rushing sound of water.  From afar she could see a group of ceramic frogs playing instruments in melancholic melody atop thin, white shelving.  Further back, a huge tidal-wave of green water was approaching.  Cuithbeart, Lacie, and Cuithbeart's beers (which spoke through bubbling) all yelled in unison, unable to run or evaporate.  The ceiling-high wave of emerald water rushed over them with a lidless plastic pitcher or two.

Lacie was hit by the wave with great force, and forced to swallow some of the water, which tasted like a Lime-flavored drink.  The tide rushed her across the store ceiling until it finally subsided, dropping her alone in a new aisle with the newsgirl hat next to her.  She lay on her back looking around at her blurry surroundings, quickly realizing that her glasses had fallen off of her face.  Lacie rolled around and slowly got up as something strange handed Lacie her glasses.

Towering in front of Lacie was a large, fluffy rabbit who appeared to be wearing an adequately-sized, patterned, black Victorian vest.  He was holding a human-sized cigarette in one paw and glass of some darker liquor in the other.  She noticed a sign above the distinguished bunny which read, “Aisle 3.”

"To whom do I owe the pleasure?" The giant rabbit asked, patting the watch in his vest to make sure it was securely ticking.  The shelves around the rabbit and Lacie were filled with what seemed like stylized, yet clunky, odd devices from the Victorian era.

"Uh.." Lacie gasped. "Are you Herbert?"

The rabbit sipped his liquor, "And you, some sort of green fanatic?  With your tee-shirt and your lime drink?"

Lacie ignored his observation, "Your niece has been kidnapped."

"I don't believe you." The rabbit was smug.

"Why not?"

"Because most refer to me as 'my dear Uncle Herbert.'"

"But.. why?" The girl's face crumpled with curiosity.

Lacie had noticed the small, tar writings on diversely tiled aisle-floor, but not the one behind her which read: 'Heavens its eleven of eight on the nineteenth fate of four, then down and around to seventeen, almost zero, seventeen again, till twenty-four for sure.  Thirteen is bad luck maybe, fourteen a bit better than thirteen say thee, eighteen a time to run, four should watch out for the sign of thirteen, eighteen might have weight next to more of four.'

"I'm an aniecetheist."

"Wha-- So you don't even care?" Lacie asked.

The smoke billowed from Herbert's cigarette as he took a puff and followed it with a kind of sip that would be precocious to the average giant bunny.  The bright lights caused Herbert's white fur to glow, but that was the only part of him doing so.  His eyes looked of someone who hadn't slept much, his long, puffy ears perched downwards to the side.  The rabbit's nose was wet, but his stare had a dry enthusiasm which seemed unable to falter, "Who kidnapped who?"

"A marble-headed man took Elizabeth!" Lacie exasperated in frustration.

"Oh.. the donut girl," The large rabbit laughed. "That was no kidnapping..  First of null there were no kids involved."

"Uh..  Who's they?"

"They, are the reason skeletons litter the streets."

As Lacie took a breath to speak she felt her entire body weaken intensely.  She peered down as her brain and face felt like it was tingling.  The floor beneath her was dissolving into gas following with her lower torso.  Somehow she did not lose height.  As Lacie looked up her vision dissipated into a strange kaleidoscope of her surroundings.

Just as it seemed she might go insane from this alien sensation-- her being was restored.

The aisle had expanded with a road appearing over the floor and glowing so intensely with light that it seemed dangerous to stare at.  Rainbows came off of the road everywhere as though it was some sort of intense prism.  Lacie could feel slight heat around her feet.  She quickly collected herself to whatever degree she could and asked Herbert, "What is going on?"

Herbert (who's fur now shimmered even more intensely) sipped his drink and puffed on a new cigarette, "This is The Ultra-Violet Road, once a prominent grid-work of unspeakable beauty.. all that is left of the road remains in remote, flickering fragments."

Lacie could feel warmth and intrigue stirring within her which misplaced some of her previous fear.  She was mystified by the rainbows all around her which reflected in the brassy instruments and inventions closely sprinkled around the shelves.  But the road began flickering like a dying light fixture, and each time it turned off the normal tiled floor appeared.

Moments later, the road was gone.

“Who made it?  Can it lead me back home?”

“The answer to both of those questions is no.” Herbert replied.

Lacie sat down, cradling her head with her hands.  She moaned in distress, "Oh.. what's going on?"

One of Herbert's long ears twitched as he let out some sympathy with a large puff of smoke, "It seems you are the one in need of saving, dear.  That is all that is going on..  Tell me, do you play croquet?"

"No." Lacie almost whined.  Herbert chuckled heavily to himself before taking another sip of his liquor.

A long-faced gentleman somewhere in his forties with an expensive robe on and a cane in-hand stood at the end of the aisle with his face to someone hidden.. "Well Syll, are you able to find Muenster?"

"Get up.  Take a deep breath.  Have a glass of scotch." Herbert remarked looking down at Lacie.

Lacie had rose her head and dropped her arms, catching a glimpse of the distant old man; he had dim blue eyes between slicked-back, greying brown hair and a similarly brown, thin mustache.  The middle-aged man suddenly stepped forward talking to whoever 'Syll' was and disappeared from sight.

"I think I've been drugged already." Lacie sulked, returning her attention to herself.

Herbert pulled a scotch bottle from the nearby shelf to fill his glass.  He poured himself a refill and chuckled dryly, "Not in this world you haven't."

“Is there any way out of here?” Lacie asked, lifting her gaze from the floor.

“The exit.” Herbert replied with dry snark.

“Will that take me out of this world?” Lacie asked in frustration.

“I suppose the question is, do you really want to leave yet, or do you feel a strange, driving mixture of terror, curiousity, and guilt?”

“ this girl.. Elizabeth, in danger?”

“She could be.” There was a pause before Herbert spoke again, where he gulped down a bit of alcohol. "I can help you search for Elizabeth if that's what you want."

“Elizabeth says you know how to leave this place.” Lacie said sternly.

“From my observations, scant as they are, each person's exit is different.” Herbert sipped his liquor with his bunny paw hiding most of the glass.

Lacie had tilted her head up and lowered her arms. "How do I find my exit?"

“Curiousity and guilt.”

Lacie paused for a second before speaking again. “So if I find Elizabeth I can leave?”

"If you tried to find her and it was a waste of time, you would risk getting stuck here-- from there, here.. going mad or dying are the greater possibilities.  Or you could look for an exit on your own.  Its really your choice.  But when that 'She' completes The Nocturnal Migration, you will be out of time."

"She?" Lacie asked, standing up with fervent curiosity.

"That smelly, leathery-faced hag 'She' is the leader of The Nocturnal Migration, and the migration is said by some to power 'here.'" Herbert replied before going into a short coughing fit.

As much as Lacie wanted to leave, she decided to go with her gut and let her guilt and curiosity lead her.  At least temporarily.  She picked up the pink newsgirl hat and placed it snugly on her head, "Alright then, where do I begin?"