Edward stretched and glanced at the clock on the wall. It hadn't moved since the last time he'd looked. Must be broken. Has to be. He stared at it, trying to see the movement (or lack thereof) of the minute hand, and wondering again how long the agents - if they even were agents - were going to keep him in this room. It had already been around two hours, if his internal clock could be trusted. In here, though, time didn't seem to exist.
His back ached. The flimsy metal table, scarred with graffiti, was too short to lean against, and his folding chair rocked awkwardly, banging his knees against the underside. It was like when he, tall for a first grader, was told to put his head on his desk for naptime (or, as he liked to call it then, smoke-break-for-teacher-time).
He leaned forward anyway, ignoring the creaks from his protesting back, and put his forehead on the table. It smelled like metal shavings from shop class and sweat and fear. And something else he couldn't quite place. Vaguely metallic, a little pungent, undeniably human. Blood. That's what he smelled. He sat up quickly, nauseous, suddenly very afraid. He swallowed hard and focused on his breathing. Four counts in, hold four counts, four counts out, hold four counts. Again. His stomach stopped churning, and he checked the clock again. Still sitting at 2:03. Had to be broken.
He heard the clang of keys and the door opened. He wasn't sure whether to be scared or relieved. He imagined that this was the point of leaving him alone for so long. He looked the agent in the eye, playing a dominance game that he was certain he would lose. The agent stared back, unblinking, impassive. His face showed nothing, not a glimmer of anything human. He didn't fidget with his belt or adjust his black pants. He wasn't stiff, but he wasn't relaxed. He didn't seem to be on alert. He was just there, in faux-military garb, close-cropped hair, and a body that obviously had spent many days in a gym. In other circumstances.... No, can't let myself go there.
Edward waited for him to speak, still looking him in the eye. The agent did nothing. Playing with my mind. Waiting for me to break. Not going to give them the pleasure. The agent stared and Edward, unable to control himself, glanced at the clock. 2:03, of course. And he had lost the dominance game.
Two Days Earlier
Spring, finally. Edward tried to wrap his head around the extended daylight, the flowers blooming in his yard (mostly dandelions, but still), and the temperatures that didn't have him huddling under a blanket and absently watching bad porn. Now, at least, he could wander outside, maybe find some actual human interaction. He felt light, happy, for the first time in months. He put on his best jeans, a tight gray t-shirt, and took his money and id out of his wallet and stuffed them in his front pocket. No sense in wearing these jeans - the ones that really fit - if I'm going to have a lump in the wrong place.
He walked - no, sauntered - down the street, catching the eye of a cute guy and smiling. The returned glare didn't interrupt his good mood, even. He just kept walking, down to the bar. Dead inside. Figured. Just old queens gossiping about how much better life used to be, before they'd lost their muscles, before they'd gotten sick, back when they'd been beautiful and young. And closeted, Edward thought. Memory was funny that way.
He ordered a beer and drank it slowly, tracing faces into the condensation with this finger. Considered leaving, but who knows? Maybe the guy of his dreams would walk through the door any minute. He challenged one of the queens to a game of pool, imagining Dream Guy walking in, seeing him knocking home a beautiful shot in his perfect jeans. He broke, feeling Dream Guy's eyes on him, rehearsing the conversation they'd have between shots. The break was abysmal, though, and Edward glanced around to see who had noticed. The old queens at the bar were paying no attention. No Dream Guy had appeared.
Edward ordered another beer. And another. He let his opponent buy him a shot of Jaeger and only then remembered how much he hated the stuff. But then there was another in his hand, and well, it couldn't go to waste, could it? 2:00. Closing time. He staggered outside, wondering if he was going to be sick. He hoped he hadn't given the old guy his number. The street was empty, so he just put his feet as close to in front of each other as he could, letting himself stagger when he needed to. Fumbling for his house key, walking up the sidewalk. Something glowing. Wondering if he would be able to find the keyhole. Shoulda turned on the light. Something glowing. In the street. What the fuck?
He turned around and staggered back to the corner. In the storm drain. Glowing. Like the face of those whatdayacallem Timex watches. The ones whose whole faces glow. What time is it? Glowing. In the storm drain. He bent down and saw two paws - phosphorescent? is that the word? - grasping at the street, trying to leverage through the 5-inch gap. A sharp face appeared. Edward just looked, unbelieving. What was this? A toy? No, this was an actual animal. Glowing. In the drain.
"Wait. I'll help." He found the manhole cover. Do they still call them manholes? Seems sexist. He imagined himself standing in front of the city council, arguing that the name for manhole covers should be changed. He giggled. Oh, right. Opening this thing. He took hold, pulled. Landed on his ass, hoping he hadn't ruined his favorite jeans.
"Hey," he called. He looked down into the hole. Careful, don't lean too far. "Hey! Can you come over here?" The glow moved closer, and he saw the, the kangaroo? for the first time. It was small, no larger than that dude dressed like a leprechaun in that one movie. He hadn't finished that one. This was definitely a kangaroo, though. A glowing kangaroo."Do you need help?"
The kangaroo looked up at him with that look of patience and contempt that said, "What do you think, asshole?" He'd seen that look a few too many times on Greg's face. He reached down, hooking his hands under the creature's arms, and pulled. It was heavier than it looked, and Edward wished he'd kept going to the gym over the winter. The guilt he felt every month when he looked at his credit card statement hadn't been enough to motivate him.
The kangaroo was finally on the street, bouncing slightly on its back legs. The glow had faded to greenish under the streetlight. "What now?" Edward asked. "Can you talk?" The kangaroo tilted its head at him. You're kidding, right?
"Ok, fine. You're out of the sewer. I'm going home and going to bed." Edward walked back up the sidewalk, and tripped on the tree root that grown through the concrete. Damn. Jeans are torn. He wanted to cry. He wondered idly if it was safe to just pass out here, on the sidewalk, and he felt something on his head. Claws. Combing his hair? Pushing himself off the sidewalk took superhuman effort, but he managed to stand up, brush himself off and begin staggering in the direction of his door. The gentle thud of kangaroo feet followed him.
"Do you want the couch?" he asked the kangaroo. It was where Edward himself usually slept, but the kangaroo was a guest, after all. Even drunk (and, most likely, asleep), he didn't forget his manners. The kangaroo ignored him, though, and started opening doors. "What? Don't go - I mean, c'mon." In a moment, though, he was asleep.
Weirdest fucking dream. A glow-in-the-dark kangaroo in the sewer? What had that guy put in the drink, anyway? Edward shook his head and immediately regretted it. Glass exploded in his skull, sending shards out through his eyeballs. He rolled over and vomited quietly in the trashcan he kept by the couch for just such an emergency. His mouth tasted like kangaroo ass. Thank god it hadn't been that kinda dream. Geez. That would be even worse than the leprechaun porn. His stomach lurched again. Water. Water and advil. Maybe a bloody mary. He held his eyes with his palms, trying to prevent the light from attacking. His foot hit something softly solid, and he lurched to the side and carefully opened his eyes.
The kangaroo looked at him, expectantly, bouncing slightly. Oh, Christ. It's still here. Does it want food? Don't even know what kangaroos eat. He sat down at the rickety table, put his head in his hands, and wept.
There was a knock at the door, and he glanced over his shoulder toward the noise. Christ. Musta told that guy last night where I live. Edward shook his head. This was not good. Granted, he didn't want to impress the guy, but he had vomit on his shirt and a greenish, glow-in-the-dark kangaroo in his kitchen. He looked back at the kangaroo, except it wasn't there. Just gone. Poof. Whatever. He stripped off his shirt and went to the door. Two problems solved, anyway. The knock came again.
"Edward Hulver? Open up."
The agent continued to stand casually. Edward no longer tried to play the dominance game or any other sort of game. Edward waited, trying not to act impatient. He was tougher than this, tougher than whatever they could throw at him. After all, Edward had survived Greg. And a winter alone. He could take this.
The door opened again, and another agent walked in, smiling. "We just have a couple of questions, and all this will be cleared up," the agent said. The forced friendliness was condescending. Couldn't they have sent somebody good at their job to do the interrogation? The worst Law and Order knockoff does better than this. Edward shrugged.
"What is your name?"
"Do you need anything, Edward? Water, bathroom, something to eat?"
"No, I'm fine." His paranoia was probably overacting, but he knew he couldn't trust anything they offered. He'd piss himself before he'd ask them for a favor.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"Not a clue." Edward stretched his legs under the too-small table and leaned back in his chair. The torn flap of his jeans caught on a badly welded joint.
The smile on the agent was replaced by a look of serious concern. "We're looking for your friend. It's very important that you tell us where she is so we can make sure she's safe."
Right. Edward gave the agent a quizzical look. "I don't know who you're talking about. I've got a lot of friends, but I doubt I know where all of them are right now."
"Stop being obtuse, Edward," the look of concern didn't waver. "She is in danger, and so are you."
Edward made a show of yawning. "Tell me what you need and I'll tell you if I know anything."
"We know you had a visitor last night."
A flicker of rage, covered quickly. "Edward. The longer you lie, the longer you'll be here."
Edward looked down at the table, tracing the letters "LK" with his eyes, remembering the faint smell of blood. He heard the door open, then close, then keys clanging. He waited. He wondered if he would win, and what it would mean if he didn't. Edward began to fantasize a life in which he and a phosphorescent kangaroo escaped through a sewer grate, the fate of the world in their hands, Dream Guy waiting for him at the end.
He shook his head, clearing it of such nonsense. The clock still said 2:03.