Bri stopped them for a couple more people, though she didn’t make as much pointless conversation as she had in the centre of town. The roads turned from mainly straight lines of pavement to curved, to gravel and dirt. The bottoms of Bri’s jeans were beginning to collect the dust of the road. Malak’s shoes were still covered in the wet line of the dog’s nose.
The sense of the faded immortality finally suffused Malak’s senses. The taste of something they hadn’t had in so long, the feeling which had already dispersed to the point of torture. They walked over to the short fence, stepping on the barbed wire and easily clearing the top to land on the other side. Instead of continuing forward, they stopped long enough to turn and help Bri over. The field was currently unoccupied, Malak could see the horses which occasionally inhabited this area down further in another pasture.
None of that mattered. They made as straight a beeline toward the feeling and the person accompanying it.
The messenger sat next to a tree, their tattered clothes nearly blending them into the texture, if not at all hiding them in colour. The being’s eyes lay open, staring forward without blinking. Pupils without irises, expanding and contracting no matter the shade.
Malak recognized this messenger. “Orifiel?”
“The messenger is more important than being polite,” Malak reminded her politely.
Bri nudged their arm with hers, resting there for a moment before pulling back. “This is why you’re still with me. Finding is the first part, but adjustin’ to the world is next. You still struggle with the world because you think you’re more than wee small mortals. And you might be. But that won’t help you among the people who don’t, and won’t, know any better. Think on Ingle a bit.”
Malak tried not to think about Inglebert unless they were in the city, at the café. “That is different. He was as difficult in the beyond as he is here.”
“Because it’s difficult for him to be flexible,” Bri continued. “And if you were a little more flexible, you’d be just fine. I know you can do it.”
Malak didn’t like being compared to Inglebert, but he understood why Bri thought the correlation necessary. “The messenger went in the direction of the river. We should continue to search down in that direction.” They took the lead at this point, walking down the bare incline of the sidewalk, away from the businesses and toward the neighborhoods in that direction. There were many streets to go before they reached the more sparsely populated, larger propertied outskirts.
“Aw, and here I thought you hated talking to dogs!”
“I don’t. I don’t like talking to anyone.”
Except for Bri, but that they had accepted a year before. Gotzone wasn’t always bad either. Vangelis was also acceptable. However, as messengers once themselves, those two understood on a baser level. Inglebert too, however Inglebert had been just as impossible in the beyond as he now was on Earth. Earth might have made him worse.
Bri paused in her conversation long enough to look at Malak. “Just a moment! We’ll be on our way soon!”
Soon, to Bri, usually constituted a period of time that was twice as long as what Malak thought would be appropriate for soon’s context. As she waved farewell to the man and the dog as they continued on their walk, Malak kept themselves from commenting upon how Bri spent her limited time in the world.
They had already gotten an answer for that, one that made sense, when one considered how Bri wanted to live her life. Bri looked up at them, tilting her head to the side. “You’re doin’ so much better! I think I’d compare you to a ten year old now.”
“In what way?”
“In the way that you still don’t understand what I’m doin’, but you’ve learned enough to respect the fact I’m doin’ it and will wait, even if a bit impatiently, to get on to the things you think are more important.”
Malak didn’t react immediately in looking down. Bri and her conversational partner hadn’t noticed the dog meandering over on the end of his lead, little black nose smearing wet over the top of Malak’s shoe.
The world has everything in its place, as it has grown to be. As the world is forced to wear its changes. What doesn’t fit within those clothes, within the body? What is like me?
The dog didn’t seem to agree with the statement, even while he thought Malak was strange. He was indeed aware of the other oddity in town, because it caused a ruckus that even the grounded two legged ones here were aware of.
Where is this one like me now?
The dog didn’t know anything about right now, but he did know that after the big commotion that the oddity rushed down the slopes, as if it thought enough speed downward would take them up. As if they were supposed to be able to walk up into the air and away from the world.
Malak tried to ignore the sensation the thought began to evoke within them. The feeling that they hadn’t been able to reach in so long. Toward the rushing water?
Down the hill, away from the most of the people, past the park where his human always took him in the morning every day.
The next person Bri hailed was walking his dog. Malak held small interest in either, both human and canine newness had never fascinated them. More items in the world that would be gone within a blink of an eye.
“Sorry for bothering you, but my friend and I are new in town and we were hoping you could help us with some directions?”
“Sure thing! Lived here near all my life.”
“Really? That sounds amazing. I barely know what’s outside of my apartment in the city sometimes and I’ve been there a couple years now.”
“There is certainly something to be said for travel, but having a place you know to return to’s always the clincher.”
Malak stopped paying attention to the benign conversation, stopped staring at the old tree which had somehow managed to stand outside of the town library despite the town around it, when something tread upon their foot. The dog, of course.
“At the least we know not to leave the area yet.” Bri stretched, shirt lifting slightly to expose a bit more of her skin and the dull silver she had inserted into herself right at the navel.
Malak wondered at that, having seen Bri’s collection of much flashier inserts, but they had never seen her wear them. Much like they had never seen her wear something that would prominently display that portion of her body in a way other than through the accident of a motion, like a stretch.
Bri tugged her shirt back down. “I hope they’re okay.”
They sighed. “Gabrielle, I think you know better than anyone. No one who has fallen can be okay.”
She gave him a look. Eyes which opened up as if to show a soul welling deep within. The eyes were not windows to the soul, Malak knew what a soul looked like. The impression of the understanding and empathy that Bri could portray with a look, without even controlling her own subtle features, was something they’d never been able to comprehend.
“Want to lead the way?”
Malak didn’t reply and with a bright smile, Bri continued to drive their investigation.
“In any case,” Malak continued, “it does appear that we don’t have to continue further west. This is the strongest lead we’ve found.”
“And one of the strangest. I don’t think I’ve ever known a messenger to start causin’ so much ruckus so fast.”
“You mortals allow for much more oddities to prevail the larger the population there is to deviate from,” Malak explained. “The less people there are, the less tendency there is for a stark contrast from the normal to be acceptable.”
Bri corrected them. “We mortals.”
At one point, this would have offended them. They might have become angry, stormed away, ignored her. Now it simply resounded with the feeling of hollowness that Malak hadn’t become accustomed to yet. Part of the human condition, they supposed, but it had never been an interest of their before, which left them at a loss to comprehend any of it now, no matter the years.
“Anywho, people congregate with like minded individuals for similar goals. I think that’s something everythin’ does.” Bri nodded, agreeing with her own sentiment. “Where should we go from here?”
Malak closed their eyes, shaking their head. “If we had come across anyone other than a human being walking on two legs, I believe the both of us would be on the same page.” Bri was just as capable, if not more so, of realizing what didn’t belong in the world. If she hadn’t been, the both of them never would have met. They would not be doing this now.
Who knew where Malak might be. Or Gotzone. Inglebert. Vangelis.
When Bri approached them again, they had taken to putting their hands in their pockets. An empty wallet filled their left hand and a full mobile phone filled the right. Their left fingers rubbed against the edges, the texture of a zipper and the newness of it all, slowly being rubbed away with the repetitive motions Malak submitted it to daily, when they remembered to hide their newly developed nervous tics.
Malak had never been nervous before in their life. At least, not when caused by what should have been nothing. These days, everything was nerve wracking.
This was how the mortals lived.
“Well? Did you find anything out?” The sheen of her eyes suggested she believed they hadn’t.
Malak’s lips twitched. “The relative peace of this small town was broken up three days ago by a person who didn’t follow the human standard for social norms – both in dress and in speech.”
“So you’re just eavesdroppin’ me. Gotcha.”
Malak rolled their eyes.
Bri may have wanted them to pay less attention to their more inanimate surroundings, but when doing so, all their attention moved to Bri. They watched her arm move toward them, then fall back at her side. Her sleeves were short for the cooling autumn, displaying the rough skin of her arm, colour even darker than Malak’s. It was littered with imperfections, caused from internal and external sources. There was the long white line from when the cat fell on top of her when Malak wasn’t paying attention a couple weeks ago. The dark splotches from childhood acne. The reddish scar from a gouge that Malak didn’t know about.
Malak and Bri had a similar ability of being unaffected in their approach toward other people. However, Bri confronted the next person with a smile, leaving Malak to either follow her or approach another person with their less than approachable technique.
Malak never had to be approachable before this point in their life. Before, approaching a human being had always been considered a miracle, and it didn’t matter how they came off. All that mattered was that they were a messenger. No one could see that now. Apparently the aspect which had always made their status obvious had been wiped away with everything else they had lost in their fall.
They listened to Bri’s conversation instead.
“I am always paying attention,” Malak replied. They adjusted their suit collar, perhaps the reason that people stared at them and Bri as they walked through this place. Not that there weren’t businesses in this place, but Malak’s suit suggested the city they now heralded from. “Nothing is new.”
Bri smiled, well worn lines appearing at the edges of her mouth and eyes. “You aren’t lookin’ close enough then.”
Malak then moved to adjust their cuffs. There was little point in it, except for the fidgeting nature they had developed since the change in their life only a few years ago. “There’s nothing we’d be able to see. No one has told you anything of interest. Until such time as which we hear useful information, nothing is new.”
“If you wanted to help out a little more.” It was a rib, as Bri might say. She nudged them with an elbow, something Malak didn’t have the capacity to react to.