by Dani Nicole
Republished from passtheprose.com
Sit still. Cross your legs. Breathe every few seconds.
Gram’s instructions are etched in my mind. Act normal. Act human. Don’t let them know what you really are.
I flatten my skirt. I’ve never worn one before. Is it supposed to be so short? Is it too short?
It feels nice to breathe. Sends a cold chill to my lungs that’s converted into a hot air release. There’s something soothing, rhythmic about it. Like music. Inhale. Yes, that feels nice. Exhale.
I smack my eyelids shut, pressing too hard and wrinkling my eyes. That doesn’t look natural. Look natural. I try it again, slower. My eyes squeeze shut for a millisecond, then release. My vision is clearer, fresher.
I can see the waiting room again. A great light with dangling crystals hangs above me. I’m sitting in a stiff chair, my feet resting on the smooth stone floor, grey and swirling up the walls.
“He’ll be just another moment,” the receptionist says.
“Thank you.” Use an even voice. I clear my throat. “Thanks.” Shorter words make it easier.
“Would you like anything to drink?”
Accept food and beverages. Let them see you eat.
“Sure, do you have… coffee?” The foreign word dances on my tongue. Co-ffee.
“Cream and sugar?”
I don’t understand the question. “Yes, please.” Always be courteous. Always be sincere.
She returns with a steaming cup, stirring it with a spoon. I thank her and she returns to her seat behind a desk. I sip and wait for the taste to hit me.
Co-ffee. I can tell that coffee is bitter, but masked by the cream and sugar, it’s sweet. A slightly exotic flavor, though everything on Earth is exotic to me. It reminds me of the drink back home, Kasa – steamed leaves in water. I wish we had sugar in Algammon.
But then again, there are a lot of things I wish were different about Algammon. Dragons. Death tolls. Phasing. Retrievals…
“Mr. Datwood is ready for you miss LaGrange,” the receptionist says.
I gave her my human ancestor’s last name. Raghdatav is not a typical surname in this world.
She leads me down a long hallway to a set of black doors. She doesn’t open them. Instead, she glances nervously and tries to conceal her emotion, but I don’t miss the single bead of sweat on her forehead, the tremble in her hands, the acceleration of her breathing.
When she leaves, I place a hand on the metal bar to open the door. I take a breath in for comfort, and release it.
Inside, he sits at his desk, hunched over a notepad. He writes and doesn’t look up.
“Miss LaGrange,” he says. “What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to check on the Lieberman Estate. What’s the condition of the mansion?”
He swallows emphatically. “The… the Lieberman Estate?”
“It’s well… it’s been vacant for years. Certainly attracted some tourism though, with all the… odd things happening there.”
I tilt my head. “Odd things?”
He laughs, a higher pitch than I suspect is normal. “Oh you know how stories are…”
I set my co-ffee on his desk. “Tell them to me.”
“I’m not saying I believe any of this. I’m just an investor. But the stories say… how the stories go…. People disappear there. No one knows where they go. But they never come back. I figure it’s just a kidnapping or something, but people are insistent on something more…. supernatural.”
I don’t understand the world “supernatural,” so I nod, encouraging him to continue.
“You see… the rumors say people are taken, by other people who look just like you and me. They lure them into the house and then they both disappear.”
“That seems supernatural,” I say, trying out his word.
He laughs. “But I don’t believe any of it.” His heartbeat accelerates; he swallows and reaches for his glass of water. Sometimes humans lie.
“Are you interested in investing in the Lieberman Estate?” he asks, wiping water from his mouth.
“Indeed. But there’s a specific investment involved with the estate I’m most interested in.”
I smile, then stand, careful not to stand too straight. I let my shoulders slump a bit and try to take even steps. As I come near his chair, his eyes widen. He’s surprised. I’m not acting normal. I might not even be acting human.
I rest my hands on his armrests and lean into him, stopping inches from his face. I can feel his breath on my lips, on my cheeks.
“The investment I’m interested in is you.”
He swallows again, and I grab his shoulders.
With a hard pull, we are travelling. Across the border of his life and mine, propelled forward through a vacuum tunnel. I hold his shoulders as he kicks and screams. Our momentum makes my hair fly in a million directions. Our velocity presses against my body.
When we land, we fall into a heap. He scrambles, observing his new world with wide eyes. Across the lake, a dragon breathes fire into an open field.
“Wh– Where are we?” he asks, his voice trembling.
“Algammon.” I say, smiling.
And never forget to bring the human back.