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My Coin-Operated Boy Toy's avatar

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ℓσcαтιση in transit мσσ∂ nervous нεα∂αcнε mild

                      ══════════Standing within the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport a thin brunette was obviously lost. Accompanying him were two other darker skinned individuals, the woman a good four inches shorter than the younger male, and the older man only a fraction of an inch shorter. From an outsider's viewpoint, this would be a son and his two parents, and the outsider would have been correct. "Hijo¹, which direction is the terminal?" The woman's voice was cheery, though it held the slightest note of concern, as she peered about the sea of bodies. Silently giving a shrug of his shoulders the youth mimicked his mother's feeble attempts to determine where he was supposed to be going, the pair turning to the father figure with wide, almost pleading eyes. "Dad.. any clu--" The elderly man lifted a hand, as if hushing his son as he began to point off to his left, muttering something unintelligible due to his diminutive voice. Used to the mannerisms of the male, the brunette give a quiet nod, stepping forward and pivoting to look at his parents. Really, he didn't know how long it would be till he saw them again; he barely knew where he was going. "Casimiro.. Cas.." Once more the elderly woman spoke to him, this time her voice was devoid of cheer, ringing with the concern she felt for her child. "Promise to come home to us? To stay safe?" Honestly, Casimiro had been a 'mama's boy', had been ever since he was twelve, and to hear the unsaid fear in her voice pulled at his heartstrings. "Mom, seré fino².. just fine. I promise." Extending his arms, the young adult stepped forward, enveloping his mother in a tight embrace. The pressure of his father's hand upon his shoulder was enough to express his worries for his son, and was acknowledged with a simple nod. Pulling away from his parents, shouldering his backpack, and gripping the handle of the rolling suitcase he had borrowed from a neighbor, one last glance was shared by the family. Turning, and taking a deep breath, the male began off into the crowd of people warily. "Hijo!" Damn, that's right.. it was this way.. Turning to rush in the opposite direction Casimiro didn't wait to hear his mother's rant of how unobservant her boy was. As the crowd thickened around him, and his breaths began to even out, the male knew he'd need something to settle his stomach before the flight. One lengthy line, twenty minutes, and an over priced seven dollar cup of coffee later, and a pleasant bell chimed over the airports intercom. "Flight A-324 now boarding, I repeat, flight A-324 is now boarding." A.. A-324.. dammit! The last thing he needed was to miss the plane.. he doubted the 'black tie affair' would be postponed due to his tardiness.

                      ══════════Making his way through he narrow isle, Casimiro seemed to be constantly muttering, "Sorry.. oops! Excuse me.. Eeh.. sorry again.." as he stepped past, over, and on the arms and legs of the other passengers. Really, shouldn't they be keeping those appendages out of the isle? Or was his bag really swinging into their personal space..? He really didn't have time to check, as soon enough he was facing two seats marked '45-46'. Already a woman was settled in at the window seat, what was rumored to be the place to sit when flying. It gave the best view, didn't have the isle to worry about.. the only drawback would be having to climb over the other passenger to scurry back down the isle and find the bathroom. Beginning to chew on his lip, and pulling the small suitcase into the air, he began to, noisily, cram the boxy shape into the overhead compartment. Once it was secured, and the latch clicked into the locked position, his hazel eyes returned to the female who was now watching his awkwardness with a smile upon her lips. "I-I'm sorry.. I didn't mean to.. make so much noise." The smile stayed on her lips, drawing one onto Casimiro's as well. The notion to use the woman's apparent amusement with his antics to barter for the window seat entered, and then quickly left his mind. Really, did he need to draw more attention to himself? Did he really need that seat? No. He didn't. In fact, if he was smart the boy would try and sleep through the flight. He'd need his wits about him to navigate the bustling streets of Brooklyn, right? Right. Right.. Settling into the seat, and pulling his bag tight to his chest, Cassie gave one last grin to the woman, who had lost interest in him and was once more glancing out the window, before another bell seemed to chime. Still cradling the bag against his chest as if it were a security blanket, or perhaps knowing all too well not to let a pretty face near your belongings while you slept, the last words that echoed through his consciousness were, "Good afternoon, this is your.. captain.. speaking.."

                      ══════════It would be hours later, as well as one layover, before the Colombian found himself disembarking from the jetliner into the infamous JFK Airport, and if Casimiro thought that Gateway was crowded he had another thing coming. The entire building seemed to radiate stress and hostility, the crowds rushing to and fro at twice the speed and half the courtesy as his 'home' airport.. but he had expected that. After all, any way you slice it, this was New York. It took the lightly tanned male a few moments, and a shove from a woman at least twice his mother's age, to realize he was standing in the middle of the terminal gaping at those that surrounded him. Feeling the warmth of a blush tearing across his cheeks Cassie darted to the side, leaning his back against a pillar as his eyes closed. Focus.. it's okay, just people.. lots of people. Lots of strangers.. but you can do this. One hand was still clasped about the plastic handle of the suitcase as the other shot into, and began to dig around inside of, the backpack that hung from his shoulder by a single strap. Pulling free of the entanglement of well-worn clothing a white letter, not nearly as pristine as it had originally been, the male yanked the letter out and opened it. As had become a habit over the past few weeks since the letter arrived two hazel eyes began race across the page. ...more to the world in which you live in?... a personal item... Do you have anything to lose? He had nothing to lose, he had already lost it. Cramming the letter, and envelope, into his pocket, and pushing away from the wall Casimiro forced himself back into the swarming crowd, more letting the flow of traffic bring him to one of the exits to the airport than trying to find it himself.

                      ══════════The inside of the airport was hostile, outside it was pure pandemonium! Cars were blaring their horns and screeching past each other, narrowly missing the New Yorkers that seemed to j-walk all over the street like ants that lost their trail. Physically swallowing his self-doubt and extending a hand into the air, calling clearly, "Taxi!" No one stopped, he got a few stares and a chuckle here and there.. but not one of the vehicles stopped to pay attention to him. Deciding that it may be better to inch towards the edge of the sidewalk, rather than standing as close to the doors as he could while remaining outside the building, the male crept forward. Leaning out slightly, and extending the arm once more, the male hollered, "Tax-" before being tugged back onto the curb roughly, a yellow death machine narrowly missing his torso. Pale of face, Casimiro turned wide eyes to a tall man with blond hair, appearing to be in his late twenties. "You need help." "Y-yeah.. I do.." The man's lips curled into a smirk, revealing the right side of his teeth, dual rows of pearly whites. "It wasn't a question." Wincing at the man's harsh words, the smaller male watched as he stood on the verge of falling from the sidewalk. Taking off the felt fedora that had perched atop his head, and waving it in the air, two cabs seemed to sway on the street, the nearer one pulling up to the curb as the other continued its fast pace in search of a customer. "Welcome to New York," were the man's parting words as he left the cab for Casimiro, moving further down the street to hail his own transportation. The red hue had returned to his cheeks, quickly hopping into the vehicle as it began to pull away. "Hi.. I'm not from arou.." The surly cab driver cut him off, not in the mood for small talk, "Where to?" Deciding already that he missed home, and taking the crumpled letter from his pocket, Cassie almost whispered, "The closest hotel to this address.." Tucking his knees up to his chest, his bags laying next to him in the cab, Cassie's gaze was directed to the street, finally taking in the environment. He had been too flustered by the people to pay attention to the frigid landscape around him. Looking down to his short sleeved tee shirt, flakes of snow clinging to the cotton fabric, and the wet patches on his jeans, the boy whispered, "Toto.. we're not in Phoenix anymore.."

                      ══════════The driver came to a screeching halt some time later, looking over his shoulder at the male who was now shaking with cold in his backseat. "We're here, pay up or I can finish this little drive by taking the scenic tour to the Station." Working his wallet out from the jeans that, with the wetness and cold seemed to have shrunk one size too small making them tighter than they usually were, Casimiro glanced at the fee illuminated in red letters on the dashboard and paid appropriately. Pulling himself and his belongings back into the chill, and rushing up to the hotel, he was intercepted by what he could only call the Doorman. "Can I help you?" Disapproving eyes fell upon the thin figure of the Arizonan, but as the Doorman's gaze met Cassie's there was no kindness left in the hazel orbs. "Look, you can get out of my way, let me get into the warmth, and get back to your post before I have to call for the manager, or innkeeper, or whatever it's called." Cassie was not a mean spirited person, but be it by the magic of New York, the cold seeping into his bones, or his lack of patience the petite male wasn't going to put up with any more nonsense. But the assertive tone seemed to have righted the Doorman, who extended his arm as if to greet the male as though he were a native of the harsh city. Rushing inside, and almost tearing up at the sudden rush of warmth, Casimiro moved towards the counter. Another man came up to him once he had reached the counter, his golden badge gleaming the words: Hotel Concierge. "I need to rent a room, do I talk to you or do I get to arm wrestle the Doorman for one?" A light chuckle whispered from the man's lips, as if he found the joke crude, but wouldn't turn away anyone's dollar. "How many nights?" The question was simple, and yet Cassie found himself stumbling over a way to answer. One? Two? Twenty? He didn't know, the letter said that the rooms would be handled, right? "I.. don't know. Does this help?" The next series of events happened almost too fast for Casimiro to keep up with. He had flashed the letter to the man, who at the sight of the letter head had set plans into motion. "Oh, Mr. Torrado. We've been expecting you, Lorenzo, take him up to his room?" Being almost pushed into an elevator, both Casimiro and 'Lorenzo' were being whisked off to some unknown room, and at some point Lorenzo had weaseled both of his bags from the Colombian. Slightly baffled, Cassie opened his lips to speak, but was cut off by the sound of automatic doors swinging open and Lorenzo murmuring, "This eez your floor, sir." His accent was strong, but sheer excitement and curiosity clasped his lips shut once more as he was escorted down the hall and to his door.

                      ══════════Room 324. Just like his plane ticket, whether it had been planned or not wasn't important. Lorenzo swiped a card key, then extended it to Casimiro, as his free hand swung the door open. The room wasn't extravagant by any means. It had a plush emerald carpet, emerald and creme pinstripe wallpaper, and only a few pieces of furniture. There was a bed, which captured Cassie's eye immediately simply because it was twice the size of his at home and had well over seven pillows upon it, and by the window was a desk and chair with some magazines on a rack, and lastly there was a large wardrobe. Truly there may have been more in the room, but between the bed and the wardrobe that seemed to enrapture his attention, Cassie wouldn't have noticed. Glancing sideways at the man named Lorenzo, he thanked, "Thanks for your help Lorenzo.. uhm.. I can take my bags back now." Taking the bags, and staring at the awaiting attendant, it took Cassie a moment to realize he wanted a tip. Pulling five dollars from his wallet, and handing it to the tanned man, Cassie quickly fled into the room and let the door shut behind him. The room even smelled fabulous compared to his own room. It had the faintest hint of vanilla, as if a candle was burning in some unknown location. Walking towards the bed, and tossing both bags on the ground, Cassie fell forward, landing face first on the lush comforter. A giggle escaped his lips, the sound of a child, as he took a deep inhalation of the fabric, rolling over to face the ceiling. Despite his awe at the room, the ice slowly leaving his bones, and the thrill of no longer being on the street with all of those pushy New Yorkers, Cassie couldn't help but feel that he was forgetting something. The Wardrobe! That overly large piece of furniture that seemed to hold some unknown importance. Rising to his feet with a bit of a spring, he made his way to the oak item, one hand running along its surface. Pulling a handle open the wooden object already held someone's clothing. A frown smeared across his features, knowing that life couldn't be this good. He was in another man's room. Or was he? Pulling one of the hangers from the rack and examining the casual suit, he couldn't help but notice that it all seemed to end at the right lengths. Holding it up against his chest only confirmed his guess: it looked like they would fit. Beginning to chew upon his lower lip, the piece of flesh slightly chapped and reddened, the outfit was tossed on the bed and before he knew it he was removing his own clothing. Tossing his dirty clothes in a pile, and pulling apart the ornately hung suit, Casimiro started with the slacks. Tugging them on, noting how loose they seemed to flow from his legs, a wry smile met Cassie's lips. They weren't his usual fit, but they weren't too bad..

                      ══════════He had forgotten about more than just the wardrobe, though the thought hadn't occurred to him until after he already was wearing the entire suit: The Black Tie Affair. True enough, this didn't have a tie at all.. it didn't even have a proper dress shirt. The outfit was made of cotton, as far as he could tell, and was a dark navy blue. The undershirt was cotton, that much he was sure of, but was a deep plumb color and zipped down the front. Chic, and modern, Casimiro only hoped that he wouldn't be turned away from such an affair in this outfit. But really, to find him, send him the letter, and steal that.. photo.. they had to have known he wasn't wealthy by any standard. Perhaps that was why the suit was prepared for him? Perhaps that was why it wasn't as formal as it could have been..? Trying to make the boy feel more at ease, or so he hoped. Slipping the same plain black shoes that he had worn on the plane, and praying that the hem of the slacks would hide his white socks, Cassie made his way to the door. Pulling the door open, listening to the items in his pockets shift noisily, the slightly tanned male hurried down the hall to the elevator that he had arrived in. Pressing the button, to which the doors opened suddenly, startling him, Casimiro slid within the confines of the elevator. On his way down to the first floor Cassie's mind began to settle, no longer reeling from all of the new information assaulting his senses, and that was when he began to pay attention to the gentle pulsing in the back of his head. Headaches weren't unusual for the man. In fact, he couldn't remember a time that he didn't have a headache, because as soon as he stopped to check it seemed to make itself known. Reaching into his pockets Cassie removed a small plastic bag and within the bag were six little white pills. The pills weren't anything.. illegal.. though he wasn't so sure that he was supposed to have brought them on the plane.. just aspirin. He always carried a handful of the little pills and was usually taking them one after the other to help dull the constant headaches and migraines; and as was ritual he removed two of the little white ovals. Dry swallowing the bitter tablets, feeling them slowly creep down his throat, Cassie pocketed the clear bag as the elevator doors swung open. Stepping into the lobby, spotting Lorenzo who stood with his jaw slack at seeing the change in appearance, Cassie gave a simple wave. Turning his gaze to the doors Casimiro found himself standing in the cold in a matter of seconds. This time the Doorman called for the cab, an almost effortless motion, and directed Cassie to take his seat. "That's.. okay. I should be close to where I need to be. Can you.. point me to this address..?" Holding out the letter, and listening to the Doorman's directions, Cassie truly wanted to buy himself some time before being thrust into a crowd of strangers for a reason unknown to himself.

                      ══════════The walk only took five or ten minutes, and the chill was once more taking it's toll on the warm-blooded individual. Body shaking as he wandered up to the residence, his hazel eyes lit up as a.. butler for lack of a better word, came out to greet him. "Are you mad? Er.. well most of them don't speak English.. but you shouldn't be out in the cold like this!" Chuckling, as the outburst and comment indicating he probably couldn't understand the man anyhow, Casimiro was happy to be ushered inside. The warmth met him like the caress of a lover, warming his bones just as the warmth of the hotel had. "I know, I know. But.." Never seeming to be able to finish his sentences, Casimiro stood in silence with the embarrassed butler as he gazed about the foyer. Everything simply.. felt rich. The wood, the walls, the furniture.. it was like seeing a mansion in a movie vividly come to life. The young man honestly wanted to step forward and run his hands over the woodwork, curious as to what stories the building held, as structures such as this tended to have been around for centuries. Barely recognizing that the attending man was brushing snow and droplets of moisture from his coat, Cassie stepped forward and through an archway which led into a much larger room. It felt like a hundred people filled the room, though that was most likely due to his being overwhelmed, but there was a good mass of individuals. Talk flooded his ears, "..are name-signs at the tables.. feel free to try the appetizers.. Cuando la parte formal del comienzo de la reunión³.." Surprised to see some form of Spanish being spoken, and understanding it clearly, as well as the rest of the chatter, Cassie felt as if he had a slight grasp on the situation. He was to find his seat, relax, and wait for the 'meeting' to begin. Working to not touch any other individuals as he drifted towards the tables, his eyes began to read each name tag that rested at each seat. Most of the names were foreign, from various nationalities, and there didn't seem to be any alphabetical pattern. As he searched his eyes caught onto another man who appeared to be doing the same as he: trying to find the proper seat. Once more the lower lip found itself caught between his teeth, beginning to leave white indentations on his raw lip, feeling one of his rare moments of socializing beginning to rear its head. Between where they stood held a small white card with the words 'Mr. C. Torrado' elegantly printed upon it, which gave him motive to stroll forward, but it didn't give him courage to try and converse. Sliding across the floor, and reaching out to claim his name tag, the Colombian American mused almost to himself, "This.. whole situation is bizarre.. eh?"

                      ══════════Moving around the table to settle himself in his seat, and casting his gaze to the man once more, he began once more, "I mean.. do you know what's going on? Why.. we were.. all.." Even in his own ears he sounded like he was rambling. What was he to say? 'Hi there, did you get a morbid photograph in the mail as well?' Or pester him about his life before he strolled into this little.. meeting as it had been called. In fact, what if he was the only one here that got such a letter? Did someone know about what had happened, and they were finally going to call him on it? 'No. That's just paranoia, Cassie.. he's probably just as lost as you are.' Looking down onto the table itself, his hands beginning to toy with the table cloth. Taking the fabric into his hands, and beginning to wring it under the table, Cassie knew that the nerves would continue to grow. He was a sore thumb in this community, and the second that he had read the words 'black tie' he should have burnt the paper, address, and envelope and forgotten about the whole incident.


                      ¹ Son
                      ² I'll be just fine
                      ³ When the formal part of the meeting begins

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                                              Benji stared at the small East Indian woman as if she were some spawn from the lowest and deepest crevices of the earth come up to steal his soul or at the very least, send him into a fit. The pounding on his back didn't help either. The otherwise charming British accent and pleasant face did nothing to assuage the panic that was overloading him and making his chest constrain. His eyes were wide and as she motioned to slam against his back again, he put a hand out, his shoulders shrinking up as if he were hoping his hand would magically construct an invisible wall. He bit the nails on his other hand, his hazel eyes in a bit of a panic. "You're too close," he said, heavily accented, trying to scramble together the English in my head. "Por favor..." Realizing she probably didn't speak Spanish, other words came unbidden to his mind as he tried to find the English that was scattered form his brain. "Per favore. Souple. Ole hyva. Prosim. Merci. Please..." It sounded right.

                                              "Salga. Back away?" He would be surprised if there was anything left of his fingernails, had his thought process been that expanded. When she moved to go closer to him he backed up and his breath hitched. Maybe to another she wouldn't be so horrifying. Benji, who had been nervous and shaken already, was just trying to keep his head from exploding and his breathing from stopping all together as he looked at her. Try making nice? flitted into his head and he painstakingly tried to ease his shoulders down but it was the same as trying to move an oaken bed frame by pushing up against it. He tried to ease his breathing but still in his wary and tense stance, managed to say, cloudy eyes shifting. "BenjaminAlvarezGuiterrezCabreraYou?" Still with his hands up to keep a distance between them he attempted a smile, which was more of a grimace or baring of teeth. He involuntarily twitched as he looked at her, a small one in his right hand.

                                              - - -

                                              Ladli winced a little, a smile still remarkably sparking on her mouth, “Are you alright?” She was nervous that he was going to induce a heart attack or have an aneurysm. All on top of the fact that he didn’t seem to be breathing properly. Taking a handful of her dress in one hand, she raised her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear and he flinched backwards throwing a hand out. Despite herself, she found him extremely amusing in his distress. There was something comical about the degree of frantic terror that she’d caused (a woman who stood a whopping ten inches below him). She stepped closer, raising her hand this time in peace. He was biting his nails like crazy and hiding behind his hand. “Just—if you would—please—” She couldn’t find the words she was looking for and was considering snapping her fingers in front of him to get his attention. “You’re too close. Por favor…” The smile slipped entirely from her face. Looking down, she estimated there was about a foot between them. Sure it was pretty close, but too close? Her brows furrowed in question as she looked back up at him.

                                              “Per favor. Souple. Ole hyva. Prosim. Merci. Please…” Adding to the crinkled brow, Ladli’s mouth opened a fraction as she stared up at the ever-so-slightly-maybe-possibly-a-teeny-tiny-bit-less frightened man. “Salga. Back away?” Well, backing away probably would have been better, but Ladli extended a hand again. But he flinched and it seemed like he was ready to spontaneously combust where he stood. His arms outstretched to keep a proper distance between them. He spoke out a multi-syllabled, slightly musical garble of words and it took a moment to untangle the web to realize that he’d given her his name along with a…smile. At least, she was pretty sure it was supposed to be a smile. The East Indian woman quirked an eyebrow and edged back a bit. “Ladli Singh.” A smile of her own spread over her features and she twisted her hair around her finger, “Seems as if you’ve got an extra middle name to lend me, seeing’s I haven’ got one of my own. Oh!” On the table behind him she’d registered that there were chocolate covered strawberries and reached out for one. “Do you like strawberries and chocolate?” She spoke over her shoulder and glanced back at him. He seemed to still be wired tight enough to explode. “Maybe you had better have a drink of some water?” Last thing a man like him needed was alcohol, a sedative maybe, but certainly not hard liquor.

                                              - - -

                                              Still stiff from paralysis, Benji fought to make his broad shoulders go down, talking himself into putting his hands down so that they wringed each other, twisting each other since is fingernails had been thoroughly abused already. "Heh," he said, not knowing quite how to respond to the joke about the middle names. Every person of hispanic origin was given a first name, a middle name, and then two last names. Their father's first last name and then their mother's first last name. That was just how the culture worked. He couldn't remember growing up in Buenos Aires with someone who didn't have two last names if they were Latino. Maybe some of the Europeans only had one because there were lots of Italians but he was part native and Spaniard. So two it was. He didn't quite understand the concept of only having one name anyways. What if there were more than one Ladli Singhs? He couldn't quite say what he wanted so he ended blurting out something along the lines of "What if there are more you?" In his Argentinean accent. The wringing of his hands kept him from using the hand gestures that he usually used when speaking, at least when he spoke Spanish due to the Italian influence in his home country.

                                              "Nevermind," he shook his head. Those chocolate-covered strawberries really did look good and he narrowed his eyes as he looked at them. There were twenty-five that he could see at the moment. "Si," he said, his knuckles turning white as he continued to work and rework his hands. He looked at her in brief intervals before his eyes looked around the room, at the motley assortment of people. Most of them dressed nice, minus one person in particular who seemed to be trying to 'stick it to the man' in a way familiar to Benji in grade school with inappropriate sneakers. Not that Benji cared too much, he was mostly focused on the Indian woman in front of him. Keeping his sentences as short as possible meant that he would have less of a chance of picking the wrong words in his head. So after much deliberation during which the cogs in his head were nearly audible, he said "How you are?" The questions was almost posed more to himself, not even sure of the three-word sentence he uttered.

                                              - - -

                                              Her smile still fixed properly in place, Ladli took in the partial sentence that came out of Benjamin’s mouth. It was kind of like working on a puzzle. You didn’t get all the pieces but you still had to build an entire creation from it. She turned around holding a strawberry by the stem and extended it toward him with a little nod toward it. Maybe miming was a little better than talking? What if there are more you? She considered it again and it clicked as she took a bite of her own strawberry. Before she spoke, she rubbed her tongue against her teeth to make sure she didn’t have anything caught in them. “Oh, I know there are plenty more Ladli Singhs.” She chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, “But there’s only one of me, you know.” She still had the one strawberry extended toward him and took another bite of hers. “They’re really good, you know.” She tried to fashion her smile into the comforting genre and hoped she looked convincing.

                                              He was wringing his hands with such intensity that it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. He was so strange compared to the people she usually ran into, but there seemed to be something very nice and even gentle about this man who was nearly a foot taller than her. He needed to relax, like seriously needed to relax. I guess that’s a good thing about dead bodies…well, one’s that aren’t in rigor… She contemplated some more and finished her strawberry. Before she could even think of where a trash receptacle was, a server came to her side and whisked the stem away. The smile faltered for a moment before she picked it back up and secured it. “How you are?” Her attention snapped back, tilting her head back to see him properly, “Oh! I’m quite alright. A little curious about what we’re all doin’ here though.” She took another strawberry, “How are you, then? I hope I didn’t hurt you by fallin’ on ya.” She really wanted to reach out and still his wringing hands.

                                              - - -

                                              Benji was trying to listen to her but was also trying to solve the dilemma in his mind. Should I grab the strawberry? I don't want to leave her hanging... but that would involve getting close to her and he was slightly terrified of that. Not for any reason in particular except maybe the fact that women he got close to turned out dead. The Argentine man became aware of the empty silence and then he stared at her and blinked, his eyes narrowing at the big smile she had on her face. It looked like it hurt almost. "I am fine," he said carefully. He let out a bit of a discontent rumble and then hesitantly reached out for the strawberry, taking it while being careful not to touch her at all. He put the fruit to his mouth and nibbled on it, his other arm reaching across his torso to hug himself in his normal sheltered stance. He quirked his lips as he looked at her. He was going to try and figure out something to say when a voice rang out, easily carrying above the din of the reception.

                                              "If you could all have a seat, we'd like to begin shortly. Please fill out your meal cards and your servers will take care of you."

                                              Benji drew his eyebrows together and shrugged at her, a small uneasy one. He had no idea what was going on but went to the same spot where the Russian man who had just spoken put his name card. He noticed he was at the same table as the Indian - Ladli. He looked at the card in front of him that had all his options for dinner and he felt panic wash over him again. Not wanting to attract any more attention than he unfortunately already had. He closed his eyes and picked one, carefully opening. It was a salmon and rice pilaf dish. It sounded good so he used a pen that miraculously showed up by the good grace of the servants that were almost like mind readers. His right hand scratching behind his ear, he used his left to check off the box and then it was snatched up almost immediately. "Gracias," they said, and Benji started settling in so that he could finally understand why they had all been asked to show up.

                                              - - -

                                              Ladli tried not to laugh when the tall man took painstaking efforts to not touch her as he accepted the strawberry. He said he was fine, and though she didn’t believe him, she let out a sigh of relief. “Good then.” This time when she smiled up at him, it was a true smile. She watched with curious eyes as he reached an arm around his torso and held himself. She had a lot of questions. Why did he seem so skittish and frightened? He seemed to be barely holding onto sanity and, frankly, she wouldn’t be surprised if he dropped to his knees and started barking like a dog. He seemed so unstable, but under the surface it seemed like there was a fragile shell of a man. She was really curious about this trapped man. Of course, he could be just a murderous schizoid with a frightening and equally gory past. She searched his face. The image didn’t really fit, but one could never be too sure.

                                              Her attention was caught by a smooth yet demanding voice. Turning to see who was talking, she rolled her lips in. It was the man who she’d stuck her tongue out at (rightfully deserved, in her opinion). He had a pleasant Russian accent and it certainly fit, but he seemed rather stodgy and in serious need of a lesson in fun. She remembered that she needed to look for her name-card to find her seat, but she wanted to sit next to this man. She wanted to watch him some more. He was interesting for sure. The short woman, still clutching her dress in one hand, made her way to the closest table and squinted down at the cards, finding her name quicker than she expected. Her eyes found Benjamin seated and she reached out a hand to pick her name-card up to switch it and a firm hand pushed hers away, “No.” “What?!” Ladli turned around in surprise and her eyes widened, the unhappy-looking Russian man was standing over her and he looked rather irritated with her. She rolled her lips in and shrank back a fraction. “No.” He sounded like he was talking to a dog who was trying to sit on the couch and wasn’t supposed to.

                                              She stared up at him, eyes narrowing slightly. He didn’t back down at all and continued staring the same way they had before. Ladli tilted her chin a fraction, defiance clear in this movement and pulled out the chair. She didn’t sit. He raised an eyebrow, his expression cool. His grey-green eyes motioned down to the chair and an eyebrow arched again. Ladli huffed a breath out and lowered herself down, his eyes following her the whole way. She grumbled as he walked away and stuck her tongue out. He glanced over his shoulder and she smiled in a horribly fake manner. She ordered the chicken and couldn’t remember what came with it and didn’t entire care. In her mind she was thinking about all the horrible ways she’d like to prank and undo this terribly grumpy man. She glanced over at her slightly crazy interest and tossed him a smile and a wave of her fingers. He seemed to be about to burst again and she wished there was something she could do to help him. Her eyes widened when they brought out the food and set it in front of her. It. Looked. Amazing. Ladli loved food.

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                                      Waiting until a signal was given by the kitchen staff, who was preparing the dishes for the waiting rag-tag team of people, Daina couldn't be happier. It was a better turnout than they'd had in the past - something that they could thank the Mayans for. The people most likely to show up to their ambiguous meetings were a certain type of person - mostly young, single, and those who may have had otherwise ordinary lives except with the one hidden memory, the one tick that made them more open-minded. She played with her dress in a manner more becoming of a twelve-year-old than a seventy year old. She brushed her silver hair back behind her ear and when she saw the thumbs-up from the kitchen, she stood up and walked over to where there was a small microphone set up, adjusting it and smiling widely at the assortment of people.

                                      "Look at these smiling faces," she said, breathing in and clapping her hands together. "I'm so glad to see you all." Her shrewd eyes looking around. "My name is Daina Radvila. And I am a representative of the organization who had invited you tonight." She spoke with ease and grace, the words feeling neither forced nor contrived coming from her lips. The wrinkles on her face had deep laugh lines that suited the way she merrily looked around. "I am sure that most of you are confused, put off, and possibly even a bit angered by the vague nature of our letter and I still cannot promise that all of your questions will be answered. I ask that you hold off on any comments until after I have spoken."

                                      She arched an eyebrow and looked around, pleased with the silence. "The Nocturne Organization is an international group, as you can probably tell by the diversity of the crowd. It was established thousands of years ago in Egypt around the same time as the Church, 40 Common Era. The Nocturne Organization is not conventional. What we deal with is often shunned, ridiculed, and belittled." A smile crept back onto her face, like a little girl who'd found the perfect flower in a sunny patch. "The paranormal. The supernatural. The occult. Magicks and folklore." She took a moment to examine the reactions on people's faces with deep insight. "Some of you will laugh at me right now and call me a crazy old bat. I am an old bat but I cna assure you I am not crzy."

                                      With a sweep of he rhand she motioned to the side, where two very different men sat. The darker skinned one had a look of amusement while the Russian looked out to the crowd with a withering look. "Over here we have Rajesh Vasdev from Nairobi Kenya, and Alexei Arkyadevich from Moscow Russia." Rajesh nodded towards the people but Alexei did nothing. "The world is not what it seems. But I think you know that." She narrowed her eyes. It was like sharing a secret with someone. "We here at Nocturne frequently cross between what is known and what is not. You could think of us as the... ghostbusters, if you will. Except we do not have such foolish things as vacuum cleaners with a few fancy gadgets. Maybe we could if our budget allowed," she heard Rajesh chuckle lightly at the joke.

                                      "But no, we are more talented than that. Most of us here at Nocturne have special gifts, abilities, you could say. They give us a distinct advantage over most people that we know, although without knowledge of this, or the right training, you could say it is a hazard, a parasite, or a curse. But it is a skill. A skill that we can peruse. That we can explain." From the looks of certain people, she could tell that she was striking nerves. More people looked at her like she was crazy. "I cannot convince you that everything I am telling you is the truth. Because it is only in your mind that you can decide if I am right. But I will tell you that we are not alone on this Earth. Now for those of you whom I haven't scared away with my ramblings, there is a proposition that we can make."

                                      With an arched eyebrow and the voice that made clear that she was offering them (at least in her mind) the opportunity of a lifetime, she went on. "A job opportunity. Adventure, benefits, travel, training, compensation, and a simple chance to experience more." She went back to smiling. "For those of you who are appalled, disgusted, or frightened, you may walk away and pretend this never happened. You will never hear from us again. For those of you who want to know more..." she put emphasis on the last word, looking around. "You will return to your hotel and you will stay there an extra night. More instructions will be sent the day after tomorrow. It is then that we will answer your questions. And we will take care of everything. For now, enjoy your free dinner. Feel free to speak with either Alexei, Rajesh, or I but only briefly. For we have this space for a limited amount of time."

                                      There was no applause when she gave a bow and left with a fluorish of her dress to speak with her two men. There were hushed mutterings, strange looks, and some angry glares. The speech was only minimally informing. It was only the superstitious, the hesitant believers who would stay. She smiled at them. "Well?" "It's... interesting. A different mix of emotions. Watch out for those ones, they look livid," he pointed at a few people who indeed looked like they'd been sent on a goose chase. "But as always, there are a few who seem curious, still." She smiled. "Alexei, did you talk to the people that we have in the hotels?" "Yes." All there was left to do was wait, the fish had been dropped into the tank.
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              The most interesting thing Terry noticed about this whole event, in its entirety, was how nobody seemed to belong here. As he navigated the modest gathering's small clusters of quietly conversing individuals, small tidbits of their conversations reached him. The topics were mostly small talk, dealing with the weather outside, how far people traveled to get here and from where, and how nice the other guests did or did not look. As far as conversation tone went, some people were mildly curious, others impatient, some ranging from bored to nearly frantic in confusion. If he were a betting man, Terry would wager that most of the guests were like him, in that they knew little about their host. It was a sound theory, as indicated by the enigmatic nature of the invitation and the general curiosity of the diverse body of guests. Although he was undecided about his own feelings for this 'gathering,' Terry knew he would at least have some questions concerning the suicide note in his pocket. Judging from the expectant tones some of the other guests exhibited in their manners of speaking, they had some questions as well.

              Although the peaceful setting and elegant décor belied it, the air felt like confrontation to Terry. More people were starting to drift toward the tables while servers gravitated away from the center of the room. Just aside from the network of tables was a small, cleared space with a microphone stand. As he was looking in that direction, the Australian-American noticed an aged woman standing near, radiant with excitement and in appearance. She wore a flowing dress with blacks and some white, complimenting her silver hair, her graceful posture, and her imposing smile. Terry frowned in her direction, though she was too far to notice him out of the crowd. (He didn't stand out quite as she did.) Her fervent expression did not match the other attitudes dominating the crowd. How many stares has she drawn already? Terry wondered, studying her as he would study an alien from afar, pondering her eccentricities.

              “This.. whole situation is bizarre, eh?” Came a voice, but for a moment Terry couldn't associate it with a face. Having been glancing in the other direction, he turned his head to search for the speaker, only to see a thin shape with a chocolate mop of hair slide out of his peripheral vision. Then, blinking, he followed the shape until his eyes focused on the boy standing in front of him, looking down at the table, fingering a name card. “The thought's crossed my mind,” he answered, still talking to a faceless man. He stepped back as the man moved around the table. Terry caught his name on the card across and one over from the chocolate-haired, light-toned man. His chocolate-haired friend possessed one of those unsure tones of voice, which seemed to be dominating the guest body. The seated man tried to say more, but trailed off. “I mean.. do you know what's going on? Why we were.. all....” The man's gaze seemed to look away, as he tried to say more. Terry knew he was probably frowning, with furrowed brows and a level stare, as he often did when people did not make sense to him. The piercing, baffled expression he was known for at work, as his colleagues often joked, could ignite tempers or curdle blood. Terry knew it was never helpful, but he often didn't realize when he was staring until it was too late. Of course Terry knew exactly what the younger man was trying to say, but it was impossible for him to comprehend why the guy couldn't spit it out.

              “If you could all have a seat,” a low voice rang out, saving the hesitating man from having to speak any longer, “we'd like to begin shortly. Please fill out your meal cards and your servers will take care of you.” Then the entire room turned in unison and made for the tables. A general disorderly atmosphere followed, so Terry stepped back again and waited for the rest of the guests to finish finding their seats — as they should have done earlier this evening. Amidst the mild clamor, the Hovering Man from the appetizer buffet sat adjacent to Terry's seat. Staring despite himself, the Australian-American watched as the Hovering Man fidgeted and scratched himself, seeming indecisive and oblivious to the servant waiting patiently to take his meal card. He was also oblivious to the woman he'd ran into earlier, who hovered near and glanced between the name cards. Terry wouldn't have paid her any mind either, if not for the fact that she reached for his name card and another, with the intent to fiddle with the seating arrangement, no doubt. A Russian man appeared out of nowhere and prevented her, evoking a loud response. Terry watched all of this with mild interest, likely frowning and staring again, with exaggeratedly-furrowed eyebrows. He relaxed his expression and blinked when a servant stepped in front of him. “Excuse me, sir, is everything all right?” the servant asked. After a moment's pause Terry nodded once, answering with a dismissive, “Eh? Yes. Just waiting to get to my seat.” When the waiter moved on, all of the seats in front of Terry were occupied, save his. He edged his way in an sat, located between the Hovering Man and his female assailant, and diagonally across from the chocolate-haired man. He glanced at the menu and decided to have the lobster bisque, a decadent soup flavored with butter and a plethora of balanced spices. To finally answer his unnamed acquaintance's unframed question, Terry leaned forward and said, “I don't, but I think we're about to learn.”

              After a short time, the elegant woman Terry had noticed from before stood and walked to the center of the cleared area. She was beaming, meeting the eyes of various guests, and adjusting her microphone. When she began to speak, her voice matched her demeanor, portraying a graceful person and betraying her evident excitement. She introduced herself as Daina Radvila, a representative of the hosting organization. That would be the Nocturne Organization, Terry thought with a nod. He still had the business card that proved so. Daina immediately went into a short speech, beginning with the Nocturne Organization's origin in Egypt and quickly drifting into talk of their work. “The Nocturne Organization is not conventional. What we deal with is often shunned, ridiculed, and belittled. The paranormal. The supernatural. The occult.” Terry propped one arm under his chin, forgetting formal dining etiquette at the moment. His hand covered his slightly agape jaw. But while he struggled to find his reaction to Daina's words, she continued on, confident and even joking about it. She also introduced the Russian man, Alexei, and another man called Rajesh. Terry found all of this charming, amusing even, until Daina began speaking of special abilities, and training; then her proposition of employment. During all this, Alexei and Rajesh seemed morbidly calm (even frighteningly so in the Russian's case). They were all very serious about this. As Daina finished her speech, Terry's gaze drifted among the other guests' faces, judging their individual reactions. His own thoughts were disorganized, though he had the suspicion that he wouldn't be able to resist staying that extra night. He'd come this far, after all, and didn't have to agree to anything just yet.
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              Mikhail was starting to grow slightly bored of wandering around the room trying to socialize with the people around him. He didn’t manage to bump into anyone interesting who knew French, Russian or English well enough to speak with him. The ones he manage to stumble on which he could talk with, they were to boring. Or rather, not pretty enough for him to waste his time on. So it was with great relief that he heard a new voice above all the other chatter. Something about… seat, meal… Mikhail might not have gotten everything that was said but the meaning got through to him, especially when everyone started moving towards the tables. Something he too started doing.

              Finding his seat went well and he quickly sat down while not paying much attention to the people around him. Instead he looked at the card and with great focus read it. What sounded the healthiest? Deciding not to spend an excessive amount of time on choosing dinner he quickly chose the salmon before handing the card away. There wasn’t much wait before Mikhail noted a beautiful older lady walking up to a microphone. Would she sing? Do some entertainment while they all ate? Mikhail had never been much for live entertainment while eating. It felt to him quite rude towards the ones entertaining that people were paying so little attention…

              But now it seemed she was not there to sing, but to talk. Finally. Someone who would explain this to them all. Mikhail was very eager to find out what this was all about. He couldn’t make out anything that connected the people at the dinner together, and thus he did not understand what this was about… It was with great care Mikhail listened to her voice as she spoke. Starting out as a normal speech, but Mikhail could almost feel the way it worked it’s way up to those words. Paranormal. Occult. Supernatural and so on. A new tension was immediately brought into the room. Mikhail could hear hushed whispers and feel the doubt spread through the air.

              Mikhail did not doubt. An open mind had always been something he had, including things like that. It probably came from his parents who were quite superstitious themselves and always followed silly rituals and during his childhood they had told him many stories of the magical beings living around them. So Mikhail had always figured, why not? Unless someone proved to him nothing like that existed he would not shun it. Maybe not run around seeing ghosts in everything. But at least not deny anything without proof. So he wasn’t all that shocked. With the mysterious letter and diversity of the group, he had been expecting something odd to be the reason behind this gathering. He just couldn’t figure what HE had to do with it. As far as he knew, it wasn’t like he could see ghosts, or anything else special like that…

              Sure, he was a special person… But shouldn’t they find wizards or something instead? Mikhail thoughtfully scratched the side of his head before crossing his arms over his chest as he listened to Daina. In response to her words Mikhail’s thoughts now was with his work, and the employment she spoke of. She didn’t offer many details. He wanted to know more… Would he be constantly busy? Not having time for his model work? He really wanted to succeed with that, and without commitment you couldn’t… But then again, if all what she was saying was true, which he actually thought, then wouldn’t it be the most amazing opportunity?

              In all honesty, this whole deal with a secret organization wanting him for cool paranormal jobs was just an unnecessary ego boost for Mikhail. He felt special. Correction. Even more special. That was what appealed to him the most. While the work he had was what he really wanted to do… Could he really pass up on something like this? Maybe he could… Maybe he had better things to do than run around chasing ghosts and performing exorcisms or whatever this work would be… Blinking hard two times Mikhail brought himself back to reality away from his thinking. It wouldn’t hurt to stay there for a bit longer though, just to think this through more thoroughly… But before that he needed to eat. Free dinner. He had heard that everything was good when it was free, but he couldn’t really agree with that. To him things tasted better when they were expensive… With that new train of thought planted in his mind he looked down at his food, which looked delicious no matter the price, and decided to start eating and enjoy.

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ℓσcαтιση Brooklyn мσσ∂ intrigued нεα∂αcнε soothed

                      ══════════To Casimiro, his words had seemed confident enough, friendly enough, inviting enough.. but the youth's hopes for an even slightly engaging conversation seemed dashed when the notably taller male, a mess of dark waves perched atop his head, almost seemed to shake him off. "The thought crossed my mind," Of course it had! It had to have been the question on every bodies mind's; why were they gathered into this elaborate ballroom? Simply to stand and sweat it out, hoping that this was just some strange.. expensive.. joke, as if at any time a series of camera men would parade out from the corners and halls of the building, grins on their faces as they gazed at the cluster of stylishly dressed men and woman began to blink their doe like eyes in confusion. Or perhaps they had been tricked into coming.. for a less than teasing reason. Cassie had enough skeletons in his closet to share with each of the guests, and he had seen his sketch plastered on the evening news twice before.. 'If anyone has any information on the alleged pick pocket, please call..' That never got old.. but had he really caused enough trouble to where such an elaborate charade would be orchestrated just to catch him? No.. unless maybe everyone here had some crime or secret that had gotten them in trouble with the law. Did that mean that instead of camera men police officers wielding warrants would spring at them, shouting commands and brandishing handcuffs? 'No.. you're just being silly.. what a waste of taxes that would be..' While the thoughts were running rampant in his mind, Cassie found himself barely aware of his lips moving and the partial sentence slurring out. His babbling didn't deserve a proper response.. and honestly, it didn't look like he would be getting one.

                      ══════════But just as he fell silent, and after watching a short exchange between his conversation partner and some member of the staff, some unremarkable waiter, the dark haired settled into his seat. Leaning forward, Casimiro caught the quick, “I don't, but I think we're about to learn.” The smaller male fell silent, giving nothing but a simple nod and casting a gaze towards the elderly woman approaching a podium. Elderly seemed.. inappropriate. Yes, her age was apparent, however there was something youthful about the way she stood there, the smile upon her face contagious and almost forcing a smile to split Cassie's lips. Once more catching his absentmindedness, Cassie tightened his lips, pulling his visage into a more serious expression, obviously out of place on his soft featured face. "Look at these smiling faces," Once more he felt his lips tug at their corners, settling on a gentle curl of the round lips but not letting the flesh part to reveal the white that hid behind them. "My name is Daina Radvila. And I am a repre.." 'Remember that name. Daina... Daina Radvila.. Diana.. no Daina. Daina Redvalia.. or was it Radvelia..? Daina.. focus on Daina...' It would be a fib to say that Cassie was good with names.. and it would be an outright lie to claim that he had any chance of remembering both her first and last name. "The Nocturne Organization is an international group," refocusing on the speech at hand, the unruly haired male realized that he had missed a portion of her monologue, and could only pray that it hadn't been anything important. 'International.. you can say that again.. its like I'm on the it's a small world ride, 'cept everyone's all grown up now..'

                      ══════════Casimiro's attention span truly had begun to drift, only catching partial phrases from Daina's speech, "..often shunned, ridiculed, and belittled." then, "The paranormal. The supernatural. The occult.". Paranormal? Supernatural? Occult? A frigid shudder ran down his spine, the photograph that was held snugly within the envelope in his pocket almost flaring to life, reminding him of that horrid marring of the image, now his attention was focused.. or trying to focus. But, alas, the bulk of the conversation had escaped him. There was a list of names, "Rajesh.. Nairobi.." Was Nairobi a name or a place, "..Alexei.." Either way, it was just more information to process, attempt to memorize, and most likely end up failing to do so. Then came mention of certain, "..special gifts.." but it was the proposition of, "A job opportunity," that held enrapture the lad. If anything hinting towards the supernatural, and thus indirectly Rosaria, and a business opportunity always was enough to bring the little Latino back to the conversation. 'So.. this whole party is merely to elude to the boogie man.. and then ask us if we want to work for them..?' Lips pursing, the tightly pruckered facial features skewed to the right slightly, anyone who may take their eyes off the enchanting woman would find the young male obviously deep in though. Or as deep as Cassie typical got. "You will return to your hotel and you will stay there an extra night. More instructions will be sent the day after tomorrow."

                      ══════════Really, could there be enough incentive besides satisfying his own curiosity to stay..? What did he have to lose? On one hand he could go home.. fight through the JFK Airport once more, book a flight home, land early the next morning, and return to his dreary and drab lifestyle.. on the other hand he could stay.. and try something new. He didn't have to commit to anything, never had in the past so why did that have to change? But he could see what they had to offer. After all, anything had to be better than following snowbirds about in Phoenix and stealing their retirement funds, right? The room had gone silent, and a quick glance about would show that everyone seemed to be either glaring at Daina and her companions, staring off into thought, or casting nervous glances about the room as if truly contemplating if they were allowed to get up and leave. There were a few exceptions of course, and Cassie decided to make one more. Leaning forward as the dark haired man had earlier, Cassie whispered, "So.. was that what you were expecting..? A good ghost story and a business offer?" Arching a brow, playfulness returning to his all too serious features before settling down in his seat once more. This had been more than he had expected.. or had it? Cassie only felt anger when he chose to come visit on this little vacation. Rage at the fact that they had taken.. or.. bought.. or.. whatever! They had this photo and it didn't belong to them.. that was that. Simple. But now that he had sat through the lecture curiosity replaced the other, more violent, emotions that had once filled him. It was settled, he would stay.. why not?

                      ══════════Prompting further, he asked again, "I mean.. there's really no reason not to, right?" The simple, slightly louder, sentence earned him a few more-than-hostile looks from those about the immediate area. Both young and old were among those that seemed to frown upon his openness to the offer, which tickled Cassie slightly, while feeling a lurch in the pit of his stomach at the same time. Around the room is seemed as it there were others that had a similar mindset, some rising and heading to the doors, but some standing.. and simply standing. Looking to those that offered them this opportunity, looking to the others standing about almost afraid to actually begin towards their hosts. 'Hadn't they told us we could greet them..? That we could step forward and have a small word?' Tossing one last glance to the individual he spoke with prior, uncertain as to why he kept waiting for the stranger to stand and stroll forward with him. But Cassie wouldn't wait for long.. his mind was made up, and there really wasn't a reason to act like children who hide behind their mother's skirts. Moving less than gracefully across the center of the room, his stroll slowing the closer he got to the two men and their female equal. Keeping a respectable distance of a few feet, and lifting his right hand lazily into the air, Cassie politely greeted, "Hola señora¹ Daina. Mister Alexei, Mister..." Pausing, crinkling his nose for a moment as he searched for the name of the last man, Cassie's eyes lit up for a moment, remembering one of the stranger names that he had heard, "..Nairobi. The name is Casimiro.. it's nice to meet your acquaintances." Letting the hand fall to his side, not realizing the error in name, Cassie seemed to be trying to put his best foot forward, even if it made him a spectacle for the other guests, leaving or staying, to gawk at.


                      ¹ Hello, madam..

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                                              ❝Give them pleasure - the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.
                                              ❝_Alfred Hitchcock


                                                      Filler! Quietly sitting in her seat, her legs crossed, eyes darting from person to person, Isra watched and studied each socializing person. The first her eyes darted to a group of three people, a magnificently dressed woman of silver hair aged obviously but youth was evident in the air of her presence. A man of Indian descent, or at least it looked like, mystery shrouded him but his mystery was only exceeded by the calm man of cold eyes also gray in the hair. He had aged less gracefully than the woman, it was a strange, to say the least that these people so different from each other seemed to stand together as one entity. Isra shifted in her seat, her eyes the traveling to a blond man of decent length hair, quite feminine to say the least but his bone structure gave off his gender. Isra studied the way he fluttered from one person to the next very selective of those he spoke with, and even when he did speak it wasn't for long. Isra mentally noted snobby, removed and self centered she wondered if it was with in good reason for him to have such a high ego. Her eyes then traveled to a woman she had a bright smile and was speaking with an overly nervous tell brown man. He was so tall he towered over the girl and yet she seemed to strike fear in him, on them she noted Possibly Indian, clumsy, defiant, and interesting. Some sort of Spanish, I think, nervous and dislikes close proximity. Both equally interesting and strange they seemed to separate for a moment as they came towards the tables she seemed to be trying to tamper with the seating arrangements, the gray haired man of the entity stopped her, Isra chuckled as the Indian woman stuck out her tongue at the man Yes defiant. she confirmed.

                                                      Filler! "If you could all have a seat, we'd like to begin shortly. Please fill out your meal cards and your servers will take care of you." Isra looked about herself to see where the voice came from she couldn't connect the voice to a person. so she shrugged it off, a card was placed in front of her the letters were in Anglo Saxon again boy was that beginning to bother her the server pointed to each dish and began to translate them in Arabic سمك السلمون والأرز طبق بيلاو Isra circled it and looked up at the server "Salmon?" the server nodded and pulled away the card. Stifling a yawn she tried to cover with her hand and went back to observing. She began to observe a man that seemed to have a permanent frown on his face, curious he must have a caustic look on things to always have a frown. Isra let out a large yawn and shook her head, yawning in public was rude she mumbled to herself, almost wishing no one saw that, she'd be ashamed. Her attention was brought to that silver haired woman from the entity as she made her way towards the microphone, her dress twirling at her ankles mesmerizing Isra. The woman began to speak Isra's eyes grew wildly excited she'd now know everything. Why she was here but as the woman that stood by the microphone introduced herself. Isra frowned she was speaking in english... sure Isra understood a couple of words.

                                                      Filler!Isra frowned she wouldn't have this, she wanted to understand everything. Servers passed by with food that the guests orders as one passed her giving a plate of chicken to a guest seated near her. She grasped his sleeve as he went to move away.الرجاء ترجمتها وأنا لا أفهم. The man nodded and stood up straight, his posture was something to marvel at. Isra tried to correct her slouching posture looking at the man he began to open his mouth and translated everything that the woman was saying. Her name, Daina, the others of the entity Rajesh and Alexei. Isra forgot about correct posture and leaned on to the table, feeling even more drawn in by this woman. The Nocturne Organization, so that's the name of the entity they are one through, an organization.
                                                      Isra chuckled at the ghost busters joke, yes that movie originated in America but subtitles were a wonder, she knew the movie well.

                                                      The man the translated "The paranormal. The supernatural. The occult." Isra sat up and looked at him. He must have translated wrong, Ms.Daina couldn't l have possibly said that. "w-what is this?" A puzzled Isra looked up at the server, he just nodded confident in what he was translating. Isra found it hard to focus after, all she could think about was the doll enclosed in the letter, the store clerk that disappeared, then the woman in the market that disappeared. Isra's jaw dropped there was no way that there is something supernatural with her life. she refused to believe what the man was translating. it was shattering her world as she knew it. Bringing new questions to what she knew as reality, yet despite the feelings cluttering her mind she stayed in her seat. Barely listening any more she just decided to send the man to retrieve her salmon.

                                                      By the time it came back to her seat though Isra wasn't in it in fact she was back towards the entrance. A glass of water in her nervous clutches, if she walked back out through that door she'd be cold but things would make sense. If she stayed she'd be introduced to a new world entirely. It would seem that her thoughts read on her face because the man that had taken her coat asked her "So what are you going to do?" Isra was startled by the sudden voice and dropped the glass of water. She crouched and picked up the glass "soh-ree" she gave her apology and scrambled away from the man. In the hall entering the ball room she weighed the pro's and cons of staying. This was an escape from waiting for Aytac's return, there was nothing outside of here for her and this was offering a change. what is there to loose? Holding the empty glass in her hands she quietly makes her way back in to the room and places the empty glass on a servers empty tray she returned to her seat to be greeted with her salmon dish... still warm.

                                                      Please translate, I do not understand.

ooc: posting for Mr. Apple since his account got locked

Mr. Apple Juice
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))Due to the difficulty of reading extensive translation the following conversation has been written in English. BOLD/ITALICS indicated statements in translated Romanian((

                      "You've just gotten back from your second trip to Nicaragua. You must be exhausted." said the raven haired mother. She sat on the neatly made bed of her only son. Her posture was reserved and stoic yet she exuded matriarchal warmth. Though her sentiments were genuine, her son felt her mentality was somewhat lacking.

                      "They're not trips. I do work there, you know. Important work." Tudor, the son of the raven haired woman, struggled to choose his words wisely. Two-years of honest interaction on his peace-corp tour had caused him to nearly lose his sense of tone when speaking to her. His words came smoothly enough but in his haste they also came with a very childish ring. For a moment Tudor winced, not from the pain of plucking his eyebrows, (a grooming activity his mother had advised) but instead as a preemptive reaction to the scolding he was expecting to receive. He stood before his bathroom mirror, donned in a tank top, boxers and long black dress socks.

                      "Don't whine miro chavo!" she nagged. "It's unbecoming of a young man."

                      "Yes, Daj."

                      "I understand how important your work is and I am so proud of you but you cannot carry the world on your shoulders all the time. Where does this come from? Why do you feel the need to take on the world? It's a product of your orientation isn't it? You don't have to hide who you are. Not from me. You need not prove anything to me, chikno."

                      "Daj, Stop psychoanalyzing me." This time Tudor spoke firmly. There were very few things he wouldn't tolerate from his mother. Becoming a product of her work was one of them. Now that he was an adult, he considered her psychiatric analysis of him to be a breach of his mental privacy. Unfortunately, since his childhood this was the dynamic of their mother-son relationship and Tudor's indignance seemed to always stand second to her mothering habits. Now tested, Tudor brushed his teeth.

                      "Oh chikno, please! I beg that you be who you want to be. For god's sake you're in your prime. Twenty-five! Make plenty of love while you still can!" She urged. "The young think they can keep their youth forever but that's not how life is. As you get older the youth goes with you. Your father and I had already had your sister by your age! and your sister her son!" Tudor's tooth brush was the only thing holding back a couple rather snide rebuttals about how his parents didn't have Tudor until his sister was ten and how his sister had just managed to get married quickly enough to make her son a convincing preemie. Nothing like a surprise wedding less than a year after your father dies.
                      "Just make sure you use protection. God knows with all these diseases, I wouldn't want my child to catch something." Appalled, Tudor nearly choked on his toothbrush as she brought him his evening attire.

                      "Daj! Have some shame." he sputtered just as he wiped the mess of water and toothpaste from his face. "Thank you." he added quietly as she handed him his dress shirt.

                      "Oh! Don’t use that tone with me! Like you say, I'm your mother and I know what's best for you. I know you're doing important things but please, live while you’re alive." Her words were like friendly fire that Tudor let fly through him. He appreciated her enthusiasm but resented the fact that up until this point in his life his mother had pushed him to be a driven and successful person; the kind of person for whom relaxing was no longer an option.

                      "I wish your grandfather could see you now. Bato would be so proud of you; you, doing the same work as he."

                      "Grandpa... The Witchdoctor?" His voice carried just the slightest hint of irony. He slid on his jet black pants and tucked in his shirt.

                      "He was a medicine man," She corrected him, as she always did. "A healer, just like you and your father."

                      "Tată was a Romanian Politician..." he couldn't hold back his sarcasm.

                      "Your father cured more woe's with his work than any doctor has with his hands. Your father was a humanitarian, politics were merely his medium."

                      "Politics are politics, Daj."

                      "Yes, he was not perfect. He had his flaws, as much as any man but he was a good man and he left you a good life. So, you never speak ill of him. Understand?"
                      She spoke sharply, waving her finger.

                      "Yes, Daj. I apologize." He finished dressing himself, waiting for her visual scrutiny.

                      "I know you didn't mean anything by it. After all it took you the longest to get over his death." She smoothed out his jacket lapel and straightened his collar and bow-tie. Her dark blue eyes finally landing on his. "I remember, you resented me for weeks after he died. Saying one thing or another. "Daj! Shame! Don't talk like Tată is dead." "Daj! Stop, he can hear you. He's going to get angry!" What a relief it was when you attended his service and finally came back to reality."

                      "Yes, Daj."

                      "You were stuck in stage one for such a long time. I feared you'd go insane. Death is such a hard thing for a child to cope with. It's not uncommon for the young to view death as temporary or repairable. They can rarely mourn with the same maturity as adults. It was completely understandable, your actions, but still I feared; as I always fear for you my son."
                      The worry in her eyes was so severe Tudor could barely stand to look at her. He turned silently to view himself in the mirror. The suit fit superbly. His mother must have informed their tailor of Tudor's recent weight loss. Even though he focused on himself in the mirror he could feel his mother's eyes on him. "You are so troubled and you harbor it alone. Your father was the same way..." her voice trailed off.

                      "Daj... You're doing it again." He turned, clasped her hands tightly and smiled. "Truly, I'm fine."

                      "That's just it, miro chavo. You're 'fine.' Not well, not great, but 'fine.' 'Fine' is a cry for help you know? You've been 'fine' for the last 11 years... Since your father passed all you've been is 'fine.' Why don't you let me in?" She looked as though she were on the edge of crying. Tudor took her into his arms and hugged her tightly.

                      "Daj. Don't fear for me. I don't need your fear. I need your support, your trust. I'm a grown man now." He released her after a moment and once again made eye contact. "Okay?"

                      "Yes, I'm sorry. It's hard for me. You may have grown but you'll always be my baby." She wiped away a few rogue tears and collected herself. She brushed some invisible dust from his shoulders then with an awkward jerk tipped Tudor's chin up, adjusting his posture. "Don't slouch! and you're late, Tudor!" she scolded.

                      "Yes, Daj." Inwardly Tudor chuckled. Somehow her bullets didn't seem to hurt him so much anymore. He stepped passed her with a smile and put on his shiny black shoes.

                      "Your limousine is downstairs." she said as she stepped out of the bathroom and straightened her shawl. Tudor's face grimaced for a moment. A limousine was quite unnecessary; a shallow and wasteful luxury. She must have seen his face for she added. "You said it was a Black-Tie affair."

                      Tudor nodded and rushed out the door before any more drama could make its way into his evening. Within moments he was downstairs and in the limousine. In his rush he’d forgotten to bring a coat. The limousine promptly took him to his destination, with literally no interaction between Tudor and his driver. As the young Romanian stepped out of the car he sputtered a curse. The chill of New York was bitter and he was still accustomed to the warmth and humidity of Nicaragua. To escape the cold he quickly he made his way into the party, breezing past the man who was to take his coat and into the main hall where various guests had taken their seats. Luckily a few stragglers were still searching. Tudor took the cue and found his seat in a matter of seconds. Like clockwork he scanned through the menu and looked for what the most sophisticated easy to eat meal. A trick he’d learned from his father’s mother. He could remember her advice vividly, “Tudor, you want to show those around you that you are sophisticated but no one wants to watch you pick through fish bones or the cartilage of meat. No recipes that involve whole spices that you’ll end up having to spit up due to their inedibility. Foie Gras, bacon wrapped scallops and filet mignon are always good choices. NEVER order ethnic seafood. The smell can be offensive and they often involve the customer having to work their way through shells and pinchers. Also, if you can’t pronounce it DON’T ORDER IT.”

                      After he’d ordered, just as he settled his attention was drawn to an elderly woman who spoke at the fore of the room. Her disposition was puzzling. It was like seeing the collision of a young girl and her great-grandmother. At first glance her large youthful smile and playful demeanor would make you think she was a child at heart but she also seemed to carry a sort of wisdom and command that came with years. Tudor listened attentively as she spoke. The things she was saying came across a little batty, but her aptitude in speaking and utter confidence held Tudor in a strange place.

                      “Except we do not have such foolish things as vacuum cleaners with a few fancy gadgets. Maybe we could if our budget allowed” and “Special gifts and abilities.” Sounded like some sort of ploy for money. Luckily for Tudor, at this point in his life he had very little personal claim to his families fortune and as he gazed across the room he could see many who’s attire didn’t quite stand up to the definition of ‘black-tie’; A clear indication of a not so wealthy standing.

                      Openly Tudor tried to swallow the rather large pill Daina was trying to feed him. He did his best to not let the fear of this possible truth shield him from it, but it really did sound quite vague and farfetched. As she finished her speech Tudor could feel the air of discomfort settle in the large ball-esque room. Even the lavish and sophisticated décor couldn’t distract one from the proverbial elephant in the room. Tudor’s food was brought to him and politely he started to eat. From what he could tell, those at his table weren’t fluent English speakers. He could make out a bit of what he was sure was Italian and he caught a few words of Spanish that the man sitting across from him spoke under his breath. All words of general uneasiness. Silently Tudor thought to himself about the unclear proposition he had been made. In his mind he fixed himself on a set of words the silver-haired woman had said. “The paranormal. The supernatural. The occult. Magicks and folklore."

                      Tudor decided to play along. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If everything she said was a farce then Tudor could step back and speak about how he was merely playing along. And if it were all real… Then he would handle it accordingly or something… He took a sip of water as he continued to eat.

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                      Romani Translations
                      Chikno: Son
                      Miro Chavo: My Boy
                      Daj: Mama
                      Bato: Grandpa

                      Romanian Translations
                      Tată: Papa
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Early Morning Morning Noon Afternoon Evening Late Night

Sun Rain Thunder Lightening Wind Snow Hail Storm Overcast

Hot Cold Warm Lukewarm Brisk

7 AM

The hotel, and the Manhattan NO office

New recruits are arriving for the first day of training
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                                    Josefina Vasquez had one of the dirtier jobs in the N.O. because she had the misfortune of working directly with bodies. Living or dead, she didn't like them very much. But the N.O. had a way of getting to people, of making them do what they wanted. And she was one of them. However, she also had a very comfortable home in Brazil, and most of the amenities she needed, and a few more that she simply wanted. But she deserved the exhorbitant amount that they paid her. She was the best at what she did, it helped having a power that allowed you to see inside the human body as if it were a building - full access to the inner workings and the blueprints. And like it or not, she was extremely good at what she did. The best, even. And there was of course the fact that she knew she was the best. Which was why she could demand money even from the crotchety Alexei if she felt she deserved it, especially for a risky assignment or one that took a lot out of her, she demanded a stipend.

                                    Unapologetic and fiery, the woman was setting up in the headquarter. She had several pads of paper and all the equipment that she needed to conduct her tests. The building wasn't anything special. It looked like any other office building nestled in New York. It had cubicles and desk jockeys. It had that one office for the head supervisor with the great view. And in one of the backrooms, there was a room set up that would do any of the major hospitals proud. She clocked into work, as usual, and looked at a certain grumpy Russian man and the files given to her. Arching her eyebrow at Alexei, she asked in a cool voice "And these are for?" "The new team. Or one of them, at least. We need full physical workups." She sighed in irritation. "How full are we talking?" "Well, basic biometrics, vital signs, cardiovascular, respiratory, genetic, and neurological. And when you're done with your assessments, pick an alias for them." "Want me to see if I can find the purpose of life while I'm at it?"

                                    He was unamused. "I'm sure you'll figure out the result before I do, why don't you just hang out and give me a day off?" The Russian looked less amused and with a quickly deteriorating demeanor, she made her way to the hospital room. The eight people she'd be assessing were sitting there and she gave each of them an evil eye. She'd be there for at least four hours. And this wasn't exactly the type of physical they were used to. Once in the room Josefina looked at the files and picked the first one, looking at it. Benjamin Guiterrez Cabrera. She arched her eyebrow. Diagnosed schizo, OCD, antisocial disorder, and ADHD. She'd get him over with first. Skimming the rest of the rather diverse folders, she also saw a mortician, a desk jockey, a biologist, a model, a marine biologist, a thief, and an agriculturalist. The biokinetic cracked her knuckles and opened up the door. "First body. Benjamin Guiterrez Cabrera."
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                                          Benji was... confused.

                                          He attributed his confusion to the reason why he had stayed in the hotel room that next night. Braving the crowds, he explored New York for part of a day until he fell to pieces with a panic attack and returned to the hotel room. On the hotel room bed he'd discovered an address and a time. 7 AM, at a building somewhere in Manhattan. There was also a note that said Transportation will be provided. Nervously he peeked around his room seeing if by any chance, there was a ninja hiding in the shadows. Or maybe a ghost was more appropriate. Sitting on the bed, he turned over the card in his hand. He thought about the meeting, the speech by that Daina woman. He'd liked her. Not so much the Russian man. His green-gray eyes had scared him.

                                          The Argentine man was sitting on his bed dressed in worn straight-legged jeans and a plain white t-shirt with a gray zip-up hoodie. He'd left his brush back in Argentina so the best he'd managed to do was wet it and make it look slightly less hassled. Benji was back to being not quite clean-shaven and he couldn't bring himself to care too much. Not knowing what to do, coupled with the desire to not do anything proved a dilemma for him. Sitting on the bed, he fidgeted, with not even a person to call. Not that he liked cell phones all that much. So in a typical Benji fashion, he just didn't have one. It wasn't as if he grew up with much money either, he didn't see the need to indulge in fancy gadgets that were superfluous. It was surprising to the few in Argentina who knew him* and also knew that he once had been a mechanical engineer major**.

                                          At exactly 6:58AM Benji received a call on his phone in the room. Letting out a quick scream, he fell off the bed and popped up on his knees, looking around for the ninja*** again before crawling over to the phone and cradling the receiver. "Hola...?" "Hello Mr. Guiterrez Cabrera, your ride is waiting outside the hotel." Benji blinked and nodded. Aware that the telephone wasn't visual, he also added a halting "Okay." Luckily at the dinner one of the servers had noticed his complete confusion when the woman started speaking. A female servant stood by and translated next to him. Even if he hadn't understood though, Benji had a lurking feeling that he still would have gone. Hanging up the phone, Benji hoped that what he was wearing would be okay, since there was no set agenda stated.

                                          Making his way out of the hotel, he nodded at the bellhop and played with the zipper of his hoodie, running it up and down. Out in front of the hotel was a black Cadillac car with a driver in a somber black suit holding up a sign that said 'Guiterrez Cabrera'.**** Benji looked up at the driver and tried to smile but it didn't really work. She nodded and held the door open for him. On the way, he fidgeted, wriggling in his seat, chewing on his bottom lip, and wringing his hands if they weren't playing with the zipper. When the car slowed down in front of the nonedescript gray building, he was slightly confused. It seemed so normal. So with apprehension, he got out, closing the car door. Unfortunately in his timid manner he'd tried not to slam it and it took a couple times until he got the door firmly shut.

                                          In the building he was greeted by a receptionist. A receptionist in a white shirt and a black pencil skirt looked up at him from behind black-rimmed rectangle glasses. With a sunny smile that matched her blond hair she said "Mr. Guiterrez Cabrera, hello, would you mind waiting in the room down the hall, and we'll see you as soon as we can." He looked at where she motioned to a door that said 'NEW EMPLOYEES'. Looking around, it was nothing spectacular. There were cubicles and people working at the copy machine and on the phone and on the computer. 'NOCTURNE' was written in fancy script on a logo above the desk that the receptionist worked at. He felt underdressed and very out of place. But he went to the 'waiting area' where there was a bit of a lounge and relaxation area set up.

                                          Looking from the water cooler to the fake palm plants to the window with the slightly dusty blinds to the chairs, and wondered if he was in the wrong place or if the translator had messed something out. But instead he just sat around waiting, keeping to himself and staying quiet. A very angry-looking woman that seemed Colombian to him made her way across and looked very... angry. That was all he could think of. He sat and avoided eye contact with anyone until he heard his name be called. "First body. Benjamin Guiterrez Cabrera." Feeling terrified, he stood up and walked over, where there seemed to be a hospital room set up, and a very unhappy Colombian in blue scrubs. Before he could try to say anything she tossed a flimsy-looking cotton fabric at him. 'Off with the clothes, put these on."

                                          It took Benji several agitating minutes until he finally took off his clothes and put on the medical gown, feeling awkward in his boxers and the rather scathing cloth. His eyes were wide and his lip was thoroughly chewed and the skin of his hands completely worn out from the constant wringing. His breathing was starting to quicken. "Sit down." Hesitatingly, he sat on the examination table. "Don't worry. It shouldn't hurt too badly."

                                          - - -

                                          Benji hadn't been touched by somebody in so many ways since Alejandra had died, and in this case, it wasn't pleasant at all. The most uncomfortable had been the fact that she didn't need a stethoscope or any tools or anything. She simply placed her hand on whatever part of his body that she needed to. His chest, ribs, back, arms, legs, and his head. For a solid ten minutes of the entire half-hour ordeal, she'd stood with her hands moving around his head, from his temple to the front, back, and down his spinal cord. The only sounds that could be heard was Benji's heavy and slightly frantic breathing, and the scratch of her pen. She made no attempts at conversation and made no point to say what it was that she was taking notes of*****. She'd only speak to either dig at him or make him do something such as breathe in and out or flex a muscle. Benji was close to having a panic attack, and tried to calm himself down by counting the various things in the room until a voice said "Can you say ventriloquist, Argentinean?"

                                          Benji's eyes widened in panic. "Ay..." "No, ventriloquist." "Veeentree..." His face contorted as he tried to wrap his mouth and tongue around it. "Vent-tree-lou-quee...?" He looked helpelessly and the woman snapped her fingers as she looked at her chart. "Come on. Come on. Really, say it." Benji started to breathe faster, feeling the blood rushing and his head becoming light. The pressure was starting to get to him. "Well, great, send in the FOBs, do they? We'll call you Vent." "Veent?" "Close enough. Get out of here. Send in the mortician. Or if you're too stupid to say that, 'dead body chick' works too."

                                          Changing back into his clothes, Benji felt abused and slightly violated. Going into the room where they had been stationed before, he tried to remember what the Colombian had said. "Dead body girl?"

                                          * Once again, these are mostly people who are dead

                                          ** Even fewer and father between. An admissions officer who was now clinically senile, Alejandra's sister, and one person who'd happened to notice Benji in the back of the room because they'd dropped the pencil and it rolled under his desk. Benji, being a nervous eighteen year old, stared blankly and when he understood what was going on, he became flustered enough to need to go out and get a drink of water.

                                          *** Or considering this organization, ghost?

                                          **** This was in very small print because being Hispanic, having two last names made it rather on the long side.

                                          ***** In fact, Benji was secretly becoming suspicious whether or not she was actually a doctor at all, or if this was all some sort of perverted trick where he would end up on a number of websites. Benji could see only basic machinery and saw no stethoscopes or pressure-arm-thingies at all.
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                                                  Something that didn’t happen often to Ladli Singh happened. She stopped eating.

                                                  Daina’s words were so intriguing she couldn’t hold her focus on the fork and food at hand. “What we deal with is often shunned, ridiculed, and belittled.” Ladli looked up at the beautiful woman before her. I hear that… And she really did. Ladli, being the strange woman that she was, she was used to those words. Her father was a frequent reason that she felt them, but looking up into Daina’s eyes, she felt like there was a woman who could understand her. Even if she was strange and liked dead bodies more than ones that were alive. Ladli couldn’t say that she fully believed in what the woman was saying, but there was no question whether or not she was going to stay. She was absolutely going to. If anything, it was because she wanted to know more about this organization, about this woman—even the grumpy grey-haired man behind her. They seemed like people she could connect with and get information from. She chewed on her lip, thinking about herself. Why would she have been contacted by these people. She looked around her. Was there something special about everyone sitting around these tables? Was it possible? She glanced back over at the man she’d knocked into. He had something special about him? She supposed that it made more sense than anyone else in this wide room—well, with the exception of the young-eyed older woman speaking.

                                                  After leaving the party, the Indian woman’s head was spinning with questions and ideas. She went to sleep with strange thoughts and had strange dreams. When she woke up the next day it was to the telephone ringing. With her face still buried in the pillow, her hair a tangle on the sheets, Ladli answered, “Hullo?” It came out in a muffled garble. “Good morning! This is your wake up call. There should be a car arriving for you in a half hour. Have a good morning!” “Mmhmm…” Wanting more sleep she curled into a warm little ball under the covers, her hair in her face, tickling her nose. She moaned a complaint before sliding out of the bed and onto the floor in a heap. “What am I going to wear…?” She crawled across the room to her bag and shuffled through it. She pulled a pair of loose-fitting trouser jeans out, followed by a London City U t-shirt and a grey button up sweater. She showered the night before, so it was straight to dressing then hair and teeth brushing. She put a little eye-liner on and rubbed some lip balm on. She grabbed her mittens, hat, scarf and her coat. She really wished it wasn’t so cold, but thought of a bagel to keep her thoughts off the weather. She’d be going out in the frigid damp mess soon enough.

                                                  Bagel in hand, Ladli went outside and found that a sleek black car was waiting for her. It seemed more than a little strange as the car scooted off. She popped her headphones in and scrolled her iPod to “Keane” and let it shuffle within the artist’s folder while it drove to their unknown destination. The building seemed… normal. Too normal for the speech given last night. So much so, that the girl was seriously wondering if this wasn’t some hoax to lure her in and then steal her organs, afterwards she’d wake up in a bathtub filled with dirty water and quite a few large incisions that were bumpily stitched back up. She swallowed thickly and walked through the doors. Again. More horridly normal displays. A receptionist in a sexy skirt greeted her with a smile. She was motioned to a waiting room and when she went in, she hated it. Fake plants. There was nothing that she disliked more in a room than fake plants. What was the point? Honestly. All they did was collect dust, which was really just human skin particles, among other things that she didn’t want to think of. She noticed the man from before and made sure to give him a wide berth, she didn’t want a repeat of last night. She did, however, toss him a careless smile. It was easy to tell that he needed to smile more often, all people did, even if they didn’t feel like it. Smiling worked.

                                                  When he was whisked away by the angry-looking woman, Ladli felt for the poor man. If she had scared him yesterday, this woman must seem like some kind of hellhound out for blood (there was a part of her that wouldn’t have been surprised had that been the case). The woman in question looked positively abhorrent. She seemed mean and grumpy and worst of all, she seemed completely content in that state. It went against everything that Ladli had been taught to do. You weren’t supposed to frown, you were supposed to smile. When you smiled you gave off an air of confidence and made other people comfortable—but better yet, if you smiled, you usually made yourself feel better! It was a choice with no negative repercussions. She didn’t even want to get into the aspects of frowning other than the obvious, it gave you wrinkles. Not that Ladli was vain enough to care much about that. But she’d rather look pleasant and skip the crow’s feet. Some people were filtering into the small, painfully plain waiting room. She recognized some of them, and smiled at all of them. It was rather early in the morning, but she managed one for everyone. Nothing better than a smile to start the day. She made a point to smile at herself in the mirror before leaving the house everyday.

                                                  It seemed pretty quiet in the room. Ladli desperately wanted to know what was going on in there. She felt for the poor man, Benji. She felt protective of him (which was strange seeing how she didn’t know him at all). But maybe she felt this way because the man seemed so utterly defensive? He wore all he had out on his sleeve. That could be dangerous in a world full of women like that angry, messy haired grouch-pants. When he came out, he looked worse than before. She wanted to stand up and give him a hug. “Dead body girl?” Ladli frowned for a moment before realizing that he probably meant her. She fixed her smile back in place and looked around. When no one stood up, she figured that it was probably her the words referenced. As she walked passed Benji, she patted his arm lightly and took a deep breath before renewing her smile and walking into the room. The woman rivaled her father with the sour look on her face. All manner of comments involving pickles and lemons came to mind, but she thumped them down and just smiled, “ ‘Mornin’. I’m assumin’ that I’m the ‘dead body girl’ that you’re requiring?” Judging by the set up it was going to be some kind of physical and this woman would be performing it. “Yeah… Just be quiet and put the gown on.” She looked down at her chart for a second and then snapped her head back up, “What are you so happy about?” Ladli’s smile faltered a fraction, “N-nothin’. Just smiling…”

                                                  It was worse than she’d thought it was going to be. She slid her shirt off, keeping herself covered and a sharp voice from behind her cut across the room, “Hurry up, you don’t have much to be shy about.” Somehow she managed to keep her smile on her incredulous face. “Right… There were other remarks and plenty of prodding and poking. She was grateful when it was over and she could put her clothes back on. “Okay, we’re calling you Ouiji. Leave and tell the paper pusher to get in here.” Ladli wanted to hit her. She was just so…awful. But, mostly just to spite her, the Indian woman flashed a Colgate smile at her before walking out of the room. She tried to not look too harried and straightened her sweater. “Um, whoever can be defined as a ‘paper pusher’ it’s, your turn on the wheel of death.”

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Toothsome Fairy

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              Terry had questions. As he sat in his seat, swapping his gaze between his food and the three hosts of the affair, they accumulated within his mind. Just what kind of job do they mean? … Ghostbusters? How dangerous would that be? … How much would we get paid? … Just what does 'special gifts, abilities' mean? The other guests were thinking along the same lines, of course. Or perhaps their thoughts only revolved around, What the hell do these guys smoke? Terry couldn't know that, but he did know that he believed Daina. With some reserve. His thoughts were interrupted by the chocolate-haired man's words. “So.. was that what you were expecting?” He asked Terry. Obviously not. “A good ghost story and a business offer?” He was taking the bizarre news in playful stride, Terry saw. The Australian-American shook his head, exhaling, and offered a brief reply: “The two don't normally mix, that's for sure.” The chocolate-haired man wasn't finished speaking, however. “I mean.. there's really no reason not to, right?” He asked. Not to … what? Not to stick around? Terry tried to understand what he could only assume was thinking out loud. “'Spose not,” he answered with a shrug. Evidently, some of the nearby guests disagreed with the sentiment.

              The person speaking to Terry stood up, looking at the trio of hosts. He hesitated, wanting to approach them, Terry saw. Of course, nobody would want to be the first person to do so. Then the chocolate-haired person glanced back at Terry. Oh. He wants me to come with him, he realized. Terry gave a short exhalation, surprised by the … attachment. Terry hadn't thought the situation through; he actually wanted to just leave, questions be damned. Talking to these people was something he wanted no part of until he'd had time to compose himself. The speech just prior had been surprising, to use an understatement, and he wasn't entirely sure of his own opinion. (In reality, he was completely sure of his opinion. His logically operating brain, however, did not want him to be so sure just yet.) But this man, with his chocolate hair and curious eyes, still young enough to have soft, childish features, turned and approached the hosts. Terry stood, bracing his hands against the table and watching the person go. There was a pang of defeat as he ignored the people around him and made to follow.

              Terry caught up just in time to hear the man's introduction. “Hola señora Daina. Mister Alexei, Mister... Nairobi. The name is Casimiro.. it's nice to meet your acquaintances.” So Terry now possessed a name to the face; the chocolate-haired man was now Casimiro. When an appropriate gap in the conversation presented itself, Terry introduced himself as well. “I'm Terry.” Daina continued to act as the spokesperson for the trio, smiling and accepting the introductions, even shaking hands. Again, waiting until Casimiro had spoken his thoughts or questions, Terry used a gap in the conversation to speak. Assuming the position of a person who wholeheartedly believed Daina's speech, Terry asked, “Could you elaborate on the ... employment? What are you offering, exactly?” Of all the things to ask. He could have asked about the special abilities, or the danger involved, or even the letter they somehow conjured. Instead, his practical mind pushed him to ask about the job and the pay. But it was too late to rescind the question.


              The next day was not pleasant for Terry. He woke to the alarm he had set, a blaring, beeping siren that punched him out of a restful slumber. The air smelled like reality, and for the next few minutes Terry remained still, organizing his mind and trying to decipher what had happened last night. That he was still in the hotel room told him it hadn't been a dream. Though he'd decided to stay the extra night before ever talking to Daina, what she said had not deterred him, either. He'd left the event by taxi, calling a service and having to wait twenty minutes for it to arrive. When Terry had entered the vehicle, he gave the taxi driver his hotel's address, seeking no detours. When Terry had finally stumbled into his room, rather tired and with a mind buzzing full of thoughts, he had curled up against the headboard of the bed and drew for hours.

              Right, his sketchpad was lying open, face-down on the floor beside the bed. He sat up, enduring the brief blast of morning nausea that came with sunlight. With a yawn and a groan, Terry put his sketchpad away, showered, got dressed. For today he did not worry about making an overly dressed up appearance. Terry wore jeans and sneakers among his outfit, and added a jacket to fend off the worst of the biting chill. Today a taxi was more difficult to hail, and Terry was afraid of being late. He hadn't remembered to worry about leaving at the correct time today; so distracting was this whole business to him. The image of Daina returned to him. She was definitely a good spokesperson, he decided. Her appearance was magnetic. It would be difficult for anyone to have a bad first impression of her.

              The building was, again, normal. Terry was directed by a receptionist with glasses toward a room down one of the halls. People were busy performing menial tasks at cubicles; no one paid Terry, an intruder to the magically normal network here, any mind. The room he had been directed to contained seating, a water cooler, and useless fake plant decorations. The seating looked cushy, and Terry chose to sit in a seat adjacent to no other chairs. To refrain from having to stare at the other few individuals who gave Daina's speech some trust, Terry positioned his elbows on his knees, leaning his head forward to rest into the cup of his palms. He sensed movement but did not look up. Finally, a voice called out a name. “Benjamin Guiterrez Cabrera.” At that, Terry looked up, and he recognized the man who stood. Benjamin, he thought, repeating the name in his head. Half an hour later he looked up again to see Benjamin walk out of the adjacent room. And this man did not look happy. “Dead body girl?” Came Benjamin's voice. He sounded more unhappy than he looked. For a moment, Terry couldn't fathom what that was supposed to mean. Then a woman he also recognized (no name for this face, yet) stood up and passed Benjamin by.

              Terry lost track of the time, but at some point the person he could only think of as 'Dead Body Girl' returned. It was easy to tell that she hadn't enjoyed herself in the room with Scrubs, as Terry defined the woman wearing such clothing. Then Dead Body Girl called out, telling Terry that he was next. “Um, whoever can be defined as a 'paper pusher' it's, your turn on the wheel of death.” At this, Terry looked up again, blinking. Now he had a face and a voice for this woman, but as of yet no name. With a quick exhalation he stood, rolling his shoulders to rid them of cramps. “Sounds pleasant,” he commented dryly, before he entered the other room.

              In the presence of Scrubs, who was some sort of physician, Terry was instructed to take off his clothes and wear a thin apron-looking gown. The woman showed no interest in him, not even looking up from her notes until he had stopped rustling and making sounds. “Sit down,” she instructed, “don't move.” Very orderly, down-to-business sounding. For the next thirty minutes Terry endured a variety of touching. This doctor seemed to have no need of medical instruments. She had no stethoscope, no sphygmomanometer, no electronic monitors. She only used her hands, placing them on his chest, around his upper arm, against his forehead, on the nape of his neck. After this went on for a couple of minutes, Terry recovered from his initial surprise. “I think you're missing something important. You know, instruments? The woman paused with her work, looking at him. More accurately, glaring. Then she resumed the work with her hands, even less gentle than before. Terry was content to watch her actions after that, probably to stare with his alienating expression that wouldn't affect her. After only giving the occasional bark of command to make him move or flex in some way, she surprised him at the end by using multiple sentences. “You'll be Zener.” “Like the card?” “Get out. Go tell the human mannequin it's his turn.” Since two sentences fall under the definition of multiple.

              Terry donned his clothes and left the room, understanding Dead Body Girl's sentiment clearly now. When eyes turned up to meet his, Terry gave a soft but abrupt laugh. The thought of what the others, aside from him, Benjamin and Dead Body Girl, still had to go through was funny to him. “Scrubs asked for the 'human mannequin' next,” he offered. “Have fun.”

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