A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2b
Most of what Melissa did and does is a mystery to me. It is not just her ability to bend the laws of physics to her will, or her Sherlock Holmes-like lifestyle, nor even the time she finds to be able to pass her University classes in between all of that. No, the thing that mystifies me the most is Melissa’s near nonsensical decision making.
I know now that much of her doings while on a case seem fickle (even whimsical) at the moment, but that they usually have a longer game in mind. She is apt not to divulge her full set of thinkings to me (be they mystery or magical) and thus they can appear to be random decisions.
…Unless of course, they are random decisions.
I will leave it up to the judgment of the reader as to whether or not the following occurrence was the former or the later.
With Annie’s keys still in hand, Melissa and I marched quickly to our destination. Conversation faltered, not because of awkwardness, but from Melissa’s sudden disinterest in it. The petite brunette seemed suddenly deep in thought, possibly about the malfeasant machinations ahead of us. For an entire block or two of walking, it seemed to me that she had forgotten that I existed. We trekked on.
…And then on still.
It was only September then, and admittedly I was still getting my bearings straight on campus. I had been so busy with my own studies, not to mention dealing with the surprises that living with Melissa brought, that I had simply not had time to explore my surroundings to the extent that I would have liked. It was for this reason that I did not exactly know which part Annie could have possibly come from. This is why no red flags were initially raised.
We took a path I was unfamiliar with, and though my surroundings were new I thought nothing of it. Then we kept walking… and kept walking. Distracted by Melissa’s beauty I did not fully realize that we had left the campus until we were a good block away. We weren’t going to Annie’s room at all. Melissa had other things in mind.
“Where does Annie live?” I asked while the small framed brunette kept a faster pace than me.
“There is someplace we must stop first,” she said, “It’s important to the case, I’ll need your capable memory for this one James.”
I’ll admit that I did not mind the compliment.
So, we continued on, and as the old stonework of the university faded out into the more modern concrete walls of its neighbors the sun began to bleed out as it gave way to sunset.
Our silence was companionable, though I still had many questions for Melissa. How was magic produced through wire? Could evil travel by WIFI? I even dared to joke about a firmware update for evil intruders, but by the time I had gathered the courage to say something we were at our destination.
The coffee shop that we had come to was like a pimple on an otherwise pristine face. The shops surrounding it were chic, modern and new. Their full glass storefronts were lit by LED fixtures and were very inviting. The cafe, however, seemed somehow older than our very own university. Its brick structure was covered in soot as if the streets were still full of steam-powered locomotion. The windows were of a thick green glass seemed more fit for a pirate ship. If I did not see the large neon sign outside of it that read “cafe”, I would have mistaken it for a seedy Victorian era pub.
Melissa paused before the door and turned to me, her green eyes wide and serious. “James,” she said, “it is very important this man we are about to speak to does not know of our dealings with Annie.” She put Annie’s keys into her back pocket then. “Under no circumstances must he know that his case is related.” I nodded my understanding, and she breached the door.
The interior of the cafe was no less old than the outside. The newest electrical fixture, save for maybe the barista’s cash register, was an Edison bulb that may very well have been actually made by Edison. A handwritten sign posted to the back of the wall read:
sorry, no WIFI 😦
I understood then why Melissa had chosen this location to meet her other client.
In the very back of the cafe was a man at least a decade older than Melissa and I. My first impression of him was that there was nothing remarkable about him. My impression of him after the meeting was the same. He was average looking, wearing an unassuming collard shirt, and had nothing about himself that would cause him to stand out amongst a crowd. Before we could sit down at his table, a barista placed a large mug of coffee and a shaker filled with cinnamon opposite side of the man, near an empty spot on the table. Melissa sat there and thanked the barista. She must have known that we were coming. Was Melissa a regular here?
The man stood up as Melissa sat, preparing to introduce himself, then awkwardly sat back down. “Um, Hello,” said the man, “My name is Malcolm Steadman,” said Malcolm.
“What can I help you with Malcolm?” Melissa responded.
“Well,” continued Malcolm, “I have this toaster.”
Melissa began pouring cinnamon into her large mug of coffee, “Get this down James,” she said as the red powder fell from its shaker.
“I have this toaster,” Malcolm repeated, “I quite like it, it was a gift that was given to me when I was uh, your age and I have been using it diligently for the past decade…”
Melissa nodded, her green eyes fixed on his. The cinnamon kept pouring.
“…Well ah, this Toaster of mine, I used it the other day when something peculiar happened.”
I wanted to quip about the toaster becoming alive when I suddenly remembered my previous attempts at joking with Annie about her own problems failing. I kept quiet. Melissa seemed undaunted by the sheer amount of cinnamon still being poured into her mug.
Malcolm cleared his throat, then continued on. “…Something peculiar happened. I popped in some toast while getting ready for work when it stopped working.”
“No!” Melissa said with genuine concern. “James! Get this down!” There was now an obscene amount of cinnamon in her coffee.
“Yes!” Malcolm cried, “The toaster stopped working! It was no big deal, at that moment but it got me thinking… It got me thinking about entropy.”
Melissa shifted her weight at that last word. Confused as I was, I could at least infer that the last bit was important. There seemed to be no end to the amount of cinnamon Melissa was using.
“So it got me thinking about entropy,” Malcolm stated, “and how everything in this universe, everything has its end. EVEN THE UNIVERSE! Can you imagine that? Can you fully comprehend the weight of everything ending? The slow march of time eating away everything beautiful and pleasant, eating away at all of mankind’s accomplishments and trials, leaving nothing in its wake? Can you fully picture that not even our great pyramids will survive the heat death of the universe? Far far before even our own world burns out there will be not a speck left to commemorate the human race. This will all be for naught. At that moment, in that single moment when my toaster did not pop I saw the whole of creation slowly eaten away by entropy, a monster made of indifference. Not even cruelty or evil or malice. Indifference.”
Malcolm seemed drained then. His hands were sweaty, his eyes pin holed. He looked like a man that had just survive the entirety of the Vietnam war in seconds.
…It was ridiculous.
Melissa stirred her coffee then, a mixture I am sure was more mud than liquid. “How terrible!” she said.
“Yes,” Malcolm agreed, “It ruined my day. I was caught in a nihilistic fervor with a side of existential terror and all I could think about for the rest of that day was how everyone and everything around me was not just temporary, but infinitesimally unimportant and fleeting.”
Melissa placed her head between both of her hands as she leaned in closer. “Then what happened?” she asked.
“Oh, well then I got home and discovered that my toaster was unplugged,” said Malcolm. “It wasn’t even broken, just unplugged. I had made a big deal out of nothing.”
“I see…” said Melissa. “Was this the only time toast gave you any problems?”
I will admit that by that point I was incredulous to Melissa’s question. There was no way that this was important. But judging by Melissa’s body language and the genuine terror that leapt from Malcolm’s eyes, I kept my protestations to myself.
Malcolm’s voice became small, “No,” he said in a near whisper before finding his courage. “I didn’t even tell you about the time I burnt some.”
Melissa turned to me then, “Are you getting this down James?” and set her attention back to Malcolm before I could answer. She drank her “coffee”.
“How is this important?!” I blurted, now at the end of my patience.
“How is this important?” Melissa parroted, “We are talking about entropy James! The very killer of all things! The great equalizer that not even reality can escape! WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ENTROPY?!!” Her’s was a naked rage. I mumbled an apology.
Just as quickly as her mood turned to fusion, it changed back to pleasant. “Please, go on Malcolm,” she said.
Malcolm nodded. “I burnt my toast once. It was covered in black soot… No, it was covered in carbon. Carbon! Do you know how many billion years it took our raging dead stars to chug out carbon? Do you know how many countless stars it took to live and die in an uncaring universe for carbon to be spat out from their corpses?”
“Did you panic?” Melissa asked.
“Boy howdy did I!” Malcolm responded. “But it wasn’t the length of time that got me terrified, it was what we do with that potential that stunned me into silence. Do you know that broadcasts of Reality TV will outlast even our solar system? I was like… whoah.”
“Then what happened?”
“I ate my toast.”
Melissa stood then. “I’m sorry Mr. Steadman, but I’m afraid that I can be of no service to you.” She said with a hint of sorrow. “These eldritch horrors you speak of are far grander than even I can handle. I deal with the balance of the universe, but even I cannot fight off the unraveling of it. The universe uncoils even as I speak, and no amount of effort will stop it. The sad truth is that the good fight that I wage is not only an uphill one but a Sysephean task that can never be finished. Entropy will win out.”
She turned her back then and marched toward the door. I was easily ten steps behind her. Before she opened the door she looked at Malcolm and said: “You still owe me for the consultation.” And just like that, we were gone.
She was too far ahead of me now that we were outside. I ran back to her side. Before I could ask about our meeting Melissa stopped in her tracks.
“We have to find a hospital,” she said. “I’m allergic to cinnamon.”
^.^ APRIL FOOL ^.^
The entry you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2018 Edition. (After 4 years, surely you’re getting used to these… but maybe you thought it was real, as it’s a publishing day?) This non-canon post was created by Michael Fitzgerald (aka Rev Fitz) who writes the serial “Existential Terror and Breakfast“.
To see more of the character Malcolm’s existential issues, you should definitely check out that site. (And funny enough, Rev Fitz also wrote the Time & Tied Apr 1 update last year, for more of his writing.) To see the entry that Gregory Taylor wrote, visit the serial Shatterbrain, where in 2043, Sophie is learning things about her uncle the hard way. What new take will you find there?
For a full list of all the Swappers and their stories, check out the Web Fiction Guide Forums and/or the Serial Novel Advocacy Group at The Leaking Pen. Thanks for reading, and remember, the best way to support your favourite serial novelist is to tell all your friends about them!
ASIDE: I’ll post the real Entry 2b next Sunday, followed by 2c on schedule, meaning three straight weeks of updates. Yay! Also, shout-out to “Serial Fiction Digest” for featuring ‘University Witch’ as their Serial this Week. :O 🙂