This isn’t too bad a town. They rolled out the red carpet for me once they figured I was just an eccentric rich person. That’s the difference money makes. If you’re homeless, you’re insane. If you’re rich, you’re eccentric. Whether or not money can buy happiness, it sure does buy a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist.
Anyway, I dumped a bunch of money renting a room while I waited on Moai and bought myself some goodwill at the local taverns with a few rounds of beer. Well, up until the door slammed open one night and a bald man in black clothing entered. He had some really gnarly teeth and overgrown eyebrows. He pointed one finger at me, a dirty yellow fingernail grown to a length more like a claw. “You are the one who killed my brother!”
I raised a frothy glass of amber liquid. “Actually, he got drunk off my blood and passed out in the square when the sun came up. Please, let me make it up to you with a drink.”
His hand joined the other one behind his back as he approached and eyed my glass. He sniffed. “Is this some sort of trick?”
“Nah,” I said, then set the glass down. I reached under the table and zipped up my fly. “I just didn’t want to get up. Bartender, some more beer! And make sure you’re washing these glasses really well.” To the vampire guy, I asked, “You can drink beer, right?”
“Bitch, please,” he told me. “I’ve drunk beer that made Charlemagne want to swear off drinking. This piss water won’t faze me.”
“Uh, yeah, I suppose you could drink the piss water if you really wanted, but I meant the beer.”
This whole thing sounds like I’m spending my time getting wasted, but that’s not the case. For one thing, beer tastes nasty. Even European beer. Lots of people love it, though. Handy tool for getting people on my side. It helped with the vampire, after all. He wasn’t that bad of a guy after several drinks. Turns out, his brother was a dick. He just felt honorbound to come after me because I seemingly killed him.
We settled our differences in a game of beer pong. I almost nailed a shot from behind my back, but he swiped it away before it could finish rolling into the cup. The whole bar let out a collective “Awww,” when that happened. In the end, he had his revenge as I fell to his superior ball handling skills.
He didn’t bother with grabbing any blood, which is good. I prefer my blood in my own body, when possible. After we finished the game, we both sat outside in the same square that claimed his brother and passed some vodka between us. I asked him if there’s any chance his brother could be revived. “You all have a lot of odd powers. Maybe find a guy and drain him over the ashes?”
He shrugged. “Time stops for us physically, but death is still the end.” He passed the bottle back my way.
I took a swig, then held it up in the air. “Damn. Here’s to being late to your own funeral.” I passed it over again. He raised it, but before he could drink it, someone grabbed it from his hands. We both turned and there stood the woman in the Chinese dress. Except now, she wore considerably warmer clothing.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure everyone gets where they’re going on time,” she said, taking an impressive drink off the bottle herself.
“A bit thirsty, weird lady I met in Vladivostok?” I leaned back and looked her over.
“You remembered.” She smiled and handed the bottle back to the bloodsucker.
“You have something to do with that Fortune Cookie person, so I doubt you’re surprised.”
She bowed her head. “I don’t know everything, and it would have been difficult to expect you to remember anything from that night.” She lowered herself and offered her hand. “Call me Cookie.”
I hopped to my feet and took her hand. “At last, we meet at first,” in consideration of our meeting in Vladivostok, I added, “…for the second time. Confused yet?”
“Yes,” said the vampire, who didn’t bother looking up from the bottle.
“No,” said Cookie. “But wait until I have to use the future tense to describe the past. You’ll wish you had that vodka.”
Ah, right. I probably will be as confused as she thinks now, in the past of her future, when she talks like she’s talked before about things that haven’t yet happened. But that didn’t happen that night. That night, she finally told me what I’m doing in Romania and the significance of my run in with Romanian undead nightlife. “He doesn’t matter,” she said with a nod toward the vampire.
The vamp gave a soft hiss.
“Be nice to the guy, his brother died recently.” I checked the time on my HUD. It gets annoying having the exact time in the lower corner of your eyesight constantly. Ever watched a clock while you waited for something? That’s why I kept that program more in the background where I could call it up. I wanted to warn the vampire if daylight approached. From one being who hates the sun to another, it seemed like common courtesy. Besides, he might be one of those Quiverful kids. There might be nineteen siblings and counting all waiting in the wings to try and bleed me for revenge.
“My brother was a sheepfucking asshole!” said the vampire. See? His brother fucked sheep. There might even be vampire lambs hiding in my pillows to drain me dry.
“See? Not only did he have to grow up with an asshole brother, but now he’s dead and he’s got to feel sorry for him!” I pulled out my wallet and dropped some lei, the Romanian currency, in his lap. “There, now you can buy yourself a drunk hooker to help you get to bed tonight.”
He picked himself up and threw the bottle at a nearby car, setting off the alarm. “There are no hookers around here! They’re too afraid to walk the night. I’ll go now. Maybe find some sheepfucking farmer to remember my brother by.” He walked off a ways before melting into a wolf and loping off into the night.
I looked at Cookie, who waved me toward her and started walking her own way. I joined in beside her. “I’m glad you’re not angry,” she admitted, speaking in English this time.
I adjusted my coat to try and bundle up against the cold. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean it’s warm in the Carpathians. “I’m a bit ticked off. After Vladivostok, I intended to go to North Korea and wreck the place. The North Koreans and I got into a bit of a disagreement this time, so I don’t like them. They’re assholes, I’m a dick. It’s about time I forced my way in and screwed the place up. Fuck yeah. So why am I here?”
She glanced sideways at me, reaching back to adjust the ponytail of her hair. “The fate of time itself may rest in your hands.”
I rolled my eyes, then swiped at a moth flying around my head. “I don’t believe you, because that sounds unbelievable and nobody would be stupid enough to try and have me do that.”
She gave me a flit of those lashes of hers. “What if I said you were a special individual uniquely suited to the task at hand, painstakingly manipulated into just the right position to help me deal with this crisis?”
“Sounds like bullshit.” I zapped the moth out of the sky with my laser eye.
“It is. You were the best choice I had available to me when I noticed that time only went to a certain point and stopped. I look into the future and I can catch a glimpse, a scene, and know when it’s going to happen.” She rubbed at her thin nose. “I started noticing that everything stays static, everywhere, for months. I traced it back. The time stop happens later this month. I looked around for someone I could pull into this who might be able to help. I did a lot of research, too. I know you are a bad person, but you have experience I may need.”
I turned around so I could better watch her lagging behind. “For someone who can see the future, you don’t seem terribly well-prepared.”
“Futures change.” She kept her chin up as she spoke to me, looking me right in the eye. “Time is a many-branching path. The future changes all the time. Six months ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Now, it’s fixed. It will happen.”
I tilted my head. “If it will happen, absolutely will, then why bring me here?” I stumbled over a curb and almost fell.
Cookie grabbed my arm and threw her weight back, helping me regain my balance but losing hers in the process. I caught the same hand that grabbed hold of me and pulled her up as well. I let her go, pretty damn sure she knew that was going to happen. She confirmed it when she looked up at me, speaking softly under the glow of a streetlight. “I knew you would fall, but I didn’t know I could stop you. Do you know why?”
“I know you’ve got a pretty face and a body pressed close to mine after I also helped stop you from falling. Some people might suspect you’re using that to make me sympathetic to you. Right now, that makes you like those people who do the commercials with sad songs playing over hurt dogs.” I let her go and stepped back away.
“I’m sorry,” She bowed her head. “but it helped make a point. Your question was valid. I can’t see the result of my own actions. With you here, that gives me a chance, and I know you want to help. You don’t have to keep finding things to get upset about.”
I hate that she knew I just played hard to get, but I needed one more answer. “Why Romania? How did you see it started here?” I put my hands in the air. Instead of waving them like I just didn’t care, I merely spun around to theatrically indicate the validity of questioning why time stops in Dracula country.
“Because of him.” She pointed off down a side road. I stopped and caught myself before I needed to throw up, then looked in that direction, watching as Moai and my crate parachuted down to land in the street, blocking it off.
“Him? That’s Moai. He doesn’t know anything about all this time stuff.” I waved at Moai. “Yo, what’s up? Good to see you!”
“Not that. Him.” She pointed at a light hanging in the air. Looked pretty distant, before I noticed it growing in size with a steady hum. It grew to about the size of a phone booth, multicolored electricity streaking across the outside as it settled on the ground. The outline of a door appeared in the middle of the glow, then opened to reveal a man who stepped out of it. The glowy orb thing disappeared with a snap, and the man turned to us, looking a little fancy in his pinstriped brown suit.
The gangly fellow smiled warmly. When he spoke, I placed the accent as somewhere north in the British Isles “You won’t believe this, but something very cool is about to happen around here. Shame I have to stop it. Listen, folks, time is coming to an end!”
Weird British guy, glowing ship, association with temporal phenomena. Yep, I knew of this guy. A bit out of my league if he decided to stop me, but he generally worries more about extinction-level events. Well, that’s a thought to end constipation. I looked over at Fortune Cookie, whose closemouthed grin and raised eyebrows revealed her own excitement in the phase of my obvious exasperation.
Our newest visitor looked between the pair of us. “Don’t panic, everything will be quite alright. I am the Mobian.”
Why do I suddenly feel like I’m no longer the main character in my own life?