I'm Runner: Part Two
Sitting, I cover my face with my hat, seeing the faint silhouette of a second passenger in the carriage seat across from me.
The driver of the seemingly self-moving carriage calls back to me, a black Wocky with glowing yellow eyes and a chilling smile.
“Anywhere.” I think for a bit, answering louder. “Wherever you’re going.”
There’s a silence before the carriage jolts forward. I stumbled forward, reaching for my hat that I’d dropped. The figure in front of me moves quicker, picking it up and holding it out to me. The moon light flutters over him, and I can see that he’s a blue Krawk, dressed in a long, tattered dark coat and a gray, broken top hat with a scarf tied around it. The scarf grabs my attention, the fall colors temporarily distracting me before I take my hat, muttering a small voiced, “Thank you.”
“S’okay.” The Krawk smiles warmly, looking me over and I feel he can sense how unsure I am. Meekly, I smile back, faintly comforted. His voice is gentle and has a slight accent; apart from his old clothes, I am not intimidated. “You from around ‘ere?”
“N-no.” Stuttering, my mind thinks wildly in the space of seconds. What should I tell him? What if he told my owner and I was brought back home? “I’m from... Darigan. Darigan Citadel, that is. And, um, I live there. And am going there. Because I like it there.”
He laughs, a cheerful, unused sound and looks at me funny.
“You’re a Darigan resident and happen to be pink? I don’ think so.”
Oh yeah. Blushing, I scratch my neck.
“I’m not a good liar.”
He smirks. “I can tell.” Then he shrugs, touching the rim of his top hat. “But you don’ needa tell me if you don’t wanna. I’m Dante, by the way.”
I smile. “That’s a nice name. I’m-”
I can’t tell him my real name. He could find out... and tell Madeline. And my “new name” seems incredibly fitting.
Dante smiles again, this time not as brightly but still amused. “Nice.”
I twiddle my fingers, thinking of some way to get the topic off of me. “So... where are you headed?”
“Around the Haunted Woods. Brightvale. Maybe the Lost Desert.” His eyes are like puddles reflecting overcast skies, cloudy and dreamy as he looks out the window in deep thought. It sounds as if he’s talking to himself more than me. I squirm like a cell under a microscope, although he isn’t looking at me.
Awkwardly, I continue, feeling the need to talk. “Oh... um, why so many places?”
Dante brightens a bit, and removes a case from his back. I recognize it as a guitar case and he tenderly trails his claws on the outside, looking at it with a certain love. “I’m a traveling musician. I’m supposed to meet someone in a place around ‘ere.” Then, with the eagerness of a small child, his puddle eyes glow and he says, “Would you like me... to sing one of my songs to you?” The words “my songs” trill excitedly off his gently quiet voice, contradicting the relaxed mood it gives off.
Smiling, I nod, happy to make a stranger happy. I’m so tired, though... it must be past midnight now. I also have no idea how long this trip will take... the Woods are larger than most like to think.
Dante nods back, smiling wildly and clicks open the case. Inside is a sheeny black guitar, incandescent under the wan moonlight that flashes every so often through the trees branches the carriage is passing. He gets hold of it and strums his guitar, closing his eyes. He turns one of the small white knobs at the top at the sound of a mistuned string. Then he strums again, this time nodding acceptingly at the sound. He begins to strum a soft, slow tune, rocking slightly back and forth, smiling.
Then he starts to sing. And it’s beautiful.
“Don’t judge me on what I’ve done.” He bobs his head. “C’mon, you know I’m better than the past.” For a moment his eyes flutter open and I see something behind his outward emotion. “Can’t you see past weary eyes and crooked smiles?”
It’s all I can do to keep my jaw from falling off, pressing my hands to my face that is. He’s so amazing it nearly causes my heart to explode. I sigh, letting go of a tension I hadn’t realized was there. I’m glad he’s closing his eyes too because right then silent, fast, warm tears fall down my face. I’m terrified of what’s going to happen; this seems to comfort me.
“Let’s make the present last.” He suddenly stops, eyes flickering, the musical trance he’d been under suddenly melting. “Am I singing too much?” It sounds like a silly question and I almost laugh. I don’t anyhow, wondering if he’d take it the wrong way.
“No way!” My voice comes out much too quiet and breathy and I shake my head, trying again. “That was more than amazing! Keep going, for however long you like.”
Dante smiles shyly, one scaly brow raised. “Really?”
I snort at his modesty, wondering if he can see his talent for what it really is. “Of course!” I gesture for him to continue, lying sideways on the carriage seat, ignoring a bump the carriage goes over. Luckily the road has become too full of overhanging shadows for him to notice I’d been crying and he continues unbothered.
Then, after a long while, I start to grow drowsy. It must be in the early morning hours now... I don’t even want to know. Madeline would kill me if she knew that-
No. Don’t think about her.
Closing my eyes, I tell myself that I will not sleep. I will not. I will just rest and get off when the carriage ride is over. But I don’t know when it’ll be over and my brain tiptoes around, shutting me down ever so slowly so that I barely notice.
I settle into a surprisingly peaceful slumber, mind temporarily wiped of troubled thoughts by Dante’s songs. The last thing I hear is his voice swoon for the bridge of a lyric and he smiles so brightly...
Piano screams. Someone is killing a piano!
My eyelids shoot open, heart beating in fear. Where am I? What’s happening?
I hear a frustrated groan and someone’s footsteps walk by. Memories rush through my head much too fast and I hold back tears again, feeling like an incredible baby.
I realize I’m in a living room, laid on a couch with a particularly stiff pillow under my head. The couch is lumpy and an acidic shade of green, not complementing to the room’s curling banana yellow wallpaper and timeworn green curtains. Coffee smells drift from a set of stair, swirling around, making the place feel a bit homier. Morning light filters through the windows and the curtains suddenly billow out as a runty gale puffs itself into the room.
The piano plays again, this time tamely sweet, unlike the delusional disharmony it had been screeching moments before.
“Hello?” I keep my voice moments away from trembling. I’ve gotten kidnapped on my first day alone!
“Runner?” It takes me a second to realize the voice is talking to me. It’s extremely familiar and the piano stops. Dante appears around a corner that faces the backside of the couch I have apparently slept on.
“Dante!” Relief is stuffed in my voice, extremely obvious, and he chuckles a bit before I continue. “Where am I?”
Stretching, he walks to the dirty coffee table in front of my and sits on it, taking off his top hat and twirling the scarf on it. “You fell asleep in the carriage...” Seeing my embarrassed reaction, he adds quickly, “...I did too, but I woke up before you. The carriage man had stopped in front of this coffee place where my friend is, and seein’ as you probably had nowhere else to go, we carried you down ‘ere to sleep on the couch. You’ll meet ‘er later. And you, my friend,” his tone lightens, teasing, “are a very heavy sleeper.” I glow inwardly when he says “my friend”. It makes me feel less alone... even though my almost friend is probably a hobo. I know what Madeline would think of that. She’d say-
No, Fantasia. Don’t go there. Forget, for a little while, until you’re strong enough to remember.
I sit upright, unwrinkling the front of my dress. “Thank you... but where exactly are we?”
He hesitates, looking at his palms for a second before looking back up. “We’re on the edge of the woods, the northeastern end near Meridell. I didn’ know where you wanted to stop so I brought you along.”
For a second I panic, scared to be so far from Neovia. But it’s okay; I shouldn’t hang around there anyways. Not after what happened. “Oh,” I say lightly, surprising him by my unconcerned tone.
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” LIES! LIES! “But, erm, what am I going to do here? I really don’t want to be a burden and-”
He cuts in, shaking his head. “No worries. We don’ mind. You can come with us.” He gestures toward the stairs now and I heard someone’s footsteps creak away. A purple Poogle appears, talking loudly.
“Dante! I’ve been meaning to talk to you-”
Trailing off, she stares at me openly. “Who’s she?” She pronounces it as one word and slurs the two “s” together. Her short, black hair tickles the tops of her eyes and sways slightly when she blinks, as do the two gold rings she has on her right ear. She stares at me, looking me over, putting one hand on her hip and touching the long, dark colored shirt she wears lightly. It’s a bit tattered too but I suspect more on purpose than Dante’s clothing.
“Is this the gal we pulled up from last night?”
It’s a rough voice and gives me the impression that she’s not a wimp.
“Yeah,” answers Dante, getting up from the table. Brushing himself off, he gestures with his head to her. “That’s Roxanne. And Rox, meet Runner.”
“Runner.” Roxanne tries on the word like a new shirt before scowling. “Just don’t talk too much. Me's and Dante got work to do.”
“It’s ‘Dante and I’, you know.” Erg! Stupid habit of mine.
Roxanne looks at me in slight disgust. “Uh, whatever.”
Dante looks a bit disapproving at her abruptness but shrugs it off when I don’t say anything, shooing her to the to the piano. “Let’s get started for tonight.” Smiling, she drifts off in the direction that he’d gestured to, and he pats my shoulder before walking by. “She’s much nicer once you get to know her.”
“I’m sure,” I say sarcastically.
“You can come watch,” he continues, waving me forward.
When we reach the piano, Roxanne has already sat down, looking at anticipation at the keys with the same gentleness I’d seen Dante display the night before. “You ready?”
A nod from us both, but she isn’t looking at me.
“Okay. Here I go.”
She begins to play, pressing multiple keys at once and I feel at peace again, letting the music thrum in my ears while she sings.
She starts with a spontaneous burst of melody, her fingers running up and down faster than a Poogle Race. Dante sways slightly, nodding along. I stare at the keys, wondering how she can do that. Her face is completely changed, almost out of the character I’d seen her in a minute before. The voice that she sings with still has a rough tinge, though now it’s slightly... jazzy. I feel out of place, on the outside looking in at their shared musical trance.
Roxanne stops. Frowning, she replays the last two notes, eyebrows knitted together. “See?” she says, looking back at Dante. “From there on, I lose it. I don’t know why... I just can’t find the right notes.”
He scratches his cheek, thoughtful, before reaching over her and playing a few notes himself. “Don’ worry, Rox, we still have time. You’ll be able to tidy it up before Friday night.” There’s something bothering her, anyhow, even as Roxanne nods at the piano. “Okay, Dante.” She says it with the same submissive agreement as...
Abbie smiles happily as I help her stir the bowl, keeping all the dough inside for once.
Dante stares at me strangely. I nod, color flushing back into my cheeks and rub my hands together, suddenly cold. “I’m just hungry.”
Dante laughs, unaccompanied by anyone else, before nodding at Roxanne. “Good idea. Even musicians have ta eat.” Roxanne grumbles to herself, grudgingly agreeing and gets up from her chair, following Dante’s quick walk up the stairs.
“You comin’, princess?”
They’re already up the stairs by the time I get up and I feel awkwardly abandoned, standing forlornly at the bottom of the stairs.
I’m starting to get the feeling Roxanne doesn’t like me.
To be continued...