"So, she end up preggers? Burning the bun in t'oven? Bit of a bitty Parker leeching off 'er innards?" Gordon inquired after a long session of stroking his pointed chin, imagining what paisley-draped dame had taken Parker inside herself. Parker's face flushed and he briskly strode away, leaving the troupe to wonder the possibility.
"Can we just find some place to eat? I'm hungry," Joe chided. He, Gordon, and Mali had nearly spanned a block (with Parker trotting more than a few paces ahead, refusing to look back at them) before they realized one among them was missing.
"Where's Casey?" Mali nervously asked.
They studied their surroundings, peering around long shadows cast by the aging architecture and eying with mild terror the immense alleyways leading into shadows even darker. The streetlights, their casings muddied with the rotting corpses of hordes of insects, cast desaturated, grey light upon the asphalt and concrete, bathing the quiet night in subdue. Seagulls and pigeons chattered somewhere in the darkness, discussing the strange group wandering the lonely streets of their city.
"Okay, seriously, where did she go?" Mali asked again, panic rising in her voice.
"Guys!" Casey's voice called from the darkness.
The group broke into a run, even Parker returning to the side of his comrades as they charged toward the source of the voice. They discovered Casey around the corner of a dilapidated theater (Closed August 1979, according the sign loosely hung on the front door), kneeled at the side of a young girl. The girl's hair was gritty and tangled, her clothes stained and disheveled, her eyes struggling to focus on any one of their concerned faces.
"Is she okay?" Mali asked Casey.
Casey didn't respond, instead lifting the girl's arm gently, showing the rest of the group the bruises and red-spotted marks lining the inside of her elbow.
"They talk as though I'm not even here," the girl muttered to herself before bursting into a small fit of laughter.
"She's high as a damn kite, in't she?" Gordon mused, thumbing his nose.
Casey shushed Gordon and continued rubbing the girl's shoulders. "It's okay, girl, it's okay. Are you alone here? Do you have friends or family we can get you to?"
The girl's eyes rolled to the back of her head for a moment, then reappeared, this time focused on Casey.
"No family, no friends, but that certainly doesn't mean I'm alone. I'm not from California, not originally. I was born to a Midwestern father and a Midwestern mother, born and raised in the Rust Belt and brought up with nothing but cornfields and labor unions to warm me. Have you ever seen winter in the middle of America?
I took to reading when I was a little girl. My mother used to take me to the public library on Herman and Main whenever I went a whole week without upsetting my father. She'd let me run through the aisles of bookshelves, which of course the librarians hated, and I could check out as many books as they'd let me.
I'd read about all sorts of things. Sometimes, I'd read about princesses and knights and dragons; other weeks, I'd read mystery novels, always trying to solve the case before the detective in the story - sometimes, even, I would. Not always, though.
My favorite book, however, was about a girl who could talk to seagulls. Her name was Madison Musky, and she and her family lived near the coast in northern California. Every day, Madison would bike to the shore and make friends with the seagulls. They'd tell her about what lies beyond the ocean, the faraway lands filled with dangerous jungles and noble kings and treasure chests bursting with diamonds and riches - or at least, that's what the fish told them. One day, Madison asked the seagulls if they'd like to see these distant isles for themselves. Together, they devised a plan and Madison returned the next day with spools of firm, strong wire. She tied the wire to the feet of two dozen seagulls and then to her own arms and legs. When the tide was low and the wind was just right, the seagulls took to wing and carried Madison Musky out over the ocean. They flew and flew, but the horizon never came any closer. When they couldn't fly any longer, the seagulls used their beaks to chew through the wire, depositing moor Madison into the waiting waters below.
Which is sad, right? I couldn't tell you why it's my favorite. But I think it's maybe the reason why I ended up here. I wanted to see the edge of the earth. I wanted to know just how far the horizon that never draws near really is.
Maybe I just thought I could do a little better than poor Madison Musky.