Snakes and Pills

195 - tint

Harrison's whole body ached as he reached the window. He managed to catch a glimpse through it, and knew that he was already too late. He ran all the way from the station, but it didn't matter now.

The man on the inside of the window slid it open. Observing the huffing and puffing Harrison, he waited a moment so he could catch his breath.

"Sorry, Harrison, you're too late," he said.

The look Harrison shot back was clearly a displeased one, though he could only manage it for so long before he had to go back to panting. "You think I can't tell that by the fact that your ugly face is staring down at me?"

The man in the window simply shook his head and clicked his tongue. "The demeanor of your generation, I swear," he murmured.

Harrison remained annoyed, but he knew that being rude would get him nowhere. "Listen, I'm just in a bad spot right now, you know. Sorry. Did Gonzalves say anything about where he was going after his shift? It's kind of important that I talk to him."

The other man sighed. "Yeah, he's going to be up at Altair Arcade. I don't know why I even bother to help you."

Harrison's mood improved somewhat. "Because you're a good guy and I'm not horribly indecent either," he answered. "Alright. That old arcade. Thanks, man."

"Don't mention it. Good luck," the man said, promptly sliding the window shut again. Harrison set back off toward the metro, though at a slower pace than he had come.

He wondered what business Gonzalves had at Altair. Harrison knew of the place, although he had never actually been. He knew that the title "arcade" was in reference to the more traditional collection of shops, not the fun coin-operated variety. The place had some historic significance in the city, but he didn't know what it was.

He disembarked the metro at the closest stop, and consulted the map on the wall to find out where he should head. Getting back up to the street, he set off in the right direction.

From the outside, Altair Arcade was not what Harrison had expected. The sign hanging over the entrance was the only indication that he hadn't gotten lost. The entire building exuded gray, cast out of drab concrete. It looked more like a government-built community center than a shopping plaza.

Cautiously, Harrison crept up the stairs and through the open front door. He expected the place to be abuzz with shoppers, but the hallways were eerily quiet. Several rooms branched off from the main hallway, and unsure of where to begin looking for Gonzalves, he started at the nearest one.

Harrison peeked into the door, and felt a shiver run down his spine. There were about fifty men seated at desks, staring blankly forward. They seemed to be in a trance, uttering something in a low, unified hum, but Harrison couldn't make any of it out.

Odder still was how each man had a yellow sticky note tacked to his forehead. Most of the papers had single words written on them. Harrison read some of them: "anchor, chip, dog, breath, fence," and the like. Just random nouns. Some of them lacked words at all, bearing crude drawings or random scribbles.

Despite staring straight in his direction, no one seemed to notice Harrison, a fact which he was glad for. He backed away, and tried the next room. The same. And the next.

He no longer cared about meeting Gonzalves. He just wanted to get away. He headed back out the hallway.

The door was shut and locked.

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