Estimated reading time — 20 minutes
UNFRIENDED COMPETITION FINALIST
The storm made the city street a blur to Tim Avery as he walked rapidly down the sidewalk. Rain fell just heavily enough to make people run to their cars or take shelter in the shadows of store awnings. To Tim, however, walking through the rain seemed right. It felt like it might cool off the quietly seething anger building in his chest. It might have helped if not for the chaos of the traffic to his right. It was rush hour and the motorists felt no need to drive carefully through the rain. Lights flashed. Horns blared. Every few seconds, a tire would veer into a puddle and water would spray over the sidewalk.
Inside his head, Tim replayed the previous hour of his life. He’d just come home on spring break from his final year of college. His parents had been so proud that he was about to get his degree in business management. It had been the plan for his entire life it seemed. He was supposed to get a perfectly respectable degree, find a perfectly respectable job, and have a perfectly respectable family. But, after four years of it, Tim had realized something. He hated business. So, coming home from college for the week, he had informed his parents that he planned to enroll in art school and follow his dream of being an artist. It had not gone well. The phrases ‘throwing your life away’ and ‘you’re not that good’ had been said. That was when he had left and decided to take a walk, despite the storm outside. A clap of thunder brought Tim back to the present.
Looking around the street, he realized that while he had been lost in thought he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. The buildings looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place exactly where he was. There was a seedy looking bar, a generic looking internet café, and a pawn shop with a half-unlit sign. None of the other buildings looked inhabited. They were just broken down storefronts with darkened windows that seemed to stare at him.
As Tim stood looking into one of the dark windows, a small figure came out of nowhere and ran into him, nearly sending him sprawling onto the wet sidewalk. Catching his balance, Tim looked around for the kid, hoping he was okay. He heard footsteps in the puddles behind him. Spinning around, Tim saw them running away. For a split second the boy turned his head back and looked Tim directly in the eye. He couldn’t tell what it was, but something about the boy’s eyes seemed very wrong. Before he could figure out what, the kid had turned down another alley and disappeared.
Tim took a deep breath and decided that he had had enough of walking through the rain for one night. He looked briefly at the bar across the street. He couldn’t make out the name, but it was something that started with ‘R’. He could just barely see the dimly lit interior through the window. It did not look particularly inviting. He turned towards the internet café a few doors down. A white and red sign read ‘Angel’s Web Café’. Tim figured he could use an angel right then. He also figured he could at least check his social media accounts.
Entering the building, Tim found himself in a long, narrow shop that was surprisingly busy. The place was dimly lit and had a strange white and black color scheme that didn’t quite work. The circles of computer stations in the middle of the room were packed with customers. It was a young-looking crowd and he didn’t see anyone he recognized. He also couldn’t see any open computers. He went up to the counter and waved to the girl working behind it.
“What I can I do for you?” she asked. The girl had a jaded hipster look to her, but she seemed friendly enough.
“Are there any open computers in this place?”
“Well,” she said, her eyes scanning the room. “Looks like you’re going to have to wait for one to open up. I can get you some coffee or something in the meantime.”
Tim ordered the cheapest thing he could find on the board and looked around the room again. There were some more secluded alcoves in the back of the building that he had missed before. The girl came back with his coffee and noticed where he was looking.
“Those are just places to hook up your own computer. Your best bet is still waiting.”
Tim nodded, paid, and went over to the little nooks set up against the wall. He figured he could at least sit down in one and have a little privacy while he waited. He passed by the first few stations, heading for the one in the far corner of the building where no one could see him. Reaching the station, he found something that was somehow both surprising and perfectly normal: an abandoned laptop.
Tim looked around the room to see if there was anyone it might belong to. There was no one at the counter. Everyone else was busy at their own computer. He walked over to the nearby restroom doors and listened for anyone that might be inside. He heard nothing. Tim slowly drank his coffee as he wandered back over to the laptop. The black exterior didn’t seem to have any logo or brand on it. A pair of ear buds rested neatly on the top of it.
On any other day, Tim was not the type that would open up someone else’s laptop. But there was something about the night, something about the dimly lit room, and something about that jet black computer that made it not any other day. Taking one last look to see if anyone was watching, Tim slipped into the chair and opened up the laptop.
Hitting the power button, he could only imagine what crazy stuff might be on it. He was almost disappointed as the desktop opened and there were only two icons: ‘My Computer’ and ‘Recycle Bin’. Tim sighed, mostly in relief. He supposed he didn’t need anything else exciting to happen today. He was reaching to close the laptop when he spotted a strange icon nestled in the bottom left of the screen. The best he could describe it would be a strange cross between a setting sun and a compass rose. He stared at it for a while and then scanned the room in front of him one last time, making sure no one could see him. He clicked the icon.
The screen immediately turned pure white. A larger version of the symbol faded into the middle of the screen, surrounded by the words ‘Western Crossroads’. After a few seconds, the logo disappeared and the screen changed to what was unmistakably a web browser, albeit one he’d never seen before. Most of the buttons were just symbols that he had never seen before. A thought occurred to Tim that chilled him. He’d heard of browsers that people could use to go to parts of the internet that were way off the beaten path. Western Crossroads had to be a dark web browser. He’d never looked into the dark web before. He’d just heard the same generic stories everyone else had. For all he knew, it was nothing but drugs, terrorists, and hit men. It was at that moment that he saw a star button that had to be something like a list of bookmarked sites.
Tim hit the button and a list appeared on the side of the browser. There were four bookmarked sites and they were all written out in a language that Tim had never seen before. A resounding bang of thunder came from outside that seemed to shake the entire building. Tim had to grab the cup of cheap coffee to keep it from falling on the floor. There was a wave of murmurs from the main room as the customers settled down. Tim looked back at the screen and found that the sites on the list were now in English. They still made little sense, but at least he could read them.
The top site read ‘Library of Entorum’. The icon next to it looked like it was supposed to be several books stacked by each other. For some reason, Tim thought it also looked strangely like the bars on a cell door. The second listing just said ‘Mr. Deal’ with a blocky symbol that seemed to be a mountain split down the middle. The third site was something called ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The symbol next to it was a blue flame. A feeling in Tim’s gut told him to stay far away from that site. That left only the final listing.
‘The Altar’ was the last site. The symbol next to it was two snakes facing each other, fangs bared. Just as he had been drawn towards the laptop, Tim felt himself drawn to those two words. Without a second thought, he clicked the site. A smaller window popped up in the middle of the screen. It looked like some kind of streaming video with a small chat box to the right of it. At the moment, the only thing visible was the same symbol of the two serpents. They looked vaguely like art he had seen from Aztec and Mayan ruins. Streams of red and silver flowed out of the wide open jaws and formed a waterfall between them.
The screen flashed briefly and the window went full screen. Above the chat log at the side, a number began to count up. User names began filling the log. The number stopped at 43. None of them typed anything into the log; not even a greeting. They were waiting. The user names were random groupings of letters and numbers, completely anonymous. They didn’t have to wait long as the video flashed and began streaming. Tim quickly grabbed the ear buds from next to the laptop and shoved them into his ears. The only things he could see on the screen were a wide glass screen and a floor made up of large, carved stones. The sound of running water was all he could hear. The room was filled with a dim flickering light that cast strange shadows onto the stone floor. As he stared at the image the light became brighter and it slowly dawned on Tim that what he initially thought was a screen was in fact a wall of falling water that flowed so perfectly that it shone like glass. The entire scene strangely reminded him of death and decay. He briefly thought about slamming the laptop shut and running back out into the rain, but the thought was quickly dashed away as a figure stepped out of the shadows and into the view of the camera.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” said the man in a deep, commanding voice. “And welcome back to The Altar!” The man had an accent that Tim couldn’t place. It was deep and guttural. He was dressed in an immaculate charcoal suit, completed with a silver and red striped tie. Tim barely noticed the suit as he stared at the man’s face with disgust. It was a vaguely Middle Eastern face with a shaved head above it. What made it remarkable were the serpent tattoos covering the majority of his face. Even now, as the man smiled pleasantly, he was terrifying.
“Now, I’m sure we have a few newcomers here,” said the man with a wink. “We always do. So let me introduce myself. I am the purveyor of hopes and dreams! The granter of wishes! The high priest of your own personal religion! You can call me Tezcat.”
Tezcat walked nearer to the film of flowing water, his shadow taking on a strange shape in the flickering light on its surface.
“Now, in a few moments, I will begin the auctions, so I will remind you of the two rules of bidding. Number one: your money is no good here. Number two: All sales are final. No returns. And, yes, some of my lots may seem too good to be true. But, I promise that satisfaction is guaranteed. Now, let’s begin. Lot number one, ladies and gentlemen!”
Tezcat motioned to the wall of water behind him and an image of a cartoon heart appeared in the flowing liquid. Tim couldn’t tell if it was being projected onto it or if it was being added digitally.
“True love!” said Tezcat. “Yes, that’s right! For the right price, the object of your desire will fall head over heels in love with you! No drugs! No hypnosis! No brainwashing! Just a tiny nudge in the right direction that they won’t even notice.”
The image in the water disappeared and was replaced by the faces of several random people. Tim didn’t understand until an image appeared that he recognized. It was the face of a classmate he’d had an unhealthy obsession with a year ago. His jaw dropped. There was no way anyone could have known he’d be in this café, looking at this exact site at that exact moment. The only explanations were a one in a trillion chance, some incredibly intricate practical joke, or…it was real.
Someone in the chat room quickly bid. ‘Ten million dollars’ appeared in the log. Tezcat produced a tablet from somewhere and watched the screen. A scowl came onto his face.
“What part of ‘no money’ is difficult, people?” He snapped his fingers and the bidder was instantly removed from the room. “Now, do we have any real bids?”
There was a long pause. Tim felt extremely uncomfortable as Tezcat continued to smile knowingly at the camera. He had no idea what kind of bid the auctioneer was waiting for. Finally, one of the users typed ‘my sense of hearing’. Tim stared at the four words in disbelief. He couldn’t believe some crazy guy actually bet something like that. Tezcat looked at his tablet again and grinned from ear to ear.
“Well well well,” he said. “Now we’re talking.” He tapped something onto the screen and began scrolling. “Hmm…you have considerable resources. Low stress lifestyle. High intellect. It’s a sacrifice to be sure, but I think someone can do better. Prove me right, ladies and gentlemen.”
There was a far shorter pause this time. It was only a couple of seconds before some typed ‘1998’. Tezcat checked something else on his tablet. Tim gawked at the screen in further disbelief.
“A year out of your life is always a gamble,” he said. “So, let’s just see what happened that year. Daughter’s first words…learned to ballroom dance…oh, there we go. Father apologized for never being there. Giving up a turning point in your life? Acceptable. Anyone else?”
Tim was in awe of the scene taking place before him. He could just barely manage to believe in whatever psychic powers the host was promising he had, but ripping the years out of a person’s life? What kind of insanity had he fallen into?
Another person typed out ‘my guitar playing’. Tezcat raised an eyebrow and ran another check on the bidder. He smiled broadly again, but it seemed more artificial than before.
“Giving up the very hopes and dreams that keep you going? Hoping that your true love is worth giving up the only thing you can do well? Throwing away years of planning and fantasizing? Ripping out your own heart? Now that, my friends, is a bid. Going once.”
Tim didn’t know if he believed any of it yet, but he could feel that the last bidder believed it enough to give up everything.
He paused for a moment, holding out for more bids.
“Sold, for your hopes and dreams.” The bidder disappeared from the chat room as a line appeared claiming that he had been ‘transferred to collections’.
Their host snapped his fingers and the images in the water shifted again. Different scenes began to appear. There were people doing all manner of things, each with their faces just barely out of sight. A woman got out of a car and walked along a red carpet. A football player scored a touchdown in front of a crowd of thousands. A chill went down his spine as a man walked through an art gallery. More than one of the paintings was his exact style. Scenes continued to play as Tezcat spoke up.
“And speaking of hopes and dreams,” he said. “Now, you too can have all the talent and resources needed to fulfill your deepest, darkest desires. One dream per customer. And you’ll still have to put in the effort, of course. This is always one of my favorite lots. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside.” He gave a short, deep chuckle.
There was no hesitation from the crowd this time, as ‘my card collection’ appeared instantly in the log. It was followed almost immediately by several of the other users mocking him. Tezcat, however, carefully looked over whatever was on his tablet.
“Forty years spent building a collection. Several extremely rare cards you care about greatly. A weak offering, I must admit, but still…acceptable. Next bid?”
No one mocked the next bid as someone typed ‘med school’ into the log. Tezcat didn’t even need to look twice after seeing the bid.
“Giving up your hard earned career for a chance at fame and fortune? Medicine not the amazing life you imagined it would be? Just imagine, for so many people, what you’re trying to give away may just be what they’re bidding on. Accepted.”
Not to be outdone, another user hurriedly typed ‘my maid’. With just two words, Tim’s understanding of the stakes of this auction was brought to a whole new level. These weren’t bids. They were sacrifices. He held his breath waiting to see if their host would accept a person as payment. As he looked over the information, a look came onto his face that Tim could only equate with a serial killer standing over a fresh body.
“I’ve had people try to pass off employees and acquaintances as bids before. Their worth to you is, in reality, unbelievably low. However, you seem to be having an affair with this particular employee. And a lover is a much more valuable commodity. I will gladly accept that bid. And I doubt anyone can outdo that one. So, going once.”
Tim remembered the art gallery he had seen in the water. He imagined what his life would be like. Rich, famous, his talents appreciated by the entire world. He remembered the argument at his home not even an hour ago. He remembered the outrage and indignation he had felt at his dreams being ignored.
Tim felt his fingers moving almost by themselves.
He almost couldn’t believe it when he saw what was written in the log: ‘my parents’. Tezcat stopped mid-sentence with a look of mild shock that Tim would not have thought was possible a few moments earlier.
“Now, that,” he said with barely suppressed glee. “Is a bid.” A few messages of disbelief filled the chat log, one reading only ‘good god’. “And I don’t think I have to ask if anyone can improve over that. Sold.”
Tim stared at the screen for a moment, still in shock of what had just occurred. It had to be a dream or a hallucination. He wouldn’t be capable of doing that in reality. Right?
“And, with that, let’s move onto our last lot of the night,” said Tezcat. Tim just waited for something, anything, to happen to make him believe that it was all a big joke. Instead, another huge clap of thunder struck the store and the lights went out. Looking down at the screen, he saw that the window had changed, reading ‘transferring to collections’.
The lights in the store came back on after only a few seconds. Tim tore his eyes away from the screen, leaning out of the nook, searching for anyone. He was about to toss the laptop and run, when he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat. Looking back at the screen, he saw Tezcat’s face looking out at him.
“Mr. Avery,” he said. “I think we should talk in person.”
That was all Tim needed to hear. He slammed the laptop closed, tossed it onto the floor, and ran for the door. He barely registered as he ran through the café that the room was now entirely empty. It was the ‘Mr. Avery’ part that did it. Hearing his name come out of the mouth of the freakish host was the final straw. He reached the door and ran out into the night.
The pavement was still wet, but the rain had stopped. The street was thrown into more vivid detail than it was before. The lights and noise of the vehicles in the street and the darkness of the empty buildings seemed to be pressing in around him, suffocating him. He stopped in his tracks, closed his eyes, and took a few deep breaths. It had almost started to help when he felt a drop of liquid hit his hand. Pissed that the rain was starting up again, he shook his hand hard, trying to dry it off. In the process of shaking it off, he noticed that the liquid on it wasn’t water. It was bright crimson. Feeling another drop on his back, Tim looked above him. The sign that had previously read ‘Angel’s Web Café’ now contained only the symbol of the two serpents. The streak of red was dripping on him.
Spinning around, Tim found the street very different from what he remembered from only a moment before. Every car on the street had changed colors. A crimson taxi cab drove by with the symbol of the Western Crossroads emblazoned on the side. A metallic silver moving truck went by with the Altar’s symbol vividly painted across it. The buildings that had been dead and empty had strange lights moving within them. The one time Tim got a clear glimpse of them, they looked like dimly glowing eyes. Any chance that what he was experiencing was a dream was quickly going out the window. At that point, Tim was assuming that he was either dead or insane.
The only place on the street that remained halfway normal was the run down bar across the street. He made a quick decision and dashed into traffic, dodging one car, then two, then stopping in his tracks as a bus sped by in front of him. Each of the passengers had snakes tattooed across their face. As soon as it passed, Tim sprinted across the last lane and threw himself at the door to the bar. Taking a few more deep breaths, he entered the bar, which the sign on the door told him was named Relk’s, whatever that meant.
The interior of the bar was so generic it was almost painful. It just seemed to be a run of the mill dive. As Tim made his way to the bar, he took some consolation that the few patrons in the building looked normal. Reaching the bar, he slid exhaustedly onto a seat. He looked around for the bartender and found him speaking to a customer on the far end of the bar. That was just fine with him. He just wanted some time to process the fact that he’d completely lost his mind. He didn’t get that time. From directly behind him, he heard the same throat clearing noise he had a few minutes before. Someone draped a charcoal suit jacket over the stood next to him.
“Mr. Avery,” said Tezcat. “I’m glad we could talk.” Tim had no idea what to saw as he looked up into black eyes rimmed by the jaws of tattooed serpents.
“No, you’re not.”
“I lost my mind.”
“Sorry, but no,” said Tezcat, sitting down. “Not yet. At the moment, you are in possession of a great opportunity. You will have the talent and resources to become the greatest artist in the world. Think about it. You’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams, world famous, drowning in beautiful women. Celebrities and royalty will have your work on their walls and people will remember you for centuries.”
“I don’t want it anymore,” said Tim.
“Well, you did very much so for a moment there. And that is all that Relk and I need.”
“Who the hell is Relk?” asked Tim, finally finding some nerve.
“Relk. The Devourer. A god. And not the pathetic excuses for gods you people have these days. Relk is one of the true gods. The old gods, like Carn, Sted, Zatan’nataz. He walked the streets of his cities in the material realm, defended his followers to the end, and drank the blood of his enemies.”
“I’m supposed to believe in gods now, too?” asked Tim.
“Mr. Avery,” said Tezcat with a grin. “Where do you think you are?” He picked an empty glass up from the table and threw it at the backbar. The glass vanished into thin air before it struck. The walls around them shimmered. The wood and glass melted away into rough hewn stone. The fluorescent light was replaced by flickering torches. He heard water running at his back. He turned to find the wall of falling water from the video behind him, falling into a shallow pool that ran along the circumference of the room. Turning back towards the bar, he found himself sitting on a short pedestal and leaning against a large stone altar. At the center of the altar was a human skull. Rolls of cloth were wrapped around the jaw and eye sockets of the skull.
“This is the Tomb of Relk, Timmy, my boy. Well, a recreation of it. It’s a real place in the material realm, but people like myself can make a little home for themselves off the beaten path. I like using it for my streaming. It reminds me of the good old days.”
“This is…in the dark web?” Tezcat broke out in a fit of hysterical laughter.
“Oh, gods, no,” he said. “That’s just an entry point. You see, there’s nothing like raw human desire to create a gateway between two places. And let’s just say that your dark web abounds with that. Just like you.”
“Not anymore,” said Tim. “I’m not letting you take my parents.” Tezcat took a deep breath and sighed.
“Timothy, I’m afraid you don’t have a choice in the matter at this point. So let’s just get down to business and seal the deal.” He produced two small shot glasses out of his jacket and set them in front of Tim and himself. “I apologize about the…crudeness, but these things have to be done certain ways.” With that, he took a small knife out of his pocket. It looked like obsidian to Tim, only it was green. With one sharp movement, Tezcat made a cut in one of his own wrists. He held his hand over a glass. Golden blood flowed out of the wound, quickly filling the small glass. He did the same over the one in front of Tim. The blood stopped flowing almost immediately.
“So then,” said Tezcat, picking up a shot. “Cheers, Mr. Avery.” Tim just stared back into his eyes, a thought forming at the back of his head. He gripped the shot glass as lightly as possible and pushed it back slightly. The thought became more concrete.
“You said this was called the Tomb of Relk,” he said. “So gods can die?” Tezcat rolled his eyes and let out a long breath.
“In some ways they can,” he said. “But it’s hard to keep a god dead. They died, they came back, albeit slightly different, and then they recruited people like me, an aspect, to go get souls for them.”
“Wait,” said Tim. “Whose souls?” Tezcat’s eyes went wide as he seemed to realize he should not have opened that door. “The souls we bet? That doesn’t feel right.”
“Mr. Avery, just drink and we can talk about this afterwards.”
“It’s my soul, isn’t it?” asked Tim. “It’s because I bet a person. I sacrificed a person. That’s why you weren’t happy when the guy won with his music.” The realizations kept coming. “That’s why it’s an auction. Because people won’t sacrifice other people unless you force them to outbid someone. It’s a test.”
“Yes, it is,” said Tezcat. “And you failed. Which means your soul has a mark on it. And when you die, Relk gets your soul. You don’t pass ‘Go’, you don’t collect two hundred dollars. No getting around it now, so drink.”
“I didn’t fail yet,” said Tim, picking up the shot glass and waving it in Tezcat’s face. “Because you seem very determined to get me to drink this and seal the deal. I think that means I still have a chance.”
“No, you don’t,” said Tezcat, his voice beginning to seethe. “Yes, that blood will mark you, but it’s also your only way out of this world. My world. So you have two choices now. You can drink, and go have an amazing, albeit guilty, life. Or, you can play this game and stay here in my world forever. And in here, I’m a god. I can make this your own personal Perdition.”
“But my parents live.”
“Who cares?!” screamed Tezcat. The pupils of his eyes narrowed into something like a snake’s or a cat’s. “They either die now or they die in ten years! They don’t matter! You don’t matter! Hell, I don’t even matter! The Devourer is above us all. Now, make a choice. Because, although I have all the time in the world, I dislike wasting it on nobodies like you. So either drink it and take the door out or stay in here and rot!”
“What the hell are you?” asked Tim, hoping he could stall a little more while a plan formed in his head. Tezcat laughed and slammed a fist onto the altar. The room around them resounded with the impact. The cloth-wrapped skull in front of them fell on its side and rolled towards Tim a bit.
“I was just like you once. I lived. I died. And then I made a deal, just like you. I got what I wanted, but the cost was high. I became a living incarnation of an aspect of a god. Sacrifice is what I am. And you are not leaving this place without one of your own!”
Tim finally made his move. He grabbed the skull from the altar in front of him and slammed it into the side of Tezcat’s face. Bone crushed bone and golden blood flew through the air. The aspect hit the floor hard. Tim grabbed the shot glass of blood and ran for where he thought he’d entered the bar. As he ran, he dipped his fingers into the golden liquid. He had said the blood was a door. Tim hoped it was literal. Behind him, Tezcat let out a roar as he rose from the stone floor.
“I am Tezcatlipoca, the Dark Reflection! I am Sacrifice! I am the Hand of Relk! And you have royally pissed me off, Timmy!”
Tim reached the wall and started to draw. The blood began to glow dimly when it hit the wall of the tomb. He quickly dragged his fingers across the wall, making two vertical lines. As he completed the connecting line at the top, he heard ripping fabric from behind him. Turning around, he saw a sight he knew he would never forget.
Tezcat had torn off his shirt and revealed his bare torso. His body was completely covered by tattoos of jaguar spots etched in bright silver ink. All along his arms and shoulders, curved golden spikes had been driven through his flesh. The gold and silver in his body shined in the flickering torchlight, as did his catlike eyes. That was when Tim realized the truth about who the man had been. He saw a flash, a memory almost, of Tezcat standing in the sunlight of a primordial world, atop a great stone altar in a golden city, a faintly pulsing heart grasped in his hand. The High Priest of Relk.
As the monstrous figure began to move towards him, Tim turned back to the wall. The outline was glowing. It looked like it should work. But it needed something. Looking down at his hand, he saw the rim of the glass was coated in blood. Hearing footsteps only feet behind him, he pressed the glass against the wall like a doorknob and turned. The outline of the door flashed with a brilliant golden light. From behind him, the aspect of sacrifice screamed in rage and pain. In an instant, the light was all he could see.
Tim wasn’t sure how long he was unconscious, but when he came too he found himself sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the dive bar, which the sign now said was named Ruby’s. The rain was still pouring down all around him. A few people gave him an odd look as they hurried by. He dragged himself to his feet and retreated beneath the awning of the bar. He grabbed his phone from his pocket as quickly as he could and punched in his parents’ number.
The phone rang once.
A click came from the other line. A wave of relief shot through Tim, but it was short-lived.
“Hello, there, Timmy,” said a voice he now knew far too well. “I really have to congratulate you on that daring escape.” Tim’s stomach tied itself into an ice cold knot.
“Where are my parents?”
“Oh, they’re fine,” said Tezcat. “I just wanted to talk to you one last time.”
“I’m going to have to watch my back, aren’t I?”
“Yes, but not because of me. You see, despite that embarrassingly emotional display back there, I have to respect your passion.”
“Now, now, Tim,” he said. “At this point, I am a businessman above all else. And it is not good business to carry on a vendetta based on one deal gone wrong. It would be a waste of time and resources to keep going after you when my website is still going strong.”
“So why are you talking to me? Wouldn’t it be more fun to keep me looking over my shoulder?”
“Yes, in fact, that’s part of why I’m talking to you. You didn’t really think it was dumb luck that that laptop was planted there and that you were drawn to it, did you? You have exactly the type of soul that aspects are drawn to; full of hope, dreams, desperation. There are plenty of other aspects that will sniff you out eventually. Ambition. Want. Creation. Just giving you a heads up.”
“How nice of you.”
“Good luck, Mr. Avery. Tela Ra’an ten’ashad.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean??”
“Uh, Tim?” asked his father’s voice. “I just said ‘hello’.”
“Uh, yeah, sorry. I was…talking to a guy on the street.”
“Um…okay. So, do you need us to pick you up somewhere? The rain’s still coming down pretty hard.”
“No, just wanted to check in. I think I’ll wait out the rain. I’m still thinking about what we were talking about earlier.”
“You know we just want what’s best for you, right, Tim?”
“Yeah, I know,” said Tim. “I’m just trying to figure something out. Talk to you later.”
“Yeah, see you later.” Tim ended the call and exhaled a long, slow breath. He sat underneath the awning for a while, figuring out what he wanted to do. After a while, he came to a decision. He walked towards the crosswalk, making his way back towards the internet café. There were three other websites on that list on the Western Crossroads. He wasn’t feeling desperate. He was feeling lucky.
CREDIT: Alex Taylor
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