Mad Thomas ran. He ran as fast as he could, which still wasn’t even close to the speeds that his brain remembered. Once he had been so fast that light had been hard pressed to keep up. Once, he had swooped and soared, so that the wind became something solid with the speed of it. Now though he could barely do more than sprint, and hop, and occasionally jump hopefully before coming back to earth in dejection, looking back all the time for the one who followed him. The one who had come to him with her lies...
One of the more curious things about… well, things, is the number of said things that begin in pubs. Not the big things, obviously. Universes only do so, for example, if they happen to be both quite small and exceptionally alcoholic ones. For things more generally, however, pubs are traditional.
This pub, in the middle of the small town of New Wrexford, was called the Frog and Spigot. It sat sandwiched between the town’s theatre, which appeared from the outside to suffer from a typically theatrical excess of architecture, and a small firm of architects, which didn’t. Presumably, Mark Ezekiel Tilesbury reflected, the landlord found it quite a profitable place to be, since he looked like the kind of man who generally remembered not to offer any credit to anyone about to wander off on an extended tour of the Scottish Play in Madagascar. Or anyone else, for that matter.
Mark was contemplating that fact primarily because he had just been sent to the bar for the next round of drinks. It was quite a strange bar, half mirrored and half tiled, but that just went with the rest of the place. The room appeared to have been decorated by a succession of drunken set designers and architects, with the result that no two of the tables matched and there were oddments around the walls that included everything from the traditional horse brasses to top hats worn in musical theatre half a century before. Oh and the centre of the floor was dominated by a stuffed flamingo for no good reason Mark could see.
Flamingos weren’t a problem. Nor was the fact that it had been Mark’s round for the past three rounds. He was used to it by now. It had been his round at pretty much every stop of the tour so far. He tried using the mirrored half of the bar to divine exactly what it was about him that made that the case, some sort of inherent ‘the drinks are on me’-ness, but all that showed him was the usual: a blond haired man in his late twenties, with slightly more stubble than was strictly fashionable and a rather worn leather jacket that never had been.
The contrast with the others was obvious. ‘The others’ in this case consisted of two people, wedged into a corner booth. The man with the dark hair and the elegantly cut suit was Greg Rambler, celebrity psychic, one man supporter of the male grooming industry and officially Mark’s best friend from school. His touring show was the reason they were in New Wrexford in the first place. Thanks to a mixture of cold reading, hot reading and several of the temperatures in between, the show had done pretty well so far. Apparently, people liked to be told that the dead were getting on very nicely, thank you, and that they were enjoying things on the Other Side very much.
Deirdre sat across from Greg. At first glance, she looked exactly like the kind of pretty young woman Greg frequently spent the evening seducing with whatever level of mysterious powers he could pretend to have. She had a delicately upturned button nose, the widest eyes to be found anywhere outside of a cartoon, deep red hair and a petite figure that tended to put people in mind of the babysitter they wished they had left their kids with when they came to the show. What most of those people would think if they could hear her soft Irish lilt working its way through the joke she was currently telling Greg about the three nuns and the bishop, Mark didn’t know. He did know that the one time Greg had tried his luck with her, he’d walked with a limp for several days afterwards.
Thankfully, Mark seemed to be mostly safe from the wrath of Deirdre, if only because there seemed to be no conceivable universe in which she could even remotely think of him as anything more than an irritating younger brother figure. That broadly meant that she looked out for him, so long as it wasn’t too inconvenient, and Mark continued to do exactly what he was told. In theory, they both had equal roles as assistants to the star of the show, but Mark had never dared to suggest it.
‘Assistant’ seemed to translate to very different things for the two of them. Deirdre did front of house work. Mark, meanwhile, found that the term translated somewhere around ‘helper, sounding board, blame taker and general gofer.’
Somewhere behind Mad Thomas, there was the sound of a car. Was it her? Was it one of Them? Mad Thomas could barely remember. In the haze of fear and adrenaline, he could barely even remember the flying, and that filled his every waking thought. Memories of what he had been. What he’d lost. What they’d all lost. They stacked up around him like accusations. He had lost what he was, and so he must have been at fault. That was how things worked. How they had always worked. Yet he still could not remember why. No matter how hard he tried, he didn’t know that. He only knew that he needed to run.