How long has it been..? Two, maybe three weeks? I can’t even remember at this point. Every day’s been a muddled blur ever since the light of my life burned out. And now every second after feels like it’s still stuck in that moment. My skin still skitters with that same unease I felt when I walked through our apartment door. All the joy and anticipation I had for the one day a year she’ll let me spoil her fled in an instant. The steps across a crimson floorboard leading to our bedroom. My knees almost collapsing when I opened the door. Even while I stare at the ceiling, I still see her. Holes where holes shouldn’t have been. Her blood leaking onto our hardwood floor. I choked out her name. She said nothing. I ran to her, feeling for anything that could tell me she was alive. My palms remember the heartbeat I felt pass into nothingness. But that one heartbeat, even if it was just fiction, was enough to give me hope she was still alive. With my hands still bloodied from feeling her body, I called for help, hoping that they could somehow do the impossible and revive her from the dead. In the time it took for it to get to our apartment, I cradled her body and cried more than I like to admit. And a few hours later I came back from the hospital. Back to a home without the woman I devoted my life to. Back without her pure tan skin, her loving smile, her warm strawberry smell, her long wafting hair painted blue like the bottom of the ocean. They never found whoever did it to her, not that it would've made me feel any better. I don't want revenge or justice, I want her. If she could see me now. The peach-colored hairs on my head and face are a mess, my showers are infrequent, and my muscle from work is slowly but surely dissolving. I don’t remember the last time I changed out of this white tee shirt either. At least it used to be white before the stains. She always said she used to love my face and how stern it looked. But now my face is a shell of what it was, drooping from the lack of sleep and crying I've been doing.
I'm broken. Shattered. Reduced to nothing.
Reminds me of our once beautiful apartment. Beer cans, half-eaten food, and other miscellaneous objects mask the beautiful floor underneath. The windows are stained with grime and so is the skeleton of our TV. Dirty clothes draped off ledges, the kitchen counter, and somehow latched onto the wall.
It’s a mess. I'm a mess.
She'd probably say something reassuring about my looks or how the apartment could always be cleaned up.
…I just need to hear her say anything.
I lift my head off the couch cushion, the same place I’ve been sleeping for the past few days. I can’t bear to go back into that room again.
The trash on the floor rustles as I walk past it, beer in hand, in an attempt to escape the horrors of real life. At least, that was the plan, but a hearty knock on my door tethers me to reality for a little while longer.
"If it's about the rent I promise I'll have the money later!" I yell, expecting it to be the landlady. But when I turn the knob, an unfamiliar face meets mine at the doorway.
The mystery person is a small woman. Even with her black and neon green platform sneakers, her face barely reaches my chest. Along with it, she's wearing a dapper business suit with an evergreen-colored tie and long black pants, stuff you'd see a businessman wear. Her black hair puffs into two frizzy pom-poms tied together with light green hair ties, adding even more to her artificial height. She turns her caramel face to meet mine and scans me, then the address to the right of my door, then her hazel eyes switch back to me.
"Ren Lu?" She asked.
"I'm Victoria Ryder, level 2 agent for the U.S. Department of Curators, may I come in?"
"Um, my apartment isn't that clean right-"
"Thanks for having me!" Despite her diminutive stature, Victoria pushes right through me into my apartment.
"I never said you could come in."
"Yeesh, it smells like shit in here! Your apartment's almost worse than my house!" She comments as she sits down on my couch.
"It's nice to be somewhere that that doesn't always smell like rotting food though. But don't bet on getting any action in a room like this. The smell will scare off anyone you're bringing home."
"What are you…?" This is getting more confusing by the word. "Do you mind telling me what you're doing in my house!?"
"I thought I already told you, I'm Victoria Ryder a Curator for the United States."
"Repeating your name doesn't explain why you're here!" Historically I've been told I have... slight anger issues. It's a problem I've been trying to work on. But I think I'm well within my right to be a bit heated right now.
But it looks like I might be having the same effect on her because her face scrunches in on itself hearing my question. "Do you seriously not know what Curators do? You learn that in like 8th grade. Or are you a middle school dropout?"
"No, I graduated middle and high school. And I know about Curators." She works for the United States Government Ren, you can't pummel and throw her out, yet. Plus, Catherine always told me to ‘Mind my temper, Peaches.’ I miss how she used to call me that.
"So, you just need a refresher course then?" Victoria said as she nestled further down into my couch, trying to find the perfect spot for maximum comfort.
"Alright, not to brag but five years ago I graduated top of my class in high school. To keep things simple for you, Curators gather objects called Antiques which are these super-powerful items that could be used by murderers or tax evaders. Our goal is to gather every single Antique there is, use the ones that could benefit society, and lock away the rest. Or at least that's the stuff they put on my job description."
"But what does that have to do with me?"
"If our goal is to gather every Antique that would include you. We gotta catch 'em all."
Her blunt delivery of that news along with her sober face tells me she isn't lying, but I still can't help but ask. "You're joking right?"
"Wow, that reference went right over your head. You really are ancient. But no, I'm being completely honest. I was a girl scout as a kid, so you can trust me." The big, toothy smile on her face isn't filling me with confidence.
"So, this is all some elaborate prank at my expense... If you're a tenant at the apartment I can call the landlady and get you evicted!" I'll probably get myself evicted with her if I go and talk to the landlady. But a threat might scare her off, right?
"I was just joking a little. Where's your sense of humor, you're so serious! But I wasn't lying when I said you're an Antique. You should have an image on your back, something like a blue circle getting poked with a stick that proves it."
"A circle getting poked by a stick?" I stretch my hands under my shirt as far back as they'd go, prodding and feeling for any sign of something abnormal.
"It's grafted onto your skin kinda like a tattoo. You won't find it like that."
"Fine then." I sigh. I'll take a look at my back, prove her wrong and get her out of my house! I shed the tee I probably haven't taken off in a week in search of this supposed blue circle that's climbed onto my back.
"Woooooo! I wasn't expecting a show too! If you need to see your back, I wouldn't mind taking a picture with my phone to show you!"
"I'll get it myself." I don't think I want this woman to have a picture of me saved, no telling what she'd do with it. Plus, the bathroom mirror will surely dispel her false claims. I make my way to the bathroom, wipe off the dirt and dust on the mirror for a clear image, and turn my back to it.
"What the…" Square in the middle of my back, a shape kind of like a spear poking into a circle with lines coming off it. It was there, just like she said.
I know my dad has pictures of me as a kid. Playing in the water, my first bath, stuff like that. And this symbol wasn't on me then… So, when did this happen?
"See, I told ya." She gloats from the other room.
I walk back to pry out some answers. "What is this? What does it mean?"
"Personally, I have no clue what it does. For all I know you could turn into a black hole and swallow the building, or you could turn yourself into a block of cheese."
"Yep. There are a lot of Antiques that do a lot of random stuff. What I do know though, is that since you're an Antique I have to take you in."
"By taking me in, you're arresting me?"
"And you'll experiment on my body like a lab rat?"
"The eggheads at the research department already know what your Antique does, I think. But yeah you'll probably be subjected to a bunch of tests. If you're lucky you might even get dissected!"
"Dissected!?" I feel my stomach hit the floor, a feeling that's becoming too common lately. I won't be caged like some kid's science experiment! I won't…
But maybe this is for the best. "I wasn't doing anything with my life right now anyway." I admitted, "What difference will it make if I'm here or in someone's science lab."
"Man, you're depressing. Where's your grit? Your self-preservation?"
"I've been all out of that for weeks."
"Uuuuuuggghhh. And here I was, about to give you a second chance at life."
"Become a Curator."
"…" The room goes silent after her proposal. I already know she's prone to lying, this could be another trick. "Are you even allowed to do that?"
"You wouldn't be the first Antique to do it."
"But don't I need training for that? Aren't Curators like fancy police officers?"
"Don't compare us to those donut-eating imbeciles! We have dignity, fanciness, class! But training would probably be important. If you want to end up as effective of a Curator as I am we'll have to get you some."
On second thought I'll pass.
"And you'd probably have to move to D.C," She continues. "It's a long way from Seattle but the weather's way better so I'm basically doing you a favor!"
Doing me a...!? "If you're taking me there either way then what choice do I have."
"Quit being such a downer it's no big deal!"
"No big deal!? You're taking me away from my home in the only city I've ever lived in so I think it's a pretty big deal!"
She sits up from her relaxed position on the couch glaring like a vulture at me. "Personally, I think I’m making a pretty good offer." She grumbles. "I'll give you however long it takes me to raid your fridge for food for you to decide if you want to take it."
She walks behind the couch to the large black fridge double her size and pulls it open. "Hey!" She shouts at me. "There's nothing but booze in here? Are you an alcoholic?"
"No," I said, lying right through my teeth.
"Well unless you're swallowing glass bottles, you're only drinking alcohol for meals. They have wellness groups for people like you. Maybe you should visi-" A sudden chirping from under her suit interrupts Victoria's baseless speculation over my... admittedly real drinking problem.
"Man, right before free lunch too." She rolls her sleeve revealing a beeping watch underneath, "Damn! I'm really behind schedule, so if you're alright with working as a Curator then can we please start going now!"
I could stay here. Sit on the couch, eat what I can find from the fridge, drink beer, then pass out. But I'd still be with Catherine. At least until I get kicked out by the landlady. Or I can leave the apartment, our memories, our home, her, all of it behind. I can't decide-.
Victoria grasps my arm, and with a frightening amount of strength yanks me towards the door. "I don't have time for this. If the holdup is whether you think being a Curator's safe or not, we can have a crash course right now! The other assignment I have is even in this apartment building! Two birds one stone type of deal! Let's go Antique hunting!"
"I haven't even said yes yet!" But she didn't hear my protests as she continued to drag me outside of the room.