Masked – The Fortress (1)

To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Sweat stung John Kosearas’s brown eyes. The electric company had shut the power down to the store again, and that meant he worked on cleaning, without air conditioning. Fortress Games was a fortress all right: one under siege from creditors. Lenny, the owner, insisted on handling accounting himself, and the last paycheck John had seen? Three weeks behind. John had cast his job search net far and wide. No response yet to his résumés. He didn’t know whether or not he wanted to adjust to the constant desperation, but whatever he wished for, desperation remained his truth.

He wiped his brow with the back of his hand (which didn’t really help), took off his metal-rimmed glasses, and rubbed his eyes. First with his fingertips, and then in aggravation he pulled the hem of his shirt up over his belly to wipe roughly. He wanted to sit in a cold room with a cool cloth on his forehead and a good cup of Kona coffee in hand. Instead, he pulled his shirt back down and reached for his dustcloth. He would clean the store and put things away for as long as he could see. After that, he planned to feel guilty for not getting more work done. Lenny expected him to keep the customers happy, somehow. It felt like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat with no magical training. He had just finished wiping down the last display of boxed, unpainted miniatures when he heard the store’s front door chime. Shit. Lenny had told him last time that he could not close up while the power was out. He had hoped the store would remain conveniently empty.

“Hello?” called a feminine voice behind him.

John turned. Amica Ferri stood by the sale counter, glancing at plastic cubes filled with different-sided colored dice. Today the stripe at the front of her black bob was ultramarine. Her pale skin framed by the dark hair as always reminded him of the legend of Snow White. She smiled at him. He found her prominent front teeth adorable. As always.

He crossed the main floor, past the tables laminated with hexagons to make it easier for the players to place and battle figurines. Past the display case of local artisan crystal jewelry that never got a sale. “Hi!” John knew how to present collected. “I’m sorry it’s so dim in here. Power issues.”

Amica’s grin turned rueful. “I thought the windows looked dark. Lenny forgot to pay again?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny this,” John replied, returning her expression.

“I don’t suppose you can confirm whether the player’s guide Sean ordered has come in yet? I thought I’d stop by to check while I was in the area.”

“Yes, about that – I’m sorry, but it looks like we’re not going to be able to get it. We source through three distributors but it looks like Raxtar is its own distributor and we don’t work with them. Sorry.” Internally, John winced at Amica’s mention of her fiancé. Sean seemed to keep her around as an errand girl as much as for any other reason.

Amica tsked. “That’s a shame. Guess I’ll have to order it online. You know I like supporting you guys when I can.”

John raised his arms expansively. “And we like loyal customers! Sorry it didn’t work out this time.”

Amica raised her hand in farewell. Light through the store’s window caught the band of her engagement ring. John echoed her gesture, minus any ring. He hadn’t seen his girlfriend, Carlye, in six months. John didn’t believe that frequency of contact said anything about the strength of a relationship, or that being in a relationship necessarily enhanced a person’s life; he felt proud of Carlye’s graduate research. As Amica walked away, John caught himself admiring her nineteen-year-old curves beneath her printed sundress. He shook his head and continued to work by the light of the windows.

 

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week: a resident of Aum has taken an interest in John.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

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