Trevor hurried out the door, his sneakers making slapping sounds on the sidewalk. His last table of customers wouldn’t stop chin-wagging, and now he was running behind. He blew through the doors of the Bud Hut on East Zinc Street and quickly picked out a bouquet of hydroponic, watercolor roses. Grown to resemble an artist’s pallet, they were the perfect flowers for Xan who was also colorful and creative.
Tissue wrapped flowers in hand, Trevor jogged to the Skytrain station, where he boarded the next arrival to Midtown. Descending the platform steps, he glanced at his com-ring and broke out into a run. He only had one minute left, and he did NOT want to be late for this.
He rushed into the theater just as the house lights dimmed. Tapping his com-ring, he checked his ticket for his seat number. Great. He was in the middle of a long row of full seats.
Trevor stepped over and on people in the dark, apologizing as he went, and holding his bouquet of flowers high so they wouldn’t get damaged. Meanwhile, the orchestra was tuning up, and he could feel the resentment toward him growing as the instrumental volume built. At length, Trevor found his seat and plopped down, wiping perspiration from his brow.
The music began and the red velvet curtain rose. The troupe of Xan dancers was already in position, and they exploded into motion. From their very first movement, the anger in the room dissipated. Trevor could feel his anxiety melting away and being replaced by sheer joy.
Xans contribution to the worlds was the gift of dance; it could break through walls in the psyche, end depression, open eyes to see everything that was right in the world. If someone was ever at the end of their tether, all they would need to do is watch a Xan dance.
The conductor, also a Xan, communicated the music to the human orchestra in an uncharacteristically rigid fashion. Restraining the desire to join in the dance must have been challenging. Trevor could see the conductor’s stiffness lapse occasionally into a flowing sway of tentacles. The chosen score was a plaintive cry of strings mixed that evoked the soul's yearning while the pumping rhythm and, heavy bass celebrated the joy of life now. Using their unique physiology, the Xan dancers stretched to amazing heights and rolled into tiny balls, intertwining their limbs to enhance their momentum. They whirled and spun in fluid motion, and Trevor couldn’t tell where one Xan ended and another began. It was like a perpetually moving, pastel kaleidoscope. He was in awe of how they were able to keep their traction on the stage which was now dangerously slippery with snail-like Xan foot slime.
The music swelled to a crescendo just as the back doors of the theater opened, letting in a shaft of light from the lobby. Trevor reeled in his seat, momentarily annoyed and looking for whoever had caused the disruption. When he faced the stage again, the dancers had parted and were pirouetting separately around a Xan who was the color of spring buttercups. The audience gasped as the yellow Xan twisted into a loose spiral and extended upward. When the Xan elegantly unwound from this position, globules of slime sprayed outward in all directions including the orchestra pit and the first two rows of the audience. After a brief discord, the musicians regained their tempo. The audience remained enraptured, eyes wide with delight while their faces and hair dripped with goop.
Finally able to distinguish the dancers, Trevor found his Xan, whose seafoam green tentacles moved sinuously like an undersea angel. His cheeks got hot and he tucked his bristly, black hair behind his ears. As if anyone could call a Xan theirs. Though maybe after he’d given Xan these flowers they might grow closer. He adjusted the multicolored roses in his grip so they wouldn’t be crushed.
Trevor became aware of a rumble beneath his feet, light at first but growing stronger. Initially, he thought the mustachioed man on timpani had gotten carried away, but the rumbling persisted until enormously thick plant roots emerged from back stage. They snaked over the stage’s edge and goosed the tuba player causing her to let out an inharmonious toot before they wound their way down the theater aisles and out the lobby doors. Xans had never incorporated these kinds of props in their dances before, but Trevor couldn’t tell if this was rehearsed or not. The dancers used their flexible forms to move along with the roots, dancing around them and over them. The audience oohed and applauded.
The Xans joined in a circle with the buttercup Xan in the center, and with one final baton stroke from the conductor, the performance was over. The audience leapt to their feet, whistling and clapping. Some wiping tears of joy from their face, some wiping away slime.
The curtain came down, the house lights came up, and a general hubbub arose in the theater. Xans were appearing from back stage to mingle with the audience. Trevor thought he spied seafoam green across the room before his view was blocked by a tuxedo clad man. He nudged and budged his way through the crowd of theater goers who couldn’t seem to decide between walking toward the exit or stopping to chat with each other.
Jostling past stragglers, Trevor ultimately found Xan amidst a gaggle of admiring audience members. Xan gave a demure smile in response to all the compliments on a magnificent performance. Trevor reached out a shaky, flower-filled hand, and gulped.
“The dance was beautiful, but you stole the show.”
Xan waved a dismissive tentacle. “Trevor that’s silly. I was a supporting dancer. Xan was the star.”
As if on cue, the yellow hued lead dancer broke through the throng of fans and in a smooth tone said, “I really appreciate your performance tonight. You did a great job.” Xan’s seafoam eyes sparkled at the praise. The two Xans huddled closer and began a rapid exchange of highlights from the show. Trevor waited a while, but it soon became painfully obvious that the two dancers only had enough attention for each other.
Like the rest of the crowd, Trevor usually experienced a prolonged state of bliss after a Xan dance, but not tonight. He walked out of the theater, stepping over roots that had grown out into the road, where he leaned against a lamppost with Xan’s roses still in hand.
In his periphery, Trevor saw a woman with her hair done up in a colorful scarf approaching two girls. The second she opened her mouth Trevor recognized her.
“I know all these people,” she said, gesturing to the insignificant crowd exiting the theater. “You are new to Newburg.” The girls, one about his age and the other in grade school, were stopped in their tracks. The older one put an arm around the younger. The heavily made up woman reached into a large cloth bag slung across her shoulder and approached the girls with the swagger of a cat who had just cornered a mouse.
“You’ll be making a new life, new friends, new experiences. What if I could make it easier for you? I have special powder you put in your morning tea and it brings romance into your life, like that.” She snapped and smiled, revealing lipstick stained teeth. In her palm was a tiny plastic bag of what looked like ground cinnamon.
The older girl squared her shoulders. “I’m not interested in romance, thanks.” The woman reached into her bag again, but Trevor, knowing her sales pitch, intervened.
“Come on Mrs. Pitkin. You know you can’t sell your potions here,” he said, shaking his head.
With a huff, Mrs. Pitkin shoved the powder into her large sack and retorted “It is a romance powder, not a love potion!” She made to leave with her chin held high, but stopped first and said, “I’m sure you had better luck with your flowers. Ha!”
As Mrs. Pitkin stomped off, Trevor looked down at his bouquet and sighed.
“Love potions are forbidden in Newburg,” Trevor explained to the girls. He then extended a hesitant hand out to the eldest who had raven black hair and bright blue contacts in her eyes. “Um, I’m Trevor.”
“Yeah, I recognized you. Well, I recognized the back of your head. I sit a two rows behind you in biochemistry. Liza,” she said, shaking his hand. She spoke in a nonchalant monotone, unsurprised by anything.
“Ohhh, you’re the new girl,” Trevor said, feeling stupid. The younger girl stifled a chuckle. She gripped a thin white cane and held her eyes half open.
“This is my sister Gabby,” Liza said. Trevor held out his hand to Gabby, but Gabby reached hers straight out in front of her. It dawned on him that she was blind and obviously couldn’t see his outstretched hand. He finally grasped hers in a clumsy handshake.
“So, uh, did you enjoy the performance?” he asked them both.
“I didn’t expect it to be so… intense. We came late because Gabby really just likes to go to the theater for the intermissions.”
“Really?” Trevor asked, switching the bouquet to the other hand.
Gabby let go of Liza’s arm and gripped her cane with both hands. “Intermissions are funny because you can hear everyone say how bad they have to pee, and then they all rush to the bathroom at the same time!” She laughed. “Unfortunately, this show didn’t have an intermission. The orchestra was good though.”
As she was talking, the roots sprawling out of the theater expanded and grew thicker. The ground beneath them began to shake, and a gritty rasping sound could be heard west of them on Mercury Street, becoming increasingly louder.
Gabby shrank back in fear, and Liza clasped her hand tightly over her sister’s shoulder. Trevor looked toward the direction of the scraping sound which was now mingled with a continuous yell that seemed to be getting closer by the second.
Before long, he could see enormous, black tree roots undulating down the road. As they grew and stretched, the roots carried a man in cargo pants and a black goatee along the length of Mercury Street. He was gripping tightly to one of the roots and shouting in panic. A few people screamed, clamoring to get out of the road and out of the roots path. The man eventually found the nerve to roll off the growing plant, and he tumbled onto the sidewalk.
“That’s my dad,” Liza said, confused.
“Daddy?” Gabby asked, tilting her head.
“I think it’s safe now, Gabs. A bunch of roots like the ones in the theater grew down the street, and dad was on one of them. That was him yelling. He’s standing now so I think he’s ok.” The little girl reached out her white cane, and finding one of the roots began to feel it with her hands.
“Girls, you alright?” Liza’s father asked while brushing his hands off on his pants.
“We’re good,” Gabby answered, sitting with her back to everyone on one of the roots and patting the tough bark with her dainty hands.
Humphrey Hob trotted up the sidewalk, pausing to climb awkwardly over roots in his green robe. He came to a wheezing halt near Liza’s father. He doubled over and braced his hands on his knees while he caught his breath.
“Are you o--?” Trevor began, but was cut short by Humphrey’s raised index finger signaling for just one more minute. After one more gasp of breath, Humphrey spoke.
“Dr. Jimenez, I was watering my houseplant a moment ago when these dirty great roots came crashing through the walls and pushed me out the door.” He tapped his fingertips together. “Given my um…tendency toward havoc, I think this may be my doing.” He gave Dr. Jimenez a pleading smile.
“No, no this is not your fault, Mister Hob. This is all on me,” Dr. Jimenez holding is arms wide to indicate the general disarray in all directions. “But, now I know the roots are immune to the tranquilizer brew I was given. Not only immune, they’ve developed a defensive reaction to it!”
“Well let’s see what we can do about that!” Humphrey pushed up the sleeves of his green robe and strode toward the intersection of Mercury Street and Unity Street.
“I see you got to go to the Xan dance,” Dr. Jimenez said to Liza while regarding Trevor.
“Yeah, it was incredible,” she responded with no visible emotion.
“Who’s this?” He asked with a small crease between his brows.
“Trevor. He’s in bio chem. He helped fend off a drug dealer a few minutes ago,” Liza answered as Trevor shook Dr. Jimenez’ hand.
“Love potions. Not drugs, but either way, they aren’t good.” Dr. Jimenez had a firm grip. His eyes roved to the roses in Trevor’s other hand and his grip became even firmer.
A strangled cry came from up the street. All heads turned to see Humphrey suspended in the air in the grasp of a tentacle-like root.
“This time it was definitely my fault!” he shouted.
Dr. Jimenez released Trevor’s hand and started down the street, but looked torn. “So you’re ok. Everything’s ok here,” he asked the girls again with his hands on his hips.
“Yes. Dad,” Liza said.
Gabby giggled. Humphrey whimpered. Dr. Jimenez ran toward him, shouting back at them, “Go home! I don’t know how much worse this is going to get!”
Together, Trevor and Liza watched poor Humphrey rising higher and higher into the air. He screeched something about being afraid of heights as the police set up a barricade around him and began urging people to vacate the area.
“You know, Newburg isn’t always this crazy,” Trevor said to the girls.
“Well that’s disappointing,” Gabby frowned.
“Dad said the woods were acting strange. I’m sure you don’t always have roots growing through your town.”
Facing the theater doors, Trevor saw Xan exit, laughing boisterously with a group of other Xans. He watched, crestfallen, as Xan glided away holding a bigger, brighter bouquet than his.
Liza followed his gaze. “Maybe you would have done better with wildflowers.”
“Yeah, those flowers smell weird,” Gabby said wrinkling her nose as she tapped her cane and found her way back to Liza.
Trevor shrugged, defeated and chucked the roses in a recycling bin.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you Monday. The back of your head anyway.”
“I’ll be sure to turn around,” Trevor said.
Gabby wrinkled her nose again.
Trevor crossed the street taking large steps over the roots. Peering back over his shoulder, Trevor tucked his hair behind his ears before shoving his empty hands in his pockets and quickening his pace toward home.