Charlie slept surprisingly well despite the hard wood floor which provided absolutely no comfort whatsoever. After the initial confusion of waking up in a strange place and trying to piece together how he’d ended up there, he got up and made his way to the living room. He took in the barren apartment, which seemed even more empty in the early morning light. If he was going to keep living here, he was eventually going to need to figure out some basic furniture. He supposed that might involve an Ikea trip, but he was incredibly broke, so he decided that he would keep an eye out for discarded furniture left out with the trash for the time being. It wasn’t the best way to furnish a home but he knew from experience that as long as he avoided anything with fabric and stuck to woods and plastics, a good cleaning would make them as good as new.
Then, once he found a way to earn some cash, he could always upgrade later. If he grew a few vegetables, perhaps he could sell them. Was that how grocery stores acquired their local produce? Random sellers who carted in fruits, vegetables and herbs from their community gardens? He’d never really thought about it. If that didn’t work out, perhaps he could find a place that would purchase his huge excess of rope. He realized this was very wishful thinking.
In any case he was going to need to find some solutions to his financial problems sooner rather than later.
There was a knock at the door. He smoothed his hands over his shirt, tossed his hands through his hair, attempting to straighten it, then answered the door. He found Juno standing in a cool-toned dress and cute black denim jacket with two paper cups filled with steaming hot coffee in her hands.
“Oh wow,” said Charlie, taking one of the cups as she handed it to him. “I didn’t realize there was a coffee place around here.”
“There’s not,” she said. “I got them from Arjun in 604. His relic is this fancy coffee maker that can brew any bean from around the world, in any way you might want it brewed I might add, without actually needing the beans at all. Though, since the reset he only has three options, but he was still very excited to have any at all. Thanks to you!”
“I didn’t actually do anything worth being thanked for,” Charlie reminded her. “I just opened up this backpack.” He pointed to the backpack which was currently sitting back on the table where he’d found it the previous day.
“And you stayed. That’s important too.”
“You really think that if I leave, you’ll all lose your powers again?” he asked, taking a sip of the coffee. It was hot yet soft on the tongue with warm notes of nuttiness and a hint of bittersweet chocolate flavoring. He felt as though it was warming his soul from the inside out.
“Possibly,” she said. “My working theory is that in order for our relics to work, someone has to be actively using the backpack.”
“So why didn’t one of you try? To use it, I mean.”
“Oh we did,” she remarked. “Milo actually tried several times, but it wouldn’t even open for him. I think it’s sort of like that sword in the stone story where Arthur pulled the sword out and became King Arthur. It needs the right person.”
“You’re just saying that because my grandfather’s name was Arthur,” joked Charlie.
“I wasn’t,” said Juno thoughtfully. “But it is oddly fitting. Then again, maybe it’s simply because he left it to you. Maybe it’s got something to do with bloodlines or inheritors.”
“Maybe,” he said.
“Anyway, are you about ready to head out, or do you need a few minutes still?” she asked, eyeing his rumpled clothes and messy hair.
“So listen,” said Charlie, who had been trying to think of a way to subvert Juno’s expectations for today. “I know you said we should meet the building’s tenants, but I was thinking maybe we should hold off for a bit, you know? I should probably spend some time up in the garden anyway, and I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You won’t be a bother,” she said quickly. “Everyone knows everyone. I imagine a lot of them are excited to meet you as soon as possible, now that word about you is starting to spread.”
“Word is spreading? About me?”
“Harriet has a big mouth.”
“It’s just…” he twiddled his thumbs trying to put the words together. “I’m not so great at meeting new people. I have a lot of anxiety about it actually. Like, what if I say the wrong thing? What if they introduce themselves and then I instantly forget their names? What if they go for the hug and I go for the handshake and then I just end up punching them? What if … what if all these meetings end up being repeats of yesterday with Milo?”
Juno sat her cup down on the lone table and moved towards him, placing a hand on his arm. “I hear you Charlie. And I understand that you’re nervous. But yesterday you moved in, learned that magic is basically real, and then proceeded to start a small garden on a roof that’s essentially an altered plane of reality.”
Charlie waited for more, but it never came. “And…”
“My point is that I think you’re capable of a lot more than you think you are.” She patted his shoulders. “Now go get dressed, fix whatever the hell is going on with your hair, and stop being a big baby.”
“Ugh,” grumbled Charlie. “Fine! But if I panic and throw up, you have to clean it up.”
“Deal,” she said, laughing at him.
Charlie went to the bathroom where he quickly washed his hair and brushed his teeth. He then went to the appointed bedroom and changed into a pair of jeans and a yellow t-shirt from the pile of clothes Juno had brought him. He threw on a pair of socks, his sneakers and his jacket, then met Juno back in the living room where she was gently plucking at the strings on her ukeytar. When he emerged, she nodded in approval and put her instrument away. He only just remembered to throw the backpack over his shoulders before she practically shoved him out the door and into the elevator.
No one lived on the first floor. It was used primarily for mailboxes and entry to the building. So, they started the tour on the second floor. Thankfully, 201 was occupied by Fen, the old man that Charlie had met upon his arrival the previous morning.
“Good to see you’re getting along,” said Fen. He arrived at the door, cane in hand, to greet them. “And Ms. De La Cruz, what a treat this is!” he exclaimed, embracing her in a hug.
“Good to see you too, Fen,” she replied.
“What brings you two young folk to my home?” asked the old man.
“I’m taking Charlie around so he can meet everyone,” said Juno. “We needed a little help from Harriet yesterday, and I expect we’ll need others’ aid sooner or later so I figured it would be good to start building some bridges.”
“Aw, well if you ever need something inanimate to come to life, just come see old Fen,” said the man. He waved his cane in front of them. Charlie was sure he saw the moose atop it wink at him.
“Wait,” said Charlie sheepishly, “so when you were talking to that gate yesterday, you actually were telling it what to do?”
“Let me guess. You thought I was just a crazy old man?” asked Fen.
“Well,” started Charlie.
“Fen’s relic is his cane,” interrupted Juno. “He’s able to use it to command inanimate objects to do as he says.”
“That’s how you got the gate to stay,” said Charlie.
“I don’t know if that was me per se,” said Fen. “Could be the gate was just in a good mood for once. After all, the juice didn’t start flowing through our Relics again until a bit later on in the morning. But then, I suppose you had something to do with that.”
“All I did was open a backpack,” said Charlie.
“Just because something seems simple, doesn’t always mean that it is,” said Fen. “Don’t discount the small successes in your life.”
“I’ll, uh, try to remember that,” replied Charlie.
“Well, we won’t take up too much of your time, Fen,” said Juno. “Lots of folks to meet.”
“Yes, yes,” said the old man, waving them off. “Young people always on the go. I know how it is.”
They said farewell and continued down the hall. Each floor was made up of five apartments. Two that were adjacent to either side of the elevator, and three on the opposite side of the hall. Juno lived down and across from Fen in Apartment 204, so they stopped there next. Here, Charlie met her mother, a kind older woman with a thick Puerto Rican accent. Mrs. De La Cruz hugged Charlie so tightly he thought his bones might break, and invited them in for mofongo, which was currently being baked by her relic, or perhaps relics was the more appropriate term.
Mrs. De La Cruz had a magical set of 28 dominoes. Each had thin black arms and legs like those of a stick figure. Because of this, the dominoes were able to do all manner of household chores. If need be, they could also settle down for an actual game of El Domino, which Juno promised to teach Charlie when they had more time.
Mofongo, which Charlie had never tried in his life, turned out to be a dish made mainly of fried plantains which were mashed together with various herbs and spices—Charlie noted a garlicky flavor—stuffed with pork cracklings and cooked in a delicious broth. Not realizing how hungry he was, Charlie scarfed it down along with several other dishes which were dropped onto the table in front of him by the dominoes.
“Mami, this is too much food!” chided Juno.
“He’s a growing boy!” said Mrs. De La Cruz, gesturing towards Charlie whose mouth was currently stuffed with fried eggs. “He needs to eat!”
“He’s 27!” yelled Juno. “The only thing that’s going to grow is his gut after he eats all this.”
The two continued squabbling as Charlie continued to stuff himself. Finally, he leaned back in his chair, breathing heavily as he realized that he’d definitely eaten far too much.
“I think maybe I should just take a nap,” he said.
“Oh no you don’t!” scolded Juno. “We still have plenty of people to meet!” She pulled him out of the chair, kissed her mother on the cheek and shoved Charlie out of the apartment. Mrs. De La Cruz promised to send some more food up to him later. Charlie was grateful, even though the very thought of more food made him feel like he might burst.
After Fen and Mrs. De La Cruz, the tenants started to blend together. They met Angeline, a writer whose relic was a magical typewriter. Anything she typed would make the person reading it actually experience the story as if they were living in it, like a hyper realistic hallucination. They met a married couple, two husbands named Ryan and Demitri, who shared a magical oven (Ryan’s relic) which could bake cakes, cupcakes and other goods in record time. Not only this, but the sweets emerged from the oven already beautifully decorated. Demitri’s relic was a yeast starter that was actually alive and liked to shout various curse words as it walked around the kitchen slamming a wooden spoon loudly against the underside of a pot like a one-man-drunken-sailor parade.
Demitri offered Charlie several loaves of bread which were flavored like entire meals, an ability which was possible when using yeast from the belligerent starter. One was made to taste like an entire Thanksgiving feast. While another was flavored like an entire meal of dim sum.
“Make sure to take one of these as well. It’s Sunday brunch flavored” said Dimitri as he grabbed for another loaf, ducking past the yeast starter who was trying to explain, in graphic detail, just where Demitri could shove said loaf.
On the fourth floor, they entered an apartment that looked like an old world shop on the inside. Bags full of bits and bobs lined the floors along with boxes full of all manner of shiny antique things. Even the ceiling was cluttered with drying meats and fruits hanging from hooks as well as decorative ornaments covered in jewels and beads. This was the home of Magda, a husky, brown-skinned woman with a bold voice and a deep laugh. She wore hooped earrings and gold bracelets and her hair was tied back in a fluffy bun held together by several bronze metal rings.
“I’m who you’ll be seeing when it’s time to make a buck off all those creations of yours,” she said, getting right down to business. “And don’t go selling to anyone else! Your grandfather sold me his extra goods, and I’ll be expecting you to do the same!”
Magda was a woman who enjoyed the art of the deal and, what she called, the lost magic of haggling and shop ownership. She quickly began reeling off numbers and insights on profit margins and supply chains. Charlie quietly nodded along, pretending he knew what any of it meant.
She led them to a large cash register which looked as though it had been pulled straight out of the 1600’s. It was a glimmering gold color with ornate patterns running all along its surface, and a large rectangular base which protruded out gaudily from the contraption. The upper part of the register was made up of a full set of alpha-numerical black buttoned keys, and a golden cylinder with a small slit for producing a receipt. On its side was a large lever with a spherical knob on the end, which protruded up from the register’s base.
“This here is Delilah,” said Magda. “You put the goods on Delilah and she’ll give you what they’re worth. Not a penny less, not a penny more.”
“So your relic is a magical cash register?” asked Charlie.
Magda looked offended. “Delilah is a refined lady with refined taste!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
Juno, luckily, came to his rescue. “Do you have any of that rope from yesterday?”
“No, but I can make some.” Charlie hadn’t stored any of the rope in the backpack, for fear of the backpack pulling it back apart into grass again. Instead, he’d left a large pile of rope back on the rooftop. He pulled his backpack in front of him, selected the rope on the creation menu, reached in, and pulled out a brand new coil of rope.
“Aw, perfect!” exclaimed Magda who practically had dollar signs glistening in her eyes. “Now sit that right on ol’ Delilah!” She gave the register a hearty pat.
Charlie placed the rope on the flat base which protruded out from the button keys. It reminded him of the scale in self checkout lines which was used to weigh produce. Within seconds, the cash register burst open, and there, sitting in the tray, were two crisp dollar bills.
Charlie eyed them suspiciously.
“Well don’t be shy!” snapped Magda. “Take it! They’re yours, ain’t they?”
“Are they?” asked Charlie, still unsure.
“You made the rope! You sold the rope! You get the money for the rope!” She waved her hands in the air as she spoke, using her motions to add emphasis to her words.
“Okay, okay,” said Charlie. He reached down and picked up the money. “So how does this work? I just bring you things and sell them to you?”
“That’s right,” said Magda.
“But what kind of things are you buying?” he asked, sure that there must be a catch.
“Anything you’re selling,” she said proudly.
“Anything?” asked Charlie again.
“Anything,” she parroted.
“And what do you do with all that … stuff?” he asked.
“Well now darling, that is for me, and only me, to know.” She gave him a wink.
Charlie had the sudden suspicion that this was some sort of pyramid scheme. But Magda was a big woman, and he assumed she could snap him like a twig if she wanted, so he didn’t press the issue. In any case, he made a mental note to come back and see her with the rest of his rope and anything else he might find himself in excess of. It also occurred to him that perhaps this might solve some of his money concerns.
They left Magda and continued meeting people, though surprisingly most of the tenants weren’t home. On the sixth floor, Juno was especially sad that one couple wasn’t home as she said they had quite the menagerie in their apartment, whatever that meant.
They knocked on another door, only to hear a loud explosion, followed by the sound of coughing from the other side, which Juno took as a signal to come back another time. They also met Arjun, the coffee brewer, who was a kind, middle-aged Indian man with a neatly trimmed beard and glasses. He offered them several cups of coffee and espresso to try so that, by the time they left, Charlie felt as though his heart might explode out of his chest.
On the seventh floor, Juno merely motioned towards Milo’s room, letting Charlie know where it was, but making no effort to knock or enter. This was probably for the best. Charlie was in no mood to be told how awful he was today.
With at least a few introductions done, it was already past noon. Juno decided that it was time for Charlie to go check in on his little garden and continue working on finding new ways to level up the backpack. Charlie and Juno said their goodbyes to each other with Juno promising to check in on him later. Charlie headed back to his apartment to drop off the food the tenants gave him. With these safely in his fridge for later, he went back up to the garden. He wasn’t exactly sure what he planned to do there, but given that he was fully fed and caffeinated, he at least felt far more ready to face any new challenges than he had the previous day.
Just so long as that challenge didn’t involve getting eaten by a roof bear.
This is my absolute favorite chapter so far! I love getting to finally introduce so many of the characters of Darkmoon Drive and start showing all of you their relic powers! Obviously there are MANY more to show off in the coming story, but I hope you enjoyed getting a taste of all these tenants!!