Chapter 10: A Place for the Placeless

Not the final version. Book version may vary.


The next morning Alden woke up and saw Top on the floor, sucking on one of his shoes. “Aww.” Alden smiled. Sometimes it seems like Top really does think of themself as a puppy.

He climbed out of bed and pulled out a sweater from a backpack. There was a closet in the room, but Alden wasn’t sure if he should hang his clothes up as if staking a claim to the room—he worried it would seem presumptuous. He pulled his shoes away from Top and they fell to shreds.

“More like ‘Aww,’” said Ropak. He frowned. “You know, because it’s annoying.”

“I know,” Alden said. “Luckily I packed an extra pair of shoes. All that walking could wear a pair out.”

“So could Top, apparently,” Ropak said.

Top opened their eyes. “Chirp, squawk!”

“Wait, I thought you were a puppy,” Alden said.

“What? No.” Top stood up. “I’m Top. I’m a beach ball. I thought this was established when we first met.”

Alden left the bedroom, and the door across the hall opened. He slowly approached the doorway and peered into the room. No one was inside, and the bed was smooth and the window curtains closed. Walter had said all the rooms on that side were occupied.

“Hello?”

“And so I arrive in your story, my contribution, however short, no doubt one to be lasting, if not confusing.” From above the doorway floated down a creature Alden had never seen or read of before. He stared at the creature, unsure where to begin.

“Begin with the segments,” they said.

Four orange, round segments were stacked atop each other, each a third of Top’s size, making their total height about half of Alden’s. Each segment had a pair of stick-thin black appendages, a white glove on the end of each. Near the bottom of the top segment was a mouth with two forcipules, or pincer-like extensions, half the length of the appendages. The creature’s eyes looked like carets.

 

Duth_Olec

^vv^

Wally_Plotch

Something like that.

 

The creature held their head and frowned. “Sorry, I get a little dizzy when interrupted. My fourth sight is often more a curse than blessing.”

This creature floated as if unaffected by gravity. They looked like a bug zapped by a growth ray from a horror movie, with a demeanor that suggested they then joined a traveling theatre group. Alden shook his head.

“Sorry for staring, I’ve never seen anyone like you before.”

“Neither have I,” said the creature, back to a smile. They shook Alden’s hand. “Aĉçöís̈ɲđị0.”

Top shook one of the lower appendages of Aĉçöís̈ɲđị0’s. “Yay, arms!”

“Accordiono?” Alden asked.

“My name does sound similar to that. You may call me such, given the difficulty of pronunciation,” Accordiono said. “There is quite a difficulty of typing it down, as well.”

“From where did that name originate from?” Alden asked.

“I have no idea.”

Ropak left his room and looked Accordiono up and down. “What?”

Accordiono shook Ropak’s hand as Alden introduced them.

“Sheesh,” said Ropak, “we have you, whatever you are, we have Arami, Top’s a figgin beach ball, I’m a freak of a wrallot—” He tapped his horn. “This isn’t a place for cleeple without a home, this is a freak show.”

“Ah, a show,” said Accordiono. “That is one thing I believe I can do. Not much else, I’m afraid, and even my shows are regretfully sometimes lacking.”

Alden looked at Ropak. “That wasn’t a very kind choice of words.”

Ropak placed a hand on his chest. “Hey, I included myself in that.”

They headed downstairs. The first thing Alden heard in the den was, “… like, totally conked out at three. Like, can you totally believe that? She has, like, no stamina what-so-ever. I know, like, if I’m totally going to have, like, an all-night chat, it should, like, be all night, y’know?”

“You!” Ropak shouted.

On a couch sat a Help Block wearing red lipstick and green eyeliner. What appeared to be a cell phone was stuck on the block’s side by a rod, which it constantly spoke into.

“You’re the one who was blathering on all night,” Ropak yelled. “Some cleeple like to sleep. Why would you go on and on all night? Why are you ignoring everything I say?”

Accordiono chuckled. “She’s connected to her own little world, or her own little story, I should say.”

Walter entered the den from the dining room. “Hello Alden, Top. Glongino, Aĉçöís̈ɲđị0.” He strode to Ropak and tapped him on the leg as the wrallot yelled at the Help Block.

“Huh?” Ropak looked behind him. “Oh, hi Walter.”

“Yes, good morning,” Walter said. “Just two things. First, you’re being rather loud.”

“So is it,” Ropak said, waving at the Help Block.

“Yes, but the two of you together is a crescendo the others are complaining of. As for the other thing…” Walter stretched a tentacle over Ropak’s shoulders. “I’m a kind, old arkent, Ropak. I don’t like to fight anymore. That time is over. But Arami overheard you talking upstairs, and”—he grabbed the ends of Ropak’s head and pulled him close to his face, his mouth tentacles stretched down—“if you refer to my daughter in regards to a freak show one more time I will fling you across the room.”

Alden stepped back. That was sudden. But she was his daughter. No doubt he cared much for her.

Ropak stared at Walter and slumped. “I’m sorry. I meant nothing by the remark. I should know as much as anyone how it feels to be ostracized after being in this city.”

Walter’s mouth tentacles curled up. He let go of Ropak and strolled back to the dining room. “Let’s introduce you to the rest of the family.”

“So what’s the deal with that Help Block, anyway?” Alden asked.

“A good question,” said Accordiono, floating alongside to the dining room. “She calls herself Teen Angst.”

“Really?” Alden asked. That name made as much sense as, well, Accordiono’s.

“Indeed. As you no doubt noticed, she is a Help Block, yet acts just as a stereotypical female teenager. You’ll be unlikely to get through to her, unless you do it by phone. Though none of us know what number we would call to reach her.”

“Who is she talking to all the time?” Alden asked.

“I haven’t the faintest clue,” said Accordiono. “Other Help Blocks, perhaps?”

They entered the dining room, filled with a warm and spicy and sweet scent. The table was covered in a breakfast spread with glistening white eggs, moist slices of pink and brown meat, and light brown fluffy pancakes. Arami sat on a stool at the opposite side of the table, wearing a sleeveless dress with fabric draped over her bulbous back appendage. Walter climbed onto a stool next to her. From somewhere in the vicinity came an incessant beeping.

“You must be the new fellows.” A yellow-shelled sharl sat on a stool closest to the kitchen. A bowtie half the size of his body was just under his chin, and his fur was blonder than any sharl Alden had seen, groomed and smoothed out and almost shiny.

“Yup, that’s us,” Ropak said.

“You’re right as always, sir.” In the adjacent kitchen another sharl stood on a stool in front of the stove. His shell was magenta, and he wore a puffy hat that flopped over his head.

The yellow sharl chuckled. “Well, it’s not exactly a difficult deduction, Iam.”

“But that doesn’t matter, sir,” the magenta sharl said. “I’ll bet you could even determine their names and histories just by looking at them.”

“Perhaps, but I’m sure they would prefer to tell their own stories.”

“So you’re a detective?” Alden asked.

“Excellent observation,” the yellow sharl said. “I’m–”

“Ace detective Ivan Churov, of the Churov Detective Agency!” Iam said. “Er, sorry, sir. For interrupting.”

Ivan smiled. “That’s quite all right, Iam. Yes, I am a detective. My assistant over there is named Iam.”

Ropak looked between them. “Ivan and Iam? That’s weirdly similar. Do you ever get the names confused?”

“I’m certain that I have never forgotten my own name,” Ivan said.

With a clatter from the kitchen a few pieces of cookware tumbled out of a cabinet. Top stumbled out, a deep saucepan over their head.

“My name is Pot!” said the ball. “Wait, that’s not it. Hold on.” They staggered in a circle.

“Wow.” Alden pulled at the neck of his sweater. “I kind of expected Top to go for the food first thing.”

“They did. They ate like over nine-nine-nine things while you were talking to investigo.”

A red scalago a bit shorter than Alden sat at the table, his curly hair hanging down to his shoulders. His shiny skin and shorter tail suggested he was just a teenager, and his shirt had a picture of a pie. He was playing a rectangular handheld video game system from which came a constant series of beeps.

“Hello, what’s your name?” Alden asked.

While still tapping the game system buttons with one hand, the red scalago removed a pair of orange sunglasses from a shirt pocket and placed them on.

“The name’s Ranger Dense.” He frowned. “Wait, fig, now I can’t see the game.” He rapidly tapped the buttons, and the sound of an explosion came from the system. “This game sucks anyway.”

“So,” Alden said, tapping his neck, “your name is–”

“What?” The red scalago lifted the sunglasses and looked at Alden. “Oh, my name’s Pyr. Remember it well, okay?”

“Nice to meet you, Pyr,” Alden said. “My name’s Alden, and he’s Ropak.”

Pyr looked at Ropak. “Whoa, you guys have names?”

Ropak looked around. “Er, yes.”

“Of course he has a name, Pyr,” Ivan said.

Pyr threw up his hands. “Well I didn’t know.”

Alden looked at Top. “The ball trying to pull the kitchenware off themself is Top.”

“Whoa, your beach ball has a name?” Pyr said.

Ivan cleared his throat. “Welcome Alden, Ropak.”

Pyr spread his arms. “Welcome new breakfast!”

“I believe,” Ivan continued, “you’ve already met our excellent host Walter and his daughter, Arami? And Accordiono, I see. Teen Angst is in there on the phone, as usual, and that just leaves—”

Sitting at the far end of the table was a species Alden had expected to see in New Zhopolis as much as he would have a wrallot: a fiscet. Alden had read about them—creatures slenderer than scalagos but with bushy fur that belied their slimness. They had long, pointed ears and a nose, and claws with three sickle-like growths on the backs of their hands. He always thought they looked dangerous.

Alden could see this fiscet had gray fur, but a few streaks of white skin were visible across their torso. The claw growths on their left hand were broken. Alden recalled seeing images of a fiscet having a bushy tail, but this one had none. They sat at the table eating an egg and a slice of pink meat with their hands, their thin, slanted eyes never raised to anyone else.

“This fellow is Sneen,” Ivan said. “He doesn’t say much.”

“Ah, so many introduced so quickly,” said Accordiono. “If only they knew how short their presences will be.”

“By the way,” Alden whispered to Ivan, “what exactly is with Accordiono? Not that they’re a big, floating, segmented bug-like thing whose eyes almost look drawn on. They keep referring to stories.”

“It’s a peculiar case, I would say,” Ivan said. “Our friend seems to believe they’re in some type of story or book. They call it their fourth sense. I suspect others would call it a mental illness.”

 

Wally_Plotch

Is it really a mental illness? Does Accordiono know we’re here or something?

Duth_Olec

You know, I never actually figured that out. Just to be on the safe side, let’s insult them.

Wally_Plotch

I guess—wait, let’s insult them?

Duth_Olec

Good idea, Wally!

Wally_Plotch

No, no, I’m not insulting anybody.

 

“Hey, everybody!” Top, the pot removed, jumped onto the table and held their arms out. “I’m Top, and I’m the best character in this stor– I mean, I have the best character in this stor…esidence. This storesidence.”

Walter waved a tentacle. “Oh, Ropak, pull in some extra stools from the den in here, if you would.”

“Sure thing.” Ropak carried in a couple stools. “I figure Top would just want to sit on the table, and we can’t really tie them to a stool anyway.”

Alden sat down between Pyr and Ivan and helped himself to a couple rubbery fried eggs, the yolk smooth and runny. Accordiono remained floating in the air, partaking only of a glass of water. Sneen stood up wordlessly and left upstairs.

“Here are the pancakes, sir!” Iam stacked three pancakes on a plate and carried them to Ivan. “Just the way you like them, sir.”

“Thank you, Iam.” The pancakes were shaped like Ivan’s face.

Ropak whistled. “That’s actually pretty impressive. You even got the fur shape on there.”

Iam stammered, looked around, and scraped a fork over the pancakes to remove actual fur, muttering all the while and shaking so much his hat slipped further over his head.

“Sorry, sir. My bad, sir. I must be, sir. Just having some loose fur, sir.”

“Sounds like a bad fur day, if you know what I mean,” Pyr said.

“Like a bad hair day?” Alden asked.

Pyr smirked. “If you know what I mean.”

Ropak leaned towards Iam. “Psst, by the way. Try to shake less. You’re shaking more fur onto the pancake.” He headed for the seat he’d placed between Alden and Ivan but stopped. He turned around and approached Arami. “Hey.” She turned away. Ropak sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Look, I just want to say I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to be isolated and unlike everyone else, and–”

Arami glared at him, both pairs of appendages crossed. “You do not know what it is like to be isolated and unlike everyone else.”

Ropak stared at her and tossed up his hands. “You know what? You’re right. I don’t know what that’s like. I only have the beginning of an inkling of what that’s like.”

“Inkling?” Top asked. They sat on the table and threw pancakes into their mouth. “That’s a big word for you. What are you, a pen?”

“Ignore them,” Ropak said. “Regardless of how inconsiderate and ignorant I am–”

“Don’t forget dumb and offensive,” Top added, grinning.

“–I do want to apologize,” the wrallot continued, glaring sidelong at Top. “So again, I’m sorry, and I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.”

“Well,” Arami said, her expression softening, “you did. But I accept your apology.”

“Yes, that’s right,” said Walter, placing a tentacle each over Arami’s and Ropak’s shoulders. “Let’s all be friends here.”

After Alden ate, after Ropak ate, and after Top ate more, Walter asked for their attention.

“How was the breakfast, sigi?”

“Excellent,” Alden said. “I have a brother who loves to cook, but I can’t tell him about this breakfast because it might put his to shame.”

“You have Iam here to thank for that,” said Ivan. Iam chuckled and rubbed his nose.

“Iam’s the one,” said Pyr. “Did you know?”

“I knew not,” Top said.

“I can’t guess,” Pyr said in what Alden thought was a non-sequitur.

“Now, I fully allow cleeple to live here for free,” Walter said. “But it’s not cheap to house so many cleeple at once, of course. I would like to mention the possibility of finding jobs to help out. Some who live here do odd jobs here and there to bring in what small funds they can for the place.”

“Ah, that reminds me,” said Accordiono. “I managed to scrounge this out on the street the other day.” They gave Walter a handful of change.

“Another successful case solved brought in some money,” Ivan said, producing a few dollars. “A lady’s lost odge, in short order found.”

“They were my gode,” Pyr said, which once again seemed to be a non-sequitur to Alden.

Ivan handed the money to Iam, who passed it to Walter.

“Thank you,” Walter said.

“I have this.” Arami removed from under the fabric on her back appendage a wad of bills—easily thirty of them, and Alden thought he spotted one labeled a ten. She handed it to Walter, her hand shaking.

“Thank you, dear,” Walter said. His mouth tentacles curled up as Arami smiled, but her smile quickly faded. She nodded to everyone and left the room.

“‘Small funds’,” Alden said, looking after Arami. He turned back to Walter. “That didn’t look small.”

“Yes, but every contribution, no matter the size, helps,” Walter said.

“Yeah, well, we tried to get jobs yesterday,” said Ropak, crossing his arms. “I’m not actually allowed in the employment agency anymore.”

“Those agencies are pretty quick these days, aren’t they?” Pyr said.

“Yeah, that didn’t go too well,” Alden said. “We’ll try to find jobs today.”

“Well, a stable job isn’t something anyone has,” said Walter. “Even doing odd jobs here and there for small compensation isn’t something you need to do to live here. Sneen rarely leaves his room. Teen Angst rarely leaves her phone.”

“I just perform magic tricks out on the street for cleeple passing by,” said Accordiono.

“I just play video games all day,” Pyr said. “I have ten thousand followers on Yartube.”

“Ivan and Miss Arami are the only ones to bring in much money, really,” said Iam.

“Haha,” Ivan said, scratching his head, “well, it’s really Miss Arami who brings in most funds.”

“Well, we came to the city to…” Ropak looked at Alden and Top. “Why’d we come, again? Make a fortune or some nonsense like that?”

“Er, you were the whole inspiration for this, Ropak,” Alden said. “Find our fortune, make a name for ourselves.”

“Find our names,” Ropak said, as if remembering something long forgotten. He stared at the table. “Make a place for ourselves.”

“That’s a tall order,” Ivan said, “but I’m sure you can make it.”

“Regardless of the reason, we will try to find work.” Alden looked around the table. “We wouldn’t want to be a burden on this place.”

Ropak looked up. “Yeah! We didn’t come to the city to be a burden. We came to prove ourselves, and that’ll come through hard work.”

“Haha what,” Top said. “I don’t recall signing up for that.”

***

Now that Alden had met everyone there was something he had to do. He asked Walter to use the house phone.

“Hello?”

Alden stood in the den with the phone against his head and said nothing for a moment. He couldn’t believe how much he missed his brother’s voice after just a couple weeks.

“Hey, bro. It’s me.”

“Alden! You don’t know how happy I am to hear your voice,” Xavier said.

Alden laughed. He could hear the smile in Xavier’s voice. “I think I can get a pretty good idea. How have you and Orville been?”

“We’ve been fine,” Xavier said. “More importantly, how have you been? And Top and Ropak, too?”

“We’re fine. We arrived in New Zhopolis just yesterday, actually.”

“Wow, so you’re finally at the big city. What’s it like?”

“Big city is definitely accurate. The place is huge. We could probably explore it for a month and still not see it all.”

“Where are you now? Did you find a place to stay?”

“Yeah, we did. We’re staying with someone, Walter, he helps cleeple without a place to stay. He’s a great guy, I really think you’d like him.”

“Are you sure he’s good?” Xavier asked. “Stay wary in the city. You never know how cleeple might be.”

Alden smiled. He’d missed Xavier’s worried concern.

“No, it’s fine,” Alden said. “Walter’s a good guy, everyone’s nice here. We’re all new or down on our luck in some way. Walter owns this place and makes sure we all have a roof over our heads.”

“Are cleeple nice in the rest of the city?”

“Er.” Alden thought it over. “Not as much, no.” He laughed. “It’s not that bad, we’re new here, so cleeple don’t know what to expect of us yet.”

“Great things,” said Xavier. “They should expect great things.”

“I hope so,” Alden said. “We’re lucky to have already met some friends here, so things are going pretty well. You won’t have to worry about us being alone.”

Xavier laughed. “I’ll probably worry anyway. Oh! Orville, Uncle Orville. Hold on, Alden, I’m going to put Orville on.”

“Alden, my boy,” Orville said. “Are you in the city? You’re doing well? Great!”

“Yeah, I really think things are going to work out here,” Alden said. He sure hoped so, anyway. It hadn’t seemed that way just the night before, but with a roof over his head and more friends to help, the future seemed bright.

“Tell me about the species you’ve met,” Orville said. “I’ve met many in my time, though it’s been years since I saw them.”

“Well, the guy we’re staying with is an arkent,” Alden said.

“Ah, arkents. Short, hard shells, but sweet. They certainly have a proud history. Good cooking, too. Actually, isn’t the lady Jamal’s going to see an arkent?”

“Taren Tate, yeah,” Alden said. “Actually on the way to the city we came across a farm ran by a nervist family.”

“A reliable species,” said Orville. “Easy to get on their bad side, but if you don’t things can go swell with them.”

Ah yes, Orville’s familiarity with all of Zhop. Alden smiled. He was never sure how much was complete invention.

“Oh, there are a couple sharls living here.”

“Is that so? What color are their shells?”

“Does that matter? Er, one is yellow and one is sort of pink?”

“Yellow and magenta? Ooh. They don’t get along, do they?”

“No, actually, they get along really well.”

“My, how times change.”

“And you might not believe it, but there’s actually a fiscet here at the place we’re staying.”

“Ooh, a fiscet. Can’t say I ever met one in clerpson, though I’ve heard much about them. They look dangerous, but they can be quite kind to others.”

“Not this one. That is, he’s not mean, either. He’s just kind of there. Everyone else has been nice—” Alden looked at Teen Angst, who apparently hadn’t moved since he first saw her.

“I know. Like, totally, y’know? Right on, like, literally, absolutely, yeah.”

“—that I’ve spoken to,” Alden said. “Some of them kind of defy species classification, though.”

Orville took a solemn tone. “I hope not like Schalindra.”

“I’ve heard the name but haven’t seen any, I don’t think.”

“You’d know if you did. Try to stay away from them.”

“I will. Are you doing well without us there, uncle?”

“The old place is a bit empty, but Xavier and I are doing fine. We’re traveling to Thole more often now for company. Ooh, and how is Top doing?”

Top leapt past and ate the phone. “I heard my name!” They vibrated and pulled out the phone. “It’s for you.” They gave it to Alden.

Orville laughed. “It seems Top’s doing as well as ever.”

Ropak leaned against Alden, grinning. “And Ropak’s doing fine, too.”

“Gee,” said Pyr, leaning between Alden and Ropak, “it sure is getting phony in here.”

Ropak glared at him. “What is wrong with you?”

Alden looked at Pyr. He said some stuff that made Top’s nonsense almost seem normal.

“All right, Pyr, give them some space,” Walter said, wrapping a tentacle over the kid’s shoulders.

“Indeed,” said Ivan, popping up between them, “two weeks without hearing your loved ones can be a long time.”

Iam appeared next to Ivan. “I know I would be sad to not hear you for just a day, sir.”

Accordiono floated down between everyone. “I know we’re all having fun here, but I suspect this chapter is about to end.”

Ropak scratched his head. “You mean phone call, right?”

Orville laughed. “Yes, it sounds like you’ve found yourself a group of friends there, Alden. Just don’t forget about your little family out in the woods.”

“I never will, uncle,” Alden said. “I’ll talk to you and Xavier again soon, and before you know it I’ll be down to see you again.”

“Let’s hope that’s not foreshadowing,” said Accordiono.


Chapter 11: Traveling Down Terrible Lane | Table of Contents

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