They look surprised. Why the fuck should they be surprised? Why do I let these people make me nervous like that? My card hasn't failed to work in months. I notice that the people in the nearby booth are also watching. I scratch the back of my head. My hair is damp with sweat. They can't see that I'm looking at them since I'm wearing my goggles, so they just keep staring, all 5 of them wearing crisp button-down shirts, holding beers. They probably all work together in an office nearby. I wonder what they do there. Talk to each other all day, then come here to talk to each other all night? One of them has long black hair. They look away and then look back, and sip their drink.
"You here to drop off fliers or something?" the bartender asks.
"No. Why? You guys got fliers?" I ask, suddenly remembering my own job.
"Yeah, you want to see em? I know I'm supposed to leave them out for folks, but I like to keep it clean around here and, you know, I mean, if people want them, they ask." They reach down under the bar and pull out a stack of fliers.
"A lot of people around here ask for em?" I rifle through them, looking for one that I don't have in my stash yet.
One of them shines with a chromatic shift foil. QUICKSILVER: TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM. Some sort of retro theme party. It must have been pricey to print. And it's tonight. Quicksilver is an old fashioned word for the element Mercury. "Did you know that MERCURY was RETROgrade that day?"
"Thanks!" I say, shoving the rest of the fliers back at him and stuffing the Quicksilver card into my backpack. That was a lucky find.
The mineral water is cold and sharp. It's a treat to have water that isn't warm and flat. I used to filter my own water- boil it and keep it refrigerated to prevent bacteria from growing, but that didn't seem to stop the rapid growth algae bloom that hit the city last year from growing in all my refrigerated bottles. Since then I've been just buying water and saving my limited fridge space for food and sensitive electronics.
The spirit has already finished the liquor and is floating, nice and plump over the acorn. Its pale color has shifted from pink to blue. I wait until the bartender looks back to the tv to ask the spirit how they got stuck to that car. Their voice is clear and high.
["The house was dead. I needed to stretch out. I moved out to the car to get some breeze. But then they got into it and moved it all over. It moved very far, all around, fast. By the time we got back home, I was a mess. It took me all night to recover by the moon. But then before I knew it, we were back out again. I think they are punishing me,"] it explains, eye spots shifting down and up.
["They did not mean to punish you. They didn't know you were there. These people can't always tell that you've moved. They are very preoccupied with their own worries."]
The person with long black hair is looking over to me again. I snatch up the schnapps and drank it down. After having been drunk by the spirit, it tasted heavy and pallid.
["Am I going to live here now?"] the spirit asks.
They are still looking, their black eyes haunting me from a few feet away.
["No,"] I say to the spirit. ["We only eat here. We leave now."]
I pick up the acorn and stuff it into my shorts pocket, the spirit squeezing in. I signal to the bartender to sign off on my tab. They are still staring at me. I sign the check as quickly as I can and grab the water bottle to go. "Thanks," I mumble and slide out the door.
What was that person's problem? Did they think I couldn't see them staring? Did they recognize me? I feel like people always recognize me but I never remember them. Why don't I remember them too? I try to remember any deliveries I made in this neighborhood before. It's just a bunch of office buildings and lunch cafes. Maybe I had delivered a parcel or two around here. Some illegal stimulants, maybe? People here are boring. They are only interested in working harder and harder and faster until they die.
I skate around the corner and look for a safe place to talk to the spirit. There is an alley with a few crates and barely enough space for a truck to drive through. I scoot inside and take a seat on a crate and pull out the acorn.
The spirit pops out, full and glowing a lovely blue-grey color. Its eye spots shimmer with delight as it enjoys the effects of the peppermint potion.
["Where is home, little one?"] I ask.
["In water,"] it replies. Where can I find somewhere wet that doesn't connect to the sewer? I don't want them to be swept away again. I wonder where this little water spirit came from. Maybe they rode home with that woman from a vacation. Or maybe they are just from the ocean, and she got her from a stone on the beach. ["Are you from a big water?"] I try to ask. It doesn't understand what I'm asking. ["Was your home busy and loud? Or quiet and calm?"]
["Not like the car,"] it pleads to me. I suppose being in the ocean probably isn't too different from LA traffic. Maybe it is too soon to ask.
["Okay, I will bring you to a safe and quiet water, would you like that?"] I ask. It swells with delight. I
I place the acorn into my backpack with the other spirits.
["I know it's crowded in there but I will get you all to nice homes soon,"] I promise them. They are all oozing about happily and looking at each other curiously. A few days is not long to even young spirits like these, so I have a while to find them new homes.