A/N: Well, I'm done with the last chapter of this little tale. I hope you'll enjoy reading it, as I did writing it. These two chaps has to be the longest chapters I've ever written. But this fic wouldn't work if I cut it into more chapters than I already have. I even thought about posting it as one whole chapter, but that would have been too long to read all at once. At least I think so. Anyway, thanks a bunch to those of you that reviewed. You know who you are.
"They're what?" I questioned, not quite sure I'd heard her right. She said 'turtles', right? But she couldn't have. I mean, it's absurd! She really said turtles? It wasn't just something that sounded like turtles? No, I probably just heard wrong. Because when you think about it, there's no chance she could have said turt--
"Turtles?" Mike outburst in disbelief. Okay, so she probably did say turtles. Still doesn't make any sense, though.
"Yes," she nodded, confirming my theory. "Although, not quite," she hesitantly added.
"Not quite?" I repeated in confusion. "What the hell's that supposed to mean? 'Not quite?' Either they're turtles, or they're not."
"Well – anatomically – they are," she confirmed with a small nod. "But the essence of animals are handled separately to the essence of humans, so we weren't quite sure in which department to place these beings."
"Department?" I asked, bewildered. "The hell are you saying?"
"What I'm saying, sir, is that while they might begin their lives as normal turtles, destiny has put a certain… spin.. to their development," she finished, having found the proper term she was searching for.
"Huh?" Mike asked, his face showing no signs of intelligence, whatsoever. Having spent the past two days with him, I'd learned to look at that certain facial expression as something familiar when it came to him. The look of pure confusion suited him, strangely.
"Gentlemen," she began, quickly losing her patience with our earthly ignorance. "These are humanoid turtles. Brothers, in fact," she then added.
"So, what you're saying is that you're offering us a chance to be born as a related bunch of walking, talking turtles," I slowly concluded, trying to wrap my brain around the concept. It's not exactly everyday someone asks you to be reborn as a mutated animal. In fact, this is the first time. Had there been another, I would have remembered that.
"Yes," she nodded. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime." She was obviously trying to sell us these non-wanted turtle bodies. I had a feeling they'd been on the market for quite some time; and had it been any other situation, I would have told her to go fuck herself. But this wasn't just any other situation – and frankly, I was fed up with waiting for the perfect embryo to be created. Apparently, there was no such thing to begin with.
"We'll take it," I said, shocking both Mike and the receptionist with my decision. I'll admit, impatience isn't really the perfect state of mind when making a decision like this. But they'll have to re-kill me before I sit my ass down on that bench again. And besides, if it doesn't work out, I can always jump off a bridge or something and come back up here. Not that I'm in a hurry to go through this god damned process again. So, let's just call that 'plan B.'
"What?" they questioned in sync with each other. "We will?" Mike asked, looking at me in confusion.
"We?" I repeated. "You can do whatever you want, I'm sick of waiting. I'm signing up for the mutant." Turning back to the stunned receptionist, I flicked my fingers to get her attention. "Hey, lady!" She snapped out of her daze and turned back to me. "So, how does this reincarnation thing work? Got anymore papers ye need me to sign?"
"Of course," she said, still slightly stunned by my sudden agreement. She turned back to her computer and did a few clicks with the mouse. During this, I could feel Mike's shocked stare upon me, something I simply ignored. Felt good shocking him, for once. Soon, the computer began to print something out, and as soon as the process was done, she reached for the paper and handed it to me, slipping it beneath the receptionist-window. "Here, sir," she said, handing me a chainless pencil.
I accepted the pen and lowered my eyes to the document, skimming through it quickly. Basically, it said that once my signature was written on that thin, dotted line, I was no longer Roy Hart. 'Cause I had signed on for another life, another identity - which I still didn't know that much of, (apart from the humanoid turtle part). Knowing there was no turning back now, I grabbed a stronger hold of the pen and wrote down my name down by the right corner of the paper.
"You're really serious about this," Mike realized, staring at me as I sealed the deal.
"Yup," I said, slipping the document back across the counter.
"You're really going into the afterlife as a turtle," he said, looking at me with a pair of big, stunned eyes.
"Actually, sir, that's humanoid turtle," the receptionist quickly corrected, neatly putting the document in one of her folders.
Silence came over us as the lady returned to her computer to type in my information, most likely informing her boss of my decision, when Michael suddenly opened his mouth,
"I'll do it, too."
The lady's fingers froze on the keyboard, and I turned to look at my friend in disbelief.
"You will?" I asked, not really willing to believe him. Maybe he was just doing this out of pressure of my sudden decision? Or maybe he was doing it to impress me? Maybe he secretly looked up to me or something? I mean, I am pretty admirable.
"Yeah," he nodded confidently. "There's no way I'm going back to that bench. So if I have to sign up for a giant turtle to avoid it, then that's what I'm gonna do."
Okay, so maybe that was his reason for doing it. Oh well, I guess everyone can't admire me.
"Certainly," the receptionist said, quickly turning back to her computer to print out one more document.
"You're sure about this?" I wondered, looking at Mike in doubtfulness.
"As sure as pizza is flat," he replied, waiting for the receptionist to hand him the paper. Huh. That was a weird sentence. Come to think of it, most of his are. This one though, about flat pizza, that one had to take the cake.
Once the paper was handed to him, and he signed it without reading so much as a single word of it, a voice spoke up behind us,
"How many openings are there left?"
The two of us, along with the receptionist, turned to look at the source of this voice. It was that old man I'd rudely pushed aside when approaching the booth. He was fairly tall for a man of his age, with huge clown feet and ears big enough to catch a conversation on the other side of the universe, so I suppose it wasn't that unlikely that he'd heard what the three of us had been talking about, standing in the same room, and all.
"Two, sir," the ebony skinned woman answered him, accepting the pen and paper as Mike handed them back to her.
"And these are humanoid turtles?" the old man questioned, as if to get it confirmed.
"Correct," she nodded.
He took a moment to think to himself, the wheels behind his large forehead spinning like crazy. "Sign me up," he finally declared, a look of pleased determination on his face.
"Of course," she nodded, turning back to her trusty old computer to print yet another document. A minute ago, she pretty much begged us to sign up for these turtle brothers, and now they were practically selling like rapping paper on Christmas.
Man, was I a trendsetter at this place, or what?
As soon as the computer was done printing, the receptionist politely slid the document across the counter, placing the pen on top of it. The old man expectantly looked at Mike and I, his eyes asking us a question I couldn't quite figure out. When he started to motion with his hands for us to step aside, the mystery dawned on me. We quickly moved aside to give him space between the two of us, where he calmly grabbed the pen and went through the document – thoroughly. I swear, he spent like five minutes reading the damn thing, I mean okay, his vision was probably a bit off, concerning his age and all, but five minutes? That's a long time for reading through a few paragraphs.
We were all so bored, even the receptionist. I caught some monotone dings from her computer, so it wouldn't surprise me if she turned on some videogame she had there. I mean, the persistent clicking on the keyboard, combined with the arcade-ish sounds and the sudden outburst of her exclaiming "Score!" in the middle of the mind boggling silence, gave me a few clues as to what she was up to. I wonder if they were allowed to do that, though? On the clock and everything.
Once those five minutes had finally passed, the man casually cleared his throat and lifted the pencil to sign the paper – at last. He didn't seem to be in much of a hurry.
"Well," Mike said, slamming his hand on top of the old man's shoulder. "Looks like you just signed up to be our brother."
The man turned to look at Mike with a puzzled expression, not so much by the statement he'd made, but simply because of his forward behaviour. Yeah. It took some time getting used to, that's for sure. Myself, I'd had two days to adjust, but Mike was as fresh to the old man as the air he breathed. And about that. Damn, I don't think I've ever tasted air this fresh before. What kind of purifier system do they used at this place? Then again, there are no toilets, and no food, so I guess that could be a part of it. And the jungle of plants certainly added to the freshness. But still, I felt like I was inhaling one hundred pound, like I was getting broker by each breath I took. Had I been any cheaper, I would've forced myself to hold my breath.
"It would appear that way," the man answered as he turned back to the receptionist to slide the paper across the desk. She nodded in appreciation and accepted the document, adding it to the same folder she kept our documents in.
"So, what's your name, old man?" Michael asked curiously, flashing his future sibling a big smile.
"Donald," the man answered in a well-spoken English accent. "Sir. Donald Boyle." Sir, huh? He didn't strike me as one. He looked too.. err… mellow. But I guess looks can deceive, 'cause I'm getting a snob for a brother in this future life of mine – a turtle snob, nonetheless. If things keep going like this, I'll probably be travelling with the Gypsy Circus by the time I've hit the age of 4. What kind of life have I signed up for, here?
Oh well, beats waiting.
Donald kindly offered his old wrinkly hand for Mike to take, which he naturally did, shaking it violently; the old fop's glasses gracelessly sliding down his big hook for a nose. Judging by that nose and those elephant ears of his, he had to be well over 80. But he didn't move like he was 80, and he seemed to have a little too many working lights in that head office of his to be that old. Hmm.. Maybe he was more like 70. I honestly have no idea. One thing for certain though, he was over 30, or else he wouldn't be in room B with the rest of us.
"I'm Mike, and that's Roy," the optimist said, pointing to myself. "Welcome to the family."
"Thank you," Donald smiled, awkwardly retreating his hand from Mike's steady grip.
"So," I turned to the receptionist, attempting to put an end to this cosy family meeting of ours. "What door do we have to pass in order to be reborn?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir." Damn. I don't like the sound of that. Any speech that begins with the word 'sorry' holds nothing but bad news. Shitty, crappy, bad fucking news.
"The cleansing process can't begin until a forth party has signed up for it."
Shit. Told you it was bad news.
"What forth party?" I outburst. "You never said anything 'bout a forth party!"
The young woman cringed at my voice. "Sir, if you could please try and understand," she began. "We can't do anything until we have a forth name signature to pass on. You're all scheduled to be hatched at the same time." Hatched? The hell is she talking ab-- Oh, right. We're turtles. I can't believe I forgot.
"Fuck," I muttered to myself, turning away from her and blowing out a breath of one hundred pound expensive air. "Well, isn't there anything you could do?" I asked, searching for that faint stream of light I needed in order to keep myself from going insane. "Can't you skip a few steps?"
She shook her head in apology.
"Well, can't we just forget this forth guy and go ahead without him?" I desperately suggested.
"Certainly not," she replied, kind of pissed off. "We'd never waste an earthly life, especially for something as insignificant as your impatience." She angrily bore her dark brown eyes into mine, the vein on her forehead beginning to grow more visible, pulsating fiercely. She was the first person here that had succeeded in scaring me, or at least that throbbing vein of hers.
"Well," Donald timidly cut in, sensing it was best to do so. "You don't suppose you could use the speakers to ask if there is anyone else in here that might be interested?" Huh. I suppose that beats leaving our last brother behind. Damn, this guy was smart… for an old foppish snob, that is.
"I suppose," the woman silently agreed, turning to her microphone at her left. Pressing a button on the table, she spoke into the microphone. "If I could please have everyone's attention," she asked, quieting down all the chatter in the room. The poor bastards were probably waiting for her to call one of their numbers. "Thank you," she said, glancing at the three of us before continuing. "It has been brought to my attention that we might have an opening for one of you."
The room burst into flames, people fighting each other like raving zombies as they fought to make their way to the reception booth. It was like watching a hoard of rampant kids the second after someone announced 'Candy rain!'
"However," she added, causing the wrestling crowd to freeze in their steps. "The opening in question is a humanoid turtle."
That was all it took for everyone to sigh in unison and disappointedly make their way back to the first available seat they could find… or steal. Whichever came to mind.
Letting go of the button, the woman turned back to look at the three of us. "I'm sorry," she said, sadly shaking her head.
"Tell them they'll get to be our brother!" Mike said enthusiastically, excitedly hitting his palms on the counter.
Donald and myself gave him a doubtful glare.
"What?" he wondered innocently.
"Mike, ye can't be serious," I told him.
"Why not?" he questioned. "It might work." Turning back to look at the receptionist, he pleaded with her to use his idea. "C'mon. Maybe they'll go for it." Oh god. This guy was too much. I can't believe I have to grow up with him. If he'll be this stupid even after we're hatched, I'll kill him for sure. I'll get hatched before him, just so I can keep him from coming out of his egg.
"What if you were to check with the other floors?" the old Sir asked, earning the young lady's attention. "Well," he began, slightly shy now that all three of us were looking at him. "It's a big building. Statistically, there should be at the very least one more person that's interested in the open position."
The woman seemed to be considering his words, biting the inside of her cheek as her eyes drifted off to stare at thin air.
"To have found three out of these four quite unique openings in the same room must go beyond anyone's expectations," he said, causing the receptionist to look back at him, having taken in his words.
"You have a point, sir," she said, nodding in agreement.
Damn, this big-eared fop was smart. Talk about thinking outside the box, eh? I even forgot there was a world outside of this room. Maybe that's 'cause I've been in here for so damn long. All those other floors stopped mattering after that first day of waiting.
"I will check with the other floors," she revealed, turning to her phone to her right, dialling what appeared to be a very short number. With the wired phone pressed to her ear, she waited for a response on the other end.
"Hello, yes this is Kitty at 74th, department B," she professionally introduced herself. "Could you connect me to Head department?" she asked, turning herself around with the phone to hear ear, pinching it between her ear and shoulder. "Thank you." Reaching for the computer mouse, she began clicking, her eyes searching the screen.
"Sir?" she spoke into the phone. "Yes, this is Kitty Andersen. I believe I've found three subjects for the turtle openings," she revealed, smiling at the answer that came from the other end of the phone. "Thank you, sir. But I was thinking, until we've filled the last spot, there is nothing more we can do in terms of this case.
"Yes, I've already checked with the people here. None of them are interested." She paused, glancing at me as she listened to what the other person had to say. "Indeed, sir. A real shame. I'd hoped we could finally put this case behind us. Statistically, it shouldn't even be possible to have filled three of the openings on the same day, much less on the same floor." Again, she paused as the other guy spoke, and a sneaky smile quickly spread across her dark features.
"Why yes, sir. That should most certainly work. You'll contact the other floors, then?"
Damn, she was good. Manipulating the guy into thinking it was his idea. She seemed to know what she was doing. I pity her husband… if she's married, that is. I'm sure she's fed his ego into doing all kinds of things. 'Oh, but honey. You're so much better at painting the ceiling than I am. Plus, I just love you in those pants. They really do amplify your buns of steel.' Poor guy. He's standing there, thinking: 'Buns of steel, eh?' Checking out his own ass, he's too busy absorbing the so obviously untrue compliment to notice the victorious grin on her formally angelic face. 'I have buns of steel? Well I guess now that she mentions it, I suppose I do.'
And yes, before you ask, that's me talking from own experience. I was married for 32 years. I should know a thing or two about buns of steel. For one, I've never had them. But somehow, I seemed to forget that part whenever she wanted me to pick up her parents at the train station. I honestly felt like I was sitting on a pair of genuine, grade A buns of steel when driving in my car, brainwashed by my own Rita into giving her old crows a forty-minute lift in my darling Buick. On the way back though, once those two living deads sat in the backseat, yelling at each other and complaining about me driving too fast, those buns of steel seemed to fade into oblivion, and I found myself sitting on that same old ass I've always been sitting on.
She was really something, my Rita.
Like I said, poor husband of hers. Kitty certainly knew how to wrap a guy's ego around her pinkie.
"Thank you, sir," the receptionist said, smiling broadly. "I'll be waiting for that phone call. Certainly, sir. Bye." With that, she hung up the phone and turned to the three of us, still grinning proudly. "Your proposition went through," she said, looking at Donald, who, now as I looked at him, appeared to be just as proud as she was. What do you know? It's not everyday that you see an 80-year-old guy that thinks he's got buns of steel. Heh heh.
"Anyway," she continued, grabbing a hold of herself and posting that same old look of unaffected professionalism on her face. "If you'll kindly step aside, I'll notice you as soon as I hear anything."
Nodding, the three of us made our way to the left side of the room, in spying range of the reception.
"Number 982," she called through the speakers, another person elbowing himself through the crowd the reach the counter. Good old number 982. It turns out they started from scratch after number 2.999 was called. I wonder how many 982s there have really been? Totally.
"Way to go, Sir Donald. Remind me to thank you once we're reborn," Mike happily commented, playfully punching the old guy on his upper arm, causing him to lose his foothold for a short second. I scowled Michael in annoyance. Even I knew better than to punch 80-year-olds.
The goofy Australian only flashed me a sheepish smile in return. I got the feeling there was no cure for his disease. Either you're born with common sense, or you're not. One can only hope he'll get luckier in his next life. Maybe he could bribe someone, or something? Just to even the odds a bit.
While the two of them picked up a small conversation about the entertainment floor of the building – which I'm not very surprised to learn that they've both been to – I did my best keeping my eyes on the reception, trying to look past the endless mass of bald heads of grey hair. After what felt like too long - but turned out it wasn't more than two minutes - an announcement was made in the speakers.
"Could Mr. Hart, Mr. Boyle and Mr. Canvas please approach the reception? I have a message to deliver you." Mr. Canvas? Mike's last name is Canvas? He looks more like a Pierce to me. Or even Burns.. but Canvas? Isn't that like a tent or something?
Not spending that much more time thinking about Mike's weird surname, the three of us made our way through the crowd, our eyes locked on the reception ahead of us. Once standing on the other side of the glass-window, the three of us expectantly waited for the Indian woman to speak. I felt like I waited to hear whether or not I'd won the million pound lottery.
"Well," she said, her lips breaking out in a smile. "It turns out there were quite a few interested in the opening."
All three of us cheered amongst each other, Mike and I even doing a brief high five in celebration of the news. What? Don't judge me. I was in the moment, okay?
"But a boy from Japan was the first to sign up for the spot," she revealed. Japan? That's different. I mean, Australia, okay - I can deal with that. But Japan? He probably doesn't even speak English, the poor sod. Oh well, that's one less guy I have to listen to while waiting, as I'm sure we'll have to do. Their entire system seemed to be based on waiting. Like it's a golden rule of theirs or something.
Grasping our frail attention, the receptionist opened her mouth to speak, "If you leave through the door to your right, you'll find an elevator that can bring you to the third floor. There, the receptionist should help you further with the cleansing process." The receptionist? Oh dear god, please don't tell me I have to go through another receptionist. And what the hell is a cleansing process? Whatever it is, it better not take a lot of time. I want out of here, even if it is into the body of a turtle.
Before I had a chance to protest, the old Sir grabbed Mike and I by the arm and led us towards the exit. "Certainly. Thank you, Miss," he said before he left. That polite, old fop. Hasn't anyone told him it's my birth given right to complain?
Note to self: remind braniac turtle of my unquestionable right to be pessimistic once we're reborn.
Once we'd passed through the door I'd dreamed to exit ever since stepping into this godforsaken room, a steel door elevator appeared to us. That, and a trusty, old plant standing next to it. Ugh. This place and their flowers. Does it ever end?
Mike pressed the button, and together the three of us waited for the elevator to come. A soft ding that I never thought I'd miss interrupted the brief silence, and the shiny doors opened up to us. We quickly stepped inside, where Mike practically threw himself over the panel, afraid someone might push the button before he did. God. He was like a kid riding the bus with his poor mother. 'Oh please, Mom, can I push the button? Can I? Can I?' Hmpf.. All right, so maybe he was a kid with a really huge middle-aged belly - but a kid, nonetheless.
Just for the record: I don't like kids.
I know, I know. I have two kids of my own, or at least they used to be when they were younger. But it's not that I don't like kids, it's just that I can't tolerate them. They drive me nuts. Too damn annoying. Just like Michael. He's even more annoying than any of my kids ever were when they were little. I pity his mom. She must've lost her sanity when raising him, that or her will to live.
"So, what's a cleansing process, anyway?" Mike asked, interrupting the peaceful silence in the elevator. Damn, I knew it wouldn't last.
"It's the part where they cleanse your essence of all its memories," Donald answered as a matter-of-factly. "To prepare it for its new body."
"Essence?" Mike asked, a confused look on his face. "What's an essence?" Ugh. Would the questions ever end? Not that I know what an essence is, but still. You don't have to know every little thing to be reborn as a turtle. I have a feeling this place takes care of our essence, even if we don't know what it is.
"That would be another word for your soul," Donald replied, putting his old, wrinkly hands in his beige pockets.
"How is it you know all these things, anyway?" I asked sceptically, turning to look at the old man standing next to me.
"Didn't you read the manual?" he wondered, staring at me through those old greyish blue eyes of his.
"Not all of it," I admitted. I would have proved them wrong on the sleep rule, had I finished that folder. I'd be snoring like a chainsaw halfway through the damn thing. It was that boring. Nothing but a load of crap.
"That's a real shame," he said, shaking his head to himself. "It had some really useful things inside it."
"I bet," I told him, my sarcasm once again released.
"But how come they have to take away all our memories?" Mike then asked, sounding a little annoyed over the fact.
Donald patiently turned to look at him, an explanation only waiting to happen. "You're not allowed to remember your previous life when stepping into the next," he said. "They even put that on the contract."
Mike smiled, embarrassment colouring his suddenly very flushed face. "Yeah, I uh.. I sorta didn't read the contract that careful."
Yeah well, I did. And I sure as hell didn't see anything about not keeping your memories. Well okay, I sort of read the contract. But you'd think they should put that part in big, red letters. Those sneaky bastards. It's like I called the frickin' Home-shopping channel to order myself a new life, only to miss the fine print that read: 'Memories of past life, not included.'
"But what about our bodies?" Mike then asked. "What happens to them once we become turtles?"
"You have no bodies," Donald said, simply. "They're left on earth, remember?"
"Wait," I cut in, a little confused myself. "What do ye mean 'we have no bodies'? I'm standing right here. I can even see myself in the mirror," I filled in, pointing the elevator-mirror to my left.
"Yes, well that is only a part of the illusion," Donald explained. "You only see what your mind wants you to see. In truth, you left your bodies the instant you died. They might even be in the ground by now."
"I see you, don't I?" I was quick to point out, staring firmly at the old fop.
"Part of the illusion," he insisted. "You see me because I want you to see me. But in reality, there's really nothing here to look at," he said, gesturing to himself.
Illusion, huh? If you ask me, I think this guy's read one too many brochures. I sure as hell don't feel like an illusion. But I guess his theory would explain why we're not hungry anymore. Still, sounds a little too weird for my taste. I bet no one really knows why we come to this place looking like we do. What where they expecting, anyway? A guy with a white sheet pulled over his head?
Sooner than I'd expected, the elevator stopped and dinged, the doors sliding open to reveal another waiting room. However, this was much less crowded compared to the earlier ones. There were a total of maybe thirty people inside that room, each sitting calmly on a bench, reading a magazine and kicking back to the soft music in the room. Wait a minute? Isn't that Bob Dylan?
As we stepped out of the elevator and into the waiting room, I took a moment to listen to the lyrics of the faintly played song. And unless I've been completely driven off the loony edge by Mike, then I'm pretty sure it was 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door.' Heh. Who would've thought they'd play Dylan up here? I mean, I suppose the lyrics fit the situation, but still. Shit, it's Bob, you know? I mean, it's Bob. BOB!
Fine, what do you know of good music, anyway? You probably listen to ABBA or something. Ugh. I hate ABBA. See, that's another bad thing that comes from Sweden. With both ABBA and that creepy Karl guy from the elevator on their resume, it has to be a fucked up country.
"Roy? Are you comin' or what?"
"Huh?" Mike looked at me expectantly, standing by the ticket machine. Damn, that's one more ticket to add to the pile of 'things I wish I didn't have to do.' By the time I reached up to them, Donald got us a ticket.
"216," he revealed, holding up the ticket for us to see.
"So, what's the number now?" Michael asked.
"182," I answered, staring at the number-board above the reception. Oh well. I guess that wasn't as bad as those other times. But still, 34 numbers felt like a lot of waiting.
"Might as well make ourselves comfortable, then," Donald decided, slowly approaching one of the many available benches. I sat down next to him, enjoying the music playing in the speakers, while Mike left to get himself one of those magazines.
Every few minutes, he interrupted the music to gossip about some news he'd read in his stupid magazine. 'Lifestyle of the rich and dead,' I think it was called. Yeah. How sick wasn't that? Not only do they have their own theatre, but they even have their own tabloids. I can't wait to get out of this place.
Finally, the sweet sound of "Number 216," came through the speakers. I don't think I've ever been as happy. Not even when my younger brother got grounded for breaking my locomotive toy, and that was a pretty good day. Justice at its best.
The three of us approached the counter together, where a curly red head was found on the opposite side of the window. "Gentlemen, how may I help you?" she asked, flashing that custom smile of hers. I felt like I'd seen that smile a hundred times before. Counting her fellow employees, I probably had.
"Yeah, uh, we're here to be cleansed," I said, leaning my arms on the counter.
"Certainly," she acknowledged, turning to type on her computer. "Your formal location, sir?" My formal what?
"We were sent from floor 74, room B," Donald jumped in with his ever so trustful knowledge. I felt like a first grader around him.
"Of course," she said, still typing on the keyboard. "I can see that on my computer now." Reaching beneath the counter, she revealed yet another sheet of paper, one she'd probably have us sign. "If you would please sign this, then you'll just have to exit through that door." Told you.
Holding out, I waited for the other two to put their names on it, when I suddenly found myself whishing I'd gone first. Donald began yet another exciting adventure of his word for word reading. Once his old eyes were satisfied with what they'd learned, he grabbed the pen and wrote down his signature on the document. Sliding it to me, I accepted the pencil from him and lowered my stare to the paper.
Wow. That was a lot of words crammed into just one paper. How complicated can this memory erasing process be, anyway? Skimming through the text, just to make sure I didn't miss any fine print this time around, I then added my autograph to the list. When looking at the paper, I quickly detected the still empty dotted line beneath mine. That's when I remembered.
"What about that Japanese guy?" I asked, turning to look at the red head in front of me.
"Japanese guy?" she questioned, looking as if there was no one steering the boat.
"Yeah," I confirmed, my irritation quite obvious on my voice. "You know, that forth guy you simply couldn't have us go without."
Turning back to her computer, she started typing frenetically. Christ. Can't they keep track of these things by themselves? What if I wouldn't have said anything? Would this guy then miss being born, or what? Would they've caught on to their mistake further down the road? I'd hate to be the one left behind. 'Sorry, Mr, Tokyo,' or whatever they're named over there. 'But we seem to have forgotten about you. Your brothers were just slipped into their embryos without you. We're terribly sorry for this unfortunate mistake. Here, take this ticket number while you sit down and wait for another opening to come up.'
What a sad place they've put us in.
"Oh," the receptionist then lit up by her computer. "Mr. Takahashi," she revealed. "Yes, well according to my computer, he still hasn't signed the document."
"No shit," I told her, holding up the document against the window for her to see the obvious.
Watching her pride shrink to the size of a frozen pea, she quickly leaned in to her microphone. "I'll just call for him on the speakers," she hastily explained before holding down the button. Watching her work, I placed the document on the counter again.
"Would Mr. Takahashi please approach the reception? I repeat: Mr. Takahashi is needed at the reception."
Looking for our forth brother, or at least future to be, all three of us turned to search for an Asian looking man. I have to admit I was quite disappointed when I didn't see him. I wanted to know what he was like, that nearly forgotten brother of mine.
Looking down, I saw a small boy standing next to me, looking at the receptionist. His identity was hidden underneath a big head of straight, black hair. But he couldn't have been any more than 10. 11 at the most. Personally, I'd even go as far as guessing 9. He wasn't very old, that's for sure. Either that, or he was just very short. Then again, I heard somewhere Japanese people were, so maybe he wasn't as young as I thought.
"Mr. Takahashi?" she questioned, looking at the young boy.
"Hai," he said, nodding in what I can only guess to be confirmation. This was our guy. This was our brother. I'd never expected for him to be so young, and neither had Mike and Donald, judging by the shocked look on their faces. They were practically standing with their mouths open. Not that I weren't, but still. It looked pretty damn funny.
Reaching beneath the window, she grabbed the document and slid it to him, along with the pencil in her left hand. "Sir, if you would please sign your name.."
He looked like she'd just given him an impossible math problem to solve, one I'm sure Donald would love to tackle.
"Um.." she hesitantly began, unsure of how to make him understand. "Your name," she said, pointing to the empty line at the bottom of the paper, holding out the pencil to him. Nodding in understanding, the boy took a hold of the pen and wrote down his signature.
"Arigatou, Mr. Takahashi," she nodded, accepting the pen and document as he handed them to her. Turning back to her computer, she typed in what I can only assume was our information. Then, while the machine began to print behind her, she turned back to us with a big smile. "Once I've given you your proof of identification, you simply leave through the door to your right."
"That's it?" I asked, a little peeved at her for dumping this foreign kid on us. Future brother or not, I didn't understand a word he said.
"That's it," she confirmed, passing the paper through the window. Donald reached forward and took it, when I wouldn't.
"But what about the kid?" I insisted. "He's Japanese for Christ's sake. We don't know any Japanese," I said, turning to look at my two friends, just to make sure. They nodded in agreement, even Donald, who'd had all the answers up until now.
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you with that, sir," she said. "I read here on my computer that he seems to be some kind of exception, taken from the 59th floor only to fill the last opening, yes?"
"Yeah," I nodded briefly. "But that still doesn't mean we understand each other."
"I'm sorry, sir," she said, shaking her head. "But that's a side effect you'll have to adjust to when agreeing to a loophole like this." Adjust to? What, is she crazy? The boy's from Japan, for crying out loud. And listen to this: we're not! Adjust to? They really need to do something about their system. It's got some major flaws. In fact, where's the floor where you get to complain? I want to fill out a complaint.
What! "You're just gonna leave us with him?" I cried, gluing myself to the window.
"Sir, if you don't step aside immediately, I will be forced to call for security," she warned me, her unwavering gaze locked on mine.
"And what about the kid?" I asked, holding her stare.
"Take him with you and leave through the door to your right, sir," she said slowly, speaking through gritted teeth.
"C'mon, Roy," Mike said, standing next to Donald. "Let's just leave. We'll handle the kid, okay? It's no big deal." No big deal? He was a 10-year-old foreigner, for flippin' sake! I'd like to see him handle a 10-year-old foreigner.
"C'mon, kid," he said, taking the boy's hand and leading him towards the door. "Let's go.. err? Vamos."
"He's Japanese, Mike," Donald smartly pointed out, limping a few feet behind the two of them. "Not Spanish."
"Well, I don't know any Japanese," Michael defended himself as they walked. And what was a guy to do? Either I'd follow them out that door, or I could stand here and wait for her to go through with her threat and call security.
"And this… this one's from getting bit by a horse when I was twelve," Mike said, pointing to yet another scar of his. This one, placed on his hand, on one of his knuckles. The Japanese boy looked at the bald Australian with a confused expression on his young features. No wait, it was beyond confusion. It was more like the embodiment of a question mark. "Un caballo," Mike explained, using bad Spanish when trying to make the poor kid understand.
"For the last time, Mike," I said, shaking my head in annoyance. "He's not Spanish! And neither are you, for that matter," I added in defeat.
"Let it go," Donald advised, putting one of his old hands on my left shoulder. I turned to look at him through tired eyes where I sat on the bench, waiting for the red light above the door to turn green. "Let him speak Spanish. It won't make a difference to the boy," Donald insisted, looking just as tired as I felt, or didn't feel. I wasn't physically tired, since I'd grown to learn that it wasn't possible. No, it's mental exhaustion. And I just want that damn light to turn green, so I can step inside and cleanse my fucking essence, or whatever they call it. Point is: I want out.
"So," I said, having reached the point where there was nothing else to talk about. "How does this cleansing thing work, anyway?"
"Well," Donald began, putting one giant leg over the other in a geeky sort of manner. "According to the brochure, you step into some sort of shower. But the water isn't like the water we know."
I could see through the corner of my right eye how Mike perked up in interest, and the young Mr. Takahashi, as the bitchy receptionist had called him, quickly followed his stare to Donald as he spoke.
"What kind of water is it, then?" Mike asked, curiously. He was more like a kid than the kid himself. In fact, the boy seemed unusually calm for a child. He was very, very collected – almost like a grownup. None of my kids were that mature. In fact, they still aren't – and they're 30 and 26. Almost eerie, how composed he was, looked up in a small waiting room with three complete foreign strangers, one of them insisting he knew Spanish. Poor kid. He probably had to look after us more than we did him.
"It absorbs your essence," Donald revealed, confusing us all. "It seeps into your skin and grabs a hold of all your thoughts, your every memory. Then, when all you've ever believed to exist doesn't, the light above the door turns green, and a new person steps inside."
Um.. Okay. That was… deep. I felt like listening to an old hippie, talking about the magical act of creating a child. Only, instead of giving the naked truth of the sex-act in the backseat of Dad's old Camero, he wrapped the whole thing in with big, colourful words and drunken philosophies. "You're sure that's what the brochure read?" I asked, turning to look at the old Sir next to me.
"Well, not in those exact words," he sheepishly admitted. "But the larger part of it is the same." Larger part of it? Heh. That's what I thought. This guy's spent way too much time in his own head. Might be healthy for him to be born into a family with three brothers to pester him in his solitude. Or hatched, to use the correct term. Turtles do lay eggs, don't they?
"Hey, Donald," I said, turning back to look at the living, breathing encyclopaedia. "Turtles. They lay eggs, right?"
"Yes," he nodded solemnly. "They're reptiles."
"That's what I thought," I told him, locking my eyes on nothing in particular. I knew they laid eggs. You know, for a Scottish construction worker, I'm not that stupid. I mean, okay, there might have been a few occasions here that I wouldn't exactly call 'my finer moments.' But still, for a guy who's just signed up to become a mutant turtle, I'm pretty smart.
"Hey," Mike spoke up. "The light went green." He looked at us with anticipation lighting up his features. "Are we just supposed to go in, or what?"
"It's green, isn't it?" Donald said.
Mike shrugged, grabbing the boy's small hand. "C'mon, kid, it's our turn," he said, the two of them rising from the bench and approaching the closed steel door. "We're transforming into turtle embryos. You know that, right?" he asked, looking down at the kid. "Las tortugas embryos."
Turtle embryos. What a life I picked, eh? Out of all the things to be born as, I had to sign up for a family of humanoid turtles. Man, I can't believe I'm about to lock myself inside an egg. That would probably go down the big, fat book of worst decisions made in the time of history. Well, that and the guy who signed ABBA a record deal. Those songs really stick to your brain. Damn Swedes.