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Just found you. About time you started using the internet. I need to talk to you. Call me or just come down- I'll give you safe passage with the doorwards. Or I can send a car for you. I know you don't like Chicago, but this is important. You should get a cell phone. Call me.
"So I've got one for you," Ella said.
They were driving along the hilly, winding roads that led south to her father's house. A week had passed since their visit to Christine, and she had heard little from Christopher in the intervening days. It had been her father who called first, inviting them both to the house for dinner. Something in the tone of his voice had suggested to Ella that her father had spoken with Christopher at length before laying any plans.
"Hmm?" Christopher was driving, eyes distant behind rimless sunglasses.
"A Fortean event. I looked him up after I got back home. Weird guy."
"Most interesting people are."
"It's not exactly rain-of-blood weird. I know what happened. It's more of just a weird set of coincidences."
"In the business, we call them synchronicities," Christopher said.
She stared at him for a long moment, then broke up laughing. She put her hands over her mouth, but couldn't stifle the giggles. Christopher raised his eyebrows in polite curiosity, and she held up a hand until the got her laughter under control.
"Sorry," she said, when she could breathe again. "Sorry. That was just-" She stifled another giggle. "Just too much. See, what happened was-"
She had walking on campus at night, taking the narrow walking path that cut between the architecture building and the library-
She paused before a pool of shadow, where the path cut through the low, rolling hill on which the buildings sat. She had been reading Fort in her free time, and this had led her, by circuitous routes, to Jacques Vallee and John Keel. This had the effect of subtly raising her level of paranoia, despite anything her rational mind had to say in the matter. She paused, staring at the alley. The hill rose on either side to above head-height, bounded by retaining concrete walls that cut off the glare of the streetlights.
She hitched her satchel up on her shoulder and walked into the enveloping dark, resolutely not thinking about inexplicable and unimaginable forces massing around her.
Which was why, when the huge shape passed over her head, she started violently, her heart triphammering in her chest.
The human-shaped shadow flew over her at speed, its boots missing her forehead by inches, and crashed into the far wall. It rebounded and fell to the ground with a thud.
Ella stood frozen on the spot, trying desperately to regain control of her traitor body. The crisis, whatever it was, seemed to be over, but the poisons kept flowing into her, adrenalin locking up her muscles and pouring fire into her veins. She waited for her brain to reset and begin operating normally again. It had just been- she had just been so-
The crumpled shape groaned and rolled over.
Her paralysis broke, and she went over and knelt down next to the would-be Spring-Heeled Jack. It turned out to be a young man in dark pants and shirt, his hair held back in a tight bun. He rolled onto his back and looked up at her.
"Ow," he said.
"Yeah, I can see that."
He had scraped his hands badly on the wall. The left was still oozing blood.
Ella frowned. "What the hell were you doing, anyway? You almost kicked me in the head." And scared the unbelievable shit out of me, she added to herself.
"Sorry," he said. "You startled me."
"Yeah? Imagine how I feel."
"Sorry," he said again. "I didn't think anyone would be on this path. It's-" He paused. "What time is it?"
Ella looked at her phone. "Eleven thirty-six."
"It's almost midnight. I figured it'd be safe."
"This is a college campus."
"Okay, I made a calculated bet that it'd be safe." He grinned. "Anyway, I didn't hit you."
"Oh yeah, that's real comforting." She offered a hand. "You want up?"
He made as if to grip her hand, looked again at the grit and blood on his palms, and proffered a wrist. Ella took it and hauled him to his feet. "You crash into walls as a habit?" she said. "Or was this a one-time thing?"
He made a show of brushing himself off. "I usually jump over walls. Like I said, you startled me. And I do it all the time. There's not a lot of good places to practice parkour around here." He saw her blank look. "Parkour? Like freerunning?"
"I think I'm missing something here."
He sighed. "It's like a kind of sport. Like skateboarding or buildering." He saw the blank look return and added: "It means climbing buildings."
"You know, you could have saved us both a lot of time if you'd just said you were jumping over walls for fun."
"Yeah." He grinned. "But I sound cooler this way. My name's Damien."
"Good for you. I'm Ella. I'm not going to shake your hand until you wash it off."
He grinned wider. "Okay. Want to go get a coffee? I think I'm done for tonight."
"I'd say you are. Sure, yeah."
They walked on toward the edge of campus. Damien spent the time attempting to explain to her the philosophy of parkour.
"Let's say you wanted to get somewhere fast on foot, but you run into an eight-foot-high wall. What do you do?"
"I don't know," Ella said. "Where am I going, and why?"
"Doesn't matter. Let's say you're running from a psychotic maniac-"
"As opposed to some other kind of maniac?"
"Right, as opposed to the happy-go-lucky fun maniac. So say you're running from this guy-"
"So it's a guy psychotic maniac, then?"
"Okay, just asking."
"So say you're running from this guy, and you turn down this one way, and there's a big wall in your face."
"That was pretty stupid of me," Ella said.
"You were scared and panicking. So: Wall. What do you do?"
"What's on either side of me?"
"Doesn't matter. This guy's fast, so he's going to catch you if you go to either side. What do you do?"
"Hmm." She thought about it. "Die, probably. Unless I can nail him in the balls or something."
"Exactly!" Damien grinned. "But what if you could vault the wall in a couple quick movements? Could save your life."
"You expecting to get chased by a lot of psychotic maniacs?"
His grin widened. "You never know. Anyway, that's not the only thing it's for, just the easiest one to explain. I mean, cities are like a part of our human landscape now. But they've only really been the way they are for a few hundred years. We're still learning how to move around in them, and everyone's still stuck in this post-Industrial Revolution trip, where we only walk on sidewalks, we only drive on roads- which is a good idea, I guess- and we don't climb or play on things the way we did when we were kids. 'Cause we're afraid of looking stupid."
"Looks like some of us aren't."
"Nope." He smiled, and she smiled back at him.
"So this is about breaking cultural conditioning?" she said.
"Only kind of. See, I think cars are on the way out. At least in cities. They just aren't going to work. People are going to have to learn how to walk and run to places again, and fuck walking in ordered lines and only on sidewalks. Fuck that Nineteen Fifties shit right in the ass."
He continued in this way as they walked, delivering a steady patter of casually anti-establishment jive into her ear, an experience she found oddly relaxing.
They ended up at the Red Lion diner, where-
"Christopher," she said. "I swear to god this is true-"
-Damien began talking, without prompting, about the same subjects she had been studying- a bit obsessively- since meeting Manuel and Christopher.
"Jung would have called this a synchronicity," Damien said. "I've done that wall jump hundreds of times. I never even saw anyone before now. You know about synchronicity?"
"I know about Jung," Ella said. "Kind of hard to miss him, with my classes. And I heard about synchronicity, but not from him."
"Yeah." She took a sip of her coffee. "I've been reading this book by a guy named Robert Anton Wilson-"
Damien lit up like a birthday cake. "Illuminatus!"
She blinked. "Um. Yeah. But not that book. You know who he is?"
"Sure, yeah, Wilson's great. I read Foucalt's Pendulum once for a literature class and someone told me about Illuminatus!" He flashed his grin again. "See? Synchronicity."
She had Googled Whitley Strieber, which had led her to a podcast about paranormal phenomena, which had led her to wiki Robert Anton Wilson...
She put a hand to her head. "You ever get the feeling like everyone around you is talking about the same thing from a bunch of different angles?"
He cocked his head. "I don't know. Are you all right?"
"Sure. I'm just having a weird month." She looked up at him. "Go on. Tell me about synchronicity."
"Sounds as though you got on well," Christopher said.
"We did. He's a spaz, but that's all right." She was silent for a moment. "Then I went home and wiki'd the Illuminatus! trilogy and got all freaked out again."
Christopher cocked an eye at her. "Why, if you don't mind me asking?"
"You ever read it?"
"Sure. Brilliant book."
"When we were at the Red Lion," Ella said. "We both got a coffee, and then I got a muffin. When it came time to leave, I decided to cover his coffee too. I asked the waitress to put it all on my tab."
"Yeah. Know how much it came to?" She turned to face him in the car. "Five dollars and twenty-three cents."
Christopher broke up laughing.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.