The house behind them erupted in sound.
Nizzin wove Zgija down Undone Alley. As they went she found her steps more and more though her pupils still swung back and forth like a dreamers and her senses seized up in her head as she tried to correlate what had happened. She was taller than Nizzin with her stride strengthened; her legs jangled with the jewelry around her ankles.
When they emerged from the alley onto Pipe Street Zgija broke away from Nizzin, pinwheeled on her own to where she found a seat on a bench. She breathed heavily and squeezed her eyes closed as if she were trying to make indelible what circumstance might wash away.
Nizzin looked back from where they had come seeing only the red bamboo move fitfully in the wind, though he could hear from down the alley the sounds of the party pop like light bulbs giving out precious gasses. There were shrieks that detonated from that distance and arrived at his ears so closely Nizzin flinched and flapped at the sound like a fly or a bee that had buzzed too close. Light began to coagulate in the direction they had fled from, occluding sight, clotted like fat, illuminated nothing.
Zgija had half stood; her legs were braced while her arms pushed down on the bench as if she might revive it from some faint; her head was bowed, she muttered to herself.
For no reason Nizzin could know he went to hold his hand in front of his face but found he still clutched his stolen copy of The Ecstasies of the Panopliant. Madness, or its close kin, had opened like a flower at the party, yawned it’s blossoms, heaved it’s perfume encroachingly across the town. Why had he not been afflicted? Not the book. In his pack, the weight of that item – that thing, he thought to himself – he had stolen suddenly grew lighter (bubbles rising in the liquid of the world) as he thought of it, rested.
Nizzin (reading his own thoughts out loud to himself): ‘I am protected.’
Zgija had managed herself to stand, yet still she hummed with excitement, sick from exposure to what had happened, to that event. She attempted to make with her mouth the shape of what she had heard, daring not to breathe as she tried. A new path had been opened.
Nizzin, feeling giddy and flushed with the strangeness that flourished around him – the sounds of earth breaking apart, stones cracking, came from the house they had fled, where the light had begun to dully stick together – moved forward to try again to help the young woman as some irresolvable trouble wrote itself onto that place.
He was about to reach out to her when he was stopped, watching the light play strange where it met and hushed against her skin. He thought he saw her pulse like a beacon, just once.
A voice interupted him, ‘Nizzin!’
Nizzin, shocked from his fascination, hearing his name, turned to see the blazing eyes of the dire-zebra that had regarded him from outside the coffee shop. In those dark orbs still lingered a sympathy Nizzin was at a loss to divine. Perhaps it had been a warning that the animal had offered?
It was the man who rode the dire-zebra that spoke, grinding the z’s between his teeth, ‘Nizzin.’