The following Monday marked the beginning of her second week, and that half-heard conversation still nagged at her. Not consciously; she didn’t keep herself awake thinking about it. But it poked at her from deep in her subconscious mind somewhere so that she only halfway noticed.
A series of strange events distracted her from the troubling thought over the course of the weekend, anyway. It started later that same Friday night, before the weekend had even properly begun.
She’d returned home after visiting Sal and noticed that they were running low on food again. She was about to signal a cab to head up to the store when she stopped herself, remembering the physical requirements of the job. “Aww, why not,” she told herself. Gran had been much better the last couple of days, and she wouldn’t be that long. “Gran, I’m going up to the store, I’ll be back shortly,” she called. A grunted response that sounded generally agreeable reached her from somewhere in the house. She checked her pockets for phone and fob and headed out.
It had been late enough that the sun had almost set. There was no rain, but a faint hint of ozone scent made her think a storm was coming soon. It took her a few minutes to realize that that hint of ozone was all she smelled; the air was uncannily clear, with no hint of the smog that usually clung to the area even out in old downtown Dolesham. It was like the air had never been dirtied. She envied the people who’d been able to breathe like this their whole lives.
She was just reaching the point where her regular path met with the path that led past the old ironworks when the ozone scent intensified greatly, and she felt a bit of a head-rush come over her. She stopped, shaking her head in a daze to clear it, and was startled out of her wits when someone nearly ran right into her.
He was average height, but her instant impression suggested he carried himself as though he was taller. His eyes were brown but sharp-looking, intense, observant, and his hair a little mussed, as though he didn’t give it enough thought. He was dressed—
Weird, she thought, mind still reeling from the head-rush. He was dressed like a cos-player or historical reenactor. He had a well-worn and somewhat scorched leather apron with a million pockets worn over a very out-dated suit, minus the jacket. White collared shirt, brown pants, boots, and all of it looking very two centuries ago. And then there were the goggles, an elaborate contraption of switches and too many lenses.
All of this detail slammed into her mind as she barely avoided slamming into him. He was in a hurry, rushing down the street in the opposite direction, back the way she’d come. There were others following behind, all dressed in ways just as out of date, though none with quite the mad inventor look to them.
He barely registered her; in fact, she’d almost have sworn he didn’t see her at all, except to jerk and move at the last second as they were about to collide. He carried on running, looking about as though looking for someone.
“Ann! What happened? Did you see? Were you here?” he called out to the empty street. His voice was so faint she could have imagined it though, and when she blinked, he was gone.
The head-rush faded, and she’d stood gaping, wondering if she’d just seen that, or was just having really weird daydreams brought on by the new job.
The beginnings of a rumbling in her stomach brought her back to her task, and she walked on towards the store, keeping away from the old Ironworks path this time.