“Oy, you ! Whadd’ya think of the decreasing quality of the oysters coming from the Bassin d’Arcachon ?”
Very few people in the world are capable of hearing such unexpected and stupid questions. And of all the people walking rue Sainte-Catherine with their faces buried in their scarfs on this cold wintery afternoon of January, only one teenager heard it. Leo immediately stopped, confused. Wh… What ? But… Huh ? I… Hum… What ? “What ?”
The man who had asked the question came closer, and repeated his question, in a more insisting tone “Whaddya think of the decreasing quality of the oysters coming from the Bassin d’Arcachon ?”
Aside from the fact his question was particularly confusing and nonsensical, Leo couldn’t make out who this correctly dressed man was supposed to be.
Was he conducting some sort of survey ? Obviously not. He did not have any paper on which to write the answers down and he had no colleagues whom he’d harrass en masse people with.
Was it some sort of televised prank ? Could’ve been, as cameras were getting smaller and smaller, to the point they could go undetected. Then again, Leo was unable to know why people would find this kind of stuff entertaining. People on TV do not come out of nowhere to ask those sorts of questions… But considering the dumbing down of programmes nowadays, putting some weird disconnect between the man’s serious appearance and the crazy stuff he spouts could at least make some guy grin… Maybe ?
Or maybe this man was some sort of magical being coming out of some random fairy tale. Of those where it is recommended to be careful as to not cross, otherwise they put some weird curse on you that make your hair go wilder than usual. Not that Leo’s hair wasn’t already wild, but that was beside the point. After all, some stories do begin with odd people… But of course it could not be this sort of shenanigans. Leo knew all too well magic didn’t exist, otherwise there’d be good guys and bad guys fighting off every odd morning and the world would’ve already been some sort of desolate place.
Ooooor… Just maybe, this man was a raving madman that couldn’t get over his bad New Year’s Eve dinner and wanted to make his opinion against the oyster industry beknownst to all. This seemed like the more logical explanation in this sort of situation.
Besides, his question didn’t leave any room for a correct answer. Might as well give him what he wants to hear and hope he’ll leave me be. “It’s… Decreasing ?”
The man smiled “Eeeexactly ! I knew someone would agree ! You can ‘t imagine how much I thought…”
Gods… Dammit ! Of all the people that were roaming rue Sainte-Catherine, this weird bloke had to choose to talk to him. Besides, his question was absolute nonsense ! Leo thought about his “enchanted” earphones and MP3 player that he forgot to take with him before leaving home. They had the ability of making people think he wasn’t accessible and thus they would usually ignore him. And even if it’s battery was out cold, he could’ve taken it just to maintain the illusion and at least shelter his ears from the cold. Leo sighed, without the odd man taking notice.
And this man wasn’t ready to leave the boy be ! For five straight minutes he’d been talking nonsense about oysters and the death of society – how did he manage to go off on this tangent, Leo didn’t know, he was listening on an on and off basis – and he was currently talking politics… Leo considered the possibility that someone somewhere reaaaaally wanted to get revenge on him for living this long. Thinking of that, was there some… Thing or one supervising every living form on this planet ? Might as well think about that since it seemed he was to be stuck with this weirdo for at least a few more minutes.
As a matter of fact, Leo had been thinking about the possibility of a… Celestial being for quite some time. For a least a year in fact, because it dawned on him that he had an undescribable streak of luck for the entierety of his life. He knew it wasn’t normal, as if someone had been watching over him and didn’t allow him to die. He noticed this first when he nearly fell from a set of stairs at home : his arm automatically found the rail and he managed to maintain himself, as if his whole body knew what had happened and he had fell in some other life. Of course, he told his parents about his doubts, but they brushed it off, saying it was just his reflexes that were really sharp. Despite that, his inner Doubt remained.
There was also this time where a piano nearly managed to fall on him… Leo started to think back on this ridiculous incident, but immediately snapped out of it when he saw that the man stopped talking and was looking at him expectantly. Not knowing what to say, mostly because he didn’t listen, he shrugged and let out a small “humpf”, which seemed to be enough for the man, who continued on his rambling.
After two minutes of blabbering that felt to the boy like an eternity, Leo felt some small vibrations emanating from his pocket. A phone call ! Maybe fate, or karma, or some unknown god watching over him wasn’t so cruel after all ! The boy interrupted the weird man, who was going on about some sort of underground conspiracy and the difference in power level between Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude van Damme. “Sorry, gotta go, phone call… and such.”
A flash of disappointment crossed the man’s face “Oh… Well good day to you, sir.”
The two men parted ways in opposite directions. Leo cursed himself for not using this excuse sooner and got hold of his phone, noticing the number wasn’t shown on the screen. Hesitantly, he answered “Yeallow ?”
“Good afternoon. Mister Davis ?” The voice at the other end was feminine. Giver her tone and the small hesitation when reading his name, there was a three out of four chance she was some sort of operator.
Leo suspected the worst had yet to come “Yes, it is I… Eum, me… Euh um… yes ?”
“Good afternoon. I am here to talk to you about the opening of a new olive oil store in your…”
Oh for Gods’ sakes, why is this happening to me ? His mind screamed, while his voice didn’t show any sign of it.
Forty seconds of useless banter later, Leo took a look at his watch. It was already 16:25. He had to be at his last class in less than five minutes or else he would be marked as late. Unfortunately, the school was 500 meters from here, on the other end of the street. One thing was certain : if he wanted to avoid getting a bad reputation with his teacher, he better had to run. Fast.
He took the time to politely send off the woman at the end of the line, walk a bit faster, put the phone in his pocket while making sure he didn’t drop it, start slowly running, put his bag firmly on both shoulders and then run like never before he had done in his life.
The storefronts were like a blur in his line of sight. Everything was turning into a sort of mix of flashy colours and blinding lights. The only thing that looked clear in Leo’s view was the end of the street. His faraway goal. Slowly but surely it became clearer, though to arrive there, he had to cross both tram and car roads that seperated the rich, bright and colourful part of Bordeaux from the poor, dark and gloomy area that was its second half1.
Oblivious to the roads and too focused on arriving at school, Leo continued to run. To his own surprise, the thought of the time he nearly got crushed by a piano came back and he started to consider he was very lucky on this one… Unfortunately, he only started thinking about it, as the process was immediately interrupted by a very loud and clear noise. He managed to turn his head slightly to the right and notice the tram driver’s panicked expression as he was slamming his horn and trying to use his breaks, which in any case would’ve proven to be futile given the sudden arrival of the boy on the tracks and the weight of the machine. Either the boy suffered, or countless passengers would get injured by collapsing.
In spite of his growing fear, Leo continued running and managed avoiding becoming the next Leo-sandwich workers would’ve had to scrub off the pavements.
The tram barely touched him.
I made it ! The boy couldn’t believe he managed to cheat Death like that. He saw the passer-bys’ shocked expressions and even a few that were about to intervene.
What he didn’t see however, was the speeding car that hit him.
Nor did he feel his body hit the ground and the people rushing towards him to call for an ambulance.
Instead, he saw an old house envolopped in what he felt was nothing more than the coldness of the surrounding darkness and the faint glow of the stars…
1Seriously, if you ever go through rue Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux, you’ll be amazed at how true this is. I’d say there is a Light vs Dark joke lying in there, somewhere… Buuut I can’t be bothered to do it. Besides, I’m pretty sure people living in the “Dark Side of the Street” would hate me for it, if ever they’d stumble upon this edition of the book.
PS : those annotations will mostly be about French stuff French people do, because there are quite a few jokes that would be lost in translation, and readapting them is A : a real hassle (not really) and B : counterproductive. Why not learn things about the French while reading a fantasy novel ? That way you can say to people naysaying you about the fact you’re reading some story about gods that you are indeed reading it to learn more about some foreign culture. Everybody wins !
PS 2 : and no, I will not call those little annotations “Ben’s Fourth Wall Breaking Fun Facts about France”, nor shortening it with “BFWBFFaF”. Though pronouncing this abbreviation does make for some fun time with friends. Especially the BFFaF part… Ahem.