Onocentauruses and the Legal Limits of Happiness
Astrid worked at a pace as steady as her ticking clock. Often, she would check it to make sure she was on schedule. It was an expensive clock; each letter floated, unattached and untethered to the glass in front of it while a large and small dot floated from number to number at different speeds. The clock itself was suspended without strings or a nail and gently hovered in front of its place on the wall of her powerful workspace.
Over the years, her office had moved higher and higher into the sky. At the moment, it was located on the 37th floor of a 62 story building. The window wasn’t as large as she would have liked, but she made do. Every day, she dreamt of the 62nd floor; Surely, their windows were bigger.
Amidst her steady working, Astrid’s boss leaned in at her open doorway and knocked. “Oh, uh, Astrid.”
“Hi. Just wanted to tell you, great job on the Bismith case. Interesting trial. Wonderful work as always.”
She smiled, and placed her hands together, keeping them from fidgeting. Somewhere in the depths of the internet, she’d read it was a weak habit.
“Thank you, Frank. We had a pretty strong case going into it.”
“No, you had a pretty strong case by the end of it. Who knows, you might make a big name for yourself like your old man.” He pointed at the grandiose picture of Astrid’s expensive-suited father sitting on her bookshelf.
“Well, I -” she decided to accept the compliment, “Thank you.”
“Sure. Maybe a few of us will grab a drink and celebrate later?”
“I’ll have to take a raincheck. Tom beat you to the punch. He’s taking me out to Prolubium’s tonight.”
“That fancy place on sixth?”
“That’s the one.”
“Raincheck then, maybe next week. Congrats again, Astrid.”
“Thanks. In any case, there are still some loose ends to take care of.”
“Life’s full of ‘em.” Frank tapped twice on the door frame and left, sipping his coffee as he went. Continuing to type away, the day passed by with only a few more congratulatory interruptions.
Down the elevator, through the lobby, two blocks over, three up, and up another elevator; the high-rise containing her favorite salon was a trip that took her twenty-two minutes in total. Factoring in five minutes to check in, she packed up at 3:00 and left at 3:03.
On her walk, she passed by a lively construction site. The base of the cranes stood next to their respective dirt pits with protruding iron beams. Each crane was one large and intricate vehicle made of wood, engraved with the appropriate magical carvings that glowed bright orange as they lifted beams into place with what seemed to be invisible strings. Beam by beam, they put together skyscrapers that grew higher and higher each day. Astrid pictured herself in an office at the 100th floor of a new high-rise.
Rounding the block, she came into view of the building where her hair appointment was. As Astrid neared its entrance, the man walking in front of her stopped to hold the lobby door open. When he turned to let her pass, she saw his face and her heart skipped a beat. Tightening her lips, she tried to hide her shock. It was difficult. Nearing him, the man nodded and smiled while she mustered the same, spending most of the time looking at the ground and the surrounding windows.
Anything but his face.
It was grotesque. Melted. Spots of discolored splotches spackled him and perpetual, slithery slime slipped down from his face to his chest, just under his wet shirt. Underneath the shirt, she could see a coat of diaper-like padding. His face endlessly created more liquid. Her saliva, now reminiscent of vomit, reminded her that fluids should stay inside one’s body.
“Afternoon,” he said, smiling and giving a nod as she came closer.
“Thank you,” she whispered, keeping her head down as she passed by.
The lobby was pristine, and elegant music played sparsely in fashion with the chic decorations. Still, her attention was on the grotesque man’s footsteps following behind her. She approached the elevator, pressed the button, and waited. Her eyes poked around awkwardly, still avoiding the man.
He’s probably very friendly, she thought while stopping her hands from fidgeting. She glanced at him again. His clothes were oversized but failed to hide his chunky body.
The elevator dinged its arrival.
“After you,” the grotesque man cheerily motioned.
She nodded, letting out a nervous chuckle, then entered.
Following behind, they settled into their position, finding that the man had control of the buttons.
Astrid asked, “Twelve please?”
“Sure thing.” The man hit the button marked twelve, then the one marked fourteen. After a moment, the humming of the lift spell overtook the awkward silence and Astrid watched the numbers count up to her stop:
The steady pace calmed her down. More so, it distracted her from feeling like a bad person.
The shaft of the elevator echoed out an awful noise as it made an abrupt stop. Dropping through her chest, her heart fell nine floors down and took her off balance. Thankfully, the elevator remained at floor eight.
The man repeatedly pressed the door open button to no avail. “Uh-oh,” he said, “looks like we’re stuck.”
“Shit… Shit, shit, shit.”
“Well, I bet they’ll be in here in just a little bit, I’ll hit the… oh that was quick.” He pressed the emergency button and set off a buzzing alarm inside the elevator. “Kind of neat. I’ve never pressed that button before. Always wanted to.”
Breathing heavier and looking at the grotesque man directly, Astrid asked, “Have you ever been stuck in an elevator before? Do you know how long this is going to take? What do we do? Can we shut off that alarm? It’s so loud.”
“Nope. No, like I said, never pressed the button before.”
“Shit. Is there any way we can-”
She pried at the door with her fingertips. Also to no avail. She sighed and looked at the man for a second too long.
“Well, hopefully, you didn’t have anything important you were trying to get to.”
“I have a hair appointment.” Her voice was curt.
“No. Not good. It’s important. I’ve got a date tonight. A celebration, actually.”
“Oh, not good. Well, good that you have a date, I guess.”
“Thanks.”She continued to avoid looking at the man’s face. Her heart beat fast and forced her into thinking up countless ways to escape this situation. The alarm’s buzzing was steady and chipped away at her sanity. Her foot tapped, and she took out her phone to text her hair stylist. “I’ve got to tell her I’m going to be late,” she seethed.
An awkward silence took over, aside from the alarm. After a few more exhausting buzzes she asked the man, “What about yourself? Anything important?”
“Just a doctor visit. One of a thousand, so nothing too important.”
She thought for a moment. Then said nothing.
He awkwardly chuckled and said, “It’s kind of like a date, I guess.”
She awkwardly chuckled back.
The alarm stopped mid-buzz, and a voice came over the intercom. “Hello, is there someone in there?”
Startled, Astrid replied, “Yes. Yes, there are two of us in here. What took you so long? I have an appointment I have to get to. Please hurry.”
“Sorry, I had to find the protocol book first. We have the fire department on their way, ma’am. Now, we’re going to get you out as fast as we can.”
“Okay,” she said.
The employee on the intercom guided Astrid through the process of cycling the elevators power. It involved a series of pushing specific buttons for specific durations of time. After the ritual was complete, nothing happened and the man on the intercom told them to wait while the firefighters consulted some technicians.
Astrid sighed and leaned against the wall.
The grotesque man looked at her and asked, “Will she still do your hair if you’re late? Your hair lady, I mean.”
Reflexively, Astrid said, “No,” then thought for a second. “Yes. She’ll do it. But, in any case, if I start the appointment late, then I’ll be late for dinner and we have reservations and…” She stopped herself when she realized she was about to chew on her thumbnail. After forcing her hands down to rest and taking a deep breath, she looked at the grotesque man, then told him, “I’m sorry. It’ll be fine. I don’t like being late, but I guess it is what it is. It’s just kind of a special night.”
“That’s okay, it happens. What’s the occasion?”
“I won a big case yesterday. Well, the biggest case; that I’ve ever had anyway.”
“Case, huh? As in law case?”
“Yes. It was a corporate client of ours who was suing for… well, I won’t bore you with the details, but we won, and my boyfriend was taking me out to dinner tonight to celebrate.” She paused and pondered how much information to give a stranger in an elevator. With a shrug and a chuckle, she said, “I’m kind of hoping he proposes tonight.”
“Oh, that’s amazing! Congratuli… well I won’t congratulate you yet, I guess. But that’s fantastic!”
She shook her head and laughed, “Well, really, don’t congratulate me. I think he’s going to propose at every dinner. He never does.” She laughed harder. The grotesque man with the melting face belted out a laugh of his own.
“Women are crazy,” she joked.
“And men are stupid.”
“Exactly. Are you married or anything like that?” As the question left her mouth, she looked at the skin actively dripping from his cheeks and regretted asking.
His smile faded and he told her, “No. No, I was for a while but, as you could imagine, a face like this is hard to be around. Romantically, I mean. Well, in general, I guess,”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
“No, it’s totally alright. I don’t have to see it all the time, so it’s really not my problem.” The casual attitude he wore gave her permission to relax. “It’s the world I live in, so it’s not as surprising to me. That’s how it goes, I guess.”
She was quiet for a moment, thinking. Then asked, “Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
“Not at all. Again, it’s not startling to me.” He chuckled. “It started with a doctors visit for erectile dysfunction if you can believe that.”
Astrid covered her mouth and tried not to smirk as much as she did. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I know, who would have guessed!” The man began to explain the problems he and his wife at the time were having. Then about the doctor he’d seen, and the medical spell he’d undergone. How the doctor had made it sound tested and fool proof, and how expensive it was.
The intercom interrupted them. “Hello. Sorry it’s taking so long. How’s it going in there?”
Astrid said, “Fine, what’s going on?”
“They just found the operation block and are working on it now. They said they have to cycle the energy on this end. Sorry, it’s an old elevator. They should have you out in about five-ten minutes.”
The grotesque man said, “Okay, that’s great to hear, thank you!”
“Thanks,” Astrid chimed in, but the man on the intercom was already gone. She looked at the grotesque man again and asked, “So this doctor did the spell?”
“That’s right. And for a few weeks, it worked great.” The man went into a corny whisper. “Let’s just say it was totally worth the gooey face.”
She laughed, covering her mouth again.
He explained how quickly things changed. A few weeks after the spell, his face began peeling. After a few days of that, it started producing fluids and his skin dripped and drooped. Over the course of two weeks, his face and random spots around his body had turned from normal skin into the sagging, sloggish, slimy mess it was today. His wife left him. His employers fired him for random reasons. The state now paid for his modest trailer at the edge of the city line. He’d filed a claim against the doctor, but due to not having a job or a advocatus confident in the case, he was forced to settle for a meager payment of 6,000 pecunia. It was barely enough for a small portion of the medical bills.
The elevator door opened.
Standing outside, there were a few firefighters along with a few building employees of various positions. The standard procedures proceeded, and safety measures were measured. Before a few minutes, everyone had dispersed, leaving Astrid and the grotesque man alone together on the eighth floor.
“I think I’ll take the stairs the rest of the way,” Astrid joked.
“About time I got some exercise.” He gestured to his belly.
They took the stairs together and at Astrid’s stop, she halted, reached into her purse, and said, “Here’s my card. If you ever need a corporate advocatus, let me know.”
“Oh, well thank you. I’ll keep that in mind, very nice of you!”
“I’m Nathan, by the way.”
They shook hands, and hoped he’d never find out she’d thought him a monster in the lobby. He took the card, said thank you many times, then continued up the stairs to his floor. She was, of course, late to her hair appointment and, in turn, late to dinner.
It all turned out okay.
Her boyfriend didn’t propose, anyway.