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Don't you feel kind of sad when you see a "Lost Pet" poster? Yeah, me too. If you answered 'no', you're just all kinds of horrible.
What's funny though is that while a simple "LOST" poster will get you down, the "REWARD" posters actually get you looking... Well, at least for a few seconds. If you're like me, you just kind of cast your eyes around the actual location of the hanging flyer and that's about it.
It's like... "Missy" didn't stroll in out of nowhere, oh well, my work here is done.
I try not to look at these things at all. I see some photo of an innocent, loving little face and all I can think about is that same face on an emaciated body, forever wandering the city... or worse yet, it could be attached to any number of roadkill piles I passed on the way there...
I really didn't know how I felt about the joke flyers when they started going up. It was kind of funny, but there was also a cruel spirit just below the surface. It was like someone actually wanted to make fun of all the poor bastards searching for their four-legged loved one.
The first flyer I saw was pretty routine, humor-wise. At first, I mistook the headline for the usual "LOST PET".
"LOST PEST: Brown coat, skittery disposition, responds to garbage and darkness."
Smack dab in the center of the page was the black-and-white photocopied image of a cockroach.
I spotted a few more in the passing days, but I didn't find them as funny as the first. From then on, it just got weird and I didn't get it.
"MISSING: Rock, slightly rounded, grey. If found, please throw Eastward."
"LOST: Starchy edible tuber. If found, please ingest immediately and use resulting energy to plant more so I can have a fresh one."
After a while, people at work started to discuss the crazy things. Sharon, the Facebook-obsessed know-nothing was sure it was part of some "viral" ad campaign. She couldn't say exactly what, but could not be convinced otherwise. Herman, an old tank of a man who had been demoted to the mail room in an effort to make him quit, had a different theory altogether.
That was his guttural, almost unintelligible reply when I asked him about it.
"You think someone out there is actually LOOKING for these things?" I smirked, "Who would possibly believe someone's going to turn up with their misplaced sock or their sense of pride?"
Both of those, by the way, were noted on separate pages.
"Mental patient, that's who." Herman insisted.
When I returned from lunch that day, I found another one of the damned things affixed right to our front doors. I peeled the clear tape back and took the vibrant orange page in my hands.
"LOST: Last shred of dignity. Small, shriveled, rough edges from consistent and unrelenting damage over the course of decades."
I laughed at that one, because I knew exactly what it meant. Still, I crumpled the thing up into a ball and threw it away the second I went inside. It was against corporate policy to post notes anywhere in the building... much less on the exterior.
Avoiding the continuing buzz around these insane writings, I slipped quietly to my west-facing office and adjusted the blinds. Regarding the hustle of the world below always made me feel kind of safe and secure in my drab little closet of a workspace.
No sooner had I sat at my desk than there came a great, loud CRASH accompanied by flying shards of glass. Thankfully, I wasn't in the line of fire as a spherical object rocketed into the room.
A bird? A pigeon, perhaps?
I looked to the window warily, noting the jagged, razor-sharp edges now left therein. Then, I moved to where the object had landed. A rock. Slightly rounded... grey... and recently hurled in the general direction of East.
It was just too much. Most of the damned posters weren't even funny, and now some damned fool was taking them at their word! Yet another "mental patient" in the City's ever-growing roster of all-star crazies. I have to admit he had one Hell of a pitching arm.
My coworkers thought I should be shell-shocked by the experience... so that was how I acted. All I wanted was to go home, to get away from all the nuts out there, so I accepted the moment my Boss encouraged me to take the rest of the day off.
"MSSING: Letter 'I'. If found, please return to this flyer."
"LOST: Rubik's Cube, half-solved. If found, please complete the rest and let me tell everyone I did it."
I saw them all the way home. They were flapping on road signs, stapled to utility poles, and carelessly blowing down sidewalks. Most people were reading them and either laughing or asking others what it meant. The rest were clearly sick of it. They ignored the words, hands in pockets, heads down, walking stoically toward their destination.
They were even taped to the bus windows, giving me no choice but to look as I rode amongst the unwashed masses.
"REWARD! Lost Soul, dark, twisted, nearly not-there. If found, please call-"
That was different. I hadn't seen one with a reward offered, much less a telephone number. I regarded this as yet another step in the stupid prank. The number probably went to a Chinese restaurant... if it went anywhere at all.
I exited the bus about a block from my apartment. As I did, a series of multicolored flyers blew past. Some stuck to my pant legs until I shook them free. I was being assaulted by a wind-swept rainbow of idiocy.
Then I saw it.
I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, but that was jarring enough to make me fully turn and stare down the dark alleyway beside my building. The thing danced and quivered about an inch above the ground. A dark glow illuminated the dumpsters and debris around it... this was the opposite of a glow... yet the un-light was still easily visible...
I had found the lost soul.
The thing moved toward me, blowing on a non-existent wind much like the papers that passed by. I was frozen in shock as the thing flickered and swirled about me before depositing itself in my outstretched, upturned hand. My brain hadn't even given the order to reach for it!
Seeing no other option as the dark and immaterial "slime" clung to my flesh, I begrudgingly and fearfully dialed the number I recalled from the posting. There was no ring. No voice. There was only silence and the cold dread squirming in my stomach like a starving parasite.
"I have what you're looking for." I whispered.
In that same empty, disconcerting well of silence, the thing in my hand snaked itself up my arm, over my shoulder, and into the phone. Just as soon as I had come across it, the thing disappeared.
I hung up quickly. The crack of that receiver slamming down shattered the complete quiet of my apartment, nearly deafening me. It was as if my senses had been heightened by the intense fear I experienced.
With that, it was over. The flyers remained... there were new ones... but I took my lesson to heart and didn't read them. I traveled with hands in pockets, head down, stoically walking toward my destinations.
I was sure my ordeal had ended. The transaction was complete, regardless of whether or not I understood the first thing about it.
Then, my reward arrived. There was nothing to sign, nothing to pay, and as far as I can tell no one even brought it. In a multi-faceted, colorless snap of electric cold, it just WAS.
I'm looking at it right now.
I can't begin to comprehend what this is.
I can't even say for sure if it's anything at all...