A crossover between Tagged and Sandman, in which Delirium and Laika meet.
Note: this takes place just before Laika enters the Tagged timeline.
The sun folded, creasing up into a yellow crane that twittered in a voice like scissors through paper. It shook itself and dove into the envelope of sky between the glimmering towers.
Latte cups spun like foam-crust flowers in the breeze from a passing city bus. She giggled at the burps they made as they bounced and kicked at one from the curb. Commuters pulsed along the sidewalk. Each wave of polyestered people pooled and swelled around her without contact, as if she were in a pocket of air bobbling through water.
Her footsteps trailed foam of many colors.
Laika woke to the clamor of them marching home. Pantsuit cuffs and shiny shoes, like portrait busts from the ankle down, whispered past her box. She snuffed and nuzzled in the meat of her arms. She dozed for another moment.
She caught herself in the facets of a shop’s glass box. Bowing to the image, she beamed at the faces in the television sets. Each screen showed scenes trembling in static: heads trailing scarves and arms trailing bullets, anchors biting their microphones, and rows of representatives like the patrons of a theatre.
She giggled in the hiccup of car horns and steamed up the glass. Lowering her mouth to the mist, she breathed in the exploding snowflakes on the screens.
Each panel of cement now bore the linear marks of an image. After each line, Laika stood on the stoop, chest out and on tiptoes, to test it from His height.
It was not until the moon had risen, pale and globoid like a soggy grape impaled on the roof antennas, that Laika noticed the girl standing there. Just there: feet splayed and back bent, gazing straight down at the sidewalk. Her hair was the mottled rainbow of fresh gum under a park bench and the shredded shirt hanging off her shoulders down to her knees said “Chow!”
She smiled at Laika. “Is that your Daddy?” she waved at the sidewalk art.
“I don’t have one. Someone said I ought to’ve, but I never got around it.” She smiled again, that same tilted grin. “I made a piggy monster once, though! Only the fur was on the inside so its guts must’ve been all tickly.”
“He’s much too fat,” she said.
Laika tensed as the girl plucked the chalk from her hand and knelt in the middle of her piece. She made to protest but all that came out was a hiss of angered air.
The girl laid on her belly, kicking her legs and scribbling on the sidewalk. “He hasn’t got that silly pudgy chin like a butt. Not there. He’s got one on his belly, I think. He hasn’t been eating all that too very much lately but he’s still a little fat, sure.”
Laika squawked at the image forming under the strange girl’s insistence. The girl put down the chalk and levered up on her elbows. Her eyes wavered under a layer of tears. “I did it wrong, didn’t I? Forgot the squiggly antlers and the gummy Santa brains!” she sobbed, crumpling into Laika’s side and encircling her with pale arms. Laika wriggled at the damp of snot leaking onto her skin. The girl jerked up again, going nose-to-nose with her. “Want to know a secret?”
Laika swallowed. It was all she had time to do before the girl whirled off again into a siphon of thought.
“The artists have the lovliest brains of all of them. Mine, I mean,” she hissed this revelation, though it seemed to Laika that the voice filled her veins with sound. “Their minds are like icecream. Melty and dribbly and sweet. Except for the ones who taste like scotch.” She nodded in agreement with herself. “There’s lots of ones tasting like scotch, I think.”
Laika breathed. The girl smelled like worn leather and burnt-out neon signs. She tried to think of something to say.
The girl slumped back against the cement steps. She seemed to be done with her speech.
“I met someone… once… who was all red.”
The girl nodded. She didn’t look over.
Laika swallowed the tacky breath in her throat and continued. “Not like a color, even. Not really. Red like when you’re running and your lungs get all scratched up from the air and your muscles try to jump right off your bones… That sort of red.”
The girl gnawed thoughtfully on a finger of chalk.
“Then there’s the woman who’s on fire,” Laika said. “She has a nice smile.”
When the girl spoke again, her words were dove feather gray. “You’re probably right.”