Derrick’s head vision resembled an impressionist painting. The colors of each energy source swirled around one another in the darkness, blaring neon against his eyelids.
He stayed in his hiding place between a garbage bin and the alley wall, eyes closed, until the oily purple cloud moved on and the monster’s tail flicked out of sight around the corner.
He stood up and let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. He thought that he’d be used to the monsters by now, but they set him on edge. As he walked, he dusted himself off, checking his reflection in a dirty shop window as he passed.
Even before all this had started, Derrick had found joy in putting together outfits using what he had. Countless trips to second-hand stores with his mother had taught him to be resourceful. She’d always amazed him with her ability to make a classy outfit out of simple items. Even though she was gone, he tried to carry on their tradition.
Although Derrick would have never admitted it himself, he cut quite the dashing figure as he wandered through the streets. He’d paired his usual olive trench coat with a dark t-shirt, jeans, and a weathered pair of leather boots. Fingerless gloves completed the look.
The fog had descended overnight to soften the rigid edges of the buildings. So early in the morning, everything still had a dreamy cast to it, the rising sun turning the clouds a sorbet orange.
As Derrick turned a final corner, an alleyway came to life in front of him. A mixed palette of jumbled food scents and vibrant energy surrounded him like a warm blanket. Vendors had set up makeshift stalls on either side of the passage, their tiny tables and chairs competing for space. Everywhere he looked, he saw people. People talking, people laughing, people lost in thought or cooking. As he made his way through the crowd, the nuances of their emotions pushed against his consciousness. He usually made an effort not to pry, but sometimes his ability became a more detailed form of people-watching. He wondered about their stories and what had caused their emotions.
The cloud of energy dispersed as he reached the end of the street where a neon sign flickered on the wall, an arrow pointing to the door of a small cafe. The gentle aroma of coffee greeted him at the door. Soft music crackled through the speakers as he glanced around the room. The dim light made it easier for him to pick out the people scattered across the space, particularly the group glowing at the corner table in the back. Despite the distance, he could make out one of the people, bright yellow, sitting in the booth. When the person stood up, it looked like the sunrise, blinding Derrick with their light as they turned to face him.
They were waiting for him.