For Better or Words. Chapter 1: The World is Awash with Wonders.

The smoke spiralled up from my lips and hotboxed the roof of my umbrella before creeping out to meet the raindrops. The rain always fell in winter. If you mentioned it you'd hear the reply “at least it's not snow”. Which, fair enough, you didn't have to shovel rain. It also wasn't cold when it rained, just water-logged. I made my way down an unexpected, but pleasantly empty, city sidewalk. I didn't really mind the rain, the sound of the water was soothing. And after all these years I'd mastered the art of not forgetting my umbrella on the bus or the last place I'd put it down. Cities in the Pacific Northwest are not immune to the ravages of the forest. As I walked along, I noticed a very large orange leaf floating downstream in the gutter. It stopped when it reached the grates of a storm drain. I stopped as well. The water tried to force the leaf, but it was too big. After a minute or two, more leaves, a hotdog wrapper, sticks and some small bits of orange fiberglass piled up. It crumpled and everything flooded in. I looked up and noticed I was standing in front of a large stone building. It was the colour of a tombstone, with all the warmth of a cemetery. The lowest windows were covered in black metal security bars. The ornate wrought iron look of them suggested they had been custom made. A single, illuminated sign hung off the front of the building. It was modest (from the Eighties?) and surprisingly small, I had barely noticed it above the front door. Two lines of black letters on a white background, all capital announced: YOU'RE NOT LOST YOU'RE HERE Like the leaf, I was in no particular hurry and found my curiosity piqued. I walked up to the towering entry wood. “Free popcorn”, a little sign said, so I pushed the heavy mahogany door open. The doors opened slowly, (deliberately?) and the grey tones outside gave way to a slightly brighter, velvety interior. I was greeted by the smell of sterile cleanliness, followed by two large, toothy grins. Above them, behind a large glass case, eyes lit up like Roman candles. “Hello! Welcome to the Center! I'm Sarah!” A woman in a maroon dress said making her way toward me, hand outstretched. “We're happy to meet you! I'm Charles!” A man in a maroon suit added. He eagerly shook the hand I had stuck out in confusion. “What makes us lucky enough to have you here today?” Charles said in a delightful drawl. “...It's nice to meet you, I'm MJ. Is that an American accent I hear?” I said dodging the ‘what' I came in for and slightly imitating his pronunciation. “Guilty as charged mam! I'm, from the great state of Texas!” said Chuck. A monologue tattooed into their minds and memorized by their mouths began and my eyes wandered toward the cases. They were full of books, pens, pins, coins, clothes and decorative boxes. The boxes were bronze, silver, gold, and inscribed with the same insignia as the rugs, walls and probably, even somewhere on Sarah and Charles. They spoke with distinct, welcoming tones. In great detail, about many subjects, as vaguely as possible. At the end, they asked if I'd like to discover my life's satisfaction in a pleasant, real, interactive movie experience. To me that sounded like a fortune cookie, horoscope or tarot card reading. “Is there popcorn?” I asked. Despite the sign on the door, I was still pleasantly surprised that there was. You have to sweeten, or in this case, ‘salten' the deal, to make someone give up a half-hour. Even if it was a rainy Tuesday afternoon. This was a tourist shopping district, with a million other things vying for attention to be paid.

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