Four months in New York, and Tim had never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. He’d taken the subway over, of course, usually in the company of his cautiously expanding group of friends, all of whom were imports from smaller places, delirious with the opportunities for food, booze, and debauchery. It seemed like something you should do at least once, though — walk across. That’s what his mom had told him, anyway, along with her usual admonitions about not getting mugged and spending money wisely.
Walking up the stairs from the underpass, Tim noticed a weird smell — weirder than the usual Manhattan funk, anyway — a sort of musty whiff, like clothes that had lingered in the back of closets too long and an overlay of cloves. Figuring it for an olfactory virgin moment, Tim stepped onto the center walkway and headed toward the first tower. It wasn’t the best day to be a pedestrian, with cold mizzle bleakly dropping, but he was a New Yorker now; to hell with the weather, he could always take the subway back.
As he neared the tower, Tim could see three figures sitting on the railing and… looking at him. He tightened his grip on his backpack straps and tried to seem confident and purposeful in his faltering stride. But they just kept looking at him, not even moving. All the same way, as though they were judging him on something he couldn’t figure out.
As he drew up to their perch, he saw two men and a woman, all wearing variations of the same outfit. Those jeans he could never understand fitting into, the slouchy knit hats. The glasses he suspected didn’t do a thing for visual acuity, and the usual complement of tattoos. He was suddenly deeply aware, and somewhat ashamed, of his plain khaki pants and polo shirt, the dorky fleece he’d gotten at his first-ever professional conference. Who were these jerks anyway?
Doing his best to ignore them, but conscious of the fact that he was holding his breath, Tim had nearly walked past the group when one of the men spoke. “Nice try, douchebag. Even nicer Kmart backpack.”
Tim stopped and, hating himself for it, turned around to face them. “What… what’s it to you? Um… douchebag.” Great. That’ll show them. He was having flashbacks to middle school. While he didn’t feel particularly worried for his safety, his pride was taking a serious beating. What was going on?
The woman eyed him up and down and sneered. The first man slid off the railing and approached Tim. “You don’t just walk over to Brooklyn, man. You are so obviously new.”
Tim gulped and stepped back. “It’s a public bridge, I mean, walkway. It’s public. I can certainly walk over to Brooklyn.”
The third man, bigger than the rest, and with a slightly more commanding air, spoke up. “Clearly, you haven’t ever heard of this. It’s a bridge, but it’s our bridge. You don’t cross it until you’ve answered our three questions.”
The shock of relief was so great that Tim almost started laughing. Obviously, these three were just wackjobs getting a kick out of harassing passersby. It was no different, really, than being hustled by panhandlers or street hawkers. He started to walk forward, but found himself completely immobilized by… a wallet chain?
One of the men had somehow looped his wallet chain around Tim’s wrist, rooting him to the spot. Trying to sound bored instead of worried, Tim sighed. “Okay, fine. Ask me your questions, but take that off my wrist.”
The woman laughed loudly and nasally. “It doesn’t work like that, dumbass. You’re stuck until you answer the questions, or if you can’t… well… you figure it out.”
It didn’t seem like there was much of a choice, so he looked at each of them in turn and said, “Fine. Like I said, ask your dumb questions. And make it fast. It’s raining harder.”
The larger man cleared his throat and barked, “What is the last name of rollerblading girl in volume one of the Scott Pilgrim series?”
Tim stared at him, disbelieving, and slowly said, “Um … Flowers.” The man’s eyes widened, clearly startled that Tim hadn’t failed immediately.
Shaking himself slightly, he looked at the others, and getting a small nod from each, asked, “What do you call a mustache named after the main character in Sax Rohmer’s novels?”
What kind of game were these jokers playing? Tim, smiling a little, once again answered the man’s question: “Fu Manchu.”
At this point, the woman ripped off her hat and twisted it. The first man stepped forward and barked, “What is the name of the fifth track on Bright Eyes’ debut album?”
Now Tim really did laugh aloud. He answered the last question confidently with “Exaltation on a Cool Kitchen Floor,” and all three seemed to swell with the sheer indignation of him being right. Tim felt the wallet chain slip off his wrist and snap back into the larger man’s pocket.
The woman screamed at him, “How could you possibly know the answers to those? They’re the most obscure questions ever! We’re the Three of Troll and you’re some office puke!”
Rubbing the raw spot on his wrist, Tim shrugged and said, “Where I come from, there’s not much to do except read a lot of blogs and listen to music. It’s a really small place.” He grinned. “You’ve probably never heard of it.”
The Sisters Hipstergrimm: A teacher/librarian and attorney, living like the Montagues and Capulets divided in California. One NorCal, one SoCal, collaborating on whimsical updates of traditional tales.