Harold wakes me up exactly fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off, like he always does. His green feline eyes stare at me expectantly, even as he slowly, firmly, presses his right paw into the space between my collar bones. "It's too early," I grumble, my voice still groggy from sleep. In response he happily head-butts my eye socket and purrs so hard I feel it in my chest. I waste a few precious moments of the morning scratching under his chin before forcing myself out from the warmth of the covers.

By the time my alarm would have gone off, Harold is happily gulping down his breakfast and I'm sitting down at my battered, second hand table with a bowl of Cheerios and the morning newspaper, flipping to the obituaries. It's always best to be prepared.

A movement in the shadows catches my eye, and I glance away from the paper, peeking into my bedroom. The apartment is small enough that from this angle in the kitchen, I can see into the far corner, if only just barely. As always, Vincent is there, watching silently. "Good morning," I say, but he doesn't respond.

Much like the Blue Boy, Vincent doesn't really exist in the strictest sense. As far as I know, nobody else has ever seen him and he has never spoken, but this is where their similarities end. Vincent is a full-grown man, maybe in his late thirties, although I've never been good at guessing age and he sports two glowing tattoos on his chest, one per bicep, each line of ink curling towards the other. He also rarely moves from the far corner of my bedroom, unless it is to go wherever men like him go.

After my Cheerios are gone, I make my way back to the bedroom, but by the time I get there, Vincent is already gone. He has always preferred the night, and while I found him terrifying at first, I now know he isn't a threat. Instead, he feels more like a guardian, although what he's protecting me from I can't be sure.

I hurriedly change for work, choosing a pair of black slacks and a turquoise top with just a hint of silver, tying my straight black hair into an easy, no nonsense tail before walking back out to where Harold is waiting for me on the old brown couch he uses as a scratching post. He is almost entirely black, save for his four white paws, and he spins and purrs on my lap, alternatively kneading my thighs and head-butting my chin before I decide it's time to go. "Be good, fuzz-face," I say, with one last scratch under the chin.

I walk the two blocks from my building to my stop, nodding in fake familiarity to the others who have already arrived. We see each other every morning, but of course we don't speak, and we certainly don't share our names. By six forty-five, the bus is pulling in, and we file into line, eventually taking our habitual seats. I pull out my phone, but something itches at the back of my mind, some lingering uncertainty, some wrongness I can't quite get a handle on.

Maybe it's this decision to un-attach myself from the grasp of my phone that changes things, because at the next stop only a few blocks away, a man I've never seen before sits next to me and smiles. I smile back, despite being slightly irritated; there are plenty of open seats left on the bus, and I enjoy having an open space next to me.

"Lovely morning," he says.

Perhaps it's only because he is so close to me that I notice his teeth are unnaturally white. Distractingly, unnaturally white. "Yes," I agree, amicably enough, although I can't seem to stop staring at his mouth. How does any human have teeth so perfectly straight, so blindingly white? "It feels like fall might finally be here to stay."

He laughs the polite laugh of a stranger who's talking about weather on the bus, and I am given an excuse to turn my eyes away from his mouth and look out the window instead. Three stops later, I mumble a polite "excuse me," and edge out of the seat, forcing myself not to stare at his mouth again, taking care not to let myself brush against him. "Have a good day," I say, more out of ingrained politeness than anything else, and he wishes me the same.

The walk to my office is a brisk one, partially because what I said about fall visiting was true, and I didn't grab a coat, but in truth, I'm moving at a near jog because my brief conversation has left me feeling jittery, and this is not the type of jittery that I enjoy.

I am not flushed. My heart does not beat the strong, excited beat of a woman who just sat next to a handsome man on the bus. It beats with the pace of a woman who cannot remember anything about a stranger except for his mouth. No. Not his mouth.

His teeth.

What color were his eyes? What color was his hair, his skin, his clothes? Was he tall? Did he have an accent? We spoke briefly, yet I can't even remember what his voice sounded like.

My world is full of strange, unexplainable things, and over time I've come to accept this. Shadows exist in the corners, but sometimes they have faces. Sometimes they need help, sometimes they have problems, and sometimes they have claws.

The man with impeccable teeth has become something strange and unexplainable to me, and there is nothing I can do besides wait and try to force my mind to remember things it's sure it never saw nor heard. Instead, I can only wait to see if my gut is telling me the truth about my encounter on the bus, and my gut is terrified, although I can't really pinpoint why. His teeth were no more pointed than mine, and he never touched me, but somehow, everything feels slanted and wrong.

Throughout the rest of the morning, I tell myself on repeat that I'm not actually afraid, only cautious, and that it never hurts to be cautious when a man you meet on the bus doesn't come off quite normal. But I know that I'm lying to myself, because by this point, while I still haven't been able to pinpoint what was wrong with the man, I am certain he wasn't human.

I know how to handle ghosts. I have helped many who were lost find peace, and I have forced many who weren't exactly lost, but really more in denial pass on. Everything I have learned, I have learned through trial and error and by following my gut. But I have never faced anything that was neither human nor spirit, and the prospect of trying to figure out what this man wants from me has my insides in knots.


Around noon, I take my lunch outside in the small plaza area behind my building. I pick at my sandwich, too caught up in nerves to really eat much, and try to force myself calm. If the man on the bus really is a problem, I will not have done myself any favors by working myself into a ball of nerves.

I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the city around me, trying to force myself calm. There's a bird calling out a few trees over, although I wouldn't be able to name the breed even with my eyes open.

Another breath, another listen. A woman two tables down from me is talking on her phone about the importance of picking up the dry cleaning.

Another breath, another listen, and someone sits down next to me.

My eyes fly open in immediate terror and I nearly jump off the bench, but my feet get twisted up together and I only managed to fall forward against the concrete table.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," the man who's taken a seat says, and I force myself to sit back and breathe normally. "But the other tables were taken, and I was hoping I could sit here."

I nod, glancing around. He is not the man from the bus, and every table in the plaza is taken. "I'm sorry, I was daydreaming," I lie.

"Yeah, I'm sorry to startle you like that," he apologizes again.

He has normal teeth. He has green eyes and brown hair that doesn't curl, not even around his ears. His skin is tanned. He doesn't have an accent. I notice all of this in a hurry, memorizing his features as if my life depended on it. After being able to remember nothing about the man on the bus other than his mouth – no, teeth – I want to be sure I remember everything.

He's talking again, and I realize I haven't listened to a single word, too caught up in memorizing his every feature. "I'm so sorry," I apologize again, trying to come up with a good excuse for why I have been staring at him so intently. "Would you say that again? It's been a stressful day."

"No problem," he replies, his tone clearly indicating how rude he really thinks I am. "I was just wondering which building is yours," he gestures to the office buildings around us and points to the large, red brick building to the left. "That's mine. Fourth floor and lucky enough to have a view out here."

"Oh. Just here," I say, so caught off guard that I forget to lie. "Third floor."

"Great, nice to meet you." For a moment I think he's finally going to get around to eating his lunch, before realizing he hasn't brought anything. The jitters I've worked so hard to shake off come rushing back, and I find myself starting to shake.

"Well, I really should get going," I say, shoving what's left of my sandwich back into its wrapper. "It's been nice talking to you–" My voice hitches in my throat as grabs my left wrist. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears.

"Actually, Vivian–" he begins, but my own shocked words come rushing out, cutting him off.

"I didn't tell you my name." My voice betrays my fear, and I can't stop shaking. I should yell. This is a crowded place. I should scream.

"Quiet," he says in a whisper, smiling at me like we're close friends, and I find myself unable to make a sound. Even my breathing is quiet. His green eyes meet my own, and I can see regretting choosing this crowded plaza to approach me. "I've known who you are for a while now, and I assure you, I am a friend." Even in my terrified state, I pull a face which makes it clear I don't believe him, but he ignores this. "I wanted to ask you about the man on the bus."