Midnight in the Velveteen Sector, Chapter 2.

Bursting out of the front door with more force than he anticipated, Benton was surprised with how invigorating the cool night air was. Late night walks were no big mystery to him, yet he could scarcely remember a night that seemed so perfectly sculpted from the very fabric of serenity itself. The sweet, cool moisture of a recent autumn rain collected itself in vaporous pools here and there; it swirled about him as he forged a trail to the store.

He was headed to the Joy Market, a convenience store of sorts that occupied one corner of a main intersection four blocks away. On account of the immense pleasure he found among the heavy-set stone buildings bathed in mellow orange streetlights, our protagonist ventured several blocks out of his way to pass by Clementine Park. The whole point of his sojourn was to rid his mind of the sudden, sharp emptiness it felt. The iron trellis that bordered the park, hung with the strangely savory ivy plants, would no doubt bombard his olfactory glands and spur him farther on toward his destination.

With earphones droning their ambient tones into his increasingly placated brain, and unconsciously stepping around cracks with a bit more bounce in his step, Benton rounded the corner and came in sight of the park. He crossed the empty street and slowed to a lazy stroll as he soaked in the wonder of it all. He reached out his hand to gently brush the ivy leaves as he walked; they were dewy and fragrant, beckoning him to drift and forget.

Clementine Park had been closed off for years. Its two giant iron gates were sealed shut long ago and the wonderful ivy had been allowed to grow so heavy that nobody could see inside anymore. Had one been inclined to push aside the foliage to see through, a thick row of hedges furthered the abandoned park’s fortress-like defense. Huge shady trees hung like a canopy over the block the park occupied, making the entire place a lush, impregnable cocoon. No one tried looking over the walls, no one ventured a guess as to what made the City of Cranville close it off in the first place. The populace of the neighborhood, including our man Benton, was happy enough to simply take in its ever-rejuvenating beauty.

His walk was going so well that Benton decided to come back this way once he found something tasty to drink. Thus it came as little disappointment to him to leave the park behind and press on toward the growing fluorescent glow not three blocks away now. The utter emptiness of Mission Hills would have been unnerving were it not so common. Several blocks away down a side street Benton spotted a nondescript form ambling in the other direction, and a car had passed by several minutes ago, but otherwise the night streets were desolate and comfortable. And so it was that Benton felt completely at ease as he stepped into the flood of bluish-white light that was the Joy Market.

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