Fiction on Odyssey: The Backpacker Companion
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The last thing Johanna wanted during a Monday commute was to pick a fight with some pickpocket, but it was almost a given in Oxford Circus. Usually just a slap on the hand was enough, but that one was too insistent on reaching into her purse. Thankfully, Johanna wasn't exactly useless thanks to the rather… dubious business of her boss, but before she could beat his ass, a transport worker spooked the thief. By then, Johanna was on the floor, muttering to herself.

"You alright, miss?" the uniformed man asked.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she replied, "He didn't get anything either if you're going to ask that."

"Oh, well, should I escort you to your train? Or outside?"

"Thank you, but I can reach Victoria on my own. That bum wasn't the first one to get at me, and he won't be the last."

The worker nodded and left. Johanna started on her way again, but quickly noticed a tiny, gold circular object. Maybe it fell from that thief's pocket while he was getting his ass kicked, she thought. She picked it up to get a closer look. It was indeed gold but faded. It looked to be one of those vintage ID bracelets; on a plate were the letters "L" and "A," but that didn't exactly narrow anyone down in a city of nine million. Nevertheless, it was beautiful. She opened the chain and strung it around her wrist. With all that happened, she figured she'd turn it into lost property tomorrow. Her mood had been soured enough for one day.

Still, as if things couldn't get any weirder, Johanna opened her door to her apartment to find dinner already cooking, and a strange girl lounging on her sofa. The girl didn't look that old, maybe still in Uni, but her cheetah tee, checked vans, gigantic hoops, and curly black hair tied to the side in a scrunchie of all things made Johanna think this stranger was more worthy of her parents' graduating class.

"Hey, Johanna! I'm so glad you're back," she said with an obviously American accent.

Great. Johanna thought. First a bum tries to rip me off, now some daft American student thinks my apartment is a youth hostel.

"Um, who are you, and what are you doing in my home?" Johanna asked.

"Oh! Um… I'm Lana! I'm gonna be staying here for a while, mkay?"

"I don't know how things work where you're from, but here in London, we don't let random students crash, usually we have to be given a notice."

"Well, no duh," said Lana, "But that's been a little hard for me lately. But I'll be the gnarliest roomie ever, I promise! I've even got dinner on since I know you had a hard day. Thai chicken curry's your favorite, right?"

Johanna slowly approached her. She didn't want to have to get into another fight, but if it meant defending her home, so be it. Lana didn't look like much, but Johanna knew never to judge a book by its cover. She wasn't exactly of high rank, so there wasn't a lot of reason for her to be in danger, but even one bad brush with anyone, and a boss could easily send a hitman.

"How do I know you're not with the McFarlands," she asked suspiciously.

"I have no clue what that means," said Lana, "But if you think I doped your food or something, I can eat it first."

Lana went to the small makeshift kitchen and scooped some curry into an empty bowl. She looked Johanna almost obnoxiously in the eye as she near shoved a spoonful into her mouth.

"See? Safe. I'm not part of the British mafia or whatever," said Lana, "Yeah, I know about that. I've learned a lot about you since I got here, but don't worry, I'm a good girl, usually. You wouldn't mind handing me my backpack over there, would you?"

Johanna looked toward the other end of the sofa to see a larger than average pink bag. So if she wasn't a student, she's probably one of those drifters trying to "find herself." When she reached to pick it up, however, it was impossibly heavy. Johanna could normally haul mysterious packages with no problem, but here she was, dragging a bag that seemed to weigh a ton across the room.

"I've got a lot more food where that came from," Lana proclaimed as she reached in, "Oh, and I have my own pillows, sheets, video camera, polaroid camera, makeup, lotion, raincoat… Oh, tubular! I forgot about these eagle's wings!"

As Lana tossed most of said items on the sofa, Johanna couldn't help but gawk. Even if the backpack was huge, there was no human way that all of those things could have fit inside. When she decided to look over Lana's shoulder and see inside, it looked empty. Still, Lana continued to unpack. Johanna decided in the end to keep her around. She still didn't trust her, but it was the best way to keep an eye on her. Despite it all, the two women started to bond. Maybe Lana seemed like she'd missed the past four decades, but it didn't mean she was trouble. Miraculous, but not trouble. Her lotion seemed almost magical, being both good for instant healing and spicing up busker's performances. She didn't sleep too much either, but was always pleasant and chipper.

One day, Lana decided to follow Johanna to work. At first, Johanna was less than amused, especially with Lana's choice of shoulder pads and a gaudy bow, but it proved to be useful in the end.

"Look, if you're going to blend in, you're going to need to go simpler… And I don't know if you should be here."

"Bag your face, you'll be glad I showed up."

Suddenly, Johanna felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Well, well, Johanna. You're looking nice today."

Johanna turned her head to the dark-haired man behind her, but turned away quickly to hide her blush.

"Good morning, Harrison. How is your day going?" she asked quietly.

"It's better now that you're here," he replied, "I just want to say you did great with the last McFarland incident… You really know how to handle yourself out there."

"Y-Yeah… Just doing my job, following orders."

"Well… Unfortunately I have to go, but I hope I'll see you around."

After Harrison left, Johanna turned to Lana, who was bearing a shit-eating grin.

"You like that guy, don't you?"

"Lana, it's complicated, he's the boss's son."

"I didn't hear no…" Lana said in a singsong voice, "You should go for it."

"I would, if I didn't value my life… Mr. Gall's kind of old-fashioned… Medieval even," Johanna explained, "In order for anyone to 'court' his son, they have to do this stupid riddle thing. Guess what he's thinking three days in a row. It's impossible."

Lana abruptly jumped up and pulled Johanna up as well.

"A lot of things used to be impossible, and look what happened to them," she said, practically dragging Johanna to the elevator.

As soon as it reached the top, Johanna tensed, and Lana once again had to drag her out into the sight of the intimidating old man.

"Carlton, what's the meaning of this?"

Lana elbowed her.

"Well, um…" Johanna began, "Mr. Gall, sir… I'd like to court your son if that's right as rain."

Mr. Gall smiled sinisterly.

"I didn't think you had it in you, but any amount of courage and loyalty doesn't exempt you from my rules."

Johanna nodded. "Of course."

"I'd hate so much to lose you, Miss Carlton, but you've made your choice. You'll return first thing tomorrow with your answer, and remember, you'll only get one chance."

Johanna nodded again and quickly made her way out. As soon as the elevator doors closed, she shoved Lana against the wall.

"Now look what you've got me into! How am I supposed to read someone's mind, huh?! Do I look like I jumped out of a fantasy novel?" she exclaimed.

Lana didn't even flinch, and kept smiling.

"Don't worry about a thing, Johanna. I'm kinda supposed to help you out, so I'm gonna do that. You just go to sleep tonight, and I'll take care of everything."

And Lana did. Once she was sure Johanna was asleep, she used the eagle wings to fly to Stratford and used her video camera to spy on Mr. Gall as he schemed.

I'll think of something in plain sight, something so simple she'll never guess!

Johanna watched Gall exclaim just that through the static. Looking closely, she noticed him caressing one of his expensive shoes. Her fear had disappeared, and she strode confidently into his office.

"What am I thinking about, Carlton?" he asked with a smirk.

"Your Italian loafers, of course."

The old man scoffed in disbelief.

"That was merely a test, you still have two more days."

Lana used her wings and camera the next night, and once again, Johanna guessed correctly. The second thought was another mundane object: the insignia on his ring. Mr. Gall was twice as angry as the first day, and determined to make sure Lana failed.

"Tomorrow, you must not merely guess, but bring what I'm thinking of to me," he said.

Johanna near panicked, but once again, Lana her back. That night, she found he was thinking of McFarland's knife, with his own blood on it. Mayhaps you're thinking that Lana would have backed out due to morality reasons but do remember she was no ordinary girl. Not only did she steal McFarland's knife, she also stabbed him in the back with it. The next morning, she delivered it to Johanna, wrapped in silk, along with some polaroids as proof.

That morning at the office, not only was Mr. Gall waiting, but also most of his council, along with Harrison, whose typically cold eyes were laced with worry for Johanna despite his straight face. She reached into her purse, grabbed the bloodied silk, and unwrapped it, revealing the blade. When Mr. Gall initially scoffed, Johanna pulled out some equally bloodied polaroids from her pocket, showing McFarland's suffering. The council gasped, and Mr. Gall was incredulous. Harrison was quick to rush to Johanna's side and put an arm around her.

"I think you know what that means, Father," Harrison said with a smirk.

"Fine, Charlton," Mr. Gall muttered, "You're worthy of my son, and you get to live?"

"Don't you think she also deserves a promotion?" Harrison continued.

"All right! Charlton, you're now a Captain. We'll see about anything else."

"How's about Aurora tonight? I'll be picking you up at eight," Harrison whispered, and gave her a brief kiss on the lips before departing.

It wasn't long before Johanna herself entered the elevator, and who should be there but Lana, although her attitude was a lot different than before.

"Thank you, Lana, for everything," she said.

"You're welcome. And I had to see you before I moved on," said Lana.

"Moved on? You're leaving?"

Lana nodded. "I kinda have to. It's kinda the rules for ghosts and stuff, isn't it? I both avenged my own death and helped the one I was tethered to."

She took Johanna's hand, and pushed one of her sleeves, revealing the faded bracelet.

"L.A. Lana Andersen."

"Wait, if you're a ghost… What happened?"

"Well… I kinda did BS you about not knowing McFarland," Lana explained, "Back in 1983, I was backpacking here in London. I was jumped by him and his goons. I didn't make it. He ended up pawning off my bracelet. It ended up in a bunch of different places until you grabbed it. I kid you not, not only were you the least freaked out, but I was so glad you were working for his arch enemy. Two birds with one stone, you know?"

"Right… It was nice knowing you, Lana, even if you were dead the whole time." Johanna replied sadly, "Do I have to burn the bracelet or something?"

"Nah, that's a myth. Keep it, as a little gift from me to you. Good luck being a tubular mafia chick. Treat the 'prince' well."

When Johanna next blinked, Lana was nowhere to be seen.

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