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by Pete O'Brien
In the middle of the night you find yourself walking hurriedly down a residential street, getting wet as a steady rain falls. You have no idea how you came to this place, or where you are. You only know there is someone you are supposed to meet on the block you are on, and you have been destined to meet this person since the day you were born, though it was a thing of reality since long before that. Even before the written invitation arrived, you had guessed that it would happen this way, and your trust in your intuition is deep and unswerving. No one seems to be awake at this hour. All the house windows are dark. You hasten your steps, even as you spy the figure who you first thought was a shadow, standing in the middle of the road five houses away. You see the crook of an elbow as the figure draws up an arm. A thin line of smoke rises from the guy, and there's the orange glow of a lit cigarette. The shadow coughs.
The dialog you will have is already started in your head.
Hello, my friend. Call me Leopold or Of Leopold. I know who you are, and I have something to say to you. Though I admit, it will sound as if we are sitting indoors in chairs, and not standing outside in the dark as the rain falls. Then let me start in the middle. I am one of those harried writers who is an atrocious listener, if listening is gauged by how much one can recall of an exchange that takes place, as well as an abysmal notetaker. My ears were specially designed to have a thing go in one of them, and then out the other one of them. It isn't just children who have trouble paying attention. And what is an adult anyway, if not a child carrying a heavier load of ignorance coupled with actual knowledge, along with the innumerable shades of gray?
And another thing about age. A child's memories tend to be fixed things, while what they learn tends to be in fluid motion. But an adult's memories tend to be fluid things, while what they learn tends to be the crystals of various experiences buried in the past. Or perhaps to come closer to the truth, knowledge of any sort, fluid or fixed, tends to erode in an adult's mind. The older one gets, the more uneducated one becomes.
I mention those things only because I wish to write them down later.
But as for our meeting here and now, sometimes the problem is, there is no beginning. Add to that the distinct possibility that there will be no continuation. The reality of the circle looms large; then it warps into an ellipse or an oval to reflect the reality.
So I start walking backwards, my mind completely blank as to what came before.
It is in this strange in-between time that I am supposed to be writing a story two pages long, I think to myself. It is a recurring thought for me. How strange that I should feel the need to dwell on it time and again! And who am I after all, other than a writer without any teeth, who has lost his dog Noodle to a street urchin who committed the dognapping last Friday, when Noodle ran away from home? I told the dentist about my teeth; she asked me how it happened; but before I could answer, she said, "Not unexpected. Happens. Stranger things happen." Then she raised her hand, as though about to communicate something truly exceptional, the phone rang, she jumped at the sound, seemingly come out of her skin, and bolted to the door, or so it seemed, for in reality she whipped around to the receptionist's desk before she reached it, and grabbed the phone, as her receptionist suddenly turned as white as restaurant linen, and fell over dead, as stiff as a board, the way a corpse typically turns later, and never the moment after signing out. What a very strange unbelievable sequence of events! And yet I believed! I had to!
Dr. Nora Blopchok was the dentist. She reappeared in my line of sight. She was holding the phone about a foot from her head; she was staring at her dead receptionist, whose name was Dora Croinbalpherger . What an unfortunate, scary thing for the doctor to witness! I rushed forward five steps, then stopped. What would I say? What would I do?
But doing nothing was out of the question. I sprinted another ten steps, then stopped again. No! I thought. Too strange, too troublesome; I'm better outside!
So I, Leopold, not even wondering where I'd lost my hat, did what I generally do in all the confusing situations in which I inevitably find myself: I ran. I stumbled through the door to the hallway, I beat it through the lobby, I burst through the street door, I shot down the sidewalk. I climbed a fence, I spotted a dog that looked somewhat like mine. I shed a tear for my dog; I missed her so! I went on running, having decided to make it 26.2 miles without further ado. I had been eating too much even on a diet of soft foods. My false teeth chattered, even in the oppressive heat. It was to be expected given what I had just witnessed. I couldn't recall the name of the city and state where I lived. It was August 3, 2023. I was running the marathon to calm myself.
Years later I would recall that day with a more advanced apprehension, hindsight, and wisdom as I sat in a restaurant. Picture it! I am in The Carp restaurant. On the other side of the restaurant, a couple sits at a table, hidden from my line of sight by a column. They were already present when I arrived. The Carp is yet another bulge out of the ground, as buildings are, in the heart of Choborki, one city away from my city. The food here is expensive and not particularly healthful. I don't know for certain why I am here, as I'm not wealthy, but in truth I haven't had a vacation all year. I had decided to eat out a few times at an establishment that would require me to put on nice pants, nice shoes, and a button down shirt. A place where I would pay a considerable amount. Also, I had never had trouble keeping to a good weight in the past. But I had aged, and it seemed my metabolism had slowed down; these days I was always experiencing some form of bodily injury, I was always hungry no matter how much I ate, it was a struggle not to gain weight. Over the past week, I had done my worst yet and gained four pounds.
As I was sitting, looking out the window, how was it that I failed to notice the person dressed in a bird suit who sat down opposite me? The oversized yellow feathers, the large cartoon eyes attached to the fabric. But finally it registered. I was at the point of saying something when that one's bird hands went up to the bird head, turned it right, left, and then straight up, taking off the top part of the disguise. And I was astonished to find myself sitting opposite a ravishing beauty such as one generally sees at least one specimen of every day or every other day.
She had long hair, it was in a bit of a mess. Her eyes shown bright, her skin had bronzed under some recent sun. She put a finger to her lips, and then proceeded to write on a notepad she placed on the table. The waiter came and gasped. He turned all the way around, and then put a hand on the table.
"My name is Joshua," he said. "I will be your dedicated server today. And Norika will be your salt."
The girl looked up from her notepad. "Hi, I'm Norika Evans. Um, I will be your salt and garlic."
I wasn't sure what to make of the arrangement. "I'm game," I said.
Joshua smiled, nodded, and left. Norika went back to writing in her pad.
Suddenly the person in the street seems to fall mum: the guy falls back a step. The entire time that the fellow stood there smoking a cigarette, you were unable to get any sense of the appearance of the person. All you know is a great timepiece hangs from a neck on a heavy silver chain. The fingernails are long, the shoes seem to have pointed ends, the coat is dark and long. These things you can detect, but nothing more. The scent of the cigarette, however, is not of tobacco, it is tangerine. The aroma is strong.
The person waves you over to the side of the road. You take a step, and discover to your astonishment that you are wearing pointy shoes, a dark coat, and between two of your fingers you hold a cigarette that is not a tobacco cigarette, but one that smells strongly of coconut. And you are alone.
You look up. The road is long and dark. At first it appears to be empty, but suddenly you observe what you thought was a shadow. Someone is walking down the street, advancing towards you, precisely at the appointed time.
"After Dark" © August 6, 2023 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved. Art and Text by Pete O'Brien. "After Dark" is a work of fiction. Any observed similarities to real persons or events is entirely coincidental.