I see a shuffling form working its way drunkenly along the wall at the opposite end of the lot. It grasps a wine-bottle lovingly — tenderly. I'm rather a curious sort, and the impending evening made me no more cautious than normal: one really ought not approach drunken bums at any hour, but especially not at any hour so rapidly-dimming. My hand slips into my pocket and fondles a revolver — it reassures me, though there's no telling if I could use it should push come to shots.
I peer through the gathering darkness.
No. It can't be. Yet, almost— The drunk stops and looks almost curiously at me, simian in its innocent intrigue. Hmph. Fancy thinking of an innocent drunk. I smile, but the thought is still there.
What arrests me, though, is the face. Before me, separated still by some thirty paces, yet unmistakably for how I knew it, is the face of— Well, I knew that face too well for mere eight-days' unshavenness, a shambling delerium, and a distressing state of unwash to mask. My best, my closest friend, once. Truly? Driven to what extreme?
Pious, righteous thoughts slipped and soared one direction across another of a glorious repentance and reclamation, brought about by his seeing me, realizing his own disgusting state, and renouncing all that had brought him so low. His tearful wife everlastingly grateful for his recovery.
"Hey!" I called. "Loser!" in best imitation of the old times. One doesn't consider the foolishness of calling a possibly-roaring drunk a "loser" to his face at twilight in an empty parking lot when one's mind is full of an imagined (and utterly imaginary) tearful reunion and renunciation.
He stops, hunched a bit, and tries to bring his rebellious eyes to some semblance of focus in my direction. Scowls. No recognition yet. I approach. As I get closer, somehow my face registers with the part of his mind that still recalls that there are certain people from whom insults are not insulting, and he grunts somewhat satisfiedly. Turns away. Continues his shuffle to God only knows where he's going.
"Hey!" I shout again. I'm much closer now, no real need to shout to be heard, but doesn't one always attempt to pierce veiled understanding by overpowering it? He stops again, and this time, as his eyes seem to cooperate somewhat — and perhaps as both of me are recognizably me — my face is noticed by the part of his mind that keeps records of past confederates and confidantes.
He breaks reverie in a toothsome, disturbing grin. "Hey yers-elf!" he manages to get out. He stares at me, and then starts, and looks down at the wine bottle in his hand. Another loving gaze, and the bottle rises and tips to his lips. I can't help but think that it was once all philosophy, art, and science. Difficult even to contemplate him incapable of linear thought — much less thoroughly sauced.
He quickens his pace. I reflexively caress the revolver in my pocket. One never knows one's friends when they're drunk, especially after so many years. One never knows what they might do. Or try to do, but be thankfully uncoordinated enough to manage not doing.
He reaches me, puts an arm comradely around my shoulder and forces sour breath in my face. I duck out of this unwelcome embrace and he stumbles, totters, and rights himself.
"They, ah've, been lookin' — fer you," he says, with some attempt at significance.
"Who?" I ask.
He only cackles.
I shudder inside. For whatever reason, this cackle — this demoniac cackle — is more disturbing to me even than the stench, grizzle, or stagger. One is not truly changed, I suppose, as long as one always laughs the same. One could shockingly and appallingly transform, and yet remain oneself as long as one's laugh remained. But the deep, throaty guffaw was gone. In its place was a thin and wheezy cackle that seemed to find the universe as a whole rather amusing, as non-self and therefore ridiculous.
The last time I saw him, I vowed never to speak to him again. I thought him free of all reason and value. He was less drunk and more human then than now.
"They'ah, asshk, me 'bout you," He continues. He seems to think this is incredibly funny, and breaks into that awful, painful laugh again. "They-ah, do."
"I'm sure." One patronizes drunks almost reflexively. Even the slight drunkenness of one-too-many at a party and those whose wits are kept about them can't help condescending. "What do they want?" I'm still not even sure who "they" is— are?
"Oh-hoho! They'ah, they'ah, lahv, you!"
Ah. They-ah lahv me, do they-ah? If they-ah were an audience or a female, I'd be flattered. As it is, I suspect that they-ah are a workings or figments of his mislaid faculties.
I reflexively duck as a fly whisks past my ear.
"Heehee! They'ah lahv you! They'ah've wait-ed fer you!" He approaches again. For whatever reason, he grasps my arm with both hands, pulling me closer to him — down to his rough, awful face. A beard of sorts scratches my chin, sour air floods my nostrils.
"They'ah—" I fling him off and stumble backwards. He re-orients and manages what passes for a beeline my direction. I manage to back away on a tangent to him and be again several feet distant when he reaches where he'd assumed I'd be.
Outmaneuvering a drunk is no great feat, even backwards. Hardly somewhat of which to be proud. Yet, dreamlike, I seemed to become less able to move — less able to react and dodge and avoid. Less able even to think.
That blasted fly circles my head. Not sure why, in a lot this big, it feels the necessity of being right here, right now.
That blasted giggle — cackle! That blasted "they'ah something or other"!
"Who are they?" I don't know why I shouted. I've had a frenzy of some sort worked up — I don't say I worked up a frenzy: but nevertheless, inexplicably, a frenzy has been worked up.
"Heehee! They'ah, have been lookin' fer you! They'ah, mish, you."
Dark recollections. Shapes in the night. Avoiding. Dodging. Running. Out-running.
"They'ah've been lookin' fer you. They'ah wondered where you gone!" Now of all times to notice grammar? But his speech was once impeccable — every word high rhetoric in the Classical sense. "Where you gone"?
That same "fly" runs dizzyingly through my skull and out my mouth. I stumble in an attempt to get away from— well, from whatever It is.
"What is it?" I cry at him.
"What? It's they'ah! One of them, that is—" Looking momentarily puzzled. It's the first light stroke of humanity I've seen in him. "They'ah tried to follow you, before."
I know. I remember.
All I tried to forget was back and insisting on not being forgotten — not again, not ever.
The utter ridiculousness of it, though! I'm familiar enough with voices — not in my own head, mind you, but in others'. Voices are not unprecedented.
Voices that try to get into your head from someone else's, though?
"What are they?" I insist. Forcing sense and sentience into that skull seems impossible, but I cannot but try!
"I dun't know what they'ah are," he says unhelpfully, "but I think they were." That's not bad grammar. Oh, how I wish it were!
"They were," rattles between my ears. One can't think! I half-run as I feel It near. Two Its now.
"What do you mean, 'they were'? Were they people?"
"I dun't know. But they'ah mish you! Especially her!" He points near my head, and I duck to hear something swish lightly overhead.
They can't be real. This has to be some elaborate hallucination brought on by — if only I could think of something it could be brought on by! It would be better than being forced to believe it.
But they can't be real. Let's think rationally about this. Not real. No, never, can't be ever. He's thinking about them. He's making them. Making them in my mind. Not real, can't be.
He stops in his tracks. He had been coming — leering — across the asphalt towards me.
Two streetlights flicker on.
"One of them," he begins. "One of them wenn-t home wit you lasht time."
I stop backing away. I remember. I believe.
"How?" I ask. But I need no answer. I remember the chill sitting in my suitcase as I opened it. I remember.
"What—" No! I can't be asking this! I can't believe it, it's too preposterous! Say something, anything, to show up the preposterousness of it!
"I don't suppose 'they' were cute when 'they' were alive, were they?" Visions of succubi.
"I dun't know. I dun't know what they'ah were. I think they'ah were," he trailed off.
It, It, It. It approaches, just above eye level. I don't know how I know this, for I see nothing. Just another streetlight as it flickers to life. Not many clouds tonight, but a bright one covers the moon from view.
I feel It ruffle my hair like a slight, cool breeze. Or like welcome slender fingers.
My resolve to not believe is dissolving.
"How did she — get home — with me?" I manage to get out.
"In yer suit-cashe."
Yes. I know this. Weakly, I nod.
A caressing around my neck. Oddly, within my neck. The sensation drifts upward and settles between my forehead and occiput. Yes, "oddly" is still how to describe it. One's brain cannot be tousled playfully, can it?
"What—" I begin, but break off. He looks at me expectantly.
I finger the hammer and trigger in my pocket. The metal is so warm. I must have been clasping it for some time now. No longer cool, it feels alive to my touch. Soft. Comforting.
"What was her name? The one who came home with me?" My fingers close around the polished wooden handle. I've never cared for mother-of-pearl.
Yes. It makes sense. She had come home with me. I knew it then and I know it now.
He continues to look at me, intrigued by something.
I stop resisting, and even purr a little as It playfully strokes my brain.
He's still there.
I take the revolver from my pocket, pull back the hammer, point it in his general direction, and work the trigger. It jumps a little in my hand, and he settles to the ground. I return it the pocket, feeling it's short barrel lovingly as I do. Agreeably warm, now. Close to hot, but not quite. Just pleasant.
As I start walking towards the motel on the other side of the lot, I carefully step around fragments of a wine-bottle. A large jagged discus must have been the bottom.
It — no, She — strokes my brain again, and twirls a pretty little pirouette between my ears.
I purr contentedly.