“He’s got a gun.”
The guy coming towards me most certainly did have a gun. A large one. Big barrel. I’m not a gun guy, but this was most definitely a prime example. Even to a layman. As I watched him draw near, a dirty nondescript middle aged white guy. But something was happening in the air around him. An after image sort of burnt into the air behind him. His eyes were locked on me and the gun stayed trained on my chest. But the world around him was not as focused.
I knew the reality of the location. I was standing in a dirty alley in Dallas. But as he walked the same reality seemed to bend around him slightly. Glimpses of other possibilities warbled in and out of focus. A future neon megalopolis, a pagoda laden paper lantern Eastern theme, wild west dusty streets. It was maddening. Set off a migraine in seconds. He was twitchy but never wavered even as space did around him.
“He seems out sync with us. And he is getting closer.”
The rancid odor hit as he ambled closer.
“You need to do something. Quickly. Isaac, what is the plan?”
I thought for a second. “I don’t know. But we need to think of one. Smelly is getting awfully close to us.”
Smelly stopped as I said that. A look of hurt passing briefly across his face. “Who you talking to? You got a partner lurking out here?”
I saw his knuckle whiten on the trigger. He was looking for an excuse to pull that trigger. How do I explain? Diffuse the situation. I plastered my most well meaning smile and stared at him for a moment.
“I’m thinking of what to say. I’d rather not get shot.”
“You could not speak to me out loud.”
“It feels less creepy speaking out loud.”
“Not to strangers.”
The guy was looking all around for who I was talking to. The gun was looking loose in his hand as he swung it about. “Come out! Whoever you are get out here or I shoot your friend!”
“Now look what you’ve done!” I exclaimed angrily. “He’s gonna kill me. I hope you’re happy.”
“You’re being a child.”
“I am not!”
Smelly stopped spinning and held the gun directly to my forehead. “Who are you talking to?”
“No one. Well someone. In my head. Well not in my head. It’s confusing…”
I heard the hammer click back and took a break from the story.
“He seems less than impressed with the tale so far. You should mention the demons. Ooh ooh! Tell him about the time you ignored me and doomed all of creation. Remember that?”
I chose not to answer. The gun was being pressed very tightly to my head now. I was gonna have a ring on my forehead. That would be hard to explain away.
“Give me your phone and wallet!” he snarled angrily and pushed my head back with the muzzle. He stood staring, full of frenetic energy, bouncing from heel to heel. “C’mon!”
“This is a robbery!” I said with a sudden rush of relief. “You’re a petty crook not a minion of an enemy sent to tear me apart. No one even knows I’m here! Thank the gods. Man.”
“Lucky you. Shot dead in an alley by a petty crook, instead of torn apart by the minion of your enemy. Huzzah.” He spit a glob to the dirty street. The would be robber looked very confused at the joy on my face. And a little scared. “Is there something wrong with you man?” he asked. His eyes pinpricks of concern.
“Well. Not really. See it’s all about magic. You ever deal with magic? No? You are the lucky one my friend. I sort of stumbled into it. Blind dumb luck. Maybe Fate. Like capital F fate. Divinity. I don’t know. It just kind of got topsy turvy on me. Sixs and sevens. That’s British for crazy. Learned it from a heavy metal band. So you want to know is there something wrong with me? Well that’s a weighted question my friend. Weighted indeed. I just got done battling some sort of lich. You ever see one of them bastards?”
He shook his head no. A look of confusion on his face. He just wanted my wallet and phone. But he asked. And I feel obligated to answer him. It’s honestly kind of cathartic. I haven’t spoken to anyone about any of this in the two weeks since it all went to shit in New Orleans. It’s just been me and…
“What are we doing? Telling the crack head thief our origin story? We need to get to safety and figure out our next steps.”
“Shut up. It feels nice to get it out. Not you. No. A bit of introspection and examination is good for the soul. Unburdening the spirit. Sorry. Anyway, a lich. Undead and imbued with dark magic. Just dripping with it. Looks like a skeletal man, gaunt and way dead but moves around. Not all creeky like, but normal. Except dead. And crazy strong. And crazy. You don’t come back from dead the same as when you die. They don’t tell you that. It’s in the fine print. Death changes you. He turned this little girl inside out. She was still alive. All she could do was scream. She had pigtails and big brown eyes. She didn’t ask for that. Not to be turned inside out.” I shook my head sadly as it replayed in my mind. “So no. I’m not doing okay at all. There is most definitely something wrong with me. I appreciate you asking.” I reached out and patted him on the shoulder. He flinched.
The poor guy looked really confused. None of this was according to plan. He was supposed to point the weapon and get the goods. It really was one of the oldest plays in the book. The good old stick up. He didn’t expect crazy. Or whatever a lich is. Point and take. Now he seemed to be on the backpedal. Years of hard drugs had done a number on him.
He knew it too. When he was a kid we had dreams. He wanted to be a doctor. An animal doctor. One of the what do you call them?
“A veterinarian?” I supplied.
“Yeah man. One of those. Was I talking out loud?” he asked startled. Sometimes people’s thoughts bleed out into the aether where I can pluck them out. I don’t really understand it.
“We should kill him.”
“No. We are not going to kill him. He is a person. What’s your name?” I asked.
Now he just looked scared. “Brent.”
“Brent is a living thing. We are not going to kill Brent.”
Brent didn’t like the direction this was heading towards. He suddenly snapped the gun back up and was ready to unload. “Don’t move man. Don’t move a muscle. You ain’t killing me. Crazy mother fu…”
A flash of purple blossomed around him and his words stopped. He was frozen in lavender. A wave of frustration washed over me.
“I’m not crazy. There are forces out there beyond your understanding, Brent. I have not been having a very good day, the lich and all, so my temper is a little short. Justifiably I would think. I only ever really get to talk to A’an. It was nice talking to someone tangible for once.”
He just stared at me. Fear the only expression painted on his face, trapped in it. Locked in fright.
“It would be a mercy to kill him. Look. His mind is broken.”
“I’m not killing Brent! He’s my friend. We are just having a misunderstanding. It will all be sorted out soon.”
“It appears Brent has expired.”
Poor Brent. The excitement and sudden use of magical force must have been too much for him. Looks like he blew a gasket. Hell, maybe I did it. I’m still kind of getting a feel for this kind of thing. I was clutching pretty tight. My thighs were burning with how clenched I was. Coiled in strength. I let the power go and his body slumped to the dirty alley floor.
“That’s five minutes we are not getting back.”
“You know, you’re kind of a dick A’an.”
“We don’t have time for making friends with every vagrant we meet. The Balance needs restored.”
“A moment of peace for Brent, our friend. You never had friends did you? Back before all this affair with demons and magic and gods?”
“He was trying to rob us.”
“But he didn’t. Don’t deflect.”
“Because he thought you were insane. He froze. It is not deflection, it is fact.”
“I was trying to explain it all to him when I barely understand myself. It is kind of deep. The demons and magic and stuff. And you haven’t been very forthcoming with details.”
“Can we go now?”
“Say something nice about Brent first.”
“Are you serious?”
“He smelled interesting. And had steady aim for a junkie.”
“Was that so hard?”
“Can we go?”
“Yes. Where are we going again?”
I looked around. I guess most alleys look the same in whatever city you are in. It is calming. No matter how nice the place is to tourists, the dirt is always the same.
“To stock up and search for information. We have gone over this. Did you hit your head?”
“No. Maybe. No. Sometimes things get fuzzy. Did you see the way the air shimmered around him?”
“Yes, he was falling in and out of our reality it seemed. It is tear. Uncommon but they occur. Possibly not so uncommon now. Are you okay Isaac?”
“First Brent and now you? All this concern over oor little me? I feel like the heroine of a young adult book where all the boys are in love with me. An I the heroine?”
“I’m serious. Ever since we got to town you have been off.”
“You forgot why we came to town. You should have been able to neutralize that filthy vagrant…”
“Brent. We’re better than this A’an.”
“…fine, Brent, immediately. But you didn’t act.”
He was right. I was off. The lich took more out of me than I suspected. I was still adjusting to my new skill set. Learning limitations and strengths.
“Not gently squeezing someone.”
Not gently squeezing someone indeed.
“Brent, you were a thief. An armed robber. And possibly, no, probably judging by the track marks on your arms…”
“… and legs. Well my friend, you seemed to be a junkie. But we had a second there, between the voice in my head and the demons in yours, where we connected. And that is rare. Good luck in the afterlife you brave, gentle soul. I’ll always cherish our bond.”
“He stinks. Let’s go.”
He does. Did. He smells in two tenses. I focused and his body burst into pure blue flame and was just another dust devil of trash blowing away.
“Poetic. You need sleep.”
He was right. It was why I came down this accursed alley in the first place. I traced the sigil on the flyer plaster wall and a shimmering golden doorway opened. Flickering candle light flooded the darkness. A bit of Brent blew into the open room. Guest first is always good manners. I stepped in and fell forward onto the bed that materialized before me. Asleep as my head hit the soft pillow.
I dreamt. But that is another tale altogether.