Part 4 of The Wandering Stranger, a supernatural thriller about a man with no name.
I’m starving, and I can afford to eat for once! he thought to himself, relieved at the prospect of food.
The Cloudy Café was a small affair, locally owned and family run. It was also a little more expensive than he would have liked. His current situation had transformed him into a cheapskate, though, so he grit his teeth at the ten dollars he shelled out for the special.
The barista had given him an odd look when he came to the counter. In fact, almost every eye had turned on him when he entered the store. Either they had heard of or seen his episode on the street, or he looked to be in worse shape than even he suspected.
Or, you’re just paranoid. You can’t even remember your own name, and you’re convinced that something is following you. Give it a rest. Stop running from this. Just live with it.
He sat at a table near the back of the café where he could watch the door. This way he could see each new customer as they came in. No one had yet made an attempt to speak with him, which was fine. Striking up a conversation with a liar like him was . . . Disgusting.
Sometimes he believed his delusional episodes. They were more genuine than he was.Why haven’t I gotten help for this? he asked himself, feeling dismayed.Why haven’t I just given up, and lived that lie? Part of him felt that no one would understand. He would die if people looked down on him for this.
These people treat the mentally ill as if they too are sick in the mind. No one is wholly one person.
Was he insane? Would that explain his memory loss? The Wandering Stranger couldn’t count how many times he had gone over the situation from a rational standpoint. He had bumped his head while drunk, causing amnesia. While drunk he had hallucinated. Or, he had always been hallucinating. His mind had repressed his memories because they were all too traumatic, and to protect himself he created a grand fairy tale. Now that he was of a more sound mind, he had forgotten most of his fantasy, freeing him of the stressful constraints of day to day society.
These rationalizations helped him cope. Sometimes. In the end he still wound up asking himself why he never sought help. It wasn’t that hard.
And yet it was. He could never bring himself to do it. What if he couldn’t be helped? Small parts of him believed what was going on, while the greater portion doubted it. A long time ago he had made the decision to keep lying, in the hopes that he would find the truth someday.
To find his sanity.
The doorbell rang, giving him reason to pause; the customer who had just come in looked oddly familiar. A tall, lithe man dressed in black blazer and slacks. A man with white hair tied back. A man who wore black sunglasses. An older man.
Finishing his soup, the Wandering Stranger stood up, trying to be as inconspicuous as he could. Grabbing his things, he made a beeline to the men’s restroom. There, he shut himself in. The minutes ticked by in his head. Unlocking the door, he peered out. The man sat nearby, facing the door. Luckily he was looking away. Closing the door again, the Wandering Stranger gave the room a cursory glance. Just above the urinal there was a window. By the looks of it, he could manage to fit through.
Maybe he was being paranoid. Actually, you are! That was besides the point though. Not only did the strange man look familiar, he looked odd. There was something about him that was not quite right, not quite human. The proportions were wrong, but his eyes kept sliding away as if compelled to do so; the more he concentrated on the customer–the more he focused on all that was wrong–the more his eyes hurt.
He then began to see double. As his eyes adjusted it became more like a second layer atop the original. There was the customer who had just entered, black-clad with his hair tied back–a perfectly normal businessman– and yet beneath the facade there was another one. The second man was also tall, lithe, black-clad … He was not from human stock, however.
Alfar, the archaic voice which lived in his head muttered, ill at ease. Whatever it was, this alfar had the appearance and demeanor of a general. Or an executioner.
What if I’m wrong, though? The other patrons of the café had ignored the strange customer. What were they not seeing that he was?
Shouldn’t this be obvious to you?
“Why do you look so familiar?” he asked himself. Whatever memory the man had slightly loosened, it was not good. Without a second thought, the Wandering Stranger jumped to the window using the urinal as a step. He began working on the screen. This would have to be quick, because the door was unlocked. He didn’t want anyone to be suspicious, in case he ever returned to this town. The whole process felt like it took hours, but in reality it was only a whole five minutes.
He landed on his feet, stumbling a few paces before regaining his balance. No one was to be seen at the back of the building. “I hope I’m right,” he whispered to himself.
He set off at once.