The Diner and That Same Old Feeling Again
by Jeff Brown
|Table of Contents|
Part 6 appeared
in issue 172.
|part 7 of 11|
Do you ever feel like you’re repeating yourself over and over, kind of going through the motions of a mundane existence? Well, the lead character in this story has that feeling — until someone vaguely familiar walks into the diner he is sitting in. Then the world takes on a new feel for him.
And Then There Were Dreams
He had awoken earlier than normal. He looked at the clock and shook his head in disgust. The red digital display on his alarm clock read 3:51 in the morning. Dolan rolled back over, closing his eyes as he did so. When he opened them nest he felt like he had been asleep for hours. He knew it must have been close to the time for him to get up.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said when he looked at the clock again. It had been exactly two minutes since he had last looked at the clock.
Dolan flipped the sheets off of him and rolled out of bed. He bare-footed his way across the bedroom floor and out the door. Down the hall he went, making his way to the bathroom. He relieved himself and flushed the toilet. There was a moment where Dolan thought about going back to bed. The moment faded when he turned and looked in the mirror. It was clear from the purple rings under his eyes that formed the bags there that he had gotten little to no sleep that night. His face was speckled with whiskers and his hair was going in every which way.
“You’re one ugly dude,” he said to himself. “What happened to you, man?”
He had been thinking for a while — a long while — that his looks were going, that his body was beginning to sag. He had constantly ignored his fading looks — until now.
Dolan looked down at the sink. He turned both the cold and the hot water on. As the water ran he placed the white plug in the drain stopping the water from running down the drain. He let the water run until the sink was two-thirds full. He turned the water off then placed his hands in the water in the sink. Dolan cupped his hands and lifted them out of the water. He lowered his face and splashed it with the water he had cupped in his hands. He did this several times.
Dolan lifted his head from the sink. He looked in the mirror again. Instead of seeing himself looking back at him he saw another image. It was an image that made Dolan quiver all over with goose bumps. Dolan just stood there looking in the mirror, not blinking, not screaming in fear, not passing out from fright. Staring back at him were the two dead eyes of Calvin Stores. His flesh was a pale blue and pasty. His hair was matted with dirt and mud. Behind him where the bathroom should have been reflecting back were trees. Hundreds of them. In these trees were black leaves with red veins. The red veins seemed to have something flowing through them as if it were blood. The leaves seemed to be breathing, inhaling and exhaling as if they had lungs.
“We should have went back and saved Dale,” Calvin said, just as he had with Pete and Tony.
Calvin smiled a hideous smile, showing rotting teeth from behind thin, blue lips. Calvin’s eyes which had been a milky white from the film that had formed over them, exploded. In their sockets were the black leaves. They had grown mouths on each one as they grew out of his mouth. The mouths had very sharp teeth. The leaves shot forward, their mouths open, their jaws snapping, shattering the mirror as they did so.
John fell back against the wall as he awoke from his daydreaming nightmare. He hit the wall with his arms up around his face. When nothing struck him he looked up. The mirror was not broken. But there was water spilling over the edge of the sink as the faucets continued to run. Dolan looked at the floor, at the water pooling on it. On the floor, next to the tub lay a single leaf. It was black with red veins in it. It looked like it was breathing.
5“I don’t know, Tony,” Dolan said as he shook his head from side to side. He had looked from Tony to Pete then back to Tony. He raised his beer mug, took a generous swallow of beer then set the mug back on the table.
They were sitting around a circular table in a corner of the Blue Oyster night club. Music played loud in the back ground. It was an old .38 Special song where the guy seemed to be caught up in a woman. They had agreed to meet on Thursday nights for beers. It was an agreement they made after Calvin’s funeral was over. It was an agreement made out of the comfort and at ease with each other for the first time since Dale’s death. At that time it looked like the trio of friends would be spending more time together than in the previous decade and a half.
“We all dreamt about Calvin,” Pete said. “We all dreamt about black leaves that came after us, trying to kill us. Hell, we even dreamt that Calvin told us all the same thing.”
“We should’ve went back and saved Dale,” Dolan said grimly.
“Well, I don’t know about you guys,” Pete continued, “but my dream was as real as it gets.”
“Coincidence, guys,” Tony said and took a swallow of his beer.
“Coincidence?” Dolan yelled. “You call this coincidence?”
“Shhh...” Pete put a finger over his lips trying to quiet Dolan’s voice a little. “Not so loud, jackass.”
“This is no coincidence,” Dolan said, his voice now nothing more than a whisper.
“Well, then, what the hell do you think it is?” Tony asked. There was a touch of aggravation in his voice. Dolan heard the tone, the meaning in it and was well aware that he was beginning to piss Tony off.
“Guilt?” Pete asked, thinking that possibly there was a great bit of it in them all.
Dolan nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, I do think guilt is a part of it. But, not all of it.”
“Then what’s the rest of it?” Tony asked.
Dolan paused, his eyes looking down into his almost empty mug. It was a whisper he heard; a whisper in his ear as if someone was right beside him. It was as simple as could be: “Go find him.”
Dolan didn’t look around to see who was behind them. He knew there was nobody there. Pete and Tony would have already said something and it wasn’t like the whisper was loud enough for them to hear it — only him. It was in his head.
“We should go find him,” Dolan said.
“What?” Both Pete and Tony said in unison.
“We should go find him,” Dolan repeated. “We should go find Dale.”
“Dale’s dead,” Tony said dryly. He picked up his beer and drained the remainder of it. “It ain’t like he’s playing Gilligan’s Island somewhere out there.”
“He might be dead, but nobody ever found his body.” It was Dolan’s turn to get mad. He had always hated the condescending tone’s Tony could get when he was being an ass. “Who knows? Maybe Dale’s spirit can’t rest because he was never found.”
“Oh, damn,” Pete said. “Man, don’t you start that ghost crap.”
“Come on, you guys,” Dolan said. “It’s possible.” “Look, Dolan,” Tony said. “Nobody could even find the island. How do you expect them to find Dale? How do you expect us to find the island after fifteen years? Especially if the rescue teams couldn’t find the thing?”
“Can we just try?” Dolan asked. “If we don’t find the island, I’ll drop it. I promise.”
“What do you think, Pete?” Tony asked as he looked at his best friend.
Pete shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Fine,” Tony said then turned to Dolan. “I don’t think we’ll find him. As a matter-of-fact I know we won’t find him. But, I’ll go along with this. And when we don’t find Dale I don’t want to hear another word about Dale’s death or the island or ghost or any damn thing that has to deal with the subject. Got it?”
Dolan nodded, not saying anything. He raised his mug and finished off his beer.
Revisiting the Past and an End to Ends
1The boat had been in an old workshed for years. The last time it had been used was for a getaway of survival proportions. The police had confiscated it for a while during the investigation, but eventually had given it back. Since then it had sat on the old trailer with the broken tail light and chipped red paint in the large workshed behind Dolan’s parent’s house.
It had taken a little work for Dolan to get the old outboard motor started, but at last he had managed to. That, in itself, was more than Dolan had thought he would get. After getting the motor to run, Dolan cleaned it very well just as he did the boat. He mounted it on the rear of the boat with its black clamps. The last thing remaining to do was to get the tires on the trailer fixed. Dry rot had eaten through the tires from years of disuse. Two replacements and plenty of grease on the wheels, axles and bearings, and the trailer was good to go.
Now the boat skipped across the lake, its hull smacking against the ripples and waves the wind stirred up. Water splashed up over the bow.
Manning the outboard was Dolan. It was just as always: Dolan playing pilot while the others (in this case just Pete and Tony since Calvin and Dale were dead) sat in the flooring, looking forward as water splashed onto them. Even though it was the dead of summer they all wore jeans. Pete and Tony wore short-sleeved T-shirts while Dolan wore a long-sleeved pullover. The pullover had made Dolan hot until they got into the boat and started across on their search. Now, as the boat skittered across the water he felt almost unbearably cold.
They had been boating across the lake for over an hour. Tony had said once that they should turn back and go home. Pete hadn’t agreed with him but he also hadn’t disagreed with Tony’s suggestion. Dolan had, and since he was doing the driving he was in control.
“We haven’t gone far enough,” he had said without looking at Tony.
“How do you know?” Pete asked as he looked back at Dolan. He had to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun with one hand as he did so.
“I just know,” Dolan had responded. In fact Dolan did just know. He didn’t know how, but he did. As he drove on further it came to him that he had never forgotten the way to the island — even though he had only been there once. He had only thought he had forgotten. Or possibly he just blacked it out. More than likely he had blacked it out, trying to forget where the island was along with the rest of the hell that had happened that day.
He continued to pilot the old bass boat until he saw it. It was in the distance. To most people it would have looked like just another island. To Dolan, however, it looked like redemption; a chance to seek forgiveness for the sins of his youth.
“There she blows,” he said, stealing a line from Moby Dick.
Tony and Pete looked back at Dolan. They saw him pointing almost dead ahead. They turned their heads to see what he was pointing at. The island looked to be in the center of the lake. It was a large mass of land that seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere as if it had come up out of the water to be seen by them and them only. Though it was still a good way off in the distance the trees could be seen with their lush green leaves, towering high up into the sky. The shore could be seen also as it ran into the woods. The water around the island looked unusually blue as if it were part of the ocean in Jamaica. Vaguely, as if they had imagined it, there was also what looked like black leaves dotting around all of the bright green ones.
Tony swallowed hard. He then ran one hand through his oily black hair. Neither he nor Pete said anything as they looked at the island.
Dolan slowed the boat to a stop, letting it coast along. The boat’s motor putted and sputtered as it idled, stirring up bubbles of water where its propeller churned.
Tony turned to look at Dolan. “What ya waitin’ for?” he asked almost impatiently. “Let’s go. Let’s get this over with.”
“Okay,” Dolan nodded. “Let’s go find Dale.”
He turned the motor up, sending the front end of the boat into the air as it lurched forward. Off they went, toward the island. The all sat in silence as the boat bounded across the water and the island rapidly approached.
Dolan ran the boat on the shore of the island. Pete and Tony dropped two large bricks onto the land as anchors. The bricks were secured with yellow nylon rope that was tied to the two anchor eyelets at the front of the boat. The bricks dropped not too far from two rusted anchors that held the remnants of once white rope attached to them. They didn’t notice the two anchors on the ground. They hopped out of the boat and onto the wet mud of the island. Dolan propped the boat’s outboard up, lifting the propeller from the water. He then joined Pete and Tony on the shore.
They all walked, side by side, further onto the island until they came to the white sand that had looked out of place on the red mud island before. It looked as out of place now as it had back then. The trees were just beyond the white sand. They all could see the entrance into the tangle of trees, bushes, briars and thickets. It was the same entrance they had used before.
“Nothing’s changed,” Dolan said.
“It looks that way, doesn’t it?” Pete asked not really seeking an answer.
“It sure does,” Tony responded absently.
The three men stood for a moment looking at the entrance a while longer. It looked like a giant mouth that was inviting them to be swallowed into a bottomless pit of a stomach.
“Come on,” Tony finally said and began walking toward the entrance. “Let’s go do what we came to do.”
Tony entered the woods first, followed by Pete with Dolan bringing up the rear. As they disappeared into the trees Calvin and Dale watched from the shore. They looked at each other and then back toward the woods. Calvin nodded and turned to the boat. Dale returned the nod and started for the entrance to the woods.
They made their way through the woods with Tony in the lead. The path looked as it had fifteen years earlier. Nothing looked to have grown up. Not the trees; not the bushes; not even the vines and weeds on the ground had grown. In fifteen years there should have been substantial plant growth that would have overtaken the footpath they had taken before. Instead it all looked just as it did back then: lavishly green and untrampled by human feet or their pollutions. It all felt very wrong to all three of them.
There was one other thing that felt wrong. Noise. There was none to be heard. There were no birds chirping, nor crickets singing their ree-ree mating songs. There were no croaking frogs or any other sounds or little furry creatures scurrying about trying to hide from the intruders that had invaded their island. There were no annoying mosquitoes that plagued most water areas during the hot summer months. There were no other bugs either. No bees, wasps or yellow jackets; no flies or dragonflies or even butterflies; no spiders or caterpillars to be seen. The only sounds that could be heard were the sounds of their own foot steps as they walked through the woods.
“Look,” Pete said as he pointed to a small clearing. In the clearing was an old camp fire circle. Its charred wood sat in a gray pile of ashes that was surrounded by a dozen or so rocks. There was a blue T-shirt and several empty beer bottles. One of the bottles had been shattered when it had been thrown into the once bright fire.
The men froze at the sight of the small campfire. Dolan stepped forward slowly, being careful not to stop on anything at the small sight. He bent down and picked up the blue T-shirt. On the back of the shirt was the number three. Above the three was a name: Rogers.
“Oh, my God,” Dolan said as he stood.
“What is it man?” Tony asked.
“It’s my shirt,” Dolan said as he turned around. He held the shirt up, showing them his softball jersey. It was the same one he had taken off while at the campfire the night they had slept on the island. But the shirt showed no signs of weather. There was no fading and no holes in it.
Dolan looked around the rest of the campfire. There were ashes in the circle of stones. The beer bottles were new looking, as if having been drunk within the previous few days. The campsite was theirs. That was for sure. It was also still fresh. That was impossible for something that had happened many years earlier.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown