“Who is it?” I asked surveying the treeline.
“Not sure, usually we get some stalking rights, a little time to check things out, haunt if you will, but this one is an unscheduled drop in.”
“Were you watching me long?”
“Since you got off that plane.”
“That’s a long time, that’s days!” I exclaimed, surprised at the idea that as I was getting off of the plane, blissfully ignorant, this pair had me in their sights.
“It’s not the longest we had, but it’s nice for us you know, technically we are working, but really it’s more of a loitering situation…in which we eat hot dogs and milkshakes, no such thing in this place.” He motioned around himself with his tiny doll like hand.
“So do you know anything at all about this person?” I really wanted to understand what and whom to expect.
“He won’t be like you, he is an “intentional” He looked at me meaningfully “It’s going to be a rocky arrival.”
“They call it suicide, Dog” chimed in Peotr.
“But it’s a man?” I wanted to keep the conversation on track, before it veered off on another of their bickering tangents.
“Yes, what’s with all the questions, give it a rest will you.” The kid waved me off like an annoying fly, but over the days I had gotten used to his lack of patience and bouts of moodyness, so it didn’t discourage me. I had more questions, I redirected them more specifically at the dog. The animal had become as common to me as a tree, I hardly noticed his uglyness anymore, and the fact that he functioned more like a grouchy uncle than a dog had ceased to rattle me.
“Dog, can you please add anything.”
“We rarely have more than one charge at a time, it has happenned exactly two times so far, but nothing in this realm happens by accident, there must be a reason they want you to meet, there is a lot of pain with this one, a lot….but lets just wait and see.” This channel of information was closed as well now. It was as if in the hours before the arrival of this mysterious person, the dog and the child had gone into a trance, they hardly stirred at all come sun down and sat motionless, staring into open space. A warm wind started to blow some time after we stopped talking, it lifted a web of leaves off the ground, but curiously rather than getting blown away, they swirled around and above us in what appeared to be a kind of halo. Heat picked up shortly after, followed by an intensifying humidity. Within a few hours the climate had changed drasically. Becoming unbearably hot and humid, it closely resembled a sauna or a steam room or Florida. Breathing in that hot, dense air, I could taste the granules of salt landing on my tongue. An opaque wall of dust and leaves formed around us, drowning out much of the light, still my companions remained calm. I tried again for an explanation.
“Is this normal?” But my words died as soon as they exited my mouth, the space around us was no longer conducive to the circulation of sound. It was quite like being under water. Stubbornly, I raised my voice and yelled out as loudly as my physiology permitted. My words floated slowly but steadily, reaching my companions with a palpable delay.
“Not really, this is unusually bad, I had not seen this sort of thing……..” Dog paused and glanced at Peotr as if not sure whether he should continue “….. since Peotr’s arrival.”
“Does this mean anything?”
“Anguish I think, usually the weather phenomenon is a reflection of the one it carries with it …..” Mumbled Peotr under his breath, and even though I couldnt hear his voice, I heard him.
Thunder cut through like a giant slapping enormous palms together right on top of our heads. In a moment everything went quiet and all the wetness in the atmosphere seemed to have been pulled together to form a giant floating sphere of liquid. It hovered above our heads menacingly. I sat paralyzed with my head thrown back, watching it complete awe. The sphere floated off slightly to the north and suddenly, like a balloon pricked with a needle, it exploded. Its contents came crashing into the earth with a resounding boom. When the dust settled, I found my surroundings had gone back to completely normal, if you don’t count the newly formed lake just off to the right. It was lovely and still, its glossy surface bared no evidence its tumultuous creation. It resembled very much the lake I woke up next to just a few days earlier.
“Wow.” I exclaimed.
“Shhhhh.” Peotr put his hand to my mouth and whispered.
“Be quiet, it’s harder with men, they punch at their fears, it’s important we tread softly”
I undetstood. It made sense that while women maybe ran or screamed or swooned upon discovering themselves in a strange wilderness with an eerie child and a talking dog, men just started swinging. So there we were, sitting about forty feet away from the lake, in open sight, waiting. We didn’t have to wait long, within minutes we heard coughing and spitting, a figure of a man limned itself on the other side of the water, he was crawling out of the lake on all fours. When he had finally made it to dry land, he tried to get up, but his legs shook, giving in at the knees. He collapsed onto his side groaning.
“Oh, good, he seems very impaired, this is the best kind, you two already have something in common Charlie” snickered Peotr, getting up off the ground. I looked at Dog questioningly, as I had come to do whenever the child was dispensing information in his typically snide, cryptic fashion.
“It’s common amongst drinkers to arrive here significantly weakened.” offered Dog
“Alcohol is the only substance which can travel here in your blood “
Peotr began making his way around the giant puddle towards the man, who was still scattered on the ground, groaning. We followed. When we walked up to him, I expected a scene, a panic, screaming, maybe running, but to my surprise none of those things happened. He sat up, holding his head in his arms with his elbows perched into his knees, and surveyed us from under his brow. He seemed indifferent. Peotr extended the water flask to him. The man took it without a word and drank greedily until there was nothing left. When the man was done with the flask he let it drop to the ground. Peotr flinched and broke the silence.
“Oh come on, seriously, what happened to common courtesy, hand the flask back.”
The man stared at him for a second with tired bloodshot eyes, as if he couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of what was said, then picked up the flask and handed it over to the child.
There was another period of silence interrupted only by the scratching noises of Peotr trying vigorously to clean the sand off of his flask. I took the moment to examine the stranger. He was a man in his mid thirties, medium height, he had that strong stocky build which often lends itself as an advantage to shorter males, compensating for lack of stature. He had an open face with a pronounced jaw line. Half of him was covered in a thick layer of wet sand, the rest of him was just wet, still there was a boyish handsomeness to him. I was embarrassed to have noticed.
Having finally cleaned off his flask, Peotr broke the silence, evidently he was still quite irritated.
“No, you are not dead, yet…no this is not hell…blah blah blah”
The man continued to stare at us indifferently, oddly the expression on his face did not change much when Dog finally decided to interject.
“Stop, vermin, go sulk somewhere if you can’t do your duties properly.” Thusly scolded, Peotr glared at us, then turned around sharply and stomped away into the bushes, with all the conviction due a pouting child.”
The dog spoke to the man much as he had spoken to me earlier. Our guest started to come to, I caught him glancing over at me questioningly, as if looking for comfirmation that indeed there was a dog talking to him. I nodded lightly, realizing, that in a way I was the only thing there, that wasn’t somewhat absurd or unreal. He took in the information remarkably well. I thought it was commendable that he stayed so composed in the wake of such jarring news, but later I realized it was more of an indication of how down he was, rather than how adaptable. I always found sadness could be akin to madness, it seemed that he was a perfect example of a man so profoundly hurting, that he was capable of accepting everything and cared about nothing. Nothing could surprise him, impress him or bother him. Having made his introductory speech, Dog turned around and following in Peotr’s footsteps, disappearing into a bush. The stranger and I were left alone for the moment.
I sat down next to him.
“I don’t know what to say, that could be helpful” I exhaled…..”I dont know much about any of this, until now I thought this was all a hallucination, it still very well might be….”
He maintained silence. I got back up, reasoning that maybe he would benefit from a bit of quiet, but as I made a step away he stopped me.
“Last thing I remember was driving, I think I am dead?”
“I don’t know, the way Dog said it we are not dead, we are in between.”
“Last thing I remember was drinking a lot and taking some pills.” I shrugged. He said nothing.
“You wanted to die?” It wasn’t really a question, more of assertion, he said it with some relief it seemed.
“No, I can’t say that..but I think I almost did, by accident…I just wanted to forget. You wanted to die?”
“I do.” He said it in the present tense.
He shook his head like it didn’t matter, with resignation. His eyes turned up to me, they were a clear blue, almost translucent, tears were brimming on the edges of his eyelids, ready to overflow their confinement. I knew the answer. I could feel it. Grief.
Our companions had reemerged from the bushes and walked back over to us. Peotr tapped at the top of his right wrist with the fingers of his left hand, as if he had a watch there.
“We have to go” He said.
Unquestioningly, the man rose from the ground, and without bothering to shake the sand off, started walking behind the boy. His head hung low.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Aries.” He didn’t ask mine, so I volunteered.
“I am Charlie.”