Drinks with a familiar friend

by Tom Hammel

The young man brought the tumbler of whiskey to his lips and opened his eyes. The ice slid forward and a blue light emerged through the crystal kaleidoscope at the bottom of the glass. A cold grip pulled at his chest and stomach as he brought the glass down to his thigh.

He was now sitting under the fluorescent lights of a crowded bus. The passengers were calm, shifting in the seats or peering out the windows.

The young man turned his neck and stopped at the presence of an enormous pale-skinned creature sitting across from him. The steep ridges of its spine bulged as it let out a deep guttural sigh and lifted its chin from the floor, where a chain had been latched around its ankle. It slowly ran its hands over its naked scalp, which had black veins fanning out toward its temples as if lightning had struck its crown and petrified its blood.

The beast sat back in its seat. A black liquid seeped from the broad gaping holes in its face where its eyes and nose should have been. It arched its back and broadened its shoulders, breathing inward to take in the smell of the air. The tear-shaped skeletal holes of its nose jerked toward the empty glass in his hand. The beast prepared to speak. The black liquid separated into wet strings between its lips, each quivering like the string of a bow with its speech.

“It is you?”

The young man looked away from the dark sop pooling in the empty sockets aimed toward him. He had not noticed before, but tracks of brilliant light were dancing and burning outside the windows. The beast searched for more air through its nostrils, bending closer toward the empty whiskey glass. “Psst.” The teeth clenched. “It must be you.”

The beast spoke slowly, bearing its teeth again with a slight smile. “It’s like walking into an old room, breathing in a familiar smell. Something buried. Mmmhhhhh. It just runs the memories through your bones, like they were alive, dormant in your blood all along.” Its cheekbones lifted and the corners of its mouth spread wider than the smile of a man could. “Like they were waiting for you.”

The young man swallowed. The beast cocked its head sideways, listening sharply.

“It feels good to breathe you again. Do you need more?” The black sop bubbled from its mouth and spat onto the metal floor.

The young man stared at the empty glass. The sickly grip within his chest slowly turned to a pulsing heat that began spreading through his lungs and throat. He swallowed again. His tongue had become coarse and hard, gnashing and cutting the roof of his mouth. He wheezed in and suppressed a deep cough.

The black liquid flowed from the beast’s ears now, winding along the muscles on its neck and over its collar bones, dribbling down its ribs. It outstretched its arm and opened a hand. Phosphorescent light flooding in from the windows and the ceiling reflected off the white palm. The dark veins in its wrists pulsated. The young man bent back holding onto the ridge of the plastic chair looking forward for the other passengers. It felt as if he was breathing in a vacuum. The five white fingernails still lay suspended in the center aisle of the bus.

“Give it to me.”

His chest ached. He clenched his fist and slammed it against the window and tried to slide down to the next seat and stand. His ankle was chained like the beast’s. He tried to leap away but fell to the floor, trying to drag himself to the front of the bus. The calves of the other passengers lined the aisle like the narrow colonnades of a bright temple. He grabbed at the heels of everyone and they immediately grew frightened, pulling away and alerting others.

Blunt metal dug into his heel. The beast was pulling him down the aisle as he grabbed out for the supportive bars. The glass tumbler rolled down the aisle with him. A white foot with sharp nails stopped it and seized it from the floor.

The young man reached for the chains on the ankles of the other passengers tugging as they huddled away. He let go and brought his hands to his throat. The lights on the ceiling were eclipsed by the silhouette of the figure leaning over him. The black liquid dripped over his face in small streams. It ran down his forehead and seeped into his eyelids and pooled in the dip of his neck. His face felt a wave of sharp sensations and went numb.

The tension in his muscles began to ease loose beneath the rain of black liquid. His lips slacked open. He tried to reach up and cover his face with his hands. He lost the feeling in his palms and fingertips as his lungs burned with a roaring static heat.  He rolled the back of his head in the puddle of black on the floor and looked up the front windows of the bus. The blond woman fought and pushed through the mass of people rushing to the front of the bus. A sharp pain shot up his leg.

The skin on his ankle had been stripped raw but the chain had been removed. He rolled over and grabbed the edge of his seat, dragging his dead weight up. The metal window frames drowned into the torrent of light pouring in from outside. He turned and collapsed sideways onto the empty chairs trying to bend the steel traps of his lungs by sucking in with all his effort.

The glass tumbler was placed at the edge of the chair in front of his eyes, filled to the brim with the black liquid.

He followed the hand that brought him the glass. It retreated across the aisle and went back down to the floor, clasping a chain that wrapped the white ankle. He followed the legs to the thighs, up the chest. Wide neck. Square jaw. Blue eyes.
The young man was staring at the same sung image of himself.

“Take it.”

He slid onto his back. His twin kneeled in the aisle in front of him.

“It’s in your blood.”

The young man’s hand trembled picking up the glass with his eyes wide and mouth gaping, like that of a dying fish. The liquid spilled over the lip of the glass with his convulsions.

“You’re free,” his twin whispered, as he closed his eyelids and let his shoulders slack, running his palms against his temples and through his hair. “This is the nature of things.”

-Tom Hammel is a political science senior.

-This piece of fiction does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.