I turned about, looking behind but beheld no one, until I spied the man sitting in a chair at the little Red table. Only half veiled in shadow, he was an unshaven man of considerable years. Had he been just sitting watching me? Given that I had been standing by the door, about to leave whilst Examining the staff, I marveled at how I had missed something so obvious.
“Rather captivating craftsmanship eh?” “Yes, particularly the eyes…”
I was embarrassed by how oblivious I had been but was then also grateful I had not indulged my curiosity to look inside the darkened bottles with various tags on each.
“well it doesn’t mean what it used to to me- that’s for sure. Take a seat if you will?”
“I prefer to stand,” I instinctively countered.
“so be it,” he laughed. “So. No need to explain why you’re here, I would gather for the same reasons as most everyone else…”
“Irrelevant-” he said, holding up his hand with an exaggerated emphasis on every syllable. “That is, the past has passed. What can I do for you today?”
“I wouldn’t know. I can’t even figure out what this place is. What are you doing here? What’s wrong with all of those people?”
“Ah, straight to the questions- straight to the point. I do like you…” he trailed off, as if carefully measuring his answer. “I cannot tell you definitively, but I can tell you that we all come here, and we are all subject to the Laws of this place. Some stay, while others do not- both either content or discontent.”
“I hear a lot of riddles and nonsense.” I replied curtly.
The illuminated half of his face cracked a smile, “Ask better questions.”
My stomach protested loudly in reply.
“Oh yes-” he rose, moving to the tall bookshelf and retrieving a burlap bag. Producing two substantial sheets of dried meat, he placed them on the red table across from the chair, of which he was again seated. I began to feel foolish standing there, unsure of how to hold myself so as to not appear as weary and ill as I felt.
“I should have remembered- you’ve likely been walking a couple days.. Come now, eat. I’ve got better things to do than to poison those who don’t ask for it,” he chuckled, apparently quite pleased with himself. “Eat so we may continue this discourse with no unnecessary ill-will.” I acquiesced and divided my attentions to sating the fierce aching in my muscles.
“And do you have a name, or shall I simply call you the Guarded One Who Stands?”
“That works,” I managed between mouthfuls.
The food was already taking the edge off of my hostile delirium and I paused chewing, realizing it had been a while since anyone had asked that. “I guess I don’t have a name- not yet I suppose.. I usually don’t think about it until someone just starts calling me something for one reason or another. My name was once Zakuw- I don’t know why but an old friend of mine way back in the day used to always call me that and then laugh. Funny how we met, in that day we used to walk the Catacombs at night for kicks. Peaceful place…Why am I even telling you this?..”
I could still hear his trademark laughter ringing in my ears. For the longest time he was the only person I ever spoke to, until he simply disappeared. One night he never showed up to walk along in the dark with me, and I was never any the wiser of where he went. But I eventually understood his disappearance when some decades later I began to do the same thing. Since then, I’ve long preferred to share my secrets with strangers, those of the Asylum who would not remember my name or face, or those I crossed paths with in the Silent Places- but never for long.
The old man wistfully nodded as if he perceived my thoughts.
“Anything in your pockets?” he proposed.
“No, I didn’t bring anything with me but these clothes.”
“Clearly you’ve no others…” he laughed again. “check anyways.”
I reached in my pockets and noticed something, pulling out a tiny parchment scroll, about the size of a matchbook. I opened it to see only a few indiscernible symbols, appearing as that of a foreign language, and handed it across the table to him.