Buddy relaxed. He moved to the source of the voice, warily scanning the premises. He found a middle-aged man seated at a table with a pot of coffee, a pack of Farbolos, and some uneaten cake. The table afforded a good view of the intersection of Guppy St and Canary Blvd.
“It’s safe. Here, have a seat. I’m Nigel.” Gold-rimmed glasses flashed as the man leaned over the table, extending a hand.
Buddy took the hand and exclaimed,”Christ, you’re cold!”
“I’m afraid my constitution isn’t the same. Age and disease, you know.”
“I was dying of cancer before all this happened. Ball cancer!” Nigel made a face and laughed. It was a rueful sound. “Well, sit down, already! Coffee? Cake?”
Buddy nodded as he sat down. He was ravenous. Nigel poured another cup of coffee and pushed the cake at Buddy. He asked, “Who are you? What’s your story?” Buddy shrugged. He was new in town, fresh off the bus. He knew nobody here. He said so.
“Then it couldn’t have been as hard on you, this whole thing happening?” mused Nigel.
“I worry about my parents, my sister back home. I don’t know if this is happening everywhere else too,” mumbled Buddy through a mouthful of cake. He rinsed his palate with a sip of coffee.”It’s unbelievable.”
Nigel nodded. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that we might be characters in a b-movie or a bad novel?”
“That’s a thought!” snorted Buddy. “But we’re real. Aren’t we?”
“Authors,” Nigel continued, “are the worst sort of people. They’re cruel to their characters to move the plot or garner the reader’s sympathies.”
Nigel took his cup of coffee and brought it to his lips in a long draught. Hot beverage streamed, steaming, from his chest cavity. Buddy yelped, launching himself backwards, seat and all. When he got up, hyperventilating, he had his gun out. Nigel perused the younger man with calm eyes.
“Y-you’re one, y-you–,” stammered Buddy.
“One of them, you mean?” finished Nigel.
“Yes!” Buddy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why aren’t you trying to eat me?”
“Isn’t that what a civilized man does, restrain his urges for the betterment of self and others?” asked Nigel. He leaned back, folding his hands on his belly, what was left of it. Buddy could see the greenish tint of Nigel’s flesh, marveled he hadn’t smelled the mouldy stink earlier.
“In fact, the very idea repulses me, Buddy.” Nigel held out a placating hand. “Now please put that down. It’s not polite to point a gun at your host.”
Buddy was paralyzed with indecision. Each fiber of his being told him to pull the trigger, for the love of God, pull the fucking trigger.
“Come on, sit down. I’m not going to bite!” Nigel smiled at this. “Not chuckling? Oh well. Would you care for a cigarette?” He pushed the Farlboros across the table.
“I was never a smoker,” Buddy said, taking the pack with a trembling hand.
“People change with the times,” said Nigel. He saw a small dog carrying a human arm across Canary Street. “Everything changes.”
“How come you’re not like them? What use is drinking coffee if you can’t enjoy it?” Buddy asked, taking the lighter Nigel slid across the table and lit his cigarette. He coughed violently.
Nigel lit himself a cigarette too, and sat for a moment. “I don’t know. I was taking chemotherapy. That might have something to do with this.” He looked away from Buddy. “I smoke and drink coffee because I need something to remind me that I was–” He paused. Smoke purred from his ears. “–am human.”
Buddy inhaled. He was getting the hang of it. It was a time for vices, as it always is when death is around every corner. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
“What is there to do? I’m not sure which is the worse, dying or being like this.” Nigel ground out his cigarette on the table and took another cup of coffee. “I’m rotting from the inside out.
“Buddy. Whatever it is you need to do, first will you stay with me a while? Please.”
Buddy nodded and helped himself to another cigarette.
They sat in silence and watched the day go away.