Holy crap, my dreams were messed up. I was being chased by a skull enveloped in black smoke. It was blurry. I woke up in my bed covered in a sour sweat. I lay there for a few minutes just wishing that everything had been a dream but fully knowing that it hadn’t been.
After waking up my black-toothed compatriot, we went out to look for more of “us.” There was some guy named The Preacher that we were looking for that Carl knew personally. I assumed he was some homeless weirdo street preacher—judging by the only other guy that could see ghouls and ghosts. I was right.
He was in some park off Broad Street thumping an over-sized bible shouting nonsensical garbage.
“The nature computer is already here!” he shouted. He was grossly overweight but it was all focused on his stomach that hung over his pants. His black button up shirt with a white collar didn’t even reach his belly button. Great pimples and sores were pock-marked across his body. South Carolina assigned glaze of sweat: check. His balding red hair surrounded a shiny center of his scalp like Friar Tuck. His beard looked like it was an afterthought. It was there, but thinner than his scalp. He was missing four fingers. Four. Like, almost half of the total amount of fingers allotted to him were gone.
“The white event has been foretold in His book!” the Preacher held it above his head in both hands for maximum effect. “Behold!” he pointed at me. “Another brother has joined our flock!”
My loser meter was already lacking—but now I was this guy’s “brother.” Yay. The Wuss, Homeless Man, and the Preacher could soon prowl the streets killing monsters and pussy.
Carl was grinning ear to ear and even clapped his hands at this exhibition.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” I had my skinny ass arms crossed in displeasure.
“Hell yeah!” he celebrated without moving his eyes from the King of Crazy. “He can see the future!”
"God dammit, of course he does!” I threw my hands up.
“The chair is against the wall, brothers and sisters!” the Preacher shouted. “The black dog will swallow the moon!”
“Should we interrupt him?” Carl asked permission for some reason.
“Please,” I frowned.
Before my homeless friend could get the attention of this loon, the loon spoke first, “Young Carl!” he called toward us. “And Mean Gene!” Alright that one got me. How he knew my name, I didn’t know at the time. This was still so damn confusing and overwhelming. Hell, why didn’t I protest and shout, “I’m not killing monsters! Get away from me, crazy homeless shit huffer!” But it just… fit. This was now who I was. And I had the mystical power to get my ass beat.
Carl just pursed his lips in amazement that the fat man knew my name. He went from his booming street preacher voice to… a pirate voice.
“What ye boyos be up te? Arrrrrr!” I’m not exaggerating. At all. He squinted a perfectly good eye as if he had a patch over it. I hate this guy so much.
“We’re looking for you, Preacher!” Carl smiled. Those teeth. This was getting irritating.
“Oh ye be now? Arrrrrr!” he held up a finger as if it were a hook hand. “And what you be seeking me for the now? Arrrrrrr!”
“Alright, Shit Beard, calm your tits,” I told him. Where that came from at the time, I had no idea. Eugene was growing balls.
“Me titties?” he dramatically raised the squinting eyebrow and looked at his sagging chest. He then burst into laughter… and now spoke with a Scottish accent, “What ye ken the noo? Ye never heard o’ the Preacher? Whal all be feckin’ biscuit ersed.”
“Jesus,” I breathed. “That’s a terrible Scottish accent.”
“Me accents be spot on now,” he said with a Jamaican twist. “What ye need I for?”
“You’ve asked the same damn question three times,” I was showing how pissed I was getting. This man frustrated the hell out of me. He encompassed a narcissist. “Look at me! Look at me!” he seemed to be begging people like an idiot. “Aren’t I weird?!” his every action conveyed.
“We’re looking to hire you to tell us where to go next,” Carl interrupted.
He scratched his chin in over dramatic contemplation. Is this where Carl got it from? “Hire me, eh?” the pirate was back. “Ye o’ course have me payment? Arrrrrr.”
Please stop talking.
Yeah. I forgot that I was growing a dick at the time. I said it out loud.
“Please stop talking,” I sighed.
He ignored me. I was glad.
Carl handed him a crumpled up $10 bill to which the fat idiot pretended to bite it as if he were testing a gold coin for purity. If my eyes could roll further back in my head, then something would have definitely ruptured in my brain and completed my stroke.
“Arrrrrr!” he approved. “This be some good cutter!” He began walking away with a limp. Whether his leg was fucked up or he was pretending to have a peg leg, I’ll never know.
So glad this piece of shit is dead. But he wasn’t yet.
We walked with him blinking as hard as someone could and would squeeze his hands in a fist then release it as if he was having a heart attack. Was he insane or just wanting attention? I assumed it was attention and treated him as such. I have no regrets.
He took us down an alley and under a fence before we came upon a trick in the neighborhood. Six houses had six fences join together but there was a gap in the center. This was the Preacher’s place complete with a blue tarp stapled to the top. There was a couch that looked like the 70s threw up on it. Two cheap plastic chairs that would not hold his weight in this universe. He lay down on a pile of laundry and I believe an actual mattress on top of an old wood pallet.
This was my new world. Take pity on me.
“Before I start, “he sounded like a normal human being. No charades. “Do you know exactly who we all are?”
I paused before I answered. I had to let that voice sink in since it was the opposite of the crap he was spewing earlier. He was intelligible. I shook my head.
“There are many theories,” he began. I expected an ancient book of our secret origins or a Power Point presentation but received nothing. He held up a random doll and never used it in the explanation. The Preacher just gripped this plastic woman in his finger-less hands. “Are we the children of God? Blessed? Cursed? Many theories. But here is what we know: apart from these unholy beasts of the night, only we can see them. They plot, eat, and shit twenty-four seven. We are their food. Most humans have been brainwashed or under some spell or curse for as long as we’ve known. They’ll speak to a ghoul without knowing it.”
Carl and I nodded in recognition with big smiles as he mentioned one of the very things we had encountered together.
“They’ll go about their days as if nothing was wrong. No cares in the world,” he clenched his right hand into a fist and pumped it a few times. His superhero name would be Heart-Attack Man.
He continued, “We are the unseen. We are the refuse. We are lost. But somehow, we’ve come back and have found each other.”
Carl rubbed my back at that thought. It wasn’t creepy, just new. I wasn’t used to physical contact with anyone. Ever. Yet I didn’t pull away.
“The world that they know didn’t need us any more. The next one did. Just as the old world ignores the monsters in front of them, they ignore us. We are practically invisible to them. We are the people they’d rather keep in their peripheral vision. And this is where we live.”
“They were ignoring me even before this,” I joked.
“Aye! That be the truth! Arrrrrr!” this mother fucker went full pirate again.
“God dammit,” I leaned back into the 70s couch that was probably full of fleas, lice, and bed bugs all riding scabies all over me.
“The nature computer,” he whispered in his normal voice. He was fading between coherent thought and the ravings of a lunatic.
“How long does he do this for?” I asked Carl.
“You can’t never tell,” he replied, staring off into space.
“So how can he help us? I mean- apart from him explaining the rules?” I started staring off, too. Then I started scanning the rest of his lair. Any magazine thrown out from a dentist’s office in the past 30 years were in stacks surrounding us.
“He can see things,” Carl said gently. “He can see the future, really.”
“That’s his power?” I really said this rhetorically but my friend nodded anyway.
“This is going well,” I spoke over the now snoring crazy person.
Carl disappeared for a bit while I lay and listen to the breeze over the trees and enjoyed this truly serene hideaway. After an hour and a can of silver spray paint, he returned. So did the Preacher.
He coughed himself awake. It was a deep rumbling from his lungs. This man needed physical care not even related to his mental well being which was a college thesis on its own. He held up a hand in protest from either of us helping him. There was an odd sour smell, too. Pity took me.
“There are three more,” he said when he was done hacking up a lung. He squeezed his hand again to keep the heart attacks at bay. When he opened his eyes, they were solid white. Weird as hell looking. Little hairs all over my body stood up. He continued, “Three more to join. While two will not make it to the end.”
“That’s disconcerting,” I mumbled.
“The bald man is the key,” he continued to clench his hand repeatedly like he was pumping for a blood pressure reading aimlessly.
“Yay, I’m a key,” I sarcastically announced.
“And the boy,” he drifted off. “The boy is dead. He is scared. He is next.” His hands both reached out blindly in the air grasping for anything. Carl must have seen this before as he handed this man a chewed up blue pen and a piece of notebook paper. The Preacher crumpled up the paper in his grip. He set it down and began to write.
“It’s an address,” Carl was excited. “It’s always an address.”
“Find the fourth,” he blindly reached out and handed the paper to no one as it drifted to the ground. “Find the fourth and kill the third. They are useless. The boy is gone. The fourth is gone. The fifth is Batman. This car is a piece of shit. Madera is full of doubt bamf apologize. She’s our wolverine. I can’t. I won’t pick. She is no Han Solo looking for me.” He slumped back over and fell immediately back to sleep.
I just stared at him. That was the news? That was our future? Mindless shit?
Carl picked up the piece of paper and flicked it in recognition of the location. He looked up at me with a black-toothed grin, “You ready?”