The writer stumbled out of the den and into the alleyway. He appeared to be struggling to light the pipe hanging limply from under his large handlebar moustache with one hand, while clutching a present covered in outlandish blue wrapping paper and gold ribbons under his other arm. Dried tobacco leaves flew about, and speckled his all-black suit. The tobacco didn’t taste as good as whatever scientific tomfuckery he just had in the den, but perhaps that’s why he was smoking it now. Better get off this high as soon as possible, and move onto the next one. The sky was asleep, but the skylines weren’t. Neon lights continued to beckon him from around the corners of the darkened alleyway. Which color of the rainbow would he pursue now?
“Pardon me, miss,” the writer said to no one. He had finally gotten the pipe lit and waves of smoke erupted into his face just as he crashed into a nearby dumpster. Not his finest moment. In fact, this wasn’t his finest day. Or was it not his finest week? Time is irrelevant when you’re in the den.
Coughing and mumbling, delirious and focused, the writer shambled along like a shadow in the night. The sound of his leather shoes scraping on the gravel surrounded him. Hearing colors and feeling sounds, the writer thought. Christ! I’m losing it! He kicked a random bottle into one of the buildings to his left and watched it shatter. The urge to fight was strong. Better avoid the sidewalks; better avoid the people. Keep to the darkness. He pushed the edge of the present deeper into the gap between his ribs.
The city was a bleak, unforgiving creation. Cool, twilight wind bit his skin and bones without shame, burrowing its way into every orifice of his body and chilling him to the point of unrelenting pain. He had lost the rainbow at some point in his walk. Further ahead, the men were waiting for him. The writer spied them like a disturbed lion, beads of sweat and drool rolling down to his chin. He recognized the man in the middle. The bloated director he had been saddled with for his project, standing erect with his red bottle and white beard.
“We’ve been waiting,” the director chimed. He threw the bottle.
“What was it,” the writer managed to spit, “that Michelangelo said of Raphael? You might as well be the chief of police with such an ensemble.”
The director was stone-faced. “And did Raphael not see Michelangelo as an executioner? After all, they’re fit for walking alone at night given that all they bring is death.”
“Fuck you” the writer said after the wind brought his senses back. Why had he said that? The men around the director became more alert. Two had knives, the third had a metal pipe. The writer continued glaring intensely. It didn’t help that his oily, yellowish skin, untamed hair, and low-pitched groans only made him seem like a starved animal even more.
The director pulled out a pistol. No rest for the wicked in the land of stars and egos. The writer stood idly with his nose.
“Do you want to die?”
Good question. The writer thought. Vigilance was exhausting. He was a pale outcast in a strange land. He was out in the open. Exposed. His only source of solitude was now on the opposite side of the country it seemed, and all manner of fears had now sprung upon him. Should have found the sidewalks. Should have gone back home and left the palm trees behind. There was no telling who was watching him or who had control.
“My mother is dead,” the writer said, holding up the present. “I’d like to go home now and see what’s been left. It’s been a few weeks.”
The writer held the present even tighter than before. He noticed that the director’s eyes were bloodshot. The den had gotten him too. No rest for the talented. He coughed before hocking a foul, steaming spitball into the night.
“Well then,” The director said. “That’s that.”
The writer walked out into the street. The director and his crew stuck to the alleyway.
Keep to the light. Stay out of the den.