He looked up from the table away from his laptop, too bright to pass for natural amidst the dim surroundings, briefly recalling that more than this exists. There was a girl once. She would smile and he would smile, stretching a face frozen too often in an expression attempting to convey scholarly apathy. He had been enamored with becoming that cliche, the brooding writer, and had mistaken her affection for one stemming solely from admiration for that affectation. Instead of opening up and showing her the real him, he put on more and more of it. Gradually this mask, ensconced always upon his face, replaced his face, so he and she could not even remember the former. He recoiled from the memories that followed and decided to leave the cafe.
He closed his laptop, momentarily denying its luminous mesmerism. Then he slung his bag over his shoulder and escaped into the cool night. The brisk air refreshed him and the darkness soothed his tired eyes, worn from the laptop’s gnawing gaze. As he walked, he heard the pitter-patter of his sneakered feet and the occasional groan from the Mad Max-looking clean up carts roaming the pre-dawn streets. Avoiding the scraggly arm of a nearby dogwood by ducking, he was crouching when he saw her.
At first he thought the huddled darkness was the carcass of a deer which had been too slow to avoid a whizzing cart, but then he saw stilettos instead of hooves.
The automatic intake of breath was soon accompanied by the drumming of his arrhythmic heart as he noticed a small rectangle of light appear next to a pale bloodless hand. Tinny carnival music crept into his ears as he inched forward. He could just make out the words flashing on the phone’s screen: Thomas Hardling. His own name.