My name is Pauline Bleek. I wait tables over at the Highs and Lowes Diner. I’m the morning gal. Folks—gentlemen mainly—come in either before or after their fishing spots. Usually carrying their rods and tackle boxes. That’s how I came to meet him. He started coming in regularly at one point. His rod was some rinky dink rental, no tackle box and no hat. Fishing boys come in here so often I’ve seen them all with different effects—overalls, thigh high boots, you name it—and none of them ever come in without a hat. I remember the first time he came in he was wearing a pair of hiking boots that had seen their fair share of walking. You could tell he hadn’t done much fishing in his time. I don’t know if he was getting advice from the other boys planted out at the river but he started coming into the diner with fresher gear: shiny new rod, some fishing boots, a tackle box, and he finally got himself a hat.
Name’s Dorothy. Belham’s the last name if you need it for this ‘record’. I manage the Alpine Apartments. I only knew the guy as one of my tenants. Came to me and asked for the cheapest one bedroom I had. He moved in with one suitcase and the clothes hanging on his back. Paid his rent on time. Figured he’d be no fuss judgin’ from his entrance until about a month later when folks around started complaining about the noises.
I’m Norman Blake. My friends call me Norm. So, you can call me Norman, thanks. My occupation is my business and not yours. I knew that Nathan guy because he always took the best fishing spot out on Lowe River. I always set up camp farther down the river where most of the fish had already been caught. I know what happened to him, and that is a shame, but that doesn’t make it okay for you to be taking the best fishing spots.
My name is Francis Davies. I’m the sales manager down at Pioneer Inc. We sell tractor equipment to farmers in Anchorage. That’s how I knew Nathan. We worked together in the same office in different departments. He was a project manager before he got demoted. We weren’t necessarily friends at first. But after what happened, I just didn’t feel right about leaving him be like everyone else in the office did. I can’t imagine how to navigate through everyday life after something like that happens. Management told him to take as much time as he needed and he was back within a week of the funeral. You believe that? Because nobody at the office could. I swear when he walked in it was like the whole world stopped. I remember like it was yesterday.
This fellow ordered the same thing every time: two sides of toast with the crust cut off, two sunny side up eggs, and four pieces of bacon; with a special request to put everything in the shape of a happy face. Kind of peculiar. He was polite and minded his business; it wasn’t any trouble. I did it myself sometimes when the cook wasn’t feeling like it. I didn’t ask any questions about it at first. Maybe the third week of coming in I decided to see why he liked his breakfast such a certain way. And I really wish I hadn’t.
I was talking with Frank about something day-to-day when he looked up toward the front doors and interrupted me with a low “Oh my god”. I turned around and there was Nathan; wrinkled button-up shirt that was too small for his long skinny arms, simple bargain bin tie, hair that looked as if it was briefly fixed by hand, and five o’clock shadow that looked more like a five-day shadow. The entire office stopped. The clacking of keyboards froze in the air. Conversations ceased midway through. We all froze. Nobody knew what to do. He walked through an office of statues and gargoyles; all watching his every move. He sat down at his desk and resumed his work.
The whole scene held so much gravity that the CEO approached his desk. We all watched as they spoke. Nobody could hear what they were saying. We saw them go back and forth about something until we heard him. “NO!” he shouts and then he looks around at all of us looking at him. Eyes darting back and forth, he recognizes his outburst. Then I don’t hear him but I can see him say to her “please, I just need to work”. I don’t have any kids. Most of us don’t, so I don’t think anybody understands what he’s going through. She gently touches his shoulder and walks back to her office. As if the boss’s experience with him is our permission, we all go back to work and suddenly my conversation with Frank isn’t all that important anymore.
Horrible accident, what happened to his little girl. He used to make that breakfast for her on the weekends she wasn’t at her mom’s. The day he told me he tried to pay, but I told him that breakfast was on me. I really hoped I wasn’t offending him by not accepting his money. I have two boys and if anything had happened to them, I don’t think I’d be able to continue. I just wanted to try and let him know somebody cared about him. I was relieved when he thanked me. He became a bit more talkative after that day. I asked him about the fishing and he’d ask about my morning. It was nothing more than simple small talk, but it was nice. The small talk continued up until that visitor came in. That older fellow; dressed in all black with the hunch. That’s when Nathan stopped talking.
One morning I got up earlier than usual to get that spot on the river. Packed everything the night before, too. It’s early enough for the sun to be hidden behind those mountains. I drive out to the spot by the water and, sure enough, there he is. And get this, he’s not even fishing. He’s got no gear on him. Not even a rod. He’s just standing there in a damn robe, arms down at his side, staring at the rushing water before him.
This older gentleman came in one morning. It was the day before that weird visit with that fellow, Norm. The bell on the door clanged and I noticed him standing there. But it was almost like he never walked in. Like he just sort of...appeared. He had a tattered black wide-brimmed hat that matched his long overcoat. The bottom of it was torn and frayed where it dragged against the mud that caked his boots. I told him to sit anywhere he liked and he sat down in the booth behind poor Nathan and just stared at him. He had this hunch. It made him limp when he walked. Except it was more of a...twitch. I found it strange when his boots left behind wet prints and it wasn’t raining outside. When I asked what he wanted for breakfast he just said in a low and, what first sounded like to me, gravelly voice “Water”. But his voice wasn’t gravelly. It sounded like he was gargling. He never stopped looking at that poor man ahead of him.
Kept to himself, mostly. Kinda felt on purpose, it did. His windows were always shut with curtains down. Didn’t think anything of it until I seen him paste newspaper all over them. I tell him he can’t be doing that and messin’ up my glass. Right then and there he hands me double rent for that month. And I think he says something like “Piss. I don’t like you, son” or “Please, she doesn’t like the sun”. To be honest with ya I didn’t entirely catch it, what, with countin’ all that money in my hands. Before it clicks and I try to hear what he dun’ said one more time he shuts the door and locks it. Sounds like he installed some of his own, too, because ain’t none of my doors have that many locks.
Now, at this point I’m mad. I went through all this effort to get there before him and he’s already set up camp. It’d be bad enough if he was posted there with a rod and tackle box, but he wasn’t. I get out of my truck and make my way towards him. I start calling out to him, telling him he can’t always be here, that there’s other fishermen, this and that. He’s not even looking at me. Like he doesn’t even know I’m there. I get up close enough to him and suddenly my rants fade and I get a good look at him from behind. He’s quietly saying something. Not to me, but out there. Like he’s talking to the river. But I can’t understand what he’s saying. Not because it’s too quiet. Because it’s not English. Now, I’m not the most educated guy. I feel like I might be able to tell if German was German or if Chinese was Chinese. But what he was saying didn’t sound like any language I’d known.
I creep up a little closer and put my hand on his shoulder and his body whips around at me as if I just hit the fire alarm on his arm. Now, this could have been because it was still dark out but, I swear to you, right then I saw what his eyes were. They weren’t any normal pair of eyes I’d ever seen. His eyes, sunken in his face, were black.
It looked like there wasn’t anything there in his skull, but he was looking right at me. I fell to the ground and he starts saying his gibberish. Not necessarily to me, but at me. I’m scrambling on the ground, backing away to my truck. He’s still saying these things at me and now he’s getting louder. I finally find my footing, get back in my truck, and hightail it out of there. As I look in my rearview mirror, I see his red illuminated body—waning in the distance—shouting at me with his index finger following me.
After that, the nightmares started.
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