Douglas F. Warrick writes surreal short stories, weird little realities that make internal sense but don’t leave the reader exactly comfortable. His first collection of these stories, Plow the Bones, is just out.
“You know the funny thing about these visits?”
Eisley looked up again. For a second, his glasses looked like they might flood with whiteness again, but just a flicker and then his eyes were on Cotton, those eyes that used to be so wild, so mad with the things he knew, now just sad and accommodating. He sighed and said, “What’s that, Cotton?”
“When you’re around,” Cotton said and shifted his weight on the hard, lumpy hospital bed. The memories of his dead–sleeping mind still stuck to him and he was grateful. “I feel better… Not… you know, not all the way right again. Just… I know where I am.”
Eisley nodded. His eyes left Cotton and he sighed again. He really hadn’t changed. Not in sixty damned years had he changed. His brown hair still crept down across his wide pale brow and he still brushed it back in place with the side of his finger like he didn’t even know he was doing it. He had the same suit. Even now, in spite of his compassionate tone and his pitying eyes, he was still performing, still impressing himself with his own aesthetic control.
Nobody really changed all that much. Not in the end.
The things in the shadows chattered and mumbled. They sounded like children… no… no, like the tapes he used to play for… for his grandkids, the ones, the… the Chipmunk tapes. In the van. On the way to… to what? Jesus, what a thing was this that he could remember the goddamned tapes but not the names of the kids he used to play them for. What a goddamned thing was this.
“I guess… this will probably be the last visit?”
Eisley leaned forward, rested his arms on his knees and squeezed his long thin hands together. His fingernails looked blue. His voice was clinical. “What makes you say that, Cotton?”
“I’m tired. I’m… running out of…” His mind locked up. He felt his mouth open up, heard the confused mewling, croaking noise that came out. He felt stuck, locked inside his own body, pounding his fists against the walls and screaming, No, damn it! Don’t do this to me now! Give it back, it’s mine, it’s been mine for eighty–four goddamned years! It’s my body, my mind, let me have it back!
“You’re running out. I understand.” Eisley stood up, brushed his hands down the front of his brown pants, the pleats standing out from the shadows they cast. They were too long on him, bunching around his well–polished loafers. This was the way with Eisley. Everything always polished. Everything always just slightly ill fitting. “I hope,” he said, his eyes disappearing again behind the great white flood in his spectacles, “that you’re right, Cotton. About this being the last, I mean. I hope that quite sincerely.”
The things in the shadows, slick and black, smiling with their whole faces, crawled forward. Cotton closed his eyes again.