The Familiar

Author : Joshua Barella

It’s off Margaret Street, tucked in an alley, marquee blinking fluorescent orange.

Duck into the interspacial hole-in-the-wall just as it starts to rain–a clap of thunder as the door creaks closed behind me.

I’m greeted by a pretty, freckled Venusian at the bar who smirks at me as if she knows something that I don’t. Order a Mickey Slim and ask for an ashtray, eyeing the tattered red curtain by the noiseless jukebox Tomas told me about. To the right of the curtain, a sign tacked to the brick: Recall Room.

A great variety of spooks loiter about, create racket, their tentacles and whiskers and phalanges mingle, whip; they stare at each other’s lips, breasts, the tables between them.

A half-pack and three Mickey’s later, and I’m growing tired of waiting, of fidgeting, of sweating this dilemma–

Suddenly, miraculously, there’s movement by the jukebox, the curtain is pushed aside and a beady-eyed Gracken lumbers out, black tears dripping from its beak.

“Next,” it grumbles.

Knock over the barstool in my haste, but leave it, managing to beat out a gangly beast that argues it was there first.

The Recall Room is a crude alcove (which was once a broom closet, I’m sure) rich with wafting incense and the sweet stench of sweat and something fouler. The walls are covered in interplanetary paraphernalia, and the lighting is bad. In the corner with his many legs crossed atop a mound of bean bags, a wrinkled, misshapen, bespectacled creature, regards me with a composed countenance: Corgin.

“Jim,” the Fiolian says, almond-colored slits unblinking.

“Right,” I say, slightly impressed, sitting on a stool facing it.

“You’ve done this before?”

“Negative.”

“In that case, it’s important that we–”

“Can we just cut to the chase?” I point to my wrist. “I don’t have much time to waste.”

There’s an awkward pause.

Then the creature nods. “Of course.”

Corgin holds out a hairy palm. I stare at it blankly for a moment before thinking back to what Tomas had given me.

Toss Corgin the bag of slimy blithelings, and watch as it hungrily gorges on the contents until only a smidge of the disgusting delicacy remains. It rolls up the bag and stuffs it under its legs, turning its head to belch.

“Thank you,” it says, swallowing, digesting. “Very good.”

Impatient, I sigh, “You’re welcome. Now . . . can we?”

It nods, motions for me to come closer. From a decanter it pours a sparkling, grey liquid into a small cup, hands it to me. Drink it and immediately feel as though I’m going to vomit, but the sensation quickly wanes. Our foreheads touch, Corgin’s smell nearly overwhelming.

Close my eyes.

Focus.

My heart races, pounds in my ears; darkness descends; then a silence so sharp it tears a sliver in the void that only grows–the now bleeds into then, bleeds into consciousness:

Shards of golden sun find my shoulders through the spidering branches of snow-covered pines; an ice-glistened footpath of roots crunch beneath my steps–

I know this place.

Navigate to the edge of the forest. There’s a line of smoke rising to the east. A village.

Somewhere among those huts, buried in the ground, is where I hid it. It has to be there. I’ve tried everything else to remember. Tomas swore this Fiolian’s methods wouldn’t fail me.

If they do I’m finished.

These guys, these Dreshens–their word is their bond. And that’s no good. Not for me.

Swallow hard and start toward the smell of smoke, hoping those Mickey’s have helped to sharpen my memory.

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