What a day it was! Nothing much happening, just a couple of glimmers in the park. Well, at least the park itself still wonders. I returned to my "efficiency" that evening, to find a new neighbor across the hall - my nose itched - there was something...
I introduced myself the next day after hearing wakefulness through the walls. When he opened the door, I felt drunk just from the smell - amazing how an apartment seems lived-in after just one binge.
"Good day!" I said. "I'm Jared - across the hall. Are you new to the city?"
"No," he grumbled, "but...come in."
Bleary orbs rolling on top of dark bulldog jowls gave way to strewn effects all over the room - a condition I kenned would not change soon. However, there were two rattan "papa" chairs, amazingly free of debris. I flopped on one.
"You want a beer?" he asked.
Normally I avoid beer like the plague it is, but sometimes one has to be in Rome.
After a pull, he started, "No, the place I was in went commercial on me, so this was the next choice."
"It's a good cheap place if you have to be in Midtown."
"Oh - the name's Smith. I'm between jobs, but I figure here's the place to look. Hell, maybe I'll work in a store in my former building."
We talked a good while longer. I found out that he had been in the Navy during Vietnam, and had been drifting ever since - quite a long time. But he had a pension, actually getting his years and retiring just after that "war" (his quotes, not mine).
I finally persuaded him to tell me some stories, and while he must have dreamed back then, there was not even enough left now to Ravage. However, he did show me his lapel pins, and my nose itched something fierce - I forced a sneeze so it wouldn't start twitching on me. Those pins - oh! Those pins. Martial glory, camaraderie, brave friends and hope. It was as if all his dreams resided just there.
Smith told me of the promotion he got while on board - to Lieutenant - a black man promoted from enlisted to officer during Vietnam - almost unheard of. He told me of his captain and the captain's fight to obtain that very promotion, and of the ceremony when the pins were attached to his lapels. It was the shining moment of Smith's life.
Even so, there was bitterness in his voice, but I sensed it wasn't time to ask him why, as he fell silent. So I thanked him for the beer and said good-bye for then.
Skimming the coffee shops later that night, I kept thinking what a wonderful Reverie I could enjoin with him, if only I could find the key. Well, I did try - and I kept trying over the next three months. Smith never got a job. He was in a rut: drink some, watch some, eat some, sleep some, walk some, and occasionally talk to me. I was getting desperate. Here was a man who had dreamed so well, yet was walking drudgery now, and I still couldn't find out why.
I heard him shouting. I ran over, knocked on the door, and he opened it, stumbling, beer bottle poised to strike, beer flowing down his arm. The bottle lowered, I went in, the door closed, Smith slumped.
"Two days," he mumbled. "Just two days." He started sobbing. "All dead. Just Captain, me, and a couple boys left."
I said nothing; moved not a whisker. He stared at memory. After a while, he snored. I sniffed out the lapel pins, fairly sparkling with dross. I compared their light against his dark. How? I slipped out, and dreamt trouble.
I must admit, I became obsessed. I could feel the possibility, and hungered for it. And I could feel myself despairing. I began ignoring my other haunts, trying to raise this ghost. But, alas, he slept like one who was dead.
A few weeks later, I definitely was hungry. I was in need - I had almost forgotten myself, and started once when I was staring in the way of Smith. Smith - dead to the world, dead to himself, but possessing something which was lifeblood to me. Resolution came.
It was, of course, too easy. I slipped in when he passed out, and I stole while he snored. Oh, it felt like a rainbow-waterfall! Instant charge, instant Vitae! Now, I was curious to what he'd do. Maybe this would rouse him.
The next day, he came over to see me! He asked if I had seen the pins - no. He asked if I would help look - yes. He was actually frantic - here was life at last! When our search ended, he began writing a letter - to Captain, he said. Smith was in need now. But as soon as the letter was sealed and sent, Smith grabbed another beer and performed another flop on his chair. I wasn't roman this time - I was shooed out.
I could feel him shutting off again. The next day, it was as if nothing had happened. Enough! There was glamour to be had, and if not from Smith, maybe from his Captain. Now most don't learn Pyretics - too crass, they say. Hmph. Wil O'Wisp is the way to your heart's desire, or mine, which was that letter. At least there was glamour in it!
Just following and keeping track of the Wisp was an adventure in itself, but I finally found the destination - Life Center, a convalescent home, presumably catering to the VA crowd. I could see the Wisp enter through a second story window. No way I'd just be able to enter the door and walk up there.
So, to the undeveloped lot next door, into the rat, and up the building I went. Ah, I love old constructions. Back to "human," down a roof access door, and there I was, outside Captain's office. A quick peek and perk of the ears told me no one was around, so in I went.
Smith's letter was there on the desk, with a response written from Captain, and Captain's own lapel pins, sparkling just like Smith's! I made the grab, but my nose was still itching - what a dreamer this Captain must be! I looked down and saw an ancient Boy Scout handbook, glowing like the moon. Snatch! And I was out of there.
Three steps down the hall, still no one around - I just had to look, so strong was the pull of the handbook. I opened it, and there they were - the childhood dreams of this Captain. All of the forest romps, all of the community service, all of the sunrise hikes, the campfire tales, the games, the, the, the...
I looked up from my knees, the world in water. Two people swam around the corner; stopped in surprise. Bawling like a baby, I gave it all back: the book, the letters, the pins. How could I be this selfish? I, who live off of dreams, to take another's remembrances of them. One of the two quietly took the items back into the office; the other crossed her arms and tapped her foot at me. I awaited my fate, too stunned to do otherwise.
"Come with me," he said, returning from the office. "Cathy, I'll see you later."
She walked off. He walked to the stairs, with me following meekly. As we went through the front door, he said, "It's fantastic working for Captain Farraday. The time he volunteers, the people he helps. You should try it sometime."
With that, he turned around and walked back in. When I glanced my last at him, my vision had cleared enough to let me see his hooves. So. Just and mercifully so.
I never returned to my old home. No, I found another scary big city to live in. But I'm having a wonderful, glamorous time as an aide for a troop of Boy Scouts. A stomp, a romp, and another boy's dream is a campfire away.