Monday, October 30, 2006

Becoming Salvish Theander, pt 5

It had been a clear, cool autumn night, and the harvest moon hung full and golden in the sky, so that even the abandoned country back-roads had been well-illuminated. The errand had been a simple one, the purchase of a list of supplies from a chemist with particularly-late hours. The wooden crates, containing who-knows-what, had been heavier than Harris had expected, and carrying them from the basement shop upstairs to the cart had been wearing. The dry dusty air of the chemist's shop had just added to his thirst.
Business was apparently going well at the After Hours Tap, judging by the noisy ruckus of loud voices and music coming from there. Perhaps he could stop in and quench his thirst, and maybe play one game of poker, for old times' sake.
The bold entrance of "Salvish Theander" into this particular night spot caused heads to turn, and conversations to trickle into silence.
Arnie, the bar tender, was the first to speak. "Good evening, Mr. Theander. Would you… like something to drink?"
"Mister Theander," he shot back, mocking Arnie. "Call me Harry–er,Salvish. And, yeah, I'll have a beer!" The response had been quite out of character, and the thick accent was gone completely. Harris felt his face twinge in several spots as tiny cracks appeared, but no one seemed to notice them, or to hear the sharp twig-snapping sound they made when they formed.
The regulars laughed at his comment and the rest of the crowd relaxed. Harris strolled over to the bar and hopped up onto an empty stool with ease, Theander's shuffling gait all but forgotten. Click! Crack! The fellow next to him slapped him on the back and slurred, "Hey there, Shalvish! How're you doin', Buddy?"
"Eh, you know how it is! D.D.S.S!" The snapping sound thundered in his ears, and he almost dropped his beer. A sizeable fissure had snaked down his forehead from his hairline to his eyebrow.
The man to his left noticed it, and piped up, "Hey, what's happening to your face?"
Harris dodged the question, turning away, "How about a nice game of cards? I'll take you for all you're worth!" Crack! Snap! He began to amble toward the back room with an air of conceit.
Other patrons had begun to take note of this weird phenomenon, too. "What's the matter with your face? That line wasn't there when you came in!”
"Nothing to worry about!" he said, "Just a little skin condition!"
A firm hand grasped his shoulder, and he spun around. The face of Ellen, an old girlfriend, met his gaze. She looked hard at him. "Harry?" she asked.
He pulled away from her touch. "No! Of course not!" he said, regaining Salvish's voice and accent. "Harris Oldman is dead. Dead! Do you hear? Why do you look at me that way? Why are you all staring at me?" Harris face itched as more lines forked across his cheeks, crackling like a healthy bonfire.
Something fell from his forehead onto the floor, something triangular and whitish. Then another piece joined it. A sharp snap near his neck pinched him and he yelped.
His cry was followed by a loud tearing sound. His shirt was ripping away from him, and now his jacket! Pale fragments continued to land at his feet, as more and deeper lines appeared. The last vestiges of the image of Salvish Theander cracked and fell away like a shattered wax mask, taking the remnants of the fine suit with it. There, revealed beneath, was the shriveled, putrefying corpse of Harris Oldman, dressed in the tattered rags of a pauper’s graveclothes!

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