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Deal 835: Michel drinks

Michel concentrated on his practice and reached. He knew that the more he practiced, the better he would get. And yet, the half-full bottle on the desk kept distracting him. The flicker and hum from the dying neon outside the window wasn’t helping either, nor was the abundance of burnt out bulbs in what he jokingly called his “office”. The alternating pink and green lights cast moving shadows across the room, through a pile of empty bottles, and over his desk. The moving light is hypnotic, but not in a calm and pleasant way.

If he had more clients— no, let’s be honest, any clients at all —it would be easier to call it an office, and perhaps he could afford to have a cleaning lady come by once in a week to sweep, dust, and haul out the abundant numbers of empty bottles that seemed to breed in the dark corners, turning up full before contributing to his drunken state and becoming yet another empty bone on the heap of fallen foes.

Michel, as the cliché says, drinks to forget. Because he knows things. He has seen many of the futures, and is not sure he has the strength of will to continue in the face of what he sees. He knows he doesn’t have the power to change enough to improve the future of the world around him, so he seeks oblivion in the bottles. So many bottles.

Michel is discovering that the same strange inexplicable process that has kept him alive through so many years, so many disasters, so many plagues, and so much suffering is also unwilling to let him drink himself to death. In this future, once he is sure of that he tries switching from gin to bourbon to rum, then switches to absinthe in hopes of a visit from the green fairy and oblivion in the toxins of the wormwood. All he learns from the fairy is that he is expected to play out his role, and oblivion is not in his script. That future is a dead-end, and he retreats from it in another bottle of scotch.

He wakes from his latest bender to find the usual heap of dead soldiers, and wan sunlight coming in his window, causing interesting glare and refractions from the pile of multi-colored glass.

As he shakes off the dregs of a hangover that would have slain a mere mortal, the rat that has inexplicably keeping him company waddles over.

“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” it grumbles. “She already is in a snit. If she walked in and found you like this, she’d find some way to make you pay. Probably by using me. And I don’t want to get caught up in that sort of battle.”

Michel just snorts, and tries to pretend to go back to sleep.

“We’ve been chatting. We know your visions are more frequent and getting worse. You keep practicing your reach, and succeeding, but sooner or later that speakeasy down the block is going to start wondering where the leak is in its warehouse, and your trash heap here is going to give them ideas. Ideas that all of us would rather they not have.”

Michel continues to ignore the rat.

“You can keep this up forever. So can we. And we’re just crazy enough to do it. The world needs you. We need you. And we need you substantially more sober than you are.”

Michel picks his head off the desk. “What do you want from me?”

“We want you to face whatever it is, and deal. If you can’t handle it, talk to us. Talk to George. Get the Owl involved, or the Raven.”

“I can’t find a way to warn them. The world doesn’t believe in prophecy any more. My original predictions are trotted out as a standing joke every time something happens. I can’t face that again.”

“So find another way. We can work on that. But you have to stop trying to die in a bottle.”

“When did rats get so wise?”

“As long ago as there have been rats, we suspect.”

Well, perhaps this future does contain a glimmer of a path that leads somewhere other than oblivion. And perhaps he can find a way to see it.

“Fine,” he grumbles. “I’ll think about it.”

“We can’t ask for more than that.”

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Deal 834: The Call.

The siren song of the rails calls, as if it is my fate to pack a bindle and hop a freight headed anywhere else but here.

The open rails call all the stronger after what happened last night. It seems like it must be prudent to find myself a new place to be for a while, possibly for a long while. Not that I’m guilty of anything, mind you. But it might seem that way.

It was a dark and stormy night. The rats were not afraid of the storm, and were out and about on their ratty business. Which included raiding my campsite and generally being a nuisance. In my haste to evict one particularly aggressive rat, I might have flung it into the fire. The whole camp was shortly up in flames, despite the scattered showers.

I snagged my bindle and fled.

And now the rails call.

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Deal 832: The Act.

No room for elaborate disguises tonight, one must do with just the standard simple tux. Still, no matter how often I don the suit, it still feels like a disguise. Well, worn, sure. But a disguise nonetheless.

The evening will begin as it often does in small talk, hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, tall tales, and a constant testing of social position. For everyone else, that is. I will float among the crowd, pretending to not fit, avoiding deep entanglement or expressing an opinion. After all, I know why I am here, and am not playing the same game by anything resembling the same rules.

Once the patterns are established, I can break my mold, and the real show will begin.

Or that is what I planned. As is true all too often, reality often interferes with plans of its own.

Tonight was different. There was a second presence in the room, staying in the shadows, testing and evaluating the crowd. For the first hour, I could only tell that they existed, and not get more that fleeting glimpses as they adroitly shifted as I happened too close.

So I activated a backup plan. An accomplice in the crowd picked up on my silent cues, and began to act openly as I had been covertly. That is, they began to actively steer the guests and their conversations in ways that would benefit my performance later, assuming this evening’s plans were to get back on track. Importantly, they caught the attention of the other ghost, and allowed me a chance to observe.

Like most of the guests, they wore formal dress, with the addition of only a simple black domino mask as the nod to the “masquerade” expected at this sort of gathering. Like my own, this was clearly a bespoke piece that fit precisely to their face, and concealed more than it should have by placing the eyes in deep shadows and subtly altering the apparent lines of the brow and nose beneath it.

Then I caught another clue. As I watched, they finished interacting with a group at one corner, stepped into a shadow, and vanished. Moments later, I caught them working from another corner. It was almost as if they had stepped into one shadow and out of another. An impossible feat for a mere mortal, and one disturbingly familiar.

I had competition.

It was not welcome.

It clearly had missed the subtle cues that these people were under my protection. So it was going to be necessary to resort to more direct methods. But first and foremost, these people are under my protection, and that includes protection from even needing to know that monsters of our ilk exist, let alone tend them for harvest as a shepherd does his flock.

It was time to cut the intruder from his prey, and feed on him and his mistakes.