My hand shakes as I press the cigarette against my lips and inhale. The nicotine seeps into my lungs, my blood, my brain, smoking out the reverberations of a nightmare. My doctor calls it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, A.K.A. hell. I sigh, and gray swirls stream out of my mouth and dissolve into nothing.
From the edge of the balcony, the darkness saturates the city like a stain until it seems the sun will never touch the surface again. The squeak of a shopping cart brings my attention to the homeless woman down the street. She settles into her usual crevice in the alley with the patience of someone who has nothing to do and nowhere to go. I stole a look at her face a few weeks ago, startled by the faraway look in her eyes like she no longer cared whether people tossed her coins or looks of disgust.
Welcome to the Baron's Foodatorium, the brainchild of a chewing-gum loving military enthusiast and one too many yard sales.
Come inside, sit.
Years ago (I believe it was a rainy afternoon in July) the government put its entire fleet of weather-control Zeppelins up for sale. Most of them went for scrap metal. Alas, one of these nuclear-powered cloud-ploughs was purchased by our Baron. Woe betide us all.
Take heed, for this is our recipe: Scoop a large dollop of money and a penchant for roboticizing anything not nailed down (and a few things that are), blend these into a paste and set aside. Take one crew of malcontents and bring them to the boil. Add the blended paste and mix with absolutely no knowledge of how to cook (literally, not a jot). Place all of these aboard a nuclear powered Zeppelin and stand back.
The next time Don's really, truly awake again, it's in the early hours of the next morning. He must have been out for the whole day.
He supposes he'd walked back to the hotel, but he doesn't remember. He can sketchily recall, though, stepping into the lobby and being hit by a sudden crippling wave of exhaustion despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten, stumbling into the lift while the television buzzed loudly with the report of a gang shoot-out on the bayou
He pops out into the dark and silent corridor and buys a few packets from the closest vending machine. His first thought, when he enters his room again and looks over the small amount of luggage that has somehow managed to fling itself everywhere, is that there's no reason to stay anymore.
It takes a long time to pack. It doesn't have to, but Don finds himself putting things in then taking them out again, refolding and rearranging. It almost feels like reluctance.
He wonders if it's all another dream. If what he heard and saw was nothing more than one last flashing nightly vision. If everything will go back to normal once the daylight comes again.
He makes it to the bayou in less than half an hour. The run is done on rote.
There's not even a moment of doubt before he spies the glow on the waterfront, a few hundred yards from where the St John's University back gates open out. He twists his arm to see his watch, and subtracts the hour he's still yet to set.
In the distance, he hears the first beat of a drum. It's deep, resonating, pounding in a steady rhythm that matches the rush of blood in his ears. But it's not loud, not very. It probably can't be, in an urban area like this. A chant starts up, sibilant and undulating, though he can't make out the words.