The Merry Gentleman

*Wordcount: 624 words.

James walked down the road, and exhaustion showed in his every step. His hair was a thrummy mess, and darkness ringed his eyes. It was late at night, and the road was dimly lit by the evenly-spaced streetlights (though this is not to say the light was evenly-spaced; a few of the bulbs were dark), and a light fog had rolled in.
James was returning home from a night walk, and not eagerly. Lately, his sleep had been fitful and far from refreshing. This was, in no small part, due to the Nightmares. Oh, lord, the Nightmares!

They were regular, painfully, daily regular, and horrific. James couldn’t recall every detail, but some clung to his mind with frightful clarity.
In some of them, he is pursued by a limacine creature of immense size through an unchanging landscape littered with bones and white with bone dust.
In others, his skin burned and sloughed off in sickly clumps while he watched in his bedroom mirror.
One of the worst starts out like a dream, with James as a nomadic healer, performing hundreds of mirabilia and changing lives. Until his healing turns sour, and the poor afflicted at his hand turn on him and rip him limb from limb.
In truth, James could recite his various nightmares for days, as they were vivid and had begun to take over his life in no small measure.
James started as his eyes focused and he returned from his thoughts. He hadn’t even noticed the man walking towards him a little way up the road. It was unusual to see people this time of night, but James didn’t think much of it.
Even through the fog and dim light, James could make out the shape of the man’s hat.

The gentleman seemed quite merry, with a jaunt in his step and his tall stovepipe hat swaying from side to side with each footfall. He was not far off, and James couldn’t help but stare.
Something about this gentleman seemed very familiar.
Once James was close enough, he noticed the large brass buttons that dotted the gentleman’s coat, which seemed even more familiar.
The Merry Gentleman stopped, and gave James a broad smile, and spread his hands out in front of him.
Eight fingers.
James remembered.

This man, James had seen him beside his bed this morning. Or had he still been dreaming?
It was bizarre, and James felt uneasy to the bone.
This wasn’t right.

“Good evening, friend,
I hope you don’t mind, I don’t mean to offend,
But I thought I’d stop by and… Say hi.” The Merry Gentleman spewed the rhymes in a sing-song voice while James had been standing, gobsmacked.
“Uh, hi.” James didn’t know why he had returned the greeting, it just seemed… Polite?
The Merry Gentleman’s smile widened, unusually wide, and James noticed something strange about his teeth. They seemed elongated, unnaturally long, which distended the jaw and gave the Gentleman a longer face than seemed at first. James found it unnerving.
“You look fit to die!
Relax, a truer friend than me you shan’t find,
A truepenny and an ally,
And you’re a friend of mine, James.”
Hearing his name sent a chill down his spine, and James felt a pressure building in his head. It coalesced quickly into a sharp headache, and James stared dumbly at the Gentleman.
The Merry Gentleman tipped his hat and strode off, whistling a merry tune.

When James turned to look, he was gone. Though James was unsure of how long he had spent standing still, shocked and unnerved by what had occurred.
His headache pounded, and he stumbled his way home.

That night James dreamt of fire and teeth, while a merry whistle played in the background.

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