After All This Time, Back To The Beginning

Epigraph

How I met the Gent

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Please forgive my rudeness when last we met. I was quite taken aback and at a loss to hear you utter that infernal word and the name of the one I most associate with it. I had to remove myself from your presence before I made some rash action that I surely would regret later.

It has been my over-riding hope to keep you sheltered from such people and things, and much more so, with my participation in what they represent. From your inquiries, I can assume you now know that I am indeed affiliated with the Quasigentsia and it’s best pitchman, Eldridge Gent. I have no doubt that he has approached you with an offer or a warning, as that is his Modus Operandi. Before I can explain the ‘Gentsia, I must first relate how I came to meet the Gent, or more accurately, how he came to meet me.

It was some time after the death of my wife when I saw the Gent before me. I was sitting at a table in a rat hole that passed for the local tavern. Bleary eyed and slurred of speech, I demanded the barmaid to bring me two more pints of what she insisted was their finest ale. Though I sat alone, I ordered two at a time in the hope that my sorrow would soon drown. I was completely oblivious to the raucous celebration going on around me. With the exception of my table, the place was filled with singing, cheering and all around merriment. I stared straight ahead, for a hundred miles, which was affixed to a tiny point on the wall across from me. When the barmaid finally brought my drinks, I clumsily flung a silver piece across the table. It bounced off the back of the chair beside me and landed on the seat beyond my vision of the table.

Polite as you please, this dark haired wench bent over the back of the chair and returned with a gold piece in hand and asked, “Would you like change ?”

“I think I’ve changed enough. Bring me two more,” I muttered. I turned to find my spot of the distant horizon upon the wall and was shocked to see someone from the party had invited themselves to my table. “Are you lost, mate?” I asked before downing the first of the two pints. I looked back at my new companion, but no one was there. I glanced about the room to see where they got off to so quickly but saw only more revelers. I downed half of the second pint with the intention of nursing it until the next two arrived. I set the pint down and looked into the eyes of a stranger. “The party is over there,” I gestured to the other celebrants.

“Oh, I’m not here for them, though they do appear to be enjoying themselves. I believe they are celebrating the victory of war,” he paused for a moment of consideration, “or possibly some sort of sport. It gets more difficult to discern the more I see of either.”

I studied him for a moment. I tried to gauge whether he might be a hallucination.

“By the way, I’m no hallucination, though I do strike quite an image,” he said while tugging at his cuffs.

Just as I was about to say something, two more pints were placed in front of me by a blond waif of a woman. She shot me a bright smile and turned to go. I shot out my hand to tug her apron, but, in my drunkenness, grabbed her hand instead and pulled her back. “What happened to the other waitress?” I slurred at her.

She leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “I’m the only one here. I checked that coin you gave me and I’m willing to let you give me another kind of tip if you want.” She stepped back with another bright smile and dashed away. I looked to the man across from me to see if perhaps I was the butt of a joke I didn’t understand. He was grinning and wagged his eyebrows at me.

“What in hells going on,” I asked this stranger, “and who are you?”

“Eldridge Gent,” his hand hovered before me as though it had been there all along, “pleasure to make your acquaintance.” It was then that I made my first mistake in a long history of mistakes concerning Eldridge Gent. I shook his hand. “Might you indulge this instance of inquiry to introduce yourself, Sir?” His smile never wavered from his face.

“Dathan. Dathan Emries.”

“Emries,” he said as if he tasted it, “like the wizard?”

“No, Emries as in Ian Emries, my father.”

He clapped his hands together. “Splendid!” he shouted as though a great discovery had been made. “Dathan, would you favor me a flight of fancy?”

“What?” I asked incredulously.

He completely ignored my dismay. “Look about this dour dwelling and tell me what you see.” He gestured by opening both arms in an arc whilst turning his head, eyes scanning the room.

The ale was giving me a headache and this fool was taking a survey. I tried to clear my head with a gentle shake. I looked around the room with dawning incomprehension and widening horror. Nothing was as it was. The revelers were now all sitting calmly and speaking in subdued tones. The barmaid was a frumpy woman with bad teeth serving drinks at the bar. Even the tavern itself had changed. The floor and tables were solidly built, where before they looked as they would crumble at the slightest knock. The place was clean and the patrons had become well mannered and civilized. I wondered how one such as myself could come to be here. “Mr. Gent, what is going on?”

He was reaching inside his coat when I turned to him. He seemed to find what his fingers were searching for. He pulled out a silver cigarette case. He opened it and smiled as though he was pleasantly surprised by what lay inside. He held the case open for me to see and asked, “Would you like a cigarette?” I shook my head no. He began tapping a cigarette against the silver case, then placed the case back in his pocket. He lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply, before blowing out an impossibly large plume of smoke. He straightened himself to face me and looked straight into my eyes and said, “Reality is unraveling around you, Mr. Dathan Emries.” He leaned back and took anther drag on his cigarette.

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