An Unanticipated Encounter

Milo found himself staring at a half-familiar pattern. The green was Alphonse's couch: the blue-green was the tatty carpet below.

"Want some water or something?" A voice from a Forgotten Land. So long. So long.

"Bourbon," Milo hacked. "Send the water to LA, with my love."

By this time Milo was, molecularly speaking, becoming one with the decaying old davenport.

"So… you have it with you." said Alphonse, more of a statement than a question. Milo nodded twice.

"It’s here?" Alphonse persisted, eyes glinting oddly.

Milo nodded again. "It’s here." He pointed his chin to the stainless-steel thermos on the table beside the door. Alphonse disappeared ostentatiously into the kitchen.

About then, Milo noticed another man in the room. Somehow, he had not noticed him there before. Betrayal? Before he could wonder if the stranger had sneaked in, or had been there the whole time, the stranger had taken two quick steps towards him, simultaneously lashing out with two black-gloved fists. Suddenly, Milo was writhing in a growing pool of saliva and blood, from an old wound he kept around and open for special occasions. Music from the bar down the street hung heavy and distorted on the peeling paint as the stranger advanced again.

"How 'bout them Orioles?" Milo gurgled, hoping to buy time. The stranger took a loud breath, readying himself for the coup de grace, and Milo, possibly still tripping, thought the sharp intake of air held traces of an Israeli accent. Then he prayed that if he made a desperate collapsed-synapse lunge through the window, a fire escape platform would be waiting for his emaciated figure, to take the weight that circumstance had so thoughtfully trimmed. Just in case such a dash for liberty made itself necessary...

Lightning flashed and glass shattered, then cold air, with a madman not far enough behind. A strangely discordant, faint memory of television with a young friend.

Luckily, there was a fire escape. Unluckily, Milo had gained too much momentum. He half-dove, half-rolled off the edge and violently slammed onto the ground.

"I am dying and I feel nothing," he thought. "What a disappointment."

Thick smoke engulfed him. Milo’s throat seared, as he gasped for what he hoped was going to be air. It was as if someone was extracting his lungs, as a dentist would a rotten tooth, without benefit of nitrous oxide. Every muscle, every ligament, in his body tightened, each trying single-handedly to twist the scalp off his tortured skull. Milo managed to drag himself up by the top knot, Baron Munchausen style.

The evening had brought with it a fairly stiff breeze, and a finger of smoke acrid with the reek of burning garbage, mildewed carpet and scorched butyl plastic had downdrafted to his prostrate form. An awful lot of it seemed to come from Alphonse's apartment. Tottering, against his better judgement, but as quickly as he could, back up the rusted metal ladder to the second floor, Milo re-entered the burning building. Had to save the thermos...

An intermittent orange lick of flame finally grew strong enough to catch a natural-gas-filled second floor laundry room. It exploded down the hallway, and shot out the fire escape door in an angry yellow-white column of flame. Billows of tar-colored smoke followed, jetting under pressure. Exactly where, seconds before, Milo’s disheveled form had struggled inside.