Ch. 24 – New Day in Afterworld

Final Fugue_Ithaka O._horizontal

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At the stench of whiskey, Zach turned his head to the side and gasped for air. But this only made things worse because he ended up inhaling more of the whiskey stench.

Strange, how he’d thought that turning his head to the side would allow him to avoid smelling the same thing that he’d had to smell before turning his head. But also, no wonder. Because, only a second ago, the whiskey stench had been absent. Under any normal circumstances, a newly generated smell should be avoidable, at least before said smell spread to fill a room.

This, however, wasn’t a normal circumstance.

With one hand, Zach fanned away the air in front of his nose. Then he realized that in the other hand, he held a metal baseball bat. He looked around:

Rows of shelves with boxes and cases lined the walls. The high ceiling with bright lamps made the liquor bottles glitter. The vastness of the hall gently echoed his every breath despite the many objects filling it. A recording of his own piano performance played backward. His soles squished because of the wetness on the floor. Amber liquor. Whiskey. The source of the stench.

Nearby, the unmistakable bearish shape of Donald Todd lay sprawled on the ground, in the same exact spot where he’d ended up when Mina had hit him with the baseball bat, the one that was now in Zach’s hand.

All this told Zach: he was back in the storeroom attached to the cocktail lounge in the hotel between worlds.

Only two things had changed in Zach’s absence:

One, the metal door—which now stood open.

Two, the details of Donald Todd’s appearance. From the lusterless gray that had given him the impression of an angry malnourished bear, his hair had changed almost entirely to a pale shade of white.

On top of that, the man had… shriveled up. But not the way flowers shriveled up in the process of drying. With flowers, and dried plants in general, there was a sense of nostalgia, a sorrowful admiration for the fleeting nature of life, captured before it vanished completely.

Donald Todd, however, had shriveled up in a uniquely animal way. There was a monstrous excess of skin. The substance that it used to encompass—mostly water, in the case of humans—had evaporated. Consequently, the man now looked more like an aged, sick koala with whitening fur.

What had happened while Zach was gone?

For how long had he been gone?

And he had to return to New York, how?

Zach knew the answer to the last question. He marched to the metal door. He shut it again.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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