IN THIS TWILIGHT
The Mask Collector
Saturday June 7th 2003
Darren lay in the darkness listening to Marnie’s gentle snoring and cursing himself.
What have I done?
On Wednesday he’d found the nerve to chat up that pretty nursing student he’d been drooling over for months. She told him her name was Leiko. All it had taken Darren to win Leiko’s phone number and a date for Friday night was a few sly smiles and an expensive latte. Darren had spent the next two days preparing. He’d bought a new shirt, new cologne and fresh condoms. He spent hours mentally rehearsing and preparing for the conversations they might have.
When Friday came and he met her at the restaurant he never got a chance to make use of any of his prepared seductions. All she did was talk about herself for two hours only pausing in the conversation long enough to order and hardly eat the most expensive thing on the menu. She even took a pair of cell phone calls during the date and made plans for the rest of her evening.
Needless to say, after the date was over Darren got good and drunk and stayed that way. By Saturday afternoon he was feeling woozy, sick to his stomach and miserable.
Before dusk he was blubbering on the phone to Marnie and of course she rushed right over. Marnie made him take a hot shower to clear his head. When Darren left the bathroom he caught a whiff of her cooking, somehow she had managed to put together a kind of goulash out of his Ramon Noodles and leftovers. They ate and talked, mostly about the lack of success they were having in the dating scene.
They went to bed and Darren found comfort in the old rituals of their lovemaking, even though he couldn’t help but notice she’d put on weight again. He almost lost his excitement at the realization but when he closed his eyes and imagined Leiko he found it again.
But that was hours ago and now he was disgusted with himself. One bad date and he had crawled back into Marnie’s arms?
How did she do it to me? How did she get me to cave in like that? He glanced over at her, She’s just like her food, not healthy, not particularly good for me. Just easy and comforting.
The murmuring started again, sibilant and gurgling. Darren closed his eyes and tried to make out the words but Marnie’s snores made it impossible to understand out more than the occasional syllable.
Glaring at her in the dark, Darren kicked off the sheets and walked over to the wall, it was cool to the touch, cooler than the rest of the room. He put his ear to it and shivered.
There was a sound like a windstorm, constant and shifting. The voice was faint, “…ancient …their kind …Beings from Outside”
“… Ahtu… infinity… gods… served…”
The voice, Darren realized, sounded nothing like Chad. He wondered if he was hearing Crazy Agnes through some trick of the acoustics.
What am I doing here? Darren wondered, What am I trying to prove by living in this dump?
“Baby?” Marnie’s voice was slurred with sleep, “What’s the matter? Come back to bed.”
A realization settled on him, a realization that this was his last chance to put everything back the way it was before. Darren pulled his ear from the wall and rested his back against the cool plaster surface, “This was a mistake.”
“What?” Marnie’s voice was a yelp.
“You need to get dressed and go. Now.” Darren stared down at his bare feet, his hands clutched over his heart.