“You know how you sound, right?” asked Mark.
“Yes,” replied Oren in exasperation. “I know how ridiculous it sounds.”
“You saw a bunch of weird shit, it sounds like you’re on drugs, man. And of course, you know, that is much better than the alternative, right?”
“Yeah, the alternative is that you lost your fucking mind. You can sober up from drugs. It ain’t so easy to sober up from crazy.”
“Dude, I know how batshit crazy it sounds. I warned you that it sounds crazy. I had to tell someone. I really saw all that shit.”
“Yes, I can tell that you believe that, and that’s what’s worrisome. If you believe in impossible shit, usually it doesn’t make you eligible for the mental health of the year award, right? That shit is nuts, man.”
“Well, I don’t know what else to tell you.” Oren drained his glass and poured himself another, even more generous, serving.
“Look, man, it was dark, you said, right? You probably just imagined some—”
“I didn’t imagine jackshit. It was dark in parts, but I told you that it was very well lit around the fires. Trust me, I have thought about it non-stop. I’ve been hoping I imagined it, all of it. I’ve been playing it over and over in my mind, hoping I can find myself crazy or hoping it...goes away...hoping that I suddenly remember it better, or differently. And I’ll have you know another thing: You can bet your ass that when I do finally get some sleep tonight, I’ll be hoping that when I wake up, this is all just some horrible nightmare that never really happened and Perry is lying safe and sound in bed next to me.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you do wish that.”
“So, am I imagining the fact that my wife is missing? Is she here? Do you see her? Am I lying or imagining her missing?”
“Of course not, Oren, but—"
“Let me show you something,” said Oren, standing up.
“Come here,” he said, and then began walking quickly out of the room.
Mark followed him, glancing around Oren’s house as he went. He didn’t come over here so much anymore. Oren really had quite a nice house, probably worth over a million dollars these days. He did get a break when he bought it all those years ago, perfect timing. Around the time he purchased the property, the housing market had dropped significantly as part of a world-wide economic recession, and that had just so happened right around the time Oren had been ready to buy. He had purchased the house, a faux Spanish style, six bedroom, and quite large home for six hundred grand, and it was probably worth double that amount now. Oren was always lucky in life, whether he realized it or not.
That wasn’t to say that Oren wasn’t talented or didn’t work hard. He was extraordinarily talented, so much so that Mark was amazed that he settled on remaining in an AC/DC cover band when he absolutely knew that Oren was a very good songwriter and could basically develop his own band, probably playing every single instrument, as well as singing for every song, at least as long as it was rock music and he wasn’t performing live. He knew that he worked on songwriting in his spare time, but Oren rarely shared any of his songs with anyone else, always claiming that it wasn’t quite ready yet when asked about any stuff he’d written himself. When Mark thought of it, he usually came to the conclusion that Oren never would go beyond covering other people’s songs.
“It’s in here,” said Oren, after they had gone through his kitchen, dining room, and his second living room, arriving in the only bedroom on the ground floor, a room that Oren used as an office of sorts. He had a music room custom built in his backyard, fully sound proofed, so as not to disturb his neighbors when he jammed; and another room on the second level of the house that was his man cave, complete with a pool table, very high end poker table, bar, and projector and screen to watch films on occasion. Both of his other personal rooms were decorated with nicely framed posters, both film and music, as well as mostly other rock n’ roll paraphernalia, but he went for a different approach in his office.
Mark imagined that Oren didn’t spend as much time in there as in other areas of his home. He did have a PC on a large oak desk in this room, but what always interested Mark were all the beautifully hand-carved, mahogany book cases that lined the walls of Oren’s office. Oren once claimed that he had over ten-thousand books in there. In addition to the desk and bookshelves, Oren had in one corner a small black recliner next to an unobtrusive table that held a rather ornate-looking lamp. This is where Oren came to read, surf the Internet, maybe even write song lyrics on the computer.
“Come here,” said Oren, beckoning with his hand. “I put it here.”
“What is it?” asked Mark as he approached Oren’s desk.
“Remember that I told you that I took a branch off of one of those strange trees? Remember?” he repeated, almost pleading.
“It’s right here, but it’s not the same, something happened to it.” Oren switched on his small desk lamp.
“Uh, okay, what happened to it?”
“I don’t know, it lost its former composition, like rotted quickly, turned to dust.”
“That’s it?” asked Mark, peering closer at the item on Oren’s desk. Oren had taken the only seat, as though to present the item better, wheeling out of the way and leaving Mark to stand and investigate the object.
“Yes,” said Oren, scowling somewhat. It looked like some old, black piece of jerky, somewhat cylindrical in shape, similar to a twisted pencil.
“This just looks like some old piece of plastic, man.” Mark picked it up. It was relatively bendable when he loosely tried to move it about in his hands. “I don’t know it could even be rubber, or rubber and plastic. I don’t know. This doesn’t even look organic.”
“It came off easily when I pulled it, or you know, I had to twist it a little, like it was a normal tree. It came off.”
“Man, maybe you should get some sleep.”
“Try to cut it, motherfucker.” Oren pulled out a very large Bowie knife from one of the drawers. The action might have startled someone who didn’t know him so well, but Mark knew Oren collected knives...and swords, and books, and rock memorabilia, and old VHS tapes, and Star Wars action figures, and a lot of other shit. He had the space to store it all, so he could do what he wanted. “Here, I also have one of the Exacto knives that Perry uses for her crafts and shit. It’s razor sharp.”
“Fine,” said Mark, he then made a show of trying to cut it with both the knife and the razor. “Okay, so...?”
“Try harder.” Oren grabbed a book and put it under the black twig-like thing, presumably to protect his desk, even though he had a giant-sized pad of music paper on his desk.
Mark noticed the title on the book: Going Crazy, by Otto Friedrich. Yeah, no shit, he thought to himself. So, he tried harder, then harder. It wouldn’t cut and it even seemed to bend and dull the razor somewhat. “Okay, so it can’t be cut. It’s probably some sort of industrial grade plastic.”
“Who makes plastic that can’t be cut?”
“I don’t know. People invent new shit every day.”
“Okay, then look at this stuff,” he said, pointing to what seemed to be little pieces of white-grey papers on his desk.”
“This is what’s left of the leaves,”
Mark leaned over once again, and examined them. Some of them did appear to be shaped like strange, pointy leaves, but they seemed to have a very fragile quality to them. He reached out to touch one—
“Wait,” said Oren, but it was too late. Mark’s index finger came into contact with one, ever so slightly and it crumbled to ash. Mark looked much more closely at them. There were maybe a dozen left that were partially formed still, but only one that was fully formed, yet oh so brittle and delicate.
“Look, when I got back home and took it out of my pocket, it was fine. I set it here. Hours later, after the sun had come and flooded this room with light, it apparently turned into what’s left of it here.”
“Okay, I don’t know what this stuff is, but you know there can be multiple explanations that don’t involve supernatural experiences.”
“Well, you can’t explain this stuff, that’s a start, right?”
“I can’t explain electricity either, but—”
“Right, you can’t explain electricity either, but it exists.”
“Why don’t you let me finish and stop twisting my words around, yeah?”
“Okay, there’s one more thing, Mark,” he said as he stood and began taking off his shirt. “The thing grabbed me. It left some marks under my arms.”
“The monster with the big eyes?”
“No, the other one, look.” Oren lifted up his arms to show him.
“What other one? The little Jawas?”
“Just look, man!”
Mark had to walk back over to the doorway, a few feet away, to turn on the overhead light. When he got back, he did notice some red areas under Oren’s arms that looked like friction burns, or maybe even some places where he had been hit with enough force to cause the blood to rush to the surface of his skin.
“Yeah, okay, there’s something there. But... look man, all this stuff you’re showing me, they’re things that can have other explanations. You know that you’re not proving anything, right?” Mark sighed and rubbed his forehead.
“The marks were still blue this morning. I noticed when I got out of the shower. They were almost like blue handprints. You could even make out the individual finger marks.”
“Look you’ve been through a lot. It was probably very traumatic, losing Perry. I’m sure something happened, but the trauma has maybe caused you to misremember things. That’s all.”
“Can you do me a favor, man?” Oren pleaded, almost looking on the verge of tears, water welling up in his eyes.
“Of course, buddy. Absolutely. Whatever you need.”
“Pretend you’re watching a movie, or reading a book.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Suspend your beliefs, or your disbeliefs. Just think about it. I have never lied to you, never been prone to fanciful thoughts, never said anything remotely similar to strange shit like this before, right?”
“Don’t tell me I’m crazy. Give me two days of belief, even if you just pretend to believe, but try.”
“All right Oren, I won’t call you crazy anymore. You have to promise me that you will get some sleep soon.”
“There’re also the things he said.” Oren seemed to have either not hear Mark’s request he sleep soon, or just ignored it.
“What things? Who?”
“There was another creature there. This one was different, smarter maybe, or...I don’t know, just different.”
“So, more story is proof?”
“I’m done trying to prove anything to you. Do you want to hear it or not?”
“Yeah, fine, I’ll listen.”
“Okay, I need another drink.”
After they were settled again back in Oren’s living room, with his beloved Scotch, he began again. “So, that thing was coming toward me, and I couldn’t move. But... it was called away, by someone, or something else...”