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the man cometh

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The old man took a drag on his limp cigarette and blew the smoke into the vacancy of his decrepit booth, enjoying the last moments of quiet before the horde passed through. He turned himself west, toward the sole window of his rotting booth, and counted the seconds before the sole desert traveler broke the perfect desert horizon. Like clockwork, the small black dot emerged from the setting sun, and the old men walked out to greet them.
Exiting the safety of his booth to the small road that narrowed from the grand interstate, he took one more tarry inhale from his considerably diminished cigarette before flicking it into the nearby gutter. Straightening his back and clearing his throat, he waited as the large Greyhound bus, the desert caravan that brought sporadic drops of old blood into the shriveled desert, came to a slow stop before him.
This day, however, was different. When the bus door initially opened, there was no movement. Strange, the usual crowd was always ever so eager to exit the poorly ventilated bus. Assuming the bus was empty, the old man all but shrugged off the bus’s eerie emptiness and was about to return to his dilapidated booth when a pair of feet appeared below the door. They were clad in open toe sandals, the skin grimy and the fabric of the shoes faded from sun and rain. As the bus door began its slow close, the traveler turned and walked away from the old man and his shack. The old man considered chasing him down, giving him the spiel that he had given hundreds of times, but instead he just stood there and watched the tourist walk down the street, towards the main drag of town.
Cynthia inhaled deeply, whispered a quick prayer, and reached for the flyswatter ever so deliberately. The insect that had been tormenting her for the past two days was crawling across her ancient computer monitor, occasionally rubbing its limbs together as if to mock the hotel attendant it had been tormenting. Striking forward as fast as her thin, old arms would allow, the cheap plastic collided with the glass of the computer screen. There was a loud bang, a moment of quiet, and the high-pitched buzz of wings. Dammit, the little fiend was still alive.
Cynthia fell back exhausted, her strength drained by a simple housefly. Not as young as I used to be, she thought, oblivious to the oxymoron her statement was. She sighed, and opening the only cabinet on her rickety desk, reached for the small metal flask that promised salvation. Popping the cap and smelling the strong scent that glided up, she brought the carafe to her lips and was about to down the contents in one gulp when the door creaked open. Whispering a silent curse, she dropped the bottle back in the cabinet and turned to smile at the incoming hotel patron.
The figure that entered through the doorway was large, there was no denying, but moved with a grace and deliberate stride that belonged to a man half his age and weight. A pair of discount sunglasses and a weathered baseball cap whose logo had long ago faded away obstructed his face, but the slight curve of his lips showed just enough confidence to make the lovely clerk take note. His rotund physique was highlighted by the tight fitting Hawaiian shirt that clung to his large belly and a pair of shorts that only covered half his thigh, leaving little to the imagination. The only thing more bizarre then his clothing was the fact that, despite his utter lack of fashion sense, the man did not look ridiculous. In fact, despite the utter absurdity of the man’s clothing combined with his large physicality, Cynthia couldn’t help but want the traveler who had walked through her door. Maybe it was the strut he possessed walking up to the desk. Maybe it was the fact that, when he spoke, the voice passed through Cynthia’s ears like butter through light mashed potatoes, and in that moment the request for a hotel room could easily have been mistaken for a message from god. The old woman was at a loss for words, and could only stare up at the man in sheer disbelief that such a perfect being had wandered into her hotel. When she had snapped out of her out-of-body stupor, she reached for the nearest room key and placed them into the man’s hands, which were soft as silk despite the obvious age of his body. The man gave the woman a small wink and turned to leave. Before he could exit the door, the clerk managed to claw her way back to consciousness and asked the man his name. He turned his said slightly. McAlister. Alistair McAlister.
The desert weather was fickle, and by the time the bus attendant had resumed smoking his cigarettes and the hotel attendant’s heart had returned to its normal beat the wasteland had gone from blisteringly hot to bitingly cold. The town was dead, and the lack of any hungry travelers left the single restaurant vacant. Miguel’s, as it was referred to by the townies to compensate for the fact that the sole identifier for the building was a small sign on the door reading MEXICAN, was a messy little dive that functioned as a cafeteria for the nearby hotel. The food was greasy and exotic, dripping with cheese and unidentifiable sauces from south of the border that were sure to haunt the bowels of tourists with adventurous tongues. The diner’s namesake, Miguel, was the proprietor, chef, and waiter. A squat little man with a thick accent and a weathered, unshaven face that stood as testament to his eventful life, the eatery owner was notorious as the local bard who loved to pester world-weary travelers with his tall tales and accounts of high adventure he claimed to have participated in. Many a desert wanderer had suffered through his lengthy and preposterous tales while stuffing their mouths with one bizarre dish after another.
Tonight, however, Miguel had no one to beleaguer, no drifters to (in his mind) dazzle with his escapades. The restaurant lacked a single patron, and closing time neared. Exhaling a long and gloomy sigh, Miguel stumbled sluggishly towards the door, keys in hand. However, before he could lock the door and call the night a bust, the threshold creaked open. Walking through the open entrance was a massive silhouette, a large man with the figure of an aging professional wrestler, a large belly whose grotesqueness was thrown off by uncharacteristically muscular arms and smooth, near balladic movement.
The man walked to the center of the room, under the restaurants single light source, and seated himself at the diner’s largest table. Giving a sigh of relief, he smiled up at Miguel and asked for a meal. Taken aback by the stranger’s forwardness and simple request, the business owner immediately turned tail and proceeded into the restaurant. For the first time since he was a little boy asking a kiss from his crush, Miguel seemed genuinely flustered. Usually so charismatic and comfortable, the large man had taken the words out of his mouth. Peering out of the kitchen slit at the back of the eatery, Miguel observed the peculiar specimen that had walked through his door. The man was sitting in his chair, legs crossed, chewing a toothpick with the enthusiasm and passion disproportionate to the simple activity. He had removed the cap from his head, revealing a thinning head of hair that was obviously a shadow of the fullness it once possessed.
Miguel started his stove, threw on a pan, and grabbed a pouch of tortillas from his fridge. The man had not asked for a particular item, just a meal, so there was no need to get fancy. Fry up a few tortillas, get out the fajita mix he had prepared, a simple supper that would save the gringo’s bowels unimaginable suffering. The food cooking, he stood at the edge of the kitchen and tried to work up the courage to speak to the man that had interrupted his boredom. Taking a deep breath and stepping out to engage his customer, he was alarmed to find that the man had vanished. In his place was a single five-dollar bill, and napkin with the words “Thank You” written in simple, neat letters.



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