11 | A Dark Night

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A gust of wind blew over the street with a low howling sound

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A gust of wind blew over the street with a low howling sound. A man was striding down the sidewalk with a purposeful gait, past pedestrians who paid him no heed as they went about their business. He was of medium height, and his worn overcoat sheathed his rake-thin form like bat wings. It was a pleasant day, now nearing sundown, but the man folded his arms tighter around himself as if it was anything but.

He arrived at a restaurant that looked nothing out of the ordinary. While he stood motionless next to its glass facade, a blank expression descended on his stubbled face, and his eyes turned glassy.

A minute elapsed—and another.

He came to with a start, and mopped his brow with a rough swipe of his hand. Then he entered the restaurant.

His eyes scanned the people inside. Not finding what he was seeking, he turned his attention to the corner where a small table with booth seating resided. Before he could make a move, however, a helpful waitress materialized to greet him.

"Hello, sir. Would you like to sit at this table here?" she said in a friendly voice, gesturing at a table nearby.

"No, I'll sit over there," he said brusquely, voice coarse with disuse.

He strode to his chosen spot and lowered himself onto the seat.

Soon after, the waitress arrived with the menu. "Are you waiting for someone or—?"

"I'll order later."

"Sure."

She placed the menu in front of him, threw him an odd glance and left.

The man surveyed his surroundings, eyes zipping from one table to another. He watched in disdain as a teenager took a series of photos of his meal. Then he fixated his stare on the tabletop, tracing a scratch that marred its polished sheen.

Then his long fingers reached up and scratched at his chin, causing flakes of dry skin to fall down like dust.

A few minutes later, a woman entered the restaurant.

She was clad in a simple sweater over a button-down shirt, and her short, brown hair looked like it could use some pampering. As her bespectacled eyes locked on to him, he straightened up.

Without missing a beat, she walked over and sat down in front of him. "Hey, Novak, are you...okay?"

"Still sane," he said wearily.

"Good. How bad is it now?"

"Worse than before. Must be the same for you?"

She leaned back with a sigh. "It couldn't be helped."

He shook his head and massaged his temples.

The waitress arrived at their table, lips stretched into a perfunctory smile. "Good evening. Would you like to order now?"

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