I took a sip of the tea to distract myself. I had never much cared for tea, and this didn’t change my opinion of the burnt water. I couldn’t ask Aura any of the questions I desperately wanted to without causing a scene, so I sat waiting for someone else to talk.
Ask him about it.
That wasn’t going to happen. The man looked perfectly normal, at least for a man who lived alone in a cabin and claimed to be the last surviving human on whatever planet/reality I currently occupied. As I took another bitter sip, I saw him looking at me with piercing eyes. I was going to have to speak first.
“I’m not from around here,” I said. Lame, as always.
The man nodded and waited for me to continue.
“I come in peace.” I smiled awkwardly.
Anytime now, Milton. Let’s thank the man for the drink and get out of here. Seriously, that thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don’t know if it’s more spider or snake, but it’s just wrong. It keeps looking at me.
The man blank stare unnerved me. It forced me to keep talking, just so I wouldn’t have to keep suffering beneath his silence. “So, what’s it like here, living alone?”
The man blinked and straightened himself. His lip quivered somewhere between a smile of triumph and fear. “There it is,” he said softly. He set down his cup. “You know I am not alone. Let’s just begin there.”
“I–why do you say that?” I spluttered.
“Don’t,” he said harshly. “You are all of the same kind. You come to convince me. You want me. I know you are here to take his place. I will not exchange him for another. He….” The man searched for something with his eyes, something he did not find. “He is my friend.”
“Of course,” I said.
Now say you’re going to leave. He doesn’t want you. Just stand up and walk away.
But I couldn’t. There was something strange–okay, a lot strange–about this, and the man seemed harmless enough. He wanted to talk. I had been whisked away from my life and set down in this place, near this lonely cabin. It was hard not to see it as necessary that I stop here and do what I could.
“What’s you name?” I asked.
Such an ordinary name. “What is his name?”
“What is hers?”
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully, starting to wish I’d listened to Aura’s advice. “Why are there no men here?”
“They have gone. They have left me. Some came, claiming to be men, but they were suits worn by the storm and the flame. I resisted them and drove them away. Then one came to me and spoke softly to me. He promised to keep me and protect me. And now you have come, the first to challenge him.”
“But where did the men go?”
John closed his eyes. “Where do all men go? Into the earth, from whence they came.”