"Glad to see this seat isn't taken!"
I looked up suddenly to find myself blinking at the face of a man who looked the love child of Vincent Price and Charles Addams. The heavy fur coat that he was wearing reminded me of the few pictures that I had seen of Edward Gorey in his time, and it struck me as odd that a person who reminded me of all three childhood heroes should be grinning back at me over the little wooden table. I didn't recall him sitting down at any point. It was as though he had simply always been sitting there, unnoticed, until he chose to call attention to himself. Given what I came to later believe, perhaps that was as an accurate a description that there could ever be. I just didn't know it yet.
Puzzled, I looked first left and then right, taking in a view of the coffee shop. It was a rare place. Independently owned and successful, but you had to know it was there. It was very Boheme. Library books filled with a mishmash of literature, a couple tables dedicated to chess and collective card games, the obligatory cat basking in the light of the mid-morning sun against all sanitary and health-code laws, college students dodging classes... Nothing seemed out of place to me. And yet there was this elderly man sitting happily before with every indication that he believed I was expecting him.
"The other seat at this table!" And he rapped it sharply twice with one set of knuckles. I remember that his knuckles were thick and knobby, as though he had spent a lifetime striking things. "I said it was good that that it's empty. Otherwise it would be harder to talk with you. Mind you, it would have been easy enough to make sure that it was empty beforehand, but I prefer to let free-will and chance have their little ways."
I tried digesting what he said. It didn't work. After a moment's thought, I still couldn't make sense of him. The crossword that I had been working on before he interrupted me, now that made sense! So did the fact that my coffee was probably getting cold. In some effort to gain control of the situation, I made a more concrete attempt to figure out why he was sitting there.
"Do I know you?" Feeling that it was an inadequate start, I pressed on. "Only I was sort of looking forward to-"
"Having some time to yourself, yes, I know." My uninvited guest reached out and lifted a mug that I had failed to notice earlier as well. With a hearty gulp, the old man downed half of the dark contents and gave off a sigh of contentment. "Plants were such a good idea." He raised an eyebrow and looked back towards me again. "Suffice to say, you knew of me. Once. And to some degree you still do. And I know you, Eric Fontaine. As much as I know anyone, at any rate. And I know that you called off from your job at the call center for a 'mental health' day, as you call it. And I thought, 'My, what a perfect time for a chat!' So here I am!"
Nervousness began to replace puzzlement. There was a bit of fear in there, too. When someone you don't know and have never seen before comes up to you, knows your name, and the fact that just two hours ago you had faked a cough over the phone to your boss? I wondered if I was being set up. I wondered if my boss had figured out that I was playing hooky right along with the college students and sent a shill to ferret me out. I wondered how fast he could run. I wondered how fast I could run!
"You." Did my voice really sound that flat? "You wanted to talk to me?"
"Oh, yes!" The elderly gentleman continued to smile broadly at me. It was starting to look like the man did nothing but smile, and that was creepier than him knowing things about me! "Everyone comes to a point like this in their lives, sometimes several times, in fact! Now and then, I like to take a more personal approach than the usual methods. It's really weird that you created the whole concept of subtly and yet need to get slapped upside the head with a brick now and then to get you attention? I had to resort to things like burning bushes and thundering voices and a bunch of other cheap tricks."
The sip the interloper took of his coffee was more mild. "Isn't this much nicer?"
Oh, great, I'm sitting with a nutcase. "You're god?" Yes, yes, my voice did sound as flat as I thought it did, but given the situation a little disbelief wasn't out of the question. That was the trouble with society. You couldn't control it or help who it was you might run into. The idea that some psycho who thought that he was a god might also have a knife or teeth capable of ripping into my flesh also occurred to me.
"Well... a god. And GOD. It gets a little hard to explain." God shook his head. "Some of it you don't have the words for and some of it... Takes a bit of time."
"Sometimes?" There was a little shrug. "It takes a lifetime."