Not a usual visit to the café for Chad.
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Chad whirled around. A dark ﬂying object struck him in the head and knocked him back. The thing didn’t fall away, but fastened itself to his temple as he reeled. Chad clawed at it in vain. He could feel the blood rushing to his head as veins swelled around the strange object. For a brief moment, Chad’s arms went hard and green. Then he sank slowly to the ground and lost all consciousness.
A wall of cold air met Chad. It tingled at his temples as he stepped off the hot street and into the café, all but bumping into a little grandma just inside. “Oh! Let me get that for you,” he said, stepping back and holding the door open.
The woman looked up from her full drink carrier and smiled. “Thank you!” she said, eyes sparkling. “Gentlemen are so scarce these days.”
Chad smiled back. “Aw, gosh. Least I could do.” He pointed at her drinks. “Besides, you’ve got your hands full.”
She laughed, that fragile heartwarming sound only old women make. “So I have!” She made her way through the door a sight slower then she had in her prime. “What’s your name, young man?”
“Well hello, Chad!” She turned to him, out of the doorway now. “My name is Margaret, but my friends call me Marge.” A merry little wink. “Boys like you revive my hope that this world might not always be the crazy awful place it has become.” She looked earnestly into his eyes. “You have a wonderful day, Chad. May the Power That Is smile on you.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Chad had no idea who or what this power was that she referred to.
“Good day, now,” she said. Turning, Margaret headed off down the street.
For a moment, frozen in time, Chad gazed after her. A strange sensation had suddenly come over him, a feeling like he had met her before. Not déjà vu. Something else. Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone, a spirit on the wind. “What a nice old lady,” Chad said to himself as he entered the café.
“I thought so,” said a voice to his left, distinctly British.
Chad looked. Nothing but an empty table. A strange chill slithered down the back of his neck, and this time it wasn’t the AC. He felt a gloved hand on his arm, and somehow even through the glove the touch was icy and electric. Chad jerked his head around, reflexively clenching his fist.
A man dressed in extravagant old-fashioned clothes stood beside him. His odd getup immediately brought to mind an illustrious 16-century theater, but with a dark contemporary influence. The man doffed his elegant top hat and bowed. He wore a mask of some sort, and as he raised himself Chad got a better look. It was a costume mask, like you might see at a masquerade, sprinkled with a few dark-colored rhinestones and trimmed with little exotic feathers.
You must be lost, buddy, Chad thought, relaxing a little. “Did you need something?” he asked.
“Simply a passing remark, my good fellow,” said the man with a smirk, replacing his hat. “Nothing more.”
“Huh,” said Chad, thinking out loud. “Then why’d you grab my arm?”
“I spoke to you and you looked elsewhere.”
“Okay.” Chad inspected the masked man before him. “That seems fair, but not everyone likes being touched by strangers.” Chad sensed a weird presence about this man, a probing energy that felt paranormal. “Especially unawares and from behind.”
“You are quite right” said the man. He removed his hat again, placing it over his heart. “My sincerest apologies.” He bowed another little bow. Something in the man’s inky eyes caught Chad’s attention—a peculiar glint deep within, like moonlight catching on a secret buried in an uncanny dark.
“It’s alright.” Chad replied.
“Well, if that’s settled, then I shall introduce myself.” The man made a dramatic gesture indicating himself. “My name is—” He stopped, like an actor in a play who suddenly finds he has forgotten his line. For a fleeting moment he stared into Chad’s eyes, and to Chad it felt uncomfortably like he was peering into his soul. “Well, you may call me Player.” The stranger smiled mysteriously. “The Masked Player.”