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Developing story

Hanging The Night Owls

I waited for him at Macy's under a nauseous sun shining through a dirty skylight. The mall was only open for a few hours that day, and he'd meet Paul there so they could find something to do. But Paul had grown increasingly careless regarding this arrangement.
The Paul I knew planned business and enjoyment without the slightest hint of spontaneity. He never got distracted from the banal and the routine. There was that fear in him: he was always in line.
I hated having to go to the food court with all those people eating under the dome,
which gave a nauseous, pine sol view of the morning sky.
Paul had been had been distributing posters of missing people to everyone who came through the place. They must have figured he was working with the police or he was some slightly off kilter . Since it was winter and this was considered strange behavior, Paul's wife had asked him to straighten things out and get Mark back to his irritable, indecisive self.
Paul (Mark had started spying on him in earnest now) would show up around 10:00am with a garbage bag and find the spot: between four couches and one automated electric chair intended for masseuse.
Another Sunday began uncomfortably, and he told Paul he wanted to go to the Rite Aid just 2 miles away to pick up some photos that had been developed.
"Sure", Paul said, filling his garbage bag with the showpieces of his ritual. But something's happened, Mark."
"What?"
"When I showed up at the mall, there was a miracle. Some documents were left for me."
"Okay. I hope it wasn't some alien's philosophical tract for men who wear sunglasses and sit in the dark most of the day, or the Mormon eggs hatching dinosaurs, or some...strange gospel?" Mark noticed his voice was hopeful, almost.
"Ha! No, nothing like that. I think I was just patient and listened and...here they are."
He handed Mark over 411 pieces of paper. The paper was slick, and there were small
photos in the center, stilled in the worn oasis that common currency enjoys after awhile. People of all ages and genders, and ornate gold lettering above their faces, MISSING.
The dates were in the future.
2030, 2029, 20--
"Someone's playing a cruel practical joke on you, man. Some little bastard
thinks you're funny. And what you do in here kinda is. You know, there've been so many days in my life I can't remember if I was ever that cruel....cruelty for cruelty's sake."
"We have to find these people before they show up on the real posters", Paul said. "Oh, Rite Aid".
Mark ran into to get them, telling Paul he'd be right out. Behind the check out counter
there was an old woman whose entire body resembled a costume head spilling on a stick. Her skin was so wrinkled they hid her slimy green eyes almost entirely, just two green peeks spinning like crags. Her eagle earrings seemed to put a disproportionate weight on her body. There was a gentle, unaffected scowl on her face.
This lady was encephalitic with blue, submarinal flesh hanging like varicose starfish flowers, or hydrangea gone pale, split in a lost hour between advanced age and the world one had aged out of. This was where a person clung desperately, moving as they were into a place akin to a train station littered with dead bats, sealed with coptic skin.
"Hello ma'am", he said cheerfully.
"Hi", she responded gravely, looking at Mark with small blue centenaries fixed to her eyes.
Those bold eyes, like a peacocks' drooling from a flypaper canvas just exposed to the fitful alterations of rain in the museum's room of lost errands, bowling balls filmed in the roll of glass panes and faces squeezed in the soak of markered DNA, rubber hemoglobin balls done up in cavernous pips, a hockey rink oasis worn in a man's ring with the passing of matchstick lunar fugues, spreading as the third eye on a bat skinned parrot, driven to the bird's injured, passing cry, its fugue melody in the candelabras piping underbelly.

2.

The next Sunday he found Paul up to the same old thing. He looked pale, and he wore pilot sunglasses with kitsch gold lining and red fur.
All the time Paul was doing this, he noticed there was something sickly and phantasmagoric about him. It even seemed like his face was rouged, or his forehead growing small noses just above his eyebrows, soot trails littering his forehead in the early morning light.
"Starry trails is what they oughta call you", he said, fearful for his friend but unable to say anything. His personality was going pretty fast, too. He had the awful sense of standing there and watching one of those shows in Vegas with a Kabuki head and a body of sitting rooms. "Want to go to Auntie Annes?"
"We have to leave here before these rituals undo us. All I can understand about the whole thing is Martha screaming for me to get out of bed, get out of bed, and that queasy evening light between the door when it's mostly shut and then this. I'm like one of those Russian dolls, half shadow and penciled beauty, seen moving and doing all those things people do but at some point a silent knock, a winding rap, makes itself heard and the colors dislodge like a watercolor puh, puh, painting...."
"You're giving yourself a lot of trouble. You always did that, but never this far. Can we go to Auntie Annes?"
Paul laughed nervously. "Yeah. I have to wipe all this off first and I'll be right back"
He couldn't help thinking to himself that this was Paul's fault. He was almost retired, had a kind wife who would put up with almost anything, and a flyer's permit. He could go and fly a helicopter anytime he wanted because he could afford to.
"There's rubber in this", he told the girl behind the counter while devouring it.
"Your friend there looks sick", the young girl replied with an even measure of concern and contempt. "As a matter of fact," she said as though it were a bit of noospheric discovery, "he's MISSING."
A gravitational hue of very specific pallor (almost as if he'd transformed into a piece of leper chalk, or a helium balloon painted with strokes of a dead clown's makeup) flooded his face.
"I'll have one hot dog", a weak and elephantine voice sounded from behind him.
The girl's slow, nearly expressionless face fixed itself like an owl on Paul's. "I'm afraid I can't do that, sir. Look", she said, handing him a sheet with all his personal details listed boldly on both columns.
In the center was not Paul at all, but a vague and indistinct image of a man with deep set eyes like serrated jewels packed in ice, leaning into the camera with a rude nose like a sausage gone bad in its soul.
"Thu, thu, that's not me. Not at all. Riiight?"
"He looks like the guy who hid behind all those liters of orange juice and scared us that time. "

"That doesn't matter, sir. The cops dropped it off this morning, and I'm a volunteer member of your search party." Her brows furrowed, as though suddenly remembering something. Pulling something out of her work uniform, it looked like an electronic candle with a small decal in the center.
"That's not me at all", Paul whispered desperately.
"Don't fuck up our buzz" the girl spat. "We uh uh we feel good about it."
"About looking for the erroneous likeness of my dead body? When you wouldn't sell me a hot dog today at this shoddy place?"
"I'll get it", she groaned. "But don't tell anyone I saw you!"
"Thank you", Paul almost wept.
"But will you sign it for me?" Her expression was puzzled, a macabre blend of wonder and gallows' humor.

2.

"There's this guy I knew years ago", I told Paul, "and he was a real weirdo."
Paul was watching his search party scour the woods. There were packs of dogs, strangers and people he didn't know well urinating into the bushes. They held pictures of him from varying times in his life, but none of them were him, or what he saw when he turned his mind over it. "It doesn't matter how people remember you", he said mutely. "I don't even know these people. I never saved an injured dog and brought it to an animal hospital. There was that one critter, though...uh.."
He was becoming less substantial, I noticed, his ribs beginning to protrude.
"All that labor to leave a good legacy, and the whole thing is an optical illusion."
"This weirdo", I continued, "he lived in the really shitty section of Detroit for awhile, at least that's what we were told. Came here because he'd gathered some witchy folks who ran an arson campaign there. Also something about orange peels eaten by his people, gold flakes digested by those dark canyons. There are photos of them that the FBI took; you can see each one in the desert, all his followers, and they have derealized, a sorta orchid death ray stare. There's one eye that's been detected, because this is a big thing, you know, it's been taken apart and apart again. One eye, mean as a cancer moon. They chased him out. All you had to do was bring him a couple of bucks or some dope and he'd fix up our clothes immediately. You know, those fancy ones we wore."
"But he had other talents. He was a psychic, so they tell me, and he was also a human database of information about people and their identities, where they came from..where they died, too. Sometimes how. He was really deep into voodoo. Easy to mistake him for some sinister person."
"This guy made a living from this shit?"
Furious for a moment, my head throbbing, I answered calmly.
"Yes".
"I certainly have nothing to lose."

3.

The stripped brick no man's land of the downtown area, the sudden dislocation of our transit from the nice, suburban habitat in which we'd grown blind and deaf to the world's sorrows, all these slow burn realizations were more difficult to endure than what lay before us.
Paul had made an error when he found the wild card, the MISSING flyer with the already dead figure who had that long nose, the one we'd seen behind the milk freezer in the supermarket. When would the police find us?
"This is a man you don't fool with", I said as we neared the building, now a vacant museum. "He's the self sufficient type."
"This weirdo", I continued, "he lived in the really shitty section of Detroit for awhile, at least that's what we were told. Came here because he'd gathered some witchy folks who ran an arson campaign there. Gold flakes digested by those flipping, armadillo canyons of darkness. They chased him out. All you had to do was bring him a couple of bucks or some dope and he'd fix up our clothes immediately. You know, those fancy ones we wore in our day, or their day, or whoever that day belonged to."
"But he had other talents. He was a psychic, so they tell me, and he was also a human database of information about people and their identities, where they came from..where they died, too. Sometimes how. He was real deep into voodoo. Easy to mistake him for some sinister person."
"This guy made a living from this shit?"
Furious for a moment, my head throbbing, I answered calmly.
"Yes".
"I certainly have nothing to lose."

3.

The stripped brick no man's land of the downtown area, the dislocation of our transit from the nice, suburban habitat in which we'd grown blind and deaf to the world's sorrows, all these slow burn realizations were more difficult to endure than what lay before us.
Paul had made an error when he found the wild card, the MISSING flyer with the already dead figure who had that long nose, the one we'd seen behind the milk freezer in the supermarket. When would the police find us?
"This is a man you don't fool with", I said as we neared the building in a banged up taxi, now a vacant museum.
I knew this man was still alive the same way one might be peripherally aware of moons in the eyes of a hanging man on the canyon's edge where darkness slips and slops like jeweled armadillos or the bitten ivory fingertips the wreath of an Eleusinian Queen wound with coil and fur, fire alarm nose, eating the micro easels in a moth's wings. More likely the greaser walking in a blizzard in 1973 in five parallax reflections, his boot's heel sinking in the floodlit estuaries of the moon's screaming circus balls.
"There's that man being carried back and forth", I said. "How sad is this kind of thing sometimes, though I'll never see the like of it again."
There was a storm, and on the pavement, a man, entirely wooden with starfish attached to each palm, stood in a classical brown suit and spun. The starfish were panels that opened his huge hands, a hickory depth, like the silence of oars and clocks, or the quarter's silence in the beggar's palms, this was shattered by the emergence, slow and serpentine, of a humpbacked thing hanging from the man's arm.
"Hi", it squeaked, splitting the sedate aesthetic atmosphere and reminding us quickly that rivers are sometimes guarded by people and things that have bad intentions regarding their contents.
"My friend nuh, nuh, nuh needs to talk to you", I said, the burning smell and like a moving brush fire, peeled my clear vision away like he was a breathing onion. "Dealing with this guy is like knowing for the first time you are seen by others and not yourself, and of course in this moment there's a primordial space that's scalded, one of the million demises entombed within us."
"Do I need an umbrella?"
"Let's go", the steely metallic voice sounded.
Paul's legs were locking up. They'd walked a few miles now and then a few more and a yellow light was growing from the nucleus of this no nothing part of town he'd only joked about.
He'd gotten a make on his companion. His head snaked like a turtle's maldigested peanut, and he wore a green gown with fake, dislocated copper teeth. A shower curtain was wrapped above his head like a towel.
"When does this end?" Paul groaned, immediately cut off by the thing beside him, animated hands, like signatures or insignias, held a jagged clump of metal to its throat.
mmmm"Give me the poster." A small, gnarled hand composed of bark shot out of the darkness. "And give me your bus fare!!!!"
Feeling less than substantial, walking on his ankles, almost, he could think of nothing else to do but give this pair of eyes staring into the dark his last fifty cents.
"Everything burns in the distance", it squeaked, the inflection of its voice a mockery of what it was itself expressing. "Go inside!", it shrieked, pointing to a small dark green door leading into a decrepit church. The silence, the chambers of sound were desolate, and Paul had meditated more than once; silence could be good. Not here. There were at least 40 couches torn with rats and covered with plastic sheets and tinfoil. Store mannequins lay underneath them. They stank.
It's face was directly level to his, each wrinkle on its face. The voice changed in a quiet monotone. "Where did you find them?"
"The posters fell from a broken window in the mall one morning, up near the dome....why? "
It frowned. Its' sunken eyes looked like sea sick moons, turning and turning. "Fine. Don't meddle with any of this ever again. Don't come here. Don't come back. If you do, you'll find me, but not in the same way."
It's head was perfectly cylindrical but verging on the eggheaded side. Paul had the sensation of staring into a camera flash just about to occur.
He was filled with a cruel hope. He might escape, but they'd suck him in again, like they'd already done. Or were doing. The door wouldn't open, and outside he could hear men fighting and beating one another and see ossuaries of flame.
A giggling laughter dug at the place's sanctity. The posters began to fall, one by one, and something moved inside one of them. He could feel the pair of eyes on his back. An animal cacophony began, or a choral opera of animals blended together, and blue bodies crawled from the infinite number of couches. They all had the same look: corpselike, blue, covered with torn bits of paper. They were all missing, only not anymore.
This was when I busted in the door with my plague doctor mask and relieved Paul of his fate. The thing nodded at me casually, and they'd only half gotten Paul by the time I fell into an ecstatic dance with them, their black eyes homesick, sated on rarely permitted pleasures disallowed the living, or only in strange hours.

Editing stage: 
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