Dez thumbed up the volume on the iPod, but still couldn't drown him out. It had been a long day in a hot, greasy, loud restaurant kitchen. Two stops left. What a pain in the ass the guy was. Every night for the last week he'd gotten on with Dez and sat behind him, mumbling and babbling. The bus lurched to a stop, let a few people on, let a few off, then rumbled on and finally halted at Dez's stop. He stepped off and stood in the lee of the shelter to light a cigarette. The wind was sharp and cold, cutting right through the black-and-white checkered chef pants and hooded sweatshirt.
“Not yet, not yet...no sir, I don't rightly know where he's at...who's there? It ain't me, no no no...” Dez glanced over his shoulder, sighed in irritation at the sight of the old man, a few feet behind him. The old man wore several layers of clothes: tattered, stained sweatpants under ripped, baggy jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, flannel shirts, an old army jacket with the name “Orson” stitched on the left breast, two purple heart medals on the right. He had a battered army rucksack on his back and untied combat boots on his feet. He stumbled closer to where Dez stood, bumped against him, smelling so strongly of liquor that Dez felt queasy
“Gotta smoke, buddy?” The old man tipped sideways, caught himself against the enclosure. The hood of his sweatshirt fell back and revealed a wrinkled, weather-beaten, scraggle-bearded white face wearing dollar-store black sunglasses. Dez fumbled in his pocket for his pack, pulled out two. The old man snatched them, stuck one his lips, the other in his coat pocket. “Thanks, pal...smoke 'em if you got em...” the old man mumbled around the cigarette as Dez lit it. “Don't let 'em catch you nappin', boys, they'll drop you quick as that...them bastards are sneaky...they'll pop you drop you smoke you while you're smokin'...watch your left, got some Charlie comin'...” he kept a steady stream of words flowing even as he inhaled and blew smoke from his nose.
There was something about the old veteran, though, that had Dez's fine hairs standing on end. He could feel the old man's eyes on him, a steady, searing, lucid gaze palpable through the sunglasses that he wore despite full night around them. Orson smoked slowly, savoring it, cupping the cigarette in his hand, hunching over it greedily.
“Your time has come, Dez Marlowe.” Orson's voice was suddenly sober, steady and stentorian. “The Other-natured seek their own.” As he spoke, Orson seemed to swell, to gain muscle and stature, becoming brawny and ram-rod straight and rigid and noble. The words he spoke echoed, reverberated in Dez's chest, in his brain, in his spine. “We will find you, always find you, wherever you may flee...” Orson's eyes became visible through the tinted plastic lenses, glowing blue like lightning, like fire. Luminous and bright, Orson's eyes were like miniature stars, emitting such heat that the plastic sunglasses on Orson's face were melting, softening into liquid and dripping down his face in rivulets of black magma, then burst into flames, a brief flare-up that died instantly, leaving the wrinkled leather face bare. Dez felt fear and panic bubble into his blood and course through him, and he stumbled backward, bumped against the back wall of the bus-stop shelter.
“You can't get away, Dez Marlowe,” Orson said, his words sepulchral and echoing through dimensions. He took a single step towards Dez and reached out a hand that wore fingerless gloves, grasped him by the shoulder in a grip so fierce that Dez fell to his knees hissing and moaning in agony. Waves of heat pulsed through Dez, singeing his essence, his identity and soul. “Don't fight it, boy. I'm setting you free. Let go.” Dez realized he had been holding on to something, desperately clinging to his death-grip on reality, and now that was being scorched away; he had been cleaving tenaciously to it for so long now, for an eternity, and Orson—whatever he was—had ignited it and Dez knew he had to let it go. Dez sucked in a breath of cold November night air and gave in. Seconds passed but the pain and searing heat inside him didn't fade, but blazed even hotter.
“No more...please..” Dez pleaded, weakly.
“Look at me,” Orson commanded. Dez obeyed, unable to resist. Orson stood over him, no longer gripping him now but holding him up gently. Only it wasn't Orson anymore, but a man-like creature, a fearsome thing of flames and smoke, writhing and flickering and shifting from visibility to invisibility, through dimensions of which humankind had no conception, taller than skyscrapers.
“What are you?” Dez asked.
The thing smiled, spoke in Orson's voice. “I am a Djinn.”
“A...djinn? Like a genie?”
“Pfah!” He—it—spat in disgust. “A thing of stories and silly games. I do not live in bottles and I do not grant wishes...not as you might think. I grant deepest desires, unspoken needs. This is your unvoiced wish, granted.”
With that, the Djinn named Orson burst alight, consumed by hungry blue flames until nothing was left but the bag-wrapped bottle of booze on the bench. Dez pulled himself onto the bench, took the bottle and drank, discovered not beer or wine but some exotic spirit tasting of honey and sunlight and starsong, soothing his soul. Ambrosia, came Orson's voice in Dez's head, drink it.
Dez drank. Some barrier within him was gone. Something inside him had been let loose, and Dez had no idea what it was.