I remember the air of the bar, thick and stuffy, a constant among the varied people. Smoke from the other side of the bar drifted over boundaries to mingle with the common people. I sat at the bar, order a drink, and I waited.
I didn’t wait long. He slid onto the stool next to me, slapping down unseen change and mumbling something to the bartender. He let out a long, exhausted sigh, a sigh filtered through decayed lungs, whiskey saturated mouth, and an unwashed beard.
“Life is shit.”
I nodded. He didn’t look up, but somehow he understood my response and continued.
“You drag yourself out of bed every day to make appearances. It’s all about making appearances. That’s what it is. You make appearances to your wife to prove that you’re worthy of her. You make appearances to your boss to prove that he should keep paying you. You make appearances to everyone to prove that you should stay alive.”
He turned to me. I saw that the skin of his left eyebrow had furthered its descent down over his eye since the last time we spoke. “That’s all this is. Proving to everyone that you deserve to stay alive. It’s sickening. Just sickening.”
He turned back as the bartender left him his drink. “But we do it. Every damn day.” He takes a poignant sip.
“What brings you out today, Harrison?” I asked. I already knew, but I had to make him say it.
“Ostracization,” he said. “I have been banished from my tribe, until such a time I can learn to cooperate with the locals. And now, I must fend for myself in the jungle.”
“You were fired?”
“Have you ever considered how frightening it is that we all willing put our lives into the hands of others? Of people who don’t even give a damn?”
I stared at my stool. He was rambling again.
“We trust people to give us the money we need to survive. We trust people to use weapons and authority to save our lives. We trust people to pass laws that don’t harm us. People. All people, just like you and me. Terrifying. And we do it because we don’t have any other choice.”
“You’ve been fired several times, Harrison.”
“They can’t handle a man who isn’t afraid to stand up for who he IS!” he shouts, leaning toward me. Flecks of alcoholic spittle land on my face.
“Harrison…” I said, wiping my face with a napkin. “This is getting ridiculous. Look at you, you’re broke, your wife’s living with her parents, I’m the only one left here willing to pick up your tab. As your friend, I’m telling you this out of love: get it together.”
“Men like you, young men, you’ve all had the freedom beaten out of you. You’ve all been taught to be reasonable with your lives. To not question anything.”
“Harrison, you’re no sage.”
“You know what Plato did? He questioned things. He went around everywhere asking questions. And you know what they did to him? They killed him. Fed him poison until he couldn’t walk.”
“That was Socrates, Harrison.”
“You’re not listening. None of you listen. You’ve given up all your freedom. You went up and willingly gave Hermes back your fire. Oh, it wasn’t Hermes who gave men fire, it was Persephone. I know, that’s what you’re thinking, I see your damn mouth. Because being pedantic is your only defense against what I’m saying, against the truth.”
He slammed down his now empty glass. I stared at the floor. It was covered in scratches and dust, just like Harrison’s voice. I wanted to say that I understood, I wanted to admit that what he spoke of were the fears that kept me awake late into the night. But I did not want to be this sad sack of a creature that sat next to me, wheezing alcohol through his unkempt beard.
The stool scratched along the floor as Harrison stood, off balance. He started walking to the door.
“I’m going for a walk.”
At this, I stood, reaching for him.
“Harrison, no. They haven’t sounded the second alarm yet. We can’t go out.”
He slapped my hand away.
“I’m not putting my freedom in the hands of these assholes anymore,” he growled. “I am my own man, and it’s the world that has to accept what this means, not me.”
Before I could speak again, he had gone out the bar. The other bar patrons had already gathered themselves by the windows, watching this man drunkenly stumble out in the empty city. He took no more than five steps before a shadow stretched over him, and for one moment we could see the dragon swoop down, its claws wrapping around Harrison’s body, and then they were both gone.
Harrison was right. Life is shit.