Fade to Black

Is there a patron saint for writers? I took another sip of beer as I pondered my answer.

The Drunken Fiddler’s outdoor patio was roughly half full. I’d managed to commandeer a table in the back corner, next to the pub’s turn-of-the-century brick façade. The setting sun’s rays were warm, adding a golden cast to the scene. A breeze rustled the nearest trees, creating a dappled kaleidoscope of light and shadow across the patio.  A perfect summer’s evening.

Catholic mystic Francis de Sales (1567–1622) is traditionally recognized as the patron saint of writers and journalists. But for aspiring authors of my generation, crafting our first literary creations on manual carriage-and-ink-ribbon typewriters, the cartoon character Snoopy—perched atop his doghouse in defiance of gravity—seemed the more obvious choice.

A shadow loomed over my table.

I glanced up to see the mischievous face of the Younger, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Barista from the Genesis Café. The Elder peeked from behind them, waving a friendly greeting.

“The patio—always my favorite.” The Elders enthusiasm was evident as he shouldered past his companions to seat himself beside me. He folded his hands on the table, beaming a delighted smile at the world in general.

The Younger assisted the Barista into her chair and plunked himself down opposite me. “I can’t wait for autumn. Parking’s easier to find after the tourists leave.” He heaved a rueful sigh. “But once you’ve found the best pub in town …”

“Aye, there’s a wee lad who knows wot’s wot.” The Barkeep sidled over to our table, slinging a bar cloth over his shoulder. “What bevvies can I bring the lot of ye?”

Elder (puzzled, as if the answer was obvious): “Guinness.”

Younger (loftily): “La Fin du Monde Tripel.”

Barista (shuddering at the Younger’s choice): “Ward’s Hard Apple Cider, please.”

Me (hoisting my near-empty glass): “More of the same: Crannóg’s Backhand of God Stout.”

Barkeep: (mutters an incomprehensible phrase under his breath and retreats into the pub).

“Is it true what I’ve heard?” The Elder turned to the Barista. “You’ve quit your job at the Genesis Café?”

She grinned brightly. “Today was my last shift. In two weeks, we’re relocating to the Center of the Universe. I’ve been accepted into the BFA program at TMU.”

“Bachelor of Fine Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University,” the Younger stage whispered, translating for the Elder’s benefit. “The school formerly known as Ryerson.”

The Barista continued as if she hadn’t heard. “I’ve been picking away at photography classes at our local college, but my partner and I decided it’s taking too long. So, we’re diving in, head first. He’s an IT guy. Finding work won’t be hard while I’m in school.”

“An excellent strategy; I’m sure you’ll do well.” The Elder’s words sounded like a benediction. “Still, I’m sorry to see you leave. The Genesis won’t be the same without you.”

“Aw, thanks.” Her expression turned serious for a moment before her infectious grin won out. “It’s been a great place to work, but that season’s done. You can’t live in the past, or so everyone tells me. It’s time for the next chapter.”

The Barkeep reappeared, distributing our drinks with a dramatic flourish. He tucked the serving tray under his arm and sketched an awkward salute at the Younger and Elder. “This round’s on the house, gents. Just a way for me and the missus to say thanks for your patronage. Yours, too, young lady,” he hastened to add, nodding at the Barista. He waved a hand in the Elder’s direction, cutting him off. “Naw, don’t say nothing. It’s the least we could do for two men o’ the cloth, especially since ye’re no packing weapons anymore.”

With that, he spun on his heel and disappeared inside the Drunken Fiddler.

“And what about you, Robby?” The Younger rounded on me before the door closed. Neither he nor the Elder seemed inclined to comment on the Barkeep’s cryptic weapons reference. “What’s this I hear about your new adventures?”

“It’s like our creative colleague says.” I nodded at the Barista, who returned my look with a playful shrug. “It’s a new season; a writer’s transitional interlude between one genre and the next.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying you’re moving on.” The Younger’s piercing gaze caught and held mine. “After seventeen years, you’re pulling the plug.”

“A time to write, and a time to write something completely different.” I winced as the words escaped my mouth—a lame riff on Ecclesiastes and Monty Python. I hesitated, unsure how to adequately put my thoughts into words.

The Elder came to my rescue; I should’ve known he would. “There are times and seasons, my friends. Remember Jesus’ words in the third chapter of John? ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ I believe this is one of those times.”

The Younger leaned back in his chair, uncharacteristically subdued. He locked eyes with me, and I’m certain he looked a little misty. “Thanks for giving us a voice,” he said at last. He took a deep breath, gesturing to his companions. “Thanks for giving each of us a voice.”

It took me a moment to collect myself. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor. I’ll miss you guys.”

The Barista stirred, wiping away a tear, and managed a watery grin. “Give my regards to Deven.”

I stood and reached for my notebook. “I will. And—there’s no good segue for this—I think it’s time to be on my way.” I gestured with my notebook. “I’ve got a first draft in desperate need of a stylistic edit, a writer’s conference next weekend …”

The Elder held his Guinness aloft, a nostalgic twinkle in his eye. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

The rest of us clinked glasses with him, accompanied by a ragged echo of his words. “The King and His Kingdom.”

We drained our drinks in prolonged swallows. The Younger gestured at me with his empty glass, his facetious humor resurfacing. “You sure you want to drive after pounding that back?”

I laughed and gingerly placed my empty glass on the table. “I thought I’d take one last walk along the waterfront. I’ll be fine.” I looked around the circle of faces. “And you?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as they exchanged glances. As if by unspoken consent, the Elder answered on their behalf. “We thought we’d go inside for one last round of curry fries, for old time’s sake.” He tipped his hat. “Drive friendly.”

I nodded, returning his gesture. The Younger shook my hand, clapping me on the shoulder with his other hand—harder than he realized, I think. The Barista gave me a quick hug.

A final wave, and I set off down the sidewalk, not trusting myself to stay any longer. All good things … I’d gone perhaps half a block when my steps gradually slowed, and I came to a standstill in the early dusk.

I glanced over my shoulder in time to see the Younger—silhouetted in the Fiddler’s entrance—as he gallantly held the door open. The Barista and Elder made a show of accepting his chivalrous gesture as they stepped over the threshold. I could only imagine the clever one-liners they traded back and forth.

The door swung shut, abruptly cutting the light off.

To the King and His Kingdom. The Elder’s words echoed in my mind as I rounded the corner.

A moonless night descended, cloaking the deserted promenade in darkness. A chill breeze blew in over the lake, driving a murky fog before it. My ADHD brain was quick to populate the ghostly scene with veiled peril and skulking adversaries.

Right … and a foggy, moonless night is a harbinger of what, exactly? I scolded myself. This ain’t science fiction. Streetlights snapped on, but provided scant illumination. I quickened my pace.

Two figures emerged from an alley just ahead. A young man, probably in his late twenties, shadowed by a younger female companion. His clothing was dark and sturdy; she wore threadbare jeans and an oversized hoodie.

I slowed to a halt in the deserted street. “Can I help you?”

They approached with caution, footsteps silent on the cobblestone sidewalk. Their faces reflected an unsettling urgency, mingled with exhaustion. Or perhaps fear.

“I’m Amos Morgan.” The young man’s voice was raspy. His eyes darted back and forth, scanning the street as if he feared we were under surveillance. “This is Aubrey. Aubrey Carter.”

Aubrey stepped into the streetlight’s hazy circle, her dark eyes haunted. She brushed a strand of hair from her face with a fire-scarred hand. “We’ve got a story to tell ...”

[fade to black]

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