For some strange reason, all important conversations I have now seem to take place in IHOP.
Case in point: yesterday was cold and wet and rainy. Almost immediately after I stepped outside, my shoes and socks were soaked through. Coming back from work, I decided to take a break from the rain and wander the aisles of the grocery store.
I packet of pasta and a bagful of frozen dinners later, I left. And next to the store's sliding doors was sitting a homeless girl and her dog. She had a very baggy jacket on and a large cap and was holding out a Styrofoam cup. I dropped all my change into it and started to walk away.
"You've got that look, you know," I heard her say behind me. I stopped and turned back. "Like you're trapped. And you are. Trapped." She was rolling one of my quarters through her fingers, as if to see it was real. "You're in one of his stories now."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled up at me. "Let me guess...a blog, right? Probably started by posting some of your crappy poetry. Then you saw something...or someone saw you. Am I right?" I didn't say anything for a few seconds, so she said, "I'm not a hallucination, you know. Not gonna scare you by bleeding from the eyes or shouting cryptic messages. I can tell you stuff, though. Stuff you're gonna want to know."
"Like what?" I asked.
She smiled again. "First, a warm meal somewhere away from all this fuckin' rain."
Thus: IHOP. It was close, it was open, and they didn't mind the girl's dog. "Oh, Opus is allowed anywhere," she said, anticipating my question. "He's been following me around for years. I think he's he's a German shepherd or something. Never good with identifying breed."
"What's your name?"
"Agnes," she said before taking a gulp of coffee. "Agnes Day."
I chuckled a bit. "Why can't meet girls these days with normal names?"
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Words are powerful, names moreso. You think you know his real name?"
"The Slender Man?" I almost whispered it.
"No, the fuckin' Easter bunny. Yes, the Slender Man. That's not his real name, that's just the name we gave him. Still has some power, though, it's been used so often. So you should cut it down, make it weaker. Call him Slendy or Slendra or whatever. Call him something else."
"The Skinny Bastard," I said.
"You've read about the cant," she said. "Good. Secret languages, hidden symbols, these things have power too." As the waitress delivered our food, she continued, "Don't know why exactly. Maybe it's because he can't speak, so doesn't bother trying to decipher shit. Or maybe he can speak and just lets us play these games to amuse himself." She starting digging in to her scrambled eggs.
"You said I was trapped in a story."
"One of his stories, yes," she said. "There are all types. Runners, rebels, radicals. I'm a runner, myself. Starting running three years ago, haven't stopped." She started on the hash browns.
"Which one am I?"
She stopped shoving food into her mouth and looked at me, still chewing thoughtfully. "Been watching you. You don't look people in the face, you look at your feet when you walk. You don't hear people. You try not to notice things." She took another drink of coffee. "You're a receiver."
"I've heard that before," I said. "What does it mean?"
"What am I, the exposition fairy?" She started scraping the food around her plate with her fork, moving it into larger piles. "You're tuned into the same frequency as he is, you see. Don't know why, some people just are."
"I'm...tuned in? I'm seeing the same things he is?"
"No. Not the same things. You'd probably go crazy if you did that." She took off her cap and a shock of black hair fell down to her shoulders. She started scratching her dog's chin and fed him some hash browns. "It's like you see things about him. For him. It's like there's a radio somewhere and it's sending out a message for him, but you're getting it also." She took another sip of coffee. "Met a girl in Texas who was a receiver. She said sometimes it was really bad. Entire days where everybody she met started just screeching at her."
"How did she handle it?"
"She didn't. Took her dad's .45 to the temple one day. Goodbye, cruel world." She gave another piece of hash brown to Opus.
I reached out to pet Opus and said, "I don't want to do that. Can you help me?"
She looked me in the eyes and said, "Long as you keep buying me meals, I'll help."
So I made a new friend. A new homeless friend who is currently sleeping in my bathtub (Opus is sleeping right on top of her, too). For some strange reason, this is actual comforting to me. Even if I'm crazy, at least I'm not alone.