• |||After being, for the most part, alone for the past few years, it was odd having that man become a part of my life so suddenly.
    |||I remember how we met, that day at the beach. He was just sitting there by himself on the sand, dressed in a white button up shirt and blue denim jeans, faded as though they’d been through the washer hundreds of times. Really, it was hard to miss him– among the other beachgoers, who all sported some sort of swim wear, he stuck out like a sore thumb. At first I wasn’t really paying him much attention, as I was too busy running about collecting shark teeth.
    |||At one point, though, when my hunt brought me past him, he spoke up. “Y’know, if you keep running around like that, you’ll miss the little details.”
    |||With a simple hand gesture, he motioned to a small patch of broken shells and sediment near him. “You’ll pass life by, and you won’t realize what you’ve lost until it’s too late to reclaim it.”
    |||To my surprise, there were three shark teeth in that single spot. I looked up at him, faintly recognizing him from other places around town. Sometimes he’d be lounging around outside one of the cafes. Other times would see him sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against one of the lampposts (and occasionally being shooed away by a police officer). A lot of rumours had been buzzing through town about him, as he showed up everywhere, yet nobody actually knew who he was. Some said he was running from something, whether it was a bad record in another place, or a girl who just wouldn’t leave him alone. Others thought he was just a bum, wandering about without any real place to stay. Whatever the case, he didn’t seem like a dangerous guy, so nobody gave much thought to his presence besides the occasional gossip.
    |||“See what I mean?” he said, giving a small smile.
    |||I sat down next to him, sand clinging to my still dripping legs. I didn’t have anything or anybody to go back to at the moment, and from the looks of it, neither did he, so I decided to give him some company.
    |||“Are you one of those guys who just doles out philosophy to everyone he sees?” I asked.
    |||“Nah... I give it when I feel it’s needed.”
    |||“So you thought I needed it?”
    |||“Whenever I see you in town, you’re always running. What’s the constant rush about?”
    |||“Well... ever since my parents died, I’ve been living by myself, and I always have to get to school and work on time, and I guess I’ve just gotten used to running everywhere...”
    |||He frowned. “You don’t look any older than sixteen. How long have you been caring for yourself?”
    |||I thought about it a bit, counting fingers in my head. “About... two years.”
    |||“That’s no way for someone your age to live...” He sighed. “But it seems like you’re doing a good job. I can barely take care of myself, and I’m 22.” A sheepish smile appeared on his face.
    |||“Do you live alone, too? I’ve noticed you hanging around town by yourself... do you even have a house?” I asked.
    |||“Mmmhmm.” came his agreement. “I’ve been doing it for a while now. My parents disappeared years ago. Haven’t gotten involved with anyone relationship-wise, and I don’t even have any pets. Usually I just keep to myself, so I don’t have anyone I’m really close to.”
    |||“But isn’t that lonely?” I asked.
    |||“You get used to it.”
    |||“So you’re like a bum, then...”
    |||He stared at me for a second before chuckling. “Sort of... I have a house, though, so it’s not like I’m homeless. It’s a run-down building in the middle of town. Nobody even knows I live there. It’s not the best place, but it works for right now, so...”
    |||“You mean the place that used to belong to that John Sanders guy?”
    |||“I don’t know. It was abandoned when I got here...”
    |||“Oh. There’s a rumour that it’s haunted or something...” I said.
    |||“Nah. Just bumps and creaks, nothing weird about it.”
    |||“So... where did you come from, anyway?”
    |||“I used to live a few miles off the southeastern coast of Japan.”
    |||I couldn’t help but giggle. The man didn’t look the slightest bit Asian at all, nor did he have any sort of accent. The fact that he seemed to be lying to make himself sound more interesting than he really was had me smiling.
    |||“Really? That’s amazing.” I remarked, playing along. “I’ve lived in this town all my life. It’s kind of boring, but it’s peaceful.” It was then that I thought of something else to ask. “Say, what made you move here?”
    |||He just sat there thinking for a moment, before replying, “I came over here with somebody.”
    |||“But I thought you said you didn’t have any friends or anything.”
    |||“He was sort of an acquaintance. Doesn’t matter, he’s dead now.”
    |||I looked down, silent. Dead...? I hadn't meant to...
    |||He must’ve sensed that I felt guilty about making him bring it up, though. “Don’t worry about it, it’s in the past and I’ve gotten over it.”
    |||We talked a little while longer, about nothing in particular. Once the sun had begun to set, however, I felt I needed to get going. I rose to my feet, looking down at him. “I need to go now. It’s getting dark.”
    |||He looked up at me. “Then have a nice night.” he said with a smile.
    |||“But before I go... I never got your name.”
    |||The name definitely sounded foreign, or at least very inventive. I figured he probably made it up to go along with his story about being from Asia. The thought of his real name being something boring like ‘Bill’ or ‘Fred’ was funny to entertain, and after giving him my own name in exchange, I brushed the sand off my skin and strode back to that little apartment I called home.
    |||The next day, after a boring several hours of school, I found myself wandering into town, and eventually wound up on the doorstep of that old house, its paint peeling in places, one of the windows cracked, the door pocketed and marred. I knocked a few times, not expecting anybody to answer knowing the inhabitant’s drifting habits, but to my surprise, that odd man from the beach with his messy blond hair was standing in the doorway, staring at me, his eyes looking tired.
    |||“Oh, it’s you.” he said with a yawn.
    |||“I-I’m sorry.” I stuttered, stepping back. “I didn’t mean to wake you up, uh, I just...”
    |||“Just what?” he asked, his features slowly becoming more awake. “Wanted to see me?”
    |||“Yeah, I guess...” I mumbled, looking away embarrassed.
    |||He grinned, his grey eyes almost taking on colour with how bright they seemed to become. “You like coffee?”
    |||I nodded.
    |||“Wait here.” he said, holding up his index finger, then shutting the door.
    |||A few moments later, he came back out onto the doorstep in a pair of old-looking, ripped black pants and a brown shirt that seemed a little big for him. “Alright, then.”
    |||Together, we made our way to the small coffee house down the road, and sat outside, drinking coffee and talking.
    |||“How can you drink it black?” he asked, staring down at my cup, his faint reflection appearing in the liquid’s surface. “Girls are supposed to like sweet things, aren’t they?”
    |||“Then why are you the one using creamer and sugar?” I retorted, pointing to his own cup.
    |||He frowned. “You can’t point that out, that’s no fair.”
    |||The both of us couldn’t help but laugh. It was kind of strange, sitting down and talking to somebody without being forced to, but it was a good sort of strange, especially considering that Muen probably felt the same way. The both of us had been alone for a while, and now finally we had both found somebody who was in the same situation.
    |||Over the weeks we got closer, and he almost became like a father figure to me. He always gave me advice, helped me when I needed it, and was always there to comfort me if something went wrong. He proved to be rather lazy, sleeping way more than anyone should if left to do so, taking the shortest routes possible to get to places, and sometimes even betraying his own laziness by going out of the way to figure out the easiest method to get something done (I don’t think he ever realized it, though). He also had a few odd aspects to him, ones that he never fully explained. He always took up my offers to go to the beach or the pool, but he absolutely refused to get in the water. I discovered he had a huge tattoo of an eye on his back after trying to drop ice cubes down his shirt, the significance of which has never been revealed to me. And, oddest of all, I wasn’t allowed to visit him every other Sunday. The only explanation he gave to me was that he ‘just didn’t like doing stuff that day,’ and he refused to tell me any more than that. Strange though they were, however, I tried not to give them a lot of thought. I figured Muen probably had a reason for all of it, and I wasn’t going to question it, especially with how much he resisted explaining.
    |||“I’ve only been seeing you around for the past 3 or 4 months. Did you move to here from somewhere else?” I asked him one day while we were sitting on a park bench.
    |||“This is my fourth town in the last two years or so. I’m always on the move.” he replied.
    |||“I guess I just don’t like staying in the same place for too long.”
    |||He stared at me for a moment, probably registering the sadness in my features.
    |||“Oh, but don’t worry, I won’t be leaving here for a while.”
    |||I smiled, and he returned the expression.
    |||In all my life, I had never met somebody as incredible a guy as Muen, and I thought our friendship in that town would last until one of us eventually moved, and even then we would still keep in contact. Really, I figured we’d be friends forever.
    |||Though... I guess not everything works out the way you want it to.
    |||It was a Saturday, one before a Sunday in which I was not to see him. We were sitting outside the coffee house again, just like we had done so many times before. Yet, something was different about the man sitting with me.
    |||“You look really pale today.”
    |||He cocked his head. “Do I?” he remarked, seemingly surprised by my comment.
    |||I leaned over and put my hand on his forehead, like a mother checking her kid for a fever. His skin was cold and clammy, something I wasn’t expecting. “Are you sick?” I asked. “You’re all cold.”
    |||Without saying anything, his hand moved to his neck, his fingers moving around, as if feeling for something. No more than a second later he bolted up. “I’m sorry.” he said quickly. “I have to go.”
    |||He took enough money out of his pocket to pay for both of our drinks, set it on the table, and took off quicker than I’ve ever seen him move before.
    |||I knew the following day was a ‘forbidden day,’ but I was concerned. I was given no explanation for his sudden departure. Besides, Muen had said he simply didn’t like doing things those days. I was sure he could make an exception for a situation like this.
    |||So, the following morning I was at his porch, knocking on the door. Once, twice, no answer. I tried again. Still no answer. I was beginning to get worried at this point. Muen always opened his door unless he was out in town– and why would he be out in town on a day on which he claimed he didn’t like leaving the house?
    |||Trying the doorknob, I found the place to be unlocked. Upon further inspection, I realized the lock was broken– you couldn’t lock the door anyway.
    |||I poked my head in, and the first thing I noticed was the smell, like blood, heavy, almost physically painful to breathe. I had never been in the man’s house before, so I was not prepared for this.
    |||Something should’ve told me to turn back at that point, but I wasn’t about to risk leaving Muen when he could be sick or in some sort of trouble. I called out his name, but got no response. Stepping in a little further, I called out again, and yet still no answer. I finally mustered up the courage to enter completely, shutting the door behind me. The walls were splintered all over, other boards sloppily placed over larger damage sites. The house was sparsely decorated– the main room had only a couch with a few springs popping out, and a small, aged wooden desk in the back.
    |||As I moved towards the back of the room, getting closer to the other parts of the house, I noticed a small trail of red– tiny droplets, some smeared as though something had been dragged over them. I began to follow quickly– Muen’s advice to me all those months ago had no meaning at this point.
    |||The trail stopped at a door in the very back. Slowly, I cracked the door open. “M-Muen...?”
    |||I caught slivers of something... someone hunched over in the back of the room, leaning over something. The image became clearer as I soon found myself standing right in the middle of the open doorway.
    |||It was then I had really regretted not leaving at the start of all this.
    |||I saw the man I had been looking up to, the one person who I had gotten close to and formed a bond with, leaned over that horrid corpse, its face disfigured, chunks of flesh taken out of its cheeks and neck, an eyeball missing from its socket. That one I had almost considered a surrogate father turned to me slowly, the front of his clothes completely drenched in blood, his hands stained with it, the liquid all over his face and lips and teeth.
    |||It was like time stopped. He looked as though he wanted to say something, wanted so desperately to explain– yet he just sat there silently, unmoving, unblinking, like a deer caught in headlights.
    |||I felt bile rise in my throat as I found the urge to vomit. Turning away, I slammed the door shut just as I heard him call out, “Wait...!”
    |||I ran as fast as my legs would take me, stopping for nothing, until I was safely back at my own apartment. I curled up in bed, buried my face in the pillow, and tried so hard to forget what I had seen.
    |||I didn’t go back to his house for about a week after that incident.
    |||There had to be a reason, though. Some honest explanation. Maybe someone was forcing him to do it. There was no way he could just be a murderous cannibal for fun... just no way. I refused to believe it.
    |||By the time I had actually decided to get to the bottom of it all, though, I was too late. I went to his house and found a note pinned to the door.
    |||I never saw him again.
    |||A few months later, when my life had gone back to the way it had been before he showed up, I overheard some boys in my class talking about government conspiracies. Area 51, Roswell, all that... but what really struck me was a certain quip they said about a sea monster. Something like... one had been found near Japan, but the public was never notified about it, and no documents of its discovery exist outside the government’s files.
    |||It even had a name– ‘Muen.’
    |||Something else I’ll have to ask him about one day, when a chance encounter in some other town will bring us together again, and we’ll drink coffee, and tease each other. It’ll be like that awful Sunday never happened, and we’ll go back to being friends.