I once was sent on a work related trip from the town of L. in the state of Ohio to the town of M. in the state of West Virginia. On my way to the town of M. I happened upon a small coffee shop and having realized the heaviness of my eyelids and the mental toll the curving roads took on my weary mind, I decided to enter. It could be described as quaint so long as every negative connotation of the word lingered along. The lighting was more dim than the spongebob night light stuffed into the wall of my young son’s room. The pungent smell was not of coffee itself but of the ghost of the black liquid. It haunts my soul to this day. I sat at an empty table, wooden and greatly worn with the carvings of many lovers’ initials framed with uneven hearts. RJ and TL forever. After peering into each corner of the room I, at last, found the dark counter from which I could buy my fog-lifting beverage. Before I could stand though, a man who seemed to have a desperate urge to speak stepped in front of me and stared into my face. I, having been weary from the road and off-put by the strange cafe, discarded all pleasantries asked him his business straight out. With a mouse-eyed face and a twitching cheek that became the focus of my attention, the man of about sixty sat before me and began to speak. “It is you?!” he was surprised and before I could reply he continued in the squeaky voice, “you’ve arrived, I thought it was all a joke but I read the papers anyway, I was the only one in my office…”

At this point I had to cut him from what would have continued into a jumbled mash of excited noises and squeals. “I believe you’re mistaken, sir.” I started to stand, sure he was a delusional local that the waitress would sweep away from my table at any moment, but he revealed to me an item that validated his excitement. “No, look,” he was fumbling with a rolled group of papers, wrapped in a rubber band. “There, it’s you!” On the table he flattened the papers and pointed at what appeared to be my face in black and white photocopied several times. “What is this?” I had to ask why the town drunk was holding a photo of me that I did not remember having taken. The explanation that followed vouched for his sanity and sobriety but deepened the mystery.

He said, “You need to sit, I’ll tell you everything I know.” He was flustered and I, a little unnerved. I entertained him and found my chair. “I work for the local university. The University of R. And you see,” he swallowed hard and wiped his brow with an old hand, “every Thursday we receive a shipment of mail that is unlike the rest. Where I work is at the front desk and I open all the mail but that is not important right now. Every Thursday I open this letter, addressed from Hong Kong China, and stuff it into my backpack, you see.” He held up the shipping address. Hong Kong indeed. “My coworkers told me to throw it out, that we get mail from crazies every day and it wasn’t worth looking at, especially during the busy time of the year. We’re admitting students right now.” I confess I rolled my eyes at this point and urged the man to hurry his story. “Ok, ok. Well the other pages, the ones that don’t have your face, are all written in code. There are symbols, pyramids, the pythagorean theorem, solar decay, temperature decipher, all of it seemed like gibberish. The ravings of a man short on pills and long on time. But I kept them, in spite of what Barb and Donna and the others told me to do, I took them home and laid them out. I compared them to each other and even figured out the math problems.” He held up scribbled results written on the photocopied sheets. I looked at them, struck with silence. “But I couldn’t figure out who the Apocalypse Slave was.” he continued, “I looked at websites of famous people, websites of world leaders and I thought it might have been the president of Bulgaria. But today, this night, a chance meeting showed me that it was you!”

“Calm down.” I shot him a look and grabbed the sheet with my face on it, above my head was written in a strange hand made font, Apocalypse Slave. “Maybe it wasn’t me.” I thought, pulling the photo to my bifocals. No, that shirt was definitely mine. I had recently worn it to that certain golf tournament benefiting the children of Syria. “Is there a name, who sent this?” He looked at me for a minute, “Nothing, I’ve searched high and low. The post office says they can’t give that information and even if they could it’d be impossible to track… What we should do now is look for your pictures online, see what’s available to the public now that I know your name!” But my answer for the man gave no resolution, I knew exactly where and when it had been taken and none of it involved a digital format or the internet. You see, that image was taken with an old polaroid by my son, we found it in the attic with a bit of unused film and played with it for a day before putting it back in storage. The image now sits in a box under my son’s bed.

The man was only more intrigued after I told him this. He smiled a crooked teeth smile and his eyes glittered in the dimness. Then, something more strange happened that night. The man focused his eyes and seemed to look through my face to the wood panel wall behind. His smile faded and fell to a frown. Upon looking behind I noticed nothing out of the ordinary except for a few prints of old paintings I have long since forgotten the name of. When I turned to see his face, though, I was met with the strongest meaning of the phrase ‘abject horror’. It came to the point that a tear rolled from his eye and without a word of explanation the elderly university worker stood up from his chair, and left for the door. Even the call I made for him at the door did not elicit a response. And with that, he was gone from my life.

Deeply affected by the whole encounter, I dismissed the thought of coffee and grabbed the strange rolled papers. I have since had no developments in the case of my photo with the strange title, Apocalypse Slave. Although, the whole event has led me to request less travel time from my employer, and in those cases where I absolutely must travel, a route that has less winding roads.

The title came from Terribleminds.com

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/04/flash-fiction-challenge-roll-for-your-title/

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