He hadn’t seen the old man since that cold Monday evening ten years ago.  The man looked the same with his sagging wrinkles around his mouth and eyes—a map to his years.  It was apparent he wasn’t as muscular as someone of youth for his skin drooped around his midsection, but he was still fairly thin all the same.  Dylan watched the man from afar while the man stood at the bus stop puffing on a cigar.  Dylan moved on, keeping his head down he walked towards the local diner (his favorite place to get a decent burger) where they had met on that odd day ten years ago.

By the time he arrived, it was nearly seven in the evening and the sun beamed the last of its rays through the blinds of the diner.  He sat in a booth at the back and removed his thick overcoat, placing it in the booth opposite of him.  He smoothed out the tufts of his hair, disturbed from seeing the old man again.  The gears in his mind turned and his nerves fluttered as he recalled that unusual day.

           ~

    Dylan was sitting in a booth, reading a novel in the back of the diner, like always, when an old man sitting in front of him turned around and asked if he could have a few of his sugar packets because he had run out.  Dylan politely handed the old man a few packets and the old man smiled, lingered his hand against Dylan’s a second longer than normal, and said, “Thanks son.”  The man turned around and Dylan went back to reading and drinking his coffee, thinking nothing of it.

Not five minutes had passed when the man got up from his booth and walked over to Dylan’s.

“You’re not saving this seat for anyone are you?” he said.

Dylan looked at him, confused and bewildered, “Uh, no, but I…”

“Oh good,” the old man cut him off and sat in the booth facing Dylan.  Dylan wondered if the man was mental.  Maybe he had Alzheimer’s or something.

“I’m trying to read,” Dylan asserted himself.

The man shifted back into the booth, stared at Dylan for an uncomfortable few seconds and waved over the only waitress on staff.

“Can you bring my friend here a chocolate milkshake?” the old man asked.

Does he think I’m a child? Dylan thought, astounded that this man was interrupting his weekly trip to the diner and refusing to leave him alone.

The waitress nodded and went back to place the order.

“Can I ask you something?” the old man asked.

Dylan leaned forward across the table and said, “Sir, I don’t want to come off as rude, but I have had a long week at work and wanted to come here to relax and read my book…Alone.”  Dylan waved his novel at the old man.

“I completely understand.”  Dylan waited for the old man to get up, but he just continued to sit there, staring at Dylan behind his thick glasses.  Dylan sighed and made himself visibly annoyed to the old man.

“How old are you?” the old man asked calmly, his hand clasped loosely on the table.

Dylan placed his elbows on the table and his face in his hands, frustrated with this crazy, old man.  “Are you lost?  Can I call someone for you?  To pick you up perhaps?”

“You look far too young to be so stressed about working.”  The waitress then came back to the table and set the chocolate milkshake in front of Dylan.  She pulled a straw out of her apron and placed it by the milkshake.

“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked, seemingly tired.

The old man smiled politely and replied, “No.  That’s all.”  The waitress walked back to the bar and began wiping down the counter.  “You should drink that while it’s still thick.”

“I didn’t want this,” Dylan said rudely.  “Don’t ask me to drink this when I never asked you to come over here, pester me, and order me a milkshake like I’m five-years-old.”

“Don’t be rude, Dylan.  You never know who you might be talking to,” the old man said firmly.

Dylan’s face went white.  How did this old, crazy man know his name?  Did Dylan actually know him from somewhere?

The old man laughed making his wrinkles more prominent.  “Don’t look so frightened, Dylan.”

“Do I know you?” Dylan whispered.

“You do now.”  Dylan sat back in the booth and ran his fingers through his brown hair, trying to wrap his head around what was happening.

“How do you know my name?” The butterflies in Dylan’s stomach churned.  He fidgeted nervously.

“Want to know a secret?” Dylan just stared at him with nervous, confused eyes.  “You were supposed to die tonight.”  Dylan’s heart skipped a beat and his stomach felt like it had dropped right out of him.  “But plans changed and here we are.”  The old man reached around the booth to grab his coffee from the other table.  He took a sip nonchalantly; they were just having a pleasant conversation.

“So what, you were going to kill me?” Dylan braved the question.

“Oh, no, Dylan.  That’s not my job.”

Dylan fidgeted with the untouched milkshake in front of him; his fingers traced patterns through its condensation.  His eyes were locked onto the old man’s invasive ones.

“I told you before, Dylan, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

“You told me that I was supposed to die and you expect me to be peachy about that?”

“No, I thought that I would give you a…a sort of warning, you could say.”

“What do you mean a warning?”

“A warning to live a fuller life.  You’ve been given a second chance; I am merely pointing this out to you.  I could have left you alone, but instead, I decided to warn you.  Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.”

Dylan gazed at the old, unidentified man, horrified at what this man was referring to.  After a minute of silence, Dylan stood up from his booth and held out his hand to the old man.

“Can I have my coat, please?”  Dylan’s hand shook ever so slightly like little earthquakes of fear were rippling through him.

The old man handed Dylan the coat and as Dylan grabbed it, the old man held on a second longer and said, “The next time you see me, Dylan, there will be no second chance.”  The old man released the coat and Dylan hurriedly walked out of the diner towards his one bedroom apartment.

     ~

    The sight of the old man at the bus stop had made Dylan’s stomach churn.  He couldn’t even focus on his novel or enjoy his black coffee.  All he could think about was the last thing that old man said to him.  Beads of sweat outlined his forehead, his fingers tapped the table rhythmically, and his heart skipped quickly and loudly in his chest like a jackhammer on concrete.

An hour had passed and Dylan left a small tip on his table and headed home.  The sun had fully set and the streetlights weren’t much aid to his sight.  One flickered on and off, the bulb would die soon.

Dylan was thirty-five now and had managed to forget the old man in the ten years that had passed, but the sight of him now, ten years later, brought back with an astounding amount of clarity, the horror he had felt.  Dylan stopped walking once he reached the bus stop.  The old man was still there smoking his cigar.  The old man smiled at him.

Dylan wanted to confront him.  Surely this old man had just been messing with him.  Or maybe hoping to give some youngster a piece of his wisdom through a fearful tactic.  Dylan’s heart thudded violently, but he braved crossing the street towards the bus stop.

“How’s it going Dylan?” the old man asked as if they were old friends.

A throbbing headache, seemingly out of nowhere, began pounding in his brain. “What are you doing here?” Dylan asked, clutching his head.

The old man looked up at the bus stop sign and replied, “Well, I plan on taking a little trip.”  Dylan peered into the old man’s eyes and the old man gazed back.  “You can come with me if you want.”

“Why would I come with you?”

The old man pointed towards the street.  Dylan turned around and saw a commotion of people gathered around the front of a bus that Dylan hadn’t even noticed arrive.  He took small, slow steps, weaving around the people (none of which noticed him) and saw none other than himself with half of his body lying under the bus.  A crimson pool painted a background for his head and his eyes stared out into the black.

Dylan ran back to the old man, frightened and confused, he yelled, “What is this?  What happened?”

“You died, Dylan,” the old man responded gently.  Dylan turned back around facing the commotion, visibly distraught.

But the scene began fading despite Dylan’s wanting to hold onto it.  All that was eventually left was a black world with a small section of sidewalk and the bus stop sign where the old man and Dylan were standing.

Dylan sat down cross-legged and placed his face in his hands.  The old man placed his hand on Dylan’s shoulder.  “You don’t have to go through this alone, Dylan.”  The old man’s voice oddly soothed him.  “My offer still stands; you’re welcome to come with me.”

The headlights of a bus came into view and pulled up to the sidewalk by Dylan and the old man.  Dylan peered up at the old man, “Well, where are you going?”  The old man held out his hand and Dylan grabbed it, standing up.

The old man smiled.  “You’ll see.”

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