Like any good-natured and truthfully contributing member of society, Francis Draft had always suffered from semi-frequent bouts of hallucinations. These were not of the in-your-face, cartoon pink elephant montage, snapping demons on the subway variety. They were much more subtle, and sometimes even appreciable, if Francis was in a good mood. Passers-by giving strange, often frightening glances that were in truth imagined. Perhaps a third eye appearing on their forehead or one of their cheeks, a live-action breathing Picasso. Maybe he’d see pointed, glistening teeth in the beak of a cawing raven, or fiery demonic intelligence glittering behind the eyes of a rat. The shadow of a UFO in the corner of his eye, or even just a flicker of odd-colored light.
In short, he was used to it. The fantastic and confusing had become mundane and ordinary, and he thought he didn’t let it affect him beyond a certain colorful touch in his columns which would raise the occasional eyebrow.
With this acceptance of the grotesque, it seemed that it would take quite a bit to shock Francis Draft into his current state, that of a raving, bug-eyed lunatic, head wrapped in tinfoil, crouched behind an IKEA furniture barricade in a dusty apartment, double-barreled shotgun clutched in shaking hands.
When he was lucid enough to reflect on his degradation, usually squatting in the darkness, facefirst in a cup of half-cooked ramen, Francis could dimly decide that it had begun when he was shifted from his small-town newspaper – with such headlines as “Officer Martin Recommends that Citizens Cut Down Branches Obscuring Stop Signs” – to the big city, ostensibly a promotion.
“Good luck, Draft,” his old boss told him when he heard the news. He chuckled, adding; “that city will eat you alive.”
Francis shuddered remembering that line, curling up in his haphazard, dark, whiskey-stained womb, the shotgun still clutched against his chest like a funeral bouquet. He watched nervously as cockroaches scuttled about the tightly-closed shutters at the edge of his vision.
Yes, it had all begun when he’d been summoned to that litter-lined maze, the smoky and dense jungle of steel and concrete and transportation, buzzing lights and screaming horns.
He remembered the day he took the exit from the countryside highway, experiencing the initial shock at the abrupt shift of surroundings. It seemed that there was a thin line crudely drawn between cornfields and this sudden, great looming grey thing, the twisted centipede of roads and highways. Smoke billowed forth from smokestacks, ruinous poison breath from a cyclopean metal monster. The highrises poked through this cacophony of smog and concrete, thick spiderlegs in the misty air.
Francis’ musings were not quite so fanciful at first sight, but there was a strange, unnerved sense that filled him as he approached the place. His life had been a stream of suburban and rural living, with the city being where he went for the occasional concert, slinking away after the show like a trespassing spy on foreign shores.
Now the beast stood before him, and he was expected to live in its belly. Taking one white hand off the wheel, he shoved a cigarette in his mouth.