David looked out the large front window from his seat at the bar, seeing the heavy San Francisco fog flowing down the street like a slow parade. The fluorescent Budweiser logo in the window blinked erratically, calling out to passers by to come sample its new Ice.
Somewhere in the diner there was a speaker playing one of the ``Austin Powers'' mimics of a 1960s tune. His father would have ragged on it. A sad imitation of the real thing, he would say.
The place was only half full, its booths sparsely populated. At three in the morning, you usually don't see that many people here. College students cramming for their final exams, friends becoming soul mates, and hearts trying to mend after having been broken either tonight or a year ago. Then there were the insomniacs, like David, who have gotten tired of the infomercials on television and headed out into the night's own world.
Out here in the Richmond District, the people who come to 24-hour diners and liquor stores are either lost or live near by and are just running an errand. One of David's favorite parts of living in San Francisco is that he can drive a mile, maybe two, and be in a whole other world.
Along the seats at the counter, the only other person on a stool was a lady perhaps in her mid-forties. She just finished polishing off her fifth cigarette with the clear intent to take care of the other fifteen from her pack tonight, even if you'd prefer she not smoke around you thank you very much.
David's bouts with insomnia have been more frequent lately, due in part to his father's funeral the week before, and probably something to do with the breakup with his girlfriend last month. He and his father hadn't been very close, really. His older brother Jeremy was more of his "father's son." Dad was temperamental, drank a bit too much, and came home from the lumber mill most days complaining about more rumors that they were going to all be laid off for those damn imports from South America, just you see, there's no appreciation for good work in this world.
The fifteen year gap between David and his brother helped make them different people in a lot of ways. His father, an ex-hippie from the sixties, still looked back to the better days, and complained about "that bastard Clinton" after he'd finished off a few bottles of Old Milwaukee from one of the crates in the garage. Jeremy grew up with more of that than David, but also brushed it off in a way that seems to have made him out to be an okay kinda guy in his father's eyes.
In contrast, David was a late-80s fan of LA Law and Howard Jones, who thought of the 60s as a time when people just plain laughed at reality. He and Jeremy got along, but were more cousins than brothers. He's lived his twenty-two years guided mostly by his own instinct, having little example from his family.
Fred Astaire's voice came out of the speaker sounding so happy about singing in the rain even if he had a temperature of over 102 degrees and felt like crap. If Fred could sing back at the face of adversity, David should be able to get his life together now, right?
The glass doors to the diner flew open and three people, each no older than 25, came bounding in laughing boisterously and talking even louder. They settled down at the bar occupying three stools, thankfully at least a couple of slots over from David.
The youngest of the group looked expectantly at the guy behind the counter, obviously put out by the fact that he hadn't come straight over when they walked in the door. He sported his Camel cigarettes t-shirt and slightly torn jeans like a GQ model, but without the nondescript expression you see on the men Elsa Klensch talks about on CNN. He was looking for someone to really piss him off.
"Hey, can we get some food here?" GQ yelled over the four feet separating himself from the waiter, his voice loud enough to prompt nearly everyone to turn their heads and stare. The lady smoking like there was no tomorrow ignored them, her eyes looking off into some other place, some other time.
"What can I get you?" came the nonchalant response from behind the bar. He was probably the same age on the exterior, but was years ahead in his manner, obviously having met this kind of customer a thousand times over.
To the chuckles of his two companions, GQ spat out a stream of profanities about the choices that were on the menu up on the wall, but finally went with a burger and some fries. His friends asked for the same, each making it quite clear that the damn hamburger better show up fast, or there'd be hell to pay. The waiter scribbled down their orders and handed the sheet of paper back to the short-order cook in the kitchen, which appeared to have a floor a few feet higher than the one the waiter was standing on. You could only see the cook's torso, his head and shoulders cut off by the top of the square opening back into the kitchen.
The three guys started getting into a conversation of guttural laugher and inside jokes that David couldn't hear sitting only a few feet away.
He was somehow reminded of Jan, his whirlwind romance that came to a screeching halt last month. In only a few weeks they'd gone from complete strangers to almost being engaged, convinced that they were each the one they'd been searching for all their lives. Then she told him how she'd decided that she was going to give her previous boyfriend, Richard, another try and had to go back to him. David met the guy only once in the past, and hadn't placed him as someone she'd be likely to like talking to, much less have a relationship.
The guys at the other end of the bar resembled Richard in a lot of ways. The same look of contempt for everyone around him, the same ratty clothing that was probably last washed in another decade. The same smell of sweat and cigarettes ingrained into their skin.
"Hey, what're you starin' at?" Startled, David realized he had been staring at the third guy furthest away from him. "You got a problem?" the guy said, starting to get up from his stool.
All three of them were looking at him with contempt now, the adrenaline in their bodies going into overdrive in anticipation of a good fight.
"Sorry man, you look like someone I knew. Long time ago, just reminded me a lot of back then. Sorry." David turned back to his bottomless cup of coffee, trying to look like it didn't matter at all.
"Yeah, I'll bet I did, and I'll bet he could beat the shit out of you only half as good as I can," the guy replied, getting up and walking over to David. "Didn't your mommy tell you it's not nice to stare, prick?"
David looked at him and was about to try another reply, when he froze. The guy's eyes, there was something about his eyes. The pupils weren't black, like they were supposed to be.
They were bright silver. Like droplets of mercury pouring from a broken thermometer, joining into little bubbles all over the table. And wide enough to suggest this stranger was still riding his high after a joint or three. But David knew that it was probably how they always looked.
"Well, didn't she?" he shouted at David, the palm of his right hand pushing roughly at David's shoulder, nearly shaking him off the stool.
"Yeah, she did, and I forgot. Sorry about that, it's cool." David tries to not show how terrified he is, putting the expression on his face of someone who could absolutely care less. He could feel his stomach tied up like a knot, and his heart was beating so fast he thought it would pop.
"Remember that next time, pal, or you'll wish you never looked at me." He walked back to his stool and sat down, his buddies patting him on the back in congratulations as he passed them by.
Everyone else in the diner turned back from watching the little drama, trying to look like they'd never been paying attention.
Santana crooned from the wall speaker, telling David to just forget about it, but he couldn't. He was missing something important. They weren't vampires or aliens or anything you'd see in a John Carpenter movie. But there was something.
He pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket and set it down on the counter, catching a quick thank-you glance from the waiter. Grabbing his coat and pack of smokes (bad habit, he's quit four times, maybe now he'll try for a fifth), he started towards the door.
"Hey David," the young GQ thug called out, "where ya goin'?" How'd he know his name was David? "We were just gettin' comfortable!"
David ignored them and pulled one of the dented silver glass doors open, intending to go the hell home and just finish this stupid dream asleep.
"C'mon, David, let's go to out to the park and play a few rounds, what do you say? Jeremy's gonna meet us there, it'll just be us," and the voice changed. "Just us, like a family, David."
He glanced back and saw the guy with the silver eyes is now glaring at him, and David finally realizes why he'd been looking before. Just outside the kitchen at home, right near the old-fashioned pulse phone anchored on the wall, was the framed picture of his father at his high school graduation. The eyes were normal, though, not silver like this.
The image was crystal clear in David's memory as he tossed the door away, making it spring back with a resounding slam. He ran to his car nearly tripping over his own feet. He could hear the laughs coming from the three guys in the diner as he scrambled in his pockets, jammed the key into the slot, and gunned the car's engine to life.
As he screeched past the diner's front door, he saw it had been held back open by the guy with the silver eyes, who was shouting something at him. He could read the lips even as they shrank in the driver side mirror.
"See you soon, boy!"
...Written over a few lattes at Insomnia in Blackrock...