I met him at The Water Witch Coffee Shop. He was small, about four-foot, with a hunchback. His nose was long and misshapen. He wore a top hat like Abe Lincoln’s, but two sizes too big. It covered his forehead and ears and hooked on a thick wrinkle where his neck met his back. He said his name was J.D.
He sat next to me at the counter where I was drinking a Mocha Java. I greeted him with a smile and nod.
“You’re from around here,” he said. His voice was deep, and hoarse.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I grew up here.”
He fingered the business cards on the counter. “I know.”
I took a sip from my coffee, raised my eyebrows, and stared at him over the rim. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
“No,” he laughed. “I know you.”
I squeezed my cup between two hands, trying to think what that might mean.
“Do you know my parents something?” I asked.
“Oh?” I tilted my head to one side.
“I know your whole family,” he said. Goose bumps grew up my arms.
“Really? I don’t think we’ve ever met.”
“We have, just not that you remember.”
Nancy handed him the London Fog he’d ordered. He slurped against the hot tea.
“I’ve waited a long time for you to see me,” he said, placing his hand on mine. It smelled of rotting flesh.
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer me in words. Instead, the clock on the wall stopped ticking. The shop became quiet, still. Hands raised with cups paused, mid-sip. A fly hovered motionless above a pastry.
“How?” I started, but he placed one finger over my lips, silencing me. He lifted his giant hat from his head, slowly, and revealed two great horns, smooth, like a bull’s. He laughed, raspy and menacing. The room filled a dark, dark red.
“Do you remember?”
Slowly, I nodded my head, reaching up to where my horns would be, if I had any. Then I blinked, and he was gone. The fly beat its wings; the sippers took their sips. No one sat beside me but an empty stool.
“How’s your coffee?” Nancy asked. I felt empty, depleted.
“Was someone else just here?” I said.
“Um, yes? Plenty of people have come here today. Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Actually, hold on, I think someone left something for you.”
Still in a daze, I watched as Nancy stepped over to the register and reached below the counter. It was a hat, a large hat, fit only for Abe, or J.D.
“I couldn’t imagine why you’d want it, but it had this slip of paper with your name on it.”
I touched the fabric. The goose bumps returned.
“Thanks for holding on to it,” I said.
Then I wore it home.
…as published in The Atlantic Highlands Herald, 2014.