He was alone on the street, the asphalt wet from the drizzling rain, the streetlights flickering and buzzing.
He withdrew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. One left. He lit up and pulled deeply. Dizzy, he spat the cigarette out and fell to his hands and knees, vomiting a soup of beer and insects into bushes by the side of the lane.
He lay on the ground with his head in the plants while he caught his breath, the slight rain dampening his clothes and skin. He rose with a groan, his mouth still tingling, hands and feet obeying reluctantly.
Moving down the alley, he passed closed doors and dark windows until he came to a machine with dancing lights recessed into the wall.
He squinted focus to his vision. It was as tall as he was with a rectangular face and rows of dark square buttons.
“Cigarettes.” He needed a fresh pack, fished a two-hundred pang coin from his pocket. He leaned in close, found the slot and pressed the coin into the aperture.
“Damn.” Something sharp sliced the soft pad of his thumb. He stepped away and sucked the wounded digit, tasting blood.
A button on the lower-half of the machine illuminated, revealing an illustration of a young man dancing a frozen jig. He was smiling, dressed in white robes with his hair in a top knot.
Egbert stooped and pressed the lit button, looking around in the dim lights for where to retrieve his smokes. He examined the entire machine but could not find where to get them. He gave the plastic face a thump with the palm of his hand.
A young man stood in the rain wearing white robes, his hair in a top knot.
“Ser-Dan,” the man said, placing a palm against his chest. He moved down the lane in the direction of the bar. He stopped about halfway along and squatted, pointing underneath a rubbish bin.
“What is it?” Egbert asked.
The man in white gestured for Egbert to join him.
He stumbled over, shivering from the cool rain soaking his clothes and stopped a few paces away.
The man seemed untouched by the rain, his appearance suggesting no evidence of the downpour. He pointed under the bin with more urgency and stood.
Egbert got down on his haunches. A five-pang coin lay in the gloom. Picking it up, he turned, but the man in white was further down the lane, outside the doorway to the bar.
He hurried over, his legs slow as if he waded through water.
The man smiled and pointed into the bushes where Egbert had been sick earlier.
“Wasn’t feeling so great. Here.” He offered the coin to him.
The man shook his head and continued to point at the bushes.
Egbert wrinkled his nose at the tang of vomit and looked under the bushes.
His wallet lay there under the foliage. He scooped it up, wiping the wet leather on his pants. “How did you know it was there?”
The man stepped to Egbert, face mere inches away. His dark irises filled with swirling flecks like fireworks in a night sky.
Egbert flinched when he grabbed his arm. The grip burned, like ice, like fire, and he collapsed to his knees.
The man dropped to the same height and turned his arm, enabling Egbert to see his own palm and his cut thumb. The small wound glowed golden as if light burned within.
Grip released, and the pain stopped.
Nicholas Stella can often be seen scribbling away on scraps of paper at the oddest of hours and in the most random of locations as inspiration has no respect for time or place. He lives in Sydney with his wife and two little monsters.