Rob was smug when I called him. Of course he was. Rightfully so, given how our last interaction had gone, but it still pissed me off. “I’m glad you called me, friend,” he said. I just bit my tongue, knowing that it’d be better to let him go on for as long as he wanted rather than to try and interrupt him. “I really believe that my Yellows are going to change the world. I’m working on ramping up production, you know. Trying to establish a reliable distribution network. Oh, this is going to be big, friend. Very big.”
“Yeah, uh… I’ve heard a lot of good things about them. From a lot of people whose opinions I respect. So, you know, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe you’re being too hasty about this. Maybe you ought to give ol’ Rob a shot.’”
Rob chuckled at that. “Good, good. And how is Lori these days?”
I pulled the phone away from my head and stared at it for a moment. Of course he went there, the lousy bastard. Of course. I almost hung up the phone on him, but somehow, I restrained myself. “I, uh, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her in a few weeks, not really. She wasn’t one of the people I talked to. You’ll have to ask her yourself what she thinks.”
Rob chuckled again. “Well, that’s fine. I will, the next time she buys from me. That’s just fine.”
I forced a smile. I don’t know why. It’s not like he could have seen me. “Of course. The signs. So, where are we meeting?”
“Doesn’t matter. A coffee shop. We’ll sit down, have a drink. I’ll leave a mint tin on the table. I leave, you pick it up, and we go about the rest of our lives.”
Rob didn’t chuckle that time. He laughed. “First one’s always free, friend. You know that.”
I sighed. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I was disgusted with myself. Disgusted with myself and desperate to see the beautiful new world that I’d heard about. This one wasn’t doing it for me anymore. “Sounds good. You’re a real pal, Rob. I’ve got another forty left on my lunch break. Can you be at Pyotr’s in fifteen?”
I put on sunglasses, walked outside to my car, winced at the harsh light of day. Pyotr’s was only a few minutes’ drive away from me. I ordered a plain black coffee and sat at a table in the back of the cafe, nursing my drink and rubbing my temples. After a few minutes, Rob came and sat down in the chair across from me. He was grinning, always grinning, thin lips pulled taut against yellowed teeth. “Howdy, howdy, howdy. How are you doing today, friend?”
“Hungover as fuck. You?”
“I’m doing wonderfully. But then, I always am.”
I looked at Rob, really looked at him, and I realized he was thinner than I remembered. Pale. Not fair, but almost a sort of weathered grey. His skin had a sallow quality about it, as if what sat before me were a stranger wearing a poorly made Rob suit. Rob had been a bit chubby back when we were all still in school. Had the years really been that hard on him? Had he looked this bad at the party and I just hadn’t noticed?
“Uh, yeah. You’re looking good, man.”
Rob smiled, gave as best of a mock bow as he could without standing up. “Well, of course I am. I’ve seen the signs.” He coughed, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a package of mints. He popped one into his mouth, visibly swallowed it, shuddered once, and then smiled at me. He pushed the container across the table and said, “And now you can, too.”
I had nothing to say to that. I just nodded, picked up the tin, slipped it into my pants pocket.
“Don’t be scared. You can take one now.” Rob smiled. “Your journey will last about ten minutes.” His eyes narrowed to slits. “You’ll have just enough time to drive yourself back to the office and get back to your desk.” His grin became a sneer. “I’m sure you have a very busy day planned of sitting quietly and trying not to make eye contact with anyone.”
I smiled as coldly as I could. “Well, someone’s got to make the world a better place, just like someone’s got to do everything in their power to make it worse.”
I expected some kind of a retort from Rob, but none came. He looked at me, and after a moment I realized that he was looking at something past me. Or maybe something else in the space where I should have been.
One of his eyes was dilated. The other had narrowed to a pinpoint.
“Yes. I agree,” he finally said, still not looking at me. He nodded to himself. Once, twice. A pause. A third nod.
“Hey, Earth to Ass… Earth to Rob. I’m the only person here.”
That got his attention. His head snapped toward me, and he looked at me with those half-focused eyes of his. I frowned, shifted in my seat. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me, like he couldn’t decide if I were actually there or not.
I opened my mouth to say something, but decided against it. We were done, and after seeing what had happened to Rob, I was certainly not about to try a Yellow before going back to work. Instead I just stood up and walked out of Pyotr’s, got into my car, went to go sit quietly at my desk and try not to make eye contact with anyone.
* * *
I sat on my bed, the mint tin open before me. It was full of tiny little yellow pills, round things with no markings on them. I’d seen Rob’s MDMA before, each one with a stylized R on one side. His ego would demand no less, and I was surprised to see that these were so plain, so unassuming. The only distinguishing thing about them at all, one I had evidently failed to notice at the party, was a black spot in the center of the pills on one side. The effect made them look almost like miniature halos.
Or maybe jaundiced eyes.
I don’t know how long I sat there in front of the tin, those little yellow eyeballs looking up at me, watching, waiting. The emotional pain I’d felt the night before that had made me so desperate to escape from my reality had faded into my mundane and constant misanthropy, and in its place, the old profound mistrust of Rob and his abilities had returned.
I sighed, plucked a single pill from the tin. It sat on the tip of my finger, and I stared at it, considered it, and it considered me. “Whatever. Fuck it.” I put it on the tip of my tongue. It was bitter, and in an instant it had dissolved away into nothing.
I took a deep breath and just sat there, staring out the window and waiting for something to happen. I watched and I waited and there were no changes. The sky stayed exactly the same. There were no dragons sliding through it like fish slide through water. I stood up and walked over to the window, looked outside. No little grey men.
I felt normal. Lucid. Disappointed. I considered taking more, but decided not to risk poisoning myself chasing a high that didn’t exist. Instead, I turned and left my bedroom, walked towards the kitchen. That’s when I saw them.
There were five of them, and I understood instinctively that five was a number of power. There had always been five, there would always be five, and should one of their number pass away, they would be promptly replaced. There must be five.
They stood in my living room, taller than humans, only a foot or so shy of the ceiling. They were impossibly thin, little more than stick figures beneath the dark robes they wore. To say that the robes were black would have been an understatement. They were blacker than anything I’d ever seen, so dark that they seemed nothing less than a hole in the universe, a portal into non-existence.
They stood motionless, communicating with each other in a language I would never understand, a sound I could feel in my bones. They were discussing important matters. That much was obvious. But what those matters were, I couldn’t say. But I stood there, and I watched them, and somewhere beneath their robes, where their faces would have been if they were human, there was the suggestion of movement, of unseen things slithering in the night.
I watched them for what felt like an eternity, years passing by as unnoticed as seconds. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes though, from what I knew about how Yellows worked. The comedown was instantaneous. In one instant, the circle of five was there, and in the next, they were gone. I stood there alone in my empty living room for only a moment before I rushed back to my bedroom for the tin of Yellows.