Howard sat slumped over the table, his elbows resting on its scarred and stained surface. His hands hung limp, one dangling into his lap and the other motionless on the tabletop. He seemed for all the world to be on the verge of collapsing into the untouched drink that sat before him, but whether it was the remaining vestiges of his resolve or it was simple inertia, his elbows held and his arms kept him propped up.
Josef studied the man closely, his lips pressed tightly together and one side of his face twisted up ever so slightly as if in disgust. They sat in silence, Howard motionless, Josef with his arms crossed, fingers tapping lightly on his arm, foot beating a quick, irritated rhythm on the dirty floor. Finally, Josef spoke.
“Did I ever tell you about the doom that came to Mazatweidon?”
Howard said nothing. He didn’t even grunt or sigh, did not shift in his seat, did not look up. He gave no indication at all that he’d even heard Josef’s words. Still, Josef took it as an invitation to continue.
“Mazatweidon was an ancient city in an ancient land. It sat–”
Howard sat motionless in exactly the same position as he had been in before. Josef watched him for a moment, waited for him to repeat the question, and soon he wasn’t sure if the man had said anything at all. “Excuse me?” he finally asked.
“Which ‘ancient land?’”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I think you’re making this up.”
“Mazatweidon sounds like gibberish. Like you tried to combine three or four different language’s worth of sounds into one word.”
“What, are you a linguist now? An archaeologist?”
“I’ve got common sense.”
“Yeah? Are you an expert on the Proto-Indo-European language? You’ve acquainted yourself with Mehrgarh? Banpo? Douwara?Tell Rayak? Kierikki?”
“Those all sound like gibberish, too. Like you pulled them out of the pages of some cheap horror novel.”
“Cheap horror novels pull places out of real life.”
“That sentence doesn’t make any sense.”
Josef snorted. “Are you going to let me tell this story or not?”
Howard shrugged, still not looking up. Josef rolled his eyes. It was as much of a concession as he was going to get from the man, but he would take it.