Was walking through a wooded part of a city park. I could see the buildings nearby and hear the traffic on the roads. A white man with dirty blond hair in a tan crumpled trench coat was walking silently beside me, though not walking with me. We just happened to be on the same path headed in the same direction. He was chain smoking like a furnace, but had the decency to be downwind of me after I coughed once.
We didn’t say anything to each other, but enjoyed the silence and the mutual solitude. Somehow we knew the other was wooish though we never introduced ourselves. There was just a mutual attitude of “you do you”.
A little kid ran down the path from farther ahead. Something about the kid’s appearance bothered me and I grunted softly as a kind of warning and declaration. The man grunted an affirmative tone just as softly and I was surprised that he heard me but not surprised that he confirmed my suspicions.
“Hey, you two! Where ya headed?”
The man and I glanced at each other before answering. “Separately,” I answered. The man nodded in agreement.
The kid didn’t like that answer. “But where? Where are you going?”
“To where we arrive,” answered the man. I nodded in agreement with him.
The kid stomped their foot in frustration. I noticed that their ankle was not positioned as would be expected for a human foot. The high boots hid what I initially thought was a deformity well until I also noticed the kid was holding their center of gravity slightly forward.
As if the kid was standing on their toes the entire time.
“Why are you asking?” The man took a long drag on his cigarette as I queried the kid. I noticed he did not exhale his smoke. My tongue tingled as if I was sucking on iron. I heeded the warning and softly held my breath.
As the kid took a breath to answer, the man blew his cigarette smoke into the space between us three. Despite the large cloud of smoke, the kid inhaled each and every bit of it. They coughed violently. So violently, they shook off the glamour that was disguising them.
“Damn you! Damn you, John Constantine! Damn you to hell!” The imp stomped their hooves.
“Hey, isn’t today a nice day? A nice, sunny day?” The man continued to face the short imp but leaned towards me as he spoke.
I caught the hint. “Why yes. The sunlight is pouring down over us all and the light is chasing away the gloom.” I spread my hands and gestured as I spoke. The trees around us reacted to my words and somehow pulled their canopies away. The sunlight became bright and intense.
The imp started smoking to rival the man’s cigarette.
“No! No! Damn you, both! Damn you, all!” The charring imp danced about in fury and pain before racing back up the path. A tree blocked our observation and in that moment, the imp disappeared.
The imp now gone, the canopies returned to their positions above us. It was just the two of us on the path in the park. The scent of the man’s cigarette smoke bullying out the last acrid smells of the imp’s comeuppance. I didn’t mind.
“Say… where are you headed, anyway? Not too many people are willing to walk beside me for any length of time and here you have been a length and a quarter.”
“Um…” I knew I should be miserly with my words and obtuse with my intentions, but I couldn’t help but speak plainly to him. “I’m looking for myself.”
He nodded as he took a drag. He turned his head and blew the smoke behind us, obscuring the way we came. “Ah. I gotcha. Whose path are you walking?”
“Mine. I think. It changes a lot and I get lost often. But I know as long as I walk for myself, I’ll find myself.”
He nodded again. “That explains your answer to the imp. Wise. You’ll meet many people on your path, you know. Some you’ll walk beside longer than others. But you understand the important thing. You have to walk for yourself. Good.”
“And where are you headed, mister?”
He took another drag but stared at me the entire time. I braced myself for a cloud of smoke, but when he exhaled through his nose, the smoke entered the space between his coat and his body.
“Same as you. To find myself.” As the smoke pooled around his feet, his body started to dissolve. He looked down and observed the progression passively. “Our paths are about to diverge and I don’t know if we’ll ever walk together again.”
The smoke quickly climbed up his body, pulling the now floating coat in to cover the areas that remained. “Listen.” The smoke was now at his chest, though I could hear him clearly. “Don’t chase your ideal of me. Chase you. There are many reflections, but there is only one source. Don’t chase the reflections. Chase the source.”
His remaining hand, now disembodied, brought the cigarette to his fading lips. He took such a long drag on it, that it disintegrated. I felt the tingle of iron on my tongue again and instinctively held my breath. He blew the cloud of smoke over me and dissolved us both from the path, and with it, the dream.