The Old Man and Hanlan’s Point

Sometimes you have to go to great lengths to find what you lost.

Set in the alternate Toronto of Melanie in the Underworld and Blackout Odyssey, where the gods of the old world ride the TTC. 600 words. 

Photo by Nadine Shaabana


The Oracle clasped her hands together in defeat. “I am sorry,” she said, her ancient face creased in sorrow, “but the shroud is too great. I cannot see beyond it.”

“Then what should I do?” the young man asked, leaning forward, his forearms resting on his thighs, his rough hands hanging limply.

“There is one called Hemingway who can find what you seek.”

He straightened up. “I can’t afford another Oracle–”

She shook her head, her head-covering held in place by two criss-crossed bobby pins, one set at each temple. “No, no. Not money; a price of determination. You must hold him, no matter the cost. In the end, he will tell you where to look.” She fetched a notepad from the corner of her desk, and a pencil, and began to write a prescription. “Here is how you will know him…”

*

Lake Ontario glimmered painfully in the bright August sun and heat radiated from the sand as the young man walked the boardwalk. He scanned the nudist beach, trying not to get distracted by all the people on display.

At last, he thought he spotted his target: an old, wrinkled man, with white hair, thick dark eyebrows, and bushy salt-and-pepper mustache. And there, on his upper thigh: the tattoo of a trident piercing a wave.

The old man looked up, squinting, as the young man’s shadow fell across him. “What do you want? You’re going to ruin my tan.”

“‘Oh Shining One, son of He Who Swims…'” the young man began to intone.

Hemingway propped himself up on an elbow, waving cessation. “Don’t bother with all of that, can’t you see I’m relaxing? I’m trying to get a tan, for heaven’s sake!” He scratched at his chest, and then at his nether regions. “Go away.”

The young seeker fell to his knees, took a deep breath, and embraced the old man.

Hemingway immediately began to struggle, trying to pry the intrusion from him. “Gerroff! Go away! I mean it–leave me alone!” As he spoke, he began to change, becoming a spitting, biting pit bull.

But the young man had grown up with dogs, and wasn’t afraid, and held tight, keeping his neck tucked and his face turned away.

Hemingway changed again, losing mass, and became a ribbon of fire, writhing and spitting. But it was already over 35 with the humidex and had been all week. The young man was unperturbed, and simply thought of the cold beer he would enjoy on his patio when this was all done.

The old man became a large, mangy raccoon that spat garbage and raked claws, but the young man simply held on. And on. As he had been instructed.

*

After many such transformations, back in his original self, Hemingway panted with the exertion. “Fine, you win. You may ask me one question, but only one.”

The young man released him and sat back on his heels in the hot sand. He wiped a forearm across his face, and then said, “I want to know where my metropass is. I lost it.” His vanquished opponent stared, open-mouthed. “Hey, c’mon, it’s expensive! I can’t afford another one and it’s only the third of the month!”

Shaking his head, settling back down on his towel, Hemingway waved a dismissive hand, settling back down onto his towel. “It’s under the bushes outside your building. It fell from your pocket. A toddler found it and hid it under some dead leaves.”

“Thanks, man.” The young man stood up. Oracles: they were worth every nickle. He could already taste the celebratory beer as he made his way home across the sand.

END

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