"You know, you should really be more careful with strangers, especially with all that's going on these days. People missing, people scared to leave the house - world's gone mad I say."
I had thought about that when I inquired for the kind man's help, but I had no other choice. My car was stuck & night was fast-approaching, & with the aforementioned trend of people going missing, I'd much rather be in the company of a complete stranger than outdoors in the dark, with someone stalking beneath the moon. The man did seem friendly though, his eyes were kind & his smile sincere - he didn't seem threatening at all, rather inviting.
"It's almost surreal, isn't it? Happening in our little town."
Come to think of it, I'd never seen the man before, but that was no cause for concern since it was quite a large community & as the last faire revealed, its denizens often remained out of my conscious, while only a few faces were often seen in the village & even fewer remembered, especially considering the recent circumstances.
He took his hat off & for the first time I could see his face. It was marked with age & weathered; old. It creased as a kind smile spread across his face, he had noticed my prying eyes.
"An old man like me won't last long out in that gale, I'd shatter." He chuckled softly, almost confirming that he knew I was noticing his age for the first time.
"I couldn't last long out there." I said, in reference to my age - not particularly young but compared to this stranger, I was young.
He chortled in response. I was glad it was him who found me out there, much better than the rough youth who lived in the area, or, on a more grim thought, whoever was behind the recent spate of missing people's posters plastered on the newsagents' wall. I wasted no time in letting him aware of my appreciation for his kindness.
"It's okay, I would hope anyone would do the same for me were I in your position. It is no problem at all. Now if you'll excuse me, I must change out of these clothes. It won't do a man of my age good to stay in damp clothes." & with that he slipped into what I presume was his bedroom to change into something more comfortable.
"I'll only stay until the weather has calmed down a bit." I felt bad enough that he had taken his time to stop & save me from my car, which was regrettably half-sunken in thick mud.
"You can stay as long as you like!"
His apartment was small & dark, dimly lit. Well I say 'small' but in truth it was quite large but it was cramped thanks to antiquities of all sorts - there was old pottery, various display pieces like antique clocks, ceramic statuettes of gnomes, fairies, dogs, cats & even a golliwog - a particularly outdated ragdoll & one that helped colour how old this man really was. Books were scattered around the room. There were dressers & stands around the edges of the room, each holding their own collection of artifacts, all old & dusty. In the center of the room was an oval coffee table. Books & magazines were stacked on the lower level whilst on the top were a few old, unwashed mugs of undrank tea. In the very middle was a bowl of hard-boiled sweets, sat on top of a white doily. It was just now that I was noticing how dirty the place really was, although this was excusable as it was the home of a lonely old man. Old mugs & dishes were scattered throughout the main room, some with old food still rotting. My stomach did turn a little at the realisation of the state of the abode, but nonetheless I was grateful to be sheltered. My attention was fixed on the bowl of confectionery.
"Feel free to take a humbug if you want! They're free!" He joked.
It was as though he could read my mind; I felt somewhat offset by his suggested telepathy. Just as my hand reached out to grab one, I noticed the sweets began to tremble slightly. A couple on top of the pile shook, increasingly more. My hand retracted at the mystery of it, but before too long the culprit revealed itself. It was a cockroach, apparently choosing to nest in the bowl of humbugs.
" Oh no thanks, I'm not hungry." I called in response.
Now more creeped out than previously, I decided it was time to leave this scenario. By this point the atmosphere had grown oddly tense, thick like sludge. The man was very friendly & had saved me from a storm but I now felt sufficiently worried about myself, though for reasons I cannot place. Perhaps it was the fact I had calmed down somewhat & realised that I had found myself sitting in a complete strangers home, amidst a period of people going missing, as night had drawn in, or maybe the realisation at the unhygienic state of the man's home, but I had decided that it was time for me to leave.
"Oh you know what? I really should be going. My partner will be wondering where I am but thanks for the hospitality! I hope I'll see you around the village."
The words coming out of my mouth were rushed but so I was as I stood up to leave. My pace was quickening as the door got closer & closer but before the front door could creak open, another did. I turned to see the man's bedroom door had creaked open to reveal horror.
An intrusion of cockroaches was pouring out from the crack in the door as the man emerged slowly. The source of the insects was in actual fact the man's skin, I noticed in abject terror. His flesh was blistered & boiled, peeling away & from the boils came hordes of the crawling horrors. It was discoloured like rotting flesh, an ugly yellow. It was utterly grotesque & it's face was no better. Any & all kindness in that man's face was gone, replaced by unusual convulsions & a twitching smile flickered across his disgusting face & his yellowed, bloodshot eyes rolled creepily into the back of his head.
"Are you sure? I was just getting comfortable."
& with those final words I was out of the door, escaping the whole nightmarish situation I had found myself in. I didn't even bother trying to find my car, I just walked hurriedly towards my home, occasionally glancing over my shoulder in case of any followers, though fortunately none appeared.
Once I had clambered into my bed I found it easy to convince myself it was just a nightmare. I tried not to wake my sleeping partner & I fell asleep rather quickly. I haven't seen the man since that night & any inquiries around the village have proved fruitless. The newsagents' wall continues to be covered by missing peoples' posters &, worst of all, I keep finding cockroaches have taken up residence around my house.