Thursday 23 March 2023

The Friend Who Dies - Short Story - By Bob MacKenzie



The Friend Who Dies

Short Story

By Bob MacKenzie

          He was British, I am certain, although he never really said so. It may have been the look. His accent was rather nondescript, worn away by too many moves, a shabby sort of creature that might be from any part of England or Australia or South Africa, a world-weary Empire accent dwelling deep in anachronism. But the look. Tall, hung out with safari-looking slacks, shirt and jacket. British Major moustache. Bright blue piercing eyes set in a weathered face. Aussie-type hat and military boots topping and bottoming the package.

          British, it all said.

          And yet, I did have cause to wonder. He gave his name as Anthony, Dickenson I think, yet several persons passing our table spoke to him as Mortimer. And there were his views, but then that might have been the drink.

        Perhaps the atmosphere drew him into that special world–that misty rain forest nostalgia in which he seemed to live. We were at a table in a lounge called the Rangoon Tavern in one of Canada’s southern border cities. Huge electric fans lazily looped below lattice dropped ceilings. Canework chairs, hanging tropical plants and sundry bric-a-brac of Asian origin helped establish an Our Man in Havana atmosphere. Through the dusky window the wide, dark river flowed, seemingly bankless as the arriving evening blanketed the other side.

          I had been working late. A quick drink seemed a good idea and the R. T., as it was called locally, was in a direct line between my office and my home.

            I ordered a Blue.

          My beer had hardly arrived and I’d begun noticing how disco music failed in such an atmosphere when I sensed a presence approaching from my left.

          “Mind if I sit old chap?”

          I saw no reason to say no. I nodded. He sat.

          “Tony. Your name?”


          “Looks like we’re in for a bit of a blow out there. Rain. Perhaps worse. I suppose it must all come to that eventually. Arrived recently?”

          “I’m sorry?”

          “Have you only recently arrived here?”

          “Oh. About twenty minutes.”

          The waitress arrived and took his order. Gin, no ice, twist of lime. He was silent for the ten or so minutes it took to arrive. His look drew my gaze like a bright light in that dusky room. The disco disappeared. I felt transported to a distant jungle outpost in some ancient British movie.

          “It comes, you know? Not always soon or quickly, but always.”

          “It comes,” I sensed a nonsequeter, “What comes?”

          “Death, old chap, death.”

        He was silent. I was silent. I thought how deadly serious he looked, yet calm, as though his comments were the sort of thing one might hear every day. Perhaps they were. They did not strike me that way.

           The rain began. I was aware of it only because of the way that it obscured the already obscured river. The R. T. seemed a warm and cosy shell swaddling us as water enveloped, engulfed all that was outside.

          “I have seen this before. There is always one. One only. I have often thought that I was he, but it has never quite worked out that way.”

          “I’m sorry?”

          “It’s beginning. The rain has begun. We have met. The cycle is in motion. I have seen...”

          I seemed to hear not crowd noise nor disco drums but only the drumming rain beating on our protective shell. I waited.

          “Soon they’ll come. I feel it very strongly now. They are in the room. Soon. They will come.”

          “Who will come, Tony?”

        “The Spaniard, the Bandit, the actor in black - he will come. He will come with his company. He will come, old chap, and he will say, 'Come along Mortimer; the rape must be foiled and the battle begun!' and we must go.

          “And then, then he shall ask, no tell, one of us, you or me, to be the thief, the thief in the night. And the thief will this time be called Mortimer, perhaps, or Anthony, or the other names. And the thief again must die, for only he shall do, only he can do it so well! It comes.”

          It seemed the shell of the Rangoon had cracked. In his now whispered, hoarse words I could feel the rains engulf me, penetrate me, thin my marrow to weak fluid, dissolve my body and my mind. It was as though I had entered... No! As though his world had entered me.

          I could feel the cool of the rain like a shroud as his words became almost a rhythmic chant.

          “It comes. It always comes. Mortimer knows, old chap. Anthony knows. Joan knows. They all know; all have a turn at the wheel. And the wheel keeps turning; its cycle unending. It comes. But never to me. It comes.”

          I sensed him at my elbow. Turning, I saw a fortyish man in a disco outfit and slender moustache that made him look almost like Zorro, right down to the Spanish style hat and whip in hand.

          He leaned over to me and asked, “Mind if I join you?”

          I saw no reason to say no.

          As he was seating himself, he said, “The rain will end soon.”

          I nodded.

          “It is not yet time, Mortimer. It will come.”

          It seemed he was talking to me. I looked to Tony’s side of the table. He was gone, perhaps to the washroom. By then he had had a number of gins. I had had quite a few beers. The rest of the evening is a blur.

          Tony never came back. The new man never gave his name. I never thought to ask, I suppose. It seems I have seen this before. I have seen this before.

          It comes. I know. It always comes.

          But never for me.

        Inspired by a character in the musical The Fantasticks (1960)

        book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt.



Bob MacKenzie grew up in a photo studio in mid-century rural Alberta with artist parents. His father was a professional photographer and musician and his mother a photo technician, colourist, and painter. By the age of five, he had his own camera and has since been shooting photographs and writing poems and stories. In this environment, young Bobby developed an affinity for photography and the intricacies of language.

Childhood in prairie farming towns amongst Alberta’s cattle ranches followed by teen years in a Calgary beginning to accumulate wealth from the oil and cattle industries, Bob gained rich insights to wide-ranging aspects of human nature.

Bob’s writing has appeared in nearly 500 journals across North America and as far away as Australia, Greece, India, and Italy. He’s published nineteen volumes of prose-fiction and poetry and his work's appeared in numerous anthologies. He's received numerous local and international awards for his writing as well as an Ontario Arts Council grant for literature, a Canada Council Grant for performance, and a Fellowship to attend the Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Bob’s novel, The Miriam Conspiracy is scheduled to be released this spring or summer by the international publisher

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