Chapter V:

Quixotes Descending

Leon saw it for the fifth time while he was grocery shopping. It walked past on its donkey just down the aisle. It hadn’t appeared to notice him. He’d noticed that usually they did. They turned their heads slowly to face him, or turned their donkeys, gripping the reigns tight with the hand that held the blank shields. The last time, while walking to his car, it had lowered its lance at him, and Leon had walked right on around it, pretending that it was nothing.

He knew categorically that he wasn’t crazy. It had happened too fast, he’d never had reason to question his sanity before. He was in total command of his faculties and he had total presence of mind.

No, it wasn’t all in his mind, Leon thought, selecting a box of cereal. It was really happening, only no one else could see it.

He got into the express line as always (only when he was shopping for a special meal did he ever do otherwise, and that was a rare occasion). The cashier was a tired looking man perhaps in his late fifties. White, unusual for the employees at this Safeway.

“How do you do?” he said to Leon and began passing his items over the scanner.

“Well, thank you.”

That was when he noticed that the bagger, who should have been a pimple-faced late teen, was a Quixote as well. His donkey was seated right next to him, and his lance was leaning against the counter next to the donkey. The motorcycle helmet shined dully beneath the grocery store’s high-ceilinged lights.

The Quixote bagged his goods just like a normal teenager would.

“Is everything alright?” Leon heard someone speaking to him. It was a middle aged blonde woman behind him in line.

“Sir?” This time it was the cashier.

“What?” Leon barked.

“It comes to forty twenty-two sir,” the cashier said, sounding perturbed.

“Sorry, was I out long?” Leon asked, reaching for his wallet and producing forty-one dollars.

“Out?” the cashier echoed contemptuously and took the money, paid the register and gave him back his change.

Leon looked at the Quixote bag boy again. Through its helmet, the Quixote looked right back at him.

After shoving his wallet back into his pocket he remembered the original Quixote in his other pocket. He pulled it out and shoved it in the bagger-Quixote’s face.

“What the hell are you doing, sir?” asked the cashier.

Leon did not answer him.

“Move along, sir,” the cashier said.

The Quixote showed no reaction to the image of itself in miniature. Leon studied and stared with eyes the size of saucers.

“Can you see it?” he asked, clear-voiced.

But the Quixote did not answer. Perhaps, behind the motorcycle helmet visor, it couldn’t.

Leon knew he wasn’t crazy.

“Sorry,” he said at last to the cashier.

“It’s fine sir.” The cashier’s voice had lilted. He’d noticed the Quixote in Leon’s hand, and was staring at it. Leon hurriedly stuffed it back into his pocket.

“Thank you, have a great evening,” Leon said and took his bags from the Quixote, which turned to look at him. Leon walked a wide semi-circle around the donkey, which he noticed was cleverly tethered to the grocery counter.

He left the store as quickly as he could.

The first thing he did when he came to his apartment, after putting away the groceries, was give Heather a call, but she didn’t answer. He left a short, awkward voicemail, his second in four days. She was playing hard to get. She wanted him to win her back, but he wasn’t sure how such was possible. She would have to come back to him at least a little, but so far she had shown no inclination to do so. As the days passed his level of interest and irritation had risen in tandem.

He decided to make himself spaghetti with meatballs for dinner, and enjoy the quiet of the evening, read a good book as opposed to watch television. He chopped up half an onion and a bell pepper, mixed them into a can of tomato paste and heated them up with pepper and chopped basil and parsley. Cooking calmed his mind, the same way that doing dishes did: semi-creative motor activities at which he could only improve over time. But he wasn’t used to cooking for more than one person. His grocery list was invariably that of a bachelor. It had been that way ever since he’d come to Oakland and left the days of roommates safely behind him. Living alone required an entirely different set of skills.

Leon was stirring the spaghetti sauce when he heard his name.

Leon Ramble. Leon Ramble, a noise like falling leaves rustling in early autumn.

Leon continued cooking. He had fast become adept at staying unsurprised, but his breath labored and his heart beat faster. Maybe he should just try to ignore it, the same thing he did to the Quixotes he saw walking around. He knew he wasn’t crazy.

Leon Ramble. Leon Ramble.

Leon put the dry noodles into the water, which was coming to a boil.

The little Quixote was in the living room, he remembered. He had left it with his phone and wallet when he came in through the front door. All of a sudden, though, he wished that he had it with him. A cold sweat had broken out on his forehead. His teeth pressed tightly to each other, jaw full of tension.

We need you, Leon Ramble. We need your help.

“Who are you?” Leon asked the air, voice shaking, and he heard this in response:

We need your help, Leon.

There was something about this voice that he instinctively distrusted.

“Are you trying to scare me?” he asked.

We want your help. That is all.

“It’s just me, isn’t it?” he asked. “I’m the only one that can see what’s going on.”

The voice did not respond.

“You might as well just tell me. I’ll be more use to you if I know what I can do to help.”

We need your help, Leon Ramble. And you will want to give it to us.

I don’t think they have my best interests at heart, Leon thought to himself, stirring the spaghetti sauce.

Maybe he should give Heather another try. Anything to distract him from the voice.

He left the kitchen, the voice repeating his name in his ear, and saying this: You won’t be able to help yourself at all soon enough. You will need our help too. A battle is brewing, Mr. Ramble. Be prepared.

Leon reached the living room, and he, and the voice, came to an abrupt halt.

It was the Quixote, life-size like the ones Leon had seen, standing on his coffee table. But there was something different about this one. It wasn’t alive. It was merely a projection. The Quixote figurine was on the table beneath it, sending a strange light upwards that created the hologram. There was a golden halo surrounding its motorcycle helmet.

Leon approached it cautiously, a smile coming to his face.

“My adventure is beginning, isn’t it?” he said.

There was no answer.

The Quixote did not turn to face him as he approached, not like the ones he saw walking around, because this one wasn’t alive. This one was on his side.

“I’m ready for it,” he said. “I’m ready to do what’s necessary.”

Still no answer. Had the voice come from it? Why had it distressed him so? It looked beautiful and ridiculous within its halo, coming up from its miniature on the coffee table, which Leon knelt down to pick up. The projection disappeared instantly.

The Quixote was as powerful and reassuring as ever resting in his palm. He slipped it into his pocket and then returned to the kitchen to turn the heat off beneath the spaghetti sauce, which was starting to burn.

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