“I was Jesus.” Josh was surprised; it was the first time he heard Toby speak. Actually, Toby probably wasn’t his name. Two months ago, a dirty brown coat supporting a ratted mess of long brown twisted hair appeared in an alley Josh walked past every day. Josh named him Toby. He always sat with his knees folded up inside his coat and his arms wrapped around them. His head leaned forward and rested on his knees. Two weeks ago, Josh had left an apple next to him. For the past week, he’d left something every day.
Toby lifted his head. His hair and beard were horribly neglected and covered all but his eyes and forehead.
“That’s right, I was Jesus.”
His voice was low and soothing, like the DJ of an easy-listening radio station. He had captivating soft blue eyes which held Josh as he stared. He felt safe and comfortable. As he stared past the blue rings into the dark pupils of this stranger, his chest pounded. He then saw flashes of light and he found himself standing on a beach as cool water lapped against his feet. The sky went dark and he looked up to find himself standing in a dusty city as buildings crumbled around him. Screams and gunfire ripped at his ears. With a blink, he was now standing in a small hut where a young woman breastfed a newborn baby in the dim light. Another scene, then another; each shorter and moving faster the previous. Soon, he could no longer make out details as flashes of lights danced around him and sounds of people laughing and screaming surrounded him. He breathed fast and hard. Where was he? What was happening? Overwhelmed and scared, he screamed and the images faded. He saw blue eyes of Toby holding him hostage. His arms and legs tingled. He tried to open his mouth but was only able to crack his lips. Toby then dropped his head and severed the link.
For a moment, Josh stood frozen. Then, he blinked. His arm twitched and his head jerked. He regained control and glanced around to see make sure nobody had seen him foolishly staring and screaming. No one seemed to have noticed. He looked back at Toby, who sat, once again, huddled in a ball. He turned and hurried down the street.
Josh missed the next two days of work. He spent the time tossing restlessly in bed. Although exhausted, he couldn’t sleep. He drifted off only to wake twenty minutes later screaming, but, strangely, not scared. Memory of his dreams vanished moments before his eyes opened and he didn’t try to recall them. While awake, he tried to close off all thoughts because every thought eventually led back to Toby. There was something dark and frightening about Toby that he didn’t want to remember.
Toby got out of bed, put on his long coat, and walked out the door. His hair wasn’t combed, he hadn’t shaved in three days and he wore nothing under his long coat. He didn’t feel his hands touch the door or the cold sidewalk on his bare feet. He felt vacant; he had one purpose…to find Toby.
He turned the final corner and into the alley where the huddled ball named Toby sat. Now Josh felt the cold sidewalk sting his feet. He felt the breeze on his legs, hands, and face. Josh felt the world around him as the dark memories from Toby exploded from the pits of his mind. His chest burned, his hands trembled, and he frowned. He wanted to reach out and choke Toby; to end the nightmare.
“I was also Shakespeare.” Toby spoke without lifting his head.
Josh didn’t answer. Moments later Toby raised his head and locked eyes with Josh.
“You were also Hitler.” Josh said.
Toby’s eyes narrowed. Josh sensed a wicked grin under the untamed beard. Toby rocked his body forward and stood. Face to face they again locked eyes. Josh stared like an injured impala into the eyes of a Leopard.
“Yes,” Toby said in a deep voice that seemed pleased. “And so were you.”
Josh saw Toby’s mouth curl up through the stringy beard. Without warning, the smile vanished; along with the beard, eyes, and hair. The coat remained suspended in the air briefly and fell to the ground. Josh looked down at the heap of clothing. He stood motionless for several minutes before realizing he was naked and staring at his own coat…the coat Toby had been wearing. It was his coat. He squatted to the ground, reached forward, and lifted it from the ground. He swung it around his naked body, knelt into a huddled ball, and wept.