The liar drained the last of his IPA (“I want it hoppy, ya hear?”) and rubbed the Saranac Lake Ultra 6er patch on his jeans pocket. It looked brand new because it was. He made a mental note to rub dirt on it, when the time was right.
“So you did Baker Mountain first? Most people knock that off last, being so easy.” The guy with the brown-gold beard had drawn the liar close. He had been passing around his phone with a photo of himself, his beard frosted with ice and snow. The liar had sidled over, leading with his jacket patch, and regaled them with his tale of strength and courage.
“I like a challenge,” the liar said with a hint of a self-deprecating smile. “The big moment was when I rang the bell, of course.” He didn’t mention lurking in the bushes behind the library until there were people to notice and congratulate him. That certainly wasn’t part of the story.
“The Kiwassa Bell,” said another, a sinewy man with downturned eyebrows.
The liar only smiled, planning his exit. His tale must need a little more burnishing, judging by the way his sudden companions seemed skeptical. But he’d taken mental notes; his gear definitely needed more creases in the right places. “Have to head for the head,” he said genially — don’t show lack of confidence!— “which is a nice change from the wilderness, am I right? Take it easy, gents.”
He barely collected the stares he got in return, concentrating on finding his way. Why did bars try to hide the bathrooms? He took a turn he didn’t remember taking before, and the door didn’t look right, but a feeling came over him as he squinted in the gloom.
The feeling of being watched.
This made him hustle inside. Even though the room was empty, he took a stall. Maybe the beers had been stronger than he expected, because everything looked vaguely unfamiliar, even though he was a regular here. While he’d been on vacation he was used to that, and now he was back, with a heroic tale to tell.
To be honest with himself, something he avoided as much as possible, he’d had this feeling before. Since coming back from vacation, familiar places seemed too narrow, long, and dark. That feeling of being watched was happening more and more, even in this toilet stall with noise bursting into the room each time the restroom door opened.
Voices were too high-pitched, while the lights were getting dimmer and dimmer. That feeling of being watched was intensifying, with each nick and scratch in the stall walls changing into shapes like squinted eyes. He dropped the toilet lid and sank down to try to steady himself, but with his eyes closed, the spinny feeling got worse, and the eyes got larger and pressed in closer.
With a scream stifled by his fist, he opened his eyes again but the room lights were so dim, and the voices a buzz in his ears. They didn’t believe him, those voices, but he could ignore them, he always ignored people who didn’t act the way he wanted, but the eyes! The angry eyes!
The screaming had gotten hoarse by the time the police arrived and took him away.
“We thought there was something not right about him,” the bearded hiker said.
“Sure was,” said the man with the expressive eyebrows. “But we won’t see him in here again. Not after having a breakdown in the ladies room.”
They all drank to that.