CITY of the DEAD
Copyright © 2019 by Wendell G Sweet. All rights reserved foreign and domestic.
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CITY of the DEAD
The line between real:
I met her for the first time in a dream… I was dreaming: Vivid dreams as always. I had always assumed them to be vivid dreams, ultra-real, almost as if they were real, yet my mind disconnected them somehow, and so I knew in the dream that it was a dream… I think I explained that as well as it can be explained. If you have dreamed like that, then you know.
So I met her for the first time in a dream, a dream that turned out not to be a dream at all…
“Easy… Easy, Boy.” I lowered my hand to the dog’s head and patted affectionately, trying to calm him. He whined low in his throat and looked around at the darkness that closed in on us.
We were in a garage that much I could tell. Just a nondescript, average run-of-the-mill garage. I had had this dream many times. Some leftover thoughts, spike on the imagination line, something like that.
The dog lived here. Not the garage specifically. Specifically he lived with, or was owned by, the people that lived on the ground floor of the nearby house. I knew that was true because I lived on the top floor of that same house, even though I had only ever set foot there once or twice, and then only in dreams. I still knew the place. It looked the same. Familiar. The dog, Bear, slept in the garage.
The dog squirmed under my calming hand, whined once again, and then darted out of the garage toward the lower floor of the house. Maybe the first floor. Maybe the basement if he had or could find a way into it. Either way, he was safe now. A kind of exit stage left. Still, I waited a few long minutes to see if he might return, when he didn’t I turned my attention back to the grocery cart I had just pushed for the last few miles to reach the garage.
It wasn’t mine. Well, technically it wasn’t mine, but everything in this world was mine if you came right down to it. I had entered what looked to be an abandoned house and found the cart, already loaded, and sitting in an attached garage just off the ground floor apartment. I remember thinking… “So… This is how it begins…
It always begins some way and I suppose that sometimes the ends justify the means, and here was the end… I mean to say that I took the cart, loaded as it was, no more thought involved, pushed it out of the garage at a run and went blindly down the rain-slicked dirt road in front of me.
There was one bad part when I nearly got stuck, but I saw the problem from a long way off, put on a burst of speed and made it through the mud hole and out the other side. It was only a matter of minutes later that I had come in sight of the house and knew what the deal was. I had been contemplating the cart and its contents, feeling ears of corn through the side of a large sack, about to check some other stuff, when the dog had appeared.
When the dog came, memories came with him: The house; the people that owned the dog… Returning from work… or? I don’t know. Work or something else. Daily? Was it before things got bad? If so it had to be work: There was nothing else but work before. So work, or something like work… Coming home… The people downstairs… The family upstairs that I knew so intimately, but had never actually seen… Other memories… Leaving to go and get the cart… Knowing it would be there somehow… Getting there… Looping back to here and the present time…
The dog didn’t come back. I stood, the moonlight washing over me: This was critical, all that I had to do was stay there. There meaning upstairs. Stay there. I would be home. I was home. All I had to do was stay. But it never worked out that way. Even as I was thinking about climbing those stairs, checking on the kids, climbing quietly into bed beside my wife, something else was pulling at me, and as I looked around, the big van was parked in the driveway. Almost talking to me. Had it been there a few moments before? A few seconds ago? Surely not. I’d just pushed that cart up that driveway. There had been nothing in it… And that was… Today…? Tonight…? Just a short time ago…? Sure it was.
I let my eyes move around the garage, sweeping over the cart and its load of bundles and packages… Junk too… I hadn’t seen that before… Computer parts? … Maybe… Food and machines. That was ironic. But my mind was not satisfied. The van was there and if the van was there… … I felt in my pockets… … Keys… … And absolutely those keys hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. I could feel their scratchy press against my thigh. Irritating yet comforting… My eyes turned up to the van.
The van was the way out. It could be anyway, if I could simply stay with it… But there was no time to think. Certainly no time to be thinking like that.
More memories came. Memories of always taking the van; always, and… And I couldn’t make the rest of that ghost of a memory come, whatever it was, it was lost to me. … The city… Being lost in the city… Something…. It wouldn’t come, but, well I couldn’t stay here could I?
I glanced towards the house again, expecting the dog to come back… No dog… He had played his part and… And… I looked up at the full, bloated moon. When had I left the garage? I was standing next to the van… Looking in through the drivers’ window. The keys out of my pocket and into my hand. I could feel their cold, metal weight… Dawn was not far away, if I was going… That was it. The thought just echoed in my head… If I was going I better get going? … If I was going I better get to it? … I better throw away the keys and go in the house? … I better… But I stopped those thoughts. I knew where I better lead to, it lead to, ‘The time is short!’ Once dawn moves in you’ll be stuck! Whatever I had to do in the city with the van had to be done now: Before dawn, or not at all. There was no time to think about it… There never was… I looked down and sucked in a sharp breath.
I let the breath out slowly as my hand fitted the key into the ignition. When had I opened the door? ‘For that matter,’ my mind started, but I shut the door on those thoughts as the van roared to life. I dropped the lever into reverse and for some reason I looked up at the top floor of the house as I did. The lights popped on… A shadow moved behind the curtains of one window… ‘Better go if you’re going,’ my mind whispered. ‘You could stay,’ another voice inside my head countered. ‘Just walk up those stairs…’ the curtain moved in that upstairs window and I quickly turned my eyes aside… I couldn’t see that…. I always turned away: Always…
The van bounced and then lurched out into the street. Gears clashing, transmission whining. The tires chirped as I braked too hard and then slammed the gear shift into drive. The outline of the city glowed in soft yellow light before me. The moonlight bathed the road behind me bright and familiar. After all, how many times had I driven this road? … I sighed, slipped my foot off the brake pedal and let it fall heavily onto the gas. The tires chirped once more as I moved off down the road, snapping the headlights on as an afterthought. Behind me, in the back of the van, the dog whined. I lowered one hand and his head slipped underneath that hand.
“Easy… Easy, Boy,” I said.
In The Moonlight:
“Easy… Easy, girl, I won’t hurt you.” I lowered my hand slowly to let the dog get my scent as I approached the van… Boy, my mind corrected… Boy, Gizzel…
“Boy,” I said aloud and laughed. But the dog looked like he knew what I had said, cocking his head from one side to the other. His upper lip curled away from his teeth, but he was no longer snarling or growling deep in his chest. “Easy, Boy. Easy, Boy… It’s me, Gizzel… Easy.” I reached down and he allowed me to rest one hand on his head. I ruffled the thick fur there.
This was new. Did the dog know me? Did I know the dog? I thought about it and realized that at the very least I knew the dog. That didn’t mean the dog knew me. And the dog was definitely not letting anyone near the van. Guarding it. He seemed to consider me on a deeper level, his eyes locked with mine. When had I looked back at him? I couldn’t answer the question. With the dog looking at me like that the question didn’t seen important at all. Wasn’t, important at all, I corrected myself… The dog corrected…?
“You do know me… Don’t you? …Bear?” The dog, who was not a dog, cocked his head to one side and seemed to smile at me. … “Your name is, Bear? … Good, Boy… You’re… Robert’s dog… Bear. Good boy, Bear… Is he here… In the van?” I eased closer as I talked.
Bear watched me, but no longer growled at all. Even the stiff posture he had assumed had changed. His tail dropped and moved slightly. It may have been the beginning of a wag. He whined low in his throat. His eyes reflecting green iridescence in the blue of the moon light. He whined again and then came closer to me, easing his head back under my hand so carefully it seemed as though it had always been there. I rubbed his head once more and then my hand slipped under his jaw, scratching, my head lowered at the same time. Bear whined again and then licked my face.
Gizzel, you take too many chances, I told myself. Too many. But my hand continued to rub Bear’s head and scratch under his jaw, allowing my racing heart to slow. Catching my breath. Wondering what came next. I was new to this. I had never been this far before. I didn’t know what came next.
“You get in the van,” Robert said from the open window above me.
A small, sharp scream slipped from my throat before I could stop it; sounding like someone was strangling me as I tried to suppress it.
“Jesus… Jesus, Robert… Jesus!”… I managed to get myself back under control after a few seconds. I sucked air back into my lungs. Bear whined and looked up at me. My heart slammed against my rib cage.
“No… Not, Jesus. Thank God it’s not that time,” he said.
I met his eyes, but there was no smile in them. “You scared me,” I said defensively, still breathing hard, chest heaving, heart slamming against my ribs.
“No shit. You think I wasn’t scared too? You’re not supposed to be here … You never have been.” He finished quietly after starting in a loud, strained whisper. His eyes remained on mine. The wind picked up moving the limbs in a huge Elm that stood nearby. Its winter-dead limbs clicking and clacking as they came together. The heavy branches groaning and creaking as the wind momentarily gusted.
The wind continued to build for a few more seconds. Our eyes still locked on one another. Then the wind died down with an audible sigh and I shuddered involuntarily and shifted my eyes away.
“I know… I know,” I started. I moved my eyes back to his, but he just stared at me.
“I do know,” I started again. “I’m not even sure how… How I got here,” I finished quietly.
Bear pushed past me, tail wagging, and jumped up into the van as Robert opened the door.
“That’s how it happens,” he said every bit as quietly as I had started. His eyes that had wandered up to the night darkened sky were back on my own now. Staring at me out of the open door. Bear’s head popped up, looking at me from between the seats.
“Well,” Robert asked?
“What,” I asked? I cocked my head in an unconscious imitation of the way Bear was looking at me.
“Shouldn’t you get in,” he asked? … “Or don’t you want to?”
And that was the question, wasn’t it? Here I was, where I was not supposed to be, where I was not invited to be, where I had never been before and it was time to make the choice.
Bear cocked his head once more as if he were also waiting to hear my answer. The dog that was not a dog at all… a… wolf? Maybe… Maybe more than that too… His green eyes asked the question.
“I get in the Van,” I said quietly.
Robert looked away and then turned quickly back. “Yeah. Yeah. You get in the van and we… We go… It’s nearly dawn… There isn’t much time and we have to get as far as we can before the sun comes up.”
He stretched one hand across the seat, held out to me and I could hear the engine running… When had he started it? … I couldn’t remember. My tongue poked out and licked at my dry lips. Bear seemed to grin. No. Not just a wolf either… One side of his upper lip curled over his teeth.
I found my feet stepping up into the passenger area and I followed…
In The Moonlight:
On The Road with Bear
I rolled to a stop at the intersection. The city was ahead, the house behind, I had never turned left or right so I had no idea what might be in those directions. Were those two roads, one to the left, one to the right, winding away into the distance, just conceptions? One of those photo realistic things that made you look twice, maybe even more? I looked again.
The roads were night dark, the moon playing hide and seek, gliding in and out of the heavy black clouds. The falling rain distorted both the near road and the distant road. How long had it been raining, I wondered, once the rain finally registered. Big, fat drops formed and rolled off down the slope of the windshield. I reached for the wiper switch but found nothing.
I took my eyes from the windshield and looked, supposing I had put my hand in the wrong place, but I had not. There was simply nothing but a gray, formless mass that slightly resembled the lower half of a dashboard. I blinked and when I opened my eyes once more the wiper switch was there. Exactly where it had not been. Exactly where it should be.
Tired I thought.
Bullshit was my second thought.
I blinked again, but the wiper switch remained. I flicked it on half suspecting that it wouldn’t work. That the wipers, if there were any real wipers, would remain frozen to the glass, refuse to move, but they swept up and pushed the beaded drops of rain from the glass nearly silently. Bear whined and pushed his nose under my hand.
“Alright, Buddy,” I told him. I stroked his head and then looked back out at the road. Left, right, straight, I asked myself.
There was a mystery to the city. Sometimes it went bad for me and sometimes it simply frustrated me.
… Running down the clock… One thing was sure, I had never come back out of the city in the many times that I had driven down into it.
… Left, right, straight, I asked myself again.
I pulled a small wire bound notebook and a pen from my shirt pocket and thumbed it open. Pages and pages of notes on the many times I had gone, but none of them amounted to anything except four entries:
The first entry, page twenty-Six, an address, 52715 Randolph Circle. I had never found Randolph Circle in all of my trips, let alone 52715. I had no memory of ever being there. Of any trip to the city when I may have gone there. I did not remember marking the address into the book. Nothing. A total blank.
The second entry, page twenty-five, read; Be careful of Locust Street. Big bold letters. And I remembered being there. I had barely got away with my life.
The third entry, page twenty-seven said; ‘West End Docks.’
I knew that place. I remembered being there, the first time and several other times. But the details weren’t there. I couldn’t see them. Why had I been there? I couldn’t see it. Put my finger on it. There was a long, low building that fronted the docks. A house across the street. An old run-down neighborhood. A low, curving concrete wall where I had sat and watched people come and go several times. And more. The feeling that I had been there other times that I could not yet remember. I say yet because I had the feeling that I would remember it. But page twenty-six? Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a ghost of a memory.
A map would be useful, but there were no maps. It had taken a dozen times or more before I could count on the wire bound note book being in my pocket. Bigger things, like the van, had taken even longer. Before that I had had to walk or steal a car and that was always risky. But there was hope for a map. Someday, just not this day. At least I didn’t think so.
A quick check of the glove box and the engine cover storage area proved that to be true. Nothing useful. And why was it so much useless stuff was there? A spare pen cap… A broken transistor radio, the van had a radio of its own… Sometimes anyway, but there were no stations on the dial, or at least not yet there weren’t. That was another maybe, but it was there, so what good was a broken transistor radio?
Two paperclips. An insurance card, made out to me… For what? A fuzzy life saver, it looked like lime, my least favorite flavor. A flashlight with no batteries, and a dog biscuit. That was new. There had never been a dog biscuit before. Bear whined and gave a little woof in his throat.
I laughed, “It’s yours, Buddy.” He took it gently from my hand. The dry scrape of the Windshield wipers dragged my attention to the windshield. No rain. No rain on the road either. I reached down and flicked off the wipers. At least the switch was still there.
Straight, my mind finally decided. Better the evil that you know. Left and right could wait for another night. I eased off the brake as Bear jumped up onto the passenger seat, rested his paws on the dashboard and watched the countryside pass us by as we made our way into the city.
The fourth entry was on page fifty-eight. A series of numbers. 2757326901. All strung together, followed by a name Gizzel K. Whole first name, initial only for the last: Like I knew her maybe? I didn’t though. I must have at the time I wrote the number down, but I didn’t now. Who was Gizzel? Were the numbers a telephone number? Code talk? It bothered me that I had written the entry and yet had no recollection of doing it. Same as Page twenty-six.
I passed the City Limits sign as I wondered. Regular street lights. No traffic. Sometimes there was traffic, sometimes there wasn’t.
The rain began to fall all at once. One second no rain, the next everything was drenched as though it had rained forever: Always; would never stop. I fumbled for the windshield wiper switch once more, but by the time I turned it back on the windshield was clear. No more rain. The road looked as though it had never seen rain, as if it had never been there at all.
I glanced at the speedometer and then lowered my speed. I didn’t need to attract attention. There were cops here and they had no problem putting me in jail. It didn’t seem to matter to them that I was no more real to them than they were to me, off to jail they took me. And before that was all said and done I spent ten days in that jail. Eating Bologna sandwiches, smelling that moldy-pissy jail smell and trying to convince my court appointed lawyer that neither of us were really there. Jail was no good. I had no intention of going back there. I looked once more at the speedometer, backed off a little more, and then passed the sign announcing the city limits.
The city was early morning dead. It wasn’t dawn. If it were I would not have been there, but dawn was close. There was a glow above the city skyline. Faint… Pink… Growing as I sat idling at the intersection waiting for the light to change.
I noticed the rain was falling once more and I had either never turned on the wipers the last time it had rained, or I had turned them off after it had rained. I reached down to flip the switch on and that was when I heard the sound of a heavy engine screaming. Gears clashing. Bear voiced a warning just as my eyes cleared the dashboard and tried to make sense of the scene before them.
There wasn’t much time to absorb it. A garbage truck just feet away from the driver’s door and closing fast. Sirens screaming. Red and blue lights pulsing. Chasing the garbage truck, I wondered? That was nearly the only thought I had time for.
Bear barked again. My eyes focused on the truck only inches away from me, and slowly rose to the driver. A woman… Gizzel? … Her eyes focused on my own for the split second before the Garbage truck hit the van’s driver door full blast.
Pain exploded inside of me. Faintly, far away, I heard Bear howl in either anger or pain. Then that sound, all sound, was quickly cut off, replaced with a low snapping sound that quickly turned into a heavy crackling sound. The smell of Ozone filled my nose, but something else quickly began to replace that smell. Gasoline. Gasoline and something else… Diesel? And then, with a low wham, the heat came. I struggled to free myself, but it was no use. I had time for one more quick thought … Gizzel … Gizzel … Why …? And then the explosion came and the pain flared, then ended almost as fast as it had come and I found myself flying through the blackness of the void… Flying…. Falling… Panic building… Lungs trying to pull a breath… Voice trying to scream… Nothing coming out… Then sight returning in a rush… The street racing up to meet me… The remains of the Van and the Garbage truck burning far below me…. Red and blue lights pulsing… Cars parked aslant in the street where they had skidded to a stop… Cops behind open doors… Crouched to fire… Their guns pointing… Rain falling… The pavement coming closer… So close I could see the individual pebbles of the surface embedded in the asphalt mix…
The impact came with no pain. The remaining air crushed from my lungs… I tried once more to scream, but it was no use… I hit hard, bounced, came down once more and my eyes flew open wide as I impacted the second time…
Gray half-light… The buzzing of the alarm clock… My own sheets tangled around me… Damp with sweat. The red numerals on the clock read 6:47 A.M. I sucked air greedily, like I had never been among the living at all. Never known how to breathe. Just returned from the dead. I released my breath in a long, shaky shudder, found myself half sitting up in the bed and fell back to the mattress urging my racing heart to slow… Calming myself… Morning had come.
I reached over, shut off the alarm clock and silence descended on the room. I could hear my heart beating in that silence. Rapidly slamming against the inside of my ribs. Hard. Heavy. Loose and wet. Hear my labored breathing. I lay still for a few minutes watching more color seep into the sky, then got up and made my way to the shower.
In The Moonlight:
This Present Waking To life
Tuesday: Late Afternoon
Doctor Donna Shulman’s Office
“So… How did that make you feel?” Doctor Shulman asked me.
“Feel? I don’t know… Dead? …. Like it was real? … Like it’s always real until I wake up and find out that it isn’t real, you know?” I lifted my eyes to her, but she said nothing. “And…” I paused. No way should I say what was really on my mind. Shut up, Gizzel! I told myself before any of the words could slip out.
“And?” she prompted.
“And?” I questioned innocently.
“And you left off at And… It isn’t a typical ending to a sentence. At least not any structure I know of. I felt you had more to say?” She lifted say so that it made her statement a question. She waited. She was a good waiter. The best waiter. The best I had ever met. They probably taught that in the psychology classes she had taken.
I had known Doctor Donna Shulman for two years now. All in therapy. Two years ago I had been speed addicted, just coming off living on the streets. Now I was back to my old job as a website designer. No one I worked for knew about my past. My Probation officer wasn’t invasive like that. He was satisfied that I was working, maintaining a home, residence was the legal terminology he used when we discussed it, and probably what he wrote on the forms that went back to the judge. I was testing clean. I was clean, and had been the whole two years. My probation ended in a matter of a few weeks.
“Gizzel?” She prompted.
“Sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t. It was ingrained. I hated myself when I groveled or apologized for no reason.
“The guy,” I said reluctantly. “I dream about this guy all the time. I mean every dream, and I’m dreaming about the same places all the time too. Over and over… He’s …. I don’t know… I don’t want to sound crazy… He’s … It’s like he’s real.” There, I told myself, I said it.
“Do you feel crazy,” she asked? “Impulsive? Like you’re worthless? The way your father always made you feel?”
“No,” I answered quietly. We’d covered a lot of ground in the last two years of mandated counseling sessions. All for resisting arrest. Well, I had kneed officer Macho Man who had insisted on touching me everywhere he possibly could while he justifiably subdued me. It still made me mad. And I had also shot a looping right to his eye, but it was only luck that I hit it. Okay, I had taken self-defense classes… Maybe it wasn’t just luck.
“Not feeling like using? … Getting high,” she asked?
“Absolutely not!” I answered a little too strongly. But it was the truth. I didn’t feel like using. Hadn’t in a long while. Not since the last time that had found me in the fight with officer Touchy-Feelie. After all of that I would have had to have been insane to want to drink: Of course N.A. talked about that. The insanity of the drug use. The addict doing the same things over and over and yet expecting different results.
“I feel like he’s substantial… He knows me … Knows things about me… Everything.” I said.
“Well, Gizzel. They’re your dreams… Naturally…”
“Right… Right… That’s why I sound crazy… I know it… But it goes past that… Like… Like I’m not even in… In charge? … Control? … Control is a better word. Like I’m not even in control of the dream, you know?”
She studied me. “…No…” she said at last. “No I do not know.” She studied me some more.
“Like… Okay… This will sound crazy… Like somehow I’ve crashed into his dream. Like I’m part of his dream… Like it’s not even my dream, it’s his, and somehow… Somehow I’m like some bit player in his dream… But it is my dream… So it’s like I’m a guest in my own Goddamn dream… Or his… whichever it is,” I finished quietly. I studied her right back.
“I see… Well, what do you suppose that is telling you?” she asked me.
“Telling me?” I asked back.
“Yes. Telling you,” she countered, refusing to give me the answer. She waited.
“I,” I sighed. “I don’t know,” I admitted.
“Really,” she asked?
She sighed. “We’ve been over this, Gizzel… Your Father controlled you. Obviously this man… You feel this man is controlling you. You feel like you are living his dream. Acting in his dream… As though it’s scripted by him… You can’t see the correlation?” She leaned forward expectantly.
“I,” I started, and then the small session clock on her desk chimed. I let out my pent up breath. She smiled.
“Saved by the metaphorical bell,” she said and smiled.
I smiled back.
“Next week then, Gizzel?” She smiled again.
“I will think about what you said,” I said, trying to mollify her. After all she did send reports to my probation officer; days to go could turn into weeks or months to go, maybe, if she turned in a bad report. “I really will,” I said, forcing my face to look as sincere as I could once remember looking, or wanting to look, when I really wanted to convince my mother that everything was okay in my world. It had worked then… Maybe…
I looked up and she was smiling. “I know you will. I’ll say that for you, you do the work… Have you given any thought to continuing therapy after the court ordered sessions stop? I’m sure you realize that next week is our last session.” She smiled once more. “I’ve already submitted your last report. I recommended you be released, Gizzel.”
My eyes immediately became moist and my throat caught. I cleared it, blinked a few times to keep the tears away. I hadn’t realized how afraid of all of it I was. Of all the times to start having nightmares. “I’m so grateful for that,” I said and I meant it. “I appreciate it.” There I was groveling again.
She smiled. “Let me know about the other,” she said as she opened the door for me. It took me a second, my mind was racing with all the possibilities of being free.
“Yes,” I said with a slight delay. I had felt compelled to answer Yes I will. I’ll keep coming, but I bit that back. “I will,” I said, groveling again.
I stepped out into the hallway as I spoke and the door slammed hard behind me making my heart jump into my throat. I spun around thinking, the wind… Must have been the wind, but the door was gone. The hallway was gone. My heart hammered harder in my chest.
I heard the footsteps before I saw anyone. I was trying to take stock of my situation: Where I was. I had been there before. A wide open area of machinery. Huge ceilings twenty maybe thirty feet high. So much noise that I could hear nothing but the noise. And that made me wonder how I had heard the door slam. Heard the conversation for that matter. Heard the footsteps I still heard. My heart jumped higher, seeming to block my windpipe with every beat. Pulsing like drums in my ears.
‘Run, Gizzel, Run,’ my mind screamed.
I turned and ran blindly along a high metal catwalk that was elevated about fifteen feet above the floor. The sounds of the machinery now blocked out the sounds of the footfalls, but a quick glance over my shoulder showed me the two cops behind me. Right behind me. Maybe all of twenty feet. I tucked my arms into my sides, pumped my legs harder and put on the best burst of speed I knew how to put on. The ribbed steel treading of the cat walk provided good traction, but how long would it go on for I wondered.
I turned a corner. The cat walk ended, and I found myself in a huge garage. A large Garbage truck sat idling, the driver’s door hanging open. It seemed my only choice. Later I began to doubt that, but at the time it seemed so final, like there really was no other choice, but to jump into the idling truck, slam the door, and get away from those cops. Later it was obvious that it was too pat. A set up.
I hit the step of the cab and launched myself inside of it. My breath was coming in hard, painful gasps. My heart slamming so hard against my ribs that it felt capable of breaking bones… Or itself. A second later I was sitting upright, the stick shift in one hand, racing the gas pedal, punching my foot into the clutch, releasing the emergency brake and then nearly dumping the clutch all at once when one of the cops seemed about to jump onto the cab step. The truck roared, lurched forward and slammed into the closed garage door in front of it.
Glass and wood sprayed the garage. The door didn’t slow the huge truck down at all. I ducked reflexively as the truck lunged through the door and out into the street.
Halfway down the street I had the engine wound out in fourth gear when a couple of things occurred to me. First; I had never driven a stick before. I didn’t know how to do it. I shouldn’t have been able to know about the brake and be able to get moving that fast. Second; were the cops right behind me even now?
As if to answer my question the sounds of sirens came to my ears. Red and blue lights pulsed against the interior of the truck. The rear view mirror reflected them, catching my attention. It was only a second, but that was all it needed to be. I looked up and there was his face. Shocked. Eyes wide. Just a few feet away from me. A red van. Inches now. No time to stop. I heard myself scream as I hit the van broadside in the driver’s door lifting it off the road and into the air. The hood of the garbage truck flew up, smashed the windshield, and then came through it. It all happened in a split second, but in the same instant it seemed to last forever. To go on for a very long time.
I felt the pieces of the hood strike my face. Pain flared bright, hot, all consuming. All just a brief split second and then I was falling. I couldn’t breathe… Absolute dark consumed me…. Falling faster… I hit the mattress hard, a scream tearing from my throat as I did. I screamed a second time before I realized I was in my own bed. Grayish-pink dawn light glowing against the dirty window panes. The hands of the old wind up clock standing at a quarter to seven A.M.
“Oh, Jesus God,” I sobbed once I caught my breath. I curled up into a fetal position. Sickness ripping through my stomach. It was so real… So real.
In The Moonlight:
The Road to Anywhere
The first thing I felt was the cold hardness of the steering wheel under my hands. The second thing was cold air flowing against my face. Probably what woke me up, I thought before I actually had the time to think about it. I blinked trying to clear my mind, but it remained foggy. Cobwebbed. Stuck. Was anything here ever clear? No. At least that was one thing that I actually did know was true.
I was back. That much was clear. Sitting in the van in the driveway. No, I corrected, sitting in the van in a driveway. It was close to my driveway, but not quite right. The house too was almost right, but again not quite my house. Some little something was off. Whatever it was that made it my house was not there. Things like that were absolute, at least most of the time they were. It either was or it wasn’t and this wasn’t.
I looked around at the van. It was my van, although again it was not precisely right in detail, it was what it was supposed to be… Paper clips sitting in the bottom of the cup holder molded into the engine cover, and I knew if I opened the glove box there would be an insurance card and the broken transistor radio…. A few other things. But it wasn’t exactly right, and that meant someone had approximated it. And, I forced myself to follow my own logic, if someone had approximated my van that meant they had to know about it in the first place, didn’t it? They had to know it well enough to know what it looked like and what was in it too. That bothered me. There was no one at all that should have possessed that knowledge. No one.
I looked at the house again. Same size. Same basic layout. Two stories. Same garage off to one side. I began to doubt my initial feelings that it was not my house. The house looked more like my house than the van did my van. So why was the feeling in my gut telling me the van was okay and the house was not? … No clue. Just that vague feeling in my gut.
I clicked the key over once and the idiot lights came to life on the dashboard. No clock. There was never a clock. The gas gauge swung over to full and pegged the little steel post… Brass post, my mind supplied. Okay. Brass post, I agreed.
Full tank. The battery gauge came to rest dead center. A low crackle came from the radio that caught my attention.
The radio rarely made any sound at all. My fingers reached for the tuner knob automatically. As I touched it, it disappeared before my eyes. The radio face smoothed out and the old fashioned radio disappeared before me. A new, modern radio appeared in its place. Dozens of digital presets… I pulled my fingers away as if they were burned. The radio continued to crackle and spit static.
I stared for what seemed a very long time then reached out and pressed the first preset. The static smoothed out to glassy silence. My finger hovered over the next preset, about to press it when the strains of a violin reached out of the van’s door speakers and filled the truck with soft strains of music.
The violin was a solo piece, or at least it seemed that way. It swelled, fell, and swelled again. Filling the interior and drifting out into the night through the open window. My heart caught in my throat. It was so beautiful to listen to, but… Someone might hear… Someone who shouldn’t.
I pulled my attention back from the radio and caught the end of the steel sight of a gun swinging close to my face. Bright light exploded inside my head. No pain. No time for thought. I was spinning in the void, flying… Flying free. Then falling. Falling faster and faster.
I hit the mattress hard, the air driven from my lungs in one quick rush. I bounced and caught myself sitting upright struggling to breathe. The clock blinked 6:47 A.M. … I was home again…
I fell back onto the mattress drew a deep breath into my lungs and focused on the ceiling. The ceiling was not my ceiling, it only seemed to be. I had stared at my own ceiling so many mornings after waking… Just like this. So many evenings trying to fall asleep, or avoiding falling asleep.
There was a hairline crack that ran from the light fixture towards the window. It wasn’t there. I pulled another deep breath into my lungs fighting against the fear that was building inside of me. The trick, if there was a trick, was to act as though nothing was out of the ordinary.
I focused on getting my breathing back to normal. Slowing my heart rate as my eyes took in the room. Almost exact. Almost. The clock was the same, but wrong… Too perfect. My own clock didn’t look so…
New, my mind supplied? Maybe… Maybe my own clock was a little more worn…. Broken in… And… And I didn’t know what else. It was my clock, but it wasn’t my clock. It was that simple. And I noticed as I took in my surroundings that the bedside stand was completely wrong. I had seen that stand before. It was in my head. That had to be where they had retrieved it from… My head… Had to be… This stand was in the house I had shared with my wife… The other bedroom. The one in the house on the dark road. The end of the dark road. Someone lived downstairs. I’d met them, an older couple, at least a few times. Bear’s owners… I lived upstairs with my wife, when I was there: When I could be there. The rest of the time was up for grabs. Sometimes in my own room. Sometimes in places like this. Places that weren’t real for a reason. And that troubled me. There was always a reason. I sighed, rolled off the bed and padded towards the bathroom.
I turned the knob on the bathroom door but it refused to move under my hand. Panic returned fast and hard. My heart leapt into my throat and then began to hammer away at me, pulsing hard at my temples. The bedroom. The hallway. Three doors and the stairs leading down. It all looked right, but I was sure that none of the other doors would work either. I turned towards the stairs and then changed my mind and went back to the bedroom. The clock blinked… 6:47 A.M. In red LED’s. Not possible. I picked it up. No cord. No hinged door for the batteries. Nothing. I palmed the clock and walked out of the room quickly, hit the stairs and then took them down two by two.
The bottom of the house was absolute silence. Moonlight spilled through the front windows. I could see the van sitting in the driveway and that was wrong. Nowhere that I had ever lived had I been able to see the van sitting in the driveway. And if this was home the van shouldn’t be there at all. So…
My thoughts froze. Someone was sitting in the van. I could see the shadowy outline as their head moved and was illuminated by the sparse moonlight. Someone. I shifted the clock in my hand and felt the cold steel as I did. And that was wrong too. Plastic. It should be plastic, I told myself as I looked down at my hand.
Cold blued steel. A small, compact pistol. Something with a clip. I didn’t know enough about pistols to know exactly what it was. Maybe a .380. Maybe a Nine Millimeter. It seemed too small, too compact to be anything larger. I looked it over in the moonlight.
I could see the safety had been flicked to the off position. I took a deep breath, started to step forward and a sudden blast of cold air hit me hard. Sharpening my senses. Nearly causing me to gasp as I drew the cold air into my lungs.
I found myself on the side of the van, hand outstretched, pistol gripped tightly, aimed through the darkened opening of the drivers’ window… Window rolled down… The persons arm resting across the window channel, elbow sticking out into space. I crept closer setting each foot down carefully.
It was the last footfall that betrayed me. A loose piece of gravel gritting under my shoe. It gave me away. Music suddenly swelled out of the open window… Violin… And I knew. I knew right then, but when the figure turned towards me my finger jerked against the trigger anyway, and the night exploded with sound and bright color. My vision snapped into tight focus for a split second and then everything went black.
The black consumed everything. Sound… Light… Color… Thought… Air… Life… Feelings and pain and sometimes when it happened I wished it would just go on forever. On and On… Nothing else ever. Just blackness… Forever… Rest. Sleep. Real sleep… Peace of mind… Real…
But this time it didn’t last and my body slammed down onto the bed so hard that I felt it slide across the floor. The table went over, the clock flying through the air and shattering into dozens of black and clear shards of plastic. I saw it. Just as I saw my body impact the mattress: The bed jump sideways; the stand go over. I saw it all from about four feet above my body where my spiritual self hovered, waiting.
My body, the physical me, the one on the bed, struggled to breath. Fingers clawing at the mattress, twisting the sheets into his fists. He drew a deep breath and my spiritual self ceased to exist. I slammed into my own body hard, and the panic, fear, hot sweat, smells, light and air, feelings, all flooded back into me in one huge rush of light and heaviness. The breath I pulled seemed to sear my lungs, burning harshly as I greedily sucked it in. The blood rushed and sang in my head. Pulsing at my temples. Feeling as if it might burst from me and shower down onto the bed in a bright scarlet spray.
Bird song came to me from the open window on a light, warm breeze. The smells of greenery floating on it. The air settled into my lungs, I pushed it out, sucked in another deep breath and the panic began to fall away. The beads of sweat on my body beginning to cool in the light breeze. I lay still, calming myself… Letting the life come back into my body.
My hands opened and flexed and something slipped from my hand onto the tangle of sheets. I sat up and picked it back up… A shapeless mass of… Something… Plastic? Metal? It didn’t feel like either. It felt cool to the touch. Cooler than it should be. It had no recognizable shape. No texture. No smell either, I thought, as I lifted it up to my face. And very little weight. Much less substantial than its size would have suggested.
So, I told myself, I bought something back with me… That was a first… What did it mean? …
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