Here's a story I've been working on, thought I'd share the first three bits here to see if anyone has any feedback...
The bus sits at the station, rumbling and shaking like a great angry beast that canít be bothered attacking the pests that infest it. These pests are idle themselves, shuffling thoughtlessly aboard and dumping their change into the collection bin, then elbowing their way to itís innards to take a seat that was clearly designed for someone much smaller. The overweight driver stares straight ahead, hunched over the steering wheel with an expression of numb dismay on his face, acknowledging none of them. No one speaks, and no one makes eye contact. Itís cold, itís gray, itís abysmal and itís like this every damned day.
Itís 5:10pm in the city, and going-the-hell-home time. Looking down the windows of the bus one after another I see nothing but the bored, blank faces of people who are tired, dreary and not living in the moment. Not a single one of them, driver included are really on the bus. Theyíre day dreaming about home, or work or far away places. Some sit and stare, some listen to music, some read romance novels but none of them are actually on the bus. Theyíre all coping with life and reality as theyíve come to know it, by escaping it every single chance they get. Little do they realize.
I stand on the sidewalk as the snowflakes slowly fall, watching this mundane occurrence with what would look like peculiar interest if anyone were to actually notice. Scenes like this have caught my attention a lot since I found out. At first just for the sake of curiosity, later out of a sense of paranoia and now for pure self preservation. I really have little choice.
I catch his gaze just as the bus lurches to life and begins to slowly pull into traffic. An acknowledgment in a sea of disinterest. Heís sitting in the very back seat on the near side of the bus, and heís staring directly at me. I look back fascinated and disbelieving as always, as if it were the first time I was seeing one and just now acknowledging the insane truth sitting in front of me. His head is slightly down as he looks at me out from under his brow. A young businessman at a glance, or maybe a salesman of some kind in a gray overcoat, a gray suit and red tie. His hair is close cropped and combed back tightly over his clean shaven face. On his lap is a briefcase, which he clutches in both arms like a mother might hold a child. He is an ďaverage manĒ, looking no different than anyone else, but I know the truth. I know what he is. Our gaze locks as time moves in slow motion.
His eyes widen slightly as we share a moment of mutual, uneasy recognition. I can see the hatred building as he glares at me, as if heís looking at a spot three feet behind my skull. Although this one has never met me before, this ďaverage manĒ absolutely despises me and were the circumstances right he would see me dead here and now. I can feel his anger building as he looks through me. The malice, the hatred, the pure and complete sense of loathing. I infuriate him. He wants to see my guts ripped out and smeared across the sidewalk. He wants me to suffer and die horribly by his hand, right now. This moment. His rage and hatred are palpable, as he tries to maintain an air of nonchalance. Iím trying to not attract attention myself, but Iím sweating despite the cold and starting to shake as I unwillingly maintain our stare down. Finally, the bus slowly pulls this ďaverage manĒ out of sight into the dense, heavy traffic of the city. I can still see his face.
I know, and he knows that I know. They all do, and they absolutely hate me for it.
Itís time to get moving.
Home and ďsafeĒ.
I made it back to my one bedroom bachelor shortly after 7pm, which is slightly later than Iíd like but these days keeping a predictable routine is unwise. I think anyway, I donít really know a damned thing anymore. This is my third apartment since all of this started back in November, and Iím already unsure how long Iíll be able to keep it up. If I hadnít promised her Iíd do this, Iíd have walked away a long time ago although Iím trying to accept the fact that walking away isnít even possible anyway. So here I am in a situation where the outcome is at best completely unclear, and at worst is something I absolutely refuse to contemplate. I miss her, I wonder if she even remembers me?
The apartment is small and like everything else in this damned city, itís gray. The walls are damp with moisture and mildew and the floor is stained by something organic the origin of which I can only guess at, but choose not to. There is one window with a cliched view of a brick wall across the alley and despite the brick, itís gray too. ďTwo roomsĒ, the landlord said when he showed the place to me, ďone to shit in and one for everything else. $350 a month, by the month. Want it or not?Ē. How could I turn down such a sweet offer?
So the depressingly stark look of the place wonít be lonely it also comes with a range of accompanying smells, and none of them pleasant. They surround me as I half-heartedly rummage through the cupboards looking for something to eat like a starving rat thatís indifferent to itís imminent demise. Stale bread, some cornstarch and half a roll of tinfoil. Not exactly appetizing so I just go to bed and take advantage of the one thing this apartment does offer, cable TV. The landlord said the price of the service is added into the rent, but considering the fact that he also said the entire building is wired up ďthe old fashioned way from the porn store across the alleyĒ, Iím not sure how he justifies charging a fee. Typical really, but I donít care so much because this place is cheap and anonymous, plus I need the TV to try and sort some things out. Iím removed enough as it is.
The eighties era Radio Shack television slowly fries itself awake as I switch to the news and hear the same things as usual. War, murder, rape, robbery, car accidents, missing children, financial turmoil, sports and weather. As if adding on the last two will somehow alleviate the crushing immorality of all the rest. Two more women were found raped and murdered on the outskirts of the city today, there were a string of robberies overnight two of which ended in shooting deaths and there was a suicide bombing in another country that killed seventy-nine people including thirty childrenÖ oh but on the plus side the Bears won a home game, and its going to be on the mild side this weekend. The news shows the depths of human depravity and misery, while implying itís not so bad because itís all happening to other people and not you. It provides the escape of allowing people to Ďtsk tskí at everyone else while feeling better about themselves for being above it all. They arenít of course, not really. People are what Iíve come to call willingly ignorant, eating up everything thatís fed to them without ever once considering the source of the meal.
The comparison may sound preachy, but society really is little more than a flock of sheep. Each individual keeps their heads down in the flock and happily chews on whatever dirty grass happens to be underneath them at the moment. They push and shove, eat, sleep, ****** and fight every day without ever once acknowledging the truth of whatís going on around them. All it takes is one to raise itís head and look around, the truth is right there but none of them see it, or even want to see it. Not to sound high and mighty mind you, I was a sheep like everyone else my entire life and damned happy about it. I simply didnít want to know any more about the ďbig pictureĒ than what sterile information the evening news provided me. Yes, the world could be a terrible place full of hardship and wrongs, and Ďtsk tskí thatís terrible but Seinfeld was coming on so thatís ok. I was a willingly ignorant sheep, and on many levels I miss it. Now I find myself outside the flock in perception first and understanding thereafter, forced to carry on with the uncertain knowledge of what makes up the ďreal worldĒ, with the flock a nebulous herd somewhere in the distance.
Oh, and the shepherds want to ****** torture me to death.
So far Iíve found seven other people who find themselves in the same place I do. Three Iíve met, three Iíve only heard of and oneÖ well, thatís Laura. From what Iíve been able to gather there were others in the city at some point, some who were from here and others who traveled here for whatever reason. All of them awoke one day with the same bitter realization that destroyed their lives and prevented them from taking part in this ignorant reality everyone else wanders around in. Once you know, you know and there really is no going home again. I miss home.
The news is still on, showing views of global misery and upset interrupted occasionally by the demoralizing consumerism of advertising. I find watching the news fascinatingly scary these days, although in a different way than I did before and that very difference helps me put all of this into focus. Besides that, I can see them here too. Just as I can spot them on the street where others canít, I can see them on TV as wellÖ but here they canít look back at me as I stare transfixed. They canít get me. Iím safe looking at them through this little electric window, and they still terrify me. I have little choice regardless, I need more information if Iím to be ready for the next meeting and besides, watching them like this gives me strength.
God knows I need that. Iím going out again tomorrow.
I arrive downtown at around 4:50pm, just prior to the masses being released from their corporate dungeons, eager to flee the confines of the city that belittles them all day for the safety and routine of home. This is the best time of day for this sort of thing, two men alone on a sidewalk might stand out. Two men in a group of hundreds much less so, and Iím not ready to stand out yet. Not like that.
I wait at the corner of 42nd and Main, just outside Carrollís Book Store. Itís cold, and uncharacteristically clear as I find a likely spot where I could be both out of the way and in plain site at the same time. My hands thrust deep into my pockets against the cold, I lean against a light post facing south down 42nd street and wait. To my right is a newspaper box, the headline reads, ďDEAD MAN STILL UNIDENTIFIEDĒ. Thatís exactly the sort of thing Iím trying to prevent on a personal level. It wonít be long, I just hope heís alone.
I first spot him about two blocks down, walking towards me. Iíve been watching this guy for a good month now, I know his routine as well as he does. Theyíre all so damned predictable like that, but I suppose thatís what blending in is all about. Heís dressed as any other young businessman might be, a long dark overcoat with the collar pulled up against the cold and the hint of a fashionable green tie peeking out under his clean shaven chin. They seem to prefer this sort of detached professional look for some reason, possibly because itís this vein of society where itís easiest to blend in as a face among the faceless. His black hair is short and combed sharply to the right, giving him a crisp look of a professional charlatan and in a way, thatís exactly what he is. His eyes are narrow and his face expressionless just like those around him. He seems to be just another corporate soldier trudging home after a long day on the business battlefield. Of course, things are rarely what they seem.
As he gets nearer, I step away from the light post and stand facing him in the middle of the sidewalk. The crowd brushes and elbows past me in their hurry to get anywhere else, hardly noticing my presence beyond the momentary annoyance of someone not conforming to the flock. ďWhat is wrong with you?Ē, one woman says as she pushes past. Good question. My throat tightens and my breathing becomes shallow as he draws nearer. For some reason, it feels like Dad is home and Iíve been a very bad boy. A crushing sense of claustrophobia closes in on me, as I realize heís close enough now that Iím unlikely to get away unseen even if I chose to. I desperately want to turn and run, to scream at the top of my lungs and bolt for the nearest door and lock myself in, but I canít. I told her Iíd do this again, and damn it Iím going to do it. Heís still walking towards me, head slightly down. Close enough now he could hear me if I were stupid enough to raise my voice.
ďGreetings shepherd,Ē I say aloud as the words catch in my throat, ďyouíve been looking for meĒ. Our eyes meet as heís about 20 feet away, and although this one has never seen me before, in his gaze I feel a sense of complete recognition. He stops cold and stares me down, likely unsure why Iím meeting him in the open like this. Heís wary and momentarily confused at my appearance, and frankly I canít believe Iím doing this either. The crowd continues to bump and jostle its way past as we stand confronted, like two stones in a fast moving stream. ďYou are Jon Bradley,Ē he finally says in a confident voice of merciless resolve, ďaged 34 years. You act outside the system. You will come with meĒ. I swallow hard as the reality of the moment begins to sink in, time to say my piece Laura.
ďI respectfully decline your kind offer and instead ask you to relay a message to those above your control.Ē The wind picks up as sprays of snow swirl between he and I, whisking over the unthinking chattel of society still moving around us. I canít believe Iím doing this and neither can he. ďPeople like myself are many and strong, and for them as well as for myself I ask for your disassociation that we might leave this city without further repression. I ask that we be given leave to depart unhindered, free from further rebuke and free from fear of later prosecution or punishment. I ask that you allow us to assemble at a place of our choosing to depart as one, or to trickle out individually as we will by a schedule of our own choosing. We no longer want to take part in your experiment. We no longer wish to be cogs in your machine. We have no more use of shepherds.Ē
The wind howls, and the heartbeat of the noisy city seems hushed.
He hasnít blinked since we first locked onto each other, and neither have I. He breathes deeply and for a moment looks around at the masses of people still oblivious to whats going on in front of them. As he looks he appears sickened and furious at the same time, like an angry man with a bad stomach flu. When his gaze returns to me the sickened part is gone leaving me with his rage, hatred and disdain. He looks like a man with too many things to worry about, and Iím here to give him one more. He takes his hands out of his pockets, fists clenched. ďYou will come with meĒ, he says again. Was that the slight flash of a smile on his face? He still hasnít blinked as he starts advancing towards me, and I know itís time to go. As I turn to run I pull out the envelope with a copy of my pretty sidewalk speech written on it and throw it on the ground between us. Iím hoping he stops to pick it up, but if he doesnít one of the others will and no doubt theyíre on their way. I took too much time with that, I really did.
My back is to him and Iím running now, hard and as fast as I can through the throngs of mindless business zombies that crowd the sidewalk. Iím pushing and being pushed, running and being restrained all by this mob of humanity too wrapped up in itís own individual situations to even be aware of the chase thatís taking place within it. I can hear his footsteps behind me, fighting the same torrent of people. I can hear his breathing, and I can feel his intent. Madly I dash through the crowd with him close behind. I dart in and out amongst the people trying to stay low, if only to get out of his sight for a moment. I grab an older man selling newspapers and use him as support as I wheel around the corner and into the alley. Itís clear of people here, cluttered with garbage and refuse but otherwise empty. It will be him and I now, and no one else. I stretch my steps, almost bounding down the alley and nearly tripping over myself as my feet struggle to keep up to my now terrified momentum.
Behind me I hear the old man yell as heís knocked over by the shepherd. The slapping of business shoes on concrete fills my ears as he charges after me in a furious rage, and I run. He must be gaining on me but I canít look. I canít do anything. My skin burns with tension, and my vision clouds with sweat. My head throbs and my feet hurt, but I keep running like a rabbit from the wolf. Is he about to grab me? I still canít tell. BANG. BANG. BANG. I hear his feet hitting the pavement. Relentless, uniform, unforgiving. Iím flying almost out of control, pushing myself as fast as I can and the alley darkens around me. Around us.
Why the hell did I agree to this?