The sun was pure and the skies were a crystal blue, the light broke through the trees on the narrow road like the fingers of angels gently stroking the torn and broken surface of the world. I was at peace with myself, as I drove though the back roads of the country. The simple joy of these long rides though those barely visited places far away from the hustle of the consumer world. The flurry of early shopping and 24-hour mega stores. The memories of that place haunting me even this far out away from it all.
I stopped along the side of the road to have a sandwich, there was time now for such things. No rushing to get to the office on time, or to pay the bills. Just the road, earth, and sky. These moments seemed to me like those hazy seconds after awaking from a dream, when your perception is blurry and confusing. The dream was where I came from, and the longer I was awake here in this new world the more distant it became. The details gradually lost and forgotten yet still prominent enough for me to know that they were out there somewhere, looking on the horizon of the dreamscape in my mind. Waiting for me with knifes drawn when I close my eyes to rest.
The world I had known before was chasing me. I could tell, it was always out there following me. I had begun to see them at first, when I slept and awoke to a nightmare world contained within the area I had rested in, as if my slumber had been drawing some dark reality forth. It was on these trips to the middle of nowhere where lost boys ran down dirt streets towards the local diners and secret clubhouses that I could forget about whatever was after me. The peaceful and slow life that was lost to so many and may soon be gone forever, a mere memory trapped forever in time like bubbles in those little pieces of glass that are made into shapes within their solid prison; forever doomed to become little more then pale imitations of the objects they are supposed to represent. To be looked act, but never interacted with.
These lonely and happy places were where I wanted to spend my days now. I had been running from something; was still running from it, but I don’t know what that was. It’s from the world of skyscrapers and bomber jets, some specter chasing me to the ends of the earth. Refusing to let me rest. A demon born back within the world of those poor crowded streets. I always thought, when I was striving for success that I would be happy there, with everyone; but life in the city was lonelier then anything else. Not many people truly stop to think things like that. With all these people within mere feet from you at all times, but to be totally alone. Everyone lost within their little circles, leading to a whole decaying husk of concrete and steel where people die every day of loneliness and depression. It’s such a sad place to be, the modern world, and yet it kept going. Converting lives into bubbles. Placing them into glass. Living to work, and owned by so many little things. Not free to make even the most simple of choices.
These things were so complicated. It was on these rides, at night, with the light of the dashboard to guide me down dark roads that I first started hearing a faint voice. It was a sound in my head, a trick of passing light cast on the car as it winded its way along lost highways. It tried to reason with me, told me that I wasn’t running from anything. I wouldn’t listen to it at first, but then it started trying to understand me. Slowly, as we talked more about things that I can scarcely recall, he began to manifest more and more. Eventually he became a looming shadow in the back seat, a shade in my rear view. The back seat man, the one rational voice left in a world that ceased to make sense.
Though I never looked at him, he never made me feel uncomfortable but I feared what I would see if I looked at him. The back seat man told me of lives of happiness in the modern world. He argued that there are circumstances and conditions to everything. Living, dying, and everything in between. People may be lonely and they may be trapped but sometimes that’s their choice, and perhaps it may not be as bad as I thought. I wouldn’t argue when the back seat man spoke, but I would listen to every word. Then every night when he came back I’d say my peace.
One night I asked him who he was, how he got in the car without me noticing him. These questions, when not entirely ignored, were almost always answered with more questions. He would ask back where I thought I was going. What was I running from. I couldn’t answer the latter question even after two days and two pit stops at sleazy hotels. If I thought about it I just saw red, I felt scared and angry and betrayed. These were the only emotions I knew from my past. I didn’t even know my name. At hotel registries I had begun to write ‘Bob Smith’ into the logs.
Where was I was going? He said that animals when dying often found a nice secluded place to rest before the end. Alone with the sky and the earth. I said that I was going to where I felt I belonged. A place where I could be alone with my thoughts. A place that would be like the home I might have once had but no longer could remember. The back seat man laughed at this thought. Thought? How could he have heard it. No, I was speaking out loud and I didn’t even realize it.
The next night at a run down motel six I filled out the log. “Michae—“ I scratched it out. Red, I saw read. I tore the whole page out of the hotel log. Ripped it up right in front of the female clerk. She had eyes that seemed to look right through me, all she said was “If it bothers you that much you don’t have to fill it out, honey.” With that she handed me my keys and said, “you can’t run forever.” It sounded menacing, threatening even. Her voice became deep, her face twisted, I shrunk back.
“What did you say?” I said, already starting to reach for my pocket, for the cold metal of –
“I said have a good night, sir.” She kept that distant stare on, the whole time it felt like she was examining me. It made me feel uneasy.
In the room, the shadows from the blinds cast shapes on the nearby wall. The light from the outside and the portable A/C unit made the darkness seem organic almost. An act of perpetual motion. There, under the covers, I wondered what would become of me when I died. It seemed too strange to think that while now death seemed like a distant rumor that I would ultimately face it. Then, I was gripped with a panic. The inevitable and slow moving black curtain of death always seemed so close to me, though it was not, it always seemed like I was trying to outrun it.
his whole time was I running from death? Was that why I first became aware of myself on a dark road with the light of the dashboard guiding me towards some unknown future? I couldn’t answer anything, and I didn’t want to. I was somewhat at peace now, free from whatever it was. The past was like a chain, each memory a link, dragging you down so that death could catch up that must faster. I had lost the burden I was carrying but each moment I was here, now, was a new link in the chain. Soon it would overcome me. I couldn’t run from it, but here I was… trying to.
I rolled over in the lumpy hotel mattress and stared at the wall that the shadows were dancing on. The shapes vaguely reminding me of figures from the past. I saw a tank roll by, there was an explosion, there was a woman in a dress dancing, these things seemed to jump out at me like patterns in an ink blot test, but I could no better remember these images significance to me then I could remember purchasing the gun that now laid on the pillow next to my head. It was a revolver, though there were only three bullets in it. It disturbed me to think about what I used the other three for though I could not recall ever firing it since I first became conscious.
I rolled back over, away from the shadows of my memories. The last thing I saw was the barrel of my gun pointing right at me, and after that the darkness took me as well. To join the shadows, which had begun to move towards my prone body, like a pack of wolves would to a wounded fox.
* * *
When day came I rose again. The phone was ringing, but I didn’t get to it on time and was greeted with a dead line. I had been moving mostly at night, but I could no longer sleep. The first thing I noticed when I woke up was that my room was filthy, the bed looked run down, almost ancient. There were large cracks in the walls. The curtains were tattered and were cast in front of a window that the glass had long been smashed out of by bored children. This place was abandoned.
No, something wasn’t right. There was a clerk here, there were other cars, other people. The place this was now was not the place it was when I arrived last night, someone was trying to catch up to me. That’s the only explanation that made sense. The back seat man would know what to say about this. Whatever it was that was chasing me was not natural. It wasn’t some predator or person. They were decaying the world around me, then I remembered that this happened to me before. I had stopped at a dinner when my trip began, before the back seat man started to show himself to me. I was sitting at a table and eating some eggs and ham, there was a ringing in my ears and I passed out. When I woke up the place looked like it had been in a fire, my food was a charred plate with an old newspaper sitting in it. It was another chain, another memory. I remember clearly that after I saw this new place I had awoken to that I began to weep, for what reason I do not know. It was then I saw the white lady, her angelic face was sitting across the table from me. There were no words, she just stared at me with understanding eyes. Beautiful blue eyes. The place around her though, it seemed more hostile. It looked like hands were reaching out of the walls at me, faces on the wall started yawning as they gained sentience. I felt like they were drawing me towards her, towards that gorgeous body and beautiful, forgiving, understanding, face. What frightened me about her the most; not discounting my boyish feelings of not being worthy of such beauty, what about these shadow demons that had suddenly awoken around me made them so predisposed to be frightened of a woman who was so beautiful and vulnerable, for I noticed not once did those faces or shadowy arms ever leer at her or reach towards her. If anything they seemed to radiate from her. She was more then she seemed. The hardest part of the encounter was tearing myself away from her gaze, but I managed somehow to run stumbling past the arms and faces reaching out to me from the various surfaces of the diner.
After I stumbled out the diner’s door I turned and saw the place was back to normal, there were cars parked outside and people inside laughing and chatting it up with the dumpy waitress that had taken my order before the blackout. Perhaps I was seeing a world between ours and theirs. These shadow places bleeding into reality because of something I had done or was going to do. Understanding what it was that I had done that had let loose the hounds of hell upon me was slowly becoming the utmost of my priorities. My head was really a mess if I was forgetting about things like this. It seemed so difficult for me to hold on to a memory. It felt like I was trying to hold on to a fistful of sand, every time something came up it slowly slipped away, in many ways it seemed like I was living in a dream; though I knew I was awake.
This time though, it was happening all over again, the hands started to form out of the shadows. The faces began to appear on the walls, and my door began to slowly open. The light started to appear behind it, a soft, pure, white light. She was coming for me again, to capture me and drag me down into the world of shadows, to become one of the many faces and arms she used to snare in her victims. I jolted up out of the bed and dove out the missing window in my room, and I swear I felt the tattered edges of the curtains try to wrap themselves around my ankles as I made my escape. I got the drop on them this time, they tried to surprise me but I saw it coming.
Now I was past her reach, she could only influence places, not the earth. Her beautiful eyes stared at me from that room’s missing window. The curtains billowed out at me for a moment and then slowly fell back into place. The motel, as if blinking in and out of two separate existences, was entirely back to normal. The female clerk was leaning against my black car. She was beautiful as well, but not ethereally so like the white lady. She was beautiful because she was young, her hair was short and wild, dyed a pinkish red. My type of woman now, the wholesome kind just made me feel sick to my stomach.
As I approached the car she just started at me until I was just a mere step away from her. There was a rumbling in my head for a moment that felt like I was being blasted by high speed winds. As I clutched the sides of my head in an attempt to stop it I noticed the cuts on my forearms and bits of broken glass in them. I had dove through the window, but it wasn’t there when I jumped. Though, now looking back at my room I could see the broken glass and tore up frame that argued otherwise. They were toying with me.
There was a moment of silence, we seemed to both be appraising the other. She had green eyes, and a few freckles on her cheeks. More then likely a natural redhead who had dyed her hair to make it somehow redder. In her hand was a gun, it was a 9mm of indiscernible make. Maybe a custom job. She wore a pair of cargo pants that seemed to delicately cling to her figure as well as a thin jacket that was zipped up.
“I see them too, all the time,” she said. “I’ve been seeing them for months, at first I thought there was something wrong with me, but last night with the log I could tell you were marked by them too. I tried to call you when the place began to change, I was still awake when it happened. They like to get you while you sleep if possible, but if you’ve been evading them for long enough they don’t care. They’ve never been this sloppy when they come for me.”
“How do you know about them?” I asked out of a mixture of relief and anxiety. “All this time I thought I was starting to go crazy.”
She laughed dryly, and with a hint of desperation in her demeanor she continued. “I’ve been marked too, but I didn’t see the white duke this time, it was just her, the lady in white with the shadow faces. She took my father, he even drew her a few times. He told me as he was lying in his hospital bed and dying that the white lady was right next to me, that he couldn’t resist her. At first I thought the cancer was making him delusional, but for a few moments I swear I saw her too, she looked right at me. Funniest thing, I felt so attracted to her that I almost grasped at her myself, but she turned away and reached down for my father. Then suddenly the room was back to normal and with a sigh he was gone.”
“The white lady has been after me since I stopped at a Diner outside of Tulsa. Those shadows, looking at what’s around her makes it easier to break away, but it’s still so hard… she looks so understanding and comforting. Could it really be that bad, I wonder?” I looked away from her crystal green eyes, ashamed at that thought for some reason.
“Stockholm Syndrome.” She said flatly.
“Maybe. Still, you must know how tempting these thoughts are.”
“More then you could imagine, I’ve been seeing them all my life. I just never thought they would come for me, though when it finally happened I wasn’t surprised. After they have taken so much from me, maybe I too should join the shadows and be with the others.”
“Last night I thought you were one of them, your voice changed, it was frightening, it made me miss noticing that there was more to you.”
“They might be trying to pit us against one another, make the one perceive the other as saying something or doing something they didn’t. They might do that to all the people that can see them. We’re probably in over our heads if they have such powers, but I don’t want to go wherever they are taking us. I’ve been so scared, so alone, always with those shadow faces reaching towards me. I don’t want to become one of those monsters.” She began to weep. I held her, how could I resist comforting such a lovely, lonely girl?
“You said that I couldn’t run forever, and that may be true, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start. Let’s get out of here before they come back.” I was frightened too, whatever this was that was after me and this girl as well was something that was not of this world. It was unnatural. That was my opinion at least, though it could be natural as well, maybe death itself was coming for us. I shuddered at the thought.
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