[Image Courtesy of ffffound.com]
“I don’t need any help.”
The gentleman pushed away the hand of a stranger and clicked across the road, tapping his route with a long cane. He had a habit of tapping not only what was to come, but what may be behind him. He knew someone was there. Without sight or sound someone was always there. Probably.
He walked directly into a tree. The gentleman kept his cool and pushed up his dark glasses, even though the day was dark. He felt deep in his pocket and felt the tip of a pistol. He winced behind his glasses; too wide for his face, a face too old to be this young.
A low laughter rumbled near him. Too near.
* * *
Something squirted him. Some thing.
He had small features, as a boy he would look no other way. In years to come his bushy dark hair would grow old and stale, would turn grey at an early age and begin to diminish in a skilful recession of youth. But this was not today. Today, the boy’s vibrant eyes squinched to view through the watery drip. The perpetrator hid behind a tree, there was laughing. The sun held low in the sky, one of the last of summer holiday.
The boy stood with his hands on his hips, the stance all the comic book heroes wore in glory.
“I said, COME OUT!”
Nothing stirred, nothing moved, nothing to be held accountable.
The pistol laid on the grass, still wet with ammunition. The boy circled the tree, it was wide and coarse, no one was there. The boy looked up, the tree was tall and full of bloom. The leaves shook in the thick wind, the sky growing slightly darker every second. The boy looked down in defeat and wiped the remaining moisture from his face. He knelt down and picked up the wet pistol, He positioned it loosely in his pocket, it left an embarrassing stain near his crotch.
It was close, so very close. He pulled out the pistol from his faded pocket holster and swung around to look behind him. Up, down, but nothing was around. Not a thing. The laughter was soft, it sounded muffled. The boy scratched his bushy hair with the tip of his pistol.
“Honey, time for dinner.”
The boy turned north towards the house. “Okay, Mom.”
The boy took one last look at the tree and retreated towards the patio door.
It slapped upon entrance. He slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. It was wooden and creaky; the sound of splintering. This was his designated chair, opposite from his mother, and furthest from the guest chair, the occupant usually introduced as ‘Uncle So-and-So’. Tonight there weren’t any introductions. An ‘Uncle’ was already seated across the boy starting intently at the mother’s bum. The boy placed the pistol on the wooden table, it leaked a little and pooled into a deep scratch on the surface.
“No toys at the table,” the Uncle said in monotone.
The boy did not move. The creaks of the house paused to allow the silence to envelop. It would have, could have lasted all evening, if the mother was not the queen of diffusers.
“I wonder what San Antonio is like this time of year.”
“No one sticks around with the heat. Been through there a few times on my rig.”
“Just the tumbleweeds then.”
She hovered over the steaming pots on the stove. The circles of mist made her cheeks balmy. She looked youthful and fresh, but she the ridges on her forehead told the tale of an experienced life.
“Where did you get that honey?” She placed a plate in front of the boy.
The Uncle leaned across the table and gave the boy a look. Hard.
“Show some respect.”
The boy’s ears began to smart, and a rosy tint grew on his cheek. He picked up his toy and held it under the table. The pistol left a wet stain.
“Just got back from Toledo. Long haul but I came back with all eighteen wheels.”
The mother gave a doughy look. The boy picked at his peas and pushed around the meatloaf. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, the chair creaked with every shift of weight. The boy constructed a mushy pile of disgust.
“The open road,’ he spat, ‘that’s how to live. Without a shadow of doubt.” The Uncle chomped on a piece of corn on the cob, spitting kernels in every direction. Even the mother flicked an errant piece of food shrapnel from her hair. “Right buddy!” He reached across the table, slapped the boy on the shoulder and left a greasy spot on his shirt.
The boy looked at his mother, she returned with a sweet but pathetic glance.
“Yes, sir,” the boy cooed.
It sounded from behind the boy. It was quiet at first, almost muffled. The boy looked behind him, and his chair creaked with the movement. Nothing was there, except for his shadow, small and pathetic against the wall. There was nothing.
. The boy’s eyes grew wide. If it weren’t for the infectious effect of laughter, the boy might have been saved from another intense look. The boy turned it off with a smile, a hideous one because he was confused. The Uncle did not appreciate this.
The boy smirked harder with a flush face.
The Uncle lunged from his side of the table and tackled the boy hard onto the floor, the delicate chair splintered under the attack. The boy stopped smiling.
No tears. The mother pulled them apart. “SILENCE!”
And then there was dessert. Strawberry Ice Cream in a sugar cone. The mother licked the tip of the ice cream tower slowly, with fervour. It melted and dripped on her lips.
“Go to bed,” the Uncle told the boy. “Now.”
The boy obeyed, holding his dripping cone in one hand, and the other, his pistol.
He closed his bedroom door and licked at the ice cream in the dark. The lights from the street illuminated his room, busy with faded posters and toys of comic heroes and dinosaurs; prized possessions acquired from yard sales. Other people’s junk, his treasures. He chomped the remains of his dessert, the crunch left crumbs on the floor. He stripped down to his polka dotted tighty whities and jumped onto the bed. He fished out a flash light and opened a comic book, it was worn and discoloured with love. The house was quiet in the night hours. Nothing stirred or moved, only the lights from the occasional car passing allowed for the shadows to cascade swiftly across the room.
The boy picked up the pistol that sloshed when he raised it. He pointed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The water spilled upwards and fell in droplets on his face. He blinked, and realised how sleepy he was. A car passed by as he sat up, and his shadow flashed onto the far wall.
It sounded unnatural; goosebumps appeared on his flesh.
The noise was far away but close enough for discomfort.
“Mommy! Mommy!” The boy ran down the corridor into his mother’s room. The boy stood with the pistol in hand, frozen in the open doorway.
“It’s,” the mother gasped, “okay Sweetie.”
The Uncle was naked. There was no laughter or giggles, only grunts and moans and compliments of sadistic sentiment. The bed creaked something fierce. The Uncle did not stop. He stared at the boy with fury as he rocked into her. Again and again.
The boy’s ears went red, the mother’s ears went red, the Uncle’s ears went red. The low-light in his mother’s room was red and the boy shed a large shadow across the walls. He stood there a moment, then a moment longer. The boy took aim and shot the Uncle with the wet pistol. The water dripped in synch with the sweat balling off of his chin.
The boy ran back to his room and crashed into each wall along the corridor during his escape. Threats and curses were thrown behind him, trapped violently in the red room.
“Please don’t,’ the mother pleaded. “Don’t stop. Stay with me.”
No footsteps followed and the boy locked his bedroom door. He flicked on a small lamp in the corner of his room, closed the heavy curtains and put a blanket in front of the door. Nothing was getting in. Not on his watch.
No laughter occurred, no giggle to be heard. The boy sat silently on his bed and waited. Waited for something. He looked to all four corners of his room, and looked under his bed. Nothing. The boy, relieved and comforted, felt a funny feeling around his tummy. It was a nice feeling, but funny, almost nervous. His blood was pumping— the heat, the joy, the naughtiness in sight. The fucking. The boy laid on his stomach to ease the strange sensation. He moved around but the funny feeling worsened as he rubbed himself against the soft bedding. The strangeness was good. Funny good. The shallow springs of the mattress teetered with the pressure he pulsed. Good. He pumped harder and harder and whispered sadistic sentiments to himself. He grunted like the Uncle, he poured beads of sweat like the Uncle. The bed creaked and creaked with his tiny legs twinkling in the air as he rubbed his undeveloped privates up and down, sideways and circling, crumpling the blanket so gingerly arranged by his mother that morning. He saw red. The boy cried “Mommy, Mommy” soft enough so she would not hear. And just like the pistol, the expense of effort ended in a small squirt that left a stain on his tighty-whities.
The boy got up from his bed, sleep deepening in his eyes and walked over to the lamp. He caught sight of his shadow looming on the wall as he walked. It was large, dark, stark against the corner light.
Curious. The boy picked up the pistol and walked slowly toward the wall, his shadow growing smaller and more proportionate to his size with each step. The boy pointed the gun toward his shadow. He stared at it.
Loud, sinister, alive. Noise polluting the air.
The boy put the pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Once, twice, four, eight, twelve times until the pistol was empty.
The boy stared at his shadow, deaf from fear. He could almost see himself in the dark mass facing him. It was a strange feeling, he could no longer hear the laughter but the boy knew it was giggling. He could feel the ripple deep within him. The reverberation of dread for what stood before him. The boy shook violently and sweat dripped in swift lines down his tiny face. He felt mad. He stared deeper into the shadow until he could see no longer, sentenced to live in blinding silence forever more.
* * *
The gentleman felt around and propped himself up against the tree. He tossed his cane as far as he could manage. It was lost forever. The gentleman slumped down against the tree, the coarse bark tugged at his shirt on descent. He tickled the pistol that rested in his pocket. He pulled it out, slowly, preciously.
The tree stood tall and was full of bloom, the gentleman was unaware of the beauty. He felt a rumble of laughter, the rumble he had come to know and fear so well. It was never funny, but the Shadow, his world of shadows thought so. The dark unknown was a comedian.
He caressed the pistol, the barrel was cool. The gentleman laughed a gory sputter as he put the pistol in his mouth.