Shadows on the Wall
When I was
but a child, before the realities of life had winnowed the joy from my soul, I
did these things. Reclined to the world,
I would gaze at the blue above and consider all possibilities. The clouds would scroll by as if pushed by
the hand of God. The more I looked, the
more I saw. There were ships in the sea
that I imagined were sailing to the Horn and colossal birds that flew over the herons
below. It was all there, if I could
imagine it. I could find anything I wanted in the afternoon sky.
Then one day they came, the faces. At first they were innocent enough, unnoticed, like a crowd on a boardwalk. Blank ones all, unassumingly moving to unknown parts in the sky. Then something happened. A face looked back. It was an old man, his beard long and tattered, I imagined him a sailor, an old seadog cast from his ship, destined to drift through the clouds, searching for riggings and sails he would never find.
He rolled and tumbled through the clouds about him. His playfulness was obvious. I could see that he enjoyed his merriment and folly. He looked back at me with a mischievous grin before disappearing into the sky around him. As the last trace of the old salt vanished, a 4-mast square-rigger appeared in the cloud behind him. With billowing sails, it swung to the portside. The captain had found his prey, chasing a white whale the two fought across the sky, locked in a voyage that would go on and on until time itself ended.
The more I watched, the more I saw. Whole groups of people walked before me across the sky. Woman with babies, children chasing each other, men on park benches, it was all there. I couldn’t understand why others did not see these things. When I pointed out the figures, people would ridicule me. I was accused of being insane, one man offered the theory that I was be a drunkard, high on my rye and barley, but I knew what I saw; only now l would keep it inside.
When I think back, the faces were only meant for me. They were a message. Insanity is only a term used to describe what we don’t understand. I am not insane. If anyone is insane, it is the others. They wallow in their stupidity like sows at a trough. They will see who is crazy I thought to myself.
The faces continued to follow me. I didn’t always pay attention, but I was aware. Aware they saw me, aware they watched me and aware they knew what I was doing at all times. They became my friends, my angels. I knew they were real even though they were just shadows.
Then it happened. One of the shadows left the wall and came down and sat on my bed. He stared at me with an angry face. I turned my head away and looked at the wall. Looking back at me was a blank face. It looked like a mask. I couldn’t escape the eyes though. They followed my everywhere.
Throwing my covers off, I ran down the hallway to the bathroom. Dropping my underwear to my ankles, I sat down and stared at the floor. But there, in the spot I was looking at was another face. It was smiling at me. It looked like a court jester. I looked back at him for a moment, then I reached down but there was nothing but cold tile.
“Did the faces ever talk to you?” a voice asks from the dark.
“Not at first, doctor,” I reply. “They were silent pieces of cloth and paint. I thought I was losing my mind. Then one of the faces called me by my name.”
“Samuel, I want to help you,” the face says to me.
I tried to ignore it but it kept calling my name. I shut my eyes and sat there in fright like a terrified child. Pushing my hands harder and harder against my ears, I tried to block out the voice, but it just kept calling my name.
“Samuel, let me help you,” the voice asked.
“Leave me alone,” I pleaded.
“You are afraid,” the voiced replied.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You’re scared of everything, Samuel, your mother, your friends, even women. Young men scare you. You jump off the sidewalk when those boys walk by in their varsity football jackets. You act like a little girl,” the voice said sarcastically. “Act like a man. You could kick their asses if you wanted to. If you would only act like a man.”
After a long silence, I quietly said, “I don’t like confrontation.”
“Was that the end of the conversation?” the voice in the dark asks.
“No, it was not, doctor,” I replied.
“What happened then?” the doctor asked.
“I went outside to get some air,” I reply.
It was one of those perfect days, early May, springtime. It was warm enough to walk around without a jacket but not hot enough to be uncomfortable. My allergies were bothering me, which is how I remember it was springtime. I started sneezing but I kept walking around the yard. Then I found out why the face had pushed me there. It was the motorcycle.
I had bought the bike last year but quickly I became scared of it. The thing was cat-quick. If I touched the throttle, the bike would jump. Traffic would terrify me. Every time a car came close to me I would panic.
I had visions of flying over the handlebars and smashing into truck. I would die like a fly on a windshield. I stopped riding the bike. It was another failure in my life.
As I looked down at my reflection, all I saw was a coward. My mind wandered for a moment and then I heard a voice.
“Come on, start the engine,” the voice told me.
“No,” I replied.
They keys were still in the ignition. I had left them there on purpose. Hoping someone would steal the bike. I swung my leg over and sat down on the damp seat. I turned the key and the engine started to cough. After a few more hitches and stutters the engine caught and ran on its own. It rattled like it was full of marbles, but after a few twists of the throttle the engine got smooth. Some silver-white smoke came from the exhaust pipe but it cleared quickly.
Tapping on the shifter, I heard the familiar clunk of the bike dropping into gear. Slowly I released the clutch and turned the throttle. Then I heard the voice again.
“Don’t be afraid, I got your back.”
Then I did something new. I rolled the throttle as hard as I could. My confidence was higher than it had ever been before. Traffic was heavy but it didn’t bother me.
I was actually having fun. The wind bit my face as my shirt flapped like an old flag. Veering to the right, I accelerated up the onramp and onto the highway. I hit fifth gear and laid my chest on the gas tank. The engine settled into a wonderful hum.
I had never felt like this before. My fears were gone. I felt like I had been riding a motorcycle for years. Then I looked down at the speedometer. 120 mph. I did not believe that, so I looked again. Only this time there were no numbers, just a face, a ragged, scarred face looking back at me.
“Faster Samuel, faster!” the voice said.
With the throttle already wide-open, I pushed my body tighter to the tank. The speedometer bumped up to 124 mph. The bike was going so fast that the headlights of cars coming from the other direction looked like flashbulbs.
Then I passed a State Trooper sitting in the median. I was by him so fast that he was a mile behind me before he could get his Christmas tree lights on. I started laughing, but it felt different, like I was someone else.
Then something happened, I don’t know why, but I just slowed down and left the highway at the next exit. Turning down a small street, I found myself in front of a house. It was made of white clapboard covered with peeling paint. The whole place was kind of run down and the yard was overgrown.
There was a FOR SALE sign nailed to the porch that looked about as old as the house. I turned off the Honda and sat there listening to the sounds around me. A train whistle was blowing off in the distance and some loud-ass teen mom was yelling at her kids to go to bed while her dog barked at me from an open window.
Staring at the front of the house, I wondered why the hell I was here. A woman came to window and looked outside but she must not have saw anything because she went right back to watching television. Then I heard the voice again. It told me to walk onto the porch.
“Was this the same voice from before?” the doctor asks from the dark.
“Maybe, but it sounded deeper,” I reply.
The voice told me to lift the cushion of the porch swing and grab the key. It then told me to open the door and walk into the house. My hand started to shake as I put the key in the lock. The door opened a crack and I pushed it the rest of the way.
I looked at my arms and saw that my clothes had changed. My pants were dirty and torn and I was wearing a pair of black boots. The boot on my right foot was torn open and part of my foot was hanging out of a gaping hole. I couldn’t even tell if all my toes were there because of the dark blood that covered my foot.
Reaching up to my face, I felt a long beard. My fingers were fat and dirty and two of them hung limp, dangling like a string. The strangest thing though was the pain. There wasn’t any. I felt normal. The voice told me to walk down the hallway to a door.
When I opened the door I saw that it was a closet. Screwed to the inside of the door was an old, cracked mirror with a Quaker State decal in one of the corners. I saw a face in the mirror but it wasn’t mine. It moved when I moved, it blinked when I blinked. But it wasn’t me. It looked nothing like me.
You could see my cheekbone sticking through the skin. A big hunk of hair had been torn out of my beard. And my eyes, I couldn’t explain it, they looked dead. The pupils were small and the white of my eyes had turned to pale gray.
Then the face in the mirror got a smile. “What’d you expect? I’d never wear a fucking helmet. Now reach up there and grab that box on the top shelf.”
I pulled a shoebox down. It was heavy. Then I saw why, there was a gun inside, a Colt revolver.
“Stick that shooter in your belt, we’re gonna need it,” the voice said to me. “Grab that leather coat too and put it on.”
The coat was heavy. It had loops on the shoulders, zippers on the sleeves and patches on the front. I felt something big inside the jacket. It was a 16” bowie knife pushed inside the liner. The voice told me to take the sunglasses out and put them on.
Now with the coat and the black wayfarers on, I walked into the living room. The woman I had seen through the window was asleep. My hand started to reach for her throat but I resisted. My hand shook up and down violently. Getting closer and closer my hand was within an inch of her windpipe.
“Don’t kill her!” I tried to yell, but I couldn’t control my hand. I held her throat but to my surprise I didn’t squeeze. I just held it, gently. The woman slowly opened her eyes and looked me in the face, “Spit, is that you Spit?”
“It’s only a dream, go back to sleep,” the voice whispered.
I pushed the Colt Peacemaker deep into my trousers. As I walked over to the door the voice inside me said, “Hey idiot, do you think I would kill my wife?”
“I didn’t know,” I replied.
My head still contained my own thoughts but I was also becoming more aware of the wants and wishes of Mr. Spit. When I closed the door of the house behind me, I put the key under the cushion where I had found it, like I had done it all my life.
The old steps creaked a little louder than before. I was now heavier. The chains on my boots rattled like spurs. When I got to the bottom of the steps, I turned and walked over to Spit’s garage.
Shaking the door a few times, I realized I wouldn’t be able to get in without breaking something. Then a thought came into my head. I reached down and grabbed the doorknob and gently pulled up on it. With nothing more than a click, the door swung open. “How did I know that?” I thought to myself. Then I got the answer. I heard a deep laugh from behind me.
The lights came on in the garage even though I didn’t turn them on. I looked over by the big doors. There sat Spit’s ride. It was a black, Harley Fat Bob. When I got closer I could smell the rubber from the tires. She was perfect, almost brand new.
Then I walked to the other side. At first I was shocked by what I saw. Then I started to the study the bike. In a hazy, dream type of a way I could see the accident that killed Spit.
Here on the exhaust pipes were a dent, the same one on both pipes. I was thinking that something, maybe a tire from another bike had hit those pipes. Then the voice said one word, a name, “Ulysses.”
“Ulysses? What else did the voice say?” the doctor asks from the dark.
“Nothing, it didn’t say anything else,” I reply. “I just started seeing the accident happen.”
“Just to be clear, the voice talks from inside you sometime, other times it comes from the outside?” the doctor asks.
“Yes, at first,” I reply.
“At first--I don’t understand,” the doctor asks.
“The voice is always inside me now,” I reply.
“I see. Continue.”
The hit must have knocked him off balance. He veered to the left. Being a big man, he pulled the bike back into line. But he over-corrected, this pushed him to the edge of the road and onto the gravel, the point of no return.
He knew his only chance was to hang with the bike but it was a small chance at best. When you hit the ground at 80 mph not much is going to help you. He hung on good, but then his foot hit the asphalt. That gravel cut open his boot and started carving his foot. Screaming in pain, he watched the pavement come to his face. That was last thing he saw.
He didn’t die right away though, he laid there a minute or so in agony. He thought about the woman sitting back in the house. He tried to say, “I love you,” but there was no sound. The last breath in Spit’s lungs was already gone.
I stood up and looked down at the bike in front of me. For a moment I saw Spit’s reflection in a shiny part of the gas tank. I sat down on the bike and hit the starter. The garage door opened as I hit the shifter with my foot. There was a familiar clunk. I let out the clutch and slowly rolled out of the garage. Turning the throttle, I headed for the highway.
Once I got lose on the highway, I wound the throttle tight and watched everything blur around me. I had never ridden a bike like this before but it all felt familiar. The vibration, the sound, the smell, it all made sense to me.
After riding 20 minutes or so, I pulled off the highway into some shithole suburb. It looked like Brunswick but I wasn’t sure. All I could remember certain was I started the night in Cleveland.
There was a gun shop on the next block that was still open. It probably did a thriving business by the looks of the neighborhood. When I parked the bike, some hump was sitting by a trashcan eating a sandwich. I think it was a Whopper Junior. I’m only guessing about this, but I think that bum was the second owner of the sandwich.
When I walked in the front door of the shop, I heard a dog barking from the back of the store. I didn’t see anybody so I started looking around. Finally a guy came out of a door and asked what I needed.
“I need shells for a .45 Peacemaker.” He reached under the counter and grabbed a box and threw it out on the counter.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“You got boots?
The guy looked over the counter and saw my foot hanging out the side. He about shit his pants.
“You ok buddy? That looks pretty damn nasty,” the clerk asked.
“I’m ok. I just need the boots,” I replied.
“Over there on the wall, I got some nice Red Wing 988’s. Steel toes, I think you need ‘em,” the guy said.
“Thank you for the concern,” I replied.
I paid the guy, grabbed a pair in my size and went outside. Threw my old kicks in the trash can and got back on the bike. Spit was in my head now. He was calling the shots and I was letting him.
You see, Spit didn’t pick me by accident. He knew I was a weak and wouldn’t put up much of a fight. He looked around until he found somebody like me. I think there’s another dimension around us. Maybe we go there when we die. Maybe it’s hell. I got no idea but I’m sure Spit’s no angel from Heaven.
“That’s an interesting observation,” the doctor comments.
I looked at myself in the handlebar mirror. My body, my face, it had all changed. The scar on my face had dried up. Those Wayfarers—I almost looked normal. Now don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t changed into Spit. It was more like we came together as one. I could see him in the mirror, but I could also see myself.
I took out my Colt, flipped the cylinder open and started putting in the shells. Now the Peacemaker holds six bullets but you only load it with five. That last chamber is where you keep your hammer. That way you don’t blow your balls off if you hit a bump. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I just did.
Route 2 was the best way to get to where I was going. So I stuffed the Colt in my pants and headed out. The road hugged the edge of Lake Erie and was loaded with the curves and dips. Route 2 was always a fun ride.
Then I saw a neon sign ahead. It had some burned out tubes. The only ones that seem to be working were the red ones. The sign cast a dull, red glow on the bikes parked out front.
I pushed the bike into 1st gear and idled into the parking lot. Passing all the other scooters, I parked my bike at the end and pointed it to the road. My hunch was I might be leaving this place in a hurry.
“So you didn’t know why you were at the bar?” the doctor asks from the dark.
“No I didn’t. But there was something else.”
“What was that Samuel?” the doctor asks.
“I left my body, or Spits body, I don’t know which it was. Then I floated above everything for a moment. Suddenly I was sucked back down and I was in the body again. This time though, I was all Spit,” I reply.
For a moment I stood silently in front of the steps of the roadhouse. I reached down and softly wrapped my hand around the Peacemaker so I knew exactly where it was. Out of the shadow walked a large dog. His eyes reflected the light from the sign. He circled around me one time then stopped next to me.
I walked up the steps and pushed the door open. The music and smell were all too familiar to me. Looking around the room, I couldn’t find the man I was looking for. Starting a slow walk to the bar, I looked at each table on the way but I didn’t see who I was looking for.
There was a paper-white redhead with an orange flower pinned to the side of her head. Half into a bottle of bourbon, she looked up at me with smeary eyes and said, “Hi Spit!”, but I ignored her and kept walking.
Her friend said, “Spit? Honey, Spit’s dead. How drunk are you?” I cracked my first smile of the day but kept on moving. At the next table a couple of grubbies reached out to pet the dog but quickly pulled back when the dog made eye contact with them.
“Did you see that dog’s eyes?” one of them said to the other.”
I saw a guy pouring ice and asked him if he’d seen Ulysses.
“Who wants to know?” the guy asked.
“An old friend,” I replied.
“If you were an old friend you’d know where he sat.”
“These colors make me an old friend,” I said while I pointed to a patch on my jacket.
“Apostles of Hell,” he read aloud while looking at my jacket.
Without looking back up at my face the guy pointed to the back of the bar. I walked into the dark corners and saw that the dog had already found Ulysses.
“Your dog looks hungry,” Ulysses said sarcastically.
“His favorite snack is assholes,” I replied.
With the smile evaporated from his face, Ulysses locked his eyes on mine. The stare between us was so cold you could almost see our breath in the air. The Apostle sitting in the next chair started to pull a shooter from his coat. I pulled mine quicker.
With barely a flinch, I pulled the trigger and watched as the biker slammed against the wall behind his chair. The crack of the pistol started chaos in the bar. People were fighting to get out the front door.
One biker pushed some people out of the way as he tipped some tables over. Then hell broke loose. Everyone made a run for it. The smeary-eyed redhead slipped on a beer and fell on her ass. Screaming drunks were stumbling around her from every side. A few even stepped on her.
While she struggled to stand up, she noticed that broken candle vases were mixing with spilt liquor. Several small fires were already burning around her.
“Fire! The place is on fire!” she started shouting.
Suddenly a big biker chick grabs the redhead and her skinny arm and pulls her through the crowd. They stay together all the way to the front door. With the big girl blocking, her and the redhead made it out.
“What happened between you and Ulysses?” the doctor asks from his chair in the dark.
“We were locked in a staring contest with each other,” I reply.
“I see, continue,” the doctor tells me.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU!” Ulysses yelled but I didn’t answer. I just took off my wayfarers. Ulysses got a stunned look on his face ‘cause he had just seen a ghost.
“What...,” he said quietly.
“Thought you’d never see me again,” I said with shit-eating grin.
“Oh, I knew I’d see you again, I just didn’t think it would be this soon,” Ulysses replied.
He jumped up and pulled his shooter but I got him first. Shot him right in the stomach. Wounded and stunned, he fell back into his chair. Slowly he lifted his head and looked at me before looking back down at the growing blood spot on his shirt.
“You bastard, gut shot. Looks like you win this one,” Ulysses said to me before his chin dropped to his chest.
With the calm of a man shooting his finger at a television, I leveled my gun at Ulysses’ forehead and pulled the trigger. He jerked back then fell on the table. I turned and walked through the flames that had surrounded me.
The whole room was boiling. The pool table looked like a funeral pyre. The sacrificed billiard balls melted like snowballs on a stove. A lone player, unaware that his leg was on fire, stuffed money into his pockets.
The noise of breaking glass started to surround me. There was a photo of a group of bikers on the wall that seemed immune to the fire. It just hung there while the others curled up from the heat. When I looked at the picture a little closer, I saw that it was a snapshot of me and Ulysses, in better days.
Then I heard a click. The guy who was getting ice was pointing a shotgun at me. I snapped the Peacemaker to attention and shot the man in the throat. He clinched his throat for a second before falling to the floor.
The flames started to crawl across the ceiling, flicking like a snake’s tongue. I walked to the door, but just as I was leaving I saw an old man sitting at a table. He was just staring at me.
His skin was a deep brown, like chocolate candy. He had on a gray felt hat that was sitting right on top of his eyebrows.
“You going to shoot me too?” he shouted. “I know you got one bullet left.”
“I only need one bullet,” I replied.
The old man pulled a cane with an ivory skull handle out from under the table. With a quick tug he snaps a blade out of the cane and points it at my face, the long finger of death.
“Are you feelin’ lucky?” he asked.
“Luck and me got no arrangements,” I replied.
The old man reaches into his jacket and pulled an apple out of his pocket. He quartered the fruit with two strokes. Stabbing one of the pieces, he lifted it to his face and leaned towards me.
“Give that cylinder a spin and pull the trigger. If she fires, you can go. If she don’t, well that’s another story,” he said while laughing.
Without even thinking, I spun the cylinder and pulled the trigger. The gun fired its shell and spit smoke and fire out the front but the old man didn’t even flinch.
“Pretty lucky finding that last bullet, Spit,” the man said with a grin.
“Second to last, I put another one in before I walked into this shithole. Didn’t the dog tell you?” I said while smiling.
Taking a last bite of the apple, the old man stood up from the table. A song started to play on the jukebox. Snapping his fingers to the rhythm of the music, he walked to the front door and outside.
“Come on everybody,” he yelled as the dog joined him at his side.
A parade of charred and disfigured people, some still on fire, quietly followed him into the night. The building behind him started to collapse as the fire roared and streams of sparks shot into the night sky. With a quick look down the highway he saw a red taillight disappear around a curve.
“Samuel, I think that will be enough for today,” the doctor says from the dark.
“Yes, Dr. Ulysses, I do too. There is one more thing.”
“What is that Samuel?” the doctor asks.
With one quick snap, I pull out my Peacemaker and shoot the doctor in the stomach. He stands in disbelief as a circle of blood starts to grow on the front of his shirt.
A knife falls out of his shirtsleeve and drops to the floor. He looks over at me with dark, hollow eyes and quietly says, “Gut shot.”
“Hey Doc, about that other thing.”
“Yes,” he softly replies.
“Call me Spit.”
In 1242 BC, Ajax returned from the war, only to find that what he desired most had been taken by Ulysses. Distraught and destroyed by his loss, he fell on his sword to end his life. Now mortally wounded, he looked up at Ulysses and spoke his last words.
“I shall return, and when I do, I will kill you with but a shadow on the wall.”