My mother was a Gypsy woman, that’s what I am told. She died when I was young, about two years old. I don’t remember her much, only the stories that my father told me. I have pictures of her, beautiful dark hair, and beautiful eyes, the deepest of brown. My memories of her are so clouded, by the stories my father told me, and my vague recollections of her, barely memories at all, more like wisps of smoke that come and go. It’s frustrating, really, wanting to know someone so important to your life and not being able to. If she left family behind, then she never let my father know, or maybe he just never really told me. I would like to know her, but there are a lot of things that I would like. The only relative that I ever heard about was my Grandfather, and of him I know even less than my mother. Still, I sometimes wake in the middle of the night and can almost hear her voice; that quiet voice, or the sound of her laughter. Dreams really, all I have of her are dreams. Sometimes I know things about her that I shouldn’t, but that’s a recent thing. It’s weird and hard to explain, and I will get to it later in this tale.
My father, when he was sober, which wasn’t often, used to tell me she was a witch woman. Great news for me, right, a Gypsy witch? I mean, that’s not something you tell your classmates in show and tell, and I never got called on for show and tell anyway, even if I brought something to show. Of course, my classmates never really cared for me anyway. I guess in hindsight, knowing she was a Gypsy witch would not have given me more enemies, or made me any friends, so there would have been no difference. Still I heard stories about her, and stories about my wild Grandfather who they were always running from. She was a true Gypsy woman, and could speak many dialects, but English was her worst language. My old dad used to laugh saying that half the time he could never understand a word she said. She had but little formal education, but he insisted she was the smartest person he had ever known. My father was always proud of the fact that he had stolen her away. He spoke of her with reverence, with true love and never an ounce of fear of actually meeting my Grandfather, who I had never met. When he spoke of either her or my Grandfather it was almost as if he wanted me to know something but never could tell me what that was. Mostly he would just drink. I used to think there were things that I could see in his eyes, knowledge and I have thought that about others. It was like everyone knew something about me that I didn’t know myself. I used to think that this was just me trying to understand the very cruel world around me, trying to have power over anything, because I was so powerless in everything I did.
My father was not one of those mean drunks, so I didn’t grow up in some abusive household. He was a big man, and strong. When he hugged me, which was rare, it felt like hugging a tree, hard and full of rough edges. He stood a little over six feet and was a solid two hundred pounds all of his life. He never seemed to gain weight or lose weight, and I never knew him to work out with weights. He was just a bull strong man, who liked to drink a little too much. Mostly he was pathetic, drinking his whiskey, singing old songs, some of them Gypsy songs my mother must have taught him, any way it sounded like Gypsy to me, but I don’t speak Gypsy. He was always full of stories, all sorts of stories. He loved a good ghost tale, but the stories he told no one else knew and they were always menacing, not usually the stories you told to children. It was usually late at night when the drink was flowing that he would tell tales of my mother. Some of those stories were frightening as well when I was young. To my father, my mother was very multi-dimensional.
My father worked as an aircraft mechanic for a large airline, I guess in hindsight, knowing how much he drank, the airline should count itself lucky that he never made a catastrophic mistake. He had few friends and seemed always wary of a stranger. This would easily slip into hysteria and paranoia sometimes when he was drunk. When I was younger I used to hide in my room, not because I was afraid of him, but that whatever he was afraid of might actually be real. Due to his size alone I felt there were few things that could make him afraid. He blamed himself for my mother’s death, but I never really understood why. While he was proud of her, and loved her, he also seemed to know that taking her from the life she was meant for was wrong although he never once told me that she complained about her life. What I knew of her always led me to believe that she was happy with him, and happy with me, but I have never really known love so what else would I think in my dreams of her. My Dad used to tell me before he passed out, that some women were not born to raise kids and be wives; some women could not be caged. He would start crying then, crying himself to sleep. Maybe that’s why I can’t get a girlfriend, because the ones that are naturally attracted to me cannot be caged. Well, it’s a nice thought. Anyway my father died a drunk in my second year of college. I remember the numbness I felt at his funeral, realizing that I had no one left. Standing at his gravesite, with just a few of his co-workers and a preacher the funeral home located was depressing, and even now going to the cemetery brings about a deep sadness that is difficult for me to shake. Despite how pathetic he was, I miss him. I doubt I have had more than a dozen real conversations since he died. No one talks to me. I guess I loved my father for all his faults.
My name is Calvin, Calvin Ring, a totally unremarkable name for a totally unremarkable person. It’s true; I don’t have a single memorable feature. I am not handsome and I suppose I am not ugly. Most people who meet me, most people who have ever worked with me, quickly ignore me, or never seem to see me at all. It’s not really on purpose, just that I am so unremarkable; like my own form of pathetic existence. If they don’t ignore me they ridicule me, find ways to embarrass me and generally make my life a living hell. Men like pushing me around because I am not the biggest guy in the room, but like my father, sometimes I see things in their eyes that seem not quite right. I am five feet five inches on a tall day and if I am soaking wet I might manage to weigh a hundred and thirty pounds. Sometimes I wonder what makes me so threatening, but I guess it’s just the way of the world to push the smaller guy around. I have dark hair like my mother, but pale almost translucent skin. What happened to the Gypsy blood, I don’t know. I have dark eyes like my Gypsy mother. My father used to tell me I looked like her, only not pretty. I never took that as a compliment, but hell maybe I should have. I don’t get a lot of compliments, or greetings, or gifts, or happy birthdays or any other such platitudes. I don’t guess I have to wonder why I can’t get a date. Most women are taller than me, and most women want someone who at least is remarkable or can take them more places than just lunch. I supposed at the end of the day, being ignored is a step up from the endless ridicule that was high school and college. I was beaten almost every day, sometimes for no other reason than for being alive. My father didn’t seem to care and by the time I got to college it was a part of my normal routine. I wondered if it would ever stop. In the working world I have escaped it. No one wants to get fired and I work in the land of cubicles where it’s easy to disappear. I have been called everything from runt, to shorty to midget and yes I have even been called late for dinner. The only redemption for this, is that I had no fun, no one to have fun with, so I graduated college in just three years, I am still paying those damn loans off though. Maybe one day I will find a girl who likes me, but right about now I would settle for one who would just talk to me. You probably have no idea what this was like or think I am exaggerating, because everyone has someone, someone to at least be their friend. I have no one, and not many prospects. I am twenty-four years old, out of college for three years now. Twenty four years without an ounce of companionship and I seriously doubt I will be able to stand going another twenty four years. My life is not sad, it’s unexplainable.
Up until about six months ago I worked for a local computer company as a software designer. I was in the security department, creating solutions for companies which were suffering from security breaches. It sounds more glamorous than it actually is and mostly I look at things behind the scenes, looking for footprints so to speak. I am so low on the food chain though that even if I find something I can’t do anything with it but report it to my team lead, who has no problem ignoring what I have done and taking the credit for himself. It’s a nice arrangement, if you’re him. It was not my dream job, but then middle linebacker for the 49’ers was taken, so I settled. I have always seemed to understand computers, and I am a problem solver. It’s an alright place to work too, sitting in my cube, an invisible man in an invisible world, easily forgotten. Yet it, like all other aspects of my life serve as reminders to me of how unremarkable I really am. You see, in every office there is a lot of socialization. My particular office likes to have the occasional get together, the usual stuff, barbecues, happy hours and whatever else. They put out fliers announcing all the activities, except I never seem to get any fliers. There are also the usual office liaisons, or at least I guess they are usual. They certainly don’t ever involve me. Mostly I remain hidden, as invisible and unremarkable as I have always been. I guess it’s a different kind of beating that I endure now.
I moved into a pretty swank apartment, on the third floor of a brand new complex downtown. Okay, I lied, it’s a run down apartment complex but the rent is affordable and yes you guessed it, the neighbors leave me alone, but it is the third floor. All in all though, the neighborhood is not so bad. I live on the edge of the Mission, close enough to hear the buzz of life there. On Saturday night, if the breeze is just right I can sit out on my balcony and hear the mariachi music. Some mornings I can get up and watch the fog roll slowly in, enveloping everything. It’s so quiet then, like being in another world, or being dead. I once had that thought and actually spent a couple of days working through all the different angles; the thought that I was dead. It perfectly explained why people ignored me, and perfectly explained why sometimes I thought I saw the hint of fear in those bullies’ eyes as they were about to punch me. It makes perfect sense, except that I didn’t die, everyone else did. I digress though. Six months ago I quit my job. I sort of had to, and that’s where my story begins. You see six months ago something happened, and I still don’t know if it was a blessing or a curse, or if my life is any better. I do know, life could not have gotten much worse.
It was a normal day or at least normal for me. I went to work, did my job, which was actually sort of cool that day. I was given an assignment to find out how a large company’s computer had been hacked. It seemed their IT department could not figure it out, so they went to the software company that provided their security and the company assigned it to me. My Team Lead was clueless as usual as to where to start looking so he handed it off to me. I make my boss look good and I always thought one day that this might pay off, although three years after taking the job I had not received a single raise, not even a silly merit increase. Anyway, I got the job. It was a tough nut, one that unfortunately I would not ever see to its conclusion. Ominous sounding, but I had no idea how much my life was about to change. Those days seems so far away even though only months have passed.
I spent the day getting familiar with the breach, looking at the detail. I ate my tuna sandwich at my desk, where I always ate and surfed the internet seeing how all the popular people lived. I left at my normal time, which was actually after the main group left. I found I had fewer bruises when I did this and drove my dad’s old Honda Civic home.
As I entered my apartment complex I drove to the mailboxes. I always looked forward to this part of my day. This was the reason for my being, the reason I left exactly at five fifty-five every day, because a minute later was too late, and a minute earlier made me feel like a creep. I always saw her, the most unusual girl in the world. I didn’t even know her name, and did not dare ask. I am not even sure the rest of the male world would have considered her beautiful at all, attractive yes, beautiful no. She was tall and thin, dishwater blonde hair and a quirky smile, altogether unusual but not because of her looks, but because she always waved to me. No one waved to me, especially tall girls, or any girl for that matter. So it was a thrill, probably the highlight of my day. Lately, it was this brief and impersonal contact that kept me from going completely insane. Sad, but then that’s how it is for me so don’t feel sorry for me. Live my life for a minute and you’ll learn things are what they are, and no more than that. So I saw her at the mailbox and she waved, and I smiled and felt better. I suppose I could have asked her out, a suave guy would have done that. Even an essentially normal guy would have at least asked her name, but I just couldn’t. This is me we are talking about, so I just watched her walk by and waved my totally retarded wave. I liked the illusion that someone out there liked me and one does not destroy illusions by finding out the truth. I think I might have died if she ever spoke to me, and despite my recent musings about whether I was dead, I was not sure I was quite down to the dying option just yet.
I remember walking into my dingy one bedroom apartment. It was about as plain as you could get, but I had tried to brighten the place up. I did a lot of shopping at second hand stores and had found some cool pictures to put on the wall, pictures of exotic places and of interesting looking people. I sort of liked it and sometimes it made me feel a little more connected. I turned on the television. I grabbed a frozen pizza from the freezer and popped it in the oven and then changed into some jeans. I was later glad that I did this, as there are many nights I grab an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Tonight though, it was jeans, running shoes and a t-shirt, as I was thinking about walking over to the old bookstore later. When you don’t have much of a life, reading becomes a favorite pastime. I remember eating the pizza and watching the news and then stepping out onto my balcony for some night air. Up until that moment, the night was a perfectly normal one, unremarkable like me.
I hit the ground like a ton of bricks and all I could do was gasp. If you have ever had every inch of your bowel clinch up you still wouldn’t know the pain that raced through every pore, corpuscle and nerve ending in my body. It hurt so bad I could not even scream. At first I thought I had been shot and I was so stricken with pain that I could not even move my hands to find where I was wounded. All I could do was roll around on the ground. Naturally none of my neighbors came to check on me. Of course in my neighborhood this was not really that unusual. I don’t know how long it lasted and every time since it’s been the same. There were waves of pain striking at me, waves rolling over me like a hurricane, battering me. It was pain like opening me up with a scalpel without benefit of anesthesia, over my entire body. I felt like my skin was being turned inside out. There is nothing like a little pain to let you know you’re still alive. Then there was nothing, just the peaceful sound of my own heart beating fast and my breath coming in ragged deep gasps. I had tiny spasms of phantom pains that felt like my nerve endings were re-inventing themselves, like the aftershocks from an earthquake. I laid there for a few minutes before I made it to my feet. It felt good to stand, shaky as I was and then I sat in an old lawn chair I had on my balcony.
That’s when I noticed something different, in fact everything was different. My vision had changed, my sense of touch had changed and my sense of smell had changed. I could smell everything that anyone in my entire complex was cooking at that moment, every cigarette, every joint and every drug. I could feel the individual grains of sand in the glass of my balcony door. I could feel the nails, drywall everything else that it had taken to construct the apartments so many years previous. I could actually smell the sweat of the workers who had put the building up. And I could, see, oh how I could see. I could see vividly every blade of grass, despite the darkness. I could see into walls. I could see everything and with a twist of my mind I could make things far seem like they were right in front of me, like some sort of telescopic sight. The Transamerica building was beautiful in telescopic sight, I can tell you. On top of everything there was this sense of overwhelming need inside of me, but what that need was, what it entailed, I had no idea. Yet it was there, burning, setting fire to something inside of me and with that need came something I had longed for so long; a sense of power. I felt strong, felt the muscles in my body to their very core, coiled like a tight spring. I suddenly felt so good, like I had been waiting on this moment for all of my life.
I thought for a moment, as you must be thinking that maybe I had a stroke or some other medical problem. I guess a few of you are thinking that I was merely hallucinating like some Schizophrenic. I must admit all of those thoughts and more ran through my brain. As exciting as it had suddenly become, I was also deathly afraid. I even considered the mushrooms on the pizza might have been tainted. Yet I knew who I was, what day it was, where I was and sadly every memory was still intact. If it were a dream, it was unlike any dream I had ever dreamed. I walked to the closest mirror and sure enough, I was the same shrimpy Caucasian with the Gypsy eyes I had been before. It felt like some sort of surreal moment, surreal, yet so vivid with a wash of color that was dazzling. Something had changed, somewhere deep inside of me so I grabbed my jacket and decided that a walk to the bookstore might be therapeutic.
Things were no better outside than in I soon discovered. Now I could feel every pebble, shard of glass, and a whole new set of smells invaded me. I saw everything before me, things not previously visible. Let’s just say that things were moving in my periphery, things I can’t describe and you don’t want to know about. Those things I had previously thought the wild imaginations of small children at bedtime. It was a different world, one with both more and less color, and more shades of each. It was a shadow world. Had it been there all along? I reached out to what looked to be normal people walking, but they were like mists of smoke. I shook my head and started walking, and was concerned anew that I was becoming Schizophrenic. I had read somewhere that people my age had psychotic breaks. It scared me. As I walked a strange smell began wafting in and out of reach. It was both putrid and compelling to me, and I felt that need deep inside of me fire up anew. I inhaled it like manna from the gods and began to follow it blindly. I was compelled and I realized that once I began traveling after it I could no more stray from that path than I could stop breathing. It led me out of my complex to places that in my right mind I would not have driven through at one hundred miles an hour with my doors locked and a loaded shotgun. Now realize, it does not take a long walk for me to get to the other side of the tracks so to speak. I don’t exactly live in Sausalito.
Part of me remained frightened, thinking it must be a dream still, or that I really was insane. Insanity certainly made sense as I was going to a place that no sane person would go even though it was still early evening. San Francisco was not a hot bed of criminal activity, or at least I thought so on that day, although I have learned better since. Still, like any large city there were places one didn’t go and there were places that shrimpy Caucasians guys had best avoid even in their dreams. Yet here I was floating through the jetsam. I suppose I should have recognized that people didn’t seem to notice me much; not like my ordinary life, but as if they really could not see me at all. Some appeared to look around as if they knew someone was there watching, but then would go on with whatever they were doing, as if I were a momentary distraction only. I was used to it, but recognized that something had changed, something basic to me. So I walked through the crowd drawn by that horribly beautiful smell, deeper into that hell hole. To see all that I saw that night, all that I felt beneath my feet was an overload that was painful. I saw and smelled death in those streets. On one such corner I knew that a hooker had died, brutally, and that her death had been nearly twenty years before. I could see the trail that the murderer took in his escape, could follow that trail as easily as a blood hound. For a moment I wanted to follow that trail and provide justice for that hooker, but as I walked away that smell curled around my face like a shroud pulling me away. So I turned back, knowing that I was needed elsewhere, and I did view it as a need, urging me on, no faster or slower than before, just a constant pull. I followed further, deeper still to the very worst of the worst part of that city.
I saw two men about my own age, wearing what looked like army surplus field jackets. They had hardened looks of men much older, although I doubt that either of them was out of their twenties. They had an easy manner joking with each other, smoking their cigarettes. They were standing on one of those corners, you know what I am talking about; those corners in every bad drug dealing movie you have ever seen. Only, this corner was real and I was there. They were obviously that type of man generated by the streets, tough, street smart, cynical of the world around them, the type that I would have avoided like the plague, so I wondered why I was here, and what I could do to make it stop. Opportunity was what you took not what you made. I watched them some time, being no longer drawn elsewhere. After feeling that constant pull, the lack of any compulsion to do something else was like a shock to my system. I thought that whatever hallucination I was having must be over, and naturally my luck had held bringing me to a part of the city I had no chance of escaping. Yet, all my senses remained heightened. Shadows still flitted about and in my very periphery there she was, a Gypsy woman. When I turned though, she was gone, like a wisp of smoke. A noise brought me back around to the two men, now plying their trade with a man and woman in a car. I knew something was wrong immediately and by the time I started towards them the man and woman had been pulled from the vehicle and the two men were laying into them with a couple of baseball bats.
It took me but a single step to be there, or so it seemed. I don’t know how I moved so fast, only that I did, and it was like smoke you haven’t seen yet, but know it’s there. I felt like I was gliding on warm air. The two men looked at me, and I knew I was in trouble. They didn’t say a word, just moved towards me like I was the biggest bully they had ever seen. I took the first blow in the head and dropped like the wimp I was. Yet when I hit the ground I felt no pain, shook the blow off and was back on my feet. I was back on my feet, not rolling and pushing myself up and not standing up. I was just back on my feet, like something spectral, as if I willed myself to be, and then the other guy laid into me, swinging fast and hard with a strange sense of fear written upon his face. He was nothing but an annoyance really, a fly for me to swat, so I swatted him. I merely grabbed the bat from his hand and did to him what he was trying to do to me. I struck fast too, the bat a blur like you might see in some Saturday morning cartoon. Only it wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t pretty, and the bat seemed to have a lot more effect on him than it previously had on me. I left his head a bloody pulp and I knew he was dead, I could see his heart, and it was not beating. His buddy was not a coward, but he should have been. The two thugs were not expecting to meet someone like me, whatever I was or had become. The second man pulled his gun and shot, once, twice and then a third time, but I was not where he shot. I moved like liquid light until I pulled the gun from his hand and wadded it into a ball like paper. I tossed it lightly at his head and watched it bounce off. He decided at that moment that he needed to run, a bit late I must admit. He didn’t make it a step before I threw my hand through his body and snatched his heart out. If you ever have an urge to do something like this, then be forewarned, it’s bloody messy to do that. I dropped the heart next to the man. The man and woman being beaten seconds before were driving off. It would have been nice to get a thank you, but I suppose I understood. I searched the two thugs and pulled a couple of rolls of cash off of them. I decided that they didn’t need the money anymore so I kept it and walked away. I considered it payment for services rendered.
A small crowd of people were gathering, and more than a few pointed in my direction. No one rushed to stop me. I suppose seeing a small shrimpy Caucasian pull a beating heart from a tough drug dealer made them shy. I was thankful as I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. It was hard walking away, when what I wanted to do was sprint to safety. I felt as if my legs should have been trembling, but I walked purposefully, without a care in the world. All my life I had wanted to be able to strike out at someone, to be able to fight for my own safety and actually win, but I had actually done something that was beyond comprehension. I was not the smartest guy in the room by any stretch of the imagination, but one does not crumple a real pistol into a ball like paper and one does not casually pull out someone’s heart as they are running away from their back. These things are not possible. I spent the rest of the night walking in a daze, trying to discern what could have possibly happened to me. For me the night became one of painful introspection, confusion and wonder. Through that flood of emotion though came another which rode the crest of my being; fear. I was definitely afraid of whatever had happened to me. It was even less normal than the rest of my life.
I awoke to the sounds of traffic, and people laughing. Naturally, they were laughing at me. I was laying about two hundred yards from the entrance to my apartment complex, lying in the street up against the curb. I was cold, very sore like a walking bruise and confused as hell. I could not remember a thing about why I was lying in the street or what had happened the night before. My last memory was pepperoni and mushroom. I made it to my feet and stumbled into the complex, my mind a whirl of confusion and disorientation. When I got to the safety of my own apartment I checked out the damage. It looked as if I had been in a train wreck. I was cut and bruised all about my face. My knees felt scraped up. Oddly everything looked two or three days old. There was a bruise on my forehead which was already turning that sickly color of jaundice. I wondered what day it was, but the papers confirmed it was the right day.
As you might guess, I spent the day trying to figure out what had happened. I telephoned my boss and reported out ill, something I had never done before. I was not even sure he knew who I was, or where I sat until I reminded him about the project I was working on. For the life of me I could not figure out what had happened. My bed was made and clearly I had not been sleep-walking. I remembered that I had intended to walk to the old bookstore and thought that maybe I had been mugged. My body was a mass of bruises and my head hurt something fierce. Yet, no matter how I tried to kid myself I had twenty five hundred dollars in rolled up bills that I had found in my jeans, and no mugger would have left that much cash lying around, nor did I know how it got there. No one owed me money, and would not have paid me back if they did. I didn’t have any friends. There was no dream, no hallucination or story that could account for that wad of cash. I had put it away, unsure of what I wanted to do. As the day wore on I brooded, my ribs feeling like they were rubbing together. At one point I spit up some blood in a coughing spasm and I began to feel queasy and dizzy. I thought more than once to head to the emergency room but I feared the trip for I did not know what story I could tell that anyone would believe. I am sure there is nothing worse than that lost feeling, of amnesia or what ever disease I had that could account for everything. As the day moved to evening, I grew steadily more afraid, and tense, but I had no understanding or clue as to why. There was certainly something ominous about the coming evening and something deep inside of me was responding.
As the sun crept beyond the horizon the first spasms hit me, as they had the night before. After that intense wave of burning pain, I found my senses once again heightened, and the pain of my ribs gone. I pulled my shirt up and found the bruising gone, and I tapped at my ribs experimentally and found no pain. With the night, my memory of the evening before returned and I again wondered at what was happening with me. I just knew that I had to find out, and the only way seemed to be to get out in the world and see. It was a cool San Francisco night so I grabbed my overcoat. As I reached the street, that strange smell was compelling me on, as it had the night before. Yet it took me in a whole new direction and for a long time I seemed to wander about aimlessly, seeing how other happier people led their lives. It was really no different than the daytime, seeing people of all shapes and sizes bound together in companionship. I longed for it, and wondered what made all these people so different, so blessed that they had this in their lives. I wondered if they took it for granted.
I tried desperately to move as I remembered the night before, but I walked about normally. I was not in a poor area of the city, but rather that ordinary part where we spend so much of our ordinary lives. I felt little different than any other day, people walking by me without notice. I walked through a crowd exiting a movie theater and was jostled without a single excuse me. I received those hard glares from bigger men that said in a glance that I was beneath them. For the first time though I glared back, daring them to do something and I could clearly see them change, cringe before that glare, and I recognized what I had seen in their eyes all along. They were afraid of me.
The all permeating putrid smell of whatever I was following remained, no stronger than before, drawing me towards something. Always on the edge of my periphery were the shadow shapes of things, some hideous and some beautiful. They sensed me, saw me and watched me carefully. Yet I could not touch them. It was like looking into some parallel world you read about in some science fiction novel. Only this was real and it was not science fiction.
Around midnight I began to seriously consider going home and even realized that I could fight the compulsion at that time if I really wanted, and then the smell grew stronger, gripping me like a giant hand and pulling me towards something. Moments later I found myself walking into a convenience store. I knew before I walked through the doors that it was being robbed by two men. I could feel the store clerk’s fear and her need as soon as I saw the store. I knew that she was young, and I knew she had nothing in her background that had prepared her for this moment. What I didn’t know was how I knew all of this and more. I could smell her perfume, smell the marijuana on one of the two gunmen, knew instantly that it was good California grass although I had never ever smoked marijuana before. If I focused I could see the men who had grown it, and it was knowledge like this that frightened me so, and wonder if it was even real. I sensed the fear like sweat dripping off of the other man. As I entered the store I was met by a shotgun pointed to my chest.
“Hey I just came for some pixie stix,” I said brazenly.
“Wrong place wrong time,” the man with the shotgun answered.
“Now that’s just not nice,” I answered back, already knowing I could dodge any bullet. My experience from the night before had prepared me.
That’s when I realized as I was flying back through the door that getting shot in the chest with a shotgun hurts a bit. I picked myself up off the pavement, a bloody mess, my chest afire and wondered where my dodging skill of the night before had sailed off to. A deeper wonder was how I was still alive. I had been struck square in the chest and it should have killed me outright but had not, although it felt as if the blast had totally shredded me. My shirt and coat were in tatters. I had no idea a shotgun could do that much damage. Naturally the shooter had turned away from me, and had his weapon pointed at a hysterical counter girl that really knew how to scream. The second guy was standing behind his shotgun wielding buddy looking nervous. I didn’t want the counter girl shot and I thought for my heightened hearing’s state that getting her to shut up was not unreasonable so I charged the gunman. I hit him hard and just carried him out the back wall of the store. I guess I didn’t know my own strength because I also carried him through the adjoining store in the strip mall, some sort of clothing store and actually into the pizzeria next to it. I left the shooter a broken mess of bones barely alive and knowing that medical attention would not get there soon enough. I didn’t feel any sympathy for him. He had ruined a good overcoat and as I said before getting shot with a shotgun is no fun at all. I walked through the destroyed walls the way I had come and apologized to the counter girl. She babbled something about which way the other guy had gone but I already knew. I could see his trail. I followed that trail as if he had left tracks in the snow. I found him two blocks away. His adrenalin rush had started to fade and he was beginning to think he had escaped. I don’t really think he had wanted to be there in the first place, but he had been and it was just too bad for him. He turned and there I was, and he turned pale white. I don’t know what he saw, as I was still that same shrimpy Caucasian guy. Whatever it was, that part of your mind that keeps us attached to what’s real melted from him and I left him a babbling idiot. Fair justice I thought for the terror he had inflicted on the poor counter girl, and for my ears which had to endure her screaming.
I turned to make my way back home, with a seeping chest wound, and saw her again on my periphery; a barefoot Gypsy woman. When I turned this time she remained and she smiled as I nodded my recognition. She was beautiful like I remembered and small, like me with delicate features and intense Gypsy eyes. If I had moved closer I knew she would disappear, so I just watched her. Eventually she walked away, never looking back. I stood there crying for a moment, wishing I knew more of her, wishing I knew why she had suddenly come back into my life or if she had ever really left. I wondered if her presence meant that somewhere back in time she had done this to me. I remembered what had been said about her, that she was a witch. A witch could do these things to me, I was quite sure.
The bleeding had nearly stopped by the time I got home, well before dawn. When I awoke it would be nearly gone, just an irritation but my ribs were healed. I couldn’t remember the night before, but I could remember the two drug dealers. Weird, I know, but that’s the way it’s been for me. I can remember two nights previous but never the night before. I read about what I figured, and correctly so, was myself. I watched things on the evening news that I knew I was responsible for making happen. Strange that in the glaring light of the store the counter girl could not describe me, and the second guy was a babbling mess of straight jacket. I knew it was me that had done it and wondered again at my sanity.
I had to call in sick for a second time the next morning. My boss was irritated and advised me he was pulling the project from me which was just as well since I was beginning to suspect that working a normal job was not going to be possible. After watching the evening news I again began having those jumpy feelings, anticipating that change, only at least now I knew what was going to happen and why I felt such trepidation. It was still so unsuspecting when it happened, enough pain to last a lifetime, lasting long enough to make me wish for death, ending at exactly the moment when I didn’t think I could manage a minute more, leaving those small spasms of pain to slowly drift away. It certainly made me appreciate my less than exciting days. Yet the sensations that followed seemed to dwarf whatever pain there had been. Everything was so vivid, even sound.
I decided that I would test the waters of this phenomenon by not going out at all. I sat on my balcony looking out on my neighborhood, content. I started to work hard at filtering the things I heard and saw. I didn’t need to know my neighbors were having sex, or that the man three apartments down was shooting up heroin. I didn’t need to see or hear any of it. I found that by concentrating I could indeed filter a lot of things so I began to practice, working my way through the senses. It was not easy, especially when I began to try and filter more than one sensation. I spent some time doing these things before it really hit me; that sickly sweet smell wafting in and out. I began to tremble as I resisted the urge to jump down and chase it. I suspected that it was how an addict must feel fighting that urge to use. It became no easier as it seemed to hover over my balcony, so I went inside, where it followed until I could not stand it anymore, and I leaped into the darkness chasing it. I awoke the next morning in my bed, seemingly no worse for wear wondering what I had done the night before.
Two weeks after that first night when the change came over me and nothing has changed. Regardless of what I want the change happens every night, and every night there is that putrescent smell that leads me somewhere. It seems to be training me, because as the first week moved into the second there was more than one strand. I finally quit my job when I realized that the change was going to continue, and I had only made it in a few days, and most them were bruise filled and uncomfortable. The only consolation was that not one cared or bothered with me anyway. I just decided that it was impractical to be working a regular job. I know only a little more than I did on that first night. Every night I get the pain, and every morning the confusion. The change, and that is what I call it, occurs regardless of weather, no matter what I am doing, no matter if I am inside or outside. There is nothing I can do about it, nothing to prevent it happening. I am learning how to deal with things, learning to live off the street and getting better at filtering the chaos that having heightened sensation causes. My victims sometimes pay me for the service I render, at least that’s how I rationalize it. My wounds seem to heal at night, and what doesn’t heal waits until the following night. I hope I never get shot in the head close to morning, as I fear I won’t make it home. I don’t know what has caused this and if it’s a blessing it hasn’t made my life any better. I am still this ordinary, small person that no one cares about. Every night I become something different, with heightened senses and an array of powers that are never the same from night to night. I am led by that putrid stench I love so much and each night gets a little more complicated. It’s now up to me to discern which way I go, the stench is everywhere. I take the most desperate strand and follow it through. I never know where it will take me or what I will find. Sometimes it’s something innocent, a pattern or reason not easily discerned by the events I find. I once found myself at the home of a couple in the midst of a domestic dispute. I arrived on the cusp of violence, yet instead of being the hero I became the victim and then treated on the scene by paramedics. I gave a false name and drifted off into the night, never knowing what I had accomplished. There never seems to be a witness who can describe me, or there are several with multiple descriptions, none of which are close to what I actually look like. This should make me feel safe but it does not. My life has been one walking failure and I cannot imagine that this will end in any way but bad for me. I am afraid of what I might become, afraid of what I am.
I have decided to open my own software consultant business, something I can do to while away the hours. I can fix the odd computer that people bring me and even build a cheap unit to sell. I wonder if this will one day end as unusual as it began, without notice but it does not appear to be fading or lessening. It does seem that I am gaining more and more control over the use of these powers, these skills. I traveled back to that corner where a young hooker had died almost twenty years ago. She had been young, attractive and desperate. I don’t know how I knew this but I knew, and I could sense the violence of a man who had been fighting his urges for way too long. Sadly she had been the result of him losing the battle. I could follow the trail though as if her spirit wanted to guide me. He was still there, a strange man, failed businessman who sometimes when he could not control those urges took the life of some innocent woman. All these years he had managed to survive and I found him in a dilapidated apartment building. I didn’t kill him but he was waiting for me in a cold sweat and when we were done talking he turned himself in and confessed. I hope that her soul is at peace now.