Double VisionMondo Mecho
Double Vision Mondo Mecho
Fall by Jay Bechtol
by Jay Bechtol
For the third time in three nights he found himself on the roof of his apartment, his courage having grown with every visit. He had decided to see what standing on the precipice might feel like, what it might do. Each night previous, he had simply walked around the perimeter of the building, glancing over the edge. At one point he had placed his palms flat on the cement tiles of the parapet and leaned over, just to get a sense.
The idea was wildly out of character, to stand on a ledge eleven stories above the ground. It wasn't the responsible, pay the bills on time, eat healthy food existence he had carved out for himself. The idea was dangerous and it had excited him like nothing in his recent memory.
Perhaps it was the call from his ex-wife, telling him of her plans to remarry, that had led to this decision. I'm so happy to hear, he told her. It's really great news for you. She had snorted at that, Six years, same old John. Have you even been out with anyone, John? Anyone? Not that he was jealous; his happiness for her was completely legitimate. Nor was he lonely. It was simply the fact that his life had fallen into a routine mediocrity, and her call woke him to that news.
Perhaps it was something else. A need for satisfaction. An itch hidden away for years that suddenly needed to be scratched.
Perhaps he only wanted to remove his shoes and enjoy the rough grit of the rooftop tarpaper through the fine cotton blend of his socks.
He pulled his wallet from his rear pocket, the place he still carried it every day as trained by his father. Without really thinking about it, he flipped it open; his face smiled up at him awkwardly from its two dimensional prison behind a clear sheet of worn plastic.
John Smith. His lips thinned with a tinge of remorseful humor. John Smith? How many times had he wondered what his parents were thinking? A thousand? Ten thousand? They hadn't tried to come up with anything better. Maybe condemning him from the very beginning to a pathway that ended standing on a rooftop ledge.
He slid the wallet into his front pocket, where it was less likely to fall out should there be an accident.
Little effort was required to lift his left foot onto the flat cement tiles that crowned the edge of the building's roof. Convincing his second foot to do the same had been much more difficult. There was no handrail or landing. Tiles extended to the left and the right, nothing in front of him other than a hundred foot drop down to Market Street. He rested his hands on his flexed knee. One little wobble was no big deal on a staircase with a bannister. It was a different experience this far up. He could feel the blood moving through his body. It tingled.
He pressed his back teeth together and forced air through his nose.
Gonna go on three.
He bounced softly, the ball of his right foot still safely on the tarpaper. Air filled his lungs
He leaned forward, trying to generate momentum, and pushed air out through his nose again. His weight moved to his toes and
He opened his eyes and pushed. His foot came up off the tarpaper, his tether to the roof and sanity.
His left leg trembled with the responsibility of it all. Lifting, holding, balancing. Trying to ensure that his body did not simply launch forward, straight off the roof and onto Market Street far below.
For a moment John Smith felt the world slip away. Weightlessness surrounded him and he thought he had missed something. His target, the ledge of cement tiles. His purpose.
And then he uncurled his toes and looked down. The full distance to Market and the dozens of parked cars lining either side of the street. All of them various shades of grey until they came near either corner where a street lamp granted them color. For the first time in his life, he felt something other than routine.
His jaw ached and he willed himself to breathe, concentrating on moving air in and out of his lungs in a controlled manner, not the short random gasps his body was demanding. He could see his feet more than feel them, and noticed their alignment. He dragged his left foot back, only an inch, sliding the gold stitching across the toes into a single line. John raised his head upward slowly, wary of sudden motions, and surveyed.
The warehouse on the other side of Market was dark. Empty for the last five or six years. John found the city below him and above him. Even at this late hour, there was life everywhere. The lights and shadows of the skyscrapers seven blocks over rose like a monochromatic variation of the Emerald City. Four blocks in the other direction the structures shortened, making the towers of the Old Center Bridge crossing the Dowson River seem like castles bursting forth from the rolling water underneath. In all directions he could feel the city humming, but this block of Market Street was dark and quiet and the midnight noises of the city filtered to him, as if through a layer of unseen protection. His own bubble. Smells filled his nostrils as well. Layers of asphalt and cement underneath the drippings of automobiles mixing with the olfactory echoes of all things human.
John sucked it all in. His life had never been filled with spectacle nor remorse. It had been a life of absolute mediocrity. Standing on the edge of the building was something so new, so different, he could imagine himself as something much greater.
He stood for ten minutes, twenty. Then thirty. Intermittently opening and closing his eyes. He imagined his knees wobbling every time he closed his eyes. The wobble that would send him plunging into darkness below. He was amazed at how wondrous it felt to be this close to death.
A tic developed in his left calf, a twitch that reminded him his muscles had grown cold and tired and that it was time to go in for the night. He wondered if he could do it again tomorrow night, if it would feel the same way. Or would he need to find something taller? Like a ledge hugging addict, living for the next score. The thought made him happy.
He wiggled his toes, preparing to step backwards from the precipice, unsure if his muscles or his balance were up to such a task.
Instead, he shuffled his feet, scootching one hundred and eighty degrees inch by inch until he faced the doorway that led to the stairwell. The cloth of his socks scuffing and fighting with the rough cement tiles. His muscles surprisingly sore from the effort of standing on a ledge for so long. Being on the other side of forty probably wasn't much help either.
As the gold lines across his toes came together again, and with his back now facing Market Street, John Smith relaxed and prepared to step down. The thin light that outlined the rooftop exit was only fifty yards ahead of him. He wondered if he'd missed the opening monologue from Seth Myers.
He flexed his knees, then stopped, staring at the dim outline of the opposite side of the rooftop.
The thing came up over the other side of his apartment building. It was not recognizable other than as a shadow. And perhaps it wasn't even a shadow, it was simply a deeper darkness than the other shades of night that danced across the rooftop.
It moved with the fluidity of a flock of starlings. Starlings that he had watched one summer when he was eight or nine at his grandparents' farm. His mother and he sitting on the front porch, mesmerized as they had watched the shimmer of birds for an eternity. The flock's shape changed and morphed into seemingly endless patterns. Now, that same shape moved toward him. But, unlike the random artistic beauty of the black birds, the thing that moved toward him now moved with purpose.
Fear almost pushed John Smith backwards. Almost. He stopped himself from pinwheeling downward to Market Street when he saw the two golden seams across his toes shift ever so slightly. It reminded him of exactly where he stood.
The shape came closer, moving with combined indifference and intensity. It became an oval and then a crescent. John watched it, the distance shortening, as he realized he had no direction to run. Unsure that it would matter anyway. It lengthened across the rooftop and elongated into the moonless sky, obscuring the skyscrapers a few blocks away. It formed a sphere and John thought he could make out a pattern as it glided toward him.
It may have been no larger than a basketball, or it may have been the size of the world. John could not understand the thing. If it existed, if it danced. If it could push him. He could only watch the ever changing wave ebb closer and closer.
Then the shape rose up, condensing and darkening into a formidable mass, its hypnotic beauty morphing into that of a predator. John felt the late night air shove past him, unwillingly pushed forward by the presence.
He brought his palms forward and spread his fingers, as if somehow he could stop the inevitable and push back against the shadow now only inches away. His fingertips trembled, his skin grey in contrast to the darkness. Then it touched him.
It moved through him. With such speed that the scream surging in his lungs never made it past his throat. The shape infused his body with pain. Every bone and organ frozen in place with a searing light in contrast to the darkness of the shape. John's thoughts of starlings, his mother, his father, the exhilaration of standing eleven stories up all consumed in an instantaneous conflagration of anguish.
Then the pain was gone and he was falling. Not downward, but away. He could still see his body standing on the lip, facing the rooftop, his elbows at his sides and his hands forward in meek defiance. A statue of impotence.
John Smith had no conscious awareness of what had occurred. He knew that he was no longer part of the body standing on the ledge. A body and a building that grew smaller as he flew across the city. If flying was, in fact, how he was moving. The motion felt like being pulled and pushed at the same time.
He looked for his hands, his legs, the yellow stitching on his socks across his toes. There was nothing. Phantom memories of appendages that had once kept him tied to earth, to gravity, to rules. Now he moved with the efficiency of a whim. With instincts he had never before possessed.
John Smith felt something else as well. His new manifestation held memories of the past and the future. Within that knowledge was a strength and a power that the body he left behind would never have imagined possible. Not for one being. If he was in fact a being.
John became a languid eddy around the observation deck of a skyscraper and then dove to the level of the street in the length of a single teardrop. He, or the shape, or the him/shape, he could no longer differentiate, moved through a young woman walking alone, much differently than the shape had pushed through him moments...hours...days...years...before. She didn't feel any pain, she experienced nothing more than a shiver. In the blink of time John spent with her, he saw her past and future. He felt her memories, her heartbeats and was surprised to find the memories and minutes of her life were now his. He/the shape could see the automobile accident that would steal her away from earth two years earlier than the sixty-five years she was ordained with at birth. Her life now destined to end at sixty-three. She would never know, would never miss those years. How could she?
The part of John that still clung to the idea of being a human felt a momentary sickness; nausea filled him. Complicit in the act of stealing another's life, dizzy with the idea that he could do nothing about it. More disturbing and infectious was something else, something that made it okay. Under the doubt and nausea he felt his strength and power grow. Which made robbing this young woman of two years at the end okay. Acceptable.
He swirled skyward, the ease with which he stole from an innocent not an issue, not a debatable moral question, just a fact. His new existence pushed through a window of a penthouse apartment and floated down the hallway. An orb, a cloud, a fog. A blade of grass. He entered the room at the end of the hallway, circling the ceiling twice. His movement agitated small figures of happy ducks and smiling frogs dangling from threads above a miniature jail cell. The thing sleeping under the figures didn't stir.
John could sense the potential inside the tiny creature. This time there was no sickness or nausea, there was only a hunger that he thought might never be filled. He pushed past the dangling animals, through the fuzzy cotton outerwear, and through the infant.
His strength grew again. For the child there would be no difference between eighty and seventy-five.
In an instant he was through the floor, passing through layer after layer of sleeping humanity. Some squirmed as he stole, others winced in their human sleep. Others still sensed the presence of the dark shadowy shape and kept their eyes squeezed shut in the belief that their nightmares were not coming true. Those people felt something slice through them and would wake in the morning unable to tell the person in the bed next to them why they trembled, only that the nightmare had felt so real, as if an ancient monster had stolen years from their life.
John Smith, or the shadow which now held the memories of John Smith, reached the bottom of the building, in a cement crypt where the living things apparently buried their cars. He billowed in the corner wondering if he imagined those starlings from all those years ago. He moved in a Mobius, circling back on himself over and over between rows of sedentary automobiles. He reached backwards through his own memories and felt the history of the thing he had now become. A predator stealing the lives of innocents. He did not feel any remorse, or any sense that he had done wrong. A reality that would have been unimaginable during that time many years before when he still inhabited a human shape. Years? He had memories of many things now, but not of his time as a shadow. He watched himself spin in the Mobius and knew that this was how he had always been. Curling back on himself over and over again. Never going forward, never going backward. Always going forward, always going backward.
That eternity, he could now understand, was so much more important than anything else. Humans were finite. They were all scheduled to end. Stealing parts of them only ensured his foreverness.
He did not question why the shadow had chosen to absorb him. Or why he had chosen to be absorbed.
His ever spinning Mobius eased through the shadows, blending with the darkness everywhere.
Had the sun already risen and set and risen?
For a time. Possibly years.
Until his dark shape followed the stained bricks of a familiarly unknown place. His motion was much less purposeful now, almost a leaf in the wind, being blown somewhere predestined. He crested the top of the building; a human body stood on the precipice. Instinctively he glided toward the human, its figure blissfully unaware of his approach. He shrouded it, determined to get one last draw of strength, suck a little more life out of the thing and then be off, moving with the earth, never letting the morning catch up. If it hadn't already.
John Smith lost his strength. The human body that had been forgotten so quickly, now reinfused with his being. The shadow pulled away and John was seeing through his own eyes again. The shadow, or whatever it might be, drifted away, its shape changing in seeming random patterns of miniature starling flights. The weightlessness of his existence became the weight of his old body now burdened with the weight of the people he had defiled. The years that he had stolen for himself, that had made him feel so strong, drifting away with the dark thing.
He could not fathom how long he had been gone from his body, how long he had wandered the city stealing from innocent people. Except he could. It had felt eternal but had been nothing more than minutes, and the heaviness of his actions in those minutes filled him and defined him now. In a way he had never imagined possible. Selfish, self-interested, uncaring, indifferent.
He stared down at his feet, surprised to find himself still in his socks, standing on the edge of his apartment. His vision blurred with tears, and the yellow stitches across his toes became nothing more than a judgmental reminder of what he had done. With almost no thought or effort. He slid his left foot backward and brought his head up, searching for the shape. The thing. He thought he could see it, just on the other side of the roof, floating like that giant bean he'd seen one summer on vacation in Chicago.
His left foot lost touch with the cement, sliding into the nothing. His shoulders leaned back, intent on following. And then he was falling. Down. Away from the building. Tears that had filled his eyes now streaming upward, toward the edge where he had stood. His arms didn't flail.
John Smith stared into the sky as he passed the seventh floor. Hoping his wallet was still in his front pocket.
Past the sixth floor he ached for what he had done. Certain that the only clear path was the direction he now headed. Certain that he could not live with the knowledge of his actions. Or inactions. Whichever was more apt. The image of the sleeping infant's face filled his head.
Past the fifth floor. A shape appeared where he had stood breathing in the exhilaration of breaking from his routine. It was a dark shape, maybe a shadow. He couldn't be certain between the tears, the night sky, and his own despair. It might have simply been a patch of darkness no different than any of the others. He could sense that maybe it wasn't just the routine he longed to escape.
At the third floor he could see it clearly. It was the shape that attacked him, the shape that he had become, the shape that had aborted him. He had time to think that it almost seemed interested as it watched him hurtle downward. It was then that he recognized the truth, only far too late to do anything about it. John Smith hadn't stolen anything. He had simply been along for the ride. The dark thing had taken from the innocent people, the cloud needed them to survive. The shape had stolen a few years from each of them. He could see the forty-six years, two months and three days it had stolen from him. John did not want to lose any of it. He wanted those years and the promise of the mundane back. Above him the shape turned into a snarl. Or a grin. He wanted to tell the shape it was a mistake, he didn't mean to step backwards, he meant to step forward. He wanted the shape to return what it had stolen, even a few years, ten would be fine.
At the second floor he extended his hand. Reaching desperately for the grinning form that rippled in stationary defiance above him. A stray tear spilled upward and splashed against the thumbnail of his outstretched hand. He wanted the shape to hear his plea.
At the first floor he opened his mouth, Wait.
John Smith's fall ended with such ferocity that the roof of the Toyota folded in around him like a metal taco. Glass exploded outward from the car, raining across the sidewalk and Market Street in a deceptively delicate shower of crystal gravel. The rubber tires stretched, flattened, and rebounded, sending a second wave of crystal gravel splashing across nearby parked cars. Sound waves rebounded in all directions on Market Street. Then escaped.
One of his eyelids was closed, the eye underneath staring backward into bits of fractured skull. The other eyelid remained open, no longer able to blink. The pupil, flecked with red, focused on a point somewhere near the roof of his apartment, staring with the intensity of the dead at a shadow that no longer swirled.
His wallet remained securely in his front pocket.
* * *
The dark shape drifted away. Crossing Dowson River in the shadows of the Old Center Bridge. Its appearance changing without changing, forming geometric patterns and moving with practiced precision. It instinctively moved west, away from the morning that would be arriving from the east.
* * *
Maria Garcia awoke from her sleep. Her head throbbing. She thought about switching on her nightstand lamp, but light never helped, it only exacerbated the pain. She could hear the crash of waves through her open bedroom window, the beach only a block away. It soothed her some.
Her hand fumbled for the painkillers. She knew she shouldn't take too many, but her head hurt so much. She rattled the bottle, probably twenty left. The idea of popping all of them in her mouth navigated its way through her pulsating brain. That would take care of the pain, dios mia, maybe. It had been getting worse, she just wanted it to stop.
She carefully propped herself up, trying to ensure she didn't move her head any more than necessary. As she fumbled with the safety cap, something caught her eye. A movement in the corner. She tried to focus, but between her headache and the darkness, she was struggling.
One of the shadows in the corner of her room seemed to be darker than the others, and it looked to be moving, swirling.
Like a miniature murmuration of starlings she'd seen once as a child when visiting her abuelita.