Shadow Images

by Jeffrey J. Lyons


Garrett Jackson would have to go out of doors. He did not want to but this time he had to. He shuddered as he glanced at the wall clock with its incessant ticking drumming noisily in his brain.

The big black man with the scruffy black beard and flat, wide nose contemplated an unfinished pile of mailing labels on a nearby desk. Garrett wished to bury himself in his typing work. Impossible, nothing distracted from the news or delayed the inevitable.

Garrett rested uneasily in his armchair. He felt like he was sitting on a splintered piece of plywood. The glow of the television permeated an otherwise darkened room. Frightened, the objective remained; he had to leave the house and when he did the outside visions would return.

“Lorinda,” Garrett murmured and rubbed his watery eyes. Two days ago in broad daylight an errant car had struck down his baby sister Lorinda in her sixteenth year. A large crowd of mourners was expected to converge on the cemetery for today’s funeral. Garrett would also have to be in that same cemetery out of doors.

Garrett prepared for his exodus into the wide-open. He calculated the shortest and most deserted route. If all went well there would be one major crossing only. All other roads traversed the town’s more desolate or rural regions where fewer people lived now or existed before.

Garrett recoiled with a gasp when the phone shook the silence of the room. He caught his breath and answered the phone on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Garrett are you all right?” his mother asked soothingly. “Will you be able to make it?”

He appreciated his mother’s efforts. He couldn’t blame her for trying. No one understood what it was like to see the images he saw. Garrett paused and collected his thoughts. “Yes, mother. I intend to be there no matter what it takes.”

“You’re a good boy,” she said. “That’s why Lorinda loved you so.”

He heard the sadness in her voice. He knew she tried to disguise it for his benefit. “I miss her too, mother.”

“God works in strange ways. He took Lorinda away from us for a reason. Ours isn’t to question why.” She sniffed and Garrett heard a muffled whimper in her voice. “Maybe Lorinda’s peace will take away your suffering.”

“Maybe,” Garrett mumbled. “Goodbye.”

The phone call provided Garrett with temporary relief and his mother’s voice helped ease the tension. His fear for the outdoors was replaced by his need to be at the funeral to support his mother.

His thin nail-bitten fingers reached for his sunglasses and his baseball cap. This was not the solution but it helped him bear it more easily.

He paused at the doorway portal and studied it for a moment. His shaking hand reached for the doorknob. Sweat dripped from his brow onto those hands. He regarded the small, salty puddle drops on the floor, grasped the knob, and exited into the garage with his eyes to the ground.

He gazed at his feet as they moved one deliberate step forward at a time. His eyes focused on the tiny black ants scurrying around the ground. He added ant traps to his mental shopping list. Anything to keep his mind off the task at hand. The task did not go away.

His car was ten years old and had traveled very few miles. The visions made it difficult to travel. Garrett’s fingers played with the electronic key transmitter. The horn blared and he jolted back violently at the sudden sound of the alarm system. He gasped and fumbled with the key again to silence the alarm and unlock the door. He caught his breath, gained his composure and stepped into his vehicle.

The electric garage door yawned upward. Dusty sunlight crept inside filtered like a thin veil of fog. Garrett and his car slithered into the driveway. He looked around the yard, the driveway, and the road. His self-imposed exile corrupted his perception of a normal day because the visions never differentiated between normal and abnormal days. The day began to degrade.

He hoped to avoid the visions as long as possible for his own sanity. Garrett shifted his thoughts to Lorinda as a young girl and how he read stories to her before she went to sleep. He remembered her joy when she declared that she had ridden a two-wheel bicycle for the first time. He allowed her above all others to venture into his home, his asylum. Now she was gone, and so young.

Garrett slammed the brakes to avoid the old woman as she limped aimlessly across the street. Unscathed and unfazed, the woman walked on and vanished into the shadows of thicket pine trees. The visions had begun.

Men, women, and children traveled the sidewalks in silent disinterest and faded away, figures that walked these streets in life now walked these streets in death before Garrett. He saw each as a three-dimensional figure and could not distinguish between the living and the dead until the dead disappeared.

What he saw were the shadow images of people who had been this way before. It was like a video from another age coming alive before his eyes. To Garrett they looked like normal, breathing human beings in their natural setting. He saw all of them, but they never acknowledged him.

Garrett dipped his head and watched the road from the tops of his eyes. He had to block the visions. One young boy chasing a ball darted in front of his vehicle. Garrett swerved as the boy’s hands leapt fearfully to his face before he disappeared into the mist. The vision reminded him of Lorinda returning home from volleyball practice.

As he maneuvered along the bends and curves of the countryside, the visions diminished. Fewer people had wandered these roads during their lives, so fewer would wander them in death. Garrett, relieved, focused on reaching his destination.

The next vision startled him. By the pond on a sharp corner a young blonde woman with feather-shaped earrings screamed silently as the hands of a young man clutched her neck. Garrett braked to a stop. The attacker’s eyes burned passionately as he tightened his grip around the helpless girl’s throat. The girl kicked and scratched furiously at him until her arms went limp. The man’s blank face stared toward the car. Garrett winced but made out his thick brown eyebrows and brown mustache affixed to a thin bony face. The girl and her attacker faded into the shadows. She had lived for moments after the attack... the murder.

Garrett gasped breathlessly. His heart pumped wildly. The horrible magnitude of that image danced in his head on auto-repeat. Over time, hundreds of dead people had entered his view as if he glanced into a time hole. Garrett relived moments in lives and rarely saw them again. He could not ignore this discomforting, unsettling reflection in time. Garrett stepped out of his car and vomited the contents of his stomach onto the roadside.

* * *

Birds sang for their mates. A light breeze enchanted the ambiance of an otherwise solemn ceremony at East End Cemetery. Another girl wept, her body convulsed with each tear. Garrett hunched in a front row seat next to his weeping mother. His father had abandoned the family ten years before. Garrett seethed. Couldn’t he at least come to his daughter’s funeral?

The minister spoke slowly. “All of us will be welcomed to God’s side someday. His selections sometimes confuse us while we are among the living. But be clear and know that we will see Lorinda Jackson again when it our turn to join our Savior.

“We grieve now. That is part of the healing process. But Lorinda, whose bright future was tragically cut short will live in our memories,” he concluded.

The visions infiltrated the cemetery. This space represented the embodiment of all he feared. People of all ages left flowers and flags for their loved ones buried here. Some knelt while others wept silently by the headstones. Garrett did not see the spirits of the buried hovering over their stones, only the visits from the significant people in their lives.

Garrett would not see Lorinda here. Her body in life never trod upon this graveyard. The funeral would end soon. Grieving must wait until he returned to his home, safe and sound.

* * *

Garrett stared blindly at the TV, mouth agape. The newscaster narrated the story of an unsolved death of another young girl named Alexandra Young.

They discovered the body of the teenage girl by the river six years ago. At that time, the autopsy concluded that her death was asphyxiation by strangulation. The evidence suggested a struggle. The last person who saw her alive was her mother when the girl announced she was visiting a friend. She never arrived. The investigation continued for weeks, months, and years until authorities placed the file on inactive but open status.

Garrett, shaken, knew that the heinous crime he witnessed in shadows was indeed the case of Alexandra Young, a girl just like Lorinda in many ways. The image of the girl’s high school photograph beckoned him to the TV screen. He recognized the hair, the face, and remembered the earrings. He shuddered. His memory recast the attacker’s vacant stare and its disappearance.

The reporter interviewed Detective Mark Latham who had been assigned to the case. He appeared stern, fit and official.

Garrett felt obligated to connect with detective Latham. He had returned from the funeral just a few hours earlier and he was trying to relax after encountering so many visions at one time. He was anxious after such an ordeal and he needed time to himself to unwind. Yet Alexandra Young died before her time just like Lorinda. Garrett knew he could help.

He was an eyewitness after the fact.

Garrett’s head jerked rapidly between the TV and the telephone. He succumbed to the silent lure of the telephone. His shaking fingers tapped in the phone number.

“Police dispatch, Dispatcher Hyde.” the laconic female voice recited upon the second ring.

What should he say? His mouth formed words but none materialized. The female repeated her official greeting.

“Uh, Detec... Detective Latham... if you please,” Garrett stammered quietly.

She connected him. “Homicide, Latham,” his voice spat.

Garrett wanted to frame his words just right for Alexandra Young’s sake and for Lorinda’s sake. He could not make a mistake. This was far too important. He had taken a large step out of his personal space and made contact with the law.

Garrett bit his lower lip lightly. “I saw the story about the girl, Alexandra Young. I may have information that you can use.”

“Who is this?” The detective asked.

Beads of sweat moistened Garrett’s eyebrows and upper lip. “It was a man with a moustache...”

“Wait a minute,” Latham interrupted, “What is this about?”

“The man had thick eyebrows too. I could make those out.”

“Listen to me sir.” Latham’s demeanor more relaxed. “If you have a statement to make you should come and see me. I would be happy to talk with you.”

Garrett tapped a finger nervously on the receiver, “I can’t. I can only tell you that this is what I saw. And it was so brief.”

Garrett could hear Latham’s breath but couldn’t make out the emotion. He could hear the muffled tapping of a keyboard. He suspected Latham was typing notes... or tracing his call.

“How can I take this as serious if you don’t tell me who you are and how you know?” Latham asked. “We follow every lead but need verification. I get a lot of calls like this after we get publicity. How do I know it’s not a wild goose chase?”

“That is not what I am doing and what I am about. I want to help her family. I don’t want them to grieve any more and I saw what I saw.”

“Were you there when it happened? Did you see it?” Latham asked.

“Yes. I saw it.” Garrett’s mouth quivered, “Find the man in her life that had a mustache and bushy eyebrows. Then you’ll know.”

“I need more than that,” Latham demanded. “What else did you see?”

“I must go,” Garrett said and hung up the phone and exhaled loudly.

His heart raced. He clapped his hands together and seized the moment as if to congratulate himself. He might have helped solve a murder mystery. One girl’s soul might rest more easily and a family could find closure. Not like him. The authorities never found the driver of the car that tore Lorinda away from him so tragically.

Garrett turned away from the phone with a smile and stopped in his tracks. He stood face to face with Lorinda who appeared as a girl of fourteen in his living room. Garrett’s hands leapt to his mouth as he let out a surprised gasp. Lorinda nodded to him and smiled and then faded into the wallpaper. He lost her again.

“Lorinda come back,” he cried. “I must see you again. I must tell you how I feel. Please.”

Garrett choked back tears. His magnanimous effort to solve a murder mystery only resulted in a visit from beyond by the one that he loved most.

A mist engulfed the wall like frosted crystal. It wavered and then jerked in and out of focus like an archaic overhead projector. The wallpaper print disintegrated then evolved into a dark, indistinguishable human form refreshing itself as the small and precious image of Lorinda. She had answered his request. She returned.

Relief enveloped his body and mind.

Garrett lived his life avoiding these visions. He saw them, let them pass as best as he could, and awaited the next one. Never before had he solicited the thing he feared most. “Lorinda, I never asked for this power. I have lived with it forever.”

She nodded soundlessly and placed both hands on her heart. None of the visions made an audible sound. They could only nod and gesture. She released her hands and flung her arms open wide showering Garrett with an emission of energy that filled his whole body. It knocked him backward but he didn’t lose his footing. He turned his face toward Lorinda and watched her smile and then fade into the wallpaper again. A calming feeling came over his entire body. Garrett laughed at the warmth that suddenly erupted within.

* * *

The TV news was filled with reports on the apprehension of one Lucius Walker, who six years earlier lived near the high school that Alexandra Young had attended. He had figured out where she lived and tried to make her acquaintance. She finally agreed to meet him for a date but had not told anyone about it. Walker was four years her senior and out of high school. When she rebuffed his sexual advances he drove her to the pond and killed her with his bare hands.

Latham would only tell reporters that he followed through on an anonymous tip but that other pieces of the puzzle had been falling into place, which led the investigation into a direction that made more sense than it ever had before.

Garrett watched the report with a sense of satisfaction. The family of Alexandra Young could rest easier. For the first time Garrett felt like he was worth something. His shattered self-esteem was about to be made whole. Garrett had cowered in the corners to avoid the shadow images for the last time.

What prevented him from finding the killer that snuffed out the beautiful young flower he knew as Lorinda? His unique power could bring closure to his own life as it had for Alexandra Young. “Let the visions come me,” he said to no one but himself.

* * *

The car accident had happened on an area of Elm Street situated less than two miles from his home. Garrett drove to the spot letting the visions come and go until he arrived at the spot, which was a somber reminder of a life lost. He took a deep breath and stepped out of the car focusing his attention toward the crosswalk upon which Lorinda took her final walk. The driver plowed straight through, never yielding. Modest homes lined both sides of the road with their picket fences, stone walkways, barbecue grills, and flower gardens.

Garrett remembered. How the police interviewed nearly everybody within a half mile of the accident. No one remembered anything. Maybe because we’re black, he glowered.

“Lorinda, do you hear me,” he said to the empty street, which lay adrift in a sea of restless houses, from which no one saw the accident. “Please let me see you.”

Garrett squinted and gazed upon a fog, which enveloped the vehicle vacant street. The fog existed, stimulated by the production center of the billions of neurons that shaped his mind.

Lorinda appeared. She prepared to walk across the street toward Garrett. She carefully looked to her right and then to her left and stepped out to meet her fate. “Don’t go!”

Her head turned quickly to the left. Her shoulders heaved toward her neck. Lorinda’s mouth opened. The daunting scream expelled silently, cutting through the mist. “No,” Garrett shouted as he grasped frantically at the space around him.

The car was a small blue sedan. The license plate began with 471. It faded into oblivion. Lorinda’s still body like a bundled sack on the crosswalk disappeared into the mist. Garrett wept.

An elderly woman poked her head from the cracked curtain of a nearby house. When Garrett looked up, she drew the curtain closed. He knew he must leave this neighborhood.

* * *

“You again?” Detective Latham rasped through Garrett’s telephone receiver. “I wanted to thank you. How did you know?”

“If you find the driver of a blue sedan, with the partial license plate number 471 you have thanked me.”

“What?”

“Lorinda Jackson,” Garrett stated simply and hung up. The healing could begin. He was ready to face the new day and might even venture outside.


Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey J. Lyons

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