by Robb White
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
He drove home. His face was greasy with perspiration; his hands gripped the steering wheel with ferocity as if the Shadow Man — no more “guardian” about it, he thought — might materialize behind him again and fling him headfirst through the windshield if he let it go. Anything was possible now, anything! He was beyond rational explanations, way past Occam’s Razor, and all that medical claptrap he had been told back at the hospital.
It even occurred to him to pray. No, he would not surrender to the rabble’s misty-eyed fairy tale or to the supernatural yearnings of the gullible. “I am strong,” he said aloud.
Back home, he paced the floors. He did not know what to do.
He checked his watch. His wife was working late. No, no, she isn’t. Adam knew exactly where she was at that moment.
He stopped in the garage for his nine-iron and tossed it on the seat beside him. He drove to the Edge-of-Town Motel and parked in front of Room 14, where his wife and her lover-colleague were inside. Rutting, cavorting, fondling, sucking, Adam thought. Why am I being so prissy? They’re in there fucking.
The lot was full of cars. Adam guessed the place was a trysting motel for cheating spouses and randy teenagers if the combination of late-model SUVs and economy cars plastered with university decals meant anything.
Adam knew he was a physical coward and he was about to make the most public of scenes, yet he didn’t care. He hefted the golf club’s iron head in the palm of his hand.
That same warm pressure he had felt in the car driving home from the doctor’s dug into his shoulder hard enough to make him swivel his head. He jumped. Nothing there — yet he felt a presence and sensed a mass of dark energy beside him. Those amorphous beings without shape but with a presence were back. This time the Shadow Man has brought his friends, Adam thought.
“Well, you’re all going to see something now,” Adam mumbled as his eyes roamed the motel doors for numbers.
No words were exchanged but Adam understood: he was to go Room 14 at once. This Grand Guignol confrontation he was on the verge of committing was abhorrent, and it wasn’t going to happen, he mentally argued against himself. The Shadow Man urging him on was nothing more than his worst self, his dented male ego.
There was an actual relief in the knowledge that all that he had experienced of late, including the blackboard’s automatic writing, was completely and totally a rational event borne out of chemical responses in his brain and nothing more. His wife was almost certainly at work. This “brainstorm” of the moment was simply a fixation of his own unworthiness of her, a feeling that stemmed from the days when they’d first dated, and he couldn’t believe such a smart, attractive woman could possibly be interested in a geeky academic like him.
Adam spoke to himself on the way home; not to the Shadow Man, certainly, who was nowhere in the car and nowhere in sight, back to its proper place as a figment of his damaged brain. The ground hissed under the chassis, the passing cars elevated and decreased the decibel levels of their engines, radios and CDs played leaving fragments on the air. But everything around him was finally calm, restored to its proper place. Every molecule and atom disciplined by the laws of determinism, not magic or God.
Adam’s wife came home at nine and chattered happily to him, her mood buoyant as usual from her late-night work sessions. He passed her in the kitchen while she warmed up her supper in the microwave and noticed her hair was freshly shampooed.
Washing away the sex smell, no doubt. The words seared into his brain. Adam found it necessary to make an excuse about “grading papers” to avoid being near her; he didn’t trust himself to stifle his anger or his hurt. He was on the brink of tears.
He went to his upstairs room and opened his email in the desultory fashion of needing something to do to take his mind off his pain. Five students asked what that class was all about. One expressed concern that he might not be “well in his mind.” Another, that joker with the Lady Gaga comment, used the WTF acronym. That made Adam bark a laugh of contempt for both himself and the student. He could hear Lydia downstairs watching some reality show. An email from the assistant dean politely enquired what had happened in class. He stopped reading them.
Show me, then, he commanded. Show me your power. I’ll believe in you if I can see you.
Adam awoke in the La-Z-Boy chair in the same room. Sleeping beside his faithless wife was too much to bear, and she would not think anything unusual, as he had done it before after watching films or grading late into the night.
It happened first in the diner where he always stopped for his morning coffee and donut. The waitress was ringing up a customer and she made a sign to the customer with the fingers of her right hand. The customer nodded, pocketed his change and walked out. The same waitress brought him coffee but all was normal. Adam nursed his coffee and waited.
Pretty soon, he saw others making discreet signs with fingers curled inside their hands or flashed to a passing waiter or customer. Adam saw the whole place was filled with people giving and taking secret signs. He was wide awake. There was no hallucination. He saw one elderly woman doing a crossword at a table while she covered half her face with one hand. He saw others coming and going who gave one another similar gestures and signals that were understood as soon as made.
Adam kept his head lowered over his coffee mug and used his peripheral vision. He saw the triple sixes and Masonic handshakes wherever two people shook hands. The talk was as inane and uninteresting as ever, all about the high school sports teams, the police-beat items in the local paper, the kinds of things these small-town dullards talked about all the time when he was in here trying hard not to listen to them.
One group of four men were speaking of golf and Florida non-sequentially. Yet he knew if he looked under the table, all would be throwing secret signs like gangbangers out of Compton. He was giddy with fear. He had asked for proof and he got it in spades.
He wanted to laugh at the sheer idiocy of it until he realized he was alone in there, one of the uninitiated. He wasn’t part of any clique or insider circle. They would know he wasn’t one of them. What would they do? Would they mob him? Kill him? Adam finished his coffee in a gulp and left a tip on the table. His fingers shook nervously.
At college it was the same: Illuminati signs, Masonic signs were exchanged everywhere he looked. He saw them try to disguise what they did once they noticed him looking, but he got good at catching them out of the corner of his eye. No mistake about it. He saw they were intensely keen on noticing him, too, as if last night’s class had gone viral on the campus intranet.
Adam was seeing a whole new reality. The Shadow Man was true to his word. All of it, everything he thought he knew, especially his marriage to Lydia, was a sham. Nothing was as it had been. He was a babe in the woods, worse than a newborn. He wasn’t even sure he was an actual person and not someone’s dream of a person under a delusion.
He waited with a terrible anxiety for the next communication. It came in his dream that night. America’s “Horse with No Name” was playing in his brain just before he fell across the threshold of sleep. In his dream, Adam was in the desert lurking behind a sand dune. He watched Berbers and their caravansary stop at an oasis and settle down for the night. He himself was oblivious to the heat and dust. He felt no thirst. He watched their campfires and listened to their exotic dialect until all fell into the utter blackness of a desert night where massive clusters of stars of brilliant oranges, reds, and blues dropped down to the horizon.
A group of traveling Arabs, the blue tribesmen known as Tuaregs, halted at the camp and made deals for Berber camels. Adam watched them bargain with their hands in one another’s palms without a word being exchanged. In the distance, approaching the Berber tents were four dust devils that transformed into clouds raised by horses’ hooves and soon he saw four riderless horses appear. The Berbers chattered in their dialect, broke camp, and raced off on their camels.
Adam stood there alone until the horses, sipping from the same oasis as the Berbers, looked up at the same time and stared back at him.
Adam woke. He thought the Shadow Man was playing with him, sadistically teasing him now at the obvious symbolism of it: the white horse (conquest); the red (war); the black (famine); the pale (death). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It seemed he was using his own kind of parable to teach to the simple-minded.
Adam was horrified at the strange turn of his mental life from a random victim of an accident through a guest of floating shadow creatures to a cat’s-paw of the Shadow Man. He was sure of one thing only: he knew he’d get an explanation soon. This mystic door, he reasoned, had not been opened merely to be shut so soon.
That night he was watching CNN with Lydia and the usual litany of natural horrors and human farce was enacted from various sore spots and corners of the planet with the usual plethora of nonsense to wash it down. He watched a politician basking in the glow of admirers in a forest of selfie sticks held aloft by his adoring sycophants; a death house in Ciudad Juárez coughed up fifty murdered bodies; South Korea and North Korea threatened each other with war; two other nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, were fighting over Kashmir; immigrants fleeing Syria scrambled over barbed-wire barricades to get into Hungary; 70 bodies of men, women, and children lay decomposing in an abandoned truck in Austria; ISIS lopped off more heads in the town square in Raqqa; Israel’s PM saber-rattled with fighter jets because of the U.S. deal with Iran over its nuclear facilities; the World Health Organization warned of dire consequences if new contagions emerged from Africa and southern China through deforestation and overpopulation; the Cousteau Team warned that the Great Garbage Patch in the South Pacific had grown to the size of Texas; hackers in Russia stole thousands more government employee personal data; Chinese hackers “might now possess the ability” to shut down America’s power grid — and so forth and so on, ad nauseam, in perpetuity, Adam realized. Symbols can’t protect us from the reality.
Milton, he knew, had coined the word pandemonium for the capital of hell’s devils in Paradise Lost. This place, this earth, is a hell of its own making, and didn’t Milton say something about that, too? Another devil popped into his mind: the suavely arrogant Mephistopheles, Goethe’s brainchild, who said, “Nor is this hell nor am I outside of it.”
Adam wished he could be back in the desert of his dreams, a mere witness to a simple society living under the stars and traveling the sand seas from oasis to oasis. A world without malice and computers, iPhones and the Dark Net, broken vows, lying politicians and neutron bombs, Wall Street greed, and human suffering.
His deadly sin was pride. Wasn’t he as bad as the rest of humanity? Hadn’t he been on a rampage with a golf club, threatening to bash in his wife’s lover’s head just a day ago? Just a monkey with a club, he thought. That’s all I am.
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Copyright © 2019 by Robb White