Someone Who's Not There
I'm lighting a cigarette on the corner of 5th and Mason. The bus is late, or so I think. I've never picked it up at this stop before; I might have read the schedule wrong. I inhale and think about the strange last couple of weeks.
A little shudder. It's not cold, so I convince myself that the shudder was brought on by that first poisonous drag. I divert my attention as a woman dressed in a business suit walks by me. I watch her walk away, and she looks briefly over her shoulder.
Nice glance. I'm not sure what it is today. I'm not dressed all that well and I've got a military style cap covering my messy hair. Maybe she knew I was checking her out.
Someone approaches behind me, snapping me out of my train of thought. I turn my head just enough to see behind me with my peripheral vision, and I do a double take when I don't see anyone there.
Incredibly strange. It wasn't that I saw someone first; I sensed someone, and that's what made me turn my head. I let out a little laugh to myself and take another drag.
City life. I've got no reason to be jumpy. It's a mild and bright morning, and there's not much activity on the sidewalks right now.
"You're rather observant, Jackson." My middle name? I turn around again and see nothing. I don't recognize the voice either: smooth, almost a whisper, certainly feminine. I get goosebumps, but I crack a smile. I feel a soupy mixture of fear and curiousity, my eyes and ears made more vigilant by the nicotine coursing through me.
"Nice day to go nuts," I say, staying calm. I have a vicious urge to turn around again, but I resist. If I am going crazy, I can keep myself under control. I've eaten enough psychedelics to be familiar with these conflicting neural impulses: When shit just doesn't make sense, you have no choice but to keep moving.
It's like I'm walking through a dream sequence, but all my senses are active. Fuck that. It's like my senses are working overtime. Breathe out and go with it.
I still feel something behind me, and I'm still holding myself back from turning a full 180. I see the woman in the business suit in the distance out of the corner of my eye. She's well out of an earshot if I speak softly. As far as I can tell, it's just me and whatever my nervous system is convinced is behind me.
"Don't leave me hanging here," I say. "If you're going to talk, talk." The fear subsides a little. I'm really amused at this point, actually--it takes a hell of an ego to call out thin air. I'm satisfied when I get no response. I chuckle to myself and put my cigarette out on the sole of my shoe. When I'm convinced it's out, I toss it in a trashcan.
"They're all over the street," the voice says. "Why go through the trouble?" I'm knocked off balance when I hear the voice again, but I take another deep breath. I'm incredibly scared now, but I'm planning my response strategically; whatever this voice is, I don't want to give away that I'm losing it.
"I like this city," I say. "At least enough to care where I'm throwing my trash." My voice is losing strength even as I say it. Self-relaxation isn't doing it...I'm standing at a bus stop talking to a definite voice with an indefinite presence. It's catching up with my capacity for the peculiar. "Listen, can I ask you something?" I ask, covering a stutter.
"Shoot," she says without hesitation.
"What stop you getting off at?" Apparently I've grown some brass balls in the last 5 seconds. My question should have been something like: Are you real? Am I going nuts? What's going on?
"I'm going all the way across town," the voice responded. "How about you?" It's a little difficult to describe how I felt during this conversation. It was almost like I was split in half. Part of me wanted to bolt down the street in terror, and part of me was picturing an artsy-looking woman engaged in this small talk.
"Two or three stops," I say. "This is my first time on this line, so I'm not exactly sure." I see the bus about a block away, and whether I'm crazy or not, I'm sure this situation is about to get a lot more interesting.