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A "Hidden City" Story
Ryan P. Macklin
Start at the beginning of the Hidden City series
Michael sat at a table alone in a restaurant. He left a message on Jerry's voicemail to meet him here -- he wanted to find some way to smooth things over with Jerry. Even though he didn't have anything to do with the accident last night, Jerry had still been apprehensive afterwards.
Nothing happened. Was just a coincidence.
He grabbed a table away from the windows. Normally, he would grab a booth by a window, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he walked toward one. He felt more at least being in the middle of the restaurant.
Michael started to take a sip from his glass. As his lips made contact, he paused, taking the experience in -- the way the bubbles on the head seemed to tickle as they popped against his upper lip, the way his lower lip seemed to shrink as he felt the cold temperature from the glass be drawn into it. He sat there, glass still at his mouth, staring off into nothing.
"Am I interrupting something?" a friendly voice called out. As Michael snapped out of his daze, the real world came into focus. As he blinked, his eye caught the traffic outside. A white sedan drove towards him. He saw a small boy playing with his infant sibling in the middle seat while the two adults up front appeared to have a pleasant conversation. As they crossed into the intersection, a red sports car slammed into the side of the sedan. The force pushed them into the oncoming lane of traffic, causing an SUV to collide with them.
The force from both cars caused the sedan to roll and be lifted off the ground a few inches. It landed on the roof, slamming into a light pole. Car after car continued to collide, causing a pile-up of epic proportions on this busy downtown street. Michael watched in horror as the man from the sedan emerged from the wreckage, carrying a bloody body that was his infant child.
Michael stood up. The voice called to him again, "Hello?" Michael turned and saw Heather standing by the table. She saw the look of horror on his face. "Are you okay?"
Michael turned his attention back to the street and raised his arm to point to the wreckage, but when he looked the pile-up was gone. Traffic on the street continued normally.
He gestured for her to take a seat as he slammed down his beer. "Nothing. I thought I saw something, that's all." He looked into his empty glass has he spoke to her. "I wasn't expecting to see you."
She took the seat next to him and hugged him. "Jerry told me about what happened yesterday. He said to tell you he wouldn't be making it."
"I... uh..." He quickly turned toward the waiter and motioned for him to come over.
"Another beer, sir?"
"Yes. And a menu for the lady."
The waiter took the empty glass and walked away. Heather grabbed Michael's hand. "C'mon, Michael. Tell me what's wrong?"
"I... I don't know." His eyes scanned the room, as if searching for someone who might harm him if he continued speaking. He turned back to her and whispered, "Things keep happening."
She obliged him and whispered in return, "What sort of things?"
He rolled his tongue in his mouth for a moment. Let's avoid the almost-rape conspiracy theory right now. He paused, and went back to speaking normally. "So, how are you doing?"
She continued to whisper. "Michael, you can tell me. It's me, remember? I'm here for you, just like you were for me."
He smiled meekly. "Thanks. I really just want to get my mind off of it, though. Maybe we can talk about it later. I'm still... Well, nothing as bad as what happened on Friday."
He gazed into her eyes. The way she smiled was so warm, so inviting. He was admiring her freckles, the way her hair looked in the light, the sparkle in her eyes. He wanted to kiss her, but hesitated. His thoughts pushed him on. Do it, man! Life's too short! You saw what can happen in the blink of an eye!
He started to move in as the waiter returned with his beer and a menu for Heather. "I'll be back shortly." Michael looked into his glass. I'll just stick to what I know. He took a drink and set the glass down.
Heather looked at his mouth. She made a gesture to him. "You have something on the corner of your mouth."
He wiped his mouth with his hand. She shook her head. "No, it's still there."
He grabbed the napkin and wiped his mouth. "Better?"
"Not quite. Here, let me." She grabbed his napkin, leaned in, and made like she was going to wipe his face. Instead, though, she kissed him. Michael's shock quickly went away and he kissed her back. After a moment, she pulled back and grinned. "That's what you were trying to do a moment ago, right?"
Michael blushed and silently nodded. Then his smile went away. "This isn't some hero thing, is it? I'm not really, I mean, that's not..."
"I admit that has a bit to do with it, but it's not just that. You're a sweet guy. You always have been. You have your rough spots, but you're good all around." She squeezed his hand. Grinning, she added, "And you aren't as bad looking as you think you are."
Michael cracked a smile and rolled his eyes. "Why, thanks."
Heather opened her menu. "Now, I'm starved."
* * *
A young man approached a red sports car in the downtown mall underground parking. He knew the car belonged to some "rich prick," and decided to take it for himself.
He walked right up to the car; saw the blinking light that told him there was an alarm. He held his breath, concentrated for a moment, put his hand on the door latch, and lifted.
The door opened. The alarm didn't sound.
Hell yeah! That guy wasn't fucking around. The man got into the car, and took a look at himself in the mirror. His head was covered with little hairs, as though he shaved all of his hair off before and was letting it grow back in. The tank top he was wearing showed off various tattoos on his arms and shoulders.
After admiring himself, he looked for a set of keys. He searched for a few minutes -- pulling on shades, opening ashtrays, patting down seats -- but he couldn't find any. Damn, wasn't good enough.
He looked around the parking garage. He only saw one couple, walking away. As they disappeared into the elevator, he took a small case out of his pocket, and started to hot wire the car. Remember, mind over matter, just like the man said. In only a few seconds, the car started and he drove out to the exit gate.
A ticket taker waited at the gate, holding her hand out of the booth's window. The man fumbled inside of the car for a few moments. "I, uh, don't seem to have it."
"No ticket?" She noted something down on a clipboard. The man looked up and saw a security camera pointing at him. As he looked away, his cell phone rang. Seeing the caller ID, he answered it.
Without giving the man a chance to speak, a woman's voice on the other end spoke clearly. "Check the right shade." She waited on the line. The man replied "Yeah, I can pick it up, Dad. Which pharmacy?" as he flipped down the shade and saw a ticket fall out.
"Stop being an amateur, T-Bird. Do what you're told."
The man grabbed the ticket and handed it to the woman in the booth. She nodded and let the gate arm up. As he drove onto the street, the woman on the other end said, "I trust you'll be able to live up to your side of the agreement, right?"
"Yes, ma'am." He swallowed his pride and continued down the road as the caller hung up the phone. I'm going to get in. Nothing's going to stop me.
* * *
Michael and Heather left the restaurant, Heather's arm wrapped around Michael's. He still couldn't believe she was being this close to him. He also couldn't bring himself to ask her why she was suddenly so affectionate -- he didn't want to risk stopping it.
She pointed towards her car. "I'm parked across the street. You want a lift back home?"
"If it's not too much trouble. I'm only twelve blocks away." Is she asking to come home with me?
"Twelve blocks isn't any trouble."
As they turned toward the corner, a white sedan drove by from the other direction. He saw the family inside, recognizing them from his daydream from before. He saw that their light turned yellow, and then to red just as they got to the intersection.
Michael turned toward them and ran. Heather yelled out after him. "Where are you going?"
Michael ran down the block. He grabbed a pole, using it to turn him into the crosswalk. The crosswalk light had already flashed red a few times when he went into the street. When Michael got to the sedan, he stopped, holding his hands in the air with his palms out, yelling for people to stop. The car honked its horn, and the father leaned out from the passenger side and yelled at him to get out of the road.
It doesn't matter what they think, as long as they're okay, he thought to himself as others shouted and honked at him.
The light turned green. The car honked and slowly rolled forward, but Michael stood his ground. Only a moment later, a red sports car sped through the intersection, narrowly avoiding the SUV coming out of the opposite lane. Michael jogged toward the nearest corner and slumped to the ground, breathless. He looked up and saw the older child looking back at him as the sedan drove off.
Heather jogged up, her high heel shoes in her hand. "What happened?"
Michael coughed as he regained his wind. "I, uh, I saw something." He looked around, seeing all of the people who were staring back at him. "I'll tell you about it in the car."
As soon they got into the car and shut the doors, he turned to her. "I saw the red car coming."
She turned on the ignition, but otherwise didn't reply. He continued, "Right as you came up, I saw the sedan drive down the street and get hit by the red car. A massive pile-up happened. The baby in the car died. It was really, really fucked up."
Remaining silent, she started driving toward his apartment.
"I saw the car, recognized the people, and knew what was going to happen. I had to stop it from happening, Heather."
"What do you mean, 'why'?"
"You save me, you save some other people, you save Jerry's car..."
"What?" Michael replied as Heather began to run a red light, paying attention to Michael and not the road. Michael looked at an oncoming car and shouted "Stop!"
Heather looked at the light and sped through as the other car screeched to a halt. She pulled over once she cleared the intersection. "What's going on with you, Michael?"
Michael threw his hands up. "I don't know!"
Heather took a breath. Michael was starting to grow uncomfortable -- the car began to feel too confining. Heather looked away from him as she continued, "You were there at the right time, and you saved me from being...hurt. Jerry said that you kept going on about claws. Then Jerry's car is miraculously unscathed in the accident."
"That's not my fault. None of that's my fault."
"Jerry said that you promised him that his car would be okay. And it was. And now you see some car accident that's going to happen and you stop it from happening."
Michael didn't reply. He opened his window. He looked away from her, instead starring at a blue Victorian house that had an American flag inside one of the upstairs windows.
"What are you in, Michael?"
"I don't know," he meekly replied. "I really don't know."
"You're not safe to be around, are you?"
Michael didn't respond. He didn't know how to respond. Was I ever the 'safe' guy? Maybe I was, before all this.
Heather started to pull the car back into traffic. "I'll drop you off."
Michael nodded, "Yeah."
They were silent for the remaining few blocks. She pulled up to his building. As he cracked the door open, he looked at her. What the hell. "Why did you kiss me back there? Why did you suddenly become so affectionate?"
"I don't know. I've always had a little thing for you. Life just feels too short after... you know." Michael nodded. "I knew you liked me, too. But, no, that was a bad idea."
She paused, biting her lower lip. "I'll call you sometime, okay?"
He frowned. "That sounds like you won't."
"I will. Just give me some time. You just kinda went from being my knight in shining armor to being an epicenter of weird shit."
You know, two of those three times weird things happened when you were around. Michael held that comment back and just left the car. He held out his palm, waving at her as she pulled away.
As he walked in his apartment, he only paused to lock the door behind him. He left the lights off, and feeling drained physically and emotionally, he slumped onto his bed.
I'm going to regret not taking my keys out. After a few minutes, he mustered the energy to empty his pockets, and then fell asleep.
* * *
Michael woke up a couple hours later to a knock at his door. He got up, combed his hair back with his hands, and looked out the peephole. He saw an older black guy, dressed in various layers of clothing, standing outside. He recognized the man as one of the local homeless guys he gave change to. Cautiously, he opened up the door. "Can I help you?"
The black man chuckled. "No, Michael. I'm here to help you."
Michael just stared at the man, who continued. "You have questions. I may have answers for some of them."
A breeze blew in the door, carrying the musty smell from the man into Michael's nostrils. Michael sneezed and backed up a step. The man stood silent outside of Michael's apartment, waiting for a response. After a few moments of dead silence, Michael spoke, "Go on, Mister..."
The man outside the door chuckled again. "I'm no 'mister,' Michael. Some people call me Brother Charlie, or just Charlie."
"Would you like to come in? I'd rather not just stand at the door talking about this."
Charlie shook his head. "No. Come outside. There's a park a few blocks away. We'll talk there."
Michael peaked out of his door and saw the street. As a car sped past, he shut his eyes and ducked back in.
"You're having visions, right? That's what you're scared of?" Charlie nodded. "I understand." He turned to walk away.
Michael darted out and grabbed Charlie's arm. He whispered, "What do you know about my visions? What do you know about the shit that's happening to me? Are you responsible?" Michael began to shake Charlie. He spoke louder, "Tell me what you know!"
Charlie looked straight into Michael's eyes. Michael got the impression that Charlie was searching for something. Then, he turned toward the street. Michael looked where Charlie's eyes pointed and saw a cop looking back at them. Michael let Charlie go, and the cop walked away.
"Walk with me, Michael."
Michael looked back down at the street. "What is happening to me?"
Charlie shook his head. "Michael, I like you. You've always been generous..." He turned his head and spoke lower, adding an aside, "More when you aren't in a hurry, anyway." He turned to look straight at Michael. "I can't make it go away. All I can offer is an answer, and maybe some help. But you'll have to make a choice."
"What sort of choice?"
"Come with me, Michael, and hear what I have to say, and you'll eventually understand what's happening to you. You find a bigger world. But these visions, these events, all this shit, they won't go away. You'll just learn how to deal with them."
"And if I don't come with you?"
"Maybe it'll all just become a bad memory. Maybe that lovely woman who dropped you off will forget about the weird shit, and you guys can do whatever. Or maybe not, maybe shit will come back when you least expect it, and ruin the life you tried to make. I can't give you any sort of guarantee; it's not in my control."
"How do you know this?" Michael asked. Something about Charlie made thoughts of doubt go away.
"When you live outside, in the real world, you see a much bigger picture of things."
Michael stared away, thinking. His eyes focused on a tree, high up enough to not notice any traffic.
"You need to think about it. I understand. I had to do the same thing. If you're not ready, go back inside and think about it. But, let me give you a couple pieces of advice first."
Michael looked back at Charlie, his eyes showing the stress and helplessness he was feeling.
"First of all, you might not want to tell people about this. I have a lifetime of experience seen that it only makes you look like a crazy person, and puts people you care about in danger."
"Second, don't take too long deciding here, or someone else will make the decision for you." With that, Charlie walked away, heading toward the park. "You know where I'll be, Michael. Until then, the city provides."
Wait! Hey, wait! Michael's thoughts didn't make it to his mouth -- he was only able to stand at the top of the stairs as Charlie walked away. When Charlie was out of sight, Michael walked back into his house.
Michael picked up his phone. He started to dial Jerry's number, but he hung up. He took a moment, and thought about what he'd say. "Hey, Jerry, it's Michael. Listen, I had this daydream about a car accident, but it didn't happen because I stopped it. And then this homeless guy came by to tell me about it, but he said if I tell anyone, I'll sound crazy. What do you think?" He laughed. Yeah, that'll go over well.
He picked up the phone again, and dialed Jerry's number. His voicemail answered after a few rings, "Hey, this is Jerry. Leave me a message."
Michael thought about what Charlie had said, about people he cares about being in danger. He thought about his talk with Heather. "Hey Jerry, it's Michael. Call me sometime. Please. It's about, well, stuff. And Heather. Anytime, man." He hung up. Then, he slumped down in his chair and turned on the television.
After channel-surfing for a few hours, Michael's phone still had not rung. The idea of talking to Charlie kept rolling around in his head. "Fuck it. I'm just sitting here doing nothing." He grabbed his jacket and headed out.
He walked down a couple blocks, and then stopped. This is insane. I'm chasing down a homeless man to give me secrets about some hallucinations I had. I can't do this. This isn't real. Michael turned around and walked away. As he began to cross the street, a car approached him without its headlights on. Michael was lost in thought as the car accelerated.
Michael's left leg gave in unnatural ways as the car impacted. He hit the windshield, causing it to break. The car continued. Michael bounced off of the windshield and hit the roof of the car, bouncing another few inches from that, and landed on the pavement behind the car. He bounced and rolled a bit further, as the car screeched to a halt.
As Michael lay on the ground, the driver got out and looked at the crumpled man he had hit. Michael was unable to see anything, and could pay attention to nothing outside of the intense burning his nerves were feeling. He had broken and shattered bones, ripped skin, and blood pumping out of his body, feeling like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Michael couldn't form any thought into words -- all he could do was feel pain.
Then he felt nothing.
* * *
T-Bird looked at the pulpy mess in the road, and back to his car. He was awed by the destructive power he caused. "Fuck..." His cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID, flipped the phone open, and put it to his ear without answering.
"You're in. Now get out of there." The caller hung up. The voice was smooth, business-like. He didn't expect a call from the Man himself. T-Bird hopped in the car. As he sped off, he heard sirens from behind him.
Story by Ryan P. Macklin, Copyright 2006
Picture by Sasha Pixlee, Copyright 2006