It was three in the morning. Jackson tossed and turned the way he had been the past week. He couldn’t stand the restlessness. He got up for some cold water from the kitchen, and was suddenly startled by a blue shadowy figure that was very prominent in his periphery. The figure sat, legs crossed on his couch. When Jackson jerked his head towards the figure, it vanished.
This blue shadowy figure was nothing new to Jackson.
A week prior to this, Jackson had been working at the Morning Dew Swimming Facility. He remembered how he had circled the oblong pool, vigilant in his blaring red swimsuit. Before him a group of children had splashed around in the shallow end, teens and adults swam laps in the marked off lanes closest to the large
succession of windows. As a lifeguard Jackson had kept an eye on cannon balls, flips and dives off the diving board that glistened with moisture. He also had kept watch on those who drifted about on floats and rafts. The usual light billowed through the large windows and spanned the length of the pool. It danced on the water, on ripples and little frantic waves.
Jackson had seen a dark spot in the water where light should have been. Light was everywhere but that spot; that humanoid, shadowy spot. Nothing had obstructed the window to cause the lack of light. Still. Unmoving. It didn’t look like a drowning victim, but with his job there are no chances to be taken, no doubts. Jackson had felt his heart rate increase. He blew the whistle that had been dangling around his neck, then dove into the pool to rescue...no one. After a thorough check, he had surfaced. His lifeguard partner was baffled. The following day there were a couple complaints to Morning Dew, stating that one of the lifeguards had decided to go for a “leisurely swim” in the deep end. After his version of events, Jackson had been forced on stress leave for acute anxiety. It was all caused by the blue shadowy figure.
And so it was three in the morning on another day of stress leave, and Jackson had just witnessed the strange shadow again, alone this time. He walked carefully towards the couch; towards the exact spot he saw the shadow sitting. Slowly he lowered his hand and felt the seat of the couch. With contact a cold agonizing chill scoured his torso. He had to get out of the apartment! What would be open at three in the morning? Bars and stores would be closed. Maybe the odd variety store would be open. Coffee shops? Yes. That’s where he could go. A place far removed from home, where he would ponder the strange shadowy figure from an objective point of view. Unless it were to follow him to the coffee shop?
Jackson shuddered at that thought.
* * *
The streets were filled with eccentric shadows; those dark sky illusions that make children close their blinds. How could he have been certain they were only illusions? The way things have been, he wouldn’t know.
The coffee shop was empty aside from one lonely woman who sat in a far corner. She was obviously
homeless. Her hair was clumped together into a mulch of what looked like bird nest material. Her clothes were ripped and tattered and oddly fashioned. She was in the process of crocheting bright red socks, while she quietly hummed a tune unfamiliar to Jackson. Next to her was a shopping cart. Jackson was surprised they let her wheel it into the place. The cart was filled with miscellaneous junk, and Jackson had realized he was staring sympathetically at the woman. Out of panic he said, “Do you want a coffee?”
She slowly looked up, as if she had been expecting someone familiar. “So sweet of you dear. Of course, black, nothing else.” She took a peek into her empty mug, then simply continued with her work.
Four minutes later, Jackson returned. One large black coffee and a bottle of water shared the table with the woman’s red yarn, which had taken up most of the room like a plate of red spaghetti noodles. Jackson didn’t know what to say.
“You’re depressed, aren’t you dear?” She said this in a casual manner, while her needles continued to work away.
“De – Depressed.” He avoided eye contact. After a long pause, he managed to say, “Depression doesn’t exist, it’s just a blanket term for the weak minded.”
“Never say that!” she grumbled out loud. She nudged her work away and pointed at Jackson. “He will find you. And take you over! I see it, see it clear as day. He’s after you my friend.”
“Who?” Jackson had not yet made the connection.
“The blue shadowy figure.” She surveyed the coffee shop attentively. “Call him Depression, call him what you will, but be vigilant.”
“No ‘blue shadowy figure’ will touch me, what-so-ever. No metaphor for ‘depression’ can do a thing to me. I don’t appreciate being threatened with enemies I don’t have.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes...yes it’s so.” The conversation made no sense to Jackson, yet out of intuition, he remained seated with the woman.
“If you think depression means nothing, then look here.” She pulled down her sweater and revealed a large scar wrapped around her neck.
“So you had your thyroid removed.” He shrugged half-heartedly. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“No. No thyroid – I did this.”
“He had me. That’s what he does – he tries to kill you. Suicide isn’t exactly what it’s defined as.” To make more of an impact, she showed him harsh jagged scars on both her wrists. With her gesture, the light above the table was cut off. A shadow of a tonsured head dispersed across the table and its contents. Jackson startled and slammed against the back of his chair. Something stirred in the shadow that loomed upon the table’s surface. They both looked up. Nothing. Immediately the woman laughed like a witch from some
second rate horror flick. “Now you know. Yes. You do. You don’t need to deny me. You’ve seen him before, it’s in your eyes. Ah the melancholy.”
“Woman, you’re nuts! And you’re not going to bring me down like this.” Jackson slapped a hand on the table to symbolize his rationale, then left. The woman knew she struck a bone. And Jackson was in denial. The following day, Jackson had seen the figure again. The figure the bag lady somehow knew about. Only at that time, the...thing sat at the kitchen table in the afternoon. Jackson stared into this thing’s face. It was definitely more than a peripheral illusion, it was humanoid and could only be a hallucination, he had concluded.
During the next week, Jackson had continued to see the blue shadowy figure every once and a while and it had served to irritate and annoy him greatly. He had named him, The Intruder. And this intruder would always vanish into nothingness, especially when Jackson would initiate an attack on the elusive thing. Fists
flew, lamps fell, tables shifted, ornaments fell and broke into pieces. He – or should he have blamed the figure? – had ravaged his own home. It didn’t help that the blue shadowy figure would always vanish before Jackson could throttle the bastard. Jackson doesn’t believe in ghosts or anything new age. A reoccurring hallucination? No...something else he couldn’t label or understand. It couldn’t have been a hallucination, because the bag lady at the coffee shop knew all about it. How? Why? All she had done was claim depression.
* * *
Everything’s falling apart. It feels like sandpaper is rubbing the very core of my brain. Sadness has gripped my heart with the strength and intent of rigor mortis. Why though? Am I really depressed? No. It’s that Intruder. I know it! He is the reason my couch is like glue, my hygiene like patience, appetite vanquished. Anxiety, hopelessness, leave of absence from work – everything’s futile and as dark and gloomy as this damned blue shadowy figure itself. He has turned into a nameless, directionless obsession. Yes. It sounds like I’m depressed. It’s that goddamned intruder. I have already phoned the cops. I tried to make things sensible, yet still they were perturbed, skeptical. They thought my claim was a hoax. I know that’s what they thought. They had the nerve to tell me I should be phoning the Mental Health Crisis Line! So I’m going to take matters into my own hands. I never thought it would come to this, as I sit on my recliner in half-darkness, caressing my heavy, grey pistol. The one I had secretly stashed under the bedroom mattress; the one that has been sitting idle for many years. “Show yourself!” I yell. I never thought my voice would be this unsure and shaky.
Listen...I hear him at the door. He’s fiddling with my front door. Did he lock himself out? This is it. I’m
standing here very detective-like, now heading that way, gingerly, concealed by the wall that meets the hallway beyond the kitchen. Twisting around the corner, I almost fall on my second pair of running shoes.
My opened door is swaying ever discreetly. I see him! The blue shadowy figure is heading for the farthest door down the hall that leads to the underground parking lot. I think he’s taunting me! I’m not afraid. Can’t be afraid. I chase the son of a bitch on foot, pistol leading the way.
Down the stairs, three at a time; four accidentally at times, almost sending my tail bone into a succession of crippling blows. I sure hope the neighbours don’t see me. How could I explain myself? Never mind that; I see a floor of cracks like black lightening in the ancient cement. Doesn’t fool me. He’s beyond the orange door. He’s in the underground parking lot. It’s the only possible route he could’ve taken. The only exit.
I’m on him. I’m on him alright.
There! He’s somewhere behind that row of cars. Don’t know how I know. I just know. To taunt is the name of his game after all. What’s the best move? Suddenly the orange door closes behind me like a metallic Venus Fly Trap. The crisp snap of the door startles me into action. I jump up onto the roof of a red Trans Am, midway through the row of cars, then down on the hood. My gun is unstable in my hands. This is all new to me. Turbulent adrenaline now funnels through my veins. And there he is. Stopped, staring right at me five feet from the Trans Am.
“Who are you?” I ask the figure while leaning on the hood of this Trans Am, gun aimed right at his glossy chest. Look at his face! You’d think he uses bluish black electrical tape, that leaves no slits for air to pass in and out. No place for eyes to gaze out. How does he breath? How does he see? There are absolutely no facial features visible.
Still. Frozen. I get upright and walk slowly towards him. He seems submissive? None of us move. Then we both startle simultaneously from the sound of metal on concrete. The gun! It must’ve slipped my grasp.
“Just who are you?” I ask again while fishing for the gun. I won’t take my eyes off him. And then he begins to speak. I don’t believe it! He just repeated what I said, in my very own voice. I throw a fist at his head. The impact is hard. My knuckles wilt in front of me, throbbing and sore. (This is the first time he’s accepted a blow.) He reels backwards against a concrete wall, then immediately comes back to me, staring me down. We are trapped between the wall and the Trans Am. Even though it’s hard to see down here, I notice the wound I caused with great fear. I try to steady the gun that is now back in my hand. I had knocked half of his shadowy face off, and I now find myself staring at my very own face! Half of it anyway, but definitely me. For the fear of insanity, I point the retrieved gun right to this imposter’s face. But – but – I feel the end of the barrel on my forehead, me, the real Jackson! Yet clearly the gun is on his forehead! Is this some sort of twisted magic? Wouldn’t surprise me.
I see my face objectively: the bags under my eyes and their bloodshot hue, strewn with a vacancy, a sadness. My jaw is slack like despair, my head and the gun are now tilted down from the weight of worthlessness. Realizing how close I was to being tricked into “suicide,” the hair on my nape is tickled and on end. So what do I do? I turn and run between the Trans Am and a station wagon next to it. I run from the blue shadowy figure, a figure that seems like a living, breathing part of myself. I scream like never before; bash through the orange door leading into the building, sort of like a bursting tangerine. Up the stairs, climbing and climbing like a soldier running on his last heart beat.
Bed sheets covering every part of me. That’s what I need.
My plan is crushed when I reach my door. Guess what? I see that depressive haunt standing right in
front of my door with his arms crossed. I actually feel tears building at the corner of my eyes. I’m losing it. I have lost it. The bag lady is my only hope. That old crone who seems to know more about this – this curse, than I do. Depression? Maybe she’s right.
Backing away from Depression and my very own apartment, I turn and begin to run once again. My lungs
are so sore, and my neck and shoulders have never been this tense. Cramps in my stomach threaten to fold me over.
* * *
I throw the coffee shop door wide open, fall to my hands and knees from overexertion. I scan the place. There are about eight people here, none of them the woman. Collapsing all the way to the floor, donut crumbs stick to my limbs and cheek, annoyingly.
“Sir, are you alright?” asks an employee, bent over the small narrow counter.
I get up on my feet like a boxer after a knock out, and approach the counter. “Has the old bag been here recently?”
“Pardon?” she asks, obviously offended by my choice of words. (I’m not in my right mind right now.)
“Sorry.” I slowly stretch with one big deep breath to calm myself. “Let me start over,” I say, calm, yet shaky. “This homeless woman and I had a conversation the other day. It was all good. I bought the – her a coffee. She drinks it black. It’s important that I talk to her again.”
“Homeless? That would be Mary. She comes in a lot. But you never know when she’ll show up. Depends
on her panhandling results, I guess. She loves her coffee though, black, as you say. That I do know. No one’s ever seen her eat a thing. She’s very – ”
“Just tell me where to find her,” I cut in. I’ve had enough with the preamble.
“In any coffee shop around the city.”
I cringe with hopelessness, then say, “What time does she go to these places?” as if by instinct. No. Not instinct. Desperation.
“Day, night – doesn’t matter with her.”
“Doesn’t she sleep?” I retort, head down, tapping my fingers on the counter.
Looking up, I frown at the woman wondering how serious she was with that statement. I’m taken from
my daze by her snapping fingers. I look behind me, and there’s the homeless woman, Mary, pushing her shopping cart full of junk. She hobbles to the counter right next to me. The woman behind the counter pours a large black coffee then hands it to Mary. Mary dumps a bunch of change on the counter; a lot of dimes, nickels and pennies. Vocally she starts counting out the proper amount. Halfway through her counting, she interrupts herself and says to me, “Meet me at the table.”
“What table,” I snap, kinda irritated at this point. Maybe a little paranoid.
“You know,” she says.
She must mean the same as the other day, so that’s where I’m headed.
Sitting here, my heart aches for the death of the blue shadowy figure, who might just turn up. You never know. Ah, Mary’s here. “I’m begging,” I tell her without hesitation. “How do I get rid of him, how do I stop Depression?”
Mary takes a seat. “You know very well how to put an end to him,” she says while extracting her unfinished red socks from her cart.
“Who are those for?” I ask. My irritation seems endless.
“My good friend Mania,” she muses passionately. “Mania’s quite the woman.”
I shake the confusion from my head and go on with more important matters, while I try to stop my eyes from darting in all directions, looking for the shadow’s sneaky presence. “You don’t mean medication, do you? Because I don’t see how an external entity can be nullified by a pill in my head!”
“Quite the miserable man you’ve become,” she says, which sends a pang of momentary anger through me, hard against what sensitive level of self-esteem I have left.
“Alright, tell me the amazing work an antidepressant, a crutch, can do me.” Boy am I ever sardonic these days. I’m leaning back in my chair as if intimidated by Mary. Maybe.
“It’s all in the chemistry.”
“Inside your head, serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine – all work together, these neurotransmitters, a gateway,” she says, mindlessly waving a knitting needle.
“Cryptic and metaphysical – you’re going to have to do better than that.” I feel like rolling my eyes right about now. But choose not to.
“Do you believe in the human soul? And if so, how does it cross dimensions? Because the brain is simply chemical, electrical, and the soul far removed, ethereal. What bridges the gap?” She leans back now, eyebrows raised. “I will tell you,” she goes on, “chemistry of the head. As I’ve said, a gateway. You take antidepressants that alter brain chemistry, you mess with the blue shadowy figure’s very own gateway. He then leaves you alone.”
“Are you saying he uses my very own mind to manifest outside of me? That’s ridiculous!”
“Is it though?”
I pause and entertain the thought of hanging myself. Impulsively I say, “You seem fine. And I doubt you can afford antidepressants. There’s got to be another way.”
“Oh there’s another way alright,” she says as if it’s some arcane knowledge that’s forbidden. “Follow me.” She finishes her black coffee in only seconds. (I’ve never seen someone slug back coffee that way before.) We leave the coffee shop, and as I look behind me to see the extent of my embarrassment, I notice she’s left her cart and knitting work behind. I guess it really was junk. And yes, all heads were pointed towards us.
Side by side we march out of the coffee shop like soldiers against the dreary force of the blue shadowy figure; against Depression. (Where is this strange woman going to take me?)
* * *
We are standing on knolls of knee-high grass mixed with milkweed, large rocks that are weathered in moss, ragweed, prickly things and small maple saplings.
“The two of us alone in a forest,” I say, fed up with all this weirdness. “Is this some kind of teenaged sexual escapade?”
“Your humour has bite; insulting as it is.” She starts walking again without looking back at me. “You’re a miserable man who refuses antidepressants. Well, we will find the blue mushroom.”
“Blue mushroom?!” I gasp. “I didn’t come here to get stoned!!!” Suddenly hope is sucked right out of me and I collapse to the soft, yet straw-like grass. My hand rubs my forehead, a sudden sadness patiently waiting, soaks my brain until it feels as though it belongs in a stagnant, smelly swamp.
“I sense him,” she says. She turns to face me.
I don’t respond.
“See him messaging your aura. Get up! Come with me!” Her hands are rising and falling as if I’m some spell worth summoning. Her voice has pull, has command. I take a deep breath and stand up as if it were the hardest part of my day. We wander further into the forest full of ancient maple trees, cedar and oak. As towering as they are they seem to feign nightfall.
As I follow Mary, I look at all the vines dipping and hanging. I can’t help thinking how good it would be to hang myself. I could climb a tree, wrap a vine around my neck then jump. Asphyxiation or a snapped neck all seem fine with me. Comforting and hopeful almost. A very entertaining notion that has preoccupied
me for the past half hour we’ve been trudging through this forest, and I wonder if Mary’s lost, or even knows what the hell she’s doing. I don’t.
Finally she stops and sits on a rock. I do the same. Jagged rock all over the place, some pieces hidden by the wrapping of old grass.
“Aren’t you tired?” I take in a deep breath, lean forward with my hands on my bent knees.
“No,” she replies in a faint, preoccupied tone. She is staring straight down. Something has caught her interest.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She reaches down to meet her gaze, and comes up with what looks like your everyday mushroom, only it’s a radiant blue, covered in what looks like spider-web or black veins.
“That’s what I have to eat or smoke?” I say.
“Eat,” she clarifies. “With one condition – you fight and strive to keep it down. You must not throw it up. You’re body must absorb all of it.”
I think of my loneliness, my sparse social life, my disrupted job as a lifeguard and everything else not worth mentioning here. Everything! “Whatever you say,” I tell Mary. Taking the weightless, fragile thing I shove it into my mouth and swallow all of it, without thought, without time for doubt or second thoughts.
Immediately my stomach heaves before nausea even sets in, and when it comes it’s strong. I grip some grass and squeeze like a mother giving birth. Tighter and tighter; my knuckles feel as though they’re going to snap off like springs. The pit of my very being is in agony! Contents work their way up my throat, almost volcanic-like. In the periphery, Mary is cheering me on as if this is some sort of sport. I put a hand over my mouth and the other above my Adam’s apple and choke myself in order to keep the mushroom down. I think of all the underwater training I went through as a lifeguard. It helps.
Another minute or two must’ve passed by now. The heaving, the nausea. It all goes away. I’m left gasping for breath. “It’s down,” I manage to tell Mary.
“Are you sure, my friend? You need any of this?” She waves a packet of Gravol in front of my face.
“Christ! I could’ve used that to begin with!” I suddenly gag. This stuff has an after taste. Then I look her right in the eyes; wild eyes. “Are you out of your mind?”
“I was testing your will power.”
“Strong. Very strong,” she says with a smile I’ve never seen cross her face before. “How do you feel?”
“I don’t know. Numb I guess, relieved,” I say, sighing with a new sense of pleasure. “Secondly, you have a lot of explaining to do.” My arms are crossed. My face earnest against her squinting, wild eyes. Truthfully, I’m trying to suppress my own smile.
She remains on her rock, speechless for a good minute or two, staring at me with those wild eyes. My
attention leaves Mary for something equally odd: The light coming through a clearing in the ancient trees disappears like a blown frost bulb. “Mary – what the hell’s this,” I ask, gripping the rock beneath me with the strength found out of sudden paranoia.
“You are of his blood now.”
“No. I’m talking about the sunlight.”
* * *
Naturally I would have panicked, cursed at Mary for what she had done and then I would’ve dove deeper into Depression; maybe I would’ve killed myself – let him kill me to be correct. But instead, I felt content, peaceful, happy almost. I felt light in weight. And it didn’t bother me much when Mary said I would never see the sun’s light again.
“He has left you now,” she had said. “Come. There is much to learn. Follow me into the brilliant warm rays of the rising moon.”