“I done seen ‘im,” the man said to me, pushing the bill of his cap up out of his face. “Out the corner of me eye at first, but shor ’nuff, just like that bitch done said, they turned real.” He took another deep drag off of the oatmeal stout in front of him, leaving a light brown foam clinging to his mustache.
As he set the beer down, he looked at me. The bags under his eyes looked like they should be weighing down his eyelids, but there were prominent veins crisscrossing the surface of the eyes themselves which, apparently, held the eyes open to unnatural widths. I just sat silently, waiting for him to continue. He looked around a bit, then finally wiped the foam from the uneven fur on his upper lip, his eyes drifting back to the beer. They sat there for a long time, as if the beer could either hold the answers to all his problems, or just cause more. He must have decided that it was the solution, because he took another swig. The look on his face while he drank was the relish of a man who thought that if he could just get drunk enough, he might finally fall asleep. I had seen it before; hell, I’ve done it before.
I had known that this man had demons when he first sat down. The blind could probably even see that the man was battling darkness. That was why I had originally started a conversation with him, I only later started to get hints that I might get more than I had bargained for.
I swirled the ice around in the bottom of my nearly empty glass, waiting patiently for the man to continue. There was no doubt in my mind that he would. I had always been a people watcher, comes in handy in my profession. I didn’t yet believe that there had been shadow men following him, but my years of studying human reactions told me that this man believed whole-heartedly that this was the case.
After draining his glass and ordering up some whiskey, he turned back to me and said, “Don’t mind me, I shoul’nt be bother’n you with me problems.”
“It’s quite alright Mr…” I stuck my hand out. He took it and gave it a weak, half-hearted shake.
“Percy, Percy Oliver.”
“Nice to meet you Percy, my name is Ein Willington. I don’t mind you laying your troubles down.” Percy looked at me sideways, sizing me up. “Sure beats drinking alone,” I said, raising my glass then draining it of all but the ice.
To be honest, I don’t drink much, but I go to dive bars like this one fairly often and sit at the bar, looking for men with demons. Often all I have to do is make it clear that I’m willing to listen and they unload all their darkness as fast as they can. I generally just sit there, soaking up their stories of sorrow and pain like a sponge. I don’t really enjoy other people’s pain but, you see, I’m a writer, and sometimes I take bits and pieces from these rants to fill out my characters. Often people say something and I just think to myself, “Man, can’t make this shit up,” but then I put it in a book and people think I did.
Percy was different from most. Most of these people are looking for an excuse to talk about their problems, some don’t even need encouragement. Percy though, still looked at me long and hard, a battered fatigue and longing in his eyes. He wanted to tell me, in fact he had already started to, but he was afraid to finish.
“Go ahead,” I urged with a nod of my head.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I smiled and nodded. He emptied his tumbler of Jack without so much as a shudder, then made eye contact with the bartender, who was standing down by the other end. The bartender grabbed the bottle of whiskey and brought it over. I watched Percy’s shoulders hunch as the bottle got closer. I thought the reaction was anticipation, but it was hard to tell. It was then that I noticed that the color of his suit wasn’t only brown, as I had originally thought in the poor lighting, but had thin stripes of green and red. I had originally liked the color but once I saw the red and green, my perception of the fabric changed. The pattern went from vaguely appealing to almost offensively hideous in that one brief moment.
After his tumbler had been refilled, he looked to me again and nodded.
“Well, I’s already done told ya ’bout the crazy lady on the bus, yeah? The one ‘oo grabbed me an tol me that she’d been followed by shadow people, people tha at first appear only out the corner of yer eye, but afer a while you kin look right at ’em an they don’t dis-pear no more.”
I nodded. He had told me very little of that already, but I saw no harm in encouraging him. He took another sip off his drink, then continued.
“Well, a’ first I jus laughed ‘er off. She was a crazy lady, ‘ow much could it mean? But couple days later…” he trailed off, his eyes sinking back to the glass in front of him. There was a little spot of liquid that had dripped onto the wooden surface, just on his side of the glass and he looked at it for a long time, then reached up and grabbed a napkin. While he wiped up the spot he said, “Few nights later, saw the first’n.” He left the napkin on the bar in front of him, just to the right of his glass then looked up at the empty space behind the bar briefly, then back to me. “I was walk’n by the window an I thought I saw someone standin’ out there looking at me. When I looked he was gone.”
“I see how you’s look’n at me. I though I jus had the eeby jeebies at first too.” He turned his attention back down to the little napkin. “I jus laughed it off, but tha crazy lady’s words came back runnin through me head, ‘at firs they’s only ‘pear out of the corner of yer eye, they looks like a trick,’ she had said.” He started to scratch at the crumpled napkin, tearing it apart slowly and methodically.
“Then I was look’n in the mirror, and I jump when I see a guy stand’n right behind me, watch’n me wash me hands, just standin there like it’s the mos natral thing in the world. I jumped an looked, but he was gone when I did.”
He left the napkin alone for a second to take another swig off his whiskey, then, without looking up, he continued, “afer that, I started see’n em more ofen. Every shadow, every reflection looked like a man, watch’n me.”
He looked back up at me, his eyes pleading, “I stopped sleep’n. I started ‘ear’n things too. Jus babbling a’ first, but then it became a command. Same one over’n over.”
I was growing a little concerned about where the man might be going with this. We all know the story of Mr. Berkowitz and the neighbor’s dog commanding him to kill all those people. “What did it say?” I asked.
“It said to tell people ’bout em an they’d leave me ‘lone.” He took another sip off the tumbler. Tears were starting to mount in his eyes, “I’m so sorry,” he said.
“What are you sorry about Percy?” I asked. I noticed that the hair on the back of my neck was prickling up and I was getting cold sweats.
He took a quick glance at the row of empty bottles on the counter opposite the bar. The tender was down by the pretty girls at the end again. Percy looked back at me before he spoke, but stole intermittent glances to the empty bottles while he did. “Afer the voices started, I tried to fight em. I tried ta defy em. They got bolder.” A tear escaped his panicked eye and trailed down his face. “Started leav’n the shadows. Started stay’n there when I look at ’em. Try to ignore ’em, but I know they’s there, watch’n me.”
He looked down at his glass and the tear dripped off of his face, landing among the tatters of the napkin. His body was shaking now and his breathing had grown ragged. “They’s even ‘ere now,” he whispered nodding his head to the empty bottles. I glanced up at the mirror behind the bottles. My blood ran cold and I nearly fell off my bar stool as I saw the figure of a man standing behind me.
“I’m so sorry,” I heard Percy crying as I turned to look at the nothing behind me.
“So sorry,” he repeated, while I smirked and shook off what I was sure was just getting caught up in the moment. The “ eeby jeebies” he had called them. I was seeing a man there, because I expected to see a man there, I was just freaking myself out.
“I’m so sorry,” Percy sobbed again.
“Don’t worry about it Percy.” If he thought it was going to end, perhaps he’d stop seeing them, I thought to myself. Then he might sleep, and become mentally sound enough to realize just how ridiculous these hysterics were.
Well, I made sure Percy made it into a cab that night, and haven’t heard from him since, but let me tell you, I’ve been seeing things. There are shadowy creatures that watch me, I can’t sleep because I’m always looking for them. I’ve been tormented by shadows that say, “Retell and we will move on.” Tricks of they eye that linger when you look directly at them.
The shadow men are real, and now you know.
I’m so sorry.