The guy had to be dealing some kind of drug, not sure what, but he stood there under the awning of the small liquor store, just barely out of the steady rain that had started in the morning and continued all afternoon.
All day long numerous people had stopped by his little nesting place, and even a moderately trained eye could see that there was some kind of exchange being made. What fascinated Roger most was that people from all races, cultures, and walks of life came by to buy his wares, and he seemed almost like a chameleon, blending in to fit each new person who approached him, joking and laughing or being tough and ‘all business,’ it was almost like watching a master painter at work, each new person was a sale, a way to earn a living and possibly more, he was well trained in the game he had chose to play.
Most would not see the small trickles of fear with every instance where he had to act tough or hard as nails, most would not see the impatience and annoyance with each joke or round of small talk he made. That, of course, was due to the pain behind the whole show being played out on this sad little corner of an impoverished area of the city.
Roger could free him from this pain, but what then, could he face what always came next?
Standing up from where he was crouching behind a dumpster across the street from the dealer’s spot, Roger could feel tears welling up from inside him. It was always like this, this gift, this intelligence, it hurt.
Once on the other side of the street, Roger began to walk faster, he was starting to have doubts. Each time he did this he was right there with his most horrible demons as well as the other persons, most of the time the knowledge he imparted to them he felt impotent or incompetent to use. It was the mysterious irony of the whole thing, once he gave them the key to the door, he was liable to make his own prison more secure later on.
Roger was there now next to him, past the point where he could appear like he was just walking past, maybe even pass off that approach as a way to use the awning the dealer was under to dodge the relentless drops of rain. The dealer was sizing him up, getting ready to use his own ‘gift.’
“What’s good?” The dealer said in a dead tone, all the better to adjust his camouflage once he could hear my reply and know which mode to go into.
“I don’t know, you tell me,” Roger said, or thought he said, at any rate, once the process got to this point, it became surreal, like a psychedelic drug. You could be sure what you were seeing and hearing was based on true external stimuli, but you could never be sure of what you were actually seeing at all, a confounding experience.
Roger reached out and touched the dealer’s chest. His mind was filled with flowing images and sounds, mixing at merging at times, but then there were very clear pictures, ones that showed Roger what he was after. The dealer’s name was Michael but he went by ‘Rock,’ and his history passed in a slightly jumbled puzzle.
He could see Michael being beaten by his father severely for never cleaning the house right while he was at work, he could see his mother bedridden and sick, Michael has to be the adult at the age of thirteen because his father was too busy sleeping with other women and doing crack cocaine. He could see Michael’s criminal past, the pain of an abused boy being buried under the rage of a desperate man. Desperate for anything that might ease the pain and feeling of worthlessness he feels stabbing at him daily.
Michael starts dealing crack himself, and the irony is not lost on him either. In other parts of his mind are his hopes and dreams, wanting to be able to do something with music or at least being able to learn more about it, to find someone to love him as he feels he may have never felt real love before or at the very least let it in and the desire to have a son, to raise him like the father he never had himself.
As this was going on Michael grunted and shifted a bit on his feet, slightly moving out from under the awning and its safety from the raindrops. Michael’s forehead began to bead with the cold rain, it slowly drifted down his face, traces of cleansing perhaps from the pain lying dormant in his skull for so very long.
Roger gasped and took his hand away from Michael’s chest and stared at it, his palm facing his eyes. He had done it, he had faced his fears, he had inspired and he had healed. His gift has served its purpose, it would stop aching in his belly like fierce hunger at night, maybe it would even let him rest.
However, this was not magic, Clarke’s third law got it right when he wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Clarke should have gotten a medal for that line, maybe Agatha Christie too for saying the supernatural is only the natural for which the rules and laws are not yet known because, this was science, not magic. There was going to be a consequence, a reaction, this was not over.
That pain had to go somewhere, after all, it did not just vanish, it was now stuck in Roger’s throat like a small bone from a badly prepared piece of fish, choking him of vital air he needed to breathe himself.
Roger almost threw himself back behind the dumpster from where he was hiding before, then turned back to where he had left Michael the same man on the outside, but the inside was lighter, it had been purged of the venom that coursed through it like an ancient fire.
Michael had regained his composure, and Roger watched as another ‘customer’ approached him, a scraggly man in his middle age, wearing old and stained clothes that he may have also worn when he was much younger, but never bothered to grow past the man inside them. The man had a brief verbal exchange with Michael, then looked disgusted as Michael made a waving away gesture with his hand, yelling: “Well fuck you too asshole, you don’t want my money, well fuck you I’ll take it elsewhere, you lying piece of shit, you just fucking told me to meet you here, you’re fucking wasting my time man!”
Michael watched the man walk away as Roger watched Michael watching him go and after the man was gone from view, Michael walked to the sewer grating by the sidewalk outside the liquor store and its rain protecting awning and started removing little packages from his pockets, tossing each into the sewer, one by one, fast as possible, as if the packages were burning his hands when he would touch them. After this was over Michael entered the liquor store and after only a couple minutes appeared again, this time followed by an elderly Asian woman, who was hugging him and smiling and giving what seemed to be praising and joy in her native language.
From this distance, Roger could only assume, but he would bet that Michael had given this woman the remainder of the money on him he had made by selling the drugs, especially as he had seen this sort of behavior before, this was not his first rodeo and when Roger was feeling up to it, or more honestly once his battery re-charged, he had seen this behavior before as drug dealers were easy to spot ‘fixing’ targets.
Michael then hailed a cab and drove off, away from the liquor store, away from the drugs, away from the pain that had crippled him since birth. Roger, however, could not run. Roger was now stuck with that pain till he processed it through his system. Worse still, he was a walking time bomb…
Roger lived alone above a real estate agent’s office and he was overjoyed to find that office empty and shut by the time he arrived home. He climbed the outside metal stairs to his apartment, the remnants of the now passed storm system dripping off the slightly rusted stairway, turning the drops and drips that fell from it into a light brown color. Roger turned his key and entered, letting his rain-soaked jacket just fall to the ground.
Stumbling into the small cramped bathroom Roger turned the faucet on and pulled the stopper, letting the basin fill up with cold water. When it was mostly filled Roger dipped his whole face in it, which seemed a cleansing act even if it was just a placebo-like effect. Lifting his head and looking in the mirror, he found himself staring back at a shortish woman with crumpled red hair, her arms littered with small track marks and her left eye covered in a huge bruise.
“I thought you said you loved me, Michael, do you love her more than me?”
The woman produced a razor from her right hand, and started to cur her left wrist with it, showing no sign of any pain from doing so.
“Let me show you how I love you, Michael, will that little whoring bitch die for you Michael, cause I will do it, I will…” The woman backed away slowly out the doorway now, her face changed into a mask of fear. “No! No, I didn’t mean it Michael please don’t, please…please…” The woman faded away as if she had not been there at all, praying for salvation from what Roger assumed was Michael’s former rage, born from the pain that was sucked out of him not an hour prior. The woman was nothing, a phantom of the past, an aftershock from this afternoon’s earthquake.
Roger watched her fade, her red hair the last part of her to stand out from the off-white hallway of Roger’s home. Roger dried his face and hands with a towel, released the pooled water from the sink and walked to his tiny kitchen unit to get a drink, maybe even eat something if his stomach allowed it.
However, next to his refrigerator was a huge man, his face filled with anger, running his right index finger along the top of the refrigerator’s door, then raising that finger up to his face, then turning it so the slight amount of dust on his finger could be seen by Roger. “Boy, I told you to clean this damn house! Now, what in the fuck is this? When I say clean I mean clean boy, c-l-e-a-n, clean!!”
The phantom man from the past, obviously Michael’s abusive father, took a step closer. The man was also removing his belt. “Oh, here come the excuses from the lazy, worthless, good for nothing boy. ‘I’m too short to reach it, daddy, I tried my best daddy,’ well guess what you ugly little shit, not good enough! If I can’t make you boy, I’m gonna have to break you, break you something good!”
Just like the red-haired woman, this man began to fade as he approached, swinging his belt wildly like he was taming a wild lion rather then a boy of how old? Eight? Twelve? Roger did not know, these were not his ghosts, they did not tell you the whole story, they were just the negative based highlights of the film of Michael’s life, similar to how a film trailer only shows you so much, not enough to get the whole plot, just enough to see if the film is worth seeing.
Roger would pass on this one…he had seen it before.
For the next few days, they would appear here and there, Michael’s dying mother on the back seat ‘bench’ of the bus on the way to work Monday morning, the dead-eyed corpse of the red-haired woman in his bath, eyes yellow with past bruises and a needle in her arm, on and on and it would not pass Roger knew until it was let free, it would not stop haunting him until he let it loose.
Three weeks later he got the chance, although honestly, like always, what happened would only scar Roger and he knew of no one else who could drink his pain away like he had done for others so many times before.
Franklin was a kind man, hell in modern times he might even be a great man, callous and disconnected as we have become. Always there to help anyone who needed it, you could pretty much trust almost everything he said to be true and unlike many today he did not think inwardly but outwardly as well. He did not deserve what he was to receive.
Franklin had recently been promoted to the head of Roger’s department at work and deserved it, even though Roger had worked for the company much longer than he had. As a matter of fact, Roger had never shown any interest in the position, although internally he always hoped to be offered it one day for his years of service, even if he rejected the promotion itself. Franklin had approached Roger that day full of good cheer and an unbreakable smile, which would be Roger’s job now to be semi-forced into testing that description.
“Roger!” Franklin sat next to Roger on the concrete wall that surrounded the fountain outside the office plaza, avoiding Roger’s half-eaten sandwich as he sat down next to him. “I was looking at the notes from today’s morning executive meeting and I was hoping you might be able to do some side work for the East coast project, especially re-crunching some numbers for us, as you always do an excellent job going over the budgets and making sure us mere mortals didn’t get it all wrong.”
This was it, the barely there personal feelings of never being asked if Roger would ever want to be department head, the entire happy and carefree nature of Franklin as he sat there in the sun, grinning, the use of the words ‘mere mortal,’ as if Franklin knew Roger was not normal somehow and maybe even what he could do, they made those ghosts from Michael’s removed emotions reach a fever pitch, and somewhere deep inside, someone bumped Roger out of the way, they wanted the driver’s seat.
“You know what Franklin,” Roger began, his mouth becoming dry, his heart rate ramping up as if he was running up a steep hill. “It’s funny you want me to do that, as I thought they made you department head because you were capable, not because you rose there on the back of others work, but now I see why they give the promotions to smiling little snots like you because you use people Franklin, and frankly Frank, sort it out yourself, but nice try trying to lessen your workload and add to mine.”
Franklin looked like someone had physically hit him, the smile drained from his face and that sense of happiness you could see emanating from him since his promotion fell away instantly. Inside Roger, the anger of Michael was replaced by the guilt of Roger, but also the ‘ghosts’ felt less present in his mind, this was an exorcism, one Roger had performed many times before.
“Al-alright Rog, I’ll find somebody else, but also you need to treat people with a bit more respect, a simple no would have been good enough” Franklin hurried off after that, his posture a little more slumped and less confident than it was just minutes ago.
Roger got up from the concrete wall and walked out to the end of the car park, toting his sad little half sandwich in a paper lunch bag. This could get him fired or damage his career, he wished it had not happened here, but that was how this worked, the pain he pulled from others had to go somewhere, all energy had to go somewhere…silent tears formed and rolled down Roger’s face as he reached the end of the carpark, sat down between two cars and began to cry.
After this it would start over, it had to, it had after all since he was in fifth grade and took the pain from little Tommy Charles, who he was playing tag with at Rainey park near Halloween and instead of winning the game when he tagged sucked out the pain from the verbal abuse of Tommy’s alcoholic mother, then promptly went home and told his own much more loving mother that he hated her, the first of many trips down this road.
“Tag, you’re it.” Roger thought in the back of his mind, you are it indeed.
This was as said science, not magic. Every action had an equal and opposite reaction and this was how it was. Roger hated it but he also was a part of the very natural world that science explains and tomorrow his instincts would have him on the hunt again, like a reverse serial killer he would seek out his next target, he would free him and then he would go through it all again, different ghosts with the same damn result…but it was what he was made for, and no one can deny the call of a person’s true nature.