Gerald jumped at everything, even when nothing was there. In spite of the warm, spring afternoon, he wore thermal underwear beneath his faded, torn denim pants, and two sweaters under the ancient, tattered, and stained Navy pea coat.
Long, tangled hair, white as the snow still on the mountains around Tahoe, shot out from his stocking cap, random stalks of alabaster wheat waving in the breeze.
Sad, brown eyes stared down at his worn trainers, the left one completely bereft of shoelaces, as they shuffled one after the other across the sidewalk’s concrete and cracks.
The voices muttered in his ears, and in the dankness of his squirming gray matter, a restless beast always striving to escape the prison of his skull.
“Leave me alone.”
Instinct, or something like it, stopped him at the red light as he stood on the west side of Cedar Street facing the traffic whizzing in front of him, mindlessly passing on Oxford. The marquee on the bus said “Spruce Dwtn Berkeley” in shimming reds and greens. He assumed the voices manufactured the imagery for his benefit.
“I said leave me alone.”
“But we’re your friends.
“You make people think I’m crazy.”
“You are if you think you are.”
“I am if they think I am.”
“You could go back to taking the pills.”
“They made me feel dull, lifeless.”
“We make you feel alive.”
“I don’t know what I feel.”
The light turned green, but Gerald remained transfixed on the street corner. A jogger trotted past from behind, barely acknowledging his existence, but then people like Gerald had been a fixture in Berkeley for decades. He was among a population of strange folk who talked to the invisible people, but they, themselves were also invisible, and thus uncared for.
“What are you going to do about it? For that matter, what am I going to do about it?”
“Why did you put it that way?” He shoved his hands forcefully in pockets with lacerated liners as if they were freezing.
“We are one, Gerry.”
“You’re just bad brain chemistry.”
“You can get rid of me like that guy in the ‘Fight Club’ movie.”
“It was stupid, throwing yourself in front of that truck.”
“He missed anyway, and I ran before the cops could toss me back in Highland again.”
“Are you sure that was reality?”
“Are you telling me this is the Matrix?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t think, I hallucinate.”
“The line between madness and genius is as thin as gossamer.”
“So, how do I get back across?”
“Build a bridge.
Gerald slapped both palms against his temples, jumped up and down and screamed, “That’s it!”
Bolting out of bed, Gerald tripped over the covers in his the dark, and his knees slammed onto the floor. Scrambling to his feet, he grabbed his cell, punched the Home button, and received the revelation of 4:01 a.m. from the rectangle oracle. Praying he hadn’t roused elderly Mrs. Meyers in the apartment below him, he staggered into the walk-in closet on the right, grabbed his robe, sending three or four plastic hangers to the carpet, ignored his demanding bladder, and duck walked as quietly as he could into the hall.
The open doorway to his left was his office, the two-bedroom, third story apartment being haven and citadel. Sitting at his desk, he flipped open the top to his Apple Macbook, the glare from the screen making his eyes water. Squinting over it and out the window, he saw that night still shrouded the intersection of Oxford and Cedar, the lights of downtown Berkeley shimmering beyond, with the Bay and San Francisco a glittering backdrop.
Navigating to his project’s directory on the laptop, he opened his work-in-progress. “Now, I’ve got you, you bastard. The genius is back.” Aging fingers rapidly tap-tap-tapped at the soft, plastic keys, muted sounds making him miss the old clackity-clack of antique IBM keyboards. He began to conquer the final act of what was sure to be an award-winning short story he was crafting for a major literary competition.
Somewhere in the recesses of his cryptic cognition, the voice of satisfaction muttered, “That’s a good boy, Gerald. Keep it up.”
The setting is in and around an apartment I used to live at in Berkeley in the early 1980s, and yes, hallucinating and psychotic people wandering the streets were pretty much typical.
My steampunk/SciFi/alternate history short story “The Deseret War” is currently available in the A Mighty Fortress (A Mormon Steampunk Anthology Book 4) tome by Immortal Works. Have a look, buy if it seems interesting, and don’t forget to write a review. Writers like reviews.
Also, two of my short stories, “The Pleiades Dilemma” and “The Three Billion Year Love” have just been accepted into the “Sol” and “Mars” anthologies respectively, to be published later this year by Tuscany Bay Books. Find out more HERE.