Pretender [revisited]

I opened the door halfway and peered into the shadowed hallway, rows of closed doors disappearing into the darkness, rain splattering the roof above. I came to investigate the mysterious scratching noise but it was gone, nothing but silence and dust in the hall and so I closed the door, my back pressed against it. Solid shafts of white moonlight shot through the alley window into my kitchen. My feet were cold on the linoleum.

Those were the days and nights I pretended at life. I wasn’t actually living. I heard noises that weren’t really there and saw things that were hundreds of miles away or thousands of years in the past. I was a Roman guard in the time of Augustus or I was a truck mechanic in Barstow in the mid-eighties, drinking cheap whiskey and threatening my wife with a butcher knife. I was an apprentice Panther in Chicago the night the cops stormed in and killed Fred Hampton in his sleep. I had all these dreams, I lived vicariously in my sleep, breathing through unfamiliar faces with a stranger’s lungs, seeing things as though I had adopted their histories and experiences and somehow suspended my own. I believed I had control over this.

I walked to the bathroom and swallowed another pill, water from a glass on the sink. A brief glance in the mirror was all I needed to know that I’d rather not see the real man, the real face.

I went back to the bedroom and slipped in the icy sheets, wincing at the contraction in my back and legs. I settled in and lay on my stomach, the spare pillow tucked tightly in the crook of my arm, rhythm of breath, mouth twisted into a beautiful crescent-shaped lie. I wondered what I was going to be next, where I was going to live, under what circumstances I was going to die. I wondered if I would experience love and what type of woman it would be and what time would feel like on my skin and I didn’t think about my real life, laden with responsibility. I ignored the bills that had been collecting for weeks in my real life mailbox and I didn’t care when I had last eaten real food. My ultimate concern was descending back into some parallel existence I could occupy without the needless truths and trivialities of the life I really had but never wanted.

I had this idea, I told this friend of mine that mental waves are just like radio waves, man, only they travel on a different plane in a separate dimension, all around us. They’re out there. Just like radio and light waves, our thoughts can be intercepted if there is something to receive them. Something that recognizes the data and catches it in flight. I was sure of this. It was my personal scientific experiment. I was the receptor, the gifted one, my life completely fulfilled in subordination to the lives of others. I was the ultimate spiritual medium. I wanted to unstitch time and experience history first hand, catalog the memories, document the universe as the stories were told to me by the people who actually lived them. It would be an endeavor unrivaled in the history of the universe. I told my friend that ever since people had unlocked the mystery of the solar system and defined the hazy machinery of time, they’d been trying to subvert it.

This was the premise. All those other lives were so much better than mine. I was enthralled by the magnificent uncertainty of it all. Each time I swallowed another pill and laid to rest I was frightened by the possibility of not knowing what to expect, where I would end up.

I was just happy because I didn’t have to be me.


There’s a cock crowing somewhere nearby, darkness, the smell of animals, dirt. Lying on my back, thick hay needles stabbing my bare ass and legs. The sound of running water, chill of morning, eyes adjusting to thin beams of light fighting through cracks in the wall. I’m in a barn. I look around, stand up, acknowledge my nakedness, the wide door opens, giant rectangle of sunshine exploding inward, blinding me.

“Well, well,” a man’s voice says. My hands in front of my face, eyes scrunched to fight off the excruciating light. Large silhouetted figures of people. “If it ain’t the great pre-ten-dor.”

There is women’s laughter and I feel suddenly vulnerable, exposed. I drop a concealing hand to my genitalia but it all feels too large, it’s humongous, grotesque. Violence and death are present in the room, living beings, tangible shadows lurking.

“Do you think this man went and got a horse’s dick, or this horse went and got a man’s body?” the man asks the women. He’s moving toward me, holding something long, thin. A rifle or shotgun. The women laugh again and there’s an aura of diamond fire about the man’s silhouette. He wields considerable power and I know without seeing him complete that he’s a traveler, he’s a receptor like me, a dreamer but a killer, perhaps something even more grand. Wanton and unscrupulous.

“Horse-man,” the killer says softly, moving toward me, the gun in his hands. I can’t see his face. “You should be fuckin’ the horses. Not women in this county.”

He keeps moving toward me and the women loiter in the background, squealing with girl’s delight. The man approaches nearer, nearer, and I’m still standing naked and bare with one hand shielding my eyes and the other hand hovering around my giant snaking sex and I have a sudden lucid understanding of the man’s nature and his influence on history, the spirit of the murder-at-large, transient violence for all occasions and without discrimination, the embodiment of darkness masquerading as brilliantine light.

“Go on, now,” he says over his shoulder. The women take a final lasting peek at the freak standing naked in the barn. They leave in quiet reluctance, two dark figures shuffling out of the light, out of sight.

“What are you?” I ask the man, and my voice is something like a man’s but not really. There’s an animal resonance in it, a throaty tin shriek boiling up from my chest, the words hardly discernible as they leave my mouth. I realize the sound of running water has stopped.

The man walks in close and his head eclipses the bright light and I can finally see his face and I drop my hand from my eyes. It’s the same face from all dreams, eternal in its youth, a study in perfection, a million arcane and familiar likenesses of everyone that I’ve ever known, the face of those select scenes from all the books ever written in time, the man from the light, the same face that paints every decimated body hanging on every crucifix in every building and revelation, the same eyes of the glittering mad as they pay reverence to it.

“Forget it,” I say, and I close my eyes and the man’s light swallows me entire, the life of the transient dream traveler, my real life as it was lived without moderation or truth of spirit.

[This story originally posted on January 5, 2008.]

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