|I peered up into the engine of a ’99 Caravan. The burned, caked-on oil still appeared damp from a crack in the engine block. I examined the mount and grabbed a pry bar. Stubborn thing. I’ve got every bolt off and it still won’t budge. I inserted the bar in a crevice and with a heave bore all my strength and weight on it. The block moved, but the pry bar slipped and I jammed my hand against a jagged piece of metal. The pain shot through my palm and I gritted my teeth. I cradle the wounded appendage with my other grease-covered hand.
“Amy, bring me a bandage. I cut open my hand,” I shouted into the office.
Amy, my cashier, emerged with a first aid box. A young portly woman, Amy’s eyes widened at the sight of the blood splattering on the dark gray floor. She handed me the box and I slipped into the restroom where I washed my hands. The soap stung as the clean water became murky and grime-filled. I dressed the wound and wrapped my hand in gauze.
“You sliced that pretty good. That was one of your better ones,” Amy stated. She munched on a few Doritos.
“Yeah. The mount finally gave way. That one hurt.”
“I bet.” Amy glanced at my wrapped hand. She turned and disappeared back into the office.
I wandered out the bay door to grab a bit of fresh air. Sitting on the short concrete wall below our sign, I spied an unusual man dressed in a robe walking down the street. He placed heel to toe and toe to heel with each step. A short man with bowed head and cropped haircut, he clasped his hands in front of him and plodded along. I watched the spectacle with interest. He seemed to murmur something as he went.
An old woman approached and started to talk with him. His eyes never wavered as he kept his pace steady. He did not respond. She became a bit more animated. Still he did not respond. He kept his chant. The woman walked beside him.
I stood up and moved toward the pair. Curious, I wanted to hear what he was chanting. It seemed I was not the only one curious as several residents peeked out of their windows and stared. I’d guess about eight gathered around the man.
I could hear the man mumbling, and I guessed he spoke Latin. I recalled hearing it from a few visits to Catholic church as a youth. Several tried to speak to him, but the man continued unabated.
The thick cloud deck parted and a single beam of sunlight bathed the man in a soft glow. The thin beam streaming from above caused the elderly woman from before to place her hand to her mouth and gasp in awe. Several of the crowd stopped and peered upward. As quickly as it came, the clouds covered the sun up again.
“Praise God,” the woman shouted, “he must be a prophet.”
A murmur sifted through the people. Several nodded and others shook their head. The man pushed forward as if the crowd were not present.
A local homeless man who often wandered the streets sat on the curb watching. Dressed in grubby clothes, he stared at the man as his shadow passed over him. The man sprang to his feet like he’d been pinched.
The throng eyed him. “What you doin’ Chuckie?” A young black man asked.
“I’ve been healed.” He walked around the sidewalk without his telltale limp.
“The only thing that has healed you is a stronger proof of whiskey!”
“No, I’ve been healed. I’m telling you. This man is a healer.”
“Shut up and sit back down old man. You’re making a fool of yourself, like this dude. He thinks chanting some gibberish and dressing in a robe makes him special. This guy ain’t nothin’”
“”Yeah, go back to your alley and cardboard box!” Shouted a brunette woman with unruly hair and one tooth missing.
A large man wearing a dirty white T-shirt stepped in front of the walker. The walker kept mumbling in Latin and bumped into the man. “Where you going, Freak?”
The walker stopped and held still all the while still chanting. He glanced up at the man’s sneer, stepped to one side, and restarted his heel to toe walk. The man once again stepped in front. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” He pushed the walker’s shoulder.
Again, the walker stepped to one side and walked heel to toe.
“What a waste of space!” The large man shouted to the crowd. “He’s a freak trying to gain attention.”
The elderly woman approached him and stuck her pointer finger in his chest. “He healed that man. He’s a prophet. You should be ashamed.”
The brute grabbed her arm and with a heave shoved the woman to the ground. “Get out of my way, Grandma. Take your babbling religious crap and get the hell out of here.” He stood over her, then kicked a McDonald’s cup at her. Some remnants of soda speckled her face.
“You leave her alone!” A feisty girl stepped forward. “She didn’t do anything to you. You bully!”
Several in the crowd yelled, “Yeah!” My fists clenched at the display of unnecessary force. “You get out of here!” I screamed. “Quit picking on an old woman!”
The man scanned the crowd, suddenly at odds with him, and snorted. “Morons. All of ya. Some dude comes out of nowhere and dresses in a robe and you think he’s God. You deserve what you get.” He turned and rambled down the street. He kicked over a city garbage can, and disappeared around a corner.
I shook my head and glanced at the walker. He still maintained his pace, still walking heel to toe. I should get back to the garage.
Many in the gathering left and filtered back into their residences. A few tried talking to the walker, but with similar results. He would step aside and continue to chant. The last I saw was the young feisty girl helping the elderly woman back to her house. “Damn peculiar to say the least,” I said.
I ambled back to the office where Amy read a book. She slipped it under the counter at the jangle of the bells on the door.
“How’s the book?”
Her face tinged pink. “It’s… uhhh… ok. Not as good as her last one.”
I grabbed a Snicker bar from the rack, and breathed in the overwhelming grease smell. I eyed the suspended Caravan. You haven’t beaten me yet. Just slowed me down a little.
I grabbed the hoist cables and wrapped them around the engine. After testing the cables, I grabbed the hoist control box and hit the 'up' button. A few groans from the vehicle filled the air, but the engine crawled upward and hung in the air. After a few hours of work, and several pangs from my wounded hand I was satisfied with my progress.
I noted the time at 5:10 when Amy called out from the office. “You want me to stay open?”
“Nah. Shut er down. I’m ready to go home anyways. I have to go downtown and pick up a few parts for tomorrow so I can put this hunk of junk back together. Menki’s stays open until 7:30. So, I’ve got plenty of time.”
“Thanks Amy. See you tomorrow. Have a good evening.”
“Bye.” I heard her gather her purse, open the door, and the cold click of the deadbolt.
I sauntered to an old orange plastic chair and sat down. Suddenly, I felt the weight of hard work upon my aching muscles. “Phew, long day,” I said.
After a few minutes, I decided to call it a day. I had to take the trip downtown and then home for a late supper.
I stomped on the brake pedal and screeched to a halt. “Traffic jam. Great.” I peered out the window where a line of stationary cars seemed to stream into infinity. The next few minutes of creeping, stopping, and watching people wedge their way into line put a damper on my mood. I clenched my teeth.
Car horns honked. Exhaust fumes pumped into the air. Shouts and cursing compounded the mayhem. I had to admit, my blood pressure felt high too.
I approached the bottle neck and saw driver after driver honking and wagging their fist at something. I had never seen so much angst out of people. A circle of people huddled around something, and all of them blocked the right lane. Some held books in the air. Others seemed to be praying. Still others tried to break the small circle in fits of rage. People blocked their attempts and warded off those who tried to get to the epicenter of the commotion.
I flashed back to this morning. “Couldn’t be,” I whispered. I cruised by the small gathering. There he was – the man from this morning still plodding heel to toe and chanting. “What the hell is this guy’s problem? Shutting down a main route and for what?” I could feel the tension coursing through my veins and I pressed the down button on the passenger window.
“Hey, buddy. What’s the deal? Didn’t you get enough flack this morning? Get off the street!” My voice fell deafly upon the multiple shouts. At that moment the sun broke through and blinded me, only briefly interrupted by the man’s image. I couldn’t control my rage. Who was this kook? Wasting people’s time? Someone should call the cops.
I pressed the accelerator and within minutes I arrived at Menki’s. The clock on my dash displayed 7:17. Ten minutes to spare. I’ll just make it.
I had little time to think. I just snatched my list from the passenger seat and huffed inside. The clerk flipped through a magazine as I entered.
“Good evening,” the old white-bearded man said. His name tag displayed “Charlie”. “What can I get for you?”
“Hey, Charlie. I got my list right here.” I slid it over the counter and it settled right in front of him.
“Hmmmm….” Charlie smiled. “Looks like a 1999 Caravan would be my guess.”
“You’d be right as usual.”
“I can fix you right up. Got it all in stock.”
“Thanks. Just barely made it here. Some kook blocking the main street out there, making it a real circus.”
“Yeah,” Charlie examined the list and peered up at a shelf. He dragged a short wooden ladder over and took a couple steps up. “Heard that on the radio. I turned on the police scanner and apparently the police just arrived, but he’d already exited down Pyrmont and got on the sidewalk. Guess they aren’t going to cite him. Big news, I guess.” He nodded at a part and label.
“What? Not going to cite him? The guy is a freak. Saw him this morning too. Causing disturbances everywhere. Just plods along chanting something in Latin. Damn police are useless.”
“Not doing any harm is he?”
“Well, other than slowing everyone down and wasting a lot of gas.”
Charlie looked thoughtful, and nodded. He placed a piston rod on the counter, turned, and disappeared down another aisle. A few moments passed. He lugged a larger box back and heaved it on the counter. “Whew! Those housings are heavy.”
“Tell me about it. That’s my gig tomorrow. You got the easy part. I got to install it.”
Charlie grinned. “Been there. Looks like one more part and that’ll do ‘er.”
“What did this guy look like again?”
“Guy? Oh, that guy. Short, beatles type haircut, dressed in a robe. Folded his hands in front and walked heel to toe.”
“Now, what would make a damn fool do that?” Charlie stroked his beard in thought.
“Don’t know. As long as he’s off the road on my way home, I don’t really care. Been a bad day anyways. Sliced my hand open a good one.”
“Been there again.”
Charlie turned again and sidled down another aisle. He found the part quickly and returned. He pressed a few keys on the register and announced, “That’ll be $326.11.”
I slapped my Visa card on the counter and he slid it through the machine. After a few beeps he handed it back. The small machine chattered and spit out a slip which I took, scribbled my signature, and returned it to Charlie.
“No problem, Charlie. You have a great day.”
After loading the parts into the back seat of my Tundra, I hopped in the driver’s seat, started the engine and took off. Man, I’m hungry. Think I’ll go by the docks to that fish n’ chips place. Let’s see that would be “Mickie’s Fish Grill”. That’s it.
I arrived within minutes and found the normal supper crowd there, although most seemed to be finishing their meals. A line at the cash register attested to that. I parked and went in. I’ll get it to go and what the hell, I’ll take it down to the docks and eat it. Been a long day.
I stepped up to the ordering line and the waitress smiled. “Can I help you sir?”
“Yeah. I’ll get a #4 to go. Can you put in some extra tartar sauce? Oh, and just regular coke to drink.”
“Ooooh, that’s quite a bandage you have there.”
“Yeah, sliced it a good one this morning.” I perused the red-stained gauze and flexed my hand a bit. “Guess it’s settled down a bit now. Not hurting much.”
“That’s good. That’ll be $6.25.”
I flipped out my wallet and sniffed the air. The wonderful grease battered fish smell just made me more hungry. I tweezed out a sawbuck and handed it over. She deftly made change and handed it back. Within moments she plopped my coke on the counter.
I poked a straw through and took a large slurp. I felt the cold beverage flow down my throat. I sauntered to the big bay window where a throng of people at the top of the hill crept down the hill. TV cameras and other news outfits seemed to swirl around them.
“I’ll be damned.” I said.
“What?” A professional woman with two of her girlfriends in the booth to my left said.
“That’s that guy again.” I pointed.
“This religious nut case who has marched across the city. I can’t seem to stop running into him.“
“You mean that guy that clogged up the main street earlier?” She asked.
“Yeah. That’s the guy. Look.” I waved my hand toward the chaos.
Half the restaurant stood up. Some pointed and gestured. Some just stood there agape.
“If the guy wanted attention, he’s sure gotten that. Look at that out there! It’s a zoo.”
The three women in the booth stood beside me and watched the scene. “He’s coming right at us. Looks like he’ll go right down the pier.”
“Wonder what will happen when he runs out of real estate?” I asked rhetorically.
A chirpy voice behind me chimed, “Sir, your order is ready.”
“Oh, thanks.” Did I pay already? Oh, yeah. Guess so. She handed me the bag.
I stepped outside and watched.
A cameraman mounted the camera on his shoulder and a pretty young blond lady stepped in front of it.
“We’re here at Mickie’s fish restaurant down at the Seaside docks where a man, apparently religious, has caused a tremendous uproar. Several residents are angry while some more adamant people, have defended him – even calling him a prophet and healer. We’re here to get a reaction to this rather unusual event. You, sir. What do you have to say?” She looked at me and tilted the microphone my way.
“Oh, me? Well, as it turns out this is my third encounter with this kook.”
“So, you aren’t buying that this man is a prophet?”
“Naw. While I was a believer in my youth, this guy isn't anything special. I figure he’s just a nutcase wanting attention is all. I saw him this morning and again late this afternoon and now here. He’s sure caused a lot of problems.”
“Some say he’s healed them.”
“Pffft. Come on. Healed them? Nonsense if you ask me. Some guy dresses in a robe and starts chanting in Latin and…”
“Latin did you say?”
“That is quite the tale. Certainly, this man has made quite an impression. Do you have any idea what he wants?”
“Well, from what I could tell at all three places, he hasn’t said a word to anyone. He just keeps chanting. A bum up on fifth street, where “White’s Garage” is, uhhh... that’s where I work, even said he healed him. I don’t believe it.” I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.
“Why would he do this?” The blond smiled at me. She seemed to press the question trying to heighten the turmoil.
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s sick, on fire for the Lord. Anybody have a clue who he is?”
“We’ve identified him as Marcus Miller. He does have a history of mental illness, and was recently released by the Medford Clinic. We had the exclusive with his mother last hour.”
“Thank you sir for your take.”
She turned and stuck the microphone into the professional woman in the booth’s face who, unknown to me, had emerged from Mickie’s and stood behind me. I took a few steps to the side to get out of the picture.
“What about you ma’am? What do you think?”
“He’s just a weirdo. But hey, who knows? Everyone is special in God’s eyes. Let him have his fifteen minutes of fame. Next week we’ll all go back to normal…”
I edged away further and saw the walker step onto the pier. Same pose – folded hands, heel to toe, head bowed.
I sat on a bench and watched. I sifted through the bag, squirted on some tartar sauce, and took a few big bites. He progressed down the long pier as reporters and followers alike mooned over him. I shook my head. Damn peculiar. Never seen anything like this before.
I took the last bite of my sandwich and heard the crowd gasp after a loud splash. Several men jumped into the water.
“What happened?” One lady exclaimed.
“I think he fell in,” I replied.
I trotted down to the beach where three men dragged the lifeless man’s body ashore. One began CPR. The crowd looked on with amazement. TV cameras shot closeups.
An EMT rushed on scene, followed by two others with a gurney. After a few moments, he shook his head. They lifted him onto the gurney, threw a sheet over him, and whisked him away.
“I can’t believe it,” I whispered. “He killed himself.”
The murmur and chatter continued as I wended my way through them and back to my truck. I dipped my head and for the first time in years, I prayed. “God, why did you let him die? Sure he was a kook, but why didn’t someone stop him?”
I turned the key and placed the truck in drive. I couldn’t keep my mind off the whole scene – his lifeless body just lying there as they attempted to revive him.
The sun hit my face in the early morning. I glanced at my clock which was set to go off just four minutes from now. I rolled over and clicked it off. I lifted myself out of my bed and staggered to the bathroom.
“What a day,” I spoke to the face in the mirror. I peered at the bandage on my hand.
Layer after layer I unwrapped it. I need to clean this out and get some salve on it, I’m sure. The clotted blood in the bandage made it difficult and I took some nail trimming scissors from a drawer and cut it off.
I stared at my hand in disbelief. The crusty dried blood caked upon it. I ran it under the cold water and scrubbed it all off. No wound was present. Amazed, I touched where the laceration was, and I remember the glint of the man’s image – his shadow – when I passed by on the highway.
I wandered to my bed, still gazing at my hand.
2nd Place Twisted Tales Contest November 2010