Auras: Part 3 — Getting to Work

Girl With No HairContinued from: Auras: Part 2 — The Mission

I climbed from the subway, born into a blinding, bustling world. Traffic crept by on the streets like waves perpetually searching for a shore. The sun burst off the car’s windshields with electric spider webs, cooking the smoking, screaming people inside. A bus lumbered past with a rumbling, nasal whine. A billboard on its side advertised co-anchors of the local news station. The co-anchors spoke to people waiting on the curb, just like they do from the television. The female co-anchor looked at me and winked.

I came to a homeless man and woman scrunched up against a building. The man had a long, grimy, salt and pepper beard that grew into his mouth for lack of teeth. Eyebrows crept, like undergrowth, across his forehead, and thin, dead eels hung from beneath a tattered, green ski hat. I could smell the eels rotting in the sunlight. The man raised his head and regarded me with eyes that looked inward, instead of out. The woman was short and squat, her skin a sickly tan, more filthy than sunned. Her hair was a tempest of waves, roaches and maggots scampering in and out of the curls. She looked at me with white eyes—she had no eyeballs at all—and her smile was missing the top teeth. She and the man had no auras. I knew immediately that they were oracles.

“Help,” they both said. “Help those in need.”

“I am going to help him right now,” I said. “It’s black, and I have to do something.” I then thanked them for their prophecy and moved on.

I came to my workplace. A long warehouse nestled into the city like a sleeping giant. The sign in front hovered in the air. How they get it to do that, I’ll never know. A tree is planted on the edge of the sidewalk, and it always reaches for me when I pass it. This time I dodged it, almost running into another person. When I felt the tree tap me on the shoulder, I gasped and ran into the building. I’m not afraid of the tree, but if it ever caught me, I’d feel foolish asking someone for help.

I punched in, and walked directly into the main warehouse. I wanted to get right to it. The warehouse was a space of echoes and noise. Forklifts lifting pallets and crates, men loading cargo into giant trucks. My co-workers don’t like me much. I think it’s because they think that just because I went to college, I think I’m smarter than they are. Sometimes they say things behind my back. I greeted two of them, “Hi, Pablo. Hi, Henry,” with a smile.

They leaned against boxes, talking. They stopped and looked at me. Pablo was a wiry man, twice as strong as he looked. Henry was short and wide, his chest hair growing from the sleeves and neckline of his tank-top-t-shirt. Pablo calls it Henry’s “wife-beating shirt.” But I don’t think Henry’s married.

I leaned toward Pablo. He leaned backwards, as if he thought I was about to kiss him. I smiled and picked up the crowbar leaning beside him.

“Have you seen Mr. Finney?” I said, dangling the crowbar at my side.

“Ya, he’s down at the north dock,” Pablo said in his rapid-fire voice.

“Actually, he might be in his office,” Henry said, his voice grinding like gravel.

I thanked them and headed for the north loading dock. A forklift drove past me. On the front was a box reading: Human Heads. I sometimes wonder what happened to the world.

I reached the north dock and looked around for Mr. Finney. I didn’t see him. I made my way over to Bill. Bill was a kind of foreman. He was old, like Vietnam War era. Built like a bull, often challenging workers to arm wrestling contests. His hair was thick and white, but his scraggly eyebrows were jet black. “Have you seen Mr. Finney?” I asked him.

He glanced at the crowbar dangling at my side—I’d forgotten I even had it—and said, “No, why?”

“I just wanted to talk to him.”

“Check his office.”

“I was going to.” I smiled.

“What are you doing?” he said, glancing at the crowbar again.

“Nothing. I just got here. I wanted to get right to it.”

He nodded, looking at me suspiciously—he always looked at me suspiciously—and I walked off toward Mr. Finney’s office. Another forklift passed, and I inhaled the exhaust. That’s the worst thing about warehouses, the choking air of the forklifts. A lot of guys go outside for cigarette breaks—there’s no smoking in the warehouse—but I go out for air breaks. Others cram their lungs with more chemicals, while I try to expel the chemicals from mine.

As I approached Mr. Finney’s office, I heard a baby crying. I really don’t want to know what is in some of those boxes. I knocked on the office door.

“Yeah,” Finney called from inside the office.

“Mr. Finney?” I called through the door.

“Yeah.”

“Mr. Finney, can I talk to you?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Finney can I…”

“For Christ sakes, come in.”

I stepped into his office. It was a sterile, white room. The only things on the walls were a bulletin board buried under layers of tacked pages, and a calendar with a picture of the Alamo on it. I think last month was Mt. Rushmore. In fact, I know it was Mt. Rushmore. I remember coming in once, and Roosevelt wouldn’t shut up. Mr. Finney sat behind a banged up, metal desk, like the ones teachers use. His stomach was a perfect sphere, as if he was born a ball that the rest of him just kind of sprung out of. His eyes were beady and guppy-like, and his face was a landscape of rolls that sometimes pulsed. He wore a bright yellow hard hat. We’re all supposed to wear them, but he’s the only one that ever does. I figured I’d aim for the spot between the neck and shoulder.

“What do you want?” he barked, looking up with weary annoyance.

His aura was a starless night. I gripped the crowbar, holding it in two hands, lifting it waist high. He glanced at it and then at me. He stiffened, but there was still no change in his aura.

“Can I help you with something?” he said, his voice taking a softer, unsure tone.

I was smiling. I felt good. Happy. Glad to help. There was a seemingly long silence as I continued to smile and hold the crowbar with two hands. His eyes flashed to the picture on his desk. It was a picture of a girl of about ten with thick chestnut hair and lively blue eyes. It was a shame when she lost all that hair.

I saw a fleck of light in his black aura, a candle’s flame in a breeze. It flickered and winked out again.

“How’s she doing?” I said, nodding at the picture. I wasn’t smiling anymore.

I saw that flicker again, but this time it didn’t wink out, instead, it brightened slightly. “Not great, but better,” he said.

“It must be hard,” I said.

“Yes, it is.” His blackness still danced with a tiny candlelight. “But you just got to hold onto the hope.”

I looked down at the crowbar in my hands, and then I looked at him again. “Yeah, I suppose hope is enough,” I said.

“Was there something you wanted?” he said. His palms flat on his desk, as if trying to keep it from floating away.

“No, I guess not,” I told him, lowering the crowbar to my side.

“Okay,” he said dumbly.

I turned and left his office, and as I walked into the echoing noise of the warehouse, I let the crowbar drop from my hands. It made a loud clang on the concrete floor. I looked down and saw it turn into a black snake and slither away.

The End

Auras: Part 2 — The Mission

AurasContinued from: Auras: Part 1 — Mother Night

I awoke to a screaming alarm clock. This generally fills me with dread. But this morning was different. This morning felt good. This morning had purpose. I was eager to get this whole thing over with. I was eager to help.

I turned off the alarm and I made my way to the bathroom. The bathroom light was one of those obnoxious fluorescent bulbs that desolate the room’s landscape like a nuclear blast. I hate seeing my reflection in that atomic light. I can see my skull, each bone’s structure, the grinning teeth, the deep sockets. When I can’t see my skin like that, it makes it very difficult to shave, and I usually cut myself.

I harvested my beard, watching the massacred stubble turn to ants and scurry down the drain, and then I took a shower. There’s few things I enjoy more than a hot shower—the torrents of water exploding on my skin, the echoing sounds. It’s the most relaxed I am. Something about the water enveloping me, it’s my sanctuary. I used to like baths, submerging into the water, the world gone outside this womb, but I stopped taking them when I almost drowned.

I spent longer in the shower than usual, thinking about what I had to do. Although I knew it needed to be done, I didn’t necessarily want to do it. But it was really for his own good, and I wanted to help. It had gone black, and how could anyone live like that?

After finishing my morning routine, I left my apartment for work. The day was a whitewash of sunlight—which I love. It really brings out people’s auras. The first person I passed, this very pretty, middle-aged woman, had a glorious, pink aura. I said, “Good morning.” She said, “Good morning.” The exchanging of pleasantries has become a rarity, but courtesy is still the habit of mine.

I had to leave the sunshine for the subway. I enjoy first entering the subway, stepping through the turnstile, the clicking, spinning bars—I feel like a mechanism in a machine—but then I have to go down into the dank tunnels, and this I hate, breathing the air of exhaust, dirt, filth, urine. I scurried to the inbound platform and I watched the mice dart between the rails. One mouse stopped and looked up at me, face twitching, body quivering, a living bundle of panic, tangible neuroses. I stared back at him, feeling he had something to tell me. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe he was panicked for a reason, and the rest of us should be too. But then I realized, staring into his black eyes, that he knew where I was heading, and what needed to be done, and I think this realization calmed us both.

The train ricketed into the station, its breaks shrieking, and the mice disappeared beneath the giant steel container as it rocketed by. The container burying all of us gathered on the platform in warm, stale air. The woman standing beside me, her hair became writhing snakes, gnashing and biting at each other. As the train nestled to a stop, the snakes settled, dormant again. But dormant or not, I wasn’t going to sit anywhere near her.

The doors of the train hissed open, and when we were all safely in the car, they hissed shut. The conductor came over the loudspeaker, announcing the train’s destination. Sometimes he just talks gibberish, or even says horrible vulgarity like: you fucking clit. There’s no reason we should be exposed to that kind of language. I keep meaning to complain, but who would listen? Vulgarity is just a way of life.

I try to avoid sitting across from a window. I find the reflection of my face, hanging ghostly, seemingly decapitated through the speeding dark, disconcerting. This day, I didn’t have a choice. The only seats open were directly across from windows. I decided one of these seats was better than hanging from the handrails, swinging like a monkey each time the train lurched to a stop or start.

The train started forward, and through the windows, I watched the platform’s billboards flash by like a flipbook. I’m often nauseated on subway trains—the smell, the lack of air, the alien light, the horrible, rattling racket of wheels on rails, the sounds of people’s conversations settling over the whole train, yanking us all, unwilling, into other lives. Occasionally, I might hear something interesting, but most of the time, it’s useless white noise, dead signals on televisions.

Sometimes someone will try and strike up a conversation with me, speaking to me in some jumbled mess of a language. Then they’ll look at me like I should understand what they’re talking about. Imagine that. It’s not that I don’t like other people, in fact, I love to watch them, it’s the best way to pass the time, although some passengers become somewhat wary, and even downright belligerent, if you watch them for too long. Sometimes they’ll even yell at me.

An old woman sat across from me. She wore a battered dress with many faded flowers fastened to the worn fabric. Her eyes swam in giant, thick glasses like fish in fishbowls, and her hair was a torn cotton ball of white wisps. The skin on her legs drooped, rolling down her calves, bunching at her feet. Her aura was a dull, worn blue. She was lonely, probably spending the majority of her time fastening all those old flowers to her clothing.

A youth sat two seats down from the old woman. He crossed his arms on his chest like safety belts. A Yankees hat was pulled down defiantly over his intelligent, bright eyes. Those eyes peered from his dark skin like the eyes of the Cheshire Cat. His aura was confused, as if he wanted to be angry, but didn’t have the heart to be.

A tall, thin creature sat in the train’s back corner. He had a feeble mustache and long, greasy hair. He was vulture-like. Especially his eyes. No irises, no whites, completely black, shining in the artificial light, darting, searching for more things to hate. His face was a pockmarked graveyard of acne, and his aura was inky brown smog. I didn’t want to watch him for too long. He was the type that says: What’re you lookin at?

I heard a bird singing. I turned to find a man holding the bird to his face. He talked to it in a booming voice, taunting it, laughing at it. He liked himself very much, sitting in his suit and tie, with his well-fed body and cropped hair. He laughed at the bird, bid it goodbye, and stuffed it into his pocket.

The train burrowed through the darkness, slowing, stopping at another station. The doors opened. More passengers flowed onto the train. A young man with a guitar case. Three young girls giggling. A solid, tall woman in a business suit, her appendages slabs of meat—no distinction between wrists or ankles, her arms and legs just becoming hands and feet. A chime like a doorbell reminded people to hurry, and as the conductor said in a sharp whisper, here she is, a girl jumped onto the train before the doors shut like guillotines.

The girl sat across from me, setting a leather bag beside her feet and folding her hands in her lap. She wore a fashionable outfit. Black pants, blazer. Her white shirt unbuttoned just enough to elongate her already long neck. Her eyes were blue jewels. Her cheeks quivered with the anticipation of dimples, and I knew her teeth would just explode from that mouth in a dazzling smile. I longed to see her smile.

Her aura glowed golden, its brightness darkening the rest of the train. She seemingly floated toward me. She was an angel, and I felt the static rush through my body, tingling every nerve end. I looked away, understanding why people in bible stories averted their eyes from angels and the sort. I caught my breath and looked again. She glanced at me a couple of times.

“You’re very beautiful,” I told her.

She smiled, not a full smile where I could see those marvelous teeth, but a pressed ghost of a smile, her dimples flexing ever so slightly. “Thanks,” she said, but her golden aura flickered, and her eyes darted for something to watch out the window.

My heart raced. Beads of sweat broke out across my brow.

“Don’t be frightened,” I said. “I’m not hitting on you. I just felt like paying you a compliment.”

“Okay,” she said, careful not to make eye contact with me.

“Honestly, I mean, you’re just really pretty,” I said.

“Fine,” she said, as if talking to me was some huge chore.

I looked at the other people. The old lady regarded me with her enormous fish eyes. The youth glanced at me and looked away. The man in the suit talked to the bird again, looking at me with a cocky, knowing smile. And the tall, thin man with the black eyes stared at me. A raptor in a tree, his eyes didn’t miss a thing.

My heartbeat was in my stomach. My brow perspired. The train shrank as it shot through darkness. I felt a flash of anger, but it quickly passed.

I discovered the girl was no angel. The golden aura was a fraud, its radiance fading to a sickly yellow-green. Funny how beauty can make one seem beautiful. Thankfully, the train came to rest at my station. As the doors slid open, the conductor growled over the speakers: Get out! And so, I did.

I passed the girl, and I wanted to tell her that I knew she was a fraud. But I didn’t. Why give her more reason to think people care?

When I exited the train, the tall, thin man swooped out of the other door, and with a flash of his black eyes and a smile of tiny piranha teeth, he mumbled, “Way to go with that chick, dickhead.” He disappeared into shadows. At times, I wonder if certain people are even human.

Continued in: Auras: Part 3 — Getting to Work

Auras: Part 1 — Mother Night

Mother Night 2David Collins sat at an old, beat up, metal desk. The desk was very similar to the one at which his old boss sat. David always thought that the desk Mr. Finney sat at was like a teacher’s desk. Now, sitting in a middle school classroom as a substitute teacher, David knew that he had been correct in this assessment. In the Mystic Island Middle School, David was not known as Mr. Collins, by the way. He was known as Mr. Grimes. Although he was not quite sure why. This day, David was filling in for Phil Abbott, an English teacher. David liked subbing for English teachers. English teachers usually left some kind of silent reading for their sub plans. So David didn’t really have to teach anything. He could just sit at the old, metal, Mr. Finney-type desk and draw. He would find classroom markers and a sheet of computer paper, and he would turn the blank sheet into a swirling array of colorful flowing images. Then, at the end of the day, he would find some random place—a classroom, a bulletin board, a kid’s locker—and fasten the picture to it. No one, other than David, knew who was leaving these drawings. Most people thought the mysterious pictures were done by Jacob Grist, but the pictures were not remotely as realistic or detailed as Jacob’s work. Just so you know, David would be at the middle school when Jacob pulled his little stunt, but David was the only person that didn’t think anything was out of place that day. He noticed a lot of fearful red auras running around him, but the stuff he saw wasn’t any more fantastical than other things he’d seen.

David Collins had not intended to be a substitute teacher. He came upon the job by accident. He was supposed to be a patient of Ward 6, the mental health division of Mystic Mercy Hospital, but somewhere along his transfer, the attendants lost track of him. David wandered into the island’s middle school hoping maybe to find a job with the custodial staff. But fate had other ideas for him. You see, when David walked into the school’s office and asked the secretary about a job, the secretary thought he was a man named Bart Grimes, who was scheduled for a job interview at that exact moment. Bart Grimes, meanwhile, had just been killed in a car accident off island. You may have seen it on Nick Bishop’s television show, but more on that later. Anyway, David sat in front of Principal Cooper, and Principal Cooper sat with Bart Grimes’s very impressive resume in his hand, thinking that it was David that had taught all those other students at all those other middle schools. David was hired on the spot. Never really asking why they kept calling him Mr. Grimes.

So when the final bell rang, and all the students flowed from the room—looking to David like a sea of multi-colored lava—David stood from his seat, setting aside his drawing. He wrote a quick note to Mr. Abbott about how he thought one of the students was possessed by evil spirits. When Mr. Abbott read the note, he would think David was making a hyperbolic joke. David wasn’t making a joke, he was quite serious. The student he was talking about was Tommy Rogers. Tommy Rogers wasn’t possessed, by the way. He was just an asshole. It would be coincidence that, as David was leaving the building, he affixed his new artwork to Tommy Rogers’s locker. David had titled the drawing, “Mother Night.” It was a picture of two figures, a mother and child. In the drawing, night was falling, and scary things were descending upon them, but the child was comforted by his mother. In David’s own life, when the scary things really did descend upon him, David had no one to comfort him, he just learned to accept it. I’ll let David tell you more about that, and what happened with his former boss, Mr. Finney.

Continued in: Auras: Part 2 — The Mission