by Jason Erik Lundberg
to the sound of “A Heap of Trouble” by Steve Sullivan…
As published in Sybil’s Garage No. 5
The flyers and placards sprout from a multitude of locations all over town, all displaying the same graphic (the iconic walking man featured on Walk/Don’t Walk traffic lights and signs), although the text is different, unique, in each instance: “J. Juniper Jellyfish walks tomorrow,” “J. Lemon Stegosaurus walks tomorrow,” “J. Wombat Fishbone walks tomorrow,” always that same pattern of nonsense words preceded by the initial J. No one knows who plasters the notices on lamp posts, bulletin boards, tree trunks, brick walls, flag poles, shop windows, mailboxes, front doors, and errant animals too slow to avoid coverage, so fast are the scouts, the ahead-runners, quick and silent and invisible, like ninjas.
There have been stories and rumors from other towns, other counties, other states, but it doesn’t feel quite real until your own town is visited, snuck into, invaded. For the flyers are merely the first wave, the warning of things to come: the arrival of the Walkers. All that day, the day before, the cold air runs tense through the town, oozing through the leafless winter branches, sliding down shirt collars. The skies turn grey, as if responding to the news, rendering a flatness to the light and an ominous foreboding to the streets. You may laugh it off; it’s just a fraternity prank, or an activist stunt, or a harmless cult, but you hurry home nonetheless, that prickly feeling at the base of your skull urging you to safety, convincing you that there they are, right behind you, conjuring phantoms from the reptilian section of your brain.
The mayor goes on the local station that night, cheeks pinked by the cold, uncomfortable in his new toupee, suit more rumpled than usual, and he reassures you, all of you, that this is nothing to be afraid of, that we can’t let these strangers come into our fair town and terrorize us, though you see a note of fear in his shivering hazel eyes, in the way that beads of sweat drip down the sides of his face. He does not speak long, wanting to be home himself, and it is with some relief when the station returns to prime time sitcom reruns, or reality-based competition programs, or game shows encased in dazzling lights and ecstatic audiences, your regular nighttime showcase of entertaining falseness, full of all the beautiful people.
Your dreams are filled with images in monochrome: a concrete house in disrepair, spotted and stained with gray splotches, surrounded by maple and elm, shed of leaves, extending their skeletal fingers into a sky populated by the skrawks and caws of crows, circling lazily a ghostly form clothed in the robes of an ascetic and surrounded by the crackling blackness of unholy energy, and then the figure stands along the darkened path to the house, more substantial — you can perceive even the rough weave of his garments — and his hands reach up to pull back his hood and reveal his face, to tell you his true name: J. Something Something, but your dream-self recoils, and you scratch and claw your way through an infinite number of oneiric layers until you awaken, breathless, damp, in your own bed. It is an almost involuntary reflex to laugh, to banish the strange dream, to take away its gripping power.
The next morning, the skies still ashen, the colors bleached out of everything by the harsh light that suffuses the streets, you make your way slowly to your office, looking behind you every ten steps or so, passing store after store displaying Closed signs, and only a handful of brave souls wander the sidewalks, chatting and humming to banish the fear and anticipation, as if walking through a cemetery. You unlock the door to your travel agency and slip inside, letting out a breath now that a layer of glass and wood separates you from the outside, from whatever is coming. The work keeps your mind occupied through the morning, arranging flights over the phone, booking package deals with airlines and hotels as far away as Indonesia, filing receipts and reports since your assistant has decided to call in sick, and so the sound creeps up on you, background noise at first, but soon clear and distinct, emerging from the west side of town, and it is the unmistakable sound of more than a dozen men singing.
Naked, we are strong!
You want to march along!
Manly men, come join your kin
And listen to our song!
It is intoxicating, this simple chant, growing closer and louder, progressing ever more near as it approaches eastward, sailing the main street through the town, toward you. The words infect your ears, your bones, your skin, and abruptly your office has become too warm, too stifling, and your clothes too rough and confining. You long to be rid of them, to strip down to your essence, and that is exactly what you do. Off come the tie, jacket, shirt, pants, underwear, hurriedly shedding your second skin, the chant pulsing in your chest as you find the words emerging from your own mouth, and you run outside to join your brethren just now passing by, men of middle age: bankers, office managers, computer scientists, engineers, salesmen, high school sports coaches, now accompanied by others, your townsfolk: an accountant, a dealership owner, a bicycle repairman, an ice cream salesman, a pharmacist, a university professor, a gas station attendant, and yes, a travel agent, all marching and chanting and reveling in your maleness, in the communal bond with your fellow men, untouched by the cold winter wind.
You know that it all looks preposterous, absurd, twenty or so men all parading down Main Street in nothing but their shoes and socks, paunched and hairy and out of shape, far from the manufactured airbrushed magazine advert image of what a man should look like — glossy, coifed, tanned, muscular — as you step in joyful cadence down the lined asphalt, and although you spy horrified looks from behind the window curtains of the people you interact with every day, your voice grows louder, and stronger, and you truly don’t care how it all appears, because for this one all-too-brief moment you experience a near-nirvanic sensation of communion with something higher, of interconnectedness, of being in the world and of the world, tears in your eyes, loving every single man and woman on the planet, vowing to do all you can to deliver this feeling to others, this sense of being liberated, unconstrained, free.
© Copyright 2008 Jason Erik Lundberg & Senses Five Press