Waking (Ginger Man 10)

Charlie. He assumed the voice was an echo from a fleeting dream, so he kept sleeping. And then he started a new dream, about his football coach grabbing him by the shoulders, telling him to get in the game. “CHARLIE.”

He opened his eyes, saw Maggie’s angry face glaring down at him, red hair dangling down either side of her face like curtains. Her face relaxed a little, but retained an edge as harsh as her tone. “Thought you weren’t going to wake up.”

Charlie rubbed his face with his right hand. “Sorry. Up late last night, couldn’t sleep.” He remembered writing Mike’s story in the notebook he’d found, finally coming to bed at 4:30.

Maggie stood up, sighed. “Good thing you have the afternoon shift today. But I gotta go.” She walked over to refrigerator, and that’s when Charlie noticed something wasn’t right.

“Why am I on the sofa?”

Maggie stopped herself from opening the refrigerator door, and looked back at Charlie in frustration. “Because that’s where you slept last night.” She pointed to the makeshift kitchen table where they had eaten dinner the night before. “And I don’t ‘preciate your sense of humor none neither.”

“Wha — ” Charlie dug his elbows into the sofa cushions, pushed his body up. This didn’t make sense, he remembered lying in bed, next to Maggie. How — his eyes saw what Maggie had been pointing to on the table. A plastic bag, its shape revealing its contents.

“Gallon jugs?”

Maggie nodded, as she headed for the trailer’s front door. “Of rubbing alcohol, yes, just like in that story you told me.” She opened the door, looked back at Charlie again. “Gonna take you fifteen minutes to wash off what you wrote on our hands.”

The door slammed behind her. Hand — Charlie brought the palm of his right hand up to his face. Written in black ink were the words WAKE UP.

A Bad Ending (Ginger Man 9M)

The Sleeping Jaywalker ran forward, catching his captors (who assumed he was still sleeping) by surprise. The man in the leather jacket did not see him coming, and fell quickly at the Sleeping Jaywalker’s tackle, the knife falling from his hand and clattering against the concrete floor.

The fat man in sweats and muscular man in jeans pounced on the Sleeping Jaywalker as he wrestled on the floor with the man in the leather jacket.

Charlie remembered asking why none of the thugs had a gun. “I don’t like guns,” Mike had said, and wasn’t impressed with Charlie’s reply that thugs usually didn’t share his opinion.

The Sleeping Jaywalker used his experience as collegiate wrestling champion — Charlie muttered an apology to his memory of Mike as he wrote — to subdue the men, and free the woman tied to the chair. Minutes later the two of them ran out of the warehouse.

Charlie put the pen and notebook down on the sofa. He’d written enough, he thought, had completed Mike’s story in rough outline form. The clock in the kitchen read 4:30, and a stifling yawn ripped through his body. Maybe he’d come back to the story the next day, explain why the thugs had killed the nurse and fortune teller, why they had faked the cop’s death. At least come up with a better ending. As he walked back to the bedroom of his parent’s trailer, where Maggie continued her deep sleep, Charlie remembered bad endings always seemed to be a problem with Mike’s stories. “Your stories don’t end,” he’d told him once, “they just stop. It’s like you give up or something.” Mike hadn’t liked that comment, in fact hadn’t liked much of anything Charlie had said to him the last couple years, as they graduated high school, as Mike went off to college. And came back from college. And died.

Charlie collapsed on the bed, threw the blankets over him, Maggie stirring quietly then coming back to rest. Mike, Charlie thought, darkness coming over him. What the hell were you thinking? And then lost consciousness.

The Cover-Up (Ginger Man 9L)

Charlie decided he’d had enough of his early-morning, sleep-deprived hallucinations. He knew he’d get no rest until he’d finished writing the story, but that didn’t mean continuing to provide all the detail that Mike (the real Mike, not the hallucination he had just seen) had included when telling him the story so many years ago. So he sat back down on the sofa, and took up notebook and pen once more.

“Please go.” The Sleeping Jaywalker looked up at the sound of the voices coming from behind the woman tied to the chair. He saw the fortune teller — and next to her, the nurse he had seen after his first night of sleepwalking.

“These men will kill you,” pleaded the nurse. Charlie ignored the explanation of how the nurse and fortune teller had been confronted and eventually murdered by the men who now surrounded the Sleeping Jaywalker. But the Sleeping Jaywalker shook his head, knowing that there was no escape now.

The man in the suit explained that the man in the leather jacket was to slit the woman’s throat. “You’ll be wearing gloves at the time, and when you’re done, we’ll give the knife to our sleeping friend here.” The man in the suit patted the Sleeping Jaywalker on the back. “You two are approximately the same height and body type, so the cut marks will look like they came from him. And the DNA evidence he leaves on the knife will be far fresher than anything left by any of us. By the time they find you, we’ll be in Los Angeles, with alibis placing us there all week.”

The man in the suit began walking away. “We know the police have witnesses placing you at each of our crime scenes this week.” His footfalls echoed in the empty warehouse. “I know you’re asleep, but they say your subconscious can still hear. If that’s so, I’d recommend finding a good lawyer.”

The man in the leather jacket walked behind the woman in the chair, his knife catching a glint from an outside streetlight. The Sleeping Jaywalker knew it was finally time for him to act.

Arguing over the ending (Ginger Man 9K)

“You bring the knife?” the man in the suit

Charlie stopped writing, put the pen and notebook on the sofa, rubbed his hands over his face. He remembered talking to Mike about this part of the story, must have been right after, a few days after Mike had told it. They were over at Mike’s house, sitting in his family’s living room, eating potato chips while watching television. They had just turned thirteen, and their long friendship was changing as rapidly as their bodies, Charlie developing his muscular football physique and Mike letting his stringy black hair grow out.

He couldn’t remember how the story of the Sleeping Jaywalker came up that day in the living room, but he clearly remembered what happened from the moment when he’d told Mike that he hadn’t liked how he ended the story.

Mike had shrugged, muttered that endings were never as important as what came before it. Charlie remembered trying to explain. “Seems like all of a sudden, soon as he sees the fortune teller’s sister all tied up, the Sleeping Jaywalker turns into a superhero or something, starts beating up people left and right.” Mike had shrugged again, said some people were just like that. “Yeah, but dontcha think you coulda said sumpin’ earlier in the story, give a clue that he could kick butt like that? Foreshadowing, think it’s called.”

Mike finally stopped looking at the television, and snorted a laugh as he looked Charlie in the eyes. Foreshadowing is for readers who want to be spoon-fed easy answers, he’d said.

Charlie rubbed his face again, picked up the notebook and pen from the sofa. He glanced at the kitchen clock — 4 AM. Good thing he was nearing the end. “Sorry Mike,” he said to the dark quiet of his trailer, “but it’s time for a re-write.”

“You’re making a mistake.” Charlie knew that wasn’t what Mike had said that day in his parents’ living room, but he still had that picture of Mike at 13 in his mind as the words came to him.

Sorry, Charlie thought, as he located the place where he’d stopped writing. He remembered telling Mike, that day when they were 13, that someday he’d like to try writing a different ending.

“It’s my story. Don’t you change it.” A line of acne had also sprouted on Mike’s right cheek that afternoon.

Charlie shook his head, and resumed writing.

asked. The man in the leather jacket stepped forward,

“Don’t ignore me.” The picture of Mike at 13 grew larger in Charlie’s mind.

opened his jacket, pulled out a long knife.

“Do it right!”

Charlie looked up suddenly, his face red with anger, shouting to be left alone. And looking down on him now was Mike, but not his friend when he was thirteen but the young man from six months who had returned from college, defeated and angry. In his wild eyes, Charlie saw a man whose life was destined to end in fiery pain.

“DON’T CHANGE MY STORY!”

Charlie fell back on the sofa, hard enough to bounce back, the momentum carrying his torso forward enough for him to fall off the sofa, onto the cold floor of the trailer. He pulled himself up quickly, looked around — and saw only the dark quiet of his trailer.

Solitude (Ginger Man 9J)

The Sleeping Jaywalker offered no resistance as the men lead him out of the warehouse, into a car. Best to let them continue thinking he was unaware as he was during their earlier encounters. He was shoved into the middle of the back seat, the fat and muscular men on either side of him, the man in the suit in the front passenger seat as the allegedly missing cop drove.

In his somnambulant condition, the Sleeping Jaywalker did not realize something was wrong until they were several minutes into their drive. The fortune teller — he realized that for the first time since he had begun that morning’s sleepwalk, her spirit (if that was truly what he had seen) was not with him. He then resigned himself to his solitude among these rough men; not only had the fortune teller disappeared, but the cop’s comment about buying the cooperation of the local police had in his mind nullified the chance that anyone would be waiting for them when they reached the Tower Warehouse on 16th Street. Whatever was to happen when they reached their destination, he would have to face it alone.

The car turned off the city street into a darkened alley, the Sleeping Jaywalker catching a road sing for 16th Street. The car stopped a moment later, the cop pulling the gear shift and turning off the ignition. The metal doors opened, and the Sleeping Jaywalker was pulled out, pushed forward, up a flight of steps, through a wide door with its metal gate rolled to the ceiling.

Ahead of him, the Sleeping Jaywalker saw two shadowy figures in the darkened warehouse. One standing, the other sitting. As he was prodded towards them, dim light from the street caught their figures. The standing person was the cop who had been stationed at his home that evening; his face was sunken, but lacked any recognition of the responsibility he had for trailing the Sleeping Jaywalker’s movements.

The person sitting (one more step), was a woman, (another step) her hands were behind the chair (step), she was tied to the chair (step), a white gag over her mouth. A hand from behind grasped his shoulder, stopped him. The woman looked up, eyes wide with fright, and caught the passive glance of the Sleeping Jaywalker. He recognized her instantly — the fortune teller’s sister.

No Alibi (Ginger Man 9I)

The muscular man in jeans rubbed his palms together vigorously, then pointed at the Sleeping Jaywalker. “Told ya we shoulda killed the guy the first night he showed up.”

“We had enough problems covering our tracks with that nurse,” replied the man in the suit as he walked out from behind the wooden desk. “Someone goes missing one night, most people shrug their shoulders and go through the motions. Two missing people on the same night — especially if they were seen in the same area — people start asking questions.”

“Cops wouldn’t.” The police officer who had been reported missing sounded insulted, but the man in the suit shook his head. “We haven’t paid off everyone on the force. All it would take is one honest detective — or a federal marshal, even someone in the press — someone starts putting the pieces together, and it could lead them to us.

“But you  . . . ” The man in the suit poked his right index finger into the chest of the Sleeping Jaywalker, who didn’t even flinch in response. “You’re just as out of it as you were on that first night. And not only are you not asking questions, but if somebody did come sniffing on our trail — your scent would be just as strong. And unlike us, you wouldn’t have an alibi.” He suppressed a laugh. “No jury’s going to accept ‘sleepwalking’ as an excuse for being present at a crime scene.”

The fat man got up from his chair. “So what we do with him now?”

The man in the suit raised his eyebrows. “If the past is any indication, he’ll just follow us if we just leave. Can’t restrain him, in case somebody stumbles across him.” He stared into the Sleeping Jaywalker’s unblinking eyes. “Think the best course of action — is to take him with us.”

The muscular man in jeans snorted. “To the other warehouse?”

The man in the suit twisted in the muscular man’s direction. “Yes. The Tower warehouse, on 16th Street.”

The Warehouse (Ginger Man 9H)

The Sleeping Jaywalker turned to the fortune teller, who just shook her head. “He can’t see me,” she says — something didn’t seem write to Charlie about that last word he had written, but he was too tired to stop, identify, and correct the problem — “If you try talking to me, he could think you’re being followed.” The Sleeping Jaywalker looked back at the man in the leather jacket, who motioned with his pistol to walk to his right.

“Through that door, up the stairs.” The Sleeping Jaywalker obeyed the orders of the man in the leather jacket. He didn’t turn back to see if the fortune teller followed them, but sensed her spiritual presence as they walked up the creaking wooden staircase, a solitary door at the top.

The Sleeping Jaywalker stopped in front of the door, and a moment later felt the cold steel of the pistol’s barrel press against his back. “Get in.” The leather sleeve of the man behind him brushed past his ear, pushed the door open, revealing a large warehouse room, empty save for a small wooden desk at the far end.

As the Sleeping Jaywalker walked across the barren wooden floor, he saw three men seated at the desk. He did not recognize any of them, but in their faces he saw the look of annoyed recognition.

A muscular man seated at the right end of the table groaned. “Jesus Christ — YOU again!”

“Why not?” A fat man seated at the other end of the table leaned back in his chair, a bemused smile growing on his face like a virulent rash. “Guy’s shown up every night there’s been action.”

The man seated between the fat and muscular men stood up, spread his hands across the table and leaned forward. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair was impeccably styled. “You sure he hasn’t said anything to the police?”

The Sleeping Jaywalker opened his mouth to say no, but stopped when he heard footsteps behind him. “Kurecki says he ain’t said a thing.” He turned in the direction of the voice — standing beside the fortune teller, who now had a look of knowing terror on her face, was a man the Sleeping Jaywalker instantly recognized, from the photograph he had seen in the newspaper.

The cop who had been reported missing, whose bdoy had been reported found that morning, brushed past the fortune teller.

Instincts (Ginger Man 9G)

“Where do I go now?” asked the Sleeping Jaywalker, Charlie wrote in the notebook as he sat in the cold, dark trailer his parents had lent him. The fortune teller shook her head. “Walking in your sleep requires your mind to be still. Don’t ask for direction, from your mind or someone else; just go where your spirit leads you.”

The Sleeping Jaywalker nodded, then started walking down the sidewalk outside his home, not knowing which direction he was headed or where his journey might take him, yet feeling certain that he was, indeed, going in the right direction. The fortune teller walked a pace beside and behind him.

He came to an intersection, traffic lights blinking in their lazy late-night condition, red in his direction and yellow along the street perpendicular to his. A yellow taxi cab sped past as he reached the end of the sidewalk — dormant instincts commanded the Sleeping Jaywalker to look in both directions before entering the intersection, yet he suppressed that thought, knowing that if his journey this morning were to be successful

Charlie paused, put down his pen, looked at the words he had just written — were to be successful — those words didn’t sound wrong but seemed foreign to him, like something he’d read in a British novel, along with words like barrister and alternate spellings like organisation. Definitely not something he’s expect to write. He shut his eyes and pinched them with his right thumb and forefinger, then picked up the pen again.

were to be successful, he would have to act like a sleepwalker. So he stepped into casually the street, forcing himself to continue as he heard a taxi approach, its tires screeching and horn blaring.

He did not know how long he had walked, or where he had arrived, when a man with a brown leather jacket stepped in front of him. “I suggest you stop right there,” the man said, pulling a pistol from his jacket pocket.

Writing the Story (Ginger Man 9F)

Charlie knew what was going on. Actually he had no idea what exactly was happening, but rather understood that his telling the story to Maggie as they prepared and ate dinner, his scribbling the story into the notebook now that she slept — he was creating the words, but he wasn’t actually writing the story, no sir-ee Bob.

“Of course.” Alone in the dark and quiet trailer, he still felt compelled to speak aloud, have the words cut through the cold air and stimulate his ears. “It’s Mike story.” Mike’s dead, Charlie. “I know.” Rammed a car into a tree at Pete’s Elbow last month. “But it’s still his story, one uva his best one’s, sumpin’ he told me one year at summer camp.”

Charlie heard a laugh. Do you really believe dead men tell tales?

Charlie shook his head, picked up the notebook and pen again. It was the middle of the night, and he was cold and tired. Only way to stop his mind from playing tricks on him was to finish this damn story.

He focused intently as his hand operated the pen, etching ink onto to white notebook paper. The fortune teller tried to stop the Sleeping Jaywalker rising from his bed, saying what he was attempting was too dangerous, but he got up anyway. “I know I’ll never rest again until the truth is discovered.” He walked out of his bedroom, saw one of the cops sitting on his sofa. The cop saw him, picked up his walkie-talkie, pressed a button and spoke in urgent whispers, but made no action to stop the Sleeping Jaywalker as he opened the front door and left his home.

Charlie flipped the notebook page and continued. As he started sleepwalking down the city sidewalk, he noticed the fortune teller was still beside him, had followed him out the door. “Did the cop see you?” he asked. “No,” explained the fortune teller. “He can’t see the spirit world like you can, when you’re sleepwalking.” The Sleeping Jaywalker asked if he were dreaming, said he didn’t remember dreaming during any of his earlier sleepwalks. “You’re not dreaming,” the fortune teller explained. Charlie flexed his wrist. “You are communicating with both the physical and spiritual worlds, at the same time.”

 

A Surprising Sentence (Ginger Man 9E)

The Sleeping Jaywalker was surprised at how calm he felt as he lay down on his bed, still wearing his clothes of course. He didn’t know what would happen during his sleepwalk that evening, knew there was a good chance he might not ever wake up again in the land of the living. Yet he felt his consciousness gliding gently away, sleep descending on him like a gentle snowfall.

Charlie paused, setting the pen down on the sofa to give his aching hand a rest. He looked back at the pages he had written so far in the notebook, failed to remember ever writing so much in such a short period of time. He remembered that was how Mike used to write, furiously scribbling into his notebook, oblivious to the world around him. Not that Mike ever paid much mind to his surroundings even when not writing.

Flexing his hand a final time, Charlie picked up the pen again. He remembered the last word he had written, snowfall, thought how he’d never have come up with that image if Mike hadn’t included it in the story he had told him those many years ago.

Charlie looked down at the notebook, read what he had written. And gasped.

like a gentle snowfall. A moment later his eyes opened, and wouldn’t ya know it, standing next to his bed, yessirre Bob, he saw the fortune teller.

Charlie didn’t remember writing that last sentence.  Snowfall — yes, snowfall, he was certain that was the last word he had written. The color of the ink was the same, and the handwriting looked like his, but the smart-aleck comments (wouldn’t ya know it, yessirre Bob) — Charlie didn’t write like that.