Walking Shadow

I’m driving down a hill in Southern California. It’s a warm sunny day and as the sea-scented breeze caresses my face I see a black man standing on a street corner holding an assault rifle.

And when I say a black man I don’t mean an African-American. I mean a void, a black hole in the shape of a man, a walking shadow. And he’s headed towards a playground full of children.

“Jesus Christ!” I shout. Yanking my car to the side of the road I pull out my cell phone to call the police. But my phone’s touch screen has frozen and I can’t dial 911. Then the phone starts squawking disembodied voices like old televisions used to do when their antennas picked up the radio calls of passing cabs. Panicking, I get out of my car and find a woman pushing a shopping cart with two small children in tow.

“You have a cell phone?” I ask frantically.

The woman looks at me with a sly smile. “Why?”

“There’s a guy with a gun about to shoot up a playground. I need to use your phone.”

The woman looks at me. “No,” she says, smugly. “I don’t think so.” Then she gets into her car and drives off.

“Shit!” I yell. Opening the trunk of my car I look for something I can use as a weapon. I find road flares, a first aid kit and there, next to the spare tire, a Walther PPK – the pistol James Bond used in the movies. I don’t own a Walther but I know how to use one.

I pull on the pistol’s slide to jack a round into the chamber but it breaks off in my hand. Rusted springs fly out and the magazine clatters to the ground. I throw the useless gun away and start running towards the playground. But it’s uphill and I’m breathing heavy. I need to take better care of myself. I can’t seem to run fast enough. I’ll never get there in time. At any moment I’ll hear the sound of shots, the sounds of screaming children and mayhem. I don’t want to hear those sounds. But before gunfire erupts I wake up.

Outside my bedroom window the wind is howling. Shaken, I get out of bed and walk into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of milk. All I had was a nightmare. Nothing more. No one’s going to be killing anybody. I don’t have to save anyone. As I listen to raindrops dying on my roof I sip my milk and wonder what the dream was about. I subscribe to the theory that you are the actor, director and producer of your own dreams. Everyone in that dream, the smug lady; her kids, the children on the playground, the helpless guy and even the walking shadow was me in some way. I figure out the dream, finish my milk and go back to bed.

It’s cold so I pull the covers over me. As lightning washes my bedroom in white light I realize I’ll never kill that shadow. He will always walk with me. He will always be part of me, even a vital part. But he still scares me.

The thunder arrives after the flash. I bury my head under the pillows and go back to sleep.

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