Short Story
                                 Patterns
                                                     By Michael Lizarraga


             The apartment window was wide and low enough for any willing
spectator, and The Watcher, hidden behind shrubbery and a smooth-skinned,
light-gray tree trunk, didn’t appear that he would be caught by anyone.

     He crunched on twigs and pebbles as he approached the closed,
curtained window, the noises muddled by the Los Angeles valley traffic behind
him.  The evening dusk also worked in his favor, though it would take a while
for the August heat to cool.

     The Watcher was lean and well-chiseled, a narrow faced Latino with high
cheekbones, tan complexion and a goatee.  The 34-year-old wore a security
outfit consisting of a beige shirt and green trousers.  A uniform he could use
to his advantage if caught by anyone.  Could say he was “Just patrolling;
looking for a suspect”, though he was long off duty and far from his job site.  
He knelt at the window’s bottom corner, his head tucked neatly behind the
white plaster wall and red dining room curtain, unnoticed by the woman in the
kitchen.  The Watcher had only two inches of viewing space at the curtain’s
edge, but that was all the space he needed.  

     The woman wore a messy apron draped over business attire, working a
pot of stew like a restaurant manager subbing for her chef.  Smell of chicken,
scallion and onion subdued the air.  Soul music played from iPod speakers as
the woman swayed to the rhythm.

     She was a petite, 32-year-old Black woman with black and white braided
hair, trailing almost to the small of her back.  She had smooth cocoa skin, full
lips, a long slender nose, and wide, round fish eyes.

     She spoke on her cell phone with what The Watcher guessed was a
girlfriend, sharing her evening plans.  The Watcher gently pressed an ear to
the warm glass, clasping the pebbly-textured wall below, listening to her recite
to her friend a Facebook message she wrote that day.

     “Cooking dinner for a guy: $32.73.  My dinner date being a high-end
marketing manager who requests a second date so he could cook you dinner
and offer free advice on your start-up company – priceless.”  The woman
laughed.

     Then she mentioned a man’s name.

      “I’ll tell Steven you said hello, mamas,” she said to her girlfriend.

     Steven.  The name echoed in The Watcher’s head.  There was a
nauseating jolt in the pit of his stomach.  His fingernails clawed the stucco wall
like a cat working its scratch-post, everything in his throat now.  He watched
with moistened eyes as the woman dropped the cell phone into her apron
pocket, smiling ear-to-ear, dancing a little more to the song while doing a 360
spin.

     The Watcher grimaced, eyes welling as he closed them tightly to whisper
an often repeated prayer.  “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I
cannot change…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change…the things I cannot change…the things I cannot change…”

     But the crave was powerful, like a relentless rash that kept itching.  He
wanted her.  Now.  And now would be his chance – while no one was around.  
He felt like opening the window.  Felt like climbing in.

     He opened his eyes.  His gaze veered off the dining room window, to the
side, to the white wall before him, pale-lit by a neighbor’s back porch light.  
The Watcher studied the wall’s plaster design - smooth in parts, mostly rough
and bumpy throughout.  Its contour lines, together with jutting lumps and
circular holes and blemishes, simulated a three-dimensional world globe.  

     He focused with furrowed brows, and like a curious kid, mentally
manipulated the wall tile into images.  Characters.  People, resembling sketch
drawings, having bizarre features with assorted shapes and sizes.  One
character had what seemed like large hands, tiny legs, and no head.  Another
had only a face, distorted, no mouth, and only one eye ball.  Another, a small
faceless head and half-body, having buffed body-builder arms.   

     It wasn’t always walls where he saw the images.  Sometimes he would find
them in ceilings, or on floors.  Other times chairs, or clothing.  And they weren’
t always composed of lines.  Sometimes they were dirt stains, or dots, or
decorative designs.  Any and every place he could form and forge an eye or a
head or something that resembled a character.

     An obsession since childhood.  He fixated on one particular image, just
beside the window.  It resembled a cartoon-like face: small, triangular eyes set
close together, bulging from the wall.  The rest of its face was smoother,
having a button nose just beneath the eyes.  Further down was a thin,
horizontal mouth.  He concentrated on the face for some time, as though spell-
bound.  Two children playing cops and robbers in the distance caught his
attention, The Watcher glancing up toward them like a puppy or child aroused
from a nap.

     As he turned back to the wall face, he found a slight alteration: diagonal
lines were now at both ends of its horizontal mouth, aimed downward,
simulating a frown.  The man’s brows arched, eyes narrowed, head moved
toward the face for closer examination.  He was certain the lines were not
there before.  He peered at the ground, gazed at twigs and weeds for a
moment, slightly shook his head and blinked his eyes to clear his head.  He
looked back up, refocusing on the character.  His head quickly back-jerked as
his eyes widened, the bewildered man finding another alteration: set just
above the face’s triangular eyes were short, thin streaks dipped downward,
grazing the eyes, resembling trenched brows.  Lines not there before.  The
face was now a full scowl, glaring angrily.

     The Watcher relaxed his face a bit, un-arched his brows, his glare of
disarray slipping into one of keenness and understanding.  He tucked in his
lips, nodded slightly, as though a boy yielding to his father’s orders.    

     The Watcher stood up, wiped sweat off his upper lip with a clammy
backhand.  Rubbed mud off his pant leg from where he knelt, brushing off a
fat funnel-web spider.  He looked again at the face before him, seeing it back
the way it was before – horizontal, un-frowned mouth with no angry brows and
scowl.  The Watcher gently placed a palm on the wall-face before him, eyeing
it with a gleam of adoration, slightly cocking his head.  He slowly backed away,
backed into the smooth tree trunk that stood a few feet from the window.

     Then he retreated.

* * *

     “I’ve never been a drinker, smoker or user,” said the speaker.  “That was
the one good thing about having a Pentecostal mother.”

     Group members chuckled, an ensemble of seven men and two women,
late twenties to late fifties, seated in a somewhat organized circle, most
casually dressed.

     “But my addiction,” the narrow-face Latino continued, throat making a
lump-glump sound. “is
the equivalent to a heroin addict.”

     A first-time visitor would never guess the upstairs, bedroom-size hall was
part of a church, its blue scraped-stained walls decorated with only a beat up
bulletin board and a Spanish supermarket calendar.  The one working light
bulb gave off a dungeon-like aura, while two barely functioning fans fought the
summer-sauna heat.    

     The speaker, wearing a beige shirt with patches that read “Security” along
the upper sleeves, rested his tan, tone forearms on his knees, chiseling crusty
mud off his green uniform trousers.  “Like many other addicts, my problem
started early.  Age six.  I won’t share all the twisted things I’ve done throughout
my life, but let’s just say, it took less than 20 minutes with a therapist to be
referred here.”

      A small smile formed past the speaker’s black goatee like sunlight
through a rain cloud.  “A year ago, I balked at this program’s definition of
sobriety.  I thought no man alive could do it.  But I’ve come to realize that I can
do nothing, that I am powerless over this problem of mine.  Surrendering to
the program’s standards is what works for me.”

     He held out the One-Year Chip he received moments before.  A small,
square, silver metal key chain with an etched logo of a rising sun.  “Thanks to
this program, working the steps, a terrific sponsor, and my higher power…”
The speaker glanced at the floor. “…I can experience true freedom and
confidence.  Thank you for letting me share and celebrating my one year of
sobriety with me.

     “I’m Louis, and I’m a sexaholic”

     Claps and cheers followed.  Across the circle was Robert, a stocky, fifty-
something man with glasses and salt and pepper hair offering the Pacoima-
native Chicano a modest grin.  As members responded to Louis’s testimony,
the honored man stared at the hickory hardwood floor.  Studied it, searching
for images.

     The floor had long rectangular planks, ranging from butterscotch to camel
colors, each with its own unique design.  One particular plank had lines with
jagged arches, each line repeating the other, each having what resembled a
head and broad shoulders - a growing creature or monster, like Dr. Jekyll or
Dr. Banner.

     He began hearing low whispers from the floor figure, noises only audible
to him.  Fragmented words, as though searching for a radio frequency.  He
was soon able to decipher clear phrases.  It was the usual way he listened to
them, sometimes many fragmented voices at once.  The Line People, he often
called them.

                                     * * *

     “How long were you at that window last night?” Robert asked the younger
man who sat opposite from him, his plump forearms folded on the smooth,
marble table before his coffee.

     Louis quick-glanced around their dining area.  Accept for a mother with
kids, bus boys clinging silverware and smell of smoky bacon, Samuel’s was
desolate as usual.  Which made the restaurant a favorite one-on-one spot for
Louis and Robert after meetings.

     Louis turned back to Robert.  As he answered, Louis’s eyes shifted up
and to the right. “I’d say about…”

     “I don’t want to hear ‘I’d say about’,” Robert interrupted, studying Louis’s
eyes, noticing him accessing the creative centers of his brain.

     Louis paused, meeting Robert’s heavy gaze. “Two hours,” Louis replied,
straight faced.

     “First time since getting sober?” Robert queried.  Horizontal lines formed
on his aging forehead, arching like four long-winged bats stacked on top of
each other.     

     Louis dipped his head.

     “Ex-girlfriend,” Robert said. “Kim, right?”

     Again, the guard nodded.

     Robert looked upon his sponsee with blue empathetic eyes, into Louis’s
brown eyes that hid a deep mystery.  

     “I’m glad you got out of there, Louis. I know it wasn’t easy.” Robert stared
into his coffee, then back at Louis.  “So let’s talk about your obsession with
this girl.”

     Louis ran his fingers through his hair while briefly closing his eyes,
releasing some breath.  He hung one arm over the booth’s back rest, peering
at the table’s burgundy/black/beige/gray-colored design, composed of small
square and circular  speckle-blotches, resembling turkey stuffing, or a drug
store check-out counter.

     Eyes on the table, Louis replied in a low voice, “I thought her and I would
stay together.” Louis glared off, then back at Robert. “Finally a chance to date
a good girl, and she breaks up with me just like that.”

     Louis shook his head, eyes reddening, swimming. “Then starts dating this
joker.  Steven.  I see their pictures online. All kinds of ‘em.”

     He folded his arms, looking away as he continued.  “S’posed to be some
big shot marketing manager.  She’s an account executive.  Guess it fits.”

     A tear trickled down Louis’s high cheek bone, onto his gold, patched
security badge sewn along the shirt’s left breast area.

     Robert gently shifted his head so that he and the crestfallen man regained
eye contact.  “Are you connecting with your higher power, Louis?”

     He had introduced Louis to the concept a year before – the need of
surrendering to a higher power in combating addiction.  Robert never knew or
asked what Louis’s higher power specifically entailed – nor did he care.  So
long as he surrendered to whatever He, it or they were.

     Louis cleared his throat.  Peering down at the table, cuffing his mouth, he
uttered softly, “I’m trying, Rob.”

      Robert nodded subtly.  He checked his watch.  “Gotta get goin’.  Wife’s
got something on the stove.”  He placed a tip on the table and unfastened
himself from the booth.
                                                                                               
     As Louis watched Robert put on his coat, he asked him bluntly, “You ever
question the fairness of your higher power?”

     Robert’s forehead bunched, caught off guard. “My higher power’
s…fairness?”

     “You ever wonder how he, she, they – or whatever your higher power is –
can allow bad things to happen?  Without any justice to those who do harm?”

     Robert looked at Louis as though figuring out a math problem. “Justice. I
see.”

     Setting an elbow on the booth’s backrest, Robert said, “You know, Louis, I
think in matters dealing with your higher power, it’s safe to say that we need to
embrace mystery.”

     Louis nodded, poker-faced.

     “Then again,” Robert added, peering over bifocals. “justice was met in my
higher power two millenniums ago on wood.” Both men shared a half-grin.

     Robert shifted back to a serious demeanor, placed a hand on Louis’s
shoulder, looked him in the face.  In a father-like manner, said, “You’re better
than last night. Mm-kay?”
     
     The Latin man dipped his head with a single blink, folded in his lips.  The
men embraced, and Louis watched his friend leave the restaurant.

     Louis remained at the booth, twirling his One-Year Chip before him,
twirling it around and around to view the etched sunrise and the inscription on
the other side: “You’re Worth It!”  

     He met Kim in February of that year, through a mutual friend who knew
Louis’s taste for Black women.  He being Mexican, this sort of cultural clash
excited him.  “Hot/Chocolate”, he often called it, once even writing a poem
about it.  To Louis, Latinos were highly emotional and passionate, a bill he
clearly fit – in spades.  Black women, according to Louis, were strong,
independent “go-getters”, Kim being all these.  A USC Journalism grad who
made her way out of the South Los Angeles jungle she grew up in.  A
business woman who gave a sweet, sensitive and cute security guard a
chance. And after two months, dumped him, leaving him with no explanation.

     He now needed his higher power more than ever.  He looked at the table,
searched out an image within its design.  Sorted out a face, having
rectangular, white-burgundy eyes.  Its mouth was a crooked half-grin,
composed of two white-burgundy squares that drew closely under its left eye.  
The rest of the face was simply beige/black/gray square and circular speckle-
blotches.

     The guard glanced at a teenage girl in a booth across from his, immersed
in a Trigonometry textbook.  She looked about 16 or 17.  Pretty.  A light-
skinned Latina wearing a jean jacket, black shirt and pink skirt.

     Louis’s eyes returned to the table face.  He winced, noticing a change: the
face’s white-burgundy mouth had more squares, its half-grin now a u-shaped
smile, resembling a kid with missing teeth or braces.  He sipped his coffee as
he stared.
     
     He once shared his secret Line People phenomenon with his doctor, a
therapist he saw once a week.  He was curious to hear the doctor’s thoughts
about his unique higher power; if he would be quick to mention schizophrenia
or some other psychiatric condition.  After listening, the therapist could come
up with nothing but to simply remind his patient of the brain’s natural ability to
create delusions.  Create movement and sounds in objects through heavy
concentration, objects such as clouds or paintings. In Louis’s case,
wall/ceiling/floor characters.

     Louis agreed.  To a point.   

     There were moments, however, Louis was certain The Line People weren’t
just delusions.  A contour head suddenly positioned differently, for example.  
The raise of a tile-face’s brow, on other occasions.  Grins and scowls he was
positive weren’t there before.  He once heard a voice so real and life-like, he
nearly fainted.  Periodic gestures and nuances that encouraged his faith in
them.   

     Lately, his love for his higher power was weakening.  He now had to
examine the walls within himself.  Search inside, as would a surgeon carving
into a cancer patient.  Uncover whatever prowled the basement of his soul
and hindered his surrender to them.   


*  *  *

     Six-year-old Louis sat at the edge of his bed, in his Incredible Hulk T-shirt,
waiting for The Boss.  Trembling, like a skinny Chihuahua, drying sweaty
palms on a  Return of the Jedi bedspread.  Tasting the morning’s Cheerios
from his stomach.

     He stared at the beige wall across the room.  Studied its plaster design,
composed of assorted lines, streaks, stains and holes, manipulating them into
bizarre images.  Onecharacter had a gigantic square head – like Frankenstein’
s monster – with no face.  Its body was undefined.  Sketchy, rather, like a
cartoonist’s rough draft.  Or a ghost-like silhouette of someone caught amid a
beige sandstorm.  A tall, lanky NBA player (thoughonly one-foot tall) with
apelike arms, one reaching up to shoot a basket.

     The boy fixated on the figure, moving only to blink.  As if seeing beyond
the wall.  Then, like a light shadow or a silent cartoon projected along the wall,
the character’s head moved, shifting soundlessly so that it faced Louis
(though faceless).  Louis grimaced with bulged eyes, the figure pulling its
other lanky arm out of the “snowstorm”.  Shifted its baseball-shaped hand
side-to-side, offering the boy a friendly wave.  The character performed back
flips, making the boy grin. No Face is what he called it.

     Louis gazed at the ceiling.  A white, acoustic popcorn ceiling, like a
cottage cheese-snow storm, or a meteoroid.  Louis concentrated on the
ceiling.  Then, amid the cottage cheese, appeared a face.  A crude face, with
small, round pitch-black eyes, nose and mouth.  The character seemed to
have a plank or pole stuck diagonally through its head.  The face gave the
child a friendly wink with one black round eye, and like the “silent film”
projected along the wall, it yanked out the plank from its head, picking its
nose with it. The child giggled.

     Then, The Boss’s voice.  The boy jerked once hearing it.  “Knock, knock,
little guy,” she said in sort of song, standing halfway behind the door, her
smile a ruby-red, ripe melon.        

     She was called The Boss because… that was what she wanted him to call
her.  Her long, straight, parted red hair draped half her face like a curtain, and
The Boss tucked it behind her ear so she could fully view the boy.  A tall,
slender 16-year-old, The Boss wore a turquoise sweater and a dark blue
knee-length skirt. The straight-Astudent/cheerlead captain/girlfriend of the
football captain/daughter of proud parents knelt before Louis, who gave her
his usual blank glare, badgered by her sweet/strong perfume.

     The Boss looked down a moment, then at child, her thin face almost
skeletal up close.  With a mild grin, she touched Louis’s smooth-soft chin,
gently, then rubbed his young cheek with the back of her cold, bony
knuckles.  In a calm, whispery voice, she said, “Baby-sitter wants you to smile
more.”  She slightly lowered her head, placed one hand under Louis’s chin to
raise his head a tad so that their eyes met. “‘Kay?”

     Louis nodded, feigning a smile, noticing how The Boss’s red lashes sort of
blended with her freckly, milky-white skin when she blinked.  

     As his shoes came off, Louis gazed at the beige wall across the room.  
Stared at No Face.  Hoped the character would somehow, someway, climb out
of the wall; turn seven feet tall; take The Boss away.  Or take him away.  It
didn’t.  Didn’t even move amongst the wall as before. Just watched Louis with
that faceless face.

     The boy was laid on his back, now looking at the ceiling.  Louis wished the
ceiling character with the huge stick in its head would take it out and use it on
The Boss.  Stick it in her head.  But like No Face, Stick-Head just stared.  Did
nothing.

     When it was all over, The Boss slowly removed herself from the boy’s
bed.  A lioness viewing the remains of its prey, leaving the carcass for
vultures.  She fixed herself, and without a word to the bare boy, left the pin-
drop quiet room

     He again sat at the edge of the bed, now on his Mickey Mouse mattress
cover, staring at both the wall and ceiling characters.  The Line People is what
he named them that day.  There were more of them throughout the summer,
to comfort him throughout the many more episodes with The Boss.  A
treachery too embarrassing to tell his hard-working, single mother.
     
     Louis gazed at the green and dark brown carpet.  Saw an image
resembling a frog-like face.  Sharp nose, enormous eyes, with what appeared
to be eyeballs glancing up (not at him).  Sort of smiled. He could hear it speak
to him, though its lips didn’t move.  Sounded like someone with a bad strep
throat, as it repeated the words, “We’re right here beside you” over and
over.    

*   *   *

     Thirty four year-old Louis rested a palm on the cold restaurant table, over
the burgundy/white speckled face and its ample grin.  Heard it say in a low,
clear tone, “We’re right here beside you”.  Attempting to comfort him.  As the
many other Line People who calm, teach and warn him.

     But did nothing to stop The Boss.

     Louis sat frozen a while, only blinking.  Pondered his earlier question to
Robert.  His lips tightened.  Brows lowered.  Hand clenched to a fist, and as he
held it before the face, he witnessed something peculiar happening with the
face’s right square eye.  It closed, the face apparently winking at Louis, a red
eyelid shutting momentarily over the burgundy-white eye, then re-opening.   

     Louis’s fist shook involuntarily, clenching tighter.  Almost in reflex, the
angered man pounded the table – pounded the grinning face – creating a
terrific Bing.  Coffee spewed over the face.  Louis back-handed the wall
beside him, knocking over condiments. A few stares, Louis ignoring other
patrons as he massaged his hands.  He turned back up his mug and a salt
shaker, sopping the coffee with a napkin.  He noticed salt spread along the
table, and emptied out more salt, over the face.  With an index finger, he
began writing within the layout of salt.

     “Are you alright?” asked the young woman in the other booth.

     Somewhat startled, Louis replied, “Uh, yea. Sure. Just a little shaken up.”

     Something about the young woman made Louis want to invite her to his
booth.  As she joined him, he erased what he had written in the layout of salt,
over the table face. An inscription that read, no justice.
     
* * *

     Louis reclined in his Toyota Echo, cluttered with magazines and take-out
food trash, parked askew out front of an apartment building.  He had on a
black leather jacket, a wrinkled turquoise T-shirt, and dark muddy jeans.  He
smelled like dirty socks, and like his car, was badly in need of a bath.

     He peered into his visor mirror, examined his face.  Ran a dirty, long-
nailed hand over unshaved, acne-covered cheeks.  Opened his chapped
mouth to observe yellow, coffee-stained teeth.  Noticed dark circles beneath
bloodshot eyes, purple marks streaked along the socket’s outer corners.

     In his lap laid a medium sized notebook - his journal.  He flipped through
past entries, glossing over the past month.  

8/10

I’m fired from my job.  I was hoping my supervisor wouldn’t make a big deal out
of that morning he saw the sites on my laptop, but he took it to management.

I’m going to the strip club tonight.  Afterwards, I think I’ll do nothing            but
watch porn the rest/night.


     He flipped over a few pages.


8/15

I slept w/ a prostitute today. Feel like crap.  What’s happening to me?  Never
did the prostitute thing. I gotta tell Robert.  I can’t right now, though. The scary
thing is….I’m enjoying this.


He flipped over a few pages.


8/21

Today I molested a 15-year-old girl.  Light-skinned Latina I met @ Samuel’s a
mth ago. Patty.

15 going on 30, that’s how they usually are.  I convinced her to come to my
apartment. She was so frightened. But she couldn’t say no.     

When it was over, she left w/ tears.  I can’t say I’m sorry.  I actually feel pretty
good.  I told her, “Don’t be afraid – I’m gonna give you something you’re
gonna remember for the rest of your life.”


     Louis held his One-Year Chip, twirling it around and around.  He flipped
backward through the
journal pages, toward the front of the book, backtracking a few months.  He
stopped on a page filled with drawings, sketches he had made of faces and
bodies.  The Line People.  One character had small, round black eyes, nose
and mouth, all the same size, with a plank or pole stuck diagonally through its
head.   

     He thought about that one summer with The Boss.

     About his rejection from the police department when he was 21 because
of a bad shoulder, an injury playing high school football.

     About Kim dumping him.

     He thought about Robert, whom he missed.         Then he remembered his
question to Robert.

     He began writing over the entire page, over all the drawings and
characters, the words:

 No Existe  *

     He tore the page out, crumpled it, tossed it out the window.  For a
moment, Louis stared out that window.  “Faces … in tiles,” he muttered.  
“Jeez, what was I smokin’?”

     Glancing at the silver One-Year Chip, he tossed it out the car.  He flipped
forward in the journal, to a fresh, blank page. Began writing.
      
      9/5
 
At Kim’s. Tonight’s the night. It’ll be fast, but good.
     

     He put away his journal and pen.  Exited the car, into the lush, brisk night.  
Louis walked across the clean sidewalk and manicured lawn with an easy gait,
weightless.  He glanced around as he approached the building, noticing its
front sign above that read, The Woodland Hills Crescent, though the moon
was a full light bulb in the black valley sky peeking around slowly drifting
clouds.

     He stopped before the apartment, taking a few more peeks around, then
slipped behind the shrubbery.  Moved between the smooth-skinned, light-gray
tree trunk and Kim’s dining room window, its red curtain glowing from an inside
light.

     Louis noticed the cartoon-like face at the side of the window, its triangular
eyes bulging from the
white stucco wall, its thin horizontal mouth neither smiling nor frowning.  He
ignored it.  Proceeded to the bathroom window.

     As he expected, the small window was cracked open.  It was a bit higher
than the dining window, and as he slid it open, he stood tip-toed and peered
into the dark room.  A lawn nightlight helped the encroacher observe the
general outline of the bathroom, allowed him to see that the dark, spacious
room was unoccupied.  Soundless as a mime, he grasped the sill, hoisted
himself up, and maneuvered through the window barely big enough for him.  
He was now totally inside. He stepped across the porcelain floor, to the
door, slipping on a black mask and leather gloves.  He withdrew a small hand
gun from his jacket.  Placed his other hand on the doorknob.
                 
     He halted at the sound of a voice – a man’s voice – just outside the
bathroom, and twitched when he heard it.

     “Kim, do you mind if I use your restroom before we go?”
     
     It was a thick English accent, reminding Louis of one of the Beatles.  Of all
the nights Louis watched her, Kim had to pick this one to have company.

     Louis listened as the man approached the bathroom, gripping his weapon.
     
     “No, bad idea,” Kim said from the kitchen.  “Toilet’s messed up.  Use the
one in my bedroom.”

     Louis regained his breath, the man passing the hall bathroom, proceeding
to the end of the hallway.  

     Steven.  Had to be.

     From pictures he saw, Louis never thought of Steven as English. “Ringo”
is what came to his mind.

     Five minutes later, Louis listened as Steven reentered the hallway from
Kim’s room.  The intruder carefully positioned his head at the crack between
the door and doorframe, able to see the end of the hallway that led to the
front door, living room and kitchen.  Watched as Steven joined Kim at the end
of the hall.  Steven appeared young, younger than Kim, perhaps in his late
twenties.  He was tall, fair skinned and wore a dark brown blazer with a blue
buttoned shirt and dark jeans.  Didn’t look like much of a high-end marketing
manager to Louis.

As Steven helped Kim with her coat, his date suggested, “I was thinking we
could be back here at nine.  You down for a DVD?”

     Steven sort of ignored the question, examining the elegant Black woman
in her purple/lavender summer dress and white sandals.  

     “If you looked any more gorgeous, you’d be illegal,” said Steven.  
     
     Kim gave a whimsical laugh, gave Steven a light kiss, placed a hand on
his chest.  
     
     Louis wanted to use his gun then and there.

     The couple left, and for 10 minutes, Louis remained at the door, a
mannequin.  Thoughts scrambled.  Emotions zigzagged.  He was in total flux,
deciding what to do next.  The masked man exited the bathroom, sauntered
into the hallway.  Entered Kim’s bedroom, flicking the light on.  The room was
quite purple – purple walls, purple carpet, purple bedspread – and smelled of
apple-cherry candle fragrance.

     Pulling off his mask, Louis walked to Kim’s desk, positioned in the corner.  
Noticed her laptop on the table, turned on, though the screen was black.  He
moved her mouse, and her Facebook page appeared.  He entered her photos
page, which he had not seen over a month, since she had seized being
“friends” with him on FB.  After she discovered how often Louis visited her
page. 40 to 50 times per day, on average

     He scrolled down Kim’s many rows of photos, mostly of her and Steven.  
But toward the bottom of the page were pictures of her during the time she
dated Louis (all pictures of Louis had been deleted).  He sat and stared and
fixated a while on these photos, sliding an index finger slowly along the laptop
screen, tracing the curves of her body.  Studied her face: big eyes, long nose,
large lips. ‘Pronounced features’, Louis called them when first meeting Kim.  
Almost made him toss her number.  But it was these features that now allured
him most.

     He entered her message box.  Scrolled down a lengthy list of names and
blurbs, dating as far back as 5 months.  He found old messages of her and
him writing back and forth, mostly about Louis wanting to know why she
dumped him.  In the middle of these messages, he found one from one of her
girlfriends, Denise.  He clicked on this message.

Denise McCray: Is it because of his financial instability that you broke up with
him, mamas?
Kim Myers: That’s part of it.  But mostly because of his emotional instability.  
Denise McCray: ?
Kim Myers: When your insecure boyfriend secretly tries setting you up with
men he thinks you’re interested in just to test your loyalty – there’s a problem.
Denise McCray: Uh, yea, g/f. Wuz definitely time to peace out.        

     Louis’s mouth clenched in rage as he grabbed the laptop with both hands,
ready to throw it across the room.  He paused as he held it up, then set it back
on the desk.  He let out a deep breath, peered at the table, regained his
senses.  He was unsure who he was angry at most – himself, or Kim.  But he
was certain he was acting childish.  He walked to her bed, sat at the foot,
rested the gun on his lap.  Thinking,
reconfiguring his initial plans for Kim.

     He would wait for her and Steven to return.  Order them into the bedroom.  
Rape Kim in front of Steven.  Then blow their brains out.

     Yes, that’s what he would do
* * *

     8:05pm.  Louis lay on Kim’s bed with the lights off, his mask kept in his
jacket pocket.  Hands clasped behind his head, Louis gazed at the ceiling
directly above him, a white acoustic popcorn ceiling paled gray from an
outside street light.  Like a close-up view of the moon.  

     For amusement, Louis sorted out an image along the cottage cheese-like
material.  Formed a round head mounted on a long skinny neck, shown down
to its chest.  Faced sideways, east, with puckered lips and a carrot nose.  
Resembled a distorted version of Abe Lincoln from the penny.  Reminded him
of the types of figures he saw as a kid.  Of the figures he saw this past year,
the ones he once sought help and comfort from whenever on his own bed or
online, tempted with his addiction and fetishes.  Characters he once called
friends.

     “What was I smokin’?” he muttered.

     He half-grinned, expelled air from his nose in smirk.  Louis closed his
sleep-hungry eyes, nestling his head on Kim’s cloud-like pillow.  Listened to
the distant valley traffic of cars and freeways, reminiscent to the sounds of
oceans and seashells.

     He was aroused moments later by low-soft whispers.  Fragmented words,
as though searching for a radio frequency.  Eyes still closed, he heard a calm,
clear quiet voice.

     We’re right here beside you.        

     The voice could have been a man or a woman’s, and sounded eerily
distant and close.

     There were noises from the ceiling straight above him, like bugs, scuttle-
crawling.  Louis opened his eyes.  Looked at the ceiling, at Distorted Abe,
where the noises were.  His face tightened as he saw that the image was now
faced west.  Then, as though made of lines of black ants prancing along the
ceiling, as if an invisible artist was somehow manipulating the image, the face
began moving.

     It turned toward Louis, slowly, like a 3-D clay-animated cartoon – without a
screen.  Turned until it completely faced him, its pitch black, doll-like eyes
blinking, face colored and covered with the same white-grayed texture as the
ceiling.  Louis’s brows trenched and his eyes flashed with fear, the face
fixating on the stunned man as though waiting on him to speak.  His muscles
had turned to water, all except for his heart, which was slamming into his
throat.  Fists and teeth clenched as sheer adrenaline pushed Louis forward
and off the bed.  Terror pounded Louis in unrelenting waves.  He screamed,
but nothing came out because his throat had frozen shut.  

     He flipped the light on, staggering as though drunk.  He gazed at the
ceiling, examined the character, finding it back the way it was before – head
faced sideways – no longer moving.     

     Again, he heard a calm, quiet voice.

     We’re right here beside you.  It seemed as if coming from all four corners
of the room this time.  He heard the voice again, then again, glancing over his
shoulder each time as if zeroing in on an attacking wasp.  Then another voice
- louder and sharper – called to him.

     Louisss.

     It repeated a few times, each with different voices and tones.  Some high
pitch, others deep and gruff.  Some sounding woman-like, others man-like.
Louis stood in the center of the room, face knotted in total confusion, glancing
sporadically wherever and whenever he heard “Louis” or “We’re right here
beside you”.
                                                                                             
     The frantic intruder retreated into the hallway, fumbling through darkness
as though blind, into the pitch black living room.  He paused there, hearing
nothing more from Kim’s bedroom.  Seeing nothing before him accept the
dining table in the room’s far right corner, silhouetted by outside lights.  Then
noises in front of him, like bugs scuttle-crawling along a wall, jarred his
nerves.  He felt a light switch before him, flicked it on, and the room lit like a
hospital room.  On a blue plaster wall just before his face stood a contour
image more apparent than any other Line Person Louis had seen.  Almost as
if looking at a blue abstract painting of an oval shaped head, balding,
“Einstein” hair waving behind it.  Multiple lines formed what seemed like
sagging skin along the face, as though a melting waxed figure.  The mouth
was a small crooked rectangle, cradling three squares resembling piano keys
– its teeth.  Its eyes stood out the most.  Light blue, almost white, like two
round hardboiled eggs with little yokes as pupils, staring at Louis as if
someone under a spell.

     The blue face suddenly jutted toward Louis, like a 3D movie, the wall
plaster expanding behind its head in a dream-like, surrealistic stretch.  
Simulating an elastic band, or someone teeth pulling on a thick, chewy Taffy
bar.  The plastered face came inches from Louis’s, its round eyes gazing into
his with its trance-like stare.  The bottom of its square mouth lowered, and in a
mixture of taunt and condescendence, said, Let’s talk, the sound of a distant
underwater echo.  Close up, the character reminded Louis of The Elephant
Man, or a zombie shrouded in a shredded burlap scarecrow mask.  Blood
pounded through his head as if pumps had been shoved in his ears and were
trying to suck him dry.  Aghast, he couldn’t move other than to tremble.  

     Panic and pain resonated as he felt a vice-like grip on his ankle.  Peering
at the purple carpet below, he saw what looked like a flipper hand clutching
him, purple-colored as the carpet, belonging to a bulgy arm extending from
the floor.  As it reached up, the carpet expanded with it, a surrealistic stretch
just as the wall face.
     
     Louis wailed, beastly, breaking free from the arm’s grasp below.  He
scurried into the dining area, to the window.  He quickly reached behind the
red curtain, grasping the right end of the window, sliding it open with a thrust.  
Louis catapulted out of the apartment and onto the dirt ground outside,
springing to his feet.  He was ready to dart toward the sidewalk, to his car,
anywhere that distanced him from this apartment.  But he hesitated, standing
still before the opened dining room window, its red curtain draped closed.  
Louis panted, as though a man barely escaping a fire, listening for whatever
might still be inside.  Might still be coming for him.  But he heard nothing.  Saw
only the red curtain’s yellowish glow from the lighted living room inside.  

     His tongue cleaved to his mouth’s roof like Velcro.  Sweat, dirt, spit and
snot meshed as he wiped his face with a trembling backhand, tasting the
mixture of salt and soil.  He released a short hysterical laugh past sticky lips,
caught somewhere between reason and outlandish romp.  He slowly
positioned a hand before the curtain, wanting like mad to see what might have
lurked behind it.  But he withdrew it.

     Cleaning the last bit of gunk from the corners of his mouth, he turned to
the wall face at the side of the window, its small triangular eyes and horizontal
mouth making no movement.  No trace of shifting, sliding or reaching.  Just
stayed where it was, where it should be.
   
     But the man’s brows arched as he noticed an alteration in the character’s
face: diagonal lines now at both ends of its horizontal mouth, aimed upward,
simulating a smile.

     Sounds from behind Louis, from the tree, caught his attention.  A
combination of rustle noises and whispery, raspy voices, saying We’re right
here beside you.  When he turned, all he could do was widen his eyes, widen
his mouth at what he saw.  Couldn’t even scream.

* * *

     Later that evening, Steven reclined at the dining table, while Kim started
the coffee maker, playing soul music from her iPhone.

     Kim stood at the sink, rinsing two mugs, when she heard the sound.  A low
pitch moan, like a distant voice, somewhere outside.  She paused, hearing it
again, more clearly this time.  It was a slow, soft continuous moan.  As though
someone far away were in agony or distress.  Then it stopped.  She remained
still, listening for another.

     Nothing.

     She turned toward the dining room window, draped by a red curtain,
where she was certain she heard the sound.  Steven looked at his date
curiously as the perplexed woman stepped past him, to the large window.  Kim
slid the curtain aside.  Unveiled a smooth-skinned, light-gray tree trunk a few
distances from the opened window.          Nothing else was outside, accept
cricket’s chirps, and an elderly couple conversing over an evening stroll. Kim
gazed at the tree before her, illuminated in the dining room light.  She fixated
on its thick, wide trunk.  Noticed something new along its smooth, gray skin.  
Noticed thin contour lines and dark, round holes that formed an image not
there before.

     She focused - eyes narrowed - and found something strikingly familiar
from this design.  

     But her heavy gaze was lifted by Steven’s soft touch behind her, his hands
resting on her hips.  Kim turned, placed her arms around Steven’s warm neck,
offered him a sliced-apple smile.  She glanced back at the tree once more,
spotting a fat funnel-web spider treading along the trunk, along the image.  
She returned her attention back to Steven.  They sort of swayed together to
the music, locking glances, Kim’s brown eyes sparkling like stars.

     Then she forgot what she saw outside.  Forgot about the lines and holes,
the sharp image resembling a narrow-face man with wide eyes, an agape
mouth, and a goatee, etched in the smooth, gray-skinned tree.

     Where he will forever remain, watching.     

End
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