Main Street made the town. It clung tightly to its old western motif while complimenting Ashton’s population of a thousand people with re-purposed 19th century buildings. I had to give Dad props for moving us to a one horse town.
Mom loathed Ashton. She compared it to a glutinous python constricting her throat. Dad liked it because it was small, but they still had enough churches to cater to a big city. I was never clear on his obsession with churches, but he said a non-denominational church that went by Healing Waters was going to host the meetings for the Dream Chasers going forward. From what I understood, the group continued meeting long after his disappearance, which rubbed me the wrong way. I at least appreciated living by vintage shops like Victor’s.
I wasn’t alone. Every day that I walked around town, I always noticed a girl with red hair window shopping around the bookstore. Her hair was dyed, but it blended well with her tan skin. If I ever close enough to see her green eyes, I could hear her humming. I knew she wasn’t singing fully, but I imagined she had a beautiful voice. My favorite about her was the fact that she was probably my age. I wanted to be friends, but I didn’t know what to say.
I think I lied earlier. Yes, I’ve been riding around town trying to see if people had seen my dad, but that isn’t the only reason. I learned quickly that the red headed girl would show up to Victor’s around the same time every day. Sometimes she would go in and sometimes she wouldn’t. In my head, I had practiced a monologue to say to her when I finally found the courage, but I’d be lucky to get the word hello out. Sure, it’d be easy to segway a conversation about my missing father, but somehow I didn’t think it’d be good to have that as her first memory of me. I didn’t know much about having friends, but I had enough people feeling sorry for me between Mom and the Dream Chasers.
The red headed girl popped into my mind as I picked up my bike. I checked to make sure the mechanics remained in order, hopped on, and put my feet to the pedals. It didn’t take long to ride the few blocks required to get from our beat up old house and the road leading to Main Street. The roasting summer sunlight reflected off of my spokes, making it difficult to keep my eyes open as bumped and slid over the red mud that made up our terrain.
To get my focus off of the penetrating sunlight, I examined all of the street signs I passed along the way. The street signs were a proud staple for the town. Harkening bad to a love of religion and football, you can find a Bear Bryant Cove neighborhood on one side of the street across the way from Gabriel’s Pearly Drive. While it was my first time living in the United States, isolation living with my parents stripped me from any European accent. I at least had that going for me even though I didn’t understand Ashton’s aesthetic half the time.
As I got closer to Victor’s, I could see the store was packed to capacity with people who must have traveled from all over the state, considering they almost matched the town’s population person for person. A line stretched from the door all the way down to the barber shop at the end of the street. If I was going to appeal to the masses with my flier, that may be the way to go. I couldn’t image that all of them would deny a flier if I handed it to them.
I parked the bike in the alleyway between Victor’s and a small office and ran up to one of the customers. He was a man donned in a shiny, purple suit. He definitely stuck out, but didn’t mind turning his pale nose up so high that he might as well have begged insects to fly in, assuming his bleached blonde hair didn’t attract them first.
I tried several ways to get his attention from saying hello to standing in front of him but nothing did the trick. I didn’t know why I even bothered, but now I was driven by pure determination. I pulled on his purple blazer which grabbed his attention immediately. When he finally looked me in the eye, I said, “Excuse me, sir?” He responded by swatting at me with one hand while he protected a large object the size of a phone book with the other. I continued, “I’m sorry, Sir, but can I ask you a quick question?”
He reluctantly lowered his gaze, choosing to address me as an annoying fly. His voice was high-pitched and sharp, almost cartoonish in tone, when he finally spoke, “Why did you touch my jacket? Tell me exactly why you touched my jacket?”
“You weren’t paying attention to me.” I was caught off guard. I didn’t know what to say.
“And that is a socially acceptable reason to tug on someone’s clothes? You are so inheritably stupid that I am surprised you put on shoes this morning. What are you, anyways? A local?”
This being one of the first times I spoke to a stranger on my own, I wasn’t ready for him to be so rude. I looked around to see if anyone else in line heard what the man had said, but no one else was paying attention. Most of the people in line were too preoccupied with fanning themselves from the heat instead. A man at the end of the line was looking in my direction, but I’m sure he just thought I was breaking in line.
I chose not to argue with the man in the purple suit. I said, “Yep, this is my town. Don’t you love the humidity? Anyways, everyone looks pretty excited. I just wanted to know who everybody was here to see.”
He tapped his book, “Who is everybody here to see? Boy, if you were a bit more cultured, you wouldn’t have to ask that question,” he took a deep breath, realizing how rude he had been. His voice went down a few levels, “The man inside is one of the greatest minds of our generation. He is splendiferous, he transcends time and, and some would say he was god-like.”
“What is a man like that doing in Ashton?”
“I don’t know, kid, but for some reason he did choose this silly town to sign copies of his book.” He gripped the book with both hands and held it to his heart. “This book changed my life. Why don’t you wait in the back of the line and maybe you’ll get a chance to meet him too. Sorry for being rude, but I spent good money on this suit. Purple was very necessary.”
I took a few steps back and noticed Mr. Bleach Blonde was not the only person in line wearing a purple suit. I hoped it would all make sense soon, but singing show tunes with drunken Mom was beginning to sound like the tame option for the day. Each person was equally excited about the signing just as my dad had been when he first wore his belt as a headband. The thought made me consider asking the man if he was familiar with Draio and perhaps he may have heard of my father. I reached into my book bag for my fliers, but the man stopped me.
He said, “I don’t know what you are about to hand me, but I’d like to stop you from wasting your time. I’m sure someone in the back of the line would be interested.”
I opened my mouth to object, but he clamped my mouth shut with his finger and thumb. He whispered harshly, “I will be damned if an insolent child continues to interrupt the memorization of what I plan to say to Darius once I’m inside. Now, get in the back of the line.” With that, he faced forward and returned to the nose upright position I had first found him in.
My heart squeezed when he said the name. Between Dad running away and this book signing, it was too much of a coincidence. Could this be the Darius? My emotions were a melted pile of silly putty as I bounced between the excitement of finally meeting this very important fixture in my family’s life and the fury from wanting to punish him for making my father crazy.
I snuck a glance at the book the man was clinging to so tightly. In big fancy letters it read: Dream of Draio by Darius Sinclaire. The cover featured an African man dressed in a cloak. In front of him were several monks leaned in prayer while a dragon flew above. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, the man held the throats of two shadow-like figures in his hands while his arms were stretched outward like Jesus on the cross. Worried enough that Dad had been in a cult this whole time, I also wondered if an overtly religious town like Ashton was aware what this book signing was truly all about.
It was all a little bit much, I thought, but I figured if I were going to get the awareness out there about Dad, the size and scope of Darius’ audience made them perfect for my handouts.
Fast forward three weeks. Zoom in on the sticky notes I am pulling from my writing desk. I pop one off the top and add check mark number twenty-one. I took it upon myself to document the days since Dad’s last appearance. Mom, on the cusp of a rapidly growing wine habit, had given up. To her, he was not going to return. She snapped if I asked her about updates from the police, so I chose to quietly conduct my own investigation.
During my searches, I found comfort in the desolate nature of my new city. Its small town atmosphere was a great compliment to how I felt: lonely. Three weeks without a father and I had gone so long without meeting any kids my age that I didn’t know what I was going to do when school started in a few days. Hell, the only people I’d interacted with besides my parents were the Dream Chasers and they weren’t exactly great company. Mom had the suspicion they were responsible for Dad’s disappearance.
This morning, I planned to take up my detective work at the local bookstore. I put on an old pair of jeans, a Batman t-shirt, and grabbed my book bag. It was filled to capacity with fliers I had printed out the day before. The fliers featured a rare picture of the three of us smiling. It was one of those planned photographs, but I figured I could cultivate more interest if my family appeared likeable. After the last few years, we were a hard sell.
Luckily, the store stood only a few blocks from my house, allowing me to take my new bicycle, a pity gift Mom had bought for me. It had a red finish, eighteen speeds, and flame decals. I realize I’m almost high school age, but I still thought it was pretty cool. It wasn’t like I had anyone I needed to impress.
It was a good thing that I had it too. Mom was busy banging away on the keys of her newly purchased Yamaha Grand Piano. She was in the middle of singing All I Ask of You to a half empty bottle of Chardonnay and it was barely eight thirty. I’d like to pretend her singing drained the bottle of its contents, but I knew I’d be wrong. There was no hope for her to drive me.
I left my room. The walls were different. Mom had redecorated the hallway while I slept, apparently. A few family photos that were placed lovingly the day we moved in had been replaced by performance photographs of famous theatre actors. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but it looked like Mom stayed up all night photo-shopping herself into the pictures. Each one had a Maggie Quinn cameo in the background. To me, her attitude about all of it came off as childish and unfair, but I can’t say that I didn’t understand.
Hoping Mom wouldn’t notice me leaving, I tiptoed around the back of the piano, but Peaches the dog, a new family addition, saw me and blew my cover. She was a rescue golden retriever devoid of empathy for a teenage attempting to sneak out of his house. Peaches’ rough barks stopped Mom during a big number. Mom flipped around. Her hair, unwashed and tangled, was matted over her left eye. Her other eye locked on to mine, sentencing me to death. She said, “What’s in the bag, Alan?”
I tried to hold eye contact, but that was always difficult when encountering a Momfrontation. I said, “Oh, some books. I’m going to check out Victor’s down the street.” I knew for sure that I had blown it. I’ve never been a particularly good liar.
Her tactic shifted to oddly playful, “Who is Victor and why does he have my son’s attention? If you stick around, I might just play you some Sondheim.”
I cleared my throat, “While that does sound lovely, Victor’s is the book shop on Main Street. I won’t be gone for long.”
Mom moved the hair that had fallen over her eye back in place. Her blue eyes were normally gentle to gaze into, but I felt like I could almost see a red tint in them today. She turned back to the piano, “Fine. Have fun, Alan.” My heart ached with her response. I knew she was having a hard time, but it wasn’t helping to stay cooped inside all day.
I was almost home free and out the door when she called out with the force of Hades, “One other thing. If I see any more pictures of your deadbeat father around this town, you’re grounded. Am I clear? You don’t see him come over here to see us. Why should I be forced to see him every day?”
I stopped before my quick temper could get ahead of me. I wanted to yell at her for giving up on Dad, but I could hear the soft sobs under her breath. She missed him just as much as I did. It always bothered me that I hadn’t seen them happy together since Australia, but part of me knew there was a reason they had ever gotten together in the first place. I let it go.
I said, “I won’t,” and went on my way.
Andrew wrapped his arms around his chest, afraid his heart would fall out if he let go. His ribs shook against the groaning of his empty stomach. He had neglected to eat. He was worried that satiating the needs of his hunger pangs would make him forget the pain of loss.
He sat in silent protest while his therapist took notes. After the fourth time he failed to respond to invitations for dialogue, she transitioned from note-taking to doodling. She stopped briefly to accept an envelope from an assistant who quickly entered and left the room, but resumed shortly after. He was sorry for wasting her time, but he felt worse for losing his Johnny.
Layla, his therapist, shared his species. She was able to shift in and out from human to translucent shadows at the drop of a hat. She was a Silhouette, an imaginary friend. The familiarity eased his tension slightly. Being a Silhouette, though, she was unfamiliar with the human condition. She couldn’t comprehend why Andrew cared so much about the human race.
Layla said, “Would it be easier, Mr. Lathon, for us to find you a new human to follow? I could possibly suggest someone much younger—someone more susceptible to your friendship.” She flipped through her notes, “Yes. There is a six year old boy in need of a friend in…Australia. He comes highly recommended. Your relationship with Johnny is—unhealthy.”
The mere suggestion of abandoning the search for Johnny filled Andrew with enough rage to blow the entire office into smithereens. A spark of inspiration needled his brain, propelling him out of his chair.
“I’ve lost my believer.” He spoke in a cold, calculating voice. “I understand that the very concept may boggle your mind, so I will speak slowly and clearly so you don’t miss a single word.” He knocked the notepad, covered in Hello Kitty doodles, out of her hands. “We do not exist without our believers. As we continue to assist humans, we are cultivating generations upon generations of believers. For those of us with a true beating heart, we might grow attached to our believers. So, when I say that no stone will be left unturned until I find my Johnny, I mean I will strip your body piece by piece until it is nothing more than a slice of Swiss cheese smothered in pollution and corruption.”
Andrew hovered behind Layla. He snapped his fingers. A filmy substance creeped and crawled out of his fingertips and fell in her lap. It stretched out, holding her in place. Layla managed to say, “Mr. Lathon, I don’t know Johnny’s location,” before it covered her mouth, eliminating her speech.
A drawer of silverware appeared out of thin air. It floated above Layla’s eyes. Andrew chuckled, “It would be quite wrong to lie about the location of my Johnny, wouldn’t you say? The choice of punishment would have to be quite severe to fit the crime.” Two forks slid out of the drawer. “So, Layla, would you say you are a three prong girl or a four? I’ve always been partial to the four prong myself.”
The four pronged dinner fork glided to within an inch of Layla’s throat. “I understand that the original Silhouettes do not bleed.” The fork punctured Layla’s throat. Her skin popped open like a sheet of bubble wrap. Layla’s face was shrouded in terror, but the filmy substance on her mouth muffled her screams. Andrew relaxed like an addict getting his fix, “I also understand they are not immune to pain.”
Andrew moved to Layla’s notepad. It had landed next to the office door. He growled when he got another look at her doodles. It was two Hello Kitties, one wearing an Andrew shirt and the other in a shirt labeled Johnny, locked in sexual ecstasy. A bubble next to the Andrew kitty said “Come quickly while I’m still pathetic.”
Andrew scooped up the notebook, set it on fire with a flick of the wrist, and sent it flying into Layla’s lap. He laughed, “I bet you are praying for death. Lucky for me, death for Silhouettes takes much longer. You can just burn forever and it never ends. It’s just like the search for my friend.”
Johnny peered over his copy of Order of the Phoenix, “This is what you think about all day while I’m at work? What is wrong with you?”
Andrew sighed, “I get lonely.”
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.