These are very quick 'free write' sessions without editing, planning, etc.
I invite and love feedback - criticism, praise, whatever. Just let me know what you think.
I do this equally for myself and to share.
Luke pushed his way through the open doors with three other people scrambling for dryness. The storm had started unexpectedly and with such force that nearly everyone on the sidewalk had darted for the nearest building. And yet, nearly everyone was drenched through at least the first layer of clothing. Most of the crowd had stopped just inside the door and was idly looking around at one another. Luke grunted in soft exasperation and gently shoved his way between the damp shoulders and bodies of those around him.
High above him, fluorescent lights flickered and shone a dull blue-white glow over the moistened jackets and sweaters of the people around him. It was at times like these Luke wished he were taller. The ceiling was practically all he could see beyond the throng of bodies around him. Above the head of those to his right, a large clock hung on the wall, one hand pointing towards the 9 and the other, it seemed, pointing down at Luke.
After a few moments, the crowd dissipated slightly, though Luke was still amazed at just how many people were still ahead of him. As the crowd continued to thin, he was able to make out more details of the building. He'd walked past this mega store dozens of times on his way to his train stop, and yet he'd never stepped inside. Never even had a desire to linger at the windows and steal a glance at the products on display. With a shudder, he remembered why.
On the floor directly in front of him stood a small vinyl dome tent erected near a model tree with two hiking backpacks leaning prominently against the highly unauthentic bark. Nearby sat a small fire pit with blazing plastic fire and cooking pot. A kerosene lantern sat on top of a green Coleman cooler on top of a very solid looking cedar picnic table. Behind and to the left of the tent, a 2-point deer stood half hidden by some rubbery looking bushes.
But what really disturbed Luke about the display and about the store in general were the pair of rifles lying on the picnic table. Ever since his experience with Charlie and Sandra, Luke had a hard time with guns of any kind. His brother gave him grief for his recent aversion to guns since his whole family had been avid hunters when he was a kid. But now, when he looked at a firearm, particularly a rifle like those on display, he found it hard to maintain any sense of calm.
Someone pushed against Luke's back and he stumbled forward towards the display. He glared over his shoulder but only a random throbbing mass of storm soaked customers stared back at him, barely even recognizing the troubled looking man staring at them. Turning back around, Luke was startled to find himself standing almost in the fire pit. The shock set him off balance and he stumbled to his left to avoid falling into the orange and yellow pieces of lighted plastic. Instead, he tripped and fell towards the picnic table.
His hands flew out to catch himself and he suddenly found his fingers resting on the cold steel barrel of the rifle. A soft gasp escaped his lips as he twisted his hand away from the gun, still bracing himself on the table and pressing away to stand. He stared down at the two rifles. They were nice. Much nicer than what he'd used when he went hunting with his dad all those years ago. Slowly, longingly, he reached out his hand and lightly slid his fingers over the polished wood and metal of the nearest rifle.
His heart began to race. He took a half step forward and stared down at the gun. His brother had mocked Luke when he'd told his family about his new anxiety towards guns. Now as he looked at them, he wondered if he was overreacting. That whole thing with Charlie and Sandra had been a crazy and unpredictable turn of events. There was no way anything like that would happen again, was there? He certainly wasn't taking newlyweds shooting ever again, no matter what happened.
The sound of the crowd behind him broke through Luke's thoughts. He turned to stare at the mumbling crowd. Half of the bodies were turned away from him, craning their necks and stretching onto their tiptoes to try and see out the large windows at the front of the store. A torrent of rain still poured down in sheets. Now and then a large truck passed along the road, but otherwise the only motion outside the window was the silvery-white rushing of rain. The rest of the crowd was milling about, slowly walking along the main path of the store. Some spoke to each other. Some casually looked at the objects around them. No one appeared to actually be in the store to do any shopping.
Luke's eyes calmly panned over the crowd. Women fiddled with their hair. Men brushed away water that had beaded up on their expensive Italian suits. A mother crouched down over her whimpering child in a stroller, trying to console him and keep the small cry from erupting into a wail. And then, in the middle of the crowd, Luke noticed a stillness. Directly in the center of the crowd, a man in a pale blue jacket and a red baseball cap was standing perfectly still and staring at the floor.
The rest of the crowd moved around the man as if avoiding him, leaving a small circle of space all around him. Luke watched as one woman swerved just before reaching the man in the blue jacket. She slammed into another man and knocked him stumbling into a third person. Not only did the crowd seem to avoid the man, they didn't look at him. Luke noticed that anytime someone's gaze turned towards the man in blue, they quickly averted their eyes a few feet to either side.
Luke's thoughts blurred his vision and for a moment he envisioned a protruding rock in the middle of a stream or that science experiment he'd done as a kid. The one where he poured pepper into a bowl of water and then lightly placed a small piece of soap in the middle of the bowl to watch the pepper rush away. This man was somehow repelling the crowd. Pushing them away from him.
And there he stood. Still as a statue. Staring down at the floor, the top of his plain red ball cap pointed towards Luke. His light blue jacket covered his arms, dangling at his sides. His hands disappeared into the jacket pockets. Even with the crowd avoid the man, Luke found it hard to get a full complete image of him. Men and women continually walked between Luke and the man, interrupting his line of sight.
Light suddenly flashed outside the building and Luke looked up in time to catch the disappearing remnant of a flash of lightning through the windows. A heartbeat later, a muffled boom rumbled and the glass in the windows rattled. The crowd of people turned rapidly and stared at the storm. No one spoke. No one moved. They all just stared out the windows at the falling rain.
All of them, except for the man in the blue jacket and the red hat. He continued staring down at the floor. Luke stared at the man. Now that the crowd had stopped moving, he had a clearer view of him and yet Luke still had a hard time making out distinct features. The edges of the man seemed blurred somehow. A large yellow logo was embroidered on the right breast of the jacket but Luke couldn't make out its shape or even its size. The yellow form seemed to shift slightly around, growing larger then smaller then shorter or longer, stretching and shrinking but always remaining in the same basic area.
Luke glanced from side to side then back at the man before taking a step forward. As Luke stepped forward, so did the man. Luke stopped and stared again. The man was motionless once more. Had it just been Luke's imagination? Had the man actually moved? The crowd around the man hadn't seemed to move and yet the people between Luke and the man seemed the same distance from both of them as before.
Luke took another step forward. The man stepped forward as well. Luke lifted his foot to step again then set it down, not moving. The man stayed still. Luke kept his eyes focused on the man and took a step backwards. The man moved backwards as well. Luke blinked, trying to be sure of what he'd seen. The man's motion had been fluid. As if he'd slid along the floor rather than stepping. His head and shoulders hadn't bobbed at all.
As Luke focused on the man, he noticed something else that unnerved him. The noises around him had stopped. He glanced around and saw people to his sides and behind him milling about, walking the store. Some even looked as if they were speaking to one another. But there was no sound.
Looking back towards the man and the crowd near the door, Luke saw that the crowd around the man was now completely still as well. Not only were they still, but they appeared surreal. They looked almost like silhouettes or cardboard cutouts. They still maintained their three-dimensional appearance and solidity, but something about them felt ethereal and false. Luke stared closer at the face of one woman, he noticed that her mouth was open in an awkwardly rounded position, like halfway through speaking the word "YOU". As he watched, her face didn't move. Her mouth didn't change position to either open or close. Furthermore, her eyes stayed still. They didn't move from side to side. They didn't blink.
Luke quickly looked at all the people between him and the door. The same stillness of the man in the blue jacket had now extended to a circular area of eight or ten feet all around him. Beyond that strange sphere, people walked into the store or towards the windows without noticing the abnormal motionless by them. As Luke watched, one woman approached the edge of the stillness and kept walking straight towards the man in blue. When she reached the invisible peripheral of his apparent influence, she suddenly vanished, leaving nothing but a soft shimmer in the air.
Luke gasped and brought his hand to his mouth. He stumbled backwards a few steps until his legs banged against the picnic table behind him. As he ambled backwards, he saw the man in the blue jacket glide backwards as well. The strange circle of stillness moved with him. After a couple of feet, the woman Luke had seen vanish, suddenly reappeared with another shimmer, still walking towards the door of the store. She once again reached the edge of the man's influence and whisked away in a ripple of light and air.
Luke felt himself start to hyperventilate. He'd had severe asthma as a child and his shallow breathing and light-headedness reminded him vaguely of the attacks he'd had during recess in elementary school. He closed his eyes to clear his head.
Think rationally, he told himself. This isn't real. You're hallucinating. You're sick. Something's not right. This isn't real.
As his breathing slowed, Luke opened his eyes, hoping to see the crowd of morning commuters and shoppers milling about like normal. At first, he was comforted by a view of normalcy. Bodies moved back and forth in front of him as normally as he would have expected. He even chuckled in relief as he heard the sound of a whining baby somewhere in the distance.
Then, at the corner of his gaze, Luke caught a glimpse of pale blue topped with bright red. Turning slightly, he saw the man in blue standing, staring at the ground in the middle of the footwear section. Seated in a chair next to the man in blue, a boy in his teens with shaggy brown hair and a green jacket was leaning over slightly and holding a hiking boot. The boy's left foot was raised off the ground a few inches in preparation to try on the boot. But the boy was as motionless as the strange man standing beside him.
Luke shook his head, unsure what to think. What to do. He was obviously having some sort of mental episode. Imagining things. Envisioning things. Was it the storm? His paltry breakfast of a scrambled egg and a piece of dry toast? Was it seeing the guns on the table?
As if expecting the answer, Luke turned and looked back at the picnic table. Instead of seeing two new pristine rifles staring back at him, he saw his own .22 lying there alone. Instead of the polished and gleaming stock and barrel of the guns for sale, he saw the pale and faded black barrel and a dark brown stock with grease smudges from frequent use and infrequent maintenance. He even saw the two-inch gash pointing from the bottom corner of the butt up towards the bolt. The gash from when he'd slipped on the muddy trail and fallen with his gun between him and a mess of rocks.
Luke stared intently at the gun. His fingers traced the scratch on the stock. They slide along the barrel and noted the rough patches where he'd dinged and banged it while hiding in bushes waiting for a deer. As he touched the gun, he felt light headed again. His hearing grew muffled and the sounds of the people around him blurred into a strange murmuring. A few times it sounded like a muffled voice was speaking his name.
A flash of light, motion and sound erupt to Luke's right. In an instant he whipped around to face it. The man in the blue jacket now stood just beyond the dome less than a dozen feet away. His face still pointed downward, showing Luke the top of the red hat. The man's build and stature seemed more familiar up close, though his presence still seemed hazy and blurred around the edges.
Luke's vision blurred all around the man. Only the man in blue was in focus, and even then, his edges remained blurred. On the edges of his peripheral vision, hints of motion spun around him, but Luke remained focused on the man.
Luke's hearing was damped. Like his ears were full of cotton. Or he was underwater. Somewhere distant, Luke thought he heard the sounds of screams. Of frantic shouts. But then all sounds faded away into the rushing sound of a breeze.
The man in blue stayed completely still and yet slid forward around the edge of the tent. Luke remained focused on the man, still unsure what was going on.
Luke felt his forearm flex and realized he was holding the rifle at waist level but elevated and pointed directly at the man in blue.
The man in blue glided forward another foot and stopped. Luke instinctively raised the rifle to his shoulder. The world around him became a dark tunnel through which he stared at the man in blue. Nothing existed but the straight path from Luke, along the barrel of the gun, and into the motionless form of the man in blue.
A strange cacophony of sound began to build. It seemed to be coming from the man in blue. A soft low-frequency rumble that slowly began to build in volume and intensity. As the sound increased, Luke noticed that the man in blue began to wriggle and tremor. Then, his head started to twitch.
Slowly. Very slowly, the head raised.
Luke's breath caught in his throat. Staring through motionless eyes in an equally still face was his friend Charlie. The same Charlie as in Charlie and Sandra. The same ones Luke had let go to his grandfather's ranch for their honeymoon. The same ones who had asked Luke to stick around for a few hours and teach them how to shoot. To help them launch the clay pigeons for target practice. The same Charlie who, when Luke had returned to the ranch a few days later, was still there, hunkered down in Luke's grandfather's cabin like some crazed hermit. The same Charlie who wouldn't tell Luke where Sandra was. The same Charlie who punched Luke to the floor and pointed a rifle at him. The same Charlie who…. The Charlie who….
Luke's vision narrowed even more. Everything was dark except for the small oval of Charlie's face and the quivering end of the rifle in Luke's hand.
Charlie's face began to shimmer and glow. Light seemed to emanate from the stillness of the face. Then, Charlie began to glide forward, towards Luke.
Luke held the gun in front of him, his hands shaking. His eyes tearing up. A scream of anguish started to grumble out of his throat. He tried to step backwards away from the approaching form but he ran into the picnic table.
"I didn't know Charlie. I didn't know! I'm sorry Charlie. I'm so sorry!"
Charlie continued to slide slowly towards Luke. Luke pressed his legs backwards against the table and sidled around, feeling his way around the table. He wouldn't take his eyes away from the approaching figure, but he tried to back away more and more quickly. He felt something solid against his legs and back. A wall? A cabinet?
Charlie continued to slide slowly forward. His hands slipped out of the jacket pocket. The arms in the pale blue jacket rose slowly, the palms of the hands turned forward towards Luke. Luke could see stains of red along the palms and the fingers. He fought down another scream.
Then, the hands pulled back slightly and disappeared within the folds of the blue jacket. A moment later, they reappeared, holding a gun of their own. Luke recognized it as the shotgun he'd used to teach Charlie and Sandra how to shoot. He watched in horror as Charlie raised the gun to position, tucking the butt against his shoulder and leaning his cheek against the side of the stock.
Luke shook his head and tried to speak, but he brought up his own rifle in response and took aim at Charlie.
"Don't do this Charlie. Please. Just let me go. Just let me be. Please Charlie."
Charlie slide forward another foot and Luke could see his finger release the safety on the gun and hover next to the trigger.
"Please Charlie. Please. Charlie. Charlie! Charlie!"
Luke was shouting. Screaming. Begging.
A sudden explosion of light and noise erupted. Luke fell to the floor instinctively. Luke's vision blurred completely as though he was looking through unfocussed binoculars. He felt cold wind sweeping by all around him. Shouts and screams burst from all sides accompanied by the sounds of people rushing about. He brought his hand up to rub his eyes, to try and clear the vision. He realized he no longer held the rifle. As he rubbed his eyes, he felt around on the ground for the gun. He felt the rough texture of carpet and the edge of a small stone fire pit.
Lowering his hand, his vision cleared and he saw people running frantically past him. A few people stood nearby staring back towards the entrance to the store. He pressed himself to his feet, looking around at the fifty or more people shuffling around him. Staring back at the entrance, he saw shattered windows. Rain poured through the gashes of glass in sheets. A pale blue pickup truck with a red passenger side door sat half inside and half outside the glass entryway, the hood of the truck crunched up against the metal frame of the building.
He heard scattered conversations about the storm, lightning, something about a dog. People muttered questions and accusations about the driver. Some wondering if he was alright. Others wondering if he was drunk. Luke pivoted where he stood and scanned the crowd. Apart from the frenzied look of any crowd that just witnessed an out of control truck smashing through a building, everything seemed normal. Then, his gaze landed on the picnic table. There, sitting on the smooth cedar table sat a plain red baseball cap and an old .22 rifle with a two-inch gash in the stock.