Things You See In the Dark

January 18, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Off in the distance, the man leaned forward in the dark, bowing his head low toward the street. It was an especially busy and breakneck city street, too. The kind of urban sprawl avenue-turned-artery where they crammed one too many lanes into the space as the city grew up around it, making things uncomfortable for everyone. There was no separation between street and sidewalk apart from a strip of grass no more than a foot and a half wide, which also played home to utility poles, streetlights, signs and city benches. 

There was not even a curb to speak of, as the ribbon of grass faded away into the pavement of the street; so I was a bit alarmed as I approached to see the man apparently falling forward from his seat and nearly into the lane of traffic roaring by at fifty miles an hour. Commuters partaking in their daily early morning trek to the office, oblivious. At just the moment I was sure he was toppling, he’d somehow catch himself, and nearly bolt upright for a few seconds before wavering again. Was he falling asleep? Was he drunk? It was hard to say. I was still a good distance away from him and had a few urban blights obstructing my view in the darkness of the morning. 

As my footsteps on the sidewalk drew me closer to him, I quickened my pace on some unconscious level out of a desire to be on the other side of the scene and leave it behind me. Why did I seem to find myself in more than my fair share of these bizarre situations? Apprehension bubbled up inside and expressed itself in the first beads of sweat to emerge from my brow. Not to be outdone, palpably my heart began to beat faster to match. The man’s involuntary swaying seemed to worsen. Almost with the wind, it bent him over toward the street, then rocked him backward toward the sidewalk and momentary safety.

Now hurtling toward him, the collision with this terrible episode was inevitable. My path was set. I had nowhere to turn right, and nowhere to go to my left other than into the same street he courted so carelessly. How would he react when he finally realized I was there, out in the darkness with him? I did not want to happen on this man and perhaps spook him further into an irreversible course of gravity into the street and certain death. Maybe more so I did not want him, upon noticing me, to suddenly and mightily regain all his faculties and pursue me as a predator pursues his prey. Either scenario played out with equal plausibility in my mind as I drew ever closer. 

My breath joined my elevated heart rate and damp brow. Labored, heavy. In my hysterical internal musings over witnessing an accidental death or preparing for my ensuing murder, my wits had left me and I’d forgotten the real reason I was out here this harrowing morning. I was running. The joyful and powerful thing that centered me each inky black morning before the rest of the world joined me. Peaceful; but not today. Mornings like this revealed the risk in finding the peace at this hour; alone, vulnerable to the characters like the one only a few strides ahead of me now. Remembering the run, I quickly glanced at my watch. 6:50 pace. Too early in the run for that, but driven there by fear and imagination. 

Gathering what little bit of resolve I had in my bones and lungs and muscles, I made straight for the man, who now appeared larger than life. A huge brute, bent and swaying on the bench, wearing a trench coat with enormous billowing hood pulled down over the head. It was now, at this moment, where finally the run brought me close enough to comprehend the figure with no accompanying imagination to fill in the details. The headlights of the passing cars no longer created a menacing, monolithic silhouette out of the form, but filled it in with light. The edges at first, then the surfaces, then the constituent, minute features that make up a thing. 

The green leaves swayed in the wind as the man had done not thirty yards up the sidewalk. The branches formed arms that sat supported on bushy legs, laid across a bench in a state of overgrowth. The hood of the trench coat, a thick, leafy crown on a bush in need of trimming. Fear became relief in the knowledge that the thing I feared never existed to begin with. The run returned, settled once again in pace, and in peace. The things you see, out in the dark. On the run.

- Jeff Laub


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