Young adult, paranormal/historical
I sat there on that cold concrete bench feeling sorry for myself trying not to think for quite a while. Tons of people walked by, most of them looking happy, some with Santa Claus hats on even though Christmas had come and gone.
Laughter and conversation floated all around me in the early evening air. Across the plaza on King Street, a tram full of tourists came to a stop in front of Potter’s Wax Museum. In a loud, electronic voice, the driver explained how in its long history, St. Augustine had been burned to the ground more than once by pirates and other invaders.
No matter how hard I tried not to think about my argument with Carla, as well as what drove me to the plaza in the first place, it all came gushing back into my mind. Regret at treating Carla so horribly mixed itself with the fear and panic that still bubbled deep inside me. Just as thoughts of bodies, vultures and fog threatened to take control of my brain again, church bells started ringing—first, the ones from the Catholic Cathedral nearby and then from the Episcopal Church across the plaza. Dueling church bells I call them, keeping time for the city. 6:00 p.m.
Seeing how focusing my attention on the bells helped divert my thoughts for at least a short time, I decided to watch the kids in the plaza. Yeah, the little guys with their families. They made me smile with their big eyes staring up at the huge lighted Christmas tree. Some wanted to open the fake presents there while others wanted to sit on the nearby cannons and have their picture taken.
Cannons. They’re everywhere in St. Augustine. As I thought about it though, Christmas and cannons didn’t go together—at all. I mean Christmas is supposed to be about peace and brotherly love, right? I wondered if any of those cannons had killed anybody. No doubt about it, finding those bodies out on that lonely, stinking road had really gotten to me.
As I alternated between watching the kids and staring at the cannons, a homeless guy I know named Lyle walked up to the bench opposite me where the old couple had been sitting. How come I know a homeless person? Why not? Yeah, sure homeless folks have all kinds of problems, but they’re people too. Lyle and I just happened to share a bench together in the plaza soon after I moved to St. Augustine. We started talking and I later met some of his friends.
When he took off his backpack, Lyle flipped it, along with a big old plastic yard bag full of what he calls, “stuff,” onto the bench. “Yo, Jeff. How’s it going, brother?” He was wearing a heavy orange colored jacket I had never seen on him before.
“I’m cool,” I lied. I really didn’t feel like talking to anybody, but I decided to force myself. “We match tonight.” I pointed at my at my mostly orange University of Florida jacket.
“Yeah man. Go Gators!” Lyle grinned and did the Gator Chomp, his arms outstretched in front of him, going up and down.
“You bet. Go Gators! How’s life treating you, Lyle?” I knew better than to ask, but the words were automatic. At times, Lyle can become a little too chatty.
“If it was any better, I couldn’t stand it.” He smiled, showing a big gap where his top two front teeth should have been. Dropping the smile, he scanned the plaza for police officers as he usually does. “You a cop, Jeff?”
“Naw, I’m no cop. Not quite old enough.” It’s the same answer I give every time he asks, but he likes to hear the answer just the same.
Lyle nodded, reached into his backpack and pulled out a paper sack with a can of beer inside. Keeping his drink in its sack, he popped it open. “Smart you are, not being a cop.” Once more, he scanned the area for his enemy, the police. Satisfied there were none nearby, he took a long swig and hid the can behind the bench where he sat.
Lyle’s a white guy, fifty-six years old, but he looks a lot older. He’s got this long, grey beard that he keeps squeezed together in the middle with a rubber band. I can always tell it’s Lyle from way off because he wears this bright red baseball cap. His good luck hat, he calls it. I always wondered exactly what type of good luck it had brought him, but never asked.
The first time I met Lyle, I got him talking and found out all kinds of things. Years ago, the guy used to be a business executive, but he had an accident of some kind that gave him brain damage. When he couldn’t work anymore, his wife left him. After the accident is when he became an alcoholic—bad combination, alcoholism and brain damage.
“Got a dollar I can have until tomorrow, Jeff?” Lyle asked as usual.
If I have some extra change, sometimes I’ll give it to him or one of the other homeless folks I talk to, but not that night. Of course, Lyle doesn’t pay it back, but I don’t expect him to. We’re not talking about much money here. I just don’t have it. I always hoped he used what I could give him for food and not for beer or drugs.
“Sorry, Lyle, not tonight.” For some reason, I thought I had better hold onto what little money I had on me.
“I can handle that.” Instead of pestering me, he reached around the bench for another swig of beer. After taking a long gulp, he held the can in his lap still camouflaged by the sack. The guy never sips. For him, it only takes about three long pulls to finish one of his secret beverages.
Now, how can I explain what happened next? You see, after Lyle took his gulp of beer, he, well, wasn’t Lyle anymore. I say that calmly at this minute, but believe me, I about jumped out of my skin. Instead of him sitting there, I was facing a man, probably in his mid to late twenties, dressed in a long, high-collared, dark coat with gold buttons running down the front. Around his waist I could see a white belt with a sword attached. He wore black boots and light colored pants.
A full head of dark, messed up hair merged with long sideburns that stretched almost to his lips. His face was square looking, and he had wide set eyes that seemed to glitter just like Lobo’s. They were dark, but I couldn’t tell the color.
After what I had seen back on that nasty smelling road with all the vultures, I knew without a doubt that the guy in front of me was one of the soldiers I had found there. I wanted to run away, but for some wild reason I kept looking at the guy, my head throbbing and heart pounding like crazy. I could feel the sweat start pouring out of me. My hands shook, and I felt glued to my seat. I mean, I flat could not move. The closest I had ever felt like that before was in dreams when I can’t move, or I move much too slow, just as the worst thing in the world is about to attack.
As this soldier and I stared at each other, something began happening to the guy’s coat. A red stain slowly blossomed in the middle of his chest and then erupted in a spurt of blood that shot outward and drenched his pants. More blood then gushed from the man’s mouth right as a crack appeared in the top of his head threatening to split it in half.
The plaza, my safe oasis, had turned into a house of horrors. I couldn’t take it anymore. Shaking off the paralysis, I bolted from my seat on the bench and ran across Cathedral Place ignoring honking horns and the sound of brakes locking.
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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.