Tom, an Invisible Man
by Travis A. Moore
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
The little boy rushes across the street and examines the old man closely and patiently, poking him in that mushy goo below the coffee stains on his white undershirt. He sips at his red soda and observes, and when he sees the man’s left knee, he is sure that this is the right one. The little boy rushes off into the cover of the night to do his work.
Tom has a one-of-a-kind scar on his left knee that nobody knows about. It’s in the shape of a smiley face although he remembers it hurting like hell the day he fell off his bike and crashed into the tree stump that cut right through his blue overalls and left its permanent irony on him.
That scar has been his little secret that he laughs at every so often whenever he sees that smiley face. The little boy who just vanished down the street has the exact same scar, although his has a reddish freshness to it and a frayed opening in his blue overalls.
A one-hour timer starts to countdown on the traffic light above Tom. He continues to lean against the pole like an exhibit in an open museum. The events that take place in this next hour have detoured from reality and seem to have sidestepped into the realm of complete mystery.
This impossible situation is the product of a nightmare, a simple insignificant nightmare whose essence escaped Tom’s conscious mind shortly after he woke up a week ago. However, a residual fear has echoed in his subconscious this whole week. This prompted him to go for a walk when in all other circumstances he would have been spread-eagled on the couch with his hand shoulder-deep in a bag of greasy potato chips while a barren expression rippled across the surface of his sweaty face. This detour from all things normal will exist for one hour and not a second longer. That’s all he gets.
His nightmare was strange and unusually grotesque. It started out with him on a black sand beach. Tears of dark red blood dripped from the sky. Large gray waves crashed silently on the shore. It’s as if he was deaf in the dream and could only hear the screaming inside his own head.
A giant mouth of black sand came up from the ground and soon stood to a hundred feet above him. Washed up, jagged seashells acted as its thousands of functioning teeth and small animals lay punctured on some of these. Horror’s poison seized his entire body as if he were a cold slab of flesh covered from head to toe in acupuncture needles of unbearable fear.
When the fear in his nightmare was at an unbearable summit another image moved into his vision and quickly rescued him. It was like a mirage. It seemed impossibly far away at first and then it was extremely close. It was almost reachable.
It was a boy on a beautiful island. Giant palm trees and friendly animals were playing everywhere. The surrounding water was clear and changed colors. A peaceful song emerged from high up in its trees.
Tom screamed out to the boy. He pleaded with all his energy for him to listen to him. Nothing happened. He reached towards him but was a fingertip away, might as well have been miles. Finally, Tom wrote something down on a piece of paper and folded it into an airplane. He threw it with everything he could possibly muster towards the island, feeling his spoken words to be silent and unacknowledged.
The plane shot high up in the air and then came crashing down on the peaceful island, landing like a dart. It appeared that the boy noticed it. Tom thought he saw him pick it up and put in his blue overall pocket. He wasn’t quite sure though because things got thick and hazy after the paper plane landed.
Tom was hopeful that his message made it across, but then something black and sticky wrapped around his waist and squeezed the life from his bones. He was being pulled into the giant sand mouth by what looked to be a mile-long tongue of black licorice. He stared up at those horrific, jagged teeth right before he was swallowed.
The sheer horror in this moment woke him up. He teetered back and forth on his sweaty mattress for a while and then eventually made it back to sleep, although every light in his apartment was now turned on. He forgot about the whole thing the next day and just went about his business.
The little boy in the blue overalls is still running through the neighborhood. He finally makes it to an old house. It’s the same house that Tom grew up in, the house where he and his whole family lived for years until the rent increased to a point that was unbearable for his working-class parents.
The little boy jumps the white wood fence and lands in the backyard. A fresh splinter sticks out of his leg as he rolls through the dirt. He rushes over to the orange tree and hopes that what he lost is still there.
He digs and digs through the ground in a violent fury with his bare hands, disregarding any slimy bugs creeping out of the upturned dirt. He is determined and nothing can stop him. He digs so deep that his whole head is inside the dirt but he finally grabs it. It is still there!
He puts the item in his pocket and races like the wind back to the frozen man. He practically flies over the white fence, with a sweaty face covered in fresh dirt, and runs at a speed that causes smoke to rise from under his shoes. Small dirt clods from the cuffs at the bottom of his overalls litter the street as he makes his way back to the traffic light. He finally makes it.
Tom is still frozen, but only for ten more seconds. The little boy drops the item in the old man’s orange pocket and disappears into the strange, quiet night.
Tom wakes up. He feels a bit odd. The sun is close to rising and he can’t understand how fast time has seemed to move as he waited for the light to change. The light changes to green but he decides to head back home instead. He could have sworn that it was earlier. He skips the cup of coffee. The red neon sign in the shop window is starting to lose its flickering allure, contrasted to the emerging glowing blur of the waking sun.
Tom suddenly feels tired. He turns around and heads back to his apartment. A sense of the surreal overtakes his senses as he makes his way back home. He feels a little bit different. He suddenly has a few childhood memories that shock him for the simple fact that he just remembered them.
A wave of excitement crashes over him, stripping him of a thick coating of numbness as it recedes back out into space. Tom knows that something is different; something has changed. He hasn’t felt this way before. He can’t believe it and he dare not say it but he feels lucky.
The sun is just about completely up by the time he makes it home. He heads to the bathroom and decides to take a shower. He hangs his orange shorts up on the door. The cold water runs over his head like a soothing fountain. He’s tired from walking but feels surprisingly good.
Tom leans against the shower wall with his eyes closed. The water bounces off his head like raindrops and he listens to each one as it splashes below him, spreading out into a peaceful ripple at his feet. Just then, at that precise moment, he recalls a piece of the nightmare that he had a week ago.
He rips the shower curtain back violently with his eyes still closed. Some time elapses before he finally brings himself to open them. A silver coin falls from his orange pocket. The ding sound it makes on the hard floor seems to last forever. It rolls towards the tub and then finally circles to a stop.
He bends down slowly in the tub, leaning over to grab the coin. He submerges it in the water to get the dirt off. Tom recognizes it right away. He stays there on his knees and marvels at what he’s holding. The shower water rains down on him. The silver coin in stunning and sparkles inside his hand as the waterfall washes over it. His mouth is stretched as far open as possible while his bulging eyes examine the situation in awe. He whispers out loud, “How can this be possible?”
Tom suddenly remembers the little boy in his nightmare. He then remembers glimpsing another little boy for a split second on the opposite side of the street while he waited for the traffic light to change. He is overcome with an odd feeling that the boy in his nightmare and the boy on the corner are the same person. Tom can’t help but feel a strange connection to this mysterious little person in the blue overalls.
Time froze on this particular occasion for a desperate man, a man in need of some help from the most unlikely of characters, from himself. The boy was summoned from the past, though a nightmare and into the present. The boy was Tom.
Tom asked for the coin in the paper airplane he threw because he was so terrified in the nightmare. It was the only thing he thought of to request that might save him, the only thing that ever worked for him. One can never tell what might happen after certain nightmares. A thread of hope begins to spread throughout his body like a creeping vine.
The lucky silver dollar was a gift from his grandfather. It was made in the same year that Tom was born. He was told as a young boy by the old man, “Keep this with you at all times as a reminder to always trust your heart.”
His grandfather then dropped it in a big pocket across his chest. When Tom started to worry about things he would just take the coin out and look at it. Those wise words of his grandfather seemed to always echo, as if recorded into that pristine silver, whenever he needed to hear them. He carried it with him everywhere as a kid and used to make wishes while he held it tightly in his hands.
He had incredible luck with it and met his first girlfriend while it was in his pocket. He would brag to his friends, “Hey, that’s the year I was born.” It gave him courage. He lost it in the backyard one day while he was helping plant a small orange tree.
The tub starts to overflow with water. Tom just sits there on his knees with the coin once again in his grip, those wise words ringing in the air once more. A spell has been lifted. A man who had detoured onto a path other than his own so long ago was now back on track. A silver compass would lead him once again into the luckiest of situations.
Copyright © 2008 by Travis A. Moore