Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silver Palms by K J Medico

Sci-fi and fantasy artist Nancy Yang is distracted by a mysteriously recurring jogger outside her window, by K J Medico

Nancy Yang loved science fiction and fantasy. Some believed she loved them a little too much, and Nancy agreed to some extent, but not enough to change her ways. She was positively enthralled with all things supernatural and she was fine admitting it. In fact, certain aspects of her life depended on her obsession - her successful internet business being the main aspect. Nancy's passion fueled her creativity, and her creativity filled her bank account. This life was all she had ever wanted - the ability to make a living with her art - and no amount of heckling from self-righteous senior citizens could ever derail her. Besides, at 55, Nancy believed she was approaching old age herself. She was a successful, talented and totally independent adult. As far as she was concerned, no one had the right to call her immature.

Nancy Yang had loved science fiction and fantasy for as long as she could remember, but in her childhood, getting a fix was not easy. Until age 15, she had lived in Korea where Marvel comics and Western movies were hard to come by. However, the few things she had managed to obtain, she cherished, and by age ten, Nancy began duplicating the images she so admired. Over her early teen years, she created hundreds and hundreds of drawings that rivaled the originals, and by the time she had gained enough recognition to move to America, her art began selling for thousands. Now, forty years later, Nancy spent all her time producing invaluable art for sci-fi and fantasy fans. And best of all, her only boss and her only employee were the same person: Nancy Yang.

It was easy for someone like Nancy to enjoy life, since her job required her to be at home most of the time and she was quite arguably a hermit. And today was a typical day for a hermit like Nancy Yang. She had spent the morning tucked away in her comfortable 3500-square-foot home watching X-Files with a bit of breakfast, then set up her table easel at around noon to begin painting. From her sofa, she watched a few episodes of Heroes while dabbing away at her image of Loki Laufeyson of Asgard, then decided to make herself some lunch after a few hours of work.

Nancy prepared an egg salad sandwich, switched the TV channel to Doctor Who, and sat back down on her living room sofa. She munched lazily, scrutinizing her painting as Doctor Who played in the background. Then, she randomly glanced out her window.

A jogger caught her eye. The young man was trotting at a leisurely pace down the sidewalk across the street from her house, and Nancy's first thought was that he was far too thin to be jogging. Out of boredom, Nancy watched him. He continued on his way, stopping momentarily to look down at his watch - an act which seemed to make him notice that his shoe was untied. The man knelt down directly in front of house 155, tied his shoe, stood back up, then resumed jogging. He disappeared around the corner seconds later.

Nancy looked down at her fairly puffy belly and made a face. Maybe I should take up running, she postulated, but resorted to taking another swig of her orange soda.

It was 3:15pm the next day when Nancy saw the same jogger again. Just like the day before, the sound of Doctor Who could be heard in the background as the man appeared at the far end of the street, jogging at the same pace as yesterday, wearing the same white tee-shirt and black gym shorts. Nancy watched him through her window, genuinely impressed with his clear level of commitment, then painted a few strokes of Loki's chin. However, when Nancy looked back up, she was even more surprised to see that the man had stopped on the sidewalk, looked down at his watch, then knelt to tie his shoe in the exact same spot as before, right in front of house 155. He got up and resumed jogging, then disappeared around the street corner.

Nancy glanced over at the digital clock on her wall, which had just turned 3:16pm. She was almost positive it had been right around this time yesterday when the man had run down her street before. She had seen him the first time about halfway through her 3:00pm episode of Doctor Who, same as today.

"Committed and consistent," Nancy said aloud in Korean as she continued painting, but inwardly admitted that she was much more intrigued by the man's ritualistic watch-checking and shoe-tying behavior. In that moment, Nancy made the decision to watch for him the next day, just to see if the pattern would continue.

She became less hopeful when rain began pouring from the sky at around 9:00 AM the next morning. Nancy checked the forecast online to find that heavy thunderstorms were expected until 6:30pm that day. However, for a reason that eluded her, Nancy started watching for the jogger at noon in spite of the flooded streets. Her clock showed 3:15pm on the dot when the man appeared at the end of her road again, jogging steadily down the sidewalk at his usual pace. White shirt. Black shorts. Right shoe untied. Check watch. Kneel down. Tie shoe. All done right in front of house 155. The man resumed jogging and disappeared around the corner, just as Nancy's clock turned 3:16.

Nancy was nearly floored. This guy wasn't committed. He was obsessed.

At least now I know there's someone more obsessed than me, Nancy thought, noting the man's determination to run even in horrendous weather. However, this did not explain his bizarre rituals.

Nancy continued to stare out her rain-spattered window, a bit reluctant to admit just how much the whole thing was bothering her.

He probably just has a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Nancy speculated. Why else would someone tie their shoe in the exact same spot every day?

Of course, Nancy had considered the possibility that the jogger's pattern was a just a coincidence, but believed it was more likely that he was deliberately toying with the residents of Silver Palms. Maybe he wanted to see just how long it would take for someone to notice his strange behavior, perhaps to get attention or just to get a laugh. In fact, now that Nancy thought about it, there was no other reasonable conclusion. The man looked young enough to be in his early twenties; it made sense.

Immature, Nancy remarked to herself, then moved to continue working on her Loki painting. She decided to stop watching for the jogger, to put him out of her mind for good. The whole thing was a complete waste of time.

Nancy was done putting the finishing touches on her painting within a few hours, but was genuinely surprised to find that the jogger was still on her mind at 9:00pm that night.

Maybe it's a time warp, she playfully speculated as she gathered up her paints, then chuckled to herself aloud. She thought of time machines from Back to the Future and time turners from Harry Potter. Yeah! I'm reliving the same day over and over again. That's why I keep seeing the same guy doing the same thing. But then she smiled and shook her head. A time warp couldn't explain it. The calendar had continued to change with the date. Besides, it had only rained today, and not yesterday or the day before. Everything seemed to be moving along in normal time - everything except the jogger.

But then something incredibly bothersome abruptly hit Nancy's mind.

Why didn't he get wet?

Nancy couldn't believe she hadn't noticed until this moment, but now that she thought of it, nothing about the jogger had changed at all. Nothing. Even his chin-length hair had remained completely dry as he trotted down the overflowing sidewalk, not generating a single splash and his clothes no more wet than they had been the past two days. Nancy was astonished. How could she have overlooked this? It seemed she was so used to observing the repeated identical scene of the jogger running, checking his watch, and tying his shoe, that this fairly significant nuance had evaded her. She knew the man was incredibly thin, but not thin enough to dodge raindrops...

Without another thought, Nancy left the living room and headed straight into her office. Once at her computer desk, she pulled up the Google homepage, then frantically began performing search after search. Dozens of websites flashed across her screen, but Nancy, unsatisfied, continued typing furiously, carefully phrasing and rephrasing her text in hopes of finding something, anything...

Then she stopped for a moment.

"I wonder..." Nancy said slowly before carefully typing the words: "Jogging man, missing, Silver Palms."

She hit enter, then clicked the first search result that came up on the next page: a link to an article entitled, "Justin Wagner Goes Missing While Jogging in Silver Palms."

When the article popped up on Nancy's monitor, she let out an audible gasp. This article was exactly what she had been looking for. There could be no mistake: Justin Wagner was the jogging man. A snapshot of the same young man's face was depicted at the top of the article with a caption that read, "Justin Wagner, 22." She had found him.

Beside herself with excitement, Nancy read on, quickly learning that Justin had been reported missing yesterday, May 2nd, the same day the article was written.

"It is believed that Wagner disappeared on May 1st , while jogging in Silver Springs. He was last seen wearing a white tee-shirt, white Nike running shoes and a pair of black shorts."

Every detail only made Nancy more certain that Justin Wagner and the jogging man were one in the same, and by the time she got to the bottom of the article, her heart was still pounding. Nancy sat back in her chair, thoroughly stunned.

"He was reported missing yesterday," she breathed, then slowly reached for the telephone beside her computer, "but I saw him running today."

It was already past 10:00pm, but Nancy didn't care. She dialed the number and waited for it to ring.

"Hello?" a tired voice answered after more than ten rings.

Nancy responded in a low, shaky voice. "You said I wouldn't be able to see them anymore."

"What? Who is this?"

"This is Nancy Yang," said Nancy. "Please tell me. Why can I still see them? You told me the medicine would stop me seeing spirits."

The voice on the other end was silent for a while. "What is it that you think you saw, Ms. Yang?"

Nancy's voice became slightly more frantic. "I don't think I saw. I know I saw a spirit. I've been seeing the same man for past three days. He jogs by my house every day at exact same time, doing exact same rituals. Today, he ran down the sidewalk in pouring rain!"

"Ms. Yang, that doesn't really mean -"

"But he didn't even get wet!" Nancy spluttered. "He ran down the street in pouring rain and was completely dry. How is that possible? And then, few minutes ago, I found an article that says the same man went missing two days ago in my neighborhood. At first, I searched for recent deaths, but nothing came up, so I decided to search for missing people and I found him! He wore same clothes when he disappeared and everything! Please, Ms. Simpson. Now I am certain he dead because I keep seeing his ghost. Maybe I can help the police find him."

Ms. Simpson let out an exasperated sigh. "Listen - Ms. Yang - it's not impossible that these are two different people. Besides, it's very late. If you want to schedule an appointment, I have an open slot at two-thirty tomorrow. We can talk about it then, alright?"

Nancy sighed too. She knew it was late but she wasn't completely convinced her therapist wasn't using this as an excuse to get money. After all, Ms. Simpson was infamous for charging an arm and a leg for her counseling sessions. Luckily however, this was not much of a problem for Nancy Yang.

"Okay," said Nancy. "Thank you, Ms. Simpson. I'll see you tomorrow."

Ms. Simpson hung up without saying good-bye and Nancy slept terribly for only a few hours that night.

It was still dark outside when Nancy gave up her battle with sleep and rolled out of bed. Her clock read 5:03 AM, and she was still exhausted, but she knew she wouldn't be able to get any more sleep even if she tried. Instead, she retreated to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee.

On her living room sofa, Nancy sipped at her coffee mug, wondering what she would even get out of a meeting with her therapist. It was unlikely Ms. Simpson would be willing to help resolve the mystery of Justin Wagner, but Nancy knew she had no other option but to visit the office. She had no friends, her parents had moved back to Korea years ago, and besides, getting anyone to talk seriously about apparitions was no easy task, especially with someone like Nancy, who had a notorious obsession with science fiction.

Nancy took a gulp of hot coffee and sighed. Going to her therapist was all she could do. And even if Ms. Simpson refused to write up a ghost report for the police, Nancy could at least find hope in being prescribed a new bottle of medication. At this point, she was desperate for any resolution to this bizarre and bothersome issue.

Nancy arrived at Ms. Simpson's office ten minutes early, and was immediately led back into the small, clean therapy room. She sat down in an armchair across from the white-haired Ms. Simpson, who smiled blandly and began taking notes right away.

"How are you, Ms. Yang?"

"Tired. I just want to know why my pills don't work anymore."

Ms. Simpson wrote something on her notepad, then looked back up. "Do you remember what I told you before?"

"You told me if I look for something, even if it is not there, I find it."

"That's right," said Ms. Simpson. "And those pills were for hallucinations, not delusions."

"What's the difference?'"

"A delusion is a false belief. Your brain sees a normal man but you believe he's a ghost. A hallucination is a false perception. Your brain sees a talking pig, even though nothing is there."

"But I never saw talking pig."

Ms. Simpson flipped through some of her past notes. "During your last visit, you said you saw the transparent blue ghost of a boy with no arms. That, Ms. Yang, is a hallucination. Nothing more than a figment of your imagination. Now about this jogger you saw-"

"Yes, I am sure he is a ghost. His name is Justin Wagner."

"- He is most likely a real man," Ms. Simpson went on as though Nancy hadn't spoken. "Maybe he does some strange things, but he's not a ghost."

"Can you please change my pills?" Nancy blatantly ignored her.

"I'd be happy to," said Ms. Simpson. "But changing them won't do much. It seems you've stopped having hallucinations, but as long as you believe in ghosts, you will see them. Or, rather, you will think that you are seeing them."

Nancy huffed. "But I do believe in ghosts! Because they are real! And you said the pills would make me not see them. But I still do."

"Ms. Yang," said the therapist, a look of sheer boredom tainting her features. "What if I told you that Justin Wagner is fine? What if I told you that he was found alive?"

Nancy frowned. "What? Is that true?"

Ms. Simpson paused for a moment, wrote a few notes, then looked back up at Nancy. "Yes. There was a news story on television this morning. Justin Wagner is a twenty-two year old college student. He lives with his parents. He was found sleeping in his car in the woods and explained to police that he ran away because of family drama. He was only gone for a day and was never in danger. Now, Ms. Yang, here is the prescription for your new bottle of pills. However, if you want them to work this time, I would highly suggest you limit your internet and television consumption. Too many mysteries and sci-fi programs can skew your judgment. Try to grow up a little, eh?" Ms. Simpson let out a small chuckle, but her tone of voice by no means sounded playful. It sounded downright insulting. "Now is there anything else you'd like to talk about today?"

Nancy stared at her feet, holding the prescription that Ms. Simpson had given her. "No, Ms. Simpson. I'm sorry that I wasted your time. Thank you."

Nancy rose from her armchair, left Ms. Simpson's therapy room, then paid her counseling fees at the counter. She exited the office into the parking lot, and after finding her silver Hyundai Sonata, slowly slumped into the driver's seat.

Nancy couldn't remember a time she had felt more ashamed. Ms. Simpson had been right all along. Nancy really was just a delusional crazy person. Her head was always so wrapped up in the supernatural that it had completely obstructed her ability to use objective logic. Justin Wagner wasn't a ghost. He was alive. And now Nancy wasn't even sure how much her mind had been playing with her. Now that she thought about it, it was completely possible that Justin had never done all those weird rituals in the first place. His hair probably had been wet that day he jogged through the rain, or perhaps he hadn't even been there at all that day. Nancy had had hallucinations before. Maybe she was just seeing things. In any case, Nancy knew she would be taking Ms. Simpson's advice. No television or internet for a while. In fact, it was probably a good idea for Nancy to refrain from even looking out her window. If she saw another jogger, she might assume he was a ghost.

Nancy turned on her car and slowly pulled out of the office driveway. Her prescription for the new pills sat in the passenger seat, but Nancy had started to feel the effects of a terrible night's sleep and wanted nothing more than to go straight home and pour herself into bed. Besides, Nancy wasn't sure she even wanted a new prescription anyway. Ms. Simpson had told her there would be no difference, and Nancy had already taken her old pill earlier that day. She wouldn't likely be having any more hallucinations, and as long as she kept her imagination under control, she wouldn't be having delusions either.

The clock in Nancy's car read 3:14 just as she pulled into Silver Palms. When she reached her street, the first thing she saw was Justin Wagner jogging down the sidewalk.

Still at it, she thought to herself and gave a weak smile. But then she realized his right shoe was untied. Nancy's heart sank at the sight of it, and suddenly, all her past fear came rushing back. She knew she had to set herself straight. She knew she had to prove to herself once and for all that she was dealing with a prankster or an OCD sufferer, not some jogging specter. Now was her chance.

"Justin! Hey Justin!" Nancy had rolled down her window and pulled up next to the jogger, moving slowly along beside him at his steady pace. "Kid! Your name is Justin, right?"

But the man did not respond. Nancy couldn't have been more than a few feet from Justin's ear, but he gave no signal that he had heard her at all.

"Kid!" Nancy yelled at the top of her lungs, and suddenly, Justin stopped.

For one shining moment, Nancy felt a surge of relief, but was just as quickly made to feel like a fool when Justin looked down at his watch, knelt to tie his shoe directly in front of house 155, then rose to resume jogging.

Nancy frowned, but continued to ride along beside him. Could he possibly have been deaf? No, that wouldn't make sense. The fact that she was following him was obvious. Anyone with peripheral vision could have easily seen Nancy's car only a few feet away.

Suddenly Nancy noticed a woman on the sidewalk at the far corner of the street. She was walking towards them with a pug on a leash, and smiled kindly when Nancy spotted her. Nancy sped up towards her, leaving Justin behind.

"Afternoon!" said the woman when Nancy had reached her.

"Ma'am, do you see this man coming towards you?"

The woman stopped and looked around. "On the sidewalk?"

"Yes," said Nancy. "There is a man jogging towards you. Do you see him?"

By the time the words had left Nancy's lips, Justin had reached the woman on the sidewalk. As though his body were made of smoke, he passed straight through her, leaving nothing behind and turning the corner just as Nancy's clock showed 3:16pm.

"I'm sorry," said the woman. "What man?"

Nancy stared, her mouth open slightly, and feeling as though her face must have been a light green color. She continued to watch the woman with twitching eyes as the pug barked uncontrollably in the direction of Justin.

"N-never mind," said Nancy. "Sorry to bother you."

Nancy left the woman looking completely bewildered, then turned her car around, hands shaking and sweaty. She reached her driveway and parked, then clumsily exited the car.

It's just a hallucination, Nancy told herself as she walked down to the end of her driveway to check her mailbox. I just need my new pills. I'll refill my prescription tomorrow and I'll never see Justin again.

But before Nancy reached her mailbox, she noticed the newspaper lying on the ground near her trashcan. A small article in the top corner caught her eye. It showed a picture of a young man's face...

Nancy walked over to the newspaper and picked it up.

Justin Wagner found dead last night
May 4, 2009 - Claudia Shepherd

The twenty-two-year-old man had been missing for two days before his body was discovered in his home last night. Investigators launched his missing persons case the day after Wagner was reported missing. He is believed to have died on the evening of May 1st from starvation and exhaustion. Experts say an eating disorder coupled with an exercise obsession is to blame. "It's a shame no one was there to save him from himself," said lead investigator, Molly Truffle. "He was living an unhealthy lifestyle but no one could see it because he lived alone."

Nancy reached the bottom of the article, dropped it on the ground and stared off into space for a whole minute before beginning to dig through her messenger bag that was slung over her shoulder. When she found the bottle of pills at the bottom of her bag, she opened the lid of the trashcan and tossed them inside.

7 comments:

  1. Awesome story, but I want to know what happens to Nancy next!

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  2. I'm officially requesting more stories about Nancy Yang.

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  3. I would like to SLAP Ms. Simpson. I have a friend with a therapist just like her. She has caused a lot of damage. Interesting tale...

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  4. I like the symbolism here: the author seems to claim that, in favor of making money and avoiding change in creative thinking, society has a repression of unusual talents. The therapist was utterly uninterested in Nancy and told her a blatant lie just to get her to accept the pills that would shut her up. Only when we believe in our own thoughts and accept that everyone has a different way to approach situations and that creativity should be embraced, can we reject the pills like Nancy did.

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  5. An interesting story that kept my attention right to the end.

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  6. This was a riviting story by an accomplished author! I can't wait for the next story -- please hurry!

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  7. I, like my fellow readers, express the desire to see more stories about Nancy Yang!
    Maybe in the next one she goes vigilante and solves a murder case by herself?

    Ziyad Hayatli

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