A Man Named Jack

June 16, 2008
By Leon Hermsen, Valrico, FL

I never saw where he came from. Appearing like a shadow in the sun, without a sound and from nowhere. I was falling away, tottering on the edge of the worlds. Lost in a deep dream of another time when life wasn’t so mutilated and lonely, and awakened to find a young man dressed in a gentle, murderous black suit standing front of my secluded peaked house on the outskirts of the small town of New Heaven.
“Are you still with the living old man?” he asked, tearing me from my dreams. His voice, there was something strangely soothing about it, yet something haunting as well. It seemed to flow directly through me as if it was a knife. I stirred.
“For the moment, too stubborn and senile to cross over just yet” I answered, an old, wise smile appearing on my weathered, wrinkled face. I leaned back in my rocker, slowly raising my head from my chest and opened my weary eyes to look upon my newly found, and unexpected as many would probably consider, guest. It hurt to even move an eyelash most of the time in my withered, ancient state but I managed

“I see that now but time robs of us all eventually” he spoke softly with a casual, cryptic nature. He was a peculiar man, dressing in such dark clothing in such hot weather, the sun high in the bright sky above and scorching the earth below, but he didn’t seem to have a single bead of sweat on him. He also seemed to have a vindicated composure about him and something about the air around him was wrong… Unnatural and cold but strangely contained, I couldn’t explain it and I would only disregard it.

“Ay, this is true. It took my wife and it will day one day for me…” I unknowingly droned off, although I accepted Jessica’s death it still pains me to think of her now gone and far away from me but also gives me an enrapturing happiness to remember when she was still with me. ” Oh, excuse me. I’ve grown rude in my old age or maybe just too senile to remember to introduce myself. My name is John, time hasn’t robbed me of that just yet” I had a strange feeling that he knew it already. I think he knew it already, actually I think he knew much more then that about me. I offered him my hand in a kind gesture.

He hesitated for a moment, only blankly, but measuredly staring down at the hand as if it was some foreign creature he has never encountered before then simply smile, the smile on its surface seemed kind but somehow artificial, and grasped my hand in his own.

“It is quite alright. I’ve encountered much worse in my kind of work, you may call me Jack” His hand was cold, numbing even, it filled me with an unknown dejection along with the aching arthritis.
“Jack does not fit you” I said honestly. No name seemed to fit this man.
He only looked at me, met my eyes for the first time, smiled and replied casually” Yes but it will suffice for the occasion.” His eyes… they were strangely handsome, empty, and dark and filled with pretenses and forlomly but it was more than that. They were tantalizing, almost mesmerizing but they seemed dangerous under their beauty. They seemed to burn a hole straight through me but I found myself drawn to them, almost compelled to stare endlessly into the misgiving emptiness of them. Looking into this man’s eyes was like watching your best friend’s smile fade away into an abyss of vast nothingness. They say the eyes reflected the owner, if so what could be said about this man. He withdrew his hand, breaking me from my trance and returning the life back in me.

Upon this he moved closer to me and gestured toward the vacant rocker beside me, he moved with a distinct of a man without a care in the world but still strong sense of purpose and importance.
“May I sit?” he asked politely.
“That was my wife’s rocker…” I paused, reminiscing for a moment of a time when Jessica sat beside me just watching the sky give its last breaths of the day together and a smile replaced the mourning I had “But I’m sure she wouldn’t mind too much if you did.”

Jack sat, “I’m sorry for your loss” it sounded sincere, sounded as if he had much practice in saying it.

“It’s quite alright Jack” seemed unnatural so use his name “She was a lovely woman and she went peacefully. Just as I hope I do… Maybe one day I will meet her again one day but --”

He immediately asked “Have you lived a good life?” I only looked at him, silent, for a minute. Perhaps I had to think about it.
“Yes I believe I have” I answered honestly.

“Then you will, I can promise you that if you really have” he said, without even a hint of doubt in his voice.
“Do you really think so?” I asked, although I already knew his answer. The certainty in his voice guaranteed it but still I wanted to ask, for some reason I wanted to know what he thought about it.
“I more than think” he paused, eerily staring at me that disturbed me before saying “I know” he was certain of it, so certain…
“Religious man?” I felt compelled to ask.

Jack threw his head back and laughed a soft, maniacal laughter that sent chills down my spine, before answering “You could say that.” It explained his eccentric manner.
“Is that what brings you out here?” I inquired casually, having found a chance to ask.
“No” he said simply without hesitation.
“Then what does?” curiosity getting the better of me.
“Business” Jack said calmly.
He hesitated only for a second, to think maybe, then he smiled and answered with” I apologies, I don’t normally get a chance to talk about my trade. I deal with people. I’m an entrepreneur of sorts”
“Fair enough” satisfied with his answer enough to end the interrogation.

The conversation faded and silence swiftly replaced it. The man named Jack strayed his attention away to observe the beauty of the landscape, or what was left of it. Jack absorbed every minute detail of his surroundings. To the birds hatching in a nest off in the distance to the flattened possum in the middle far up the road. Everything, as if he never got out to enjoy it. If only he got to see it in its prime, back when the valley had breath to it before it became the dying wasteland with a few trees for decoration and a goddamn road.

The silence grew eerie, disturbing even. Perhaps it was just the nature of silence. The madness brought about from the deafening sounds of nothing for a long period of time can be unbearable. Although, since Jessica’s passing and the days of solidarity and quiet began I was forced to accept them and I thought I had. Then again, it could just be him. The abnormality of this man to be among the living maybe, or could just be an old man paranoid.
The seemingly dead silence had to be broken. It had become almost unbearably awkward. I opened my mouth to break it then he spoke
“It appears that my business will take longer then estimated. Would you mind if I stay awhile longer?”

It was a strange request and I convinced myself there was nothing “eerie” about this man named Jack or perhaps I was just too lonely to acknowledge it.
“Of course, I wouldn’t mind the company it’ll be a nice change from the lonely nights by myself since my wife’s passing” I didn’t realize it but my voice died towards the end…

It went quiet and we just simply sat there for a moment, staring out upon the horizon before leaving it. He went into the house, me sluggishly moving behind my guest. Joints aching and burning until I found the relief of an armchair in the corner of the cabin that have been the only comfort for many wanting from it all in their later years. The house felt surprisingly cold today for some reason, dark also and plaintively in an obtrusively manner.

Jack stood in the middle of the dark house. I watched him as he explored my home with those black, empty eyes, again studying almost every detail. Every crack, every spider web, every speck of dust, everything.
“Can you get the light? I asked Jack, pointing a frail arthritis ridden hand towards the lantern in the opposing corner by the fireplace. The lantern was my last light now, whenever my arthritis wasn’t flaring for me to light a match. I was start a fire but I’ve been unable to find the energy to start one, or maybe it was just I didn’t want to be sitting alone beside the warmth without her here to enjoy it with me. I dwelled in a past memory of a time long ago when I use to sit beside Jessica, sharing the warmth of the fire and holding each other.
“Of course” nodding and smiling cogently, yet phony.

He moved across the floor almost like a phantom in the night. His graceful hand slide against the rusty stove top as he walked past it. My mind jumped to Jessica slaving over it to make the heavenly meals that I was blessed enough to eat every night, she was always smiling. I can’t remember if that’s how she always looked or just how I remember her but I honestly think it doesn’t matter now.

I watched as his nimble fingers found the matches beside the lantern and lit a single match. He stared into the flame, relishing and respecting it. I could see that fire reflecting in his black eyes and it filled me with a compelling fear to those deep empty eyes spark with murderous flame. Jack lit the lantern. The light cast his shadow upon the wall behind him. His shadow stalked him as he moved towards a portrait on the wall. It was a picture of me and Jessica’s wedding day.
“You have a nice place here” he said despite the obvious contradiction to his statement, I staring into the photo.
“Thank you, you’re too kind” I replied, watching him warily. It was not a matter of trust but the importance of the item.
“Is this your wife?” he asked innocently enough, plucking the photo from the wall and gawking down at it.
“Yes… That’s my Jessica” I answered dreamingly, smiling my aged wise smile. Jubilance to be reminded of that day “ That was the greatest day of my life” I added honestly, a slight exasperated emotion building from seeing him handling it in what seemed like a careless manner in comparison to the delicate measuredly manner I take when holding it.

He sensed this and walked up to me to pass it off to me. I stared longingly down at a strong young man dressed in a nice, black, traditional suit and a gorgeous, stunning woman with long luscious blonde hair and bright joyous blue eyes wearing a pure white dress in a field of white cherry blossoms.”Jessica…” I paused, a vivid picture of her in that dress appearing in my head and I smiled “I remember I was so nervous that day. So afraid that I was going to mess up and do something stupid and she would leave me or something and then— you probably don’t want to hear this I‘m sorry“ I quickly said, realizing how I’ve longed to talk to someone.
“No it’s alright, go on. It’s good to reminisce of the happy memories before their time is up” Jack quickly said, meaning his words so well it as almost creepy.
“Well then,” I continued” I stood waiting there, it felt like I was waiting for an eternity and I probably would for her. Waiting was the worst part of any wedding, it gave ya time to think. It gave ya time for your mind to wonder, assume and dwell” I was getting into now, an old man telling a story of old times and life lessons. How cliché, I smiled “ My mind wondered just like every grooms did, fearing she wasn’t going to show up and leave me waiting for eternity for her to show up. Then I saw her… Upon the horizon, walking up the slope of the field through a fog of cherry blossoms with banquet of flowers and smiling. Her smile was breathtaking, her hair was radiating with her beauty as it flowed in the wind, her angelic blue eyes filled me and the moment I saw her I knew… I knew that everything was going to be fine, better then fine, perfect and I vowed that I would stay with her as long as long as I can in this world and promised that I would join her in the next” I was lost in the memory now. So deep into it, it was almost like I was reliving it “When I kissed her, my life became bliss and I spent every day with her in what could only be described as perfect harmony until…” I paused, the memory going sour and I gripped my picture for comfort but continued, the enthusiasm quickly draining “Until she left me… I sat beside her bed side, holding her hand tightly in mine, telling her that everything was going to be alright you just had to hold on.” My tone now dry and tears in my eyes now “Then she left me and every day after that has been a lonely one. Just counting the days until…’ I looked up from my salvation and at Jack, he listened diligently to every word but remained emotionless. “I’ve lived a good, long life, I pray and hope I have because I know she did and and… I’m sorry I haven’t had anyone to talk, really talk to for a long time and I just felt like talking.”

He nodded.” It’s alright. I understand it more than you might think” That eerie sincerity rising again in his voice.
“Thank you” I paused “ For listening and all, not too many would do that. Despite the way I say, I’ve accepted her death and accepted that one day I will too. Whether we meet again, well, that’s out of my hands”
“ What if I could say you could” the air suddenly changing in the room. The already cold room becoming chilling, numbing even. Also, his shadow began to change shape into something else.
“What do you mean?” I asked, my heart beat suddenly beginning to rise rapidly and my hand now groping at my chest while my other started gripping the photo tighter.

His shadow now grew to something massive and terrifying, Jack himself only stood there staring at me with those piecing black eyes that I refused to look at, fearing what they might now hold in them. Death.

Then he began to step forward, my heart raced faster every step he took closer to me and at one point I thought it was going to burst from my chest. I pressed he photo hard against my chest now, the glass breaking and cracking slowly.
“Look into my eyes” he said casually, maliciously.

I couldn’t speak, the breath seem to have been stolen out of me, but I began to shake my head wildly and looking down at the ground, trying absolutely to avoid his eyes. Pain and fear overtook me, my heart thumping harder every moment, every step. I squeezed the portrait tightly enough to cause the glass to shatter debris from a once so happy memory onto my lap and piercing into my chest causing small droplets of blood to appear on my shirt.

His shadow now was more than just a shadow, it stood menacingly and giant behind him with a petrifying grin. It had a smile, more than that even. Eyes too, a pair of sinister black eyes seemed to burn into me. Too afraid to look up, I only shock my head and gawking at the floor, sweat dripping from me and my heart beating hard enough to echo throughout the cabin.
“Look into my eyes” he repeated, now standing in front of me, his shadow now appearing to be armed with a scythe and raising it ready to strike.
“No… No, please just go away” my voice rasped and frantic now. Then he said something that shock me from my panic
“If you want to see your wife again” I reacted to this, to the inhuman certainty in his voice “Look into my eyes.”

The overwhelming fear was still there but it didn’t stop me, I slowly began to look up. My tear filled, hurt eyes met his deep piercing eyes and and—they were beautiful. What was once filled with darkness and malice now seemed bright and magical. I was hypnotized by their misleading beauties and lost within them, consumed forever by his overwhelming gaze.

The shadow smirked and brought down the scythe with one swift executing movement. A gust of wind sliced through the entire house, blowing out the lantern and engulfing the room in formidable darkness… I was alone too, the man named Jack was gone… I felt strange, no pains, no aches, no arthritis. It was strange, light wasn’t shinning through the windows.. The house was completely swallowed by the unknown darkness and I was alone… For a moment, I just sat there in the darkness alone and then, there came a light from the linings of the door. I watched from a distance for a moment then I got up, no piercing pains into my hips, no searing burns in my legs. I took a step and walked slowly to the door my hand reached out while still gripping the broken photo in my hand.

When I got to the door, I hesitated for a moment, only cautiously looking down at the enlightened glow emitting from the door. I grasped the door knob and slowly turning it then I with one mighty push shoved the door open.

The light poured through, enlightening the cabin. I turned away from the blinding light, throwing my hands up in an attempt to protect my eyes and that’s when I saw it… My body still, breathless, peaceful sitting in the armchair with the portrait of all the happiness left in his life gripped in my hands. I saw this then smiled and stepped into the light, allowing myself to be consumed by it.

The powerful light seemed to pull me, taking me somewhere. Then suddenly, I was standing in a bright field full of cherry blossoms and I was young again, dressed in the same suit I wore many many years ago and I was standing in the same field me and Jessica were married in. I realized it and spun around with young enthusiasm that I lost many years ago. It was just like that day, Jessica was running late but I knew, I knew that at any moment she was going to was going to show up and I was more than willingly to wait just like that day, wait for an eternity if I had to. There I stood under a scorching sun, watching, waiting,…

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