City Mural

An urban horror story by /BecauseISaidSoToo

City Mural

by /BecauseISaidSoToo AKA Daniel Charles Wild

This is one of the many wild tales included in his brand new short story collection, ‘Stories For Imaginary Friends’.

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Other TTTV stories by Daniel Charles Wild:

* Original Story Post


I have a strange relationship with the city I live in. I moved here about 15 years ago and still don’t really feel as though I’m a part of it. I honestly don’t feel like I’m a part of anything. That probably means I’m the problem.

I’ve got problems. Sometimes, usually late in the night, I feel a restlessness, perhaps it’s anxiety, squeezing me. It flickers at the edges of my thoughts, a growing unease, a mounting despair. It’s a terrible feeling and when I get it, I have to do something, I have to escape it. So I walk around the city I live in; the city I am in, but not a part of.

I walk the empty streets, accompanied by my distorted reflection pacing me in the darkened shop windows. Sometimes I see the occasional cars sliding through the night, like sharks with glass stomachs. Inside them, I can see the ghastly faces of their prey, under-lit by dashboard lights, peering out.

Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I see other night walkers too. I don’t know their names, but we recognize each other. Perhaps we are fleeing a common enemy – ourselves. There is a heavyset woman with wild gray hair, an older man with a cane who walks with a limp, and a black man with a harshly lined face and missing teeth. We are figures all familiar to each other, but strangers to ourselves. All shambling to our own unknown destinations. We acknowledge each other with furtive sidelong glances, then our eyes, and we, slide away – going in our own directions and into our own darkness.

I am harmless I think. But my shoulders are wide, my hair and beard are unkept, and my eyes are black, and naturally squint. In the darkness, vibrating with the emotions that drove me out into the night, I seem to repel eye contact. Those I see, look away from me, walk faster, and even cross the street to get away. It perplexes me, but I am at the same time weirdly grateful. When I walk at night, I want to walk alone in an empty city. Other people I see, people seemingly as lost as I, are an imposition to my solitude. They remind me of myself, the person I’m trying to get away from. I don’t want them there, or at least I don’t think I do.

The city I live in is a college town and on the weekends, the downtown area is filled with people sitting outside of the bars, chatting, laughing, and drinking. To me, they all seem beautiful and interchangeable. They seem like the lifeblood of the city, and there is an open seating area – situated between a handful of restaurants and bars, that in my mind seems like the very heart of the city. The people there make it beautiful, and recently the city decided to beautify it further by commissioning a local artist to paint a mural on one of the walls facing the open seating area.

The artist is a local one – a skinny tattooed girl with huge eyes and pageboy bangs. I know her socially, we nod, smile, and wave in passing. I admire her industriousness, her work, and her mural.

Late at night, when the square is empty, I walk past the mural. It’s a cartoon collage of iconic things in the city. Buildings, a bridge, a local statue, and in one corner – four silhouettes sitting around a table – obviously they are a representation of the open area that the mural faces.

Originally, it was four outlined figures, but last week I saw that one of the figures was filled in. It was a painting of the wild haired woman that I’d so often seen walking late at night. Her hair was combed, and she was captured in the act of laughing – her head tossed back and one hand raised as if to cover her partially open mouth. I had stood by the mural, admiring the artist’s work. Perhaps she knew the woman that I had seen so often in passing. It was a fantastic portrait – much more detailed then the rest of the painting. I had tentatively touched the wall – the woman’s cheek. Under the bright colors I could feel the pitted texture of the brick. The paint had felt dry, smooth, and oddly warm beneath my fingers – and then I felt something twitch and give way beneath my palm. I had yanked my hand back, shaking it as though I’d been burned, and I stepped away from the painting – my palm and scalp still tingling. The woman in the painting laughed on silently, seemingly looking at me out of the corner of her partially closed eyes.

Four nights ago I was driven out into the night again by the feeling and I once more walked the dark and now emptier streets. I did not see the wild-haired woman, nor did I see the old man with the cane and the limp. But I did see that another figure had been filled-out in the mural. It was the old man in profile. He was sitting at the other side of the table, frozen in the act of pointing at the laughing woman. His cane wasn’t in the painting. Perhaps he no longer needs it. Between the two of them sat the remaining empty shadows – two blank human shapes. The old man seems to be saying something – beneath his large hooked nose his lips are caught in the act of shaping some unknown word. He actually looks as though he’s blowing an open mouth kiss at the laughing woman. Perhaps he is. I admired the mural and the additional detail of the familiar old man, but I admired it from a distance. I felt no desire to approach it. I did not want to touch it.

Last night, alone in my home, I had again felt the feeling, the unease and desperation that calls me out into the night. The streets were dark and completely empty now and although it was a hot night, or more accurately a hot early morning, I had felt my body break-out into a cold sweat as my feet, seemingly of their own volition, had carried me towards the mural. I didn’t want to go. I went.

I had stood a safe distance back from the mural and I saw what I expected to see. Three figures now, filled out in bright colors and amazing detail. The third figure, and latest addition, is the black man with the missing teeth and lined face. In the painting he’s smiling widely and his smile is perfect. The familiar lines around his mouth and eyes form deep creases – but the formally harsh natural lines have somehow been softened by the artist’s skill into something nearly beautiful. In the painting he’s holding up a drink loosely in one hand as though making a toast, and the other hand is held up, palm out, and fingers splayed, as if waving to the viewer – as if waving to me.

Between him and the woman, sits the sole remaining dark and empty silhouette. The outline of the remaining figure seems to be in the shape of a man with messy hair, a beard, and wide shoulders. It is still just a dark empty shape – but it is surrounded by its colorfully painted friends. Friends frozen in the act of laughing, talking, waving, and waiting.

In the dim lighting and to my tired eyes the dark figure seems like both a hole in the wall and a detached and separate shape floating in front of the mural. As I stared at it, it seemed to flicker and move. I had rubbed my eyes, backed away slowly, and I spun on my heel and went home. I told myself I didn’t hear anything moving behind me. And as I walked home I told myself that the dark shape flickering in my peripheral vision was my shadow. But as I walked, it seemed that I felt the mural, or something else, lightly, insistently, plucking at my hair and clothes, pulling at me, calling me back. I told myself it was my imagination. I almost believed it.

Tonight, when the city sleeps and the feeling comes, I will be ready. I will return, one more time, to the mural, its familiar faces, and the waiting table.

I think that I will stay there.

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