Episode on South Street


NEWS: In early October 2004 the film adaptation of this story "Episode on South Street" will premier in Erie, PA during the Great Lakes Horror/Suspense Film Festival. Co-producers Adam Fish and Matthew W. Detisch of DF Productions are thrilled about the project. For more information visit www.dfproduction.com


It was close to ten o'clock when the thought first struck me: Something terrible is going to happen tonight, and the dread surged through me. I was painting in my studio late that night with two deadlines to meet and I didn't have time to work myself through another episode. No doubt the deadlines set it off.

"This is ridiculous," I told myself. "Nothing is going to happen; think about something else." But the muscles in my face were taut and my ears were hot and I couldn't think of anything else. As if a cloud suddenly hid the face of the sun, the room seemed sunk in shadow and with it, my mood darkened as well and though my movements were now lethargic and leaden, my mind raced wildly to catch hold of the terror producing thought as if it were some kind of secret knowledge.

I wonder what terrible thing is going to happen? was my next thought and in seeing the red paint on my paintbrush I knew intuitively. Something dreadful and bloody was going to happen. I took a deep breath, counted to ten slowly and tried to relax.

My mind raced on. Why are you just sitting here when someone could be out there being killed?

I'm standing in the middle of the room now, trying to decide whether I need a jacket or not. After checking the clock, I grab my leather and head out the hall to the fire escape, the quickest way down to the alley to South Street, the main strip.

It was a Friday night and a full moon; South Street is jammed with people and I'm scared.

I look at the crowds - punks, yuppies, jocks, freaks, Philly rednecks - and flee back down the alley. As I walk between the buildings a young fat teen, who is being chased by several leaner and tougher looking boys, runs smack into me. As he does so, he looks straight up into my eyes and I see down inside his soul, and I see his terror. At the same moment, he sees into my own soul, and sees a terror more terrible still... the terror of nightmares come alive, of irrational demons that compel a man to madness, to participate in terror, to be an agent of terror.

As this young kid falls backwards away from me, I wish that it were only a beating by thugs that I needed to be afraid of. I would welcome such a beating.

Instead, I am driven forward on my mission of rescue. Something dreadful is going to happen and it may be that only I can stop it.

I remember that I had forgotten to wash out my paint brush and try to return to my loft, but when I reach the staircase, I am urged to hurry back to the street. Someone is being killed. Are you going to waste time washing out brushes while someone is dying? And with the thought comes pain. It's more than I can bear. I must do something. I must act. I must save. And I am running back to South Street.

As I round the corner I am immersed in the great swarm of people flooding the sidewalks and I am fighting my way through it.

You are really acting crazy tonight I think to myself and I feel comforted by the kernel of truth in this observation. Using all my will power I manage to halt my progress through the stream of humanity and lean back against the front wall of a restaurant.

Across the street two mounted policemen are looking in my direction and all kinds of feelings erupt. First, I feel beside myself with a need to run and tell them that there is going to be a murder if something isn't done to stop it. At the same time, I fear that in my distress--along with my knowledge of this terrible thing I am trying to prevent--I will become a suspect in the crime. Next I fear that I am already acting suspicious and that the police have noticed me, that I can't give a rational account of my behavior and I have no alibi, having been alone in my studio. Most of all, I am scared.

I step away from the building and turn to my left, to return to my studio, but then the fearful thought comes again: I am abandoning a fellow human, leaving him to die. Only this time, I see an image with the thought, a large, wide knife, flashing through the air in a dark, crowded room - a bar? where? - and my fear begins to make sense. But it's such a horrible thing, worse than a murder... a madman with a knife in a crowded room.

Now I am walking up the sidewalk again trying to see more clearly this glimpse of vision, to replay it in my head. The knife: it's a deli knife. The deli! Something terrible is going to happen there. I don't know if I can handle it.

I'm running now, pushing people out of my way. It's only two, maybe three blocks up the street, and I am running hard.

I can hear people shouting at me, "Hey, watch it!" and "Are you crazy, man!" as I push past them, though some people move out of my way. clearing a path for me. My heart is beating wild and my breathing is labored when I get to the front of the deli.

·

I don't know when my episodes first started, though I do know they became more pronounced after my father's death. My father had jumped from a hotel balcony while on a business trip to Seattle. People were shocked because he had always seemed so successful and competent to outsiders.

Mom said Dad had always had a problem in this way and that's why he was so moody. His moods scared me because you never knew what he was thinking. When the mood came, he would be silent and lost in his thoughts, acting strange, looking up things in books. Many times he would rummage through the Almanac trying to find statistics, dates and especially places. He would find names of obscure places and find out the details about the place and say under his breath, "There, that's it," and then he'd start to close the Almanac and put it up on the shelf and his arched arm would freeze in mid-motion, like a stop action camera captures a swimmer, and he'd get a terrified expression and bring the Almanac back to his chair and start flipping through the pages with a look of desperation on his face.

We never had friends over. Mom and Dad never had friends over. I believe Mom was ashamed of Dad, but she hurt for him and wanted to protect him.

The night Dad died was the night of my own first terror. The phone rang and I was spaced out on some math problem and it startled me. Suddenly, I had this feeling of dread and the thought came, Something terrible has happened, and I couldn't answer the phone. After an infinite number of rings, it stopped. Then a few minutes later, the phone rang.

Just answer the phone. It's probably Dad calling Mom, or Mom calling to say she'll be late. But then I thought, If everything is O.K., then why am I so scared. Something must be wrong. Something terrible has happened. I didn't want to deal with it.

Mom came home late that night and I thought she was going to be mad at me for not answering the phone. "Sorry I'm so late, dear. I tried to call, but you must have been in the shower."

The phone rang again and Mom went for it as if she had been expecting it. Her whole manner was so positive that it made me feel crummy about having gotten so worked up about the phone.

Then she fell backward, collapsed as if she had been shot in the stomach with a gun, into a chair in the kitchen, her eyes closed and head back, her neck long and exposed, her face white, drained of color by the voice on the phone.

After that night, I was afraid of phones. When I went away to school, I found an apartment without a phone. No dogs, no pets, no phones.

After that night, I became vulnerable. Any inkling at all, however wispy or foolish, would now find a landing strip in my mind. Something is burning in the oven, and I would have to check it out. Midnight, one, one-thirty-I would check and re-check. You accidentally turned it on when you were checking it. The gas is on. Two in the morning. You wouldn't feel this way if something wasn't wrong.

There would never be anything wrong, but I had to make sure. Just to be safe. So I wasn't getting the sleep I needed and my mother began to worry for me. For her sake, it was better when I went away to art school.

I began taking an interest in songs about loneliness. The girls I was attracted to were those who seemed the loneliest. Occasionally, I would show my interest, but upon meeting the slightest resistance, I would back off, always rationalizing that it was for the best. The fear of rejection was always strong, and not altogether irrational. But more powerful still, I was haunted by the possibility that I might one day leap to my own death and shatter the fragile hopes I had instilled in a fellow sufferer.

So I lived alone, a strange young man who felt already like those strange old men who live alone in shacks in the woods, taunted and teased by unsympathetic youths. How easy it was to be a recluse, especially in the City of Brotherly Love.

·

Where do instincts come from? No doubt it is the will to survive that in some way propels us. Is it by yielding, or perpetually resisting, that we gain our equillibrium? Having played it both ways, I've drawn varying conclusions. If only it were always stupidity and pointlessness, I could finally disregard these episodes as self-maddening and futile pursuits. But at least twice now by following The Voice I have intervened in violent crimes, on one occasion thwarting a rapist in the most improbable scenario imaginable, on the roof of a warehouse in Canton.

I hate my life. I hate being different, feeling singled out, fated to be an alien. Yet, and for this reason I obey, I now follow the promptings, urgings, give in to the drivenness, in the remote possibility that I may perform the heroic, even if unheralded, rescue.

The rapist fled. A lost child was returned to its mother.

And yet, how many nights had I followed an inkling, a strange frame of mind, walking through the streets of the city, pleading at every turn for an oracle that would signal me which way to go. And when there is nothing, and you turn left because your left ankle is swelling, and turn right because a mosquito has bitten your right hand, and you walk for hours and see nothing unusual, perform no miracle, you justify it with remembrances of the woman on the warehouse who kissed your face and wept in your shirt. And you strive next time to be more attentive to the signals, fearing that you had failed by a lack of timeliness or a lack of sensitivity.

·

The deli is packed. I stand in the doorway, fighting for air as the hot aromatic breath of baking bread mingles with the foul street odor of urine and sweat until a youth of sixteen, punk spires shooting from his skull, bursts through the door, knocking me forward into the deli, forcing me against my will to participate in the drama. I accept the invitation and remain present, assessing the scene.

Large speakers manufacture a wall of rocksound within which the deli patrons swell and sway. All is silouhette and shadow, heat and perspiration, illumined by the blue and red rings of neon over the deli counter.

Scenes like this always make me tense. The noise, the pressure of people jostling and jarring. My head is flashing, eyes slicing about the room, studying faces like a madman, looking for signs of craziness in the eyes, the glint glare red demon look. It's scary in here. Scary terrifying, knowing there's a killer right in this room. My breathing is hard and heavy. This is a very heavy scene.

And there it is. The knife. The razor sharp deathblade. Right there on the deli counter. God, it's sharp.

I'd better go stand next to it. Watch people's faces. Watch their hands. A crazy man with a knife could do a lot of damage in a place like this. God, it makes you sick to think of it. I don't want to be here. I really don't want to be here.

Now what? People are screaming. "Look out! He's got a knife! He's got a knife!"

They're screaming at me. Why are these people screaming like that? If they don't stop screaming I'm gonna lose it. Oh man. Stop it, please. Oh man. Stop it. This is a bad scene. LET ME GO. Get OFF of me.

Oh shit. Now look what I've done.

Damn.

- 30 -


copyright 1994 ed newman
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an original story by ed newman

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