Found in a garbage bin near Mayor Jensen’s desk…
To whoever finds this…
Either way. I’ve never really done this before so here it goes. Becoming a novelist was on my ‘to-do’ list at one point in life but I chose politics instead. Was it the right decision? Yet to be determined.
Darkness… not the dim red glow of tightly closed eyes or the murky shadows of a blindfold. No. Total, unrivaled darkness, unparalleled even by windowless basements or deep, untouched caverns. Manufactured darkness, vantablack oblivion only science can achieve. Ultimately, all I had to do was ask. With little argument, I received.
I make it sound sinister, like an Orwellian fever dream, or maybe even Ray Bradbury’s love child, but in reality, it is nothing more than a comfortable room without windows, with only one seamless door to allow entry or exit. There is a mattress on the floor, dressed also in black, but no other furniture to pierce the abyss. This is how I insisted my bedroom to be. I have my reasons but, honestly, my nightly blackout is no one’s business but my own. I am the Mayor, after all. What I wish is none of anyone’s concern, despite their incredulous glances and covert whispers. In the end, what is so strange about asking for a bedroom without windows? Peaceful, uninterrupted slumber, no chance of ambush, no thought wasted on the reckless world beyond those smooth, unblemished walls.
My mind is a steel trap that both imprisons and frees me, for I have few clear recollections of my life before the age of thirteen. Sometimes, and this is scientifically proven, brains must shut down memories of trauma so that one may preserve sanity. My mind seemed to have done the opposite. All I can remember are the events I would rather forget, and they drown out any happy memories that might bring me comfort. My brain doesn’t ‘let’ me remember many things from that era. I am a passenger in my own mind, no control over that fear factory for half my life now. I blame them. I blame them all. If there’s one thing I remember vividly clearly, it’s them. Those watchers in the window.
I am getting ahead of myself. We will come around to those sons of bitches soon enough. You cannot feel the desperation of my plight until you comprehend the reasoning of my ruthless drive for answers. That drive has left me here, alone in the intolerably comforting black, on a path no one else dares follow. Maybe, all these lonely years later, I am just trying to convince myself any of it even happened. I mean, I know it happened. I was there. What did I see exactly? What is the objective truth of my past, present and future? All I know is that I cannot give up on those memories. Joe deserves way more than what commonly accepted history will leave of him. I will try my best, though. I have promised him that much. My best.
My little brother Joe was a mere five years old, innocent and tender, when he was snatched from the humdrum, small town familiarity of Rainy Day, Texas. I am taking liberties here. In all actuality, he was my stepbrother. We looked nothing alike, but my adopted mother was drop dead in love with his adopted father. In turn, I guess you could say that I was drop dead in love with him as well. What were the odds that two orphans would wind up in the same family traveling from opposite directions of the Department of Human Services master plan? I had always begged for a little brother and, like a miracle, he and his father dropped right into my lap. I took my brotherly duties deadly serious; I vowed to teach him everything and keep him safe. He looked up to me as though I knew it all, and perhaps I did act like I had all the answers. Honestly, I could not let him know, or even admit to myself, I did not know shit from shoe polish. I wanted to live up to my larger than life image…but in the end, I would find all new kinds of ways to let him down.
I do blame myself, although I should not. My many therapists over the years, as well as my one and only best friend Denise, have begged me not to do this to myself…but the steel trap does not allow me much choice. He was my responsibility, after all. By the light of day, our parents were charged with his wellbeing, but at night? Locked away together in our dark room with nowhere to go? Joe was my responsibility when the sun retreated and the exaggerated, unknowable shadows reigned. There were not many rules in that bedroom now that I think about it. Do not piss the bed, do not get caught looking at my stepfather’s dirty magazines, and do not let anything bad happen to Joseph. Small transgressions were forgivable; I pissed the bed on occasion, Joe’s father found his missing magazine. I hold myself accountable for that one, enormous, fateful transgression. I let those evil creatures right into our private sanctuary. I left us helpless and alone in the face of terror. I know it must be my fault. I have been peeling back the interminable layers of my brain for thirty damn years, and the endeavor has left behind only myself. I am down to just me, sitting in my chosen nothingness, trying to convince myself there that I am finally safe in my bunker of nonexistence from those strange intruders and their prying eyes. Standing in the windows and watching like they did when I was a kid. I am certain the watching part was even worse than when they made it inside. Helplessness as they picked us down to the bone with their lifeless eyes.
I am getting ahead of myself; in order to truly comprehend this ever-evolving nightmare one needs to know the who, what, where, when, and why of my rambling, nighttime confessions. Actually, I can explain all of those apart from why. I have never come one step closer to solving the ‘why’ part of this conundrum than I was at the inception. Maybe that is why I conditioned my life into what it is today. My manufactured destiny.
First, let me preach a little about my hometown of Rainy Day, Texas. Silly name for a place that rarely gets rain, right? I am certain, once upon a time, that precipitation was a regular occurrence because there are lush woods and gurgling streams running all over the place. If you believe the stuff the scientists tell you on television, the decreasing drizzle is probably due to global warming, or perhaps the damming of those creeks and rivers to create reservoirs. After all, the city folk in Dallas must wash their butts from time to time, right? The local reservoir and I have a long tumultuous history; I will get to that in due time. It’s clear to me that I’m not sleeping, that even with complete darkness I’ll never sleep soundly again. I might as well take this tale to completion.
Rainy Day, Texas has a current population of 37,666 shiny, happy people living within its city limits. It does not seem like much when compared to the bustling burg of Dallas but, back in its heyday, it was something to be proud of. I guess. I have never really been all that proud of it. I have my reasons. I have never fit in easily in Rainy Day. I tend to stick out like a sore thumb, whatever the hell that means, but I have learned to live with it. At one time, it was a tad smaller than the tiny town of Twin Oaks, which houses Ellen Air Force Base to the east as you head toward the woodsier parts of Texas. That town is maybe even worse than Rainy Day according to rumor, but I am not altogether brave enough to go there myself and find out. Conformity is beyond my ability.
Rainy Day was founded in 1947. Interestingly, for those of us who go looking for such coincidental oddities, that is the same year as the famous Roswell, New Mexico incident. Granted, Roswell is a long damn way from Rainy Day, but I cannot help but suspect the two places are somehow connected. The timing is just too perfect. I have lived in one place and visited the other. They both have the same soul suppressing vibe that the attuned pick up on easily. At least Roswell has the tourist money coming in on a regular basis from all the extraterrestrial enthusiasts who do not mind trekking through the desert.
There are lots of woods and flowing water around these parts. Most are tributaries pouring into the Sabine or the Trinity, headed south toward the coast, but the Cloud River is the least known of all of them. No one speaks of it because it has nearly ceased to exist. In 1947, the Army Corps of Engineers, at least the ones who were not tied up in Greece after World War II, decided to do some digging near Rainy Day to turn Cloud River into the Rainy Lake Reservoir. It was not called Rainy Lake in the beginning but, since Army Engineer Jonathan Rainy was the man responsible for pressing the button to make the big bang, he got the honor of naming it, which I suppose is only fair.
Jonathan Rainy decided to do a bit of homesteading along the lake as soon as the project was completed and, since he was the only fellow around these parts for dozens of miles, there was no one else to challenge his authority. Once Jonathan laid claim to a fair chunk of land, he convinced the Army Corps of Engineers to shed some funding his direction, and soon thereafter the area’s first hydro-electric plant came online. After that, power poles and homes began to spring up everywhere, eventually overshadowing tiny Twin Oaks. It did not even matter that the Air Force base was located there. Rainy Day surpassed all around apart from Dallas within the matter of a few years. It was almost as though ill begotten luck, a contract with the devil himself, had come into play. There was no stopping the towns rising fortunes, and if you were one of the lucky folks to get their money in on the ground floor, why wouldn’t you?
The power plant continued to churn out juice at a rapid rate, and it is one of the few things I remember well from my early childhood. It emitted an eerie, blue glow all over the town as though an eternal full moon watched overhead from a cloudless, night sky. Then, somewhere around the time of my thirteenth birthday, the lights of the plant near the reservoir went dark, leaving the massive building an abandoned, rotting shell of nothingness. No one knew why. They never even bothered to ask. Things like that just seem to happen in Rainy Day, Texas, and you dared not to stick your nose where it did not belong. Otherwise, the elders will get you. That is what I have always been told, anyways. Fear the elders. They know all the doors and hide all the keys. The elders shed no light on the mystery of the plant’s sudden plunge into darkness. Mysteriously, the town still had power, as did the rest of the surrounding area, but it was abundantly clear that none of it came from the desolate plant. That was right about the time the disappearances started.
My adopted mother had met a man and instantly fallen in love. After they got married, and since my own biological parents had been missing since the day of my birth, he adopted me, and I took his last name. Great guy, really. I cannot imagine too many men, especially in this day and age, would do something like that. Take on someone else’s walking sperm dumpster of a kid and raise him? He did, though. And, since he was not the poorest fellow in Rainy Day, we moved into his home on the banks of Rainy Lake. It wasn’t a mansion, granted, but it wasn’t anything to sneeze at either. Dad had some cash that was handed down through the generations of his family. I never asked about the details. It wasn’t a common place back then for a nosy kid to get involved in his parents’ finances. Still, it must’ve cost him a pretty penny to have a plot on the banks of the lake. On the brighter side of shit, I had traded fishing for video games long before that relocation…and had no business being on or near that damn lake.
As fate would have it, mine and my new little brother’s bedroom window faced the ominous, abandoned shell of the Rainy Day power plant, and we gazed at the ruinous structure nightly. It got more difficult to do as time went on. Felt as though the building itself was staring back at us. Sickly and downright frightening, the windows transformed into sinister eyes in the structure and stared holes into us as our innocence tried to repel the invasion. It was no use. No matter how tightly we shut our eyes, both of us could feel the power of that place peeping right back. Then, we noticed the lights.
Nothing too big at first, but the flashes of bright blue coming from the structure of the abandoned Rainy Day power plant woke both Joseph and I often. Then, one tattered missing poster at a time, the power poles of Rainy Day began to fill with images of missing children I recognized from school. All younger than me…and every single one of them black. In the end, maybe that was why the town elders dragged their feet imparting an explanation for the disappearances, and the county Sheriff was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to obtain any leads. Sometimes those sheets just get in the way, don’t they? Not paper, mind you, but the kind they all wore in secrecy. My grandmother always told me to look at the feet of all the cops and judges in Rainy Day. She instructed me to pay close attention to their shoes because they rarely changed them when transforming from their official uniform to their Klan clothes. Memaw was a little on the crazy side, but I believed every word she told me in my youth. As an adult, I have come to realize that age and time do not alter most things.
This was also about the time additional sinister happenings started up, giving me the feeling that it was time to leave Rainy Day for good. It began with strange footprints around our bedroom window. My mother and step father blamed it all on some aquatic creature coming up from the depths at night to feed on our garden but, what in the hell kind of bipedal swamp creature stood at mine and Joseph’s window long enough to leave indentions in the hardened North Texas ground? Wouldn’t they exist in the vicinity of my parent’s window as well? Some beaver or whatever swam through the murky waters of the lake just came up on dry land, stood on hind legs, and stared down children in their sleep? I never believed it and, a few more nights into the conundrum, I did not have to. We, my brother and I, began seeing the real watchers in the window with our own two eyes.
When they first began their nocturnal observation, that was all it was. Watching. It started as just one of them but he, she, or whatever it was soon reported back to the others and started bringing friends. Joseph and I would catch glimpses of our frightened faces in their opaque eyes as the unexplained, sporadic, lightning-esque flashes of energy went haywire in the distance, almost causing a strobe light effect. We were helpless to their piercing stares. We could not scream for help. We could not move our bodies enough to run away. All we could do was lay still in the darkness while the demons visually analyzed us. A few nights later, they became emboldened… They entered our house, snatched my little brother as I watched paralyzed from my bed, and left no trace of their presence.
Again, the local authorities dragged their feet in coming up with any type of explanation to Joseph’s whereabouts, and their disengaged glazed expressions made it clear they cared little for the evidence of my experience. Hell, I even half expected them to blame my stepfather or mother for the kidnapping and start searching the lake for Joe’s body, but they were even too lazy for that! In the end, he was just another black kid missing in Rainy Day, Texas and one less black person to keep tabs on when it came to their political aspirations. In normal, day to day situations, the color of my skin should have no bearing, for the purposes of this story, it is imperative that you understand.
So, here I sit, all these years later, in the manufactured darkness of the Mayor’s mansion. The first and only African American to ever campaign and win a public office in either Barber County or Rainy Day, Texas. For thirty damn years I have studied, educated myself, and prepared for this moment with one, solitary purpose. To gain office, uncover the secrets of the town elders, expose them for who they truly are, and put the memory of my little brother to rest once and for all.
As luck would have it, I have picked the worst time in our country’s history, or the world for that matter, to put all these plans into motion, but you can’t pick and choose your destiny. Just roll with the punches, so to speak, regardless of consequence. In the end, we are all just fertilizer. The only true winner is the shovel company, and even that is a temporary victory. Humanity has managed to shrink a thinking machine the size of a building into our pockets, granting us all unlimited, instantaneous wisdom, yet we can’t seem to agree on strapping a simple piece of cloth to our faces. Truth/Lies. Love/Hate. Live/Die. The planet keeps on spinning, will continue to do so long after we have coughed ourselves to death, and has a front row seat to the whole show reserved for each of us.
What is worse than being the person in charge of making community decisions during an intensifying pandemic? Being a black man in charge of a predominantly white North Texas town and a 9am meeting with a man who, I am certain, drops his ceremonial sheets off at the dry cleaners without batting an eye. There are no windows in this room and I still cannot sleep. Is it possible that small town racists are worse than paranormal kidnappers? I will know in a few hours.
I know I’ve begun to ramble a bit but it’s important you know the frame of mind I’m in if anything sinister happens. Once again, if you find this writing but can’t seem to find me, ask Hayes Hawthorne what he did with my body. He’s the town elder I’ll be meeting with first thing in the morning and can usually be found lurking around Blacklands Baptist Church. I don’t think a proper burial will be in order if he has anything to do with it.
Thomas Jensen, Mayor
What you’ve just read is the initial chapter to my work in progress titled Blue Man. This is my first collaboration with another author and it just happens to be my lovely, talented wife Samantha Cloud-Miller! I hope you enjoyed it. Please subscribe to this blog and my social media madness to stay updated on the progress of this novel. Until then, Amazon is full of other C. Derick Miller works to keep you occupied…