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Jeffrey Todd
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shapeshifter.jpg
Art by Justin Stauffer 2010

Shape-Shifting

 

Jeffrey Todd

 

Harold listened to the news report that evening with disdain: more betrayal, scandal, and dishonesty, as always.  What was the cause of this disease; this widespread moral lapse which left the world’s inhabitants suffering in the wake of its curse?  He wanted to turn off the television in disgust, yet something compelled him to continue watching the tales of tragic woe, hypnotizing him into something aside from himself. Could there be any way to possibly make these wrongs right?

Eventually the news ended, and he turned off the nightmare, grateful that the evil spell was over.  Sitting here like this, the dynamic of conflict seemed nonexistent.  The wall clock ticked off its incremental monotone—a mocking reminder of what was inevitably looming on the horizon: judgment.  Harold didn’t know exactly how or when this would take place, only that it would. There simply had to be a higher element of justice, which was being overlooked by the ignorant perpetrators of such transgression. He believed their eagerness for gratification blinded them to this principle.

It was at that moment he noticed a frog stuck on the exterior of the living-room window.  It was predominantly black in the impending twilight and speckled with bright yellow spots on its back.  Intrigued, Harold arose and stepped out onto the front porch to investigate.  Upon closer inspection, the amphibian tissue appeared very moist and slimy with some type of secretion.  Harold watched the rise and fall of the creature’s breathing pattern as he wondered how it was able to adhere to the smooth glass while being nearly upside down.  Probing with his index finger, he caressed the frog’s back, and it reflexively jumped off into the hedgerow.

A gnat or mosquito landed near his eye at that moment, and Harold, agitated, swatted it away with that same hand, his fingertip inadvertently making contact with the cornea of his eye in the process.  He wiped the hand on his trouser leg as his eye watered, listening to the sounds of dusk.  He’d really be able to enjoy it a little longer out here if it wasn’t for all the blood-sucking insects.  Regretfully, Harold returned indoors, his entire face now having a somewhat numb sensation.

Sleep was impossible that night.  Every time consciousness was about to fade, strange images entered Harold’s mind.  Strangely, he felt better than he had in a long time—he just thought he should be sleeping instead of having these kinds of thoughts right now.  These weren’t images of a horrific nature—but mystifying and ancient.  From where had they originated?  Somehow he had entered an entirely different state of consciousness at this point, and somewhere in his rational mind the image of the frog’s skin kept repeating over and over.  Was this peculiar sensation some kind of hallucinogenic side-effect?

Sometime around four a.m., it began to rain.  Within minutes, the low rumble of thunder pervaded the obsidian shroud of darkness where Harold lay fully awake and aware.  The purple-white flashes which now pierced the windows only made him feel more alive.  He had no idea that consciousness could ever be anything as grand as this… so aware; so many aspects to the notion of one simple thought…  There were so many planes of interaction and speculation to be explored in this state of mind, and he grew restless just lying there.  He eventually flipped on the night- light, and basked in its exaggerated warmth.  The storm still raged outdoors, and in this glow, under this dry roof, Harold felt a sense of peace and security, which had otherwise eluded his entire previous existence.

There was something strange taking place here, though he couldn’t quite identify it.  He stared at the dresser drawer, which was partially open, and in that black ridge of shadow he became lost, discovering almost another universe for what seemed like centuries.  There was more to this shadow than darkness—a force which could potentially swallow anything at will.  Also, there was something spiritual within this mystery, difficult to  define but alive. For a moment Harold believed this unknown element to be he, himself—or at least a part of him, and as he peered into oblivion, entranced, he could not help but feel a sense of oneness in all of this.

The digital clock still read only 4:04, even after all of this introspective sentiment—when had he ever experienced emotion such as this? And he began toying with the idea of  getting out of bed and starting the day early.  Wind whipped against the side of the house, and the swaying of the gnarled trees, animated by the wind, resembled insidious claws rather than leafy sentinels of nature.  He was able to arise with little effort—too little.  In an instant, there he was, standing in the kitchen.  Reaching for the light switch, he flipped it upward, to no avail. The power must have been knocked out.  He then found himself just sitting on the couch, staring out the window at the intermittent flashes, which split the gloom.

He began thinking about the atrocities that had been reported on television and became enraged.  Not at anyone in particular, but just at the general lack of discretion that was so abundant and abominable.  With each lightning flash his rage intensified, as if in synchronization with the mighty, pulsing energy.  What was he becoming?

As the first hues of dawn streaked the horizon orange-yellow, Harold felt completely changed.  Perhaps even baptized; a being now totally different from what had characterized him less than twelve hours ago.  Beyond some withering and confused spirit in the prison of human flesh—he felt more like a force.  A force of universal power that could do anything….

Simply by will, Harold could now alter his physical location with the power of thought.  There he was, as the sun began to rise, standing on a playground and watching several children climb on the jungle gym.  Smiles of delight and infantile giggles were the only sounds above the soft footsteps.  As he heard the vibration of the little hands grasping the railings, he could somehow feel the hard and cold texture of the metal, as if he himself were a part of it.  He felt the blood in their little palms heat up the aluminum bars, and he began to feel somewhat hot. 

Then another presence was near, somewhere off in the woods nearby.  Harold heard the heavy breathing and rustling of clothing, and sensing that the intentions of this entity were not that pure, thus found himself hovering over the source.  It was a man wearing a tattered coat, and the putrid reek of alcohol streaming from his mouth only reminded Harold of decay and corruption.  After a moment, though, Harold noticed that he was actually seeing the very thoughts of this creep, like he was peering through a crystal ball.  The imagery was perverse and twisted, and the longer Harold remained there, he perceived that this man was some kind of pedophile, waiting for an opportune moment.

He could even tell what was in the man’s coat: a knife, duct tape, candy, and a small vial of chloroform.  All of a sudden it occurred to Harold why he was hovering over this pervert like a ghost—this is what he had wished for the previous night!  This was a prime example of a breach in moral discretion—unfolding before his very eyes…  Was Harold now Lord of the unseen; omniscient?  But what could he actually do to prevent this weirdo from carrying out his perverse intentions?  He continued to float over the black and twisted aura of this man, noticing a large tree limb slightly above him. The sheer girth and weight of it seemed incredibly powerful in the wake of his hallucinogenic insight.  The cellulose texture of the particular arrangement of cells which composed the tree itself suddenly seemed made and timed for this predestined purpose.

Harold became one with the tree, and instantly he was plummeting towards the pedophile’s skull rather than witnessing the large limb itself break off.  Nature, working in harmony with Harold’s will, delivered fate to this unknown pervert as quick as a lightning flash.  It was a stunning example of retribution in action, and as the jagged splinters penetrated the worthless skull, Harold saw all of which this man had ever done. Any remnants of remorse or pity flowed out of Harold’s being with the guilty blood before him, now being soaked up by the laws of nature and karma.

As time went by, Harold found it increasingly easier to manipulate solid matter at will.  His sense of omniscience seemed to deepen, and he had totally abandoned that which used to serve as his dwelling.  There was just too much going on out in the world to be aware of—and he didn’t want to miss out on anything.  New opportunities awaited him, allowing him to be a vessel for knowledge and wisdom, which could not be obtained in front of a television set.  The mathematical law of simple cause and effect that was revealed to him now was astounding.  The mundane gave birth to the miraculous in so many unforeseen and unexpected ways…

There were these kinds of incidents everywhere, where a superior element of timing behind the scenes overshadowed the goals of all mortal intentions.   Did Harold personally play a part? That prospect is what exited and filled him with such a passion to be an observer now, rather than focused upon his puny, insignificant self.  The old Harold—those thoughts were selfish and destructive, making him merely a victim of his own carnal desires, but this—this was something that no one else seemed to know about.

Speaking of which, it suddenly occurred to Harold that it had been a few days now since he’d carried on a conversation with anyone—maybe more.  There was no telling how long, exactly.  He had ceased to sleep since this new consciousness had taken hold of his being, so it could have even been weeks.  He didn’t regret this, however, because in retrospect it all seemed so foolish—his shallow thoughts about whether or not someone liked him, or if he would ever kiss  the lips of that passing beauty of a woman… Yes, indeed, in his former existence, before his awakening, he had been nothing but a victim. 

Yet for old time’s sake, as a reminder, he decided to visit his old house —maybe check the mail.  He would enjoy laughing at the stacks of bills and credit notices that used to worry him so badly.  Harold was so above all of that now. It would be amusing to simply will himself there to observe that imprisoning reminder of that which he used to  identify himself.  He closed his eyes, knowing that when he opened them he’d be back in his bedroom.  There was the sensation of traveling in a tunnel very quickly, as though through darkness between the stars.  When he opened his eyes again, he was indeed there in his old bedroom.  The near- mummified flesh of the grinning skull on his pillow resembled his own, and  he realized just how toxic that frog’s poison must have been.

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