Thefirst time he saw the old man, he'd taken him for a mugger. Or atthe very least, some half-crazed renegade subject from U-Dub'spsychology department. The figure had stood, just inside hisperipheral vision, long black duster whipping across the tops of hiscowboy boots in a simile of bat wings. His dark, Native hair,stringy and streaked with an ancient gray, hung roughly to hisshoulders when it wasn't being blown about beneath the black bolerowith a glint of silver and turquoise from the hatband.
Thathad been two nights ago. Downtown, the corner of Fifth and Denny,near the Space Needle.
Hewas back tonight. Different part of town, same Indian.
MarkCrowell could only stare. His vision was marred by the stinging windand accompanying splats of cold rain on his glasses; nonetheless, hestood with legs like pitons sunk into the concrete of Pioneer Square. Wrapping his coat a bit tighter against the blustery January night,the artist blinked the rain and his own saline from blue-gray eyesand looked again: perhaps hoping that the gaunt, nightmarishapparition was a wandering vagrant, or better yet, some hallucinatory manifestation of the deep-fried seafood combo plate he'd consumed forlunch.
Thefigure was quite solid, coattails flapping, the stare of ancient eyessearing into his skull. Mark shuddered, counting paces to thegallery. Liz would be closing up now, and he knew for a fact thattwo people had a much slighter chance of being accosted than oneperson. But still his feet refused to budge—he remained bonded tothe slick pavement, shaggy blond hair matted by wind and rain...helpless except to stare mindlessly at the figure in the shadows.
Whatnearly made him soil his jockeys was the way the old man spokedirectly into his brain without so much as moving his lips; in fact,the voice was barely a whisper, thus Mark's immediate thought wasthat it must be the wind howling down the avenue...
Butthen again, the wind didn't usually hiss:
"Aww,man. I don't need this shit." Mark turned away from theapparition across the square. The soft glow of neon shopfronts ledthe way down First Street, the muffled bashing of waves along thewaterfront urging him out of the dark. He squinted through the rainagain at the old Native. The stranger's words were thick andcracked, like dried mesquite buried in warm sand.
"Bewarewhat?!" Mark was beginning to get pissed.
"Uh,right. Thanks. I'll remember that." He blinked again,suddenly aware of the feeling returning to his legs and feet. Hescanned the shadows across the square one last time, but the old manwas no longer there--only a big raven, probably blown off course bythe storm front, pushing, flapping hard against the wind as it wingedupward, out of view.
Thegallery was locked, dim security lights limned his face from inside. He knocked again. "Shit." What was her problem? They'dagreed to meet at the gallery after closing, as was their usualFriday night custom. It wouldn't be the first time she'd leftwithout him, but given the recent string of eerie Indian sightingshe'd had, it seemed to irk him just that much more. Why tonight, ofall Friday nights? And what of his work? Mark Crowell shrugged hiswet shoulders and turned away from the gallery window. This meantone of two things: either she'd sold his painting and was homechanging to surprise him and take him out for a night of celebrating,or she hadn't sold the piece as anticipated, and was home drinking,trying to manufacture a good sob story and lots of sympathy.
Ineither case, she was home.
Hebacked away from the storefront, jammed his hands deep into hispockets and headed up to the bus stop on Third. Just stay where it'slight, he told himself, and the ravens and the bogeymen and the oldIndians won't get you.
YOU ARE READING
Short story published in Midnight Zoo in 1992 and by Editio in 1993. A Seattle artist is stalked by an old Native American medicine warrior, but his girlfriend's apartment isn't the refuge he'd hoped...