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John Smith and the Shadows

March 31, 2013

JohnSmithby Sean Michael, August 2012
with you in mind, Dr. A. Porter

Smith, the most common surname in the United States, and John, the most common first name–John Smith–he’d been using the alias so long, fervently believing the false identity, that he’d be hard pressed to remember the name given him at birth. He kept a fake I.D. card–name: John Smith, no middle initial; date of birth: 1-1-1986, age: 22; address 101 Centre St., P.O. Box 332, San Diego, CA 92102. Seemingly legit, it was purchased from a DMV worker for one thousand dollars.

John Smith kept no other form of identification whatsoever, anywhere. He had burned his original social security card and birth certificate after procuring the money left to him after the death of his parents. He’d withdrawn half of the million dollars and deposited it in a new account at a different bank under the alias. He never used credit cards, always paid cash, and lived on the bare essentials.

John rented a studio apartment in El Cajon for $550 a month, a year’s rent paid in advance, but only used the space every couple of days to shower and change clothes. John Smith lived under the guise of a homeless man, sleeping in alleys, canyons and abandoned buildings, rarely in the same spot consecutive nights.

Harder for them to find me that way, he’d reasoned. But they always knew how to find John Smith. Always following him, watching him. He began to think of them as the shadows. They were powerful people, had resources, able bodies–people dedicated solely to disrupting his life–hidden cameras, sound producing and recording devices.

Government, John was sure. Not CIA or FBI, but a secret branch that nobody knows anything about. Evidently some sort of experiment. They thought he was stupid. John Smith wasn’t stupid. He was positive they’d caused the car crash that killed his parents when he was 12, the only people who would have believed and helped him.

The shadows were powerful, dangerous people. He first noticed them after being released from the group home at age 18 and sent to fend for himself. Then, they disappeared for a while. Later, they returned when he was flipping through a magazine and saw a familiar face on the very last page. A mocha-skinned woman in white lingerie posing for a phone sex ad, but it wasn’t really a phone sex ad, it was a signal, a code. In actuality, the deceptive phone numbers were the longitude and latitude of his apartment in El Cajon, most likely where they had placed a satellite. If he dialed the number, it would activate the satellite’s micro-waves so they could steal his thoughts. He later ripped the phone from the wall. Next to that was another ad for a book called “You’re Being Watched,” about the secret government organization. He saw the shadows frequently now–always finding him, watching him.

The only reason John Smith wasn’t dead was because they hadn’t gotten everything they wanted from him yet. And he wasn’t going to give it to them. They wanted what he knew, wanted his thoughts about life, the life of Jesus Christ, his life; and death Jesus’ death, his parents, his death, and the spirits and strange happenings in other worlds. John was a loner, let nobody get close to him as he was sure the shadows would extract information from them, hurt them if they couldn’t. John Smith rarely told the truth, almost always he lied. He didn’t want innocent people being hurt.

Now as he signed into the Better Living offices, he smiled tentatively at the lady behind the counter. He shifted his eyes furtively around the room. No white suits–oddly, the shadows wore white, never black, though sometimes they tried to fool him with other colors–nobody was watching him with a humorous glint in their eyes. Just an older lady reading a Danielle Steel novel was present, paying him no mind. He relaxed, just slightly.

This was John Smith’s ninth individual therapy session with Dr. Persson. He liked her. She was an attractive woman, and John found her easy to talk to, but most importantly, she never wore white, always dressed in dark colors.

Still he could not discount the possibility that the shadows had gotten to her. In fact, the only reason, he’d begun seeing a therapist was to mislead the shadows. He walked down the hall. Dr. Persson’s door was open. He walked in, closed the door, and had a seat on the black leather sofa.

“Hello, Mr. Smith,” Dr. Persson began.

“John. Please call me John. And would you mind if we talked like regular people for a while?”

“Sure, John. Because after all, that’s what we are, right? I don’t want you to feel inferior for being here. There are a lot of people in therapy and maybe just as many who need to be,” Dr. Persson assured him.

“What about you, doc? Do you need therapy? I mean, despite being the therapist and all?”

“You can call me Amy, if you’d like. And actually, the reason I studied psychology was to understand my own depression and to help others with theirs.”

John Smith nodded.

“How have you been?” Dr. Persson asked.


“Have you been taking the medication I prescribed?”
“Every day,” he lied through a wry smile. He had flushed the pills down the toilet in a Burger King restroom, then refilled the bottle with Ibuprofen.

“Is it helping?”


“Great. Last week you talked about leaving San Diego. Just kind of getting up and looking for a fresh start somewhere else. Have you thought anymore about that?”

“No, I’ll be staying put. Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about that.”

“What would you like to discuss?”

“How about the Padres?,” John Smith suggested.

“I heard that they traded Adrian Gonzales to the Boston Red Sox,” Dr Persson offered.

“I read that in the paper. That was a mistake. Oh well, the Pads haven’t had a chance since the season they made the World Series.”

“Their one and only in ’98. Got swept by the Yankees, four games to none,” Dr. Persson said.

“You know your sports!”

“I played softball in high school. I follow baseball when I can.”

“I played sports before my parents died,” John said almost to himself. A long moment of silence passed between them.

“John, I’d like it if you would open up some more about your childhood. It would really help me to help you,” Dr persson said.

“You know what, Dr. Amy Persson? Thanks for talking to me like a regular person but I think I’m ready to leave now.” John Smith stood and went for the door.

“Where are you going?” she called after him.

They got to her. They turn everybody against me. I’ve got to get out of here. “Nowhere special, doc. Just going on a walk,” he said without turning to face her.

“John? If you need to come back before our next scheduled session that would be okay. I have some extra time this week. Just call or come to the offices and I’ll make sure I’m able to see you. But I can’t help you unless you allow me to.”

John walked from the office,having no intention of ever returning. At the end of the block. he sprinted across Balboa Avenue, and went into an alley. The alley was long and narrow with tall apartment complexes on either side. He felt safer in the less-traveled alleyway. Too many cars were on Balboa Avenue, passing too quickly. Couldn’t keep track of the cars, the colors, the faces.

Half way through the alley, he heard a vehicle approaching from behind. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a silver Honda Accord. He moved to the side of the alley to allow the car to pass. As it did, he locked eyes with the driver who waved his hand at him. A man in a powder blue button up shirt and slacks, stupid grin on his face, briefcase in the passenger seat–not wearing white but familiar. He was sure that he remembered both the car and the man driving it.

A shadow.

At the end of the alley, the Honda made a right onto Main St., without signaling.

John Smith went left. A block down he sprinted across Main St. into a residential area. He was heading for one of his hideouts–he had several in strategic points around the city–and an escape plan out of town. He knew the time would come. The shadows were moving in on him. He thought of the man in the Honda, that stupid grin. They were going to forcefully extract information, than eliminate him. Suddenly, he regretted going to see Dr Persson. He liked her. He hoped they wouldn’t hurt her.

A large, black SUV pulled past him and parked at the curb a few houses down.

John Smith crossed the street and hurried on. A quick glance over his shoulder showed a blonde woman wearing a white blouse and white jeans, emerging from the SUV. Their eyes met briefly and the woman went around to the back of the vehicle. John broke off at a sprint. He dashed through side streets and alleys, evading the shadows. They were everywhere, he could feel them, coming for him.

Finally, he reached the abandoned house, which was across the street from a high school, glanced furtively around, jumped the short stucco wall, and sprinted in a crouch for the door. The door pushed open easily and he shut it behind him. The windows were boarded up, the partially smashed walls adorned with graffiti. This would be John Smith’s last visit to the tenebrous hideout.

He moved with urgency to the back right room of the house, went into the closet, climbed up onto the shelf, moved the board that concealed the attic, and reached into the darkness. He quickly found the black Jansport backpack and pulled it free, dumping the contents onto the floor: fresh underwear and socks, new black Nikes, black t-shirt, black jeans–in each front pocket was a roll of 25 hundred dollar bills–a black Dickies jacket, black White Sox baseball cap, and black sunglasses. In the front zipper pocket of the backpack was a .38 Smith & Wesson loaded with six hollow point bullets.

John changed into the new clothes, placing the old pair into the backpack. He placed the .38 pistol snugly in his waistband along with the hat, and put the sunglasses in his pocket. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use the gun but he knew the shadows would not allow him to leave town, if they caught up with him. He would use it if he had to.

When the school bell rang, John Smith donned the coat and backpack, and slipped from the house. Teenagers inundated the sidewalks around the high school He waded through the crowd of teens who were filing onto buses, waiting for rides, or preparing to walk home. He followed a group of teens for a while, just a high schooler on his way home. A few blocks down, he broke off down a side street, quickly removed the coat and backpack stuffing them into a black trashcan. He pulled the White Sox cap from his waistband and put it on his head, retrieved the sunglasses from his pocket as he walked, covered his eyes.

John walked through the streets as if stuck in a complicated maze–zigzagging, criss-crossing, doubling back, evading the shadows. For the time being he’d lost them. He prayed he would be able to reach the Greyhound Bus Station, which wasn’t far from the Better Living offices, undetected. He walked casually, keeping watch for the shadows, ominous weight of the revolver at his waist. Finally, he reached the residential street where he’d seen the blonde woman in the SUV. The SUV was gone.

Probably looking for me.

He stood at the corner waiting for a break in traffic, then sprinted across Main St. into the long narrow alley. It was desolate.

I’m going to make it.

Just then, the sound of a car approaching from behind. He glanced over his shoulder to see the silver Honda Accord from earlier, the man in the powder-blue button up visible behind the wheel.

Nobody’s going to stop me.

Incensed, John Smith reached into his waistband, spun around, leveled the gun at the Honda. His finger cinched around the trigger, the pistol’s report resounded down the alley, a slug tore into the hood of the car. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt.

“What do you want?!” John yelled and headed toward the Honda, pistol raised. “I’m leaving! You won’t stop me!”

The vehicle was moving quickly in reverse. The Honda swung out into traffic and was hit by a utility truck, spinning it 90 degrees to face the wrong direction in traffic. John Smith prepared to fire again when he noticed something in the backseat. A young child trying to climb over the driver’s seat. The driver dove into the backseat, ensconcing the child in his arms, protecting her with his life. Some people were beginning to exit their vehicles and gather around the scene, the man from the utility truck was using a cellphone, others stayed put or drove around the crash. John sprinted down the long ally and across Balboa Avenue.

What have I done? They weren’t shadows. A father and a child. I hurt innocent people, an innocent child!

He was frantic, tormented.

John Smith ran into the Better Living offices, rushed past the front counter, down the hall, into Dr. Persson’s office. She was in a session with another patient.

“John!” She exclaimed, eyes widening at the sight of the gun in his hand.

The woman on the black leather sofa, previously lamenting to Dr Persson about her husband’s infidelity and her act of vengeance, sleeping with another man, turned to face the intruder and screamed. She was wearing white. She looked familiar.

John rushed the woman, put the gun to her temple. “Shut up,” he said quietly. “What have you told her, Amy? She’s one of them. Tell me what you’ve told her about me.”

“I don’t even know you!” the woman shrieked.

“How many women in this fucking town look like you, wear the same white pantsuit and pose for false ads in the back of coded magazines, that sell books about the secret government agency? Answer me that! And don’t lie to me dammit! Enough games.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, oh please, I don’t know,” the woman sobbed.

Dr. Persson was on her feet now. “John, we were not talking about you, I…”

“I know they got to you Amy. I don’t blame you for talking to them. They are powerful people.” He placed his lips against the woman’s ear and said: “Tell the shadows that this is the end. Tell them it’s over.”

“I will! I will! I’ll tell them,” the woman promised. “Just let me go. Don’t shoot me.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this earlier, Amy. To protect you. Did they threaten you?” he pressed the barrel of the gun firmly against the woman’s temple. “Do you want me to kill her?”

“No! Please let her go and talk to me. I’m not against you, John. Never was. I’m here for you,” Dr. Persson tried to soothe him, assuring her allegience.

John Smith shoved the woman to the ground. “Get up and get out of here! Remember what I told you to do! You tell the shadows it’s over. This is the end! Go! Tell them!”

The woman in the white pantsuit, face tear-streaked with mascara, sprang to her feet, ran from the office.

John Smith walked around the leather sofa, took a seat. The faint sound of sirens could be heard in the distance.

“Put the gun down, John.”

“No, I need it. I’ll talk to you though. I’ll tell you everything. I like you, Dr. Amy Persson. You’re a beautiful creature, you know that? I like people. It’s them who make me hate. I can’t trust anybody. They turn everyone against me.”

“Who? John, please put the gun down.”

The sound of sirens were prominent now, outside of the Better Living offices.

“The shadows. That’s what I call them. They’re a clandestine government agency. That lady was one of them. They’re responsible for the death of my parents. They’ve been watching me for a long time. They have satellites and radar and other tracking devices, all sorts of devices. They want to know things.”

“What sort of things?”

“All sorts of things. Just let me talk. We’re running out of time. It’s all a mind game. Mental torture but without the water and the screams. I’ll never let them take me alive.”

“John, this isn’t real it’s a paranoid delusion.”

John Smith chuckled sardonically and looked at the gun. “Either way,” he said.

“John,” Dr. Amy Persson began. “ You have to calm down. Please, I care about you and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

The sound of helicopter blades chopped through the air above the Better Living offices. A deep voice reverberated through a loud speaker, claiming to have the place surrounded and demanding that he come out with his hands in the air.

“Go, John. Maybe they’ll be able to help you figure this out, protect you from the shadows. Just put the gun down.”

“They are all on the same team. The shadows are a powerful force. You go Amy, I can’t.”

“Come with me, John, we’ll talk to them together.”

“No!” he bellowed. “I’m not going to go out there and talk to them! Now get out of here, Amy!”

“I’m not leaving you, John. I’m not going anywhere unless you come with me.”

The cacophony of sirens and chopping helicopter blades filled the air. John Smith rose and went to Dr. Persson. She did not flinch as he wrapped his arms around her.

“You are a good person,” he whispered. “Now go before I kill you.” He released her from the embrace.

Dr. Amy Persson scrutinized him through blurry eyes and said, “Please, John. Do the right thing.” Then she walked from the office, tears glistening on her face.

John Smith sat back down on the sofa. He removed the hat and sunglasses tossed them onto the floor. On the wall across the room was a beautiful scenic painting of mountains and a stream running through the trees. In the distance, up in the hills, was a tiny red cabin. He put the gun to his head and held it there, staring at the painting.

The chopping of the helicopter blades, the wailing sirens. The loudspeaker voice admonished him that he had one last chance to surrender, called him by name. He fixed his gaze on the little red cabin and wrapped his finger around the trigger. A solitary tear fell from his eye and slid sorrowfully down his face.

There was a great commotion in the front office, now making its way down the hall.

They’ll never take me alive.

John Smith squeezed the trigger.

From → BLOG, Short Stories

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