Midnight and the Boogieman

You think you have seen some strange shit? Honey, please–I’ve written this paranormal blog since before blogs were a thing. I’ve reported on exorcisms, poltergeists, vampires, stigmata, and every other clichéd piece of the supernatural that you can name. You can’t shake me. In every case, I found the strings that made the puppets dance and cut them with my pen. I get more letters from frauds before breakfast than the IRS does in the entire month of April. I am a well-dressed, skeptical, devastatingly handsome man, and I see 20/20 with these Oliver Peoples glasses, so don’t try to blind me with your bullshit. That is who I am, and that image defined my existence until midnight.

I sat in my usual corner booth at the Prism Lounge, nursing a Cosmopolitan and reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the millionth time. Fred Phelps be damned, if anything I do is a sin, it’s the worship of Truman Capote’s writing. While the right-wing whack jobs worried about what went on in my bedroom, I destroyed several copies of In Cold Blood. Read them to death. Brutalized them with my affection.  I tried to drown out the ridiculous music that pumped through speakers that were as tall as me. The thud-thud-thud of the bass felt like tomorrow’s hangover. Some things were timeless. Martinis and Capote would never go out of style. Prism used to be an escape for sophisticated gay gentlemen. These days, the only thing separating it from every other club in New York is that they let the men through the velvet rope first. In my heyday, the late nineties, with the new-swing movement in full gear, the place was amazing, like someone stole the roaring twenties from Fitzgerald and dropped it right in to my neighborhood. Now, I felt like an outsider in my own safe space. My eyes seemed to blur with every beat of the generic electronic house music. I pushed on, comforted by the fact that I knew every word of Holly Golightly’s adventure by heart.

“Are you Boogeyman Beau?”

I departed the world of Truman Capote with a reluctant sigh, placed my bookmark, and looked up at a man who had no business in Prism. The man was nothing but leather and scars and not in a Judas Priest sort of way. Everyone watched us. I was the only one who hadn’t seen him enter. I could practically smell the gasoline from the Harley Davidson that the man had no doubt double-parked out front.

“The Hell’s Angels bar is two blocks down.” I smiled. He looked confused. Just another dunderhead with a push-up max higher than his IQ. “No offense, but you are just a little bit too young and a little bit too butch for me.” I picked back up my book.

The biker sat down, reached across the table, and grabbed my hand. I tried to pull away, but his leathery grip held me as tight as a bear trap. “I need your help. You have to help me.”

Everything about the man said rough, but his eyes said something different. His eyes stopped me. They were clear blue, like worn denim, watery and desperate. I calmed down, and he released me from his grip. I checked over my beaten-up copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as if this man was capable of damaging it by his mere presence. Confident that all the wear was the product of my love, I tucked the book back in to the pocket of my Brunello Cucinelli sports jacket.

“Boogeyman Beau was supposed to be a joke.” I took off my glasses and rubbed the fingerprints off of the lenses with the cuff of my Thom Brown shirt. “An on-air name for my college radio days. When I started the blog, I didn’t think it would take off like it did. Bit of an oops on my part. Just call me Beau.”

The biker rested his massive head in his meaty hands. “Call me Midnight.”

I laughed, leaned back in the booth and crossed my legs. “Oh honey, I thought we were past the bad pickup lines.” His face looked even more devastated. “You are kidding, right?”

“Might as well be my name.” His voice had a tentative shake that betrayed its tough gravelly texture. “It is as fitting as anything. I need you to write about me.”

Figures, right? I made a mental note to have Johnny the doorman screen the crazies. “I do interviews eight to five. Well, more like eleven to seven. Send me an email. That’s how it usually works.”

“You don’t understand. I don’t know where I will be tomorrow. I don’t know who I will be. I can’t do this by appointment. Do you have any idea how long I waited to get this close to Manhattan?”

Something grabbed me, a journalist’s instinct. I retrieved a leather-bound notebook and a rosewood pen from my jacket pocket. I carried them everywhere. They were as necessary a part of my wardrobe as my grandfather’s vintage pocket watch. “Okay, shoot.”

“At midnight, every day, I become someone else.”

I tucked the pen behind my ear, and laid the closed notebook down on the table. “If this is another werewolf confessional, I’m not interested. I’ve had it up to here with the lunacy.”  I laughed.

He didn’t seem to get the joke. “I mean I will be in another body.”

“This is a night club. Lots of people will be in another body at midnight. You don’t see them begging me to write about it.”

The guy’s face knotted in frustration. “This body will still be here. I’ll be somewhere else, I don’t know where, in another body.”

“You are no Scott Bakula. I’ve seen the show.”

“It’s not like that. I am in a body for twenty-four hours. After the time is up, I end up in another body.”

I picked up my Cosmopolitan, which had warmed to room temperature while I listened to that crap. “To put the wrong things right, hoping the next leap will be the leap home. Yada, yada, please.” I rolled my eyes and drank.

Midnight slammed his fist down on the table. “That’s not how it is! Dammit!”

The jolt sloshed liquor on my jacket. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket. Embarrassment and anger made my face burn. I saw Johnny start heading my way from the door, but waved him off. I retrieved my pen from behind my ear and pointed it at Midnight. “There are three things in this world that give me real pleasure. Fashion, good books, and good liquor. You’ve ruined all three for me tonight. I may seem like a weak little man to you, but if you do anything like that again, I will shove this designer rosewood pen in to your left eyeball.”

Midnight slouched back in the booth, deflated. “I just don’t know who else can help.”

“Let’s say this is true. What makes you think I can help you?” I opened my notebook.

“I thought maybe you had heard something like this before. At the least, I thought you could write about it, and maybe someone who reads your blog would have some ideas.”

I had heard all sorts of crazy things, but I decided not to go there. “At the risk of beating the dead horse, have you tried to make the wrong things right?”

Midnight picked up my Cosmopolitan and chugged it down. He belched. I didn’t object.

“I’ve tried prayer, charms, spells, sheer willpower–I’ve tried everything I could think of except one.”

“What’s that?” I scribbled down notes as he talked.

“Death.”

I stopped and looked up at him. He scratched the stubble on his cheeks.

“Do you think it would be murder?” he asked. “What if I wake up in another body anyway, and the poor bastard that I killed just stays—wherever? I don’t know if I could handle that.”

“You mean these are someone else’s bodies?”

“Yes. I’ve seen them walking around before and after my jump to a new one.” Midnight leaned forward, whispering over the table. “I can still feel them in my head. I can feel how much this guy hates this place. I can feel his anxiousness. Not his consciousness, just his deep-seated prejudice.”

The bartender, Raul, a rather effeminate young Hispanic man in a pink silk shirt, brought me another Cosmopolitan and sat it down on the table in front of me. He looked at Midnight and then to me. I registered a momentary look of disgust on Midnight’s face as Raul returned to the bar.

“You need to reign that in. There are men in here who would love to kick your ass for the look you just gave that kid.”

“I know. Sorry. It’s hard to control sometimes.” Midnight rubbed his hands together over the top of the table, like a junkie itching for another shot. “I woke up in prison a few times. Once, I had to be a psychopath. I thought about how I could kill every single person I saw. I didn’t do it, but the thoughts were there. I couldn’t stop them.”

I tapped my pen on the table top, looking over the notes I had made. “So who are you really? I mean, really?”

“I have no idea anymore. I’ve bounced around so much that I don’t even know my own name. I don’t know how long it has been going on. It’s hard to keep track because I never know where I am going to be next.” He picked up the Cosmopolitan. “Sorry, do you mind?”

“Go ahead.” I motioned to Raul for another. “I doubt many people here have seen a Hell’s Angel drinking a cocktail, but by all means.” Raul brought my fresh drink. Midnight gave him a momentary smile and thanked him. “Good,” I said. “Progress already.”

Midnight took a sip. “This is good. Sometimes I get flashes that I think might be my original life. I recognize a person on the street, a certain song, or a taste–” He wiped his lips with the sleeve of his leather jacket.

I decided against a lecture on manners and checked my grandfather’s pocket watch.  “So—in less than five minutes you are gone again.”

He blew out a long breath of air. “Yeah.”

“That is quite the story.”

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited to tell it to somebody.” His eyes broke and tears flowed from the eyes of this tough-looking biker. He laid his head down on the table, hiding his face in his arms. “Why can’t it stop?”

Looking across the table at a man imprisoned in the body of another, I thought of Truman and his interviews with Perry, gazing through iron bars at an imprisoned killer who was desperate for understanding. Compassion and sympathy had become foreign concepts to this man. His spirit found its body so unlikeable that it fled from person to person each night. I walked around the table, slid in next to Midnight, and put my arm around him. He buried his head in my chest. I checked my grandfather’s watch.  The second hand counted down like some sort of perverse ball drop. The journalist in me couldn’t wait to see what the New Year would bring. Five. Four. Three. Two. I kissed the sobbing man on the forehead like a parent putting a child to bed. One.

The biker flung me off of him. I landed with a grunt on the dance floor. My glasses flew off my face, and I scrambled to retrieve them. The left temple snapped as a careless dancer stepped on them. I grabbed the remains and held them up to my face.

“What the fuck?” The biker scrubbed any remnants of my kiss from his forehead. Everyone in the place stopped to watch. The thudding bass ceased. “What the fuck do you fags think you are looking at?”

He lunged towards me with large, thudding boot steps. “I ought to fucking kill you, queer.”

I jumped up, grabbed my pen from the table, and held it between us like a sword. “The definition of queer is strange or odd. Look around you. Who is the odd man out in here?” Spittle flew from my mouth like snake venom as I raged. “Who do you think you are? This is our place.” The crowd gathered around, at least a hundred young men willing to tear this hate-filled man limb-from-limb.

I imagined the strangeness he must have felt, waking up at midnight in the arms of a diminutive little man whom someone had taught him to hate beyond reason. I felt a surge of sympathy. He seemed weak and scared, hardly a threat. I returned my pen to my pocket and picked up my drink.

“The door is back there.” I ran my fingers through my hair to straighten it up. “The Hell’s Angels bar is two blocks down.”

As I drank, the crowd closed around the biker, who turned and fled. Moments later, I heard the unmistakable rumble of a Harley Davidson pulling away.

There are moments when I wonder if the biker was just playing me, teasing a writer of paranormal smut with a strange story, only for his joke to become unraveled by a small kiss. But there are other moments, too. Each midnight, sitting in my little corner booth at Prism, nursing my drink, I dare to believe. I wonder if he will contact me again, and I hope that one of you, my readers, might be able to help him.

 

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.

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