I am afraid not of falling over the precipice, but of throwing myself over.
A miserable night. Late December, cold, mist...the ground-level kind that not only penetrates clothing but cuts deep into the soul. Clouding thoughts, deepening feelings, smothering the man and bringing the animal clawing to the surface, yet somehow managing not to obscure the city. In the mist, this night, the city’s lights reflect and refract to emphasize the heights, blackout the depths, and reveal in stark detail all the sharp corners.
I looked out, not down, over the edge and from great height...arms outstretched and breathing deeply. Exhaling, great clouds of my breath swirling away in the cold air to join the mists of the night. Standing on the concrete wall...boots firmly planted, legs slightly apart, the drop mere inches beyond my toes.
A full moon...or so close to it as to not matter. Big. Stark. Drawing out emotions and pulling hard on instincts that as civilized men we are no longer supposed to possess. Heh...the psychologists would have a field day with me I’d wager. Except they’d get it all wrong of course. Their science is about imposing existing patterns on new observations. Often they are a poor fit and when they don't mesh at all, the observations are what is discarded.
I am at home in the night. The beasts that prowl it have never frightened me, and pale in comparison to some of my own that I carry within, night or not. The beasts of the night seem to recognize that, and give me freedom to prowl the depths of the darkness. They dare not attempt to prey upon me, lest I release my own nightmares to, in turn, prey upon them. An uneasy truce at best. It’s a war nobody wants to see get started, particularly me. I know some of what’s lurking...pacing...inside.
I expect I’d win.
Tasting the air. The moisture and cold and the metallic tang of the city unique to this place and as distinct as a fine wine. I know the taste. I’ve lived here all my life. I exhale again, watching the swirling mists. It startles me to realize, yes, I am at home in the night...but I’m not at home here, in this city.
How can that be? How did I not realize this before?
Far below me the city is eerily silent. There are almost no cars moving. It’s well after midnight and the Christmas season. Family and friends await. Anybody that’s able has long ago made it home. Only the lonely...or the lost...are out and about this night. I’m not sure which I am...if either.
The few cars that pass nearby won’t slow, most occupants wouldn’t even notice me. Any that did would no doubt fleetingly wonder, “How did he come to be there?” but then they would go on, and forget. I don’t fit the pattern, even in the night. Most people view the world through long established patterns and firm beliefs and they seldom perceive anything that doesn’t fit the known model. The patterns are known...trusted. The observations are what is discarded.
“How did he come to be there?”
How was easy. Why was the real question.
There was more than 150 feet off the ground, on the nearly completed, spindly, HOV bridges where they swept up and over the Dallas “High Five”...an incomprehensibly expensive and complex TXDOT bridge project of enormous proportions. The bridge part had been done for some time...it was the interchanges far below that they hadn’t finished building yet. I’d long regarded it (and still do) as my own personal, motorcycle jungle gym.
The HOV lanes...the very highest bridges...were still closed. Simple construction barricades were all that blocked the ends.
How was no problem for the big Valkyrie. A dodge hard left just after crossing under the mammoth interchange, hard braking, a quick and undoubtedly ill-advised wrong way u-turn, and a dodge of the barricades and we were home free, riding up the massive and spookily empty bridge. South bound and UP, in what would eventually be the northbound and down side of the bridge. Felt weird.
I’d discovered this place some months ago, on another full moon. On the way home again, I’d been pushed out of my lane by an errant cage driver...yes, drunk (motorcyclists can smell it). I’d snarled, dodged a few cones and a construction barricade, and skidded to a stop.
Shortly, I realized what I was seeing and grinned. Staring the wrong way up the steep and empty bridge...the highest one in the entire interchange, my soul gave a lurch. Climb...
I expect I probably howled on the way up.
I’d found another good vantage point to look over the city. This was perhaps the last time I could use this one. They were opening the HOV lanes very soon.
Another? Yes, I’ve done this before...I done it as far back as I can recall in fact.
At the tender age of fifteen or so, I got caught...on another full-moon night...sneaking back into the house at about 4am. Mom thought I’d stolen out of the house to try smoking, or perhaps sneak a few forbidden pleasurable moments with a female friend. That’s what she expected. That’s the pattern. That’s what she believed.
I let her.
Would she have felt any better if she had known I’d snuck out, scraped a couple dollars together for gas, and ridden my little unlicensed motorcycle over 50 miles of freeway to the city? There I’d zipped downtown in order to climb to the top of skyscraper that was under construction. Just to look. Just to see.
There is a reason she has that grey hair methinks.
That was more than 30 years ago, and one of the first times I remember. Since, I’ve been running out of vantage points. Parking garages are my favorite, since I can edge around or under gates or barricades and ride up. Over the years the cops have run me out of most of the good spots...most of the parking garages and skyscraper rooftops deep in the city are explicitly off limits to me.
We are hundreds of feet up...surrounded by air-conditioning equipment, gantries, radio antennas, and microwave dishes on the gravel roof of the tallest skyscraper in the city.
“Why are you here?” he has a gun and a badge.
“Simply because it’s tall my friend.”
He looks around. Puts his hands on his hips. “I’m not your friend. And just how in the HELL did you get a motorcycle up here?”
There wasn’t any point in answering. He wasn’t really listening to the answers and wasn’t going to believe them anyway. Besides, is it my fault the code for their freight elevator is “1-2-3-4”?
I got in quite a bit of trouble over that one. Apparently the cops can’t imagine a world where people just want to stop and look around them. 'Because it was there' has become incomprehensible to many.
Pity. Most people would be surprised at what’s out here to see. There is more out here than the sane mind can imagine.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s the point.
Perhaps they don’t want to know.
One-hundred-fifty feet up. Slippery concrete. The wall guarding the edges is only a few inches wide.
When the mists hide the ground they look like something soft I could jump into. They conceal the danger and are solid enough to hide friends or foes...and hunters and the hunted.
When they reveal what they’ve hidden, it is often sudden and with crystal clarity, and if you didn’t already know...or at least suspect what it was they kept from your view...it may be too late for you.
Life is something like that.
The mist below me swirls and writhes, almost like something huge and winged flew by just below. I watch the pattern...and the twirling vortex it leaves behind it...recede almost out of sight before making a graceful climbing turn in the thickest part of the mist, coming about and heading almost back in my direction.
I grin. The mist is hiding interesting things from me this night. Other senses aren’t helping much either. I hear nothing but the noise of the nearly empty city...and I wonder what that noise...muted as it is...is concealing from me as well.
My eyes narrow as I watch the disturbance turn back toward me and pass nearby again...over my perch this time in a tendril of mist just thick enough to momentarily hide the night sky.
Power. And size. And deliberate action. I’m instantly and firmly convinced there was something there. I learned to trust my instincts so long ago that I seldom question them anymore. No feeling of threat though. A friend?
I haven’t a clue what it is...but I require no further proof. It’s a big damn world. All we know...all we’ve explored, categorized, “to the ends of the earth” we proclaim in our arrogance...and we’ve just barely scratched the surface.
I think about hunters...and the hunted...and wonder which I am this night. My hands twitch as I fight the urge to mount up and ride hard...to chase the form in the mist and see what develops. I resist the impulse to chase...or run...holding my position and watching over the city for new signs of the disturbance...or other interesting things.
Hmmm. I'm the Hunter this night, methinks.
Of course I’ve been wrong about that before.
“Hi there.” The deep and raspy voice, just a short distance away from me, caught me completely by surprise. Startled is an understatement. I damn near jumped off the bridge!
I hadn’t been aware of his approach...or indeed, even his presence, until he spoke. Very unusual for me.
I looked at the shadowy figure. All the city lighting was wasted below us, leaving us in stark shadow and clinging mists. Most detail was obscured. His duster billowing behind him, he was casually walking on the top of the wall...the one I was standing on...seemingly as unconcerned as I about the 150 foot drop inches away. I didn’t alter my position, although I dropped my arms to my sides. I spoke in an unconcerned tone, “Hello.”
He stopped. Nodded. Spoke, “Hell of a night.”
“Yes.” I agreed.
He looked out over the city in the direction I’d been staring. “Sorry to disturb you. I'd thought I was alone tonight. This night, this time, is for looking around...seeing what there is to see.”
Ah. A kindred spirit. Perhaps. There was little to say. I waited, wondering why the voice was familiar to me.
The question took me aback for a moment and I looked sharply at the man. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked that question of others...and it disturbs me how often the answer was “no” and some action was required. I’ve saved lives with that question. I suspect I’ve lost others. The city can be harsh that way.
Thinking back I don’t think anybody’s ever asked it of me before. Not in this way...not in the “I stand ready to help no matter what” kind of meaning.
Was I okay? I chewed on that a bit. I was lonely...intensly so...and wrestling with a host of inner turmoil...but yes. I was okay. I had the worst of my own demons under control and lonely I could handle for now. When I had my fill of the night, I would mount the big Valkyrie and be on my way, no worse for the wear.
I wasn’t in need. I was recharging. Maybe that was the “why”.
“Yes. I’m okay,” I paused a moment, “You?”
“Oh yeah!” He was smiling, the slightly orange glow of the light below revealing his teeth. He had rather pronounced canines. “It is a glorious night!”
With that, he stuck his leg out over the edge and spun 180 degrees, clapping his foot back on the wall as he completed the turn so he was walking away from me, still along the top of the wall. “I’ll leave you be then.”
Just like that. There seemed no correct response, so I just mumbled, “Take care.”
He stopped, turned his head almost to the side and said clearly, “See you again.” He looked ahead and resumed walking away.
I stared after him a moment...wondering...pondering...then climbed off the wall and mounted the big cruiser, stabbing the helmet on the backrest and pointing her down the hill. It was time for me to leave too. I thumbed the start button and the machine came smoothly to life. I glanced back along the bridge wall, but my visitor was gone.
I gunned the big bike, rapidly accelerating down the steep slope and purposely ignoring the mists. I expected there’d be a deliberate swirling pattern somewhere, but found that at this moment, I didn’t want to know. I’d seen enough for tonight.
The world...that damn big one...for the moment was easier to take that way.
Perhaps later...maybe another full moon night...the hunter and the hunted would take up the chase again...perhaps we’d know...at least for that night...which of us was which.
Perhaps we’d even know why.