Three Can Keep a Secret
Three can keep a secret. Shadowy and undefined, hunched over, perhaps slightly deformed. Some folk in the streets whispered in hushed tones the words, "mutation," "freaks," or "accident of nature," but all in speculation, or more aptly in desperation to explain that which cannot be.
Around these three was the distinct air of the unreal, a strange difference in atmosphere that was just out of grasp. It was like the words on the tip of the tongue, the straining to retain that waking thought.
Chronologically it seemed they were out of sync. Their movements somewhat disjointed and in features always slightly unfocused. Much of the time these three seemed mostly unaware of the reality that curved around them, going about their ways, such as they were or appeared to be, as if in an obliquely divergent dimension, which for some reason encroached into here. Other times they seemed to notice this world, and would look up from their doings glancing briefly as though observing a distraction passing a window.
No one could particularly recall when this parallel vista had intruded upon the shadowy courtyards of the old part of our city. Some say it began as shadows, cast from the high-rise peaks that blotted the sun, leaving mournful streets of depressing grey. Others say it was always there, but overlooked, how they couldn't say. Most who passed on by did so with heads slightly down, eyes averted, as though willing themselves no to see that which could not be – perhaps all to aware that they looked into the soul of the city, unwilling to face their shadows.
None did stop to stare, not even the children, although stories nonetheless abound, about those bogeymen and what they allegedly did to those who didn't sleep at night. Alternatively it was these three who were credited with the nightmare that some suffered, awakening with a start, a scream, drenched in the cold night sweat.
There were even names bestowed, by whom originally it is not known. Snake-eyes, Eightball and Thirteen. Nor was it remembered why they had been so called, for none could claim to have clearly seen the features to so label them. Perhaps it was more in reference to the foreboding doom they seemed to portend to those who tried to ignore.
Then one day there came a man, a stranger to our city. He came to observe these three; although how he was aware of their presence here it was not known. It was assumed that none but our city folk knew of such, that the stories had not escaped these streets. He would come and stand and stare, mostly by day and seldom at night. None dared speak to him, choosing to ignore him too, least they be forced to acknowledge the real existence of those three.
Some believed him a madman, for he seemed a little queer. He never approached those three, no notes on paper written nor photographs taken. Nor did he ever interact with anyone who passed him by, oblivious to the fact he was not alone on these lonely streets. He just stood and stared, not always in the same place, sometimes from within the shadows, other times from the doorway of a building. Mostly just in the open, though no one ever saw him arrive or depart and it was unknown where he may reside when not in the process of observing.
Some began to talk, about the observer and his relation to the observed. Some did feel he was responsible for them being there, that the observed required an observer. They proffered that he had been here all along, and that he was the cause, while others claimed he was merely responsible for keeping the ghastly affair going. Get rid of the observer and then there is nothing to observe. Believing, they, that all was a bizarre experiment in which the observer is intricately a part.
Some did gather, to take it upon themselves, to decide upon an end to the matter. The solution they did decide was to ask the man to leave, to tell him he was not welcome, and that his observations would no longer be tolerated. A spokesman was appointed to talk to the observer, and so it was set in motion. This group which numbered many, did approach this man who again stood observing. They did form around him a circle, aiming to obstruct his view. And the spokesman stood before him, clearing his throat in mock-importance he'd taken upon himself. But the attention he sought was not gained, the observer unmoved. It was as though he looked right through them, with eyes still focused upon the three. There was a murmur within the crowd that this was perhaps a weird joke and he who stood before them was a blind, deaf, mute, who actually was aware of nothing that may be going on around, lost instead in deep contemplation on matters known only to him.
Without attention gained, the spokesman started anyway, to explain what had been decided, and that it was requested that the observer take his leave. All through this speech, which lasted several minutes, no indication was given that what was said was heard. The observer's eyes never wavered from whence they watched, nor did his breathing change, if he did indeed breath, if he as in fact alive and not some lifelike mannequin so-placed and moved about by some unseen mad trickster.
There was a long silence, of many minutes so it seemed. Then without warning the eyes of the observer changed focus, just perceptively and came to stare now deep into the eyes and soul of the spokesman. A slight gasp in unison was head from those forming the circle, while the jaw of the spokesman dropped, his face a mask of fear. It was as though he had seen deep inside himself some would say.
Then as they stood in shocked silence, the observer for the only time spoke, "I came to observe;" the words slow and emphatic, although virtually no change in tone. With those words said he suddenly moved, walking slowly and deliberately towards the three, his gaze again fixed upon them.
The circle parted to let him pass, curiosity making them forget their demands. No one, as far as is known, had ever gone so close to the space occupied by the three. But now this observer approached closer, step-by-step. When he was as close as he seemingly could be without crossing the boundary he stopped and turned to face the crowd.
The corners of his mouth appeared to hint in a slight smile, that he knew something they did not. Those gathered there waited in anticipation, for the observer seemed about to speak. Some perhaps though he would enlighten them, let them in on the secret, to which he surely knew. Some moments they did wait, in silence. Then they all became observers to something, which to this day has never been explained. The observer began to fall backwards, but as he did he disappeared from view, an impossible perspective. Confusion and murmuring did ensue, but all agreed that the observer was no longer there, although not trusting their eyes as to what they all witnessed.
With the passing of the observer a time of change was marked. Over the next few weeks people became aware that the three were becoming two. It was as though one was merging somehow with the other two, although no one could express what it was they saw. And after that transition was complete, the next phase began. The two remaining slowly started to assimilate until there remained just one.
The change complete the passers-by did notice, that now things were focused, no longer ill defined, and the remaining one was now familiar, for it was the observer. Many months rolled by and the observer did stand and stare. Now observing the city from the vantage point of the three. And as the time rolled by the streets and buildings seemed to grow dim. The greys of shadow darkened until it seemed an endless night was about to descend.
But something more sinister it seemed was unfolding, for everything seemed to grow less defined, unfocus, and lose sync, save for the space where the observer now stood. Then at last, once the time was at hand, the observer turned his back on the city, which was no longer there. Satisfied that the outcome was as it should have been he shut his eyes, and finally he too ceased to exist.
© Graeme Wilson 2001-2004