Cold, Dull, Gray People

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A dull, gray man dreams about a warm place, where everyone sparkles.

A short story about individuality, based on the song "Everyone Sparkles" by Kris Rodgers. This song is included at the end of the story.

Submitted: June 12, 2010

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Submitted: June 12, 2010



Johnny’s hand snapped out to hit his alarm clock. It hit perfectly, silencing the obnoxious beep before the first had even finished. It had become an instinct by now. He hadn’t even had his eyes open yet. He opened them now and lurched up. It was still dark in the room, of course. It was five in the morning.
He turned to the side of the bed and stood. He went through the motions of showering, shaving, and getting dressed, thoughts elsewhere. His alarm clock had interrupted a dream. He couldn’t remember it, except that it was a good one. What was it? It had filled him with a feeling of warmth, physical and emotional.
Johnny started walking to the front door, then paused to look at his watch. He still had time. He returned to the doorway of his bedroom. Even in the darkness, he could make out the outline of his wife, lying on her side. He sighed. They hadn’t been getting along very well. He thought back to the early years of his marriage.
They had been happy then. They had both been vibrant and young. He shook his head. They were still young. It was just that he felt like he could be in his fifties instead of at the beginning of his thirties.
He turned around and walked down the hall, passing the two parallel doors where his two children slept. He couldn’t help but smile slightly. They were his children. They were like bright neon lights in his life. His grin faded. If only he could see them more than a few hours a day. And on the weekends it felt like all he could do was sleep.
He looked down at his hands. They were clenched, the very edges of his nails digging into his palm. He exhaled slowly and relaxed his fingers. Johnny opened his front door and stepped out into the hall.
The sixth floor of the gray apartment complex was interesting only in how uniform it was. The wallpaper and carpeting seemed to blend. On either side of him were identical doors extending down to the elevator. The hall was empty.
The elevator graced him with soft, repetitive music as he descended. He closed his eyes. He had heard this jingle thousands of times before, in tens of elevators. Or maybe he hadn’t. Elevator music was all the same. This could be the same jingle he had heard when he came up the elevator the previous day, or he may have never heard it before.
Johnny exited the elevator. He left the apartment building and walked out onto the cold gray streets. His legs complained. Not enough sleep. Never enough sleep. Sleeping was a way to get to a warm place.
Johnny had walked most of the way to the subway station. Twice, he had bumped into people. Normally he was quite good at navigating the streets even when barely paying attention, but today he was out of it. Luckily, his instincts knew when to stop for traffic; when everyone else did. His feet thudded into the gray sidewalk monotonously. How many times had he walked this route? Nearly every weekday since his son had been born, at least.
Something penetrated his thoughts. A sound. Music. Not the dull loop of an elevator. An instrument, or instruments, and one not too far off. He raised his eyes from the endless feet. He could see the entrance to the stairway leading down to the subway station.
This station was located under a small square, unlike most others, which seemed to be a hole in the sidewalk. The sound came from opposite end of the stairs, where the railing protected passerby from the ten foot drop to the stairs below, or rather the five-odd foot drop to the packed heads of other gray commuters. Johnny could only see a small collection of heads through the larger group immediately in front of him. What could be making that sound? It was like nothing he had ever heard before.
Johnny managed to escape the salmon run and approach the small crowd. He (gently, he hoped) permeated the outer layers of people. At the center of the group, almost leaning against the railing, was a man holding a guitar. What distinguished him the most in his dress was his bright blue beanie, a refreshing change from the hatless, gray-suited masses. This beanie was pulled over his ears, but not far enough to cover the long dark red hair poking out from it. This fiery hair was mimicked on his chin in a few days’ growth of a goatee. His eyes were covered with dark, mirrored shades. The lenses were large, squat, egg-shaped, the kind Johnny’s dad had worn, minus the shade. Not Bono shades, but reminiscent of them. Bono on a budget. The grin on the man’s mouth was small, but encompassed his emotions. The smile told Johnny that the street performer was confident, enjoying himself. The smile bounced up and down slightly with the rest of his head, in perfect time with his fingers. He looked like a hippie who had missed his proper generation; he was only about Johnny’s age. His fingers moved as if on fire along the neck of his instrument.
The instrument, which Johnny had assumed to be an electric guitar, had only four thick strings. A bass guitar then. His right hand slid up and down the strings, then just quickly they formed a kind of thumbs-up sign, smacking into the thickest string and producing an impressive percussive thud. Immediately his curled fingers popped out, going away from the string as fast as the thumb had slapped it. The resulting snap sound was followed by another percussive thud. Johnny wasn’t sure why, but he knew that this hippie was making up this song on the spot.
The rapid, punchy style was something Johnny couldn’t remember ever hearing. He felt the galloping of a horse, but also the squawk of a surprised, but still incredibly musical, duck. He heard chirping crickets, but also the power of man-sized bells. Johnny felt a smile creep onto his own face.
“Hey! No panhandling in the streets!” Johnny turned to the source, angry that someone would disturb this tiny miracle.
A police officer was gesturing to the ground in front of the hippie, to a place where Johnny couldn’t see through the people. Presumably, a guitar case full of small bills and pocket change. The cop was middle-aged, with an authoritarian look Johnny generally associated with vice principals and Benito Mussolini. His red face was angry.
“Oh come on, mate,” replied the hippie, indignation just slightly unconcealed under his undoubtedly British accent.
“Clear out before I fine you for disturbing the peace, too!”
Johnny closed his eyes. He directed them back down to the ground, their usual domain. He opened them again. He saw his hands, clenched again. He relaxed them slowly, noticing nervously that his nails had formed indents in his palm. How long had he stood there?
The crowd had dispersed, and the bold blue beanie was nowhere to be seen. Johnny began to doubt he had been there at all. He had been daydreaming, surely. What hippie would be playing in the streets before six in the morning? And what about a power source? Johnny hadn’t seen an amp at all, now that he thought about it. No amp, and no power source. He had been dreaming. He shook his head and walked around to the staircase leading down to the station.
A bit of doubt in the back of his head whispered. You couldn’t see the guitar case full of tips either.
Shut up, Johnny replied.
Johnny sat in the subway car, packed in tightly with others. He had gotten the last open seat. He was regretting this choice. He felt rather like a fish caught in a giant net, pressed into the all a squirming mass, all trying to escape but with nowhere to go. Thousands of wriggling bodies in the cold water, all of them the same dull, gray color. He grimaced.
That’s what you are, Johnny, came the whisper. The voice seemed familiar.
Shut up.
Johnny felt his head dipping, only to snap up. He was dangerously close to falling asleep. He opened his eyes resolutely and looked around in an attempt to stay conscious. His watch reprimanded him. He was slightly late, but it was nothing that couldn’t be made up.
The warm place seemed to beckon to him. His willpower failed, and his head slumped. He dreamed.
The subway car lurched to a stop. Johnny surfaced, albeit barely. He looked at the dull, muffled LED lights dictating the stop. With an inward groan, he stood and pushed his way through the people.
He still couldn’t remember what the warm place was like, exactly. He couldn’t form any precise imagery. He began to picture something, but then it was blown away like leaves in the wind. Vague feelings. Warmth. Something else.
Johnny got off the subway car and started making his way to the office. Not his office. The office. The office was the place where he worked, in a small fabric-covered box, surrounded by the others, who also worked in small fabric-covered boxes. He could never consider the gray walls of his box his, he hoped.
He reached the top of the stairs and looked at the sky, confirming what he already knew. He hadn’t even bothered to look up before. It was a cold, dull, gray day. The clouds formed a wet blanket over his feelings. His vision dropped back to the horizon, invisible through the buildings and the crowd.
Johnny inspected the crowd. Dull men in gray suits, dull women in gray pantsuits. They were all on their way to cold, dull offices. There they would spend the day just as they had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
Just like you, mate.
Johnny recognized the whisper now. It was the hippie.
Shut up.
Johnny put his head back down to the earth and moved through and alongside his cold, dull, gray duplicates. His movement didn’t seem like his own. He moved more like a piece of food down the esophagus, pushed and pulled in the right direction from all sides.
Johnny managed to get to the office without being late. He passed the same people he had passed every day, gave a vague wave to the same people, then sat down in his gray box. He sighed, then yawned.

Johnny’s boss passed by, dropping a thick packet of papers on his desk.

“Look alive, John. Things to do.”

Johnny put one hand on the papers, then stopped. His eyes were barely open, despite it being so cold in the office. Johnny ran his fingers through his hair and leaned back. The papers were nearly the same papers he had filled out for the last two months. Johnny dreamt.

A hand on the shoulder woke him. His eyes snapped open. He could remember the dream a little better. He tried to picture it. People. Yes, people. They weren’t like the crowds he had wandered through every day. They…sparkled. They all sparkled in a different way.

“Wake up, John” said Johnny’s boss.

Johnny hated being called ‘John.’ He looked up at his boss, still slightly bleary. He wanted to go back to the warm place, the place where everyone sparkled.

Johnny’s boss frowned. His clean-shaven chin was pale, complementing his gray suit. This was the first time Johnny had fallen asleep at work, but this was just one more thing in a long list.

“Look, John. This is your job, my friend.”

What spiel do you got for me this time? And you’re not my friend.

“Think of the rent, John. Think of your kids. Think of your pension, think of your future.”

Johnny’s boss gestured to the small window about twenty feet away from them. It was a hole in a large gray building, and revealed the sides of other large gray buildings.

Oh no, he’s going to tell me again, please don’t tell me again. Oh n-

“Now there’s a lot of people who would want a job like this John…”

Johnny tuned his boss’s rant out. He looked up from his desk and straight into his boss’s eyes. He surprised himself with how firm his gaze was. Then Johnny closed his eyes.

He could picture it better now. The warm place. The office was cold, that place was warm. The people in this room were all dressed in a dull, gray color. The warm place was where everybody sparkled. This office was full of apathy. The warm place was where everybody cared. Johnny wanted to go there.

Johnny’s boss was still lecturing him.

How do I go there?

You’re already pretty close, mate, replied a voice, not the hippie.

Johnny didn’t tell this voice to shut up, though he had wanted to hear the hippie. He leaned back, still looking at his boss with his eyes, but his attention fully elsewhere.

Johnny got up from his desk and walked to the men’s room. He opened a stall door and sat down. How long ago had it been since he had seen the brilliant blue beanie? A week? A day? Had it been this morning? He wasn’t sure. The days were one continuous, blended stream.

It was almost the end of the work day. The sun had refused to come out, but insisted on starting the slow process of darkness. Johnny couldn’t see that though. The stall was lit up with the harsh glare of fluorescent lights. Johnny looked at the gray linoleum on the floor. To his left, in the next stall was another man; he could see his gray shoes.

Johnny sat awhile. The non-hippie voice whispered to him. He could vaguely hear the hippie in the background of his mind, there but strong enough to be heard.

Johnny made a decision. Johnny pulled it out. It was gray, of course. He didn’t care too much though. Because, in the light from the ceiling, it appeared to sparkle. Johnny smiled. Johnny put the gun to his head and closed his eyes.

“I want to go to a place where everybody sparkles.” Johnny whispered.

Goodnight, Johnny.

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