LENNY – By Ray O’Bannon
I don't really care much for zombie movies. Used to love 'em, but not anymore. Not since I saw my dead roommate standing on the corner of Spruce and 7th Street. But maybe I should start at the beginning...
I was starting my second year of community college, and Leonard Brice was my roommate. He was a tall quiet fellow who spent most of his free time studying. I, on the other hand, spent my free time playing in a garage band down on 12th Street, a few blocks from Spruce Avenue. That's always been a seedy part of town, and Lenny always refused to go there. This left me on my own to carry my clunky old amp and guitar from the bus stop to the band's place. Mostly, I was annoyed that he wouldn't come hear the band, but he was a nice guy and I knew he meant no disrespect. He was just a kid away from home, trying to stay afloat in the land of academia, terrified of the adult responsibilities waiting just around the corner. For him, walking around that part of town felt like crawling down a deep dark hole, hoping it wasn't filled with spiders. I sometimes felt the same sensation, but I enjoyed the mild sense of danger. It made me feel a little more alive somehow. And besides, my favorite place in town was on Spruce and 7th... Clancy's Pawn Shop.
Clancy's always had really great guitars. I had a thing for that plinky old Fender sound you can only get from a Strat or a Tele. The Stratocaster was my favorite but the Telecasters had thinner necks and looked a bit funkier. Clancy's always had plenty of both, as well as several nice fat Gibsons and sometimes a Rickenbacker or a B.C. Rich hanging there in all it's freakish glory. The band would often walk the five blocks to Clancy's just to stand and stare at all those wonderful instruments, wondering if there wasn't something left in our closets, something forgotten in the trunks of our cars, anything we might sell for enough to purchase one of these miraculous creations. Clancy's Pawn Shop was, to us, a place of magic. It's no surprise I found myself heading there after Lenny died.
He was killed while crossing Madison Street. The front grill of a large bus left his shattered form lying there in the rain. The bus in question was never identified, and to my amazement life went on, despite the fact that Lenny no longer played a part in it. But I began finding it hard to enjoy playing guitar and eventually left the band. I became rather reclusive, spending most of my time concentrating on my studies. My grades improved but time seemed to have come to an awkward standstill. It was only after several months that I realized I hadn't really had any fun in quite a while. Finally one night I found myself walking down Spruce Avenue, thinking of Clancy's and all those amazing guitars. But Lenny never completely left my thoughts, and my awareness of the shadow that had fallen over me since his death never diminished. So you can imagine my shock when I saw him standing there on the corner of 7th Street. No you can't. Never mind about that.
I was half a block from Clancy's when I first noticed the tall thin figure standing on the corner. He was wearing a dark suit and as I drew near I was struck by how perfectly still he seemed to be standing. It almost looked as though one of the local shops had left a mannequin outside for the night. As I came closer other details became noticeable. The wrinkled suit was tattered and seemed streaked with mud and grime. At his feet an upturned hat held a few bills and a small handful of change. A piece of ragged cardboard rested on his chest, dangling from a string around his neck. 'NEED FOOD PLEEZ HELP' pleaded the message scrawled there. The man was missing an arm. And looking up, I recognized my roommate Lenny. He was deathly pale and his hair hung in limp strands across his face, but it was definitely him. He was even wearing my sunglasses.
One of the few things that had ever bugged me about Lenny was his habit of accidentally grabbing my shades instead of his own. As I stood staring at him now, those sunglasses both amused and terrified me. Lenny was dead! He couldn't be standing here on the corner wearing my shades and staring blankly out into the street. My mind was shredding itself trying to make sense of things. This simply couldn't be.
He continued to stand motionless, giving no sign of recognition as I hesitantly stepped closer.
"Lenny?" I stammered weakly. "Are you alright?"
The little voice in the back of my head, which I refer to as my inner smartass, began yammering things like 'Does he look alright?' and 'Do you really expect him to be alright?' and ‘Can we just go home now?' I've never found my inner smartass to be much help, so I decided to ignore him. Lenny remained motionless. I waved a hand in front of him, feeling a little ridiculous.
"Hey, man, it's me... Joe. Your old roommate!" I stood waiting for some sign of recognition, or at least some evidence that he was in fact alive at all. For a long while he simply remained staring blankly forward. Then, as I was wondering if I should say something more or simply follow my horrified instincts and walk away, he turned his head more directly towards me. His head turned very slowly. I noticed the right sunglass lens was cracked.
"Joe" he slowly rasped. His voice was like sandpaper drawn across rusty metal. There's something indescribably horrible about hearing the dead call your name. But of course, my mind insisted, he isn't dead. He's standing right here in front of me so he has to be alive. Right? My inner smartass offered an answer but I refused to listen. Lenny said nothing further. His gaze seemed to return to the busy street. I stared dumbly at his shockingly pale features. For a moment I considered reaching out to grasp his remaining arm, but something inside me recoiled at the notion and I found myself unwilling to touch him. I backed away a few steps, every fiber of my being insisting there was something terribly wrong going on here. And then he again slowly turned his head towards me.
"Nancy?" he rasped.
I stood frozen for a few moments, not sure telling him the truth was a good idea. And then it just poured out.
"She cried for weeks after you died. We were all worried but she eventually seemed to calm down and accept the loss. She even signed up for a few extra classes, said she wanted to learn more about art. She hung herself last Tuesday. I'm sorry, Lenny. I really am."
He turned his empty gaze back towards the street, very slowly.
And then a horn echoed harshly from the alley nearby. Lenny's head jerked towards the sound with unnatural speed. It was almost as though someone had edited a few frames out of reality... one instant we was facing the street, the next instant his head was turned towards the alley. As I stared in amazement, he very slowly returned his dark gaze to the street and then looked downward. He bent forward, moving with uneven slowness as though his back were injured or his vertebrae fused. Reaching down, his pale stiff hands grasped the hat and its meager contents. Rising painfully back up, he turned unsteadily towards the alley and began plodding forward.
His steps were disjointed and awkward, as though his bones had been broken and improperly set. His motions were altogether unnatural and somehow repulsive to behold, yet his pace was surprisingly rapid. I can't explain what made me follow him into that alley. It's just what I did.
At the far end of the alley sat a large school bus. A streetlight dimly revealed 'First Methodist Church' written in fading letters on its side. Much of the bus had been covered with graffiti, cartoon palm trees and fish decorating its rusty panels. The row of windows along the side seemed to be covered with some sort of heavy wire mesh, like those of a prison van. Traffic from a nearby street momentarily backlit the interior and I could make out rows of passengers sitting motionless within. The front grill of the bus was dented in several places. The vehicle's doors swung open and reggae music spilled out into the dark damp alleyway.
Lenny continued shambling horribly towards the bus but I dropped back. Something deep inside was telling me I didn't want to get too close to that bus, not for anything in the world. Maybe it was just fear, plain and simple, but for whatever reason I dropped back. Lenny continued forward, reaching the bus and slowly making his tortured way up the steps. The streetlight grudgingly provided enough light for me to see Lenny hand his hat to the driver, who remained in shadow as he tossed it into a box at his side. And then Lenny slowly turned towards the rows of seats. I wanted to shout, to run forward, to do something to keep him from walking down that aisle and finding a place to sit. But to my surprise he continued to turn until he was facing me, and stood motionless in the doorway.
My inner smartass began screaming incoherently. But it was still my friend Lenny standing there, so I crossed the dark damp alley and approached the door of the bus. I stopped at the lower step and stood looking up at my old roommate.
"Forgot" he rasped.
Reaching jerkily upward, he grasped the sunglasses, removed them and held them out to me. As I took them I looked up into his eyes. They were a dull blank white, dry and dusty, with no pupils. I could see small clumps of mud clinging around the edges of both eyeballs. The right eyeball was cracked, like an eggshell, with a few bits missing.
As I jerked back in horror the engine clanked and sputtered to life, and the bus lurched forward. I stood staring as it faded into the darkness of a side street. Then I put the sunglasses in my pocket and made my way back to the bus stop, to be carried off into the darkness with my own silent crowd of strangers.
After that night I stopped leaving the campus as often. I eventually graduated and joined an electronics firm. Last year I started another band, but we don't play any reggae. And I don't really care much for zombie movies anymore.
I never saw Lenny again, except in my nightmares. But I have plenty of those.