The Ghost & Mr. Jump

How long had I been painting? I couldn't say, but I thought I had seen the sun come and go, then return and disappear again behind my apartment's shuttered blinds. I had been working in an insane frenzy under the harsh light of the bare bulb that hung from my ceiling, like Pablo when he created his masterpiece, Guernica. I was consumed by a mad rush of creative kickapoo joy juice, good vs. evil: Batman's silhouette traced across the night sky, Superman in mortal combat with Lex Luthor's kryptonite, the pitifully few British Spitfires rising heroically to take on the Nazi onslaught, and my own beleaguered unit in Viet Nam battling the repeated headlong rushes of NVA regulars, all of us killed or wounded save one, me, Johnny Jump who through the virtue of remaining untouched in the hail of mortar fire and Kalashnikov lead was cited by a rear guard officer to receive the Silver Star. I accepted it, although any man in my unit could have been awarded the same, some perhaps even the Medal of Honor, but those were the dead and they were voiceless and I felt that if I allowed the nameless general to pin the medal on my chest that I would be accepting it for all the guys in my squad, living and dead and I said so as I saluted his two stars and chest full of medals. "I know, son," he said, returning the salute as a military band struck up a tune in the background.

I painted as if in a feverish dream, the composition unfolding like the pages of a book. The five nuns imprisoned in their habits, ghostly shadows in deep blue and moonlight moving stiffly from left to right like chiseled hieroglyphs at first, then slowly becoming animated as they shed their clothing; dancing in cobalt, then turquoise, the blues giving way to reds that morphed into pinks and finally into electric yellow, the five nuns emerging totally nude, liberated under the enlightenment of the sun. Hovering on high above them, arms outstretched like the Old Testament Jehovah was the disgraced Richard Nixon, index and middle fingers of both hands raised in the "V" for victory salute, neon stylized stars radiating in the sky behind him.

I had painted it all in one mad forty-eight hour frenzy; eight feet by four feet of blank gessoed plywood now filled with my magnum opus, my paean to life, my fulfillment, my Guernica. I stepped back and stared at what I had wrought and then suddenly fatigue overwhelmed me. I sunk to one knee, then both, then dropped to the floor, face pressed into the hard oak, brush still clutched in my paint-stained hand, as oblivious to the real world as if I had been returned to the womb.

I slept.

When I woke I couldn't say how much time had passed. I opened one eye, then the other, squinting as they adjusted to the dark room. I was prostrate in a fetal crouch on the floor before my masterpiece. I could barely make out the shapes and colors in the dark as I inhaled the sharp smell of paint and turpentine and linseed oil. In spite of the sleep I was exhausted. I had emptied my entire soul into the composition and it was slowly replenishing itself. I rolled over, away from the painting, now fully cognizant of my surroundings.

I can't explain what ocurred next, or whether or not it really happened. I was drawn to something in the far corner of the room, where sat my one straight-backed wooden chair that I had rescued from a curbside garbage collection. I recognized the outline of the chair, and its faint shadow behind it but something, or someone, was sitting in the chair. It was human in shape, yet not solid in form. A glow like a tepid St. Elmo's fire sketched the faint outline of what appeared to be a man with hollow shadows for eyes. I should have been terrified, but I wasn't. There was something vaguely familiar about the phantasm; something friendly, and warm. I made an effort to rise, propping myself up on one elbow.

"Don't get up, Johnny Jump," said the apparition. "I haven't got much time."

I recognized the voice. "Tank?" I asked.


"But," I stammered incredulously.

"I want you to think, Johnny Jump. Think hard. Who could have taken me out? Who had the strength and the will to do so?"

"I don't know, Tank." I couldn't manage much more than a few words in reply.

"Who could have gotten close to me and cut me open like that?"

"Tell me. Who was it?"

He laughed. "That I cannot do. You have to discover it for yourself."

"Then why are you here, and where did you come from?"

"I haven't left yet, but I will soon, and I have this one chance to try to guide you to my killer."

"What do I look for, where do I search?"

His voice was getting smaller, his luminescent outline fainter. "I can only tell you to think small, Johnny Jump. Think small and think close at hand. Do those two things and you'll discover who it was who killed me and who put them up to it."

"'Them?' Was there more than one? Why did they do it?" I reached out a hand to him, but he was gone. I shook my head to clear my brain to see if I had been dreaming, but fatigue once again overwhelmed me. I slumped back onto the floor, returning to an exhausted torpor, Tank's voice resonating in my dream.

"Think small. Think close at hand."

What in the hell did it all mean?


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