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One Thursday Night

By Harry Banks


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    Herbert Johnston is a large, barrel-chested young man who comes from a long line of alcoholics. He is the latest in a string of black men who turned to the bottle to escape the pressures of a life that got the best of them. Just as his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather enjoyed their alcohol with soul music, jazz, and blues respectively; Herbert often spends hours in front of his stereo system drinking 40s while listening to a new form of rap music called gansta rap.


    He’s staggering down a busy street one Thursday night after leaving a bar where he drank two pitchers of beer and several mixed drinks. He has no car, so walking to bars, getting plastered, and walking all the way back home is nothing new to Herbert. He doesn’t believe in driving drunk anyway. He scoffs at the idea of calling a taxi, because as far as he is concerned, five or six dollars spent on a taxi can be spent on a few pitchers of beer.


    Going to bars and getting drunk is nothing new to Herbert. Becoming intoxicated at bars is what he enjoys, since he doesn’t have a woman to do things with. It is just another boring and lonely night for him, but he has grown accustomed to an existence of living without a woman’s touch.


    As Herbert continues walking up the street, the moon seems to watch over him as it glows through the clouds in the sky. The moon is his guardian angel, his woman, smiling at him from above. It wants to assure him that in the end everything is going to be all right. But Herbert’s cynicism (which gets worse with alcohol) prevents him from believing that everything is going to be okay in the end.


    Somebody from the heavens above was certainly on Herbert’s side, for in his inebriation he managed to walk all the way up Prospect Avenue, then east on 18th Street to his apartment without getting harassed by Kansas City’s Finest, robbed by young thugs, or accosted by drug dealers slinging crack on the block.


    Herbert opens the door, and enters the apartment building, leaving the door open. It is pitch black in the hallway, which means that the light is out again. Suddenly the door slams shut with a loud BANG!, which makes every hair on Herbert’s body stand up. Truth in point, if the light was working and somebody saw Herbert at the moment the door suddenly slammed, they would have seen the entire white parts of his eyes and every tightly-curled hair of his short afro stand up straight.


    Now Herbert is frightened. He was always afraid of things that go bump in the night. He feels goose pimples forming all over his body, and becomes sober. He braces himself for whatever is about to pounce on him. What makes the situation all the more frightening is that out of the sixteen units in the deteriorating brick apartment building, only five are occupied. The other four tenants are not at home now since their vehicles are not parked out front, and Herbert feels so alone in the enveloping darkness. It doesn’t help matters that the four apartment buildings to the left of the building that Herbert lives in are all condemned.


    The sound of a car going down the street, bumping a brand-new MC Hammer tune produces in Herbert a feeling of comfort, but that comfort quickly disappears when he begins to feel the presence of something evil and heavy waiting to pounce on him in the darkness.


    Suddenly Herbert is ready to fight back. He knows that if he is going to be attacked, he might as well let his assailant know that they chose the wrong man to mess with. He reaches into his pocket, takes out his switchblade, and opens it up. On the way up the stairs to his third-floor apartment, he jabs the knife around in the dark air furiously.


    When he makes it to his door he is relieved that he didn’t have to stick anybody. But it is still pitch black, and he knows that he is going to have to fumble with his set of keys in the darkness until he finds the one that will unlock the door to his apartment. He takes the set of keys out of the pocket of his Notre Dame Starter jacket, and singles out the key that he thinks is the right one. He inserts the key into the lock, and is relieved that it fits. He turns the key to the right, and opens the door when out of nowhere his right arm is gripped by a warm hand that pulsates with an evilness that is horrifying. Herbert screams. The hand lets go of his arm, and he hears the sound of footsteps running down the stairs, then out the back door.


    Herbert rushes into his tiny apartment, closes the door behind him, and locks it. He leans against the door, so frightened that the sound of screeching tires out front followed by gunshots goes almost unnoticed by him.


    Another wave of fear sweeps over him when he realizes that every light in the apartment is on. He knows for a fact that he turned all the lights off when he left earlier in the evening.


    He doesn’t know what to do. He believes that any sudden move by him might cause something to come flying through the window or running out of a closet with a butcher knife so he stays still for a few minutes.


    Suddenly Herbert walks over to the television, and turns it on for the noise. He needs the company of the noise of the TV to help him get through the remainder of the night. But he also believes that the best way to get through any stressful situation is alcohol. He walks over to his refrigerator, and takes out a bottle of vodka. He takes a few large swigs from the bottle, and begins to feel drunk again. He is no longer frightened of anything, and wishes that he was in a public place so he can talk shit. He walks over to the  sofa with his vodka, and sits down.


    After finishing the bottle of vodka, Herbert is ready to go to bed. His eyelids are becoming impossibly heavy, and he hopes that once they close when he falls asleep, they will never open again.


    A few minutes later he is undressed and laying in bed. The radio is tuned in to a station that is playing Vanessa Williams’ current hit, “Dreaming”. Herbert turns off the lamp, oblivious to a heated argument going on between a group of young men in the alley. He is in a deep sleep within a few minutes, and isn’t even woken up by the firing of an automatic weapon that happens right outside his window.                           



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