Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Short Story-Blind Tracks

After another long day at school a college sophomore by the name of Ely Hook made his way down the urine stained stairs which led deep into the underground. It was a Friday afternoon and Ely was left contemplating another confusing week. Ely was yearning for something good to happen to him, or least something different. The daily robotic routine of his life was starting to weigh heavily on his soul. He felt as though he was traveling in circles for the last few years without any satisfying end in sight. All he wished for was some type of reassurance, some type of sign to make sure he was traveling down the right path in his life.
Ely walked the long subway platform kicking crumbled papers along the way. He passed a man draped with dirt asking for spare change and a extremely heavy woman playing the violin passionately. He proceeded ahead until he could go no further. Using his books in his backpack which extended out of his back about two feet, he propped himself up against the wall as comfortably as he could. As everyone else’s head was strained to the left looking and listening for the train to come, Ely had his eyes fixated to the right viewing the blackness of the tunnel. There was a rumbling which made a few people spring off their benches because they believed the train was coming, but any true subway rider does not listen for the roar of the train on the tracks, but rather for the faint whisper of wind which creeps closer. Anyone who rode the train frequently knew there was another train line which ran directly above which made it seem like the train was arriving when it really wasn’t.
While Ely continued to wait for the train he witnessed the movement of a shadow cast upon the subway wall. At first, Ely thought his eyes were playing tricks on him after another long day of boring lectures and lack of food. He turned his head away believing it was nothing, but it appeared again.
There was someone or something lurking in the subway tunnel. While Ely’s eyes were focused on trying to figure out what was in the tunnel, he was startled by the loud thunderous bangs of the train car arriving. The train stopped in front of him and the doors opened. He stared in and saw a homeless person and his dog passed out in the corner as well as the blank leisurely looks of the rest of the people sitting on the train. They looked like sardine zombies squeezed together side by side. Ely decided he would not board the train today. The doors closed, the horn blew and the train vanished into the darkness of the tunnel.
Ely saw that the platform was empty. Ely decided that he was going to find out what was down there. He did not hesitate.
At the end of the subway platform there was a gate which sealed off a small set of stairs scattered with litter that led down into the tracks. Ely swiftly kicked open the DO NO ENTER sign and tiptoed down until he reached the bottom surface. The nervousness of the unexpected was racing through his body. Making sure not to step on the third rail, Ely continued on. Surprisingly, the further Ely ventured into the tunnel the quieter it became.
Ely suddenly stopped in his tracks as he felt a slight rumbling which began vibrating at his feet and worked its way up to his kneecaps. He looked over his shoulder and witnessed little white lights starting to illuminate the shadowy subway tunnel. A train was headed straight towards Ely with no apparent crevice to duck into to avoid it. Ely tilted up his baseball cap and wiped the sweat off of his brow. He stood as flat as he possibly could up against the wall hoping to elude the speeding train. There was nothing he could do except await his fate. His bones turned brittle, Ely had to use every ounce of life he had left inside of him to stay plastered up against the wall.
He shut his eyes when all of a sudden he felt two large hands dig into his shoulders and forcefully pull him out of the train’s way saving his life. Ely was totally awestruck from almost getting crushed by the train and encountering this figure in the tunnel. Cloaked in complete darkness Ely and the mysterious man stared at each other not saying a word. Ely realized he was still intact by seeing a faint portrait of himself inside of the man’s sunglasses. The man turned his back on Ely and headed to what appeared to be an abandoned subway car. As the man walked away he made a gesture over his shoulder signaling Ely to follow.
Ely rose to his feet and had no choice but to follow this mysterious man. The man slowly stepped forward lunging all of his weight onto some sort of cane. Ely noticed that the man appeared to be blind. As they got closer Ely could start to see the man more clearly. He stood about 6’4” and had long dread locks which were a mixture of black and gray. He possessed a good sized belly with a long black and grey beard. He stood at the entrance of his domain holding that cane which had a silver skull with ruby red eyes carved as its handle.
The train was broken down, dirty and old. It appeared to be an old green line model that very well might have been one of the first ever to run underground in the city of Boston. All of the doors were propped open and most of its windows were shattered. As Ely made his way up the train stairs trying not to step on large rats, he noticed all the seats had candles on them which lighted the interior. Strangely enough, the man had a large collection of plants which were covered in cobwebs. He also seemed to have a few pet pigeons concealed inside of cages.
In the far corner lay a pile of possessions, mostly debris that was thrown and lost on train tracks which the man seemed to have collected throughout the years. Everything from cans, gloves, hats and burnt out batteries. There was also a chess set located on one of the chairs which contained 32 beautiful hand carved wooden pieces.
As Ely walked forward he noticed scattered throughout the long subway car, painting materials such as brushes, paints, paper and easels. As Ely looked on the sides of the train where advertisements once hung, he was astonished. Beautiful paintings dangled in the air suspended in all of their glory.
The man sat quietly in a seat as Ely viewed his artistry. As Ely continued to gaze at his paintings, he noticed there were notebooks everywhere! It looked like a library, an underground museum! Ely also noticed unique figures that seemed to be sculpted from objects which people threw on the tracks.
“Would you mind if I read one of your notebooks?” Asked Ely.
The man did not answer. Ely slowly and carefully reached for one of his notebooks and gently opened up one of the pages. The pages were musty and dirty and made a large crackling noise when Ely tried to separate them. The man moved his head slightly as he heard the rustling of the pages. It was poetry.
As Ely continued to read the man spoke his first words.
“You can borrow that if you like. It’s one of my favorite books I have written, though, you must promise to return it,” said the man.
“How did you know which book I was reading?” Said Ely with an inquisitive look on his face.
“I might be blind, but I’m not stupid. I know where everything is on this train. I sensed where you were sitting and I knew. Let me take a guess, is the title Shadow Painting?” Asked the man.
“It is. I know I haven’t read much, but from what I’ve read it’s really good, I really relate to it,” said Ely.
“Then take it with you. You’ve had a draining day, why don’t you head home now,” spoke the man.
“What about you,” said Ely
“This is my home,” said the man.
“I’m not quite sure how to get out of here,” said Ely
“If you found me, you can find the light of day once again. When you are finished with my book you can bring it back to me and let me know what you think. You are welcome back, but only if you come alone and unannounced like you did today. Do not let word of me spread to the surface, because if you do, you will never see me again,” said the man.
Ely assured the man that he would not let the world know about him. As Ely exited the train he turned to the man.
“What is the name of the man who saved my life?” asked Ely.
“I go by the name Shadoe.”
Ely found his way safely out of the tunnel and back up to the subway platform. Instead of taking the train Ely decided he was going to walk home. He walked back up to the snowy surface pulling up his hood as the wind was blowing the snow right in his face. He trudged home in the bitter cold reminiscing about what he had just experienced. Wondering about Shadoe, the mysterious blind painter and poet who relocated to live underground.
“Why?” asked Ely silently to himself.
Ely returned home looking like a snowman. It was so windy that mounds of snow formed in the back of Ely’s hood as well as in his pockets. Ely lived with his grandmother who raised him for a good portion of his life. His father had left when he was only two years old and Ely has not talked to him since. His mother had struggled with drugs her whole life and was currently doing time on a four year sentence for heroin possession.
Ely’s grandmother Lilly was a very strong woman. She raised him for most of his life and provided Ely with all she could. He continued to work very hard to try and make her proud of him. Times have gotten very hectic lately, his grandmother Lilly found out she has breast cancer. Ely has spent a lot of time over the past few months taking care of her.
“My God Ely, you are soaking wet and freezing. Go ahead and change your clothes.”
After Ely finished a cup of cocoa while watching TV with his grandmother, he headed straight for his room to start reading Shadow Painting. The first poem of the book was titled Dark Dungeons of Despair and it immediately drew Ely into Shadoe’s world. The next poems Glass Vision and Aftermath of the Accident informed Ely about Shadoe’s haunting past.
Shadoe had lost his vision in a terrible car accident. He was driving drunk with his son in the car. He swerved and lost control of the car when a truck tried to cut him off. His son was killed instantly. Shadoe was left with glass lodged inside of his eyes.
Ely finished reading Shadow Painting all that night. It was one of those books, one of those stories that drew you inside of it and you couldn’t put it down until it was finished.
Monday came and after classes Ely ventured back into the subway tunnel making sure he was not noticed. He reached Shadoe’s lair much easier this time as he remembered where the unmarked door was located on the wall.
Ely walked up to the train’s door and knocked.
“You act like I don’t know that you have arrived. A blind man’s hearing is amplified 100 times greater than a man who can see,” said Shadoe.
“Sorry Shadoe.”
“So, did you get any reading done?” asked Shadoe.
“Yes,” replied Ely.
“I assume you have questions?” Asked Shadoe.
“Yes,” replied Ely.
“As do I, said Shadoe. Since this is my house I get to ask first. Tell me about yourself, you were pretty courageous to come down here. I respect that, that is why you are welcome,” said Shadoe.
“I’m just a confused college student who is attending school in the Boston area. I am a freshman in college who is just trying to find my way in the world. I have a hard time fitting in at college because I don’t look like, act and speak like the rest of my classmates. You see, I haven’t had the luxury of being educated at private schools like most of my classmates. I don’t have the luxury of having my parents pay for my education. My mom is in jail and I never really knew my dad. I go to school full time and work full time. I am not from the suburbs like the rest of my classmates; I am from the tough streets of the inner city,” Ely responded.
“Lately I have a hard time trying to focus on my schoolwork, my grandmother has cancer and many of my peers which I grew up with are living on the edge of insanity. I am the only person from my crew or my family who has even attempted to graduate college. Most of my childhood friends are doing time in the jail, on drugs walking the street like zombies, or selling drugs waiting to get arrested or shot. My only family is my grandmother, if something happens to her, I don’t know what I would do,” said Ely.
“That is a very impressive story. It seems as though you have a lot of weight which you much bear on your shoulders and that you have been chosen to lead and evolve in both your family and your society,” said Shadoe firmly.
“Yes, but that is something I never asked for!” replied Ely.
“Sometimes son, we are not asked, we are anointed,” spoke Shadoe.
“So, what about you Shadoe, if you don’t mind me asking?” said Ely.
“Ely do you know that you are the first person besides myself that I have talked to in 31 years. I ventured underground when I was 24 years old, only a few years younger than you right now. I am now 55 years old,” said Shadoe.
Shadoe slowly put hands upon his face and grasped his shades. He moved them slowly from his face and placed them on his lap. Ely’s eyes bulged open as his eye brows almost touched the top of his head. Tiny pieces of glass were still lodged inside of Shadoe’s eyes. Deep scars adorned many of his eye sockets.
“After the accident which you read about, I came directly down here. I didn’t know where else to go. I had killed my son, I could barely see. I just wanted to exist in the dark. To see nothingness. To live in an environment which was similar to my mind and my heart.”
“I was a young kid. I couldn’t go to jail for the rest of my life. I couldn’t try to exist in a world where I would be reminded of my son everyday of my life. Down here I still think of him all the time, but this is like my punishment, my hell. To live alone for the rest of my life with the rats as my only company.”
“Do you understand?” asked Shadoe.
“I do,” said Ely
“You have a chance to lead a great life and do wonderful things, do not screw it up like I did. I know you are looking for meaning in your life and a purpose, but sometimes it cannot be defined right away. You do not always find out your meaning in life, sometimes it finds you,” explained Shadoe.
“I understand,” said Ely. “I have to get going to work now. Thank you so much for the talk and for letting me read your book. It meant a lot to me,” said Ely.
As Ely and Shadoe embraced shaking hands, there was a flurry of little white lights which looked like fire flies that were appearing in the distance. Ely rose to his feet while Shadoe stayed silent. Shadoe’s underground museum had been discovered. “Listen up!” Hollered one of the offices. I don’t know what the hell you two have going on down here, but you’re both under arrest for trespassing.”
The officers were kneeling down circling the abandoned subway car with their pistols drawn.
“We have two options here. You can come out peacefully with your hands in the air, or you can come out of here in body bags!” Yelled the officer.
Ely began to speak when Shadoe quickly took his cane and pressed the silver skull firmly above Ely’s Heart.
“This is not your fight. Wait here until I say so Ely,” said Shadoe. “I have been waiting for this day for over 30 years.”
Ely pleaded his case upon deaf ears. Shadoe confidently crept down the stairs one by one.
“Stop right there! Yelled one of the officers. “Don’t make us shoot.”
Shadoe stopped dead in his tracks, illuminated by the bright white lights of the police and by the red dots from the sniper rifles that covered his body. Shadoe stood firmly in place leaning on his cane for support as the tails form his long black leather jacket were flapping slightly from the gusts of wind in the tunnel. Ely looked out of the train’s window nervously. A loud roar from a train passing by deafened the area, Shadoe reached his left hand into his pocket.
“Fire!” Shouted the officers.
Ely screamed and ducked, “no!”
Repeated rounds of ammunition struck multiple areas of Shadoe’s body. He fell to his knees. Shadoe removed the sun glasses from his face as they and his body dropped to the ground at the same moment. Silence again filled the tunnel. Spotlights cut through the thick smoke like the sun’s rays on a foggy day as they were shining on Shadoe’s shot up frame.
The cops hovered around Shadoe and witnessed the blood, bullets and glass that covered his body.
“Get the boy,” screamed an officer.
A few officers ran up into the train and found Ely laying on his back shaking. They picked him up and handcuffed him.
“Hey Sarge, you’re never going to believe the crap that’s inside of this train, said an officer. It looks like some sort of museum.”
A month passed and Ely found himself standing in a real museum in New York City at the unveiling of Shadoe’s art gallery called SHADOW ART. This wasn’t one of your typical art shows where a lot of people dress up, sip wine and talk about how much they know about art. This was different. There was much anticipation around this event and the blind man whose underground art finally rose to the surface. In a short period of time Shadoe has been recognized as one of the most unique artists of the 21st century.
The layout of the gallery was set up like a train station. When you first walked in there were wooden tracks and rails that were laid down on the floor. Each room took the form of a subway car and each painting was another stop on the journey of one of the greatest rides you could ever take. Galleries like this one displaying Shadoe’s work started to appear all over the world.
Soon after Ely finished college and buried his grandmother, he came to be known as a great painter and poet in his own right. He wrote countless poetry novels and painted beautiful pictures that now hang in people’s houses all across the world. Ely however could never shed the guilt for Shadoe’s death. He missed his blind mentor which was the only man who ever showed him the vivid way to view the world.
One day while staring into a mirror Ely took his fist and slammed it into the center shattering and splattering glass everywhere. Ely stared at himself inside the pieces of the broken glass and it reminded him of staring into Shadoe’s eyes. He took two pieces of glass, each about the length of his finger and squeezed them in the palm of each hand until blood started dripping into the sink. He took one last deep breath and gouged them deep into both his eyes!
“Ahhhhhh!” Screamed Ely as he fell to the floor and blacked out. This would be the last time Ely would ever see the light of day again. No one has seen or heard from Ely in over 2 years. However, throughout cities all across America, particularly on subway benches, books based on the technique of Shadow Poetry continue to pop up unannounced capturing the minds and hearts of young readers everywhere.
The next time you’re down in the subway and you see a crumbled piece of paper blowing around, pick it up off the dirty subway ground. Make sure to un-wrinkle it and read it, because it might end up being one of the most beautiful stories you’ve ever read in your life. And the next time you’re walking above ground, look down and remember this story and think of all the mysterious things that have yet to take surface and show themselves to the world.

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