Yet below the city he felt secure. Although sometimes he thought he heard the feet of the multitudes as they hurried to and from work; the shriek of the trains, the urgent peal of sirens, the tearing muscle of the expanding city, but the mind does play tricks and darkness like ignorance can confound.
Below he had friends, above ground he had none, and once he had made up his mind to go below, he found it easy to drop out. He began slowly. He didn’t return texts, calls, didn’t show up for speaking engagements, lunches, dinners, until one day there were no more calls, no more offers.Then Clarence quit his job, packed up his desk, sold his condo and moved underground. A few of his colleagues had tried to reason with him; told him he was suffering from dissociative fugue--a loss of awareness, but Clarence had refused to listen--knew that awareness was relative.
When Clarence did come to the surface, he disturbed the wagers, who shrank from him, because, to them, he knew he represented ruin--ruin that taunted: you’re just a few pay cheques away; you’re just a few pay cheques away from being an outsider, a freak, a bum, a misfit, a drone unworthy of the commandments, but he didn't care what they thought. Refused to speculate; it was all sticks and stones.
Below there were no restrictions. Clarence slept when he felt like it, ate when he liked, and sometimes he didn’t climb to the surface for days. Besides, he had a few amenities, he could turn on a light and cook a meal if he wanted to. And, best of all, there were no rules in the compound. The only trouble: the occasional man off his head with booze, drugs or lack thereof.
But one night the insiders found the opening and scurried down to their space, down to their rich damp earth. In the compound, they thought that they were hearing things, but, no, the insiders were below, and each successive night they multiplied—disrupting the silence—splitting the atoms of darkness.
Two months after the insiders arrived, Clarence arranged a meeting to discuss the infiltration. Not used to schedules, when the hour came only two people showed up. The others had wandered off, climbed to the surface, or were somewhere deep in the tunnels, spying on the insiders. But later that night, Clarence's friend, Pine, returned from an operation he had code named Leaky Valve with the lowdown.
“You should see what they’re doing down there, professor.”
“I told you never to call me that. What can they be doing that we don’t do?”
“Dancin, singin, shaggin, paintin. You name it they got it goin on.”
“Yep, you heard it, man. It’s a freakin circus.”
“What type of paintings?”
“Lots of graffiti, a few masterpieces.”
Clarence scoffed. “What do you know about masterpieces?”
“I’ve been to the AGO, man.”
“Yeah. Back in the day, I went to the gallery twice a year.” Pine grinned.
“Come see for yourself. Grab your light, my helmets out.”
A few miles down, Clarence, who had long since lost Pine, caught a glimpse of the insiders in one of the crowded caverns; they were doing all the things Pine had said and more. Intrigued, Clarence walked from cavern to cavern and watched the insiders as they recited poetry, grooved, played games; he listened to a couple of stand-up prophets, watched beautiful, half-naked women dance to the beat of bongos, listened to others play mandolins, violins, guitars. As he strolled, flickers of candle light from a cavern up ahead wavered into focus; inside a bearded man with one eyebrow added the finishing touches to a painting of a lush forest bound in barbed wire. Clarence moved on.
In other caverns, he saw murals in various stage of development: a decaying city scape, a weeping Madonna without child, armed shadows that circled one another, the ruins of a cathedral. There were all sorts of desolated landscapes including a withered garden with snakes dangling like Spanish moss from dead trees, where children without eyes waded through oil. Further along a flame thrower caught Clarence’s attention, but he soon lost interest, and he turned on his heel and hurried back to the shack where he spent the rest of the night plotting against them. What were they thinking? How dare they swarm the tunnels, copulate on the property, urinate where they pleased, deface the walls, and contaminate the water supply? And what about the reeking garbage that was piling up in tunnel eight? It had to stop.
The next morning, Clarence climbed to the surface to buy weapons. He had washed before surfacing, but when he walked into the bank and got in line several people shifted as if he were a sour bug, or a skunk cabbage. He knew he was gaunt, pale from the dark, and his back pack was dirty, but by God he was human. A mass of curls, that he refused to have cut, fanned out from his head like the fronds of a fern; he hadn’t shaved, and patches of dried mud clung to his clothes. He heard an indignant woman to his left say, “He has no right to be in here. What’s this place coming to?” At the wicket, and even though Clarence provided a valid passport and his social insurance card, he was faced with mounting doubt. To make matters worse, his account was dormant.
Eventually after a lot of whispered conversations, frowns and doubtful glances, Clarence was rushed into a new manager’s office who, fortunately, when he looked at Clarence’s passport, remembered Clarence’s name from somewhere. He studied Clarence’s face. In a high pitched incredulous voice the manager said, “Didn’t you teach philosophy at the university?”
“Yes, but I decided to liberate.”
“How much do you want from your account?”
“Yes, and in twenties.”
While Clarence signed a withdraw slip, the manager asked Clarence when they could meet to review his investments. Clarence said that he’d check his schedule. Near the door, they shook hands while the customers in the bank stared at them in amazement.
At a sporting goods store, Clarence peered into the locked cases at the combat knives. He asked about the guns, but he soon found that he was out of his depth. Short of breath, Clarence hurried outside, leaned against the building and bent over and put his hands on his knees. He heart raced. What, he wondered, was he thinking.
Although Clarence had money, he rarely went to the bank, and he didn’t use an ATM because he hated technology. And since he only made withdrawals once or twice a year, he sometimes bought cheap kicks to save money. He chewed on the inside of his lip, cast furtive glances to the left and right. Maybe the sprays were finally catching up with him. As the crowds hurried by, he wondered why he was plotting against the insiders. After all wasn’t he the man who was once immersed in problems of existence, reason, logic, ethics? Perhaps he’d have to re-think liberation.
Further along the street, a smiling girl walked up to Clarence and passed him five dollars. Bewildered he refused, but she insisted. Before they parted, she looked him in the eye, beamed, and wished him a good day. With the sun beating down on him, he walked up Queen Street and cut across to Yonge.
On Yonge Street Clarence stumbled into a barber’s shop. He got a hot shave and although he'd made a vow, he submitted to a haircut. Later, he bought new clothes, rented a room on Bay Street, although he’d long since sworn off such comfort, showered, changed and then napped before hitting the streets for a night prowl.
But after another full day on the surface, he had had enough. When he reached the tunnel, and even though he had three-quarters of a quart of rum in him, it took an hour for his nerves to settle. Then he clicked his way to his roofless shack.
The following evening he put up a sign at the entrance to the tunnels: Symposium to be held in cavern five on Friday at 11:00 p.m. The title: Beneath Consciousness: The Changing Morality of our Times with Clarence Stiller.
At ten thirty on Friday night, Clarence sent Pine down to see if the chairs that he had bought and had ferried into cavern five were filling up. At ten forty-five, an out of breath Pine piled up in the plywood walls outside of Clarence’s shack. While Clarence helped Pine to his feet he said, “Well, is anyone there?”
“Hell yeah, man. There ain’t even a spot left for you.”
Copyright © ~ Dixie
Originally written for thematic writing submission titled The Hidden City.