A SHORT STORY
BY RUSSELL UNDERWOOD
We walked slow but never kept to one direction for very long. Sometimes, we'd catch a whiff of sulfur, sense some small current of magic left hanging in the air, and drift over that way to confuse whatever scent we were leaving.
Gradually, though, we made our way West, more or less up Station Street, until we were up around the intersection with 6th Avenue, where I'd met Tatiana yesterday, a whole lifetime ago.
It was early by then, and we could hear the music still filtering out of the Station Street Blues Bar, old Bobby Pogue and the Shadows playing one of their famous all night gigs. Sometimes when I'm feeling brave, I'll come over and sit outside the kitchen door and catch whatever I can of the notes he plays.
We lingered there for a while, and it occurred to me that this might be Tatiana's first real taste of music from the World. She could have done worse than listen to the Shadows.
After a while, she said, "Obie, what kind of music is this?" She said it softly, like she was talking in a church. "It sounds like every sad in the World."
"Misery made beautiful," I told her. "They call it the blues."
We listened for a while longer, maybe longer than we should have, because eventually the notes turned sour and foul. It weren't Bobby's doing, though. Something close by had infected the music, stripped out the strong backbeat of redemption and hope. Almost too late, we realized we had company again. And now there wasn't no time for Tatiana's spells and trickery.
I grabbed her hand and we ran -- hard as I ever run, my old chest heaving, my chicken legs dying with weakness under me -- all the way to 8th Avenue, where I pulled my own little trick out of the bag.
See, 8th Avenue's smack in the middle of what some people call the club district, on account of all the strip joints and nightclubs and bars in it. All of `em are packed in pretty tight because the buildings are so old, and the alleys jammed in between them are dark and narrow and twisty. Most of the alleys connect up, and at night, to the sighted, it's like being in a maze with the lights turned off. There's some scary shit in there sometimes, but not as scary as whatever was hot on our heels, so I risked it: I hit the alley between the Gaslight and Lucky Louie's and didn't slow down for nothing.
One thing about being blind, you're forced to think more about lefts and rights and how many steps from here to there, because of course there ain't no visual cues to guide you. The dark in the alleys made no difference to me: Even at top speed, I knew the twists and turns. Behind me and holding on for dear life, Tatiana wasn't doing quite so well. I heard her grunt a couple of times as her shoulder bit into one corner or another. But then we were through and out and if the feeling of those unseelie men wasn't gone, at least it was fainter than it had been. We came out farther down 8th, close by the bus station. As I bent down over my knees to get my wind back, I heard the big hydraulics of the Greyhounds hissing loud in the night.
"How long `till sunrise?" I said.
"Maybe an hour."
"Shit." I straightened up, still heaving, my old lungs still creaking from the run.
"Can't we go back to the ocean?" Tatiana asked, but I shook my head. "Never make it. They won't stay lost in there for long, and I ain't got the legs for another long run."
She was quiet and I could sense the worry in her. Could sense too that she was thinking maybe it was time to cut out on her own. Then, hopelessly, she said, "I don't even know where to hide."
"No more time for hidin'," I told her, the breath still rasping out of me. "Time for a stand."
Eighth Avenue's just one block west of the park, and we made it easy -- down through the gate, past the maples with the last of their dry leaves rattling nervous in the wind. And then we were back in the cardboard city and I was beating on top of the boxes for all I was worth.
"Get on up, you layabouts!" I yelled. "Climb on outta there! Trouble's comin'!"
I could hear `em stirring, most of `em grumbling and cussing, some too drunk or dazed to say much of anything.
Then I heard Bone's voice, stronger than the others. He said, "Old man, what you up to now?"
"I got no time to explain it, Bone, but I need your help now like I ain't never needed nothin.' You trust me, Bone? `Cause I need you to stand up for me now."
He told me to slow down and explain it but there's wasn't no time, and I just kept asking him -- "You gonna stand up, Bone?"
Finally, he said, "I'm for you, old man. You know I am. What you need?"