Last Angel in Underland by DB Cox
When the word came that God had given up and abandoned His failed creation, a murmur spread through the city until it grew into one deafening noise. But over time, numbness set in and the cries died away. The bewildered citizens, feeling a need for diversion, went back about their daily routines. There would be no Second Coming. No judgment. No afterlife. No paradise.
At the edge of town, where the outbound ends, a shadow dressed in rain walks along an empty, late-night sidewalk. When he reaches the traffic light at the corner, he crosses the street and descends a long flight of stairs. At the bottom, there’s a crumbling walkway. Steam rises from cracks in the concrete, streams of heat flowing beneath the street. The soaked traveler walks to a large break in the pavement, sits down and lowers his body through.
Below the street, in the forgotten reaches of the subway system is Underland—a shantytown inhabited by a population of winos, drug addicts, maniac drifters, early releases from mental hospitals, and a few outsiders who just can’t confront life above ground. They exist apart from the machine—renegades, who belong nowhere. No world. No way of life. No particular time or place.
Adrian lives here. His beard is white, and his matching mane of hair falls down his back like a small avalanche. He’s in from the storm after another day of hovering on street corners, whispering hopeful words into the ears of a thousand fearful souls. He is relieved to be away from the chaotic thoughts of the forsaken.
Others like Adrian had once lived in this subterranean world. But they lost purpose and, in despair, drifted away.
Adrian Gray will not leave. He is the last angel in Underland.
This place is his shelter from the outside world, a place to get away from the jarring dissonance of human reflection. Bottles, needles, crack pipes, and the relaxing fact of madness help ease the dread in this colony of outcasts.
Adrian has spent untold time languishing in his empty outline of an earthly body. Now he wonders if there is anything else to be done—any clear reasons to stay here in this murky world by these static steel rails to nowhere? He has reached rock bottom. Without the meaning of God’s will, his existence seems absurd.
Below the streets, the forgotten sleep—crumpled like dirty laundry inside concrete holes and cardboard cottages. The residents of Underland are “architects of necessity,” “magicians of construction,” who can imagine a cardboard box into a house. A refrigerator, once in a box, is now in a house—a human, once in a house, is now in a box. Abracadabra.
Adrian sits on a wooden crate, shoulders resting against a graffiti-covered wall. Just above his head, the message “In the Dark—Nothing Matters” is spray painted in big, block letters. He focuses on shutting down some of the circuits that are buzzing inside his head. Gradually, he enters a half-awake dream state. Behind blank eyes, Adrian’s mind tracks a black and white slideshow of words and broken images:
helpless military powers—falling towers—fear in the air—reason runs scared—nihilistic existentialists—suicide flights—into the light of paradise—last dust of reason—streaming through city streets—globalization—United Nations—coming undone—God left us—every one—the walking dead—crack heads—inebriated—incapacitated—annihilated—fucked up—falling down—crawling around—shattered—scattered—lights out—passed out—in abandoned buildings—train stations—bus stations—a cardboard box—detox—inside—outside—down by—homicide—suicide—overdosed—cold exposed—overloaded city morgues—tiny stainless steel freezer doors—gurneys overflowing—with a thousand tagged toes—old myths fade and dance away—madly backwards
Adrian snaps forward—fully awake. He stands and begins to pace back and forth, mumbling to himself.
A voice comes out of the dark. “Are you all right?”
“What’s that?” Adrian turns toward the sound.
An old man steps out into the half-light. Adrian immediately notices the dead, hollow eyes of a blind man. He’s wearing a hooded overcoat and carrying a slender walking stick in his right hand.
“Is there something you want?” asks the old man.
How can this man hear his voice? Adrian is puzzled, but he feels compelled to answer.
“Yes. I want to give up this alien existence. I want to terminate this time without end. I want to feel what the people feel—to know the fears they know. How can I help, if I don’t know?”
Adrian pauses and studies the unreadable face.
“How is it that you are able to hear me?”
“I can hear you, feel you, and I know what you are. It has been a long time, but when I first came here, meetings of this kind happened quite often. I suppose the others have gone—pointless to stay on when all is lost. You shouldn’t punish yourself. After all it is you who have been left alone—a strange position for those of your kind.”
“And who are you?” asks Adrian.
“Only an old junkie with petrified eyes who followed Alice down a hole.”
Adrian walks over and stands directly in front of the old man. He gazes into cloudy eyes as if searching for a hidden clue—something the man knows, but is not saying.
After a few seconds of silent examination, Adrian reaches out and lightly touches the face of the stranger. The old man smiles. Adrian turns and walks into the perpetual night of Underland.
“Soon, you may come to see,” whispers the old man.
Adrian is halfway through the tunnel when he feels the steel rails shudder and hears the piercing screech of metal on metal. He turns into the oncoming light and drops to his knees. With his arms extended above his head, he screams.
“Is there no one left to close the door on this wasted undertaking? If it is finished, let me go!”
Adrian’s words are buried in the clamor. The ground shakes as the subway train slams through every molecule of his body, leaving not a mark. His eternal heart goes on beating—out of habit. His unstoppable mind continues to fire—simply because it must.
But there is no enlightenment. No epiphany. No flash of righteous light to show the way.
There is only the fact of raw, naked existence. And with this, a terrible isolation he has never felt before—separated in a world where the only will is his own.
Adrian trembles as he looks back over his shoulder and watches the last car of the train disappear into the shadows. Irreverent fury used up, he stands and starts walking slowly along the oily gravel and crossties—following the inbound back into the city.
DB Cox is a blues musician/writer from South Carolina. His poems and short
stories have been published extensively in the small press, in the US, and
abroad. He has published five books of poetry:”Passing For Blue,” “Lowdown,”
“Ordinary Sorrows,” “Empty Frames,” and “Nightwatch.” His new collection of
short stories called “Unaccustomed Mercy” will be published in 2011.