Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
Earl Crier wakes screaming from nightmares in which his ship sinks in the Arctic in World War II. He has survived but is now blind. He takes refuge in music and in the kindness of Stella. Meanwhile, other veterans return, and their most serious wounds are not always visible.
Earl Crier smiles, pushing back his blanket as he struggles to manage his dream. It did not matter, the dream, they were all good, even the ones that brought back horrific memories of the war. When dreaming Earl remembered light and all the colors within the rainbow. In this dream he was ten again, a boy, with few worries, walking along a familiar country road back in Kentucky where he had been raised. The greens were vibrant and as rich as the earth, the sky deep blue as it mirrored the vastness of space, the clouds, white, billowed high, as he tried to imagine magical creatures within their changing shapes.
A curtain of inpenetrable black closes in on him. He moans slightly as the pleasant thoughts, the brilliant colors give way, as the dark dragon devours the light as he begins to wake. He tosses uncomfortably beneath sweat-stained sheets, his fists clenching as the dragon comes for him, its tail erasing all of the beauty and light as it rips across his mind. He wakes with a scream, because when he is awake he is trapped in total darkness without any variations of gray. He has been terrified of the dark all of his life, and now he screams, because when he wakes he must live within his own unforgiving nightmare. He screams, then struggles to keep that dark dragon at bay. He sings the blues, as only a blind man who is terrified of the dark can.
Chapter 1: The Blind Man's Dragon
The scream came suddenly in the night.
Stella peered over a patient’s chart towards the door at the far end of the dimly lit ward. This scream she knew, and her heart always seemed to skip a beat when Earl Crier screamed. His was an expression of the wildest, deepest, anguish of the human soul. She brushed her dark auburn hair away from her emerald green eyes and stared intently towards the open ward doors from where Earl’s cry had come.
There was a time when Stella had thought she could get used to the night terrors. She knew that the veterans’ hospital was never silent. She heard her patients’ anguish every night as they struggled with their vivid memories of places they’d been and things they could never forget. She understood what war had done to them and gave comfort where she could. Men screamed with primal fear and anguish when they were closest to the horrendous memories they had buried deeply, but not deeply enough.
Many of the patients in her ward were there because they were beyond healing, stored where they received only the basic necessary care. Here they were purposefully kept out of sight, tucked discreetly away from a post-war America that did not want these living reminders of man’s capacity for heinous cruelty and violence visible and blaming.
Earl’s cry was not a whimper, a cry of desperation, or of surrender. It was a plea for sanctuary. Unlike the others Earl was not a wait-and-see patient. He was not disposable. He was blind, otherwise sound of mind and body. Well, mostly.
Earl touched Stella’s heart where the others couldn’t. Like the rest, he had his nightmares, only it was not these dark dreams that troubled him. His dream always began and ended the same way: he was trapped in the pitch-black hold of an ammunition transport as it was sinking in the frigid Murmansk Sea.
He was alone; the Master Chief, dead nearby. Tons of explosive shells spun around him like crazed bowling balls. His leg was broken. He could hear the groans of the ship as it settled down towards the dark depths of a bitterly cold sea. Without hope, he prayed for an explosion and a quick death.
The explosion came. Deafening. Ferocious. When his vision cleared he could see through a great hole, where the ship had been torn in half, a million stars twinkling in the night sky. Fifteen-foot, brooding gray waves slammed the aft section of the ship as it slipped beneath the angry sea. It appeared as if Hell had indeed frozen over as the sea rushed in.
That was when he would wake, and that was when he screamed. It was in that waking moment that he knew that the dark was eternal, that he was in the serpent’s lair. The memory of light and sometimes color in his dreams, no matter how terrifying, was his sanctuary, but when he woke his blindness became his all-consuming reality. Here the dark was deep, real, and terrifying.
Stella sighed and shook her head. She knew that Earl was terrified of the dark. When he was a child his mother had left a candle lit by the side of his bed to protect him from the dark creatures that lived in his imagination. Here there was no escape. No sanctuary. He would wake. He would scream. Then he would try to find some sanity, something right in a world that had gone suddenly dark and terribly wrong. It had taken time, but somewhere along the way he found refuge within himself. Now when he woke, he still screamed, but then he would sing, his rich voice haunting as he sought to master his blindness and the beast that lurked within.
Stella waited for his song.
His pillow damp with sweat, mouth dry and dusty, Earl rose, determined not to spend one more eternal moment in bed. He listened to sounds in the cavernous hospital which was now his home, the same sounds he heard each night an hour or so after midnight. The murmur of voices of the orderlies and the screams from patients whose personal banshees startled the very air. He had to rise, to get to his feet, to stand strong, to raise his voice in song. To let his dragon know that he would not go gently into this unforgiving black.
The fingers on his left hand balled into a tight fist as he heard a cruel whack on human flesh, followed by a cry, as Elroy Hawk, a vindictive hospital orderly, slapped a helpless patient out of his night terrors. Elroy, he thought, you miserable son-of-a-bitch. There is a difference between justice and retribution. The day will come when you’ll get your due.
He slipped into his hospital robe and slippers, then with a slow stiff limp he counted his steps, seventy-one in all, to the day room where there was a piano. There he would rage and sing his blues until in the wee hours of the morning he would fall into an exhausted lethargy with his fingers still on the keyboard.
Stella listened as Earl’s music slowed to a gentle refrain. She looked at the clock, which ticked a little after five in the morning. Earl had labored over the ivories a little longer than normal, she thought; perhaps this morning he might sleep a while. Earl napped, rarely slept; it was easier that way. Often before getting off duty, Stella would slip into the day room, gently wake him and massage his neck. A peaceful moment she shared with no other patient.
She stiffened when she heard the distinctive clack of Elroy’s shoes in the outside corridor. When Elroy was up to no good he walked hard, a sound always followed by trouble.
Elroy wore his usual Cheshire Cat grin as he leaned against the wall just outside the day room. He lit a cigarette and waited. Standing six-foot-one, he was all brawn, with an abnormally large blue vein that dominated the left side of his huge cordwood neck. His hair, an unnatural duck down yellow, was cropped short, which drew attention to his dark-brown ferret eyes. By all measures Elroy Hawks was an intimidating man.
He drew on his cigarette as he waited and listened to Earl’s music as it moved from a frantic dance to a gentle waltz. The blind fool’s caterwauling irritated the hell out of him and he got a perverse kick when he got a chance to wake the clown up by slamming his fist down on the piano keys an inch or two from his head. He chuckled an unusually perverse laugh.
“Not this morning, you son-of-a-bitch,” Stella said as she set a bed pan down and set her sight straight on Elroy. All of five-foot four, Stella, as head nurse, rarely took any guff from anyone, especially Elroy Hawks. If he weren’t the hospital administrator’s personal goon she would have seen to his termination the same day she had come on board.
Elroy tapped out the cigarette on the bottom of his shoe, stuck the long butt in his shirt pocket, and walked calmly over to the elevator. Once inside, he turned, with his middle finger extended in a profane salute. His grin broadened. “Your day will come.” The door hissed closed.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith