Short Stories


What Clarence liked best about the underground compound was the darkness--darkness without a hint of light. And one month after he had moved underground, he could, with bat like precision, easily find his way to it in the dark. Clarence had, by trial and error, taught himself echolocation. In the darkness, the mouth clicks he made told him how far away the walls were, what was in front, or to the side of him, where the dangerous junk lay. Once Clarence had gotten the hang of it, he could block out the background sounds that confused him, except, that is, when he wandered too far down the tunnels, where water dripped, dropped, deep inside the caverns, in loud reverberating echoes. In those tunnels, Clarence had tried, many times, to navigate without a light, but he always ended up crashing into walls, tripping over real or imagined obstacles, holding onto his head and walking in circles.

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?”
“Five thousand.”
“Five thousand?”
“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.


  1. What a great story Dix!! I was hoping there was another page...and a little sad that there wasn't. I was really getting absorbed into reading it, and then ended, just like that! If you have written more or decide to continue it, let me know. I'd LOVE to read it. You express your thoughts beautifully. I hope to see you on one of the best sellers' lists one day(soon if possible please!).

  2. ~ Dixie1:22 pm
    Thanks for your input and encouraging comments, Eve.

    And, yes you are right. The story does have the potential to move on, but, for now, I have decided to leave it there. I did enjoy writing it, and from time to time, I think of Clarence, so who knows, he may soon be back on the "writing board." While this story didn't make the lit mags special issue, I was encouraged to submit other stories, so it did turn out to be a positive process!


  3. Compelling. Reminds me of the book Tunnels. I want to know more about Clarence. :) Nicely done, Dixie. I find I can easy form a visual of "below" with your descriptive writing. Please tell Clarence to pick up some Vitamin D if he's going to stay down there long. LOL

    1. I don't know about the book of Tunnels, but I will check it out. I'm glad you like and want to know more about "Clarence." He is a "character." ;^)

      Thanks so much! I hope you are enjoying the spring!

  4. "The New York Times Bestseller! The story of an outcast boy, his eccentric dad, and the scary underground world they discover through secret TUNNELS."

    I liked the first book and was distracted when I started #2. I believe there are six books in the series. Our grandson read them all.

    Don't you love how you get hooked on a character, like Clarence? The only way get over that sense of loss, after you've read a novel, is to start another book. I recall when I read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" how I mourned Francie.

    Keep writing Dixie -- you are so gifted.

  5. O, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is such a good book. I read it years ago. Certain characters do fascinate me, and you can get "hooked" on them as you say.

    I think I'll go to the library and look for a "Gift From the Sea." It sounds intriguing. I've never read anything by Anne Lindbergh, so I think it's high time I did.
    Thanks for book recommendations and your encouraging support. You are a gem, Penny!

  6. I predict "Gifts From the Sea' will be your fav book -- hands down. :) In fact, you will buy your own copy.

  7. I was very intrigued by this story ... I wonder if the 'tunnel builder', who made news recently in Toronto, was someone like Clarence? Don't we all wish we could shuck it all sometimes and go underground? Although, my underground would have to have wifi and electricity to run my sewing machine ;)

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you found my story intriguing.
      The "tunnel builder" did capture my attention, but apparently he's a young man who just wanted to build tunnels. ( I know that because I just looked it up.) :-)
      From what I understand, there are people who do live underground in different cities, including Toronto. I, too, like my creature comforts here on the top side, but a log cabin on a river, or lake in the woods might be nice.
      Have a great weekend!

  8. I very much enjoyed your story. Very interesting and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing it here :)

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