Updated: May 1
The most beautiful aspect of hindsight is that we only remember what matters. It was hard to forget the sound of bells jingling in the heart of summer. Then there was the airy hoot of the little bike horn as it approached from beyond the block.
Young Willie Price’s bicycle sang to its usual rhythm. He pedaled, pushing the wheels into up-tempo speeds. He’d become so accustomed to his paper delivery route that the newspapers seemed to take flight on their own. They were like sparrows gliding from one stoop to the next. As his wheels rolled beside the little brick house at the top of the hill, the next available paper zapped him with a lingering tingle.
A swarm of sunspots covered his vision like a balmy blindfold. He shaded his brow with the shadow of his forearm as the heavenly horizon morphed into a massive glare. Like an expanding deck of cards, seven rising suns stretched across the full sky. The sudden cosmic phenomenon hit Willie like a ton of bricks. He squeezed his eyes to a close. His arms jerked, causing the handlebars to swerve out of control. In a frantic scramble to balance his bike, Willie tossed the energy charged newspaper into the sky.
After twisting and shifting like the work of origami, the tossed news took the form of a black and white printed glider. The paper’s surface glinted like a burning ember, emitting a trail of crimson vapor in its wake. It soared across a series of plush lawns before landing on the porch of the red brick house at the top of the hill. This house stood out from all the others. The magic of blissful imagination was like a blessing to each of the house's bricks. The small family living inside were the perfect vessels for their home’s ocean of creative waves.
“I love Eddie Elephant comics, Dad. Read me more.” Hope’s voice exuded enthusiasm.
Her big brown eyes were like fruit to her father’s heart. He relished in her love for the fantastic worlds of comic books. Each panel commanded her difficult to obtain attention with such ease. As his fingers slid through the creases of the colorful books, he found it difficult to detach himself as well.
“Oh, baby girl, I wish we could read them all day, but your Mother’s going to kill me if you’re late for school. Plus, dear old Dad’s gotta head in to work.”
“Can we read more after school, Dad?” Hope asked.
“As sure as my name is Orrin Cromwell Evans, nothing in this world can keep me from it.” Orrin’s full cheeks dimpled with the pull of his widest smile.
“Breakfast is ready, you two. Come on downstairs before it gets cold.” Florence called from the kitchen.
Orrin and Hope exchanged an amused look. The glint in their eyes formed an unspoken agreement. It was time for their morning race to the kitchen. Hope scurried from her bed, leading the way down to the heavenly aroma of her mother’s cooking.
“I’m gonna have to take mines to go, Dear.” Orrin said, planting a light kiss onto Florence’s cheek.
“But Orrin, you know you shouldn’t eat on the run. You’ll get indigestion.” said Florence.
“If Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, surely I can manage to eat an egg sandwich. Isn’t that right, Hope?” Orrin winked in his daughter’s direction.
“You can be so stubborn at times. You’d better be lucky I find you so handsome, Orrin Evans.”
“And I you, Florence Evans.” Orrin twirled his wife in a ballerina-like manner before reminding her, “you remember what my father always called me?”
“How could I ever forget, Mr. Don’t Tell Me.” Florence’s face flushed with a cherry blush accent.
Orrin fetched his lunch box from the counter. As he turned toward the door, Florence, who didn’t miss a beat, guided his arms into the reach of his suit jacket. She straightened his shoulder pads, before releasing her husband to the summer scene of 1947’s Pennsylvania. The bright skies, which awaited him, were as bright and usual as any morning’s horizon.
Orrin took two steps onto the front stoop before kneeling to scoop that day’s newspaper. He cuffed the paper beneath his arm before stating, “Looks like Willie’s losing his aim. The paper’s usually closer to the door.”
“Cut the kid some slack. It's not like he’s auditioning for the Negro League.” Florence chuckled.
“Well Dear, I reckon you’re right.”
In a single move, Orrin mounted his fedora atop his head and whimsically proceeded down the steps onto the sidewalk. The city of Philadelphia sprouted before him like a flower’s blossoming petals. He took steady strides across streets so clean you could eat from them. After a few blocks, the bordering houses became bustling business districts. The engines of fancy box cars revved in place. Massive skyscrapers stretched high into the clouds. It was like stepping into the gates of an urban castle.
Orrin’s hike ended with the sight of a seven-story building and its medieval steeple. While standing beneath a light post, he stared into the full stretch of the building and marveled at his place of employment. As the Philadelphia Record Newspaper’s first and, for many years, its only negro writer, Orrin maintained an unbending sense of pride in his career as a journalist.
“Ahh, the Philadelphia Record.” Orrin breathed deeply, but before he could exhale, he was swiftly swatted by a rushing picket sign.
“My apologies, sir. I didn’t mean to pop you with me sign.” a frumpy woman with a foreign accent scurried towards the Record.
Orrin followed the woman into a small crowd of gathering protestors. They blocked the door of the building with their picket signs and riotous shouting. They were all faces he’d seen before.
“Evans, get in here.” Orrin’s Editor, Harry T. Saylor, pushed through the strikers, signaling for Orrin’s attention.
“Equal wages for equal work.” one voice shouted as Orrin passed through the crowd.
“No wage. No work.” another blasted.
“Scab.” a loud screech belted from among them.
They all screamed and ranted at once. Orrin strained to impede the path of their noise from his eardrums. Their shouts exploded around him like the sands of an active mine field. He felt as if he was racing through a very brief but volatile battle.
“Crazy brick hitters,” Harry exclaimed.
“The Union’s still striking?” Orrin asked.
“Yeah, and unfortunately the big wigs upstairs are not happy about it. Things are taking a turn for the crapper, buddy.”
“Harry, what are you saying?”
“I don’t know how to break this to you, buddy, but they’re shutting down the paper. After this week, The Record is done for good.”
After a dangerous race across enemy lines, Orrin didn’t expect the kill shot to come from his good friend. As sour as the blow may have been, it hit him even harder to later discover that it was all true. The entire staff huddled in the middle of the newsroom as The Record’s owner revealed the details of the paper’s demise. By the end of the week, they’d all be unemployed. Orrin’s legs were left sore by the crippling revelation. He later staggered to a seat within the confines of his cubicle.
Several minutes passed as Orrin sat before his desk in a stupefied daze. He couldn’t believe the Record was closing. After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, Journalism was all he knew. His mind couldn’t help but to replay Florence’s inevitable disappointment. He didn’t even want to imagine what he’d say to Hope. To her, he was every bit of a hero. She’d always viewed him with an iron clad esteem. The last thing he’d ever wanted to do was to lose her respect.
“By the looks of that long face I’m assuming you aren’t taking the news to well.” The Record’s Sports Editor, Bill Driscoll, said.
“What am I gonna tell my wife and kid, Bill? I can’t be a man who doesn’t provide for his family. They deserve better.”
“C’mon Orrin, you’re the best negro journalist in the country. You’ll bounce back from this.”
“That’s pretty much on the nose. I’m a negro journalist... in America. Some streaks of lightning are just too bright to strike twice.”
“Your articles on segregation in World War II are some of The Record’s most read content. Sure, they’ve gotten you a few death threats here and there, but you aren't hot if they aren't talking. You’re a Bonafide star, bubba.” With two swift taps on Orrin’s back, Bill turned to clock out for the day.
“Come with me to the bar. Drinks on me.” Bill offered.
“Not today. I need to wrap up a few things, but I’ll take you up on that another time.” Orrin continued to sulk.
“Your loss, but you know what they say about all work and no play.” Bill squarely shrugged his shoulders.
“But anyway, you’re the last one here, so make sure to lock up after you leave.” Bill continued as the elevator doors formed a partition between Orrin and himself.
Orrin leaned backwards in his chair and withdrew the morning newspaper. He figured he’d browse the Classifieds for a few job listings, but as he scanned the pages, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The date at the top of the issue spelled August 4, 3085. His hands shook so wildly that he dropped the paper onto the desk. Though his fingers had released the papers, his eyes maintained a firm hold. The newspaper’s headline read, Black Nest Revolution Goes Live. Orrin was fascinated. He delved deeply into the story, and it did not disappoint. It was more bizarre than any comic he’d ever laid eyes on. The words were like paint brushes as they crafted futuristic images on his cranial canvas.
“Okay, Bill. This is a good one. You almost had me going until I got to this nonsense about a social media. Are we having conversations with radios and television sets in the future? You should stick to sports cause fortune telling is not your thing.” Orrin scoffed with cautious amusement.
There was however no response. In fact, the building was eerily quiet. Even the hum of the building’s air conditioning was bizarrely mute. Orrin stood from his desk with his brow suspiciously raised. He speedily dressed in his coat and jacket. He quietly crept throughout the building as the spiking of his nerves pinched him with the sensation that something was awry.
“Bill, you still here? This isn’t funny, buddy.” Orrin shouted down the vacant hallway leading to the stairwell.
He frantically mashed against the buttons of the elevator, but the dial above the doors did not move. After waiting several, harrowing seconds, his attention was commanded by the stairwell entrance which wafted on its hinges. The door repeatedly slammed against its frame, as if it were beckoning for Orrin to approach.
With the newspaper still clenched between his fingers, Orrin pushed harder into the elevator buttons. He could feel an icy front as it sauntered from the direction of the stairs. Its chilly presence carried a wind that grew gustier as the elevated temperatures drew near. A thump of terror impacted Orrin’s being, setting off his reflexes. He slammed his open palm onto the elevator buttons like the banging of a judge's gavel. As if the controls were finally in his court, the elevator proceeded to rise.
Ding! The elevator doors withdrew. Ready to leap into the sanctuary of the raised chute, Orrin grew light on his feet. As the space between the doors grew wider, an unexpected passenger stood within his view. Orrin was surprised by the sight of the woman he’d bumped into before entering the building, only now her eyes were colder and dark. Even though she stood beneath the bright light of the elevator, her face was somehow shrouded in misplaced shadows. Her eyes slowly rolled aimlessly throughout their sockets. Her face was swollen and stricken by a trembling decay.
“Ma'am, are you okay?” Orrin asked.
The woman seemingly opened her mouth to speak, but in the place of words, her parted lips unleashed a swarm of buzzing flies. Orrin’s sight was darkened by the onrush of drifting insects. He swatted against the air while falling backwards from the elevator. A deep and dragging growl sounded from the woman, who’d begun to slowly creep in pursuit of him.
Orrin rushed to return to the office area. He barred the doors shut by sticking a hooked coat rack through the handles. The door pulsed and bulged beneath the weight of the woman as she rammed it with her body. Orrin’s eyes widened as the wooden coat rack cracked into large breaks and splinters. The splinters shot forward like daggers as the doors exploded from their hingers. Surging winds pushed forward like phantoms, lifting Orrin from his feet. Once again surrounded by vicious flies, all Orrin could do was holler in the wind.
The cantankerous winds pulled Orrin in multiple directions. He squirmed and fought to free himself of the invisible hold, but nothing worked. While stirring in place, he lost his grip on the newspaper. The papers all flapped open, but instead of being lost to the wind, each section of the newspaper darted to Orrin in a magnetic fashion. The papers tightly clung to Orrin’s form, completely covering every inch of him. As the final page locked over Orrin’s head, the world around him suddenly shifted.
In an instant, Orrin went from struggling for air to calmly standing in place. He looked down to see the city road beneath his shoes, only the street’s color appeared to take on a grayish hue. As he scanned the buildings and empty sidewalks, he was surprised to see that every sight was reduced to a black and white aesthetic. It was as if he was surrounded by the photos in the newspaper.
“I should’ve listened to Florence. That egg sandwich has got me roasting in the sticks.” Feeling dizzy as a result of the surreal excitement, Orrin shook his head of exhaustion.
The wheels of a squeaky bicycle rotated over the gray textured road. Orrin turned to face the sound of young Willie Price pedaling into view. Consistent with the rest of the city, Willie was drained of all color as well. His expression was monotoned and grimly absent.
“Willie,” Orrin shouted out the boy’s name.
Willie trudged forward with no reaction. Orrin stepped in front of Willie’s bicycle to demand his attention, but Willie flowed through him as seamlessly as a stride through cascading waters. Orrin stood with his arms spread wide in disbelief. A sickly feeling weighed against the pit of his stomach.
Am I dead? Orrin thought to himself.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it.” Willie turned to speak with an oddly bass voice which was altered into a slow-motion reverberation.
He pulled a newspaper from his sack and released it into the air. Like a sparrow, the newspaper took flight. While flapping along its fold, the paper soared into the palm of Orrin’s opened hands. As the paper settled into Orrin’s grip, rivers of colorful ink began to drip from its pages. Like vibrant dye draining from colored linen, the assorted hues emanated across the scene. They colored every inch of the black and white landscape into the full color of reality.
Before Orrin could fully comprehend the oddity of what had just occurred, a bright red light shined over Willie’s silhouette. Like a grounded Angel, Willie was deeply immersed into the crimson glow. Then in the manner of television static, Willie’s image blurred, contorted, morphed and bent into all sorts of strange shapes. A bevvy of colors smeared across each of his movements. Willie’s morphing image undulated wildly until an explosion of force swelled from inside him. He grew into a shapeless blob which was ten times his actual size. Just as swiftly as he exploded, he then imploded. The full circumference of his dwindling form fizzled down to an unidentifiable and mysterious figure.
A man stood in the wake of Willie’s bizarre contortions. His dreadlocked hair flowed forward over his bowed head. Strands of burgundy locks led the charge of the mostly black hair covering his crown. He wore an armored uniform which was unlike anything Orrin had ever observed. A transparent red energy combusted from the core of his clenched fists and blew backwards over his forearms.
Resisting the tongue restricted bite of hesitation, Orrin sighed, “Please tell me this is the part where I wake up.”
With the speed and intimidation of a serpent's strike, the man’s head turned slightly towards Orrin. The streetlights barely caressed his face, but what they revealed was far from human. Beneath the crimson drip of his hair, red luminance coursed through fractures in his flesh. His eye illuminated like a laser scope which was aimed in anticipation of a fatal shot. His flesh was marked the color of midnight blue. His monstrous scowl lit the flames of Orrin’s greatest fears.
The mysterious figure lunged forward. He moved with the speed of flashing light. Orrin stumbled backwards, guarding himself behind raised forearms. He was held so tightly by the grip of fear that he found it impossible to release the screams which elevated throughout his every thought.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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What did you think of Chronicle 1? What era or prolific person from Black History would you like for us to visit next? Please drop your comments below. As always, Keep it Konkret!