"Shadows of the Mind"

By Azina Zelle

The wind blew bitter cold that February afternoon through the Shackborough Street. As long as Jonathan Crane had remembered he had hated that street. Jonathan was a lank, frail boy in his teens with mesmerizing blue eyes, dark brown hair and glasses. He had been crossing this street ever since he was a young boy because it was the most direct way from school to home. It was not an uncommon sight seeing drug dealers peddling their wares or several of Carmine Falcone's thugs coming by to teach someone a lesson. The first time that had happened Jonathan in his curiosity was careful enough to keep out of sight, but followed as a thug grabbed a man – who seemed to be an honest shopkeeper.

"Didn't pay yer dues and he's sick of waiting – no more," the thug grunted.

He grabbed the shopkeeper and, completely oblivious to the shopkeeper's begging and pleading, dragged him into a filthy back alley and shot him several times until he crumpled to the dank ground. Jonathan didn't know whether or not what the shopkeeper said was true about his wife and his many children depending on him – he figured if it was true they would soon enough hear of his death.

This afternoon, however, there were none of Falcone's thugs coming to pay someone a visit and just a few drug addicts gazed bleary-eyed from their hovels of flimsy cardboard boxes. Though it seemed less threatening than when the street was humming, an icy chill ran through Jonathan and he pulled his thin sweater closer to him. He lived alone with his mother in an apartment on the west end, about twenty blocks from the Narrows. It was not a good neighborhood, but it was cheap and his mother worked long hard hours to pay the rent and what little food they could afford. Luxuries such as a coat Jonathan had to do without.

"Hey you, Stick-man!"

Jonathan quickly raised his eyes from the ground to the voice. A stout, muscular teenage boy stood before him with his arms crossed. It was Stan Wekson, who not only was very popular, but relished tormenting the nerds. Stan was accompanied by his cronies who took more delight in holding and pinning victims rather than beating them. They all were grinning smugly.

"Hey, Stick-man! Answer me!"

"My name is Jon –"

Stan slapped him hard across the cheek. Jonathan felt both cheeks burning brightly and he fought to keep angry tears welling up within his depthless blue eyes.

"I slapped you, Stick-man, like my girlfriend, because you look more like a girl, right boys?"

His cronies laughed loudly and Jonathan could hear his heart thundering in his chest.

"If you were a man I would have punched you, but you're just a girl, worthy of just being slapped. If I punched you, I'd probably break you, you're so thin and weak!"

"You know you've contradicted yourself," said Jonathan, desperately trying to keep his emotions in check. "You call me a girl, yet you call me a Stick-man. You admitted I'm a man."

Stan's cronies stopped laughing and Stan menacingly came close to Jonathan, roughly grabbing his sweater and tearing a hole in it.

"You think you're smart with me, eh? Well, maybe if I knock the brains out a bit you'll be less smart."

"Yeah, Stan! Knock the stuffin' out of him," screamed one of the cronies.

Stan stopped, his arm half-poised for the blow, a cruel smile playing on his lips.

"Stuffing, I like that! You will be Stick-man no more – you'll be – you'll be Scarecrow! Fitting, eh fellas, for someone so skinny and weak?"

"Perfect, Stan," whooped one of his cronies.

Jonathan couldn't hear what anyone said next because a blinding pain exploded in his jaw as Stan delivered the promised punch.

Jonathan pressed a packet of crushed ice on to his eye and cheek, wincing in pain. He hoped it wouldn't look too bad by the time his mother got home. He knew how much she hated him getting into fights, whether he was to blame or not. The cold felt good and after twenty minutes the swelling had diminished enough he could open his left eye and could begin his studies.

Through the window he could hear a distant hum and the faint rumbling of the Wayne elevated train roaring through. Their apartment was close enough the windows would

slightly rattle and the lights flicker. At least the close proximity of the train made it easier for his mother to get to work.

Jonathan opened his book on the kitchen table and brushed off some of the debris that had collected on page 248. Sharlene and Jenny thought it would be a funny prank if while he was talking with his teacher in biology class they'd dump his book in the sink,

pour water and throw some leaves and mud on it from the insect jar. The book was still a little damp and Jonathan resigned himself it probably always would smell a bit like mold.

The overhead lamp flickered – the 8 p.m. train had passed. His mother would be coming in on the 8:20 p.m. train. The clock ticked away; it was partially faded from the grime and slightly warped from the heat being so close to the stove. The door slammed at 8:30 p.m. Jonathan heard his mother's shuffling feet. Her brown hair was beginning to be streaked with some gray and exhaustion was in her brown eyes. There were stray threads in different colors that still stuck to her plain blue dress – leftovers from her long hours in the sweatshop. Not raising her eyes to him, she muttered:

"So, Jon, how was your day?"

"It was okay," he lied, trying to bury his face in his smelly book.

Obviously she was too tired or was too busy yet to closely see his face, for she was busy yanking the pot out from the cluttered cupboard and setting it on the stove to boil. It was when she had a moment to sit down Jonathan knew he was in for it – and he was right.

"Jon – Jonathan look at me! What have you been doing? Have you been fighting?"

"It wasn't a fight – they were doing all the hitting," he muttered.

"Jon, you listen to me, you are not to fight with those boys anymore, even if they are provoking it – promise me."

Jonathan bit his lip to the point of nearly drawing blood. He was angry she was taking their side when he had hoped she would be holding and comforting him for what they had done to him. He was angry and disgusted at his mother for that.

"Promise me!"

She touched his chin and it was on the edge of the bruise where Stan had beaten him earlier and he winced.

"I'm sorry Jon, but I'm just afraid they'll kill you."

"I'm not afraid of them – of any of them," cried Jonathan, trying to fight back angry tears.

"Well, maybe you should be, you know fear is not always such a bad thing, not if it keeps you out of trouble."

She went to the freezer and got a fresh ice pack and threw it on the table.

"Put that on and give me your sweater. I'll mend it."

The clock ticked to 10:30 p.m. Jonathan took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes, finally deciding to close his book and call it quits on his homework for the night. The dishes were in the sink and the light glowed dimly from the living room – his mother was still up.

"Mom, I'm going to bed now."

But she already was asleep. She was partially slumped in the faded green armchair. The needle had fallen onto her lap with his sweater still sprawled across her. She had fallen asleep in mid-stitch she was so exhausted. As tired as Jonathan was, he could imagine how teased he'd be coming to school with a gaping hole in the only sweater he owned. Gently he pulled the sweater from under his mother's limp arms, hoping he wouldn't wake her, and picked up the needle. Stan's cruel taunting at how girlish he was rang in his ears. Surely Stan was right doing "woman's work" like sewing.

Stan's an imbecile. I'm just sewing up my sweater. Nothing womanly in doing that.

Quickly he whip-stitched the hole closed. It was nothing fancy and certainly nothing as tidy or clean as what his mother could do, but it would hold. Jonathan secured the knot and took the sweater with him to bed. As he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and the odd shadows that would creep across the ceiling as the Wayne Train hissed and roared by every fifteen minutes, the words kept running through his head:

"I'm not afraid of them – of any of them."

"Well, maybe you should be, you know fear is not always such a bad thing, not if it keeps you out of trouble."

But he was afraid of something, deep within the darkness of his mind – and he couldn't reach it.