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The New Reign
12:30 am. He had waited up all night, and finally his time had come. He pulled back his covers and sat up straight, taking in the silence. Hopping out of his bed with a light thump on the carpet, he immediately dropped to his knees and reached underneath his bed, blindly waving his hand around in the darkness in search of his quarry. Feeling the coarse hemp of his rucksack, he snatched it up and slung it over his shoulder –his toolbox; it contained everything he needed for the night’s trip. Tugging his shoes on as he donned his black hoodie, he pulled a white bandana from underneath his pillow; it shone brilliantly in the silvery moonlight that streamed through the open window - a white flag in the darkness. Slipping through his bedroom door, which whined like a banshee as he pushed it, he crept down the hallway, careful not to wake his mother, who had just finished her devotions not too long ago. Although her bed lamp was out, he was not sure whether she was completely asleep or not. As he passed by her door, all that he heard was the calm, rhythmic breathing of peaceful slumber – his green light for departure. He knew that his mom wouldn’t approve of what he was doing, but what did that matter? What people thought of him, whether he was to be accepted or not was not important to him. It was time for him to do what he wanted to, to make himself known as an individual, to stand for what he believed in. It was time for to make a name for himself.
Stepping out onto his front porch he turned around and locked the door, a pleasant buzz beginning to resonate through his insides. Finally, freedom, he thought as he breathed in the cold night air, allowing it to fill his warm lungs and burn like fire. Lightly, he leapt off the porch and started down the walk at a brisk jog.
“Pit, pat.” “Pit, pat.”
The beating of his shoes on the pavement calmed him as his nerves started to kick in.
“Pit, pat.” “Pit, pat.”
It was risky business, what he was about to do, and every night presented a new challenge, some new, unseen danger. His cargo rattled in his bag as he ran, the light rolling of the balls inside their aluminum cans making a sound like oncoming rain. He loved that sound, sometimes rattling the cans himself to relieve his stress. His life had become so stressful these days, what with his mom practically beating him over the head with her newly found “faith”. Amidst it all, he had just lost his job and his grades were sliding by the week. He thought to himself that these late-night trysts probably didn’t help, but didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything but his name; not about God, school, nor money. All he had in this world was his name.
In time he reached his destination – an abandoned alleyway behind the old elementary school a few blocks from his house. He knew that it was a hot spot for cops, and his heart was pounding a dent in his sternum; where were they? Suddenly, as if summoned by the thought, two hooded figures hopped down from the wall adjacent to him and rushed forward.
Spectre and Shadow. They were his two closest friends, and together they made up The Trinity – a crew that they formed not too long ago. They were still relatively new, but had succeeded in bombing every wall, street corner, alleyway, and rooftop from his neighborhood to the next, slowly demanding the recognition - respect – that they deserved. But not everyone in the city was so kind– there were plenty of crews who despised their credibility, and made a point to diss their pieces wherever they saw one. In the streets, this meant war, and tonight was only another battle in the ongoing fight between crews. One crew in particular, Kokytos Klan, were the prime targets; they had made it their duty to go over every Trinity piece they could find, the ultimate form of disrespect. It was for the Trinity time to take back their block and prove their worth.
“Whaddup Rain – you ready?” asked Shadow, the eldest of the members.
“Always ready,” was his reply as he pulled out his bandana and wrapped it around his mouth and nose. Securing the knot in the back, he pulled his hood over his crown and zipped up his jacket - Spectre and Shadow followed suit. All at once they turned and continued down the alleyway: three dark figures walking side-by-side, hearts bent on retribution - the immaculate Trinity.
Shadow was always the lookout - he scouted at the front while Spectre brought up the rear. Rain walked in the middle, and as he did so, he ran through the plan over and over.
Heavens spots, Heavens spots, Heaven spots.
He knew that only the bravest of crews attempted Heavens, because they were nearly impossible to reach and notorious for the danger they presented; in fact, he had known a couple of great writers who lost their lives trying in the attempt. But this was no attempt; he knew that the Trinity had to prove themselves in order to maintain their reputation – it was only a matter of time before they could declare themselves all-city Kings. Having walked at least eight blocks, avoiding streetlights and hotspots, the three came upon their prize; the downtown Ritz hotel in Milton Plaza – the most heavily traveled intersection in the city. This was big-time; not only would their pieces be seen by the entire city, they would be regarded as the most fearless crew to ever hit the streets – if only they could pull this off! With hearts beating like bass drums and fingers trembling with nervous anticipation, the three adjusted their packs and proceeded to the rear of the building. Through the dark alleyway they snuck, their steps echoing off the cold walls and splashing through the puddle running the alley’s length.
“Tense up boys, stay on your guard,” Shadow said – always the mentor of the group.
“We got this!” Spectre whispered, “Pretty soon even the Pigs will be givin’ us our props! Let those fools try to disrespect us after this!”
“Quiet,” Rain said, “It’s time for business.”
Shadow scaled the ladder first, nimbly, with the skill of someone who was no stranger to trespassing. Rain was second; he sprang up the rungs with cat-like agility, and no sooner than he landed on the roof, Spectre was right behind him. The guys often joked that Spectre always seemed to “appear”, just like a ghost, which was how he got his name. Shadow, on the other hand, had the unnatural ability to disappear in tight situations – he was the most experienced out of the three and unlike many seasoned writers, he had never been caught. Shadow could sense trouble like a perched fly sensed danger, and when being pursued he could make like a “shadow” and melt into the dark. Rain looked up to Shadow the most because he was the only father-figure he’d ever had; when Rain was just beginning, a mere toy, it was Shadow who took him in and showed him the ropes.
“You got a natural talent for this here, boy; when you bomb, you don’t leave nothin’ in your wake! This is some crazy s*** man – simply because you gotta be crazy to do it! I’ve seen enough writers come and go...too many people die for this, man, and that’s not what it’s about. I’m gonna watch your back, kid, just so you don’t go down that wrong path, because it’s easy to get caught up in the violence and animosity. Stay true man, do it because you love it, not for what you think you can get from it.”
Rain could remember seeing Shadow’s work everywhere; swift tags on street signs and manholes, and labyrinthian burners on walls and billboards. I want to be just like that, Rain thought, fueling his desire to track down the ever-elusive Shadow. He asked every writer that he knew if they had ever met him personally, but none seemed to have any insight to his whereabouts. But Rain never gave up the search; his passion was just too great.
It had been nearly a year since the two had met, and Rain could still remember the day; he had just finished racking some markers from the corner store and was hurrying home to hide his stash. He was turning into the alleyway behind his house when he felt a light tap on his shoulder. He froze; he could feel his adrenaline surge through his veins as he prepared to run.
“I see you write,” a coarse voice said behind him, belonging to the finger that had tapped him. “I followed you from that store back there, saw you rack those markers just now. Classic shove-and-go.”
Who was this? Rain thought, both scared and curious. He tore the man’s hand from his shoulder and turned to face him. In the dim light of the alley, it was hard to make out the man’s features; Rain shielded his eyes from the sun that was hidden behind his head. The man appeared to be pretty old; a scraggly beard easily discernable in his silhouette. The smell of liquor tingled Rain’s nostrils when the man spoke:
“I’m Shadow; I heard you wanted to see me.”
How he had known who Rain was and that he had wanted to meet him so badly, Shadow would never tell, and Rain never questioned him more than once. Rain spent every night with Shadow, bombing from street-corner to street-corner. Shadow taught him everything he knew, and Rain began to take to him like a father to a son. “Rain” he christened him.
“You see Rain is a funny thing,” he continued, “ It kills – hell, it destroyed the whole earth way back in the day - nothing but a few animals and that old man. But rain also brings life, peace. It’s cleansing, you see. I see something in you, kid, not sure what – that’s something you gotta figure out yourself. But all I can say is stay true and put your name everywhere, love this for what it is and not for what you think you can gain. You hear me? Now grab a can and let’s go tear it up.”
Rain never forgot these words; they stuck with him and rang in his head every time he went out to paint: You gotta be crazy to do this! Was he crazy? He had yet to decide, but right now he knew that he had to prove himself. Tonight, Rain would become a King.
Shadow was first to it – as always. When Rain got to the wall he was already doing the fill-in for one of his throw-ups. This was just practice; a basic throwie would not suffice if they wanted to shine over the city – they needed to be a little flashier. The real goal was to hit the side of the Ritz, the building adjacent to the rooftop that they were on now. They still had a few stories to climb before they could reach the spot they wanted to crush, but for now they were gathering their energy and sorting their paints. Spectre was at the corner of the rooftop pulling out his cans – Rustoleum, always his paint of choice. Shadow was using Montana Hardcore, the most premium aerosol paint you could buy. Rain brought white and blue, with yellow and lime green as accent colors: his signatures. “Krylon Kid”, his crew called him because of his allegiance to the “Special K Brand,” as he liked to call it. Practicing a quick throw-up and a couple tags, Rain could feel the sensation creeping up inside of him; a slight warmth that started at his toes and ended in his ear tips. It was the feeling he got everytime he depressed the cap of a spray can, smelled the fresh paint – like the nail polish remover that his mom used to use, before her “metamorphosis.” Now she didn’t wear any nail polish, no make-up, jewelry, nothing. She said she didn’t need those things now - “the Lord filled that void.” He didn’t understand her, or her naivety; how could she not see the world around her? How could any “God” allow this type of corruption? He didn’t want to think about it, it only angered him the more. Now was not the time to worry about his mom, or his soul for that matter.
The warmth continued to rise through his limbs, pouring into his fingertips and out of the spray can and onto his canvas. “Loop the ‘R’, triple-dot the “I”, star at the end.” A quick underline and he was done. It was a calculated maneuver that he had performed hundreds of times; his tag could be seen in nearly every district of the city - “RAIN” it said. It was his name, and he wanted the whole city to know.
Shadow was taking a swig from his flask when Spectre walked over to him– Shadow said it helped to “ease his nerves.” Neither Rain nor Spectre drank when they painted; they were still fairly fresh and did not have the can-control it took to paint under the influence.
“Every tag or throw-up of mine you’ve ever seen – I was wasted when I painted it.” Rain recalled him saying. “Except my old stuff, but I know y’all ain’t never seen none of that cuz’ you’re too damn young!”
He loved the man, but he wished he wouldn’t drink as much. However, Shadow was the leader, and now he led them higher up the building until they could see over the tops of the tallest buildings. When they stepped over the edge of the final ledge, they looked down on the sea of rooftops - a sight that would have taken their breath away had they not already been winded form the climb.
“Security’s light up here,” Spectre remarked.
“Ain’t nobody crazy enough to climb this high, that’s why!” Shadow joked. “We got nerve, boys.”
The moon was bright, providing the only light that the trio needed. Immediately they got to work; three criminals – vandals or visionaries? Their passion was evident as they waved their arms to and fro, their strokes carving beautiful streaks of color into the pale hotel wall. The building was their canvas, and into it their creativity flowed. Spectre was on the left, stenciling an intricate burner in black and red; Shadow was masterfully weaving a scene out of thin air, executing an impressive fill-in, simultaneously wielding a can in both hands. Rain was in the center, between a shade and a shadow, channeling all of his angst into his art. What I’ve always wanted…, he thought, his heart beginning to fill his through from excitement.
“We’re in! Spectre said, “We’re Kings!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself man,” Rain said, “we gotta finish this wall first!”
The three continued to paint, their dreams slowly coming to fruition. The gentle hiss of the cans filled the night, and the warmth kept building in Rain’s insides. He and Spectre were halfway finished, which meant that Shadow must be near-done.
“I’m proud of you boys,” Shadow whispered. “I really am.”
Rain smiled and continued to paint, the warmth flowing steadily through his limbs. It continued to flow until it was all spent – suddenly a blanket of cold enveloped him, a sensation so vivid that he cringed in fear. The gentle Pssss of Spectre’s can continued to his left, but there was no longer any sound to his right. Rain glanced over and saw nothing; a mere shadow where his idol had just stood. The only thing that remained was one overturned can of Montana, perfectly positioned as if placed for show. The cans fell from Rain’s hands as he vaulted toward the spot – no Shadow. Where had he gone? There was no way that he could have fallen off! Rain thought, frantically scanning the rooftop .
“Shade!” he shrieked, “SHA-” – he couldn’t finish the sentence because Spectre was already on him, covering his mouth with his paint-stained hand.
Rain could smell the paint and thought of his mother, and the idea of losing the only father that he’d ever had. With this in mind he wrenched from his partner’s grip and ran to the edge of the building, peering over the over the edge in search of his comrade.
“Quiet man, you’ll get us caught!” Spectre hissed, running over to the edge also. “Where’s Shade?” he asked, but Rain’s greatest fear had come true.
Shadow was gone; he had obviously fallen over the edge, there was no other logical explanation. Rain knew he shouldn’t have let him drink so much before coming up here, that poison was the only thing that could cause such a legend to meet such a cruel end. He couldn’t believe it, and as the reality dawned on him, he sank to the ground, head in his hands, tears streaming torrents from his weary eyes.
“Shadow’s gone man. He’s gone.” Rain sobbed, “Gone!”
“No way…” Spectre began, but he never finished his sentence as he too, realized the truth.
Their mentor, their idol, gone in that instant. It was as if a plug had been pulled from deep inside Rain’s abdomen; he felt something widen inside of him and dispel whatever had been held inside. Spectre sat down next to him and placed his arm around his shoulders.
“I can’t believe it, Rain.” Spectre said. “Don’t believe it man!” he yelled, voice quivering, puddles beginning to form under his eyelids.
“Where the hell else could he have gone?” Rain shouted, “Tell me, Spec! TELL ME!”
“I don’t know man…” Spectre replied, beginning to break down as he slumped down wall next to Rain. He cried silently as Rain put his arm around him, weeping brokenly to himself.
They both sat and looked up at their unfinished pieces; a marginal “Spec” standing next to a pitiful “Rai”. They noticed, however, that Shadow’s piece was different; in fact, it was completely finished, with shading, highlights, and everything.
“No way…” Spectre repeated, as they both gawked at the immaculate mural.
It showed a dark shadow rising above a city, the name “SHADOW” craftily, and subtlety defined in its wisps – a faint crown was visible in the clouds of the hazy sky above the name. At the bottom, an anecdote: “Live today, Die tomorrow,” it read, and below it, the words “The essence of what we do, love it or hate it.”
“Ephemeral, that was him.” Rain thought, beginning to comprehend the irony of the situation.
It didn’t matter if Shadow was dead or not, he was the essence of Graffiti – here today, gone tomorrow. It made sense that Shadow should embody the spirit of what loved so much, whether in life or death.
“We can’t stay here,” Rain said, staggering up and wiping salty streams from his cheeks.
He picked up his cans and put them back in his bag; Spectre did the same. After gathering all his belongings, Rain walked over to Shadow’s mural and turned to face the masterpiece:
“Only a true legend…” he breathed, and then turned to pick up the lone spray paint can.
How it happened, they never knew, and neither he nor Spectre ever found out. All they knew was that Shadow was gone. Rain remembered walking home that night – the weight that filled the atmosphere pressing down on his shoulders. Their mission was incomplete, left high above the city for all to see their failure, but that’s how they chose to leave it; they purposefully left their pieces unfinished as a sign of respect - they did not want anything that they did to subtract from the magnificence of Shadow’s mural. That night as Rain walked home, he felt the pit in his stomach clenching and stretching – hungry for something that he could not feed it. It pulled at his center, an invisible suction that tugged from deep inside. He thought that he knew what it was, but he had been avoiding it all this time.
His life thus far had been all about his name, getting up and gaining respect, because he thought that acceptance would fill this hole in his heart. But that night made him realize, acceptance is nothing if you do not accept yourself. Hadn’t that been what Shadow was trying to tell him all along? Could that have been the “something” that he was trying to bring out of him? Self-acceptance, Rain thought, such a simple concept. Shadow had been an example all along; living life by his rules, not caring what anyone thought of him. It should have been so clear to him, but Rain was blinded by the shallow congratulations that he had worked so hard for. “Stay true…” – the words of his mentor rang in his head as he ascended the steps that night. Rain unlocked the door and stepped over the threshold, dropping his bag on the porch behind him. Still clutching the can of paint that Shadow left behind, he unzipped his hoodie and kicked off his shoes. He wished he could talk to his mother but he did not want to wake her - she slept so soundly. Stepping into his closet, Rain began to rummage through boxes of old spray cans and sketch books, markers and ink containers, searching for something he’d buried a long time ago.
Finally, he found it. An old book, bound in ragged black leather, frayed at the edges. He blew the dust off of the cover, so much that it made his sneeze; it had been a long time since he’d parted its covers. Taking the book in his hands he went and sat on his bed, opening it up to the page bookmarked by the red string in the center. It was a proverb:
“Happy is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding!”
He was beginning to feel it again; that creeping warmth that filled him when he started to paint, ebbing and flowing into his toes and up through his legs. It only increased in intensity as he read, slowly rising all the while. At that moment, he felt full – not in a physical sense of the word, but a fullness that made him feel complete, whole even. He knew immediately that this was what he’d been missing, and wondered how he had been so stubborn to ignore it for so long. He wasn’t sure what was coming over him, but he knew he liked it, and he resisted no longer. He felt a tight wad pushing against his buttock and remembered his bandana, his mask, his shield from the world. He pulled it out of his back pocket and unfolded it – he would no longer have any use for it. Tying it around the bar above his window, he watched it sway in the nighttime breeze. Once again, it caught the light of the moon, reflecting the brilliant light with all of its beauty - and still he read. The Trinity would be no more, though his love for the art still remained. However, he no longer felt a need for the shallow recognition he gained through writing graffiti. Rain had found his peace, and it was the answer that had been awaiting him all along.
He continued to read, coming upon a passage that reading “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worth for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” With this line, a bath of understanding washed over him; now he knew why his mother was the way she was, and what was needed to fill his void. He walked into his mother’s room and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“I’m sorry” he whispered, more to himself than to her, and returned to his room.
Picking up his book, he placed it directly in front of him on his bed and knelt in front of it. His knees creaked as he bent down, and his muscles ached all over – a painful reminder of the events that had transpired. But as he sat there, he no longer mourned the loss of his great friend, because it was he who had allowed him to come to terms with himself.
“Rest in peace, Shade” he said aloud, before bowing in silent prayer.
When he had finished, he got up to close the window, peering through the iron bars that adorned the frame as he did so. He thought he saw a faint shadow pass across one of the streetlights, but of that, he could not be sure. As he lay back down to go to sleep, he felt a peace that was completely new to him, a calm that lulled him into the rhythmic breathing of a gentle slumber. He was ready for a new Rain, and as he slept, his heart was opened to accept the new King, and His New Reign.