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Donnie Black sat under the oak tree surveying the lunch crowd and chewing his fingernail. He had started to know their faces. Day in and day out, the same gaggle of people gathered here like moths drawn to a naked light bulb on the back porch.

They were the invisible population of Colorado Springs – the homeless. They congregated here because of the building across the street from Mahnke Park. It was the Marian House Soup Kitchen, a part of the Catholic Mission. After lunch, the homeless crowd would disperse once again into the local area to the city parks, street corners, makeshift shelters along Monument Creek, and other alleys and shadowy recesses until dinner called them back to the park that carried the moniker of Monkey Park.

For days Donnie had tried to screw up the nerve to address the crowd, but he just couldn’t bring himself to actually do it. He judged that there had to be close to a hundred people in the park. Donnie saw them as an inchoate army ready to be inspired by his call to action.

It took him a long time to summon the courage, but he finally surrendered to the gnawing urge inside and stood up. He walked over to the edge of the park where the wall that marked the barrier between the street and Monkey Park gradually rose until it leveled off a good twelve feet above the grass. He stepped up and walked the wall until he stood towering over the edge of the park, but then a flood of doubts returned.


People with untreated serious mental illness compose approximately one-third of the total homeless population, and an even higher percentage among homeless women and among individuals who are chronically homeless. The quality of life for these individuals is abysmal. Many are victimized regularly. One study found that 28 percent of homeless people with previous psychiatric hospitalizations obtained some food from garbage cans and eight percent used garbage cans as a primary food source.

In many cities, homeless people with severe mental illnesses are now an accepted part of the urban landscape and make up a significant percentage of the homeless who wander the city streets all night, sleep on sidewalks, or hang out in the parks.

Many other homeless people hide from the eyes of most citizens. They shuffle quietly through the streets by day, talking to themselves, and they live in shelters or abandoned buildings at night. Some shelters become known as havens for these mentally ill wanderers and take on the appearance of a hospital psychiatric ward. Others who are psychiatrically ill live in the woods on the outskirts of cities, under bridges, and even in the tunnels that carry drainage water through the cities.


On a bench below the wall at the edge of Monkey Park sat Lucius Rivera. He lifted his guitar onto his lap and began to play some tentative chords while he fine-tuned the instrument. Then he began to play a Saraband by Bach. At first no one took heed, but as his fingers deftly plucked the tune, those in his immediate vicinity stopped chatting and began to watch and listen.

Even as the piece ended and he launched into the next suite that had been so meticulously rehearsed at Rathbone Asylum, the majority of the crowd hadn’t taken notice. But as the undulating intro wove its somber magic, that quickly changed.

Like a pebble breaking the surface of a still pond, a ripple spread across the mass of vagrants milling about the park. Eyes darted, heads turned, conversations stopped, and a hush spread over Monkey Park until the only discernable sound was the strains of melancholic harmony that crooned from the guitar.

They shuffled, they ambled, they coalesced towards Lucius as the spell of the music washed over them. Now, the tune intensified into a polyphonic interplay of aeolian rapture. An undercurrent of caliginous timbre resonated over the crowd, and they began to sway in unison, entwined in the web of the bewitching sonority of the Suite Insanity.

All the while, Donnie Black loomed over the spectacle, standing upon the wall transfixed.


At first, Tom Nelson had thought the request from one of his guitar students was ridiculous. Mike Sheffield had acquired the video from his neighbor who was a nurse at a mental institution and brought it to him at one of their lessons. The video depicted one of the patients playing what appeared to be a finger-style guitar piece. It only appeared that way because the video had no audio. The strangest part was that Mike asked Tom if he thought he could play it.

At first, Tom gave Mike a half-hearted agreement to try, but as Tom watched the man in the video perform the piece, he became somewhat intrigued. There was no denying that the man had impeccable technique; he wasn’t merely noodling around.

At home, Tom tried initially to play the video in slow motion and replicate it on his own nylon-stringed guitar. This turned out to be more difficult than he bargained for, though. The man’s playing, it turned out, was deceptively good.

Tom, who loved a technical challenge anyway, wound up spending several days trying to come up with a solution that would give voice to this mysterious piece of music being performed by the strange man.

Finally, Tom had hit upon an ingenious solution. It required him to slow the video down to such a degree that he could visualize which string the man’s right hand was plucking and which note the left hand was fingering. He recorded these notes on musical staff paper with no regard to the tempo or timing. This was, in and of itself, a long, arduous process that took many days.

Having finished this process, the next phase was to interpret the timing and tempo in real time. This was made somewhat easier by the use of a metronome and interpreting, not just the man’s hands, but also his body language. The man swayed his head, and sometimes even his entire body, during parts of the performance. One section was monumentally difficult until Tom realized that the section in question was in the odd time signature of five-four time.

Finally, having sketched what he believed to be a close approximation of the note values and time signatures, Tom used a musical notation software program to enter the score.

The entire process had taken over three weeks of intermittent, though diligent, work. Now, as he finished the manual entry of the notes into the program, Tom adjusted the computer’s speaker volume and pressed the play button.


While Lucius Rivera poured his talents into the performance and the group of homeless people gathered before him, two men entered Monkey Park on the opposite side of the green. One man was tall and sported a black goatee, the other man was withdrawn and hugged a small box to his chest. Both men sat down on a bench.


After the last note had faded, the crowd of homeless people stared transfixed at Lucius Rivera. Lucius removed the guitar from his lap, propped it against the bench, and turned to nod at Donnie. Donnie took a deep breath and cleared his throat. In unison, all eyes shifted to Donnie standing upon the wall. Suddenly, in a loud, primal scream he bellowed, “Wake Up!” An audible spasm of flinching humans sounded through the park. Then, Donnie Black began his first sermon to the strange mélange of homeless people gathered below.


Walter Rathbone and Charlie Dithers continued to sit on the bench as Donnie launched into his sermon. Rathbone had quietly clapped at the end of Lucius’ performance, but Charlie had not even acknowledged that he was aware of it. Charlie merely cuddled the box in his lap and rocked gently.


“Wake Up! The Lullaby of Their song has stricken us all. Who are we? Why are we here? What shall we do? What shall we become? Listen to me, for I am the key to ascension who will teach you of the coming plague and why it is us, the ghosts of their power-mad world, who shall rise and take our rightful place.

We line up here day upon day like dogs begging scraps from their table, but they don’t care for us. We’re just the shadow people of their society. Outcasts, riff raff, vagabonds, the poor, the meek, the infirm, and the scourge that they can’t bear to so much as look at. Why? Because they fear us in them. That’s right. We’re all flawed. They’re all flawed too. All of our flaws are the same and run through everything. But they ignore their flaws while we embrace our flaws. We wear our flaws like a badge of honor. Like a war scar that gives us passion and desire to live our naked existence. It is our flaws that give us the Vision.

We see a world beyond the illusions of their society. They cannot see that world. They are too blind by their own ignorance and their own inability to embrace the true reality out there. It is like a great light this illusion of the real. They huddle around it too close to see anything else. And the light bathes them and cast shadows. We are those shadows. We are the ones on the periphery gazing out into the cold, black night of Truth. We are the ones with the strength to see.

Some of us see it one way, some another, and yet others – lone individuals among us – see aspects that no other man or woman can see. And just what is it we’re all seeing in the dark? It is the demons that are descending upon the light.

Don’t you see? Their illusion of their society is doomed. The dwellers in the dark cannot abide the light. They cannot tolerate its existence. So, they must crush it. There is no stopping this oncoming horde of demons. At least not without us who have the True Sight. We are their guardians and yet, they revile us and mock us and spit on us and toss us scraps and loose change to make themselves feel good about abusing us. If you piss on a man then you are horrible, but if you give a man a dollar and piss on him then he somehow deserves your gift? Is this how it is? That’s how they think it is.

Despair not, my brothers and sisters. Lend me your visions and I’ll use the key of ascension to decipher the demons. Together, we shall assume our mantles as armor against the oncoming night. And when the demons have dashed them and their precious light out, we shall rise to become the new legion!”


While Donnie inspired his army, Walter Rathbone rose from the bench. He turned to Charlie and said, “So long, Charlie.” Looking at the box he continued, “Once they are free, so are you, old friend.” And with that, he disappeared back into the trees from which the two had emerged.

Charlie, making no response to Rathbone, lifted the lid to the box and looked upon its contents. Three wriggling, pale, worm-like larvae writhed and churned in a shallow bed of dirt. Charlie thought that the park might be a good home for one. Once he found homes for the other two, who knew what glorious future lay in store.

One Comment

  1. Good story…raises all sorts of questions—as the best stories do.

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