PATH OF GLASS
"It's about changing yourself. Living life more fully." He leaned forward as he spoke, his eyes intense.
"I dunno, sounds like a cult to me, man."
Sitting across the table, I eyed the tattoo on the top of Jimmy's left hand, its fresh ink the first step in what he called "a whole new direction".
"How long you been working on the Street now?" he asked, his eyes following the ass of a passing waitress.
"Two years in the pits. So you know exactly what I mean when I say 'know what you want and make it yours'."
"Sure, Jimmy." There was something different about him, and not just the strange eastern symbol tattooed on his hand.
He leaned back in the booth triumphantly. "See? It's not a cult. It's common sense. Self-betterment. Since when was that cultic?"
"I don't know, I just said it - I wasn't thinking. So what is, what's this thing called again?"
"The Path of Glass. You'll like it."
"See, that's what makes it sound like a cult. It's this whole "path" thing. Look, I'll prove it - Path of...I dunno, Cheeseburgers. Path of the French Fry. Doesn't matter. If it starts with 'path of', it just sounds cultic."
"If you say so." He turned and looked around the diner. He'd definitely changed somehow, and I knew it wouldn't stop bugging me until I figured it out.
An awkward silence.
"So, what, it's been like six months, huh?" I said, trying to resurrect our conversation. "Have a girlfriend? Hey, how's you sis-"
He held up his hand to silence me. "See that guy?" he asked, motioning with his chin at a young blonde man sitting alone in a booth two rows over.
Jimmy turned back to me. "So we're gonna follow him."
"When he leaves, we're gonna follow him."
I shook my head. "Why?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Why not?" He must've noticed that I wasn't buying it. "You'll see," he added with smile.
"How do you know he doesn't have a car outside?"
"No, he walked here."
"What, are you like psychic now?"
"Trust me, man, I just know."
We didn't say much after that. We just sat there, waiting for the guy to move. I took the opportunity to get a better look at him. He was in his late twenties, on the tall side, thin frame, with an unstyled mass of sandy blonde hair. He was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt with the band's faces on it.
A few minutes later, the guy stood up. Jimmy picked up his glass and drained it. I watched his hands as he moved, suddenly realizing what was different.
"Hey, Jimmy, Aren't you ri-"
"Here we go," he cut in, standing hurriedly. He dropped a pair of tens on the table and turned to leave. "Come on," he called over his shoulder.
A few seconds out the door, Jimmy had hit his stride and was walking fast. I almost had to jog to keep up.
"Where're we going, man?"
"I told you, we're gonna follow this guy."
I looked up the street. The man was about two blocks ahead of us, but Jimmy was closing the distance in a hurry.
I could feel sweat beading on my forehead. "Yeah, but why?"
"You'll see," he said, not looking back.
Another block and I was panting. "Hey, man, aren't you right-handed?"
"Not anymore." He stared straight ahead, eyes locked on the man as if on human prey.
"When did that happen?"
"A few weeks ago. I always wanted to be left-handed, so…I just did it."
"Wow. Was it hard?"
From beside him, I saw the corners of his lips rise in a smile. "Not at all."
We were less than a block back when the man turned onto a side street. Jimmy cursed and sped up. My side was beginning to hurt.
Jimmy eyed the street we had turned on to. It was lined with low-end apartments, but no one else was on the street or the fire escapes above us.
"This is good," he muttered. "This'll work. We're gonna get right behind him and force him into one of these alleys."
"Are you serious?"
He looked over at me. "Yes."
"What the hell, man? Are you gonna rob him? It's broad daylight!"
" He has something I want."
"Jesus, man, you're freaking me out."
He locked eyes with me but didn't slow down. "How long have we known each other, Eric?"
"I dunno, like forever."
He smiled. "That's right, we go way back. And in all that time, have I ever let you down or steered you wrong?"
"No, man. No way."
"So trust me on this one."
I shook my head. "This is so fucked up."
"Just help me do this."
I shrugged. "Alright, man. Whatever."
"Good. Just get behind him, block the alley so he can't get away. Here we go, this one right here."
Jimmy sped up to flank the man, and it looked like he would jog right past him.
In one sudden movement, Jimmy shoved the man off the street, toppling him into the alley.
The man stumbled and hit the ground in an crumpled roll. I darted around to block his way.
The man groaned and pushed himself to his knees.
"Hey," Jimmy called. "Look at me."
The man raised his head. There was blood running from his nose, and, on his knees he seemed very much like a broken child.
"You have something I want," Jimmy said.
The man reached for his wallet, his hands trembling. "Here, take it, just…"
Jimmy shook his head. "Put that shit away. Come here, Eric. Come look at this guy"
I moved slowly around to face the man.
"Look at his eyes. Aren't they interesting?" Jimmy asked playfully.
I noticed the man's eyes for the first time. They were light gray, paler than I'd ever seen before.
"They're not contacts, are they?" Jimmy barked.
"What's your name?"
"Martin." Jimmy paused, weighing the sound of the name. "I like your eyes, Martin. Stand up."
Martin planted his hands on the ground and slowly eased himself to his feet.
"Good. Nowdon't move, and this'll only take a second. You might wanna back up, Eric."
I took a step back, making sure I had a good view of whatever has about to happen.
"Just hold still, Martin." Jimmy turned away from him, and I thought for as second that it was over, that Jimmy was going to walk away. But instead, he pivoted back towards Martin and lunged forward, slamming his fist into the man's chest.
Martin shattered like a mannequin made of ice. The sound of his brittle body exploding was that of a chandelier crashing into a marble floor. His clothes collapsed limply on the dirt and jagged crystal.
Jimmy dropped to the ground, kneeling on Jerry Garcia's wrinkled face as he began to sift through the fragments. "Help me look," he commanded.
I stood there, frozen, watching him paw through the shattered remains of the dead man.
"Help me look!" he called again.
"His eyes, dumbass! They should be here." There was an edge of desperation in his voice. "Shit! I specifically hit him in the chest so this wouldn't happen."
I squatted down and began to pick through the flesh-colored pieces. They were thick, about five millimeters, and heavy in my hands.
"He had the most beautiful eyes," Jimmy muttered.
"H-here, I found one," I said, holding up a larger piece.
He scurried over to me. "Yes, that's it! Perfect!"
The piece was about two inches long and an inch wide. Painted trompe l'oeil inside the glass was Martin's left eye, the inside tip of his eyebrow, and the bridge of his nose.
Jimmy gingerly lifted the piece from my hand. Kneeling down, he turned to face me.
"Now you'll see what it's all about, man." He positioned the piece against the side of his face, just below his temple, in such a way that Marten's frozen eye seemed to look directly at me.
And then he pushed.
The shard slid into his head, slicing smoothly through his skull. Suddenly, the gray eye slid into sight, resting right beside Jimmy's brown eye. It looked like he had two irises on one eyeball. The shard was entirely inside his head, and the place on his skin where the shard had entered looked as though it had never been cut.
Jimmy smacked his palm against his temple, and the gray eye slid almost perfectly over his own. A brown crescent limned one side of his iris. He clenched his eyes closed and, when he opened them, both of his eyes were the same exotic shade of gray. They were flawless, as if he had been born with them.
"So," he asked, brushing grains of pulverized glass from his knees, "How do they look?"
"They uh, natural, they look natural."
"Oh, come on, Eric, be more creative that that. Make up something if you have to."
My mind was still in shock but, looking at the exotic gray, a word came to mind. "Everwinter. You have everwinter eyes, Jimmy"
He smiled. "That's more like it. Now, come on, let's go."
"What about this?" I asked, motioning to the glass and clothing.
"Just leave it. Nobody'll figure it out. Although…" he motioned to the pair of brand new Nikes that Martin had been wearing. "It's a shame to leave these lying here." He picked them and glanced the tag. "Size eleven. Lucky me." He tipped them upside down and shook out a few bits of stray glass, then tucked them under his arm.
I looked at his feet. "There's no way those are gonna fit."
Jimmy smiled. "All in time, my friend. All in time."
The last time I saw Jimmy was a few years ago, about the time that I left the Path of Glass. They set me on my way, helped me learn who I wanted to be and how to become those things, and for that I am grateful. I travel a great deal now, but wherever I go, one thing is the same: any time I am in public, strangers will approach me and comment on my everwinter eyes.
"Path of Glass" continues in chapter 2 of my collection "Symbiosis" also on this site.