(Herbie’s note: This first appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009.)
I sweep the streets I used to own.
He whispers but they don’t hear him. They pass him by on the trash-laden streets, their heads down, their eyes on the cracked sidewalk in front of them. Yet, he whispers in hopes that someone, anyone will catch a hint of his voice.
And they walk on.
For years he lived on the streets in the down side of town. The drug dealers passed him by, the whores followed suit, but he was there, always aware of the goings on of each dark corner, of each alleyway. Always aware.
Morning would come and he would venture from his box in the shadows. He swept the streets from one end to the other, searching for a gram or a half full bottle of street rum, a cigarette left behind by someone not really wanting to smoke but trying to look cool. Occasionally, he would find one or two of them, but it was rare that he would find all three. If truth were told, he only found all three once…
The girl hears him. He perks up in his shadow box when she looks back, her brown eyes studying the darkness beyond her. She turns and walks, a little faster than before. His heart leaps at the realization that someone could hear him.
He whispers again and her pace picks up. He leaves the darkness of his shadow box and follows her, his body tracing along buildings in flat one-dimensional prints. Another whisper sends her running. He gives chase, but stops before reaching the light on the street corner. It is there that he watches her go, her fear pouring off of her in waves of black that only he can see, a scream frozen in her throat.
“They hear me.”
Others walk on by, either not hearing or pretending not to. He knows he can’t touch them, probably can’t reach them, but he knows now that they can hear him.
It was a solid gram of crack that sat in the mouth of the alley where he normally slept. It didn’t take long for him to hide in the cardboard box by the trash bin behind the small restaurant. He used it up—most of it gone within minutes.
He stumbled out into the streets, high as the clouds above, and found the smoke in the gutter. He tipped, almost falling over, but managed to balance himself and grabbed the cigarette. It was still fresh, the cherry still burning orange. He smoked it quickly and struggled to make it back to his box.
The alcohol sat at the top of the trash can near the door of the Horse Shit, a bar the pimps and hookers frequented and the cops stayed from. He drank it down, letting the liquor burn his throat and warm his near empty stomach.
Lit up by crack and alcohol he barely made it to the corner of the block, where the lights were always on, day and night. He stepped into the road…
He whispers, the guy turns and looks directly at him. The guy’s eyes are slits, as wide as his stoned mind can make them. He stumbles along the worn sidewalk, one hand on the wall for balance.
Another whisper escapes him, pushed through the air by a hissing breath. The guy glances back, eyes squinting as he stares into the shadows along the buildings and alleys. The guy shakes his head and the shadow knows… knows he can be seen by anyone who is paying attention. The guy backs away, his hand coming off the wall. He stumbles backward, almost falls and turns and runs.
This time, he gives chase, calling the guy, begging for him to…
Physically, he never woke up. Spiritually, he wakes up in his box every morning and makes his way to the streets. He never leaves the comfort of the darkness, preferring to stay along the walls, moving with the shadows and hiding from the Others, the ones that search for him in the light. They are always in the light.
The guy doesn’t see the bus, doesn’t really have time to do much more than scream.
He watches from the shadow near the corner as the bus breaks too late. He tried to call to him, tried to get him to stop, to wake up and be aware of his surroundings, aware of his life slipping away.
From his flattened spot on the wall he sees the Others in the light. They descend on the bloodied man on the street, even as the bus driver leaves the bus, a sob in his throat and both hands to his mouth, even as the few bystanders—dealers and whores and those seeking sexual favors—look on in shock and curiosity. The white astral beings pull the spirit from the body and make their way to the light—it’s always on, both at night and during the day. Always on. The man’s soul evaporates as it enters the light, sucked into the bright yellow orb that sits in a lantern and hangs from a lamppost. He hears the guy’s scream and the silence that follows.
And he sees them—the Others—turn their eyes to him, their sharp teeth exposed in their grinning maws, their pointy claws hanging down by their wisp-like knees. He hears their hisses and he shrinks back into the shadows.
He whispers to them as they walk by. They pay him no attention, but he knows they hear him. One of them will listen one day. One of them will listen and free him from his torment, free him from his shadows.
Until then, he sweeps the streets, hoping for that lone soul that will heed his warnings and stay away from the light…