To Those In Need
The snow was falling. This wasn’t the first snow of the season but this was the most significant snow, the first real snow. The city was huddled together against the cold and spreading darkness but passed in silence, defenses up against forced holiday cheer. As the snow falls the darkness seems to take on a life all its own and the masses move closer to one another, bumping against each other and grunting in response, angry at the closeness but loathing the dark and what it brings. And in the dark things begin to move. They come from the shadows, from between the walls, from behind dumpsters, from under cardboard castles, crawling out into the night and stretching like children as their days begin. The scavengers. And as they emerge the people on the streets purposefully ignore them, actively ignore them so as not to be infected with the sight of them. In the distance the tolling of the church bells. First one church, then another, as if in competition, then finally, distantly, a third and last church awakens to toll the birth of a new hour. One of the scavengers climbs from out of a dumpster and watches the people as they march by outside of the alley, hustling back and forth, some with packages, some with briefcases, some with purses and all of them actively ignoring him and as they do he smiles, smiles beneath a thick black beard that flows down from his face over his throat and across his chest. He reaches down absently and pulls his pants up with a hand as the other hand scratches in the nest of his beard. Suddenly he feels new eyes on him and turns to see one of the others staring him and his smile drops. No need for façade with these. He narrows his eyes and sees the heat coming off the woman and can smell her. She smells like rot and waste. The scent makes him sick. He stares at her and she stares back, wavering, after a moment she speaks.
“I don’t like you.”
He smiles at her, his mouth spreading open as he leans forward towards her. The woman frowns takes a step back, then another and her eyes look away from the scavenger in the dumpster and out to the alley’s entrance and the people there. To get there she’d have to walk past the scavenger too close to him and she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t like him. He reminds her of a sick dog her grandpa had had down south. The woman looks over her shoulder to the back of the alley and sees more of the scavengers as they too stretch from waking. Beyond them is another alley entrance and more people passing by. Her skin is crawling. She doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like it here. She is cold, and her feet hurt, and her belly is empty and she wants to be away from these sick dogs and back onto the streets amongst the people. She turns back and the scavenger stands before her still smiling, smiling with so many teeth, so many teeth. As he opens his mouth all she can think of is that dog, that sick red dog and the way it would look at her from under her grandpa’s porch, how it would growl at her from a cloud of flies, how it was sick, was very sick until her grandpa took a gun and made it better. She stepped away from the scavenger but he was faster and on her in a moment and after that she is cold no longer.
In the streets the growing shadows thin out the crowds and as the bells toll hour after hour even the streets begin to empty. As the streets and sidewalks grow barren though the bars and restaurants fill with the sounds of laughter and talk, the sounds of the season barring out the thunderous sound of snowfall. As the people move indoors the scavengers slink from their hiding places, coming out toward the bright lights and roar of the people. Drawn, always drawn to them, and drawn to the people that they hate as much as the people hate them. They prefer the darkness, the silence, and the company of rats and insects. They don’t even want to be with one another but stick to packs for protection and little else. Some still reproduce, or attempt to, but such as them never do well in the wilds, on the streets, and there is nowhere else for them to go. Not here. Not in this place. This place is too loud, too bright, and there are too many people shoving in on them. It seems as if it’s always been like this. At least since the days when they came here, following the people as they migrated and shadowing them and now, and now they were here, trapped by the people and with them. The bells toll and the scavenger puts his hands over his ears and retreats into the darkness, sneering. So loud. Always so loud. He closes his eyes and can see the reverberations in his head, like great white waves rushing over him. He bends forward and vomits noisily into the alley and as he is bent forward he feels a hand on his back, patting him, comforting him. He turns quickly, vomit and blood dripping from his lips as he does.
“My, my god, man, are, are you all right? I, I am from St. John’s down the street, I, I am making my holiday rounds, spreading the word of the Lord and giving aid or comfort where needed. You, you…are you alright my son? Do you need aid? Do you need comfort?”
The scavenger looked up at the priest and the smell of him was overpowering. He could smell the detergent in his clothes, the soap from his hands, the remnants of shaving foam and beneath it all the faint scent of cigarettes. The priest smiled down on him but the smile faltered then faded. The priest took a step away from him, then another, giving a sign of the cross as the scavenger licked the blood from his lips and smiled at the man. His teeth were not sharp, his hands were not powerful but he was stronger than this man, and he had learned where the softest parts were, the places where it was easiest to bite and get what he needed. He was hungry. The old woman was full of disease, of rot of the mind, rot of the lungs and that was making him sick. It was making the lights too bright, the sounds too loud. He needed to feed. Needed it now. He still lead his pack, was still the strongest of them but he was getting older, and if he let this disease live him in, let her tainted blood survive in her then they might make their move, might make sure he never saw another night. He saw the blood coursing through the priest and smelled the fear. And fear made it better, made the kill sweeter, made it like the old days, made it like when they were all much younger and the world much less crowded and loud. He smiled and the priest was frozen in his eyes, frozen in his stare. The scavenger could feel the blood caking and freezing in his beard and heard the others behind him, whispering to one another, watching to see what he’d do. He was sick. He needed to feed. He had waited long enough. He was old but even full of poison he was faster than a man and he was on the priest in a moment, too fast for the priest to scream, too fast for him to run. The scavenger stood before priest and looked into his eyes and grabbed his hands and could feel the blood thundering through his veins. His stomach growled. The scavenger looked into the eyes of the priest and saw the fear, the old fear, the fear his kind had seen since the beginning, when the scavengers and the humans rose from the same mud, and suckled from the same breasts before the scavengers chose a life of darkness and the humans a life of light. The scavenger fell to his knees before the holy man and brought his hands to his lips and held them at his lips and kissed them softly.
“Go, priest, go now, go now and take this gift from a long lost brother, take this gift and go back to your world. Go back and remember why your kind fears the dark. Go and make merry while you still have a chance. Go and live. GO!”
Screaming the last and shoving the man away. The priest shakes his head, dazed and looks away from the man kneeling before him, past him to the things that are running this way, and there, there is Satan, there is Lucifer, there are the adversaries agents and he is off, he is running, he is away into the lights, into the world, into the safety of the open air where it didn’t stink of blood and filth. And behind him a scream, a scream that will echo in his heart until the end of his days but he doesn’t look back, cannot look back, looking only to the distant church that quickly approaches him and falls on his knees before the savior, thanking him for this night and for every night he may have before him, and cannot help but weep as midnight’s bells sound out through the night.