Compared to where I normally bed down, Avery’s place was the fuckin’ Taj Mahal. He gave me the tour, indicating matters of importance by pointing his burning Newport around the dusty place, “Over there is the shitter, and that’s the beer fridge.”
There was what looked like primal spiders in the windows. The walls were stained by water damage. The mildew stank like the insides of a molested teddy bear. All in all, I liked it.
Avery was a bum that took in bums. Unlike the Salvation Army or the shelters, he takes in everybody: the pill-heads, the drunks, the depressed and deranged. His place even has fewer bed bugs.
“One thing,” he said, holding up the Newport, which was now mostly filter pinched between two fingers, “You have to watch for Otis. He can be meaner than a cougar with a pine cone jammed up its asshole.”
I glanced around the men and women that were just humps and shapes under moth eaten blankets, “Otis?”
Avery’s eyes shrank, “Yeah. Otis.”
He left me with that, shambling off into the kitchen, hacking up chunks of lung.
As the gray outside slipped into black, I lie in my cot among the other lost, listening to their prayers that where whispered under breath: their hushed wishes, sacred entreaties. Even down at the bottom of a grease barrel, buried under poverty and bad luck, hope still lingers.
I’m no different. I was already gathering goals together that had to be done by the end of the week–get a job, even flipping shit-burgers at McDonalds if I have to. Which was a shame to waste my talents, it was a blow to my pride, making me feel like I earned my carpentry certifications for nothing.
You’re a carpenter, just like our Savior, mom used to say.
I don’t hold much stock in the Big Carpenter in the sky anymore. After tornadoes of bad luck, it just isn’t in me.
Beside my cot, an old woman held a faceless, sexless, gray statue. She caressed its chest with wither-lipped kisses.
I had to respect them for that, they still have faith in something, I guess.
Dives are noisy places to sleep, after a while you get used to the rattle of cold bones, those first unsettling wet coughs of pneumonia, and the gentle weeping of the heartbroken. A more violent sound jarred me awake, a sharp creak in the boards, a steady pace, creak after creak.
It was too dark to see, and people walking in the dark bother me, hearing those creaks makes me imagine them walking bed to bed, looking down, observing each us.
Others heard the sound. In the broken down Dive, whispers flew back and forth. Some were excited, some were uneasy. The woman next to me took a sharp intake of breath and gasped, “He’s here.”
A candle bloomed into the inky black, and in the corner of my eye, I recognized Itchy Pete in the glow— his scabies rashes looking inflamed in the twitching light. Itchy Pete shined his light through the dark dive, showing that the dust caked aisles between the beds were empty. The creaks persisted—there was an unseen sentinel moving through the shadows. Itchy Pete looked at me, his face eager. “He’s here, Hayden. He’s really here.”
I didn’t know who ‘He’ was, and didn’t so much as give a dead fart, so I rolled on my side. Before I closed my eyes, an irritated voice garbled, “Pete pinch out that candle, some us have a twelve hour shift tomorrow.”
“Hush, He’s here. Here.” Skinny Pete repeated, the voice of a fanatic in the shadows.
The irate voice warned, “Pinch out that light, Pete, or I’m going to knock your teeth into your asshole.”
I prayed Pete would listen, he was a good guy and I didn’t want him getting worked over. Fights can get ugly in places like this, all the anxiety in the air, and the guy sounded drunk, I could smell the Bourbon from here.
Itchy Pete’s eyes searched the dark, following the creaks. He looked as if he believed all his prayers and dreams would come true. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.
A portable Zenith Radio flew across the room and stoved Itchy Pete across the mouth. The candle fell, the light went out. All we could here now where his cries into the dark, those sobs sinking into the broken dusty floor.
It hurt to hear Pete like that, he never hurt nobody. He was crazy after all, the PTSD fucked him up good, and Pete was constantly too worried to bother anyone.
His cries died off, and he whispered, “He’ll get you. The God will get you. He’ll eat your heart, throw the rest in the bonfire.”
As I drifted into deep sleep, I was glad Pete had that deranged God on his side. The hope may be false, but even false hope is better than none. The lost need something to look up to, even a Dive God that burns offenders in a fire. Pete’s wife left him once the doctors diagnosed him, his kids pass him on the street—Pete deserves something.
The screams cut through the night like a knife, and I shot bolt upright. As fast as the scream came, an abrupt gurgle, and a moist tearing sound cut them off.
I sat in the dark, heart thudding against my chest. I’ve heard a lot of weird shit in places like this, but that was different; wretched, horrible—like the sound of a castration.
The grime streaked windows lit up with white fire, and as the flash died down, I saw a bonfire raging outside.
I looked over, and Itchy Pete was smiling at me, candle held up to his gaunt face he slowly said, “He took him. Otis took him because he was mean to me.”
“Pete,” my voice was shaky, “Where is Otis?”
Itchy Pete raised his candle, showing dark wet footprints on the ceiling. “He lives up there. He walks above us. Always watching, always protecting.”
The old woman kissed her faceless, sexless statue.
Credit To – Charles Coffman