In the night
Deric slept in doorways when he could, under a grimy blanket that he worked hard to keep dry. His hair was matted and he smelled of rancid sweat, garbage, and urine. His life was survival. His method of survival was different than those of most of us; but, nonetheless, had the same objective.
Deric was a wild urban animal, inhabiting the space beyond the safe clean confines of shelter and certain sustenance. He used the same instincts amassed by thousands of generations of hunter gatherers to eke out his survival. He knew where abandoned superfluous abundance would be discarded. The back doors of stores and restaurants opened to the steel bins, where that which was no longer fit for tame consumption was laid out in a banquet. Deric had no concern for the fears of spoilage that drove abundance to within his reach. Dumpsters were his cornucopia, a smorgasbord of delectable delicacies, that were no longer delicate.
The civilized world that surrounded Deric didn’t see him. He was invisible. Not literally, he could be seen, but he wasn’t seen. This afforded Deric the freedom to ignore that which ignored him. There were no expectations that impinged on him. He had to satisfy no one’s demands. His degradation was complete, there was no farther down to go. Deric saw the world as an observer, not as a participant. Little of that which occurred around him concerned him. The cars and trucks that rushed along the thoroughfares were no more than soulless beasts to be avoided. The people sauntering or rushing along the sidewalks were denizens of a realm which he could see, but he was not a member. Deric was a living ghost, inhabiting a realm where he existed, but had no connection.
Cold rain was the thief of life. It drained heat through wet clothes. It made a blanket a cold slab of wool that merged the drops into a mass of warmth sapping chill. It was the cold rain that Deric feared. Without shelter, Deric knew that he could not survive a single night in the cold rain. Snow would sluff off his blanket, like cheese from a waiter’s sleeve; but, rain would soak through, rendering his blanket useless.
Deric’s prize possession was his blanket, its warmth afforded him a flood of contentment. A dry place, under his warm blanket was all that Deric desired. The throngs that avoided him, saw deprivation, destitution, or deleterious self-destruction, but they did not see Deric. Deric still was imbued by his soul. Deric was the kindest of souls. A living embodiment of generosity; giving all that he had, to those who needed it even more. Deric knew that he knew what he knew; which, was not a condition universal in Deric’s world. Deric, was not the only ghost to walk the streets, there were many inhabiting the doorways and alleys of the urban wilds. Many of these ghosts were refugees from another reality, a harsh reality where relentless phantoms inhabited victims’ minds, tormenting them, hating them, forcing them into enslavement; subject to masters without pity or mercy.
Deric helped these human wrecks, the helpless bodies in which the phantoms reigned. It was the phantoms’ objective to torture the beings in which they lived, to drive out the last vestiges of humanity. The souls of their victims were imprisoned, deep within, looking out through the ruin caused to their lives and bodies, witnessing their own destruction. Deric, when he could, cared for them, giving to them sustenance. Deric would lead them to a dry doorway and protect them from the predators of the night.
The night was cold and windy, the freezing rain was driving. The cold seeped into Deric’s joints, it wrapped him in chill, draining his warmth. Deric had seen a new ghost, a young woman, arguing with her phantoms. He had seen her begging her phantoms, to stop torturing her. She had shrieked her resistance, “Nooo! Noo! Stop! Stop! Leave me alone! Go away! Noooo!”. She had come into Deric’s neighborhood just that morning. She was defenseless. She wandered aimlessly, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings; animated in a constant verbal and physical fight with her tormentors. She was utterly defenseless.
Sharon was missing, but not reported. She had abandoned her family ties, and moved to a distant city. She had worked for a while, and had a tiny efficiency. Recently, she had left her job. A week ago, she had walked out of her apartment in the middle of the night. She had lived alone, isolated, without friends or family. She had been increasingly anxious, fearful, of some nebulous unknown fear. It had haunted her, yet she had managed to function. On the night when she walked out, a barrier had breached in her mind. It had held back a flood, and with a wave of profound psychosis, she discovered that her psyche was no longer under her control. She had lost the ability to interact with reality. She was cognizant of her physical surroundings. She was not catatonic. She was quite animated. Everything around her appeared natural. She was aware of where she was. She could recognize things, and the physical world was within her reach; but, there was a distinct distance between her will to do something, and it happening. She felt that her body was operating on autopilot, and that she had no way to regain control. She was trapped inside, riding herself, rather than piloting herself. Her surroundings would, in perfectly natural appearing forms, morph into profound and inescapable subconscious meaning to her. Her psyche had been turned inside out, her deepest and darkest self, that which she hid, especially from herself, was inescapably revealed to her in the language of her subconscious mind; perfectly woven into the fabric of reality. These images would reveal to her consciousness the depths of her subconscious depravity. Flashing before her were revelations of her craven nature; things which we all despise about ourselves, but never dare to confront. She was trapped in an environment entirely modeled on self-loathing. To accompany the vivid and inescapable nightmare, were voices that cackled in her head, ceaseless, impervious to the noise around her, deriding her, denigrating her in the most painful way possible. The voices had control of her frame of reference and the ability to coerce her actions. Imagine walking through a world that reflected back to you that about yourself that you detest; all the while, with inescapable sadistic masters taunting and deriding you as they force to you to do things against your will. The voices would force to her to hurt herself and do disgusting things. To this was added a profound detachment from the physical world through which she was lost and wandering.
Sharon had survived a week on the streets. The weather had been relatively warm and dry. She drank water from the gutters where people had hosed down the sidewalks. She had eaten very little, just a couple of times when she found some garbage on the top of trash cans. Deric was wary of people like Sharon. He knew that her internal tormentors would react against him if he dared to help her. He understood that she was imprisoned by monsters. The monsters would fight him, and he knew that they would be vicious in protecting their hold on their victim. He also knew that she would not survive the coming night. It was raining a steady cold freezing rain. There was a wind cutting through any wet cloth, rendering wet blankets or jackets worthless. Deric knew that her only hope for survival was to get out of the wind and rain. He had seen others like her, lying dead on the sidewalk in the early dawn, staring out into the oblivion of death. He had tried to help many before, they always fought him. It was a frustrating experience to try to save someone who was determined to die. Deric could not fathom the torment these poor souls endured. He knew that comforting them was futile. Yet, he had dedicated himself to helping them. His heart could not stand idly by while such suffering was visited on another being.
That night Deric had found Sharon standing in an alley screaming in anguish; crying sobs of absolute despair. Begging her phantoms to leave her alone. Her clothes were thin, and torn. She was shivering. Everyone else had avoided her. They walked past her. Maybe pitying her. Yet, doing nothing to assist her. Deric came to her in the rain, while ice formed on the walls and overhead wires. Getting soaked himself. He wrapped his jacket around her, shielding her as best he could from the cold and wind. He coaxed her towards a nearby doorway. She called out in distress, screaming “leave me alone, get away”; but, like Deric, she too had become invisible. The passersby ignored the ragged and wretched. Their problems were not their own. She was obviously disturbed, and therefore, her distress was of no consequence to them.
Eventually, Deric brought her to a doorway where they would be out of the wind and rain. She began to shiver violently. Deric knew she was in grave danger. Her physical exhaustion caused her body to collapse into the corner at the deepest recess of the doorway. Deric sat next to her. He wrapped his dry blanket around her shaking body. He climbed under the blanket, lending his body heat to her. They leaned against the wall. Her teeth clattered. She was physically incapable of moving.
During the night, there arrived at the doorway Jon, another homeless ghost. Unlike Deric, Jon was a man who had abandoned himself to depravity. He had crawled into a bottle, and only came out to satisfy his animal lusts. He had seen Deric slip into the doorway with Sharon, and he had decided to take Sharon for his own pleasure. She would be easy prey. She could never identify him, even if someone asked. He could satisfy his every desire with her. He would be just another tormentor. A friend to her phantoms. He would strip her and rape her, then leave her to lie naked on the sidewalk. Deric knew what Jon was. Jon would often take what he wanted. He preyed on the crippled, or incognizant. Jon was the embodiment of depravity.
Jon was much larger than Deric. He knew he could physically force Deric away from the woman. It would be easy for him to beat Deric unconscious and take her. Deric knew what Jon planned the moment he saw him. Deric was not a saint. He was conscientious. He could not stand to see suffering. But, he was not a pacifist. He carried a knife, and he had killed in the past. There were never investigations about the deaths of homeless ghosts. Knife and gunshot wounds were considered death by natural causes. Deric, reached for his knife when he saw Jon coming towards them. Before Deric was able to get his knife out, Jon kicked him in the chest, knocking him back against the wall. Then, when Deric rebounded from the wall, Jon kicked him again, this time square in the face, crushing his nose, splattering Deric’s blood all around the doorway, and knocking his head against the wall. Deric’s skull fractured when it hit the wall. His sinuses had been caved in and he was massively concussed. He was unable to focus. He was swimming in a fog, witnessing, but not connecting with his surroundings. Jon grabbed Sharon. He threw her to the other side of the doorway, jumped on her, and ripped off her wet clothes. Jon mounted her, driving himself in deeply, and pumped furiously to inject his venom. She could not resist. She was paralyzed in terror, held fast, by both her internal and external tormentors. Her imprisoned consciousness was reverberating in waves of revulsion. Deric heard, the cloth ripping as Jon stripped Sharon. He heard Jon grunt as he raped her; but, he was unable to move. Sharon was horrified. The sensations disgusted her; but, she was powerless to resist. The phantoms behind the voices, those who tormented her, held her. They laughed at her, and taunted her as she suffered.
Deric, racked by pain, recovered his ability to move. The sight of the Jon’s vile act on his helpless victim motivated Deric. He still had his knife. With Jon preoccupied on Sharon, Deric pulled it out and opened it. Deric got up, and with as much strength as he could muster, he jammed the knife into Jon’s back. Jon howled with pain. The wound enraged him; but, did not incapacitate him. He left Sharon laying on the ground and turned on Deric. Sharon was paralyzed by her trauma. The knife was still stuck into Jon, deep in the right side of the middle of his back. The blade had slipped between his ribs at an angle, cutting onto his bone, holding it fast. Jon’s movement twisted the knife. Jamming it tighter into his ribs. His rage enabled his movement. Jon fell upon Deric. His weight knocked Deric to the ground. Jon tried to raise his arm to beat Deric, but, he found that the knife prevented him from hitting him with any force. Jon wrapped his fingers around Deric’s throat, and pushing down with all his weight, he strangled him. Deric was pinned. His arms under Jon’s legs. He felt his wind pipe collapsing, and life slipping out of his body.
Sharon watched them struggle. She comprehended what was happening; but, she was unable to move. The phantoms held her limbs and body in their grip. With the greatest effort she had ever exerted, she defied the phantoms, and grasped the knife in Jon’s back. With an enormous, almost superhuman pull, Sharon wrenched it from Jon’s back. When the knife freed from Jon’s wound, she fell back against the far wall holding the knife. She lay shivering naked in the cold dark, again paralyzed. Jon ignored the pain of the knife being ripped from his ribs. He was intent on strangling Deric. When Jon was sure that Deric was dead, he turned in the dark, and with an evil sneer, jumped on Sharon to again rape her. Only this time he was intent on punishing her by smashing her face as he ravaged her body. But, as Jon came down on Sharon, the razor sharp knife in her hands stabbed into his abdomen, and up under his sternum. Forced into him by his own body weight, it punctured deep into his heart. His body went limp as his blood stopped flowing, and he died on top of Sharon. He bled out over her. His blood pooling on the ground around her. She lay there sobbing, shivering, paralyzed with her rapist dead on top of her, next to the dead body of Deric.
The morning found her still. The rain had turned to snow when the temps fell into the teens in the early morning hours. The cold and snow continued for the next few days. The cold had freed Sharon from her torment. She had escaped her prison. Her naked, bruised, and frozen body was stiff in a frozen puddle of blood. No one identified their corpses, when they were found three days later. They were buried next to each other, in unmarked graves.