Another homeless foot in the harbour. Homeless because a foot needs an ankle to feel in place, and because the ankle once belonged to a leg on a person who had no home. You knew it from the ratty sock, two socks, layered, and the dirty nail on the toe poking out, and you knew it because the body parts were always parts of the homeless, that’s who got dismembered. Soon, the workers in yellow jackets with boats and yellow tape would find a head to match to the foot and we’d all breathe a sigh of relief that sounded like this: a homeless.
So the rest of us are safe, because it’s only a homeless.
Luke awoke, naked, and sat up in bed. He looked out the condo window. The condo was mostly window. He saw the yellow jackets in the harbour and even before he knew it for sure he knew it: another homeless in bits. What a drag.
He rolled out of bed and took a long hot shower, then he ate a bagel with cream cheese while the machine made him coffee. He swallowed the vitamins he always swallowed, shaking them out of a bottle he kept in the fridge next to the bottle of REMbrandt pills. He swallowed the vitamins in the morning and the REMbrandts in the evening. REMbrandt boosted memory consolidation and made him more creative, which was what he needed to be because that’s what he was known for.
Luke didn’t have a job. He spent his days being entertaining and being entertained, blasting witty sentences into the webs and looking at other witty sentences from other blasters. He knew in a gauzy sort of way that other people worked—the way he knew that other people had gout, or listened to jazz, or couldn’t sleep at night. He was aware of these things, but they didn’t touch him at all. He spent his days how he spent them and money appeared in his bank account. He couldn’t say where the money came from—it just came. Better not to ask, probably. He liked the arrangement. He was gauzily aware that his situation set him apart from other people, but to be honest he didn’t think about it much. He ate his bagels, took his vitamins, sent witty comments out into the webs, and swallowed a handful of REMbrandts with his evening cocktail. Life worked, even if Luke didn’t.
Some other things he was aware of that didn’t touch him at all: the armbands that the homeless wore to memorialize their sundered friends; the clothing drives that the homeless ran to collect socks for homeless feet; the homeless feet that kept showing up in the harbour, bobbing like ducks, bad for tourism. He looked out his window at the yellow tape and the boats. He watched the homeless on the pier, each wearing an armband, a white armband with a cross drawn on—a cross or an X, depending on the angle. They stood and watched, and he watched them from above. There seemed to be more and more of them every day, these homeless. Or was it just his imagination? He blasted a witty sentence into the webs and waited for someone to notice.
The yellow jackets took all morning to find a head. They found it and Luke breathed a sigh. A homeless. Of course it was a homeless. The homeless on the pier knew it would be, Luke knew it would be, the yellow jackets knew it would be. They carted off the remains and everyone went back to what they would normally do, which for Luke was not much, next to nothing. Really, nothing. He twiddled with his devices for a while, just as witty as you please.
He looked out the window, and there was a homeless, a woman, a shameless face on her. Wearing an armband. She rang a bell. She rang a bell and stood by a bin on wheels attached to a bicycle, and she called for clothes. Old clothes, clothes you’ll never wear. Don’t you have some old clothes you’ll never wear? Dress a cold body, please help.
And for some reason—oops!—that touched him.
Maybe it was her face, maybe it was the bell, maybe it was nothing. Who knows why anyone does anything? Maybe it was some small unnoticed event a billion years ago that made little difference at the time but that slowly, slowly, slowly grew in influence, like a snowball rolled down a ski hill, until now it blew up in Luke’s brain and compelled him to get out of bed, move to his closet, slide open the door and walk in. He looked around. He never wore these suits but they were too expensive to donate. He never wore these ties but they were expensive too, unbelievably expensive when you considered what they were, what they physically were. He looked around. Ah, there. Those old running shoes. They were on the verge of falling apart, but they would house a pair of homeless feet for the time it took for the feet to wander down the wrong alley, detach from the ankles, and end up bobbing in the harbour. They’d make someone’s day for the time he had left, for the numbered days he had.
So Luke dusted off the shoes, tucked them under his arm, and carried them into the hall. He carried them onto the elevator and carried them down to the street. He saw the woman with her armband, ringing her bell, and he felt so very generous. He felt so very generous. He felt so big and warm and good.
He showed her the shoes and she showed him the bin. He tossed the shoes in and she thanked him. Really thanked him. Not how you thank a clerk at the bakery when he hands you your bagels all warm and fogging the plastic bag; really thanked, like she meant what she said. Thanks. Then, like she meant it, she added something else:
“If you want to know where the money comes from, stop taking the pills.”
He looked at her shameless face and he thanked her, not how he thanked the clerks but how you thank someone when you’re not sure why. Sort of timid, sort of said with the air going in instead of coming out, thanks, like a bird in a birdhouse way up in a tree. She didn’t look away, oh no. She kept her face turned on him as if she were the moon.
So you know what he did? He took her advice. Instead of the pills, he took her advice; instead of the nightly swallow of REMbrandts, he thought of her face and he drank his cocktail and swallowed nothing else. And he worried that tomorrow he’d be less creative, less witty on the webs, his blasts less fun. But he took her advice, he wanted to know. Why had she said it like she meant it?
Then he undressed, as he always did, and he flopped in the billowy blankets. He flopped in the nude, though the walls were all window, because who would care, the sea? The mermaids? The dolphins? Who would care? He lived on the harbour, the luxury harbour, way up in the air, and now it was night. He faced out. No one cared.
But you know what? He couldn’t sleep. This never happened. Not to him. This never happened.
And yet it was happening, so he tried to remember what people always say. Don’t they say count sheep? He couldn’t be bothered to imagine sheep. And really? Sheep? Don’t they say drink a glass of warm milk? But then he’d have to brush his teeth again. And warm milk? Really? Warm? Don’t they say read a book? But all his books were picture books, big glossy pictures of gigantic slabs of house set in waterfalls, huge concrete desert houses bending the saguaro with their gravity, always the gravity of these supermassive houses, houses that never smiled, houses you had to pay other folks to clean because you couldn’t stand to do the job yourself. Was there even anything to read in these books? He’d never really looked. Captions, maybe, captions in three languages, English and German and something. Captions didn’t put you to sleep. No one ever said, Oh, you’re tired? Read some captions.
A walk. If you weren’t going to sleep, you shouldn’t even try. Do something else. You could go for a walk, maybe see the moon. Get some air. Clear your head.
So he did. He went down to the harbour. And you might think he’d be wary, he’d be worried, because night was when the homeless got dismembered. But he wasn’t worried. He felt uncannily comfortable, as if in a dream. Haven’t you done this before?
Then he heard a hiss, and he turned, and there she was, pressed to the wall in an alley, waving her hand in an angry way as if he were some kind of trespasser. She waved her hand and said, Get in, get in, and he saw that she stood by an opening. A wooden cover, a wooden door on an opening in the ground, a cellar. But before he could move or think to move, he heard them growl at his back.
He turned away from the shameless face, which now was pulled by fear, and he saw them on the pier. Black hairy shapes, barking, snarling, fighting over something good to eat. He heard a plop, plop, plop, and he guessed it was feet, two feet and maybe a hand, not enough splash for a head. The big hunched hairy monsters sniffed at each other’s mouths, breathing in loud huffs. Then they turned on him and they opened their jaws, all gristly and gross, and he turned back to see where the homeless woman was. She wasn’t there, pressed against that wall. The wooden cover down, the opening closed: he guessed he was alone, and the thing to do was flee.
He started to run but he looked at the monsters and they were too big to outrun. Then he saw a streetlamp and up he went, somehow climbing, somehow up. He got off the ground and pulled himself up. He climbed to the top and he hung there.
He heard the hairy monsters plodding along below, sniffing him out. His arms began to weaken. His legs began to weaken. His legs began to grow. His arms began to grow. He sniffed the air and all at once he saw the smells in the air.
He opened his jaws, all gristly and gross, and his shoulders sprouted hair. His belly sprouted hair. His ears grew points and sprouted hair. At first he couldn’t believe it; soon he couldn’t believe anything. He joined the pack and bit.
Luke awoke, naked, and jumped out of bed. He stood at the window. Yellow jackets, boats, yellow tape. Another foot, probably. Bobbing. But now he knew. He couldn’t remember much, but he knew. So now it was too late for Luke.
He spent the morning in the shower, cowering in the shower, and the hot water didn’t run cold because it wouldn’t up here, not all the way up here. He cowered in luxury. Then he worked up some nerve, then he lost it again, then he got it back and put on some shoes. Then he lost it again, took off the shoes, went back to the shower. He found gristle stuck in his teeth.
Was that what he was? An eater of homeless? A paid eater of homeless? Did he eat them, or did he just tear them apart and throw them around? Was it nourishing, at least, or a total waste? His skin turned pruney. He dried himself off. He crawled on all fours to the hallway. He crawled down the hallway and found his devices. He checked his accounts. There was nothing in them. No money in the bank. Withdrawn.
So that’s what he was.
Then he thought, It’s not over. I still have my REMbrandts. I’ll take my pills and I’ll try to forget. I’ll convince myself it was all a bad dream and I’ll take my pills. I’ll forget. And the money, it’ll come back. I’ll take the pills and the money will come. Isn’t that how it works? I like how it works.
But evening fell and he hadn’t blasted anything witty, and he’d poured his cocktail and now it was time for his REMbrandts. But you know what? He didn’t take them. And you know why? Because it was too late. He thought of that shameless face pulled by fear, and all he wanted to do was apologize. To say it like he meant it. Because he was sorry, truly sorry, he hadn’t known. At some point he must have known, he must have agreed to it, but he’d forgotten, just as he now forgot his nights. The pills made him forget. Every night they made him forget what he was. But they wouldn’t tonight. He was sorry. He was sorry. He didn’t want to eat her up or tear her apart or throw her pieces around or anything. He didn’t want her to spend her homeless nights cowering in that cellar, all alone in there, afraid of monsters. He didn’t want anyone cowering. Not her, not him, not anyone.
So it was night, but he did not undress and he did not sleep. He went out, he went to find her, he went to the cellar door. He waited there and soon she arrived, and he grabbed her and apologized. Then he said, Get in, I’ll soon transform, get safe, get away from me, I’ll soon transform! And she shook her head and said, Come down. Come down with me, you’ll see.
So he went, he followed her into the cellar. She closed the wooden door behind them and bound it tight with chains. And he said, No, no, I’ll eat you down here! You’re in danger! I’m a monster! I’ll eat you down here! And she looked at him and shook her head and almost laughed, which he found strange. Was it a suicide? If so, he wanted no part. He moved to break the chains.
But he couldn’t, could he? He was just a man. He felt the hair sprouting and he turned to her and pleaded, but then he stopped pleading because she was changing too. She’d taken off her homeless clothes and she was changing too.
“This way,” she said, “we don’t cause any harm.”
Then they both transformed and they were black hairy monsters, and they gnashed at each other all gristly and gross, and they put up their hackles and howled and humped, and they bit to draw blood, but in jest. Monsters get it: blood is nothing. It makes you drunk, that’s all. If it doesn’t gush, it’s affection.
Till morning they caroused, safe in their cellar, the homeless above safe from them. The chains held, though the monsters bit them, tried to bite through them. Then the monsters dropped, exhausted, and Luke watched the hair dissolve. He watched his hand and he watched the hair sizzle away like the hottest part of a wick in a candle flame, the part that seems to vaporize. And then he was human again.
He watched her body, which was also naked, and he wondered what they were. He guessed it was too late for them: their bank accounts were empty. But they hadn’t murdered, they’d caroused instead; whatever they were, rowdy and dirty and rough and wild, they’d caroused instead. Which maybe meant nothing, but maybe it did. Who knows? Who knows why anything means anything?
She seemed to need her sleep so he let her sleep. Soon she awoke. The body of a monster is different from a man’s, larger and louder, and he’d ripped his clothes to pieces in transformation. She picked up a shred of the shirt he’d worn, a white expensive shirt, and she found a crayon and drew a cross on the shred. Or an X—the way she held the cloth while she drew made him think it was an X. Then she went to her bin and she pulled out some clothes, a threadbare sweatshirt, some pants, some shoes. He dressed. She tied the shred of shirt around his bicep and she kissed his cheek and said, I was once how you were, but now we’re both like them. And he knew it was true. She said it like she meant it. They were them now, they were them, the homeless.
Then they opened the cellar door and went out into the harbour, and the yellow jackets swarmed on the high concrete seawall, and the monsters held hands and wondered what they’d gained, and they saw a homeless foot in the surf. She took out her bell and rang it. He looked at the windows in the harbour and sighed. Who could do nothing in a world like this?
Story copyright © 2014 by Trevor Shikaze
Artwork copyright © 2014 by Joel G.
Trevor Shikaze lives in Alberta. His short fiction has appeared in Lakeside Circus, Pulp Literature, Lightning Cake, and elsewhere. He divides his time between work, play, and keeping his mouth shut.
Joel G.’s art can be seen on safety posters, album covers, portrait restorations, tattoos, Postscripts to Darkness, and a weird colouring book called Postcards from the Spacefarm. When he is not tromping across frozen wastelands with a sleigh-load of fragile electronics, he lives in Ottawa with his partner Renée and their cats Dee Dee and Amadeus.