Dear Readers – this month I’m posting one of my oldest stories in celebration of Halloween (my favorite season and holiday). It’s a long piece so I’m breaking it up in parts. To recap, three young girls run out of gas in NYC and are taken under the wing of a troubled man named Daniel. You can read from the beginning here.
“I have a friend you can crash with for the night. It’s not too far and it’ll be safe for you.” Daniel said. The girls stared at him blankly, their eyes like shiny pennies.
“She’s a social worker.” His sock was wet. The next time his mother came to town he decided that he’d show her the hole in his shoe, then she’d insist on buying him at least two pairs of shoes, one of which he would give to the first shoeless street person he met, of course. That would make her happy. She wanted Jesus as a son but a well dressed Jesus, not a scruffy one.
“Look,” he added, “What choice do you have? You can’t sleep in the car. Not in this neighborhood. And the hotels are filled with … well, you don’t want to stay in the hotels.”
“But are you sure she won’t mind a bunch of strange people staying with her?”
“She won’t mind. Strange people are her business.” The sewers were backing up. Ah, the smell of Manhattan, Daniel thought, motor oil and garbage rotting, thick, moist human goo. In the country, the first rain cleanses. In New York City, it backs up the sewers and washes pigeon poop off the high rises down onto the pedestrians.
“Hurry up and make up your mind,” Daniel ordered. He knew what happened after dark in that part of town. The needy and vague-eyed — from drink or drug or mental illness — materialized from crevices of abandoned buildings, crying and moaning and demanding money while in the distance sirens wailed, but always in the distance. A loud crack echoed in the alley across the street, probably just a trashcan being emptied for use as shelter from the rain, but it sounded like gunfire.
“Okay,” they muttered. “But what shall we do with the car?”
“Drive it around back where it might have a chance of surviving the night in tact,” he replied, “but I doubt it.” He followed the car and then helped to remove anything of value. Bags of clothes, guitars, and pillows. One of the girls handed him a terra cotta sculpture of a young man’s head.
“This is Aragorn. He goes everywhere with us.” She explained.
“Aragorn?” Daniel asked. The thing weighed a ton.
“You know, from the Lord of the Rings.”
“Oh yeah?” said Daniel, “Leave him here. No one is going to steal him. I know what. He can be Aragorn, Defender of the Volvo.” Giggling they set the sculpture down on the driver’s seat where in the dim light it looked like a severed head. “That’ll scare the crap out some poor wino just trying to find a place out of the rain.”
They followed him on a zig-zag path down broken sidewalks, passing boarded up storefronts covered in obscenities, always careful not to step on glass or into gutter streams of piss and worse. Every now and then they heard a scream or a car screeching on rain-slicked streets, normal sounds for that part of the city but he could tell from the gasps behind him, they would not last long in the city. Soon they would be begging to leave, to return home to a safe suburb where the lights are out by ten and the police have little more to do than investigate mailbox crime. Some place like his parent’s house on the river, idyllic but sometimes too peaceful for his mother. Periodically she had to suffer for Christ.
Then it dawned on him. Marcia might have moved. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her. One summer had passed, at least. Maybe two. During that time, he’d moved many times. Maybe she had too. Maybe she’d married and moved to the suburbs. Maybe she’d died. No that wasn’t possible. His mother would have told him. Maybe he’d be stuck with the girls and forced to walk them all the way to Father Frank’s. Maybe that was a better plan in the first place. Maybe, maybe, maybe. He couldn’t decide.
They were halfway to Marcia’s when one of the girls screamed “Let me go!” Daniel froze then turned.