Ilystra Damals: The Continuing Story of Trey and Nikki

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Trey Agremont is rescued by his best friend from childhood, Nikki Barazan.

Submitted: April 26, 2010

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Submitted: April 26, 2010

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Ilystra Damals: The Continuing Story of Trey and Nikki
by Devon Pitlor
I. Planned mental illness and the start of my life of homelessness
How much I should bother to tell you about exactly why I shed all my possessions and went out into the streets I really don't know.The railroad cuts and back alleys of Freyburg were full ofhuman zombies walking around in a psychotic, alcoholic or drug induced glaze, and, for a time, I purposely became one of them.
It began with a dream.
Maybe the dream is the best place to start because most of my so-called Christian friends say that my dream was all wrong and that Jesus never exactly did the things I saw him doing in the dream, but that didn't matter.The dream was panoramic and lucid.It came to me in a time of my greatest gloom at age twenty after the marriage of my childhood friend and companion, Nikki Barazan, whom I once saved from the unholy clutches of an unearthly demon dug up from the muck of a retention pond near my home.But of course, you know that story.The demon bit a chunk out of Nikki's shoulder after he kidnapped her, and I got her back with a little help from a shadowy Turkish guy named Latafat Yilmaz, who has since disappeared back into his native country.The story has been on these pages, and it forms a part of the best effort I could put forth in composing a comprehensible memoir of my life.After all, at age twenty-one, who needs a biography?Nikki married another guy.That's the bottom line.I watched them drive away from their marriage reception and returned home, staring next door at Nikki's empty house and wondering exactly what my next move in life would be.I put college behind me because after the episode with the demon and the strange underworld where I combated him, there didn't seem to be any point to life, and university studies became wholly vacant of meaning.
I told my parents a thousand lies about my motives, plans and reasons, and they continued to tolerate my presence at home.For days following Nikki's wedding, I did nothing.I wish I could write a story about doing nothing because it would be so realistically emblematic of what life really seemed to be for me at the time:Nowhere to go and nothing to do, and no Nikki, around whom I had since earliest childhood built the entire edifice for my life's design.And, no, it was more than some burning adolescent passion.It arose from the unalterable mental liaison I had with a girl and childhood playmate that had been with me since my earliest recollection.The girl next door.And she was no longer there.She lived in some place now that ended in "wood" and was married to a pretty boy named Toby.I told myself again and again that Nikki really wanted to be with me, but in truth, if that had been true, she would have created the ideal movie scene and just jumped up from the table at her wedding reception and pulled me out of the room and into her car, and we would have driven off into some vast scenario of endless adventure which would, naturally, have mirrored the childhood we had spent together in the fields and woods of our home region.
No. Nothing happened that way.
My life with Nikki was suddenly behind me, but it took her a while to catch on.Achild of her times, Nikki texted and messaged me electronically every day for a time until one day I disposed of my cell phone and unplugged my computer for what I thought was going to be forever.
It wasn't.
So this is the story of how Nikki Barazan, whose name was now Nikki Dasher, came back unexpectedly into my life and returned the favor I had rendered her at age nineteen when I rescued her from the grasp of an outrageous demon.You can find that account in my story Best Friends Forever. I hope you do because you won't believe it anyway, and your disbelief may make it possible for you to better understand how I became deliberately destitute for a time.As well as how that sordid episode ended and, likewise, the utterly strange circumstances under which Nikki returned to my life.
I have a knack for giving away the end of my stories before I tell the beginnings or middles of them.So now you know.Nikki was destined to return and save me from something just as I had saved her once from something else.
But let's get to the homelessness first.I began to embrace it wholly, and that right along with the mental illness that accompanies most homeless scenarios.I thought pointless vagrancy might make me interesting and different.That is famous bottom line.I wanted to divorce myself totally from everything that my spoiled suburban existence had extended to me prior to that time.But, finally, it was the dream that did it.
II.The dream
If you are a practicing Christian, which I am certainly not, please do not interrupt and correct the details of my dream.I already know they are basically wrong, but don't forget it was my dream, and that is what counts.Up to my twentieth year, I had been in church a total of about three times in my life.I can't even remember why.Visiting friends I guess.My parents had no interest in religion, and thus neither did I.I had only the vaguest idea of who Jesus was, and when he appeared in my dream, he looked very Caucasian-hippie-like, as we usually picture him and was wearing the faux-period flowing robes that I guess he was supposed to wear.He did not preach or deliver any sort of sermon.He gazed into my eyes and said "Here is what you must do."I remember that his eyes were as blue as Nikki's.It is always fun to dream about a blue-eyed Caucasian Jesus who has a personal message for you, so I rolled over in bed--somewhat awake--and let the dream progress. I like vivid dreams.
It was, typically, in a dry desert location, near an oasis or whatever.All around the water well were decrepit people moaning and wailing.I knew at once, as one does in dreams, that these people were suffering from various communicable diseases, and I wanted to distance myself from them..They wore filthy rags and smelled bad, and their skin was peeling off of their bodies in frightful chunks.The mental edit of my dream told me at once that these unfortunate souls were lepers.Dream Jesus, without further prologue, dropped to his knees and began washing their feet.I think that somewhere back in the gospels, which I have never read, Jesus did something or other like that.I mean washing the feet of the under trodden, whether they were lepers or not.But in this dream, he rolled up his sleeves and got real soapy and wet and scrubbed away at their dirty feet.Skin flaked from their ankles and legs as he did it.Jesus didn't seem to mind.He just kept on washing.It all smelled terrible.I have smells in dreams, maybe others don't but I do.So that was it.I watched Jesus wash the feet of some of the most revolting and feculent people I could imagine. He smiled politely up at me as he worked.
I wanted to ask him why he did it, but the dream did not include my question.He just did it, giving no explanations.
When I woke up, it was in a bedroom that I had known all my life.My sheets were clean because my mother kept them that way.The room was neat because of her too.I began to despise my mother for the untroubled life she had always given me.All that day, during which I drifted here and there and did absolutely nothing, I was haunted by the dream.I wanted to interpret it. Finally, I did.Not being a Christian believer, I saw Dream Jesus in much different light than a churchgoer would.I saw him as an accomplished, admired and handsome man who was as miserable as I was. To cure his despair, Jesus stripped himself of all pretense and descended to the lowest and most abject level of human activity that anyone could imagine.He did this in order to discover truth and the core reality of himself.Now Christians might say that he did this foot washing out of love or charity, but my interpretation was different.Jesus was not interested in these dying people.Rather he was interested in discovering himself, that is, what he really was at his foundation.His act, far from selfless, was one of personal discovery.And, without realizing it at first, that is precisely what I determined to do.
I destroyed my cell phone, unplugged my computer, threw most of my clothes into a trash can, dressed in a simple pair of jeans with a black tee shirt and grabbed my drivers license, passport, college ID, and some other documents containing my name and address.The house being empty, I put these in a large canning jar, the sort my mother used for preserves, and covered them with a layer of paraffin and then several folds of electrical tape.I then took them out beyond the subdivision to the edge of the very detention ponds where Nikki and I had first accidentally dug up the pallid demon and buried them in the mucky soil about four feet deep.Then I wrote a note to my parents about going to visit a college friend in Washington State and summarily walked out of the front door of my family home as if in a stunned stupor.I had, however, two one hundred dollar bills rolled up in my pocket, something I suppose my Dream Jesus would not have had.I wanted to use these to escape Marstown in the quickest possible way, which was by bus.If I was going to go out onto the street, I wanted it to be far away in some larger, less familiar place.
It took me over an hour to walk to the tiny Greyhound bus station which was located on a back street of Marstown near the grain silos.Only one bus per day came through.I told the attendant that I wanted a one way ticket to a depressed West Virginia coal mining town called Freyburg, about which I had recently read.Freyburg, a medium sized city, was apparently in a stateof total hopelessness and economic misery.Or at least I hoped so.It was over eight hundred miles from Marstown.The trip would require four days and six bus changes along with lengthy layovers in places that were only sickly crossroads on the map.The ticket cost nearly the entire amount of money I had on me, but I was dazed and resolute.I was going to strip myself naked and begin a new life among the downcast.I figured that Freyburg would be an ideal starting point.
At the time the U.S. was in acycle of domestic chaos.That only intensified my desire to escape.As the lurching bus pulled away from the station, I sat alone in a rear seat and watched Marstown disappear.What I really saw disappearing was Nikki.No make that Nikki and Trey...the inseparable and starstruck couple who had grown up attached at the waist to one another and had once had the clear destiny of being, as I named my last memoir, "best friends forever."Forever came abruptly to an end as Marstown vanished from the back window of the bus.Miles and miles of dusty road now separated me from that particular version of forever, and for the first time since Nikki's marriage, I felt authentic and energized.I felt as if I had emerged from a cocoon that had bound me to Marstown and my middle class life since birth.Small sticky strands of memory broke away from my being, and I felt refreshed in the flush of anticipated escape.
And all this was because of a dream.And a demon.And a girl with an unsightly chunk bitten out of her left shoulder who was married to a guy who should have qualified as a rock sensation or a movie star.
And because, try as I would, I could never forget her.
III.Me, Trey Agremont, and the bus ride
Yes, that was my name in another life in another town.But now it was fading along with my past.The name was now buried in the dark murky soil of a detention pond near a subdivision where I had spent my entire life up this point.
Me, Trey Agremont, I felt the greatest freedom I had ever felt in my life.I cannot stress this point more.It was a sunny late summer day, and market farmers were pulling trailers of produce up and down the rural roads to one outlet or another.Everyone had something to do.Everyone except me.No, strike that, I now had something to do.I had to go to Freyburg and discover myself.I did not expect to find lepers, but I had heard of the homeless, dispossessed and wandering before.They were always all over the news.Perhaps I could find some feet to wash.Or maybe there was some more modern way to plunge into the abyss and locate one's true essence.I would find out.That was my plan.
The bus was slow, stifling, fetid and uncomfortable---and that is exactly what I wanted. I craved the first onslaughts of torment and depravation.Stops at nameless places here and there added a sometimes disturbing array of fellow travelers.The first one I took note of pleased me immensely.It was a young man wearing oversized coveralls with a huge red bible sticking out of a top pocket.For some reason he chose the back of the bus and took the seat across the aisle from me.He had no nose, only a gaping redlined hole where a nose should have been.I asked no questions, but he was quick to inform me in a strange non-nasal twang that God had "visited" a rat upon him when he was a baby."The rat bit off my nose," he said."I have been this way all my life.But now I am going to the state clinic in Altamount to get a nose. It will be wonderful having a nose."And weirdly enough, that was all he ever said.
Night fell and more stops came in places that I could not clearly see. More passengers boarded. Women with unruly, screaming children.Laborers caked with red clay.A long haired cowboy type with a guitar and a white tee shirt which had "I am a dumb son of a bitch" stenciled across it.The dumb son of a bitch felt a need to serenade the entire bus with snatches of songs which he never seemed to complete, as if the chords mysteriously just dropped out of his memory.Finally, it became pitch dark.Another dimly lit stop. Naked, swinging bulbs hanging in front of a closed filling station.A change of drivers.The new driver must have weighed 400 pounds and had difficult wedging himself into the seat.Beads of sweat poured from his forehead. He mopped at them with a red bandanna.I wondered what would happen if he suffered a heart attack as he drove.But the blanketing night eventually enveloped everything, and he, like everyone else, became only an amorphous blob sitting at the helm of strange ship crossing an ocean of infinite night.
Then at another stop, a thin, long-haired, bra-less girl in tight dungarees got on and headed directly for the seat next to me.By this time, my noseless neighbor was slanted over in his seat and snoring.I wondered how a man with no nose could snore.The girl seemed pretty in the pale illumination of bus interior.She smelled like fresh farm soil blended with a light bouquet of faint manure.Without warning, she put her arm around my shoulder and then positioned her head in my lap."I have sex on buses," she said."Do you want a blow job?"Before I could answer, she was doing it.I began to wonder about washing feet again.Hers undoubtedly needed washing, but she was, after all, relieving a part of me that I had of late forgotten to relieve.When it was over, she changed seats.I catalogued the event finally as one of the most perfectly meaningless acts that I had ever experienced. Meaningless began, not unsurprisingly, to enchant me.
We changed buses farther along, and the girl disappeared totally.The noseless man followed me onto the next bus, which was larger and fresher smelling than the first, despite the fact that it was crowded with a passel of old women who were apparently on their way to a funeral in another town.I listened briefly to their loud and unmasked conversation.Someone named Billy-John had been mauled by a cougar.His burial was at sunrise.I counted the women who were in the party.There were about fifteen, all of them over sixty and powdered with some sort of make up that made them look like leprous corpses I wondered how the unfortunate Billy-John had ever developed such a following, and what had he been doing around a cougar anyway?The unmuffled conversation never revealed this.But it became evident that these women were expecting some great and astounding event to occur at his burial.It was as if they were going to learn some secret.Billy-John had secrets, and their voices lowered to inaudibility each time they reviewed one.I learned nothing of Billy-John's secrets.
I slept briefly, hoping to regain my vision of Handsome Jesus washing feet.Instead, I dreamt of Nikki.In my dream, she was admonishing me for being so foolish and leaving town.But at her side was the inevitable Toby Dasher, the cute boy she had forsaken me for.Toby kept trying to get her to stop talking to me.She did not pay attention to him.I wondered if their marriage was actually turning out that way.One can wonder things in a dream, and I did.Did it trouble pretty, pretty Toby that his Nikki was still so concerned about me?
Dawn broke with orange bars of brutal early sunlight.The countryside began looking much different. There were green hills and slanting trees, some covered with incandescent moss which hung at eerie angles from their branches.I had no idea where we were.More passengers came and went.At some point I noticed that the noseless man had been exchanged for a neatly dressed black man with a padlocked briefcase.He seemed totally out of place on the bus. He examined me with a sort of remote disdain and finally asked if I believed in destiny.I had no idea what he meant at the time, and I had no desire to discuss destiny.Freyburg was still distant, and my newfound sense of purpose and freedom was still pounding in my chest. I had no desire to ponder the meaning of destiny with a black man in a suit.My transformation had already begun, and, yes, I did already consider myself to be mentally ill in some fashion.No sane person of my age would have ever set out on such an apparently inane mission. I embraced the change in logic.My thinking was being skewed in directions that I would have never taken in normal life.I liked it.The black man found me wanting for conversation and hastened to change seats.
An endless line of travelers came and went down the aisle to and from the lone toilet behind me to the right.The toilet began to reek.I took this too as a sign of my utter depravation.The stench reminded me once again of my Jesus dream and my mission.I welcomed the acrid odor of urine which assaulted my nostrils constantly now. The abyss of humanity, which I sought, was rightfully redolent with the aroma of shit.Things were falling into a refreshing new perspective.
I was, in effect, in a strange, mobile time warp bound for somewhere unknown and moving forward in this trajectory with nameless, faceless strangers.I was in an arc to somewhere.The sense of absolute liberation still reigned supreme in my spirits.
IV. My journey continues; my sickness grows deeper
For any who have ever taken a long bus trip through America, it is redundant to detail each of the stops, starts and layovers in all of the grimy little forgotten places in America's drab underbelly that one must endure.The passing parade of unusual characters who ride Greyhound buses is the stuff of deeper fiction than anything I care to write, but it was there and real nonetheless.I saw men with huge brimmed hats.I saw a hysteric girl give birth to a baby in a seat farther up the aisle from my own. I listened to the shouted death threats issued from the mouth of a blind man who seemed wrapped in a cloak of his own invisibility.I watched a little girl, traveling alone, do endless pages of simple math problems and quietly mutter "damn, damn, damn" to herself as she got each one wrong time and time again. I saw people concealing dogs in baskets.People--the world is full of them. They come in all shapes and shades and tend to gather randomly in these dark boxy vehicles which slice through the bleak night of the unknown land we inhabit. All of them, no doubt, had feet that needed washing, but I was not yet totally ready to begin my undertaking, mostly because I was not exactly sure of what it was.Now was my time to watch quietly and, above all, listen.
In a dank place called Boulderville, I found myself sitting in a dingy, smoke stained station café for hours waiting for the next connection.Using the small amount of cash that remained, I drank sour coffee and ate waxy gravy poured over biscuits which lumped in my mouth like expanding wads of chewed paper. A woman of late middle age materialized at my side and asked if she could sit down at my table.I nodded for her to sit.It was obvious she had something on her mind.I stirred more clumpy creamer into my coffee and waited for her to speak.
Finally she did.A light rain drifted down through the mist and made the dark streets of Boulderville twinkle with a kind of elfin brightness. The town was filled with the random sounds made by the commotion of heavy, unseen equipment.The woman sipped her own coffee silently for a few moments and then stared at me with a sudden glaring intensity."There is a burning hell," she blurted out without warning."God is punishing everyone in his own way.You...me...we are both damned.Only clinging to his holy word can save us now. "But no," she corrected, "we really can't be saved."
Once again, I only nodded.I had no desire to enter into some religious discussion.Religious people abound in bus stations, and all seem more than willing to preach to whomever is ready to receive the word.I wanted to make it clear somehow that I was not.If there was anything like a Savior, he had already spoken to me and given me a task, and my mission was private.It involved self-discovery not the discovery of some new form of damnation.
Eventually, the woman introduced herself.Her name was Mary Salt, or so she said.She wore a polka dot house dress, an out of date felt hat, and was well beyond the flush of her first or even second youth.
"I'm a prophetess," she said calmly."Let me show you something...give you something to chew on."She flattened a paper napkin on the cafe table in front of her and asked the pimply waitress girl for a pen.On the napkin she printed the following words in a neat, firm hand:
Ilystra Damals
I asked who Ilystra Damals was, and she immediately corrected my pronunciation.It was Ill-ee-strah Damals, not Ill-eye-strah Damals she told me with a certain arrogant disdain. "Iam a prophetess of Ilystra Damals," she continued."Ilystra Damals is the asteroid which will soon destroy the entire Earth in a burst of flames."Her pronouncement was calm and matter of fact.She chewed on the end of the plastic pen and went on to say that no one would be alive after Ilystra Damals crashed into the Earth and that our entire planet would be annihilated in mere seconds.Her warning included the fact that even as we spoke certain people were climbing to the top of mountains here and there, but they too would die.None would be spared.The end was coming very quickly for Earth, and there would only be an empty space in the heavens where Earth once had been.The godly and the wicked, both would die an equal death, and even the power of Almighty God could not prevent the collision, and, moreover, this was all going to happen on the afternoon of December second, only a few months in the future .There was no use preparing for the arrival of Ilystra Damals.It was prophesied and it was coming.Nothing could stop it.
"I thought the end was coming in 2012," I said casually, remembering the closing of the Mayan calendar and all the predictions made thereupon.
"They got it wrong," she said."It will be sooner, much sooner.There is nothing you can do about it."
Then she began crying.Without saying more, she rose from her seat and walked out of the cafe into the black night of Boulderville.Within minutes a new bus labored onto the loading apron, and I was once again bound for Freyburg in my arc with destiny.I left a five dollar tip for the night girl.My goal, and it was an easy one to achieve, was to have no money left upon arrival in Freyburg.A quick count of my remaining cash confirmed that I was well on my way toward this objective.I folded the napkin reading Ilystra Damals and put in my pocket.It was the first and only souvenir I would collect in my new life.
V. Freyburg
I don't want to start my saga of life on the streets of this drab coal mining city with how it started because it started exactly as I thought it would.I was dirty, unshaven, tired and had nowhere to sleep.I fell in naturally with the other hollow-eyed denizens of the empty lots and broken down buildings.I grunted and mumbled with them and agreed with the wildest oftheir propositions.I learned to beg for nickels and dimes and wash the foulest parts of my body with wads of toilet tissue damped in gas station rest rooms.I learned to drink the dregs of things left in discarded bottles and eat from garbage cans.I learned where edible mushrooms grew in the vacant lots and where people left uneaten lunches in foil trays.I learned how to sleep wrapped in filthy blankets found by the sides of rail tracks or in piles of moist newsprint or in discarded cardboard boxes.I kept no record, mental or otherwise, of how many days or weeks passed as I haunted the litter strewn streets of poverty-stricken Freyburg, but one day it did start to get colder.I was covered with hundreds of rashes and infected insect bites from my time outdoors.My urine smelled peculiar like burnt plastic, and when I did defecate, my droppings looked like shreds of torn skin and sometimes resembled the pellets left by deer and rodents.I learned, in effect, to be crazy and act crazy and accept that those around me were crazy and that craziness was my destiny.Trey Agremont was truly gone, and a stark, often staggeringautomaton took his place, an unthinking machine that trod around the same rubbish pits and fallen houses each day and purposely muttered incomprehensible words to everyone he encountered as a means of self-defense.I learned that occasional jail stays were blessings and that cops and teenagers heartily delighted in the abusive sport they found torturing and toying with the homeless.Especially cops.We are always their best targets, but you don’t know that until you become one of us.And I spoke as one now.I was one.
And then a day came where I decided to die.Death after a few months on the streets of Freyburg proposed itself to me as my best destiny. I had plunged as low as I felt I could go.There were no feet, even my own, to wash, soI would die with my feet stretched across a sidewalk in order that I would be found and discarded without rotting and making a stench that would only attract prying attention later to my decomposed remains.Death seemed like the anticipated end to my arc.I was twenty one years old now, and that seemed a logical age to die when one was as mentally unstable as I had willed myself to become.I had tried to lose Nikki, but she was always there in my thoughts and sometimes in my torrid dreams.She had blazed in a thousand comets of light past the windows of the buses that had brought me to this place.She had stood in the fallen doorways of every hovel where I took refuge.No, I had not lost Nikki.I had lost myself, Trey, but not Nikki.Nikki was larger than life and thus could not be lost.She would go on long after I was dust.Death would be my only refuge from her memory.Death.The idea began to obsess me.I was now going to die.
But not before I felt warmth one more time.One of the few mundane discoveries that I actually made about myself was that the cold affected me. I wanted once more to be warm.
So I made the not so astounding discovery that so many vagrant people had made before me.I came across a huge metal collection box used for the depositing of unwanted garments.My shadow colleagues taught me to climb inside and wrap myself like a hibernating insect in the discarded clothes and sheets.The foul odor of dirty clothes became a windfall to me, as by crawling near the bottom of the collection box, I sheltered myself from what must have been the onslaught of winter.I was rotting along with the clothes I slept in.It was, in effect, the fate that I had anticipated.I burrowed as deeply as I could into the discarded rags.I felt the heat of my own decomposition combined with the inescapable rot of the dead garments.I was winking out, eclipsing, sliding off to somewhere else, another world, but one that was overtaking me far more quickly than I had estimated.I was crazy, sick, hungry and putrid to the core.That was exactly how I wanted to die.
But then something changed.That is the next chapter in my epic.
VI. The explosion and the end of my homelessness
Hubert somebody was the bum who taught me to crawl into a used clothing collection box for warmth.Hubert had been sleeping in them for years, ever since, if one was to believe him, he had suddenly left the banking business—but that was his story, and, as you will see, he is no longer here to tell it.Hubert was old as moss and looked as if it were growing out of his eyes, nose and ears.He liked to get as drunk as possible and tell stories about larger-than-life high jinx in finance that he had once engineered before his downfall.He searched in vain through old newspapers for articles about himself and the felonious deals he had cut with various lending agencies.Also, he talked about the women that had been in his life, in particular one called Ava, who had apparently been a stunner and sang piano tunes in some cabaret in Charleston that only Hubert had ever heard of.Ava, not crooked deals, had been the cause of Hubert's demise.After a bout of drinking whatever we could find, Hubert would drop into a black funk and start cursing Ava.He loved calling her a "sullen bitch."It was not every day that one heard a street wastrel use a word like sullen.I had begun to like Hubert and even decided to act less crazy around him.Anyway, he shared my thing about being warm.The metal clothing collection boxes were his salvation, and he admitted very few to his snug realm.I was among the lucky.
The fall wind was whipping out of the hollows of the West Virginia piedmont when Hubert and I finished off a stolen gallon of red table wine and crawled into a clothing box stuck at the far end of a truckers' parking lot near the gutted industrial center of Freyburg.An old gal named Alouina, who specialized in long conversations with God, had been getting into that same box with us recently along with a few of her southside pals.That night we were all crunched pretty tightly together just before we fell into the usual escape of uneasy, stuporous slumber.I must have been the last one awake.I remember vaguely turning my thoughts to Nikki Barazan.In fact, it had been my time of day to think about Nikki, a time which came every day, unfortunately, but at different hours and intervals. I wondered whether Nikki resembled Ava and whether, if I had by chance decided to go on living, I would one day wander about calling her a "sullen bitch."Just then, I heard the sound of some cars rumbling slowly over the gravel outside of the collection box and noticed through the cracks that a few blue lights were flashing.Cops were nearly always present.They were forever a threat as I have said.The anonymous beggars of the street make irresistible targets for their sense of bloodlust, and, believe me, the police have that.I heard a few muffled voices after the motors were shut off and the blue lights ceased.Predictably, there were the sounds of teenage voices, both male and female, mixed with the gruffness of adult tones, which I immediately assumed to be the omnipresent cops.A few random snickers ensued.Then all went seemingly silent.I was about to fall asleep when I began smelling something familiar.I had consumed little enough food and sufficient enough wine to not recognize it at once.But when I did finally identify the odor, something within me panicked violently.It was gasoline.Someone in the group outside had been pouring gas into the metal clothing collection box.From deep within my now stultified and decaying self, a survival instinct sprang up, and I flung myself out of the front collection flap and rolled onto the pavement below, and this just in time to see the tail lights of two police cars pulling silently away.Only one private car remained, and on it was perched a shirtless kid with a huge cigarette lighter and a burning rag.I scrambled to my feet and rushed toward him, as he dropped the rag into the clothing receptacle, and, with a whoosh of explosive gas, the entire thing went up in a turret of blue flames.Hubert, Alouina and the others were inside, and, as the conflagration mounted almost as high as the power cables above, I realized that they could not have survived.I took one look into the hyena-like laughing face of the teenager on the car roof and bolted off into the thin woods bordering the truck lot.On the other side, uniformed police were standing together and laughing as they observed the blaze.I heard one of them mention “vagrant barbecue” with a guffaw.Steering away from the cops, who did not see me, I rolled into a muddy ditch and cowered for my life.The inferno continued, and I could easily discern the rank stench of burning human flesh:Hubert, Alouina and other nameless ones.A vagrant barbecue.Confected by teenagers and abetted, as ever, by the local police.
I lay all night shivering in the ditch, and in the morning I arose with the sober realization that my life as a rootless vagrant would have to end that minute or I would be dead by nightfall. For some reason, the absolute reality of a painful death began to scare me back into my wits. My romantic notion of simply rotting away began to evaporate.
Beyond the scrub of sickly trees I could see the burnt out collection box.A few wisps of smoke still were rising from its sides.Inside, I knew, were the charred bodies of real people that I had known in a sort of way of knowing or not known at all in a sort of way of not knowing, and it didn’t matter.I marched myself straight into an all night supermarket and slipped down the aisles toward a bathroom.Inside the stall, I disrobed and soaked my stained and torn clothes in a toilet, flushing it several times to agitate and perhaps remove some of the dirt.Then I stuck first one leg then another in the bowl, rubbing away the accumulation of what was at least three months of caked on filth with wads of toilet paper.In the same toilet bowl I scrubbed my face and hair with my hands and fingernails.Luckily it was early morning and no one was alarmed by the multiple flushings of the toilet.Dressed in wrung out but still wet clothes, I exited the store in the same stealthy manner by which I had come in.Only one employee eyebrow was raised in my direction, followed by a grimace and nod at a huge yellow sign on the door which read NO LOITERING.
Like fresh water pouring into a dry trough, my sanity began returning to the drained shell of my being.
I found both clothes and bits of food to steal in a couple of other nearby stores and redressed in an ill fitting, hastily assembled costume behind a familiar dumpster.
Then I walked head up and trying to look respectable down the main street of Freyburg and situated myself along with several other homeless or semi-homeless people outside of the main public library.Every day, this crowd waited for the nine-thirty AM opening of the library and fought for a ten minute shot at the free computers.I blended in well with them.Two police cars prowled by slowly, the cops within eyeing us with great suspicion.A couple of them were grinning.Perhaps they were choosing the night’s victims.
Regaining a part of my previous sanity, I grabbed my turn at a computer and managed to remember my old email login.It was the last remaining thread which could link me to a past which I had so hastily abandoned.In my accumulated email, I found exactly what I expected: a number of unanswered messages from Nikki.I skimmed them all and responded to the last one.There was no way I could avoid my actual life's history now.
VII. Nikki’s message and my slow return to good sense
Later that day, after drifting about Freyburg’s worst sections and trying to remain as invisible as possible, I returned to the main library and was able after a short wait to secure another computer.My email contained a four word message from Nikki time stamped only fifteen minutes after the initial message I had sent that morning:I will be there.
I was both humbled and elated.After at least two months of living on the streets of a strange and distant city, here was my childhood companion and once best friend promising my rescue.Humiliation struck me hard as well.In what condition would she find me?I had not carefully examined myself in weeks.But the larger concern was what would she think of my flight and my mental decline.Would she see me as snivelingly suicidal and irremediably weak?We had spent our childhood and teenage years outdoors playing rough games and taking chances, venturing risks that none of our peers dared attempt.Nikki was lithe, strong-minded, athletic and fearless.How could I explain my sudden degeneration to her?Through the stupid Jesus dream?I knew that would never work.Nikki was no more a Christian than I was, and she would snicker at the very thought that I had fled Marstown due to a dream.My oddball desire to fall to an abject level of society likewise.In retrospect, as I gradually regained my rational grasp of the world, I found my own reasoning fuzzy and immensely unappealing.Who cared if some mythological hero had washed the feet of lepers?The notion was becoming more and more absurd to my thinking.In all, I knew that my initial confrontation with Nikki would be painful, but I remembered at length that I had once descended into a lost cavern of the Earth to retrieve her from the menu of a veritable demon.
But then, as I crept out of the library, it suddenly struck me that she had not said how or where she would find me.Freyburg, despite its more than depressed condition, was not a small town.There were streets and parks and warehouses and buildings everywhere.My homeless colleagues roamed about at every juncture.How could Nikki distinguish me from them?How would she know where to meet me?How this?How that?I fell once again into the bleakest of desolation.
By the sheerest of coincidences, I found myself once again at the front door of the tiny Greyhound station from which I had first descended into the self-confected hell I had weathered in the past months.It was the sort of place where hoboes of all types hung out, and I was not particularly out of place.I dropped into the curve of a dirty bench and cradled my head in my hands.How on Earth would Nikki find me?That was still my greatest problem.
A very old woman bustled into the station, and, without looking around, plumped herself down in the seat next to mine.I wondered what it was about me that attracted these types.Undoubtedly she had some message for me, something about destiny, God or damnation.But that was not the case at all.Her reason for sitting where she did was to watch the blinking television perched on a shelf above the bench seats.Until her arrival, I had not noticed it.Television had not interested me in the slightest during my normal life, and it was certain that I had not watched any since my flight from reality.I knew flat out nothing about what was going on in the world at present.All I knew was the news in the street:the latest episode of police abuse, where the most virulent of the violent teenagers hung out, where half eaten food containers were and where to find a mouthful of someone else’s vodka left in a pitched off bottle.The old woman gazed at the television, so I did too, almost amazed that there still was such a device bringing us word of a world which I had long since abandoned.
Then a coincidence happened, or at least I think it was a coincidence. Perhaps, however, I hallucinated it. It was something once again too unreal to be believable to any reader, but I need to mention it just the same, if only to beckon your scorn and derision.The television was tuned to the twenty-four hour weather station, and the current weather report, complete with national map, was being delivered by none other than Toby Dasher, pretty, neat and folded Toby Dasher, doing what he had always done best:look pert and cute.I had no idea he was doing television now, let alone stints on the weather channel.But it was him.Even the voice matched.He smiled broadly and made a sweeping gesture across the entire United States behind him.The weather was “perfect” Toby said, and it would remain so during the rest of the month of November.In fact, the weather---according to Toby---was so perfect that it would probably remain perfect just about forever.Toby was ecstatic.He grinned and glowed.Nothing could stop that smile.Did he realize that his wife…
My thought was interrupted by a loud snort from the old lady next to me.“Liar,” she almost shouted.“They are all liars.The weather is going to get much, much worse.They lie to keep us quiet.”Then she abruptly lifted herself from the bench and walked back outside.Toby dissolved into a commercial for a detergent and never came back.They changed announcers constantly on this weather channel.But I was still stunned to see Toby there beaming like a big national celebrity.What had the woman meant?I had no idea.My thoughts returned to where I would meet Nikki.My mood returned to despair.
VIII. Nikki
Does it really matter how she found me?No, all that mattered, I guess, is that she did. As you know I like to jump forward in a story.So I’ll give you the scene from our reunion that I liked and remembered best.
We were in a small, squalid diner filled with unemployed miners.You could tell they were miners because they were still coal stained and wearing coveralls that shouted coal.We had quickly found the place because Nikki when she met me on the street where she met me said that I looked terrible and that after we ate something she would take care of that too.I mean my appearance.
But it was the first time we really had time to talk.I opened my mouth to start explaining whatever it was that I felt I had to explain, and Nikki lit a cigarette, blew smoke in the air, and exclaimed
“Toby was stung by a bee.”
She waited with some impatience for me to say something about it and then went on:
"It was just under his wrist.You would have thought he was going to die.It swelled up just a little, but he couldn't quit whining about it.His blood was infected, he said.Either it would travel up to his brain or down to his heart and kill him.He wouldn't let me touch him and reminded me every minute that he was in pain.He bought about every kind of salve and lotion they had in the store and sat in front of the computer looking up every possible bee sting symptom."
"You and I used to get stung a lot."
"Yeah. I remember.Well, things are different with Toby.He has to keep himself intact. "
"You mean because he's a big television personality now?"
"Oh, you know about that?He's a fucking little boy intern.They hire dozens of them on that channel.It's amazing you saw him.He doesn't know a fucking thing about the weather either.None of them do.They just say what they're told, and, you know, that's what's funny about it...."
Nikki's voice trailed off and she looked at some of the people outside the café door who were milling about on the street.She had some kind of story to tell but was holding it back.I started to ask, but she waved me off.
"Drink up.Eat up.We need to go shopping and get you some clothes and some razors, for Christ's sake.You look like Jesus before he went to the beauty parlor in that beard.Let's go to Target.I have some money, and for once, I will get to dress you the way I like for a change."
I chuckled.Nikki had always had some comments about the way both of us dressed.Even as a wild teenager, she used to occasionally pause and say that we both needed more respectable clothes.But then we would return to our same old jeans and tee shirt uniforms.We liked it that way.
"Your friends outside look like a pack of zoo animals that want to get in.Maybe they recognize you.Did you wash any of their feet?"
"I never knew much about any of them."
"And that," said Nikki firmly, while snubbing out another cigarette, "was exactly your problem the way I read it.You came all this way to be gloomy and drown your sorry self in sadness when you should have been teaching them how to party.If you want to do good for yourself and others, make someone happy.All these rootless souls.Do you really think they needed another walking corpse to make their day?After we shop and get you into something that doesn't smell like yesterday's vinegar, we'll spread some happiness around."
IX. The vodka party
Nikki led the way as if she knew the town.We cruised through several department stores near the failing business section.Nikki made all the selections for me: new jeans, underwear, socks, black tee shirts, plastic razors, soap---and she finally pointed to a name brand in-town motel and said "Let's get a room.I hate to shop."
During all this, Nikki held my hand by the fingers and dragged me at a fairly fast clip behind her.It was as if I was re-entering a brighter world filled with the joy of permabonded companionship that I had lost. A mistake had been made, and now Nikki and I were being put back like the missing pieces of a puzzle that should have never been unfused in the first place.
In the motel room, I shaved and showered and was sitting naked on the edge of the bed drying off, as Nikki was stretched out beside me flipping channels.I knew she was looking for Toby because she kept flashing back to the weather station.She glanced at me and said "Naw, you don't look like you're ready yet."
"Ready for what?"
"Sex or whatever we are supposed to be doing.You have hardly touched me all afternoon.I thought I was going to be ravished in the doorway, seeing as how long you've been out of it."
I rolled over and looked into her handsome, glimmering blue eyes.If anything, the long absence since her marriage had made her even more desirable.She was still taut and slim and wiry, the way she had always been.Her hair still cascaded down in every direction because, as ever, she didn't "give a piss about it."Under her tight blouse I could distinguish the same hard breasts and nipples that I had known before.I began to feel the natural stirrings, and I suppose it showed.I rolled over and wound my arm around her shoulder.She settled into my embrace.Then she turned her head and kissed me.
"I've always wanted to make it with a street bum," she said."This is like a fantasy for me.Clean up a tramp and fuck him between starched sheets.Let's develop the fantasy before it flies away."
"Toby?"I inquired just as I pressed the full length of my body against hers.
"He has a bee sting," said Nikki casually, kissing me deeper.
It lasted longer than any lovemaking I could ever remember, and it was better.It was better because it wasn't just a girl.It was the only girl. It was sex with the demon's prey.No, it was sex with the demon herself.The demon of my life.There had never been any separation.As everyone knew and said, Nikki and Trey had been conjoined since birth.Nothing could change that now.Long, passionate and occasionally violent--that was our union, our ultimate re-fusion.When it was finished, night had already begun.The streets of Freyburg were tensely quiet.Beyond the motel window there was a world that I had been salvaged from.Inside, there was my only hope for recovery.Not a Hollywood Jesus washing feet but the closest thing to a true soulmate that any person could ever find.Nikki felt, sounded and smelled wonderful, and I began to think that I did too.I had been given a second chance at life.And I had no plans to waste this one.
About seven, Nikki jumped up and put her clothes on and told me to do the same."Let's see how I've dressed you," she laughed."We may have to take something back.You've gotten so skinny."

Once again pulling me by the hand, we descended from the motel's second floor to the now chilly streets of Freyburg."What I am looking for is right over there," said Nikki.She pointed at a liquor store, its bright red neon lights blinked in the leafy fall darkness.


© Copyright 2018 Devon Pitlor. All rights reserved.

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