I lay thrashing about in the bottom of the bath tub, nude, and half wrapped in a tangle of shower curtain. I slipped, and my 7 foot 2 inch frame made more noise than I thought possible as I grappled for anything to keep my balance. I failed and took the shower curtain with me. The spray of water seemed to suddenly change direction as though the shower head had taken on a life of its own, adding to the chaos.
'Hey Mallik, you okay?' Darryl's muffled words came through the door.
I heard a click from the bathroom door knob and struggled to cover myself. 'Don't come in. I'm fine!'
Time moved slowly as my head spun toward the door. It was that endless moment of horror you feel as your car careens from the road and carries you to your death.
Darryl pushed the door open and rushed over to the fixtures to shut off the torrent of water blasting me and much of the bathroom floor. 'Hey! You okay?'
His deep brown eyes traveled the length of my pale wraith-like body to my waist. I watched his caring and friendly face twist into an expression of complete disgust. 'What the hell are you?!'
Hot tears slid down my cheeks as my eyes blazed white light. 'Get out!' I sat upright and pulled my knees to my chest.
'What the Fuck!' Darryl backed away slowly as if he had just stumbled upon a ravenous animal eyeing him as its next meal.
His back hit the wall and he let out a yelp. He turned and ran out of the bathroom. I heard his feet pound through the small hotel room and then the jiggle of metal as he fumbled with the lock. I clambered out of the tub and watched as he flung the door open and fled into the cold and lonely night.
I loved him, had killed for him, and now he ran from me, in fear for his life. I rose and pulled a towel from the rusting shelf on the wall and wrapped it around my waist. We aren't the kind of night creatures that call the police, so I didn't fear unexpected company. I made my way across the room and closed the door, shutting out the cold and noise of traffic. At least tonight I would have a warm dry place to rest, even if Darryl didn't lie beside me. My fears and hopes combined with the thoughts that he might return.
Welcome To the Night Life
'Hey baby, need a date?' I left the safety of my home and entered this dark world four years ago.
There is harm that accompanies these words. We night folk are a fragile breed though you might not suspect it. Each transgression strips away another piece of who we once were and thickens the wall around our desolate hearts.
I've given so much of myself to those I serve that my soul has withered away into nothingness. I see the furtive glances of those more pristine than I. They turn their heads in disgust and race down the highway beneath the wash of street lights.
Before they turn away, I also see their need. If it were a different day, or another time with different circumstances, I know they'd stop and pay for my company. Maybe tomorrow There is always tomorrow for my kind I guess. I am Nephillim.
My height has always been a novelty. I'm 7 feet tall, a result of the coupling between my Grigori father and human mother. Of course she didn't survive my birth. They never do, or so I've been told.
When I walk under the street lights and linger in the corners of forgotten doorways, I slouch in hopes I might appear shorter than I really am. I simply wait for the next one who wants the latest taste of my novelty. It's a tough world out there as a hustler. It's a cold, wet damp universe we live in. We sell sex for money and have bills to pay the same as anyone. We're not allowed to love, and the frequency of nameless strangers puts a strain on a true heart's notion.
I found him some time ago. Regret pulses through my heart even now. I became his tour guide in this new world and he seemed only too happy for the company. Darryl crouched in the shadows as cars pulled to the curb to purchase our time.
'You're new here aren't you?' I let my eyes drift along his body. He was frail and hungry, and had obviously spent too many days without a meal.
'I'm Darryl.' His fragile voice wavered as he spoke. I could barely make out his features as he rested in the shadows of a doorway in the alley.
'You won't make much money sitting in the dark. You've got to show them what's for sale.' I saw shimmers of light dance across his tears as they rolled down his cheeks.
'There are worse things you know.' I didn't believe my words, but hoped they might some how comfort him.
'How about you and I go find something to eat?' I ignored the car horn that begged my attention and slipped into the shadows of the alley.
The fall of thick mists did little to help me see him. It had been drizzling for what seemed like weeks; though I knew it had only been a couple of days. The damp in the summer air crept through my clothes and chilled my bones. Stepping closer I could finally see his face as he looked up at me. He stumbled backward against the doorway when he saw me approach. It was a pitiful sight, as he curled into a ball and covered his head with his arms.
'Hey Relax Darryl. I'm not going to hurt you; my name's Mallik. So how about that meal?' He flinched as I crouched beside him and the crunch of gravel beneath my feat echoed along the abandoned alleyway. Eventually he peeked out from beneath the tangle of arms shielding his head.
'I have no money.' Sobs shook his chest as he spluttered out the words.
'I didn't ask if you had money. I asked if you wanted a meal. No strings okay?' Life had beaten him into a place we night folk know all too well.
I was tempted to reach out to him but, considering his reaction moments ago, I thought better of it. He seemed like a puppy that had been kicked too many times and left for dead. The scrapes and bruises on his arms and face were fresh and I wondered if he had been robbed or had encountered one of our more 'aggressive' patrons. He was new to this area. That much I knew instantly, because I didn't recognize him.
I didn't hear the pad of feet against pavement until it was too late.
'Okay fags give me your money and I'll let you live.' I turned my head and saw a young man well past his prime holding a knife.
He glanced around like a caged animal trying to find some path of escape. He was one of the local street urchins that spent every penny they acquired on drugs or alcohol. The smell of long since dried urine assaulted my senses. It was as though, even with all the layers of clothing he wore, somehow the filth had permeated his body and tainted his flesh.
I rose to my feet cautiously and watched his head tilt backwards and as I stood. 'Get the hell out of here crack head. Earn your money like the rest of us.'
His stubble covered jaw quivered and he plunged the knife forward. The bite of metal pierced my flesh and scraped against bone. It wasn't so much a feeling of pain, but a strange intrusion. My mind couldn't comprehend what happened, and struggled with which sensation to focus on first. It was that timeless moment when your brain tries to decide just how badly you've been hurt.
I'm not sure which of us was more surprised, the bum or me as I looked down and watched his hand fall away from the blade as it stuck obscenely from my hip. With a quick jerk I ripped the blade out and slashed through the bum's neck in a single motion. His hands clutched his neck and his eyes widened in disbelief as he dropped to his knees. He fell backward and I couldn't help but stare at the odd angle his lower legs seemed to jut outward from beneath his body. A gurgling sound escaped his throat and he writhed against the cold wet asphalt before the tension finally left his limbs. A person doesn't die as quickly as you might expect. The body lingers and it takes time for a mortal wound to run its course.
I covered the wound on my hip and watched the blood spill through my fingers. The cut was deep and now the pain was making itself known. It surprised me that it didn't hurt more, and that worried me too. I turned to see Darryl staring back at me wide eyed.
'You killed him!' The words crossed his lips in a hiss.
'Hello??? He stabbed me.' I pulled my blood painted hand away from the wound and showed it to him. 'What did you expect?!'
Darryl took a step back and looked as though he was going to run but stopped. His eyes followed my hand as I placed it back over the gash in my hip. I don't know if it was the fact that I was hurt, or that I staggered and fell against the alley wall that made him stay. He stepped up next to me and pulled my arm over his shoulder. He wasn't tall enough to truly help. Darryl is only about five and a half feet tall, but his concern made me smile. I have seldom, if ever, been on the receiving end of a kind gesture.
'Hey you! Stop! Hands in the air!' The low timbered command echoed against the brick and asphalt, and the slight panic and strained tone made my chest burn with tension.
I spun, throwing Darryl into several trash cans that lined the wall. A rush of fire pulsed through my body and I felt as much as saw the burning glow push outward from behind my eyes. An explosion tore through the air and I felt a blow push my left shoulder backward. I was shot. Searing pain burned through my hip and a blaze of light erupted from beneath the torn fabric. I reacted without thinking. A blast of energy rocketed out from my body in a wave of white. The cop flew back with such force his body lay crushed and imbedded in the car frame. The impact knocked the patrol car several feet away from the curb and I was sure that the commotion was going to bring unwanted company.
Darryl lay unconscious amongst the fallen metal trash cans and debris. I took his arm and lifted him from the mess and threw him over my shoulder. I was quickly reminded of the wound and the searing pain wrenched a whimper from my chest. Why a bullet would hurt more than a knife baffled me, but I didn't have the luxury of giving it more thought. I felt empowered and pushed against the pavement with more strength than I normally possess. My muscles contracted with renewed vigor and my legs tensed and pushed us upward. We lifted off the ground and landed with a heavy thud on the roof of a nearby brick building.
This was something altogether new for me. I had never had such strength or clarity before, and the part of me that wasn't terrified reveled in the surge of power. I wasn't sure how long my new found strength was going to last, but decided to run. We needed to get out of here, and I couldn't leave Darryl to take the blame for the two murders I had just committed.
Normally I'm afraid of heights. For some reason it has always set my stomach on edge. My legs shake with a nervous tremor whenever I'm in a position where I might tumble to my death. Now, however, I wondered just how much it might take to kill me. I ran and leapt from rooftop to rooftop like an antelope might travel through a crowded wood. We arrived at a safe place in a darker, less crowded, part of town.
We had finally met the end of the last bits of useful rooftop and I let our combined weight speed us down to the pavement. The reflection of neon was shattered as my feet met the concrete beneath the puddle's surface. 'Shit. I'd have to plan a better landing next time. If there were a next time. I felt the cool water seep through the fabric of my shoes and knew my feet would be soaked within seconds.
The falling mist of water no longer choked the air. The drizzle of rain had stopped somewhere along my travels and now I only heard the whistle of wind brushing against the ancient metal crates. We were in the abandoned train yard. This was one of the first and last resorts for shelter among the 'Night Breed'. Almost all of the runaways, homeless, hookers, and druggies had called this place home at one time or another. We were a dysfunctional family of all ages. Some were as young as 12 and others were well into their golden years. Winter would take a few from our group each year, but the spring always spawned a new crop of lost souls. This inevitability was little comfort and made quick work of any designs I had for a future.
Even though we were an ad hoc mix of the dregs of society, we did have a code, at least in this place. Yes, there were times you might wake having found your shoes were stolen in your sleep, but you never had to fear for your life. This was a safe place. When you live on the street, this is no small comfort; it's everything. The police had long since given up their attempts to remove us from the property. We always returned, and I suppose they got tired of filing the piles of paperwork that clutter their lives.
Still, we remained silent and out of sight. Only on the coldest days of winter did we bother to light fires in the large metal drums to battle the chill. Some of the street people had made homes of the abandoned boxcars, including myself. No one ever bothered my quiet home though I suspect it was because they couldn't open the heavily rusted door. Finally, making my way through the dark rows, I found my metal sanctuary. It was like any other, rusted, and so forgotten that, over time, even the graffiti had faded.
The screech of grinding metal shattered the silence as I shoved the door open. I jumped upward and landed with a loud thud on the wooden floor causing a brown cloud of dust to burst out from between the cracks.
I was glad the shadows hid my movements. My actions weren't normal, and a mere human would not have been able to do such things. I've had moments of great strength in the past, but it had never been to this extent.
The glow from my eyes had faded some time ago and I walked cautiously to the far corner. Three steps and I knew I would meet the edge of a worn mattress I had slept on for the last four years. With the absolute darkness surrounding me I knelt and lay Darryl on the mattress with only a faint light slicing through the open loading door. There are degrees of darkness, and the absolute pitch black of a closed boxcar can only be rivaled by that of a sealed tomb. Luckily, there was some light, albeit faint, and I was able to find the flashlight I kept safely stowed in a Ziploc bag next to my sad excuse for a bed.
Rising, I walked to the loading door. I gripped the side and felt the rusted metal flakes bite into my flesh. With a hefty shove the door slid closed with a scream and crashed against the latch. The sound reverberated against the iron walls and shadowed the clicking sound I expected to hear as I pushed the button to turn on the flashlight. Tilting my wrist, I followed the dust filled beam of light from corner to corner to make sure we were alone. Darryl groaned and shifted but didn't wake. I was worried about him. He had a nasty bump on his forehead, just above his left eye, and a deep crimson bruise had spread its way down the ridge of his nose.
The contents of my metal home are: a Coleman lantern, a small gas stove, two jugs of water, the mattress where Darryl lay unconscious, a couple of blankets, several plastic bags of toiletries and utensils, and a stack of canned soups. Above the mattress was a sagging piece of string running from side wall to side wall. It held the few pieces of clean clothing I owned. They, too, were covered. Garbage bags protected each from the damp and humidity of Florida. The climate here is a perfect breeding ground for mold. Extra precautions were necessary. I have learned many lessons living on the street, and this was just one of them.
The sounds of every movement were amplified as I primed the lantern and struck a match to light the mantle. The filament glowed to life and the light filled the room with haunting shadows. Taking one of the blankets from a garbage bag, I unfolded it and gave it a snap. It billowed outward in the stagnant air and I watched it drift down to Darryl like a heavy cotton cloud.
It wasn't so much that it was cold, but when someone is hurt, I suppose the first reaction is to cover them up and keep them safe. I knelt down beside him and studied his delicate features. He truly was beautiful beneath all the scrapes and bruises. I didn't know what he had been through or what brought him to this place, but I was curious, and for the first time, I wanted to know someone beyond his name and which corner he worked. His face was innocent as he slept or, more likely, drifted in unconsciousness. This scared me. When you invest your heart in something, the inevitable result is loss, and I wasn't sure I had the stamina for more pain in my world.
I was going to heat up a can of soup, but decided it would be best to wait until he woke. Instead, I knelt and crawled along the floor, snuck under the blanket and nestled beside him. He seemed so small as I draped my arm over his chest and pulled him into the curve of my body. His brown hair smelled of rain and fresh cut grass and I drew in a deep breath of him before sleep took me.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust and for my mind to remember what it was that tore me from my sleep. I could tell from the lack of birdsong that it was still an hour before dawn. I was rested, but still sleep ached along my muscles as I sat up and listened. A distant memory of sound lingered in my mind, but I couldn't quite remember it. I sat in the darkness and waited. Some noise had stolen my sleep away and now I strained to hear it again. My eyes darted from each vacant dark corner to the next and found nothing.
The silence was unnerving until I heard the subtle shuffle of something moving across the roof of the boxcar. Steps traveled along the center as a different weight fell on the far corner causing a groan of metal. Another creak snapped my head to the darkness above me. An electric tingle raced across my skin and my eyes lit the room. The white glow from the night before returned and cast muted shadows with every turn of my head.
'Who's out there?' My voice bounced back from the metallic walls and I heard laughter from outside the steel box that kept us safe.
'Be patient' I heard more laughter and it seemed to fade into the distance.
I sat perfectly still and listened for several long moments before moving. Leaning over, I stole a quick hug from Darryl before flinging the blanket off my body. I tucked it around him and smiled, hearing his quiet grunts as I went about my work. Someone was here. There were three of them and I suspected they didn't wish us well. I jumped up and ran to the heavy rusted door and flung it open with a crash.
The sun peaked over the horizon and burned my eyes. Most of our kind wouldn't be awake for hours. The night was our time. Whoever or whatever our visitors were, they had left just before the dawn. I swung out the door and climbed the ladder that led to the roof of the boxcar, but found nothing but dew collecting on the metal surface. There were, however footprints. Three sets of impressions wound their way along the roof and I had no doubt that they belonged to our uninvited guests.
Darryl's groan drew my attention and I climbed back down the ladder and swung into the boxcar.
'My head is fucking killing me!' He spoke the words as if the sound of each caused him more pain.
'Shhhhhhhh. Just relax. I think you have a concussion.' Walking over to my two burner gas hotplate I turned my head to hide my grin. His hair stuck up and outward in so many directions that it looked as if it was by design.
Kneeling, I twisted the knob and let the gas flow to the burners on the portable stove. Hitting the igniter switch repeatedly, the snap finally gave birth to a fire that erupted from beneath the grate. I made quick work of opening a can of chicken noodle soup and poured it into a pan as I watched the blue flames lick against the sides of the aged steal. 'So much for that meal I promised. We'd have to settle for soup.'
'Lie still.' I listened to him grunt as he sat up ignoring my advice.
'What happened?' Darryl swayed like a sleep-drunk child as he whispered the words.
That he wasn't sure helped to ease my worry. At least some of the stranger happenings might not have to be explained. 'A cop showed up and started shooting. I threw you to the side and that's when you hit your head. I drug you out of there and carried you here. You've been unconscious ever since.'
'What happened to the cop?' Darryl scooted upright and leaned back against the metal wall. The squint of his long lashed eyes echoed suspicion more than pain.
'I'm not sure. I just ran, but I think there was a car accident.' Well at least part of what I said was true.
Darryl studied me for a moment and sighed. 'So, how are you doing?'
He indicated my hip with a weak nod and lowered his eyes to where the bum had stabbed me.
'It was just a graze. More blood than anything. Should be fine in a couple of days.' I just met him and I already felt guilty for telling him lies. Still I couldn't let on that I had already healed.
The stale air in the boxcar was beginning to warm up and I felt moisture collecting on my skin. This may be a great place to stay out of the rain, but it's not so comfortable during the heat of midday. I stirred the steaming soup and lost myself in the metallic scrape of spoon against pan.
Pouring some of the chicken noodle soup back into the can I handed it to Darryl and offered him a spoon. His skin was ghostly white and I was beginning to worry he had some unnoticed injury that I wasn't aware of. I couldn't help but to stare at the contrast of his deep brown eyes against his pale complexion. Even the pink of his ample lips seemed out of place against his sickly pallor.
I supposed I stared a bit too long because he drew back his hand as if he had been burned. Then the need in his eyes seemed to take control of his body and his thin hand reached out again and accepted the spoon.
I didn't ask the questions that needed answers. Instead I pulled my eyes from his face and lost myself in the endless grooves on the wooden floor of the boxcar. The ability of the mind to escape stress has never ceased to amaze me. That thought threatened to steal away the numbing solace I found in those dusty splintered edges. We were awake too soon, and that would make this day longer than most. I had a daily routine, and this had definitely put a kink in my regular schedule.
'So, where are you staying?' There was no reason to put this off any longer, and the important things needed to be addressed.
Darryl finished a slurp of soup and winced as it burned his lips.
'There's plenty more, you don't have to inhale it.' The memory of hungry days was still fresh in my mind. I remembered when they began.
'I love you!' These were the last words I ever spoke to my father as he left for the last time.
I remember him being away a lot when I was younger, but it was never for more than a couple of days. The gaps in his presence grew in frequency and length after I turned 7. He would disappear for days, and then weeks, and finally months as I grew older, only to finally return battered and bruised. In the beginning there was always a stock of food, and the utilities were paid. I had no worries other than how long it might be before he stepped foot through our door again.
My father returned on the day of my 8th birthday, though he didn't remember the significance of the date, and I didn't trouble him with details. I was never privy to whatever affection he may have possessed. We were barely roommates. This visit was like every other that I could remember; though his injuries were the worst I had ever seen. His left leg looked as though it had been completely crushed. His long, light brown hair was matted with blood and I'm sure there were more broken bones beneath his heavy cloak. His recovery was miraculous as always and he was fully healed within a week. I tended to him and he left, yet again, without a goodbye or word of farewell. Had I known he wouldn't return, I doubt my final words to him would have been 'I love you.' There was still so very much I didn't know about who and what I was. I was born knowing some things but there were far too many mysteries.
'I don't have a place to stay.' Darryl's words pulled me from my thoughts and I looked up to find his dark eyes staring back at me.
'You can crash here for as long as you like.' I'm not sure what made me open the door of my home to him, such as it is, but something about him called to me.
Grabbing the pan, I offered to pour him some more soup. His color was better and I could only imagine how long it had been since his last meal. I wanted to ask him how he came to be here, but that is another rule we follow. You don't pry too deeply into someone else's life. People will tell you what they want you to know.
Darryl didn't hesitate this time, and seemed more than anxious for another helping. I poured the remainder into the cup and watched him attack the liquid with his spoon.
'If you don't slow down, you're going to make yourself sick, and we'll have to feed you all over again.' I listened to the clank of the spoon slow, but not as much as I thought was necessary.
I let Darryl finish his meal in silence. The distant rumble of traffic on busy highways told me of people's travels to work. They are the ones I call 'Daytimers'. They are the ones that live in daylight and endure a more placid form of existence than I could ever imagine.
I used to think the love and joy I saw on television was only myth, but the past few years have taught me otherwise. It is a real thing. Watching them, I caught glimpses of the joy they shared. I've never had that. Love didn't exist for me now or during my childhood. Seeing the wild in Darryl's eyes as he gulped down the last drops of his soup fueled the emptiness in my heart. Surely my kind is entitled to love, or maybe love is just another one of the many things that I don't deserve. Whether I am entitled or even able to love, the desperation in Darryl's eyes made me yearn for it. I've read the saying 'You cannot miss what you never had'. There's a coldness in that phrase that condemns those of us without. Knowing that I lack something revered by so many torments me.
'I can't pay.' Darryl stared into the empty soup can and fiddled with the end of his spoon.
'Like I told you before. I don't want your money. Besides rent is cheap here.' I stretched out my arm indicating my makeshift home as if it were a palace and couldn't fight the smile that lifted my cheeks. The mock pride seemed comical to me.
'I have a few rules if you wish to stay here.' Darryl's brown eyes shifted and met mine but the rest of his body remained deathly still.
'One, don't do business here.' A twitch shook his body and he returned his focus to the bottom of his soup can.
'Two, don't bring trouble here.' A rush of wind pushed against the boxcar and I heard the lonely groan of a loading door sway in the breeze.
'Three, never take anything from me without asking.' I spat out the rule with more venom than I intended and watched Darryl's shoulders sink as if he felt the impact.
'There is nothing that I own or that I am so fond of that I wouldn't give it to you if you asked, but never steal from me.' I rocked backward trying to ease the growing ache in my legs.
'Four, contribute. I don't care how you make your money, but help out. I can't feed both of us forever.' A musky scent wafted past my nose reminding me it was time to bathe. The fact that the odor was mine pushed me to bring my diatribe to a close.
'Five, never lie to me.' I couldn't ignore the double standard I imposed upon him and hid my eyes behind my fallen blond bangs.
There were more rules than I realized. I thought of myself as an accommodating person, but I guess the past few years had destroyed the last remnants of my hospitality. Well that's not exactly true I just announced the rules so there was no confusion regarding my expectations.
'Come on time to head to McDonalds. We need to clean up.' I leaned toward Darryl and made an audible sniff and scrunched up my face . 'Yes definitely time to clean up.'
Standing up, I watched Darryl stare back at me as if I were insane. 'Sorry, I don't have running water here and we stink.'
He gave a weak shrug and stood. I flung the door open and listened to the metal scrape and groan as it slid along the rusted rail. I turned and Darryl jumped.
'Relax Not much of a morning person are you? Grab a shirt from off the line. Underwear and socks are in the bag over there. We'll see about getting you some jeans after we clean up.' I pointed to the garbage sack in the corner.
The place wasn't much, but it was a port in the storm, and we had just been through a rough one. I grabbed a pair of jeans from the line. Normally, I would have found a nice air conditioned hotel room where I could spend my day sleeping and preparing for another night's work, but my world had been turned upside down. I watched Darryl rifle through the plastic sack and forage for socks and underwear.
'Put your clothes in the backpack when you find everything you need.' He nearly fell over as he squatted over the plastic bag of clothes.
'Thank you.' The words were almost a whisper as he placed his clothes in the backpack. It was adorable the way he treated each garment as though it were a prized possession.
I shoved my selections in after his and pulled the straps over my shoulders. You can't just walk into McDonalds with your hands full of clothes and head to the bathroom without someone taking notice. Well I suppose you could, but eventually they'd keep an eye out for you and call the police. That's the last thing I needed in my life right now. I leapt out of the door and heard the gravel crunch beneath my feet with the impact. A small billowing cloud of dust rose from beneath them and I turned to help Darryl out of the boxcar.
The day was relatively uneventful. We scrubbed down in the McDonalds bathroom, had breakfast, and made our way across town to the Goodwill. We found several pairs of pants and some shirts that would do him the most good in his evening exploits, as well as keeping him clean. At first Darryl didn't have much to say, but he slowly crawled out of his shell. By sunset we were chatting like two life long friends. However, there were many things left unasked and unspoken. How he came to be here, his past, and the reasons for the bruises and scratches on his face and arms were never mentioned.
We finally made it back to our home. 'Boxcar Sweet Boxcar.' It made me chuckle. I suppose my chances were pretty slim of finding that embroidered and framed. Darryl gave me a strange look, and rolled his eyes as he watched me pull the heavy metal door open. The sun had set and the crash of metal had barely finished echoing through the boxcar when I heard something slam against the roof.
I felt the flutter of movement breeze past my skin as I turned to see a young man holding my new friend. A vampire stood behind Darryl wrapping him in a half embrace with one hand clutching his chest and the other gripping a fistful of hair. Darryl's head was tilted backward exposing his neck like a prone lamb awaiting slaughter. A strangled scream escaped his throat as our visitor sank his teeth in the soft flesh.