Sam Clover © 2020
All Rights Reserved
She was pretty in a white-bread, picket-fence way. Idal didn’t want to be creepy, but those floor-to-ceiling windows provided the frozen world below such an excellent voyeuristic view. His gaze kept drifting right back up.
If she sensed him watching, she gave no indication. He envied that. A warm, placid bubble of unguarded ignorance. Living that pretty, happy life as if she had no idea how ugly and cold the world could be.
Felt pretty damn cold down there though with nothing but a flattened cardboard box between his frozen ass and the snow.
A footstep crunched behind him. He looked back as his friend, Calaca, slipped into the small space of his cardboard shelter. The guy looked more gaunt than usual. More ragged. But the steam wafting up from a tall paper cup in those bony hands stole Iddy’s attention.
“Are you fucking stupid?” Calaca grumbled as he plunked down next to him.
Iddy’s frozen little heart fluttered. He sucked in a shivery breath through his teeth and snuggled in close against Calaca’s side. “Oh my God, that smells amazing. Can I touch it?”
Calaca scowled at Iddy through his thick emo fringe, but he handed the cup over. “Four more last night.”
That sounded ominous. Iddy would have loved to riddle it out, but his mental faculties were blocks of ice, and the heat that seeped through his threadbare gloves made everything else so much less important.
Calaca glared at Iddy for a long moment. “They found four more bodies, Iddy. All of ’em hobos like you. You should be at the shelter.”
It was sweet that Calaca cared, but Iddy had enough to worry about without adding urban legends on top of it. He hung his nose over the lid’s vent and let the steam caress the numb tip of his nose for a good couple of seconds.
“I’d rather take my chances with the mothman than lock myself in a gymnasium full of violent homophobes.” Iddy closed his eyes as he inhaled the bitter aroma. “Mm, dark roast.” He exhaled with an exaggerated moan.
Calaca let out a derisive laugh. “Fuck, just drink it.”
Iddy’s eyes popped open. He looked excitedly up at Calaca and flashed a broad, frozen-stiff grin. “Oh my God, I love you.” He took a greedy sip. It burned his tongue but felt so damn good going down, he immediately took another.
After a moment, Calaca’s stubborn grumble broke through Iddy’s coffee-flavoured haze with more doom and gloom. “It’s not ‘mothman’. Animal attacks actually happen, you know. It’s not fucking fiction.”
“I definitely heard someone say ‘mothman’.”
“And I heard someone say Chupacabra.” Calaca rolled his eyes. “Fuck, my dealer thinks he saw a UFO, and now he’s got his whole apartment block crying ‘aliens’. Take the word of crackheads and schizos with a grain of salt, you know?”
Iddy snickered. “Damn, there goes my whole news network.”
Calaca curled his lip in a frustrated sneer, and his attention drifted out to the frozen pedestrians bustling by. “Shit… Just get off the street tonight, okay?”
Iddy smiled warmly at him. “That, I can do.”
The sun dropped so fast Iddy felt its desperate descent in his bones.
He stood against the wall with his shoulders hunched up to his burning ears. His teeth chattered. Frost teased at the tips of his fingers. This cold snap wasn’t the first this bitch of a winter had thrown at the city, but it promised to be the longest. As if he didn’t already have a thousand knocks against him, it would be a miracle if he survived the season without a permanent hunchback and a few frost-blackened digits.
The clock had struck six o’clock. Pity hour where people with tables full of hot food waiting for them occasionally let their guilty consciences pry a couple of quarters from their thick wallets.
A young girl with a head full of ringlets skittered up to him. She flashed an adorable, pinched-nose smile, sans two front teeth. “Aren’t you cold?”
Iddy let out a shaky laugh. He tried to still his chattering and puffed out his chest. “Of course not. I’m Jack Frost.”
“No, you’re not!” The girl’s nose pinched tighter. “Daddy says bums are boozers. Jack Frost can’t drink—it would freeze!”
“That’s what boozecicles are for.”
The girl giggled. “Boozecicles.” Then her pinched little face turned stern as she pulled a crumpled dollar bill from her pocket. She wiggled it in the air and ordered, “No boozecicles! You need to eat!”
Iddy smiled as warmly as he could manage and tipped his knit hat. “Yes ma’am.”
“Hey!” Someone barked. A middle-aged man stormed across the road towards them. “Get the fuck away from my daughter!”
The evening rush froze still. Every pair of eyes on the street snapped to him with a wave of mass judgment and fear. He froze too, like a deer in the headlights. He wanted to run, but he knew that would validate all their ugly assumptions.
The man snatched the dollar from the little girl. He shoved his way into Iddy’s personal space to tower threateningly over him. “If you touched her, you perverted piece of shit—”
“I—I didn’t,” Iddy stammered.
The girl shrieked, “Daddy!”
Daddy grabbed Iddy by the throat with one hand and threw him roughly against the wall of a derelict bookshop. Iddy barely got out a gasp as his head banged against the brick and he collapsed to the salted sidewalk.
Iddy stayed on his hands and knees. When a splatter of thick, yellow spit hit his cheek, he flinched, but he didn’t move. Much as he desperately wanted to avoid his pants getting soaked through, he didn’t want the guy to think him getting up was a challenge. So, he waited with his head hung low as the guy grabbed the little girl and strutted off. And he kept waiting until the spectators dispersed.
When he finally picked himself up and dared a glance around, people were still watching. Most were subtle about it, but their disgust hung in the air. Their minds were made up in clenched fists and flared nostrils.
There was no way he was getting any more pity money out of that crowd. Time to find somewhere to crash anyway—every minute the temperature dropped more and more. So with a resigned sigh, he collected the bits of change from the Styrofoam bowl at his feet. Two dollars’ worth if he was lucky.
Tonight’s dinner would be a Cola.
I’m an idiot. Iddy kicked at a clump of ice. I should have told him I’m gay. His frozen lips pulled tight in an anxious frown as his thoughts turned to mumbles. “No. That wouldn’t help, would it? I’d just get my stupid ass bashed. When did I go from being a street kid to a creepy old child molester? Shit, it was the Jack Frost stuff, wasn’t it?”
A gentle clap answered.
Iddy jumped. He spun clumsily around and half slipped on the ice. He scanned the hazy shadows of the backstreet, half expecting to find someone lurking, but instead, he found a door. A flimsy, wooden door that looked like it had been ripped off a garden shed and tacked onto a big, gloomy warehouse. It flapped slowly in the wind. A big, beautiful, inky-black invitation.
Well, that solved the problem of finding somewhere to squat for the night. So, without further ado, he slipped inside.
Anxiety prickled the back of his neck. Sneaking into strange places always came with a whole host of dangers, but better a run-in with a rabid raccoon or a drunk fellow vagrant than freezing to death out there on a stoop somewhere. He pulled the door closed behind him and stuck the metal latch into place, and then he fell still.
Too dark to see, but his eyes were wide and primed.
Somewhere beneath his feet, a furnace hummed. The walls creaked gently in the wind, and pipes clicked, but there were no voices. No shuffling or snoring. The building didn’t feel empty, but pitch darkness had a way of making him feel like there was someone standing inches in front of him.
He moved along a wall. The room felt big, like he could hear his breath go on forever. He kept waiting for his eyes to adjust, but they didn’t. So, he reached both arms out in front of him.
A flicker of fear tugged at his heart; a faint, ridiculous thought there might be something there, beyond the tips of his fingers he did not want to brush up against.
Twenty years old, and still afraid of the dark. Shoulda stolen a lighter.
He shuffled forward. His breath shook softly, and after a few short steps, his sore fingers bumped into cool, smooth metal. He breathed a sigh of relief and ran his hands over it until he found rows of small doors on one side. Lockers. If there were lockers, there were probably stalls. A perfect, out-of-the-way place to squat for the night.
Iddy made it a few shuffles down the length of lockers when something shifted nearby.
He froze. His breath caught in his throat. Something grunted behind him.
Panic tightened in his chest. He wanted to run. Desperately. But he knew better than to make quick movements around anything with a prey drive. He forced himself to move painfully slow. He crept across the hard floors, but his wet boots were not fit for stealth. At the end of the lockers, he reached out ahead of him to go blindly into the darkness.
Please let there be another door. He tried not to breathe. He tried to will his sweat glands to stay nice and frozen as if the smell might give him away.
Something dragged across the floor behind him. Footsteps thumped so heavy he could feel the vibrations through his boots. The air shifted as something large drew near.
Iddy sprang into a run with his arms flailing. His hand smacked something along the way. Pain shot through his arm, and a yelp tore from his throat. He jerked away from it only to crash sideways through a stall door.
His ass hit the side of a toilet, and his head banged the wall and sent spikes of pain across his skull and sparks of light fizzling behind his eyes.
He stuffed his gloved fist in his mouth to smother a whimper as pain radiated down his spine. He had to get up and run. Had to get out, but the darkness spun wildly around him. When he tried to push himself off the toilet, for a split second he thought he was floating.
His cheek slapped against the cold floor. For an inane moment before the darkness swallowed him whole, he thought he was already dead.