The Writers Voice
Barry N. Rodgers
"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head ." Moses stood over Diggerís lifeless body. His impromptu memorial service for Digger woke the rest of the Family, and soon they were all attending to Mosesí speech. Tears mixed with dirt and Mosesí face contorted with pain as he waved his hand in the direction of the others. "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God . . . No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Moses bowed his head and those who were near did likewise. "Amen and amen."
Half an hour later the Family had abandoned their camp, and Diggerís decaying body, in favor of safer ground. Phil slept only two or three hours a night and was gone before the others awoke; before Mosesí stirring recitation from the New Testament book, Luke. They knew he would find them. Phil was a wanderer and the Family members never interfered with his calls to roam.
His roving nature was respected, and even revered by them. He might be on some holy pilgrimage, and no one dared inhibit him from a spiritual quest. Mornings presented a cacophony of noises that Phil preferred missing if at all possible. Coughs and spitting followed by farting and belching with the occasional spatter of urine on dirt intermixed with flapping and slapping of clothes and bedding created an unsyncopated, nerve-racking melody.
Phil walked without regard for a destination; but he eventually found himself standing at the door of Handoutís place. He was accustomed to being guided by the unseen force. He attributed it to signals received from those who sent him to this place. Wanted or not, Phil accepted his role, most of the time. Occasionally, the signals overwhelmed him, disabled him, and left him a lifeless heap; a marionette with severed strings. Phil reluctantly, cautiously, entered the decrepit structure. Shifting on the balls of his feet he quickly scanned the lobby in search of his friend, Handout. Where is he? "He knows how the walls close in," he groaned. Philís tolerance for indoors was waning when he spied his friend across the crowded lobby. Handout acknowledged Phil and motioned him to go back outside. He was aware of Philís phobic response to walls, and accommodated him by meeting him outside whenever Phil visited.
Phil asked after Angie and was told that she almost died of a drug overdose. This explained why they took her away in the ambulance. Social interaction not being one of Philís strong suits, he said little after the labored inquiry. No eye contact or acknowledgments of Handoutís response were forthcoming from Phil. Attention was difficult, almost impossible for him.
Distractions bombarded him and subsequently he surrendered and retreated into the mass of pedestrian traffic that crowded the sidewalk. Shawn took no offense, but pitied Phil. Shawn Casey, otherwise known as Handout to most of his clientele, operated the Seventh Street Shelter. He knew most of the street citizenry and all of the Family members. They sought refuge in his Shelter many times, except for Phil. His visits indoors were rare, and to see him spend any duration inside, even more rare. The Family went to the Shelter when the weather was unbearable; but it was dangerous to be closed up inside at night, even at Handoutís.
"Thereís not enough oxygen. People die," Phil once told Handout. No one blamed Handout; he was just trying to help. He knew of the danger, so sometimes he distributed coats and blankets to those who elected to endure the elements, so no one froze to death during the night. Phil perceived Handout as a good man, better than an outsider, and certainly not a member of the system. None of the Family knew much about Handout, but they trusted him more than they trusted anyone outside their clan. To trust outsiders usually resulted in an extended stay at the Farm or jail or worse.
The Farm, a state psychiatric hospital, represented the evil inherent in the system. To Phil it was Hades-central where soldiers of the system experimented on people like himself and where death was eminent. They try out new drugs, new surgical techniques, shock therapy - they suck out your brains. Phil speculated that Handout had spent time at the Farm. He was convinced that they had stolen part of Handoutís soul, part of his mind, and replaced it with someone elseís. They can do things like that if they want to; if you give them too much trouble. They will do the same to Angie, or worse, if I donít get her out soon. "We need Angie out here. I canít even remember how many of us have been taken away to the Farm, changed, and never seen again. Weíve all spent time at the Farm. Weíve all been prisoners of the system at one time or another. Jesus, Jesus, blessed Jesus . . .
"You have to be careful, careful, careful out here. There are more ways of dying than anyone could possibly imagine; and then thereís the Farm." I know about the Farm, Iíve spent plenty of time there. Iíve seen how they change people. "Iíve seen how they suck out the souls and minds and destiny of our kind and replace them with their kind. Theyíre cloning people. They do it at night while everyoneís sleeping.
"Iíve cheeked my meds so I could stay awake at night; so I could see what they do to us while we sleep. I know what goes on at the Farm.
"Itís safer out here but sometimes you get tired, hungry, cold, desperate, you just get desperate. You forget what itís like in there. You get so desperate youíll risk it all. "You go there just to rest, get three squares a day, to just be warm at night. Iíve been to the Farm many times since I came out here. Save me, save me, save me, Jesus!"
Phil remembered when he was brought to Necropolis and summarily whisked away to the Farm.
It was after he had been dumped back onto the street that he recalled meeting Handout. As if responding to query, Phil conversed as he walked. "Yeah, he let me stay at the Shelter while I got used to being out here. I trust him. It takes a while to get used to being back out here after youíve been at the Farm." Handout knows it, so he lets us shake the Farm jitters at the Shelter, if we want. Slicker and Blue trust him. "Angie trusts Handout, but then, Angie trusts just about anybody whoís nice to her." Philís thoughts, interrupted by the image of Angie, soon scrambled and were replaced by visions. Visions that defied words and radiated pain that seized his mind and body.
Shawn had found Angie sleeping under a bridge, alone and scared out of her wits. It took some doing, but he eventually convinced her to go with him to the Shelter. She didnít stay long.
Once her belly was full, and her confidence bolstered, she left. Shawn convinced her to find Digger and the Family. She would be safer with them than on her own. Angie soon became an important member of the Family.
She was so young, so naive, so innocent, Phil reminisced. Where had she come from? How did she get here? Phil didnít know, but he would never ask her. It is an unwritten law among the Family, no questions asked. Whatever the past, it is better left forgotten. It doesnít matter who or what you used to be. All that matters is that you are here now.
Today is whatís important; not yesterday, and not tomorrow. Just today. Angieís so small; so frail, Phil thought, and he didnít know how bad she might have overdosed. He had to find out about her. She canít make it for very long out here alone. If sheís at the Farm, then she may be in even more danger. The Farm is no place for the frail and weak. He had to find Angie, and soon.
The foreboding signs of winter manifest more clearly with each day. Cold wind and cold rain were coming; sometimes it froze, killing everything trapped beneath a dense web of ice. Cold weather is yet another way to die when you live on the street. The few trees and plants to be found in the city already had died or lay dormant, awaiting Spring. Several days passed without word of Angie. Phil fretted about her when his mind was free of visions, transmissions and signals from beyond. Marbles, one of the Family members presumably abducted by the system clones and taken to the Farm, had returned. He was incapable of telling where he had been, but he was still in possession of his pouch full of marbles - hence his street name. Marbles earned his name not because he collected marbles, but rather, because he ate them - for medicinal purposes.
Occasionally he would fall to the ground, shaking and drooling. When the attack ended he would dutifully eat a marble or two and then beam with contentment.
They made him like he is; a mentally crippled mute. He was one of the experiments at the Farm. Phil was uncertain what they had done to Marbles, but believed it must have been some kind of surgery because he had a very large scar that circled his skull. The scar was obvious, as Marblesí baldness left but a skirt of hair that went from temple to temple, the long way around the back of his head. What hair he had was long, dirty, salt and pepper colored, as was his mountain-man beard. Digger tried to make him wear a hat once, but this resulted in one of Mosesí most violent fits, so no one messed with him or his head anymore.
Angie was the only one who seemed to know what Marbles said when he spoke. To Phil, it just sounded like gargling, but Angie usually knew what he meant. This was good for the others because Marbles had a way of knowing when they needed to move on. He could sense danger, usually. Without Angie they would not be able to understand Marbles when he tried to warn them.
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