Yesterday’s post can be found as a link at the bottom of today’s, or just click here to see it in a new window.
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It was beneath the shadow of the Asylum and Crematoria chimney, inside the dumpster, from garbage and some things that would pass for it, that something stirred. Bags of trash shifted, cans rolled, rats scattered.
Something slithered to the top of the heap, something with fewer teeth than before, and a mouth with the lingering aftertaste of a roll of new money, but it moved. Sled moved. He stood waist-high above the refuse, a half-eaten corn dog in each hand. He finished the tossed-out leftovers, trying to ignore the taste of cigarette ashes and pickle juice.
Sled wiped his hands on the front of his Absentia Asylum and Crematoria inmate shirt. You could get them at the gift shop for only $29.95, but as a proud member of the asylum, Sled’s were free.
It was dark, but above Sled a security light flickered dimly. The light more or less worked, but long ago, rats or something had chewed through the wire to the security camera. On the bank of monitors in the main office, the rear entrance screen was black. One less for the staff to monitor.
As Sled wiped his hands on himself, he felt something he had forgotten about. There was a small pocket he had sewn on the inside of his shirt. It was sewn shut. Sled turned his shirt inside out and picked at the thread with fingers and one of his good teeth until the thread began to unravel.
He slid a finger in the pocket and came out with a wrinkled 2-inch by 3-inch photograph, a print from Harry’s high school days. Sled was standing next to him, younger in appearance but somehow already older inside. Both were smiling and happy. That happiness had ended that summer, not long after the photo was taken.
Sled stepped a few times to gain better footing in the dumpster and leaned toward the available light. There was a strobing effect as Sled moved the print, and he thought it was cool. Then he started seeing things. He talked it out, said out loud whatever momentary flashes came to him from the photograph. It came piecemeal, in short cryptic bursts, as if breathed out underwater while conserving held breath.
“Bone dust.” Sled pressed the photograph against his forehead and closed his eyes. “Trailer. The same one I saw before. Mattress. The one from the images of Mary. Notebook. Property log. Branding. Loss of human identity. Gone.”
That all made sense, but then things seemed to change. Unfamiliar imagery came to him. It was like being forced to identify an object after seeing it for a split-second. “Generator. Old mining facility? Pit. Entertain. Laughter. Dead dog. Maybe coyote. With Harry? Was that Harry next to the remains of a dead animal? Fresh meat. Shred. Feast.”
“Pit? Dead dog? Fresh meat feast? I don’t understand.” Sled held the image to his chest. Nothing, then a few more. A pack of coyotes surrounded him, encircling, waiting, then the alpha male pounces, others join. Sled climbed from the side door of the dumpster. Things fell out with him.
“Just like Mary.”
With Harry in the cafeteria, Sled had seen Mary brutalized repeatedly by savages. Now the pieces were fitting together, floating around in his mind and finding common boundaries, puzzle pieces, borders first, then the interior pieces. Sled saw Harry ripped apart by animals.
Now, he saw alpha males take the best pieces of Harry, devour what they wanted, and leave the rest for the others, the lesser ones. The second-pickers surround the pit and watch along the rim, mouths watering, anticipating whatever was dropped or not wanted, or left for them, out of pity or mercy, as if either existed with them.
“It’s no different. What I see with Harry is what I saw in the images of Mary on the mattress, surrounded and devoured by animals in human form. Only, as I tried to tell Harry, for the animals, it’s about survival. For humans, it’s for a different reason. But hey, who am I to judge?” Sled tried to walk, cursed, and fell.
“Sustenance,” Sled said. He dug through the dumpster, but hid when a flash of headlights from the parking lot panned across the back of the asylum. He squatted and fluffed some garbage over himself. He watched the scene play out from under a cardboard carton of prescription-strength laxatives.
A city garbage truck had arrived for a pre-dawn pick-up. A door opened. Two city sanitation workers were in a heated argument while the truck sat idle in front of Sled’s dumpster. Sled rolled into a ball and pulled down his laxative box hat. One of the workers walked toward Sled.
“Wait in the truck, a-hole.”
“I will, but only because I want to, not because you told me to,” the other yelled from the truck. “Just get the drugs and hurry back.”
“Really? Could you be more of an idiot!” He stood feet from Sled.
“No I couldn’t,” his co-worker yelled back from the open passenger window.
“Don’t say D, R, U, G, S out loud, Nimrod!”
“Just make the deal and come on!”
“Leave the engine running and shut your trap!”
The sanitation worker entered through the rear door, oblivious to the slumped ball hiding in the shadows. Sled probed around the dumpster area for sharp things. The worker exited sooner than Sled had anticipated. He almost stepped on Sled’s foot on the way out. “Smells like the bowels of hell around here,” the worker said.
That was the last thing the sanitation worker said, saw or thought, because in that instant, he became one with the Asylum shadows. He would bleed out in three minutes, sooner than it takes for most hit songs to finish playing on commercial radio, if the town of Absentia could pick up a radio station to listen to one.
Sled grinned, his back flat against the cool brick, as if a part of the structure. He was holding a cut lid from a gallon-sized can of stewed tomatoes. After the body stopped pumping the majority of the blood, Sled switched uniforms with the dead worker.
“I know what you’re doing over there,” the sanitation worker yelled from the truck. “You’re shooting up without me. Let’s go. Trash waits for no man!”
Sled fed the dead man through the side opening of the dumpster head-first, and pushed until most of him was inside. Sled took the drugs the sanitation worker had died for.
Sled was comfortable living between light and shadow. That’s how he had kept his
relationship with Harry going for so long. He stepped from the shadow wearing the sanitation uniform, just enough to be seen by the other sanitation worker, but not so much as to expose his false identity.
Sled waved wildly for help, then dropped to one knee as if injured. The worker waved wildly for his co-worker to get in the truck. “Your friend really is that dumb,” Sled said to the feet of the dead man sticking out of the dumpster. Sled staggered into the harshness of the headlights and fell face-down. Sled heard the truck door close. The worker ran to Sled.
“What’s wrong with you, man? Don’t OD on me. I hate paperwork.” The co-worker grabbed under Sled’s arms, rolled him over and started to drag him toward the truck. Sled adjusted his grip on the metal lid, planted his feet, and stood up, lid first.
Air gushed from the sanitation worker’s windpipe in a silent scream. Sled raked the lid along one side of the man’s neck then the other, like cutting twine from a wrapped package. Common carotid arteries opened. “Yuck,” Sled said. “I hate the smell of stewed tomatoes.”
Sled scrambled to the truck. He played with the controls until he figured out how to connect with the dumpster, and raise and empty the contents into the back of the truck. Legs dangled from the side opening of the dumpster as it was suspended above the cab. Sled had not engaged the dumpster properly, and the green metal cube swung like a roller coaster cart trapped at the top of a carnival.
Sled jerked the controls back and forth until he was sure that the body had fallen into the pile of trash, then he hit the “compact” button and heard the wall close behind the cab, pressing contents. Sled slammed the empty dumpster on of body of the second sanitation worker.
“Oops,” he said, then he lifted and slammed the dumpster back down on the body, over and over, until the dumpster rested almost level on the asphalt and on what was once a body. “I can only do so much with limited training and talent,” Sled said. He drove out of the asylum parking lot, and pointed the lime green and neon yellow garbage truck toward Bone Dust Road.
In the rear view mirror, the faintest tint of orange could be seen. He didn’t know whether it was a sign that the universe was conspiring in his favor for once, or if it meant that, by the time he arrived at the pit, if there would be enough unconsumed portions of Harry to tell which had been Harry and which had been the dead dog or coyote.
“If I’m lucky, Harry and I will have a reversal of roles. Maybe I’ll finally be the one to rescue the wounded frightened kitten for a change, instead of the on always in need of rescue. You better be litter-pan trained, Harry.”
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