Hello once again!
This story will deal the hard, the tough and the nitty-gritty. If you're looking for a light-hearted fairy tale I'm sorry but you've come too far. All of the facts I include were found online – if they are incorrect then no-one else is to blame for the fuck ups apart from yours truly.
I want to thank Google Maps for allowing me to peek into the towns and places involved.
This summary is my own, but the characters are Stephenie Meyer's. Enjoy.
The clanging of loose change bouncing off each other interrupted my daze.
"Thank you." I mumbled to the retreating form, but the lady never seemed to acknowledge my thanks; she had given me what I was after and once going about her good deed of the day, I was no longer an issue for her. I hastily blended back into the concrete wall behind me.
The cold wind shattered through my bones; even huddled together with my knees up to my chest and my arms inside my layers, I couldn't fight back the early-year chill. I had had a jacket, but that was stolen sometime during the night last week – all I remembered was waking up to my head lying on the hard ground and not the rolled up jacket I made into a makeshift cushion.
Living on the streets makes you do some crazy shit.
Thankfully nothing vital had been stolen before – I keep the little money I have in a plastic slip and tuck that in my sock. And my guitar, Layla, still sat safe beside me. I'm fortunate enough to still have Layla; most would pawn her off for the money or someone else would steal her to do the same thing, but being the only piece of 'home' that I still have, I never let her out my sight. She also helps me pay the bills, so to speak.
Every morning I find a new spot to sit, hopefully near the busy town centre, tune her up and play. One hand slides along her thing neck and the other strums and slaps the body. The songs I play vary and the mood I'm in, even the weather could leave me performing differently every day. But once the shops have shut and the town quietens down somewhat, I put Layla away and wait for the day to end.
More loose change was thrown into my spare beanie. It must be my lucky day if I can get seventy cents in less than ten minutes. With the added money I have enough to buy a McDonalds meal, or something more substantial, but I had breakfast this morning, so I don't want to be greedy.
"Hey!" I woke to my foot being kicked roughly. The drunk man above me held the corner wall for support and stank of piss. He kicked me again, but it was weaker this time. "This…is my place… fuck off."
I don't take shit from an alcoholic who no doubt pissed himself. "This isn't your place – I found it and now I'm sleeping in it."
He swayed back on his feet, and wagged a dirty finger in my direction, "you're going to regret this."
I shrugged and went back to sleep.
The next day went by just the same; I played Layla for all the passing people of Madison and earned myself $7.26 leaving me with a new grand total of $11.43. I ran by The Road Home and was their early enough to pick up a free lunch – chicken soup, potato chips and a cup of overly watered down blackcurrant juice. They mainly cater for homeless families, and insure young children a roof over their head and sanitary confinements, but every day they allow only a set number of 'stand-alones' to come in for lunch. But like any shelter if you cause trouble and start a fight you're banned from entering again.
That evening I found a new place to sleep, just in case that piss-reeking man came back and honestly meant what he said, that I'd regret it. I'm not one to start fights – this life captures innocent people, turning them into criminals and drug addicts so they could live another day, but I don't do that – I want to make something of myself and there is no way I could start looking for a job with a reputation like theirs.
I was wandering around Monona Bay, deciding on sleeping there till morning – from experience you can often spend the night without either getting caught my the cops or running into trouble. There's a circular shelter surrounded by an alcove of trees that overlooked the bay, it kept the wind away and you never had to worry about sleeping in the rain or snow. It was a safe place.
I had Layla tucked away in her case – after playing a brief blues song – and lay on my back, staring at the wooden ceiling above. The cigarette in my mouth burnt away with every draw. An hour later, still pondering everything and nothing, the sound of rambunctious yells broke into my thoughts.
Aah, fucks sake, this is the last thing I need.
Riley and his merry men, who love to look for trouble. I've had run-ins with them before, and one time it was a miracle I came out alive.
It was so dark they could have walked past without noticing me, but the smell of smoke lifting from my cigarette did not do me any favours. The five surrounded the shelter and sauntered to where I laid.
"Hey, Masen!"Riley punched my bicep in greeting.
"Hey, Biers." I didn't punch his arm, nor did I look in his direction – I continued to stare at the ceiling, hoping they would get the picture and leave.
"You got any more of these?" He pinched the end of my cigarette, "I had my last one yesterday."
"Nope – this is my last as well." That was a lie, I had enough to give everyone under this roof one, but why should they have known that?
"Aah…well, don't mind me." Before I knew it he had snatched the Newport from my lips.
"The fuck?" I yelled, jumping up from the ground. "D'ya know how hard I've worked for that shit?" In this life, when every cent makes a difference, you become defensive over your last crumb. At almost $7 a blow, these Newports aren't cheap.
"Aah…c'mon, Masen; friends share, right?"
I knew the signs well – I should take myself to hospital before Riley sent me there. "Y'know what? I was done with it anyway." I wasn't going to end up on a hospital ward because I wouldn't share my cigarette.
I snagged Layla and my bag, gave the guys a curt nod and was on my way. I was certain they wouldn't follow me – I had given them what they wanted and let up a decent place to sleep, I had done nothing wrong.
After all, I won't ever be completely debt free.
The smoke strangled my lungs and blinded my eyes.
I screamed and screamed, but no-one replied.
"Edward? Edward, dear, is that you?"
I startled awake, rubbing my neck and then my chest. It was a dream; it was only a dream. After recovering from my nightmare, I focused in on the familiar, ageing face before me. Dear old Ms. Maggie. Why, it had been some time since I last saw her.
"Oh I'm so sorry; I never knew you were asleep." She apologised, even though it was fairly obvious I hadn't been awake.
"It's okay, Ms. Maggie."
"Oh my dear boy!" She cried, wringing her tiny arms around my neck. "How have you been? I've been searching high and low for months!"
A couple of years ago I saved Ms. Maggie from a group of guys – one had taken her bag and the other were about to do more than rob her. But I must have been in the right place at the right time and fought them off. They even left the bag behind. Ever since then she has been looking out for me and if I'm in the neighbourhood I get to spend the night on her sofa, have a home cooked meal and take a much-needed shower.
"I've been surviving," I answered with a shrug.
"Where have you been? How have you been keeping? Is that a new scar? Oh, Edward."
I pulled down the sleeve of my sweater, hoping to leave my marks out of the conversation. "I've been here and there; doing my best to stay out of trouble."
"And so you should be! Right, c'mon dear, there's 'pposed to be a terrible storm this evening and I can't have you out here in that weather."
I smiled timidly and followed Ms. Maggie back to her apartment.
"Right, dear, help yourself to a bath, shower…a razor – whatever you need and I'll shove these clothes in the wash." I held her son's sweat pants and sports tee shirt which I could change into after my wash. She had already given me a glass of milk and informed me that lunch would be ready for when I leave the bathroom.
"Thank you, Ms. Maggie." It's not often you'd come across someone as sweet-natured as Ms. Maggie. I was a complete stranger to her, another urban camper in the mix of many, and when she first offered me the use of her house I could have taken advantage of the situation, but I never have or will, and in the time she's known me, Ms. Maggie has grown to trust that I am a stranger in a strange land, only looking for help.
"Oh, pish-posh," she waved. "I have been worried sick, my boy, and I want to make sure you're well."
I chose the bath, wanting to succumb myself to the water and allow all the misery I held to float away. The heat of the water did wonders for my tense muscles, and at one point I felt myself slowly falling asleep. I scrubbed myself down with a new bar of soap and fresh cloth Ms. Maggie left out for me, and then stole a squirt of her husband's shampoo to lather through my hair.
I did the same with my beard too.
My beard wasn't long – like Gandalf long – or bushy like Santa's, but it was itchy and a pain in my ass. So getting the scissors to it, and my hair, felt good.
I trimmed my fringe, around my ears and tidied up my hair slightly. I'm no hairdresser, but I can work a pair of scissors. With my beard I didn't want to remove it all – baby-faced and homeless is not a good mix; you'll be an easy target – like my hair I tidied it up and made myself look presentable.
The only problem I faced was the lack of sleeves to cover my markings. The shirt Ms. Maggie gave me wasn't a vest top, but the sleeves just covered my shoulders and the angry pink scares criss-crossed my arms like a tic-tac-toe board.
I left the bathroom an hour after I entered and took in the delicious aroma of whatever Ms. Maggie had made for lunch. My stomach practically ached at the thought of having a home-cooked meal, my first one in months.
"You must be lucky, my boy, I was going to make the old man and me some soup and sandwiches." She was standing in the kitchen and stirring something over the hot stove.
"I'm not picky, Ms. Maggie – you know that."
"Oh I do, but I want you to be fit and well and enjoy something more substantial than soup." I grabbed a seat at the table and enjoyed watching her scurry around the kitchen, grabbing things from the oven and stirring different pots.
"Here," she passed me over a plate full to the brim with food. "Steak stew – tuck in." My mouth salivated at the sight; chunks of steak in a thick gravy, roast potatoes, carrots, peas.
"This looks amazing. Thank you for everything."
Whenever I try to apologise she always waves me off, and this time was no exception. "Goodness knows what would have happened if you didn't help me that night, Edward, and giving you some food is the least I could do in thanks."
As I ate, she pottered around the room and refilled my glass of milk when it was empty. "Edward!" She gasped, "your arms…"
I did my best to hide them under the table, but the damage had already been done. "It's nothing…don't worry about it."
"That is not nothing!"
"Ms. Maggie, please, I'm fine."
She pursed her lips in disappointment, "did you get medical help? What if they're infected?"
"They're not infected, I…I knew what I was doing."
"Well, as long as you're sure. But, who did this?"
I took a mouthful of the food, deciding what I could or couldn't say. I definitely couldn't say any names, places or appearances. "Just… um… just some guys; I guess you could say I have an 'unpaid debt' with them."
"An unpaid debt? Edward they can't go around stabbing you! Have you thought about moving to a different town? Leave this 'debt' behind and start somewhere new?"
"I would, but it's too expensive to go anywhere, unless I walk for days."
Ms. Maggie was quiet in thought for some minutes. "I have to go to Cross Plains later to visit a friend, how about I drop you off there, get you settled in a motel and you can decide from there? At least you'll be away from those guys."
"Um…" The idea of leaving Madison and all the shit it held did sound very tempting.
"You know I'd only worry if I knew you were out there with those men hanging around."
Honestly, what was keeping me here? Yeah, it has a large population, and I'll probably 'earn' more money here, but you never know the opportunities which may arise if you don't get out and try something new. And that was why I accepted her offer and why, two hours later, we were driving out of Madison.
I could see Cross Plains appearing in the distance. "Ms. Maggie, would you mind dropping me off here? I like to walk around and get used to my surroundings before I enter the town."
"If that is what you would prefer, dear."
"I would, thank you."
We parked off the side of the road and I instantly noticed the dirt track, I decided to follow that one first. "Remember the storm that is supposed to hit – make sure you get to a motel soon."
I didn't want to tell her I had no money for a motel – what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Instead, I nodded and thanked her once again for everything she had done to help.
"Don't be a stranger, Edward. You know where I am and how to get back if you're ever stuck, okay?"
"I do, thank you."
With freshly washed clothes on my back, Layla and my bag of few belongings I set off on my little adventure. The dirt track turned out to be a road leading to a farm, so I quickly turned on my heel before some pissed off farmer came out guns blazing.
I carried on up the road, through some trees and found myself on an empty patch of grass land. There was no sign anywhere saying I was forbidden to enter, so I continued to walk. A short time later, struggling through the trees and forestry, I heard the loud rumble of thunder.
I had two options: trek back down again and find cover somewhere before I get soaked through, or hide in the forest and pray the canopy above kept me dry.
I decided on seeing how far I could get before the heavens opened.
However, when turning back around, I spotted something in the corner of my eye. I took a few steps closer in that direction and saw it was a small, run-down, stone shack. I could make out the wooden windows and doors, but that was about it.
My interest peeked.
If it has been abandoned by someone I could sleep her for a couple nights, or at least until I worked out what to do next.
With a shrug I walked away from the trees and headed towards the shack.
The closer I got the more abandoned it looked.
Surely no-one lives here, do they?
And I haven't seen any sign of life for a while.
And if anyone does I'll leave and go back to the drawing board.
The land around the shack looked dead and unkempt, and heavy rain drops fell onto my face.
I either stay here or contract pneumonia.
I didn't think twice, reached for the iron door handle and gave the door a forceful push open.
I had imagined so many scenarios up that point, but I never imagined being met with a high-pitched scream.
And a shoe thrown at my head.
What do you think? I would really appreciate a wee comment saying if you'd read more of not :)