Raindrops, heavy and thick, clattered upon the rooftops and the windowsills. The surface of the road shimmered as the drops fell upon it and broke into infinite little pieces, each a microscopic sphere that smashed against the asphalt and sent out ripples – transforming the road into a mesmerizing snake dancing to the music made by the rain. It was past midnight. Those even moderately respectable were inside, and others were herded in whatever pub or tavern was open at the hour. The road was deserted.
Brad walked quickly. Not because he wanted to avoid the rain, but because he was hungry. It was odd that he should feel hungry in the middle of the night and that he shouldn’t want to anything out of his refrigerator – and he didn’t understand the urgency, but he felt that if he didn’t eat immediately, something terrible would happen. So he had grabbed his raincoat, pulled up his galoshes and rushed out. His favorite haunt from the past, the Red Tipper pub stayed open all night, and it was but a mile from his house. The rain was a minor inconvenience and being wet didn’t matter as much as being hungry did.
At the crossing he turned the corner and stared into the dark alley ahead. The smell of rotting food and churned gutters mixed with the stench of dead rats, stale urine and feces, attacked his acute senses, making him gag.
He stopped dead in his tracks.
Where was he?
He took a deep breath – or tried to take one. The breath didn’t fill his chest and his stomach. He felt strangely empty, and then he realized that the slight expansion of his ribcage that sub-consciously reminded him of being alive was missing.
What was he?
Was he alive?
He clenched his fists and felt his fingers crush against his palm. He was certainly alive, but then…why wasn’t he breathing. He could be hallucinating – he thought feeding the only possible explanation to his frayed senses. His nostrils spread up to let the air in, his chest puffed up, but the gratifying sense of inhaling oxygen and feeling better was missing. And he was still hungry.
He sniffed the air. Oddly, despite his inability to inhale, he could experience the smells and even differentiate one from the other. Mingling, racing, then overpowering those terrible smells was one that was different and Brad found it strangely exciting. He closed his eyes and tried to retain the feeling. All his life he had been repelled by those smells – the smells of wet garbage, churning sewage, and unwashed bodies – but now, despite realizing that he should have been repelled by them, he wasn’t. In fact, he…his body wanted to find the source of it.
He stood there for many long minutes, his body waiting, demanding succor. He felt the rain beat down upon him relentlessly as his hunger kept growing keeping pace with the sense of futility. The source of that smell – it was there, somewhere, but he couldn’t see it. And even if he found it, what then? He swiveled on his feet. He must be delusional or why would he stand here surrounded by offal, feeling ravenous?
Out of the corner of his eye, behind the shimmering curtain or rain, he saw something move. A heap of clothes. Perhaps.
The pangs of hunger suddenly leaped out of their torpor and began stabbing at his stomach mercilessly. He lunged forward, like a dog or a wolf…like an animal. His reaction was visceral – more physical than mental. It was as if his body was receiving instructions from another mind, or even acting on its own.
Brad followed his body, half mesmerized by the feeling of being anchored to it, half fearful of losing control. His body had, in the last few hours, learned to walk soundlessly. It was odd to not hear the splash when his boot went into a puddle, but it didn’t, like his feet floated just a few inches above the puddle – but how could that be?
His questions were like a dull throb at the back of his head – he couldn’t process them consciously. His questions, weak and dull and gray, didn’t stop him from following his body, which was now standing over the huddle – a homeless woman of about fifty.
In that darkness, with rain beating mercilessly between him and the woman, how he could see her so clearly?
But that was another question – to be brushed aside, for it was fascinating for him to watch his body crouch near the woman. She had found a dry recess on the side of a shop and had balled herself into a little bundle to keep dry and warm. He saw her eyes peeping through the gap – she reminded him of a tailorbird that had once nested behind his house and would sit in it with her whole body inside the nest and only her beak peeking out.
Brad watched as his hand reached out and pulled away the fabric to reveal the woman’s face – lined more by the hardships she must have endured than by age. Oddly, he saw hope sparkle in her dull eyes.
“There isn’t enough space here,” she whispered.
It took Brad a moment to process her remark. She had assumed that he wanted to lay her. Shocked, Brad found his body responding to her question. His hand traced her cheekbones, jawline, chin, and then it slipped down across her neck, holding it and pulling her to him. The woman protested. She didn’t want to get wet. But she also didn’t want to lose the chance to earn her breakfast and so she yielded.
Brad watched himself in horror. He didn’t pick up homeless women on the street. Something was definitely not right, but his body couldn’t care less – and trapped in his body, he found himself responding to the desires that flamed through his body. Aghast, he found himself kissing her neck, feeling the salt and on her skin with his lips, his hunger for her breaking all barriers as his teeth punctured the vein and drew blood.
Image Credit: Edvard Munch [Public domain]