Parting

He let the blade glide across the honing wand without looking. It was mostly for ceremony any way, so everyone in the room would know he was about to get to work, it was a way to put off the task. He knew that the knife would already either be sharp enough or it wouldn’t. It was a large knife, compared to his other tools. He hadn’t done this often but, enough to know that size would matter here.

He pressed the metal in on the bottom of the neck and slid it back slowly. The flesh split open easily as the blade sank in and came to rest on the bone. He always felt it would be faster to push on here, but it wasn’t the way. He withdrew his knife and set it on the steel table. Using both hands he rolled it over and ran his hand down the side of the glistening skin. Picking his knife back up he lined it up so the two cuts would me and began again. This time when he reached that same bone he put his other hand on the back of the blade for leverage and pushed hard once. There was a brief grinding noise as the knife wedged between the vertebrae, separating them. There was a crunch as it drove home severing the spine and passing through the other side.

He had once seen someone else, more skilled than he perform the rest without removing the head first. That wasn’t the way for him. The rest would be easier with it gone. Easier for him anyway. He moved his free hand along the inside of the body cavity. The viscera and organs had been removed by someone else, someone far removed from him. He had done the task handful of times as a child, under his father’s instructions. He supposed he could still manage it if he had too, but was grateful that the distasteful task didn’t fall on his shoulders these days. He pulled open the flap of skin and placed the point of his blade inside. He still remembered the wisdom imparted to him when he was first learning the task, “Find the backbone and stay there.”

He found the backbone.

As his knife slid along the top of the spine, farther into the flesh, he grabbed the lower half of the body in readiness. The tip of the knife began to protrude from the other side and he shifted his grip on the implement so that he could put his weight behind the next action. He inhaled and pushed forward, sawing the blade back and forth. Crick, tack, clack, click, the lesser bones were sheared off as the blade traveled along the spine. He lurched forward, and wrenched his wrist. as the knife came free at the top where the head should have been. He changed positions and cut down the lower half of the backbone. The side was off and he slid it down and out of the way, and rolled what was left of the carcass over.

Crick, tack, clack, click, the process repeated itself. Soon he held the gore covered spine in his hand, a momentary trophy for his efforts. He lay the knife down and shook the cramp out of his wrist, as he absentmindedly dropped the prize into the waiting bin. He wriggled his fingers unconsciously and then reached for the needle nose pliers. They were new, only having been used for about a week, and were still stiff and awkward to use. He rub his hand lightly along the newly exposed interior flesh, searching for tiny, sharp little bumps, as he found them he dug in with the pliers to grasp the remnants of bone, and extract them, one by one. It was tedious and he had to do this for each of the two halves of what now remained of the subject. He always meant to count them as he pulled each bone free, but somehow it never seemed to matter enough while he was at his duty.

He ran his blade along the sides of each of halves, trimming off  undesirable product. Then, starting at the base, angling the knife down slightly, he cut the thick outer skin away from the softer pink flesh of interior. The skin came free easily in one piece, with barely any meat left dangling from it. He held it up and admired it’s scaled surface for a moment before dropping it into the waste to join the head and spine.

Laying the side flat he straightened the now cleaned flesh and began to carefully slice it into fillets, taking time to weigh each to check his precision. Once done he wrapped the portions in plastic for the service tonight. Twelve in all, not bad, and four still from the night before. He cleared the steel table off and washed it down. As he was drying it off he wondered how many that came tonight would acknowledge or, even know that their meal was once part of a whole thing.

He doubted most of them would care.

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The Thing In the Tunnels

It had been some weeks since my arrival in Berian, and thus far the majority of my time for this quarter was spent in my classes, quietly contemplating the various possibilities of sneaking out and exploring the wondrous city beyond the walls of the university.

Despite my family’s relative affluence, we apparently had not been wealthy for a sufficient number of generations for the general aristocracy to converse with me. I was shunned by the majority of the students for my decidedly rural upbringing. As a result my closest companions were also from the, by comparison, lower stations of society, conveniently we somehow managed to end up sharing the same dormitory.

Harmon was a tall, strong backed fellow from the northern reach. His father’s rather successful mining venture afforded his tuition and acceptance by the deans of the esteemed foundation which we attended. He was not the sharpest of wits but he was kind enough and had a generous sense of humor. His imposing stature rescued me from more than one assault on my person during our friendship.

Our other roommate, Lethan was the son of a foreign sea trader; who I had been assured, on several occasions, was a completely legitimate businessman. Handsome, slim, and possessing an accent that had the charming and remarkable ability to grow more pronounced around members of the opposite sex. He was always sent the most wonderful packages from home, smelling of exotic spices and containing delightfully strong intoxicants in deceptively labeled bottles.

It was after sampling one such package when a rumor that a long forgotten tunnel had been unearthed by work men clearing debris of a building that collapsed in a recent fire in the southern quarter of the city.  My compatriots and I, armed with lanterns, rope and a misplaced sense of adventure, made the decision to venture out to explore this portal.

***

One by one we lowered ourselves into the hole. Harmon went first and myself taking the rear. As I slid the last few inches down the rope my feet came to rest on finished stone, We found ourselves in a curving hall built of large stone blocks.. We followed that passage, listening to eerie silence, broken only by the sound of our feet shuffling across the dusty floor. We walked, single file, down that abandoned in mild fear until it opened into a rough square chamber. Harmon stumbled across the threshold, his fall extinguishing one of our lanterns. The clatter of the light hitting the ground broke the silence and the tension of  the moment. We let out a short burst of laughter and help the tall man back to his feet. He set about relighting the lantern, while Lethan walked the perimeter of the room. As he walked he waved his own lantern  making a ghostly sounds. Harmon’s match finally struck despite his hands trembling in an attempt to control his giggling. With both lanterns lit we took stock of our surroundings.

The room was of plain finished stone, with and arched passage leading out from the center of each of the walls. I looked down and tracked our footsteps  across the dust ridden floor. The long skid left by Harmon as he tripped. The trail of oil drops left as the lantern tumbled away from him. The long loping stride of Lethan as he acted out his taunting pantomime of a lost spirit. My own steps mingled in with theirs.

Then, there in the interwoven impressions in the dust, I was certain I could see a fourth set.  They were mostly covered over by our tracks, but I was certain they were there.

Short, shambling, barefoot steps.

I cleared my throat to bring my discovery to my companions attention. That was when I heard a long and piercing scream erupt from Lethan’s throat. I quickly raised my head and saw my friend staring gape mouthed, lantern raised high, his eyes wide and distant as if he was staring at something mile away.

I followed his gaze across the room and there in on of the arched portals, it stood.

Hunched, head forward. Grey mottled skin, hanging loose. Large eyes,circular bulbous. Twisted hands, nails overgrown. Distended jaw, teeth like razors.

My horrified friend stood paralyzed by the monstrous visage. It opened its maw as if to scream but only a low hiss emanated from it as it lurched forward towards Lethan. I began to shout, but Harmon was already moving. He threw himself towards the beast.

The thing grabbed the large man as if he was just a child , snapping his arm like a twig and tossed him aside. It turned its head and followed his arc as he landed in the corner near me, screaming in pain. Returning its reptilian eyes back towards Lethan and stalked onward.

I stared in terror, watching helpless as it drew closer towards its prey. Toward my fiend. I barely heard Harmon as he said my name in a hoarse croak.

Something inside of me stirred and I looked down to see Harmon’s lantern, still lit, laying at my feet. As in a dream, I found myself reaching for it. The thing shuffled forward, Lethan stood still frozen under its dread stare. I hoisted the lamp up and back. The thing began to stretch its arm towards my friend. My arm swung forward, and the light sailed forward through the air.

The lantern struck the alien thing and its pallid flesh caught fire in an instant. The thing crumpled to the floor. The jagged mouth opened and shut in silent screams as the monstrous thing’s body rendered in a pillar of fetid smoke, and quickly turned to ash.

The minutes that followed seem so insignificant. After seeing that thing destroyed Lethan recovered from the petrifying fear he suffered when he first met its stare. Through the shock of the encounter we managed to help our injured friend back to his feet and somehow managed to find our way back to where we began our explorations. We used our ropes to pull our companion back up to the street. We returned to the university and placed our friend in the care of the infirmary.

In the weeks that he spent healing we related our story to the authorities. We were told, by the faculty of our school and several representatives of the civil powers, that this was not a tale to be loosely told in taverns and public houses of the city. We were assured that it would be look d into. It was inferred that keeping the existence of such a beast a secret was for the public good. We were reminded that we were also members of the public.

The burned out ruin of the house was cleared and the tunnel was filled in. We were left with the memory of what we saw.

How to be Homeless

Homelessness and You:

~A Short Primer~

Welcome to the exciting world of the dispossessed. No matter what the circumstances that caused this, you are now counted among the dregs of society. Until further notice your well-being, and opinions count for diddly squat to the bulk of the populace. You are essentially a non-person. If you are to get through this and make out the other side you need to know a few things. Things I had to learn on my own.

The key thing that you’ll need to do is locate a few basic services.

  • Food
  • Clothing 
  • Shelter 
  • Hygiene
  • Entertainment and Information Services
  • Socialization

Food

This is the most import of all necessities, and fortunately the most easily obtained. Most cities or towns of any reasonable size has some religious group, social service or other outreach organization. Notable organizations I have encountered include The Salvation Army, St. Francis House, The Krishna’s, local/ state social service departments.

The level of service varies based on local and state laws and the availability of resources of a given organization. There is generally at least one if not more locations, generally a church or homeless shelter, that serve prepared meals daily. Get to know all of the available meal times and locations in your area, in some cases there are different venues that serve on the weekends. In some cases you will be asked to sit through a sermon or a short prayer prior to the serving of the meal. These people are doing you a favor, the least you can do is pretend to hear them out, even if you don’t believe a damned word of it.

You may be able to obtain, by of food pantries or similar services, a bag staple grocery items; canned goods, breads, pastas, etc. These services are often of limited availability, usually confined to use a handful of times per year.

In increasingly rare circumstances temporary food stamp assistance may be available in your area. All areas are trying to reduce homelessness, and have settled on a strategy of making it increasingly harder to survive to do so.

Clothing

Given a lack of available permanent storage, and a limited carrying capacity you will be spending quite a lot of time in the same set or two of clothes, so make sure they are comfortable. Everything has its limits however so knowing how and when to obtain more is important. You can usually find a charity in the area that has a clothes closet available or offers vouchers for use in various thrift outlets, again The Salvation Army is a good place to start for these services.

Select clothing that is durable, and easy to clean. Dark colors and cotton are your friend here. Pay special attention to footwear. Most of your days will be spent walking so make sure to select shoes based on quality and condition, regardless of how silly they may look. A clean pair of socks are always welcome.

If it is possible to select accessories, stick to those that increase your ability to carry. A good, well made backpack, shoulder bag, or purse is indispensable. The only other useful items in this area are belts or suspenders, and possibly a wallet. It’s not so much for money but a wallet is good for keeping  track of your I.D., if you lose that you may just be screwed.

Shelter

If you think you will just be able to crash at a homeless shelter, you are probably wrong. Besides needing clearance from the local police department before you will even be considered for admittance, most shelter spaces are either taken or reserved for women with children, and when you think about it that makes a fair bit of sense. The options this leaves you with are few.

As far as just getting some sleep goes, most places will roust you for sleeping in parks at night, but you should be fine if you just nap there during the day. Inclement weather is another matter that you will need to deal with however. If public places are your strategy then know where to find a convenient overhang or awning for rain, the police are less likely to bother getting out of the cruiser in a downpour. Colder weather simply requires more clothes and a blanket or two. If there is a freeze warning, or other dangerous most shelters will admit more people under emergency provisions.

In many locales there is a tolerated nest of transients, often refered to as Tent City. For reasons of safety and sanity I do not recommend these places. Much of the population there is composed of people who, for one reason or another, are not welcome at the shelters or feeding places. In general it can be assumed that this also a haven for violent criminals, dug abuse, and prostitution. I speculate the reasons these camps are tolerated is due to an issue of containment, they are a ready-made collections of suspects for the authorities to go conveniently raiding when they need to look like they are doing something about crime in the area.

My best advice is to keep floating as close as you can, for as long as you can, to normal society. Make a few kind-hearted friends and never abuse their trust. When times get too rough you can generally hole up for a few days, surfing on couches or camping out in van or other vehicle. Just make sure that under no circumstances that you over stay your welcome if you have any intentions of keeping them as friends.

Hygiene

An often overlooked factor is how hard it is to maintain any sense of cleanliness. Pay attention when you go to the shelters or soup kitchens, usually somewhere is offering laundry and shower facilities even if it is only one or two days a week. It may seem gross to use a public shower after some grubby homeless man, but remember you are some grubby homeless man and unless you wish to remain that way it’d be best if you just grow up and take care of matters. Most such places also will offer free disposable razors. Take one wether or not you plan on shaving, you never know when you’ll need something sharp that is legal to carry.

Staying relatively clean won’t just make it easier to keep interacting with regular folks, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself too. You will probably stay a lot healthier to boot, if I need to explain why you obviously failed health class. Pay special care with your teeth, you can get tooth brushes for free usually. I made the mistake of neglecting this area and now suffer from a host of preventable tooth and gum problems.

Entertainment and Information Services

Just being out and about watching society unfold offers nearly unlimited potential for amusement in and of itself, sometimes however you need to do something a bit more specific to pass the time, or you need to get a hold of someone or get current on recent events. In this case you’re best friend is the local library.

The library is a public space that is well equipped to serve may of your needs. It is crucial, when entering a new town to know where the closest library branch is. In addition to the obvious rows upon rows of books, there you will find access to newspapers, periodicals and local maps that will help you get the lay of the land. Here also is internet access, you may need a library card to use the computer services. Most shelters, even if they aren’t able to take you in, will assist you in getting identification and allow you to use their address for mailing purposes. This will make it possible, or at least easier, to obtain a library card.

Seriously, you’re homeless, you have a lot of time on you hands. Read, educate yourself, it’s for your own good. At the very least brush up on your favorite authors. My time spent on the streets is how I got fairly well acquainted with H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick and a few others. It kept me out of serious trouble.

Socialization

No matter who you are, you are going to go quite mad if you don’t talk to people. There are two groups of people you have to maintain social graces with, The Homeless and Normal Folks.

It’s easy to see what you have in common with other homeless people. It’s important to maintain relationships with them. They often have solid information on what’s going on in town, and are generally willing to talk to new people. If you need to know where to find something or get access to services they’ll usually point you in the right direction. The thing is that, even though they are people just like you are there are a few hazards to bear in mind when dealing with them. Most people you encounter that are in your situation, if they spend enough time on the streets they like to feel like they are in control or doing you some special favor that you should one day pay them back for. Also a good number of them are addicts of some kind, and if you get involved with their lifestyle they will happily drag you to hell with them just for the company. Lastly, you know nothing about these people except what they tell you, I once found out I was hanging out with a wanted murdered because a cop spotted us walking down the street one day and arrested him, and nearly me as well.

I have mentioned already about keeping relations with normal society. If you ever want to get out of this situation in one piece it is critical for you to make yourself acceptable to some small corner of society. There are always ways of meeting these people, at coffee houses, outside of music venues. They might choose to associate with you for the novelty of the experience at first, or because life on the streets gives you access to connections they don’t have. They will probably be from the younger crowd, impressionable, idealistic, very easy to take advantage of. Be careful, don’t be the guy that’s just hanging around to ask for money or just looking to sell or score some drugs. These people can find you places to stay and potentially a job.

Every person that you find who is willing, for whatever reason, to interact with you is a resource, you need to treat them as such. You need to be able to discern their usefulness and spend time cultivating that relationship accordingly. It is useful to remember that most people you meet regardless of their role care little about you as an individual. Even social workers and outreach staff aren’t so much concerned with you as they are with the problem you represent, so don’t feel bad about taking the upper hand if the situation allows it.

In time you may be able to make a real and lasting friendship. Until then you are a hustler, get to know this about yourself, get comfortable with it. Chances are you’re going to be doing it for a while.

Devising an exit strategy

In the end there is nothing guaranteeing your reemergence into normalcy. It is mostly up to you spotting and exploiting opportunities as they come up. Relying solely on the good will of others, or worse expecting any kind of real assistance from government agencies is going to be a dead-end.

The only proven way to get out of this situation is getting into a position where you can obtain a source of income, and in time be able to afford a place to live. Legitimate work is preferable in the long-term but not quite as immediately lucrative as criminal activity. The irony of course is in the difficulty of finding legitimate, gainful employment when you are obviously a vagrant. I am afraid your prospects are only good for the jobs no one else wants.

Still, I advise an honest job no matter how menial the work or little the pay. I mean you’re a bum, it’s not like you’re too good for a fast food restaurant, or digging ditches. It is hard justifying taking abuse for very little upward mobility but, the longer you stay on the streets the harder it becomes to get back off them. There are plenty of people out there who have chosen vagrancy as an occupation, if you need motivation to eat a little crap at work now and then go have look at them.

Well that’s about all there is, I hope your stay on the bottom rung of society is as short and as pleasant as possible.

This guide was inspired by a Weekly Challenge

The Forgotten Barrow

When the summer came to a close on my sixteenth year it was decided that I was to leave the pastoral splendor of my family’s plantations to travel to the capital to attend the university there. It would seem that I had, unbeknownst to myself, exhausted the knowledge of what erudite citizenry could be found locally; and my beloved parents had begun to fear that, if  left idle  too long I might be tempted to become a wanderer and a wastrel. Such was the fate had befallen my great grand father, who I am named for.

I have often marveled at the frequency and convenience of which the fact that it was elder Penumbra Finefellow, the great scoundrel, who bore the greater responsibility for our families good current fortunes. It was no great secret to my beloved parents that I was filled a great desire to follow in his footsteps and experience life on more or less reckless, and carefree terms so, bearing my best interests to heart, they made every attempt to distance me from his legacy.

It was a several day journey from my family’s home to Persley Station, a town of moderate size that would be little more that a hamlet full of pig farmers were it not on the main artery of the sky ship lanes headed to the capital from the southern reach.  It is quite frankly, a dung heap but some of the amenities near the sky dock are quite nice, if a bit on the rustic side. When our party had arrived we attempted to secure lodgings for the night at an establishment that was of some good repute. When we entered the common room it was full of men with dour faces, talking of dark events.

For some time they had been occurrences where small numbers of the livestock had seemed to have wander off, or disappeared from their stables and pens at night.  This at first was credited bolder actions of local poachers and rustlers. That was until they began to find the corpses, butchered, dismembered, and left to rot in the countryside. Soon after that the first of the citizenry vanished.

It was the son of one of the assembled men, ten years of age. Over the following days others came to be missed as well.  The wife of one, the brother of another, and a handful more. Upon the previous nights, fires and hooded men were seen to congregate around the old barrow on the outskirts of the town, it was here that they were convinced that their kin or those who had captured them. They had sent for help but the authorities were too slow in arriving, and so it was here in the saloon, armed with farm implements, hunting bows and whatever crude weapons they could muster,  they gathered to go and do something about it.

 Now, my family are respected members of the community at large and so, despite the objections of my fathers employees, that were my companions, I felt it was our civic duty to assist in this endeavor. Taggart, our coachman and a man of great spirit and compassion , took charge of the rabble. He agreed to allow me to accompany them provided I stayed towards the rear and away from the fray; this suited my plans as physical combat was not something I excelled at, yet would give me the opportunity to witness this heroic act.

This band of unwashed men could by no stretch be called an army, yet they walked silently and with grim purpose through the fields and forest to that ancient burial place. As we traveled I could see in the eyes of each man the hope held on to that they might see their loved ones safe, and also the fear of what horrors they might find at the end of this nights march. When we drew closer to our destination Taggart slowed us on our progress. Creeping slowly up to the barrow we spied only two of the hooded figures standing about near the entrance. Through the portal they were guarding emanated an orange glow. The smell of smoke told us this was the light of a fire, yet one could not but imagine that it was the passage to a deep and final hell as we looked upon it.

A long moment of quiet hesitation fell upon the group of us, with the exception of my coachman I had doubts that any of our number had ever bore arms against their fellow-man; and now, here, their courage was to be tested. Taggart raised his hand and all drew in their breath in anticipation.When his hand fell, they expelled a roar and ran forward.  The dark figures at the entrance tried to run inside to raise the alarm but the first wave us closed the gap before they could make it inside.

As we pressed through the opening into the old tomb, I was tripped by one of my fellows and was sent sprawling to the ground, knocking the wind out of me; it was only by luck, and my position towards the back of our troop, that i was not trampled in the ensuing melee. By the time I was able to regain my feet the fight was done and my compatriots had won the day. Few of our band had fallen as they had the advantage of both surprise and numbers. Taggart and a few held at bay the survivors of the dark brotherhood we had sought out, including one wearing a headdress adorned with the horns of a ram, we presumed him to be the leader of their foul cult. Others tended to our few who were wounded, still more stood agape or weeping as we took in the gruesome horror of that old chamber.

Their loved ones, children, wives, and parents, hung from the ceiling like animals in a slaughter-house or were splayed on altars as fresh corpses posed in unnatural positions, screams of agony frozen on their faces and entrails filling bronze bowls.Those face haunted me as we marched our prisoners out into the grey light of that dawn. Those faces looked out from behind the eyes of the townsfolk as they strung those villains by their necks one by one when we came to the treeline, and it was those faces that must have spoken to the honorable and just heart of Taggart as he let it be done.

It is those contorted faces of pain that have been constant companions in my slumbers since that day.