The Pigeon Man (and the ‘plug’ of vampiric hunger)
I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve lost a lot in the last few years. I know someone out there can understand that, if you lose for long enough you start to get good at it. You can lose so much that you give up… and give things away. That’s when I knew it was time to get the hell out of here. A fresh start sounded appealing, a new beginning, so I focused all my energy on getting as far away as possible.
I waited at the bus station, alone, with the sound of the late-night traffic of the overpass to keep me company. The bus arrived early. I took a seat in the back. The driver walked out to a coffee shop across the street. He didn’t return for several minutes, but when he did, a filthy old man accompanied him. The old man shuffled down the aisle, as the bus took off down the street, he stumbled into the seat across from me.
The old man stared at me, as the bus meandered onto the overpass. His lips moved, as he spoke under his breath. He nodded and smiled, as he opened the right side of his jacket, revealing a pigeon in his coat pocket. The man’s smile widened and revealed the remaining few teeth, spattered in a grimy yellow muck. Grey and white fur peppered his beard, along with the mangy tufts of fur collected on his head. A few feathers poked out of his hair that went well with the dried bird shit staining his filthy brown overcoat. He stared for far too long without blinking. I nodded, without a word, and hoped that would end our interaction. Instead, the old man moved into the seat right in front of me.
“Forgive me, sir, but my buddy Jasper claims you’ve got a bag of peanuts in your satchel. Is it true?” The man asked.
“And, how would Jasper know that?”
“Jasper knows all, Joseph. Jasper knows all.” He pat the right side of his jacket.
“How do you know my name?”
The bus driver let a few more people on at the next stop, before the bus continued on its path. I felt alone with the stranger, whose eyes I noticed had yet to blink.
“I don’t mean any trouble. It’s what Jasper tells me… can he have a peanut?”
He sat so close to me that the stench of three-week old unwashed asshole invaded my nostrils. A red discoloration surrounded a wound on his neck. I wasn’t sure if that was the cause of the smell, but it looked infected and pulsed with bright crimson dots. It could’ve been his rotting teeth or the bacteria crawling all over his flesh. I chose to speculate no further, as the answer wouldn’t help me overcome the foul odor.
“Why not. Here. Take it all.”
I held out the bag of peanuts. The man’s eyes lit up like fireworks. You would’ve thought I gave him a kidney.
“Thank you, sir! Gracious. Kind, sir! Thank you. Thank you!” He bowed, in a reverence I neither deserved nor wanted, as he backed his way down the aisle.
He backed up all the way to front of the bus, maintaining eye-contact with me, until he turned to the bus driver. The bus driver opened the doors, not even at a stop, and let the man out in the street. I’m sure the bus driver caught a good whiff of the man and wanted him gone as soon as possible. The man stood in the middle of the street, his mouth open wide, his arms outstretched. The pigeon flew out of his pocket. I watched, as he shouted at the pigeon, crying, as he fell to his knees.
“Come back to me, fair godling!” He screamed, as the bus left him in the distance.
Not long after, the bus reached the airport. I made my way to the terminal, but had a long wait until my plane arrived. I decided to wait in the airport lounge, and got a drink at the bar. I was alone with the bartender. The echo of several television screens repeating the same news story filled the air.
“People in this town must have a real twisted sense of humor.”
I’d not noticed someone sitting a few seats away. I looked up from my drink to see a bald man in a grey suit staring back at me. His darker complexion gave the impression of a crown embedded unto his forehead. The wrinkles seemed to wrap all the way around his head, like a halo.
“What do you mean?”
“Albany National Airport Lounge… an acronym is an acronym… but anal is…”
I sounded it out in my head, and laughed when I saw the joke.
“See! Good sense of humor, you people.”
He raised his glass. I hesitated to do the same, as upon first glance, I swear I saw an eye floating in his drink.
“To Albany.” We toasted.
We drank in silence. I couldn’t help but admire the ritual of his drinking. He held the glass with both hands, and then sipped-sipped-sipped away. He focused with intention: never letting the glass get more than a few inches from his lips. He let out a loud, satisfied ‘ahhh’, and then lowered his drink to the napkin. He noticed me watching, and smiled.
“Where are you headed?” He asked.
“The fuck out of Albany.”
He laughed. “That humor. You’re an ambassador for your people, the ethnic ‘Albany-ans’. I love it here. I love the people. You all have similar mannerisms, like, ignoring the fact that you all have the same mannerisms.”
“What are you? An Albany historian?”
“A historian dissects history from the framework of a modernized intellect. My mind is engrained in ancient wisdom. I see the world for what it was, what it is, and what it will always be. A historian sees the past of a place and interprets what once was. I’m just an ancient root, wrapping itself around any and all things that spring forth from that dirt. Your culture, your people, your histories… I’ve entwined my nature with the fabric of this place. A historian observes. I obey the whims of nature and evolve with what I know.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Ancient dirt is never soiled.” He placed between us a small ivory figurine, and laughed loud enough that I leapt in my chair.
It was a small, hooded devil, holding a lantern in one hand and, in the other, a scythe. The jagged end of the scythe tugged on its eyelid to reveal the ocular bone underneath. Its ink-black pupil stared up at me with an unblinking agony.
“Ancient dirt and ancient soil hide many secrets. I could tell you of a world that existed long before anyone ever settled this sacred ground. Before man ever walked the earth. Before he learned how to use primitive tools to shape his world. Would you like to know what once stood upon this ancient soil?”
“I’ll bite. Tell me your secrets.”
A toothy grin and a long, gnarled fang, eclipsed any humanity within his smile:
“Ancient dirt and ancient soil are ripe with the corruption of the Ancient Ones. Their evil infested this land long before humanity came into existence. We, who were the world in that day, had naught to turn to for salvation. The land churned with the composted flesh of the tormented souls left rotting by the Old Ones. There was no salvation, until, from within the water of the acidic rivers, arose the serpent: the old man of the river. He came with a wisdom acquired from centuries in the wastes and dregs left behind by their bloodshed. He taught us how to overcome the agony inflicted by the Old Ones. By our hands, we dug up the earth. We tore away its poisonous flesh and discovered a world that stood before the Ancient Ones. We dug. We discovered. We rebuilt. We knew to no longer fear the old ones. As they rest in their eternal slumber, ancient dirt and ancient soil are their prisons. Lost cultures and dying ruins are the chains that bind them. Bloodshed and sacrifice are their seal. The suffering of the undying feed their hungers, in their long hibernation. The soil is the seal that keeps their madness at bay. If we maintain this sacrifice, the earth will forever hold them. They will not return, unless by some unforeseen, calamitous prophecy beyond the stars.”
“You speak in Lovecraftian riddles… and, like any other nut-job, not a damn word makes any sense.”
“That’s because you’ve reflected from a lens of modern history. You’ve not seen the serpent arisen from those boiling waters. You’ve not heard the cries of tormented souls climbing from the depths of that poisoned soil. You forgot your history. You blocked it from your memory, because the mind wishes to forget, not understand. The old man of the river allows not for your forgetfulness. His wisdom embeds into your psyche like a tick. All it requires is a will to remember, to understand your ancestry. Tap into that forbidden wisdom and see the world with the eyes of a madman, not a boorish, amateur historian.”
“Suppose I wanted to see… how could I do it?”
“Stick this relic up your ass.”
A long pause. An awkward stare. A moment suspended by uncomfortable silence, then shattered by his loud, obnoxious laughter.
“A good sense of humor, you Albany-ans!” He sipped his drink, shaking his head, still giggling to himself, muttering, as he nibbled on the glass.
“I like you, Joseph.”
“I don’t remember ever telling you my name.”
“Then, how do you know it?”
“Calm down. It’s just a name. We’re having a good time, you and I.”
“Who are you?”
A breaking news bulletin appeared on the television. The stranger turned his attention to the screen.
“A homeless man attacked seven people today in the middle of Lexington Ave, biting and scratching several eye-witnesses, before being gunned down by local officials. The man has yet to be identified, but was taken to the Albany Med before being pronounced dead on arrival.”
“Things have really gone to shit out there.”
The report rang out amidst the immutable silence of the empty airport bar. I noticed his eyes, in a terrible duality. The darkness of his pupil seeped within the ocean of white, divergent from his being, as if it wanted to escape. I realized it’d been some time since I’d seen the bartender, and yet, our drinks refilled as soon as they emptied. Nobody walked outside the lounge. No one sat anywhere inside the restaurant. It was as if we were the last two people on earth.
“These are neither signs of beginning nor end. Yet, they are signs and they are all around us. Perceive with the right set of eyes and you will know the fate that awaits us all. Your people survived cataclysms beyond comprehension. Do you ever wonder how? Tell me, Joseph, do you want to know your history?”
“No, but I know you’re going to tell me.”
“The Old Ones no longer concern themselves with annihilation and power. Now a days, they toy with human existence… like a game. In their boredom, they mold human history. We are no more than playthings to the Old Ones. Your species is unkillable, because they find you entertaining. They’ve molded you through cataclysms in countless centuries. You play a game, in which you know not the rules, and yet, you play it so well, to entertain them to a point that it will never end.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because, I’m here to change your life.”
He held the relic in front of me, rolling it between his fingers. “You want to change your life. Don’t you? That’s why you’re leaving this place. That’s why you think things will get better on the other side of the world? Let me assure you, it won’t, because the rules are all the same. Here. There. Everywhere. If you want things to change you have to appease the Old Ones.”
“How do you expect me to do that?”
“Go, now, into that bathroom… and stick this up your ass.”
“Why in the fuck would I do that?”
“I don’t know, Joseph… really, I don’t know. I’m just an altruistic messenger on the verge of setting you free. I can only bring you so far. It’s up to you to fulfill your destiny. So many of you never get this close to attaining that pure enlightenment that will set you free. Go on. Have an experience for Christ’s sake… in the very least, this will be a ridiculous story you can share with friends… you do have a few friends left, don’t you, Joseph?”
Staring within the beady black eyes of the figurine, I found myself lost in the question: do I have any friends? Have I ever or did I lose them somewhere along that wanton trail of life? So much loss can make you feel like you’ve always been alone. When I looked up and saw that the stranger was no longer there, I felt it even more.
“Care for a refill?” The bartender asked.
“Thank you, no.”
The bartender’s eyes looked too normal. I didn’t trust him. They had not the same duality as the stranger. I kept thinking he’d leap over the counter and sink his fangs into my throat.
I tucked the relic into my pocket, and walked to the restroom. I studied it beneath the bright lights in front of the mirror above the sink. It was nothing significant, a toy figurine in ivory. It was smooth with a bit of curvature where the crafted shape of the figure aligned with the ivory. I went into the stalls… and thought, the harm that this thing could cause if I stuck it up my ass might be more embarrassing… if I had to go to a doctor and explained that, on a dare from a stranger, I stuck this uncomfortable toy up my ass.
A news report came on, blaring from a television mounted onto the bathroom wall. It startled me and I laughed. I wasn’t listening this time. All that chaos out in the world. All that devastation. No rhyme or reason to anything. It doesn’t have to be an answer, just… play the game. I undid my belt buckle, sliding myself apart… to stick that smooth round object up my ass.
An overbearing hunger consumed me. I went back to the bar and ordered a burger with fries, a vanilla milkshake, fried mushrooms, an extra order of fries, the club sandwich with extra bacon, fried pickles, and a diet coke. I engorged myself, without ever feeling like I was full. Instead, I felt like I could eat for the next hour. When the waiter brought the check, I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. He brought that with another check, which was when I realized I couldn’t afford all this food. I felt so panicked that I started to walk off, which is when the waiter caught me.
“Sir… you can’t just leave without paying.”
Of course, he was right and within reason to call me out. I took what money I had and put it in the waiter’s hand. In that split second, his pulse antagonized my hunger, and I sank my teeth into his neck. Crimson invaded my vision. I bit down harder, as the taste became so intoxicating I moaned in delight. I chewed, spit and swallowed every morsel of his tender flesh. Screams echoed all around me. I sat there, with the pile of delicious waiter in my lap, holding him, as I eviscerated what remained. Every bite made the hunger worse. I wanted more and more to fill my belly. I tossed him aside and went after a woman running in a pink jumpsuit. The word ‘Juicy’ was written across the ass of her pants… and that she was. I chased her down, tackled her to the ground, and felt the beating of her heart ringing in my ears. I was so enraged by the sound that I slammed my fist into her sternum. The crunch of bone rattled against my knuckles. My hand tore straight through her and wrapped around her heart. Feeling the incessant beating against my palm soothed me, as I tore it from her body. Blood rushed down my arm, as I sank my teeth into her neck and tore the flesh from her body. I let her fall to the ground, no longer interested in anything more than the beating of her heart. I lapped up the blood all running down my arm, and stuffed it, whole, into my mouth. The organ was too big to fit down my throat. I choked for a moment, before my jaws unhinged, and my mouth widened enough for the heart to slide down my throat. It descended like a warm ball of fire into my stomach, where it appeased not my hunger.
Police arrived at the terminal. I hissed through my teeth. The beating of their hearts formed a migraine between my ears that was so severe it would tear my skull apart. I ran as fast as I could at the officers, as the booming of them shooting straight at me became deafening. I thought nothing could stop me, but damn, those bullets were quite potent. The hunger stopped, dead, like me… as I collapsed to the ground. Still, I felt the craving, making me lap up the spilled blood seeping across the ground. It. Was. Delicious. Life faded out with the hunger, as I lay engorged and bloated across the terminal floor. An intense rigor struck my body. I wilted away, staring up at the bright lights of the terminal, as life faded out of existence.
Looking through the bright lights, I saw a figure walking closer. The man from the bus, the pigeon man, smiled wide, with a few good teeth still rotting in his mouth.
“Howdy!” He waved.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. He turned me onto my side, spread me open, reached in, and plucked the mysterious relic from my sphincter. He held it in front of my face, before tucking it into his front coat-pocket.
“A little puckered, but good as new!” He laughed. Quite the sense of humor, these Albany-ans.
Movement returned to my fingers and toes, arms and legs, abs and torso. One steady inhale returned me to consciousness. The pigeon man helped me up, helped me dress, and then helped me out into the street.
“What a world, ain’t that right, friend?”
He led me a few blocks down, to where the river flowed, east to west, alongside the city. We walked into a wooded area to a matted pile of brush, mud and clay that covered a manhole that led deep within the earth. I looked down through a tunnel that was no more than a few feet wide, to which he entered by crawling on his knees.
“Come now. Let us not waste a moment more. The old man of the river awaits.”
I decided to make the best of my time, in this place where I’d always been. I’d taken this place for granted, having accepted its history, I chose not to think of its past. After all, we can accept whichever past we want, whether it’s good or bad or beyond our comprehension. I’d taken my past for granted, accepted the shit-end of it, and vowed never, ever to do so again.