“To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal things–but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature.”
Charles Dickens – Barnaby Rudge
Something rare happened at the warehouse, Raccoon Man, that is Jimmy Smits, was put out for a single night. He was a peaceful man, but a trouble maker named ‘Loudmouth’ Leroy Crumb involved him in an argument threatening violence and they both ended up thrown out to the night. The only justice was that Loudmouth was out for a week, which was a blessing to many. Not only was Raccoon Man a peaceful person, but a simplistic, honest, very likable person. He never insulted, hurt or caused trouble and to no one’s knowledge had he ever been put out before. There was nothing to be done about it. Once staff made a decision it was like one made by a baseball umpire. As he prepared to leave out into the cold winter day already dark and hostile, Nano got up, grabbed his small pack and met him near the door out of the warehouse.
“Where are you going?” said Raccoon Man as he noticed Nano come up behind him.
“I’m going with you”, Nano smiled.
Now they were friends and Raccoon Man understood why Nano might come. But he felt a bit concerned for Nano in a similar way. “It’s cold out here Nano. You’ve never been put out. You sure you want to go with me? It could be unpleasant.”
“Yes, he’s sure” said Coke Bottle, Ben Lines. He was another friend of Nano’s who wore about the thickest glasses you could imagine in frames. He was lanky and prone to be gone for long stretches when averted by his own devil, an ill addiction to drugs. But Nano knew him for the good heart he had. Raccoon Man and Coke Bottle knew each other, but didn’t tend to hang out together.
“If I don’t go with you and Nano, you’ll both be miserable some rotten place. I know a lot of places to sleep outside. Are we ready?” Nano and Raccoon Man nodded, letting Coke decide where they were headed. Would it be under a bridge, in some spot of trees and bushes away from legal eyes, some ditch, abandoned building, a park bench or bus stop or inside some building they could sneak into. All were possible and much more, especially with Coke along for a guide. They left and staff watched them leave. There was some wondering why two volunteered to accompany the first out. No one went with Loudmouth who poked around in back of the warehouse by his locker, trying to cheat his penalty as long as possible till staff threatened to call the police.
It turned out Coke lead the trio to a pretty remote spot, given it was in the middle of Aurora and on an island not usually of use to anyone. There were signs of other previous use, but no one was there now or would be this night. It was a cleared dirt area amongst trees and showed marks of previous campfires. There was leftover trash around, but on the whole it was clean, meaning no nearby piles of human excrement, a thing which often came with spots like this. They settle down, spreading the one blankets they had brought with them. It was only 8pm and a long ways to dawn, not that the morning sun would bring much warmth. It was below freezing already and would be nearer to zero much before dawn.
“Well, one way to stay warm is build a fire and stay up most of the night, moving around, making the night shorter by conversation” said Coke, who’d many times been ejected, the pro in this otherwise rookie group.
“You guys don’t have to be here” said Raccoon Man. “It’s cold in the warehouse, but it’ll be better than here.”
Nano nodded in agreement. “Yes, it would be, but I’ve kinda wanted to do this to see what it’s like, so I’ll stay. At least I won’t be alone and have decent company to experience it with.”
“Absolutely” said Coke, “and it really does help to have company, though it usually amounts to more than one bad guy being ejected together. It was wrong to put you out Raccoon Man. You never cause trouble. But Loudmouth is an idiot and got more days out than you. Anyway, we’re here now. Let’s build a fire. Let’s find some dead wood.”
That didn’t take long and soon with a cigarette lighter a pleasant warming fire was going, though a bit countered by a chill breeze. While they were inside the city of Aurora, it seemed more countryside due to the nature of their camp. Nano gazed up, but in the city lights few stars could be seen. While they gazed at the fire, Nano excused himself and went into the woods not far from camp. He stood still for a bit looking up at the sky, he seemed to say something brief. A brief shimmering took place in the air, like a transparent dome around the camp area. He returned to the camp and sat again. The wind calmed, the fire blazed a bit more merrily, more stars appeared in the sky and there was less noise afar from traffic, the immediate area became warmer.
“I’m not really tired” said Raccoon and Dave threw a stick from their pile into the fire as he smiled. “What can we talk about?” said Raccoon Man.
“I don’t know”, said Coke Bottle. “Nano, tell us a story. You’re good at making things up.” Normally that would be prelude to a string of jests and teases, but Nano’s sense of humor wasn’t human and the nuances of it weren’t ready for him to try.
“Okay” he said with no preamble. “Any particular type you’d like to hear?”
“Yeah, one that is warm and contains a good meal. That ham sandwich supper of one with beans and water and chips… I’m still hungry.”
Nano took out of his small backpack three small packages. He handed one each to his camp mates who opened them. They removed fried chicken, potato salad, corn on the cob, a cold bottle of coke, a brownie, napkins, a plate and some plastic utensils.
“Nano, we didn’t have chicken at dinner. You could get in trouble bringing in food and stuff from outside the warehouse. Christ Nano, you could have major time out”, exclaimed Coke Bottle. “I didn’t even know you had a link card.”
Nano didn’t have a Food Stamp card. He had a backpack and he smiled at them, but averted his eyes upward. Looking at the stars Nano pointed to Betelgeuse, the large red star in the constellation Orion. “I have a story for you”, he said to Coke Bottle and Raccoon Man. “Do you see Betelgeuse up there in Orion?” They nodded after he told them which star it was.
“On a planet near it lived a young boy with his father. His father was a magician of average ability who made his living though his craft, helping people live happier, better lives. Many people of his civilization had interesting abilities that together were usually beneficial for all. But as the father grew old his magic grew feeble while his son’s skill grew. The boy was young and inexperienced in his magic, so there came a time when the father’s skill had mostly gone and they could no longer live in the home they had and provide for themselves.
They moved to a place of high mountains in far woods and a cave located there. The cave was cold and damp in winter and hot and dirty in summer. It was far from the city. The boy did what he could to take care of his father and he practiced old crafts like hunting, but after a few years his father died. The boy buried him in the cave and vowed to make people pay for all those years his father had served the community faithfully and beneficially, yet was ignored and left without help when he was aged and helpless. The boy became a lowly servant of other mages who derided him for in him they saw great power forming and were jealous and threatened by what seemed an unusual and unidentifiable skill. In private places the boy practiced on his abilities, trying to identify them and use them, learn and grow.
After years he had become very skillful, yet still his skill continued to grow. The young man, now tall and serious hid his skill while pretending to be still confused by his possibilities of magic. He did not let anyone else know that he was growing to a great magician with an unusual ability. Still, there came the day when he choose to leave his master and the association of other mages. They could no longer help him only hold him back unknowingly. He returned to his father’s grave near the cave where he had lived and took up residence there. There he grew to his full power over the course of a few more years.
One summer day he came walking into town where the young mage and his father had lived. He was not dressed to show his power, not in mage robes with runes and family symbols. He stood near the town center, near the town wells and fountains. All around him were those people and families that his father had faithfully served as did other mages, but whom had done nothing to keep his father from suffering his final days in misery and poverty. The powerful young mage then cursed his fellow citizens, far and wide. He wanted to show them why they had been wrong.
Within a year, most people had lost their homes to carelessness and slothful decisions. The people of the area became poor and homeless. They had little to eat, suffered diseases that magic could no longer cure, crops went unblessed by magic, eaten by bugs. Fish left the local river, domestic animals failed to breed. People became haggard, weak, ill and resentful of anyone who had more than they did. To the people it seemed as if some great god had turned his hand against the people. But there was no great god in this society and the powerless mages who could not undo the unknown curse were held responsible for their lack of help. The mages for their part blamed their lack of solutions on people who had long taken for granted their magical powers and now had weakened it.
One day a man noticed the young boy and how clean and well fed he was. He recognized him and approached him with inquiry. Soon a crowd gathered around with many questions while the boy stood stoically with silence, not answering the questions put to him. Finally as the crowd grew resentful of his apparent prosperity, the boy responded.
“When my father and I were in poverty, father having spent his whole life providing his magic for all at the cost of those things he found necessary to live a simply, humble life, the people of this city, his acquaintances and friends, gave him nothing to ease his pain or show respect or to feed him. He died poor, dirty and sad in a wet dark cave. He died ill and sick with no one to help him. Now comes to you the same thing and you feel mistreated and angry, righteously indignant and unfairly compensated and treated by those who’s beneficial powers you have long taken for granted. I have given you the life my father knew when he had to leave his home. It is time for you to suffer as he did, with no chance of getting out of such trepidation and returning to what you are used to till you have learned what you should know and should have done. When you have learned the error of your ways then shall my curse on you be lifted. Generations might go by before this curse is lifted, but we cannot be so barbaric and self-centered this way again.”
The the people threatened him. That was of no consequence. Other mages now poor and disabled, threatened him, but his skill was unaffected and the young mage was much superior to their powers. They cursed him uselessly and despite all the things said to him, he was immune. Many years of hardship passed till finally the people learned the error of their way and promised to change. They promised to never treat anyone poorly, to not take help for granted, to honor service to the aged, poor and defenseless. So, the young mage released his curse. On the next occasion that the mighty and still young mage returned to town amongst new houses and all the other mages restored to their power, he was suddenly and with surprise attacked. So, sudden was the attack, so furious with hate that despite his great power, he could not counter all the magic and non-magic and was slain. But that was not the end of the story.
What he hadn’t said to them was that if they didn’t keep their promises, the nature of the curse would resume of it’s own design. So, the curse was reborn, stronger than before and with no way to be rid of it. The people became poorer than ever, struggling to survive, to eat, to counter the elements of the world in which they lived. Animals became infertile, diseases rampant and all the land was filled with sorry and suffering. Eventually they all perished from their world, leaving behind ruins of sorrow, hate and their great lie to the great mage as their only testament. Even today you may visit the few ruins still present from that age far past. The very land seems depressed. Some say one day another race will come to settle and thus the curse will finally come to an end with the innocence of new life. But today the wind whistles in sad notes where no birds or animals live, only trees, lakes and rivers empty of sentient life for that world refused to learn by intelligence.”
Nano finished with a glance up at Betelgeuse and then at Coke Bottle and Raccoon Man.
Raccoon Man laughed, “Well, that isn’t going to happen on Earth” he said, his gap-toothed grin showing the humor of Nano’s tale and the entertainment that it provided.
Coke Bottle smiled but wasn’t sure what to say, so he said nothing, but left for a smoke distancing himself a few steps from the camp fire. When he returned he said, “You know, it’s much warmer than I would have expected near our camp and the wind is less chill, not even really here, while a few feet away just past the first trees, it’s really cold now and windy. And for some reason, the stars are much dimmer in the woods nearby. It’s really weird.”
Raccoon Man shrugged and laid down to sleep, maybe thinking to himself the story again in his mind. Coke also settled himself onto his blanket on the ground and soon they were both asleep. Nano turned his eyes toward Betelgeuse and sighed quietly.