Prophet of The Night
didn't want to discard his story, he wanted it recorded; small
and insignificant proof that he had once been alive
bundle of rags caught his eye in the store window and when he stopped,
the figure stopped too. He stared at the blurred and uncertain phantom
and it stared back at him... perhaps it looked familiar, he examined
the figure from different angles... Is that me?
He wrestled with the thought, unable to recognize what he had become.
Thin lips framed a wispy, rodents nest of a beard. The sallow large
pored skin was yellowed by jaundice and below all this was an emaciated
body, encased in a bundle of dirty rags. His mind struggled ... memory
no longer served much purpose in what his life had become, and the thoughts
slid away without his being able to grasp them.
The wafting scent of fresh bread from a nearby bakery took him back
A boy stealing a fresh molasses cookie from his mother's pantry and
raceing towards the fields. The green carpet of the cornfields gently
waved and protected him while he devoured his treasure. But then his
Mom would beckon. Her horn reached out to him with a deafening cry of
command and authority. There had been a time when everything had been
different. He had a life of his own, a lifetime ago ... before he could
bring the thought into focus, the fog came and he was no longer interested
in the phantom in the window.
He staggered back to the Mission trying to arrive before the fighting
Hunched over the writing table in the day room, he tried to write more
of his story. He wrote everything that his sporadic memory could recall.
He wrote until his shaking hands were unable to hold the pen. The uneven
scrawl crammed the lines of the page, front and back. This was his story,
scratched for posterity on soiled sheets of scrap paper...incoherent
and largely illegible.
A voice that he did not recognize, shouted into the dimly lit room.
"Cut out the damned lights!"
He grunted and acquiesced, then folded his work and put it into his
During the calm of summer some of the men would sleep in the parks or
alley ways. Perhaps they walked the streets all night, looking for something
that they could never find.
Winter was the father to violence and uncertainty. When the cold stalked,
life in the streets became a mortal gamble.
He liked the warmth of summer, but even then he slept in safety of his
room. He still had life and he clung to it.
He dreaded the bright light of morning when sobriety would bite into
him, and cling to his skin like sucking leeches.
When he finally recaptured his mind he was covered in his own filth
and blood and shame.
In the confusion of morning, he would rifle through his coat looking
for the story. It wasn't always there. He could remember burning it
and urinating on it and then rocking in laugher at his own stupidity
for trying to write such a story. Who did he think he was? A nothing...
a nobody. Who would read his story? It was only the ramblings of a broken
He peeled the moist pages from his pocket, unfolded it from its paper
coffin, and realized for the first time that it was complete. He didn't
like the feeling of being finished because he wasn't sure what to do
with it next. He was tempted just to throw it away like he'd thrown
away so much of his life. He did't want to discard his story, he wanted
it recorded; small and insignificant proof that he had once been alive.
He put the story back into his pocket and a thought, a tiny worm of
plan began to squirm in the maze of his mind.
On the streets he felt at home among the open air cafes and the crumbling
rooming houses, where the sounds and smells were familiar. People on
the street taunted and avoided him, only the kids, with their pierced
ears and darkened features, gave him respect by simply ignoring him.
He turned into a dank familiar alley, shuffled around the bags of garbage
and the foul juices that made puddles on the concrete. shuffled to the
end of the ally, to the wall of brick and darkness.
He urinated on the wall as he had done a thousand times before and then
walked away from the steaming yellow pool.
He walked, driven to complete his journey, until his knees went and
he sat heavily on the curb and exhaled the exertions of the day. He
removed a paper bag from his coat pocket, in it was a bottle containing
a mixture of cheap vodka and cheap wine that Sally had given him. It
made a soft crinkling sound as he took a long pull. It took less to
kill the pain and bring the fog these days. The fog greeted and embraced
him in warm protective arms.
A woman, with compassionate eyes, smiled at him like she would at a
lost child and dropped some coins. He watched them as they rolled and
scattered at his feet. He refused to beg for money just as he refused
to beg for his next breath of life. He always left change where it fell,
dropped there by women with painted faces who shopped for men who never
really loved them; for things that they didn't really want.
The journey had seemed arduous although it was only six blocks and he
was out of breath by the time he arrived.
It was a bookstore and there was something that he had to do. He stood
for a while just looking in the window, squinting against the reflected
sun. Glossy covered books lined the shelves on display in the window
show case. They reminded him of obedient soldiers in their formations.
There were books about every thing in the world even books about other
It took all of his concentration to remember the task which he was about.
At last the book caught his eye, a family Bible. Its cover was grainy,
black leather and it had a look of pious authority. He stepped into
the store and walked to the shelf that held The Book.
Eyes lifted from the pages they were reading, curled their necks to
watch him walk by, sniffed disapprovingly and went back to reading.
Trying to ignore the oddity in their midst.
He shuffled by them to the shelf that held the Bible. He lifted it and
held it to his face. It smelled of dust and deceit. Within it's weight
were the stories of prophets who had shaped the world. But nowhere among
the hallowed pages was there anything about his dark nights and blurred
uncertain days. How come The Book had ignored his world. That was not
right. He must set it right.
He rested the Bible on the shelf and with his left hand took the story
from his trouser pocket. He placed it somewhere in the heart of the
book and then he slammed it shut.
A voice asked him if he needed any assistance. He didn't answer, he
simply walked out the door and into the beckoning sunlight.
His story was now among the writings of the prophets.
© Warren Vanderpool May 2003
all rights reserved