In Which a Man Lights a Fire, and Dreams of Escape
Fire in the sky.
The sky was on fire today. This he saw. This he knew.
A streak of flame crossed the sky, and it plummeted into a building just blocks from him. This was real. Other people saw it too. That meant it was real.
It was reassuring to know it was real.
George wasn't insane, as far as he knew, but he wasn't in any mood to start going insane. Oh sure, some people thought he was insane, but what did they know?
They were just primitives.
The problem with fire in the sky is that it could only mean one thing: he wasn't safe here anymore. They must know where he was. They must still be after him. After all of these years they hadn't forgotten about him.
He'd thought he'd finally escaped, but no... that was too much to hope for.
George had begun to pack up his things. He didn't have much, but he'd become too settled in his current space. Far too settled. The cardboard box was far too cluttered, and he had to only take what he could fit in his tattered backpack.
Being homeless made George invisible. Invisible is what George needed to be.
He couldn't let them find him.
He'd broken into a public pool earlier that night to bathe, and the smell of chlorine filled his nostrils. If he was going to find a way out of this place, he had to look clean.
No one gave you a ride if you didn't look clean.
George crawled out of his box with the last of his things. He wasn't young anymore and he groaned quietly as his back cracked while he stood up. Somewhere around thirty-five his body had rebelled against him and stopped cooperating. Now he was forty-two and things had continued downhill. He had developed a paunch of a gut, and his hairline was slowly retreating towards oblivion.
He pulled the fingerless gloves off of his hands and scratched his now smooth face... he had hastily shaved earlier tonight in the bathroom of a McDonalds nearby, and the feeling of his own cheek was foreign to him right now. His hair was cropped short, a result of the lice scare at the shelter the week before.
George never thought he'd be thankful for the risk of lice... but he'd avoided the parasites and it made him look more normal.
Had to disappear. Had to be nondescript.
Had to get out of town.
It had been so long ago... he'd hid here so long ago... no one had ever come here. No one had ever looked for him here.
But now, now they must be here.
Because there was fire in the sky.
Why now though? Had they finally run out of other places to search for him? Had they been looking this whole time, or had they only recently begun again?
This was all too much.
But it didn't matter. None of it mattered. What mattered is that they hadn't forgotten. They must know that he was here, and they hadn't forgotten. They were coming for him, they knew that he was here and they hadn't forgotten.
And there had been fire in the sky.
The primitives thought it was a meteor. The primitives were funny in their way to rationalize things, to simplify things. But George knew what it was.
It was them and they were coming to get him.
George had been here for ten years. It had been ten long years of hiding. Ten long years he had survived in this hostile, primitive world. Ten long years in which he'd barely talked with anyone else.
George had become a bit strange because of it.
In a past life... in a past life he'd been a promising young University professor. Political Science had been his obsession and the art of studying people through statistics had fascinated him. One on one people meant nothing, but mass psychology and the behavior of the crowd... that was beautiful.
These days he avoided crowds, and when he didn't he was desperately just trying to blend into them.
He had known far too much.
And now they were coming for him.
His domain was no longer the classroom or his office, pondering for hours over statistical data. It was now a jungle of primitives. A desolate concrete block that had been carved into a depressingly gray smog filled maze. He thought he'd gotten lost in it. He thought he'd been able to hide.
Again, apparently he was wrong.
He looked back at the box that he'd inhabited for the last few months. It was evidence. Evidence that he'd been here.
That wasn't good.
George tore off a large panel, folded it, and put it in his backpack. He then rummaged out a gold Zippo lighter.
George proceeded to light his box on fire.
It's entirely possible he hadn't thought this part through. The fire was getting a little large for George's tastes, and while it was the middle of the night and no one lived in this neighborhood, he didn't want to attract attention. Scrambling away from the blaze he made his way towards a nearby dumpster. There was an old metal bucket next to it, and while it was severely rusted, it didn't appear to have any holes.
Water, George needed water.
He looked around frantically. Digging through the piles of trash, he found a half full jug from an office water dispenser. He quickly emptied what he could into the bucket.
In his panic, George didn't realize he'd given himself an extra step.
George quickly ran over with his bucket of water and extinguished the fire. Sighing in exhaustion, he looked at a job well done.
Now his nostrils were filled with the smell of chlorine... and smoke.
He'd need to wash his clothes.
George sighed and began to walk. He'd have to find a laundromat. At least he had quarters... you never knew when you'd need a bunch of quarters, and he was always prepared.
Being prepared was important.
George walked for about an hour before he found an open coin laundry. Walking in he got strange looks from a young woman doing her wash. He gave her a strange look back... she was here at four in the morning too.
After buying some soap from the vending machine, George took his spare clothes out of his back pack and loaded them into a washer. He spent the time watching the clothes slowly cycle. After he finished washing and drying them, he changed in the laundromat's bathroom. He then proceeded to wash his other set of clothes.
By the time he was finished, the sun was up, and the world had begun to wake.
When George emerged from the laundromat, he tried to blend in to the crowds now walking the street. They were on their way to jobs. They were on their way to continue their simple lives. They were on their individual ways without a care in the world.
George envied the primitives.
He had to make his way out of the city. Out of this city where they clearly knew he was. True, geography was not a challenge for them, but they were just men... and they'd have to hunt for him to find him. He had no intention of making it an easy task.
But George had quarters.
Quarters were good.
George found himself a route through the city buses that could take him to the outskirts of town. He'd have to transfer several times, but it would start his journey.
George hated the bus.
As he sat on the crowded tin shell filled to the brim with the multitudes of primitives he could feel dread filling him. They were people... people George couldn't predict. It was unlikely that any of them would be on a bus, but still... it was uncontrolled.
Uncontrolled was bad.
For the most part he found if he grimaced and stared forward with determination he would be left alone. If someone tried to sit next to him, he'd give them a look which could frighten kittens. It was a largely successful strategy, but some people... some people just could not get the message.
On his second bus, a large man eating mass produced mini powdered sugar donuts out of a bag squeezed himself in next to George. George could smell the pungent odor of sweat coming from the man whose side pressed against him. When it came time to disembark, George had to fight his way out of the seat.
On his fourth bus, an older woman in her eighties tried to start up a conversation with him at one point. He attempted to ignore her, but at some level her tale of cats, knitting, and grandchildren who never call her seeped into his brain.
There went brain cells he could have used to store something important.
After surviving the trials of public transportation, George pulled the cardboard out of his backpack along with a sharpie. He knealed on the ground and quickly scribbled out some words onto it.
He wasn't sure if this part of his plan was going to work. Frankly he wasn't sure if any of his plan was remotely worth trying.
But it sure beat waiting for them to find him.
Standing, George looked at the nearby freeway with resolve.
He was going to hitch a lift.