I love short stories. The short bleakness of Raymond Carver’s work shaped my great love of them when I was 19 and doing my BA in English. Those short stories stuck with me – snippets of life and all it’s losers. When I write the short stories of my own, they’re very much similar – dark pieces of the lives of my characters, small vignettes in time. It was through random happenstance that I re-discovered this short. I wrote it in August of 2013 for a short story collection about Clive Barker’s ‘Nightbreed’. This story was not selected for inclusion in the final offering of the anthology, and for five years, I forgot about it entirely. Finding it again was wonderful, because it’s always interesting to read things you have written in the past – writing gives us this wonderful window into who we were, who we are, and who we wish to become. I see by reading this a very plain picture of who I was when I wrote it, and that is meaningful to me. I decided to post this piece here on the Graveyard because in a way it was never really laid to rest properly and hopefully it can find some rest amongst the sordid collection of my ramblings.
Unmade. What a concept. What did it mean. For that matter, what did it mean to be made, really? He had always wondered about that, about what sort of tepid backseat fumbling had brought about his existence. He wasn’t too sure he wanted to find out, but deep down he always thought that it was the absence of knowing that contributed to the sense of loss he felt that was so ever present as to be tangible. At least if he knew who his family was or who they had been he could focus his hate, have something to be angry at, but the whole not knowing made it hard. instead his anger was like incense smoke, a venous experience that smelled terribly and was hard to pin down.
He knew it was going to be a long night, he just had that sense, like the smell of rot and stale rain water that seemed to pervade the city of Vancouver like cheap perfume. It was hard living on the streets, made even harder because just a few blocks up from one of the roughest neighbourhoods was one of the richest, a sick reminder of a life that could be, but remained off limits and just out of reach to people like him. Sometimes he could score a generous trick, get taken to a half decent party and maybe find some food, but those were the good nights and he hadn’t had one of those in a while. The good nights were becoming a thing of the past, since the city had started its clean up campaign. The cops seemed to be just as present as the puddles of rain water, always waiting to shake a few tramps down and put the run on anyone who looked like they didn’t belong. The bad nights had been increasing, and though the hunger in his belly could be raw, nights spent huddled in a dirt encrusted hoodie trying to keep warm were worse. It was those nights, the bad ones, when the streets were against you and Mother Nature too, that were the worst. As if it wasn’t sour enough to be rejected the system but by something older, something that gave life and took it too and had all this love for everyone and everything else, but not for him. Just the thought of another bad night made him weary. Who the fuck feels weary at eighteen?
For a while there had been a few shitty gas stations and little bodegas run by barely legal teens and even more illegal immigrants that didn’t mind offering out a free cup of tar black coffee or some day old bread, or if he got a lucky a dry as a nun’s snatch donut. This old fat Christian bitch who worked nights at the one shop would often let him bed down on a pallet in the back room for a couple hours if he sat through a spirited harangue about the value of scripture. He didn’t place much value in the word of The Lord but if it got him a quiet and warm place away from the coldness of the street and the watchful eyes of the cops on the beat, then he would listen to almost anything. Besides, forget all that garbage about the pen being mightier than the sword – words couldn’t hurt him. It had been a real shame when he found out that lady got stabbed by some meth head when his drug addled burglary had gone awry when he stuck her up for the pittance in her till. The old cow was reaching for her cane to help her heft her big ass off the stool and he thought she was reaching for a silent alarm and he stabbed the lady a few times before making off into the night. He heard she would be alright,lost some blood and some faith in the man upstairs, but who knew when she would be back to work, and her absence meant no more pallet naps and no more dried up donuts. It was a shame because every time someone offered a hand to the streets, the streets would latch on like some rabid soul reaching for the tit of salvation as they fell down to purgatory and the streets would suck that tit dry and move on to the next hapless asshole who wanted to “lend a hand”.
The streets of Vancouver were an ugly place, and their business made for a special kind of perfect desolation. He knew his options were limited, and the hunger in his belly led him to a favoured corner of the drugged out teen runaways, where he tried to put on an aloof facade. It seemed like only moments before he was picked up and driven away in a car that smelled like old cigarettes and empty wine bottles on a hangover morning.
Something about the sperm of the upper class tasted so much different than the weak jizz that was shot into his mouth by disinterested dealers looking to get their rocks off and keep their product in circulation. He wiped his mouth. He longed for a can of Coke, something with a chemically man made sugar taste and some fizz to wash that foul taste out of his trap. He thought briefly about maybe shoplifting one, and a toothbrush too, but he thought back to the blue varicose veins streaking the legs of the obese cashier, and how she had ended up, and he ducked into a shitty little bodega and bought a cheap sandwich and a bottle of Coke, out of some backwards guilt for a crime he didn’t even commit. Maybe he wanted it to matter, and for somewhere, someone to say – “Look! Hark here! He pays his own way, even with the taste of another man’s cock on his tongue!” Yeah, right.
After his hard fought supper, he figured he had enough money to give to his friend Sammy in exchange for a night spent on the floor of Sammy’s dirty apartment. Sammy liked meth, Sammy liked meth a lot, and as a consequence Sammy was constantly looking for more – there really never seemed to be enough. Ten dollars might not have been a lot to anyone in the real world, but ten dollars was a bridge in this world, between one high and the next. With goddamn blowjobs these days, a street kid would be lucky to score twenty, and though he had only gotten fifteen and the rancid taste in his mouth as a tip, escape from the car and the clammy hands was worth the extra five. Crumpling the purple bill until it was just a wad in his hands, he hurried towards Sammy’s run down building. His footfalls provided a backbeat to the ever present wailing of emergency vehicle sirens, laid over only slightly with snatches of music echoing out of cars going too fast.
The walk seemed to breathe life back into him, or maybe it was the food, or maybe still it was the hope; hope for what, though? Hope for a place to sleep? No, it wasn’t that. It was what had always differentiated him from the other street rats, this sense of hope. Hope didn’t exactly make a pleasant bedfellow for his sense of loneliness, but he was never really able to shake it, unlike all the others who descended quickly down the road of hopelessness paved with violence, despair and was only barely white washed over by the ever present street drugs.
The light over the entrance to Sammy’s was burned out, and he felt for the buzzer like a blind person feeling for braille. Before he was able to press the worn button, a voice from behind him startled him,
“Yo, hey, you lookin’ for Samm-ee?”
The voice posed the question, but the inquisitive nature was articulated by a hungry rise in pitch.
He turned, and a skinny figure, a skeleton with a dermis stretched cat skin drum taut over the face with wild eyes leered at him. It was Ryan, another casuality of circumstance and crack cocaine together, and he was clearly on something. The jittery shaking made for a kind of horrid dance, one that was much practiced amongst the crackheads of the East Side; you could drive through at almost any time of day and see a rehearsal in full swing.
He didn’t like crackheads, a shifty bunch they were, as they had volatile tempers and super human strength and he was immediately on guard. Sure, he had smoked a few rocks himself, but it had never done for him what it seemed to do to the others. It felt like he was blasting himself in the brain with this intense white light, like a lazer, and he didn’t much care for the bright sheen it put on everything, like laying a piece of plastic wrap over something dirty. Crack was too busy, and a glass stem pipe didn’t offer the same warm comfort that a shining hypodermic needle did.
“Oh hey Ryan, howzit goin..”
“You lookin for Samm-ee.”
This time, Ryan’s voice was a statement, not a question.
“Yeah, uh, yeah I was hoping to stay. Turned one earlier, and got some food, but I want a warm space to go with it.” He tried to stay light, acting chill.
“You bring food? Candy?”
“No, no, I had a sandwich, nothing great. It’s gone.”
“You got money?”
“Yeah, uh, not much, hoping Sammy would let me stay.”
Ryan moved closer, and He took a step back into the glare of the street light.
“Yo, how much you got?”
“Only five bucks man, fuckin’ rich ass johns rolling us cheap.” He lied, hoping to deterr the interest that was suddenly alive in Ryan’s eyes. Like a wild animal slavering at the hint of spilt blood on the wind, so too did junkies come alive when they were able to make a lead on a high, anything to stave off the demons and the dopesick.
There was a mirthless laugh and a quick flash of silver and then Ryan was angry, and he had a knife, nothing fancy, but the little blade had an insidious glimmer and looked sharp. Just because a knife was small did not mean it wouldn’t puncture a lung, and they were both sharply aware of this fact.
“Ryan, dude, just take it.. here.” He relented and with a shaking hand he prooffered the crumpled bill as Ryan swayed drunkenly in his never ending dance.
The hand not holding the knife snatched out and took the bill. When Ryan saw that the bill was a purple ten and not a blue five, realization of the lie dawned. The prospect of a small high became a potentially larger one, and Ryan brandished the knife again.
“You lied, fuck. You got more? Yeah? Bet you do, eh?”
He had both hands raised in front of him, and all too quickly felt himself become helpless, and felt the food he had just eaten turn to solid stone in his belly.
“Ryan, man, I just wanted a place to stay, you know? I ain’t got nothin’ else. I pulled a john earlier and that’s it, man..” He found his voice had become pleading, as he tried to reason.
‘You fuckin lied to me, what’s sayin you ain’t lyin’ now, huh? You fuckin’ disrespectin’ me, huh?” Ryan brandished his words in the same way he brandished his knife and he moved closer before continuing,
“I could kill you right now, you know that. I’ve killed before, too. You know? Yeah? Yeah, yeah, you should have heard that bitch squealing, bet she almost shit in her drawers when I pulled my little piece on her, and showed her. That’s right, I bet she almost shit. Fuckin’ bitch got a lesson taught to her.”
A cold trickle of fear slid down his spine and the chill of knowing. The cashier. The fat lady who loved Jesus and had varicose veins and handed out donuts with her scripture like some kind of sick post modern communion wafer fortune cookie combination. It was Ryan. RYANRYANRYANRYANRYANRYANryanryan..
The thought ran crazily through his head and he did the only thing his body could do, he turned and bolted. The cool air of the street didn’t even register to him and his boots pounded a rhythm on the pavment accompanied by the footfalls of his pursuer.
One thing that they don’t always tell you about Vancouver, about the traffic, is that all those rich immigrant kids, the new money with their Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci sunglasses, well they like speed, and slowing down on rain slicked streets is never easy, especially not when a pedestrian runs a crosswalk while the light is still green.
He didn’t even feel the car slamming into his body. One moment he was running on rabbit-fleet feet and the next he was on the ground. Before it went black, he saw the street lights and suddenly he smelled the ocean, he smelled salt on the air.
“I’ve got another one for you,” said the officer with a beer gut, as he checked out the ass on bored looking morgue technician who was preoccupied on her cellphone as she stood at the intake desk. For the life of him, he could never understand why all them nurses and such had to give up wearing those little white dresses and the hats – all it was now was floppy scrub pants and it made checking shape a little bit difficult. His Pa always said the best thing about the hospital was checking out the curve of a woman’s ass as she went about her work in a dress. All this feminist nonsense put a stop to the free show and in his opinion it was a damn shame. Feminism shmenism, he thought. Nothing wrong with looking at what the good Lord made.
“Name?” she asked, reluctantly putting her cellphone away and handing him a clipboard and a pen.
“John Fucking Doe. Peter Peter Pumpkin-Eater. Crackhead No. 549. No one.”
The little blonde rolled her eyes and he scrawled through the intake form.
“Well thanks.” she said, and she walked over to the stretcher and pushed it through the swinging doors.
The officer, robbed of a quick show by a pair of pajama pants reluctantly got back to it, and made his way out of the crowded hospital and back into the harshness of the night.
“This is the one, I swear it.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know, I knows it. I can smell it. Can’t you smell it?”
“The only thing I can smell is you, you’re lucky we didn’t get caught.”
“I smell it. I know, know it’s here. This is the one.”
“I swear, if you fuck up again, you can deal with Mare.”
The two forms, female, snuck quietly into the darkened morgue. Rows and rows of chilled steel boxes lined the walls in the dim light. It had been easy, the intake desk was empty.
“I don’t know why you had wear that ridiculous outfit,” admonished the second voice.
The first voice was a hiss, “Mare said to fit in, and I know, I can smell it.”
“The isn’t the 1930s, you’re in a costume.”
“Mare said I would be a good nurse.”
The first voice belonged to a taller, willowy figure in a white dress and small white nurse’s hat, and the second belonged to a shorter figure dressed in mismatched scrubs. Their clothing was dirty. Filthy. They moved in the shadowy space and the shorter one pulled open a steel drawer and gasped.
“Is it him?”
There was a sound like someone coughing and the tall female in the white dress nodded emphatically.
“Are you sure?”
“Smell. Don’t you smell?”
The woman in the dress leaned over the broken body and made the sound like coughing again, and the body in the box opened its eyes.
Voices. He was dreaming, or was he? Cold. He was cold.
His eyes felt like mud, and opening the lids was an effort. What happened?
Once his eyes were open, everything was still dark and he lifted his hands to rub them, but couldn’t feel his hands. He couldn’t will movement to his arms. He was aware of the voices again. Vision dribbled back slowly and he saw the figures leaning over him. Women. Had he passed out? Where was he?
The figure on the left had on a white hat and mask – he must be in the hospital. Had he overdosed?
“Rrrrr…” came his voice as he tried to ask, “Where am I?”
The figures tittered and their language was brutal and quick.
“I told you!” said the figure on the left through the mask.
The woman on the right looked relieved, and she smiled at him.
“Can you hear us?” she asked. His vision cleared more and he was able to see finer details of her face. She had a small square face, pretty enough, framed by a short sheaf of dark brown. Her eyes flashed a golden yellow, inhuman in the dimness of the morgue.
“Ye..ss..” he croaked. His voice was raw, like pavement or razor burn.
“Do you know who we are?” asked the smaller one.
“Am.. Am I in the hospital?” he asked, daring to sneak his tongue out to lick his lips.
Her golden eyes flicked to her companion with the hat and mask.
The masked figure leaned in closer to him, and with a finger that more resembled the digit of a lizard removed the mask to reveal a set of viciously sharp teeth only barely disguised by a drooling and torn mouth, painted ghastly with blood, “In a way.”
The voice sounded like wind rattling closed shutters and nails on a chalkboard and came out from that maw in a rush of fetid breath that was hot and vile.
Before everything went black again, he had the impression that the horrible face was laughing at him. What else could it be doing with that leering smile and the sound like wind going through a cemetery coming out of its jaws?
The two women exchanged a look and the taller of the two put her mask back on and they resumed their work and hefted his broken body off the slab. The clang of the metal door closing penetrated the silence of the morgue only once and then they were gone, and so too was he.
This time when he woke, like so many other nights and early mornings, he awoke screaming, jolted harshly out of sleep by a night terror. Usually though, when he awoke out of a night terror, he was awakening into a dull Vancouver morning and not into the scene that lay before him.
The figures from the hospital were there, arguing, but they were not alone this time. Many other figures surrounded him, perhaps a dozen or so, and they were illuminated by firelight. Several haphazard oil drum bonfires glimmered and he could smell the smoke, he could taste it in his lungs. For some reason, it tasted good, it tasted like camping, it tasted like childhood.
“Shhhh,” came a voice from his left and he turned in slow motion horror to see who the speaker was who was shushing him and he was more than slightly surprised to see that it was a middle aged woman with mouse brown hair made soft in the firelight.
She had a soft face all easy lines, she could have been a mother on her way to pick up her kids from school, if she hadn’t been cloaked in clothing that looked like rags tacked together and if she didn’t have a smell like snakes about her.
She smiled and he felt his body sag with relaxation.
“Who.. who the fuck are you?” he coughed, his voice raw from screaming or smoke, he couldn’t tell which.
“I’m Mare. They didn’t tell you?” she cast a glance to the two figures from the hospital who seemed to be in a tug of war over a piece of.. something. What was that? It shone briefly and wetly in the fire light and his mind told him it was a piece of meat, but it couldn’t be, right? Nurses fighting over a piece of meat like dogs in a scrapyard? The tall nurse turned and he felt him stomach heave in protest at the sight of her torn face, her ripped mouth, and teeth that were all incisors sticking out of it like a broken picket fence memory.
He struggled to his feet as fear consumed him again, but he only got halfway before he collapsed forward and retched horribly, for a long time. He was dimly aware of the woman beside him rubbing his back and telling him it would be okay and to “let it out”.
He retched up what looked like black coffee grounds or dirt, and he sat back on his heels snivelling.
“What the fuck are you..?” he gasped, his vomit on his chin and down his arms.
The woman sighed and reached out to stroke his flushed cheek with her finger that poked out from her tatty fingerless gloves and he flinched away from her touch.
“We are the Breed,” she said simply, as if that statement would make him understand. “We are your family now.”
He stared at her, “What the fuck is this fucking place?! Who are you people and what the FUCK is wrong with her face?! Where AM I?!” he voice was strangled as he felt the fear in his belly turning into hysteria.
He had to be dreaming right, or on some kind of weird whacked out drug trip?
The kindness and softness of her face disappeared as she rounded on him and held him firmly by the shoulders. “Kid,” she addressed him, “this might not make a lot of sense to you right now, but you’re dead. You were dead meat in the morgue until we came for you.”
There was a seriousness in her face that gave him pause. Ryan. Rabbit feet, boots on pavement, the sickening crunch of bones pulverized by metal, and the smell of salt on the air as he faded into unconsciousness. The cold table and the nurses. His memories stitched themselves together and he stared dumbly at her. He was dead, he had died. She was telling the truth.
“B-But.. how? Who are you?”
“How? We aren’t so sure of that either. Me? I’m Mare. I’m the unfortunate care taker of this sorry bunch of Breed.” she said. She relaxed her grip off of his shoulders and turned to a small campfire that had a pot boiling over top of it and she stirred.
“Breed? What is Breed? Who are you people?”
“People?” she laughed, “We are Breed, Kid, not people. At least not anymore. Look, all that matters now is that you’re here. He sent for you, and we came for you. We’re your family now.” She turned back to him. “You feeling okay?”
He looked down, and the slowly back at her, his mind taking a long time to process this new information. If they were going to kill him, surely they would have done so already. He had nothing of value on his person.
“But..” he started.
“Kid,” she said, “He called for you. We did what we were told.”
“But.. WHO?!” he cried.
“You really don’t know do you?” her face was exasperated.
“Well, you must know. You are Breed. I can smell it on you.” she said and she grabed for his arm and took hold, drawing it close to her face and inhaling deeply. She moved aside the ruined sleeves of his hoodie and exposed the deathly pale skin underneath that was dotted with a crossword puzzle of old hand poked tattoos, razor wounds and track marks. Her fingers were cold but gentle, like a doctor’s, over that patchwork puzzle tracery on his skin. Her fingertips traced that pattern of nothingness and self loathing and she smiled wistfully and breathed, “Well there you have it.”
“Breed is Breed,” she said, “whether you a born a Breed or you become one. Breed is in the blood,” and she pointed to his woundwork on his arms, “You let it in one way or another and as surely as the rain falls, you became one of us. It’s why you didn’t die when you got plowed, at least not really, and it’s why he called for you.”
She patted him on the shoulder and turned back to her cooking to let her words sink in. His gaze fell again to the two nurses who had finished their meal and were now curled up together on a dirty pallet and seemed to be holding each other lovingly.
Some of the other figures that mingled around the fires seemed immediately terrifying like the tall nurse, with faces and limbs torn and repaired, and sometimes torn again. There was a scent of blood in the air, and rot too, but it didn’t repulse him. Some of the figures talked and moved about with an animated feeling to them and others sat still as carved stone, only the inhuman shine to their eyes illuminating that they were Breed.
She turned back to him and saw him looking.
“Are they all Breed?” he asked.
“Yep, every last one of them. We are all different, but we are all Breed. Just a rag tag bunch of misfits that society forgot about. We aren’t like we used to be, but he has a plans for us, you know? It’s why he has started to call for us.. Or as he says, it’s why he’s started to call all the lost lambs home.” she said and she laughed as she spoke, smiling around at the horrors who ate and danced and sang out. “We are family.”
He looked at her, at that soft face and blurted, “But you aren’t so awful as us.. you’re normal.”
She scoffed and her voice was harsh, “Kid, you sure are something. I can see why he wanted you, a little good humor sure goes a long way here.”
Her smile was harsh as she lifted up the rags that covered her torso. The face that gazed back at him from the bluish white of her stomach was vaguely equine, too long for a human’s face, with ears on the top of its head, pointed little triangles of memory and he thought he might be sick, but strangely enough he wanted to reach out and stroke the small face. One eye was open and the other looked like it had never quite been opened and the mouth, which had two tiny rows of ivory teeth, opened and closed soundlessly. Mare reached down and gently touched the little face that disappeared into her abdomen and the face seemed to smile.
“What is normal, Kid? We are Breed and that’s the end of it. He accepts us, he doesn’t judge. Hell, he even gave me the name Mare. Seems to fit don’t it?”, she said with a laugh.
“Who are you talking about?” he asked, as she readjusted her rags over her body.
She opened her mouth to speak again but was interruped by frantic whispering and some of the seated figures rose stiffly to their feet. Mare turned and she hauled herself to standing in a quick motion and dragged him to his feet along with her.
“There he is,” she hissed and she kicked a rock at the embraced form of the two nurses who scampered to their feet.
At the edge of the firelight there strode the form of a man, normal looking by most standards, a little rough around the edges, wearing a leather jacket. He had this James Dean kind of feel, but he was dirty and his face was hard, his lips a firm line. He strode through the creatures with purpose and as he walked, they dropped to kneeling, like he was a King or a God.
“it’s him. It’s him. The unmaker, the unmaker…” came whispers, fleeting whispers in the darkness as the risen creatures bowed.
Mare remained standing and there was a stiffness to her as the figure came closer to them and regarded Mare and her charge.
“Look at me, boy.” came the man’s voice.
He looked up, and the man in the leather jacket was regarding him with hard eyes.
They regarded each other for a long time, and the boy kept daring himself to look away. Finally the man reached out and patted his arm, “Welcome home.”
“Thank you, Mare.” he said, as an aside.
She nodded stiffly as the man in the leather coat made his way to a stack of pallets. He climbed up and stood before the kneeling group.
“Its him. That’s CABAL,” Mare hissed, gripping his hand so hard he thought she might draw blood. He looked up at the man standing before his subjects and he felt his heart swell for a moment. The way the assembled horrors around him looked at him, with this mixtures of hope and love and trust was almost too much to bear. In that moment, he realized fully that he was home, and that this WAS his family. Maybe he hadn’t been crazy to hang onto that hope for all those years, and whether it was the blood of the Breed that had kept it alive or not, he wasn’t sure, but as the figures around him rose before the man, this Unmaker, the Cabal, he knew he would follow them anywhere. He raised his face in the firelight and a warmth spread through his body that had not been there before.
The image I chose to go along with this story is one of a nest of hypodermic needles found in a downtown East Side Vancouver living space where a pigeon had laid their eggs. I grew up with the DTES as a vivid part of my memory, and have spent too many nights drunk on the streets, walking with it’s ghosts. In many ways, The Unmaker is an ode to these ghosts. and a call. The Him in my story is based on many of these ghosts.