۰T h e . . d۰

Chapter 1 —

The signs of winter were already hard writ in the downtown streets of Toronto. The morning was crisp and cold to say the least, and the ground was fully covered by a layer of frost tinged with the random snowflakes that had somehow fallen out of the heavens a day too early. The sun had just risen, and was hard put to penetrate the chill of the morning air. People hurried to and fro bundled up in warm winter jackets and parkas, while automobiles skidded on the road.

Behind a large granite building just down yonder the busy streets lay a figure huddled beneath a thick pile of blankets. A boy late in his teens just coming into adulthood.

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Shit. I woke to the pounding waves of a headache. Slight tremors ran up and down my body. I was caught in the grip of a fever. I pulled myself out of the mass of blankets that covered me, slick with sweat. I checked for my bag and belongings, a daily routine that was embedded into my habits. They were there. My vision was still blurry, but the snow was inevitable, as was the cold. The frosty morning wind ruffled my tangled hair and dried the sweat, giving me the goosebumps. I moved closer to the wall of the building, but still the wind persisted. I couldn't think properly. My brain felt numb, as did my body. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep and never wake up. How sweet a dream if there ever was one. But I willed myself to fight the urge, as I did every day for the past few years in the wintertime. If I didn't have enough body heat I may die. The morning was considerably colder than last night. With trembling fingers I shrugged on a thin woolen jacket, one of the last possessions of mine. Although the years had tempered the leather soft, it was still durable and warm. I rubbed my hands together, generating heat. I stood up, the frost crunching under the soles of my shoes, and stamped my feet to get the blood circulation running again. I ran a haste hand through my tangled auburn locks, but it was more like dragging, so thick and tousled it was. I bent down and scooped up a handful of snow, and ran it over my face. It was the closest thing to water there was available.

Then the urgency of my stomach made its daily call. I shook my head, trying to shake the fever off in the process. Ditto. At least I tried. I bundled up the makeshift bed and stuffed it into my burlap sack. I heaved it onto my back, its familiar weight a welcome and a comfort. I set off, emerging from behind the large building and onto the streets of downtown.

My breath came out in smoky puffs and I thought of cigars. I had smoked some in my young teens after discovering a whole batch of them in my stepfather's room, along with various drugs including heroin. I had wondered if he were taking them himself, or selling them on the black market. If he were taking them himself, then that would explain his wild mood swings. I had then snitched a pack of cigarettes like I would a candy bar. It was that easy. He would never miss it. I shared it with some buddies at school, smoking after school and loitering behind it. Those were the good times. Now is the bad.

I passed countless numbers people, all shrouded in grey, black or white forms. If I had a camera at hand I would take pictures of each, with them unknowing. I loved photography, and I still do, with the same passion. The passion of longing now. I had a whole collection of photos in my old room in my closet of strangers, friends and lovers. It was my dream to be a professional photographer and take pictures of models. I had shot hundreds of pictures of my ex-girlfriend, Lindsay to get the feel of being one. I loved it. Now I don't have a model, let alone a camera.

I rounded a corner. An ancient massive monastery blocked my path. I stopped. Looking up I saw pigeons take off, their wings a wild gray blur. I neared the building, my heart pounding. I wasn't religious. I looked up again at the ominous dark stoned walls, as if they were the judgment of God himself. But it represented sanctuary. I thought back to the movie 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'. Sanctuary. I took a step and lifted the latch and pulled. The heavy oak door opened slightly. I entered.

It smelled musty and old inside, with a trace of beeswax. The ceiling ended in a dome far overhead. It was dim and silent inside, the only light given off by candles that were arranged on tables and beside statues of Angels and other Holy beings. There was one of Virgin Mary. I neared her, my footsteps hollow in the huge chamber. Her face was carved of alabaster, so serene and tranquil, as if everything was fine and the world was at peace. If she was virgin how come she gave birth to Jesus? It didn't make sense. I continued on. There was a statue of Michelangelo, some old peoples and last of all Jesus. His gaze was blank and there were wrinkles on his brow, as if he were frowning and saying, Repent your sins! No fucking way am I gonna do that. Instead I knelt before him. It didn't feel right. God. Give me something to live for. And I left. I found myself trembling outside.

My headache was a low throb at the back of my head and the fever a nuisance.

I continued.

The shops and stalls and people went past in a blur.

I finally stopped in front of a bakery shop, Fred's Fine Foods. I entered, bells jingling overhead, the tell tale of my coming. It was warm inside, and the smell of fresh bread and pastry wafted up my nose, my stomach rumbling in greeting. I gave the inside of the store a meticulous perusal. No security cameras in sight. Good. There were one or two costumers strolling the shop, eyeing the bakery goods while fingering their money. I sauntered across the room, trying to blend in. There was a platter of chocolate éclairs and another with teacakes and beside the cashier was a basket filled with French baguettes and small loaves of bread. I had my eyes on those. The seller, a typical overweight baker man in a white apron stained with flour eyed me warily, scrutinizing me up and down with a look of disdain. I took him for Fred. He looked like one to me. I smiled casually, sweetly at him, like I would to a lady at a night bar, offering her a drink. To my disappointment his paranoia only grew stronger.

"What you doing here?" He barked. Shit. He's on to me. "Like what I would do at any store as fine as yours." I voiced offhandedly. I regretted that as soon as the words parted my lips. Damn. This fever's really is getting into me.

"Don't think ya bums and hobos like yerself can do whateva ya please," He glared at me. "Ya either buy something or git the hell out." Who the fuck does he think he is? The owner of this place? Oh right, that was what I took him for. Fucking headache. By now I was the center of attention. Ok, better make this quick and clean.

Pointing at the loaves of bread in the straw basket, I said, stalling for time and diverting the attention of the other customers, "You got any peanuts in those? I'm mighty allergic to them." Fred came ambling out from behind his counter. Fuck. Now I'm screwed. He took one and eyed it, and shook his big head. "How much?" He looked at me like I was a retard, and pointed to a large sign behind the basket. Jeez guy, lay off. I looked. Five fricking bucks for a small fricking loaf of bread? No shit. But outwards I smiled disarmingly. I reached into my pockets, scavenging for non-existing bills.

"Will a ten do?" He grunted and ambled back behind his counter. That worked perfectly. It always does. As soon as he was behind the counter, I grabbed a loaf and ran, the man's curses hard on my heels.

I was in high spirits. My hunger was abated and I was on the road again. On the road to nowhere but to leave the past where it should be. In the past. My feet found me beside a highway, cars rushing past at the maximum speed. I needed to get across. I needed to get away from the city behind me. I had already made my mark there and wasn't going to take any risks with the police. I teetered on the sidewalk, preparing to launch myself onto the wide highway. It was still early in the morning, so the roads were fairly deserted. When the highway was quiet, I set off at a gait. I stopped once to let a blue Cadillac pass, loud music blearing from the radio. I continued onwards, focusing my eyes on the cold blue sky with the distant clouds of the future. I heard the rumble of a sleepy beast, and turned my head towards the noise. A deafening horn bleared somewhere. Holy shit! And I closed my eyes.

The smell of burnt rubber filled the air and clogged my nostrils. In the background cars honked and beeped and its drivers mouthed silent curses. I opened my eyes. A large white van was just inches from hitting me. Oh my fucking God. Did that really just happen? The heavy and angry curses of the driver pounded into my ears. I looked up. Fuming behind the steering wheel sat a German man of heavy stature. A bushy mustache covered his upper lip, and he was spewing spit everywhere, his lips moving furiously. Steam shooting from his ears would've completed the tableau perfectly. I shrugged, and hopped onto the sidewalk not a few feet away, taking refuge. Behind me I heard the van rumbling away, the heavy accented curses trailing behind like perfume. I turned around to watch it go, and caught just in time to see it bump solidly into an invaluable Porsche. A heavy dent in the rear appeared. I smothered a sneer and turned around and walked away, making myself scarce. Behind me I heard a door opening and banging shut, probably the driver of the Porsche to take justice on his assaulter.

I followed the highway for some time, until I was lead into smaller streets and roads. A strong wind had picked up from the north, and soon fat heavy snowflakes were falling from the sky. The sun had disappeared behind a dark foreboding cloud ages ago. In no time the ground was covered in rich white frosting. I dragged myself along half-heartedly, still caught in the grips of fever, although the headache had subsided. The area I had come upon was fairly deserted. Almost all the stores were barred and closed and the apartments were grungy and looked old and worn. My head was down, shielded from the harsh winds. The snow was a white nothingness below my feet. I would shake my head now and then in vain to get rid of the snow camped there.

My fever drained me of energy, and soon I was thrashing in the ankle deep snow. Both my feet were numb and my legs aching. I had to find shelter soon. I had to find shelter soon.

I stopped by a store, dark and shuttered. I tried the doorknob. Locked. Damn. No surprise. I dwelled on the thought of breaking into one, but I was already hard put to even walk. I disposed of that scheme immediately. Fuck this Goddamn snow.

I was starting to feel the first pangs of hunger. It was probably late in the afternoon. I pulled my jacket tighter, and staggered onwards.

Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down like toy soldiers. And that's when I fell, stumbling over frozen ice underfoot. I fell flat on my face in a snowdrift.

"Fuck." I said to the snow. Then I heard something. It was but a murmur, a whisper, no more. But my ears caught it and they perked up. I lifted my head and strained my ears. Behind the background of distant cars cruising the highway and the silence of snow, I heard human voices in the deserted streets. It was almost indistinguishable, but they were there. They were coming from my left. At my left side were stores. They could be in any of them. I neared a small restaurant gone out of business in the crappy district. Beside on its rear was a shabby looking patio. I rounded the corner and saw. There was a knot of clothing, all huddled up underneath the overhanging part of the patio. A small murmur rose from the bunch, betraying its truth. I counted six heads, all covered and shrouded in clothing. They gave no sign of noticing me, nor did they give any welcome. Well to hell with that. And I collapse close to them, my back against the wall. I dozed off in no time.