WORK IN PROGRESS
I am currently working on a novel entitled “The Stars Will Fall Tonight.” The novel plays with time and follows a myriad of characters, mostly changing viewpoints each chapter. Still, it manages to tell one cohesive story about the struggle of rising to the top, conquering one’s personal struggles, and obtaining our best chance in life. Below you can find a snippet from Chapter 5. This is an early release, as it has not finished going through revisions.
The Stars Will Fall Tonight
Chapter 5 – Part 3
Broken. Broken or else out of fuel, either way, the same result. The portable heater Doug and his kin often huddled around was rendered useless by an apparent lack of propane.
“Damnit, Bill,” said Louise. “How long have you been using the thing?”
“We’ve all been using it. It’s not just my fault,” Bill said. “Doug could have filled it up, he’s been out all day.”
“I don’t got no money,” said Doug.
“Then where’d you get that fuckin’ coat?” said Bill.
“Same place you got us that heater,” Doug said. He pulled his coat closer to himself, cinching the olive-green parka a little uncomfortably tight around his waist. It had fit the girl rather large, but it was only just large enough for Doug.
“Come to think of it, you’ve been out all week. Haven’t seen you since Tuesday,” said Bill. “Where the hell’ve you been?”
“What’s it matter to you?” said Doug.
The homeless were like this: interrogators as to the degree of each other’s homelessness. It was a competition, of sorts, to see who had it the worse; it being life. This wasn’t usually a competition worth getting involved in. Everyone knew Bill would win.
“That’s a nice coat,” said Bill.
“It is,” said Doug.
They all stayed in a park. It was in the poor part of town, a forgotten part where no one really came around. It had been labeled dangerous, as was the case with most areas belonging to the undesirables. The homeless had their own tents set up, serving as flimsy shelters to their collected belongings. Doug kept his abode on the far perimeter of their little camp, a short distance from the cracking sidewalk that was typically recognized as the entrance to the park. It had been some time since he’d been in his tent and Doug wanted to switch out his shoes. He was a collector.
The rest of the community knew Doug. Many of them appreciated him, although empathy and appreciation were a task known to be impossible for Bill. Whenever Doug found shoes, hanging on telephone wires, or abandoned on the street, he’d pick them up and take them to his tent. He’d clean them and care for them and set them next to the rest of his collection. He’d sell the shoes. Or perhaps donate was the better word. When his friends and colleagues were in need Doug would find a pair of shoes to help them out. At present, Doug’s feet needed the helping; they hadn’t been out of these khaki, mud coated combat boots in nearly a week.
As he approached his tent Doug saw Sandy, his neighbor, outside her own tent. Sandy was dumping baby powder and oil in the cracks of the sidewalk when she noticed Doug walking by.
She said, “Keeping them bugs away.”
“Appreciate that,” Doug said, he smiled at Sandy. “How’s Abbigale?” Doug said.
“Same as last week. Keeps the other folk up with her crying. ‘Specially Bill. He loves telling me ‘bout how she’s been keeping him up,” she said, shaking her head back and forth.
“I understand,” said Doug and he shook his head in unison. Sympathy.
“Every day,” Sandy said. “You wouldn’t believe it, Doug, cause you ain’t ever here to see it. He’s like an alarm clock, just after I’ve finally got Abbi to bed.”
Doug laughed. “I believe you, Sandy. He was getting on about my coat just barely.”
Sandy shook her head again and resumed pouring her oil. “God bless us both,” Sandy said.
“And Abbi too,” said Doug.
“And Abbi too,” said Sandy.
Doug unzipped his tent and went inside. It was a moderately sized tent with enough space to fit three cots lengthwise if you were rich. Doug had an egg-crate mattress pad on the right side, with some heavy wool blankets atop it. Along the back wall he had a small stool to sit on and along the left wall was where he stacked his shoes. Littered throughout the rest of the space were clothes and trinkets he had collected over the years. Age brings trinkets with it, they accumulate, like memories, until one day the new replace the old. Doug took a seat on his stool and began to unlace his shoes. He stretched his toes out, wiggling the old and broken things until the cool air dried the sweat and soothed the skin. Doug was tired, though he was unsure what he was tired from. He looked to his wall of shoes. Whenever it came time to pick a new pair he couldn’t help but think about the places they had already been and the lives they had already lived. Shoes were like that; they had lives of their own. They’d pick up the crumbs of dirt from the many places of the world that they’d traverse and they’d carry them crumbs, like memories, from place to place.. Shoes carried people, they housed stories; shoes were all collectors. Doug picked a pair of white Pumas, circular, a bit like bowling shoes.
Outside, he could hear Bill’s voice, that gravely, grating voice, presently offering up more complaints. Doug turned his foot from side to side to look at his shoes, he glanced at his mattress and pushed himself up off his chair to check on what was going on outside.
It was Abbi. She was crying, but it was worse than mere crying. The child was howling ungodly sounds into the night air, piercing shrieks like fingernails and chalkboards, amplified through a PA system that would cover at least the entirety of the park if not well beyond it.
“What’s the matter now, Bill?” Doug said, though the answer was obvious.
Bill turned to look at Doug. “I’ll tell you what’s the matter,” Bill said. “Her bloody baby’s a crying again and I ain’t having none of it. Listen to that thing? It’s a shocking sound.” Bill blew warm air into his cupped hands, he said, “It’s cold. I want to sleep tonight, and on top of the cold I don’t wanna hear any of that god forsaken baby,” he said.
“Go to hell,” Sandy said.
Doug said, “We’re all cold, Bill, Abbi’s probably no different.”
“Are we all cold?” Bill said.
“Christ’s sake. I heard it’s s’posed to be something like negative thirty tonight,” Sandy said. “That’s what they were saying on the streets. Course we’re all cold.”
“Seems to me you’ve got yourself a nice coat there, Doug,” Bill said. “You can’t be too cold now, can you?”
It wasn’t a question. Doug knew it wasn’t a question. It was a threat, and knowing Bill, the threat wasn’t empty.
“Do you want my coat, Bill? Is that what this is about? If I give you my coat will you leave Sandy and Abbi be?” Doug said.
“Doug, don’t you go giving him nothing,” Sandy said.
Doug and Bill were looking each other in the eyes.
“So far as I can tell, I wouldn’t have no need to be bothering them two if I didn’t have to worry about no cold,” Bill said.
“One would think,” Doug said.
“Stop it, Doug,” said Sandy.
“You promise?” Doug said to Bill.
Bill sneered at him. “You give me that coat and I won’t say another word to the missus,” Bill said.
Doug shrugged the coat off his back and held it out towards Bill who snagged it while maintaining his deranged sneer.
“Go on now,” Doug said.
Bill pulled the coat on and held his arms out to his sides. He then pulled both the sleeves and popped the collar and tossed one last sneer at Doug as he said, “Sure is a nice coat. Quilted even?” Then he turned and left, back to his tent on the other end of the park.
“You didn’t have to do nothing for me, Doug,” Sandy said.
“Then consider it for Abbi,” Doug said.
“Well now I ‘preciate that, but you don’t need do nothing for her either. We can handle him, Abbi an I. He’s all talk, that’s all he is. I ain’t afraid of no talkers like he is,” Sandy said.
“Even so, ma’am,” Doug said. Abbi was still a howling from inside the tent, she was barely taking a breath. It was astonishing how large a capacity for air the lungs of children had. They could scream for hours and appear to have nary taken a breath for the entirety of the screaming. Doug said, “She going to be alright?”
“It’s a cold one. There’s no contesting with that. It’s a cold one, Doug. But I reckon we’ll be fine,” Sandy said. She was starting to walk into her tent and Doug followed her inside. Abbi had what appeared to be all the blankets they owned wrapped about and draped over her tiny infant body. Doug and Sandy both stood beside the second-hand crib that Abbi lay in and they looked down at her unknowing face, contorted into a look like the embers of agony. Sandy said, “Six blankets, that oughta be enough, don’t you think?”
“And how ‘bout yourself? How many blankets do you got yourself?” Doug said.
“I’m alright,” Sandy said. “Just as long as Abbi here’s warm, that’s all I’ma be worrying myself about.”
“Negative thirty?” said Doug.
“Negative thirty,” said Sandy.
Doug nodded his head a few times before he left Sandy’s tent for his own. When he got inside he rummaged about in the corner of his tent until he found himself another jacket. This jacket, a thin hoodie that had likely belonged to a teenager once, a stan of the band Paramore, though it wasn’t the same as the coat Bill now had; this jacket didn’t have the warmth of charity nestled in its threads. But Doug pulled it on nonetheless and picked up his stack of a few wool blankets he’d collected from the homeless shelters over the years. He walked back outside, the blankets draped over his outstretched arms, and as he approached Sandy’s zipped up tent he stopped. Her lamplight had thrown her shadows on the walls of the tent like smoke against the sky and he could see she was sitting beside Abbi, her arm through the gap in the bars of the crib as she coaxed the child to be quiet. Abbi had dialed back her volume by now, entering the closing frames of crying where she was mostly just hiccupping and gulping in the air she’d lost. Doug dropped his blankets at the foot of the tent and they landed with a discernible thud and sent a cloud of dust racing towards the heavens. He could see Sandy pause and then rise and he began to walk away towards the center of the park where the others had kept a fire going for the night ahead. He heard Sandy unzip the tent after a ways but he never looked back.
The others had uprooted all of the park benches and situated them around the fire and there were a small number of the others now huddled within the fire’s heat. They said nothing when Doug approached them, most of them wrapped too tightly around themselves to move, having little to keep them warm besides the fire and their own body heat. Doug sat with the others for a while, rubbing his hands together to create friction and staring out across the light of the embers and beyond into the thick, shadow splotched blackness of the night. All of them about the fire began to rustle a bit when they heard a faint whimpering noise reaching closer and closer to the firelight, but none of them were stirred enough to move.
“It’s just the dogs,” Doug said to the others. “Dogs need warmth too,” he said.
There were two of them creeping up on the campsite, moving slowly as though they were sneaking up and pointing out birds that hid in dense foliage rather than beside the sole light in the dark night. Doug whistled and the two dogs perked up and Doug said, “Come on now, it’s alright. We can share.”
The dogs seemed to understand; it was a universal language, that of the helping hand. They quickened their stride towards him and Doug held out his hand as they approached and they let him pet them. Brittanys, the both of them. They each circled the ground and hunkered down next to Doug and the fire and Doug lay down, the Britts nestled closely beside him, and he closed his eyes and slept the cold night with the dogs.