Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 30

Crow knew many of the residents of the Augusta Inn by the unique stamp of their feet. Chalmers walked with a heavy stomp, quick thuds. Misty was more like a slow, sliding shuffle, like brushes across a drum head, as was her older daughter and middle child. The baby, Jeramie, was a lighter version of his father, thumping along precariously in his first footsteps. And the heavy foot traffic of visitors was easy to tell. The pipes right above where Crow left always gurgled and rushed with the sound of running water whenever anyone used a sink or flushed a toilet.


Crow had no access to the other floors. The basement entrance was outside. It used to be two doors covering the stairs leading down, but those had been replaced by a fence with plastic slats, and plastic overhang to keep rain from the roof from pooling at the bottom of the steps. Despite these efforts, there was almost always some puddle at the landing. Right inside the door was the laundry room, a washing machine, dryer, and a couple metal clothes racks, from which hung a few dusty, unclaimed coats and hangers in a variety of sizes and styles.


At one point, the basement was one open room, but sometime after the Vanderhoys died out, one of the series of owners leading up to Bob Stoops, the current owner, had tried to capitalize on the extra space by charging renters for storage. Plywood walls were erected and pieces of plywood attached with a hinge were secured closed with combination locks. Although none of the current renters used the space, three of the four "rooms" were locked tight and had not been accessed in years.


The room where Crow slept was different. It had walls made of concrete blocks and its entrance had no door. The furnace, water heater, the electric box and meters were in here, so the room had to be accessible. The one window opened out from a hinge on top. Crow had rigged it so that it looked closed, but if he slid a carefully placed piece of cardboard, he could unsecure the window and gain access by sliding in and landing on an old kitchen counter.  He kept his bedding stash pieces of cardboard to lay on tucked away in the back of the cabinets. He slept on the other side of the furnace, between it and the wall, so that even if the rare surprise visitor happened to walk in on him, he could curl up his knees and disappear from sight. Crow had only been surprised once in the five years he'd made use of this room. One early February morning Stoops (who didn't know about Crow and would likely evict him for "insurance reasons" and on general principle that he was not paying rent) and a meter reader came in. Crow hunkered in the shadows as long as he could as the men kept their backs turned to him. They left the room in a minute.


Every once in a while, a resident would discover Crow as he was coming or going. Once, when confronted, he said he was friends with Mackey, and asked for him. No one, beyond the errant rat or spider, had ever caught him asleep in his hideaway corner.


Crow tried not to take advantage of the accomodations. He had a couple places on the ISNU campus where he could sleep in a pinch, and if he needed to be indoors during inclement weather, there was always the public library or the vast stacks at the university. The university library also had the extra advantage of being open until 2 a.m. during the school year and 24 hours a day during finals weeks.


As a general trend, Crow, never much of a social butterfly by nature, became even more introspective during the fall and winter months. It was easy, he'd long ago discovered, to live unnoticed on the periphery, to keep one's contact with civilization to the wee hours, and to mind one's days in nature and solitude. In these later seasons, the cold motivated him to suspend his can collecting operations. It was also unprofitable during the holiday break.


Before returning to the Augusta Inn near Christmas time, Crow had spent most of his time in the large forest preserve north of town. Because there were cross country ski trails throughout the preserve, the county rented out a shelter house year round. It was near the entrance to the forest preserve, but to Crow's benefit the bathroom was often unlocked. It was convenient to use, and, more important, the sink had potable running water, which Crow stocked up on, using a liter bottle cut in half to fill up four gallon jugs. It was often sweaty, difficult work, but on the weekends, when he could be assured the bathroom was open (for it would most likely be locked during the week, he discovered), Crow would stock up on water for the week. He could get by on a gallon or a little less per day. Freezing was a problem in winter months, so Crow kept the water stashed in a compost pile he'd put together at the base of a pine tree, essentially a pile of leaves, dirt and duff that put out a surprising amount of heat as it decomposed. Crow could pull out a jug, and not only would it not be frozen, but when he poured himself a cup of water it steamed.


Crow loved living in nature. He found its slower rhythms and quietude good for his spirit. Buck deer would sometimes snort at him in the middle of the night to assert their territorial rights. Skunks, raccoons, possum, crows and robber jays often visited his camps. If he needed meat, rabbit and squirrel were in plentiful supply, and fairly easy to trap. Though Crow still liked to rely on dumpster diving for most of his food. He found hunting and foraging often consumed more calories than he gained for his efforts. It was far more profitable to venture into town and live off the discards of others.


In the winter, the nights were long, and condensation made it hard to keep things dry. But Crow had good camp skills and stayed comfortable. He found the extra darkness enervating, and would sleep 10 to 12 hours each night. This is the way people were meant to live, Crow thought, with the cycle of the seasons. Most of the psychosis and illnesses of modern life, cancer and diabetes, stress headaches, heart attacks and the like were a result of humanity's disconnect from the cycles of nature. In this way, Crow thought, animals were smarter than humans. Electricity and the combustion engine had provided a buffer zone, cutting off people from nature and creating a 24-hour, seven days a week mad rush to consume. It was the great beast called society, and by its very disconnect from nature, it threatened to destroy what it did not know.


The only thing that worried Crow during these long nights of slumber and short days of ease was he was beginning to question his sanity. He'd always had a strong inner dialogue, which gave him the ability to live alone without feeling lonely, but in the last few weeks he'd caught himself talking out loud, and to those long gone from his life, his deceased ex-wife Deborah, and his missing son, Jamie.


"Would you check out the knot of that tree. I bet that would put off a good fireworks show if it was in a fir, Debbie girl," Crow said. Or, when hunting, he would talk to his son, giving instruction as if he were there. "Now, why would I place the string like that?" Crow asked. "You're right. It's so that it remains taut. Remember what I said. The string is a spring."


Often, Crow would catch himself and smile at the foolishness of talking to himself. Other times, he would relive family dialogues from years past, vivid arguments about past money problems or schooling decisions for Jamie. He would get worked up to a tizzy, get downright irate, and then reach a peak of emotion that would break the spell. He'd look around and realize he was in the woods -- alone -- of course, for now, until someone heard him and locked him away.


No comments: