Hero Complex

I

The winter air cried of its searing pains, the winds blowing softly against their own mourning of the sun, so long denied to the world by the vast blackened expanse of the heavens and replaced delicately with the soft murmur of snowflakes falling tenderly upon the cold dark streets of Massachusetts. The cold seeped into the faces of them who passed it by, the eyes of these others with their cruel hard stares and stale false lips, which in but a moment could change their own meaning and shape with just the twist of a peripheral muscle. For so long, he had been one of them. More then sixteen years of his life had been spent having a home, having someone to love. This was what it was like, having nowhere to go and no one to come to. This was the world that he had been protected so casually from, yet was now inevitably a part of, a disgruntled existence no longer to be concealed from his inquisitive yet impulsive reach. So this was what it was like. What he had wanted all along, those rebellious teenage years spent dwindling in the shadows of a future which had now unconsciously devoured him. Did he so long for it now, he had to wonder? Did he need it? He reconsidered what it was like to have that warmth inside of him again, rather then his own fragile blood which had run so cold these past few years… whether or not he still belonged here among the decaying filth of the earth, scattered so carelessly upon the roadside, now worthless, nameless, faceless to those who passed of their abundant bodies in the streets. Nothing more then flesh, blood, and bones, these corpses of personalities and people, starved of any respect or charities, they too had once been alive, had loved and perhaps been loved back. Is that what he had become? A corpse?

The shadows of the streets pressed into him from all sides, ripping softly at his livid face, only further curdling and burning his flesh with each gentle caressing breeze. They consumed him with the faint taste of exhaust, quietly polluting the damp grey of the sky as he rested his weary head upon the crevasse between the peeling green paint of a dumpster and the rough red brick of the wall; only slightly comforting his frigid body from the hellish aches that had seemed almost to replace the person that he had once been. Now, he was to become but an entity of mankind—a creature born and lost to its own self demise, demurred to the world's unconscious spinning and pulsating beneath the warmth of the sun and the tight glacial comfort of the universe.

The faint motion of deadness enveloped his body as his eyelids opened, stuttering, blinking against the frosty air, a transparent blue which seemed almost to devour the pale glow of the early streetlights, along with the dark painful scratch of the pavement beneath him. The youthful night was already developing a dimmed mass of steely studs of light, glimmering submissively in the distance toward which the chalky grey clouds had yet begun to expire. It had snowed a bit sometime during the late afternoon, that had been certain. Some of the snow that had coated him during these hours drifted off with the mercy of his motion, revealing slightly what appeared to be a worn red t-shirt, and over that a thin black jacket, which, as his consciousness throbbed within him, he noticed felt uncomfortably damp as it brushed unkindly against his heaving chest. His head pulsated with a dull pain, with the whimper of cars brushing by and the incandescence of artificial light digesting the last his senses… but there was another sound as well, among those familiar to him, amongst those which the street would normally excrete with any other day, something softer, coarser… a smell too, which he could not quite seem to place.

He looked about himself for its source, skimming over the shattered windows of the boarding house in front of him, past the disheveled grime of the dumpster and the thick pavement, worn and old, cracking at the edges. Farther down the right was the remainder of the empty alleyway he had selected to rest for the night—or at least it had been empty upon his arrival. Now, he could see that a man had come; he too, frosted in snow, the grey of his hair salted down with it in what almost seemed a becoming fashion. A homeless man, like himself, no doubt it was. His clothes were ragged and torn badly in three places, where one could easily see the pale of his skin drifting through the firm folds of cloth. He was clad in a checkered vest, which consumed the majority of his extended belly, but only with the help of another thinner white tank beneath it. There was a plethora of brown stains that decorated this undershirt, and on the jeans he wore with it, one could see a frequency of similar markings and something compatible to the appearance of smudged paint blots…. a thick Cuban cigar hung casually off of his lip, and he sat with a discomforting stillness, a grey intelligence glinting in the dark of his sketchy brown eyes, focused so carefully on that of the form before him.

"Didn't think you'd wake up." he said simply, then attempted to laugh. The consequent cackle resulted in a coughing spasm to revolt within him, the young man simply waited silently for the spell to end before watching him take another contaminated breath from his cigar. For a moment neither said nothing more, the man still gazing at the boy with sadistic glazed over eyes, warm breath expulsing from his body in long audible wisps. Then perhaps reconsidering the vacancy of the boys stare, he gruffly persisted, his brows furrowed with a seemingly innocent curiosity not easily sustained in his dim expressionless eye sockets. "How long have you been out here? What is your name, boy?" He seemed almost to have a faint lisp that came and went with every few words, a soft whistle to his syllables as they spilled from his lips. An uncomfortable silence began to seep into the few moments that followed the question, slightly more then either had ever received from the mouths of the living, much less then another such as themselves… the gazes they exchanged had become stale, rusted over with the pasty retreat of mistrust which they could mutually feel tingling, etched perhaps permanently in the very cores of their dehumaned hearts.

"I don't know." The boy responded sullenly, avoiding the intense stare he knew would meet his eyes dare they venture in that mans direction. He squirmed uncomfortably against the dumpster, pressing his body closer to the icy metal and rank scent, ringing clear within his nostrils, before continuing. "Name's Jayson." And then "….Sir."

"Uh-huh. S'that right?" he replied simplistically, raising a hand to brush the moisture from beneath his large nostrils, not caring to offer his own name. How long had he been here? Jayson couldn't help but wonder, having examined the mans clothing. Maybe a year. Maybe ten… Could someone live like this for ten years? Possibly… if you could call that living. With his other hand, the old man produced the pack of cigars from which the dead butt in his mouth must have belonged to at one point from his vest pocket. Jayson's eyes quickly scanned the box, vaguely recognizing the brand as one of the more costly items on the market. How was it that he would be able to afford such luxuries when it was obvious that he had been living off the streets?

In seeing this flicker of abnormal interest, the man reached into his cigar box again with his age bespeckled hand, taking one thick cigar and offering it, leaned closer to Jayson's cold form with his palm outstretched.

"Take what you need to get by." he mumbled softly, his voice hoarse yet almost generous in its appeal. For a moment Jayson's eyes closed as he emitted a faint sigh. The cold was not easy to ignore, even such a rare occasion that should command attention. He managed to shake his head, resulting in a bit of white snow to be cast away from his skull to expose the chemically induced black of his hair and the dark brown roots beneath.

"I have that already." He murmured in a warm, placid tone, now carelessly observing the pale of his own fingers which seemed no longer responsive to the bitter air, before drawing them to his mouth to rip away at the cuticles. It had been a nervous habit he had developed when he was younger, one of which his mother used to chastise him for constantly and eventually aided him in overcoming… but she was no longer there to bother about it, and he no longer cared either way. He then began to pick at the soles of his chucks, before realizing that the man before him was chuckling softly at his previous remark. From afar, Jayson could hear the shuffle of the man and his heavy combat boots, then suddenly, the blunt outbreak of his voice, amplified into an exaggerated croak of mirth.

"In your pocket?" he then inquired softly. The boy opened his eyes, shifting them cautiously to those of the old man, a sudden fear distracting his senses from their own lack of motion or warmth… it burned within him with a swift passionate strength, exasperating his mind, if for but a single moment before consuming him. Shit, he thought to himself, slipping his hand inconspicuously into the left pocket of his jacket. There was nothing inside of it. It was empty. He groped incessantly through the other, no longer attempting to hide his concern. Nothing. The old man began to grin, his yellowed teeth boasting years of tooth decay, glaring outward from the hollow of his face with a sickening iridescence. Suddenly he seemed to be yet more of a stranger then he had but a minute prior, his form suddenly charged with a cruelty that Jayson had seen before, in the dulled, diluted stares from those who saw him as invisible, from those who saw him as worthless… from those who had looked at him as an inhuman piece of filth discarded and unworthy of food or shelter, suddenly condensed into the mans decayed deep set eyes, within his laughter and amusement.

"You tell me." The old man said with a curt delicacy, pulling out a thin scrap of leather, then from that, drawing a small white card, lightly plaited with the face of a dark skinned man probably around his late forties.

"Only wallet I found here, is from a man by the name of Walter Nixon. You know any Walter Nixon?" He asked, a fierce security trembling from within his tempered voice.

"I—I was returning it." Voice stumbling, Jayson had been caught off guard and could think of nothing else…even then, he didn't need to. The old man had already begun to rise, brushing away the excess snow from his body before limping gaily into the streets, slipping away with everything, any hopes that Jayson contained, smuggled in the pocket of his checkered vest, and in the very expanse of butts and ashes he had left behind, scattered evermore in the meager half inch of snow and ice.