ONE FLASH – Adam Schirling

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Fiction, Flash
Tags: , , , , ,


The old drunk man knew nothing. But the old drunk man knew everything as well. For years he had scoured these streets, a haggard vagrant, a broken and ragged shell of what used to be. Many nights, so many nights have been spent in dirty cardboard boxes, chugging cheap wine in plastic bottles until the sweet embrace of the spinning coma came and took him away, took him away from the dark alley and rats who gnawed at his feet while he slumbered. He had seen death, he had seen evil. He knew the stinging pain of the onslaught of winter on his face, and the sweaty hell of sleeping in a washdrain when the mercury climbs over 100 degrees. Many of his friends had fallen from this life, found frozen dead in a stoop, or stabbed in a dirty abandoned house, or OD’d with a hot dose of smack still in their arm.


The man shuffled along the busy street, important people brushing by him, offering looks of disgust, and some throwing horrible insults. “fucking loser”. “dumb drunk”. “scumbag fuck”. He had heard it all in the decades of wandering. This day was hotter than most, and the waves of stink and misery wafted through the air, the sun making him dizzy, and dripping greasy sweat onto his dirty flannel shirt. Many years ago he learned that acting crazy kept the worst of the punks away. They never thought that to bother with a crazy old drunk stumbling around. The second one of those bastards started to eye him hungrily, he immediately started to shout about Jesus and government conspiracy. They laughed at him and threw bottles, but fucking left him be.


Today was no different. The usual pariahs were out. Sweaty crackwhores in short shorts and cheap stilettos, their breath fresh with the cum of the last 5 dollar john, the trashy pimps in the old cadillacs keeping an eye on their stable of trash and flith, the low level drug dealers stood on the corner peddling blissful ignorance in 20 dollar baggies, and others like him; they all filled the mosaic of hatred and despair that defined these few city blocks. He squinted at the bright sun, and looked at the tall buildings just a few blocks away. In these castles to consumerism, these monuments to selfish capitalism, these fortresses of greed, so-called masters of the universe wheeled and dealed, making and losing fortunes with a single phone call or stroke of the keyboard. Yes, the old man knew much.


Today’s goal was simple, and not much different from the goal of most days lately. Panhandle to enough hipster businessmen and trendy college kids to buy a jug of cheap booze from the liquor store on the corner with the sexy little thing of a clerk, who looks like she should be trying her first cigarette rather than working in an inner city package store.


He shuffled along some more, the heat and humidity now making him dizzy and giving the streets a surreal dream like quality. He could feel the itchy sweat mixing with the grime on his malnourished body, forming a paste of neglect and misery on his burnt skin. He knew nothing, other than he needed a drink and a cool spot to sleep soon, or it would all start to get very very bad. His tolerance of the sober world was too much to handle these days. Just too fucking much.


He rounded yet another dirty corner, and saw the woman and the man. The girl was yet another street walker, a piggish and sweat stained whore in cheap slutty clothes and a pasty face caked with bright makeup like a weird caricature of a woman. The man was yet another punk who fancied himself a pimp, and dressed like a mid 19th century New Orleans maître d. He held the bitch by her arm, and was yelling in her face, the spittle working it’s way around a fat dipper and red stained lips to land on the girl’s frightened face. Normally, any other fucking day, the old man wouldn’t give a shit, life on the street is just like that some days, but just as he was about to turn away he realized that this woman, this whore who sold her virtue for a handful of sweaty dollar bills, was no more than a child. Instantly this reality flooded his mind, cut through the haze of years of drug use like a sharp knife, and made him stop in his tracks. The anger grew in him, boiled up like a cauldron of hot magma, making him see white and feel explosions of hatred in his brains, likes fireworks over the waterfront on the 4th. The scream that erupted from his lips startled even him, a sound that loud hadn’t left his mouth in many years. The punk glanced up quickly, eyes startled like a deer in headlights, but seeing only the old vagrant he sneered and pulled out a shitty knife, exactly the kind of knife that a piece of shit like him would use, the kind bought from a cheap pawn shop: fake ivory handle and dulled blade. The whore’s eyes widened, fear crept into her brain. She knew what the knife meant.


The old man saw himself running towards them, his worn canvas shoes slapping against the hot asphalt, and the sound cutting through the stink of rotting garbage in the summer sun. The pimp glanced up again, and grunted in disbelief when the old man crashed into him, sending him sprawling. The two collapsed to the ground in a tangle, the kid swearing and yelling. After hitting the cracked pavement, the old man yelled to the whore, “run you stupid bitch, fucking RUN”. She quickly listened, turning on cheap heels, and ran crying from the alley. Relieved the old man looked up, and saw the face of the punk hovering over him, blocking out the hot sun. His face was twisted and contorted in hatred, and was yelling things, horrible things. But the old man stopped hearing them, he looked beyond the kid, and saw a small sparrow perched on the phone line above them. His grizzled bearded face smiled at this, though he had no idea why. But the old man knew what was coming next. The knife plunged into his belly, surprising him with just how hard and cold it felt. He could feel the dull blade slicing through vital organs, and then the feeling left. He saw the boy continue to plunge the knife into his belly and chest, and in a dreamlike state, looked up and saw the sparrow again. Yes, the old man knew nothing, and yet he knew much. The sun suddenly felt hotter than usual, like it was making his whole body burn like a bonfire, and then the darkness fell.


  1. Christine says:

    Adam- this is sensational. Keep it up! I love your work.

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