6. Dissatisfied hunger
Hunger-Greed stalked the universe looking for a perfect host, one not bothered overmuch by cleanliness, one with low self-esteem and preferably without too many moral impediments. In its lifetime it had only ever found one planet where hosts could be had at random. These hosts never put up much resistance and were susceptible to Hunger-Greed’s sinuous, evil whispers in their minds. The planet was earth and it stalked one of her inhabitants relentlessly, knowing that capitulation was certain and resistance futile, knowing that here it could spread at random and there was nothing anybody could do.
The pale yellow light from the street lamp cast a rich, warm glow over the dark, formless mound lying beneath it. The night was hauntingly cold and at times the body, covered with multiple layers of old newspaper shivered and twitched. The only other sound was the gentle snoring interspersed by odd little frantic grunts and groans and the wind breathing through the autumn leaves.
Behind the closed eyelids, deep in the world where dreams have their origin, the beast still hunted and tortured him. The veil between reality and the dream had worn thin and the beast had made its existence known in the world where people went to work, children went to school and mothers coped with their daily routines. Soon it would spread to cover the earth and he could do nothing to stop the inevitable plague. The beast had marked him first, had gathered his peculiar scent into its flaring nostrils and had followed him into the privacy of his dreams. He was patient zero, the starting point, due to the condition his life was in. He was a bum, nothing more, nothing less. Scraggly beard, long unkempt brown hair, dirty hands with black residue under each fingernail. His clothing was not in better shape than the body that inhabited it. He wore a frayed flannel shirt, rain or shine, jeans that hadn’t seen a wash in maybe six months, scuffed leather shoes from which the soles had torn loose at several places, dark blue holey socks and an overcoat that was encrusted with left- over food and stains that he couldn’t even begin to name. He eked out an existence from begging during the tourist season and hunkered down in winter where ever it seemed less cold, rainy or windy. He chose to numb the pain with various brown paper wrapped bottles of cheap liquor. He had no ambition, no life altering goals and definitely no dreams… until recently that is.
He twitched in his sleep, an involuntary movement caused by the desperate necessity to break away from the indefatigable creature that hounded him. He had been running for the entire night and was nearing total exhaustion. The cold night air penetrated the borders of the nightmare and his body under the street lamp shivered uncontrollably.
The beast had followed him into the woods and in the dark he saw the glimmer of the amber, voracious eyes staring back at him unblinkingly. It had gotten closer. He stumbled over a thick tree root, grazing his knee painfully. He managed to pick himself up, fear driving the need for survival. He dimly wondered whether it could smell the fresh blood that stained his jeans. He knew it was only a matter of time before the sharp, dirty talons touched his shoulder, or worse yet, grabbed his ankle and sunk them into warm, yielding flesh.
He felt the distance between him and his pursuer shrink, although it was difficult to see anything beyond the tree trunks and branches directly in front of him. It was more a feeling than something he could rationally explain. Despite being weary to the point of near collapse, he pushed onward. He knew that once the beast held him in its terrifying grasp, the chances of it letting go were slim to nothing. He would be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life. He had to find a place to hide where the eyes of the creature could not track, where his scent would be lost among a million other nocturnal animals. Frantically he looked around, aware that precious seconds were ticking by. He could not afford to waste any time. There was nowhere to hide! Futility and hopelessness embraced him like old friends.
He crossed the small stream that lay slightly to his left, desperately trying to do so as silently as possible. The icy water leaked into the spaces where the soles of his shoes had torn away from the uppers and soaked his threadbare, dark blue socks. A tiny sliver of joy pierced his anxious heart as he suddenly remembered that wading through water supposedly made it more difficult for a pursuer to track you. At least that was what Hollywood movies proclaimed as true. He followed the stream upriver for a while and nearly missed stumbling onto a perfect little hidey hole.
He saw that the bank had recently been hollowed out by flood water. Directly in front of the human sized indentation reeds and bulrushes grew abundantly. This meant that he would not be seen from either direction, up or down stream if he managed to worm his way in. His back would be protected and he would have a clear view of anything approaching the hollow. He would see the creature before it saw him and have a slight advantage.
He bent the reeds back and wriggled himself into the tiny opening behind. He barely managed to fit his entire frame into the cramped space. There really wasn’t any room left for movement. Gingerly he allowed the reeds to return to their original position. He purposefully slowed his breathing, trying to calm his racing heart. His ears were attuned to the slightest noises and his senses were bristling with nervous tension.
Silence blanketed the woods and not the slightest sound disturbed the cold night air. Time seemed to stretch like a taut elastic band as he waited, expecting to be attacked at any moment. A sudden, intense cry sliced the tension like a hot knife through butter and made his skin crawl. An owl had most likely succeeded in catching its swift footed dinner. He had to put it down to that or lose his mind to fear.
He settled down to wait once more, looking warily around him. His leg muscles ached, yet he couldn’t risk stretching them for fear of alerting the creature to his exact location. The waiting was excruciating and his already frayed nerves became jagged splinters that cut deeply.
The silence seemed to roar like a freight train. At times he felt disassociated and lost his concentration. He shook his head angrily, admonishing himself sternly to stay alert, to please stay awake. He suddenly heard a faint splashing to the right of him. He listened intently for a few minutes. The noise was not repeated and he tried to persuade himself that it was just a fish or frog leaping out of the water of the narrow stream and splashing back in.
Yet, there it was again, a slight movement that spoke of deliberate care, stealth, intelligence and cunning. The noise was closer this time. He panicked, wondering whether his cramped leg muscles would be able to hold his weight, let alone run. A harsh, guttural snuffling and a faint whiff of fetid breath sent fear crashing through him. It had found him!
A darker shadow moved across the reeds directly in front of him. He held his breath, desperately hoping against all odds, squeezing his eyes shut as if that would make the reality easier to deal with. Yet behind his closed eyelids he could see his empty life running out. There would be no escape, it was futile to run. Opening his eyes, he caught a glint of amber tinted pupils and knew it was over. With surprising speed and agility the creature reached out and grabbed him. The talons tore through the muscles and bones in his ankles as if it was mere tissue paper. He was unceremoniously hauled out of his hiding place and dumped into the freezing water. He screamed for his sleeping self to wake up, please, please, please just wake up! Wake up! Wake up now! Please, he begged…
Panic stricken, with cold sweat running down his body, he woke up under the yellow street light, his own voice echoing in his ears. He had known that this day would eventually arrive, that the creature would not be contained by the dream and that it would succeed in crossing over to the real world. He felt the creature digging deeper into his bone structure, circling its evil essence around his spine and penetrating the deepest recesses of his soul. It wound a severe web around his thoughts and enslaved his mind. In just a few horrifying seconds it became part of him, a parasitic being that would suck him dry and throw away the useless husk in disgust. He felt its insidious need to procreate and realized that it would seed his body with spores that would be dispersed each time he breathed. It would infect the entire population within a matter of months. Domination would belong to the beast.
A sudden horrifying hunger scratched, ripped and tore at his stomach. It spoke to the instinctual brain and bypassed all reason. He raced to the nearest dustbin, clawing at the contents and throwing what he didn’t need, angrily to the side. He wolfed down anything he could lay his hands on. It hardly mattered that the food was rotten, covered with green mildew or putrefying with hordes of maggots feasting on it. He stuffed it down his throat, barely chewing. He would do anything to assuage and calm the beast within.
After a few days the time period between binges grew ever shorter and even animal carcasses became fair game. Hunger gnawed at him the endlessly and sleep seemed a distant dream. He had to keep the spores growing and they needed to feed. The beast commanded feeding; it would not allow him the escape of suicide. It followed the first primal instinct; that of survival of the species that was known as Hunger-Greed.
Thus the insignificant sidewalk bum, beggar, homeless drunk started the plague of world hunger and loosed the beast of greed upon the earth. It would become a world- wide problem that no leader, politician or government could remedy no matter how hard they tried. With one man, patient zero, the avalanche started and it would end when only one man with the beast as intimate companion would remain standing. All it took was one…..