A thick fog choked Castle Rock Park—cold, suffocating, still. It was quiet, too quiet for Weatherby. His brain compensated for the lack of sound by providing a maddening, grinding hum, like the bowing of the lower registers of a cello. Weatherby slapped both ears but the hum remained.
Ernie began to growl and Weatherby heard the approaching footsteps. A shadowy figure materialized from the gloom, the parkie, Dick Swiveller. Swiveller approached the Spruce tree. Weatherby was seated in a rusted-out lawn chair near his tree, just in front of the doorway that led to his living quarters inside the boughs.
“Hey, Dick,” he said as Ernie began to bark.
“Hey yourself,” said Swiveller. “Don’t let that dog take my leg off.”
“Cut it out, Ernie,” scolded Weatherby.
The tiny dog barked again at the approaching Swiveller, glanced at Weatherby, and trotted over to a wicker basket next to Weatherby’s chair. Once in the basket, the dog completely covered itself with a tiny knitted blanket. Weatherby had knitted the blanket for Ernie. The project had taken him a couple of weeks, it being his first stab at knitting. The stitches were haphazard and uneven but it was wool and kept Ernie warm. Weatherby reached down and gently poked the little form under the blanket. The dog growled. Weatherby grinned mischievously at Swiveller. Ernie crawled from under the blanket and out of the basket. He reared on his hind legs, stretched out his forepaws to Weatherby’s knee, and let out another bark. Weatherby scooped up the dog and placed him on his lap. Ernie continued to eye Swiveller, blinking and licking a forepaw. Weatherby had found Ernie abandoned one day in the park. Nobody came looking for the dog so Weatherby took him in.
“Looks like Ernie’s taking life easy,” said Swiveller
“Ernie’s a bum,” said Weatherby. The dog’s eyes were half shut as Weatherby stroked the tiny head.
“Grab a chair, Dick. There’s one just inside the doorway, there.”
Swiveller wedged himself into a hole in the spruce boughs and pulled a chair from the darkness inside. He unfolded the rickety chair and sat down across from Weatherby and Ernie.
“So what’s for breakfast?” said Swiveller.
“Nothing hot, I can tell you that,” said Weatherby. “Some assholes crapped on my grill last night. Unbelievable. Two goddamn monster turds right on my grill. They’re frozen now, stuck on like barnacles. I don’t know if I’ll ever get them off. But the worst of it is the idiots didn’t even wipe their asses after they shit. There’s no used paper around. How can a guy take a shit without wiping his ass? That’s not right.”
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” ventured Swiveller, laughing.
“Yeah, it’s funny for you,” said Weatherby with some annoyance. “You don’t have to cook on that grill. Besides, every civilized human being knows to be prepared with paper when nature calls. It’s common sense.” Weatherby pulled up the stopper on his Adidas sports bottle and took a long pull of wine.
“You know,” commented Swiveller, “When I see you drink out of that bottle, I’m almost fooled into thinking you’re one of those dopey personal fitness trainers, or maybe a real estate broker, out for a morning jog and stopping for a hit of Gatorade. The only thing that gives you away is that shaggy beard.”
“That’s pretty funny, Dick. I can’t believe you would associate me with scum like that.” Weatherby said. “But seriously, idiots who drink from wine bottles in paper sacks are so goddamned obvious, they deserve to get popped. You have to be smart. You have to keep yourself under the radar.”
Weatherby knew how to exist without leaving too many footprints. He bought cheap Franzia wine in the box, removed the plastic wine-filled pouch and hid it in his pack. He drank the wine from plastic containers he found in trash bins—worn sports flasks with scuffed logos and energy drink bottles with flavors like Fruit Punch and Cherry Pomegranate Splash. Anything red. Whenever he drained the bottle, it was a simple matter to fill it again from the hidden pouch. He used the empty cardboard box to kindle his fires.
“That’s why you’ve managed to live in this park for, let’s see, seven years now,” said Swiveller, grimacing as he slowly rotated his shoulders. “And without any trouble to speak of.”
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Weatherby. “Stiff neck?”
“Just ordinary aches and pains. Seems like after 50 if it’s not one thing it’s another.”
“Goes with the territory,” said Weatherby sagely.
“Yeah. I feel like my old grand dad. He used to grunt and groan when he moved around. I remember when I was a kid I’d imitate him and make a joke out of it. Some joke. I’d really like to have that one back.”
“Kids are fucking evil bastards,” said Weatherby, pulling at his beard. The dog stood up on Weatherby’s lap and began to pant. Weatherby set Ernie on the ground. The dog wandered around sniffing.
“A few weeks ago, I was reading about Martin Luther, you know, the Reformation dude, and I remember reading that he was taking a shit when he got his big famous illumination. Anyway, it was Luther’s disgust with his own shit that led to his vision of the world as an evil place dominated by the devil. The world is shit. It stinks, it’s black, and it’s foul. Go over and take a big whiff of those two big sons of bitches lying on that grill; see for yourself.”
“I know what shit smells like, Weatherby. I deal with it every day. But what in hell does that have to do with anything?”
“It has to do with those little bastards who crapped on my grill,” said Weatherby. “They’re really demons disguised as little bastards.”
Swiveller sat for a moment and watched Weatherby puffing out smoke rings.