I've always been one of those gray people that you see everyday on your way to work, at the laundry, in the grocery store, at the gas station. Those people whose live barely interact with yours with a few fleeting photons then they turn away and go--somewhere else. You don't care, though. It's nothing to do with you, now is it?
Oh, I've done a few things in my life to bring life and color into my existence and that of others, but's always been temporary--short lived and immaterial. The horrible part of my existence was I could feel it all slipping away like my blood draining out of a shunt, wasted--discarded on the ground to mix with the earth like that of millions of other faceless people, simply waiting for their ends.
I was in my fifties; tired, onften drunk and dissolute--knowing better than to expect anything better to come my way. I was in one of those jobs where if you did well then nobody noticed you, but if anything went wrong all hell broke loose and it was ALL YOUR FAULT. A real ulcer generator, you know? I felt more than a little vengeful that weekend. I pulled all the money I had out of my checking account and used one of those "balance transfer" checks that my credit card company kept sending out to max out my credit card. Then I made a cheerful little fire outside my apartment where all that plastic contributed to the national hydrocarbon debt.
While stepping off the curb I was side-swiped by a garbage truck. The son-of-a-bitch broke my collar bone, whacked my ead into the concrete curb and ignored me, now lying in the foetid liquor streaming out of the restaurant dumpster into the gutter. When I woke up I shivered, wept and wiped the snot from my nose. That was the last fucking straw. I was coldly bitter. No more "Beautiful Loser".
I was a backpacker for ages before my body and my lack of control got me into the fat man's death spiral of hypertension, bad joints, diabetes and atrial arrhythmia. I loaded up everything that I wanted to live with into my old external frame backpack, ordered a U. S. military litter and a half dozen olive drab wool blankets and got everything loaded into my next-to-an-antique jeep. I had two big 38 quart plastic containers in the back that would hold up my bed, several big white canvas painter's tarps and four full twenty-pound LP gas tanks in that thing. Next I bought a couple ten foot long, one foot wide by one inch thick straight grain hickory planks. I used my power saw and drill to turn them into two nice two-board recliners, packed my folding table and loaded up a few cases of canned food into the passenger's foot well. The jeep wouldn't do over 45 miles and hour without overheating so there I was, cruising the back roads of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Once I was out of Illinois I traded a couple of lousy but nearly new .22 magnum Marlin rifles for a good Savage bolt-operated .22 mag rifle with a much better action and locking mechanism than Marlin ever dreamed of putting on the market. Ammunition was a little hard to get hold of but I bought what I could when I could.
I'd been writing stories for ages and ages that I just threw out there, kind of like a note in a bottle. Once in a while I'd get a message back from some kind soul but my voice usually was lost in the wind. I kept a little laptop computer to record my thoughts and the progress on my stories.
I supposed that I smelled pretty bad as I hadn't bathed in a couple of months. November was coming up and I needed a place to pull my head in for the winter. I started paying more attention to the abandoned farms that I passed as I slowly, mindlessly ate up the road miles.
I found an old deserted farm in south-west Missouri near a huge lake. The barn had collapsed sideways, probably from a wind storm some time ago. The farmhouse was still standing, a heavy, low two story structure that had a slate roof and looked like it could withstand the second coming. The windows were all covered with shutters and the front door was nailed shut. Behind the house, however, was a broad porch that led to a latched door. I carefully opened it, watching for feral animals or bats. Instead I found a place that looked like I had just stepped into the 1880's. Everything was covered in dust though. I decided that I'd just found my final destination.
I had to run a new bucket and rope down the well to get water but the old cast iron boiling kettle was still there next to the leached ashes of the old fire pit. I unloaded my jeep onto the back porch, then cruised around looking for firewood. Not far away was an old copse with squaw wood just waiting to be picked up or knocked off the trees. I filled the jeep and headed back. I emptied my load, grabbed a tree saw, axe and a rope then went back for more. I attacked the dead standing wood, filling the back of my jeep until nothing fit any more. I knew that I'd be there the next week or so until the woods were cleared. Standing firewood like that was a gift that I wasn't about to look askance at.
The old mattresses were mouse-beds writ large. I hauled them outside, swept down the ceiling, walls and floors then washed the windows. The place looked a hundred percent better.
After all that work I cooked up a little can of beans for dinner and made my bed in the master bedroom. The old bed's box frame held my sleeping pad, blankets above and blankets below. I easily fell asleep.
I dreamed of holding a woman with dark curly hair as we slept. I held her breast as she wound around me with her leg between mine. Her hair smelled of Lillies of the Valley. I woke to tears, never having realized that I so severely missed the simple human contact which I'd denied myself for so many years.
The next few days were bright and warm. I dove into stripping the old coppice of the dead and dry wood. I quickly filled most of the back porch with ready firewood. I needed somewhere else to store dry wood out of the weather so I started exploring the remains of the old barn. I did it carefully as rattlesnakes loved to sun themselves in dry lumber and had no compunction against sinking their fangs into anyone that disturbed them.
I managed to "snake" out a few nice 4x4 beams and plenty of sawn board lumber to construct a lean-to beside the house. There I stacked more and more firewood, first from the coppice and later, as the weather began to pack in, from the barn wood.
The house was amazingly warm and dry. A small fire in the kitchen stove kept the house in shirtsleeves.
As I ran out of food I drove into town to buy big bags of rice, flour, salt and sugar. I bought a few gallons of corn oil and some yeast as well. My meat budget was taken care of with the rifle. I was certain sure that the sheriff wouldn't approve but I shot more than a few critters that all went into the cook pot if they weren't cats.
Each night I felt ghostly arms and legs cradle me and a sweet breath on my neck. I wept each morning at my loss of a woman's caring touch.
It was deep in the winter, some time in February that I finally ran out of funds. I had enough gasoline in the tank to get to town and back a couple of times but nothing to buy food with anymore. I had hardened myself to knowing that this time would come. I figured that soonest begun meant soonest ended. I stripped, took a drench in cold water and sat down nude on a bench on the back porch, ready for the cold to take me. I shivered severely for a while, then it seemed to lessen. The cold bothered me less and I felt myself falling asleep. I smiled, realizing that it wasn't such a bad way to go...
She struck me! I felt her palm across my face! Then she did it again, and again! I felt myself dragged inside and to the bed while someone stoked the stove until it glowed. I was not allowed to go back to sleep as I was stuck by blows every time my eyelids fell. From somewhere I heard such a screeching as I had never heard before.
I woke beneath an amorous woman, her dark curly hair smelling of sweet herbs. I felt her tears wetting my shoulder and chest. There was nothing I could do but to wrap her in my arms and give her what pitiful love that I had.
"Why did you try to leave me? Have I not suffered alone long enough?" I petted her hair and neck. "I would not leave a lovely woman unless fate conspired against me. I am out of funds. I have no more food or way of getting more. I'm afraid that your heroic attempt at bringing me back to life have been futile as I must die soon from lack of sustenance. I'm sorry, my dear, but fate has called up my number."
She pushed against my shoulders, sitting up. I nearly fell into her deep blue eyes. "That is no reason to die. Buried beneath the hay barn are several chests holding many dollar bills. They have been there since before the turn of the century. You must rest and regain your strength before you go to claim them as it will take some shovel work to reach them." She laid back down in my arms. I whispered, "What are you? You hold me like a lover yet you are no more than a tendril of a whisper."
She nuzzled her face into my neck. "We are the gray folk. We never made our mark while alive. We did nothing but support others, always in the background. We are the mothers, the fathers, the brothers and sisters that died for our kin selflessly and barely noticed. Now, I found that I have fallen in love with you, Harry. All the others have, in their own way, cheered us on and offered their assistance."
.... There is more of this story ...