Joe held out a cup to a man walking by on the street. The man quickly stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled it back out again. He flipped a coin into the cup in Joe's hand and then went on his way. Joe pulled the coin out of the cup to discover that it was a measly dime.
"Thanks, mister," said Joe sarcastically. "Nice to see that charity hasn't totally gone away."
Joe dropped the coin back into the cup again. He held the cup out as more people passed by.
"Spare some change?"
No coins fell into the cup. It was still early in the morning and Joe knew more people would be coming that way.
"Get a job, ya good for nothing bum," sneered a man passing by.
"Get run over, slimeball," muttered Joe under his breath.
The morning came and went. At noon Joe had enough change in his cup to buy himself a lunch of cup of soup and a cup of coffee. Joe saved a little money from the cup for dinner in case people weren't in the giving mood that afternoon. He walked to the park and sat on his favorite bench. He looked up as he was eating and saw Lenny walking up the sidewalk to where he was sitting.
Lenny was, like Joe, a transient. Lenny had lost his job a couple of years back and couldn't find another one to pay his rent. After a couple of months Lenny was kicked out of the apartment building. With no living relatives to turn to, he was forced to live on the streets scrounging for whatever money or food he could find.
"Morning, Joe," said Lenny as he sat down on the park bench.
"Hi, Lenny, how's it going?" asked Joe as he took a sip from his coffee.
"Oh, you know, same old, same old. How 'bout you?"
"Same, people are about as generous as ever," said Joe, looking down at the pavement.
"That bad, eh?"
"I guess I'm not expecting things to change, I just wish that they would."
"Sometimes you just gotta take what life gives you, Joe, 'ol boy," said Lenny. "I mean this ain't so bad if you look at it right."
"Living on the streets is really getting you, Lenny," said Joe, taking a spoonful of soup.
"No, really. Look at it this way. You don't got any responsibility to nobody, and you don't owe nobody nothing. Nobody depends on you, and you have all the freedom you want. The only thing you gotta do is find some eats, put a few threads on your back, and find a place to sleep at night. It's not bad if you don't mind sharing your bed with a few strays."
"But I don't want to live like this," said Joe. "I want to live in a nice home, get a nice job, have a wife and kids."
"If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that all those things are nothing but trouble and worry, and lots of it at that," said Lenny. "Trust me, Joe, you're better off where you are. Your home is on the streets now, and it'll stay that way."
"I don't know about that, Lenny."
"Face the facts. There's no way you can get off the streets. Nobody's gonna hire a bum. In all truth, we're both bums. Look at you, and look at me. There's no way that either one of us could get hired anywhere the way we look, unless you know of some place that's hiring professional bums."
Lenny gave a little chuckle.
"Laugh if you want, Lenny, but I'm gonna find some way to get above all this," said Joe, downing the rest of his coffee.
Joe got up and tossed his trash in a nearby wastebasket.
"Well, back to work," said Joe.
"See you later, Joe."
Joe walked out of the park and headed for the
corner of Market and 9th street to spend the rest of the afternoon asking
for handouts. As Joe arrived at 9th street, he felt a strange sensation
pass over him. He felt dizzy and disoriented. His vision swirled
before him and he swaggered where he stood. Finally, his vision dimmed
and went black, and he slumped to the concrete next to a light pole.
"No!" shouted the man. "You mustn't get up, you're very weak."
"What? Who are you?" asked Joe.
"My name is Alexander Larson," said the man. "You must lie down. You are suffering from malnutrition."
Alexander helped Joe to bed and Joe laid down.
"But why would you want to help me?" asked Joe. "I'm just a bum."
"Why? Why?" said Alexander. "You see, this world is full of too much unkindness and I just feel that when you just see someone who's in trouble, you just gotta help them out. Now don't move around too much, you need your rest."
Joe didn't ask him any more questions. He wasn't going to chance saying something that would make this kind man rescind his generosity. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.
Alexander cared for Joe over the next couple of weeks as he regained his strength. Alexander kept him well fed and clothed and allowed Joe to sleep as much as he needed.
"I've really got to thank you for your kindness, Alexander," said Joe at dinner one night. "There must be something that I can do to repay you."
One of the buttons on Joe's shirt came undone as he helped himself to another piece of chicken. Joe had put on quite a few pounds since Alexander had taken him in, and some of the clothes that he had been wearing were no longer fitting just right anymore. Joe noted that the chicken seemed to be quite underdone.
"Oh, that's not necessary," said Alexander. "I have the satisfaction that I've helped out someone in need."
"But you've been so kind to me, I've gotta do something for you," said Joe.
"Well, if you insist, but I really don't need for you to do anything."
"I'm gonna do something really good for you," said Joe. "You just see."
Joe and Alexander finished dinner and washed up the dishes. Joe went to bed that night with thoughts of what he could do for Alexander.
When Joe awoke the next morning, he knew what he was going to do. He had had a dream, and his mind was settled now on what to do. When he opened his eyes, the room looked upside down. He was sure that it was early morning hallucinations and so he blinked and opened his eyes. Still the room was upside down. The head rush that he had affirmed that he was indeed upside down. There was another thing too. He wasn't in his room anymore. There were metal walls and it was very cold. Joe looked up at his feet and saw that they were tied to a bar on the metal ceiling with a piece of rope. He looked around the room and there were other large objects hanging from other bars on the ceiling. The objects were covered in a white covering of some sort. Just then there was a clanking of metal and the door to the room opened. Joe turned his head to see Alexander entering the room.
"What's going on here?" demanded Joe.
"I would've thought that would have been pretty obvious, Joe," said Alexander.
"You've got me hanging here like a slab of..."
"Meat?" finished Alexander. "Exactly."
"What? You're not going to..."
"Eat you? Well, if you must know, I'm on a very strict diet. You're the only thing that can keep me alive. You see, Joe, I'm what you'd call a ghoul. Human flesh is my sustenance."
Alexander poked Joe a little.
"You've fattened up nicely over the past couple of weeks," said Alexander. "You should make a nice couple of weeks' meals."
"But I saw you eating that chicken last night at dinner!"
"I ate it, but it can't do for me what real human meat does," said Alexander, licking his lips.
"But what about all that stuff you said about helping another human being in need?"
"I said I was helping someone in need, and I am--me."