where the wilder things are
(originally posted 1/3/2013)
I guess it’s pretty easy to believe that there are no such things as monsters sitting in a brightly lit room in the middle of a safe home. It’s perfectly understandable actually. The problem is that monsters don’t go anywhere near brightly lit rooms or, for that matter, safe homes (yet?).
I know where they do live. And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about metaphorical monsters. I mean the ones with teeth and claws, the ones that bite and slurp up innocent and not-so-innocent people whether they believe in them or not.
There are cab drivers in New York City that have been driving her streets for decades, that know how to take passengers to any location that they can think of, anywhere in the five boroughs. They know every address but they don’t know where the monsters live. You see, off of the main streets are small avenues and off of those are side streets and off of those are little alleys and off of those are nooks and alcoves. You get the general idea. These places don’t have names or numbers and sometimes as you walk down them you’re not sure if you’re even still outside. The walkways are narrow and there are pipes running above you that look centuries old. Steam seeps up from somewhere and drifts off to somewhere else. Things drip. Trash accumulates. You immediately feel like you don’t belong, that much is certain.
Like a basement is the bowels of a building, these places are the very depths of the city.
Sitting in your brightly lit room is doesn’t feel possible. That these places could actually exist. Maybe you feel that even if you were there your rational mind would stop you from getting scared but if you only believe one thing I tell you then believe that that fear is there for a reason. It’s millions of years of experience programmed into you. Telling you to run when your mind tries to tell you that there is nothing to be frightened of. There is something to be frightened of.
And I know where they live.
The darkness knows what so many horror movie producers don’t; don’t show the monsters. Ever. They are always much more terrifying when they are in your head. Or in this case, the shadows.
In New York City there are 36,000 homeless that use shelters every night. Advocates say that the total number, including those that don’t use the shelter system, could be double that. Most (75%) of them suffer some sort of mental illness. The kind of mental illness that has them looking for a dry spot out of the public eye or a warm grate to sleep on. The kind that would have them venture deeper and deeper into the city in search of a safe place to sleep.
So don’t ask how the monsters get fed.
Occasionally the scum that prey upon the homeless follow them into the dark places so occasionally the monsters do a good deed and swallow them up as well. Not that the monsters care either way.
How do I know all this?
Because I’ve walked down these alleyways. The places that you look up but can’t see the night sky, never sure when or if you started walking downwards. It’s only when you hear the subway passing next to you or is it over your head that you even notice. There are bad smells in the train stations to be sure but here the stench is fouler. A scent that makes urine seem like a refreshing potpourri. It is the smell of real decay. The smell of death.
Can I claim that I saw a monster? Actually saw it?
But if I can ask you to believe a second thing about my story then believe that I felt them rustling and stirring as I passed. It wasn’t my imagination. I know my imagination well and although it is prone to flights of fancy this was not one of those occasions. Understand that without fear there can be no comfort, so without these places there can be no safe homes.
And we’ve already established that you’re reading this in a safe home right?
So I knew they were there. All around me. But I backpedaled without once taking my eyes away from the darkness. My eyes shot to meet every creak or bloody talon scraping on the cement. Retraced every step until I looked up again and saw stars and clouds, until the alley became a lane and that lane became a side road.
Know that I’ve put away my anger and fury for good as it paled to what I felt there. Somewhere in that city of 8+ million people there beats a sinister heart brimming with wickedness and I can only assume that somewhere else there is a place of pure good that balances this out. I have been to the former and can only hope that the latter exists for if it doesn’t then even brightly lit rooms might not be enough to save us.