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Diet Colal

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Here is a story I wrote a while back. I hope you enjoy and feel free to tell me what you think. Constructive criticism is appreciated.

Diet Cola

The night’s sky hung low over the wet city. The walls of the buildings were sweating and the streets slid from under foot. Lights reflected off the thick, low hanging clouds giving everything an orange hue. The shade was sickening and only added to the exhaustion that coiled its lines around Cola’s body.

Old Town was a part of the city full of cramped, dark alleys to disappear down. This one wasn’t any different from any other. Cola leaned his back against the cold wall of a building and rested his hands on his knees; his breathing slowly came under control. The pounding in his chest gave way to a smoother rhythm, but his nerves continued to twitch at an uncontrollable rate. His legs shook and weakened. He wasn’t used to running like that any more, a few blocks he could manage, but once the distance started to get over a mile his stamina began to wane.

The smells of piss and garbage reminded him of how far he’d fallen in his life. Three years was all it took for Cola to degrade from a mildly successful small business owner to a homeless crook.

A few more blocks were all Cola had left to travel to find shelter and safety, but his fatigue was making it difficult. When his conviction returned he pealed his back away from the wall and trudged thigh deep in hunger out of the cramped alley, and into the claustrophobic streets. Cola crossed an intersection at the short side of a long block and turned down an identical alley to the one he just left.

Two thirds of the way down the alley, past a half full dumpster; Cola entered a building through a window with a broken latch. Ten years ago, or so, the building had been a parts factory of some sort, but cheaper labor over seas had make the sight the relic of a forgotten moment in prosperity and a financial liability. Now the building stood relatively empty. Threaded pegs littered the floor where conveyor belts and machines were once anchored. Cola sometimes found himself wishing he had a tool of some sort to remove them in moments like this, when it was dark and shadows created by dim light coming through the dirty windows hid the bolts in the shadows.

Cola had been living there for around six months and was the most recent of the buildings seven tenants. Of the seven, Papa Smurf was the only one home when Cola returned. Pap Smurf has been there the longest and rarely left the building after dark. As the buildings elder, he occupied the manager’s office at the top of a set of stairs in the corner. A single candle stood in one of the windows of the office that overlooked the sparse floor of the factory. A single candle meant that Papa Smurf was home, but sleeping.

Cola’s eyes lingered amongst the shadows for a moment and adjusted to the darkness. He looked back up to the candle and wished Papa Smurf was awake, he wanted to talk to him for a while, but it was too late. Cola turned to head to his room as he scanned the rest of the factory for confirmation of its vacancy. Bob’s locker-room door was closed and the gap under the door was as dark as everything else. The same could be said about Dora’s supply office, Jeffanie’s mechanic shop (Jeff and Stephanie were a couple whose marriage actually survived their financial woes), and Kidd’s corner.

Cola’s spot was as far away from everyone else as possible, not because he didn’t function well with the others, but because he was overly cautious when he first started staying in the factory and grew accustomed to his space. It was a former janitor’s closet tucked away on the far side of the factory's expansive open floor. The closet was barely large enough for the single, twin mattress he’s found abandoned outside an apartment building half way across town and the few things he managed to save from his life.

Compared to most closets of any sort it was large, but as a living space, it was barely adequate. The door swung inward when he opened it and lodged itself against the side of the mattress. Considering there were no windows in it, he stepped out of his closet and back into the factory so he could use the dim light that came in from the window over his shoulder. He was wearing old cargo pants, every pocket was filled to the stitches, and pulled out an unopened pack of four lighters. Cola pulled the plastic away from the cardboard back and removed a blue lighter.

He lit the lighter and entered the black void that was his living space before closing the door on the factory. To his left was a small end table that he found somewhere. Using the already burning lighter he lit a set of three candles that stood next to a stack of his favorite books and a homemade DVD that he hadn’t been able to watch in a few years.

Cola was exhausted to the extent that his brain no longer thought; he just stared blankly at the cave that was now his home. The glow from the candles’ light made the walls glow is the same shade as the streets outside. When he first moved into the factory he used to make up stories about the people who had lived there before. Such wandering led him to many conclusions that kept him up at night. At one point someone with a child had occupied his present dwelling. The walls were covered in adolescent hieroglyphs that ended five feet above the floor. On nights like this his mood toward his living condition hit bottom like a meal after a few days of bad luck. Once upon a time Coal was the optimist, he used to always land on his feet, but now his smiles came fewer and further between. He was ready for sleep; he needed sleep. He didn’t need it just because of his exhaustion, but because it was the only place he was allowed to remember the past without feeling the burden of the present.

Cola began emptying his pocket of the hoard he collected when he and Kidd performed their run out. Consistent with the agreement they had come to, Cola began dividing up the goods. From what he was able to grab and stuff in his pockets, minus everything in his hands he dropped while the clerk was chasing him; they would each get two lighters, five candy bars, a toothbrush, two bars of soap, chap stick, and under arm deodorant. The excess from the odd numbered items he set aside to give to Bob for shower privileges and what was his he stuck in the hole that used to be the end table’s drawer. Everything that was Kidd’s he left on the table top.

Normally, he would have taken off his shoes and stuffed his two extra pairs of socks in them to keep anything from crawling inside, but he was too exhausted to bother. He shuffled across the floor, stumbling as he tripped over one of the roach motels he had stuck to the floor surrounding his bed. Cola’s legs were still feeling the affects of the thief’s marathon; it was a slow squat that turned into a crawl leading to his pillow. The pillow was and old, strapless backpack stuffed with newspaper and his blanket was given to him at the neighborhood shelter. Neither met their purpose that night.

He woke the next day in a black cave and relit the candles on the table with the same blue lighter he had used before. The booty he left for Kidd was gone and replaced with his half of what Kidd got away with, which mostly consisted random, somewhat useless things. After falling asleep without blowing out the candles, they were surprisingly only a quarter of the way burnt. Kidd must’ve returned shortly after him and blown them out after the exchange.

He grabbed a can of overpriced chicken soup from the table top and cranked away at it with the opener on his pocket knife. It was eaten cold with an overused, plastic spoon he got from a fast food joint. Cola sat at the edge of his mattress mindlessly eating and staring off into nothingness. Nothing had changed since last night, not his moon and definitely not his situation. If only one thing would change, one minor shift of luck and it could make the difference between a new start and another year of homeless thievery. As positive as his thoughts might sound, they only served to deepen his somber mood. All they were was reminders of chances that he no longer believed would come.

Cola was still hungry. He wanted something to eat that didn’t consist mostly of broth. The sunlight from outside filtered into the factory through the old, dirty windows; Cola found himself wishing he’d stolen sunglasses as he stepped from inside his hole. Judging by the way the light came in, Cola could tell that it was sometime between breakfast and lunch at the shelter. If he wanted something hot now he would have to get it someplace else. Back in the janitor’s closet, in the side pouch of his makeshift pillow, was two dollar bills and little over four bucks in change. It was just enough for two hot dogs from a street vender.

Even though there were various venders that made camp closer to the factory, Cola always made his way to the other side of the park to see the pointy eared Spock who sometime took pity on him with minor handouts and condiment packets. His legs were slightly sore from the night before, but his want of hot food pushed them forward. It took Cola almost a half hour to make it to the corner Spock usually occupied, a walk that regularly took half the time.

Two hog dogs and a free bag of plain chips was a start to a good day by Cola’s standards. He left Spock’s cart with a smile that almost cracked his face and found a stoop to sit on. Spock’s hot dog cart was still within view from where he sat.

Cola ate his hot dogs and chips slowly and deliberately, savoring every last bite and finding bliss in the warmth as it traveled through and reenergized his body. Contently, Cola sat there watching the city move. People in all forms of dress passed on the side walk in front of him as the traffic crawled along the street. Then luck fell at his feet with a barely audible pat. Between his warn and nearly tread-less, white sneakers was a wallet.

In disbelief, Cola leaned over slowly and picked up the wallet. He treated it like and ancient artifact that was brittle and would fall apart if he handled it otherwise. Fifty, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, six hundred; eight hundred fifty-six was all now his. The moment he had been wishing for had finally come.

Finally, something good had happened to Cola after so much time filled with back luck and setbacks. The smile that cracked his face now shattered him from ear to ear. Eight hundred fifty-six dollars could get him a place for a month with more than cold water and a set of clothes nice enough to find a job in; if Cola had his own sound track, the choir would be singing.

Cola looked around to see if anyone noticed him pick it up. One thing that he learned during his time on the street was that it's not that anyone didn’t notice him, but that they didn’t want to acknowledge that they noticed him. But, there was a voice. At first he didn’t want to hear it, but he couldn’t help but comprehend the words that the voice spoke. “I don’t believe this! You have got to be kidding me.”

Cola looked to his right to see a man standing in front of Spock’s hot dog cart digging through his pockets franticly. Standing behind the man, not quite understanding what was going on, was a young boy no older than six holding two hot dogs. At that moment Cola remembered the homemade DVD on his nightstand in the janitor's closet; little, fat fingers curled around one of his, smiles all over the place, his love holding their child with the same park he had just passed through in the background.

“We’re gonna have to give the hot dogs back son. Daddy lost his wallet.” The child slowly broke into tears as his father took the hot dogs from his hands and passed them back to Spock. “Ain’t this just a bitch,” he said to Spock in a tone Cola was too familiar with, “just when I though my luck had turned and I was going to be able to pay by back rent.”

The person Cola was before and who he is now began fighting in the back of his mind. The change in his luck he had been hoping for would have to come at the expense of someone else, maybe someone who actually needed it more than he did.

“Excuse me," Cola said, "but you dropped this.”

Edited by Emotional Outlet

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