The Stuff from Home

The Stuff from Home
by Stanton McCaffery

Every quarter-mile or so, they passed another tent. Jim had their own tent tied together and strapped to his back. Sheila had offered to carry it many times, but Jim refused, of course. “Homeless,” Sheila realized, was not a good word at all, but possibly better than “abused” or “victim” or “dead.”

They passed a tent with a crow sitting on top of it. Its eyes were balls of glass circled by thin outlines of dried blood. Its claws tore into the canvas.

“Shoo,” Jim said.

They walked on. The crow flapped its wings loudly and flew above them. It stayed nearby, circling within view.

“It’s too cold,” Sheila said. The cold was making her sick. A ball of unpassable mucus sat like a fist in her chest. When she coughed, her eyes watered and her insides burned.

Bare trees cracked in the wind. Their path was an abandoned rail line, a narrow corridor of vegetation and refuse packed between apartment complexes and the New Jersey Turnpike. Some houses stood off in the distance behind a thin line of trees and dead weeds. The telephone poles were covered in indecipherable graffiti tags, looking ominous, as if they would morph into hands, reach out, grab Sheila by the throat, and strangle her.

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