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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 10. Life Along the River

Life along the river...Warnings for violence. Please read with appropriate caution.

 

Questions raised by any of the characters can be discussed at the A to Z forum: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

June 6

I had a rotten night last night. Dreams and memories stalked my rest. I dreamt that I was doing laundry back in the basement at home. In the dream, Uncle Ray suddenly materialized, pinned me down and tried to force his way into me. Suddenly, in the dream, Dad appeared, grabbed me around the neck, and dragged me off to be chained up. The place was supposed to be our basement, but it wasn’t. It seemed colder, and blacker. I knew I was going to be beaten, and I could hear Dad cracking a whip. In the dream, I felt the first lash crack across my back. I woke, yelling, as a train roared by.

Question for today: isn’t it funny how in this world where there are cell phones and internet maps and all that, it is still so easy to feel completely lost? I have no real idea where I am. I mean, I know I am just outside of Houghton, a little city on a biggish river that has a railroad going through it. I can kind of guess, but I don’t know how far I've been going each day, and none of the towns or roads sound familiar at all to me. Of course, living with Dad meant I never really learned much about the world outside of Carlsberg.

I’ve stayed near Houghton, but moved up the river along the railroad tracks to a spot that’s pretty sheltered. The railroad parallels the river. I found this spot on the riverbank where I could strip down, rinse out my clothes and go for a swim. Okay, I went wading. I don't think anyone would call what did swimming. But there was nobody here to see me, so I guess I can feel safe. I wished I had bought a bar of soap so I could get cleaner. I could spend my last few dollars, but I want to try and keep them for an emergency.

I’m probably better off than before, though it’s hard to tell if my clothes smell like river water now. Apart from anything else, it was cooler near the water. It was hot yesterday, and hotter today.

I’ve been taking it easy, resting up and looking to mow another lawn or two. I haven’t had much luck. I went by a restaurant in Houghton yesterday. The smell of fries and cooking meat on the breeze just about drove me crazy. It sounds disgusting, but maybe checking out the dumpster there won’t be so bad. I might get some free food out of it.

 

June 7

I got out of Houghton today. Dumpster diving at the restaurant was a shitty idea. I went back there after dark, to see what I might be able to find. I cautiously found my way to the back of the building, staying in the shadows and away from the bright tawny glare of the security lights. I remembered the glorious smell of real food. Hot food.

I hadn’t been there long, poking into the dumpster, when a powerful arm suddenly appeared around my neck, choking me, pulling me off the big metal bin.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” hissed in my ear.

I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t even breathe.

“This isn’t your dumpster. It’s mine, shithead. Nobody eats here unless I say so. Got it?”

I tried to nod. The arm on my windpipe tightened, and I felt something poking me in the back. A gun?

“Money,” the voice growled. “You got any money, you give it to me. Now. Else I’m gonna waste you right here.”

I dug into my pocket for my five dollar bill. I felt it snatched from my hand. At least the pressure on my throat eased.

“That’s it? Fucking five dollars? That’s all?”

The arm released me, but I was immediately shoved up against the dumpster, banging my head on the metal, with a sound like thunder.

I turned and saw my assailant. He was taller than me and looked older, with a half grown beard. Ragged clothes. Work boots. But we were equally dirty, I could tell. We faced one another; one angry and aggressive, the other shaking, wide eyed and very, very scared. He took a step toward me, when a door banged. My attacker pivoted as a voice sounded:

“What the hell is going on out here?”

I didn’t wait half a second before fleeing. I ran like hell, out into the streets, out into bright lights, and away from that damn dumpster. So call me stupid. It’s what I’m good at, being stupid. I should never have gone near that place. Now, I am completely broke and still hungry. I have some of what I bought at the store, and it’s going to have to last that much longer.

As of this morning, I’m following the river. I remember reading Huckleberry Finn in English class this year – old Huck and Jim, just floating down the river. There are a bunch of differences between me and Huck.

For one thing, Huck was pretty smart. Me, I’m dumb as a stick. For another, Huck had people who looked out for him, who cared about him along the way. Unlike Huck, I haven’t met anyone on the road to travel with. I don’t think I want to. Apart from the police, nobody gives a shit about where I am or where I’m going. And then, unlike Huck and Jim, I’m going upstream. From what I can tell, this is good. If I go upstream, I hope the river will lead me up through the mountains, and maybe I’ll get beyond them.

I know I walked a long way north in the valley that led me to Houghton. I didn’t find a road over the mountains from the valley. The river seems to be taking me back south and west, so maybe I’ve looped around the ridge I was trying to climb.

I left early today, walking along the railroad tracks that parallel the river. Tonight, I’m bedded down in another spot close to the water, behind some bushes that keep me hidden from view. There’s some kind of industrial looking building across the water from where I sit, but I have no idea what it is. But I don’t really think I want to try swimming in the river here. Something smells funny, and I can’t tell if it’s the river, or the factory across the way. Maybe it’s me. There is plenty of railroad traffic on the tracks – maybe one or two trains every hour or so, but I haven’t seen an actual human being on the trains to notice me. Not really.

 

June 11

Question for today: How do you lose something as big as a river? Easy answer: when you’re as dumb as me, you can lose anything. I realize that my river is probably a lot smaller than Huck Finn’s Mississippi, but still. You’d think I could manage to keep track of the river.

The railroad tracks I followed crossed a road, and I decided to go back to the pavement. The road was way more shady than the train tracks, and it has been hot. It didn’t look like a big road, and it followed the tracks and the river. I saw a few big dump trucks, but not much else. A few houses, here and there.

The road eventually climbed higher, well above the railroad tracks and the river level. I couldn’t always see the river, but it was easy to tell where it was. I stayed above the river most of the time the last few days. I avoided heading into another town because I had enough to eat, or it seemed that way. There are more houses, even heading away from the town, so that meant more cars. Still, the road didn’t seem very crowded.

I saw my first police car in over a week. It zipped right by me before I could see it coming. My heart just about stopped seeing it, but the cop was not at all interested in me. Anyhow, I got down off the road into the bushes for a while, just to be on the safe side.

But, God, it was hot today. When the road led me out of the shade, I cooked in the sun. I rearranged my pack so I could stuff all my layers inside it, and just wear a t-shirt. Maybe I can blame the sun for cooking my brain, making me lose the river.

What happened was this: I quit walking late in the afternoon of my second day out of Houghton, because of the stinking heat. In the hush of a cloudless midday afternoon, nothing stirred. Only the crickets chirped away. And then I heard another noise. A soft gurgling reached my ears. Somewhere, a brook flowed nearby. Sure enough, just off to my left, water tumbled downhill to a culvert underneath the road and on down to the river further away.

I fought my way through the spiny, prickly underbrush and found a tiny waterfall and miniature pool, overlooked by a rock just big enough for one. Me. The shade of half a dozen trees covered everything in a cool, green shade that blocked the ferocious afternoon sun.

While the afternoon heat baked everything else, I rested, napped, and cooled my feet in the cold water that ran down off the mountain. In the dimness of glade, I noticed a stirring in the bushes. A pair of small, greeny-yellow birds moved about, hopping from branch to branch.

Every now and then, the more brightly colored of the pair would pause on a particular branch for a while and burst out with a piercingly clear and musical song. Then, as if it had gotten tired of the tune, it stopped and moved on to another branch. I was fascinated watching them as they appeared to flit their way around the same circuit of branches over and over again.

Eventually, they tired of circling me, or maybe they found something better to do. Or maybe they found something to eat. Ugh. Food again.

I was back to cereal and not much of that.

As the sun went down, I pondered whether to bed down for the night, or try the novel idea of walking for a while in the relative cool of the night. All I can say for myself is that it seemed like a great idea at the time.

I decided to walk into the night.

For long while, everything was just perfect. The stars shone overhead, and after the stifling heat of the day, a breath of coolness stirred, moving down the mountain. This was much better. There was very little nighttime traffic, and I simply slipped off the road into the shadows whenever I saw the telltale glow of headlights approaching. I figured I would find another little shady spot to hole up in around dawn and sleep the hot day away.

When I first noticed the flashes of light off to the west, across the river valley, I’d already made good time, walking quite a distance.

At first, I froze, thinking a searchlight might be trying to pick me out of the dark. Later, I realized it was lightning. Time to pick up the pace. Clouds began to cover the stars from west to east, and the flashes of lightning became more frequent beyond the western ridge. I kept walking, faster and faster, hoping that I might somehow avoid the approaching storm.

The breeze started to pick up. Another vivid flash lit up the whole sky. Thunder rolled across the valley. Pretty soon, the wind lashed the trees into a frenzied dance, as the heavens prepared to open up. Electric flashes punctuated the pitch dark. I really, really needed a place to get under cover. Fast.

I ran down the road, looking for a house, a barn, something. Anything.

The wind stilled briefly, eerily. Then it returned, stronger than before, and with it came big, fat drops of rain.

Lightning flashed. There. On the left. A house, driveway, garage.

Another flash, answered by earth shaking thunder. It began to come down for real.

I reached the garage, pulling up the door and ducking inside before sliding it back down again. I was out of breath. In a moment, I started to shiver. The sound of the rain pelting down on the roof was deafening; more lightning, more thunder. No way anyone could have heard my movements in the house.

I looked around the nearly pitch black interior of the building, seeing nothing but the outline of the window when it was illuminated by flashes of lightning. I felt exhausted as my adrenalin drained away. As I moved, my knee hit something hard, and I realized I was up against the tailgate of a big pickup truck. I felt inside the truck bed. Dry.

Keeping my head down, I scrambled into the bed of the truck. I could stretch out, maybe. Up near the cab - wonder of wonders – an old blanket. In less than a minute, I huddled underneath it, having shoved some tools out of the way. Ten seconds later, I was asleep.

Did I mention that I’m stupid?

That was two nights ago. So what happened in the morning? The owner of the truck opened the garage door. I started, suddenly awake, heart racing, cowering underneath the blanket. He grunted - I assume it was a ‘he,’ and not a ‘she’ that grunted like that – and got in.

Right then, I should have leapt out of the truck and bolted. I could have made it. Probably. But no, I was too petrified. My stupidity is colossal. The truck roared to life. The radio came on, good and loud, heavy on the bass and drums.

Before I knew it, I was being carried along, someplace, who knows where, while the truck’s owner went to-- what? Work? Shopping? I had to wait to find out.

It turned out that he was going to work. I can’t say how long the drive it was – it seemed eternal to me. I wondered just how bad it was going to be when the truck stopped. There were several stops and turns along the way, but I had absolutely no idea at all where we were headed.

Soon enough, the truck turned left up a hill and drove a ways up. Again, another turn. Stopped. Parked. Mr. Grunt (I have no idea who he was or what he looked like) got out and walked off. I could hear other voices, tools at work. A building site, maybe?

Nobody nearby, but I couldn’t tell for sure. I crept out from underneath the blanket, cautiously. I grabbed my pack and peeked over the edge toward the noise of work. A house was under construction, and people were moving about in the interior. Nobody outside.

I quickly hopped out the other side, crouched down to avoid being seen, and tried to get back down the road, down the hill.

I kept waiting for the shouting and the sound of running feet. Nothing. So am I truly invisible? No. Just stupid.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, I found nothing to tell me which way the river lay. I figured I could try to find my way farther down the hill and maybe I would eventually reach the river. I started walking along the road, looking for a road or path that led downhill again.

I found a turn and walked a long, long way – most of the day, in fact. I stopped to finish my box of cereal. Now the food was all gone. The clouds broke up, and the sun came out again around midday. It warmed up again. I crossed a creek or two, but my river was nowhere to be seen. By evening, I’d picked up a main highway through a little town, but no river.

I stumbled onwards. I lay down behind some trees, after turning off the main highway and walking about 500 yards down a side road.

I woke up next morning – yesterday morning – and decided to follow the turnoff instead of the main road. Another mistake. This way started going uphill again, and it wasn’t long before I understood that I was climbing out of the valley, and up the next ridge. The river had vanished – or, more intelligently, I’d moved into a different valley.

When the sun was nearly overhead, I emerged onto another more traveled route, and I could see that I was on the eastern side of another ridge. In a moment of stubborn idiocy, I decided that I’d had it with following the valleys, and I would try to find a road over the mountain again. This hadn’t worked well in the past; don't know why I thought it would now, but still, I was stubborn.

A sign pointed up into the ridge marked “Viking Gap Reservoir.” I followed. It seemed to go straight up the ridge, almost no turns. By early afternoon, I discovered the road terminated right in front of huge concrete spillway that must have been four stories tall. Another dead end.

I hesitated. Behind that dam must lie a whole lot of beautiful, cool water. I looked around for a trail that might lead up to the water. Sure enough, off to the side, there was a trail marker and a well-used trail, leading into the woods. The trail split, and I took the uphill fork, and soon came out into an open clearing by the side of a beautiful lake. The sun sparkled off the water, which looked much, much more inviting than the murky depths of the river I’d followed.

Much as I wanted to stop right there and rest, I couldn’t. People came here – lots of them, by the look of things. The ground was well packed, and much of the grass worn away. What I had to do was find a place more hidden on the shore farther around the lake.

I walked back down the trail briefly, and then cut off to try and circle along the shoreline.

I found my spot about half an hour later-- a mossy place about thirty feet back from the shore, where the ground rose quickly. I could see through some brush toward the point where I’d come out earlier, so I would know if there were other people around. If I pushed aside some branches, I could get into the water easily and unseen.

I took the chance to strip down again, wade in the cool water and rinse out my clothes. I don’t much like swimming, but maybe that’s because I haven’t had the chance to do it. That, and I really don’t like people seeing my body. I know there are scars.

Yesterday afternoon was wonderful, though. I tried floating (partly successful), doggy paddling (mostly successful), and doing a real swim stroke like racers do (not at all successful – I wound up sputtering and blowing water out of my nose). It wasn’t until late afternoon that I noticed some people had arrived at the lake, so I quietly got out of the water, toweled off, and lay out on the moss to rest for a while and observe.

It became quickly apparent that I was sharing the lake with a group of high school boys celebrating the end of the school year. I guess they must have been seniors, because they looked older than me from where I sat.

So here’s another question: why did God invent gnats and mosquitoes? At least, why did he invent so many of them? I’m surprised that nobody saw me, waving my arms around my head, trying to keep off the bugs.

The insects didn’t seem to bother the partiers.

The ones I could see peeled down and dove right in. I couldn’t help staring at them. I’m a little ashamed to say I got hard looking at them. A little. I watched them playing, horsing around, splashing, dunking one another. They had a grand old time. More kids came up, and I could hear music playing. Some of them must have been girls, because I could hear their laughter, distinct from the boys’. As darkness fell, I could smell the smoke from a fire, and I could see its glow later on when it got really dark.

I finally wrapped my head in a t-shirt and put on my jacket to keep the bugs away. It wasn’t much use, but it kept all but the most persistent of them away.

As I lay there on the soft green bank, I wondered what it would be like to be part of a group like that. They looked so relaxed, so at ease with themselves. So happy. Not a care in the world.

I know they must have worries, exams, problems – but none of that showed last night. I could have gotten up, dressed, and walked over to them. What would they do, beat me up? Stomp on my face?

I doubt it. They were having too good a time. I’d just get told to leave. I wasn’t part of them, and that’s that.

Last night, I dreamed again, horrible dreams. Why can’t Dad ever just leave me alone? Why does Uncle Ray have to visit me at night? In the end, I dreamt that Dad attacked me, this time in a place that might have been our kitchen. In the dream, I tried to run, tried to escape, but he caught me. I can still hear his god-awful laugh that he would use when he really wanted me to hurt.

I didn’t feel very rested when I woke up with the first birds.

It was in the early morning, in the hush and quiet as the sun rose across the valley, when I tiptoed through the campsite. This was what normal must look like. Normal kids with normal lives, having celebrated the end of a normal school year.

Clothes and litter lay strewn around. A couple of tents were set up on the trampled grass back from the lake. And down by the shore, two bodies lay intertwined on a blanket where they had fallen asleep, holding one another.

My eyes went wide, throat tightening and vision clouding for a moment. I stared at them, feeling uneasy, fascinated, and jealous, too, in a way. I scored a couple of half-eaten bags of chips, but I avoided what was left of a Subway, leaving it to the ants and raccoons. I looked to pick up the trail again.

So here I sit, on the top of a glorious outlook on a beautiful summer day, writing. While the road ended, the trail has led me over the ridge, exactly where I wanted to go. Farther back on the trail, a long way down, I caught a view of the reservoir, looking like a tiny patch of dark blue in the distance. In every direction, the ridges and mountains seem to stretch on forever into the distance. Each ridge, each chain of hills is a different color, fading to a faint blue-green miles and miles and miles away. From here, looking off to what might be the northwest, I think I can see the river.

Unceasing thanks go to Craftingmom for her skilled and acute editing.

A review of any sort or description would be most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

It's so sad to read how much he hates himself. Believing his father's cruel words. And then to see him watch from afar how other kids can have fun and enjoy life, without anything serious to worry about. He needs someone who cares for him. Right about now would be a good time...

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On 10/15/2015 06:22 AM, Puppilull said:

It's so sad to read how much he hates himself. Believing his father's cruel words. And then to see him watch from afar how other kids can have fun and enjoy life, without anything serious to worry about. He needs someone who cares for him. Right about now would be a good time...

Wouldn't though? He's existing, but not living. He can watch, but the world is too dangerous a place right now to reach out to and trust. I think mowing that woman's lawn in ch9 must have taken a lot out of him...

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Very nice story you've got going here...very sad, but well written and quite descriptive!!! Each chapter has had me in tears at the inhumanity and cruelty of some humans towards others! Looking forward to the next chapter...thanks for sharing! :thumbup::thankyou:

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On 10/15/2015 08:50 AM, Onim said:

Very nice story you've got going here...very sad, but well written and quite descriptive!!! Each chapter has had me in tears at the inhumanity and cruelty of some humans towards others! Looking forward to the next chapter...thanks for sharing! :thumbup::thankyou:

Thank you so much for reviewing A to Z. This is a sad story, though there are sunny breaks from moment to moment. But he hasn't gotten to the point where he just gives up. He's not ready for that. And even though he might find someone to care, it's not at all certain that he would trust that someone.

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For all the 'lucky breaks'Stefan has received, we are reminded that it still a dog eat dog world. More sad, when the add to the list people whom you have to fear are the ones trying to get by, just as you are. How do you rob a kid who's in a dumpster looking for food? I'm rooting for Stefan to find his peace soon..

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On 10/16/2015 06:26 AM, Defiance19 said:

For all the 'lucky breaks'Stefan has received, we are reminded that it still a dog eat dog world. More sad, when the add to the list people whom you have to fear are the ones trying to get by, just as you are. How do you rob a kid who's in a dumpster looking for food? I'm rooting for Stefan to find his peace soon..

Stefan/Eric has had an adventure. About the best thing going for him right now is his invisibility skill. But it's unlikely that he can keep this up; hunger will do that. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

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Ate out of dumpsters often, but yeah u gotta be careful. Lots of them have 'owners.' Yeah he needs someone to care. But he needs food more .. anything growing now? Apple trees backyard gardens? Farmers fields.
Nicely written Parker.
tim

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On 10/19/2015 05:02 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Ate out of dumpsters often, but yeah u gotta be careful. Lots of them have 'owners.' Yeah he needs someone to care. But he needs food more .. anything growing now? Apple trees backyard gardens? Farmers fields.

Nicely written Parker.

tim

It's still mid June, so gardens aren't really full yet. Might find young lettuce, strawberries, stuff like that. Peas, if they got planted early. No apples or cherries yet. And of course, Eric never learned about woods survival anyhow...one can survive on little or nothing for a few days, but it turns one into a zombie, pretty much. Agree that this is Eric's biggest problem.

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You doing a great job at bringing this story to life. I can read a few chapters at most before I kind of need an emotional break from it. Sleeping along a river, near train tracks, dinning by dumpster. Definitely brings back memories. At least Stefen is surviving. It's sad that he was robbed of his last few dollars, but like Tim pointed out. You have to be careful.
Wolf

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On 11/17/2015 03:14 PM, WolfM said:

You doing a great job at bringing this story to life. I can read a few chapters at most before I kind of need an emotional break from it. Sleeping along a river, near train tracks, dinning by dumpster. Definitely brings back memories. At least Stefen is surviving. It's sad that he was robbed of his last few dollars, but like Tim pointed out. You have to be careful.

Wolf

I regret that the story causes you pain. It is summer, so perhaps it is easier for Stefan to survive. The thing that gets to me is that in suburban and rural settings, people may not see a kid as being homeless. Everyone has a place to go - homelessness is a city thing. Not so, and Stefan's story shows us this.

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I am continually amazed that Eric is able to find beauty in nature even when he's struggling just to survive.

 

Just as he thinks he's stupid while simultaneously proving otherwise to us, I'm sure Eric would deny his obvious inner strength. He's a survivor who would have thrived under different conditions.

 

I suppose out in rural and suburban areas there aren't any homeless services. There kind of needs to be a critical mass to encourage services to be developed and maintained. There are some fairly rural areas on the outskirts of the Bay Area that have had news reports about their struggles with homeless encampments and the troubles caused by some of the more mentally disturbed individuals.

 

But no matter how many and how comprehensive those services are, there are still some people who refuse to use them. I remember reading a National Geographic article about a National Park on Kawaii where the author encountered a naked hiker (the reason it's seared in my memory) who lived in the park. Some would reject free housing or would trash it before abandoning it.

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On 06/12/2016 04:07 PM, droughtquake said:

I am continually amazed that Eric is able to find beauty in nature even when he's struggling just to survive.

 

Just as he thinks he's stupid while simultaneously proving otherwise to us, I'm sure Eric would deny his obvious inner strength. He's a survivor who would have thrived under different conditions.

 

I suppose out in rural and suburban areas there aren't any homeless services. There kind of needs to be a critical mass to encourage services to be developed and maintained. There are some fairly rural areas on the outskirts of the Bay Area that have had news reports about their struggles with homeless encampments and the troubles caused by some of the more mentally disturbed individuals.

 

But no matter how many and how comprehensive those services are, there are still some people who refuse to use them. I remember reading a National Geographic article about a National Park on Kawaii where the author encountered a naked hiker (the reason it's seared in my memory) who lived in the park. Some would reject free housing or would trash it before abandoning it.

Eric has nobody to talk with, nobody to share with. Yet he has powers of description, and a need to write. His journal is the only outlet he's ever had. Services are out there, and often sufficient for the needs of individuals in trouble, but often enough those individuals must apply for them, show up for them, make themselves known. Eric has no wish to be known or noticed, quite the opposite. And he's perfectly content to be forgotten if that means he can be left alone. Thank you for your comments and thoughts today...

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On 6/12/2016 at 2:15 PM, Parker Owens said:

Services are out there, and often sufficient for the needs of individuals in trouble, but often enough those individuals must apply for them, show up for them, make themselves known.

It took time even after I’d been referred to a Rescue Mission, to discover some of the more useful services and agencies that are out there in the area where I was homeless. In the San Francisco Bay Area, at least, you can call 211 to get free information about social services. I didn’t know how many services there are – in Berkeley, the UC students operate a weekly free clinic that even offers things like haircuts and over-the-counter medications and vitamins.

 

I always did my best to pass on the hard won information to others as often as I could.

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Drifting further and further from Carlsberg. Worried about him due to the lack of money and the place he's at. Needs money or food or both quickly.

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5 hours ago, Higster said:

Drifting further and further from Carlsberg. Worried about him due to the lack of money and the place he's at. Needs money or food or both quickly.

 

Eric is drifting, or wandering, if you like. He’s running out of food and money, like so many homeless teens. Fortunately, it’s summer, so Eric can stay warm easily. 

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4 hours ago, chris191070 said:

For all his lucky breaks, Stephan is still having bad luck and nightmares.

Stefan has managed to get out of a horrible situation, but cannot find a way to land on his feet. All he can think of to do is keep moving. His experiences and ill fortune must color his observations. I also imagined an alternate plotline in which he revealed himself to the party goers at the lake. I couldn't see it going anywhere good, however, and it remained a stillborn idea. Thanks again for reading.

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