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I always thought of Brownie as an extension of me. He was more than a friend. More than a mere brother of which, up until one point, I had plenty of. He was more than a father figure. He nurtured me more than any mother could hope to. Up until a certain point in my life I had a mommy and daddy as well. Then one day they were gone. They just up and left me. It was a lonely life afterward. That is, until I met Brownie. I don't know how old I was. I honestly can't remember much of my childhood. I just remember being very sick, very often. And Brownie. I will never, ever forget Brownie.
Before I met him, everything was dull. Every child dreams of having the family house all to himself. But let me tell you, it gets boring very, very fast. It seems that in just a matter of a couple of days, you run out of things that were always forbidden. I don't know. Maybe my parents were just very easygoing on rules. It certainly didn't seem like it before they were gone. When I was done with the house I just... left. I don't know how to explain it. I felt no more personal connection to the place which I couldn't bring myself to call home. It held absolutely no sentimental value to me anymore. It was just a house that, up until that night, I had lived in. As if it served no more purpose other than to hold a roof over my head and provide me with a place to sleep.
In time the memory of my parents and siblings also faded from my mind. Should I have been concerned? What did I care? Even before my family left me I was kind of a loner. I can honestly say I wasn't even devastated the day I found out that they had left. I don't see why they should care about me. They hardly acknowledged my existence in the first place. I'm not sure if they even realized that I was their son rather than one of my stupid brothers' friends. I never felt like I wasn't welcome. I just never felt at home.
Spending days on the street, dealing with constant thirst, and the fact that I was almost always hungry, I would walk around town from sunrise to sunset. My daily routine was very simple. Wake up. Look for food. Find a new place to sleep. Sleep. Try not to die in my sleep. Hopefully wake up. Sometimes I wish I was dead though. I was always sick and constantly throwing up on the sidewalk. I just threw it up to malnutrition though, seeing as I was having no where near the same amount of food now as I had before my family was gone. It must have simply been my body getting used to the lack of food.
Everything changed, though, when I met Brownie. It was just one of those coincidental meetings. Just fate taking its course in my life. Clearly I looked far worse than I had thought as the first thing he did was take out a piece of bread and give it to me. I wolfed it down and was shocked, and slightly embarrassed, at my haste. I turned away and he put his hand on my shoulder letting out a soft chuckle. I turned back around and sheepishly asked for more bread if he had any. I really didn't want to ask seeing that he was just another bum, not unlike myself I thought. I might offend him if I ask. He said he actually did have more bread and that he would be glad to share some with me. His polite demeanor, especially towards a perfect stranger like myself, sent up a red flag in the very far back of my head. He even told me his name too. Brownie. I could hardly believe it. It clearly wasn't his first name. If it was it was the most stupid first name I'd ever heard. It had to have been his last name or his nickname or something. Whatever name of his, why would he share it with me? What made him think that we'd ever meet again? Why would he go through the monotonous task of introducing himself to someone who was most likely going to die in a matter of weeks?
We exchanged pleasantries and shook hands, which initially I'd hesitated to do for a few moments as I was still a little creeped out by his pleasantness. Following the most practical advice my parents had ever given me, I thanked him for the bread and briskly walked away. I tried to walk casually in order to try to hide the fact that I was scared by him. He was, after all, the first human being I had made real contact with since my family left me so it would be totally feasible for me to be wary in his presence.
I started to see more and more of Brownie. I tried to not think anything of it. It was a small town after all, but something about this guys just seemed... off. Like something wasn't right in his head. He always had a distant stare with a placid face to match. Even when he was smiling there was a plastic, synthetic look to him. At first everything started as us just seeing each other from across the street. Often he either didn't notice me or he didn't acknowledge me. When he did show signs of awareness of my presence, however, he'd mostly smile and wave “hello”. Trying to put of contact with him as much as possible, I'd just smile back and keep moving on.
Actual face-to-face contact didn't start with him until maybe a couple of weeks later. It had been a while since I'd seen Brownie last and I was starting to feel concerned, and a little guilty that I wasn't as pleasant towards him as I could have been. That changed though. Not two days later I saw Brownie running full-speed right at me with his arms wrapped tightly around himself. I was a little confused and I had no idea what to do. It wasn't until I saw the bread fall out of his arms and the cops following him that I realized I needed to help him. I took Brownie aside and we both started sprinting down the adjacent alley. We kept running until we could no longer hear the cops after us. We stopped to catch our breath in the nearby park and Brownie let out a victorious laugh. He then proceeded to break off a good portion of the bread that he'd taken and give it to me. The most I could muster was a wheeze of approval much less an actual “thank you”.
From then on we were the best of friends. We were together for months on end. Inseparable. Often we would go on little raids together like the one that I had assisted Brownie with on the first day of our strong friendship. It was how we survived. We did it so we could have something to eat. I don't think either of us did anything without the other knowing about it and one of us would tag along just for the hell of it. Well, maybe just in case one of us needed to save the others' ass, which happened more often than one might think.
It was a while, though, before we each began to open up to each other about our lives. His story was much like mine. He never had a nice house, like me. He grew up in a low-income family in a low-income neighborhood just like I had. Gang violence was strong in the area, which is one difference between his life story and mine, so from day one he was ready for life on the streets. He joked that it would take a while for me to become as tough and thick-skinned as him, but I was still making impressive progress.
He was starting to scare me though. Each night he'd tell me more and more about his early life. Before his life on the streets. And each and every night his story would get darker and darker. More violent and gruesome. His face would become more twisted and his once humble grin more and more terrifyingly sadistic. His eyes would turn glossed over and a ravenous, predatory glint in his eyes would surface. I wasn't sure if he was acting this all out or not. I found it hard to believe that someone I trusted so much could have experienced and done such things as he said he had in the past.
On the last night I'd asked him exactly what happened to his family to make him turn to a life on the streets. Why he couldn't have gone to school or gotten a job. He told me it was because his family had left him when he was too young. I was scared as to what he meant by “left” him. When I asked what had happened to them he simply told me that “he'd chopped them up into little pieces.” Then that “he'd buried them in the basement.” He was really scaring me by now. But I tried my best not to show it.
I decided that I'd make a break for it that night. While he was asleep on his side of the alley I got up, careful not to wake Brownie, and ran. I ran all the way across town back to my house. I just wanted to be home. All those complacent feelings towards that house on 314 Prospect street seemed to be gone now and a feeling of overwhelming relief washed over me. I made my way back up the dark stairs, heart still pounding, and I quickly laid down in my bed. I couldn't quite get to sleep in a timely fashion though. Everywhere around me there was an unsettling air of abandonment. Save for little pieces of a plastic-y, yellow material, everything was in just the same place as it had been on that day I left. Nothing had moved. No portrait disturbed. No one seemed to have intruded. But, through that disturbing atmosphere came a more jarring, pungent sensation. The smell of rotting meat. The stench perforated the walls from all directions. The source of this smell was something that I did not know nor was it something that I wanted to know.
I must have fallen asleep shortly after noticing the odor.
That next morning was a bright and sunny day. I found, to my dismay, that my family was still gone since I was half expecting to see them in the kitchen making breakfast. What I did find in the kitchen, however, was that the smell was twice as bad downstairs as it was upstairs. I also found a peculiar note on the kitchen table that wasn't there the night before.
“Truth is stranger than fiction.