The wailing of a police siren woke Corey from a restless sleep. His heart thudded against his chest, as he listened to the sound of running feet and shouts of anger. Pushing aside his sleeping bag, he crawled to a gap in the cardboard wall and peeped out. The alleyway was lit by the flashing, blue lights, and he knew it was time to go. His knapsack served as a pillow, and he pulled it to him and started to pack his meagre belongings. With his sleeping bag rolled up, he was ready to leave. There was no need to worry about getting dressed, because in the strange, twilight world of the street-dweller, one slept in their clothes.
As Corey emerged from the layers of cardboard that served as his sleeping place, he saw those who shared the pavement with him were packing. It is an unwritten rule among his kind, that once the police and authorities discovered where they sleep, it was time to move on. The small alleyway served them well in the harsh winter months. Situated behind office blocks, there were no residents to complain about the noise they made at night. Many of his fellow street-dwellers had mental health problems or turned to drugs and alcohol to help stave off the uselessness of their lives. They got very loud under the influence of their chosen poison. In the beginning Corey found this behaviour frightening, but he soon realised it was bluff; the noises they made were nothing more than a rage against their hopelessness. He saw the ravages the drink and drugs caused as bright-eyed young boys and girls faded before his eyes to husks of their former selves. Six times over the freezing, winter months he had woken to find the lifeless body of a friend lying stiff within their cardboard coffin.
“Do you need a hand?” Corey knelt to help Old Tom, the oldest of the street-dwellers.
“Thanks, lad,” the careworn features creased into a smile. “We should’ve known it was too good to last.”
The police finished their chase and came back up the alley with two handcuffed prisoners.
“Time to move,” an officer said.
The usual shouts and insults flew, as the street-dwellers, many resembling no more than bundles of rags, became frightened and tormented at the intrusion. Corey realised it could get out of hand and he did not relish the pain of a police baton on his head.
“Sorry officer,” he walked to the front of the group. “We’ll be gone in a few minutes.”
The man’s eyes were hard as he looked at Corey.
“Very well,” he waved his baton at the group. “Make sure they clean up this rubbish. I don’t want the place left like a dump.”
“Yes, sir, I will,” Corey promised.
He gave a sigh of relief when the flashing blue lights blinked off and the sound of the car engines faded into the night.
“We should get going,” Old Tom sidled up to Corey.
“Yes,” Corey smiled and looked at the group.
With the rubbish cleared away, all that remained was a lost and ragged bunch of life’s cast offs.
“Where will we go, lad?” Old Tom asked.
The question startled Corey, and he was angry the others depended on him. He was the youngest of the group, and yet they looked up to him. His anger subsided, and he felt an ache rise from deep within him.
“I know somewhere,” Corey said. “It’s a few miles outside of town, but we’d be safe.”
There were mutters of discontent, as those who called the streets home did not want to leave them.
“It’s a long distance,” Corey said. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to come with me.”
“I’ll come,” Old Tom said. “It’s years since I’ve seen the countryside; and I’d like a bit of peace and quiet.”
Others broke away from the group and moved closer to Corey.
“A bus will take us to within a mile of the place,” he assured those who looked doubtful.
After a few more minutes of negotiations they reached a decision. Old Tom would go with him. Annie, in her fifties, wanted to go too. There were three others. Rasher aged fourteen, who had been homeless for three years. No one knew where his nickname came from, but he was very thin, as lean as a rasher of bacon. There was Stew; nineteen. Like the other boys, he had run away from a foster home, and Jamie who at twenty-six had the body of a man and the mind of a child.
He now had a new family of sorts; each one vulnerable and carrying their share of dark memories. Seventeen-year-old Corey must be a father to them, as he returned to the only place, he had ever been happy, home.