Effect and Cause

Christmas colors, strands of lights with the bulbs stuffed up plastic milk cartons, bow heavy in the air. They hang like crooked teeth across the raw maw sky. Teeth in a grinning mouth. Sometimes I think it will devour us all.

The cardboard cabins wilt, melt in the rain and wither in the sun even as their occupants prop them up yet again with rotten two-by-fours. Others watch, mouths thin red gashes, as their homes wash away into the sewers with the rest of the rubbish. Build anew. Build again. Circle of life and all that crap.

Mirrors fastened in cracks, string strung razors for scraping, dipping in a puddle by the feet or swiped across a pant leg to clean the quick. Rust rot barrels, sides starbursted with soot, sit proud before prestigious few. The rat-bit emperors admiring their urban columns.

This is the Jungle.

Mine is second from the left, back in the brick corner under the broken emergency stairs. Mine's prime property, has a sapling tree hung with shattered glass and bottle caps like a warped Charlie Brown's Christmas.

Mine's been sacked.

I stand over the small plot, cataloging the discrepancies: restraightened papers, meticulously rumpled bed, the ring of a mug slid from the ring on the board and stone desk. A professional, then. No one here, they know the value of property more than these pigs could ever imagine.

"Wanta hear a story?"

I peek warily over my shoulder. The voice is crackled, split, hisses over thorned gums.

"It's a story old as time -- and I ain't talkin about Beauty an the Beast, here," the witch lady chuckles from her nest of metal scraps. She taps invitingly on a rust-bottomed bucket for me to sit.

I shake my head and her eyes roll like marbles in their sockets. "It's got you in it. Have ta give me somethin if you wanta hear it."

Now she grins and turns her palm out. "Alms, girlie. Somethin for somethin, eh? You wanta hear the story you gotta give me," she scratches her dirty chin, "dolphin tears. Yeah. Thassit. And b'lieve me, you wanta hear this."

She leans at me, watching my reaction. I work my fingers -- twist, pop. She grimaces when I duck under my tent, rustling, appearing again with a flat can. She takes it with nobbled fingers. "Ha, yes. 'Chick'n of the Sea'," the witch lady grunts, shoving the can in the shadow depths of her jacket and crooking a finger at me to come closer.

She hisses sour in my ear, "'Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; And vice sometimes by action dignified'. Whatcha think of that? Hm? You heard this story?"

The witch lady smirks, continuing, "Two little protejay's, brought tagether by fate, seems like. Him the 'prentice of a p'litical pirate, her the daughter of a black heart killer.

"A scam, some money changes hands -- nothin to the little lovers."

She sees me tremor and she pinches my chin, twists it up to her face. I squirm as her breath pushes down my throat, "But what when the pirate throws the little loverboy to the killer? What of the revenge? The duty," she hacks heavy in my ears. I try to rise but she scrabbles at my hands, digs her claws in the meat of my palm so I whimper over her words: "What when the boy's blood is on the hands of the father? What then of the daughter, the gun," she wrenches me in, "and the bullet in her father's heart?"

The witch lady pitches me across the heap, across rusted teeth and talons, into the gravel. She cackles at the rips, the cuts, the tears sending streams of mud down my face and across my lips.

"That bullet still in there, eh? Rattlin around in his chest whenever he takes a breath? That why he has to send his henchmen out to search his daughter's tent?" She sighs, smiling at the flaming sky. Her eyes roll again and she collapses in bubbling snores.

I shudder, squeezing my elbows in tight. Rattle, hack, spit.

Now I gather my camp, rolling, bending, stacking in newspaper-wrapped packages into my luggage. I swipe my nose across a dingy sleeve, dab the corners in red spider eyes.

I throw my blanket over the witch lady as I leave the Jungle.

I won't need it.

The End

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