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Time Travel Shelter

by BP | Score: 6600

The cube had been sitting inside a locker. Hanging open like a busted lip, the cubicle door revealed just enough of the side to catch Harlen's eye. Nothing was safe in a shelter. Shoes, backpacks. A man he knew had his socks ripped off his own feet. No honor among thieves. He winced at the self recrimination.

Still, the door was open.

With a whine, the door moved aside, offering its good. A pile of scattered, dirty rags, used tissues, and the cube. One of the stickers had been scrapped off along with a few others that, outside of a few stubborn slivers, had been completely removed. The general idea persisted, however.

Harlen stashed it inside his shirt and with a few quick glances left. He could only move so fast now. His leg had gone gimpy on him. It had started in the ball of his foot and slowly travelled up his leg, stopping briefly at the knee, but dissolving somewhere in his thigh, leaving the entire appendage in an acute state of constant, dull pain that got worse the closer to the source.

He dragged that leg and what was left of his possession to the end of the block where an alley with enough cover provided decent respite. With any luck he could sit, get in a nap, maybe scrounge for food in one of the dumpsters.

The thought of eating like that, of surviving, had travelled an opposite rode as the pain in his leg. It had started outside of his body. An external sort of revulsion that entered through his mouth, carried on the back of every slice of moldy bread and discarded sandwich. The first few weeks the disgust sat in his stomach like a stone, weighing him down as much as anything else. Then, slowly, as the weeks passed, as his palette dulled, and he began to differentiate between the ok and the truly awful, it all just faded away.

Now there was just choices. Cold, plain, emotionless choices. Apples went through several stages of rot before they became inedible. Tainted meat like ham and turkey took on a distinct smell, but like everything else, the stages gradually revealed themselves. A slightly tangy smell meant a night of cramps, but nothing compared to hungry.

He hit the ground with grunt. Briefly the memory of his father passed through him. A long, slow groan as he lowered himself into his chair. Then, like so much else, it was gone.

The cube was old. Like him. He remembered an old friend had had one. His name escaped him. Sandy-colored hair. Not quite cut into a bowl, but close enough. Freckles and a gap in his front teeth. From sucking his thumb too late into toddlerhood. He'd heard that somewhere but had no way of knowing if it was true or a thing parents told their kids to frighten them into obedience.

The side of the cube resisted his attempts to turn it, partly because his hands had lost their agility. He'd played guitar in his youth. Fairly well. Now he couldn't imagine getting his hands to hold a single pose for longer than a few seconds. With effort he managed to turn the side, matching a few squares in the process. The insides of the toy ground like sand in brake pads. He'd never had much luck with the toys. Matching colors. It always seemed like more work than it was worth. Intellectual masturbation in cube form. But now he had time. His mind could drift as it often did now, while his hands wiled away, turning and turning, hoping to make things come back together.

He recalled thinking it would be good exercise, a way to work his hands back into shape, when with a final grinding click, one whole side matched up green.

And then he felt his mind hiccup.

A newspaper tumbled down the alley, cartwheeling like a lunatic gymnast passed his feet. A wind had picked up. He felt his body soften into a sigh. A storm. He hadn't heard there was going to be a storm, but judging by the wind something was bound to happen.

Gathering up his belongings, Harlen pressed the cube back into his coat pocket and headed back toward the shelter. If he got there early enough before realization dawned on the others he might be able to lay claim to a cot closest to the door. There were different rules. Different trains of thought depending on the layout of a shelter. Harlen always reasoned the cot by the door was safest. Everyone had to pass you by, yes, but being close to the door meant being close to someone important. And if he had to leave in a hurry, he wanted to be able to see where he was running too.

Another rush of wind whipped through Harlen's hair. A car drove past and suddenly he realized how empty the streets look. Christ, he thought, if they're staying inside then whatever was coming must be bad. Pulling up his coat, Harlen put his head down and raced toward shelter.

It was four blocks before he realized he wasn't limping.

The shelter on 40th had stood at 128 since its construction in 1962 as a Catholic mission. Ownership had changed hands several times over the years, but it continued to service the homeless population throughout its long life. When Harlen stepped through its doors for the second time that day, it was into a building he had never known.

A man in a priest's attire walked up and greeted him as Harlen stood, gazing dumbly around the room.

"Are you alright?"

The man's voice hit him like a slap. Harlen's tongue went dead in his mouth and for a second he wondered if he had swallowed it. His lips opened and closed like a fish's as he struggled to regain his speech. When that failed he shook his head side to side. He didn't know what he hoped to communicate with the gesture.

The priest's brow furrowed. Taking a step closer, he reached out and took hold of Harlen's arm. His fingers felt gentle even through the layers of dirty clothes.

"Are you alright?" The priest repeated, making an effort to sound clear, but pleasant.

Again Harlen's tongue failed him and he responded with another noncommittal nod. He'd been to the shelter on 40th many times. He'd had his shoes stolen from there once and swore never to return. But the winter two years ago had forced him back. He'd been a regular ever since.

Cajoling him, the priest managed to get Harlan to accompany him to the far side of the room where a row of cafeteria style seats lay. There used to be har

Completed challenges

The following challenges were completed during the writing exercise:

Begin Start typing to begin
Words Reach 50 words
Letter Use the letter M
Location A homeless shelter
Words Reach 100 words
Words Reach 200 words
Words Reach 300 words
Words Reach 400 words
Words Reach 500 words
Words Reach 600 words
Words Reach 700 words
Words Reach 800 words
Words Reach 900 words
Words Reach 1000 words
Event Your character travels into the past

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