The man leans against the windowless concrete warehouse, the dark wrinkles under his eyes more visible than the yellowed whites under his ratty baseball cap. He smokes a cigarette. I see him everyday as I walk home from school. He hums softly, but it isn't a tune, it's a friendly warning, like a rattlesnake shaking its tail before it strikes.
I used to wave to him. I don't wave to anyone anymore. I almost feel grateful to this man, he taught me how to act in this city without ever saying a word.
His stretched-out orange tank top reads, "Kansas State".
We made eye contact for the first time on January 6th, 2011. He asked for my help.
His voice was higher than I thought it would be, a big muscular guy like him, but raspy at the same time like air couldn't quite make his words forceful, "Please," he said through yellowed teeth.
There was something in his eyes. It felt wrong to see someone so intimidating look so vulnerable. I regret my decision now, obviously. I mean... how stupid can you get? I was desperate to matter to someone I guess, playing the part of the hero is not something you get to do often as a 15 year old girl.
He pulled off his nasty baseball cap and bent over, bowing, humming. At first, I thought it was out of happiness that I'd agreed to help him, but there was something underneath the cap. Well, actually, it was more like there was nothing underneath. There was a hole, in the back of his head. Like, instead of balding, his skull had just... caved in. I couldn't see the bottom, it disappeared into darkness. A sick thought in the back of my head told me to thrust my hand in, that it would just keep going. The hole is endless, the voice said, see for yourself.
The man abruptly stopped humming and stood up straight, snapping the cap back on top of his oily long locked head. He glanced from side to side anxiously before whispering, "As you can tell, I'm missing a very important piece."
I stared, I don't know how long I stood there in silence while his words clicked into place. His head was literally empty! No brain, no blood, just endless void, "Is this one of those hidden camera TV shows?" I asked, an edge of panic painfully obvious in my tone.
The man did not respond to this, "Please find my missing piece," his high strained voice cracked, he seemed close to tears, "I can pay you very very well." Then he turned his back to me and ran down the alley in the opposite direction. I watched his bright orange tank top and ugly baseball cap fade until he had come out the other side and turned left.
My heart was racing, I walked the rest of the way home as quickly as possible, jumping at any passing car or stray cat. Then, I told my mom about my day at school (excluding the walk home, obviously) and did my homework. Life goes on, right?
I never found this man's "missing piece" and I could never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I looked down into his empty skull. In my dreams over and over again, I would thrust my hand into the cool darkness of the void, and each night, what I found inside was different. Sometimes, I'd feel something wet and warm, recoiling, my hand would be coated in blood. Some nights, I'd pull out a piece of paper with numbers on it. Sometimes my hand would never make contact with anything, but I could hear someone sobbing inside.
I've done my best to move on since that day, and even though after that, I never saw the man lean against the concrete warehouse again, I've taken to walking home by a different route.
Why did the scarecrow get a promotion? He was outstanding in his field.