Demon with 10,000 Fists short fiction
The shaman was the kind of guy people spent their whole lives pretending they didn’t see until they managed to make it so that they didn’t. Some people didn’t want to deal with the guilt. Others had more pressing concerns than one more homeless man among many. And some folks were just too determined to ignore anything they didn’t like seeing. The reasons were different, but the result was the same. Nobody saw the guy.
Nobody but Richard.
It’d started out simple enough. While walking past the guy, Richard had dropped some spare change in the beggar’s cup. It’d been less an act of generosity, more about not wanting to shove more coins in his pockets.
“Thanks,” said the beggar in his rough, worn voice.
“Uh hmm,” replied Richard.
The homeless man grabbed Richard’s sleeve. Not hard enough to stop him, but Richard stopped anyway. A few feet away, a potted plant came crashing down a few steps from where Richard would’ve been had he kept walking.
“Lucky break there,” said the homeless man as he sauntered away.
Richard didn’t think much of it. The next day, the hairy, dirty man stood in the same spot, shaking his cup. Richard dropped a couple of quarters in the cup as way of saying thanks for the fortunate save.
The old man’s mustache twitched. “Wouldn’t get on a bus today,” he said before vanishing in the throngs of morning pedestrians.
Richard didn’t take his bus. He felt ridiculous watching it drive away. He played through the conversation with his supervisor in his head. “Sorry I’m late. Just following some advice from a crazy old man.”
He didn’t know if the old man was crazy. Or old. It was impossible to tell under all the grime, and the wrinkles could’ve been the price of a hard life rather than age. Crazy was an unfair assumption.
The bus had been in an accident. Another bus had plowed into its side, and while Richard didn’t have a regular spot he sat in, he couldn’t help but wonder what had happened if he had been on it.
After that, he started getting up early specifically to speak with the old man. He’d offer the beggar a few coins, sometimes a dollar or two. The shaman of the streets didn’t always say something. Most days, he took the money and walked away.
But the days he did say something . . .
“Nice day to walk through the park.” Richard ran into a woman he’d met at a party. They’d hit it off, but he’d never gotten her number. Now, they were dating.
“Looks like rain.” Richard bought an umbrella. It didn’t rain, but it started a conversation with the head of the company while riding the elevator that probably had something to do with getting fast tracked toward a promotion.
“Everybody’s workin’ themselves to death.” Richard used a personal day. He stayed home with his girlfriend, playing video games and making love. Nobody in the office even cared.
Richard had never had a spiritual advisor before, but that haggard, old man was a link to something bigger. Richard didn’t understand it. He didn’t need to. He accepted it as truth, and if all the old guy wanted was a dollar a day to share that wisdom, Richard was happy to pay it.
One day, after he’d paid his tribute and the old man hadn’t said anything, Richard was walking away when he heard someone hassling the old man.
“Why don’t you get a job?” asked a guy in a button upped business suit.
The old man chewed on the remains of a half-eaten sandwich he’d fished out of a garbage can. He said nothing. Just stared at the suit.
“Are you crazy or just too lazy?” The old man turned, and the suit grabbed the shaman by the shoulder. “Hey, man, I’m talking to you.”
Nobody else wanted to get involved. They kept their heads down and kept walking.
“Cool it,” said Richard. “He’s not doing any harm to anyone.”
The suit snarled at Richard. Then the old man. “God damn leech.” He batted the old man’s can out of his hand. The coins spilled across the sidewalk.
Richard bent down and helped the shaman pick up his money.
“Pathetic.” The suit strode away in disgust. He only made it a few steps before tripping on a crack in the sidewalk and banging his head against a lamppost. He struggled to regain his balance, but the crowd pushed him around. He slipped on the edge of the sidewalk and fell into traffic. Richard turned away, but he heard the thunk of wheels rolling over the guy.
“Taxis in this town can be murder,” said the old man as he dumped his handful of change into his pocket and shuffled off.
The next day, Richard slipped the shaman an extra five bucks. Just to be on the safe side.