A man in his early thirties walked down the street, a paper bag full of groceries in his arms. The streetlamps were just turning on, bright globes against the darkening sky. The man stopped walking suddenly and looked around. He frowned, causing his apathetic expression to turn to one of anxiety. He started walking again, increasing his pace until he was nearly running.
There was a sudden blur of movement and in the next moment, his grocery bag crashed to the sidewalk. A dark shape grappled with him. After another instant, he was knocked to the ground by his attacker. A deep-throated screech of agony split the evening, drowning out the city’s steady background noise. The scream became muffled as the thing bent over its victim.
The screaming trailed off into an awful silence. A moment later, the attacker was gone in another blur. The man remained on his back, still except for the spasmodic twitching of his right leg.
The man, Martin Venatio, had never known such pain. Never in his life had he even conceived of the pain he now felt, much less imagined that it was possible. His body yearned to die. Death seemed to be the only possible way of ending the pain. The horrible, unbearable pain. But Venatio’s mind would not allow him to die. It was too full of rage and righteous indignation.
By all accounts, Venatio had been a good man. He had devoted much of his life to helping others, to easing their pain. How could it be that Martin Venatio, of all men, was being subjected to this suffering? It wasn’t fair, he told himself. It was beyond unfair, it was an affront to the very order of Venatio’s universe. Venatio could not die. This abominable crime could not go unpunished. Venatio must live, so that his attacker would die.
An old man stumbled along the sidewalk clutching a bottle of wine wrapped in a tattered brown paper bag. He wore ragged army fatigues and, despite the evening’s mildness, an old parka zipped up to his bearded chin. He noticed the bag of spilled groceries and then the prone man lying next to it. Half-drunk, the vagrant ambled over to Venatio. Seeing the man’s eyes wide open, he addressed him in slurred French.
Martin could only gasp and shiver in response. Despite his partial stupor, the vagrant easily read the pain on Venatio’s face.
“Tiens,” growled the old man.
He put his bottle to the prone man’s lips and poured some of the alcohol into his throat. Venatio swallowed the tart liquid with some effort. Almost immediately, Venatio felt the alcohol’s effect. Although the pain diminished only slightly, the small reprieve was an incredible relief. Seeing the drink’s effect, the wino generously poured another sip into Venatio’s mouth, spilling some over his cheek. After a few more minutes, Venatio was just barely able to force out a hoarse whisper.
“Ambulance,” he croaked.
The old man frowned as the word was slowly translated into meaning by his dulled mind. He shook his head vehemently.
“Non, non, non! Pas d’ambulance! Pas de police!” he yelled as he gestured.
The old man made as though to leave.
“Please. I need help. I need drugs,” pleaded Venatio. “Anything. Please.”
“Pas de police,” mumbled the wino. He stopped moving though. He seemed to consider the idea of drugs.
“Left pocket. I’ll give you more when you bring me back the drugs.”
The vagrant fumbled in Venatio’s right pocket. Finding nothing of interest, he searched the left pocket and pulled out Martin’s wallet. He immediately opened it and leafed through the money inside. Nodding his head absently, the bum ambled off.
Venatio lay in continued agony, desperate for any kind of help. It felt like hours passed while he lay there. The pain did not diminish with time as it usually did with injury. Instead, the pain only increased as the wine wore off. He heard footsteps some way off, perhaps across the street. He tried to shout, but only managed to produce an agonized whine. The footsteps faded away, their owner either unaware of Venatio or unwilling to help.
Finally, he heard shuffling footsteps approaching him and two voices. One was the wino’s. The other spoke to him with a heavy Quebecer accent.
“It look like you need a dose very bad, man,” said the newcomer.
He knelt beside Venatio. Martin cringed in severe pain as he felt the man tie a piece of surgical tubing around his bicep. When the needle broke his skin he nearly passed out, but a sudden rush of relief swept through him. Until that moment, he had not realized just how afraid of death he was. A welcome sense of calm filled him, as he realized that he might make it. The pain remained intense, but he could breathe with less effort and could speak more clearly.
“I need more,” gasped Venatio.
“No way, man. I don’t want you to overdose.”
“I know what I’m talking about. I’m in pain, give me more!” Venatio almost shouted at the man.
Grudgingly, the junkie refilled the syringe and gave Venatio another shot. In a few moments, the pain faded. He did not feel a sudden high, in fact, the pain did not even recede completely. He felt as though he had just woken up with a severe hangover. To Venatio, at that moment, it was a sweeter relief than he had ever felt in his life.
He managed to struggle to his feet and found himself looking into the dirty, shaggy faces of two homeless men, a drunk and a junkie. He thanked them warmly. He brought them to a bank machine and repaid them generously, while buying all the morphine he could off the street junkie.
His groceries forgotten, Venatio struggled home. His anger overwhelmed his pain now. Whatever that creature was that had attacked him, it would pay for its crime. It would pay with its life.