You all lived in the Millennium Towers. You’re all neighbors. That’s good. It’s good to see people sticking together.
Sticking together is what gets us through hard times. I learned about that in the Army. Sticking together was all that kept us alive when we’d go out on patrol. All we had was each other then, everybody else could have been trying to kill us, we’d never know. That’s when you learn who your people are. I didn’t know anybody like them when I came back, not until I wound up here in The Bottoms.
You probably didn’t even know that’s what it was called over here. That’s what all of us, the dealers and the cops and social workers called it before we took over, “The Bottoms,” because when you wound up on the streets down here you knew you couldn’t get any lower.
Everyday, from anywhere I went, I could watch them working on your building when it was being built. I remember thinking how it looked like something out of the future, and then here we were just a couple blocks away, running around looking for food, making shelters out of whatever we found lying around, like we were in the stone ages.
Things did not go as planned I would say. When you take out the electricity and the water pressure, those are just some very inconvenient, vertical… birdhouses. That’s probably what they’re going to turn into. The Millennium Towers.
This must be embarrassing for you, having to ask us to take you in. That must be very embarrassing. I know all about embarrassing.
Out in the middle of a busy work day, cars driving past all around, people out walking their dogs, no privacy anywhere you look, all of a sudden my stomach cramps from the bad food I ate the night before and I’ve got to take a shit. Nobody will let me use their restrooms. That’s when you do things you never, ever thought you’d be doing. Homeless folks know all about embarrassing. People thought just because we were out here on the streets that we didn’t care about having pride, but we did. Everybody was trying to take it away from us, even the people that didn’t know that’s what they were doing.
These yellow-headed white Christian kids would come down here every Friday, like it was their big night out, all of them dressed in their bright blue sweatshirts with the name of their church on the back. They’d stand in a circle when they got out of their vans and hold hands and pray before they passed out their food and went ministering to us. They stood in the middle of the block and prayed for God to give them the opportunity to save our wretched souls. Talked about us to God right in front of us, where we could hear them, like we couldn’t do it ourselves. I heard somebody talking with God every night I slept on the street.
If a man around here had come by a tent, or got himself a new jacket, he might be feeling pretty good about himself. Something like that can go a long way in a person’s mind. But then he’d see those kids coming, talking to God about him like he was so far beneath them he couldn’t even understand what they were saying, and he’d know his place hadn’t changed. They’d do all that to us for the price of a sandwich. You’ll never find a preacher living on the streets. The people who lost their jobs were the one’s who did honest work.
When things started falling apart, church people were the first to stop coming around. End times were what they’d been waiting for all along, we were just here to punch their ticket into heaven. There’s no charity in expecting a reward like that. We left them some food when we raided their warehouse, though. We told them which way to go so their women didn’t get raped and themselves all hacked to pieces by the gangs. We turned the other cheek.
People trying to take our pride away is the reason we’re in charge now. These two boys would come and scream at us in the night. They made a habit out of it.
They’d come off the freeway off-ramp in their white sports car. Once or twice a week they’d do this, same time every time, around two in the mornings after the bars closed. They’d slow down, stick their heads out the windows, and scream right at a bunch of us in our tents and sleeping bags, then drive off. They must have lived somewhere around here, maybe in the Millennium Towers. Maybe you all knew them.
I had all kinds of problems falling asleep after I came home. Being on the street made it even worse, thinking about my stuff getting stolen. Then when I finally did fall asleep, this banshee would come howling right on top of me. I’d be waking up from one nightmare into another nightmare. Even when they did it to somebody else, I’d hear it bounce off the buildings on all sides.
That was too much for me. They put me right back in the war. So I became a solider again. Some of our people say God sent those boys to us for a reason.
We knew things were falling apart before anybody else did. We’d notice how the police drove by less and less, then not at all. We heard the planes passing overhead farther and farther apart. We listened to your all’s world fading away. We knew when the time came to kill them. If they’d been listening, if they’d had common sense instead of just money and a car, they would have known it too.
We made a spike strip out of a chain link fence, laid out with some concrete blocks and rebar and chains we got from construction sites. I posted scouts to give the signal when they say the car coming, and our men down the way put out the spikes where they wouldn’t have time to slow down. Those boys were still alive when we dragged them out. One of them even had some juice left in him after we’d hung them up on the exit sign, as a warning.
That was the night we became an army. We waited for someone to come down on us, but no one came that night. Then a whole day went by and the boys’ bodies were still up there, and we knew nobody would ever be coming. Nobody knew the streets like we did, where all the food was, where all the good places to hole up were at. Defensible positions. Weapons stashes. We got to them first.
Here we thought we were the most wretched souls alive, but come to find out we were just being trained to inherit the earth, just like they said.
Now you all have waited until you couldn’t wait anymore, and you’ve come down out of those towers to ask us to take pity, and give you shelter, and food, and protection. But you are not our people.
I would tell you which way to go, but you all waited too long. Things have got so bad now outside our gates, any which way you walk you’re going to run into trouble. So I think what you all ought to do is go back to what you know, and look around while you can still recognize it, and let yourselves die with it.
It’s all just part of the plan.
Justin Hudnall received his BFA from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, and currently serves as the Executive Director of So Say We All, a San Diego-based literary arts and education non-profit. In a prior career, he served with the United Nations in South Sudan as an emergency response officer. He is a recipient of the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst Fellowship and Rising Arts Leader award, an alumni of the Vermont Studio Center, and his work has been published in various journals including The Quotable, Art Pulse, and Heinemann Publishing among others.
Brian Simpson is a native of the Washington DC metro area, a US Marine Corps veteran, and a former foster youth. Having moved from place to place for his entire life, he’s been exposed to many cultures, families, and lifestyles. He channels this unique life path into a delightfully irreverent form of comedy that audiences have been relating to and laughing at for years.