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KILLING TO LIVE



Once again, I had made my way across the St Johns River, heading toward Park Street. The city park that I was heading for was located on the opposite side of Jacksonville. It was just about as far from the orphanage, where I lived, as one could get without leaving town.

When I arrived, it was about six-o'clock in the evening and the traffic was starting to die out. I knew the police were still looking for me, because I had not returned to the orphanage after leaving Landon Junior High School, four days earlier.

The park was a somewhat safe haven for us kids when we had ran away, mainly because there were many people walking in the park and many had children with them. The Police had learned that it was not easy chasing us orphan kids around the park. Many times, they ended up chasing, and catching the wrong kids anyway.

The park was dense with trees and large bushes where we could hide. It was a place where we could beg for money and food. If all else failed, there were always the queer men who came searching for young boys, almost every evening. For about four years I had been taking money from a man named "Bill." He was a queer schoolteacher that I had met while crossing the Main Street Bridge, when I was seven or eight years old. I had just turned twelve and I think Bill was beginning to think that I was getting a little too old for him, or maybe he thought that I might tell somebody what he was doing to me. However, I had not eaten for two days and Bill seemed like my only hope of getting food.

I was rather surprised when I reached the park, as there were not many people. Off in the distance I saw five or six people sitting around in a circle. As I got closer, I saw that it was several homeless people, drinking and talking. These are the same people that I generally saw standing around outside the Trailway Bus Station, begging for money. I had never seen them in this part of the city before.

"Have a seat," yelled out the old woman, as I approached.

Each of them was sitting on old wooden coca cola crates. Over to the side there were stacks of wooden crates, all broken into pieces. In the center of the group was a small fire with a medium size black metal pot, sitting atop the fire. I walked over; looked in, and there did not appear to be anything inside the pot, except water.

"Is that there going to be for coffee water?" I asked.

"Don't you know the difference between a coffee pot and a darn cooking pot?" asked the woman.

Every one of them laughed.

Not knowing what to say, I took a seat next to the heavyset woman. When I sat down, the smell coming from her just about made me gag. I raised my hand to my nose and I held it there.

"Something wrong with that nose of yours, boy?" said the woman.

"No Ma'am," I replied, as I dropped my hand to my side.

I sat there for as long as I could take the smell, then I stood up acting as if I had to stretch. I stretched each of my legs, one at a time, and then I began walking to the other side of the group circle, where I took another seat.

"If that damn sun would go down we'd start us some supper," said the smelly woman.

I looked around to see if I could find any food, but I saw nothing. One of the men had a small duffle bag lying over to one side.

"You going to eat with us tonight?" asked a man, wearing a dirty ball cap.

"I'm really hungry. I could sure use something to eat, " I responded.

"Good, then it is settled. We need a good, strong young man to get our dinner for us."

I looked at the man, trying to figure out what it was that he meant.

"I can't steal any food for you," I told the group.

"God damn it, kid. Did anybody ask you to steal anything?" said the woman.

"No Ma'am."

"Hey, did you hear the one about the salesman and the farmer?" asked the other woman in the group.

Everyone shook their heads, no.

"Well, this here salesman went to the farmer and told him that he was lost. He asked if he could spend the night. The old farmer told the salesman that he could, but that he would have to sleep with his youngest daughter. He made it very clear to the salesman that no hanky-panky had better take place.

About three o'clock in the morning the farmer woke up, when he heard a loud scream. He ran into his daughter's bedroom and found that the salesman had jumped out the second-story window and was now screaming, as he ran out across the cornfield.

”What happened?” the farmer asked his daughter.

”That nice man asked me if I wanted to play with his dolly. When I did, it spit on me and I broke its neck."

The group went into a laugh that I will never forget. The fat woman fell off her crate and lay laughing on the ground. I just sat there looking at everyone.

"Don't you think that was funny, boy?" asked one of the men.

"I don't get it. Why would a grown man have a girl doll?" I replied.

A complete silence fell over the entire group. Then, once again, they burst out in laughter

"How old are you boy?"

"Twelve."

"You been locked away in a cave somewhere or something?" asked one of the men.

"No sir. I been living at the orphanage over by Spring Park School, near San Diego."

Once again, the group fell silent.

As darkness fell, we each took turns breaking up the wooden crates, and stoking the fire to keep it going. Several times the woman walked down to the public restroom and returned with water. She carried it in an old coffee can that she had gotten out of the garbage can.

"How come you guys are over here sitting in the park? I always see you standing outside at the bus station," I asked.

"My boy, this is where the food is," someone said.

For the last hour, food was all that I had been thinking about. I kept waiting for someone to open the duffle bag and take out whatever it was that we were going to cook for supper.

"Well, it's about that time. Come on boy," said one of the men, as he got up off his crate.

"Where we gonna go?"

"To get our dinner."

I stood up and waited to see what the old man was going to do. He began walking off into the darkness, so I followed him. He stopped when we reached the edge of a large pond. He stood there looking up at the full moon. He reached into his coat pocket and he pulled out a slice of white bread.

"Are we going to eat fish for supper?" I asked.

"Hell no, boy. You be quiet now. I will draw them in with the bread, and then I'll run them toward you. You grab as many as you can and you twist their necks," he told me.

"Mister, I don't know what you mean," I said, looking rather confused.

"The ducks, the damn ducks," he whispered, loudly.

"Ducks?" I said.

"The ducks, we’re going to cook the damn ducks."

"You cannot kill these here park ducks. These here is pet ducks."

The man grabbed me by the throat and he began to squeeze.

"You help me catch those ducks or I'll push your ass in that damn lake. You got that?"

"I can't kill anything living. Really I can't."

As the man pushed me backwards, I tripped and fell to the ground. I sat there watching as he began coaching the ducks close to him, using the small pieces of bread he was tossing at them.

“Please, Dear God. I do not want to see nothing get dead. Please don't let that man kill those ducks," I prayed.

Well, prayers were not answered that evening.

Five minutes later, we were walking back to the small camp. Neither one of us said a word to one another. I stopped about twenty yards from the campsite and sat down on the ground. The man continued on walking. I heard him talking to the others, but I could not tell what he was saying. Occasionally one of them would turn around and look at me. Therefore, I know he told them what happened.

For several hours, I sat there watching as they cleaned, boiled, and began eating the helpless creatures. I have to admit they smelled good. I was so hungry that I could hardly stand it any longer. I wanted so much to go and ask them for part of the food, but I knew they would not give me any. Besides, I did not know if I could eat it anyway.

All at once, the six of them got up and began moving around. One of the men took his foot and spread the fire so that it would go out. Then they started walking toward the downtown area. I sat there for about ten minutes before I got up and walked over to where the fire had been burning. There were feathers all over the place. I gathered up a few pieces of the coca cola crates, and managed to get the fire started again. I took a stick and looked through the ashes to see if I could find any thing else that they might have cooked to eat. There was nothing.

Several minutes later, I walked over to Post Street and I knocked on Bill's door. When it opened, he looked at me and he smiled.

"Hungry?" He asked.

"Yes, sir," I replied.

"Good!" he said, as he placed his hand on my shoulder.



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