He had lived in the bin for three days now. No one had come because of the strikes so he knew he was safe, for the time being at least. Occasionally he would wake in the night to the clatter of bottles and quickly scramble into his shelter, his makeshift home at the far right corner where he would be protected from the hurricane of new materials that slowly buried him deeper and deeper, packed into the rubbish.
He didn’t mind though. He knew he could escape if he needed to, he’d spotted the crack before he climbed in, a tiny hole in the bottom which gave him easy access in and out, no matter how much the rubbish kept on coming.
Today the bin was full, heaving and straining and overflowing onto the street below. He sometimes heard voices, huge booming voices that shook every bone in his body.
‘For fuck’s sake, when are they going to do something about this?’
‘It fucking stinks, those lazy bastards’
And then the clap and thud of heavy footsteps walking away.
The smell, yes the smell was a downside to his new residence, and the heat. The hot sour stench of things slowly decaying all around him often became unbearable, creeping into his nostrils like an invisible rotten snake which flicked its rancid tongue into the back of his throat.
It was another thing that kept him awake at night, unsurprisingly. He’d tried to combat it and made a mask out of a square of napkin, one that was relatively unsoiled, hooking it over his ears in an attempt to keep it straight on his face. It was pretty ineffectual, he knew that, but he was a fighter, he had to be.
During the day the bin was his playground. He adopted an explorers mentality, fashioning a hat out of the shell of a pistachio nut, boots from bottle caps and a matchstick as a cane. For hours he would climb and sink, slide and swing, make daring leaps from the edge of takeaway tubs and land softly on sticky wads of tissue.
He ate like a king, munching on crusts from pizza boxes, sinking his face deep into sweet wrappers, sipping from soup cans. He’d get drunk too. Why not? Threading spaghetti down into the deep, cavernous pits of the wine bottles, effortlessly sliding down, as graceful and beautiful as any man could be.
He’d hit the bottom, his boot caps making a satisfying clink on the glass. He’d always mutter ‘cheers’ to himself when that happened, before crouching on the base of the bottle, on his hands and knees, and lapping at the wine like a cat.
The voices would come and go, sometimes they were far away and he couldn’t work out what they were saying, sometimes they were so loud he felt as though his ears would burst, explode, drop off! He didn’t know why but it always left him feeling strangely hollow, as if he was merely an echo of himself. When the voices were gone and the silence crept in he would remain, mouth dry, heart beating uncomfortably, hands and feet shaking and sharply painful. But his mind stayed empty, detached, like a loose balloon floating gently above his neck. He would always sit a while when this happened, and slowly but surely he would collect his thoughts, come back to life, and then would continue with whatever it was he happened to be doing at the time.
However, despite the noise and the stench and the danger of being crushed to death, stabbed in the heart with a shard of glass or neatly sliced in two by the edge of a tin can he felt quite confident that the bin would do for now.
He had shelter, he had food, and he had the precious booze that kept him from feeling any sadness or remorse for the things he had left behind. That was the most important thing, to have no regrets, to try to forget, so he resolved to stay here, until the bins were cleared at least, and then he would make his next move.
On the fourth night the foxes came.
He’d had an encounter with a fox, only once before in his life. Back when he’d been living in the forest with the others. He’d been with the tribe, and was on scavenging duty at the time. It was dangerous in the forests, in a different way to the city. There they had the animals to compete with, the other hunters driven to leave their homes with nothing in their hearts but a thirst for blood. The men had their advantages of course, they were far more intelligent then any of the creatures, but still size was naturally not on their side, and thus they had no choice but to run.
It was not in their nature to run, they were brave men with fierce hearts, they were not afraid of death, however it should come to them. Still the instinct to survive always prevailed and so one man was always chosen as a lookout, he would remain vigilant and eagle-eyed throughout the scavenging hunt, and if he called ‘Run!’ then that’s what the men would do.
His meeting with a fox happened on one such day. He had been nominated as the lookout, a prestigious position, only given to the sharpest, fittest and fastest men in the tribe.
On that particular day however he had been somewhat preoccupied.
By a woman.
A woman! A woman! A blasted woman! He shook his head remorsefully as he thought of it. She had come to him in the night, her face streaked with mud, her muscular thighs covered with the most glorious coating of thick ginger hair, her hair in twisted knots, cascading heavily down her back which rippled in the moonlight as she turned coyly, cunningly, to show him every inch of her. Women were witches, disastrous, beautiful witches who claimed the hearts of men and then feasted upon them unashamedly in the broad light of day, the blood from their flesh dripping greedily down their faces as they licked and crunched and sucked every last bone, every last slip of skin. And they cackled, yellow toothed, boisterous, deep-bellied laughs and then fell asleep in a pile of glorious golden limbs.
Not really of course. But it was a metaphor. Or a folk tale, or a joke that they used when they were feeling rather kept under the thumb by the women folk of the tribe. They ruled the roost the women, and rightly so. They were taller, stronger and far cleverer than most of the men which meant falling head over heels for one, any one really, that showed you the slightest bit of attention , was pretty much inescapable.
Her name was Nora, and he would challenge any man who dared to say she was not the most perfect creature that existed in the world. He had seen her before of course, but never felt brave enough to approach her, and then, there she was, naked and shimmering in the moonlight, offering herself to him, to be his forever.
So it was understandable that the following day he had been a little distracted. She had left him as dawn broke, when the first bright rays of the sun came blinking and twinkling through the trees. She had whispered that he must approach her father by the end of the day, and once he had given his blessing she would be his for all eternity.
Scavenger duty was the first task of the day, the earlier the men went out, the sooner they could return and rest, so it made perfect sense to them. He’d had no time to pull Nora’s father aside before they gathered in the small cleaning of the camp to share out the tasks before setting out. He was happy to give himself more time, and use the hunt to think of how to ask, as Nora’s father was a notoriously ferocious man, and fiercely protective of his daughter at that.
The hunt had been going well, three men were dispatched to check the traps for bugs and worms and all had come back successful. Two thirds of the men were in charge of gathering berries and stinging nettles and various other edible plants and flowers that grew in the forest. The others had the honour or trying to catch some proper meat.
Proper meat was hard to come by in the forest, occasionally they would get lucky with a beast that had already suffered its fate, and, with the hard bit done for them the men could simply drag it back to their camp and then they would feast like kings. This was a rare treat however as often the meat had gone rancid before they happened upon it.
To receive the highest honour a man hunting for meat would catch it and kill it himself.
Of course being Tiny Men this was no easy task. In fact it was such a rarity that tales of this occurring only existed in stories that the bushy faced elders would tell round a crackling fire as they rubbed their feet and salivated over the idea of a thing they did not really know.
He had been thinking about this, about the glory he could obtain were he to make such a kill, and with it the enthusiastic approval of Nora’s father, when he suddenly found himself face to face with the fox. It around two meters away which was quite far from his perspective, however he was aware that the fox could easily cover that distance in two effortless leaps. He remained silent and carefully still. They stared at each other for some time.
He should have shouted ‘Run!’ he knew the very second he should of done it, but instead he had stared at the fox and thought about how its beautiful orange fur which glowed in the sunlight was exactly the same shade as the hair on Nora’s thighs. If he had shouted ‘Run!’ instead of thinking about her thighs things might have turned out very differently. But they did not.
Did you know a fox can kill up to 30 Tiny Men in under a minute? Since they were only a small tribe he calculated that it took about 90 seconds to wipe them all out. All but him.
Why did he survive? Because he ran of course. The one instruction that could have saved them all he kept to himself. He failed to share with others, with Nora and her outrageous thighs, with her father who would have probably (albeit begrudgingly) given his blessing for them to be married, to Christophe and Nathan, his two best friends who would have almost certainly reacted in a braver, more heroic, or at the very least more helpful way. But no, he ran, as fast as he could, his short muscular legs pumping with all their might, he didn’t turn back, didn’t stop to look for survivors, he blocked his ears to the indecent screams of the dying and simply kept on going until he reached the edge of the forest.
The City was where Tiny Men came to die. It was no place for them here. Of course there were the obvious dangers of day to day life, cars screeching, curious pets, the monstrous footsteps of the huge men arm in arm with their frightful, smooth-skinned women taking no care in where they were going, who they might selfishly crush underfoot. The Tiny Men would remain in hiding always, forests, deserts, and the high seas were the only place for them. They felt they had a chance against nature, but against the Bigger Men they had none.
There had been times were they thought they might reveal themselves, try to work together, to be accepted into the Bigger Man’s society, their way of life. But they had seen what had happened to the animals that had clearly had had the same thinking. They were confined to a life of chains, given the same dry, thoughtless meal every day, made to run and fetch things on demand. The Bigger Men loved to be in control so it seemed, and while they might have been small, freedom was not something the Tiny Men were willing to relinquish.
He had known he must head to the city, there was nothing left for him back home after all, and he’d known he would die here. Not a glorious fighting death like the others, who had battled the fox with all their might as it had flashed and darted about, stripes of its beautiful tangerine fur sparking between the trees, jaws dripping with blood. He would die alone. It was what he had come here to do.
But on the fourth night the foxes came. And they changed everything
They were here, he could smell them, hear the rustle of their fur against the rubbish, the tug of their teeth closing in on plastic, the snarl and thud of their paws as the fought over every last morsel.
He felt his heart beating dryly in his mouth, the pulse of his veins and his blood seemed to strengthen, to stand up to attention. He had a chance here! A chance to die honourably, to in some way redeem himself, to be reunited in with Nora and her magical thighs in a wonderful reunion in the afterlife.
Carefully he strapped on his boots, swapped the matchstick for a toothpick, and found the largest shard of glass he could carry. Slowly and carefully he placed the pistachio hat on his head, squared himself upright and looked at his stretched reflection in the side of a jar of marmalade. He was going into battle, he was ready.
He crept from the crack at the corner of the bin and allowed himself a moment to breathe in the fresh night air. The moon rested plump and pale against the darkened skies.
The foxes were wrestling greedily over an ragged pork chop. He stared at them, the orange of their fur glistened and rippled in the moonlight.
Oh the thighs! The thighs! How magnificent! How sublime!
He stepped forward, raised the shard of glass high above his head, he gave out his war cry.
The foxes turned.