I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been out here.

He comes for me every night, waiting to feed from me like I imagine it does the others. It doesn’t matter where I hide, he finds me eventually. He told me we all have our own unique scent signature, he told me this as his foetid breath swirled out of his gullet, and filtered its way into my nostrils, making me wretch violently and bring up a slew of bile.

People walk past folks like me without acknowledging we exist. I used to be one of them.

As I grew older, I stopped noticing homeless people and addicts out on the streets, mostly out of revulsion and anger because I felt that if they just made some fucking effort, they could sort themselves out. I didn’t understand how hard it is to beat addiction, and what it does to people physically and mentally. I didn’t stop to consider the kind of trauma that can lead to addiction in the first place, or the fact that many addicts are people who live with chronic pain, and have previously exhausted all legal pharmaceutical means. Initially, I was the kind of shitbag that would hiss at them with ‘get a fucking job you waste of bloody organs’, and kick over whatever they were trying to collect funds in. Not noticing them at all was my natural progression because there’s only so many addicts you can abuse before it gets boring. Why would I give a fuck about trash like that?

I think he had been watching me for a while. He saw the anger and disgust in me, and sought to toy with me like one of those horribly mangled wooden dolls you find in a dead relative’s loft; I was now a hideously deformed flesh-bag, rotting over time until I was a husk of my former self. Catching sight of myself in the mirror of the stinking public toilets, was always a gut-wrenching event. My skin was yellowed in places, huge chunks of it drooping one way, others missing entirely leaving open sores in my face, oozing with this strange turquoise mucous, that crusted over until the skin broke, where it oozed all over again to repeat the cycle. No amount of washing away would rid me of it, it would bleed through the sores again within seconds, crusting over and leaving the profile of my face twisted and mouldy. The odour was impossible to describe, only that it was the same as the creature’s breath when it got too close.

That’s what he fed on.

I used to be an entirely functional person, in fact if you could imagine the stereotypical outward pillar of the community type, that would have been me. I was never cruel to vulnerable people whilst I was with anyone, I didn’t want anyone to think I was like that. As far as my friends and family were concerned, I was a middle aged bloke, fairly good looking with an equally stereotypical-well-enunciated-British-accent. Father to twin girls with another baby on the way, my wife and I were socialites doing the whole fundraising for an extra pony to assist developmentally challenged children learn how to ride. Like I said, stereotypical outward pillar of the community type, complete with a viciously two faced dark side. I wasn’t just cruel to the homeless, vulnerable, or people battling addiction. I’d book time with escorts, just so I could make them stand side by side, whilst I compared them to one another in terms of attractiveness, and decide who was the biggest slag. It always resulted in both of the women crying, but I found that hilarious. I never booked the same women twice, and I was wealthy enough to make it worth their while, although I always told them I just wanted two of them so we could have a threesome. The truth was that I didn’t get off on sexual contact with them, I simply wanted them to dress up to the nines, parade around and then slowly crumple into a sobbing mess as I slowly tore them down and figured out which one was the biggest whore.

Maybe he knew about that too. My abhorrent mistreatment of sex-workers who were absolutely deserving of the same respect and rights as every other human being, and the right to work without being subjected to misogynist abuse. Maybe he saw the way they went from looking perfect, to being snotty nosed disasters with rivers of ruined makeup trickling down their cheeks. I was a complete bastard, because I’d pay them half at the beginning of the sessions, and the rest at the end. Some of them would leave and not wait for the remainder of their money, but some stuck it out as they might have needed the money more. I was amazed so many of them let me split the payments, it’s common knowledge that escorts will only provide to clients who pay up front at the beginning of a session, and rightly so. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you’re waving £2000 a piece for an hour of their time, especially when you realise one of the escorts you hired is battling their own addiction.

I was a deeply unpleasant person.

It happened one evening, as I was leaving work and did my usual stride towards the coffee cart parked right outside it. The routine was to greet the aging man behind it with the usual small talk bullshit, and walk away with the same bevvy every night. Black coffee, two shots of hazelnut syrup. That evening he wasn’t there, it was a younger fellow, roughly the same height, but very mischievous looking. He grinned at me wildly, and asked me if I wanted my usual drink. I was initially taken aback, because how would he know what my usual was when we’d never met before? When he handed me a medium sized black coffee reeking of hazelnut syrup, I assumed he’d been given prior instructions or something. On asking him where the old man Charlie was, he simply replied that he was finding it difficult to work during the colder evenings, and that I’d be seeing him from now on, introducing himself as Hunter whilst extending a gloved hand. He said Charlie would still be around during the day, so I wouldn’t entirely lose my favourite hard working barista. I had a genuine fondness for old Charlie, because you could tell he’d worked hard his entire life, and he didn’t take nonsense from anyone.

Paying for my coffee, I thanked Hunter, and wandered off to the train station to make my commute home. I sat down, letting the hot cardboard coffee cup warm my hands, sipping it slowly until it was cool enough to drink in larger mouthfuls. I stopped for a moment, because it tasted slightly different, but not in an unpleasant way. It was still very much dark hazelnut syrupy heaven, but my head surmised that it was perhaps a different brand of syrup. Enjoying it nonetheless, I remember downing it in twenty minutes whilst scrolling through messages on my phone. I felt the afterglow of that pick me up coffee gives me when I drink it, but it seemed I felt more elated than usual. I’d had a good day at work, so I assumed my raised spirits were related to that. I didn’t notice anything odd until I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely after having an incredibly strange nightmare.

I was a late sleeper. Anyone drinking coffee after work on their way home, is going to be up until the smaller hours. I tended fall into bed at around 02:00AM, and as usual my wife was already sleeping and unaware I’d even slipped in. A couple of hours later, I had one of those weird out of body experience dreams where you can see yourself, but you can’t move quickly enough to stop something unfortunate from happening. I saw old Charlie standing next to me by my bed, trying to shake me awake, pleading with me to wake up in a very hoarse keening tone that made me think he’d been crying. I remember not being able to move, and although it wasn’t the worst nightmare I’d ever had, it shook me pretty badly as I didn’t like seeing the old man upset, and because I couldn’t breathe for the duration. I eventually lurched bolt upright, fighting for breath, waking my wife in the process. I was dripping with sweat and it took me a while to be able to breathe again. That wasn’t the whole scenario though.

I could smell the coffee cart all around the bedroom, and I asked my wife if she could smell anything, but she told me no, looking quite confused. I had this craving for the coffee I’d had on my way home, in a way I’d never felt before. That feeling you have when you wake up when you NEED a strong coffee to kick-start your system? It was much, much stronger than that. This was a deep-rooted URGENCY for that coffee, so much so that I couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got up, took a shower, paced around the house, unable to settle or spend more than thirty seconds focusing on any one thing. It was utterly bizarre.

06:00AM came and I flew out the door with my gear, forgetting even to kiss my wife and children goodbye, prompting an exasperated text-message asking if I was okay and why had I deviated from my usually incredibly structured morning routine. I couldn’t exactly tell my wife that I had an uncontrollable need for coffee, because I’d usually march out of the house armed with one from the kitchen, before grabbing another one from the cart outside the office building. It seemed incredibly ridiculous and so I apologised and told her I’d forgotten an early meeting, and after the weird night I needed to get moving.

The truth is, all I could think about was that bloody coffee cart.

My legs were restless for the entire commute into the city. I bit my nails, clenched my teeth, and practically started hyperventilating. My stomach was objecting to something, likely the lack of breakfast inside it, but I wasn’t hungry. All I wanted was that coffee. I pushed my way off the train, and almost sprinted to the coffee cart expecting to find old Charlie there, but it was Hunter again.

“Oh…hello. Charlie not around this morning then?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“No, I’m afraid not” Hunter responded with a gentle but fretful expression. “I’m afraid he died in the night, around 04:00AM.”

I was stunned. Firstly, because the fact that old Charlie was dead actually made my stomach turn, and secondly, 04:00AM was about the time that I’d seen him in my nightmare standing over me, upset and trying to bring me round. Seeing my distress, Hunter handed my coffee over and kindly told me it was on the house that morning. As it wafted up my nose, the shock of old Charlie not being around anymore was pushed to the back of my mind, as I hungrily gulped the coffee down in one go. It was hot and it burned my mouth and throat, but I didn’t care. I needed it. I needed it in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Hunter didn’t take his eyes off me, he merely gave me another gentle smile, and wished me a good day. I asked for a second cup, explaining my unsettled night, and how I’d probably need another coffee the moment I went into the office, so I might as well have it from him. He obliged, again telling me it was free gratis. I clutched the cup, and went off towards the revolving office doors. Just off to one side of them, a very dishevelled looking man sat on the cold stone floor, and asked me meekly for change. I heard him, but I didn’t acknowledge him outside of shooting him an irritated glance. As I was moving around inside the doors, I noticed Hunter staring directly at me, with a very grim expression on his face. I assumed he’d seen something behind me, as that was not the gentle spoken man I’d talked to moments before.

I’d only been at my desk for five minutes before draining the coffee from that second cup. Again, it was too hot and it burned, but it came with that same feeling of elation. I ploughed through the next thirty minutes, feeling on top of the world; I answered every email that usually took me the best part of a day to work through, dealt with every difficult challenge, and even offered to take a partial workload off the permanently stressed bloke next to me. This kind of thing didn’t happen for the most part, and then it hit me.

I needed another coffee. My usual response to this was to head over to the kitchen in the office, and shove one of those fancy coffee pods in the machine until it gave me what I wanted. This time, I grabbed my wallet, and charged downstairs to run out to the coffee cart. It didn’t really register what I was doing until the cold air hit my chest through the thin shirt I was wearing. My blazer was on the back of my chair, and the hot coffee glow and elation had worn off entirely. If I didn’t have a coffee from Hunter, I felt like I was going to die. Sounds ridiculous now, but you don’t know how bad it got yet, you DON’T KNOW.

“Hello again, Damian.” Hunter said with a slightly stern expression, appearing to force a smile in the way people often have to do when they’re working in retail, so as not to upset their customers.
“Uhh..hello Hunter, did you know my name?” I asked, realising that I’d never actually given it to him.

He grinned at me genuinely this time, and told me old Charlie gave him information about his regulars when he’d made the decision to stop working during the evenings. I couldn’t really argue with that, and eyed Hunter intensely as he was putting my coffee together. It seemed like he was going too slowly some how, almost as if he wasn’t going fast enough. My gut made the most peculiar of noises, and although I’d only been away from my desk for five minutes, the urgency for this beverage was reaching critical point.

“Hunter, sorry but could I ask you to move a little faster please? I’ve got a conference call in five minutes, and I’ll be in ever so much trouble if I don’t start on time.” I pleaded with him.

Hunter stopped and held my gaze for a moment, grasping the coffee cup firmly in his hands, not moving. He turned around, and put it in one of those cardboard trays, and adding some extras like sugar sachets just in case. It was almost like he was taunting me, showing me that he had power over me with this. He finally turned back and gave me a bright smile, asking me for payment that was twice the usual price.

I didn’t even hesitate. I pushed a crumpled fiver into his hand, and pulled the coffee from the tray. Again, I poured it down my throat so fast that it burned, this time leaving actual noticeable burns on my tongue. His face was completely still, his hands clasped together as he watched me back away semi sheepishly, before hurtling back into the building, because I didn’t have time to ask for another.

This went on for days, getting out of hand because I couldn’t last long without another round of that coffee. Coffee pod coffee didn’t do it for me. The coffee my wife made for me also stopped hitting the spot. I couldn’t function without Hunter’s coffee, and it finally got to the point where I hadn’t slept properly for WEEKS, because all I could see was myself over and over again, with old Charlie standing next to me, crying. Every night.

I was running up and down the stairs at the office, to buy cup upon cup of Hunter’s coffee, spending more time down there than I was at my desk. As soon as I finished one, I needed another. I began buying multiple cups to have at my desk, littering the area with empty cups, almost spilling some on the keyboard to my computer. My boss couldn’t understand why I had to have THAT coffee, and the money I was spending on it, was getting out of hand. It’s just coffee right? How can anyone lose so much over coffee?

When I wasn’t away from my desk grabbing more of it, I was in the bathroom relieving myself, and looking at the sores in my mouth. God it was tender and so painful. Patches of red skin missing from my cheeks, my tongue scalded and ulcerated, and my lips swollen and cracked. I wasn’t eating, I didn’t WANT to eat, all I could think about was that fucking coffee. My weight dropped dramatically, and I became extremely ill from malnutrition and the infected sores in my mouth. It was right about that time that the weird turquoise ooze made its appearance.

Then, as you might imagine when your work suffers, I got fired. Inability to produce good enough results, poor personal hygiene, unkempt appearance, snappy and obnoxious behaviour, demands for people to bring me coffee around the clock, the list went on. I lost the company a substantial amount of money, and that was the final straw. I didn’t really remember leaving the office with a box of stuff, but I remembered sloping off to the coffee cart to get my fix from Hunter.

That’s when it hit me that I couldn’t tell my wife I’d been fired, because what would be my reason for travelling into to the city for an hour, just to get coffee? She wouldn’t UNDERSTAND.

It’s important to remember that I had two gorgeous twin daughters who loved their daddy very much, and a baby on the way. My wife and my children saw how dramatically I’d changed, how I’d be unbearable when I came home from work, and wondered why on earth I was bringing home twelve cups of coffee a night that were more precious than gold to me. They stopped even talking to me when I refused to go to bed, and thought I was a mad-man, when I raved about old Charlie at night, at the height of my delirium. I had to pretend that I was still working, I had to keep up the façade because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get my coffee.

One day, my twins became very sick. My wife being heavily pregnant, couldn’t properly care for them, and it was down to me to be the active parent. I’d been entirely unreasonable and disengaged from them all, to the point where they told me they hated me on a daily basis. My wife, exhausted and ready to give birth very soon, didn’t have the strength to do anything, foolishly thinking I was still gainfully employed, despite my dramatic decline in health and appearance. I spent twenty four hours trying to nurse my babies, but I was horrible, cruel and didn’t want to be near them. All I wanted, was to go into the city and get my coffee. I couldn’t leave them, I shouldn’t have left them, but I did.

When I came back two hours later clutching a tray of my precious coffee, I found my wife sobbing on the floor on her knees, cradling one of the girls in her arms. The other one was standing next to her, her little face streaked with tears, her eyes red and swollen. My wife had been taking a nap you see, and because one of the girls had stopped vomiting, I thought they were going to be okay, and that I could risk going to the coffee cart. The withdrawal I was feeling because I’d gone hours without my beloved drink, was excruciating. Severe head pain, extreme nausea, my stomach turning in on itself in the most painful cramps, dizziness, tremors, dry heaving, and anxiety so high it could have made anyone’s heart explode. I felt subhuman, and so I did something stupid. I left my babies unattended.

My beautiful Ruby had choked on her own vomit, and died. My wife, thinking I was watching over them, was sleeping deeply in the next room. Daisy, her sister was fast asleep after her vomiting stopped, exhaustion keeping her there so that she didn’t even hear her perfect sibling choking slowly to death. It wasn’t until Daisy stirred and saw Ruby laid on her back, eyes open and purple faced that she screamed. That high pitched scream woke their mother, who moving as fast as she was able for a heavily pregnant woman, found her limp little body.

She looked up at me, her eyes blazing with a hatred I’ve never seen in her before, her voice low and hissing whilst her body shook with heavy sobs. She tried to speak, but couldn’t. Daisy just stared at me, wordlessly. Sirens were coming down the street, telling me that one of them had already called for help, but it seems that wasn’t the only phone call that happened in my absence.

My boss had called the house, asking me when I was going to come and pick up the remainder of my things from the office, after my dismissal. Obviously my wife was now fully aware of the situation, and it was pointless me even trying to hide it anymore.

“I needed my coffee.” I said, without any remorse whatsoever.
“FUCK YOUR COFFEE!!” my wife screamed, the sound ringing around my aching head.

She threw the phone at me, clutching and rocking with our dead daughter as fresh sobs erupted from her throat. Daisy sank to the floor and sobbed just as hard.

People came into the house, whilst I stood there, drinking my coffee one after another, not paying attention to anyone, not listening to anyone, not acknowledging anyone asking me if I needed help. I just stared at the coffee, and realised I’d gotten through every last cup. One of the paramedics noticed the state of my mouth and asked to look at it, seeing the scalded flesh, the foul smelling odour that went with it, the mess of my skin, and how much of a walking dead man I looked. They wanted to take me in, but I refused.

Then, my wife’s waters broke. She wasn’t due for another fortnight, but the stress of losing our daughter made her go into labour. She was loaded into the ambulance along with the body of Ruby, and her still living sister Daisy.

“Sir, you need to come with us.” one of the paramedics said. “Your wife needs to go NOW.”
“I need more coffee.” I mumbled under my breath, still staring at the bright lights outside the house.

“Sir? Your wife is in LABOUR. We can get you coffee at the hospital.” the paramedic responded in disbelief.

When she realised I wasn’t moving, she swore at me and left the house. I stood there alone watching the lights fade off, and stayed in the dark motionless despite the terrible situation I was in.

“I need more coffee.” I whispered to myself under my breath.

My mouth was bleeding, a combination of blood and that disgusting turquoise ooze dripping from my lips, leaving a trail of stink so noxious it made me bring up what little bile was left inside me. I didn’t make it to the bathroom, I just puked right there on the carpet, in the spot where my dead daughter just was. I couldn’t even cry. On autopilot, I left the house and made my way to the train station, the withdrawal symptoms hitting me hard. You might be forgiven for thinking I was going to go to the hospital, except that if you knew the mechanism of addiction, you’d realise that it makes people do things that are completely inhuman. The addicted brain is an entirely different brain, and when a person is in the full throes of addictive behaviour, it tears their life to pieces.

I went to the ATM. I tried to draw out £100. It spat my card out, stating insufficient funds. I checked my balance, seeing all I could afford to draw out was £10. With Hunter’s price increase, I’d be lucky to get two cups with that. I got them nonetheless, because I NEEDED them. Hunter never once made a comment on the decline of my appearance over the time it took to hook me up. He simply kept handing me cup after precious cup, when I had the money for it.

All of our money was gone, being spent on life expenses for the family and incoming baby, and with my coffee addiction and lack of employment, it didn’t take long to drain our accounts.

Understandably, my wife had the locks changed. I discovered this when I tried to get inside, only to find my key wouldn’t work. I tried to call her, but she wouldn’t talk to me. She never wanted to see me again, and the police wanted to talk to me about child neglect. My Ruby died because of me. It drove me down into a despair that wanted to kill me, but truthfully the only thing I could think about, was my coffee. I sold my phone for £20 even though it was worth far more. I started to steal from shops, and mug people to yank away their handbags, or pull their wallets away. I sat in doorways, begging for money asking simply for the price of a cup of coffee. Some nice people tried to bring me coffee several times, but they were disgusted when I smashed it out of their hands because it wasn’t the right coffee. It wasn’t Hunter’s coffee.

I was arrested and tossed back out onto the streets repeatedly. My only focus, was to get money to drink my coffee. I hadn’t eaten for months. I didn’t and still don’t know how I’m still alive. I depend on the kindness of people who walk past that actually notice me, and my own growing skill at stealing. I’m banned from almost every shop around the coffee cart.

He comes at night, when I am at my worst. He said he made me like this, he took old Charlie and taught me a lesson for my cruelty and mistreatment of vulnerable people. He made me one of them. There are many like me, we are putrefying blood-sacks, trying to survive between hits of whatever we are addicted to. I don’t even get the elated feeling anymore. It’s about taking the edge off so the withdrawal won’t be so painful. He says that when I am at my most uncomfortable, when the withdrawal is causing me the most pain, that it’s when I am at my most delicious. The waves of vomit, the despair, the tears and the rivers of shit that leak from us because we are slowly rotting from the inside out? That’s what he feeds on. That turquoise crust that oozes out of us, is concentrated misery and hopelessness.

We all have our own signature scent. He preys on us, creeping up to envelop us, that obnoxious breath filtering slowly into our senses no matter how hard we try to block it out. We feel him ooze around under our skin, our bodies contorted in agony as he takes what he wants from us, and discards us like empty shells, tortured and grief stricken. He whispers to us in a horribly scratchy hiss, reminding us of how we got there, who we lost, how we let them down, and how much they still loathe us. We are sobbing shattered wrecks when he leaves us, night after night. We get no reprieve.

“DAMIAN. You were such a vicious little shitgoblin weren’t you?  How does it feel with me oozing around under your skin, my inky black tendrils driving holes in your shattered little mind and body? Does it hurt? You taste like it might hurt. Your wife LOATHES you so much. I watched your daughter stabbing holes where your face is in photos, screaming that she hates you for killing her sister. Your wife gave birth recently, but you’re NEVER GOING TO SEE THAT BABY EVER. Scream for me you wretched fucking swine.”

And I do. I scream until all that comes out of me is exhausted wheezing.

I asked him once, what would I have to do to make it all go away? He chuckled at me and told me there was nothing I could do.

“There is nothing you can do, you obnoxious little fool. This wouldn’t have happened if only you’d shown some compassion like a decent human being, instead of behaving like a heartless sadist. I can keep you alive for YEARS, your anguish is delicious. That turquoise stinking crust inside you, that stench that seeps out of you no matter what you do…it’s how I keep you in purgatory for so long. I tainted your precious coffee with my poison, and it permeates and grows inside you like creeping death. I could snap your neck anytime I wanted to, but I don’t want to. The more tortured you are, the more you secrete. My longest conquest is 200 years old.”

200 years old?! My broken mind exploded into shreds hearing that, how old was Hunter to be able to do that?!

“HOW OLD ARE YOU!!!” I wailed, wishing for a death I knew he wasn’t going to give me, sobbing and shaking like I was in the midst of a seizure.

“I am older than you can comprehend.” He hissed at me. “I was here before you were even born, and I’ll be here long after I let you die, IF I let you die.”

I could barely breathe, my body rigid with a level of agony he’d not subjected me to before. Panic coursed through me, my nose and ears pissing with blood with the pressure. I wet myself as a final sobbing degradation to my already humiliated body.  I asked him why it had to take old Charlie, and it said that old Charlie’s time was up regardless, and that he wasn’t always very nice either.

“Charlie looked like nice old man didn’t he? Well he wasn’t. I caught him laughing and pissing all over an elderly alcoholic, suffering with PTSD after years of domestic abuse. Charlie also beat his wife and locked her away from the world.  He told her family she had died, so she believed nobody would ever help her.  I only killed him because he was too OLD to have any fun with.”

When he finishes torturing me, I am left limp and barely lifeless as he shifts his way towards his next toy. Every night. I just want to die. I often wonder what would happen if I threw myself off a building, or tried to kill myself in some way, a way that he couldn’t bring me back from, but I can’t. I can’t, because when I get close to it, just when I think I can DO IT, something inside me stops me. I am not in control of myself, not in any way. Everything I do is driven by my addiction, and however long he chooses to keep me at his mercy.

I notice everyone now. All the vulnerable people on the streets, for whatever reason they’re there. I wish I’d paid more attention before. I wish I’d been more human. I’d have my family, my wealth, my job. I’d have my world back. He tells me that I will always know when I see another person who treated the vulnerable as harshly as I did. We all have that foul smelling stench from the turquoise crust. We are the only ones who see that crusty horror. Nobody else does. He only feeds on us. Once we become homeless, nobody sees us at night; we are invisible. It’s not because people don’t want to, it’s because he made us invisible on purpose, whilst he feeds. He doesn’t want everyone else to listen to our blood-curdling screams as he feasts on us. I could be screaming right next to your face, and you wouldn’t see or hear me. In the mornings, we are visible again, and we have to degrade ourselves over and over to survive our addictions. If only we’d been more compassionate.

Hunter still runs the coffee cart, but it’s not his only gig. He volunteers at soup kitchens to provide for those who have fallen on hard times. He attends to them with care, and always stops to talk to people asking for help on the streets. I often wonder when he sleeps. I don’t think he does. I mean, how would he have all that time at night to come for us, and feed on our misfortune?

Don’t end up like me. Don’t walk past people who need your help. Be kind. You won’t enjoy what happens when you’re not.