The freight train rumbled slowly through the industrial district of East Portland, blasting its low horn at regular intervals as it trundled through the block-sized cement factories and bike warehouses.
It was forty cars long, made up of flatbeds of which about half were loaded with shipping containers. From behind a container emerged a short, squirrely man in a ragged trench coat and a dirty green baseball cap named Scissors.
This late in the evening, there were no cars or pedestrians waiting behind the barriers at the street crossings, which made things easier. Still, he looked around carefully, checking for guards or cameras. Seeing none, he climbed down the side steps of the train car, turned to face the direction of travel and, after a pause, hopped off and landed in a run, ducking under the next barrier and heading off down the street, away from the groaning train.
Scissors had seen the river from the train and headed through the empty streets towards the bridges and overpasses that lined the Eastern shore. He found two men sitting on a concrete bench under the Hawthorne bridge, passing a bottle between them. The shorter man, large with a long, unkempt grey beard, was holding court as Scissors approached.
“Good evening gentlemen,” said Scissors, in a quiet, raspy voice.
The taller man paused mid-swig, and eyed the stranger.
The shorter man tilted his head and, with the worst attempt at an English accent that Scissors had ever heard, said: “What vagrant of the night doth enter this fine tavern?”
“Sir, I am but a lowly traveller in need of information and a place to rest,” replied Scissors, bowing his head, as sharp as his name suggested.
There was a tense pause. Scissors could feel both men eyeing him up and down, but kept his eyes to the floor and hands clasped together.
“Well met, squire,” said the shorter man finally, and offered his hand. “My name is Sir Reginald but you may call me Whiskers. This is the honourable Avocado.”
Scissors shook their hands, pausing as he grasped Avocado’s. “And why are you called…” he began.
“Avocado sandwich,” said the taller of the two. “Avocado sandwich? Avocado sandwich!”
Scissors nodded once, satisfied, and sat down. Whiskers passed him the bottle.
“Sadly our tavern is small,” he began, “and we have no beds available but you are most welcome to the floor if it suits you. What information may we provide you on this fine evening?”
“I have ventured in from a land far away to seek my destiny,” replied Scissors. “I have heard of streets with such bounty that a single night’s work can feed the brave and the bold for many weeks. I would be grateful for any knowledge that might lead me to such treasures.”
“Avocado sandwich!” Exclaimed Avocado, looking horrified.
“My honourable companion speaks the truth,” said Whiskers. “For it is a foolish knave who dares such misadventure in a city such as this. A man would be wise to limit his efforts to seeking alms.”
Avocado jerked his thumb behind him. “Avocado sandwich.”
“Aye, ye could also seek the 5¢ treasures of yonder recepticles,” he continued, indicating the trash can behind Scissors. “The bounties are significantly smaller but they’re reliable. And safer.”
“I understand, gentlemen, but ask only that you point me in the right direction.”
“Again, my companion is wise. ‘Tis a fool’s errand. Witches and goblins and ghouls roam these streets when the moon is waxing and you would do well to put such ideas out of your mind.”
Scissors nodded solemnly. “I appreciate your concern and I thank you for your warning. Tell me, are we safe here from such…creatures?”
“Aye, ye are safe here. These terrors of the night have yet to come so far.”
“And where do they roam most often? I only ask so that I may avoid any unfortunate encounters.
Whiskers sighed, and waved his hand toward the East. “Far beyond Naito, up trough Hawthorne toward the Mountain at the End of the Road. When the Buddha Bowls outnumber the flat whites, there will you find what you seek.”
“Thank you,” said Scissors, bowing. “I shall take care to avoid those areas.”
The three of them sat in silence as they shared the bottle and stared at the small fire. The intermittent growls of cars on the bridge above punctuated the otherwise quiet evening. The cold at each man’s back increased, causing them to draw closer to the warmth.
Suddenly, Scissors stood up and stretched dramatically. Avocado raised an eyebrow towards Whiskers, who shrugged discreetly.
“The night is yet young! With your blessing, I will take my leave for a short walk before turning in.”
“As you wish,” smiled Whiskers, raising the bottle to him. “Remember what we said.”
Scissors performed a single finger salute in return, then turned and disappeared into the night.
“Avocado sandwich,” said Avocado quietly, a few minutes later.
Whiskers shrugged. “Maybe. But he would have found it one way or another. If he stays out on the main road and makes it to the mountain, there’s a good chance they might not get him. Pass it on over, then.”
Charlie finished wiping down the surfaces of the kitchen and pulled off his elbow-length rubber gloves. Hanging them and the dishtowel on a hook by the door, he stepped outside into the cool evening. The full moon glinted off the polished silver of the Airstream trailer that housed Blizzard Gizzard’s—the Artisanal Chicken Gizzard and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich shack.
He locked the door behind him, and stretched out, easing a day spent in the cramped space out of his back.
He was grateful for the work, despite being too tall for it. The owner, Sal, was good to him and trusted him. Over the course of last year, he had gone from being the dishwasher to basically running the place by himself. For the first time, he felt accepted. He would happily suffer through a little backache now and again for that.
“See you, Charlie!” called Liz as she locked up her own food truck.
He waved at her and she turned off into the night. He stroked his thick whiskers, pushed his glasses up his nose, and headed off in the other direction.
The autumnal air was cold, and he hitched up the collar of his thick plaid shirt. He liked this shirt. He liked how it kept his condition covered. He liked how it helped keep out the cold. He didn’t always have such things.
He walked in a quiet reverie, exhausted after a day behind a hot grill. When he wasn’t so tired his awareness was astonishingly acute but tonight, as he turned down another leafy street, he didn’t notice a small man across the road suddenly switch direction and follow him.
These streets felt like home. He thought that he would never get used to living here. It had been dangerous to come and he would have never made the trip had it not been more dangerous to stay.
Now, though, he had been accepted so readily that he couldn’t imagine leaving.
Behind him, Scissors crept up slowly. He was surprised at how easy it had been to find such an easy mark, and on a quiet road with many deep shadows.
Scissors had dismissed the warnings of his colleagues as ravings of lunatics; failed to realise just how welcoming Portland could be to strangers. Whether they came from London, Ohio, or the pine-studded hills of the Pacific Northwest, the only requirement to acceptance was that the new arrival reciprocate the warm, polite friendliness that pervaded the city like a benevolent virus.
Charlie had arrived a year ago and immediately donned a checked shirt and a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses. Within a week, he had landed a job as a dishwasher, developed a taste for craft ales, and become militant about recycling.
Scissors had only arrived that evening and was now behind Charlie with no intention of being warm or polite or friendly.
Charlie, lost in his thoughts, didn’t notice Scissors’ approach until the sharp blade had already been pressed into his back.
For his part, Scissors was surprised at how deeply he needed to push until the blade touched flesh. He hissed his demands.
“Wallet and phone on the ground. Slowly. Turn and I stick ya. Any sudden moves and I stick ya,”
In the moments that followed, Scissors learned two very important lessons, although he would only really be aware of their teachings for a few short, painful moments:
1) There was a good reason why the people of Portland felt safe enough to walk the dark, leafy streets of the city’s South East suburbs late at night alone.
2) If there’s one thing that you don’t want to do on the dark, leafy streets of the city’s South East suburbs late at night, it was startle a Sasquatch.