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Look Both Ways

Always look both ways before you cross the street!

Always look both ways before you cross the street!

...before crossing the street

The 5th floor of the Halifax Central Library was the home for popular fiction, a coffee shop (with a beautiful terrace looking over the Sexton Gym parking-lot and Morris Street), and a sitting area that’s mostly walled in glass. Erin Cartwright was browsing through the fiction novels close to the glass sitting area. She didn’t have any particular books mind, and merely enjoyed scanning the spines of different novels, searching for a name or word that struck a chord, and connected with her thoughts.

The library was busy, and quiet, mid-morning light filled the aisles from all angles. It felt loud. But, that was just an illusion of the grandeur space. The walls were painted white and in the day time impressed the eye with a larger than life sensation. Erin spent enough time here to know that even in the late evening, the massive book-storage-unit still maintained its goliath-like atmosphere. The architects that had designed this place were probably paid well. It was the atmosphere of the building that kept Erin wanting to come back. It felt like a comfortable place. It felt like a known place. It also had value to her in that she could easily book one of the many meeting rooms and host committee meetings–as was the case today. The group was expected to meet at eleven-thirty to discuss their upcoming fundraiser. It was currently a planned date. But the event had very little going on in terms of programming. And with less than two weeks to go, Erin decided that she should probably take the lead by initiating this planning meet-up.

Two children ran past the row of shelves where Erin was meandering. A man with a plastic bag full of books strode past, chasing after his children.

She smiled to herself. A hardcover of Rick Langley’s novel “My Room” caught her eye. Erin picked it up and looked at the back cover, hoping to find a synopsis on the back of the glossy-blue cover–meanwhile she tried to peer through the shelves at the scene the man was currently managing. His two boys had their hands pressed against the large window that looked out over Spring Garden Road and were shouting and pointing at all the cool cars that were going by. The other library visitors were sitting in comfy sofa chairs trying to ignore the poor father’s embarrassing predicament. It turned out that the Langley book didn’t actually have anything written on the back other than a few quotes from review outlets. “...a gripping tale that begs the mind to continue...” “A Canadian classic. Challenging. Insightful.” “What a ride...” on the inside cover, below the picture of a young man with brown hair sitting on a park bench, Erin found a brief bio for the author and a description of the novel. It said that the story followed Gerald Hoffstead, a mental patient on the cusp of a serious break-down, and outlined something about him coming to terms with the treatment he endured. It was 210 pages, and Erin considered checking it out, but decided there were probably better books she could happen upon. She put the book back on the shelf and decided she should probably get ready for the meeting. It wasn’t for another twenty minutes but it was her agenda, so it would do well to be prepared. She noted the father trying to silently scorn his children–hitching them up by the elbows and shushing their cries of protest–then walked down the narrow stairway to the fourth floor.

Their meeting room was on the third.

People hummed in their own quiet worlds (some tapping away on keyboards–free high-speed access for two hours at a stretch; others sat at work tables with laptops opened, or slowly searched aisles of books.) Erin observed the atmosphere of the building with a sense of energetic nervousness.

If it was to all work out today, then she would need to tread carefully. The Halifax Historical Society was looking to them for help, and they needed to be there when hands were actually needed on deck.

In her head she could already hear Malcolm Sullivan’s comments on how they needed to bring in some of the private businesses that could help sponsor the event–yet he would never actually bring up any particular businesses. Crossing the catwalk she began to make a mental list of the private investors that could be potential sponsors. A young Asian girl passed by her with a purple backpack. They made eye contact briefly, smiling at each other, and continued on their own paths. Erin walked down the stairs to the third floor.

Her backpack and laptop were already in the room, ahead of her in the day’s proceedings. She had arrived at the Library around 9:30, and upon finding that the room was free, she decided to leave her stuff in there and browse the shelves.

The 3rd floor of the library looked very similar to the other floors. Except, as far as Erin was aware of–it also held the ‘Local Heritage’ section; a glassed off archival room where people could look at history pertaining to Halifax, complete with original documents, Erin had booked a room on the opposite end of the floor (if it had been a fully windowed room, instead of the black and gray interior walls, they too would have a nice view of the Sexton Gym)–the other work areas on that end of the building had been booked. She opened the glass door to their meeting room. The lights came on automatically, illuminating the room more; a plain grey table, surrounded by ten wheeled-chairs, and an LED monitor. Erin made quick work of connecting her laptop to the monitor, when the large screen illuminated with a windows icon she brought up the meeting notes she had prepared, and then began the task of flipping through her hand notes. In these she had questions, with names circled and a list of her main talking points. It was as prepared as she could be. She sometimes reflected on her current position in life, and sometimes, it meant wanting to pick up a bottle of wine before the liquor store closed, but for the most part Erin had always been task oriented.

Her childhood, coming from a family of two, raised in “god’s country” Cape Breton, had been boring, and held very few challenges once Erin had gained the ability to speak. It wasn’t hard to grow up there. And she had many early conversations with her parents about ‘life’. The talent in one of their young girls would become obtusely obvious. Sadly, the other never found the stability that Erin found, but that was history–Erin was focused on the present.

A short grey haired man knocked on the door to the meeting room. Poking his head in he said “So, did you figure out how we’re going to rob the bank?” Malcolm walked in with his cloth briefcase in hand. His bulbous frame was somehow being contained within the confines of a soft brown suit, and polka dot bowtie–he looked like someone that could be found in one of those British ‘men-only’ silent rooms. Head behind a paper, nose held up high when someone made a peep, saying nothing to the other occupants–Erin looked down at the man and greeted him as cordially as possible and made pleasantries by laughing at his jokes until someone else arrived. The conversation turned towards something about the importance of local clothing vendors, and how he knew which ones they should be contacting. Luckily, it only took another ten minutes for some of the other committee members to arrive...

The meeting concluded by 2 p.m. and Erin was starving.

Their group had managed to make a proper action list, and decided that a benefit concert would be the best way to bring in a crowd. (The alternative options included things like a craft-beer tasting event, or an assembly of food-trucks, or an antique car show–summer was just around the corner, so this actually generated positive buzz–and a few other large ideas floated around the library meeting room.) The concert would consist of six or seven bands–all local groups–a mix of country, indie-pop and blues, and the final band would hit the stage by 9 p.m. Erin made sure everyone knew what had to be done–two weeks was still a lousy timeframe to plan something like this, but they would make do–and called the meeting to a close. The thought of the two children with their father, earlier, simply drove her stomach mad with hunger. She didn’t even wait for the meeting room to clear out before she was walking across the catwalk to the stairs that lead to the ground floor. The lobby was packed with kids starting to idly mill their way into the grand library. Erin saw her friend Stacy Phillips at the information kiosk, waved at her and exited through the main doors. The smell of traffic and sound of people amplified as the sun outside warmed her skin. The meeting had taken up most of her energy, and she was just happy to be alone with her thoughts.

It was hot and sunny. Halifax was experiencing an early June heat wave. Some people were going so far as to call it beach weather–something that always surprised Erin when she heard someone say it. Nova Scotia beaches were cold, and full of sand fleas, and most of the lakes close to the city probably had an ungodly amount of pollution. Still. She supposed there was something to basking half-naked on a beach. And if one was inclined, they could probably lay out in their full birthday suit.

It just wasn’t appealing to her.

She had her other job to get to, and would have to eat later. If only she could manage more time into her day. It was silly to think of the amount of busy work she had in between being able to nourish her body.

The fundraiser was hopefully going to alleviate some of the stress she had been experiencing. It had been difficult trying to figure out a way to draw a crowd.

She waited at a bus stop, confident that she would be on-time for her afternoon job. On weekday afternoons, Erin worked as a crossing guard for the Gilles-Jeanson Halifax French Academy, a private school near the south-end section of the city. The bus route from the library was direct, and took her fifteen minutes. The private school–offering first-class early childhood French education–ended elementary classes at 2:30 p.m. and by the time she heard the buzzer from the school’s speakers she was already in position with her reflective vest on. The doors of the old-brick building opened and students began pouring out, some lining up for buses, others hopping into cars that idled with patient parents, and some walking in Erin’s direction.

She waved energetically at them and got ready to press the button. Each of the students sported a dark blue blazer, looked neatly kept, and very (samey Erin had always thought) ready to head home for the day. Most were probably on their way to some sort of ‘extra-curricular’ program, keeping even busier until their day came to an end–repeating the cycle on the next week day. A few of the younger children waved back at her, one even so hip as to go for a high-five, and all ran up to the Erin’s crosswalk. It was a guilty pleasure for her, to be a crossing guard. Erin rarely told her friends about the job. She was a young, savvy, well-educated project manager. And many other things, but the cross-walk job was something she always felt a little closer to; being able to guide the children to safety. Her eyes trained to spot any potential dawdlers.

The happy plump faces of the children reflected off of her aviators as she walked to the middle of the street, holding up her stop sign for traffic, Erin's blonde hair poked out from under a fluorescent green toque. Five little boys ran past her shouting “thanks”. Her slim body held perfect posture, in harmony with the thoughts of her mind. Another group of private school students funneled onto the cross walk and thanked Erin for halting traffic for them. She walked back to the side walk and waited for the next group of kids. The shift paid well at sixteen-bucks an hour–even if it was only two hours a day. But she probably would have done the job even if it wasn’t subsidized through various education and transportation boards. It was a great hobby–and even when Erin was in a hungry state like she was currently in; it gave her a chance to work up an appetite.

A group of ten or so children waited at the edge of the sidewalk beside her. Erin pressed the button, waiting on the flashing cross signal, and walked back into the street.

The kids continued to pass along their thanks to Erin until roughly 4 p.m.

After that, she waited around for the last few stragglers that were getting extra time in–the extra credit crew. She was ravenous at this point. Her body starting to protest in slight discomfort for having to wait for nourishment this long, and her senses were heightened to a point where light felt like it was dancing on the periphery of her senses–electric, white-light that sensually sparked her brain with waves of wanting; Erin needed to feed. She was beginning to lack the ability to think about things in the future, like the concert fundraiser, or the phone calls she would need to make in the morning to organize the fundraiser (the list included a variety of potential venue owners, band liaison’s–sometimes referred to as managers–food distributors, and safety inspectors) or even about how to harvest people from the concert on the event night. The urge to eat was blurring her concept of time. Erin recalled her first experience with the insatiable hunger: she had snapped her sister’s neck and immediately began to tear bits of meat off of her dead siblings arm with her teeth. Her parents, horrified, were unable to do much once she had fed, they soon became rendered to a catatonic like trance (able to carry out their day-to-day business, with free-will at a very limited quantity) and Erin easily held control over them. It was a spiritual awakening. It also didn’t take long for Erin to find more people like her; some were just crazy wanna be’s that hid on the internet, deranged and thinking murder was, more pleasure, than actually eating. And then there were the true sisters. The one’s Erin felt close to; the ones with power. On a whim she had decided to meet up with one of the sisters, and soon found that while her physical self was indeed human, she had a spiritual-self that resonated with powerful women–once shamefully referred to as witches–that knew how to see into windows of other worlds. In time she grew to understand herself, and her body, and feasting on her eleven year-old sisters flesh had been the earth-shattering incident to awaken the hunger within. She looked upon the remaining children milling around the school’s entrance. They were perhaps waiting on a ride. Or their rides were late.

Erin reached out with tendons from her mind, hoping to glance at the lives of some of these left-behinds. It was easier when she was hungry–as if her body was trying to amplify its faculties. She saw–in the lives of each of the seven children sitting on wooden benches outside of the school’s front window–at least two of them were becoming nervous, having expected their parents to have arrived. Perhaps traffic had held them up, or maybe one of them had forgotten whose turn it was to pick up; Erin put her fingers between her lips and whistled a suspended high note that fell onto a low tone. The two children she had identified as vulnerable, looked in her direction, the other kids paid little notice.

She grinned and waved at the two kids, she beckoned them to her crosswalk. The trick was easy to pull. Younger subjects were more prone to the dance. Erin waited for the two children to walk up to her before taking them by the hand and walking down the sidewalk. Their conversation was scant: the little girl to Erin’s right had glassy-grey eyes and was mumbling about how her mommy was supposed to be making spinach and meat-loaf for supper (and apparently the little girl really didn’t like either of the dishes), the little boy–both no older than ten–was also glassy-grey eyed and talked about how his grandfather was supposed to pick him up, but was probably stuck in the rush-hour traffic. It was a sense of trust they had with her, and they followed willingly.

The act was something that shamed Erin when she thought back on it, and she hated the sight of her home in these reflective moments; yet, her hunger always returned. It was hard to ignore. Her body told her to eat. She needed to feed. It was a weird sensation to try and fight through–like pushing a rope. The basement of her home was full of frozen sliced up bodies, dwindling in numbers, still full enough to last a fortnight, but the desire for fresh meat was magnified to unbearable levels when she was hungry. And Erin thought that she might indulge and eat at least one of these children entirely. The other could be added to her reserves, young meat held a more invigorating flavour, and she likened it to the poutine or garlic fingers she often saw her drunken friend’s inhale. It had high energy content, and was highly satisfying, but most likely terrible for you. The very fact she had them by the hand was enough to know that she wasn’t about to quit.

The concert would yield a larger, older, variety of people. And while it would still be a great chance to fill her freezers, Erin yearned to fill it with the children.

It always made for a perfect dessert.