Nobody noticed them at first, of course. Who notices if a homeless guy is there one minute and then not the next? But one day the guy with the long dreadlocks and the dog wasn’t where he usually sat, and, the day after, the lady in the ragged trousers wasn’t dancing along to the high street buskers anymore and people started to wonder to each other on their walks to work where they had gone.
It was a lot more obvious to Joe. He saw them around, got to know one or two of them. Spent a few evenings sharing fags and chips round a bin on fire. It had taken a bit of getting used to, but for the most part the city’s homeless had been pretty accepting of Joe, as a newby.
When Patrick, the guy with the dreads, wasn’t around anymore, that’s when Joe started to worry. Patrick was alright. He’d shown Joe some good places to sleep when it rained and had become a sort of fixture in his little routine. They’d sit together and share a coffee most mornings and Patrick would scratch the ears of his mud-brown shaggy dog and tell Joe stories. Joe would listen, scarcely believing a word, but enjoying the rare companionship.
It had been Patrick who’d told Joe about the bridge. Tucked away in a run-down part of town in an industrial estate, the bridge seemed to draw the city’s down and outs to it like moths. It was sheltered from the wind and rain, an ideal place to sleep, to use, to talk, if talking was what you wanted, to keep a fire going. In fact, the last time Joe had seen Patrick he’d invited him along to the bridge, but he told him no that time, couldn’t remember why now, but he’d had some reason he was sure.
Tonight it was raining hard. Patrick had been playing on Joe’s mind a lot and before he really realised what was happening, Joe had made his way to the bridge. For the first time Joe had been there it was completely abandoned. The grey, crumbling buildings dribbled sludgy runoff into the brown waters that gurgled noisily under the bridge. Far away a street light glowed a surreal orange, bathing the scene in a weird, ethereal light. Joe wiped the rain from his drenched forehead and looked around him. The whole place stank of rot and something long dead.
Too tired to wonder much about the abandonment of the place Joe trudged on forward, not noticing the limp, mud-brown pile of shaggy fur oozing rainwater and something darker onto the uneven, cracked road, or the many single abandoned boots that lay ripped and scattered about the place, or the piles of gleaming white bones, picked clean and lying in neat piles here and there...
As he wandered under the bridge the gurgling noise became a low, dark, rumbling laugh and Joe disappeared into the shadow of the troll’s lair.