29 Mar The Violence I Saw From One Walk Of Life
A real fight in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) inspired the one I wrote in Pedestrian Monsters: Part Two. I watched it happen as I held my phone with bated breath, conflicted about calling the police.
Of course, during this mugging, there was no werewolf.
But, a man did pull out a hunting knife and slash at someone.
A couple of years ago, in the DTES, I found myself walking toward the SkyTrain after attending a writer’s group meeting. It was a group I had attended for a couple of years up to that point, and they used to meet in a warehouse near the crossroads of Alexander and Gore.
A new friend from the group was with me that night on my jaunt to the train. We strolled through the dark, cold, and empty streets.
For some people, sauntering through that part of town can be scary.
To me, the people down near Skid Row were just humans struggling in different ways than I was.
Many people out in the street that night looked like they were living out of tents they had popped up onto the sidewalk. Many of them were shooting up or hunched over staring at their knees in a standing fetal position. And many of them were just laughing at each other’s small talk.
My philosophy was to mind my own business, they weren’t hurting me by participating in their nocturnal activities.
The new friend walking with me kept chattering on about a story he shared that night; he was buzzing with the reading-your-stories-in-front-of-a-group-high. But the more we saw of the DTES, the faster he walked and talked.
We watched two strange men burst out of one of those old brick buildings that looked like it had been recently reno-victed. You could tell from the bougie lobby with its art hangings and gigantic, verdant monsteras that the rich had claimed this building. The two men were wearing dirty jeans and hoodies.
One of them was hefting a backpack as he steered a bike, we’ll call him the Cyclist.
The speed at which these two men whispered and the way they moved, was familiar.
I’ve seen people in my life up close and personal using amphetamines. And they were acting in the same way one does when a person smokes meth or snorts cocaine.
My new friend nervously inched away from the scene.
Then a fight broke out between the two strangers.
My new friend, he said, “I’ll see you later,” as he jogged away towards the more populated sidewalks of Hastings.
He never came back to that writing group as far as I know.
Me, I stayed for the showdown between the strange men.
I wanted to make sure everyone would remain safe.
I was in a phase where I believed calling the police was no good. I thought they would probably harass these folks for possible drug use. They might confiscate said drugs, or worse, arrest them and charge them with a crime in an era where decriminalization in Vancouver wasn’t quite a thing, yet.
I knew what it was like to be a young man with just pot on him, scared of having it stolen away by the police. I wasn’t about to put someone else through that experience just for some public shouting. I wasn’t even sure if they had stolen something or broken into that building. They could have been strange yuppies. And I assumed the police would just bring violence into the situation.
So, watched this little shouting match from a distance.
And I was ready to call 911 if it escalated into a physical altercation.
The other man, we’ll call him, the Aggressor. I know, it sounds like a low-rent wrestler.
The Aggressor yelled at the Cyclist, “Give me the Xbox games” as he grabbed the Cyclist’s backpack. So, the Cyclist tugged it out of the Aggressor’s grip and steered his bike away.
So, our Aggressor – the one who was yelling about the video games – pulled out a serrated, hunting knife, pointing it at his friend, the Cyclist. He shouted, “You owe me those games,” as he waved the dagger around.
Violence was my threshold. I would try to stop a stabbing by calling 911.
That’s when I moved to ring the police, in the time it took me to unlock my phone, dial, and keep an eye on the two of them to make sure no one needed medical attention, this is what went down.
The Cyclist dropped his bike. Swiftly, unclipping his bike helmet from his backpack strap in one smooth movement.
The Aggressor stabbed at the Cyclist, and the Cyclist bashed him with his backpack, using it like a riot shield. Then he swung his bike helmet like a medieval flail. The sound of it hitting the skull of the Aggressor clapped loud enough that echoed through the city street sounding like a low-caliber gunshot.
The Aggressor stumbled then he fell right on his ass.
Pedaling away, the Cyclist said, “Don’t let me see you, again.”
The Aggressor dug out his cellphone and dialed a short number. He cried to the other person on the line, whining that he was assaulted. As he sat there holding his head, blankly staring at me.
At the time, I believed he’d eaten his just desserts, and emergency services were probably on their way.
So, I left.
But I do regret how I handled myself in that situation in many ways.
Nowadays, I usually stay with the injured if I can. And after working through some hesitation, I do end up calling the police in emergency situations, but I like to stick around to see if the police themselves turn out to be the perpetrators of further violence and need to be videoed.
We’re all just doing the best we can in difficult circumstances, with what we are given and hoping it’s enough.
On a final note, the lycanthropy in my story, other than just being fun to write, was to show that you can look like a ‘monster’ but the true monsters are the people who go out of their way to harm others.
It’s actions that count, and in my opinion, it’s using violence that makes a true monster out of someone – after all, monsters are a human concept, why can’t the title be used to label a human experience?
Violent folks can look like just about anyone.
Hell, I grew up a block away from a convicted murderer who was once a short, harmless-looking, kid.
If you’d like, go ahead and give Pedestrian Monsters: Part Two another listen. Please keep in mind that this story is based on real people with real issues.
And, if you ever see a werewolf in the DTES, please let me know.
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.