Matt came home from his insurance job at promptly six o’clock, as any respectable man would. He parked on the curb beside the carefully manicured grass and walked up the stone path to his white two-story house. His wife Judy greeted him with a kiss and told him dinner was almost ready. As he looked through the mail on the table, he saw little Tommy’s report card, and was pleased to see that the boy was earning As in all his classes. The family sat down to their dinner of mashed potatoes and steak, and Tommy asked if he could play with his friends when he finished.
“Sure, just come back before dark,” Matt answered. A moment later, the doorbell rang. “Judy, was anyone coming today?” he asked his wife.
“No one’s called,” Judy said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. Matt pushed his chair away from the table and got up. He went to the front door and peered through the peephole, but didn’t see anybody. “Strange,” he said. Then he opened the door, and on the doorstep in a pool of its own blood lay a satyr with three bullet holes in its back.
“Jesus Christ!” Matt exclaimed, taking a step backward. The satyr was only a youth, with thin hairs on its chin and horns barely protruding a few inches out of its head. Like all of the satyrs, it looked thin and ill. Blood had soaked through its filthy white t-shirt, and its cutoff jeans were ragged and stained. It had left a bloody fingerprint on the doorbell button. The satyr lifted its head weakly and looked at Matt with its flat-pupiled eyes.
“Please help me,” it moaned.
“Matt!” Judy shrieked. Matt turned, and his wife was standing at the table with her hands over Tommy’s eyes. “Get that disgusting thing out of here before the neighbors see it! Take it to a hospital, or something!” she cried.
Matt hesitated, and then rushed to a closet to get a blanket, which he threw over the satyr. “Not the hospital,” he said. “There’d be too many questions, and somebody might see me with it. Can you imagine what people would say, a respected insurance broker getting tied up with some goatie?” The very thought of it made his hands quiver.
“Well, you’ve got to do something,” pleaded Judy, still covering Tommy’s eyes. “We can’t have the neighbors see that foul thing here.”
“What then?” Matt protested. “I can’t be seen with it! I can’t take it to the hospital, to the police, it would ruin my reputation! Even if I just leave it on a curb somewhere, somebody might still see me!”
“Then you have to take it somewhere no people will see you with it,” Judy said. “If it stays here, somebody is sure to see it!”
The satyr moaned under the blanket, and Matt bit his lip. “There’s a satyrtown on the other side of the bridge,” he said slowly. “It’s a thirty-minute drive from here. I could bring it there.
“Oh, honey,” Judy said, “those places are so awful!”
“I know,” Matt said. “But we have to do something. There aren’t any people there. No one will see me.” He paused, and then added, “Except the goaties, but they don’t matter.”
The satyr moaned again. “Please,” it said. “Please, I’m hurt.”
“Shut up, you!” Matt said to the blanket. The wounded satyr bleated as Matt wrapped it and picked it up. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said to Judy. Going out to his station wagon, he hesitated for a moment and then set the satyr on the ground. He opened the truck, picked the moaning creature up, and set it inside next to the tire iron and the empty gas container. Closing the trunk, he got behind the wheel and started the car.
A couple of left turns got him onto Main Street, a couple of blocks got him to the freeway entrance, and twenty minutes on the freeway brought Matt to the exit at the River Way bridge. The sun was setting behind him as he crossed.
On the west side of the river were the restaurants and businesses and rows upon rows of identical suburban houses, and on the east side were the housing projects, slums and the satyrtown. The apartments were broken monoliths of concrete and brick, with shattered windows and flickering streetlights enveloped in heavy fluttering moths. As Matt drove through these looming wrecks of concrete, he was painfully aware of the gazes of satyrs all around the cracked streets and sidewalks, watching him with their eerie goat eyes.
Satyrs tend to be short and hairy, with skin ranging from a sickening marble color to a deep burnt red. Satyr men grow thick curling horns from their temples, while satyr women tend to grow smaller and smoother horns. Coarse hair grows all over both sexes, and below the waist their bodies are covered in thick wiry fur. Their legs are the strange slim back legs of a goat, complete with cloven hooves, and a musty smell pervades the air around them. All of these figures with their ragged clothing and stooped gait staring at his car with something like hunger and envy made Matt feel a cold weight in his stomach. He gripped the wheel tightly to keep his hands from shaking.
Never in recorded history has there been a time when satyrs did not live alongside humans. The Greeks regarded them as rapacious beasts that preyed upon travelers. Biblical book of Leviticus they are called goat-demons, and the Israelites are cautioned against having contact with them. The German Krampus, the Japanese Namahage, and the monsters of countless other cultures are all examples of humanity’s hatred of the satyr; there has always been enforced separation between the two species. These days most major cities have a satyrtown, so humans can ensure that the satyrs don’t come near them. Satyrs outside of satyrtowns are rare, and always met with hostility.
It was dark by the time Matt found a place to park. He opened the trunk, which was rank with satyr stench. Matt cursed as he lifted the beast; its blood had stained the inside. It would take ages to clean up the mess.
Matt set the wounded satyr on the ground with the blanket wrapped around it. The creature had stopped moaning. As Matt was about to get into his car, he noticed a mob of satyrs gathering on the sidewalk. They stared at him with curious and angry faces in the light of the flickering streetlamps.
“What’d you do to him?” shouted one satyr, a burly red male wearing a stained necktie. His ears were heavy with faux gold rings.
“I didn’t do a thing to him,” Matt retorted. How dare these filthy creatures throw accusations at him? “He came to my house like this.”
“Bull,” said a thin satyr with mottled pink and gray skin. He snorted and bared his teeth, bright white in the dark. “It’s always the same with you goddamn pushers. Deal goes sour and you shoot the kid. You shoot this kid, human?”
“Look,” Matt said, holding his hands up. “He just turned up at my house. I didn’t do this to him. I don’t know what happened and I just want him off my hands.”
They were shouting, all of them, with their weird husky goat voices. Matt hurried into the car and locked the door. He jumped as a bottle smashed on his rear windshield. “God!” he shouted, fumbling for his keys. With the mob of satyrs behind him he put the car into drive and pulled forward, away from them. He took a turn to the left, a turn to the right, another turn to the right, going forward for several blocks until he was sure the satyrs were far behind.
Now, where was he? Matt hadn’t kept track of the street names, and the rundown apartments and houses seemed to go on and on in a labyrinth of squalor. The streetlamps grew worse as he drove, until the only light on the road came from his car.
There was no doubt about it. Matt was completely lost. At the next stop he tried to get his bearings, tried to remember the turns he’d made to get there. His eye caught the gas meter on the dashboard, and he saw that the arrow hovered right on ‘empty’. The orange light was on, and had probably been on for a while. He pressed the gas pedal and drove forward a few more blocks, but within just a few minutes he could hear the familiar sound of the gas tank sputtering.
“Oh, no,” he muttered. That damned satyr. Matt could have been happily at home with Judy and Tommy, but instead he was here, out of gas, lost in a slum with the satyrs. Unless he found a gas station, there was no way he could leave the satyrtown. It looked like he’d have to spent the night there.
He’d worked hard to get his life to where it was, to avoid ever having to live the way the satyrs live. When he was growing up, his family had come close to it. This wouldn’t be the first night he had to sleep in a car. Getting his education, working his way up to the job he had now, had been a slow run away from that life he’d had growing up, a run away from who he could have been. Now here he was, in the place he’d been running from. The thought briefly passed his mind that he could die here. But he couldn’t think like that. He wasn’t going to die. Things weren’t that bad.
The few drops of gas lasted long enough for Matt to find a curb and park. He turned off the car and dimmed his lights. Then, he pulled out his cell phone and called Judy. She picked up immediately.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “I’m just watching TV with Tommy. It’s almost his bedtime.”
“I’m lost,” Matt said. “And I’m out of gas.”
“You haven’t seen any gas stations?” Judy asked.
“No,” Matt said. “I’ll have to walk around until I find one, and I’m not going to do that until it’s light out. Looks like I’ll have to stay the night here.”
“Matt!” Judy exclaimed. “You can’t be serious! It’s a satyrtown!”
“I’ll be okay,” Matt said, though his words were more for consolation to himself than Judy. “I’ll stay in the car, and in the morning I’ll go look for a gas station. It’s Friday, so I won’t have to go to the office tomorrow.”
“But, honey,” Judy said again. “What if something happens to you? You know what those…those creatures are like!”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to me,” Matt said. “It’ll be fine, really.”
“Well, I could talk to the neighbors, see if they’d let me borrow their car to come get you,” Judy mused. Then, she said, “No, then I’d have to explain to them what you’re doing there, and I can only imagine what they would say!”
“Honey, please. Don’t worry about me,” Matt told her. “I’ll be fine. Tell Tommy I love him, and I’ll see you both in the morning.”
“Okay, honey, but be careful,” Judy said. “I love you.”
“I love you too, darling.” Judy hung up, and Matt sat alone in his car. He looked over at his backseat and sighed.
He tried to curl up there, but he couldn’t sleep. Sleeping in cars had always been uncomfortable for him. He tried counting sheep, and he tried fantasizing about sex, but both of those things just made him more awake. Sometimes letting his mind wander would help, so he tried to direct his thoughts in a meandering fashion, letting them shift from one topic of minor interest to another. He thought about his first car, bought with money from a summer job when he was seventeen. It was a 1978 Volvo. He’d slept with his then-girlfriend in the backseat of that car on multiple occasions, but that hadn’t been actual sleep. Actually sleeping in a car, he hadn’t done since he was thirteen. Doing it then had been even more miserable than doing it now, but he didn’t want to think about that.
Every sound in the slum seemed to thunder in his ears. Somewhere stray dogs were barking, somewhere a siren sounded, and somewhere satyrs were arguing loudly. By and by, lying awake in the backseat, Matt realized that he needed to urinate. The need had become a hot pressure boiling below his belly, and it would not wait until morning. He sat up and unlocked the nearest door, glancing around to make sure no satyrs were about. Then he stepped out of the car, undid his fly, and went beside the curb. As he did this, Matt heard the shrill sounds of children calling to one another. A moment later he saw three young satyrs bounding along the dark street. They were chasing each other, screaming and laughing in their game. Matt quickly zipped up his pants, but before he could get into the car the satyr children were running at him. With their odd little goat-legs they were surprisingly quick, and in seconds they had reached the car.
“Humans don’t belong here!” one of the little ones squealed, and it sprang onto Matt’s back.
“Get off me, you beast!” Matt shouted. He seized the little satyr and flung it onto the asphalt, where it sat wailing. The other two ran to comfort it.
“What’d you do that for?” one of the children cried. Matt turned his head as the door to an apartment opened. A satyr woman emerged in a robe, her thin horns sticking through dyed orange hair and a cigarette held between her hairy fingers.
“You kids get back here this instant!” she shouted to the children. The two helped the crying one to its feet and they dashed back to their mother. She stood outside her door and shooed them in, then glared over at Matt. “What do you want?” she shouted to him. “We don’t want none of your kind here!”
“My kind?” Matt repeated.
“You goddamn pushers think you can do whatever you want, come to our neighborhoods and peddle your poisons wherever you like,” the satyr-woman snarled. “Well, I won’t have it! Not around my children! So you take your hornless self and get the hell out of my town!”
Matt started to speak, and then paused. “I’m not a drug dealer,” he said. “I’m just trying to leave. I’m lost and I’m out of gas, and all I want is to leave, but I can’t. I’m stuck here.”
The satyr-woman gazed at him suspiciously, and then she threw her head back and laughed.
“Ain’t we all?” she shrieked. She clutched her cigarette in a hairy hand laughed a jarring, bleating laugh. Then the woman slammed her door shut, and the night was silent. Matt was alone.
He got back in the car and tried to sleep again. Memories of other times he’d slept in a car kept coming to him, memories of what that life had been like. He would walk to school in clothes taken out of the trunk, clothes that were never clean because the family couldn’t get to the laundromat often. There was never any sympathy from the kids at school. They knew his family was homeless, and nobody wanted to be seen with the homeless kid. Being bullied was the only interaction he’d had with other kids then. His younger brother had still been a baby and his older brother had gone off to make his own life, never calling or sending letters to the family. All the pressures made his parents tense and angry all the time. He had hated being without a home, but he had especially hated the stigma that came with having to sleep in a car. None of these thoughts were helping Matt to fall asleep now. He tossed and turned, but with the latent anger building in him, he was wide awake. He drew his cell phone out of his pocket and looked at the glowing screen. The time was 2:17 in the morning.
“Shit,” he murmured. He had seen a few cars around, so he reasoned that some of the satyrs must drive. There had to be at least one gas station in the satyrtown. He had the empty gas container in the trunk, for use in emergencies. Matt didn’t want to be wandering around at night, but he couldn’t bear to spend another minute in the car.
He stretched and reached forward to unlock the driver’s side door. Then, he got out and popped the trunk to retrieve the container. The awful sour stench of satyr blood hit him and he took a step back. Shaking his head, he took the container in his left hand. Then, for safety, he took the tire iron in his right. He slammed the trunk shut and looked out into the street. There were no living things to be seen. Taking a deep breath and locking the doors on the car, Matt began walking. He was careful to note the names of the streets he passed. Swan Street. Laurel Street. Wine Street.
After a few minutes of walking, Matt found himself facing a park. There was a wide expanse of grass and several trees, and a rusty old swing set hung still and silent. Scattered across the park were dozens and dozens of tents. Some of them were lit from the inside, and in these Matt could see horned silhouettes. It was, Matt realized, a camp for homeless satyrs. He gazed at it for a moment and shuddered. Then he turned to the left to keep walking, but his foot hit an old tin coffee can on the road. It rolled down the pavement, rattling.
Matt heard a goatish voice hacking and coughing, and from the nearest tent an old male satyr emerged. He was nude save for a bowler hat with holes cut to make space for his horns, and all of the thick hair on his body was gray and white. His face had a color like old milk, and his white beard came nearly to his navel. He clutched a flask as he staggered out into the street. The satyr squinted at Matt and took an unsteady step backward. “Human?” he grunted. “The hell you want? Goddamn humans got no right coming here! The hell you want?”
“I’m lost,” Matt said. “I need to find a gas station. Just as soon as I get gas in my car, I can leave.”
The old satyr squinted up at Matt and took a swig from his flask. He coughed and hacked, spitting thick phlegm into the street. “He’s no goddamn pusher,” he muttered to himself.
“Pusher’d know where to go, not like this sucker.” He looked back up at Matt. “There’s a 24-hour station nearby,” he said. “I can show you to it.”
“I’d appreciate that,” said Matt. The old satyr nodded. He ducked into his tent and emerged with a dim flashlight. “Hm?” he grunted to Matt. Without waiting for an answer he grunted to himself and began staggering down the road. Matt followed him.
“Goddamn humans never come to these parts ‘less they selling to goaties that don’t know no better,” the old satyr remarked. “Scum of the earth, that’s what they are. Think we want that around here? You tell them, you tell them to stay out. Leave the poor goaties alone, we get enough trouble.”
Matt hummed sympathetically.
“Mostly just pushers,” the satyr continued. The flashlight dimmed, and he had to shake it to get the light on again. “I did hear word that some human came and dumped a dead kid what had bullet holes in his back, just left him on the side of the road. You know about that?”
“No,” Matt answered. Then, softly, he said, “The satyr was dead?”
“As a doornail,” the old satyr said. “I heard the damned human dumped his corpse and drove off, just got his ass right outta town. Can you believe that?”
Matt shook his head. They walked on for another minute, and then Matt asked, “What was the satyr’s name?”
“Eh?” the old satyr said, cocking his head. “Oh. Never heard his name. Somebody knew it though. The boy had friends, family. They cared, sure. Human didn’t give a shit about him. They never do.”
They continued walking down the street by the dim glow of the flashlight, and after a few minutes of silence the old satyr pointed and said, “There it is.” Matt looked, and saw a gas station just a short way down the road. “Alright, human,” the satyr sighed. “Best of luck to you.” He staggered away, swigging from his flask.
Matt went over, entered, and paid the cashier. The satyr behind the desk barely glanced at him as it rang up the charge. Matt hurried out to fill his container at the pump, and then looked around to see if the old satyr was nearby. The creature was stumbling along a block and a half away. “Excuse me!” Matt called. The satyr stopped and turned. “Could you tell me how to get to the River Way bridge?”
The old satyr grunted. “This is Apollo Street,” he called back. Pointing, he said, “Head that way till you get to East Python Street. Take a left on Python and stay on it until it merges with River Way, then you’ll be at the bridge in no time.”
“Thank you,” Matt said.
“Yeah, don’t mention it,” the old satyr said, turning away.
Matt found his way back to the car and filled up the tank. Getting in, he followed the old satyr’s directions until he made it to the bridge. There, he took out his phone and called Judy. The time was 3:12, but she answered.
“Honey, I’m on my way back,” he said. “Everything worked out. I should be back in about a half hour.”
“Oh, good,” Judy answered. “Good. Tell me all about it in the morning.”
“I will, sweetheart,” Matt said. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Uh huh,” Judy said, and hung up. Matt sighed and slid the phone into his pocket. He had made it out. He was going to be fine. As he drove, he wondered what the young satyr had been doing in the suburbs and why he’d been shot. He wondered again what the young satyr’s name was, and he wondered the old satyr’s name and the satyr woman’s name. He didn’t know who any of them were. Leaving the satyrtown in his rearview, he wished that he did.