The bus jerked to a stop at the corner, brakes giving a half hearted squeal. The door opened and Cyrus climbed up the stairs. He dug for a moment to find the correct change and paid the fare box. A few of the other passengers glanced up at him as he made his way to a seat. He was dressed unremarkably: a clean t-shirt, a black pair of pants, slightly worn shoes and a wide brim hat to protect from the sun. The most noticeable thing about him was the dirty tan jacket he carried draped over his cane. It was entirely covered with signatures. As he sat down, he held out a marker and leaned over to the woman across the isle.
“Would you like to sign my jacket?”
The woman shook her head. “No thanks.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She clutched her purse a little tighter and looked back toward the front of the bus.
With a small sigh, Cyrus turned to the man next to him. “Would you like to sign my jacket?”
“Sure.” He took the marker and searched for a place to put his name. “Wow, you sure have a lot of signatures.”
“Yes, look at all the people I’ve met. The good Lord blessed me to meet all these people. This man,” he pointed at a name, “I believe he’s a doctor. And this young lady,” he picked out another name, “is a teacher.”
“That’s neat,” the man said with a vacant smile.
Cyrus tapped the shoulder of the woman in front of him. “Excuse me, Ma’am. Would you like to sign my jacket?”
“Of course,” she said, eyes lighting up behind her glasses.
“God bless you, Ma’am,” Cyrus said as she signed his jacket.
As the bus rumbled along, passengers got off and others got on. Cyrus collected a few more signatures until his own stop came. He got off the bus, offering a few God bless yous to the driver and passengers. Leaning slightly on his cane, he walked down the street. A block up he came to a convenience store and stopped in for a few bottles of soda pop. “Hello, Cyrus.” the clerk said to him as he laid his purchases down on the counter. “Did you get some more signatures today?”
“Yes sir, I sure did. I got eleven today,” Cyrus said as he counted out his change.
The clerk smiled. “Good for you!”
“Yes, the Lord sure blessed me to meet so many people. Thank you sir, God bless you.” Cyrus picked up his bag and left the store. He walked another two blocks to the run-down building where he lived in an apartment that was paid for by the state. He unlocked the front door and went up the stairway. The paint on the walls was discolored and flaking in spots. The railing near the second floor was loose and no one ever bothered to fix it. As he opened the door to the fourth floor, he was greeted by the ghostly smell of vomit from a tenant’s drinking binge in the distant past. The summer heat always brought it out of hiding. Cyrus walked down the stuffy hall and opened the door to his apartment. It was hot in here, and after putting his soda pop in the small fridge, he turned on the fan he had wedged in the window. It did little more than move the hot air around, but it was better than nothing. Cyrus sat down in the lone chair in the apartment, took off his hat and mopped his damp forehead.
The heat of the day had made him hungrier than usual. He took his jacket and laid it across his knees. Cyrus ran his hands over the names. People thought it was nothing important, something to please a poor man, or something to just make him go away. But he knew something that few people remembered: names have power. Cyrus selected a name from the jacket and pulled it off, leaving a blank space where it had been. He held it in his hand for a moment, admiring the loops and swirls. Then he stuffed it in his mouth. The name was like a spike, hard and sharp, and his face contorted with pain. Cyrus spit it out on the floor and watched it dissolve into nothing. That person was protected. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of Cyrus’s mouth and he wiped it off. No matter. There were plenty of other names. He selected another and pulled it off. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if this one was also protected. The name was blocky, almost print rather than a signature. Cyrus placed it in his mouth and smiled at the sweet taste. Oh, yes, this was a good one. A young man, just out of college. Plays baseball on the weekends. Healthy. The energy poured down Cyrus’s throat and flowed throughout his body. He might not need to feed again for days. When the last of the name had dissolved on his tongue, he sat back with a contented sigh.
On the other side of the city, a young man collapsed, dying shortly after. The official cause of death would be undiagnosed heart disease.