She lands with her feet out in front of her and her elbows cracking against a disturbingly soft cement floor. She scowls as wet sludge starts to soak through her newly borrowed clothes and stick against her skin in a film that she cannot imagine washing off. Something cracks nearby with a thick sucking sound, and then there is a chuckle from behind her, “Now there’s somethin’ no one sees every day. A lady fallin’ down a sewer ladder. Ya’ know, most ladies prefer to stay above ground.”
She scowls and struggles to get to her feet as she wipes her sticky hands off on her pants, “I ain’t a lady.” The man looking down at her chuckles again with cracked missing teeth showing, “Yer voice ain’t right to be an urchin.” She scowls at him in return and scrubs at her hands with the hem of her shirt, “I said I ain’t a lady mister.” “An’ I said I think ya’ are. I think yer a fine lady who’s lost her way, and is just waitin’ to be caught up by a fine fellow of yer own places. Ain’t that right? An’ yer lips don’t fit those urchin words. You’re a fine lady, shouldn’t a fine lady know how t’ speak like one? It’d do ya’ some good t’ show it, I sure as all that’s fine in this world would I’d like t’ hear it. Eh, would ya’ abide me? I’d like it I assure ya’. It gets mighty lonely ‘round here sometimes.”
She stops scrubbing as she realizes that her hands are about as clean as they will get, “If you want to call me a lady, then you might as well. But you should cut it off at ‘fine’.” The man grins again, “An’ why’s that lady? Ya’ don’t think that ya’ still look pretty in those sewer filled men’s clothes. Why, you’re as pretty as a hen in a pig’s sty.” She scowls again, “Because I might as well just stand on my hands and declare myself a pretty little lass the next time someone asks. Don’t I look like something better than that?” She does not wait for his answer as she jumps forwards and shoves her fingers into the man’s eyes before kicking out at his knee. He steps back with a yowl as she turns and runs to the left.
She can hear him slip and fall as his knee gives way underneath him, and she tries to pull back a smile as she wades into the sludge in front of her. She will have to find another pair of clothes after this anyway, it hardly seems necessary to attempt to keep them clean when they are already sticky. She should have known that she would run into someone in this part of the sewer tunnels, but she did not expect to run into anyone so quickly. Perhaps she should have given him a chance to explain who he is. But she does not want to think about what would happen if he ends up being her enemy.
Her boots slip in the muck and stick every time she takes more than a second to move from one step to the other. She continues to scowl as the sludge starts to even out, and she breaks into another run. She had been hoping that she would be able to wait for a while before resurfacing. But now that someone has seen her, even if he does not say anything, being underneath the streets is just as dangerous as being on them. She cannot discount the sewers as an escape if she needs one, but she should not have expected that she would be able to spend time underneath the streets. The sewers are almost more populated than the houses.
She finds that she is almost enjoying herself as she turns down another leg of the sewer, and wonders if someone would hear her if she started singing. But the town has ears, and noise is just like garbage; someone hears it sooner or latter. Despite the fact that her clothes are wet and stinking, she cannot deny the freedom that she feels while wearing pants and a shirt.
She cannot hold back her sly smile as she wonders what her mother and Marie would say if they happened to see her now. She can clearly imagine her mother’s disguised displeasure and comments that she must change into something more appropriate for who she is, and she is sure that Marie would simply say that she is starting to run into everything that she has brought towards herself over the years.
She supposes that both of them would be right.
She had dreams when she was much younger than she was running through the sewers in boy’s clothes. The whole idea that she should wear dresses is a farce. She has always known that it is something that was created for her by her mother, but it is a rule that she has always been in agreement with. Until now that is.
No, she intends on dressing as a boy from now on. At least, until she finds her family again. Then perhaps she will conform to the usual rules. And yet, some things cannot go back once they are changed. Freedom is one of them.
Certainly, the rule that she should always wear a dress has been in place to restrict her freedom. And she has always acknowledged it. She has never complained about the restricting skirts because she has always known that they were there for a reason. And it was a valid reason. But now things are changing, and it felt too good to kick the man’s knee out from underneath him.
It was too good. And despite the implications of those words, she wants to embrace them. She reaches the dead end of a tunnel that she knows climbs out from underneath the dirty streets to a manhole cover near the bus parking lot of the school. She frowns at the dirty ladder and bites her lip for a moment, but necessity is necessity, and she grips onto the rungs and begins to climb upwards. The manhole cover is surprisingly easy to push aside as she climbs up and shoves it back into place. The sun is starting to disappear on the other side of the skyline, and the remaining light is red and sharp. Like thick red wine that has bled into a dark tablecloth.
She ignores the dark red and grey sky as she walks along the edge of the chain link fence that surrounds the school on two sides. She has never been able to understand why it was put into place, it has never been useful to anyone. Except, of course, the boy who tried to jump over it on her first day of school and landed on top with his clothes rippled in half from top to bottom. It is something that she is sure he was never able to retract the embarrassment from.
Although, he did try. She was usually part of a small group to make sure that he would never succeed, and her nickname from those events is part of the reason why her parents forbid her from returning to school once they were sure she knew just enough to be left at home on her own to study.
Of course, she was never completely on her own, Marie was always around to point out one thing or another, and correct one of her answers or questions. But even Marie had her reservations, she always had a metallic edge of fear to her. It was in a small wrinkle on her face, or underneath one of her fingernails.
She noticed it in one of her dreams after she had been pulled out of the town school; even then, it was something that she tried to ignore as much as possible without much success. At first she decided that Marie was simply afraid that her parents would be displeased with how she was caring for their daughter, and then she became sure that it was because of her. Simply her and no one else.
Ever since then, she has known that she was right. Although, it took her a while to understand why someone would be afraid of her. She is simply a catalyst for the things Sa decides to show her. She has never searched her for Sight or tried to understand why she has it. Until now that is.
She turns away from the chain link fence of the school and back towards the main street that loops through the town in a strange hook shaped serpent. She keeps to the edge of the road with its fading asphalt that began to fall out of place only a few days after it was poured, and she walks back towards the mountains before taking a sharp left. The back street weaves along the right side of the road with its only destination being the movie theater.
The cone shaped roof marks it as the only building in town worth paying attention to, but the old announcements clearly say that it has not been open for years. The dark green door welcomes her, and it only takes a moment of consideration for her to decide that it is not worth waiting. She puts her hand against to lock and gives it a hard shove.
She can hear the poorly cast metal of the deadbolt splinter and crack as she pushes the door open and inhales the smell of old cigarette smoke and stale paper. She lets the jingling bells on the door attempt to comfort her as she closes it behind herself. The inside of the movie theater is dark, but its dark does not seem to be as dangerous as the dark outside on the road.
Her shuffling feet kick up old scraps of paper and movie tickets as she walks towards the ticket booth. And sticks her hand into the jar that is kept on the receptionist’s desk. Her hand comes up empty just as she knew it would, and she turns around to move onto to the curtained off door that leads into the actual theater.
She sinks into one of the old cracked velvet chairs at the back of the theater and sticks her legs out in front of her. She only remembers coming to the movie theater once to see an old black and white love story; her mother covered her ears for half of it, but she remembers enough to know that the screen is a place where stories are supposed to be shown. She has always preferred books, but anything involving a story by someone else seems safe for now.
She supposes that she should be worried or bothered that she is alone in a movie theater where worst case scenarios used to be shown on a big screen. But she is glad that she is somewhere where whatever might climb out of the screen or the curtains is not something that Sa is showing her. It was disturbing enough when she saw the old gas station burst into flames a week before a large tank exploded, or when half of the old school collapsed on an entire class of students. She still is not sure how many of them made it out alive. Perhaps someone is still trying to climb out of the rubble that was shoved into a hole and buried.
The people in her town seem to like to bury things. Her head slips downwards as she starts to fall asleep, but she is nudged awake by something pressing against her throat, “You move and I will make sure that one of my boys here declines the courtesy of shooting you in the head.” Someone grabs onto her shoulders and pulls her to her feet with a jerk that makes her wrists crack. Something dark is shoved over her head as she is pulled into the aisle and stubs her toes against the bottom of a seat with enough force to draw tears to her eyes. She quickly blinks them back even though she is sure that no one can see her face. She frowns as she is forced to move forward; for some reason, the most disturbing thing is the irony.
The same voice appears close to her ear, “It seems like we have caught a pretty bird.” She bites her lips and wonders if they have any idea just how much of a ‘pretty bird’ she is. At least, regarding to the debtors that tossed her family out of their house. She would be a very pretty bird indeed. She still has what they want, and she has lived in her family’s house for long enough to know that she should never give it away free. She lets the person holding onto her arms steer her as the smell of old cigarette smoke grows thicker; she is not completely defenseless. She is simply not sure if what she is tempted to do is worth it.
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