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Toxic #6: If You’ve Seen One Alley, You’ve Seen Them All

Mar 5, 2014

I was on a street corner waiting for the light to change, freezing my butt off and soaked to the bone. My coat was in my locker at school because I’d been too busy thinking about werewolves to remember to grab it. In my defense, I hadn’t expected it to be thirty-five and sleeting.

I hadn’t expected werewolves in my art class, either.

My grandmother hadn’t made an appearance since she’d poofed out, which was annoying only because I could use her advice. What to do about the werewolf, for one. What dark corner of earth we’d moved to that it was snowing in September, for another. And where in this godforsaken town was there a place that sold coffee?

I wasn’t technologically challenged. I knew how to Google. But since I’d managed to spider web my cell’s screen at some point during school it was now better as a Halloween decoration than a useful device. It was the whole reason I was out in this weather instead of hiding in my room; I needed tech. But the neighborhood I’d wandered into didn’t have anything but used bookstores and bars.

The light changed, and I jogged across the intersection to the next block. It was just another row of books and booze, with the occasional second-hand clothing store thrown in. Obviously a college area, even if there was no one on the street. Beyond that? Trees. And probably old houses and hills. “Seriously. I thought it was a law that Starbucks were every two blocks.”

I stopped my jog down another pointless street, pushing my wet hair out of my eyes. This town was the weirdest mix of life in the woods and semi-urban pavement I’d ever seen. It was like it had been carved out of a forest, with houses and shops hanging onto the sharp edge of gorges. Most of them looked only seconds from sliding off their perch. Even the roads were precarious, undercut by rivers and falls that rushed toward the lake. And nothing was flat; you were either going up or down or walking on a sideways slant.

I was about to give up the hunt for tech and hunt for a bus stop instead when the squeal of metal against stone irked my ears. It was muted in the storm, pressed flat and dulled by the fog. Curious, I looked around. There was nothing moving but me.

There was an alley a few yards back from where I stood, and despite my recently-acquired nerves about alleys I slogged back to the entrance. There was nothing moving there, either, except for a small sign swinging in the breeze.

The paint was too faded to make out anything from where I stood, so after another check that the alley was empty—it wasn’t paranoia if you had good reason to be afraid, damn it—I went in. The cobblestones and fire escapes were a little too close to the ones in the city for my liking, but there were no dumpsters. Just slush collecting in low spots and brick walls darkened with old soot stains.

My nerves disappeared, and a smile spread across my lips as the peeling image of a dragon on the sign came clear. It was maybe the first good thing that had happened to me all day, and for that moment I didn’t care that I was shivering and pruned. My love of dragons bordered on obsessive. I had more statues and drawings of them in my room than books or DVDs.

I’d never seen a real one. But maybe someday. If vamps and gargoyles were real, why not them?

There was a beat-up door and some dirty windows under the sign. I peeked in the cleanest one, almost slumping as I spotted a giant espresso maker behind a wooden bar. The lights looked too dim for them to be open, but there was a fire going in a fireplace along the far wall. Between that and the dragon sign, I argued, I’d be stupid not to go inside and warm myself into a stupor.

I told myself that again as I stepped inside. There were booths lined in dried-blood-colored leather by the fireplace, and some rough wooden tables scattered around the main space. There were also about fifteen people watching me, still as mannequins, eyes wide.

I wiped water off my face, my throat going dry. Their slightly horrified expressions meant one thing: I’d made a mistake.

© A.M. Schilling  2014. All Rights Reserved.



Toxic: Installments