It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another fiction installment. (Links for this and all Fiction Features can be found on the Freebies page.)
Because yesterday was Halloween, I thought I’d include something here that’s just a little creepy. Hope you enjoy it.
A Walk on the Wild Side
Savannah sat behind the wheel of her car in the parking lot of Cheery Charities, the local store offering discounted and sometimes free items to the less fortunate. In years past, she’d donated many of her things to the store.
Now she was a patron.
Being the number one real estate agent in the tri-state area used to require all of her time. But it was worth it. She had an expertly furnished beautiful five bedroom provincial, a luxury car, money for all her desires, and a sizeable savings portfolio.
When the real estate bubble burst, her whole world disintegrated. She’d burned through her savings, then resorted to selling off her estate. She traded her car for an old jalopy and a few thousand dollars. When she had nothing left to sell, she sold the house and moved into a walk-up efficiency. With little money for rent, utilities, and food, and most of her clothes in a consignment shop, she had no choice but to shop at Cheery Charities. She had no other option; she refused to reach out to her father for help. Their parting had been less than amicable. She wasn’t crawling home looking for a handout after their final conversation.
Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the scent of stale tobacco and what she hoped was wet dog. Pursing her lips, she exhaled slowly and tried not to think about the filth she was sitting in. Or wallow in her current plight. Winter was approaching, and she needed something to block the chill.
Cheery Charities it was, then.
No point in locking up. There was nothing in her car worth stealing, and no one would want to take her car. She merely shoved the door until it finally swung on its ungreased hinges and slammed it closed.
A tiny bell on the door tinkled to announce her presence. She looked around, but no workers came out of the back. She approached a rack holding coats and picked through the offerings until she found a black wool pea coat and tried it on. It was a size too big for her, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
She stifled a mirthless chuckle. She was basically a beggar now. She needed to stop being so choosy and take what was available.
Take what was available?
Could she really steal from a charity? If someone was actually working, she wouldn’t be in the position to consider it. As it was, she was one of the misfortunate needy, and she was entitled to the coat. Probably.
She left the coat on and headed toward the door. If she ever was flush again, she’d make a donation.
Fighting the guilt, she turned her head away from the cash register. A rack of shoes caught her eye. Stepping toward it, her hand reached out to touch a pair of Jimmy Choo’s. Those had been hers, and she had loved them. But they were impractical for people in her condition. She needed something more utilitarian.
Her gaze drifted to a pair of work boots. She didn’t know if they were a man’s or a woman’s. She slipped them on. They were small for a man’s foot, but they definitely looked like a man’s style. She didn’t care. They were steel-toed, fleece-lined, and would keep her warm.
“God, I wish this wasn’t my life.”
A cold chill blew past her, then the room was still.
She glanced at the Jimmy Choo’s one last time, snatched them and bolted out the door with her contraband. She could still hear the bell tinkling when she started her car and drove away.
The plan was to head to the library and use the computer to search for job openings, but she found herself driving to the river. She stopped at the bridge and scrambled down the hill. Metal barrels, rusted from exposure and scorched from years of holding fires, dotted the ground. She thanked the Lord that no one was currently there. She was confused and out of control, and it didn’t seem she had a choice about when to stay and when to flee.
Her feet kept moving, taking her straight to one of the barrels. She held her hands over it as though warming them over a fire. She felt ridiculous, as there wasn’t currently a fire burning, but she couldn’t stop herself. Suddenly she whipped around as though her body was reacting to a threat. She reached into her pocket and whipped out her empty hand, clenching her fist the way a person would grip a knife handle. She began shadow-stabbing a non-existent foe.
Her hand stopped attacking and just twisted into the air. She was horrified to feel her cheeks lift up and her mouth split open in a satisfied grin. Then she stumbled backward as though absorbing an enormous weight. Flinging her arms to the side like she was throwing that weight down, she returned her imaginary knife to her pocket.
She walked over to a grouping of stones and hefted one of the larger ones. Then she walked back to where she had done battle and arranged the stone near where she had dumped her imaginary attacker. She repeated that process several times, stopping only to wipe the sweat from her brow. When the stones were in place, she walked to a different area and rooted through a non-existent bin. Returning to the stones, her hands moved like she was tying them to something. Then she started rolling the stones to the river. At the edge of the land above the water, she stopped and shoved.
The current was swift, but not even the rushing water could keep the stones from sinking to the river’s bottom.
Every fiber of her body fought to scream, but all she could manage was a self-satisfied smile. She clambered back up the hill and got in her car.
She drove straight to a homeless shelter on the other side of the train tracks. She’d never been to that part of the city, and felt panic sluicing icy-cold through her veins. A woman stepped out and shook her apron. Seeing Savannah sitting there, she smiled at her and beckoned her inside.
Savannah had no interest in going in, but she couldn’t help herself. She climbed out of the jalopy and sauntered toward the door. The woman held the door open for her, and Savannah looked her over, head to toe and back. Her stomach roiled, sickened by her actions, but she continued on. “Hey, sweetheart,” she said to the woman from the shelter.
The woman cleared her throat and tried to smile. “Hi,” she managed. “Are you looking for a cot tonight? Or a hot meal? We’re here to help.”
Savannah pushed a stray lock of hair away from the woman’s face and smiled when she recoiled from her touch. “After you.”
She followed the woman inside, keeping her eyes on her swaying hips. She wanted to look away, but her eyes were glued to the woman’s backside. When the woman turned and caught her staring, she untucked her shirt and walked more quickly toward the food line. “Here,” she said and handed Savannah a tray. “Go through the line. I’ll send the director over to discuss a bed.”
The woman glanced back over her shoulder and scurried away.
The food looked like school cafeteria food—high in carbs, high in fat, completely processed, and way overcooked. She’d been living off ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches for months, and even that menu didn’t make the shelter’s food look any more appealing. As it turned out, she didn’t have a choice. Her feet pulled her through the line and she accepted one of everything.
Sitting alone in a dark corner, her thoughts had drifted to what she had done under the bridge. Even though she didn’t actually attack anyone, her actions were those of a murderer, and it freaked her out. And the lack of control? More than a little disturbing.
The woman who invited her in was walking toward her with a man who Savannah presumed was the director. Their heads were tipped toward each other’s in quiet conversation, but Savannah could hear snatches of it.
“…creepy guy last month…mean, exactly…”
“…could be a coincidence that…” the director said.
“…don’t understand…identical conversation to…”
The woman put her hand on the man’s arm to stop his progress. She whispered something directly in his ear then retreated from the room.
“Hello,” the man said. “I’m Derek, the director here. Callie said you’re interested in a bed?”
The last place Savannah wanted to be was at the shelter at night. Instead of declining, however, she said, “I’d be much obliged.”
Derek raised an eyebrow and studied her for a bit. Then he said, “Follow me.”
He led her into a room with twelve cots. Five of them were occupied. “Make yourself at home. Bathroom’s through that door,” he said, pointing to a door on the right. “Only rule is keep your hands to yourself. Lights out soon.”
“No worries, Derek,” Savannah said, sounding far more comfortable than she felt.
Derek stared at her for a moment, then left, calling for Callie.
Savannah looked at the other people spending the night. None seemed to want to socialize, which was fine by her. She sat on the edge of the cot and bent down to take off her boots.
She slipped them off her feet and was suddenly freed from their compulsive powers. A comforting warmth spread through her, then dissipated. The boots! Why hadn’t she realized sooner that her will was overpowered the moment the boots touched her feet? She quickly tucked her feet under her on the cot and stared at them. They looked innocent enough, but they were deadly. Literally.
The door opened again and a man sauntered in, calling over his shoulder, “You’re welcome to join me, sugar. I don’t bite. Much.”
Savannah didn’t hear Callie’s answer, but the man grinned and said, “Suit yourself.”
He strutted toward Savannah and took the cot next to her. He lay on his side, propping his head on his hand and staring in her direction. “New here, sweetheart?”
Savannah’s mouth instantly dried, preventing her from speaking. She couldn’t take her eyes off his feet. They were small—unusually small. Roughly her size.
Noticing where she was looking, he tried to look at her feet, but they were still tucked under her. Then he glanced down at the floor and saw her boots. She saw the recognition flit across his face right before Derek came to the door and said, “Lights out.” The room plunged into darkness.
Savannah’s heart slammed off her ribcage. A gravelly voice right in her ear said, “I think you have something of mine.”
She jumped off the bed and bolted for the door. She didn’t stop until she’d run out of the room, through the dining hall, and into the street. Her jalopy was where she left it, and she jumped in, fumbled for her keys, and jammed them with trembling hands in the ignition. Then she took off for home, not looking back. Part way home, she grabbed the Jimmy Choo’s off her seat and tossed them out the window.
She entered her apartment and locked the door. Looking around, she took in the sparse furnishings, dreary walls, and stained carpet. Safety trumped luxury any day, and she was safe. For the moment, anyway.
Why had she ever wished for another life?
A noise at the door startled her. She crept to the door and looked out the peephole. Seeing nothing, she gripped the handle and flung the door open.
A cat screeched and darted down the hall.
Pride be damned. She didn’t want the boot-man’s life, but she didn’t want hers any longer, either.
Striding across the room, she grabbed the phone off the receiver and dialed.
“Dad? It’s me.”