Neon glows fought for dominance from opposing sides of the alley. Indistinct shapes reflected off wet asphalt. Streaked along it were the bastardized images of a place akin to skid-row save the mass of bodies endlessly moving about. They appeared more like a single, roiling creature, amorphous and ever in-motion, but with only its constituent parts moving. Here and there, heads bobbed up or down, maneuvered sideways, or leaned at the brisk air blowing this way or that.
Amid it all was a girl. From the looks of it, no more than fourteen, but built as if younger. Thin-wristed, short, and obviously malnourished given the clothes she wore; meant to fit properly, but far too baggy. Had any whom inch-wormed past bothered to look, they’d have found little to linger on. At first glance, they’d see only her thin, angular face protruding from her hood, her eyes averted and downcast. If they managed past that first, sweeping glance, they might catch a small glimpse of frost-white hair or golden eyes. Anything more would be impossible. Any search for it in vain.
Every night she stood there watching, waiting. With no purpose beyond waiting, observing, she barely even bothered to move. Anyone watching long enough would’ve pegged her for a forgotten animatronic before a human being– and a crude one at that. Nonetheless, she remained a perfectly average human, or as much as anyone could be nowadays.
Street-life was never easy. For a young girl, it was a living nightmare. So much had happened to her, around her, she’d effectively shut off to the world at large. The alley-staring was just an excuse to be around people, feel as if maybe she weren’t so alone. She’d been abandoned there a decade ago, told to wait. She still did, but more from habit than foolish hope. Invariably, she’d end up back in her hovel at night’s end; alone, cold, and with nothing but the incessant drip of leaky pipes for company.
She did her usual few hours of staring, fought hunger-shakes with expert will– or perhaps her endless well of loneliness. She could ignore just about anything. A necessity garnered from living in a hovel just beneath A/C units and street-walkers’ rooms. If she’d learned anything on the streets, it was that every man thought himself an Adonis and every woman an Aphrodite. None were.
Whores were the real heroes of the new world. Anyone putting up with such depravity in or on them for a living was a winner in her book– especially considering the depravity she heard first-hand. While she’d considered being a whore herself, her age was more of a problem than simply being illegal. After all, prostitution was illegal, but that hadn’t stopped the Johns and Janes from lining up.
No, her problem was one of value. She was a rare commodity. Too rare. Pure and nubile meant infinitely greater chances of attracting the worst of the scum. It was one thing to be a teenage prostitute for quick plug and plays with mentally twisted Johns and Janes. It was another entirely to be a victim of human trafficking, sadistic ritual, or any of the other million ways things could go wrong. If there was any truth she’d found in her life, it was that anything that could go wrong, eventually did go wrong.
She’d settled for petty theft and occasional panhandling instead. It had worked out well so far, no bodily violation required.
She returned to her hovel to hear some John pumping his brains out down the way. Even at the distance it was obvious the whore was faking it. The John didn’t seem to mind, if he noticed her at all. From what she’d seen, most people ignored what they didn’t want to accept. She was no different. She suspected the John stooping to paying for sex felt the same.
She crawled into her hovel on her hands and knees, ground still wet from the afternoon’s rain. It never rained in the mornings anymore, pollution she’d heard. It only rained afternoons and nights, and more often with each year. It was cold rain, bitter to taste but enough to live off if caught in a cup or a bottle.
The hovel was formed of a few, intersecting buildings’ air conditioning units. Summer’s were noisy, but winters were almost perfect. Excess heat leaked from poor seals, and the awnings above the units made kept it dry in all but the worst of storms.
She curled into a ball on a makeshift-mattress of old newspaper, card-board, and tattered, stinking rags. Sleep never came easy, but did eventually come. She’d almost left reality completely when feet scuffed the asphalt. She sat with a start, almost banged her head on an A/C unit.
“S-sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you!” Her head snapped toward the sounds: A boy’s face, about her age, with blond hair and sapphire eyes shuddered at frightening her. Her eyes bulged, massive and round, the golden irises minute around terror-dilated pupils. He put out his hands in defense, “I’m not gonna’ hurt you, I promise!”
She shrank into her corner, “Why’re you here?”
He glanced up at the A/C units and the awning above them, “It’s dry here. I was hoping, you know… maybe, you wouldn’t mind… sharing the place for the night?”
She thought on it, pupils constricting slowly. She didn’t own the place, but she had claimed it the same way everyone on the street claimed things. Still, the company might be nice.
She was apprehensive, but agreed, “Okay. But don’t steal my stuff or try to touch me.”
“Deal.” He sank into the opposite corner of the hovel, “My name’s Colin, by the way.”
“Like Andrea?” She nodded. “Pretty name.”
She shrugged, relaxed back onto her makeshift-bed, then watched him through the half-darkness. He was balled up, shivering. His teeth made the tell-tale, persistent clack of one colder than they wanted to admit. She saw now, too, that his clothes were dark, clinging to his malnourished frame. He’d controlled the cold before by moving, but couldn’t once stationary.
Andi sighed. “You’re wet, aren’t you?”
His teeth chattered louder. “Y-yeah. I got chased over b-bread. D-dove into a pond to get away.”
She rolled her eyes, “Come here.” He hesitated. “Don’t get any ideas. I don’t want any cops finding me here. If you die from the cold, that means I gotta’ deal with a body. I’d rather not.” She motioned him over again and he crawled over, laid in front her. She scooted back wrapped her arm over him and pulled him in to her. “No getting handsy, either.”
He soaked in the fresh warmth from her body, “Thank you.”
“You really wanna’ thank me, help me get food tomorrow. For now, sleep.”
He nodded and closed his eyes for sleep.
He certainly wasn’t what she’d been looking for in a change. But then, she wasn’t sure what she was looking for– or even if she was looking for one. All the same, Colin was new, different. Maybe even enough to keep from staring indifferently at the world all day. She wasn’t sure yet, but at the very least, she’d have help getting food. It was more than she’d had an hour before.
A shiver coursed through Colin in his sleep. She squeezed him tighter and he relaxed, stilled. Andi closed her eyes, prepared for a better tomorrow– or at least, dreams of it.