Eyes. Beady black eyes looked back at her from the corner, hidden by shadows. She picked up a rock and aimed. A high squeak and a long thin tail slipped out of sight. There was no one outside tonight—save for her and the rats. She was thankful for that. There was no one to call her names. The grass was dying around her—bidding its final farewells, knowing the weeds, finding no opposition, would soon own the small patch stuck between rivers of concrete and rows of numbered doors. The little girl toyed with a broken bottle beside her, not realizing she had cut her hand until the blood had dripped down to her wrist. The redness falling from her hand to the ground seemed to signal the sky above, and the first drops struck the earth around her—a soft warning before the pummeling began.
126. 127. 128. She stood in front of the door, already soaked through, hair wringing wet. Her clothes clung to her as though frightened. As she stood, the doorknob seemed to grow fangs, but the sky was still roaring, and the rain was thrashing about, hurting her, burning, taking the air—
The door was open before she felt the touch of it on her hand, and she was standing in the dry. The room was dim—the dull glow from the open doorway behind her meeting scarce amounts of light seeping through the heavy clouds and the slim crack between the hotel curtains. Barely enough light to see the peeling paint on the wall beside her. The sound of the rain pounding at the outside world was static in her ears—a background to set the room against, the sounds coming from within.
She could see motion, silhouettes against the darkness, cast in shadows. Slimy shadows and an animal’s grunt, hard and deepened by the pitch of the rain.
Eyes lit by the darkness. The bed shifted like settling sand, and she could almost see the color in her mother’s eyes—brown like the dying grass outside the building. The grunts stopped for a moment, caught in the sticky silence. Spider’s web.
Her mother rolled onto the floor, grasping at blankets to cover her naked body. A shadow sat up straight. Spoke with a smoker’s rasp. Angry. Her mother’s voice cooing from somewhere far away—too distant to distinguish between softness and anger.
The girl stepped toward the corner, exposing the light from the doorway to the man’s face. It was tough and scarred and housed two eyes as unfeeling as the rain—but with a malice unique to humans. God, those eyes, like ones she had seen before. Another man. But just like him.
Fear tore into her. Legs moving, running. Crunch of grass beneath her feet. The rain was hushed, but the rattling voice against her ears was loud. “You dumb bitch! Not a dime of my money! Not a penny!” Footsteps behind her. Light rhythm of bare feet. She didn’t feel the road bite her knees, and she couldn’t tell if the salty water on her cheeks was made of tears or just the rain. Her head struck unforgiving asphalt, and the grayness surrounding her turned black.
The world was pulsing. A gentle beat struck the chair she sat in. The desk across the room toppled, the mattress leapt from its frame, and the phone hurled itself at the mirror, scattering shards throughout the carpet.
Her body ached. Her skin was perfumed with the scent of rain, and her mind tumbled through darkness, water cascading from the sky above, down the walls, down her mother’s face.
She sat in the floor, knees pulled into her chest. Weariness and blotchy red eyes conquered her features, and she was humming some old song that her daughter had never heard. They seemed to wake together—one from sleep, one from sorrow—and she was in her mother’s arms in an instant, asking what had happened.
“You ran out in the road. Fell and hit your head. But you’re ok.”
“What about the room? Why is it broken?”
“A mean man got mad and broke it. He said he’d be back tomorrow so we gotta go.”
“Was it the man in here last night? The one who was yelling?”
Her mother turned her head away. “Get your teddy bear.”
“But I don’t wanna leave. This place is nice. The water’s clear, and the men don’t…” Grubby hands. Filthy hands.
Screams. “This place is nice.”
“I know, baby, but we gotta go.”
“What about the police? Remember a long time ago? The woman with two different shoes? She said the police help people in trouble. She said her husband was a police—before he got shot. She said the police are the good guys.”
“Baby, we can’t.”
“But they’re the good guys, and we’re the good guys. Right?” Her big brown eyes sought answers in her mother’s, but they found nothing but despondency. “Right, Mommy?”
Her mother couldn’t help but hesitate. Finally, she found a smile, though her tearful frown did find a way into her words.
“You remember how to hold your hand, don’t you? That’s it, thumb way up.”
The woman closed door 128 behind her and, as the day staggered on, took her daughter’s hand and led her to the next circle of Hell.
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