Authors: Claude Lalumiere
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“Lost Girls” © 2012 by Claude Lalumière
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
The Door to Lost Pages
by Claude Lalumière, first published in print form in 2011, and in an ePub edition in 2011, by ChiZine Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
The Door to Lost Pages
) April 2011 ISBN: 9781926851952.
This ePub edition November 2012 ISBN: 978-1-927469-94-1.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
It’s obvious to Sandra that Aydee feels like she doesn’t belong here. Aydee, wrapped in layers of tattered and dirty clothes, wearing a tuque thattries hard to hide her face, fidgets nervously while she recounts the latest adventures of her “other self.” Sandra begins to regret bringing her inside.
It’s only midmorning; The Small Easy isn’t very busy yet. Sandra—petite, extravagantly tattooed, fashionably underdressed—is sitting with Aydee at a table that looks out onto the street. Their muffins and coffee arrive. Sandra thinks the waitress is kind of cute: plump, friendly, frizzy-haired, sporting a nose ring.
Sandra expects Aydee to resume her story, but Aydee’s attention has wandered. Russet—a brown mutt nearly as tall as a Great Dane but with the robust musculature of a Rottweiler—stares at her through the glass, one paw held up against the window. Aydee matches the dog’s gesture.
There’s a slight drizzle today, and the year’s first hint of autumn chills the air. Sandra had insisted that they come inside. Aydee reluctantly agreed after Sandra suggested they could sit by the window to keep an eye on Russet. Aydee dislikes leaving him alone outside; even more so recently. Dogs are being found stabbed, murdered, and the city isn’t doing anything about it.
Aydee sips her coffee silently, while Sandra thinks about today’s story—some intricate yarn about Aydee’s alter ego helping a group of time-lost prehistoric proto-humans find their deity, the Green Blue and Brown God—a primordial “god of life”—one among the several outlandish recurring characters in Aydee’s fabrications. Sandra wants to prompt her to continue, but she hesitates.
Poor crazy Aydee and her crazy stories
, thinks Sandra, yet she’s nevertheless fascinated by Aydee’s imagination. Those weird stories of ancient tomes, powerful gods, and outrageous monsters excite Sandra—they sometimes seem more real to Sandra than her own dead-end life. She feels guilty about indulging, maybe even encouraging, Aydee in these delusions, but what else is she to do—ignore her?
As Aydee tells it, on the evening of her tenth birthday, she, hopelessly lonely and with nowhere to go, walked away from her abusive parents. She’s been living on the street ever since. She believes that when she fell asleep in an alley that night, she was split into two people. The other Aydee had awoken to find herself rescued by a giant lioness—“the god of lost children”— only to be flung in the middle of an eternal conflict between the supposedly benevolent Green Blue and Brown God and Yamesh-Lot, a violent, amorphous god of darkness, which led her to discover a strange bookshop called Lost Pages. She ended up being more or less adopted by the shopkeeper, living with him and his many dogs, and apprenticing at the shop. Lost Pages is at the centre of Aydee’s fantasy life, and Sandra’s been seduced by the allure of this surreal bookshop: its inventory of arcane books that can’t be found anywhere else; its knack for attracting—and helping—people (and other creatures) who are desperately lost.
Aydee breaks her muffin in two, slipping half of it into a coat pocket. “Gotta keep some for Russet,” Aydee says, responding to Sandra’s inquisitive stare, and then falls abruptly silent again.
Sandra feels selfish—she’s already wolfed down her own muffin in three hurried mouthfuls—and wishes she could afford more food, but she barely has enough money to leave a tip. She should get a better-paying job, but together she and the boys make enough to get by; being a twenty-year-old high-school dropout with no special skills limits her options. Cleaning up the tattoo shop isn’t exactly stimulating, but at least, in addition to the under-the-table slave wage, she gets her tattoos done free.
Recently she’s been thinking of moving out on her own. For that she’d need more money, though. Tom’s mood swings are getting worse all the time; he’s too focused on scoring drugs every night, and she’s fed up with that scene. And, as sweet as Kevin can be to her, because of his paranoia about “strangers” they don’t make other friends. It’s the three of them against the world—only she doesn’t believe that anymore.
She’s never told them about Aydee; they would neither understand nor approve.
Some days, Aydee is cheerful, wrapped up in the magical life of her alter ego or simply enjoying Russet’s company, but today Sandra can see that Aydee is having a rough time. She’s distracted and nervous, and not just about leaving Russet outside.
Aydee starts crying. At first Sandra is too shocked to react, but then she reaches out and squeezes Aydee’s wrist.
“Why did I wake up in that filthy alley? There’s no Lost Pages. Not for me. I wish that other Aydee would come and rescue me. She’s a hero, she really is. She helps people who think they have no place in the world find where they belong. I wish she’d be my hero. She runs Lost Pages now. She’s strong and beautiful, with her hair braided and beaded and her skin as smooth as a baby’s. Not like me.” Aydee disentangles her wrist from Sandra’s fingers and wipes her runny nose. “But we’re still connected! I know everything that happens to her! She has to know about me! Why doesn’t she come and find me, so I can be safe, too? Me and Russet. She has to find us some day. She has to!” Aydee glances outside at Russet, who is steadfastly focused on her. “It’s getting cold again.” She pauses. “I don’t know if I can take another winter.”
Not for the first time, Sandra wonders about Aydee’s age. When she noticed her last February, begging on the street with her dog on the coldest day of the year, Sandra had assumed from her weathered face and scraggly voice that she must be around fifty. She’s so frail and withered, but there’s something about her features—the delicately small ears and nose, for example—that makes Sandra think Aydee might be closer to thirty, maybe even younger. Whenever Sandra asks, Aydee always answers, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve lost track.”
The boys are sleeping off whatever shit was in the pills Tom brought home last night. To avoid them both, especially after that hateful quarrel, Sandra bunked on the couch, even though she hates sleeping alone.
In the bathroom, Sandra turns on the shower, waits for the water to get scalding hot, and then climbs in.
She knows that she should leave, that this relationship isn’t working anymore, but where could she go? She’s been with the boys for six years, since she met them at her first rave. The boys, already a couple by then, had seduced her as a joke—a
let’s fuck the awkward, insecure virgin and make her cry
thing—but they ended up really liking her, and the three of them had become inseparable. Two years later, at sixteen, they ran away together, away from their intolerant families and from everyone else who claimed to know what was best for them.
As the steam soothes her, calms her, she watches her skin turn from olive to pink under the hot water. From the waist up, her entire body, including her face, is tattooed with stars, suns, moons, and planets of various sizes and shapes; dark green snakes coil upward from her ankles to bite her on the ass.
She’s startled when Tom suddenly steps into the shower, followed by Kevin, who comes in from the opposite end. They both wince at the scalding water.
She feels vulnerable and threatened, her five-foot-three self sandwiched between these six-foot giants.
Kevin, behind her, presses down on her shoulders, his strong, dark fingers gently massaging her. Her back is so taut that even such mild pressure hurts.
Tom—of the quick temper and hateful words; of the tall, gaunt frame; of the eerily pale skin—is careful not to touch her. Looking at her with surprising tenderness, he says, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk to you that way. Not ever.”
Sandra, emotionally exhausted, slumps against Kevin’s firm, dark-brown flesh. He holds her and whispers her name. Tom steps toward them, enfolding both of them in his long arms. The tension drains from her, and she almost lets out a sob. Although she’s squeezed tightly between the boys, she no longer feels trapped. She breathes in the musk of their smooth chests, breathes in the steam and the sweat, and she feels safe, at home, where she belongs, the only place she’s ever belonged.
It’s only late October, but a freak winter storm rages through the city. It’s minus twenty degrees, with the wind-chill factor bringing it down another fifteen. According to the weather report, eighteen centimetres of snow have already fallen by three o’clock in the afternoon, with at least another thirty expected in the next twelve hours.
Sandra is consumed by worry about Aydee. As she piles on the layers and wraps scarves around her neck and head, she tells herself that it’s stupid to go out in this storm—but she knows the pain in her gut won’t go away unless she makes sure that her friend is safe.
. She’s never thought about Aydee quite like that before today. For Sandra, Aydee has always been that crazy homeless lady with the dog. But Sandra realizes that, in fact, Aydee is her only friend. They spend time together almost every day, and Sandra has come to depend on the casual intimacy of their interactions.
Outside, Sandra instantly despairs. How will she ever find Aydee in this dark chaos of snow and wind? Sandra almost runs back in, but worry gnaws at her.
Calling out Aydee’s name, Sandra walks toward The Small Easy, only two blocks away; Aydee usually loiters near that corner. In this weather, it takes Sandra almost fifteen minutes to walk there. She encounters no-one on the way, and neither is there anyone on the streets near the restaurant.
It occurs to her to check the alley. Aydee and Russet get most of their food from the dumpster out back, and its bulk can offer some degree of protection from the wind. The storm’s getting fiercer, and Sandra knows that she’ll have no choice but to give up the search soon.
She finds them there: Aydee and Russet huddled against each other, barely visible under a blanket of snow. Sandra gets in close and shouts against the wind, “Why aren’t you in a shelter, Aydee? You can’t stay outside on a day like this.”
“Nobody’ll let Russet in. I can’t leave him alone. We always look out for each other. What kind of person would I be if I betrayed him? The other Aydee would never rescue someone like that.”
“Aydee, you have to get inside. You could die out here, and then who would look out for Russet? Come on—come home with me.”
“Can Russet come, too?”
Sandra thinks about the boys’ obsessive tidiness, and Tom’s need to be always in control. “No, the boys . . . they don’t like dogs. They’d never allow it.”
“Just go back home. We’ll be fine, Russet and me. We’ll keep each other warm.”
Sandra can’t bear the risk of losing her friend. She doesn’t know how she’ll make Kevin and Tom accept having Aydee, let alone Russet, in the apartment, but she’ll have to find a way. She’s freezing out here, and she just wants to get inside . . . but not without Aydee.
“Okay. Russet can come, too. Just hurry.”
“No, we’re staying right here. I don’t want to go anywhere where we won’t really be welcome. Don’t worry about me. Just go home. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“No! Not okay. Not okay at all. You have to come with me. Please. Please, come. For me. For Russet.”
“Don’t be patronizing. I’m not stupid.” She looks away from Sandra, toward Russet. She rests a hand on his back, and he looks up at her—shivering. “But, okay, I’ll come.”
Sandra takes Aydee’s hand, and runs home. Russet follows them.
It takes a bit of arguing, but Sandra convinces Aydee to take a hot bath. It’s the bubblebath that did it, Sandra thinks; Aydee’s eyes lit up when she mentioned that.
With Aydee sequestered in the bathroom, Russet has settled on the couch—the dog is so huge that it’s almost too small for him—and no amount of coaxing on Sandra’s part can get him down. It’s going to be hard enough to convince the boys to let Aydee and Russet stay, but she knows it’ll be impossible if they find the dog like this.
Maybe if she offered him food? He must be hungry—a big dog like that, with nothing but garbage to sustain him. She gets some chicken from the fridge and puts it in a plastic bowl. She places it on the floor, calling Russet’s name. He sniffs the air, steps down from the couch, and trots over to the food.
But the dog grabs the meat in his mouth and saunters back to the couch, slobbering all over the upholstery as he eats. And that’s when the boys walk in.
Soon after the yelling and the barking start, Aydee steps out of the bathroom—dripping wet in her dirty, tattered clothes. She calls Russet to her, and, without even glancing at Sandra, leaves.
Sandra yells at Aydee to stay, tries to run to her friend, but Tom grabs her.
Kevin shouts, “How dare you bring that street trash in here? And that filthy dog! They probably have lice and shit knows what else! What were you thinking? This is our home! It’s not a zoo, for fuck’s sake.”
Sandra struggles free, but by that time Aydee and Russet are gone.
“How can you throw them out in weather like this? How can you be so cruel?”
Kevin says, “They’re not our responsibility. We should rescue all the homeless people? There’s no end to that if we start. We look out for each other, the three of us. Nobody else ever has; why the fuck should we give a damn about anyone else?”