R ose opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. She was falling. Plummeting more like it. The distinct sensation of wind rushing past her, her stomach floating up into her chest, but the world was nothing but black around her. There was no vantage point from which to measure how far or how long she had been descending which made her think she had either been falling for eternity or only a moment when the world came rushing back to her. A concrete surface flew up at her from the bowels of the darkness and suddenly she was laying on the cold hard ground in a room she didn’t recognize.
The sensations of this new world came all at once. A shivering breeze that cut right to the bone. The stench of piss that coated her nostrils and burned the back of her throat. She laid naked in the middle of a graffiti filled room, blood matting her barren back. Someone else in the room was screaming at the top of their lungs. Rose looked around wide eyed only to realize it was her. A man huddled against the side of a wall was mumbling to himself. He eyed her suspiciously, glowering from the shadows, his right hand scratching at the inside of his left elbow. .
“Witch,” he hissed at her. “You’re a witch!”
He popped up and pointed a knobby finger at her.
“I saw you!”
His hands were webbed with scars, like he had traced the tendons on the back of them with a rusty blade.
“They’ll see you too sky traveler.”
His eyes grew wide and he lunged at her. Rose ignored the protests from every muscle in her body and bolted into the darkness. She gritted her teeth against the pain in her back that pounded with every hit of her foot on the cold hard ground. Weaving through the shadows, the vagrant’s voice screamed after her. Bare feet crunched through broken glass, each step inflicting a new wound she’d have to worry about later. A door appeared to her left and she crashed through it onto a poorly lit sidewalk.
Her chest heaved, gasping for air, her brain grasping for just a moment of clarity. The sound of cars honking carried over the putrid nighttime air. Loose debris blew across her feet. Gooseflesh dotted her arms and chest and her teeth chattered. She folded her arms around herself and looked down the street in both directions.
Where the fuck am I?
The building loomed a few stories high behind her. The lone lamp pole illuminated fading paint on the second story: CHANG IMPORTS. Two men turned a nearby corner.
“Fuckin Knicks can’t do shit this year.”
“Bunch of old bastards. I coulda came off the bench better than any of ‘em did.
“Cartwright needs to ride pine rest’a season.”
“Better off ridin’ dick the way he’s been –”
“– Woh woh, Benny check this out.”
Rose tucked herself against the brick wall hoping they’d pass.
“What have we here sweetheart?”
The two men stopped on either side of her. Their eyes took her in from top to bottom, then back to top. For the first time in her life Rose felt truly naked. The one called Benny reached up and tucked a wisp of hair behind Rose’s ear.
“The Lord shines down on us tonight Eddie.”
“Heaven knows we need it after that clusterfuck of a game.”
Eddie smiled but there was no warmth behind it.
“You look so cold darling, why don’t you come home with us.”
Benny wrapped a meaty hand around her arm and pulled her along with him. Rose pulled back and shouldered him off of her. He looked so disappointed and clicked his tongue.
“Now, now. Is that any way to treat a couple a guys tryin’ to help you out of this here cold?”
Truth was, Rose didn’t have much fight left in her. Her shoulders sagged and she did her best to turn her back against their leering eyes.
Eddie bumped Benny’s shoulder. “The fuck is that?”
They’d noticed the wing roots protruding from her back. They were mottled with dried blood and a few feathers stuck to them like glue.
“You some kind of diseased bitch?”
Benny tugged at his friend’s sleeve. “Yo, fuck this, let’s get out of here.”
They both looked at her like she was covered in shit and smelled even worse before turning and carrying on their way.
“Did you touch that shit? What a fuckin’ freak.”
Benny shoved his hands in Eddie’s face and laughed.
“I need a shower man. Probably got fifteen kinds of diseases now.”
“Already got ’em all from your wife.”
They faded in the distance, alternating shots on each other and Rose was left alone once again. A newspaper laid half in a puddle near the curb and Rose bent down to pick it up. NEW YORK TIMES splayed across the top in big bold letters, then, in smaller letters below it: November 7th, 1980.
“You alright darling?”
Rose startled at the new voice behind her. A pale man with the scruffing beginnings of a beard looked down at her through kind eyes. He rubbed her arms with mitted hands and tried to level his face with her.
Rose shook her head.
“Oh dearie, don’t cry.”
He brushed freezing tears from her face and wrapped his jacket around her. Rose caught his eyes lingering on her back as he did so but he quickly averted his gaze and continued on. His voice had a sing-song quality to it that reminded her of the way Logan spoke earlier that night. At least it felt like earlier that night. How long had it been since she had fallen down the well?
“You’re comin’ home with me pup.”
Rose eyed him with suspicion but he was so much kinder than the last two men.
“Relax honey. I’m gay.”
“Oh,” Rose said.
“Is that alright with you?”
For the first time all night, Rose smiled and let out a nervous laugh.
“Of course. Where I come from every man ends up being gay.”
“You’re from San Francisco?”
The man slipped off his shoes and pulled his socks off, sliding them onto Rose’s feet.
“Mm, where’s that?”
He straightened back up and Rose gleamed up at him.
“I believe you people like to call it Heaven.”
“Oh, well then,” he laughed and locked his arm and hers. “Tell me. Did Liberace finally come out?”
He laughed again so Rose did too.
“I’m not too far this way. I’m glad I ran into you, this isn’t exactly a nice end of town.”
“I appreciate you letting me stay.”
“One night pup. We’ll get you sorted out once you’ve sobered up and I’ll help you get back home.”
Rose bit her tongue and buried her head into his arm. It would take a miracle for him to believe her at this point and a warm bed sounded better than just about anything right now.
“Need to get that back looked at too. Looks dry at least.”
Rose nibbled on her lip.
“Uh, yah. It’s uh. I have this thing.”
He tisked. “Don’t worry about any explanations right now love. My name’s Leonard by the way.”
Leonard. Rose let the name nestle into her brain.
“Nice to meet you Leonard. My name’s Rose.”
“Lovely little flower you are.”
And that was how Rose met Leonard. A shame what happened to him in the end.
TO BE CONTINUED…