Silent Night

***Extreme trigger warning for this post.*** This story begins with Here, There Be Monsters and Do Svidaniya.

          The bus ride into the city was peaceful and I stared out the window at the countryside, one hand over the envelope of cash concealed against my belly. When my stop came, I dragged my sad little knapsack out of the overhead compartment and got off the bus, coughing slightly in the wave of exhaust fumes it left behind. I shivered. First, I needed a coat. I scanned the area around the bus stop and spotted a dingy sign for second-hand clothes. I slogged through the melted slush left over from the week’s snowfall, glad my boots were waterproof. I found a gray men’s jacket that seemed like it would keep me dry and block the wind. It also didn’t smell like smoke as much as the rest of the place. I peeled off two tens in the dressing room and stuffed the envelope back under my sweater.
          I paid the woman and then asked if she knew of any 24-hour coffee shops. She looked at me down her nose, I wondered if she was nearsighted or just judging me. Several moments passed before she directed me to a coffee shop that was “open late.” When I got there, the sign said they closed at 11. I rolled my eyes and checked my watch. It would be getting dark soon; the ride from Cook’s took longer than I thought. There was a dingy motel down the street, its sign blinking dissolutely, but it looked like the kind of place where you rented a room for an hour or two. I walked back over and checked the bus schedule. There was one to New York City at midnight. If I could hole up in the coffee shop until then, I wouldn’t have long to wait.
          The coffee was bitter, but it was hot. We rarely had coffee at Cook’s and I used my spending money as little as possible. I remembered slow weekends at the library. The sun filtered through the thick windows and set the dust motes on fire. It was quiet, for the most part, unless the Story Fairy was reading. Even then, not many kids came. I sometimes wondered if the town around Cook’s would slowly disappear, sinking into the gray snow as all its inhabitants got old and died. Maybe there was something unlucky about raising children near an orphanage. I must have dozed off; my knapsack securely in my lap, because the disconsolate ding of the bell above the door woke me. I scrubbed my eyes and looked at my watch. It was 10:45. The smell of stale cigarettes wafted in with the icy breeze and I looked over my shoulder. A young man stood at the counter, digging some crumpled cash out of his pocket. The barista palmed it and jerked his head towards the other employee’s turned back. I looked back to my now-cold coffee, not wanting to attract attention. My movement must have caught their eye, because there was a flurry of muttered conversation.
          “Hey, we’re about to close,” the nasally voice grated on me.
          I slung my bag over my shoulder and nodded, slipping out the door. The parking lot was deserted and it was a cold, windy walk to the bus stop. The tiny enclosure provided a little shelter from the icy wind, but not much. I blew on my fingers and bounced my knees up and down to keep warm. Only an hour, I told myself. I heard laughter, but kept my head down, ignoring the clink of bottles and more laughter. I recognized the voice of the coffee shop barista and his friend. I scooted to the corner of the bench, hoping to keep my distance if they planned to catch the midnight bus. The footsteps grew fainter until there was no sound but the whoosh of the occasional car and the keening of the wind.
          “Hey.”
          The voice on the other side of the glass startled me and I jerked, seeing the fogged face of the last coffee shop guest through the graffiti-marred glass. He had shaggy hair and bad skin, his face pocked with tiny craters. He smelled like the inside of a bar. He leaned against the edge of the glass, essentially blocking me into the corner. I just looked at him.
          “I said, ‘hey,'” he drew on the cigarette dangling from his lip, setting a cardboard six-pack of beer on the ground.
          “What do you want?” I asked.
          “No need to be like that, lady. You’re not from around here,” a puff of smoke blew towards me and I turned my head. “Want a beer?”
          “No, thanks,” I kept my eyes on the wet asphalt.
          “Not real friendly,” he took a swig of one of the beers, nudging the six-pack with one booted foot.
          “Just waiting for the bus,” I said.
          He nudged the box again, nearer to me. He smiled. His blue eyes were flat. I would remember that look. He wasn’t tall, but he had some muscle, enough that when he grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet, I couldn’t stop him. I wanted to scream but it caught in my throat, clawing at my esophagus. Instead my demand that he let me go came out breathless, not at all threatening.
          “Aw, don’t be like that,” he laughed but his hand tightened on my arm and he wrenched me around the corner of my little shelter.
          He pressed me up against the side, and my feet fought for purchase on the icy pavement. He spat the cigarette out of his mouth and it glowed angrily for a moment before it sputtered, sputtered, died. My knapsack lay on the ground inside the bus stop, next to his half-empty beer carton. His hand found my throat, his meaty fingers digging into the delicate skin. He leaned slightly, and my windpipe bent. He drained the rest of his beer, watching as my eyes fluttered and my mouth worked helplessly. He dropped the beer bottle to the ground and I felt, more than heard it shatter. I was in a tunnel and all I could see were watery, blue eyes. Like a dead fish. His other hand fumbled at his belt and the roaring in my ears sounded like a train. The ground rose up to meet me as he released his grip on my neck.
          He bent down and I crabbed backwards away from him, gasping, sobbing. My throat burned, raw with trapped screams. I thrust upward with one shaking leg and somehow connected with his knee. He swore and reached down to grab something; the jagged bottle glinted as he raised it. I kicked again, aiming for the patterned fabric spilling from the front of his pants, as his jeans started to slip. I missed this time, he dodged my foot easily and laughed, an ugly sound, but he staggered a bit and the bottle slipped out of his hand, I heard it roll in a jingling circle. I scrabbled on the ground away from him, feeling the rough, gravel-strewn concrete bite into my hands and scrape my back where my coat and shirt rode up. He lunged towards me again, ready to pin me to the ground. My frantically searching hands found something. I gripped it and thrust it up towards him.
          His full weight came down and pushed the jagged edge of the bottle deep into his throat. There was a warm, pulsing, rushing flood running down the bottle and into my eyes.

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8 thoughts on “Silent Night

  1. Pingback: You Can’t Save Me | Vers Les Etoiles

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