They had her by the throat. Her eyes glared fury as they flared at her captors, but she was helpless, trapped in their grasp and at their mercy. My heart sang for her. She looked like I felt inside, as if the world had played a deceitful trick on us and all we could do was wait till it swallowed us whole. I couldn’t stand to watch and do nothing. I wanted to yell out, scream all my rage at them. Make them let her go, give me release, but that’s my burden; I couldn’t make a sound. Not with my mouth. I was dumb, without speech, unable to communicate.
“Let’s finish this witch!” One of the scumbags wheezed. Yanking on her long blonde hair and twisting her neck cruelly. The crowd in the alleyway entrance watched. Fascinated, but unwilling to intervene. The other two scumbags, leered and gripped tighter as the girl wrestled against her captures.
I had had enough. I was far taller than them all and I used my height to lean into the alley. I raised my hands to my face, pulling my horn up to my mouth. I couldn’t talk, or shout but I could sound a tune unlike any other. I squeezed my eyes tight until they bled tears, the angst building to breaking point, then I let it all out through my horn. A note so strident everyone fell to their knees, holding their ears. Even the girl was affected. Though she recovered first and kicked one of the scumbags hard in the belly as she staggered away. I stopped sounding the note when she was clear. She never looked back, didn’t even raise a hand in thanks, she just raced away down the strip and into the murkiness of the night.
I knew I shouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t expect to be treated any differently than before. I was an outcast, no one would deal with me, not even here in the Strip of Shadows. This was the city’s underbelly where crime and rebellion cavorted hand in hand. It was so dangerous, the Judge, the most feared woman in the City, had never been seen here. This was my home and I had never been out of its grasp, but even here I was beyond hope. My appearance was so tall, I was too easily noticed to be useful to anyone. Because of my lack of voice, I couldn’t talk, couldn’t write and couldn’t communicate with anyone expect by pointing, no one even knew my name. But that wasn’t the worst of it, the one thing which really put me beneath the lowest of the low was my sound. I could make the most disturbing and terrible tunes on my trumpet when I let all my despair out from my heart.
However, to play my dreadful music carried the death sentence or so the police had informed me. To encourage me to play would mean anyone caught doing so was liable to exile, and though the city was a terrible grime-riddled cesspit to live in, it was better than the world outside. And in that lay my entrapment. I had no skills, no ability to scrape a living together, no money, and no job. I was desperate and starving. Hunger was my only friend.
Sometimes I got a cleaning job, mucking out the bars and clubs along the Strip after a night’s debauchery had gasped its last foul breath. Folks expected the debris, the puke and the blood to be washed away each morning before it all began again. It was the city’s worst job and even then I hardly ever had a chance. It had been a week since my last meal. My stomach felt like a hollow cavern, full of hurt. I was lucky it had been raining this week, at least I had been able to drink, even if it was filthy gutter water.
I was roused from my thoughts as the others in the alley came round. Most of the watchers left as quickly as they could go, looking back with fearful eyes. The three scumbags were the last to rise. They had been the ones I had directed my blast at. Trickles of blood oozed from their ears and their eyes were lost as they helped each other to their feet.
I don’t know why I stayed. I should have run too. Maybe they hadn’t realised it was me who had caused them the pain and let their victim escape, but that hope was a legless pony, with no chance of running. No one else in this city could have done what I had done and with my reputation I was a sure thing, an object for them to take revenge on. Better to deal with it now. I’d rather die by their hand than live any longer in my hopelessness.
As they pulled their wicked knives and stepped closer, I smiled, which caused them pause. It wasn’t that I was unafraid, I was petrified, but the thought that the blonde girl had escaped was my one happy thought in a lifetime of misery. I call her a girl, but truly she had been a woman. Probably early twenties, with neat curves and a spark of life to her that had blazed out even when trapped by the scumbags. That’s probably why I had helped her, more than anything else, that spark of life. I wish I had that power.
“You are a weirdo, bugle boy,” Scumbag one sneered. His eyes were cast and his musty hair slick with grease. “I’m gonna-”
But I never found out what he was gonna do to me. All three scumbags turned, fading like ghosts into the alleyways murk, their eyes had flickered behind me as they evaporated from view.
“Alright, Dude.” It was the City Guard. “That is your ultimate warning. Next time I hear a peep from your horn, it’ll be time to go see the Judge and she don’t like you. Remember, she told us if you were ever caught playing havoc with your horn again it would mean your life.”
I turned and hung my head. I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed, happy, or angry. All I knew was this wasn’t my end. I would have to struggle on. Maybe I should raise my horn and play some more, make them give me peace. But I couldn’t. It would be suicide and that I couldn’t do. I was a coward that way.
The filth and noise enveloped me again as I shambled away from the guards. I had three more bars to visit, three more chances to earn a crust of stale bread. Maybe my luck had changed and maybe I would find someone who’d give me a break.
I should have known better. Not only did they not want me in the first two bars, but they threw me out into the garbage heap from both. Now I stank of rotten fish guts. I must have looked like a nightmare as I stumbled towards the Last Chance Inn.
Had my sense of irony left this one till the end? Or was it that this was the worst, the blackest, foulest, most dangerous part of the perilous Strip of Shadows that my sense of self-preservation had kept me from it until there was no other choice. I had never been inside before.
The bouncers leered as I stepped forward. They were almost as tall as me, which meant they towered over everyone else. But whereas I am slight of build, undernourished and underfed, these two specimens of brutality were bulging with muscles and menace. They had the worst reputation on the Strip. No one crossed them, even the guards wouldn’t touch them. Strangely they ignored me as I approached. Normally I couldn’t get within ten feet of the front door before a knife would be flashed in warning, but tonight nothing, not even a glance in my direction. Had I turned invisible? I doubted that.
I took a deep breath and edged closer. Still no recognition. Then I was all the way next to them and they just stepped aside and let me in.
I stopped and looked at them both, but I could have been merely a spirit for all they acknowledged me.
I shuffled forward and pushed through the door. It slammed shut behind me at the same time at the bouncers slammed their shoulders together, blocking of any chance of retreat. I felt trapped, free to move, but caught inside a cage that would define the rest of my life. I had felt nothing much when the three scumbags had been about to kill me. Now I felt that the world had changed and I didn’t know what would happen next. I had never been inside this bar before.
I looked around. The place was quiet, but I saw this was because of me, not its normal state. The place was full, crowded with the meanest and nastiest looking souls I had ever seen on the Strip and they were all looking at me. I almost ran out to face the bouncers again.
“How come you got in?” Someone called from the shadows and smoke.
“Yeah, turn round and go back to the dung heap you crawled from!” Someone else added with a malicious laugh.
I looked to the bar. That’s where the manager always purveyed his empire, in all the other bars in the city. I could see a bald headed guy with five scars interlacing his face into a patchwork of cold hearted disdain. He didn’t talk just nodded at me to approach.
I stepped forward. Unsure for the first few steps, nervous as everyone’s eyes followed my every move, then with more confidence. I wouldn’t be thrown out, there was some work here after all. I might even earn that stale crust I desired. I smiled but it only evoked a scowl on the bald guy’s features. The skin around his scars reddening. My smile froze, but I couldn’t shift it from my face. It felt like a rictus grin. I stopped just in front of the counter and stretched out my hand. The manager didn’t even look at it.
“Seems like it’s your lucky day,” he wheezed. His voice a hoarse whisper. “I hear you need a job. What can you do?”
My smile warmed up, but still I met a glacial response. I mimed sweeping and polishing.
“We got a cleaner. What else.”
My smile shrivelled. Cleaning was all I ever did. With my disabilities I couldn’t do anything else. I shook my head, my eyes pleading.
“If there’s nothing else you can do for me, then maybe there’s nothing I can do for you.” The manager looked relieved as if he hadn’t wanted to offer me a job. What was happening? Was this all just another setup to humiliate me?
“Maybe we should use him as a bog brush!” Someone shouted, “With his height and thin bones he could even clean the pipes around the bend!” The room erupted in scorn and I quivered.
A phone jangled behind the bar and the manager sprang to answer it. Whoever was calling must be important. I watched him listening and nodding, ignoring the rest of the bar who were all trying to outdo each other in belittling me with their sarcastic nasty humour.
The manager’s eyes flitted to me again and there was something different in them now. More than the disdain, almost a respect. I must be imagining it. He turned to me, cradling the phone still and asked, “Do you still have your horn?”
Now I knew I was in real trouble. Nobody asked me about my trumpet. The Judge had issued her decree and everyone knew about it. My horn was bad news.
“Do you still have it?” The baldy asked again.
I nodded and tapped my jacket where the trumpet was tucked out of sight.
“Right. I can offer you a chance to play here. You get three tunes and if they like you …“, he gestured to the audience. “I can give you a nightly gig.”
I stood rooted. Struck dumb like I’d never been before. Only my eyes were moving, I wasn’t even breathing. The raucous noise in the bar had stopped and everyone was looking at each other. There were no more bawdy comments. No one had expected this.
Why? I wanted to scream. Why? Don’t you know we would all die! The Judge has spoken.
Finally I was able to move again and I slowly shook my head. I hadn’t played anything but despair and hurt for so long, I wasn’t sure if I could recall any music.
“Well, it’s your funeral.” Bald guy murmured. He turned away from me and spoke into the phone. Then he put it down and faced me again. Arms folded eyes hard. The doors swung open and the two bouncers entered and stopped. Barring the exit and fixing their eyes onto me. They didn’t look menacing, just determined. I knew I was going nowhere. My life was no longer my own. Not that it had been for such a long time.
Then a bead curtain behind the bar swished open and there stood the girl. Blonde hair swept back from her face and her eyes smiling at me.
“It’s alright, Dude. You can play, if you want.”
I shook my head violently. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to this girl.
“Don’t worry about me. I own this joint and it’s my way of saying thanks. You saved my life.” Her words carried weight and I could see the bouncers’ and the manager’s eyes following her lead.
I tried again and shook my head, drawing a line across my throat as if with a knife, trying to tell her about the decree. Maybe I could play some, but not if it meant hurting this girl.
She came right up to me and whispered so no one else could hear, “And don’t worry about what the Judge said.” She smiled, her eyes laughing, “I am the Judge.”
Well that’s it for this month, I hope you enjoyed this piece which is a little different.
For 2015 first quarter I have changed the story box
Now the next short piece (around 500 words) will be using these hints.
Girl, Adventurer, New World, Spring, Stick
Have a good one. Till next time.