A/N: Hello! This story is what I am going to be currently focusing all of my attention on. I wanted to write something historical, but it just kept coming out as something rather lifeless and dull. It was dreadful. So, after six failed first chapter attempts with other stories, I have decided to go back to what I'm best at. Weird. But hopefully enjoyable. Enjoy: Ghost Town.
The humidity of the afternoon air was suffocating. It actually just happened to feel as if a thick duvet had been sealed firmly over her mouth and nose. She was collecting the minimum requirement of oxygen into her lungs, though it was somehow stimulating her desire to move forward.
The wonderful thing about the wetness that surrounded her, though, was easily all the varying shades of lush greens and rich botanical browns. Gardens looked plentiful and healthy, and lawns were blinding, and pristine. Yulia, perspiring to the point of dehydration, muttered an array of obscenities as she trudged along the alleyway pavement. The asphalt was lethargically steaming, sending hot gusts of air and moisture up her skirt, causing her thighs to feel chafed and grimy. Her nude thigh highs were slipping past her calves, and after already attempting to right them over half a dozen times, every few steps, she gave up and let them slide closer and closer to her sweating ankles.
Above, in an overhanging branch, Yulia heard a rather mighty caw. Glancing up she spotted a large black crow perching in the foliage. Pulling her green messenger bag over her head she walked beneath where the crow sat. The last thing she needed today was to be defiled by a massive bird… The crow cawed again and jumped down from its place of resting on the branch, and swooped in front of her, sending a small gust of wind to her leg. It shot back up into the trees, on the other side of the alley and continued to voice its presence before swooping back down and soaring behind her, closely. She let her bag settle to her side, as she watched the strange black creature.
"The hell…?" She mumbled, her steps stuttering slightly at the curiously behaving bird. Another mighty caw and this time when the bird swooped at her, its talons plucked at her hair, scratching her scalp. "Ow!" Yulia gasped, as the bird circled above and made a beeline for her again. It clawed at her head again, vehemently. Flailing an arm out, above her head, Yulia attempted to smack the offending bird away, but it only seemed to anger it, making the attack more egregious. "Get off of me!" She shrieked, panicked. Had she had more time to think about it, she would have decided that yelling at the stupid thing wasn't really going to help, unless it knew English…
The crow rocketed off and settled on a lamppost, ruffling its feathers menacingly, and turning its sleek body into the shape of a rather fluffy looking baseball, with a nasty beak and intelligent eyes… Stopping, Yulia wasn't exactly sure what the bird wanted. Did it have a nest nearby? Were there babies around here somewhere? Was her presence a threat to its habitat in some way? All she knew for sure is that she was seething at the baseball-bird, and stomped off towards the field she had to cross to get home. Another loud caw, and on the green grass she saw a shadow of a soaring mammal approaching quickly.
Instincts taking over, Yulia didn't have to turn around to know that the crow was racing after her, and her mind decided for her that if she couldn't fend it off with fists, or words, she could possibly—just possibly—outrun the darn thing… She broke into a sprint just as she felt talons pricking her scalp. One, two, three, four on each scaly foot... The crow shrieked in protest as she darted away from it, ducking her head, and crying out loudly as it snatched at her hair. Flinging her bag back up over her head, she felt the fabric bag connect with the bird's foot, offsetting another round of shrieking caws.
Feeling like the star in an M. Night Shyamalan film, Yulia gasped and panted and screeched as the devil-bird continued its rampant attack on her form. Now, unable to reach her head, as it was covered with her satchel, it began pecking and scratching her neck, shoulders and back through her flimsy summer-ready blouse. Blocks and blocks passed the two by as they attempted to best one another, when suddenly a sharp shot of water burst at them both... Gasping loudly, Yulia stopped in her tracks, and the crow shot up into the sky to avoid another onslaught from the cold garden hose an elderly man standing on his lawn happened to be holding.
"You alright…?" The man called, watching the crow fly off in the direction the two had just come running from.
"Yes. Thank you." She panted, out of breath.
"It's no trouble. Those monsters are damn mean sometimes. Though I'm not sure I've seen them go to such lengths before."
"That makes two of us, I suppose." She huffed, taking a heavy seat down onto the sidewalk in front of his house. "Thank you for defending me." She smiled, heaving herself back onto her feet after a long pause as she caught her breath.
"No trouble at all, sweetheart." The elderly man said gently, smiling all the while. Yulia offered the old man a parting wave as she continued down the street, grinning as he promised her that if it came back, he would give it a good soaking. Contemplating the bizarre behavior of her newfound enemy, Yulia hopped on one foot as she tugged on her nylons, unable to bear them bagging and bulging out around her ankles any longer. She was only about two blocks from her house, and she could just imagine how amazing it would be to have a long, cold drink of water.
Coming to a squat, white fence, Yulia stepped over the wooden planks, and shuffled through the overgrown grass that brushed her calves and knees, making her skin itch. Not much longer now. She was officially in her own neighborhood: River Hills. The name was a complete mystery to the residents of the drab little area of town; River Hills was flatter than a daisy petal, and as dry as a desert. The biggest land mass that could possibly be mistaken for a hill was a gopher mound. And the only thing that even minutely resembled a river was when someone knocked their beer over. Even as Yulia wandered towards the main road she could see exactly where the community started, and where it stopped.
Just as she neared the asphalt, a noise rang in her ear. She didn't stop walking; she just listened carefully to the still, near-summer air. A shrill cawing… Whipping back around, Yulia was confronted by a peculiar sight. Not one, but three massive crows were rushing her direction. No, no, no… She thought. That's silly. Why would a bird follow me? It's a coincidence… But as she watched the shadowy black figures in the sky, stumbling back a few steps as she did so, her heart did a short leap as she saw, one after another, the birds start to plummet towards her.
Breaking into a sprint again, Yulia threw her messenger bag over her head and sprinted home as fast as her legs could carry her. The three birds shot out of the sky in a succession, each snatching at her, and pecking at her shoulders, neck, and back. Her heart thundering loudly in her chest, Yulia pushed her legs harder and harder until she was sure she could no longer push herself any more, and aimed on getting to her house. When the ugly beige exterior finally came into view, Yulia was positive she had never been happier to see her single wide trailer. The birds' attack only seemed to grow more aggravated, when she got closer and closer to her home. When her chest slammed into the front door, and she fumbled with the keys in her pocket, gasping and shrieking as the trio of crows pecked at her viciously, in some places drawing blood.
When she finally managed to get the door unlocked, Yulia shoved her way into the house and slammed the door on the birds, which promptly took off afterwards. Leaning against the flimsy wooden door, Yulia sank to the ground in an attempt to catch her breath. Burying her face in her bent knees, she panted, and wheezed loudly, her heart thundering in her ears with vehemence. Unable to resume a normal breathing pattern just then, Yulia decided to pull herself up off of the floor, and get that drink of water she so terribly needed.
Lugging herself upwards on legs that had taken on the consistency of gelatin, she made her way, not ten steps, to the kitchen area of the single wide. It was the way it had been when the trailer was brand new; from the yellow Formica countertops, to the off white linoleum floor, and the grayish-blue wallpaper that probably once made the kitchen look bright and open, but in its age just made it look like prison concrete. Yulia stood at the sink, plastic cup in hand and ran the tap, not even waiting for the water to cool, just filling the pink container with the liquid still at room temperature, and started guzzling.
Water had never felt so good. She gasped between gulps until the cup was completely empty, three times over. Knowing she had drank too fast when her stomach clenched and cramped, Yulia discarded the little pink cup into the sink, marveling over the bizarre happening of the afternoon. Birds with a vendetta; how strange... And why was she part of this particular diatribe? That was something she just plainly didn't understand. Making her way to her bedroom, on the far end, Yulia started to strip off her clothes as she went, feeling suffocated and damp with cooling perspiration. Picking up a pair of cut-off shorts and a blue plaid button-up shirt with a change of underwear, Yulia headed to the bathroom and started a cool shower. Her body felt salty and slimy, and she couldn't wait to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling.
Stripped, Yulia stopped for a short moment, as she always did to take a brief inventory. She was tall—unusually so—and disconcertingly thin, lacking the ample feminine curves she so wholeheartedly desired. Standing at a highly unusual six feet and weighing in at a measly one-hundred and thirty-two pounds, she knew she was the poster child for what one would consider a malnourished foster kid; which was weird, because she ate far more than the other kids that lived in the house. She just assumed she had a high metabolism. Doctors always said the same things: underweight but otherwise in peak physical health. She didn't have the water retention problems that others like her did. She had seen a girl in the clinic once that was obviously suffering from an eating disorder, and when she stood up to follow the nurse into the back room, the depressions her hands had made by lightly resting on her thighs didn't go away. She just walked in, hand marks indenting her skin like memory foam. And when she came back out, five to seven minutes later, they were still there as she left with who Yulia assumed was her mother.
Yulia was just naturally built in such a way. She didn't have to strive for it like some people did. Her hair was a boring shade of brown, straight, and resting down her shoulders, coming to mid-bicep. The strangest thing about her, though, was not her height, or her weight, but her eyes. Yulia was diagnosed at birth as being heterochromatic. This meant, of course, that her eyes were both two different colors. It was a simple pigmentation disorder caused by a lack or excess of melanin. It was said that the eye the lighter of the two colors was often the eye that got ripped off of the pigment it desired. So it was always easy to tell which one of her irises was diseased.
Yulia would have been more than happy to have her dark eye a pretty color like blue, or green, or hazel, or maybe even brown. But no, it was black: a color that made the iris and the pupil indistinguishable from one another; like a hard black button. And her afflicted eye was a startling shade of violet. Many people still remain convinced that an eye with the natural pigment of purple is physically impossible, as it is rare, and usually only found sparingly in the high altitude areas of Kashmir, and some remote places in Afghanistan. She always thought that it was odd that she had a violet eye when it was apparently only found in parts of the world that practiced Muslimism, and she was in no way from any of those places. Though, she wasn't sure what her parents looked like. Maybe she was half Islamic and she didn't even know…?
Stepping into the shower, Yulia immediately began to feel better. The dirt and grime of the day began to slide off of her skin, leaving her feeling mildly refreshed. Lathering her hair with shampoo that smelled like apricots, Yulia contemplated what she would do that night. Her friend, Corinne McGuff, had expressed some interest in going to some house party in Oakland, one of the more upscale neighborhoods. It was a world Corinne and Yulia weren't part of. Corinne's family was what the good people or River Hills would describe as poor white, a step up from white trash, but a big step down from middle class, like Yulia's foster parents, Betsy, and Bill.
The McGuff's were dirt poor. Living in the run down single wide were Corinne, and her three younger brothers, one little sister, and their mama, Edith McGuff. Mrs. McGuff was a humorless woman that looked at everything with a certain air of contemptuous suspicion. She worked as a Merry Maid, cleaning up after people far better off than she, who had looked down on her kind her entire life. She made meager wages, and barely had enough to keep a roof over her children's heads, let alone feed them.
So, Corinne, being the oldest, worked after school and on the weekends at a meat market to supplement their income. Often she would take home the stuff they couldn't sell at the end of her shifts and the five children would devour every morsel, no matter how poorly cooked, or tough, or fatty.
Getting out of the shower, Yulia wrapped a yellow towel around her body, and began to blow dry her hair, letting her body slowly dry as well, before getting dressed. Her shorts were miniscule, the bottom half of an inch of the pockets visible.
Ditching the damp towel in the hamper, Yulia did a little of the homework that had been assigned that day, and ate a couple cookies out of the little jar in the shape of a pig with a chef hat on. Hearing a knock at the door, Yulia turned and saw the shock of Corinne's white blonde hair in the small window. Opening the door and inviting her friend inside, Yulia smiled at the little teen before her.
Corinne was barely over five feet, and bony in a strangely emaciated way. And as always, she had an unnerving stare. Her dark blue eyes looked a little too big and round for her face, making her look doll-like, and somewhat synthetic. Yulia was unable to make even a noise before Corinne started babbling excitedly.
"We have to go tonight! I hear Harvey is going to be there, and you know how badly I want a chance with him!"
"Wouldn't it be the same as seeing him at school?"
"No! It's totally different! At a party there's going to be a certain air of relaxation, where we can talk for a few minutes. Not all this getting from one classroom to another business."
"You want to be his girlfriend?"
"Maybe not girlfriend…"
"Your mama would be so proud."
"My mama doesn't need to know, and you sure as hell aren't going to tell her, are you?" Corinne grinned, swaying to and fro on the balls of her feet, in cheap tennis shoes. It didn't sound like a question. There was no doubt in Yulia's mind that the tone of her squeaky little mouse voice was intentional. "So, are you coming, Cyclops?"
It was a common belief within River Hills that she was blind in one eye. Yulia came to understand that it was easier to just claim it was true than argue the fact. People here were as stubborn as they came, and she decided a long time ago it just wasn't worth the hassle. The names and teasing didn't really bother her either. It all seemed so trivial and childish.
"Yeah," She smiled. "I'm in." She smiled when Corinne started jumping up and down, clapping her thin hands, excitedly.
"We're going to have so much fun!" She crowed. She suddenly became somber. "One thing…"
"…It's over the bridge…"
"What? Oh, Betsy and Bill are never going to let me go."
"Why not? It's only a couple dozen miles."
"A couple dozen miles to a different state…"
"So what?" Corinne snapped. "Everybody hates this town, anyways. We should be expected to go for adventures across the bridge."
"But Manhattan…? Really?"
"You used to live there! Not even that long ago."
"I know. But that doesn't mean Betsy and Bill did. I lived there with Francesca and Phil, my former foster parents."
"How come you don't live there now?"
"I'm only a foster, we always get moved around a lot. Oh well. Next year I'm on my own."
"When you turn eighteen you can't stay in the system anymore. They kick you out, and you have to make your own way in the world."
"Yep." They grinned at each other. "See you tonight, then?"
"Sure thing. I'll be here with the truck at eight." She turned and took her leave, still clad in her meat market apron. Yulia closed the door gently behind her, and returned to her homework.
The night seemed to slip by slowly. Already showered, Yulia decided that she still needed to pick out something to wear. Cut offs and a plaid shirt worked for kicking around the house, but not for actually going out with people. So, she settled on a pair of black Capri pants and an olive green tank top with a crocheted midriff and silver flats. The pants helped her look shorter, and the detail on the top drew the eye away from her face. Thank God…
The last thing she needed were people crowding around her asking her questions about what happened to her eye. Was she blind? Are they contacts? Why purple? Was it an injury, or was she born that way? Did she get it from her mom, or her dad? Was it a birth defect? It got really old, really fast…
Yulia told Betsy and Bill, when they returned home, that she was going to a party not too far off, held by one of her classmates. They had no qualms, and she was told to behave herself, and take her cell phone incase she needed to call. Yulia nodded, and accepted their terms to return home no later than three, and to make sure she stayed with Corinne the whole time, and watched her drink.
When Corinne's truck pulled up in front of the trailer, Yulia gave a few quick waves before bolting out the door and jumping quickly into the passenger seat. And with that, the two took off down the road. "I'm so excited." Corinne giggled, fiddling with the ailing static sounding radio, trying to find a station. The truck was old, and an absolute behemoth. It was a deep brown nineteen-seventy-nine F-350 Lariat that rumbled when it started and made furious demon growls when accelerating. But, Yulia couldn't complain. She had a license, but no vehicle, and the beast got them from point A to point B.
As always, the drive only took about forty minutes before they reached the bridge, and the massive New York skyline could be seen visibly. As it was nearing summer, even almost at nine o'clock, it was still fairly bright out, though they could see the lights of the city coming on, preparing for the darkness to come. Corinne seemed to know exactly where to go, taking a few back streets, and avoiding the seas upon seas of yellow cabs blocking all possible main road routes. They got out of the main downtown district and found themselves pulling up to an impressive house. Yulia had expected an apartment, or a green space of some sort.
"We're here!" Corinne sang, giggling away. Shuffling out of the seat, Yulia slid down the side of the truck and onto the ground, hearing music coming from inside, and voices everywhere. Corinne simply walked right in the front door with no fear, and grinned as a couple people seemed to know her, calling her name. She quickly ran off, leaving Yulia standing in the doorway awkwardly as a few people looked over at her, but mostly just ignored her presence completely.
Feeling uncomfortable, she shuffled over to the kitchen and found a couple of drink being made. A boy with blond hair and mischievous green eyes looked up and grinned. "Want one?"
"What is it?" She asked.
"Tequila Sunrise. You'll like it." He made another with a liberal splash of golden Jose Cuervo and some orange juice with a little bit of pomegranate. "Here you go." He grinned, passing it to her. Yulia took an experimental sip. It was nice; citrus with an undertone of something…peppery maybe?
"Thank you," She smiled.
"Just come on back for a refill." He grinned, shaking the bottle of tequila at her. She smiled and nodded, turning and wandering aimlessly back into the commotion. Corinne was deeply involved in tasting Harvey's breath on the couch, and others seemed to be doing the same, or talking, or smoking, or laughing about something. Yulia felt out of place. Corinne was always the more outgoing of the two. She seemed to have an easy time getting boys to pay attention to every little piece of information she had at her disposal. They seemed to love her. They always did. Yulia on the other hand, seemed to repel the opposite sex. Boys never really seemed to find her pretty or interesting, which was fine by her, because boys were a mystery she had yet to solve.
Feeling out of place, and uncomfortable, even four sunrises later, Yulia got up and made her way outside. Voices were out there, too. Shot gunning beers, a bunch of boys ignored her completely as she walked by on slightly unsteady legs. Deciding going on a walk alone was a far superior way to spend her time than sitting alone in a room filled to the brim with people her age who wanted nothing to do with her, Yulia began a leisurely trek down the road. She tried to remember the road signs, and every turn she took, as she meandered down the sidewalk.
She looked up and a fluffy looking black baseball-bird was sitting up on a lamppost. "Leave me the hell alone." She grumbled, thinking back to the same species following her before. It was starting to make her mad. Didn't these things have something more interesting to do? Maybe go look at the Statue of Liberty, for crying out loud. That sounded more interesting than she was. Feeling reasonably depressed by her social ostracism, Yulia found herself wandering towards a park. Not really thinking that it could be a dangerous move to head over to a park at midnight in New York, Yulia made her way along the grass quietly, with a heavy heart.
Starting to hum to herself, to keep the silent night from seeming so lonely, Yulia sighed as she made her way over to a large tree sitting in the middle of the green space. Taking a seat at its roots, she hummed a little louder, settling on a slow, haunting tune. She had always had a knack for portraying moods with tunes, and ballads, and songs. It was just something she had been born with. A certain gift, she supposed. But as the tune went on, one of the black crows settled a foot or so before her, seeming to listen. Disconcerted, but not really in the mood for an argument with a bird, she continued her sad little song. Slowly, she stopped humming and began singing. Another crow flew down from the sky, and watched her. And then another, and another…
When finally no less than seven of the hell birds were sitting at her feet, Yulia stopped her song. In a shocking amount of unison they cawed together; and then again, and again. And then they went silent, just watching her. "What do you want?" She asked the birds, as if expecting an answer. They all cawed together again. Their synchronization was nothing if not impressively well rehearsed. And then their cawing became frantic as they soared off into the night, as if they had been startled. "Where are you going now?" She snapped. Stupid things…
Above her, Yulia heard one short command, "Now!" In a masculine voice, and she let out a shriek as something was dropped around her, coarse like a potato sack, but much larger. She struggled and screamed, feeling arms circling her and clutching at her from all directions.
"Hold still, you parasite." Another male voice snapped. This only made her struggle all the more furious. She felt her fist connect with something hard, though she wasn't sure what. She knew it was one of the people, though, when she heard a grunt.
"Hell with this…" The first male said. And Yulia let out a loud grunt when something bashed her on the back of the head.
And everything went dark.