It was a cold and peaceful night. The moon shone brightly at the dark sky of this year's first night of winter.
Moonlight slipped through the holes and openings of a small, worn-down tent, which was built at a corner of an abandoned lot. This lot was filled with overgrown bushes and weeds, concealing the old ragged tent away from inattentive eyes. It was a place where people would dump their trash, not even sparing the place a second glance as they went on with their everyday lives. Though this lot was nothing but a dump site to the people of the town of Lyria, this was home to Cerelia.
Cerelia opened her eyes and watched the moonlight that slipped through the cracks above her. She listened to the sound of the wind that whispered through the trees and the sound of stridulation emitting from the crickets nearby. A cold winter breeze blew across the lot and entered through the opening of the tent, causing her to shiver. She rolled over to her side and bent her knees so that the old, ragged blanket could cover her body whole. She pulled it down a little to cover her feet which were still left bare and her arms became open to the cold.
That's right, it was winter. To the privileged people of Lyria, winter meant a hot mug of chocolate, warm over-sized sweaters, and a good book by the cozy fireplace. To Cerelia, winter meant countless nights of freezing, the desperation for warm meals and blankets, the need for flu medicine, and the never ending work of trying to get the layers of snow away from their home. Putting all those aside, winter was also the season that brought Cerelia wonderful memories of her father.
Wonderful memories that were supposed to make her smile, but now, they just lefther feeling cold and empty.
Her mind wandered back to the last winter. Her father was telling her stories of his childhood as they sat by the small cozy fireplace in the warm comforts of their home. She would laugh as she listened to the crazy stories her father would tell her and her mom would come out of the room and tell her to quiet down because she was trying to sleep. They lived an average life and they were happy. However, that happiness was short-lived when they received the breaking news that caused her heart to break into tiny little pieces. Her father had died.
She wiped a teardrop that escaped from her eye and she brought herself to sit up. She looked over to her mother who was sleeping just a meter away from her and she noticed that the wrinkles by her eyes became deeper. The strong, beautiful woman she knew was now weak and suffering from a high fever. She grabbed her blanket and crawled over to her mom, placing a hand on her forehead to check her temperature. She was still burning. She placed her blanket over her to keep her warmer and she planted a soft kiss on her forehead.
Cerelia got up on her feet but her body was bent a little so that her head wouldn't touch the ceiling of the tent. She grabbed her hooded coat and went out of the tent without making any sound. The cold winter air greeted her and she shivered as she tried to put on her coat as fast as she could. She slid her feet into her tattered slippers and with one last glance behind her, she took off, heading for the streets that would lead her to the town-square. She pulled her coat tighter to her body and rubbed her hands together in an attempt to keep them warm as she was welcomed by the bright lights of the town. She looked over at the big clock located at the top of a mini tower.
It was already late but this part of the town was still buzzing with people. Mostly men, as they were headed to the brothel. She placed her long, messy hair behind her shoulders and pulled the hood of her coat over her head to hide her face before walking over to a garbage bin to pick up an empty cup. She glanced at the brothel which had the most people flocking around and walked to the empty space across it and sat down, placing the cup in front of her.
Since it was winter, she would need more money to buy her mom a warm meal instead of just the usual bread. If luck was on her side, she'd be able to buy a new blanket for her mother and maybe even medicine for her fever. She sat there in silence as she listened to the music that came from the brothel. She could hear laughter and talking and the sound of glasses as people raised them and gleefully chimed "cheers". She hugged her knees and buried her face there in an attempt to block out all the noise. The sound of people who relished in alcohol and money. Did any of them know what it was like to feel so much pain that you just wanted to die instead of live on?
An hour had passed and still nothing. No one would even spare her a single glance. The night grew colder but the brothel only grew louder and more crowded. She grabbed the cup and stood up, losing her balance a little as her leg had fallen asleep. She shook it to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling and she walked over to the garbage bin and threw the cup. If she couldn't get the money from begging, she would have to get it the hard way. When faced in a time of desperation, who we are and who we need to be to survive were two different things, right? She assured herself. She pulled the hood closer to conceal her face and she walked towards the brothel in slow strides as the hesitation lingered in her mind.
"Gimme more booze!" A drunk man with thick beard and unruly dark hair slurred before bending over and vomiting on the bar, causing the people to move away in disgust. Cerelia grimaced at the sight and she coughed lightly as she inhaled a puff of smoke from a cigarette. She moved away and took a deep breath and the smell of alcohol and cigar filled her nose, causing her to cough once again. She slowly moved through the large crowd, bumping into people from time to time. "Hey, watch it!" A woman called out. Cerelia bent her head down and continued to walk away, trying to avoid unnecessary attention.
Music was blaring out from the phonographs and women were dancing wildly on stage as the men cheered and whistled. Cerelia moved closer to the men and she noticed a younger male in fine clothes. He looked less intimidating compared to the rest so she decided to make him her target. She carefully reached inside his pocket and once she felt the cold surface of the coins, she grabbed some and pulled her hand out, placing the coins she was able to get inside the pocket of her coat. It was very tight and crowded which made it very easy to go undetected. She moved away and walked towards a quiet corner to get a breather.
Cerelia was able to get out of the crowd and she took a deep breath, relieved when fresh air entered her lungs. She decided to get back home before her mom could find out that she was gone but something had caught the corner of her eye. It was the staircase that led to the second floor. There was a sign nearby that read Private Members Only. It meant that only the owners of the brothel and invited guests would be allowed to enter, right? Since it was already past midnight, they shouldn't be here. Cerelia hesitated for a moment but as she thought about her mother and how she needed to buy her medicine, she decided to do it. Heck, it was one of those "Screw it" moments.
She glanced around her before she quickly headed towards the stairs. Her hand reached for the wooden railings and she walked up in calm strides to avoid suspicion from anyone who was possibly looking her way. She let out a breath when she reached the second floor and she fiddled with the ring on her middle finger. It was a habit that she did when she was nervous. She bit her lip as she stepped into the darkness of the unlit hall. It was so quiet here compared to the floor below.
She was starting to second guess her decision to come up here but it was too late to go back. Her feet took one step after another until she was standing in front of a large wooden door. It was polished and she couldn't help but notice the shine and the designs that ran along the borders. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat as the scenes of a horror movie started to play in her head. Her hands started to sweat but she wasn't backing out now.
With a deep breath, her hand reached for the doorknob and the cool surface of the metal gave her goosebumps. When it didn't turn, she actually felt a little bit relieved. She reached for the hairpin that kept her hair out of her face and her long bangs fell to her eyes, making her look more mysterious. She adjusted the hood of her coat to make sure that her face was properly hidden. Cerelia bent the pin and broke it into half, placing the other half into her pocket and inserting the other half into the doorknob. She placed tension at the bottom part and started wriggling it around. She kept this up until the she heard the satisfying sound of the door unlocking.
She placed the pin inside her pocket and opened the door a little to take a peak. When she had confirmed that no one was really around, she stepped inside and wasted no time to lock the door behind her. She turned around and stared in awe, completely forgetting why she was in here for a second. She took a quick moment to appreciate the beauty of the room. First of all, it was huge. The floor was carpeted with a a soft red velvet carpet and there were expensive furniture in every corner of the room. Although the room was dark, the moonlight illuminated the room through the sliding doors that were made of glass, leading to the balcony.
Her train of thoughts were disturbed when she remembered the reason as to why she was here. She looked around her, looking for something she could get. Anything expensive but small, anything that she could easily put in her pocket and get away with unnoticed. She quickly made her way over to the big desk which was located at the corner of the room. Business papers were neatly stacked on top along with some bags of golden coins.
Bags of golden coins.
She repeated inside her head. She quickly took one bag and dumped it's contents into her pocket. She realized this would be enough to sustain them for a month and she made a decision to only take one and leave but as she thought about how this was only a one time opportunity, she reached for another bag. It was when she heard the sound of keys and the door unlocking that her blood ran cold. She froze on the spot, unable to move.
"Enjoying yourself?" A deep voice broke through the silence.