Vagrant Space

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
kids living in poverty playing in a parking lot at night discover an unusual conduit away from modern wilds -- a short story I wrote after being startled awake by a nightmare

Submitted: May 12, 2015

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Submitted: May 12, 2015

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A A A


Vagrant Space

 

We were a family of drifters waiting in a vast, black parking lot, one that looked brand new with bright yellow lines marking off the boundaries for parked cars in fishbone zig zags, the skeleton of a great sea serpent caught and dried in tar and stones robbed of their comfortable freedom.  It was night time.  We reveled in the loneliness with our nothing but tattered jackets and shorts and falling apart shoes.  We were waiting on someone—a mom or a dad perhaps—to be done with the work they were doing in the buildings we supposed to be on the faraway shore of the parking lot, making money, making a sacrifice just as we were sacrificing our childhood innocence by staying out so late and being awake and alive and playing when other kids were well into their 4th or 6th cycle of REM sleep and rehashing failed math tests in their heads to prepare for another day at school.  Like moths, like beetles, like mosquitos we ran rings around street lamps, making airplanes in the amber light with our arms, acutely aware of the time as we waited for that someone we were waiting on to make excuses enough to get out of the door and away from the employer who saw night as abundant and limitless, without the same kind of boundaries as the parking lot had, as the day had, as even free little kids had when they’re vagrant.

The youngest among us was like a bright star of joy and laughter.  He was silly and light-hearted, smart and resourceful like one would expect someone with nothing to be.  His silliness had a purpose, and that purpose seemed to be to keep our noses out of the true weight of our situation—of poverty, of hunger, of desperation; it never felt that way with him.  I was older, I knew better, but through him I could believe that was nothing to be sad about, that things simply were the way they were and poverty was a condition that could change just as easily as it could have stayed the same.  I learned more from him than I did the kids that wiped my tears when I didn’t have enough to decide between tampons and a meal.  His magical blue eyes, the little tuft of hair that stuck out of his hood when he pulled his hoodie up on his head, I was an older kid, but I played along with whatever game my fearless leader made up for us in the night, because I did not want that pure, vivacious spark to die.

That night, my fearless leader, he was in his typical shorts and hoodie, and as we were playing airplane he dropped down to the asphalt and rolled along its slight, gentle slope until it rolled down to a grate.  The asphalt was sticky and dirty, but I rolled too, and met him at the bottom with laughter.  He got up and ran to the top to roll down the incline again, but I noticed that the grate …. It was not black underneath.  The grate was a strange, pale color, the same color as a sidewalk to a downtown city street or fancier shade of pale granite or sand or what I supposed to be the same material as the greek coliseum or some roman building of long ago.But here was the parking lot a rolling black as far as the eye could see, a modern, American black, American black like rual black like the kind of black they only use in rual areas because real people pay for this stuff and real people don’t want to pay a fortune for a great black sea between office buildings that are rarely used for much more than dentists or real estate brokers.  Must have been some other business here before I thought, and I dropped a stone in, and soon my fearless leader came rolling down beside me.  “Hey watch this” I said, and I dropped in a pop tab.  He squatted down and gave a smile, very impressed by my magic trick of throwing things down holes. 

“Lemme try” he said, and he took a car—a metal, yellow, squeaky wheeled, well-loved car that he kept in his pocket—and forced it into the narrow grate.

“Oh no, Don’t!” I said, but it slipped right through, and I heard its little axels crash into the flat, stone surface below and squeaky wheel off to one side.  Then I felt bad.  I felt real bad.  He was smiling, but I felt bad, because he loved that car and rode it with his fingers through sand and hair and grooved picnic benches until its squeaks were a sign of worn-in love.  “Oh dear, now he’s gone.”  I said, feeling as bad for the little toy as I did for him.

“Oh!” my fearless leader said in cheerful surprise.

The other kids began to gather around.

“We could send him friends.”  I said.  “We could send him friends so that he’s not alone.  Here goes Mr. Pop Bottle.”  I said, and the pop bottle plummeted down the depths through the grate.

“Here comes Mr. dinner plate.” Said one of the other kids, and they dropped the plate into the grate like some kids dropped quarters into an arcade machine.

“Manhole cover” said one of the beefier boys, and the manhole cover slipped as easily through the grate as cookie down a well.

“And here comes Mr. Fork.”  I said, taking a bent up, rusty fork from my backpack, noticing, as it made its way down, that it became caught on a window the size of one that adults ask vagrant kids to slip into to gain access to the basements of “the Haves” so that they could do the business of robbing.  The fork got up on its own two legs and waved its tine hello goodbye, and continued down, down, to the pale, flat stone where the bottle had shattered, the car had squeaky-wheeled its full-grown way into a trench, and a the dish and manhole formed two parts of a magical seal in the ring of amber light at the bottom.  And we kids were on our way down the shaft.  We kids found ourselves inside.  We beat Mr. Fork to the bottom.  But Mr. Fork, for all his friendly tine-waving, had his own agenda. He alighted on a balcony at the top of an ornate set of spiral stairs.  His tines grew long, whip-like and thin until the two redundant ones in the center disappeared altogether and he was more like a tuning fork than what one would use to eat dinner.  He slicked his shiny two locks back.  He hopped around on two funny legs.  He presented the curtain behind him with his newly sprouted arms and hands and it flushed my veins with a tingling, hot and cold and stinging, rushing behind my ears until they felt full and deaf.  That curtain was green canvas that was frayed around the plastic tube boning.  That curtain was the top of my backpack. 

My fearless leader laughed, “This IS a good trick!”  But it’s not, darling, it’s not!  This trick is not by my control!  I wanted to say but the guilt, oh the guilt, how it slammed the tingling in my veins to the cold side until the feeling that had been filling up my ears left with a sudden pop.  I closed my eyes and Mr fork was firmly planted in my fist, poised and ready to strike the man I was sharing the bench of the lunchtable with.  His blood was the rust that stained Mr. Fork’s belly, his screams were like the foghorn blasting above through the fog of days passed on the distant parking lot shore, at a time when I was still respectable and still trying to play along with their game for the sake of my children.  It was indeed not a trick of my control because as he grabbed me and shook me I was no longer employed, no longer respectable, no longer making the excuse but my kids are waiting for me because kids don’t wait patiently for employers to be done with grownups, and I struck out. 

And all the children huddled around me as the chamber began to shake. 

There came a sound of rushing, and it filled the cylindrical chamber until our screams went deaf.

Mr. Fork pulled back his curtain.  He offered us shelter in hell.  The structure around began to wave, began to splinter, began to crack.  I grabbed hands and ran towards a dim light much like the sunset on an African savannah, tall prarrie grasses, sharp, shrubby trees.  All the screaming all the shaking all the roaring the destruction collapsed behind us like an elevator clearing a floor, like clearing another chamber, another past.  And as we looked around I realized that we had been sent to a time where there were no such things as offices or elevators, parking lots or forks, toy cars or manhole covers, only this, only this. 

“Mama, what was that?”  asked my oldest child.

“The devil” was my explanation, feeling quite confident that some benevolent force had made our lives easier by transporting us to a time where wild, vagrant, tribal children could live and breed and die in freedom. 

 


© Copyright 2018 Keisha Gamman. All rights reserved.

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