Arc 2 · Between Two Worlds

8.4 His Neighborhood

#drug abuse #exploitation

“Hand it over.”

“I swear that’s the last of it. I don’t got any more!”

“Fifty?! Don’t try to fool us! Ya been workin’ at that deli for days now!”

“That’s all my tips! I still gotta survive.” One of the men punched him so hard that his head slammed into the pillar behind. His bag thumped to the ground.

“Ya survive by givin’ us money! Now hand the rest over!” The thug flicked a blade at the guy’s throat.

The men started bashing him when they realised he only had a hundred simoleans on him. Athena was furious. She retrieved her wand from her sleeve – the spell to confundle readied at her lips. If only she knew Sage Morgyn’s lightning spells! Those thugs deserve it!

“Young spellcaster, do not interfere.”

She looked at the reaper with incredulous rage for telling her to stop.

“You mustn’t! I have shielded you with Grim’s cloak. At present, you are deemed absent in fate’s eyes. But should you intervene on your own, you will weave yourself into their lives.” He spoke solemnly. “You are an observer, nothing more.”

The muggers left after they extorted all he had. The bruised and battered man retrieved his belongings and pulled himself up, hastily limping away as if he feared any other who might find him an easy target. Athena turned away from the scene; she had just stood by and watched an innocent man get robbed and beaten. In that moment, she hated herself.

“Let’s move along now.” Grim said. She pressed her shaky hands together and followed.

Her emotions trashed inside her as she watched yet another crime that night. She thought of the homeowner returning to discover all his valuables stolen, his house ransacked and ruined. Or the children who would go to school come Monday only to see their hard work vandalised over the weekend. She could taste the bile rising in her mouth. Why was she here again? At this point, she didn’t care anymore. She wanted to jinx everyone.

As they turned the corner, Grim pointed a bony finger at a worn door by the broken payphone. A neon sign hung over it, but nothing else identified the place. “Here we are,” said Grim.

Athena couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread as she climbed the musky stairs. It’s narrow walls were vandalised beyond recognition. She focused on her feet, ignoring the scribbles, the loan shark and escort numbers, hate messages and disturbing images on its walls. They arrived at the second floor.

She couldn’t quite make out the place at first, except that it suffocated her with cigarette smoke. Walls were built where railings should be, and Grim blocked most of the narrow view in front of her. Once they got past the host’s desk, she found herself in a dank bar. The walls were gritty, unfinished and had a grimy, yellow sheen. It was so dim that Athena could barely make out a few feet in front of her, for the only light source were a single bare bulb atop the bar and some candles at the farther tables.

The moment she saw the woman on the couch, she realised something was amiss. She had never been to a club nor a bar, but the woman’s promiscuous outfit and heavy make-up was a dead giveaway of her profession.

Her heart hammered in her chest as she trailed her gaze across the entire room, taking in the working girl soliciting a client by the bar, the pole dancer to her left and the men who watched with predatory eyes. That was when she noticed some had dazed looks and there were disturbing objects on their table.

She ran after Grim who had continued to glide towards the private seats, oblivious to her plight. This part of the lounge was quieter and darker. She made out a warren of rooms veiled by curtains. A lady and her client, for he wore a look of satisfaction, exited from one of them. On the table to her left, men inhaled through a cylindrical glass unknown to her. There was a couple right in front of her, but Athena refused to look anymore. She forcefully peeled her eyes from her surroundings and called out to Grim reaper, begging him to stop.

“Let’s get out of here.” She pleaded, the fear plain on her face. “I’ve had enough. I don’t want to be here.”

“Do you not remember why we’re here? I am to show you his-“

“I don’t remember and I don’t care why we came here anymore! This place is horrible! I feel unsafe, scared, violated! I–” She caught a glimpse of the final couple in front of her through the mirror. The man had pulled his companion’s hair back for a second, allowing Athena to see her face. Despite her thick eyeliner and bold lipstick, the girl was under-aged, maybe her age. She was clearly intoxicated or drugged, her limp body supported only by the man’s shoulders. Another man sat down beside her, presumably the male’s friend. Instinctively, Athena’s hand flew to her wand. Her mind screamed at her to stop them from taking advantage of the girl, but the reaper’s words were a ball of chain. She watched in helpless horror as one of them glided his hand under the table. The girl turned her head weakly, but that was all she could do. “Please!! I don’t want to see anymore of this!” Athena cried.

“Are you sure you won’t seek the boy ever again?” Unconvinced, Grim turned and gave a wave at the mirror. The mirror revealed itself to be a two-way. His magic allowed her to peer beyond it as if it were an ordinary window.

The pit of her stomach dropped, for there he sat behind the mirror, looking at ease in mid-conversation with the owner of the place. “Curtis! Why…” her chin trembled as she pressed her face to the glass.


Note:

  • As we get to the crux of the story, here’s a friendly reminder to please, please please (100x) check the warning labels from here on out and decide if you should skip chapter/s for your best interest. I’m a big softie so hopefully that negated some of my need for realism. Bottom line is please check warning labels and decide for yourself! Thanks for reading!

25 thoughts on “8.4 His Neighborhood

  1. This kind of reminds me of the ghosts of Christmas from A Christmas Carol, except what Athena saw was much darker. Curtis is in a completely different world than Athena, and I feel bad that Athena had to see what she saw. But Curtis seems like he has a good heart, I hope he will be able to find a way out and there are good things in store for him. 🙂

    1. The ghosts of christmas carol is an epic story! I never saw it that way but you’re right. There’s quite the similarity here. I feel very bad for her. My mind was always in a tug of war state between idealism and reality. Realism won here. :/

  2. I really want to know what is so important to Curtis that he can more or less watch by standing how these things happen, and not do anything. Or get out.

  3. This was dark. I’m thinking that Curtis in his quest for vengeance must have lost part of his humanity. He can’t be the same person after having to look away when all those bad things were happening around him.

    1. Yes, it only gets progressively darker. This part onwards is where I pulled my story from the forums and stopped updating there. Curtis retains some humanity (still came to Athena’s aid in ch3) but there are parts of him that are not as upstanding. 😬

  4. You’ve definitely depicted the seediness well. I have a bad feeling about this. Athena is invisible for now, but what Grim said about her no longer being shielded sounds ominous.

  5. That was beautifully gruesome, if that’s a thing. Horror makes me shudder in revulsion, but it’s an honest emotion. My least favorite is suspense, if you can believe that.

    I think I would’ve reacted exactly as Athena did. Spot on.
    She wanted to use those spells so badly, but I kept thinking of the consequences she might face. She, like many teens, doesn’t have the ability to see the big picture, the longer and drawn out… I can’t think of the word, and I have to leave for work. It’s like conclusion but not or like effect… bah. You know what I mean. 🙂

    1. Oof! I’ve never thought of not liking a certain emotion before. Do you mean not liking when writers try to invoke these emotions in their writing? Because for me, Id just not like every negative emotion haha!

      Yeah I can totally imagine her reaction as mine. Oof sheltered? Or.. narrow focused? Limited understanding? 🤣 i think so. I don’t quite know the vocabulary here.

      1. I actually was thinking of what movies I like (working in film wires me that way). But the same goes for books. I’d honestly rather be horrified than full of suspense. It’s too close to anxious.

        Your vocabulary works. 🙂

  6. This chapter is the darkest one so far. It must have been hard for Athena to see all these things. It was certainly hard for me, stumbling from one horror into another. I can’t quite believe Curtis would stand by and let these things happen but I guess I don’t actually know him yet.

    1. Yes Curtis’s life is very different with Athena’s. :\ I know what you mean. It’s quite horrible to experience it in person. And yes you’re right. He’s definitely not doing anything about it here.

    1. Yeah. She’s only 15 and she might have caught a glimpse of violence between Curtis and Steve before, but to be at the center of it is a very.. not life-changing. Something akin to… morals being challenged? LOL. One day I will find the right words.

  7. :(((((( This isn’t going to turn out well. I’m really sorry Athena had to see this, it’s such a horrible world and she has nothing to do there.

    Side note, I think you did a really good job of setting up this seedy underbelly of the world full of selfish and dangerous behaviors and vices. Well done.

  8. “…but the woman’s promiscuous outfit…” Man, this line did some heavy lifting emphasizing Athena’s naiveté. Especially since I scrolled down and the woman’s showing less skin than Athena herself is, and is even dressed more professionally in a nice blouse and miniskirt. I’ll join her in being horrified at the trafficking of underage girls and commodification of female bodies. That being said, that vertical split move is something else, and if there’s a pole installed in the seedy apartment, everyone’s gotta have amazing core strength by now. But “Athena walked in and couldn’t focus on anything but the fully clothed woman doing an awesome split, and she wondered how many years of gymnastics training it took to do. ‘Whoa! That’s a pretty sweet split,’ she said to Grim,” isn’t in character, so “promiscuous outfit” to describe a professional daytime ensemble it is, then.

    After that, I’m 100% on Grim’s side regarding his decision to sigh and say “alright Pollyanna, let’s go downtown.” I’d be facepalming after her pearl-clutching at muggings, burglary, and VANDALISM!! Again, it’s understandable for her background and personality, but Grim’s probably standing here like… yep, what did you expect after I led you into a seedy apartment.

    Curtis isn’t actively participating, but he’s not condoning this either. Knowing him, I’d guess he’d rather this not be happening, but he feels powerless to stop it. Even though, from what we’ve seen, he’s not exactly powerless.

  9. That was upsetting for someone like her to see and then to see Curtis in a back room all comfortable like this is where he belonged. Sigh. I wonder what she’ll do now? I still think she’s going to try to ‘save’ him from himself. Whatever that really means. And she keeps trying to learn more ‘dark’ magic to do it. She’s on a very slippery slope.

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