Written by Trey Briggs

The three men nearly drooled. I gripped my shirt a little harder and steadied myself. The thought of them touching me, of them hurting me, it sat in my feet and crawled upward until I had to stop myself from whimpering. But I stood there. 

 

It’s not the hunger, obviously. I don’t get hungry. I don’t eat. I don’t worry about that. 

 

It’s the elements – cold, heat, rain, darkness, all of that. It’s the staring, from children to elders to everyone between. I’m more noticeable than I ever imagined. It’s the smell. The men offered my shelter from all of that if I just … did things. Who knows if this is worth it, but I’d rather try this than sleep on another bench. I’m sick of the homelessness. I’m sick of it. 

 

I don’t have anywhere to go. 

 

“$30 each, right?” One of them spoke. His voice curled into me harsh and quick, and I blubbered before I could stop myself. They weren’t supposed to speak to me. 

 

In the shows I used to watch with Osh, girls who did this type of thing didn’t have to talk much. It was just an exchange. Osh used to say that nobody wanted to hear what they had to say, anyway. It sat wrong with me, and I didn’t know why. He cared so much about the women in his life, but he couldn’t extend grace to the women on television, couldn’t imagine being in a situation where sex was a service.

 

It’s just an exchange.

 

The same one spoke again, but I couldn’t hear him. I didn’t dare ask him to repeat it. I couldn’t make out his features. I couldn’t look at him. I thought of Osh and wondered what things looked like for him now. I wondered if he forgave me yet, if he would stop staring at walls with his eyes wide enough to rip when I was around. If all he saw was me covered in his mother’s blood. 

 

I don’t have anything else to think about.

 

“Sure. I don’t want to be hurt. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m … young.”

 

“It’s cool. We have some fun, and you can stay here for a while. That’s all. Promise.” I heard the rustling sound of money and swallowed hard, hard enough to hurt my throat. Astor the whore. 

 

“Okay. I don’t know what to do.” One of them snickered at my proper pronunciation. I looked out the window. It was seldom cold enough for jackets and yet, here, snow. Something pretty to look at while demons devoured me. 

 

One of them ran his hand up my thigh, and I stepped back a little. The apartment we were in reeked of weed. Beer. Mature things that I didn’t understand but probably would soon. My mother didn’t partake in anything but wine, but it left her wobbling and heavy often enough to teach me. Alcohol was for escape. These men favored escape over real life. 

 

Osh would hate them.

 

I felt pressure in my head but kept steady. You don’t let people like this see you falter. I knew that much.

 

“Go clean up and come out. Leave the clothes in the bathroom.” He placed money in my hand, $90 crumbled dollars. I nodded to the floor and escaped to the tiny, dirty bathroom. Every inch of me seemed to contract, an ugly noise begging to rip from my throat, but I steadied. This was the life my mother left me. This was a thing I had to do, just like the other things I had to do. It would happen, it would be terrible, it would be over, and then I’d have somewhere to go. I could clean the bathroom later. 

 

Slowly, I stripped off my grimy clothes, folded them neatly, and placed them on a pile of clothes on the floor—Astor the forgotten. I missed my mother’s impeccable stockings and chandelier earrings. I missed her hands sweeping my hair back into beautiful updos.

 

I stared at my underwear and finally gagged. My stomach lurched, and I barely made it to the dirt-ridden toilet, stomach acid filling the bowl. There were no towels to clean up with, so I wiped my mouth and ignored the smell. 

 

It wasn’t like they would care. 

 

Naked, hair tied in a useless ponytail, I opened the door. 

 

Blood covered the ceiling, the floors, the walls. An insane smell filled my nose, but I was used to it. Death smelled like feces and urine and vomit. It smelled like a physical release. This type of death, the type where my mother blew brains out and slit throats and snapped necks, I was too familiar with it. 

 

Three hands sat on the floor, facing me, piles of money in two and a bloodstained machete in the other. I picked up the machete, shaking, too scared to look around. Too afraid to see if she was still there. On the wall, fresh and dripping, was a sentence written in blood and a single handprint.

 

WHERE IS YOUR PRIDE

 

I put my hand over the hand print, wanting to feel like I was near her again, wanting to make her take me back.  

 

The words on the wall seared into my hand, almost. I crumpled, rage folding me, and plopped down on the blood-soaked carpet. My pride. Where was my pride? The woman who murdered my father, murdered Osh’s mother, tried to kill me every chance she got, she wanted to know where my pride was? When she was the one who abandoned me to this life? While I slept in the street and ran from disgusting men and shivered in the rain? A scream stuck in me, rotted me, tore me to fucking pieces, but I just sat there.

 

I just sat there and wished I could cry.

Don't Stop There!
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Astor has always wondered what Alicia wanted. In these hard days of her youth (between her father’s death and her transition into Noah’s household), she wondered the most.

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