Night Spooks


des2_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Night Spooks
Synopsis Des promised to leave the door cracked open, and Squeaks decided she really didn't want to be alone.
Date August 19, 2018

Staten Island Trade Commission, Des' room

It’s well past dark. There’s no light outside save for the distant and dim flicker of a flame and the stars that speckle the sky between clouds. Inside it’s much the same. Only there’s no stars, and probably no candles left burning unattended. It’s also very quiet. Way too quiet. One can almost hear the subtle shifting and settling of the old building and the hushed lapping of water in the harbor.

And maybe even the whisper of a door opening.

It’s happened twice already, and both times were followed by the very light click of a latch catching. The third time it happens, small feet follow in cautious, quiet steps.

Jac doesn’t need light to know the way through the dark. She also doesn’t need to have seen anything of the inside to find her way around the unfamiliar building. She can see, after a fashion, in imagery drawn by a near-silent series of squeaks and clicks. The map it creates is amazing, and another time she might find herself doing some uninvited exploring. But this night it helps her to find her way, tippy toeing down the hall to the door that was promised to still be open.

She stands in front of the door for a long, long minute, wavering between seeing if Des is true to her word or returning to the room she’d been given for the night. It’s a hard choice. But eventually she’s pushing the door open a teeny bit further, just enough to not quiet stick her head into the room, so she can almost whisper, “Des?”

Desdemona’s head lifts from the pillow when she hears her name. There’s no alarm, as though she had been waiting for that door to open when it did. “Mm?” She turns a knob on the lantern next to her bed, allowing the flame to grow from a small ember to something that better illuminates the corner of the room where she rests on her bed.

“Come on in.” Des turns down the sheet from her chin and lets it pool in her lap as she sits up. She gestures to the end of the bed, or the bench at its foot. Whatever her visitor feels most comfortable with. “Can’t sleep?”

There isn’t any sound of retreat, but the door doesn’t open further either. Not right away even though she was invited in. Jac stares at the space between the door and the frame for a minute after some light has crept into the room. Just knowing the promise was kept could be enough to slink back to the room she’d come from. But she doesn’t.

“It’s too quiet.” The explanation comes with the door finally swinging open, just far enough for the girl to slip through. She lingers not far inside, eyes wandering in habitual curiosity, until they settle on the doctor lady. Then hesitant steps take her a little further into the room to perch on the foot of the bed.

“It does get very quiet around here,” Des agrees with a little frown. “It’s not like the Safe Zone.” Which is comparatively quieter than the life she was used to before the war, but compared to the still of Staten Island after dark… “Would you like to join me, Jac? I’d be glad for your company.”

There’s a secret little smile there just for her visitor. “I have trouble sleeping,” Des confides. “If you want to sit with me for a while, I’d like that.”

“There’s always noise,” Jac agrees. Even in the Underneath there was noise, hissing valves and tumbling water. And Above it was different noises, outside sounds and people sounds. She looks down to fidget with the bottom of her sweater, responding with a small nod.

“It’s really big here,” she observes almost conversationally, taking the invitation to stay for reals and not just politeness. She even scoots slightly, so she’s more sitting and less perched and poised to leave quickly if she needs. “How come it’s bad if that Leo-Alister finds out I’m here?”

“It is. This is one of the bigger places I’ve stayed.” Absently, Des smooths over the sheet in her lap with her palms. To Jac’s question, she considers a moment how to answer it. “Not that long ago, there was a girl who lived here, maybe a little bit younger than you. Alister cared for her a great deal, but she stole from him.” That’s an overly simplified version of events, but succinct enough to make sense.

“It broke his heart,” Des continues with some genuine sympathy for her host. “Because of that, he’s very wary of strangers. Especially so of ones that would remind him of her. I think things would be okay, but Margaux doesn’t want to rock the boat, and I try to abide by her wishes.” She is her friend after all, and a big part of the reason she’s allowed to hide here.

“You shouldn’t steal from the helpers.” It’s said as an observation, lacking any judgement for whatever happened. Squeaks’ thumbs rub over the soft weave of her sweater, head bobbing in a small nod to her own words. “I won’t steal. I don’t want to go in the river again.” That’s as much a cross-her-heart promise as if she’d said so.

Pulling her hands away from her sweater, the teen wraps her arms around her middle. “How come you’re here,” she asks after mulling over the question for a bit. Sure, even smuggler people might need doctors sometimes, but, “You don’t seem like a… like Etienne. Margaux either. She’s really fancy.”

There’s a small nod from Des that accompanies Jac’s observations. “Don’t worry. I didn’t think you would steal from anyone here.” And if she did, Des isn’t sure she’d blame her in the least. “And I wouldn’t let anyone put you in the river even if you did.”

The question Jac asks next has Desdemona’s brows lifting in mild surprise. She’s used to the assumption that she’s done something to warrant her presence in exile. For someone to assume the opposite is novel, and gratifying in a way that’s unexpected. “Well…” She frowns thoughtfully, trying to decide how best to explain her situation. “I don’t really have anywhere else to go.” Again, that’s a grossly over-simplified version of the situation, but the whole truth would have them up all night, and would probably lead to the girl no longer trusting the doctor.

“And I really like New York, so I stay here rather than leaving.” That much is at least the truth no matter how you slice it.

“The Safe Zone has all kinds of places.” Even as she says it, though, Jac can understand on some levels how those places wouldn’t be so great. Some of the places for homeless youths and even grown-ups aren’t the best places. “I lived in the Underneath for a long time, because I had nowhere to go Above.”

The girl looks at her toes, which tap together slowly. “Do you miss the Safe Zone? There’s bad places out here, more than there. But there’s electricity and… there’s dumplings in the market. And there’s the library.”

“I miss it there a lot.” Des smiles sadly, thinking of the life she left behind when she came here. “The library is one of my favorite places.” Not that she spent much time there - too afraid to - but the bare fact that it exists makes her happy.

Deflecting from her own situation, she answers the other part of Jac’s question. “I’m not sure why Margaux stays here. I suppose she wants to look after her brother. She’s the kind of person that I think can make herself at home anywhere.” Whether she’d be happy or not is a different story, but Margaux knows how to keep her eyes sharp for an opportunity. Des appreciates that about her.

“I like the library, too. I go there a lot, almost every day.” Except not today, even though she might have made it over there if she hadn’t gotten taken. Jac watches her toes tap together, a touch of her earlier worried sadness creeping into her expression. The shift in subject to Margaux brings her gaze up though, and a small nod.

“Probably because she’s fancy.” Since fancy people just seem to do that, make themselves belong wherever. “She knows a lot, too.” It’s not so much a new observation but confirming what’s already been said.

Her mouth starts to form another question, or idle observation — which is really just a question without the inflection — but she changes her mind and lets out a small breath instead. “I’m sorry I woke you up,” Jac decides on saying instead, since it’s really late.

“You didn’t.” Des shakes her head and quells the urge to reach out to the skittish girl. She wants to offer her a hug, but not everyone is assured that way. She wasn’t at that age. “Did you want to stay in here with me?” The bed is large enough for two. Even with frames less slight than theirs. “I don’t mind it. This place can be kind of spooky.”

The question catches her off guard. Jac doesn’t answer right away, but she does send a side-eye type look at Des. It’s not entirely suspicious, like it had been some few hours before, but it’s a little bit more confused. Offers such as company when lonely and afraid, and understanding about the scary spookiness of night are probably things she’s never experienced in childhood. The discomfort of not knowing how to answer comes with her arms snugging more tightly around her middle.

“Here.” It’s a question. And for a long second after it’s said, she just stares at her toes that are still tap-tap-tapping. It isn’t so alone, even if it isn’t home. The girl lifts her head and lets her eyes wander around the room until they come back to Des who then gets a slow and shy nod.

Des smiles and pats the empty space on the other side of the bed once. “When I was your age,” she tells the girl, “I had a room in a basement. It was really quiet there. But I was used to that. My first night in the city, I didn’t think I’d ever sleep. There was just so much noise.

She’s a little wistful, even if she is recounting a childhood of captivity. It was simpler then, because she didn’t know any better. “I used to listen to a lot of records. I’d put one on and crawl into bed, and when it would finish, the player would keep spinning. I’d just hear the quiet hiss of the needle circling the end of the record, and that’s what I’d fall asleep to at night.”

The space being offered is looked at with that same timidity, even as she scoots to sit there instead of the foot of the bed. She half turns, intending to make herself small, but pauses when Des starts speaking again. “They kept me in my room if I wasn’t at school or their friends weren’t visiting.” The look into her own past is offered quietly, like a small bit of understanding to having a room in a basement.

Jac finishes turning, though it still takes her some seconds to settle all the nervous fidgeting, but soon she’s gotten herself half curled with her head pillowed in her arms. “You’re a nice person,” is said decisively after a yawn, muffled slightly by an arm that’s scrubbed against her eyes.

There’s a frown at the mention that Jac was similarly kept locked away. By her parents or a foster family, she imagines. If she’s with Gillian now, and she was living in the sewer before that, she no longer has either. Sometimes, Des imagines, that’s for the best.

“Thank you.” It isn’t often someone tells her that she’s nice. Des accepts the compliment graciously, and turns down the lamp so the room gets a little darker. “I’m glad you think so. I was very mean when I was younger. I was angry with the world and I took it out on other people. I’m trying to do better.” She slides down to rest her head on her pillow, a small yawn escaping her lips.

While it isn’t difficult for her to imagine mean and angry grown-ups, putting that kind of image on Des seems a little odd to Jac. She shifts slightly, head turning enough to look over at her. She doesn’t say anything, perhaps just trying to give a dubious look at the idea of meanness, but settles again soon after. “You’re nice,” she says again. In her mind whatever happened before is behind now, things to remember as learned and that’s it.

With the room gone darker, she lets her eyes wander to pick up the changes. Deeper shadows make things different. But it’s done quietly and she keeps the fidgety habit as still as she can. Eventually she yawns again, and her head turns to hide it against her arm. “Thank you for being nice,” she says very quietly, after rubbing at the sleepiness and shouldering herself into a more comfortable spot.

“You’re welcome.” Des slides down to rest her head on her pillow, staring up at the shadows that dance on the ceiling in the occasional flicker of the lamp. “You make it very easy to be nice, Jac.” And she wants to wrap the girl up in a hug and protect her from the awful world outside this darkened room.

But Odessa Price isn’t capable of protecting anyone from the evils of this world. Tomorrow, they’ll return to the librarian.

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