Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nothing Good Ever Happens Here: Part 2 by Katherine Harbour


The hotel lobby was busy the next morning, which made things normal. Christie and Leon met up and decided to search for the other five writers of the young poet contest.
   "There." Leon pointed to a girl with her black hair in braids. She looked up at them from the coffee bar, then sauntered over, a Styrofoam cup on in one hand.
   "Marisol." She held out her other hand. Christie shook it and he and Leon introduced themselves.
   "Do you think it'll get wild later on?" Christie indicated the other guests.
   "Poets aren't as rock star as they were way back when." Marisol indicated the front entrance. "Someone told me about a great cafe nearby. Want to walk?"
   "Let's go." As Leon headed for the doors, Christie swept a glance around the lobby, looking for the intriguing auburn-haired girl he'd seen last night.
Marisol was from a local suburb and knew her way around the area. She took them on a brief tour after breakfast. They wandered down streets lined with old houses, some of which were boarded up, their yards now jungles of weeds and creepers. They found a used bookstore and argued mildly about which poets deserved their fame and which ones were overrated.
   They reached the convention center and stayed together to attend panels and explore the booksellers' stalls. Christie learned that his new friends had each written pieces that, like Christie, they would be reading tomorrow.
   They took the bus back to the hotel and separated with plans to meet up later.
   Restless after being inside all day, Christie wandered into the garden, which seemed wild despite the topiary and the paved paths leading to roundabouts, the last path ending near a wood of tall pines, dark and foreboding. He saw the black glimmer of water beyond the trees.
   He turned and found a girl sitting on the base of a statue depicting a Native American chieftain. Her golden hair was fashioned in a stylish bob. Despite the cold, she wore a little white dress and a red hoodie that matched her sneakers. She was watching him, her face remote.
  "Are you one of the poets?" she asked idly.
   "I am. Are you?"
   "No. Didn't you hear me coming up the path?"
   He didn't want to explain why he hadn't heard her. "Were you trying to sneak up on me?"
   "I've been sitting here watching you for about five minutes."
   "I'm flattered, really. 'And this is why I sojourn here, alone and palely loitering, though the sedge is withered from the vine, and no birds sing.'"
   She narrowed her eyes. "Why did you choose that particular line from that particular poem?"
   Usually, girls who weren't into poetry assumed he'd made up any he spoke. He figured their deceased authors, most of whom had been players, wouldn't mind. "I thought you weren't a poet?"
   "I'm not." She stood up and began to walk along the rim of the fountain. "My family owns this hotel. My father. My mom is probably somewhere in Morocco or Paris having cocktails."
   "Oh." He didn't know how to respond to this bitter and light-hearted statement about parental abandonment. "I'm Christie."
   She glanced at him. "I'm Clara."
   "Is that a pond or a lake?" He peered through the trees at the black shine of water.
   When she didn't answer, he tapped his ear. He heard a slight buzzing and turned his head.
   Clara stood with her hands over her face. Concerned, he moved toward her. "Clara? Hey--"
   "I have to go." She whirled and ran back along the path.
   "Fantastic." He turned to face the woods which seemed excessively dark for even an overcast afternoon.
   Then a shadow--tall and narrow--moved between one tree and the next, blocking out the water for an instant.
   Christie told himself, That wasn't anything.
   His phone buzzed. He nearly screamed. Teeth gritted, he pulled it from his back pocket.
   He frowned at the text from Leon. HEY. WHERE R U?
It was Marisol who suggested a cab ride to one of her favorite restaurants.
   As the cab made its way through a neighborhood where every other building looked as if it had undergone an individual catastrophe, Christie saw that phrase again, graffitied across another wall.
   Nothing good ever happens here.
   "Is this a safe neighborhood to be in?" Leon peered out the window.
   "Blight." The cab driver, an old man with a heavy Russian accent, glanced at them in the rear view mirror. "Urban blight."
   "Well, yeah, but things are getting better," Marisol said defensively.
   The cab driver said something in Russian. Christie whispered to Leon, "This is where he says something weird and disturb--"
   "They cause blight. When they are not happy." The driver shook his head.
   "Who is 'they', sir?" Christie tried to keep a straight face. Marisol nudged him.
   The cab driver didn't answer.
   They rounded a corner and Marisol said, "There is is. The best Thai food you'll ever experience."
   As Leon and Marisol ducked out into the rainy night, Christie handed over his credit card to the driver. The man said, almost absentmindedly, "In Romania, they are called leshi."
   "Excuse me?" Christie frowned.
   "The leshi..." The driver spoke matter-of-factly, handing the card back. "They have come into your cities--the worst of them."
   "The worst of what?" Christie stepped back. "Is that a gang or--"
   "You." The driver shook a finger at him as music pulsed from a club across the street. "Careful. They like redheads."
   "'kay..." Christie said carefully and watched the cab take off.
   Across the street, in front of a nightclub flashing neon letters that spelled out DIAMOND JACK'S, a group of extremely attractive people were gathered. Although their clothes were modern, they had a distinct antique look. The music from the club sounded wild, with a woman's voice wailing in another language.
   After dinner, Marisol took them to another used bookstore. Christie found a first edition Walt Whitman and an illustrated copy of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. As he selected some old copies of Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels--his friend Sylvie would love them--the bells above the door tinkled.
   A girl with auburn hair and a boy whose curls glinted like flames had entered. The girl wore a black suede hoodie and tartan trousers. A headband of tiny rhinestones glinted in her hair. She was the girl he'd seen in the hotel lobby. As she moved gracefully with her companion to the glass case of first edition books, she glanced over her shoulder and the fluorescent lighting made her eyes glow like a cat's. Christie thought he heard her companion, in buckled boots and jeans  and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, call her Phouka, before they moved further into the shadows of the bookshop.
   Phouka, he thought, fascinated. What a fantastic name.

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