A Shadowlander's Tale: The Lingering Shadows Within
Written by Kathryn K Williams
Inside we were faced with two decisions. There was a hallway directly in front of us and a stairway off to our right. I am not really sure what was down that hallway, but I was usually steered clear of that area by the other ladies. Something about it being used by a lot of the gay men that visited here. Our Place was open to all, but attracted primarily a lesbian crowd downstairs. So without a second thought we started on our way down the winding set of stair that were claustrophobic to say the least. The stairs were unpleasantly steep and circled around a couple time with only the bulb from the above hallway to light our path. I could feel the cold air seeping through the crumbling brick walls and wondered why no one ever cared to insulate these walls. It must be hell on the heating bills during these cold months, but I guess if they were to add in some insulation and drywall it would only add to the cramped feeling the stairwell already had. I glanced down at the stairs under my feet, being sure to keep an eye out for crumbling steps. The stair themselves were decaying from water damage and foot traffic. Someone years ago tried to cover them up with a red carpet that was now so worn down from the constant traffic it had turned black in the middle and the only sign that it was ever red was near the edges.
"Careful there, Beth." I warned as I pointing out a step that appeared to be ready to completely come free if it wasn't for the carpet keeping the cement in place. I hopped over the step and offered the woman my hand.
Beth accepted my hand and stretched one of her slender legs over the broken step, "Yeah, I hate that step too." She stated, grimacing at the stairs, "You would think they would have put some money into this stairwell instead of spending it on more pool tables."
"I like pool table." I remarked with a light chuckle then wiped the smile off my face when I saw the serious look upon Beth's face, "But yeah, they should really do something about this area. I wish they could open up the front door so we were not forced to come this way all the time."
Beth sighed, "As if that will ever happen in our lifetime." She stated miserably.
I tried to think of a way to reassure her, but with the mayor of our town trying to shut down Pride week it was kind of hard to think of something positive to say, "One can never tell what the future will hold." I remarked simply.
"I sure wish there was a way too." Beth returned flatly.
Something pretty bad must have happed to the woman for her to be so negative. Beth was usually filled with so much life and laughter. It was unusual for her to be down about anything. It really worried me all the more, but I decided I would not push matters until a better time.
We finally reached the last step to find ourselves standing at the end of a long thin hallway. A hallway that barely gave enough space for the both of us to walk side by side. The walls were freshly painted since the renovations, but for some odd reason I could still see the yellowing stains, peeling paint and cracks that lined the walls since the first day I visited this place. For me it was as if the past and present blended together in this hall and it gave me a dreadful feeling. The single bulb attached to the ceiling did not help relieve that feeling as it made our shadows stretch out around us as we moved under it. We saw another woman step out through an rainbow bead covered opening at the end of the hall and I could feel Beth hold close to me. It was almost as if she was afraid of the woman. As the woman passed by and I exchanged a greeting then we squeezed up against the wall to allow each other through. This place had a way to force people to be cozy or they would need to leave rather quickly. I wonder how many people never got passed the stairwell, never mind this ridiculous hall.
We came across the women's washroom, which had no door, and I could hear the faint sounds of someone making out in one of the stalls. Sex in the washrooms never appealed to me and I wondered why so many resorted to such an activity. The stalls were barely clean and I could not stand using them even when I needed to take a pee. The thought of being pushed up against those grimy walls made me shutter, but at the same time it perked the curiosity of my darker side and I felt a need to force it away yet again. I glanced down at Beth and bit my lip. Sex was the one thing that this girl was not interested in at this time. She needed a friend right now and not a lover. I shoved the horniness out of my mind as we approached the bead covered door and could hear the faint sounds of 80s soft rock drifting from within.
"Ladies first." I said politely as I parted the beads that draped over the entrance and allowed my friend to enter, "May I take your jacket, my lady?" I offered as I reached for her jacket.
Beth giggled as she took off her jacket and held it out to me, "Thank you so much." She said with a smile that I could tell was only half hearted. She wore a spaghetti string tank that complemented her features kindly and I found myself needing to look away before I stared too long.
I quickly glanced around the room, taking in the scene and searching for a place to sit and talk. We stood at the back of the bar which was taken up by a set of four pool table, two of which were in use by a group of leather clad diesel dykes. Tucked beside the pool area was a space dedicated to several black leather couches and coffee tables set in circles. This was my favourite place to be when I'm visiting. I enjoyed stretching out on a couch with a book in hand and a girl curled up with me. They even added in some smaller night tables with table lamps upon them that gave the place a very comforting feeling. It really did feel like home away from home. I could relax there forever if I was allowed too. I'd even fell asleep here on a couple of occasions, to be awoken by a friend jumping on me. The wonders of friends, one could alway count of them to be there for you.
The DJ's booth was located off to the right of the couches and the sound system focussed mainly around this area. In the middle was an empty space for dancing when the mood hits. At the far end of the room, which would have been the front if the main door had not been bolted shut and covered up with newspaper print, was the bar and dinning area. At that time I was a little hungry for I had missed dinner and decided that would be the best place for us to sit down for a chat. It was the quietest area of the club and a nice place to eat and catch up on old times.
"You hunger?" I inquired of Beth as we carefully wove our way passed the pool players.
"Not really." Beth replied with a shrug, which told me that she was hungry and just did not want to admit it.
"Well, I hope you don't mind me ordering some food because I'm starved." I remarked while patting my stomach.
"I don't mind." Beth stated simply. She seemed to be distracted by something and I glanced around to see what could have caught her eye, but saw nothing of importance.
Everywhere there were many pretty faces, some I recognized and others I probably would know soon enough, that is if they stuck around long enough to be considered regulars. I noticed a few gay men here and there, but for the most part they were just friends of many of the ladies and not on the prowl. I smiled and waved to a few friendly faces on the couches, but for the life of me I could not see what could have been bothering my friend. I guess I will have to find out while we eat.
"Listen," I turned to her and looked her in the eye, making sure she returned my gaze, "I'm going to order some food. Will you be alright on your own for a moment?" I inquired gently.
She wrapped her hands around her bare elbows, "I... I guess..." Her eyes darted around the room as if she were in search of something that might attack her. Again I quickly searched for what she could be afraid of to see nothing. I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her tight.
"You are safe here." I softly reminded her, "No one here will hurt you. I promise you that." I felt her arms squeeze me lightly and let go.
"You are so kind." She mumbled into my shoulder, "I'm glad you came here today."
"So am I." I admitted then lured her towards a dinning table. We stepped up three stairs to the bar and dining area, where I coxed Beth over to the first empty booth I could find, "I will be right back." I assured the girl as I placed her jackets on the bench opposite her and took off my trench coat, placing it atop of Beth's. As I hurried over to the bar I found a place between two partons and slipped up to the bar.
A bartender with long brown hair smiled at me as she handed to beer bottles to someone. I was not paying much attention to whom she handed the bottles to because my eyes were drawn to the fact that the bartender's short sleeved black silk shirt was unbuttoned. I could see her black lace bra clearly against the white skin of her breasts. Breast that were so perfect in my mind, the very size of my hand and the image of caressing them drifted into my mind when she suddenly turned to me, "Hello Detective!" Liz called out the moment I arrived at the long dark wooden counter that served at the club's bar. Liz like to tease me about my chosen perfection, but I didn't mind much, as long as it was only her that did the teasing, "Ginger ale as always?" She inquired knowingly, already placing a glass in front of me and prepared to fill it.
"Yep." I replied with a silly grin upon my face that I tried hard to wipe away, "I'm alright, I guess." I responded as I unbuttoned the top button of my cream dress shirt, loosened my tie and tried to fix my brown blazer. Fashion was not my forte and many had told me that I should consider something other then cream shirts and brown suits, but I happened to like these suits. It is hard to find clothes that fit me right. They are usually to short for my long legs or to loss in the waist. So I stuck with the business look. I mean I need to look professional in my line of work right?
"I could be better." I stated nervously, to say that I felt strongly for Liz would be putting things delicately. She was absolutely beautiful. The way she smiled at me made my heart race, those large brown eyes and dimple were so adorable. She had curves to her that were beyond description and the way those tight jeans hugged her butt. I rubbed at my face as I tried to shake the feelings away. If she was not spoken for I would run around the counter at that moment and plant a kiss upon those soft pink lips at that very moment, but I have my morals and as such she was off limits.
I lowered my hand from my face to could see Liz frowning at me as she filled my glass with a brownish yellow liquid, "Is everything alright?" She inquired in a tone of worry, god I sometimes wish I could just shout out my feelings for her. I pulled on my tie more and rubbed the back of my neck as I tried to sort my thoughts out. She glanced over my shoulder at Beth, "Is Beth alright?" She queried with concern in her eyes. Liz had been the bartender at this club even before it changed names. She was a kind and friendly women who was easy to befriend and considered the regulars to her counter as family. When she saw any of them distressed it effected her and she would do anything to help out. Right now I could see a mix of rage and worry in those eyes. She was probably thinking that someone hurt Beth and if it was someone at this club they were about to receive a piece of Liz's mind and that was not a pleasant sight to witness. I'm just glad that I'd never got on this girl's bad side as of yet.
"I don't know." I finally managed to push my feelings to the side and I took a look over my shoulder to see Beth huddled up against the wall with her knees wrapped up close to her. There was a frightened look upon her face as her eyes darted around the room like a frightened mouse in search of the house cat, "It worries me. She is not the type to be dragged down so easily."
"If anyone can help her it is you." Liz stated with more confidence then I felt, patting my hand on the counter. The feeling of her hand upon mine sent shivers through me and I needed to pull away, "If you need anything you know you can depend on me." She stated with a serious look upon her face.
I picked up my drink and took a sip. I could see my hand was visibly shaking so I placed the drink back on the counter before Liz noticed, "Thank." It was always nice to know you could depend on Liz for anything. She had comforted me through a couple of breakups over the years and at that moment I was hoping a breakup was all that was bothering our dear friend, Beth, "Could you bring a bacon cheese burger to our table along with some fries." I placed a twenty on the counter in front of Liz.
"Sure thing." She stated as she quickly snatched up the money and rung up my bill, "Does Beth want anything?" She inquired giving the girl another concerned glance.
I simply shrugged, "She says she doesn't, but I get the idea that she is lying." She stated in a low voice so only Liz could hear.
Liz nodded understandingly, "I'll add in an extra plate of fries to your order, no charge." She offered with a smile that sent my heart a flutter.
I glanced down at the counter, "You are the best Liz." I leaned over the counter and placed a quick small peck upon the woman's cheek that caused her to giggle.
"Are you trying to get more then some fries out of me?" She inquired with a mischievous grin as she handed me my changed.
"Maybe it would be... if you were not already taken." I remarked with a sly grin then grabbed my drink and stepped away from the bar. I could not believe I'd actually said that. I must be insane or something.
Liz shook her head, "You are going to get yourself into a lot of trouble one of these days, you know that don't you?" She remarked, I was almost certain I could sense uneasy in those words, but ignored the feeling. It was probably just my imagination anyway.
I took off my fedora and took a bow, "I only aim to please." I stated with a flourish the spun around to face Beth. The moment my eyes set on Beth my smile Faded.
For a brief instant I saw a flick of something unusual that wiped my thoughts of Liz away instantly. I'd had strange flickering images appear before me for years and for the most part I had become accustom to them, however this one was different, It almost felt real. Instead of Beth being at a dinner bench I saw her sitting out on the street. A tattered blanket wrapped around her shoulders and her bare legs turning blue in the cold winds, a wind that I could feel wiping against my face and sent my tie whirling around. She looked so frail and lost, all alone with her back again the cold brick and a blanket of snow beginning to build up around her feet. When she gazed up at me her eyes were sunken into their sockets and had a vacant look to them. Like so many kids I'd see on the street, but much worse. It was almost as if her soul was missing and only a shell was sitting before me. If I had not seen the change before my eyes I would have not recognized the girl at all. Then as quickly as the vision started it stopped and I was again standing in Our Place.
Beth stared at me with a curious look upon her face, "Are you alright?" She asked quietly, then her eyes widened and she scrambled away from the wall, "They are behind me, aren't they?" She frantically tried to get out of the bench as if something were chasing her and if I had not moved swiftly she would have fallen off the end. It was a good thing I was fast and managed to get my arm under her shoulder's quickly because I got an awful image in my head of Beth cracking her skull open upon the floor. I'd seen it a couple photos of such a thing and the one thing I did not need was to have a familiar face connected to those images.
I cradled Beth in my arms as I sunk to the ground and held her close. She continued to try to break free of my grip, screaming as she tried to escape some kind of nightmare, but I held tight and did not give her any chance of flight, "Beth! Beth, calm down!!" I held the girl's arms close to her body and nuzzled into her shoulder, "Please calm down, Beth. It is me, Brenda. Shhhhh..." I cooed, trying to reach any reasoning left in the girl's mind. It seemed to work, I could feel her struggles began to weaken in my grip and she relaxed. I slowly loosened my hold on her arms and softly stroked at her head, "It is alright. You are going to be alright." I lied, I hate lying, but at that moment I was not sure what to say. I had no idea what things were haunting this girl's mind and at that moment I just wanted to assure her that she was safe. It was all could do and I felt so hopeless not knowing what else to say.
Several patrons started to gather around us and Liz came running out from behind the bar. I quickly glanced up at the woman and shook my head. Somehow Liz understand my silent command and slowed her pace to a crawl as she moved in closer, "Is she alright?" She inquired softly.
I glanced down at Beth to see the girl had fallen into a light sleep and I let out a sigh of relief, "I don't know." I stated in a lost voice, for the first time I did not know what was happening to my friend. Could she be on drugs or something? I turned her arms over to see no sign of needle marks, but that still left a large range of pills that she could have ingested. I looked up at Liz, "Has Beth been taking any drugs or medication of any kind?" I inquired worriedly.
Liz shook her head in frustration, "Not that I'm aware of. I have not seen her around here in weeks. As far as I know she is clean. She never seemed the sort to turn to drugs."
I took this in and mulled it over. Beth stirred ever so slightly in my arms as she slept, "Could you help me get her to one of the couches?" I inquired of Liz.
Liz nodded and quickly moved to the girl's feet. Together we lifted the girl off the ground. She felt light as a feather, but she did not look thin at all so that made very little sense. She should have weighed 110 to 120 at the very least, but at that moment she felt as if she was no more then that of a small cat. A group of people quickly vacated a circle of couches as we carried the girl down the small set of stairs.
"Thanks everyone." I whispered to the group, not wanting to wake the girl. I even noticed that the DJ, a big drag queen by the name of Madam Melissa, had lowered the music ever so slightly and came out of her booth with a blanket in hand. Like I said before, this is a very close group we have here. Once someone was having a really bad trip from mixing drugs and everyone rushed to help them while we awaited the ambulance. I think that is one of the few times that the front doors are ever opened around here. Sad to think that our doors have to be closed until someone gets hurt. Makes me want to cry at times.
I sat down on the couch with Beth's head lightly resting upon my lap and Liz lay her leg across the couched then took the blanket gratefully and spread it out across the girl. We all watched in silence as we gave a silent prey to whatever god would listen to a us. I was not the type to believe in a god, but at times like this I really hoped that there was something out there looking over a few of us.
To be continued
Note: The world of the shadowlands, Its stories, Characters and ideas are a copyright of Kathryn K Williams.
This story is based upon my manga of the same name. If you wish visit my site and see some of the art based on this series at http://www.KatAndNekoManga.ca
Also if you spot any typos or other errors please contact me at Kathryn@KatAndNekoManga.ca