That Which Cannot Be Acknowledged
“…Reaching as low as negative four degrees Fahrenheit tonight so expect to wake up early to defrost your cars before work tomorrow. And now....” The too-cheerful voice washed through the deepening gloom of twilight from a run-down electronics store apparently trying to highlight televisions if they’d taken the time to set up something that could broadcast sound into the street. It would be some sort of sale; probably going out of business judging from the state of the current local economy.
The small, slight figure of a girl—woman?—trudged down the empty street lined with abandoned offices and boarded-up buildings that once contained small businesses but now seemed only to consist of grimy layers of dirt and scattered trash that fluttered feebly in the wind. She placed one foot in front of the other as if the ability to summon the movement needed for each step required a monumental effort. Her once black stockings, now gray, dingy and full of holes, gathered in wrinkled heaps around her ankles. Long, skeletal-like arms hung limply at her side, swinging listlessly with her slow, steady rhythm. The black, greasy strings that barely passed for hair only twitched with each movement, too stiff and dirty to do much else. It hung in her face, obstructing most of the pale, sickly features from the harsh almost-light that managed to break away from the worn-out street lamps. Large, black lumps of skin and bone that almost matched the nest on her head grew from the rags on her back. Long and sickly, the tips of the strange appendages dragged on the ground, trailing behind her like a forgotten train, and occasionally leaving thin, black objects that may have once been feathers on the worn sidewalk. No air of haste touched the mechanical movements and no eagerness or happiness could scratch the black bubble that seemed to weigh down the very air around her too-thin frame.
She slipped by an alley, passing a group consisting of several other mangy, dirty people huddled around a trash-can fire. The orange light barely hovering over the dented rim cast flickering shadows across their faces, making the little that could be seen in the darkness appear almost unholy. No one moved, as no one seemed to notice her despite the fact that she made no effort to hide. Instead, they just stared at the flame dully, any hope within them now long gone. They held their hands out towards the miniscule warmth, just barely staving away the seemingly perpetual cold. They would stay there until one of the group spotted a cop, or someone equally as dangerous, and then scatter like rats. They always did. She'd watched them before and had no need to look up and see them again.
The fire flickered more than usual, and for a moment the air felt even chillier than it should have, but the sensation passed almost immediately. Those that took notice brushed it off as their own scarred mind playing tricks on them and huddled a little closer to the bent aluminum.
No rustling of fabric marked the girl's passage as she moved on, her motions making no noise to be carried on the small, sickly breeze as each plodding measure dropped onto the cracked ground. Her tattered clothing clung to her body in well worn, permanent wrinkles when it didn’t linger behind her wake in a torn flutter.
She had almost reached the next intersection when a new figure faded into view; a businessman, alone and wary, hurrying to his destination with briefcase held firmly against a heavy coat. He didn’t acknowledge her and thus didn’t seem notice when she stopped. He’d managed only a few feet past her when her cracked, bleeding lips parted. The voice that crawled out started low, almost inaudible with the wind in the background, but the man paused none the less.
Then the song came like the wrenching of a creaking gate, unnaturally harsh and loud in the stillness as it wove its spell in the air. Malice had no place in it, neither did anger or fear, but no one would ever mistake the emotion in the shaky notes for happiness, joy or even contentment.
Another soundless footfall had her turning ever so slightly towards the man and the tuneless song grew in intensity, twisting and turning in the early night. The man blinked and looked around, his eyes widening with panic.
She caught the scent of his feelings, and immediately her song died down, giving one last dark note before falling into silence. For a moment, the man shook his head, and turned to continue on his way, his own gait now far quicker than before.
He hadn’t really heard her. They never did. Somehow, they perceived her, but they didn’t realize...they couldn’t. This knowledge did nothing to lift her mood. On the contrary, it only deepened her sense of hopelessness.
Slowly, like a rusted cog, she returned to her previous path, one foot sliding forward, scraping the cement as she once again began her automatic, aimless trek.
Of course she wouldn't be heard. Truthfully, she didn’t know why she’d even bothered to try in the first place. How could anyone hear something they couldn’t acknowledge? What would she accomplish if hear her song managed to reach someone? She didn’t know anymore. Any memory that could have given even a hint to such knowledge lay buried in the past; a place she could no longer reach and she’d long since become too weary to care. The last trace of her old self that remained showed only in the occasional bouts of whatever it was that would grow inside the empty place where her heart should have been; the part of her that would cause her to force her unheard song from her throat on the rare occasion that she could muster the motivation.
She continued to move down the street, her plodding pace heavy and simultaneously insubstantial. Black feathers drifted down to litter the ground behind the stumbling figure, only to be picked up and flung, unseen, by the wind and leaving nothing but a sense of emptiness and loss in their wake.