Chapter 1 - The Trip to Tarnouth
This book is dedicated to all the lost souls roaming throughout the world. May you achieve the strength to face your demons and find your way back to the light.
Agalmatophilia: from the Greek agalma ‘statue’ and philia ‘love’. An intense desire for and fascination with inanimate objects.
The city of Tarnouth loomed large on the horizon – jutting out of the barren landscape like a dark mirage. From time to time, Wendy could see sporadic glints of light reflecting off the windows in the tall buildings, which stood like nefarious monuments against the cobalt sky. She was sitting in the passenger seat of her mother’s sensible Toyota Corolla, wishing that she had taken the bus instead.
A self-styled Goth girl at twenty eight years of age – without the piercings or tattoos – she was feeling great, despite having recently lost her boyfriend and her job in the same week. Securing a lowly position at the Marius Bookbindery and a cheap apartment close by had put a smile on her face, after moping around her mother’s house like a sad ghost since the split with Shane three weeks prior.
It was Samantha (her mother) who’d prompted her to buck up and get back into it, but not like this and not so far away in a dark place that might as well have been Hell itself. Samantha wouldn’t stop reminding her daughter of that.
“Really, I don’t know how else I can say it. Your uncle said he’d be happy to take you on at the hardware store and I don’t mind you staying for as long as you like – so – why come up with such a hair-brained idea, like moving to such a terrible city like Tarnouth? Have I done something to upset you? Is this a way to get back at me for some imagined crap I did when you were a child?!”
Wendy reached over and stroked her mother’s arm affectionately. Samantha was always sedate and totally in control in front of everyone else. Now she was almost losing it – and Wendy understood why.
“Mom, take a breath and chill, okay? We’ve been over this a million times. I’ll be safe and anyway – I can take care of myself. I’ve always wanted to see Tarnouth and it’ll give me a chance to start over.”
“You know that running away never solved anyone’s problems.” She replied flatly.
“I’m not running away. I’m starting a new life.” Wendy pushed her long, black hair away from her pale face.
“In the worst place you could possibly think of – just to annoy me!”
The women slid a sidelong glance at each other, then burst into a fit of laughter.
“Mom – it has nothing to do with you!”
“Yeah – you say that now.” Samantha sighed and then pointed to the sign on the right.
It read: “Tarnouth City Limits – Population 22,156.”
“You know, we can turn back now. I could make your favorite: lamb roast!”
Wendy shook her head defiantly and grinned. “I’ll take a rain check!”
She felt like the highway was almost pulsing with energy – unless it was the excitement building from her feet to the top of her head. They were finally entering the city – darker now with the long shadows smothering the streets below.
Tarnouth was situated on the east of the Salton Sea in California, starting as a small – yet booming town in the early days. It morphed into an isolated and decidedly hermetically sealed city when the last of the residents left the surrounding areas, due to the decimated wastelands and loss of fortunes. Some say that the majority of the people gravitated to the mysterious city, in hopes of starting over.
Others agree and further add that Tarnouth – known as the City of Gargoyles (due to the large amount of gargoyles on the roofs and statues scattered here and there) – swallowed them up and absorbed them into the shadows. The city became known for its many vices and criminal activity – complete with a corrupt government and shady dealings. Some went as far as to say that Tarnouth became the foreign legion of the west – only with isolation and despair as its creed – rather than “Esprit de Corps.”
Wendy had heard the stories about people entering and never leaving, as well as the rumors about ghosts and demons running amok within the city’s walls. She was intrigued by both ideas and had developed a growing interest in Tarnouth over the years. Now she was going to explore it for herself. She could barely contain her glee.
“It’s beautiful!” She exclaimed with eyes wide open in wonder.
The imposing buildings and skyscrapers were indeed beautiful in the crisp morning air, although Samantha wouldn’t have it.
“Beautiful! Really?” She shuddered and gave her daughter a look of disgust. “I can smell the evil from here!”
“Mom – come on! You love architecture just as much as I do.”
Wendy craned her neck to take everything in. It seemed like a normal city to her – with people going about their business, shop fronts and restaurants lining the streets and morning traffic – complete with honking horns. As they turned into driveway of the apartment block, Wendy’s stomach performed flip-flops while Samantha’s white knuckles gripped the old steering wheel.
“So. This is where you’re staying?” It was more like a statement than a question.
Wendy followed Samantha’s gaze to the top of the building – where the faded, metallic sign read: “Hummingbird Village.” She leapt out of the car and raced around to the back, eager to get in and settle. Samantha followed – dragging her steps.
“Wendy, I have a weird feeling about this place.” She twirled her red curls around her index finger anxiously as her eyes continued to scan.
Wendy picked up one of her boxes after hoisting her duffel bag over her shoulder.
“Mom!” She beseeched.
Samantha turned and grabbed one of the boxes. “Okay. Lead the way. Hopefully not to your doom!”
“Mom!” Wendy snapped – a little angrier.
They made their way to the stairwell and up to the second floor. A portly woman was charging towards them – grim faced and obviously no-nonsense.
“Laster?” She enquired.
“Yes.” Wendy responded – smiling.
“It’s just one – right?” The woman asked as she eyed off Samantha.
“Right. This is my mum – Samantha Laster. She’s just…”
“Okay, come with me.” The woman turned on her heels and trotted along – keys swinging against her ample hips.
Wendy and Samantha made a face at each other before following the landlady to room 27. Spinning around like she was spring-loaded, the stocky woman unlocked the door as she continued to eye both of them off, before opening the door and pointing inside.
“Be my guest!”
She beamed for a split second, before her face slammed back into its original concrete slab mode. Wendy thought that the landlady’s eyes were like piss-holes in the snow – deep and narrow at the same time.
They went in and followed the hallway to the lounge. It was sparsely furnished and not nearly as inviting as the photos she’d checked out on the website – but it was now home and it made her smile to think that her new life was beginning.
“Oh, dear!” This was all Samantha said for a while – over and over.
The landlady came into the room as they set the boxes down on the 1970’s coffee table. She held out her chubby paw and raised her penciled eyebrows.
“$850 security - $850 first and last.” She wriggled her sausage like fingers for emphasis.
Not expecting to conduct business there and then, Wendy fiddled through her purse to find the envelope with her money. She finally extracted it and handed it to the landlady, who immediately ripped it open and counted the money rudely in front of them. Samantha couldn’t help herself.
“May I ask your name?” She said sweetly.
“Yes. You can call me Mrs Whitford. It’s Pamela Whitford – but you can call me Mrs Whitford!” She almost sneered at Samantha, but finished with a brief, smart-ass smile.
“Okay, Mrs Whitford.”
She paused to look at Wendy – who was silently hoping they could get it over with so she could say goodbye to both and start unpacking.
“I’ll bring the paperwork over later.” The landlady snapped as she handed the keys to Wendy, then began to storm off.
She turned around and wagged her fingers at Wendy. “Remember. This is not a hotel. No wild parties and keep your guests to a minimum.”
“Yes – I promise.” Wendy advised.
The woman continued on to the front door and slammed it behind her.
“Well!” Samantha exhaled loudly. “That was pleasant!”
Wendy threw her arms around her mother and hugged her tightly.
“It’s okay Mom – I promise. This will be good for me. I can take lots of pictures and make a load of money!”
“Right!” Samantha hugged her back and then motioned for the door. “Let’s get the rest of these boxes in before it rains.”
After Samantha left – with more pleading and a few tears – Wendy unpacked and walked around the apartment. She took some photos – as she was apt to do – seeing as she’d been a professional photographer before her boss fired her to give his own niece a job. The apartment was old but clean and it wasn’t long before Wendy had it looking like her own cozy nest.