Ryeston was a small but busy town with buses going in and out of it from dawn to dusk. There were few who considered the town their home, but many who visited. By day the streets were filled with vendors of all sorts, selling potions, fruit, knick-knack and bric-a-brac of every kind. Every day passed with the liveliness of a festival and the nights were lived with the finest alcohol of the rowdiest crowd. The town was known for its brightly lit streets at night, illuminating the long, straight roads that led away into the darkness of the forest that surrounded the edges of town.
Those were the rumors he’d heard when he had gotten on the first night bus into Ryeston. He was a novelist who sought to experience the excitement and thrill that life had to offer, in search of the inspiration that would lead to the creation of his next big print. And what better place to find excitement than in a town that bubbled with hectic chaos in the light of day and came alive beneath the shroud of darkness.
The first things he noticed were the rows and rows of street lights standing in attention as his bus rolled into town. It was as if they were greeting his arrival. Humbled and awed by the very sight, the writer felt exhilarated by the mere thought of his newest adventure. The darkness of the forest were but a flickering memory from the moment he lifted off his seat, ready to step out of the bus. As he was descending the steps of the bus, he stopped short when he noticed a woman waiting under the lamp post just outside of the bus’s exit. A few of the other passengers had brushed passed him with an annoyed tsk, but he hadn’t budged. For there was something magical about the woman in white. With a sun hat perched on her head and her gaze lowered so he could not see her face. She was slender and fair, her skin looked radiant beneath the flattering lighting of the lamp post and her hair was a shade of blonde so pale, it was almost as faint as her skin. A presence unlike any other. “Are you getting off or not?” The novelist heard the bus driver snap and quickly hopped off the last step of the bus without so much as a backward glance.
The minute he had, his clumsy footsteps must have alarmed the lady as she had raised her head to pin him with an icy-blue gaze. He lowered his head and touched the brim of his hat in a polite nod of acknowledgment before he willed his feet to carry him away. Adjusting his suitcase, he watched as the lady raised a hand then shake her head at the bus driver before the doors closed and the bus rolled away.
As he too, moved further and further away from the lady in white, he couldn’t help but sneak a second glance to see if he had imagined her. The air around her was quiet and refined, heavily contrasting to the bitter, solid scent of alcohol that seeped into the night from the rowdy pubs and alcoholics waddling down the streets. The novelist watched as she stood perfectly still under the illumination of the intricately designed lamp post. Who was she and what was her story? Every great author lived off the great mystery of another’s life, looking for places they could interpret into their own world and twists that could be added to entertain readers.
He didn’t approach her as it would come off as rude and intrusive if he were to ask her for her life story then. However, he couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that her purpose meant something to him. Perhaps she would be the muse that would stir him from his writer’s block. Was she a whore? She certainly didn’t dress like one, although she was definitely lovely. If she was, he would have no doubt that a night with her would break his slump. Despite his thoughts, he decided to leave her alone, if it was fate then he was sure he would meet her again. His travels had taken the most out of him and he wanted nothing more than a plate of hot food and a bed to rest in. It was easy enough to find a room to rent. He hadn’t strayed far from the bus stop to find a vacancy open in a local inn run by a gruff looking man who was just barely hospitable enough to be an innkeeper. The place was mostly a pub and the upstairs was an inn. The novelist wasn’t sure how much sleep he would get with how rowdy the crowd was, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t have much luck anywhere else.
The next day rolled by and the novelist had taken a look around the vendors that littered all over the streets of town. The bright colors and hustling of the stall owners tugged at his inspiration, coaxing him to write. But it wasn’t enough. His mind strayed to the lady under the lamp post throughout the day and it meddled with his concentration. He thought about how his first day in town was a bust as he dragged his feet back to the pub. The sun had already set and the darkness settled in.
That was when he saw her again. As the street light lit the sidewalk, the lady in white appeared stood beneath the very same one from last night, wearing the very same hat and the very same dress. This time, the novelist did approach her, for it was fate for them to have met again.
He joined her underneath the lamp post, feigning nonchalance as he leaned his weigh on one leg, a cigarette clipped between his fingers. He blew out a puff of smoke, thinking hard for a conversation starter he did not require, because the lady in white spoke first.
“Cigarettes are bad for you.” She said, barely glancing his way.
He looked at her, somewhat surprised that she had spoken. “Yeah? That’s what my mother tells me.” The words came out naturally.
“You should listen to her.” The lights flickered once.
“I’ve lived under her rule for most of my life. I think I’m old enough to have some freedom.” He grinned. The girl said nothing, but merely turned to him and smiled before turning away, resuming her original position. He reached a hand up to the back of his head and rubbed, searching for something to say. “You, uhh, waiting for someone?”
She didn’t look at him and he found himself disappointed. “Yes, the bus. I want to go home.”
Confused, the novelist scratched his head and took another pull of his cigarette. “Didn’t see you get on last night.”
She shook her head but again, did not look at him. The lights flickered again. “Wasn’t mine.” She answered, her tone clipped and careful. Of course she would be cautious, he thought. He was a stranger that materialized in the night, she wasn’t going to open up to him. But he wanted—no, needed to know her story.
“Oh, well. Will I see you again tomorrow?” he said. Since he had seen her today, he guessed that she must work here during the day and go home at night.
She looked at him, her blue eyes curious and her head cocked in question. “Perhaps.”
And that was what the novelist had been counting on when he went back to the lamp post a third time. The lights came on and he could see her standing in the very same spot. This time, he approached her with more confidence. He had even brought his notepad and pen. Tonight he would ask her about her life. It was then he realized that he didn’t even know her name.
“Hey.” He greeted lamely as he approached her.
“Good evening.” She replied politely.
“So, um, I realized we didn’t get introduced. I’m Faust Clarence. I’m a novelist and I was wondering if you would help me.” he said, digging into his pockets for his pad and pen. Before she could answer, he elaborated. “I’m asking people about what they think of the city and about their lives. I’m looking for inspiration, see? I’m in a bit of a slump at the moment.” He said, sounding more and more anxious. The first part was a lie. He hadn’t asked anyone else for their story. No one but her seemed interesting enough. He hoped she wouldn’t call him out of his lie. The bright light of the lamp post did not ease him.
The lady turned and looked at his face then a small smile tugged at her lips. “You’re not smoking.” She said, completely bypassing his questions. However, instead of feeling annoyed, he felt shy all of the sudden.
“Yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “They’re bad for me, remember?” he said.
“Yes, I remember.” She said, turning away.
“So… what’s your story?” he asked.
She smiled but didn’t turn his way, much to his dismay. “I want to see the world and I want the world to know my name.” she told him.
He blinked, intrigued. “So you want to be famous?” he asked. “An actress? Or a singer?”
She shrugged with a dreamy sigh and it was the most natural thing he had seen her do. It made her look years younger. “I want to find my place. I want people to see me.” She answered then looked to him as the light flickered. “I want to belong.” she told him with a quiet tone of finality.
His eyes softened as he could sympathize. Yes, he was once like her. Young and ambitious, searching for his place in the world, looking for a way to leave his mark. Which spurred the question. “How old are you?” he asked her. She had looked around her twenties but after he’d see her shrug in the most carefree way, he was second guessing his prediction.
“I’m eighteen.” She said and a sad look passed her eyes so he made a mental note not to raise that thought again. The lights flickered again and he glanced up and frowned.
“This lamp seems faulty.” He said. “Keeps flickering.”
She twitched but settled quickly, as if it had never happened. “Yes. It does that sometimes.”
“They should fix it.” He threw it absently.
The lady nodded. “They should’ve.”
Suddenly feeling inspired, the novelist tucked his pad back into the pocket of his jacket, determined to return so he could begin writing. “I’ll head back for tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked her over his shoulder. But he was already moving away and she didn’t answer him.
At dawn with the sun just peeking through the edge of world and the sky was barely lit, the novelist walked out into the street. He had spent the night writing and he needed a smoke break. It was cold that morning and his fingers were trembling so hard, he couldn’t fire up his lighter. It was then he looked up to see the girl still stood by the lamp post as a bus came to a stop in front of her.
Alarm bells began to ring in his head. Had she spent the whole night waiting for a bus that arrived at dawn? Why did she not mention this? He could have taken her home and given her a warm place to stay. Instead she had waited all night. He began to approach as the bus door opened. He wanted to talk to her before she left to let her know she was welcome to stay with him next time.
The light of the lamp post went out as she stepped toward the bus. She turned to look at him but didn’t halt her steps. A bright smile lit her face and he faltered. An old woman passed her, blocking his view of her and then she was gone. The bus doors closed and it rolled away before the novelist could snap out of his stupor. He didn’t even know her name.
He approached the lamp post in small, dejected steps. Finally coming to a stop where she always stood. Watching as her bus disappeared into the forest. The orange sunset began to seep into the sky, dyeing the clouds a myriad of warm colours. He looked at the cigarette in his hand and shoved them back into his pockets.
“Cigarettes are bad for you.” He heard a voice say. For a moment, he had thought the girl was beside him but when he turned to look, an old lady stood looking down at the bottom of the lamp post. In her hand clutched a small bouquet of wildflowers, expression looked as if she were at a funeral.
The novelist wondered if the lady was attending a funeral. To his surprise, the old woman bent to lay the flowers by the lamp post. “Did someone pass away here?” he asked her. His palms grew sweaty and his heart was beating fast.
The old woman sniffled and nodded, swallowing audibly before she answered. “My daughter.”
That day, Faust Clarence learned how cruel and unfair the world truly was.
The novelist leaned against the lamp post on the other side of where the flowers lay. The bouquet sat in the space where she stood. Between his fingers was an unlit cigarette. The buses came and went, he had already lost count of how many there were. In the whole street, there was only one lamp post that didn’t light up and that was the one he was standing under.
Twenty years ago, Charlotte Larnly got on a bus and ran away from home at the age of eighteen. She came to Ryeston, the small but busy town in search for big dreams. Her mother had forbidden her from coming her but she wanted to see the town for herself. The town that everyone in the realm spoke of. All she wanted was to see the world. And she did. She saw all the evils that nestled in the bowels of darkness, the scum that preyed on the unwilling and the oblivious. She saw the rotten core of their failing realm and the corruption that roamed its lands.
Her body was found leaned against a broken lamp post with her throat slashed and her belongings taken. No one had seen her throughout the night because everyone was pumped with the earth’s toxins. Their minds muddled with fleeting moments of false happiness found in the bottom of a keg. There was no light from the lamp post to illuminate her distress. The darkness had made people ignorant of those trapped within. Only those who walked in the light were seen and acknowledged. Only the strong and heartless survived in the darkness.
Faust Clarence swore that the world would know her name. For she was real and he had seen her. For she had been alive but perished before he could know her. The novelist glanced down at the bottom of the lamp post where an imprint of blood had been traced into the metal: I was here.
For she had been here and the world had ignored her.