Alice's Adventures in the Underground

Alice's Adventures in the Underground

A Story by Kelley T
"

Tired of fighting, Alice breaks free from an abusive relationship, only to realize that her plight is far from over.

"


Time is running short. She barely has time to open the drawers, let alone empty their contents into the suitcase that lays in wait, mouth wide open, on the bed. One bag is all she has, which makes her packing situation all the more dire; space is very much an issue and she has no choice but to be choosey.

The bureau sticks, as it always did, and she hastily gives up without a second thought. She can always buy more underwear while she's on the road. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter.

An ear tuned in to the sounds of the road below, to the rumble of beaters drifting down the alley and chatter of kids attempting drug deals, she waits to hear his Taurus approach their apartment. Alice has to time this just right; no question, there'd be hell to pay if James were to catch her.

I only need one pair of socks, she rationalizes, which frees up a bit more space in her duffle. It's almost surprising, just how little she would likely need to survive: two spare pairs of denim pants, a couple military-rolled shirts, and what little money she could withdraw from her savings account that afternoon. She discovered that the ATM in town had a five-hundred dollar limit per customer, per day. Had she only been aware of that fairly significant detail, she'd have been able to make formulate her plan quite a bit better, but that point is moot now.

She moves from the bedroom, which she's left surprisingly tidy, so much so that she can't help but wonder how long it will take for him to realize that she's flown the coop. Passing into the kitchen, she grabs plastic sandwich bags of crackers and cold cuts; it'll last her through the bus ride at the absolute least, she decides. Into the living room!

She debates taking a book, for no other reason than to at least appear more relaxed, less suspicious, but refrains. There's no way to justify toting more than is absolutely necessary; it's just more to potentially slow her down, hold her back. This brings her to her only regret at the moment ― she has no choice but to leave Joshua behind.

Curled up on the couch, lost to Morpheus and his own subconscious reflections, he is completely oblivious of the situation at hand. She pauses at the door, gazing down at him, before reaching out and delicately placing a hand on his head. He rears up and stretches, beginning to purr and rolls over to loll on his back.

Alice and James had adopted Joshua, the year old Russian Blue cat, when they'd first moved in together. Taking this into consideration, it's for the best that she's not able to keep him. There would be too many opportunities for her to backpedal emotionally, if she were to take anything of James'. She's making a move to start anew. Not unlike her feline's Biblical namesake, Alice has to begin the journey to her Promised Land, what- and wherever that may be.

She revisits her desire to bring a novel, but even that still seems too restricting. The longer she remains, hesitates, the more suffocated she feels. It's now or never. Do or die, perhaps quite literally.

The door opens. In one moment, she's on the inside of her cage; the next, Alice can taste freedom, and does so, as it was for first time.

* * *

Unfortunately for Alice, she had planned little beyond packing up and escaping the apartment.  She's drawn to the idea of venturing westward, a direction she'd rarely been and, even then, only for very limited spans of time. She grapples with a desire to hop the first Greyhound bound for Chicago and instead grabs a local port authority bus, electing to ride it 'til it reaches the end of the line.

The man piloting the shuttle asks very few questions, unlike how such situations usually transpire in the motion pictures; the lonely, dejected-looking woman is approached and given advice by the benevolent bus driver. Instead, she found him to be quite cold. He does however, help with her luggage, taking it upon himself to personally eject it from the vehicle upon reaching her destination.

* * *

For better or for worse, Blairesville is a slum. She has grown accustomed to shady characters attempting to conduct their business in the shadows, ―  peddling narcotics, their bodies, or a combination of the two ― but here everything is done right out in the open. The most frightening factor here though is that no one seems to mind this in the least.

There's a dive bar not far from her bus stop. It's approaching eleven thirty, by her watch, which proves to be very comforting to her. She'd boarded her bus around 9:00, which means that she's gone nearly two hours out of her way in an arbitrary direction; the likelihood of anyone thinking to look for her here is almost nil.

Tightening her grip on the bag, she saunters into the lounge. It's a Tuesday night, but nearly all of the stools are occupied. After digesting the sight, then considering the rather apparent disposition of the town itself, this is of little surprise to her.

Sidling up to the bar, in between a man with no teeth and another who is minus half of his left arm, she catches the attention of the bartender. The tag on the front of her silver halter top says Lenora, but her eyes cry out, Lost Soul. Due to the droop of her jowls and presence of crow's feet, Alice pegs her as being in her mid-forties, if not a bit older; the yellow of her teeth, proudly flaunt an impressive smoking habit.

“What're ya havin', honey?” The gruffness of her voice serves as proof of Alice's latter observation.

“I have two dollars…”

Lenora dips below the counter and returns with a bottle that's absent a label. She uncaps it with the buckle of her belt. “Starin' a tab?”

Alice isn't too keen to press her luck with more than one mystery brew, or Lenora's patience, so with a shake of her head she places the aforementioned pair of notes on the bar and sniffs at the effervescent liquid. It seems safe enough. A few hours, and several bottles later, she comes to the conclusion that all was well.

At quarter after two, the house lights come up. The bar is still full and guttural groans rise up from all of Lenora's patrons.

“Ok, kids, pack up an' get your sixes now; I ain't stayin' all night.”

A line quickly forms by the register, picking up tabs and purchasing six-packs from the cooler by the exit. Alice decides to continue nursing her final, nearly empty bottle and watch the procession of drunks and vagabonds while she does it. This is without a doubt the most heartbreaking parade she's ever seen.

* * *

It takes Lenora nearly an hour to fully shut down the bar. In spite of the wait, Alice remains seated atop her luggage until the woman finally exits the lounge. A lit stogie dangling from her lips, Lenora jumps back with a start. “Jesus, girl! What the hell are ya doin' out here?!”

“I… could use some help. Can I talk to you?”

“No.” Alice is slightly taken aback. Aren't bartenders always supposed to be sympathetic and willing to lend an ear to listen or shoulder to cry on?

“Well… Please?”

“I don't deal. Go to any other bar 'round here and they'll hook you up. Hell, walk to that corner over there and get somethin'; you're not gettin' no fix from me tonight, sugar.”

“Oh! Oh, no! That's not what I meant!”

“Uh-huh,” Lenora moves from the door, intent on leaving Alice in her tracks; the woman's far quicker than she looks.

“Please? Lenora! I need help.” The old maid remains nonplussed. “I don't have anywhere to go or know what to do!”

“Take a left, go two blocks, sleep it off and don't come callin' me in the morning.”

The combination of sleep deprivation, her thought process being hampered by all of the alcohol, and knowing when she's clearly not wanted keep Alice from pursuing any further. She takes a chance and follows Lenora's instructions, which take her to The Queensbury Inn, the embodiment of a roach motel.

* * *

“Hello?”

Paint is chipping off of the walls. I'd bet dollars to donuts that it's lead-based, too, Alice can't help but think as she rings the bell resting on the counter.

The carpet has numerous stains of varying sizes and colors. Blood. Saliva. Semen?

The attendant arrives after, but not until Alice has clapped the bell several more times. The sparse amount of hair on his head is greased back against his scalp, shirt partly unbuttoned at the top, exposing a dangerously sharp collarbone and ; to make matters even worse, the man's pencil-thin mustache makes his countenance appear eerily ratlike.

“What?”

“I need a room.”

“We're full up.”

“The sign on your door says 'vacancy.'”

“Clearly, the sign's broke.”

Alice isn't certain which is more offensive, the Ratman's blatant rudeness or his poor grammar.

Clearly you don't need my business then!” Taking up her luggage and muttering obscenities the likes of which she'd rarely heard, let alone spoken herself, Alice heads back out into the night.

It's now nearing six o'clock, according to her wristwatch. The sun should be rising soon, she assures herself. The only issue now, apart from the fact that she's been conscious for nearly twenty-four full hours, is what to do once day breaks. Keep moving.

* * *

Supported by the bus stop sign, haphazardly laying on the sidewalk, Alice struggles to keep her eyes open.

Day is finally breaking, rung in the by hues of orange and red that spread across the horizon. To occupy her mind, she counts the broken bottles that lay in the street. At least eight of them, mostly brown, but there are a few green ones thrown into the mix as well. Odds are that they'd been pitched from the open window of a passing car, but Alice could easily see some sort of skirmish breaking out in the place with empty vessels being the weapons of choice.

It's not much longer before all of these thoughts and images escape her though, and she's utterly dead to the world, snoozing peacefully at her post.

* * *

The sensation of eyes upon her is what inevitably rouses her some time later. Struggling to focus her own line of vision under the mid-morning sun, she comes to realize that she is in fact being watched.

A gray feline sits beside her, keeping careful watch with green orbs. At first glance, he looks strikingly similar to Joshua; the only difference being that this stranger looks rather sickly, as if he hasn't eaten in quite a few days. He licks his lips and blinks slowly, still gazing with a bizarre intensity.

Alice recalls the meager snack she, luckily, had the foresight to steal away in her bag. Tucking into her belongings, she extracts the some ham and tears off a small section for her new friend.

“You've gotta be the only nice one in this whole town. Here ya go, kitty.” He eagerly accepts her offering, then laps at the salt lingering on her fingertips. “Hey, slow down!”

A few more scraps of lunchmeat, then she cuts him off. “You're not the only one who's gotta eat today.”

As if he can actually process her words, his ears fold back and he begins to growl; his upper lip curls back, exposing fang. Before she has an opportunity to react, he's upon her, sinking teeth into the skin of her hand.

“Son of a b***h! Get outta here!” She swats at him, but it's in vain; he's already gone.

Aggravated and, now, bleeding, Alice finally elects to give up her post. She may be attempting a more bohemian lifestyle, at least for the moment, but that's certainly no way to justify dying of an infection.

* * *

Fervently scanning the aisles of the Blairesville Pharmacy, Alice seeks out the antibiotic section. Within a few moments, she's picked up both some sort of name brand salve and a box of bandages. Thoughts of just how much a rabies vaccination would cost without an insurance card, something she now dearly rues neglecting to bring along on her journey to god knows where, comes to mind.

If nothing else, fortune seems to be smiling upon her now; she's in a state that permits the legal sale of alcohol in convenience stores. She grabs a double shot-sized bottle of Jack Daniels and, approaching the remarkably young, white coat-wearing clerk, places her items atop the checkout counter.

“You got ID?”

Excuse me?”

“You need ID for that.”

“Look, kid, I just want my Band-Aids and Neosporin ― that's all! It's been a real bad day… bad week… bad month and now there's a fifty-fifty chance that I've got rabies, too. You really think that now's a good time to f**k with me?”

“No, ma'am,” his voice breaks with the words. “It's just the Jack Daniels… Um, your driver's license?”

Face red, lips pursed, she withdraws the identification card from her wallet and, handing it to the boy, completes her purchase.

Looking him up and down, Alice's face turns with a sour frown. “I'll bet you're not even a real pharmacist. What are you, sixteen?” She makes for the door and, shoving it open roughly, barrels back out into the world, in the direction of the nearest public park.

* * *

Sitting cross-legged in an open field, she sterilizes the bite by administering a drop or two of liquor onto to, before imbibing the rest. If no one's around to see, she rationalizes, who's to care if I start drinking before noon?

After delicately dabbing it with ointment, she adheres a bandage over top of the wound and rubs the smooth plastic surface, contemplatively. With a sigh, she lies back on the grass, watching the clouds roll past and nibbling on the saltines that she pulled from her duffle.

For the moment, her injury has ceased aching, but she still can't help but think back to the reason why it's there in the first place. The damn cat.

His coloring was identical to that of Joshua, except this one apparently had a temperament issue or two. In spite of her initial thoughts, he was just like everyone else in this town. Never before has she met so many mean, rude, spiteful people and it's only been a little over twelve hours. For a fleeting second, she begins to regret having left the apartment, before common sense returns with impressive ferocity.

All of Alice's feelings of security, respect, and love within both her former domicile and relationship were entirely contrived. She can no longer remember the last time she'd left the apartment without incurring James' rage; he would become irrationally jealous if she saw or spoke to anyone other than her mother, who unfortunately passed away nearly a year ago. He was a man with severe self esteem and control issues, and chose to take out his frustrations on anyone over whom he could assert himself ― namely, Alice.

Their first few years together, as most abusive relationships start out, were ideal; they were young and in love. It wasn't until well after they'd consolidated their belongings and bank accounts that the tides began to turn. A few months after their personal merger, Alice began to notice James raising his voice more often, talking down to her on an almost daily basis, and starting to lash out physically. The bruises healed though; she convinced herself that her feelings would, too.

She knew James; he was the man who would unexpectedly leave flowers on her doorstep, talk to her over the phone for hours on end after she'd had a hard day's work and bring breakfast in bed when she was sick. Whenever glasses would be thrown against the wall or he'd threaten to lash her with his belt again, she'd always assure herself that his job was very stressful, perhaps he was sick, or even that she'd been deserving of it. This wasn't him acting out, it was a situation that caused a bad reaction. Alice lied to herself for the better part of a decade.

There had been a few instances when she'd broken down emotionally and called a hotline, or spent the night in a women's shelter, but every time James managed to find out who she'd spoken to or where she'd gone. After a while, she concluded that it was best just to comply, rather than test him further.

It wasn't until after her mother's death that Alice began to realize just how isolated she truly was. Her mother must have known, having been married to an abusive man herself, but she never said a word. Even still, having someone to talk to at the end of the day ― one who wouldn't insist that she was stupid and her opinions didn't matter ―  was an incredible comfort. Having lost that, she came to realize just how bleak her situation truly was and finally cracked. Laying down and being a doormat never gets anyone anywhere; the time came and she had to stand up.

As she ruminates over these instances within her not-so-distant past, Alice realizes just how much she's accomplished in such a short span of time. How many other women could say that the escaped the teetering tower of cyclical domestic violence before it collapsed completely? She must be one of a very few.

Propping herself up on one elbow, she looks through the clearing and back into the town. If she could handle a man the likes of James, a sociopath if there ever was one, why should she allow the backwards inhabitants of some jerkwater town get to her? She has been made to show her mettle and proven herself in spades; there is no way that these folks are going to get the best of her now, she decides, not after all she's accomplished.

Getting to her feet, Alice gathers her belongings and returns to the bus stop. This is far from her destination and she's determined to press on until she gets there.

* * *

The whiskey finally clear from her head, though no less resolute, Alice reclaims her seated position underneath the blue and white sign. She has no idea as to when her chariot to freedom should arrive, but she'll be ready and waiting once it finally does. She breathes deeply and eagerly awaits being able to bid Blairesville a less than fond farewell.

* * *

Hours pass and Alice still seated, resting on her haunches, eagerly gazing down the road.

She recalls that her arrival was near midnight of the previous day, but as it's nearing 1 a.m., she gives up the ghost and retreats to dive bar in an attempt to ease her mind and procure more adult beverages.

* * *

Not surprisingly, Lenora doesn't seem to recognize her. Alice reclaims her seat from the night before and orders the cheapest domestic on tap, mindful that her funds are still limited.

The brew hits her quite heavily, mostly because her only meal that day was comprised of half a sleeve's worth of crackers. She places a ten on the bar and orders a hamburger, only to be denied.

“Kitchen closes at eleven,” Lenora croaks.

“What've you got then?”

“Peanuts an' pretzels is all we got back here. Smilin' Pete's still got a plate though,” Lenora points to the man with no teeth, “Ask him for somethin'.”

Alice glances over and see's that he has half a sandwich and a handful of very soggy, sad-looking french fried potatoes. It's a curious order for a man who looks as though he can only subsist on baby food and peanut butter, but Alice can't be bothered to speculate this any further.

“Smiling Pete?” He looks up, across the bar, at Alice. “I'll give ya ten bucks for that plate.”

“Aw, pretty lady, I don' want yer money.”

“So, I can just have it?”

He laughs; it's perhaps the most lecherous sound Alice has ever heard. Rising from his seat, Smilin' Pete approaches Alice and stands in front of her stool. “Well, I dunno 'bout that, li'l missy. What's in it fer me, then?”

“My enjoyment?” In spite of his closeness making her feel rather uncomfortable, she remains resolute, looking him directly in the eye.

“Honey, I can think'a some other things you'd enjoy.” Alice feels his hand come down on her thigh. Out of instinct, she winces slightly, but accepts the unwanted advance. After a moment's hesitation though, she thinks of a better, more appropriate, reaction. Alice rises up, pulls back, and administers a sound slap across his toothless mug. The bar goes silent, but no one dares make a move.

“You cold b***h!” Alice notices that he has a slight, whistle-like lisp. “I oughta teach you a lesson!”

She fights the images of James that course through her mind. This isn't him and, even if it were, there's no reason for her to withstand being mistreated.

“Who's the b***h here? You're the one who's threatening a defenseless woman; what kinda man does that? Can't you hassle someone your own size or haven't you got that balls for it?”

Alice hasn't the slightest idea as to where these words are coming from, but her adrenaline's pumping and she's feeling nearly a decade's worth of repressed emotion begin to well up inside of her. Pete simply stands before her, speechless.

“That's what I thought.” She looks around the tavern, surveying all of the spectators eyeing her up and down. “Y'all are nothin' but a bunch'a cowards, all'a you!” Alice turns to address Lenora, sliding the half-full pint of beer towards her before heading for the door, “And this beer tastes like piss-vinegar.”

* * *

Being that the motel is within walking distance, Alice decides to take her newly-found 'tude and pay Ratman another visit.

Clapping the bell repeatedly, Alice lies in wait, money in hand; she's going to take a different approach tonight. After a few moments, the attendant arrives from the back-room.

“How much for a room?” Alice flashes a thick fold of twenties.

Ratman seems intrigued, but he still responds as if he's reading from a script, “we're full up.”

“How much for a room?”

“… We don' have any…”

“I have nearly a hundred dollars in my hot little hand right here; I'm guessin' one'a your rooms is actually worth about fifty cents per night. It'll be dawn soon and I'm only stayin' for a few hours. How much?”

He eyes her suspiciously, glances at the greenbacks, then looks back at Alice. “Seventy-five.”

“I'll give you forty.”

A pregnant pause. “Done.”

She peels two notes from the wad, slides them across the desk, trades them for the key he hands to her.

“Have a nice night,” he snidely coos. She just now notices that he's slightly bucktoothed, adding another level to her vermin-like appearance and almost giving her a reason to pity the man ― almost.

* * *

The curtains are tattered, as if they previous occupant had brought along with them a kennel-worth of kittens who'd just learned to use their claws. The wallpaper is an unnatural shade of yellow; it was most likely eggshell white at one point, long ago, but has since been unwittingly subject to Father Time and his magical powers of deterioration.

She investigates that state of the adjacent bathroom and notices that the lid atop the toilet is down; Alice decides that it's best to leave it that way. She's heard one too many an urban legend of godforsaken creatures swimming up through plumbing lines and popping up out of porcelin basins. Considering the state of the place, she could easily see The Queensbury Inn being the basis for such dreadful tales.

Now, having flipped through her mental archive of contemporary myths, Alice can't even look at the bed without imagining some poor deceased street walker laying dead, tucked inside of the mattress. She could imagine Ratman doing something like that, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch as far as she's concerned. Bearing this, and a more logical fear of bed bugs and crab lice, in mind she elects to sleep on the floor tonight. Simply being indoors is consolation enough; she's far less likely to have a run-in with any more feral animals, or people for that matter.

Her trusty duffle doubling as pillow, albeit a rather uncomfortable one, Alice descends into dreamland.

* * *

She's seated at a kitchen table. The black and white checkerboard floor looks as though it's been recently waxed. It glistens as diamonds of sunlight trickle in through a lattice-covered window on the opposite side of the room. Before her sits a bowl of porridge and sweetened milk, freshly removed from the stovetop and presently too hot to eat. If she wishes to enjoy her breakfast, she first has to sit and wait for it to cool.

Growing impatient and increasingly more hungry with each passing moment, she begins to blow on it, hoping to expedite the process. As Alice takes up the spoon that's suddenly appeared, she feels a hand upon her shoulder. Turning with a start, she sees that it's James, looming behind her.

“Who said you could come here?”

“I didn't…”

“Did I say you could talk?” His glare is so threatening, it's as if she's being stared down by a mad dog, she feels compelled to turn away as to avoid giving any indication that she's challenging him. She instead stares at the steaming cereal in silence. “Now ― who said you could leave the house?” Alice is uncertain as to whether or not he expects her to speak now. “I asked you a question!”

James tightens his grip on her and attempts to pull Alice up and out of her seat. Frozen in terror, she initially complies, but glances back down at the spread on the table before quickly turning towards him, holding the dish. A flick of her wrist and she douses him with the piping porridge. James recoils, crying out as his skin blisters from the searing mash and Alice awakens.

* * *

She tries not to make too much of her vision; it's almost too disturbing to process.

Though Alice has absolutely no respect for that man or what he stands for, she is not only still grappling with her emotional connection to him but also is disgusted to think that she could ever act out so violently towards anyone. Not permitting others' misconduct is one thing, but stooping to their level is another. She simply assumes that this is the lesson her psyche intended to teach her through such a disturbing vision.

Locking the room behind her, she deposits Ratman's key onto the counter and takes her leave of the motel, sincerely hoping that she never has a need to cross its threshold again.

Intent on repeating this process until the desired result occurs, she ventures yet again to the bus stop, fingers crossed.

* * *

Bag at her feet, Alice stands with her head held high, gazing into the light of the rising sun. Her mind must be playing tricks, because she imagines the sound of an automobile rumbling down the road. Realization hadn't hit up until this point in time, but since entering Blairesville, she hasn't seen any vehicles whatsoever. As if the town weren't bizarre enough already…

Her mouth goes slightly slack as she can see the port authority bus for which she's so wishfully been longing approach her, chugging up and over the horizon. It takes all of her remaining inner strength not to literally leap for joy. It soon arrives and slows to a halt in front of her; the chink of the doors parting is like music to her ears.

A woman sits astride the driver's seat. Beaming down at Alice from her perch, she cheerfully calls out, “Mornin', dear! Goin' my way?”

“I thought you'd never ask!” Alice dashes aboard, all too gladly pays her fare, and take a spot at the front of the coach. Her head rolls against the seat and eyes slowly close as she feels the machine around her begin to depart, leaving Blairesville in its dust.

Within a few minutes however, her reverie is disrupted by a voice, “excuse me, miss? You're not from 'round here by any chance, are you?”

“God, no!”

“Oh… Well, me neither. I was just wondering where you were headed.” She gives the stranger addressing her the once-over: he's young, seemingly hygienic and has rather disarming eyes. Her recent foray into the real world has taught her however, to never judge a book by its cover under any circumstances.

“I'm not sure yet.”

“That's a funny coincidence; neither do I! Perhaps we could figure it out together? It isn't right for a lady to travel alone, especially not one as pretty as you. My name's Alex,” he extends a hand to her, but Alice does little more than stare distantly at him.

She's just quite literally escaped from an eight year stint in a relationship built upon fear and disfunction. The worst part of Alice's past is not that she's has yet to experience a positive connection with another human being, but that she's had even less of an opportunity to simply be by herself.

Her personality is not quite yet her own, but essentially a branch of James', slowly twisted and contorted by his years-long metaphorical chokehold on her. Not only did she need to obtain a better grasp of world outside of James' apartment, but also outside of the psychological and emotional box in which she had been kept for so long.

“It's nice to meet you, Alex, but I don't think we're headed in the same direction.”

“What makes you say that?”

“It's going to be quite a long trip and I'll have to go it alone, at least for a while.”

“Well, that's no fun.”

“You never know; I think it will be.”

© 2010 Kelley T


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Added on September 3, 2010
Last Updated on September 3, 2010
Tags: abusive relationships, runaway, reborn, start over, esteem

Author

Kelley T
Kelley T

Pittsburgh, PA



About
If there's one thing in which I believe, it's following your dreams. And, that said, I try my damnedest to not be a hypocrite. : ) more..

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