"That's gonna be twenty dollars, miss," the driver grumbles, interrupting my train of thought.
Looking at the driver, I reach back to pull money out from my purse.
For months, I laboured over grueling work, trying to save as much money as possible. The canny penny-pinching seemed to help, as I'd managed to save hundreds of dollars in time for this move.
Rifling through my wallet, my freckled face twists in a frown. The neatly folded envelope containing my future is empty. Panicking I ransack the purse, frantically searching through every nook and cranny. As pocket after pocket turns out empty, a feeling of absolute dread surfaces in my stomach.
Where the hell could it be?
Cursing internally, I fish through the pockets of my jeans, delving past rolled up lint and gum wrappers to find some spare cash. Unfurling some leftover change that's definitely seen its better days, I hand the wrinkled cash to the driver.
"Thank you, miss," he mutters and eyes me peculiarly.
Still disturbed, I nod and turn towards the window to inspect the town I'm about to call home. With the cash missing, I can only imagine how the rest of my journey will be. At first, my eyes focus on my reflection as I see my horribly braided brown hair with my freckles and dark circles. I look like a mess, but now was not the time to limelight my face so I focus on the background.
To my surprise, a quiet stillness sweeps through the town. Giving me goosebumps. Clearly, the days of bustling city life and afternoon traffic jams are long behind me. Trees litter every corner, and a dense, gray fog seems to blanket the deserted street.
It's cold outside, I realize, groaning.
Of all the things to forget to pack, I think to myself, sighing disapprovingly, it had to be winter clothes.
I should've spent more time researching this place, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, as the saying goes. Regardless, no amount of bitter cold could stop me from leaving. I don't think I could have stayed there a second longer.
Before I could lose myself in negative thoughts, I slide to the edge of the seat and move towards the door. As I'm about to push it open, the driver calls out in a thick British accent, "Wait, miss! If you don't mind, can I ask you a question first?"
I look at him, raising my eyebrows and signalling at him to continue.
"Why, Scarenville?" he questions with the same peculiar look he had graced me with before. "I mean, of all the places you could choose from, why did you choose here?"
"Does it matter?" I ask plainly.
"I'm so-sorry, Miss," the driver stutters out. "I don't mean to intrude. You see, with all the rumours, I just thought someone as pretty as you would steer clear of this town."
"What rumours?" I ask, unable to hide my curiosity. I know that most rumours are either twisted versions of the truth or outright lies, fabricated by gossip mills. Still, some depraved portion of my subconscious wants nothing more than to know what terrible affliction could cause the older man to be so panicked.
"There are whispers," he says, leaning over the front seat. "They say that those who enter Scarenville are cursed to never leave the town again. I'd watch out for the fog, Miss. Where there is fog, darkness follows. And where there is darkness, the most fearsome creature's reign."
He has to be kidding, I think, attempting to hold back a laugh.
Sending me a somber and forbidding glare, I'm stunned into a dead silence. He's not joking, I realize, in fact, he's dead serious. Damn... He truly believes every ridiculous word he uttered.
Shaking my head, I step out of the cab. The rush of icy wind that greets me sends shivers rippling down my spine. The cabbie follows behind me with a quickness that betrays his age, moving to the trunk of the rusty yellow car to retrieve my luggage.
"Well, thanks for the warning, but can you tell me where the apartments might be?" I ask, trying to steer the conversation away from the silly gossip and towards something more tangible and sensible.
Watching me warily, he remarks, "Up ahead, it should be your first right."
Is he angry? Is he going to give me a lecture now? If he is, I better put my earphones on.
Setting the last of the luggage by my feet, he huffs and hurries over to the driver's side door. Before entering, he eyes me cautiously and shakes his head again.
"I can tell by the look on your face that you don't believe me. Wait until you reach the apartment, your opinion might change," he utters, and finally steps into the vehicle, the door shutting behind him with a resounding thud. With those ominous parting words, he speeds off, vanishing into an embankment of thick fog and trees.
Is this a movie? I think, sniffling a laugh. Seriously, where are the cameras?
Shaking off the uneasiness that steadily grew inside me throughout the conversation with the troubled man, I lift my luggage and start to trek up the road.
I only have two suitcases and a backpack, but they are all overwhelmingly bulky and stuffed beyond capacity. Clearly, when the cabbie said, 'Up ahead,' he really meant a hundred miles up the road.
Why couldn't he drop me off at the apartment? I wonder, frustration mounting as the distance between where I stand and where I need to be seemed to grow farther and farther apart. Weariness consumes me with every step I take and my shallow breaths turns ragged.
I look around, urgently hoping to find someone- anyone- to help me with the luggage. Not a single person can be seen for miles, so my efforts are fruitless.
How can this place even have a high school?
Thinking back, the major reason I came to Scarenville was for that particular high school. All it took was one perfectly placed advertisement on my laptop screen with the words 'Scarenville High School: Open for Admission.' A moment of pure desperation had me packing my bags.
So here I am. Walking down the eerily quiet streets of Scarenville, with nothing more than baggage for company.
After some time has passed, I decide to rest. I mean, how much longer can a girl go?
Sitting beside an enormous tree on the side of the road, I do my best to catch my breath, which proves nearly impossible with the cold weather and never-ending fog.
On the verge of suffocation, I struggle out of my jacket, hoping to relieve the tightness in my chest. I hate this. I hate everything about this place. How could I be so impulsive? Lost in irrelevant thoughts, a shiver, unlike anything I'd ever experienced races down my spine.
It's the type of shiver you get right before things go south. When you know someone or something in the dark is watching and waiting for you to lower your guard.
The feeling of a breath fanning over my neck makes me tense up. Heart racing, I turn to look.
And. See. Absolutely. Nothing.
Nothing at all! Really, Rose? I think, sarcasm dripping heavily from each thought. If I keep letting the words of that senile old man control my thoughts, the next thing you know, I'll be running to the hills screaming 'monsters!' My energy is better spent finding my apartment, I decide, shaking my head.
After a few more minutes of torturous walking, the road finally forks in two. Smiling internally, I head right.
And there it is! Covered in at least twenty-years of old paint, the four-story building calls for me.
The first thing I see as I enter the lobby is the reception. It is old and rusty, which is kind of a shame. In another place in time, I imagine this place was quite beautiful.
The most regal thing about the room now is an old chandelier hanging precariously over the lobby, but even that is covered in layers of dust and filled with intricate cobwebs. Shuddering to myself, I step deeper inside.
I look around, trying to find someone to assist me. Finding no one, I sigh and sit on a rusty sofa that creaks with each shift in weight. Can my luck get any worse?
"Is there anything I can help you with?" a quavering voice speaks a minute later.
I let out an audible gasp and turn towards the entrance. Leaning heavily against a wooden cane, an old woman stands with stiff eyes, pale skin, and dull white hair. She scrutinizes me through narrowed eyes as she clutches a plastic bag to her chest.
"Oh no, I was wondering if you've seen the landlord? I rented a room and wanted to introduce myself," I blurt, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling her presence evokes in me.
She nods slowly and walks forward. "I'm the owner."
"Oh!" Not knowing what else to say, I ask, "Can I help you with the bag?"
She laughs and shakes her head in bewilderment. In a challenging tone, she responds, "I've handled myself just fine for years. I certainly don't need any help now."
I give a small smile and get up from my place on the seedy couch.
"Hold on, there. I need to find the keys to your room," she says, stepping behind the counter.
I shudder involuntarily but say nothing.
"Why have you come here, darling?" she questions absentmindedly as she rummages through drawers.
"Who else?" She retorts, chuckling softly under her breath.
I decide to answer the question genuinely and say, "I came here to join the school. I heard it's pretty good."
"Indeed, it is," she agreed, "And what do you plan to do after high school?"
OK, having company was proving to be better than I expected- even if that company came in the form of a spunky older woman. Starting to get comfortable, I admit, "I want to be a singer, so I'm planning to finish my master here and then move to Los Angeles—)"
"What?" she asks with mild shock written over her face.
I cautiously look at her and wonder quietly to myself if I misspoke in some way. Voicing my opinion, I ask, "I'm sorry, did I say something wrong?"
Pausing in her search for the keys, she looks at me with great interest. "Why would you need to leave, silly girl? You can sing right here! The townsfolk would love nothing more than to listen to you forever!" She exclaims, a curious expression splayed across her face.
Unconsciously, I recall the cabbies' final departing words and couldn't help but wonder if there is more to this town than what lies on the surface. It's clear that she is hiding something, but I have yet to discover what that 'something' is.
I look as she curiously watches me, assessing my every move and look. As if searching for any defiance so I shake my head and answer her carefully because the last thing I want is to annoy the owner "Oh no, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings! I haven't quite ironed out all the details yet." I say sweetly.
"You can't leave this place, honey," she chides and restarts her search. Standing there uncomfortably, I can't help but wonder if I made a mistake renting out an apartment here.
"Ah-ha!" She speaks after some time and tosses me a rusty set of keys, "2nd floor, 3rd room to the left."
Nodding, I look down the hall to find a stairwell and an elevator.
Finally! Something from the twenty-first century actually exists here.
Gathering my luggage, I start towards the lift. "Thank you, Miss...?" I question, cocking my head as I wait for an answer.
"Oh, it's Amora, dear, just call me Amora." She walks towards a door beside the elevator. "If you have any questions, I live here." She points to the door.
I kindly smile and nod my head.
"Oh, and um, earlier you said that I could never leave this place, but I'm not so sure about that. I plan on leaving Scarenville in a year or two, at most," I explain, getting straight to the point. I figure honesty is the best approach to take because I don't want to give her false expectations.
As the elevator slips open, I step through the double doors. Not expecting a response from Amora, I press the button that would lead to my floor and wait.
Before the doors could fully slide shut, she turns toward me, a creepy smile plastered across her face. "I don't recall asking," she says as the doors close before me.
What the frick just happened?
Analysing the bizarre interaction in my head, I gather that something is definitely wrong with this lady.
The elevator stops moving, and once more, the doors open. Moving out of the lift, I hastily follow the directions I'd received, impatient to get to my room.
"And there it is," I mumble to myself, coming across a door marked with the same insignia embedded in the tag holding the keys together.
I put the keys into the lock and open the door, expecting nothing more than a dirty old room. But I'll be damned! What I see has exceeded my expectations.
The room is clean and huge, with brightly polished wooden floors. To the right stands a door which I could only assume is a bathroom. Directly across from it sits a small, single bed and a dresser. Pleasantly surprised, I notice that perched on the dresser is a modestly sized TV.
Of course, they have a TV. What else can I expect? A telephone pole?
Maybe this could actually work out, I ponder as I jump on the bed, kicking off my shoes and readying myself for a long-awaited nap.
I have no choice but to make it work; I think determinedly, as I lose consciousness and fall into the comforting depths of sleep.
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