It was unfortunate that the coldest time of the night was right before dawn, even in the winter. It was bitterly cold during the warmest part of the day, so when the coldest hit, it became cold enough to freeze hell. Jane stared at the windows for a few minutes longer. She was not looking forward to the walk home, but on the bright side, it wasn’t snowing at least.
She would have killed for enough spare cash to buy a cab ride home, however, she was going to be short on rent as it was. The only good thing about working the midnight shift at the local McDonald’s was that she wasn’t going to starve. This wouldn’t be the first time that she had needed to live off of stale fast food and she doubted that it would be the last.
Jane finished wiping down the tables and slipped back behind the counter. There was still a few things that she needed to take care of before the morning crew started to arrive.
“Hey Babe.” The large man leered at her, and the entertainment of the evening just arrived. A few hours late. On this shift, there was always one. Some drunk bastard from one of the numerous bars down the street would stagger in and demand more than just a greasy burger. They usually showed up shortly after 2 am, right about when the bars closed. Jane didn’t know where this guy was hanging out for the past couple of hours. He was more than a little late. “Why don’t you blow this joint and come home with me eh?”
Jane stepped back. “No. I don’t think so.”
“Awe, come on.” He leaned as close at the counter would let him. “I will show you a really good time.”
“I am afraid that I am going have to ask you to leave.” She replied.
“Why do you have to be such a stuck up bitch?”
Jane took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “You have to either order something or leave. Only paying customers are allowed to hang out here. Especially at this time of night. You understand.”
It was nights like these that made Jane seriously consider finding a new job.
“But you haven’t given me my burger yet.” He pouted. “You gotta give me my burger.”
“You didn’t order one. What would you like?”
“Babe.” The man took his hat off, used his fingers to brush back hid fading hair. “You know what I want.”
Gods, how she hated people. She really needed a new job. One where she didn’t have to deal with this kind of crap day in and day out. But the truth was, between her three jobs, she just didn’t have the time. She couldn’t afford to take time off of any of them in order to find something better. In short, she was stuck here, working the graveyard shift while being leered at by a man who was more than old enough to know better and was most likely married.
“I have other duties to attend to.” She went on. “If you could tell me what you want, I can get your order under way.”
He winked at her and did as she asked. “Give me a double big Mac.”
Jane gave a sigh of relief. The boss hated it when they had to have a customer removed from the place. If it wasn’t for the fact that the labour board would fine him big time for firing her, she would have been let go along time ago. If Jane didn’t have to toss the man out, she would save herself the trouble of dealing with a cranky boss.
Jane took her time awhile later to finish sweeping out back and running a wet mop through the kitchen. Everything was already done in the front and the drunken creeper was still lurking out there. It was precariously close to the end of her shift and in another half hour or so her shift was about to end. She eyed the man from the back. It was hard to say if he would let her be or if he was going to try and follow her home. That had happened once or twice.
“I got the garbage.” Mitch said, as he came and stood beside her. “After the night you had, I wasn’t comfortable with you taking it out. The natives were restless tonight.”
Jane huffed. “That is the understatement of the year. There must have been something in the air tonight cause there is nothing else to explain it. Can’t even blame it on a full moon this time. And thank you. I wasn’t looking forward to going out there.”
“Its still dark out there.” Mitch offered. “You want a ride home?”
Jane paused. Her gaze fell on the predawn shadows that lay beyond the window, then shook her head. “Nah, I will be fine. I don’t live that far away and I am sure that I can get myself home before the sun comes up.”
Mitch snickered. “I knew it. You are a vampire. You are going to turn into a pile of ash with the first rays of the sun.”
Jane rolled her eyes at him. “No more than you are. I just happen to know that you like to stay late in order to flirt with the new chick. What’s her name again?” Mitch turned a deep red. “And I am tired. I really want a good long nap before I have to get up for work again.”
“I don’t know how you do it.” Mitch looked out the window. “Three jobs. When do you find time to sleep?”
“Mostly I don’t.”
“Well, ff you are sure, the offer is there. Just be safe eh? I would hate to have to break in a new person if something happened to you.”
“I would hate if something happened to me too.” She replied. “There wouldn’t be anyone around to feed my fish.”
“You have a fish?”
Jane grinned at him. “Of course. Fish make the perfect pets. They don’t make any noise and they don’t die from loneliness if you spend every waking moment working. I swear, if I couldn’t nibble while I am working here, I probably wouldn’t eat at all. I am always either going to work, working, or going home after work. What can I say? I have no life.”
“You should get yourself a man.” Mitch advised. “Then he could help you out. Men are useful you know.”
“Why, Mitch,” Jane tilted her head. “Are you offering?”
Mitch threw up his hands and backed away. “No, not me. You are too temperamental for my tastes. I like my bits just as they are.”
Jane laughed. “Your safe. From me at least so you don’t need to worry. Your bits will be intact for Sarah? Is that her name?”
“Close.” He returned her grin and waved her off. “It’s Sonya.”
“Sonya then.” she smiled. “I am almost done here. You mind if I take off a few minutes early? I kinda want to be gone before mega-bitch comes in. I really don’t feel like dealing with her, and there is something that I need to do before I get home.”
Mitch made a show of looking at his watch. “I don’t know.”
A smile slowly crept across his face and he gave her a sidelong glance. “Okay,” he said. “Go. I will cover for you. There is only five minutes before its time for us to sign out anyways.” Mitch made shooing motions with his free hand. “I can take care of the rest.”
Minutes later, Jane was out the door without even a backward glance. Leacherous drunken dude didn’t even look up when she walked past.
The wind hit her as soon as she stepped outside the doors. Jane gasped once, then twice. It was the cold more than relentless movement of air that robbed her of her breath and what little warmth that she could muster.
She only lived a few blocks away. If she walked there right away it would only take her twenty minutes or so to get to the closest that she called an apartment. She took a brisk place
A north wind picked up the newly fallen leaves and made them dance about her feet as she went. It played with her hair with phantom fingers and pulled at her jacket here and there. The streets were always quiet at this time, but tonight they were unusually deserted.
What could she say? Cities as a rule didn’t sleep. As tired as Jane was, there was someone who she wanted to talk to first. That meant that she would have to take the long way home and it was cold. Jame thought it over as she pulled her tattered coat around herself.
This time of year Clive like to hang out in the ally behind the nearest Subway. He liked it there. Apparently there was a vent there that blew warm air when the ovens were going. He told her that it was the best way to stay warm in the winter. She just shook her head at the thought. Clive was a character and a good friend. Jane smiled. He was her only friend, if only because he was the only person who was around when she had a spare bit of time to socialize.
It wouldn’t take her much longer to go around to Clive’s box than it would if she went straight home. Jane really wanted to check on him and see of there was anything that he needed. She worried about him during the winter. The forecast over the radio called for a deep freeze over the next couple of days. She would see if he needed any extra blankets, or even better, maybe she could convince him to sleep on her couch over the next few days.
Jane paused. The ally was just ahead of her and she peered into its depths. She couldn’t see much. The ally stretched beyond the reach of the yellow light of the flickering street lamp and went into a darkness that was so complete that not even shadows dared to exist down there.
Clive had told her more than once that the dark made it a safe place to sleep. You couldn’t see the boxes that the homeless used for shelter from the street and that meant that they could rest relatively undisturbed. Jane could see his point. From this end of the ally the only thing that she could make out were the dumpsters. She pulled the collar of her jacket up to protect the back of her neck.
He isn’t there.
A chill ran down her spine. It was more than just the biting north wind robbing her of what little warmth she possessed. The longer she stood there, on the space where the sidewalk became the ally, the less she wanted to take even a single step down that path.
He isn’t there. There is no one down there that you want to meet. It’s best if you take a different way home. But she really wanted to see him. What did it say about her that she was willing to forgo checking on the only person whom she could call friend?
Jane took one step. Her toe rested right on the edge of the shadow, then she turned. Clive was a career street person. He had told her once that he had spent most of his life on the streets. The man knew ways to survive that she couldn’t even guess at. Clive would be alright. She was more likely to die from the cold out here than he was.
She stepped back, then took another. Without thought she turn back into the light and simply walked. Jane didn’t pay any particular attention to where or how fast. She simply trusted her feet to carry her home.
Her path eventually wound itself around to her favourite short cut home then stopped. Jane paused at the edge of the ally’s mouth and stared into its shadows. She had come this way hundreds of times and this morning was no different, but the fresh memory of the other ally that lead into nothing but darkness, she wasn’t going to attempt to step into another. All of the same shadows were there, all of the same dumpsters and garbage cans. It was all the same rusting fire escapes hanging from the aging brick, but she just couldn’t bring herself to take even the smallest step inside.
Don’t go that way. A thin silvery voice echoed through her mind. It was the same voice that tile her that Clive wasn’t there. It’s not safe to go that way tonight. There is someone waiting in there for you. You do not want him to find you.
Jane shivered from more than the winter wind. She had heard that same voice before in the midst of her own thoughts. It had even saved her a time or two when she listened to it and took heed. Jane would listen to it now. The combination of the mass of cranky customers at work, along with the empty streets and an absent friend, made her inclined to listen.
Jane flipped her collar up against the northern wind and pulled her jacket tight. She stepped back into the newborn light of the dawn and avoided the shadows and took the long way home.