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The smell of the Stop always hit me before anything else. I don’t know how they got it, but the sex and marijuana hadn’t changed in fifty years. I never wandered here then, before Sandra passed giving birth to Alicia, before Alicia ran away at 16. The smell surprised me every time, like it slowly encroached farther over the surrounding land every day. I trudged deeper into the scent, just like every Saturday, crossing barren, abandoned yards, and roads that reached for your toes in the hopes that you might trip and comfort them with a human touch. I used to keep a close eye on my tattered shoes the whole way, but each crack and pothole had become familiar, and almost comforting to me.

Farther into the thickening haze, you might start to hear the Stop. I couldn’t anymore, on account of my aging eardrums, but I’d bet someone a bit younger would. Before you could see the light anyways. I’ve always dreamed about seeing the glow of a city before it molested your other senses, but since the disease we just can’t make quite enough electricity for that. I think that’s where Alicia went, a grand, lit up city. I used to tell her about my dreams of a big city, and once she caught the bug I couldn’t have stopped her. She never enjoyed farming potatoes, and the quiet life I lived. I like to think that she lives atop one of those huge skyscrapers I’ve heard about, contributing her own small lamps to the fiercely stubborn glow around her.

I always saw light from the Stop before I could hear it. The sun setting in the west reflected harshly off of the few reflective surfaces of a rusty trailer park. A few people meandered around, none that I could pick out yet. Whenever I saw a girl I’d wonder if maybe, just maybe I saw Alicia, but quickly prayed that I wouldn’t find her at a place like this. She’s the reason that I walked here every Saturday. Well, part of it. I’d like to say I did it to round my weekly journey to Good Words Fellowship out to an even two miles, but that makes me a liar. I do it for Alicia.

I found a knife at the church this week. I donate leftover potatoes there every Saturday, by the last lights of the setting sun through the remains of stained glass windows. The musky building doesn’t have too many people in it this late, which doesn’t bother me. I amble in with some crops that could have fed Alicia, and set the bag down next to a hundred year old oak shelf, sagging with the weight of a thousand past donations. Now you won’t find much more than my potatoes.

Today, though, I did. The final dregs of sunlight glinted off something small in the corner as I turned to leave. With difficulty, I bent through the cobwebs and wrapped my fingers around the blade of a small ornate knife, and cut my palm open in the process. I didn’t think too much of it then, but it really started to hurt.

I glanced down at the object of my displeasure, illuminated by the streetlamps that became steadier as we neared the Stop. I discovered an ornately curved wooden handle, and a devilishly sharp blade twisting around itself into a point. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into this knife, and I’d taken it from the church. It didn’t bother me nearly as much as it should. While I admired the features of this functional piece of art, my feet carried me nearly all the way to the stop, where I could finally start to hear.

You wouldn’t hear much of value at the Stop, snippets here and there of illicit activity, but the moans and creaks of trailers, and animals skittering around looking for scraps provided a distinct background. It used to send a shiver down my bones, but had become sort of comforting in recent years. Around the time I get to my hearing radius, I start to be able to pick out people from shadows, as more than indistinct shapes in the distance. Not faces, necessarily, but you’d get to know the gait of a certain person, or the way someone’s shoulders hunched against the muddy light.

Looking for the girl who met me here every Saturday, I caught snippets of conversation from the passing patrons. Whispers, hushed murmurs, quiet discussion, bartering. I found her talking to someone else that I didn’t know, and shrunk back into the shadows, and watched. He reeked of alcohol, but didn’t stumble or slur like a drunk. His hat couldn’t hide the almost familiar shock of red hair on top his head, and he carried himself like a man trying to avoid the consequences of his past actions. Their conversation feels nervous, shady, but so does everything else around the Stop. She seemed intrigued, as if he proposed some sort of business deal.

I watched them go into a trailer, and swore under my breath. She’s mine. Louisa meets me here every Saturday, for a few potatoes I can spare, and some company. I like to think she does it for me, not the potatoes. She reminds me so much of Alicia; I just want a taste of the old times. I guess I’m a bit of an odd customer for Louisa, I certainly don’t want any of her normal ‘wares’ like the others who come here and to Dugal’s.

That’s where I’ve seen that red hair before: Dugal McPherson. I know he runs a bar and brothel over in another district, but I hardly venture out of mine. He’s probably here trying to steal girls for his business. My mind races, I can’t lose Alicia again. Tightening my grip on both the knife, and my small sack of potatoes, I peek through their window and wonder if I can bust down the door. He seems to be moving around a wand with a cone on the end and light shining out of it. The light shines briefly over a lockpick set on the table, and lights up the insignia of the Vigilantes. My heart drops through the ground, and the knife nearly falls to the ground. I can’t do this. I’ve lost my parents to Vigilantes, I can’t do the same thing to Alicia, wherever she might be.

It sounds like they’re wrapping up the discussion inside, and I only just get out of the way before the trailer door opens. McPherson shakes Louisa’s hand, and gives me an odd look as he passes by. Stepping forward into the light, I see Louisa’s face light up as she sees me, and something warms, and starts lifting my heart back into it’s proper place. I get a hug, and walk inside the trailer to talk about the week that’s past since last time. Putting on a smile like all is right again I manage, “Hello sweetie. I’ve brought you some potatoes.”