The wash of sickly yellow light flowed out of the windows of the all night
Laundromat and seeped unevenly across the crumbled asphalt parking lot.
Carmilla lounged dreamily, feeling the muggy heat from the open door flowing
across her in waves. The street beyond was empty, except for the
occasional car creeping home from a very late night of work or drink or
sex. She sighed heavily and lit another cigarette, stretching out
on the bench and watching the rain patter softly in the puddles on the
midnight black tarmac.
I wonder when Count Dracula did his laundry? she thought with amusement. One of the washers made a spinning-click-whirl noise, as if in answer. She got up slowly and shuffled clothes from washer to dryer, then retook her seat.
From here, she could see, if she leaned out a little bit, the lights of the "World Famous Daytona Beach Strip", as the signs said. She didn't lean out, but looked at the reflection of the gaudy neon in the darkened windows of the strip mall across the street. By now, most of the lights were on in darkened windows, their owners having shut up long before two a.m. on this rainy August night. Further down, unseen by her, was the observation tower and the pier, also closed for the night. Her acute hearing could catch the chairlift's wire scraping in the light breeze.
She glanced up at the streetlamps, strung with cables. They looked like the rigging on a sunken ship. Words flowed through them, she knew, words and ideas and people who were awake and living or dying, all the detritus of humanity flowed through those wires. Unlike other wires….
She put her head down and rubbed at her tired eyes slowly, trying to bring the night back into focus.
She could see the stanchions holding the wires, running down both sides of the narrow alley they were being herded down. She heard the shouts of men, the cries of women, and the wailing of children. Instinctively, she and Sithia clung together, like two small flowers folding around each other. They'd always been that way: born together, neatly entwined head to toe when they flowed out into the world, much to the surprise of their mother, who expected one big baby, not two small ones.
Now, they held tightly to each other as the crowd jostled them forward, fearful to be separated, even for a moment. Sithia looked at Carmilla, and their eyes flashed back and forth in silent communication.
not so bad, we are still together…
where are we?..
this cant be the place, that place we heard about…
no sister don’t be silly. that place is for…
and we are not jews…
no, we are rom…
but they say we are as bad as the juden…
but we are not…we are romany…
we will be fine, no?
yes, we will be fine…
Their mother was trying to keep near them, but she had less luck as the crowd surged this way and that, pushing some together while separating others. It seemed to Carmilla like they walked for miles, but she knew later it had only been a distance of little more than a hundred yards.
Several men awaited them at the end of the wire. One was tall, well dressed, even warm looking here in the middle of one of Poland's worst winter storms. He held a riding crop in one hand and a clipboard in the other. He was giving orders to the others, that much she could guess, but she didn't know the language. When they got close enough to the end of the line, they could see that some of the people were going to the left, others off to the right. Their mother was behind them by several yards. Carmilla turned as she heard her call their names. The look of sheer fear on her mother's face scared her, and she followed her gaze over to the right, to see what her mother was seeing.
Two large chimneys jutted from the snow. Ashes and cinders flew from them, mixing with the flakes coming down. Carmilla and Sithia both felt their hearts drop from their chests: this, then, was true. That the Rom were being treated just like the juden. And that the juden, and the Rom, for that matter, were being killed.
Ausrotten ...thought Carmilla.
And then, suddenly, they were before the officer, who stood with a bored expression looking down at them. Carmilla felt seized with a kind of panic she'd never felt before. Everything seemed frozen in ice for her. The cries and the bumping of the crowd dimmed, and all she saw was the man, her sister, and herself.
He was a robust man. Carmilla, who hadn't eaten very much lately, could see that he was well fed, not fat but healthy. She could smell pipe tobacco on his coat. His hands were well cleaned, even manicured. He didn't look much different from the Giorgio who frequented their caravans, buying luck charms or love powders, or even the special customers the women sometimes entertained.
She felt Sithia's hands clutch hers, and squeezed back in response.
His eyes swept over them, like a farmer watching cows loaded into a truck, then he stopped for a moment.
He asked them something in German. Neither of them spoke it, so they shook their heads and gestured with an open palm.
He impatiently grabbed the piece of oak tag paper they'd had pinned to their coats when they'd been loaded on the train. Then he flipped his clipboard open to a list, written in a small, crabbed handwriting.
A smile came over his face, the smile of a cat sensing the movement of the mouse in the wall. The smile of the predator.
Carmilla jerked awake, her hands clutching the wooden slats of the bench
she sat on. For a second she could hear the scream of the steam whistle
echoing in her ears, then she realized she was awake, the dream was over.
Putting a fist up to her face, she frowned at the wood shards poking into the tender flesh of her palms. Old wood stuck out haphazardly. Then the bench groaned and fell sideways, settling down on the sidewalk.
She'd ripped chunks out of the four slats holding it together in her sleep, and never even realized it.
I'm becoming…a monster… she thought dimly, but glancing at the sky realized she'd slept longer than she should have.
The first pale wash of dawn was coming in. Nothing rosy or pink, not the true dawn, but the flight of the blackness of the sky before the coming of the day. It would be light in an hour.
She hurried in to gather up her things, noticing not all of them were dry but they would have to do until tomorrow night. She stuffed them haphazardly into her saddlebags and roared away, into the fading night, toward the beach and the cheap room she'd taken there.
And in the darkness beside the Laundromat, one shadow came creeping out, into the parking lot, to the bench where the strange woman had been sitting. It extended a hand to feel the broken wood, the mangled metal supports, then quickly drew it back again.
And, whistling softly, it merged back into the shadows and was gone in moment.