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A grimy, claustrophobic city that lived and thrived on the suffocating smoke produced by massive corporations situated by a polluted ocean. Still leaps ahead of the loathsome town she came from. A rickety bus speeding through cluttered traffic could not take her away fast enough.
Justine sat in the back corner where her thoughts could not be interrupted, instrumental music playing in her ears to force some kind of concentration. Three bus tickets and a carry-on bag later, she was finally at the outskirts of Portland, Maine with a silent desperation to be forgotten.
She could see the ocean beside her. Calm and freezing, it amazed her the people around her commented on taking a swim next chance they got. Scattered on the rippling surface were fishing or motorboats, most of which were docked along the shore. It took damn near one month to be convinced that jumping on one of them and sailing away was the wrong choice. A conclusion she disagreed with to the fullest.
A sharp left here and a U-turn there, she was at the bus station. Justine was the last to step off. The bombarding stench of salt water overwhelming her senses. Helped little that her first sight upon hitting the pavement was a TV screen through the wall of windows looking into a waiting section of the station.
She couldn’t hear anything, but her own image was unmistakable. It wasn’t even her name being used as a label. “Hilltown Liar: Trial of the Decade.” How overused was that? Trial of the decade? It couldn’t be that big of a deal, or so Justine wished was true. But seeing her story plastered in a city hundreds of miles away from her home meant she wasn’t so lucky.
And of course the picture they decided to use, messy auburn hair and minimal makeup, made her look like a wanted criminal. To some extent, she was, or at least she felt like it.
Justine tried to hide her face and make her way past the station as quick as possible. She hoped no one noticed her. As she reached the main crosswalk that led into the depths of the city, she found she was being crushed between the racing pedestrians.
Justine took out her phone and scrolled through the set locations in her map. Cheyenne Driver’s address wasn’t too far. A thirty minute walk or so, minimal turns. Should be easy enough. Justine began going forward, keeping her eyes straight and blending in as much as possible.
There were too many people. Nothing like New York or Los Angeles, but her skinned crawled with the idea of being so alone in a crowd so large. Her pace picked up. Anything to get where she needed to faster. Though it resulted in running into the street and just missing the turn of the light, Justine kept her focus on getting to her destination.
But as she tried going up a sudden hill, the sidewalk cracked and uneven, she tripped. No one stopped to help her, no one seemed to notice. Justine struggled to stand. As people passed her and bumped her back down, she couldn’t get to her feet.
Ready to wait it out until the crowd let up, Justine felt something on her shoulder. A gentle hand. She shot her gaze up and met the wide, sparkling eyes of a dark skinned woman. Her black and golden hair was long, stretching down her back and flaying out like wings. Something about her was not human.
Her hand was hot, like embers. Her presence was intimidating, but comforting. Angelic. Justine was speechless as she was lifted to her feet. Amazement turned to fright as Justine watched the crowd walk through this woman and she remained unfazed by it.
Justine jumped back. “Who are you?” she asked the woman.
“A forgotten friend.”
The woman leaned in. Her whispers were intoxicating. The smell of something metallic.
“Don’t forget about me when you enter the realm of shadows and secrets.”
“The realm of---what are you talking about?”
“Call for me when the trial has ended and all that’s left is my final verdict.” Her hand tightened on Justine’s shoulder. Heated nails digging into her skin. “You will know my name.”
Justine blinked and the woman was gone. Despite her stunned reaction, no one stopped to ask what happened or why she was acting as she was. Justine knew standing around would solve nothing. The sooner she found Cheyenne’s, the better.