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From Demons to Daylight

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The thin girl with the long, dark hair pulled her jacket tighter around herself as she walked down the street. It was December, and the thin, forest green cargo jacket was no longer enough to keep her warm when biting winds cut through the streets. She was thin, too, which didn’t do her any favors when the temperatures started to drop.


“Carmilla, what have you gotten yourself into?” she said to herself, tucking her hands into her sleeves to try to keep them warm.


Carmilla continued down the street, touching her fingertips to her pocket again to make sure that her money was still there. She had just barely enough to buy another bundle from her dealer. It would last her a few days, and then she’d have to figure out how to make some money to score her next hit. But she didn’t have to worry about that until this bundle ran out. Carmilla kept her head down, tucking her curly hair back behind her ear. Her pupils were dilated, and her eyes looked like they’d both been blacked by a couple of punches. It was the reason she hated going out––people always gave her weird looks, and their glances lingered for longer than Carmilla felt comfortable with.
Carmilla hurried to the house that she usually visited at least once a week. It was a row home, shabby, but not run down, with dead potted plants lining the porch. Carmilla remembered when the home had still been well cared for. But the more drugs the owners did, the less they seemed to care about appearances.


Carmilla hurried to the door, taking the few stairs two at a time. She rapped quickly on the solid wooden door, and then waited, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other. She waited for a minute, glancing over her shoulder every couple seconds to make sure that no one was watching. When no one came to the door, Carmilla knocked again, her knuckles hitting the door harder this time. Finally, she heard the click of a lock being unlocked.


“Hey, come on in!” Carmilla followed her dealer into the house, turning to look at him as he locked the door behind him. He was short, barely taller than Carmilla, and pale. His skin was so pale, Carmilla was sure that his only contact with the outdoors came when he opened his front door. His hair was dark brown, messy, and long, falling to his chin in long, greasy locks. No matter how many times Carmilla spent time with him, she never quite felt comfortable around him.


“Hey, Mark,” Carmilla said, shoving her hands deep into her back pockets.


“So, what do you need?” Mark asked, crossing his arms over his chest. He and Carmilla used to spend more time together, hanging out and getting high together. But once, when they’d both been high, he’d tried to take advantage of Carmilla, and she’d broken his nose. Ever since then, their interactions were short and entirely transactional, and Carmilla hadn’t been welcome to stay in his house anymore. That was when she’d been forced to fend for herself more, finding places to live on the streets and eeking out a living on her own.


“I need another bundle,” Carmilla said, her eyes not meeting Mark’s.


“Sure thing. It’ll be two hundred, even.” Mark stayed where he was, waiting for Carmilla to pass him the money before he went to get her bundle.


“There,” Carmilla said, thrusting a fistful of cash towards Mark. She was already starting to rock on the balls of her feet, eager to get another fix. She waited impatiently as Mark counted out the cash, checking slowly to make sure that he had the right amount.


“You know, I’ve got a proposition for you if you want some extra,” Mark said, raising an eyebrow at Carmilla.


“Going to have to pass,” Carmilla answered. She winked at him as she said, “You caught me at a bad time for that.”


“Oh,” Mark said, his jaw clenching slightly as his eyes flickered over Carmilla, taking her in from head to foot. “Well, maybe next time then. Be right back.”


Carmilla waited for Mark to come back from the other room, holding a small bag in his hands. “Alright, here it is. I’ll give you a hit for free if you want to hang out a bit.”


“Just hang out?” Carmilla asked skeptically.


“Just talk,” Mark answered, nodding his head. “Besides, this shit knocks me out pretty quick these days anyway.”


“Fair enough,” Carmilla conceded. She followed Mark into the living room and dropped onto one of the couches that lined the room. Mark often had a parade of people in and out of the living room, all in various states of drug use. But today it was mostly empty, save one girl, who was passed out on the couch, her chest rising and falling gently as she slept. Carmilla watched as Mark measured out enough heroin for each of them, and heated it with a lighter under a metal spoon. It took a few minutes before it was ready and Mark pulled it up into a needle.
“You want to go first?” Mark asked, holding the needle out to Carmilla.


“Tie me up?” Carmilla asked, holding out her arm. Mark nodded and wrapped a thin elastic band around her arm, tying it tightly just above her elbow. Carmilla slapped the exposed crook of her elbow a few times, until she could finally see the vein well enough to press the tip of the needle to it. She took a deep breath, savoring the few seconds before she pressed her thumb down on the plunger, flushing the drugs into her system.


Carmilla felt the drugs running through her veins, and everything started to feel right again. Everything that she was worried about melted away. She watched, almost literally through rose-colored glasses as Mark repeated the process, liquefying the heroin in his own spoon, refilling the syringe Carmilla had just emptied, and flushing the drugs into his system.


“That’s the life, isn’t it?” Mark asked, leaning back into a pile of pillows on the floor. “Everything’s better like this.”


“Damn straight,” Carmilla replied. Mark laughed gently in response, grinning broadly at Carmilla. Carmilla smiled right back at him. She missed this, just spending time with Mark and the rest of their friends, without a care in the world.


They sat like that for a while, just sitting in silence, enjoying each other’s company––but mostly just enjoying the feeling of heroin coursing through their bodies. After what felt like hours, Carmilla pushed herself up from the couch. She looked down at Mark, about to tell him that she was leaving, but he’d been right about the drugs knocking him out––he was lying on the pillows, exactly where he’d sprawled out after injecting himself with the drugs.


Carmilla headed to the door, but halfway there she stopped, her mind racing. With Mark and the only other occupant of the house both passed out, she could help herself to a few free doses. If she only took a few, Mark wouldn’t even notice that they were gone. Carmilla crept back through the house, and found the door that she’d seen Mark go through so many times to retrieve drugs for someone. She eased the door open, moving it forward gently so that it wouldn’t creak. She rushed into the room, and glanced around for the familiar drug she was seeking.


“Got it,” she whispered under her breath, her eyes falling on the heroin, already packaged by the dose. She glanced back towards the door, just in case Mark woke up and came to check on things. The coast was still clear. So she grabbed a handful of doses, and crept back out, easing the door shut behind her. Carmilla rushed back to the front door, and unclicked the lock.


“What’re you doing?”


Carmilla turned quickly to face Mark, her heart leaping into her throat. “Hey, I’m just heading out. I didn’t want to wake you up, you seemed pretty comfortable.”


“Always wake me up when you’re leaving,” Mark said sharply. “I can’t have you leaving the door unlocked behind you.”


“Sorry,” Carmilla said, relief flooding her system as she realised that Mark wasn’t even suspicious of her. “I’ll keep that in mind next time.”


“See ya around, Carm,” Mark said, watching as Carmilla hurried back down the stairs and out to the street.

 

 

Carmilla wandered around the street, enjoying the day. Everything was better with heroin mixed with her blood. Nothing mattered, and nothing could possibly bother her. Carmilla headed towards a park, blissfully ignoring the looks that people gave her as she passed. She knew how she must appear to others: attractive, with curly black hair falling loosely around her face; dressed entirely in black, save her forest-green jacket. Other than the dark circles around her eyes, and pale, drawn face, Carmilla figured she looked like any other college-aged girl in the city.


After an hour or so in the park, Carmilla was starting to feel the drugs wear off. They weren’t lasting as long as they used to, and Carmilla was having to inject herself more and more frequently. She was already up to three times a day, and she knew she couldn’t afford to keep buying as much as she was. But she had enough to get her through a few more days, so she just pushed that thought to the back of her mind. For now, it was time for Carmilla to head back to the alley she called home, where she’d be able to shoot up again in peace.


So Carmilla got up from the bench and headed back out of the park. She headed across town, her pace increasing as she felt the high grow weaker and weaker. She was almost home––just ten more minutes, and she’d be there. She had her head down, and she didn’t even see the girl walking towards her––until she collided with her, practically flattening the girl, who was several inches shorter than Carmilla.


“Shit!” Carmilla cursed, grabbing the girl by the arms to keep her from falling. “Sorry, I, uh, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”


“Hey, don’t worry about it!” The other girl answered cheerfully, grinning at Carmilla even as she straightened her jacket out again. But when she met Carmilla’s eyes, her smile faltered.


Carmilla squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, sorry, I’ll just be on my way then,” she said, stepping around the girl to continue on her way.
“Wait!” the other girl called after her. Against her better judgement, Carmilla turned to see what the other girl wanted. “Are you alright? You look like someone hit you.”


Carmilla rolled her eyes. If this girl really thought that someone had punched Carmilla and given her two black eyes, she must be incredibly naive.


“Cause if someone hit you, you should definitely report that to the police. And if you don’t have a safe place to stay, there are plenty of shelters that would take you in for a night. Or you could even stay with me if you really needed to, I’d feel horrible if I sent you back to live with someone who did something like that.”


Carmilla had never heard anyone string together such a long series of words so quickly––and she’d spent enough time around meth users that she really thought she’d seen it all. “No one hit me, and it really wouldn’t be any of your business even if someone had,” Carmilla snapped, turning to leave again.


“Sorry,” the other girl said, her cheeks flushing. “It’s just that I’m a counselor at a center for abused women, so I guess I just start seeing signs of abuse in everyone. I even told two of my best friends––LaF and Perry that they might want to get relationship counseling because they’re such polar opposites sometimes, but I guess opposites attract. Anyways, I guess I’m always trying to help out one way or another. I’m Laura, by the way.”


“I don’t need your help, Laura,” Carmilla sneered. “Just fuck off, alright? I apologized for running you over, now just leave me alone and go on your way.”


Laura looked like she’d been slapped. She was pretty, though her round face and soft, brown eyes gave her an innocent, almost childish look. She had long, dirty blonde hair that fell to her ribs in perfect loose curls. She looked like she had everything. Carmilla would bet that she even had a nice warm bed to curl up in at night. Carmilla spun on her heel and marched away, leaving Laura standing on the sidewalk, staring after her.

 

Carmilla hurried back to her ‘home,’ pushing the thought of Laura from her mind. Why did some random girl care about Carmilla so much anyway? It’s not like they were friends. And Carmilla didn’t need help anyway––she was doing just fine on her own.


Carmilla settled into her home, which consisted of several large cardboard boxes, folded together and leaned against the wall of a building. It was all the way at the back of the alley, which meant that people had to know that she was there in order to see her shelter. There were a few blankets on the ground, just enough to make it a little more comfortable to sleep on. In the very back corner, kept tied in plastic bags, were the rest of Carmilla’s clothes, although there wasn’t much there. Three pairs of pants, a handful of shirts, and her cargo jacket were the only clothes she had left. Her combat boots were the only shoes she had, and they were so worn that they were more grey, cracked leather than their original polished black.


Carmilla laid out the doses of heroin, staring at them for a minute. She couldn’t afford to keep using as much as she was; maybe it was time for her to quit. She entertained the thought for a little while, but it was a pointless argument. Who was she kidding? Carmilla couldn’t go more than a few hours without shooting up––the days just felt too painful without it. Sighing, Carmilla went through the now-familiar routine or liquefying the drug, filling the syringe, pulling a belt tight around her arm, and injecting the liquid into her system. She started to doze off just a few minutes after the drugs started to hit her.

 

 

 

It took a few days for Carmilla to run out of the drugs that she had left, and when she had only one dose left, she started to panic. She didn’t have any money: she’d spent the last of it on a cheap meal from a fast food restaurant the day before. So Carmilla changed into a fresher outfit when she woke up one morning, injected her last dose of heroin, and headed out to try to make some cash, in whatever way possible.
In the right neighborhood, it didn’t take long before a car pulled up alongside Carmilla, the window rolled down, and a man in a business suit leaning towards her, several twenty dollar bills already visible in his hand. He and Carmilla went back and forth, before settling on price and what exactly she was willing to do. Finally, Carmilla climbed into the car, and took his money as the man drove away.


Nearly an hour later, the man’s car pulled up next to the curb, and Carmilla was shoved unceremoniously from the car. She’d fought with the man when he’d tried to go too far, but she refused to give up the money he’d already paid her, since she’d done everything she’d agreed to do for it. And so he’d pulled up on the edge of the street, forced the door open, and shoved Carmilla out onto the sidewalk. She hit the ground hard, groaning with pain as she hit the sidewalk. She pushed herself up from the ground, wincing as she felt a stab of pain in her side. She sat there for a minute, knees bent, as she looked over herself, trying to assess the damage. Her hand was bleeding from her attempt to break her fall, and it felt like there was a bruise near the top of her forehead from hitting the ground. But otherwise, she felt mostly unharmed. She brushed herself off, ignoring the blood that stained her hand, and started heading toward Mark’s house.


“Hey!”


Carmilla winced as she heard the voice behind her, but she ignored whoever it was, pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head, and kept walking.


“Hey, wait!”


Carmilla knew that the person was talking to her, and she could hear rapid footsteps rushing toward her, but she continued to ignore whoever it was that was chasing after her.


“I said wait!”


Carmilla almost punched the person who was following her when they came up right behind her and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face them. Carmilla felt a surge of annoyance as she recognized the girl standing in front of her. Carmilla rolled her eyes as she said, “Laura. Can’t say I’m thrilled to see you again.”


Laura shifted uncomfortably, tucking her hair behind her ear nervously. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you. And it’s not like I’m following you or anything, I swear. My job’s just around the corner, and I was just heading out to grab lunch, and I saw you-uh-I saw that guy––”


“You saw me get shoved out of a car by a john,” Carmilla said flatly. She didn’t know what it was about this girl, but something about her made Carmilla feel bad; ashamed of some of the things she’d done. “Listen, just don’t worry about it. I needed to make some extra cash, and when you look like me, it’s not too hard to make a few bucks here and there.”


“You deserve better than that,” Laura said sadly, reaching out toward Carmilla. Before she actually touched Carmilla though, she drew her hand back, as though she’d been burned, and crossed her arms over her chest.


Carmilla shifted her weight slightly, wishing she could think of something to say, and wondering why on earth she cared so much.


“Listen, at least come back to my shelter with me, I’ll get you cleaned up. If you’re walking around with a bloody hand all day, you might get stopped by a police officer or something.”


“Fine,” Carmilla said. The grin the smaller girl gave in response was practically unbearable. Carmilla shoved her hands deep into her pockets and fell in step beside Laura, following her lead.


“So I work at a shelter for abused women and children. It’s just up around the corner here. If you’re from the neighborhood, you’ve probably passed it before. But, um, yeah, it’s a really good job. I love being able to work with the women and kids and getting them help so they can get out of bad relationships. Cause no one deserves to be stuck with someone who treats them like that, you know?”


Carmilla couldn’t help but smile slightly, the corner of her mouth just barely twitching up. The more she heard this girl talk, the more she got the impression that Laura was a genuinely good person, with pure intentions. Carmilla couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be so selfless. Despite her best instincts, Carmilla decided to talk to her. “So, how long have you worked at the shelter?”


“Just about a year now,” Laura answered cheerfully. “I started interning there during the summer after my sophomore year, and I interned there again last summer, and they offered me a full time job once I graduated. I couldn’t say no! So I’ve been there about a year full-time now, but I interned with them before.” Laura took a long pause, as though trying to choose her words with the utmost care. “So, if you could have any job in the world, what would you want to do?”


“People like me don’t get ‘dream jobs,’” Carmilla said bitterly.


“Anyone can get something if they’re willing to work hard enough. Everyone deserves a second chance. You just have to want it badly enough.”


Carmilla was amazed by the way Laura offered up subtle criticism without sounding too harsh. Carmilla figured that that must be what made her such a good counselor. It had been a long time since she’d thought about having any kind of job. She’d thought about it when she’d first started living on the street, but once Carmilla realized she couldn’t afford college, she’d given up on most of her dreams. Everything just seemed so unattainable when you weren’t even sure where your next meal was going to come from.


“I always wanted to study philosophy,” Carmilla said softly.


“Oh, that’s really cool!” Laura said enthusiastically. “I took a few philosophy classes when I was in school, and they were really interesting. I liked the way they force you to look at things in a different way than you might usually. Do you know what you’d want to do with a degree like that?”


“I never really thought that far ahead,” Carmilla admitted. “But I guess I’d like to do something where I could make a difference. Maybe be a teacher or something.”


“That’d be awesome! My girlfriend’s a TA, so she helps out with some aspects of teaching, and she loves it. She wanted to be a writer when she first started school, but now she’s almost done with grad school and she’s thinking about getting a teaching certification. If you ever want to talk to her about teaching, I can put you too in touch.”


Carmilla couldn’t decide whether Laura made her feel uncomfortable or special. The way she talked to Carmilla, as though they were old friends, made Carmilla feel weird, but in a good way. Carmilla hadn’t had someone talk to her like that since she’d lost contact with her old friends, and it felt nice to have someone treat her as though she actually had value. Most people just looked at Carmilla like she was a waste of space.


“It doesn’t really matter what goals or hopes I have,” Carmilla said, crossing her arms defensively. “I can’t afford to go to college, and no one would trust a homeless junkie to teach their kids.”


Laura almost stopped walking, but she recovered quickly, taking a few quick steps to catch back up. Carmilla realized that Laura really didn’t have any idea from their first run-in that Carmilla was using; she was impressed by Laura’s apparent sensitivity to any signs of abuse, but amazed that she was naive enough to miss classic signs of drug use.


“If you need a place to stay, you can stay at the shelter,” Laura said, her voice sounding more somber than it had before. “How have you been staying warm? It’s been dropping to like forty some degrees at night!”


“I’ve got a decent shelter,” Carmilla said, feeling defensive. “And I’ve got a few blankets too. When it gets too cold, I just light a fire and that’s usually enough to keep me warm.”


Laura’s big, brown eyes made it difficult for Carmilla to meet her eyes. She couldn’t remember ever feeling quite so guilty about her lifestyle. The fact that Laura had seen her get pushed out of a john’s car just made Carmilla feel even worse. She hated this feeling; she just wanted to get away, to get to Mark’s house, and shoot up again. That was the only thing Carmilla knew would make her feel better. It was the only thing that always made her feel better.


“Well, I really think you should stay at the shelter. At least tonight. See how you like it. It’s supposed to be only for victims of abuse, but I can make an exception for you, if you’re interested.”


“I’ll think about it,” Carmilla said. She was clamming up again, unwilling to keep opening herself up and sharing more and more about herself with this near-stranger.


They continued the rest of the way to the shelter in silence, Carmilla wishing she were just about anywhere else at that moment, but unable to come up with a good enough excuse to break away from Laura. So she followed the smaller girl down the sidewalk, around the corner, and through the fogged-glass double doors of the shelter.


Once they were in the shelter, Laura started talking again, pointing different things out to Carmilla as they walked through. “So those are the front doors, which lead into our main lobby, and they’re pretty much always open. We’ve got three full-time receptionists/counselors, and they talk to people when they first get here. Basically, it’s their job to do their best to determine if someone is a genuine abuse victim––which they usually are if they come here. But after this, it’s a much more secure facility. Sometimes abusive partners can be incredibly violent, so we do our best to make sure that people aren’t in danger when they’re staying with us.


“So over here we’ve got solid doors that go into lockdown between five and nine, and you have to have a key to get in or out. That way women can come and go as they need to, but it’s near impossible for their abusive partners to get in. You’re with me, so you’ll be able to get in. Just play nice, you don’t want to freak out any of the women.”


“Sure thing,” Carmilla said, rolling her eyes slightly. She didn’t understand the need for such heightened security in a women’s shelter. But she didn’t say anything; just followed Laura through the heavier, metal doors that separated the lobby from the shelter.


The women’s shelter was nicer than Carmilla had expected. She’d expected to find rows of bunkbeds, with a few lockers where the women could keep their belongings while they stayed at the shelter. Instead, she found a hallway lined with doors, most of which were open. Inside each open door was a bunkbed, dresser, and desk, and there was another door in the back of each room that Laura said led to bathrooms.


“And we’ve got a few bigger rooms, with more beds just in case a woman with more kids comes in.” Laura was obviously proud of the work that she and the others had put into this shelter, and Carmilla admired that. She found herself envious of Laura and everything that she had the more time she spent with her.


“I have to say, I’m impressed,” Carmilla admitted as they walked down the hall.


“Thanks,” Laura said cheerfully, grinning up at Carmilla. “So we keep the first aid room in the back. Sometimes women come to us fresh from being attacked by their abuser, and we figured that the further back in the shelter we took them for treatment, the safer they’d feel. Most of them seem to agree with us, so I guess we’re doing something right. Here it is.” Laura stepped aside, holding the door open for Carmilla.


“Thanks,” Carmilla said, going into the room first and sitting down on one of the chairs.


Laura sat down in the chair opposite Carmilla, and held out her hands. Carmilla clenched her jaw as she held her bloody hand out to Laura for inspection. She watched as Laura twisted her hand gently, looking at her hand from several angles.


“Well, it looks like you just hit a rough patch that cut up your hand. Let me wash it off and make sure it’s nothing worse, then I can bandage it up for you, and you can be on your way. Although like I said, you’re welcome to stay here. I’d really like it if you would. It worries me that you’re out on the streets when it’s this cold outside.”


“I’ll think about it,” Carmilla said. She winced as Laura took a wet towel to her hand, brushing gently to clean the wound. As Laura cleaned her wound, Carmilla started thinking about what it could mean if she decided to use this opportunity as a chance to get clean. It had already been nearly seven hours since her last dose, and Carmilla was getting anxious for another dose. But she’d have to go to Mark’s to buy more. If she just stayed here, she could just wait out the cravings, and then she could start to get her life back. Get a job, her own apartment, and start saving up money until she could go back to school. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to change things. Getting shoved out of a barely-stopped car by a man who’d just paid her for sex certainly changed Carmilla’s perspective on things.


“Oh, okay, this is going to hurt a bit,” Laura said, her voice sounding pained. “There’s some little rocks that are kind of stuck in your palm, so I’m going to just use tweezers to get them out. Just try to think about something else, alright?”


“No problem,” Carmilla replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I have a high pain tolerance anyway.”


Laura nodded and got to work on removing the small pieces of rock that had caused most of the bleeding. Carmilla winced occasionally, but for the most part she was able to hold still and unflinching as Laura worked her first aid magic. Once all the rocks were removed, Laura smeared antibiotic ointment over the cuts and scrapes, and then pressed gauze to her hand before wrapping Carmilla’s hand in a thin layer of self-stick bandages.


“There, all done!” Laura said brightly, pressing her fingers gently into Carmilla’s palm. “So, do you want to stay here for the night? I can get you checked in and go over the rules and everything with you if you decide that you do want to stay.”


Carmilla hadn’t made a decision, but she reacted instinctively, her hatred of the cold speaking louder than her desire for another hit. “Yeah. It’d be nice to sleep on a proper mattress for a change.”