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Becoming Calder

By:Mia Sheridan

PROLOGUE


"I have taken away the mist from your eyes, that before now was there, so that you may well recognize the god and the mortal."

Homer, The Iliad



I was assaulted by the smell of exhaust and rancid garbage as I stepped off the bus. My stomach rolled, and I moved left to avoid having to walk too closely to the overflowing waste cans a couple feet in front of me.

The half-eaten hamburger sitting on top of the pile caught my eye and my instincts almost made me grab it and shove it in my mouth, but I clenched my fists and kept walking. I was so hungry, painfully hungry, but I wasn't at the point where I would eat garbage, at least not just yet.

I opened the doors to the station and looked around the dim interior at the signs for the ticket window. I'd need directions to get where I was headed.

At least everything's labeled in the outside world. As I recalled those words I felt a strong rush of grief. I straightened my spine and moved inside.

I spotted the ticket counter and started making my way through the people milling around, waiting for the next bus. I briefly made eye contact with a young man in sagging pants and an overly large sweatshirt. His eyes widened slightly and he jogged over and started walking beside me.

"Hey, baby, you look lost. Can I help?"

I shook my head, taking in the strange smell wafting off him—something slightly bitter and herbal. I glanced at his face quickly and noticed that up close, his eyes were red-rimmed and heavy-lidded. From my peripheral vision, I saw him look at me and move his head up and down, taking in my form.

I increased my pace. I knew I looked desperate. I was desperate. Scared, lost, grief-stricken, unspeakable anguish sitting just beneath the surface of my skin. I did need help. I wasn't worldly—this I knew clearly. But I wasn't naïve enough to believe the man walking next to me was the helpful sort.

"You ain’t got no luggage, baby? What's up with that? You got a place to stay?" He reached over and moved my hair out of my face, and I flinched back from his touch. I continued walking, even faster now. Fear raced through my veins, my empty stomach rolling with nausea.

"Damn, hair like spun gold. Face like an angel. You look like a princess. Anyone ever tell you that?"

A small half-laugh, half-sob bubbled up my throat and I wheezed in a harsh breath to keep it from escaping. My heartbeat ratcheted up a notch as the man started steering himself into me so I was forced to move left in order not to collide with him. I glanced to the side and saw he was attempting to steer me into a dim corridor that looked like it led to a maintenance closet of some sort. I looked around wildly for someone who might help, somewhere I could run, when the man's hand clamped down on my arm. I looked up into his narrowed eyes, his jaw now hard and set. He leaned in and whispered to me, "Listen up, princess. A girl like you has a whole lot to offer. And I'm a businessman. You wanna hear about my business, princess?"

I shook my head vigorously again, weighing my options for escape. I could scream. Surely there was at least one decent person in the vicinity who would help me. I could try to fight him, but as weak and tired as I was, he would overpower me quickly. That's when I felt the sting of something sharp press into me through my light jacket and the thin cotton of my T-shirt. Oh God, there's a knife to my side. I looked down at his hand holding the small silver blade against my body and then back up into his eyes, now shining with something that looked like determination mixed with excitement.

"You come with me, princess, and I'll have no need to use this on you. You'll like my offer, I promise. It involves all kinds of money for you. You like money, princess? Who doesn't like money, right?"

"Take your hands off her, Eli," said a deep voice behind us. I swiveled my head at the same time Eli did and took in the sight of a huge man standing casually, hands hanging at his sides, a seemingly bored expression on his face. My eyes widened as I took in all the designs and colors swirling up the left side of his neck—stopping just under his jaw—and his muscular arms covered with the same intricate art.

"This ain’t your business, Paul," Eli spat out.

"The hell it isn't. When I see a cockroach, I crush it under my boot. Cockroaches offend me. You're a cockroach, Eli. Let her go, or I'll crush you right here in the bus station for all the other cockroaches to see." Paul kept his eyes trained on us, but Eli's head moved to the right and I followed his gaze to a group of men dressed similarly to Eli who were sitting casually on a bench at the front of the station, looking our way and snickering.

Eli turned back to Paul and I felt his hold on me loosen slightly. He let out a disgusted sound and pushed me roughly toward Paul. "Got too many bitches on the payroll as it is. Take her." Then he turned and walked in the direction we'd come from.

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