‘She gave me a purse.’
Tonya, clutching that very purse between her left arm and her ribcage, is walking fairly quickly down the Atlantic City boardwalk. It’s not late, but the day is getting on; the drinks are poured, the smoke is clouding the air, the cards are dealt. The gamblers are sloshed and ready to see the money fly.
‘She gave me a purse and told me to find an alley. What the fuck?’
Coming to AC for a solo vacation was, admittedly, not the greatest idea. The beach is free and it’s respectably clean, but it’s probably the cleanest part of this city, and you know what? Dogs and cats shit on that beach. That beach has shit in it and it’s still the cleanest part of this city. And you know what else? Sometimes the dogs come off the beach. Sometimes the dogs catch a scent and follow that scent, sometimes they follow that scent until the damned sun goes down, and once the sun goes down, the dogs stop following. Once the sun goes down, the dogs start hunting.
‘I saw her read the message and she gave me a purse and told me to find an alley and open the zipper. What the fuck?!’
Welp. The Universe has evidently spoken, this is the end of the road for Tonya. It’s not like the idea of ending it all never crossed her mind… that’s part of why she came down here all by herself, isn’t it? Get nice and numb, maybe show some skin and score whatever she can score, get a shitty motel room somewhere, go to sleep and just don’t wake up. Jesus Christ, how did I get here? What brought me back to rock bottom?’
“It doesn’t matter,” as she looks up from her feet for the first time since she got the handbag. She doesn’t have to look long, there are plenty of alleyways connected to the AC boardwalk. “I asked for help and was told to find an alley where nobody can see me, so fuck it. If he doesn’t end it for me, I will later tonight.” All said in whisper.
Tonya trades wood for asphalt and walks into the alley. She picked a good one, too – the buildings are massive, the shadows are thick and murky, the rats are the size of footballs and their claws are noisy scraping against the pavement. She walks halfway down the alley before giving up and falling to her knees. Tears are pouring down her cheeks, all she can hear is her heart pounding in her head. And the footsteps. The slow, heavy, purposeful footsteps. He knows what he’s walking towards, he knows what’s going to go down as soon as his footsteps stop. He’s probably excited about it, too, the horrible bastard.
Or maybe Tonya’s got it wrong, maybe the guy is just a mugger. Maybe she didn’t see him staring at her while she was eating at that first restaurant… and at the second restaurant… maybe he wasn’t standing next to the door when Tonya walked out of the bathroom earlier, maybe… maybe he just… maybe he just wants whatever the purse lady had in this purse before she handed it off and basically told Tonya to go get raped.
To disassociate away from the sick reality that’s engulfed her, Tonya finally takes a good look at the purse the woman gave her. It’s a simple brown bag, two pockets. One with a zipper, one without. A tan strap. Some repetitive leaf pattern on the front. A little black patch that says Madison Handbags. A tear falls on that patch and soaks in like it’s nothing.
“Fine, Miss Madison. I found an alleyway. I’m in the alley now, and so is he. So I guess I just have to open the zipper.”
And so Tonya does. And so she spins around, holding the purse as widely open as her eyes are tightly shut. And so the footsteps stop. And so Tonya opens her eyes.
The man is there, he’s… he’s just standing there. Tonya’s eyes slowly roam up his form, from his grimy work boots to his tattered jeans to the wife beater splattered with mustard stains that went green, then to his face, but… but there is no face, there’s just darkness. The darkness is emanating from him in a solid pillar, it’s going… it’s coming from the purse.
Tonya drops her hands and starts to crawl backwards, but the purse doesn’t fall. The purse stays suspended in the air, held there by whatever lives within it, whatever that shadowy arm belongs to. Tonya watches with unbelieving horror as the shadow living within the purse begins to expand, begins to creep its way across the man’s face, down his neck, over his muscular arms and his stained torso, over his grody jeans and ruined work boots, it’s all over him, it’s taken him.
Then, he is gone, and the handbag falls down to the ground. Tonya is alone in the alley. Tonya is staring at the bag, and she swears she sees it move. Tonya gets to her feet and runs so fast her flip-flops fly off behind her, but she doesn’t care. Fuck the flip-flops, fuck Atlantic City, fuck ending it all, and fuck that fucking brown handbag. It’s about time Tonya goes back home, nuts up, and never speaks of this again.
Oh, and one more thing: fuck that fucking brown handbag.
Ah, half past six in the morning on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Kendall has never been the biggest fan of Atlantic City’s specific flavor of humans, but she does have a soft spot for the early morning crowd here. Half of them are octogenarians who’ve walked these boards so many times they can’t walk straight without a drink in their hands, and the other half are still so twisted from last night they couldn’t walk straight if they wanted to. What they have in common: a love for giving cash to attractive young women who get out here and break their butts trying to make a solid living for themselves; women like Kendall, in other words. Lots of folks originally told her that opening a handbag store on the boardwalk was a terrible idea, but uh, her permanent hotel room is nicer than the basement room their parents let them stay in, so it’s whatever. We’re all on our own journeys out here, ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.
Speaking of journeys, guess who’s leaned against the security gate taking herself a little nap?
“Well good morning, Miss Madison.”
The handbag doesn’t make a sound, doesn’t make a move. It just sits there against the security gate of Kendall’s little handbag shop.
“Wow, you’re quiet this morning. Must have eaten well last night.”
Kendall bends low and snags Madison by the tan strap, then slings her around her shoulder. As one hand goes about searching for the key to the security gate, the other dives into Madison’s front pocket and finds the money she hid there yesterday. “Hell yeah, that girl didn’t take it! Today’s going to be a good day, Madison. I can feel it.”
Madison doesn’t say a thing, as she’s very tired. She had to come all the way here from that alley last night, and with a full belly, no less.
Kendall walks through the shop and stashes Madison beneath the front counter so she can rest. Yes, today is certainly going to be a good day. A very good day indeed.