Daughter from the Dark - Sergey
A shard of glass crunched under his heel.
The streetlights had been out in the entire district, so Aspirin walked home in the company of stars.
He could have picked a long and reasonably safe route along the main street, but Aspirin was a strapping young man and had no fear of nocturnal thugs. And while the shortcut led him through foul-smelling alleys, Aspirin had developed a rather philosophical attitude toward the environment. In a matter of minutes the heavy iron door of his building would shut behind him, and all this would be closed out. Vasya the concierge knew that on Sundays Aspirin came back around one thirty—not three or four in the morning as usual—and there was even a chance Vasya would open the door for him.
Aspirin switched on a pocket flashlight before turning into a dark walkway; almost immediately he saw the girl and froze on the spot.
At first he thought the girl was drawn on the wall, so still and two-dimensional she appeared on the background of red, black, and blue graffiti. As soon as his flashlight fell on her face, though, she shut her eyes, put a hand up as a shield from the beam, and clutched her toy closer to her chest.
“What are you doing here?” Aspirin asked on impulse.
He moved his flashlight from side to side. The walkway was empty. He turned back to the girl and shifted the light away from her face and onto her arms that clutched the yet-unseen plush creature.
“What are you doing here?” he repeated, this time with more conviction.
The girl said nothing.
About ten years old, she certainly did not look like a tramp or a beggar, or an unhappy child forgotten by her drunken parents. She didn’t even seem scared. The way she held her toy showed reserve rather than fear. Yet that was perhaps even stranger, because self-assured young girls standing in darkened alleys after midnight wasn’t what most people would consider normal.
Aspirin definitely didn’t think it was normal.
“Did you have a fight with your folks?” he suggested, immediately feeling like a complete idiot, although he couldn’t place why. But as the girl remained silent, he felt that was certainly adding to his disquiet.
“Are you just going to stand here like this?” Aspirin was growing more annoyed by the minute. “Waiting for the boogeyman to come and stick a knife into your heart? Where are your parents?”
The girl looked surprised at that. It was unclear what had sparked her interest—the perspective of meeting a boogeyman, or Aspirin’s interest in her lineage. At least he had her attention.
“Fine, let’s go,” Aspirin said, stifling his impulse to smack the girl upside the head. “Let’s go—I’ll take you to the police station, let them deal with you and your folks. Idiots, can’t watch their own kids.”
Aspirin was afraid the girl would start crying, shifting the situation from ridiculous to critical. If that did happen, though, it would only be for a few moments, because in reality he was planning to hand the child to his concierge and be done with it. Vasya was a kind man who occupied his free time with finding homes for stray puppies and kittens; last winter he’d even found an arrangement for some street waif. He would be the perfect person to call the police.
The girl watched Aspirin with clear, intent—and perfectly adult—eyes.
“Are you frightened?” she asked finally.
He was initially incredulous, but at that very moment he realized the girl was right. He was frightened—perhaps of the responsibility that fell on him from out of nowhere, perhaps of something else. It may have been the girl’s shadow over the ugly graffiti.
“What are you doing here all alone?” he asked, his voice a touch calmer.
“I am not alone. I am here with Mishutka.” She finally loosened her grip and Aspirin saw a light brown teddy bear with plastic eyes.
“Well, if you are with Mishutka, that’s a totally different matter,” Aspirin allowed. “Where do you live?”
The girl shrugged.
“Children should not be out on the street at such a late hour.” The little girl looked at him skeptically, and he didn’t blame her. Even to himself, Aspirin sounded like an old bore. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Yes,” the girl agreed. “He’s looking for me. He came for me.”
The girl did not respond.
Aspirin quickly scrolled through a few possible scenarios. Parents in a fight, possibly divorced. Or the mother is an alcoholic, and the father got custody. Not a common situation, but it was a possibility. In any case, the father came