Weekly-ish Challenge #9 - A golden voice.

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Hello writers, this week you may be wondering why things are slooow. I'm sick but not too sick to give you some work to do! To if you're new, old, Asmo or Darkness, give yourself something other than trolling to do and write me a post! DO IT! NOW!

Well if you really are new you're wondering what this is all about. This is me straining my braining once a week to come up with an interesting challenge for the larger community to ignore. Prove me wrong, write a post length story, I'll read and treasure every one, so long at it follows the theme, speaking of which....

This week's theme: The beggar's voice.
"Something wicked this way comes..." said the creaky voice from the woman on the side of the road. Old and withered, her skin was hanging off her bones as loose as the cloak she had wrapped around her. Her eyes trained on the two walking down the street. In particular the taller figure, dressed in dark brown with dark ebony hair.

"So it does, woman." hissed the ebony haired figure in a female's voice. A flash of pearly white teeth in a devious smirk. Beside her, a slight shorter man, solid in build but older with a graying beard. He coughed softly and clucked his tongue to deviate her attention.

"Watch your temper, Caoilainn..." he warned with a form tone.

Caoilainn rolled her eyes, paying no heed. "There is naught wrong with my temper."

The beggar woman suddenly began laughing. A high pitched, choked sort of sound in between her wheezing. "Beware thyne demon soul, o' Lady of Shade! For when the golden voice speaks, you will destroy that which shines!"

There went her temper. Snarling as she pulled a knife from her belt, it was only the heavy hand of her companion grabbing on to the back of her neck that kept her still. "Stay your hand. Steel should not be wasted on the rambles of beggars."

Casting the old beggar woman a final glare, the two continued on their way...
It was a cold winter- the coldest in nearly fifty years. Those old enough to remember the last one spread their warnings, and those smart enough to listen did as they instructed. Windows were boarded up, doors kept closed and latched as often as possible. People fought like dogs over scraps of food and firewood, and families huddled together in single rooms before flames that danced in the place of yesterday's fire- a cruel reminder of their predicament. A reminder that everything, even warmth, is not permanent.

No one had any room for anyone else- it was every person for themselves. And even those who did not usually push away the poor and homeless had started ignoring them. It was not unusual for those walking through the streets to see a corpse or two of one such unlucky people, frost decorating their lashes and brows, their skin pale and their eyes shimmering with icy tears, stiff bodies slumped in the snow.

The only homeless that could survive were those who were clever enough. Those who could band together, those who could steal wood and food without being noticed, those who could sneak into houses at night and sleep in front of the fires, then leave before being detected.

One such beggar was Ava, a small girl of about sixteen- though her tiny, malnourished figure suggested she was much younger than that. She had long straight brown hair and tanned skin, and dull blue eyes that spoke of years of hardship. She stood at street corners and in markets, clutching a small wooden cup in blue fingers.

No one cared. No one noticed. Those she asked would let her down- sometimes with apologetic words, but mostly with a scoff...and sometimes even with a kick or a slap.

It was enough to break someone- and break her it did. And she wasn't the only one. In fact, there was a group of at least twenty of the remaining homeless that banded together to resist and protest. It didn't end well. Only a few soldiers were enough to send them scampering off to hide and lick their wounds.

But Ava was not one to give up on her protests- and she had grown as cold as the air that surrounded her. A vindictive thought entered her mind, and as with most who have grown to not expect anything from other people, she acted on it.

That night, she stole into a house and fished a stick from its fire, the end still alight with the flames, then pressed it to a pile of rags that she'd tossed in the corner.

As it lit up, she snuck away to the hill outside the city and watched as it burned- a lesson to always listen to the beggar's voice.
"Oi, you alright?" asked a small voice next to Mina.

The woman looked up in surprise, sniffling hard. Her eyes were red from crying, her hands full of tissues. She looked to the source of the voice and found a beggar woman, her skin hardened by wind and dressed heavily in everything she owned. Her shopping cart was full to the brim with all of her worldly belongings, and Mina had to clamp down on the instinct to lean away as the wind picked up and blew the woman's smell towards her.

"I-I... just had a... a pretty bad day," Mina stated, looking back down into her lap.

"Well, it's a long time for that bus to show up. I ain't nobody. Tell me about it," the beggar said, leaning against the bus shelter wall.

Mina looked up at the woman, a sob hitching her chest, and she lowered her head again.

"I... just... I'm dating a-a-a white boy," she said, pulling her coat closer around her as the wind hit her. She coughed a bit into her elbow and swallowed before continuing.

"I'm dating a white boy, and my parents..." she tried to finish, her lip quivering. "I never thought they'd mind that much. Like, I know that... they wanted me to marry another Vietnamese guy. And I think that they had a... a guy in mind already, cuz they keep inviting him to have dinner with me and my parents, and then my parents would ditch."

"So they're racists," the beggar said simply.

"No! They're not, just... they don't like him. They think he doesn't understand us, and that he's going to hurt me some day," Mina stressed. "You don't know my parents..."

"Nah, I'm pretty sure that if you tell a girl she can't date a boy cuz he looks a certain kinda way... that's racist," the beggar stated matter-of-factly. "Look, honey. He make you happy?"

Mina looked up at the beggar, biting her lip and nodding her head.

"You two been through it together?"

Mina continued to nod.

"And if you were here, in my shoes -- would he help you?"

Mina thought about it and after several seconds nodded her assent.

"Then it don't matter what your parents think. Because he will be there, if they aren't willin'. You don't get to pick your parents - but you get to pick the person you spend all your time with," the beggar offered. "You hear me? If they love you, they'll take him too. If they don't - well, they weren't really worth it."

"I... I guess," Mina muttered. "Wh... what's your name?"

"Eloise!" the beggar said, wearily grinning at the girl, revealing several missing teeth. "Eloise Miller."

"It's... nice to meet you. My name is Mina Nguyen," she said, offering a mitten. The two shook amiably.

"How... do you know all this?" Mina asked finally, and Eloise grinned.

"You ready for a long story?"

"Like you said, that bus won't be here for a while..."
She'd always prided herself on being able to care for her own, and was thrifty so that there was money set aside for a rainy day. Sometimes though, betrayal sidetracks even the most careful and cautious of plans. while she was working hard and sacrificing to keep their family safe and happy, her husband was making other plans entirely. once day she went to the grocery and swiped the bank card only to have it denied. She apologized and left the groceries, and made her way to the bank to check on the situation.

The bank teller informed her that her husband had closed all of their accounts earlier that morning, informing them that he was moving out of state. Seeing the confusion on her former client's face, the teller guessed at the situation and blinked realizing what she'd just said. "I'm so sorry. He should have told you not to use the cards until you arrived at your new home."

"Yeah, he should have told me we were moving too," she replied as she turned and went to the door and sat in her car. There had to be some mistake. She drove to his office and went inside. The secretary smiled, "Hi Mrs. Hughes, I thought you'd be long gone already. Did James forget something?"

She smiled and nodded, "Can I check in his office real quick?"

"Oh sure! No one new has moved int here yet." She stood and took her to James' office and unlocked the door. "Take your time and let me know if I can help you find anything. he was a horrible mess in here."

"Thanks Michelle...I should be able to find it on my own." So, it was true. He'd gone without a word. She moved to the desk and saw a pad with indentations on it and grabbed it, hoping it might be a clue to where he'd gone. She rifled through the desk drawers and even fired up the computer to check his browsing history, which she immediately regretted. She stared at the picture of the pretty little blonde and sighed.

She found a small pouch in one of the drawers and grabbed it too, without looking inside it. She held it up for Michelle to see, "Found it! You have a great day! Thanks so much."

Michelle beamed at her, "Good luck in Seattle!"

Brenda nodded, "Thanks! I'm sure everything will be just fine." She went back to the car and laid her head on the steering wheel for a second trying to gather her thoughts. She needed a job, right now. James had taken every cent out of their joint account, and she only had two weeks before the rent was due.

She went to every local retailer and fast food place only to be told they only had part time positions available. Part time wasn't going to pay her bills or feed her two children. She went into the family services office feeling like a complete failure. speaking with a social worker there, however, made her realize exactly what kind of situation her husband had left her in. She had no idea where he'd gone, and Seattle might not even be right. If he wanted to sneak away why would he tell anyone where he was really going? She was given a list of places to apply for full time work though, so that was helpful.

She went home and waited for her kids to get home from school wondering how she was going to tell them what had happened. But they never came home. By six o'clock she was frantic and calling the police, but there was no sign of her children anywhere. Her search for a job took a back seat to the search for her children. Oddly enough, it never occurred to her that James might have taken them, only that someone had and they were in danger.

Unfortunately, the rent came due as always and she had nothing to pay. The landlord gave her an eviction notification with a date two weeks from then. They had been on a month to month lease for over a year, since they had been saving for a house, or she thought they had been. Apparently they were saving for a move of another kind entirely.

She sold everything she could and left the apartment as ordered putting the few things she had left into the car. She continued to check at the police station daily for any word on her children but was given the same apologetic answer every day. She finally got a job at a fast food restaurant and worked as many hours as she could, always taking anyone's shift when she could, but the money was not good and though she was living in her car, keeping gas in it and finding a place to park became a constant struggle.

Then it came time to renew the tags and registration. She frowned realizing she had to pay for it, or she could no longer drive the car to work, but if she paid it, there would be no money for gas. despair swamped her and with a sense of the inevitable weighing down upon her, she sold the car and paid for a month of rent at a seedy hotel. At least she would be able to take a hot shower was her only thought.

But the month came to an end and she had spent so much money getting to and from work, first on cab fare and then giving other employees money for gas if they picked her up, that there was no extra left to pay for another month. So, after work that night, she stood outside the local Church mission for homeless people but could not bring herself to enter. Instead she walked to the little park at the center of town and sat on a bench. Eventually sleep claimed her but she was awakened in the middle of the knight by a tap to the bottom of her feet, "No sleeping here Miss...sorry." The officer said.

Apologizing profusely she stood up and gathered her few things and walked away. She walked and walked and eventually ended up at her employer's parking lot. She went inside and used the bathroom and then sat in the lobby waiting for her shift to start. No one thought anything of this the first day, but when it became apparent she was sitting there all the time she wasn't working the manager called her into his small office and asked what was going on. She told him and he frowned. He told her she couldn't work for them if she didn't have a permanent address and that she could not loiter in the lobby, taking up customer space all day.

Again she apologized and left waving to the others as she smiled and went her way. She walked again and finally she sat down on the ground, her feet too sore and tired to move another step as hunger clawed at her. She closed her eyes and bowed her head and felt something fall on her lap. It was a quarter and a dime. When she looked up a little girl was looking at her, "feel better." She said and then ran off.

She looked down at the coins and felt tears sting her eyes for the first time since this had all begun. she rubbed the two coins between her fingers as sobs choked out and shook her shoulders. People saw her, but passed on by giving her a very wide berth. If she'd seen it, she'd have been bothered but she was beyond seeing people.

But then someone sat beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "Shhh now...nothin's that bad...shhh...it's gonna be alright..."

Brenda leaned into the embrace, not even knowing who it was, but so grateful for the kindness and human contact. Her tears dried up and she lifted her red swollen eyes to see who was comforting her. She saw a dirty face and a crooked smile with a few teeth missing. "thank you..sorry...I don't usually fall apart."

"Pft...everyone does no and again...nothing to be sorry about." another crooked smile, "You ok honey?"

"No...I guess not." she said finally able to admit it.

"You're young it will get better...just never give up. Soon as you let this get to you..it's all over. Now..come on with me over to the mission." She said struggling to her feet.

"Oh...I don't want to take away from someone who really needs help..." Brenda argued.

"Honey...I just found you crying on the street...I ain't seen anyone in weeks needs more help than you do." She pointed a cane at her, "Pride will be the death of ya...come on now..listen to old Granny."

Brenda gathered up her few things and followed realizing that was some of the wisest advice she'd ever heard.