The Strip

In the morning I wake and peer out of the window on the Tower at the Top of the World.  Black clouds have rolled in from the ocean and become trapped in the ring of mountains; and small, grim palms, far beneath them on the ground, lash against one another in the wind.

I dress in a hat and long coat, gloves and heavy socks, and descend the tower to walk the strip. Though I am alone, I am sure I will make it. This has never been done before.

Immediately, the wind rushes in and snatches a ribbon from my skirt. I hear the pop of a snap, feel a brief tug, and then it is up, over, away and gone. Lost through traffic and up over a chapel, it chases a plastic bag into the sky.

“Can I help you?” says a man I had not seen approach. His sudden presence startles me and before I regain my calm, he is closer. He has dark eyes, hair, and skin. He is a stranger in all regards. Thrusting his hand toward me, he smiles and before I think, I am on the way to shaking it. I remove my gloves and the wind is quick to take advantage. It pulls them away the moment they are free of my fingers and I can feel the skin around my nails recede from the cold, dry air. My fingertips begin to ache. For a moment my eyes follow the gloves as they skip on limp fingers down the sidewalk, but then I look back to the man, only to find that he is gone. Wringing my hands together, I spot my gloves dancing around a corner and into an alley. It is no use chasing them.

I continue to walk the strip, pushing my hands deeply into my pockets and leaning into the wind. Ahead I hear an angry jangle as a metal fence chatters against its support poles. I peer at it through squinted eyes and see massive skeletal tumbleweeds trapped against its links. Smaller weeds bumble over their backs and fly freely into the street where they crash into cars and bounce back through the air, into the wind, through the desert, and out toward the sea. I can imagine their long and arduous path through the city before they reach the shore.

Licking sand off of my teeth, I reach up toward my head just in time to miss my hat as it is blown off and is quickly run over by a cab. I briefly squint after it before I am distracted by a whine in the sky and a crash at my feet; the gas station sign has torn loose in a gust and fallen heavily to the sidewalk. It lies there in a million dangerous looking pieces that reflect the sun and threaten to blind passersby. An enormous shark-tooth shard has ripped through my coat and pinned it into a crack in the pavement. The coat is ruined, slashed to my throat, and I take it off and leave it on the concrete where it will stay, still impaled on the tooth in the ground.

I must keep going.

I pass by the wide stripes and bright lights of Circus Circus, and  see a horde of children approaching. They pour out through the golden doors, and under the awning, bathing in the light of the red and yellow bulbs. I do not see their owners. Continuing on their journey, they pass by the enormous neon clown. The light of its legs shines down to tint their faces red and hot. Little bodies cover the pavement from one side to another with no spaces between them. They move as a single creature, faces streaked, under the deep red glow, with brown chocolate icing; slashes of pink and white milk rest on their upper lips. A dank smell rises from the throng, of gas and sweat and stale vomit. The collars of their shirts are grubby and black. Little hands, clutching and sticky, reach out from the edge of the swarm to grab at all they pass and anything captured is pulled into the center. A mountain of dolls wrapped in plastic, hand bags, wallets and coats move through the children to the middle where they are engulfed and I can no longer see them.

Hypnotized by the pulsing progress of the small, dirty bodies, I linger too long and mouth agape, I stand and stare until they are upon me.

There is popping and tearing as my clothes are pulled away, the fabric leaves burns as it rips from my body. I feel wind, sand, sugar and saliva on my skin, and I smell their doughnut breath. The neon clown above me points away down the strip, to safety and freedom, but I cannot get out from under the children. I crumple to the ground and curl in on myself. My breasts press my knees and keep the last of my warmth while cold sand on the concrete digs into the skin of my buttocks rubbing them raw. I hold onto my shoes and my socks and place my head between my knees. Thin, wet fingers and sticky, pudgy ones pinch and pull at my skin and hair and small tufts are pulled from my scalp. They are carried away from my head and into the center of the creature along with the dolls and handbags.

I dig my fingers dig into the rubber soles of my shoes, and twist the laces around my knuckles; I cannot lose them, they are all I have left. I am afraid, and alone inside the beast. Sneakers and flip-flops tromp and snap around me on the pavement as the child monster crawls over and past. Crushing my toes it rocks me side to side and I close my eyes and hope for it to be gone. No one comes to save me.

And then it is gone and I am exposed, naked by the side of the street. Covered in bruises and scratches, with holes in my scalp,  stand alone and see the receding crowd pour down the strip. I take in the stares of the strangers around me. They are not afraid of the children, safe as they are in pairs, trios and quartets.

When the children seem small enough, I return to my path. I pass shops and casinos, and strange dirty men who whisper to me in hissing hushed tones. They leap from the shadows and alleys like snakes, and one of them forces a small piece of paper into my hand.

A naked woman is there, lying stretched across the front, her legs spread, her hands outstretched, she is reaching, perhaps for me. Reclining there, on a satin covered bed she wears only shoes and socks. Small bruises pock her arms and scratches cover he legs. Parts of her head show scabs and scars, holes in her dark thick hair. There is a number at the bottom, and I think to call it, she looks just like me, perhaps we are both alone.

I tug at my socks before I retie my sneakers, tightening the laces.

They are all I have left, I think.

I am lucky to be in my own shoes.