Home of the Freaks

September 19, 2008
For as long as I can remember, people have flocked to the city of Oblivion. It was the place you went to if you wanted to make a name for yourself, or if you wanted to disappear, if you were getting over a broken heart, or chasing after a broken dream. It didn’t matter. Oblivion was the place to be.
Like most big and crowded cities, it had its secrets. There were the houses that vanished and reappeared over night, as if by magic, the mysterious murders that were never solved, and of course, the plethora of strange sightings all over the city. Monster sightings.
Oblivion offered shelter to more than just humans. There was one place, in the whole city, where creatures of night and day could feel welcome.

I started my shift at Warren’s bar at roughly eight in the evening, give or take the time it took to walk from my apartment. It was drizzling out, typical Oblivion weather, and I had a sweater on. At least I hoped it looked like I did. None of my cloths fit quite right, but it didn’t bug me to bad, as long as nobody stared. All the people passing by would ever see in the fading light was a tall redhead wearing faded jeans and a wrinkled white jacket.
I was at least glad that my differences weren’t as noticeable as some. As I walked by the shops and houses, I spotted a group of people I knew. All of them freaks, like me. They hid their scales, horns, extra limbs, robot parts, animal appendages and whatever else happened to be wrong with them under long coats and dark personalities, each doing their best to remain unnoticed. Some of them shot me envious looks, while others ignored me. Why did they have to hide, while I walked free? The question was in all of their eyes.
I watched the last of them turn away as I rounded a corner into the alley between Poplar’s Pizza and the abandoned movie house. I walked through the narrow passageway until I reached a door at the end. The sign above it read EXIT it electric green letters, but I knew the truth. I knocked three times on the spray painted metal and waited. After a moment a slit in the brick beside the door opened and a pair of ferocious red eyes appeared.
“Password?” the guard asked.
“Come on, Warren,” I complained with a sigh. “I work here. You don’t want to lose your best employee, do you?”
There was silence, then a strange chuckle that echoed through the little slit and into the alley in which I stood. “Come on in, Serafina. You’re gonna be late.”
The heavy door slid open sideways, and I stepped forward into the empty space. Warren was gone, and it took me a minute to find the secret door in the side of the wall, but I wasn’t scared. The cold steel walls were familiar to me as I walked down the steep incline that lead to the bar’s entrance, deep, deep under the old theater. I wrenched open the door by its old handle and let the light wash over me.
A thousand and one candles burned along the walls, lit each night and extinguished every morning. Familiar smells hit me as I stepped down into the tall, cavernous, bustling room that was Warren’s bar for the Strange and Special, Home of the Freaks. Long name, I know, but to most of us freaks, it was just Warren’s.
I spotted a tall, fair-haired character from across the room. This was Warren. His red eyes were the color of danger, but he was one of the safest Vampires in the city. The bar was his, of course.
A shorter, darker skinned figure bounded up to me. “Evening, Sera!” she chirped, smiling and tucking a strand of black hair behind one of her giant cat ears.
“Hey, Tags,” I greeted her wearily. Tags already had her apron on. She always got there before me. I walked over to the counter and took of my coat as I picked up my apron from a stack.
I lifted up part of the bar top and slipped inside to join my friend, letting the gate fall behind me. I picked up a rag and began to scrub the counter vigorously, more for show than anything. None of our customers ever left messes, except for the drunken ones, but that rarely happened. Warren’s was about hanging out, swapping stories and reading the week’s newspaper in peace.
I looked at all the monsters, freaks, and horrors that seated themselves at the tables scattered across the room. Some stood, some sat; it didn’t really matter. I watched a couple of cyborgs chatting it up over their food. In the corner were the Vampires, not the ones like Warren, the ones who thirsted for blood. They only hung out here for protection. There were kitsunes and were-folk like Tags, and horned beasts and mutants like the ones I had seen earlier. There were dozens of different types of creatures, all caught up in conversation with one another. But there was no one like me.
I looked forlornly at the downy feathers that covered my shoulders and back now. I folded them up when I went outside. I longed to open them up, but I knew I was not allowed to do that inside. Warren had said so. I just couldn’t stand to keep them all wrapped up like this! My heart ached for the world that I had left.
I was confused and lonely without the sky, just another human. I had hid for five long years, afraid of being ostracized. The wings I had been born with made me different, special. To hide that was to hide my face. To hide who I was. Today I could take it no longer. I ruffled them slightly, and with a small thrill and a glance at Warren, opened a pair of white, feathery wings. They stretched almost four and a half yards from tip to tip. By the time they had opened fully, I had knocked over several plates and glasses, and disturbed a family of Dwarves. Warren and many others looked up at me. I hardly ever undid my wings because they were big. And noticeable. And cumbersome.
“I… I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I just couldn’t hide anymore.” I waited for a response.
Many looked annoyed, others sympathetic, but Warren had an understanding smile on his face. “It’s alright, Sera. We all need to break free sometimes. Why don’t you go outside, take the night off? I know how hard it is to keep hidden.”
“Go on, Sera, I’ll fill in for you,” piped up Tags. I gave my friend and my boss both grateful looks, and headed back outside.
Once I reached the mouth of the Alley, I opened my wings to their fullest, jumped into the air and gave a mighty heave. I was flying.
I flew past the post office, past city hall, through downtown, the slums, and the outskirts, and made my way high into the mountains. I knew the others might get upset for this, since it was they who had covered up for me for so many years. But I did not care. The open air was like medicine for me. I felt my spirits rising with every wing beat.
I hadn’t flown in so long. It felt good to use that part of me. I soared over lumpy grey mountains, arms spread to match my wings, and when I reached the ocean, I turned back. Back over the mountains, the buildings, the city, and down towards the Alley between Poplar’s Pizza and an old movie theater. I had been gone for most of the night, I noted at the sight of the rising sun. Still time for work.
I wheeled in the air before folding my wings, and then dropped to the ground and ran the whole way down the alley. Warren was at the gate as usual. He opened it for me, and we marched together down the tunnel and into the warm, candle filled room with the smiling, often distorted, faces of the Oblivion city freaks. I took my place behind the counter and began my usual monotonous scrubbing. It felt good to be in the bar; filled with people so familiar they were almost family. This was my home, not the run down apartment I went back to every morning.
“How did it go? You feel better?” asked Tags, swishing her tail.
I didn’t reply. The smile on my face was enough of an answer.

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