Lost Things & Forgotten Places: Season 1, Episode 3
Updated: Sep 3
Content warnings here
She’d just turned twenty-one, the night someone first paid her for a kill. Barely legal, she’d remind herself later, with a wry, dry chuckle that would make sense only to her.
It was August, the middle of a heatwave. She’d been in San Francisco a month at most, sleeping in a pup tent pitched in the shade of a disused auto warehouse in the Mission - what she didn’t realize at the time was a prime location, empty as it was and mostly untroubled as she’d been by other people.
She’d had the sense, some nights, that something - someone - was watching her from inside the warehouse; someone hiding in the folds of its the soupy, mosquito-thickened darkness she’d made a conscious decision from the beginning to leave well alone, to not explore, however curious she might become. But it was small potatoes, this sensation, beside the many pairs of eyes she’d felt on her in the park in San Ysidro and the Greyhound station in Salinas, and when no-one came out of the darkness to disturb her, she’d figured she could live with being watched. And live with it she had - until the tech bro came along.
She’d been awake, which had worked in her favor - lying on top of her sleeping bag, the tent-flap open to keep the cooler night air flowing around her. The noise had alerted her to his presence: a trickle, then a drumming of liquid on the canvas outside, like the patter of rain. She’d stuck her head out of the flap, confused, and there he’d been: dick out and rose-gold phone in his free hand, pissing against the side of the tent.
He wasn’t that much older than her, she’d surmised: tall, pink-cheeked and skinny, thin blond hair dangling down to his nose and an army-green t-shirt proclaiming him a FREE THINKER plastered with sweat to his torso. A typical Silicon Valley boy, she’d thought; the kind she’d seen every day since she’d arrived, riding their electric bikes and checking the health data on their smartwatches on what seemed like every street in the City. The kind she’d have assumed was an entitled asshole even if he hadn’t been emptying his bladder onto her place of residence.
“Hey!” she’d shouted, her fury already building. “Hey! What the fuck are you doing?”
He’d stopped pissing, mid-stream, but hadn’t let go of his dick; had just looked at her, at her sleeping bag and the battered hiker’s backpack she kept close to her beside it, and grinned, like she was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
“Hey yourself,” he’d said - and she’d caught the amusement in his voice, too. His grin had widened. Then he’d swivelled his narrow hips toward her until the tip of his dick was practically in her face and let loose another, more thunderous stream of urine: onto the tent flaps, onto the sleeping bag, onto her shirt and shorts. It stank of coffee and ammonia, of the beer she’d supposed he’d been drinking, and it burned her nostrils; bit into the fabric of her clothes and scalded her skin.
She’d wanted to hurt him: smash the fine bones in his sallow, smirking face into a bloody yellow paste and make him suck down his expensive caps like they were ice chips; twist his arm so far around his back he’d hear it pop when it separated from the socket. So she had. There’d been no reason not to.
She was strong and spry - always had been. She built muscle quickly, easily; was quick on her feet, with reflexes to match, and simmering with anger enough that she’d never back down from a confrontation, no matter how outmatched she might’ve been. When her foster father had enrolled her in boxing classes at the Y when she turned eleven, he was only building on the foundations her body her and temperament had laid already; when she’d discovered, sparring in the ring with a boy two years older and thirty pounds heavier, that she actually enjoyed how it felt to crush another person’s nose with a closed fist and jab them so hard in the liver they threw up over themselves, it was a foregone conclusion that she’d find a way to chase that feeling outside the ring, too.
She’d kicked out at his knee with her heel from the floor of the dampening tent and sprung up to meet his nose with her elbow as his head had snapped forward. He’d cried out, but she’d silenced him immediately with a knife-hand strike to the throat, and though he’d continued to weep thereafter, his tears had been silent. He’d fallen to the ground, the scalp below his chick-feather hair crunching as it met the concrete; three further kicks to the ribs - and one more to the head - had kept him there, bunched up in an ineffective facsimile of a fetal position.
Eventually he’d lost consciousness, and the stabbing heat of her fury had begun to subside. She’d stepped back from his body, ache seeping into her swelling knuckles, and had been suddenly aware of another person behind her, and near: the stutter and halt of labored breathing, the click of a tongue on the roof of a mouth.
“That all you got for him, girl?” she’d heard. The voice had seemed to drift out from the entrance to the warehouse: Southern and male and gravelly, a TV cowboy in the grip of emphysema. “You not gonna finish what you started?”
There’d been footsteps, creeping up behind her to her left, and the man belonging to the voice had shown himself: an old white guy with dirt on his face and caked into the gray tufts of his beard, his bare chest concave under a weatherbeaten raincoat.
“You been watching me?” she’d said, and had found she wasn’t afraid, though she probably should’ve been; that the tough-girl confidence she’d tried to project wasn’t so illusory, after all.
“Not much else to look at out here.” The old guy had let out a laugh like the crack of a whip. “Might’ve come out sooner if I’d known you’d be puttin’ on a show.”
“Fuck off,” she’d told him, turning her attention back to the beaten boy on the ground, to the sodden tent; wondering how quickly she could clean up the area around him. How much of a trace of herself she’d left for the cops to find later, if they came looking.
“No need to be like that, little girl. We’re all friends here. I’m just sayin’, you really wanna leave him there like that? You not gonna finish the job?”
“Fuck off,” she’d said again, but something about the old dude had unsettled her. The way he’d been staring at her, maybe - like he wanted something from her, and was fully prepared to wait around for her to figure out what it was.
“He’s a repeat visitor, that motherfucker down there.” The man had moved closer until they were shoulder-to-shoulder, though he’d had the good sense not to try to touch her. She hadn’t washed in days, had been all too aware of the rank bouquet of fresh blood and piss, stale crotch and body odor rising from her jeans and tank, but her own reek had been overwhelmed immediately by the rotten fruit and feces stink of him; it must’ve been months, years even, since his clothes and skin had seen water. “What he just did there on you and your tent? He done it on mine, before the car people shut up shop and I moved inside. I been sleepin’, lying right about where’re standing now, and I wake up to a wet face and that bastard’s Johnson in my ear, and him stood near on top o’ me, laughing his ass off. He took pictures too, on one o’ them fancy-ass phones. That’s how proud he was o’ himself. Pictures o’ the tent and pictures o’ me with his piss in my beard. To show his rich-boy friends, was what I figured, so’s all o’ them could laugh about it with him.” He’d squinted at the insensate boy, his eyes narrowing; Lauren had thought the old man might be getting up the phlegm to spit on him. “I seen him do it again after, to some other people. Though not a one o’ them got him back the way you just done.”
“Yeah, well.” She’d bent down and grabbed the backpack from the inside the tent; started rolling up the sleeping bag. “Maybe one of them should’ve done. Would’ve saved me the cleaning bill.”
“I got a hun’ed and twenty-seven bucks saved up in my satchel.” The old man had spoken quickly; so quickly she’d thought at first she must have misheard him. “You finish up what you started, send this sack o’ horseshit off to meet his maker, and you can have it. Every cent.”
Her neck had spun around so fast she’d given herself whiplash.
“I ain’t messin’ with you,” he’d added. “Might not seem that way, but I got the money - that much, and more. And I’ll pay it gladly to see you put him in the soil. Time was, I coulda taken care of things myself, but…” He’d held up his forearms and shown her his hands, and she’d seen then how knotted they were under their layers of dirt: so gnarled the fingers were more claws than digits. “I got the arthritis. Got it all over - don’t hardly got the strength to button up my own pants, let alone beat another man to death. Couldn’t even say for sure I’d be capable o’ pinching his nose closed long enough to stop him breathing. But you… you’re young. Strong.” Here his wide, manic eyes had glistened. “You could do it, easy. I seen you in action.”
He’d been absolutely serious; she’d known that at once. He wasn’t messing with her, and chances were he would keep his end of the bargain, if she were to take him up on it.
And if wasn’t like she owed the tech-boy her compassion.
“Whaddya say, little girl?” the old man had said.
She’d thought of the money, of the things $127 could buy her. A brand-new tent and sleeping bag, for one; a tent and sleeping bag that didn’t smell like someone else’s piss. Then she’d thought of DNA evidence and fingerprints, of the difference between an assault charge and a whole-life sentence… and she’d picked up her backpack and her piss-soaked sleeping bag, and run like hell from the old man and the boy.
The cops never came for her, though she’d taken pains to keep moving for a long while after, and no news of the tech-bro - dead or recovered - had ever reached her, though she’d looked.
Eventually, when a dozen more men and boys like the tech-bro had crossed her path and more than a couple had left her bleeding, she came to realize how little it had actually mattered to her whether the original tech-boy lived or died - and began to regret not taking the old man’s money.
If she ever got another offer like his, she thought, she’d ponder it harder and longer before she said no. And if, in the end, she didn’t say no, she’d make absolutely sure she never got caught.
Whatever that offer might be, though - it would have to be worth it. If she was taking a risk, then she deserved a decent damn reward.
“No,” she told the kid in her kitchen. “I’m not open for business right now. And if I were, it would still be no. I take a pretty firm stance on people who break into my property. On how I deal with them.”
“You kill them,” the girl said.
“We’ve seen you, with the… other ones on the beach,” the boy added, and did they always finish each other’s sentences like that? Lauren could imagine it becoming very trying, very quickly if they did. “The ones who try to attack you. You put them down like dogs.”
They weren’t wrong: she had been killing the Unrotted, on the beach and elsewhere; killing them wherever they found her, wherever they came at her with their reaching hands, their bared teeth. She hadn’t left the apartment unarmed since that first encounter in the supermarket, in anticipation of needing at any moment to do exactly this. But the boy and the girl knew this, that they’d been watching her long enough to have seen her do this, apparently without flinching… it unnerved her, even if a part of her was forced to marvel, again, at the guts it must’ve taken them to do it. Nobody was that numb.
“It’s a no,” she said, very slowly raising the pistol - not so high that it was aimed at either one of the kids, but high enough for them to understand that might easily become a possibility.
“Our uncle Ivor has a farm, out in the middle of the desert,” the boy said, with no acknowledgement at all that Lauren had spoken. “Five hundred acres. There’s an aquifer, fresh water, plus corn and beets, vegetables. There were dairy cows, but we think they might have run away already, if they haven’t starved to death.”
“And solar panels.” There was a finality to the girl’s delivery, as if this last point were the one guaranteed to sway Lauren’s judgment. “A whole field of them, all off the grid. The whole plot is self-sufficient. As long as there’s sunlight, it has power. We could grow our own food, cook meals, switch the lights on at night. It’s remote, too - the nearest town is an hour away, at least. Nobody would find us.”
“We’d be safe,” said the boy.
“We just have to get there.” The girl rested back against Lauren’s chair, more relaxed by far than she ought to have been. “We should be okay once we’re out of LA - I hope so, anyway - but I don’t like our chances on the Interstate before then. The other people, the brainsick ones… they’re all over, and Tobey and I wouldn’t know how to shoot even if we had a weapon. On our own, we’d be sitting ducks.”
“Good luck to you, then, I guess.” Lauren raised the gun higher, so it was nearly level with the girl’s chest. Still not quite an explicit threat, but definitely a warning. “I’m sure you’ll be fine - you seem like smart kids. You need to be leaving here now, though. The way you came in, if you don’t mind.”
“You think you can live like this,” the girl said, utterly unfazed. “Eating out of cans and cleaning up the beach and killing them off, one by one. Ignoring the world while it’s burning around you. But you can’t. The other ones… they’ve seen you. They’ve got you pegged as an enemy, and they’re going to come for you - a bunch of them, and all at once. You might be able to fight off one of them, or two or three… but fifty? A hundred? There’s just no way.”
“It’s not. Tobey and I have seen it for ourselves. We know what’s coming. We’re here asking for your help because we need you, or someone like you. But you need us, too. You need a way out and a place to go just as much as we do. You just don’t know it yet, is all.”