The function of the brick building, factory or tenement, was no longer certain as it grew shapeless with age. Located in the city's atrophied industrial ring, one side faced a barren chipped-concrete lot where even weeds would not grow. Another elevation had a view of the sluggish, greenish river... across was a solid wall of unremarkable skyscrapers, lent grandeur by lack of close scrutiny.
A late-model American car, squarish, anonymous. Ugly but running. Parked in the center of the lot to keep an eye on it. Two figures stood before it; they were young, barely men.
"How come she wants us to come here?" said the tallish one, pulling up the collar of his jeans jacket. Shaggy black hair hung past his shoulders, obscured the sunglasses he wore even in the gloom of another rainy day. A cigarette poked out somewhere. "What's wrong with the park?"
"She lives here. Why'd she be out 'n the rain?" said the other man, like his companion was an idiot. His hair was bleached insane blonde with two weeks of brown roots, sticking up like a haystack halo. He looked pale and reluctant, although it was he who'd brought the other.
"This is a crack house. We're gonna get fuckin' shivved."
"Shut up," said the shorter man gently. The rain picked up, chased them inside. A gray-painted steel door with splintered wire-glass didn't want to shut closely after they'd passed through.
There were stairs leading down, a hallway strewn with broken data discs that crunched underfoot. A thick sheet of black plastic was the entrance. Then they were there. The room was the end of a hallway with no exit, seated in the relatively intact foundation, cavelike, a sheen of moisture glistening on its walls. One of these was peppered with photographs of the space's tenant. On a milk crate beside them was propped a large and dangerous-looking shard of mirrored glass; beneath, a pile of three-shot silver halide disposables, stacked like the gold bars at Fort Knox. Each one had the Mountain Dew logo on it. Rudiments of cosmetics were placed reverently before the mirror. Well out from the leaking walls was a periphery of electronic and mechanical waste; within were faint glows, as though the garbage was dimly live. Light came from a fluorescent bar on the floor, where it could be easily stepped on if it didn't make itself so plain. There was nothing present which could not be found in the gutter or in a hundred dumpsters, but its having been brought and arranged here distinguished it.
"So you live here?" said he of the cigarette, dismissing the deliberation which showed in this place. He took exaggerated steps over piles of junk, as though he didn't want to dirty his feet, and quickly filled the small space with his smoke. Though covered with grime, the tiny, cluttered space was weirdly odorless, and so was she.
Dirt only lingered on her on its way elsewhere. In the squalor of her bolt hole she was spectral. The logo was carefully cut out of her black t-shirt, leaving a keyhole. As an attempt at style the bottom half was cut off too, hanging in deliberately jagged strips like scorched prayers. The ubiquitous blue jeans clung to her legs; they seemed not too bad off. Her feet were bare. She was the focus of the cold, crowded room, seated on a rag-strewn heap concealing a chair.
Lavender was polite, and answered the question. She was an inexperienced but enthusiastic interviewee.
The blonde instantly squatted to pick through a litter of wiry junk, his trenchcoat tenting around him. "Hello, Stanley," Lavender purred to him. He looked up, gave her a strange, guilty smile, looked away again. "This must be your friend Vulnavia."
"Yeah," murmured Stanley. "Sorry he's so rude." Vulnavia looked over his shoulder at his companion with a knowing sneer. Lavender just smiled and looked back at Vulnavia, as though to ascertain whether this was the case.
Some of the refuse was animate; a three-legged dog robot, unwanted and out of style, waddled into sight. "The fuck?" spat Vulnavia, flinching at the motion, before he saw it was nothing.
"Dog!" called Lavender to the toy. "Come here, Dog!" The toy reacted... it pivoted to approach her, but favored its nonexistent leg and went over. She giggled as it righted itself, stepped forward, rolled over again, repeating this until it stood at her feet. A cartoon-printed bandage covered a large ding in the robot's silver plastic chassis.
Lavender scooped the toy into her hands. "He's starting to learn that he only has three legs." The device let out a tinny warped sound, a bark. Its remaining ear swiveled.
"Why don't you glue a stick to his leg?" Stanley said to his wires.
"If I put a prosthetic leg on him, it would make him feel crippled. This way he's happy with how he is." She smiled. "Until I can find him a robot leg. Though I wonder who I will have to take it from." She looked up. "I'm sorry I don't have a seat for you. I don't have many visitors." She rose from her throne. "Would you like mine?"
Vulnavia raised his hands, warding. "No, that's cool, thanks," he said, eyeing the rag-pile, deciding it was probably her wardrobe, too. Maybe her bed. That's when he noticed the dolls. She sat surrounded by them, twenty or thirty of them. Many were naked, crippled, missing limbs, eyes, some mere heads. Others, complete, were made of mismatched parts. He bit at his cigarette. Lavender settled herself, holding the robot dog to her breast.
"Vulnavia's not my real name," he said, though she hadn't asked. "It's a stage name, for our band. We decided everybody's first name would be a horror movie creep and their last name would be one of the Rat Pack. I'm Vulnavia Davis, Jr., and he's Igor Sinatra."
"I'm not Igor."
Vulnavia rounded on him. "But you got the coolest fuckin' one!"
"I'm not Igor. I don't need a sidekick name when I'm already the sidekick."
"Then come up with something better."
Stanley flipped him off and continued digging through the ball of wires.
Lavender shared a grin. "The worm shall turn someday."
"Renfield Martin and Rasputin Bishop left and started some shit called the Geologists. That fucks up our name idea since I don't wanna use their names over." Vulnavia looked for someplace to toss his cigarette butt, just dropped it to the floor and crushed it under his boot, lit another.
"I told you we'd run out," Stanley muttered.
Vulnavia snicked his lighter shut. "We're keeping the band name, though."
"What's that?" said Lavender, engaged.
"The Defective Rats. It's from this story on lab animals that Igor-- Stanley read."
"...they make rats 'n mice with defects in their genes to test for stuff in particular..."
Lavender tilted her head a little. "Yes. I know," she said. She smiled. The dog yarked and made a plastic-grinding noise.
Vulnavia looked around again, as though he'd seen enough and wanted to be gone. He looked to his companion to state their business. Stanley did not do this.
"Isn't it far to walk every day?" Stanley asked.
"It's safer out here. There's no food so there are no rats. I think I'm poisonous to them but I don't think they would realize it if any were to find me. The site is also mildly toxic," Lavender added with the same bland smile.
"Great," mumbled Vulnavia. He sucked in more of his own poison to protect himself.
"I'm also less likely to be attacked by other people."
Stanley looked up, met her vitreous brown eyes. "Are you attacked a lot?"
"It doesn't happen a lot, but sometimes. Usually they want my money. Twice they wanted me to have sex with them. But when I agreed they became angry. They didn't want me to touch them. It was very troubling."
"Uh, yeah..." Vulnavia shifted his balance from foot to foot.
"What d'you do for food?"
Lavender replied brightly. "At night I go downtown and eat what the restaurants throw away."
Vulnavia made a face, took one step back. "You eat trash? That's fuckin' repulsive."
"Why is that? It takes several hours for decomposition to begin, and I eat it immediately after it's discarded."
"You're eating shit other people threw away."
"Everything I have was discarded by others."
"...think of her as a jackal."
"Eat at McDonald's or something."
"McDonalds food smells rotten even when it's fresh, although organically it's almost sterile. All the flavor enhancers mix together in the bag. It doesn't work well after its initial chemical distribution is disturbed."
"I don't mean out of the bin. Can we stop talking about this?"
Lavender sunk back on her seat and stroked her obliging robot dog. "Yes. What would you like to talk about?" she said, a kid having her friends over to play.
"Where'd you learn to sing?"
She removed a tiny disposable netradio from her waist. They were promotionals with 20 hours of life, and most wound up in the garbage unused. "I listen, and I sing."
"That's cute," said Vulnavia.
"What is?" chirped Lavender.
"How you can answer my questions without answering them."
Lavender grinned. "But I am answering them."
"Yeah, but you're not answering them. You don't sound like you're homeless. You sound like you went to college, or you're from fuckin' England or something."
"But I'm not," said Lavender lightly. "We're in my home. I'm from this city. I was designed and constructed in a laboratory here in town. I was taught by machine, and after I was studied I was given my freedom."
Vulnavia chuckled soundlessly for a moment, his shoulders shaking. "You're a street person all right." The man who was not Igor looked up at Lavender's face. Vulnavia cut a stream of smoke through the air with his hand. "I heard you sing. Me and Igor--"
From the background Stanley said "...fuck off..."
"--me and Igor wanted to know if you wanna sing in our band."
Lavender nodded. "Sure."
"The singer we have now, his voice is ass-- huh?"
"I said yes, I'll sing with you."
"Aren't you gonna even think about it?"
"I did. I'm lonely and I want to sing with you."
"And I want to sing in a band, like on the radio."
"You wanna be a star, huh? We do too." Vulnavia seemed relieved that they'd accomplished what they'd come to do, or maybe that they could now depart Lavender's nest. He grabbed Stanley's collar, to lift him to his feet. Stanley jerked himself away, frowning. "We're gonna go now. Stanley'll come find you when we're gonna practice."
She nodded, smiling, as though this were incontrovertible truth.
"Cool." Vulnavia backed out. "Lavender's a pretty good name. Kinda gothic. What's your last name?"
"Lavender is the only name I've ever had."
"You don't remember your parents?"
Lavender grinned. "I didn't have parents."
"Yeah. I wanna forget mine, too."
Lavender knelt down and drew some symbols in the dust.