Visit to Duivel, Missouri and the Barrows.
Journal – Olivia J. Aifee
I wanted to be a writer ever since I started my journal at age ten. Now I had my degree and a small monthly income from my grandmother’s estate. My plan? Find an interesting place to live and write. My aunt suggested Duivel, Missouri, and a section of town called the Barrows.
After I checked into my hotel, I walked downtown Duivel to the city bus transfer station. Summer hadn’t quite made it to this part of Missouri, but the sidewalks retained some of their noon-time heat and radiated it back to make a comfortable stroll. After a quick search, I found the route to the Barrows.
I climbed on an almost empty Duivel Transit System bus and dropped in my tokens. It was late afternoon so the day-work crowd had already made its way home and the night carousers had not yet come out to howl. The bus roared, squeaked and groaned as it began its run. A diesel guzzling mechanical beast, it complained over every inch of road and left a black cloud of pollution behind.
I sat where I could easily converse with the driver. He was a pleasant looking man, about fifty. He looked a little worn, but had a broad, open face and friendly smile. I drew a deep breath and introduced myself—Olivia Aifee, age 23, burgeoning fiction writer.
His name was Jim and he was quite willing to engage in conversation. I began by asking questions on the subject most people enjoy talking about—themselves.
“Being a bus driver isn’t so bad,” Jim said. “You get to sit on your butt all day. Meet some interesting characters at times. Mostly though, everyone is quiet. They’re thinking about what they’re gonna do when they get off the dam…darned bus. Me? Once upon a time I was a firefighter. Then I lost a lung in Iraq. Lost some things besides body parts, too. That kind of limits a man’s options. Never could sit at a desk in an office.” He cursed under his breath as a truck cut him off with a sudden lane change. He relaxed when the road cleared.
“I drive the River Street route into the Barrows mostly because they pay me extra and no one else wants it. Bunch of sissies. Oh, yeah, you see some strange things down there. That’s what keeps me going. Keeps me interested. Otherwise, I’d probably go PTSD on everyone.”
“I’m interested in living in the Barrows,” I said. “Finding an apartment or a room. Any place you’d recommend?”
“Well, it’s kind of dangerous. The Barrows. Especially after dark. ‘Course, you young people mostly don’t pay attention to warnings like that.”
He made a stop to let the single passenger off.
“This is River Street.” He nodded at the road sliding under the bus. “It runs right down the middle of the Barrows. Splits off about a mile down. That right hand split leads to the warehouses, industrial area along the River.”
He slammed on brakes and cursed out loud that time. The curse was followed by an apology to me for the colorful language.
“Anyway,” Jim said. “I’ll give you the tour as we go south.” The bus rolled down an easy hill. He slowed a bit. “Okay, see that brick building over there? The one with all the fancy cars out front? Millionaires’ cars. That’s the Archangel. Exercise studio, believe it or not. Run by a man, named Michael. At least I guess he’s a man.”
“What would he be besides a man?” I kept my voice matter-of-fact. If you want a story, you don’t ridicule the storyteller.
Jim just shook his head. “You’d have to see it. You’d have to see him.”
The bus traveled past various businesses, though none had the obvious popularity of the Archangel. He stopped in front of Armory Pawn to pick up a passenger. Across the street were Tony’s Grocery, a boarding house and apartment building. The boarding house and apartments didn’t look fancy, but weren’t decrepit either. I made a note of their location. Living here on my budget would require something affordable.
“You’re in luck,” Jim said. He opened the bus door. “You get to meet someone really interesting.”
The woman who climbed on had pure white hair cut short as most men’s. She moved with the grace of the ballet dancer my mother always wanted me to be. Her pale, arctic blue eyes so entranced me that I didn’t notice the silver scar that covered most of one cheek. When I did see it, it seemed so superficial, so small in importance on a woman who projected such strength. She had a simple beauty that became more apparent the longer I looked at her.
“This is Olivia,” Jim said, nodding at me.
The unusual woman took a seat behind Jim. She gave me a half of a smile and introduced herself. “I’m Madeline.”
Her jacket fell open when she sat and I noticed the shoulder holster with gun. She had a knife on the belt at her waist, too. Her gaze traveled over everything before she relaxed. Slightly relaxed. No adversary would take her by surprise.
“Madeline’s a bouncer at the Goblin Den,” Jim said. “Down at the end of the road.”
I could see her as a bouncer. “The Goblin Den?”
Jim chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Used to have heavy metal bands. Concerts. Bad place full of dealers and users. It’s a plain vanilla night club now. Only have the usual drunks.”
Madeline didn’t speak. She obviously wasn’t a person for casual conversation. I did wonder why the usual drunks at a plain vanilla night club required the weapons she carried.
Traffic thinned dramatically at the place where Jim said the road forked away and went to the docks. As yet, there were no other passengers.
“This section is kind of bad,” He said. His voice became low and serious. “And it gets worse as you go downhill.”
It did. The sun sat like a yellow blob on the horizon, but there was still plenty of light. Rundown, sordid, sleazy, a lot of words described River Street in this location. Pawn shops, strip bars advertising completely naked women, pool rooms, and… “Jim, are those girls prostitutes?”
“Yep. That they are.”
“But they’re so…young.” Some of the girls walking the sidewalks, prancing at the corners, looked no more than thirteen. They should have been home because it was a school night, not parading half naked on the sidewalk. “Don’t the police—”
“Police don’t come down here,” Jim said. “Unless it’s something important. Fire. Riot. Really big bomb.”
My interest in this place soared to an amazing level. Did the police actually differentiate between a big bomb and a little bomb?
Darkness descended fast when the sun finally dropped below the horizon. Street lights flashed on, flickered, then steadied to provide adequate light. River Street ended in a circle of asphalt at the edge of a swampy morass called Sullen Bog. I’d read about the Bog in some of the Duivel literature. That literature did not mention the Barrows at all. Didn’t show it on the maps, either.
Jim slowed when he began the turn to go back uptown. The building on the right had an interesting sign. Laudine, it read. In smaller letters, passion-purple letters, it said Psychic Readings and Spells Removed.
“That’s my favorite place,” Jim nodded at Laudine’s. “I stop sometimes when I don’t have passengers. Get the best arthritis meds in the world. Only reason I can still drive is that little jar of brown salve. Stinks like hell, but it works. That Laudine says she’s a witch. You believe in witches, Olivia?”
I hesitated. I didn’t, but I also didn’t want to offend him. “I believe there’s a world full of things I don’t know enough about to say yes or no.”
Madeline stood. “You’re a smart girl, Olivia. Keep that open mind. You’ll need it here.”
“That’s the Goblin Den,” Jim said. He finished his circle and stopped in front of a plain, boxy warehouse building. “Hey, Olivia. Look there.” He pointed at the man approaching the bus. “Your good luck continues, girl. You get to actually see him. Michael. They call him the Archangel. Now you try not to drool on the upholstery, honey. Maintenance don’t like that.”
Madeline laughed out loud.
Archangel? He could be. Pure white blond hair framed a perfect face. He was unadulterated art in the form of a man. But no painting, no sculpture could do him justice. I didn’t drool, but I did stare with my mouth open. I also managed a single word. “Wow!”
Madeline laughed again and moved to the door. “Later, Jim. Olivia, bring your ID and come back down here at nine when the Den opens. I’ll get you a ring side seat for the show.”
“What’s the show,” I asked.
She nodded at Michael. “Mostly him. There’s so-so band. Food’s lousy, drinks are expensive. Do you believe people leave uptown and come down here just to look at him? Get a chance to talk to him?”
“I believe. Oh, yes, I believe.” Was she kidding? He was magnificent. I had some difficulty breathing as I stared.
Madeline stepped off the bus. Michael met her. He didn’t touch her, but he moved really close. All his attention focused on her. I watched them as long as I could when the bus pulled away.
Jim chuckled. “Hang on, honey, tour’s not over yet.”
More people lined the streets, adding to the parade of prostitutes. A group of young men lounged on a corner. They fit the stereotype of gang members.
Jim locked the bus door. “Those guys are Bastinados. Bad gangs. Evil. Don’t you come down here on foot, Olivia. You’d just be meat to them.”
“Okay. I’m adventurous, not totally stupid.” I was honey when he made a joke and Olivia when he became serious.
Jim sighed. “I been thinking. I like you. Decided I’m gonna show you. Only a block, but it should do.”
He slowed and made a right turn. We plunged into darkness where only the headlights illuminated total night. A night filled with urban ruins that crowded close to the street. Skeleton buildings huddled together as if desperate of stave off decay.
“Jim?” The first bit of alarm inched up in me. The temperature in the bus dropped and I shivered.
“It’s okay, honey. But you got to see this. This is the real Barrows. This is what it’s about. There’s a few square miles of this to the east. Streets, blocks, homes, businesses. Or at least they were at one time.”
He maneuvered the barely-moving bus around a rusted, burned out car.
I stared out the front window, unable to look away. “Do people live here?”
“No, but other things do. First rule for humans in the Barrows. Stay in the light.”
He made a left turn. The lights of River Street came back into view. I drew a deep breath when he headed back uptown.
He didn’t talk much after that. He’d stopped smiling. I wanted to ask him about the other things that lived in the Barrows. I wanted to know what happened to cause the devastation in what he called the real Barrows. I also wanted his good will, so I didn’t pester him with questions when he obviously didn’t want to speak. I had to see more. That would take time and many bus tokens.
He drove into the bus station where I had begun my incredible journey. He turned his now thoughtful face to me. “So, what you think about the Barrows.”
“I think it’s going to take a bit of time to process what I’ve seen.” I stood and stretched. “I’ll see you again. I also need to buy you lunch or at least a drink to pay for the great tour.”
He opened the door and I started out.
I turned back to him.
"You remember what I said. First rule. You go to the Barrows, you stay in the light.”
“I will. And thanks again.”
Oh, I did plan to go into the Barrows again. Tomorrow I’d start looking for an apartment or a room. Tonight I was going back to my hotel, change clothes, and get my car. Then I’d take Madeline up on her offer of a good seat at the Goblin Den. I wanted to look at her Michael again. Yes, he was hers, but I could fantasize, dream a little—or a lot.