Stranger Things

By Polyester Rage

Mapper was lying in his bunk, doing absolutely nothing and resenting it greatly. There were so many things that he could be doing, instead of lying there. He knew, for instance, that Smithy had managed to find a deck of old cards and was organizing a secret poker game. He also knew that Pockets was planning an escape attempt. He sighed and blew a piece of brown hair out of his eyes. Mapper was missing that too, all because he was getting a new roommate.

At the age of 15, Mapper had spent three years living in the Refuge. He'd wandered in on a particularly cold November night, when he hadn't made enough selling papes that day to pay for a bed at a lodging house. He'd decided to sleep on the streets, until it had started snowing. He started walking, ended up at the Refuge, and figured that it was better to be there than be on the streets and dead. He'd been desperate at the time, but now he thought that was one of the best decisions of his short life.

He was used to different roommates by now. Boys came and went, some switched to other rooms, while others left the Refuge altogether. But it was still annoying when the Sisters made them wait around to get introduced to their new roommate. And then they were expected to show the new kid around, which Mapper certainly didn't mind, but that day just seemed especially exciting and it was frustrating to have to spend it waiting in his room.

Finally the door opened, and Sister Margaret entered, followed by a scowling, rather scrawny, dark haired boy. Mapper quickly climbed off the bed.

"Frankie," she said to Mapper. The Sisters always called the boys by their given names. It was a bit of an annoyance to them all, but nothing more than that. "This is-"

"Lonesy," the boy interrupted.

Sister Margaret gave "Lonesy" a sharp look, he just glared back. Mapper watched the interaction in fascination. Nobody crossed Sister Margaret. It just wasn't done.

"Now, I know the way you children refer to each other on the streets," Sister Margaret said in a way that implied she found the whole thing quite deplorable. "But here we refer to each other by our given names."

At that Lonesy walked over to Mapper and stuck his hand out. Mapper took it, and Lonesy said, "Nice to meet you. I'm Lonesy."

Mapper tried hard not to laugh, but quick as a flash Sister Margaret had Lonesy's ear in her hand and was pulling him away. Lonesy's face was scrunched up in pain, and Mapper decided to help.

"He didn't mean nothing by it, really. He just ain't used to things yet. But don't worry, I'll make sure he learns all the rules."

At that Mapper flashed Sister Margaret one of his infamous smiles. No one was immune to the force of such charm, not even her, and she simply shook her head begrudgingly.

"All right," she said, and turned to leave. "That's fine...for now."

She gave Lonesy a warning look, but he just disregarded her and climbed into his bunk, turning away from them both. She closed the door, and Mapper was left alone with his new roommate. Who, at the moment, seemed very intent on completely ignoring him. Mapper climbed back up on his bunk and sighed loudly. Nothing. The silence stretched on. Mapper finally decided he couldn't stand it any longer.

"So, Lonesy, huh? It is nice to meet you. I'm Mapper."

"'Mapper?'" a muffled voice responded. "I thought you were 'Frankie?'"

Mapper ignored the sarcasm in Lonesy's voice.

"Yeah, well, Frankie's what the Sisters call me. They call everyone by their real name, so you's better get used to it. But, everyone else just calls me 'Mapper.'"

Silence from the other bunk.

"S'cause I knew the city so well," Mapper said, forging on. "And I always got the job of showing the new kids around. I didn't mind though. You's a newsie too then? Lonesy ain't your real name, that's for sure. So why Lonesy? How'd you end up here? Don't seem like it was your idea. You didn't steal nothing, did you? A lotta the kids that are sent here stole something."

Nothing. Mapper was frustrated. He'd bailed the kid out of trouble with Sister Margaret, missed an escape attempt, and a poker game, all for silence.

"Yeah, I'm a newsie," Lonesy said finally. He turned away from the wall to face Mapper and continued. "'Lonesy' because I like to be alone. And I got in a fight."

This interested Mapper greatly. Unfortunately the announcement of "Suppertime!" arrived right as he was going to ask Lonesy why he got in a fight. Outside of the room Lonesy appeared to be his quiet self again. Mapper went and introduced him to the other boys, and he said hello, but for the most part remained silent, and pretty much stayed silent for the duration of the night.

Over the next few days Mapper taught Lonesy about life in the Refuge, and what to expect. All of the general things; when mealtimes were, all of the Sisters' names, what words would get you in big trouble, and also the information that was less well known; which Sisters were the sweetest, when it was easiest to "borrow" extra food from the pantry, and how to find loose floorboards to stash things. During those days, as Lonesy learned about the Refuge, Mapper ended up learning more about Lonesy. They didn't have many whole conversations those days; mainly it was Mapper asking Lonesy questions to fill the silence and Lonesy occasionally answering them. He learned that Lonesy was caught fighting with some boys who were trying to stick him with their papes. He got caught, they didn't. He learned that Lonesy was sentenced to a month in the Refuge. He learned that Lonesy was 15 too, and definitely small for his age.

And then one day, almost a week into his sentence, Lonesy asked Mapper a question. It was simply, "so, how did you end up here?" Mapper answered, and Lonesy shocked him by talking about how he'd gotten stuck out in the snow a few times, and how horrible it was. Mapper realized that was the first conversation they'd ever had. And, miraculously enough, it was the first of many. Mapper discovered that Lonesy was actually quite fun to be around, and the two quickly became friends.

"You just gotta get through your whole 'silent, alone,' thing," Mapper whispered. The two were playing a game of poker with Smithy's cards, which Mapper had been able to steal. The two had to be quiet, as not only were they supposed to be asleep, but playing cards were specifically forbidden. The two could barely read the cards in the dim light, but they played on.

"People don't normally get through the 'silent, alone thing,'" Lonesy said, laughing quietly. "My name is Lonesy after all for a reason. It's not a joke."

"So," Mapper started, calling and raising a couple more rocks in the pot. "Why do you like being alone?"

At that Lonesy was silent. It was the longest time he'd gone without talking since he first arrived at the Refuge. Mapper was started to think the question would never be answered when Lonesy spoke again.

"If I'm alone I don't have anyone else to worry about. Just me. I like that. You can't get that if you've got other people to look after."

Now it was Mapper's turn to go silent. He contemplated Lonesy's answer.

"Just...seems like it'd be...lonely. Is all."

"Well, it's not. You don't think it's even a little nice? To have nobody to answer to? Just yourself?"

Mapper thought.

"I...I guess it can be."

He couldn't quite read Lonsey's face, but he was sure the other boy looked smug.

"But you know," Mapper continued. "I'd rather not go through it all alone. I like having people with me. They'se nice to have fun with. Get in trouble with. You can look after them, and they can look after you. Two heads' better than one."

Suddenly they heard footsteps in the hallway. They quickly stashed the cards under a floorboard and climbed as silently as they could into their beds. Sister Margaret strolled past their door, glancing in. However, she found nothing out of the ordinary and walked away.

"Lonesy?" Mapper whispered, so quiet it was almost silent.

"Yeah," Lonesy breathed back.

"We's friends, right??"

"Yeah. We are."

That was the end of their conversation, but each boy contemplated what the other had said for a long time, until finally one drifted off, and then the other. But they still thought about it. Lonesy would sit with Mapper, Smithy and Bets at dinner and find himself thinking about walking alone on the streets. He found that image was less and less appealing as it grew closer and closer to becoming reality. Mapper, for his part, would be sitting on his bunk at night, and think about the walls that enclosed him, had enclosed him for three years, and wonder about being out, on his own.

The days quickly stretched into weeks, and sooner than he wanted, it was time for Lonesy to be released. The boys all clapped him on the back, while the more cynical ones (who were serving their own time, generally) just said that he'd be back in a month.

"Nah, you ain't ever gonna end up back in here," Mapper said as they walked away from a group of boys who were taking quiet bets on how soon Lonesy would be back. They headed over to their room and sat on the floor.

"Yeah, I know," Lonesy said.

"I mean, I don't even know if I's gonna be here in a month."

Lonesy smiled at that.

"You're thinking of getting out of here?"

"I was thinking," Mapper said. "I might wanna try being on my own again."

"Think there's any chance we'll see each other out there?"

Mapper thought about it for a moment.

"Maybe," he said. Lonesy nodded at him. They sat and chatted about nothing in particular, until Sister Margaret came to retrieve Lonesy.

"Come along now Mayer, it's time for you to leave."

She bustled out, and Lonesy and Mapper stood up.

"Mayer?" Mapper asked, and Lonesy twisted his face in disgust, making Mapper laugh.

"Well, Mayer," Mapper said, putting out his hand. "It was nice to meet you."

Lonesy, or Mayer, took Mapper's hand and shook it.

"It was nice to meet you too...Frankie."

Mapper laughed at that, and the Sister Margaret retrieved Mayer and the two walked out of the room. Mapper, or Frankie, or Francis Sullivan as he was born as, simply stood alone in the room for a moment before climbing up onto his bunk and lying down. He stared at the old wooden ceiling and thought about what he'd told Lonesy. Would they ever see each other on the outside? Probably not.

"But really," he thought, smiling. "Stranger things've happened."