Looking out over her kingdom from where she stood at the top of a parking garage downtown, The Queen of Albuquerque wept. Her kingdom was in a bad way, and her people milled about below more desperate, broken and miserable than she had ever seen them before. The illness which had caused the world to shift into reverse while going 100 mph down the highway of civilization seemed like child's play compared to what the shutdown had done to the downtrodden. Every day there were new faces, people who'd been bucked out of the cozy saddle of their lives, and deposited onto the streets. She tried not to view them as a burden, even though they would inevitably increase her workload. However she would not shirk from her duty, not turn away those who needed her help. A vow she had made to herself 14 years ago would be honored, and she would live a life of service to make up for her own trespass against the people living on the Duke City's streets.
Before she became the Queen of Albuquerque she had owned a restaurant on the edge of downtown. It was nothing spectacular, but it had been in her family for over 35 years when she walked away. She had inherited it a decade earlier when her parents died far too young in a car crash. She was not the kind of restaurant owner that was afraid to get her own hands dirty, and she worked ten hours a day, five days a week to be sure that the quality of the food and service never faltered, just as her own parents had when they ran the place. The Queen, who went by Isabella in those days, never wanted to have anything to do with the family business when her folks had been alive. When they passed away it became a way to stay close to them, as they had weaved their own souls into the eatery, and hers eventually became entwined in it as well. In many ways it was more her home than her actual home, and more her life than her life outside of it.
One night she was working late after a dishwasher had called in sick and could not be replaced last minute. As usual, everyone else had left for the night before the dishwasher's duties were concluded, and she was all alone. After taking the trash out she had forgotten to close the back door completely, and while finishing a few last touches she realized she was no longer alone in the restaurant. By the time she saw the man it was too late to escape or alert anybody, he was already in attack mode. Before she could even scream he had her pinned down and covered her mouth, and was in the process of raping her. Afterwards he apologized and began crying and stormed out.
Isabella had recognized her attacker. He was a homeless man that she had seen digging through her dumpster on a few occasions. Her dumpster was famous because she did her best to consolidate food scraps and keep them separate from the other trash, and always threw that bag out last, on top of the others so it could be easily scavenged. Previously she had fed some of people she found digging in her dumpster, but this created an unsustainable dependency and drew too many hungry street people to her restaurant during hours of operation.
After she was raped she stopped that practice and went out of her way to make the food scraps she tossed out inedible, hoping it would keep the homeless away. Yet where there is hunger there is a way, and the damned overgrown urchins continued salvaging meals from her dumpster. This was infuriating. Although her attacker had been prosecuted and was no longer among the scavengers, she feared these people now and wanted to keep them as far away as possible. When she realized they could not be deterred using reasonable means, she slowly slipped into a dark head space where she hatched a more malevolent plan.
Poison was secretly added to the most intact food items before they were thrown out, which she managed to do for weeks with nobody noticing. Sure enough she observed that some of the regulars had stopped coming, and she read that a handful of homeless people had recently been found dead. When she read that the city health inspectors were searching for a cause of this outbreak of deaths she put a stop to the poisoning. One day the inspectors came to her restaurant and even took samples from the dumpster, but nothing ever became of it. The deaths were eventually chalked up to coincidence, and since nobody cared much about dead homeless people, the matter was dropped. Isabella had gotten away with it.
Then she started hearing the voices. At first it was only when she was near the dumpster, but soon she was hearing them everywhere she went, at all times, but especially as she lied in bed trying to sleep at night. The voices taunted her and assured her that she would eventually be caught. She felt like the character from Poe's The Telltale Heart, only with a higher body count to answer for. The voices got worse and she grew desperate to the point was she had stood outside the police station on half a dozen occasions, intending to turn herself in, but chickening out each time. Finally one night she decided she would try talking back to them.
Isabella offered to punish herself if it would make them stop, and gave the voices some options about how she could do so, including suicide, if she must. The voices did not answer. They went silent for several days, and then returned one night as she laid sleepless and terrified of their eventual return and how they might answer. When they spoke again they did not seek to punish her. They said she could make amends. Redemption. She could devote the rest of her life to protecting the vulnerable residents of Albuquerque's streets and the voices would guide her in doing so.
Over the next week she put her restaurant and home up for sale. Since the diner had kept her too busy to find a partner and raise a family, she liquidated everything and walked away from her life. The proceeds from her property were put into the bank, which she would only access in case of an absolute emergency. The stress of the last months had placed a great toll on her, and she lost weight and aged several years in appearance. By the time she started living on the streets alongside those she was now sworn to protect, she was unrecognizable to those who had known her before. Isabella blended in with her new community. As the voices had instructed, whenever somebody asked her name, she told them she was The Queen of Albuquerque.
With the help of her inner guides she quickly became the most important figure among the local homeless population. She acted as arbitrator, settling disputes before they escalated into violence. She became an advocate for those whom law enforcement targeted, often successfully diverting them from jail. She organized methods by which they could scavenge purposefully and share. She gave counsel, provided wisdom, and helped people through manic episodes brought on by drugs, alcohol and mental health issues. By no means did she make the streets an easy place to live, but she made them easier to live on for many, and to the people she helped that made a huge difference.
Yet nothing could have prepared her for the summer of 2020, and she found herself almost helpless in preventing the spiral of desperation and suffering she was now seeing among the poor souls she looked out over from her current perch. The Queen of Albuquerque wept, and even the voices could no longer show her how to make things right for her people, but she would not stop trying so long as she drew breath.
This story is set in the world of my last submission, Choppin' for the Queen, and will be continued as future prompts allow.
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