Chapter Two:
The City of Light and Magic

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Perpetua said she was coming to Toronto to look for a little magic, but she'd meant that metaphorically. What she was really looking for was a job.

Instead, she found gargoyles at Toronto's bus station.

She stared up at the leering stone faces huddled together in the corner of the terminal. Seriously? Gargoyles in a bus terminal?

But the terminal grumbled with idling engines. People on the next platform filed onto a bus to Montreal. The driver of her bus stood nearby, flipping through his clipboard. Nobody gave the faces a glance.

She shrugged. Must be some forgotten art installation.

She took a deep, steadying breath and got a lungful of diesel exhaust. Coughing, she headed out along the sidewalk, cutting a wide arc to hurry past a grizzled homeless man sitting against the wall. She kept her spirits up by thinking how brave she was.

After all, how many people come to a strange city with just $500 in their pocket (well, technically, their bra), all set to make a new life for themselves?

Lots, actually. That's what immigrants do. Except for the money in their underwear part, maybe. And they work themselves to the bone, if they're lucky.

She turned onto the main thoroughfare, and stopped in her tracks.

She knew Toronto was a big city, but she didn't appreciate how big until she faced this river of humanity. There were men and women in power suits, stockbrokers leaning into cell phones, university students striding along to the beat of music players. Their shoes battered the sidewalk in a steady rhythm. They all strode north, eyes aimed down or glazed, letting nobody and nothing stand in their way.

Perpetua stared appalled, until she spotted a fish swimming against the stream. A young woman, about her age, in stylishly short skirt and brilliant green blazer. She strode confidently, ruby lips set firm, parting the crowd like a ship on the sea. She caught Perpetua's gaze. Her eyes narrowed and her smile tightened. She quickened her pace and vanished down the street

Perpetua squared her shoulders. So, that's how you do it: step out like you own the place. People will make way for you.

She stepped out like she owned the place.

The rhythm of feet broke into a staccato of stumbles and body checks.

"Ow!" "Watch where you're going!" "Oof!" "Get out of the way!" "My foot!" "Hey!"

She spotted a gap in the stream, darted through, and found herself teetering on the curb, trapped between cars moving at the speed of battleships in harbour on her left, and people charging like cavalry on her right.

But at least here, she could walk without risk of being run over, so she walked. The cars, jammed bumper to bumper, kept pace with her.

"Hey! Need a ride?"

She perked up, and looked around to see who'd said that. Though the sidewalk was full of people, nobody was looking at her. The car windows were all closed against the heat. She shrugged and walked on.

"Take you wherever you need to go!"

She slowed. The traffic around her squealed, drawing together like a coiled spring. She looked around, but could not see who was speaking.

"Taxi for hire!"

She looked to her left and, sure enough, there was an orange-and-teal taxicab in the curb lane. Its windows were open and it was keeping pace with her.

"No thanks," she said.

The driver's head swivelled. "What?"

She kept walking. "You asked me if I wanted a cab. I don't, thanks."

There was a pause. "I didn't ask you if you wanted a cab."

Perpetua peered into the open window.

A young man sat behind the wheel. He was about her age, light-skinned, with a beaky nose and a face so narrow it looked like he'd shut it in a book. His top half, which was all she could see, wore a sweatshirt with McGill University emblazoned across the chest. He had a mop of dark curls that would have looked good on, say, Tina Turner, circa 1985.

"You did," she replied. "You asked me three times. And you're following me."

"I'm not following you!"

She stopped. So did the cab. She glared in the window at him. "Oh yeah?"

"But..." He gestured out the front window.

She looked. The cab was stopped a foot from the back bumper of a limousine.

She turned and walked on. The limousine pulled forward. The cab followed, its open window keeping pace with her.

She thumped the door. "Stop it!"

"I can't!"

Perpetua stopped. The cab stopped. So did every other car in the lane. Engines idled. Ahead of her, someone honked a horn.

She looked at the traffic ahead, then at the taxi driver. She pointed. "I'll go this way. You stay here a bit."

He looked nervous. "Uh..."

"Just stay there!" She moved forward. The limousine saw a spot and pulled ahead. The gap between it and the taxi cab widened.

Behind the cab, several dozen drivers leaned on their horns. Someone shouted, "Move on, you jerk!"

The cab driver reddened. His knuckles whitened on the wheel. Then he jerked and the car lurched forward, filling the gap behind the limousine. He caught up with Perpetua and kept pace.

"Sorry," he said.

Perpetua stopped. Traffic stopped with a squeak.

She stared at the cab, and at the other cars, her hands on her hips. She cocked her head. "What would happen if I walked backwards, I wonder?"

The cab driver blanched. "No! Don't!"

"I really think I ought to try."

She lifted her foot. But before her heel touched the sidewalk, she heard a squeal and a thump somewhere behind her. There was a blare of horns, and angry shouts.

"Geez!" The cab driver waved at her frantically. "Quick! Get in! Get in!"

She yanked open the back door, tossed in her suitcase, and leapt onto the back seat, backpack and all. She pulled the door shut behind her. Immediately traffic moved again. The cab driver drove on.

"So, where to, miss?"

"Um..." Perpetua looked around at the inside of the cab, then out the window at the street. Traffic was now moving at a good clip. Running speed, at least. "What the hell just happened?"

He shrugged. "Toronto traffic. It's got a mind of its own."

The answer didn't satisfy her, but she suspected it was the only one she would get.

"So, where to, miss?" said the cabbie again. "You're going somewhere, right?"

Perpetua looked at the cabbie. He seemed harmless enough, but looks could be deceiving. His name was Fergus, according to the information printed beside the photo on his license. Actually, that was his last name, as his first was so scuffed it was illegible.

She shifted her backpack onto her lap. Inside she had her emergency cell phone and, more importantly, her emergency can of mace. "If you weren't talking to me out there, who were you talking to?".


"Just now. When you said, 'need a ride' and 'taxi for hire'? If that wasn't me you were talking to, who was it?"

The light dawned. "Oh!" He grinned. "Sorry. I was just practising."


"You know? The patter?" he said. "Half of this job is the patter. Connecting with customers. Getting them to relax. It helps bring in tips. Or, so I'm told."

She raised an eyebrow. "So, you were pattering... at yourself?" She told herself it wasn't nearly as dirty as it sounded.

Fergus sent her a grin by way of the rear-view mirror. "I guess. If you hadn't interrupted me, you would have heard me say, 'So, you new in town?' and 'Going to see anything interesting?'."


"So, you new in town?"

"Kind of." Perpetua glanced out the window. "I'm seeing friends. They're expecting me this evening." It was a lie, but a safe thing to say.

"Going to see anything interesting?"

"Sort of." She held her breath, then let it go, slowly.

Fergus's brow creased. "You okay?"

She looked at him again. She shouldn't talk to strangers; that was one of her mother's rules she still respected. But, still... Her instinct threw up no warnings about this guy. "I'm making a new start."

"A new start?"

"I'm starting a new life."

His eyes widened in the mirror. "Just like that? It's a big city for that sort of thing."

"Come on! I can't be the first person to do this!"

"Point. Still, it's very brave. I came here looking for an education. Instead, here I am driving a cab."

"Aha. Is the cab company hiring?"

He shrugged. "Not really. I got this through a friend of a friend."

"Oh." She sat back, disappointed.

"So, you never told me." He angled through an intersection onto a cross street. "Where to?"

"Um..." She straightened up. The thought of contending with the crowds did not thrill her, but she reminded herself that she was on a budget. "Sorry." Honesty was the best policy, right? After all, it was why she'd stormed away from home: a question of honesty. "You should let me out. I can't afford this trip."

"How much can you afford?"

She mulled it over. "Ten dollars? I have to go to--" Her street smarts vetoed the idea of telling the cabbie exactly where she was heading. "King and Church?"

He flipped a hand on the steering wheel. "Fair enough. It's more than I'm making just sitting in traffic."

She settled back in her seat. "Huh." She smiled. "Thanks."

She liked the way Fergus's eyes said 'You're welcome' in the rear-view mirror.

They turned another corner, and Toronto's skyline shifted into view in the front window. She leaned forward with a gasp. "Well, hey!"

She knew Toronto's streets weren't paved with gold, but now she had to wonder about the buildings. In the setting sun, the towers glowed yellow-orange, so bright that she had to squint.

"Maybe there's a little magic in this city after all," she said.


That hope dried up soon after.

"What do you mean 'there's no room'?" she yelled.

The desk manager shrugged. "Just what I said." His voice was a monotone. "The room you asked for is no longer available."

"But--" Her fists clenched. "I booked it on the Internet!" It was a struggle not to stamp her foot; she'd outgrown that, or thought she had. "I have the receipt and everything!" She slapped the folded paper on the front desk. "See?"

The manager hardly looked at it. "That's not a receipt. That's just a reservation."

Perpetua arched an eyebrow. "Doesn't the term 'reservation' imply that you've set a room aside in reserve?"

"Yeah, but not the price for it. If you don't pay a deposit, conditions may change without notice."

"On a whim, you mean!"

"Well, there is a room available," the manager deadpanned. "For the quite reasonable price of $100 per night, you can--"

"Wait." She held up a hand. "Did you just say 'reasonable'? It's a blatant rip-off!"

The manager spread his hands. "I can't comment on that. So sorry."

This time Perpetua did stamp her foot. "That's four times what you advertised! At that price--" She stuttered to a stop.

I'd be out of here in less than a week!

"Nothing I can do about that. It's the height of tourist season. Everything is booked. Take it or leave it."

Perpetua leaned back and stared at him a long moment. A hundred dollars a night, for at least one night, when she had just $500. Take it or leave it.

She leaned on the front desk. "Would you like some feedback on that? 'Cause you know, there is a third option..."


On reflection, Perpetua had to rate the hotel's security staff as 'better than average'.

She resolved to say so on Yelp, right after the part about the manager trying to swindle her. However, the way two very big men gently, but firmly, bundled her out the door and onto the street... now that was professional. They were even kind enough to toss her backpack after her. Then they stood watching her, maybe to make sure she didn't barrel back inside.

"What?" she told their stony faces. "He said 'Take it or leave it'. Is it my fault he couldn't take it?"

The two guards straightened their identical red blazers and stepped back inside.

Perpetua looked around. The sun was down, and the city's skyline sparkled like a Christmas tree. A streetcar glided past. A homeless man struggled to manoeuvre his shopping cart across the tracks. Perpetua grimaced at that, and edged away.

Across the street, a cathedral's spires rose to the sky. It looked magnificent, a mass of complicated shapes rich with carvings under the eaves, and grotesque stone faces -- gargoyles --leering from niches above the porch. But despite its soaring steeple, it was dwarfed by the skyscrapers behind it. And, Perpetua had to admit, she felt as though she were dwarfed by everything.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay. This is okay. So plan A didn't work out. There are other letters in the alphabet. YWCA, for instance."

Cars breezed past. The wind picked up and plucked at her skirt. This was the height of summer, yet Perpetua felt a sudden chill.

Sure, you could find a place tonight. But what about the next night? And what will you pay? Fifty dollars? A hundred? What if a job doesn't materialize in the next five days?

She stared across the street at the small park beside the cathedral. Long bundles of fabric lay along the benches. She knew enough to guess they weren't just piles of clothes.

You could go home, said a wimpy little voice at the back of her mind.

But she couldn't. The bus back to North Bay had left long ago. Like it or not, she was stuck in Toronto.

"Oh, my God!" She pressed her hands over her mouth, but the words spilled out. "Oh, my God! What am I going to do?"

Something caught her eye. It was the homeless man still struggling to manhandle his cart up onto the sidewalk. Her gaze tracked up the street. "Oh, my God!"

She darted forward, grabbed the near end of the cart, and pulled. The cart leaped with a clatter onto the sidewalk. The man came with it.

Behind him on the road, a dump truck smashed past.

"Watch where you're going!" Perpetua yelled after it. The creep didn't even slow down.

She shook her head, then turned back to the man. "You all right?"

He looked at her with eyes that glittered past the mass of hair and through the deep shadow under his broad-brimmed hat. They stared at each other.

"You all right?" she asked again.

He nodded at her, then up at the gargoyles on the cathedral. "Gotta go," he mumbled. "Places to meet, things to go, people to do." His words slurred as he shuffled away -- remarkably fast, Perpetua thought.

She turned to watch him amble away, and a wave of stink washed over her. She backed up, choking, and only now remembered the greasy feeling of the cart against her fingers. She rubbed them on her skirt. "Ew! Well, you're welcome."

Perpetua took a breath of fresher air, held it, let it go. "What am I going to do?" She sagged.

There was a scruff of stone against stone.

She straightened up, glanced at her backpack where the kind-of-illegal can of mace was stashed, and looked around. There was no one on the sidewalk.

Then she looked up again at the cathedral and frowned at a gargoyle perched atop the porch door, its shoulders white with bird poop. A pigeon strutted across its neck and pecked at its ear.

The gargoyle's stony gaze focused past Perpetua. Its outstretched arm pointed over Perpetua's shoulder.

That's weird, she thought. I don't think it was pointing before...

Her brow furrowed. But it must have been. What other explanation is there?

Still, she followed its pointing finger to an alleyway across the street. The building closest to the street was boarded up and plastered with signs advertising The Future Site of St. Lawrence Station - Don River Subway. The building next to it down the alley, however, did not look abandoned. A sign on its wall seemed to say HOSTE... The rest was obscured by a lamppost. Hoste what? Perpetua crossed the street, dragging her suitcase after her.

The sign was painted and not back-lit, but she could read it clearly. "Hostelry. Rooms for rent. Safe. Clean. $20/night." An arrow pointed to a door that was well lit. Not dark and scary at all.

Worth a look. I can always back out.

The door opened smoothly. The carpet in the hall beyond was dark and old and a bit worn, but clean. She looked back at the gargoyle across the street, and waved. "Thanks!" She turned back to the door and pushed it all the way open. "Here's to a little bit of magic, after all."

The door slammed behind her.

Across the street, a pigeon cooed. Then came a stony grinding sound and a squawk. The bird fluttered up, spilling feathers, and flapped away into the sky.


The new desk manager gaped at her as though he'd never seen a customer before.

"What are you doing here?" He had a young boy's squeaky voice, and an old man's wrinkled face. "You -- you shouldn't be here!"

She frowned. "Really? I can't imagine how you keep the crowds away."

"Seriously, hu--" He shook himself. "How did you find this place?"

Perpetua backed away. "Well, I... It's..." She felt her cheeks flushing as she tried to figure out what to say. She was too tired to come up with a convincing lie. "The fact is, I saw a gargoyle across the street. It was pointing at this place."

The manager drew back. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, I know. Sounds stupid, but--"

"Excuse me." The manager hopped over the desk, agile as a teenager, and scurried out the front door. The door had barely closed when it burst open again and the manager was back. "So it is. That settles it. You can stay."

Perpetua remembered to close her mouth. "Really?"

"Yeah." He flipped open the desk register. "For two weeks, or until you get a job. You can't stay here forever. Plenty of other people need the room."

"I-uh..." She could barely follow this conversation. "Thanks... I really appreciate this. I--"

He spun the register to face her, and held out the pen. "Sign here, please."

"Sure. How did you know I need a job?"

"Doesn't everybody?" The wrinkles on his face shaped themselves into a smile that reminded her briefly of the gargoyle.

"Thank goodness I found this hotel. What's the name?" She looked at the register and did a double take. "Amnesia House? " She looked up at the manager. "Why the heck did you call this place Amnesia House?"

He shrugged. "I forget."

She wasn't sure it was a joke.

Next: Chapter Three: Fergus Journal Entry - Monday, July 2

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