She shivered as she walked through the cold, dark street, her thin shawl wrapped around her tightly, her medicine bag, banging against her hip over and over again as she walked. It was all she had left from her village. Since it had been burned down, along with all the inhabitants. Her parents, her neighbors included. She had been walking for days, numb.
She fought back the tears, thinking of their bodies, burned beyond recognition and tried to quickly hustle through the city, looking for a warm place to spend the night. She searched the streets, looking for anywhere she might be able to find shelter from the cold.
How she found herself, about to collide with the ground, only catching herself before her face hit the pavement hit her as a surprise, and she let out a yelp as her knees and hands scraped against the pavement.
"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!" she yelped, as she rolled over to examine her now bleeding hands and knees. Claire sighed and turned her head to the sky.
Of all the days to be clumsy, did it have to be today? She felt the tears fall, whether it was from the pain of being injured or the emotional pain of having her life upended . She reached Into the bag and tried to see if she had anything to clean the cut on her legs.
"Come on why all the fuss?" she heard a voice say. She looked up to see a red-haired woman. "Life's dropped you at the bottom of the heap, lass?"
"I suppose so." she almost laughed.
"Ah and she's English."the woman smirked.
"It certainly doesn't help."
The red head helped her up.
"I'm Geilis." "
"well you're certainly a long way from home."
"I...." she bit her lip and sucked in a deep breath "I don't have a home anymore."
"Eh, home is overrated." Geilis shrugged, dusting off her skirt. "Jesus, child you're freezing."
"I wasn't expecting the rain."
"Come on, you can stay with us girls tonight. Get warmed up."
"Aye, there's a bunch of us." She led her down several streets alley way, the lights of the city growing brighter and brighter
"Welcome to Dreamland" She pushed open the door and Claire's jaw dropped in shock.
"Well for legal purposes it's a dance club, but we do offer a bit of extra services for an added fee"
"I... I should go."
"Stay the night. Clean yourself up. Those look like some nasty cuts ye' got there."
"I'll be fine. If I could just use your washroom."
"Sure." Geilis pointed the door, and she side stepped a girl in a French maid costume.
She went to washroom and received herself washing her hands carefully and giving her knees the attention they needed after the fall. She reached out and touched her reflection in the mirror. She was not the young girl she thought she had been a few months ago. Her eyes, hollow, her curls wild around her.
Several of the other girls looked her up and down, scantily clad in shiny metallic outfits, some bosoms out, nipples covered by tassels. Claire found herself blushing, her eyes averted until she saw a girl hobbling. Her eyes looked her up and down.
"What are you staring at?"
"Your legs." She cleared her throat. " They aren't the same length."
'"You're having hip pain. It's because you're favoring your left leg. "
"What about it?"
"You need a lift for your shoes. You can probably add a little bit of it into the insole to make it less noticeable. I'm sure the heels aren't helping but you could get a little lift."
"You're a healer?"
"I was in my ... village" she said sadly.
"You know anything about birth control?" One of the girl
"A bit." Claire blushed. "You don't want to have any... intercourse two weeks before your cycle as it puts you at more risk, but I know some teas that can bring on your cycle should something go awry, but you should try to avoid it."
"We... we could use a healer around here." Geillis offered. "It'd be somewhere to stay but you might still have to still dance."
"She's certainly got the legs for it."
"And the arse." Another girl laughed.
"I'm... I'm just here for one night." Claire tried to explain. Geillis grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the side entrance of the stage.
"Come see what we're about."
"They do their dances and they serve drinks," Geillis said as Claire observed, her shawl wrapped around her even tighter as she watched the girls, dancing in cages, on poles, on the tables even, shaking and moving their hips to the rhythm of the music. Some of them sat in the laps of GIs and laughed.
She felt dirty just for watching, but it was oddly erotic at the same time. Perhaps just for the chance to have someplace to stay for a little while. Perhaps she could serve drinks. She had a quick memory, perhaps waitressing would be okay.
"It's good money. Think about it." Geillis told her. "Come I'll show you a place you can rest."
She took her to a small room a ways away from the dressing room. It was sparsely decorated, just a small bed and nightstand.
"We'll chat in the morning."
Flames. The sound of screaming voices, as she tried to put out the fires, trying to find her parents, uncle Lamb, seeing their bodies broken apart, ripped in pieces, limbs separated from trunks.
She awoke almost screaming, but catching herself she simply took a few deep breaths. Would it ever get easier?
The next morning she packed her things when one of the girls came to her with some cuts and she cleaned them up well.
"I should go."
"Where would you go?"
"I.. I don't know."
"Stay." Geillis urged her. "I can talk to him."
"Him?" Claire asked. "Who is he?"
"They call him the Physician. But his name is Master Raymond. He owns Dreamland. He gets all the men in here to get us the money." Geillis guided her along the corridor to the back office where the short man sat at a desk, his hands busy counting a large stack of money.
"I got you fresh meat."
"Fresh meat?" Claire asked. "Are you serious?"
"She's got fire, oui." the man looked her up and down, circling her. "Quite the figure too." Claire stood frozen sucking in a breath.
"Yes. She's a healer. She helped Mary with her hip and Louise with the cuts from John from last night."
"Very helpful indeed."
"She can stay if she dances and waitresses. She's got that virgin glow about her. La Dame Blanche." he let out a small laugh.
She bit her tongue to stop her from saying anything she may regret.
"Have her push drinks tonight, get her some clothes, and teach her some good moves mon Cherie."
"Yes, Monsieur." Geillis grinned. "Come on then hen, I'm sure we've got work to do."
She spent the next few hours teaching Claire some moves she could use and Claire felt like a fool.
"Yer doing great hen,"
"Are you sure men like this?" She asked as she danced, hips swaying, her arse stuck out.
"Aye. Honestly, as long as yer tits or yer arse is shaking, they're usually quite pleased." Geillis laughed
She found herself trying on numerous outfits, trying to find anything with a semblance of modesty, but was out of luck, finding herself in something that resembled a corset, with nearly nothing to wear covering her privates, a thong, the thin strip of fabric nestle between her rear cheeks.
"A little hairspray will keep it from riding up." one of the girls suggested.
"And what do you want to do for hair and makeup?"
"I... I never really tried to do-"
"Don't worry, we'll take care of it," Louise said. She took the makeup brushes and began to apply shadows, blush, liners, mascara, and lipstick. When Louise was done, Claire hardly recognized herself.
"I... I don't look like me."
"I find it's easier that way," she said. "That way I don't feel like it's me when I'm with those men. I can almost pretend that it's not happening."
"Louise..." she said sadly.
"It's a living," she said with a quick little laugh. "I'm doing the best I can."
"We all are," Geillis said.
That first night she tried her best to walk carefully in the incredibly high shoes, preemptively applying bandages to the part where her shoe touched her heels, praying she didn't get blisters. They would only slow her down when she eventually had to leave Dreamland. But she went from table to table, serving drinks to the soldiers, avoiding grabbing hands as best she could, occasionally a hand would touch her rear end causing her to let out a yelp or run a little.
She danced in one of the side areas that was relatively empty for a few songs thankful that the GIs were very drunk and not paying attention to her.
As the night wore on, some of the girls had ... customers. Well paying men could do what they wanted with the girls.
She was thankful that she could just go rest at the end of the night, where she hugged her shawl and tried to not think of home.
The days as Dreamland soon began to pass faster, Claire taking care of the girls' minor injuries, curing headaches and stomachaches, making drinks to help with menstrual cramps. She felt sad, but she was building a life here. But each day she searched the newspapers she found outside, looking for nurse jobs. There was little but propaganda but she wouldn't give up hope.
She was getting better at dancing, more comfortable showing skin which in turn garnered more tips, which of course mostly went to Master Raymond. She saved what she could, hiding it in old medicine bottles. She was thankful that Master Raymond was able to get her some of the more rare herbs to help the girls.
"You need to dance more, you should consider doing more work." he encouraged.
"You're fresh meat, You'll get a big cut of the cost you could use it to pay for a school. I know this isn't the life you want mon cherie. You could get out of here."
"I don't think I should -"
"Think about it."
She had finished cleaning up the bar later than usual and was walking to her room later.
She could almost tune out the moans by now. She knew 90% of them were fake anyway.
She heard Geilis's voice. "Take me out of here... take me with you back home. I'll make a good wife."
"Shut up, bitch."
She heard the sound of a slap before the man stormed a few seconds later, still fixing his trousers.
"Geillis?" she peered in.
"I'm fine hen." She said, fighting back tears, a hand clutching her face.
"Let me get you some ice." Claire went and found some ice from the bar, stuffing it in a bag, wrapping it in a towel and applying it to the red-heads face. "Here" She sat down on the bed beside her friend, now wrapped in a robe.
"They aren't nice," she said, sitting up. Most of the time... they're just noise. They're all bark and no bite. They act like they're big tough men. But really they're just scared lads."
"It's a war. I can't blame them fro being afraid."
"No... but you can blame them for being little shits." Claire nodded with a laugh.
"Louise was right before, ye ken."
"Pretending it's someone else. They don't care about us. There's nothing in their hearts." She sighed, removing the ice for a moment.
"It probably won't bruise, but you may want to keep taking the ice on and off. Alternate ten minutes off and on." It constricts the vessels so they don't bleed."
"What do you think of?"
"I think of being out of here. Living out of the war zone, my husband and I, hopefully some rich, old goat I don't have to live with a long time. Our kids spend their days playing, eating too many sweets. I have a big Hogmany celebration in a big gorgeous house. A manor "
"It sounds nice." Claire said.
"What about you?"
"I don't need any of that. I just want to be a healer. Someplace safe would be nice."
"Ye don't want to be a mother?"
"I'm not opposed to it. I just... not here. Not surrounded by all this devastation. I...I was supposed to be married before I came here."
"Was he handsome?"
"He was attractive, but he was...unkind."
"Then why marry him?"
"He was a friend of my uncle. We were promised to each other"
"An older man."
"Not too much but... I couldn't see myself in that life. Not playing housewife to him. But then my village-" Claire's voice shook as the tears came to her eyes.
"I understand." Geilis said. "You don't have to say anything else."
Claire nodded and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself down.
"Care for a dram?"
The Red head grabbed her a glass, filling it with a nip of whisky.
"To getting out of dreamland." Geillis said. Claire raised her class to her and they clinked their glasses.
"To getting out of dreamland."