Darkness came upon the great antique city, and with it came a delicate drizzle of rain. The city clothed itself in so much artificial light that it appeared to be dripping fire from the heavens. The water fell lightly and steadily, streaming from every roof and cornice and gutter until it found its way in between the craggy, gray cobblestones that lay in the streets. Overtime the cracks between the stones became completely filled with water, and from a distance the ground appeared smooth and unbroken.

An older man ran heavily down a skinny street, with only a drab coat to buffer him from the rain. His dark hair was speckled with gray and even through his coat one could see his round mid-section. Tired lines streaked across his face, and yet they did little to diminish his brilliant blue eyes.

As he ran alongside the canal, men and women turned their heads, surprised that a man so stately as he ran at all. He felt their questioning looks but cared little. After a while, the man stopped and pulled the torn bit of paper from his pocket and squinted at the words scrawled on it. He stared at it for some time, watching as the precipitation dotted it with moisture, making the ink bleed some. He put it back in his pocket and pressed on.

The man rounded a corner and began running away from the canal, towards the dark heart of the city. Already he could see the neon red lights smoldering in the distance like dying embers. The street became more and more narrow as he went along, the buildings on either side pressing in tighter and tighter. Ahead he could see dark shadows of men.

short story red light district amsterdam

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Three men stood staring into a large window as if they were bums staring into a butcher shop. He saw their hungry faces first, illuminated by the red haze that hung over the alley like a plague. He didn’t want to look inside the window but he did. A woman in lingerie leaned with her arms crossed against the glass, the smoke from a cigarette dancing up her exposed shoulder. Behind her, cast entirely in pale red light was a small, bare room with a bed and sink. She put the cigarette to her lips for a moment and blew smoke straight into the glass, so that for a moment her face was obscured in a twisting cloud of gray. She looked at him with darkly rimmed eyes and beckoned to him, her face as blank and lifeless as a corpse.

The man continued running down the alley, stopping every so often to glance through the glass at each woman. He grew more and more desperate the further he went.

The last window in the alley had a large group of men standing around it. His heart began to hammer harder and harder against his chest as he drew nearer to the throng. The man frantically shoved his way to the front, until only glass stood between him and the girl. He looked into the brilliant blue eyes of a young girl in lingerie. His heart pounded so hard it made the coat above his breast move. The girl suddenly felt naked and was overcome with shame. Tears poured from her eyes, lining her face with dark streaks of makeup.

With uncanny strength, the man in the coat deliberately reached down and pulled a loose cobblestone from the street. The underside of the stone was covered in black soot. He motioned for her to step aside and she did, retreating to the far corner of the tiny room. He launched the stone at the window with a terrifying force. Not a single piece of glass was left standing in the frame. The girl sat huddled in a corner, with her legs pulled tightly to her chest, a ball of shivering flesh. The man stepped over the threshold and into the room. He approached and knelt down, until he was eye level with her.

My little girl…my daughter. 

She looked at him and loosened her grip. He took off his coat and covered her half-naked body, then took her up into his arms and carried her out into the night.