Two week ago, I posted the first part of a “serial story”, in which I’ll be posting – every other Monday – the six parts in this story I wrote about a year and a half ago, but just now got around to fully editing. Your thoughts, whether you enjoy these or no, are most welcome!
You can find part one here, and part two is below (of course).
(As with the last one, today’s story has some potentially dark themes, and some violence, but the first one is the worst, in that regard.)
Eyes, Part Two
I brush my tangled hair out of my eyes and peer out the alleyway. A jeep trundles past, the men standing in the back swing their flashlights across the street. With a muttered curse I duck back behind the dumpster and hold my breath as one of the lights sweeps down the alley. They don’t stop, thank goodness, and the light vanishes.
Seven years. They’ve been looking for me long enough that I’m changed. I’m not a little girl anymore. Of course, they still call me one. I clutch the frayed hem of my dress as I stand. It’s way too small for me, the skirt ends halfway up my thigh and it’s too tight. Besides, the thing is more holes than anything else. I need to find a department store with a dumpster.
“Hey you,” someone whispers behind me.
I spin around, pulling out the jagged piece of scrap metal I like to use as a knife. Not that I really need a weapon. However, stab wounds are easier to explain then piles of clothing, for the police. Disappearances help them find me.
The speaker is an old man, with hardly any hair left, and the fringe of it he does have is white. His hands and face are wrinkled, but the way he holds himself upright proves he’s not as old as he looks.
“What do you want?” I ask.
He smiles, and it reminds me of grandpa. “Nothing, nothing. Just wondering why you’re hiding from those men.”
“None of your business,” I mutter, turning away.
“And if you’re the one they’re looking for?” He steps closer, scuffed-up boots crunching on old glass.
“Then you’d better run.”
The man frowns. I smirk and close my eyes. The sounds of the city grow dim and faraway, as if they’re not really there. “This man isn’t real,” I whisper, and I hear a faint scream. When I open my eyes his clothes flutter to the ground. A knife drops with them, clattering onto the pavement. I wince. Of course he had a weapon. He’d be a fool not to have one.
“Sorry,” I whisper. I pick up his clothes, stuff them in the dumpster, and dash out of the alley. The streetlights flicker and dance on the sidewalk as I cross the street and plunge into another narrow street between two apartment complexes. Most of the doors have a sign that say ‘beware of dog’, and all of them have one that quite rudely says ‘no soliciting’. Some of the windows are boarded up, and there’s still glass on the pavement from when they got busted open. From the inside or outside, sometimes both. A feral cat spits and hisses as I pass its garbage can, its mangy fur gathering into clumps that stand straight up.
I hiss right back at it, and it dives into its can, growling. As I cross streets and slink between alleys the city becomes less apartments and more rundown shops. The buildings are all locked up tight, but I find a department store with a big dumpster in the back. About time, I think, opening the lid. Most of them have these dumped every day, as if they know I’m coming and don’t want to have their refuse. But this one is full of junk: papers and leftovers from employees’ lunches, shredded documents, lightbulbs and hangers and tags and, best of all, clothing.
Ruined stuff, clothing with defects, returned items with rips in them. Men’s, women’s, even some children’s stuff. I clamber up and settle down on top of the pile, rummaging through it for anything that might fit. I find a pair of socks without holes – pure gold, these – and replace them with my own tattered pair with the heels missing. There aren’t any shoes, but mine are still a size too big, from the last time I found a dumpster with clothes in it.
There’s a pair of women’s jeans, but they’re ten sizes too big, and I toss them away. Shirts and pants and skirts and a few dresses, all too big or small. I mutter to myself and glance up at the moon. Close to midnight.
At last I find a dress – a little worse for wear, with one of the short sleeves missing and a tear in the back – that is a close enough fit. I pull my own ragged one off and slip the other one over my head. It’s still a little big, the knee-length skirt reach halfway down my calves and the neckline is ridiculously low on me, but I pull the neck back and keep it in place by tightening a belt around my waist.
Not very fashionable, but good enough. I grab a winter coat from the dumpster – it’s missing most of the stuffing – and slip away. A few other homeless people slip through the alley, each one eying me and my new outfit before slipping past into the darkness. One man leers at me. I feel heat creeping up my neck – the stupid neckline is still lower than anyone in their right mind wears.
I find a deserted alley crammed between a post office and an abandoned library and climb into one of the empty garbage cans. It smells of dead fish and cat, but it’s as safe as I’ll find. I pull the coat over me as a blanket. Gripping my piece of scrap metal, I fall into a fitful sleep.
When I wake it’s still close to midnight. As usual, time didn’t move. Yet, I’m still perfectly rested, and I climb out of the garbage can. I still don’t know why, but I can sleep forever and it’s still the same time I went to bed. But I don’t complain, everyone else has to sleep while I get a head start in running from them.
A jeep rolls by the alleyway and one of the lights strikes me. The light blinds me for a moment as the jeep squeals to a stop and someone shouts. Great. I spin and run, blinking rapidly to get rid of the afterimage. My new dress catches on something and I have to rip the one good sleeve to get away. One of the soldiers blows a whistle and another one shouts. I duck down another alley and slip between two doorways, a crevice in the wall. It’s a maze, here in the lower city, and they’ll never find me.
Two men rush past me, waving flashlights and gripping automatic rifles. Those make me shiver. Can I stop a bullet quick enough? Or a tranquilizer? Those might move faster. And with the silencers, I might never even hear it coming.
The thought ripples through my mind in a second, and is gone. My heart pounds, I’m sure they’ll hear it if they stop and listen. It can’t really be just me. The feet march through my ears again, the blood pounding like an army. I wait for a count of thirty before slipping out of the crevice and heading away from the soldiers.
I curse myself and turn down an alleyway. Should have waited for the third one. It’s always the third one. He blows his whistle. A bright light shines down the alley ahead of me and I duck down another one. The windows in the buildings are dark despite the noise, no one wants to know what’s going on when men shout and whistles blow. Anyone who peeks their head out might get arrested.
No escape here. So I jump, grab a fire-escape ladder. The metal screeches at me and pierces the darkness. Stupid noise. Shouts come from below as I rush up the steps. A weight shakes the ladder as I reach the first landing. Then I squeeze my eyes shut.
Everything goes silent.
They can’t get me, now. I’m safe with my eyes closed. I bite my lower lip and decide.
“The ladder doesn’t exist,” I whisper. Then I open my eyes. Below, the ladder vanishes. A man shouts and crashes back to the ground. I smile and turn away. Steps lead to the next landing. And the next.
And the next.
I reach the last one and look up. There, six feet away, is the roof. My freedom. Rough bricks meet my fingertips, scrape my skin. No awful smells up here, it’s almost… fresh. Well, except for me. I reek from that garbage can. And the one before it.
My fingers find holds and I climb. Using the windowsill, I heave myself up and over the last bit. Then I tumble onto the flat roof of the apartment building and roll over on my back. The winter coat is warm despite lacking its stuffing, surrounds me in blessed warmth. My knees quake under the thin dress.
Need to find a better one. Maybe even steal one out of a store. After all, I can close my eyes and sneak right in. No one will ever know.
So blinding I can’t even close my eyes. It blinds me and tears spill over my eyelids. Then I squeeze my eyes shut. Still bright. So much light. Too much.
“The light doesn’t exist,” I whisper.
My eyelids look red, with the light shining on them.
It didn’t vanish.
The light didn’t go away.
I open my eyes, wince at the harsh light. Someone shouts and rough hands heave me up. My heart pounds and I scream. The sound thunders through my ears and I cut it off. Can’t breathe. Can’t… I can’t… At last, the light moves away, passes by me. I can see again, see through the darkness of the rooftop.
The hands holding me whirl me around and something dark – as dark as the blackness behind my eyes – presses against my face. I shout, resist, scream. Close my eyes.
But they don’t.
My eyes won’t close. They won’t… pain. I cry out and collapse onto the rough cement of the roof. So much pain.
“Relax,” a voice says. Distant, high-pitched. “Fight it, and you will be hurt. Relax, and we can help you. Can we help you?”
Something pricks my arm. A needle. My hand goes numb, then my arm. Fingers twitch uselessly. I still can’t breathe. And the pain. It courses down my spine. But then it, too, vanishes in the numbness.
I think I go unconscious. It’s hard to tell, my eyes are still open. But I can’t move, can’t speak, can’t feel. Nothing. No movement and no freedom. The sky above me shifts and swirls.
I can move again. A little. Something binds my hands together, but my fingers move. They twitch against soft.
That’s me. I twitch my fingers again. They feel something soft, but I feel them twitch. I frown, bite my lower lip. I’m not soft.
I try to blink.