I jogged down the street. There was no one out at this time of day. Most people where still at work or searching the garbage for something worth finding.
I looked up at the sky. It was a dull grey now. The clouds had rolled in and covered the blue. November had been unseasonable warm this year and I prayed that it would stay that way until I got home.
I slowed as I hit the harbour area. This place was dangerous. People went into it and never came out. But all my life I had been taught to survive. Still, there was no need to go rushing head long into danger.
Truscott tensed as we began to pick our way through the streets. I had only been out this way a couple of times. The buildings looked familiar. They were the same as the ones we lived around.
The farther I got into the harbour area the danker the air became. The smell of fish and oil filled the air. I could hear the shouts and sounds of the sailors as they docked their ships. The cranes creaked and groaned. The thuds of loads landing on the docks accompanied me as I slipped through shadows.
I kept the noise of the harbour on my right side. Eventually the noise faded and I could hear the sounds of men’s voices. The workers were finished for the day. I paused for a moment searching the crowds from the shadow of an old office building.
Why I kept looking for him, I didn’t know. He had been gone for nine years now. There was no way he would show up again. I had seen him after the accident, had held my mother as we stared at his lifeless body. That was when things went wrong for us.
I shook the memories away. I had a job to do and dwelling on the past was no help at all. I had to look to the future; that was where my path lay.
The rain began to fall and I drew the hood of my sweater up. I hadn’t changed and now I was glad. The black hoodie was warm and would camouflage me in the darkness.
It wasn’t a hard rain, but it was steady. In under an hour I was soaked to the bone. I began to look for a shelter for the night. I had no clue how far I had to go yet, but there was no sense in continuing in the rain.
A building loomed up before me. It was dark and menacing looking but I went in anyway. A staircase swept up to the second floor. Railings, once beautiful, hung in ragged rows, looking like rotten teeth in the mouth of a junkie.
I turned around in the front room and studied the place. A desk covered in dust and all manner of animal scat graced one wall. Doors that once swung on shiny hinges now drooped, heavy with memories. I shuddered. What had happened to this place?
“Well, that’s a silly question, isn’t it, Truscott?” I patted my dog on his brown head. “The same thing that happened to the rest of the world. War.”
Just the word made me cringe. By the time I was born the last war had been over for almost six decades. My grandfather had been just a young man when the last gun sounded. But the repercussions of that war had never left our world. The people who had survived had to start over again from scratch. We lived day by day. There was no guarantee that you would survive to see another birthday. If you made it past forty you were considered lucky. If the work or starvation didn’t drive you to an early grave something else would.
I found a dry corner and curled up beside Truscott. At least we could stay a little warm before we set off again.
I didn’t dare light a fire. Who knew who was lurking outside? A fire only drew trouble my grandfather always said. If a person was alone then a fire should be left alone. I shivered and blew on my hands. It was cold now. The wind had picked up and blew relentlessly through the room.
Opening my backpack I pulled out an apple and bit into it. The juice danced on my tongue and I smiled. It was tart and sweet at the same time. I bit off a piece for Truscott and he gobbled it up greedily. Within five minutes we had devoured the apple. I drank a little of the water Quincy had sent with me. Truscott lapped some from my hand.
I tucked my hands into my sweater pocket and sank against Truscott. We would stay here for a few hours and then when the rain petered off we would continue.
I woke to the sound of voices. For a minute I didn’t know where I was. I looked around at the strange place. In the early morning light it was spookier then last night. Beside me Truscott stiffened. I peered out of the corner and saw three men standing by the desk. I couldn’t make out the words but the tone of the conversation I could understand. Something had gone wrong and they were angry. I eased back into the shadows. I would just have to stay here until they left.
Truscott pressed against my leg and I inched farther back. My hand hit a piece of wood and it crashed to the floor. I cringed. There was no hiding now.
So I did the only thing I could. I ran.
“Hey, stop! Who are you?”
The shouts echoed behind me but I didn’t stop. Truscott growled low in his throat as he headed to the nearest exit. I followed him and jumped as a bullet slammed into the door frame beside me.
“Seriously?” I shook my head.
I burst out of the building and straight into the arms of a man in the uniform of a patrol. I stumbled back and spun around. They were all around me. I twisted, ducking swinging arms and slipping out of grasping hands. I felt like a mouse, caught by playful cats. They pushed me form one to the other.
“Hey, look who we have here.” A man with bright red hair and missing teeth grasped my arm. “Aren’t you pretty.”
“Ken, pass her here.”
Ken shoved me towards another man. My eyes filled with tears as his foul smell hit me. I coughed and he laughed.
“Just where do you think you are going, young lady?”
I looked up into the ice blue eyes of a tall man. I swallowed. He didn’t look like he was one to let girls go.
“I’m visiting a friend,” I said. It was only a half lie. After all I was visiting. “They’re expecting me.”
“Oh, and who are you visiting?” the man asked taking my chin in his fingers.
I stared back at him. I wasn’t going to say anything else. Beside me Truscott growled again.
“Shut up!” the first man yelled.
Truscott pressed closer to me, his hackles standing straight up on his back.
“Easy, boy,” I whispered.
“You’re from the east slums, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, what of it?” I shook my hair in defiance.
“I’ve heard the girls are pretty easy over there,” the ice man said.
“Well, you heard wrong.” I spat on his foot.
I knew it was a mistake the minute I did it. His hand whipped up and descended on my cheek. I winced. My cheek stung and I felt more tears come.
“Well, lookie here, the east slum girls aren’t all that tough!” Ken sneered.
“Come here, darling. Let me have a good look at you.” Ken yanked me away from Smelly and ran his hand down my side.
His hand crept around my leg. I stomped on his foot. He shrieked and relaxed his grip on my arm. I yanked away from him and broke through the circle. Shouts and curses followed me. I pushed forward. I had to get as far away as possible. Truscott ran beside me still growling.
I heard the sharp report of a gun as the bullet lodged into the building beside me. Two more hit the concrete behind me. I was gasping for breath now, panic surging up my throat. I had to get away.
Pain radiated across my lower back. I screamed. My knees hit the sidewalk. I reached behind me and when I pulled my hand back it was covered in blood. Black spots danced before me but I struggled back to my feet. I couldn’t give up now. If I stopped those men would get me and I’d be dead. The pain was excruciating, worse than anything I had experienced before.
I had been shot twice in the past three years, but this was the worst. I limped into the shadow of a building. Truscott pressed his nose into my arm and whined.
“Ssh, boy, hush.” I touched his nose and he quieted.
I leaned my head against the wall. What could I do? I couldn’t stay here but moving on seemed almost impossible. Blood ran down my back soaking my sweater and pants. I reached into my backpack and pulled out a t-shirt. Pulling out my jack knife I cut it apart. I gritted my teeth and pressed against the wound. There was no exit wound, the bullet was still in me somewhere. I knew I couldn’t tie it too tight. The bullet might move around and cause more damage. But I had to stop the bleeding.
I was feeling light headed again. I braced myself against the wall. “Come on, Crystal, you can do this, girl.”
My hands shook as I tied the remainder of the t-shirt around my waist. I pulled my hoodie down and took a deep breath. Okay, I was going to make. I placed a hand on Truscott’s head.
“Let’s go, boy.”
The rain was falling again. I stepped into a puddle and felt the water seep through my shoe. I stumbled forward and Truscott woofed in alarm.
“It’s alright, Truscott. I’m fine.”
Maybe Truscott believed me, but I sure didn’t. I was anything but fine.
“Follow the music.”
My grandfather’s words echoed in my head. Behind me shouts sounded. They had spotted me. I clenched my jaws and began to run. The pain spread but I did my best to ignore it. Tears streamed down my cheeks, mingling with the rain. I slipped and slid my way through the streets.
The buildings where beginning to thin out when I finally allowed myself to pause. My lungs heaved, trying to draw in enough air. I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I was numb. With fear, pain.
Then I heard it. A faint sound. I moved towards it. It was music, pure and beautiful.
“Follow the music,” I whispered. “Follow the music.”
I strained to hear the song. There, to my left. I turned down the street. It was becoming clearer now. I ignored the pain in my back and moved towards the sound. The shouts behind me faded. I knew they were close but all I could hear was that tune.
I turned another corner and skidded to a stop. There among the dilapidated buildings and fallen trees stood a house seemingly untouched by the evil that possessed everything. Three storeys of light brown stone it spanned two blocks and stood in defiance to the battering rain. I was back in this world and the song was being hidden by the angry shouts of that group of men. Truscott wiggled through the fence as I climbed over the wrought iron bars. I hurried up white stone laid drive and marble steps craning my neck to see the top of the house. Columns and scroll work climbed to the highest peak of the red tiled roof.
Tall windows framed the double oak doors. Peering inside I could see the elegance of the foyer. Black and white tiles covered the floor. A red carpet rolled softly down the sweeping stairs. Brass vases held grasses and flowers and from somewhere beyond the stairs I could hear the music.
I lifted my hand and grasped the brass knocker. Then I stopped and looked down at myself. I couldn’t go in this way. My shoes where soaked through and one had blood on it.
I eased off the front stairs and made my way around the house. Another surprise hit me as I saw the vast lawn that stretched far beyond my eyesight. Small groves of trees, flower beds, gazebos and more where scatter in an organized disaster around the grass. I tiptoed up a cobblestoned path.
A glass door stood partially opened and I slipped inside. I sank to the floor, clutching my side. The pain was so bad. Black and white spots danced before my eyes. I crawled towards the hall, Truscott whining beside me. My backpack slid to one arm and I dragged it with me.
Someone screamed as I reached the hall. I looked up into the face of a young woman.
“Help,” I whispered. “Please help.”
She dropped to her knees beside me. “Miss, what happened to you?”
“Shot, they shot me.” I groaned as the pain spread. “Please.”
“Mr. Dante!” the girl shouted. “Mr. Dominique!”
I heard pounding feet coming from somewhere.
“Elise, what is it?”
The darkness descended slowly and I felt Truscott press his nose to my hand.