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The soft sound of traffic outside filtered through the cracks of the windows and walls. Light from the glowing city snuck in through the curtains, falling onto the floor. It was humid, and the air was sticky and hot.
“Blaze? Are you asleep yet?” My mother’s voice trickled through the locked door of my bedroom. I ignored her, hoping that she’d go away. “Don’t be up too late; your A.P. exams are tomorrow.” When I didn’t answer, I heard her exhale heavily. “Good night, sweetie. Sleep tight.”
Her footsteps receded down the hallway. I rolled over, wrapping the comforters around myself while she faded away. Maybe I shouldn’t have ignored her, but there was nothing I could do now. Besides, I hated this new life she had brought us to…this apartment, this city…it was awful.
I tried to block the thoughts from my mind. What I wanted was to sleep. And so I closed my eyes, hoping that the darkness would overcome me.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
About four hours after I must have fallen asleep, I woke up again. The city wasn’t sleeping; I could hear the wheels of cars passing over sewer tops, and the horn honking of angry drivers. For a few minutes, I tried to fall back asleep. My efforts, however, were hopeless. The jittery demeanor of the city was too much, too enticing.
It was the energy of the new city that drew me from my bed. When I got up, I was already wearing the clothes I had laid out for school the next day. As I walked out my bedroom door, nothing was familiar. The hallway to my left was dark and hallowed, swamped with a ghostly feeling.
The door shut behind me, and I realized that there weren’t any others. Doors, that is. While my eyes adjusted to the darkness, it came to feel that there weren’t any other rooms at all. At that point, I decided that I was dreaming. Not only was the building completely different, and I was completely dressed, but I was wearing shoes I couldn’t afford.
As it came to mind, I realized that if I was dreaming, I could do anything I pleased. The first thing that came to mind was exploring. I wanted to go and look around the new city. It was something that my mother would never let me do. Especially not in the middle of the night.
Suddenly elated, I turned back to the door of my room to grab a jacket. But there wasn’t a door there anymore. “What the hell,” I whispered, suddenly not wanting the coat. I turned towards the stairwell and began running down the creaky steps. The landing had a crooked, glowing ‘exit’ sign hanging over a small door.
Its doorknob was cold and slippery in my hands, like it hadn’t been used in a long time. With dirty hands, I stepped through the doorway and into a dark alleyway. Cars buzzed by on a busy street at one of the mouths of the little alley. On the other there was a small, treeless hillside. It was covered with dead leaves and trash. I chose the hill in an attempt to avoid traffic.
It wasn’t that difficult of a climb, and I when I reached the top I couldn’t hear the soft whirring of the street anymore. My feet landed on brownish, polluted grass after I had reached the top. It seemed like it was some type of park, but I couldn’t imagine children playing there.
There was a funky smell about the place. It was almost as if something was burning, and it was an odd scent. As I moved onward, unconsciously, I began to see the smoke. It was coming from an area inside of a row of bushes. Slowly, I moved towards it, wondering if something was on fire.
I was standing at the edge of the bushes when a hand landed on my shoulder. A hand slipped over my mouth as I tried to scream. “What’re you looking at, sweetheart?”
The voice was oddly familiar. When I turned to see who it was, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Blake?” I gasped, wondering how he was here. It’s only a dream, I reminded myself.
“What? People don’t come back from the dead very often?” He laughed, a cruel light dancing in his eyes. His shaggy blonde hair shifted as he took out a lighter and a cigarette.
“No thank you.” I replied when he held one out to me. All he did was shrug and light his own, sucking in the poisonous smoke. For a few moments we stood there awkwardly, Blake blowing smoke out through his teeth. Every time I coughed, he cast me a short glance out of the corner of his eye.
“Say, Blaze, do you remember what I was doing the day that I got hit by that car?” There was no sarcasm in his voice, not a scrap. It was as if, for a second, that he was honestly pondering the answer. But when I opened my mouth to respond, he waved his hand dismissively. “Good, good. I thought you would. Could you help me with something?”
My heart thudded. I knew all too well the things that Blake had gotten himself into. He had lived next door to me in junior high. I had seen him get hit by a car crossing the road one morning, and knelt by his side while the ambulances came minutes too late. “A favor? What kind?” I tried to keep my voice steady, not wanting him to know the nerves that enveloped me.
“Just a small one, promise. I just have something to deliver to a friend and no time to do it. Don’t worry, something small.” He took another breath of nicotine and closed his eyes. Another person sidled out of the darkness. Confused, I tried to watch where they were coming from when they left. But Blaze put a hand calmly on my arm.
“Here you are, Princess.” He handed me a small briefcase and watched as I took it. For a moment I thought that there would be something to come out of it that I needed to deliver. Blake shook his head, as if he had read my mind.
“What’s inside?” I fingered the lock lightly and traced the keyhole.
“Oh, Blaze, I don’t think that you need to really worry about that.” His voice was riddled with attitude, his lips curled into a sly smile.
“But where do I deliver it to?” I said quickly while he turned away, not wanting him to leave me with this unknown item.
That provoked another look. “Why, darling, just start walking down that street over there and he’ll find you.” Blake put out his cigarette in the grass, rubbing his sneakers into the dirt.
“Who?” But he only smiled, mouthing ‘good luck’ at me. Then, he faded away completely.
I was left standing there, alone and uncomfortable. This seemed like such a terrible idea. In the beginning it had been understandable, but as he went on it had gotten increasingly confusing. Nonetheless, I started down the hill that I had come up and landed in the alleyway once again.
“Walk down the street and he’ll find you,” My whisper seemed louder in the darkness, which had a creative way of magnifying everything. I turned onto the sidewalk and continued down next to the busy street. Fear began to creep over me as I wondered who was going to find me.
My feet turned towards another alleyway and I started to creep towards it. Then a car screeched to a halt beside me. Another boy jumped out of the driver’s seat and faced me. I quivered, not having any idea why he was standing there until I caught the line of his gaze. It was fixated on the briefcase, or as far as I could see it was. Just to test my hypothesis, I swung it back and forth.
His gaze flittered as the case moved, and I felt myself smirk. But he didn’t think that it was funny. A gun slipped out of his pocket. Before I knew it, it was pointing at my head.
“Blake sent you to do his dirty work, huh? He must really value your friendship to hand you over to me.” This person was too calm. His icy words sent shivers of fear down my spine. His eyes cut through me, to the bone, and made me freeze. I took a step back quickly.
“No, no…you’re wrong. Blake, he’s my…he’s always been a friend of mine. He just asked me to do him a favor, and I agreed. It doesn’t make him bad. He’s good, I know he’s good. Why wouldn’t you-“ I cut myself off when I caught the sound of the boy laughing at me. The nerves that I felt inside had come out, shown their true colors.
The boy, who I didn’t yet know the name of, took a few steps toward me. Cold metal brushed against my temple, threatening to end my existence. I bit the inside of my lip, feeling a twinge of pain and tasting the iron of blood. Tears welled at my eyes, threatening to cascade down my cheeks in a waterfall.
“If Blake was really your friend, he wouldn’t have handed you over to me. Most people carrying something as valuable as you are, well…the last thing they ever see are my sea green eyes. Do you still think that he’s your friend?” There was sarcasm dripping from his voice, meant to play on the fears that I was feeling.
Salty water slipped into the corners of my mouth. Questions churned in my mind, as I couldn’t fathom what this person meant. “B-but, who a-a-r-re you?” I wanted to scream, or move, but the click of the gun reminded me of why I shouldn’t.
“His name,” a voice shot out of the darkness, accompanied by a shadowy figure, “is Big Dawg. And he aint got nothin’ on this, sweetheart.” Blake tiptoed softly into the light like a spy, packing his own heat.
“Oh Blake, you don’t want to go there.” The scarier kid, ‘Big Dawg,’ laughed at Blake.
“Just take the case and let her go, Big. Everything you want is behind that combination. And besides, if you kill her I’ll make sure you remember what type of shot I am.” Blake was steady and strong behind me. For a moment, it gave me hope that I might get out of this untouched.
The two boys stood there staring at each other for a minute. It felt like an hour, stuck between their passionate dislike for one another. Then ‘Big Dawg’ conceded, bowing his head and pulling the gun away from my head. Blake stepped forward, wrapping his left arm around me. His hand tore the case out of mine and dropped it onto the sidewalk. The metal clattered, but I couldn’t see Big scoop it up. Blake was still pulling me further and further away, back into the shadows that he had come from.
But Big hadn’t been oblivious to the movement, and he had never had any intentions of letting me get away. Quickly, he let off a warning shot that hit a light. Sparks exploded from it like stars in a meteor shower. Blake froze, his body stopping me when I backed into him. I could feel his muscles become tense, as if he was afraid too.
At the moment when Big was looking at us both triumphantly, I forced myself to make it all a dream. Nothing is real, I thought, over and over. It granted me this bravery, a feeling that swept over me. Adrenaline started to ebb into my system, flooding me with energy. I stepped forward, pushing Blake’s arm away from me. His fears couldn’t matter.
Big gave me a look of something near approval and raised his gun. I saw his finger pull the trigger, heard the ear-shattering blast that broke the air. But I didn’t feel the bullet in my head or chest, or forehead, like I had expected. Instead, a sharp pain pierced my arm. Red liquid was dripping sluggishly onto the cement, and the pavement shifted between my feet.
The realization of still being fine hit me, and I knew that Blake must have saved me. I turned, wanting to thank him, but I couldn’t see him. My vision was blurring, my ears were ringing, and my hands slipped in blood. I heard a groan, and I fell onto someone’s legs.
I forced my eyes to clear. The first thing I saw was Blake lying on the ground. Then the blood began to make sense, as it was streaming from the right side of his chest. “Idiot.” He whispered, opening his eyes to look up at me softly. “But I got him, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, Blake, you got him,” I blurted without looking around, hoping I was right. Tears were still streaming from my face, and slipping down my cheeks.
I sat next to him, trying to stop the bleeding. We were both sitting there, in the pale, flickering street light, glad that Big was gone. Not dead, probably, but the boys we had never seen must have taken away. Sirens blared in the distance, only blocks away.
Blake grabbed my arm and we locked eyes. “Go, leave. If you get caught here it won’t matter if you took the shot or not. Just run.”
“I can’t leave you, Blake. Not like this.”
“Well, you’re going to have to, or I’ll tell the cops you shot me and Big. You want that?”
“Blake!” He smiled dully at my cry, his eyes following me as I stood up. His fingers were slipping away from my arm, ready to fall back over his chest.
I was about to start running when I heard words trickle from his mouth. “And Blaze…stay golden, darling. Robert Frost all the way, sweetheart.”
Smiling for his sake, I bent down and did something that I had done before. I blew a kiss through his hair, trying to make it like the last time I had said goodbye to him. His breathing was becoming more labored and heavy, but he still managed to whisper, “Just kiss my cheek, babe. You know you want to.” I did as he asked quickly, then he pushed me away.
The unified sound of the sirens drew closer, and my feet began to squirm. They pounded against the pavement and carried me further from the scene. Before rounding the corner, I threw a glance back to see Blake being lifted onto a stretcher. Once he was on the ambulance, I disappeared. He was safe this time, and I let my feet bring me to the small door of the shadowy building. The stairs hardly bore me any challenge as I hurdled up them.
It was at the top that I stopped. My breathing was heavy and difficult, and took me a moment to realize that I was at the door of my ‘bedroom.’ I stumbled into the empty space, letting my body slouch onto the floor and blackness overcome me.
____ _____ ______ _______
When my eyes opened next, I was relieved to be in my own bed. My old, worn pajamas were soft against my skin. For a moment the dream was only a bad memory, a reflection of some of my inner bad girl urges.
But then I reached for my alarm clock, which was what had drawn me from my slumber. When I did, sharp pains shot through my arm. I stared at it in disbelief, seeing the mark the bullet’s touch had left. It was real, and I nearly screamed. Blood had even crusted around it, to only verify the reality. I rolled over, pulling the covers over my head, trying to fall back asleep.
Then a pounding fist rocked my door. “Blaze, sweetie, the police would like to talk with you.” My mother’s voice was scared. The fierce noise rocked me to the realization that no matter how good something gets, or how bad it gets, nothing lasts forever. This day would last for a moment, not the rest of my life. I tried not to tremble when I got up, reached for the door handle, and faced my fate.