Log in

No account? Create an account

Baya Imani: Nine

Chapter Nine



            The mushroom-colored lion was pacing in front of Choma. The lionesses were gathered in a half-circle behind him. He had a stiff gate that held a slight limp, and his long, stringy mane swayed as he walked. This made him no less intimidating. Choma tried not to look at him.
            “Lita tells me you tried to pull a little trick, Boy,” Rokas hissed. His voice alone was terrifying, cruel and deceptively soft. He circled behind Choma’s back, causing the hairs along the golden lion’s spine to rise.
            “You were bleeding,” he hissed as he came back around to Choma’s front. He got very close to the younger lion’s face as he said this. His eyes were nearly black, and looked endless, as if they were windows into the abyss. Choma suppressed a shudder. Rokas sneered at him, seeing the distress on his son’s face easily, although he tried to hide it. He stepped heavily upon Choma’s paw; the one with the torn claws. It stung sharply. The weight of the other lion alone would have caused him to gasp in pain, but the addition of his injury elicited a short, wild-eyed spasm.
            Rokas laughed evilly at him as he withdrew. Choma couldn’t help but stare at him now. His father’s laugh was becoming progressively more frightening, turning into a cackling roar. Then it stopped, and the older lion was mere inches away from his face. He smelled of sweat and carrion, and his breath was hot and potent. Rokas inched even closer, pressing his muzzle into his son’s ear.
            “I am so sick of you,” he whispered, before recoiling and turning his back to him. Choma felt himself shaking. Rokas’ tail dragged the ground uselessly. For one sweet, treacherous moment, Choma thought that perhaps his father was walking away, and that was all of his punishment for now. His muscles relaxed by a tiny fraction. Too soon

Baya Imani: Eight

Chapter Eight



            Faide was generally grateful for his father’s cool, relaxed demeanor. It brought him back to earth when his own anger flared, and eased his mind when he was troubled. At certain times, however, he felt that the nature of Caba was simply insufferable. As the sun rose and sank, the feeling of certainty and unease grew. He did not wish to be calmed or consoled. He wished to be believed and taken seriously, and that just wasn’t happening. Caba moved from his spot very seldom, and yawned frequently, which drove Faide closer and closer to madness. He was tempted to drag the older lion forcibly into the neighboring jungle- an area where the Misibala had no reign- and start his own revolution. Unaware of how much the thought was affecting him, the grey lion began to growl, low and breathy. He didn’t see his father approach him, and jumped sharply to the side when he spoke.
            “What is it, Faide?” he asked, his voice unusually concerned. Faide glanced up at the treeline, where a flock of birds had just taken flight.
            “Father,” he choked desperately, “you must believe me, something is happening. I can feel something. Something is approaching. Tell me you can’t feel it!” His voice was reaching a high crescendo. Caba’s two-toned eyes shone with alarm.
            “Faide, I trust your instincts. And I don’t want to leave you, for even the short amount of time that I must-”
            What?” Faide cut in, his eyes wide through the long, dark grey hairs that hid them slightly. Caba looked sorrowful, giving a long-suffered sigh and allowing his tail to fall limp to the ground.
            “I will be back soon. I will explain further when I return. I didn’t want to tell you until now. I have been saving my strength…” he trailed off, shaking his mane out.
            Faide snarled deeply. “And I’m sure you have a reason for me staying here?” he asked bitterly, sitting heavily on his haunches and staring defiantly at his father.
            “I do, Faide,” he replied shortly. There was a note of finalization in his voice, but Faide ignored it.
            “Then tell me!” he roared, laying his ears back. There was a long silence. Caba’s face was set.
            “When are you leaving?” Faide asked through gritted teeth. He was trying to calm himself.
            “Tonight,” the older lion answered.


Baya Imani: Seven

Chapter Seven



            The watering hole was a place of peace, and not just by Kula’s rule. Since before anyone could remember, hunting was forbidden around the place.
            It was legend that the first king of the Savannah, the enormous lion, Leo had made laws to keep the balance of animals. He was the ruler of not just one pride, but every cat in Africa. He told each and every one of them to never kill more than could be eaten, and never around the watering hole. Leo also instructed that every king should defend his pride until he was dead. He instated other laws, as the legend told, but Kula never paid much heed. He would keep the order, but he did not feel the need to thank anyone for the laws. It was just too improbable to believe that one lion alone could make harmony across the plains.
            As the large lion came to the edge of the water, the other four Rogues waited. It was Kula’s job to literally “test the water,” and keep his pride safe. No lion, supposedly, would kill at the drink, but a large hungry crocodile wasn’t so hesitant to pull a warm meal under the surface. After a moment of peering into the murky water, Kula stuck out his flat pink tongue and began to lap it up into his muzzle. The Rogues gathered around him and followed suit, slurping up their fill of the cool water. They were all relatively silent, still nervous from his tiny outburst earlier.
            A small pang of guilt shot through his stomach. He hated how much the Rogues feared him. Kula kept the order, though. He protected them. The others finished at the bank and as they walked, Kula tried to lighten the mood.
            “Sitawi, how is your injury?” he asked, his voice even deeper with the awkward attempt at small talk. It was effective, however. The cheetah smiled crookedly, distorting the black markings on his muzzle.
            “I think I’ll live. Damn Deka’s unnaturally sharp claws, though,” he replied, stopping in order to check his sore, partially bald hind-end. Deka sneered at him, flashing his claws out for a moment.
            “We don’t all have them sticking out all the time, blunting on rocks,” he chortled darkly. Sitawi tipped his head to the side. The long fringe on his head and neck flopped over to the side.
            “Well, we can’t all run faster than a frightened flea, either,” he grinned, flipping his tail about.
            They continued to bicker lightheartedly. The other two piped up every once in a while as well, but Kula remained silent, guiding his pride back to the shady tree. He expected a bit less shade on his rock by the time they returned, and maybe a snake sunning on the surface, but not the swarming pack of hyenas which had gathered there.


Old Soul Song Part Three

The Protest

     The crowd at City Hall was much larger than the boy had anticipated. He thought that maybe a hundred or so college students and a few unemployed low-lifes with nothing else to do might show up. There were, however, at least a thousand people, ages ranging from young teenagers to middle-aged adults. It was almost impossible to distinguish one face from another, but it didn’t take the boy long to spot the only person that mattered.
     She was standing at the edge of a large group of people near the outside of the huge throng. She looked neither connected nor separated from them. They were all looking in one direction: City Hall. There was a wave of noise close to the building, not overwhelmingly loud, more like the steady buzz of a beehive. Near silence surrounded the center. The boy could not see exactly what was going on, but as it was a protest, he didn’t think it necessary to find out. He kept his eyes on the girl, who was faced away from him, skirt fluttering slightly with the breeze. Her bag was still over her shoulder, looking bulky with the items she had packed.
     Suddenly, there was a shout that flew up above all the buzzing, and then a general outcry that spread outward and several people close to him gasped. Erron tried to see over the heads of the crowd, but it was futile. Ava, however, looked as if the shouts had broken her from a trance. She pulled her bag around and drew out her camera, holding it carefully in both hands. She began to attempt to push through the crowd with determination. The boy’s eyes widened and he lunged forward after her.
     “Ava!” he called out, feeling suddenly swallowed by the bodies around him. He could see the girl’s head before him. She was too far to reach and seemed unable to hear him. Shoulders and elbows were knocking into him painfully, making him wince and gasp.
     “Ava!” he shouted, his voice laced with a tone of anguish. “Ava, stop!” He was stricken with panic, his heart pounding loudly enough to rival the shouts of the people around him. She struck out fiercely, jogging where she could, and slid between the bustling bodies with a floating, rushed grace like water flowing around boulders. The boy began to push at people, shoving them roughly out of his way to catch up with the girl that was so painfully close to him, yet too far to touch.
     He ignored the glares he received from the people that he pushed through, and tried to prevent himself from falling when one of them shoved back.
He thought that maybe, maybe he was getting closer to her, but the crowd was pushing forward as well, ignoring barriers and signs and policemen that attempted to stop them. Everyone wanted to see the center, be a part of the heart of the protest, and scream about what held them down. Feet were shuffling, the noise was roaring, and Erron had to force himself to remain upright and conscious.
     She was slipping away from him. He kept screaming her name, hoping that she wasn’t just disregarding his desperate attempts to bring her back to him, but to no avail.
     There were people carrying picket signs, each with a different message. One could be protesting one thing, and the next protesting the protest of that thing. Everyone had a voice that they apparently wanted heard, and it was bedlam.  The boy still didn’t know what had caused the sudden, unified cry throughout the crowd, but as he drew closer to the center, he could tell that it had done nothing to settle the restlessness of the huge throng. 
    And then she stopped. She fiddled with her camera before bringing it up to her face. Erron slowed, sighing with relief.
    “Ava,” he said, his voice hoarse and gruff. He heard the camera click a picture before he reached out, catching her arm with a firm, “never-leave-me-again” grip. She turned, expression puzzled, to face him. His chest was heaving with exhaustion from panic and battling his way through hundreds of riled people. He couldn’t say anything to her. He was frightened. There had been times when he had experienced her spiteful grudges and seemingly unending disappointment. His eyes dropped, and he felt just as ridiculous and out of place as he had this morning.
     She turned around completely so that she was facing him entirely, and walked forward a few paces. The way their clothes brushed together was a bittersweet feeling of Déjà-Vu. They stared, voices caught in their throats and faces frozen in a look of agonized longing and regret. Her hand was on the back of his head then, toying with his hair, which had become slightly wild in the rain earlier. The boy looked at her, grateful and ashamed, and she rested her head on his chest. He drew an arm around her, gentle and tentative. They didn’t kiss.
    They stayed like that for a while, ignoring the sharp glances and scoffs from the people around them.
    At length, the boy found his voice. “What’s happening…in the middle?” he asked, wanting to choose his words carefully as if he had a limit. The girl didn’t pull away from him to answer.
“A policeman used a taser on someone. Some kid protesting intolerance or something,” she said vaguely, snuggling deeper into his chest. Her voice would have been soft if she didn’t have to force it to rise over those of everyone else. “At least, that’s the news that got to me. We were pretty far back.”
    The boy blinked. He had questions floating about in front of him, but he wanted to wait; didn’t want her to pull away from him again. Regardless, the moment didn’t last long. Someone knocked into the boy’s side and broke the spell.
    “You’re heart is pounding really hard,” the girl informed innocently, looking up at the boy and smiling. He could think of no other word to describe it but “cute.” A tiny blush rose to his cheeks.
    “I was chasing you forever,” he said simply with a half-smile. She dropped her head back to his chest and didn’t look at him. She apologized quietly in a voice almost too soft to be heard over the crowd.
Another cry broke out through the mass and the couple broke apart, looking wildly to the middle. It was still impossible to see what was going on, even in their new position in the throng. Several people made that known by asking relentlessly “what’s happening” to anyone around them. No one had an answer for them.
     This time, Erron didn’t have to try to catch up to Ava. He was moving right along with her. Their hands were clasped together tightly.
     The center of the protest was pandemonium. It was a forest of picket signs and shouting and raised fists. Ava was clicking off pictures like mad, her face hidden almost constantly behind the camera. The police were everywhere, attempting, seemingly, to herd the protest off the street of City Hall.
     A man to Erron’s left was sporting a bloody nose and clutching protectively at the shoulders of a shorter woman. The boy gripped a little tighter to Ava’s arm as he saw the other couple. She, however, continued taking pictures and didn’t seem to notice. Looking around, Erron wondered where the boy that had been tasered was.
    There was a gunshot. It was a sudden crack that rose above all the voices, and echoed off of the faces of the buildings surrounding City Hall. The silence that followed it was deafening. Ears ringing and hearts pounding, shuddering gasps of those that dared to breathe. Someone screamed shrilly next to the boy; a noise generally reserved for old scary movies and haunted house attractions. Erron glanced around for the source, and hiccupped involuntarily when his eyes landed upon Ava. The camera was dangling from the strap around her neck and her hand was to her mouth. It had been she that screamed. She had seen the man with the bloody nose go down. The woman with him had fallen down too and now, eyes wide like a terrified animal, she was shaking and slapping at the face of the man on the ground. He wasn’t moving.
     Other people kneeled down around the man, and someone put a finger to his throat. This time, the shout that flew up was a phrase. It was a horrific and macabre sentence that answered the question on everyone’s mind.
    “He’s dead!”
     There was a groan and splat noise of someone vomiting. Erron grabbed the waist of the girl and pulled her away from the body roughly, every sensation but the feeling of instinct and adrenaline and cold fear running through his veins.
     The police gathered close to the body, shoving the people that were frozen in place out of their way. Sirens blared like the screams of hungry coyotes all around the crowd.
     Ava was frozen, and Erron had to pull hard on her to get her to move. He was afraid that she might faint by the expression on her face. She was sheet-white and wide-eyed, with muscles tense and hands shaking.
     “Ava, come on!” he yelled, shaking her. She relaxed slightly, and her head wobbled around. She began to move on her own, slow and dazedly, as if she were walking through a dream. Erron groaned and dragged her along by the wrist. Her camera bounced on her chest and she still wore a faraway look.
     Once they were out of the crowd, Erron stopped, cupping Ava’s face with one hand and shaking her shoulder gently with the other. She didn’t look quite as dazed now, but tired instead. The boy slipped the strap of the camera over the girl’s head and tucked her precious item back into her bag. He looked into her eyes, which were shining with unshed tears.
     “Are you alright?” he asked quietly, in a way that sounded more like a statement. The girl nodded faintly, doing nothing to quell the boy’s fears.
     “Where are we going to go?” she asked, “Where will we live?” They had decided before to cross that bridge when they came to it, being so eager to leave the house in the slums.
     “We?” the boy asked, his voice cracking with uncertainty. He had doubted that she would still want to stay with him after all that had happened throughout the day.
     “Yes, we, Creep,” the girl said sadly, slipping her favorite nickname for him in even in her shaken state. She was swaying on her feet and he wanted very much to wrap his arms around her again and support her.
     “We have to go back for our things,” the boy reminded evenly. His gut was aching deeply. He realized that not only had he thrown up rather violently earlier, but that he had eaten little to nothing all day. Seeing a man get shot on the street didn’t help his sickly feeling.
     The girl nodded again. “How will we get back?”
The boy sighed despondently. He certainly wasn’t going to walk another forty blocks, and he doubted very much that the girl would even make in that far without collapsing. He had very little money left, and his stomach was clenching in pangs of hunger. He avoided the question momentarily.
     “Have you eaten?” he asked her, unconsciously lifting a hand to his empty stomach. She shook her head this time, looking even more wearied at the thought. She swayed even more dramatically and, unable to stop himself, the boy caught her around the waist and held her upright. She leaned on him heavily.

 Twenty One

The boy led them to a small restaurant. It was decorated in a rustic theme, and looked warm and inviting. A small clock on the wall read 7:45. They had left the house twelve hours ago. It seemed like a life age.
     They sat at the bar, glad that the swiveling stools had backs to lean against. A plump, cheerful woman passed them menus and smiled. She was the kind of person that called strangers “Hon,” and sympathized with any woe one could conjure. Word of the dead man had obviously not yet reached her ears.
     The girl ordered first, asking for a turkey sandwich in tentative tones. The boy decided on the same. The items were all quite inexpensive and he wasn’t too particular about what he ate at that point. The two didn’t discuss the shooting, and Erron wasn't about to be the one who broke the news to the little restaurant. He was glad to be able to think about something else when their sandwiches arrived. They were thick and fresh and delicious, and the boy had to use a lot of willpower to prevent himself from wolfing it down. He knew that if he did, the food would not stay in his empty belly for long.
     Ava ate slowly, looking distracted. Erron’s feelings of awkwardness were returning now that he didn’t feel like he was saving her from mortal danger. He didn’t mean to stare at her as she ate, but he found himself doing just that. She didn’t seem to notice his gaze.
     When they were done eating, they refused the waitress’ tempting persuasion toward some fresh baked pie. The boy paid for the meal, shrugging off the girl’s thanks. He was now completely broke, and still had no idea of how they were to get back to the house or where they would sleep in the meantime. It was too cold and wet to sleep outside and the house was too far away. They had no money for a hotel and no friends from which they could beg a favor.
     Guiltily, he dropped a small tip on the table and they exited the restaurant.
     “I want to develop the film,” the girl said suddenly in a resolute tone. The boy raised his eyebrows.
     “What, now?” he asked, hoping the question was absurd and she would immediately scoff and say “no.” However, she nodded and hummed an affirmative note. The boy groaned inwardly.
     “And where will that happen? You aren’t taking any college courses anymore, they won’t let you use their equipment there. We have no money to spend.”
     The girl shrugged and decided without the approval of the boy that they would go to the college’s dark room and she would develop the film there.

Twenty Two

     The road back to the college campus seemed to take forever. When they finally arrived back on the green turf and winding pathways, the place was deserted. The girl, having taken the class, knew right where the correct building was, and Erron was glad of it. The less that they wandered around in the absence of the sun, the better.
     The building that housed all of the art classes was in the heart of the campus. Ava informed him that it was one of the oldest of the buildings on campus, but it looked well cared for. Its brick was faded but in good shape but for some crumbling mortar here and there. When they arrived at its thick glass double doors, and the boy held his breath, hoping fervently that the trip was not going to end so abruptly here. Ava placed her hand on the handle, and it swung open, revealing the still-lit interior of the college. Erron released a tiny sigh, smiling unconsciously.
Ava tapped his shoulder, not catching his smile and taking the sigh to mean apprehension.
     “Don’t worry,” she assured, “if anyone sees us here, they won’t know we aren’t students. They won’t care. Most of the doors inside are locked after eight o’clock, anyway.” Erron frowned.
     “If all the doors are locked, what’s the point of keeping the main doors open?” he asked in frustration.
     “All the doors have electronic keypad systems to lock the doors,” she answered.
     “And?” the boy asked, his frustration growing.
     “Just come on,” the girl said, walking briskly down the hall. They came to the photography lab after a minute or so, and the girl opened the door. It was dark in this room, but she steered through it without turning the light on. She led the boy along by the arm, but he still ran into a few things, which were invisible to him in the darkness. He was embarrassed, and limped slightly with a stubbed toe when they finally reached their destination in the blackness.
     The door to the dark room was locked. Ava took her hand off of the boy’s arm and dug around in her purse. After a moment, she let out a noise of triumph and the room was suddenly illuminated, startling Erron. The girl was holding a plastic flashlight aloft, smiling. The boy asked her grumpily why she couldn’t have used that before, but she ignored him. She held it in her left hand, pointing it to the keypad on the left side of the door. She punched in a number slowly, and the numbers all flashed simultaneously when she was done. The door opened easily, causing her smile to widen.
     Ava turned her flashlight off before stepping in, and flicked a switch on the wall when she had. A red bulb on the ceiling flickered to life. Erron gave a wide sweep of the small room with his eyes. He had no idea of what many of the items were, but he supposed that it didn’t matter.
     The girl examined all of the shallow plastic buckets to insure that they had an adequate amount of chemicals. She drew her camera from its fabric containment and set it down on the counter. She carefully extracted the film and began to work, settling into the flow that she had learned in school and excelled at. The boy watched her drop the film into one bucket and push it down with a pair of wooden tongs to cover it with the chemical. He saw her moving around to different corners of the dark room and never spoke to her, because she wasn’t talking either.
     Feeling slightly useless, the boy found an empty spot in a corner where he sat and watched Ava’s back as she developed the film. His body was a heavy object; slack and drooping like a sack of flour. His eyelids sank dramatically, raising and falling over and over until they collided together and he couldn’t pry them apart.
     Later, (the boy didn’t know how much,) the boy awoke to a warm pressure on his thigh. He blinked in the red light, momentarily at a loss for where he was. He looked down. The girl was curled up on the floor with him, her head laid upon his leg. Her lips were barely separated and there was a shining spot of moisture in the corner of her mouth that made the boy smile sleepily. He felt drugged with fatigue, and didn’t realize the unusual absence of the need to push the girl away from him and shy away from the warm contact with her. He draped his arm over her and drifted back into a quiet slumber.
     When he woke up again, his leg was cold with the absence of the girl. He rubbed the fogginess of sleep from his eyes and looked around. He was alone.
     The panic was restrained slightly by his sleep-laden mind, but it grew. It rose up like a beast in his stomach and spread to his lungs, choking him. He brought his knees up to his chest and tried to calm his breathing. Had she decided that she hated him? Or had someone taken her away? But why would they leave him? What if they were going to hurt her? Wouldn’t she struggle? Wouldn’t he notice?
     Thoughts flew at him like startled bats, and his mind raced with them. He had no idea how to navigate the building or where to go even if he did. Then, just as he was about to suffer a panic attack and his vision narrowed, the door opened. Erron jumped harshly, his eyes wide.
     It was Ava, naturally.
     “I’m back,” she said cheerfully. It was hard to make out clearly in the dim red light, but he could hear the smile in her voice. He tried desperately to compose himself and avoid making a scene, but there were tears in the corners of his eyes and his breathing was choppy and ragged. Ava’s smile dropped into a concerned frown immediately upon noticing this. She kneeled down next to him and placed a hand to the side of his face.
     “Did you have a nightmare, or what?” she whispered, looking into his eyes. He shook his head, sighing brokenly.
     “It’s stupid,” he said, attempting to smile at his own paranoia. It came out as a wincing grimace. Ava stroked his hair and sat down.
     “I had to use the bathroom,” she informed, answering the question on the tip of his tongue. He sighed again, running a hand through his hair and looking away from her. He felt impossibly embarrassed.
     “Is that what’s wrong? I was…gone?” she asked the question slowly, trying to avoid embarrassing or offending him. He gave her a despairing look and she said nothing. She hugged him, her smile heart broken and hopeful.
     At length, she spoke. “Come on,” she said, moving to get up.
     “Why?” the boy asked stubbornly, sounding like a small child. Ava got to her feet with a mock-exasperated roll of her eyes. She held out a hand to him and pulled him to stand next to her.
     “Let’s take the pictures and get out of here,” she whispered, carefully pulling the papers from the string they were clothes-pinned onto to dry. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Whether this was from fright of losing her or his adoration of the girl, he didn’t know.
     Her arms were raised to remove one of the last pictures when she froze. Her breath caught in her throat mid-gasp and came back out as a small whimper. Erron’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He stood next to her, giving her a puzzled look. She looked as though she had seen a ghost.
     “E-Erron,” she squeaked, “look!” She pulled the picture from the pins and handed it to him. It was a picture of the crowd at the protest. Erron examined it for a moment and then shrugged.
     “What?” he asked, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” The girl pointed to the right side of the picture. Erron leaned down close to the picture, squinting in the poor light to see what she was getting so worked up over. At the top of her finger, a man was standing, holding a gun aloft.

Twenty Three

     After the girl had packed the pictures and camera back into her bag, they left the dark room and walked quickly back out of the college. The air was cold and biting, and made the couple wince. It had been almost stuffy in the little dark room, and the outdoors was unforgiving in comparison. They walked close together.
    “Ava, we have nowhere to go,” the boy said sadly, his posture slumped. He was still exhausted, even after their nap in the dark room. Ava closed her eyes, forcing a smile. He wanted to tell her not to, but he didn't. He knew that they couldn't have slept in the dark room all night, but the warmth and closeness of their bodies sounded inviting. She looped her arm around his and their shoulders bumped together.
     "We'll make it...somewhere," she said.
     They weren’t really homeless, so they didn’t really want to act like it. They submitted to the fact, however, that they were out of options. There was a shelter not far from the college, which they had only ever heard about. It was in defeat and without speaking that they made their way to the building.
     It was mainly concrete, and not too much warmer on the inside than it was on the out. The first room upon entering was spacious, but filled with rows and rows of small green cots and thin-looking blankets. A few of them were occupied, blankets lumped and limbs hanging over the edge. The boy and girl glanced at each other warily.
     After a long awkward wait, not knowing how the process worked, a black man in a yellow cap strode over to them. He was stocky and thickly built, but had a kind face.
     “What are you kids doin’ here?” he asked, his voice deep, “This place is for hobos and misfortunate folks, not a cool hang-out.”
     Erron backed away from the man slightly, not sure what to say to defend their presence. The girl, however, took this job upon herself.
     “Sir,” she began, “we really don’t have anywhere else to go. We just spent the last of our money on a couple of sandwiches.” Suddenly, and without explanation, the boy felt embarrassed by the details Ava was sharing.
     “You don’t have any friends you can stay with tonight?” he queried. The girl shook her head, looking down. The man’s mouth drew over to the side of his face, and for a while, he didn’t say anything. Then, “Well, alright. You two friends or what?”
     The boy had noticed that the cots in this room were filled with men only, and supposed that the homeless were divided by gender. His stomach flip-flopped unpleasantly at the thought of being separated again after the experience in the dark room. Ava caught his expression and acted on it.
     “Oh, no, we’re married,” she said with a pitiful smile. Erron’s face burned and his heart thumped loudly. The man looked between the two of them and nodded, not questioning.
     “We got rooms for that,” he informed. He pointed to his right; their left. There was a narrow hall lined on both sides with doors. “Look for one with green on the handle, like a Port-A-John. Just make sure you lock the door behind you, or you’ll have company. And don’t make a mess. Those are the rules.” The boy and the girl nodded obediently. He gestured for them to walk down the hall, and walked away himself.
     The couple was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the situation as they walked down the hall together. The boy’s head was in a fog and he had little ability to disgust himself with the thought of the bed he was about to sleep on. He merely longed to collapse into a prone position and fall into a deep slumber. Maybe a coma, actually, he thought sardonically.
They selected a room after seeing a few handles with red above them. It was tiny, no bigger than a bathroom, and didn’t smell particularly clean. There were three cots crammed inside, two small and one larger. Blind to his target, the boy sat on the edge of the larger one and slumped into it. The girl stood, uncertain for a few long minutes before she hesitantly slid next to the boy. He didn’t stir much, just moved over a bit to make room for her, totally oblivious. The girl stared into the boy’s face, which relaxed almost instantly. She was relieved that he didn’t even seem to notice her, for fear that he might become uncomfortable with how close and intimate this was. She turned over slowly and carefully as to not disturb the boy. In her mind, she was smiling softly. Outwardly, her eyelids were fluttering closed.
Unconsciously, the boy laid his hand on her side and was sleeping, right beside her.

Twenty Four

For the first time in a long time, the boy awakened before the girl did. His face flushed instantly when he realized that the warmth pressed against his front was the peacefully sleeping body of Ava. Her hair was mussed, spread out over the off-white pillow like spilled ink. His arm was draped possessively around her waist as if she belonged to him. He was frozen, not knowing what to do. He cursed his own longing to be so near to her, and her willingness to comply. Leaning up slightly, he attempted to pull himself away from her when he discovered that her legs were tangled together with his own. He let out a little huff of air, lifting his hand up to his neck and rubbing it, feeling bemused and embarrassed.
     With the loss of heat that was provided by Erron’s arm, Ava stirred. She turned around with sluggish movements to look at him, and smiled blearily. 
     “Morning, Tiger,” she said in a mock-sultry voice, and gave a little humming laugh. Erron’s eyes widened and he suppressed a cough, pulling himself away from her very slightly.
     “Don’t worry, Creep,” she chuckled. The sound lacked the usual merriment, and he knew that his sheepish action frustrated her. “We didn’t do anything.”
     “I know,” he said brilliantly, rubbing at his neck again. “How did you sleep, anyway?”
     The girl’s normal, sincere smile returned. She still looked a bit fatigued, but she felt happier.
 “Warm,” she grinned. He felt his face heat up even more, but he found himself returning her smile. He wanted to put his arm back around her and drift back into a lighter world. The girl must have seen this in his expression, and she put a hand to his chest. “Thank you for not kicking me out of the bed,” she continued, looking away. Her hand slipped down to rest on the cot. Her fingertips were barely still in contact with him. With a feeling of sudden bravery that he had to force himself to act upon, the boy curled his fingers around her own and squeezed gently. He was tempted to kiss her hand, but he didn’t.
 The boy’s gesture caused the girl to look back up into his face. He didn’t speak, but she understood. Somehow, in all of the mixed messages and suppression of his true self, she understood him.

Twenty Five

However strong the temptation to remain in the cramped little cot all day was, the couple left soon after the boy grabbed her hand. It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they exited the building. No one spoke to them on their way out, and they were glad for it.
     It had rained again during the night, as was evidenced by the wet street and smell. It looked fresh and clear outside, with a cloudless blue-grey sky, and there was no biting breeze.
     They began, once again, to walk. Ava looked confident and collected, and, admittedly happy, Erron walked right along with her, not knowing or caring where they went. He didn’t let his new-found cheerful demeanor faze him, which was fortunate. If he thought about it too long, it was likely that he would sink back into his old, withdrawn self.
They didn’t talk much. His ability to produce an interesting topic had not improved much despite all the change he had gone through in one day. It was a comfortable silence, though, and neither of them was bothered by it.
The atmosphere was different. The boy and the girl felt it, noticing the alteration simultaneously. It was as if the world’s rotation had changed, making the air clearer and everything bearable. They looked at one another carefully without smiling, just taking each other in slowly, savoring the newness of life.
Cynically, Erron thought that perhaps being without money or much of a home to go to; he could now be free to accept the fact that he was really no one. He wasn’t sad about it. On the contrary, he felt slightly liberated with this mindset. He had nothing to lose and no point in trying to climb to the top of anything, se it mountain or molehill.
Realizing that he had continued to stare at the girl even after she had looked away, the boy followed suit. He glanced away from Ava just in time to catch a glimpse of a scraggly brown dog trotting away in the distance. He smiled, bewildered. The stray dog was still around, making himself known, perhaps intentionally, from time to time.

Twenty Six

The girl began to speed up. Her stride lengthened slightly, and the boy had to jog a few steps to catch up to her.
“What’s going on?” he asked, watching her face. She didn’t look troubled.
“I’m taking the picture to the paper,” she answered, “I don’t want to give it to the police, ya know? Don’t want to deal with them. It’ll be out there before anything can get covered up.” She was smiling craftily. Erron scoffed, feeling once again bemused by his companion. Eventually, the girl slowed. They were at the steps of a rather large building.
“They won’t give you credit, will they?” the boy asked as the girl began to shift through her bag. She didn’t look up.
“I’m going to tell them not to. The whole point is to avoid cops, not make them mad at me.”
She drew the stack of pictures from her bag and shuffled through them, looking for the one of the crowd and the shooter. When she came to it, she handed everything else to the boy.
“I’m going inside, you stay here.”
He obeyed without argument, watching her walk up the steps and into the publishing building. He still had the pictures clutched in his hand, and he looked down at them.
The boy sat down on a step in the middle and carefully examined each of the images. Most were from the day previous, but a few must have been from earlier. There were many of the protest, capturing various expressions and ages of people. They were bleak and honest, and Erron’s face fell slightly as he looked at them. He put each image to the bottom of the stack after he looked at it. There was a yellow bird perched on a thin twig, its beak slightly agape, the dirty street where the house was planted, a perspective picture of the long line of nothingness flowing away. Then there was the picture of himself and the stray dog. The dog’s lips were curled into a canine smile, and Erron was looking amused as he kneeled in front of him. The boy tucked the picture to the back with a half-smile.
The last image was of a hillside, somewhere unknown to the boy. It was filled with color, an explosion of flowers and grass and life. A yellow bird, very similar to the one perched on the twig, was flying above the hill, its golden wings outstretched. Erron’s heart ached looking at the picture. It was Ava; all beauty and color and truth. He decided, as he carefully placed the stack of pictures in his pocket, that he would ask her if he could keep the picture.

 Grey light, new day leaks through the window.
An old soul song comes on the alarm clock radio
We walk the forty blocks to the middle
Of the place we heard that everything would be
And there were barricades to keep us off the street
But the crowd kept pushing forward
‘Til they swallowed the police
Yeah, they went wild
Yeah, they went wild

We left before the dust had time to settle
And all the broken glass swept off the avenue
And on the way home held your camera like a bible
Just wishing so bad that it held some kind of truth
And I stood nervous next to you in the dark room
You dropped the paper in the water
And it all begins to bloom
Yeah, they go wild
Yeah, they go wild

And just when I get so lonesome I can’t speak
I see some flowers on the hillside
Like a wall of new TVs
Yeah, they go wild
Yeah, they go wild

The End

Old Soul Song Part Two


     The bus stopped a little shy of the sign with a long hiss of the break pressure being released. The doors folded in on themselves like bat wings. The boy inclined his head slightly to peer into the belly of the beast, noticing first the sloppy appearance of the driver. She was an embodiment of every negative image the words “bus driver” could concoct. She was large and bulging, as if she had grown down and around the nearly invisible seat. Her hair was a frizzy red mop tied onto her head by a tight ponytail, and her wrinkled skin hung from her face, making her look like an old balloon that had deflated. As the boy trudged up the narrow stairs, mindful of the peeling “watch your step” sticker, her wide lips tightened in a grimace. He paid the fee reluctantly and turned to look for an empty seat.
     The peeling, navy blue seats were lined up along the walls, facing forward much like a school bus, and, much like a school bus, the air smelled of diesel fuel and vinyl and vomit. The boy had to sigh as he moved along the rows, trying not to stare at the unfortunate-looking single woman and her sniffling baby, or the tiny old man clutching a cane and shaking. There was a teenage boy, maybe fifteen, holding a scratched silver walkman close to him and wiping his eyes often. There were many odd and depressing characters like this and, as soon as he saw an empty seat, the boy was glad to sit and lower his head.
     The boy was regretting his decision to continue. 


    She was still thinking about him. She couldn’t tear her mind from him, and it was so distracting. This didn’t surprise her, after what he had just uttered in her direction. The hopeful, heart-broken expression as he had said the words, then the shocked, distressed one that had replaced it after he realized what had come out of his mouth were etched in her mind. The girl didn’t regret walking away. She was desperately hurt and confused that he could toy with her emotions so easily. His confession of love was spit in her face. After all that she had felt, all that she had done; so many attempts at getting him to open up to her and let her in…
    Ava wiped a hot, stinging tear from her cheek, ashamed that she was letting three simple words tear her brick from brick.
    She was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a big old house. It was Victorian, and would have been beautiful if it had been cared for. Ivy crawled up the exterior wall and wilted, and weeds were overgrown throughout the yard. Memories of the boy clung to her, waving around in front of her like a stray strand of hair that wouldn’t stay in place. It might have been something beautiful… The thought made a sob rise up in her constricted thought. If only she had know how to take care of it. If only he had been willing to help her…be with her. Then, maybe, it would have been something beautiful.
    The cold was noticeable now that she was alone. The breeze had grown into a bitter wind, whipping at her as she sat motionless, thinking. Their things were still in the house. Boxed and piled together, as they had assumed they would find another place together. She doubted, sadly, that that would happen, and wondered if she should return to sort things out in order to avoid the boy. But, she realized with an ache in her stomach, what if he had the same idea, and he ended up there?
    She felt childish in wanting to go to lengths evade the person that she had only hours ago longed to be around constantly. The tear that she had brushed away seconds ago had obviously not been alone. Thinking of how they had kissed, so desperately and with such hunger, and the hopefulness that maybe, just maybe the boy would finally cave and surrender his heavily guarded heart. The girl hiccupped, sniffing audibly. She didn’t know where to go. The protest seemed so far away, and though she had battled against them, the boy’s words lingered.
It’s not going to change anything…
She stood and tore her bag open angrily, grasping the heavy camera. Her fingers were sheet-white with how tightly she held it. She wanted to throw the precious object, screaming into the unforgiving asphalt of the street and watch it shatter into nothingness. She wanted to then throw herself after it and shatter in the same manner. Poised to throw with her arm reared back for a moment, she stood panting, eyes streaming with unrestrained currents of tears, causing her vision to go watery like a chalk drawing in a rain storm. Then, with a groan, she lowered herself back to the freezing surface of the sidewalk. She sighed, a sound that came out as a choke, and tucked her camera back into the safety of the bag. She decided quickly, albeit reluctantly, that she would keep going.


    Across the street from the city hospital, there was a row of wire mesh-seated benches. Cars were rushing in both directions of the street, not bothered by the sight of a man seated upon one of the cold metal seats, sobbing, apparently fraught with grief. He wore a long white coat over simple blue scrubs; obviously a doctor.
    Erron slowed in approach, wondering if there was a way to get around the man without causing a scene. He never knew how to handle people in such a state. It wasn’t his job. He wasn’t in charge of fixing people, this doctor was. As he drew closer, however, he knew that he could not ignore the man. His eyes were sunken and his skin sallow, as if he had not slept or eaten for days.
    He sat down on the same bench as the doctor, not knowing what to say to him exactly.
    “What happened?” he asked simply in what he hoped was a coaxing tone. It came out gruff and scratchy, as he had not spoken since Ava had walked away from him. The man looked at him, his eyes a piercing blue and filled with tears.
    “I’m…sick,” the doctor choked. He gritted his teeth after the statement. The boy’s eyes narrowed slightly, and he moved as if to get up.
    “Well, you’re a doctor,” he said harshly, “there’s nothing I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.” He rose.
    “Wait!” the doctor cried, clutching onto the boy’s cold hand. His eyes were wide and, if it were possible, even more distressed. The urge to jerk his hand away slowly ebbed from the boy.
    The doctor explained, shakily as the boy sat back down a bit closer than he had before, the events of the day. Two small children in his care had died, bald, with mothers weeping loudly into their clean white sheets. A man had gone into surgery to fix a simple problem, and a malignant tumor had been discovered close to his heart. Then, the doctor was diagnosed with an insidious disease.
    Erron sat with the man, his hand still clutched in the firm grip. It was a while before he found his voice again.
    “How do you feel?” he asked slowly, hoping that it wasn’t too stupid of a question. The doctor was smiling, wiping his face with his free hand. He withdrew the other and wiped his right eye with it.
    “I think I’m cured,” he chuckled sadly, his voice sounding thick with the need to clear his throat, “no,” he continued, “in fact, I’m sure.”
    Somehow, Erron smiled at him.
    “Thank you, Stranger,” the doctor’s face was now relaxed. The man patted the boy’s shoulder and rose with a deep inhale. After a moment of watching the stream of traffic, he crossed the street back to the hospital.


    The girl considered taking a cab. Rain was licking the sidewalk and making it slick. She imagined that she still had another eighteen blocks to go, and her motivation was all but drained. On her right, there was a muddy field, dark with a lumpy earthen soup that might have once been a garden. There was a tiny voice in her mind that hoped the boy was all right as the rain began to soak through her boots. Another voice, though, bitter and cold wished that he was in the same sorry state that she was in. That with every step he took he wondered what the hell he was doing, just as she was. This voice was louder, and it made her feel sick and ashamed of herself, and she hoped that the boy felt the same way.


     A girl stood on the corner of the sidewalk. She was pale and thin, wearing a simple dress and a red ribbon in her shoulder-length hair. She pressed a mahogany-red violin up to her chin with her shoulder, and pressed the strings along the neck with her slender fingers. The violin's case was open at her feet, and beside it was a long dark grey duster that appeared to have been dropped there carelessly. The case had a few crumpled dollar bills and some change roaming around in the bottom; small sympathetic gifts from the past passerby.
     As she brought the bow to the strings and moved it, a clear tune flowed outward and spread in thin trails through the air. A look of quiet melancholy came across her face and before long a single shining tear traced its way down her cheek and dripped onto the surface of her instrument. The melody sounded so pure and thin, like cool spring water. The boy stopped in front of her, watching the tears multiply and fall as she played. She swayed with the song, allowing it to carry her body in its current. Her dance was beautiful and heartbreaking to watch. 
     The boy fished in his pocket, forgetting that he had spent his change on the bus ride. He moved closer to the girl, looking away from her often although he was entranced. His heart ached with the song and with the sight of her.
     The bow moved quickly in a brief, elegant finale and the girl set her violin down in the case, ignoring the cash. She dried her tears with her fingertips and breathed deeply in an attempt to compose herself. It took her a moment to notice the boy standing in front of her. Her eyebrows knitted together and for a moment, she looked like Ava. The boy shifted awkwardly. He had no idea why he waited for the girl to finish. He guessed that maybe he wanted to apologize for having no money, but the thought seemed shallow now.
     “Hello,” the violinist spoke. Her eyes were large and grey and lovely. She seemed surprisingly unperturbed that the boy had just seen her cry.
     “Are you going?” the boy questioned absently. The violinist looked concerned now.
     “Going where?” she asked. Her head tilted very slightly to the side. She leaned down, glancing up at the boy frequently as she picked up the slate grey coat and pulled it around her.
     “To the…party,” the boy replied. He didn’t know why he said that. He felt tired and embarrassed. He waved his hand in a circle as if to herd his thoughts into order. “Or, well…isn’t that what they’re calling it, anyway?”
     She looked even more confused. “Calling what?” The boy realized now that her eyes were actually a sparkling silvery color, not grey.
     “The…sorry, the protest,” he said, shaking his head slowly as if to clear his thoughts. “At City Hall. I was…supposed to go with someone, but, well…I guess everyone is going, right?” He finished with a strong desire to kick himself. He wasn’t sure if this was infatuation, or the horrible social skills that had been pointed out to him in the past finally coming to light. However, despite his odd bursts of lucidity and something in-between, the violinist looked as if she understood, but she also seemed rather irked.
     “Oh. No,” she said shortly. “Suppose I’m not everyone. I never go to things like that.” She knelt down to properly pack her violin and fish out her earnings. The boy felt terrible for offending the beautiful girl, but he said no more. He nodded with a sigh and shoved a hand into his pocket, feeling the remnants of tobacco from the cigarette that crumpled there earlier. He dusted it off onto his pant leg and then walked away.


The cab was old. Its garish yellow paint was peeling in spots on the hood. She realized that the amount of money that she carried wouldn’t get her very far, but it would be a short, very much appreciated relief from the cold street. She entered the back seat. The faux leather upholstery was cracked, revealing yellow foam padding. The driver’s face was blank and unremarkable. He grunted the question as to her destination and she told him how much money she had to spend and the general direction that she was headed. He shrugged and pulled away from the curb.
    The girl had never been fond of riding in Taxi cabs. She felt that putting her life in the hands of a complete stranger was foolish at best. At this moment, however, the cynical thought was quieter than usual. She draped one leg over the other and tried to concentrate on the scenery rushing by and the static-obscured tune coming from the radio.
    The driver did not try to spark a conversation as some did. He must have realized that there was no tip coming from the girl, and it was pointless to try to make her journey any less unpleasant. She was rather grateful for this, as she stared out the window, seeing, but never really taking in anything that they passed.

     The boy stopped at a gas station and wove his way through the aisles of junk food to the bathroom. It was a small room with a single toilet. A mirror with splotches of grey hung above a pedestal sink with one unmarked knob. A fluorescent light on the ceiling was buzzing loudly and flickering every few seconds.
     The boy locked the door behind him and rattled the doorknob to insure that it was secure. He was dizzy and covered in a heavy blanket of nausea and fatigue that he couldn’t shake from himself. He strode to the toilet with uneven steps and knelt down, a sheen of sweat dampening his face and hair. With a few movements that were a little too closely spaced, the boy threw the seat of the toilet up and heaved.
     It could have been snakes and maggots escaping his spasming stomach as he leaned forward, with long, painful jerks into the water of the bowl. He tried not to make any noise but for short gasps and chokes that he could not stifle. Once he was sure that his stomach was empty, and after a few empty, throbbing dry heaves, the boy pressed the metal handle downward and watched with a grimace as the stuff twisted and flowed downward.
     “Ugh,” he groaned, loosing a handful of toilet paper from the dispenser and wiping his mouth and nose. He stood up and spit twice into the water dropped the paper in with it. He was shaky as he walked, but felt greatly improved from his recent condition.
     He placed his hands on the sides of the sink and leaned forward, placing weight on the off-white porcelain. He stared into the mirror, feeling awkward, as if he were staring into the eyes of a stranger but didn’t want to be the first to look away. Muscles in his hands and face were twitching harshly, giving him the urge to step back from the sink and shake like a dog. He remained staring at himself. The darkness around his eyes looked sharper. The prickly shadow of stubble was more visible around his and jaw.
     “What am I doing?” he asked himself aloud, his shoulders slumping dramatically. So much had happened in one day and he hadn’t even reached the place where “everything would be.”
     He wished that he could talk to himself in the mirror as if it actually were a stranger on the other side. Maybe then he would be able to convince himself that the girl was right. I don’t even know who I am. How can she believe that I am who she thinks I am, not just some lie she’s been living with?
     His heart was pounding uncomfortably against his ribcage and he felt nausea rise in his throat once more.
     The boy twisted the knob on the sink and tested the temperature with his hand. It was freezing cold, but he did not withdraw from it. Cupping his hands together, he leaned over the basin of the sink and splashed the liquid on his face. The cold stung much more on his cheeks and nose than it had on the skin of his hand. He sucked in a gasp through his teeth and pulled a few paper towels from the black dispenser on the wall. He felt more awake, but he knew the sensation would not last. Crumpling the towels into a ball, the boy tossed them into the garbage bin on his way out the door.
     A gruff-looking man glared at the boy on his way out of the station, obviously perturbed by the fact that he had used the bathroom without making a purchase. The boy tried not to look at him and shooed himself back outside. Some moisture from the sink still clung to his hair and trickled down his face. He wiped it on his sleeve, but soon, more moisture joined it.
     The rain started out slow, with tiny drops lighting on the boy’s shoulders and head, but after a moment it reached a sudden crescendo and poured, sorrowful and weeping down onto the streets and buildings. The asphalt had a grey sheet upon its surface where rain drops stuck and bounced upward, making the street look like a dark, stormy sea. The boy felt the rain soak through his blazer and chill his skin. With a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a sob, the boy pressed forward, not wanting, nor daring to go back into the hostile atmosphere of the gas station for refuge from the torrential storm.


Ava noticed as she walked, the feeling of being followed.  At first, she dismissed it as paranoia. She was alone on the cold city street, heading into the hostile environment of a protest that would include all the anger and volume of a volcanic eruption. She pulled her coat tighter around her, attempting to hamper the cold and wet that tried to push under her skin. The girl didn’t want to admit to herself how much she missed the boy already, but it was becoming hard to ignore. The anxiety of losing the person she had been so close yet so far from for so long struck at her just as the weather was.
Old memories of the boy started to move forward from some forgotten space in her mind. She remembered how, when they first met at some friend’s house, she thought that the boy was mute. He was wide eyed and seemed constantly terrified. Their mutual friend had introduced them to one another, and the girl had caught a small smile on the thin face of the quiet boy, Erron.
One of the first things that he had really said to her was that he wanted to change. His eyes were glossy with tears then. They were alone then, and he had let her touch his hand as he stared at the floor.
The two met up at the same friend’s house at least once a week. The place was a small mobile home in town with a little yard and a cat. They were still living with their parents then; an arrangement that, Ava came to discover, had both of them feeling discontent.
They both moved out at the same time, a decision both foolish and liberating for the two.  Both of their families were predictably unsupportive, and waved the departure away. Erron’s mother had been the kindest to the two of them, but even she had little to say. Without much money, and no fixed income from either of them, they decided to rent the tiny shack on the edge of the city.
Ava had to smile at the memories, letting the bitter-sweetness of it all tangle around her heart.


    The boy was walking considerably slower than he had when he was walking with Ava, but he began to notice fatigue set in far more quickly. He kept his head low, watching his feet as he walked, hoping that if he couldn’t see how fast he was moving, he might become encouraged by his own progress. However, after walking for five minutes and only walking about one hundred yards, he stopped, discouraged. He looked around, seeing but not really noticing the scenery around him. Everything was a blurry watercolor done in greys and browns.
    There was a cement surface to his left and he sat down, placing his head in his hands. He didn’t have anyone. Ava was gone and he hadn’t even seen the free-loading stray dog since she had left him. He leaned back dejectedly before he had the chance to realize that he didn’t know what he would be leaning against. A sharp edge of something jabbed him in the back, causing him to wheel around, affronted.
    What he had sat down on was the base of a statue, and what had jabbed him in the back was the edge of a fold of fabric of a dress, blowing in a nonexistent wind. The dress was worn by a girl holding a bucket. The boy had to move around to see her face. Her eyes, copper and unmoving, pierced him. He stood frozen, staring at her until a breeze blew his attention from her. It had picked up a paper bag and lifted it to her head, where it struck, hovering there for a while and then continuing on its way down the street from the direction Erron had just come.

Old Soul Song Part One

Grey light, new day leaks through the window
An old soul song comes on the alarm clock radio…


There's no beginning to this story...

     His name was Erron. Hers was Ava. It was dark in the main room of the house that could hardly be called “home.”  A dim electric light stood on the floor and flickered slightly, casting harsh shadows over the face of the boy who sat beside it.  He was thin and gangly, with patchy stubble around his chin and cheeks.  His gaunt face made him look older than his twenty-two years.
      The boy held a cigarette loosely in his mouth. It had a long, limp tail of ash that snuck closer and closer to his mouth as the seconds ticked by.  The cigarette was not so much there to appease a craving for nicotine, just to burn slowly and add to his overflowing ashtray.
     He was hunched over, bending his spine into an uncomfortable arch. His neck was growing increasingly stiff as he stared blankly at the clean page jammed into his ancient typewriter. He rocked his head from side to side, eliciting brittle little cracking noises from his neck. He knew he couldn’t keep this up.  He glared, clenching his jaw in frustration and defeat. The cigarette split and fell to the tray, knocking ashes onto the wooden floor.
     There was a girl asleep on the bed in the corner.  She was lying on her side with one arm curled around the pillow and the other stretched outward. The boy could only see the silhouette of her, rising and falling with slow steady breaths. He rose, sighing shakily like a person that had recently been weeping.  He slept, but not beside her.
     Dawn was heralded into the mind of the boy with an alarm clock telling him to “wake up,” “wake up,” “wake up” “wake up.” He reluctantly located the blaring electric demon and shut it off.  In a daze, he prepared for the day ahead of him. He dressed without really thinking about it, and without really having to. The girl was awake before him, nearly ready before he had even opened his eyes. They had packed most of their things the evening previous, and only had to grab a few items such as the clock on the wall, which read seven fifteen. They were only taking a few of their meager possessions and some cash, and the clothes they currently wore. Everything else (which admittedly was not much) was packed into cardboard boxes and stacked in the middle of the main room. The stack was topped with the boy’s old typewriter. It was as if the boxes were going to attempt an escape in the middle of the night, and the typewriter was necessary to keep them in place.
     After an hour, the boy had taken a seat upon the bare mattress.  He laced his black Oxfords slowly, and carefully pulled the ends of his pant-legs down over the tongues to kill time, not that it made much of a difference.  He was staring, feeling slightly useless as the girl prepared for their leaving.  Finally, he spoke.
"You've got the camera?"  The boy asked. He lifted himself from his position on the edge of the bed.  The spring-form mattress squeaked in protest to the sudden relief of weight.
The girl was a student of photography for a time. That was, until she had run out of money. She now worked freelance as a photographer for the local newspaper. She was crouched, facing away from him. As she glanced back at him briefly, her coal-black hair whipped around her face, giving her a look of wildness. She nodded in response to his question and continued to arrange objects in her bag.  The boy watched her, feeling weak and tired.  The girl intimidated him with the way that she expressed her emotions. Everything was so very clear and open with her.  She didn’t hide herself like he did.  She was so vulnerable to pain, and that frightened him.  He wondered what the world looked like through her eyes.
     She rose up and a silvery ray of light hit the side of her face. The boy looked away, as if the woman that stood before him was a creature he had no business looking at. She hauled her bag over her shoulder and drew in closer to him, her face bright and determined.
     "It will be alright, you know. We’ll make it," she whispered.  Her words made the boy look at her again. He knew that she was only trying to cheer him up, but the look on her face and the conviction of her tone made him stand a little straighter. He smiled, but, feeling the warmth of the close proximity, stepped back.  The girl's eyebrows knitted together for a split second. The change was barely noticeable, but he saw it. He frowned. There was silence, and for a moment, the boy wished that he could collapse onto the tattered mattress and forget about today. Today was too much.  He glared down at his feet, feeling foolish and out of place in the room.  More silence surrounded him, giving him the compressed feeling of needing his ears to pop.  He resisted the urge to yawn and stretch out his jaw.
     "Come on," the girl said with a small smile. She reached out a pale hand to touch him, but seemed to think better of it, and instead used the hand to readjust her bag and gesture to the door.
     The wood of the door and its frame was swollen with weather, and the boy had to shove forcefully to separate them. He felt the sleeve of his black, second-hand blazer catch on the rough surface. A few stitches tore, doing nothing for his down-and-out appearance.  As the door opened, cold morning air rushed up to their faces as if a ghost had sighed deeply upon them.
     The knowledge of leaving the house allowed the boy to see it differently. Or rather, he saw it as he had the first time he had encountered it. It sat in the middle of the dirt plot, broken and not at all aesthetically pleasing, like a gigantic dead stump.  It was grey and ancient, with curled shingles and perpetually dusty windows. It looked more like a place a squatter would reside than a home for two kids.
     The area that surrounded the house could be considered a yard about as much as the house could be considered a penthouse suite. It was barren and dry, like a miniature replica of a desert. Past the dirt was an ill-maintained sidewalk, and past that, more houses in varying degrees of dilapidation.
     The street had an ironic name, something like “Oasis Avenue” or “Willow Springs Lane.” It was the kind of name that was always found in a dried-up suburb, as if someone could be fooled into buying one of the glorified cardboard boxes based on the name of the street alone.
     “We start walking and we’ll only have forty blocks to go,” the girl said, half smiling. True to her nature, she was not disheartened by the idea of walking the distance, but she sympathized with the boy. She knew how reluctant he was to journey through the slums and into a potential war zone.
     The boy raised an eyebrow at her, bemused. He felt a kind of quiet desperation toward her, and it made him return her smile. Hers was a sign of hope and determination. His was that of melancholy and yearning.
     “Come on,” the girl repeated.  She was eager.  She was always that way; so driven.  He envied that. He hated that.
     There was a shift in the air the moment that the pair stepped to the dry, biting earth.  The world seemed so hostile now that they weren’t returning.

     Not returning…

     The boy pondered that for a moment, before whispering, “I’ve been here too long.” He spoke to himself, but the girl heard him.  She stared at him and he continued.  “I feel like I’ve lived in this place for sixty years…” he trailed off.  The girl laughed, and would have sounded cheerful if not for the hollow note in the sound.  It made the boy cringe internally.  He knew that the house was stifling.  In it, they were like caged canaries in a coal mine, contained and surrounded by poisonous air.
     “Alright, Creep, we’re walking now.” She nudged his back with an open palm. She liked to call him that. It reminded the boy of the Radiohead song of the same name. You’re so very special, it said, and she was. I wish I was special, it continued. He did. But I’m a creep...and he was.
     He should have run from the place, happily, and never looked back. There was always that fear, though. The fear that being thrown into the open sky after all the years of dirty lungs and clipped wings would cause him to choke and fall.
     It was not as if he had never left the house in the two years he had occupied it. He had a day job, he went to the store, he went to the Laundromat. He did plenty of things that required him to leave the house and venture into the “real” world.  Every day, though, he was faced with the inevitable return to his bird cage…to his cold kennel. He was a dog, tugged around by a fat hand on streets that went nowhere, and then thrown back in every night.
     They began to walk.


     Although the boy had a long stride, he walked slowly, as if stalking prey...or trying to evade a predator.  His hands were jammed deep inside the pockets of his trousers, which had faded from black to a patchy grey over the years. They looked a bit ridiculous brushing the tops of his new shoes.
     The girl, however, did not look ridiculous. She wore a black hooded jacket over a red blouse. She had a silver locket around her neck and a skirt around her waist that showed about seven inches of calf before her legs disappeared into long boots. She looked edible. The boy looked at her with tragedy.
     As they walked, she touched his arm. His ears began to buzz, drowning the sound of her voice. She was trying to tell him something; her mouth moved with words. He took a slightly awkward step to the side, distancing himself from her reach.
     She could never get used to the boy’s mannerisms. He was skittish and seemed unable to stand human contact, least of all contact with her. He reminded her of a cat that she had when she was younger. He had loved it in her house, taking refuge in the warmth and grateful for the food, but went berserk any time someone tried to pet him, but she always tried, hoping that one day the cat would accept her. That cat was dead now.
     They continued to walk.


     To get into town, the most logical path crossed in front of a vast green field that was the cemetery. Plain grey headstones dotted the grass evenly, and walkways divided the place into smaller squares. It was fenced by iron and brick. The boy’s head was turned perpetually toward the graveyard as they passed, unsettled as he always was.
“You aren’t afraid, are you?” the girl queried, sounding genuine but for a thin lining of a taunt. The boy blinked at her, a tiny prickling of offence rising in his ears.
     “Don’t be silly,” he said, his tone very slightly sardonic, “I’m not afraid of ghosts.” The girl shrugged.
     “I wasn’t making fun of you,” she said defensively.
      It was not fear that he felt when he was around it, just a hollow, dry sensation of uncertainty. He felt as though he was being by the eyes of the dead, and imagining the skeletons and corpses lined up, all facing the same direction, all in the same position of hands-over-heart seemed so unnatural to him. He tried to stop himself from envisioning every body above the ground and without their coffin-containment, eyes milky and lidless and skin slack.
     There was a fresh mound of dark earth in front of one of the granite blocks. He couldn’t read the name from his position, but the boy saw a few dozen white roses lying upon the tiny hill. They were in two bunches and tied together with white ribbon. He might have been buried just yesterday, the boy thought, his brow creased. He wondered further about the occupant. Death was one of the few subjects that held his attention, and he hated that; hated being so damned morbid and obsessed with the end. Despite these thoughts, he continued to ponder on the dead man.
     He wondered how he went. If he was old and decrepit, waiting eagerly for an angel to sweep him up and give him strength again. Or perhaps the man had no faith. Maybe, for him, death was the end of a book that held interest but stopped without real resolution.
     The man’s death might have been soft and peaceful, and he may well have been calm and contented when darkness finally swallowed him. There was that chance, though; more than just a chance, that the man had not wanted to leave. He might have been sweating, struggling in his bed, tearing at his damp sheets and screaming for help with his struggled breath until he fell backwards into the embrace of a cold pillow and death.
     The boy felt unstable and sick. He was shaking his head like an old animal covered with flies, feebly attempting to end his morbidity. They were coming to the end of the graveyard when he finally regained a grip on reality. The girl was still beside him, her face impassive.
     “What do you think about…the end?” The boy asked, his voice nearly inaudible.
The girl’s face drew into an expression of concentration.
“Well, what do you mean, exactly?” She wasn’t mocking him for asking her about the subject after passing the cemetery, and he was thankful for it. He didn’t want to start something.
“Like…when we die,” the boy elaborated, kicking at a rock on the sidewalk. It skittered away and down into the gutter.
    “I think that no matter what happens to us after we die, we’re here for some reason and we should make the most of it,” the girl said, smiling sadly. Her words held an almost cryptic wisdom that was lovely and simple. The boy had expected her to answer like that, but he was not disappointed by it. Her optimism was a bird’s sweet song to him. He envied her sweet mind, and loathed it occasionally, but it was beautiful.
    “So, for those who can’t make a change in the world? We can’t all invent light bulbs and free slaves,” the boy’s voice was close to a whisper. The girl gave a little hum of a laugh.
    “Everything makes a change, Erron,” she said. There are hundreds of people that die every day, and they go unnoticed because no one knew them or no one really cared, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t leave a print.”
She continued, and the boy didn’t stop her. He was silent, wrapped up in her words.
“Even if the human race doesn’t have some glorious plan laid out in front of them, or a written set of rules, we still march to a beat. We all survive and wind around each other. We touch things, you know?” She laughed, shaking her head. The boy blinked several times, slowly.
“Go ahead, say it,” she chuckled sadly. The boy cocked his head, puzzled. “I’m full of shit, yeah?” The boy stopped, and she followed suit. She didn’t look upset, but he could feel her wishing that he might disagree with her. He complied.
“No,” he replied simply, “you’re great.”
    She smiled wider, her mouth open a little. She trailed a hand down the back of his head, twisting a thin lock of hair between her fingers on her way down. She stopped when she reached the nape of his neck, noticing how he had gone still. Her arm dropped to her side and they started on their way again. He walked a pace behind her, smiling softly on the inside.


     They were passing by a parking lot of some business that didn’t appear to be open. It was run down as everything in this, shabbier portion of town seemed to be, and had no sign. There were three vehicles spread widely apart, as if parking closely would cause them to contract some automobile plague.  There was a scruffy, malnourished-looking dog lying on its side under the tailgate of a rusty pickup truck.  The girl spotted it before the boy had a chance to say anything, and tugged on the boy’s sleeve, pointing at the animal.
     “It’s not dead, is it?” she asked in low tones. It was motionless in the shade, and did indeed appear to be dead.  She didn’t try to suppress her look of distressed curiosity. They continued to walk, not taking their eyes off of the animal. As the sidewalk under their feet wound closer to where the dog slept, its ears perked up and it scooted shakily out of its hiding place.
     “Evidently not,” the boy deadpanned, still watching the dog rather than looking at the girl. His eyebrow was raised in skepticism. “But it moves like a zombie. We should go.” The girl scoffed. She was smiling sadly at the dog, and began to walk closer to it, stepping from the sidewalk to the asphalt of the parking lot.
     “Hey!” the boy called, his expression stormy. He caught the girl’s arm before she got any closer to the dog, which kept walking forward. “It’s not a house pet. It’s a stray, it will probably bite you.” The dog was trotting now, its floppy ears cocked and bouncing. As soon as it was about ten feet away, the boy stuck his free hand out and waved it in what he hoped was an intimidating manner.
     “Shoo,” he growled. The girl jerked her arm away from the boy’s grip and pushed him half-heartedly.
     “Stop it,” she retorted, huffing at him and meeting the dog halfway. The boy’s jaw was set and he didn’t follow his companion. He merely watched, feeling wary and wishing that he could keep his nerves under control and remain cool if the girl was bitten. He thought that he would like to say something such as - “I told you to stay away from him, but do you listen to me? No,” - on the way to the hospital. He knew that would never happen, though. He would go rushing to the girl’s side, eyes wide and terrified. He would cry on the way to the hospital. This thought made his frown deepen.
     The girl was kneeling down in front of the dog, which was sniffing her hands excitedly.
     “Come over here, he’s cute,” the girl said, looking at the boy over her shoulder. Her hair framed her face in much the same way it had that morning. His shoulders slumped and he sighed, relenting. He rubbed his forehead as he stepped up, moving rather stiffly. He drew up beside the girl and kneeled. Immediately, the dog stuffed his nose in the boy’s face and wiped slobber over his cheeks with a thin pink tongue. The boy’s lips danced upward in a smile. As the dog’s attention was focused on him, Ava pulled her camera out and snapped a quick picture of the two of them before Erron could protest. He rolled his eyes.
    With one hand, the boy ruffled the dog’s slightly greasy ears and pulled on them gently. With the other, he searched his jacket pocket. After a moment, he drew out a granola bar that was at least seven months old. Its age and exposure to heat and cold made it hard and brittle rather than its advertised soft and chewy, and it clung stubbornly to the wrapper as it was torn open.
     “He can eat that?” the girl queried softly. She was patting the dog’s back lightly.
     “Stray dogs are coyotes,” the boy informed, thrusting the old granola bar before the dog’s nose, “they can eat anything.”
     As if to prove the boy’s point, the dog gripped the bar in his yellowed teeth and crunched it immediately. It put its head down, allowing crumbs to fall from its mouth and then slicking them up when its tongue was free.
“There, see?” The boy patted the dog’s head. The animal continued to sniff his hands in hopes of another treat. When its investigation came up empty, the dog stepped back, running its tongue over its lips and wagging its tail hard enough to move its entire mangy body back and forth.
      “He’s saying thanks.”


     They stopped at a small café on Beaujolais for some coffee. The place had the same name as the street, and, carrying on with that pattern, had an impressive wine list in addition the one listing all of the coffees and teas served.
    The boy pulled the door open, causing a small bell on the ceiling to tinkle lightly. The warm, strong aroma of roasted beans wafted from one grubby wall to the other. The lights were dim and brown, giving a feeling of sleepiness and comfort. 
     Muted notes flowed unevenly from the back of the room, where a dark-haired kid sat hunched over an acoustic guitar. He strummed the broken melody and his parted lips moved with the inaudible lyrics. Before him, relaxed-looking people dressed in loose Bohemian style leaned back in mismatched chairs, sipping on steaming cups of cappuccino. A middle-aged man with sandy-blonde hair sat at the table closest to the door. He didn’t look up as the two entered, but kept his impassive face tipped towards a notebook in which he jotted words in small spouts. There was a cup of steaming black coffee going unnoticed in front of him.
     The boy strode towards the counter, behind which a plump girl in an apron was standing. She was watching the people at the tables, looking sad. She blinked slowly and nibbled on her glossy lower lip. There was a nametag clipped loosely onto her green apron that read “Kathy.”  The boy didn’t speak to her. He stood at arms length from the counter and took in the assorted pastries inside of it. They were all on small plates which sat on intricate doilies. A small folded piece of cardstock was beside each plate. On the faces of them were handwritten scrawls describing each item and the price.
     The boy decided on a small mocha without consulting the chalkboard menu on the wall behind the counter, or the preoccupied waitress, but he waited for the girl to say something before he caught her attention. He looked around. The girl was glancing at the tables distractedly. She had had said nothing since they had arrived at the café.
     “You alright?” the boy asked, watching her face for a change of expression. She smiled dreamily, as if she had just woken up.
     “Yeah,” she replied vaguely. In a daze, she floated up to the counter and ordered her drink before calling the waitress to attention. Kathy looked around, blinking. She apologized in a monotone voice, and asked the girl to repeat her order.  The boy ordered his mocha with slow, deliberate words as if he were talking to a child. He didn’t mean to sound rude; he just didn’t feel inclined to repeat himself. They waited for a moment for Kathy to fill their Styrofoam cups with steaming liquid.  The music streaming from the back of the room was hypnotic.
     The girl took up her cup of coffee with both hands and smelled it deeply, looking contented.
     “Man, I’ll fall asleep if we stay in this place any longer,” she remarked.  The boy agreed. The place was lethargy in brick form.  He picked up his coffee and stuffed a precautionary napkin into his pocket and strode back to the door.  They strolled back out onto the grungy, far less welcoming street.
     Only thirty six more blocks to go.

“You are so depressing, you know that?” the girl asked as they walked along, breaking the silence with a hollow thunk of a question.
    It hurt. There was a cold unforgiving hand around the sorry organ that was his heart, and it squeezed. He didn’t let on however, and responded with what he hoped was a cavalier shrug.
    “Have you at least tried looking on the bright side of things?” This made the boy’s unconscious frown deepen. “I really don’t mean to offend you,” she continued, lifting her shoulder into a tiny shrug, “you just sort-of-” her mouth squnched to one side of her face slightly, looking ponderous, “-radiate despair.” She didn’t look like she had just said anything hurtful, and didn’t rush to take her words back. She just raised her eyebrow at him, waiting for the boy to answer. The boy glared upward in exasperation and released a long, low growl.
    “Do you know how many people have said that to me? That I’m a…a downer, a buzz-kill, depressed and depressing. It’s always something different, but it all has the same point. I know I’m not fun to be around, but people have to constantly remind me of it anyway!” His face was burning.
     “Do you know how many?” he finished. His eyes were wide, turned on her in a frenzied expression. He was like a wounded animal, biting blindly at the hand of a loved-one. In response, the girl blew air out of her nose and mouth in a short scoff.
    “Probably anyone who has come in contact with you,” she replied.
    “God,” he groaned dejectedly. The cold hand around his heart jerked outward, taking his heart with him. He wanted to gasp with the hurt he was feeling. She was so blind and indifferent to the aching of his mind. She had no idea how damaged he felt, and what hurt even worse was the fact that what she said was so damned close to the truth. He spun around, throwing his arms up in defeat. There was a pounding ache in his chest that intensified with every beat of his heart.
    “Oh, Jesus,” the girl swore under her breath. “Erron, wait.” When the boy didn’t listen, her voice rose. “Come here.”
    He allowed her to turn him around and speak sense, apologizing but keeping her same firm, insistent tone and stormy expression. He kept his eyes away from hers when he could. He was a small child, hearing the reprimanding words of a parent and knowing what it all meant, but wishing intently the whole time that it could just end. The girl looked as if she desperately wanted to shake him.
    The boy couldn’t say anything to her. He thought, cynically, that even if he could say something to her, she would throw it back in his face with her brutal reassurance. Stonily, he straightened, glaring faintly.
    “Can we just go?” he asked, “I’m sick of this place.”


    They were passing through an alley which was well lit by the sun above them. Messy, unreadable loops of graffiti were scribbled on each side of the tawny brick, breaking up the plain, unchanging walls towering around the couple. There were crumpled bits of paper and piles of packing peanuts on the ground. Small, murky puddles and soggy, collapsed cardboard boxes created obstacles at their feet. On one wall, there were several tan metal doors spaced far apart. The girl informed the boy that the building the doors belonged to was a large, old-fashioned movie theatre, and that because there was no air conditioning, they were each opened a crack to allow a breeze to flow into each otherwise stuffy cinema. They opened from the inside, and none of them had a handle. The sound from each movie flowed out the crack of the doors like a potent, intriguing scent that begged to be followed to its source.
     “Let’s look,” the girl said, grinning at the prospect of sneaking in. The boy’s eyebrows furrowed downward, but he followed as the girl approached the first door. She opened it slowly. It was heavy, but didn’t squeak with rust. The girl feared that someone may be guarding the theatre on the other side, as it was so vulnerable to being cheated of money. As she opened it further, the sound raised, voices became more distinguishable, and it was clear that no one guarded the back door. The girl’s smile lingered on her face as she stared up at the large screen, upon which faces and scenery were projected.
     “We’re probably just catching the end,” the boy spoke softly, holding the door behind the girl and sliding into the darkness of the theatre after her. He looked up at the screen, then the people sitting in front of it, enraptured and not bothered by the newcomers. There was a handsome man with black hair on the screen, his face glistening with sweat and eyebrows knitted with fear and confusion. The people watching the movie looked tiny in their seats in comparison.
    The handsome man sat in a swivel chair and muttered quickly. He was panicked and upset. The shot changed to reveal another man brandishing a gun carelessly, smiling. He was seated on a table, kicking his legs freely back and forth. In the few intervals of silence, Erron heard people talking in hushed tones to one another and digging in bags of popcorn. After a few moments of dialogue and a general feeling of total confusion, the boy suggested that they try another.
    The couple backed out of the theatre and moved to the next cinema. It was an animated film that showed a cat poised on a cinder-block wall. It moved slowly toward the viewers, and a voice that must have been the narrator spoke in low tones about some mistake he had made. The cat hopped down from the fence and, looking depressed, moved slowly down the street. The boy wondered, cynically, if anyone in the audience was crying. He chose to ignore the thought that he himself had cried when he saw Simba mourning his father’s death in the movie The Lion King. Shaking his head, the boy crept back out of the movie and waited for the girl to come out. After a few minutes, she did so, smiling. Gods, she’s always smiling, the boy thought to himself, shaking his head with a small sad smile himself.
    Upon entering the next movie, an instant blush rose to the boy’s face. The screen was full of a steamy bedroom scene. The colors were warm oranges and pinks, and a musical score played lightly to balance the space not filled by whispers and small noises. The boy watched for a moment, resisting the urge to back out and unable to look away. After a moment, the man was gently stroking the hair of the woman lying smiling beneath him. Sheets were tangled around them, tying them together. Erron glanced at Ava, unable to tell if she was embarrassed as well. He didn’t intend to catch her eye, but then she was starting at him, eyes shining merrily in the small amount of light the movie provided. The boy cleared his throat and they exited.
    “You’re adorable, you know,” the girl cooed, shoving the boy’s arm. He laughed, trying to hide his embarrassment.
    “That movie was completely inappropriate for the eyes of a young woman such as yourself,” his voice deep and gruff. The girl put a hand to her chest in mock offence.
    “Well I’ve never,” she said in high tones, causing them both to chuckle in amusement. “I guess we’ve had enough of the theatre,” she said, accenting the last word with a rather terrible English inflection.


    It was a sleepy, clean neighborhood. Beige cookie-cutter houses lined each side of the street, small yards with green lawns, fenced to contain small dogs and small, gas-efficient cars in a few carports. Those who had not driven to work were probably sitting in their warm, earth-toned living rooms and smiling contentedly. Everything was shining or growing or comfortable-looking. It was a town designed by Starbucks.
      There was a slightly barren park at the end of the street. It was leafy and unoccupied, with a few trees, two swing sets over rectangles of sand, and a single blue plastic slide. A cool breeze was knocking the swings back and forth, making their chains rattle. The pair moved across the grass, feeling the evenly manicured blades brush the tips of their shoes as they walked. The girl was smiling, a blush tingeing her cheeks. She approached one of the swings, and, after setting her messenger bag containing her precious camera down by the metal frame of the swing, sat immediately and without hesitation. The boy mimicked her, glancing at the girl frequently as if she were about to accuse him of something. Slowly, he curled a hand around one of the chains and sat down in the black rubber seat. He swung in shallow little dips by shifting his weight back and forth, feeling the turn of his stomach every time he went backwards.
     They swung for a while. Every few minutes they would fall into sync with each other. The girl chuckled something about being “married,” a term that young school children used when a couple swung in time together. The boy simply smiled, his stomach turning sharply as he went forward. Then, something to his right caught the boy’s eye. It was a dark brown shape, moving slowly down the street across from the park.
     “Hey, that’s not the same stray dog we saw before, is it?” he asked, pointing lazily at what he was now sure was the dog. The girl looked where the boy pointed with eyebrows raised, then, recognizing the animal, her eyes widened in pleasant surprise.
     “Yeah, I think it is,” she said happily.
     “It’s probably following us, waiting for some more stale granola hand-outs,” the boy laughed, coiling his arm around the swing chain as he began to slow. The dog stopped as he was directly across from them, turned, staring, and barked a shrill note at them. His tail shook back and forth. The girl called at him, but he continued on his way, looking determined, and was gone. 
     The boy began to swing again, leaning back as he went forward and tucking his legs under as he fell back. He was going higher now than before, letting the flip-flop of his stomach take over. He closed his eyes and sunk into the sensation, sighing a little now and then. The girl’s verdant eyes were upon him, puzzled and amused.
     “Erron,” she started, her voice laced with uncertainty. The boy spoke a short word of acknowledgement without looking at her, not stopping his motions in going forward and backward. This didn’t help her hesitation. She drew in a breath and prepared to say everything that was on her mind while she still could. She was in love with something intangible and vague, like a ghost. Her breath caught before she said a word, and she shook the thought off with some difficulty. The boy didn’t question her silence, just kept swinging absentmindedly with eyes closed.
     After a while, a few wide-eyed children with a ball arrived at the park. They were jogging bouncily before noticing the pair, and then they slowed, as if their desired destination had been barred to them by the two strange adults. Taking their cue to leave, the couple rose. The girl grabbed her bag and dusted the sand from the bottom before slinging it back over her shoulder.


    Taking a bit of a shortcut, the couple moved across the grass of the college campus. The buildings of the college were large but only slightly impressive because of their state of disrepair. It didn’t seem to phase the students much, however, that were walking about, smiling. The girl had been in several of the classrooms. She was a photography student there for a few years and excelled at the art. The boy, on the other hand never had a reason to go inside.
    A few cement paths wound around to various classrooms and buildings, crossing through the grass like flat grey snakes. The boy and girl silently agreed to stick to the spongy turf and leave the walkways to rushed students.
     A couple of muscular boys in sunglasses and a blonde girl were tossing a red Frisbee to each other and laughing happily. The girl giggled relentlessly any time anyone made or missed a catch, especially herself. The boy’s eyes narrowed unconsciously. A scrawny kid on a skateboard rolled by on one of the cement paths, looking like a statue any time he wasn’t propelling himself forward. He had lime green headphones over a black beanie and tight-looking jeans on. Several other students walked about, waving and smiling, or rushing, gripping a strap of their backpacks and barely acknowledging the others.
    The boy watched the different students, very much fascinated by their reactions to one another. It was like examining ants marching about, seemingly busied with an unknown task.
    The boy noticed, looking down, that the walkway to their left had chalked writing scrawled in large lettering on it. He moved closer to it, reading: PROTEST AT CITY HALL. He scoffed at the message.
    “So I guess pretty much everyone is going to be at this thing,” he cocked an eyebrow at her, stating more than asking.
    “I don’t know,” she replied, sounding defensive. “I’m sure a lot of people will have something to say there. This city isn’t the largest, either, so I guess there will be a pretty big crowd.”
    Erron’s raised eyebrow fell and pushed close to the other in a puzzled glare.
    “So what difference will it make for two poor kids to show up?” he asked quietly. The horrible but so familiar feeling of anger and frustration welled up inside him. Ava’s look of righteous indignation didn’t help anything.
    “Hey,” she began in what the boy supposed was meant to be a coaxing tone, “you’ll see, Erron. Let’s just keep walking, okay?”
    The boy stuffed his hands in his pockets and relented for a moment, hoping that his jaw and fists would slacken and the molten anger in his throat would cool in the silence.


     "Gods, that's it!" The boy marched a few paces away from the girl, throwing his arms up in frustration. He felt like tearing his hair out. The girl's head tipped to the side and she withdrew slowly, glaring in hurt and confusion. The boy looked away from her sharply. His hands were once again jammed into his pockets. One of them curled around a loose cigarette. Its paper soaked in the sweat on his palm and it crumpled, spilling tobacco into the bottom of the fabric compartment.
     "Jesus," he hissed, jerking the hand out of his pocket and wiping the stuff on the leg of his trousers.  His anger was bubbling inside him like magma, causing bile to rise in his throat. His vision was narrow and shaky and his breath became shallow. He wanted to put his fist through a wall. His glare contorted his face and he growled out a short few words. "This is so pointless."
     "What did you say?" the girl whispered, her voice weak and expression distressed. The boy's whipped back around, eyes narrowed at her. A muscle in his cheek twitched, pulling his lip up into a sneer. "I said this is pointless," he answered curtly. His head and shoulder jerked in a cold shrug that showed clearly his apathy. He was hurting her. He felt disgusting and sadistic.
     "Are you serious?" the girl's words were once again broken and had a plea in the rising note of the question. There was an urge deep in his stomach that made him want to run away from the girl just to spare her from everything that was him.
     He put a hand to his forehead and had to fight back an anguished groan.
     "What do you want from me?" he asked. He was withdrawn from her, angry and restless and tired.
     "I want…God, Erron…what the hell is wrong with you? I just want…things to change…I…" the girl trailed off, but her mouth moved as if, although they were not vocalized, her pleas continued.
     The boy interrupted her thoughts with a scoff. "You're thinking that this protest is going to change anything? That it will magically fix our lives? Anyone's life? This is all about ‘leaving a print’ for you? Well, we aren’t. We're just billy goats on the wrong side of the effing fence, Ava. We can move around from place to place, trying to fool ourselves into thinking that it will get better. We can complain about how horrible our lives are to every single idiot we see, and get six hundred other kids to back us up, but the truth is that no one that can change things is going to care about us." By the end of his tirade, he was panting slightly.
     The girl's jaw had gone slack. She looked furious and anguished and disbelieving.  She stormed up to him, her eyes blazing, and hit him.  She wasn’t experienced at throwing punches, but the blow smarted fiercely. The boy touched his cheek gingerly, feeling it begin to swell slightly already. She gasped sharply, as if she was as shocked at striking him as he was. The shock didn’t last long, however, and she continued speaking.
     "We're not waiting for someone to change things for us, Erron! That's what you would be doing right now, sitting in that shack and waiting for someone to do it all for you, crawling into a little bag of oblivion and living your life like somebody's shadow." Her eyes were full of tears. She was so close to falling to the ground and screaming, sobbing her heart out.  She backed a few paces away from him, choking on stifled sobs.
     The boy felt shame heat his face and neck. The girl looked so broken, and it was his fault.  He tried to literally bite his tongue to stop himself, but between his own twisted need to get the last word in and for revenge for the blow, inevitably he went marching back to her, wanting to cry and shout as much as she did.
     "I never agreed to do this with you, you know," he retorted quietly. "I came with you because…you know what? I don't even know." His voice rose in volume slightly, and he refused to look the girl in the eyes. He knew that she would be crying by now.
     “But…”  He could hear the tears in her voice.  She didn’t continue, but he heard her breathing shallowly.
     "Ava," the boy spoke, his voice hoarse with restrained tears, "it's so wrong...for me to be around you..." he trailed off, feeling the stabbing pain in his chest and spinning head that even after twenty two years he could never get used to. Bitter tears were wearing at the feeble dam that was his will, and he felt himself nearing a panic attack.
     The girl's expression became even more anguished as she listened to the boy's brief confession of self-loathing. With small steps, she forced herself to move close to him. He thought that, at any moment, she would stop, but she kept moving nearer, until she was close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin. She put a hand to his cheek.  They were both trembling. His eyes moved to hers and he saw the tears on her cheeks and the redness of her normally July-green eyes. He choked out a sob that he could not contain. Then, their arms were around each other, pulling at one another's bodies until they were as close as they could get. His words were indistinguishable between sobs and coughing, but the girl knew he was apologizing. She stopped crying as soon as he had started, clutching him to her and hoping that what strength she had could end his pain. Soon, he allowed himself to relax into her and he cried into her shoulder for what seemed like forever.


     Her hands were draped gently on his shoulders, which were tensed into an unending shrug.  Her eyes still showed the evidence that she had been crying earlier, but she was smiling, so beautifully, so sincerely. He admired the way that her smile curled and collapsed on her lips and showed in her eyes, making them appear even brighter and alive and enchanting.  The way she bit her lip in uncertainty and how she was drawing closer to him made his heart beat a harsh, uneven rhythm as if it were trying to escape the confines of his chest.  Their clothes were brushing together with the close proximity, which was also causing a flush of heat to rise to his face.  He could smell her sweetness, a warm aroma like rose and sandalwood.  She sighed, still smiling, and suddenly they were kissing in a broken, sweet embrace of lips. He ran his hands slowly over the soft skin of her neck and hers cupped his face sweetly.
     Then, an animal took over his muddled brain and the sweetness turned to desperation and crushing arousal. His hands pulled at her waist, bringing her even closer to him.  She moaned lightly, tangling a hand in his dark hair and tugging on it. She allowed him to guide her backward a few steps and then the harsh cold surface of a brick wall was at her back.  She felt him pin her there loosely, as if he were trying to contain a fragile bird that he wanted fiercely to be his own. She pressed forward into the kiss and, although she was restrained by his warm hands and the pressure of his body, took control. They were breathing in short gasps through their noses, keeping the connection alive as long as they could. He was dizzy, floating as if she were some intoxicating drug, and she continued to move,  her lips graceful and dominant over the boy’s in an exotic dance. Their tongues snaked out shyly into the heat of each other’s mouths, twining like battling snakes, and then-
     Then it subsided. As quickly as it had come, they were separated.  The girl’s hand slid down to rest on his arm, as if she wanted to be ready to catch him if he decided to run, but he didn’t. Their clothes were rumpled and they were panting slightly.  But for the sound of their uneven breath, there was silence.  The boy’s eyes were locked on the girl’s, if for no other reason but to keep the attention away from his obvious excitement.
There were no words. No explanations or hasty apologies and neck-scratching, gaze-avoiding awkwardness. The boy and the girl simply watched each other.
     He was in love with her.  He wasn’t the kind of person that would dance around the thought and fool himself into thinking that it wasn’t true, because it was. He was in love with her, and had been since he could remember. The kiss had not changed anything in his mind, except that everything became a little clearer and a little more complicated. It was like opening a curtain to reveal a tiger that you already knew was there, but now something had to be done about it.
     The boy hugged her again.  It was sorrowful, and she knew it.  She pulled away from the circle of his arms without hugging him back and looked at him intently, questioning.
     “Why, Erron?” Her voice was impossibly soft, but didn’t sound upset. In the question, so many were contained. Questions such as, “how could you do this to me,” and “do you see how you hurt me?” and he heard them all. One corner of his mouth pulled back in a look of hesitation and regret.
    “I don’t want to haunt your dreams,” he answered finally, not intending to sound so poetic. He reached out and touched the clasp of her silver locket. “What’s in this?” he asked, his finger still upon the intricately patterned locket.
    “Nothing,” she replied curtly.
    He continued, not shaken by her cold reply. “I don’t want you to depend on me and all the shit that I use to improve my moods.” He was surprised by his own eloquence and composure.
    “Right, because that isn’t my choice,” the girl snapped, losing her shockingly calm visage and becoming frustrated.
     He had no idea why he let it slip out. Why he said it loud enough for her to hear, but there it was.  Free, like a domestic bird with no conception of how to take care of itself, but happy for the few moments before…
     “I love you,” before she slapped him.
     The girl was walking briskly away from him before he raised his hand to touch his smarting cheek for the second time that day, and she was gone. He didn't stop her.

Baya Imani: Six

Chapter Six



            The cave was large enough that every lioness could fit inside comfortably, but small enough that the heat from their bodies and breath would rise and hang about, lulling them all into a deep slumber. In the darkness, Kuaasi laid close to the mouth of the cave, his eyes open and illuminated by the light of the moon. He was deep in thought, unable to stop his little ponderings from picking at his brain.
            Kuaasi wanted to find Kula. For seasons, the thought was rising, beginning with a musing that made him sick and angry. Then, unable to help himself, he began narrowing down the places where his half-brother would have gone. They had seen his tracks headed west, but feeling betrayed, the Anga lions never tracked him past the border. The desire itched and nagged at him until, in quiet, dark moments like this, he could really let his mind flow into the obscure recesses of the past.
            His tail flopped to the side, and draped across the body of one of the sleeping lionesses. Kuaasi lifted his head to see who was beside him, as he had not noticed when they had all ventured in to sleep. It was Akoba. She was one of the youngest lionesses, but she was fierce and very intelligent. She had been born right after the rebel attack on the pride, when Kuaasi was a young adolescent. It was one of the first shining moments after the darkness of losing their king and queen. Even in the darkness of the cave, Kuaasi could see her ribs. It turned his stomach.
            He laid his head back on his paws, wondering if, after all this time, Kula would be willing to help the suffering Anga Pride.


Baya Imani: Five

Chapter Five




Choma slowed down after what seemed like a lifetime of running. He was panting, his sides heaving from the trek and the panic it caused him. He supposed that he was nearing the edge of the Jangwa border, and was grateful for it.

The lion took refuge from the sun in the shade of a large smooth rock. Tiny sprouts of grass were pushing out of the earth bravely all around it. Bitterly, Choma snarled and ripped a few of the tender green blades from the ground. The movement reminded him suddenly of his injured paw, and he winced in pain.

"Damn it," he swore, licking the pads of his paw and the torn claws gingerly, glaring all the while. Sighing in fatigue and defeat, Choma hauled himself up to the top of the rock and looked back to the north. He squinted into the distance of flat grassland, looking for a sign of the southern scouts. His eyes were filled with a vision of yellow Savannah grass and dirt. The sight, for once, was relieving. He smiled to himself and slid from the rock, pleased with the outcome so far of his escape.

The thought, unfortunately, came too soon. To his left and right, very suddenly, the tall grass bent and swayed. The lion’s eyes widened and his muscles began to tense and bunch with the instinctive call to fight or flee. Although he still felt the effects of running for such a prolonged amount of time, he chose the latter of the two options and sprung forward, bounding in huge strides away from the crackling noise of what he was sure was an unfriendly pursuer.

Again, he was wrong. As he ran, the source of the noise leaped after him, taking the form of not one, but three muscular, snarling scout lionesses. Although they were not much older than he, Choma was neither as swift or as skilled in the chase as he was, and after a moment, they had caught up to him. One lioness, who was dark and had a chunk missing from her ear dove and swept at his right paw. She was right on target, and hit him with ease. Choma tripped magnificently, and the other two lionesses needed only to watch as he fell bodily to the unforgiving, sun-baked earth.

"Thought you were clever, sneakin’ off like that, didn’ you?" the dark lioness panted, grinning maliciously.

Tears of shame and pain and fear were welling in Choma’s green eyes as he lay, but he refused to let them fall. He grit his teeth and didn’t respond to the lioness’ jibe.

"We were able to track you easier than a three-legged zebra with a cut throat," one of the others growled, circling around him like a buzzard over carrion.

"You’re father’s not gonna be pleased with you," the dark lioness cackled, turning her back to him to face the north. She kicked her hind leg, showering a handful of dirt over him. It got in his eyes and stung, causing them to water instantly. The tears that had gathered earlier spilled from their confinement and rolled down his cheeks, making salty mud that he wiped at angrily.

"Now don’t cry," the third lioness cooed, her voice coated in sugar. Choma growled under his breath as they walked, furious, but totally defeated.


Baya Imani: Four

Chapter Four



The territory that Faide and his father, Caba, called home was nothing less than a vision. It was beautiful and green, with a tiny clear spring and shady trees. Faide was proud of the land.

The lion in question was grey, (an admittedly curious color for a pelt,) which he had inherited from his father. He was thin and wiry, with a dark mane that flopped over his crimson eyes. He was pacing. He could smell blood in the air, and he knew that it was not from the kill he had made the day previous. It was the thick, potent scent of lion blood, a smell that made him restless and agitated. His father was sleeping, with was not an unusual occurrence for the elder lion. Faide clenched his jaw tightly. He didn’t know exactly why the smell of blood was in the air, but he had a suspicion. A huge band of religious zealots called The Misalaba was marching across the Savannah, spreading the word of their intolerant "faith" and killing in the name of their god. An entire pride of innocent lionesses had been brutally murdered the season previous. Caba had informed his son that they believed in the grace of the earth and the seasons, not in the god, Gaol.

Faide had a sick feeling. He and his father would be an easy target for the Misabala. Neither of them had mates, which would look suspicious, and as far as Faide went, well…there would be no room in heaven for a lion like him.

He turned away from the wind that blew the heady scent to his maw. He nudged his sleeping father with his nose.

"Wake up," he whispered. There was a crack in his voice, revealing his frayed nerves. Caba stirred, stretching out with his eyes still closed until his muscles quivered.

"What is it, Faide?" he asked, mid-yawn. He clacked one eye open; his green one. Faide’s jaw tightened again.

"There is blood in the air," he answered. "Lion blood. I think it’s the Misibala at work again." Both of Caba’s eyes were open now. One silver, one green, both shining and intelligent.

"Have you seen them?" His voice lost all traces of sleep, and was now full of concern. He stared deeply into Faide’s face, as if trying to gather the answer from his very soul. Faide shook his head, causing even more of his soft, iron-colored mane to fall into his face.

"No, Father, but I’m not just being paranoid. A jackal was running through the underbrush yesterday night, saying that the crusaders were coming. He looked distressed."

Caba rested his head back on his paws.

"Faide, jackals are superstitious creatures. They are always spewing nonsense. You had might as well carry on a conversation with a hyena."

Faide’s face fell. He hated when his father treated him like he had no idea what he was talking about. Indignant, he scoffed and turned away.

"Well," he sighed, not wanting to start a fight with his absent-minded father, "something is happening on the plain. And if it’s war coming, I would rather be prepared."


Baya Imani: Three

Chapter Three



It was midday, and the sun was glaring mercilessly down on the bodies of the Ghibu Rogues. They had each attempted to crowd into the shade of a tree, and were all passed out in a heap. One of the Rogues was snoring loudly as it slept, sounding almost comical. The leader of the pride, Kula, was lying atop a flat rock. The shade had cooled the surface of the rock, and made the heat a bit more bearable. He was a large, muscular lion with a thick, jet-black mane. He was not fast in slumber as the four bodies below him were, but felt relaxed and about as content as he ever got.

The Rogues, his "pride," was a strange group. The farthest from him was a heavily-scarred, beige-pelted lion with a brown mane and unhappy face. Next was the snoring, spotty creature, and the only cheetah in the crew. The body leaning close to that was the petite, red-maned lion, which had never lost the spots of cubhood. Finally there was a lanky brown form with three long scars on his hind leg.
They were not much of a pride. They were the outcasts and rebels from prides spanning the Savannah. They each had a story of woe and betrayal, but none quite as taboo as Kula’s. He made sure that no one spoke of what little he told them, and no one argued. That was the natural order of Ghibu. Kula protected them, helped them hunt, and reminded them of what he knew of life, which was simply, that it was cruel. He accepted stragglers into the group with little problems, but pulled no punches when it came to those he saw as a threat. The Rogues had little to say of his methods. He wasn’t always cold-hearted, and he kept them safe.
The cheetah, Sitawi, let out a particularly loud snore and kicked his leg out. It hit the slumbering form of the unfriendly lion, Deka, who shot up and snarled angrily.

"You spotted moron!" he growled, cuffing Sitawi in the haunches sharply and taking a bit of fur with him. Sitawi flailed, yowling in pain, his eyes wide.

"What was that for, you maniac?" he moaned, squinting with his nose bunched and teeth exposed in a grimace.

Kula raised his head to watch the scene before him, scowling but amused. Hearing the racket, the other two lions woke, blinking confusedly. Sitawi rolled around, rubbing at his sore backside with a small, clawed paw, knocking into the brown lion, Tamu. The youngest, Dhaifu, stifled a chuckle and hauled himself upwards to move away from the mishap.

Sitawi reached out with his free paw and slapped Deka in the muzzle, who in turn leaped atop the squirming cheetah.

"I’ll beat you until your spots hurt, Spotty!" the lion roared, swinging his paws madly. Sitawi couldn’t help but laugh, deflecting the blows of the enraged creature pinning him down.

"Very clever, Grandpa," he chuckled. "Ouch!" A blow reached the top of his head and he winced briefly before continuing to scrabble with Deka. "I have spots, very well spotted of you."

"Ugh," Dhaifu groaned, rolling his dark eyes as the two fought.

After a while, Kula rose and moved down from his spot on the rock. He walked by the lion and the cheetah, not looking at them.

"Stop it," he growled, his voice deep and low. Not seeming to hear him, the two continued. Sitawi had Deka’s ear in his teeth and was pulling harshly, making the lion’s eyes widen with each jerk.

"I said stop," Kula commanded, the last word laced with venom that none of the Rogues could easily ignore. Deka and Sitawi pulled away from each other with some difficulty and faced their leader, shame-faced. Kula proceed to walk, slinking away in the direction of the watering hole. His pride followed him.