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I was running. Running away from everything I’d ever known. A million other boys were sound asleep, safe in their beds at the early hours of morning, but I wasn’t fated to be one of them. There was absolutely no silence around me; what air wasn’t taken up by the screech of sirens was filled with the patting of the soles of my thigh-high boots upon the asphalt. And I kept on running, willing myself not to stop, not even for the tiniest bit of air to comfort my burning lungs.
If I stop, they’ll kill me. What I’ve done is criminal. No one will ever forgive me for the horrible things I’ve done….
While my upper body steamed because of breathlessness, the cold stabbed my legs with daggers of icy mist. The short shorts I had on clung to the bare, recently shaven skin of my thighs as though the fabric was made of adhesive. Perhaps not even the salt of my sweat could get my shorts unstuck. Already, dark spots were rising on the jet-black shorts, yet no result.
I had to keep running. There was absolutely zero time to worry about my attire, not my boots or my shorts. Not even my sleeveless white top, the only thing I’d managed to wrestle into as I heard screaming sirens approach the dark house; nor the flowing, intricately carved cape I used for travel. Letting my speed drop for an instant, a single moment, would result in my capture. And I couldn’t endure what sort of torture the police would undoubtedly put me through. Already, whips and chains snapped and clanked in my mind’s ear with the ferocity of charging lions; I could feel gallon after gallon of water bombarding the back of my skull, a torrent of pain.
It was all speculation, of course, for it depended on whether or not they even took pity on me and kept me alive for the torture. Knowing the Führer’s laws and pointedly lax control of police activity, it was viable that the force would just execute me on the spot and leave my carcass to rot on the sidestreets.
That thought made me want to cry, to let my emotions slide free and live on my sleeve. However, two reasons made doing so an impossibility. First off, if I made any extraneous noise, the police were sure to catch me. Second, in the 20 degree weather, my tears would freeze on my cheeks, becoming miniscule crystals of guilt written all over my face. So, despite all the warnings and screaming of my every limb, I continued on, almost hobbling along from sheer tiredness and the painful fatigue that was sure to slowly paralyze me. As much as I wished to shout and collapse – and I desperately wished to – I had no choice but to go on. Above all else, the chemicals shooting off in my brain willed me to survive.
Now there was a new noise above the ruckus; my eyes swiveled around in their sockets as the maddened barks of rabid dogs pierced the cold night. Oh, Lord, oh Lord….
They intended to infect me? Was I destined to die in solitary confinement like an animal, cut off from the rest of the world and seeing hallucinations on my deathbed? The grotesque images of my own mouth foaming and my pale blue eyes going deep orange and bloodshot frightened me more than the wailing sirens could ever have. If I got caught, then that was one thing – but above all else, if I was to die, it was my one wish that I at least died with some shred of dignity. Could the Führer, with his codes and his military waiting for the fall of his hand, take that away from me, too, along with everything else of mine that once had value? It was almost too much to bear.
My head was so engrossed in considering how I didn’t want my final moments to be that my feet tangled within one another, becoming quite like a jigsaw puzzle. The result was my body lurching forward as I watched buildings rise above me, even taller than they’d been only instants before. And then the ground, with its closely tan-grouted cobblestones, grew closer and closer. Inhaling sharply, making my lungs yell in agony, I turned my head to the side, knowing that the inevitable was going to happen. And mere seconds later, my left cheek slammed against an almost metallic sheet of black ice. I could hear the crunch of one ear ring like Christmas bells in the other, and a strong dose of pain shot through my nerves like some sort of hellish amphetamine.
But something else came to my senses. An incredibly faint scent rose into the air…. I couldn’t identify what it was, no matter how hard I strained my mind. That was the exact moment when some liquid hit my tongue; it tasted like iron, and stung my mouth where I’d hit the ground. I knew that taste, but I couldn’t remember what it belonged to….
And then it hit me.
My heartbeats increased sevenfold, and my ribs seemed to jolt with each th-thump. It was almost like my bones were being forced out of my flesh, sending more of the damnable blood into the atmosphere, almost reaching up into the dark gray clouds that hovered over me.
Groaning with the hoarse voice of creaky stairs, I attempted to sit up and regain my bearings. Rubbing my head, I tried not to touch the left side of my skull, which was still oozing viscous blood, palpable evidence of my guilt, onto the ice. I had to get up…. I had to get away…. I could barely move, but my ears still worked, much to my chagrin, and I could hear the sirens of the police cars getting closer….
The dogs were coming…. Their strangled barks of displeasure resonated in my mind and echoed off of the brick walls. Using all the strength I could muster, I could barely push myself behind a trash dumpster and hold my head, waiting for the inevitable.
And a minute passed…. Another went by…. The shrill screams of the sirens began to dissipate, and perhaps five or so minutes later, they were nothing more than a whisper.
My breath was still held tightly to my chest, and for what seemed like an eternity, it remained, and I made no noise. Finally, I was forced to breathe, and I slowly, so slowly, crawled from the bosom of my hiding spot. No one was around; I was safe. Sighing victoriously, I closed my eyes, whose lids flinched like wild flies.
It was while my eyes were closed that I heard the uneven, rumbling footsteps. They sounded like some horse that was galloping from side to side, as though it had had too much alcohol. When my eyes snapped back again, it was already upon me.
The Labrador was foaming at the mouth, and its eyeballs were agitated with a deep, pulsating scarlet. Its lower body was sitting on top of mine with weight that nearly equaled my own. The vicious, sickly animal snapped at me, giving off pained howls as its body twisted and contorted in shapes I’d never before witnessed. The dog’s jagged, untamed claws were ripping at my cape, tearing it to tatters as it tried to get to me; in mere moments, my cape was shredded like strips of lettuce.
And the dog persisted, coming as close to me as I would let it. With all the power I had left (which wasn’t much to begin with) I pushed against the massive skull of the monstrous animal. The only result was that the diseased teeth advanced at a slower rate. Grimacing, I pushed my head against the ground, trying desperately to shut out the yelps of the thing. Nothing helped, nothing helped…. This was going to be the end….
My eyes shifted away from the dog, and that’s when I noticed it. Lying right beside me was a sharp piece of metal from the dumpster. If only I could reach out, grasp it, and end the pitiful dog that wanted to take my life…. The yellowed, cavity-riddled teeth were merely inches from my body. I had no time to lose….
Thrusting an arm out, I snatched up the sharp metal and brought it into the Labrador’s side. A savage screech tore at the night, like a bird was being torn in pieces; barks and howls like pained squawks rose above all other noise. The dog’s eyes rolled into the back of its head, but at the same time, it spotted a hole in my defense – throwing its head down onto my chest, it sank its fangs into my skin, and I joined in the screaming.
An instant later, the rabid dog was dead; it rolled off of me and lay on the iced asphalt, unmoving. I, however, continued to yell. It had gotten me…the dog had infected me…. It was all over. So what if I’d beaten it, I was still going to go mad….
Still, I would not let the police catch me. Crying would have to wait. Silencing myself, I scrambled to my feet, standing on shaky, unbalanced legs. Peering down, I saw multiple large holes in my sleeveless. Those holes were littered with diseased foam which threatened to drip onto my skin. I was left with no choice. Taking a deep breath, I took the shirt off and threw it against the dead animal’s body, and it almost draped over the Labrador’s body like a blanket against the cold.
Me? I wasn’t quite as lucky. I sprinted from the alley, just barely keeping my balance and composure. It was a bitter, freezing cold; I was wearing nothing on my upper body, and only short shorts and thigh-high boots remained on me. It wasn’t too long before I was chattering.
And, as if my situation couldn’t get any worse, the wailing of the sirens came back. The police had surely heard the dog howl in the otherwise empty air – they were coming back for me. My heart rammed against my ribcage as though it were metal and the bones were paper. No. No, no, no, no, no….
Finally, my legs gave out. I couldn’t do it anymore. I tumbled to the ground, my body losing all its heat, and I just lay there, waiting to be done with it. Any moment, the police would surround me and sneer as my mouth filled with disgusting white foam, and they would put me down like an animal.
Somewhere, in another time, in another place, the sound of a door flying open and making its hinges moan entered my ears. There was a pair of footsteps on the icy ground, but these were in some other dimension; no one was going to help someone as pathetic as me.
Most of what happened next remains a blur. Dragging…. Going down levels…. Something bumping like a heavy sack against the ground…. Soft, telltale hisses from dancing flames…. Grunts, heaving breaths…. Some soft fabric, like fleece, hugging my skin….
When I finally came to, there was dim candlelight, and I was lying on a bed covered with fleece blankets. Soft shadows bounced off of the walls, creating a welcoming atmosphere. For the first time in what could’ve easily been months, I smiled.
“Hot chocolate?” Looking up and rubbing my eyes, I noticed a man standing above me. His blond hair was subdued in the dull, yellow-tinged light, but his aquamarine eyes sparkled. He wore a loose shirt and long, flowing pants, with rich colors like yellow, green, purple, and some others I didn’t recognize. A steaming mug was in his right hand, which he offered to me. Almost greedily, I sat up and snatched it from him, pressing the rim of the warm cup to my mouth. A small sigh, like the mewl of a kitten, escaped my lips.
The blond-haired man watched me with some sort of quiet curiosity for a moment before extending his hand to me. I merely sat there and looked at it, wondering what he wanted me to do with it. I raised my head and peered at the man, my eyes asking him the words my mouth couldn’t form.
“My name’s Abel,” he told me, nothing but honesty in his eyes. Abel pushed his hand a little closer to my body. “…And you are…?”
Taking another small sip of the drink, I replied to him, my answer lightly floating forth like mist. “I’m…Morgan.”
“You’re the one the police were chasing,” Abel said, rather matter-of-factly. He sat down on the edge of the bed by me. “I thought I might not find you.”
“…What use would you have for finding me…?” I asked him, my voice quiet and sore. “I’m a…a criminal.”
“And what was your crime?” He was pressing, ebbing me on. I knew it, and I knew I couldn’t break. Nevertheless, nothing could stop me; wet tears began rolling down my cheeks, leaving small meandering streams on my face.
“I…It’s like I…like I was murdered….” I choked out between sobs and gasps. My entire body was quivering. “I….” That was when the sounds coming from me were as faint as afterthoughts. “I…kissed him. He…he did…things to me….” My head bobbed forward, and it took all my concentration to keep the mug from falling to the floor. The tears were running like a dam had been let loose. “An’…And I…I…I let him….” I shook my head. “It’s already…already criminal to be like…like I am, but something like that…? …I…I deserve to die….”
The next sensation I felt was hands pressing against the back of my head, fingers curling into my hair. Like being caught in some great gale, I was thrown forward. The surface my skull hit next wasn’t ground, nor was it more air; in fact, it was…fabric. Soft, warm, comforting…everything that could be home…. It took a few moments for me to realize I was breathing steadily into, and holding onto, Abel’s chest. And tears were streaming down my cheeks, a veritable river on the plain that was my face.
“Don’t ever say that….” he told me, rubbing the back of my head in a motherly sort of way. “You don’t deserve to die at all. It’s the Führer’s laws – don’t concern yourself with them.”
“Whu…why…?” was all I could choke out between my sniffling and gasping.
“You needn’t pay them anymore heed, because you won’t abide by them any longer.” I didn’t understand what he meant. And, as if he read my mind somehow, he continued on. “I work for an underground rebellion – we’re smuggling ‘criminals’ that aren’t really criminal out of the country. And I’m helping you escape.”
My head began to spin. It was too kind of him. Much too thoughtful. I seized at him, choking for air because I had no time to breathe in my current state. “B-But it’s too late for me…” I told him, not wanting to but feeling I had to all the same. “One of their…their dogs, it…it bit me.” I stepped back from the warmth to reveal the puncture marks in my chest. “I’m going to…to…t-to…” I couldn’t bear to finish, and once again broke down into hysterical wails.
Abel’s comforting hand once again caressed me. “It’s okay. We have a cure.” I’d never heard the word before…. What did he mean by “curr”? Ideas were eddying around my brain, and I shook my head in response, almost as though I didn’t want whatever he was offering.
“It means we’ll make you feel better. That you won’t go rabid like those beasts.” And I don’t know why, but I believed him. There was something about him that tugged at my heartstrings, that made me want to trust him. Giving a small nod, I pressed my body against his, keeping my silence. “You’ll be on the train out of here tomorrow.”
Abel’s word was true. I was on the train out of the hell I’d been raised in the next day. Not long after I watched the walls of the city, skyscrapers against the surrounding environment, rise behind me, a sense of relief flowed through my body. Finally, I had been freed from my cage. My features softened, and as I relaxed, the lull and hum of the train on its tracks sang me to sleep.
When I awoke, I didn’t feel the cushioned seat beneath me. Glancing up a bit groggily, I noticed Abel’s bright face above me. That was when it occurred to me – my head was in his lap.
I…liked it there. I felt safe, and…and right. Blinking and smiling softly, I curled my legs with their thigh-high boots to my own frame and shifted on Abel’s lap. And I closed my eyes again, settling in for more peaceful sleep as the sunshine warmed my face.