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The Girl Who Waited
I can still remember the day that brought me to this place. They call it heaven, but it can’t be. I’m not happy here. I should be, right? No, I can’t. I left someone behind. She had golden pigtails that would move with the slightest shake of her head, and she’s still waiting; still wondering where I went that day. I know I have to forget her, but I can’t. I can’t forget that day either, the day my life ended and I stopped seeing her.
The streetlights ended at the corner that turned into the abandoned lot. It was late at night, almost midnight at least. A chill swept across the wind, and I jammed my hands into my sweatshirt pockets and tightened the hood, shielding my face. My sneakers scuffed the pavement and kicked at the dead trash that blocked my path. I knew where this path led, even in the dark.
I stepped inside the deserted warehouse, the howling wind silenced. My footsteps echoed around the empty space. The trade had yet to begin. I mentally prepared myself for what was to come next. The tension was almost tangible whenever there was more than one leader in a room. Guns were pulled out occasionally, usually just for show so they could get what they came here for. Nobody had died yet. Though I had heard rumors that there was an annual clash on some fixed date. The only problem was that you never knew when that day would come. It was like a fire alarm. One day a burning inferno would eat you alive.
In a way that idea wasn’t entirely different from my life already. I had been slowly eaten from the inside out. If I had returned home that night, all I would have found was my dad lying on the rundown couch in the old rundown apartment flat, drunk and asleep. My mom would be in her nice big house, probably eating out with her rich friends. Her nice new family would most likely be waiting for her to get back. While my younger sister, Amy, would be sitting in bed alone and trying to distract herself with barbie dolls and trucks when she was really just waiting for me to come home. She would be waiting for me to protect her from the dark. That was a regular night for me, after every trade. Of course I wouldn’t be coming home that night. I wasn’t going to be coming home from that point on.
Suddenly, the door opened and flashlight beams hit my face. I faintly heard the click of safeties go down. I was blinded by the beams, raising my arms to shield from the white light searing my corneas. They pointed the flashlights toward the ground as soon as they recognized that I was a member. One of them called out, “All clear! It’s just Tom!”, and the others rushed into the room. I heard their weapons re-safety themselves and saw them aim at the ground.
I stood speechless, my feet fixed to the concrete floor. A tall boy with shaggy brown hair pressed a gun into my hand with the words, “We were expecting an ambush. Thank God it was just you.” He clapped me on the shoulder and explained what was happening: the fire alarm had been pulled and the burning inferno had ignited; that fixed date was today. “Everyone fall back!” I heard him call into the warehouse. Everyone immediately fell into position like they had been preparing for this moment for years.
I swallowed hard, confused and frightened by what would come next. A boy nearby grabbed me by the arm and shoved me onto one knee.
“Get your gun ready,” whispered the boy who I could see had a mohawk. The gun felt heavy, like a dead-weight that would drag me down. It felt unfamiliar, and it never fit right in my hands. I gulped down whatever moisture was left in my mouth and drew my weapon like everyone else. My tongue felt like sandpaper.
I don’t even know how to use one of these things, I thought.
“Put your safety down,” he whispered to me again with annoyance. I clicked it down with my thumb, the sound echoing in the tense silence. It was harder to put down than I thought. All the flashlights had been turned off. My hands became slick with sweat and I almost dropped the gun. I wiped my hands on my jeans and tried to take deep breaths. All the members were waiting around me. Though I was still unsure of what exactly they were waiting for.
“They’re coming; I can hear them!” called a short boy who had pressed his ear against the nearby wall. Nervous whispers and anxious murmurs spread across the room like wildfire. I was too scared to make a sound. The tall boy, who I suspected was the leader of this small army, shushed everyone back into utter silence; the fire was extinguished as fast as it had come. The tension grew with every second that passed.
Suddenly, the door to the warehouse was thrown off its hinges. Bright light struck my face and a hail of bullets ricocheted on and off the walls. I remembered right then that Amy was alone at home, playing with the trucks and barbie dolls. My dad would be working late that night. I had forgotten that this wasn't one of his days off. I always thought ahead of time to make sure that he was on one of his days off so that I would never have to leave Amy alone. I had to get back to her, no matter what.
Flashlights roamed the walls, bullets flew across the room like an infestation of flies, they splintered the wood of the crate and sent shards flying in the air. The best defense was offense.
I came out behind the crate and I brought my gun up, using both of my hands to stabilize it. the sight that met me was horrific. Dark stains covered the floor. Bodies littered the ground like trash after a rave. A kid standing near the entrance shot a boy over where we originally took position. He crumpled to the ground, limp and unmoving. Then he moved onto his next target, pivoting on his foot, his gun moving with him as he pointed at me.
I didn’t even get a chance to put my finger into the trigger before he pulled his. It wasn't the bullet I felt, but the pain that came with a single thought.
My heart ached at the sound of the name. It still does.