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I walked through a wasteland - a narrow dirt road, heavy with old footprints etched into the hard earth and guilt littered all over. Caution tape rustled overhead, caressing bone-dry branches that creaked in the stifling summer air. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket and I tensed. I slowed my breathing, suddenly feeling too aware of my surroundings. I reached for my pocket with trembling fingers.
“Where are you? I have to leave soon. I have other people waiting on me, y’know.”
“Right. Sorry.” I choked on my words and felt my voice waver. “Last house on the left?”
“Yeah. It hasn’t gone anywhere since you asked ten minutes ago, kid.”
“Can you unlock the door? I’m here.”
“Door’s always unlocked.”
I dragged my feet towards the house. Shingles were missing and the white paint was peeling in several places. There was a collection of dust, dirt and leaves on the front porch. I heard muffled laughter behind the door. I swallowed hard and walked in. I immediately found myself surrounded by lingering smoke rings and decaying, vintage furniture. I saw one boy eyeing me and grinning. A gangly blonde sat slumped in his lap, her green eyes glazed over. He bounced her on his knee and gestured for me to come over.
“So?” He raised an eyebrow. He was wearing a white v-neck that was stained with sweat. His scraggly brown hair veiled his pupils, which seemed to be brimming with life. His fingernails were bitten down to the quick.
“I…you don’t know what I’m here for?” I stared at him questioningly. He snorted.
“How old are you? Eleven?” He ran his bony fingers through the blonde’s bangs.
“What’s your name? Roy? You look like a Roy.” He sniffled.
“Hal,” I breathed.
“Hal, huh? Weird name. Anyway, here you’re Roy; you don’t want anyone knowing the real you around here. Got it, Roy?”
“I guess. Okay….uh…”
“Levi,” I repeated with a nod.
“Levi,” he said again. “Your turn.” There was a pause. He took a playful swing at my shoulder.
“I’m kidding. Relax. This is where happiness begins.” He tugged my sleeve and I followed him into another room full of appliances that seemed to have exhausted their shelf life. “Remember that, ‘kay? It’s our motto and we take written tests around here to know who’s loyal or not.” He peered over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of my expression. He slapped his knee and chortled. “I’m just kidding! Chill out!”
Levi opened a drawer and sighed in exasperation when the metal handle slipped through his fingers. He cursed under his breath as it dropped to the floor. “Hand me that, would ya?” he asked pointing to a hammer on the counter. I grabbed it and tossed it to him. He managed to get the drawer open after a few poorly calculated whacks on the rotting wood. I heard him rummaging through the pile of zip-lock bags. “Pick your poison,” he said coyly, flourishing dozens of syringes.