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The Grafters (Chapter One)

PROLOGUE

“Finish her off, Spuler!” was what Austin’s friends yelled at him before he made one of the most life-changing decisions of his life.

Well, they weren’t actually his friends—that he found out just now. It was a terrible dare, and Austin didn’t want to do it. He couldn’t possibly do it. Kill her. In fact, he didn’t want to kill anyone. Being sixteen and having to live in a town full of crime was bad enough, and he just had to be forced to join these guys.

At first, he thought that he’d finally found a good group of guys to hang out and skate with, but their dark side appeared very quickly. They were no normal guys with a passion for skating. They were a gang that did everything from stealing things to selling drugs to beating people up.

The worst part? They did it just for the heck of it. And he felt that there was so much more behind all of that. How did Austin even get himself in this terrible mess in the first place? He had made a terrible mistake of breaking one of the guy’s boards—accidentally, that is. To prevent himself from getting into a fight, he promised to buy a new one, but they wanted him to join their gang in return. If he was to refuse, the consequences were already evident.

There was no turning back for Austin, and today marked exactly the first week of his being in the gang—and he didn’t want anything to do with it. All week long, he had helplessly watched silently in the shadows as victims were beaten almost to the point of death. But today, he was supposed to beat this girl to death.

The poor girl had been walking down the dark alley in which the gang had been hiding, when James, the leader, had jumped out at the girl. She tried to fight back; however, the others showed no mercy at all.

Austin, who was shocked by the fact that they were doing this to a girl, remained silent and simply watched in horror as they beat her with the metal rods over and over again. He knew he had to do something, but they were so much stronger compared to him. He wouldn’t stand a chance even if he tried.

He was afraid, and he had every right to be afraid. He wanted to run off into the shadows, pretend that nothing ever happened, yet he knew that his conscience would never let him forget about the whole thing. He was too much of a sucker.

But before Austin could decide to run away or do anything about it, he had been yanked from his shadowy hiding place and had a rod placed in his hands. All fourteen pairs of eyes were on him… including the girl’s. All he had to do was hit her. One hard blow and she’d be dead. How hard could that be? He always saw his dad beating his mom anyways.

Through the dim lighting, he looked into the girl’s eyes. They were filled with fear and pain. He couldn’t do it. No, not to her. He remembered his sisters back at home. He never hit them even if they were a big pain in the butt sometimes.

“Do it,” the girl whispered pleadingly. “You will be doing me a really big favor. So do your job well. I’m not worth it.”

“Spuler, see? She’s already given you permission!” one jeered. The others laughed as well.

Austin shook his head slowly. He never hit anyone before, not even a guy. He was too diffident, maybe too shy. Too cowardly. A wimp. He couldn’t even save his best friend from the thugs who took her life over a year ago. He didn’t even have the guts to punch that bully who constantly beat him up during the old elementary days. He couldn’t even defend his mom from his dad.

No, but this is different, he thought to himself. This is in vain. He wasn’t going to hit her just for the heck of it, like what these guys were doing.

Then the metal rod clanged onto the cement, freed from Austin’s sweaty palm. Cries of anger arose all around him. He didn’t care anymore. He’d had enough, and it was time he did something about it. For the first time since he could remember, Austin faced his fear.

He stretched out his hand to the beaten girl. She weakly stretched hers towards him, but Austin was immediately sent flying against a wall. Only slightly surprised by the impact, Austin tried his best to regain his balance as quickly as he could.

Grabbing him by his shirt’s collar, James spat, “Spuler, you were only supposed to hit her at least once! You couldn’t even do that? You’re hopeless.”

“No,” Austin managed to say, keeping his voice from wavering. “Why do you do that to people? Why do you enjoy seeing people in pain?”

After he said that, the husky boy punched him in a fit of rage square in the face, causing Austin’s nose to bleed profusely. Austin looked at him with anger in his turquoise blue eyes. He wasn’t going to let this boy beat him up and control him anymore. This time, he was determined to fight back. He was going to take a stand.

Austin struggled from the boys grip and nimbly slipped from his shirt, leaving James with nothing but his dark green polo. Austin shuddered, for it was a cold autumn day in his new town. The alley seemed to be closing in on him so suddenly. He sprinted then broke into a run. All of the gang members were busy beating the girl. Austin kept running the opposite way.

When he had lost sight of them, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for the girl whom he had left behind. What if they had already killed her? What if she had a family waiting for her at home too? No, but who cared? He didn’t owe her anything. Besides, if he came back for her, they might kill him as well.

“Oh, oh fine,” Austin mumbled at his conscience as he spun on his heel and retraced his steps back to the gang.

He began to run as fast as he could. He somehow felt drawn to the girl. He felt like she needed him. Well, yeah she did need him. But this was different. He could suddenly feel her. It felt like he was merging with her, which was very scary. As he got closer and closer, he felt her pain, which made him sweat despite the chilly conditions. He was going to save her no matter what.

The gang was still circled around her, vigorously releasing their violence. Austin swallowed. He suddenly didn’t seem all that excited anymore. But that wasn’t going to stop him from saving her… or was it? Nah. It wasn’t going to stop him. He charged at the boys.

With all the will and power stored in his body, he fought his way to the girl. Of course, the other gang members punched him and attacked him, but he was glad that he didn’t have his shirt on anymore or else he would’ve been an easier target and more damage might’ve been done to him.

As soon as he spotted the girl and she was in reach, he picked her up and began to run. The wetness of the girl’s clothes made Austin shudder. He knew it wasn’t sweat. It was blood. He could smell it, overpowering the nasty smells of the alley. He shook it off. The adrenaline in his body made it feel like he was carrying his baby sister. Curses were yelled at him, but he kept running. No one was going to stop him. He was going to make it out alive.

Who were these people anyway? What did they want with him? Why him out of all the other people in the world? Austin got the feeling that they did more than just beat people up.

Austin chided himself once more. Stop it. Stop thinking about that. Just make it out alive. You will make it out alive.

Wait a minute. He was wrong. He wasn’t going to make it out alive. The crazy pounding of footsteps was coming closer, but Austin didn’t want to look back. The piercing sound of a bullet being released scared Austin. It was headed for him, he just knew it. He tried his best to find a detour, but it was already too late for that.

The bullet reached him before he could even react and he fell to the ground with the girl still in arms. The pain spread through him, and everything around him began to turn dark. No, he wasn’t dying. He couldn’t be. He still had his siblings and mother to take care of.

Subconsciously, he hugged the girl closer to make sure she was safe. The last thing he remembered was more gunshots being fired and being drugged before he completely lost it.





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