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What Happens in Alleys
My father has always been a paranoid man. He’s the kind of guy that goes around the house and locks all the windows at night, checking three times before he finally - finally! - feels safe enough to get into bed and try to sleep for a few hours before getting up to sit out on the porch and watch the sun rise, rifle in hand. He’s the kind of man that makes his teenage daughter carry a small bottle of pepper spray with her in her purse and backpack.
“You can never be too prepared,” he says whenever I try to tell him the pepper spray is completely unnecessary.
Yes, my father is that paranoid. But he does have a reason, I guess. My mother was killed two years ago by three burglars who broke in through our open back door. My mother was the one who’d awoken to the sounds they were making, and she’d made the mistake of sneaking up and frightening them. One of the men held a gun and - Bam! He got her right in the gut. She died before my father and I woke up.
Most of the time my father’s paranoia and insistence that I be protected in some way bothers me. Whenever my friends get a look at the pepper spray in my bag I feel humiliated, and then I’m angry because my father won’t let me be a teenager. Most of the time I detest him and his stupid rules, but on this particular night I’m glad that my father is insane.
The streets are dark and empty, and a brisk wind has sprung up since I left the movie theater. My friends had called each other earlier and planned to carpool, but conveniently enough they “forgot” to tell me beforehand. Not even my own friends want to face my father’s interrogations.
My jacket is wrapped tightly around me, my purse slung around my body so it can’t get pulled off my shoulder. I rub my arms in an attempt to keep them warm, but it doesn’t work and I’m still shaking with shivers.
It was stupid to come this way - through the alleys and deserted streets - but I was so angry with my friends when I’d left the theater that I’d wanted to take a dangerous route in the hopes that something bad would happen to me. That’ll show them, I had thought at the time, but now I’m regretting my rash decision immensely.
I hear footsteps clapping loudly against the pavement behind me. It’s quite unusual for anyone to be outside at this time of night, especially on these streets. I keep my head down and pick up my pace, hoping that some stroke of luck will keep whoever it is from noticing me.
No such luck.
“Hey!” a raspy male voice calls out. “Slow down!”
I barely turn my head in his direction. I keep my gaze on him just long enough to confirm that he is alone. I continue walking; goose bumps prickle up and down my arms.
I almost run smack into the figure that steps out from behind a building, effectively blocking my path. I just manage to catch myself on a rickety bench sitting next to me on the sidewalk. The man invades my private space, and I drop onto the bench in an attempt to give myself some room.
“What are you doing out here so late at night?” he asks.
The first man that was following me joins him. I notice that the two men are both grungy and filthy looking, with tattered shirts and stained jeans and holey shoes. Their hair is unkempt and unwashed, and I realize they must be among the countless amounts of homeless people who prowl these streets at night looking for prey.
“I don’t have any money,” I say, fighting to keep my voice steady. “I swear.”
The first man seizes my purse, opening it and rummaging through its contents. It’s too dark for him to see anything in it, and I watch as he squints in an attempt to make out any objects.
“I can’t see a thing,” he says, throwing my purse down in exasperation. I clutch it to my chest, cowering into the bench. The two men start bickering, the first one saying they should just take the purse and run, the second arguing against it.
“She looks rich,” he stage-whispers. “Just look at those clothes. I bet she has a ton of money back home. Let’s follow her.”
“No way,” counters the first. “We’ll get busted.”
While the two fight, I stick my hand into my purse, groping for my can of pepper spray. My fingers close around the cold metal container.
Thank you, Dad, I think.
They’re just about to reach down and grab my purse when I whip my hand out and drench their eyes in pepper spray. For the first - and probably last - time in my life, I’ve actually had a reason to use the silly thing.
They claw at their eyes frantically and scream out in pain. I sprint the rest of the way to my house, leaving them lay blinded in the darkened streets.
I’m breathing heavily by the time I make it home, and my father asks, “Did you sprint the whole way here?”
“Nah,” I say, “just part of the way.”
He raises his eyebrows, but I ignore him and say, “Hey, I finally found a use for that pepper spray you gave me.”
“Helping you get away from a pair of muggers.”