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The Darkness This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

The July night was a cold, black veil that cloaked the earth in silence. The car purred as my dad and I rolled toward home. The headlights swept through the dark as I fiddled with the knee of my baseball uniform and wiped crumbled dirt onto the car floor. We lurched over the familiar bump in the asphalt, and Dad clicked on the turn signal, ready to fork onto Middle Street. As he spun the wheel, we both saw him: a boy, frozen in the headlights like a deer, a gray hoodie pulled tight around his face and a backpack slung on a skateboard next to him.
My dad rolled down the window. “Need a ride?” he called out. His voice was swallowed by the night, like a boat pulled under the water.
The boy approached the car and pushed his hood back. He was biracial with light hazel skin. He ran his fingers through his close-cropped black hair. I recognized him but couldn't place him.
“I don't have anywhere to go,” he admitted sheepishly. When his deep voice cut through the night I remembered. His name was Michael, and he was the twin of a boy I had done gymnastics with years ago. I remembered driving with my mom to drop his brother off at their house and spying Michael through the front window. From my vague memory of him, Michael was always polite whenever we drove him home too. My dad had never met him; to him Michael was just another teenager. I wondered why he was out here. His house was just minutes away.
My dad pulled the car over to the curb and motioned for Michael to follow. He twisted the key off, and the headlights disappeared, making the streetlight's dull yellow glow stand out.
“You okay?” he asked Michael gently.
“Well, I don't know. I mean …,” he murmured, and shoved his hands into the pocket of his sweatshirt. “I was at home, and then my mom comes in, and she's just, like, crazy. She starts kicking me, biting me and all that. Hey, I can even show you the marks on my arm.” He rolled up his sleeve, but it was too dark to see.
“I pushed her away, because she was really going to hurt me,” he continued, “and then my step-dad comes in, and thinks I'm hurtin' her, and he starts yellin' in my face to get out, so I got some of my stuff and left. Now I don't know where to go,” he finished. He dug a cell phone out of his pocket and clicked a button. “It's dead,” he murmured.
To me this seemed crazy: a scene out of the big city, not tiny Bath, Maine. Abusing a child was outrageous to me. But his story seemed true. Or was there a secret lurking behind Michael's blank expression?
My dad was calm, collected, and spoke with clarity and purpose. “Do you have any relatives in the area?”
Michael shook his head. “I called my grandmother, but she wasn't …” He interrupted himself. “My cell phone died, so …” His voice trailed off until it was barely audible. “I don't know.”
“You're sure you can't go back to your house?” Dad questioned.
“Not with my step-father that mad.” He rubbed his hand across his forehead, then turned his back to us and rummaged in his backpack.
My father turned to me. “Should we offer to let him to stay at our house?”
“I don't know. I mean, we don't really know him,” I said. It was true: my foggy memory of Michael was from five years ago. Was my family ready to trust a boy who was, basically, a complete stranger? Let him sleep in our house? My dad reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a couple of bills. He handed them through the window to Michael. He shook his head.
“I think my grandma's coming, but thanks anyway,” he said.
“We've got to get going now,” Dad said, “but we live just down the road, so if you need to, you can head down to us.”
Michael nodded and turned away, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Thank you,” he whispered, biting his lip. He reached out to shake my father's hand. My dad turned the key, and the car grumbled to life.
Michael stepped back. “You're the only ones who stopped,” he murmured.
He sat on the curb, buried his face in his hands, and froze like that for a moment. When he looked up, a frown creased his face – the sorrow of a child watching his parents drive off. He raised a hand, and my dad and I raised ours. We slipped away toward home.
My father turned to me. “Do you think we should go back?” he asked, his voice wavering with the unknown.
“I really don't know,” I replied, and I didn't. Should we return, to trust someone we barely knew? Had Michael's mother really attacked him? Was his step-father correct in his accusations? I closed my eyes and slumped in my seat.
My dad angled the car into our driveway and exhaled. “Well, that was unexpected.” He got out. I remained in my seat for a moment, worrying about Michael. Maybe no one would come to help him. Maybe he would be left on his own. I called after my father, to ask if we should go back, but he was already inside. I rose and crunched across the gravel path and up the granite steps. Opening the door, I was instantly enveloped by the warmth and comfort of my home.
Later, after dinner, I heard my parents' hushed voices discussing Michael. I heard them reach an agreement, then get their coats. I knew they were going back to the corner, that they didn't have the heart to leave a boy alone in the night. They were willing to trust him.
My mom went upstairs and returned with some money folded in her hand, and together they stepped out into the darkness. Their headlamps bobbed down the road, slowly growing more distant, until, finally, they disappeared. I imagined them returning with Michael, feeding him, laying out pads for him to sleep on. I still wasn't sure what to think.
An hour later, as the clock ticked toward nine, my parents returned. As they stepped inside, shrugging off their coats, they noticed me, and my father shook his head.
“He was gone,” he said. “Hopefully he went with his grandmother.” He sighed, and I could tell he was relieved that he didn't have to bring a stranger into our house. I nodded, also relieved, but a bit scared, too, for Michael. I hoped he had found a safe place.
I gazed out into the street, picturing the silent corner, the streetlamp's yellow pall in the black, and the snaking tendrils of shadow dragging Michael out of the light and into the darkness.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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