Crime and Punishment
I stared at the night sky, pitch black, no stars or moon. I flipped my cell phone open to be able to see what was going on and where I was going. The dim, electronic light shone on a large group of kids. Kids with guns. Best combination? I don’t think so. I shuddered at the reality of the situation. I hated guns, and seeing them in the hands of my close friends, knowing they were going to kill someone with them… It made me sick.
“God, Annika, you’re so slow,” teased my friend, Rachel.
“You feel like walking with us or are you just gonna stay behind on your own?” Her white-blonde hair spilled over her shoulders, and she smirked, her angular face looking even pointier in the dull glow of my phone. “And shut your phone. It’s too bright. People will notice we’re out here.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, shuffling into the group and snapping my phone shut. Yeah, because a dim light will totally attract attention. Just as I stuffed it into my pocket, all of us came to an abrupt stop. Now I could barely make out Logan, who had stretched his long arms out, the signal for us to stop and be quiet.
“This is where the gang Black Bullets hides out,” he whispered to us. Of course, none of us had any idea what we were actually doing until Logan decided to tell us. He was so disorganized, never telling any of us what the plan was or what any necessary information until last minute. I squinted at the lights glowing from a tin shack in the distance. Other kids snorted at the hut. That was a gang hideout? Logan cleared his throat and a hush fell over us like a candle being blown out. “Tonight, we’ll get their leader. The rest of them won’t have a damn clue what to do once he’s dead. You guys ready?” Whispers of agreement sounded through our little group, and slowly, we advanced forward.
“Come on, Annika, it’ll be you and me this time,” Rachel mumbled, her skeletal hand grabbing my bony wrist. All of us were extremely skinny- eating was never a priority for us. “Logan, Annika and I will take this one,” she said so the rest of them could hear.
We pushed through the group of kids and approached the shack alone, and Rachel banged on the flimsy door. “Open up, Bullets! It’s time to quit hiding. We want to see your leader. Don’t make me kick down the door!” I cried, surprised at my convincing bravado.
A guy in his late twenties opened the door, light streaming through. It took all my strength to not squint or cover my eyes. “Isn’t it a little past your bedtime?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Obviously, no one thought that two fifteen-year-old girls, even if one of them was holding a gun, had any chance of overpowering their gang, though it was one of the more notoriously pathetic operations in town.
“I want to see your leader,” I demanded, my hands on my hips. “We have something we want to say to him.”
“You’re lookin’ at him,” the guy said, stepping out of the shack and shutting the door. “What is it you want?”
I took a deep breath and punched him in the jaw, feeling more confident now that there weren’t any goons around to back him up. He let out a hideous cry. “We want to get rid of you. Your gang is useless.” I casually walked behind him, and kicked the back of his knee, making him topple over. “We’ve heard your plans. The prime minister doesn’t deserve to die, and you definitely don’t deserve her power. I’m sorry, but you have to go.” I stepped on his back and held his hands behind him, the heel of my hiking boot digging into his jacket. “Rachel, would you do the honours?”
“Gladly,” she said, twirling her pistol in her right hand. The man gasped, and started to say something, but it was too late. She pressed the gun to the man’s temple and pulled the trigger. Bang, bang, bang. Third time’s the charm, right? He was never coming back now. “Sweet dreams,” Rachel sang to the dead leader, her white teeth shining in the darkness.
Our friends suddenly swarmed us. “You guys were great! We’re lucky to have you in our gang,” said Logan, putting his arms around us.
Rachel made a face and shrugged his lanky limb off. “Yeah, that’s cute, but could we get some hand wipes or something? This dude’s blood is all over me. It’s kind of gross.”
We laughed awkwardly at the joke and started heading back to the town. This was another normal night for me. Another normal night for all of us.
So, what is a group of kids doing out so late at night killing gang leaders? Allow me to explain. I’m Annika Padilla, one of the kids who doesn’t have the luxury of using the title “average teen girl”. When I was a little girl, about five or so, there was practically an explosion of gang wars and gunfire called the Gang Uprising. There was no reason for it, really. People said it was because of the government’s ridiculous rules, but personally, I believe we all just became selfish. See, the leaders were all these super-rich, super-crazy aristocrats. Some of them wanted money, others power. The age range was huge, from sixty-year old men to sixteen-year-old girls.
And then there’s us, The Freedom Fighters. All we wanted was to stop the madness. You want to call us the good guys? Fine, go ahead. But let me tell you, no one is “good” in this turf war. No one.
Here I am in the nation’s capital, Dynasty, where the gangs are tougher than tough and the gunfire louder than loud. In Dynasty, nothing is good, nothing is safe, and do we know it? Of course. That’s why no one’s ever out at night.
Well, some of us don’t want to play by the rules, obviously.
I’ve been in the business since the sixth grade. I was dragged into it by Logan, one of my closest friends, and I have to say, he’s done a pretty great job of hiding all of this from our parents. They never seemed to notice how quickly my pasty skin darkened several shades and how my body shape transformed from pudgy to twiggy almost overnight. I used to be quieter than a mouse, and now I’m one of the most confident people most have ever met. I can’t complain- I guess I’ve changed for the better. Except, you know, that tiny part where my friends and I kill people.
We had dropped almost everyone off at their houses, except for Logan, me, and a few others. We had to stay together at this time of night. We didn’t know what could happen when we were on our own. We reached my house and I said goodnight, ran into my backyard, climbed up a tree and slithered through my bedroom window, hoping my parents were still asleep.
My feet tapped lightly on the hardwood floor of my light pink bedroom, filled with stuffed animals and frilly curtains and all that cutesy stuff from when I was younger. I’m still a softie, and while every other part of me seemed to be shoved into maturity, I was still just a kid. With all that went on, I needed some parts of my childhood with me. I needed security. I glanced around my room before kicking off my hiking boots, tank top, and shorts and dashing into the shower. I scrubbed the blood and dirt off my body vigorously, but I still didn’t feel clean. I don’t think I ever could.
I showered fast and slipped into bed, curling up into a ball under the sheets. My auburn hair was still wet and clingy, little drops of water sliding down my face, along with a few tears. I felt numb. I didn’t want to believe that I had watched that man die. I didn’t know his name or what else he did besides run a little gang. Maybe he had a wife or a kid. I didn’t know for sure. And now he was dead.
I didn’t kill him, I didn’t kill him, I told myself over and over. I did this every night. I didn’t pull the trigger, fire those last shots, and end his life. But did I stop Rachel from killing him? Obviously not. God, please believe me. I didn’t kill him, I really didn’t. I swear. I cried even harder.
Because honestly, would God forgive a stupid teenage hitman like me?