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Connor rushed forward, pushing his legs as fast as he could. He lunged and caught the edge of a chain link fence, pulling himself over and cutting his hand on a rusted edge. He cursed as he landed, palm dripping blood onto the concrete.
“Stop running, you—“A policeman grunted as he heaved his heavy form over the fence. It bent under his weight. Connor took off, keeping to the shadowy alleyways of the town. At this point he was a criminal, no matter how small the offense, and no matter the reason why.
A bitter hatred coursed through his veins, pushing him faster, to his brink. This place, this town called Century, no part of him dared to call it home. A home was where you were welcome, where opportunities were laid before you. A place where at least someone cared. He had long since given up on this place. Here, he was labeled, he was homeless, and he was wanted for all the wrong reasons.
His breathing was ragged and painful when he finally stopped in an alley. The policeman had been lost some time ago. He looked down at the shredded morsel in his hand, spoiled by the blood and sweat of the pursuit. So much for dinner, he thought in spite of himself.
As he threw his ruined item to the ground, he glanced across the street, to the adjacent alleyway. There was girl there, avidly spray painting the wall of the Town Hall. When one can was empty she threw it into a trashcan fire, where it exploded, and pulled another from a bag that sat on the hood of a rusted, junk yard car. Everyone who walked by didn’t even acknowledge her existence.
A strange wonder and awe pulled him to her, as he wandered over and sat on the car hood. He said nothing, and neither did she. It was a mutual understanding of being understated, Connor thought, as she tossed an empty can to him. He threw it in the fire.
He watched and wondered how she could possibly see what she was doing? The alley was pitch black, set aside the fire, which wasn’t close enough to cast enough light to see anything. He enjoyed it. What was incredible to him seemed comfortable to her.
“What’s your name?” He asked after hours of contented watching.
“Alice,” she said without so much of a pause from her work. “Yours?”
“There’s food in the bag,” she said, taking him off guard.
“I heard your stomach growling.”
“Really? How?” He immediately felt stupid for asking.
“I’m not deaf, you know.” There wasn’t any humor in her voice. There wasn’t really any emotion to her voice at all, now that he thought about it.
Connor shrugged and reached for the bag. He was ravenous, but he forced himself to only take half of the food in her bag. This kindness was foreign, as long dead as his future, but he welcomed it.
That night Connor watched her as she colored the darkness until he fell asleep on the hood of the car. He woke a few hours later covered by her jacket. It wasn’t dawn yet. He slid from the hood to the ground, scattering several spray paint cans. “Alice?”
The only response that came was the sound of her pulling the freshly stoked fire to the center of the dingy alleyway. Its light cast a glow on the greatest piece of art he had ever seen.
To the left was a beautiful, flowing American flag, precisely detailed in every shadow, raised by streaks of gold. And, to the right, there was a long, straight line of people of different backgrounds and cultures, all standing in stiff, patriotic salute to the flag. They, too, were finely detailed. But, what stood out the most, Connor found, were the tears of blood they all cried.
“Nothing. Just my frustrations.” He looked at her and saw her face for the first time, though she was looking past him. She was normal, but something about her made her seem like she was the last of a special group. She had medium length, brown hair that was pulled back into a lank, plain pony tail. Her dark chocolate eyes had depth to them, but they were as unreadable as her voice.
The morning sun began to spill onto the street and someone was whistling as they came up the sidewalk, a distance away.
“You better get out of here,” she said. “I know the police were after you yesterday.”
“Ha, right,” Connor scoffed. He motioned to the mural. “And you aren’t worried that you’ll get caught?”
“No.” Her face was expressionless as she stared at her work. The whistling was getting louder as she slung her bag on her back lazily.
She turned, slowly facing him, looking at him for the first time. “Who do you think they’d rather see in the media? You or me?”
He said nothing. He wasn’t sure what she meant.
The whistling stopped suddenly and was replaced by a loud, “hey, you!” Connor turned on his heels just into time to see the oversized uniform as the policeman tackled him. Connor resisted, but then gave up. The weight that bore down on him was too much to contend with as the policeman pinned him face-down on the ground.
He looked up only to see Alice casually turn the corner and leave the alley-- and him-- behind her.
The policeman hauled Connor to his feet, hands behind his back, handcuffed. He looked down as the officer read him his Miranda Rights. It was then that he noticed the patch of neon green on the alley floor; a note, in block letters:
“Viva la Gloria.”*
* Copyright 2009 Reprise Records