Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 2

I wonder if I’ll still be alive at the end of today. As I sprinted through the alleyways of Flint, Michigan, the outcome didn’t seem too promising. Living on the streets of such a dangerous city, that question is always in the back of one’s mind. But while running for my life, the sound of the enraged pursuers chasing me brought uncertainty to the answer.

I’ll admit, I probably deserve whatever is coming to me. I stole again, but what’s a 12-year old boy supposed to do? I’m hungry and thirsty, and the grocery bag that I clutched could have just what I needed to get me through the day. Or it could be filled with toilet paper like the last bag I jacked.

I knew this area, and exactly where to avoid if I didn’t want to get killed by the gangs. After running for several minutes, I looked back to see if my pursuer was still behind me. A piece of wood that had been left lying in the dim alley caught my foot. With a stumble, I skidded to the ground. The person I had robbed was quickly on top of me.

He ripped the bag away, and pounded me with his fists.

“You little brat! You gonna pay for messing with me! You good for nothing piece of crap!”

“Stop! Please stop!” I begged for mercy. “I promise I won’t do it again! Please!”

The man stood up, and gave one last warning before walking away.

“Yeah, you better not. You won’t be so lucky next time!”

I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, and hobbled in the opposite direction. My legs hurt from the fall, and my head and chest hurt from the beating I had received. Both knees were leaking blood, and I tried to hold back tears as I limped. Eventually, I leaned up against the side of a Subway, and sank down to the ground. The manager had told me to scram many times, but I didn’t care. Maybe someone would throw me some bread that they didn’t want. People are always complaining that there’s too much bread on their subs.

However bad it got, I would never regret running away from the boy’s home where I spent the first 10 years of my life. The owner, Samir Rice, physically abused a bunch of my classmates. I found out that I could be next. There was no way I would stay and live in that oppression for another day. It didn’t matter where I went, I just had to get out. I ran away, and have been on the streets ever since. The boys’ home was just outside of Flint on the east side, so I make sure to avoid the east as much as possible. I’ve barely survived the last two years by begging and stealing for every scrap of food and drop of water I could get, but I would keep fighting to live, no matter what.

My steel grey eyes watched evening fall quickly, and I shivered as the darkness and the cold set in. My stomach growled. It had not been a successful day. Not one person had even looked my way. I stood up. It was super important that I didn’t let the gangs find me. Then, they would just use me as bait for a trap to get what they wanted. I’ve seen it happen before.

Just as I began to find my way to some shelter, something caught my attention. A tall figure had stopped just outside the alley. The shape was a man wearing a long trench coat, and a bandana. He had not seen me in the dark passage, and was looking the opposite direction. This could be my chance to turn today into a victory.

Silently, I made my way to the edge of the buildings, praying that the shadows would conceal me for just a few more seconds. Very slowly and carefully, my hand made my way into the man’s large pocket. Just as my fingers touched what could have been his wallet, a strong grip clamped around my arm.

My heart jumped, and I tried to jerk away. The man’s hands were really strong, and I couldn’t break free. My head tilted up to look at him, and found him looking down at me with an expression of wonder.

“No…It couldn’t be…” he expressed his disbelief.

I took advantage of the hesitation to punch him in the stomach as hard as I could with my free hand. The strike sent the tall fellow flying backward several feet.

I froze, and stared down at my still extended fist. What just happened? I’ve never really been exceptionally strong. Actually, I was quite weak. How did I do that?

My eyes looked up at the man I had just punched. He was down on one knee, looking back at me. And he was smiling!

Uh, oh.

I began backing away slowly. This could be bad. Not again. I couldn’t take being beaten twice in the same day.

The man stood up and called to me.

“Don’t run away! Come here! I think I know you!”

Uh, uh. That wouldn’t work on me. I turned and dashed into the dark alleyway, with him calling for me to stop behind me. I ran as fast as I could go, cutting in and out of walkways, and making many sudden turns to lose him. Eventually, I slowed, gasping for breath. But there was no sound of footsteps or voices. I lost him.

And myself. I was so concerned with escaping, I ended up in a part of the city where I had never been. After looking around for a moment, I picked a direction and started walking. It was late, and I needed to find a place to stay as soon as possible.

When I turned a corner, I was suddenly grabbed and thrown to the ground. The air was knocked from my lungs, and only a small cry came from my mouth. Lying on my back, I looked up at the silhouette of a person, illuminated by a single overhead lamp.

“You little creep! I knew I’d find you some day!”

With a feeling of horror, I recognized the voice. It was Samir Rice. He was pointing a gun at my head.

“I was such a nice guy! I gave you a home! I gave you food! And what did you do? You spat in my face! You rejected every kind thing I did for you! You brat!”

He started kicking me in the ribs. I cried out in pain, but he continued.

“You’re no good to anybody! You’re better off dead! I think my good deed for the day will be to get rid of you, and make the world just a little bit better-“

Rice was cut off as he was forcefully thrown against a wall. Dazed, he pointed his gun at the attacker.

“What the hell?! Mind your own business!”

“He is my business.”

My savior was the man in the trench coat from earlier. I was too hurt to move, and could only watch from the cold ground.

“How about you just move along, or I kill you too!” Rice growled.

With a lightning fast move, the stranger grabbed the gun with his right hand, struck Rice’s arm, kicked out his leg, and forced him to the ground. He pressed the pistol, still in Rice’s grasp, into his side.

“Drop the gun.”

Rice whimpered.

“Are you crazy? What the hell, man! I’ll call the cops!”

“Drop the gun.” The man’s fingers tightened on the trigger.

Rice complied, and his assailant took the gun and released him. Without a repeatable word, my old headmaster ran away into the night.

The man in the trench coat walked over to me and offered his hand.

“Are you OK?”

I nodded, clenching back tears. He picked me up in his arms, and began to carry me out of the alley.

“We’ve been looking for you, Milo.”

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