The alley was silent except for the faint pattering of rain.
It was still dark. Very dark.
As Iziah came to himself, his first sensation was excruciating pain. His swollen cheek pressed into the wet concrete. Everything hurt. His vision blurred in and out, and his eyelids fluttered. After the horrible, rocking motions, his body felt strangely still. He issued a soft moan. Ice cold raindrops ran down his bare skin, chilling him to the bone. He couldn’t move.
Tears washed tracks in the grime and blood coating his face, and he shuddered.
He still felt their disgusting hands all over him. The painful blows every time he struggled.
A heaving motion ran through his body, and Iziah vomited, too weak to lift his head. A whimper rose in his throat. Several feet away lay his cracked, broken cell phone. They’d taken it from him and stomped on it, laughing in his face. The glass in the alley had shredded his chest, and his left wrist ached. His face felt puffy and tender, and his ribs were on fire. He wheezed as his swollen windpipe struggled for air.
The nightmare flashed before his eyes. They wouldn’t stop, no matter what he did. He’d struggled and thrashed, but they were too strong. He’d screamed himself hoarse, crying for help and begging them to stop. It was no use. They beat him, blow after blow. When they were tired of his shrieking sobs, they placed his jacket in front of him and forced his face into the folds, stifling him. His arms throbbed from their savage grips, and he couldn’t feel his legs. Blood gathered on the concrete beneath him.
Iziah closed his eyes softly. He still felt their amused, lecherous gazes piercing into him. His stomach throbbed. Toward the beginning, they’d flipped him onto his back to unfasten his pants. One of the men clamped a hand over his mouth, muffling his screams, and he couldn’t twist away. Sweat streamed down his bare, heaving chest. He writhed against their grips, but they punched him in the abdomen over and over, leaving him bruised black and sobbing with pain. Then he was thrown onto his stomach.
After the fourth man took his turn, Iziah had blacked out. When he wakened, they were gone. Left him here to die like a broken toy.
Was he going to die?
Iziah cracked his lips apart and tried to call for help, but his voice was hoarse. A lump lodged in his throat.
He couldn’t cry. Crying hurt too much.
He had to find help. Get back to his apartment. Anything.
Iziah slid his right arm forward along the wet concrete. His fingers curled as he pressed his hand down, hauling himself up. Excruciating pain shot through his body as he drew his legs underneath him, head drooping. His body was bare to the cold air, and he was drenched, shaking uncontrollably.
Iziah remembered one of the men kicking him. It had been all he could do to tuck his chin against his chest, trying to protect his face. His head hurt so bad he thought it might split open. Clotted blood stuck to his hair and streamed down his face. His left wrist stung whenever he moved it, but it didn’t look broken.
Where were his clothes?
Iziah lifted his head, scanning his surroundings, looking everywhere but his bruised, cut, destroyed body. His jacket was nowhere in sight, and his shirt was in three pieces, but his jeans lay nearby, relatively intact. His gaze wandered to the street. A car passed by. The urge to yell filled him, but he couldn’t make a sound. Why hadn’t someone come? Why hadn’t they heard?
Burning tears welled up in his eyes and streamed down his ugly, ruined face.
Find clothes. Get out.
Trying not to look at himself or the alley where he’d been laying, Iziah crawled toward his discarded pants. Sobs wracked his body, making bolts of agony run through his broken ribs.
He knew people hated him, but...
Iziah grabbed his pants and slowly shifted. He started to sit but then winced, leaning to his side. Being upright made him dizzy, and he thought he might vomit again. Now that he was awake, he was terrified they might come back to make sure he was dead. If they found him awake, would it start all over again? Iziah eased his legs into the pants and grunted as he pulled them up. His legs were freezing cold, useless appendages.
His hands shook so badly he could hardly button his jeans. Several of his fingers were bent in odd directions. Tears stuck to his eyelashes and streamed down his face. He wanted to scream, but his sobs chained him to silence. His sobs and his shame.
No one could see him like this.
Iziah turned and braced his hands against the wall, hauling himself to his feet. His legs shook violently, threatening to give away. A pounding sensation filled his head, and the world swam. Iziah put a hand on his throbbing rib-cage and realized flaps of skin were hanging loose from deep gashes on his chest. So cold...
His phone was broken, but the knife lay nearby. Iziah took a few unsteady steps and bent down, desperate for a means of self-defense. He reached for the knife, then lost his balance, collapsing. Pain shot through him. Curses rose to his lips as he shuddered and shook. He was folded up, trembling, the way he had been before when they abused him and whispered in mocking tones. Sleep... Just want to...sleep... Iziah’s fingers curled around the knife, and he dragged himself to his feet. Black clouds invaded his vision. His bare feet were ice cold against the wet pavement.
A thought struck him, and he froze. Was he dying?
Iziah’s lips trembled.
His shoulders lifted in a heaving breath, then jolted down rhythmically with his agonized sobs. He staggered forward, leaning against the wall. He didn’t want to die!
Not like this.
Not because of them.
He would die quietly in his apartment where he was safe. Where no one would see him so destroyed. Tears streamed down his face and dripped from his contorted jaw. Every time his breath hitched, his ribs shrieked with protest. He coughed into the crook of his arm and left a reddish splotch.
Iziah made his way toward the street, issuing a faint moan. “Help... Please...”
Had to leave...before they came back.
I don’t want to die...
Nicolas drove along the empty streets, trying to remember the address for the restaurant. He knew it was somewhere around here. It was raining, and he squinted past the windshield wipers. Maybe he should have stuck to someplace familiar, but there was no point in trying to save time. He didn’t have anything to do.
The inside of Nicolas’ car was clean. All he had was a first-aid kit and an extra pack of bullets. It still retained its “new car smell”. If his wife and son were still around, they would have broken it in long before.
Nicolas sighed. It was very dark, except for the streetlamps. Occasionally, he passed a lit-up building and slowed, but he hadn’t found the restaurant he was looking for. He was about to turn around when he spotted a figure limping along the sidewalk to his right.
Nicolas frowned, slowing. Shirtless, the boy was drenched with rain and blood and dirt, leaning against the wall of a nearby building for support. The boy looked toward the headlights, and Nicolas’ jaw dropped. He pulled to the side of the road and took the car out of gear, opening his door and climbing out. Iziah stood there on shaking, unsteady legs, looking at him.
Confusion washed through Nicolas. “Iziah?”
There were cuts all over Iziah’s chest and finger-shaped bruises up and down his arms. One side of his face was swollen to the point of being unrecognizable, and tears traced lines in the filth on his cheeks. Rain dripped from the ends of his hair. He was shirtless and barefoot, and not all the buttons on the front of his jeans were fastened. Nicolas opened his mouth but couldn’t force out a sound.
“Nick,” Iziah croaked. “P—please, help me...” He took a step forward, then dropped to his hands and knees, coughing up a gob of blood.
Nicolas hurried forward. “Iziah, what the hell happened?”
Iziah didn’t reply, wiping blood from his mouth with a quavering hand. He was white as a ghost, and his lips were purple.
Nicolas pulled off his coat and crouched beside Iziah. “Here.” He helped the boy slip his arms through the sleeves, tucking it around his thin, shaking body. “Can you stand?”
Iziah managed a nod.
Nicolas supported Iziah as he struggled to his feet and limped toward the car. The boy cried quietly, his head ducked. The reddish imprint of a shoe marred the back of his neck. Shock and rage coursed through Nicolas. He looked around, but there was no sign of Iziah’s attackers. Nicolas opened the door to the passenger seat and eased Iziah in. Iziah winced, his lips trembling, jaw tight. Nicolas considered using the first aid kit, but he didn’t know where to start. He needed to get Iziah to the hospital. Now.
Nicolas rushed around the car and climbed into the drivers seat, putting it in gear and pulling onto the road. Questions he didn’t dare ask rose inside him. Iziah was curled up in Nicolas’ coat, staring out the window through blank eyes, his face scrunched. Blood soaked the jacket and stained the car seat.
“Will you take me to my apartment?” Iziah rasped.
“Your apartment? You need to go to the emergency room.” Nicolas was speeding as he headed to City center. The hospital wasn’t far. But a sense of impending doom hung over him. If there was too much traffic... If they couldn’t get there in time...
“Just let me die.” The words were barely audible.
“You’re not going to die, Iziah,” Nicolas said.
Iziah closed his eyes, his hands limp beside him. A few fingers were broken, and he was hunched over to one side.
“You’re going to be fine, okay? The doctors are going to take care of you, and...”
And what? What could he say? One look at Iziah told him what happened. How could he possibly deal with this?
At this late, the streets had quieted, and Nicolas sped for the hospital. The white building loomed through the rain like a beacon of hope. “We’re almost there. See?”
Iziah didn’t respond.
His eyes were closed, his breathing faint.
Nicolas’ chest clenched with panic. He remembered Micah lying in the hospital bed as the beeping of the heart monitor slowed. Nicolas pulled up at the emergency room entrance and jumped out, dashing to the passenger door. Light shone through the doors of the building, and he saw people bustling inside. Ambulances were parked nearby, still and silent. Nicolas opened the door, gathering the bruised, bloody body into his arms and running into the emergency room.