Afraid of the Dark

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Summary

Liam Sanders is used to having to deal with pervasive homelessness and trauma. He is not used to regular high school drama, and he does not know which is preferable.

Genre:
Drama / Humor
Author:
Theoren Author
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
2
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

When shit hits the fan

The slats in the closet door illuminated the inside just enough for him to see the outside. Inside the closet, a young boy was shaking. His knees were weak from fear and he was fighting to steady his breathing. Knowing that if he made a single sound all hope would be lost. A high pitched scream shook the walls of the...apartment? This wasn’t his parents house anymore. It was the art classroom. The boy sat shaking in silence.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Blood pooled on the ground, blood so thick it almost looked like chocolate. Liam glanced up, and gasped in horror. A figure, shrouded in black, was crawling toward the closet. Long strands of greasy hair pooling around the figure. Its movements were unnatural. Dark sunken eyes met Liam’s and he took a sharp breath, immediately covering his mouth. The figure’s neck snapped and its head turned at uncanny angles. The figure centered in on the closet, trailing thick coagulated blood behind it. The figure looked through the slats, right at the boy. “You did this.” It breathed at him. Breathless, the figure cracked its neck to look at him the other way. It reached for the door knob. Hannah.

Liam woke up to the lights. He’d slept through the night for the first time in years. He was still breathless and cold, but he’d slept. He just needed to find something to do that day. There was always the library, it was warm and open. Liam retrieved his backpack from the bin and realized it felt quite a bit lighter. Unzipping the biggest pouch he realized his clothes had been stolen. He pulled open the smaller zipper, his art pencils and Emma Sanders’ picture were still inside. Liam groaned. He didn’t have money for new clothes. He would have to recycle the ones on his back, or steal again, he thought. He was grateful that the full contents of the bag were there, and he knew he should be relieved. The daunting task of finding clothing weighed greatly on Liam.

He wasn’t often afforded the opportunity to fall apart, but that weekend it was very hard to keep himself together. Between thinking about his new friendship and his stolen clothes, Liam began to panic. Too many things were changing. The final straw was when he walked into the homeless shelter on Sunday night. He’d been using multiple fake identities for months and had never had issues with the homeless shelter staff.

The bored receptionist had noticed him, he’d run out of identities to assume. She was talking to a couple of cops until she noticed Liam in the Check-in line. He had realized too late that she was waiting for him to arrive. Her manicured nail pointed in his direction and the cops closed in on him. Without a single thought, Liam ran. The lights outside blinded him. They were raiding the homeless camp outside the shelter. A strong hand grabbed his arm and yanked him hard. Liam blocked his face, waiting for the blows. He peeked through his hands and saw the man in the We Scream for Ice Cream uniform. He held a finger in front of his lips and led Liam through the service gate area, the large metal gate securing the alley had been busted wide open. The blinding noise and lights faded as Liam and the man fled from the scene. They must have ran for 15 minutes. The man finally stopped, wheezing, reaching in his pocket for a bottle. Liam stared at the man who angrily grumbled, “I ain’t sharing with no kid” Liam blinked.

“Why’d you save me?”

The man took a giant swig, coughing as the sting of the alcohol hit him, “You’re jus’ a kid. I figured you ain’t got no home for some reason or another.” He motioned to Liam’s backpack, “I looked in your bag the other day hoping to find somethin’ good. I found your textbooks. But I got caught, so that ugly desk broad saw them too.” The man looked from the bottle to Liam and held it out to him after a moment of deliberation, “I guess I owe you one for making you lose your place to sleep.” Liam looked dumbly at the bottle before shaking his head. The man grumbled again, “It’s here if you change your mind. It’s going to get cold tonight.”

“You’re why I can’t stay there anymore?”

The man took a huge swig, shaking his head, ” You’re a kid. You weren’t going to be able to stay there long anyway. Someone was going to find out someday.” In his heart, Liam knew the man in the rumpled We Scream for Ice Cream uniform was right but his gut twisted into painful knots, placing his bag on the cold ground, and he went to sleep.

His back hurt and dew had collected on his jacket. Liam wiped his eyes, closed together by gunk. He glanced around him, the man was gone. He supposed the man had gone to find a shower before work. A well known trick of the homeless community was being able to find a shower. Liam could always shower in the high school locker room, as a student. Adults had to get more creative. Gym memberships were possible and certain gyms were open 24/7. Certain businesses didn’t turn them away right away and they could clean themselves in the sink.

Liam was wearing the same clothes all weekend. Now that he walked up to the school, he was suddenly very self conscious of his smell. He’d been sleeping on the ground and was aware of the thin layer of dirt covering him. Maybe no one would notice, he thought to himself, maybe he could devise a way to wash his one outfit. Monday morning, 6:30 am. There was no chance that clothes would dry in time for class.

If he didn’t go to class it drew the risk of drawing attention to himself. If he went to class, the obvious fact that he’d been sleeping on the ground would get him noticed for sure. Liam stood at the gates, until he was on the floor. A small punch to his arm had knocked him completely to the ground. “Okay! I didn’t even punch you hard, asshole!” He looked up and saw Hannah standing there, holding a duffel bag.

“Hannah... What are you doing here so early?”

“I’m running away from home. It’s just on my way to the train station.” Liam glanced at her incredulously. Hannah shrugged the duffel bag off of her shoulder, “What are you doing here so early?” He felt so small, Hannah noticed his hesitation and looked him over, “Did you sleep outside? You’re covered in dirt!” When she stopped, to let him answer, Liam’s breath hitched. He was exhausted, his back hurt, and now someone was here to see his weakness.

Liam crumpled to the floor, pathetic sobs cutting through the air. Hannah threw herself in front of him, shaking him, “Liam?! Liam. Are you okay?” Through choked sobs, Liam finally spilled the beans. One of the things about holding all of your sadness inside your body is that it will overflow. An entire ocean of despair flowed out of Liam’s mouth onto that sidewalk that morning. After he was done, unable to breathe, He and Hannah sat in silence.

Hannah’s hand found its way to Liam’s and she squeezed. They watched the sun rise in the sky together in silence, “Liam. I don’t know how to help you” She finally whispered. Liam smiled. He didn’t know how to help himself either. Hannah squeezed his hand again, “I don’t think we can stay here though.” Liam nodded and looked at Hannah again, her long black hair covering her face. He couldn’t read her face but her slumped shoulders said all he needed to know.

“Come with me. I know we aren’t close yet or anything but I feel like you need to get out of here as much as I do” Her hand still on his, she helped him to his feet. Tears were still pouring from his eyes, but he was no longer crying, just incredibly broken. Hannah hugged him tightly, “It’s going to be okay. I’m here, let’s get out of here.”

They walked away from the school, Hannah leading Liam, who was trying to remain composed. They stopped several times so that he could cry and hyperventilate. Hannah, in an attempt to lighten the mood, quipped “Cry-perventilate” Liam nodded, not really listening to her.

He felt as if his life was ending. He was absolutely going to get in trouble. He was going to have to go back to the foster home he came from, or worse. The idea of having to go to a mental institution, boys home, or even to a detention center was too much for him. His breaths were shallow and his head was light. He started seeing dark spots on the edge of his vision.

“We’re here!”

Liam looked up at the house, a two story yellow house with white shutters. There was a metal fence surrounding the house, the kind with spikes. Liam stopped walking and looked down at Hannah, still holding his arm.

“This is my house. I know it isn’t much but you can stay here.” Liam began to cry again, his whole body wracked with sobs. His soul was filled with relief. Hannah lead him inside, “My mom is like... Never home. She’s a lawyer, but you knew that. Uhhhh she probably won’t notice you for a while, if she ever does... Well we’ll get to that bridge. You can use our shower if you want, we only have cucumber melon soap. We don’t have like... Boy soap.”

Through swollen red eyes, Liam hiccuped and let out a small laugh, ” I like cucumber melon” Hannah showed him the shower and shuffled awkwardly. She looked as if she had something to say but couldn’t quite get the words out. Liam’s heart sank. She was going to kick him out. He just knew it. This was only a temporary respite. It was a welcome one but temporary. Liam couldn’t tell if Hannah had realized where his thoughts were but she broke the silence,

“I can lend you sweatpants while your clothes are getting clean! But you’re really tall... I’m worried they won’t fit tall-wise!”

Liam laughed again, Hannah’s face turned a charming shade of pink. Liam choked out a weak, “I don’t even know how to thank you. You barely know me and you’re risking so much for me. You could get in so much trouble for me- I don’t deserve thi-” Hannah shoved him in the bathroom

" You’re my friend, you dork! And you smell bad! Go be clean!”

Liam took a shower, a real shower, for the first time in years. The water was warm. The shower stayed on longer than 30 seconds. He smelled like cucumber melon and coconut. His hair was so soft, he kept running his fingers through it. He was wearing Hannah’s sweatpants that proclaimed “Cutie” on the butt but even that was okay.

Hannah giggled when he walked out, ” Honestly, you should just keep those. You look so cute.” Liam’s face flushed and his hands went to cover his face. He’d never been called cute before. “Oh. my. god. You’re adorable!”

She made them lunch, Spanish Rice, she called it. She, red faced, admitted it was the only thing she knew how to make that wasn’t instant, or cereal. Liam ate with such voracity that Hannah ran to grab a towel for him.

“I can’t believe I was going to run away this morning over something so dumb when you’ve been out there this whole time just trying to survive.” Hannah stared at him in admiration, Liam tried to avert his eyes back to the rice.

Without looking at her, Liam asked softly, “why were you going to run away?”

Hannah stiffened and let out an uncomfortable laugh, “My mom wants to put me on medication and I’m scared I won’t be myself anymore. I don’t know maybe it’s dumb.” Liam shook his head, he didn’t think that was a dumb thing to worry about. After all, A mind was the only thing you had sometimes. Hannah took a deep breath, “You know the other day when I said I could tell when something is not mentally well with someone?” She paused, tapping a fork on the table, nervously, “Well things aren’t great with me either. I have depression and ADHD. I know I should just be grateful that I have a mom who cares enough to get me help but it sucks.”

Liam didn’t know how to respond. He opened his mouth to speak, but a bunch of rice fell out in place of words. His face flushed again, and Hannah burst out laughing.

“Oh. my. god. You are adorable, Liam Sanders.” Whenever Hannah laughed, her hair moved slightly out of her face. She was beautiful, Liam thought to himself, he couldn’t fathom why she kept her hair in her face.

The moment was interrupted by a scream. Liam leapt from his chair, hands in front of his face, preparing for a blow that never struck him. A woman stood by the door in full black, thick dark eyeliner around her eyes and dark purple lipstick smudged onto her lips. Hannah shrieked back at the intruder, “KAYLA. DON’T HIT HIM. HE’S MY FRIEND!” Kayla stood there, with a wooden spoon. She looked from her improvised weapon, to Liam, and back to Hannah before looking back at the spoon.

“I don’t know what my plan was anyway, to be honest. Ummm wait. Why are you even home? It’s like noon!?”

“Kayla. Calm down and I’ll tell you! Put down the goddamn spoon!” Hannah grabbed the spoon from the woman, and gestured it back at her, “This is my friend Liam. He’s been... kicked out of his house and instead of letting my friend be homeless I’m going to let him stay with us! It’s not up to you because you don’t even live here! AND don’t even think about telling mom!” Liam put down his hands and looked at Kayla, she looked a bit like Hannah but she had blunt, straight across bangs instead of hair in her face. Kayla looked back at him, the look on her face made Liam glance at the ground.

“Oh yeah. And how old is your ‘friend’ Han?”

“He’s my age!” Hannah shrieked, hitting the spoon on the counter, “He’s fifteen!”

Liam muttered, almost incomprehensibly, “I’m fourteen...” Hannah and Kayla both looked over at him. Hannah, vindicated, gestured to Liam.

“See! I’m older than him!”

Kayla looked him up and down before her eyes widened, “Wait. Is he wearing your sweats?”

“KAYLA. That’s not important! I need you to get on my level, okay?”

“Han. Are those the sweats that say ‘sexy’ on the ass?”

“They say CUTIE!”

Liam’s face had literally never been so red, “I only have one pair of clothes Hannah offere-” Hannah hand waved him, and the two girls had a stare off. Kayla eventually crossed her arms.

“Okay. But how are you going to hide him? From Mom. You know. The one who owns this house?”

Hannah looked at the floor, slightly ashamed that she hadn’t thought this far ahead, “I just need to find a way to convince her.”

“You need to find a way to convince a lawyer?”

The air was thick between them. Hannah put her head in her hands. She nodded, “Kayla. I know what it’s going to take already, okay? I need to help my friend first though. He doesn’t deserve to be homeless.”

Kayla rested her hand on her face, gazing at Hannah through the holes in between her fingers, ” Okay,” she sighed heavily, “but don’t be disappointed if she doesn’t agree. okay?”

Hannah’s face brightened, with great enthusiasm she hit the table with the palm of her hand, “Kayla! I had the best idea! If.... If mom doesn’t let him stay with us... Could he stay with you guys?” Kayla’s face paled.

Kayla fumbled with her sleeves, “Oh Han, I don’t know.” It was Kayla who couldn’t make eye contact now, “After last time I’m not sure Nate would be okay with just letting someone live with us” Kayla looked at Liam, and then Hannah who looked crushed, “I’ll ask, okay?”

After a time, Kayla took some food out of the fridge, gave Liam and Hannah and indecipherable look, then left. Hannah glanced at Liam before clenching her fists and pounding the table. Liam jumped. Hannah grabbed Liam’s arms, “I won’t let you be homeless, okay?” Liam nodded, not knowing what to say. The bizarre atmosphere of the day seemed as if it was never going to dissipate. He had never expected to be rescued from the streets and even though Hannah’s plan might fail, her resolve was infectious. He believed, truly, that she wasn’t going to let him return to the streets or turn him in.

The rest of the day was spent watching movies that Liam had never seen. After every suggestion, Hannah was more outraged, “What?! You’ve never seen this? Or how have you lived your life without seeing that?” A pit grew in Liam’s stomach. Did he deserve the normalcy of this? What had he done to earn this?

As Hannah put in another disk, a movie that Liam was assured to love exponentially more than the last one, the door swung open. A short plump woman with hoop earrings walked in, her bright purple acrylic nails wrapped around a flip phone that she snapped shut wordlessly. Without even so much as looking in their direction, the woman walked straight up the stairs. Hannah leapt onto the couch, whispering into Liam’s ear, “It’s okay, she usually changes before she even steps foot in here.” She put her feet on the glass coffee table, “She seems like she’s in a good mood. So I’m going to wait a few minutes before I go back there” Liam’s fingernails were digging into the palms of his hands, knuckles white. He looked from the stairs to Hannah who was fiddling with her sleeves. She seemed nervous too. Before Liam could speak, Hannah waved him off, “Im okay, I’m just working up the waterworks. It’s going to get weird, okay?” Liam blinked.

“Waterworks?” Hannah nodded solemnly, tears building up in her eyes. Her breath hitched, and a single fat tear rolled down her cheek. Liam’s eyes got wide as he looked around for something to wipe it with. She stopped him, lip quivering.

“They’re fake, I just gotta convince her. She’s a lawyer, she’s got fancy words and an education and all I got are tears.” She paused, her voice cracking, “Excuse me for a bit, kay?” Hannah walked up the stairs for what seemed like forever.

Liam did not understand a single word he heard from upstairs. Loud words were exchanged in a language that Liam did not recognize, he’d wished he hadn’t taken French for his language credit.

His mind began to wander. He wondered briefly if he and his mother might have exchanged words in another language too. She never spoke much of her home but Liam did remember a few words she had taught him. He wondered if she would have taught him Korean. Liam’s eyes closed and some memories of her came back. Emma Sanders had very good English, it was lightly accented. If he tried hard enough, Liam could almost remember her voice. He snapped back to the present when he heard the wooden staircase creak.

“Mija. Don’t do anything irresponsible, okay?”

“Sure thing, Mama! We’ll leave the door open!” Hannah rounded the corner, thumbs up, and whispered, ” You don’t hate the weeaboo stuff do you? Kayla never took her stuff after she left.”

“What’s a weeaboo?”

“It would take way too long to explain... She just really likes anime.”

Hannah lead Liam upstairs. The hallway was like a wall of achievements dedicated to Hannah and her sister. Liam wondered if his mom would have eventually celebrated him like that, “She might have. Is your mom... not around?” Hannah was looking right at him, Liam fumbled with his hands briefly, “No. She died when I was 8. I don’t usually talk about it.” He mentally smacked himself for speaking out loud. At the top of the stairs, Hannah turned around, tears glistening on her face. Liam took a moment to assess whether or not they were real tears before Hannah asked, “Is that why you’re homeless?”

Liam chuckled. There was probably enough time in the world to eventually get through how he’d become homeless. ” I was put into foster care almost immediately. The last family I had wouldn’t miss me and I figured I was better off on my own. I am tall and people think I’m older than 14.” He anticipated Hannah’s question but it still took the air out of his lungs.

“What about your dad?”

It wasn’t malicious as far as Liam knew but he never knew how to answer that question. Objectively, he didn’t truly remember the actual event. He was able to piece together the portrait of that horrible memory, “He killed her.” was all he managed to choke out. With that, Liam took a brief vacation from reality. He stared, wide eyed through the slats, unable to move back. He heard the scream, as horrifying as it was the first time. Liam could not steady his breathing before the bedroom door opened.

Bleeding from her head, she wobbled to the vanity. She attempted to push it against the door. Liam tried to leave the closet to help, but bed was pushed against the closet doors.The door exploded inward, almost completely off of its hinges. The face was obscured but Liam knew the face behind the mask. He attempted to pull her onto the bed, but despite her obvious dizziness she fought him as hard as she could. He punched her in the head, “You did this.” She went limp. He did not stop. He hit her again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And aga-

“LIAM!” He was dragged back into reality. Covered in sweat and crying profusely. Hannah, without getting closer to him, tossed a blanket at him, “You don’t have to say anything. I’m sorry I asked. So you saw everything? Like as it was happening?” Liam nodded. He tried very hard not to think about that night. “It must have sucked.” Liam nodded again. He was sure that there were stronger words for the emotions and anguish that he could not let go of. For now, as his eyes were closing, Liam Sanders was quite certain that there were many things that sucked.

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