Peering over the rusted guardrail, watching the still, black river below, Silas wondered if he had the courage to jump. He would fall with his arms swinging as the biting wind forced up his mouth, tearing the scream from his throat.
The splash would wash away as he struggled below the surface, fighting the icy water’s embrace. Regardless, it would sap the strength from his flesh and squeeze the air from his lungs, and like that it would be over.
But he couldn’t do it.
Slamming his fist against the rail, he growled in frustration as tears tumbled down his face. The fierce wind buffeted his back as if encouraging him to jump, but his legs held strong, anchoring him to the spot. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, barely registering the cars sporadically whizzing past. His tears dried slowly as the late-night chill nipped his face raw.
Straightening himself, he set off, carrying his meagre possessions on his back. The rough pavement was an old bedfellow, but he had grown wiser since those days. He crept through the night, ending up in front of a dilapidated church. Squat and almost crooked, it had fallen into disuse some years before and now served as one of the nicer places to spend the night.
As he neared, he spotted a man sprawled across its tiled porch, shaggy head propped against a pillar. Although Silas knew he should simply leave and find another spot, hunger clawed at his stomach and forced an idea into his mind; he would leave, but not before swiping something for breakfast.
He scanned for onlookers, and on seeing none, snuck forward, his trainers squelching softly as he stepped into a puddle beside the man. Crouching, Silas grimaced at the reek of cheap whiskey and piss but didn’t let it stop him as he slid his trembling hand into the man’s pockets, finding little of value.
Still, he swiped half a packet of dry crackers before probing the man’s jacket and sliding his shoes off. Finally, he noticed an unusual lump in one of the battered boots. Holding his breath, he reached in and pocketed a small, polythene bag. It clinked as he shook it beside his ear. Pleased with his haul, he moved back but misstepped and kicked over a glass bottle. It clattered loudly across the tiles.
“Oi, who the fuck…” the man suddenly grumbled, slurring his words.
Before he could say another word, Silas bolted off, his heart beating in his throat as he tore through the silent night, avoiding streetlights until he was far away. Finding himself back at the bridge, he doubled over and released painful breaths, clutching his side stitch.
It was a while before the pain subsided, and more still until he straightened and opened the polythene bag. Counting the coins, he came to just shy of five pounds, enough to get him three meals, more if he was frugal. The coins glinted in his hands, and he grinned at their shine.
The guilt he felt from thieving had dried up long ago, although he still felt somewhat fearful. For safety’s sake, it was best to assume the man had seen his face in the low light and keep clear of the area for a while. He wasn’t eager for another confrontation, not after what the last one had done to him. Shaking his head, he cleared the grisly image and set off in the opposite direction, stars guiding his way.
He had hoped to stop thieving when he had taken to the streets nine months ago, only to do it more than ever as he struggled to survive. At least at home he had had food to eat, a roof to sleep under, and his twin siblings, Ethan and Chloe, to talk to. Still, he couldn’t have stayed, not with his dad around. A natural coward, his dad had taken his anger out on them with alcohol in his belly, fire on his fists, and poison on his lips. And like father, like son, Silas had taken the coward’s way out and scrammed, deserting his siblings.
He wanted to see them again, but he was frightened of returning, frightened of facing the monster. Besides, even if he convinced them to run away with him, what good would it be when life on the streets was so much worse? He stopped himself from laughing bitterly at his situation as he knew tears were sure to follow. Composing himself as best he could, Silas jumped a fence into a quarry, sidled along a thin, rocky path, and used the moonlight to find a hollow in the rock-face.
He rolled out his shabby sleeping bag and eased in, barely registering the scratchy nylon bedding. As his thoughts slowed and his breaths softened, he wished God would give him one chance, just one chance. And if not that, he wished he wouldn’t wake up.
[Bidding on Planet 7011-213-F is over. The Ratkin Conglomerate have successfully purchased Planet 7011-213-F.]
[The Ratkin Conglomerate have fused Planet 7011-213-F with Planet 7031-411-F and Planet 7002-980-F to create Planet 7042-189-E. The inhabitants of involved planets have gained access to the Test of Merit and can regain their Sovereignty.]
[The Ratkin Conglomerate request to be allowed to join the Test of Merit to prevent Sovereignty. Requirements met: limited access granted.]
[Do any involved parties have complaints with this arrangement?]
[Zero complaints recorded.]