The smile was wrong. He twisted his head, trying to see through bleary eyes and blearier skies while one hand traced along brick. Grime clung to his fingers from the sagging wall, not that it much mattered. After a quarter of his life lost living on the streets, worrying about a little dirt was the furthest from his problems.
His heart should be pounding in fear, the blood rushing in his ears to drown out a jet engine, but he couldn’t feel it. There was no adrenaline rush, no burst of energy to let him escape. And he couldn’t shake the stupid ass grin off his cheeks. Scraping his fingers over his forehead, he tried to blink through the alcohol sloshing around in his system. Focus. Think. There was a thing. Something you needed to do.
A trio of lights blared awake down the end of the empty alley. The police! Even if they tossed him into a cell for vagrancy at least it’d get him away from his pursuer.
Someone was chasing him?
Was that why he was running?
A caw erupted from the throat of a crow flapping between the two tight buildings. Its wings beat apart the sky thick with dust, the moon’s light blood red. He should be indoors during this, they all should. When the dust turned red, people wound up dead. Everyone at the shelter heard the stupid baby rhyme as if they couldn’t figure out ‘bloody sky, get the fuck out of it.’
There were two doors receded into the brick, both metal with those flat handles that meant no one was getting in to rob the place from the back. He’d scout out the dingier restaurants, waiting for a chance to slip in with a guy taking a Gold break. The fancy ones always had a guard out back ready to crack skulls rather than bring in the Collars.
That’s what he was doing. Going after the police, getting help. They helped people. Not people like him, but there had to be others. That woman in the bed. She needed help.
Why was his mind so fuzzy?
Cinching the tattered coat tighter, with one hand trailing along the bricks to keep himself upright, he hobbled towards the lights. Green, red, and soft white whirled through the bloodied sky calling for him. He took a step when the ground pitched under his legs. Tumbling like someone cold cocked him in the back of the head, his chest smashed against a pile of ripped off scaffolding.
“Oh, fuck,” he cried, the metal bar digging sharply into his chest. There’d been a crack, he heard it. A rib? How many did people have again? Could he live with less than the normal amount? Groaning, he rolled around to try and catch the bastard who laid him out but there was only emptiness behind.
“It’s your brain, it’s never been right,” he muttered to himself while struggling to get back to his feet. There was somewhere he needed to be. Somewhere important. Pain erupted down the side of his body where he fell. He moved to touch his ransacked body under the coat then thought better of it. Touching the pain, thinking of the pain only brought more.
Hissing, he began to slide towards the lights. That was what he wanted. The lights. They were special for…the collars. Keep away from the collars or else.
No, go towards them. For shit’s sake, why are you smiling?
He tugged his fingers away from his tugged up lips and down the mound of beard to find something wet stuck in it. Tugging his fingers away, the no doubt rain water looked like blood by the crimson light of the moon. Funny. He couldn’t remember when it last rained.
Nearly there, nearly at the end of the alley, he lifted his hand to wave for the Collars. To beg for them to cuff him, to toss him into a cage, to keep him safe from whatever was haunting him. “Hey,” he shouted, the green light beaming into his eyes. “Hey Collars, I need…”
The light rolled on revealing it wasn’t a police car, or even a watch station, but the trio of colors were advertising for a new deli. Red light highlighted a pile of cold cuts that he’d probably fished out of dumpsters before. The white lanced upon an array of cheeses that weren’t so bad even with mold on ’em.
Yellow, they use yellow light. Why did he think they were…?
A hand landed upon his shoulder and a voice whispered sweet poison in his ear, “Are you alright? You had me worried.”
He couldn’t offer up any resistance even if he wanted to. The voice was anesthesia, wiping away the agony twisting up his lungs, bones, and mind. Barely turning around, the man limply followed onto bliss. He smiled, happy to give in, when he heard the sound.
The reason he ran.
The final noise they all heard.
Like tiny feet, or little shoes scrabbling quick over a cement floor. Then a single giggle.
After that, eternal silence.