A Twisted Run
“Take it, you little shit.” Crusty pulls me close, so’s I gots to look up. “Take it.”
I only gots three socks, and it’s my best one. It’s got Twist in it. Don’t want it. Gots to take it.
He has me by the neck. Fingers touch in back. Shakes me hard, so’s my teeth rattle. His breath is everywhere. My stomach flops. Fight not to puke on his shoes.
“You let him go!” Mom claws at his wrist.
Crusty slaps her hard, so’s she bounces off the wall. Lands in the corner. Bleeding. Throws me to the ground. Kicks me in the ribs. I roll away.
“Be back afore the sun lights the curtain, worm.” He takes a step toward me.
I crawl for the door, quick-like. Try to get my breath back. Stumble into the alley, almost into the path of an Eye. Flatten out against the shanty wall. Hate him. Hate myself cause I’m crying like a little baby. Do it, quiet like. If’n the Eye finds me, I’m straight for the hole. That I’m nine don’t mean nothing. Twist is the worst drug.
The Eye floats above the rooftop so’s it don’t see me. It warbles by, and I step into the alley. Bite my lip some so’s I stop crying. The sun’s just coming over the shanty’s roof. Gives me ’bout twelve slices afore it shines on the tattered door curtain.
If’n I ain’t back afore that happens, Crusty will rage. Beat Mom. Not a little bit, like just now. Maybe even kill her dead. She ain’t much, and I guess I ain’t, neither. But all we gots’s each other, so’s I can’t let that happen.
Someday I’ll be big. Then I’m killing the fat stinking pig dead…I swear.
Not Today. Today I deliver to Razor. He gots a great name. Not like Crusty, but every man I know that got named gots a stupid one. Men that pick their own gots great names.
Afore someone names me sumptin stupid, I’m gonna pick my own man-name. I swear.
It’s early and the sweat’s already in my eyes. Trash heaps piled next to our alley walls stink bad. Like rotting food and maybe a dead, bloated body. The flies is biting. Toward the back of the alley, the stink gets thicker. Sticks to my tongue.
I stop just afore the alley’s blocked. Make sure no one’s gonna see. Drop to my knees. Carrying Twist means I can’t go through Sector 3 like normal. Instead, I gots to run the ruins so’s I need protection.
I make a clean spot for the Sock on the asphalt with my shirt. Reach into the hole used for dumping shit pots. Feel for where the Stick sits, hid on a ledge. It’s ’bout as long as my elbow to my wrist. It fits my hand just right. Gots a nail that pokes out. Them I hit with it mostly let go so’s I can run. Them that don’t, I hit again. Then they let go, sure ’nuff.
My hand grabs for the Stick as a warble comes up the alley. Ain’t no good reason to be on my knees in front of the hole. I jerk and fumble the Stick. It slips out of my hand. I try to grab it, quick-like. Miss. It falls into the muck with a splat. Take a chance. Lay on my belly and hang into the hole to reach it.
The warbling gets louder. I dive behind the nearest trash heap gagging, quiet-like. My heart’s racing so hard my ears pound. Wait for the Eye to go by me. The warbling fades afore it does. It must have been an old one. They’re loud. I wish the government got rid of them when the new quiet ones come. That way, they’d all sound the same.
I use my hand to scrape some of the sludge off the Stick. Poke the nail through my pants so’s the stick goes down inside my pant leg. Keep the Sock clean.
Since I gots to run the ruins, twelve slices ain’t ’nuff time. Quick-like, I move down the alley. My new shoes squeak and bite at my ankles some ’cause they’re too big. But can’t complain; they was free. Gots them off Stilts McGee afore the Body Collectors come. Gots to fight to keep them, but that’s okay. They make me a big shot with the kids.
I gets to the main street, quick-like. Step out and tug the shirt of the first man I sees. He turns. Tries to cuff me for being bold, like I knowed he would. I dodge easy. Wipe off most of the sludge on my hand onto his shirt, like I planned. It’s what he gets for trying to hit me. It don’t help much, but my hand won’t be too crusty when it dries. And, it’s funny. I skip away, laughing loud. Almost running ’cause there’s no time. Dodge through the crowd. Too-big shoes slap sometimes.
Each Eye that warbles by slows the crowd and me. For each one, I gots to be next to someone dressed in rags, like me. I creep along with them so’s it looks like I belong. Most of the folk’s poor. Lots are women going to get their oat rations. I’m small for my age. Look like a little kid. So’s it’s easy. Each Eye makes my heart beat faster, ’cause the sun’s getting closer to when Crusty beats Mom.
The street starts to close in. There’s lots of shops here. Poles stick out. Hold pieces of cloth that shade each shop door. They push the crowd closer together. The door shade colors is bright. Not like the faded door curtains for shanties. Some of the shops only gots one room. Their shade’s the door for the night. Others gots two rooms with real doors. Them’s the ones won’t even let me in.
I’m almost to the entrance of the ruins. The street has widened again. An Eye’s arrest siren comes. Everybody freezes. I unfreeze, quick-like. The warble’s coming from in front of me. I step to hide in the skirts of a fat lady.
“You!” the Eye’s voice comes. “Show your ID.”
I can’t see who the Eye’s after ’cause of the fat lady. Don’t matter none, there’ll be a bright green light shining down on them. They needs to be holding their right hand up, showing their ID tattoo. If’n you’re over twelve, you gots to have one on your right palm. If’n you don’t, you die, quick-like. Kids in Sector 3, like me, don’t need one. But we needs to be registered so’s they knows when to give us a tattoo. There’s a tale that things is different in the city. No one knows for sure, ’cause no one from here gets to go there.
“Noncompliance will be met with extreme prejudice.” The voice is louder, hurts my ears. “Citizens will clear the area.”
The sound of sobs comes as people move. The woman hiding me steps back onto my too-big shoe, pinning me.
She turns. Snatches my arm, shaking me. “What’re you doing, boy?”
I stick my chest out. “Nothing.”
“You stink bad, go do nothing somewhere else.” She shoves me away, hard.
My too-big shoes make me stumble into an open space in the crowd. Can’t try to duck away. It’ll make the Eye scan me. Move both hands behind my back. Hide the Sock. Try to stand natural-like. If’n the Eye notices, if’n I get caught, straight to the hole, and Mom’ll be all alone with Crusty.
“You have five seconds to comply.” The Eye’s voice hurts my ears even more.
I can just see the Eye’s green light shining down on them it caught. A flash that makes me see stars, with a sharp crack, comes from the Eye. The smell of seared meat makes my mouth water. My belly cramps ’cause I ain’t ate since yesterday morning. I only ever had meat once. Got beat good for stealing it, too. I’ll never forget. It was my best food ever.
The Eye floats toward me. Stops. I knows it’s looking at me. Stare back, mean-like. I guess it don’t think I’m hiding sumptin ’cause it moves on. I do too. I pass by the body. Don’t want to look at it through the looters. Do anyways.
It’s a girl, way older than me. Not as old as Mom. Her right hand shows her palm. It ain’t got no ID. There’s a hole burned straight through her chest. It’s what’cha get when you’re old with no tattoo and an Eye scans you. Her green eyes are flat, stare at nothing. Look sorta like Mom’s. The Body Collectors will come soon. Then it’ll be like she never was. I wish I knowed what she did to get scanned. Then I’d know one more thing not to do.
When I get older, I’m killing the Eye’s dead, I swear.
No more Eyes come afore I gets to the entrance to the ruins. The sun has moved. It’s ’nuff my heart goes to thundering. Glad I didn’t take time to pick any pockets. I had twelve slices afore it lit the door curtain. Now all I gots is ’bout nine.
Normally, if’n I run Sector 3, it takes two slices to get to Razor’s. I gots no idea how many it’s gonna take now. I might die in the ruins. Miss the delivery. That’s an idea. I could just not show. Then Razor’d kill the fat pig. But, probably not afore Crusty killed Mom. I don’t know what I’d do without her, so’s I really gots no choice.
The belly flies is buzzing some. Just a few steps into the alley, it seems Sector 3 ain’t no more. The air smells different. Tastes different. The plywood walls is green, not yellow. The asphalt has little pits in it, and is almost white.
I ease down the alley. Listen so hard the blood rushes in my ears. Get the Stick ready, just in case. The alley jogs just ahead, around a shanty. I peek past the corner. See nothing. Move forward. Sumptin rattles. Hold the Stick ready. The belly flies buzz harder. The rattle comes again. I get ready to swing, then gots to laugh, quiet-like. It’s just one wall of the shanty moving in the wind. Not a Twisted. I’m glad. Need to hit the Twisted with the nail lots, or they won’t let go.
Them that’s Twisted ain’t a threat to the government. They hide here in the ruins. Only care ’bout Twist. They kill folk dead they catch that ain’t hooked on it, like them. The tales tell it’s how they get money for Twist. I guess nobody cares about them the Twisted kill dead. Ain’t nothing done ’bout it, and the Eyes don’t fly here.
I hurry past the crooked shanty door ’cause there ain’t no time. Stop where the alley ends at a wide street. It’s clear. Up the street is an alley headed in Razor’s direction. There ain’t no Twisted, so’s I go, quick-like. Don’t quite run ’cause of my slapping shoes. I turn into the alley. Ready to swing. It’s empty but for a dead body. I duck in, and I go. The alley’s long and narrow. Snakes around between the backs of two rows of shanties. Like it weren’t planned.
I come around a bend. My belly sinks ’bout to my knees. The way out’s blocked. Ain’t no going back ’cause at least a slice is gone. Coming to the block, it’s a tumbled shanty. I grab one of the edges. Pull hard to get it open ’nuff to see. The wall squeals. The belly flies set to buzzing again ’cause the Twisted follow noise. I bite my teeth together. Swallow hard against my flopping belly. Hold my breath. Listen. Hear nothing but blood rushing.
If’n I can get in, the door on the other side’s open. It’s a real crazy thing, but I put my foot against one wall. Use the Stick to pry the other. The wall pops, coming away some. I fall. Head bounces off the asphalt. The world spins. I lay there a minute. Wait for the throbbing to stop. The whole shanty groans in the wind. Might finish tumbling. I’m up afore it can. Grab the Stick. Slide through the opening I made. Crawl over pieces of the roof to get to the door. Look out. The street’s clear of Twisted both ways. My luck’s still up.
In one direction, piles of junk I wish I could loot block the street. The other way, there’s an alley mouth headed toward Razor’s. A Twisted gimps around the corner at the end of the street.
He looks crazier than anyone I ever seen afore. Hair sticking out everywhere, but bald in lots of places. Eyes red, even from here. Pant leg all black-like from dried blood. He’s carrying sumptin long, maybe a board. Sees me. His face screws up like Crusty’s when he rages. Teeth gots lots of gaps.
Even with the Stick, I ain’t got time for him. I put on speed. Duck into the alley mouth. Run straight into a different Twisted. We fall to the ground all tangled up. Somehow, she ends up on top. Pins me good. I fight. Squirm hard. Try to get the Stick out. She’s clawing at the Sock. Starts to hoot.
My heart pounds so loud I can barely hear. I breathe fast. Her smell tastes worse than the shit hole. She lifts up. Lets go of my Stick arm. Goes to poking at my eyes. Gouges my forehead. Grabs the Sock. Pulls. I gots to stop her. Grab the Stick close to the nail. Start stabbing anywhere. Everywhere.
She yowls like I ain’t never heard afore. Rolls to the side. I wiggle out from under her. Jump up. Back away. Wipe the blood from my eyes. The alley’s a dead end.
The Twisted is on her knees. I’m breathing fast. Head floats some. I swing the Stick hard as I can.
She hits the pavement. Maybe not breathing.
The Stick caught the Twisted on the side of the head. She’s bleeding a puddle through matted brown hair. Don’t matter none. Gots no time. The gimp Twisted gots to be close. I wipe the blood outta my eyes again. Only hope’s to run. I do.
Head outta the alley, quick-like. The gimp Twisted’s right there. I gots just ’nuff time to dodge his swing.
I fall back. Land on the bone that starts my ass crack. Pain shoots up to my neck. Can’t move. He holds the board high and yowls. Takes another swing. I try to block the board with the Stick. See half of it is gone. The board clips my shoulder. The half-stick falls.
I scoot back, quick-like. He holds the board high and yowls again. Two more Twisted come around the corner, running. I gots to go.
I scramble up. Duck his swing. Can’t think. Arm numb. Know I’m gonna get killed dead. Run hard. Run fast. New shoes sound out.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
Two more slices is gone. The Stick is gone. Ain’t good. I only gots six slices left afore Crusty might take Mom from me. All of the Twisted is yowling. Gimp is waving the board.
Gots no protection. Gots no choice. Going over the junk piles is my only hope. Use a bloated body for a step. It pops. My foot sinks in some. Hardly notice the stink.
Climb over the top, quick-like. Junk starts to fall down the other side. Takes me with it. Get stabbed by sumptin. Rips my pants. Rips me.
Hit hard. Get up. Heart’s trying to come through my chest. Can’t feel pain no more. Can’t think. Just gots to get out. Run fast. Run blind. Don’t care where I’m going.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
There was this God Man once. Come into Sector 3. Teached praying, fixed everything. So’s I tried. Prayed my Dad weren’t killed dead. Prayed Mom didn’t need to let men use her so’s we could eat. Neither worked. It don’t matter, though. I’m praying that each alley I take won’t be blocked. Each alley won’t have a Twisted.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
My shoes sound so loud, I want to slow down. Be quiet. My side’s stitched, bad. Breath comes hard now. Keep running anyways. There ain’t much time left. Keep praying. It must be working ’cause I think I see Sector 3. Think I see people. Try to put on speed. Tired.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
A Twisted comes outta nowhere. Slams me. Bounce off the wall. Take two drunk steps. Bounce off the ground. Crawl fast.
He grabs the back of my pants. Pulls me to him. Flips me over. Slaps me so’s stars explode. Grabs my throat. Squeezes.
I fight. Hard. Don’t help. Start to see red. Then black. Go limp. He eases up. Goes for the Sock. I stick my finger in his eye. Get lucky. Poke it good. He screams. Lets go. I scoot away. Turn. Gasping.
Start to run afore I stand. His footsteps is right behind me. Run faster. Think I taste Sector 3. It’s right there. Smell his breath. He gets ahold of my shirt. It tears off me as I dive outta the ruins. Crawl across the street. He don’t follow.
I stand. Put my hands on my knees. Shake. Breathe for two or three. Shake more. Hurt. Everywhere. Mad I lost the Stick. Had to trade ’bout everything I had for it. Won’t get another. Don’t matter none, I ain’t never running the ruins again. Crusty can do it hisself.
That ain’t really true on account he’d probably kill Mom dead, but I sure want it to be.
I gots ’bout three slices left afore Crusty rages. Might be ’nuff. Run again. Try to forget the pain. Blood squishes in my shoe. Head for Razor’s territory where the Eyes never fly. Get there, quick-like.
Razor’s alley’s lots cleaner. He likes clean. Makes all his folk take baths, even the runners. I don’t remember the last bath I had.
“Hey, it’s Bobby,” I croak, my throat hurting. “Gots a package for Razor.” If’n you don’t call out, you might get killed dead.
Slinky—he’s another one got named—steps out from behind the bend. “Give it over.”
He watches Razor’s door. Thinks it makes him a big man. He’s lots older. But scrawny, like he ate less than even me afore he come to Razor.
“Nope, goes to Razor.”
“What if I take it?” he sneers.
My heart goes to pounding again. Everything that was hurting, hurts worse. Get mad.
I clench my fists. Take a step forward. “You want it? You gotta take it. If’n you can.” Breathe hard. Tense. Won’t back down.
His eyebrows go up. “Geez kid, calm down. Since it means so much to ya, give it to Razor yerself. Was just offering to help.”
He leads me down the alley. The only steel door in Sector 3’s at the end. It tells everyone Razor’s rich. There’s a room on the other side of the door. It gots a plywood bench and bucket of rags. I sit and cover my shoes so’s I don’t get nothing on the floor. Stand and nod at Slinky.
“How come your pants is all bloody?”
I shrug. Slinky opens the door. The air’s cold, and like always, I don’t believe my eyes. The ceiling’s real high, like the tales tell of the first buildings. But there ain’t no floor for the upper part. Razor gots to be crazy for having one this high. All the first buildings tumbled. Ain’t no one in Sector 3 to put them back up. I guess Razor ain’t worried, ‘cause he put color on the walls.
The front part’s yellow, and the back by Razor’s blue. Ain’t nobody gots colored walls. He gots a big table, too, against the far wall. Made from sumptin shiny. Gots ten chairs with backs around it. Far as I know, ain’t no more chairs with backs in Sector 3.
Afore coming here, I never seen a table. Had to ask what it was. At the other end of the room’s a huge desk. Razor sits there. I had to ask what that was, too.
I walk toward it. Pass windows on the walls. Show places that ain’t real ’cause you can’t reach through and touch them. My favorite has a bird with lots of colors and a hooked beak. Wish I could touch it.
I stop in front of the desk and wait. Try to be still. Even though Crusty’s gonna rage at Mom soon, hurrying Razor’s a real bad idea.
Two slivers is lost when Razor finally looks up and his nose wrinkles. “Bobby, damn…you stink. What’cha got?”
I swallow so’s my voice works. “From Crusty.” I toss him my Sock.
He catches it. “In a sock? Fucking Crusty, what a waste.” He empties the Twist into his left hand. “How come it weren’t in your pocket?”
“Crusty cut them out so’s I can’t hide nothing.”
He glances at my shirtless body, and then studies my face. “Come through the ruins?”
I nod like it ain’t nothing. The scabs is tight on my forehead, and my leg pounds with my heart. Blood’s still running into my shoe.
“The ruins,” he whistles through his teeth, low. “Good job kid, but you always do good. Never been short or nothing since you started.”
I don’t say nothing. Razor’s a big man. I mean big. He ain’t like Crusty. His belly don’t stick over his pants and jiggle. He ain’t gots but one chin. He gives me shakes. When he walks, the ground moves.
“I ain’t never give you nothing, have I?” He leans forward. “You want something?”
“Your sock?” He laughs, long and loud. “You can do better.”
My heart races. Sweat comes on my forehead, quick-like, even though it’s cold. Makes the gouges sting.
This is it. The chance I need. There’s no way to tell if’n my luck’s back. If’n it ain’t, I’ll get beat good for being bold. But this might be my only chance…ever. I’m asking for sumptin to help Mom with Crusty.
“Okay. A Pointer.” It ain’t as good as a knife, but is lots easier to hide.
All of a sudden, he’s serious. His black eyes intense. “Why?”
I gots to look down. “No reason.”
“Bullshit, Bobby. Look at me.”
I do, and I’m pinned in his stare.
“You gonna point Crusty?”
I don’t answer, but it must show.
“Fuck, boy. You miss, you die. But I know he don’t treat you or your mom right. You standing for yourself?”
I stand straight and tall. Hold Razor’s stare. See Mom safe instead of him. So’s I’m steady when I nod.
“Slinky, give him a Pointer, a good one, and a jug.”
“A jug?” I ask.
“Yeah. It’s his time, but this is all the help you get. If you’re strong ’nuff to do this, you ’n your mom gotta place with me, and you know what that means. If you’re not–” his stare pins me again. “You know what that means, too.”
If I do it, Mom don’t get hurt no more just so’s we can eat. And I get my man-name. But I gots to take a bath. If’n I don’t, won’t matter none.
I’m out the door, quick-like, afore he changes his mind. Thread the Pointer through my pant leg. I ain’t carrying Twist, so’s I ain’t gotta run the ruins. Means it’d normally take about two slices to get back. But I only gots about a slice left. Then Crusty rages.
If’n I walk, the Eyes won’t scan me, but I’ll be late, sure. If’n I run and get scanned, it’ll be like I walked. The Eyes don’t care much ’bout little kids, so’s I try to run.
There ain’t many people in the streets. It’s a good thing. I’m real tired. Can’t run as fast as I want ’cause of my leg. Try hard. Only a couple slivers left afore Mom gets hurt.
My shoulder aches deep. Makes it hard to move that arm for balance. Means I can’t dodge good, like normal. My too-big shoes feel giant. Make me trip. Can’t drop the jug.
I come around the corner into our alley. Side stitched bad. My belly falls away. Throat turns to ash. A cold sweat comes, making me shiver. The sun’s shining on the curtain. Crusty’s raging echoes off the alley walls. In between the echoes, dull thumps of his fists beating Mom. Pounding, fierce-like. My fault, again. I’m late. She don’t even grunt. Only makes it worse.
Hold the jug tight. Got shakes. Might drop it. Breathe for a couple. Gots to be brave. Gots to save Mom.
I step into the room, yell, “Crusty!”
He turns. Goes silent. Pig eyes red. Crazy. His hair sticks out in all directions. The yellow crust on his skin flakes off when he moves toward me.
“Wait! Look what Razor sent. Said you done good.” I hold up the jug.
His eyes go wide. Like the alchie he is, he lunges. Rips it from my hand. Tips it back, quick-like. His middle chin bobs with each gulp. Flakes float through the air.
He looks down at me, growls, “Out.”
I duck through the curtain and around the corner. He’ll be drooling, quick-like.
Then I’m saving Mom and getting my man-name.
It don’t take but a slice afore Crusty’s snores shake the plywood walls. I slide into the room. Mom’s curled in the corner. Looks at me with her dead eyes. Her face bloody with new bruises over old. Hurt’s me somehow. I put a finger to my lips. Point at Crusty. Her eyes widen. She shakes her head, hard. Starts to get up. I wave my hand at her, fast. She sits back down. Eyes shiny with tears.
She only looks like that when I’m ’bout to get hurt, bad. I can’t pay her no mind. Scared enough. Walk on my tiptoes, silent-like. Creep up on him across the dirt floor. If’n he hears me, he’ll be up, quick-like. We’re all like that, so’s you don’t get killed dead.
I cross between the door and him. Takes at least forever. He stops snoring. Turns to his side. I freeze. The belly flies is trying to make me shit myself. I knows he’s coming to. I knows he hears my heart.
I’m done for. I wait. Hardest thing ever. Don’t breathe. Mom breathes faster. His snores start again. Let my breath out too loud. He keeps snoring.
I bite my lip so’s I’m real quiet. Kneel next to him. Pull the Pointer. It’s steel. The shaft’s half as long as my forearm. Narrows to a point. Some calls it an Icepick. Draws blood from my finger, easy.
Like I done it afore. Like I rate. I hold the Pointer over his ear. Drive it down. Never been this scared. Gots to save Mom. Try too hard. Miss. Scrape the side of his head. His eyes open. Red. Not seeing yet. My brain freezes. He’s reaching for me.
Hear Mom sob. My brain lets go. A scream starts deep inside. I stab down again. Miss. Stab again. The Pointer slides into his ear hole.
The scream comes out. Don’t sound like me. I lean in with everything I gots, screaming. It goes deeper, like my finger into gruel. Stops. The shakes wiggle the Pointer, hard. Scramble his brains good. He jerks. Twitches.
I pull the Pointer out. Comes easy. The hole don’t bleed but a little. Piss spreads away from him. Room starts to stink like the shit hole. I feel funny cause we’re maybe gonna be okay. Laugh at him lying on the floor in the piss puddle. Spit on him. Stand up and kick him. Smile at Mom. In the end, the pig weren’t nothing.
I’ll tell Razor true next time I see him. It was easy. I like how it makes me feel. Do it again, anytime.
Mom’s got tears shining on her face. Her eye’s ain’t dead no more. She gots shakes.
“It’s okay, Mom. Razor’s gonna take care of us. I’ll tell him my man-name is Havak Jagan, like you said Dad’s was. But I’m gonna be called Ice.”
She crawls across the room. Grabs me in a big hug. Shakes me while she shakes.
“Oh, Bobby, that’s fine, just fine,” she sobs.
I squirm to get away. Feel all funny inside, soft-like. She don’t let go. I guess it’s okay. It’s been forever since she held me.
I forgot I kinda like it.
© 2020, Guy McDonnell