I’m supposed to be dead. Nights like this, it soothes me. Nights, when the wind sweeps down the streets of our near-abandoned city, humming through gutters and percolating through drains like an old-soul caught singing the blues. The city seems to sigh a bit, these nights. I pull my sweater tighter, inch closer to the heater in the center of the room. Water drips from the ceiling in places, falls into buckets with a gentle splish. The hum of the wind, the drip of the rain—soothe me, nights like this. Overlaying their song is the yammer of our boys—we call them ours, Avi and me, but he also says none of them is really “ours;” that we kids are all feral, in the proper sense: never really belonging to anything but the wild, and the wind. Though God knows, we try otherwise.
I’m reminded, nights like this, why I should be dead. And that I will be, if the scritch-scratching of footfalls on the other side of the wall move much closer. I pull my sweater tighter ‘round me. It’s impossible to stay warm, even in here. The boys fall silent, inch closer.
“Turd, is it—“
I shoot him a brown-eyed warning. Quiet.
If it is, the slightest whisper could— I kick the heater. The hum ceases. All we hear now is the howling wind; the incessant plink of water hitting water. Then the scratching. Shuffling: footsteps. We don’t sleep, any of us. Ever. We’ve never known that suspended rest, that pause from living. Probably because we shouldn’t be. Living, I mean.
There is no lock on the door. Avi always said that the only ones who could see us are the ones looking for us, hunting for us. Anyone wand’ring around in this abandoned warehouse would find little more than—but the scratching. It’s getting closer. We all hold our breath. The boys have smushed up against me, fighting to choke back whispers. Are they looking for us? When will Avi be back? What’s that noise? What happens when they–?
The door handle turns, is pushed open.
Avi is wearing a blue hat today. We’re all supposed to be dead.
Thousands of people in this city once. Now they traipse through it, through the piss and the vomit of those who walked before them, trying to “Make A Fortune—Your Fortune—In the City of Splendor!” Believing the promises of yellowing posters. Let them leave. Let them all wade through the muck and rubbish of their forerunners, their heralds of eld. More for me. I hate the crunch of half-smoked cigarettes and broken beer bottles beneath my feet. I hate the stench of the streets; the way the pollution makes way for an eternal twilight—a consistent orange haze between the hours of sunset to sunrise, every night. My shoes are falling apart, but I push onward, up through the maze of buildings left to rot, past flowerpots overflowing with weeds, and crinkly yellow posters, with big black letters shouting “Visit the Big City and Live Your Big Dreams!!!” Too bad for you, my father’s dream is dead.
He stumbles in, Avi does. Blood dripping from his side, a hand—pressed up against, to staunch the flow. “Bandages,” he rasps. “Bandages, Mezzanine.” I know the first aid kit is on the shelf behind me, that we need to clear that table, elevate his legs. That it all has to be done soon. But I can’t take my eyes off it—the red, pluming outward from beneath his fingertips. I can’t even move. There’s a first aid kit on the shelf behind me. I should be dead.
James has already gotten up, flicked the heater back on. Morris is crying, but softly. In the eerie light cast by the dangling bulbs, Avi’s face looks grotesque, deformed. An angry gash splits his cheek. I can see his teeth. The boys are huddled in the shadows, so all I see are sweaters and scarves—more bundles, than boys. I rise, shaking.
“Dylan, I need you to run out back–be very careful–and run some water off the tarp and into that bowl.” Avi is near fainting; even I can see the room spinning. “Rian, help me get him up here.” Notebooks and dishes, blueprints and bullets hit the floor.