The stairs flew under my feet.
I was still bleeding from my head. I remembered now how it had happened, and I hadn’t been moving half this fast at the time.
The storm outside was penetrating the condemnable Orpheum, water running down every surface around me. I could hear it in the walls.
My head was aching, the kool-aid burning off into a black mental char.
As I busted through the bottom floor door it smashed into the wall and jumped its hinges, crashing down. Stumbling into the hall past so many of my staring peers, the distant music was my only guide.
“Skrimp!” I shouted. “Where are you?!”
The heart monitor was my only distraction.
The pain in my shoulder was buried in meds. It wasn’t something I’d ever experienced before.
“Uriel,” I called, barely above a whisper.
My hospital room was blurry. I had smelled warm grass and hot garbage before, but not this mix of cleaner and cold saline in my veins.
I tried to turn my head over to see the ruined stump of my right shoulder, the gnarled skin and collapsed ribs around it. My breathing was one-lunged, panic shallow.
That was when I heard my room’s door open.
They came in through the door and closed it quietly, releasing the handle slowly, only when it was nestled in place.
Two men. One shoved the other, as if to hurry him as he threw down and opened a briefcase beside my bed.
I was fading into the depths of consciousness, but my blood pressure still began to rise, rousing me.
One jabbed a small device into the port of my neck, breaking all the tension in my body at once as the signals stopped. The other raised up from the case a gory device, a large metal mouth. He lifted it, pressing the weight down on my chest.
He leaned in. “Take heart,” he reassured me.
I could never remember his face.
The maw pried through the skin and bones above my heart as my mouth flew open in a soundless scream.
I jogged until I reached the antechamber, the ratty couch and sleeping fat man. Skrimp was nowhere in sight.
>’WGuy’_20:12:09 | “WHERE ARE U”
I cursed at the phone. “Faster!”
>’Bug’_20:12:23 | location received
I could see him, a red dot on my phone.
“Skrimp!” I roared.
The back door of the Orpheum, an emergency exit, had been broken down. The metal of the exit had been barred and welded a long time ago. One way in, one way out, that was the intent. But now they were strewn in the alley, pounded under heavy rain. A small crowd gathered by the gaping hole in an otherwise sealed building, standing at the volley’s threshold. I broke through them, stumbling out and searching, calling.
I looked down at his location on my screen.
Turn right. Deeper into the narrow passage.
That was their racket.
Doctors all around could revive me. What did it matter what damage was done? The urchin that I was, it’d be free.
They got their organ, the hospital paid, and I was on my way.
They stuffed a metal ticker in my warped chest. They asked me, over and over, where are your parents?
And you can just hear it through their dispassionate eyes. Can’t you always?
Who can pay?
Put a number on me. Put me in the machine where I belong and every night show me the lights so I don’t remember.
I was born someplace green.
“Frode!? Over here!” he said
The alley opened on a road. As I came to its track, I looked up at the unlit building before me across the way. Skrimp was standing in the river-like road, there, holding a fire hose fabric jacket and a cracked phone in hand.
“Where is he?” I asked, running up.
The buildings on this street were towered over by those on just the next block over. We were bathed in their pink light.
“I d-don’t know.” Skrimp handed me the phone.
It was cracked, but it powered on. I knew Wally’s password by heart.
But there was nothing there.
There was nothing at all here.
They sent me to school. Every day I would ride the buses from the orphanage with the others. Almost a third of the population, I learned. Like everything I heard about the city, it was tonally contradicting.
They could bring you back to life and in your dreams you were all but God. But every day people complained more.
As I sat down in my seat and watched the city go by outside, the others in their rows were self-distracting.
“Fuck! I love them.”
A gaunt and bald teenager was leaning over the back of my row. “The band, man.”
I looked at my tee-shirt and back to him. I could only think to say, “it’s not mine.” It’s charity.
“You’ve never heard- Oh! Holy shit, fuck. Dag, check this,” he looked back to someone on his row, someone out of my sight.
I turned all the way around to see a guy, pudgy and tall, standing up. He was staring at my arm.
“What is it,” a third asked. “Tell me.”
The tall one grimaced at the shaven, then me. He said nothing, only looking sullen for a moment.
Finally, he spoke. “My name’s Dag.” He kicked the other standing. “This moron is Skrimp… and….”
He hauled up a kid my age whose face was turned skyward. As he got him to stand, this kid leveled their milky eyes at me and tilted their head.
“This is Wally.”
Memories played on my mind.
Skrimp was screaming at me, asking me what we should do.
I don’t know, how could I know? I’ve never known.
“Call the police,” I said, nervously laughing.
Skrimp nodded and grabbed quickly for his phone.
He shook his head violently. “What?!”
I looked down at my hands, felt the fake heart beating in my chest. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute. Racing around one fact.
I grabbed hold of Skrimp’s shoulder to steady myself.
“Frode!? What should we do?!”
I told the truth.