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   Chapter 4 Pretty Girl and a Dangerous World

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 11801

Updated: 2018-01-21 23:32


On the bright side, my handcuffs shatter when I hit the water.

On the not-so-bright side, so does the rest of my body.

I see it all in a dreamy haze. Stars and colors, cracks forming under my eyes and through the stem of my half-bursting brain. Bruce Lee says water is fluid, and no crap, but at a drop from a few stories, it doesn't feel that way. The hit crushes me like a flapjack.

In a haze, I see a string of blood crust my eyelashes. In a haze, I see twisted limbs through the water and my white skin peeling away like a boiled potato's. And in that haze, I feel the water's pull, grasping at my ankles, filling my smashed lungs. Pieces of me feel out of place, broken up into random chunks of meat. But I don't feel it, comprehend it, or dream it very long.

Instead, my vision fades away as I fade deeper into the glistening blackness.

***

But I just won't die, it seems. I wake up with my back pressed in glassy shards of plastic Solo cups and my left wrist entangled in a slimy fishing net. Above me, clouds skitter across the sky, bringing on streaks of gold and pink in their wake. The sun. My stomach plunges three feet and I scramble up. At least, I try to scramble up. My limp leg still dangles as I crawl on the sandy shore. I check—one, two, three, four limbs. My shirt and jeans are stained red, but that's it. Maybe I dreamt the fall. I don't know. My head hurts and I don't want to think about it.

I lie on an ugly beach. Here, the sand's dirty and hard-packed, gray clumps that smell of rotten fish and trash. I can find my way home from here. Anyone can.

Many cities have monuments or parks to tell you where you are and where you're going. The river is Spiral's. It doesn't even have a name, at least, none we can remember. To us Spiralers, it's just 'The River' and occasionally, 'That Trash Dump.'

I let short breaths, strings of vomit, and spit fly. The river churns with green sludge and I don't want any of it hanging out in my intestines. I should be wondering what happened, why I'm not little bloated chunks sunken with the skeletons down at the bottom of the riverbed, but I can't find the energy to care. The stench of chemicals and acid burn clings to my clothes. The cold sets into my muscle and bone, as if the water itself seeped through my skin. But I like it like this. Even if my clothes drip wet and my teeth chatter. I'm alive. Take that, Jules!

I hug my chest and sift through the mountains of aluminum and plastic toward the grass and where the city starts up again. Soon, the coarse sand gives way to even coarser greenery, crumbly and brown grass poking my exposed 'til it leaves scratches. I find a broken park bench and use it to stand myself up. My hands trace the iron curls of the rails, the silver paint chipping off on my finger nails.

This place was once beautiful. This river and beach and bench for couples to sit on. It's funny how things like that can change so fast. I hobble away, down a path of crushed gravel and plastic. It blazes orange in the dawn like each scrap is aflame. I smile weakly. Vampire. Arrest. Jules. The words flood my mind, but I try to force them back as I make my way through the maze of my city. Even though it's morning, people take stock in the streets. Buildings, old as the Union, rise toward the sky, half-crumbling, half-almost toppled.

Once, people liked living here. Once, before the walls were put up and the murders came and superheroes showed up in Starlight City, people flocked here from boats loaded in glistening ports across the sea. They brought their sciences and languages and customs and Spiral was, well, it was supposedly great. Then the walls came up and it wasn't so great. But in the beginning, so many people came that blocks and blocks of apartments were put up. Then more apartments were built between those, even though it wasn't safe. And even more followed, until flimsy buildings crowded all the city space and left streets as wide as school halls.

Here, the sidewalks flood with rainwater that never seems to drain, muddy with clods of dust that turn to mush the more people clomp over them. Here, I've learned to walk with my head low and my hands in my pockets. When you look like me, it's hard not to attract attention. But I try. If I could become invisible, if only to escape the assassins and the harsh, unforgiving eyes of the strangers that judge me in ways I could never imagine, I would. I'd give anything.

I'm kind of shy that way. But one day, I won't be. One day, I'll meet their eyes and hold up my head and blow those judgments so far out of the water the harsh, unforgiving people can only gasp.

But for now, I guess that's just wishful thinking.

Shops, ratty and run-down, fill the lower parts of the buildings. They almost look lopsided, graffitied on one side, prim and clean on the other. Shatters of glass that once belonged to windows lace the street, gaping holes left where once beautiful wares were sold. Around me, the city drips all fifty shades of gray. I couldn't be a less colorful place if it someone inked it in black and white.

Then I smell the sticky buns from down the street. I follow it like gingerbread crumbs to lead me home.

"Kid?" As I weave through the throngs of people, someone sets their hand on my shoulder. I feel a shudder race through me. Not another person out to kill me. Not again. "Need some help?"

Her voice is low and deep, but smooth, like she sings out the words. My heart slows a little and I sigh. Roslyn. I know who's speaking before I even look up.

"Yeah, a little."

"You smell like fish." She pats me on the head, but I don't mind. Not as much as I do when Jules is the patter. I pull away anyway, just to look up at her.

To put it simply, Roslyn is beautiful. Tall and curvy, all glowy green eyes and muscles that bristle with liquid strength. Kite reall

y swung herself a knockout with Roslyn. Not that Kite isn't pretty either, but Roslyn is the type of girl kids go to football games just to watch. We did.

Kite's the school photographer and writes features when our official feature writer is getting high under the bleachers. That's how Kite and Roslyn met. Roslyn is the school heartthrob and our quarterback ended up shafted, Kite's doing. Too many crumpled newspapers with Roslyn's pretty face, Rosyln this, Roslyn that. Even if you throw away your newspapers as soon as there shoved at you like everyone in the school does, you know who Roslyn is. Kite has a lot more power than she knows how to wield properly.

"Well, " I say, "I fell into the river and all."

She eyes me up. Her long red braid bounces off her shoulder, shiny under the early sun. Her eyes glitter like jewels in her heart-shaped face. She looks as if she's about to asks me what happened, shrugs, and says, "Why are you hopping?" instead.

I shrug. "My leg stopped working."

"Hmm." She considers this a second as she walks beside me, tapping a finger to her lips. "Could you use an escort home?"

"Yeah." I don't miss a beat. "That would be great of you."

"Sure." We weave through the throngs of people as she hooks her arm through mine. I brace myself on her side, against the rough wool of her Serpents hoodie, and she doesn't seem to mind. Roslyn is built like a horse. She's only sixteen, but she's a kicker for the Spiral City Serpents and a prize fighter, bidded on by all the richest. She even has a tattoo of a thorn branch down the side of her neck.

The sticky bun smell grows sweeter and thicker the farther we walk. The sun warms the street beneath me, and I feel a rising prick of pain in my chest. The river water splashes from my hair and clothes, leaving me in a trembling puddle.

"What happened?" she asks, but she doesn't give me time to answer. She pulls me to a stop in front of Lin's Bakery, its red neon 'OPEN' sign flashing in our faces, casting an eerie shadow over hers, like a glo of flames.

It's dark inside, displays of cookies and fruit pies propped up in the window. The little shop smells of breads and crumble cakes, but mostly, sticky buns. The sugary sweet seems to coat the air the smell is so thick. People crowd the doorway and Roslyn leans on her toes, pointing a thin finger at the display window. "You know, when I turn eighteen, I want to own that." When I look up, the glow of a smile on her face is unmistakable. She looks ethereal almost, framed in the early morning light, leaned toward the shop. She glances back down at me and her smile fades. "I know." Her husky voice it lost in the sounds of the crowd. I have to strain. "I'm just their fighting dog. That's all I'll ever—"

"No, no." She isn't. Roslyn can become anything she wants to. Everyone seems to know it except her. From what I can glean, she only thinks of herself as a beauty and a beast, a pretty tool people use to do their dirty work. It took me a while to learn this, and though Kite always knows the perfect remedy to Roslyn's bouts of existential crisis, I don't. I can only stand there and try my best at comfort, but usually, she won't take it. "If you want to own a bakery, you can totally do that. You can get a degree in business management and—"

She sighs sharply. "Little college boy, school isn't for kids like us. School is for rich brats like Jules Cervantes." I ignore the Jules comment—he is a rich brat, I can say that first hand—but I feel a protest well up in the back of my throat. She pokes me in the side of the head and it dies. Some people don't get dreams. "Keep talking like that and in a couple of years you're gonna end up dead."

"Oh."

She nods like a teacher whose student finally understands a concept and leads me in a zag home. I have to lean hard on her shoulder to keep up. Her fingers brush through my hair and a blush rises in my cheeks. My braid fell out when I hit the water, so sticky strands run down my neck and shoulders. "You ought to cut that. You look like, like an Asian George Washington."

I laugh. She knocks me on the side of the head. I stop.

Ros sighs. "What I'm trying to say is that you don't blend in very well."

"I don't want to blend in very well, " I shoot back, which is a lie, but it feels nice to shoot something back. She snorts and walks me through the outdoor hall to my first-floor apartment.

Most people don't like the first-floor, it's easy to break into and doesn't lend to a great view, but I don't mind. The ancient building looks like every other on the block, like it's about to topple, bricks pushed to the side, green and yellow mold growing between the cracks. I hear pounding music through the paint-stripped door. My heart freezes in my chest.

No one's supposed to be home. "R-Roslyn?" My voice cracks. I can hardly it above a squeak.

She squeezes my shoulder, a low growl in her voice when she addresses me.

"See, Shiro? Jules doesn't have to deal with this." Her eyes glide over the gray door. My knees knock. The bass thumps between my ears. They're using my house. When my parents get home...

I shake my head and hobble up to the brass knocker. "Shiro!"

Syndicate. The new recruits like to take stock in people's homes and throw ragers. My stomach and chest smolder. First vampires, then Jules, now this. I shove Roslyn back and push the door open. The shriek of unoiled hinges sends a shot of pain through my head.

"You're crazy."

The music is so loud I almost curl up in a ball. Instead, I face it head on. The howling kids, the thick, twisting smoke, the paintings and TV torn from the wall. Panic wells up inside, cutting. Flutters in my stomach. Dizziness through my head. I want to run away. I want to cry.

Because when I glance down, I see my best friend collapsed on the carpet in a pool of blood.

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