Disclaimer: Johnny and Sonya aren’t mine. (SOB!) But all the other characters are. Doesn’t that make me special?
The noises were loud tonight. Thunderous and bone rattling, but it didn’t matter. He was used to it. The boy turned down the side alley, walked carefully through the soaked and smelly trash scattered across the street. An old man, thin and listless, rested in the warped cardboard box that was pressed in between a building and a dumpster. He raised his head and stared at the boy with dead eyes. The boy just gave a quick wave and moved on.
At the end of the alley was a group of boys. Looking no older than 15 each, they stood in a circle and punched at each other playfully, while talking wildly about the latest street fight, and what happened to Joe Fuckup who slipped and got arrested. The tallest of the boys stopped, and turned with a grin to the new arrival.
“Hey, hey, my bro is back.” Thick brown hair and nearly black eyes accented the thin pale face of Jack, the leader of the pack. He stepped away from the circle to throw a strong, muscled arm over the small boy, pulling him into a manly one armed hug.
“Where have you been, JC? You’ve missed all the action!”
“Yeah, last night, we got into Old Hag’s bar and stoled twenty bottles. Got’em stacked down in the cellar,” Sean, a boy of 10, with pale skin covered in mud and the body of a stick, said excitedly.
“And Jack gots himself a new girl,” Tommy added. He was one of the oldest, only a few months younger than Jack, and was second in command, so to speak.
Johnny, 14, was shorter than most of the other boys, but he was built well for his age. He could hold his own easily in a fight. If not for his stout form, he could have easily passed for eighteen, especially with his hard face and cold eyes. When asked again where he’d been for the past week, he shrugged, his blue eyes reflecting the lack of interest he had been feeling. “Been sortin’ stuff out, ya know?”
Jack snorted. “Whatever. Listen, we got a hit going up tonight. You in or not?”
The group of boys turned as one to face their fellow member, waiting with a dark patience that held promise and warning behind seemingly innocent faces.
“Of course I’m in,” Johnny answered coldly. “Where is it?”
Jack only grinned. “You’ll see.”
An hour later, the group of boys stood at the corner of a closed bakery shop. They huddled in a small circle, talking quietly to each other, while a pack of cigarettes appeared and was passed around. Johnny took one, lit it, and only took a puff or two before letting it burn away. He stood off from the group, choosing to stare solemnly at the night sky than brag about the latest steal.
“You need a fix.”
The short boy looked up at his newly arrived companion. A scowl formed and he flicked the cigarette into the gutter. His eyes returned to the sky.
“You’re worrying me, JC. You’ve been kinda drifting.” Jack moved into Johnny’s view of the stars and stared him down. “After all these years, you’ve been one of the best. You take shit from no one, and you take risks. I’ve always liked that about you.” He stepped closer and leaned into Johnny’s face. “But you know how we feel about drifters.”
Johnny stared, dead eyed and unperturbed. “Calm it, Jack. I’m fine. Like you said, I just need a fix.” Jack didn’t back down, so Johnny made sure he got the point. Smiling with grim satisfaction, he watched Jack’s gaze shift to his stomach, where the boy had his small handgun aimed. “I’m fucking fine. You just know how I get when I’m on the edge.” His blue eyes blazed in the pale moonlight. “And lately, I been having trouble controlling my temper.”
Jack grinned and backed away. “Good. Glad to see you’re revved for tonight. Just in case we run into any--” He pulled out his own gun and cocked it. “-Problems.”
“Hey Jack. They’re here,” Vince called over.
Both boys looked up and across to the parking garage. Jack nodded to his boys and the group walked across the street to meet the three older teens.
“Step into our office, little boys,” one tall guy sneered with an arm tossed around Jack’s shoulders, leading him and his boys back into a dark corner of the garage.
The leader shrugged it off and pulled out a tightly wrapped plastic bag. Inside was something green, hard, and cold. The teens’ eyes lit up.
“That all of it?”
Jack nodded. “Ten grand. You?”
One of the guys pulled from his coat a bag of crack that easily matched the weight of a bag of pancake mix. It was huge, and the boys began to fidget nervously, their wide eyes reflecting their desire to taste the power.
It was tossed to the teens. They began laughing.
“Stupid fucks.” A gun glinted in the light and was fired at Jack.
Only it was the tallest of the three teens that fell, blood oozing from his wrist. He dropped his gun and gripped his injury. Twelve more guns reflected the light of a distant light bulb, and the teens knew they were outnumbered.
“Nice shot, JC.” Jack nodded to the blue-eyed boy with the smoking gun. He pulled his own gun, picked up the crack and money, and grinned. “Pleasure doing business with you.” Three gunshots echoed through the silent lot.
Footsteps pounded into the cement, making distinct smacking noises through the alleyways. Stifled cheering could also be heard, along with swearing and the occasional whoop of laughter. Two loud creaks and the cellar doors were thrown open as the boys raced down into their hideout. Vince took his place behind the bar and all the boys gathered around as the crack was set on a dish, divided, and inhaled. Then everyone was on the floor laughing, while Vince attempted to make some drinks. Somehow a few joints got tossed into the mix, and then there came the appearance of hallucinogens.
Johnny wanted those little crazy pills, but they’d never let him take them again. The hallucinations set off his anger into the red zone, and he’d see things that he hated so much, like his father that beat him, or his mother that took his sister Rose and just left because she never wanted a boy in the first place. Everyone that hurt him or abandoned him was standing there, teasing him, insulting him; was driving him mad. He attacked one of his buddies, beat him to disfigurement, and pulled out a knife that he brandished over the kid’s heart. Jack had stopped him, with the help of four other boys, and they cuffed him to the wall in the red room until the drug wore off. Johnny could only remember bits of what happened, but after that point it was known not to get on the boy’s bad side, because drugged or not, he was always a gun waiting to go off.
A couple hours passed of hazy vision and hysterical laughter at jokes without punchlines. When things quieted down a bit, everyone split up to find their own amusements. Tommy and Drake went for the pool tables; Sean, Matt, Nick, and Hank set themselves down at the poker table. Jack disappeared into the back, the place known as the red room. It was in that room where Jack spent quality time with his girlfriends. POWs from other gangs were also placed in that room, locked into the handcuffs that were hammered into the wall. The prisoners were kept there until a ransom was paid, or until he was beaten to death. The walls were turned red from all the blood spilled in that room, hence the name.
Johnny took a stool at the bar, reached for another pack of cigarettes, and lit one up. The buzz of nicotine, mixed with the coke, and the shot of gin Vince handed to him made everything dance in the room, and it was a beautiful thing.
Except for the fact that it left him nauseous, disorientated, and absolutely miserable. The colors swam in currents of black, and everything was moving slow, so slow…
“You want to come?”
Johnny’s head lulled to the side. Jack was staring at him. “What?”
“Getting’ Chris, more drinks. Coming?”
Johnny could distinguish nothing more, so he just shook his head in the negative. He wanted to stay at the bar and drink till he passed out. He watched Jack shrug and then disappear into the walls. He started laughing. A hand clasped his back.
“JC, good shootin’ earlier. How goes it?”
The young boy, no older than 12, took a stool and sat next to Johnny. He was short, skinny, with a mop of wild red hair that went every which way, a chin that jutted out at an odd angle, and freckles all over his body. Found by Jack over in a dumpster near 15th, he said his name was Anthony, but had trouble pronouncing it because of a busted jaw that left his chin permanently crooked. So he became Anty.
“You looking sad, JC. What wrong?”
Johnny shrugged. “Everything.” Unconsciously he fingered the gun in his baggy pants.
“That ain’t cheery at all. You need something cheery, boost ya back up. Hey, V, giv’im something hard.” Anty slapped his back. “Make’im live again.”
Vince turned away with a smile, fumbled with something under the counter, and put up a shot of whiskey. Johnny accepted the drink, though he didn’t really want to, and downed it without a second thought. Then he pushed himself away from the counter, stumbled, and regained his footing with Anty’s aid.
“Where you goin’?”
“Air,” he muttered. “Want some air.” Carefully he made his way back to the surface, to the stinking streets that constantly dripped with water from broken pipes in the apartments above. He stumbled around in the dark, slipped out through the crack between buildings, and leaned against the brick of the abandoned dry cleaners. Water rolled down the walls to pool at his feet, the garbage reeked of the last week’s scrounged food from stores the boys constantly raided. A woman with a decrepit shopping cart scrapped along the end of the alley, looking through the boxes for a decent place to sleep. About ten blocks away, sirens blared into the night, the result of another gang shooting, or a suicide. Those were the only police situations that happened at this time of night in this part of the city.
Johnny just stood against the building, listening to the sounds of the city and watching the stars that were beginning to change colors and fall from the skies in the shapes of cars and palm trees and dishes of ice cream. Everything around him was shifting into gold and warm food and oh, so comfortable looking furniture. They were enticing him with the dreams of a life better than this, better than being on the streets, in the night, in the cold.
A low rumble shook the streets, and Johnny knew a storm was coming. But he just stood quietly, and wondered when it was all going to end.
That’s when he smiled, lifted the gun to his head, and said good night.
He turned, his head swinging loose on a neck that didn’t seem to support him anymore. A giant hot dog was walking toward him, covered with ketchup on the top, mustard in the middle, and relish at the bottom. His mouth started watering.
“Johnny, are you okay?”
He jolted back to reality. Ketchup became hair, the mustard a skimpy lace dress, and the relish melted into light green heels.
“Christine?” Johnny watched her completely shift from hot dog to human, and began laughing. He laughed so hard, his gun fell to the street and he bent forward at the waist, his hysteria making him start to topple. The ground raced up at him, but he was caught by the bun of his beautiful, delicious hallucination and he was shifted back to his feet.
“What’s so funny, eh?”
Oh, he loved that voice. She was 17, all legs, with striking red hair and soft brown eyes. Irish was written all over her. At 15 she dropped out of school and ran away from home after her father tried to rape her, and she’d been working the streets for money every since. She had a beautiful voice that was sexy and playful, and she was pretty smart for someone her age. But, oh, she had a temper, and when set off she could throw punches with the best of them. She even drank some of the gang right under the table once or twice, but everyone would get so high afterwards that no one could clearly remember it.
Johnny had cared for her ever since the gang met her on the streets, working the corner near the sexy adult bookstore. She was Jack’s girl, and everyone knew to stay away from what was Jack’s, but the two always talked when they were alone. They never did anything past talk; both knew the consequences were too severe for that. One day, though…
“You look so good,” he whispered in a slightly slurred tone. “Good enough to eat. And I’m so hungry.”
He couldn’t see the blush in her magenta colored face—damn, that crack was some powerful shit—but he knew she was embarrassed.
“Sorry, sweetheart, but you can’t afford this meal.” She wrapped an arm around his waist while she placed his arm over her shoulder. The gun made her stumble, and she leaned over to pick it up and tuck it in the back of his jeans. “Don’t want you losing that,” she muttered and shifted his weight again. “Come now, let’s get you down below. You can sleep off your liquor with the rest of your pals on that dirty mattress you have the nerve to call a floor.”
Johnny held her back from walking. “No, wait. Don’t wanna mess with lion.”
“You’re gonna be messing with a gun if Jack comes by and sees you clinging to me,” she retorted. Again, she started leading him to the cellar.
This time, he didn’t just stop her, but he pulled her over against the wall and pinned her there. His grip wasn’t painful, his attitude held no threat. Clarity shone from his eyes, all signs of his drunken, drugged stupor evaporated from sight, though he was still buzzing inside. “Don’t care about Jack. Don’t be scared,” Johnny slurred. He may have felt fine, but his speaking skills were still lacking.
“I’m not scared,” she argued quietly.
“Then come with me.”
The Irish red head blinked. “What?”
“Come with me, away from the streets, away from everything. Start over with me.”
“Boy, you’re talking crazy now. How can you just leave here? This is your home.”
Johnny shook his head. “No more. I met a man, been staying with him. He’s kind, has money, can take care of me.” Johnny stepped closer to her. “Can take care of you.”
The two street teens stared at each other for a moment before Christine rolled her eyes to the sky and leaned against the sticky brick wall. “Have you lost your mind? A man, just so suddenly generous, wanting to take some druggie kid into his home? It doesn’t happen, John, things like that don’t happen. We’re street scum. Nobody wants us. There is no life for us outside of these alleys.” She pushed him away from her, put her back to him as she looked around the dark side street. “This is my home. I’m happy here--”
“Happy living day to day? Wondering where the food’s from? Waiting for the next fuck? Where’s the happiness in that?” Johnny stepped after her, but things around him began to swim again. In his mind, his words mixed and matched until they were a tossed salad of phrases. Colors danced along with flying saucers, singing garbage, and an elephant doing the can-can. He was starting to slip into a hazy state, leaving his body to lean heavily against the wall.
“You know why I can’t leave, John. Jack loves me. He owns me. He’ll kill me if I try to leave him.”
The alley way lit up from a flash of lightning. There was a loud rumble of thunder overhead. “I’ll kill him first. I’ll kill him if he touches you.” He was right there when Christine turned to face him, and his lips fell onto hers before she could back away. Hot and cold raged for domination in his body, causing shivers to mingle with the sweat from his racing heart. The spots kept flashing behind his eyes, the world was black and gray and changing all the time. He was floating away. Then the cement was digging into his knees and he couldn’t tell up from down. Christine was screaming, God, she was screaming at him to get away, she wanted Jack, she’d have Jack kill him. Then she was gone into the cellar.
She chose Jack over him; after all the times he was there for her, and after offering her a chance to live a new life with him, he was passed for the leader. Again he was tossed aside like the garbage he knew he was. And it angered him so much. He was tired of not being taken seriously. Sick of being inadequate to everyone else, tired of getting leftovers, Johnny made a decision. He knew what he wanted, and he was going to take it. He was going to be on top this time, and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
It was time for him to take what was rightfully his. He made his way into the cellar with his gun drawn, and fire in his eyes.
“No, dear God, Johnny!”
“Stop it! Please!”
“No, please don’t … please, Johnny, no more!”
Sobbing, screaming, so much screaming.
Blood everywhere. Dripping, pooling, soaking, staining…
“No… no… please…”
Too much anger. Not enough release.
Not enough. Never enough…
“You fuck!” Pain burst from his chin through his skull. The world slowly swirled to its more normal tilt as his swollen eyes opened to the dim light of the room and the dark shadow standing over him. Johnny tried to pull his arms up to block the next punch to his face, but found he couldn’t move.
“Why?! You piece of fucking shit bastard! Why did you kill her?! Fuck!”
A punch to the cheek split the skin, a kick to the stomach left him breathless, and then there was a crack and an explosion of pain from his collarbone that sent his world cascading in colors of red, white, and black. He looked up to see Jack, a bat in hand, blood dripping from the end.
“I trusted you, and you turned on me at the first fucking chance! Did you fucking think you’d get away after playing with my things?!” The bat came down again, right on the fingers of his left hand, and Johnny was close to howling in pain as his fingers were crushed between the bat and the wall.
“You were the best, JC, and then you betrayed me! You fucking betrayed me! You are a dead man. You are a fucking dead man! Nobody messes with my fucking property!!”
Something loud crashed from the other room. Johnny could see through barely open eyes as Jack stormed out of the red room. Shouts, loud and angry, reached his ears, but barely processed in his brain. His mind was too focused on what was going on.
‘What did I do?’ As things became clearer to his eyes, he looked up and cowered back into the wall. Fresh blood was everywhere, splattered against the walls and seeped into the floor. A pale white hand hung from a damp, red sheet bound around the wrist. Dried blood stained the fingers. Limp hair, matted down by sweat and more blood, clung to the red pillows, and Christine’s blank eyes stared over his shoulder. Her mouth hung open in a frozen prayer for help. Rouge drops continued to fall from her nose, over her mouth, down into the sheets.
Johnny was instantly sick to his stomach. The night before returned in vivid flashes of touch, taste, and smell. Moans escaped his cracked lips. ‘Why? Why her?’ A scream pierced his ears. She was crying again. Clawing at him to let her go. Pleading to stop hurting her.
He needed to get out. The cuffs bit into his skin when he tried to pull. Pain surged through his hand, and after observing the damage he noticed his left thumb was broken. Easily his hand slipped through the cuff, though it left him stuck with the other cuff. When he shifted, he felt something dig into his back. A wicked grin, coated with blood, spread across his face. His left hand reached into his belt and removed his gun. He stood up, aimed at the chain, and pulled the trigger.
All hell broke loose. Three boys were in the room in seconds, and Johnny plowed right through them, his short but built frame easily slipping through the narrow spots. Right before he ran out into the room full of his gang members, he rammed into Kyle, a tall and slightly pudgy boy of 11. Pushing with all his might, he used the boy as a barricade to the fire about to reign on him. Gunshots and grunts filled the room. When Kyle collapsed to the floor, body bullet-riddled and bleeding, the blue-eyed boy retaliated with his own gunfire that shattered bottles of liquor over the bar. The alcohol rained down onto the counter and floor, and suddenly caught fire on a lit cigarette. A wave of flame ran across the bar to explode into a fireball near the poker table.
Everyone in the room ducked to the floor, except for Johnny who tore up the stairs and raced out into the dawning day. He couldn’t tell if the pounding in his ears was from the boys behind him or the racing of his heart, but he didn’t stop until he crashed through the doors of the closed dojo and collapsed on the floor.
“Who’s there?!” someone cried out, and then, “Johnny!”
“Please, I didn’t mean--” Johnny panted. “I’m so sorry!” He didn’t realize he was crying until he choked.
“Johnny, calm down,” a soothing voice comforted him.
“Forgive me, please don’t punish me, I’m sorry!” Johnny sobbed to the beautiful young girl before him, with red hair and chocolate eyes that melted anything they looked upon. She reached out to him, whispered, sobbed as her face swelled and bled.
Johnny’s scream ripped at the heart of his companion. Then, thankfully, the boy blacked out.
Johnny shrugged. “I guess,” he muttered. His gaze remained on the city whipping by him, and on the streets that he swore he would never cross again.
“I don’t know what happened to you, Johnny, but you don’t have to tell me until you’re ready, if you choose to tell me at all. Just know that the longer you keep it in, the worse it will be to confront as you get older.” There was a pause. “I will be here to listen.”
Johnny felt a pat on his knee, and he glanced at the kind man driving next to him.
“I will always be here to listen, and to help.”
The young boy smiled gratefully, though it agitated his bandages. “Thank you, Master Boyd.” The Occidental karate master smiled back and Johnny refocused his attention out the window.
He stiffened. There, as the car slowed at a stoplight, was a police car and a group of kids on the sidewalk. One was handcuffed, the others were being searched. When the boy being helped into the back of the squad car looked up, his eyes met with Johnny’s. Time stopped as they stared, and when the shock wore off, Johnny read the message in Jack’s furious eyes.
‘I’ll find you.
‘And I’ll fucking kill you.’
Johnny was jolted back to the present when the car moved, and Jack slipped back into side view mirror and out of sight. Trying to relax, Johnny eased himself into the seat and concentrated on the road to his new life.
California was a long way ahead, and Johnny knew he wouldn’t get there fast enough.