Trixie, Trixie, wake up.
She tried to lift her chest off the cement to look around but the pain was disorienting. It scuttled through her limbs like crabs in jack boots and made her long to vomit.
How long had she been out? Each inch a separate agony, she lifted her hand to her face-swiped a hank of hair out of her eyes. She’d cut her head on something, it was sore when she touched it. Her fingers came away wet with the blood that was dripping into her eyes.
In a moment of clarity she realized she was lying face down on the sidewalk with people running passed her screaming and that there were more, within inches of her, who would never run again. Was she lying in a pool of her own blood, or someone else’s? She pushed that thought aside. She forced herself to focus on the back and forth movement of her flexing fingers- forced herself to count them to make sure they were all there. Thank God, they were, just bloody, the skin torn, the palm shredded. Her relief made her weak.
So then, the screaming…
She wanted to get up- What the hell happened? She tried again to lift herself upward onto her hands. That was better, more successful this time. She took her first look at the war zone around her and prayed that she was dreaming.
Gasoline fumes weighed the air down, threatening to skyrocket the spot fires crackling in the gutters. In the west bound lane, a hole the size of a Buick had caught hold of a mini cooper and the driver was mindlessly gunning the smoking engine while the back wheels spun four feet off the ground. She spotted a doll’s head and a tiny shoe resting on its side and something that looked like spaghetti dripped red down the blue side of a mailbox.
She bit the inside of her cheek-fought to keep back her screams. She didn’t want to look, to see. This wasn’t her world. This wasn’t anything like her world. If she didn’t see-it wouldn’t be true.
But then she was kicked, hard in the side. The same boot landed on her outstretched fingers and the bruised knuckles crunched under the treads.
It was imperative that she stand up. She knew that. Her survival no doubt depended on her ability to stand. If she couldn’t…no, she just would. She didn’t let herself think anything beyond that.
Drawing in air without spitting the polluted stuff back up was a problem. Her lungs were already burning from smoke inhalation. She took in what she could without puking then, braced her bloody palms on the cement. But it was no good. Pain shot up her leg and sweat beaded on her lip from the effort of holding her own weight up.
At first-the next strike was more like a vacuum then it was an explosion. It seemed to arrive in the same manner an earthquake does-before its destruction hits. The air stilled, the noise became hushed.
Maybe it was because she was still lying on the ground, but she felt the first trembles rising up through the stillness. A flashflood of fear surged through her body and pooled in her mouth in a sweet overflow of saliva. She needed to get off the street. The buildings were already teetering precariously. God help her if one of them toppled.
“Trixie,” a fist grab ahold of her coat collar and began dragging her into the alley. It was worse than she could have imagined, the pain of being pulled across the cement- the skin of her cheek peeling off in a long, tattered strip that left behind a bloody trail.
She meant to scream-opened her mouth…
And then the whoosh of the blowback tore down the street tossing cars and ripping up chunks of concrete and chucking them into store windows. Within moments the stoop Beatrix and Keen had been standing on was a cavern. The explosion lifted lampposts and parking meters like toothpicks and slammed them back down like javelins, embedding them deep within the rubble.
Beatrix heard wails of agony and struggled, instinctively needing to make her own blind, desperate flight.
“Stay the hell down!” A hard palm against her back had her flat out with no chance of seeing the carnage around her.
“Michael! What’s happening?” she could hardly hear her own voice over the piercing wail of car alarms and store front security systems. She had to tune out the screams, the exclamations of horror and disbelief that cut jagged holes through the already ripped and frayed fabric of time.
Another explosion and Keen’s body landed hard on top of hers. She felt his weight pressing her bones into the earth. “Michael, Michael! Get off me,” she fought with her panic at being trapped beneath him and lost.
The moment it took for him to recover was eternal, “Trix?” his voice sounded dazed, gruff from the smoke and dust.
“Get off me,” Beatrix squirmed until she felt him roll away. When he had, she fought another losing battle in a futile attempt to get to her feet.
She felt Keen’s hands dig under her arm pits and pull. Again, he was dragging her.“Michael! Stop, it hurts.” But he didn’t stop until he’d pulled her halfway down the narrow breezeway between two apartment buildings and out of the way of running feet and flying detritus.
“Hush, don’t let them hear you. Can you stand up?”
In the cramped space, Beatrix rolled to her back. Her body was a mess of blood and bruises and her lungs were on fire.
She coughed and the sound was raw, harsh, “What’s happening, Michael, who’s doing this?”
“Put your arms over your head, like this. Try to keep as much of the dust out of your mouth as you can.”
“I can’t. I think it’s broken,” she’d pulled herself upright and leaned back until her spine curved with the foundation stones.
Keen turned, “Let me see.” His voice was all she could hear, a lifeline, in the dusty gloom. Something had smashed into his face, a shard, and it’d cut its way down from his temple to his mouth. In the half light from the fires she could see the blood drip off his chin. It made her feel queasy and vulnerable, to know that he was hurt, too.
“Here, “His palms smoothed over her body, feeling her bones and muscles.
Outside the narrow breezeway entrance the day had turned black. Beatrix knew she’d never been in darkness this complete before. Her life in the city meant, day or night, she’d always been surrounded by some form of light.
“I think I’ve just discovered I’m afraid of the dark.” She gave a nervous laugh.
Keen didn’t answer.
She refused to let herself panic again. She could still feel his hands, his breathe, “Michael?”
His trailing fingers became abrupt. His shoes scraped gravel as he leaned back. He sighed, “Open your eyes, Trix.”
She did, because he told her to, saw the light from sputtering fires flickering up the alley walls.
He ripped the hem from his Black Dog Tavern t-shirt and began wrapping her damaged arm with it. She watched his eyes narrow in concentration. Had she ever seen Michael Keen when his face wasn’t wearing that smirk? “How bad is it?”
He shook his head, “It’s not broken.”
“What you said earlier…” Don’t let them hear you.
Keen didn’t answer her. He ripped more fabric off his tee and used it to wipe the blood out of her eyes, his hand under her chin holding her face just beneath his.
After a moment, when she couldn't stand the silence in him anymore, she said, “Your dad’s going to kill you.”
Keen’s father’s place, The Black Dog Tavern, was more of a pool hall, really. He’d made a little shady money and moved his family uptown a little ways. Mostly, so other sharks couldn’t use them against him, maybe a little bit to show off how prosperous his shenanigans were. But, he’d never left the gutter himself, never wanted too, and he often dragged Keen down there with him in the form of after-school busboy work and errand running.
Keen blew wind through his pinched nostrils at her mention of his dad but kept his eyes on the bandaging.
Beatrix knew Michael Keen, had known him almost all her life, in one form or another. She let him have the moment as long as she could until finally, she just wanted to hear his voice-just needed to hear him speak.
What does it mean if he doesn't speak?
She took his hand and held it still against her cheek where he was smoothing with his tattered cloth, “Michael.” She knew she shouldn't cry in front of him, he wasn't the type of boy to like weepiness in a girl, “Michael, what did you mean, earlier?”