I hear the screams. At first there are loud footsteps outside my house. My parents are curled up on the couch watching a movie that I don’t understand. But it’s past my bedtime and I’m supposed to be asleep. I silently drift off, when I suddenly hear the loud banging of fists on the large wooden front door. I don’t know why, but I know trouble is coming.
I hear the creak of the door being opened slowly. The sound of my mom’s voice asking what they want.
The shouts, the screams.
One gun shot.
More screams, this one lower, more manly, the sound of my father.
I sit up on my small twin bed trying to find a place to hide.
Another gun shot.
I hear the footsteps drawing closer and closer, and then they stop. At first I see the crack of the hall light shining into my room, making a line down the length of my floor. Then I see a shadow blocking the source of light. I follow the shadow up slowly and see a tall man wearing nothing but black peering into my room. He holds a gun in front of him, and points it at me with shaky hands. All at once my body freezes.
And then everything goes black.
“Wake up! Wake up, Conrad!”
I hear shouts coming from all around me. Surrounding me, trying to smother me. I try to slowly peel open my eyes, but they are still crusted with the edge of sleep. I feel a warm salty liquid flow down my cheeks, onto my lips. It’s only a dream, I remind myself. Only a dream, but it felt so real. That night eleven years ago was in my memory as if it only happened a few minutes earlier. As my eyes fully open I see a dark shadow covering the blazing sun that shines above. Sage. Her blonde hair blocking my view of my surroundings, encompassing me in her essence.
“Did you have the same nightmare about your parents again?” she asks her voice full of concern.
I try to look away so she doesn’t know that I have this particular nightmare every single night. I don’t want to worry her. She is so innocent looking. With big blue eyes that have the colour of a cloudless sky, she doesn’t look like she belongs on the harsh streets of Chicago. Homeless and unloved, a beggar. She should be living in a warm and cozy home with a family that loves her and would risk anything for her. I know she used to have this, before the escape. It’s how she ended up here with me.
I’m tired and my body aches with protest of having had to sleep on the cold, hard, wet ground. I decide there’s no use just lazing around when we have to find food for the day. We’re lucky though. Maple Street is covered with dumpsters, and people just throw away anything. I mean I got my clothes from there, and Sage and I find food in those dumpsters everyday to feed our growling stomachs. Once I’m up, I walk around stretching my muscles trying to soothe them. I comb my hands through my dark brown hair and decide which direction we’re going to head off to today. North I decide. North is as good as any direction.
We head down the sidewalk slowing down by each dumpster peering inside to look for anything useful. The first one has nothing. The second has nothing. And so on. Some day’s it was like this. We had to go hungry, hoping that some kind stranger would look at the two of us teenagers and go get us something warm to eat. But that was becoming rarer and rarer with each passing day. We head back to where we usually sleep, hoping to come up with a better plan. We walk side by side in silence. Wondering how we both ended up here scavenging for food.
“I think you should go and get some help.” The silence breaks and I look over at Sage, looking at her as if she were an alien. Go back, so that I can become a foster child? I think to myself. I’d rather die out here on the streets. Nobody wants a seventeen year old boy trying to mess up their perfect life.
Now I’m mad.
“Why don’t you go turn yourself back into the psychiatric hospital if you want to leave so badly?”
I know I have absolutely no right to say that, but I’m mad. How could she just want me to leave? So what if I have traumatizing nightmares? If you live on the streets, homeless wouldn’t you?
“I had no choice but to leave. It was awful; they were treating me as if I were going to kill myself any second! I had to leave, had to...” Sage began mumbling to herself, saying she had no choice but to run off.
But I had to disappear too, didn’t I? Did I really want to end up moving from one family to another constantly, because I was the troubled kid? The kid whose parents were murdered and then was shot himself. Nobody wants a damaged kid. Nobody. I would have ended up even more alone. I wouldn’t even have Sage.
I leave. I have to get away from her, even just for a little while. It is unfair of her to force me into going back, to be huddled up in homes that don’t want me when she is the one who really needs to go back home. For she is more damaged than I.
“Where are you going? Come back! I’m sorry Conrad, I was wrong!” I hear her shout loudly.
The further I get away the quieter her voice gets. Until I hear in an almost whisper like voice, “I can’t survive without you.”
I keep on telling myself that I would come back soon. In an hour or so, once I’d calmed myself down, collected my emotions and thoughts. So I wouldn’t hurt the poor innocent girl that I’ve come to love as a sister anymore.
I walk around downtown Chicago for a while. I get lucky by finding a newer looking sweater that Sage would like. It would be part of the apology to say sorry for getting mad and walking off without telling her where I was going. We always tell one another where we were going. It is an unspoken rule that neither one of us has ever broken before. It is until now. On the way back I peer into windows looking at all the people inside, wishing I had such a care-free life. I’m about to turn away when I see my reflection in the store window. Standing there in front of me is a full grown boy with chocolate brown eyes which shimmer gold in the sunlight. Looking into my eyes I see weariness in them, the way they get when they’ve seen too much. But I turn away, not wanting to look at myself and the changes I see anymore.
I walk back, ashamed at myself that I left her all alone. I am looking at my boots, and as I stare down at the floor I freeze. I freeze when I see her body laying there on the cold ground. My entire body locks up, I can’t move. I stare at her too thin body lying all by itself surrounded by her baggy shirt. I didn’t know she could look any more vulnerable but this moment confirmed that she could. Her lifeless body laying only mere inches away from me. Right on her forehead blood is rushing out. A hole in the dead centre of her head, right between her eyes. I raise my head to the sky wondering how such an innocent girl could face such an awful death, when I see him. Covered in all black clothing stands a man with a gun, pointing it with shaky hands at my poor, sweet Sage. He has tears in his eyes, and when he hears my footsteps he sizes me up. He takes his shaky hand and lifts it up to my chest. And pulls the trigger.
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