You might be wondering why I ran.
It’s simple, really. Karate kids know how to fight. I don’t. I want to live till tomorrow.
I dashed in-between a Camry and a Honda, their colors mere blurs in my peripheral. I had to find somewhere to hide, fast.
Blacktop stretched onward until it met the street, cars littered over its surface. Their mammoth bumps reminding me of headstones in a graveyard. Lampposts sprung up along the yellow lines, their pale lights hovering atop the fog like off-white ghosts. It would take too long to slide under a car, and the lampposts were too skinny to afford cover.
“Stop where you are!” Timber yelled. The scuff of footsteps chased me, and I poured on the speed. I had outrun King before. If I couldn’t hide I’d have to run until Tall Man gave up.
Two alleys opened up across the street, and surprisingly, I remembered that neither were dead ends. I drifted toward them, the fog swirling like spirits as I left it behind.
I barely spared a glance for cars before throwing myself across the street. The alleys yawned wide.
Three strides later and I was across. I leaped over the curve, casting a glance over my shoulder.
Timber and his friends were still on the other side of the street and a flare of warm pride chased away my terror. Dang boy! You should try out for track or something, cause you are da Flash!
I faced forward and my celebrating stopped, along with my heart and most of my internal organs.
A blur of fuzz jumped in front of me, inches away. A kitten. I was about to run over a kitten.
Don’t ask me where this creature had come from. Perhaps it was a baby of that cat I’d seen near Walmart. All I knew was that I couldn’t squash the thing, so I dived to the left…
…straight into the sharp corner of the alley. I may be the Flash, but I wasn’t observant.
I didn’t remember hitting the ground. All I remember was a burning pain splitting my skull, my neck popping as my body folded, then sitting under a streetlight, blinking like I’d never seen the light before. Why I was on the ground and who I was running from was no longer important.
What was important was the burning sensation above my brow and the warm water spilling over my head.
I tried to blink the fluid out of my eye. I tilted my head back in an attempt to see up the wall, but more liquid leaked into my eye. Who on earth would pour warm water over a kid who’d just run into a wall? I know I was being naïve, but I’d just face planted into a bunch of bricks with about as much give as my mothers opinions. I couldn’t remember anything past the throbbing in my brain.
I wiped my eye. Red stickiness clung to my fingers. Why on earth was the water so red?
Tennis Shoes scuffed against cracked pavement, black shadows following the noise. The black shadows had a strip of white around their middle.
Wait a second, those shadows looked kinda like people. Murmurs drifted by my ears. The shadows were talking. The shadows were Karate Kids.
I was running from these kids. They thought I’d vandalized their car.
My heart constricted, and I pressed myself against the wall. These kids were going to kill me. I was trapped.
A part of me wanted to say something really cool and defiant, like, “Hello, my name is Sam. You took my Cheetos. Prepare to die.”
It came out two pitches higher than I imagined, as: “My name is Samuel Jones. Your car wasn’t your fault. Please don’t mess me up cause I have a job interview tomorrow.”
The tall one, what was his name…Timber, bent down to my level. “Looks like you did a fine job of that on your own.” He started untying his karate belt.
I wiped my hand across my eyes again, trying to clear the red stuff. Jade and Matt stood behind him. Jade had her hand pressed against her mouth. Matt’s face was dyed a light green. I hoped he wouldn’t throw up.
What was up with them? Were they that disgusted that I’d messed up their car?
“Dude, your car wasn’t my fault, I swear.” I looked up at the spotlight again, trying to spot the person dumping all the water. Moths and beetles ducked in and out of its rays, occasionally flying too close and tapping the light bulb.
“Then who did it?” Timber’s fingers paused on his belt as he focused on me, like a hungry man distracted by a donut. “You bought the paint.”
“I gave them to someone. I was in the store looking for Cheetos.”
“Timber, just help him. He’s bleeding,” Jade said.
“No I’m not…” I stared at the sticky water on my hands. Hold up. That wasn’t water.
I gasped and jumped to my feet. The world swayed. The blood had already slithered down my neck and soaked my collar. That was a lot of blood.
I tried to touch the cut, and the world tilted. Timber caught me. “Sit down, buddy.”
Oh my gosh. Oh gosh, Oh gosh oh goshohgoshohgosh.
That pretty much explains my thought process for the next five minutes as Timber pressed his belt against my head until the bleeding stopped, then tied it like a bandage. The time slipped by in a weird fog where nothing really registered.
It was probably side effects of the concussion, but at that moment I hadn’t put a name to my condition.
My head pounded in rhythm. Then the world focused again, and the words floating over my ears started making sense.
“What are we going to do?” Jade asked.
Timber was still kneeling in front of me. His voice rumbled. “We drop the kid off at urgent care,” he said.
“But what about the van? What are you going to say to your dad? He let you….”
“I know what he let me do,” Timber snapped right next to my ear and I flinched. He didn’t apologize.
The cut’s burning was fading into an ache, as if it had moved inside my brain.
Timber stood up without a second glance. His face was hardened, yet sad, jaw clenched and lips pressed together. Poor guy. What was wrong again?
Oh. Their van had been glitterified. And it was sort of my fault.
I mean, not outright. I hadn’t taken the paint and attacked the van with the skill of a blind toddler.
Timber started back toward the parking lot. Jade followed. The only person who seemed to remember me was Matt, and I didn’t really want to chill in the dark ally with him.
I stumbled to my feet and followed.
The van wasn’t my fault, but I’d helped, inadvertently. Why had I taken King’s money? Why hadn’t I refused to get the paint? I’d known somewhere in my subconscious that he would use it for wrong.
I’d accused James of having no backbone, but look where I was now.
We crossed the street and stepped into the parking lot, the red van rising into view. Pink stained the deep red, covering the metal and part of the headlights. Rogue streaks marred the tires and edged the windshield.
King had done this. And James had watched. I wasn’t much better. If I had stood my ground, this wouldn’t have happened.
Timber wandered up to the van, hands in his pockets. He nudged a tire with his toe, his shoulders dipped toward the ground.
This was my doing.
“What are we going to do?” Jade asked.
“I’ll tell Dad it wasn’t our fault.” Timber shot her a smile, but it was weak. Guilt churned my stomach. If only I could fix this.
My phone dinged. I dug it out of my pocket. James’ name flashed across the screen. Again, it took me a moment to understand his spelling. We’ll be back, sit tight. He had the nerve to send me a text like that? Now? Where were he?
I’d bought them two massive paint cans. They could still have paint left. They could target someone else.
If we tried we might be able to stop them before they did.
Suddenly, I no longer wanted Cheetos. I wanted justice. We could stop the criminals in the act. We could be heroes, in a very limited sense of the word.
But I mean, if there was an opportunity to get Cheetos too, along with justice, I would take ‘em. But you know, justice was more important.
I looked up at Timber. He wasn’t paying attention to me, but I spoke anyway.
“We have to stop them,” I said.
Jade looked over at me. Matt appeared by my side, and I jumped.
Timber glanced up like he just remembered I was there. “Did you say something?”
“I bought them two enormous cans of paint. They couldn’t have used it all on your car. They aren’t done,” I said. I straightened, feeling pretty smart for figuring that out.
“That’s obvious. What can we do about it?” Matt shot my way.
I deflated a little. “We can find him and stop him,” I said.
“You need to go to the hospital,” Jade said.
“He’s right.” Timber drew his shoulders back. “We have to make sure that group doesn’t strike again. It’s the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do would be to take Sam to the hospital,” Jade said flatly.
In any other situation I would have agreed. My head felt like it was being beaten into the ground with a mallet. But this felt right. Justice. Sacrifice. The greater good.
And perhaps eventual Cheetos. I wouldn’t give up on that thought just yet.
“Let’s do this,” Matt said.
I think that moment would have been epic on screen. Three strong, brave…. I take that back, a strong, brave man, an angry Halt-Pint, and one injured, walking disaster, ready to take on the world for the greater good. It felt hardcore and manly.
“Fine.” Jade rolled her eyes. “We’ll chase this guy.” She propped her hands on her hips. “But only if we take the kitten with us.”
A kitten has entered the picture. It’s about to get interesting. XD I hope you guys enjoyed the forth part of Kittens, Cheetos, and Paint Cans! Have a great rest of your weekend!
-Gabrielle Pollack (A.K.A. The Great Rising Puzzlement)