General Fiction posted June 27, 2021

This work has reached the exceptional level
Another random act of violence:

Play another Day

by Ric Myworld

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.

Howling winds whistled at the mouth of the alley. Zack lay near the rear, tucked away in a cardboard box stuffed with damp, musty-smelling blankets. Bile burned his throat and he gagged with every whiff of festering dumpster-rot fumes. Chilled to the bone and trying to keep quiet, he shook. Alone and afraid, wondering how he could have ended up in such dire straits.
The narrow passage cut between the block wall of a meat-packing plant and a condemned brick warehouse. Rats squeaked as they scurried, foraging for scraps as they rustled through trash against the buildings’ bases.
Two shots rang out. Immediately followed by a high-pitched scream. It was hard to distinguish whether the victim was male, female, or animal. A voice forever silenced.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” the gunmen taunted, like playing some sort of childish game, for permanent stakes. A duo of guttural laughs echoed and attenuated as the miscreants kept shuffling through the debris.
Curled in a ball, motionless as possible, Zack prayed the dark would keep his trembling body and labored breaths hidden. Then, a huge spotlight switched on with a click.
The bright lights flashed up and down as the determined perpetrators kicked and thrashed every box and raggedy bedroll. They pitched everything in their paths. Bottles bounced, and most broke, scattering tinkling glass across the asphalt. A dull thud, and an injured dog scampered away yelping, hind legs dragging.
The aspiring assailants moved ever closer. Two more shots blared close to Zach’s head. He tensed, awaiting his bullet-riddled fate. Until, a surge of relief washed over him at the words, “Okay, let’s get the hell out of here.” The echo of footsteps grew fainter until gone. Then came an eerie, unnerving silence.
Time honored in segments, it begins with an instant and reaches to eternity. Stuck in a trance-like panic and scared to move, those segments can seem to last, disproportionately, forever.
Zack finally snapped out of his transfixed oblivion and eased from beneath the soured blankets. He leaned over and checked the pulse of the bloody-faced stranger beside him. There was none. A cold, stiff corpse, maggots crawling from every orifice. The hatched fly larvae assuring the person had been dead for at least 24-hours.   
The wounded dog had collapsed. Semiconscious, his pulsating ribs showed shallow breathing. Euthanasia: defined as the act of humanely ending life. Zack refused to leave the injured canine to suffer but vomited at the thought of killing him. Nevertheless, Zack grabbed up a piece of wire, wrapped it around his hands—encircled the dog’s neck—then, applied all the pressure he could muster. The pitiful pooch twitched a few times as the wire tightened. Then, his whole-body spasmed in a trembling fit, and with so little energy left, he soon fell limp. Eyes bulging. Tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Dead.
Exhibiting the grace of a wobbling ballerina in leg braces, Zack careened his way to the head of the alley. He peeked left and right around the brick wall's edges. The street traffic and walkways were empty and silent from both perspectives: all but for the constant buzz of a fluorescent beer sign, a gust through the trees’ fluttering leaves, and a cat’s meow.
The killers could have been hidden most anywhere. And without a weapon to defend himself, the music group “Little Feat” lyrics came to mind with, “Feats don’t fail me now.” Although, chicken legs and size-twelves hauling his buffalo butt in a hurry was merely fantasy.
Zack scraped against the torn-face-textured bricks and eased out onto the sidewalk. He stayed low, scanning all directions. Then, startled, he froze in place. Blasted by Black Sabbath’s deafening “War Pigs” as a drunk pushed open the roughneck-bar’s front door and staggered out. The befuddled lush writhed between two cars parked in metered on-the-road spaces. He bounced off one, the other, and fell face first into the empty roadway.
Zack knelt against the building and crawled underneath the bar’s plate-glass window. Then, quickly rolled past the doorway, hoping his body moved faster than roving eyes could see. Magical if it worked. Once clear, he jumped up and sprung into a brisk jog. All businesses from there to the railroad tracks closed, the farther he traveled, the darker it got.
At the overpass he squeezed between a narrow space separating concrete from the metal fencepost meant to keep trespassers out. Then, he partly climbed, and mostly slid on his butt down the hill, slamming onto jagged rocks surrounding the rails with a crunching halt. The breath knocked out of him and his legs twisted like pretzels. He was fortunate, nothing was broken.  
He stood, a bit wobbly at first, but soon gathered his bearings and started to walk. The grinding rocks were a dead giveaway to his whereabouts. So, he stepped upon the slippery-steel track and tiptoed, one foot after the other, resembling a circus performer’s high-wire act as he bobbed, swayed, and swung his arms for balance. Traffic lights flashed at regular intersection intervals ahead. Illumination on the street behind faded with every step.
Encased in an inky haze of darkness, he had no choice but step down and again navigate the rocks. The boulder-sized gravel gnawed with every step, smothering-out any chance of him hearing bloodthirsty hunters hidden in the tall brush and hillside grasses.
Up-close visibility near zero. He trudged along, eyes strained and darting to acquire any glimpse of recognition. At a stumbling pace, it took well over an hour to reach the first intersection. His original one-mile estimate proved closer to three.  
Zack weaved off into the weeds, avoiding the lights and any chance of being seen at the road crossing. He caught sight of a hobo path behind a row of dilapidated and mostly uninhabited 19th century shot-gun houses. Noticeably forgotten slums, secluded and dangerous. The two killers he had so far evaded, may soon be the least of his problems.
About a quarter mile up the way and to the right sat a rundown corner store. Against his better judgement, Zack’s thirst enticed him to slip inside for bottled water and a pack of nabs.
The cashier watched Zack’s every move from behind the counter with a fierce stare. Then, he picked up his phone and spoke in a barely distinguishable whisper. Zack’s lip reading and keen hearing deciphered him saying, “Hey, one of those guys from the alley is alive . . . and he’s here, Hassim’s Grocery, corner of Spicer Street and Deadpan alley.”
Zack flipped a ten-dollar bill at the clerk and headed for the door. He cracked it open and cautiously peeked out. Six gang thugs were crossing the road to the market. The two killers, three-doors down, hotfooting his way.
Zack turned and ran back through the store. The proprietor gave chase, waving his pistol in hand, screaming in broken English, “stop, that’s a private area . . . you can’t go back there!” Options limited, Zack scrambled for his life at his optimum potential.
Down the hall, kitchen on the right, cigarettes and a lighter lay on a centered butcherblock island. Zack ducked and dived to dodge the clerk’s barrage of bullets that danced off hanging pots and pans, ringing-out more pings and pongs than a xylophone’s repertoire. Copper-jacketed lead smacked the walls, spraying skin-piercing wood and plaster slivers with a vengeance.
Zack had grabbed the lighter in passing and lit the double-broilers’ grease. A blast of flames burst from floor to ceiling to consume the room. And an instant before a second explosion of who-knows-what blew the whole side off the building, he had hit the backdoors sprinting.
Zack’s exposed parts prickled and stung. His eyes burned, blurred from the emanating caustic-chemical miasma. He could only hope the fiasco created enough distraction to detour his pursuers and buy him time.
Zack bolted full steam ahead, afraid to look back. And no sooner than he had reached the slowed train, it jolted to accelerate.
Oxygen deprivation and hypoglycemia were the probable causes of his disorientation and head-pounding needle sensations. Along with his lung’s bronchospasm: tightened and narrowed tubes impaired his breathing.
Forced to think quick, Zack made a last-ditch dive for the railcar. An element of pure luck, he made a desperate, lifesaving handhold-bar snag. His feet swung up in the wind behind him, before settling on the footstep beneath.
Nauseated, and exhausted, he carefully coaxed his aching body to climb inside. Then, after catching his breath, he leaned out to see his chasers who stood exasperated and beaten.

Zack scoffed with an arrogant smile and wiseass wave to celebrate his victory. Happy to live and, “Play another Day,” contingent on the speeding train.       

Story of the Month contest entry



There is no why or what for to this story. Zack is just caught up in another random act of violence against the alley's homeless. Senseless and ridiculous as it sounds, it's become normal in a world obsessed with anger and hatred without reason.
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