Jack exited the Speedway store holding a slightly crumpled white paper bag in his hand. He walked away from the gas station with his head down, trying not to make eye contact with anyone he passed on the street. He entered a dark, filthy alley in search of a place to be alone. He blinked, and his eyes changed color from midnight blue to neon green. He put the paper bag between his teeth so that his hands would be free, and took a few steps back so that he was facing one of the buildings that made up the alley walls. He ran towards it.
He jumped up, and began to scale the side of the building. Once he had reached the top he looked around him at the ground below. Even from here there were too many people around. He leaped off of the building to another rooftop, and then another. Soon he was several blocks from where he had started. The area was completely bare of cars and pedestrians, the perfect place for a midnight meal.
He sat down and removed a warm hotdog out of the bag he had brought with him. It was topped with ketchup, mustard, and a bit of pickle relish. He took a big bite out of it. It didn't exactly reach his standards for a good hotdog, but it would have to do. He was running out of money, and had limited himself to only two meals a day.
“I have to get a job soon,” he thought, “or I won't even have enough money for something off of the dollar menu at McDonalds.”
He thought about his situation more. He even entertained the notion of going back home for just a moment. No, he couldn't do that. That would just be going from the frying pan to the fire again. But then, it would be pretty difficult to get a job. He was only 15, he wasn't attending school, he was a runaway, and he was fresh out of a juvenile detention center. No, there was no way he could get a job with a resume like that. And it wasn't so much the money he cared about, what he really needed was something to do, something to occupy his mind and his time. He wanted a real purpose for his life, something he deemed worthy of his time, energy, and devotion. School wasn't worth that, his family wasn't worth that, the pursuit of money wasn't worth that. So what could he do with himself?
Jack took another bite of his hotdog, and stared up at the night sky. He saw only a few, very faint stars. Some people got frustrated that they couldn't see any stars in the city, but Jack didn't mind. He had his own set of stars. He was born and raised here in Oakland, California, and he loved it. Sure, it had its problems, like any other place. But it was familiar to him; he felt safe here. Especially at night, when it was alive with hundreds of lights and sounds. The city lights were his very own stars, and he couldn't imagine anything much better than sleeping in the stars instead of under them. He took another two bites of his hotdog, and gazed dreamily into the city stars.
He detected movement below him, and looked down at the street. A teenage girl was walking alone past the building he was sitting on top of.
“Hey!” Jack called down to her.
The girl looked around her, startled. Jack waved at her and she looked up at him. She had light brown skin, with a long thick braid going all the way down her back. She had big brown eyes, and a slightly wary expression.
“Um... Hello.” she said a little nervously. “What do you want?”
“I'm not going to give you any trouble, just a piece of advice for you;” Jack said, “it’s dangerous out here at night. You shouldn't be out here alone.”
“Thanks for your concern,” the girl replied, more confidently this time, “but I can take care of myself. I've been doing that for a while now.”
“You sure?” Jack insisted, “I can walk you to wherever it is you're going if you want. It's really no trouble.”
“I'm sure,” She replied, “but uh, thanks for the offer. Good night!”
As the girl strode off Jack shook his head and sighed.
“Nice going, Jack,” He mumbled to himself, “Should we add stalker and professional creeper to your long list of crimes?” In hindsight, offering to walk her home was probably the creepiest thing he could have done.
He considered following her, just to make sure she was okay. He promptly changed his mind, and tried to get back to his own business. He lay on his back, closed his eyes, and listened to the sounds of the city; honking car horns and voices talking and shouting, tires rolling along the street and feet clomping against the pavement.
His trance was interrupted by another sound not too far away; the sound of men grunting and shouting in pain. The sounds stopped almost as suddenly as they had started. Jack looked around suspiciously, shrugged, and closed his eyes again. A moment later his eyes shot open, this time to the sound of a scream. A girl's scream.
Jack didn't hesitate, he jumped up and dashed off in the direction of the scream. He came to a halt looking down into an alley. Inside the alley he saw the girl from earlier, lying on the ground with her hands on her side, writhing in pain. There were two large men standing over her.
Jack leaped down from his rooftop perch and landed on one of them. There was a loud crack! As his body hit the ground. Then Jack grabbed the other man and pulled him away from the girl. The man was slightly off balance, but he took a swing at Jack. Jack ducked, and then came in with his own set of blows. Jack was no boxer, but his fighting style was efficient and effective.
Jack's heart was pumping and his adrenaline was rushing. The fight had left him a bit dazed and confused, until he saw the girl lying on the ground and remembered why he had gotten involved in the first place. He knelt down beside her. Her teeth were gritted and her eyes were jammed shut and streaming with tears. Her hands were still at her side, and Jack could see blood streaming from between her fingers and staining her clothes. Jack started to panic a little at the sight of all the blood.
“What do I do?!” was all that was running through his mind. A moment later, he found his voice again.
“Are you, um, are you hurt?” Jack asked her anxiously. In hindsight, this was a stupid question, since he could clearly that she was, indeed, hurt.
“You have to catch him!” The girl said quickly, her voice straining to get the words out. “The man who did this, the one who stabbed me, you have to go catch him!”
“You need to go to a hospital!” Jack replied.
“I'll be fine, just go! He ran that way!” The girl pointed down the alley with a bloody hand. “Go!”
Jack turned around and ran as fast as he could down the dark alleyway. The girl's attacker had a huge head start, but Jack was fast and soon caught up to him. He had climbed halfway up a chain link fence when Jack grabbed him by his coat and shoved him hard into a wall. The man grunted roughly, let out a wheezy breath, and collapsed onto the ground, completely unconscious. Jack dug through the man's pockets and found a pink wallet, probably belonging to the girl. He also found the small, slender knife that had pierced the girl's skin.
Jack probably wouldn't have gone after this guy at all if the girl hadn't instructed him to do it. Why did she ask him to do that? Was the wallet really more important to her than her own safety? No, she hadn't actually send him back for the wallet. What had she said? “You have to catch him?” Did she really care more about catching the bad guy than her own welfare?
Jack ran back and found the girl sitting up on her own, with her sweater tied around her waist. The sweater had been white, but it was glistening with scarlet now. He glanced around the alley, and noticed something a little off that he hadn't noticed before. He had taken out only two men, but there were four unconscious bodies lying around the alley. Where did the other two come from?
“Is that my wallet?” The girl asked. She gave him a sweet, if not weak smile as he handed her the wallet. “Thanks for... saving me. I guess maybe I should have let you walk with me after all. No offense, but I thought you were just some weirdo.”
“Don't worry about that,” Jack said reassuringly, “if I had been in your shoes I wouldn't have trusted me either.”
The truth was, he couldn't bear listening to her apologize for that. He should have just followed her, he knew that now. Why hadn't he just followed her?!
“Um, anyways,” Jack continued, trying his best to sound calm “I have to call the police, and an ambulance for you.”
“No wait!” The girl said, grabbing Jack's arm “You don't have to call an ambulance! I mean, it's really not that bad, right?” She tried to stand up. She gasped and shut her eyes even tighter than before as she sank back to the ground. “Okay, maybe not.”
“What's your name?” Jack asked her.
“Sky.” She grunted in reply.
“Sky, you may die if we don't get you to a hospital right now.” Jack said “I have to call an ambulance.”
“No, you don't understand,” she said emphatically “I cannot go to a hospital. No, wait! Um, what’s your name?”
“Jack, could carry me to the Cherry Street hospital?”
“I'll try, but...” Jack blinked, and his eyes turned dark yellow. He searched his mental map of the city for a hospital on Cherry Street. “There are no hospitals on Cherry Street, only an animal hospital.”
“That's the one!” Sky said “Can you take me there?”
“Wh-? Well okay, if you're sure.” Jack figured that help from an animal doctor was better than no help at all.
He carefully slid his left arm in around her shoulders, and his right arm under her knees. He tried to pick her up slowly and gently, but she was much lighter than he had expected, and she came up with a sudden jerk. She gasped in pain again, and Jack cringed at the sound of it.
“Sorry, sorry!” Jack apologized “It's just that-”
“I know, it’s okay,” She interrupted, “I’m a light-weight. I only weigh about 50 pounds.”
Jack adjusted her so that her weigh was more evenly distributed.
“Okay, are you comfortable?” He asked Sky. He certainly wasn't comfortable; her blood was trickling down his arm and he was afraid that as soon as he started running that she would fly right out of his hands. He almost felt like he cared more about seeing her safe than he had ever cared about himself.
“I'll be okay.” Sky said. “Now let's go.”