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©2020 Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Monday June 22

Naveed forced his eyes open.

 

Even before he registered the two men leaning over him, he realized something was different. His head felt muddled, and heaviness filled his body, as if his muscles had been replaced with boulders.

 

Why was he here, covered in vines? 

 

Why was he sleeping outside, alone? 

 

“Hey kid, you okay?” asked one of the men, a pale scrawny guy missing his two front teeth. 

 

Naveed closed his eyes again because everything was too sharp, too bright. He said nothing. Moving his mouth, forming words—too much work.

 

“Something's wrong with him,” said the other man, tanned and leathery with an untamed black beard.   

 

“Leave him alone,” said No-Teeth. “Probably just coming off something, got the shakes.”

 

“No, I don't think so. That cough....” Blackbeard stepped closer. 

 

Hiding.

 

Naveed was supposed to be hiding from something.

 

From them?

 

He tried to sit up, but fell back when pain raced through both arms, bolting electric from his bent wrists. 

 

Beads of blood dotted his palms. They had been pierced by thorns in the blackberry vines arching around him, trapping him here. 

 

Then the world dissolved in a swirl of green as he coughed, an achingly long cough, punctuated by rattling breaths.   

 

He wanted to melt into the earth. 

 

He wanted all of this to be over.

 

But when he resurfaced, the men were still there, talking.

 

“He ain't breathing right.” Blackbeard's voice was closer; he kneeled next to Naveed now. “And look at his arms, them red lines—like Davis got, when that cut on his leg wouldn't heal, and they ended up having to—” 

            

“This has nothing to do with Davis and his fucking leg,” No-Teeth said. “We don't know shit about this kid, and I don't want nobody stirring up trouble at the camp.”  

            

“We can't just leave him here. You want to listen to him coughing all night again?”

            

“No, but what're we supposed to do? Can't call an ambulance. They’ll find our camp, get the cops involved, force us to leave.”

            

“We could take him with us when we go into the city. We're going right by Harborview anyway.”

            

“Are you fucking insane?”

            

The men kept arguing, but Naveed couldn't listen and think at the same time, and Harborview sent a stream of words rushing through his head.

 

hospital – doctors – drugs – white coats – blood draws – tests 

           

He shuddered, couldn't stop; new words kept coming, flooding in so clear (neurotoxin – symptoms – brain tissue – bone saw), and he had to fight to keep from throwing up. He couldn't go there, couldn't; it was the wrong place anyway, he was supposed to go somewhere else.

            

get up – get up – library – library

            

Naveed tried to will himself upright, but he was drowning in words, and had to focus now on finding molecules, harvesting oxygen from the air. It took all his concentration. 

            

After a time the voices stopped. Blackbeard was shoving vines aside, nudging Naveed's shoulder. “Hey. Kid. Wake up. What's your name?”

            

Naveed started to answer, but remembered just in time that he shouldn't. His response came out an indecipherable mumble.

            

“What was that? Nate?” Naveed nodded, relieved. “Okay, Nate. My son-of-a-bitch friend over there's getting his car, and we'll take you to the hospital so you can get some help, okay?”

            

Naveed opened his eyes. Blackbeard stood above him. He was shadowed against the morning sun, but his wiry beard glowed in the light.

            

“No don't take me. To hospital,” Naveed managed to say. “Have to go somewhere first. The library.”

            

Blackbeard chuckled. “What, you got an overdue book to return? You're delirious. Go back to sleep.”

            

“No, no, please! It's important, the library... have to go to the library....”

            

“What for?”

 

What for?

Why were they talking about libraries?

It was gone, his mind blank.

He was blinking in and out like a star.

Bright one moment, dim the next.

In.

Out.

Out.

 

* * *

 

Clink - clink - clink

Naveed awoke curled up in the back seat of a car. 

Sun streamed through the windows. Air conditioning blasted.

He shivered, even though someone had draped a hoodie

Over him like a blanket. 

An empty bottle of water lay beside him on the seat.

He remembered, vaguely, Blackbeard helping him drink it.

The car smelled like stale cigarettes and skunky weed, 

Mixed with the ripe, cheeselike aroma of unwashed bodies, unlaundered clothes.

The back seat was littered with crushed silver cans

Whenever the car turned they slithered together 

Clink - clink - clink

The upholstery of the passenger seat was torn, ripped cleanly, as if with a knife.

Naveed stared at that rip for a long time. 

 

Sharp laughter from the front seat sliced through his head.

The springs under his seat squealed with each movement.

Every detail was crisp and jarring. 

 

Then he coughed, and it was like 

                        stabbing

                                    stabbing

Or maybe it was knives 

                        ripping

                                    ripping

His mouth was full of metal

He spat 

And on the floor it quivered 

                        red red red

He thought, 

Oh. This is what dying feels like.

It was an odd relief. 

He just had to do this one thing

The one thing he finally remembered

            (Get up. Go to the library. Find Isaiah.)

Then he could go.

 

First he had to find breath again

Hard to do:

He felt underwater.

With difficulty he sat up, slowly slowly,

Rising like a wave 

Behind the driver's seat.

Pulled the sweatshirt on, hood up,

Fumbled a long time with the zipper.

He could hardly bend his fingers now

They had puffed up

Like risen dough

 

He leaned back against the seat,

Breathing loud, open-mouthed

Chest heaving air in and out

Never easy, never enough.

Like bailing out a leaking boat

Tossing buckets and buckets overboard

While the water kept flooding in.

 

Blackbeard looked back from the passenger seat.

Hey Nate, you all right?

 

Naveed choked out, The library take me to the downtown library 

Isaiah. Need to see Isaiah.

 

No-Teeth regarded him with surprise in the rearview mirror.

Isaiah? At the library?

What business you got with him?

 

Naveed couldn't even begin to explain.

Have to ask him something 

It's important

 

Outside the window: 

            red brick buildings 

            a city park's crowded green lawn 

            Puget Sound's blue expanse

They were nearing downtown

So close

 

Sorry, kid. We ain't making no stops, No-Teeth said.

 

Something flared up in Naveed,

Searing and uncontrollable:

Latent anger; intense desperation.

He lunged forward, wrapping his hands around the driver's neck.

I said, take me to the library. Right. Now.

 

No-Teeth swerved but quickly regained control

Let go! Holy fuck, you trying to kill us all?

Blackbeard tried to pry Naveed's fingers away 

So Naveed pressed tighter

No-Teeth made gasping strangled sounds

 

Just as Naveed relented, 

Blackbeard closed his hand tight 

Around Naveed's wrist  

 

Naveed screamed  

Jerked back into his seat

Agony 

Exploding

 

In the front, voices distant:

Just dump him here

Let someone else deal with him

He tried to fucking kill me

Told you we shouldn't get involved

He's out of his fucking mind

 

When the pain subsided

Naveed found himself sobbing,

Heard himself saying, over and over:

I'm sorry. Please. Please. I'm sorry.

I wasn't going to

I promise I won't

If you take me

To the library

 

Just take him, for fuck's sake, Blackbeard said. 

Easier than arguing.

Don't want him to freak out again.

Anyway we're almost there, 

Only a couple more blocks.

 

You and your fucking bleeding heart, No-Teeth said.

Fine. But keep your eye on him, make sure he don't try anything else. 

When we get to the library, you go find Isaiah, bring him to us.

 

Oh thank you, Naveed said. Thank you.

He wiped his nose, his face;

Leaned back, exhausted and breathless 

Readying himself.

 

Behind them, a commotion:

Squealing brakes, metallic thud

Naveed was too tired to turn around,

But No-Teeth glanced in the mirror

Just a fender-bender, lucky they didn't hit us

He sped through the yellow light

Kept moving forward

 

When they pulled up at the library Blackbeard got out

Through the open door Naveed heard the familiar chant:

Real Change, ma’am?

Have a great day, ma’am, have a great day, sir.

 

So close now

But Naveed didn't want No-Teeth to be there 

When Isaiah recognized him

For who he really was

 

No-Teeth stared now at something across the street

Something in the shadow of Nutrexo's looming skyscraper

 

It was time.

Ignoring his tingling feet and aching arms

Anticipating the inevitable rush of dizziness

Naveed opened his door

And ran

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