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.
Naveed was supposed to be hiding from something.
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....”
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.
* * *
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
Or maybe it was knives
His mouth was full of metal
And on the floor it quivered
red red red
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
Outside the window:
red brick buildings
a city park's crowded green lawn
Puget Sound's blue expanse
They were nearing downtown
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
Jerked back into his seat
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
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
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