Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exceptional - Part 5

This is Part 5 of a continuing story. Please read parts 1-4 before continuing if you haven't already. Enjoy...

James didn’t run straight home after what he considered to be his worst day at school ever. One reason was that he knew he would get home too early making it obvious he’d skipped his last class. The other reason was because the rage he felt inside was taking longer to get rid of than he thought it would.

Normally, a set of lifting weights, a good run or some kind of physical exertion would quell his desire to smash something. What he wanted to smash right now was Mike Sutton’s face, and his run wasn’t changing that. So, he kept pushing himself further.

At times a wave of anger would sweep over him as if he were still in the hallway at school and he would break into a sprint. It would subside then, but never quite go away. James could still feel it there, gnawing at the back of his head.

When he’d been running in excess of two hours, James decided it was time to head home. This obviously wasn’t working. He thought some sit ups, push ups and pull ups alone in his room might help.

Just as this thought crossed his mind, however, something hit James. A scent. It was an odor that was faint, yet powerful. James exhaled forcefully from his nose and shook his head. The unpleasant scent seemed like a bug that had flown up his nose. It sat in his nostrils and worked its way up behind his eyes, where it tingled uncomfortably.

His eyes watered and as James wiped the tears from his face, he felt he could determine which direction the offensive smell was coming from. He stared in that direction for a moment, confused. Before he knew it, he was used to the scent. He didn’t like it any more than he had at first, but he could stand it now at least.

James felt like his whole face was being pulled toward the odor and imagined a cartoon he’d seen before. It was almost as if he could see the smell right now like it that cartoon, where the wolf is summoned to the cooling pie on the windowsill by the smoky looking hand of its aroma. Even though it made him feel silly, James started jogging in the direction the smell seemed to come from.

When he first started following the scent trail, James felt annoyed. He just wanted an answer as to what this smell was that had hit him in the face and made him feel so strange. He expected to find an exceptionally putrid pile of garbage lying in an alley somewhere. But as he drew closer, the smell grew stronger. James would stop suddenly at corners, making abrupt turns to follow it. Soon enough, James felt his frustration give way to curiosity and downright excitement to find out what he was being led to.

It was pungent now, and James knew he was close. He was moving so quickly to his unknown destination, sniffing the air as he went, that he didn’t notice he’d run right past the alley where the smell seemed to originate from until he felt it pull him backwards. He stopped, wheeled around and turned into the alley and almost shouted, “Ah-ha!”

James stood at the mouth of the alley and found himself staring at the back of a bright yellow compact car. Its two doors were wide open and while one man rifled through the front seat area, another man held a young woman by the back of the hair, forcing her to bend over the hood as he leaned down and whispered in her ear.

She wasn’t even a young woman, James had decided. She was a girl. She looked barely old enough to be driving that car which, James guessed at this point, was being stolen. She was crying, but her mouth hand been covered with duct tape. The smell James had tracked to this location seemed to be radiating form her. It was like a glow that surrounded her in James’ mind the way waves of heat make you see things distorted on the road ahead of you.

JDO 826. James took note of the license plate. JDO 826.

“Hey!” called the man in the car as he stepped backward out of it and saw James. “Get out of here!”

James just stood and stared for a while longer. The man from the car began walking toward him and James took note of his shoulder-length, greasy black hair, brown eyes, five-o’clock shadow, and faded blue jeans.

“I said get out of here, kid,” the man repeated, still advancing on James. “You don’t want no part of this.”

James turned his attention to the man holding the girl down. His shaved head glistened with sweat and he actually smiled at James as he looked in his direction. It was then that James noticed the gun in his left hand, pressed against the girl’s ribs. As James looked at him, he raised the nine millimeter revolver in his direction.

James felt absolutely sure that this man was pointing the barrel of the gun just over his right shoulder, which felt strangely calming. When the man fired, James heard and felt it whiz past his right ear and felt sickeningly satisfied by this even though he knew he should have run a long time ago.

“Hey!” the man approaching James called back to his partner. “Get her in the trunk and let’s get out of here, man!” Then he turned back to James and pulled a knife from his pocket. “You stupid? Don’t you know enough to save your ass when you can?”

The satisfaction James felt over the bullet’s trajectory disappeared as the man with the knife drew closer. He was right in front of him now, almost within arm’s reach. James tilted his head and looked past him to see the man with the gun shoving the girl into the trunk.

The man with the knife began to reach out with his free hand to grab James and James took off like a bolt of lightning.

James ran for several blocks before realizing he had no idea where he was. James felt like he was going to throw up as he looked around to find that he had twisted and turned down so many streets in pursuit of that scent that he was now in the middle of a very bad neighborhood without any sense of which direction would lead him home.

James put his head down and ran as fast as he could, zig-zagging through the streets in an attempt to create distance between himself and the two men and to keep them off his trail. After running for what must have been a few miles at a full sprint, James stopped at an abandoned house and ran inside.

He panted and put his hands to his knees. As he did so, James noticed that he had pissed his pants. He went down to his knees and started to cry.

James clenched his fists. He was frightened and ashamed and angry with himself. He wanted to go home.

“Stop being a baby,” James said out loud to himself and stood up. He smeared the tears across his face with his palms and sniffed. The odor was still there but not as strong anymore. James wanted nothing more right then than to get away from it.

He walked out of the house he’d taken shelter in and found a street sign. He was on Parker Street and the sun was making its descent to his left. Parker ran through his neighborhood which was north of the crime infested area he found himself in now, so if he headed north on Parker, he figured he’d be someplace familiar before long.

James began running. He maintained a good pace until he started seeing houses he recognized. Soon enough the intersecting street names were familiar too. Eventually, he took a right on his own street and slid quietly in the back door of his house, into the shower and then right into his room.

James was exhausted and laid down on his bed. After covering his head with his pillow, James started to cry again. He was so tired, his tears only managed to force sleep upon him and James was out like a light within a few seconds.

He awoke to his mother knocking on his door and calling, “Jimmy, dinner’s ready. You okay in there?”

“Don’t feel good,” James called back. “Can I get some more sleep and eat later?”

His mother cracked the door open. “Think you’re coming down with something?”

“Maybe,” he said. “I just feel so tired.”

“Get your rest, sweety.” With that, she closed the door and James nodded back off.

During his first round of sleep, James was so tired he slept like the dead. Now, having been woken once and falling back to sleep, he dreamt.

James pictured the girl he’d seen in the alley earlier in the day. He saw her face, mouth covered with hastily applied duct tape, tears in her eyes, looking to him for help. Then, he saw her in the trunk of the yellow compact car, her face bruised and bloodied, but still breathing. Then it was the car driving away, with her still concealed inside.

JDO 826.

James sat straight up in bed, breathing heavily and sweating. He looked around momentarily to find that his room was completely dark. His clock read 11:17 in green digital numbers. Apparently his mother had let him sleep, but now James was wide awake. In fact, he felt an energy running through him that was different form anything he’d felt before.

James reached over and turned on his bedside lamp. He could remember the scent from girl to the point that he almost smelled it now. He could nearly feel it behind his eyes still, like he was standing in the alley again.

Before he knew what he was doing, James was dressed in sweatpants and a dark hooded sweatshirt and had snuck silently out his window with an aluminum baseball bat in hand. He jogged west to Parker Street and started heading south. He didn’t have a firm recollection of where any of the day’s previous events had taken place, but he hoped something would spark his memory as he got closer.

James looked to his left as he passed the abandoned house he’d hid in. He sneered as he passed it. The house seemed to mock him as James felt certain he could smell his own urine from his pants. He broke into a sprint to get past it faster and was suddenly hit with something that almost knocked him off his feet.

He stumbled and then realized it was the scent. The same odor he’d smelled earlier that day, and it seemed even stronger.

Once again, a path seemed to open before James and he followed it. It took him around corners and through vacant lots, becoming ever more potent and offensive as he went. It burned his nose, stung his eyes and choked him, but he kept following it.

Eventually, the path led him down another alley. This one was lined on both sides with residential garages. Some were missing overhead doors, some showed evidence of having been on fire recently. James slowed his pace considerably and stayed close to the side of the alley as he made his way down it. He stopped every now and again as he crouched behind a garbage can and listened carefully. He didn’t hear anything.

Near the other end of the alley, he met the end of the path. James stood before the overhead door of a newer frame garage, staring at it. He looked both ways down the alley. Nobody was around. He pressed his ear against the door. He heard nothing. He sniffed. The scent was definitely coming from inside.

Carefully, James peeked around the corner of the garage. Again, he found nobody, but saw the service door. As he held his body flat against the outer wall, he slid toward the door and tried the knob. Locked, of course.

James could hear music and men’s voices from the apartment building the garage sat behind. He began to feel the fear that gripped him earlier and, for a moment, considered running back home.

James closed his eye then and took a deep breath through his nose. The odor penetrated through his lungs and made his head feel as if it were going to burst. He gripped the baseball bat, opened his eyes, sprang to his feet and forced the door open with one swift kick. The door frame shattered and as the door swung open, it struck a pile of metal tools, making a great deal of noise. Knowing the occupants of the house must have heard the racket, even over their music, James knew he had to move fast.

He stepped into the garage and saw the yellow car before him. JDO 826. From the trunk came waves of vision distorting heat that James suspected only he saw. He ran to the trunk and tried to pull it open, but couldn’t. He then made his way to the driver’s door and opened it. At least that was unlocked.

“Get out there and see what it was,” came a voice from the house and footsteps on stairs.

James started to panic. He looked for a trunk release. Nothing near the steering wheel. Nothing near the seat. No keys in the ignition. As James reached for the glove box, he heard the building’s rear door open and slam.

James climbed back out from the car, gabbed his bat and stood behind the door he’d kicked in as the first person entered the garage. He instantly recognized the shoulder-length hair of the man with the knife in the light from the alley as he walked in right past James.

“Who’s in here,” he shouted, knife held out once again in front of him.

James answered by smashing the bat down on his arm as hard as he could. He heard a snap as the man screamed in pain and the knife fell to the concrete floor. James followed with a strike to the man’s knee, resulting in another snap and another scream of pain.

Another man James didn’t recognize entered holding his hand forward. Not waiting to see if it was knife or gun, James swung the bat and knocked whatever it was from the new man’s hand and kicked him in the stomach. This sent the man airborne out the door and into the nearby fence.

As it seemed only two had come out to start, James made a break for the car again, hoping to fumble in the glove box and get the trunk open. As he heard more footsteps running down the gangway, toward the garage, James flipped the glove box open and felt around desperately. Just as the first man of the new wave reached the doorway, another man he didn’t recognize, James felt a button and pushed it.

The trunk made a THUNK sound, but just as it did, James was being pulled from the car by his ankle.

He slid out and landed on the concrete floor flat on his back. As the man leaned over and reached for him, James jabbed the butt of his bat into the man’s nose, knocking him backward into the wall of the garage.

Suddenly, the single light bulb in the garage turned on and James, still on his back, saw the man with the gun and the shaved head standing in the doorway.

“What the…” the man started saying as he looked around the floor. James noticed blood and saw bone sticking out from both arm and leg of the long haired man with the knife. The man with the gun looked up at James and said, “You’re that kid. What are you like a ninja or some shit?”

This time the man’s gun was pointed directly into James’ stomach as he lay on his back on the bloody garage floor. If he shot now, James thought, he wouldn’t miss. He sat perfectly still and silent, staring the man with the gun right in the eyes. The man started to smile.

The guy whose nose James had broken advanced on James at that point, kicking the bat from his hands. He reached down and picked James up by his sweatshirt with both hands.

“He’s just a kid!” he said as he held James a foot off the ground, eye to eye with him.

“Yeah,” the man with the gun answered as two others walked up behind him, with their own pistols in their hands. “A kid who doesn’t know when to mind his own damn business.”

James closed his eyes. He was disappointed in himself. He hadn’t thought this through. He hadn’t been thinking many things through lately, just acting. He found himself wishing his father was here now. The tears began to well in James’ eyes as he realized he may very well not live through tonight’s impulsive decisions.

“Don’t cry, kid,” the man holding him by his shirt said and began to laugh.

James sniffed and felt the odor biting at him from behind his eyes again. He opened his eyes to see the man holding him, laughing and looking toward the man with the gun. When he laughed it reminded James of Mike Sutton laughing at him at school, only with alcohol on his breath. Then, James pictured his locker.

James smashed the peak of his forehead into the man’s already broken nose and landed on his feet again as the man with the whiskey breath collapsed unconscious to the floor. Picking up the knife that had been dropped, James threw it at the group by the doorway, causing the man with the gun and one of the others to dodge out of the way. The third wasn’t as lucky. He took the blade in the thigh, all the way down to the handle and dropped his gun as he screamed in pain.

A few shots rang out in the cramped space of the garage like thunder and James rolled across the floor through the men’s blood. He was able to make it to the rear of the bright yellow car and crouched down behind it.

Just then, he heard rustling and muffled whimpering. James diverted his attention from the two gun wielding men, rose to his knees and lifted the lid of the trunk.

There she was, with the same look on her face that he’d seen in his sleep. The girl was frightened, looking for help from James. She was bloodied and bruised. Her clothes were torn. But she was alive.

As James breathed a sigh of relief, one of the men tackled him from behind and held his arms behind his back. The shaven head man came to the back of the car and pointed the gun at his belly again.

“Hurry up,” the man holding James said as he struggled to keep his arms pinned behind him. “This kid is stronger than he looks.”

Without a word, the sweaty, shaven headed man fire the gun.

James felt a burst of pain in his belly that wasn’t at all what he thought a bullet would feel like. It felt more like he’d been hit with a cannonball than a bullet. There wasn’t the pinpoint pain and tearing feeling he’d expected. He felt like his entire stomach had just been struck by a car.

James doubled over and the man holding him let him fall to the ground. James put his hands over his belly. It hurt, but he didn’t see any blood. Still, he felt like he was about to pass out.

The shaven headed man smiled at James again as he stood over him and pointed the gun at his head this time.

“Shoulda minded your own…”

Before he could finish the sentence, something crashed through the roof and landed on top of him. As James’ vision began to fail, he saw the something was a someone. Whoever it was lifted the man who had just shot James and threw him across the garage like a rag doll, where he actually went through the wall and into the backyard. A punch to the man that had just held James sent him through the overhead door and out into the alley.

James began to black out and said in a whisper to the large stranger who had just saved him, “He shot me.”

James felt a hand beneath his head and heard a voice say, “Hang in there, buddy. I’ve got you. You’re gonna be okay.”

“She’s in the trunk,” James added. His vision was gone and he wasn’t sure the words even made it out of his mouth.

“She’s gonna be okay too. I’m so proud of you,” the voice said back from the dark.

As he lost consciousness, James realized it was the voice of his father.

To Be Concluded...

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