ONE-SHOT A little game for orphans is a bit different than they thought it would be. Can they still win no matter the odds?
"Be back at dawn."
Barely any orphan breathed as the soft-spoken boy stepped down from the slowly flattening cardboard box. The abandoned concrete parking lot held shadows so devious that from the corner of the eye demons danced with each minute movement leaving children stiff with fear. Faces were obscured by night, eyes glowing eerily with the reflection of broken metal. No kid took particular notice of the playing light as the leading boy moved down the line of seated people holding a small satchel. All heads turned in unison to watch shaky cold fingers reach in and produce the tiniest slip of paper.
Danon put bare digits into the paper bag fishing out one piece. In a closed fist he held it waiting until they could begin. Some shifted as the silence stretched, eyes of the soft-spoken boy watching them with a strange calm.
A whisper passed thin lips. "Go."
"Danon, what does it say?"
Little Alanis tugged with a small hand on his shorts as the pair sat on the stoop of a lonely apartment building. They were no more than a block away from the start but already the false security of being alone could be felt.
Danon looked down at his younger sister, examining her mousy brown hair dance in the slight wind and periodically cover her wide eyes that watched him faithfully.
"It says: 'Beneath the surface'."
Alanis' rosy face screwed up in confusion. "What's it mean?"
Alanis still looked as puzzled as before although Danon did not seem to notice. He stood up, stretching slightly, and bounced on the balls of his feet for a second, testing the worn out tennis shoes. Her small hand was snatched up by his rougher one and the two took off at a quick pace.
The street they had sat on was covered in the remains of cramped living and the broken remnants of homes. Cats pawned through overturned garbage cans and smashed glass shimmered on the sidewalk. Turning the corner by a cracked street sign, buildings loomed above the children as they hurried through empty streets.
Panting Danon and Alanis slowed to a stop on the corner of a nearly identical deserted avenue. A plastic bag rolled down the faded center lines like tumbleweed; across the way stood a menacing shadow.
Once the shadow stepped under the street lamp it revealed no only one kid, but one and half. The smaller could barely pass for his age as his tiny body seemed unnaturally thin. The other made him seem even smaller in comparison. He stood nearly a foot taller than Danon and almost twice as wide making him an intimidating rival. The tiny boy clung to the other's pants leg and hid behind his massive bulk.
"Give us 'ur prize!"
The bigger of the two stuck out his thumb on the statement, snapping it in the general direction of Alanis and Danon. With a jerk Danon ran down the sidewalk they had stood on, dragging Alanis behind him. They did not get far though, for Alanis toppled to the concrete with a cry, the frighteningly thin boy attached to her leg.
"'Ya got 'em Tor!"
The larger barreled down the block towards Danon, who could not leave without Alanis. Yelling the whole way the bigger kid knocked Danon off the curb where the two began a brutal fight of blind punching. Alanis screamed hoarsely from her sprawled position but it did no good. Tor had removed himself from her leg and had taken to being the personal cheerleader of his gigantic partner.
"Yeah Tank! You got 'im! You got 'im!"
The so appropriately named Tank crowed triumphantly as he waved the slip of paper like a flag. With a jump that belied his great weight he stomped down the street victorious. Danon, who had been far out-classed, sat up from his curled position gingerly touching the sides of his torso. He was lucky his face had been spared, but did not seem to notice it as he continued to prod the sides of his ribs and stomach. Before Alanis could even get to her feet he was standing up, swaying a bit, but seemed well enough on his own.
"C'mon." Alanis barely caught the muttered words as he continued to mumble curses at himself and the dinosaur who had just beaten him up.
Slowly the pair walked, more aware that the game they partook of had become a battlefield. Another block along and they came upon steps leading deep underground marked with fading and ripped advertisements. A chain held up a scratched, graphitized, and broken sign with remains the of "NO TRESPASSING" still decorating it. Ignoring the warning they slipped beneath the line and ventured into the heavy darkness.
The stale smell of putrid garbage and sweat hung throughout the stone abyss. Alanis and Danon took measured steps, careful to avoid the scurrying rats and shattered glass. The further they moved in the cave the more labored Alanis' breathing and the harder she clutched his shorts.
As they reached the turnstiles Alanis gasped and stopped moving. Danonstopped a step after her too. Both fixed their eyes on the pretty object balanced precariously on top the metal turnstile. Alanis moved forward first, jumping up and taking it from its perch. Both children moved forward to examine the item.
"What a pretty brush!"
Excitedly Alanis pulled the comb through her tangled mass of hair. Humming a mindless tune she brushed her hair as they returned up the stairs and left the station. Alanis let out an angry yelp as Danon took it from her, turning it over and over with a critical eye.
"Some of the teeth is missing and a lot o' the jewels fell off."
"It's still pretty."
Stubbornly Alanis refused the wisdom of her ten-year-old brother and ignored his comments.
Continuing on like he had not insulted her newly acquired object she asked him what she hoped was true. "Did we win?"
"We need to get the other prizes first."
Eyes peeled for the other kids the pair trekked around the dark streets. No sound broke the tense atmosphere until finally the oppressive quiet was rent open. The crash of metal on metal, cats screeching, and screams of surprise and alarm startled the siblings. Dashing down the street and around a corner they could make out a girl trapped under several displaced garbage cans. Alanis moved forward to help the girl up but was stopped by Danon's hand on her shoulder.
He moved forward instead holding his hand out. "Give us your prize."
"No!" Violently the trapped girl struggled making sure her voice hit a painful octave as she screamed for all she was worth. "I'll make sure you bleed before getting my clue!"
She twisted futilely in her metal cocoon as Danon stalked forward. He put a hand in her battered jacket pocket and pulled a familiar slip of paper. Unable to defend herself the girl ceased her attempted escape and accepted Alanis' help up.
Once free and still outnumbered it did not stop her from making threats. "I'll get it back! And you'll be sorry you stole it from me!"
She bolted down the street, her footsteps echoing between the brick buildings and her hair flying wildly behind her.
"What's it say? Read it! Read it!"
Danon unrolled the hastily crumpled paper and read the words silently to himself before repeating them out loud for Alanis. "Says: 'A line of drums.'"
Alanis' face visibly slackened with disappointment in the flickering light of the alley. "That one's harder then before."
It was more of a murmur to himself as Danon paced up and down the alley. Occasionally he would kick an unsuspecting garbage can as he thought. Alanis fidgeted uncomfortably as he paced, unable to keep still. Her eyes darted about, taking in her surroundings, to her brother, then back to the scenery. Her hands toyed with her dress and she shifted her weight every few seconds.
"How many you see here?" Indicating the garbage cans to Alanis, Danonresumed his walking, grumbling slightly to himself as he did.
Slowly counting Alanis walked down the alley then turned back to him. "Ten."
"Nine. All in a row."
Experimentally Danonlifted the lid of the first can with his nose pinched between two fingers. He was expecting a revolting onslaught of vulgar smells and hideously moldy food. There was no rotten cheese, no old wrappers from fast food restaurants, and nothing resembled wrecked household items. Instead the bottom of the can held nothing at all.
He repeated this process several times, all coming up with empty bottoms until about the sixth down. Reaching in he came close to tipping the whole can with his weight. Alanis raced over grabbing his flailing feet as he struggled to remain balanced. She held him steady as he reached in as far as possible, dirty fingers reaching for what was just out of reach.
The fight was worth it as he held in a tight fist a little plastic pistol. It was cracked along the length of the barrel, the trigger was missing, the little area to hold water was empty, and time had discolored it but a prize was a prize.
Happily Alanis clapped and reached for the miniature gun, wanting to touch it with her own hands. Inspecting it from every angle imaginable she handed it back to her brother who pocketed it proudly. Before they left he reached his hand into the pocket again, double-checking that it was the one without the hole. Alanis turned her head to watch him pull his hand out of his pocket, then turned back as he jogged closer to her and they continued walking together.
The heady scent of the ocean grew stronger as the two walked up the block. It had always been faint on this side of the city, but now it attacked their noses and made their hands dry. Turning a corner the view was a small harbor completely devoid of boats. Only withering algae and ripped fishing nets still remained along with the repulsive smell of rotten fish. The closer the pair got the more they could make out two shapes on the pier, both swinging about madly. Cheering reached their ears as the dock creaked beneath the combined weight of four kids.
"Stay here Alanis."
She nodded her head absentmindedly, to enamored with the water to take any real note of his words.
The further Danon went up the dock the more clearly he could make out the shapes of two dancing boys. They spun in circles, arms linked, singing loudly like drunkards until they let go of each other. Both seemed unable to keep the world straight at they stumbled about on their own feet, swaying with the salty wind and laughing uncontrollably. One teetered dangerously close to the edge and Danon immediately took advantage of the opportunity. With a not-so-gentle push the kid was floundering in the water beside the dock. The other was still disoriented and dizzy, holding a small green man in his arms.
Danonhad to yell to be heard above the waves and wind to the one now properly standing on the end of the dock. "Give me the prize an' I won't push you in too!
"Raidan? What you do to Radian?"
"Hand over the prize!"
The kid trapped on the edge of the dock looked nervously between the water and Danon. Splashing continued off to the side where Radian still thrashed in the cold water. The other boy took one more look then handed the little action figure to Danon. Once Danon had it in his hand he took a step back. The kid was on the side of dock in a second yelling down to his friend and reaching a hand down trying to help him out.
Danon headed back down the dock, his chest sticking out slightly from pride, when he heard splashing close by followed by girlish giggling. Alanis was on the shore stamping her tired sandals in the water and laughing as the cool water wet her legs. He watched her for a moment, the picture of happiness and innocence, before dragging her out of the water and back the way they came.
"Look what we got. One more to go."
In his hand was a very dirty and maimed G. I. Joe. His fine green uniform was tinted brown from too many missions in the mud and his right shoulder was an empty socket. Other than his bedraggled appearance he was still the proud soldier with his head still high, though twisted slightly to the left. Danonheld him tightly as they left the harbor behind.
It was not until the intersection came into view that Danon knew the trouble was really going to begin. Standing beneath a flickering lamp on the corner of the cross-section stood Tank in his giant's glory. Spying them from down the street he made a beeline right for them.
Off to the side hurried pattering of much lighter steps alerted them of a side assault. Instinctively Danon and Alanis turned around and took off running, pushing themselves to get away and willing their feet to fly.
Things only got worse as they turned the nearest corner. At the other end of the street stood two girls, both identical to the one previously trapped under the garbage cans. With a fierce and quite frightening war cry they came tearing up the street at an astounding speed. Danonand Alanis only had time to turn down the closest alley before the girls ran straight into Tank and his shadow.
The resounding clash was filled with hoarse yelling and high-pitched screaming. Alanis and Danon, both out of breath turned around to watch the brawl from their hiding spot. The fighting was intense as Tank used his weight behind his punches to bruise the girls as best as possible. Tor used his speed and size to get to people legs and pull them down. The two boys were no match for the girls though. With a surprising amount of coordination the twins knew exactly what they were doing.
Both were quick like humming birds, darting in a punch and a kick and speeding out before any retaliation could be felt. When one was crushed beneath Tank's immense weight the other was right there, using her teeth if it came to it, to free her sister. It was a fascinating display as the fight wore on. Tank eventually lost his energy from his lack of pacing and little Tor's moves had slowed significantly too. With nimble fingers one of the girls plucked a little gold necklace from Tank's pocket.
The little locket glimmered slightly as they held it up by the broken chain. Alanis eyes shot open at the pretty trinket and she gasped loudly. Both girls had been studying it but now their heads jerked up eyeing the corner the siblings hid in suspiciously.
"You hear that Naiva?"
Danon did not wait any longer. He grabbed Alanis' small hand and took off at a breakneck speed down the alleyway. Unsure if they were being followed Danon kept going until he finally exploded onto a familiar garbage-filled street.
Hunched over panting, resting their hands on their knees, both Alanis and Danon took a brief breather. The stoop they had sat on not long ago seemed darker in the blacker night. Their little break was short-lived however when the echo of quick feet came from behind.
"Avian! There they are!"
"I see them! I see them!"
The twin girls came crashing though the opening knocking both Alanis and Danon clean off their feet and into the street. The furious struggle did not last long as they were very out-matched. Both were stripped of the prizes they so carefully collected and were left with their backs to the ground and faces to the sky. Victoriously the girls jumped up and down clutching the objects and cheering madly.
Simultaneously the pair looked up to the roofs of the buildings up the street to catch the first glimmer of pink. Shrieking like banshees they took off down the road towards the parking lot.
Weary and defeated Danon sat up looking over Alanis who seemed unharmed though a bit ruffled. Sighing both stood up, Danon brushing off his shorts and Alanis patting down her hair.
Danon stuck both hands in his pocket, his eyes widening a fraction before producing the head of the G.I.Joe. Angrily he stuffed it back in his pocket and walked down the street, Alanis trailing behind him forlornly. She sniffled slightly, but refused to outright cry.
"Did we lose?"
Back in the parking lot a miniature celebration of two people was occurring while the other six sulked in the background. The only neutral one was the little boy from before who watched the events from the corner, his face carefully stoic. Both girls who had ended up stealing all the prizes had won. Not only could they keep the prizes, but they also had bragging rights.
No one else in the room was happy to be there. Both Alanis and Danon silently sat together; Alanis' face was still a bit red. Tank and Tor glared angrily at the rejoicing twins, their eyes promising revenge. The two friends, Radian and the other, seemed unhappy and physically harmed. Radian was soaking wet and his friend was sporting a black eye. It was clear they had been beaten up and it was only discovered later that they had no prize.
As dawn brightened the gloomy parking lot the soft-spoken boy announced his departure. He claimed he needed to set up for the next night's game and that none of them were welcome to play again. Apparently a kid only got one chance.
Brooding and nursing injuries and the cold, the two friends took off a little after. They headed off, presumably to find somewhere warmer to stay. The girls left just after them. Both skipped off still waving their prizes and jumping up ecstatically. Tank and Tor watched them walk off until they could not be seen then stood up stretching. Tank strode off with Tor jogging by his feet.
Alanis and Danon were the last to leave. Danon was still incredibly disappointed, and seemed to not be taking it well. Alanis was still sensitive, but helped her brother up. Walking off, Danon began to mumble about how stupid the game was, about how dumb the clues were, how silly the prizes were, and how pathetic the winners acted. As he talked, anger and being upset at his loss fueled the onslaught and all Alanis could do was nod her head and hold her brother's shorts.