Wednesday Briefs is a weekly flash fiction feature on my blog. I’ll write 500-1000 words based on a prompt, share it with you and then link you to other bloggers doing the same thing.
Dark Rights. Chapter One, part one.
Heat rose off of the pavement in shimmering waves. Too skinny kids, who wore their shorts too low, t-shirts discarded on the steaming pavement as they danced in the spray from the broken fire hydrant. Laughing and yelling as they played in the cold water, dancing under the arcs of rainbows cutting across the hazy sky, they paid no attention to the man sitting on the stone steps of a run-down church.
I watched him, weary as the crumbling brick and wood structure behind him. One of the smaller stained glass windows was shattered, held together with tape and cardboard. He watched over the children, his long legs reaching down to the pavement. There were more lines on his face than I remembered, a graying at the temples, one of his hands bandaged with gauze. His attention didn’t shift from the children as I approached, letting my feet fall heavier than normal.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
“There’s not enough Hail Mary or Our Fathers that can save you, my son.” His voice was warm, the hint of a Southern accent lingering on his vowels. “It’s been a few years, I wasn’t sure if you were still alive.”
“Still maintaining the post?” I leaned against the guardrail of stairs.
“Without supervision, the darkness creeps in around this neighborhood. I’ve kept it at bay for as long as I’ve been here.” He moved over slightly, and I sat next to him. “You know the dangers of the streets Ryan.”
“You peeled me off of the sidewalk many times.”
“You needed guidance.” He said easily.
“I think you beat me worse than my old man.”
“I never beat you. I helped you channel that rage into healthy activity.”
The heat from the old stone steps soaked through my pants, warming my bones. I reached for his hand, startled to find that it was dwarfed in mine. He wasn’t really a priest, or a man of any religious following. For as long as I, or anyone remembered he lived in the church, taking in those who needed a safe place to stay—for as long as they needed to stay. His rules were simple; no drugs, no booze, and you worked to keep your place.
“What happened?” I asked.
“It’s nothing.” He didn’t move his hand from mine. I could feel the strength in his old bones. “I fell.”
This close I could see shades of purple, green and tinges of black on his arm. His lower lip was split, the hollows under his eyes seeming deeper than they ever had been. “You don’t lie very well, Gray.”
“You’re reading too much into it.” He pulled his hand away. “What brings you back? The last time we spoke you said you weren’t coming back.”
“I was a child, and angry.”
“You still are a child.” He said, “You just grew into a man shaped child.”
“I need a place to stay.”
Gray was quiet for a few minutes, I could almost hear the thoughts spinning in his head. “You know the rules.”
The third rule was one that was rarely used. Once you left Gray’s, it was an unspoken promise to stay on your feet. To not come back. I shrugged. “I hit a patch.”
“I want some coffee.” He got to his feet, turned easily and climbed up the stairs. The old oak door groaned as he pushed it open. I heard it slam behind him, leaving me on the stairs, watching the kids.
It wasn’t an outright rejection. It wasn’t in his nature to do that, but it also went against his nature to break his rules. I shrugged out of my backpack, letting it sit on the sidewalk in front of me. The kids continued to play until the streetlights started to come on. They disappeared into the shadows, in pairs and trios, summoned home by the calls of their mothers.
I watched as night crept along the street, sweeping out between tightly packed buildings, swallowing up the alleys, racing along the pavement, spilling into the gutters. Porch lights came on, weak illumination against the growing dark. The sounds of the city took over with the absence, traffic a dull omnipresent sound raging against the racing thoughts in my head. The air started to cool with the sun abandoning the sky, the temperature lowering from ‘Satan’s ball sack’ to ‘somewhat comfortable’. I tried to ignore the gnawing hunger pain in my belly, and the pain radiating from the center of my back from sitting on the steps for too long. I had a hundred bucks in my wallet, which could get me a cheap dinner and an even cheaper room if I went to the right places. Stubbornness kept me on the stairs, I knew Gray was watching me. Judging, waiting, to see what move I’d make. I didn’t have long to wait. I heard the door open once more. I heard him walk down the stairs, saw him reach just past me to pick up the battered ACU printed backpack, sling it over his shoulder.
“Come on kid, the night isn’t getting any younger.” He waited for me at the top of the stairs, not commenting on how long it took me to get up, or how heavily I leaned on the railing. My knee was screaming in pain, and all I could think about was getting somewhere comfortable.
“Don’t thank me yet, kid.” He said as the door swung shut behind us.
The same words he said to me nearly fifteen years ago.