*Note to reader: this excerpt depicts violence and contains language which some readers may find objectionable.
“A Cold World”
“We need to get out of here, Pooki,” whispered Elle. “We’ve been here for, like, two days.”
“Yeah,” answered Pooki. “I’m sick of these dudes. I’m sick of their faces, and I’m sick of them beating on us for kicks.” Pooki wanted to cry, but she was too tired and in too much pain. And she was angry. Angry, physically hurt, and scared. “I hope they don’t hear us talking, Elle. Do you think they can hear us?”
“I don’t know. They’re pretty sauced. If they keep drinking, maybe they’ll pass out,” said Elle. She was as exhausted and hurt as her friend. She had bruises on her face, arms, and shoulders. The least the creeps could do was to offer the kids some of their whiskey to take the edge off.
There were two of them. The younger one was a skinny dude. He had offered Pooki food and a place to stay. They met up in the alley behind Mahli’s Asian Café where Pooki was searching the dumpster for something to eat. Pooki had asked Elle to come with her because they were safer together. It hadn’t mattered this time.
The skinny guy was okay at first, but he turned weird. He got mean and he enjoyed it when things became violent. It crossed Elle’s mind that he might be a spotter with the West Coast Track, looking for young bodies to traffic. If he was, Elle knew that she and Pooki were done. Neither of them would be seen or heard from again.
They didn’t know the other guy existed until they got to the address. This second guy was older and not too bright. He was a big guy. He liked to hit and he hit hard. It was too late for Elle and Pooki to wonder if they had been overheard. The assholes were coming back from the other room.
“Forget it, you little shit!” hollered the big, old guy. “You’re not going anywhere. You still owe me for food. What about the movies you been watching? Who paid for that, huh? We even let you take a shower and clean up your scrawny ass.” He grabbed Elle by the hair and started to shake her. It was the guy’s version of foreplay. The attacks had been going on since yesterday.
Elle had had enough but the jerk wouldn’t leave her alone. “Please, man, I can’t take anymore. You gotta give me a break, okay?”
“A break, you freeloading piece of shit?” he shouted at Elle. “Here’s all the break you get, now shut your mouth!” He hit Elle so hard on the side of her head that she saw stars.
The old guy went after Elle again. He wasn’t taking no for an answer, and his buddy was laughing at the show, enjoying it like staged entertainment. Pooki grabbed the closest thing at hand—a dinner plate. It was heavy, thick, ceramic. She smashed the plate into the guy’s head. He went down on his belly, his pants around his knees. He was stunned, but he wasn’t knocked out. Elle climbed out from under him, eyes wide.
“You little fuck!” screamed the skinny guy, sticking up for his moron friend. Then Elle and Pooki saw the knife in his hand. He started slashing the blade around in wild arcs, punctuated with stabbing motions. He was fueled by whiskey and outraged that two street kids would dare to defend themselves.
Elle stayed low and scrambled away. Pooki tried to move a safe distance from the swinging knife, but she was right in the path of the blade. Before she could back away, the knife sliced across the side of her abdomen. Blood spurted and Pooki’s hand flew to her wound. She sunk down to the floor, wide-eyed.
The skinny asshole couldn’t believe what he’d done. He stared at the knife for a moment, and then he tossed it to the floor. Elle didn’t think twice—she reached down, grabbed the knife from where it had landed and pointed the bloodied blade at the two creeps.
“Stay the fuck where you are!” Elle screamed. The older one had pulled his pants up by now and started to make a move toward the knife. Elle looked at him and said, “Go ahead you crazy asshole, you think you’re faster than me? I owe you some painful shit right about now!” It was a surprise to Elle that the moron stopped. He stared at the blade in her hand. Elle heard his labored breathing. He grunted. Apparently, the sight of blood hadn’t sobered him up.
Keeping the knife out in front of her, her eyes peeled on the creeps, Elle reached for a dish towel that had been left on the table. She scooped Pooki up off the floor and pushed the towel into the wound. Pooki moaned with pain. There was a lot of blood, but Elle had to ignore that for now and get them the hell out of there. She put Pooki’s arm around her shoulder and they backed out the front door. Elle and Pooki stumbled down the front walk of the crummy place. Elle tossed the knife into a rhododendron bush and they headed down the dark street to find help.
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