The Minstrel

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Cindy was cold and lonely. The air went through her, deep freezing her bones into paralysis. It brought back a memory which, relatively speaking, was somewhat pleasant. Sometimes her husband, after beating her, would thrust her in the basement, locking her in there for days. There was a calming effect to it, once she recovered from the shock of being thrown down the stairs. She would enjoy the stillness, knowing that the only danger lurking was locked away upstairs. Her pain would be so great that her body would react by physically shutting it out. Cold also proved to be a valuable anesthetic. It came in handy to numb her now as well.

She had been irritable, angry, confused, grimy, lonely, horny and every other uncomfortable adjective known to mankind for the longest time. It was still October, she judged looking at the pumpkin and witch masks sitting immobile in the darkened stationary store. There was an owl costume, too. She felt like an owl herself, living only at night and hibernating in the day. She felt safer living that way/ No one paid attention to the back alleys in the daytime with their busy lives taking so much importance. She slept then, taking comfort in the last warmth of the fall sun. At night was when she began her existence. She ate from garbage cans, went to the subway terminals to perform some semblance of washing every few hours or so, this way smelling no worse than the sweaty commuters she very occasionally brushed shoulders with, then spent the rest of the night moving around, partly to keep warm, partly because a moving target was harder to hit than a stationary one. She was doubly hunted now, no longer human with an identity, but a helpless, panicky prey scurrying this way and that from its predator. Most times she wondered at the futility of her situation. Perhaps she should give up. Maybe she could turn herself in, maybe she could start over. Maybe she would get lucky, get a new identity as some witness protection person, find some kind of underground, maybe get an idea of what it meant to be safe

She heard screams, then shots. She felt a surge of adrenaline die on impact within her. Sound like that were commonplace, and once you realized that they didn’t concern you, you went on with your business. Living on the streets taught Cindy that TV violence didn’t do much to make you immune to the real thing. Actually living through it, time and time again, that was what made you immune.

A stumbling figure appeared far ahead. He seemed like a drunkard, but he looked vaguely familiar. He moved aimlessly as though he had no conception of where he was or where he was going. Cindy froze, wondering if somehow the shots she’d heard just before had something to do with the figure ahead. A motorcycle turned onto the road and she watched in chilled horror as the man stepped into its path. She screamed, and the man whipped toward her, falling down and away from what was his intended death messenger. The bike screamed by, not even pausing to see if damage had been inflicted, its driver a faceless mask that had nothing but a dark helmet visor where the humanity of his eyes should have been. Cindy watched as the apocalyptic image came at her, turned its ungodly head to her as it went by, and she wondered if it was her life that had been frozen, spent up she almost welcomed the relief, but he passed her by, and she felt dejected, so useless that even death would reject her. A man was dying. She saw the images reflected in the moonlight from a far distance. They were shadows. A slit was held in the hand of one as he brought upon the other. His victim fell as the assailant kneeled next to him, his arm with the slit moving back and forth in an arc that held a deathly rhythm. Cindy swallowed her fear rising within her as she backed away, instinctively knowing that, for the second time in month, she was a witness to murder. Silently she crept closer, hoping to get a better view without being caught and also wondering why in the same breath why she wasn’t running for her life. As he approached more closely, the predator seemed to take on more familiar countenance. She had seen him before. And as she stood transfixed, she also knew from where.

The image stopped its repetitive movement, looking up from his work as though aware of the attention upon him. It seemed to finally propel her to move, running in the shadows which now provided her with more shelter than dander. She ran until the image of another man leaning against the decaying bricks of an abandoned building stopped her short. His very silhouette startled her into a panic. She found herself screaming, and then struggling as she felt his hands on her shoulders. She kicked, screamed then stooped when she saw who it was.

It was the man from the riots, the one she’d refused to help, the one whose songs soothed her, the one who’d scared her by his insistence on talking to her. For a moment, she stood in confusion, briefly perplexed by the emotion that seemed to overwhelm her. Then she returned to action again. They would have to move, or at least, she had to. There was not much time for her to spare having a killing following on her heels.

“We have to go,” Cindy said, gesturing to the direction she’d been heading in.

Baffled, the man looking in the direction in which she pointed and returned to her with a perplexed expression on his face.

“There’s someone after me,” Cindy explained with impatience. Still, she was met with confusion.

“Oh screw this,” an enraged Cindy spat, her fear giving way to an anger that gave her the strength to throw off a man three-quarters of a foot taller than she. Determinedly, she ran in the direction she had been heading, only to hear footsteps catching up behind her. Fear prevented her from looking back until she heard a loud thump. Curiosity made her look back. It was the song man. Somehow, he tripped over his own feet and was having trouble getting up. Sighing with an annoyed sense of obligation, Cindy went back to help him. She only hoped this big lout knew how to fend off crazy lunatics with knives.

“Are you all right?” she managed. God knew where she was getting the patience to deal with him, considering that she was running for her life.

Again, the bewildered look. “No tu comprendo,” came the reply.

If it were possible to die of aggravation, Cindy would have dropped then. Here she was, trapped in the worst predicament of her life other than when she left her husband, and her only companion was a klutzy dimwit who could only speak Spanish? It could only happen to her, she thought, shaking her head. She started to head down a dark alley, deserted with the exception of a wino who was busy consuming his daily bread’s worth of Scotch. Immediately, she felt herself hauled back by Songman, who immediately confronted her with a yammering of Spanish. The guy needs to brush his teeth, Cindy thought, then felt the grime of her own. She kept forgetting that the luxury of Colgate and Aquafresh were gone. She couldn’t feel superior to this guy. She was him.

Cindy tolerated this gibbering for a few minutes before she kneed him in his gut for him to get off her. One man had abused her already, and that was one man too much. If this guy was going to hang around her, he was going to have to treat her with respect. She looked him over as he sat dazed by her blow. He certainly didn’t have the money that Russell/Avery did. He might be as good looking even more so if he got cleaned up. But his biggest asset was his monster size, well over six feet with the brawn of a football player, and as white as a ghost. Definitely defying stereotypes here. Maybe he was just pretending to be Hispanic. Why anyone white would want to do that was beyond her, but you never knew nowadays. She shrugged it off. She didn’t have the time or energy to worry about some hobo’s national heritage.

She turned to reason with him. “Look,” she started, speaking as slowly as she could given her anxiety. “I have a problem.”

“Problema?” he interrupted hopefully, pointing at her.

“Yes” Cindy replied irritably. “Si. Problema.” She breathed, wondering how she was going to manage to get through this bilingual conversation and still stay alive. The wino was watching them with curiosity. He was too blottoed to even be fazed by the fumes of Cindy’s evil eye. She looked at him, wondering if he was who she was running from. She tried to brush him off mentally but couldn’t quite do so given that he remained in the corner of her eye. It didn’t help her anxiety level, even when the guy started snoring a drunk’s snore. Damn, she was a fool to even be standing here. What the hell was wrong with her? Affection of any sort could lead to death. Damn her heart anyway.

“Esta hombre malo,” she managed in her best broken Spanish.

Songman pointed to the wino.

Cindy shook her head. She began heading down the alley again despite the fact that her companion tried to grab her arm again. He began yelling in Spanish, waking up the wino. Songman pointed at the wino, who took all this in with glazed over eyes.

“What, you want some vodka?” the wino asked, extending his bottle towards them.

And a yelp came from Cindy’s companion, taking a leap towards the unsuspecting wino, nearly knocking his precious bottle from his hand.

“God, okay, okay. My fault. I should know better than to be nice to anyone around here. Might cost me my life, I forget I forget. My fault,” the wino muttered as he clutched his bag and shuffled off into the darkness.

Good, Cindy thought, maybe now this Puerto Rican or Colombian or whatever he is will leave me alone and let me save my life, she considered as she resumed her path. Apparently not, she discovered as she found herself yanked from behind again.

“Will you stop it?” she spat as she whirled to face him. Again, the uncomprehending look. God, how did these people manage here, not even knowing the language. Presumably not too well, she considered as she was reminded of who she was dealing with. At least she had a good reason for being on the streets. Maybe if this guy knew English, he’d be a head CEO for a major corporation. She decided to explain again. “I have to get out of here. Malo hombre.” She sounded like a linguist, she was so proud of herself. This time she managed to point in the direction where her nemesis lay, which thankfully was in the opposite direction of the wino.

He looked at her quizzically as he released his hold on her, allowing her to proceed along the path she had chosen. He followed in step, though with a fairly strong limp, which Cindy guessed to be as a result of his accident. “Quien es?” he asked, presumably in reply to her statement. “Tu novio?”

I wish it were just a silly boyfriend, Cindy thought, but then reconsidered as she thought of her husband, wondering if he would have been any less amicable about letting her leave him if she hadn’t been married to him, and realized the answer was no. He didn’t like losing any of his possessions. “No. No novio.” She sighed as she picked up her step. He was still able to keep up with her despite his injury with the long gait that his height provided. It annoyed Cindy to have to come up with dribs of Spanish and try to save her life as well. “Se hablo Ingles?” she asked, hoping to dispel some of her worries, seeing that unless she knocked him out herself, he wasn’t going to leave her alone.

She got the baffled look again. “No. No ingles.”

Oh well. It was worth a try. Cindy decided not to speak anymore unless spoken to and just concentrate on hiding. Perhaps that tactic would alleviate part of her bilingual headache.

There were several abandoned buildings along their way. She could smell the fumes of crack cocaine being smoked. There were gangs of blacks hanging out on the corner, giving her and her companion the evil eye for stepping on their territory. Cindy felt her companion tug at her sleeve extra hard. For once, Cindy agreed on his insistence.

In the distance, she saw hills, lights and trees. Presumably it was north of here. She tried to think of the geography here but realized she was hopelessly lost. Maybe it was Westchester, Staten Island, Long Island. Who knew. They were all the same to her. She’d gotten to where she was by chance and foolishness, not because of great gourmet food. Her companion seemed to have a better idea as to where he was going. He surpassed her, indicating to her to follow him. Cindy didn’t feel she had much choice here. At least, so far, he hadn’t attacked her. That in itself didn’t make him such a bad travel guide.

“Que te hizo?” he suddenly asked when Cindy caught up to him.

“What?” Cindy exclaimed. Too bad she hadn’t paid more attention to her Spanish classes as much as getting laid and drunk.

“El hombre,” he tried to explain. “Porque” he shrugged his shoulders”quiere te doler?” He banged his head.

“Huh?” Cindy wanted to bang her head at this point.

“El hombre,” he began again, pointing at himself and at the black men they just passed. “Hombres.”

Spanish 101 for Dummies. “What’s doler.”

“Doler.” He hit himself. “Ow.” He said pointing where he hit himself.

So what Cindy got out of that was, why does he want to hurt you. She wasn’t exactly sure if she wanted to get into the detail of why she was in trouble, particularly in Spanish.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged.

He laughed. “No es verdad,” he said, shaking his head.

She shrugged again, not really caring. The movement, her fear made her blissfully oblivious to anyone else’s concerns or opinions. There was not much that she wanted to care about besides her survival, and even if that failed, there wouldn’t be that much problem because she wouldn’t be around to worry about it. Too bad she seemed to start caring when she settled down and start her life over again. Maybe she wouldn’t be on the streets right now.

But then again, maybe she would. She remembered a quick death, even one with much pain at the hands of her husband wouldn’t scare her. It was the slow, molasses pace of torture and waking up to face it all again which had made her flee. She remembered Death-in Life from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Death-in-Life was her husband, to capture her back so she could once again slowly die, always feeling like dying but somehow not being able accomplish it, like when the motorcycle guy with the death mask passed her by. Death-in-Life was the bogeyman she feared.

“Hola?” her companion’s voice snapped her back to life. “Como estas?”

“Bien,” a flustered Cindy replied. She had almost hypnotized into believing she had been trapped into her ultimate nightmare. Seeing Songman, she was glad to see she was still among the land of the living, albeit the seedy side of it.

Songman pointed ahead. Somehow, they had walked long enough to reach Fordham University. “Como es?” he nodded his head to the nearest building on campus.

“Porque?” Why, she asked.

“Nos descansar,” he replied. Translated, means that apparently he thought it was a good place to crash for the night. Cindy was too tired to object. She was starting to think in Spanglish, not knowing if English or pig Spanish was coming from her mouth. She trudged along until the looming dank buildings grew larger and larger until they encompassed her whole vision. Her friend gestured for her to follow him. Curious, Cindy watched as they bypassed main entrances and headed for darker, woodier niches. Immediately fear arose in her, wondering if this guy was leading her to her death after all, but found herself breathing openly after somehow forgetting to breath when he led her to a hole in the fence surrounding the complex. Obviously this guy had been here before, Cindy thought sardonically,. She was with the expert on homelessness.

They finally made their way into a relatively quiet building. Frankly, Cindy was having misgivings about this whole idea of staying here. She had images of campus security standing over her with flashlights ready to take her to the police. She sure as hell didn’t want that.

She checked her Spanish memory banks which were ready to close due to exhaustion. “Muy seguridad?” She wanted to know how many security guards were here.

“Aqui?” he pointed at the floor. “No, no mucho. La policia estan dormiendo.” The police are sleeping. He laughed, probably thinking that she found it funny too, but she didn’t. If he noticed her discomfort, he didn’t seem like he cared. That pissed Cindy off. Goddamn chauvinistic idiot probably thought that women belonged in the kitchen. If God forbid they were in trouble with the police, they should be remanded to the convent for life, while the men ran out and got to be the heroes. One track minds they had, worse than the white men she knew, and that had to be pretty bad. But she kept her mouth shut. All she wanted to do was sleep.

But she couldn’t. She sat looking at him after he fell asleep first, wondering why she was so riled up by a man she barely knew. There was something about him, that fascinated her, intrigued her, attracted her, yet filled her with disquieting fear. She couldn’t quite pinpoint it, she didn’t know quite what.

Finally she fell asleep. But she still had the same question on her mind.

She had nightmares. Vivid nightmares. There was blood everywhere, seeping from the topmost windows of buildings in a great city, slowly making its path down to where she stood, paralyzed in the street below. The blood had almost reached her when she’d finally been able to flee, but to her horror, it followed just behind her, stopping when she stopped, speeding up when she sped up, slowing down when she slowed down. She yelled at it to go away, but it didn’t. She screamed for help but nobody came. She remained alone here with this nightmare of death. It stayed with her, ignoring her insistent pleas. It held power over her, and she was helpless, helpless in her screams.

She was being shaken awake, to the image of Songman babbling and squawking at her. On alert from her dream, she flailed her arms at him, scratching his face, which he stopped by grabbing her hands.

“What, what?” she demanded. Accustomed to being on the streets, she felt shock when she was inside a building. Then she remembered, and found herself fully alert to her fear. She bolted upright, prepared to run as she always did. “Are the cops coming? Is security here?”

That stopped him in midstream. He looked at her with incomprehension, his stature frozen in its last wild gesture. Cindy couldn’t deal with this anymore. Her life was too stressful to be acting in what seemed like a really bad Saturday Night Live skit. She began packing her duffel bag. If there was going to be trouble here, she didn’t plan to be around to be part of it.

Songman got up too, but he wasn’t packing. He shook her again. Man, this guy was looking to get belted. “What!” she screamed, on the verge of doing bodily harm. His face froze in midstream. She seemed to startle the Spanish right out of him. Well, at least he wasn’t shaking her anymore. That was a start. Now, to figure out what was going on here.

“Policia?” she asked.

The blank look only lasted for a second before he shook his head.

“No policia? No problemas?”

He shook his head. “No.” He pointed at her.

“Yeah? What about me?”

He put his hands under his head leaning over in a gesture of repose. Great. Our lives are in danger and he’s playing charades, thought Cindy. “Me. Sleep.” He nodded his head vigorously. “Me, sleep. Yeah. So what about me sleep?”

He started making Darth Vader noises and began walking like Frankenstein, then pointing to her. So this guy has been in the States longer than I thought, Cindy thought. He has to be American. How else would you know TV and movies better than your own name? She watched his audition for awhile and forgot what was going on. She’d forgotten about the nightmare even though he’d just woken her up from it. There was a window high up that indicated it was dark and a clock that said 4:10 She must have woken him up. “Yes, I did. I did have a nightmare. I’m sorry I woke you up.” Why did she apologize? It used up valuable energy to be nice.

“Que?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders.

See, I told her so, her street voice said. “I said, sorry to wake you,” she said, pointing at his sleeping bag, agitated at having to repeat herself. As usual, street voice was right.

He shook his head violently, gesturing with his hands that she had misunderstood. “Que sobre?”

Oh. What was the nightmare about. Well, she wasn’t in the mood to explain that either. “Oh, that. Nothing. Nothing happened.”

“Quieres hablar? ” He inquired. How did this guy feel like chatting when he lived like this? ” muy malo, no?”

Not as bad as real life, she thought. She took his question to be rhetorical until she saw the eyes on her. He was genuinely concerned. Cindy wasn’t quite sure what she should do with that. When she was married, she had nightmares all the time, and if she ever had the audacity to wake up her husband with “her stupidity” as he called it, in other words, her feelings, she would be comforted with a fist to her nose. As a child, her mother would leave her alone to them, thinking that she was just being a baby looking for attention, as though a child looking for attention from her mother was a neurotic thing. At thirty, this probably was the first time someone was interested in even knowing if she was all right even though she inconvenienced them. Something deep inside her warmed. Something dangerous. Something human.

“It’s nothing,” she insisted, trying to brush herself more than anything else. He still looked at her, she still felt like the child in the cocoon of her parent. “Nada,” she added for emphasis. The feeling still didn’t go away.

“Es sobre el hombre malo, no?” he pressed.

“Asi asi,” Cindy replied with a smile remembering her favorite Spanish expression. She was always so-so. So-so was invisible and kept her out of trouble. Then she remembered the nightmare, and her stomach bunched in knots. It was all she could do to repress the instinct to clutch it and betray any feeling. She remembered the nightmare, and remembered that for the second time in two weeks she had let a man bleed to his death. Three, if you counted Songman, but at least he had survived. At least, with the first guy, someone heard the screams and got help. But this other man was alone, on a deserted streetshe felt an odd mixture of desperately wanting to go back but recoiling from the idea in fear at the same time. It was getting hard to live with herself, not that it had ever been easy.

Songman laughed. “No es verdad,” he said again.

Cindy sighed exhaustedly, waning to go to sleep but unable to alleviate the conscience that had been aroused in her. She wondered how the hell she was going to explain to this guy, the only one ever interested in her feelings, what they were when she couldn’t even speak the same language.

“Un hombre,” she started, then made a gesture of stabbing herself in the heart.

“Tu veias un hombre muerto?” Did she see the man die, she assumed. Vaguely “muerto” popped back into her memory, a fixation back in the black comedy of high school.

“Si,” she replied. “El hombre malo.” She was at a loss for translation.

“El hombre malo lo hace?” he finished making the gesture of stabbing again. The bad man did it. The bad man of Cindy’s nightmares. Yes, he did it. He was the one making her life hell right now. It was like running from her husband all over again. “Yes,” she finally answered.”

“La policia vienen?” Cindy had no idea if the police showed up. They didn’t like coming down that part of time, which is why she liked the area so much. If they had come any time while she was nearby, she probably would be in some lockup ward somewhere for being a bad little wife who ran away from home. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Yo no se.”

“Tenemos ir,” he announced suddenly, getting up and packing his bag. Cindy watched with a dose of dread and relief mixed into one concoction of bewilderment. “Tenemos ayudar tu amigo.” The better and wiser part of Cindy didn’t want to help whoever she saw stabbed, and whoever the guy was, he definitely wasn’t her friend, but her conscience left her no choice but to comply with Songman’s leading. Her exhaustion gave her no strength to do anything but follow. She couldn’t believe she was walking six miles back to Spanish Harlem with some crazy Spanish hobo who seemed American so who had to be a Puerto Rican lost in some time warp but who was she to talk. It made her question the wisdom of leaving her husband. At least she got to eat at a table once in awhile then. She faced the same dangers here, but with no trips to Sach’s to take her mind off things. There was a veneer of normality then. Now, forget it.

She felt unreal yet familiar. At this time of night, she usually would have been up for hours, not trying to shake out of a restless slumber. Then again she never walked for three hours in a row, which she was pretty sure was how long it took to get here. By the time they reached this bleeding guy, it would be daylight. People would be up and walking around. And here they would come, The Dynamic White Duo To Save The Black World From Itself. Cindy felt like she was going to die any second now.

But she didn’t. And she kept walking, following her leader back to the lion’s den so she could be a two-course meal for the enemy. Yet somehow she couldn’t think to just bolt and leave. It would have seemed the sensible choice. Then again, being sensible was something she seemed too dense to comprehend her whole life. A sensible person wouldn’t have wound up in this situation in the first place, let alone wonder what the practical choice in the midst of insanity was.

He was the leader. Cindy was amazed at how knowledgeable he was about this destination. He knew the area well, almost too well. Just a few hours ago, he was a like a stumbling drunk into oncoming traffic. Now he was the stalwart commander of a battalion. Cindy didn’t understand it. It was as though he had something to do with all this, he knew his way so well, a deducting Cindy contemplated. But he had been in the completely the opposite direction of the whole thing, logic tried to bargain as panic arose in her. He had nothing to do with it. He was not the killer. But, maybe he was working with someone else, the jittery Cindy returned, Maybe he was an accomplice, and was right now taking Cindy back to his friend so they both could keep her permanently quiet. But if that were true, wouldn’t he just take her out himself? There was nobody around. He could get away with it. There was no reason for him to walk with her for seven miles without even threatening her. God knows that if it were her husband he couldn’t last that long without betraying some kind of guile.

Her circular thinking led her to the point until she found herself on the same street as she had been only hours earlier. It looked different, the dawning light had cast the shapes into new filmy hues and outlined formation, but she knew it was the same one. The freeze that had descended upon her last night was with her once again.

There were voices, from behind above she wasn’t exactly sure. They sounded far away and near in the same moment; within her and well removed from her conscious in the same instant. She looked up, and realized that her companion was watching her intently. It annoyed her. She walked from him to dispel the anxiety.

And there it was.

There was blood. She saw where it seeped down the cracks of sidewalks where it had made its final resting place. She could not see its source; he, she was surrounded by four or five indistinguishable figures staring down. She felt her stomach getting sicker. And she’d thought herself so tough, ha ha.

Songman touched her shoulder. She looked up tentatively. He was pointing at the scene. “Es el hombre malo?” he inquired.

Cindy shook her head, not wanting to get into details.

“Ah. Es el victimo, si? Del hombre malo.”

Thank you, Cindy thought softly as she nodded, glad not to have to give an explanation.

They stared at the scene in silence. One of the figures departed in a quick manner, as though he was rushing to get help. At this point it was probably too late, a guilty Cindy thought sardonically. She should have called last night when she saw this, she berated herself.

She was lost in her self-flagellation that somehow she lost timean insistent tug at her shoulder alerted her to the fact that the circle around the fallen victim had dispersed. Songman was busy gesticulating and yapping at her again.

“What?” she barked.

“Veian!” he exclaimed.


“Nos veian!” he pointed at some men who were stating at them.

Oh shit. Cindy thought to her dismay. She felt her insides sinking before she could even collapse. She’d been seen. And she was too exhausted to run. She thought about the guilty conscience that had prompted her to walk from safety across the hills to his hellhole Godforsaken shitplace, and she wondered how stupid she could possible be. Considering that she’d married someone who beat her for a hobby, she presumed that the answer to that pondering would be, very stupid. But her body was too tired to care. What was the point? All this fighting for survival she did, and what did she have to show for her life? She felt like human refuse.

Her friend was shaking her shoulder again. She irritable threw him off her. She didn’t care for this idiot’s touchy-feely ways, Latin or no Latin. She needed, she wanted just to sleep in peace. Songman kept jabbing away. Instinctively, she belted him, lending a yelp from his burly body. Christ, what a wimp this guy really was—

“This guy giving you trouble, uh, lady?”

The deep voice startled her. There, right behind her, were two men in blue. She felt herself backing away in sheer panic.

“Hey, what’s the matter with you? Are you on something?” The figure advanced towards her, yelling and cursing. Cindy could hardly hear what he was saying, her mind was reacting with such a panic. Memories came back, memories of blue officers laughing with her husband, poking fun at Cindy for paranoia, while she sat bleeding and bruised. Memories of a distant arrest for assaulting her husband in self-defense and her breast being pawed by some perverted old cop as she was dragged away. And the knowledge that once she was found, she could be sent back to hell in a gold mine. It was—

“Hey,” the one cop announced. “You look familiar. Where do I know you from?”

Cindy always wondered how she would react in this situation, playing out all the angles In her head. Now, she found herself, sitting on the ground, dumfounded. The scene was unreal to her, and she was angry. She had done nothing wrong. She had done nothing to deserve this torture. She shielded her face to protect herself, hiding what little privacy she had left. Her arm was grabbed, and she heard a shout and a loud thunk before the hold on her was no longer there. In a murky cloud, she looked up, wondering what in the hell was going on now, but relieved more than she could ever remember to be temporarily free once again.

She found out soon enough what was going on, as she saw Songman standing over her, providing a barrier between her and the two cops. They kept trying to get by him to reach her, but each time he neatly blocked them, spewing out the most bizarre barking and hissing noises she’d ever recalled, their strange dissonance momentarily baffling her before realizing it was her chance to escape. She found herself running with a speed and energy that she didn’t know she possessed. There was no one following her; she heard nothing but the echo of her footsteps on the broken asphalt. She had escaped; free once again. Once again, she’d proved she could survive.

And no longer did she look behind her at the place where she had just defiled.

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