“Are you okay?”
She offered her hand to the young boy that just fell on the sidewalk. His face was slightly contorted, and there were some red scratch marks located on his knees. He took one long look at the girl, but instead staggered to his bare feet on his own and ran off without a word.
Sammy’s mouth tightened for just a moment. He wasn’t the first to turn away her help, and he probably wouldn’t be the last. She backed up and returned to her seat on the concrete stair, which immediately burned through her thin and ragged shorts. She winced, but did not get up from her seat.
A loud car horn grabbed her attention, but her head did not shoot up as Sammy looked right. The driver of a small Nissan popped his head out the driver’s window, and shouted at three children playing tag in the middle of the street. The driver spoke with a booming and enraged tone at the children, who were no older than pre-teens. But the kids simply backed up to the sidewalk with the most flat expressions anyone could wear. The car drove off, and Sammy heard the man’s irritated voice for a few more seconds until he turned a corner down the road.
Her focus returned to the kids, who walked in her direction, side by side. She knew them. Well, knew of them. They lived in the same building as her, but they didn’t pay her a lot of attention since she was younger than them. Sammy scootched aside as the three walked up the stairs where she sat, and whisked past her as though she hadn’t even been there.
Of course, she caught a couple of their words as they passed her.
And then they disappeared inside the building, leaving Sammy to sit in front of it alone, again.
Yet she didn’t want that to stay that way. Nicky, Jess, and Brandon left earlier that morning for some city-wandering, and she wondered if they simply forgot to invite her. Sammy stood, brushed off her ragged shorts and shirt, and strolled leftward down the sidewalk.
These couple of blocks were full of tattered buildings that she’d seen before, practically every day. And a quick glance told her nothing had changed here. The cracked brown bricks on the apartment across the street, the word ‘SALE’ torn straight off the dull yellow awning of an old thrift store, even the two homeless guys tucked in an alley she walked past….everything was the same shape and form as it had been for days, months, years even. Another kid would walk by Sammy every now and then, wearing that same ragged look on their faces or bodies like those pre-teens earlier. Not that she was much different though.
Another four blocks of the same old dullness that wore over her mind, leading her to sigh inwardly over and over again. The street was more or less quiet, except for the occasional quiet conversation. As Sammy stopped at a corner with an old lamp she looked down the street. More of the same as what she’d just seen.
A moment later, without hesitation, she turned left. And rather than walk she took up something close to a running pace.
A few of the buildings here were somewhat decrepit also, but not all of them. Two blocks later, Sammy caught a whiff of something. It was a faint but warm scent, not the smell of a hot May afternoon in the city, but rather something smoky and meaty. And two more blocks later, she skidded to a halt and stared at the street corner.
Hot dog vendor. A chubby man in an apron next to a large cart that was steaming and constantly spewing little bouts of smoke every couple of seconds. The sizzling sound of meat on the makeshift grill was like music, and the smell of tender meat grew ever stronger with every passing second.
Sammy returned to a walking pace, then set her hands in her pockets. She walked past the vendor, her chin down and her elbows pushed tight into her sides. Her stomach grumbled, but that only made her walk faster, further away from the vendor and his charge. Once the smell of meat faded a little, Sammy slowed her pace and removed her hands from the pockets. Then she lifted her chin and looked around.
The sights and sounds here were a far cry from her own neighborhood. Most people walking around here were well-dressed, with clean shirts and shoes and….dresses. Sammy stopped and spun around when three young adults walked past her. The lady on the left wore one of the prettiest dresses she’d ever seen: a gentle flowery pattern, and a colored mix of blues and greens and everything in between. It flowed so perfectly past the woman’s knees, and looked unbelievably soft as a single thick strap over her right shoulder held the entire dress up on the woman’s body. In seconds the two women disappeared into the crowd of people.
Sammy looked away, her eyelids drooping. If only….... She set her hands back in her pockets and continued down the street.
Even though some people shot her suspicious glances as she walked, she didn’t mind. She loved this street. There were always new people walking about, telling new stories every day, leading different lives that she could never dream of living. The sights, the sounds, the smells….there was always something new to discover. She could not help but listen in on the multiple conversations happening at once while she strolled.
“....tickets to that game?! You’re the-”
“....money can’t be….”
“....looks like crap, so return it….”
She wanted to focus in, listen to what some of these people had to say. But not here on the street. She had to find the perfect spot first. And a few more blocks down, she stopped and scanned: here stood a little park with some benches, trees, and flowering bushes. Sammy skipped on over to one of the trees, where a large boulder sat beneath it. She quickly ascended to the top of the stone and properly sat down after a quick stretch of the legs. A small breeze kicked in and blew right through her thin clothes, reaching skin in some parts. With the added tree shade, Sammy knew she’d found the perfect perch for the next few hours.
Most stayed on the sidewalks, but some people walked through or sat in the little park area. Sammy swung her legs out on occasion, and slowly scanned the area. This small place bustled with life in a way her own neighborhood never could. People laughed, chatted, argued, and strolled, and Sammy could not help but let a smile overtake her lips.
Everyone walked in either pairs or groups. Those walking alone were typically men she noticed, most of them in nice suits or outfits. She spotted lots of women, though, and while she caught sight of a couple chatty teenagers there really weren’t any kids her age. No signs of other orphans either…..
A glint in the corner of her eye caught her attention first. Two women walked into a local coffee shop on the other side of a street. In the two seconds she had a view of them, Sammy noticed their brightly-colored shirts and skirts almost immediately. They also wore many sparkling earrings and necklaces between the both of them. She couldn’t get much more than that, however, once they went inside. A family walked around the park in front of her, two parents and a toddler. The little boy looked so happy with that big grin as he jumped around, holding one hand from both what seemed to be his mother and father.
Sammy breathed in sharply after watching them for a few moments longer, but it wasn’t long before she pulled her gaze away. And when she did she observed a bench, where two young men and a young woman sat. They were far enough away that she wasn’t noticed by them, but close enough that she could hear their loud conversation.
“I mean, when is the governor gonna do something about them?” argued the woman, who looked so red and flustered she might have picked a fight with someone right then and there.
“What can the governor do, really?” asked one of the men, who had black hair brushed neatly on top of his head. “They’re not tied to the government in any way, you know.”
“I don’t care,” replied the woman. “Those brats are going to do some damage one day. That’s what happens when you have unattended children like that running around.”
Sammy pricked up when she heard that, and turned her head to get a better listen of their words. Did they speak of what she thought they did?
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” said the other man, whose skin was a little darker than the other two. “From what I hear on the news it’s not that bad.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, because the news gets everything right. All I’m saying is that if someone doesn’t try to control those brats in Legion, who knows? Someone could get killed.”
“Yeah, that seems a bit exaggerated. They’re kids, Karen….”
So they hadn’t been talking about what Sammy thought they were. Still, this wasn’t exactly a new topic for her. She’d heard of Legion, though she didn’t know much about them. Rumor was that it was a group of thousands of people, or more specifically kids, that did stuff all over the world. What ‘stuff’ they did, she hadn’t a clue. Maybe somebody else did, but she had yet to hear anything specific.
She did, however, know that Legion first emerged less than five years ago, and were so known of that Sammy would hear them mentioned at least a couple times a day. They did this in London, this in Fance, this in China…….over and over again. Sometimes it was charity work, or tournaments, or stopping robberies and fires….there were so many tall tales it was hard to tell what was true, and what was not.
After a long exhale of breath Sammy returned to people-watching. She observed the crowds dissipate, grow, and change, over and over for what felt like hours. Warm air on the breeze slapped her every now and then, and she could feel her back and her neck getting a little wet. She opened her mouth every and then for a yawn, but watching the passerby for some time kept her mind occupied otherwise. There was certainly diversity and variety in the people she observed, but there didn’t seem to be anyone or anything particularly eye-catching. A few minutes later she yawned again and stretched her legs some more. Her stomach grumbled ferociously-
Sammy about did a double take while looking back out into the crowd. A figure caught and then recaptured her attention, and she could not help but squint and lean forward for a better look.
A teenager. It looked like an older teenager, sixteen, seventeen maybe. Or eighteen? The individual in question sported a very feminine figure, had long brownish hair that reached the middle of her back, and her face looked smooth and fair in color. She wasn’t too short, or too tall. She looked like any other teen or young woman in this area.
Yet….she walked alone down the sidewalk. She carried no accessories either: no purse, no bag or backpack, no shopping bags either. From the look of it, too, there was nothing in her pockets either. And yet she still wore a fancy-looking blue shirt with dark denim jeans, all of which looked immaculate. But strangest of all was the look in her eye. The teen’s gaze seemed forward and fixated. Sammy had never seen that look in anyone’s eyes, but everything about this teen snatched her attention and held on with ferocity. She could do nothing except tilt her head with a burning curiosity.
The teen’s gaze then shifted. In a heartbeat, her eyes made contact with….Sammy.
She pulled away in an instant, and immediately felt a loss of balance. But she couldn’t react in time as her buttt, then her back and feet, crashed onto the grass. She groaned loudly as she sat up. No one offered help, and no one asked if she was alright. But that wasn’t important.
What….what was that? she thought. What just happened? Sammy stood up, a slight ache burning throughout her body, and looked across the street. She scanned the entire sidewalk three times. But the teen had simply vanished.
Startled, Sammy spun around. Her heart stopped as soon as she identified three boys and a girl, all older than her by a few years. She backed up a little as the rag-clothed kids approached her.
“That was quite a fall, huh?” said one of the boys, clearly the leader among them.
Sammy tried speaking back, but it only came out as a stutter. “I-I tried t-t-to catch mys-self-”
“Yeah, clearly,” said one fo the other boys, who advanced towards her.
She quickly looked at the rock where she just sat, then back at the leader. “Trev!” she yipped. “Y-you can have the b-b-boulder-”
“I can have the boulder?” the boy snapped, crossing his arms while he slowly walked towards a frozen Sammy. “You make it sound like it was yours, but I just let you sit there in the afternoons because I hate the heat.”
Sammy gulped. He towered over her now, a head taller than she, and had unusually thick arms for a street kid. His eyes were fixed on her, narrow and steely, like a predator looking down at his prey. She had to get out of there, now.
And the brief emergence of that thought had her instinctively push him away and take off.
“That does it! Get her!”
She ran for her life down the street, weaving around people and the carts. She wanted to head back northwest, back home, but the little blockade of Trev’s cronies forced her in the exact opposite direction.
Sammy skirted around the streets and cars and people. She wanted to turn a corner, but the girl of Trev’s group was already on the other side of the street. Even in the throng of the crowd she could hear them yelling and whooping behind her. Her heart raced and her mind became frazzled as instinct took over her every thought and movement.
One of the boys dove to her from the side, and in a split second she jumped over her attacker and pushed harder. But she was losing her energy, fast. She quickly turned the corner and about skidded to a halt.
In front of her stood a small field of dead grass and weeds. Beyond that, the river.
Loud and quick footsteps behind her forced Sammy to run again. This time, she tried going around the buildings at the end of the street. If she could do that she could circle back home.
But the girl was already waiting for her. The four older kids had her trapped.
“You know, if you just let it happen I coulda let you off with a painful warning,” Trev shouted. “But you just had ta make it worse, didn’t you?”
Sammy could not respond. She shook too much. She didn’t even know why she’d done any of this. She just….reacted, earlier.
“Yeah, yeah, we know the orphanage you stay at,” the girl piped, slowly walking towards Sammy. And she wasn’t the only one. “And we’ve heard you don’t like this part of the city.”
She about froze in place. Trev smirked and stepped forward.
“How about we all go for a quick swim?”
Her brain shut off completely, and she bolted in an instant. But the girl and one of the boys grabbed her with little effort, and pulled her towards the river. She did not scream, but she fought back and whined. The two pulled her near an old lamppost, and she grabbed on it. Her arms wrapped around the rough object as she held on for dear life. Her legs and hips were being pulled something fierce, but by now she’d closed her eyes.
“Let go, you little rat!”
Someone punched her shoulder. The pain shot right up into her neck, but she still held on tightly. Someone else’s knuckles made contact with her fingers, and while her grip loosened she still did not let it go.
“Stop fightin’ it.” Trev’s voice was right in her ear; he almost shouted the words right next to her. Suddenly a hand grabbed her hair and pulled her upwards. It sent a terrible stinging sensation all the way down her back, and she let out a loud groan while her grip on the post weakened enough for her to be pulled away from it. She opened her eyes and saw Trev, holding her by her hair, his other hand ready to slap her….maybe even punch her. She could not fight the shaking of her hands even as they rose to grab the arm that clutched her hair.
“This is what happens when you disrespect me, girlie.”
The voice was coarse, and threatening. Sammy’s eyes widened. She had no idea what was coming next, but now she could no longer move.
A large hand suddenly reached out from the corner of her vision and grasped Trev’s wrist before his hand could fly. And a deep feminine voice spoke.
“That’s enough of that.”