What Lurks In the Dark

By: Shanni De La Cruz

His thoughts were occupied with her.  With her.  This was ridiculous only because he didn’t even know her last name.  Jessica…Jessica…something.  That would be his new mission for the month, since this one was nearly over.

Daniel glanced over at AJ.  The guy was bathed in half-light, so Daniel didn’t get a very good look at him.  The pair of them were being…stupid.  Sort of.  It was late, and it was a dark alley, and they were currently walking down said dark alley.  Daniel was somewhat against this, but he had to admit – there was a certain thrill to it.

“So,” Daniel said, grinning at his friend (AJ was his friend – even if the guy wouldn’t admit it.) “Has my plan succeeded yet?  Am I your bestest – friend -” Daniel cut off as he tripped over something, floundered for a moment to catch his balance, and then straightened up like nothing had happened.

AJ glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “You actually had a plan for that?”

“Yes,” Daniel insisted.  “And I do think it’s gone pretty well, actually.  Look at you.  You love me.”

The curly-haired boy shifted uncomfortably. “Could you have made this any more awkward?”

He snorted and turned to AJ bemusedly.  Daniel didn’t feel awkward at all, actually.  Not that he ever did, but still.  “You’re the awkward one, my friend.”

“Shut up,” AJ muttered, shooting a furtive look around the dark alley. Daniel got the distinct impression that he was slightly nervous. “I am not.”

Daniel opened his mouth to reply, but stopped short when he heard…something.  It was a sound.  Daniel wasn’t sure what type of sound; in fact, he didn’t even know how to describe it.  But it was a suspicious sound in a dark alley.  And suspicious sounds in dark alleys were never good news.

Throwing out an arm, he stopped AJ in his tracks, listening for the sound again.  He strained his ears, but all that came to him was that faint buzzing sound that accompanied total silence.  This buzzing sound did nothing to calm him.  Instead, his senses were on high alert, his muscles tense, breathing slowed to listen.

Because if someone was in the alley with them…well…that’d be very bad.

“Um,” AJ said, his breathing coming out slightly ragged. “Please tell me that was your stomach.”

Daniel wanted to snap at him and tell him to shut the heck up, but then his senses caught the overwhelming stench of alcohol.  There was a flash of silver.  Feet scratching gravel.

AJ inhaled sharply, freezing in his tracks. Every muscle in his body looked like it was tensed. The look he sent Daniel was one of pure, wide-eyed terror.

Daniel, for one, felt like he’d been punched.  A wave of something unrecognizable washed over him, and he suddenly felt warm and cold at the same time.  His mind was buzzing and fuzzy, and his heart was beating far too quickly for his own good.

But when he spoke, there was something far too calm about his voice.  Too in-control.  It didn’t match up with his emotions at all.

“Let him go,” he ordered the assailant.

“I want money, all precious, valuable objects, and no one gets hurt, all right, punk?” spat the man in a gruff voice.  Daniel caught sight of long, tangled hair, stubble, stupid clothes, and worn shoes.  Not homeless.  Just a pig.  A homeless man wouldn’t get drunk and attack a couple of high school kids.

“Right, but he needs to be able to move to get his stuff together, doesn’t he?” Daniel snapped.  His mind was doing something strange – analyzing the angle of the man’s arm, guessing just how drunk he was, how he could use some of those ratty clothes as an advantage, as well as the dark alley.  His feet felt around the ground for a weapon – a broken bottle, a stick, anything.  He, himself, was a weapon; he’d learned a little bit of martial arts when he was little, but he’d forgotten half of it already.

“Get it for him, then,” slurred the drunkard.  He gestured to AJ.  “Go on, punk!  Move!”

AJ shook his head at Daniel very slightly, more fear flickering in his eyes. He mouthed something along the lines of, “I don’t have anything.”

Daniel knew this.  He didn’t have any money, either.  But that didn’t matter, because he hadn’t been planning to search AJ, anyway.  Instead, he approached the pair of them slowly, hating how smug the drunkard looked about all this, like he’d planned it all out perfectly.

Daniel was willing to bet the man hadn’t planned on him shoving the dagger up and away from AJ.  He was also willing to guess that the attacker hadn’t planned on Daniel managing to shove (well, more like kick) AJ in the opposite direction as hard as he could.  And he was willing to wager the man hadn’t planned out the nice, satisfying punch he managed to aim at his face.

There was something too fast and too slow about time.  Fire pumped through Daniel’s veins.  It was like the time some guy had tried to take off with his little brother – all that mattered was getting AJ away from the man.  All that mattered was defending AJ.

“Run!” Daniel yelled at AJ.  “Go get help!  You know.  Before he kills me.  That’d be unfortunate.”  And right on cue, the drunkard leapt at Daniel clumsily.

But however clumsily this man was, the fact remained: he had a knife.  And Daniel?  Well, he had nothing.

There was something strange about fighting.  There was a natural rhythm to it.  A push-and-pull kind of effect.  There were patterns, of course, but none that Daniel noticed.  His brain was working too fast and efficiently for his conscious mind to be aware of it.

The only part he was aware of was his mistake.  The mistake that almost literally cost him his life.  He wasn’t quite sure what the mistake was, only that he had to fix it, or a knife would end up lodged in his gut.  Heart leaping into his throat, Daniel dove to the side, felt something white-hot sear up his arm, and then resumed the fight for the knife, and trying to pin the guy down at the same time.  And after some more hits, blows, and that strange fighting pattern Daniel couldn’t quite grasp, he caught hold of the knife, yanked it out of the man’s grip, and flung it to the other side of the alley.

Out of breath, exhausted, but relieved, Daniel focused on pinning the enormous man down.  It would be quite a feat, but he could do it.  Maybe.  Eh.  He’d see in a moment.

A shadow appeared behind the man, and the next thing Daniel knew, something was slamming over the other guy’s head. The force from the collision sent the drunk reeling back and away from Daniel. He rolled over onto his belly, and didn’t move.

For a moment, the only sounds in the alley were ragged breathing and desperate heart beats.  Still somewhat frightened, Daniel looked over at AJ, who was holding a crowbar (trust him to find a crowbar) and asked quickly, “You all right?”

“Yeah,” AJ answered, his voice breaking at the end. He cleared his throat and settled his gaze on Daniel. “Yeah, I’m good. You?”

The sharp pain shot up his forearm again, and Daniel felt something dripping down, into his hand.  But he ignored it, nodding and taking a tentative step towards their attacker.

“You didn’t kill him, right?” Daniel asked hesitantly.  In the half light, he couldn’t tell.

“Nah,” said AJ, leaning down and pressing his fingers to the guy’s neck. “Wait – yeah, no, he’s still alive. Great. Let’s call the cops.”

For some strange reason, Daniel found himself laughing.  It started with a snort, slowly transitioned into silent laughter, and then slowly increased in volume.

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Daniel said, delivering a kick to the drunkard’s side.  He didn’t even stir.  “We nearly died!  Ha!”

AJ gave him a look of incredulity, sent Daniel a disbelieving laugh, and ran his hands through his hair. He dropped the crowbar. “Thanks for – well – thanks,” he finished lamely.

“Any time, my friend!” Daniel said cheerfully.  “Thanks for not killing him!  Or me!  Both of those situations would’ve been very unfortunate.”  He raised his arm to clap AJ on the shoulder, winced at the stupid scratch, and then settled for elbowing him with his other arm.  “So…do you have your phone?  I think mine’s about to die.”

“Yeah,” breathed AJ, pulling it out. “Here.” He handed it to Daniel with shaky fingers. “Do the thing.”

Daniel took the phone, opened his mouth to ask for the password, typed in Becca Jackson to see if that did anything, and was delighted to see that it worked.

“Becca Jackson,” Daniel commented, moving down the alley and into the light to inspect his arm.  “I like your style, man.  Well done.”

The black-haired boy turned vividly pink. “Just call the police.”

Daniel did as he asked, somehow managing to make a stupid joke with the lady on the other end of the 911 line.  When she asked if he needed an ambulance, he hesitated, glancing down at his bloodied arm, and then to the drunk.  So he answered with a “probably,” another dumb joke that made the woman laugh, and then hung up.

“Ten minutes,” Daniel reported, returning to AJ’s side.  “You feel dizzy, AJ?  Lightheaded?  Sick?  Under the weather?  Because I personally don’t think he deserves an ambulance.”

AJ spared the guy a glance and moved his gaze to Daniel’s arm. Guilt flooded his expression. “Yeah, but you definitely do.”

Daniel glanced down.  His arm was cold and stiff now.  He tried wiping some of the blood off on his pants, but that only made him look like a psycho murderer.

“Ladies like scars, right?  Makes me look manly,” he commented, nodding at AJ.

The sophomore snorted. “Okay, Daniel.” But that didn’t erase any of the anxiety from his features. “I – uh….I’m sorry I ran off. I thought that if I found something quick enough, you’d be okay…”

Daniel frowned.  “I am okay.  You did fine, AJ.  Look – you’re alive, the drunk’s asleep, and I’m fine.  And we have one heck of a story to tell on Monday.”  He couldn’t think of anything better.

 

AJ groaned, and put his face in his hands. “My father’s going to kill me.”

“Why?” Daniel asked interestedly.  “You almost got chopped up.  It’s hardly your fault some guy got drunk and decided to impale you with a sword.”

“It wasn’t a sword.”

“Yeah, well, it certainly felt like one.”

AJ winced at that and stood up. “I’ll – I’ll go with you in the ambulance, okay? I’d be a really lame friend if I didn’t at least make sure you survived.”

Daniel felt like grinning like an idiot, but he forced himself to wince believably, as though his arm was hurting him.  “What?  After this, I’m not best friend?  Ow!  Jeez.”  He scowled.

The sophomore rolled his eyes at him, evidently not buying the act. “I don’t see how you couldn’t be,” he replied, something quiet about his voice as he said it.

Daniel erupted, throwing his injured arm into the air as he celebrated.  It hurt worse than anything, but he did his best to ignore it.  “YES!  AHA!”

“Oh, shut up. You’re such an idiot.”

“MY EVIL PLAN HAS SUCCEEDED.”

“…I hate you.”

“AHA!  I’M AMAZING, AJ.  TELL ME I’M AMAZING.  I’M AMAZING.”

AJ just stood there, scowling his trademark scowl at the ground.

Daniel lowered his arms, still grinning.  After a long moment, his thoughts returned back to AJ’s phone.

“…Becca Jackson?  Really?”

He turned a funny shade of purple in the dim light. “I – it – she’s – shut up.”

 

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