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A Cold Night On The Corner

October 27, 2013

While I have given up on this story professionally, as in I don’t think it is going to sell, I still stand by it from the standpoint of ‘this was a good idea.’  Basically, I’ve been meditating a lot on the Urban Fantasy genre recently, and how the majority of it is just Noir with Magic.  It’s generally inclusive enough to include lady-protagonists but if you’re not white chances are good you’re some pigeon holed type of magical person.  If you’re Black in the South in an Urban Fantasy novel, you either know voodoo, some African remnant, or maybe something from Native Americans that crossed your family’s blood line.  This isn’t a story that sets out to necessarily fix that problem, since it’s opposing other UF tropes as well.  I don’t know, I like it and I stand by it conceptually, but it might not have hit the mark I wanted to.

Lucius pulled his hood up over his ears as another cold wind blew through the intersection.

The cold seemed to cut through everything, chilling Lucius to his bones, despite the sun shining above. Winter had hit the city hard, with snow already to threatening to fall by the end of the week. The streets were becoming more and more empty every day as people sought shelter from the frigid world that now surrounded them. When people did leave their homes, they moved quickly with their heads down to avoid the stinging winds that seemed to come out of nowhere.

The young boy’s eyes flicked up and down the two streets that met at the intersection. The only people in sight were the other boys that were hanging out at the corner. There were the same cars parked on the side of the street that were always there, but not a single one that was actually moving. People weren’t even coming to the corner store on a regular basis.

The Korean grocery’s windows continuously had metal gates down in front of them though bright florescent light always escaped through the glass door. The gates were covered in graffiti, which was covered up by posters the old owner would hang advertising anything that he thought would drum up business. For the past month and a half the window Lucius faced had a large sign on it that said, ‘Craft Beer Sold Here.’

Whatever the hell that meant.

Lucius gazed across the pavement at the little grocery store, and the two floors of apartments that rested above it. He could go for a soda, but it’d probably freeze in this weather.

Another wind blasted down the street and Lucius found himself hunching his shoulders against it. After it passed, the young teenager moved a few feet down Fremont Avenue, pressing his back against the old boarded windows of the largely empty building they stood in front of. If he was going to stand out here in the cold, he wasn’t going to get hit on every side by freezing winds.

It had been a restaurant when he was a little kid. Or at least the first floor had been, above it was a few floors of apartments, just like the building with the grocer across the intersection. It had been good. Real food, made right.

Lucius licked his lips just thinking about the smell of the place. The scent of smoke and meat that would hit you as soon as you walked in, with hints of all the sides that would be cooking. Sometimes, they’d be baking pies or something and that’s when it smelled the best.

His mother took him in there for his birthday once, and he had gotten a thick slice of cherry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that was just starting to melt by the time it had reached the table. Lucius had never tasted something so sweet in his entire life. As far as he could remember, he hadn’t had anything that sweet ever since. The little pies that they had at the grocer across the way never tasted as good.

Then again, nothing tasted as good as real food, made right.

He still didn’t know why the place had gone out of business. The owner had been old, he remembered. An old bald man who had been dark. Real dark. Almost Island Dark. He had always been so happy to see people come in. Always smiling and waving at people, asking what they were doing or how their kids were.

That old man was probably dead now.

That’s probably why they closed.

Another cold wind blew down the street, and this time Jamal came around the corner. His hood was over his head as well, and he was zipping up his puffy oversized jacket to further protect against the cold.

“Man, this is fucking bullshit,” Jamal spat on the ground, the spittle freezing not long after it hit the cement.

Lucius merely shrugged, not wanting to upset Jamal further with a comment.

“All those motherfuckers on the TV always talking about global warming and shit,” Jamal would talk regardless of what Lucius said anyway, “Well, where the fuck is it, man? Where’s my fucking global warming when my black ass is freezing out here trying to make a livin’?”

Lucius shook his head and looked down the street, “I don’t know, man.”

“I know you don’t know, Lu. You don’t know shit.” Jamal shook his head as he walked to the edge of the sidewalk, glaring down Baker Street and then Fremont Avenue, “Jesus, man, why do you think everything needs a conversation? Can’t I just fucking speak my God damned mind without you getting all up in my shit?”

Lucius simply stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground.

“It bein’ cold shouldn’t fucking matter, Lu. You know why?”

Lucius scuffed his shoe against the ground while he tried to shove his hands deeper into his pockets and further away from the cold.

Jamal rounded on him, “Lu, I asked if you know why?”

“I don’t know, Jamal. Why shouldn’t it matter that it’s cold?”

“Because junkies need their damn junk whether it’s a million degrees out or zero. We’ve been here all God damned day and I swear I seen half our regular customers. Where the fuck they goin’? No one else has shit as good as ours, and it’s not like they all just decided to up and get clean all of a sudden. Where is everybody, man?”

Lucius stared at the older teen for a few moments before answering, “I don’t know, man. Lot more police around here lately.”

“What police go around arresting junkies now but not us? How the hell that make any sense, Lu?” Jamal pointed at Lucius and shook his head, “See, Lu, this is what I’m sayin’. You don’t know nothin’. You need to use your brain, man.”

Lucius nodded his head. He already knew not to say anything when Jamal started criticizing him. The older boy would run out of steam relatively quickly if Lucius didn’t give him any ammunition.

He was just bored, like everyone else on the corner was when nothing was happening.

Jamal stood in silence with Lucius as the sun quickly moved across the sky. As it began its descent past the horizon, the intersection became bathed in its slightly warming light. Even with the sun’s rays beating down on him though, Lucius still felt cold.

Winter would only get worse before it got better.

A large black SUV rolled up as the afternoon started to transform into evening. At first glance, Lucius got ready with the wad of bills that he kept tucked inside of his pocket. He was in charge of all the money, even though Jamal thought he knew nothing. Lucius quickly realized that it wasn’t some rich kids looking to score but the guy who was really in charge of their corner.

Or well, the guy who was in charge of Jamal at least.

Lucius knew there were other people above him but he had no idea how many. One time he had seen a guy older than his father who spoke to Jamal for all of a minute. Jamal had been shaking the whole time. He figured that whoever that guy was, he had to be the boss.

Eddie was just the guy directly above Jamal. He always rode around in a nice car, with the same thick necked guy driving. The driver was built like a tank and always looked like he hadn’t taken a dump in four days. Lucius might have made a joke about it if not for the fact that he was certain that the driver could crush his skull between his meaty palms.

It was strange to Lucius, that he could always remember the driver’s face no matter how long it had been, but he could barely remember Eddie. There wasn’t anything special about him. He smiled and laughed a lot but when you looked at him it was hard to find anything particularly defining about him. Eddie was just Eddie.

Eddie and Jamal quickly shook hands through the window of the car, “How’s it going, man?”

“It’s shit, Eddie. Nobody been ’round cause it’s too cold, man.”

“You’re the only one having this problem, Jamal. What the hell?”

“I don’t know, man. You see anybody walking down this street.”

Eddie stared into Jamal’s face, frowning, “How do I know this place wasn’t packed just an hour ago, Jamal? Seriously, man, where yo’ customers?”

“Like I told you, Eddie. I don’t know.”

“You know where they hang out? You know where they sleep at night?”

Lucius quickly grew disinterested in the conversation. It was the same one they had been having every few days since it had gotten cold. Eddie would go make a big stink of the fact that Jamal was light or that there was no one around but eventually, he’d let it pass. Once, the driver had even gotten out of the car and searched Jamal, just to make sure he wasn’t stealing.

The ringing of a bicycle bell cut clear through the frosted air.

Lucius’s eyes quickly snapped to Baker Street.

She always came by right around this time of day. Lucius bit his lip as she passed by, riding the same shining fancy bicycle she always rode. She was easily the most beautiful white woman Lucius had ever seen, and he didn’t know why but he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Something about her long blond hair, and the way it flowed in the cold wintry air. Or maybe it was the tight jeans she always wore.

Lucius had no idea what it was, but he wished he could just have her for a moment. He knew that she was too old for him though. He was fourteen and she had to be… well, at least twenty he reasoned. No matter how mature he was that pretty white girl would only ever see him as a cute kid at best.

Her blond hair spun about as she turned to look at all the boys on the corner. He knew everyone else would be avoiding her gaze or giving her the stink eye but Lucius couldn’t help himself. He stared back at her, his eyes lingering at her chest. She never seemed to wear a jacket, and even from the corner, Lucius could see her nipples poking through her tight t-shirt.

“Lucius!” Eddie’s voice instantly broke the spell. Only Eddie and his mother ever called Lucius by his actual name, and he didn’t consider it good when they did. Turning to the nondescript man, he found Eddie not angry but smiling. “Don’t go chasing after no white bitches, man.” Jamal joined in as Eddie smacked his hand against the side of the car while laughing. Even Eddie’s driver was laughing, though his head did turn to observe the girl in his mirrors as she passed by.

Lucius frowned and looked away from the older men as they wrapped up their conversation. “What about this little man over there? He one of yours?” Eddie asked, gesturing across the street.

Lucius followed Eddie’s fingers to Big Ray and Little Ray, the mismatched pair that took care of the stash. Big Ray stood guard over it while Little Ray would run product to the customers after they paid. While Big Ray was bundled up like everyone else, Little Ray stood with his arms wrapped about himself, his hands snaked back up into the thin sleeves of his old windbreaker.

“Yeah, he’s my runner,” Jamal replied with a nod.

Eddie shook his head in disbelief, pulling several bills from a wad of cash. “You get that kid something to wear if he’s going to be standing out here. Something big he can grow into.”

“Sure thing, Eddie.”

“Alright, we peacin’,” Eddie gave a nod to his driver as he rolled up the window to his car. The SUV drove off, and as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone. The corner was empty once again.

As the sun began to dip over the horizon, Jamal shook his head, “Man, what is it with you and that white bitch?”

“I don’t know, she’s pretty,” Lucius responded from where he was now seated against the old diner. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if there were really princesses in the world, that white girl would be what they looked like. She reminded him of Zelda, not that he would tell Jamal that, then he’d just get shit for playing a ‘gay’ video game.

“Pfft, she ain’t pretty. She looks like a fucking skeleton, man.” Jamal then began to pretend he was humping a girl’s backside, swinging his hand back and forth like he was smacking her butt cheeks. “You need to get yourself a real black female, man. A woman with meat on her bones and shit, someone you can ride all night long.” He punctuated the last four words with lewd thrusts in Lucius’ direction.

“Whatever, man.”

“Shit, Lu. I’m just sayin’ you need a real woman, not some skinny white bitch who doesn’t know shit about cookin’ or nothin’. I mean think about it, man, that woman is probably like a vegetarian or some shit. You ever eat vegetarian pussy, man? It tastes nasty.”

Lucius merely shrugged in response.

“Man, this one time, I was out with a girl…” Jamal began.

A cold wind howled through the intersection, and Lucius shivered once again.

 

#

“H-h-h-ho-how much will, uh, ten get me?” The junkie’s voice shook more than his frail frame as he extended the crumpled assortment of bills.

“One,” Lucius replied grabbing the cash from the shaking fingers before flashing the sign to Big Ray and Little Ray across the street. “You meet him in the back alley over here, and he’ll have the stuff for you.” Lucius gestured to the alleyway that existed directly behind the building where the restaurant once resided.

“G-g-great.”

The junkie continued to shake, though Lucius couldn’t tell if it was because he was really in need of a hit or the fierce cold that had settled over the city. Slowly, his bloodied and chapped lips broke into a smile that stretched his ashen skin against his skull. Lucius offered a weak smile back, staring into the man’s forehead rather than his sunken eyes or rotting teeth.

“Yeah,” Lucius said. After a year of handling the money on the corner he still was never sure how to end these awkward conversations. He felt like they should end when he told them to meet Little Ray in the alley but they never seemed to.

The junkie scratched at his skin and continued to stand there for an extra beat.

“The alley,” Lucius reminded him, pointing again to where he could wait.

“Shit, I know,” the junkie chided, his bones creaking as he began to walk away, his feet scraping the cold ground as he turned down the alleyway.

Across the street, Little Ray had gotten the product and was taking the long way around to the alleyway. It went around the whole backside of the old restaurant’s building, and then ran parallel to Fremont Avenue behind the row houses that lined the street. There was the entrance they sent junkies down on Fremont, and then the entrance Little Ray used to make the drop off of Baker Street. Lucius thought it was silly but he knew saying so would just make Jamal angry.

The wind howled down Baker Street again, causing Jamal to come around the corner, cursing beneath his breath as he threw his hood up. The older teen shook his head, as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of the hooded sweatshirt he wore beneath his oversized puffy jacket. “Man, screw this weather,” he muttered as he leaned against the heavy particle board that covered the windows. His head turned briefly to Lucius, “We make any money today?”

“Under three hundred,” Lucius answered, not even having to think about the dwindling amount of customers that had stopped by the corner that day.

“Shit, man. Screw this fucking economy.”

“What?”

“Fuck, Lu, you really don’t know nothing. The economy, man. It’s bad.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Like, how bad?”

“It’s bad, alright, man?” Jamal frowned, shaking his head once more, “Bad enough that junkies ain’t buyin’ junk, you know?”

Lucius jerked his head to two young white guys who were walking into the Korean grocery. They were tall and thin, with scarves wrapped up around their faces. As they stepped into the light of the doorway, one of them laughed, the noise ringing out amongst the half-empty buildings of Fremont and Baker.

“What about them?”

“What about them?” Jamal spat back.

“The economy bad for them?”

“It don’t work like that, Lu. Jesus! There ain’t different fucking economies or somethin’, it’s the economy.” Jamal rubbed his eyes out of frustration before looking back at Lucius. “You think two LL Bean mo’fuckers like that, with their scarves and shit, would be living here if they were makin’ money? The economy’s bad, man. It’s screwing everybody.”

Lucius shrugged, leaning back against the building as Jamal crossed his arms and looked down the streets to see if any customers were walking up. He snorted and shook his head, “There goes your white bitch.”

The blond girl was walking down the street for once, though she still lacked a jacket despite the freezing weather. She wore a thin white t-shirt, and tight jeans that were held up by a pair of thin suspenders. When she caught sight of Jamal and Lucius she smiled at them while her delicate hand waved back and forth.

Lucius couldn’t help himself as he raised his hand back in recognition, eliciting a giggle from the young woman as she crossed Fremont Avenue.

Jamal turned around and smacked Lucius’ hand down, “Why don’t you just call the police for her, Lu?”

“She’s not going to call the police.”

“I don’t know why I bother, Lu. You really don’t think some white lady is going to call the police on us? Alright, maybe she won’t now because of the bad economy and cold keeping the junkies away but you think she’s going to want to walk by here and smile and wave at your dumb ass when she has to step over strung out junkies? Or that she’d ride that bike around here if we was beefin’ with some other crew? Nah, man. That white bitch will have her phone glued to her ear being like, ‘Oh God, Police?! This is Becky the White Bitch and there are people doing illegal narcotics in my neighborhood!? Yes, narcotics!’” Jamal smacked his palms against each other in a loud clap, “And that will be the end of it, man. Fucking police will be here every damn day until either we’re gone or on the inside.”

“No, man. It won’t be like that,” Lucius shook his head, hunching up his shoulders as another cold wind blew down Baker Street, wisps of it reaching onto Fremont Avenue to make him shiver.

“Yeah, man,” Jamal said with sorrow as he gazed over the intersection, “I’d say we got till spring, maybe summer before we got to move on. Might have to get rough, crack some skulls to get a nicer corner, you know?”

“Yeah…” Lucius replied, trying not to imagine the brawls that would fill the warmer months if Jamal was right.

The older teen slipped a cigarette out from a pack and placed it between his lips. For a brief moment, the flame from his lighter illuminated their corner, providing a small orange light to counter the harsh white glow of the Korean grocer. His eyes narrowed as he stared across the street at Big Ray. “Yo, where’s the little man?”

Lucius looked up, surprised to find that Little Ray was still in the alley. “He’s on a drop, man.”

“Been on that drop too long, who was it?”

“Some junkie.”

“Go check on it.”

“Seriously?” Lucius asked as he looked at Jamal.

Jamal slowly nodded, his light-skinned chubby face illuminated by his cigarette, “Yeah. Those junkie-fucks, man. Sometimes they’ll do something stupid because… well, cause they be junkie-fucks.”

“Alright,” Lucius nodded and turned to move down the alley.

“Hold up, give me the cash, and take the piece.”

“What?” Lucius turned back around.

“He could be waiting around the corner with a brick or something, man. Take the piece.”

“Ok, man,” Lucius nodded. Like everything Jamal suggested it seemed overly cautious and a little silly but he wasn’t going to argue. He slapped the wad down into Jamal’s hand, and then stood in front the car where they always hid the piece.

The car was some tiny sensible Asian thing, all curves with an engine that sounded like a lawnmower. Sitting atop the wheel, just beneath the car’s frame, was one of the small number of guns that they kept around just in case something happened. Lucius hadn’t even noticed that today he had the nine millimeter. He really preferred the .38, it was smaller but he swore that it was easier to shoot. Still, he wasn’t about to say something to Jamal about it.

The metal was cold, and the gun felt surprisingly heavy in his hand. With a deep breath he pressed his hand against the barrel and slid back the frame to load a bullet into the chamber. The slide snapped back into place, and Lucius tucked the pistol into the waistband of his jeans before covering it with his oversized hoodie.

Lucius turned around and walked into the alley the same way the customers did.

His boots crunched on the gravel that covered the old space, each step sounding like an explosion to his ears. He took a deep breath and he looked around. It was dark, and he realized that Jamal was right, a junkie could come at him with a brick and he’d never know.

“Ray?” His voice seemed to be swallowed by the darkness of the alley. “Where you at, little man?” He asked, trying to raise his voice above the sounds of the city.

No response except for the distant sound of a car going down a street.

Cold began to creep up Lucius’ spine as he slowly walked past the row houses and the old restaurant, probing deeper into the shadows. Despite the cold, beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. His breathing became heavy, and his muscles started to tense up. Slowly Lucius’ right hand moved toward his waist, ready to grip the cold piece that was pressed against his skin.

“I’m strapped, man,” he announced to the emptiness around him, “Don’t try nothing.”

His foot stepped down onto something slick, and he instantly pulled it back.

Lucius’ head moved stiffly as he looked down at his feet. A pool of liquid was slowly expanding along the gravel of the alley. “Oh God,” he whispered, his eyes shutting tight as images of a mangled Little Ray filled his mind.

With a deep breath he opened his eyes and followed the trail of blood by rays of pale moonlight that were slowly reaching out from behind the clouds. The red ooze lead him instead to the junkie, his ashen skin ripped apart to the bone.

Bile rose in Lucius’ throat as he stumbled away, unable to comprehend what he was looking at.

A loud snapping noise caught his attention, drawing his eyes past the mutilated corpse of the junkie to a shadowy figure that was hunched over in the center of the alleyway. Snow was falling around the figure, Lucius realized as he stepped unconsciously toward it, mesmerized by the sounds coming from it. There was a continuous sickening symphony of snapping, slurping, and smacking.

Lucius knew those sounds.

He remembered a time when his Dad had taken him to that old restaurant on the corner. It was one of the few times he could remember his father being on the outside. He had gotten a bunch of chicken wings, and had been trying to teach Lucius his ‘patented method,’ for eating wings with one hand. When he had finished off the meat, he showed him another secret by snapping the bones and sucking out what little marrow remained.

That…

That was the noise he was hearing now.

It wasn’t snow falling. They were feathers. Perfect white feathers that were being tossed up by the frigid tendrils of air that spilled off of Baker Street. The kind of feathers they stuffed into big puffy winter coats like the one they had bought for Little Ray.

Lucius’ hand felt like lead as he struggled to lift the nine up. He couldn’t remember actually grabbing it, but his fingers were gripping it so hard that they were starting to hurt. His eyes narrowed as he stared down at the shadowy figure.

Time seemed to stop as he squeezed the trigger back, and the shot rang out against the empty buildings that surrounded them.

The bullet slammed into the shoulder of the figure, causing them to rock forward but they somehow caught themselves as if a nine to the shoulder was nothing. Blood didn’t splatter off of them, but Lucius watched as ice seemed to fall off their shoulder and sprinkle across the ground. Whatever he had just shot, Lucius watched as it slowly stood up on a thin pair of legs.

The figure turned around in a flash. One moment he was staring at its backside, and the next it was facing him.

Lucius knew he shouldn’t as he tried to hold the heavy piece level, but he blinked.

He was being thrown backwards before he had even opened his eyes.

A horrible scream tore through his skull as freezing air blasted into his face. Lucius opened his eyes to find himself staring into a pair of dark eyes so sunken that they looked like they were about to fall into the creature’s skull. Another horrible scream emanated from chapped and bleeding lips, causing his own breath to crystallize in the air before him.

Freezing fingers dug into his jacket, tearing through the puffy source of warmth like a pair of claws. More downy feathers burst into the air as the claw-like fingers continued to slash at his body.

Lucius tried to scream but found it impossible with a body atop him. His arm was free, and he still held the gun in a death-like grip. Reaching up, he pressed the hot metal against the side of his attacker’s torso. Steam rose from his attacker, as if the metal were literally melting them. His finger squeezed against the trigger, and the force of the bullet flung them off of his body.

The young man struggled to his feet, chills running up and down his spine as he sucked in cold air. Blood was running down his arm and chest, and he found that his left arm was hanging limply at his side. “Jamal! Help!” He screamed, but his words seemed to be swallowed by the darkness that surrounding him.

Instead of his friends though, he heard the horrible screams of whatever had attacked him.

Moonlight peaked once more from beyond the clouds, shining down upon his attacker.

It was Her.

She looked like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. Her clothes hung loosely on her, threatening to fall off of her skeletal frame. The once beautiful blond hair was matted and covered in frost. The young woman he had admired from afar so many times, the girl he thought about in private, now stood before him like she had just stepped out of a grave. Her whole body seemed to shine in the light, and Lucius only just barely realized that it was because she was covered in a thin layer of ice.

With every small movement of hers, the ice would crack, chip, and fall away, only to be quickly replaced. Her sunken eyes focused upon him, and she bared her blood-stained teeth at him before releasing another unearthly scream.

Lucius lifted the pistol and kept firing. Most of his shots went wide though a few pounded into what little meat remained on her emaciated frame. Ice fell off of her, and coagulated blood bubbled out of the wounds before they too froze over.

She didn’t even slow down.

Her whole body tackled into his frame with the force of a professional linebacker. Her pointed hard leather boots dug right through his jeans and into his skin while her frozen fingers dug right back into the wounds she had already started.

Lucius bashed the hot metal of the recently fired pistol against her skull, marring what little remained of her once beautiful face. Steam rose up into the air, she screamed, but her fingers kept tearing away at him, sending goosebumps flashing along whatever skin remained.

“God damn it!” Lucius screamed in pain as he slammed the muzzle against her skull. He shut his eyes tight and pulled the trigger.

He had no idea if he had any bullets left or not, but he heard a sound like a gunshot, followed by a less horrific screech from the once attractive woman. Lucius opened his eyes to see her broken and skeletal body slumped down next to him. Her skin was blackened from frost bite in many places, but she didn’t look like she was going to get up.

Lucius tried to suck in lungfuls of air, but found each breath more painful than the last. Even thinking about struggling to stand up made him feel exhausted. As he lay there, Lucius realized that the only thing he could feel was a warm tingling through this body. He knew he needed to get back to the corner. Tell Jamal what had happened.

He was just so tired, and it was so… peaceful in the alleyway.

Snow began to fall from the sky, but Lucius didn’t care, he was warm.

Lucius closed his eyes, and went to sleep.

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