And when she slept, she often dreamed.
An alley way, that?s where it started and where it began; where it always did. The sun had drug her fat, lazy self to the other side of a building, leaving the narrow pathway of stone walls dagger plunged into near slate grey darkness.
Two figures at the end of this tableau bent near each other, heads close as if sharing a secret. One of those heads was the same color as beach wood, sanded beige, while the other appeared to be a drab, chestnut. Both heads were filthy, hair greasy from never being washed, sweat tainted and no doubt riddled with pests, almost touching.
Voices faded in and out with the wind or the rocks which were built too high, high enough they always kept the sunlight out.
??Where?d y? fin? ?im?? the smaller boy, with the dull brown hair asked the larger boy.
?Right?chere. Layin? all funny too. Lookit, be marks ?round ?is neck. Think you ?es dead?? A long pause, as the bigger boy with beach wood hair extended an arm and poked whatever it was they were hovered over, presumably at their feet by the angle of hands.
Faintly; it groaned a little.
Both boys did not recoil, but their heads jerked in unison as if surprised anything that beat up could still be alive.
?Weeelllls,? the smaller boy drawled. ?Whatchere gon? do Fist??
The question hung frozen in the air, broken once by the fact that the form crumpled on the pile of garbage stirred more, fighting to wake up, or so it seemed.
The bigger boy, Fist, already had made up his mind about something. Could see it in the way his mouth tightened into a flat line, eyes narrowing.
?Git ?is arm, Squeaker. Lookit again at them marks. Tell you true, ain?t nothin? that little shoulda lived through that. Good one this ?un. You get ?is arm and we?ll bring ?im home.?
Not like squeaker could argue, scuttling over the cobble stones to grab a tiny stick arm that thrust out of the pile in odd angles.
?Laa, me, Fist! Did?ja sees the ?air on this?un? S?bright bloody red. Jus? like a sunset.? Squeaker almost cooed it. He?d never seen anyone with hair colored like that before. Sure, he?d seen shades of it, but nothing that bright that didn?t come out of a bottle the whores down on Needle street shared.
?Yeah. Freckled too. N?stop yer jaw flappin? an? help me carry ?im home.?
So they did.
She?s in a corner, angry. Limbs and legs akimbo, but only to keep the boys from her, keep them from touching her. She doesn?t want them too; she tries to tell them that, too. Every time she did, her throat felt as if someone set it on fire, stepped on it, then pissed on it to put out the flames. Turned her head to spit a wad of blood and whatever else to the floor of shack, and then counted the hard eyes staring back at her.
There were eight boys, eight boys and one of her. Shi?
?Wha?s gon? on in ?ere, eh? Two Teeth, Squeaker, Runner, all o? ye, get back now. Wha? you tryin? to do? Scare ?im s***less?? Fist?s voice came around the corner before the boy did. Largest of them all, and the little alpha in this dirt troop, she could see that right away. She could tell because everyone immediately fell back as well as away from her, then scattered out of his way to continue doing nothing, as they were before she?d been startled awake by poking fingers.
He stood in front of her, hands on his hips. Towering really, or maybe it?s just the mind of a child at that age. Fist would always loom large in her memory, for as long as she lived, exactly like this. The first time they?d met, and he leaned from the waist as if he knew what was what and she was going to have to learn it.
?Finally awake ?ey? S?good. Name?s Fist, found y? out behind th? whore house. Lookit like sumone takin? out th? trash, but th? trash dun?t want t? be taken out. Sos, ?ere?s the deal.? Even if she could have spoken, he didn?t leave her a single chance to argue.
?Yer wit? us now. Us kids? We gots t? stick together, see, or we?re gon? t? get dead real quick. You stick wit? us and we?ll g?won alright. Teach yer some things ?bout ?ow t? get food iffin yer learn t? be quick. For now, yer gon? lay back down, be good, an? shut up.?
The girl lifted stubborn chin. Fist laughed, harsh and jangled.
?Wha?? You gon? go are ya? T? what? Boy, you ain?t got nobody now. Sos might as well like it. ?Ere.? A water skin was negligently tossed in the direction of her head. Spindly fingertips wrapped around it in fluid catch. This made Fist pause, eye her up.
?G?d, G?d.? Judging her, then he was moving on from her toward the rest of the kids. He had a few loaves of bread under his arm, and other water skins that didn?t look like they belonged to him. But in mid stride he looked over his shoulder at her.
?Dun care what?chere were named afore you got here, boy. But yer names Shadow now. Got it? We names our own, an? that?s what y? are. A rat, a low down dirty rat. Ain?t no one but us rats, gon? to take you in either. Sos you keep that name, an? that?s who you is.?
He was swarmed by them, by dirty fingers, bent back nails, reaching for the bread. Happy, hollow little faces reminded her of hungry birds, desperately chirping for food.
She always dreamed in the color of memories.