CHAPTER ONE

SCARLETT

 

Hunger can make us turn feral. Uncontrollable. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions while hungry. I’ve done things I’m not proud of for food. My stomach roars, and I tuck my chin into my chest as I walk down the main street, all’s quiet at this time of the morning. A park beside the store has a few people jogging or out for an early morning walk. They look healthy and happy. I hate them. The warmth from the overhead heater blasts me as I enter the shop. The heat is enough to make me want to curl up under it and go to sleep. My bones ache like I’m eighty instead of eighteen.

I stop, inhaling a deep breath, the freshly made breakfast rolls wafts from the deli. My stomach gives another savage roar.

Don’t linger, Scar. Just get what you need and get out.

My gaze roams over all the food, I want it all. I try to focus and not look so jumpy. Everything calls to me. My dirty sneakers shuffle forward and I’m standing in front of rows of colorful wrappers. My hands become clammy inside the woolen gloves. The wool was once pink, now I couldn’t really put a color on them. Maybe grayish-pink.

My fingers wrap around the Mars bar and my stomach roars again. It’s too loud. I look up to find a man glaring at me. He doesn't look like an assistant; he looks like he owns the shop. His gaze darts to the Mars bar and then back up to me and a warning flashes in his eyes. He shakes his head slightly telling me not to do it. My clothes tell the story of my homelessness, my long unkempt hair is giving away my lack of money. I should put it back. Tears sting my eyes as I think of replacing the bar and going hungry.

It’s a snap decision. My fingers tighten even further around the bar and I spin, tearing from the shop.

“Stop!”

I run faster and hit the door hard, nearly toppling over a woman pushing a pram. I want to apologize but the shop owner is right behind me. He lunges for me, but I skip away from his grasp and run out onto the road. A car horn beeps making my heart race. The car screeches to a stop and I slam my hands on the bonnet. I meet the angry eye of the driver before I continue running across the street.

“Come back!”

I glance over my shoulder to see the shop owner right behind me. Oh, shit. My feet hit last night’s rainfall as I run down the alleyway. The moment I become aware of my surroundings, I know I’m caught. The alleyway cuts off it's a dead end. A ladder attached to the building to my left hangs down close to the ground. The ladder becomes my focus as I clutch my candy and race for it.

“Stop!” The shop owner's shouts make my thin legs move quicker. I grab the rung of the ladder and pull myself up. The rungs disappear under me as I scale the ladder quickly, and when I look down, he’s glaring up at me with a promise in his eyes.

I fucked up. I know I did. My eyes water as I clear the ladder and roll onto the rooftop, landing on my back. My heart races a million miles an hour. I sit up and grip the brick work and shuffle forward so I can peer back over the edge. He’s no longer below me he races back across the street. I don’t take my focus off him until he turns and glares back up at the rooftop; I duck my head. I don’t linger but start to make my way across the building. A small wall separates the next roof. I leap over the surroundings. I cross the wall and grin. My stomach growls and I wrap my arms around my abdomen. I’m ready to sit down and start eating.

Everything in me stills as my vision zero’s in on a man lying flat on his stomach. He’s on the next rooftop over. I move forward trying to get a better look at him. He’s so still. He’s dead. My stomach sours further.

Leave him, Scar.

My feet move quietly towards him. The saliva in my mouth dries up as I get closer. He’s dead. Oh, God. I need to tell someone. Why is he up here? Maybe to sleep? There are a lot of homeless people in Dublin, far more than there should have been. I chew my cracked and dry lips until a metallic taste fills my mouth. I stop moving as my gaze hones in on a long black rifle that’s at his left arm, fear shoots through me as I continue to study the man. His head moves ever so slightly, the movement causes my heart to skyrocket and fear buzzes and rattles in my bones. I need to leave. He’s not dead. I need to leave now.

I follow the direction that the gun points in. The rifle faces out towards the park. Bile crawls up my throat. I need to leave.

Go Scar.

My gaze darts from the man with the rifle to the man jogging in the park. The jogger continues to run, he’s oblivious to the shooter who has trained his rifle on him. The shooter shifts slightly, rolling his shoulder as he gets ready to fire. He pulls the trigger. The click is soft, but it’s like a punch to my stomach as the jogger falls to the ground. People around him stop, and as I watch in horror, a woman starts to scream, more people come over with hesitation in their steps, to see why she is screaming. There’s a lot of commotion and I can’t look away as crimson liquid leaves the jogger’s head.

I swallow more bile as I look back to the shooter on the rooftop. His dark eyes connect with me and I’m ready to throw up. The rooftop disappears quickly as I run for my life. I know he’s chasing me from the shift in the space behind me. He isn’t making much noise but he’s there. I won’t look back, I want to so badly but I need to focus. I clear another wall and jump. I have no idea what I will land on. I hit the surface and feel a burning in my ankle, but I don’t slow down. The heavy thud has me looking back. He’s cleared the wall. His eyes are filled with violence that he will unleash on me if I get caught. My fingers tighten further around my candy bar as I jump from one building to the next, the gap is small but my body hits the new rooftop hard. It knocks the air from my lungs. I scramble back up and fall sideways, my body giving up on me. A hand grabs my shoulder and spins me mid-fall. I tumble to the ground and when I glance up, I’m staring into the barrel of a gun.

My hand moves slowly into my pocket where I left my bar. I can't let it go. I can’t lose it. It’s stupid that I’m thinking about the food when I’m about to die. But in case I somehow survive this, I’ll have food.

“What are you doing up here, little girl?”

Little girl? I take another look at the man, but my fear makes everything buzz and fuzzy.

The tip of the rifle is cold as he presses it against my cheek. “Answer the fucking question.”

“I was hiding.”

His eyes dart to my pocket that I still have my hand in. “What’s in your pocket?”

I’m shaking my head. He can’t have my candy. I’ll starve. My logic has left me and I can’t reason with the madness right now.

“Take your hand out of your pocket slowly, or I’ll pull the trigger.”

The hairs rise on the back of my neck. My heart is ready to leap from my body and nose dive off the side of the building. Maybe running and jumping would be better than being shot up here. How long would it take for anyone to find me? I have no one that would look for me, would anybody care? My gaze looks longingly at the edge.

The man cocks the gun, and my attention is drawn back to him. As I slowly remove my hand from my pocket, he moves back slightly, but I can see it in his eyes that he is ready to pull the trigger. My vision wavers as I slowly hold out the Mars bar. His gun points at candy. I blink and tears spill as I open my fingers. The bar is squashed, I’m sure it’s also melted from the sweat that soaks my hand. I’ll still eat it, if I live long enough.

A half cry bubbles from my lips. The man’s dark eyes focus on my face.

“Who are you hiding from, little girl?” He holds the gun at my head again.

Tiredness rattles my bones and I let my eyelids flutter closed, I tighten my hold on my prize. “The shop keeper.”

“Open your eyes.” The tip of the rifle presses into my cheek, the cold steel has me alert and my heart starts a new rhythm of fear.

“I saw nothing.” I plead now, not ready to die.

“You stole a bar?” His eyes go to my candy and I pull it close to my chest. My stomach roars again. I just want to eat it. I think of asking him could I have the bar before he pulls the trigger. Let me die with something in my stomach.

“Can I eat it?” I ask.

His eyes darken. Half his face is covered in black facial hair. His beard is thick and I wonder if food ever gets stuck in all that hair.

He takes a step closer and my eyelids squeeze together. This is it. Not how I expected my life to end. I thought I would starve to death in an alleyway or be mugged for my pitiful belongings. My hand reaches for my neck where the one and only possession I have hangs. I don’t get to touch, I don’t get to run my fingers across the pendant one more time.

Pain explodes behind my lids and burns my face. My stomach roils and the world tilts as I hit the ground. I can’t see, my skull is on fire. Is this what death is? I don’t have any life images flash before my eyes. I blink and the last thing I see is large military boots before the world drags me to the pit of hell.