Editor's note: This story was not eligible to win the contest because the author is married to one of the judges. She submitted the story under an assumed name as an attempt to see if he would recognize her style. He didn't. He did, however, like the story a lot (as did I, and I was in on the ruse).
Twelve year old Leonard Frisk sat huddled in the doorway of the rundown tenement he called home. He pulled his jacket closed and held it there. The threadbare sleeves offered little protection against the autumn wind, but at least it was something. His mother had left for work almost an hour ago. He thought it strange that she was working on a Sunday night, but she promised him this was the last time, that there were just a few things she needed to finish up there. Then they'd be moving to nice place with trees and houses and schools.
He watched her as she climbed into the back of an old panel truck and waved goodbye. It was up to him to keep the place safe until she returned. He spent a long time thinking about what it would be like to live in a place where you didn't have to stand watch, a place where you could go to school, be a kid.
It made the squalor that surrounded them, the decaying brick tenements, back alleys and fear seem that more oppressive. "One more night," he repeated to himself. He wondered what his mother was doing, and who the strangers were that had picked her up, but one lesson he'd learned early was to never ask too many questions. Usually the less you knew, the better off you were. He took a deep breath as he forced himself to remember the other important lesson he'd learned- never let your guard down. He checked the door and made sure it was locked, then continued his vigil.
He watched as people scurried along the streets and doorways, trying to get off the streets before sunset. The streets were no place to be after dark. Life in the Barrens was hard enough during the day, but at night--
He shivered involuntarily as the wind seemed to pick up, he could tell it wasn't a good night to be out.
As the sunlight faded and the gray dark of night closed in, he pulled his jacket tighter, but it didn't really help. The chill he felt wasn't entirely from the night air. Already he could hear the sound of distant gun fire. He strained his ears as he heard squealing tires on the street, and the rumble of something in the alleyway.
He leaned out slightly, enough so that he could look down the alley, but only enough. He had learned early on that sometimes it was best to just not be seen. He could make out the large form of an Orc as he pawed his way through the dumpsters and then moved on. His grip on the lead pipe in his left hand tightened as a figure moved closer. Carefully, he weighed his options.
Slipping inside might keep him out of sight, but it would also further limit his options. Besides, he had to keep the girls safe, his mom was counting on him. He was so focused on the large framed figure, that he hadn't heard the door behind him open. He jumped when a little voice called out to him.
"Len... I'm hungry..."
He turned to see his little sister Annie looking up at him with doey eyes. "Annie," he growled in a tense whisper. "You gotta stay inside!"
She looked up at him, her expression worn an weary. "But Len..."
He smiled slightly as she turned his name into a three syllable complaint. "Mom'll bring something," he assured her. His smile fell as he saw the terrified expression on his sister's face and saw a shadow blocking the light from the street.
He whirled back to face the alleyway as the figure lurched into view. "Annie!" he yelled without turning. He tensed, taking up a defensive posture as he heard the door behind him close and the bolt slam shut. He could hear Annie sobbing on the other side of the door as he waited for the figure to move.
"Even'in," the Orc growled.
Leonard tensed and nodded slightly. "Not a good place to be after dark," he answered, forcing his voice to stay low, but it skipped an octave when he said 'after.'
The Orc nodded. "Not a good place to be before dark either,"
Leonard eyed him warily. The man didn't sound like he belonged there, and that usually meant more trouble than anything. He shifted his grip slightly on the lead pipe, still keeping it out of sight. He knew it wouldn't do him much good against the Orc, he was too big. If it did come to blows, he hoped it would give the girls enough time to run.
"Course... it makes one wonder... what you're doing out tonight..." There was something ominous in the Orc's tone. "Lenny..."
Leonard's eyes widened as the Orc moved closer. He managed to get the pipe out before the Orc's massive fist connected with his face. The blow knocked him against the steel reinforced door. As he slid to the ground, he groaned slightly. His vision swum around him in a blur of motion, the only thing he was aware of, was a pair of Orc sized cowboy boots, synth-snake skin with steel tips.
He tried to move, tried to get up, but his muscles didn't seem to respond. He looked up pleadingly at the huge figure, as if to say, 'enough.'
But the Orc wasn't finished. He pulled his foot back and kicked Lenny hard in the mid-section. He whimpered and tried to block the vicious assault, but there was helpless to stop it. He tried to scream, to warn the girls, but he couldn't get enough air.
"Enough," a voice interrupted the hail of blows that assaulted him.
His head lolled against the door, and he could hear Annie's sobs on the other side. 'Annie,' he whimpered as another kick landed against his side.
"I said, enough!" the voice was louder this time.
"Breeder punk should die," the Orc sounded a lot less civilized now.
"Such words," the voice chided.
Lenny tried to look up, only to be rewarded with another kick to his mid-section.
"Don't provoke him lad," the voice offered in an oddly gentle tone. "Just lay there, and it will all be over with soon."
Lenny's mind swum. Why, why was this happening? He kept his head down, but finally voiced the question. "Why?"
The Orc kicked him again, this time hard enough that he curled in on himself, trying to block it all out.
A disjointed part of Lenny's mind wondered at how calm the owner of the voice had remained as his partner continued to savagely beat him. He closed his eyes tightly as he sensed the man squatting down next to him.
"You're going to deliver a message for us..."
"Lenny!" His mother's voice fell against deaf ears. "Leonard! Where are the girls?"
Lenny flinched as fear and pain overrode the shock for a moment. He whimpered, but other than that didn't move.
Patricia Fisk was practically in shock herself. She shook him, fear overriding her concern for the boy's condition. She was crying in frustration, "Lenny, Len!... where are the girls?"
Her voice came through in painful fragments. He tried to answer, tried to help, but something was terribly wrong inside him... It wouldn't be much longer. He wanted to tell her that everything was alright, that they'd find the girls, but he knew that would never be. The dream of a safe home, of school was just that : a dream.
Images of the men carrying off his sisters mingled with those of his mother and her friends until it was a swirl of white noise. Lenny whimpered as another wave of pain passed through him. He stared at his mother, a silent reminder of the price of betrayal.
©1999, DeckerM - used with permission