It was the boy with dark hair.
Helena stopped and dropped to the ground. Her hand slid into something slimy and she had to bite her tongue to keep from screaming. She could hear his feet kicking cans out of the way as he headed toward the rusted blue truck. She held her breath as he passed close, but he didn’t notice her; she was just another piece of trash, all dirty and discarded. Helena stayed where she was until she heard the squeaky hinges of the truck door before jumping up and bolting to the far side of the Heap.
She skidded to a halt in front of her box and looked over her shoulder, but there was no movement behind her. She ducked behind the faded denim flap that served as her door and squatted in the semi-darkness. Helena examined the key. It was metal, warm from being held in her sweaty palm as she ran. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. She felt around the floor of the box until she found some fishing line and pulled it through a hole on the key. She tied the line around her neck and let the key fall under her shirt. Derrick had probably seen her at the truck. If she lost her prize now, he would kill her for sure.
Peter slammed the truck door shut and listened to the tinkle of rusted pieces falling off. It sounded almost like rain, or what he remembered rain sounding like. He leaned back over the worn leather of the front seat to glance in the back of the cab. He added a half full bottle of water to the pile. It was all he had found today. His rat stopped digging in its newspaper bedding to watch the bottle teeter for a moment before falling to the floor and rolling under the front seat. Peter sighed and slipped to the floor to retrieve the bottle. His hair fell into his eyes and he had to push it back a couple of times before he spotted the bottle. He reached for it and was just able to get it rolling toward the front of the cab with the tips of his fingers. He grasped the bottle in one hand and ran his other hand under the seat searching for the key.
It was gone.
Peter dropped the bottle and it rolled away. He used both hands to search under the seat, cutting his finger on a broken spring. It wasn’t there. He looked under the seat, under the pedals, he even searched the rat’s cage but it was definitely gone. Peter looked out the grimy truck window over the rolling mounds of the Heap. Derrick.
Peter opened the truck door, stepped out, and kicked it shut, ignoring the spray of rust that fell off. He pulled the gun from where it had been tucked into his pants and checked the clip. The sun was setting a brilliant orange and bits of metal lit throughout the trash, making it look like the world was on fire. Peter clicked the clip back into place. He was going to get his key back, he was going to get out of the Heap, and he was going to find the place that hadn’t burned. And he was going to fix everything.
Helena heard Derrick and his gang whooping and shouting as they made their way to her. She slipped out of her box and stood in the path nearby. If she stayed in her box, they would rip it up for sure. If she was outside, then they might just decide to leave it alone. Maybe. Helena pushed her hands into her pockets so they weren’t trembling, but she could feel how sweaty they were.
Derrick came around the corner. He was at least a head taller than Helena with cold blue eyes and blonde hair that was so clean it shined in the fading light. Helena resisted the urge to finger her own limp grey locks. She used to be clean and pretty before she had come to the Heap, but that was another life that didn’t exist anymore. Derrick had two others with him, neither quite as tall but even their jackets couldn’t hide their muscles. Helena tried to swallow the lump in her throat but her mouth was bone dry. Derrick and the boys stopped a couple of paces away.
“Saw you at the truck today,” Derrick drawled staring at his watch as if he barely had time to take care of Helena.
“Yes,” Helena rasped.
“Did you get it?” Derrick leveled a stare at her. Helena nodded. She wasn’t going to play any games. “Hand it over then,” Derrick commanded.
Helena paused for a moment, but one glare from Derrick convinced her not to ask about what she was getting out of the deal. She took a step toward him and the ground in front of her exploded with dirt. She looked up and saw the dark-haired boy standing a couple of meters up a trash pile, leveling a gun at Derrick, but his black eyes were watching her.
Peter kept the gun trained on Derrick as he moved to stand behind his boys. Coward. The girl swayed and Peter thought she might faint, but she managed to stay on her feet. He looked her over, and it was hard to make out details under all the grime that clung to her, but he was sure she hadn’t fled to the Heap with that first group seeking refuge from the fires. Probably only he and Derrick were left. He moved his eyes to Derrick, satisfied that the girl was too scared to run. Where would she go anyway?
Peter made his way towards Derrick, watching his scowl deepen with every step. Peter smiled. “Hey, Derrick,” he called as he stepped into the path between Derrick and the girl.
Derrick spit into the dirt. “Peter. You still seem to have that nasty habit of getting in my way,” Derrick placed a hand on each of his boy’s backs and pushed them forward.
Peter sighed and shot one in the foot. The other boy stopped and dropped to the ground to help as the injured boy collapsed howling in pain. Derrick glowered but held his ground.
“I’m not playing, Derrick,” Peter said softly. “You started this and you can walk away or die, but I don’t have time for this.”
Derrick straightened, “You got some place to be, Peter?” His blue eyes stared into Peter’s, probing.
“Yeah, I do,” Peter answered, swallowing the bile that rose in his throat. It was supposed to be he and Derrick that busted out. Peter gripped his gun tighter and looked Derrick in the eye. “But you don’t, Derrick.”
Derrick looked down at his boots before fixing his eyes back on Peter.“So that’s how it is, huh?”
All this time Peter had been on his own, he hadn’t realized Derrick had still thought their deal stood. Peter felt his own throat go tight, but he kept his eyes on Derrick’s and nodded. Derrick pursed his lips and nodded back.
“I hope you die out there, Peter,” he said, helping the injured boy up and turning his back on Peter.
Helena watched Derrick and his gang shuffle around the corner and finally released the breath she had been holding with an audible whoosh. The dark-haired boy turned suddenly and fixed his black eyes on her. Helena stiffened and eyed him back. He was dressed in jeans and a faded black tee that clung to the muscles in his chest and arms. He wouldn’t need the gun to hurt her.
“I know you took it,” he hissed between his teeth.
Helena tried to say something to explain, but all that came out was a squeak. He moved toward her and suddenly her vision went dark and she could feel herself falling.
To be continued…
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Anne. Join us next month when we post four more tales every Monday on a new prompt.