Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)
TITLE: Rat Trap
By Sandra Petersen
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I will myself not to look over my shoulder, then glance anyway. Panic constricts my throat at what I see. The opposite end of the alley and freedom seem a hundred miles away.
I would scream if my jagged breathing would allow me. Instead I command my legs to move faster. My arms pump wildly in my helter-skelter escape.
Now I hear the footsteps and shout of the officer as he yells at me to stop. How long before a bullet ends my headlong flight?
I topple an overflowing garbage can. The smell of rotting fish and soiled diapers rises from the spilled contents and I trip. Staggering to my feet, I take two more steps. Flashing red and blue lights dance against the walls of the buildings that line the alley.
I pivot and crane my head one way, then the other. Both ends of the alley are closed to me. I sink to my knees, breathing hard, and raise my trembling hands over my head.
Not for the first time I wonder which of my compatriots is still alive. When the cops arrived to break up our war, I took off. I dodged through grappling Death Lords and Kings of Aces toward the maze of alleyways that composed our territory. The stench of blood and sweat hung over the litter-strewn street, our makeshift battlefield. More than one warrior lay moaning on the pavement.
A pool of blood spread from the lifeless shell of my best bud Mo. Here and there, fallen friends stared open-eyed to the ebony sky, mouths agape in silent bloody screams. Tonight their blankets would be body bags, courtesy of the city morgue. Tomorrow or the next day, if they were lucky, a sobbing girlfriend or a weary-faced mother would come to identify their remains.
I didn’t want to be an unknown corpse.
My last view was of Roscoe the Brute swinging his crowbar into the exposed neck of a Death Lord, leaning into the motion like he was driving a home run out of the park.
The officers tighten the handcuffs on me and jerk me to my feet. We sway and stumble, a grotesque dancing threesome, toward the waiting squad.
“Last one,” the officer grunts as he pushes my head down and nudges me into the backseat. Another handcuffed captive, a Death Lord, scowls at me from the opposite side. His red bandanna sits askew atop his coal black fro.
The driver smirks at us in the rearview mirror. “You know, I should let the two of you at each other. It’d save cell space.” He edges the squad into the street.
The Death Lord stares at me, taking in my gang tattoo, and the size of my biceps. He snorts and spits on my shirt, after determining that I’m not much of a threat. Then he glares out the window.
Within minutes, we pull up outside the police station. I think of my grandmother and her quiet faith. She tried to teach me about her Lord. I wouldn’t listen.
Will they tell her? I hope not. She thinks I’m dead. Maybe I am.
The Death Lord and I are wrestled through a doorway and down the hall to the holding tank. I wonder again if I’m the last one and begin to wish I’d never become a King of Aces.
As the door to the tank opens, I see six unfamiliar faces. The uncuffed Death Lord swaggers into the tank and is received into a fellowship of hand signs and back slaps. I protest as my cuffs are removed and I’m shoved into the room. The door slams shut. I stand, my back to the wall, yelling to my captors as seven pairs of eyes narrow and lips curl in malicious snarls.
I’m like one of those rats that poor Mo used to capture in saltine boxes back at our digs in the ‘hood. You’ve heard of dog fights? For fun, Mo made a small arena out of broken orange crates and planks to pit his rats against each other. My buds bet cigarettes on the outcomes.
Now I’m the rat in the arena and my cellmates are all Death Lords. There is no escape and the fight is to the finish. All bets are off.
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