1.

"A big city!"

Had been Oskar's response to Eli's question regarding where he wanted to go.

"Which one?"

She had asked him.

"Any big city".

Eli had actually thought it a good idea. She knew that a big city, 'any big city' would be the easiest place for two twelve year old runaways to blend into. Every large city had their share of street kids. They would just be two more, as far as anyone else was concerned .

It was late at night, when they finally came upon the place that would be their new home.

The flashing neon sign in front said The Royal Crown Hotel. Unfortunately with it's cracked and chipped facade, broken or boarded up windows, it was anything but royal.

As they approached the dilapidated building, Eli could sense the confusion in Oskar. She knew that this was not what Oskar had expected when suggesting moving to a Big City.

The lobby was dark and dank, and smelled of old stale smoke. In a far corner of the room sat an old man slumped in a armchair, asleep or drunk or worse. On the opposed side of the aisle, there was a man behind a counter. He was tall and wiry with greasy shoulder length hair, and a long jagged scar that run down one side of his face.

"Are you sure about this place?"

Asked Oskar in a low voice.

"Trust me Oskar, this is the safest place for us."

Eli knew from experience that such places, while vile, were the safest place for those who didn't want to be noticed, or those with dark secrets.

2.

Their room didn't fair any better. With the exceptation of an old moth eaten couch, and a chipped coffee table, the one room apartment was empty.

"I can't believe the guy downstairs bought your story about our mom coming along later on."

Said Oskar, trying to mask his further disappointment with idle talk.

"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

"What happens when it doesn't work?"

"Then I try something else."

Eli's alternative method for obtaining shelter would sometimes end messy. She would go up to a vagrant or panhandler on the street. Tell him or her that if they would pose as a parent and sign for a room for her. That they would be generously compensated for their time.

On occasion things wouldn't go as smoothly. There would inevitably be those individuals who would want more then money. Individuals who would see a little girl as easy prey. Unfortunately for them, it would be they who would become the prey. Eli was grateful that Oskar would not have to be witness to it, this time.

3.

"First thing of order - are the windows."

Said Oskar as he moved their few belongings from the hallway into the apartment.

After blocking off the windows, Oskar and Eli spent the remainder of the evening dusting and cleaning their small apartment. By early morning both were exhausted and relaxing on the couch. Surveying the results of their hard work, Oskar then turned to Eli and said.

"I told you it wouldn't be so bad here..."

"I told you! You big liar!"

Said Eli, punching him in the arm.

"Ouch! That hurt."

"Serves you right, for being such a big fat liar!"

Afterwards Eli lovingly rubbed his arm and laid her head on his shoulder.

"It's almost dawn."

Said Eli, shortly thereafter. She kissed Oskar on the cheek, got up and went into the bathroom. A few minutes later, Oskar stretched out on the couch and fell asleep.

4.

It was past noon when Oskar finally awoke. He got up from the couch, and walked over to the bathroom. He put his ear to the closed door - not a sound. Eli wouldn't be getting up for a few more hours, but he had to empty his bladder. He remembered a public restroom in the lobby.

Having taking care of one bodily function, Oskar now turned his attention to another, his stomach. He asked the man at the front desk for directions to the nearest market. The man told him that there was a mom and pop's place around the corner, but that they mostly just sold liquor and chips. That if he wanted real food, he'd have to take the subway.

5.

Eli awoke to find Oskar stocking the kitchen cabinet with groceries.

"Good morning, sleepy head"

Said Oskar.

"Where did you get all of this?"

Said Eli, scratched her head, and yawning.

"This?"

Oskar lifted a can of soup that was on the counter.

"At the supermarket."

"I didn't see any supermarkets around here last night."

"Yeah, I know. I had to take the subway train to the nearest real market. It took me-"

"Oskar..."

Interrupted Eli, visibly upset.

"...a big city like this can be a dangerous place for a kid..."

"A KID?"

It was now Oskar that was upset, and more then a little offended.

"A KID...I'm as old as you...well not as OLD as you..oh you know what I'm taking about!"

"I didn't mean it like that,"

Said Eli as she laid her hands on his.

"Don't be mad."

She smiled at him with that sweet-shy smile that Oskar couldn't resist, and he smiled back.

"Just promise me if you go out, that you'll be back before it gets dark. Okay?"

Oskar looked into her big dark eyes (that he always thought were a little sad), and said.

"Okay, I promise."

6.

After diner (only Oskar ate), Eli announced she would be stepping out for a little while. When she failed to elaborate any farther, Oskar knew better then to ask where she was going or what she was going to do. Without saying a word he picked up his empty tv diner tray, and threw it in the trash.

Alone in the apartment, Oskar did his best to occupy his mind. He tried re-reading a true crime magazine he had brought along with me, but he couldn't concentrate. He laid down on the couch and stared up at the naked lightbulb that hung from the ceiling.

Every living creature needs to eat to survive, he reasoned. No one condemns the wolf for feeding on the deer, or the big fish that eats the littler fish. It was all part of nature. Eli was doing nothing different. But his attempt at rationalizing the situations, didn't help any. So he pick up his magazine once more, and tried reading it again.

When Eli returned, Oskar was both relieved and surprised. Relieved to discover that Eli had simply gone shopping. Surprised, because Eli had never taking much of a interest in her wardrobe, before.

When they first meet (back in the courtyard of Oskar's old apartment), Oskar had noticed that Eli was wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt just like one he owned (that is before it was lost in the laundry room). He was about to comment on their similar taste in music, when he noticed a small tear on her right sleeve. Coincidently enough, the tear was in the exact same place his shirt had been torn. Oskar had since suspected that much of Eli's wardrobe had been obtained from varies laundry mats, and maybe even some trash bins.

"Do you like?"

Beamed Eli as she showed off her new pink skirt, and white top with little purple flowers.

"You don't like it..."

She said with a frown, when Oskar failed to respond.

"No...I do like it!"

Replied Oskar finally.

"It's just that...why didn't you tell me you were going shopping? I would have gone with you."

"But then it wouldn't have been a surprise."

Eli took Oskar by the hand, and sat him down on the couch. She then preceded to show him (one by one) all the great deals she'd made on her purchases.

7.

The following morning, Oskar decided to explore his new neighborhood. He headed in the opposite direction as the previous day, he had already seen that side of the street on his supermarket excursion.

By noon, Oskar had made his way into a second hand store. There were three second hand stores back in his hometown, but none were as big as this one.

'I have got to bring Eli here' thought Oskar as he leafed through some old record albums.

After an hour of rummaging around, Oskar was ready to leave. He was almost at the register (with some board games he'd found), when something else caught his attention. It was a Japanese style paper light shade, the spherical type that hang from the ceiling.

"It's pretty-isn't it?"

Said a sales lady that saw him eyeing it.

"Yes, it is."

"Would you like to take it?"

"Yes, please."

The sales lady collapsed the shade into a flat disk, and placed it into a paper sleeve. She handed it to Oskar, then rang him up at the cash register.

8.

When Eli emerged from the bathroom, she immediately noticed something different. Gone was the stark white light of the bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. It had been replaced by the soft warm glow of a orange and yellow globe. Directly beneath that on the floor, was a blanket all laid out. At the center of the blanket was a board game its pieces set up and ready to be played.

"I've been waiting for you to get up for hours."

Said Oskar, as he sat cross legged on the blanket.

Eli was speechless her eyes glistening in the soft light.

"Come-on, sit down."

Oskar beaconed for Eli to sit next to him on the blanket.

They played throughout the night. First Monopoly then Risk, and finally Scrabble. By early morning they had put away the games and where laying side by side on the blanket.

"Can't you stay out for a little while longer?"

Said Oskar when he saw Eli getting up.

"Just a little while longer..."

She laid back down again.

Eli watched Oskar as he fell asleep. She studied the contour of his face, slowly going down to his neck and finally stopping at his chest. She watched his chest rise then fall, rise then fall. She watched him as he fell deeper and deeper into sleep. She then turned to look up at the paper shade overhead. The glow of it's colors reminded her of a sunset (or at least the way she remembered sunsets). Eli's small hand searched for Oskar's hand beside her, and found it.

Just before dawn, Oskar was startled awake by the backfiring of a car. He looked over to see if Eli had also been awaken, but she was no longer there. In her place was a note. It took Oskar a few seconds to focus his eyes enough to be able to read it. It said :

I lived in a world of darkness,
before you came into my life.

Your Eli

Oskar laid back down. He read the note once more, then went back to sleep.

9.

( A year and a half later )

The night was unusually warm for late October. It had rained earlier in the evening, and the streets were still wet. This giving the city the illusion of being clean.

In the red light district a car pulls up to the curb. It's passengers window rolls down and a man's voice calls out from within.

"You - with the boots!"

One of two woman standing on a street corner, walks over to the car.

"You want a date?"

"That's what I'm here for...get in!"

She looks the man over, then looks in the back seat, to make sure he was alone. Then says

"What do you want?"

"Half and half."

"That's fifty - up front ."

"Alright, so get in!"

Said the man impatiently.

The woman opens the car door, and gets in.

Twenty minutes later, the same car pulls up to the curb and expels it's passenger.

"What a pig!"

Says the woman to herself as the car speeds away. No matter, she now had enough for a couple of hits.

10.

"What you need, angel?"

"You know what I need, Franky..."

Franky sat on a metal chair on the front stoop of his apartment building. He reaches behind a potted plant to get something.

"Here you go, angel."

He handed the woman a small plastic bag, and she in turn hands him some money. And so the discreet exchange is made.

The ally in back of Franky's building would have to do. Her favorite public bathroom was too far away. Franky didn't like his customers shooting up so close to his place, but this was an emergency. She hadn't had a hit since yesterday.

She squats down next to a empty crate using it as a makeshift table. After preparing the heroin, she then takes off her thin gold belt and wraps it round her arm. After she injects herself, she then loosens her belt, and slumps back against the cold brick wall.

With a lethargic hand, she reaches into her purse and takes out a photograph. The image is of a young girl in a school uniform.

"Someday baby...someday real soon I'll come and get you.."

She says in-between sobs.

"...and no one will ever take you away from me again."

She wipes away her tears with her ruffle sleeve. She closes her eyes and leans her head back against the wall.

Through the haziness of her mind she hears the soft echoes of distant footsteps, she opens her eyes. Walking toward her, through the mist, is a little girl.

"Anna...baby...is that you, honey?"

She reaches out in front of her, grasping at the mirage. Is it real, or a drug induced hallucination? It didn't matter, she was happy. She takes the little girl into her arms and the world around them slowly faded away. Then slowly, very slowly, her life faded away .

11.

From where he stood (behind the crime tape), Sean could see a pair of gold boots protruding from beneath a police issued blanket.

"You're a little to late for Last Rite - aren't you Father?"

Said the patrolman to Sean.

"I'm not a Priest.."

Replied Sean

"..I'm a Reverend. What happened here, Officer?"

Sean was quick to take advantage of the semi-introduction.

"I run the homeless shelter up the street, maybe I can be of some assistance."

He added, when the officer seemed to hesitate.

"Her name was Janis Stevens,"

Said the officer, after some consideration.

"she was a prostitute."

Sean thought for a second, then said

"Her name doesn't sound familiar. I'll check the records at the shelter just to be sure."

He paused, then asked.

"Was it an overdose?"

"Homicide."

Then before Sean had a chance to ask another question, the officer said.

"If you'll excuse me Father, here comes the coroner."

Later that day, when the crowds had dissipated and the crime tape removed, Sean returned.

As he walked through the ally, Sean could not imagine a more dismal place for anyone to spend their last moments of life. Then as he turned to leave, something caught the corner of his eye.

Underneath an old wooden pallet, Sean discovered a photograph. It was of a little girl. As Sean examined the photograph closer, he noticed what appeared to be a smudge of blood on the lower left hand corner. He turned the photo over, and written in lavender ink was a dedication.

I MISS YOU MOMMY
LOVE ANNA XOXO!

12.

"Tonight is your special night!"

A gleefully Eli had announced, before stepping out earlier that evening. Oskar had tried telling her that they didn't have to do anything special for his birthday this year. But she'd have none of that.

"Don't be silly. You just be ready for when I get back."

Oskar suspected that Eli so enjoyed celebrated his birthday, in part because she never celebrated hers (or rather she had no idea when hers was).

"Fourteen"

He really didn't feel any older, and it wasn't like last year when he could officially proclaim himself a teenager. So why all of the fuss? Still, he couldn't deny Eli.

Physically it was a different story. Oskar was now a full two inches taller then last year, and his voice had dropped an octave (Although it was hard to tell because he still spoke in the same calm tone as always).

Eli had also changed, not physically of course but in more subtle ways. Oskar noticed that she smiled more often now. And she had also taken more of an interest in her appearance. Most of her wardrobe now came from second hand stores (and not dumpsters).

The manner in which they lived had also changed.

They had moved half a dozen times since their first apartment together. Never staying in any one town or city for very long. Whenever they were in a big city, such as they were in now, Eli had still insisted on living in the intercity. What had changed however, was the type of the apartment. No more dumps like their first place together. Decent furnishings and a usable kitchen, was what they now opted for, a place that felt more like a home.

Oskar finished dressing, then made sure that the bathtub was completely dry for Eli. He had tried to get Eli to sleep on a bed, like everyone else. But she wouldn't. 'A bathroom was a room within a room,' she'd told him 'and that makes it safer'. Oskar hadn't been too clear on what Eli had meant by that. But he figured she knew what she was talking about, and left it at that.

At a quarter till eight, Oskar heard Eli's special knock at the door. It was a code they each used before entering. It was a way of letting the other know that it was only them and no one else.

"Is the birthday boy ready?"

Said Eli as she came through the door.

13.

Oskar had since become an expert subway commuter. What that meant in part was to always be aware of others, and to be aware of your surroundings as well.

He had counted five other commuters. Two that had boarded with them, and three that were already on the train. Eli still hadn't told him where they were going, and that made him a little uneasy. All Oskar knew for certain was that they were heading uptown.

The two had been laughing and talking for several stops before Oskar realized they were all alone in the subway car. A sick feeling of a thousand needles came over him. He had let his guard down. Eli on the other hand had hardly skipped a beat.

"We're almost there!"

She said, bubbling over.

"So when are you going to tell me where we're going?"

Asked Oskar playfully. Eli's carefree demeanor had put him at ease.

"You're just going to have to wait and...find...out."

Eli's words trailed off, and Oskar could see that her facial expression and overall demeanor had changed. Oskar was not unfamiliar with this 'look', and it wasn't a good sign. He likened it to a cat ready to pounce on it's pray. Oskar turned to see what Eli was looking at. Coming through the automatic doors of the subway car, was a couple.

14.

They were a young couple, unkept and scruffy in appearance. The boy was about sixteen, the girl a year or two younger.

Eli's unblinking gaze stayed on the couple, as they sat down on the bench directly opposite her and Oskar. No one spoke for several tense moments. Then the silence was broken.

"Where are you guys heading?"

Said the scruffy older teen.

"Uptown.."

Answered Oskar automatically. He didn't want to appear weak or scared by hesitating. He was about to say something else, when he felt Eli's grip tighten on his hand.

"Uptown-that sounds great. Me and my o-lady are going for a scarf."

Oskar said nothing, all the while fingering the knife in his coat pocket.

"You wouldn't happen to have any spare cash, would you, buddy? I'm kind low right now."

Oskar shook his head no, and said

"Sorry."

The old teen stood up, and closed the distance between them. Oskar made a move for his knife, but was again stopped by Eli.

"Give me all your f*****g money-NOW!"

The older teen had pulled a switchblade on them.

"No!"

Answered Eli, all the while holding Oskar back. Her unflinching gaze burning into the young muggers crazed face.

Then, in a tone that seemed to emanate from a deep and dark place from within her, Eli said.

"Leave us...alone.."

Time froze, and the tension in the car became palpable. Then as if on cue, the train stopped and the doors opened.

"Come on, Johnny..."

Said his companion. She was now at his side, and visibly shaken.

"...let's just get out of here!"

She pulled him by his arm.

"Yeah-yeah, okay..."

Said Johnny, trying hard to maintain his composure. They exited the train, as other commuters entered.

"Eli..."

Said Oskar, this time taking her hand.

"...ELI!"

He repeated louder.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.."

She answered him finally. And Oskar could see that she was Eli, once more.

"..are YOU okay?"

She asked him in return. Oskar nodded yes.

15.

As they exited the subway station, Oskar tried to shake off what had just happened, but it wasn't easy. Oskar was fully aware of Eli's darker side. But that still didn't make experiencing it first hand any easier.

"We're here!"

Announced Eli, as they turned a corner and arrived at their destination.

"A fair?"

Said a genuinely surprised Oskar.

It was an oasis of lights colors and sounds, in the middle of a cold grey city skyline.

"It's a STATE fair!"

Exclaimed Eli.

"Come-on, slow poke!"

The tilt-a-whirl was their first stop, followed by the ferris-wheel. By the time they'd made their way to the bumper-cars, Oskar had all but forgotten the incident back at the subway car.

After the fair, the two stopped off at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, where Eli treated Oskar to a sundae with all the works.

16.

"Sorry to interrupt you, Father..."

Sean looked up from the paper work on his desk. Standing at the doorway of his office, was a tall middled age man.

"...lady up front said I could walk on in."

"That's fine..."

Said Sean

"...I'm not a Father though, I'm a Reverend. My name's Sean Harris. What can I do for you, Mr...?"

"Henderson, Bill Henderson. I'm a private detective."

Somehow Sean had already guessed that. Maybe it was the grey weathered all purpose suit and beige hat (that may have been brown at one time). Or maybe it was just the way he carried himself, but Sean knew.

"What can I do for you, ?"

"I'm looking for a runaway. I've been told you know every runaway, junkie, and prostitute in town."

"I'm not sure I know every lost soul in town... but I'll see what I can do."

The detective handed Sean a photograph.

"Have you seeing this boy? His name's Oskar. This picture was taking over a year ago, he should be about 14 by now."

Sean studied the photograph, then said.

"Sorry , he doesn't look familiar."

He handed the photo back.

"He's traveling with a girl..."

Henderson put the photo back in his coat pocket.

"...slim build dark hair, about the same age..."

Sean shrugged his shoulders.

"Sorry, ..."

"That's alright, Reverend. I knew it was a longshot."

Henderson then handed Sean a card.

"In case you do hear of anything, I would sure appreciate it if you'd call me. My number's on the back, just leave a message. And I'll get back to you."

He turned to leave, then stopped.

"One more thing - if you don't mind?"

Sean did mine. He didn't like the detective, but he knew that the faster he answered all his questions, the sooner he'd be rid of him.

"Have there been any strange, or unexplained deaths, recently?"

Sean looked bewildered.

"What do you mean by strange?"

Henderson put his hat back on, then said.

"Forget I asked ... It's nothing. Thank you for your time, Reverend."

Sean watched as the detective left his office. He looked over the calling card once more, then opened his desk drawer and dropped it in. But before closing it, he took out the picture of the little girl. He turned it over, and read the back. He then inspected the dark smudge closer, to make sure it really was blood - it was. He then placed the photo back in the drawer, and locked it closed.

17.

Oskar looked at his watch, it was a quarter till six. He had been at the library most of the afternoon. That was one of the downsides to not having a permanent address, he couldn't get a library card. All reading had to be done on the premises. They had their own small private library, both he and Eli enjoyed reading, but Oskar thought it important to continue his education. So a couple of days a week, he would come to the library and study.

It was starting to get darker earlier now, and Eli would be up soon. She still worried when he was out late by himself. And even though Oskar had insisted that he could take care of himself, he didn't like to make Eli worry. So he was sure to always be back home by sunset at the latest.

When he exited the library, Oskar saw that it had gotten dark on him. He considered taking a short cut through 8th street, but 8th street was not a safe place to be after dark. He and Eli had found that out their first week in the neighborhood. Two homicides, in as many days. All within a two block stretch known as 'drug ally'.

It was still early, thought Oskar. Maybe it won't be so bad yet. And for the most part, Oskar's walk though 8th street had been without incident. Then, as he walked by an overpass tunnel, Oskar heard a loud agitated voice. He paused at the dark opening, to listen. It was a males voice, then Oskar heard a females voice, she was whimpering. Just walkaway, he could hear Eli telling him. Mind your own business and walkaway...But he didn't.

"...you been holding out on me, bitch!"

"No Johnny, I haven't!"

Oskar's eyes had adjusted enough for him to make out two figures. A tall thin figure, looming over a smaller cowering figure.

"Don't lie to me, bitch!"

Johnny punches her in the stomach, and she doubles over in pain.

"I told you bitch, never f*** with me!"

He punches her again, this time in the face. She collapses to the ground, out cold.

"Hey! You'd better stop that!"

Johnny looked over his shoulder, and saw someone standing at the opening of the tunnel.

"Who the f*** are you!"

Oskar was silent, that was as far as his plan went.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Up-Town Boy. Hey, Up-Town Boy, where's your creepy little girlfriend?"

"She's calling the Police.."

Bluffed Oskar.

"... from the corner store up the street. So if I were you, I'd get the hell out of here before they show up!"

If Oskar was scared of his bluff been called, he showed no outward sign of it.

The two boys were now face to face. Oskar braced himself, his hands balled up into two tight fists at his sides. An eternity pasted, neither of the two willing to back down.

"This isn't over.."

Said Johnny finally.

"..not by a long shot! Next time I see you, you're DEAD!"

Johnny backed away, stopped momentarily by the girl, who was starting to regain consciousness.

"Later-days, bitch!"

As Johnny reached the opposite end of the tunnel, he turned once more and shouted something back at them. Unfortunately he was drowned out by a passing of a eighteen-wheeler overhead. Then he was gone.

Oskar breathed a sigh of relief, then turned his attention to the injured girl.

"Are you alright?"

Oskar realized how naive that sounded, immediately after saying it

"Who are you ... where's Johnny?"

"I'm Oskar. Your - friend is gone."

Oskar helped her sit up.

"Gone?"

"Yeah, and don't worry, I don't think he'll be bothering you again."

"But he has all my money!"

The despair in the girls voice prompted Oskar to change the subject.

"What's your name?"

"Irene."

"Irene, do you think you can stand up now?"

"I think so."

Oskar carefully helped Irene to her feet.

"I'm going to take you somewhere, where you'll be safe. It's not far from here."

"Not the police!"

Protested Irene.

"No, it's not the police..."

Assured her, Oskar.

"... it's a shelter. It's run by a good guy, a reverend."

"A reverend?"

"Yeah, I don't know him personally, but I've heard that he'll help anyone. And he doesn't ask too many questions either."

Realizing she had nowhere else to go, Irene reluctantly agreed.

18.

Johnny was still venting his anger, when he cut through a schoolyard on his way to the basement apartment that he shared with five others.

"I'm better off without that bitch!"

He ranted to himself.

"And that punk-ass little fagot better watch his ass, cause next time he won't be so lucky!"

As he neared the edge of the schoolyard, Johnny caught site of a strange shadow on the asphalt. Instinctively he looked up in search of it's source. Perched atop a basketball pole was a dark figure. At first Johnny thought it might be a plastic gargoyle, the kind used for Halloween decorations. There was a street light directly behind the figure making it difficult to see. Johnny raised a hand to block out the glare of the light. It was then that he saw the Thing's hair began to move in the evening breeze.

"What the hell?"

Johnny was dumbfound...then IT spoke.

"They'll be no - next time."

Johnny's mind began to reel as he realized it was the same unearthly voice he'd heard on the subway train (it was THAT girl)!

He took a step back in horror, then for the first time noticed her eyes. They were like cat eyes pierced through the darkness. Not even on his worst heroin trip, had Johnny seen anything so mind bending.

Then she stood up, still balancing effortlessly atop the back-board. Johnny had seen enough. He turned and bolted in the direction he had just come from. Halfway back across the schoolyard, Johnny couldn't help but look back over his shoulder.

"Oh God - NO...!"

19.

'More yellow tape?'

Thought Sean to himself, as he came upon a small crowd on the sidewalk.

'It's beginning to be a daily occurrence. If the police would only assign a few more patrolmen - or any patrolmen for that matter, they might not have to come out here every other morning with their yellow tape. Damn, a schoolyard! Please God don't let it be a child.'

Sean walked up as far as the crime tape would allow. He searched the crowd to see if he could spot the officer who had been so helpful to him the other day.

He didn't see the officer, but Sean did see someone else he recognized.

"!"

Henderson nodded his head in acknowledgment. He had been talking to an officer but was now done. He put away his note-pad, and made his way over to Sean.

"So ..."

Said Sean

"...you're turning out to be a bit of a puzzle. You come into my office, and ask about a runaway. But then you also ask about any strange or mysterious deaths that may have accord recently. And now here you are at what I presume is a homicide..."

"Is there somewhere we can talk?"

Said Henderson, ignoring Sean's statement all together. Sean suggested a cafe across the street, he didn't want to be too far from the shelter, in case he was needed.

20.

"Please forgive my bluntness..."

Said Sean, immediately after being seated at a table.

"...but I have to know. Was it a - child, back there at the schoolyard?"

"It wasn't a school kid..."

Replied Henderson.

"...if that's what you wanted to know. It was a junkie by the name of Jonathan Ways."

"Johnny Ways?"

"Yeah, did you know him?"

"Yes. I tried helping Johnny when he first appeared on the streets."

"Yeah - well you don't have it worry about him anymore."

Annoyed by the detectives crude sense of humor. It was now Sean who ignored the statement all together.

"I still don't understand. What does a runaway case have to do with this homicide, or any other homicide. I hope you're not going to suggest that a fourteen year old boy could've been responsible?"

"Responsible - no, he's just a victim as well."

"You mean he's dead, too?"

Said Sean in alarm.

"No, he's still alive - in think."

"Detective, please!"

Sean had stopped trying to hide his frustration.

Henderson become solemn. He leaned in closer (which made Sean extremely uncomfortable) and said.

"Do you believe in - evil?"

Red flags immediately went up in Sean's head as his psychologist training kicked in.

"I believe that man is capable of all kinds of evil.."

"No, Reverend.."

Interrupted Henderson.

"..I'm talking about real evil. Evil as a tangible entity, as real as you and I."

"Why don't you tell me what this is all about, Mr. Henderson ?"

Henderson took a deep breath, then started.

"A little over 16 months ago, I was hired to find a runaway."

"Oskar?"

Asked Sean.

"That's right.."

Replied Henderson.

"It all sounded pretty routine. The boy was a loner, trouble with school bullies. Parents go through a divorce. All common in a runaway case. Then as I started my investigation, I found out that Oskar had made a new friend a few weeks before running away."

"The dark hair girl you mentioned in my office?"

"Yes, that's right. And that's fairly common as well. One troubled lonely kid befriends another troubled lonely kid, and they decide to runaway together."

"And the girl?"

Asked Sean.

"Nothing. Not her name, nor where she came from...nothing!"

"But even so..."

Said Sean

"...it still sounds like a fairly common runaway case. What's the connection between that and the homicides?"

From his briefcase, Henderson took out a folder and placed it in front of Sean. He opened it and inside were newspaper clippings, and some notes.

"What's this?"

Asked Sean.

"This is what I uncovered while investigating the runaway case. This first clipping was taking from a newspaper from Oskar's home town. It reported on three juveniles that were killed, or massacred is the word that was used, I think.
Anyway, the leader of the gang was a known drug dealer, so the killings were largely assumed to have been drug related."

Henderson took another deep breath then continued .

"Now, what I further discovered was that these same delinquents were also Oskar's bullies. They tormented the poor kid on a day basis."

Henderson paused once more, for dramatic effect, then continued.

"Here's the kicker. They were killed one day prior to Oskar's departure."

"That doesn't prove anything.."

Protested Sean.

"...and you've already stated he had nothing to do with any homicides."

"Not him,"

Answered Henderson.

"Not directly anyway. But please let me continue."

He handed Sean another newspaper clipping from the pile.

"This clipping came from the first town I had followed Oskar and the girl to. It reported on the murder of a Pimp. It states that his throat had been torn open, almost to the point of decapitation. The brutality of the killing reminded
me of this first story."

Henderson pointed to the newspaper clipping from Oskar's hometown.

"What THIS clipping doesn't say, is that one of Oskar's tormenters HAD been decapitated. It sounded like a hell of a coincidence. So on a trip back to Oskar's hometown, to report back to Oskar's parents and pick up some more funds, I decided to look into the story, myself. What I found out was that there had been a fourth juvenile that had survived the attack. Unfortunately he proved to be useless as a eyewitness. Shortly after been admitted into the hospital, he fell into a catatonic state. He did make one statement before that."

"What did he say?"

Asked Sean.

"He said that they had been attacked by a Demon girl. The statement was dismissed as part of his mental breakdown."

Anticipating Sean's reaction, Henderson promptly continued.

"Before you say anything, I want you to listen to this."

From a side compartment of his briefcase, Henderson took out a small tape-recorder, and placed it on the table.

Before he was able to close his briefcase, Sean happened a glance inside. He wasn't certain but he thought he spied a bible in one of the compartments. Of the other thing he spied, there was no mistaking, it was a black and silver crucifix.

"This is from this morning."

Henderson pressed the play button on the tape-recorder, and an old man's raspy voice came on.

"...yeah, well like I told the officer over there, I was down here last night collecting cans. I was over there by that dumpster, when I heard someone yell 'Oh God'! I looked up, and and that's when I'd seen it... it flew right over my head...clear over my head! It was a WITCH! As God as my witness, It was a witch straight out of hell!"

Sean pressed the stop button.

"Now what, Henderson? Statements from the emotionally unstable."

"Please, I need you to hear the rest, and try to keep an open mind."

Reluctantly, Sean allowed Henderson to continue to play the recorded interview. Once again the old man's raspy voice came on.

"...then I'd seen someone running toward me. I couldn't tell from where I was, but something just didn't look right...Then as he got closer, I could see, God in heaven, I could see that the poor bastard had no head. He was running without a head...just like when I was a boy back at the farm, and my daddy use to cut the heads off of the chickens and they would run around the yard without a head..."

Henderson switched the recorder off. All that was heard was the clamor of dishes and silverware, and the murmur of the breakfast crowd.

"The head of the Ways kid was found an hour ago...four blocks away in a dumpster."

Henderson waited for a reply, and he didn't have to wait long.

"Listen to what you're suggesting,"

Said Sean, earnestly.

"that a little girl is flying around killing people."

"Not a little girl.."

Interrupted Henderson, angrily.

"...Pure Evil!"

Sean was taken aback by the other man's outburst. Henderson composed himself, before continuing.

"Reverend, I know how crazy this all sounds, and the only a reason I'm confiding in you is because I need your help!"

"What do you mean, you need my help?"

"Last night's killing means they're still in town. You know these streets and it's people better then anyone. I need your help, Reverend. This is the closest I've been to them in over a year!"

21.

Sean didn't know what to make of his bizarre meeting with Henderson. Delusional Paranoia would be the obvious diagnosis of the man. Still, as Sean went through the newspaper clippings left to him by Henderson, he couldn't deny that many of the killings were similar. And there did appear to be a pattern. But a little girl, pure evil? No, that was insane!

"Good to see you've decided to join us today."

It was Mary, Sean's assistant at the shelter. Her words had snapped Sean back to reality.

"I had an unexpected meeting this morning. So, did we get any overnight admission?"

"Just one. A 15 year old girl. Her paperwork is on your desk."

22.

The steady drone of the early evening rain made been inside the diner all the more cozier. Unfortunately for Oskar, he was unable to enjoy it, his mind was elsewhere. Not even Irene's enthusiastic conversation could keep his attention.

"...I have to share a room with three other girls, that sucks, but one girl is really nice. Her name's Kari and..."

'Why did I lie to Eli?'

Thought Oskar as Irene chatted on. It was only the second time he had seen Irene since that night. She had made him promise to visit her at the shelter, that was the only way she would agree to staying. Oskar felt he was doing nothing wrong.

"...I'll go back to school, or maybe I'll get a job. Kari works at a cafe, and she said that..."

So why did he feel so guilty?

"Oskar!"

Said Irene, a little irritated.

"I'm listening! I think it's great, you should go back to school."

"What's wrong, Oskar?"

"I'm sorry Irene, but I really have to go now."

"That's okay, I guess I should be heading back, myself..."

In reality, Irene had hoped to stay out with Oskar for a while longer. But she didn't want to push him.

"...and besides, the rain is finally starting to slow down now."

Oskar helped Irene with her raincoat and together they left the diner.

Huddled in the doorway of an old brown-stone, was a petit figure. Her hair and clothes drenched by the rain. Her large dark eyes fixed on the couple that emerged from the diner across the street.

23

The rain had stopped by the time they reached the homeless shelter.

"...I think I'm going to ask Kari to try to get me a job at the cafe..."

"Well, we're here."

Said Oskar, half heartily.

"Yep, we're here...maybe we can do this again?"

Said Irene, nervously.

Oskar became even more somber, then said.

"I like you Irene, I really do...but I'm with someone already. And I don't think it's right. It's not right for her, and it's not fair to you, too."

"Is it the girl that was with on the subway that day?"

Oskar nodded his head yes.

"We've been through a lot together. Eli means everything to me."

Irene was disappointed, but she could hear the love in Oskar's voice, and she knew deep down that he would never feel that way about her.

"She's very lucky to have someone like you."

She hugged Oskar, and whispered in his ear.

"Thank you..."

24.

Irene stood at the top step to the entrance of the homeless shelter. She watched Oskar as he walked down the street, then disappeared from view.

"Hello, Irene."

Said Sean, as he exited the homeless shelter.

"Oh, hi Reverend. I didn't see you."

"Yes, I know. You looked preoccupied. Boy problems?"

He said playfully, as he climbed down the steps.

"It's not what you think, I was just saying goodbye to my friend, Oskar..."

Sean stopped, at the bottom step, his hand still on the railing.

"Did you say your friends name was Oskar?"

"Yes!"

"Is he about fourteen, with blonde hair?"

"Yes, but.."

"Listen to me, Irene! It's very important that I talk with him! Can you tell me where he was going?"

"I think he was going to the subway station. But why do you want to talk to him? He's..."

Before Irene could finish her sentence, Sean had already running down the street.

25.

Oskar was deep in thought. So much so that he failed to hear the man that was asking him a question.

"Excuse me, is this seat taking?"

The man repeated.

"Huh? Oh no, go right ahead."

"You look like someone that has a lot on he's mind."

Said the man as he settled into the seat next to him.

"Yeah, I guess."

Oskar was breaking one of his rules by talking with the man. But the guy seemed alright. He looked like a priest, or something.

"I'm a pretty good listener myself."

Continued the man.

"My names Sean, but most people call me Reverend."

"Reverend... from the homeless shelter?"

"I see you've heard of me...good things I hope."

"Yeah, a friend of mine is staying at your shelter."

"Is that so..what's her name?"

There was a pause.

"How did you know my friend was a girl?"

Oskar immediately became suspicions.

"I thought I heard you said 'girlfriend'"

Sean tried fast to recover.

"I think this is my stop..."

Said a nervous Oskar, as the train approached a platform. He was now certain that it had been no coincidence that this man sat next to him.

"Wait!"

Said Sean.

"I want to help you, Oskar! I could have gone to the police, but I didn't. I'm not your enemy, I just want to help you."

Against his better judgment, Oskar set back down. He needed to know what this man knew.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't play naive, son."

Said Sean.

"I know all about you...and I also know about the girl...know WHAT she is...and i know what she's done."

This was no time for subtleties, this was truly a matter of life or death.

"What she is..."

Said Oskar, his anger rising.

"...is a person that was infected with a horrible disease. And is now force to do things...to survive. She has no choice!"

"There is always a choice."

Said Sean.

"Everybody has a choice to do good or evil."

"Evil!"

Replied Oskar enraged.

"Eli is not evil!"

Sean could see that he needed to change tactics.

"What do you think is going to happen to you..."

"Eli would never harm me..."

Interrupted Oskar.

"That's not what I meant."

Said Sean.

"What do you think is going to happen when you get older? Don't you think you'll want to be with someone more your age when you become an adult? And if you do stay with her, do you think SHE'LL still want to be with YOU, when you become an old man?

Sean paused, then said.

"Or will she infect you, to keep you as you are now?"

Once again Oskar got up to leave, and once again Sean tried stopping him.

"Please, Oskar..."

He had a hold of Oskar's arm.

"Leave us alone!"

He putted free, and shoved his way past Sean.

"Just leave us alone!"

26.

Oskar had no idea where he had gotten off, nor did he care. There was more to worry about then being lost. How did the Reverend know about them, and who else knew? Could Irene have known and told the Reverend? No, that was impossible, Oskar had been careful not to talk about his past when he was with Irene. Irene...things would be so much easier with someone like her. One thing the Reverend had said was true. In the time they'd been together, Oskar had aged. Not a whole lot, but still, what would happen in ten years when he'd be 24 and she still 12?

After wandering the streets for hours, Oskar happen to look up at a street sign. 'Huh, that's funny' he thought 'I'm on my street. I've been heading home all this time.'

27.

The apartment was dark. The only source of light coming from three misshaped lumps of wax, that had started off the evening as candles. Next to the kitchen nook at the dining counter, Eli sat in the dim light, her large doe eyes reflecting the flicker of the candles flames.

"Did the lights go out again?"

Asked Oskar as he tried the light switch on the wall.

"There..that's better."

He said as the rest of the apartment was illuminated by electric light.

"Why were you sitting in the dark?"

"I was waiting for you..."

Answered Eli in a low and soft voice.

"I know, I'm sorry I'm so late. I got off on the wrong exit and was lost..."

As he approached Eli, Oskar noticed something different about her.

"Are you wearing make-up?"

"A little..."

Said Eli as she tugged nervously on the hem of her dress.

"What's all this..?"

Oskar could now see the counter more clearly. Aside from the candles there were two place settings. On his plate, there was a slice of cold pizza. There was also a glass of room temperature orange soda, it's ice having melted long ago.

Then, like the illumination of the room, Oskar finally realized what Eli was doing. And he felt like a complete idiot and heel.

"You didn't have to do all of this for me."

He took her petite hands in his.

"I love you, Eli. Just as you are...No matter what, for always!"

Oskar was now certain that he did indeed love Eli...no matter what, for always.

"Please forgive me for...for being such a idiot."

Eli studied Oskar's face in silence. It was no longer round, he had lost his baby-fat. And his nose had narrowed a bit, but his eyes were still the same. Big and blue, with that lost little boy quality she had fell in love with, a lifetime age. She smiled at him and said.

"Your pizza's cold..."

He took her in his arms and they kissed, and all apprehensions and worries about the future were gone, from that moment on.

After kissing, Oskar saw a single tear rolling down Eli's white cheek. It was the first time he'd ever seeing her cry, and was about to remark on it, but then changed his mind. Instead saying.

"Pizza, mmmm I'm starving!"

Eli smiled.

"I'm going to have to heat it up for you again."

"In that case, I'll be right back!"

"Where are you going?"

"It's a surprise! I'll be right back, five minutes I promise!"

Oskar had remembered passing a flower shop that was still open. If he hurried, he could make it before they closed.

Eli sighed and closed the door behind him. She went back to the counter and picked up Oskar's plate and placed it into the oven. She then took his glass of soda, and pored it into the sink. She was about to refill it, when she heard a lite rapping at the door.

"Did you forget your key, again? I swear, I'm going to have to hang that key around your neck!"

Eli opened the door...

28.

"You made it just in time, young man."

"In that case I'll be quick. I already know what I want. Let me have some of those."

Oskar pointed to some Irises that were behind the display case. He knew that Irises were Eli's favorite flowers. The elderly man wrapped up the flowers in a clear plastic sheet, and handed them to Oskar.

Oskar paid the elderly florist, and told him to keep the change.

As he walked back to the apartment, Oskar inspected the flowers. Eli is going to love these. They'll be perfect as a center piece.

29.

As he walked back to his building, Oskar was startled by the sound of a car backfiring. Only it wasn't a car, and Oskar knew it.

"Eli!"

Time seemed to slowed down to a crawl, as Oskar ran the final block.

He reached the back of the building just in time to witness someone burst through a third story window. The explosion of glass and wood was a blur to Oskar, but instinctively he knew.

"Eli!"

He found her crumpled body between two trash cans. A pile of empty boxes had breaking her fall, but none the less it had been a hard impacted. He knelt down beside her, gently lifted her head.

"Eli."

She blinked her eyes open, and looked up at him.

"I'm alright, Oskar."

She said in a horse voice.

"...but we have to go...now."

She looked up at the window she had just jumped through. Looking back down at them through jagged glass, was a man.

"Help me up."

Oskar could see that Eli had fractured her leg. He placed her arm around his neck, and his arm around her waist. Then lifted her to her feet.

In a half running half skipping fashion, they made there way out of the ally. There was an abandon building not far that was sometimes used by vagrants and drug addicts. Oskar would usually steer clear of the area, but now it would have to be their sanctuary.

30.

When they reached the building they were in luck, it was empty. In one of the ground floor rooms, Oskar found the back seat of a car. He flipped right-side up, then very gently sat Eli down it. It was only then that he noticed blood on his hands.

"Eli, you've been shot!"

"I'll be alright"

Said Eli, calmly.

"I just need some time to heal."

"But, Eli..!"

"Oskar, I'll be alright...see."

She lifted her dress to show him that her wounds had already began to heal. The bullet had gone clean through her side. Oskar could see that both entrance and exit wounds had indeed began to close.

"What happened Eli? Who was that?"

"I don't know. I thought it was you, that's why I opened the door."

"Did he look like a priest?"

"No."

Answered Eli with a puzzled look.

"He was wearing a suit and hat. Why would he look like a priest?"

"No, it's nothing. I just saw someone that looked like a priest earlier, that's all."

Then Oskar asked.

"Did he said anything?"

"He said that he had been after me for a long time."

"And then?"

"Then he took out a gun and..."

She didn't finish, and Oskar didn't press her any further.

"How is your leg?"

"That will also heal."

Eli was only half truthful. While her leg would heal fast it would first have to be set. It was a gruesome procedure she wished not to have Oskar witness.

"Oskar, why don't you go make sure that we weren't followed."

"Are you sure you'll be alright here?"

"I'll be fine."

"Okay, I'll be right back then."

He kissed her, then exited the room.

As soon as he was gone, Eli began looking around for something she could use to help her set her leg. At the far end of the room was a large section of wall with exposed wooden planks. She pulled herself up, balancing on one leg. She then hopped over to the wall and laid down on the floor facing the wall. She carefully placed her injured leg in-between two horizontal planks. She then gripped her leg tightly with both hands, braced herself, then counted.

"One, two, three..!"

On three, she pulled as hard and as fast as she could, snapping the bone back into place. It took all of her strength to keep from screaming out in pain.

Afterwards, she fell limp on the floor exhausted. But there was no time to rest. She scooted back up to a sitting postion, then tore a long strip of material from bottom her dress. She then took two pieces of wood, and made a splint for her leg.

Oskar had been gone for a long time now, and Eli had began to worry. She pulled herself up using the wall to steady herself. She then took a deep breath and started toward the hallway. Halfway there, she heard the front door creaking open.

'Thank goodness, Oskar.'

She was about to called out to him, but stopped herself. Something was wrong, there had been no code knock. After all that had happened, Eli was certain that Oskar would have used the code knock.

'It wasn't Oskar! It was the man with the gun!'

The hallway was dark, but that made little difference to Eli, she could see clearly in pitch back darkness. From where she stood, Eli could see that the front door was halfway open. Whoever it was, they were already inside. Eli knew she still wasn't ready for a confrontation, so she hopped over to the staircase and as quietly as she could ascended the stairs, by hops.

The second floor was much like the first, mostly empty rooms flanking both sides of a long hallway. The third and fourth floors where repeats. But by the end of the five and final floor, Eli came to a padlocked door. A sign on the door said (MAINTENANCE ONLY). Eli looked around, on the floor near by was an empty fire extinguisher. She picked it up, and with one swift downward motion broke the lock off. Behind the door was a narrow stairwell that lead to a second door, that in-turn led to the roof.

31.

The rooftop was covered in gravel. This will make it difficult for Eli to sneak up on her pursuer. If she hadn't damaged her leg, Eli could've easily leaped at him from whichever location or distance.

To her far left was a water-tank, fifteen feet high and thirty-five feet in diameter. To her right, some twenty feet away was a large metal box. The box was about four feet high, and had an array of thick metal cables protruding from one side. Eli made her way it to the box. Her first instinct was to climb up the ladder that was adjacent to the water-tank, and she was hoping that her pursuer would do just that. That would give her the advantage of attacking him from behind, as he tried for the ladder. Eli's leg was almost mended now, but she didn't want to take a chance. It was always best to have the element of surprise, whenever possible. Specially when dealing with someone that was armed.

As she sat waiting behind the box, her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs, Eli once again thought about Oskar. She was hoping that he too was hiding somewhere safe, and that they would soon be reunited. Then she heard the door swing open. She took a deep breath, and waited.

"I know you're up here, Demon!"

Called out the man with the gun.

"It's over, you've got nowhere else to go!"

Eli sat silent, waiting to hear the man's footsteps on the gravel as he walked toward the ladder of the water-tank. But instead, the man continue to speak.

"And if you think your friend is going to help you...you'd better think again. I've put an end to his tortured possessed soul. You'll never again..."

He's speech were cut short by a blood curdling screamwq345as.

Henderson spun around, firing his gun in the direction of the unearthly cry. He emptied has weapon, hitting his mark twice.

The bullets intersected Eli in mid air, with such force that it flung her backwards. She skidded across the graveled surfaced, tumbling for several yards before finally coming to a stop at the building's edge.

Henderson slowly walked over to her.

"I know I can't kill you with bullets."

He said as he holstered his empty weapon.

"But they will slow you down enough for me to use this...!"

From beneath his coat, Henderson unsheathed a hunting knife, it's twelve inch blade gleaming in the moonlight.

"The only way to kill a demon like you...is to cut off it's head."

Eli laid motionless.

'That's right...come to me'. She thought.

If this was to be the end, she was taking this maniac with her.

"Your reign of evil is over!"

Henderson raised the massive hunting knife. Eli readied herself like a coiled snake, it's tense muscles ready to spring on it's attacker.

Then as she was about to make her move, Henderson's chest suddenly thrust forward in a quick unnatural spasm. His eyes bulged and his mouth opened in a soundless scream. Eli was confused, but nonetheless ready to strike. Then Henderson slowly began to turned around. And as he did so, Eli could see a long medal rod protruding from the center of his back.

"You.."

Said Henderson in a barely audible gurgle, as blood steamed forth from has mouth. He was now face to face with his attacker.

Oskar's face was pale and his hair was soaked with perspiration. There was a large stain a blood on the front of his shirt where he'd been stabbed.

"..you can't be alive..!"

Said Henderson a little more clearer. He dropped the knife and reached into his coat pocket and took out a second smaller gun.

Oskar swayed back and forth, the lack of blood causing him to fade in and out. His will alone keep him standing.

With a shaky hand, Henderson leveled the revolver and pulled back the hammer. He was about to pull the trigger, when in a horrifying second his chest exploded outward. In mindless shock, he looked down. Protruding from the center of his chest was the same rod that he had been impaled with, this time it had been driven all the way though.

Then like some grotesque marionette, Henderson was lifted off the ground. It was then that Oskar could see Eli at the opposed end of the rod. She lifted Henderson up until he was completely over their heads. Then with one final heave, she sent him clear over the edge of the building.

When Eli turned back to Oskar, he could see that all the rage had left her eyes. Her face had soften once more. Then everything went black.

32.

Oskar...Oskar...

Eli's voice seemed faraway, as if though in a dream.

"Oskar...Oskar..."

Then her beautiful face came into focus. Her dark hair silhouetted by the soft glow of the early morning light.

"Eli.."

Oskar smiled up at her, and Eli smiled back. Then as his mind cleared further, Oskar suddenly realized what he was seeing, and began to panic.

"Eli...The Sun!"

He tried to get up, but Eli wouldn't let him.

"But Eli...the Sun!"

She gently laid him back down.

"Don't worry about anything, my love.

She moved has hair away from his eyes, and placed her small white hand on his cheek. And she smiled at him again. And in that moment there was an unspoken understanding that passed between the two, and Oskar smiled back.

"I love you so much..."

Said Eli.

"...I love you more then life, itself."

She laid down beside him, and very gently laid her head down on his chest. She could hear his heart beating, and she could see his chest rise then fall, rise then fall, shallower and shallower.

"The sky looks so beautiful. The colors reminds me of the light shade you brought home to our first apartment together. Do you remember, my love?"

Eli could no longer hear his heart beating.

"It's so beautiful.."

As she looked into the horizon, all the colors of dawn were reflected in her large liquidly eyes.

"..so so beau..."

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