As soon as the blazing specks shattered the glass windows in front of him, Vance Darcouver dove to the ground. Bullets devastated the walls of the Plumbro music store in downtown Pittsburgh, ricocheting and splintering the display case that served as Vance’s shield. Picks, guitars, and tuners were devastated, while Vance felt a sharp sensation shoot up his arm. He looked down to see a long shard of glass embedded there. Pain flooded his senses and blood trickled down the case, coloring it like the stained-glass windows in church.

I skipped confession last week, he thought absently, pushing his face to the greyish-red carpet, hoping a stray bullet wouldn't give him a kiss.

Glass flew through the room; sharp raindrops trickled down his back. It wasn't the big pieces he was worried about, but the little ones – the ones that bit into your skin and held on like ticks. As he glanced at his wound, the glass case above him exploded one final time. The sounds of destruction dwindled as whoever wrought it passed on into the darkness.

"What the hell was that? You okay?" A young man with scraggly blond hair appeared from the back room. As he came into the light, Vance spotted the man's name tag: Daryl.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Vance spoke quietly as he moved out from the busted-up wooden frame and ruined glass. He shook his hair, raining crystalline pieces out from his thick black locks.

Daryll surveyed his customer. "Hey, are you hurt? I have a first aid kit in the back, you know."

Vance glared in response. "I told you, I’m fine."

"Alright, geez man, sorry. Damn, what was that, anyway? A drive-by shooting? For a moment there, it felt like the apocalypse."

Vance shifted his body forward, then walked out the dilapidated door without a further word.

Thin streams of blood slid down to the small of his palm. He moved his thumb in it, smearing around the liquid and bringing it to his lips. His life essence, easily taken from him by a single piece of glass. It frustrated him to realize just how fragile he really was.

Vance pulled the glass out from his bicep, ignoring the irritating pain in the back of his mind. He rolled his sleeve up to reveal a pale, thin arm tattooed with a jagged crimson line. Blood continued to flow.

Dirty blue sneakers connected with a discarded plastic bottle, sending it flying down the dark street with an angry crunch. He could hear the ghostly wail of police sirens in the distance. Eager to vacate the premises, Vance recalled his steps. He’d walked south, past Kaufmann's, the two-story department store. Vance didn't care much for shopping. As of late, he didn't really care for much at all.

Wandering, waiting for the trembles of fear to evacuate his body, Vance tried to recall memories of how life used to be. He’d experienced a relatively normal childhood living with his parents in Turtle Creek. Things were simpler back then – back when his mother was still around.

Vance watched himself sitting on a small blue swing set in their tiny backyard, swinging back and forth without a care in the world. His father was still in shape, smiling as he roasted chicken on their mini-grill. His mother stepped out onto the raised porch and started talking with his father. She floated down the steps to the concrete driveway, a beautiful, tall woman with long black hair and porcelain skin. Smoke from the grill rose up into the sky, and the sun’s warmth embraced their happy American family.

Then, she was gone – vanished, without a trace. Vance had been 13, and four years later, his father remarried.

The ashen streets of Pittsburgh resurfaced as Vance's memories came to a close. He tried remembering what his father had told him at the beginning of the night...something about an ‘important business meeting,’ which was surprising. Even Vance knew that his father was completely worthless to his company. He was the type of worker who sat and did paperwork all day like a mindless drone, only to return to his house, position himself down in his easy chair, and stay that way for the remainder of the night. It was depressing to think about how much he had changed.

A small green light pierced the darkness as Vance crossed an empty street. It came from behind a dusty glass window – a dim bulb fastened into the neck of an old-fashioned lamp, poking out from a haphazard display of trinkets. Above the window, Vance found a wooden plaque hanging over the looming doorway that read: "ANTIQUES."

His eyes returned to the lamp. There was a reason that dim green glow had caught his attention – he’d seen it before. The maroon-colored lampshade, the wooden stand sculpted to look like the bark of a tree with an eerie-looking owl peeking out from within. It all felt so familiar.

Once again, Vance’s memory was rekindled. A tall, balding man named Mr. Caskett, his soft-spoken wife, and his daughter Wendy, always with a mischievous grin on her face. Vance’s mother used to take him over to their house to play when he was a child. The exact same type of lamp had been there, on a small table to the side of their big white couch. He remembered it so clearly, and he’d never seen another like it. While the adults sat and talked on the patio, Vance and Wendy would sword fight with sticks in the backyard...and he always lost. She could climb the monkey bars, but he was too scared. She teased him about it. But he always had fun playing with her – until her family moved away.

Clinging hopelessly to the remains of his childhood, the miserable, scowling 17-year old stared up at the sign. Raven-black hair fell limply to his shoulders, sharply contrasting with his pale face. His abnormal eyes – tiny black pupils with white irises – looked on blankly, and he was all alone

*************

as she ran through the streets. She clutched her hands against her yellow T-shirt, red-orange hair bouncing lightly against her back. Since she was a little girl, she’d had nightmares about this very moment. A large man chasing her, groping out for her with gloved hands. He wanted to hurt her. It always ended the same way – she fought, but she never won. She was too weak.

She didn’t know why he chose her. If anything, she thought she looked rather plain. But the man had been tailing her in his car for the past five blocks, and it wouldn't be long before he caught up with her.

Moonlight slid off the car as it coasted down the street behind her. She took a desperate dive into the thin sliver of an alley. Peering down the dark passageway in fright, she saw rows of faceless buildings cast against a bleak, dark sky. In downtown Pittsburgh, she was just another face, a fragment of a memory.

His brakes howled. She ran down the corridor as best she could on the worn soles of her sandals. The sides of the Oldsmobile screeched against the brick walls of the neighboring buildings as it jammed itself into the nook, then roared and came to a stop.

If she lived in a perfect world, there would not have been a high brick wall at the end of the alleyway. But she was an orphan, and her foster parents had died in a car accident last year. Miracles didn’t exist for her.

Radiant with fright, her big green eyes stared into the car's headlights. A bead of sweat slid down her mousy face. Folding her delicate, peach arms, she scrunched herself up against the wall and wondered if this was the end.

The driver window in the man’s car was already broken, so he quickly climbed out and hopped down the hood. Beady eyes sat pinched between wrinkled skin, while the bottom half of his face was scrunched up with a cocky smile. He held no gun.

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