Morning came, as grey and bleak as the day before, and the girl dressed and went downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of her grandmother's usual thin, bland porridge.  She had nearly forgotten about the events of the previous night, and so she scarcely thought twice upon going into the garden to supplement her meal with a tough, sour apple from the tree by the wall.  It had probably just been a stray dog.  Nothing to worry about, now that it was light outside.

    She picked an apple and bit into it, surveying the garden.  The air smelled of rain that day, although the ground was still dry.  Weeds scratched at her bare feet and ankles, and plants overflowed their pots and boxes, growing in thick tangles along the ground, up the sides of the house and garden shed, and over the mossy rock wall that divided her grandmother's property from that of the neighbors on either side of it and the deciduous forest behind it.

    It was then that she noticed a dark, misshapen stain upon this same wall, a stain that she had never seen there before.  As she approached it to investigate, she saw another, smaller smudge on the cobbled pathway, and then several more, forming a trail that lead right to the shed, the door of which was slightly ajar.  She knew in that moment that something was very wrong.

    Seizing a shovel that was leaning against the side of the house and holding it in front of her like a weapon, the girl neared the shed on silent feet.  Upon finding herself within reach of the door, she probed at it with the handle of the shovel and slowly pushed it open.

    She didn't see anything unusual at first.  It was too dark inside the old stone outbuilding.  She had to open the door almost all the way before enough light could get through to partially illuminate the figure on the floor.

    The girl stumbled backwards a step, so startled that she could only squeak and not scream.

    There was a boy in there, looking up at her with glittering brown eyes from where he lay on the dirt floor, partially concealed behind the wheelbarrow.  He was completely naked and covered in mud and scratches.  Most notably, however, there were three bullet holes in him--two in his stomach and one in his chest.  It seemed that he had been trying to slow the bleeding by applying pressure to the wounds with his palms, for his hands were stained brownish red with blood.  Despite all this, he smiled slightly at her and raised his bloody index finger to his lips.  There were numbers tattooed on his wrist.

    "No screaming, please," he rasped.  "I will not hurt you. I promise."

    She relaxed her grip on the shovel slightly, but she did not set it aside.  "Who are you, and what are you doing in my grandmother's shed?"

    The boy ignored both questions.  "Water would be nice, and bandages, if you have any.  And perhaps a pair of trousers?"

    The girl glared at him.


    With a snort of exasperation, she turned and marched back to the house, making sure he heard her indignation in her every step.  When she reached the door, however, she lightened her footfalls and feigned normalcy.  She did not wish to make her grandmother suspicious.

    She spent the hike up the stairs going over the facts of the situation and wondering why she was doing this.  The facts were implausible enough:  there was a boy hiding in the garden shed, a boy with three gunshot wounds who, by any stretch of reason, should have died hours before, and yet there he had been, not only alive, but impudent.  Even more incredible than that, however, was that she was going to help him, and that she was not going to report his presence to her grandmother or anyone else.

    For bandages, she collected a stack of clean rags from a cabinet in the bathroom.  Then she walked past her own bedroom and stopped outside the door of the room that had once belonged to her brother.  After a brief pause, she entered, strode to the wardrobe, and removed a pair of worn trousers, plus a shirt for good measure.  Her brother would not be needing them anymore.

    This done, she returned downstairs, filled a glass with water from the kitchen sink, and darted outside, giving silent thanks that she had not encountered her grandmother, in which case she would have had to come up with an excuse for why she was taking a bundle of rags, old clothing, and a glass of water out to the garden.

The End

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