Blood Ties

Emma leads us out through an emergency exit, the squawk of it blurring with the screeches ringing throughout the building. She jostles Red down the steps into an alley wet with graffiti and stretches him out on the pavement, where the color of him seeps into the street. She tugs his tie free, winds it around his leg, and asks for one of my markers. I hand her the green one, flinching at the blood already crusting on her fingers, and watch as she twists it into the tie, tugging the tourniquet tight.

Red grunts and his head lolls over. His mouth is moving, silent and pained. Emma presses her weight into his leg and her hair sweeps out around her face. The blood is pooling, drawing itself up into the fabric of her dress, but she doesn't seem to notice it. Something stiff and dry is caught in my throat, making me gag, and I turn away, hugging my elbows in.

Some of the graffiti out here is new, and the color of it clots around the image. I press my hand into one and blur the face away.

"Puppy."

I peek at her over my shoulder, but I can't look at the rusted rainbow leaking out under her hands. My eyes wander up over her face, to the frowning lines and pleading eyes.

She says, "We don't have much time. I - we need help."

I remember I was running barefoot, once. The grass was wet and clammy, clinging to my feet like little green hash marks. I stepped on a frog. I remember its oily breath, warm and plaintive, and the way its shattered bones cut up into my sole. I remember the mess of it; and I remember the way I wiped it off on the welcome mat when I was called for lunch.

Now, here was someone again; someone broken and bleeding out while I stood over it all, staring down at my feet.

"Puppy?" the line of her mouth was a grim slash.

I burrow in the dented ashcans lining the alley, strapping the cleaner refuse down as a splint, and help lift Red onto a grease-spattered creeper. I hand Emma my sweater to sop up the blood. His color inks the lines of my hands, mixing with the paints, and I swallow around the dry knot bobbing in my throat. Emma loops her arms around Red's chest and pulls him. They follow me into the shadows.

I stop them before a stairwell collaged with symbols. Red grunts as we carry him down, as he and Emma lean heavily into the wall. Emma's eyes are twitching, as if trying to pin the sounds seeping under the doorway.

I hum a tune as I raise my fist. My other palm slaps my leg with the beat of it and I mutter, "Knock once for the fa-ther. Twice for the son. Knock. three. times for the ho-ly ghost."

I knock.

The End

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