Earlier in the day, Eduardo asked me if I had any other powers. I dismissed him, like the ones I had now weren’t enough on my plate.
Now? I wished I had something secret up my sleeve.
People were screaming, multiple police officers barking the same things at different times. My own heartbeat sounded like it was pounding in my head. A cacophonous chaos.
“Stay down! Hands in the air! Don’t move!”
Can’t everyone shut up?
A massive headache was about to hit me full on, and all this damn noise wasn’t helping any. I was trying to think, to process everything, and everything was turning into a distraction.
I was so tired.
Everything was hurting. Like I finished a marathon, sprinting. I burned up all of my energy. Every muscle in my body was throbbing, aching with stings. Throb, throbbing. Tender. I was out of breath. Weak, lightheaded. Could I even pick my hands up, anymore?
And worst of all, I was thirsty. The whole area around my neck was on fire, screaming for nourishment. I wanted it, I needed it. My entire body was heated, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling unless I got it.
Breathe, I tried. It was hard. Not at this point in time. Didn’t have the luxury. I was still plagued by the stress of being in a blinding spotlight. Everyone could see me. Everyone would know what I was.
They would know.
I blinked, but everything was still blurry. Shapes of blues, projecting a maddening sound.
I thought I asked everyone to shut it, but apparently not. Still ordering me around, a million voices flooding my ears.
I had to deal with this, didn’t I?
I needed to get somewhere, to leave this place. But I could barely move, barely stand, barely do anything. Process. Put the pieces together. It was hard.
Mom. I was late for dinner. Homework. I was behind on some stuff. Coach T. She wasn’t too thrilled about my recent absences. Wait, no, these were distractions. My mind kept going to places that were irrelevant. Thinking of unrelated things that didn’t matter. Now I was being redundant. Focus, or at least try.
All from just pushing myself a little harder. I didn’t know my mind and body would shut down so easily, be so out of it from all of that.
Never doing that again.
I lifted my head up, trying to make as much sense of the scene as I could. Fuzzy, unclear images, but I did notice something.
The police, they weren’t getting closer. They stood in a formation, circling me, but they weren’t approaching.
Were they afraid?
Couldn’t blame them, in all honesty. They were hesitating, unsure of exactly what I was and what else I was capable of.
I’m still unsure, myself.
I could use this, though, their reluctance to come any closer. It bought me some time, valuable seconds to come up with a way out of here.
A million things ran through my mind. A million things to consider.
A voice snarled. “We said drop the knife! Hands up!”
I clenched my hands. The knife. I was still holding it. Could I do something with it? Fight? Fight my way out?
Why was that my first resort? There had to be better solutions than that. I shouldn’t try to make this any worse. For me and for everyone here. Plus, there was the ‘couldn’t move at all issue’ that prevented that particularly awful idea from being a feasible one. I scrapped it as soon as I thought of it.
You’re still going make use of the knife, right?
At this juncture, doing anything would be better than doing nothing.
I brought my arms close, to my chest, and let myself collapse onto Eduardo’s body.
There were some gasps, the clicks of guns, but no sudden spikes in volume. No one fired. I knew they wouldn’t, or at least, I had betted on it, because the cops wouldn’t be done with evacuating civilians from the scene just yet. They couldn’t risk anything.
I could use that, too.
I heard a few footsteps try and test their luck, to inch closer, but they were sparse and wary. I only had a few more moments before they gathered enough courage to put me in handcuffs.
They started speaking amongst each other, formulating a plan. They had gotten close enough for me to hear.
“Robinson, go around the back, deal with Benny. We’ll handle this masked devil-thing.”
“Do we inform Mister about this? About Benny. We got that report, not too long ago. This sounds like something he’d need to know about.”
“We’ll talk about that later. First we have to clean this shit up.”
What were they talking about? Mr. Who? And Benny. They mentioned that name like they were familiar with it. Why?
It didn’t bode well with me, their manner of speaking, their familiarity with someone like Benny. I couldn’t leave here in handcuffs, and deep down, I knew I couldn’t let that happen to Eduardo.
I tried to concentrate on the task at hand. Eduardo wasn’t moving, aside from the slight rise and fall of his back. His breathing was shallow. He wouldn’t be getting up by his own volition. How badly did the car accident injure him? My guilt was becoming much harder to swallow.
“Eduardo,” I whispered, although frail. “Say something. Are you hurt? Concussion?”
He grunted, but he answered. “No concussion, but I’m not exactly sunshine and rainbows.”
“Cool. Don’t move, I’m going to try and get us out of here.”
He didn’t respond.
Under the cover of my own back, I worked. With my free hand, I wedged it between Eduardo’s torso and the cement, essentially hugging him with one arm. With my knife, I tried forcing in between my mask and lips, without stabbing myself. So inconvenient, but it wasn’t like I ever anticipated having to do this. The bottom of the mask kept getting in the way of the knife. It was taking too long, and I was getting frustrated, but I couldn’t be hasty, which made me even more frustrated.
The footsteps around us started becoming more frequent, faster. Orders given throughout the different officers to approach carefully. Any minute, now. Any second.
With one last push, I got the knife where I wanted it. The tip of the knife brushed against the tip of my nose. I briefly paused, almost reconsidering.
Before, on the rooftops, I didn’t have the time to be dramatic and consider what exactly I was about to do, I just had to do it. So soon after that, I was faced with yet another, similar situation.
The blade was to my lips. Red, soaked in Benny’s blood. I stuck my tongue out, licking the metal.
A surge of energy. Electricity. A short but focused burst, a static shock throughout my whole body.
The police halted. Couldn’t afford to revel in the feeling of drinking blood, despite loathing how good it tasted.
This was it.
It wasn’t in a fast or graceful motion, but I got on my two feet, flipping Eduardo in my arms, carrying him like I would a bride, with one arm under his legs and the other supporting his back. The knife was uncomfortably stuck between my mouth and my mask. My mouth was opened in a funny position, I couldn’t close it.
The police ordered me again, but I didn’t bother to listen.
I licked the knife again.
As the resurgence of energy came, I took two steps forward before jumping away. I didn’t reach the height I wanted, considering the added weight and some fatigue that remained, but it worked. I touched ground amongst the civilians that made up the outer perimeter of the scene, now running away and crying out at the sight of me.
I was running, too, looking for an escape. My vision was getting better, clearer, letting me see exactly where I was going. But with every step, I flinched in pain. The more I ran, the knife was cutting into the corners of my mouth. But I couldn’t spit it out. The mask kept it stuck in its position. Besides, were was some leftover blood I needed.
Drool dripped down my chin as I ran across the street. The area was filled with cars stuck in place, unable to move or turn back due to the car accident. Part of me wanted to double back and check if other vehicle’s passengers were okay, but I’d have to leave that to more qualified individuals.
The cars here were becoming an obstacle, slowing down my progress. I stepped onto the hood of a car, hopped onto the roof of the next, and hopped again until I got to the sidewalk.
I now had more room to run forward without obstruction. I was leaving the police behind, but I knew that I couldn’t keep this up forever. I had to find a place where I could settle down and hide.
I searched my available options, and found my next course of action.
A nearby building was lower than the rest, with a balcony that overlooked a street. A restaurant-bar type of place. With the strength I had, I could manage that with one good jump.
I tried. I made it.
There were others here, too. Some were sitting at picnic tables, eating and drinking, while others were by the balcony, trying to sneak a peek at what was happening below. They didn’t expect someone to be coming up here.
As expected, there was a lot of commotion when I arrived.
I kept going, running past the surprised and confused, and I jumped again before anything significant could be done about my presence.
Another building, another rooftop. I was positive I’ve lost everyone who’d try to come after me, come after us, but it wouldn’t hurt to move farther away.
I crossed another rooftop, leaped, and landed. Eduardo grumbled, complaining from all of the bouncing from being in my hold, and the exhaustion was coming back faster and stronger than I had wanted. Also, the knife was piercing even more into my flesh.
Maybe it would hurt to move farther away.
But there was one roof I saw, and I knew I needed to get there. It was the top of an apartment building, with a clothesline clipping some clothes up. Not bad as cover goes, especially now, since it had gotten darker.
I was starting to accept that I would never be one for smooth landings. The last of my extra energy had given out, and I collapsed when I got to the apartment’s roof. Unfortunately for Eduardo, he had to be subjected to my fall, as well.
“Aghfghr!” we both cried.
I knew some time had passed, because I had forgotten where I was, and what I was doing. I flipped over, unable to be fully on my back because of my backpack. It took real effort just to get on my knees.
Eduardo wasn’t any better, also on his back. He coughed heavily, his chest heaving. He couldn’t see what was about to happen, what I was about to do.
I took that as an opportunity to fix myself. I lifted the mask away from my chin, and had to stretch my mouth open even more to spit out the knife. A few dots of blood splattered onto the roof, a gross mixture of Benny’s and my own. Blood and spit dripped from my mouth, and I wiped it away with my hand. I smacked my lips, like I was applying lipstick, and licked a bit of the residual blood that got on a finger.
I tried communicating with Eduardo. “Oddwardlow,” I started, before recoiling in agony, and I closed my mouth. The cuts really did their work, digging deep into the corner of my lips, and they stung, bad.
That stinging eventually turned into a certain type of numbness, and I felt the cuts shrink, disappearing. It wasn’t long until they were completely gone, they were only minor injuries, in the grand scheme of things. Considering that I’ve actually survived worse, it was relatively nothing.
“Eduardo,” I said, able to speak again. “We have to keep going, but I can’t carry you forever. Who knows if they manage to find us up here?”
Eduardo had calmed down enough to speak as well, no longer coughing. “Why… you… brought me?”
His sentence was disjointed, but I got the meaning behind it. “The cops seemed to know Benny, or at least they knew of her. I don’t know, something about it didn’t feel right. When they find out about the weapons in the warehouse…”
“I called 9-1-1. I told them about the crates.”
“You did what?”
Worry crept up my spine, reaching my voice. “Was I not supposed to do that?”
“What? No, I dunno.” Eduardo started moving into a better position, sitting up, placing his arms behind him. “It’s better than leaving it out in the open.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
I fixed my mask, setting it properly on my face, before trying to stand, but I felt a certain head rush that brought me right back down. I fell back on my butt.
“Dammit,” I hissed to myself. I didn’t want to look weak, feel weak, especially in front of Eduardo. And I didn’t have time to be weak. Had to hold out for a bit longer.
I wanted to leave and keep moving, but I also wanted to catch my breath. I figured we could spare a minute or two.
“I thought you were hiding. How did Benny get you?”
“I don’t know, I was looking out in every direction, too. I was careful. I was even about to move to another spot, just to be safe. But…”
“Out of nowhere, there was a tap at my window, and it was her with a gun. I had to let her in, or she’d shoot.”
“Shit.” I had nothing else to say. I coughed, instead.
“So,” Eduardo said, in between heavy breaths, “What do we do, now?”
“You tell me. As far as Benny is concerned, she’s out of the picture, and hopefully for a long time. What does that say about the gang? Can they function without her?”
Eduardo pondered, looking at the clothes swaying in the wind as he did so. “Not really. She was at the top, and the crew she kept close to her will be scrambling to figure out who takes her place, and what to do in her absence. That’s a lot of reorganizing that needs to be done, and that’ll slow them down.”
“And if the police or any other gang find out about her plans?”
“Then The Chariot will have had its last ride.”
A sense of relief momentarily came over me. “Then, yeah. It ended up being a messy process, but I gave you your chance to leave the gang.”
Eduardo changed his posture yet again, this time leaning forward, hands in his lap.
“My chance to leave, huh?”
“After everything that went down, including the whole ‘crates of weapons’ thing, El Carruaje should be shaken up enough so that you leave without much noise,” I said.
“My girl, what about her?”
I thought about Maria. I knew that she should be okay, but I was worried regardless.
“We, you should go see her,” I said, “Check if she’s okay. Do you have money for a taxi, or something?”
He reached into the jacket he was wearing, a pocket on the inside. “I do,” he said, without taking out anything.
“Taxi should be a safe enough way to get there. I said this before, but I don’t think you heard me. Sorry about your car.”
“Don’t,” Eduardo said, shaking his head, “I’m not too pissed about that. I hated driving that thing around, anyway. It was never really mine.”
“Okay, then, that settles that. Go to her. And you’re going to have to tell her everything. I have a feeling she won’t appreciate seeing you on the news without you telling her first.”
“Yeah. I tried my best to hide your face, but people are going to be talking about this. Our escape wasn’t exactly subtle. Which brings me to my last point.”
I tried standing one more time, and this time, I was finally successful. I took it slow, being careful to get to my feet.
My words weren’t as slow to come out, though.
“You need to break up with your girlfriend,” I said, bluntly.
Eduardo shot me the most stunned look. There was even a little anger in there. “What? Are you shitting me?”
“You want to protect her, don’t you? You’re going to have to stay away.”
“Now is not the time to be doing that.”
“Isn’t it? There might be some from your old gang that have a score to settle with you. Especially if Benny decides to sell you out. And the police will mostly be after me, but they’ll be looking for you, too.”
He balled his hands into fists. “Then why did you take me?”
“You want to walk right out of a gang and into a jail cell? You weren’t going to last. I wouldn’t.”
Eduardo coughed again. “Shows how much you know. You get to hide behind a mask, you get to have superpowers.”
“They’re not as liberating as you think.”
“Fuck,” Eduardo said, under his breath. “Fuck this.”
“It’s up to you, in the end,” I said, conceding with him somewhat. “Your decision. I’m just telling the circumstances you’re in. We’re in.”
If nothing else, I at least planted the idea in his head.
I reached back down to pick up the knife, flipped the blade back in, and put it away. I had to wash it later.
“And what about you?” Eduardo asked. “What are you going to do?”
“I’ll keep looking after your girlfriend, of course.”
“Huh? How? You don’t even know her!”
Earlier this week, I had said something similar, myself. Even now, there was a lot I didn’t know about Maria, a lot of darkness that even I couldn’t see through. But I made my decision. She was my friend, and I was going to help her. And I was going to keep doing that.
And I had to give Eduardo something, in order for him to put his trust in me.
“Of course I do,” I said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“What are you saying?” Eduardo questioned.
“Maria Gonzalez. She’s into fashion, loves strawberry, and she can’t say no to a good foreign flick.”
“Who…” he began to say.
“I’m not saying any more,” I said, “But I will ask you to trust me. You have your part to play, and I have mine.”
I walked to the edge of the roof, and looked down to find another fire escape.
“I’ll be going. There’s a fire escape here, so after a few more minutes, you can come down. I don’t condone thievery, but if you decide to take these clothes and change into them, I won’t stop you.”
And I know I just said that I don’t condone thievery, but getting some cash from you for a taxi would’ve been nice.
“Oh, and here,” I said, almost forgetting. I brought back out the walkie-talkie for the last time, and tossed to it Eduardo. He caught it.
“Leaving me on a roof?” Eduardo asked, shaky, his voice cracking at the end. “Again?”
“It’s not out of spite, not this time. I mean, I’d offer to carry you some more, but I’m spent, and the last thing you probably need is someone to uncomfortably rattle you around more.”
“It wasn’t that bad. It’s the closest thing I’ll ever get to flying.”
Part of me was taken aback at that point of view. “That’s one way to look at it.”
“And what do you mean, ‘not this time?’”
“Uh, goodbye, Eduardo.” And with any luck, I’ll never need to see you again. But that, I kept to myself.
Having said my piece, I left it, and Eduardo, at that. I dropped down from edge of the roof, landing on the fire escape. I made it down to the alley, not exactly rushing, but not taking my sweet time, either.
The alley was empty, and dark enough that I could change without worrying about anyone. I checked above me, in case Eduardo was trying to be sneaky and curious. Nope. I dropped my backpack, and took out the sports bag inside. The mask was first to be taken off, and it felt so satisfying to finally get it off my face. I stuffed it into the bag, along with the jacket. It was like peeling off a second skin, with how much sweat had accumulated on the inside. The fanny pack was the next to go, and after I put away the joggers, I was back to being Alexis. No longer Blank Face.
I took out my phone, and checked my face from the reflection, cleaning off what I could. There were a few messages waiting for me. Some from Katy and Maria, probably from our group chat, a lot from my mom, and one from Brittany and Eve. Have to handle these later.
I left the alley, bags in tow, getting on the sidewalk. I didn’t recognize this part of town, but that wasn’t a big issue. I had enough money for a bus, and if nothing else, I’d have to walk the rest of the way. Not like I had a choice, otherwise.
The sounds of a helicopter zoomed overhead, flying by as I walked. Was it trying to search for me? I was equal parts relieved and terrified. Relieved to know that I successfully slipped under the radar, and terrified that they had went to this length to find me. Tomorrow, maybe even the weeks to come, I was certain that I would never hear the end of this night. People might be talking about it now.
I made it out of that situation, alive and intact. It already felt distant, like these were someone else’s memories. How did I manage to pull it off, even? Could this even be considered a success?
And my night wasn’t even close to being over. I had to find my way home, and it had gotten unreasonably late. I did give my mom a similar story like I did with Katy, but I still had some explaining to do. And somehow, that felt like the harder task.
People, pedestrians, passed me. They didn’t know, had no reason to suspect me. I was, in present appearance, a normal girl. Something about it was exciting.
Exhausted, sweaty, slightly dehydrated, I strolled into the night.