There is man fear and there is little boy fear. A man fears losing his home, being the victim of corporate downsizing; finding out his wife is fucking the neighbor. A little boy fears things in the dark, school yard bullies, the bogey man and whatever the hell lurks under beds at night. Imagined or not, little boy fear is pure and immediate and right now there is a man hiding in an alley reeking of piss, feeling a little boy's fear.
Alex Jessup was heading home; minding his own business, head up, eyes forward and walking like he belonged there. Ten blocks from Mattersons', a shoddy but cheap, boarding house where he rented a room, panic hit him so violently he stumbled. People stared but not for long; nobody stares at anyone for long in this part of town. Ignorant of the people around him, Alex struggled for balance as he started to run. He scrambled around a group of people outside a grubby diner advertising the daily heart attack special and nearly set a young couple on their asses. Alex didn't hear the protests as he collided with people. He just ran, ran until his lungs went on strike. He had no idea where he was, but he had to stop. A dank, smelly alley was certainly a different destination. This had happened before.
He hunkered down behind a stack of old pallets half buried under a pile of moldy carpet. His breath came in ragged patches, pulse pounding in his head. He remembered the fear and the primal need to run, but couldn't recall what terrified him so badly to cause him to tear through the streets in a blind panic.
Sweat ran down his back in salty rivulets soaking his shirt. Resting against the damp alley wall did little to relieve the heat engulfing his body. Alex's eyes darted and came to rest on the entrance to the alley. His body slowly becoming his own again, his mind started to focus.
He heard the soft scuffing of people walking and leaned forward to listen. He couldn't tell how many people; too many echoes playing games. He slowly slid down the wall, ignorant of the grime smeared across the back of his shirt. He slid until he was completely hidden. The footfalls were closer.
"Where the hell am I?" Alex muttered. "What the fuck is happening to me?" Feeling fear but not knowing why; Alex slips into self-preservation mode. Feeling that primal need, he slowly swept his hand along the alley floor searching for something to defend himself with. His fingers grazed a pipe. He tried to lift, it but it wouldn't move. He struggled harder being careful not to make much noise. The footsteps grew louder. He felt the first tendrils of panic creeping in again. He tried to free the pipe again; this time it gave. It had the kind of thick weight that could shatter a man. That's the nice thing about a good old-fashioned pipe. Kind of like the shotgun of melee weapons; no real aiming, it'll hurt no matter where it hits. Alex is not a violent man but the pipe, though heavy to the heft, felt natural in his hand.
Focused on the alley entrance, two people entered his field of vision. Not what he expected, just a young couple trying to get through a seedy part of town. The couple passed by, their footfalls and chatter soon trickled out of ear shot.
Relieved, he slumped against the alley wall. His heart slowed and the adrenaline coursing through his body began to ebb. He rested his head against the rough wood of the pallet and felt his eyelids drop. He's tired. A deep bone aching tired from having run his ass ragged from a fear he can't place.
Why is he here resting his head against a rotting piece of wood in a shitty alley that reeks of trash, filth and some other low-level stink that can't quite be placed? Why? It's a question Alex asks a lot. Why does he run? Why does he fear things? Unknown. Unseen. Unowned.
Alex Jessup, 32 years old, college graduate, occasional worker and full-time drinker has been feeling fear that he shouldn't. Fear that is not his. The fears of a lost child, a bullied kid, a rape victim, the dying; all reached Alex, all made him run.
Fear is a personal thing, each person reacts to a situation, real or imagined, differently. Some panic, some run, some scream, some face it, some simply shut down. Living in fear can be hell; living someone else's fear is hell.
Bouts of fear have randomly attacked him throughout his life. Doctors have passed it off as anxiety disorders and panic attacks and an over active imagination. Alex knows it is beyond the reach of pills and therapy. Alex's own fear is that he is losing his mind. That is the only consistent fear he has.
"Come on buddy, I'm sorry."
Alex is pulled back into the now by the voice coming from outside the alley. The exhaustion and fear that swept over him only minutes before is still present but quickly giving ground to adrenaline.
A lone man enters the alley and though his words seem pleasant, his posture betrays him. He stalks the alley, eyes piercing into the shadows. Alex hears a whimper coming from somewhere behind him in the alley.
"Where the fuck you hidin'?" the man demanded. "I said I was sorry...ya know how I get."
The whimper is coupled with a soft shuffling sound. The man hears it and moves deeper in the alley, repeating his shallow apologies. Alex can feel fear rising again but feels no urge to run. He has an odd feeling he is where he should be. Alex watched the man approach a stack of newspaper and trash bags. He could hear the whimpering get louder as the man quickly closed the gap. The man reached into the shadows and grabbed a disheveled young boy by the hair and yanked him into the alley.
"Peek-a-boo." Said the man, leaning over the boy.
"Ow, ow, ow! Stop Daddy, you're hurting me" sobbed the boy.
Without warning, the youngster's father slapped him across the mouth leaving a white hand print and a split lip.
"Who do you think you are, hiding from me?" the man said, ignoring his screaming. "I asked you a fuckin' question!"
"I'm s-s-sorry, I'm sorry Daddy!"
The man smashed his little boy in the side of the head knocking him to his knees.
"Hide from me will ya?" The man said, raising his hand.
"P-p-please...don't. Daddy, you're..."
The boy, still dazed from the blows, tries to protect himself from the assault. The man swings his fist towards his son's head, forgetting the joy he brought to him when he was born, ignoring the pleading; the tears. The man reigns down the blow that forces his son into black.
The boy fell limp to the ground, crimson tainting his blonde hair, blood pooling beside him in the dark. The man looms over him.
"Get up!" demanded the man. "Quit fuckin' around."
The man nudged his son with the dirty toe of his boot. "Come on buddy. Get up"
The boy didn't move.
"Joshua James Marsh, if you don't get up right..."
It would have been a home run if it was bat and ball but being pipe and back, there is no glory or screaming fans. Just a meaty thud as the pipe found the sweet spot between the man's shoulder blades, snapping his head backward with car crash speed. He collapsed to his knees and pitched forward lying in the blood and grime mix he helped create.
Alex stood over the two downed figures in the gloom of the alley. Breath coming in short and too fast. Worrying about passing out, he lets the pipe fall and grabs his knees, taking deep breaths.
To a passerby the scene would look ominous; lone, shifty looking guy standing over a man and a young boy in a shitty alley... Yeah, nothing looks wrong here, move along folks. Given this part of town, a passerby would probably not chance a lingering glance into any alley for fear of what they don't want to see.
He doesn't recall any conscious decision to give the 'Daddy of the year' his due reward. He feels no remorse for delivering a potentially fatal blow. He knows it was right if not a little late. Alex looks closely at the boy and is thankful he can see the faint rise and fall of unfettered breathing. There is no thankfulness when Alex sees the father breathing. It is just a fact of the moment.
The boy began to stir and Alex rolled him over and wiped the grit off his face. He looked about 12 with a marred complexion. His face shows the signs of previous beatings and his close cropped hair looks like it was cut with a knife. If not for the bruising, blood and dirt he might have once been handsome.
"Uuggghhhh" the boy protests consciousness and the pain it reveals.
"Shhhh, you're safe now." Wiping filth from the boy's forehead; revealing past injustices. No fear in Alex now, just a simmering rage.
The father starts to rouse, attracting Alex's attention. Having this asshole awake is not an option for Alex. He cracks him in the mouth and sends him back to sleep.
"Wh-what's going on?"
"Nothing kiddo, it's ok." Alex says, shaking his hand to ease the ache in his knuckles.
The fear that nearly crippled him earlier is gone and he is left feeling tired and dirty.
He knows he has to get the kid some help but doesn't really want the attention. He has been here before. Blind fear causing him to run to an unknown destination where some bad shit goes down.
Feeling spent and needing rest Alex leads the boy out of the alley to a nearby pay phone, calls 911 and leaves.