The Kingfisher
Part One
By: Walter G. Esselman

Part 1:

I'm falling.

Maybe even plummeting.

Yep. Definitely plummeting.

Fast, but I feel like it's happening in slow motion.

Behind me, the night sky suddenly lit up like fireworks as the airplane exploded, diving down.

Not quite sure why I jumped out.

DANGER! They were trying to kill me.

Must hide. Get away!

River down there. Big city lights.

Maybe I'll hit the river.

Not that it matters at this height.

Pancake.

Large chunks of the burning plane hit the river. Lucky plane.

But I was definitely going to miss the river.

This is going to hurt.

My left side slammed—Hard!—into the lip of a building.

I bounced off and spun into the alley.

Immediately, I smacked into the opposite wall and then dropped straight down. Falling towards a huge mound of garbage, I easily passed through it to crushing against concrete below.

The End.

I waited.

Patiently, I waited for that whole White-Tunnel-Filled-With-Light-Thing. But it must've been running late.

Surrounding me was the aroma of moldy chow mein, cabbage and used diapers.

Experimentally, I tried moving one limb, and then another. Standing, my hand brushed my leg. I froze.

I had nothing around my waist.

Yikes!

Desperately scanning around, I snatched up a large piece of dark canvas and wrapped it around myself. It was not going to tie easily at my throat. Reaching down, I snapped a piece of wire off an old mattress and quickly straightened it out.

Something told me I needed to stay low. A chill, persistent paranoia that I couldn't shake. Fashioning a crude hood, I used the wire to tie the canvas around my neck. It probably looked ugly, but it would at least afford me some cover.

Now that I was somewhat decent, I looked towards the end of the alley. It was partially lit up by an unseen streetlamp. The light further reflected off a damp street. A step forward seemed a lot for me. My head felt heavy, and my eyes were drooping.

Someone tried to kill me, and I did just fall from a great height.

Maybe if I should lay down for a second.

***

A sharp light played across my garbage heap.

Blinking, I saw a car at the mouth of the alley. The spotlight played over the interior of the alley, checking every corner. When it moved to one side, I saw two uniformed officers, and if I focused, I could just hear them.

"We should check it out," said the first officer. He sounded young and eager.

"NO! WE should absolutely not check it out," snapped the second officer tartly. "My gram, when she walked this beat, would say that this neighborhood had been abandoned by God. And that was before things had gotten worse."

"But…," started the first officer. "These people here, we need to make sure they're safe."

"People," scoffed the second officer dismissively. "Let's go."

"But….," started the first.

"NOW!" barked the second.

The light snapped off and the car went away. Before I knew it, I was asleep.

***

Occasionally, I woke, but I was too tired to move.

The sun felt good, so I pulled my cloak away and allowed it to beat down upon me.

Then, I closed my eyes once again.

***

I must've been half-awake when a backpack nearly took my head off. It dropped like a ton of bricks, scattering trash.

A male voice called out. "Hey! Didja see how far I got?"

"I didn't even see it land!" grinned another male voice with a malicious glee.

"Hey! Let…let go of me!" growled another voice in outrage. A girl, it sounded like.

The sun had passed overhead, and now the alley was bathed in shadows once again. Raising my head, I saw people—No, kids!—at the mouth of the alley.

One was on the ground. I couldn't tell who, but a boy of maybe-twelve straddled the person. Beyond the boy were two others watching, just inside the mouth of the alley, and a fourth leaning against a car in the street.

Bullies, I determined with fiery certainty.

"What did I say?" asked the bully who was doing the straddling.

"Get off me!" snapped the person on the ground. It was a girl, and she didn't sound any older than him. "Get! Off!"

The bully ignored her and kept talking. "I said…" He spoke like a teacher talking to a bad student. "I said that Winter Run Academy is not for people like you. Didn't I?"

"Let me go," demanded the girl.

"And what kind of name is Sydney for a girl?" asked the bully. "I mean, why not Mary, or Rebecca."

"You asshole," growled the girl, Sydney.

"Now, that's not very nice," said the bully. "Tsk tsk."

Just as I was about to move forward, an older man came into view, and I relaxed. He would help the girl. The older man looked into the alley and saw the girl on the ground.

"Help!" cried Sydney.

"What're you looking at?" growled the kid by the car, and he pulled up his shirt, just enough to show the gun. "Don't make me 'Stand My Ground'."

The older man flinched at that. His eyes darted towards the girl, but then he ran off.

"Please! Please don't leave!" pleaded Sydney.

However, the older man was gone.

The boy by the car took his gun into his hand and flashed it about. A few other people ran by on the other side of the street, and then it was empty.

"Tsk, tsk," said the bully. "Where have all the heroes gone?"

"Listen, get off me!" growled Sydney. "I Earned my right to be at Winter's Run! I've got a scholarship."

"My Dad said that you took that scholarship from someone more qualified," replied the bully. "That you only got in because of your skin color. To show some diversity."

"I got in because I can do calculus, and you're still in algebra 1," said Sydney. "And struggling, I hear."

Without warning, the bully smacked her forehead. The back of her head rapped hard against the concrete.

Blinking, she tried to focus, her voice slurred. "Sttoop."

The bully pointed down at her. "You! Shut up! I didn't give you permission to speak."

Deep in the alley, my eyes narrowed with a cold rage.

But again, some deep paranoia stopped me from charging right out, revealing myself. Looking up, I saw that there were no convenient fire escapes to rush up. However, I went to the wall looking for handholds. I needed to climb up. Putting out a hand, I grabbed the brick, and something held fast.

Grappling the wall, I pulled myself up, and when I was high enough, my toes gripped too. Distantly, I knew that this wasn't right; that there was something weird about this.

I heard a guttural cry from Sydney.

Swiftly, I scaled up the wall. The moment that I was on the roof, I ran silently to the front of the building.

Cautiously, I looked over and saw the boy with his car, still leaning, lurking.

No one else was on the street. They were probably all trying to plug their ears.

"Hel…help!" cried Sydney, though I couldn't see her.

And deep down inside, a fiery part of me wondered if we could really tear their arms off. Shaking my head, I forced myself to focus on a plan of attack.

***

In the alley, Sydney tried to lift her head.

Suddenly, she saw someone grab the boy by the car.

Someone who was dark, a shadow.

And the boy was gone.

There was a distant clang.

Above her, the bully was talking, talking, talking.

Then, only Sydney saw the boy, who was closest to the mouth of the alley, suddenly whip away.

No time to scream. Clang.

The other gawker turned around in confusion.

"Hey? Where'd everyone go?" he asked.

"Shut up," growled the Bullyboy. "I'm working here."

The other boy took two steps out of the alley, and he was grabbed.

Clang.

The Bullyboy turned his head at the final clang.

"Guys?" he asked, a little tentatively.

No one answered.

Standing up a little awkwardly over the girl, the Bullyboy now looked around more.

Without warning, Sydney kicked up, hard.

The Bullyboy's eyes grew wide as he grabbed his crotch and fell over.

But then Sydney twisted onto her side and threw up. Her head tried to lift back up.

"You….! You…," raged the Bullyboy as he tried to stand.

However, the bully did not see the figure above him. But Sydney looked right at me as I descended, upside-down.

Seeing the girl look past him in shock, the Bullyboy turned around.

Like lightning, I lifted him off his feet as I dropped to the ground. The moment my feet hit concrete; I ran away with my prize.

Clang.

There was still no one on the street, or even at the windows, so I leapt back into the alley, in the shadows. I was fretting that someone had seen me when I spotted a piece of metal near the car. The one boy had dropped their gun.

It was just lying on the sidewalk for anyone to pick up. Jumping out of the shadows, I scooped it up and brought it back into the darkness with me. It was heavier than I had expected. Somewhere distantly, I knew that the bullets needed to be removed.

But, I wondered, how did you do that without setting it off?

"Do you know anything about guns?" I asked the girl.

As I inspected the weapon, I suddenly realized, with growing concern, that she had not answered.

"Um, Miss?"

The girl— Sydney! Yes, that was her name— was still laying by a pool of sick, virtually motionless.

Terror spiked and my hand closed around the gun.

I shot forward. Dropping the weapon, I knelt by Sydney's side. Dressed in gym clothes, I could see that she was breathing.

"Hello?" I said.

Squatting down, I nudged her upper arm.

"Hello? Wake up!"

Not waking up was a bad thing…very, very bad. If someone passed out, they should go to the hospital. And if they're not waking up…

"I'm going to pick you up an' take you to a doctor," I said, but there was no response. It really worried me that there wasn't one.

It took me a moment to figure out how to pick up a girl, who was not related to you, and definitely avoid any place that would be covered by a bathing suit. Though distantly, I couldn't remember why this was important, just that it was.

Anyway! I told myself harshly.

Carefully picking up the girl, we reached the mouth of the alley. I had really hoped that there would be someone there. Someone to hand her to. But everyone was still staying indoors, hands over their ears.

There were only six story apartment buildings, up and down the street.

Nothing else for it, I thought.

Cradling Sydney in one arm, I leapt up and grabbed onto the light red brick of the alley. Somewhere inside me, as my toes dug in, I felt thousands and thousands of nano hooks gripping. In no time, I was up and over the top.

It felt safer up here. It was still slightly exposed, but better than the street. And the sun felt so good. Moving across the rooftops, I pulled back my hood and felt the sun hit my hair. It felt great.

"Wha…No, No…," moaned a voice from my arms.

Sydney was looking up at me fearfully. One of her eyes—half shut—twitched.

"You're awake! That's great. It's going to be alright," I said quickly. "I'm taking you to a doctor." I scanned over the edge of the building. More apartments. "If, I can find one. Do you know where the hospital is?"

Sydney's eyes closed.

Is she just sleeping, or…I could not bring myself to think anything worse. But then, I heard her heart beating. However, it didn't sound very strong.

Pouring on the speed, l raced across the rooftops. The neighborhood was giving way to more restaurants.

Suddenly, I saw a door on the opposite street which read 'Dr. Craig Spangler, D.D.S.'.

That would have to do.

Near me, there was an alley leading down between the buildings. Descending, I came to peer out. A car slid by, but its driver was looking at the road. Here, there were more people.

Fear swiftly began to override me, paralyze me. Unconsciously, I took a step back, deeper into the shadows. But then, in my arms, Sydney made a little noise.

Straightening, I pulled the makeshift hood over my head, but I didn't run out.

People notice someone running, so go slow, I reminded myself. Though I wasn't sure where I had learned that.

After another car passed, I walked out, casually. Just a guy out for a stroll.

On my side of the street, there were two people looking in a shop window, but they didn't even glance over. As I walked, I started to worry that I was trying too hard to be casual.

Across the street, I went up the stairs to the dentist's office. There was a glass door, but I hesitated to go in.

Stepping back, I gently—ever so gently—set Sydney down and leaned her back against the metal rail. Once I was sure that she wouldn't tip over, I turned to knock on the window.

No one moved in there.

I tried to knock a bit louder.

The glass door shattered under my hard knuckles!

Wide-eyed, I saw people moving through the second glass door.

"Sorry!" I blurted out reflexively.

Springing back, I jumped clean over Sydney, and tore on back into the alley. This time the people did look up, but I was already in the shadows, scaling up the side.

The moment I reached the rooftop, I carefully went back to look off the top. In front of the dentist's office, two women in scrubs were looking around in confusion. But then one, Stephanie, turned to the other woman.

"Call 911!"

The other woman disappeared as Stephanie looked over Sydney. Finding the blood matting the hair on the back of the girl's head, Stephanie spoke soothingly.

Shortly, the other woman returned and said breathlessly. "They say it'll be an hour or two. Budget cutbacks."

The older woman swore. "Tell Craig I'll be back."

Before the other woman could reply, Stephanie picked up Sydney. Taking the girl to her car, Stephanie drove off, quickly.

Even as the car was leaving, I wondered what to do. But somehow, I couldn't leave it like this. Not without knowing that Sydney was safe.

Running once more across the rooftops, I followed the car to a nearby clinic. It was so close. But really, I probably wouldn't have found it, just wandering about. The clinic was in an old storefront with alleys on either side.

Stephanie carried Sydney in, but soon came out by herself.

I looked back to where I had come from. Suddenly, I realized that I had no idea where I was. The apartment buildings were all uniformly built. And further away were taller buildings, but I didn't recognize the city skyline.

In fact, everything was unrecognizable. And through the fog in my head, I included my hands, which were a dark blue grey. Something told me that normal-people hands didn't look like this, but I was having trouble focusing.

My eyes went back to the clinic, and I forgot what I was worrying about.

Nothing happened. The sun felt so good on my arms. So, I moved aside the cloak to let the light beat down on my back as well.

Suddenly exhausted, I waited, half-dozing.

It was getting close to dark. Storm clouds were marching towards the city.

A side door to the clinic opened up and light spilled out.

A little girl snuck out.

To be concluded next month, exclusively on The World of Myth

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