Journey of the Runaway
by Steven Aoki

The skyscrapers stood like stone giants in the evening sky, silhouetted in the crimson sunlight. Soon the dying sun slumped into the earthly depths of the horizon and the once-congested city was enveloped in a sinister blanket of darkness. Movement in the city halted and night reigned and unmoving street lights illuminated dark shadows in the empty streets. The city slumbered in darkness until the sky grew lighter and the sun rose with renewed brightness.

I awoke in the morning light and stretched out in my bed of garbage. My stomach suffered from hunger pains, so I resolved to search for food. I peeked out my alleyway and saw the sidewalk teeming with people. As I weaved between the legs of the adults, each person I passed stared at me briefly before returning to their business.

I remembered an oriental restaurant on the other side of town that had a cook who sometimes fed me offal instead of throwing it in the alley dumpster. For someone as starving as me, anything edible was welcome. That was where I went. I patiently sat by the restaurant's back door waiting for the cook to arrive. Soon the door opened and a man holding a garbage bag, whom I did not recognize, emerged.

"Scram!!" he roared upon seeing me, and I obeyed obediently in interest of self-preservation. I scampered away, passed more crowds of pedestrians, and ended up in another shady dead-end alley. Perhaps if I waited here, one of the neighboring denizens would show some compassion. There was nothing else to do, for I was not tall enough to reach the city dumpsters. As I sat in a cushion of dirt, my thoughts wandered to the rude man at the restaurant. He reminded me of another whom I disliked...who?...

...Of course! My foster father. He had lived alone in a shoddy apartment, and I shivered at the rushing memories..he had treated me worse than the dirt I was squatting in. I was neglected, poorly fed, and yelled at. His high intimidating mass terrorized me. I had no regrets when I escaped through an open window during the night. My real parents had treated me with care but died at separate times in my infancy. My father died from disease and my mother was killed in an auto accident. I was assigned a foster father bu tI figured I would be better off as a vagrant. Although I have lived in the city for over a year, its streets and skyscrapers still remained foreign to me. I wonder what exists beyond its limits...?

"GRRRRRR!" A savage growl woke me from my pensive stupor and made my hair stand on end. I turned to face a large doberman standing at the opening of the alleyway. Its lips were pulled back to reveal a set of dripping fangs, which appeared to secrete quantities of foam. My head raced with possible methods of escape but it was hesitation and fear that froze me in my tracks. I posed perfectly still and feigned stiffness, hoping that the dog would think of me as an inanimate statue that someone placed in the alleyway. The tension tightened my nerveds like a compressed spring. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a high stack of crates and boxes carelessly dumped against the alley wall. Was it sturdy enough to support my weight? Was it high enough so the dog would be unable to reach me? Could I reach it in time?

I darted towards it with all the speed I could muster. From its barking, I could tell that the dog was following in hot pursuit. I prayed that I could reach the safety I sought before that ravenous beast closed the distance between us. Upon reaching my destination, I furiously maneuvered up the twisted structure, finally scaling it. Malice burned in the dark eyes of my rabid pursuer as it lnged and barked, dangerously shaking the very foundation of my sanctuary. A box was knocked out, shifting the building and nearly flinging me off. This is the end, I thought.

CRACK! The canine suddenly jolted and landed on its side, a bullethole through its forehead. Behind it, a white uniformed man with rifle in hand squinted in the alleyway.

"I got him!" he screamed. He and a few others trotted with him to a spot a few feet from the dog. They lifted it off the ground with a pitch-fork apparatus and carefully placed it in an oversized garbage bag. Another hosed down where the dog had been and threw abrasive white powder over it. Without speaking a word, they depared to properly dispose of the rabid animal. The one with rifle stayed, however, and scanned the alleyway with keen eyes. When he saw me atop the mountain of cardboard I was afraid he was going to shoot me, too, but I was relieved when he simply left. I leapt off the construction, landed on my feet, and carefully avoided the powdered area on my way out.

This incident convinced me that the city was a dangerous place to be. I immediately set out and followed a road leading out of the town. By evening I had come across an overpass crossing a river bed. I walked down the slanting hill and took my fill of the slowly moving water.

Suddenly, in the distance, I noticed a glowing spot under the bridge--a campfire. My curiosity inspired me to investigate. As I approached closer I saw a dirty man in filthy clothes warming himself by the fire.

The man turned his head, alarmed by my sudden movements. He squinted at me and finally said, "Hello!" I was puzzed by his greeting, and the fact he was addressing me.

"Come 'ere 'n get warm," he stated, motioning for me to come. Of course, I did not trust him and remained where I was. Then he placed a pan of mush away from him and said, "'Ave some food." I did not move.

"Go ahead, 'ave some," he repeated. I slowly slinked towards the pan, keeping a wary eye on the stranger. I swallowed some of the "food". The mush tasted pretty good, and it filled my stomach with warmth. I licked it clean. The stranger grinned, showing a few decayed teeth.

I was taken aback by his hospitality. After being ignored and mistreated in the city, kindness such as this was new to me. I actually started to think there were still some good people left in the world. The stranger patted his lap and beckoned me to come. Evaluating the situation, I decided this man had earned my trust, so I rested my head on his cushioned blanket of rags. Before falling asleep in my new home, I purred softly in my happiness. "Nice kitty," my benefactor whispered, and night fell.