A SHORT STORY
BY RUSSELL UNDERWOOD
I'm not the best person to ask about what happened next because most of it was just sound and confusion to me. Bone told me later, though, about what he saw, and I suspect he got it mostly right: Four thugs came across 8th Avenue and into the park, all sweating and flustered-looking and mad. Sunrise was real close, with pale light already starting to bleach the empty sky. Seeing this, the thugs broke into a dead run at the cardboard city and when they were close enough, Bone caught a pretty good look at them.
Now, you might take this next part with a big grain of salt, because Bone is given to some exaggeration when he wants to spice a story. But he swears that they were all seven feet or taller and as black as they could be. Not black like black people, though; they were black the way space is black. There wasn't no light in them. Their skin was creased and leathery, their hair looked like wires, and their long hooked claws were sharp as knives. So Bone tells it, anyway.
They fanned out when they reached the cardboard city. Slowed down, too. It looked to Bone like they were sniffing the air as they came, their little cat's eyes scanning the crates and boxes for some glimpse of Tatiana. They seemed agitated to Bone, and I believed that much, because there was just minutes left till the sun broke over the ocean and it was over.
Then they felt us. Bone says one of `em grinned the ugliest, evilest grin he'd ever seen and started walking straight toward Tatiana and me in my box in the far left corner of the city.
Now up to this time, those thugs might have thought the city was sleeping because no one had moved a muscle yet inside their homes. But when it was clear that one of them had picked up the scent, Bone stood up and made a sound that at first I didn't even think was human. He'd been a soldier once, decorated in battle for his service to an ungrateful nation, and the sound he made was a war whoop, a banshee scream that cut through all the years and all the miles between Pump City and the Mei Kong Delta, between the old bum he was and the warrior he used to be. A second later, Bosch took up the battle cry as well, and then the whole city was screaming.
I don't waste a lot of time worrying over might have beens, but at that moment I wished to God that I hadn't lost my sight. I heard about it all later, of course, but it's not the same. I wish I'd been able to see crazy Meg standing in there with her cudgel ("A brownie!" Tatiana whispered), fighting one last battle against the dark forces of her half-forgotten homeland; Bosch with his Bowie knife, all sneaky quick with his back-alley knife-fighter's moves; Bone raging like the berzerker those jarhead drill instructors had taught him to be. It must have been glorious: The last making themselves first, fighting for the last things they had left, their homes and their pride.
After a minute, though, Tatiana said, "Two of the trows are down, but the other two are breaking through. They're coming for us, Obie!"
I nodded. "Listen, girl. It's time you ran, okay? It's just a couple minutes now. Take off toward the ocean; they'll never catch you in time."
She covered my hand with her own and said, "No. You were right before. It's time for a stand." And she crawled outside my box and faced those unseelie bastards down.
An instant later, I smelled sulfur -- an explosion of it -- and heard a sound like a train wreck in the air above the cardboard city.
A second after that, the park got spooky quiet. Then another sound erupted -- a sound I'd never heard here before. It was the sound of cheering.
Tatiana fell on top of me, hugging me hard. "They did it!" she said wonderingly. "They did it!"
A little dazed, I said, "Well, damn, girl, what did you do?"
"Nothing! I swear. I was going to, but... "
"Then what was that magic that came down just now?"
"I don't know, but it didn't come from me. I don't even know spells like that. It came from those -- those women over there."
Tatiana said, "I just saw them for a second before it happened. They were holding this -- well, this little gray cat, and then -- "
I laughed, harder than was probably necessary, but what the hell. I was feeling giddy and excited, the way winners must feel when they win something.
Tatiana was trying not to laugh, too. She said, "Obie, it's not funny. Those trows just exploded, and now there's bits of them all over the park. And that poor cat -- " She was laughing so hard at that point that she couldn't go on.
When Bone found us, we were both still doubled over, sides aching and tears streaming. He said, "Hey, you two. It's sunrise."