Take Me Home Clove: 2
The inside of the shelter smells more like blood and sweat than the surroundings. I cover my mouth at first and let out a few barking coughs which startle some of the more restless humans and Sorren claps me hard on the back.
“Get yourself together,” he snaps. “We got ten minutes, fifteen tops.” He shoves me to the right. “Go in there and gather what you can. Are you sure you can handle the yellows?”
“I'll be fine,” I hiss. “Stop treating me like a child. Are we going to do this or not?”
Taking the bite, I arch a brow. “Depends on what...” I trail off as he starts to turn away. “Hey! What the hell, man?”
“It depends on if you get your ass in gear and start to gather them up.”
For a brief moment I'm stunned as I watch Sorren transition from my best friend and overall annoying asshole into a kind and caring giant. Watching him interact with the humans is so jarring at first and as he swings his bag to his front and opens the front, I listen as he explains who he is what he's doing there. The humans look up at him as though he's a god. The attitude and the grumping and hissing is gone, replaced by a warm and friendly voice, inviting the humans to a Nirvana which they never had been offered before.
Blinking, once, twice, the humans are let out of their pens and gather around Sorren's ankles as he gently ushers them into the navy bag.
“There's seats in there,” he says in a low voice. “And buckles. Please, everyone. Buckle up and set up your own buddy system. I don't know how rough the ride will be once we get going.”
Several of the humans nod and touch his hand as they go past, smiling and ducking inside the pack. I'm almost jealous at how organized things are. The green light humans are always the easiest to get to listen. They're eager and willing. Many came from good homes, but just ended up in a bad situation. I'm about to smile when Sorren snaps his head over. His lips part as though he wants to shout at me, but remembering the cluster of 3-7 inch beings around his body, he tilts his head before he holds up the hand with his watch.
“Hurry up,” he says, trying to smile.
“Right, right.” I say as though I'm coming out of a trance. How does Sorren do it? Was Olivia really such a good trainer, that even her boyfriend was captivated under her spell? I shake off the worries and pull my navy bag to my stomach as I enter the other side of the shelter.
Immediately, I realize the difference in what separates a green light human from a yellow one. The pens are smaller, more closed in. The air is stuffier with less windows. I cough again and reach for a lozenge in my pocket. I know, Sorren would kill me for wasting time, but I can't breathe. The air stinks. My throat is raw.
None of the cages seem to be on floor level so I'm relieved by that. Humans by my feet always make me so nervous. They're so damn small! Shifting nervously, I notice the colored dots on each of the pens, realizing with relief, that most are yellow.
Many of the red ones... are empty.
Swallowing, I clear my throat and start to open up the pens, alerting the humans of my presence. I'm met with mixed emotions, ranging from relief to fear, to downright terror. One of the men even screams like a girl when my face fills the opening of his pen.
“Please calm down everyone,” I say, trying to remember the speech Olivia gave to me. “I'm here to help. My name is Shay Hal—”
“I don't care what your name is, boy! Get me out of here!” one barks loudly, holding up his hands like a desperate child.
I step up to his pen first and cup my hands underneath him. He immediately dives into my palms and holds out his hands for the others in his pen to join him. I'm met with hesitation, but they all follow his lead as I gather them and hold them to the opening of the bag.
“How do you know I'm not bad?” I can't help but croak as the two woman scramble inside.
“You don't look like one of the baddies,” he says. “Thanks, mate. Fill me in on the details later.”
“How the hell...”
“I've been involved in rescue missions before!” he shouts. “Come on! Are you going to rescue us or stand their gawping?”
I nod and finally usher the man inside with an impatient hand. Just when you think you have humans figured out...
As it turns out, the man's loud declaration earlier proved to be all I need to get the rest of the yellow light humans to listen. One of the younger women informs me that he's only a yellow because of his frequent escape attempts not only from former owners, but the shelter as well. He's a legacy so if he says someone can be trusted, then his word is law.
Damn. Pretty impressive stuff.
“Alright,” I breath after five minutes of flinging open pens and gathering humans into my hands. “That's about thirty of you there.”
“Are you almost done?” Sorren's head pops into the room and there's sweat on his brow. “The alarm light's starting to blink. We have minutes. Do you have everyone?”
“I think so,” I say, zippering up the pack. “All the red light pens are empty.”
Sorren growls under his breath. “We were too late then.” He rests his hand over the top of his navy bag with a soft expression. “Damn. Hopefully none of these guys lost family members. I can't deal with that shit, man. Breaking the news...” he shakes his head. “I'll deal with that once we're out of here. Go start the car. I'll check the rest of the rooms.”
“I can do it!” I hiss, slinging the bag around my side. “You go start the car. I'll take a last look.”
His expression darkens. “Don't fuck around, man. Here. Just give me the bag.” He holds out his hands and makes a gripping motion with his fingers.
“Fine,” I relent, handing it over. “I'll be there.”
“When that alarm goes off, you run,” he warns. “I don't care what you have or what you've seen. Get the fuck out of here.”
“It's not like we're doing some wrong,” I start to protest.
“No. It's not the law I'm worried about. It's the bigots who run this damn place that I'm worried about. They'll shoot if they think we've stolen their lot. Fuck! Why am I even saying this!” He shoves me forward. “Check around!”
He flees to the doorway and within moments I can hear him starting up the car. Without the pack at my hip I feel naked and useless. There must be someone else I can save!
“Hello?” I call. “Is there anyone left?”
Of course I'm met with silence, leaving me to stroll up and down the penned walls one last time. All the doors are open or closed and empty. I swallow hard.
“Last call,” I breath, feeling the seconds ticking by in my head. “I'm going to—” My voice pulls up short as I notice something different. Something that I'd heard about, but never seen in the flesh.
A pen with a black dot on the front.
Swallowing hard, I crouch down at the pen's level expecting it to be empty, but to my shock and somewhat reluctance, there's a hunched figure in the corner. His or her back is to the world and their face is hidden in the corner of the pen.
I can tell immediately by the shaking shoulders and trembling movements. The saw and dust around her feet shift like particles in the air and my breath catches as I narrow my eyes. Sloppy black hair tumbles down it's body like spilled ink.
It's a girl.
“Hello...” I try in a nervous voice. I don't know why I'm so frightened. She's 5 inches tall... if that. Maybe a child of some sort. I can't tell with her back turned so I gently tap on the pen. “I said... hello?”
Straw shifts and so does the black hair, but the girl doesn't turn or answer back. My fingers itch as time continues to tick. A warning bell sounds in the distance.
The alarm is about to go off.
“Please, if you can understand me... do you understand me?” I try next. Nothing. With shaking hands, I reach forward and start to unlatch the cage and the girl still doesn't move. There's shaking, but no alarm, no scream, no fear, no acknowledgement. I lick my lips and long for a fresh lozenge. I need the honey lemon to take away the starchiness in my throat as I glance her over.
“Are you alright?”
“Shit,” I grumble, looking over my shoulder. Seconds pound in my head as I start to inch my hand forward. “Please don't be alarmed... I'm uh... my name's Shay Halloway. I'm here to help you. I'm a human freer.” I go to nudge her to get her attention and she merely crumbles over in the straw. I suck in a gasp.
“Come on,” I whisper, trying to help her up. She's warm, but she may as well be dead. Her body is stiff and heavy against my clumsy fingers but eventually I get her leaned up against a wall. Black hair falls over her face, hiding what may be feminine or childlike features, but there's no way to tell. “That's a good... girl?” I guess. “Please... are you okay?” I try touching her face again, but she merely falls over.
“Dammit, I can't do this,” I say, coming to the decision that a girl this wrong, this broken and this ruined may best be left behind. She's obviously abused, but I have no idea how or to what extent. All I know is, despite being a Ruined, she's still here and alive. “I'm so sorry,” I mutter, going to stand up. She lays in the straw, hidden and shaking.
A car horn sounds, alerting me that Sorren is ready to go.
“I'm sorry,” I breath again towards the fallen figure. “You're just...” My concentration breaks as an alarm finally starts and I cover my ears. The human doesn't get up. She doesn't care. She's lost the will to live. Maybe leaving her is the best thing.
“I'm sorry,” I said again, reaching into the cage, “but I can't leave you. You at least deserve a chance to get better.” Her tiny body lands in my hand as I pull her from the cage and immediately set her in my front pocket. A heavy weight collapses, but I don't have time to see how she lands. Or if she's already dead from fright. Cupping my hand to her, I sprint out of the building where Sorren has the car door open and ready for me.
“Geezus,” he grumbles. “What the hell were you doing?”
“Nothing,” I say. “Just checking the pens like you said.”
“You find anything?” His car roars to life as he hits the gas and gravel crunches under the heavy wheels.
There's some screaming from the back, but the humans were warned about abrupt movements. Still... there's some relief knowing I have something safe with me and not in some bag. I glance down at my pocket as I fasten my seat belt and pull away the lip of the pocket. A fan of black hair greets me, but nothing else. But she is still alive. I dare to smile.
“You did find something,” Sorren hisses. “What? One of the red lights?”
“No,” I breath softly, cupping my hand under the human's body, boosting her to an almost upright position. She's still limp, but I want to tell myself she's getting better... even if she isn't. “Something else.”
“Fuck man!” Sorren roars, sharply taking a turn. “A Ruined?”
“She was alone,” I say softly. “Come on. I thought we were supposed to save them.”
“Not Ruins,” he snaps. “They can't be fixed. You're setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.”
“I don't care,” I whisper. “I couldn't leave her.”
“You're outta your mind, Shay,” Sorren grumbles, reaching the open road. Finally, he feels comfortable enough to let both our windows open. “Geezus, I need some fresh air. That place was one of the worst yet.”
I hardly catch his words as something shifts in my pocket. Movement. My breath hitches as I smile again.
“I dunno,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe something good will come out of this.”
Sorren snorts. “Save your hero shit for someone else, Shay. Ruins can't be fixed.”