Trapped, like a mackerel huddled in a school between a pod of dolphins and a flock of birds. There's no escape. Just do your damnedest to be the last one to survive, and maybe, just maybe they will become so full that the thought of one more mackerel would make them wish for death. But the truth is, they never get full. With all the stomachs to feed there’s always room for one more. They come from the bottom. They come from the top and sides. They come from every direction imaginable. There is truly no way out, but you swim on. You keep in the middle of the school just hoping to extend your life if only by seconds, if only by a moment.
I was walking back from a bar after a night out with a few close friends. I separated from the last of my friends bidding “Goodnight” and “See you tomorrow” as I cut down a familiar alleyway. This alleyway was my shortcut, one of the few that I knew in the city. My apartment was just on the other side and for me to walk around the entire block, I would be adding on at least ten more minutes, and after a night of drinking, my bladder was doing the decision making.
Just a short ways into the alley I saw a man walking the opposite direction toward me. We started to pass each other when he asked me in a gruff, yet friendly, voice if I had a cigarette. I told him no and apologized. I did indeed have a pack of cigarettes, but in the interest of making this a short conversation I tried to deny him as quickly and politely as I could.
Neither of us broke stride until I apologized for not having a cigarette. Suddenly he stopped, and I, not wanting to engage in any further conversation, continued on. “I’d really like a cigarette,” he said to my back. I knew he had turned to face me at this point and I struggled with the decision to keep moving, possibly offending him, or to turn and politely apologize one more time and be on my way. I foolishly chose the latter.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have one,” I lied again knowing that if I pulled one out he would know I lied to him. “Maybe someone out there has one,” I finished, gesturing toward the lit street behind him, hoping he would just turn around and be off.
“Na,” he said in his gruff voice, only this time it wasn’t so friendly, “No one has any out there.” Then he paused for a moment. “Mind if I borrow a few bucks to get some?” he asked, sliding his friendly tone back in.
“Sorry, man,” I said trying to sound all chummy with him, “no cash. Just credit cards.”
“That’ll work,” he said as a cruel smile curled on his face. From one of his long sleeves he pulled a bat that had been crudely sawed down to a manageable club.
I was beyond the time to run, but the communication between my brain and my legs was lost somewhere in my chest. As he made his first step toward me, raising his club in the air, finally my legs got the message. I turned on the balls of my feet, but before I could manage one simple step, I felt a hard blow to the back of my head.
Next thing I knew I was face down on the ground staring at the pavement. It danced back and forth through my glazed vision. My next impulse was not the same as my first. Instead of running, I decided to give him what he wanted. I reached in my jacket and pulled out the pack of cigarettes. I held it up to him as he towered over me. It looked like he was about to lay a final blow, but he saw the cigarettes and stopped. He gave a low laugh and took them. As he lit one, a sigh of relief came over me. I’m still alive. I’m not dead.
He stood over me knowing I was going nowhere without getting a fresh club to the head and he finished his cigarette. When he was done I knew he was coming back after me, so I reached in my pocket and handed him my wallet. Again, a sigh of relief. Thank god, I’m still alive.
It took no longer than him placing my wallet in his pocket for him to come at me again. I had nothing left that he could want. I was disoriented from the blow and a bit crazy from the fear. But as he swung the club at my head once again I was able to summon enough power to stand up quickly and lower my shoulder into his gut. I had inflicted some pain, but so had he. He was lying next to the wall of a surrounding building clutching his back as I once again found myself facing the ground.
Blood was dripping down my nose by that point and my eyes were glassy. I slowly turned over as he walked to me and stood powerfully above me. I could tell he was through with the antics and just wanted to finish what he started and be gone before anyone else wandered by the scene. He swiftly raised his sawed-off bat and tried to crash it down on my head again, but this time I was able to get my arm in the way. I felt the club break my arm before it glanced off the side of my head. But I was okay. My eyes were open and my lungs were drawing air.
I wish I could say I did all I could to get out of my situation, but my final attempt to save my life was a feeble swing with my unbroken hand. I missed, and before I realized it his bat was slamming across my face again. This time my head bounced off the pavement and I laid there motionless.
My eyes wouldn’t open, but my ears still worked. They were focused on the car engines at the end of the alley. I found myself lost in their hum. There was something soothing about them and a peaceful calm came over me. I was happy, more content than anything. It was as though I was lying on my bed awaiting a good night’s sleep.
Then, the hum of the traffic ceased with the last strike of the dolphins.