| Julianna Graham
Evan cowered in the shadows
of the dilapidated sofa. The front door
swung open and slammed the wall sending the piles of settled dust into a
frenzied dance through the apartment's stuffy air. A heavyset man staggered through the doorway
grasping a nearly empty beer bottle in his left hand. Evan wrapped his quivering arms around his
knees hoping his father would leave soon.
The unsettled dust stung Evan's pine-colored eyes and irritated his
nose. He tried to muffle his oncoming
sneeze, but it was of no use.
"Boy! Where are ya?" Evan's father yelled.
The room held its breath.
"I said WHERE ARE YA?!"
Diffidently, Evan arose
from his shadowed place of refuge.
"Here?" he whispered,
bending his head as low as his short neck allowed.
Draining the last of his
beer bottle, Evan's father stumbled towards him.
"You come when I call ya,
understand?" he stammered.
"Yes sir," Evan replied,
refusing to look into his father's stoned eyes.
"You look at me when I
speakin' to ya!" his father bellowed, striking Evan with his empty bottle. The glass shattered against his small head as
he stumbled backward and braced himself for another blow.
. . .
With one hand resting on
his throbbing gash and the other wiping away the tears that blurred his vision,
Evan struggled to climb the overgrown hillside.
After much effort, he reached the top and struggled to a towering oak
tree. The oak's mighty arms stretched in
all directions inviting all bleeding hearts to hide in its shadows. Evan broke through the tree's leafy limbs as
his eyes raced up the moss-clad trunk.
Held in the thick of the tree's safe arms, sat an old tree house.
"Iris?" Evan cried.
"What's the password?"
Iris' voice asked from high in the tree.
"Pink pineapples and orange
bananas," Evan called through sniffles.
After several seconds of
shuffling sounds from above, a rope ladder fell lopsided from a small opening
in the bottom of the tree house.
"Hurry up!" Iris called down.
Evan hobbled up the ladder
and grabbed onto Iris' thin hand extending through the opening in the bottom of
"Took you long enough," she
said helping him to his feet.
"Sorry...," Evan whispered.
"Nah, it's alright kid,"
Iris said tightening one of her uneven, strawberry-blonde pigtails, "I got us a
new piece of furniture! Wanna see?"
"Sure," Evan said, wiping
his nose with the sleeve of his oversized hoodie.
"I put it on the porch so
we could watch the sunset," Iris said, winding the rope ladder back into the
Once Iris secured the
ladder, she led Evan out to the porch.
The porch was composed of four differently sized boards nailed to a
broad branch that gave all its visitors a surreal view of the small city it
"Tah Dah!" Iris said,
showing Evan an enormous wool blanket draping over the boards. "We'll have to take it inside when it rains,
of course, but do you like it?"
Evan nodded and flashed a
slight smile before snuggling down into the wool's warm layers. Still holding his hand to his head, Evan
pulled his knees close to his chest as bitter tears cascaded down his quivering
cheeks. Iris sighed and plopped herself
next to Evan's shuddering body. Pulling
one of her hands from a pocket of her tattered overalls, she wrapped her
faintly-freckled arm around Evan's shoulder.
Neither of the children spoke. They only gazed down at the city masked with
sparkling lights and polished dreams.
Those who visited the city enjoyed its dazzling attractions and flashy
opportunities, but those who'd fallen into its alluring trap were chained by
the city's cruel shadows.
Weary from battling the
ever-present darkness, the sun's golden head rested itself behind the
horizon. Gradually, the miles of its
glistening, magenta hair fell behind the horizon allowing darkness to overcome
the maze of flaunting streets. The children
had been left to the mercy of the shadows.
"Your dad hit you again?"
Iris finally asked.
Evan nodded and lifted his
hand from his gash. His pearly-blonde
hair was stained red where the bottle had struck, but the wound was shallow and
no glass had stuck to his head.
"Yikes!" Iris exclaimed.
"What! Iris, what!? Do I
need to go to the hospital?!" Evan asked, fear overcoming his young heart.
"No dummy! You know what happens when you go to a
"What?" Evan asked.
"They'll take you away and
put you in some stranger's house.
Besides, it's not that bad.
Nothin' a little water won't fix," she said.
"So I am not going to die?"
"Of course not! It's only a scratch. Besides, I wouldn't let you die, kid,"
muscles relaxed as he leaned his head on his best friend's shoulder.
"I wish I could be brave
like you," he whispered.
"You are brave, kid," Iris
"Not as brave as you," Evan
"Well, that's cause' I am
ten and you're only nine. Bravery comes
with age kid, don't you know?"
"Oh...." Evan said.
The two sat for nearly an
hour exchanging random facts and dramatized stories. For the first time all day, Evan's heart beat
at a normal rate. He wasn't afraid when
he was hidden in the tree's arms.
Nothing he could think of was bigger than the tree, so he decided that
nothing could hurt him when he was in the tree.
Even though they were surrounded by darkness, Evan knew, that in the
tree's arms, he and Iris were out of reach of the city's dark hands.
"Well kid, I better
go. My old man and his gang will be
gettin' back from tonight's drug deal or whatever, and you know if I am not
back in time he'll send his goons out lookin' for me! And that would not be good for either of
us. Trust me!"
"Why?" Evan asked.
"Well kid, your dad may hit
you with beer bottles, but my old man and his gang have weapons that can do a
lot more damage, if you know what I mean," Iris said, rising to her feet.
"You mean like guns?" Evan
asked, stepping off the porch.
"Yeah, stuff like that,"
Iris said bunching the wool blanket in her arms.
"Why don't you tell the
police?" Evan asked, following her back inside the tree house.
"How many times do I have
to tell you, kid? If we go to the
police, they will take us away! Remember
what happened to Justin? He went to the
hospital when his old lady twisted his arm up, and the next thing ya' know,
Justin's gone and his old lady's in jail!" Iris said letting the rope ladder
"I know, I just don't want
anything to happen to you," Evan said following Iris down the rope ladder.
"Don't worry about me kid,"
Iris said leaping from the ladder's ninth rung.
Her untied boots landed perfectly in the tall blades of damp grass.
"But I....," Evan began
before attempting to leap from the ladder's ninth rung as Iris had so
Unfortunately, his attempt
was not as graceful. He landed with a
thud at Iris's feet. Iris shook her head
and bent to help Evan up.
"You ok, kid?" she asked,
lifting him to his feet.
"Yeah," Evan replied,
hoping the tree's shadows would hide his embarrassment.
"It's alright, kid. It takes practice to jump from that high," Iris
"Well, I better get going,
kid. Can you make it back in the dark?"
"Yes, I can make it back in
the dark! I am not a complete scaredy
cat!" Evan replied, aggravation gripping his weary voice.
"I know you're not, kid,"
Iris said as she vanished into the blackness.
Evan retracted his
grass-stained hands into the sleeves of his hoodie and pulled his hood over his
pearly-blonde head. His warm breath
tuned to puffs of white vapor as he hurried home.
Not properly dressed for
the bitter night, a small winter had begun in Evan's core as he neared the
tired apartment. Just as the apartment's
entrance came into view, Evan noticed smoke, coming from the shadow of a man,
hanging in the air like starving ghosts shifting in the wind. Though the darkness concealed the man's face,
Evan knew who it was. The man inhaled and the butt of his cheap cigar lit his
face with a warm glow.
Evan sunk into the shadows of a nearby garbage can. For several minutes he watched the cigar
light his father's hollow eyes before dying away as his father released another
mouthful of smoke. It was moments like
this, Evan's tender heart pitied his father.
As long as he could remember, his father had indulged in anything that
offered temporary relief.
Evan had been told that his
mother was the light of his father's world.
She was one of those people who could make the night feel like morning
with her smile and the dark world brighter when she laughed. Sadly, she had died in a car wreck, leaving
her husband and twenty-one-month old baby alone. Overcome with grief, his father lost his
well-paying job and moved to the city in hopes of a new life, but the city's
flashy promises did not save him from the agonizing pain his spirit was
drowning in. Desperately craving relief,
he began to drink, and before long his crushed heart could go no longer than an
hour without washing its sorrows away with alcohol. Evan couldn't remember when his father had
begun to smoke, but he assumed it was when the alcohol no longer affected him
The cold tore at Evan's skin begging him to find
warmth. Realizing his only choices were
to freeze to death or risk his father, Evan rose to his numb feet. His heart beat like a deaf drummer on
steroids as he passed his father's dark shape.
His father didn't move, only stared into the distance with his lit cigar
held tightly between his fingers.
Wrapping his hand around the handle of the apartment's
front door, Evan yanked it open and disappeared inside. A familiar wave of humid air and day-old
takeout food engulfed Evan as he hurried up the sagging stairs to room eleven. Once inside, Evan scoured the one-bedroom
apartment for anything that could pass as edible.
To his delight, he found a half-eaten gas station pizza
next to a new case of beer on the counter.
Holding the pizza box like a rare treasure, Evan retreated to his room,
which also doubled as the apartments' closet.
After devouring the pizza, Evan knelt next to the
mattress Iris had drug from a nearby garbage dump. When Evan's father was not home, the two had
spent nearly an hour trying to wedge the mattress into the closet. Though it sat in an awkward U-shape, Evan was
glad to no longer have to sleep on the threadbare carpet.
He folded his hands and whispered a quiet prayer. Though he did not know to whom he prayed, he
did so every night because Iris had told him it brought good luck. When he finished, he laid himself on his
mattress and pulled a few of his miscellaneous shirts over his body to keep
Hearing his father stumble into the apartment, Evan
closed his eyes as tight as possible.
Shallow breaths escaped his mouth, as fear pulsed through his veins like
venom slowly overcoming its prey. As
Evan fought for sleep, he could hear the closet's ominous shadows singing their
beautifully-eerie song. Lulled by their
echoing voices, Evan fell into a fear-haunted sleep.
The next day, Evan trudged
up the familiar hillside. Smirking
clouds had conquered the sky allowing only a bleak, grey light to blanket the
city as Evan entered the ancient oak's arms.
"Iris?" he called, standing at the base of the
There was no reply.
"Pink pineapples and orange
bananas," Evan called again.
Still, no reply, only the
wind's faint breath blowing through the tree's branches.
she's sleeping? Evan
thought as he struggled to climb the tree.
Reaching the treehouse
entrance, Evan tried not to lose his balance as he shoved the door open and
hoisted himself inside. The shadows
inside the tree house seemed darker than usual as Evan glanced around. Suddenly his eyes ran across a dark heap in
the far corner.
"There you are! Wake up sleepy!" Evan called, walking over to Iris.
Iris made no reply.
"Iris, come on!" Evan
urged, standing over her.
He could barely make out
her body shape because of the dense shadows covering her. He knelt next to her and gently placed his
hand on her shoulder. Touching something
wet, Evan yanked back his hand and placed it in the small shaft of light
peeking through the side of the treehouse.
Blood dripped from his fingers.
Fear threatened to tear Evan's heart from his chest as he
turned Iris's limp body over on her back.
For a moment his heart stopped, as if taking a deep breath, before
adrenaline could overcome it with panic.
He knew it was Iris by the overalls and pigtails, but he would have
never known by her face. Her eyes were
swollen shut from several bruises, and her face was stained red from the still
bleeding gash on the side of her head.
The sleeve on her right arm was torn, revealing another gash that was
circular in shape. The rest of her
greying skin was marred with multiple lacerations and contusions.
Adrenaline now surged through Evan's veins causing him to
be overcome with an energized numbness.
He felt as though he was trapped inside a body, unable to control what
happened, only helplessly watch. His
mind was paralyzed in a tornado of fear and questions. If I
get help, will the police take me away?
How did Iris get here in this condition?
Did her father and his gang do this to her? Will they hurt me if I help her?
Evan glanced at Iris once
more. He had made up his mind. He had to help her. Refusing to let his growing fear sway his
choice, Evan leaped to his feet, let down the ladder, and scurried out of the
He didn't know what to do,
but he had to do something. As he raced
down the hillside and into the city, the fear inside him pleaded with him to
turn around. Shadows from the looming
buildings he ran by seemed to be mocking him, but still, he kept running. He didn't know what was driving him - fear,
love, or adrenaline - but he kept going.
What happened next, Evan
could only remember like a distant dream.
Somehow, he had found a police officer and led him to Iris. Though he couldn't remember much, the look on
the officer's face when he beheld Iris would be tattooed on the back of his
mind forever. Evan knew the officer had
desperately tried to hide his expression of pained-horror from him, but it was
useless. The officer had carried Iris
out of the treehouse and down the hill.
Evan's mind was still
unable to comprehend everything that was happening as he followed the officer,
who was carrying Iris's limp body, into a sea of glaring lights and screaming
sirens. The officer shouted to awaiting
paramedics, who rushed over with a stretcher.
Evan placed his small hand on the stretcher as the officer laid Iris's
marred body on top of it. Now immersed
in the cold light, Evan could fully see Iris's condition. His emotion caught up to his raging
adrenaline and, for a moment, time pitted the child and froze the world around him. Evan laid his head against Iris's and
squinted his eyes to hold in tears. When he opened his eyes, he hoped for the
first time that he would be back in the closet, waking up from a bad dream, but
it was not so.
"Please don't leave me," he whispered into her ear.
Time began again as the
paramedics swarmed the stretcher and raced it into an awaiting ambulance. Evan tried to follow, but the officer held
"Hey, they will take care
of her. I promise. My name's Officer Kacen and I need you to
stay with me for right now, ok?" Officer Kacen said gently, but Evan didn't
"Iris! Iris! Don't leave me! Please don't leave me!" Evan shouted, still trying to break free from
Officer Kacen's grasp, but it was too late.
He watched helplessly as the ambulance disappeared down a shadowed
street. Evan's momentary courage quickly
drowned in a sea of hopeless reality as he buried his head in officer Kacen's blood-stained
shirt and continued to cry.
. . .
Five weeks had passed since
that horrible day. Evan's story had been
revealed, and he had immediately been placed into child protective
services. After enduring several foster homes,
he now lived with officer Kacen and his wife.
He enjoyed his new life with new clothes, plenty of food, and loving
caretakers, but it wasn't the same without Iris. He had never been told what had happened to
her, and he never asked out of fear of what the answer would be.
Evan pulled himself deeper
inside his old, oversized hoodie as another wave of shadowed memories
overwhelmed his mind. Suddenly, a knock
sounded through the house, arousing Evan from his thoughts. With his head down, he rose to open the door.
"Hello?" Evan asked, not
wanting the visitor to see he'd been crying.
"No, no, no! You're supposed to ask, ‘what's the
password?' " a familiar voice teased.
Evan's head jerked up. A surge of unfamiliar hope pulsed through
Evan's veins, and for the first time, overcame the ever-present shadows inside
"Iris!" Evan shouted,
nearly tackling his friend. "How did you get here?!"
"Well kid, let me tell you
a story," Iris said with a smile.