Be a hero.
Hailey Owens has a secret, and it's her identity. Her mask is a bland life that she has been cultivating for ten years. She sees no reason to crack it until she saves Isabella Palomino.
A spotlight searched the trees surrounding the facility deep inside the government-owned fence. Soldiers in fatigue thundered through the terrain following the barking dogs in search of the one who disappeared after an act of violence. It’s too bad they didn’t realize how fast they could really be when they wanted something.
Twenty-four took a deep breath as they made their way up the darkened highway, a vehicle zooming past them every few minutes. Their shirt glued to their skin by blood, some of it theirs, most of it their captors. Guilt couldn’t find its way into their emotional capacity. The city they found themselves in had limited car activity, but all of the businesses were alive, and there were taxis waiting outside of them hovering. Concerned glances meandered over their disheveled state.
Twenty-four wasn’t sure how they looked to the other humans. They knew the blood was a red flag, but they couldn’t gauge the rest of their appearance. From the looks of the others, it was worse than just a little bit of blood. They couldn’t find it in them to care. They had more things to worry about; they had to find a place to hide. When they found an alley farther away from the buildings with lines and loud music flowing through the doors, they sat down. A nap is what they needed, and the dark alley that only had dumpsters for the tall buildings seemed like as good as place as any, but the silence was interrupted by sirens and flashing red and blue lights flying past towards the direction they came. They needed to find a place with more cover. They needed a home, but who would let a bleeding person who probably looked as if they hadn’t seen daylight in years. Not far from the truth, considering the last time they were out was when they tried an escape for the first time at age 16. They were not getting taken back again. Not again.
Never again, they thought as they went through the alley to find it closed off with a high brick wall. Could they jump over it? They could tell it was just a wall like fence and not a wall to the back of a building. Backing up, they gave themselves a running start before jumping only to miss the ledge by four inches or so. So, they could jump about nine feet in the air, they noted in their mind, where they kept other things they discovered as they grew into their altered body. They’d try to jump again for their safety. They made it the second time with their hands gripping the edge.
“Yeah, this alley. I saw them go down it earlier, but I don’t know if they’re still in there.”
“Fuck,” they whispered, pulling themselves up and barely over before whoever they were made it into the alley. They jumped down into the grass to see flashlight beams light up the top of the wall.
“Are you sure you saw this person in this alley?”
“Yes, but as I said I went back in to call you guys. They looked injured. Blood was all down their shirt.” Twenty-four looked around to realize they were in somebody’s backyard. The wooden fences on the side of the skinny brick house were high walked across the lawn only for the backyard light to turn on blinding them. When their eyes adjusted, they noticed that no one was there. The lights were probably controlled by a motion sensor. They walked to back door that had a dog door built into it. Listening out for any movement in the house, they connected to the door and mentally unlocked the door thankful it wasn’t an electronic lock. A knock sounded on the front door, causing twenty-four to freeze. Barking filled the house and mumbled curse words filtered through Twenty-four’s ears. They had to hide, again.
They found a small room off of the kitchen that had the washer and dryer. They could barely fit in between the space between the door and the stacked washer and dryer. The dog was sniffing around the door while the owner went to the front door.
“Can I help you, officer?” The dog growled. Please don’t give me away.
“Have you seen this man?” a feminine voice asked.
“Um, no, ma’am. I haven’t seen anyone, but my neighbors all day.”
“Ok, if you see this man, call authorities immediately. Do not approach him. He broke out of prison and is incredibly dangerous.”
“Yes, officer, I’ll keep that in mind,” The door closed, “does it look I give a fuck if the nigga is dangerous? Shit, it’s four in the morning.” The dog started barking giving away Twenty-four’s position, “What the hell are you barking about, Milo? The pig is gone.” The dog was scratching at the door, “ So now you wanna do laundry? Can you shut up and come on? I’m tired as fuck, and I gotta go to work in two hours. Cops knocking on my door for some stupid shit.”
The dog growled at their owner, making her sigh, “Fine if I open it will you shut up?”
As soon as the kitchen light fell onto Twenty-four, they put their hands up, “I’m not going to hurt you,” but it did little to stop the dog from attacking.
“The fuck? Milo, down. Stop,” the woman commanded. The dog stopped immediately, but the damage was done. Twenty-four had bite marks on their arms. More blood, they thought sadly.
“The fuck are you doing in my house?” she asked, a hand holding the growling tan pitbull’s collar.
“I’m sorry, I’m not going to hurt you,” they answered.
“That wasn’t what I asked. Answer my question before I let Milo loose.”
“I hopped over the brick wall, and I—I broke in. I’m sorry, I just need a place to rest, and outside is too dangerous. They’ll catch me. Please, I need help.”
“You broke into my house? And you want me to help you? You’re wanted. Why the fuck would I help a wanted man?”
“I’m—I’m not a man, and I didn’t do anything wrong. And I didn’t break out of prison. I broke out of a government facility. Please, please don’t turn me in. I can’t go back.” Tears flowed out of Twenty-four’s smokey grey eyes. They couldn’t help it. The mere thought of going back to their hell of eight years brought an immense sadness to them. They couldn’t go back. They wouldn’t go back.
The woman sighed, “Milo sit, friend.” The dog sat and started panting as if it wasn’t just growling at Twenty-four ready to eat them, “You’re lucky as hell you broke into my house, while my boyfriend was away. You would’ve gotten shot. You can stay the night, shower and borrow clothes, but I want you gone by tomorrow night.”
“Thank you so much. I’ll be gone, I promise.“
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Sleep on the couch. Don’t come up the stairs, and we’re good.” She went upstairs and came back down with a blanket and pillow and threw it on the living room couch. The living room was small, only housing a small old tv, the couch and the stairs, unable to hold much else, “What’s your name?”
Twenty-four froze. Their name? They couldn’t remember, they thought with tears forming in their eyes. Great, first time out in five years, and they can’t stop crying, “I can’t remember. They called me Twenty-four.”
“Oh for fucks sakes man, don’t cry. Shit, I hate tears. Okay, I’ll give you a name—”
“I’m not a man. Please don’t address me as such.”
The lady blinked her eyes, sighed and said, “ Okay you’re not a man. I got you. And since you’re not saying you’re a woman, I’m guessing you want a gender-neutral name and pronouns.”
Twenty-four felt on the verge of tears again for the third time in the past forty minutes,” Yes, please,’ their voice choked up.
“Are you seriously about to cry over that? Damn, it’s not that big a deal. My cousin’s genderqueer. I know shit about shit. Now a name because a number’s not a name. How about—” she pulls out her phone and types something in, “Addison, nah that’s wack, uh Amari, Avery, all the B names look a little gendered, um Casey, Charlie, uh.” She scrolls and shouts with excitement, “Harper! How would you like to be Harper?”
“Harper,” they whispered, tasting the name on their tongue. They began nodding enthusiastically, actually crying with happiness,” Thank you, thank you! I love it! I am Harper!”
“Okay, Harper, I’m Jamillah Shit! I named you. It’s gonna be hard to get rid of you.”
“No, I’ll leave like I promised.”
“Nah, it’s fine. You seem aight. I don’t know what you’ve done, but I can’t give you up especially since it seems you’ve been done dirty. Black solidarity and all that shit.” Harper didn’t get it, but they nodded anyways. Happy they had a place to stay.
The news channel was playing the weather on TV in the living room. Harper couldn’t fall asleep, terrified that Jamillah would turn them in while they slept. They knew she said she wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone they thought they could trust turned on them. That’s how they got recaptured the first time. They could hear her getting ready for work. They weren’t sure even if after she left if they’d be able to sleep. They couldn’t shake the feeling of danger.
Milo was laying in front of their legs sound asleep. The dog hadn’t trusted Harper alone. Harper understood. Even after the shower they still felt like there was blood on them. The dog could probably smell it.
“You could go to sleep. I ain’t gonna turn ya. I promised,” Jamillah spoke breaking Harper out of their reverie.
“Sorry, last time I trusted someone would help me out they turned called the cops while I was sleeping. I got taken back when I woke up the next morning.” They shivered remembering what happened when they arrived. It was why it took them five years to make an escape attempt again.
“Well, you don’t gotta worry about that with me. That’s bullshit I don’t pull. I’d be straight up about it if I was gonna call the feds. Now I gotta go to work. I’ll see you later Harper. Eat what you want, but don’t eat everything. I don’t get paid til Friday. If you can, let Milo out in the backyard so he can do his biz. He can’t be out longer than an hour. Milo be good for mommy.” She left out the front door, locking it behind her.
“Late last night a man known only as Twenty-four broke out of Jefferson Prison killing ten guards. He was being taken to general population after two months insulation for a violent fight that resulted in one of the other prisoners being taken to an outside hospital. If you see this man, please do not engage and call authorities immediately. This man although not armed is dangerous.” Harper turned off the tv once they started showing pictures of the dead “guards,” though one stuck out. They hadn’t killed him.
So, they found out who helped Harper escape, and blamed it on them. Fuck, they couldn’t get caught. They brought Jamillah into it. Even if they left, she’d be in danger, just like Eric was. They would have to make sure they never got taken back. If they wanted to survive, everyone who hurt them had to die.