Kid charged around the corner, slinging his bag across his shoulders, eyes wide and darting about the small space left to him. With no more than the quickest scan Kid dropped his weight low over his bent knee, planting his foot firm beneath himself as he launched in stride at the wall to his left, near foot planting flat against the wall and thrusting him back in the opposite direction at the hand-high wall, topped with a handrail, bounding the narrow walkway while leaving it exposed to the elements.
Spring Step to a Wall Walk to a, ah. . .
Hah! I win. Number-naming.
After bouncing off the wall Kid faced the rail almost head on, foot planting near perpendicular on the rounded metal as the boy ducked low over his bent knee and dove off the building into the night air as surprised and angry shouts rang out behind him. And below him.
This, by the way, was a terrible plan.
The building from which Kid had flung himself was a smallish apartment complex, one of the nicer ones up by the Needle with the habitation doors facing the exterior and a walkway circling the outside of the building with a hand-high wall enclosing the path.
After collecting the bag from Ilk and taking a circuitous subterranean route across the city, Kid had knocked on the door, 210, to be greeted by a guy appearing to be twice Kid’s age as well as twice his size, who cracked the door, asking if Kid had the stuff before swinging wide the door. He’d had another backpack hanging from his hand.
Should have noticed how he was looking down the walk.
We DID notice. Just didn’t process it right.
The greeter, wearing a blue t-shirt large enough for four of himself to be comfortable, had stepped out of the apartment and closed the door behind him, asking to see the merchandise. Kid had slipped his bag off one shoulder while he waited at the door, flipped under the arm still threaded through a handle to unzip, opening the duffle just as two more guys appeared at the door to the stairs, walking toward Kid with purpose, one tall and rail thin, the other puffy enough to almost be round. The handle of a gun peeked over the belt of the spindly one who’s neck was wrapped in multicolored ink, also sporting a grin that carried none of the connotations of an accidental meeting.
Upon shooting a look back at the guy with the backpack, Kid had seen the muscles in the guy’s shoulders relax as he was looking down the walk toward the newcomers. There had been many moments in the young boy’s life when he had been forced by circumstance to make a decision before he felt ready to do so, when enslaved to the tyranny of momentum while flitting about the rooftops or when confronted in the deep dark of the underground. Much like those moments, he hadn’t even realized what he had done until after it had happened.
Without pause to consider or plan, Kid had snatched the backpack from the oversized shirt in the doorway and spun out of the grasping reach of the stranger, darting away toward the other end of the walk, heading for the corner to wrap around the building while stuffing the new bag into his own then rounding said corner to see that the walkway came to a dead end not more than a double-bus length away.
Which is how Kid came to be diving headfirst from a handrail into an alley at night, flung hands reaching for the cable stretched between the opposing buildings, strangers behind him, and from the sounds of it, waiting at the mouth of the alley beneath him. In midair, Kid whipped a frantic look over the walls and cobbled floor of the alley waiting to receive him as his perceptions shifted into the kind of overdrive that made everything sharper and muted at the same time, sounds dimming and piercing, colors fading in insignificance.
The cable’s anchored at each wall. Below the far anchor
Cast iron fence tipped with curvy spikes
Promising certain agony, inevitable capture and,
From the sounds of the curses a good chance of painful death.
A look to the ground, too far away for a safe landing much less a landing quick enough to avoid however many people there were waiting where the alley met the road. The thermoplastic sheathing binding distinct wires together smacked against Kid’s palms and he grasped with both hands while easing himself into a swing, transferring his momentum in a gradual build before the snapping his lower body around in a sudden application of his weight that tore the anchor out of the far wall with a crack, the force of the separation raining wall fragments across the alley.
Pulse thundering in his ears Kid clung tight to the cable in his hands, swinging away from the spiky death to the hard cobblestones below while scanning the alley for possible escape routes, bouncing from some dumpsters further down to a narrow break between two buildings, and then
Releasing the now slackening line, Kid flung his arms wide as the rushing night air billowed his ragged shirt, squaring shoulders to lean back and twisting his feet beneath him to point at the spot of imminent impact, his eyes flicking up to check
Hitting the ground with a jarring impact that rattled through his bones, Kid flung himself forward in a roll, tucking over his shoulder to spare the bulkier than normal bag on his back. While upsidedown he spied one of the original pursuers, not the puffy one, dropping over the railing to the alley, and then Kid dipped forward into a second roll, the added bulk of his bag thunking against the ground.
Double Roll Out!
Querulous voices above were answered by confident voices now level and behind Kid, who came out of his double roll with a wobble as his balance adjusted to the unusual distribution of weight on his back before recovering into a sprint toward the opposite wall of the alley, just past the iron fence of death. A large window in the old brick building had been boarded up and then covered with a chainlink fence, inset within the jutting bricks framing the window, almost glowing in Kid’s mind’s eye as an invitation.
Firm plant, centering his bodyweight, Kid’s curved run approaching parallel to the wall, dropping his center of gravity to gather more momentum and launching to plant his alleyward foot on the brick windowsill and driving his wallward leg up, knee dragging along the chainlinks and the outside of his shoe catching for a half a moment before securing a landing on the pole bisecting the fence-faced window, still driving forward and upward
Bounding Triple Step!
Halfway up the wall Kid twisted his shoulders as he stretched both hands to the top of the window, and his well-spaced hands didn’t pull, so much as continue to direct his momentum up the wall, tucking to pull his two feet up between his hands, curling tight to explode again in another stretching reach
Pull Shot Launch!
Small twist of the shoulders to then wrap his hands around the arm-thick pipe sticking a half-meter out the side of the wall, swinging his feet toward that feature of the wall which had first caught his eye before even hitting the ground: three iron rings no larger than the plan of a boy’s hand, anchors for long discarded cables, perhaps, spaced at even intervals ascending the wall like the smallest of stairways to a heaven of a sort.
Flinging the pipe behind him the way other children his age might discard rungs on the gyms of a different jungle, reaching up as his feet scampered from iron ring to iron ring, Kid grabbed the edge of the roof and slung one leg over to straddle first and then stand upon the building’s wall, turning back to face the alley.
Across the urban gully from him, leaning on the railing and panting, the look on the heavy pursuer’s face gave the impression he was seeing something altogether foreign and maybe relieving his bowels at the same time. Below him one man looked up at the boy posed overlooking them, dumbfounded, while the now grinless spindly assailant was crumpled at the base of the wall clutching an ankle. Kid unleashed a laugh of raw delight.
Gotta say, I’m as surprised as they are.
Ain’t alone in that.
Meh. I knew we had it.
For a still moment three men and a boy exchanged looks displaying almost the full range of the human emotional spectrum: joy looking down at pain, confusion tinged with a touch of fear looking across at surprise, regret pulsing with anger, shame looking up at pride. Then the injured man slumped on the cobbled alley floor pulled out a handgun.
The moment broken, Kid dropped from the wall onto the rooftop as a shot cracked like nextdoor thunder, albeit with a weak flash that failed to reach the heavy clouds overhead, and when hearing returned to stunned eardrums it was met with the sound of rattling chainlinks.
Can’t go back. Can’t go down.
No buildings to the right.
Left and up it is.
Kid took off sprinting across the roof. Bounding up to the short wall separating adjacent buildings, he then leapt over to the air conditioning unit, sprinting along connected the ventilation shaft and wall-walking up to grab the wall of the next building. He turned back from atop the wall to see one of the thugs behind him look over the top of the first wall, point in Kid’s direction and let out a shout.
We need a new plan.
Kid flipped down from the hip high wall and took another moment to survey his surroundings. Reaching the end of the block, the building before him rose almost twice as high as the one he occupied at the moment, layered gardens zig-zagging up the soundward side. Back across the alley a single giant building towered over the rest of that side of the block, one too tall to try an ascent, the others too low to serve as escape.
Kid ran toward the spiraled gardens, bounding up to the wall to launch across the gap between buildings, grabbing the edge of the wall and catching a foot against the brick to keep from smacking his face into the wall. A quick pull, up and then darting along the wall around to the corner where a higher garden began, a planted foot on the little fountain jutting from the brick wall, never stopping for longer than it took to find the next hold, the next step. Two more quick ascents through the last garden balconies, and then he was up and weaving through the sparse trees dotting the rooftop, to the far side where Kid saw…
Kid stood atop the tallest building on the block, either side of the alley, looking for anywhere to go next. A broad street stretched five lanes wide between Kid and the connected series buildings comprising the next block over, an easy escape waiting just out of reach. Shouts from behind sounded closer, maybe reaching the lowest of the gardens below him. Kid whirled, a frantic scan of the possible exits. He turned from the road toward the alley.
The tallest building across the alley, while taller than its adjacent buildings, was a bit lower than the roof upon which Kid stood, the difference in height more noticeable from above than from the street but still not large. He bolted to the edge of the roof, leaning over the wall to look down at the drop. Far beneath him the cobbled stones of the alley waited, dumpsters shrunk to bulges against the wall by the distance.
Um, how far down is that?
Not sure. 8? 10 stories?
How far away is that building?
Not sure. The alley is wider than two cars? Maybe?
We need to get better at this whole distance thing.
Better not be.
They sound angry.
Welp, here it goes.
Kid slipped his bag off his shoulders, taking a few running steps toward the wall before whirling in a circle to heave the clumpy canvas cargo up and out into the night, listening for the dull thud from the other roof through the cutting wind. As soon as the impact sounded Kid turned and ran away from the low wall, wind sharp against his bare face, watering his eyes and parching a dry throat in the few moments it took to cross.
Why don’t we have a mask?
We can put it on the list.
From the streetside of the roof Kid turned to face the wall, aligning himself with one of the benches in the corner as the another shout rose from the building just next to the one on which he stood. Other voices echoed replies from deeper than could pierce his sphere of concentration, though their existence registered.
From the other building, toward the streetside edge?
We can hope. Time to go.
Well. I know I’ve always dreamed of it.
A quick roll of the neck and Kid took off sprinting and a stillness descended upon the roof and within the boy charging across it, scattered leaves quieting and slowing in their wind whipped turmoil as though holding breath they didn’t have, arms pumping and knees driving the boy forward like every other build to every other lauch, a small lift up to the bench and then a foot planted firm on the wall, and like every other bound-step he’d ever done, Kid felt his muscles gather and bunch beneath the center of his weight as he drove his momentum up and out with a thrust knee, cold night on his face, cold grip in his chest, wind screaming for him in his ears. Kid tipped back to reach forward with his feet before balling up to tuck them as high as he can, and the fear of whatever might happen below him dimmed, a little as for the briefest moment the world reduced to one boy and the chill night air through which he was