Julie Hockley
Preview - Crow's Row

Crow's Row
By Julie Hockley

There was a flash of light and distant noises. My head felt like someone was taking an ice pick and chipping away at my skull with sadistic blows. I decided that death couldn't be this painful, so I was probably not dead...or this was what hell was supposed to feel like. My eyes were pried open and a light came flashing again. This was followed by an animalistic groan, like a bear cub——was that me? I managed to flutter my eyes open, without anyone's help. Inches away from my face, someone was holding a pen-sized flashlight. I couldn't focus enough to see him, but I could definitely smell him: cigarettes, dirt, booze. The ceiling was swimming. I thought I was going to vomit and had to let my eyelids drop to stop the spinning. Slowly, the muffled sounds became words. "What's your name, sweetheart?" asked the man with the flashlight. His voice was raspy and I could smell the nicotine off his breath. "None of your business," I managed, my voice bouncing like a rock against the walls of my skull. I could hear snickering in the background. I tried to get up, but barely managed to get my head off the pillow before it fell back with a thump. "Whoa, there sweetheart! Not so fast! You've got a pretty big bump on that little noggin of yours," said the raspy voice. That would explain the blinding pain. "My name is definitely not sweetheart," I defied——and there was more snickering from the peanut gallery. "Of course it isn't, honey. But that's all I've got to work with right now," he told me. It's not honey either, I thought, but was in too much pain to argue with him on his use of sexist remarks. "She's probably got a mild concussion," assessed the man with the nicotine breath. "Just make sure she gets plenty of rest and wake her up every few hours overnight. Give me a call if she gets any worse." "She looks like she's in pain. Can she take anything?" asked a deep voice that I instantly recognized. I forced my eyes open. The boy in the grey sweater——Cameron——was standing at the foot of the bed, and color still hadn't returned to his face. "Not for the next twelve hours. But I'll leave you something for tomorrow," replied nicotine breath, like he was in hurry. The doctor's stink matched his appearance, as if he had just crawled out of a cardboard box in a back alley. His dress shirt, which might have once been white, was un-tucked and had dark yellow and brown stains, particularly under the arm pits and around the collar. His dress pants were grossly wrinkled and equally stained. "Thanks Doc." Cameron furtively glanced in my direction and turned to the scary tattooed man who was standing behind him in a soldier-like stance. There was another boy leaning against the white wall. By the grin on his face he must have been the instigator of the earlier giggling at my expense. He was a big kid, standing at least six feet tall and built like he should be throwing bales of hay around. He reminded me of an oversized Chucky doll, except with disheveled brown hair instead of red. With a nod from Cameron, the tattooed man dug into his pocket and pulled out a wad of rolled up bills. Not missing a beat, the Doc grabbed the cash and rushed out of the room, without taking one more look at his patient. So much for bedside manner. The tattooed man followed the doctor out the door, shooting me a frosty glare on his way out. Cameron turned his focus to the other boy. "Get out of here Kid," he ordered. I watched as the kid walked out the door without saying a word but with the same stupid grin on his face. And then we were alone. I ran my fingers through my hair, hitting a bump at the crown of my head. "Ouch," I said in an almost whisper. But Cameron heard me and glanced back. As soon as our eyes met, he looked away. I tried to read his face, but his expression was blank. "Get some rest," he said harshly as he too walked out, closing the door behind him. I lay there, circling my fingers into my temples and trying hard to remember what had happened: the last thing I remembered was Cameron's empty stare after I had watched him kill an innocent man in cold blood. This I tried hard to forget. I was still alive, and the name of the boy in the grey sweater was Cameron. Of these two things I was almost sure. Everything else was a blur, including where I was and how I had gotten there. I struggled to sit up and flipped my legs over the edge of the bed. My eyelids were heavy——all I wanted to do was sleep. My feet hit the cool wooden floors——and I suddenly noticed that I didn't have my sneakers on anymore. Slightly panicked, I looked to see if anything else was missing, or different. I didn't know what I was expecting to find, but whatever it was, I didn't find it. Except for the grass stains on my knees, the rubber band that was missing from my hair and the immense throbbing against my skull, everything else on my body was the way I had last left it. With a stiff neck, I scanned my surroundings——there wasn't much to decipher. I was in a small room, lit only by the bedside lamp that was on the table next to the bed. There was an arm chair with a rose velvet cushion in one corner. Three of the walls were of a pristine white and frameless. The other wall was made up of four floor to ceiling undraped windows. After waiting for another bout of nausea to pass, I went to the window, holding on to the small table as support for my shaky frame. Outside, the sun setting sky was of resilient pallets of orange, red and pink and I was peering over the shadows of endless roof tops. Wherever I was, it was high above a city, at least thirty stories high. Down below, a yellow cab was waiting at a red light on an otherwise empty street. I couldn't decide if I was still in Callister——I thought I recognized the clock tower that stood at the centre of the city square but it was too distant and I was too tired to be sure. My hand pressed against the glass, I closed my eyes until the dizziness passed. I slowly, painfully trudged to the door of the bedroom and placed my ear against its smooth white surface. I could hear a TV echoing in the background and hushed voices, but nothing else. I twisted the door knob, expecting it to be locked, but it wasn't. Without a sound, I cracked the door open. Initially I was surprised to find that no one was keeping guard at the door, then a sound from the ground startled me. The dog, Meatball, who had apparently been keeping the guard and had suddenly just seen me, quickly got up on all fours, his tail wagging excitedly. I could tell that he was getting ready to pounce. I speedily closed the door back up, hearing his disappointed whine. I dragged myself back to bed, got under the warm covers and let my eyelids fall once again. I had expended whatever small resource of energy I had left in me. I would have to stay there——wherever there was——until my broken brain healed and could come up with a survival plan. Within a few minutes, I was asleep. I heard someone clearing his throat and I was startled awake. The room was blackened, except for the light that was pouring in from the hallway. Cameron was standing by the open door, like he was waiting for me to wake up. I looked up at him through a sleepy, confused haze. He looked tired but satisfied, slid out, closing the door behind him. I fell back asleep almost immediately. The same thing happened many more times. Cameron would walk into the room, make some small noise, wake me up. Then I'd look up and he'd quietly exit the room——his expression always blank. He had apparently taken on the task of ensuring that I didn't die in my sleep——so far, he had decided to keep me alive, for whatever reason. In the morning, I woke up to the sound of Meatball whining at the closed bedroom door and the blinking pain localized to the top of my head. The grayish light of dawn was coming in through the wall [...]