Arden woke up to pitch blackness, a throbbing pain in the back of their head, and the feeling that their hand was touching something wet.
Being blind, the first sensation was one that was very familiar to Arden. The other two were more concerning. Arden was lying face down on a hard surface – concrete, they suddenly remembered. They had been walking on the sidewalk home from school. They rolled over onto their back, joints cracking and muscles protesting at the movement. Arden’s head felt fuzzy along with the throbbing pain at the base of their skull. When they tried to sit up, their stomach turned like they were going to throw up.
“Oh, nope,” Arden muttered, lying back down.
Staying where they were, Arden reached out, hoping to feel their cane lying somewhere nearby. Their hand skimmed the rough concrete, and they jerked it back when they brushed against what felt like denim.
Arden forced them self to roll over and felt around for the denim. It definitely felt like somebody’s leg. They shimmied up, still reluctant to try to stand out of fear that they would vomit all over whoever was laying nearby. They put their hand on a muscular feeling chest, feeling it slowly rise and fall. The guy – whoever he was – was still breathing. That was good.
Arden reached up to touch his face, hoping to wake him up, but paused when the guy’s face was wet all along one side. Arden pulled their hands away and got up to their knees, feeling like their head was spinning. What the hell was happening?
“Arden? Are you alright?”
Arden jumped, but felt relief at the sound of their friend’s voice.
“I’m alright, Benny. What’s going on? What happened to this guy?”
“You don’t remember?” Benny asked, his tone cautious as Arden shook their head. They tried to remember, but all that was coming to mind was walking home with Benny, then somebody shouting at them from across the street. After that it was blank.
Arden dug into their back pocket, hoping to find their phone, but it wasn’t there. They checked the other pockets of their jeans and jacket, but it wasn’t there either.
“What happened to my phone?” they asked, feeling around on the ground for it.
“They smashed it. You tried to get it when they first hit you, but one of them stepped on it,” Benny explained. Arden’s hand suddenly brushed against the shattered remains of their cell phone. Arden swore.
“Who are they?” Arden asked, “I can’t remember …”
“They hit your head pretty hard,” Benny said, “It was four of those meatheads from the football team. They called us freaks from across the street and started hitting us.”
As Benny said it, Arden remembered. The two of them had been walking and talking when the guys across the street started yelling at them. Arden had wanted to keep going, pretend that they didn’t hear them, but Benny, ever the hothead, had yelled back at them, telling them to go to hell. Pretty soon, the four guys had crossed the street and punching Arden in the stomach. They rubbed their aching belly at the memory. They remembered the overpowering smell of disgusting body spray barely covering B.O. as Arden’s cane was ripped from their hand. There had been the unmistakable sound of the cane being snapped in half, then something hitting them from behind, knocking them to the ground. After that, things got fuzzy again.
“What happened after they hit me?” Arden asked, furrowing their brow and trying to remember, “Where-where are the other three?”
Before Benny could answer, police sirens rang out in the distance, coming towards Arden and Benny. Benny forced Arden up to their feet, ignoring their protests.
“We gotta go!” Benny said urgently. Arden still felt woozy, so they let Benny lead the way away from whatever mayhem the two were leaving behind. They stumbled a few times, feeling disoriented. They had no idea which way they were running, just trusting that Benny knew where to go. Arden tried not to worry that Benny might not know where they should be going. The police sirens were getting closer. Arden’s stomach kept twisting and they slowed down, their throat and chest feeling tight.
“Benny, hold up,” Arden said, leaning over and resting their hands on their knees.
“We can’t stop! We need to go!” Benny insisted. Arden shook their head once before throwing up, it splashing on the ground. Benny groaned at the vomit, but didn’t push Arden to get moving. It took a long time for their stomach to be empty. Arden finally stumbled away from the awful smelling puddle. They stepped off the sidewalk and onto some soft grass. Were they near the park by their house? It was so hard to tell without the sounds of children playing and parents talking to each other. Arden suddenly realized that the air was cold and they were freezing. What time was it? How long had they been passed out on the sidewalk?
“Arden, we need to get home,” Benny urged, pulling at Arden’s arm. Arden planted their feet firmly to the ground, refusing to move.
“What the hell did you do back there?” they demanded.
There was a long silence – as silent as it could get with police sirens getting nearer, at least – before Benny replied.
“They hurt you,” Benny said quietly, “So I hurt them.”
Arden squeezed their eyes shut and stepped backwards, trying in vain to distance themselves from this conversation. They had been afraid that was going to be Benny’s answer.
“Shit Benny! At least tell me they’re still alive!”
“They’re alive. They don’t deserve to be, but they are.”
Benny’s matter-of-fact tone made Arden swear again. They started pacing, rubbing their forehead. The wet stuff on their hand stuck to their forehead and Arden quickly pulled it away. They sniffed their hand hesitantly. It smelled coppery, like a pile of old pennies. Oh, no.
“I’m – am I running around covered in blood right now?!” Arden demanded, nearly yelling as their panic started to grow. They tried wiping the blood on their clothes, only to realize that their shirt was stained with blood as well.
“Yes. But please calm down!” Benny pleaded, “I’ll get us home! We’re going to be fine! Let’s get moving.”
Arden shook their head and squeezed their eyes shut. They pressed their fists to their ears, trying to block out Benny’s urging that they needed to run, the sounds of the sirens, everything. Even the sounds of the fight were starting to come back to them. The sounds of flesh tearing and bones breaking, the boys screaming and begging for someone to help them – Arden’s whole body was shaking now, and they just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.
“Arden, please! They’re here! We need to go!” Benny insisted, managing to pull Arden a few steps before they pulled away again.
“Screw you, Benny,” they sobbed, tears dripping from their eyes. Tires screeched nearby and the sirens stopped blaring. Two car doors open and slammed shut behind Arden and they could hear two people walking towards them, and the sound of someone talking on a radio.
“Arden, this is the last chance to run,” Benny said, trying to pull Arden along again.
“No!” Arden hissed.
“You’re not going anywhere!” a man’s voice yelled from behind him.
“Arden Bishop, get down on your knees and put your hands in the air!” A woman’s voice called. Arden swallowed the lump in their throat and dropped to the ground, interlocking their shaking fingers behind their head. One set of footsteps stepped closer, grabbing Arden’s forearms and slapping the cold metal handcuffs on their wrist.
“I can take care of them if you want. There’s only two,” Benny offered, keeping his voice low.
“Do not make this worse than it is!” Arden hissed as the cop dragged them up to their feet.
“Who the hell are you talking to?” the woman police officer demanded. They heard a click from a flashlight. She was probably shining it around to see where Benny was hiding. Not that she would ever find him. Arden kicked them self for talking to him out loud again.
“No one,” they muttered. The cop scoffed and roughly dragged them to the police car. The second cop, the man, swore as they got closer to him.
“Holy shit, what’s wrong with your eyes?” he asked. Arden suddenly realized they weren’t wearing their sunglasses. They probably fell off when the football players first started hitting them.
“I mean, I’m blind, so there’s that,” Arden said sarcastically.
“Just get in the car, smart-ass,” the woman snapped, pushing them roughly into the back of the car. She muttered something about ‘damn Halloween contacts’ before she closed the door, leaving Arden in silence. They shook their head, trying in vain to get comfortable with the metal digging into their wrist. The blood on their hands stuck to the cuffs and the leather on the seats. Arden sighed and leaned their head against the seat in front of them.
“Sorry, Arden,” Benny apologized. Arden just shook their head.
“What the hell did you do to us, man?” they asked, exhausted.
“I took over when they attacked you. I didn’t mean too. It just happened after they hit your head,” Benny explained.
“What’s wrong with my eyes?”
There was a long pause before Benny answered.
“I can show you if you want.”
Damn. Fine. Arden nodded, sitting back in the seat. Their eyes suddenly felt ice cold, like they had just walked out into a bad blizzard. Arden’s vision went from pitch black to a little fuzzy, able to make out the shape of the two seats in the front of the car. Benny blinked Arden’s eyes a few times to clear them up a little. The edges of their vision were still dark, but it was enough to make out the rear view mirror up front. Arden shifted forward for a better view.
Arden’s eyes, which their mother told them were brown, were now pitch black. It was like the pupil had expanded to fill even the whites of their eyes. At the sight of their eyes, everything came flooding back to Arden. They suddenly remembered Benny having their hands around one guy’s throat, squeezing tighter and tighter until he was unconscious. They remembered the feeling of the bones breaking under their feet, digging into one of the guy’s stomach with their fingers. There were even flashes in his memory of seeing the look of horror on the football players’ faces, one of them taking off down the street before Benny turned his attention to one waving Arden’s cane around like a sword. Benny had ripped the broken cane from his hand and stabbed it through the guy’s leg, laughing at his shrieks of agony. They recalled one of the football players screaming that he and his buddies were being attacked by a monster.
Most of all, Arden remembered how much Benny enjoyed it.
A sharp pain in their eyes made Arden gasp in pain. They squeezed them shut, not wanting to see anything anymore.
“That’s enough,” they said miserably. Benny let go of his control of Arden’s eyes and when they opened them, everything was dark again. But they couldn’t get the image of their eyes out of their head. They knew that sometimes, when Arden and Benny were both angry, their eyes would swirl black – at least that was how their father described it. But in the handful of times that Arden had Benny allow them to be able to see, their eyes stayed brown. How were they supposed to explain any of this to their parents?
“I am sorry, Arden,” Benny said, using their mouth to talk out loud. Arden clenched their jaw shut, not liking how much they had been talking out loud to each other today. Arden thought they were alone when they let Benny use their mouth to speak before those guys attacked them. They didn’t want him to say another word out loud until they were safe at home.
The front car doors opened and the two police officers got in. Arden heard the one in the passenger seat adjust themselves, probably turning around to face them in the back seat.
“Just so you know, those three boys are still alive,” the woman cop said, “They’re on their way to the hospital right now. Not that it’s going to help your case much.”
Arden didn’t say anything, but they felt Benny feel hopeful in their head. He probably hoped that Arden would be less angry with him now.
“How the hell did a blind kid manage to beat up three huge football players like that?” the guy cop asked as he started driving. Knowing there was nothing they could say in their defense, Arden just leaned back and closed their eyes.
Do you think they’d believe the devil made you do it? Benny asked quietly.