1. Gangbangers

This sucks! Andrew brushed hair out of his eyes. How can this be freedom? I am such an idiot! I should have lifted money from my parents. This isn’t fun, my stomach rubbing against my back bone. As if answering, his stomach growled really loud.

Andrew had been hanging around the transit center watching people come and go on diesel-farting buses. His stomach growled once more. Maybe he could panhandle, but he didn’t really know how. Where do you learn this stuff? They don’t teach it in school. He knew he was puny and everyone said he looked younger than twelve years-old. People would just say to go home and eat, he thought. If they only knew what life at home was like!

He pictured jacking munchies at the nearby Safeway. Stealing seemed easier than panhandling. His plans instantly changed when three older boys, blazing in red, sauntered around the corner toward him.

His heartbeat thundered in his chest as the swaggering punks eyeballed him sitting there on the bench. As if in a bad dream they zeroed in on him like a pit bull stalking a bitch in heat. He couldn’t figure out why they were throwing gang signs at him. He didn’t claim any damn gang.

The shorter of the three strutted up to Andrew and glared.

“What you claim, Fool?” he demanded with a toss of his head, quickly glancing over his shoulder for confirmation from his homies. With their approval, he turned back and repeated his question.

Andrew noticed tattoos on the gangbanger’s fingers. He stood up to give himself more height. “I don’t bang,” he said.

“Is that so?” The gangster threw out his chest and bumped Andrew backwards. He crashed back down hard onto the bench.

The bigger boy reached into his red hoodie, but he froze when a whistle sounded. His homies bolted without him. He held up his sagging pants, spun on his heels, and scampered away with a wide, awkward gait. They all disappeared around the corner as a police car slowly rolled by.

Andrew decided it was an opportune time to move on.

He took to the streets of downtownSalemscouting for a place to crash, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling he was being followed. Several times he glanced furtively over his shoulder. He thought he saw the three gangbangers still behind him. He imagined them laughing and making crude comments.

Impulsively he ducked into the doorway of a store and hid behind a display case. He barely caught himself from crying out when the three reds passed by, their heads scanning the pedestrians for their target—him!

Andrew waited for the right moment, then slipped out of the store in the other direction.

This sucks, he thought.

Andrew cowered behind a dumpster in a murky alley. The light at the end of the street cast ominous shadows across the entrance. He dreaded being discovered again.

 
Next Chapter 2. The Gladiator