It was a little more than half past one in the morning and the entire neighborhood, half the police and fire precinct were outside, watching the blazing building. People filled the street, cops were running about, trying in vain to keep the people back, and firefighters shouted to each other, "Get that damn ladder up!" and "Where the hell is that woman going?" Nobody paid me any mind, even with my garish looks.
I was six foot one, tall for a seventeen year old. My hair fell to my waist in a dark, flowing, blood red braid, bright against my stark complexion; I had skin as pale as ivory. Naked from the waist up and shivering in the cold, I huddled in the shadows of an alley across from the burning orphanage. A young girl, not older than five, turned and stared at me. She gasped and began tugging on her mother's pant leg. Her mother looked at where her daughter was pointing. She picked her up and rushed off away from where they stood. She must have noticed my eyes. They were red and gold surrounded by a ring of black and glowed in the dark. I never knew how I had gotten them. Everything about me seemed to be strange and abnormal. My ears were pointed at the tips, my hair was a hue nature never made, and my teeth were long and pointy like an animal's fangs. In the dark, my eyes seemed to gather the light and glow, like coals. I was ninety-one pounds, lighter than any of the twelve year olds at the orphanage!
Sirens blared in the distance. Ambulances must be on the way. They would be too late. I knew it. Mistress Morgan had run back inside because a few of the younger kids were still inside the inferno that was once our home. She had always treated me like a normal person, despite all my—features. I guess she just looked past them at what was underneath. I had graduated high school a couple years ago and was going to the state university on a literary scholarship. But still, she never brought up my looks, or asked why I didn't want to be adopted. She probably understood why, she just never said if she did.
It's colder now. The paramedics just pulled up in their ambulances, rolling stretchers out the back of them. A firefighter was carrying something wrapped in a blanket. He laid it on the ground and I watched, holding myself in a one-person hug. It was freezing cold outside, especially when you're only in your pants and you don't have a jacket. Los Angeles had some cold nights in the spring. The medics unwrapped the blanket carefully, making sure they didn't move whoever was in it. The last fold fell down and I was staring into the wide eyes of Gina Morgan. Her face was covered in burns, her nightgown ripped and sooty. I closed my eyes and turned away, tears leaking out of them. I couldn't look, I couldn't; but I had to. I had to look.
My eyes opened and I stared, pursed-lipped and breathing shallowly. The medics checked her pulse, checked for breathing, and shared a look when they didn't find either. They picked her up and strapped her onto the stretcher. She was rolled to the ambulance and the doors closed, shutting her and the medics from my sight.
I took a breath, another, and stood up. Looking up at the building, the fire almost gone, I turned around and ran. I ran, barefoot over rock and broken bottles. Until the sounds of the sirens and shouting were far beyond earshot, I ran. My lungs were on fire, my legs burned, my skin was frozen, but still I ran. I ran until I reached an abandoned warehouse. The kids who had torched the orphanage had gone there to get drunk and party.
It was a large brick building, the doors and windows boarded up. Graffiti was everywhere. Gang names, symbols, pictures of clowns and all kinds of horrible things were painted all over. I ran around to where a large painting of a comical looking face was erected. The mouth was opened wide and a door was built into it. I pushed it open.
Twenty pairs of eyes flicked to me and the noise that was blaring out the speakers of a beat up boom box stopped instantaneously. I stood, shirtless and shoeless as twenty people—boy and girl alike—got up and smashed empty beer bottles. Chains, bats with long nails driven through them, brass knuckles, and various other weapons were taken out. Faces painted like skulls, death metal t-shirts, and the rank scent of hard liquor surrounded me.
I just stood there, in nothing but my pants, and said in as clear a voice as I could, "You killed her."
They laughed cruel laughs full of mirth at someone's pain and suffering. They laughed at me and at the chaos they had caused. I balled up my fist as hard as a steel bearing and lunged at the biggest of them, teeth bared in a snarl of rage. He fell to the ground, whimpering and clutching his nose. Warm blood oozed out from between his thick fingers as he curled up into a ball.
Dawn came as I walked out the door. Bruises, blue and black with dried blood, some of them beginning to turn yellow, covered my stark body. I walked with a slight limp in my left leg and one of my eyes was puffed up, closed from the swelling. I was in better condition than those gang bangers. I made sure that none of them would hurt anyone again. Of that, I was sure.
The sun had risen as it always had, and slowly I made my way back to the remains of my home. I stumbled through the rubble; ashes, beams, and broken furniture barred my way. Finally, I found what was left of Ms. Morgan's office. Her desk was a charred block of wood, the drawers stuck in place. I grabbed a soot-blackened paperweight and smashed the drawers open. I dug through papers until I found what I was looking for: a yellowed envelope with my name on it.
I ripped it open, unfolding the rough parchment letter carefully. Flowing letters formed a few sentences and a familiar signature was written beneath that. The words read:
If you are reading this, then you are either eighteen, or I am gone. You should know, you were left on my stoop in a blanket with your name on a card during a storm October 31, 1982; you are not my bastard child. I took you to the hospital to see if there was a record of your birth, or to find out how old you were. The doctors had no idea who you were, and they said you were anywhere from three weeks to three months. I ask you, my dear sweet boy, to keep to all I taught you. Follow not fools, but only your heart; know the difference between right and wrong; and above all else, be well. You were always the light of my heart. Good-bye, my son.
Gina Morgan, Mistress