In ten minutes flat, I found it. I was right next to Debary Lane, the exact street Calhoun found me on. I think that was why I picked it in the first place, but now I couldn't remember. I had a hard time remembering much at all. My mind worked just like my shoulder—too weak and scarred to do anything right the first time around. I subconsciously grabbed it before I tore my hand away and laid it on the bark. It was cold and felt borderline dead, stuck in winter still, but the sun was warm on my skin, and my heart beat fast against my chest.

What's the worst that can happen? I fall and break my arm and it heals?

But I knew I didn't heal from everything. Not at all. Even bad bloods have limits.

I wrapped my hand around the lowest branch and hoisted myself up, one foot after the other. The first part was easy. I'd done it a hundred times. The second part was harder, and winter had taken the branch I once used away from me. I didn't even check. My muscles strained, and I held my breath as I looked around. I knew not to look down, so I didn't. I stared at the tree's bark instead. Brown and dusty, and behind it, the fence looms. The fence that is too tall to reach over. The fence I needed to see over, just once, to get my sanity back.

I took another step. I grabbed a new branch. I lifted my foot, and I fell.

It happened before I even realized it was happening. The wind took me, my fingers stabbed into the bark, and my skin tore off as I come to a stop. I caught myself. This time. But I couldn't help it: I looked down, just as a gale swayed the bare branches around me.

I'm high up. Maybe a little too high up. But I have another couple feet to go.

I continued to climb, going left instead of right, and finding new branches to test before I go. My breath left me, and my shoulder ached, and another gust of wind made me claw against the trunk to stay still. That's when I heard it.


People in Shadow Alley.

"I told yah he'd lose," the boy said, a boy who doesn't sound much older than me. "That's fifty you owe me, sixty on interest if you don't pay up now."

"All right, Hanny." The other one sounded older, but the shuffling of his jacket was louder than anything else. "Here yah go."

It seemed to be a peaceful transaction. One that would go away soon. One by the gangs Calhoun and other street goers talk about. Homeless humans that live on the same streets as the homeless bad bloods.

But then Hanny squeaked a terrible, guttural sound. A sound I've heard before. When I snuck a glance down, I wished I hadn't. My breath caught, my fingers bleeding by clutching the tree harder, and my vision blurred.

Hanny's been stabbed. I'd rather not concentrate on where. And he was only on the ground for a moment before two others—one girl and one boy—came out of what I thought was an abandoned building and pick the boy up before carrying him inside. Only a few drops of blood hit the ground. The older boy, the one who was paid, dug the toe of his boot against the blood, pushing it into the gravel where it belonged. All the while, he counted his returned money. I never saw his face.

When he went back inside, all I thought about was falling. All I could do was slip and stare at the building they must be living in. All I could think about was what they'd do to me if they thought I witnessed it. All I could know was what I'd do back to them.

I hate myself.

So, I hung there for as long as possible.

March 16, 2082

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