...Ethan, now able to make fuzzy glimpses through thinner smoke, looked up and could barely make out the silhouette of a man standing over him. A clerical collar and a St. Christopher's Cross both hung around the man's neck in a very slack and shabby fashion. His hair, now covered lightly in droplets of blood and patches of black soot, was hoary and thick giving him a astute and wizard-like appearance. A great roadmap of scars stretched across his face, and his clothes were tattered and threadbare, exposing large swatches of wrinkled skin. His eyes (most people who had met him considered them to be his most distinctive feature) had turned from a soft, coffee color to a piercing gray-blue, almost blending in with the color of the sky.

"Ethan? Is it you?"

Ethan heard John O'Malley's voice rumbling through the smoke, but as if from afar and through a blocked tunnel. He knew him from preschool at St. Alban's. The ancient face and kind words...

...scraped my knee on the gravel at the playground and he made sure I was alright and...


He tried to sit upright, but a cluster of red-bricks stretched across both of his legs and two long planks of wood laid in a crucifix shape over his chest, consticting airflow to his lungs. The priest came over to him and knelt down on one knee. There were a few other people standing behind him, all of them looked to be devoted clergyman of his church, dressed ornately in long robes.

"Can you hear me? Are you hurt?"

O'Malley's face came in and out of focus, blurry and unblurry, hazy and clear. A woman beside him (...Lisa...Or is it Harriet?...) knelt down to look at Ethan's face. She saw the deep gashes, indigo bruises and terrible scars the would never fade away. Horrid reminders that would stay with the boy for as long as he lived.

"He's most definitely hurt," she said glancing over at the priest. Her round, freckled face was ghost-white. "We've got to get him down to one of the shelters down on Nottingham."

"Nottingham?!" O'Malley said contemptfully. "This boy ain't gonna make it all the way to Nottingham Street. That's almost to the city limits!"

The Irish fire spat out in his words, making the nun jump with excitement. She clenched his left arm tightly.

"But Father!"

"Don't you 'but Father' me! This boy needs help and he needs it now! We surely have some of that healing potion left. Don't we? Some of that Grenadock? Or is it Sherrweed?"

The nun held up two empty vials with shredded labels and no stoppers, and then rummaged through the contents of a plump medicine bag that sat on top a pile of bricks and splintered planks of wood.


"There can't be nothing!" O'Malley said, his voice a thundering roar. "How are we already out of...of...medicine?"

The nun nervously dabbed at a gash on Ethan's forehead with a crumpled tissue, making no attempt at a reply. Saying something would only make the priest even angrier, and even though O'Malley was generally a man of sincerity and kindheartedness, he did bite. This was a truth that many had learned the hard way.

"Stop doing that. I'm going to pick him up," O'Malley said matter-of-factly, swatting at the nun's wrinkled hand.

"What?! You're not thinking of going all the way to Nottingham Street by yourself, are you?! The air...you won't be able to breathe...and...and-"

"The life of a child is at stake, Harriet, and I am willing to do what I can for this poor boy, no matter how much you protest! To be quite frank, I don't give a shit! I really don't!"

An audible gasp arose from the crowd of followers and a few of them even crossed themselves. O'Malley's face was contorted into a hysterical grin, and blood dripped down his face in small rivulets making faint, red stains. He held back a sharp scream and looked down at Ethan, his hands balled into tight, sweaty fists.


"Yes, Father?" she asked quietly, her heart...

...ba boom...ba boom...ba boom...

and her breathing...


"Help me move those two pieces of wood. Joseph? Henry?"

Two men, both of them were deacons, came to O'Malley's aid. With a massive push the first plank was removed. Then, the second.

...air...air...it feels good...air...

The four of them pulled the boy from the collapsed bricks, and O'Malley grabbed Ethan up into his arms...

...arms...when I fell and scraped my knee...

...and started to carry him towards Nottingham Street.

It would be a long walk.

Eminence FrontRead this story for FREE!