Had he wanted to romanticise, or to dramatise, he would have decided that the dreams woke him, but he knew it to be untrue. He woke to the hot, pervasive sun, to the taste of gravel and its numbed imprint upon his face; to the acrid smell of stale urine, and the sound of the passing crowds. For a moment he lay, though unaware that he lay on the ground, his slow mind stuck in the warmed cushion of sleep. He tasted blood and instinct took over, hand moving to his face. A sneeze peppered his fingers with scarlet globules, and he almost began to remember.
The boy – with the age but none of the hard edges of a man – gradually wrenched himself into a sitting position, rested against a skip and looked around. A dirty alleyway was the stage for this, his latest escapade, its bricks fluffy even in the pained heat of mid July. He pulled his jacket tight around him and lifted the hood onto his head, shivering quite fervently in spite of the uncomfortable warmth around him. The sweat stung his eyes and his wounded body. He spat more blood, wiping with his sleeve a face to which he still could not assign a name. The boy searched his pockets, finding a half-smoked packet of cigarettes, a handful of loose change, but no wallet. No identification of any kind. Cold panic squeezed his throat. He took a cigarette from the pack and a red disposable lighter, the first drag rushing straight to his brain. Dizzied, he searched for an answer.
Time passed without event or structure, each minute (hour?) just like the last. The sky was darkening – or his eyes were closing, easing the boy into a dumb daze – when he heard a voice from the street. He’d heard hundreds, perhaps thousands, since he came around, but this one was different. This one spoke directly to him.
‘Hey!’ he called, tentatively at first. Who could blame him? The boy wouldn’t be the first junkie to die in front of a dumpster. ‘Hey, kid, you alright? Kid!’
He felt his lips part with a dull snap, dry skin cracking, and when they separated he tasted fresh blood. They mouthed a few words, but were powerless, stripped of the sounds his throat would not allow. His eyes, sore and gummy, lolled lazily in the man’s direction. He mouthed again and the words came in a strangled wheeze.
The stranger was approaching now, a solid thick-limbed man around twenty years his senior. He wore a leather jacket with hacked-off sleeves and a dirty t-shirt the boy couldn’t read. He crouched nearby, listening intently, as the boy’s lips parted a final time.
‘Help me,’ he managed, before the world swallowed him up in a black, icy sea.