The alley was deserted and eerily quiet, with only the chill wind and their footsteps for noise. Anyone still living in the surrounding houses must be staying hidden tonight. She didn’t blame them.
Dark shapes loomed everywhere Isabella looked, seeming far more threatening the further they moved away from the familiar Reynolds home. The night was moonless and clear, but very cold, winter having come hard this year. Snow still lingered next to the tall apartment buildings bordering this part of the alleyway, not having melted yet from the last snowfall. It was like bright splashes in the midnight black of the night, reflecting the scant lights from windows on the upper floors of the buildings. Isabella realized Moses had been nervously scanning the windows of the apartment buildings as they passed by, almost as if a sniper were going to fire down on them from above.
Was this really what a war zone was like? It still didn’t seem real to Isabella that this was her city and not some far-flung war-torn nation or even a live action video game.
They made it halfway down the pitch-black alley to the next street before Isabella heard pounding footsteps in the alleyway behind them.
“They snuck out!” a rough male voice shouted.
“Run zigzag and stay close!” Moses yelled as he took off running, leading the way toward the next street.
A gunshot rang into the night and Isabella heard Korey cry out and stumble behind her. She whipped around and saw him sprawled on the pavement, not moving. Before she could even get to Korey’s side, Moses shoved her behind a nearby dumpster, quickly dragging Korey out of the line of fire and leaning him carefully against the building wall behind the dumpster. Moses then crouched by the dumpster corner and began retaliating, darting around the corner to fire on their attackers.
“No!” she shrieked when she saw where the bullet had hit. Korey had a gaping tear in his coat near where Isabella knew his heart should be. She began to panic, tearing at his coat, buttons flying everywhere, as gunfire echoed loudly from all directions off the building walls.
“Put pressure on the wound, Isabella!” Moses shouted instructions to her. She pressed her bare hand to the entry wound, Korey’s warm blood quickly covering her hands.
Korey looked up at her, pain evident on his face. “I love you Bella. You were always the one, the only one.” And then his head fell to the ground and her world went silent along with him. She didn’t know what she was screaming, only that grief and rage exploded through her in that moment. Korey was gone, taken from her. She was vaguely aware of Moses reaching down and ripping off Korey’s cross necklace from around his neck, tucking it into her zippered coat pocket.
“You can’t bring him back, Bella!” Moses shouted, but all Isabella could hear was the roaring silence of her grief.
She vaguely felt strong, roughly calloused hands scooping her up, throwing her over a shoulder. Isabella was crying and screaming Korey’s name, hands reaching back toward his lifeless body.
Why wasn’t anyone listening? Why wasn’t anyone helping him? Where were the police or ambulance to take him away to a hospital?
She felt her feet abruptly pound into the ground, hair flying out from a gust of icy wind and feet stinging from the impact. She just stood there, stunned. They were already a hundred yards from where Korey had fallen.
“Listen to me, Bella,” Moses began, his face close to hers, hands on her shoulders pressing her into the cold hard pavement.
Real, this was real.
As if she could take anymore, an explosion rocked the entire alleyway, heat hitting them in a wave. She threw herself to the ground, covering her head with her arms. When the wave of heat passed, Isabella looked back down the alleyway to see several houses, including the Reynolds home she knew and loved, up in flames. A scream tore out of her lungs, a primal, animalistic raging sound.
“Mama,” Moses whispered.
Gunfire erupted all around them again, bullets raking the alley, echoing off the trash cans now strewn against the walls. Moses pulled her against a wall, shielding her body with his as he returned fire. She knew she was screaming still, but couldn’t think of how to stop. A man cried out and she heard a thud, the gunfire silencing.
“Bella,” Moses said, slapping her face and leaving her left cheek burning. “Get a hold of yourself. We have to run or they will kill us just the same. I got two of them, so that will delay them, but I need you to focus…”
Isabella cut him off with a high-pitched shriek. “We have to go back and save your mom, Moses! She could be dying in that fire!” She could hear the hysteria in her voice, but that’s how she felt.
Moses shook his head, looking at her with resignation. He squared his shoulders, as if bearing up under an impossible weight of responsibility. Moses put his hands, with both guns still clutched, one in each hand, on her shoulders. She could see where tears had already dried up on his face, but they were gone from his eyes.
“No, Bella. People don’t survive explosions like that. We need to move out and not make Korey’s and my Mama’s sacrifices in vain. They’d want both of us to keep on livin’, keep on fightin’… there’ll be a time for grief later, but right now we need to move it, or we will be just as dead as they are. Now, come on. You can do this. You’re stronger than you ever thought.”
He removed his hands, giving her Korey’s gun. It was still warm from his hand and she could feel slick liquid, Korey’s blood, on the barrel. Isabella shuddered and forced the thought away. Finally, she nodded, tamping down the grief and rage and terror that threatened to paralyze her, as the wind dried her tears on her cheeks. Moses took off at a run and Isabella forced herself to run at the same pace as Moses, clinging to the only thing that mattered to her anymore – her family.
Stay tuned for the first scene of the book, set forty-five years later…