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       Clean Slate Complex (a daynight story), p.1

           Megan Thomason
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Clean Slate Complex (a daynight story)


  Clean Slate Complex

  clean slate complex (a daynight story)

  by Megan Thomason

  If you downloaded this ebook during a free promotion period, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

  This book is a work of fiction. All characters, entities, events, portals, alternate worlds and the like in the daynight series, including clean slate complex, are fictional and products of the author's overly active imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright (c) 2013 by Megan Thomason

  ISBN: 9781301811939

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  Dedicated to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and non-profits like it—

  who truly give people a second chance at life.

  Table of Contents

  Title page

  Copyright information

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Author’s Note

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  “Isn't it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity.”

  —Vaclav Havel

  CHAPTER ONE

  My mom’s going to croak in the back of our beater van. It’s bad enough to live in it, but dying in it...that’s no way to go. She’s been shaking so bad that she woke me up, being that we’re all cozy like sardines in this tin can. Or maybe more like two sardines (my mom and me with our small frames) and three sharks (my older brothers who are built like NFL linebackers).

  I wonder if Mom’s going through withdrawals. Every time she forgets her meds it gets really ugly. Her doc warned me that her body can’t handle going cold turkey off of them. That she could up and die. I feel her forehead. She’s burning up from a fever. Oh no. My poor Mom. Being sick’s the last thing she needs. She’s got it hard enough. In the dark I rustle around until I find a half empty bottle of water and a packet of aspirin my brothers lifted from the emergency station at their last short-lived warehouse job.

  “Mom, take this.” I’m begging her. I open her mouth and pour the water down her throat. She chokes on the pill and starts hacking something awful. The moonlight’s pouring in through the windows and making her dark skin look white. I’m not liking what I’m seeing. “You okay?”

  She grabs ahold of my shirt. Her throat’s so swollen she can barely whisper. “Alexa, my pretty girl. You gotta keep your brothers in line. I—” Her words are cut off as she coughs up everything I just got down her. She keeps on coughing and I know I’ve got to get her help fast. I feel around for a flashlight. Once I turn it on I see that it’s blood she’s been hacking up. What do I do? I’m no doctor.

  “It’ll be okay, Mom,” I tell her, but my lips and hands are trembling. I grab the first thing I can find and wipe up the mess. Then I shove Trey who’s on the other side of me. “Trey. Bryce. Lol. Wake up!” I’m loud enough to get all three of them to sit up fast. Trey and Bryce smack heads and Lol catches an elbow on the back of the van. They’re like black-skinned versions of The Three Stooges. Bunch of goofballs. Trey’s 21. Bryce and Lol (I mispronounced Oliver when I was little and it stuck) are twins at 19. I arrived ten months after the twins.

  “What the hell, Alexa?” Trey yells back. He’s rubbing his head and looking between Mom and me. You’d think the sight of Mom trying to cough up a lung or two would give him a clue. I love him—love all my brothers—but they’re a couple cans shy of a six pack as far as their brains go.

  “We have to get Mom to a hospital. She’s not doing too well,” I say, my eyes filling with tears. “You drive while I take care of her.” I wipe more blood from her mouth. The sight of her being in such bad shape’s killing me.

  My mom shakes her head. She’s having a lot of trouble sucking in air but manages to get out, “No hospitals. Clinic.” Normally I’d smile since I know she’s got a huge crush on her doc there. But she’s asking because he’s the only one she trusts. She’s always making excuses to go to the clinic and dragging me along. Less than a week ago we’d been in when they had free blood screenings and flu shots—and to refill Mom’s meds. She’s been “mentally unstable” since my dad ditched us three years ago. Things got so rough that she couldn’t hold a job. I quit school at sixteen to take care of her full time. Sad because I’d been on the college track, but family comes first.

  “I’ll get you there, Mama.” Trey promises. He gets his supersized butt in gear and kisses Mom on the head before climbing to the front of the van and taking the wheel. Lol and Bryce each take one of Mom’s hands. I say a quick prayer asking God for our van to behave enough to make it to the clinic. The sky’s starting to lighten so I can watch our progress out the window. Trey’s taking a shortcut through a sketchy neighborhood of LA to save time.

  The piece of crap, white box on wheels only makes it a few blocks before the engine sputters and chokes on the side of the road. Apparently God’s too scared to come around here and listen to prayers. Trey slams his hand against the wheel and curses a foul string of garbage. If my mom wasn’t so sick she’d be slapping him upside the head. He keeps turning the key to try to restart the van but the engine’s not even turning over.

  “Hand me the phone,” I say to Bryce. “I’ll call 911.”

  Bryce responds, “No go, baby sis. We’re out of minutes.” I look outside. This is no neighborhood to be knocking on doors and asking for help. The windows are boarded up, siding’s falling off. Junk’s all over the yards. The only people brave enough to live in these parts have sold their souls for a quick fix of nothing good. My mom’s coughing’s getting a whole lot worse, so much that she can barely get a breath in between the fits. And she’s choking on all the blood that’s coming up. She’s going to die. I know it and start sobbing.

  Lol speaks up. “Don’t worry Lex. I think there’s a market not too far up the road. We can go get Mom something for her cough and use their phone.”

  “Run,” I demand. I practically shove them out the door. The moment they head off, I lock the doors up tight.

  All the coughing’s got my head rattling. I pull my long black curls away from my face and into a messy bun. Then I push up the sleeves of my hoodie and get to work getting my mom cleaned up and more comfortable. She coughs a little less when she’s on her side.

  “Read to me,” my mom whispers.

  “You bet,” I say, grabbing a book we started a couple of days ago. She loves it when I read to her. It’s the one thing that calms her down when she’s having an off day or not feeling well. I love it too—keeps my mind from turning to mush. So I pick up used books whenever I can. We go through them fast. Mom has a lot of off days.

  Living in the van sucks. We used to have a decent apartment before my dad took off. After he left, we sold off our TV and furniture to pay the bills, but when we ran out of belongings to sell, we got kicked out of our apartment. With no relatives to lean on, and no friends to take us in, we ended up camping in the van. Weeks turned into months. Every once in a while my brothers’d make enough to get us a short-term place, but it never lasted. My brothers don’t seem to be able to understand that work involves work. So they
re always chasing after some get-rich-quick scheme that ends us putting us into a deeper hole and right back into the van. The cycle’s been going on three years now.

  I press my cheek against my mom’s forehead. She’s still burning up. Her fever’s gotten out of control and it’s so hot with the windows and doors closed, that she may well ignite. In my mind, I know it’s a risk, but I’m not letting my mom die just because I’m a little afraid of the neighborhood.

  “I’m going to get you cooled down,” I tell her. I see the worry in her big, brown eyes, but she nods.

  I throw on my boots, grab a knife and open the back doors to the van. Then I jump out to see if anyone’s around.

  Trey’d freak if he knew I was out here without him there to, “protect my sorry girl parts.” Besides the junkies, this area’s known for the pedophiles—or peds as we call ‘em. The sheer size of my brothers would scare off most people, but there’s some messed up guys around, crazy enough to take them on in order to get to me. Surely has happened before. Around me, my brothers are as sweet as my favorite blueberry pie. But they’d fight to the death for their little sister if my life was at risk. I should’ve had one of them stay, but I wasn’t in my right mind at the time.

  I look around. No one’s in sight, but that doesn’t mean no one’s there. This neighborhood’s just like our van...on its last legs. There’s garbage everywhere. Smells like sour milk. Clenching my knife tighter, I climb back in to tend to my mom. She sounds like she’s already coughed up a lung and is working on getting rid of a kidney as well. It’s hurting my chest just listening to it. I’ve got to do something to help her.

  One second I’m stepping into the van, and the next I’m slammed back against the cement, seeing sky. My knife clatters away. I can hear my mom say, “No” before she gives into another coughing spell. My back hurts like hell, but I clench my teeth and fight away the pain. There’s no way I’m letting anyone take the van. They’d dump Mom who knows where and she’d be done for.

  To be able to help my mom I have to defend myself. Thank goodness my brothers taught me to fight. No choice but to learn with the way we live.

  My attacker leans over me. Thin, patchy blond hair. Bad teeth. Saggy, yellow skin hanging off his bones. The dude’s twitching and gasping for breath. While I’m trying to figure out a plan he pulls me upwards and into a headlock. I retch. He smells like he slept in a cow pasture. Worse he’s muttering something about how he’s got to defeat the aliens and steal their transport ship. Which means he’s either hallucinating or paranoid. Ice addict.

  There’ll be no reasoning with him. He’s in this to the death. I’m scared out of my mind, but it’s as if I can hear Trey telling me, “No fear. Just action.” Same thing he’s told me a hundred times.

  Remembering what my brothers taught me, I immediately tuck my chin and stomp my attacker’s solar plexus with my heavy work boot, while simultaneously grabbing his hands and pulling downward.

  With the pressure lessened a little, I drop my right hand. I grab one of his fingers with my left hand, jerking it back and breaking it. Then I punch his inner thigh with my right hand. I’d aimed for the groin but missed.

  Bastard’s still got a grip. I jerk my body up and down. Then I lurch forward, causing us both to fall. I twist to the left and tuck my arm. This time he takes the brunt of the impact direct to the elbow.

  He howls in pain, but that only strengthens his resolve. Dude’s determined to win.

  We’re both on the ground, but sitting upright. He locks his legs around my waist. I use the weight of my upper body to slam my head backwards, connecting with his chin.

  That hurt like hell. I’m seeing double.

  Works though. He unhooks his legs and rolls away.

  Before I can get up, he’s hovering over me. Trying to mount me.

  Hell no will I let him do that.

  As he lowers himself I kick hard against his hip and groin. But I can’t push him far enough to break free.

  He fights the backward momentum and falls onto my lower legs. I sit up while twisting my legs, in an attempt to dislodge him. Doesn’t work.

  Psycho starts pounding on my knees with his right hand, left one useless with his broken finger.

  The pain’s starting to eat at me and I’m breathing heavy. I’m not sure I can win this one. But, I have to keep trying.

  Out of the corner of my eye I see something large and silver, but I can’t afford to lose focus and check it out. A car perhaps? Unlikely they’d stop and help. Or if they did, they’d add to the problem, not help it.

  The perp creeps forward, so that he’s sitting on my waist. About the worst position I could be in.

  Before he can pin me down further, I slam my palm into his nose. Blood starts gushing.

  The man screams a string of curses and wraps his hands around my neck, cutting off my air supply.

  I claw at his fingers, drawing blood and putting pressure on the broken one.

  It’ll take an act of God to get out of this mess. The freak’s face begins to spot and darken, and I know I don’t have long before I pass out. I try to focus on a palm leaf swaying in the breeze, but it’s brown and dying just like me.

  My air’s gone, but I’m not giving up. I’ve got to save my mom. Can’t die...not like this. In a last ditch effort, I jab my fingers into his eyes and then rake my nails down his face. He wails at the contact which gives me hope.

  I hear a loud crack.

  Suddenly, Ice Man slumps into me.

  The pressure around my neck’s gone. I suck in a lung-full of air.

  Looking up, I see an angel. My savior. A white boy with a baseball bat.

  What? No angel’s going to be packing a bat. There’s no way I’ll be able to fight this guy off. I’ve got no energy left.

  “You ok?” the bat-wielding angel asks. He offers me a hand. I wait a sec to figure out his game, but finally accept. There’d be no reason to offer me a hand before beating me to death with his bat. Spots continue to cloud my vision, and I’m a little unstable, so I lean back against the van, clutching the edge while I try to get my breathing under control. First things first though. I need to make sure my mom’s okay. I’d left her lying atop a sleeping bag, head towards the front of the van. She’s now in a heap near the back. I reach out and grab her hand, feeling for a pulse. Thank goodness. She’s still alive and sleeping peacefully—at least for now. The boy remarks, “Looks like she was coming to your rescue, but her strength gave out.”

  I turn and look at him. His light-brown hair’s been buzzed close to his head and he’s got forest-green eyes. I’m guessing he’s about six feet tall to my five foot seven. He’s checking out the inside of our van, but if it bothers him, he’s not letting it show. The van reeks of body odor, blood, and leftover fast food. Looks like unorganized closet floor, meets camping trip. The smell alone would scare most people off. I prefer staying at the shelter, but it’s just not worth spending every afternoon standing in line to get a spot. Plus, my brothers hate it there. They don’t trust sleeping in a room full of strangers.

  “He dead?” I point to my attacker.

  “Nah, just taking a good, long nap,” the boy responds. “By the time he wakes up, he should be in a holding cell. Driver called the cops.”

  I strain to speak, my voice hoarse from nearly being choked to death. “Look, I’m grateful for the save. Really I am. I wish there was some way I could repay you, but as you can see we’ve got nothing other than this piece of junk van. And well …” I pause, looking at him. Guy’s dressed in a white Henley and neatly pressed jeans. “You don’t much look like you’re in need of it for sleeping and it’s gone and died on us. It won’t do you a bit of good. And my brothers should be back soon so you can be on your way. Though maybe one of you has a phone to call for an ambulance?”

  The guy cocks his head to the side and his smile reaches up to his eyes. “I know you don’t know me from Adam. But, I actually am Adam, and I’m with The Se
cond Chance Institute. Heard of us?” I nod my head. Who could miss all the SCI’s billboards about “second chances” and “clean slates?” Plus, they’re the do-gooders that run the free clinic and the shelter next door to it. My mom and I stay there when my brothers have overnight jobs and we don’t feel safe by ourselves in the van.

  Adam continues, “We were passing by in our bus, when we saw the commotion.” He points to the large silver bus with a giant Second Chance Institute logo on it, stopped in the middle of the street. What a contrast. Boy in his fine duds and with his shiny bus. Me in blood soaked thrift store rejects and a dead-as-roadkill van. “The SCI’s got a free clinic pretty close. Happy to give you a ride there. We planned to stop there next. They should be able to help your mom.”

  While Adam’s trying to talk me into going with him, my brothers show up. Trey reaches the van first and freaks when he sees the scene. Drug addict down. I’m covered in blood, with what are sure to be large bruises around my neck. Trey’s got Adam disarmed of the bat, face-down and pinned to the ground in seconds.

  “You’re a dead man,” Trey threatens Adam. Lol and Bryce join us, and they look like they’re ready to take on the whole bus.

  “Stop it Trey. He saved my life—from that guy.” I point to the guy who decided to trade his sanity for a high. “Let Adam up now. Or do you want Mom to die, while you play action hero? You’re a little late to come to my rescue.” As Trey lets Adam up, I beg for forgiveness. “I’m so, so sorry for my brothers. Will you still help us? Help my mom?”

  Adam wipes the dirt from his shirt and runs his hands through his short hair. He doesn’t look too happy about meeting my brothers. “Yeah, but if I help you, you’ve got to help me. Price of the ride.” He insists on taking a couple snapshots of me and my brothers with the van. “We’re going to get your mother the very best care. And in turn, you can help us with our Project Liberate rally. I’ll explain that later, but for now, let’s get your mom to the clinic.”

  “Fine.” But as soon as my mom’s in a capable doctor’s hands, Adam’ll be explaining why he feels like making fun of us is a good trade for taking my mom to a doctor.

  My brothers haul Mom onto the bus, and I lock up the van. As I enter the bus, I’m surprised to see it’s nearly full of homeless people. The bus looks brand new. It’s fancy with high backed grey leather seats, video screens and a bathroom in the back. I take the only seat available, next to Adam and across from Trey and Bryce. My mom’s sprawled out across them. In her sleep, she’s hacking again. The bus jerks forward, and we’re on our way. Adam’s on the phone, with the cops it sounds like, giving a run-down of what happened. Sounds like the police’ll want a statement from me later today. When Adam finishes he tells me, “It’ll all be fine. There were a whole lot of witnesses to what went down.” Credible ones, too, as I think as I look around at the bus.

  “Care to explain?” I gesture toward my fellow rejects of society.

  “Well, we basically drive around certain areas of town...looking for folks who could use a meal or place to sleep or—” Adam pauses before finishing with, “—medical attention. We bring them back to the center. Some have a bite to eat or get fixed up and go on their way. Others decide to stay on. Live at the Clean Slate Complex. That’s what I decided to do.” I shoot him a look that says, “Yeah, right.” This boy looks like he’s never had a hard day in his life. Henley and pressed jeans. I’m betting he’s like those door to door magazine salesmen, weaving tales of woe to get people to cave. My brothers swindled many an old lady doing that gig.

  Adam rolls his eyes at my glare. “I ran away from home at sixteen. Got into some...trouble. Ended up squatting with a couple of buddies in an abandoned warehouse, until the SCI picked me up. The SCI gave me a room at the Clean Slate Complex, a job, electronics, and clothes. Everything’s provided. Sweetest deal ever.”

  “Sounds too good to be true,” I mutter. “There’s got to be a catch.”

  “Maybe so, but I figure I’m earning my keep.”

  We keep to ourselves the rest of the ride. My voice is shot, my neck’s throbbing and my legs feel like they’ve been through a meat grinder. I reach across the aisle and stroke my mom’s hair. Upon arriving, everyone’s told to wait on the bus. Adam rushes in to get the medical staff, who promptly take Mom off of the bus.

  I’m allowed off the bus for a bit while a nurse collects information about my mom and then checks me out to make sure the druggie didn’t do anything to me that’ll need a doctor’s attention. Other than some nasty bruising around my neck and non-permanent damage to my vocal cords, as a result of being strangled, I’ll survive. A supervisor joins us and snaps some pictures of my injuries for the police. Checkup finished, I attempt to go find my mom, but a wall of Henleys and Femleys (the only way I can describe the females wearing identical shirts to the males) prevent me.

  Adam comes over and gives me a quick hug. “Thank goodness you are okay. And relax about your mom. She’s in great hands. The clinic has my cell number so they can call with updates. You need to let the doctors and nurses care for her while you pay up. So get back on the bus. We’ve got a date at the Project Liberate Rally.”

  “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

  —Confucius

 
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