Midnight on Avenue D

Originally Published: Dark Recesses #8, 2007

It’s midnight and the gunshots start, the tell-tale dull crack-ricochet as they bounce the bullets off the brick work. The noise jars your nerves, makes you spill coffee over the plastic couch. The neighbourhood kids and their Colt .45’s; antique guns are mandatory these days if you want to stay in style. You can feel the ghost of an itch on the back of your head, right about the point where they’d plug you, execution style.

The neighbourhood gears up for action, objections voiced in five different languages. No-one really cares about the guns; you gotta be tough to live on the D, and the security on the apartments is better than you’d expect. The kids retaliate in the only language they know, street-slang put together from polyglot abuse and random gunfire. They’re proud of the .45 and they’re eager to try a flesh shot. It’s gotta be better than hitting the practice targets, nailing tin cans and garbage bins and random friends who move to slow. You can hear it in their tone. The neighbours keep taunting, asking for it, pushing the confrontation just a little too long. You can feel trouble coming in the air.

You’ve seen the local gang, hanging around during shut-down, doing nothing. Their almost-familiar faces. They’re like teenage ghosts from your own childhood, recast in new bodies. Similar, but different; very different. The media says it’s because they grew up with violence, because they grew up numb.

The alleyway goes quiet and the silence hangs, ominous and empty, ready to get ugly. You close your eyes and count to five, waiting for the lights to flicker. The surge happens right on schedule, and the lounge room fluorescent goes dim. Downstairs there’s a corpse, all black and charred, the victim of twenty-thousand volts and too much rain. The shock-lock is just the first line of defense; they set these apartments up secure and it’s bad news if you tamper with the locks. It’s caught a couple of residents over the years, but you’re thankful for them on nights like this.

The counter-measures never bother you, you know better than to lose your keys. And you’ve memorized the manager’s numbers, just in case. It’s better to safe than sorry. You sit on the couch and count the minutes. Waiting.

Two minutes before someone buzzes the apartment from the lobby. The kids are getting slow. You hit the remote and patch through to the entrance, giving you a close-up of a face that’s been warped by the camera. This one is pale-skinned and badly painted. Dermal led-lights scroll across his cheeks. You zoom in to see what they say. Retro-Punk-Deviants: An Old-school Kind of Cool.

He hammers the stainless steel door with a grubby fist. The jolt sends him flying and another painted face takes his place. They’re persistent, these kids, you’ll give them that.

You switch off the screen and leave the sound running. Sixteen kids chanting from their spot on the doorstep. Here chicken-chicken. Hey chicken-little, is your mummy home? Here chicken, chicky, chicken.

If you don’t answer they’ll start running down the buttons, terrorizing the other apartments until someone gets bored. Eventually they’ll drift off, taking their guns and their dermals down to Avenue C. When you’re this close to the carnival it’s easy to get bored, and thrill-kills are low-rent where the city’s concerned.

The lights dim again and another voice goes dead. You lie back on the couch and turn up the stereo, trying to get some sleep before dawn. You try not to think about leaving, because you’re not sure there’s any place to go.

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