Kai was awoken by the blare of sirens.
He fought to turn away from the blue and red lights flashing over him, but his small, frail body was paralyzed. Every twitch punished him with hellfire that vaporized any desire to keep trying. His mind was numb, a searing pain shooting through his skull and down his spine. It felt like his head had been smashed in, but he couldn’t remember why. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth, the smell of it lingering in the air and on the ground around him. His jaw was clenched shut, a dull ache radiating through his face whenever he tried to part his lips or breathe.
“He’s alive,” he heard someone say as his eye was peeled open. A bright white light invaded his vision and pierced through the battered tissue of his brain. He jerked away from it, trying to raise an arm and swat at the hand holding him down. But his limbs wouldn’t listen. It was as though they were severed from his body, his every muscle shredded like paper.
“Tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, multiple contusions and abrasions along the top and back of the skull. Probably looking at a severe concussion. Everything else is just scrapes and bruises.”
“Jesus, who would do this to a kid?”
There were more lights, pressure on his arm, something tickling the back of his neck as he was lifted from the ground.
“Who called it in?”
A shuffle, followed by the sound of paper. “Alice Donovan. Says she was taking a stroll through here when she saw the blood. Found him lying here like this.”
“Where’s the witness now?”
“With the other officers. Arguing, apparently.”
Kai felt himself being eased down on something soft. Everything was still a blur, but he could make out the uniformed figures flitting in and out of his field of vision. They were talking, but most of it was indiscernible chatter. Every now and again he would make out just enough to understand what was being said.
“One other thing, Sir.”
“What is it?” The man’s voice was gravelly, scraping like sandpaper. He sounded disgruntled, like he would’ve rather been anywhere else.
“EMS found nothing on him. No ID, no clothing labels—the kid wasn’t even wearing pants.”
“Probably a bad case of child abuse,” he sighed.
“They also found the bodies of two dead animals near the boy. Shot dead.”
“Any obvious connection?”
“No, Sir. But the carcasses are fresh.”
“Leave it alone,” the officer ordered. “We’ve got bigger cases to pour our resources into.”
He couldn’t concentrate enough to listen anymore; the pain was nauseating. Someone started carting him away, the conversation fading out into the background. Above him the sky was moving, the world shaking as he came closer and closer to another set of red and blue lights, flashing against the roof of some large, white box on wheels.
“I’ll take him.” It was an old woman’s voice, pleading in spite of exasperating sighs.
“Ms. Donovan,” she corrected. “I’m widowed. And the boy—he’s a John Doe, isn’t he? Don’t bother sending him to child services a hundred miles from here. He’ll be passed around from one foster home to the next. I’ll take care of him. He’s already been through enough.”
There was a lull in the conversation. Kai was lifted again, the scratchy fabric of the cot cradling his limp body. He moved backwards until he could no longer see the sky. In its place was a pale steel panel covered in paint. It smelled like plastic. Something wet smoothed over the back of his palm before he felt a sting, like someone had pushed a needle into hand.
“Vitals are stable,” came a second woman’s voice next to him. “He should be alright.”
“Yeah,” a man said from the other side. “Physically, anyway.”
“They’ll probably get him therapy.”
“Sure, if grandma here can pay for it. If he even remembers what the hell happened to him. A hit to the head like that—might take years to recover.”
“Whatever, man,” the woman sighed. “At least he’s alive.”
“Do they know what happened?” the man asked.
He could feel the woman’s eyes on him, drinking him in as he stared up at the ceiling, his one open eye darting around frantically while the other remained swollen shut. He wanted to get out; he wanted to run—but he knew that he couldn’t.
“No,” she replied. “They just found him like this, lying in a pool of blood.”
“Shit—how is he alive if there was so much bleeding?”
The woman took a deep breath.
“The blood wasn’t his.”
Art by Valentina Remenar