#4 (continued)

On the sidewalk outside the gate, a breeze blows across your face and the air seems a little colder. You don't see anybody out here walking around, and that makes you nervous. Six buses must have been unloading when you arrived, even at this hour. Didn't anyone walk to the bus station? You reach a cross street and look in every direction. A few dim streetlights line each city block, but nothing as comforting as the bright dome of light around the bus station. Where are the flashing theater lights of Hollywood? You scan the dark horizon. Where is the famous Hollywood sign? Do they light it up at night?

You walk down streets littered with newspapers and trash. Cardboard refrigerator boxes line the sidewalks from one end of the block to the other. Passing them, the biting reek of urine burns your nose and you reluctantly draw shallow breaths though your mouth.

Something tells you this place looks as bad during the day. What kinds of people come here during the day? Why is it totally deserted now? Where are you? Is this really Hollywood?

Passing an alley, the hideous smell of rotting fish overpowers the stench of urine. Three dead fish, two feet long each with dark silver eye holes gouged out by God knows what, lie on the sidewalk at your feet. You must be in an industrial part of town. Two blocks ahead, fire licks the inner rim of a garbage can on the sidewalk. The flames backlight ghostly silhouettes shuffling around the can lifting bottles to their faces. The hoarse music of laughing voices drifts through the still night air.

You were stupid to have ever left the bus station. You should go back. Let the guard laugh. Let him think he won. Ten years from now you're going to be driving past in a Mercedes while his large, sorry butt will still be huddled around a tiny space heater in that same stinking guard booth.

You turn around. One of the boxes on the sidewalk is shaking. A closer look reveals two ashy, cracked brown feet protruding from the box. Someone is in that box, sleeping in there, and they've just turned over. Surveying the path you've come, feet or arms jut from half the boxes on this sidewalk. People are sleeping in all of them! Your heart pounds. A hundred boxes lay between you and the brightly-lit bubble of the bus station. You jump off the curb and jog along the right side of the street, back toward the station.

Bitter hot saliva fills your mouth before you even reach the end of the block. A few hours worth of churning hungry acid poisons your stomach as you run. The weight of your bag lurches left and right, stinging your right arm as the muscles fight to keep it at your side. Shut out the pain. Just get there. What's that noise? Footsteps? A quick look over your shoulder. A tall thin man tears down the street, gaining on you. His green work pants are ragged. He's barefoot. You turn your head forward and keep your eyes on the bus station parking lot lights flooding the street ahead.

You race like an Olympian, but a huge shadow rises on your left, pounces and drops you to the ground. The gritty cement road grates through your clothes and the flesh of your knees and left arm like mozzarella cheese. Your bag flies from your hands. Your lungs collapse in a crushing cough. Tears rise and blur your vision.

A deep, angry voice spits in your ear. "Thought you were a bunny, running. I'll make you a bunny, all right." A pair of rough hands clutches your waist tightly. He must weigh 200 pounds. You can't inhale. Your eyes squeeze shut. You are going to die.

A second pair of hands clutches at your feet. You kick violently, but they've got hold of your right sneaker and they're twisting your foot. They're trying to break your ankle. You lay on your stomach in the street and kick, kick, kick. Kick! Kick! Kick!

Your sneaker comes off, and you're free of the grasp. You wince with the sharp sting of gravel pressing into the open wounds on your knees.

"Get lost," the voice on top of you shouts to whoever is behind you. "Leave it!"

The second pair of hands grabs at your remaining sneaker.

The weight lifts from your back and for an instant a knee concentrates wholly on the back of your right thigh. "Aaah," you gasp. Breath comes in sharp, painful gulps. The air is rancid with harsh body odor and the stink of urine dried into clothing. A crack of bone on bone punctures the darkness and a pained cry erupts behind you. They're fighting each other.

You stagger to your feet and run, a lopsided gait with one sneaker and one sock. A car pulls left out of the bus station parking lot a block and a half away. Its headlights sweep over you. You don't look back to see what's going on. Screw your bag. You stagger to the car waving your arms wildly, blinded by the lights. The car blares its horn and swerves into the opposite lane to avoid you. It passes without stopping. You run toward the station.

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