THE DESERT WALL
Malenie was hiding. The sun burned hot and brilliant on the white plaster and dull adobe houses, banishing the shadows from even so narrow an alley. Sweat prickled along her hairline. She leaned against the wall, its grit rubbing off on her back, and tried to stop panting. Fear and humiliation made a hard fist of her stomach, urging her to run again. Only two streets over, the market hummed with activity, promising safety.
“I hate them,” she whispered soundlessly, though she wanted to shout. She had been careless after almost a moon without trouble, and now here she was, with at least one bully somewhere behind her. But a cactus never has just one spine, and bullies never travel alone. She tucked her black hair behind her ears, pressed herself closer to the house behind her and crept forward. She peeked around the corner, thinking, Please.
The boy was so close she smelled fennel and anise on his breath as they both recoiled. “Told you,” said the tall girl with him, stepping forward and forcing Malenie back into the alley. Malenie’s heartbeat seemed to shake her whole body, demanding that she fight or run. Run or fight. The boy followed half a breath later, straightening his shoulders, trying to look bigger, but the girl didn’t notice. Pursing her lips, she looked Malenie up and down. “Where you going, Red?”
The insult stung and Malenie said, “I don’t want to fight,” knowing it was the wrong thing to say even as she said it.