I am running.
That’s the first thing I remember. Running. I carry something, my arm curled around it, hugging it to my chest. Bread, of course. Someone is chasing me. “Stop! Thief!” I run. People. Shoulders. Shoes. “Stop! Thief!”
Sometimes it is a dream. Sometimes it is a memory in the middle of the day as I stir iced tea or wait for soup to heat. I never see who is chasing and calling me. I never stop long enough to eat the bread. When I awaken from dream or memory, my legs are tingling.
He was dragging me, running. He was much bigger. My feet skimmed over the ground. Sirens were screaming. His hair was red. We flew through streets and alleyways. There we thumping noises, like distant thunder. The people we bounced off didn’t seem to notice us. The sirens were screaming like babies. At last we plunged into a dark hole.
“You’re lucky,” he said. “Soon it won’t be ladies chasing you. It will be Jackboots.”
“Jackboots?” I said.
I wondered who the Jackboots were. Were unfooted boots running along the streets?
“Okay,” he said, “hand it over.”
“Hand what over?” I said.
He reached into my shirt and pulled out the loaf of bread. He broke it in half. He shoved one half at me and began to eat the other.
“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you,” he said. “That lady you took this from, I was just getting ready to snatch it for myself.”
“I’m lucky,” I said.
He burped. “You’re quick. You took it before I even knew what happened. That lady was rich. Did you see the way she was dressed? She’ll just buy ten more.”
I ate my bread.
More thumping sounds in the distance. “What is that?” I asked him.
“Jackboot artillery,” he said.
“Big guns. Boom boom. They’re shelling the city.” He stared at me. “Who are you?”
I didn’t understand the question.
“I’m Uri,” he said. “What’s your name.
I gave him my name. “Stopthief.”
He took me to meet the others. We were in a stable. The horses were there. Usually they would be out on the streets, but they were home now because the Jackboots were boom-booming the city and it was too dangerous for horses. We sat in a stall near the legs of a sad-faced gray. The horse pooped. Two of the kids got up and went to the next stall, another horse. A moment later came the sound of water splashing on straw. The two came back. One of them said, “I’ll take the poop.”
“Where did you find him?” said a boy smoking a cigarette.
“Down by the river,” said Uri. “He snatched a loaf from a rich lady coming out of the Bread Box.”
Another boy said, “Why didn’t you snatch it from him?” This one was smoking a cigar as long as his face.
Uri looked at me. “I don’t know.”
“He’s a runt,” someone said. “Look at him.”
“Stand up,” said someone else.
I looked at Uri. Uri flicked his finger. I stood.
“Go there,” someone said. I felt a foot on my back, pushing me toward the horse.
“See,” said the cigar smoker, “he doesn’t even come halfway up to the horse’s dumper.”
A voice behind me squawked, “The horse could dump a new hat on him!”
Everyone, even Uri, howled with laughter. Explosions went off beyond the walls.
The boys who were not smoking were eating. In the corner of the stable was a pile as tall as m
Excerpted from Milkweed
by Jerry Spinelli
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