His lungs burned as he ran down the alley, casting terrified glances over his shoulder every few steps.  With each passing moment, the pain in his side intensified until he could no longer bear it and he collapsed in a tired heap.  Rolling over, he leaned against the brick wall and wiped the sweat from his eyes as he peered back down the alley, listening for any sounds of pursuit.


He pressed a hand to the wound in his side and winced as blood seeped between his fingers.  He could feel his life ooze slowly from his body and knew with unusual clarity that the end was approaching; the pain already subsiding as the blood pooled beneath him.


His mind, blurred by heroin and lack of sleep, struggled to discern between fantasy and reality.


Though only sixteen, he had no illusions about death.  He learned long ago that life was seldom fair and for those that lived on the streets, life was nothing but stalking demons.


Slumping forward, he began to cry.


And it wasn’t the fact that he would die alone in some deserted alley that caused his tears to stream down his cheeks, but the realization that he would never get to see his brother again.


Had it only been a year since his father threw him out with a warning to never return?


It felt like a lifetime ago and in his present state, numb from the loss of blood, he thought back to that horrible night when his secret was thrust into the light.  In his dementia, the scene played out again; his father bursting into the room, catching him bent over the side of the bed while some stranger thrust wildly into his body.  He watched his father nearly beat the man to death before turning his hatred on him.


His brother had always been his best friend, and for a moment he wondered what would have happened that night if his brother had been at home instead of being away at college.  But that thought quickly slipped away as pain caused him to cough uncontrollably.


So many times he had picked up a pay phone only to hang up before hearing the first ring.  How could he tell his brother that for the last year he had been selling his body for heroin?


Quickly, if not painfully, he learned to survive on the streets by first selling his body for shelter then later for drugs until he existed in a world filled with pain, hunger and an endless search for a fix.  All this he faced bravely, fighting day to day to preserve his tenuous grip on life.


Despite his religious upbringing, selling himself came easily, especially when he realized that during the act of sex, he held all the power over his older companions and for the first time in his life, he was the one in control, even if that control only lasted for an hour at a time.


There were times, brought on by the daze of drugs when he fantasized about facing his parents, so show them what he had become, to rub it in their faces.


The love he had for his brother stopped him.  His greatest fear was that he would find out the truth and disown him like his parents had.  That thought alone stopped him from ever returning home, long after there was a need to stay away.


Shifting his body till his legs were stretched out, he leaned his head back and stared up into the night sky.  Looking into the haze above him, his eyes strained to see through the pollution and twinkling lights of the city.


For as long as he could remember, he would peer at the night sky and try to count the stars in the heavens.  Knowing it was impossible; he would lay there for hours, counting himself to sleep.


As he sat, propped up against the wall, gripping to the last threads of life, staring at the night sky, he wondered once again if there really was a God up there that looked over humanity; an all-seeing, all-knowing being who loved humanity so much that he would die for them.  In his short life, he had never seen evidence of that kind of love, but if he ever needed to believe, now was the time.


Gathering what remained of his strength, he lifted up his eyes and said in a raspy voice, “Forgive me, I’m sorry.”


As he took his last breath, the sky above him suddenly cleared and the last time he saw was a single shining star.  His face broke out in a smile and he shut his eyes for the last time.




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