Every Color of My Blood

by Rachel Craft. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2023

The cab driver doesn’t look like much, but he smells legit. He’s small and wiry, with deep wrinkles around his eyes and liver spots on his receding hairline. I’d bet money he doesn’t have all his teeth. But between the Glock in his belt and the bars welded over the windows of his SUV, he looks like he can keep me alive for the next three miles.

When I tell him my address, he says, ‘One fifty.’

This makes me laugh, my breath pluming white in the cold air. People see a teenage girl under five feet tall and think they can walk all over me. ‘What do I look like, a tourist? I’ll give you seventy.’

‘A hundred.’

‘Are you high?’

The guy cocks an eyebrow, glances up and down the street. On one side, the sun is setting over the skyscrapers. On the other, empty pavement stretches away, lit by puddles of orange light as the streetlamps flick on.

The driver levels his gaze at me. I can smell his vims, or feelings—calm, mostly, with a streak of confidence. ‘You rather call another cab and wait here? In the dark?’

I grit my teeth. He has a point. Shifting my heavy duffel bag to one hand, I pull a couple crumpled bills out of my pocket. I hand over the cash—ridiculous cab fare for such a short distance—and climb into the back seat. A year ago, the same fare would have cost twenty bucks. Bus fare would have been even cheaper, back when the buses still ran after dark.

I tap the soft spot on the side of my cheek, just beside my left ear. The imprint under my skin whispers the time: 4:37 p.m. Zaid, my vim dealer, was supposed to meet me here an hour ago. Well before sundown. I try calling him on my imprint, but he doesn’t answer. Again.