This story is by Frank Catanzano and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
By Frank Catanzano
5090 Cole Road
Max had only strayed from the group for a few minutes. He was drawn to a store window that displayed toys of every shape and color. Everything from video games with fierce, war-like creatures displayed on their covers to bicycles with multi-colored streamers sprouting from their handlebars. While he was preoccupied with the intriguing merchandise in the store’s window, his family must have kept walking and somehow vanished among the teeming crowds of people bustling along the streets of New York City.
The cacophony of buses revving their engines and coming to an abrupt stop, belching a stream of exhaust. Cars saluting each other with blaring horns, the drivers yelling from open windows. Jack hammers slicing through concrete to construct yet another building. The wall of sound made it difficult to think. Concentrate, he thought. Use your brain. They couldn’t have walked too far. Try to take a route you believe they would have chosen. Up that wide street, or down that narrow one? Across that expansive boulevard or through that alley that wound its way to more alleys? This was bad.
The enormous buildings began to look the same. After a time, the more he looked up at the edifices soaring into the sky, the more they resembled each other. This was all so confusing. And the street signs made no sense, giving him no information as to where his family might be. He had to reassure himself that everything would be okay.
It was a relatively mild Spring day, but it was getting dark and the temperature was dropping, particularly among the concrete and steel buildings, that were now casting darkening shadows along the streets. He wasn’t wearing a coat, and the prospect of not only being lost, but freezing while he desperately searched for his family, had no appeal.
As he ambled along one of the city’s busy thoroughfares, he noticed three young men with shaved heads walking behind him, maintaining his pace. They wore black leather jackets and were decorated with tattoos of various hues and shapes. They were laughing and looking directly at him. He instinctively knew that they were trouble. He began to pick up his pace. They did, as well. He darted down a staircase, leading to a dank, dark walkway and began to run. They quickened their pace, yelling to each other, while watching him.
They were hooting and hollering now, like a horde of barbarians. He was sprinting and traveling deeper into the cavern’s depths. He had no idea where he was, but the danger he felt was palpable. Suddenly he heard a faint screeching sound and saw a distant yellow light hurtling toward them. It was getting larger as it approached the station. He looked down and saw tracks, and at that moment decided that this was his opportunity to escape the boys chasing him.
He jumped down onto the tracks, as the speeding train drew dangerously closer and darted across the tracks and clambered up onto the opposite platform. Just before the train sped past, he saw the boys stop and yell at him, while making wild gestures. He spotted a set of concrete stairs leading to safety, and he took them.
Max slowed his pace to catch his breath, while glancing back to make sure the boys were nowhere in sight. He stopped for a moment and looked around, hoping to spot his family. No luck. He could have been on the moon, except this place was populated with masses of people, all rushing to get home to their families. Like him.
He was in a state of mounting anxiety. How will he find them? Mom and Dad, who took care of him. And his brother and sister, who always included him in their games. Their laughter, now memories, replaced with the grinding and belching of the innards of New York City. Oh, how he wanted to be enfolded in their arms, once again.
Max tried to get a passerby to notice him, but like automatons, obediently speeding to their assigned destinations, no one saw him or even acknowledged him. He was floating in a sea of uncaring strangers.
As he made his way along a side street, he had to dodge bodies rushing to keep appointments or catch trains for home. He approached an elderly man who was searching through garbage cans lined up along the curb. As he turned toward him, it was surprising how dirty the bearded man was. He looked like one of the coal miners he had seen depicted in dioramas at the Pittsburgh History Center.
When Max approached, the bearded man suddenly lunged at him. “C’mere you little cuss!” he shouted. But in his inebriated state, he missed him and only grabbed a handful of air, falling painfully to the sidewalk. Max picked up his pace to distant himself from the dirty man, who was swearing loudly as he tried to pick himself up off the concrete. The characters who populated this city were alien to him, who enjoyed a quieter lifestyle back in Pennsylvania.
Now urgently trying to determine what street his family might have chosen to take, a disembodied voice said, “Hey there, sport, you lost?”
Max looked around but saw no one.
“Psst, hey fellow. C’mere.”
He spotted the owner of the voice, standing like a sentinel in the doorway to a Chinese restaurant. The man, an Asian, was wearing a dark navy suit with a light blue shirt open at the collar. He could see a gold chain around his neck, and his black hair was knotted into a pony tail at the back.
Max sensed danger in the aura surrounding the man. His smile was insincere. He left the doorway and began to slowly walk toward him. “I’ve got big plans for you tonight,” he said menacingly. “Come to me.”
As the Asian reached down and tried to grab him, Max ran. He took a sharp left, through a crowded side street that was lined on either side with colorful umbrellas, beneath which sat men and women dining. They were smiling and talking animatedly. He glanced behind him to see if the Asian man was anywhere in sight.
As he turned to run, he collided with the Asian man, who reached down quickly and gathered him into his arms. He carried him to a waiting van and was handed off to a man in the back of the van who tied him up with nylon rope and then covered his mouth with duct tape. Within a matter of seconds, he was incapacitated and wide eyed with terror.
It was silent as they drove slowly through the city. No one spoke. As the van slowly turned into a dark alley, the man guarding Max began to talk to the driver in Chinese. It seemed to him that they were disagreeing about something, and their voices increased in volume, presenting the opportunity to try and free himself from the rope that was tied securely around his body. While he desperately wriggled to loosen his bonds, the driver opened the van’s sliding door and roughly grabbed him and lifted him down from the vehicle.
“Dere you go rittle boody,” he said in fractured English. He carried him to the rear of a building, an area illuminated by a single bulb. The skies were dark now, and he was shivering from the plunging temperature.
“You home now,” the man announced. He opened a door that was sprayed with graffiti and carried Max into a kitchen that was bustling with activity. Chinese men and women stirred, sliced and diced food of various colors and textures, while chattering in Chinese. It was difficult for him to tell if they were conversing or arguing.
His captor carried Max into a dark storage room and sat him down. He switched on an overhead light, and he blinked at the sudden illumination. His captor left, locking the door behind him, leaving him alone and frightened. What do these people want? he thought.
The small room was crammed with boxes of food products, plates, service ware and cleaning supplies. He finally loosened the ropes so that he could free himself. As he looked around, his eyes came to rest upon a small window that someone had left partially open, directly above a stack of boxes.
Max carefully climbed up on a box, and then jumped up onto one underneath the open window and began to squeeze through the opening. He heard the door to the storage room open, and the Chinese man in the navy suit appeared. He saw that he was trying to escape and began yelling in Chinese. He attempted to grab one of his legs, but he squirmed out of his grasp.
Free from captivity, he ran down an alley and out onto one of the city’s busy thoroughfares. He had no idea where he was headed but knew that he needed to get away from there.
Officers Tom McCartney and Karl Skutski were slowly cruising Dekalb Avenue, when Skutski said to this partner, “Isn’t that the lost dog that we got a BOLO on an hour ago? It was described as a small black terrier that a family from Pittsburgh lost as they toured the city. That’s gotta be him.”
McCartney nodded in agreement and pulled the cruiser to the curb, near where Max was sniffing a parking meter that had been anointed by other dogs. Both men slowly got out of their vehicle, not wanting to frighten the little dog more than he already was.
Max looked up at the uniformed officers and somehow sensed that they wanted to help him. McCartney gently grabbed his collar. He could see that his lead had broken off. He lifted him into the back seat of their patrol car, while Skutski radioed in that the small terrier that was lost, had now been found.
The police officers drove to their precinct and Max was soon reunited with his family. His adventure left him exhausted, but he managed to distribute a few tail –wagging wet licks to the kids’ faces before curling up on the back seat of the family car for a welcome snooze on the way home to Pittsburgh. Being lost sure was tiring, he thought, as his eyes closed in blissful sleep.
# # #
I could not help rooting for Max as I followed him on his adventures, while he tried to locate his family.
I enjoyed your story. It is well told. I like the descriptions of people and places, the suspense when Max is taken to the Chinese joint and his escape.
Thank goodness the police officers found him and reunited him with his family.
Best of luck,Frank.
Sandra Walker says
Witty and beautifully crafted! Best of luck Frank!
Mike Simcik says
Good story subject matter.
Ninety percent well written.
Terrible opening first paragraph.
Bring the reader into the story at the first line.