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Bonus Scene: Abstraction, an alternate PoV scene for Savage Vandal


The rubble of the playground faded as did the sounds of the cars in the distance. The grind and rattle of the unit on the roof of one of the older buildings jerked to life as their furnace kicked on. The old elementary school, or the remains of it, were less than a half-block away to the south.

I didn’t look in that direction because you couldn’t see it from here, anyway. After the city shut it down and started bussing kids from the neighborhood to a more affluent section, the meth heads, the deadbeats, and the squatters had moved in. We’d cleaned them out a few times. But like vermin they kept coming back…

Thoughts of the school faded away as the beach continued to take shape. The lines and cracks were rougher here, I needed to texture them more. The scent of the paint filled my nostrils, it soothed even as I switched out cans. The knots in my neck from stretching my arms up didn’t really register nor did the burn in my arms.

The heat of the sun kissing the sand burned my back as I added new layers and added extra bits of detail until I uncovered the shore. The moment the ocean rolled in, foamy caps–it erased everything that had been there before. Beauty from decay. I could never quite make it new again, but I could hide the darkness beneath the color.

A cheap imitation?


My neck cracked as I took a step back. The sand had different depths and textures. Higher up, away from the tidal edge, I’d written Starling. I didn’t want that to wash away.

“You do really good work.” The starling’s voice always surprised me. It had so many different textures to it. Like the cracked wall behind the painting. There was strength and sturdiness, but damage had left its mark. The huskiness that kissed the underside of her voice told me how much she didn’t use it.

Definitely not out of fear. She could and had branded with her words. But she didn’t speak. Not that it bothered me too much. Still, it took me a moment to adjust from focusing on the wall to focusing on her. I hadn’t forgotten she was here and yet…

“You’re still here.” I smiled. She could have taken off. At any point while we were out here, she could have left. I would have let her. Not that I wanted her to go and not that I didn’t want her safe. Jasper seemed convinced there were more threats against her than the creature chained up in the fridge. Liam wouldn’t let me go see him. He had, but he didn’t want me in there.

I’d rather be with my starling anyway.

She gave a little shiver and I frowned. The temperature must have fallen. The sun had moved over the buildings and now we were in shadows. Part of why I stopped painting. We were losing the light. “But it’s cold.”

I packed up my stuff on autopilot. I collected even the empty cans. I was trying to paint over the decay and not leave more signs of the disuse and disrepair. “You should have told me it was getting colder.”

“You were the one without a shirt,” she reminded me in that tone that bordered on taunting, but never quite crossed the line. Particularly since her stomach rumbled. “Even your nipples are on point.” She might seem demanding to some, but there was an exactitude to her. She wanted her routines. She wanted things to be the way she expected them to be.

I couldn’t fault the desire. I wanted things to be in a certain order.

But she didn’t leave when she could have.

I glanced down at my chest and yes, my nipples were in sharp relief and paint spattered me. Not all that unusual. I had paint permanently on my skin in some places. I yanked on my shirt, then the hoodie and glanced at her after I had everything back in the bag.

“I’ve survived worse.”

For a brief moment, she met my gaze and held it. I didn’t like looking people in the eye. Not like this. If I did it growing up, it usually led to fights. Older kids would get pissed. Liam wasn’t always there to intercept the hits.

I learned how to dish out my own.

But I didn’t want to hit anything while she stared at me. “I’ve survived worse.” For a moment, her eyes shadowed and she looked away before I did.

“So have I.”

I searched for a way to ask her about what she’d survived. I didn’t talk about my past. Maybe she didn’t want to talk about hers. She hurried away from me though, not running. No, more like owning the cracked and broken pavement of this abandoned playground. The grace in her movements made me smile.

“You coming?” She called after she reached the top all on her own like she’d just climbed velvet red-carpeted stairs rather than crumbling cement.

My smile widened and an inescapable feeling fluttered in my chest.

The smash of a bottle punctured it and the dark voice saying “Well, well, well, what have we here?” smothered what escaped.

The flutters turned to rage.

They didn’t belong here.

They didn’t belong near her.

The world turned to sharp relief of shadows and light soon to be painted with red. 

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