Author: Leanne A. Styles

Tim spat and wiped his mouth with his sleeve, but the metallic tang of blood lingered. The memory of the hot crimson spray, spurting into his mouth, flashed in his mind. He glanced down at his shirt, suddenly aware of the damp chill down his front. He was drenched in sweat and blood, which explained the horrified looks on the shoppers’ faces as he tore past.

The tracking sirens wailed above him as the facial recognition was triggered on the cameras. He could hear the thunderous pounding of the hit squad’s boots, gaining, gaining. He was clutching the plastic bag so tightly he’d lost the feeling in his fingers. He’d abandoned hope of getting away with the packet as soon as the first siren had sounded; after he and Jake had fought over how to split its contents.

Now, all he could do was find a spot ‒ a hiding place to snatch the last few moments alone with his prize.

He headed for the food court. The diners had all fled, the sound of their screams echoing through the atriums. Diving under a table next to the fountain that marked the centre of the court, he ripped open the packet and gazed down on the glorious caramel dust inside.

He licked his finger and was just about to dip it into the granules when he heard: “Come out from under the table and give me the packet.”

He looked up. A hit squad officer, wearing a shiny black helmet and aiming a rifle at Tim’s head, was standing a few feet away.

Tim froze, his fingertip hovering above the grains. Beyond the officer with the rifle, more were moving in.

“We just wanted to try it,” Tim said. “It was Jake’s idea…” At the sound of his brother’s name, he started to cry. “I never meant—”

“I know,” the officer said, creeping closer. “Just give me the packet, and it will all be over.”

“It’s already over!” Tim cried. “I killed my brother over…”

“A bag of sugar.”

“It’s not even the good shit.” Tim forced a pained chuckle. “We couldn’t get the white stuff.”

“Unrefined cane sugar,” the officer said. “Evil stuff, highly addictive, and just as illegal… I hear it tastes like heaven.”

Tim frowned and peered through the officer’s visor. A sinister smile spread across his face, a goading smile as if he were daring Tim to taste the sugar.

Tim looked to the other officers. They were all grinning, the excitement in their eyes heightening as they inched in closer.

The message was clear.

“Make it count,” the officer said, and Tim drove his finger into the sugar.

He slid his finger into his mouth and the world, like the granules on his tongue, dissolved.

The sugar hit, the sweet rush of endorphins seeping into every fibre, cell, and sinew, and he lost all feeling in his limbs, the floor seeming to sink away. The muffled sound of a thousand beating drums rang out, somewhere, far away it felt…

Then the pain came. And he was burning, the blaze racing outwards, spreading from deep inside his gut. He tried to scream, to cry, breathe, but his lungs were dead, charred by the fire.

The memory of Jake, cheering and high-fiving him when he’d pulled the packet out of his school bag, returned.

Followed by the taste of blood.