A Painted Sky:

Prologue

"The nearer the dawn, the darker the night."

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I hated using the yellow spray paint.

The bottle was bulky, the paint clumpy, and the smell reminded me of strong sharpie, which made me feel like gagging. But the picture wouldn't be complete without it.

I used up the last of the paint, the nozzle letting out inconsistent hisses. I tossed it without much regret.

Landon handed me the flashlight. I fumbled with it for a few minutes before finally shining it onto the old brick wall. It wasn't my best piece; I could see where I'd smudged the nose the wrong way and how the coloring of the eyes was a bit off. But then again, my best artist had bailed on us tonight.

I glanced over at Landon for his approval, but he was already pulling more things out of his backpack—a bouquet of red and yellow tulips, and a customized, bronze nameplate we'd found someone to make in less than three hours. We laid them down in front of the brick wall, admiring the results of nearly an entire night's worth of work.

Distantly, I heard the sound of loud, stead footsteps, ricocheting off the pavement and nearby buildings with confidence and authority.

I nodded to Landon, which he took as cue to grab his bag and head down the street, shoulders slumped, his messy dark hair and sweatshirt hood hiding his face.

I took one last, lingering look at the wall, a strange urge to smile threatening the corners of my lips.

Then I booked it out of there.

I ran in a crazy maze of city streets and back roads. By the time I reached the end of a dark alley, and spilled out onto a main street, my hair had been pulled up in a tight ponytail, my jacket zipped up over my old t-shirt, and my iPod was pumping away in my eardrums in tune with the beat of my racing heart.

I resisted the urge to glance over my shoulder to check if someone was following me.

Some days, it was harder to let go of the fear and worries, and just let myself be overwhelmed by the excitement of it. It was exhilarating to say the least, like the first time I rode a rollercoaster and felt my breath and stomach being swept away. I was left with a burst of welcome adrenaline, pushing me faster and faster down the dirty road, cars buzzing past me like flies in the background.

I melded in with every other early morning city runner, the first rays of sunlight rising like the burden I carried, leaving me feeling free.