The crack in the sidewalk runs side-to-side, the whole width of the grid, two and half squares wide here to accommodate the street lamp, at the base of which, the crack starts. Unlike the other splits and fissures that age the ground on this side of town, weeds do not grow in the earth between the gap. Instead, the reddish clay pushes up and spills over the edges of the lacerated walkway like some scabby, open wound. At the curb, where the crack extends downward into the gutter, a wedge of concrete has been gouged out, the remnants long ago crumbled into gravel and washed away by the acid rain. This is the only spot on the curb still marked by red paint from when it was important not to park here. The four-number address stamped into the curb lost its last digit with the missing chunk of cement, leaving only three sixes. This number and the eerie light from the lamp overhead helped give this place its story and name: Hell Corner.

It’s said, if you come here at night when the light from the lamp dances across the gash in the ground and the red paint on the curb gleans like fresh spilled blood–if you step on the crack…

You know the saying.

This is the outskirts of the old side of town. A block over, the buildings are still packed pretty tight, but they’re a lot shorter than the skyscrapers on the horizon. Here, large gated lots are mostly home to huge, dilapidated industrial buildings and warehouses.

It is dusk and the sun has dipped below the skyline and the smoggy gray sky is streaked with scarlet and purple in its wake. It might be beautiful from a different vantage, but here the muddy red cast makes the pavement look infected.

There is a buzz, like agitated bees, climbing the inside of the lamppost as the street lamp struggles to come to life. The two globes within the lamp’s housing start to glow. As the light grows in strength, the buzzing, peppered with intermittent arcing pops, quiets, blending into the din of the evening. Before the light can get to its maximum brightness, a jittery, spastic strobe animates the ground with pulsing undulations.

Some of the yellowish light cast by the lamp gets lost in the crack, seemingly absorbed or annihilated by the darkness of the crevice. And in some spots, between the flashes, a faint glow seeps back out and floats above the sidewalk, like a green, cancerous, iridescent mist.

Marty Allen stands with one foot in each of the squares adjacent to those scarred by the crack. He is nineteen years old. He’s only a half-inch or so taller than average, but his slight build, accentuated by the tight tee shirt and skinny jeans he wears, gives him the illusion of height. He has brown eyes and his hair, also brown, is cut short, but still manages to look rumpled in a I-don’t-care-how-my-hair-looks kind of way. He has good skin, if a bit pale, and his clothes are on the cheap side of trendy–the skinny jeans and Zeppelin t-shirt from Target, plus a pair of Vans knock-offs. The cut above his eyebrow is fresh and should probably have a couple of stitches, but is held closed by three, oozing, crisscrossed Band-Aids

His right leg twitches frantically on the ball of his foot as he stares down at the crack. His eyes have gone wide and his mouth has dropped open with the first signs of drool glistening at the corners. The static pops coming from within the post have fallen into a regular pattern and his leg continues to pump in rhythm to the hypnotic, intensifying beat. A sudden, loud, electric crack from within the lamp snaps him out of his trance and his restless leg abruptly freezes in mid ascent

The lamp stops flickering.

Now, looking down at the broken pavement, it seems stupid to him that he’d walked to this side of town. It’d taken him over an hour and he’d crossed through gang territory for fuck’s sake, though nobody had bothered him. Going home after dark was going to be more risky.

The thought of gangbangers makes him look around again. He sees no one, but feels something lurking in the shadows–all around him, really–waiting. It’s an energy, like the cruel anticipation emanating from a crowd watching a practical joke unfold. He looks back down at the gouged crooked smile in the path in front of him.

He’d come here to see this crack.

Punish.

He’d come here to step on it.

He picks his foot up and is made sharply aware of how tight and sore his leg is from the repetitive thumping movement it had been making. His calf feels numb and his toes are just getting the pins and needles sensation that creeps over a body part left too long in an awkward position. He sets it back down in the same print, flat so the spasms wont start up again.

It’s just a crack in the sidewalk, he thinks. It might have been caused by abuse, by weather, plate tectonics–who knew? The street number that gave it its power was all wrong anyway. The missing number had been a four. Sixty-six, sixty-four Hellyer Boulevard. Hellyer? Guess that might be part of the myth too. But fuck that, nothing was going to happen when he stepped on it. And the only one likely to receive any kind of punishment for this trek was him when the gangbangers kicked his ass for being in their hood and not looking to score.

His once piston-like leg seems fused to the sidewalk below his shoe now. He looks down, willing his foot to lift, but it won’t. He’s paralyzed. This relieves him a little.