Author: Frankie (page 1 of 8)

The Fugue – Chapter Six

Chapter Six

Mateo woke up alone, stirring slowly enough to realise she shouldn’t move straightaway. The last thing she remembered was not being on the ship anymore, a frightening sensation when the ship was that close to her. It felt like she should be freezing but a lukewarm breeze was flowing through her. It seemed she had survived.

Something beeped twice next to her. The system knew she was up. Throwing deception away she opened her eyes and looked around. As expected, it was some kind of medical facility. The larger ships still had them, since sometimes injuries meant people couldn’t kart themselves to their rooms. It was as sparse as she had come to expect. Just the medical slab and a digital readout hovering over her. According to the information above her her heart rate and temperature were steady. Blood pressure and VO2 levels were a little lower than they should be, though that may have been as expected. It probably meant she had only been asleep a few hours at best.

Sliding herself round to sit rather than lie, she saw a lot of crates that looked like they contained food, which was kind of odd considering the panel she now saw on the wall, quick light flashing. She slid off, testing her legs to make sure they weren’t going to shatter on her and wandered over to it.

“Water please,” she said after a moment’s trepidation. The wall beeped at her and the panel opened to reveal a large beaker filled with a pint of the stuff. She downed it in an instance and felt herself full. A quick search of one of the crates revealed the Nutriopacks she had seen earlier. This things did last forever but they didn’t seem necessary when the ship had its own producer. Maybe they just tasted good. The one in her pocket had disappeared.

“Not bad” she muttered to herself as she wandered out with half of one in her hand. The corridor around her was empty, but at least it was breathable out here. She had been a little casual in just wandering out of a room that might of had literally nothing on the side.

Her being alive probably meant the bandits were still hanging out in space, which was fine, she guessed. It was kind of weird to think that people she was talking to just a bit ago were now all floating blue. Her arm felt fine though. Not even a bruise, the ship must have healed it up at the same time.

Letting her legs wander, she quickly recognised where she was and headed for the centre again. The room was still dark and appeared unoccupied by all except crates and a large humming. The maze was easily to navigate this time and when she reached the centre she saw the girl who had casually tried to asphyxiate her a little while ago back where Mateo had first met her, clicking away on her console. The three Igne were watching, or just standing with no emotional or situational output at all, Mateo couldn’t tell. The girl was absorbed in a game by the looks of things.

“Hey,” Mateo said, getting a yelp for her efforts. “No headphones this time.” The girl waved her hand at the screen before swinging round to face the intruder.

“I was aware someone may be sneaking up on me at some point,” Notch said with a sneer.  “Figured i should be ready this time.”

“Well it didn’t exactly help, though i guess you’re not having me crushed this time, so thanks for that.”

“Yeah well,” Notch hesitated. “I guess i’m not killing you for the moment. We’ll see how that goes.”

“Gee thanks.”

“That sounds an awfully lot like someone who wants to go back in the airlock.”

“No no. I’m grateful. You could have left me to float to my doom, but you didn’t. Thank you for saving me… from the trap you lured me into.”

“You’re welcome,” Notch replied, stranding the girls in an awkward silence. Mateo suddenly realised she didn’t really know what was happening next. Notch seemed to be waiting for her to say something- and she was waiting for Notch to say something.

“Sooo…” Notch finally broke the silence. “You want to join my crew.”

“Yes?” Mateo replied, not sure if it was a question or not.

“You realise what i’m doing right? My mission.” Mateo let the question hang in the air. “I’m aiming for the centrepoint. The exact middle of the universe. That place no one has gone to before.”

“Or at least if they have they’ve never come back,” Mateo interrupted, receiving a glare for her efforts. “Which either means they die, or the place is so flat out amazing there’s no reason to return. Most likely the former.”

“Yes. Well, i’m different. I intend to reach the centrepoint, survive and come back-”

“Pretty sure everyone intends to do that.”

And in doing so, discover the true meaning of the universe.” Mateo let the smile form on her lips. This was perfect really. Exactly what she had been wanting. No more wasting time.

“So, i’ll be fair. You want in, you’re in. You want out, you get dropped off on the next planetoid. I’ll be even fairer and have it be one with oxygen.”

“Much obliged.”

“But you only get to choose now. I’m not wasting time with anyone, and i’m not fooling you. Getting to the centrepoint means visiting the roughest parts of the universe. We will end up fighting bandits. We may end up becoming bandits. Law enforcement will become an issue the closer we get and there will be a point where we either proceed or die. So choose now. In or out.”

Mateo looked around the room, the closest thing this place apparently had to a bridge, covered in crate with a small console that could only be housed by two, set up in a way so it could be used by one.With robot alien humanoid things running the ship, the motives of their entire race unknown, all on a mission that no one else has succeeded in accomplishing for the four thousand years since humanity yanked itself out of its own field. She kept the smile on.

“Yeah i’m in,” she said. I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Notch paused. “That’s your response Hardly sounds enthusiastic.

Mateo grabbed the small swivel chair by both handled, pulling the woman towards her to stare her right in the eyes. Notch’s eye went wide with the sudden proximity to the two of them, and Mateo met them head on.

“I mean it,” she replied. “WIth all my heart and brain and spirit and blood. Your asking me to help find the great secret of the universe. The final discovery. The last treasure. The number 42. Believe me when i say it. I literally have nothing better to do.”

Mateo released the chair, letting it roll back as Notch went with it. The woman sitting before her just stared ahead, her brain processing.

“Good,” she finally said, a grin forming on her own lips. “Glad to hear it.” she swung back round to face her console. “Let’s get a move on then.”

“Right, my captain.” Mateo replied with a salute both mocking and one hundred percent genuine.

With that, the room fell silent, as Notch proceeded to start tapping on the screen before her.. Mateo stood straight, seeing out of the corner of her eye as Notch began to check the ship’s current status. Hull checks, shield integrity, course plotting. It was clearly just a check, rather than adding anything new. Temperature checks. Oxygen. Repair systems. A quick check of the camera systems showing a certain corridor that was now permanently sealed. InUniverse. Other people’s posts. Gem Farmer.

“Erm-” Mateo finally said around the time she started to feel a little lonely, two feet away from the person she was supposed to be talking to.

“What?” Notch said without looking her way.

“So… what should i do then?”

“Whatever you want.”

“No i mean. What do i do? What’s my role on the ship?”

Notch paused, still not looking her way. “Whatever you want it to be.”

“Okay,” Mateo said, beginning to feel a little more lost. “What roles are there?”

“Roles?”

“Like, what can i help with? Communications? Administration? Cleaning?”

“Oh, that’s all automated. The bots handle that.”

“Okay. What about Engineering? I do have several levels in-”

“That’s handled by the Igne. It’s their ship.”

“Personnel?”

“Oh sure.”

“Oh good. What can i do there then?”

“What? Oh no. I mean we have personnel. You. Me. Plus three Igne. They do their own thing, which is running the ship. I’m the captain, but you can do whatever you want.”

Mateo couldn’t tell if she was being messed around with. It was a feeling she didn’t much like.

“So what is there to do?”

“Well, you can eat. There’s plenty of food in the boxes. All Nutriopacks. There’s consoles in the other rooms if you want to grab one. There’s no fitness suite but i guess you can just run round the corridors-”

“No,” Mateo interrupted. “As in, what work is there for me to do? There must be something.”

“Oh right,” Notch said, leaning back. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. Everything is automated except for Captain’s orders.”

“Everything?”

“Everything. The bots sort out all the basics. The Igne handle the larger tasks, and i tell us where to go. There’s no need for anything else.”

“So, there really is literally nothing for me to do.”

“Nope. You’re already useless to me. Still, i guess it’s nice to have company, though if you could leave me alone until i call for you i would prefer it greatly.”

“Oh. Okay.” Mateo could hear some kind of very loud siren blaring in her head right now. For some reason she was convinced she had to ignore it. “Is there at least a room i can stay in?”

“Yeah sure. Use one of the empty ones.”

“Could i use one with a bed.”

“Oh, there are no beds.”

“None.”

“No. I just use a standby app myself. Much easier. No risk of back pains. If you do want to ‘lie down and sleep’ there are some soft items on some of the upper decks, but beyond that do want you want.”

“Soft things?”

“Don’t know what they are. The Igne don’t seem to be aware of them either. No idea, but they don’t do anything anyway.”

“Right.” The siren was the loudest thing up the room. Removing all thought, all reason, the rumblings of the ship. All save the sound of Notch’s voice.

“Anyway. Do what you want. Have fun exploring the ship. Oh, and if you try to go down into the basement deck i will jettison you. Dismissed.”

Notch went back to tapping on her console screen.

The Fugue – Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Bad bad badbadbad. It was a trick. A really crummy trick. Sure, she was trying to trick the bandits just a moment ago, but that was fine. She was part of the tick then. Only… now it was a trick on her as well.

‘Deoxygenisation in four minutes. If you are still within the contained section of the ship… take a few moments to reflect on the actions that brought you here.’

The hissing noise was unmistakable, even without the klaxon and the voice. Notch was simply going to jettison this part of the ship, and all her problems with it. Probably not the most graceful of moves, even a rampaging shipfire could be snuffed just by opening the airlocks, though the extinguisher system was a better way of doing that. Most ships wouldn’t even be able to cope, but this was an Igne ship. It probably wouldn’t even notice.

Mateo surveyed her surroundings. What did she have? A wide, completely sealed corridor that would stop being sealed the second it floated off without two of its walls. Twenty three space bandits, including one giant, all armed and currently freaking out one way or another and-

She slammed her fist on the red button. It did nothing.

It wasn’t like it was going to cancel anything, but she had to try.

‘Deoxygenisation in two minute thirty seconds. Please deposit your urine samples wherever you like.’

Did it have to empty the room of oxygen first? Surely it would just catapult them into space, unless the shp was setup to save the oxygen. Of course. Everything on a Tech Junker gets recycled.

This of course was very important to be thinking about right now. She needed to escape, or secure some kind of breathing apparatus. The bandits were flailing their arms around as they ran back and forth amongst themselves. Only one appeared to be remaining calm, the only one actually wearing an external suit.

“Well, i knew it would come in handy someday,” the safest man in the room said, “though i never imagined it like this.”

“There’s gotta be something we can do,” the guy next to him said.

“The cutter won’t have enough juice to bore through any of the hatches,” the guy now dropping the useless tool next to him.

“How about we blow it up against the hatchway, make a hole?”

“Not against these hatchways. It’ll just scorch them. It has to be concentrated to pierce.”

“Guys,” the man in the suit said. “Call our ship. Get it to hover round here. When this section breaks off, i can ferry people back to the airlock. I might not be able to get everyone but…”

“Right. Captain, please contact the ship and-’

“To the crew of the Bloody Space Mary,” the giant bellowed through a comms unit mounted on his wrist. This is ye captain speaking. Listen well, varmints, for these may well be my last orders.”

The men started to huddle together around the man with the air tank, aiming for the outer wall, each of them forming a chain to hold hands. Mateo appeared to have been taken out of the loop.

“We’ve been contained, and are about to be eliminated,” he continued, his men giving each other faint smiles of hope for what they hoped to be a desperate lunge to salvation. “If you don’t hear back from us in four minutes, destroy this ship and everything on it.”

The men froze. The Captain turned his comms unit off and walked over to his men.

“Now, listen here. We come up with a plan that saves all of us, or none of us. I won’t leave any of my crew behind!, you hear?”

‘Certain death occurring in T minus three minutes. If you know what the T means, please let us know.’

As the men stared at their leader in disbelief, Mateo decided that was enough. Running the way she had come from, she leant on the wall where safety sat on the other side, apparently along with malice. She had nothing bar her voice left. She looked to the camera slot.

“Notch, please don’t do this. ”

‘Please direct all pleas for mercy to the nearest available wall, which will be more than happy to hear your distress.’

“It’s not a plea. It’s a request.” Because it was always a good time to be quibbling pedantics. “Are you happy, killing me like this? Will you really look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow and say ‘yes, i did the right thing?’”

The pirates were in a frenzy now, a bunch of them were now charging the captain with futile screams, cracking their knuckles against his face and receiving fractures for their efforts. “Mutiny,” he cried out, before belting one of them in the chin. Some of the others were ignoring this, instead going for the man with the external suit and his tank, trying to rip the pipe off of him for whatever reasons.

‘Two minutes and fifteen seconds remain… i think. The system isn’t really timing this.”

“Look, i’m not the best of people. I talk my way into getting what i want, and that’s what i’m doing right now. I want to survive. More than anything that’s the most important thing to me. Keeping me alive. I know i’ve only known you for about five minutes, but i get the feeling we’re the same. You want to survive to.”

A loud hissing noise spelled the doom of the one guy that moments ago had been guaranteed to survive. Mateo was ignoring them.

“Now i don’t know if it was fear or anger that made you lock me in here with them and i don’t care. I know you did it to guarantee you your survival. Well guess what? The Captain just ordered your ship destroyed in five minutes if he doesn’t make it, meaning you better be preparing for a jump before they get the chance.”

The speaker panel was silent.

“Why did i tell you that? Because hearing you earlier. I kind of want you to survive. Having a goal like that is something i want to see you achieve, and i can’t have that if you’re dead. Yeah, it’s kind of corny to have some impossible dream. It’s a little naive to think you may actually be able to accomplish it and yes, i am saying all this in the hopes that you’ll see it in your heart to let me the hell back in.”

Her teeth were started to collide with each other between her words, arms wrapping around her. There couldn’t be much oxygen left at this point.  Some of the men were screaming now.

“But i’m not going to beg you. I swore i’d never beg again and i won’t start at the end like this. If you don’t let me in i die right now and you lose the best crewmate you ever could have had. The one person that may actually be kind of able to understand you.”

Her lungs wheezed. Her knees were buckling. Holding onto the wall was necessary now. Behind her people were falling silent.

“Humans suck, Notch. There’s no denying this. We’re stupid and meaningless. Even with the whole universe at our fingertips there’s nothing the majority of us actually do that’s worth anything. If i die, that’s it for me and everything i wanted to do. I never really had any plans. I just wanted to see the universe. Not exactly the best of dreams.”

She was feeling a little lighter, the wall was kind of climbable now. She lifted herself up to the camera panel and looked right at it.

“But honestly, i’d kind of like to go find the Centrepoint with you.”

“Woman!” a voice called out behind her. She turned without meaning to, the giant approaching her. “Who are you talking to? What are you planning?”

“If you wouldn’t mind having me!” she shouted down the camera slot, hoping she hadn’t been speaking to no one this entire time. The giant was coming toward her, rage pulsing from his face with hands outstretched before him. The klaxon stopped and Mateo inhaled one last time.

‘D-deoxygenisation complete. Beginning decoupling process. All… essential personnel, please grab hold of the available handrail’ Besides her a sheet metal pole popped out of nowhere and locked into place against the wall. Reaching for it, her arm was looking and feeling more like lead than anything at the moment, she gripped it tightly, hauling herself up as she found herself floating and wrapped her elbow around the cylinder. Her stomach didn’t like her very much at this point.

‘And exhale as hard as you can. I don’t quite know how this works!’

Then the exterior wall and ceiling were gone and all she could see was black.

The ship had been heated nicely. She realised that now. Everything was very toasty when it came down to it. Even on horrible horrible Grognar the suns were always out and everyday was a tanning day.

Even on all her trips off planet. She had never really noticed space.

It was so very cold.

She would have been warmer being thrown out of the airlock. No one had shot away. She kind of thought they would. Instead they were just floating. No longer bound by the ship’s gravity sinks, they slipped into the nothingness, only her elbow keeping her from sharing their fate.

“Yar, don’t you be thinking this be enough to stop Captain Giye!”

How could she hear him? Her lungs burned. They were asking her very nicely if they could inhale. It didn’t matter if there was no air. If they could just inhale once, they were sure they could find something out there to bring in for her. She willed them down, forcing even more air out of them. The giant was lunging for her. She was frozen as he floated towards her, his large hand outstretched and aiming for her foot, his men turning into specks in the distance, his ship appearing off to the side with five guns all pointing directly at her.

She clenched her teeth and pursed her lips as everything went white.

Captain Giye shot off in the opposite direction.

The Fugue – Chapter Four

 

Captain Giye never really understood how he had gotten into this situation. His life had been a simple one. Days toiling on the asteroid, nothing to do but work his father‘s land, mining minerals and ore so dad could keep the power going and buy the liquid that made him shout less and let Giye move in the other rooms besides his own. There were days when he preferred that kind of living, though he had always wished for something more.

His dad had books. Lots of them. The old ones made from leaves and covered in wax. Giye didn’t have much schooling but he could read good, and he read lots. Books of adventurers and warriors in various lands, travelling across oceans on the old planet, sailing through systems and galaxies like it was no big deal. He knew at the time the books were written that this was a big deal and that his type of living was the amazing type of living. Giye didn’t see what the big deal was though. Living on an asteroid was pretty easy when he was able to keep his dad happy, but it wasn’t nothing special. The dome that created an atmosphere for them just allowed them to keep breathing, and the shuttle that let them travel to Kranos IX was just for getting to one place or another. Kranos IX was a special every other week trip for him and dad, but he never really saw how it would differ to any other trip to any other city.

Maybe the people writing the books just got bored like he did, which is why he made up his own adventures in his head. Tales of pirates fighting pirates and rescuing maidens, except he didn’t do it on oceans made out of water. He did it on seas of fire on his magical rock boat, where he would fight lava golems and save boys from local tribesmen who were looking to sacrifice them to their acid gods. His stories were much better, and he had great fun acting them out, until dad woke up of course and asked loudly for him to keep it down up there. There he fought his battles real quiet in his head. Simple times.

So when the violent men came to see his father it made it very complicated when they shot his dad in the stomach until he moved no more. Giye didn’t know what to do when this happened. The men had lots of rifles and laser knives and a big ship that let them go places. These people were clearly some kind of bad guys. The obvious sign was the killing of his dad and the all his workers and the whole looting of the house. Giye had been lucky that he was hiding in his room that his dad had locked from the other side when they had come, or else he might have been defeated as well, and it probably would have taken him a while to recover from a laser round to the chest.

Luckily that didn’t happen, and when they finally got to his room, which they took great effort to break into,  the highly reinforced door his dad had installed had been worth every monie, he was ready, and he let the bookcase drop on the first man that wandered through. He was later told that the man’s name was Ex-Vice Admiral Lance, of the former Republican Peace Corp division, but he never saw the man again after that. He just remembered it was a nice sounding name. A long name. Names that were long were always important.

Giye didn’t remember much after that. He remembers picking up the rifle, how fun it felt when he fired a few rounds, then the men that had fought his father in an honourable battle to the death didn’t seem so willing to fight anymore. At first he wasn’t sure what to say to them, but then he remembered they were pirates of some kind, space pirates he would later learn, and, figuring that Space pirates spoke in a  certain way, used lines he remembered in his book. Lines like ‘I’m in charge now, you scurvy scum suckers’ and ‘Anyone who wants to argue with me will have to argue with ol’ Bessy here first’. It must have impressed them because soon that had declared him their new leader and he was travelling on their ship and deciding where they should go and who they should attack.

He felt bad for all those people they attacked but he was sure that they always got the innocent people he injured to the lifeboats in time and got off the ship’s just before they boarded or it exploded, but that was just the way the life of a space pirate should be. And his new crew seemed to agree with him. And if they didn’t, he just said a line he remembered from one of his old books and they cheered around him. If he wasn’t sure what to say, he would slug Grimmy in the chest. That always got them cheering.

Giye missed his old life on the asteroid, and while he would love to see his dad again, who must have recovered from his wounds by now, he loved the life of a space pirate as well, especially when-

“Hey boss. Hey boss!”

“Yar,” he replied instinctively. The word always sounded good to him and a great way to hide the fact that he had stopped paying attention when sitting on the captain’s seat. “What you be yapping about boy?”

“We’ve found a ship, boss” Grimmy replied. “Two clicks away. We shouldn’t be on their scanners yet.”

“A ship?” he said. “And what colours do their flags bear?”

“Erm, none, from what i can see. They’re moving at regular travelling speeds for a cruiser but no ID codes are being transmitted. Could be abandoned.”

Giye was about to say something about spirits of the undead that he remembered from one particular series but held back when he couldn’t remember if ghosts were real or not.

“No wait. I recognise these types of readings,” Grimmy continued. Grimmy knew what he was doing. That’s why Giye left those types of decisions to him. He was glad he didn’t have to sweat these details. “It’s an Igne ship. Tech Junker.”

“Aye, or it could be full of booty!” Giye called out. “Take us in, lads. Nice and slow so they don’t see us. Let’s get us some treasure.

***

“So i don’t suppose this could end without you killing me?” Mateo asked, her breathing now only partially constricted by the large metallic arms currently pinning her to the Igne’s chest.

“I don’t see how,” the girl who she had sort of figured out by now ran the ship even though she didn’t look like a captain at all replied.

“It’s just, when you think about it really hard. As in, ‘please stop walking to the airlock and think about it really hard’, you don’t really have a reason to kill me.”

“Don’t captains normally remove stowaways from their ships wherever your from?”

“Glanor.”

“What?”

“Glanor. It’s where i’m from.”

“Fascinating information.”

“And that shouldn’t be an issue. The issue is that you’re choosing to kill me right now. Why does it matter if other captains kill stowaways? It’s whether you should kill stowaways is the issue.”

“Okay,” the said said without stopping. “Why shouldn’t I kill stowaways?”

“Invalid question,” Mateo replied.

“What? How?”

“Invalid question. The question presupposes that killing stowaways is a default action. However no human has to kill in order to survive, so it’s not the default action. Therefore, one does not need to come up with a reason to not kill other humans. However this does mean that one does need to define a reason for killing another human.”

The girl stopped in place. “Philosophy student?”

“Mathematics and logic.”

“Fair enough. I’ll accept your argument. On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Can it withstand the cold empty vacuum of space?” The girl pressed a button besides her, and a door shimmied into existence on the wall, quickly opening to reveal a very small room with another door on the opposite side. It didn’t look like a place you would stay for a long time. Mateo stared back at her.

“Technically that’s a question, not a condition.”

“Oh good lo-. How do you expect any of this to actually help? Do you honestly think any of this is extending your life to the point where you’re actually going to survive the situation?”

“Well what else do you suggest i do? I want to survive. I can’t move my body to escape. The Igne doesn’t respond to anything i say. Convincing you to not murder me is the best chance i have.”

The girl looked drained. “Yeah. I can’t fault you there. Least you’re not begging.”

“Would that work?”

“It certainly would speed things up.”

“Then i won’t beg.”

“Does that mean that if you think it would stand a chance of working you would have done it?”

“If you mean that if i thought that me performing the action of begging would have resulted in cracking you emotional surface and revealing your sense of decency, causing you to release me, then yes, i would have begged. I just wouldn’t have meant it as an emotional response on my side.”

“Ok…”

“Even now, i won’t beg out of fear.”

The girl didn’t know the reasons why, and Mateo wasn’t going to tell her that particular story. For one, there was no time. The girl had stopped, but she couldn’t judge if it was out of hesitation or weariness of being exposed to her too long.

“Where were you aiming to go? the girl asked. Mateo held back any real expression. It was too soon.

“Somewhere new,” she replied. “Nowhere in particular, but a place humans had never gone before would be preferable.”

“You’re an explorer?” The girl’s body seemed to stiffen. Mateo couldn’t place why. “Travelling the cosmos in search of new things.”

“Erm… i guess, “Mateo replied with another attempted shrug. “Life was getting boring in the city, and we seemed to have stopped trying to find anything new since we covered the whole galaxy, not to mention everywhere just looks the same. I just wanted to see something… new, you know?” The girl’s was looking at her, brow furrowed and with eyes that felt like they should be familiar. “How about you?” She found herself asking without really planning to.

“Me. Oh. I was – i was trying to locate the Centrepoint.”

“The Centrepoint?”

“Yeah, you know, of the Universe.”

Mateo let out the smallest snort of a burst of laughter. She couldn’t help herself. “What?” The girl snapped back.

“No no. sorry. It’s just. It’s kind of a childish dream.”

“Oh please, as opposed to flying out to somewhere new. That sounds like student existential tarncrap.”

“Yeah, well at least mine’s achievable.”

“And i’m sure that living in space was just a dream children had at one point, but here we are right now with one of us about to get more intimate with space than any one human should be. Besides, why shouldn’t i search for the Centrepoint?”

“Erm, because it doesn’t exist,” Mateo replied dismissively. “The universe is a doughnut.”

“Yeah, and if it has a shape, it means it has a centre. That’s what i’m looking for.”

“But everyone stopped looking megacycles ago.”

“I know. That’s what makes it so bad. The biggest mystery left standing and every single scientist and explorer just gave up? It pisses me off so much. It’s the final big mystery, and even you with your ‘find something new’ procrastination method of delaying the rest of your life is dismissing it out of hand.”

“Because it was done. They tried it. They just came out the other end. It’s what helped us create clip warps.”

“No, we just hit the edges of the universe and learned about tunnels. We never actually confirmed that something was in the middle of the universe. We didn’t have ships on either side confirming that a ship was exactly inbetween them. People just found a new toy and went with it, giving up on the dream in the process.”

Mateo recognised the outburst. It was like her own. The feeling that could only come with yearning.

“I mean, don’t you want to find it? Everyone’s satisfied now. Everything has been done. Nothing left to explore. The universe is empty. This is the new thing left to find. Don’t you want to find something new?”

Mateo smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, i guess i do.”

The girl snapped out of it. “Well, not you exactly. You’re about to die. Nice talk anyway. Unit zeroSeven. Step into the airlock. In two minutes i want you to release the girl.”

“Wait i-” Mateo started to kick, but it was futile. The girl kept her distance and the Igne just didn’t care.

“I’ll mention you to my grandmother. She’ll be happy i got to talk to someone. Unit zeroSeven. Activate magnet booties.”

“No. Don’t you dare do this to me. I won’t-” She was in the airlock with the Igne. Worst case scenario, It had just wandered in like it was no big deal. “You can’t-”

“If it makes you feel any better, you’ll be my first,” the girl said.

“Why would that make me feel better?” MAteo shouted back.

“No idea, but i just figured-” The explosion rang the corridor, rattling Mateo against her captor.

“What the frag?”

***

“Direct hit, Captain. Damage to rear side.”

“Aye. Strike ‘em again boys. Let’s be seeing them shake.” Giye liked this part best. The chase. The breach. The boarding. It was always the most exciting part of any story that worked from the side of the pirates, so by extension it meant that it would be the most exciting part of an actual boarding of an enemy’s ship. Sure, this ship had been taken by surprise and so was completely unable to defend itself, but they hadn’t had an opportunity to come across a ship they were capable of approaching from the front and still be strong enough to defeat. This was only fair.

“Second hit, sir. The ship’s having to slow down.”

“Excellent. Gather ye weapons maties. We’re going fishing!” The boys cheered and half a dozen of them went running out the door to the main airlock, the rest staying behind to steer the ship into place for a suitable boarding. Giye reached for his trusty cutlass, a mark XV plasma rifle with mounted scope. He had taken this for the storage hold of the first ship they plundered, shortly before his actual cutlass broke against that fight with the man armed with the incinerator cannon.  That was a good fight. He hoped for a better one here.

The boys were already whooping up a storm as they approached the main hatch. Speed was the key here he understood. They couldn’t be like the ships of old and attack multiple parts of the enemy at once. They had just one entry point that could graft onto and bore a hole. And that meant guards stationed on the other side, ready to take them down. The faster they went, the harder it was for any opposition to setup a defense. Giye pushed his way to the front. A captain should lead by example and only run away at the first sign of danger. Only the cutter would be before him.

“Entry in fifteen seconds, sir.”

“Good lad,” Giye replied, not knowing the man’s name. There were so many of them, and Giye swore they kept changing. It wasn’t like back on the farm, where he only needed to remember five names and how many rocks there were on the asteroid total. At least his crew didn’t have to be named based on how mean they were to him.

“Everyone ready. Be prepared to curb the swarm.” He raised his own rifle, settling it on his forearm, a method taught to him by Bossy back home. He hadn’t been sure when he first started how well it would work in a real battle as opposed to just shooting rock rats on the gate posts, but since trying it it worked out perfectly. His forearm could both steady his aim and protect him from any shots that got too close. It didn’t seem to work well for the others though. Timmy had quickly found that out in their second raid on a galactic battle palace.

“We’re breached, sir.” The wall ahead of them peeled open like a tin can, light from the other side immediately flooding in. Everyone braced for the initial volley, hesitating only when nothing came. Giye grinned. He knew what that meant.

“First blood’s ours, laddies. Charge!”

***

“Unit zeroSeven, what’s going on?” The Igne dropped Mateo to the ground as it turned to face the girl. The girl glared at her, eyes darting to the Igne as it began to walk back through the airlock. Mateo didn’t waste time and scrambled out before it got there. “No, you wait-”

A video feed appeared before the both of them, a small light projecting itself from the Igne’s visor. Several men and woman were charging down a corridor. Mateo stopped by the girl, her instincts in conflict,  wanting to watch what was going on. “Where is this?” The girl asked. A schematic of what Mateo guessed was the ship appeared. Mostly a flat cuboid from what she could gather, though it gave her no clue as to its real size. As it zoomed in, she got an idea of multiple levels before it focused in on one consisting of a spiralling corridor that kept shifting at right angles. Two points were lit, almost on opposite sides of the level.

“Ok. that’s too close. Should take them a couple of minutes to get here though. Plenty of time.”

“What are they, bandits?” Mateo asked. The girl looked at her, eyeing her up and down. Far longer than she should have, Mateo felt apprehensive. “What?”

“You’re not with them,” the girl replied.

“Er no. Of course i’m not.”

“I know. That’s what i meant. They’ve literally just arrived, but they shouldn’t have found the ship that easily. Are they tracking you?”

“I-” That was actually a good question. She was technically due to be up for auction back on Grognar, and they weren’t the type to let prizes get away so easily. It was possible that she had a tracking chip on her, though with the amount of time Mateo spent in that containment unit waiting for someone to pick her up they should her found her long before-

“Whatever,” the girl continued, tapping the air where the map was laid out. “I want Unit zeroEight to be ready to divert resources. Seal up the hole they left. Get Unit zeroSix to prepare for a light jump, enough distance to make us hard to track.” She looked to Mateo. “You. Can you fight?”

“I could probably talk them to death.”

The girl laughed, just a little. “You know. I could probably believe that. Certainly making me want to detonate the entire ship.”

“Please don’t do that.”

“We’ll see how the day goes. Come on. Follow me.” The girl shot off down the corridor the opposite way they came, getting a preferable amount of distance from the airlock that was threatening her moments ago. Mateo followed without much thought. This was probably the closest thing to a ticket to staying on the ship she could get. Help stop what she assumed was Space Bandits, and the girl takes her to the nearest available drop off point. Excellent, though she had no idea what the girl’s plan was, or how she planned to fight at least twenty bandits.

Unit zeroSeven was right behind them, moving faster than its weight looked like it should be allowed and barely making a sound in the process. The Igne would at least provide some good cover. Maybe it was the weapon the girl planned to fight back with.

“What’s the plan?” She asked, realising she hadn’t ran in a while. The girl didn’t look like the type either. They were basically jogging after the initial burst.

“You’ll see,” she replied. “Just stay by my side.”

“Understood.” An awkward pause. “So it is really just you on this ship?”

“Just me and the Igne. Why?”

“Isn’t that kind of lonely?”

The girl rolled her eyes as best she could while bobbing up and down the corridor. “You think i care about being lonely. The main reason i have this crew and this ship is to avoid people. Scrap. You’re the first human i’ve spoken to directly for about two megacycles.”

“Why? Do you just hate people?”

“Er, not hate. More annoyed at their constant yammering. You know? Asking questions. Trying to get to know me. Stowing away on my ship.”

“Yeah. I’d hate it if i met a person like that,” Mateo replied, sensing a smile form on a pair of lips. The moment passed.

“Get ready. They’ll be around this corner. Unit zeroSeven. Auto Cover.”

The Igne sped up, quickly passing them as they approached the hard left before them. It swung round the wall and took a blast of light to the arm for its efforts. “Auto Shield!” The girl cried out,and the next round of blasts impacted against a blue sphere now covering the Igne.

“Never protects itself unless i tell it to.” The barrage increased tenfold, the Igne standing in the centre of the corridor as it took the damage head on and didn’t seem the worse for wear over it. The girl edged slowly against the wall, stopping as she reached the turning point. Mateo followed behind. “Stop!” The girl shouted. “What do you want?”

Against all odds to Mateo’s mind the blasts very quickly subsided, all but a few round dissipating against the Igne’s shield. Silence filled the corridor for a few seconds, before a voice shouted “What?”

“I said ‘what do you want?’”

“Oh,” the voice called back. “That’s what i thought you said.”

“Well?”

“Well, your loot of course. What do you think we was ‘ere for?”

“I don’t have any. Go away.”

There appeared to be some minor discourse among the bandits over this. “We don’t believe you… And even if you didn’t we’d just take the ship and sell you off as slaves.”

The girl got ready to poke her head around the corner. “Well i – whoa!” She quickly fell back down to cover. Mateo expected a sudden burst of fire to appear but didn’t get it. “Well i guess that’s fair. Do you mind if i send out my first mate to negotiate our surrender?”

Mateo felt a minor flash of pride even though she knew it was a ruse. She had never been a first mate before, or held any kind of official crew ranking. This was actually kind of exciting. “Well… okay then,” the voice replied. “Send ‘em out.”

“Right,” the girl turned to her. “Either one of two things is going to happen here. One, you’re going to step out and immediately get fried by plasma bursts-”

“Horrifying to know.”

“Or two. They’re going to let them approach you. Listen. I’m not going to give up this ship or become a slave. I doubt you would like that either, so follow me on this. There is a switch on the far side of this corridor. I need you to stroll casually up to them and press it. Make it seem normal. Stay calm, but not too calm, you know.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Suddenly the idea of walking right up to bandits in order to pull a ruse on them seemed pretty fine compared to earlier. “I can do calm. So just press the button.”

“Just press the button. Big red one. Can’t miss it.”

“Okay. Got you. Let’s do this.” She stood up, preparing to move. “Oh, i’m Mateo, by the way.”

“You already told me that.”

“I know. It’s just- What’s your name?” The girl paused for a moment and Mateo remembered that they were on a time schedule. “No sorry. Never mind. I can’t keep them waiti-”

“It’s Notch,” Notch replied. “Just Notch.”

Mateo smiled. “Well, Captain Notch. First Mate Mateo acting on orders. Here i go.”

Mateo took two steps out into the open and immediately regretted her decision. She counted twenty of them as she raised her arms and started walking towards them, armed to the teeth, maybe even literally if some of them were carrying teeth lasers. That was a thing right?

“Keep your hands up,” the voice from before shouted, now connected to a bald man carrying what appeared to be a hull cutter torch. He seemed to be the only one without a  proper weapon. Everyone else carried guns.

“Are you the captain?” she said improvising. A negotiation had to happen in some regard. The red button was almost right next to him. She kept moving.

“Nay lass,” another voice called out. “That’ll be me. Captain Giye’s the name.”

“Holy crap,” Mateo couldn’t help but blurt out, taking a step back The only thing that surprised her more than the captain was how it took her so long to notice him. Captain Giye was- well he was very tall, to the point where the ceiling was kind of an issue for him, his neck craning a little. Mateo couldn’t reach the ceiling if she jumped but this guy could head bang it all day long, probably even tear it asunder with those massive arms. What kind of gravity light planet did he come from that allowed him to get that tall but keep that much muscle? He’d be able to give the Igne a good spar.

“Pleased to meet you sir,” she said, continuing to walk forwards. “How would you like to negotiate today’s transactions?”

“Negotiate? Yar. You be fooling yourself lass. This ain’t goin’ be no smash and grab. We’ll be taking everything. Your ship. Yer fancy robots. Your pale little ass.”

She held back a comment on how awesome her ass was. She didn’t want to be giving them any ideas. Mateo had to walk at an angle to reach the button, making it hard to do without causing suspicion.

“If it pleases you sirs, we are on an important mission here. One that affects everybody, even yourselves.”

This seemed to give the captain pause, his rock hard features and zoned out expression holding for an instance. “Oh, and what be that?”

“We’re on a mission to locate and retrieve the Centrepoint.” A few of the bandits immediately started to laugh. It quickly travelled through the group, until everyone but the captain was at it. “What’s so funny? We have information-”

“What’s so funny,” the man with the breacher kit cut in. “It’s the Centrepoint. No one tries to find that anymore. Ain’t nothing more than a stupid pipe dream from centuries ago. Everyone knows that you can’t get near that area. All you can do is die.”

“Well we have new evidence that suggests-”

“New evidence,” the man cut in derisively. “As if new evidence meant anything the last two million times someone attempted it. Listen lass. You’re better off being sold by us for a harem somewhere. The Centrepoint’s just a swirling mass of death. Ain’t nothing going to come from throwing yourself into that.”

“Please, i’d rather throw myself into a dream than into the dirt with scum like you any cycle.”

“True true,” the man replied. “I can see how that might seem more appealing, but give the lads a few minutes with you in their quarters and spleuks-” the man shot across the floor the moment his chin connected with the fist as big as his head, bouncing off the ground and into a heap before them. Mateo stopped walking as the man fell before her feet in a twisted lump of limbs, his captain looming over them.

“Ha!” The Giant Captain laughed. “Well said, girlie. Yous got some spirit in you to say the least. I can respect that.”

“Well thank you. I-”

“For that, i’m not going have my boys sell you into slavery, as was the original plan. You’ve earned that, with that spirit of yours.”

“Much appreciated. Does that mean-”

“So i’ll just fight you here and spare you the indignity of such suffering.”

“Erm, fight you?”

“Aye. To the death, as is honourable and fair in these situations. You beat me, and you earn your freedom. My boys will leave you alone and go back from whence they came.”

“And if you win?” She said, trying to estimated his weight in basic newtons and realising he could probably crush her even in zero gravity.

“Wh, you die of course. What did you think would happen?”

“And the ship?”

“None of your concern by that point I imagine.”

“Good point.”

“Well, are you ready?”

“May I… have a minute?”

“Oh. Okay then. Take your time.”

Mateo very much wanted to ask if he was serious, but he immediately dropped his lurched over her fighting posture and stood straight up again. His crew seemed perfectly willing to wait as well, albeit with grins on their faces. Mateo took a step back and proceeded to walk over to the wall. This could actually work. Once she reached the weapons case in the wall, she might actually be able to take a proper stand. She’d need to get behind the Igne as fast as she could but between the three of them, she, Notch and zeroSeven may stand a fighting chance.

She turned to grin as she reached for the button, amazed she managed to get this far at all.  “Just don’t blame me when you run crying for mama,” she said as she pressed it, the loud klaxon immediately blaring into her eardrums, deafening her save for the sudden announcement that followed them.

“Closing hatchway doors. Closing hatchway doors. Prepare for section jettison. Any personnel in the area should evacuate before the hatchway closes.” Repeat, any personnel in this section should evacuate before the hatchway closes. Failure to do so will result in certain asphyxiation.”

Mateo turned to the end of the corridor, where Notch stood waving happily at them all, the hatchway shutting before anyone could even think of evacuating, and locking with several loud clunks, followed by a searing, hissing noise.

The Fugue – Chapter Three

Eating the Cono bar had been a bad idea. Suddenly the amount of time she spent in deep space doing literally nothing had increased an indefinite amount. She had originally seen it as a cycle or two tops, perhaps a whole month of cycles at a stretch, a week of them at the absolute most. Now, it could be whole speeds of cycles before she found herself back at a planet.

Would a bandit Freighter have been worse? It would have contained people at least. Sure those people would probably plan to do unspeakable things to her the second they found her stowing away, and that would have been terrifying, but at least there was a chance of reaching a planet at some point.

“Hey, mister Igne,” she said, suddenly coming up with a  thought and deciding to present it to the nearest body. “Where is this ship going? Do you know if we have plans to dock somewhere at some point in the future?

The Igne, while doing an amazing act of looking like he wasn’t paying attention to her, continued its thesis on the effects of not producing any vibrations in such a way that it could be regarded as a communicable language that could be understood by another species none robotic in nature.

“Is there someone i could talk to? Somewhere i can sleep or eat…. Nope. Just going to ignore me?”

The Igne was being very quiet.

“Wonderful,” she saw the Igne put the last part of its device together. It looked like a box with dials on it. It was very impressive she was sure. “Okay. Bye, i guess.”

She knew where she was. Now, she had to find out where she was going. It had better be a better answer than nowhere.

Tech Junkers, though they were technically classed as Long haul Igneian cargo cruisers, were known for two things, Mateo noted. One, their vast size. Five square kilometers was the average from what she knew. And two, the fact that they were pretty much unmanned at all times.

There was just no need for people. The Igne took care of everything on these ships. They worked tirelessly, endlessly, doing their job perfectly. They would be the perfect employee is they were actually being hired for any jobs they do. The Igne had relationships with everyone in the galaxy, as merchants. Never as allies.

Really this was a rare opportunity for Mateo. The Igne were reclusive by default. No one spoke to them beyond trade agreements. Even then that was mostly transmitted by textscans. Beyond that all Mateo really know was that the trade agreement apparently never worked out in the Igne’s favour, to the point where they would even trade scrap for less scrap, and that they appeared to be emotionless robots that never spoke.

And that was fine with her.

If they didn’t speak or act against her, then they weren’t a threat to her. No murderbot deciding that they didn’t like her taking up precious cargo space and deciding to fit her in more nicely by stacking her limbs in alphabetical order. She was safe.

Right up until the food ran out.

The Cono bar may have been her last meal for all she knew. The rest could be rotten or unfit for human consumption. Would that matter to her in a few days?

She had to secure her current potential prospects.

The Igne were ignoring her,  hard at work doing something she was sure more important than making sure she stayed alive. That should be fine. As long as she didn’t try to start causing damage they probably wouldn’t aim to stretch her out or something.

She left the big eyeball on a body to its work and continued her search. The navigation room was her best bet. There had to be a room for ensuring travel was in the right direction, though with it being Igne nothing was certain save the lack of signs saying where anything was.

The Igne didn’t seem likely to be fully robots but she could see them memorising a lot of things, ship layout being one of them. She took another right. The corridors were shorter now. Not by much, but easier to notice compared to the start. The ship’s innards were circling around, and that meant a central point.

***

Giye was understandably pissed off about his current predicament. He had not asked for the current situation in his life, but it had been placed upon him tenderly and like any well meaning contributing individual of society that was also a nefarious space pirate he had shook it off by shaking his head violently, picked it back up, torn it off and then, as per the recommended procedure of the how to guide on being an effective nefarious space pirate, hunted down the family of the one who had placed it on his head and murdered them in chronological order in front of his transgressor.

Not that he could remember who they were, or what exactly had been placed on his head. All the same, the murders had been swift and elongated, resulting in many tears and pleas of mercy, something he could also no longer find, but for different reasons.

‘I just don’t understand why you’re doing this,’ his transgressor sobbed as the body of his older brother, who had been the only family member Giye could find in such a short space of time. ‘I gave you what you wanted.’

‘Did you?’ Giye replied, honestly not remember. ‘or did you bring this on yourself for not giving me what i wanted?’ Giye’s crew laughed and sneered. Good, thought Giye. They wasn’t laughing at him. That meant he must be doing it right.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ the man continued. Neither did Giye Giye had to be honest. But Giye wasn’t about to let a little thing like maintaining a long term memory get in the way way of him impressing and sort of scaring his crew so that they would remain loyal to him. Giye hadn’t really thought about what would happen if he did lose the respect of his minions, but he wasn’t going to find out, nor was he capable of guessing, so he dispatched the confused man before him as he prattled on about providing equity for a life insurance claims with a blast from his plasma pistol, much to the cheers of his fellow men, and continued with the flow that most of his life to this point had been following.

‘Alright men,’ he said in that serious tone that made these bloodthirsty guys that wouldn’t leave him alone stand to attention. ‘Where next?’

‘Skull Island?” Grimmy said, a large brutish man who never took off his spacesuit out of fear that whatever compartment he was in at the time would suddenly depressurise. “You always said we would.’

‘Nah,’ Jimmy interrupted. ‘Yous said we were heading to Alona. Fine ladies. Mean drinks.’

‘Wasn’t it the other way round?’ Timmy countered. The crew laughed, which made Giye laugh. It was more of a instinctive response. Giye never really understood or cared how his emotions worked, but they seemed to work perfectly fine on getting people to like him when left on auto-pilot.

‘Either way t’is sounds like a jolly good plan,’ Giye liked this word. He learned quickly that saying this words made them all think he knew what he was doing. ‘A man with a plan is one who succeeds in life, and we, boys, we are going to get what’s coming to us.’

The crew cheered and he stepped away without looking at them. “Get that engineer on the comms. Tell ‘im we’re heading to Alona. And ain’t nothing going to stand in our way.’

***

Mateo stood in the doorway. There was another doorway before her.

That wasn’t quite right. They were both really the same door. More of a double layered door than anything else. One door and then another door implied a short gap inbetween, but there was no gap between the two doorways. And when the first one opened, the second one didn’t.

This, from what she could tell, was the central hub of the ship. She couldn’t really tell this for certain. For all she knew there were another twenty floors, and this was just one of many big rooms in the centre of the ship. But from what she could at least reliably ascertain, this is where the long spirally corridor had wrapped around too and there had been no up or down for her to travel along. This was either the central hub, or a really confusing dead end.  Central hub seemed likely. There was a security panel whirring above it. It didn’t seem to notice her.

The second door remained closed.

It occurred to Mateo, at this moment, that if this door didn’t open and lead to somewhere helpful then she was most likely dead. There were no other rooms that she could go to that weren’t just near empty storage rooms, and no other direction she could travel in. That meant the only food and water she had was limited to the Cono bars in the vending machine, and anything she could get out of the bathroom sink. When that ran out, the only thing left would be to wait around and die.

Unless she asked the Igne for help.

That may actually have made more sense than trying to find the navigation room by herself actually. It seems like they could understand her, even if they did ignore her. She could probably keep insisting for their attention until they finally gave in and did what she wanted. With a bit of luck they may even give her full control of the ship and the ability to travel anywhere she chooses. That would be exactly what she wanted.

Though she should at least try opening the door first.

There was a button to the side of the door, but it was more for the first one. Pressing it did nothing, which was fine. Mateo could sort of make out a second button between the frames of the two doors, but she wasn’t pressing it without the aid of a nail file or something, and she probably shouldn’t be pressing hatchway buttons while standing in the frame of one of them.

She tried knocking. The door opened.

Mateo’s initial thought were simply ‘That should not have worked’, which was made all the more understandable by there being no one on the other side to have opened the door for her. She peered cautiously through and, on determining it was an automatic door, jumped quickly through before it could squash her.

Enveloped in near perfect darkness, Mateo had to wait for her eyes to adjust. She was getting better at letting this happen. Human eyes were naturally tuned to doing this but Tannard had never really afforded her the opportunity to practise. This room was crowded. There were crates stacked all in front of her, forming a maze of storage for her to navigate round. Tentatively reaching out, she supported herself against the box wall as she made her way further in.

Mateo could hear a rumbling through the room, clearly from multiple sources, but all sounding the same. It was like the ventilation system was on overdrive. Come to think of it the air hadn’t exactly been that stale in the rest of the ship. Was that simply because no one else had been using it? Did the Igne use it? Questions for later.

As she turned round a bend in the box maze, she saw one of the crates in the centre of her path, sitting askew to the other boxes as if it had been dragged out to the centre. Approaching it cautiously, she felt a pang of relief as she found it full of NutrioPacks. That very quickly solved her food worries. Rummaging through the box she saw enough in there to easy last several cycles. At the very least, her eventual doom had been extended to more than just a few days.

Slipping a pack into her jacket pocket, the ventilation suddenly cut out, basking her in near silence, save for a small, beating hum that she couldn’t quite place. Freezing in place for longer than she cared to move, Mateo waited it out, seeing if anything would happen. When nothing did, she began to walk forward quietly.

‘There’s nothing in here. There’s nothing in here,’ she found herself mumbling. ‘Except, of course, a fully functioning navigation console. One which, upon me finding it, would come with a full, easy for me to understand manual that will allow me to take control of both this ship and the Igne…’

‘There’s nothing in here. There’s nothing in here-’

Footsteps now loud enough to wake the frozen no matter how softly she moved, she inched herself forwards across the room, bringing herself slowly round another set of boxes. Her prediction still true, her legs guided her to the centre of the room. Turning a final corner, she found herself at a console.

‘Yes,’ she said, perhaps a bit too loudly. Flashing lights and buttons, exactly what she wanted. This looked more than an engineering panel than the actual navigation screen but it was a start. More of the crates were still in the way, but these were at a level where sliding them out of the way was  an option.

There was a grinding noise behind her. Mateo didn’t notice.

The crate was big but somehow looked like it would be light. Pushing it proved that wrong, but it was still light enough that moving it was an option. Taking it in both hands Mateo squeezed and leant back, possibly doing irreparable damage to her spine as she hoisted it up and back. Shimmying her feet in reverse, she gave herself enough leeway to let it slowly slide to the floor, revealing the side of the console that hosted the navigation screen, currently displaying data flashing by at an immense rate, command lines scrolling at speeds faster than she could process, grabbing her attention hard enough for her nearly to miss the figure sitting on the chair besides it.

‘Whoa,’ she cried out, ducking under the box on instinct, heart attempting to make a break for it straight out the back of her rib cage and into the dark where it would be safe. Mateo held herself there for ten seconds and then peered back up slowly.

The figure was still there, apparently failing to notice her despite the noises she hadn’t hesitated in making. It was simply sitting in a chair, covered in a black cloak that seemed to hide its features. Mateo would have thought the figure to be dead if she couldn’t make out  the occasional movement of a hand, clicking on a small device that she couldn’t make out. The hood was black. Even in the darkness she could tell the humming noise was coming from the figures head. Away from them, she could make out a scraping noise somewhere in the room.

‘Hello?’ Mateo finally tried after a minute of staring. ‘Hell-o.’ She waited and became aware that she could probably just leave without saying anything and the figure would be none the wiser. Instead she leant in and waved her hand across the figure’s face. ‘Hel-’

‘Argh!’ The figure cried out, bolting up and facing her. Mateo got as far as describing her as a girl with black hair and headphones when the girl with black hair and headphones screamed. ‘Auto-protect! Mode seven!’

Suddenly finding herself struggling against two metallic arms wrapped round her body Mateo felt her head clank against the hard body of an Igne who had apparently managed to sneak up on her the same way she had snuck up on this unsuspecting girl. At Least the girl wasn’t expecting anyone, Mateo found herself thinking as the arms squeezed just tight enough to be more than concerning.

‘Who are you? What do you-’ the girl got as far as saying before bursting out into a coughing fit. With a voice like dry paper the girl wheezed a few times and went to stand up, immediately collapsing to the floor as her legs flopped to the floor.

“Hello,” Mateo said after an extended length of uncomfortable silences. The girl before her scrambled to her feet, dragging herself up off the consoles taking a moment to click on a few things and have them minimise before Mateo could figure out what they were. “You been sitting down for too long?”

The girl growled at her. Literally growled. Mateo would have found it amusing if she wasn’t painfully aware of the crushing sensation her chest was being pressed under. The Igne had her trapped, broad metallic arms held her tight.

“Whoa. Easy there,” she said, trying to keep the situation from pressing on her any further. “I don’t mean any harm. I’m just-”

“How did you get on my ship?” The other girl snapped. Short black hair, poorly cut, covered the girl’s eyes. Mateo couldn’t make out her expression between the hood and the darkness.

“I’m… the delivery girl,” Mateo replied with a smile. “Here to make a delivery.”

“You-” That stopped the girl. “You’re the delivery girl?”

“Yes,” Mateo continued. “Here with the deliveries.”

“And what are you delivering?”

“I- what?”

“What are you delivering?”

“What am i delivering?”

“Yes.”

Mateo gave it a second’s thought. “Myself.”

“Yourself?”

“Yeah.” Mateo let it sink in for a moment. “I’m your new crewmate.”

“My new crewmate?”

“Your new crewmate.”

“Sent by…”

“Your boss, of course.”  Mateo was aware they seemed to be rotating their heads at one another. “The commander.”

“Oh,” the girl replied as her brain processed this. “I see. Unit zero-seven,” she looked to the creature behind Mateo. “Please put her down.”

Unit 07 instantly complied, releasing Mateo and giving her the space to breath again. She flexed her shoulders and turned around to give the entity a pat on the chest. “Thanks. You’re doing your job.” It did not react in the slightest to her encouragement. It felt a little warm.

“Unit zero-seven,” the girl continued. “Grab her by the ankles and lift her upside down.”

Mateo’s world did a sudden one eighty as gravity shifted for her.

“Throw her out of the nearest airlock. Come back when you’re done.”

“No.” This was bad. “No. No . No!” Mateo insisted, shaking back and forth as much as her hips would allow, arms swinging about as she tried to reach the studded gauntlets that made up the Igne’s arms. “You can’t do that.”

“I am the commander of this ship,” the girl said, thrusting her face up to Mateo’s. “I can do whatever i like.”She smirked, and then waited. The wait continued oddly and she glanced up at the Igne. “Well? Go do it. Airlock. Throw girl out.”

“Which one?” said Mateo.

“What do you mean which one?”

“Girl. Me or you?”

“You obviously.”

“You? Why would you want him to throw you out? Just because you haven’t washed isn’t a reason to die.”

“No i,” the girl stopped, looking away  and taking a moment to push back her hood and shake her hair. “How did you get on board?” She said sounding a little more focused now.

“Teleporter.”

“Look,” the girl said, now a little too unfazed for MAteo’s liking. “Answering my questions are the only things keeping you alive for the moment. Surely you would want to expand your likelihood of staying alive as much as possible, right?”

“I dunno,” Mateo shrugged, which was a lot harder when gravity was working against you.

“I am not a fan of stowaways, which i know is what you are. Tell me how you got on the ship?”

“You just said answering your questions are keeping me alive. Surely that means stalling for an answer is going to keep me alive longer.”

“That is true.”

“What happens if i don’t answer them?”

“I tell Unit zero-seven to move his arms in opposite directions.”

“I hid in a trash cylinder at the scrap merchants on Grognar. I needed to get off the planet because the local gang guilds were trying to auction me off. I managed to get loose and hid at the scrap depot in an empty cylinder. They bundled me into your ship from there, though i don’t know how because this is apparently a Tech Junker, and they don’t ever land, so i’m guessing you have a shuttle or something. I was hoping for it to be a passenger cruiser or something but it was pot luck in the end. Look, please don’t kill me. I just want to get off Gorgnar. You can drop me off wherever you’re heading to next, unless it’s an asteroid or something. A habitable planet if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Shut up.”

“Ok.”

“I only needed to know that first bit. Apparently Unit zeroEight isn’t being through in its scrap checking protocols. I’ll have to fix that. Wait. A passenger cruiser?”

“Um… yeah?”

“Why would a passenger cruiser be picking up scrap?”

“Wishful thinking.”

“You’re not very smart are you?”

Mateo suddenly felt very focused. “I’m as smart as i need to be.”

The girl stared at her. Mateo stared right back. The girl went back to her console. “Get her off my ship.”

“I can work,” Mateo shouted, expecting to be pulled back.

“I don’t need workers,” the girl replied. “I have Igne.”

“What about company?” That stopped her. “You’re alone here, aren’t you. Besides the Igne, and they don’t talk. They just do.”

“They do their job.”

“Must be lonely.”

“I prefer the solitude.”

“No one to hurt your feelings?”

“No one to question my orders”

“Yeah, because these guys do a brilliant job of obeying you.”

“Yeah,” the girl said looking up to the motion alien. “What is going on, zeroSeven? I ordered you to go throw her out of the airock.”

zeroSeven didn’t move.

The girl swung her chair around, lining it up against the tall creature and hoisting herself up. “They do this sometimes, she said, examining its floating red eye. “Just stop obeying orders. Never quite got it.”

“Perhaps it objects to killing innocent young girls.”

“No, that’s not it,” the girl got down again and started walking, her legs stumbling a little on the way. “Unit zeroSeven. Follow me.” Shifting forwards, the creature lumbered after its master, taking them into the open corridor.

“You just have to split up the instructions.”

The Fugue – Chapter Two

The corridors kept turning to the right.

That didn’t seem to make sense. Three turns should of put her back where she started, but then the corridor changed colour, from one particularly fascinating shade of metallic chrome to a slightly darker, yet equally as perplexing shade of chromium metal. There didn’t seem to be much point to it.

The corridors still seemed to be staying the same length as well, as far as Mateo could tell anyway. The lights were set to dim  and weren’t changing when she hurried along. She had gotten too used to rooms that acknowledged her when she wandered into them, raising the lights so she could actually see the other side of the room. Her bedroom would play either a light rendition of Sandra and the Blue Bergs, or the instrumental track from Back to the Future, depending on whatever mood she was in at the time.

The bedroom was gone now of course.

There were no hatchways either, she noted. That she thought was a sort of standard. Ships of any kind were made of sections put together and while she could see the lines where each part of the ship was stitched together, she couldn’t see what counted as the hatches. Every ship floating in the sea of nothing was designed to seal itself into sections in case of fire or parts of the ship deciding it was time to separate from the family and go off exploring on its own. This ship couldn’t be an exception. Cost cutting wouldn’t include door removal no matter what.

Then again, it probably didn’t matter. Abandoned was the main word she was using for this place at the moment. Long windy tunnels. Lots of grey and no light. She had only come across one porthole that let her confirm that yes, she actually was in space. The gravity sinks were on and her lungs were not attempting to leave her in a desperate search for an oxygen rich environment, so that meant power was on at the least. In retrospect that could have gone badly for her. All she needed was to be thrown in a methane environment and her hate of Grognar would very quickly diminished along with her functioning brain cells.

So it couldn’t be abandoned and yet very much felt like it was. At the very least it was recently inhabited, not only due to the power but by the fact she was dumped here by a pair of hands. The shadow she could have imagined, but she was here right? There had to be someone else.

She stopped at a hatchway. A small one in the wall, rather than one in the corridor. She pressed its button and watched as it slid open with a crunch that sounded like bones were breaking in the attempt. It was a storeroom. Empty, but the first room since her scrap heap.

Literally empty actually, except for the walls and air. Wasn’t an empty room a kind of blasphemy on Cruisers? She wasn’t quite clear of how true it ran but every room should be used for something, even if only to be shoved full of cargo for other people or something. It was too small to be a function room. It didn’t matter. She carried on.

Two more empty rooms later and she felt like screaming. Why did this ship even exist if it was so empty? Corridors empty. Rooms empty. Her room was full of bolts and scrap and bent sheet metal and all manner of crap. Mateo’s stomach groaned, more out of the monotony than out of hunger she told herself.

The fourth room was a mess hall. She wasn’t going to complain.

Though a place for food, it too was abandoned. Lines of tables and chairs, somewhat scattered. No plates or cutlery anywhere. It wasn’t simply out of use. It was like it had never been used in the first place. There was a vending machine though, with a line of Cono bars inside. She pressed the button and got one for her troubles. Still tasted good. It probably wasn’t very smart to have eaten it.

It was in the fifth room that she saw the Igne.

A bulking mass, its metallic shards folded in on themselves with every movement, its single eye floating in the middle of its mass. It didn’t seem to have noticed her, its focus occupied by a series of dismantled devices on the workbench before it. She couldn’t see what it was working on in particular, its large body in the way, but it seemed to be making its way through a pile of junk, cataloging, reassembling. Either way it looked like it had worked through a lot but still had lots more to do.

Mateo had never spoken to an Igne before. She wondered if she should consider trying. It turned to face her and she froze, looking round without moving to see what she had done to make noise. Could it just tell that she was there? Sensors or something?  It stepped towards her and she switched to considering running. Did they come with weapons? It wouldn’t need them. The Igne was big enough that grabbing both her arms and pulling in opposite directions was more than enough to deal with the intruder before it.

Just two more lunging steps and it was to the right of her, picking up a toolbox and heading back to its job. It didn’t seem to care that she was there, not that this stopped her from staying frozen to the spot. A flickering to her left caught her eye. A screen sat buzzing away to itself.

It looked like a security monitor, planted into the wall, though kind of in a weird place being dead centre like that. She shimmied towards it, trying not to make sounds so that the creature that knew exactly where she was and didn’t care wouldn’t hear her. The monitor showed a corridor. Empty. Grey. Dark.

She pressed the button to the side of it, switching the image to another featureless corridor. Then another room full of scrap and another. Then a corridor. Then another room of scrap with another Igne, sorting through scrap. More scrap. Another corridor. A bathroom that looked like it catered to humans and thronons.

Another scrap room with another Igne in it, and a girl looking at a screen in an odd place dead centre of the wall.

That’s when it hit her.

“Oh no,” she said, uncaring for the presence of the Igne. “No, no no.”

She dashed over to the other side of the room, plexiglass showing the nothingness of space covering the far wall. She could see nothing but space, but if she pushed her face against the plexiglass she could just make out the metal of the ship’s exterior. Grey metal. Flat, yet merged, like it was made out of different parts and smooshed together.

“Nooooooooo.”

“Erm, mister Igne?” She called out. The Igne spent a few seconds twisting something on the workbench, then turned to her, it’s light red eye observing her quietly. It said nothing.

“Are we on a Tech Junker?”

The Igne continued its monologue of silence while staring straight at her. The monologue turned into a thirty second long tirade at the benefits of keeping quiet at all times, which the Igne prided itself as a great proponent of.

It then looked away and got back on with its job of sorting through metal junk that was probably technical in purpose.

“Yep,” Mateo said to herself, because the Igne sure didn’t care,”We’re on a Tech Junker.”

“Fuzzbuckets.”

The Fugue – Chapter One

Stardate: 23651 

Location: Sector Alpha Nineteen. Enroute from Grognar. Garbage Containment Unit. Size: small

Mood - fuzzy

So now seemed a good a time as any that i should remember to start updating this. Given my current position i seem to have a bit of time on my hands and the freedom in which to get my thoughts on the datapad.

I can't say this will last long, or if it will ever see the light of a star - unless that's where we're heading right now,  but i sort of doubt it. It's not just that i can't see the ship's destination being the heart of a sun but from what i understand somebody actually paid for the trash pile i'm in.

Maybe you're that person. Maybe you've just pulled this pad off my corpse after you found me in your scrap pile and was kind of curious as to what i was writing. If that's the case. Screw you. I hope you mix your charts up and do cruise into the sun because you're just that stupid. That's what you get for killing stowaways.

I had to do it anyway. There was no other way off that rock. It's hard to keep track of time when you're used to three suns and two moons. How does a planet with only one of each manage it? How do you know when it's time for a half day nap? You may think i would have had all the time in their world to ask but the Grognars there weren't the type that were willing to speak to me.

So in case you're wondering. My corpse stowed away on your vessel because it just wanted off. Nothing beyond that. I had nowhere else to go and when i realised the scrap was being sold i just got into the easiest to fit-and-seal-myself-in Container i could find and just waited for you to smuggle me on board. Then i waited here, not quite knowing if i was going to be used for furnace fuel or not, and waited for you to find and murder me. If i may make a request, i would prefer the furnace over the airlock. I always had this fear of being trapped outside a ship you see and well, it doesn't seem like it would be the best way to go.

It occurs to me i’m in one of those positions where i have very little to say. It’s certainly cramped in here. I’ve had no food for at least two half days and my left leg has most definitely gone dead as i haven’t been able to move it for a while now. Perhaps this is how i’ll die. Trapped in a box that i’ve yet to realise can only be opened from the outside.

Should i describe myself for you, in case your finding and subsequent murdering of me leaves my body unable to be identified. No i don’t think i’ll bother.

Though as i type i realise two half days doesn’t make sense. I should be a lot hungrier by now and the whole need to relieve myself thing should have become a more pressing issue by now. You would think i would be a lot less light hearted about my situation. Well let me just tell you this, my eventual murderer and would be incinerator of stowaways. The situation i was in before this situation in which my movement is mostly contained to my typing fingers and the occasional wiggle of a cramped limb devoid of blood, was such a bad situation that compared to it i might as well be in the pleasure baths of Lacron Nine right now. The expensive ones that is. I like to convince myself that we all fell for the budget ones the first time we went there on Academy break. The expensive ones just have to be better, either that or the marketing department is fantastic at executing word of mouth.

Loss of time sense probably means we’re still travelling through the light. The time is off on the datapad at the moment so i have no idea. Not that you care about the specifics of this. This is no doubt nothing more than an amusing byline as you see my skin solidify to an uncomfortably low degree as i float past you on my the beginning of my endless trip through eternity. I know you don’t care about me. No one cares about me anymore. My family are dead. My friends are gone. The people who found me won’t be finding me again anytime soon with any luck. I am wonderfully alone and couldn’t be happier. Feast on that little bit of information as you toss me out the nearest airlock. You ruined my happy moment, trapped in my little container, completely unaware that i passed out about half way into writing this and when i woke up again nothing had changed. You ended that the moment you killed me. You better regret that you piece of Talon turd. I could have been so much and you took it away from me because you just didn’t like stowaways. Why if i weren’t being ripped apart by the vacuum of space i would-

The cylinder opened, stuffy air escaping to back back in with the fresh stuff. The sudden influx of light made the gleam of her datapad seem pitch black by comparison. Mateo let her eyes blink their way back  to seeing the world around her. A light above her. Little else. For a moment she dared not move, not just out of fear for what may be outside the cylinder but also the numbness of her leg that made itself all too clear as she hauled herself out of the tube.

An attempt at leaving stealthily was made, but quickly thwarted as needles struck her from within and the sudden loss of balance caused her to tumble out of what was her home for the last unknown number of hours.

Her new home was larger, yet just as poorly lit, only the light above her and one leading off to a corridor giving her any kind of idea where she was. A room full of scrap. There was a shadow leaving the room as she flopped her way out of the cylinder.

“Hey wait-” she tried to say, hours of silence taking their toll on her voice and coming out as a barely audible croak instead. The shadow disappeared, and she was suddenly glad for the lucky break. Hiding was the best cause of action at this point. She had no idea how big the ship was, no windows would imply something a bit beyond a Floater. If she was lucky it would be a Cruiser, something that would allow her to wander with the crowds without being noticed. If she could get to a port window, she could work out bearings from there. There was even a possibility she was already in atmosphere, though it would be just her luck if she was still on Grognar after all that. There had definitely been a lightspace jump, so it was at least ten percent unlikely.

Mateo gave herself a few moments, letting her blood get back in all the right places and remembering to switch the datapad off. It wouldn’t have much juice left after the trip and she may need it later to attempt communications or transfer monies.

First, make a plan.

Find out where she was. Find food or liquids to consume. Find somewhere where she can sleep undisturbed where no local security could bother her. She had only been in the cylinder for a few hours of current time and someone did come in here, apparently to open cylinders and then leave without checking their contents. Perhaps they just wanted the lid. Even so, it meant here wasn’t safe enough to stay hidden for long periods of time. A bathroom would do the job nicely. If it is a cruiser then public ones mean she could have a stall to herself for the duration of the trip. That would be perfect and not at all horrible and kind of traumatising. Still. Better than Grognar. Anything will also be better than Grognar. One mile in any direction away from here is better than Grognar.

After that, waiting. Waiting waiting waiting. Oh how she would wait, and when the opportunity arrives jump ship. The three closest inhabited planets to Grognar were Arillion, Camerio and Skull World VII. All civilised. All reasonable compared to the harsh, continuous hell of the always raining at all times Grognar.

Skull World would be the best. She had never been on a Spin Flasher before.

Then what? A job would be best. Get some monies and a place to stay. And then. A new life. One where she started again. Away from everything she knew. With nothing left.

A fresh start.

Mateo shook her head. It wasn’t the time for that. She had to investigate. Step One of the plan. Find out where she was.

Blind Spot

Blind Spot
Prologue

 

It all finally came crashing down in the year 200X+5 from your current year. The war between Heaven and Hell happened, and the battlefield was Earth. Two great forces with power over eternity thunders out onto the war zones. Lucifer’s forces of the darkness rose from the ground. A vast army of disgusting, vile creatures, horns on many parts of the body, fangs and talons threatening to rip any opponent to shreds. By them stood the dark mages and necromancers, using black magic from centuries past to bring the denizens of death into the killing fields, where they would prove to be invincible monsters with the ability to regenerate their broken parts. But even these creatures were nothing compared to the more humanoid monsters. Vampires and Werewolves and Succubus and Hellhounds, almighty creatures, once human, imbued with dark powers from unwilling benefactors. And in the middle of them stood the great one, Lucifer himself, surrounded by his many generals of darkness. A massive figure, the most powerful  creature of them all, whose very presence damned all those near it into eternal decay.

 

The corrupted pits of Hell were contrasted with the righteous warriors of heaven, shining high from above. The powerful angels swooped down from the sky, their great wings spread proud behind them. The heavenly maidens, singing songs of mystic power and the proud unicorns marching in troops towards their demented enemy. Up next stood the Paladins, great warriors of noble family who had dedicated themselves to their Lord and would willingly be destroyed for this battle, for them no sacrifice would be too small. Then there were the mages and the druids, conjurors of nature and the universal energies. Their power alone was sufficient enough to deal with a portion of the enemy. Around him, the Lord could not help but stand proud, having taken an earthly form for this battle, he knew his children would do him proud. Below him, from the ground that was once a great city, he saw his final opponent; the Lord of Darkness himself. They had not seen each other for quite some time, not since the incident with Job. But both knew that now was the time when one would be decided the true master, it had been ordained eternities ago that this would happen and both were truly, finally ready. The lord found himself looking at the planet around him, their mere presence had upset the planet, Lucifer’s emergence into this realm had caused the city around them to be greatly damaged, the teleportation sphere that surrounded both armies had caused changes in the earth’s harmonics. This reinforced the Lord’s strength. He knew for sure now that this battle had to be won, if not for the planet below them, then for the entire universe.

 

It had seemed strange that it had come down to this, it had been foretold long ago, but even the almighty forces of the universe cannot truly see the future when it is against beings just as powerful as themselves. A lot of planning had gone into this battle on both sides, neither could risk anything. ‘It would be an all or nothing gamble, the omnipotent presence of the Lord found himself thinking. He stared into what counted as the devil’s eyes, as if they signalled to each other. They both closed the portal’s that their armies had come through and dropped the teleportation sphere’s that surrounded their finest servants. The war to end all wars had begun.

 

What happened next isn’t entirely clear. Survivors of the incident claimed that they immediately saw angels falling out of the sky, as if they hadn’t quite figured out what the white fluffy things on their backs were for. Others reported seeing a creatures so dark and gruesome that just the sight of them would normally drive them insane, if not for the said creatures currently sizzling and dying of asphyxiation, the oxygen apparently proving lethal to creatures who usually breathed in sulphur. Some reports said that they saw men in armour and old men with beards as well as cute girls also landing in various small craters, right around where Madison Square Garden used to be. Some saw, what appeared to be Vampires stand around looking confused, before somewhat expectantly exploding into dust. Meanwhile, the largest figure of them all in the air was also falling like a rather omnipotent, rather ignorant rock whilst shouting various blasphemous words that echoed throughout the countries, upsetting many a Christian. As he reached the ground, he quickly shrunk in size, it was as if he had thought of the planet for a second and changed to proceed damaging it further. Meanwhile, the other giant creature that appeared to be in charge found himself falling apart at the limbs and reopened his portal throwing himself back inside, not before leaving behind a huge muscular arm. The survivors of New York had quite a feast that night.

 

God, if he could be truly called that anymore after his horrendous mistake and calculation and somehow forgetting the basic rules of gravity would be found lying on the road of fifth avenue about three hours later in a position unfit for a creator of the universe. A man and his son, the only survivors of their family, would find him later in the evening. Their entire family of fifteen had survived the initial quakes and incinerations of the city at first. However, the last thirteen members of their family were unexpectedly taken from them so suddenly, when around two hundred white Unicorns fell on top of them, crushing and piercing as necessary. Needless to say, the man and his son, who was nine, but was fully aware of the religious controversial and scientific impossibilities that this scene had brought to light and tried it’s best to ignore, were both very angry at their lord for doing these things to them. They had let him off when the family dog was run over that day, but the destruction of their home, family and possible monthly income was just pushing it too far.

 

They decided that God needed to be put down a peg or two, and let him disappear back to Heaven without his eyes but a profound knowledge about how one can’t break his own laws of physics, which strangely enough appeared to be the boy’s main intention.

 

Now, ten, perhaps fifteen, it didn’t really matter, years have already passed. Earth had tried it’s best to move on. It turned out it didn’t really need God. It’s just such a shame that there’s all these creatures left on the planet.

 

Chapter one

 

I guess you could say I am a loner by choice, but even I doubt that. No one can truly want to be alone. Even if they do, it probably wasn’t their choice really; it was more likely to be a series of events that happened in their life that they couldn’t control. A loner is just someone no one understands at school, maybe they’re a little weird or too intelligent for the other kids, but it is still always the same, they’ll be the last on the soccer team, and sitting on their own at lunch.

 

People just like to believe that they chose to be alone to make up for the fact it was forced upon them. When all of a sudden everyone they knew just disappeared on them, joined other groups that the loner simply couldn’t be a part of, because neither understood each other. A person finds themselves focusing more on their work, or playing little games on their own, sullen and introverted, calling the other kids stupid as they giggle at everything they see, the only time they talk to anyone is when the local bully flushes their head down the toilet. Even the strong lone wolf type probably didn’t choose his way of life; it was more than likely his parent’s fault. A general lack of trust in early life leads to trusting no one in later life. Even if others find them cool, they find the others boring, or annoying.

 

Of course many don’t want to be a loner, people need companionship and many going along the path of a loner will desperately try to avoid it, they will become attention seeking, in whatever way possible, but even this ties them to their path. Attention seekers can be the worst, they become lost in the crowd. Everyone surrounds them, but no one is their friend. It becomes worse later, people just try to associate with them simply to make friends with other people. People are alone in so many different ways, many don’t even realise that they are alone.

 

It makes me wonder if I am the only exception when it comes to being alone, maybe I’m just trying to state I’m different from everyone else. Many do that, trying to claim they’re something they’re not, merely to try and make themselves bigger from what they are. But I would, do truly believe I am truly different from everybody else and just by realising that I may be lying to myself doesn’t confirm that I’m not.

 

But the reason I say I’m different is because I have seen these things and I am not these things, not really anyway. They are a few exceptions, for one my parents have recently thrown me out of the house, but they didn’t tell me they had, they just removed my stuff from the house and left it lying in the trash area of the apartment where I used to live in. You could say they were abusive, but most of the time they didn’t even notice I was there, so it’s not really.

 

I wasn’t considered cool in school either, so I can’t be the lone wolf type, I don’t think people admire me for a distance and I certainly don’t find others are boring or annoying or stupid and giggly. Out of my old classmates, I couldn’t call any of them my friends, I think only one or two people even knew I was there, even the teachers didn’t seem to bother. I was in a class of eight people once and I never said anything or even handed homework in, no one complained, no one cared.  It’s not that people hated me or found me an outcast. In truth I never even knew what it was like to be bullied like some were.

 

It’s simply that I was never noticed by anyone, like I registered as some kind of blind spot. They would look towards me, and see nothing there. When people spoke to me, they would act as if I was asking for where the toilet was. I know I am not being noticed, it’s why my parents kicked me out, they simply forgot I existed, and decided to change the spare room into a games room. If I was being noticed and specifically ignored, then people have let me watched some very private acts and not done anything about it.

 

It wasn’t like I was invisible though, if I was people would walk into me all the time. In the street, people still move to avoid walking into me. If I went into a museum, I would still have to buy a ticket. So people noticed me, but it was more like they noticed me in a way that prevented them for having to notice me. I suppose it is better to notice me a little and walk around me, than not notice me at all and bump into me, meaning they would have to notice me.

 

Although I guess when it’s all over, I am still like the other loners. I am still alone.

 

************************************************************

 

Fifteen minutes have passed since I returned home, simply to realise that I no longer had a home. There was a snooker table where my bed was, and a TV where my end of the dinner table used to be. No one said anything special when I asked what was going on, but they did say that they had nothing to give me, I suddenly felt like I was a homeless person asking for change, only to be ignored by an uptight, penny pincher. Now as I stand outside the garbage area, where my old bed mattress is, I suddenly realise that I am now a homeless person, and hungry too.

 

I climb into the garbage can, I’ve seen people do it many times on television and hoped never to do it myself, but then I realise it’s not that bad, mainly because there’s not so much smelly rubbish in here, but rather my childhood items. I find my old school backpack, and use it to store a few things, a few changes of clothes that’ll probably now need washing, my blanket and a childhood toy, which I find myself unconsciously grabbing. It seems strange how I’m calmly reacting to all this, and even as I realise it, I remain calm, as if it was all expected, as if it didn’t really change anything in my life or anyone’s life. I guess it doesn’t, now instead of sleeping in a apartment among friends and family where no one knows me, I’ll sleep in a motel where no one knows me. I decide to get some food. As I walk down my old street, I find myself thinking of how I got to this stage in my life.

 

***********************************************************************************

 

“Hurry it up kid, I have other customers you know” the man shouted from the kitchen behind the counter “and put that back unless you intend to pay this time” the so-called kid stared in shock as he pulled the chocolate bar out of his pocket and put it back in the basket where he had took it from.

 

“How? How does you always know?” the kid shouted melodramatically, dropping back down to the floor and looking through the menu one last time. His much taller friend leaned onto the counter and wondered how long this was all going to take this time.

 

“Because you try it every time, this isn’t a large café you know, you can’t take advantage of the public space and you certainly can’t steal something when the old man keeps stock of everything so well.” He stared at the sweets in the basket, then looked towards the giant whiteboard on the wall, at the very bottom of the giant menu, there was a small list, listing everything in the basket, including the candy pieces.

 

“I know, I know” the smaller, more lean boy whined “but it would be nice to get around him one day” he threw the menu behind him, hearing it land on the wooden surface above him and jumped back up to meet his other companion as he emerged from the toilet. “Hey Sagara, hey Sagara” the older boy stopped as his small friend bounced up in front of him. His bouncing only got him to the head level of his friend, to Sagara he seemed like a basketball at that moment. “Have you ever got anything off the old man?”

 

“Teh” the brown haired boy replied smiling “not a thing” he jumped over his friend as he landed on the floor before walking back over to his seat.

 

“Eeehhh” the boy pouted “but I thought you were the best thief here. Surely the great Sagara can steal a chocolate bar off the one who’s about to fall down dead soon for little ol’ me” the bouncing boy was suddenly pulled back, from his crouching position, he soon found himself on the floor, with the taller boy standing over him.

 

“You should be a little more polite about Mr. Ishida, Kaze. Especially when he gives us free food anyway,” his much bulkier companion pressed. Kaze looked up and just smiled, flicking at his friend’s nose.

 

“Whatever you say O-nee-chan” and then stuck his tongue out. The other one clenched his fist at his younger brother.

 

“Why you little” he swung his hand blindly to the left, causing Kaze to fly in that direction, he crashed into another table, sliding across it and onto his chair. Kaze seemed to ignore this and drank the milkshake that was there.

 

“Calm down Kage” Sagara said, sitting down to pick at his ice-cream, feeling his head get cold “we keep being this noisy and the old man’s gonna throw us out”

 

“If I hear someone call me old man again, I’m gonna throw you all out” from behind the counter came Mr. Ishida, a twenty something man in his prime, currently doing the stereotypical bar work of cleaning a glass with a hand towel. He put the glass down on the side and then turned to the boy eating ice-cream.

 

“Sagara” he said simply, from their table, the brothers looked on confused, as Sagara just stood up, sighing. He walked over to the counter and placed the chocolate bar in the basket. He then turned around and walked back to his seat.

 

“huh, what, when, boomshakalakaboom?” Kaze said confused, Kage too seemed to have very little idea as to what just happened.

 

“When Kage threw you across the room” Sagara said simply, sinking back into his seat. Kaze nodded to show he understood, but still looked on in amazement. He was sure he had been looking on the entire time.

 

“Kage’s here too huh?” the old man said in surprise, looking over to the young, spiky blond child.

 

“Kage’s always with me, ain’t that right bro,” Kaze said simply, as if it were stupid that Mr. Ishida had somehow missed out Kage’s presence. Kage raised his hand and waved to the café owner.

 

“Hello Kage” he said as if it were the first time that day “would you like anything?”

 

“No thank you sir, I’m fine” the older brother replied politely

 

“Well, shout if you do” he said walking into the back of the place. The café stayed quiet for a few minutes, as those remaining ate the last of their snacks. It was a quiet Tuesday as usual and the boys were the only ones there. Even on a normal day, the café never really had that many customers. It was in one of the many back alleys of the suburbs. The type of place that made very little money simply because those whom it was catered for were too afraid to go there because of the location and those whom were located nearby didn’t go there because of who it catered for were seen as too snobby. It was the perfect place for the boys, since they fell into neither category.

 

“Hhhmmm, bogey” Kaze mumbled to himself, as his hand played with his nose. He flicked into onto the window as another group of boys walked passed. One of the boys stopped to stare at him and quickly got angry. He was about to walk into the café to teach Kaze a lesson in the finer points of bone removal when his friend stopped him. He whispered into his ear, the boy stopped and they both moved away rather quickly, ignoring Kaze’s insulting faces. Sagara just found himself sighing again. “Hey Sagara” the small one shouted in his ear, causing him to sigh again, “what’s the job for tonight”, Sagara put his spoon down in disgust, he had been through this earlier.

 

“Wait until everyone gets here, as I said before” Sagara replied, annoyed “sheesh kid, that’s the fifth time”

 

“But no-one’s coming. I’m sure Shariku killed them all this time. She was bound to do it sooner or later” Kaze bounced onto the window, practically sticking to it as he scared an old woman walking past. He peered around the broken street. Even ten to fifteen years on, some places were still reeling in the after effects of the huge series of earthquakes and various other natural disasters that had taken place without warning or reason. Even so, life had moved on, a lot of the mess had been cleared up, but buildings still needed fixing. It was a time where you were more likely to make money as a decorator than as a lawyer. Kaze’s eyes glued themselves to the window as they scanned across the street, searching for any of the others; he knew he would spot them instantly if they came.

 

“No one’s coming Sagara” he continued to whine, “let’s just get on with this”

 

“Erm, Kaze” the kid turned around to his oneechan’s voice to see other people had entered the café “they’re already here”

 

“Huh” he looked towards the two that had just entered, one tanned boy with purple hair and one extremely pale girl with a black spiky hair-do with a large brown jacket “well why didn’t you say so” the boy with the brown coat just walked over to a seat on the other side of the room and sat down. The other boy just found himself still staring at Kaze.

 

“Hehe, that’s cool kid, so how’s it going” the purple haired one said, sitting down to Kaze’s table. Kaze looked on confused.

 

“Huh? What’s cool, what’s ‘it’, how am I suppose to know” unfortunately for Yamato, he knew Kaze wasn’t the sarcastic type. The younger boy was sincerely confused as to what Yamato meant. The newcomer found himself staring at the kid again. It happened regularly, since there was no real logical way to react to Kaze.

 

“Hey, look” Yamato said, pointing randomly through the window, Kaze, as well as a few of the others in the room spun round. Most of them realised there was nothing, but he knew it would keep Kaze occupied for a while. He quickly found a new conversation partner “Yo Sagara, what’s up, dipshit?”

 

“What” Sagara said as he turned around from his ice cream “what are you talking about?”

 

“Just being the one who maketh the local lingo my mon, apparenzy it be the new chill bill thing “ around here, Yamato said casually

 

“Ahh I see, my casual freer, and would this cheese of the modern rock bark be worth getting thrown through that billa lakka stain of sand there?” Yamato just stared, his brain translating the new modern lingo. It was something that the resident youth culture had been doing recently, talking in a strange way specifically to try and confuse each other. Yamato only associated with them on occasion, so when they did something new and hip like invent a language that made no sense, he often had no idea what was going on. Even so, he joined in doing it anyway. The boy’s brain slowly clicked as he realised that Sagara knew much more about this new language than he did.

 

“Okay I’ll stop” he sighed, leaning back into his seat, cursing yet another loss to Sagara “what’s the plan today then. Is the old man here yet?”

 

      “That’s it” a voice came out from the back “all of you out” it was followed by Mr. Ishida himself, holding a long cardboard tube against his shoulder. He sighed as he put out the stub of his cigarette against the edge of the coffee bar before throwing the tube at Yamato. It sped through the air without warning landing perfectly on the boy’s hand as he caught it effortlessly at the end. He grinned at Mr. Ishida right before Kaze batted towards the floor.

 

“There’s nothing there” he shouted at his friend, “How dare you trick me” the cheerful look on Kaze’s face as he began to slap the air in front of the older boys face. Yamato was more than surprised when he found his face responding to the motions, the wind knocking him back and forth as the small child began to laugh hysterically, getting carried away by his actions.

 

“Oi” his older brother shouted, “stop that”, Kaze’s motions stopped as Kage stepped in. Now standing in front of his friend, the older sibling brushed dirt off Yamato’s face “sorry about that. I shouldn’t let him get out of control so easily.”

 

“Ah, don’t worry about it” said the younger boy as he settled down into his chair, fingering at Sagara’s ice cream remains “just keep him down until we’re finished” he watched as Kage took the tube from the floor and opened it, pulling out the large sheet of paper from within. Behind him, the group heard Mr. Ishida lock the door and press a button, causing all the blinds to slowly roll down.

 

“Wow, that is always so cool,” said Yamato from his seat, as the room was soon pitched into darkness. After they had reached the bottom, fully sealing the room from the outside world, all the lights in the room came on.

 

“Heh you say that,” said Mr. Ishida grinning to himself  “but it wastes half my electricity every time I do it”

 

“You could just do it manually kid” Sagara stated as he glanced over the sheet of paper that Yamato had placed over the table.

 

“Do you want to leave via. the window boy, or the meat grinder out back” the older man asked politely, bursting with sarcasm.

 

“Sheesh, you don’t like ‘old man’, you don’t like ‘kid’. You could just tell us your age and be done with it” Sagara replied sighing, yet laughing inside.

 

“A professional likes to keep his secrets” the man whose age was unknown replied, walking to the table.

 

“I thought that was women?” the young man pointed out as a fist landed on the top of his head, before grabbing him and shaking him side to side.

 

“And aren’t we all professionals anyway, I mean we all get paid for this” Kage pointed out from the other side of the room “We are getting paid this time aren’t we?” he asked suspiciously.

 

“All the more reasons to keep secrets,” Mr. Ishida started “We’re considered mercenaries by some. One day we might find ourselves facing one another. In this world where nothing is stable, your long time ally might become your worst enemy, especially with you lot, seeing as there are so many rivalries in the group” he turned to face Kage, a calm smile on his face. “People like us need to keep our secrets, in battle, they can be the difference between a win and death. In life, they’re the one thing that stop us from being manipulated. Do you understand now boy?” he stared into the boys’ eyes, with a serene look on his face. (god this is sounding gay) Kage stood up quickly and saluted his elder.

 

“Yes sir” he shouted with eagerness, “Thank you very much sir.”

 

“Good” Mr. Ishida turned back around “Now, back to that plan thingy” he said as he went back to the table where the plans were.

 

“Hold it.” Yamato shouted, sticking his open hand out in front of his boss “You may be able to fool Kage, but not the rest of us.”

 

“What…what are you talking about?” His boss asked, a worried grin on his face.

 

“We are getting paid this time, right?” He repeated Kage’s line, this time demanding an answer, tapping his foot loudly. Mr. Ishida looked around, to see everyone staring at him expectantly.

 

“Now, come on boys,” he waited for a few seconds to see if this was enough to convince them. He realized it wasn’t as Sagara dropped the spoon into the ice cream bowl before making to stand up, “you know I’ve always paid you guys your fair share. We’re all equal partners in this. Everybody does what he or she can and it’s all important. Certainly you see that?”

 

“I knew it,” the boy interrupted “it’s that guy from before isn’t it, the collector moron who’s trying to restart the planets economy crap?” Yamato brought his hand back down before turning to leave the shop.

 

“Wait Yamato” the older man begged. Yamato turned around and stopped him again.

 

“Some punks tried to break into my base the other day” Yamato shouted out unexpectedly, with a hint of annoyance, “ there isn’t much there except some weapons and some tools, but they still tried to take all the food. When I got back and chased them out, I found that they had found what that my share of what that guy had given me. They found it so valuable that they had just thrown it around the room and stole the briefcase instead. I mean, if a bunch of morons don’t want it, how the hell is it ever going to convince the entire world that it wants to be used.”

 

“Now now Yamato” Mr. Ishida took a step back in response to the boys frustration.

 

“Just what the hell is a dollar anyway?” He screamed “and what the hell does a thousand of them get me?”

 

“Mr. Ishida” Sagara said sternly, appearing behind Yamato to pull his shoulder back. Yamato outburst stopped instantly as he calmed down to let his senior talk “Is it true that this job is from the guy who gave us the job before last?” The old man sighed once more.

 

“Yes, yes it is.”

 

“And does he intend to pay us with this paper once again?” he asked calmly.

 

“Yes, yes that is what he intends to do” Ishida grumbled as he put his head down.

 

“Then, you can either tell him to change it so that 50% of the pay is food and supplies and 50% is this money stuff, or we can go throw you into the meat grinder right now?” he waited for his teacher to weigh up the pros and cons of each option. When he started talking again it was clear that there was only one pro to the latter option and it had something to do with getting out of this conversation.

 

“Fine, fine I’ll tell him,” he said, holding his head while sighing, “but can we just get on again with the job description. For now, I’ll make sure you get food this time, Yamato?” he said, indicating the boys’ seat.

 

“I don’t want any dollars,” he said grumpily, sitting back down “just food, and some new blankets”

 

“Fine, fine whatever, just sit,” Mr. Ishida said, forcing the purple haired boy down onto the seat by his shoulders.

 

**********************************************************

 

“Yes miss, the toilet is that way. It’s okay to use it” The short, fat, moustached man replied, as he cleaned the surface of the bar with a rag clearly dirtier than the bar itself.

 

“That’s not what I asked, I said do you have a room for the night,” the young girl repeated herself fpr the third time. The man had already turned away though.

 

“Hey Luigi” the man shouted into the room behind the counter, ignoring the young woman in front of him, “have you finished dinner for those two yet” The girl turned around to see two people, currently in a passionate embrace at the back of the room, around them all the tables were currently empty as everyone, or at least their wives and womenfolk tried to keep well away from the smell they were producing.

 

“Not yet bro” a reply came from the door frame “the fire’s simply not hot enough”

 

“Well theirs’ is” his brother retorted “hurry up, the sooner they eat, the sooner they stop”. The young girl found herself staring at the scene everyone else was trying so hard to blank out.

 

“They seem so at ease. Merged with another like that, all the worlds pains must simply go away.”

 

“Yeah, I just said, down the passage, can’t miss it, has a big word on it, says ‘toilet’” the plump Italian stereotype pizza-maker replied, ignoring her comments completely. The girl looked to where he pointed, she didn’t need the toilet, she needed a room. It was cold, even inside this place; she wished she had someone to be with like that. She even found it tempting to sit near them, just so she could get warm off their own heat.

 

“Oha Luigi, whata are you doing in there?” the older brother shouted as he went through the doorframe. The room beyond appeared to be outside the building and she could guess that the fire was going out due to the heavy wind there was out there. She saw several people take this moment to rush outside themselves, to avoid trading for their meals or simply to get out because their meal was suppose to be there the day before last. The girl considered leaving too, but she knew this was the only place she could stay that was to some extent secure. She had found one place already, and it responded by falling down around her, as some kids started playing with the foundations of the building. This was the only real tavern she could afford, mainly because they did not use electricity.

 

“What am I going to do?” she said expecting no answer from anything. Her eyes blinked a few times as she leaned across the side, she felt like she could just stay here for as long as possible. The people probably wouldn’t notice her even after closing time, but she would not mind a comfortable bed of some sort. She looked around the now half empty restaurant for some place where she might be able to sleep decently for the night. The only places that looked reasonable were the floor and the padded seating that the couple were currently playing each other’s violins on. She sighed to herself and hid her head in her arms. Something seemed terribly wrong with all of existence and no matter where she went it always seemed wrong, both the places she was at and her being there. It did not seem right that there was a tavern with only one guest room and a kitchen that was actually outside. It did not seem right that people could just sit in a restaurant and start fondling each other indecently and nobody would do anything to stop them.  It did not seem right that horribly mutated children now roamed the streets looking for snails to throw through windows. It did not seem right that these children were then hunted down, beaten and killed. Not for their actions, but for what they were.

 

The whole world was crazy, nobody would deny it anymore, but to her, the whole world had always been this crazy. According to her old parents, it had been like it ever since a strange event happened which knocked the whole world out of place. Nobody truly knew what it was that had caused the events to happen. Some had said it was a giant earthquake, some said that two world powers went to war with each other, and the weapons they used knocked communications out of place and caused animals to mutate with humans. Some had even said that a god and a devil drew forth armies to battle each other and fought on earth, only to find that earth was not the best place for them to be due to scientific reasons and both sides were horribly destroyed, also causing damage to earth. She did not know what had happened, but then it was clear from all the stories that she had heard that no one else truly knew either. She figured that people could have first hand witnessed the events that caused the world to be like it was, and because so many people had different accounts as to what happened, even these people were convinced that they were wrong in what they had saw.

 

“Not that it matters,” she mumbled to herself, “even if people did know the truth, it wouldn’t change anything.” The blond haired girl looked around the room once more pointlessly, nothing had changed in the last minute and she felt a strange urge to get away from the public area and to somewhere private. The place seemed oddly suffocating for some reason. If she was able to get a room then she would have no problem, she could probably trade some things that she had got out of the dumpster seeing how she had no money. All she had to do was get the man’s attention and have him give her the key that was hanging from the wall behind the bar. The man did not seem to be able to listen to her properly for some reason. He had answered her question three times so far, and each time it had nothing to do with what she was asking, it was possible he was retarded, or perhaps she was and he was just trying to be friendly about it.

 

She began to wonder if she could get away with just taking the key. The Italian man who ran the place seem to be stuck out back with his brother trying to restart the fire to cook the pizza to serve to those customers that had just left the building with no intention of ever coming back. Maybe she could take the keys, run to the room, open it and quickly return them before he noticed. If she was able to remain quiet in the room that night, she could probably sleep on the bed there the whole night with no problem. Taking one last glance around the room, she decided that it would not hurt to try. Everybody in the room seemed to be minding their own, or those they were connected too, business. She stood up and tried to inconspicuously walk around the side of the bar, thus making herself more suspicious. No one seemed to have noticed.

 

Behind the bar, she could see many drinking glasses, all stocked up against each other, so as to remove one would mean to remove them all, thus breaking each and every one of them. She pondered to herself why they had done such a stupid thing.  She stopped and squeaked to herself when she also saw a large shotgun sitting underneath the bar. Judging from where the man was standing earlier, it would have only taken him a few seconds to pull it out and push the bullets into her face. She shook slightly and found her body pushing her forwards, wishing to get the key as soon as possible. Making a louder noise than she should, she reached where the key to the spare room was hanging and took it off its hook. She looked around once more, to see no one looking at her in any way. Somehow, this caused her to start shaking even more. She slowly stepped back, realising she was only half way through her plan, and wondered if getting noticed would result in the man using the gun to apply it’s makeup to her face.

 

“I’lla said I’ll get some matches,” the tavern owner shouted back to his brother as he re-entered the room, “stupid cunt. Can’t light a fire, cavemen are smarter than you.” He whispered when he was behind his brother’s back. The girl felt her skull hit the skin on the top of her head as he appeared out of nowhere in front of her. Watching the man, she almost broke out into a run when she saw him kneel down and look into the shelf where the shotgun was currently resting. Her teeth began to chatter slightly when she wondered if she should get on her knees and beg for her life. The man stood up and walked towards her, an annoyed look on his face.

 

“Excuse me, my dear,” he said casually as he tried to get past the girl in front of him. Surprised, she instinctively moved to the side to allow him to squeeze past her. He walked past and seemed to forget about her, opening a few drawers and looking through them until he pulled out a box of matches as well as a piece of stone and a knife. The girl almost screamed when she saw him turned round to face her, the tip of the blade pointing at her stomach.

 

“Excuse me, my dear,” he said once again as he walked around her, without looking back. As he moved away from her, the girl saw him glancing at where the key was hanging before she appropriated it. Again she felt a small drop of fear as he tried to put two and two together with the facts laid out in front of him and a small answer book to the side. He left the room.

 

“Hey Luigi, have you seen the guest room key?” the man shouted to his younger brother. That was all it took for the young girl, she turned around and proceeded to run out of the building. The wind howled behind her as she did, as if it had discovered her crime and set out to chase her. Out on the old road, there were few people, and even fewer buildings that were not broken in someway. She ran for about two minutes, passed a youth with a giant horn on the middle of his forehead standing by a barrel with a fire in it. She stopped after about five more feet, already seriously out of breath, as she did the boy left the fire and ran into the alleyway’s darkness. Exhausted, she dropped down into an alleyway, behind a bin that would act as her wind block for the night, she rested her head up against the wall behind her and wondered why she had just done what she had done. She would wake up the next day, the guest room key still in her hand.

 

“The next town?” Yamato shouted to the others as dust blew into his face, “We better be getting a lot of food.” The abandoned jeep they were currently riding in was a small symbol of pride for Sagara. In the area where he had lived most of his life, this was one of the many features that had always been there. It had been stripped clean of it’s seats, mirrors and windows, as well as any other parts one of the many gangs of the city could yank out of it or pointlessly break. It was not until he stumbled upon a giant room filled with many small books that he found it was even called a jeep. It apparently belonged to some army before it was lost and the book had a full, comprehensive diagram on how the vehicle should work. It took him many months to find junk pieces to put it back together with, but as he drove down the large desert in it, it all seemed worth it just to hear the engine roar.

 

“I’m just hoping we can find some kind of fuel there, at the way we’re going we may have to walk some of the way there.” The older boy shouted back to his friend; as he listened to him complain about the mission.

 

“Heh, that may be better than this,” Yamato commented as he unconsciously put his hand in front of his eyes to shield them from the onslaught of sand that was currently attacking them. Whilst he may have fixed up the engine and all parts needed to make the jeep move forward, Sagara had found it impossible to find a piece of glass to replace the shattered windscreen that was there previously. He had no reason to complain though, since he was wearing goggles, his friend beside him however was not. “Man, this is annoying,” Yamato continued to complain. Having enough, he got up and turned around, facing the other passengers in the back seat. “You two okay?” he asked them, still shouting over the roar of the winds and the engine.

 

“Yes fine thank you,” Kage replied politely, his hands currently glued to whatever he could hold on to, to prevent him unexpectedly flying out of the strange machine that they were currently in.

 

“How’s Kaze?” Yamato asked Kage, behind him, he felt sand slowly building up on the back of his head and drop down beneath his shirt.

 

“He’s sleeping,” Kage replied yawning slightly, he spat out the jeep as some sand entered his mouth, “it is late you know.”

 

“He can sleep when he’s… well, you know”

 

“When he’s inside? Only half the time, the rest he just waits for an opportunity to burst out.” The older brother shifted around where he was sitting, it was hardly been a comfortable ride and it had been a long ride now for over two hours. Yamato turned to the other passenger, the pale boy with black hair, he was currently looking the other way, and up towards the bright, full moon.

 

“Yo, Shariku, you doing okay?” he asked grinning, knowing he would not get any proper reply. The girl known as Shariku turned her head slightly, her left eye glancing at the nuisance on the front seat, before looking back to the stars. “Sheesh it’s so boring” the boy sighed as he turned back round to face the sand coming head on into his face. He grunted in annoyance as more dust swam into his eyes.

 

“If you’re bored,” Sagara said as his friend wiped his eyes clean, “you could go over the mission plan, think of any good way we could go about it.” He looked at the gas meter. They would only be driving for another twenty minutes the way it was going.

 

“What is there to go over? It’s too standard, we should have charged extra for the mission being too stereotypical, especially since we have to take a three hour drive to get there.”

 

“I wouldn’t say it’s that stereotypical,” Sagara said, wondering when his friend would stop moaning. It was a common custom of Yamato’s to whine and moan as much as possible about something, and then have the time of his life when he actually got round to doing it.

 

“Oh come on, I mean we sneak in, take the special treasure and leave. The only thing that could make it any more stereotypical is if we set off an alarm that had no excuse being there, have to fight a ton of foot soldiers that all look the same except for different colour shirts to imply different strengths and then we’ll fight a big boss at the,”

 

“What in the name of my aunt’s left buttock are you talking about?” Sagara said loudly, stopping his friend in mid sentence, “a big boss? The least we may have to fight is a couple of security guards. There may be a small chance that one or two of them have mutations. There’s little to no chance that there’ll be any demons there and if there is they’ll be one at the most.”

 

“That’s exactly what I just said,” Yamato stressed loudly to his friend. From behind, a hand appeared on his shoulder, Kage’s head moved between the two of them a few moments later.

 

“I don’t think they’ll be any mutations there,” the oldest of them said, “from what we were told, this place does not tend to favour any such people.”

 

“Let’s just hope that they can’t detect hidden mutations. If they have electricity pumping all over the place, they might have the technology to do so,” Sagara said sternly.

 

“I doubt it,” Yamato said, “not that the city is anything to go by, but I doubt anyone anywhere on the entire planet has the ability to make any sort of advances. Electricity’s rare as it is. We must be the only gang back home that has any left.”

 

“And we just keep on wasting the stuff,” Kage said, sighing heavily as he thought about Mr. Ishida’s electronic metal shutters, “people don’t seem to like having too much of a good thing for very long. They seem to want to waste it as soon as possible.”

 

“I doubt it’s that Kage,” Sagara replied, “in the city, people’s life expectancies tend to be very short. People just figure they should do stuff while they can.”

 

“But we waste stuff Sagara,” Kage said slightly upset, “life in the city isn’t that dangerous, it’s mainly just people protecting their turf. It’s like they use it as an excuse to waste what they have.”

 

“Possibly,” Sagara said quietly, it went unheard by the two next to him as the wind blew it away, “but maybe this mission will help things, I mean we have to steal their power core or something according to the report Mr. Ishida gave us. Apparently it supplies unlimited energy to the surrounding towns and villages. If we can get hold of it, maybe the collector guy plans to use it to make a more permanent power supply for the city, that’s his style.”

 

“Or maybe he’ll just keep it to himself, he’s also the type of guy that’ll do that.” Yamato said, stretching to keep himself awake, “hey do you think what we’re doing is right. I mean, the town’s suppose to be peaceful and content and all that. Don’t you think we’ll ruin things if we take away their power supply?”

 

“I doubt they’re peaceful, if they don’t like people with mutations. I mean, we tend to crop up everywhere, unless they forced all of them out.”

 

“That’s a point Yamato” Kage said to his friend in the passenger seat, “what are you going to do about your hair. Doesn’t it make you look conspicuous.” Yamato looked up at his hair, a pointless act since he could not see it anyway.

 

“You’re right, I guess it is kinda purple,” he said before pulling his bag out from beneath his seat. Back in the city, there was a range of mutations. Many people would horribly malformed, having extra limbs or horns. These people suffered the most physical pain, since any demon mutation would constantly sizzle and burn, reacting to the oxygen that covered the planet ever since the creation of water. Other people with mutations did not show any outside signs at all, but they often had strange abilities. In many ways this was just as worse as the physical pains of the other people with mutations, since it often meant isolation from others to prevent anyone finding out about their secrets. Yamato was in the middle of the two groups. Looking almost completely normal, Yamato had no strange special ability to breathe fire or the like, and his physical mutation was nothing more than the hair on his head being a different colour. Even so, in some places, it would be enough to get him beaten out onto the streets.

 

As he finished rummaging through his bag, he brought out a small piece of nylon cloth before putting the bag back under his seat. Placing the cloth on his lap, he proceeded to fold it a few times.

 

“A bandana?” Kage asked, slightly amused.

 

“I thought it would be best,” Yamato explained, “if I just had a hat of some kind, it might get pulled or blown off by something. However, if I pull this tight enough,” he said as he wrapped it around his head and proceeded to tighten it, “then there’s less chance of it coming off” As he finished, he turned around to show it to his friend. “What do you think?” Kage started to bite his lower lip for all he was worth.

 

“It looks good,” he said before bursting out into laughter a few seconds later. Sagara contributed his own laughter as he looked away and continued driving.

 

“What?” Yamato asked, “What?”

 

I am having a dream. At least it seems like a dream. Maybe this is the reality and the person sleeping in the alleyway is just a dream. Maybe they are both dreams and the true reality is somewhere far away, out of my reach. Maybe I sent me here to remain trapped in my dreams because I did not want to be in reality anymore, or maybe reality did not want me. It is hard to tell.

 

In the dream I am standing on top of a giant building. It is about as tall as the power plant in my main dream. Surrounding me are many other buildings, some are slightly smaller and some are even taller than this one. They are all quite impressive. In the distance I see creatures, thousands of them, all falling out of the sky. Some look like they have wings but even so they are falling. It is too far away. It is hard to tell.

 

From below there are even more creatures. These look darker than the others in the sky, but that could be just because they are too far away. These creatures are screaming. Even though I cannot hear them, I know they are screaming. I wonder what it could be that would make them scream like that, what pain they must be going through for the thousands of them to echo their agony across the land. But they are too far away. I cannot see them properly. It is hard to tell.

 

I want to look closer. I walk forward hoping to get a better look, hoping to understand what they are going through. I walk off the edge of the building. The view in front of me leaves my sight to be replaced with that of another building, moving up into the air very fast. On the building there are many windows. I try to look through them, trying to see if I could look out the other side, hoping to get a better view of the creatures in the distance. I see nothing.

 

As one of the windows pass me, I see a girl. She can’t see me, even though she looks directly at me. She has short black hair. She goes by me too fast for me to see anything else. I wonder where she intends to go in that building. I wonder if she even knows the building is moving, going high up into the sky. To her it may look like I am falling. To her it may look like the world is falling from beneath the building as it continues to go up into the air.

 

I realise I am still standing off the building and I turn around to get back on it before I fall. The roof has gone and now the building I was standing on is also flying off into the sky. A thought strikes me and I look down. The ground is also flying up into the sky and I can see it coming up towards me.  I wonder if I am falling but decide that I cannot be because I feel no wind. It is more likely that the ground is rising up into the sky and is not taking me with it.

 

I come to meet the ground and it ignores me. It rises on through me and continues going up. I look up and I can still see the buildings. I look down and the buildings are still there, still rising up into the air. I look to the left and see another building, rising into the sky. I look to the right and see a forth building. I begin to question whether or not I am outside or inside a building and I wonder when I had entered it.

 

As one of the windows past me, I see a boy. He looks at me and the building stops moving. He has light brown hair and two holes where his eye should be. We stare at each other for hours. Then the boy smiles and I start to fall upward. I begin to twist and turn as my body flies up. This time I feel the wind flying through the air, cutting my skin.

 

I begin to bleed as I see the ground. This time I am coming back to it.  I see my blood falling upwards towards the ground. Or is my blood rising into the sky? Or is the ground falling towards my blood? Or is my blood rising up to meet the roof? I am too disorientated. I am beginning to wonder if this is all a dream or if I will die when I hit the ground. Someone once told me they had scientifically proven that if you dream about falling and hit the ground, you will actually die. The boy in the window has disappeared. I wonder when he went. Everything is so confusing. It is too hard to tell.

 

Either the ground or me hit the other, hard. For a second I see my blood covering the both of us.

 

I wake up.

 

I find myself sweating despite being cold. Around me is the dream of the dark alley where I fell asleep earlier. It was how I left it before I went to that other dream. I cannot remember the other dream now. It hardly matters. It takes me a few seconds to realise there is a man in front of me, leaning on the other side of the wall. He does not look at me but he appears scared of something. I notice he is bleeding. I notice he is holding his stomach tightly. I notice his blood is on me. I wonder if that was the blood that was in my dream.

 

The man is speaking to someone. He is begging for them to stop. To my right is a woman that I have only just noticed. She has short ginger hair and make up. She seems very pretty. She is holding a small knife. It has blood on it. I wonder if it is his blood. She shouts at him to leave her alone. She calls him a freak. He raises his arm up and asks her to stop and she screams, swinging the blade in his direction. He recoils back, the blade missing him quite easily. As he turns towards me, I see the other side of his face. There is a horn, sticking out of his forehead. It’s a dark brown and reminds me of a piece of wood more than anything else, a small vapour trail comes out of it and if I listen carefully, a sizzling noise.

 

Neither of them has noticed me yet, but I am not surprised. People tend to be too wrapped up in their own business to notice me. Even my parents started to ignore me after a while. They do a lot of important work apparently, although they never told me what it was. I guess it is too late now to want to know. I wonder if they are playing games now in my old room. Playing pool where my bed used to be and darts where my clock once stood.

 

The woman screams again and she is no longer holding the knife. She has left it in the man’s chest and he starts screaming for God, whoever that is. She calls him a freak again; she seems even more scared than he is. She runs off, leaving just the two of us in the alleyway. We both sit there for a minute, not saying anything. Then, he tries to stand up. I find myself unsure whether or not to tell him not to move and to help treat his wound or whether I should just leave the alley and leave the freak to his death. One of these guys attacked my brother once. It caused him to stop leaving the apartment more and more. That is why my parents turned my room into a games room.

 

But this freak probably wasn’t the freak that attacked my brother. This freak hasn’t done anything to me except get blood on me. I am wearing dark clothes anyway. It seems wrong to leave him here alone to suffer his fate. Yet would it not be even worse to nurse him back to help and allow him to continue living in this dream? This dream that I find myself constantly wanting to wake up from, but find I cannot.

 

The horned man doesn’t give me any more time to think it over. He stands up and begins to walk away. Hugging the wall as he disappears into the darker areas of the alley. As his blood starts to drip off my chin, he has already gone, the only sign that he was even here being the woman’s knife that he left on the ground.

 

I wonder what happened between them, not what caused the woman to try and kill him, but more how they met. Freaks and normal people don’t tend to meet up much in this place. In fact there are very few freaks here at all. That was the first one I had seen in a while that wasn’t on television. Occasionally you find them being chased across the street by brave villagers trying their best to get rid of them. The only way people usually dare try to handle them is in groups, since you never know what they are likely to do next.

 

It made me wonder if he tried to attack her. It seems the most likely answer. She must have been walking along, intending to get home when he jumps out and tried to do something to her. He probably was the one that originally had the knife, although he could have used his horn to threaten her as well. Something must have happened and she got the knife off of him. Or maybe she carried the knife around with her, in case something like this happened. I realise it is pointless to wonder about stuff like this.

 

My ears are cold, although my face is slightly warmer than the rest of my body. I wonder if I should go back to sleep. It’ll be morning in this dream soon. Not that time means anything when you have no reason to exist. Further in the alley I hear something fall with a thud and in the distance I can hear something roaring. Other than that, the world appears to have stopped making sounds. I yawn, it is the only movement I have made since waking up and I begin to wonder why a person needs to move at all. I snuggle up into my jacket and begin to fall back asleep.

 

In the distance, the roaring noise begins to stop, but I am dreaming again by then.

 

In my dream, I am being chased down an alleyway.

 

“Everybody out,” Sagara shouted as the jeep finally gave up on them and insisted that they go on without it for the sake of the mission. Despite wanting to get off ever since they got on, Kage and Yamato grumbled and whined as they expressed their dislike for having to move. About a mile in front of them stood the town that they intended to go to. It seemed highly out of place and stood out in the desert landscape where they were. Although, according to Mr. Ishida, it was in fact the desert that was out of place and the green landscape of the small town was the true nature of the surrounding nature.

 

“We’re walking then?” asked Yamato, holding his bandana on his head as the wind increased in intensity, as if to make up for the fact that they weren’t driving through it anymore.

 

“Looks like it,” confirmed Sagara, “it’s only about a mile or so away. We should be there before you know it.”

 

“What about this thing?” Kage asked, looking towards their exhausted vehicle. The jeep seemed almost annoyed at what it had been called for a second, as it made a loud grunting and clanging noise before the ignition gave out.

 

“It should be fine here for now.” Sagara stated, yawning and stretching as he pulled himself out of the machine, “if anyone finds it, they’ll assume it’s just another wreck.” The jeep unexpectedly made one final splutter of exhaust fumes at this. The others, not willing to risk having the thing explode around them, quickly got out and away from it.

 

“Where do you think we should head first?” asked Kage as he stared towards the utopia in the distance. It shined and swayed in the haze of the heated desert, implying it to be nothing more than a mirage.

 

“Well the town in the distance is the obvious place I guess,” Sagara wondered out loud, “that’s where the power plant is too. We should scout around for information, see if we can find anything out about the security of the place, or what the power supply looks like.”

 

“How do we even know that’s where they store the power source?” queried Yamato as they began the long trudge towards the small town, “I mean, we do know nothing about this power source, all we have is that picture.”

 

“The picture the old man gave us looks a lot like that thing up there, he also said it looks a lot like the power plants they had back when he was younger. It’s all we have to go on, so hopefully it’ll be enough for now before we can decide what we’re doing.” Sagara looked further in the distance towards the town as they walked quietly to it. The place seemed gigantic compared to the small buildings below it. He thought they should be more careful where they put large curved towers like that. The way it looked implied it might fall down and crush the entire town without any real warning. It was hard to make out, considering the distance, how high it truly was, but he figured it must be taller than the skyscraper the Demon dogz lived in back in the city. He got a strange image in his head for a moment where he discovered that the entire town was in fact really small, enough for Kaze to crush with his feet, but it just looked big because of the distance. He imagined that the town had not always been that small though and in fact it had been shrunk from an evil demon wizard. When they entered the town, they too were shrunk and he met up with the former princess of the town who was a real tomboy but was still quite cute and…. He began to question how long he had been up to think of irrelevant crap like he had just done. He yawned slightly as he turned off his mind and let his legs continue walking.

 

An hour later, Sagara woke up to find himself on an empty road in the middle of the night. Surrounding the road was set of neat houses with nice sets of nature in front of them growing nicely surrounded by little white fences. The houses themselves were small, but not as small as he had just dreamt about and he was finding himself a little disappointed. It seemed unusual for nighttime, and a little cold as well. Back home, he was used to the parties and riots and gang wars starting around now, guessing it was about eleven o’clock, and the entire city would be noisy for about the next seven hours. Here, it was the total opposite, empty, it was as if everyone had decided they had important things to do the next morning and so promptly went to sleep. He wouldn’t be surprised if Kaze started shouting in a few minutes before the pure silence drove him more insane. He stopped as he realized where his line of thought had taken him.

 

“Kaze? Where is everybody?” he spun round to check behind him and instantly found gravity taunting him. Around the bottom of his legs he found a tight piece of fabric that he usually referred to as his trousers. He fell to his knees, whom immediately tried to blitzkrieg the concrete below as they slammed into it. Unfortunately, the defences of the concrete were more than they could handle and they sustained minor grazes. As the temporary disorientation disappeared, Sagara looked up to find a small child looking out him, currently laughing as if someone had threatened his family with torture. To his side, Yamato looked on, a mild amusement on his face.

 

“You fucker Kaze,” Sagara complained as he turned over to look at his knees. A nice pool of blood sat on each knee where skin used to be, he touched it and gasped at the sore feeling he received.

 

“Sorry man,” said Kaze, taken aback slightly from Sagara’s words, “but it was too tempting, you were just standing there, staring off into space.”

 

“I was sleeping,” Sagara shouted back at him as he stood up, pulling his trousers back into the upright position.

 

“You don’t sleep whilst walking, it’s dangerous” replied Yamato, “for us, more than anyone”

 

“How else am I going to pass the time?” he asked rhetorically as he began to look around. The houses and sets of nature were still there and in the distances the curved power plant was hovering above them. The distance to it still seemed quite far. Behind him still stood Kaze and Yamato, Shariku was also present, although currently looking off down another road, where someone was walking by, looking at them suspiciously.

 

“So what now?” Yamato asked, waiting for instructions, “we’re in the town, but it seems no ones here.”

 

“Yeah, not even the tomboy princess.” Sagara said absent mindedly as he tried to get a bearing on where they were. It seemed pointless to start anything now. This town seemed to have the unusual idea of sleeping while it was dark. He then realized that although it was dark, it was incredibly light in some areas. Looking around he noticed that the entire town seemed to be lit up this way. The light was coming out of the tall concrete posts that were scattered along the sides of the road. It lit the place up magnificently; the only light that they had in the city at night were usually a few fires, since no one ever wanted to waste electricity. In fact they rarely used lights like this at all, even though the city was covered in them. Kaze noticed where his friend was looking and joined him at staring at the lights.

 

“It’s almost beautiful isn’t it?” Kage said. Sagara wouldn’t have gone that far, but it was definitely something to stare at in appreciation. They both looked over the electronic town for a few seconds before Kaze’s brain realized something. “Hold on, what tomboy princess?”

 

“What?” said Sagara in shock, “it’s nothing, just something I was”

 

“Hey guys,” Yamato interrupted, Sagara and Kaze turned to face him, breaking from the art scene, “it appears we have ze companie of an English playwright acting out the part of justice.”

 

“Do stop doing that,” Sagara asked politely as a lion would ask an antelope to enter it’s mouth.  In front of them now, a man wearing a black suit and a black curved protective hat walked towards them. In his hand he held a black stick and was swinging it around on a small handle. The man looked threatening and yet harmless at the same time. His tall, bulky demeanour was contrasted by his goofy moustache and friendly smile. As he reached the small gang of boys, Sagara watched as Shariku tensed up and took a slight step back. Before he could step in to intervene, Yamato got there first and place his hand on the boy’s shoulder, replacing any potential fight with smart negotiations.

 

“And what are you boys doing out so late?” the man asked them, with both suspicion and courtesy in his voice.

 

“And what’s it to you, punk?” Kaze said mockingly as he began to step forward. Behind him, Sagara applied pressure to the boy’s shoulder and made him calm down in a way that would prevent him talking for at least twenty minutes. Before the man could say anything, Yamato stepped forward.

 

“Ignore him, he’s weird.” The boy with the bandana said reassuringly. The man looked on confused as Kaze struggled in silent pain at Sagara’s hand grip, “We’re just out late”

 

“And what are you doing out so late,” the man repeated, but his courtesy seemed to have disappeared, “curfew started four hours ago.” Yamato froze slightly at this but quickly recovered as he realized he was right that this man did appear to be some law enforcing type. He tried to make up a story in his head and decided that the truth might just work.

 

“Sorry sir, we were just heading into town when our jeep broke down?” he began to explain.

 

“A jeep?” the man said confused, “what are you talking about, there’s no jeeps anymore. I’m surprised kids like you even know about jeeps.”

 

“Well, it’s Tommy’s jeep over there” he said, indicating Sagara. “We come from a few hundred miles away from here, about three cities over, but it broke down a mile away from here. So now we’re looking for a place to stay the night, I’m guessing it’s not too safe in that desert.”

 

“Desert is pretty fine I guess,” the man said, all hostility in his voice gone due to Yamato’s polite attitude, “what you wanna look out for is any of the freaks in a city nearby. They hardly ever go out of their nest, but they’re still pretty dangerous.”

 

“Freaks?” said Yamato, acting confused, “you mean the demons and mutants?”

 

“Whatever you want to call them sir” the enforcer said politely before turning around, as if thinking, “there aren’t that many places where you can stay the night here. Most have their own houses around here.”

 

“What about hotels and motels” Yamato asked.

 

“Well I suppose Marko and Luigi’s tavern would be your best bet, but they’ll only have one room.” The man started to think this over in his head as the others stared on at the two of them.

 

“Is it a popular place or something, we may not have enough supplies for something like that.”

 

“No no, it’s not popular. It’s just they only have one room.” The enforcer seemed unaffected by what he had just said as he continued thinking it over. “I got it, why don’t you come over to the station and you can spend the night in the cells?”

 

“What?” Yamato said in astonishment at this polite request to be imprisoned, for a second he thought that maybe the polite enforcer had some way of knowing what he was. He took a step back and looked over to Shariku, who still seemed ready to start the intended fight from earlier.

 

“Ack, I don’t mean it like that,” the man said reassuringly waving his hands in front of him to indicate peace. “What I mean is is that’s probably the best we can do for you at the moment. There’s hardly any crime here and the cells are always practically empty. I’m only Sheriff really out of a formality.”

 

“Sheriff?” Yamato said, even more concerned than previously.

 

“Yeah, I’m the one who looks after this place, makes sure that no one gets into any trouble. The cells may sound bad but I can assure you they’ll be the safest place in the entire area, not that anything bad’s going to happen anyway,” the man began to laugh to himself loudly at this, and Yamato figured he should probably run now. Instead, Sagara grabbed his shoulder and made them all huddle up.

 

“Nice work Yamato, make friends with the insane law enforcer.” Sagara said sarcastically, “What are we going to do then?”

 

“Well, his offer doesn’t sound so bad, we just have to hope he isn’t secretly evil” Yamato said, “if anything, it’s a perfect excuse to blend in with the locals, we could probably find out plenty of information about the target as well.”

 

“I dunno, I mean,” Sagara stopped in mid sentence as he went over the situation in his head. It didn’t seem right to accept the help of someone you had plans to steal from later, since it would cause a high chance of them being to be friends and later decide not to complete the mission. However it may also be the best chance they have to start doing something productive about the mission.

 

“Look man, this guy seems to be the area’s local do-gooder. We can probably trust him to help us to an extent if we follow nicely. Saying that, we can probably also trust to an extent that he’ll see us suspicious if we ask for help and then refuse it when given. It’ll be better to just go along for now. If anything gets out of hand, we always have Shariku.”

 

Sagara looked at the quiet boy at this. He was currently not in the little huddle and still looking around the town ahead of him, mainly towards the stars that he enjoyed gazing at. The town’s enforcer gazed with him. “We are only using him if we have to,” Sagara sternly stated, “and even then, the only chance we should take is at the end of the mission when we need to escape or something.”

 

“I know, I know,” Yamato tried to reassure his comrade, “I’m just saying, we’re in no real danger accepting the offer. Hell, I mean, we’re practically the strongest people in this entire area. What do you think Kaze?” he asked to the smaller boy. As he turned to him he saw the lanky boy drooling slightly as a neat wave of pure agony slowly rolled over him from Sagara’s still applied neck grip. “Never mind,” he said, turning back round to the Sheriff of the town, who was now standing right in front of him.

 

“Have you boys decided yet what you want to do?” the bulky man asked, now no longer looking at the stars, “I don’t see why y’all have to discuss it, I can assure you it’ll be the only place you could spend the night here, ‘less you wanna be sleeping on the sidewalk.”

 

“Sorry sir, my friend is just a little paranoid.” Yamato apologised expertly, “we’ve been awake for quite a long while now, and I think it’s starting to get to us.”

 

“Then we better get you to a place where you can rest as soon as possible.” The man said kindly, turning around and walking back down the street “follow me.”

 

Each of the boys did so, trailing behind the man in an orderly fashion. Shariku would follow a few seconds later, silent as ever.

 

Day 2

 

It was morning, as Sagara liked to call it, although the hundreds of clocks all over town would disagree with him, and the boy walked through the town alone with an air of curiosity about him. All around him, people got on with daily business very different with business back home in the city. Back home, the relatively overweight man carrying the box full of food bought from the local bakery would currently be lying unconscious in his own fluids slowly drowning after being attacked by one of the many street gangs or drifters. Here, the man had smiled at Sagara, wished him a good day, laughed when the boy yawned and handed him a muffin that he didn’t want paying for, before getting back to what he was doing whilst whistling a positive tune. For the expert thief, who wasn’t that used to dealing with people he didn’t know in a polite manner, the situation was completely alien to him. Sagara wasn’t like Yamato when it came down to things like this, he couldn’t just roll with the friendly punch that had just been thrown in his direction and talked to it nicely. After the man had left, he had stood there for another ten minutes staring mostly in shock, before an old woman had come by and commented on how nice it must be to be young and do nothing. He couldn’t reply properly to this one at all, and just muttered something before quickly walking across the street.

 

It was seriously uncomfortable for the young man. In situations like that previously the old woman would have probably spat acid onto the unconscious muffin man, but here, it was probably that type of thinking that would have seriously shocked the residents of this place was he to tell them of such things. He shook his head to take his mind off the subject, and continuing to scout around for anything of interest. He was amazed at how beautiful this place seemed in the daytime. Everything was clean for a start, there were smells in the air that he had never smelt before, the spongy smell coming from the bakery he had just passed, the blissful fragrance from the small flowers that practically lined the happy roads of bliss that went in every direction and the smell of the smooth, velvet chocolate coming from the muffin he was currently biting into and savouring. It was again a stark contrast to back home. The only real smells there were those of disease and fumes in the air that seemed to exist wherever they went and practically nothing was clean, the closest thing being when some bored youth had rubbed his fingers against the grime of a wall in order to make some bemused doodle.

 

He found himself going off task again and tried to focus on work. A place was needed to set up camp, as well as some kind of side job in case they needed to stay here for a longer period of time than currently intended. It was in their interests to stay as long as possible, since this not only allowed them to be integrated better into the society around them making them less suspicious, but also because the collector man was to pay them based on how many days they had had wasted taking time out to work for him. The mysterious client expected the work to be complete in about two weeks and so they intended to make it take around three, because of complications as Yamato always so delicately put it. They could have probably pushed it to a month, but that would probably cause a bad business reputation. Finding a place to stay seemed to be a main problem though. They definitely needed a place to keep separate from everyone else so they could come up with ideas when collecting information and the Sheriff’s cells, where it turned out the man also slept during the night, would not be the best of options.

 

Behind him, a large chime echoed across the square that he was currently strolling through, breaking his line of thought. He looked up, following the sound with his left ear. From what he could tell, the sound came from a structure that he had first saw when he had left the Sheriff’s place of residence that morning. After it’s initial noise, which he noticed had got everyone’s attention for three seconds before they continued with what they were doing, the building fell silent again and went back to being another stereotypical background construction. It occurred to Sagara that the building seemed to have absolutely no reason for being annoying like that and breaking him from recent musings. He decided to head in its direction. He figured it would be a more public building of sorts if it were making a noise like that, since no one could live with something that loud that close, and a public building might hold some information about what he currently required. As he continued to walk, his mind slowly got back into the plan, but it left it just as quick when he found the surrounding enemy landscape too distracting and decided to just wander and admire in the meantime.

 

Twenty minutes later, he reached his intended destination and was once more amazed at what he saw. He had seen many tall buildings in his life, he lived at the top floor of one many times taller than this one, but even so there was nothing quite so unique as what he saw in front of him right now. Before the thief stood a tall white building, shaped like none he had ever seen before, it was as long as it was tall, but it’s tallness came from it’s large spire which ascended into the sky, signified by a small piece of metal on the top, as if someone had created it to try and reach the very stars themselves. Underneath the pointy tower was a picture, which looked to be made from none other than glass. It was many different colours and seemed to shine brightly in the sun. Unfortunately, Sagara could not figure out what it was suppose to mean. It felt like it was meant to be a grand picture, signifying important events. However, the only thing to be seen was a rainbow of colours assaulting every pore of the irises of his eyes.

 

Now that he looked in a way proper, in a way that only he could, the building didn’t looked very impressive at all. If it wasn’t for it’s height and the fact that it had made a very effective, distraction, he figured he would have completely missed it from a distance. It just looked different, that’s all. He sighed and turned around, not even caring to look into the structure to see it’s true purpose. As he did so, he noticed the building flicker in the corner of his eye. He turned quickly, out of reflex, and looked at the greyish wall of the building. Now that he focused on it, he could see that the gritty wall of the church was a mixed of white and grey. It wouldn’t be all that special, if not for a moment ago, he could have sworn that the entire portion of the wall he had been near was entirely grey and, like a child trying to trick his friend, began changing colour whenever he looked away only to stop when he looked back.

 

“Is it the sun?” he asked himself as he examined the wall by touching it slightly. The wall was cold and as hard as anyone would expect it to be. This particular side of the building was in the shade and so it couldn’t be explained by the fury of the sun, nor were there any windows on the building next to it that could reflect any light. Slightly amused at the near trivial event, the boy began to walk along the edge of the building to examine it some more. Every so often he would turn around, and found that an identical wall with different colours had replaced the wall he had just trailed his hand along. He began to speculate what it could all possibly mean and whether or not he should continue looking. Before he could decide what to do though, he felt something pinch at the back pocket of his trousers. Suspecting Kaze, he grasped onto the hand without looking and pulled it in front of him, bringing not a small, lean boy, but a short, blond haired girl. The girl squeaked in surprise as Sagara regarded her in equal disbelief. His shock turned to a small grin as he realized that here was something that he could deal with in a way he knew how.

 

“Hello,” he said coyly, thrusting his eyes up to meet hers as he pushed her against the wall, “what we got here then. I was beginning to assume there was no crime in this town. Is this a special occasion or do they just hide it really well from visitors?” The girl said nothing at this, looking to the ground instead to keep away from his dominating gaze. Both teenagers stood in that position for a few moments as Sagara waited for the girl to make some sort of excuse or apology. She did nothing, choosing to continue to look away, waiting for the man in front of her to loose interest. Instead, he grinned even more and began to push her further up the wall.

 

“Oi oi oi, what do you think you’re doing girl?” he asked mockingly, “you think I’ll disappear if you look away long enough or something. I’m not going anywhere until I at least get an apology” In order to further his point, he dropped the girl without warning, grabbing her leg so that she landed with force, causing her to whimper some more. Both waited again for the other to do something, the girl seeming to have no intentions to contribute to the conversation. The fact that the girl hadn’t said a word began to concern the boy standing above her. Could she not speak? Or was she so scared of the situation that she was petrified to say a word, less she condemn herself even more. She was pretty, he thought surprisingly for a second, although judging by the state of her clothes it seems that she had gone into pick pocketing because she needed to, rather than had to. That alone struck him as strange, in a town where a complete stranger could get given food without even asking. Her hair looked ruffled and out of place, judging by the direction it was slanting in, he guessed that she had slept in an alley with the wind to her right, which also implied that she was homeless. Her face wasn’t dirty though, and still actually shone a bit from the make up that she had lightly dabbed on about three days ago, meaning she had either just become homeless, or had some very strange priorities.

 

“I….i…” the girl stuttered, finally taking a breath to speak. Her voice was ragged and croaked, as if she had not used it for a long time. She muttered something else, but Sagara totally missed it. He sighed loudly to himself, implying more of a groan as he realized that nothing was going to be gained from what he was doing. The boy lifted his foot from the wall against the side of her face. He then offered her a hand and waited for her to take it, grabbing hers when she finally brought it within reach and hoisting the girl up to her legs.

 

“Come on, get out of here,” he said unemotionally looking away as he began to regret his previous actions. He barely heard her as she stood up and looked at him for a few seconds, before running down the back alley of the church and out of sight. He was amazed at how quiet she had been, it was almost like she wasn’t even there. He was beginning to wish she hadn’t been as he reflected on his own actions from less than a few seconds ago. The girl was clearly not expecting to be caught, and yet also clearly someone that had never pick pocketed before, or at least never been caught, but wouldn’t that mean she would have an air of confidence. The more experienced girls back home would often attack someone if they caught them with their hand in the person’s pocket.

 

“Never mind,” he said, sighing once more to himself, “no harm, no reason to kill, and I would be a hypocrite if I got too angry about it.” He stretched slightly, in order to help him move on, and began to get back to what he was doing. He left the alleyway in the opposite direction from the girl, intending to find a place to stay. As he walked away, the wall slowly blended in with itself, becoming a pure white.

 

I begin to puff and pant as I run from the man I met in the alleyway. Why he let me go did not concern me, but more why he made me stay for such a long time. It felt like an endless eternity as he stared at me whilst I averted my gaze and I began to realize that no one had looked at me like that for a long time. Why did he even look at me? How did he even notice me? I had barely touched him when he had already seen me, I shouldn’t have tried to steal from someone who was all alone in an alleyway. It should be commonsense for most people, but I thought it would not have mattered to me, since most tend not to notice me anyway. But that boy did see me, and the way he looked at me. I had never seen such fierce and gentle eyes before. I stop as I realize that made no sense, even though that was the only way to best describe his eyes.

 

I am still panting from my exhaustive run, and I realize that I am in an alleyway on the edges of town before the northern desert. As I gaze across the lone and level sands, I am reminded of my dream. My parents, if they can be truly called that anymore, once told me that beyond the desert lies a great city, with large buildings, called towers and skyscrapers. I had never seen this city, but I have not left this town since I was a child, and it cannot be seen even from the tallest building or closest viewpoint. Even so, I imagine that this city is where I had my dream, since I remember seeing the desert there too.

 

“Oi oi oi what do you think you are doing girl?” His words come back to me. They seem significant somehow, even though I know it is a common question. I am not sure, but I think it is the only time anyone has ever asked it to me. I think hard and speculate whether or not it was the first time anyone had ever asked me a question or not. Surely someone must have done at least once. I know I do not talk to people much, and people do not talk to me at all, but it must have happened once. I sniff slightly, as I become overcome with worry about this question I am asking myself, of which I cannot truly provide an answer. Someone must have asked me, but I cannot recall a single time, ever.

 

“What do I think I am doing?” I ask myself aloud, amazed at how easy it is for me to speak when I know no one is listening. I was trying to take some money out of his pocket. I did not know if any was there. Money is still rare in the twelve towns, but practically everyone accepts it now. I was hungry, and it would have been easier to get something to eat if I did have money. I didn’t have any at first, but I got some earlier off another man, who was too busy with a large box that he had got from the bakery and when I saw him talking with this boy, I thought perhaps the boy also carried money with him.

 

I could not help but think of the boy again. He was tall and had brown hair with fierce and gentle eyes. I could not remember their colour however. I had the impression that I had met him before, or at least passed by him and stopped to stare. Maybe we had passed each other in town before, since anyone rarely visits. He didn’t look like he was from the town though. He was muscular, and yet still somewhat thin. Most in town are either slightly overweight, really thin or incredibly bulky, depending on what type of work they do. So, I don’t think he was from the town, since I would have probably remembered or heard of someone like him, not that anyone would tell me.

 

A noise emanates from my stomach and I feel the pains of having not eating recently. I reach into my pockets at the few round pieces of grey metal I am holding. I overheard my mother once telling my brother and I that the pieces of metal used to be called coins and had distinctive markings on them, but that had changed since this new type of coin was made and to me they had always been smooth and flat. I am also holding a key, but I am ignoring it for the time being. The coins I am holding now, would not be enough to get me any food from any of the nearby shops, nothing of a suitable standard and I should not be wasting it on snacks.

 

I stand back up, not realizing that I had sat down earlier and take one last look back at the desert before heading back into the town again. It might be possible to get something with the money I do have. Even if I can’t, I might get away with giving them the money I have even when it is not enough. I hope so, since I am now more hungry than I have ever been in my entire life.

 

As I reach the main street where all the shops stand, I glance nervously as I hope I do not see the boy I met earlier again. Although I find I wouldn’t mind meeting him again, and having him ask me questions. Maybe next time, I will actually say something.

 

“Yo, I’m back.”  Sagara shouted as he entered the door of the sheriff’s jail block. He was greeted by a sound that implied the building was empty and figured that Yamato and Kaze had gone out. As he walked through the building and looked around, he waved a hand to Shariku, who responded with a glance. The dark haired boy was currently looking at a painting that was on the wall. It depicted a four-legged creature with white fur and a glossy mane. It had a large body with a strange head and it looked like he could probably ride on it like he would his jeep. On top of it’s strange head, which dipped down from it’s neck making it appear a bit dumb looking, was a spike or horn of some sort, which seemed to curl around itself. The creature would have appeared beautiful to the eyes of an observer, majestic even, were it not currently painted in a perspective so that it was falling to it’s eminent doom. The creature appeared to have no way to fly and its position implied that it was flailing its legs helplessly in hope that it soon would have. Despite this, it was quite a nice painting.

 

He left his ally to continuing staring at the artwork. He had probably been at it for some time now and would probably only stop to die or be mortally wounded in some way. Sagara turned the corner to find the ‘sheriff’ of the town sleeping on his chair. His legs were on a table and he was slowly rocking back and forth in time to his own snoring. It seemed the entire building had nothing to do that day. As the boy accidentally stamped his foot on the floor several times, the older man tipped fully back on his rocking chair, banging his head on the wall and waking up. He looked round with a start to check if there were any enemies of the town lurking round and calmed down when he saw Sagara looking over him.

 

“Ooh sorry lad, must have dozed off there for a while,” the enforcer apologised as he stood up to greet his new tenet, “did ya have any look at finding your way round town?” Sagara observed the man for a few seconds, confused at something for a moment.

 

“It’s quite a nice area,” the boy replied, “and the people here are polite and generous,” he pulled out a folded, circular piece of paper with dark stains on it, “look, I got given a muffin,” he said in a squeaky voice.

 

“Ah, I sees you’ve met Mr. Edison. He makes far too many muffins each day. He ends up going around town and giving them to people.” The Sheriff ended his sentence with a laugh, whilst indicating a bin for the boy to throw the litter away in. Sagara looked at it confused for a moment, before understanding what the man meant.

 

“I guess you can afford to waste stuff,” the boy commented as he deposited his waste, “especially when you have electricity pumping everywhere.”

 

“Ah, that’s sort of true,” the man responded, as he found his hat on the floor and put it on, “but we try to keep it all clean still, we reuse what we can and donate what we no longer need so nothing really goes to waste.”

 

“I see.”

 

“I take it you don’t have electricity where you’re from then?”

 

“How could you tell?” the boy asked rhetorically. The older man missed this and answered anyway.

 

“From your tone, you sound a little jealous.” The Sheriff pointed out, although he didn’t need to, “I can’t say I blame you though. We have a pretty good life compared to others around us. Plenty of power, plenty of food, no freaks or demons to bother us. We can live our lives in peace and prosperity. It’s quite the perfect area.” He began to laugh at this, as he was prone to do at a moment’s notice. Sagara grinned with him as the man’s last words stuck in his head.

 

“Perfect, yes,” he muttered quietly under his breath, “it’s almost too perfect.”

 

“’ey boy, I just had me a thought.” The Sheriff said, still laughing, as he put his heavy arm round the boy’s shoulder, “why don’t you and your friends stay in town for a while. I likes you all, so I’m sure everyone else would.”

 

“Stay here?” Sagara repeated, not expecting the offer.

 

“You said you were only passing through last night,” the older man continued, “but I’m sure after what you’ve seen today. You’re probably quite tempted to stay and enjoy it.”

 

“Well, I’m not sure we should,” Sagara began.

 

“Now don’t give me that boy, there’s no need to be too polite.” The man interrupted, “You probably would have stayed quiet and never asked if you weren’t given the invitation. You would have probably felt you was imposing on us all or something.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Well nothing, my friend.” He said, changing his accent to that of a fine gentlemen,  “You may stay here as long as you like. Though, four boys like you are probably gonna wanna find your own place. There’s bound to be a few places going cheap if you have something good to trade. And then once you have a place to stay, you can just sit back and enjoy your time.” The accent had changed back seconds later, as if they was someone inside him pressing buttons.

 

“Well…” Sagara said again, hating the fact that he couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

 

“Well it sounds good to me,” said Yamato as he appeared from around the corner, “this town had to be the most beauti…. no, most wondrous town I have ever witnessed. It would be an honour for us to stay here sir.” Behind him, Kaze appeared to smile and look happy about the offer as well, although he could smile and look happy about the deaths of thousands of innocent, cute monkeys. So it wasn’t much to go by.

 

“Well, your friends agree, what say you boy,” Sagara shot a glance at his allies as they grinned back at him. It still didn’t feel right; they were being deceptively nice to someone who later their actions would completely turn upside down, part of their plan was to completely ruin this lifestyle. It seemed okay when he didn’t know the people he was stealing from. To smile and manipulate them in this way was just fundamentally wrong. But in this situation, did they have a choice?

 

“I’m in,” he sighed, to be responded with a fake cheer from the three surrounding him, “but we’re not going to annoy anyone you guys. We’re gonna get our own places and get our own jobs.”

 

“Oh, but of course,” Kaze said, sarcastically bowing to Sagara’s command as the two continued to laugh.

 

“Well, if you’re looking for jobs,” the local sheriff said, “the ol’ power plant is always looking for people. You don’t have to be skilled or anything to apply for work there. You just sign up, and anyway you go.”

 

“I couldn’t have thought of anything better myself,” Yamato said, “I’d love to know how that place works, wouldn’t you mate?” Even Sagara had to grin at this particular turn of fate.

 

“Well, it’s settled,” the Sheriff said loudly, “let’s go down there right now and get the five of you, I mean, four of you” the bulky man stopped in mid sentence and looked around, he could have sworn he just seen another much taller boy, standing there behind the smaller one like a guardian, but then his attention was then taken by the boy still staring at the picture, rather oblivious to the entire conversation, “What about him?” the sheriff asked, knowing now there was no point to trying to engage Shariku in conversation.

 

“He’ll be fine,” Yamato reassured “won’t you Jimmy?” the dark haired boy didn’t move to this at all, he still seemed engrossed in the painting.

 

“Are you sure?” the Sheriff asked uncertainly as he looked at the dark haired boy. He wasn’t sure what was up with the boy, but his gut told him he seemed suspicious. All of this time, it felt like he had been a stalker to the others, following them until a point where they became so used to him, that he could strike in a flash and they would be none the wiser, and yet, they were clearly aware of him, almost like they were observing him at all times.

 

“No worries,” Yamato said calmly, “he’s quiet, but he rarely means any harm. He’s a good friend.” Shariku shuffled slightly at this comment.

 

“Well if you’re sure,” the man said.

 

*******************************************

 

The job application process was a lot easier than we expected it to be. The way we were treated so nicely it was as if we had been accepted for the job before the jeep had even broken down. Despite this, there were a few minor problems. The major one being when the slim, bald man at the desk handed us pens and asked them to fill in our details on these sheets of paper. I could read and write just fine and Yamato could to an extent, but the markings on the paper in front of us made little sense, being clearly a different writing system than the one Mr. Ishida had taught us. The sheriff, who had accompanied us, just laughed as he took the papers off us and began to draw upon them a combination of different circles and lines. According to him, these were our names.

 

Of course, they weren’t actually our names. For the sake of caution we had given each other new names to call each other while in this new area. This wouldn’t have normally mattered to me, but our names were relatively unique to the city, everyone living there had been named from words from some strange dead tongue, even people who had different names at birth had theirs changed. It was the mark of the city, and if anyone in the town had recognised this connection, it would undoubtedly cause trouble for both the overall plan and ourselves.

 

Another trouble has happened for Kage, but we are stuck with it for the time being since we are now all unable to mention it in the slightest. It had been originally planned for Kage to be on the outside during the day-to-day activities, since he was more trustworthy than his younger brother and less likely to call us by our proper names. Kaze’s mouth runs far faster than my jeep ever will and he could just as easily state we were all thieves, as he would do that little bounce of his. However, bad timing with the sheriff meeting us last night meant that Kaze now has to be the one to stay out at all times. It has not heavily affected our plan but it has placed us all at great risk. The worse part is that Kaze seems to know this, his grin has been etched higher than usual and he has already slurred our names more than once. Yamato doesn’t seem concerned, but I see Kage, standing over his little brother, fuming in frustration.

 

“That’s your form done Tommy,” the sheriff said, handing me the final piece of the three sheets that would allow me to work at the plant. He was a kind man really, although the rest of the town would probably say average. But, during all this time, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the reason he was staying so close to us was to watch us, to make sure we weren’t suspicious in some ways. I should probably stop thinking about it as my paranoia could cause him to start being paranoid. I laughed to myself slightly at this. In these situations, even the most pathetic joke could spark me.

 

“Thank you sir,” I said, taking the sheet of paper off him. Glancing at it, it made less sense when it did earlier. The only difference now is that it has blue ink all over it. It was truly difficult to tell if it was his handwriting, or that he did not know the language either, and just didn’t want to admit it. “Ah, come to think of it sir, you haven’t told me your name yet.”

 

He took a few moments to look at me, as if I had just asked him when do the bears drop from the ceiling. From his eyes, I could tell the question had truly baffled him. “John,” he replied slowly, as if confirming it himself, “but it’s best to just call me sheriff, everyone else does.”

 

“Very well,” said Yamato, or Billy during this period of time, jumping in, “sheriff. When do we start?”

 

“Or rather, what do we actually do, besides earn supplies?” Kaze asked. For the sake of the time being, he was being referred to as Paul, mainly because Mr. Ishida couldn’t think of another name ending in ‘y’.

 

“Oh, you won’t be earning supplies,” the sheriff said, rising up from his chair to tower above them, “you’ll be earning…cash.”

 

“What?” it didn’t matter who said this line, it was what everyone was thinking.

 

“What’s cash?” asked Kaze, eliminating him from the above sentence.

 

“I figured you wouldn’t have heard of it.” The sheriff said, fishing into his pocket to retrieve something. If it was cash, whatever it was, it seemed it was going to be small “it’s pretty new around here as well, but it’s what we use for basic trade. Here it is, the latest thing….cash”

 

On the top of the man’s hand, which was dirty as it is, seemed to be a small crumpled up piece of green paper. It was torn at various edges and looked like it couldn’t achieve anything, let alone be used for basic trade. The three boys stared in confusion, the looks on their faces giving the impression that the man had just pulled out a dead gerbil. Yamato shuddered as he came to realise what it was.

 

“Money,” he said blankly, as his eyes tried to turn themselves around and force themselves into his brain, mainly to end his suffering, “they’re going to give us money.”

 

“What?” the sheriff said, confused “you have heard of it then?”

 

“Er, it’s kind of new in our town as well, we never heard of it being called cash though.” Sagara explained, “does…everyone in town use this.”

 

“Yeah, pretty much, people still use basic trade and bartering. But this is slowly coming through. People seem to prefer it for some reason.”

 

“How could anyone prefer bits of green paper with numbers on them to food and drink,” Yamato asked glumly, as he felt the source of supplies disappear from his grasp, due to thousands and thousands of green, paper cuts.

 

“It’ll be fine,” Sagara said, “just as long as we get paid enough to eat and rent somewhere.”

 

“Ah, that will not be a problem,” the thin, bald man interrupted from where he had been quite on his chair. “The plant will provide you with rooms. Luckily, since you’re a group of four it will work out fine. We will assign you two, two bed rooms. I assume that’ll be satisfactory.”

 

“Huh? But there’s five of us,” Kaze began to say, before his foot reported it was under attack from a strange flat object, made of plastic, and probably coming from Yamato’s foot. The sheriff flinched at this comment. There was something he couldn’t put his mind on, “four then, sheesh. I wanted an extra room.”

 

The bald creature on the chair opened the drawer to the side of him and fished out two pieces of metal with plastic connected to them. Placing them on the table, he slid them over to the boys. Sagara caught both as he began to explain.

 

“Those are your keys, hopefully you have heard of them before. They will let you open your doors,”

 

“We know that,” interrupted Sagara, feeling as he was speaking to a child, instead of being treated like one.

 

“Very well, do not lose them under any condition. They are very, very old. Even before the disasters and we do not have spares. We haven’t even found the technology to make keys in the first place yet.”

 

“No,” said Sagara, admiring the key slightly, yet feeling it was like a dark herald of some kind. “we don’t have them at all when we come from.”

 

“Really sir,” the man said in confusion, “may I ask how you keep things your own then?” Sagara observed the man as he pondered the questions for a moment, then just smiled.

 

“I guess you could say we’re not that petty. Everything was free in our town, and everyone respected that.” It was true to an extent, which allowed Sagara to smile truthfully. There may have been basic trade in the city, but everything belonged to everybody and most were willing to help others out in some way, unless they were fighting each other. Then they traded blows instead, which worked out equally as well, although not to the person on the receiving end.

 

“I would not say it is petty to have your own space sir,” the bald man claimed, “it is merely a wish to have a place to call your own.”

 

“To you, that may sound reasonable, but to me it is downright greedy.” Sagara replied, still grinning slightly. “Now then, point us in the direction of our rooms if you would.” As they began to walk off down the corridor, Sagara cursed himself. Not only had he changed perspectives without meaning to, but he had also gotten use to betraying his own feelings. H was joining in and joking with these people. Why did it seem so easy?

 

Detective Story

Chapter 1: Waking up- Time unknown

 

I woke up, to hear the humming of a great animal around me. My knee jerk reaction was simply to grab the alarm clock and rip it from the wire that allowed it to make its usual static sound. However, as I fumbled to grab it this time, I felt nothing but a textured plastic surface where a smooth, wooden one should be. Lifting my head up to investigate this, the sounds of the wailing stopped and, shaking my head out of the world it had been in just a few moments ago, found myself staring at the steering wheel of my old Mazda. I sat up, dazed, before I remember what had happened but a few hours ago.

 

It had been a simple trip, one without any activity except the incessant honking of a man behind me who insisted I was going too slowly, when I was in fact breaking the speed limit. I had been driving all day and most of the previous night, with no real stop except for a gas station about fifty miles back, and was just considering going to sleep as the sun went down around six o’clock, when a small explosion was to prevent me for getting any rest for the next hour.

 

The small explosion had been one of my tires popping. It had woke me up from my daze and caused me to skid to one side. Luckily, the road was empty at that point and I was able to expertly take control of the vehicle and dump it on the side of the road.

 

A quick look revealed nothing of any interest except that which was already obvious. The tire had blown, something that I had guessed was going to happen in the nearby future after the front left one also went a few days prior. Unfortunately, the tires bursting a few days before one another caused a problem for a traveler like myself in the fact that I simply no longer had a spare to fix it and that I knew nobody nearby to help me with my problem. I inquired upon others as they passed me, but simply responded with various looks that implied they just couldn’t be arsed to stop.

 

I couldn’t remember anything after that, and so it becomes obvious that I must have passed out in the driver’s seat of my precious vehicle. She was old and I was so acquainted with her that I had even named her Sandy, after this girl, who had not so much got away as ran. Even though I knew it was about time to replace her, I could never bring myself to do so. Besides, I have very little money nowadays and probably couldn’t afford anything better anyway. Such was the life of a road warrior, as I had jokingly called myself, even though I was about fifteen years too old and far too many hairs bald. Still, it was a dream I had intended to fulfill since I was a teenager and with the problems I had been suffering in my life the past few years, keeping away from it all was just as good an excuse as any.

 

Snapping myself back to attention, I stifle a small yawn and stretch my arms, despite the confines of my vehicle. I reach for the glove compartment and pull out a standard thermos mug, which I hope to god is still full of warm coffee. I would hate to have to kill the next passer by just because I was thirsty. The liquid brown was indeed warm, and I had no problem in waking myself up quickly. As I finished up, I pulled myself out of my dear car and locked it, intending to walk down the road to the building that I could remember seeing about five miles back. The image was still blurry from my dream state but, considering the location, I figured it to be a gas station or diner of some sort. I set off at a mild pace.

 

I was quickly surprised to discover it to be much closer than I had remembered, and it was only around five hundred or so meters before I had come to an open entrance of sorts. It was a gate of regal design and clearly implied that whoever was to be found at the end of the stone pebble road was probably very rich and could afford to build somewhere in his own style. This type of locale seemed more along the lines of a place in Britain rather than America, and I became anxious as to who I might meet.

 

Reaching the gate, I observed a sign on the wall. It was a simple, metal plaque but had clearly been shined up to look as splendid as possible. It said on it:

 

Dr. Bruce Kent PhD

Gentleman’s house

Please ring buzzer for access

 

I found myself laughing slightly at the strangely chosen name of the place. The place sounded like it was named after a sort of sarcastic joke. Without waiting, I pushed down on the buzzer for a moment, slightly worried that I might be calling too late. I was unaware of the current time, as my watch had decided to stop on me whilst I was asleep, but judging by the night sky, it had to be around eight or nine.

 

There was no answer for a few moments and I was worried that they may have turned off the intercom for the night, but just as I went to press it again, the speaker made a shuffling noise and I leaned closer to expect a voice. As it came, it said simply ‘come on in please sir. We’re expecting you.’ As the speaker turned itself off, I froze in bewilderment, unsure as to what mistake must have been made. Were they expecting someone else? Was this an automatic message? Or had they simply seen my car a few miles back through one of the windows? The last one seemed unlikely, as there was no house currently in sight. The thick trees and everglades seemed to cover the entire estate and all that could be seen besides was the small pebble lane that appeared to go half a mile down, out of sight.

 

I shrugged my shoulders as I decided what to do. It would seem pointless to press the buzzer again, as explaining the situation is made much more difficult when you cannot see who you are talking too, so I opted to head up the pebbled path. Something I began to regret to do immediately in the darkness. There were many shuffling sounds in the bushes. I assured myself they were probably small animals that roamed the grounds, but this wasn’t exactly enough for my nerves that were almost pushed to their limits when a small hedgehog came dashing out and ran across my path. I laughed at myself for my own foolish behavior and quickly stepped ahead, intending to reach my destination before something a lot bigger came out. The place was strangely misty too, as if the region was trying to hide something.

 

I came out from under the trees and walked upon a wooden bridge, big and sturdy enough to allow cars to pass over it. Walking over, I saw a small toy boat in the river with a small wooden concept of the grim reaper floating along it. The little model had been caught up in some marshes and couldn’t get any further along. I mused myself on it, thinking that even though it was a nice river ornament it had the wrong figure cast upon the boat.

 

Turning, I finally caught a glance the place that would hopefully provide me with some assistance on this night. The place was absolutely huge and resembled a manor of sorts. However, it again looked like it belonged in England more than it did in whatever state I had passed through today. The place was large, but built disproportionately so that it looked tall and thin. From here I couldn’t see how far along it was, but I assumed it must have been around sixty meters based on how the roof had been built. The walls were of brickwork that looked more Victorian than any modern day mansion and the roof had somehow maintain a stale look, showing much age when there should have been none to show. The place had clearly been custom made by whoever owned it. It boasted the feeling of old but betrayed small signs that it was newly made. The double-glazed windows were a big giveaway, as the window holes hadn’t been adjusted from anything prior, suggesting that they came at the same time the house did.

 

As I stepped off the bridge and headed for the many steps that led to the front entrance, I became aware of a man standing by the door. He was dressed respectively, wearing a formal suit but without a tie and the top button undone. He was wearing mainly beige, with a white shirt and black shoes. It seemed a strange mix of various styles. I had assumed him to be the owner, but I was to be quite surprised at what happened next.

 

“Hello.” He called to me in an American accent. Despite the country we were in it still surprised me. I was expecting a British accent with the surrounding scenery, he raised my hand to shake it as he introduced himself. “I am Samuel Puckson. Please to meet you. Feel free to call me Sam.”

 

“Samuel Puckson?” I said in confusion, ignoring his earlier command. “I thought the place belonged to a Dr. Kent?” He smiled at me, as if waiting to explain my confusion away for me.

 

“Ah, but it does.” He replied, almost jumping for joy for some reason. “I am but a guest as well, however, while I guess your reason for being here is about car troubles. Mine is of a far more sinister note.” I ignored his last sentence again as I focused upon what he had said before.

 

“How the fuck did you know I had car troubles?” I asked him in pure astonishment. I was half expecting a joke answer on his uncanny ability to read my mind, or to just admit that he guessed. The answer was far more refreshing.

 

“It is simple mate.” He stated, waving a finger at me. “Your appearance tells me all I need to know.” He pointed a finger to my creased, brown coat and my eyes followed. “First of all, your coat is ruffled. You’ve been snoozing at the wheel. Probably been driving far too late and dozed off before your head fell on the steering wheel, causing this little bump which you’ve probably not even noticed yet.” He turned his accusing finger to my head, which I could only guessed sported a small bruise of some kind. “Followed on from this, your breath has a distinct smell of coffee. Kind of stupid to be drinking coffee whilst driving, which either means you want to crash, or you’ve just woken up and had some morning java….just late at night.” He continued.

 

“Next, we have some small stains on the edge of your coats collar.” His fingers moved in turn to point out both of my arms, which had but a tiny trace of black on them. “Oil, I’ll bet. Not too much, enough to say that you don’t have major car troubles, but enough to say that you’ve just used some tools. Based on your thin but lean nature,” he said the last bit as if he was pulling away an insult, “as well as your clothes, I would say you are not an engineer of any sort. So it makes sense that you are only amatuerly fixing your car, so I would wager that you have blown a tire and are without a spare.” As he finished, I looked upon him with the face one would reserve for an angel were to show up in your bedroom one day and offer you life insurance.

 

“That’s amazing.” I stated, in deep admiration. “That’s fucking amazing. You’re like a detective. You just looked at me and figured out…”

 

“I must correct you there mister.” He said, pulling something out of his breast pocket. He displayed it to me for a split second, revealing a brass badge and an ID card. “I am a detective.” I looked on for several seconds, my expression not changing, before I replied with a simple ‘oh’. He laughed at this.

 

“I am not surprised you did not notice. I am not exactly dressed in my normal uniform.” He took this moment to knock on the door loudly. “I am, what you English would say, a plain clothes policemen. As to your unasked question as to why I am here tonight. It is for, as I said, a sinister reason. One in which, many questions are to be asked, and precious few will probably be answered. Regardless though, I will have the answers we desire at the end of this night. If you want, you may aid me. You might find it educational and I might find it amusing. But an innocent bystander who saw nothing is often a thousand times more effective in these situations than one who saw everything. You are clearly an innocent bystander in this whole ordeal and you have clearly no part in this except being at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He laughing almost mockingly as he said this, ”What do you say? Would you aid me on this endeavor.”

 

I looked at him for a moment, still unsure as to how to act, let alone respond. A part of me told myself, to turn one hundred and eighty degrees and run, regardless of the fact that it led straight for the river, to pull myself up and back into the real world. But the other half, as other halves always do, was too curious to let me go anywhere. It wanted to join up with this wizard of observation and track through a quest with unseen and untold peril and to do battle with whatever the fuck was going on. I found myself about to agree when Sam interrupted me.

 

“Ah, hush now. I hear the maid approaching. I ask that you do not inform them of your troubles for now. I will help you in all due time, but to tell them may cause them to handle your problem quickly and belt you out soon afterwards. If you are to assist me, it is best that you now say nothing.”

 

I did as he said, not because I wanted to come along or that I was unsure as to whether or yet I wanted to help him, but more because I felt that whatever incident had occurred was grievous to an extent that my troubles may seem trivial in comparison. I reassured myself that he was a man of the law and he would help me out in due course.

 

The door opened after what seemed an eternity and revealed an incredibly beautiful young lady. Her face was as small as it was cute and she was dressed in a very arousing maid’s outfit. Inside, I was sort of shocked that she was dressed in such an outfit, clearly as the result of a sick fetish of the owner of the manor. Outside however, I couldn’t help but stare for a moment, admiring how it fit her perfectly. She was pale and clearly concerned with something else to mind properly. She looked up timidly at the detective and asked him quietly to come in.

 

We both did so, and took a moment to marvel at the exquisite inside. The owner was clearly a fan of the colour black to say the least. The place didn’t look gothic, in fact it looked just as Victorian as the outside was. However, everywhere where I expected a mahogany wood finish, it had been painted one of the various shades of black. It gave the place an eerie feel, one similar to being in a doctor’s waiting room while you know something very suspicious is going on in the office. It looked normal but was practically screaming that there was something wrong, somewhere in this place. As well as something else, something familiar.

 

We were interrupted again by the entry of another person, who quickly dismissed the maid. It was clear by his actions that he had not wished her to answer the door, clearly due to the shocking way she was dressed but, for some reason, she had been too fast for him. He approached us, almost shyly. His demeanor appeared grand. He was dressed up like a true English gentleman, up to the point that he had a top hat upon his head that appeared so natural being there, that he had clearly forgotten to take it off. He also had a small eyepiece over his left pupil and a long white moustache. Despite this, he was clearly only thirty and brown hair could be seen under the black headpiece. It implied that he had dyed one or the other and it appeared to be the moustache.

 

“Hey.” He replied to our presence, indicating an American accent, that didn’t suit well with his Victorian appearance. “You must be the policemen we called?” He was asking me this clearly because I was dressed better than Samuel was, but as my new ally stepped forwards and held up his badge, the man turned to him.

 

“Yes, I’m afraid I am the detective you speak of.” He commented as he let the man inspect his badge. He took great interest in doing so, but it felt that he was doing it merely to make it look like he cared. He then lifted his the arm in which he held his bag and indicated in my direction. “This is my assistant.”

 

“Oh I see.” The man said laughing, before extending his arm and wishing to ignore his little error. “I’m Bruce Kent. I own Gentleman’s House. Sorry to have bothered you so late at night Inspector, but…” he seemed to stutter a bit, not sure what to say, “Well, it’s all necessary I guess.”

 

“Quite alright Bruce.” Sam replied, surprisingly formal for a first meeting as he shook back. “I’m afraid only we could come though. The department had quite a few calls tonight. It’s always the same, we get nothing for ages and then enough to stack us all up for the entire night.”

 

“Ah I see yes.” Dr. Bruce replied, for I could only assume this to be the man who name was on the plaque. “Well, come on in then. We’ll sit you down and we’ll go over the whole damn event.”

 

We moved into what could only be described as a drawing room. It felt the same as a place where the guests would crowd during a murder mystery game. Once again, this entire room was painted black at just about every opportunity it could find, from the doors to the cupboards and even any wooden parts to the furniture. The chairs were surprisingly green though and a glass coffee table contrasted just about the entire square mile that the manor’s area took up.

 

Inside the room were four people, all situated at different parts of the room. The first was a woman of around twenty-five years of age. She was blond hair and black skinned, which gave no doubts that she wasn’t a natural. She was dressed conservatively in a black business suit wearing glasses. She also had her hair pulled up at the moment, even so it was still long. She was currently scribbling away in a small notebook, but stopped when we entered the room and quickly hid it away.

 

Across from her was a man of around the same age. He had clearly been dressed up earlier, but now looked even looser than my new detective friend. He had pitch black hair and a tattoo of a dragon going down his neck, although I could only see the tail at this point, it was clearly Chinese. He was very muscular, but at the same time sported a large stomach. The man was asleep at the moment, probably sleeping off a meal I could still smell slightly. Whatever events had transpired clearly hadn’t affected him enough to keep him awake. He turned over as I looked at him, almost like he was hiding himself.

 

The third occupant of the room was standing by the window looking out. He glanced my way as we entered and showed me that he had green eyes and a full head of red hair. He had no blemishes on his face and would have maybe been considered handsome by the ladies were it not for his spectacularly large ears. They were well rounded and yet pointy at the top. Though they shouldn’t have been, they were clearly his most prominent feature. The man looked clearly concerned with the forth member of the room.

 

The forth member of the room was a complete contrast to the second member. He had bright blond hair and was rake thin. He appeared unusually pale and even his hair seemed unnaturally white. At this point he was wide-awake and had clearly been crying for some time. Even though he was probably crying at whatever event had happened earlier, it was clear that he was the nervous type anyway and he plainly jumped out of fright as we entered the room.

 

It had taken me but a moment to take in all their first impressions. It had been quite a habit I had picked up as a child and it seemed it might help me now if I was going to be the detective assistant in whatever was going on. I already had a clear feel for what was about to happen. It just appeared strange that they all had different expressions.

 

“Minna-sama.” The doctor called out unexpectedly in what appeared to be a foreign language, catching the attention of everybody who wasn’t asleep. They all turned fully at this point, to face us new arrivals. “The detective has shown up.” No one said a word to this poorly phrased greeting. It was understandable, considering the situation, whatever it was. It still felt like the doctor expected everyone to stand up and introduce him or herself.

 

“If you would like to take a seat sir.” He said politely, indicating a free sofa. We both fell upon it and I was quick to recognize my own fatigue as I did so. The noise seemed to stir the second occupant of the room, and he roused himself enough to stay focused on what was going on. As the strange doctor sat down himself, on a very large single seater, he kept his eyes fixated on the two of us, clearly as unsure as the rest of us as to what was to happen next. It was myself that took the next step, I leaned forward a little and looked hard at him.

 

“Excuse me?” I said simply, distracting his attention to whatever he was stuck on.

 

“Yes?” He replied simply enough.

 

“Something bad has happened, hasn’t it?” The man looked shocked and horrified at what I had said, he didn’t seem too offended, but it had clearly knocked him for a loop.

 

“You do know why you are here, don’t you?” He asked in total seriousness, unsure as to any other reason we were here. I quickly turned to my new companion and waited for him to answer, especially since I did have another reason to be here, and I found my own curiosity threatening to sallow me up in these events. The detective responded tactfully.

 

“We were informed of a disturbance at the manor. There were also a few problems with the line. Maybe you can tell us what’s gone on.” At this, we saw the blond haired man, who had previously been mourning something unknown, look up towards us, with a look of either pure fear or just as much hatred on his face.

 

“What’s gone on?” He almost screamed, if it hadn’t come out as a quiet rattle. “There’s been a murder, that’s what’s gone on. Mr. Mackingdale is dead.” The news threw us both back for a second. Even though, since entering, the entire house had been blaring out loudly to tell us that something along these lines had happened, it was only now confirmed. The urge to run away came strongly again as it occurred to me that maybe this was a bit too much of a task to aid in. the detective recovered a bit quicker than I did, and resumed a calm, almost not bothered look about the situation. In fact, he even smiled a little bit.

 

“Well, perhaps you better tell me what has happened then.” The inspector instructed. The wearied image of the man in front of us stuttered for a few moments, before collapsing upon himself completely. For a moment it looked like nothing was going to happen, and we would all be trapped in this awkward moment forever, but then the woman who had previously been scribbling away at her notes turned to us and motioned for us to listen.

 

“Perhaps it would be best if I explained for now.” She stated. “I have been here since pretty much the beginning. I can give you a step by step account of what has happened.” She showed her notes to us and for such a small pad it seemed quite comprehensive. Samuel smiled.

 

“Ah, I see you have been quite observant during all of this.” He pointed out as he grabbed her notes and started flicking through them. After a moment, she looked annoyed and just as quickly snatched them back. She kept a huge smile on her face, and it was clear that it was genuine.

 

“I know, it’s going to make a great story.” She said excitingly. The man who had broken down turned to her as if it was his line and became quickly angry.

 

“A story?” He shouted at her. “That’s all you care about. My boss….my mentor is dead. You were friends with him too, you know. How could you…” At this, the detective quickly took control, not wishing to escalate the situation into any arguments.

 

“Now now sir. We’ll d this by the book.” He stood up to help push the man back into his seat before turning back to the woman as he sat down. “I’ll listen to your account first. However, I just want a general account of tonights events. Then I’ll talk to each of you separately. That way, as you should know from any cop shows you may watch, you won’t change your stories or whatever.” He took a deep breath before pulling out his own notepad and pen from an inside pocket. Wetting the pen with his tongue, he waited for the attractive lady to start. “Now gorgeous. If you would, please tell me what’s happened.”

 

4 hours previously- 8:30

 

“I would prefer it if you didn’t refer to me like that again mister. I warn you that as a reporter I don’t like any cops in general. The only reason I’m talking to you now is because your help is unfortunately necessary. I only hope that I can prevent you from making a complete mess of things.”

 

To this comment, my newfound boss seemed delighted at what he had heard. He let a large smile appear on his face and appeared to wish to laugh. I could not blame him, as this man was clearly much smarter than any policeman I had met before, and seemed active and full of energy. He was someone I wish I could be more like. He said nothing back to the woman, although I disliked her superior tone from the start and would not have blamed him if he had gotten angry. After a short moment, she continued with her explanation.

 

“I suppose,” she began, “that it would be best to explain as to why we are all here. Although I cannot account for Bruce…I mean Dr. Kent’s own personal tastes about how he has designed this manor. The majority of us are here as a result of a competition of sorts. The competition was started by Mr. Roger Mackingdale, who is the one who has been killed tonight.”

 

“Roger Mackingdale?” Samuel muttered to himself, “that’s that famous author, right?”

 

“Yes,” the reporter said back, “It would be kinda weird if you didn’t know him. The man writes horror novels, focusing mainly in small events involving a few isolated people. He’s had success worldwide and has even had a few of his bestsellers turned into movies.”

 

“It would be clear to say then,” the detective inquired, “that for him to die in such a setting as this would probably not only be very suspicious but also an excellent press opportunity?” The woman looked back at him sternly, with no humor to return to him.

 

“It’s pretty obvious that there should be suspicion, Mr. Detective, as the man has been decapitated by an axe.”

 

“Holy fuck!” I said, surprised myself as the words came out of my mouth. Everybody who hadn’t been paying total attention quickly looked back to me. The story went on as I held my head in shame.

 

“Let me start from the beginning, and I reckon it’s best you don’t say anything until I have finished this time. Mr. Mackingdale was currently, how you say, between books like one would be between jobs, and was looking for inspiration as to what to write his next book about. His last book had been about a case where a young man murders his own father but then proceeds to forget the incident and try and find the killer, believing it not to be himself. It was said to be of such ridiculously high quality that he argued he didn’t have any more ideas left. Regardless his bosses argued for him to write another book, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find any inspiration to do so.”

 

“It was then when he came up with the idea for this competition. It was simple enough, but he got Dr. Kent here to agree to let him and some prizewinners stay over in this old mansion for a few nights, with the intents that the general spookiness of it would result in some inspiration. He got three prizewinners, two of which are here tonight. Mr. Evans here on the couch and Mr. Sterling by the window there.” She quickly indicated the man who had been sleeping and the ginger haired man. I wondered quickly for a moment that the other man might have been.

 

“The third man was a Mr. Jeremy, or ‘Jez’ as he insists on being called, Watkins. A teenager who has already had some success in the world of writing despite his age. Anyway, the winners had been decided, and the date was set for tonight. It was a weird idea, to say the least, but I think he invited some random people that he didn’t know it order to add some randomness to the whole affair. You know, people he had never met before and their take on the situation. Rather than write something new, he could write something that actually happened, and then just spice it up a bit. As a small personal favor to myself, I got Mr. Mackingdale to invite me along as well, in order to get an exclusive for the new book that he might be writing.”

 

“We all arrived at around six. I showed up first, shortly followed by Mr. Evans. Next Mr. Mackingdale showed up with his assistant Malcolm here.” She quickly indicated the nervous man next to her, who had been freaking out for some time now, since the beginning of this story. When we were all here, Dr. Kent, the owner showed up with his daughter, Alicia, to greet us. He was generally finding the whole event very amusing. Dr. Kent here isn’t a big fan of horror genre, but just thought the whole thing of trying to find something scary at this place funny. To try and keep things civilized, he invited us all to dinner at around half past. All the servants that he had at this place were here by then, preparing and cleaning. By the time dinner had been served there was only Emma left, who stayed around to clean up afterwards. He dismissed the rest, ‘in order to make the whole thing spooky’.”

 

“I see he succeeded more than he could possibly imagine.” Samuel said as he lay back into the couch with his eyes closed. I couldn’t’ exactly blame him for his relaxed attitude, this particular couch seemed to make all worries slip away.

 

“Yes well, dinner was probably where it had all started to go wrong. We had sat down at around half past six like I said, but it took another ten minutes before the food actually arrived. We just chatted amongst ourselves and got to know each other better a bit. Everything was going fine at this point, except at the time I guess Jeremy was being very quiet. He hadn’t said much and seemed to have something on his mind. We paid no attention to it at first, as you would. It wasn’t until the main course had arrived and Roger was talking about little bits and ideas he could use when he all of a sudden made a point to check if Jez was listening. Now, as I told you detective, Jez has had a previous book published about a year ago. However, like Mr. Mackingdale, he hasn’t published another since. He simply doesn’t really intend to, but Mr. Mackingdale, it seems, took it on as a personal quest, to help provide the boy with some inspiration as well.”

 

“This attempt…wasn’t exactly appreciated by Jez, who earlier had stated that he hadn’t even entered the competition, claiming that his mother had apparently done it for him. As Mr. Mackingdale finally made it clear to us all that he had in fact fixed the competition so that Jez would come to the mansion. That was when the kid lost it. It was mainly a mix of how the old man should ‘mind he own business’ and how it was his life and he should be the one to choose. To this, well, Mr. Mackingdale got angry in reply. It turns out he had really, really enjoyed reading Jez’s book, and became gutted when he heard that the boy wasn’t writing anything new. He got really emotional and started claiming that this whole trip was specifically for the boy to help him in his work and that he was being so ungrateful. Jez didn’t seem to care about this, and in my opinion was in fact being rather selfish, despite all that the man had done for him, even going so far as to pay for this whole trip and give him inspiration for his new book.”

 

“The arguing got worse between them, and the rest of us had no choice but to sit and watch. Even our host, Dr. Kent, found himself sitting down submissively as these two went about their insults. The maid stopped coming in after one time when Jez swung his hand at her, when she tried to serve him more food and it was clear that the whole thing had been a bad idea. The whole ordeal must have lasted until ten past seven, when Jez finally just stormed out of the room.”

 

“Clearly insulted, Mr. Mackingdale made it a point to try and continue the meal, and even though we tried to leave, he insisted and practically forced us to stay sitting down and finish our deserts. It would have been about half past again when we finally got out. The whole thing taking up too much of our time.”

 

“Afterwards, we all got on with separate things. I’m not sure what the others were thinking as we all split up. I understand that Mr. Evans went exploring and Mr. Sterling found himself hanging out with Ms. Kent, much to his own horror.” She grinned slightly at this point, and behind us I could tell that Mr. Sterling had squirmed a bit. “I myself had gone to contact my office to give a report. I basically told them that there didn’t seem like there was going to that much of a story unfortunately.”

 

“I would be proven wrong about twenty minutes later, when we all heard a scream coming from down below. It didn’t strike me as strange that the place didn’t have a basement, but what was quite amazing that we found out it had three basements. The scream was from the furthest one down and from what Dr. Kent said at the time, it was clearly his daughter Alicia who had the banshee’s wail that traveled across the entire manor. I dropped the phone on the spot and ran in the direction, where I met up with Dr. Kent and Malcolm.”

 

“It didn’t take too long to get to the third basement. Despite how far down it is, there is a separate entrance from the outside that let’s you go straight to the bottom basement, as well as stairs on the inside that connect all three floors.”

 

“Simply enough, we rushed down there, meeting Mr. Evans on the way down. When we arrived, I was shocked at what we had seen. There, in the midst of the basement, which was full of wine, lay Mr. Mackingdale in two pieces. It was clear that he had been decapitated in some manner, for there was the second half of his head just a few meters away, and it was clear to anyone that it had rolled slightly, regardless that it had been chopped off at the mouth. Jez was there as well, kneeling by the dead man, with his hands covered in blood and an evil scowl on his face. As we entered the room, he saw us and immediately made an attempt to retreat by running at us. Mr. Evans here, however, was able to quickly grab him and lay some whoop ass on him, knocking the bastard out.”

 

“However, he wasn’t the only other person down there. Alicia was as well, for she had gone down there for unknown reasons and apparently walked in on the whole gruesome thing. I don’t think she saw anything in particular, for the time in which she screamed and in which we got down there was very short and that filthy fucker had already been quick enough to hide the weapon that he had used to chop Mr. Mackingdale head clean off, save for his jaw bone.”

 

“You should probably move on, girl.” The detective quickly responded. “I think you’re making everybody feel ill.” This was true, and I myself found myself feeling far too queasy at this.

 

“Well, that’s pretty much near where everything finishes I guess. Emma, the maid, took Alicia to her room, where she’s been in a state of shock ever since and Mr. Evans and Dr. Kent threw Jez up in the room that had been assigned to him for that night, where they bolted the window and locked the door. The moron has the nerve to deny the whole thing even from the moment we found him with blood stained hands and an aggressive nature, as well as the immediate desire to run away. It is obvious that the boy is guilty detective, but knowing you lot and your need for evidence, you probably won’t find any real clues as to what happened here except for our eyewitness testimonials.”

 

“Well, let us hope that will be enough then.” The detective stated, as he held up his hand to make her stop talking. The room was pitched into silence for a few minutes as we all sat around and observed the detective’s expression. He was obviously through a line of thought where he was putting everything together and seeing if there were any important facts that were clearly being missed. After a moment, he became aware of us all staring at him and blushed slightly, which surprised me a great deal after seeing his casual attitude earlier. He clapped his hands and stood up, facing the owner.

 

“I would like you to prepare a room if you will with three chairs and a table.” He asked politely, confusing the doctor before turning to face us all. “Here’s what I am going to do now I have a basic picture of what’s been going on. I will go down and look at the crime scene now. I hope none of you have touched anything?” He cast an accusing look at all of them to which nobody really replied, indicating that no one had. “Good. After I have looked at that, I wish to question you all individually and get statements from everybody. That includes the three who are not here at the moment. I understand that the maid has stayed behind.”

 

“Yes she has.” Replied Dr. Kent. “She actually lives here with us, but she probably wouldn’t be able to say anything. Her quarters are in a whole other wing of the place. She didn’t even hear the screams at the time.”

 

“Well, her being separate may actually give more information than anybody who saw everything may be able to give.” The detective said dryly, as he looked to stare off into space for a moment. “What about the girl, your daughter?”

 

“Erm….” Dr. Kent stuttered poorly for a moment, “well, I’m not sure if she would be up to talking. I’ll see how she is.”

 

“You do that. It is not vital I speak to her now, but she is the main witness.” Samuel pointed out as the strangely shy doctor began to walk out of the room. I could see by the glance on his face that he was pleased to be getting out. It was hard to tell if the whole event was a serious matter, or nothing more than an inconvenience to him. As we began to leave to follow him, the detective quickly stopped before the woman who had just told us the events of the night.

 

“One more thing, actually two,” he began, “is there anyone else here that we are not aware of that might have seen anything?”

 

“Not that I am aware of,” she replied after a moment’s thought, “myself, Dr. Kent, his daughter, Malcolm, Mr. Evans, Mr. Sterling and the maid are the only ones that should be here. It’s best you ask the maid if anything, another servant might have stayed behind to keep her company that we might not know about.”

 

“Thank you for your help.” He said as he began to leave the room.

 

“And the other thing?” She blurted out, quickly stopping him in his tracks.

 

“What? Oh yes. Could I ask none of you to leave the manor area tonight? I know it should be obvious not to, if an emergency comes up for you. Make sure to check with me first.”

 

The occupants of the room made various responses to show that they agreed to this. From their grunts I could tell that they were annoyed at the prospect of having to spend a night in a place where a murder had taken place. Thinking logically, the majority of them probably didn’t actually have places to go. From what I had heard, since they were all competition winners, they could have come from halfway across the world. Even so, there wasn’t any place around here for miles, the closest piece of civilization that existed was the gas station about five miles down.

 

As we moved on o wherever the owner of the manor was going to situate us, I felt a small throbbing on my forehead. As it hit a beat that only a teenager could appreciate, the owner started to make small talk to us. Neither of us said anything special in response, as he was asking about what we thought of the place. The headache quickly subsided and I put it down to what was happening today catching up to me already.

 

Down one small flight of stairs and back up again and we were at our destination. With it’s freezers and ovens scattered around in a pattern only the staff could understand, I figured it to be the main kitchen. Dr. Kent quickly walked ahead of us and started clearly stuff off of a large table, before pulling up two chairs on either side of the table.

 

“I figure this would be the best place for you sir. All the other tables we have in this place are probably too big for you to interview anybody in the manner I see you do on the TV. There also won’t be that many distractions, through that door,” He said, indicating to a wooden frame to the north, “is a corridor that leads to the dining room. The door on the opposite side of the room leads to the freezer area and then there’s just the door we came though that’s by it. The stairs that lead to it are relatively creaky, so no one should be able to sneak up on you.”

 

“Thank you,” the detective said in reply, “this should do fine. Give me a moment to prepare a few things, then I’ll go down and inspect the body.” To this, the owner of the mansion became visibly stricken for a moment.

 

“You…you want to go down there…and check the body?” He asked. It became clear to me now that although the man acted casual, the murder of Mr. Mackingdale had scared him to a degree. He seemed to be rather heroically, holding in his own nerve, probably for the sake of the guests around him. “Yes…very well.” He finally replied, after he took control of his own gut again.

 

“Thank you once more. Sorry for putting you through all this trouble, but I feel it’s better to get the statements and examine the scene as soon as possible. It would take to long to get down to the village and do all this, seeing where we are.”

 

“No no not at all,” the doctor stuttered over. “It is we who are causing you the trouble sir, calling you all this way. Despite what Mrs. Brown says, I appreciate you being here. It provides a sort of order, to the whole thing, if you understand me.”

 

“I do,” the detective replied, with a growing pain in his face, “now if you’ll excuse me.” He left his last words to hang, giving the impression to Dr. Kent that he should leave. He quickly said his goodbyes and left. After the older man left, Samuel walked over to a chair that had been left by an oven and moved it closer to the table, before ushering me into it, then he fell down onto a chair by it and rudely rested his feet upon the table, bringing both hands up to his chin. He stayed in this position for a few moments, before finally turning to face me.

 

“What do you think of the whole situation then, my new found friend?”

 

I stared back at him for a flash, I had been thinking of a few things of my own, probably very similar to his own.

 

“Well, I would say it isn’t my place to make comments about such things…” I began to say slyly, as I hadn’t made that much of an idea in my head yet. He grunted in annoyance to this and looked away from me for a moment before turning back.  

 

“Let’s just say it is, shall we? Completely off the record, what do you think of this whole incident?” I shuffled nervously as he forced the question and made myself look like I was thinking when my mind was in fact a complete blank.

 

“Well, I would say the answer was obvious,” I finally fumbled together, “the evidence seems to go against this boy, but then it is only what she has said so far. For all we know, she is the murderer.” To this, the detective slammed his hands on the table and showed me a large smile upon his face.

 

“Exactly the right answer, my dear compadre.” He said excitedly. “As a detective, one must always remember the necessity to know everything before thinking anything. It may be natural to make little theories up based on the incomplete evidence and they can help, but at the same time, we must make sure that we do not tend to make theories into facts, and in fact make theories from facts.”

 

This brain twister confused me for a moment and it clearly showed by the look of amusement that the detective gave me. He laughed loudly and stood up again.

 

“In other words, we need more information. Come, my dear Jacob. Let us go find where information rests, for I cannot make my case without leather and before I get my leather, I need to skin the cow. Let us go check out the body of poor Mr. Mackingdale.”

 

He quickly left the door at this point and I followed somewhat blindly. My head began to pulse again slightly and I shook it off. This time I put it down to the very badly timed metaphor of skinning a dead cow, which we were now just a few minutes away from doing so.

 

We didn’t get to see much of the manor as we went to investigate the body. After joining up with him again, Doctor Kent immediately led us back outside the building and around the back. As we moved around the side of the house, I was somewhat surprised to see it had darkened quite noticeably, up to the point where the good doctor now carried around a flashlight to help lead us.

 

Something else that struck me as odd was how the entire estate must have been completely invisible to the outside world, except perhaps by air. I could understand a man’s desire for seclusion, but this seemed a bit much. A ten-foot high line of bushes surrounded the area where we walked, and further kept the outside world at bay with outgrowths and even barbed wire at the top. I could only imagine what may lie on the other side, but a constant warning stated how no employee should make any attempt to cross the natural fence at any time.

 

We didn’t get to see the back of the manor as the entrance to the basement was just before it and I could see nothing further in the darkness. I found myself wishing to go further, but felt it would show a clear lack of priorities. Dr. Kent slowly lifted up the two large doors that fell into the basement area, before flicking on a switch that illuminated the whole area. I was extremely grateful that we could see as we walked down, for I knew one wrong step could lead to disaster to any one of us, and perhaps more if the person at the back fell first.

 

After a full minute and a half of walking downwards, we finally reached the wine cellar. It was strangely large for a sub, sub basement, consisting of several rooms all connecting through narrow corridors. With a guide, we were lucky enough not to have to face the prospect of getting lost in this dank, dark maze.

 

Yet another surprising thing that caught me as odd was the complete lack of wine that was in the wine cellar. There were many cabinets designed to hold them as well as racks and barrels and yet not a single drop of the liquid crimson could be seen. The barrels were open and empty and judging by the dust, there was no wine here in the first place, or at least not for a long time.

 

This didn’t seem to matter to our host, and he quickly led us to the location of the dead body. As we approached, an almost visible stench permuted the air and I instinctively went to grab my mouth and nose to try and hide them from the awful smell. On the floor there lay what must have been the body of this Mr. Mackingdale, to whom I have never heard of personally until this night. He lay there in a white shirt that had the top two buttons undone and black trousers and same colour socks. I could only assume it was a white shirt however, as it had been dyed red with the liquid that surrounded the corpse.

 

“Fuck!” I found the words leaving my body again, and both of the other men glanced towards me for a moment before looking back. Samuel crouched down to explore a little more as to what the body looked like. It was unfortunately hard to say what the man looked like, for the same reason as to why it was unfortunately easy to say that he was dead. His body, right up until the lower half of his mouth was about three feet away from the rest of his head. A clean slice separated both parts from the life that they had just a short while ago. He was an old man, about a few years older than myself, with a black, receding hairline and brown eyes that had been ripped wide open.  We stared on for a moment, as we waited for the detective to do whatever it was he wished to do. He seemed to wait just as long as us, before turning around and observing the surrounding area.

 

There was nothing visible from what I could see, this area was just as similar as the other rooms we had past through already. It was gloomy and had a feeling of oldness that was further exhibited by the fact that no one cleaned in this place. It was amazing alone that it had lighting, although one exposed light bulb had already died. The only thing too special about the place was that it seemed to house the only bottle of wine in the whole place. It was behind a locked glass cabinet and was obviously special for some reason, for it shone in whatever light would refract against its bare surface. There were no labels on it and even the bottle was of an oddly unique design, which alone suggested that it was probably worth something. Other than this, there was nothing at all special about the room.

 

“Where’s the weapon?” Samuel asked without warning, clearly spooking the manor owner. He took a second to recompose himself before answering.

 

“We’re not sure. Little blighter must have hidden it.” I noted that whatever had hit him was probably heavy, as it had left a large mark on the rock below, indicating clearly where it had been struck..

 

“I see,” he said, only listening partly as he began looking over the body again. “And how did he get down here again?”

 

The owner thought about this for a moment before he answered. “Well, I’m not sure. I assume from the second basement. There’s a stairway separate from the one we came down from that connects the second basement to the third. When we rushed down, we came from outside and the light there wasn’t even on. Also, Mr. Sterling said he saw Alicia come down here through the second basement.”

 

“I see.” He replied once again, as he slowly turned over the corpse. The two of us looked a little worried as we watched, but he allowed it to drop gently back to where it was, before examining the floor underneath. “How dirty would you say it is down here Mr. Kent?”

 

The doctor looked on for a minute, not expecting such a question. He looked towards the floor, as if trying to figure an answer out from that, before clearly just guessing.

 

“Well I would say very. I rarely use this area, so I don’t have any of the cleaners look over it. When I was told of everybody coming, I had them clean the first basement up, in case they wanted to look over it, but left the other two. I suppose I should have known people would.”

 

“Well, I would say that it’s not too relevant for the moment. You said everybody had been down here didn’t you?”

 

“Er, yes, except for Mr. Sterling and Emma. We all would have been down here in the past few hours.”

 

“It doesn’t matter then.” The detective replied with a down tone in his voice. “I was hoping to check shoes to see who had been down here, but never mind.” He stood up again, and stretched a little. “There seems nothing too special here. What’s that over there?” He pointed to the glass cabinet where the single bottle of wine sat.

 

“Oh that.” The doctor replied with an inappropriately cheerful grin. “It’s nothing, just a secure investment thing. I borrow some money to a friend and he gives me this stupidly expensive bottle of wine in exchange. When he pays me back, he’ll get his bottle back.”

 

“I see,” the detective replied, clearly not except for the obvious fact that it was expensive. “Not very secure, is it?” He said, walking over to the glass cabinet.

 

“Actually sir, it is hooked up to the alarm system so if you wouldn’t touch it…”

 

“Very well.” The detective said, losing interest almost instantly. “I think I am done here. The dead haven’t done a very good job of telling their tales this night. Forensics can take care of the rest.”

 

“Ah well,” the doctor replied. “What can you expect? ‘The dead tell no tales’ after all. Is that not the saying?”

 

“Is it?” The detective replied, almost moodily, “I often find it to be the opposite. At least the dead tend to tell the truth, but no matter. Let us proceed back to the kitchen where we will conduct our interviews. I hope you wouldn’t mind if we talk to the young boy whom you said did this first?”

 

“I figured as much. Question the suspects before the witnesses and all that…” The owner said as he began to walk in the direction we had come.

 

“Actually, I figured I would do it the opposite way round, since the rest of you are more suspect than he is.” As he said, this, I felt both our mouths drop at the news. It was hard to tell if the man before us became angry or confused at this.

 

“You think…that this boy is innocent.” The thirty something man stuttered. “We saw him by the body with his hands covered in blood. May I ask what else you need?”

 

“A lot more, it seems.” The detective cockily replied, before turning away from him. “May I ask that we go through the second basement on the way up. There is something I wish to check.” The doctor forced himself to calm down and compiled to the request, quickly going ahead of us to open us the trapdoor leading down here. When he was out of earshot, the detective turned to me and asked.

 

“What do you think he looks like?” I looked back, confused for a moment.

 

“How do you mean?”

 

“His expression. Would you say he looked shocked, or calm?” At this strange request I found myself looking down to try and figure out the look in the dead man’s face. I instantly regretted it and had to hold back my own oral excretions at the sight of him. After another moment, I was able to look on, even so, it was near impossible due the way he had been separated from the rest of his body to tell his expression. His eyes were wide open, as I had already noted earlier, but I wasn’t that much of an expert to know whether or not that happened before or after the beheading. Overall, his face did look loose, but it was so loose that it was hanging off in a disgusting manner and I had to pulled myself away quickly before I did release anything from my mouth. My detective friend seemed to find this amusing. “No matter then. It’s hard for me to tell as well. Come on, we’ll head to the kitchen and perform the interviews.” Wiping my mouth instinctively, even though there was nothing there, I began to follow slightly behind when a thought struck me.

 

“Am I allowed to be there when you interview people?”

 

“Not really.” He replied. “But as long as you don’t say anything, it’ll be fine.” As pressing an issue as it was, the man did not seem that concerned. I was positive that I remember hearing a law about it, but I suppose that if no one knows, then there’s no problem.

 

Interview One: Jeremy ‘Jez” Watkins: 8:48

 

If anything, I was more than shocked at the boy’s age. He must have been around sixteen years of age and around five foot four when he wasn’t slouching. He had black hair with strange blue wisps coming out of it and various fashion accessories sticking out of his face. He looked quite horrible, and clearly not pleased with having to be here. Despite his appearance, he didn’t feel threatening. Quite the opposite in fact and, by the looks of things, he had been crying earlier, for his cheeks were still raw. He sniffed slightly as the detective held the seat out for him and fell down into it. Samuel slowly walked round the table to fall back into his own seat. As he did so, he got a clear look at the boy, and I assume he was reading his features for some kind of sign of falseness in the boy’s eyes, to see if the crying had been forced or genuine.  After a moment, the detective leaned followed and rested both elbows on the table and asked in a calm, almost sympathetic voice.

 

“So, do you want to tell me what happened?”

 

“I didn’t do it.” The boy screamed, letting go of the water in his eyes, as if the detective’s words broke a dam that was hidden behind them. Samuel looked disgruntled at this and shook his hand at the boy.

 

“Yes, well that isn’t the question I asked you is it? Tell me what happened, preferably without the futile denying. It doesn’t exactly help.” The boy’s expression seemed almost to clear for a second, it was clear he wasn’t expecting a retort of this kind. Even so, it wasn’t enough to shake him out of his reverie. He sniffed loudly again, and began to scratch the back of his head.

 

“What’s the point?” He whimpered. “You won’t believe me.”

 

“Well, tell me what happened and we’ll find out if that’s true or not. Now I know this whole event is very upsetting but it won’t help to prove your innocence.”

 

“Innocence?” The boy spat out, almost engulfing us in his fury. “What innocence? What does innocence matter when everyone sees you next to a corpse? Even I don’t believe I’m innocent when I look at it from a rational view. I’m sitting by Mr. Mackingdale, my hands on his dead body, covered in blood, the heart that once beat so fiercely, now quieter than the pin. Then everyone rushes in and…”

 

“Actually,” the detective interrupted. “I would like you to start from the beginning. You can talk in that strange poetic tone if you want, but could you start with why you were here in the first place and the situations that led to this event?” I wouldn’t have been surprised if the young youth hit him at this point. For a policeman in a serious interview setting, Samuel was being very sarcastic. The boy seemed to make himself calm down for a moment, he took a deep breath and scratched the back of his head again before starting.

 

“If anything,” he said, looking the detective in the eye, “I am not sure why I came here myself. It was mainly a mix of not knowing what to do in my life at the moment and a pack of lies.” The detective shuffled in his chair, which I took to mean that he was a little confused.

 

“Explain.” He commanded lightly. The youth grunted and hid his face in his hands, rubbing them as he did so before looking back.

 

“You see, they probably told you upstairs but, a while ago, I wrote a book and it got released. At the time, there was a huge fuss over me and people thought I was great and I got a whole bunch of cash for writing it. The book was about a girl whose brother gets lost in a forest and she has to go find him, but she gets trapped in the forest and there’s a whole bunch of ghosts. I just wrote it for fun at the time, but my mom found it and got it published. I found the whole thing annoying, but it got me a ton of money like I said, so I was happy.”

 

“Anyway, after the fuss was over I just spent time hanging out with my mates, going to night clubs and gigs, just generally having fun. It was going good and I suppose it still is going good, if it weren’t for the publishing faggots that keep calling me. You see, at the time, I didn’t intend to write any more books. It was a one off thing for me. But everyone apparently loved it and wanted me to write a sequel, but I didn’t wanna and I haven’t.”

 

“But for some fucking stupid reason, everyone has taken this to mean I’m suffering from writer’s block, so they’re just waiting patiently and constantly ringing me, it was getting really annoying. The only ones who were badgering me were me mates.”

 

“Then a few days ago, I was just resting up from another hangover when my mom came in all excited like. She admitted she had entered me in for this competition, and that I had won. I got really annoyed at this, since I didn’t want to write another stupid book and flipped off at her. In the end, I stormed on up here just to shut her up and get away from her for a few days. When we got here I…”

 

“Can I stop you there?” The detective said loudly, to distract the boy out of his monologue. “I’m going to go ahead and assume that everything from the all arriving in your vehicles , looking around a little, followed by dinner is all true?” The boy thought at this for a moment.

 

“Er yeah, I guess so…”

 

“Good, then you can skip that part. Just move up until the argument with Mr. Mackingdale.”

 

“Oh god, that was so stupid when I think of it now. I mean, I had an argument with Roger Mackingdale, one of my favorite writers ever, do a favor to me, someone he had never met, just because he liked my book. It was just stupid.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“It wasn’t so much an argument as a rant. I just started cussing him and calling him a fag for what he had done. I mean, he was intruding in my life about something I never wanted to fucking do again. I mean, why don’t they just make a movie out of it if it’s so god damn good?”

 

“Then he got angry at me and went on saying I was ungrateful and shit and I’m like so, don’t stick your nose in next time, the stupid pig. I then just left and went to the room that girl had showed me earlier for me to stay in and stayed on the bed, intending to go home in the morning.”

 

“I assume you stayed there for a while?” The detective asked again. The boy simply nodded this time and waited for the man to quickly scribble down some notes. He reread it quickly and made a loud breath before looking at the boy again. “And so where were you when the murder occurred.”

 

“Well you see, I spent a long time in my room, just thinking things over. I reflected on everything you know, and I started to realize what an ass I was being. Just thinking about it still gets me angry, but at the same time, the guy held this entire adventure just for me, and I spat in his face. I eventually decided to apologize to him, so I went to find him.”

 

“And you headed for the basement?”

 

“Well not at first. You see, I didn’t know where it was. So I went looking for somebody to tell me. It was weird and I didn’t know anybody here so I wasn’t sure what to do. I ended up meeting with these cute girls who were a few years younger than me…hey that’s a point, how is they?”

 

“Who?” The detective asked, breaking out of his listening mode.

 

“The girls I was with. I didn’t see one of them at dinner, but I think they were both the daughters of the guy that owns this place.”

 

“Oh, the daughter and the maid. The daughter’s in shock I’m afraid. I haven’t seen her yet, but I’m told she’s resting in her room and apparently unable to speak.”

 

“Oh, but what about the little girl?”

 

“Little girl?”

 

“Yeah, she was way too young to be the maid.”

 

“I haven’t been told of a little girl, perhaps she was one of the daughters friends.”

 

“Oh…that’s weird, they could both tell you I’m innocent. They were with me when I found his body.”

 

“You found his body. So you weren’t there when he was killed?”

 

“No, like I said, I met these two girls and the older one said she had heard he went down to the third basement. The little girl said nothing and I think she was shy. We went down there anyway and saw the guy just lying there on the floor. I rushed over to him to see if he was okay, but…well it was quite clear that he was fucking dead weren’t it. One of the girls then screamed when she saw the body, I think it was the older one. As I get to him I see this guy disappearing into the shadows.”

 

“Another man was down there with you?”

 

“Yeah, I saw him just walking away. I didn’t get a good look at him but I chased him, however, he just disappeared. I came back to check the dead fucker and that’s when everyone ran in on me. When I saw them, I knew what it would look like and tried to get away, but they caught me and threw me in that room, locked it up and left me until you came. That’s about it all.”

 

“I see.” The detective mused as he went over his notes one last time. “Thank you, you may go now.”

 

“What, I can just leave?” The boy looked as shocked as I probably was, but then the Samuel realized what he had said and quickly correctly.

 

“Oh, clearly you can’t leave, mainly because you don’t have anywhere nearby to stay. Just rest up in your room. The other guests are probably going to be insistence you get locked up in there in the meantime, so you might as well just sit in there patiently.” The boy continued looking shocked before being overcome with annoyance. Resigning himself to his fate, he stood up, said thank you pointlessly and quickly left, slamming the door behind him. As he did, there was a small fuss outside the door as the boy shouted to insist he was heading back to his room. Samuel quickly scribbled down a few more notes before turning to me.

 

“Nice boy I thought.” The man said as he rearranged his chair to face me. “What did you think?”

 

“Well, I probably shouldn’t’ say.” I replied. “I don’ really like goths. We had a few back home and they were far too loud at night.”

 

“Well, cast your petty biases out of the window and tell me what you think to his view of events.” I answered quickly this time, as compared to my last, being quiet all this time had allowed me to make my own set of notes about the situation.

 

“Well, it seems to me to be a pack of poorly constructed lies coupled with a sob story. He claims people are forcing him along a certain path whereas he wants to follow his childhood. His story goes along the reporter’s lines but cuts off to make it look like he’s a victim here. Then there’s the convenient forgiveness that he never got time to grant, a reliance on a witness that he pretends not to know the condition about, another witness that probably doesn’t exist as well as a mysterious stranger that, no doubt, he blames everything on.”

 

“Yes, I can understand why he says that even in his eyes he appears guilty. He is not though. Despite the evidence he gives against himself.” I looked on astonished at this claim. The answer seemed obvious to me.

 

“How on earth can you say that?” I asked him, truly wishing to know. “All the answers are stacked up against him.”

 

“And yet all the standing questions remain to cast doubt. For example, where is the murder weapon? The man was decapitated, you cannot do that without a large, sharp object. Yet we saw no axe nor no blade of any kind.”

 

“Well, maybe he hid it.” I stated clearly. The mansion was huge, to store it somewhere quickly seemed an obvious answer.

 

“So, if we look at it logically from your point of view.” Samuel started. “Mr. Watkins came down into the third basement to find Mr. Mackingdale. He decapitated Mr. Mackingdale and then went to hide the axe. After this, he came back and dipped his hands in the man’s blood.” He left the sentence hanging and grinned at me slightly, which showed sarcasm that I wasn’t entirely expecting from an American. The statement made me think of another question as my retort.

 

“What makes you think it was an axe? It could have just as easily been a sword.” I expected to have finally made him trip, but he just smiled back to me.

 

“Simple, the mark in the ground. It’s unlikely it could have been a sword, since the blow was heavy and a sword would have probably shattered. Also there was one clear blow, a blade of any other sort would have had to hack, but a axe would go through it like firewood.”

 

“I see.” More surprised at my own stupidity than anything else.

 

“However it opens up another question. Why was Mr. Mackingdale lying on the ground when he got killed?’

 

“What makes you think he was lying on the ground?” I asked confused.

 

“There was a clear axe on the ground by the axe strike, as I just said. To have a head removed in such a manner would require the man to be laying horizontally on the floor before the axe struck.”

 

“That’s a good point.” I replied, amazed at how simple it should have been to notice the fact. “Perhaps he was knocked out first.”

 

“No, I saw no other wounds. He was clearly doing it of his own free will. Bah, no matter. We will get ahead of ourselves at this rate. The boy’s story only provides us a few facts. He is innocent, since the way he spoke shows his innocence. Concise about the details after he reflected on them but when he has no chance to he speaks fast. It indicates that he was worriedly telling the truth and was upset about the situation.”

 

I looked on worryingly at this assumption. To me, it didn’t seem enough, to cast him off as innocent. I always thought myself good when able to tell if someone is telling the truth and, although I couldn’t directly find any contradiction, the way he told his story, to me, said it all. However, the detective seemed convinced that the boy was not guilty. Although the man had done a brilliant job earlier of being able to guess why I had came to the mansion, I was beginning to have my doubts on how good a detective he was. As if he was reading my mind, he began to laugh again.

 

“Do not worry my friend. It will all become clear in time. All we do is wait for the contradictions in people’s storylines. The boy may appear guilty for the moment, but I ask you to keep in mind a logical view as you put together your assumptions and realize how stupid the whole thing would be if he was guilty. For now, let us file it away and get the next person to ask silly little questions at. I believe Ms. Kent should be next, if that is possible.”

 

Interview 2: Dr. Kent: 9:12

 

Unfortunately, it was not possible for the girl to speak yet, and she had been placed in bed while she overcame the shock of, if Mr. Watkins was to be believed, seeing the dead body of the writer. Instead, the girl’s father had come to see us instead. He sat down on the chair writhing nervously as he did so. The detective looked at him bewildered.

 

“What’s up, my friend?” He asked concerned. “You look like the world will implode if you don’t speak.” The man stuttered to himself for a moment, before taking off his hat and playing with it. The man finally looked hard at the detective before mumbling.

 

“Do you believe in ghosts detective?” The detective sat back in shock at this strange question, something that the doctor immediately picked up on and went to sound up. “I’m sorry, it was a stupid question. You probably have many questions to ask my guests tonight and don’t have time to waste with me.” He went to leave the room, but Samuel called out to the man before he could.

 

“I can honestly say that I don’t know.” He replied to the previous question, causing the man to stop in his tracks. “As a detective, I pride myself on keeping things logical and most men of logic would probably say that ghosts don’t exist. However, in my view, there isn’t enough proof to say either way. Ghosts may exist, but they just as clearly may not. It is currently not my place to say.” The owner of the house looked on unsure, the detective began to smile lightly. “If you like,” he stated, “you may tell me what you seem so desperate to. It may actually help convince me one way or another.”

The doctor paused for a second and looked like he was going to continue to leave for a moment. He paused in step one last time and rushed back to the chair. He leaned across the table and looked at the detective head on.

 

“I think I may have just seen a ghost.” He said simply, a tremble in his voice as he did so.

 

“I figured you were going to say that.” The detective replied sarcastically, but still with a manner of politeness to him. “Tell me as much as you feel you should.”

 

“Well, it was in my daughter’s room. We had taken her up there to rest while she got over her shock. It was just a few minutes ago while you were interviewing that boy. It was just her and me in the room. I was sitting besides the bed where she lay, when I noticed a third person in the room. A young girl, just standing in the middle of the room doing nothing, but the thing is,” the man seemed to break down for a second as he forced the words out, “she had the same expression as poor Alicia did.” The man tried to say more, but his voice became heavy with the anguish this event had obviously caused him. Despite his pain, the detective seemed unaware of it and asked.

 

“Then what happened?” The man’s fear seemed to hold for a moment as he looked back at the man on the other side of the table.

 

“Well…er…I can’t say.” He eventually replied. “Linda came into the room then, and I just left straight with her. I took a glance back and the girl was still there, except her head had moved, with that same horrifying expression on it, looking directly at me.”

 

“Calm down.” The detective ordered sternly, as if annoyed at the man’s pain. At this, the doctor tried to hold in his sobbing but broke down again a second later. The detective sighed and looked at me with despair.

 

“I can’t have my host being in this state.” He complained. “I’ll lose my focus. How about you recite your version of events tonight. It’ll probably help you calm down.” The professional on the other side of the table made himself breath heavily for a few moments.

 

“Yes…yes I suppose that would help, and I have to give my statement anyway. Okay…yes. Where shall I begin?”

 

“Well,” the detective said, “I suppose it would be fruitless to ask you to recite the dinner event. Just tell me what you were doing at the time of the murder, starting from sometime after your little dinner.”

 

“Hhhmmm okay…yes.” The doctor began, still a little jittery. “Well, I suppose after the dinner, me and Mr. Mackingdale went over to the drawing room. He still seemed a bit upset about the whole event with the boy, but was generally keeping his calm in order not to upset anybody. We sat down, with some cigars, which I remember him saying he had never had one before. You could tell too, since he was coughing up a stir. Anyway, he began talking about the ideas he was getting for his new book from the place.  He was talking about the lobby and the dining hall and the seclusion of the place and how the only thing that was really needed was some, even more isolated place, in which something terrible might happen. I found it all amusing at the time, since it didn’t even occur to me that something like this was only an hour away from happening. He spoke about how the whole dark imagery may have to be ignored, since that may make the story a bit too corny, and he had somehow gotten it into his head that he was going to involve a horse somehow. One that would never be seen. The way he was talking about it all, I would never guess that he was a horror writer, the way he joked about it. I just guess that was his way of thinking out his stories… Sorry. Am I going a little off?”

 

“I suppose,” the detective replied, “but I suppose it would be rude to the dead man if I made you stop.”

 

“I’ll move on anyway, shall I? We kept on talking, I spoke about the history of the manor for a short while. Well to be honest, there is no real history as the place is but a four decades old. The only history it may have is it’s other owners, and the strange tastes that they had, that you can still see around you now. But I thought it would be good to humor him. He seemed to buy it, as I can be quite crafty when it comes to telling such stories. After this, he asked if he could wander around by himself, as he wanted to look around to see if he could find anything particularly ‘spooky’. I suggested to him the first basement. It was only a joke at the time, as the first basement is nothing more than an oversized broom cupboard for the cleaning staff. Even so, he seemed eager to head in that direction.”

 

“I suppose for a writer of his caliber,” the detective interjected, “a scene as innocent as that is more effective as a horror scene. Or maybe he figured out by the way you said it, that there was more than one mysterious basement.”

 

“Perhaps.” The doctor agreed, with a worrying tone as it began to dawn upon him how much he was related to the man’s death. “That’s it, I’m afraid, although you’ve helped my nerves somewhat. After he left, I ended up speaking to Malcolm until we heard my daughter screaming. We rushed down there and found that ungrateful jackass, kneeling in the dead man’s blood. I just can’t believe some young people nowadays. You think he would be sophisticated, having written a novel, but he was just as bad as any common thug.”

 

“Well, your common thug is often just an innocent in the crossfire. To be honest with you doctor, it is often people of your status that do the real crimes in this society.” The doctor looked clearly offended by this, it was almost like it was an accusation. Realizing what he had said, Samuel quickly took it back. “Never mind, is that all you have to tell me?” The doctor cooled down slightly, his emotions seemingly canceling each other out, he shook his head for a split second before quickly pointing his finger up to the sky.

 

“Oh, one more thing. Before he left, the cigar had really killed him off it seemed, as he was practically having a fit. The man excused himself to go to the bathroom, for a glass of water I guess. I guess it’s nothing all in all, it’s just that would be the last time I would see him.” The man reflected on this for a moment, before the detective waved him back to his reality.

 

“Sorry, but can I just confirm something?’ He asked curiously. “Did you actually know Mr. Mackingdale before tonight?” The doctor stuttered again for a moment.

 

“Not directly no.” the man answered. “I am more associated with his assistant, Malcolm, whose father was a patient of mine for some years. Yes, he came to me, asking about this little excursion that the writer wanted to do. There didn’t seem to be any harm to it, so I agreed. If only I had known.” The man fell into his own mind for a moment. Samuel let him this time, as he quickly wrote down the rest of his notes.

 

“Thank you sir, you can go now.” The detective said emotionless, baring giving the man a glance in such a way that the doctor wasn’t quite sure if he meant him or not, despite being the only person in the room beside myself.

 

“Is that it?” The doctor asked, standing up slightly.

 

“Yes, you may go.” The detective repeated, clearly annoyed.

 

“Do you want me to bring someone else in?” The doctor asked again, trying to maintain a certain level of usefulness.

 

“You can do. It doesn’t matter who.” The detective stated, as he started writing more notes. “Oh, just not Ms. Trask. I’ve pretty much had her statement at the beginning. Also, give me a few minutes before you do. I need to confer with myself.”

 

“Very well.” The doctor ushered to leave and held himself back as he reached the door. “Oh, and it’s Mrs. Trask. She’s married.”

 

The detective didn’t respond to this, as he was still writing. He didn’t seem to care much either as the man left. We sat in silence for a few moments, the air having more conversations with itself than we were with each other. The man’s story didn’t seem that pointful to me, and I found it a shame that it wasn’t as complex as the boy’s from earlier. The earlier story st my mind ablaze with thought as I tried to figure out the inconsistencies in the boy’s story. It was easier when you know who’s the guilty party.

 

“I suspect,” the detective said, drawing my attention, like a fly to a light, “that this story is actually one of the more important ones.”

 

“How so?” I asked him.

 

“If we believe what he was saying to be true, then he was the last to see the poor man before he met his end. I would not be surprised if but the most minor of events mentioned just now was not a clue of some sort.”

 

“The only thing I can think of is how the conversation was what probably resulted in him exploring the basement area.” I pointed out, ‘almost too obviously’ I thought to myself. “He probably went to the first basement, then, because he had been told of it being referred to as ‘first’ and not ‘only’ basement, he figured there was a second one, and went down further to actually find a third. Maybe it is possible that while down there, he stepped into something he should have and was then killed for it. Or maybe the killer followed him down there.”

 

“With the amount of evidence we have,” the detective said sternly, stopping in mid investigative rant, “it is just as likely, that he tripped and conveniently sliced off his own head. There are no clues yet as to somebody else even being down there, or even being followed. If it wasn’t impossible for him to do so, I would even be considering suicide at this moment.” I went quiet at this minor scolding, and the detective sighed. “Something you should learn, that every detective must always keep to remembering. One should not twist facts and create imagination to suit your own little theories. One must always keep the facts and twist the theories whilst completely ignoring the imagination. Otherwise, you will solve nothing.” He said this last sentence with a venomous sting that rendered me apologetic.

 

“Sorry.” I murmured like a spoilt kid. Upon doing so, he mood seemed to immediately change, and he just laughed it off.

 

“You have nothing at all to be sorry about my friend.” He continued to laugh, “You are the innocent here, completely free of any crime, except maybe the crime of ignorance, but one shouldn’t be punished for that.”

 

“I guess.” I replied, my reactions incapable of properly reacting to the changing emotions that were swaying over the room. They decided to remain still and play dead for the time being, while the detective finished scribbling his notes, waiting for the next interviewee.

 

Interview Three: Malcolm

 

The only important part about this interview really is that he is the first of the three killers accused ofr the murder. He tells his story nervously at first, but after the detective mentions that the owner told him that he was with him, he becomes a little more confident

 

The Crying Man

The Crying Man

 

NaNoWriMo Day 1

 

“So the guy ended up in the end, not just cycling all the way to work in the first place, but all the way back home and then all the way back again. Not because he wanted to, but because he’s a fucking idiot.”

 

The table roared with laughter, everyone doubling over in their seats, John doing his best not to spit as he drink and nearly choking. If anything, that caused me to laugh more. I always had this image in my head that one day he would just regurgitate it all out at the person across from him, and be stuck apologizing profusely to them for the next hour or so.

 

“So what?” Anita said, who had only just arrived, missing the best part of the conversation and allowing him to repeat it. “All you did was forget your pass?”

 

“Yeah, pretty much,” AJ muttered, his cheeks blushing furiously red as he tried to join in laughing with everyone, his fingernails picking away at the bottle of beer in front of him.

 

“That’s stupid,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the seat, having to push John in slightly. The lad was still choking away at the mouthful of beer he had ingested due to humorous forces, and didn’t even notice her, not that he would have tried to anyway. “You work at the supermarket, right? You shouldn’t need to…”

 

“Yeah,” he repeated, interrupting her. “It’s some new kind of security setting they have in place there. You need to scan it to show you’re there.”

 

“But don’t you have to do those hole punch things as well?” she added, “you know, the ones where you slot them in, and it records the time.”

 

“Timesheets, yeah. We get them as well, but you…”

 

“Hey, are we getting Chinese after this,” Barry asked Donna off to the side. Donna, who was usually the brown haired, hard assed temptress of the group, was insulting herself by involuntarily falling asleep. Her head rolled over to the side to look at him, her eyes slowly lifting as she regarded him with shocked curiosity.

 

“What? We just ate,” she stated.

 

“I don’t know why it is really,” AJ continued. “I hate it there, but I need the money before Uni starts again.”

 

“Did you just do expository dialog?” Samson quipped, but it was ignored after a quick laugh on his behalf.

 

“Egg Fried Rice would be good about now, with lots of curry sauce. Oh, and those chicken things that you get in batter.”

 

“How do you not get fat?”

 

“Metabolism, baby!” Barry cheered to himself. “I have a metabolism, sixteen times better than God’s. No one can stop my Leet eating skillz!”  

 

“Waffle,” John added, though only a few of us understood what he was trying to do. John spent far too long by the computers, although it was just a little more than me and he did far less.

 

“Oh, you’re still doing Uni, aren’t you? Oh, you’re so lucky,” Anita whined, her hand moving to answer her phone even as it silently vibrated beneath her. She barely glanced before answering.

 

“Too lucky in my opinion,” I said, looking at him with mock suspicion. “If I didn’t know any better, I say he was working for the Nazis. Or worse, the Communist Nazis.”

 

The table erupted with laughter again. I felt a little bad. I had stolen that particular joke, and sincerely hoped that John wasn’t in the mood to point out the technicalities of the political standings of the two words I had just used.

 

“Why would they have him going to Uni?” he asked, settling for a mere jab to the face this time when he could have gone for a full body blow.

 

“All communists go to university.” As far as I was aware, this was true.

 

“And so all university students are communists?” he bantered back quickly, stirring his J2O with his straw as he leaned over it.

 

“Not Communists,” I corrected him. “Communist Nazis.” Dumbass.

 

“Hey, let me pass,” AJ said, squeezing through before anyone even asked granted him the permission he sought, his voice promptly changing to sound like a pompous gentlemen. “Just going for a slash.” His words reminded me that my bladder was been providing messages for a while. IT was beginning to become a bad thing for me to screen them for so long, and I stood up to join him.

“Hey, I’m coming too.”

 

“Gayyy!” Samson chimed, as if he had been waiting for the opportunity all night. We ignored him and headed for the pub’s corridor. It was the most dingy looking part of the pub.

Thick white paint covered the walls in far too many layers, and drabs had slithered their way in the direction of gravity, before having been picked off by those passing through. On the floor, the Landlord’s cat slept peacefully in front of the men’s door, and AJ took a moment to play with it. The ginger tabby remained completely unresponsive for about five seconds, until he went to stroke its stomach, where it instantly went for him.

AJ didn’t even tried to move, and smiled sweetly as he let it bite his fingers. I cringed slightly, watching it chew away at his thumb like a toddler might its own, before letting go of him again and allowing him to continue.

 

“That thing’s wild,” I commented, waiting for a few seconds more. AJ loved cats. From what I could tell he loved all animals, though cats were probably number one on his top ten list. It had even become one of those mild nuisances, and Samson would often scream warnings to cats as the man approached them, telling them to get away, lest they be petted.

 

“It’s because it knows me,” he replied, not making any sense. Why would a cat… It didn’t matter. I pushed aside them, stepping over the cat and going to open the door, when it did so for me. The Landlord was standing there, coughing as he did periodically under his gray, unkempt mustache. He bounced back, his hands lifting up as if to show he was defenseless, his half glazed eyes staring at both of us at the same time.

 

“Hold on lads,” he grunted, coughing one last time to get it out of his system for a while- I’m glad I only smoke occasionally. “I have to warn you…” His voice went tense for a moment, as he waited for us both to look at him, “That I left a bit of a stink in there.”

 

AJ laughed, as I showed him an appreciative smile. The old man, Ted we thought his name was, though we were never quite sure, laughed the loudest as soon as he saw us do so and moved on passed us. He was strange for his old, unfunny jokes, but we could never complain. He had been letting in the small majority of our group in here since we were sixteen. He knew John’s dad, I think, and that’s why we seemed to have some special treatment.

 

“You coming to the quiz on Thursday? Got a treat for you if you do.” He always asked everybody this, so we knew it wasn’t a special invitation. He preferred a full house on quiz nights. It kept the party lively for the whole night. I was always against it though, as it soon ended up being us against our parents in the tie breaker, and my dad was far too rowdy by that point, as well as a master at everything in terms of the years of music bands and everything.

 

“We’ll see if we can,” I replied, seeing AJ finally stand up and letting the cat go back to its hatred of mankind. Glaring at me as we went through, it quickly rested its stupid little head on its legs again.

 

“It doesn’t smell too bad,” AJ commented, stepping up to the urinal and pulling his trousers down. I hesitated. He had gone right in the middle of the main five, which was always filled with the fag ashes that someone left behind. I never liked using that one, as it always repulsed me seeing those stray little ends float about in your own piss. The amount of nicotine in most people’s urine was already disturbingly high.

 

I hovered over to the sink, staring down into the sink. The cleaning lady must have been in today, or whoever it was that cleaned the men’s. The stains had gone from before. Whoever had brought in a cup of tea must have been crazy to put it down there, but there was no way of knowing now.

 

I heard a flush behind me, and feet quickly scattered in a small confine as they moved to put their trousers back on. For some reason, I looked on for a moment longer, watching those fine, suede shoes fumble about, before my eyes caught something bobbing at the top of the stall. A shiny, bald head looked by at me, before kneeling down to get under the doorway.

 

A ruffled, leather jacket swayed from top to bottom, as the man walked out, his sunglasses glinting at me, almost as if he was staring. To say he was tall would be to dishonour him by using such a plain word. We had all been sitting by the corridor leading to the toilet in the first place. How could we have missed this guy? He nodded to me for a second, and I realized I was staring, but he paced out of the room.

 

“He is the One,” AJ quipped, reminding me where I was. My bladder physically complained to me one last time, and I realized I had to hurry before it was too late. I stepped up next to the urinal, seeing someone had actually dropping gritty ash into this one, apparently unfearing for any damage on their love machine.

 

“Wasn’t that John’s messenger name for a while?” I asked rhetorically. We already both knew the answer, and knew exactly where the conversation was gong. He had it anyway.

 

“That ‘Morpheaus- OMFG I found the One!” thing,” AJ laughed as he said it.

 

“Yeah, that’s it.”

 

“Yeah. That was good.” A few seconds of silence passed, and we both sighed loudly, almost in unison, before his zipper told me he was finished.

 

“See you out there,” he said, patting me on the shoulder with an unwashed hand. I flinched for a second unwillingly, and hoped he wouldn’t be offended if he noticed. He tossed his hands under the spray of water for about half a second, and then went out through the door. A little bell sprung to life for a second and I was left in silence.

 

My phone rang. I ignored it, despite the potential hilarity of answering someone while peeing dawned on me, I couldn’t risk it being my mother, and I waited to finish before answering it.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Are you guys at the pub?” Shit.

 

“Hey, Nicole,” I said, hastily reacting and trying to sound casual. “No. Well. I’m not anyway.”

 

“Are you sure?” she asked again, her bratty voice screeching into my ear at the high pitch that she had so easily mastered, making it sound like she was shouting when she wasn’t. “Mom said she saw you guys heading out.”

 

So her mom had moved out. I knew that had happened. It was the intensified arguments between her mother and father and their extra connubial relationships that had caused Nicole to be such a pissant lately. The old lady must have called her to ask if she wanted a closer place to stay on the way back and pretty much told her that she hadn’t been invited.

 

“Don’t think that was us.” Shit, don’t say us. It shows that you’re not alone.

 

“Then who was it?”

 

“I don’t know!” I shouted back, sounding pissed. “But I’m alone here. Look.” Choosing your battleground is always an important factor in a fight, but making use of one you didn’t choose is pure genius. The silence of the toilet assaulted the ear piece, telling the occupant on the other side that I was alone in my room, and probably masturbating.

 

“Right, sorry about that,” she said, apparently calming down to hide her own embarrassment. “So what are you up to?”

 

“I’m a little busy actually,” I complained. “I’m working.”

 

“Oh sorry,” she replied, sounding downcast. “I’ll leave you alone then.”

 

“No wait,” but she had hung up. I stared at my Nokia for a moment, and then hit the green button. Nothing happened, and I tried to remember how the damn things worked. I hated doing that to her really, but she was not fun to be around at the moment. She was a messed up as it was, and it seemed to give her more permission to be an angsty Goth girl. Now the problem with her parents…

 

I breathed heavily, hitting the red button and no longer hearing that stupid dial tone. I was going to have to act happy again. I’m glad I’m such a good actor. Reaching for the door, I put on my little smile, the type I use to try and not look too suspicious and overacting. The smile faded, an arched eyebrow replacing the fake emotion for a genuine one of concern. The door was locked. I tugged on the handle again, a little harder this time. This door had been getting more and more jammed for a few years, and it was probably just in the mood tonight.

 

Another pull confirms that it wasn’t just the door. It didn’t scratch slowly across the floor like it usually did. Planting my foot against the wall, I pushed firmly against it, using the leverage and many complicated rules of science to pries it open. It felt like it gave way a little bit, but did nothing more.

 

“Is someone there?” I shouted, immediately putting my ear to the wall to wait for some kind of muffled giggle. It wasn’t past AJ to play a practical joke, even if he was the more serious of the group, but his immaturity would show, even beyond the wooden plank between us.

 

I heard nothing, and quickly became aware of the small layer of grease on the door. Wiping it, I stepped back two paces, loudly, telling the person behind the door they could let their grip loose slightly. A fatal move for their joke, as I swung out and ripped out the handle, completely shocking myself as the brass piece hung, dangling in my hands like a broken coffee mug. This was now kind of bad.

 

“Oi, whoever it is,” I shouted, getting as close to the door as I could now without scraping it. “Go tell the Landlord that I’m stuck here. The handle’s fallen off.” Waiting, I heard nothing, not even the slinking of footsteps. I knew my ears weren’t the best, but I should have heard something in the silence.

 

What I did hear surprised me. All the lights in the toilet fell to darkness, all humming loudly for a quick burst, their pitch warping before going silent, leaving me stranded in near total darkness…

 

That was kind of weird. They were only light bulbs, and there were only three of them. , but it sounded more like the power had been cut off for an entire building mixed in with that special effect that you always heard getting added into television blackouts.

 

I froze in the darkness, like I expected a predator to come sneaking out of the shadows. Hesitating for a moment, my hand moved slowly to the light switch, flicking it a few times haphazardly to see if I had lent on it or something, despite my new found dislike of touching the wall. Nothing.

 

“Hello!” I shouted, only the periodical flush of the urinals answering me. I turned to them, and saw them spluttering out their contents, a thick mash of brown liquids, spraying out in all directions, covering the floor in putridness, as more and more of the bits were pushed out, a metal wire slowly piercing itself through the tiny hole of urinal no. 3, Green mushiness that looked like the peas had been mashed into the remains out of the child’s one.

 

My throat contracted, and stayed there until I remembered to breath. I rushed back to the door a one step away, and banged on it this time, instantly remembering that my behavior was probably exactly what the person on the other side wanted. This had to be a joke, but one this elaborate. How did they fix up the urinals? It wasn’t worth it for a quick laugh.

 

They stopped, again in unison, the one at the end coughing up one last bit that had got stuck, and then all that was left was the dripping. The water had came out at the same time, but the brown and green stuff had blocked the holes, meaning it was now spilling out onto the floor, the small dripping created the only noise in the toilet.

 

I stared down at it, part of me wanting to know what the hell it was, the other part waiting for that guy from Trigger Happy to come out. I never did know if he explained to his prank victims what had just happened. I always remember John telling me that the guy had to get their permission for when it came to filming them.

 

“Hello?” I shouted once again. This was getting either stupid or serious.

 

A noise on the other side of the room caught my attention, snapping it up and demanding I focus upon it. It sounded like a person. Was someone else here? If so, why weren’t they doing anything? Chiding myself for the stupid question, I went to approach the prankster, hearing them sputter under their breath, trying to hide their laughter. I never needed an excuse to hit Samson, but it looks like I’d have one today.

 

“Sorry.”

 

The voice stopped me. It didn’t even sound like a man’s voice, more a little girl’s, but what was more important was that it didn’t sound like it was laughing either, more like crying.

 

“Sorry everybody.”

 

End NaNoWriMo Day 1

 

NaNoWriMo Day 2

 

“Hello?” I called out, slowing approaching the toilet stall. The door was shut, but not engaged, the handle revealing a scratched up green paint even in the darkness. It was ajar, just a fraction, making me feel like someone hadn’t bothered to lock it. Or couldn’t. Some of the doors in this toilet needed a serious fix up, but the Landlord had no real intentions of doing so.

 

The person on the other side didn’t speak, but their muffled sounds continued. It sounded as if their face was in their hands and huffing and puffing away, like a girl trying to hold in their tears… or a man doing his best not to burst out into laughter.

 

I looked around, just to check that there was no one else in the room. How I missed this guy I had no idea. After the Landlord and AJ and the guy in the Trench coat I was fairly certain I was the last one in here. Clearly I was wrong

 

No answer made me feel a little uneasy. It would have been best to just shout up and ask them, but it also felt a little rude to interrupt. Maybe I was just being a little paranoid. Three bad events happening in tandem. The door, the lights. Maybe the pub’s pipes had suffered some maintenance problems and got blocked, spewing up everything that was in the toilets. That made the most sense. Well, at least over some highly elaborate practical joke.

 

“You okay in there?” I shouted to the stall’s occupant. Make it look honest at least. Fake a little concern, just to make sure I wasn’t being a total jackass of myself. He didn’t reply again, but sniffed loudly, or was it snorted? Considering how quiet it was in here, the only other sounds being my feet tapping on the white tiles beneath me, as well as the strange brown liquid that was now dripping from the urinal in slow, intermittent blobs, it was weird how I could barely make out what the person on the other side was doing.

 

I turned back to the door. Maybe I was just being a retard. It was a good thing I hadn’t slammed on the door for help. How would it look if the person on the other side opened it with ease, especially if it was someone I knew? The jokes would be made in my direction for a change, a string of laughter directed at me as the king was replaced with the jester for a change.

 

Reaching the door, I took the door handle and compared it to the metal stick that pointed out hollow, white door. Sliding it back in, I twisted it and jammed my thumbs through the crack and tried to slide it open slowly, knowing that if I went too fast the handle would just come back off. Nothing budged, save the brass in my hands, creaking slightly under the pressure. Increasing my force, I tried for another few moments, before the handle slid off.

 

Stupid thing. Throwing it to the floor, I turned back to my little temporary dungeon. Maybe something had happened to the pub in general. A small explosion might have bust the fuse box and called the circuit breakers to trip, explaining the strange hum when all the power went out. Also, if the plumbing was connected to the electricity in some ways- it had to really; how else do the urinals come on at specific periods- then it might have caused some kind of weird feedback.

 

It didn’t smell like faeces though.. More like vomit, the mashed of remains of three dinners mixed in with the cheap lager I had been drinking earlier. My stomach complained about the nature of my thoughts and I stopped there, eying that strange wire one last time before moving back.

 

“Hey mate,” I shouted to the guy in the stall. “I don’t want to interrupt you, but I think we may be trapped in here. There had better not been some recently dumped ex-boyfriend in here or something, or some glorified angst teen. Things were bad already, and I really didn’t feel like babysitting some stranger at the end of a really good day going bad.

 

There was no answer again.

 

It was always amazing how some guy you never met and were likely to never meet again could somehow really piss a person off. It happened in the street plenty of times, when some jackass was being loud and annoying everyone in his vicinity or a person coming into your workplace with the sole intent of harassing you over something which wasn’t even your responsibility. I felt like pushing the door forwards, just to face the guy and confirm what he was actually doing. For all I know it could have been drugs. That would have really screwed things up. Two guys in the toilet and one’s taking drugs. If I weren’t careful I might get mixed up into being with him.

 

“Oi. Are you in there?” I shouted, now not wanting to take the risk. Pushing the ajar door too, I looked in to see an empty stall staring back at me, the only thing filling it being a small odor from when the last person hadn’t flushed his crap down there.

 

For a second it felt like I was in free fall, having been caught unexpectedly by the guy behind me, pushing me off the plane before I said it was okay. There was definitely someone in here. How could that be? I looked up. People who had disappeared in the toilet were always on the room. Even if they were all secret agents, it was worth it just to check. Nothing.

 

Standing on the seat, I gave myself an aerial view of the whole room, seeing no place to hide. Now that I could see everything, it was weird how completely dark it was. Even outside the small port window just to the left of the sink, only shadows covered the glass. Dropping door, I moved to flush the toilet, only thinking of the problem with the pipes when it was too late. I watched as the anonymous man’s crap spun round the bowl and out of sight, my eyes spinning as it twirled out of view. Looked like that toilet was fine.

 

So I was alone in here, it seemed. Heading over to the sink, I leaned on it, looking at myself in the mirror and seeing myself look back. The gel on my hair had wavered more to the left than I usually allowed. My comb was in my jacket, and a few wipes with my hand made no real improvement. It was the end of the day anyway, so it would really matter if I was spiky all the time.

 

I had to get out of here.

 

“Hello!” I shouted out, now holding back, as the entire room thundered with my voice. If I just shouted normally, the chances of being heard in here were small. The Landlord played the music in the bar loudly, and that was between the toilet and the lounge. Even worse, if Jim were here then Queen would be playing most of the night. Then no one in either part would be able to hear me.

 

Silence replied to me, telling me there was no one on the other side of the line. I banged heavily on the door a few times, briefly considering a violent attempt to smash it in, ripping a hole in the weak, hollow wood and burrowing out the other side. That was perhaps a bit extreme though, not to mention illegal.

 

The cracking of glass caught my attention, and I instantly bounded for the window. Sounded like someone had dropped a glass out there. Peering through the small, square window I saw nothing. It was too stained to see anything anyway, bit I at least expected some kind of blur.

 

“Is someone out there,” I cried out quickly, and pressed my ear to the window for the response. I was pretty sure that it would help, but worth a try.

 

Beating footsteps filled my ear, making me rap on the window to call attention to it. “Get the Landlord, I’m stuck in here!” I shouted, before I realized that the person was running. His figure streaked passed my eyes. A shadow, even in this darkness, created a layer of darkness on my eyes for just a fleeting moment and disappearing completely. Shit, some kid must have broke a bottle, and then realized he had been caught, or thought he had anyway. “Come back!” I shouted one last time, but it was useless.

 

“Dammit,” I smacked my open palm into the tiles surrounding the porthole, and dropped back down onto the tiles. This was stupid. This was fucking stupid. How could I get myself locked in the toilets? I should have at least had AJ wait with me, and then at least we’d be trapped together. At leas rate, I would have to wait until someone come and open the door on the other end, where hopefully it was working fine.

 

I paced the empty room up and down a few times, thinking through my options. Playing the waiting game was annoying, but it seemed the only choice. Getting locked out two months ago meant a three hour wait for Barry to show up half wasted. At least he had brought Chinese food. That guy sure loved his Chinese, though he didn’t like curry.

 

The empty stall glanced at me, and I turned back round to stare at it. What had I heard? Was it just the pipes complaining? That wasn’t possible, was it? Pipes didn’t sound like somebody crying. Groaning maybe, but definitely not laughing. I closed the door, all the way this time. Maybe the noise would start again and I could confirm it for what it was. It was certainly weird.

 

Drop DEAD!

 

I froze, my foot flattering back but still catching my step, mouth dropping slightly as I saw the words displayed in front of my in thick pink…lipstick?

 

“What the hell…?” I muttered to myself, examining the two words. They were written like they would be on a blackboard, large and scribbled, the two canceling out any illegibility.

 

Staring at it, I saw that it rose just a little further up than usual. Bringing my finger up to it, I dabbed against it softly. Still wet. In fact, it would remain wet for a while. “Lipstick?”

 

Was that person a girl then? No. That person didn’t exist. I spun round, part of me imagining someone standing there with a camera ready to take a shot, and again saw nothing but the emptiness of the room, spirally around me I was realized I was truly alone.

 

Who had written this? It was actually kind of freaky, like some kind of scorned woman  who had used the contents of her handbag to write death threats to the boyfriend she just realized had been cheating on her. But how had it just appeared like that? Some kind of chemical effect, but why? This series of events were feeling more and more elaborate and complicated. Why would someone go to so much effort to confuse and prank me? How could someone do it without me noticing them scurrying in the shadows?

 

IT certainly felt like there was someone in the room with me, but it wasn’t like it was a big place, where could they hide? Sticking to the roof was the only obvious option. After all, like the brothers had stated, no one ever bothers to look up. But I wasn’t that stupid, and the room, specially the roof part of it, was clear of any and all pranksters.

 

The door handle rattled. Finally, someone had come to take a slash. It took a little longer than I thought, but it was a Wednesday. Not many people showed up on a Wednesday. That’s why I liked the place really. The place just got too noisy, too uncontrollable. You couldn’t hear yourself think, let alone hold an intelligence conversation with your peers on a Friday night. Not that I expected to hold too intelligent a conversation with those around me.

 

The rattling stopped as I reached it, and quickly started, pushing against the door to suffer the same problem I had. “It jammed, mate. Go get the Landlord.” That was a relief. If it was bust on both sides, then it didn’t make me a total fool for breaking the damn handle, just a victim…

 

My patience growing thin through all the trials, I waited for a response, and growled loudly when none came. Don’t tell me the guy had just wandered off. There was a second set of toilets in the Family Room, but surely someone here wouldn’t be so irresponsible to just ignore me. Luckily the door handle rattled again, and I figured the guy must just be trying again. Quickly picking the handle up off the floor, I slotted it in at the angle the bar had been turned and braced myself as the man stopped.

 

“Try again mate,” I shouted, ready to pull alongside his push. It was very possible this might go bad for me and I would be forced to witness a Newtonian demonstration of a wrist being caught between a brass handle and a hard place, but it didn’t matter for now. Pulling all I could without getting causing the handle to fall off, I tried to pry the door open.

 

Nothing happened.

 

I was expecting it by now. Something had well and truly jammed it shut, but I couldn’t tell what. My quick witted instinct told me perhaps super glue or a stick of wood. But the second would be obvious, and the first, someone would have probably caught the perpetrator in the act.

 

I waited for the man to try again, but he decided not to bother. I must have missed his footsteps, and he had gone off to inform someone of my dilemma. This was getting to be a right pain. I still had to tell everyone of the near crash situation I had had early that day. That was pretty cool, although I can’t believe how I nearly screwed up like that. I knew the car was getting old, or else I would have lost that much control. The tires had been getting pretty screwy with me the other day ion the rain. At least I didn’t lose the suspension, although I should still tell dad to take a look at it. It’s what I get for trying to drift round a corning all Takumi style, and I was only going about forty miles per hour.

 

Could have been very bad. If someone had been on the other side of the road, or in the car with me something would have gone flying. Good thing I was dumb enough to only try it on a back road, where if I crashed and died no one would have noticed the fecal mater of my corpse slowly decaying for at least two hours.

 

What was taking this guy so long? He isn’t rattling the door, so he must have gone to get someone. If there was a crowd at the bar, there might have been a problem. I opted to wait a little long, wandering back over to the lipstick infested door. Should I get rid of it? Bad enough the lights went out and the plumbing got shot to hell. I grabbed some paper from the biggest roll I could find. It looked like some kind f heavy duty, industrial toilet paper in the flaky darkness of the stall. It was cheaper to buy this size, but it didn’t exactly fit on the roll holder, and you had to hold it down to keep it on.

 

Wiping it off easily enough, I stared at the last word for a few more seconds, wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t been as careful as I had earlier. (NaNoWriMo day 2 ended here) (NaNoWriMo day 3)It didn’t matter, worrying too much about the past, caring too much about the future, it never led anywhere. Wiping off the last of it, I sat down against the toilet seat, waiting for my inevitable long release.

 

No one expects you to get trapped in the toilet after all, and even if you do, they expect you to handle it yourself. I probably would have if this wasn’t such a weird situation, but instead I’m caught here, playing the waiting game. Did I finish my beer before I came here? It’s strange how I can’t remember already. I think I got half way. That meant if I spent too long stuck in here Samson would start drinking it. The buffoon. That guy owes me everything, and yet he still takes more.

 

If I hadn’t have saved his life that day, I would probably have a much easier life.

 

Chapter 2

 

Samson was the type of guy at school you never really wanted to admit was your friend. He was hilarious, the class clown if you will, but not the popular one. Whilst the popular class clown got his laughs by humiliating other students through mild taunting and copying Monty Python jokes that the rest of the class hadn’t seen, Samson did it by trying to be innovative and original.

In other words, he did his best to freak people out, catching their attention through weird noises and relating common day events to the most senseless deaths he could think of. He was the type that, if you weren’t careful, would one day be blamed using video games as a training simulator for his massacre of all the cool kids on a hot summer’s day just after the graduation ball.

We never understood Samson fully. Well, we did, but we always thought it was a case that there was more to him, that there was a method to his madness in that regard and that deep down, he had dreams and ambitions like the rest of us.

The day I learned them, I realized I had learned everything about Samson that I ever needed to know, and instantly lost the majority of the respect I had for him.

 

I first met Samson, that’s not his real name by the way, his real name’s just Frank. I first met Samson properly during lunch break. We had just had English, and the old perverted English teacher had just been relating everything in Alias Grace to sex. Whilst I admit it was true to an extent, the old weirdo was going a lot further than he should. Back then, Samson spoke to no one and everyone at once. However, his attempts at getting noticed often resulted in trips to the toilet accompanied by Derrick and Dominic; two guys that together weighed around half of the total student body mass. Despite this, I have only once seen Samson sad, but I’m getting ahead of myself, and this being my dream, it’ll just warp things up.

 

When I first met Samson, he was sitting, and this was the first cool thing I had ever seen him do. The main point of this sitting was that he was doing it without a chair. Our common room was spacious you see, but with near to no chairs in it, and most of the cliques were the ones that had snatched them up. At that point, Samson was the guy I had generally noted as the person to avoid if I knew what was good for my reputation. But this time I couldn’t help it, I had to ask him what he was doing.

 

“What are you doing?” I asked him. I suppose my tone was forceful, perhaps even mocking. His answer totally distorted that.

 

“I’m sitting,” he replied, and as if to make a point, he switched his legs over. That was perhaps the truly impressive thing about it. He was sitting with his legs crossed; his back against the wall straight and one leg lay horizontal against the other. How he could do that without looking flush in the face or shaking in the knee over it was so good that I actually had to make an effort at the time not to compliment him.

 

“Whatever,” was my response, before turning to leave. I think I had gone in the common room to look for AJ and the rest of them and went to do that just so that I could stop talking to him. Now I don’t want to paint a bad picture here. I don’t want to imply that if I hung around him for two seconds that two cheap thugs would show up out of nowhere to taunt my new lack of social standing and that a huge fight would have to commence where we would end up defending each other and beginning a friendship that would last for an eternity. But if I wasn’t careful, that would start to happen by the end of the day.

 

“You want my crisps?” he asked, distracting me for a moment longer. “Mom gave me cheese and onion by mistake today.” To be honest, it shouldn’t have seemed so bizarre. If a friend asked the question to another friend, it might not have been. But right then I should have…

 

“Sure, thanks,” I replied, taking them off him and walking away. My eyes already scouring the room for anyone else I knew. It took me a few moments to hear the pacing behind me, someone sneaking up, and not doing a good job of it.

 

“What?” I asked him, with an impact to my voice which would have caused even a loyal dog to back off. He just looked back to me, waiting.

 

“How did you know I didn’t poison those?” he asked me sweetly. Yes, actually sweetly. That was how Samson was. He treated death like it was nothing more than a casual annoyance that, if handled right, could be turned into a humorous anecdote.

 

“Because the packet is sealed,” I said bitterly, hoping to draw attention to us in that one moment. A few of the higher year girls glanced at us for a moment, but only because they were disturbed (this might have been considered treason in some schools)

 

“And the packet itself?” he sprung back at me. I couldn’t help but grin a little, right cheek twitching as I examined him to figure what the fuck he was going on about.

 

“Then wouldn’t you be infected too.”

 

“Nuh huh,” he replied. “I’ll be immune, won’t I?”

 

“I don’t know,” I said, my voice pitching up a tone in frustration. Back then, things were a little bit of a rush for me, regardless of how slow I could go. “Let me put it another way. The packet of crisps isn’t poisoned because that’s the packet of fucking crisps isn’t fucking poisoned.” Holding the foil to him by the tip, I waited for him to take them back off me, and swatted them away the second he did, watching them fall harmlessly to the floor.

 

 

 

And that’s how I became friends with Frank ‘Samson’ Freeman. Don’t ask how the rest happened because I don’t have a clue. It just did, and it didn’t make sense how it did. It wasn’t even like it was a buddy movie, where our personalities contrasted so much but when placed in a life or death situation would hilarious comedy antics we quickly learnt the true meaning of friendship. He just start hanging round the damn group, producing jokes like a hunter would fire shots at the shooting range, missing nine out of ten times but occasionally scoring a hit and pitching the whole group into mirth.

 

When we were in school, we were sort of forced to start hanging out around him, mainly because he showed up around us, and none of us were never too nasty to tell him to get lost. Also, Tracy had this amazing ability of saying ‘Oh, leave him alone,” and immediately stopping us from harming a hair on his neck. Tracy’s dead by the way, and maybe if I hadn’t heeded her advice, she might still be alive, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The reason I began to generally hate Samson was because he was the biggest idiot in the world. That’s not an exaggeration. He really is the biggest fucking idiot there is and I know I shouldn’t swear about it, but he is. The guy had absolutely no ambition in the world and probably shamed his parents simply by existing. (I think my point is further proved by the fact that he didn’t actually live with his parents. They had kicked him out a while ago for some reason I never found out and he ended up living with his strange grandfather who always treated us like we hadn’t reach puberty yet.)

 

I’ll admit it when I say that I was actually beginning to get to like the guy. He had been hanging around with us for about a year and a half by the time I would actually call him a mate and was even remembering to invite to events we had planned rather than blow him out again and again. Sometimes I wonder if the guy actually knew we didn’t really like him, and just kept him around out of pity. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had just decided he would stick to us until we had no choice but to consider him a friend, because I’m telling you, that’s exactly what he did. And in that regard, his determination was his second biggest bonus point.

 

That boy did not give up on things. When we were eighteen, we were all trying to jump over this large bush on a drunken night out. Me, John and AJ could do it while Barry never even bothered (the girls naturally declined, something to do with it being unladylike like and bleeding from their rear ends). He was the only one that couldn’t do it by the third time (me and John had succeeded by then, while AJ did it first time, the fucking nigga). Eventually, after long periods of pulling sharp branches out of his jogging trousers, he leapt over on his eighteenth try. The guy never gave up, not even once. Even when it got to the point of him trying anymore was stupid and not really worth the effort, he still kept it up, refusing to give. He once told me that if he didn’t do it now, when would he?

 

So there I was, actually beginning to develop a little respect for him where it all bombed one day. It was a social studies class at the time. We were actually stuck with that same, perverted teacher I mentioned earlier. For a more detailed description on the man, just search up pedophile and voyeur and try to fill the blanks with the parts of your imagination that haven’t already imploded upon themselves in an attempt to get away from the idea.

 

It was our last year before entering college. The school didn’t have a sixth form, so there was a large chance we’d be parting ways after this. I think, because of that, everyone was instinctively drawing together. Barry and Donna had started dating by that time, and had already made plans to attend the same college. Donna wasn’t as smart as Barry, at least not in the sense that actually mattered to an academic board (she was in all other areas), but he had agreed to go to the polytechnic instead of an actual university just to be with her. Me and John were heading to the same place, while AJ and Tracy were staying behind and getting the type of high paying jobs that all our university experience would actually prevent us from getting once we graduated.

 

Samson made his intentions known during that one class lesson.

 

“Right class,” Mr. McGregor said. He had actually said it for the third time, having mastered the technique of gaining an entire class’s attention by making them slowly end their conversations into whispered twittering that would continue even after the lesson had started. “There’s a paper going round, and you don’t have to do much. Just write what you want to be doing after this. Just be honest with yourself and your dreams and ambitions. You know how it goes. Anything you want. Banker, Lawyer, Sex Slave.”

 

Half of the class giggled, while the girls at the front seats just groaned. They always sat there and they seemed to do it just to tell the man how wrong he was about everything in life. It seemed a waste to me. Just let the old man talk and do something else while you wait.

 

For me the answer was obvious. I had decided a while back that I was going into business. I had sucked at the general theory but had made the most profit during an actual practical assessment. Even now I’m still able to sell T-Shirts with witty logos on them off of eBay and the local area. It’s cheap to make the shirts and if I just test a few at a time I know which ones people want and can spend a little extra in producing a hundred or so of one of them. After a month of doing so and I’ve sold all of them. Beats getting a silly job to cover my university and automobile exploits anyway.

 

So after we all wrote our one word answers on the sheets of paper the entire class was expectantly freaked out for when he asked for them back and started to announce them to the rest of the class. Although I couldn’t explain to you why we felt that way now, we viewed what he was doing as a form of betrayal and blasphemy. I suppose we had all trusted that what we were writing down to be kept secret. A few of the them had either expected it or not taken it seriously, and so got away with answers like Candyman and john Romero’s bra, but McGregor ignored them and got to those of us that had put actual answers down.

 

“So, why do you want to be a businessman?” he asked me plain as day, actually getting up and sitting on my table, like the two of us were in a private conversation not being observed by twenty other people who would then tease me relentlessly for my answers.

 

“Because…” I said, a huge ‘eeerrrrr’ filling a gap that I knew to be bottomless, “because I’m good at it.” Somebody giggled for some reason, for something that did not make the tiniest bit of sense in even the most irrational mind, when Mr. McGregor just puffed out to himself, the way all respecting gentlemen didn’t do, and moved on.

 

“So you do want to be a Sex Slave, Tracy?” he said to her, as if a previous conversation had somehow tipped him off.

 

“I didn’t?”

 

“Now being a Sex Slave is quite the ambitious job choice. You need to be a person who’s willing to take orders to the letter, so you should be attentative at all times, as well as full of initiative. Not too much though, otherwise your master will think you’re trying to be higher than you are.”

 

“Sir!” A few of the lads at the back were giggling. She was sitting next to me so I had to squeeze my noise to not join in. The look on her face was priceless, like she thought everyone around her was in on the joke while she sat in the middle in desperation and despair.

 

“You’ll also have maid duties, so you’ll have to know how to clean, serve guests, both in the bedroom and out of it, be quick on feet and thoughts and willing to work mixed hours. Most of all, you need to be top class at sucking up.”

 

I swear to fucking god and each of his disciplines in turn, that Mr. McGregor’s cheek flew back the split second before she slapped him, the force of her attack being so strong as to leave a red welt the size of an army boot without even touching him.

 

I always remember her staring at him. I reckon she was more shocked that she had done it over everything else. She hovered left, caught between standing up to face him straight on and sitting back down meekly. Mr. McGregor didn’t even blink twice. “I think you’ll be an excellent Army Officer,” he said to her, before moving on.

 

We never asked her about the incident, but she didn’t seem all that bothered about it afterwards.

 

Next up was Samson, to which we all weren’t really paying attention to. Everyone was still staring at Tracy. Tracy was still staring at Tracy, her head downcast towards her legs, her hair hiding her features as she made a point for it to get in the way. It wasn’t until the teacher finished speaking that we all paid attention to what he had said.

 

”I have already achieved my dream. I have friends who care for me. That’s all I need.” Normally, Mr. McGregor said all these things in a lively manner, as if he was trying to take away any serious meaning that came with it. But this one came out monotonously, like he had missed it the first time and was just noticing it now.

 

“That’s right,” Samson said with a nodding smile. I think I remained frozen at the time, knowing he was talking about me and the others right off the bat. I hate not being sable to react to something, to be thrown off like that. But there I was, a car could have came up in front of me, revved its engine twice and then just rammed into me and I still wouldn’t have noticed it.

 

“Care to explain,” Mr. McGregor said. This is actually what he was saying to everyone else so far. He just missed it with me and Tracy.

 

“Do I need to? I thought I covered everything.” Looking back at the teacher for a moment, I think he failed to register the man’s confusion and yet answered it at the same time. He stood up, and turned to face us. We were all bunched up in the tables to the left hand side of the room and so he could see all of us like a spotlight in a darkened prison yard.

 

“You guy saved me from the pain of being alone, so I wanna return that to you a thousandfold, and always be there to make you laugh.” He waited a moment, before turning back to the teacher and sitting down in his now pin labeled seat. “That’s all I need from life.” A few seconds passed, and the guys at the back laughed again.

 

Samson passed Social Studies that year with a top mark. He was predicted a D

 

I couldn’t say I lost respect for him because of the embarrassment he had caused all of us. Like Tracy said later, it was kind of sweet for him to say that. Even brave and noble. The girls always seemed more willing to say stupid stuff like that, but I thinking I actually kind of agreed with them.

 

The thing that made me lose total respect in him was the context of his ambition itself. What was the point of a dream that you thought you had already accomplished?

 

I could never do that.

 

What was the point of having a dream with an end to it?

 

Chapter Three

 

I woke to the pain of the artery on the left side of my neck feeling like it was going to create a crimson shower against the wall. Lifting my forehead up, it instantly dropped back down and sprung me awake with a small thud. I was crushing my arm, large air bubbles pumping up and down my veins. I absently wondered about it falling off and dropping to the floor. I never used my left arm for anything anyway. Nothing too important.

 

Widening my eyes, I soon remembered where I was. The toilet, I was still stuck here. Well, that was potentially debatable, and I stood up to find out if it was true. For some reason I had locked the toilet door before dozing off. I couldn’t help but feel impressed for myself for being able to do such a stupid thing during I time where I might actually get into trouble if I wasn’t careful. Why I would close it, I had no idea, but obviously I must have been the one to do so. The left side of my brain must have thought it was a great idea or something, prevent people from walking in on me just before I dropped off and save me from more embarrassment.

 

Stepping up to the door, I went for the lock where I realized I had stepped in something. Holding back an instinctive cough, I failed as I caught sight of what I was in. It was only up to my toes, but the excrement beneath me covered cheap, ten pound trainers. Thank god I was only wearing these tonight. I spluttered saliva into my hand a few times, being reminded of the time I had gone to the university dorm freezer to find it had been left open over night and the chicken had gone rotten, filling the entire kitchen with a putrid skank that was only made worse by the presence of the half dead mouse and his partner in crime slowly eating him to pull the rest of the peas out of his stomach.

 

Clearly the urinals had continued to suffer whatever problem they were faced with as I had slept, pumping out their noxious sewage all over the floor. I supposed I should have been glad that the toilets weren’t facing the same problem, so at least I had somewhere to sit.

 

Hesitating briefly, looking down to the Swede and carrot that littered the contents of the liquidated floor, making it look surprisingly like a chicken and vegetable soup broth than the remains of someone’s dinner, I moved up to open the door, letting it swing open before move.

 

I waddled out, seeing now that the entire bathroom was covered save for two of the six corners. Taking a small breathe again, my lungs told me to not take any more passengers abroad and actually tried to make my stomach get rid of some. Stuck in a haze of coughing and holding my breath at the same time, I made my way to the exit door, my throat buzzing loudly. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it still being locked or jammed or whatever was wrong with it was sort of the obvious answer. I thought it kicking it for a few seconds, a forceful push to the pulling I had been trying, but stopped short when I saw a suspiciously shaped log floating just before my feet.

 

I backed off, looking back to the rest of the flooded room. How long had I been asleep for this to happen? I had actually taken my watch due to the heat of the restaurant from earlier and so had no way of telling the time now. It had been near half past nine when they got there. And another half hour before me and AJ went to the toilet. So, ten minutes of sleeping, if it had been that…

 

No, it couldn’t be. This couldn’t happen in just two flushes. For the first time I began to think seriously of how long I had been asleep. They flushed every half hour right. This would have taken five or six at the least… Was it passed closing time. The toilet still echoed with the same silence that had filled it earlier, and my heart dropped down passed my lungs so it could avoid the argument it was having with my stomach.

 

“Oi, OI!” I shouted, banging on the door with all my might. Someone had to have noticed the water seeping through by now. AJ or John must have noticed I hadn’t returned. Someone had to know I was missing. “I’m stuck in here. Somebody get h… someone get me outta here!”

 

No response. I banged loudly three more times, and then waited. Had to remain calm. Someone had to have noticed this. Noticing something was wrong. A power cut alone should cause them to check the toilets out so they can empty the building. A power cut, a slippery, discolored leakage all over the white tiles, a vomit inducing smell and a series of large bangs should get the whole pub coming to my attention. Someone had to have noticed something!

 

I considered, for a moment, that maybe everyone had all left, and just assumed he must have as well. That was possible, and it wouldn’t be the first time he had skipped out on everyone, although it was usually for a girl.

 

Even if that was true though, the Landlord would have come back to check. He lived here, for fuck’s sake. This was his home. He would have at least have opened the toilet door to check for the damages, even if he then went to stay at somebody else’s.

 

It was clear I was alone now. At least, I probably was. Why did I have to fall asleep? For all I know someone opened the door and called in to see if there was anyone about, and then just gave up when they discovered otherwise, closing the door behind them and accidentally jamming it again.

 

Come to think of it, where was the handle.

 

I had left it sticking on the door after it had fell off, but left it there hanging after the person on the other side had tried to help him get out. Now it was gone, and the water wasn’t deep enough for it to be hidden. I kicked out at the shadows trying not to slip into something particularly nasty to see if I just couldn’t see it. I felt nothing however and tried again a few more times to make sure.

 

Had I taken it into the toilet with me? I had locked the door, hadn’t I? I might have taken it with me and just forgot about it. Feeling a little groggy with fatigue, I waded through the two inches of water over to the toilet stall where I had been snoozing. Nothing. There was no point in checking under the seat. That would just be dumb of me. Doing so regardless, I turned around and looked elsewhere, still revealing nothing in my grueling search.

 

I shuffled restlessly. Why was I doing this anyway? I should just head to that door and kick a hole through it, or even smash that window and crawl through it. Something wrong had clearly happened. For all I know all of humanity was in danger while I was stuck in here, and I had just missed the big important broadcast. That would have been weird, not to mention highly unlikely.

 

I strode up to the door. Best way to do this would be to slam my foot right through. It was just light wood after all. Not exactly balsa, but still pretty thin. The Landlord had gotten into the habit of buying it cheap after drunkards kept breaking them anyway. Not that that happened on a regular basis, but it was only a door to the toilets after all.

 

Thinking that, the door was also supposed to be easy to open. Again, designed so that the underaged alcoholic would have no problems reaching their quest for the hole where their vomit goes when they realized they shouldn’t have had that much Red Bull. If that was the case, how much effort would someone have to go to jam it? It shouldn’t even reach the bottom.

 

Holding the door in place, an act as futilely unnecessary as the next one would be, I stuck the stub of my polished shoe under the doorframe. IT fit snugly in place, sewage water slopping around it, before getting jammed in there. I felt water splash against my socks, making them soggy. My calves stiffened slightly as I thought about the dirty water below me.

 

Was it possible that someone had been cruel enough to jam a doorstop in there? If so, it would be impossible to push open. Kneeling down, I braced myself for a better investigation, my hand hovering tentatively above the surface of the water. Merely bending down had caused the water in my shoes to squelch loudly. Instinctively tapping my heel to hear it some more, I darted my hand down to the murky depths. I would have to grin and bear it.

 

The underside of the wooden door was unfurnished, and I could feel each individual grain of wood as it soaked up water, all had been bluntened by the damp, preventing me from getting a splinter, so I ran my hand under the bottom of the door when…

 

I gasped loudly, my hand flinching back taking my unprepared body with it and allowing shock to steal away my balance, landing my ass on the floor. Realizing where I was, I shot back up again, only to slip on something akin to a banana and fall back on the floor again, this time my shirt getting drenched as the water catapulted into the water and smothered me with what looked like mouldly carrots.

 

Something had bit me. I almost couldn’t be sure now as my whole body was racing, blood rushing through me like it wanted to find the exit. I got up again, this time making sure I clung to the wall, dirty hands leaving patterns in the dry plasterboard. I examined my finger, unable to tell too clearly in the darkness. Was that a rat? Had to have been. During the five years I had been visiting this pub I had never seen a rat scamper across the floor once, or heard any news of an infestation. The Landlord’s cat may have been the grouchiest cat in the world, but it was for a reason. It did its job well, and expected a high standard of treatment as a result.

 

Must have let one slip past.

 

It didn’t matter. I had to leave now. One rat wasn’t going to stop me. Not even if it was King Rattius of the Great Kingdom of Rats. The stupid pub was in a bigger state of disrepair that I originally thought. Jammed doors, broken lights. Fucked up plumbing and rats waiting to ambush you. And I needed to leave now!

 

Slamming my foot into the door, I was instantly met with the same amount of pressure I had forced into the block of wood plus a fuckton extra. Bashing me back, I fell against the wall. This shouldn’t be this hard. I may have quit the University kickboxing class during my last year, but I knew how to do this. I went for another strike, thrusting my hips how I had been told, feeling muscle and sinew ricochet against it, and hit straight back at me.

 

I moved to just whacking it, repetitive flurries at a door that was gives me more trouble that I originally thought it would. If I was lucky it would begun to go after constantly bashing. It was, after all designed to be cheap and easily replaceable. I would be completely in my right to break it, seeing as it had been able to trap me.

 

I stopped, panting hard. Not an inch. Clearly this King Rattius built his doors well. I backed up a few steps. If I was lucky now, then I would just settle for the hope of someone hearing me and properly coming to my aid (that guy had to have got someone’s attention by now). Even more optimistically, that someone would be impressed with my Bruce Lee Super kick. I bounced at the door, my kick slamming it square in its center, right next to the handle. I felt it give for a second, a moment of faith on the other side, before I realized it was my leg that was going, my knee buckling on itself. Balance left me again, and I fell to the floor.

 

I oughta just roll in this stuff a few times! Get used to it! If I was going to be falling in it every five seconds from now on. I flung my useless arms about, a twenty two year old throwing the temper tantrum of a five year old. My hands meeting foreign objects that I did my best not to think about.

 

Falling back, I let the gel in my hair intermingle with the icky fluids beneath me. How was I going to get out? What was even stopping the door from opening? This had clearly gone past a simple jam. A picture sprung to mind of a table being backed up by the brick wall on the other side of the small corridor. Some jackass thinking himself hilarious to do it, stopping all on the inside from opening out into the corridor. It had to be something like a table, a chair would have given under the force of the kick, or at least rattled and gave itself away. I imagined something bulky in the way. If that was the case…

 

I stopped thinking, my brain giving a silent monotone that encompassed the whole of my thoughts, looking to the door hinges that faced me, glinting brass even in the darkness in the room.

 

They were on this side…

 

I was wasting my time.

 

Window then. Time for subtlety was gone, and replaced with an ever increasing need to wash and never go to the pub with friends again. Feeling the half temptation to wash my hands, I refrained for obvious reasons. The window to the left of the mirror was small, a square about the size of my forearm across. It was also down a meter long, extremely narrow corridor. Sort of like the unrealistically large air vents seen in movies. A dog would have problems crawling in there, and one did in fact get stuck last year when it chased the Landlord’s cat in there. The cat had eventually chosen to fight back once it realized it was trapped and the poor canine ended up smacking its head on the wall above. I never knew a dog was strong enough to knock itself out if it tried, so an unintentional head bang knocked it out for six and several billion more.

 

They eventually dragged it out to find the cat sitting there comfortably, licking its paws clean. The reason for this is that even when the dog had fallen asleep on account of its own stupidity the cat had decided it wasn’t finished. Although it was impossible to tell the exact number, the dog had an estimated thirty five individual scars against its face and nose. At on point the cat had apparently dug its claws in around the bridge of the nose and held them in there for a few seconds and also scratched an eye clean out.

 

The cat was awarded a status of royalty within the pub for ever onwards since then. No dogs were ever allowed in the pub since, not so much by the request of the landlord but by their owners.

 

The biggest problem with the window was that it was too far out of reach to be punched. A dog was able to fit in here comfortably enough to fall asleep with enough space left to fit an angry feline. My arm wasn’t going to reach it and my leg couldn’t get that high. The only problem was, there was nothing really in the room to toss at it, save perhaps my shoes.

 

I headed back to the line of four toilet stalls, figuring there might be something there to help me in my vandalizing of the windows. I knew there wasn’t any in the first or last ones as I had already occupied those once already. Heading for the second, I saw nothing particularly out of the way within the three walls that could be used to poke at the window. At this rate it might have been a good idea to just climb in smash it with my hands.

 

I paced around for a few minutes, eventually becoming used to the sloshing and even making a small game out of it. It would take me another moment or two to realize an answer was staring right in front of me the first time I looked into the stall. Grabbing the black plastic seat itself, I sought to wrest it free from its porcelain trappings. It gave easily enough, and my kicks proved successful this time.

 

I still had to hoist myself up, making me wish that one of the others were here. Maybe even Samson. That was one of the few good things left about Samson. He was the sacrifice. The others were indecisive, and would generally fuck about until the one with the lowest resolve gave up first and actually made a decision about what to do that evening. Samson would volunteer for the craziest of things. One night, he was even willing, after a few litre of extremely cheap cider to be absolutely honest, to put his hand under the wheel of car and let it roll onto the first two fingers. While the immediate and completely expected hospital trip proved he had no physical injuries (John was ringing up for the ambulance even as I let go of the handbrake), it was proof his mental facilities were well and truly misplaced somewhere where he wasn’t quite sure of their location and had never really got round to doing a proper search of his room (his words).

 

With toilet seat in hand, I made the grubby crawl up through the window hole. I had to prep myself against the still surprisingly clean sink bowl in order to get up and through in the same motion and ended up getting the toilet seat jammed behind me. Struggling a bit in my new confined space, I was able to bring it up so it was still goddamn stuck above my back with an arm a contortionist would be proud of. Slowly, telling myself I wasn’t given up but in fact turning my brain back on, I slipped back out, letting the toilet seat drop to the floor. It would be better to just toss it at the window, rather than the thrusting motion I had thought would be so great a moment ago.

 

Besides, glass wouldn’t shower me this way. Yes, this way was best. I had seen glass enter a person’s face at fast speeds previously. It was not an experiment I longed to repeat on myself. Hearing the seat drop to the floor, I followed it and went to pick it back up through the murkiness beneath me. My actions were stopped when I heard the urinals spurt to life again.

 

This time they started before the water came out. Not just the few brief seconds of a person’s life when they know it’s about to come out and so take a small reflexive step back to prevent getting their member wet. This one was a long slow, spurge of information hitting the ears, telling the person to zip up their pants and shoot out the door. Since the first option was indisposed to me at the moment, I chose to jump on the sink.

 

When they finally started their synchronized possession act, the urinals appeared to vibrate sporadically, horribly shuddering the confines of their own pipes as rock like water traveled through the narrow confines. The toilet seat was still down there, but I didn’t want to care for the moment. When the abominations finally started, I looked on as mud like ooze spurted out in small spirals like there was something wrong with the ice cream machines. For a few moments it continued as such until someone apparently changed the shower settings and it turned into a spray torrent. The contents being released by the fountain of obscene grim actually looked like the usual stuff to an extent, and with it being especially dark it was nearly acceptable for it to be that colour.

 

Like is until it was blood that started to come out of those pipes.

 

I looked on, my finger’s tightening around the cold water tap like a vice trying to crush the metal. In one moment I stopped taking in everything and felt only the individual strands of cartilage in my bony fingers seize up upon themselves, my eyes straining at the crimson cascade that now simply ignored the urinal and ejected onto the floor below. For thirty seconds I watched as residue caught the white ceramic and dyed it forever in my eyes. The waters beneath quickly took in the new ingredient to its foul smelling concoction and blended the brown with the red, making it even murkier, reminding me of what happened when you were a kid and got too caught up in mixing paints. I always remember the spastic kid in the class taking a drink one day, thinking it was coka cola and ending up spending the week in hospital. His tongue always looked like it had a taint of brown to it after that.

 

Leaning back, watching all this go on, I failed to rely my own hand, and turned when I heard the sound of water escaping from the faucet. Watching, more thick liquid started secrete from the shining tap, filling the bowl beneath as if the plug had always been there. Having crouched up there like Spider Man, I used my agility to drop to the floor beneath hand first, the palm slipping in the liquid and bashing my elbow into the hard surface below.

 

Groaning loudly, I cursed loudly. Three times, each louder than the last. What was going on? My brain temporarily ignored the flooding of blood in the room to flail around angrily once again, the temptation to just jump into the hollow hole, with window at far end and huddle there until more now high. Something bad was happening here. Beyond regular bad. Worst than Lemoney’s series of unfortunate events. Now it looked like something was definitely conspiring against me. Now, all I felt, was the overwhelming urge to go home crying.    

 

To do that, I needed to forsake this place, abandon every vestige that I had once come here for. It no longer mattered that I had left my coat here. I would never come back for it again. Everything lost would just be bought again, and I would probably be incinerating these clothes once I get home and using their ragged remains to take this place down with them.

 

I fumbled around for the toilet seat, doing my best to ignore the fact that this blood must have come from somewhere, and all I had so far as a small bite from a rat. Whosever it was, they were a dick, and a retard and a puissant. They were every bad thing on this smelly planet rolled up into one and allowed to collapse on their own gravitational pull. As far as I was concerned right now, they shouldn’t have been carrying around so much blood in the first place. It was easier to lose that way.

 

Where was that toilet seat anyway? I had tossed it down somewhere around the sink, although I couldn’t even remember hearing it land now, let alone the general direction of it. Fumbling around frantically in the darkness, my eyes still holding out even though it felt like the place was fading again. I couldn’t have lost it, but what did it matter? There were three others to choose from and it wasn’t like it was a competition. Opening the first stall door, I ripped off the second one, a brief thought of finding the original entering my head. Raising it above my head, I turned straight from the window and chucked it, watching it clatter against the mini roof and slide harmlessly a few centimeters in front of the window.

 

I wanted to cry. It would have been so much easier than trying, yet impossible in comparison.

 

Someone else seemed to do it for me. At first I figured it to be the pipes, as the sounds appeared to come from my left and travel across me before I heard them properly. They were the same groans that had filled the end stall…some time ago, only now they were more obfuscated by the putrid remains swimming around underneath. One thing was for sure though, it still sounded like a person. Even more so than before actually, as their presence felt clearer than it had been last time, even if as they groaned, the liquid from the tap bubbled and poured over the side, creating a waterfall that signified the death of something that gave evidence to be larger than a human.

 

“Hello?” I said, my voice unintentionally registering as the loudest noise in the room for one thick second. As soon as none came I knew my greeting was going to remain unanswered. Hearing the person sniffing and snorting through their noise, I tracked them down to the stall again and headed for it, my rapid pace taking water up to my already soaked back.

 

I looked to the door. It was locked, the small engaged sign staring right back at my as I kneeled down, intending to take a look under before deciding that, even if I was trying to ignore it, I still didn’t wanted to put my head in diluted blood.

 

“Who’s in there?” I called out through the clanking of the room, banging on the wooden frame and hearing nothing but sobbing in their reply. At least I knew they were crying now, and for a brief instant I found myself wondering why, before realizing that I definitely didn’t care. This person had to be responsible for whatever was going on. And whilst they were able to get passed me without me even noticing…

 

 

How did they get pass me? Just how long had they been in the room?

 

Why did I feel that they had always been in the room? That wasn’t possible, but it made me feel, just for a second, that they were as trapped as I was.

 

“Who is that?”

 

“Why did I do this to me,” the voice answered.

 

Chapter whatever

 

I suppose the reason I told you about Samson is because of Nicole. Nicole was, for all intensive purposes, my first major girlfriend. She was the person who I found hanging out round the back of the squash courts and ended up getting hot and heavy with. She was the first person who I was able to get on with long enough to actually obtain a one year’s anniversary status alongside and she was the first member of the human race who I was allowed to touch with the both of us naked.

 

On top of that, she was the first person who my parents instantly informed me that I shouldn’t associate around, because they might be a bad influence (got that right, ma) and the first person to cause me to severely hate myself for a prolonged period. And I’m not just talking angst here. I’m talking world is ending, darkness is swirling round my lonely form depression, causing me to write bleak poems of the afterlife and consider cutting myself. At least that’s what she told me she was feeling anyway.

 

It was during our last year in school that I met Nicole. Now, Nicole had apparently been to our school a year above us previously, but somehow I’ve never been able to confirm this, nor do I have any memories of her, and believe me, this was the type of girl that would be scorched upon your mind in perfect ebony detail, whether you wanted it or not.

 

It started off, as most encounters between members of the opposite sex, in a night club. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of nightclubs. I have only ever tended to see them in one of two ways, and that depends solely on the size of the place. The first is an open stage, ready for a comedy of errors that would cause Shakespeare to forever regret the creation of the term. Where the rejects of human society can clamber together and make idiots of themselves without prejudice. Here, you can engage in wanton self destruction, flamboyantly bad dance maneuvers, fisticuffs of all shapes and sizes and somehow still get laid by the fittest bird in the club.

 

As far as I can see, this has never been because social skills, or your appearance, or even of your ability to be a comedian. Most people seem to fail to notice, that is, when they enter the building with the intention on finding a mate for the night, that a night club is, in technical terms, the worst place for social interaction. A nightclub is designed to be filled with noise. It is not even the noise of the occupants of the building. It is the noise of their favourite bands. This noise alone means that any one, and not just the females, are going to wake up with a sore throat the next morning if they event try to tell their friend they’re off to the toilet.

 

On top of this, it’s generally dark. A typical night of dancing means a high chance that you’re not even going to see who you’re really dancing with until you get out to the lobby. In many ways this isn’t a completely bad thing, as the majority of night club inhabitants wear things in a night club that would generally get them shot if they wore it outside of night clubs.

 

However, for some people, the reason why a night club is the best place to be on a Friday night is for these exact same reasons. Attractive woman are often boring, and so any attempts at conversation are futile with them, save for shouting ‘you’ve got great eyes’ straight down their ear hole, completely bypassing the drums and inputting the message directly into their brain. Of course, because the brain interprets sounds differently to the ear, these vibrations instantly make the woman a malleable target for the night.

 

The other type of nightclub can best be described as a Storage rooms. These places exist in the cities where University students ruin as rampant as zombies in a George Romero film, without much difference once inside the nightclub. Normally, a local businessman sees the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon, and creates a new club for the students to go every night when ten minutes of studying becomes too hard for them. These clubs are often viewed as a great place for all kinds to hang out, as one night will be RnB and the other will be Alt Rock Punk classics night. The drinks also tend to be cheap too, so it quickly becomes heralded as the place nightclub in the city.

 

In reality, the nightclub is nothing more than a place to squeeze as many of he abominations known as students into one place and pump them full of mind numbing drugs to make them reasonably harmless for the rest of the night, before cramming as many in and ‘entertaining’ them for the rest of the night. For a few short hours, the non students of the city will be able to get out and relax in smarter ways.

 

So, that night I had suggested we head to the raddest nightclub in all of history. Some of the others weren’t all that fussed about it really, and the rest wanted to stay in and watch a video, so it took a lot of effort from me and John to eventually convince everyone to go. (the above is comedy)

 

We had headed to the pub beforehand on that occasion too, which led to a series of events that meant we could no longer go in John’s car as originally intended, but instead have to take the bus. Once there, John had to instantly leave. Something about being underaged, while the rest of us got in safely.

 

“Due,” I shouted down the phone, my voice sounding incomprehensible to even myself through the din of the crowd. “What happened?”

 

“As**d *e for ** I.D,” John replied, though I caught none of it.

 

“What?”

 

“I.D,” he repeated, and I got the general gist. He had been four places behind the queue of me, but I looked a lot younger than him. The bouncers must have been in an on/off mood that night.

 

“Shit.What you doing then?”

 

“I’ll ***g around to*n for a bi*,” he shouted down the phone. “Try a**** later.”

 

“Call me when you get in.” I hadn’t really heard him, but it was our usual insertion method. Bouncers didn’t exactly have a specific method of not letting people in. they were, after all, designed merely to not let those in who looked underaged. However, we had come to discover that there was various ways of getting passé them even when below eighteen. The first one was to shave. No sixteen year old looks older when he has a beard, especially a fully grown one. It looks weird, and kind of suggests that you might take steroids. The main one was o get in around the time of a sexy girl entering the building, who would act as decoy. The third was to be a skulky loner, wearing a short leather jacket. That was probably how I got in tonight for that matter. It certainly wasn’t for the trace amount of acne I had.

 

I remember that not having John around made the trip a bit boring. John was second on Samson for being the most excitable of us. However, Samson got quiet when in the club. It was probably the only place it took him a while to get the handle of, and then only by the consumption of alcoholic beverages could he really get into the swing of things. In fact, Samson was always the first of us to head straight for the bar and buy three of the cheapest drinks he could get hold of.

 

Me and Tracy were technically dating by this point, the definition of the word dating here meaning to generally associate with each other as if we were friends. Tracy was a very conservative catholic girl who you always felt that if she finally ever went wild it would threaten the balance of the space time continuum. As such, the closet I ever got to her was close hugs and the assurance that ‘yes, I do consider you my boyfriend.’

 

Being a raging youngster back then, it really messed up my feelings. From what I could tell, it wasn’t exactly a normal relationship, and yet had all the makings of a proper one. We held hands, giggled at each other’s silly jokes, and generally got groans from fellow friends whenever we walked into class together.

 

But sometimes I found myself constantly thinking of walking up to her during common room time and grabbing her shirt by the seams, bracing it with all of my strength and ripping it off, revealing her bra covered chest, her large bosom staring back at going, going stiff and letting me know it wanted what she thought she didn’t. I could often imagine her asking me what the hell I thought I was doing and just plainly ignoring her, slamming her up against the wall as I felt her up and started licking her neck (I was never entirely sure if I was meant to kiss or lick it back then. Even now I’m not sure if I have the generally accepted answer) Then I would hold up her leg and rub against her thigh, feeling the flesh beneath her long socks before trailing up to her panties as she began to pant. By this time, I always thought of her becoming filled with lust, unable to speak for the hormones filling her she had long denied.

 

After that, it would become impossible to properly explain my feelings. I would start ripping her clothes off one by one as she started to groan like a slut, no longer caring for her upbringing and getting lost in the moment I had provided for her, pounding into her and she bled and begged for more, even calling me her devil because it made her so hot, the conservative clothes she had always worn even when in proper school uniform becoming mere rags that failed to hide even an once of flesh and yet making her all the more sexier for it.

 

That was what I had generally imagined. But at that time it had been pure fantasy. Her breasts weren’t even that big and our uniforms didn’t even have thigh length socks for the girls. (I had no idea where i got that from)

 

So we entered into the club together, yet not touching. After three months of ‘dating’ you have figured I could at least enter with my hand around her shoulder, like the sixteen hundred other couples were doing. But no, we weren’t even doing that. Tracy seemed to have no idea about men that they at least wanted to inform other males of their territory without getting on stage and announcing it.

 

“You wanna drink?”

 

“Sure. Vodka and coke.”

 

That was another thing about her. The girl could drink. I already knew in that night she would be drinking more than me and Samson combined and yet would look like she had been on weak orange juice all night. Since her time of entering bars and clubs she had won fifteen drinking contests, one of which was with a serious pro who had gotten angry at me for messing up his pool shot. That was kind of embarrassing actually, as she was the one who had jumped in and challenged him to a game, taunting him with not being a real man who could fight fairly. The look on his face when he thought he had one up on her and suggested a drinking again, only to have her readily agree was pure twenty four billion carat gold, yet the downcast look on my face must have been a lot worse.

 

The events of the nightclub would have been as boring as I originally depicted them. Worse than being rendered blind, deaf and dumb, the nightclub filled each of our senses with so much information that it was impossible to decipher it all, and we spent most of the night swallowing shots, listening to heavy rock and bouncing up and down for the better part of two hours, generally having the best time we had for weeks. Tracy never danced by the way, a reflex action I think having a 2:1 alcohol: water ratio.

 

I think we had an hour left before we got to Nicole entering my life. I had just done an awesome breakdown maneuver that had led to me and John (who eventually got in) running away from the bulky man who looked concerned for our well being, and had headed back to Tracy. She was just sitting there at the time, perfectly straight and tying Donna’s hair into Barry’s with knots that looked nervously complicated. There were both sleeping it off as they were prone to do after half a pint of beer. I reached for her, intending to balance all my weight on her shoulder as I spoke to her, her quick reflexes swatting me away with a hand, making me rest against a beer soaked Donna.

 

“Wanna dance?” I asked futilely into her ear. It ended up being a lot louder than I had intended it, the latest punk rock emo band stopping halfway through a verse, and giving us fifteen seconds for a quick conversation that we both already knew the answer to.

 

“I think I’ll watch over these guys.”

 

“Ah, okay.” I tried to sit down.

 

“You go have fun. I’ll be fine.”

 

“No, no. It’s…”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

“Are you…”

 

“Yes…” And with that, the music booted back off, a feminine man screaming for all he was worth and around a million dollars more down the microphones, destroying the ears of many people who were standing by the loudspeakers. I got up, and staggered away, muttering something bout first period the next day. It was Saturday by the way.

 

Actually, now that I’ve gone through the events in my head, it wasn’t there I met Nicole. I had spoken to Tracy, with Barry and Donna present, and moved onto the toilet to get rid of any unnecessary water that was still left in my system. Standing by the urinal, I remember a man standing next to me with sunglasses on. I always hated standing next to a man with sunglasses on in the toilet. You never knew what he was looking at. I was even worse that we were in a nightclub, even worse by the fact he was clearly looking at my feet.

 

“…………………………” he said to me, but the music had ripped away any chance for me to hear him. I rested my head against a bunch of stickers that suggested taxis for us to call on the way home, and waited for him to disappear.

 

“Surprise!” a voice shouted straight down the ear hole that a few seconds previously could hear nothing. Jumping with the shock of disturbance, something in my skull told me there was something wrong with my feet and before I knew it gravity had decided to change a few laws without informing me. I lay there on the toilet floor for a few hours, before Samson’s head popped into my field of vision. “Gotcha. You’ve been ownereds.”

 

Leetspeak has been something gripping the nation recently. I will never understand. Back then, I could only assume that he was talking his usual dribble without a care for reality and its strict laws on what you do not do to people when they are on the toilet! It took me a few seconds to find out I wasn’t alone.

 

“Ewww, it’s so tiny…” she said, her face appearing just outside of my blurred visions. I froze up, realizing that Samson had not only broken the basic laws on toilet society, but he had also committed a blasphemy. “I going get rid of it using that trick from Fight Club.”

 

To this day I have not seen Fight Club for this one thing alone, but for a few moments back then I honestly thought my balls were gone forever, without even having a test run. If the movie includes the mutilation of a grown man’s most precious parts, then I know it’s not a movie I’m going to enjoy, even if it does have Brad Pitt in it.

 

And that was how I met Nicole, that same Raven haired temptress I would later form a crush on and end up dating. It turned out that the reason someone like Samson had gotten to know someone like Nicole was the Internet. It was probably this fact alone that actually pushed me to use it regularly. After all, someone like Samson would never have a chance with someone like Nicole if they knew him physically for more than five minutes. In that way, the Internet is useful, at least as a Samson effect dampening sponge, allowing humans to generally get used to him in the same way that Shaolin Monks are conditioned to withstand rock hard blows and missile launchers.

 

I later came to learn that they had met online. Both of them had apparently set up an account with some kind of online dating service. As we all know, dating services only have two types of clients: the fat, old and skinny sub groups that rationalized their afflictions as jolly, experienced and defined muscle tone without bulk; and the clients who sign on to take the piss and thinking it will be a quick laugh. Samson and Nicole both fell under this category, and the high tech computer databanks that makes it connection choices through random associations of similar subjects ended up throwing them together.

 

The dating website actually deserves a lot more credit than I originally gave it because it actually made a perfect choice in regards to these two. Their chaotic attitudes made them perfect for each other when it came to the most childish and immature practical jokes ever. The only thing that ever seemed to get in the way of them getting together was Samson’s completely androgynous nature, and my own subsequent dating of the girl in question.

 

Chapter ???

 

I was dreaming about stepping on snails. Only for a moment, but it remained a vivid dream, even as the sound woke me up.

 

The sound was blurred, hidden as it was by the haze that filled my thoughts, trapping me from the real world and holding tightly onto a concept called sleep.

 

I was slowly being pulled away from the concept, drawn not only by the sound now but by a large buzzing that tickled my chest and vibrated against my heart.

 

It got louder, or at least I think it did, moving in time with the intermittent tone that, were I a cartoon, would cause my ears to shoot up.

 

I woke up. I was on the toilet again.

 

That was twice I had dozed off now, not that I could remember even how I got so tired, nor why I had decided that the best place to fall asleep would be with my butt sticking down the toilet. Pulling myself out, I quickly came to regret my haste in pulling out of the entire toilet seat earlier. IF the posterior wasn’t already soaking wet, I would probably be feeling extremely agitated by now.

 

Lifting up, yanking myself out of the toilet by use of the toilet roll, I became aware of the sound that had woke me. My phone. Fuck. How could I have been so fucking stupid? I had it with me all this time. Hell, it was the reason I got caught up in this stupid fucking situation. Kicking the lock, which I realized I had locked before my nap, I fumbled inside my leather jacket and pulled out, amazed that it still felt non short circuitry dry, even after I had spent a few minutes freaking out all over the sewage filling the room.

 

The sewage…

 

It was up to my thighs now, making me once again ask one of the many questions that had been filling my mind since I realized that I was here for the duration. Just how long had I been trapped here? Since it wasn’t a continuous leak, it must have been well over five hours.

 

The phone went a few strokes louder, Samson must have sneaked on the ‘annoy’ setting for when we were in the cinema. Who was it anyway? The number didn’t say anyone in particular, and it was a number I didn’t recognize. All I could tell was that it was another mobile. Hesitating for a few seconds, my finger hovered over the call button. This would be a really bad time for a wrong number from someone in another city. But what if it was, I didn’t have too much credit on the phone to call somebody.

 

I pressed it, and pulled it to my ear, in those few seconds of space that existed only on phones, I noticed that I shouldn’t really sit back down. “Hello.”

 

A whining pitched my ears, assaulting the drums worse than any club music or klaxon. I yanked it away, still able to hear it even as I pulled it away as far as possible without dropping it. The noise was unmistakable. It was the sound you heard from an old modem where you were trying to start up the old 56k connections.

 

Carrying on venomously for an odd thirty second longer, it clicked off as if it realized it had dialed the wrong number. Drawing the phone aback to me, I stared at the number, trying to think what it could have been. Was it even possible to dial up a modem from your mobile? I had never heard of something like that, not even WAP did stuff like that. Not having to think long as to what to do next, I hit the call button, watching as the numbers danced across the screen and back to the destination they had just come from.

 

 

I tapped the red one. Something was telling me that wasn’t the right thing to do. Mom had got me to call her back about two hours before we went out, and ii had spent a lot of the day before hand speaking to John and AJ over the arrangements of the night. My credit was probably low, and it had been a few week since I last topped it up. If I should be calling anybody, it would be help.

 

The only problem I had to take into account here was the time. Living alone and away from my parents, no one would be suspecting me missing yet, and if it was as into the middle of the night as I thought it would be, and then certain more grouchy members of my party may not be a good idea. The parents were out in Spain for the week, and everyone else would still be half drunk and not willing to take this as seriously as it was. My mind wandered over the idea of calling the pub itself, but I didn’t have the number and besides, if I could hear the phone and yet no one hear my banging then they probably weren’t going to answer anyway.

 

Then, I don’t know how, my mind settled on the idea of calling Nicole.

 

That actually did make some sense. Nicole, of all people, would still be up. Being the unemployed black hole of benefits that she was, no doubt she’d be up late on the internet. It had taken me a few months of determining it, but I had recently discovered that, as far as logic would allow me to go, Nicole never slept, would always be online, and always be able to answer within a few seconds, no matter how much I tried to catch her out. Going back on the call registry, I hit her number.

 

Again there was a pause, and for a few seconds I thought I was going to mysteriously be unable to get a response, but seconds later it roared to life like a jet plane ignition. If it was ringing, then someone would answer. And if someone answered, then I would be free within the hopefully.

 

It clicked, and my brain felt clear in those few seconds between the last ring and her voice. Everything went down after that.

 

“Sorry for getting angry at you.”

 

“Wh-what?”

 

“You weren’t at the pub earlier. I know now. Mom said she called your parents, and they were at your place.”

 

“Oh…right…”

 

“You should have said so earlier,” she continued, as I began to wonder what my parents would be doing standing outside my house for the last ten or so hours. “You know I’ve been getting angry lately. You shouldn’t give me more excuses.”

 

“Sorry.” It came out instinctively. In a way I was apologizing for being a complete and total jerk, and yet still successfully hiding the fact.

 

“So…” she said, after a few moments of pause. “What’s up?’

 

“What?” Our phone conversations were often like this.

 

“You called me remember,” she said, a little giggle on her voice that I had so rarely heard recently. “If I remember correctly, or IIRC as I might say, usually when one rings someone, it is to request knowledge from them, or request personal favors, which have not done recently, yet was once common practice.” I pulled the phone away from my ear. This was also common practice. “…unless they were both females, which I don’t think you are. Sooooo… What’s up?”

 

I paused again for a moment. Telling her that I was trapped in the same public toilets as the ones I was insisting I wasn’t in a few…hours, was it- ago seemed like a very nasty thing to do to her. Telling a lie was one thing, but then having to admit to a lie when they’ve already forgiven you and apologized for being so accusatory was just something I couldn’t do.

 

“I…just wanted to apologize,” I finally said, after her tone of voice had begun to sound concerned.

 

“Apologize? I should be the one apologizing.”

 

“I…”  This felt weird.

 

“No, go on,” she said, sounding reasonably calm. “I see you’re putting a lot of effort into telling me this. I shalnt spoil it.”

 

“It’s just…we‘ve all been a little mean to you lately,” I said, sounding as downcast as possible. “”The truth is, we have been avoiding you to an extent.”

 

“You have?” she replied, her own voice sounding so desperately lonely right now. I remember how beautiful it used to feel to hold her when she was in that state. She would often cry in a moment of angst that I could only get used to, and she’d feel so warm with tears running down her eyes.

 

“It’s just…we want to be there for you, while this whole divorce thing goes on, but I…and I think I speak for a few of the others as I say this…” I don’t know why, but for a moment I thought of thunderous applause, and going up to receive my trophy. “It feels awkward. We want to be there for you, but we don’t know where we stand on all this.”

 

“You stand beside me,” she said softly, tears streaming down the phone and into my ear. “That’s all I ask. There’s not a single person involved here who isn’t finding it hard. I know that, and in know my parents aren’t just doing this to upset me.”

 

“Please, just stand by me, and we’ll sing Ben E King for as long as need be.” Sniggering slightly, I agreed, and we engaged in five minutes of obligatory small talk just to make her feel like I was by her side.

 

“Okay, talk to you later,” I said, feeling a complete dumbass for not asking her help. How did women always turn it back round on themselves? It was as if their very voices hypnotized you into nothing but complimenting or reassuring them. I swung round impatiently in the small stall, water rushing around me, keeping my smile fixed so I sounded perfectly normal.

 

“Are you in the toilet?”

 

I laughed nervously. “Well, we have been talking for a while.”

 

“Okay,” she said, joining in on the truth she thought t be a joke. “I’ll let you get on with it then.”

 

“Thanks, oh and Nicole.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“We’ll be there for you, for as long as you need us to be.” It felt like she was hiding some feelings as well, but I swore I heard a small sniffle in the darkness of the earpiece.

 

“Thank you.”

 

One of toilet society’s many rules was that of telephone conversations. In the public toilets, all phone calls were either an update provider (this was especially useful for when in nightclubs) or sacred, angst filled monologues. In a toilet, you could say whatever you want on a phone and it would never leave the toilet. In many respects, it would never even get to the person on the other side. You said what you wanted in a toilet, whether it be your personal feelings or…well, that was it really, and no one overhearing would ever say a word about it. There wasn’t even a punishment for this law, as no one ever broke it.

 

However, one of the biggest complications of this rule is that you were near allowed to speak about it either, even if it was you speaking to the same person on the toilet again.

 

“Fuck!” I screamed throughout the room, kicking the door and feeling my trousers complain about their newly found weight. My flared slacks were starting to bog down. It wasn’t too much of a problem, as I didn’t expect to have to be swimming in this stuff anytime soon, and could afford to wade about in it for a bit. My phone sprang to life again, and I saw I had a text message, informing me I only had 0.03 left on it. This was a great time to learn that my credit and top up cards were still on the table in the lounge, or more realistically, AJ had taken them home when he realized I had forgot them (hadn’t you guys forgotten something as well?)

 

Going back to smashing the window was the obvious choice now. It was scary how it was taking me so long, almost as if there was an unseen force preventing me from doing so, telling me that it was for my own good that I didn’t, common sense overriding the crazy, delusion unseen force for now, I reached for the lock, turning it to get out of the stall. The second it was able to open, the door flung forwards towards me, straight into my nose, apparently unconcern for the water that should have been slowing it. I felt the tip try to reach for my mouth and I fell back, submerging myself up to my chest in the foul putrid beneath me.

 

The groaning returned and my eyes shut wide, fearing for a second whatever it was that had hit the door would approach me. I felt my heartbeat race around the track of my circulatory system, hitting bumps where fattening ice cream clogged my arteries. There was a splash, like someone jumping into a swimming pool, then silence again, only the quiet ripples of the septic tank that had once been a toilet remaining.

 

Looking up at the now open door, I saw…nothing? A shadow flickered momentarily, like a candle was dancing to Sinatra in the wind but it disappeared just as quickly, and I was alone again. Even more so than before I realized. My hand had fallen into the water along with the rest of my body, and without looking, I knew my phone to be ruined.

 

I didn’t wait. I wanted out of here now. How could I not have noticed sooner? Something was definitely out to get me. It was impossible for me to tell what, but it had me completely at its mercy as I long as I stayed here. Had some creature escape a local zoo and was now hiding in the pub through many holes that I was unaware of. It seemed possible. The place was falling apart and we had heard the Landlord being warned many times that kids could climb into these holes.

 

On top of that, it would explain the electricity and plumbing being messed up as well. If some savage predator had gotten to the wires and started chewing at them. Done right, the damage an escaped animal could do without being noticed was astounding.

 

All the more reason to escape.

 

Not hesitating a moment longer, I leapt to my feet, opening the door again and rushing out without so much as a glance at my surroundings. My broken phone did still have a use in the form of a chisel. Chipping away with as blunt an item as a phone seemed a little pathetic, but I no longer allowed myself the time to fish out the toilet seat from the madness below me.

 

It was only a quick turn, but it the insanely heavy bog water beneath me it felt like a few minutes of irrelevant struggling. The darkness seemed to be getting worse somehow, and now I couldn’t even see what should have been an easily visible sink. Knowing where it was anyway, I reached for it, and was welcomed by the cold water tap. I dreaded the thought of turning it on, and so immediately relinquished it, pushing instead for the mirror. It felt greasy, but I couldn’t care less, instead shifting slowly to the side. How did it get this dark so quickly? If it hadn’t been for the light of my mobile phone, I might have noticed sooner, but now it was impossible to see even my reflection in the mirror.

 

Although thinking about it without intention, this grease was a little too thick. Was it covering the entire mirror? That would explain the absence of some of the light. I began sidestepping, not intending to lose the wall when I had lost all my other senses, feeling for the window, and then, salvation.

 

For a second I could imagine the whole group laughing at me. Bastards. Didn’t they know my pain? My intense agony? My unbridled angst? Laughing to myself in a small mutter, I noticed that it was taking longer than it should to reach the window hole. I searched round with my hands, letting them hover over each individual cracked tile. All of them felt as smooth as the day they had been vanished, save for the large chips and cracks in each and every one of them. And somewhere, around where I was expecting it, a rough surface, about the size of my forearm squared, looking very thick and dense to the touch. I patted it. There should be nothing like this here.

 

Someone had blocked it. Filled my only hope of escape with fast setting cement. I tapped hastily on the compound in front of me, hitting harder and harder until my knuckles began to regret it, and then giving up and using the phone I had intended to shattered against the window When? How? Without me knowing

 

It wasn’t just the appearance of the blocked passage that surprised me, the notion t hat someone had to have entered the room with me in it (me, the light sleeper), and then proceeded to spend what had to be at least twenty minutes filling a hole in with the craft of a true artist, making it smooth to the touch, making one doubt that it was never there before. It wasn’t just that, it was also the fact that it had hardened so quickly. Becoming this dense in such a short time. That shouldn’t happen, should it?

 

And the one final thing, that one thing that made me smile the grin of one who had just achieved a breakthrough.

 

“I know you’re in here!” I shouted. “Show yourself!” I started to wade back into the darkness that was once behind me, moving into what I assumed was the center of the room. “What the fuck is your problem?”

 

The cement had been smoothened down, the work of an artist. If it had been rough and jagged, then it could have meant that he had done it from the other side, dumped the cement and moved backwards through the window and out to the freedom I once desperately sought.

 

But he hadn’t. He had to be on this side. Trapped, and more importantly, human. An animal couldn’t have done this. Not even a gorilla could have done this. He had made a fatal mistake, and I had beat him by finding it.

 

“I know you’re here. I know you’re hiding…” I found the toilet stall and slammed my fist unto it, reverberating my hatred throughout the entire room. “I don’t care why you’ve done this, because I’m going to kick your fuckin’ ass no matter how good the story is.”

 

“Now show yourself.” Empty space filled the room and I waited tense, expecting some one to jump me from all sides, anticipating the splashing of water being pushed aside as someone tried to moved through it stealthily, waiting for the breath of a human about to make a mistake. Something, anything.

 

The urinals sprung to life, their half hour delivery of sewage coming through strained pipes. I turned towards them hastily, hearing water splash around me, and the groans filled the room, blanketing my ears in pains as it twisted and contorted upon itself, creating a cacophony that would surely drive me to madness were it to continue. I shouted over it, listening profanity over obscenity until I could no longer hear myself.

 

Then, in a flash of white amber, the lights came back on, all at once, filling the room with a terrible brightness. They were higher than usual, around ten feet higher than the roof was. It had become a glass of sorts and, for the first time, I could see my attacker, my instigator. The one responsible for my sufferings. I could see it all now.

 

Above me was the cess pit. I had no idea what it was doing up there, or even that the pub has one. It was full, a peat bog contained in a glass structure, the creation responsible for the smell of death now around me. I could see the pipes that connected the five urinals, which were now beginning to get covered themselves by the sewage, leading from the pool of mirth above me, spreading the darkness above into my own prison, trapping me in the decay of human excrement.

 

And there, in the middle of it all, lay the one I knew was responsible for my imprisonment. He looked at me, his featureless face impossible to see for all the crap surrounding him, his bloated, disfigured corpse groaning through the pipes a sing which bought only pain, his voice impossible to comprehend, his words, raging clearly in my mind as I refused to listen to them, unable to tell if he was reveling in my chaos.

 

There he lay, swimming around in the muck that was slowly filling my world.

 

The Crying Man.

 

Chapter break

 

That may have been the first time I met Nicole, but it wasn’t an hilarious antic filled night or anything like that. It was simply the first time I met her. I don’t think I even spoke to her properly after that. The knock down to the ground seemed to activate all the latent alcohol stored up within me, and I spent the rest of the time in the club in some flashy, techno beat stupor.

 

After that however, I saw her constantly. It turned out Samson originally met her through online gaming, and had no idea that the girl who was a level forty four Night Orca was actually one of the same girls who, back when he was eight, stole his underpants from his locker during a swimming trip.

 

I don’t understand much about the online RPG’s, so I’ll keep it short. They’re a form of gaming where people spent otherwise productive hours pointlessly leveling up a small character based on a random set of variables that they had somehow chosen and then claim that they are engaging in social interaction by wandering around mediocre landscapes killing the same bug-like enemies over and over again, the only thing really differing being the colour of the enemies and the size and name of the weapon you are using.

 

So apparently they came across each other by chance while in the same world and ended up engaging in a campaign or something for about a month. The second time I met here, which was in our local pub, they spent a whole hour discussing this with us, going into the various details about which class and races were better than others and that’s all I got really because it was the same type of tedious boredom that you got from a history lecturer who had died and forgot to tell his mouth.

 

The next time I would be seeing her was at the baths. Swimming was my regular way of preventing myself from feeling inactive and fat, and one of the few places where Toilet society just felt awkward and sat in the corner. This was mainly because our changing rooms were unisex, a series of parallel stalls that filled the changing rooms. Here, toilet society is felt like it’s meant to take place, but doesn’t. Luckily, you don’t have to stand next to members of the opposite sex here while you urinate. You do however, have to stand around in a brightly lit, non decorated room with various rules about doing stuff all over the walls alongside hand dryers. This time with members of the opposite sex.

 

Now I had been going to this pool all my life, ever since my father started taking me to teach me how to drown in a way which would provide him and mother with many hours of amusements afterwards as they talked about it as loud as they possibly could with me sulking in the next room, and I had never had a problem with other members of the opposite sex being there.

 

The only time when this rule might have been broken is back when I was three. My mother had to take me swimming that week because dad was recovering from a fourteen hour drinking session (he wasn’t really an alcoholic, but him and his associates still engaged in random binge events that I was doing back when I was thirteen and could get drunk on four cans of J20). I can only recite this story from her words, but it basically went along the lines that she had tried to take me, and I had started to cry, insisting I wasn’t a girl. How I ever got this into my mind in a place where women wandered around in one pieces and bikinis I have no idea, but they taunted me about it regardless.

 

Late night it was, I remember that distinctly, mainly because of the problems that occurred afterwards. I had gotten into the my little changing stall, and was just stripping off when I heard a pocketful of change make a dash for salvation, followed by  a small profanity.

 

“Shit,” a girl’s voice exclaimed loose coinage erupting from the stall beside me and sprinkling over the floor like chocolate chips. There wasn’t many, but I do remember them all being copper pieces. With the individual stalls right next to each other, this sort of thing was fairly common, and I knelt down to pick them up, sliding them back to the person who hadn’t gotten careless with their jeans or whatever.

 

“Thanks,” they had replied, and that was that. Or so I thought. A few seconds of disrobement later heard shuffling, and looked to the wall, almost as if expecting it to burst out on me, wooden shrapnel tearing into me. Instead, a head popped up from under the stall. “Hey, I said thanks!”

 

I still vehemently deny that the scream that occurred was not me. But in actual fact, my much uglier, goatee wearing evil identical twin, but there was no one round to really believe me anyway, and Nicole had saw me do it. Back then I must have looked pathetic, holding up my small pair of Y fronts to hide what they were usually paid to hide as I shrank back into the corner, looking at her as if she were some mouse that had just dashed out of a hole in the floorboards, and I was the old woman whose face you would never seen.

 

She either grinned at my weird position, or because she realized it was me. “whatcha hiding back then, Slim? It’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”

 

Let’s just say it was a humbling start.

 

Swimming would quickly become a regular thing for us after that. Thinking even further back, she must have been going there quite regularly, and I do have faint wonderings that, after I had seen her in that amazing black one piece, I was sure I had seen her several times and soon, she was all I ever saw in that swimming pool. I think that, to this date, we’ve only gone alone three times since meeting up that one time.

 

That one time was a little confusing though. I remember keeping the urge to stay some distance away from her. This was the thing that pretending to remove my manhood in a place she should not have even been (ignoring the fact that it was an over 21’s, and none of us should have been there), and thus deemed to be avoidable in my book.

 

Keeping the distance relatively safe doesn’t work in a swimming pool. Similar to a urinal, if you inch too far one way to keep distance from another member of the society, you either end up bumping into another or missing. My swimming away from her was interrupted as a race to her competitive nature, and soon it became my perspective on the whole situation as well. Races between genders are always tense, and it’s even worse for the male mind, ass you start thinking of the climax of the race becoming sex. Aiming for the goal means you have to try your best not to put out early, and when your opponent is really, really hot that’s impossible.

 

Proving herself to be faster than me, I showed my endurance by continuing to swim even after she wanted to leave. Swimming around five more laps, I left exhausted and panting as I entered the showers. No one was there due to the lateness of the hour and I quickly wandered through to get changed.

 

“Are you man enough for yourself now?” I think she asked me. The words didn’t get through properly, as the two lumps on her chest were distracting my higher brain functions, turning them to lower brain functions and falling through the mush that was the rest of my brain. “I can’t stand those stalls half the time,” she said, as if feeling the need to explain to a brain dead mummy. “So claustrophobic. I need to be free as much as I can.”

 

I replied with a witty comment about the freedom of certain other aspects of her self, which later led t a detailed discussion about the trappings of society in general and the self imposed limits we put on ourselves in accordance with the varying levels of peer pressure that existed all around us, not just through our friends, but by everyone, from neighbors to strangers to people we met in the toilet. IN between our conversation I made a series of hilariously witty jokes that sincerely impressed her, forcing there to laugh as she had never laughed before.

 

IT came out as ‘gleeeerrrr.’

 

“Aw, you’re seeing a girl naked for the first time,” she replied. “That’s so sweet.” Her words came out as if she had just seen her friend’s four year old daughter come in to give her a biscuit without being prompted. My words continued to come out like a two year old’s. She didn’t seem to mind.

 

“You wanna hang out after this? Revalation’s doing a techno and trance night.” She paused to stare out me with a grin that showed she knew how sadistic she was being, pinning down the man she had beat with her awful nakedness. “You look like you know a thing or two about being in a trance.”

 

“Are you crazy?” I finally asked her. “What if they see you like this?”

 

“This place is maintained by adolescent school boys. If they saw me they would react even worse than you just did. But they won’t, because it’s fifteen minutes until they close the place up and they’re trying to relax in the back of the store room one last time before having to come out and clean up. The only one here is the lifeguard, and he’s too busy making sure no one drowns in an empty pool. You may not have noticed, but we are the last two here.”

 

This time I stared at her for a reason which wasn’t resting on her chest.

 

“In fact, we could do anything here,” she said. “And as long as we kept it quiet, no one would be the wiser.”

 

“R-really,” I think I replied. Things felt a little searing at that moment, so I might have commented on the economic state of the Great Wall of China and not noticed.

 

“Yeah, really, she continued, getting closer to me. “So let’s play with ducks!”

 

“Ducks?” I snapped out of it completely, and wondered where the two yellow animals she had just produced out of nowhere came from. There was a kids section in this pool as well, so it wasn’t too much of a mystery.

 

The only problem that came with the solving of this mystery was that the game she wanted to play involved her throwing the ducks at me and dodging perfectly when I had the gall to throw back. I remember now, us rushing around the stalls and lockers, through the showers and just past the lifeguard before he noticed anything, spraying these little ducks full of water at each other and then tossing them. I felt like apologizing for every kid that had messed around in the swimming baths when they were crowded and me getting angry with them, imaging images of me wandering up to them and throwing them out, teaching them a lesson at the same time.

 

However we got dressed in time before the attendants started cleaning up I have no clue, but we left soon afterwards, assaulting the nightclub with our presence (the ducks helped us gain access for some bizarre reason. I can only assumer they think that teenagers don’t carry plastic ducks.)

 

From there on in, for just one night, we became legends of the club. With the repetitive mind numbing music of the techno beat surrounding us, we followed our whims, our stolen plastic fowls following us as we engaged in the mass slaughter of everyone’s rationality. For the four hours we were in that club, without an ounce of alcohol, we lost ourselves in the haze of quacking and excitement. They would fear the ducks, and we would control them, creating their dance, fulfilling their dreams. As she ate away at my inhibitions, I ate away at everybody else’s. For four hours, we were totally free, existing only in the small nightclub that contained our souls.

 

The dancing was equisetic. ON that blackened floor, nothing existed but us and the lights. The creature around us became clay, molding and merging to keep away from us as we enjoyed the peace of the music, taking us away. I forgot Tracy. To say I ever knew her would have been difficult, and this girl became my everything. Her cocky mouth as she grinned, her tiny hands as she sprayed vodka shots through a plastic toy right into my eye. Even the elongated bridge on her nose wasn’t enough to stop me dedicating myself to her in that one moment. For four hours, we were king and queen of Revelation, ruling over all these who dared try and dance alongside us. I had honestly never had a better night at a club, before or after then.

 

And then I nearly ruined everything.

 

“That’ll be thirteen pounds,” the man said. We both looked at him, as if he had just insisted we pay him with our kidneys. The price had jumped, and we had actually told him a shortcut as well.

 

“Hey, that’s not…” I began, but she overrid me.

 

“Relax, it’s only paper we obtained from our parents,” she handed him three five pound notes, clapping his hand down as she did so. “Keep the change you cheap ass bastard.”

 

He drove off quickly, and we were alone. There was an oddly quiet moment. I could write a whole paper on walking home after a night out society, but that would be silly. During the time left from a taxi to about ten meters down the road, there was always a silence. This wasn’t because of nervousness or a lack of anything to say though. It was because of the same nothing that inflicted Toilet society.

 

“Good time tonight,” I eventually said to break the ice.

 

“Yeah,” she replied. “Insert generic comment here.” Releasing a light snigger, we both instinctively turned off down another road. A group of five boys were still littering the road, and both of us knew that nothing should be said until we were out of range. “It was cool. The swimming, the ducks, the huge battle between the forces of good and evil being resolved by the dolphins.”

 

“Uh,” I mumbled coherently when we were well away. “I have school in, like, five hours.”

 

“Yeah,” she replied. “I have to be asleep in five hours too. So what’s your name?”

 

“I…I” And that was perhaps the hardest part of the nigh, even past the nakedness and. One of the stranger rules about toilet society is that, when it comes to meeting new people, the toilet is the place where you ask their name. During it outside the toilet beforehand breaks the current conversation, making everyone feel slightly awkward. Doing it afterwards never happens, as you find yourself unconsciously thinking how stupid it is and avoid it, hoping you’ll overhear someone else saying it.

 

Members of the opposite sex are, naturally, are the exception to this rule. You must be introduced to a member of the opposite sex either by your teacher, who will tell you and the rest of the class their name during register, or by a friend. Asking their name is not allowed as again it breaks the conversation. This causes huge complications when you’re on your own with the girl. Technically, for me, this was Samson’s fault, as instead of telling me, he tied my shoelaces up and laughed at me when I fell down.

 

Even though she had just asked, and the response should have been an obvious one, it just felt so weird that it hadn’t came up yet. In the middle of the street, she embraced me, and smiled into my eyes, threatening to eat them up. It was a moment that you wanted in a romance scene. I could feel my heart beating up against her chest, trying to rip itself out and entwine with hers. I could see her breath cross with mine. Our noses touched, and she said.

 

“Don’t worry. Names only matter as labels.” Then, as if to prevent me from answering, her lips came over mine, rolling over them as if she was trying to match the same lines. I caught a hint of blueberry, and then passion. “I’m Nicole, and I like you a lot.”

 

I had ruined the night, but she had saved it and took me along fro the rescue, literally pulling me out of one pool and throwing me into another, showing me a side I had never seen before, promoting me to King of these new waters and letting me stays there by her side.

 

And after that night, I went from a man whose girlfriend I wasn’t even allowed to touch to a two timer who no longer had his virginity- with both girls completely unaware that I was dating the other. At the time I couldn’t really resist her, even if I had wanted to. In terms of dominance we were actually equal, and I think it was that alone, and the fact I wasn’t used to it, that allowed her the one up on our relationships. She was perhaps a little more decisive than me, which was actually quite helpful, seeing by the nature of most of our group.

 

I was still the man in the relationship though. That night, even as we took something away from each other without a second thought, I was the shark, sneaking behind it, chasing it around the waters, catching it in my jaws and dancing with it as it squirmed for life, to escape and yet never want to leave. I took my prey and enjoyed every minute of it, bringing the creature held in my arms to a fiery death that they loved every minute of. Showing a bleeding hole pleasure for the first time ever.

 

I only remembered about Tracy the next day, when she called and asked me why I wasn’t at school, but my swimming gear was.

 

Next chap

 

With her, I didn’t have to imagine. There was nothing to imagine. She was everything I wanted at face value, the perfection of my contentness. There were no thoughts about ripping off her school uniform and doing her in the common room. We did that three times. And she provoked all three encounters. It was a great relationship, and that one night, was the start of something great.

 

The problem with a dream has always been the unfortunate fact that one day, you have to wake up and realize it’s the same ceiling that you’ve always fell asleep under. A wild night of passion and fantasy can be devastated in seven seconds when you finally walk in the door and have your mother ask where the hell have you been all night. Being unable to answer, your mother can only assume the worst.

 

That’s what happened to me after the third greatest night of my life. Mother was furious, and in a way, it was understandable. I had been gone for the night and next day without as much as a phone call. My understanding and apologies of course, weren’t enough however, and like most women even when the point had been driven through and nailed down, she still kept on at it until it became an annoyance. There’s nothing quite as socially confusing as having your parents ground you at seventeen. At eighteen, you can never be house ridden again, but seventeen is just one step before, and you’re trapped in the urge to disobey, and yet not make things worse.

 

Once you’ve gone high on the see-saw, you’re always go straight back down.

 

School was an issue as well. Missing out a day should have been a minor point, hidden by the claim of sickness. That wouldn’t have even been necessary had the reason for me not being there is because I spent the entire day in bed with a chick, but telling this story to my friends probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do (though it was pretty cool that I could boast to be the first to lose it) until I had at least confronted Tracy with it.

 

Shocked to find I hadn’t even thought of Tracey that entire night I was with Nicole, I was genuinely surprised how everything went on normally the next day in school. It felt like a secret agent, knowing a secret that would stir up an entire nation of the school’s pupils- at least for a day or two. Me and Tracey were a pretty famous couple around school. We probably wouldn’t get an award for it during the end of school Ball, but we would certainly come close.

 

Finding Tracy alone was an issue though. Even worse was getting her not to think anything too suspicious of it. I can’t count the amount of times when I tried to take her ‘behind the bike sheds’ if you will, but I couldn’t usually get her to even ‘sit on the couch’ with me.

 

That day afterwards went by pretty smoothly class wise. I can’t remember having actually learnt anything now, but I’m pretty sure I took it all in.

 

It would have been when school came out that it all started.

 

“So I held the bag round his head, and throttled him until he died.”

 

“Yeah, great Samson,” I replied, not really listening. My mind had been off all day, for the obvious reasons. Now it was just the three of us. Me, Samson and Tracy. Samson wasn’t getting the point, neither was Tracy. Right next to me she was, her hand held out lightly as we trod down the dirt path that led around the school. Theoretically it wasn’t the end of the day, but for us it was, and that meant going the long way to avoid people staring at us. This was one of those things that Tracy insisted upon, saying how it wasn’t fair that all the lower years saw us leave early, and how she remembered how much she hated it when she was younger.

 

“You guys have to join us for a multiplayer sometime,” he continued. “We’ll have lots of fun.”

 

I could tell that Tracey could tell that something was up, not something completely serious, but still there, waiting to be addressed. She was looking to me constantly, waiting for my hand to grab hers. Never had she initiated contact between us, and yet she controlled it all the time. Intending to end it that day was a natural choice for me, but something was getting in the way. It should have been easy to dispose of the creature next to me. To just walk away and leave her, but this was something that had to be done in a certain way and, really, I had to respect that I was the one screwing her over. Mortally wounding her heart was the last thing I wanted to do, yet it was going to be pierced anyway. Internal contact, she would have probably hated that.

 

“Sorry, Samson,” Tracey said, when she noticed I wasn’t replying to the guy. “What’s a multiplayer?”

 

“Should not the term be obvious?” he replied, a look of confusion despite his wit. “It is a dance for all. A place where people of similar ideas and interests gather together and shoot one another.”

 

“It’s an online game thing,” I said, hoping any sentence I said would be enough to end Samson’s. I really wanted to tell her before we left school. I still needed to use the computer room to print off an essay I had written. “Just fighting each other, like that Street Fighter game.”

 

“Oh, I was good at that.” She had been actually. Years of intensive training and memorizing techniques were knocked aside by simple button bashing in around ten fights. It wasn’t until she had actually begun to understand what she was doing that I began to lose. Luckily by then, she had become bored.

 

“Nicole!” Samson shouted out, knocking me from my bitterness. To think that even a name could completely change my emotions was an interesting difference that I had never realized before. Had it always existed in me, but never with the capacity to try it? It was such a feeling of happiness that I almost completely forgot that meeting with the two girls in the same place was a very bad thing. It didn’t help that Nicole was running at me.

 

“Papa!” she shouted, in response to Samson. Not looking at him, she sprinted down the dirt trodden path. Even with the massive rain from yesterday (we had missed it in its entirety), she failed to slip or slid and fall over, bouncing agile round large puddles until she got to us, catapulting into me with the strength of a train hitting the coyote and taking me to the ground.

 

What happened next was great. Completely different from the passion of last night. Without the music or the lights to guide us. All I had left was my focus and rationality. Even with the knowledge that Tracey and Samson watching us, any number of emotions possibly appearing on Tracey’s face, I couldn’t stop the moment. We moved into each other like one of us was the other from the future and our existence was creating some kind of freaky time paradox and the only way that the universe could resolve it was by merging the two of us together and creating one. Luckily it didn’t go that far.

 

“Miss me lover?” Nicole asked, finally breaking off. She was still resting directly on my lungs however. And they didn’t exactly have much air in them at the moment. “You better have.” Her voice became mock threatening. Tracey’s had hung open, her eyes showing more white than usual.

 

There was something in me that was glad to see that much pain in her, and in that minute, it was like I spoke in her mind. “I did mean something to you. And now you’ve lost me.” Hesitating, she took a few steps back, before coughing fiercely, like her heart wanted to get out, but unsure f it should run away or ask me what the hell did I think I was doing. Eventually, it chose the first.

 

Nicole hadn’t noticed. Hell, I don’t think Samson had really noticed. Two of his closest friends were in the mud going at it with each other, and there had been no explanation on either part. Samson only tended to learn stuff off us by explanation. He somehow always missed the big moments, whether he was there or not.

 

Even though four of us were there to witness the big break up between me and Tracey, the other four still did not catch wind of it until the following Saturday, when we all went to the Club together. I had been so excited at hanging out with Nicole again that I didn’t even think of Tracey until we saw each other there. For some reason, it felt like we hadn’t seen each other in weeks, like two ex’s accidentally bumping into each other at a party.

 

“Hey,” she said to me that night, and nothing more.

 

I didn’t see much of her after that. The night was filled with Nicole again. It hadn’t been as good as the night previously, somehow the fantasy had overtaken the reality again; leaving it as road kill, but it wasn’t that bad. If anything, I saved a fortune on not buying alcohol, though I was still moderately surprised by how much a simple coke cost.

 

The monarchy of a Dance Club is one filled with constant revolts, and by that night we had already been deposed and others had gone up to take our place. We never met these others, but their presence was known somehow. The songs the DJ picked were entirely for them, and half the dance floor was allocated to their existence.

 

Tracey danced.

 

I wasn’t sure at first whether it was true, but it seemed just silly for AJ to point it out to me like that. IT was sort of a big thing, but at the same time was just something bound to happen eventually, like a friend who never drank alcohol, but was constantly being snared by the invisible leash of peer pressure.

 

“You guys are dating now?” I remember Barry saying. He had had about four pints of lager already, and at the point where he was insisting we should all partake of tequilas, sans the salt. “Don’t you think that’s really shitty? He made a point after that to disown me for a while. Donna was more covertly pissed, and spent a lot of time just being near Tracey. I think she wanted to do the womanly thing of condoling her, but Donna’s was horrible with words and just stayed quiet most of the time.

 

Although it hadn’t gone how television told me it would, the break up was pretty smooth. It was too much of a break up really, like a chasm had opened between us and completely separated us, with no chance of rejoining or even saying goodbye. It might have been a little depressing, had Nicole not been there for me.

 

I was still a little angry though. It was like she hadn’t even cared. If anything, it looked like she was happier without. Finally, she seemed a bit more relaxed, the gyrating on the dance floor being a big clue. Her alcohol consumption didn’t really changed (having already been past superhuman standards anyway), but her wardrobe did. Although it still hid many parts of her body (up until she died, I never saw her shoulders), the cleavage she was showing off was amazing, more like my fantasies than the reality of her school uniform.

 

It would have been the last four hours of the night, when I realized how much I had broken her.

 

Barry had eventually convinced us to do Tequila. Nicole wasn’t as against it as I first thought she’d be. Since I had met her, she hadn’t drank a drop, but it turned out she only drank when she wanted to, and then was a time. After a few shots of the stuff I had found myself wandering for a toilet, not so much dodging the crowds of people as falling into them and ruining their whole evening.

 

Through the crowds I traveled, wading not just through the students and drunks and heavy rock fans with hair with hair that looks like it came out of the candy floss machine at fairs, but through the music pumping through my ears. It was the impossibly loud rock music night at Revelation, and to attempt conversation that night was to attempt suicide with your throat. Between the people and the music, I lost track f where I was going right around the third tequila. Before I knew it I had bumped into her. Failing to notice me, it took a few seconds for my mind to discern reality from fiction, and realized she hadn’t noticed me, or anything for that matter, saved the lips of the biggest nuttier in the school. Connected to the one they call Dominic through her tongue, I watched as they made out, this serious, conservative Christian catholicon girl with the guy that flushed heads down toilets and spread the rumours of every sexual act he ever made a girl do, whether it be true or not.

 

Tracey hated this guy. She hated the notion that she could hate people, it being a weakness of emotion that she couldn’t stand not being able to control. Like a headache that wouldn’t go away, even if you tried to calm it down, Tracey couldn’t rationalize a liking of anybody that she had a reason to well and truly hate, no matter how hard she tried. Dominic fell into that category. He was a bully, and a thug. His idea of fun was to taunt and humiliate the quiet kid one ahead of him in the dinner line and refused to stop talking to them no matter what their reaction. Tracey had stood up to him many a time, one of the few that would even try, even among the teachers. But with such a guy it was fruitless.

 

Now she was making out with him, and I could tell by their sloppiness that this was definitely her first kiss.

 

The kiss she hadn’t given up to me.

 

At the time it was impossible for me to reply, not just because there were no words to explain my shock, but because the high volume mexicano concentrate in my system had stalled my brain like a cheap 86 Corena. Stammering- at least I think I was, I ended up waiting for them to notice me. Dominic did first, and smiled at me, a lecherous, lusty smile. For all I knew that was his first kiss too. I can’t imagine any girl ever wanting to go out with him. You couldn’t even see him as the ‘bad’ type. He was just too fat for it.

 

When she noticed me, she shot away from him like he was an opposing magnet. Like I had just caught her cheating on me, she stammered, getting hot and flustered, unsure of what to do. Dominic strode off, the potential need for him to act like a real man not even showing up on the sensors.

 

“I…I…”

 

And that’s when she kissed me.

 

Like she was trying to make up for the moment she had just irrevocably lost from me forever, he lips dominated mines, her tongue going so far down my mouth I thought I might be suffocated by it. Too lost in the alcohol, I got lost in the moment too, kissing back as deeply as she was, letting her rub her hands all over my body, like she could take me back if she just touched enough of me.

 

Thirty full seconds passed, and we left each other in unison, coming up for air. Nicole stood by her, holding two more shots of tequila, one of which I knew was for me.

 

Like a caught thief, Tracey disappeared, not even giving me time to call out for her to wait. Nicole said nothing either at first, and merely walked over to the nearby bar. Following her, I slipped and slide through the crowd, nearly collapsing in heap due to a broken pint glass trying to keep its contents. Reaching her, I gave a very detailed explanation and pattern of course for what I had just done and why I deeply regretted it.

 

“I…I…” I said, nearly vomiting.

 

“Relax, I could see,” she said, showing me her face and revealing the light grin that I knew forgave everything. “She started it, but you had to get it out of your system.” I sighed internally (I don’t think I could have managed a proper one), glad that the lesson of two timing that teenage drama had taught me hadn’t come true. “What was it like?”

 

I had to reswallow the vomit that nearly came out. It was a horrible question really, but that didn’t seem too important. My replies was as instant as it were honest.

 

“A little disappointing to be honest.”

 

“It looked it, to both of you.” Stamping her foot hard on the ground, she brought the shot up to her mouth, and downed it in one gulp, releasing a loud exhale of satisfaction, swinging her head back down as if to mark its strength.

 

“You should have told me you had a girlfriend,” she said bluntly, indicating to the barman that she wanted another.

 

“Sorry,” I replied, looking down to my own shot, watching it beg me to be just as tough as she was. “It’s just…you know…I just forgot.”

 

“Heh,” she laughed. “Can’t have been that important.” Seeing the bartender not responding to her, she took my shot without hesitation and downed it as well, releasing the same excess of joy as she crashed the glass on the bar.

 

“No, I guess it wasn’t.”

 

How did I ever think she was strong willed? She was weak. Her focused attitude and conservative demeanor was just a shield, something to protect her from the real lives she was scared of. The life of sex, the life of pain. Hiding behind her god, she knew nothing, and now that she had the dream blown out from under her, the pathetic little slut was revealed for what she really was.

 

Everything she was had gone, taken from her in a sweaty puddle full of mud. The shield that had long been sustained to protect her, made as it were out of the hardest substance known to man, and that no man could ever thought to destroy, had finally been shattered like a thin, cheap material. Only now that it was gone, there was nothing to discover. The giant fortress that had once piqued my curiosity and forced her to become everything that was in my life was revealed to be the only real thing of value there. Within it, only a small, pathetic creature lay, devoid of anything that made it special, anything worthy.

 

It was good that I hadn’t waited around to obtain the goal in the end, that I gave up on that particular endeavor. In the end there was nothing to it, a waste of my precious time. My time was now better spent. There was no obstacle to overcome with Nicole, just a precious treasure that had sought me out and I was just as valuable to her as she was to me.

 

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the creature that was left behind after Tracey left. It quickly became clear, as her studies dropped in performance and she started dating whoever she could, that her life never existed in the first place. It was like she was playing a supporting lead in a play, but the writers hadn’t the common sense to make her disappear when her character was finished with, and instead added less and less poignant plots to her storyline.

 

It probably wouldn’t have been that important a factor in the long run, but for the next four years, she would be in my general presence (we had decided to go to university together, and everything had been arranged just recently) and I would be forced to witness the creature whom I had revealed behind those once flawless marble walls. If anything, it would be dangerous. To become this bad a human, this much of a slut, in just a few days, her entire life would slowly drop, and I would only serve as a constant reminder of her destruction. I imagined it slowly getting worse, falling to drink (if that were possible), falling to drugs, becoming a sexual deviant in the worse possible sense. IT made me shudder to think of the once beautiful creature to become like that.

 

And, I think it was then that I knew it had to be stopped. – that I had to stop the creature before me, before it devolved any further down the food chain. She would have to become my prey. She was my prey already to be honest. I had hunted for her and caught her, claimed her as my own, played with her and then chewed her up and spat her out. It was only right that I finished what I started.

 

Chap whatever

 

So the next day we got tattoos.

 

Back then I had never really given much thought to the notion of body fashion. It wasn’t like I put much effort into it, but then I wasn’t a slob either. My hair has always been spiked, but not as stuck up as some of the guys out there that spent about five pounds a week on hair accessories and reapplied gel every four hours. I was the one who actually bought those 39p tubs of jelly to put it your hair so it stuck up at least while you looked in the mirror.

 

Tattoos were something I had at least a bit of a policy about. It had to be something that would last. To get something of my favourite band at the time would be a reason for self loathing in later life besides the need to buy a fast car, and even a Disney character had more point to it than a latest craze thing.

 

Still I like the idea. There was something about engraving a symbol into myself that spoke to me, slicing the skin and leaving something within the folds that identified to me. It was like allowing myself to become something I wanted to be, and getting closer to that ideal.

 

It was Nicole’s idea, that much should have been obvious. A few days previously, the consideration getting one never entered my mind in the slightest, but then I had become strangely eager, being the one to eventually persuade the others to get one as well.

 

Getting into the tattoo parlor, I remember being assaulted by the many pictures scattered over the walls in a warped form of order. Animals and symbols and creatures and stripes stared back at me, AJ announcing his againstness of the idea the second he walked in and saw them all.

 

“Shouldn’t we think about this for a bit longer?” he said, still admiring a piece of tribal work that looked set to go against your back. “A tattoo is not a fifteen minute decision.

 

“Well, that’s how long it’s going to take the others to get here,” Samson replied, clicking off his phone, Barry disappearing off the other end. “Why don’t we just find out if it is or not.”

 

We started to roam the store, annoying the single man that appeared to be in the store to act as a desk clerk. Thin and half bald, yet strangely looking as old as us, the man sported no visible tattoos, even under his short sleeved shirt. He failed to greet us in any way as we wandered the room.

 

“Hey, here,” Nicole called out to me, beckoning me to her. Her arm wrapped into mine naturally as I approached her, and she pulled me close to see the picture. “I want this one.”

 

It was a Puma. I couldn’t tell what it was at the time, having always believed Puma were black for some reason; this one was displayed in white, apparently representing its firm, ginger fur. It sat, more like a domesticated cat than a wild animal, with its ears pointed upwards and looking to the right, the tail nowhere to be seen. “It’s so cool. I’m having it on my shoulder.”

 

With that, she ordered it, walking right up to the half bald man at the counter and asking for feline to be imprinted on her shoulder. I always thought you had to book such things, but he took her round the back in the same moment. I guess they don’t want the possibility of the customer chickening out or something.

Wanting to see it straight away, I was kind of disappointed where she came back wearing a bandage over her right arm. Although there was something about it I couldn’t help but find a little sexy about seeing her bandaged up. Still having not decided one, I waited for Samson to go in, cuddling up with my kitty as she whined about her pains to me.

 

“It wasn’t that bad really,” she muttered, doing her best not to try and rub it. Nothing happens if you do runa tattoo, but I guess it was a case of paranoia for her, that her Puma might have turned into a deformed jackal or something.

 

“Then why you holding onto me so tight,” I replied cockily, holding her just as close. My eyes scanned the room at the pictures. I hadn’t gone through them all yet, but nothing spoke to me.

 

“Because I’m about to pass out from blood loss.”

 

Donna coughed hard. She and Barry had showed up ten minutes into Nicole’s willing mutilation session, and for some reason brought Tracey with them. She hadn’t said a word since she had entered the place, but was looking around all the same. Other than that, all she had managed so far was a weak smile to Samson, and a profound interest in a tattoo depicting a bunch of flowers with one lying dead on the floor beneath the rest. I remember loving the irony, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t ironic at all.

 

The trip back home was tense, and not just because there were six of us in a small, mini beetle thing that was my dad’s before he turned his brain back on and gave it to me in exchange for a VW much more suited to holding six people, two of which needing spreading out as much as possible.

 

Driving along the long winding lane that separated our town from the city of Sheffield, everything was quiet. Mainly in part due to Samson’s decision to forcibly grab shotgun. For a moment I was beginning to think he might have been getting jealous that me and Nicole, whom he considered his two best friends, had replaced him with one of the other. The biggest problem with this was that AJ and John had been polite about gentlemanliness, and allowed both girls to enter the car first, effectively sitting them against each other.

 

“This seatbelt feel weird,” Samson complained, as he fiddled with the strap. He hadn’t yet noticed the knot. Jumping at the chance for conversation I told him about it.

 

“Car’s falling apart. I had to tie a knot in that to keep it together.

 

“And now I want to leave,” John quipped.

 

“I’m not stopping; you’ll have to jump out.” It was forced humor, the type that had to be rushed out of the factory and delivered so fast that they couldn’t even open the gates and so chose to push it out through the barbed gates.

 

“Isn’t there something illegal about broken seatbelts?”

 

“Meh.”

 

Broken seatbelts were in fact very illegal. The chances of one breaking or even fraying are low in general, but when a car is twenty years old and was used to carry unfurnished timber around from place to place, it’s understandable. It had only really happened in one place, near the top where the wood had been rested against where there was too much of it to lay flat in the back with the seats down. The snapping had occurred two weeks previously, and with an M.O.T just a few months away that would undoubtedly fail a car that consisted of two back tires with about 15% grip left on them and an engine like an Old Yeller dog being dragged through hoops as a county contest.

 

The seatbelt was a hazard really, giving a false sense of security to whoever made be tied up underneath it. The knot wasn’t even that good. I was certainly not a Boy Scout at it, and had just tied in multiple knots until it looked like it might not cause someone to eject from the window should a crash ever occur. Samson wasn’t helping by trying to get it tighter and in fact becoming quite counter productive in his efforts.

 

Tracey hadn’t still remained silent at this point, and Nicole wasn’t helping with this by continuing her attempts to make friends with her. It occurred to me, during the silence that followed, that the girl must have been going through a very confusing time. From what she had seen, she did not know that me and Tracey were dating, and from my actions there was no reason to believe we were. There was n point left in talking to the shell next to her. Looking from my windscreen, I only felt loathing at the creature I had found beneath what was Tracey. How easy could it have been, to be rid of her from my life forever? At this moment, I doubt she would have even met with much resistance. Caught in a trap of her own making and sprung by me, she merely remained to be finished off.

 

My tattoo stung as I swerved round the sharp corner. Samson yelled with discomfort as the car started to drift to the right. Taking a little too sharply, I felt the regret of letting the tires getting in some bad shape. Having bought this car off my own dad, I pro0bably should have been putting a little more effort into maintaining it to some degree. With no plans to get  a new one ion the future, the notion that maintenance costs were in my future was a pain, even more so than the idea that I may be setting myself up for a crash sometime in my future.

 

A paranoid feeling of crashes has always existed in me. Whenever I try to take a corner fast, I always swerve in the opposite direction when a car comes to meet me on the opposite side, regardless of how far on my side of the road I am. The moment of trepidation only exists then though and before and after I stayed focused on the turn, loving the fact that I can catch up with even the fast sports cars if I swing round just right, my crappy old beetle humiliating a lion, if only for a second.

 

The shark bit into me. It wasn’t happy being where it was- I could tell. The shoulder wasn’t so much the problem as the bandage it was trapped behind. It didn’t need a bandage, it needed to be seen. What was the point of a tattoo that couldn’t be seen? I wanted to rip off the sterilized cloth and throw it to the wind behind my car, uncaring for the blood and the scarring that would appear on my skin.

 

Holding it in for now, I dropped everyone off one by one. AJ and john disappeared first, living a block from each other. Samson and Tracey were the same. I normally dropped her off at her own home but I had no wish to see the girl’s cage.

 

“Hey, dude, can I get a lift later?” It was a regular request from Samson. I allowed it. It was like allowing a jester to entertain his King some more, and it was feeling awkward between us recently. I wasn’t used to feelings of anxiety and uneasiness around Samson. The only thing I usually felt was a sort of annoyance whenever he did a ‘funny’ that wasn’t funny. “Oh, I’m bringing Tracey too.”

 

My foot jerked on the accelerator, making the battle roar with my frustration. Having already said yes, I couldn’t do anything about the tactless idiot’s stupid request. “Fine,” I said, seeing the creatures own mystification about the situation. I couldn’t tell why he had to bring her. At this point it would be like bringing a fly that was tied down by dental floss-uselessly flying around, any attempt at reasserting strength causing its own self mutilation.

 

That night would be Tracey’s last on earth.

 

To say it happened intentionally would have been false to an extent. Tracey’s life was already over before that point. If she were ever to get it back, it would have been a long way down the line, and it would have been nearly impossible to say if it would have been worth the wait. Regardless, that never got round to happening and to focus on potential futures were far too long.

 

Not being able to stay here for much longer, I’ll make it quick.

 

It was already dark when I came to pick them up, the beetle humming quietly as I sat outside Samson’s terrene door. The doors had been locked, as I wasn’t too keen into letting those that walked these streets into my car. \It wasn’t out of any paranoia, but more of a precaution to prevent being bothered.

 

The two of them stepped out. I knew I should have just driven off when I saw Samson wearing his cape and horned helmet. How he could ever think of doing that in public was beyond me. I begrudging opened the door, waiting for the two of them to step in.

 

My hands gripped the steering wheel as she got in, in the front. This creature was no longer fit to sit at my side like this and I felt my nails scratch away at the rubber that they held, feeling shards roll up and fall off onto my legs.

 

It had to be Samson’s idea, his way of pissing me off. He was never one for malice, but he probably thought it hilarious to talk her into sitting me in the front with her, either hoping for extreme tension or an all out argument that he could watch from the sidelines.

 

Setting off, I turned off the first road and into the dark lanes that littered the fields, farmyard animals surrounding us as they slept peacefully behind the fences that separated us from them. Sometimes I think, judging by the space that the cows have and the space that we have, do the cows assume we are the ones trapped behind the fence, constantly roaming up and down as if searching for a weak point, but moving too fast to ever find one, with any that show up being too bothersome to act upon.

 

To those cows, who could not tell that the different cars mean different people, it must be like watching a futile act of escape over and over again, like watching the same movie repeatedly in the futile hope that it may all of a sudden become good, that something obvious may pop out at you and surprise you, but knowing that you won’t. But, because the book was so good, you keep trying.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

For that rudimentary split second where only emotion sits I honestly thought Samson had said it. The voice sounded gruff, rusted cogs that hadn’t been used in days now turning and realizing only too late that they weren’t ready to talk in public yet. I looked at her, to see her still staring out at the road looking through the darkness that occasionally perturbed where I flashed the beam lights on.

 

Samson pulled out a handheld console and flicked it on, leaning back and beginning to rearrange shapes tat appeared on the screen. He was real good at those sorts of games. It was like the only thing he was smart at.

 

“I didn’t have chance.” It was the truth really, in a disjointed sort of way. I did in fact have plenty of chance after the act of having amazing sex with Nicole to announcing my actions over the school’s intercom system, but the timing had been bad. The only place where timing is never bad is in the toilet or the dance floor (although sometimes there’s no difference)

 

“We were together that day for four hours.” Her voice came out as a whisper this time, like she had realized she wasn’t at full operating capacity yet. I found myself knocking it up on the speed gauge, keeping it concentrated on the speed limit. I usually sped all the time when it was light, but even in these roads I was familiar with, I never went past 60 at night.

 

“It just wasn’t right, okay?” I shot back at her quickly, knocking a glance at her and seeing she still wasn’t looking. Her hand was fiddling with the seatbelt. It had a lot more slack to it than it should. “Samson was there. I at least wanted to tell you in private.”

 

“Well, you should have asked him to leave us then,” she snapped back, exploding for a quick second, reminding me of the person she used to be. “He wouldn’t have minded. He’s a lot more decent than you are.”

 

Why did I have to explain to this broken sex machine anyway? There was nothing left to our relationship anyway. The only thing left in common was similar friends.

 

“I didn’t know Nicole would be there anyway,” I shouted back at her, my voice now rising to go past hers. “I wanted to do the decent thing and tell you away from others in private. It was no one’s fault.”

 

“It was yours!”

 

“I didn’t know Nicole was going to show up!”

 

“Hey guys…”

 

“Are you sure?” You sure seemed happy to see her.” Tracey’s black comedy. I didn’t realize how much I would miss its occasional appearances. “What made you choose her over me anyway?”

 

“She let me touch her!” It snapped out instantly. Her face contorted briefly, before returning to staring at the road ahead. It was like she knew what was going to happen.

 

“That was it! Just because I wouldn’t have sex with you yet.”

 

“Not just sex!” I shouted in her ear. “Everything. We never kissed. We never hugged. The only reason we held hands was because I pretty much had to force you. Do you know how it feels, to have to question whether or not you have a girlfriend- whatever it is in your case?”

 

“I Guess I pretty much know now, don’t I?”

 

“What?” I shouted indignantly. Her body wasn’t moving at all. That sharp turn was coming up. I pushed faster.

 

“Guys…”

 

“Don’t you dare relate the two? Do you know how confusing the past few months have been to me?” My shark throbbed, screaming for release.

 

“Why don’t you tell me? Why don’t you fucking inform me of something in your life for once?!”

 

“You know what? Screw this!”

 

“Guys!”

 

The warning came too late. Failing to hear the horn of the oncoming car yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, feeling the back wheels complain under the sudden change in orders before being forced to quickly switch back, as I finally noticed the car and moved to get out of the way. Braking hard, I watched as my body remained stationary, my view twisting to show what was to the side of me.

 

Feeling Samson’s head slam into his window, I held on for dear life, trying to turn the steering wheel round to meet the direction it was supposed to go, feeling the car refuse to answer as an unseen force took the car towards a turning bollard, hitting it at a force of seventy miles per hour.

 

Slowly, with the speed of a bullet, Tracey threw herself out of the windscreen mirror. I watched as seatbelt finally gave up on the oppressive conditions it had been put through and revolt right out of the car alongside her, her body acting as a shield for the hundred of glass particles that skewered through her as head met bonnet and legs followed through to the floor, feet resting on the bumper as she slowly slid off, the sudden force of the unmovable wall defeating me. I heard another loud horn deafen me, and then, nothing.

 

Toilet society allows for anonymous contact. In the 1980’s, complete strangers were able to meet up in public toilets and have sex with each other. These strangers were often thirty year old, white middle class men, who after swinging their two horizontal poles together would never see or hear form the other again. Although not as gross, most contacts in toilet society work this way. You can meet with a person, engage in a five minute conversation with each other where you reveal your own personal philosophy and beliefs on the way things work, discuss your favourite footballs teams and then never remember each other again as you part from the toilets. This happens to most males around three out of ten times they enter the toilet, and even if they do meet again, they will never remember each other.

 

Toilet society is a series of rule and regulations that are as old as the first time man went behind the trees and told everybody he’d be back in a second. It is what ever man, and as far as I’m aware, woman, instinctively knows and obeys without hesitation. These are the simple, common sense things that make us feel like an idiot if we ever break them. Walking into the toilets of the opposite sex for example, is considered a minor violation in toilet society. It is punishable- for males, that is, with the traditional scream of a woman shortly followed by praise from fellow males, who in actual fact think of you both as a dumb ass and a figure to be jealous of. There are basic rules, and complex rules in toilet society. I would address some of the more complex rules merely for the sake of reference, but as we all know this would not be allowed

 

Water filled my lungs as dust would have filled a vacuum cleaner. The pressure hit my chest, springing me awake. Choking instinctively, I lunged up, unable to see anything, and began to clear my lungs out in the most forceful way possible, hocking up as much as I could and falling straight back down to the liquid below.

 

I forgot everything, like it had never been there, a distant memory in a life that felt like it had ended ages ago. All that existed within me was the pain in my lungs, my attempts to get it out, and the liquid panic running through my veins. Nothing worked for a few moments, and then I was clear.

 

My eyes opened, but it need not have mattered. There was nothing there now. IT smelt like a sewer. For all intent purposes it was a sewer, and then I remembered.

 

The Crying Man.

 

My gaze shot upwards, looking to the creature that had floated above me. Nothing. IT had gone. I felt the adrenaline in my body skip a few beats. Where was he? Was he in the room again? I couldn’t even tell if I was in the room again. Choking a little more, between witching to plain coughing and a few sneezes here and there, I tried to make my way back up to a standing position. The walls of a toilet stall were still around me, meaning I had somehow ended back up in one of them. Getting the last of the water out of my system, I felt a lump in my throat as I realized just how much of it had been in my system. Feeling my throat clench at the thought, my ears gave up on me, and unleashed a stream of vomit into the liquid below me.

 

Three times the torrent came, covering the small cubicle around me. I smelt my own oral excrement and contributed some more to it, unable to control myself now as my knees started to shiver, the coldness of the room adding to my own disease. I slipped slightly and fell back down to where I was a minute ago, my head crashing nose first into the water.

 

In the haze of my mind, I felt no revulsion for the pile of sick that I must have just head butted, but instead reached for the toilet door. Going against convention, I realized I had to get out of the toilet stall as soon as possible, less I be sick again. Fumbling for the lock, I felt my numb fingers turned the bolt and try to rip it open, muscles feeling incredibly weak as they tried to pull against the tide contained within the toilet. Slowly managing it, I waded out in a panic, arms flying everywhere as I tried to find the nearest coherent surface. I crashed back down into the water, eyes and nose now streaming liquids of their own.\

 

I just wanted out, I didn’t deserve this. What had started out as something that felt like a practical joke had turned into a carnival of insanity. I felt the urinal bowl, half underwater, and tried to pull myself up again, still sobbing recklessly to myself as I waited for everything to calm down.

 

It didn’t matter whether my eyes were opened or closed now, and for a moment I felt like keeping them shut forever. I didn’t need to see more of this place. Hopefully, if anything, I would just have to wait until morning, then someone would have had to notice the problem.

 

The thought sunk down into the bottom reaches of the toilet. Somehow I knew that the comfort thoughts would no longer work. Ever since the man on the other side turned into nothing more than a hallucination, I knew that they wouldn’t work. Now, I was nothing more than the pawn of the crying man, a sick victim of one of the biggest practical jokes ever.

 

“Let me out!” I roared, heading over to where I remember the door being, my spatial awareness contained  entirely within my memories, not even my ears being able to figure out the dynamics of the room thanks to the ungodly amount of water in here. I ran over to where I remembered the door being, and slammed right into a brick wall.

 

MY nose betrayed me as the bone snapped, blood squirting out as a fountain amid all the other fluids pouring out of me. I groaned loudly as my knees buckled. I grabbed one of them, and refused to let myself fall.

 

With that, I broke loose of everything that was me. I screamed and shouted and tossed and toiled. I threw water in every direction there was, uncaring for whatever was caught in my hand as I tried to pick up the sewage infested liquid. I fell several times mouth, feeling the dirty water seep into my mouth, and uncared for the fluids I tasted, even as I begun to vomit again, letting out wail upon wail of liquid pain, letting it cover my face as it splashed upon the water. I lay there, and realized I could do nothing.

 

Upon me, the world groaned. The creature sobbed above me, causing the urinals to turn on once more, their putrified excrement hitting the water straightaway, causing the crap beneath it to bubble. I knelt down, doing my best to remain quiet, hearing the complaints of the plumbing system around me, its attempts at sanitation failing as it threatened to collapse upon me. Nothing entered my mind as I focus solely on the sound, the clanking and hissing of unknown pipes that played a melody of flushing

 

Kneeling down, I realized the water was touching my chin.

 

At first I figured I didn’t have to worry too much about flooding. There was no real reason to. After all, this wasn’t a sealed room with no escape, nor some air tight container. IT was a toilet for god’s sake. Nothing should be able to get trapped in here..

 

And yet, here I was, a man trapped in a situation that was progressively getting worse. The water was up to my shoulders now, which meant it was not leaking under the door somehow. That was impossible, I had already checked it myself and knew there was a gap there. But right now I couldn’t even tell if the rat had drowned or not. Was I in danger of drowning too? At this rate, I might not have been able to last another few hours, before I found myself swimming in sewage to survive.’

 

Slowly, the sounds stopped once again, the cranking of the creature being sated for whatever reasons could possibly make such a monster quiet. I assume I stared upwards, though I had no way to tell even common sense had left me, and wondered of the Crying Man was still there, waiting to see if I moved again. Perhaps it could only hear me- it was pitch black down here after all, there’s every chance that if I just stayed sit until morning, I could still get saved.

 

I started shivering again, teeth chattering in the three colds- the water, the air and my own diseased carcass which had suffered under the first two, I tasted a multitude of disgusting flavors as my teeth chattered and chomped up what had fell into my mouth earlier, releasing the full tender smell into my blood stream. I sniffed mucus out of my nose and added blood to the concoction. Remembering that I had just broken my nose, I leant forwards, unsure which direction I was actually supposed to move to stop the blood flowing.

 

Hearing it drip in the water made me feel uneasy, but I had nowhere to sit in this place at the moment, and I could no longer tell where the toilet seat was. Not wanting t risk the Crying Man hearing the liquid drop, I lifted my face up, feeling the crimson trail down my cheeks now. I’d have to stay like this until it clotted.

 

As I sat there, I decided that this had to be supernatural in some way. There was no way this was common society just having a bad day. This was reality accidentally leaning on the wrong fucking switch and fucking stuff up. This was an operator spilling his coffee on the button with my name on it and doing nothing but watching as it short circuited.

Maybe that was it. That must have been the Crying Man above me, watching his mistake. I could imagine him banging against the keyboard watching the coffee drip into my world. That was probably the brown liquid filling the room. Not sewage, but coffee. And the constant clanking I heard must have been him trying to fix it. If I could maybe get in contact with him I could…

 

I stopped myself, breathing as hard and as heavily as I could. What was I thinking about? God-like operators? Trying to fix my problem as though it was a technical one? No one was trying to fix this problem. They were just all surrounding the Crying Man as he mourned over his broken panel, his lost responsibilities. Abandoned without even realizing it before it was too late.

 

The phone rang.

 

At first it seemed so alien a noise I didn’t know what was happening, it was like a saucer had appeared from nowhere, and revealed itself to be a giant circus top from the stars. Then I tried instinctively covering it up, as if I didn’t want someone to know I had hidden the phone in the room. Then I stood up. Where was it? It wasn’t on me, but there was no where else it could have been. Everywhere else was under water. Unless it was on top of one of the cisterns.

 

Its tone covered the room, filling it with a high pitch melody that reminded me of happier days. It was a tone Samson and Anita had shown me a few weeks back, a carnival tune playing along peacefully until what sounded like a clown burped loudly and send ‘Hold on, let me get this.’ The Original flash was accompanied by a set of children looking at him disappointed, before getting up from their seats and pelting him with saxophones. It sounded lame now, but back then I thought it was hilarious and nicely surreal, perfect for a ring tone. No sooner had I announced this out loud, than Samson said it was pretty easy to make it into one.

 

It blared throughout the room again, like a klaxon, killing my ears with an intense nerve shredding pain that caused me to cringe, my mouth nearly dipping back into the water again. Where was it? The Crying Man would hear us, and soon those pipes would start to twist and turn their porridge at me again. It didn’t feel like it was anywhere, it echoed and bounced off all the walls of the room, telling me it was both above and behind me, below and right in my face. The sewage wasn’t helping. I waded about a bit, ignoring my pains, trying desperately to find it, only just questioning how it could still possibly work after being submerged in the skank below me, and who it could possibly be.

 

It stopped. I heard breathing, loud, like someone had gotten too close to the microphone.

 

“Hello?” It was Nicole, I gasped and looked around pointlessly, determined to find it. I had to tell her this time. No messing about. It had cost me this much already.

 

“Hello,” her voice went on, as if wondering if she had just missed me speak. I spun round, hoping that the motion would give me some indication as to where the phone was. Again, nothing.

 

“You there, you fucker!” Her voice boomed out. I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not, the words coming out forcefully but far too full of static for me to make out emotion. Her cry reverberated off of every wall of every stall and entered my ears in one compressed heap, for a moment I swore the water rippled and vibrated with her sounds.

 

I couldn’t take too long. Soon she would just hang up, and there was no way I’d find the phone in this place, in this state.

 

“Hullo,” I shouted, hearing the break in my nose painfully. Annoyed at myself for sounding stupid, I called out again, wanting to make sure she heard me. “Necoole?”

 

“Where the hell are you?” She heard me? And clearly too by the sounds of it. Was the phone close to me then? “Your parents called. They’re worried sick about you.”

 

Mum and Dad? Had did they know I hadn’t returned. Motherly instinct wasn’t this reliable, was it? Half the time my mum wasn’t even aware of where her knitting needles were, yet I do have the reaction of times where she just seemed to know I was having trouble. In Uni, she always called where I needed a bit more money and even when I hadn’t’\t told her I had exams, she’d always wish me luck. Either she was like a great mother eagle, or she was just some kind of freaky stalker lady.

 

I searched around for the phone, my arms waving about madly. It might have been on top of one of the urinals.

 

“Hold on, I’ve got to find the phone,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t have to explain further.

 

“What?” she replied, sounding seriously pissed off. “You’re talking on it? Are you that drunk?”

 

“No,” I said, seemingly unable to find a wall. “I haven’t drunk anything today.” It was a little lie of cause. She knew Red Bull made my hyper, and was just as bad as four shots of vodka followed by a punch to the stomach. Why was I still talking about this? I needed her to bring help.

 

“You don’t need to lay to me you fucker,” she screamed. “AJ told me you guys were at the pub. Told me that you said I hadn’t wanted to go. Why didn’t you just tell me you didn’t want me to go?”

 

It was late night sci-fi night, a random thought entered me. AJ would be on the science fiction channel for the rest of the night. It made sense that he would have still been awake and given Nicole a call during commercial. They often made jokes of the plot, turning a simple dictatorship into the tyrant’s eternal quest to find his missing sheep.

 

“I…”

 

“You know what? Don’t bother.” Terming her as pissed off would have probably been classed as a further insulted right now, but I couldn’t remain quiet. At this rate, I really was not going to tell her again. “You just dump me like you dumped her, you selfish arrogant bastard.”

 

“Nicole, I…”

 

“Are we just holes to you, mister?” she continued, sounding like she had wanted to say this for a long time. “Just places to fulfill your twisted desires. I know you never got off with Tracey but I’m sure the craving drove you crazy with your pervert lusts.”

 

“Hey…”

 

“I could have handled it if you kept on being nice, but as soon as you realize you have to have some responsibility in the relationship which isn’t fucking my ass! Which is really weird by the way, and then you just jump ship without even telling anyone. Do you have someone else now?”

 

“I didn’t know. I had fallen back down, feeling a pain well up behind my throats.

 

“Answer me!”

 

“Whelp me…”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m struck here. Someone’s locked me in the toilets and I can’t get out.” An image of a turtle fell into my head for a second.

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“I was at the pub. I’m sorry but I… I… Then I got stuck here and really weird stuff’s happening. The lights have broken and the…”

 

“Hold on, you’re breaking up,” she said clearly through the phone, quickly becoming a lot more concerned for me than she sounded a minute ago. “Where are you? I can hear water.”

 

“In the toilets.”

 

“Where?”

 

“The pub toilets.”

 

For a second I imagined her telling me she’ll be right there’ and then donning a sexy PVC suit of latex and equipping herself with the latest in high tech gadgetry, before jumping out of her window, using the latest new and improved grappling hook to grab onto the nearest roof, swinging over four buildings in one shot like a wall crawler, landing precariously on the roof of the public tavern and crashing through the ceiling, though the cess tank, dispatching the Crying Man with ease And coming into to rescue me.

 

“And you’re trapped.”

 

“I can’t get out, and my nose in broken and something’s gone wrong with the plumbing and there’s shit everywhere.” As if to make a point, I splashed the water hard. As it crashed back down, several distinct plops were heard that I wasn’t expecting. I felt the urge to hurl again, only the person on the other side stopping me from doing so.

 

“How long have you been there?”

 

“I don’t know.” I felt like crying too. I felt my cheeks, still numb with cold, crunch up on me, threatening to shatter. “I need you to get me out… He’s here with me.”

 

“Who?” she asked, more like she was hearing a piece of gossip or the ending to a movie than acknowledging my situation.

 

“The Crying Man.”

 

“The what?”

 

“Help me!”

 

“Okay, okay. I’m coming over,” she finally acquiesced. “But if this is just some fucked up joke, or even some surprise birthday party with immense tactical planning, I am dumping you mister.”

 

“Please just hurry,” I sobbed, hoping she could tell how serious I was being.

 

“I haven’t got much credit left,” she pointed out. “Call me when I one tone you.”

 

“I can’t,” I replied. “I don’t have any credit left.” Not to mention I had no idea where the damn thing was.

 

“Well, hopefully, I won’t need to,” she said, in a way that I hoped was her trying to sound reassuring. “I’m on my way. Just hold on.”

 

The phone clicked, bringing an end to any contact I might have had left with the sane side of my world. I looked back to what was left. The dark, the sewage, the little trace of sound that filled this empty void. I felt my nose for a brief second, hissing as it complained back at my actions, telling me I shouldn’t do that again.

 

Nicole would save me, I could reply on her. She had saved me many times below. If not for her, I would still be trapped in a life of celibacy, living out my days holding hands with a creature that was better off a corpse in a car wreck than a rational human being. Not that she ever was. Tracey had lived solely by fear. If she had lived longer, she might have been able to fix that, but a lot of people might have lived longer if they did many things, and even then those things still wouldn’t have changed the society they were constrained by.

 

For a second I became aware that my phone still hadn’t been found. How had I been able to have that conversation? From what I could tell I was still in the direct center of the toilet, with nothing but the sewage around me. I hadn’t recalled setting my phone’s volume that high, nor was I sure if I was able to. There were only three places it could be at the moment. On top of one of the cisterns, balancing precariously upon the urinals, is it the pipes bars or the ceramics themselves.

 

Or it was in the water.

 

The last choice was the clearest choice and yet obviously wrong. Whilst I’m sure that a hundred thousand volts of pure electricity weren’t\’’t burning me to a cinder right now, I was pretty sure it had to be in the water and completely non function. If that was the case, then I couldn’t have had the phone call with Nicole just now, sand she couldn’t have heard my pathetic pleas for rescue.

 

Was anyone coming to rescue me?

 

The Crying Man hadn’t heard me either. Either that or he had decided not to respond. Slowly kneeling back down, I opted to stay quiet. This close to rescue, I couldn’t risk him finding me again; doing something that might finish me off. For a second I briefly wondered why he had done this to me. What terrible time could I have committed that would have this lunacy sent upon me like a pack of wild dogs.

 

I would have to wait. Hopefully, I would never have to find out.

 

Chap whatever

 

It wouldn’t be long now. I had no idea how long it had been, but the period between me getting out of here and me getting trapped in here should be much shorter from now on. It seemed ludicrous how long it had taken me to do it. Not even telling her the first time, instead stalling like a moron, and even the second time letting her finish what she had to say before doing anything.  I had been an idiot.

 

These were unusual circumstances though, still not a regular night out. Covered head to toe in sewage, stuck with a cold after spending hours up to my knees in water, falling in it several times and being sick all over the place. Quite possibly my worst day ever.

 

I sniggered to myself a little bit, quickly remembering to be quiet. To class it like that seemed all too normal. This hadn’t just been a stressful day at work where ten things happened at worse and all seemed centered around me, or a term paper that was about to be late. This had been horrible. What was happening to me wasn’t normal. In fact, I’m sure it’s still just as dangerous now as it had been before. The Crying Man was still up there, waiting. If I remained quiet, he couldn’t tell I was here. If I made a sound, I had no idea what would happen next. For some reason I felt like I had an angry neighbor who got angry at me if I turned my music up even a little higher. It wasn’t the case of wanting peace and quiet but controlling my every move, and that’s what the Crying Man wanted at this point. I didn’t know why, but I knew that was the case. Keep me trapped. Keep me contained. As long as I wasn’t noisy, the Crying Man would let me continue as if there was nothing wrong.

 

That didn’t mean I had to keep it up for much longer though. Even if we were to put ourselves in danger, the second Nicole opened that door- wherever it is, I intend to sprint out of there, leaving her behind in confusion if I had to. Remain quiet until then, and then be free. IT was a simple plan, and it had stopped me shaking so much.

 

I needed the toilet.

 

The second I felt my bladder twitch beneath me I almost wanted to laugh again. Where would I go? I didn’t have a clue where the toilet was anymore, and I certainly didn’t want to move about. I could probably manage a quiet waddle, but if I went any faster, I would disturb him and I was in a bad enough state as it was. I ha\d gone to instinctively breathing through my mouth, my lips overlapping to provide as much filter for my lungs as possible, and still tasting the raw faces that I was now bathing in. It was probably a good thing it was pitch black now. I imagined seeing carrots and spinach and other things I was saw I hadn’t eaten that day, all displayed upon the surface of the liquid, floating onto me and sticking without me noticing. I was going to need the world’s biggest shower after this. I should probably just burn the clothes and buy a new mobile phone, though could imagine the challenge of trying to make them look brand new again.

\

For a brief moment, time existing only in short instances now in my head, I wondered if I should perhaps try to clean myself up. Having anyone, especially Nicole, see me like this would be terrible. The smell alone would be enough to make them gag, and I must look terrible. My hair f3elt all greasy with things that matted it down and it felt like I could scrap off solid mud with my fingernail off of my shirt.

 

Come to think of it, I couldn’t even smell myself really. The multitude of smells that permeated the air was like a choir with a different part to sing for one major stink. I should have asked her to bring some clothes. Even a dressing gown would have been a suitable replacement, though I’m not sure it would be wise to ruin more of someone else’s clothing.

 

Sighing loudly, instinct rushing to halt any further noise I might make, I went to look at a watch I could neither see nor was there. It didn’t take that long to get to the pub from Nicole’s mother’s house. Fifteen minutes tops, and I imagine Nicole would be running down to help me out at this point. I probably should have told her to bring a crowbar as well, or something along the lines. That door wouldn’t go easily on either side. Hopefully, a combined effort would work to break it down.

 

My need for the toilet still bugging me I slowly stood up, wishing my eyesight would hurry up and adapt to the darkness. I thought it would have by now, leaving some kind of general image for me, but I couldn’t even see where the nearest wall was at this point. My legs trying to stay firm, I pushed through the water as light as a skater fly, making nothing but small ripples. The destination being the sink, I should at least try and wash my face. Hopefully I would be able to tell if there was a problem with the water without having to test it.

 

Struggling to find the sink occurs more in toilet society than one would expect. There have been countless times where a man has gone into the toilet just to reach the sink and found it impossible. This is due mainly to his alcohol bloated belly, both weighing him down and keeping him uncoordinated. The sink is also sort of the temporary elite station for people. There, people are never allowed to have conversations with strangers, only their friends. If a conversation starts at a urinal, it will finish, or even apparently stop if one of the participants heads for the sink. This is in part due to the change in scenery. It is also symbolic, a way of washing yourself of the conversation, thus keeping it a part of toilet society.

 

The wall hit my palm, welcoming its presence with a greasy resistance. What was covering my hair was also all over the walls, even where the water hadn’t reached yet. It was like the sewage had begun to leak from the edges of the ceiling now, slowly coming down like water just starting to boil from a kettle. This bit was dry, though I couldn’t tell if it had been wet earlier, my own hand too soaked to confirm anything.

 

Having completely lost track of where I was, I decided on moving slowly to the right. If anything, the sink was to the right of the toilet stall and I doubted I had got lucky enough to go in between them. Etching along, I thought I felt the wall vibrate for a brief second, when a sharp tone pitched through the air, before falling into the carnival theme again.

 

She was ringing me again? Why? Had the Landlord locked up for the night? I had assumed by now the place would have been evacuated, leaving the biggest victim of the piece stranded within with no knowledge of his presence. That may be why she was ringing actually. They may not be allowing people in here.

 

All this was pointless though if I couldn’t find my phone. With a connection to my physical world again, I tried to detect where the phone must have been. I let my ears search the roof, as the clown spoke to the audience, the sound of a phone clicking opening before his words. “Hold on, let me get this.”

 

“Hello?” It had picked itself up again. It was unlikely the clown was doing it, but even now I couldn’t pick up the mobile’s location. Even now, my senses were telling me it was both in front and behind me, as well as above and below me. “You there?’

 

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m here.”

 

“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?” Her voice was fierce, ready to pounce and rip the neck out of even the most strongest predator. It took me by surprise.

 

“What?”

 

“Dragging me all the way down the pub this late in the night. You’re not here at all. There’s no-one here.”

 

“Nicole, please…” What had she done? The time it had taken her. She hadn’t gone to the wrong pub, had she? No, judging by the time, she could have only got to this one. Her mother didn’t have a car. Even if she had got one, she would have known I meant this pub.

 

“No more bullshit mister!” she shouted. “I’m here with Ted now. I had to wake him up and plead with him to check it out. Now as far as I’m concerned, I’m redirecting all his annoyance onto you.”

 

“What are you talking about?” I said, feeling my voice raise a few octaves higher than it should. My heart was beating fast again. It had had enough, it wanted to get out and jump through the smallest of cracks without me. “You’re not here. I’m still stuck here.”

 

For a second, I felt my nose sting. The talking had disturbed the scabbing, and I could feel it bleeding again. Sniffing a little in by mistake, I listen to her continue to bitch at me.  Wish I could have chosen who to have helped me. Samson would at least have brought a toolbox and found me without going to the wrong place.

 

“Whatever you twat,” she said. “We’re in the toilets and everything’s fine. There’s no sewage or broken pipes or anything. I think you should get ready for never being allowed back into this pub ever again, assuming you’re not cowardly enough to never even try and come back here again.”

 

My teeth clenched, grabbing a piece of my lip between them and biting hard. I couldn’t shout back at her, ask her why she was being such a bitch when I was in this much trouble. The Crying Man didn’t seem to care too much for the noise of the phone, but if I spoke loud enough I’m sure it’ll do something again. For a second, I nearly put my hand to my mouth, trying to stifle myself into a whisper, forgetting there was no phone. IT didn’t make sense how she could hear me, or even where her voice was coming through. It bounced throughout the room like the echoing clown had before her. It might have made sense that my phone had some kind of very loud function, but she still seemed to pick up my voice no matter what.

 

“Nicole, please,” I tried whispering. “I don’t know where you are, but I am stuck here. I need someone to help get me out.”

 

“What? You don’t believe I went to the effort of rescuing you,” she exclaimed. It felt like she was holding the phone in front of her now, screaming down it with ear nowhere near my mouth. “Here, talk to himself yourself.” Her voice went quiet instantly. She was clearly talking to someone else. “Here. I hope you bar him.”

 

“Hello…” The tone filled the room before he could even get assed the first word, an intermittent beep that told me that the conversation had ended prematurely. I waited to see if it had been a mistake, that maybe someone had leant their cheek on a button somewhere, but its continuous monotone told me it was over.

 

That had certainly sounded like the Landlord, but I still couldn’t be sure. What did it matter? There was a second gentleman’s toilet in this place. They had to be in that one. I just had to hope they weren’t stupid enough to just check the one and then assume I was joking. If anything, Nicole would probably force him to check anyway.

 

She said her credit was low. It was understandable why the phone hung up like that.

 

What was she talking about? None of this was understandable. It was like I had tumbled down the rabbit hole and landed in sewage instead of next to Alice. There was a creature swimming above me, threatening my life and my sanity. I could feel my brain trying to give up. It wanted to pass out, only my resolve keeping it functioning, and where the hell was that damn phone. If I could just find it, I could call the police. The batteries should be fine by this point, and judging by the quality of the sound, I should have good reception in here.

 

White fear spreading through me, it failed to illuminate the darkness, and I felt the urge to escape deep run deep through me again. If I just kept hold of the wall, I should be able to find a way…

 

Holding too tight, I didn’t expect it to disappear on me. Falling, my hands smacked water long before they touched the floor, pieces of unmentionably soft objects colliding into my before splashed down completely, feeling my hands bruise even with liquid to slow my descent. I gasped loudly, and then fell quiet, throwing myself under the water before anything could happen.

 

Moments passed as moments did in here, with me having no knowledge of how long it actually took. I could have drowned several hours over in that short space, but I wouldn’t have known. Time had stopped meaning anything.

 

That would have been the toilet stall I had just fallen off. With no idea as to how it became made of brick, I fumbled for it again. For once in a long while I had control of my surroundings again. Knowing where the toilet was meant knowing where the exit would be located. Clasping my hand around the precious brick, I would have jumped for joy were it not for the Crying Man. Instead I held still- if this were the stall entrance, then the entrance to the actual toilet would have been behind me and to the left. I could almost imagine the wall just a few meters near me. I could jus reach out and…

 

My bladder told me it had to go.

 

I had found the toilet. To not go now would have been stupid. There was a small chance that I might never find t again after this, that I might never dared leave from being near the door, and remain clutching to it until they found me. Mind you, they were literally just round the corner now. How funny would it be, after all this, to tell them to hold on while I finish up in the john. Nicole definitely wouldn’t have been able to come in, and it would save a bit of my pride at least.

 

Having decided, I slowly edged forward, other hand stretched out as my left stayed firmly clamped to the toilet wall, not wanting to risk losing it. Approaching the right hand side of the wall, this definitely had to be the toilet side. My fingers tapped the darkness as if testing the keys for a piano, and were answered with wet porcelain. This was it.

 

With no need to go slow, I got up and moved to it, searching for the zipper on my trousers. Tearing them down, I felt like I was shredding a second skin, the demin hugging to me as if they were shrink to fit. For a second I imagined the girl who had to be cut out of them by the fire brigade, as well as the woman who had jumped into the bath to get the best fit, and ended up being crushed by mere fabric. To die for fashion was one of the highest honours a woman could receive, and they had been doing it for centuries as well.

 

Getting my member out, I pointed him towards the toilet and let loose the torrent. Allowing myself to sigh loudly, I barely noticed that I seemed to be hitting the bowl and not water. That was kind of weird, seeing all that had happened to date, but I’d be out of here soon so it didn’t matter.

 

The toilet started to bubble. Two large ones floating to the surface and disappearing as they met the rest of the air in the room. Looking up, I tried to imagine anything else but the room. So close to escape, all I had to do was keep peeing until they came to rescue me.

 

A small scratching began, like something was trapped down there. I couldn’t help but look this time, even though I was still rendered blind by the room. It sounded like the pitter patter of little feet running down a school corridor, like dribs and drabs of a waterfall. It certainly didn’t sound like it should be underwater.

 

My flared with white again, telling me I should be getting out of there. For that moment though, I did nothing. I waited, watching carefully, as f something might come to light any second now, waiting for something magical to happen, waiting for one more miracle that would actually help you for a change.

 

Then slowly, it came.

 

It got louder, its struggling disturbing the toilet water and causing waves upon waves that accumulated some centimeters above my face. I got lower down, desperate to discover what it may be. Something from the Crying Man again. No, this felt different form all the others. No pipes were complaining this time. The sounds were quieter, not like they were trying to be, but more that there was no thought about the sounds being made.

 

Bit by bit, it came closer to the surface, until I could see it. A hand! For a moment I could only stare as a white fleshy finger came into view, followed by its partner and the thumb that they were commonly associated with. It stretched wide just millimeters from my face, and I backed away for a moment to watch it further, unsure of what to do about it.  What was a hand doing there, and how…?

 

It didn’t matter. With no further hesitation, I hastily grabbed the appendage in front of me. Whoever it belonged to was still underwater, and probably couldn’t breathe at this point. Getting a good grip, I pulled, hoisting my foot on the toilet bowl and pushing even harder, looking with all my strength to get them out of their predicament. In a way, I was actually more concerned with have company than I was with their life.

 

I yanked, feeling their arm come out further. It was too dark to still get a proper view of the person I was being out, but I could make out the thinness of their arm, its dainty nature. Now positioning myself by the elbow, I pulled again, stretching them out and getting more leeway in return. “Hold on!” I shouted, trying to reassure them. It felt like they had stopped trying, but my muscles were complaining at me, insisting I continue yet saying I should stop. I ignored all calls and just kept on pushing. Two people would have no problem getting out of this pace, and with them around I’d have no reason to fear the Crying Man anymore.

 

Turning round, I hoisted the arm over my shoulder, using my full upper body to get a good pull and used leverage to get them out. They jammed at first, probably having some trouble at the U-bend, but then soon starting to just come all the way. Like a snake, I felt them flow out, myself moving across the room and through the water with a staggered grace. Then, like a ripe had been cut, we both fell out of the stall and into the water.

 

Sitting straight back up, I cared not for the shit I was in and instead turned to the one I had saved, feeling their cold hand in mine. “Oi,” I called to them, trying to search for their face in the darkness, but still unable to see nothing. They weren’t moving. It was understandable. I didn’t plan to move several days after this. I didn’t have anything planned.

 

The lights came back on.

 

As if they had never been off, they came back with a flooding resonance, filling my eyes and catching them unaware. Hand instinctively covering face, I saw nothing but the shock of sudden brightness. Why had they come back on? Was it above me? For a moment I didn’t dare look, and stayed facing down, slowly removing my hand from my remaining peripheral vision. Whatever had happened, at least I would be able to see the face of my rescuer, the one who…

 

It was no one…

 

Or rather… it was the Crying Man.

 

Staring back at me with a faceless head, I saw the creature in front of me, tears leaking out of an eyeless, socket less surface that was deprived of anything that might have called it human. The creature was unmistakable from eh one that had been tormenting me earlier, but now, now was so much different.

 

It was clearly dead, though had it ever been alive while in my presence I wouldn’t have known. Had its trip round the toilet been its defeat? Maybe it had decided to haunt me the cubicle again and somehow got stuck when I grabbed it. I took little pride in the knowledge I had defeated my opponent, only a sudden relief that it may have been all over.

 

I still didn’t dare look up, just in case there was something even worse there. I had no doubt that the Cess pit had disappeared on me/ was still there, but it probably would hurt to check in this case. Instead I observed the Crying Man, the featureless mannequin stared back at me with the nothingness of its soul. It would have just been a dummy, were it not made out of flesh. I was sure of it, this was skin, and underneath,m bone. This was a creature, whether human or not, I failed to tell. The only thing I could be sure of was…

 

The mark

 

On the shoulder of the Crying Man, it stared at me, stained black like ink wiped across a sheet of paper, but form still visible, Pointed ears looked ruined as the face stared at me, a tail in mid swish making it look all the more cute (this descrip needs to match previous one more). And there, were the beautiful eyes that had made her pick it in the first place.

 

The eyes of a Puma.

 

Chap

 

A sterile smell entered my nose as we pushed into the entrance of the emergency ward, the hustle and bustle of many of the dirty crowds making me wonder where it was possibly coming from. I was following behind the cart where Tracey laid, bandages covering her face like an Egyptian exhibit. She was in critical condition. The doctors say she may not make it. I couldn’t be less concerned.

 

Samson came rolling in behind me, wheelchair being pushed by a paramedic whose name I had not yet learned, nor probably never would. He had three suspected fractures in his leg, arm and skull. His only concerned looked to be towards the girl being carted away.

 

I was fine. Somehow the steering wheel had actually helped me survive. There were no airbags in my old beetle and I had seemed to survive unscathed mainly by hugging t tight to me as Tracey catapulted from her chair as if a tense rope had been cut off from behind her. In the end all there was some minor bruising on my chest from the thing that had saved me. The doctors would probably want to do an X-ray, but it would have to wait.

 

My beetle was wrecked, bad enough the windscreen had been shattered when the body went through it, but the tree it had crashed into had ripped the front part almost cleanly in two, jagged edges had cut into the bark of the large oak, and I had to question how she hadn’t landed into it head first.

 

The costs were going to be huge. The other car had gone speeding off, perhaps only slightly aware that there was the possibility of an accident. Behind a blind turn at fifty miles and hour, anything behind you becomes of little important and even a dead rabbit is quickly forgotten.

 

I watched as they carted Tracey away, unsure if I was t0o follow. The receptionist lady looked busy as she watched them pass and I find myself just sitting down. I had never been in a hospital before. I was too strong for it and so was the rest of my family. From hat I had been told I wasn’t even born in one, my mother had preferred a natural birth, and had insisted let I be let loose upon the word in a specially designed paddling pool at the bottom of the garden with half of my bloodline watching.

 

Looking around, I eventually settled to wait in the waiting room. Somehow I had been forgotten, but I didn’t mind. I soon found myself heading to the toilet. In hospitals, I found that Toilet Society is one of pure isolation. No one dares talk to another, and when they do, it’s even smaller talk than in a night club. No one wants to meet someone in a hospital Toilet. You never quite know what you’re getting into.

 

I sat on the toilet for quite some time after that. Hearing people wander in, not saying a word but trying to. There were so many older men just wandering in and saying hi to each other, but looking lost for words. This was the emergency ward after. There was nothing good to say here.

 

It would have been four hours before anything happened next. Even then, I don’t really know why I stayed. Samson’s parents had come by then, and Nicole was apparently on her way before I asked her not to. Tracey’s parents didn’t show up until three days later. They were apparently stuck abroad on holiday in Ibiza and it wasn’t until her aunt had come to check on her that they even knew there was an incident.

 

As a result, it fell down upon me to be the one getting questioned about them.

 

It was eleven o’clock when it happened. Hospitals don’t seem to care about the time of day and with no windows in the waiting room and bright lighting everywhere I had begun to question the time it said on my watch. A woman approached me; failing to introduce herself, so I couldn’t even distinguished the job title that she held. Asking me to follow, I wandered past wards of full of grieving families and bodies without souls. I felt moody by the end of the first corridor, seeing all the pitiful creatures breaking out in pain as their loved ones died. By the third, a tear was dropping from my eye.

 

When I saw Tracey though, bound tight in that hospital bed, machines doing everything that her useless body no longer could, it all went away. The whole world was falling away for that matter, like I had been set free from everything, I can\’t even remember what the doctor nurse person said properly, so you’ll excuse me if it’s incorrect.

 

“How is she?’ I asked curiously.

 

“She’s stable for now, but with her condition…”

 

“She’s going to die, isn’t she?”

 

The doctor/nurse hesitated, not expecting the boldness of my words. She didn’t answer. The look on her face seemed to show that she was expecting something and had received it.

 

“I have something to ask you,” she said, moving over from the door to the other side of the bed. The look on her face was so serious. I felt relaxed, yet tense. Her release had been promised to me, but not confirmed, like I gift I had not yet opened, I was forced to wait as I always had.

 

“Can you explain these?” the doctor asked, removing the shirt and revealing flesh that should not have been injured by the attack. And within a second, I could, but not in the way the doctor was expecting. Welts marked her shoulders, deep gashes all over her chest and (as I was later told) her back. Breasts that I had never seen looked like they had been punched by sandbags. They were even smaller than I had come to believe, and I could not help but feel glad that I had never touched them. There was even some burn scarring, years of abuse patterned upon her body like a tapestry.

 

I coughed loudly, my body feeling sickened in my place. Now I knew why she had never allowed me to go any further than her hand, why her clothes had always covered the majority of her body. Clearly she had kept secrets from me and the rest of the world. Something only her parents must have known

 

My answer seemed to confuse her for a second. It would have been the answer that anyone would have gave, whether they were responsible or not, but my own small surprise must have been enough to sway her. Later her parents would state that it would have been the martial arts that she had never rigorously trained in and the injuries she has received over many years. I never bothered to find out, though the funeral later told me they were catholic, and it gave me a few ideas.

 

As if knowing I was safe, she left us and again, not knowing what to do in a hospital as knowing what to do in a toilet, I just hovered there, as if expecting something to happen. It soon did. Through the heavy breathing of her mask, Tracey slowly stared to rouse herself awake. I think I would have preferred being surrounded by ten or so of my closest associates, either that or completely alone. Even so, I wouldn’t have been happy waking up with the one who had dumped me standing there, no matter how pathetic I was.

 

“Hey you,” she said, her voice sounding sweet, even though there was so much wrapped around her it no longer sounded human. For a second I was flashed with the notion that she may have amnesia, and remember nothing of the past few days. Hundreds of events passed through me, thinking up the different looks on her face as I revealed to her the truth in the worst possible ways. Telling her straight, messing with her head as she drifted in and out of consciousnesses, fucking Nicole right in front of her. But there was no need, the look in her eyes told me that she knew everything.

 

“Yo,” I replied after a moment of silence. “How you feeling?’

 

“I don’t think I can,” she said, unable to not laugh at her own predicament. The morphine was having as much effect on her mental faculties as liquor did. At this point, all she was her brain.

 

“The doctor’s said you’re probably not going to make it,” I told her, seeing her expression remained unchanged. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for her. Dying young must suck.

 

“I wanted to die old,” she said aloud, her eyes looking around her, taking in the scenery of a closed window on a dark night, a plant pot, and about six hundred machines, only one of which was for entertainment.

 

“Sorry about that,” I said, finally sitting down on the chair that had been provided for me. The world became silent save for the ticking of the clock. It made me wonder why they had them in hospital rooms like this. The last thing a patient wants to see is how long they’ve got left to leave. The ticking continued for a few minutes, before anyone said anything again.

 

“I suppose you know now, don’t you?” she said, her voice low.

 

“Yeah,” I replied, my curiosity perking again.

 

“It was my parents.” I figured that. In these cases, it was either the boyfriend or the parents- or the person themselves, but the doctor had told me these wounds weren’t self inflicted. Since I knew it wasn’t me, it had to be her father. “It was to help keep me focused on my faith. Though I don’t know why. Those two breaks the bible like it was made out of glass.”

 

“And that’s why you never…” Something made me stop. Again I felt like I was acting. Playing a part I had been paid and hired for, but never quite really into the role, instead doing something on the side that was more important to me. I felt cheap and tacky, but continued none the less. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

 

“I couldn’t,” she admitted. “They are my parents, and they are nice people…”

 

“Nice people,” I interrupted. “No one nice could do this. Nice people don’t beat their children to keep them in check, especially when their daughter is one as sweet as yours.” Now I was doing ad-lib. I had to add to the performance what I could after all. Even if I was forced to work for people lower than me, it didn’t give me an excuse to be lazy about it.

 

“They are…” she said, her voice straining as she tried to defend them. “Thy do everything for me. They just care too much. I…” she stopped; the tears she had been trying so hard to hold back were starting to come out. I couldn’t bear seeing another second of this creature.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she whimpered, tears now streaming down numb cheeks. “If they hadn’t of done this, you’d have never been forced to…”

 

I shushed her, bringing my mouth to her lips, silencing her words with what she wanted all along, letting my tongue travel to the only part of her body that was left. She relished it, her first real kiss. For a second I felt like I was biting her tongue off, ending the madness that had become her life. Instead, I was merely choking her.

 

“It’s okay,” I told her, as her life slipped away. “It’s over. You can rest now.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

It was then when the machines screamed bloody murder out at us, causing doctors to shoot out from all around me as if they were ninja hiding in the roof, surrounding her with further machine, and a nurse almost crashing into me with her cart. I watched for a few seconds as they started to shout medical commands to each other, doing everything to bring her back. Her lifeless eyes told me there was no reason left for me to be in there, and I walked out, whispering goodbye to her as I turned away, knowing even before they brought the deliberators in that there was no reason for them to continue. If they could bring her back, she wouldn’t want to. I had given her the ending she had wanted, and there was nothing more to it than that.

 

I wandered down the corridor, spying a doctor that had come to talk to me earlier about my ribs. Knowing there was nothing wrong with them, I told him they could wait, and continued past the scores of people who littered this place like it was a crowded bus. I kept walking straight, spotting a vending machine in the distance and deciding it was time for a drink. As I moved towards it, another cart with someone on it came at me with full speed, and the doctors had no choice but to swing out of my way. Nothing could touch you in certain moods, especially when a satisfied predator had finished his kill. I plopped some loose change that was still miraculously in my pocket and bought a large coke. It was a time to treat myself I figured, and I guzzled down the whole thing before sighing with refreshment.

 

It took me a moment to realize he was standing there.

 

“Samson.” It looked like they had cleared most of his injuries too, though they had given him a stick to hobble on. His arm still hung limply too, though I later learned he was doing that on purpose to prevent further damage to it.

 

“H-…how is she?” he asked me, making me look at his face, and for that moment I saw a chance I couldn’t afford not to take.

 

“She’s dead,” I said, my voice growing bitter, leaving the words hanging as his own jaw fell. I wanted to smirk at his reaction, but held it in. My joy would be a pleasure felt only on the inside.

 

“What?” he asked in shock. If it wasn’t for the stick, he would have probably fallen down. Parts of his body gave up on him, a sign of his sanity threatening to break. I pushed it.

 

“I said she’s dead,” I shouted, my voice sounding bitter and angry. Several people stopped in the corridor to stare at me, but then quickly continued. A child started crying, nearly causing me to stop the entire thing. “And it’s your fault!”

 

“What?” His weirdness disappeared, along with everything that he once was. It might regrow in time, but for desert, I would prefer this.

 

“If you hadn’t of shouted at me, I wouldn’t have gotten distracted,” I began to tell him. “If I hadn’t gotten distracted, I wouldn’t have crashed.”

 

“But…but…” he began to mumble, his knees shaking. I watched with relish as he looked like he was ready to be sick, his rational mind trying to hold on. “You were arguing. I was trying to stop you…”

 

“And why were we arguing Samson?” I shouted at him, as he finally dropped to the floor. “Because you brought her with us! You knew how tenuous the whole thing was. What were you thinking bringing her in the car?”

 

“I wanted you to settle things!”

 

“Well, that certainly happened, didn’t it,” I retorted morbidly. “I would say things are pretty fucking settled now, aren’t they. All that’s left is the goddamn funeral.” I kicked him in the gut, and he accepted it as willingly as a stunt double, bursting into tears and finishing off where Tracey had left me. I looked at him for a few seconds, deciding to end it in silence, but quickly changed my mind.

 

“You should be glad,” I told him, now not even facing him. “From now on, you owe me and I own you.”

 

Soon leaving the hospital, I called Nicole again. She was worried sick, so I’d told her I’d meet her at her place after I checked in on my parents. I probably should have discharged myself, but the truth was I desperately wanted to see her. My hand was still shaking, and I could no longer tell what from.

 

I was never blamed for the accident strangely enough. Apparently, Tracey still hadn’t told her parents that we had broken up, and they were under the assumption that we were still together. I allowed the illusion to maintain itself, not for my own sake, but more because I felt I had to. I was not a selfish man, despite my actions against Samson, and could not allow her family to fall further into despair by telling them I had tossed the tramp for someone else just a few days previously. In many ways, I owed them for all that they had done for me. I now felt a freedom that could have only come by the events they instigated in their abuse of a sweet, vibrant young girl. I could only thank them so much though, as it was their fault that that creature existed in the first place. In that way, it was easier to tell them that the lack of tears I hadn’t cried was out of shock, though it did become annoying when those who didn’t know were beginning to think I had repressed it.

 

There is always a difference between repression and simply not telling anyone that you’re glad they’re dead.

 

There is always a difference between making someone satisfied and just covering your own tracks.

 

After all, a predator can’t strike again if everyone knows he’s there.

 

Chap ???

 

An echo pierced my ears, reminding me once again that I was still horribly alive. My mind played no tricks on me this time, there were no thinking of bad dreams or thoughts of life that I had held previously, just the cruel existence that was the public toilets. Enough. I had had my fill of it. To even open my eyes would be allowing it to continue, to see the same wretched game being played upon both me and the Crying Man. I did not even know where its corpse lay. Out of the water, I could not sense its bobbing presence.

 

But then, with that I realize, I was not surrounded by water, poisonous sewage that slowly sapped my strength and will had all but vanish. I lingered for a moment in my sense of darkness. Still I dared not open my eyes. To risk hope was to fall prey to a pretend salvation, but I could not hold back my hesitation. With tense agony, I opened my eyes.

 

Gone.

 

Gone was the water that had slowly filled my prison. Gone was the corpse that had mocked me all these hours. Gone even was the room I had started in, with no toilets nor sink nor urinals that spat blood and copper wire.

 

Instead, I lay within a church, larger than any I had ever been before. It must have been more of a cathedral, for the roof stretch high above me and was held up by marble pillars. As I stared, getting up to obtain a better view of my surroundings, I could not help but remain tense. Even if it was a church, I should still have not been in one and, to be honest, it came to me as being very surreal, more along the lines of what my imagination saw of a church than an actual church. Large, majestic, yet the darkness hidden 3within the corners screamed at me with a curious fear.

 

Had the Crying Man sent me here? Taking small steps, I scanned my surroundings, feeling the urge to run build within me again and again. Yet there was no point, I could telling without even turning around that there was no door behind me, instead something that I knew I didn’t want to see.

 

The altar lay before me. Only three of the candles were still lit. I instinctively went for my leather jacket, the pocket of matches I always kept there soon being found missing. The amount of times I had fallen over in the toilet it was understandable I might have lost them.  A shame really, I so wanted to light these candles. I could just imagine their light glittering within my eye. There was so many of them, and yet they had all but practically died. Even with so much wax left, it’s like there had no reason left to be on. I watched as another slowly sizzled out.

 

Behind me, I hear a tearing sound, the sound of something that had never been touched being torn asunder. On the altar, I spotted a bowl of fruits. Had long had it been seen I ate now? Before I had felt no hunger, yet now I was ravenous. I rushed up to the fruit, grabbing the first apple and sinking into with my teeth and chewed hard, reminding myself of my broken nose.

 

As I munched away, being unable to have my fill, I quickly took to fixing up it. I was no expert, but I felt it had been moved out of place slightly and it would need fixing up if I wasn’t to get to a hospital soon. Whatever had happened to me, whatever was happening to me, this church could at least act as a resting point, a place to relax and replenish my strength.

 

Practically ripping the banana apart, I took the first half of it on one gulp, nearly choking myself as it turned to mush in my throat. I didn’t even bother with the second half, hastily moving onto a peach and biting all the way down to the stone, I clutched it in my molars and ripped it out, keeping it between my teeth until I sat it out to the side, watching it land with a plop on the cold ivory floor.

 

It came to me that I probably shouldn’t be eating this food. IT was no where near Christmas, but there was any number of events a church might be involved with that meant that this food was supposed to be for someone in dire need of it.. I did not have much concern for it though. At this point, I viewed myself just an important in terms of need. I had been through an incredible ordeal and needed something to boost my energy levels. This fruit, however, wasn’t doing the job.

 

“Why not join us?” it said. “We have meat.”

 

The bible caught my attention, looking suddenly interested. I probably had some time to waste here before I had to move on. The hospital should be the next stop. If I could reach it. Wherever I was, I viewed getting past the decrepit toilet as somewhat a mark of progress.

 

“It’s freeeeesh.”

 

I must make a point; for once I have escaped all this, to actually get around to reading this book. I always meant to. The amount of times I’ve dismissed this stuff and yet I’ve never read the main text its based on. I mean, it is all trivial really. All life is really about is eating, survival of the fittest, one animal consuming another.

 

“So true…so true…”

 

I turned to the first page, scanning the lines before me, as if trying to see if I could fit the book into twenty six seconds. One point one. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God… I carried on, muttering the verses under my breath, barely takin g them in as I tried to ignore it.

 

“Come onnnn, aren’t you hungry.”

 

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters…

 

“It’s juicy…”

 

I stopped, or more likely my body did. It couldn’t continue, the words hanging off my tongue as it slowly retreated into my mouth, the eyes confirming what the mouth already knew.

 

In front of me, as I now turned around, was a cross, as tall as the impossibly high roof, it was impossible to miss it now I turned around, and I would never know how I would have missed it for as long as I did now that I had seen it, its arms stretched out, casting a shadow over all the benches. It loomed over me like a spectre, and, indeed, for there was a spectre tied upon it, being consumed by a small, imp like creature, who giggled greedily, his lips covered in blood like a child’s might be covered in ketchup. It grinned at me, and pushed its hand through the torso of the spectre, cackling as it pulled something out, an organ that I didn’t recognize, and ripped its teeth into as I had the apple but a moment ago.

 

“It good, you should try.”

 

I didn’t respond, not sure if I couldn’t wouldn’t or shouldn’t. The creature merely looked at me bemused as I stared back, chewing lazily on its snack, who larger parts were currently releasing a trail of blood down the crucifix. It didn’t drip, but rolled down gradually and I watched, mesmerized, as it came down that sleek, bronze cross.

 

“Don’t tell me you don’t like it,” it said, its squeaky yet grotesque voice traveling like a broken accordion. “It’s not like you haven’t had some before.”

 

Both it and the Spectre stared at me now, waiting for my decision and, god help me, I could not help but feel as if I wished to take it up. I was still so hungry, the fruit failing to sate me, that my stomach growled for every second that I hesitated. I wanted to climb that cross and join that thing, reveling in the dish of the Spectre, which looked on as if it willingly wanted me to feed upon it.

 

My feet lingered for a moment, and then started to take small steps forward, heading toward that magnificent cross where my meal lay trapped upon. They both look at me with ecstatic joy, staring me in the eyes as I took hold of that cross and started to pull myself up

 

Feeling my muscles complain, the numbing cold from earlier now disliking the energy that was put into them, I pulled myself up, shifting ever slowly to my feast. It stayed up there. It looked as if it could float down to greet me, but chose to stay above me. I didn’t mind, and pulled myself up inch by inch.

 

The Church didn’t matter to me now. The altar and the candles and the bible were gone in my mind. I couldn’t’\t think of the toilet, where I had spent a hellish night trapped among faeces and puke. My mind did not even travel across the thought of the Crying Man. He was nothing to me now. I had an old snack to enjoy, and I was going to feast upon it like I had long before.

 

But as I continued my solitary climb to where the meal lay, I noticed my ascent was slowly. Not merely of muscle fatigue, I found myself slipping slowly, seeing my sleeves become tinted with crimson. Scrambling back up in a flash, I tried desperately to keep a hold of the bronze cross, but continued to fall all the same. My breath quickened, as if trying to grab onto the pole itself, my fingers became moist with the blood and I fumbled, trying to instinctively wrap my legs around the stake and failed, gravity giving up on me as it always had and letting me fall to the floor.

 

I landed with a splash, my back hitting he water. Suddenly, my mouth was filled with a taste so bitter, that I could not help but being a violent splutter, choking on dirt and hacking out whatever it was that was in there. The water entered my lungs, and I had no time to even regret my instinctive actions. My arms roamed around me helplessly, as they tried to search for a way to stay alive, finding nothing but the flotsam that existed in the pool.

 

I died many times in those few minutes, spinning around, my eyes clamped shut as I lost all track of the church that ad once existed. I imagine the candles shining brightly out of my reach, flickering at me as if disappointed. Confused wracked my brain, and then I was still.

 

Would it not be easy, just to die?

 

It is just as hard to let yourself die as it is to keep yourself living through the pain of existence. Your body doesn’t allow it. It fights with every fiber of its existence to prevent you from leaving it, and will do anything to get its own way, even completely disobey you.

 

It only gets to be alive for a few years. You get to be dead for eternity.

 

So why then, do you spend the little time you have doing nothing but hunting? Consuming the lives of those you love?

 

Chap?/?

 

I fell through the water, deeper and deeper, crimson depths turning to murky brown. My mouth clamped itself shut, letting nothing in or out. I felt like I traveled thousand of fathoms in hours, yet had barely moved at all. Neither was possible to determine. Soon, I ripped my eyes open, letting them see what it would be that was slowly crushing them.

 

A whole school passed me, a hundred children staring at me for a brief instance, before they moved on, anxious to catch up with their classmates.

 

The ocean was a brilliant blue. It felt surprinsgly comfortable seeing it at that colour. I never recalled seeing it like this before, this deep below the water’s surface. My ears filled with silence, water trapping in it like a cork in a bottle. I felt nothing but sight and smell and touch, my vision red, I hungered for what my nose was telling me.

 

Feeling the water rush by me, flickering onto me like a fly on a windscreen, I rushed down, watching all the critters of the sea move out of my way, like a peasant would royalty. I couldn’t help but feel superior, dominating over all of them. They only lived because I chose it. Let them all free for now, I only had my target on one thing. My prey.

 

The hunger still coursed through me. Not sated by neither fruit nor blood, and only provoked by the Spectre whose flesh I could now never have again. I pushed down further into the depths. If it was gone, I would have to settle for something less appetizing. Tasting the water in my mouth, I let the water enter me now. It was of no consequence. Nothing was save the prey.

 

I couldn’t see it yet, but I knew where it was, its scent traveled through the water like gourmet food through the air. It was behind the rocks now. Unaware? It did not matter.

 

I slowed, letting my descent gradually pull off to a stop. Floating the water for a moment, I allowed a school of fish to travel on by harmlessly. For a second I considered an appetizer, but mere creatures that I did not know would fail to provide me with anything and so I choose to let them pass, only imagining the taste as their tiny, brittle bones cracker beneath my razor sharp teeth.

 

Then, from behind the boulder, through the flotsam that lay adorned across the rocks like jewelry thrown down by a thief, the clownfish lay.

 

It lay amongst the others, its bloated presence bobbing before them like it was on display. The other fish hovered meaningless, their presence sated by their existence. It didn’t not matter that they were there. They could not save it. I looked deep to it, both impressed and insulted by its vibrant colours. It had grown large by being with the others and yet had taken so much off of them. By absorbing them, it had become part of them, and now had no knowledge of why it had any longer.

 

I waited for the right moment to strike, keeping rested behind the rock. I could see through the flowerbed of the ocean, while they merely played within it. It would just be for the right moment to go at it, to tear it asunder like a common piece of bread. The moment between actions tormented me, but only for a moment. As it swam round on itself, as if needlessly chasing its own tail, I sprang, only just noticing the school of fish returning, alerting everything to my presence as they scattered across the scale of the sea. The Clownfish swam away, and the chase began.

 

How much had the Clownfish ever meant to me. Had it always been a snack, merely left to ripen on the side whilst I pursued other exploits. Maybe it was something to be saved for on a special occasion. To be eaten after a spectacular conquest, and ripped apart with a cheer, feeling its fleshy limbs comes off one at a time, and disappear down my mouth, watching it cry as its life ebbed away

 

Whatever it had met, it now only served as something to eat before the next time. Whether I had wanted to save it didn’t matter now, and I jumped to the thought of filling myself for now. I could always find another to replace it anyway. I had plenty of replacements.

 

In its panic, it dashed into a clump of fish sitting there, sending them dashing away, a few hitting me full force as they failed to notice my presence, their own alarm defeating them as they bounced off my thick skin, their lives ending in an instant out of stupidity. I refused to open my mouth. Despite my hunger I knew what I had chosen to eat, and I was intent on that alone.

 

It swam fast, and for a moment I began to wonder if it might not get away if I let it pay around too long. With one powerful kick, I pushed myself closer. I would let it tire itself out first, weakened its resolve and let it feel the full impact of its destiny ending. It would be tenderer that way.

Bouncing into a bolder, it skimmed along the bottom of the ocean, skimming like a flat stone four times before finally getting away again. I felt the gap close between us and I felt jovial on the chase it was giving me. I had a feeling that, if I had tried any other way save exhaustion, that it might have got away from me. It was still a clownfish, and still agile. The unpredictable nature of its holding in my life had meant that I never truly knew what was to happen with it. Given time, it may have been able to kill me.

 

As it was, it enter my mouth before it could even try to twist in another direction and escape to the side, but my jaws had clamped shut before it had any chance to harbor any further plans. As it stayed, trapped upon my tongue, just swimming directionally, the light now gone from its mind, I felt a slight disappointment at the end o the chase. I knew I could continue it. In another life I had. But that would be met only with a feeling of meaninglessness, like a game of hide and seek when you knew all the places to sneak off, it felt irrelevant to continue playing it.

 

And so, with great release of seawater, I opened my mouth, allowing the Clownfish to see its life one more time, before cutting it in teeth, massive jaws giving it the final pain and release it had never wanted. I could only feel relief as it took slow bites on it, picking apart fins with my teeth and tongue before swallowing the carcass in one large gulp. I could not feel my hunger being sated.

 

I had only begun.

 

Seeing its fellow fish draw near, either out of complacency or stupidity, I no longer cared which, I dived at them, taking the first one in an instant, not even feeling it go down my gullet as I swallowed it whole. Moving straight on, I passed by the large stingray, shifting off to the right and taking out two rather fat fish, munching off them in unison, one on each side of my jaw. My jaws alternated as they crunched down upon the partners, before bringing them together in union, being consumed at the same time.

 

The others quickly followed, meaningless creatures who considered each other friends in a world of constant noisy silence. I was glad to be rid of these, their constant existence was a shame to the companionship they shared as neither even thought of the other as they rushed to save their own skin.

 

The black one was final and in the moment I thought I had lost it I smell the telltale marks that were embazelled all over its scent. With a snap I turned around and took it by the fin, severing it from its direction controls and watching it take a nose dive, following it only for a moment before it became a part of me and bumped the back of my teeth. I felt it bob about, trying to move as if it hadn’t realized it no longer could, relishing the fear that it oozed out of its gaping wounded. I swallowed it all, accidentally taking the fish down my throat and not even noticing it was over.

 

When it was over, I felt nothing.

 

I had ever needed to eat them. They were not a cure for my hunger. They had ever meant anything for me save for a source of entertainment, the mere joy of tracking them down and removing them one by one had been the only nourishment I had gotten from these pathetic lonely creature.

 

But with them gone, I knew what I wanted. The only thing left.

 

In but an instant I turned my course for the bright light that lay above me, shining in my eyes. The murky brown that had once haunted me was gone, and I knew now what it was I needed. What made me complete. I had taken it before without even thinking about it, as if it was natural, rightfully mine. It would become mine again, death or no death.

 

Head to the Puma.

 

Head to the Crying Man.

 

Chap

 

Staying in the water for just a few moments longer, I lingered on what I was about to do, letting my brain rest on the notions carried. This was the time to be focused, to be ready for what I was soon to do. To defeat the Crying Man here and now, and free myself from the trap he had woven me into.

 

The Crying Man had always been my target, I saw that now. I had not been his pretty, but he had originally been mine. I had merely fallen prey to his defense mechanism. But now that I was free of it, I could continue with what I had planned. Then, I would be free to start anew. To continue what I had always done. To live my life as I saw fit, forever onward into my own little spiral of eternity.

 

I had to thank it. I really did. Before, my life had lacked the focused, I was probably one step away from becoming the silly little angst child that I saw round the street, wearing make up regardless of gender and telling people on the Internet how stupid they were. The meaning in my life had been outlined by it, clearly defined in big black marker. I felt the death of everyone I had held dear around me, and I moved for the final part of this little game.

 

To kill the Crying Man.

 

With a quick step, I pushed myself out of the water, shredding my previous skin and feeling it disperse into the water around me. To change skins was another freedom now. In many ways, it was what allowed me to keep my freedom.

 

The Crying Man appeared to have chosen the location for our final battle. I had wanted it to be in the Toilet. Defeating the Crying Man within the small cubicle would have signified the end of my directionlessness. To kill in that society, would free me and bind me to it forever, but trapped within toilet society, I would be free forever.

 

The plain stood out before me, the sun beating down on us as if with the intention to melt the grass like it would an ice lolly. Between my bare toes I felt the slick feel of the grass as it found its way to stick in there. Absently mindingly I picked at it, pulling out a few tuffs between my toes.

 

There was nothing here yet, save for a few trees. In the distance, I heard what sounded like a flock of birds, flying off to hunt in their own ways. I found myself wishing them luck, honour among the thieves of life, and set off to hunt my own target.

 

I started off at a slow pace, ready for any traps that may be sprung on me. The Crying Man, like all of its kind, was a cowardly creature, and would not wish to face me directly. Whilst I had no idea what I would face, I knew that it may come soon. I continued through the grass, looking off to a tree in the distance. It looked a perfect place to climb up, with low branch but a high tip, and scout out the area. I headed to it, my pace now speeding up.

 

Getting it the tower of bark faster than I thought I should, I hesitated not in grabbing the first of the branches and pulling my way to the top. The tree was just as deserted as the plain. I thought for a moment that I may have had to scare away a few monkeys, but my path to the top was free of intrusion.

 

With a final effort, I lunged up to the top branch, passing the last of the foliage and peeking my head out of the top. The plain stood beneath me still. That was good; the Crying Man had kept the location unchanged. This at least met that it was not yet expecting me. The possibility that my entrance had been too dramatic entered my mind for a moment, but I ignored the feeling of paranoia. I would be led there too fast if I focused on it.

 

I looked to the hill, where the plains seemed to end and shift to the endless blue horizon. It was over there. That was simply the last place it would have to be, that blind spot. It would hide there and…

 

I froze, feeling my legs tense and wobble the branch below me. Something was appearing from the horizon, a body of something that traveled upon two legs. Was the Crying Man coming to challenge me directly? I thought of a few possible strategies, the most obvious being to wait here until it got closer and strike at it when unexpected. The tree was the only thing here where it would go, unless it too was scouting out the area, perhaps to see if I was there. It is entirely possible that the creature does not think I am up the tree and I would not be able to see it at the level it was standing.

 

I watched it for a few seconds longer, waiting for it to get closer, when I realized it to be a lot shorter than I had thought. My sight was distorted by the distance, but it looked to be more of a child, sweat dripping, heavily tanned skin reflected off the sun behind me, and I saw it to not be the crying man. A child? Seeing it glance around, I dropped down to a crouching level, hidden safely within the trees.

 

Was this the first trick then? Was the child the Crying Man’s scout, a division, designed to lure me out on my curiosity, or was this plain not just a creation of the Crying Man’s, but something deeper. I stayed hidden for a minute more, and then stuck my head back up. The child was gone, the shadow of its former presence failing to reflect anything to me. Had it gone? Was it ever really there? Finding myself falling to the mind tricks again, I scratched it out of myself, and dropped down to the floor, breaking three branches in the process and nearly flipping onto my head as I slid down the bark.

 

I landed with barely a heartbeat, and this time broke into my faster run. Glancing for but a second in my direction, I saw it to be clear and moved with haste to head t where the boy was. I could have been running into a thousand trap, but I knew that the moment would be lost if I did not press on it. Catapulting myself over miles in second, , my eyes closed as I sought to keep my breath steadying, my forehead slamming straight the reality that I had failed to perceive in front of it, knocking me flat back and into a world much darker than before.

 

I hoped I was up in an instant, but I had no honest away to tell. There was a wall in front of me, or to be more exact, what appeared to be a small cave. Its presence confused me, but I doted on it only for a second. This had to be it, its lair. The Crying Man was still more in control of the surroundings than I was, but that would be over once I had confronted it.

 

I peered round to the entrance of the cave, seeing nothing but peripheral darkness inside. For all I knew there was a wall about two feet into the dank cave, but it was that chance that I had to take now. I waited a moment, letting my ear catch any and all sounds, before being told I had received no messages. Silently, I crept in, feeling the stone crack underneath me, light treads causing no echoes as I slowly moved in.

 

There was no wall just a few feet in, but judging by the size of the cave I had seen before I had entered, there was a feeling within me that I should have hit one by now. Space was impossible to tell within here and it was only the dying of the freshness in the air, humidity soaking into my pores as I fell deeper underground, that told me I was making progress.

 

In toilet Society everything is scared, especially your privacy, yet it is where we reveal ourselves to all who are willing to watch. There, we can truly be ourselves. We can tell strangers our darkest fears and leave with a smile on our faces. We can tell secrets to our friends, and know that they will keep them. We could even kill in there.

 

However, there is one thing we can never do in Toilet Society, sand that is see members of the opposite sex.

 

Which is why I had wanted to be rid of the Crying Man ever since I met it. The disgusting creature broke all the rules. It takes our secrets and belittles them to the public. It holds our darkest fears and uses them against us. It even pretends to cut off our balls.

 

This is why it had to go, why I had to destroy it. No one understands the importance of Toilet Society, not even I can fully explain the significance of it. It exists in our hearts, we are taught to go there from when we are young whenever we feel pressure. It is our escape, our refuge, a hiding place to be free from the prying eyes of the rest of society. The Crying Man negates all that. It even mocks it. With the freedoms of the world disintegrating, to have this one ruined is another light put out on the countdown to mankind’s destruction.

 

My quest is holy! If I can stop my own Crying Man, then others could soon follow! We could learn to take back our place, reclaim our freedoms, both the self imposed ones and those place upon us by others. Our sacred freedom would be reborn, and free to grow again.

 

The Freedom to grow again.

 

I hit a stop in my path, the end of the cave had finally hit me, and reveling in the dead end it had created for me. I turned back around to realize I was trapped, the remaining half of the path having now disappeared behind me leaving me enclosed. Was this supposed to be the next trap?

 

I couldn’t help but find it pathetic. After all it had put me through throughout all this it could only think of something a little more claustrophobic than before. I waited, half tempted to tap my foot, to see if it would come out of no where to meekly apologize at its worst effort to date, but no such thing occurred. I couldn’t help but be proud of myself. The ordeals set up by the Crying Man had strengthened me beyond all that had been before. There was not much else for me to do.

 

The walls started to close in, hidden mechanisms turned invisibles cogs as they shrank the walls from around me. It pleased me greatly. The Crying Man was running scared. I didn’t even try to resist the rock as it fell around me, shattering as if it were made out of dried up mud breaking into itty bitty pieces and crumbling to the floor below.

 

I walked on, the tunnel having now come back to me. This time I could see a light, just ten meters ahead of me and just out of sight to the left. Hugging the wall, I etched up to it, wondering what I might find waiting for me. Had I reached its lair, or was this just another division. I wished for both. To meet with the Crying Man and to keep proving myself its superior was both likable options. Its fear would increase with each trial I overcame, leaving it the quivering mass I had always intended to slaughter.

 

The light flickered, still hiding just out of sight, dancing for the one that hid behind it and the corner. It occurred to me for a moment that I had no weapons, but I had killed my last one with just my mouth and a ton of passion. I could just go with improvisation for this one as well. It would be what made the end of the hunt so delicious.

 

“You can come out from behind there,” it said.

 

For a second it all returned to me. The hours of trapped isolations, the deprivation of light and sanity. The broken nose and the faces and vomit and numbness that it had made me face for countless eternities. For a second, I wanted to turn tail and run, to write this one as a loss and get on with what I had always been doing. That life was an acceptable choice, and to leave for it would have got me appreciated by all those that I would have once killed.

 


Only for a second though, then I removed myself from the wall, and turned the corner.

 

“Hello there.”

 

It was not the Crying Man this time. It was the puma. Its golden mane reflected in the dance of the final candle, that sat just a few feet from it, acting as a guard between the two of us. It was close to the end of its thread now and it told us both that there was only a few minutes left now.

 

My stomach growled, reminding me just how hungry I still was. The hunt had deadened the pain for a while, but now I was this close, mere moments away from the glorious tearing, I growled as deep and as loud as any noise I have ever heard, a nuclear bomb plain gin comparison to its desire.

 

I almost jumped the candle there and then, imagining my teeth sinking my into the puma’s neck, ripping away its fur as I did its life, feeling ecstasy as its blood dirtied my teeth and hair, watching its precious life simply fall out of the body and onto the floor below. I could not tell why I didn’t. It felt more appropriate to take it slowly.

 

“Sit down,” it said politely, indicating a cushion as it went to scratch behind its ears, licking the underside f its paw as it made itself more comfortable. It was not sitting on a cushion, the dusty ground below it being disturbed by its long tail swiping down onto the floor.

 

I looked down at the seat offered to me, contempt brimming from my eyes. The Puma looked sullen for a moment, but then seemed to accept this. “Is this really what you want? To eat and shit for the rest of your life, never achieving anything more. I don’t understand.”

 

“What would you understand?” I spat out. “You’re just a Puma.”

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get through to you.”

 

“Don’t be. I learn everything I needed to know tonight. The only thing that I regret is that you found out.”

 

The puma closed its eyes for a moment, and I considered striking, but something told me it had not yet accepted its fate.

 

“It is too late for you. Let us hope that it is not too late for him.”

 

Its black eyes stopped looking at me, now focusing on the creature behind me. It lay there standing, and I turned round to meet its featureless gaze. The Crying Man. I was momentarily shocked, and looked back to confirm the existence if the Puma, which just stared at me before wrapping its tongue over its lower jaw. So there were two of them, or was this merely another trick. It didn’t matter anymore. Take them both out.

 

I moved to the Crying Man, as it hung there limply. Not waiting a moment longer, I lunged at it, knocking it to the floor in a discarded heap. My first jab went straight to its face, and the merest touch of my knuckles on its skin reminded me of the pain in my own nose, the pain it had caused. I hoisted myself onto my hands, landing my knees on its crotch and chest, watching with glee as the tears erupted from the head like a fountain of blood, my own tears meeting them as I relished the moment. I tore into again and again, now laughing as I ripped it apart. Seeing its neck hanging there, I took my teeth down upon it, feeling to flesh pull away as if it were a seam on a pair of trousers, coming off far too easily. Like a hungry wolf I tore the flesh away, watching the sewage pour out of its corrupted body, almost immediately feeling a pain in my own neck. I ignored it for now and plunged my clawed fingers into the gaping hole I had made, grabbing as much internal oddities as I could and tearing them away as if I was trying to destroy a cardboard box.

Almost instantly I stopped, a stabbing pain interrupting me from my one man massacre. It drove into my head like a hammer had just dropped from a n high shelf onto me and I leaped away from the dying creature below me, feeling my sense give up on me, my vision going blurry as I coughed loudly. I was covered in something. I knew it but I didn’t. I looked to the puma, it was sleeping now.

 

I circled the cavern blindly, desperately grabbing onto my throat as if my hand alone could stop the dam that had been torn down. Had I lost? Had this been the Crying Man’s final plan. A martyr to the cause that only it and I fully understood. I gargled on my own precious life blood, feeling it drown me. It came out faster as I began to fall, knees giving up as they ran out of fuel, now pumping through my system as if trying to get away from something. My every orifice leaked with something as I tried desperately to get to the candle, seeing it only feet away and yet an eternity. I thought we would both meet again soon enough. As the candle’s life extinguished, its own wax no longer able to sustain it, I felt conscious being eaten and spat out, and collapsed into silence.

 

Myself and the Crying Man, unable to hear anything.

 

Chap

 

So you understand now, how I got to where I am. I don’t really understand it myself. These things have always just happened. One of the biggest problems about living in the real world is that events happen without your control. Real life just goes on by too fast for you to keep up and so you rely on what you’ve learnt to keep you going rather than trying something new. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, even relying on past experience means you can just end up copying on a melodrama you watched the other week.

 

That’s why toilet society remains important. You never get told how to act in the toilet besides take your pants down and let it out, and don’t look at other people while they d the same thing. These are really the only two laws of Toilet society. The rest is just what happens. It’s not law, but it certainly feels like it at times.

 

The only other important thing really, about toilet Society, is that it all relies on us not realizing it. As soon as you realize Toilet society exists, you screw yourself over. In fact I may be ruining a good portion of your life just by telling you this. It made lead to some attempt at rudimentary understanding. But I shouldn’t worry too much. Other people won’t allow you to fuck it up. Or at least, you think they won’t.

 

There isn’t too much left to tell you about what happened after Tracey died. Samson went into a deep depression about it, and I think I did too (sometimes my acting is too good, I can’t even tell if I’m doing it). He ended up throwing himself into a lot of online games, paying obsessively. It seemed a good way for him to get it out of his system, although we were all worried about him for a while.

 

Nicole and I continued dating, I guess that’s over now, but it remained nice while it lasted, kind of like having the best job you could ever get in the career path you have chosen, knowing it was easy and fun at the same time. We actually had a scare a few months back when she became pregnant and I thought I’d have to leave early. Luckily, it all blew over, though the rumours I heard that she had had an abortion did concern me. It wasn’t that I wanted a kid, it was that I wanted the choice not to have one. I know she didn’t want one, but I don’t think she wanted to take the risk otherwise.

 

All the others are still at Uni. Donna is pregnant and at times when she looks seriously she admits that it is Barry’s. He’s worried that she isn’t eating enough, but she seems to cover it well with ice cream. I didn’t actually know that was true.

 

Tracey is still dead. I haven’t actually heard from her parents in some time, though occasionally I dial for the last number and I think it’s there. Not quite sure about that though.

 

That’s it really, I guess. Thanks for listening, kid.

 

Chap

 

How long I spent dying? I don’t know. It felt like I had had a blood enema, shooting it all out until there was none left. IT was a lot more refreshing than I thought, emptying myself completely and then filling it back up again, though I don’t remember doing the last bit. My body groaned as it shifted. It felt surprisingly light, but the gears were complaining about a lack of use. I felt exhausted, like I had ran a marathon and the first prize was a point blank shot to the stomach.

 

My eyes opened. I shouldn’t be alive, my body lifted itself and I got a look around. The toilet again. My panic alarm raised a few octaves as I swung around, but stopped in mid cry.

 

Everything was normal. There was no sewage covering the floor, a mix of blood, vomit and faeces now having disappeared as if it had never come. The door and the window were now in full site, the cement having disappeared from the former. I never knew what had happened to the former.

 

Most importantly, the Crying Man appeared to have disappeared. Above me, the roof was as white as ever, the lights now back on and shining on the room below me, bathing us in its radiance. I clambered to my feet, looking around. It was truly as if none of it ever happened. The floor was clean, yet not freshly scrubbed. It reminded me that the cleaner had apparently not shown up this week and the bin needed emptying.

 

The window porthole however was near spotless however, and missing any signs that cement had ever touched it. There wasn’t even the smallest of traces that suggested someone had done the best amateur job in the world on it to me contain a few hours longer.

 

Finally, the smell. It actually smelt nice in here, the mix of perfumed toilet cleaners and the spray that periodically shot itself into the room made the place smell like a pristine chapel rather than the cess pit I had ejaculated my stomach into earlier. I wandered over to the mirror, still feeling a little nauseous from just waking up (and I think all my internal wounds). My face looked a little shit, like I had been sleeping on top of it, but no broken nose, and no bloody remains or other marks. My hand shot to my neck for a brief instant, but fell back down to the sink once I realized there was nothing there.

 

Had it been a dream then? No, more than the most enlightening nightmare I had ever suffered. I had fell to the bottom of my soul, and came out a lot stronger. Understanding was now within me, having been forged from a rock of ignorance that welled up in me and carved to the perfection of mind that I had been seeking without even realizing it.

 

The problem now was what would be happening next. Were they all still out there- my so called friends? Waiting for me to reemerge from the toilet and continue in their pointless debacle of chatting away at nonsense. I had better things to do. I still needed to handle the Puma, and the Clownfish for that matter. Does that mean I’d have to continue the act? It was part of the hunt after all, and I knew that all along, but it still felt tedious when was ready to begin anew.

 

Perhaps I should just go visit her. The Clownfish will spoil itself if I am to leave it, it had only been able to exist further after the incident because of me, and it would quickly die without my constant aid. If I leave now, I can tell her things that would break her. Se is still weak after all, being unable to take the pain of her parents splitting- probably the best thing her father has ever done.

 

Yes, maybe I should go tell her that I had never stopped truly loving Tracey, and that I missed her terribly. I could imagine the Puma going to comfort me, wishing to help me. Then I could slap her away, scream at her for all the terrible things she made me do to poor Tracey. Accuse her of horrible atrocities that she made me do. Maybe I could even claim that I’m sure she drugged me at certain parts of it to make me more susceptible. Maybe I should try and attack the tattoo she gave me, saying I never really wanted it, when really it was the best thing she ever did to me.

 

Then she would apologize and I wouldn’t accept it. She’d try and hug me to make me feel better and then I’ll hit it and act like it were reflex, going to apologize, but instead getting angry, screaming at what she made me do and what she turned me into, before telling her I never wanted to see her again. I could probably fit the whole uncertainly about the pregnancy thing in too, and demand to her to tell me if she really did have an abortion, and effuse to accept whatever she tells me.

 

To my right, the toilet flushed, bringing me out of my beautiful thoughts. I watched as the man came out, her long leather jacket swaying as he spun round to shut the door. He looked at me with a piercing stare from behind his sunglasses and I grin, before heading for the door.

 

“Next time try and make it to the toilet before passing out. It gives strangers the wrong thoughts.”

 

The door shut with a thud and I barely thought about leaving. I saw my grin appear in the mirror. Just thinking about it had made me hungry. It would be a joy to finally be rid of her. Maybe it would do me good to take her one last time before I do so. An appetizer if you will.

 

With a few minutes to spare, I took a moment to spruce myself up. Figuring I should at least look my best while waving everybody goodbye, I straightened my hair up and washed my face with water. Water will always be free as long as there are toilets and I was glad to drink some of it down without getting blood in my mouth again. Fixing my dinner shirt I turned off and headed for the exit.

 

There was a moment’s anticipation when I reached what had been the cell to m door. I may have just seen another man swing open as easily as any other door but that didn’t mean I have going to be able to do it as well. A thought struck me tat I may still be in the would of the Crying Man, and all this may shatter around me the second I grabbed the handle. Taking a moment to shake the fear off, not longer willing t be distracted by it I easily as I had, I grasped the once broken handle and pulled it open.

 

The wall on the opposite side greeted me, and I responded with my grin. Resisting the urge to run up and try to hug it, I instead hesitated. Looking down to the door guard on the floor, I felt like I was crossing a threshold, to abandon the toilet brought a moment of uncertain worry. I had faced this place and become a better part of it. To leave again, even though I would return, brought mixed feelings of content and anxiety. I held my breath, and then crossed over, releasing it when I saw that I was truly outside.

 

To the left was the little black boy that I had seen on the horizon.

 

I paused, the urge to escape with a nothingness that chilled the very core of my being. I recognized the little black boy now, close up and with the full use of my senses returned. His fuzzy hair and concerned with the broken paint on the wall that he now picked on reminded me so much of a memory of long ago, now forgotten as if it were never there.

 

So this is why it had happened.

 

This is why the Crying Man had trapped me in the toilet, left me there to suffer and starve and sweat and vomit, warping my very soul until I understood myself for what I was. Now I knew the trials and tribulations I had gone through were for more than myself.

 

They were for this little black boy here.

 

And this is why I was here, in the room of the Crying Man.

 

Wandering up to him, the urge to escape filled me as it did in that cave, in that toilet. Knowing the full consequences of my actions was a painful learning, for I could only understand too clearly what was going on, what was to happen next.

 

This boy was not my prey, and yet he had died all the same.

 

“Hello there,” I said, crouching down to his level. He looked at me for a moment, then shyly turned away, becoming a lot more fascinated with the paint he was picking at. A thought struck me of how angry the Landlord would be if he saw this, but then I knew it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t even be able to mind after this.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Mu’az,” the little boy said, before giggling and turning away. I couldn’t stop my grin turning into a genuine smile as I saw this. His shyness was cute.

 

“Where’s your mother?” I asked him, if only to get his attention.

 

“She’s waiting for me,” he replied, now turning to me and resting his hands on my knees. I smirked as I saw him press his palms down, almost making me lose my balance. “You’re supposed to take me back to her.”

 

“Oh am I?” I said, sounding teasing. His face became blurry, and I could not help but feel as if I had taken a bullet to the heart.

 

“Why you crying.”

 

“I’m not,” I said indignantly, though we both knew I was lying.

 

“Yeah you are,” he said, before wrapping his arms around my neck. Without waiting I took him in my arms, hugging him tight as if t let go would be to lose my existence.

 

“Mum has sweets.”

 

“Oh does she?” I replied with a chortle, picking him up and looking to the door. It seemed different from before. It looked nicer, like it had a fresh coat of paint and new Victorian door handle. The Landlord had said he wanted to do that for years.

 

“Come on then kid,” I said, knowing now what I had to do. “”Let’s take you back.”

 

Reaching up to the door meant passing the toilet one last time, and I stared into it, seeing the Crying Man’s faceless features staring back at me through the crack, its neck still red from our fight. I covered the kids head in my shoulders as I turned to face it one more time. For a second I wanted to curse it, to drop the boy and take care of it one last time, finish off the wound I had started and rip its head off once and for all. But I couldn’t. It had won after all and if there’s one thing I’m not (or at least try not to be) it was a sore loser.

 

I opened the door in front of me; it was supposed top lead to the lounge, back to where everyone I knew was. Now I had no idea where it led, but first, I hoped I would find the boy’s mother and return him to her. If anything happens, I’d at least like to do that. Just to make up for some of the thing I’d done.

 

I grabbed hold of the handle, and for some reason thought of Tracey.

 

Epilogue

 

We got the call in twenty minutes ago, it was annoying because it wasn’t a house that was listed. It was just some nameless road in the middle of nowhere. We had to actually get the map out for as proper look for ourselves, and even then the road we were meant to go on was on the damn thing. It was the epitome of a back end country lane, and we had to fine it as soon as possible.

 

Mick ate the doughnuts as fast as he could. I was savoring mine, after being pulled out of our break we’d have probably been allowed an extra one, especially with us now in the middle of nowhere.

 

I left the village, kicking it up to fifth gear as soon as we passed the last row of houses. Even in our mode of transport and in our situation, there’s just something wrong about going too fast in a place where you don’t know if a kid’s about to appear out of the corner of your eye and into the front windscreen.

 

It was probably the call that had spooked me, I held it in. Kids got to me, they always got to me, and I never wanted to see one hurt ever. Even if it was just them getting scared, I never wanted to see a bad thing happen to a child. I knew that now that would never happen. What we were going to see was worse than anything found in an abandoned shack.

 

The road we were going to wasn’t even accessible by the normal roads. Janet had told us that someone she knew the area and had asked them about it. We had to trail down a two hundred meter dirt road before we got to the road in question. Where in the hell were we going? All roads had to lead somewhere. Whey was this road only accessible by one dirt road.

 

The question was tossed aside as the whole truck started to move erratically. The suspension was well serviced and highly maintained, but that didn’t stop the ground from being the most uneven service possible. For a moment I thought it was going to tip over, and had to stop myself from braking too hard, less I throw us all over.

 

We got through it pretty quickly, and I hoped that the person we’d be bringing back wouldn’t be too fucked up to require stable driving. We were close now. Just round this tight bend. A bend like this I was amazed we didn’t get calls round here more often. It looked the type of place designed to skid onto the wrong side of the road. We took it at twenty, wanting to go slow so we wouldn’t’\t miss it.

 

How the hell we would have missed it, I would never know.

 

The car was still half in the road, peeking out into it like a frisky guy at a junction, edging slowly forwards. Judging by the marks on the road, the guy was skidding even before he had to force himself to stop. What made me think it was a guy I don’t know. They say woman are dangerous drivers, but it’s the men that get into the extreme accidents.

 

We pulled alongside a group of five people, the first of which ran up to me and started wailing. Asking the necessary questions, I found myself being led not to the car, but to a young boy about ten feet away. He had been walking his dog when the car swung round the corner, the driver’s actions or motives unknown.  The dog appeared to have taken most of the impact for him, and lay only a few feet away, a messed up corpse that had been the unintentional hero.

 

The people had moved him, apparently because he had been in the ditch. You’d have thought people would have watched enough medical dramas to know not to do that by now, although I guess it was all dependants on the type of drama.

 

The first thing I noticed was the worst. He wasn’t breathing! A woman shrieked a friend of hers insisted that he was a moment ago. She started to check his breath for me and I had to push her away. Grabbing his nose and straightening his neck I began to breathe my life in for his. I had never done this before, I thought as I breathed into him, moving to his chest to start compressions. Thoughts of fucking it up filled me. I had heard one urban legend that a paramedic once got nervous and pushed down too hard, breaking a rib and piercing an old lady’s heart. I couldn’t help but imagine that I might do the same thing, and so went easy on him, my mind telling me I was being an idiot and made me push hard. Almost too hard, I was wasting time over a personal battle of nerves.

 

Panicking, I looked over to the lady, who seemed to go little freaked out herself by my look. Probably looking like I was about to faint, I moved to his mouth again. There could be a hundred more things wrong with him that didn’t require breathing into him. But other than what looked a broken leg I couldn’t tell too much. Nothing that…

 

I stopped, feeling something above me. I turned and caught a glance of the woman’s face as she looked at me, apparently appalled that I had stopped. I was sure that I felt… I shook it off. This was not the time! Did you really want your first resuscitation to be a failure? I moved back to him, aiming to just restart with the compressions, when coughing stopped me.

 

I looked down, seeing two brown eyes look by up at me, and a mouth that dribbled spit. The boy coughing again, and the woman looked overjoyed at me, apparently placing the blame of his survival on me. For now I ignored it, telling the child to stay down as looked him up. As I thought his leg was broken, but other than cuts and bruises it really did seem that the dog had saved his life. I breathed with relief that at least one would make it back to the hospital. Looking back up I saw Mick staring at me, looking a little proud of himself, Mick had been sort of a teacher and mentor to me the past few weeks, and I could tell that this small act had told him it was all worthwhile.

 

It took me a moment to remember that there was more than one.

 

I looked over to the car, and was met by the grim visage. In the driver’s side of the beetle, now smashed up by the large oak tree, an arm hung limply from outside a shattered window. The siren I had heard every since I got closer, every since I had switched the ambulance off, was revealed to me in its location.

 

On op of it, sitting there rather uncomfortably was the head of the man that had injured this poor boy and his dog. There might have been a million and one reason why he had crashed, but the truth came to me instantly. Street racing. The guy had been driving fast round such a corner. With this many warnings, there was no way he would have taken it this fast.

 

I exhaled loudly. There was no need to check up on him. He was quite clearly dead.

TBG – Chapter Eleven and remains

Chapter Eleven

 

I’m laying on a bed. It’s certainly not mine.

 

“Did you take care of it?”

 

“Yeah, it’s done.”

 

Voices. Horrible distorted. Never knew the world could go all wavy like this. My eyes are adjusting depth perception on the remote bythemselves and they’ve got no idea what they’re doing.

 

“She almost didn’t make it.”

 

“Better luck next time.”

 

There was two of them. Shit, that made things worse. No, things were already at the worst. Why wasn’t I dead yet, or was this death and either I’m slowly dying in a pool of blood and carbon monoxide or this is just how the underworld works.

 

Damn it, I need to get up. Need to get out. Need to get away. That lifeboat. I should be able to set it off myself, though I think I broke one of the oars.

 

“Woah, she’s moving.”

 

“Make sure she can’t get up. I’m going to go get him.”

 

I wait a few minutes to clear my head. The gas has gone now and I can breath again. Fresh air is a godsend to my lungs and I abuse the hospitality of whatever deity gives it to me. I stay still though, slowly lifting my lungs. One of them is still in the room and I need to get away from him before the other gets back.

 

From where the light shines through my eyelids I figure myself to be on the right hand side of it. If I’m in a room similar to mine, and all our first class rooms were on the same side, then it should be over-

 

“there!” I bolt for the door, falling out of the bed and collapsing in a heap , the blood to my legs cut off and not in an energetic mood. I’m immediately caught and I look up to see Robin staring at me with a grin. He lifts me back and tosses me onto the bed, curshing my legs with his weight and hefty smile.

 

“Let me go, damn hunter!” I scream, struglling futilely.

 

“Calm down, Jenn,” he shouts to me, pushing me down and completely immobilizing me. “You’re still delirious. Breath deep.”

 

“Is she okay,” I look round to see Will, who seems disturbed at what he sees. There’s another behind him, carrying a small bag.

 

After another three minutes of struggles and attempts to get away, I find myself being examined by a doctor. It takes a while, but since he decides not to give me anything and that I’m also still alive that I’m in no danger. He just tells me I need to get penty of rest and this boat is the perfect place for it.

 

I drink of water I get for myself from the tap later and Will and robin are telling me what happened, how they found me shivering in one of the lifeboats after Robin saw me wandering in there. They presumed me drunk at first but when they heard what happened to my room they put two and two together.

 

Though the answer was still wrong.

 

From what they can tell, there was a small gas leak in my room, possibly caused by a gap in the plumbing. It had filtered out so slow that it amy have been impossible to notice the build up if I went in there near when it started. And like a frog in slowly boiling waters I ended up only realizing when it was nearly too late.

 

They mentioned nothing of the trap.

 

My hand is covered in bandages, mummifying  my entire right arm. From what they could tell I fell into the mirror in a panic or something. I tell as much as I can back to them to satisfy their curiousity and kick them out as they insist on staying further to look after me.

 

Why was I still alive?

 

Ad I simply been found by the wrong people just in time?

 

Then why did it feel like my hunter opted not to kill me over going to remove all evidence that I was trapped in there.

 

There should have been a shirt round the radiator at the least.

 

Reagrdless I had survived.

 

One down, four to go.

 

And if it wasn’t for othes and luck I may have very well ended up getting pushed off the side as I foolishly dangled myself over it, my hunter tossing me in with the rest of the lure he sed to entangle me.

 

I hate this.

 

And yet I want to be challenged again.

 

Is that weird, the feel of being trapped, the threat of being killed, that hopelessness that sinks into my soul when I realize I’ve been tricked. The pressure of anxiety, and the attempts at resourcefulness to make my escape. That was good right, testing the limits of my cage, checking for everything, working out the trap instantly, using the mirror in order to fashion a screwdriver, pushing pass the pain of cutting myself and going loopey as I broke down the trap bit by bit. Even if I did slowly lose it in there,, I performed well to escape from that deathtrap (and that is what it actually was, a geniuine deathtrap). The only thing that could have made it beter was if I got the hunter trapped there as well/

 

No! I’m not hedonistic like that. I’m not doing this to play survival games. I’m doing this because I refuse to let them get to me. I’m not going to die for this game or any of its hunters. I have to keep telling myself that. I shouldn’t have to keep telling myself that.

 

And even if it was kind of fun, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. What would have happened if I didn’t get that ful length mirror. Would I have been able to find another solution. It was unlikely. If anything, I’ve only survived once again because my hunter screwed up a little. If he was a perfect assassin I’d be dead.

 

And I have to learn how to beat that.

 

I rest, letting my eyes fall short for a few moments. Then I’m back up again and locking the door into the room. As long as there’s no gas in her I should be fine.

 

I rest properly for another few hours, my trues euphorically peaceful.

 

When I wake up, another day would have passed.

 

When I get up, the sun is going down, clocking out of our hemisphere for another day, only to have to do its other side job. It appeared someone took the libery of dragging my bag in here for me and as I kneel down to it I can already smell the fumes coming off it. It reminds me of such cheap cider my friends bought years back and I choke out an urge to projectile whatever’s in me.

 

Most of the clothes on the outside still smell bad and I try airing out what I can on the chairs and anything else that lets fabric hang. My phone, glasses and ID are on the side table and I pocket them after slipping on some khakis and a top.

 

I declare this room for the Connoley empire.

 

With it now mine, I take the key card and head out. I’ve got no idea what I should do now but first things first is-

 

Arijit bumps straight into me and dodges to the side to spill coffee everywhere. He grunts in surprise and I quickly apologise to help him.

 

“no no, I will handle it,” he tells me, mopping it up with a tissue. But I go down to help him anyway.

 

“I’m alright now.”

 

“You have carbon monoxide poisoning,” he states. “You are not alright, and as my employee I insist you go back in there and relax.” He tells me all this without loking, so he misses my glare. The scum. Just because you pay me doesn’t mean anything. You’re all dirt to me anyway. The only one that matters is the hunter and until I get my hands on him, you’re all pawns for me to…

 

My head rushes with the contortion, and I lean against the wall with discomfort. Mybe he’s right, I find myself think, and I fall back into the room.

 

“Get me a coke,” I say to him as I leave.. “Can’t stand coffee. And make sure it’s in a can!”

 

The bed welcomes me back and I receive it eagerly.

 

Five hours and several trips back to the canteen for Arijit later, and I’m finally fit enough to go back out.

 

The hunter will have to be careful now. I seem to have obtained bodyguards with that last incident. Everyone swarms around me the best they can, constantly checking up on me like I was four and sick with the flu again. With the only time I get to myself being in the bathroom, I find even that being taken away from me as they ask Robin’s wife to go in with me. I suffer from her lack of non trivial conversation skills as fast as possible when I go in there now.

 

The crew have, of course, apologized furiously for the incident and have already offered me a full refund on my journey here. They tell me in private of course, and ask that I don’t get discouraged with using their services again.

 

Then they tell me that the rest of the journey I will have full access to all amenties. That was useful.

 

So the next night passes with me barely seeing the day. I feel queezey and make sure I’m careful with my food, always conveniently swaping whatever meals they give me and acting like a real pig with my new privledges. It’s not that I want to, but the carbon monoxide endangered my food supply and now I have to be super careful not to inject more poison into my system.

 

I guess that was ironic, the only food I could be sure wasn’t poisoned getting poisoned. Oh well.

 

It seems like I don’t die from the consump-tion of the duck in orange sauce, and I wolf it down quickly with relish to regain my strength. With the first trap down and the extra protection, I was now unsure what the hunter would try to do next. By the time we were off this ship, the turn would be over, and though I wasn’t sure if he would still try and kill me then, I should at least do my upmost best to make sure I never die at all.

 

My room’s out of bounds, and now Will is shacking up with Phil for the rest of the trip, all other rooms being fully booked.  Technically it would be easy to pull off the gas trick again if I wasn’t careful with the room, so I figured from now on I’d inite two people back with me each time I go there to ensure nothing funny goes on. The only question is who to pick. Should it be random.

 

Part of me wanted to say Robin. He had saved my life after all, and he seemed like the nicest of the lot despite his little act.

 

But wouldn’t that be stupid. After seeing me escape from the deathtrap, he followed me to the outside deck in a panic, wondering if I had figured anything out. All it would take was two words from me and he was in danger, so he followed me right to the lifeboat. Then picking me out, he went for the starboard side and got ready to toss me in. It was only with the intervention of other workers that made him stop, and handed me over while he went back to remove the evidence.

 

Of course, I had no proof of this.

 

If I make random choices each time, it’ll be more natural and enable me to get to know everyone better. The hunter must be ticked off that he failed in his trap, that shift in expression just once wuld be all I needed to tell who it was.

 

With that choice made, we spend the rest of the day chatting away on the luxery sofas. A student just a year older than me seems to be assigned specifically to the seven of us that night and we take time to order our drinks one by one to annoy him. After going over the most meaningless of reality television shows and enduring the most dreadful talk on a match they all watch earlier whle I was in gaga land, we head out to the life boat that I decided to snooze my gas poisoning away in. Whilst it turns out I didn’t break the oar in it like I thought, it wasn’t enough for Robin and Roann to do twenty minutes later when they decide to play kendo. After hearing that maybe it was the captain’s spare playboat, we sneak the oars into the ocean where no one will look for them.

 

Finally, we all go to retire. Finding a pack of cards on Ronan, we quickly move that we all play a game of Go Fish in my room. After unconvincingly trying to find Arijit all night to get him to join in because Will reckons he’s lonely, we spend the next three hours in my room tossing cards at each other and having everyone compliment my skills. I kick them all out shortly after.

 

And that concludes the second night of the trip, the ?? night of the turn.

 

Three to go.

 

 

Final 1500

 

Recognising my own faults, that’s good. I’m not some super villan with a blad head who’ll always thinkthemselves undefeatable and place on others. A true tatian rationalizes all of their mistakes, but takes them in all the same and accepts them for what they are, so as not to be crippled by each and every one.

 

And as long as it isn’t too late, I should be fine.

 

Now, I just have to make that final choice.

 

Ronan or Will.

 

Who should I use?

 

Who is best t call?

 

The CB radio clings to my pocket. It’s been with me the whole time and, if I’m lucky, Will still has his. He’s a curious enough type to want to know what is being said over the radio waves. Hopefully I can still catch him. That was the only thing in this situation that I had to rely on others to do, unless you count the whole trap thing in the first place.

 

I tune in.

 

“Will, will, come in Will. This is Jennifer.”

 

I wait.

 

“Will, do you copy? Please respond. Over.”

 

Nothing. I tighten my grip.

 

“Jen-“ I cut It off impulsively. “Jenn? Is that you?”

 

His voice sounds raspy. He’s been running around a lot. Probably panicking like all the others. I suppose in a situation like this, that’s all people like him can really do. That means I need to get him to be strong for me. Only by getting him to focus will I make sure he gets me to live.

 

“It’s me. Can you switch to the frequency I asked you to earlier?”

 

“Sure give me a second?”

 

That line might be getting used by the cabin crew, as they pass forth messages of survival to one another. Whilst my primary reason for switching was simply so that no one else could hear us, I did also think they need to handle the evacuation without us getting in the way, so I mentioned earlier if we wanted to talk to switch to another frequency. Making a game to ensure he memorized it also ensured privacy.

 

“You there?.” A pause. Do it properly, my fool. “Urgh, over.”

 

“I’m here. Over.”

 

“Where are you? What’s ging on?”

 

“More importantly, where are you?”

 

“I’m evacuating along with everyone else. I was getting worried when you weren’t with our group. Are you one one of the other ships. Over.”

 

”I need you to cme pick me up. OVer”

 

“What?” He sounds tired.”Where are you?”

 

“At the bottom set of stairs nearest your room. Into the engine section, three doors down to your left.”

 

“Good lord, what are you doin- Are you responsible for all this?”

 

“Unfortunately not, else I wouldn’t be asking for your help. I got trapped down here when exploring.”

 

“Okay, I’m coming to get you. Be careful. Out for now.”

 

Will wasn’t involved. I was guessing that for now. No, I was a scertain as I could be without evidence, and it was more a process of elimination that had got me choosing him to be my saviour once again. He was ultimately the less guilty out of all the possible groups. Robin maybe ranked under him in terms of suspicion, simply because I couldn’t place him at any of the accidents in places that made sense. Plus I later caught wind that he was heavily intoxicated

 

Not to mention it had to have been ‘him’ who had done it.

 

“I’m down here. Where are you? Over.”

 

Three doors down on the left. There should be a cleaning bucket there. Over. Wait!”

 

I hear nothing but static and assume.

 

“Are there some rubber gloves in there? Over,”

 

“No, no there aren’t.”

 

Lousey, unhygienic cleaners.

 

“Over.”

 

“Okay, never mind. Now listen, I think the door may have an electrical charge going through it. There’s a cable round here somewhere, and it’s not letting me touch the floor.”

 

“If you can’t see the cable then how do you know…”

 

“I ot a fairly good idea.”

 

“There’s a broom trapping the wheellock here. Did someone lock you in? Over.”

 

“I’m not sure, I didn’t hear any noises like that when I was in here? Over.”

 

“I just don’t get why you were down here. Over.”

 

“Hey. Ship sinking and rescue attempt forst, kiddo. We’ll have plenty of time for an exposition later. Over”

 

“What’s an exposition?” Over”

 

“Open the damn door!”

 

“There’s something weird at the top. Over.”

 

“Really, like what? Over”

 

Actually I think it may be part of the design. It looks different though. Over”

 

“Tere are some hinges on this side. Maybe you’re suppose to push them down or something. Over.”

 

“Yeah, they seem to click. Must be a special lock or something.”

 

If only I had the answer, I could have saved lots of time and not damaged myself. Waiting with foot tapping, I hear grinindg as the door is reanimated, pistons turning away from their resting place and into the door. I don’t hear any screams of agony as it occurs, so I assume it’s okay. There must be some kinfd of internal insulati0on in this place to prevent it from becoming one huge electromagnet, or maybe I just have y science wrong.

 

The door swings majestically open and I see Will push through the doorto greet me. Acting the part, I run up and hug him, thanking him for the rescue. He makes a wsie ass comment about being the hero and I laugh and punch him lightly.

 

“I can’t believe you were foolish to get stuck here,” he tells me, holding me tightly. “I was worried you know?”

 

“Sorry, but it seems like a few things happened and i-“ I can’t finish the sentence. There’s something in the way. His lips are over mine, and his smooth nose is brushing pass mine gently. He embraces me, and I feel his fingers push my hair back. My breath traps itself in my lungs and waits for him to finish, expelling when he finally lets me go. For a second I feel my cheeks bleed red, and part of me wants him to do it again, just because I didn’t quite catch that taste he had to give me.

 

“We can talk about it later,” he tells me. “For now, let’s get you uout of here.”

 

Turning away, he grabs my hand to lead me, only to turn back when he sees me grabbing his shirt. Through my hair I can see him smiling at me, a calm, gentle smile that feels custom built to help me in particular relax.

 

“Hey, come on,” he says with a reassuring tone. “We can do more later. But for now we gotta-“

 

My grip tightens.

 

I’m grabbing skin as well.

 

“Hey. Ow!”

 

I let you hug me! You do not respond by taking extra privledges.

 

“Hey. Hey! That hurts!”

 

You think I’m going to fall back and let you dod things to me. I am in control of the situation here. Not you. You were summoned by me and you will do as I see fit.  I give you a hg to show my graditiute, you do not steal my first kiss.

 

“Jenn,, what? Stop…” And don’t try to talk me out of it now. You had to go and do it. Was this your plan as well? Seduce me and then strike me down when I wasn’t looking. To think you also show up that I make a mistake.

 

“You crazy…”

 

Fall, creature, fall on the floor screaming electric blue. Fall knowing you were beaten, and will never win again. Let even your salivia turn against you, and your blood boil its way out of your body. Remain twitching as this ship submerges into the liquid blue and even if you should live form that, let the ocean take you for its own.

 

Be alone in your loss hunter, knowing that the price for hnting me was eternally more that what you thought to be getting in return.

 

***

 

I rush up the stairs, by now the speaker has stopped making announcements. That must mean there are no passengers left on the ship as far as they’re aware, and even as I reach outside to the main deck, I can see a buzz of fireflies covering the night ocean. Some as already reaching the horizon, while the ship lurches oddly for the first time. It ccours to me that I still don’t know what’s wrong the the hulking mass, but now I can make an accurate guess that it must have had a hull breach, else surely they’d be some major sign of fire in the engine room or up here.

 

Sliding down the deck, never a good sign, I run as fast as I can to the othe rend, noting that the little boat was no longer there. I had made it useless anyway and I continued skidding and sliding to the end of the boat where safety hopefully roamed.  Appreciating the full one hundred and ffty meters ??? of the ship in about thrity seconds, I twist the corner to see a collection of crew members panicking over the ;ast three boats.

 

They barely even look  at me except to taunt my lateness, and toss me along with all the rest. Our life [pod is the first to crash into the waters, and from there I meet up with the waiter boy we had serving our drinks earlier. I nod to him with a grin and he seems to return it, but it stays silent from then on. We’ve already got word that rescue ships oare on the way, and I get handled a blanket to share with others.

 

I scan the faces for anyone I know. The captain isn’t here and I wonder a little if he really does still go down with a pleasure cruiser. None of my work colleagues are here at all, and for some reason I am releaved. I think I really will have to quit that job after this. It’s all proven much too danger, but I can’t help but laugh at the situation. Wth a mixture of smarts and instincts, as well as a little luck, I managaed to preserve over the odds of having a deranged lunatic hunt after me. The fact that I had several remaining measures pleased me as well, though I feel disappointed at not getting to use them.

 

No, I should not eb like that. This is my first true victory, my dominance over those who would dare try to make me play with them.Ive won the first turn, and my prize is satisfaction. One was down. Others would fall.

 

I wonder if he knew how much I knew. That I suspected others. It wasn’t like he was omniscient after all. Did he even suspect that I suspected others? That I had spent hours contemplating the possibility that it was Ranan and or even Arikit. That I had shivered and nearly vomited when Robin found me, believing that I had been going thewrong way all along and he was somehow responsible for all of this.

 

I am sure I will find the full answers later, that I will get told that Will, the son of the CEO was missing as the last of the boats left for sea. That he was seen getting into one but shortly disappeared well after, and then will come the story of how his father sued the company, never knowing what his son was really doing, how he foolishly tried to build up trust to someone so he could kill them, and set up elaborate scenarios to test my ability and try me until I died. Maybe I could find ways to reveal his mistakes. Like rescuing me. Like giving mehis room. Not so much kindness but the options he tried to give himself that were always foiled by the accidental efforts of others.

 

Though I suppose it will be best that I don’t. I don’t want to reveal my own stake in all this after all.

 

Others were laughing with me, my reveling their relief. I let it continue, and they get to know each other beter in front of me and start to talk about what bad luck it was they decided for summer jobs on a cruise ship.

 

I agree with them completely.

 

A few days pass after that.

 

When I get back into the city I don’t even show up for work. I spend the days that I should be taking off at home in my room, waiting. I have time and I check up on Mrs. Gillepsie. With her own status as still alive, I give myself a five day break from activities. Despite all that had happened, I was still a suffering of carbon monoxide poisoning, and I wished to make sure I was up to full strength before tracing the jewishwoman’s actions.

 

I quit the job on the day before I was due to start up again. Left as many people as I could an a phone call telling them not to expect me. I think they were understanding of it. Not everyone nearly dies three times in a row ike that all on work related activities (unless it’s the CEO getting sniped again, they joked to me, mentioning nothing of the bereavement). I get a hefty severance package and my salary for the next year. At the end of the day, Martin and Phil pop over to return to me my Rubix cube. They try to chat but I have wargames night.

 

I spend the rest of the night with the radio and the television on,  each struggling to drown out the other in an eternal war that the radio won de to its static. I reward it with subsequent destruction and get to bed with only Tim waking me up to ask how I am twice.

 

The last day of the turn passes, and I work hard the next morning pulling what info I can on Mr. Wallace. Turns out he’s still alive as well, which is obviously good, as I’d hate to realize that I’m some schizophrenic psychotic who murdered him without realizing. As expected with only two days left, Mrs. Gillepsie outlives the turn as well.

 

I’d have to check at least two more times with Mr. Wallace though. There are, of course, plenty of reasons why he may not have been able to kill that day, and I would wish to learn them all before I strike him off as a passive.

 

Hopefully the next turn won’t be as long. If they’re shorter i can be assured to lose the hunter a lot easier. If I’m moving round the country like I plan to I should be able to keep away and focus on the bounties I aquire. Then, if any come, I can handle them at the time in situations that don’t suit either of us.

 

Since I’m stronger, I’ll surely win.

 

“Does your shadow know you’re following it?”

 

Chapter Six…I think

 

Four days had passed since my trip up to Scarbrough and, as the rules of the game had stated, the first turn had reached its end on that night I spent with James in the caravan. I know this solely on the appearance of a second envelope but yesterday, clattering through my door along with a bill for broadband and a Capital one credit card. I had originally thought of taking a glance at the documents I had received, but now I had no wish to indulge in whatever mainiac was trying to waste my time, and I deposited all the mail to the recycling bin, where it waited for disposal later on in the week.

 

I hadn’t found any further evidence for the existence of Mr. Francis Betterman. Besides other people that shared his name al around the world, the only proof of his existence was the telephone directory and the website which advertised his caravan park. Though each were extensive in their detail of the man, his website containing pictures of him with his family, they were the only examples and thus I had nothing extra to back up his claims to existence. Even if he did exist, I could find no reports on hisdeath anywhere on the internet or local news reports for the area. This may have not been too suprising, as the death did not have any major signs of suspicion of controversary behind it. I had figured that maybe being the ownerof a caravan park may have given him some small circle of fame to the local newspapers that would get him a sadly missed article given the circumstances, but a brief glance through whatever I could find revealed nothing.

 

I thought about heading back to Scarborough, of simply insisting that James doing a 360 on the A?? and rushing up nto the brother for definite proof of a body, but it was easy to predict such a situation to result in nothing. There would have been no reason for them to oblige in showing me a body. If they were in on the trick, then they would stall about and say that they didn’t want to show the body to a stranger. And in the now unlikely event they weren’t, they would say the same thing. I was better off heading the way I came from.

 

In the end, I simply had to abandon the search. I was ecstatic with this really. Whoever was playing this thing had made a big mistake by trying to play me. Jennifer Connolley was no fool. I had approached my localHSBC and opened up a brand new account in which to desposit all the bounty money I had received so far. A simple current account, whoever had put it in my original account would have no access to this now, should they jump out to ever tell me their joke. I had gone so far as to consider Swiss, but I didn’t believe it was necessary. Besides, I had a feeling I’d be using this a lot more.

 

So that was my choice. Not to play.

 

Not to play the game. Not to pick up the envelope in the morning and look at my bounty as I dripped frostie encrusted milk onto the picture. Not to spend a few hours pointing out which rules contradicted each other, or how they could have made it better. Not to think about the possibility of getting some easy cash, or to set up elabpourate traps to try and get away with murder. Not to rationalize with myself that if I did it right I could get away with murder. Not to be seconds away from my victim only to have armed police jump at me while reporters shoved microphones up my noses. Not to have scientists emerge from the bushes, taking notes for their sociology dissertations. Not to pass Go. Not to take #200.

 

Not to do anything.

 

It said there was no penalty for not playing, didn’t it?

 

So that’s what I’ll do.

 

I think Nash Equilibrium would agree with me.

 

It’s just a shame no one else did.

 

***

 

Wednesday now. My holiday p[ay had become so much more tewmpting now that it meant absolutely nothing to me, the one hundred and fifty quid of ‘goes straight in the debt pile’ now a mere pittance. Giving up that Enron of a job was now a distinct possibility. As long as I remained smart with this money, I could last a while without a job. Though I hadn’t quit yet.

 

So we were in Town. Me and James and Tim. Both were taking time off their studies to indulge me in a wander to the greater shops of Nottingham. I had calmed down now, and James was looking a lot happier than when I had threw him out of the car last Sasturday. It was a good time to relax after a stressful week of total stupidity.

 

We had already emerged from the workshop, my sizable False Balance army receiving another two regiments plus some Stormriders after some select purchases. Noprmally I’d hissed at how much this would cost me, but it didn’t seem to matter at the moment.

 

“Yeah, I had got a bonus,” I told them both after they inquired, not wanrting to bring it up in the store. “Something to do with my work being great.”

 

“What is it you do again?” Tim asked me, looking bored enough to ask Medusa if he could see her for a moment. It was a slowly declining process for him, and he shook his arms to tell us that he’ll beback to lively just as soon as he got the stench of paint fumes on lead models out his system.

 

“Research analyst,” I told him, admiring the unpainted False Judge within the ??, the bodiless Riddleklutz staring back at me behind its mask. The model so wasn’t worth it in terms of actual lead used, but he’d helped me dominate in demon scourge games. “It’s statistical analysis of the company’s demographic data or something. I can’t say I pay too much attention.”

 

“And yet they give you bonuses?” he retorted, yawning the carbon monoxide out of him (think paint fumes). “Makes you wonder what you get if you actually worked.”

 

“I do!” I complained back. “Hey, I work hard at that place. It’s good to get appreciated every once in a while.”

 

“That’s true. Just the other week you were saying how much you hated it.”

 

“Yeah, I guess i just didn’t notice how much I was being appreciated.”

 

Fast food was our next destination. However, on the way we were waylayed by arcades and had to defend ourselves valiantly upon on onslaught of fruit machines. It looked like we were without hope until we found the legendary staircase that existed beyond our illuminated adversa\aries and shortly we were able to reach the holy land of coin op and dance games, where we celebrated for many hours with pool wenches and ales from the vending machine. It took us about an hour to get out, James inability to die on Other Fists Three proving meticuosl until Mr. Jupiter was able to be the most broken character and wipe the floor with him.

 

I never liked playing against the computer myself. Human opponents were much more of a challenge in their ways, their ability to freestyle, adapt and overreact gave them qualities the computers could never have. Even a weakness could prove a strength at times. If anyone was ever going for me, I’d definitely consider such tactics. How many would be fooled by a helpless girl looking like she had given up, only to get shivved by themas they took their ime in finishing me off. With so many ways, it was just too easy.

 

 

I guess, thinking about it, part of me sdidn’t want to stop thinking about it. It was ultimately such a simple game. A surviva game. Thought up hundreds of times by hundred of people. Performed throughout the centuries, stereotyped by italien hitmen. Paradied ion films and videogames games to the nth degree. But it always remained fantasy, the very thrill and infinite variety of it appealing to the minds of everyone with ambition. Which of us could deny that wish completely. To e given a permission to kill someone. Even if that very permission was transparent, or even a trick. Everyone has someone theywant to kill, no matter how much they deny it to themselves. Everyone has someone that believe that the world would be better, even if just for themselves, if there was one person that wasn’t here. But of course, we’re human beings. We both smart and scared. Smart enough to know not to act our primal urges on others and scared of what we might unleash if we did, be it the law or oursaelves.

 

And that game allowed us to do it how we wanted, and only if we wanted. That would have been the great part of it. Being forced to kill the last boss with a rocket launcher was amusing one time only. The chance to use anything and everything you could get your hands on allowed for that infinite variety that usually existed only in my imagination.

 

I guess, in a way, I just wanted to stop being sick of life.

 

The trip to fast food heaven had been arduous, our one hour detour starving us significantly. I’m lucky I had brought bottled water with me on a whim, else the hot desert day might have already taken me to a place where I dreamt of sand being a nice beverage for me to have at that moment. There was no sand near me at all at this moment, so I’d have to put a request for my brain to stop teasing me.

 

“But is it too much to ask for at least the illusion of choice,” Tim continued as we paced the long sparsely crowded high street. “Machina had that. We had a choice during the game and we had a choice of three endings during the last stage.”

 

“That didn’t matter though,” James contradicted. “No matter what you did during the game, you could just switch your allegiances to see which ending you wanted.”

 

“But that wouldn’t matter to most people. Most of the idiots out there would be  content with the premise of three endings, do one of them on easy and then over to the website to read up on the other two, before claiing to their friends that they had got everything and that the game wasn’t hard enough.

 

“That’s an interesting jump.”

 

“That’s just it though,” Tim continued. “Most say they want these things, but they really just want to think they have them. People don’t want the ability to earn multiple endings, but , to make them think their early choices when they started playing meant something, even when they clearly didn’t. Games don’t’ provide that now, even when they claim to. I mean, I personally want a game where you have a choice of A or B right there at the beginning, even if it was just male or female, that eventually led to two completely different sets of multiple endings, with two different games in the same setting.”

 

“That zombie game did that,” I remembered briefly. I loved zombies.

 

“But did it though? From what I saw of that game, both characters just did the sdame things, and then their cut scenes were worked around a little. No real difference. What I’m thinking is two aliens on opposite sides, with other different factions apart from the two main races, starting on different planets, being forced to play apart from the other. Even if you did get to the other’s part of the game, it’ll be completely different. And you may say that people want simple shoot em ups, but there are other people like me that want the difficult and mentally challenging games that diversify themselves. They can’t be that hard to make. Developers are just lazy or too focused on graphics and which console is going to rape which console.

 

Some people really needed a rant control. With only three contributions to the conversation, me and James were already lost in listening as Ti illustrated every little point he could find, countering every argument we could think of, some even before we had thought of them, yet somehow managing to attribute them to us. Both of us grinned at each other, knowing the score and having already placed bets that Tim would win the argument. This was no game to me. Most debates started with the impossible condition that the idiot on the other side had already cememnted his opinion within the bowels of the earth. All I could do now was nod my head and agree.

 

I suppose you have a point. I’d always like-” I said as the wind caught passed my ear sharply and the  pavement in front of me shot a block of rubber into the air with a quiet ping.

 

Stopping briskly, my heavy bag jumping ahead of me, I looked estranged as the dust followed it, permeating a light vapour into the air. That was weird, I thought, looking closer, walking closer to it as the others carried on without me, only partly noticing I was no longer walking. Getting next to it, it looked at the now clear indentation in the pavement, a little hole destroying yet another part of the desperately in need of replacinghigh street. Had I just missed something? I looked around, no one else searching around as I had. Maybe it was just the wind bringing something off the road. Weird though, there’s a clear hole here and…

 

Another ping, and I watched as just ahead of me another crater formed in the pavement. That wasn’t just there, the dust told me. What was going on? Looking up, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. What could even be causing it? These indentations looked to have been made by a jackhammer. Slowly, I saw a crack start to formon the second crater.

 

“Jenn?” James said. “What’s up?”

 

Nothing was up. I nearly said, instead turning around and getting a full dose of light injected into my eyes. What the fuck? I fliched and squinted, my body twisting for my hand to try and block whatever was attacking, when I heard a third ping rush pass my head and bury itself deep into the ground.

 

Fuck!

 

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

 

I nearly fell back, my bags dropping to the floor without me. Fuck!

 

I looked to Tim and James. James was looking at me confused, a calm expression on his face. Tim wasn’t even facing my way. Fuck!

 

Oh god… no. No! Fuck!

 

The bag hung limply from my hand as I swung around, slipping it off as if it were handcuffed to me. I had to get out of here. It didn’t matter where. My legs stretched out, my tight jeans complaininginstantly. I ignored them. I ignored James and Tim, sprinting passed them in a heartbeat.

 

“Oi, Jenn!” James called after me. For that second I felt the urge to turn back around, to tell him. Perhaps warn him, or at the very least say I was okay. Make an excuse as normal. That I needed to pee, that I forgot something. Fuck was i. I’m not thinking anything. I’m running. Run.

 

No time to think. No time to do anything. No time to sit and calmly analyse the scenario presented before me. Like there wasn’t actually a threat. Like there was no danger. Only time to run. Only time to retreat. Only timeto escape.

 

I took down the high street, the downhill pavement making me regret having worn platforms as they punished me with each agonizing step. People weren’t quick to step out of my way and I felt my throat close as I was forced to stop for a second, a sudden crowd in the street overcoming me. Dodging what I could, I screamed to myself for people to let me passed, hopping on the spot as an old woman saw my stress and made an exit for me.Pushing past, I looked ahead. Why was this road so long? The last turning was just a bit behind me but the one afterwards was.

 

I hear something. Another ping? More dust shooting into the air? I can’t tell. Just another ten meters and I’d be round the corner. My legs wanted to give out on me. My thighs were bloated and ready to explode. My tongue was wet and dry at the same inapproachable time.

 

Fuck! I skidd, nearly tripping and grabbing a bus station for support. People turn to glance at me for a second and as a fool I look back, clambering around the prefab to hide behind it a little, still sprinting on dying legs wearing inapporopiate footwear

 

I take the next five meters in one stroke and swinging round, I hit the corner anddisappear around it, more dust erupting behind me.

 

Could I stop there? No, no of course not. I don’t even know what’s going on. Fuck.

 

Push it further. I look up, my chin dripping water to the floor before. The multitude of shops looked back and I scan the roofs of half of them. I can’t waste time. I look to the buildings themselves, seeing a fast food joint we had never intended on visiting again. With a shoive, I pursue it, catching its entrance and thursting myself it, my state catching the eyes of everyone there for a split second, before I dart at the toilet. Disabled but doesn’t matter. Ripping the door open without checking the occupied, I fall through, landing on the wet floor on my demin knees. I exhale, and then quiockly clumber round to shut the door.

 

Safe.

 

I escape from my hunter for a short recess.

 

“It doesn’t matter how many there are. There are a finite number of people after all. All I have to do is keep killing those who are willing to kill, until none of them are left.”

 

“But can you really do that. Would

 

Of course I’m able to do it. It’s either that or let myself die..”

 

Whoever’s doing this has perfect information on all of us. Spending the night here sent the envelope to me here. Whoever it was knew I would be here and not back at my house. But how, I decided this last night spur of the moment, yet the letter would have had to have been posted at least twelve o’clock yestersay. Was my move predicted somehow?

 

At the football game

 

“What if I told you, that everyone in the stadium here, from those in the back seats to the players on the field, were all p[articipants in the Beautiful Game.”

 

“I’d look for a witty reponse and then hit you with it.”

 

“Is it that hard to imagine. Look at us. For all we know, we are two of the remaining four players left in the game at the moment, and everyone else is dead. Tell me Jennifer. How many people do you think are playing the game? How long do you think they’ve been playing? Do you honestly think you can kill them all?”

 

“Are you trying me for a fool? You honestly think that if over fifty thousand people were active hunters then we wouldn’t be noticing something, an extremely high death rate for one. People talking to each other.”

 

“Who would talk? Those who have no proof besides the envelope would be dismissed as nuts. Those who do kill will keep it quiet. The closest you might get is a hunter with nothing to lose and tries to blow the lid on the whole thing by turning himself in, but even he would only have a few disaccoiated names and not enough evidence.”

 

“We are all alone in this game There is no team in I.”

 

“And yet here you are, running out of reasons why I shouldn’t remove you.”

 

“I wish to help you, Jennifer.”

 

“So you can kill me yourself?”

 

“Exactly.” That was supposed to be sarcasm.

 

I stare at him. He’ss smiling, yet also has a sinister seriousness to his face.

 

“You survived three of my traps. That makes you the second to have done so. I wish to play against you again sometime, so I will help you survive until that turn comes again.”

 

“The turns repeat?”

 

“I assume so. It has not happened to me yet, but as you say, there are only a finite number of people in the game. A second chance must occur sooner.”

 

“You’re a freak.”

 

What was it? Two meters. Two meters half. How long was the long jump back in school? A lot longer that’s for sure. But how far could I jump it?

 

Dream sequence

 

With exhaustion in hand and mobile phone on the brain, I finally let my body fall onto the unexpectedly comfortable hotel suite bed, the padding covers absorbing me into them, as I flicked the lights to dim and started scrolling.

 

This had certainly saved time and effort, though I was still worried that Irene would mention something to her husband. The plan so far seemed to rely solely upon her not mentioning anything. I didn’t want to upset whatever balance he had, anything that might knock him off his current typerope might change his schemes completely, whether he has them or not.

 

The person in the other side of the two mexapixel camera stared back at me. This was the first time it had been of any real use bar photographs in the pub and I scanned through each snapshot of part part of every document that I took back at 42 New Lane.

 

He had actually kept it on the top of his desk. In plain site. The place was reasonably tidy, so it was a spot of luck that I could at least grab that. Furthermore he had a copy of the player involved in the last turn.

 

Both profile sheets would be useful. If either player was dead in the time set for his turn, then I would know he was an active hunter. If not, I at least know have the names of two other players involved in the game.

 

Maybe I should pyramid this? Hunt down each person along the list of bounties until I find one dead. It would certainly get complicated and there’s the issue of discovering who killed who if I go with it for several turns.

 

I yawn, and turn for my tomato juice, slurping it down like it was thick soup, the pulp swimming round my teeth like a cat squeezing through a gap. No, I’ll need more resources to do that. It would have to wait. I should probably start hunting, no tracing one or two of them down though, see if I can get more. Maybe then I can get some sort of database set up. It’ll be useless though if I don’t find a way to get their bounties each turn though. Maybe I should get people on the inside each month. I have enough money now to hire private detectives, though it would be difficult to convince them to hunt for me.

 

As for Mr. Wallace, I just need to wait to see if Mrs. Rickmoore in dead in the next ten days. If she is, I’ll have to confront him about it.

 

“And then what? You’ll kill me.”

 

The voice startles me from my daydreaming. By the door of the room, a man stands watching over me. With no time telling how long he’s been there.

 

I can’t see his face just yet, since he’s hanging back in the shadows, but he’s wearing a brown tweed jacket and trousers lithat look like they belong in Casablanca. For a second, I can’t help but think secret aganet, but then my hand in focused on slipping under the covers, looking for my flickknife.

 

“Who are you?” I asked him tensively. It’s not there! Did I leave it in my car?

 

“You spend half the day talking to my wife about me and you don’t know.”

 

Fuck!

 

Where did I go wrong?

 

“Simon Wallace.”

 

“Yeah,” he says, flicking his finger at me from his forearm as he headed for the room’s only chair and fell into it with the threat of breaking it. “Simon Wallace. Pleased to meet you. Don’t bother getting up.”

 

I watched as he picked up my bag, left on the dressing table by the wall near the door. Rummaging through it, he found what he was looking for instantly. His profiue chart. I waited as he scanned through it, judging the distance from the window and wondering just why the hell there were bars on it, blovking my three storey jump to the other side. Even if there weren’t, he could probably grab me as I scrambled for it. The door was out for the same reasons.

 

His wife talked. She must have done, but that wouldn’t explain how he knew me or even got here. Did he have camera’s in his house? I’m sure he didn’t. They must have been hidden.

 

“Not the best picture of me, wouldn’t you say?” It certainly looked a lot better than he did at the moment. He was unsahved and smelled in desperate need of a bath. “I probably need to shave my head when I get the chance.”

 

“Erm, yeah,” I reply, holding the covers to hide my nakedness as I get up properly. “Listen, Mr. Wallace. Know that I didn’t have…”

 

“Any intention of killing me?” he finished. “How convenient, and just when I have you at my mercy as well.”

 

Mercy my smooth rubber ass! You’re fifty nine years old. Though you’re big and bulky, I’m a pretty good runner and a tactical genius. Even if you should catch me, I’m one scream away from alerting hotel staff and getting you arrested for trespassing.

 

“And even if you do escape, Ms. Connolley, how long do you think that would last?”

 

He knows my name. How? It’s Emily butters that visited 42 New Lane today. There’s no obvious way he could have found out this quick. I even paid the hotel register in and Amanda Simmons just so it wouldn’t cause problems.

 

“This is your first time here, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes,” I reply, like the location really made a difference.

 

“Tell me, how many have you killed so far?” He was taking control of the conversation, but I found I couldn’t refrain from answering.

 

“That’s complicated,” I said, glad that my refrain weas still ambiguous.

 

“I’m sure it is,” he replied, stuffing the profile back into the bag. “That’s why you should back out now. You’re still young. There’s no need for you to get involved in this sort of life. You should live in the real world with everyone else. It’ll be happier for you that way.”

 

You-

 

“-dare?” I shouted, leaping from the bed. “You think because you’re old you can tell me what to do with wisdom? Live in the real world. Live happier. Live easier?! Who couldn possibly want such a broing life? I’m already sick of it.”

 

“Stop, you’re…”

 

Choking him, squeezing the life out from around his neck and watching the death spread around him, infecting his body like a cancer.

 

“That is the real world? A work of bueracracy and tedium. Of mindless drones and repetive strain injuries. Of talks of sports and makes of cars! You’ve ogtta be kidding me. How can you be that old and not be sick of it? How can you even suggest I don’t just abandon that life?”

 

“Please…please…”

 

His mouth spits involuntarily, his salivia landing disgracefully upon my cheeks. I don’t care.

 

“I was going to let you live, to see how you played the game, see if you were innocent in all this. But if you’re going to come and do this you can just die like every hunter that dares to ruin people’s lives. So go right ahead and die for me, will you?”

 

He’s already dead. For some reason I choose not to notice.

 

“I won’t be told what to do no longer. I won’t be ordered around by work, my father, you, or some mindless game that thinks it can own me by threatening my existence.”

 

The mouth continues to make sounds, even as it has the throat forced up it.

 

“I will be free!”

 

“Yet you condemn yourself with each life you take.”

 

“What?”

 

Suddenly my hands are locked in a battle to break the other’s fingers, squeezing round each other so hard that they’re all red with the blue liquid puring through my veins. I reel back as he pops out of the room like someone hit pause on the video camera and got him out the way.

 

Now, with a lightning bolt that shakes my world, a shadow appears.

 

I think I know by now, but something isn’t letting me spoil it.

 

“Who are you?”

 

The shadow doesn’t answer. Indeed, it can’t. We don’t actually know each other yet. The black void is a gap in my life that I can’t see. That’s wrong actually. I know it could speak to me. But instead, it starts walking towards me, but this time it’s different. I’m closer to the door, so I start to escape, taking him out of my vision just in time to see he hand raise to the sky.

 

Like a carpet being pulled, the floor is taken out in front of me as I’m impaled by a thousand girders that run the hotel apart. We all fall, and I crash into an opern construction site that reminds me of the one where I used to work.

 

I can’t do anything now. My legs are trapped, possibly gone under the colossal weight of beams that wouldn’t be trapping me if a certain homosexual errand boy wasn’t also here. I cry out in poain, my tears choked out yb the velocity of the impacts as I struggle uselessly. A clean cut would have been better than this.

 

My shadow hovers over me, staring at me with black eyes in perfect lack of contrast to the rest of its black body. I’  choking hairballs as I scream for that hotel help, and I reach for a bellboy that will never come.

 

Could we just get this over with already? Part of me screams, facing the shadow with what I hope is a grim expression full of resolve and determination whilst somehow knowing that I’m a sniveling crybaby at this particular moment. All I need now is for the curtain to unveil and reveal everyone I’ve ever known or loved.

 

The shadow kneels down to me, reaches out, and wipes his fingers under my chin, as if examining lips it wished to kiss. I stop. Okay?

 

“Who are you?” someone says.

 

“Don;’t you know?” it replies. “I’m your hunter.”

 

Two seoncds, and I’m back on my bed, the sheet covers not even over me, and I’m panting from exhaustion as the sweat drips off me in puddles. I shiver, and look round the room in case any demons just happened to be there as well as in my head. Flicking the light switch to full, I rush for the door and check the lock. It’s still bolted., and the window is still closed. No one came in.

 

I relax to the floor, only screaming when I notice it.

 

“Ah, ah ah,” I mutter, feeling my dead leg go fully numb beneath me and trying to get it back into shape. I play pat a cake with it a few times, but give up when I notice it wants a lie in.

 

I was having dreams about it. That was bad. I couldn’t waste time like this.

 

No wait, was it because of that? I have been pushing it a little these past few days. I haven’t even eaten properly these pass two days. Motorway food does nothing good for the constitution. This was something I hadn’t even considered. If I don’t keep up my physical health through diet and exercise, how long would it be before I begin to mess up. I might have to start regularly going through enduring situations and yet here I am relying on tomato juice and health bars as my main source of nutrion.

 

Dang! Well, it was simple to fix, but I’ll have to time and focus my habits a bit from now on. Last thing I need is messed up dreams where I confront my bounties like that.

 

That was my two worse fears in one. Getting cornered by a bounty who thought I was going to kill him when I wasn’t, and losing myself to the game. I have to be stronger than that. If I freak out, I may survive, but I’ll lose everything.

 

Last thing i\’m going to be is just another psycho.

 

 

The next morning, I’m out after around nine hours of sleep. I’ll cut it down to seven next chance I get, but for now I have to get out of here. I’m not needed round here, and all I have to do is wait for Mrs. Rickmoore to expire or not. I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want to see this guy again.

 

Regardless, moments before I hit the duel carriageway, I turn back, heading for his house one last time, ensuring that the old man at number forty two was still alive.

 

His car wasn’t there, but he wife seemed okay. I left it at that, and headed back for the motorway.

 

It seems I could focus fully on my hunter for now.

 

Final four thousand

 

“Echo breaker to tango one. Come in tango one.” This was getting tedious already.

 

“We should return these Jenn, we’ll get in trouble.”

 

“I didn’t copy that Tango One, please repeat.”

 

“I said, you know what, never mind. I’m going to go to bed. Call me if you need anything poison related.”

 

“I’m out for the night too.”

 

“Fine,” I said dejected, as both CBs cut out. Why were humans like this, so intentionally boring. It was like they only wanted to do things as long as they were convtroversial with instant satisfaction. All we had done wasb borrowed radios from the cabin crew. Eariler they had been standing on top of tables just to scream before the waiters showed up to pull them down. Now I try to spark a little fun and they act like it’s childish. Surely it’s more fun to do something and not get caught than the other way round.

 

Well, it dsidn’t matter. That wasn’t the point of this.

 

I switched the radio off and left it by the side table. I felt like getting an hour of sleep, but didn’t want to rsik turning that into a nighttime of sleep. With a day passing quick, it was clear that the hunter would try to strike again tonight. With two already gone, this would be the final trap that he’d try to set. The others had been traps anyway, I didn’t want to get into the mindset of a pattern but it appears to be what the hunter prided himself on.

 

Something that would take the bounty out without much suspicion.

 

It was clear with that how this one played. As long as I die, he gets his bounty. If he’s playing like that, I can assume them to be an active and competent hunter. He likes the game. Whoever it is is glad to be playing and wants to play as much as he can. He also wants his bounty to know he’s playing them, and that he wants to beat them. Else the first trap wouldn’t have been that flawed and reliant on other people.

 

It’s not just beating them. He wants us to know we’re being beaten, that we are nothing before his power. The second trap gave me plenty of chance to escape, and I wasted most of it and still got out. There are quicker ways to kill people even in private.

 

Foolish hunter, you shall soon learn you’re nothing compared to me. I already have counter measures to your next plan, whatever it is.

 

 

I doze lightly under the cover of my bed lamp. It’s warm, but it keeps me out of total slumber for when it happens.

 

RED ALERT REWD ALERT. THIS SHIP HAS BEEN DAMAGED AND IS CURRENTLY UNDERGOING EVACUATION PROCEDURES. COULD ALL PASSENGERS LEAVE THEIR CABINS IN A SAFE AND ORDELY MANNER AND PLEASE BELIEVE THAT THIS SOUNDS LIKE WHAT IT WOULD DO WERE THIS A RELATIVELY DECENT EVACUATION WARNING.

 

Evac? Amazing. To think the hunter would go so far as to damage the ship for the final part of the trap. Were we to sink, sending all those still onboard to a watery grave. If so, the entire ship was now a deathtrap, and all the hunter need do is make sure I failed to get off it.

 

No, he knows I won’t get off it.

 

He knows I’m not panickey, I haven’t had two attempts on my life whilst knowing of the existence of hunters and haven’t curled up into a squash ball to bounce around the ship’s hull for nothing. He must know that by now, seeing how close we’ve been this entire time. My plans are to find him now and settle this, and he’s thinking the exact same thing. He knows I’ll stay and make sure he drowns and he intends to use that against me.

 

All I have to do is use that against him.

 

Evacuation will take at least another ten minutes of the drones mindlessly panicking outside, so I wait for them all to clear off, their footsteps scattering the corridors like ants with iron boots. A few times people bang on my door, but there’s no one home for the first fourteen times. Hopefully, the cabin crew won’t check the rooms since there’s no smoke or fire around here yet.

 

With that reminder I take my shirt and make it into a suitable face scraf. I should note that I don’t know exactly what the hunter’s done to the ship to make it crash, but it more than likely involves the engine room. I’ll have to be stealthy heading down there. From there on I can figure what he’s done and where he is. There’s a chance h’s left other traps for me as well so-

 

“Jenn, are you in there?”

 

No, no I’m not. Just go away and let this room drown.

 

Maybe I ought to be the sole survivor of this ship wreck, that would certainly make sure there’s no hunter in my way and I wouldn’t have to bother with these people anymore.

 

I would have noo need for this job come the end of the turn anyway.

 

Ten minutes pass. The time limit was too much of an issue to check ‘it’ out one last time, so for now I’d have to leave it and hope for the best. It was all set up two hours ago anyhow.

 

When silence finally conquers the corridor, I step out into it, gazing around for any signs of anyone. It’s empty and I tiptoe the living quarters.

 

Out for obvious reasons, I skipped passed the elevator and headed for the stairs. The entire place was a ghost ship now, with everyone up on the decks and out fo their minds with worry. What were they asking themselves right now? Were they blaming sabotage? Terrorism?  Did they think that Arijit was going to plunge this ship into Buckingham Palace or something. He wasn’t even religious.

 

Though I suppose it did inspire terror, it wasn’t exactly the same thing. Even so, the news reports should have a field day about this.

It htit the last floor, the smooth cream walls and red carpeted staircase turning into wire mesh and industrial boxes that probably did something important. Through the door a lot of equipment started pumping at me and drowning out my thoughts. I went on instinct and stood by the door, checking it for anything. This was mty way out after all, I didn’t want to get caught by another set of bolts on the door.

 

The klaxons switched to speaker again, the captain was screaming orders like the entire place was set on self destruct whiole the tyrant chased me. I couldn’t even see what the problem was yet. I half expected this place to be full of smoke  and tipping with water, yet each motorized doohickey seemed to be running fine. I guess these ships are built to last even when they’re damaged enough to throw everyone off them.

 

With hesitantncy filled to the brim with uncertaiancy and then hesitancy held within tredipation, I swung the door open, heading into the red flashing room that interweaved all the bottom parts of the ship.

 

I was no ship person. I knew the basics that others had pointed out to me, but I couldn’t say that the weird rumbling thing to the right of me was a hydroxide pressure remover or was just filled with a thousand hamsters fighting to the death. Regardless, avoiding traps in this place should be relatively simple, as long as I kept my eyes open and senses alert.Just because my ears were occupied with the sound of death all around me shouldn’t stop me from being focused.

 

I pace down the corridor, fixed for anything suspicious. I knew everyone now, spent the last few days speaking to every last one of them. Recognising them by face would be easy enough, even if I did know who was responsible.

 

Could I waste time here? The ship was going down after all, and here I was at the bottom. I should be seeing the warning lights everywhere. I am for that matter, but I should be heeding them. Damn, could the trap of this place be that I spend too much time looking for the hunter while he’s already pissed back up to relative safety? There’s no major need for pride on his side, nor is there recognition. He can be a sneaky manipulative fuck and all I have to die is die for him to win the turn. Escaping would be smart right now, but it would also be defeating-

 

Stop. A sign. Written in black marker on paper stuck with bluetack against an iron door that just makes it confusing.

 

Does your shadow know you’re following it?

 

Here.

 

I don’t even begin to know where I say what’s wrong with this, but I know this is where he plans me to be.

 

Of course this is a trap.

 

This is The trap, the only one he actually plans to kill me with.

 

Guess I should step right into it then.

 

As I do, I see a door straight ahead of me, about ten meters on the other side of the room. The room is a cutaway, with two industrial doohickeys to the left and right of me, taking up most of the room and leaving room only for a walkway on the left and right sides of the room with another in the mioddle that leads to the next door.

 

The machines aren’t on (at least I don’t think they were), but I can hear humming coming from the lights, which were set to maximum annoying glare.

 

Staying against the wall, I slide sidesways down to look at the right walkway. Devoid of life I bounce over to the left hand one, empty as well. Is he in here at all. Maybe I should just shut the door and lock it behind me. If I do that, I should check the door on the other side. If I lock that one shut and then head back to the first one and jam that ibe aktogether, then he’s got no way out and I’m free to get back on the lifeboats-

 

A crash. A bang. A wallop.

 

Well fuck.

 

The entrance crashes shut as I reach the second door, the sound of two sheets of metal scratching into place and jamming it shut, as another noise on the outside rushes off into the distance. It’ll hardly take Seuss to know what happened before I turn around.

 

The door was shut. I knew it was locked and even if I didn’t, I could see those two weird bolts on the top of the door impeding me once again.

 

Well, I had certainly made an ass of myself right now and here. I didn’t even need gas to take meout this time. The foolish hunter obviously planned to just leave me here to corrode with the rest of the ship.

 

Repeating the same trick twice seemed amateurish, but it may have made sense. We were essentially both trapped on the ship after all. If he had intended to gas me to death the other niught there would have been no need for a second accident to occur on board. Therefore, he would just have to repeat it.

 

Of course, there is the matter that he brought materials to destroy the ship with.

 

No, He may not need materials.

 

Of course I can’t say i\’m unprepared for this. Even a rabbit wouldn’t go near the same trap again after just narrowly evading it without bringing something to get in the way of the farmer’s intentions. I’m not unprepared in the slightest. Just completely unprepared.

 

Okay that’s not true at all. I had several ideas of what to dohere and all I need to do is-

 

Hello there!

 

Maybe I could just work on the fly after all.

 

About three feet from the second door, scattered between a lunchbox and a hard hat, lies a tool box of life saving proportions +3. Red and rusted, it was just the treasure chest I needed to see at the moment. I could see the screws on the sdoor here and this thing hadto have something I could use, perhaps even a-

 

No…

 

Too easy. Far too easy. I would be turning around to look at my dead wife if I did this now, taking the apple and thanking the old lady for her genorsity. The toolbox was obviously a fake and as my hand nearly it, I felt an uncomfortable bristling that made the hairs on my back stand on end.

 

No way.

 

The floor was electrified.

 

The toolbox sparks as I kick it, the spanners and tools shaking up on the inside. Knocking it over, I see everything scattered and light up the metal walkway. One of the smaller pieces dropping between the gaps before I can idenfiy it and drowning in the shadows below.

 

Fuck!

 

The entire floor must be electrified. I can’t feel anything with the rubber of my soles protecting me but that has to be the case.

 

How powerful is it? I’m no monkeymade rubberman but I might be able to withstand about a hundred volts tog et the screwdriver and pull it away from the current. Of course with no way of testing it, the temptation of touching the floor was about the same as that of opening certain doors on airplanes at 40,000 feet…. Strangely appealing.

 

I head back for the door, kicking at it and feeling something electromagnetic. Fuck! The door was affected too. Just where does a ship hold all this power. Everything around me is pure danger and water has to start coming in soon. Once it does I get to be flash fried without an oil coating to help me along, though the amount of tanning fluids I have on me might object to that.

 

Focus! That gas did a number on me more than I thought. I’m starting to get complacent, making jokes where jokes are not due. Do I think that just because I beat two sticking traps by pot luck and make plans in advance I can just lie back and let instinct take care of everything. I am not stagnate!

 

I search the room twice, making sure I have everything in mind. The toolbox is out of bounds. All the screwdrivers are purely metal, and I don’t have a chance of holding one without testing myself for electrocondutively. I also can’t touch the door with my bare hands for the same reason. The second door is locked as well, and the first is unopenable with usually means as longas those hinge bars are in the way. Furthermore, there’s something blocking it on the other side, I think.

 

And I give myself ten minutes before this starts to become completely hopeless.

 

A ship should need about half an hour to sink at this size, I believe, though I don’t know the exact calculations. It would require a martian death ray to make it fall underwater too quickly, and I sincerely hope my hunter is human.

 

“Now, you need anything and Will can get it for you. He hasn’t been here long, but he’s capable. He’s also the least scariest looking of all the guys here, so it’s him or me you want to approach.”

 

“But you looked like you dragged yourself out of a swamp,” Will complained. “She’s not going to speak with you.”

 

“Ah yeah, but if she wants a real man she can’t come to you can she? You got a boyfriend, girl?”

 

Smile now, don’t let them know you’re a killer.

 

“Er, no,” I replied, accidentally catching a glance of the man’s bellybutton as it popped out under his sleeveless shirt. Five seconds in and that question came up. Amazing, a new record.

 

“Then she’ll be wasting her time to speak with you, won’t she?” Will gave off a snort of annoyance, one which I felt like mimicking but held back, merely laughing as the larger man got closer to me and whispered in ym ear. “I think he’s in a little bit of denial love. Maybe you can cure him for us if you got the time.”

 

“I’ll consider it,” I said smiling.  If the hunter is on site, where would he be?If he was a worker, he’d have had to come in the pass few days. He may also have chosen to set me here and then come later, so I should watch out for any other newcomers to the place. I should also find if there are any recent employees, but I’ll need to ask someone I know hasn’t been here for a while.

 

“How long have you been working here?” I asked Robin, causing a look of confusion to show on his face, surely he wasn’t stupid enough to forget such a thing.

 

“On this project….” He began, looking up to where his brain hopefully was to get the answer. “I was here when we started so it should be about three months.”

 

“Is it good here?” Who cares if it’s good here.

 

“Not bad. Not bad. We got a whole new bunch of workers here in the past few days, same as yourself I think. But most are okay. Only one I don’t like is the boss.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah, bloody pkkie. Acts like he owns the lot of us the way he bosses us about. Most of the time he’s in his office though. He should be back this afternoon.”

 

If he was one of the non-workers, then it would explain how he got me here…to an extent. Am I thinking too much into this? What would my hunter need to be in order to get me transferred here. Regional manager more likely, but Sue and Robert have technically moved me away from them. But then anyone else above them could have also pushed for this without no one suspecting.

 

“I should probably meet him Can you trell me when he gets here?”

 

“Sure thing love,” Robin said, sucking all his nose mucus into the vacuum of space behind his nose. “I’ll get Will here to tell you. Come on Will.” With that, the burly worker strolled off, the sound of men in the background pitching into her ears for just a second. Will stayed behind for a moment.

 

“Don’t worry,” he tells me. “You’ll get used to him…hopefully.”

 

“I’m not sure I want to,” I say with a snigger. But then it could be someone just on the outside, reacting to the luck of taking me away from the office and into a place where I own’t be familiar with the other workers. Maybe I should take time out to get to know them, but then would that be putting myself in unnecessary danger.

 

“Oh, some of us are heading out for drinks tonight if you want to come. Give you a chance to get to know everybody better.”

 

Far too unnecessary.

 

“I’m afraid I’m busy tonigyht,” I shunned him. “I wasn’t exactly warned of this in advance.”

 

“Oh right,” he replies. “Well, tell me when next you’re free.”

 

Well, tomorrow night I just so happen to be free to stand outside Market Square at around seven o ‘clock, wearing a red shirt and jangely bells round my neck. If you’re just so lucky you might be able to pop me off with your high powered long ranged sniper rifle, before I catch the glint of your weapon. Or failing that you could always wait until I head home, where I always take Dark Alley Road down into the Red Light District, before catching the number fifty nine and heading to my house which I would have forgot to lock that night. If you catch me at any of these times, I’m sure they’ll be good for you.

 

I waved him off, and when he was gone, fell down into my chair.

 

The lack fo security was Kraftequesly scary considering how mny security camera there were. I had counted two by the entrance, and several littered all over the yard, yet the screens in the office were completely unmanned. Wherever this Bob was, he wasn’t doing a very good job.

 

There were five moniters in the windowed office, and they were almost adjacent to my own desk. I just needed to shift it slightly and I could get a good look in there at all times. Slowly, I shifted it across and was pleased to sit down to a view of five screens. My chair also no longer had a window behind it now. Anmd with two exits on either side, I shouldn’t have to worry too much about surprise attacks unless they immobilize me, which the camera should now hopefully prevent.

 

I’d see how long it would work. Four days should be enough.

 

***

 

Simon Wallace lived at 42 New Lane in Andover, Hampshire.

 

And Hampshire was behind London.

 

This would be taking some time.

 

I leaned back in my uncomfortable, cheap black office chair, lamenting the loss of the dearly departed foam that once separated my vertebrae from the height adjusting support. It wasn’t too much of a problem, the location that is, but I’d have only the weekend to get there, search for him and get back if I was still looking to keep this job.

 

So far the location had proven suitable. In terms of surveillance and escape options I had plenty and had made more. Of course the blatent danger of the entire area wasn’t to my liking still. I had thought up things that I couldn’t counter against and most of them including destroying the rentacabin with me in it. This wasn’t going to work for the long term.

 

Was anything going to work for the long term?

 

The urge to fall into patterns was something I had already sucuumbed to several times already since that first envelope fell through my door. The mere fact that I had rationalized my way through the first turn showed me that if I didn’t force myself to constantly adapt, I’d stagnate and be shot at. The one thing that’ll truly fail me at the moment is if I insisted on going back to ythe old office because it was safer.

 

Mind you, by that logic, I should leave my current living quarters and change them every month.

 

Maybe that’s why we got such a large sum at the beginning. Merely to cover living expenses.

 

“Hey Jenn,” the voice of Will caught me as it banged alongside his hand on the plastic door.

 

“Come in,” I chimed, feeling in the mood to order tea, though the coffee machine was less than three feet away from me.

 

“Boss wants to see you.”

 

Were we already at the stage of our relationship where we don’t listen to each other? I shouldn’t be that amazed.

 

“What? He actually exists?” I called back, but got no reply. He had already wandered off it seems. The supervisor hadn’t come back yesterday, and for a short while I had begun to figure that maybe it was one of the others and a prank was being played on me-*thisall needs adding into converse or something. She doesn’t think about the mundane anymore*

 

I left my perpectual sanctuary to enter the myrid corridors of open field and dust that immediately assaulted me upon leaving. Checking around me, I looked for any possible strikers. Will’s back was already turned away from me, but he indicated in the direction of a man that I could just make out in the distance on the phone. Also, with his back turned to me, I started to approach the man, checking all my sides. To the right, the burly fat man and a few other lackeys sat around drinking some thermos tea, while people on my left were half way through bringing some girders further up the support complex as another crane drove pass me and ten men marched behind it carrying supplies with distant tunes coming out of their whistleing mouths.

 

This was the problem. I could only just keep track of the forty muscle men that surrounded me, dancing a jig that only their architects could comprehend. Any and none of them could be the hunter and no matter how much I told myself that it wasn’t helping. I need to compile a list at the very least, try to narrow down suspects. Implment a few tests that may reveal hidden intentions. I couldn’t just wander blazingly into work every morning with a yawm and cup of tea and expect people not to just fire an arrow into one or poison the other.

 

I will leave. I’ve got no choice really. Any longer and I’m closer to doomed than most comic book maidens. All it would take isa-

 

“Look out!”

 

“Huh?”

 

Peering behind me, I look behnd the giant roller to see everyone staring above me. It causes me to look the wrong direction and I catch everyone else staring and Will running towards me. I focus on him a second too long and barely notice the shadow looming below me.

 

By then I’m already moving, my feet taking me away, sensing gravity being pulled into service against me before I did. I take four steps back, not caring for any madmen that may be standing in my path with knives. Then I trip, and scramble further. By this time my eyes have already registered them. Girders, too many to count and far too much sunlight in the way to even try, falling towards me like giant, oblong hailstones.

 

Fuck! I look away, needing to get away, but already somethings hit me and I nearly struggle against it. Not so much heavy as it is tense, I briefly seeing another much closer shadow pull at me, trying to tug at whatever resistence I can provide in that one short instance, before pulling me away completely and out of harm’s way.

 

The ground shudders below us as the girders hit the ground in a contest to see which hits first., each block of metal impaling itself in the ground, crushing the supplies beneath it like they were mouldy paper mache and striking the roller a glancing blowas they ricochet off and drop to the ground.

 

I look on beside the interference, who grips me tighter with each earth shuddering thurst into the ground. I endure it and start looking around me for any other attack, , on me for any missing limbs I may have missed, above me for any hunters on the scaffolding.

 

Then I notice the roller again.

 

It starts to rumble, wholly on its own this time and even as the last girder strikes it and slides onto the floor all it does is get it going faster. IT starts to roll down the incline it was placed on top of and its easy to follow its path to the the bottom, where the supervisor continues his conversation on the mobile phone.

 

Picking up speed, the roller serves unreservingly towards him like a runaway train in a children’s cartoon.

 

Even as I heard the opera mouse singing I was up and ready to run.

 

“Will, get him,” I end up shouting, my body halting when we’re both up.

 

Without hesitation, the errand boy is already up and down the little rump of a hill. The roller gives the impression of unstoppable at this moment but not outrunnable and whilst trying to wave his hands and sprint his fastest at the same time, I see as boy finally grabs the asian man’s attention and begins pulling him out of the way.

 

The boss only has enough time to drop his phone before following the springing lean lad, and as the large concrete roller drives to them they watch it tackle harmlessly pass them and into two tones of metal, dislodging them and stopping its progress.

 

I let myself breath again.

 

I’m following it down before I know it, tracing the path along with a few others to meet the two at the bottom. The supervisor’s hugging Will like a baby does its mother when in a swimming pool, latching on and thanking him in a crisp London accent that isn’t speaking English that I’ve heard for the first time.

 

When we get down there, Will is able to separate the boss from him, who looks around with a smile, before turning back to the supplies and swearing a few times.

 

“Shit I can’t fucking believethat. Did ya see it? Came at me like a fucking ton of bricks.”

 

“Are you okay?” I asked him needlessly. It was a good job that Will was here. The last thing I need is some innocent dying because I’m here.

 

“Yeah…” he replied, slowly his breathing down, shouting to compensate the ringing in his ears. “I’m good. I’m good. Just give me a minute.” The man’s words slowly switched back to comprehensible as he rested against the errand boy. “Who are you?” he asked after a moment. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

 

“er…Jennifer Connolley,” I said, having forgotten. “I started working here yesterday.”

 

“Oh right, the admin lady,” he sighed, supporting himself on his knee now as well as Will, who looked like he should be the one doing that. “Pleased to meet you.” I took his fear covered hand and shook it, looking around me for anyone looking partly disgruntled that I was still alive. I mostly caught people cracking friendly jokes or questioning their boss’s stamia.

 

Will got a lot less praise than I thought he should have,

 

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