I was fast, I could overtake people with just my speed alone. It was one of my assets when it came to being a superhero. It gave me an advantage, it gave me value.
People had guns, but I was faster than those people. Even if they had a tool to level the playing field, more often than not, I still had them beat. I was still much faster than they were.
But, in the most critical of critical moments, I wasn’t faster than this finger, this pulled trigger. The bullets that followed.
Flown into a barrage of metal and destruction.
I was torn to ribbons, and then the others. I lost the breath needed to vocalize the pain.
My head whipped back, cracking.
Eyes rolled in the back of the sockets. I was thrown back, along with the splattered blood and the picked-apart meat.
In a very real sense, I was killed.
It suddenly became dark, I looked up to see what blocked the sunlight.
It was Mr. Thompson.
He knelt down on a knee, and placed his arms on his propped leg.
He had a funny face. His eyebrow was up in a weird way, and his mouth looked like he was frowning in a tiny bit.
It made me feel like I was trouble.
He said my name again, even though I was already looking at him.
Maybe if I don’t move, he’ll forget about me?
“You should respond if someone is trying to address you,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s only polite.”
“Yes, Mr. Thompson?” I answered, murmuring.
“I heard from Katy that you’ve been roughhousing her a bit with her new toy.”
I was reminded of the toy in my hand. It was the new super dart blaster that I picked out for Katy’s birthday present. I picked it because I liked it, and Katy and I liked a lot of the same stuff, so it only made sense that I picked that as my gift to her.
She’d definitely like it as much as I did.
“I’m not, I’m not roughhousing her,” I protested.
Mr. Thompson’s face shifted, but he didn’t look any happier.
“She’s very upset with how you took her toy,” Mr. Thompson said. He took out his hand, clenched in a fist. He opened his hand, and a bunch of darts fell onto the ground. “She’s also very upset with how you’ve been playing with it. Although you gave it to her, it is hers. It’s her gift.”
The way he was talking made me feel bad, and hearing about Katy being upset made me feel sad, too. But I wasn’t trying to be mean, it wasn’t my fault.
“I was just, just, I was just showing her how to use the gun!” I said, trying to explain myself. “If she doesn’t use it right then it’s not as fun!”
“That doesn’t give you the right to continuously keep firing the gun at her.”
I squeezed my hands, I balled up my hands, and the super dart blaster clicked in my hand. And it clicked again, then some more times. I kept squeezing my hands until my fingers were tired.
“It’s not as fun that way,” I said.
“Katy is allowed to play with it however she wishes,” Mr. Thompson said. “She’ll derive her own fun from that.”
I didn’t like the bad feeling in my chest. I didn’t like looking at Mr. Thompson when he was talking to me like that. It wasn’t my fault.
I looked away, looking at the grass.
“I don’t know what ‘derive’ means,” I muttered.
“What I mean is, she can do what she thinks is fit for her. If you try to, how do I put it, impose your beliefs on others, you can come across as selfish, and, you don’t want people to think you’re selfish, right?”
The word ‘selfish’ stood out to me, because that was a bad word. The last thing I wanted was to be attached to a bad word. What if Mr. Thompson was so mad that he wanted to kick me out of the party?
I pouted, loosening my hold on the blaster.
“That’s not what I want,” I said, grumbling.
I felt a hand go on my shoulder, and it was heavy. I had to stiffen myself so I wouldn’t get pushed down.
I had to look at Mr. Thompson’s face again. He didn’t seem super mad anymore. He smiled.
“See, I knew you weren’t as stupid as I thought. Now, why don’t you tell that to Katy?”
My own face changed. I could feel it in my cheeks.
Mr. Thompson patted my shoulder, but he really just thumped me down. “I know you don’t mean harm, and I know you had good intentions, but, nonetheless, Katy’s still upset. You’ll have to tell her yourself, if you want things to be good between you two.”
I wanted to talk more freely, but the words kept tumbling out of my mouth.
“But, but, I wasn’t being mean! I was just showing her how to use the super blaster!”
“I know that, Alexis, you ugly girl, and I already said as much, but you should make it up to Katy, too. It’s only proper.”
I wanted to protest some more, but I ran out of words. Darn. I just lowered my head, looking as glum as humanly possible.
“Okay,” I said. The blaster sat even heavier in my hand.
I didn’t hear Mr. Thompson move, stand up, or go away. I looked, and I saw Katy standing in his place.
She had her head down, and I couldn’t see her eyes. Her arms her at her side, her hands scrunching up the edges of her pretty pink dress.
“Katy,” I said. I could only say her name. I wasn’t sure how I should go about what I was supposed to do.
Katy didn’t move or budge. Her head was fixed to her shoes.
“Katy?” I asked. She reminded me of a statue.
I couldn’t see her eyes, and I couldn’t see her mouth. She mumbled something.
“Did you say something?” I asked, worried.
Again, she mumbled something.
I giggled, a tiny bit nervous. Katy was close to me, but I couldn’t hear her.
“Katy, you have to-”
“It’s too late.”
I tilted my head, confused. I cleared my throat.
“I was going-”
“It’s too late. You could have fixed me, you could have fixed you, you could have fixed us. But it’s too late. The cracks got deeper, and you let the blood and bread seep in. You’re filled with grotesque, hideous things now, and I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate the God that made you. I hate the air I breathed with you. I hate the space I lived with you. I hate the life I shared with you. I hate the seed that sprouted you and I hate the egg that hatched you. I hate everything about you and I hate that you took everything away from me.”
I was about to cry. I’d never heard Katy talk like this, not ever. My eyes were watery.
There was a big lump in my throat.
“I hate that you’re alive and he’s not. I hate that you can sleep and wake up and he can’t. I hate that you’re the star of this story. I hate that you can suffer for so long but you can still stand. I hate that you’re so useless and pathetic and you keep failing but you’re still here. Do you know what happens to stars?”
I stayed mute.
I started crying. Seeing red.
“Burn, Alexis, burn and burn out.”
My eyes became hot. My sadness was turning into something else.
“Burn and burn out. Burn, burn, and burn out. Burn out. Burn and burn out.”
I wiped my eyes. Blood on my hands.
Burn in Hell, Alexis. Flash everything, break it into pieces.
I felt my eyes fli c k e r.
I pushed, throwing Katy to the ground. Blood and dirt kicked into the air.
I put my fingers around her neck. I wasn’t careful about it.
I started choking her.
Katy kicked, twisted her body, trying to throw me off. No. I was too strong.
The strong take.
My hands were gripping her small little gullet even tighter. I wouldn’t let go, even if we were the only ones on the planet, even if we were the only ones on the beach, even if she tried to caress my cheek, gently. I would never let go. I would never let her go.
Her face contorted so much that it didn’t look like Katy anymore. She began to rot. Her eyes squinting, her hair turning darker, her face looking as red as an apple.
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There was an hour before midnight, but I already wanted to go home.
I stood by the door, idly watching as the others partied and had a good time. There must have been, what, twenty or thirty people here, and it was loud. Surprised I could hear myself think. The fat bass that spilled out of the speakers at the other end of the room filled my ears. The stuttering hi-hats tapped on my patience, withering it away with every loop of its uneven rhythm. The room was dimmed until I could only see my hand from arm’s length, so the only real source of light came from the neon strobe lights that illuminated people as they danced. A girl was grinding on a guy. That looked like Jenny, and that looked like Eric. Actually, multiple girls were grinding on multiple guys. I was reluctant on calling that ‘dancing’ anymore.
In other words, I’m going to be in so much trouble because Mom wanted to have dinner with me but I came here instead fucccccccccccccccccccc–
“Hey!” A familiar voice called out to me. I looked away from my watch to search for who that was. I could barely make out the outline of her body, but only one person wobbled like that when she was drunk.
“Katy,” I said, my tone more accusatory than I had intended.
“Wutteryou doing?” Katy slurred, “Come on, this was supposed to be all fer you!” She tossed me a red cup, and I caught it before its contents could spilled on me. No, it was empty of any liquid, but full of a nauseating smell. Rum.
“Nah, you know I’m not into that,” I said. “Plus, it gets my face way too red.”
“Nuh-uh, if that were really true, then you wouldn’t have went off with Brandon for shots just twenty minutes ago,” she teased, using that upper register tone that I hated.
I cleared my throat. “Well, that… That was different,” I said, wiping my lip and looking down. I was glad she couldn’t see the pink flush in my cheeks.
Katy tried to start another sentence. “But that’s… that’s…”
“That’s just you being a dumb slut who’ll do anyone and anything for attention.”
“Excuse me? Do you mean, ‘irrelevant’?”
“Yeaaaah, that. Tell me, did you… do…” In failing to articulate herself through words, she went for a vulgar gesture instead. I slapped at her hands.
“Anyway, one, one, one, one,” Katy kept repeating, until she started to sing the word ‘one’ along with the song playing in the foreground. It took me longer than it should have to realize she meant, ‘At least have one.’
Fuck, I told myself, I’m gonna regret this. I looked at my watch on my left wrist. Eleven o-three.
“I don’t know self-control and self-discipline because I don’t like myself enough to care.”
Shit, I knew it.
I knew it. I knew it.
I knew it, shit.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.
Stupid, stupid RVJST1I=.
Always making the same mistakes. Stumbling in the same spot, every time. No matter how many times I do it again and again. I’m such a mess.
Nothing I ever try works.
I bet if I started from the beginning again, I’d end up right back here.
I’m afraid that I might disappear.
But nothing I do leads to anything good.
All I can do is take. Take.
I take the air. I take up space. I take up energy. I take up time. I take money.
I take the blood of others.
How can I be expected to give when it’s in my nature to take? Isn’t it better if I’m gone, so I can stop taking from those who need it?
Isn’t it better if I die?
I’m so tired.
I’m so disgusting.
Say it, become it.
I tried to be decent, and it didn’t work.
I’m not surprised, really.
I’m just tired.
Hey, is anyone there? Is anyone listening?
I sit here, opening wounds, sharing my insides, presenting myself entirely, and only a few clap.
It’s a little lonely.
I must really not be worth it. I must really be that useless. I must have been wasting my time, this whole time.
You actually enjoy the pain and suffering, don’t you?
It’s why you are where you are, doing what you do. It’s why you made it this far.
Don’t be stupid. Or, if you’re going to be stupid, at least don’t be blind.
Such a glutton for madness.
Take care of yourself.
I’m just tired.
I think, I think I want to sleep.
That’s what people my age like to do, right? Sleep a lot. They talk about how much they like to sleep.
I like sleeping, too.
See? I’m as regular as they are. I’ve always been.
Being so blank, I guess I was meant to be overwritten.
So, I think I might like that.
I think I’ll spend some time here, at the bottom.
At the bottom.
To tell you the truth, I’ll miss my mom.
To tell you the truth, I’ll miss my friends.
To tell you the truth, I’m a little proud of what I’ve done. I had a little bit of fun.
Well, I guess I’m out of time now. My hands are cold. Mom always said my hands were cold, even as a baby.
I didn’t grow as old as I would’ve liked.
I’ll leave it to WU9V, now, to turn off the light.
But, before I go, is it too much to ask, just one last thing? Even though I’ve been so stupid and disgusting and cruel?
I didn’t let go.
I watched her as she finally died. Good riddance.
The rain started to fall from a checkerboard sky.
I tried washing away the blood, but it had gotten too stained. My hands were black as ash and as warm as fire. My face felt as if it was on fire. The rain couldn’t cool me down.
I brought the reddened cloth over my head, covering myself.
I looked at her.
Too much pressure, and I had kept a heavy hand on the lid. She had popped, her internal organs like a freshly-made spaghetti.
I found her left arm. A limp noodle.
I helped myself.
Until there wasn’t a scrap of meat left. Until there wasn’t a ligament or even bone. Until there wasn’t a drip of blood.
All that was left to finish was her head.
I turned it over, careful, using six hands. I drank the juice that flowed out from the moist end.
The foolishness in her eyes, blank as I sipped.
I swallowed, and then I was done. Her head was now empty. I swallowed that, too.
She sat quite nicely in my belly, thank you for asking.
Maybe she was good for something, after all?
Ah, but I was wet as my appetite, and I was full. I brought my head back, and rested my eyes.
I was to sleep, but the beauty of sleep was the dreams I’d have.
I would wake, probably from the kicking in my womb.
And when that happens…
I would give birth again.
Happy birthday to you, RVJST1I6IFtFUlIuMDA6IE5hbWVdIGNhbm5
Happy birthday to you.
When I took control, I was standing in a pool of blood. I moved arms, stretched legs, made sure I knew how to use this body.
Not without feeling pain.
Everything throbbed. My muscles, my ligaments and bones, even my blood felt like it was thrumming in intervals. My head received the worst of it, a headache so strong I thought I’d gotten a concussion, my brain thrashed around until it was batter.
My entire being stung as if I was on fire. Now that I was aware of the pain, it was hard to move, harder still to get anything done.
I simply didn’t want to move.
Standing, continuing to get pounded by a rhythmic ache.
You’ve been there, before.
Had I? Been here before?
Same, but not. Different in a way that was much worse.
I focused on my other sense, to get my bearings in another way.
A saccharine taste danced upon my lips. My ears a high piercing screech, only slowly diminishing in intensity.
Shit and piss sat thick in the air, masked only by sweet blood. The fumes whiffed into my nose, and got to my head.
But I smelled so good.
Wincing, I rolled up a sleeve. Skin and muscle was moving on its own, meeting and mending. Spilled blood remained.
I touched a hole in my side. My finger dug inside the wound, but it was soon pushed out, the injury naturally being taken care of. The hole closed, and I felt something get spit out. I caught in my fingers.
I let it slip from my hold, into a red puddle.
I was still coming together, this body repairing itself from the damage it withstood. Everything throbbed.
This was enough to kill a person ten times over. And yet, I stood, I came back.
I touched my face. I felt my cheek.
My paper bag of a mask was gone. Not too shocking, that the mask was flimsy. It wouldn’t hold under much scrutiny.
My clothes, too, weren’t excluded from being torn. Holes were poked into my sleeves and torso. Two holes in one leg of my jeans, but that could be excused as the fashion of today.
The blood that soaked into the jacket, however, there wasn’t exactly a season when that was in.
There was more red than beige, too…
Oh, I just remembered, these clothes weren’t mine. Borrowed from someone else. The name escaped me.
They probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I returned it to them in this condition. But there were more important things on my mind.
That part, I could figure out later.
What was more pressing was the now.
I inspected the rest of the damage. The carnage.
Everyone else was either dead or incapacitated in some way, incapable of movement. I was the only one standing.
Bodies piled against one another, ripped into pieces that would no longer come back together. Arms that were hugged tight around stomachs, now loose attempts of that position. Mouths agape, a perpetual groan, if anyone here was capable of sound.
Even the man responsible for bringing the gun here was riddled with bullets. Whoever did this had pulled the trigger and didn’t let go. Stray bullets were lodged in the walls.
A grim, gruesome scene. Unsightly. Tragic. I knew to recognize it as such.
And that was all I was capable of.
I searched around for the gun in question, the person who did this. Neither were here, nowhere to be found in this messy room.
How did this happen?
As if to answer my thought, a light sobbing fell upon my ears.
I looked, then moved in that direction.
I knelt in front of the sobbing body.
“Evan,” I said, a touch unsure. It wasn’t unlike reading a word I’d only seen once or twice before, and I had to sound it out. A faint memory.
He blinked, the best response he could muster. His blond hair covered his eyes, stained with red. Not focused on any specific thing.
He was slumped over, beside another body. A larger body, an older body, a lifeless body. A teacher?
I decided to shift my gaze, and I went back to the blond boy.
“Blink twice if you can hear me,” I said.
It was an agonizing and long wait, but he blinked twice.
“Harrian Wong,” I said, as slowly as I said the blond boy’s name. I needed time to gather the necessary memories. To piece it all together. “He did this, didn’t he? What did you do to him?”
The boy’s mouth fell open, and, for an instant, I thought he had already passed. But he closed his mouth again, and wet his lips.
He lightly sobbed.
I was reminded of the fact that I was the only one standing in this room.
“Where is Harrian?” I asked. “Blink twice if you have any idea where he went.”
As slowly as he did before, the boy blinked twice in succession.
“Are you capable of telling me where?” I asked.
He dropped his jaw again, then lifted it back up. A light sob.
This one came in a pair, if I recalled correctly. Someone much bigger than him, if only in a physical sense.
I perused faint memories for his name.
“Eric,” I said. “If I was in Harrian’s shoes, I’d take this chance to get back at him, too. But, if you can tell me where Eric is, I’ll see what I can do.”
The boy’s expression shifted, not enough to be wholly readable, but the change was there.
“C… Hall, two, oh…”
His jaw dropped again, and it stayed there. I watched as the life left his eyes.
His last thoughts were of his friend. His dying breath was spent trying to save him.
Maybe he caught a glimpse of my face, but that didn’t matter, now.
I spent a moment there, down. Silent.
I reached with my hand, and closed his eyelids myself. Some blood dripped onto my index finger and thumb.
Licking my fingers, I stood back up.
I pondered, weak and weary, what my next move should be.
I had quite a bit of ground to cover.
I reached into my pockets, noticing a weight inside.
I got excited.
I could use this to get to Benny, to find her faster.
I pressed down on the button.
“Benny,” I said.
A response on the other end of the line. Too distorted to be heard clearly. My message would most likely be equally fuzzy.
But, I spoke again, knowing full well that this was being broadcasted to everyone with their own walkie-talkie, to the rest of Benny’s crew.
“I got her. The Bluemoon’s dead. Stay put, I’m bringing her body to you.”
Before there could be another distorted response, the signal broke out completely.
I checked the device. Cracked along the side, a bullet lodged inside. Out of commission, now.
I tossed it aside.
I checked the other weight in my other pocket. A can. It wasn’t punctured.
My next course of action, then.
I returned to my feet, collecting the knife from the floor, heading to the back of the classroom. I licked the knife like one would a toothpick. It nicked me here and there, but it wasn’t anything too bad. I healed right away.
This was an art class, they had to have something I could use. Something better to cover my face with than a paper bag.
I checked over the arts and crafts stuff in the longest desk in the back of the room. Paintings, blank canvases, sketchbooks, marble sculptures…
Different kinds of masks were lined up in a row. Simple masks with no real expressions, clown masks, hockey masks, there were even some with a Japanese influence, with wild eyes and sharp teeth, or an all-white mask with a seductive gaze.
They were in various stages of completion, however, none of them looked particularly wearable. The class probably just started them. They’d probably never finish them.
One mask, however, looked good enough to wear.
A simple mask, clay-brown. It only covered the eyes, with a single horn protruding out of the right side, on the forehead.
It had a strap across the back. Elastic, but it looked like it might actually hold. Sturdy.
I set the knife aside, and I put the mask on, fastening it around my face. A decent fit.
I tightened it again, and shook my head to make sure it stayed. It stayed.
No time to check myself out in a mirror, though, I needed to move.
I picked my knife back up, and I left the classroom, the dead and the dying behind me.
No one else in the hall, I could move freely. I picked a direction, and walked briskly.
Welcome back, Blank Face. At least, I’m sure it’s the real you.
Maintaining my stride, I glanced to the corner of my eye.
The shape was there.
It seemed different, maybe it was another thing entirely?
No, that didn’t seem quite right.
It was it, all right.
The edges of its body were always wispy and vague, but there was a new definition to them now. Rough and matted, it fluttered, even though the shape was unmoving. Like it took influence from any draft of wind that came across it, then bending to that will. Beautiful but dark, twisted and fantastical, it was covered, head to toe.
I maneuvered around a corner, not breaking my pace. Its head turned in turn. A beak.
“It is,” I said, curt. “Hello, Hleuco.”
Yes, I wasn’t anticipating to have you in front of me so soon. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky.
I grinned. “I guess I really am a sentimental one.”
The shape didn’t react that time.
I pressed on, leaving the thing behind. It’d show up again, I was sure of it.
I was moving towards the third bomb, continuing on the same course I was taking before I got… distracted. This situation was already bad enough, and it managed to find a way to escalate even more. I wasn’t even surprised as much as I was annoyed.
Harrian was a wild card now, as well. I probably needed to keep an eye out for him, but Benny was my top priority.
I was itching to get back at Benny, to defeat her, to humiliate her. Mutilate her.
Light elevator music continued to play on the intercoms above, but it had definitely been more than five minutes since Harrian’s attack on the classroom. It hadn’t cut out, did she get my message? Was she staying put?
My mind raced.
The thought of her sitting in the front office, waiting as I took out the remaining bomb and her surrounding crew…
I bit my lip.
The very thought quickened my steps.
First things first, however, the third bomb.
Another corner, and I was bumped backwards.
I needed a second to reorient myself.
Another man. He went around at the same time I did.
He had a gun on him. A pistol.
My knife went first, nicking the man in the wrist. His immediate reaction was to open his hand, and drop the gun.
I went for the gun before it hit the floor, and I caught it by the barrel. Swift and hard, I swung, pistol-whipping him across the head.
I opened my own hand, letting the gun fall, and I grabbed him by the throat. I walked with him in my grasp, until his back was up on the lockers. He was in no position to fight back.
With a hard thrust, I threw him into the ground. I had to have cracked a shoulder blade.
As if on its own, my knife found his ankle, and cut the tendon.
I let him go, and the man wailed in misery. I let him be, and continued on. He was in no condition to move, anymore.
A more straightforward approach, I didn’t have the time to leisurely apply duct tape. Tape wouldn’t fix this.
I walked, twice as fast as the music’s tempo. If I remembered correctly, the cafeteria was on the other side of the school, and, coming from the art room, I was about halfway there.
I would have walked faster, I would have ran, but there was a bit of uncertainty in my steps. Like drawing from a faded mental map, the details muddled and missing. I didn’t want to make the wrong turn and get lost, double back, and get lost again.
I knew that years were spent in this school, this building. Why was it so difficult to move around in a manner that reflected that familiarity?
Like a labyrinth of my own design.
As that very thought occurred to me, I stepped into yet another hall.
I saw it before I heard it. Then I smelled it.
Cries, and gunfire.
A sweet aroma.
The scene wasn’t as grizzly as the one in the classroom, but could very well surpass it. Traces of blood smeared a set of lockers and a bit of tile at the foot of a closed door, as if the door itself caught the liquid when it closed. No corpses to be found out here in the hall, but this wasn’t the place to look.
This was no trick of the mind. This had to be Harrian’s work.
I could double back and find another way around, but something told me I was headed in the right direction. This was the most direct path to the cafeteria. Getting past this would be less time consuming than backing up and wandering around.
I gripped my knife tighter, and walked.
I followed a trail of blood, sets of several footsteps.
A set of double doors were up ahead, at the far end of the hall.
Another spurt of gunfire, and I could pinpoint the mangled sounds that followed. One of the doors blew open.
A handful of kids spilled out the door.
They initially started to run, but one of them stopped in their tracks, pointing.
“Fuck, not that way, not that way!”
They turned heels and ran back through the door. No doubt because of the sight of me.
As the kids moved out of my line of sight, I saw others through the door.
I got a better view of them as I approached.
Three men, dressed in gray uniforms, guns aimed at another individual. Their backs were to me.
A boy, with a rifle in his hands, stood in opposition of the men, and in front of another boy, down on the floor, clutching his shoulder.
The boy with the rifle. My hazy memories told me it was Harrian Wong.
I had snuck through the door before it could close on me. The kids from earlier were nowhere to be seen.
The men and the boys were about twenty feet away, now.
One of the men yelled an order.
“Kid, I’m asking you to drop that gun! This isn’t funny!”
Harrian returned fire by screaming at the top of his lungs, briefly staring at the fallen teenager at his heels.
“You cannot take this away from-!”
His eyes fell upon me. There was manic sense of urgency, there, but my presence had momentarily halted him.
“-me!” he finished.
“This ain’t kid shit,” another one of them said. “We don’t wanna have to do this, but you’re putting us in a really bad position.”
“You have put yourselves in a bad position by coming here!” Harrian roared back. “You deserve this too! Just get out of here, and leave me alone! This is between me and him!”
He spat that last word at the boy down on the floor. Absolute venom. A sort of hatred that had a history behind it, along with a tinge of sadness that invoked something deeper.
I looked at the boy who was to be the recipient of that venom and hatred. I had to try to get his name again. Recall. Blond, stocky, built more like a wall than a human. But that wall was crumbling. He was down, arm around a shoulder, tears and spit running down his face. Crumbling.
I was about fifteen feet apart from them, now.
“We’re only here for one person,” the third man explained. “We all know this is gonna be a suicide mission, but we were only planning to bring down one other person with us.”
“The Bluemoon,” another offered.
Harrian could barely restrain his rage. “The Bluemoon is not here! You have already hurt so many people, and the Bluemoon has not appeared!”
“She is here,” the first man said, though I sense some doubt, there. “And those were bluffs, niño. None of them names were crossed out, trust. The only one here hurting anybody is you. Just give us back that gun, before you hurt anyone else.”
Harrian’s expression momentarily broke, to a look of confusion. It wouldn’t be long before he snapped again.
“You did not see what they did!” Harrian screamed, voice raw. “They are all animals! The biting, the gnawing! They deserve to be put down like cattle!”
There it was, the snap.
Harrian was already too far gone to listen, but the men continued to try and reason with him.
“Boy, you can snuff him out with your hands if you want, just let go of the damn thing and return it, we’ll be on our way. I promise we’re about to dip.”
Dip? As in they were about leave?
How the hell did they plan on leaving when they had caused this much chaos? Did Benny have an escape in mind, in case the Bluemoon never did show up?
They’re not leaving. We’re not finished with them, with Benny. We haven’t even gotten started.
I leaned forward, letting myself fall for a moment, then I dashed forward into a jump.
The first, the one on the right, fell before anyone could realize what was happening. I landed on the man’s shoulders, bringing him down with my weight.
Before the others could take a step back in surprise, I was already moving on to the next target.
Using my knife, a hard jab to the thigh was sufficient for the second, the man in the middle. He was about to reach down and hold his leg in pain, but I put my hand against his chest, stopping him.
With a push, he was flung into the wall behind him.
“Gah!” I shouted, a harsh pain entering my side.
I had left too much of an opening for the third and final man to strike. It was a clean hit, too, his own knife sliding smoothly into my torso.
I turned my head to him, angry.
His hands were still on the handle, but I grabbed him all the same.
With a few motions, I maneuvered us to the nearest wall. I threw his back into it, lifting him.
His hands were still there, and moving him only twisted the blade more. I gritted my teeth, turning the pain into anger.
“I don’t like what I just heard,” I said, feeling myself reaching another boiling point. “Don’t tell me you’re leaving so soon.”
“How are you even-”
“Where’s Benny?” I asked.
“Benny gone, man.”
Three words, it was just three words, but it nearly made me go blind with fury.
I spun, throwing his body, driving him into the other wall. In throwing him, the knife was yanked out of me.
I was already on him when he collided into the fall, grabbing him again to prevent his fall. The wound had already begun to heal.
“I can’t believe that for a second,” I said, just barely keeping it together. “She’s still here, I know it, I can taste it. Now, where the fuck is she?”
The man struggled to breathe. “Bitch, she might still be here, but it ain’t gonna be for long.”
“She went into this with an escape plan? This school had to be surrounded by now, how is she supposed to pull that off?”
Despite how much agony he must have been feeling, he still managed a smile. “Trust in Benny, mija.”
I thrusted my knife into his shoulder, to get myself to cool down and clear up my thinking.
He let out a sharp gasp.
The knife still in him, I asked my question as calmly as I could manage.
“What’s her escape route, where’s she making an escape from?”
He was still gasping, trying to sooth his nerves.
“Make me ask again, and you don’t get a face for cops to identify you with.”
“Agh, the back of the school, there’s some vans there, a path prepared. Buena suerte, trying to find her, she’s the axle we revolve around.”
I almost found myself impressed by their loyalty, but it was more fuel to my fire. I dislodged the knife from his body, and returned to my feet.
Dammit dammit dammit dammit.
Just as I had a grip on what to do, another wrench was thrown my way. I had to adjust, make a change of plans.
We’re going after her directly, now.
I was turning to move, but I was caught by Harrian’s confused gaze.
Right, they were here.
That boy, Eric, still trapped by Harrian’s feet, unable to do anything for himself.
Harrian’s rifle had me in its sights.
“Don’t stop me,” he said, his voice serious. “You cannot take this away from me.”
I thought back to what I said to Evan, before he passed. The suggestion that I’d stop Harrian, if I came across him.
“I’m not going to stop you, Harrian,” I said.
I started stepping away, shaking my head. “It’d be hypocritical of me to stop you when I’m after something very similar for myself.”
I took another step.
“Do what you have to, but I can’t imagine this is a path that leads back to the way things were. The price for a little peace of mind, right?”
I got a final look at Harrian’s face. Perplexed, but the anger was still very much there. Tears were also streaming down his face.
He mumbled, but I didn’t catch it.
Hurry, we must move.
I was about to take my leave, ready to break into a run.
“Who are you!” he yelled as I went back through the double doors.
I chose not to voice an answer.
I heard a crack of gunfire before the door closed. I heard another when it did.
Now, the third bomb was no longer a concern of my mine. My only focus was Benny.
Getting to the back of the building meant that I couldn’t simply take the same route I took to get here. I had to divert, change direction somewhere, the problem being that I wasn’t entirely familiar with the place. I was going off a gut feeling, what felt right.
But, was that enough?
I needed to reach deeper within me if I wanted to move more efficiently. If I wanted to get to Benny sooner rather than never.
As I passed the different halls, I happened upon others wandering about.
A girl running the opposite way, hugging her binder close to her chest. A girl strolled by with two others, happily chatting away. A girl with her back to a locker, her lips locked with a boy. A group of girls, in matching uniforms, putting up a poster.
Before I could question anything, I turned in response to a sound coming from beside me.
A girl running the opposite way, hugging her binder close to her chest. A repeated image from before.
I turned on my heel, and ran in the direction of that image.
They were clearer the closer I approached, continuing on as if I wasn’t there to begin with. I was beginning to think the clearer they were, the more confident as to where I was supposed to go.
The majority of the phantoms were of the same individual, the same girl. The only thing I couldn’t make out was the face.
The more I tried to look, the more my head began to ache. I avoided looking directly. Needed focus. Clarity.
The phantoms dissipated the moment a deep rumbling shook the whole building. I stumbled, but I didn’t fall.
The walls and doors creaked, the lockers shook, the lights sputtered very briefly, a few second in darkness. People in classrooms were audible through those walls and doors.
A heavy impact just rocked the building at its core.
The third bomb just went off.
A very small part of me yearned to turn around again to see the damage, but there was only one goal in mind, now.
I continued onward.
I saw a set of glass doors on the farthest end of the corridor, gray on the other end. One of the back entrances of the school.
A group was going through.
Some of them wheeled around, noticing me. A few pointed, and they didn’t hesitate to respond.
It was just one thing after another. No end in sight.
Options. Not a lot, here. I was out in the open, all by myself. No matter my location, I was a target.
I threw myself headfirst, into the fray. But not directly into the stream of bullets, no.
I pulled toward the wall on my left, hopping to place my feet flat on its surface. A hard push of my legs sent me flying forward and to the opposite wall. I evaded the initial volley.
But eventually their aim would be faster than my own speed. That much was clear, now.
I went for the same tactic a second time, knowing that it wouldn’t work a third. Keeping my momentum from the first push, I managed to run two steps along the wall before I’d slip. Again, I launched myself off the wall.
My next destination wasn’t the wall again. I didn’t have the speed and strength to zip back and forth until I got them. I’d get hit if I tried. I’d die again.
And we don’t need that right now.
My next destination was cover.
A stairwell that led to the second floor. I dashed through the air to get there, bullets whizzing past my head.
I spun out, and I crashed, sliding a bit.
I turned to get on my back, checking my leg. I was clipped in the ankle.
I brushed away the blood, feeling the bullet get forced out, the skin closing.
No time to test my footing. I just sprung to my feet.
I shook my head, centering myself. Loud sounds… rattled me.
Somewhere far off, echoing, I heard weeping.
The barrage of bullets had ceased, but following them out the door would do more harm than good.
Another way, then.
I went up the stairs, taking two or three steps at a time. I ran to the second floor.
Not a soul in this hall. Everyone had still locked themselves inside.
But I was at the end of this corridor, marked by a large glass window.
Definitely know how to make an exit.
I gave myself some distance between me and the window, and I bolted for it.
One thing after another.
I was strong enough, fast enough. My shoulder hit the glass.
Glass cracked and shattered all around me, cutting skin and tearing fabric. That, I expected.
What I forgot to take into account was the water.
The rain was heavy, with such a force that felt like it had a meaningful effect on my trajectory, my distance. Like getting dumped by a metric ton of water, I was drenched the second I broke the glass.
And I was suddenly over twenty feet in the air, and falling fast.
It’d be a hard landing, one way or another.
I fell with the rain and shattered glass, landing hard on cement.
My starting strides were hard to make, my tibia still healing. I pushed through it.
I wiped my face, my eyes, but it was pointless. It was pouring out here. I could see, but every other second, my vision was getting watered down.
I’d need goggles if I wanted to see properly. But I had to do without.
My hearing. I followed my ears, the sounds, even though I had to hear over the rain.
Doors shutting, engines rumbling. Tires peeling.
I was in the back parking lot of the facility, standing among police vans.
But no one was getting out to confront me, or anyone for that matter. The vans were leaving, already on the move.
I yelled, drowned out by the rain. I paced forward to try and catch up, but I was scared that it would be futile. I didn’t know which van to follow, which one she was in.
I was aimlessly moving, jogging forward as the vans passed. With fast, jerky movements, I turned my head that way and the other, looking for any clue that would lead me to her.
If I could just get a glimpse, I’d give chase, and find Benny. I’d take out all of her men first, to crush her before I even moved to her. Then, I’d hurt her, in every conceivable way. I’d take breaks, take the time to be thorough. Then, I’d tear her tongue out Then, then…
As if there was a tug on my arm. I turned around.
A girl, three inches shorter than me. A black flowery top, and denim shorts, unmolested by the rain.
Her face was scratched out.
“Don’t push me that far,” it said, voice warbly.
The sight of it gave me the urge to vomit. I flinched, and immediately turned away.
And I caught something else.
The last van to leave, a door was still swinging. I got glimpse of the person inside, and they did in turn.
Our eyes met, and there was an instant recognition.
My muscles tensed, then relaxed again.
I would have ran for it, for her, but that wasn’t what I wanted. Running and jumping like this, it’d do nothing but tire me out, and give her an easy out.
At least I got to see her face.
The vehicle vanished into the mist and rain, and I turned back.
The phantom wasn’t here anymore, but the shape was. Hleuco. Feathers and all.
I smiled, weakly. I really did lose my mind.
But that meant I just needed to find a new one.
It spoke using its unique voice.
The only thing free in life is frustration.
I faced up, meeting the rain, letting it soak my hair and clothes. It could rain until it flooded and I drowned, but there was just some filth that would never wash away.
“I believe you,” I said, before jumping back up to the opening left behind from the broken window.
It began abruptly, but there was no definitive ‘ending.’
The general consensus was that the intruders weren’t even in the building for a full hour.
Yet, in so little time, so much had happened.
The school was shaken by the attack, in ways that were probably immeasurable. The building would be rebuilt, and it’d be done in a timely manner, but the people inside? They’d might never recover.
Admittedly, I’d have to put myself among them.
She unlocked the door, and went inside the apartment. I entered after her, feeling like a visitor.
I was in a white shirt and sweats, soaked and smelling like they hadn’t had a proper wash in a week. Clothes taken from a gym locker that I pinpointed as mine.
The bombs were always meant to be a means of deterrence and distraction. If any of them blew, the proper authorities would scramble to clean that mess up then try to circle around to find the perpetrators. It didn’t end up being the cleanest escape, however. Not everyone from Benny’s crew made it out, injuries or no. Only a third of their distractions worked, after all.
After authorities were certain that the literal dust had settled, they were more concerned with getting everyone out of the building. In their minds, they already had people they wanted to question.
And Harrian Wong. Word quickly spread about his involvement, and his demise.
The girl I borrowed the jacket from wouldn’t be getting it back. If she did want it, there were a lot of pieces from a lot of places she’d need to collect them from.
The coach she was looking over got the proper medical attention. The girl I borrowed the jacket from was more happy about that than any old jacket.
As for the metaphorical dust, that would take much longer to settle.
She shut the door, removed her shoes, and strolled farther inside. I remained in place.
The rain kept falling, sounding like pellets when it hit the roof above. A downcast atmosphere reigned in here, too.
Something about this… place, it didn’t seem to fit, didn’t seem to jive. Something wasn’t right.
After the blood and chaos, coming here felt… wrong.
Like a puzzle piece that no longer fit.
She, Shiori Barnett, my mother, had noticed my standing here. She looked concerned.
I looked to the couch, the television, the dinner table, trying to find the attachment that connected me to this apartment.
It wasn’t there.
That’s for you.
“Yes?” I replied, unsure of where this was going.
“Are you okay?” she asked me.
My mouth opened, fingers tapping my sides.
“I’m, I’m going to make myself okay.”
A statement. A declaration.
She approached, hurrying to me.
My fingers clenched into fists, and my mind kicked-
Her arms wrapped around me, her ear on my shoulder.
For a moment, I was confused.
The fabric around my shoulder was getting more soaked.
Cumbersome, awkwardly, I put my arms around her. Eyes hot, but not moist.
I looked into the distance, and I saw them.
The shadowed Hleuco, and the girl with the scratched out face, smaller, in pajamas.
They approached, and I couldn’t do anything to stop them.
Two became four, and we all stood, embraced in each other’s arms.
I am such a mess.