“Yeah. See you on Monday, man.”
Daniel waves back at his friend, then looks at the time from his phone; it’s almost 9 PM. The streets in this part of Deus City are especially dark at this time thanks to having only a few streetlights. The towering skyscrapers of this dark city also plays a part in making the alleys even darker. But the young man has expected this. Since there is not much for him to do at his dorm, it was a conscious decision to spend the majority of his daytime hanging out with his bros, then returning to the dorm only to sleep.
From the corner of the street, the young man walks straight into the alley nearby for a shortcut back to his dorm. It substantially shortens the overall distance at the cost of having to deal with nearly complete darkness throughout the path. Fortunately, he is not a believer of ghosts and superstitions, so it was hardly even a toll. The alley is usually empty, since not many people get through this route.
But somehow… tonight is different…
As he walks about halfway into the alley, Daniel suddenly feels a surge of dread chilling up his spine. It is as if something within his subconscious is screaming at him, telling him to turn back. And yet the rational part of his mind just hand-waved it as his imagination playing with him. A short moment after that however, the young man finally comprehends the source of his dread. Standing silently still on the other far end, a dark figure is looming about. Having just a dim light from the moon and the street lamp that barely made it into the alley, Daniel can only vaguely guess that the figure is a male from his build. He sports a jacket with a hood covering nearly the entirety of his face, and no other facial features can be identified within this darkness.
Without speaking a word, the hooded man starts moving towards the young man. Slowly but surely, he pulls his right hand out from the front pocket of his hoodie, revealing a metallic contraption reflected by the pale moonlight – a pistol.
This is not the first time he encountered a threat on the street like this. Having been involved with all kinds of groups in his peers, he knows a couple of tricks to handle confrontations with armed gangsters. But alas, this is the first time he encounters one with a gun, and common sense tells him that there is no way he can safely outrun this thug – at least not within this long narrow alley. As such, perhaps the best course of action is to handover whatever this thug demands.
“All right. What is it? Money? Phone? Mind you, I got only a 100 Roal with me right now, so you might wanna go with the phone.” Daniel pulls out his cellphone from his pocket and waves it in the air, ready to hand it over without a fight. Unfortunately, the hooded man responds by pulling the gun’s slide.
“Uh… Okay? So, cash? I should have known. It makes faster turnover, right?”
The young man puts his phone back into his pocket and reaches for his wallet. But even after doing so, the stranger still refuses to drop the gun; instead, he raises it forward with a steady aim.
“C… Come on! What’s your problem!? Look, I’ll even give you the keys to my dorm! Just take whatever you want!!”
In that moment, the young man briefly sees a flash coming from the man’s gun, followed by a deafening bang that echoes the alley. Immediately after that, something hits his left shoulder, spreading a sharp stinging pain.
Daniel cries then presses his shoulder with his right hand, only to feel something wet spewing from that spot. It is impossible to see it in this darkness, but there is no doubt that the liquid on his hand is none other than his blood.
Seeing that there is apparently no way he can reason with this psychopath, the young man finally decides to turn around and run. In this darkness, as long as he does not run in a straight line, the chance of another bullet hitting him should be minimal.
Or so he thought…
Two more deafening bangs resonate from behind, and in a short moment, similar stinging pain emerges from back of his shins, robbing him of any strength that supports his body.
“Fuaaagh!!!” he utters as his whole body collapses to the ground, “S… Shit… It hurts…”
Since his legs are no longer of use and his left shoulder is in pain, Daniel uses his right elbow to drag his limping body forth bit by bit.
“I don’t wanna die…! I don’t wanna die…!!! I don’t wanna die…!!!!!!”
His mind screams frantically as he crawls forward in desperation. But even so, the menacing footstep gradually creeps closer and closer in each second… until it finally stops right next to his ears. In a single heave, the hooded stranger pulls the young man up from the ground by the collar of his shirt, then slams his whole body down on the ground supine. The pain from the crash aches across his body; perhaps he broke a few bones in process.
“W… Why!? Why are you doing this?! What do you want from me!?!?”
Daniel questions the stranger, who responds by poking the muzzle at his forehead.
In that brief moment, a second of a minute expands into a moment of eternity – a moment where his mind becomes completely hysteric at the events unfolding before his eyes.
“Shit! He’s about to shoot me!”
“He’s gonna kill me!!”
“I’m gonna fucking die!!”
Random cusses explode within his mind, emphasizing the harsh reality. The fact that all humans will eventually die without exception is certainly not a foreign concept to him. And yet it is so ironic that when the time for him has come, his consciousness is suddenly in denial.
Perhaps, this is what it feels like to fear ‘Death’?
Another loud bang can be heard again at the same time when his head forcibly jerks backward, smacking against the concrete ground. He is not exactly sure whether time has slowed down or his senses have heightened during the crisis, but he could collect every little detail of the pain from the point the bullet started drilling mercilessly into his skull.
But strangely enough, the pain suddenly subsided after a while…
And for whatever reason… his consciousness is still intact. It eerily feels similar to having a sleep paralysis; he could very well tell that he is still ‘lying down there’. The only difference is that he absolutely can no longer feel the muscles or limbs. Perhaps the earthly bond that ties his consciousness with his physical body has finally been severed; that’s why he is no longer capable of sensing any physical pain. Unfortunately, that does not exactly ease him from the state of panic. His eyes are still unexplanably functioning, and it allows him to catch the events unveiling before him in real time. The young man is forced to gaze upon the hooded stranger, towering above him as if appreciating this masterpiece of a corpse that he just created. The poor lighting makes it impossible for Daniel to see the face hidden underneath the hood, even from this angle and distance. Instead of looting his victim and be done with the job, the stranger carefully kneels down next to his victim’s body and places his palm over the forehead, covering a good chunk of the young man’s visibility.
“… Be a good boy and help her out, you hear?”
A mysterious voice suddenly resonates within the young man’s mind. It was rough and low-pitched – undoubtedly a male voice.
But before Daniel can ponder the meaning behind those mysterious words, all of the sudden, a stinging pain emerges again, this time from within the interior of his skull. It rapidly spreads to cover his head, then tenses up along his spine. In a short moment, his entire body aches from it, feeling as if it could break into dust at any time. The controls over his limbs also have returned, and the first thing he did is gaping his mouth up wide, screaming in pain. He writhes on the ground, gasping for breath as well as scratching the hard concrete floor. His eyes rolled up, just in time to catch a glimpse of the hooded stranger, walking away into the darkness. Daniel reaches out for the perpetrator who left him in this predicament, but the young man finds his consciousness quickly fading into pitch black…
By the time he starts to come around, a ray of light is trying to pierce through his eyelids. He carefully opens his eyes and – once his sight is adjusted – finds himself looking up straight at a bright blue sky, partly hindered by the tall buildings on his sides. His palm rubs the surface he was lying on; it’s concrete. This is definitely neither his bed, nor is he in his dorm. Daniel sits up from the ground to observe his surroundings. But before he can get to it, he quickly notices something falling off from his forehead to his lap.
The trinket appears to be a circular metallic locket that fits nicely in his palm. He flips the lid of the trinket, and found that it is, in fact, a pocket watch.
“… This isn’t mine…”
And while he is still curious about this little trinket, Daniel is more puzzled at his current state. After fighting with the intense headache, the young man gets up from the ground to observe his surroundings. It is now daytime, and he can see everything around him clearly; he is still in that shortcut alley he took last night. The aromas from the street food stalls outside also have made it into the alley. There is no way he can mistake the scent of the grilled-pork-on-a-stick that he frequently bought in the morning before heading to school.
While tapping a few parts of his body to ensure that everything is intact, he looks over his shoulder to discover an unbelievably disturbing sight: a large puddle of dried bloodstain. Furthermore, they are located within the proximity where his head, shoulder, and legs were resting earlier.
He still clearly remembers everything that happened to him.
The pain from the gunshot…
The fear instilled by that shadowy murderer who couldn’t be reasoned or bargained with…
And the puddles of dried blood is the final nail to the coffin…
He should have died last night…
So… Why is he still here, completely alive and well?
All of the sudden, his stomach starts running, giving him a strong urge to hurl. His head feels light and dizzy, and for a brief moment, his sight suddenly becomes overlapped with a red tint, as if he is looking through colored lens.
“I… I need to get out of here…”
Having that thought, Daniel immediately turns around and runs straight for his dorm, bumping into some of his neighbors and the elevator door along the way.
As soon as he gets inside, he locks the door, chains it up, and collapses on his bed, appreciating how incredibly comfy it is for the first time. His head still remains dizzy and he is not exactly sure how long he would be able to hold it together. As his consciousness begins to slip away once again, he brings up the pocket watch he picked up and looks at its face.
Its ticks resonated with his ears, almost like a lullaby.
Despite everything being extremely surreal and irrational, this little trinket will be a grim reminder… that the ordeal he went through last night wasn’t just a terrible nightmare.