Song: “Jackseye’s Tale” by Daniel Pemberton
I opened my eyes and blinked to adjust to the darkness.
“Hello, Seven,” a voice said in front of me.
A figure in a black hood blurred into view, but unless I was tripping on acid this dude’s face had gotten cut out and pasted back on upside-down. But then I felt a familiar heaviness at the top of my head and realized what the problem was. He wasn’t upside down. I was.
“Where am I?” I asked, gently swinging side to side. “And do I know you?”
“No,” said Mr. Hood. “But you will soon.”
I squinted at him. “Colloquially? Or….? I’m not sure what kinda party this is yet.”
He stood straight, which created a really weird illusion of him disappearing. And as he did, I realized three things: my ankles and my hands were tied, I could move my fingers, and my gun was gone. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Hood waving his arm at someone and before I could see who he was waving to, I was getting punched in the gut.
I gagged and spit blood on the floor. That actually hurt. Which was never a good sign. And speaking of which, I was starting to feel the rejections that were lodged inside of me. How long had I been still?
Mr. Hood came back and knelt in front of me.
“I have a problem, Seven,” he said.
“Really?” I asked, catching my breath. “I know a really good therapist. Goes by the name of Five.”
I was punched again and this time I spit blood into Mr. Hood’s mouth. Or I would have spit into his mouth if he hadn’t been wearing a mask that covered everything but his eyes. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Waste of blood.
“My problem, Seven,” he went on. He didn’t even wipe his mask. Hygiene much? “Is that the heroes we have are weak. The world deserves better. And I’m going to give it to them.”
“Lemme guess,” I said. “By taking over the world and being the savior it so desperately craves.”
“No,” he replied. “By breaking the old heroes.”
“Huh,” I breathed. “That took a dark turn.” My shoulder was throbbing now. That was the rejection from last night Five had been talking about. “By the way, where’s my stuff?”
Mr. Hood scoffed. “Your gun is gone. There was nothing else in your pockets.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “You didn’t see all those silver linings?”
Mr. Hood ignored me and took out a gun I’d never seen before then a magazine with the word PAIN etched across it. Like clockwork, my left side started throbbing in synch with my shoulder. That was the rejection from the bridge. I had to get out. Like, yesterday.
“Well,” I said. “Just gimme five seconds.” I took a few deep breaths. “Speaking of your future therapist. He does walk ins. And he should be here…any…moment…now.”
I hung there and Mr. Hood and his goons stood there staring. Nothing happened. No dramatic entrance with Five popping in guns blazing. That was weird. He was always on point.
I cleared my throat and looked straight at Mr. Hood. “Is it too late to apologize?”
Another punch to my gut and more blood came spewing out.
“Guess you’re not a fan of Timbaland,” I wheezed.
Mr. Hood aimed his gun at my forehead and I gently swung into the barrel.
“Your optimism is admirable,” he said. “But there’s no way to spin this.”
“I don’t need to spin,” I replied. “Just break.”
And with that, I executed a series of movements that would take too many pages to give it full justice. But in just three sentences, suffice it to know that I broke my left wrist, slipped my hands out of the ropes, then grabbed the nearest goon by the cojones. Once he squealed and bucked, I snatched my gun from behind his back(how did I know he had my gun?–refer back to not having enough pages to explain), then reached up and shot the ropes off my ankles. Lastly, I dropped to the floor just as Mr. Hood tried to shoot me, but I landed and rolled past him in one fluid motion then rushed through the darkness towards what looked like an exit.
I made it outside and was assaulted by sunlight. I covered my eyes as I stumbled forward and bumped into a motorcycle parked next to a jeep. And this, my friends, is where Lady Luck visited me. Because in the front seat of said jeep was my backpack. And when I smashed through the window and pulled it out, I felt for the secret pocket at the bottom and everything was intact. Remind me to send Lady Luck a couple dozen roses.
I heard shouting and bumping inside and got to work quickly. Five seconds later, the bike was hot wired and I was blasting off with a group of very angry goons shooting rejections behind me. I rode off through the path in the forest squinting madly to adjust to the daylight. It was awkward driving with one hand since my left one was broken, but as long as I kept moving I wouldn’t feel the pain.
I sped down the winding dirt road through trees and past a stone cabin. I glanced to my right and saw a wide blue river in the distance and a fuzzy New York City skyline beyond it. I wasn’t in Bolivia anymore. How long had I been out? And where in the name of Sigmund Freud was Five?
I reached into the side pocket of my backpack and pulled out my phone. Don’t try this at home, kids. One missed call from Five. Four missed calls from One. Huh. One was probably pissed. She’d get over it.
I took a swift turn as the road curved and suddenly someone crashed into me and sent me flying off the bike. We flew off the road and rolled into the forest and down the hill, smashing through logs, branches, and boulders. As we tumbled, I felt whoever this was grabbing for my waist, my belt, but hopefully nothing below there. When we finally landed at the bottom, I jumped to my feet ready to fight, but my insensitive assailant was already up and aiming my own gun at me. So that’s what he was grabbing.
“Five?” I asked. “What are you doing?”
Five’s hands were shaking and the Desert Eagle was wobbling like he was having caffeine withdrawal. I actually don’t know if that’s what it looks like, but whatever. The point is he didn’t look good. And his shoulder was drooping real low in a nasty looking way. He’d just gotten shot.
“Get back,” he growled.
I slowly started raising my hand then swiftly pulled One’s gun out from the secret pocket in my backpack.
Five’s eyes went wide.
“You didn’t see that coming, did ya?” I laughed. “Can’t con a–”
Five shot me straight in the chest with a rejection and I stumbled backwards. Everything blurred as he rushed past me and I hit the ground. I had to move. I just had to keep moving and everything was gonna be fine. Except it wasn’t. I could feel the fear racing through my blood. I twisted my body on the ground and aimed at Five as he ran and unleashed a flurry of One’s bullets that missed wildly.
This couldn’t be happening.
Just keep moving. I pushed myself up on my arms, but the moment I did, a weight crashed on my back and plastered my face into the dirt. Now that my nose was broken, MTV’s Jerk of the Year spun me on my back and I was face to face with Mr. Hood again.
“Screw you,” I breathed.
“There’s no escape this time, Seven,” he said, aiming his gun at me. “Take the pain.”
And I did.
Straight to the skull.
Original artwork by Jessica Bryant