Song: “Why So Serious?” by Hans Zimmer
Someone was in my apartment.
I grabbed an Uzi and cocked it ready. No need to load any magazines–my Uzi’s were always loaded with rejections just in case moments like these happened. I swung my gun in a wide sweep around the apartment, scanning every corner for the intruder.
I still couldn’t believe they had gotten inside. But how? And when? There was no way they had gotten in while I was sleeping. I had the apartment locked down and wired with cameras and alarms. I would’ve heard or seen them. What if they had come in with Nine? But I didn’t see anyone else come in with him. Could they be invisible? Was that possible? Could there be assassins with invisibility cloaks?
I held my breath as I went around the living room. What if it wasn’t even a person? What if it was an animal? Like some kind of bird? I shuddered at that thought. I was absolutely terrified of birds. Their beaks and talons and the sound of their wings fluttering were enough to make me hyperventilate.
I shook the thought of birds out of my mind and pivoted in another direction. I slowly approached the bedroom, minding the creaks in the floor that would give away my presence.
Maybe I should leave, I thought to myself. That would probably be the most logical thing to do.
But I couldn’t go out there. Who knew who else was waiting for me outside? Not to mention all the birds in this city(which was why Nine’s suggestion to get out was so insane). But I didn’t know who was waiting for me in here either.
I held the barrel aimed at my bedroom door and visualized the intruder rummaging through my things with his back to me. I’d shoot him without any questions. If he was waiting for me around the corner, I’d open the door and flatten myself against the wall and let him shoot first. If he was–
There was a buzz behind me and I almost shot the front door off.
“Six, open up!”
It was Nine. He was trying to get buzzed in. I breathed heavy sighs of relief and you would’ve thought I’d just been running a marathon. But then a thought gripped me. What if the person who was in here was looking for Nine too? I couldn’t let Nine in and put him in danger. I had to keep him out there.
“Six, let me in!” he shouted again. “C’mon! I gotta get in!”
He was in trouble. I was wrong. Whoever this was wasn’t waiting from him in here. They were already coming for him out there. I had to get him inside.
I sprinted to the door and buzzed him in then turned and kept my gun aimed in the direction of the bedroom.
A minute later, Nine was rushing through the door and locked it behind him.
“What’s going on?” I asked him as he rushed past me to the wall.
“You were right,” he breathed, reaching for an Uzi. I saw him grimace as he reached up. He’d been shot. I also noticed that his gun was gone, which was why he was taking one of mine. But that wasn’t a good idea. Especially since that particular gun was also loaded with fear.
“What are you doing?” I asked him. “Wait. You don’t know how to use that–”
But it was too late. I knew it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know how to use it. But before I could stop him, he was shooting a fusillade of fear and rejection into me.
I dropped to the floor on my hands and knees and my Uzi dropped next to me. I felt the rejection flood through my system like a virus and my body shook from head to toe. My own brother had just shot me. Memories of us as children flashed through my mind, but they were all cracked from the bullets that had just been shot through them.
No. He didn’t mean it. It was an accident.
But I couldn’t deny the pain throbbing inside of me. I had to leave. There was someone in here and now my own brother was trying to kill me. No. He would never do that. But I had to leave. I saw the fire escape behind the window and rushed to it without waiting for an apology. I swung out, climbed down, and sprinted into the street once my feet hit the sidewalk.
Rain was coming down in sheets and blurring my vision as I crossed the intersection. Cars blared as I sprinted through, but I couldn’t stop or slow down. There was only one place I would be safe now. I weaved in and out of pedestrians walking past and suddenly one of them ran into me. Our bodies interlocked for a brief moment and I felt something on his hip that told me this wasn’t a random pedestrian–a gun.
My mind went into overdrive and before our momentum even wore off, before his body even had a chance to recover from the crash, I swiped the gun off his hip and fired two shots into his chest. He staggered backwards and the bystanders shrieked in panic as he dropped on his back. People rushed away and I stood over him, aiming his own gun at his head.
He looked up at me and my heart sank into my stomach.
It was Three.
This couldn’t be happening. I had just shot my own brother.
“Six…” I heard him whisper.
“Three,” I whimpered. I wanted to hug him, hold him, promise him that everything was going to be okay and that this was an accident. But I couldn’t get any words out. All I could feel was the panic swelling like a balloon about to burst inside of me. And all I could see was the silhouette of a man sprinting through the rain towards me.
I had to move.
I turned and ran, leaving Three lying on the sidewalk.
There was only one place I’d be safe and once I was there, this would all be over.
I made it off the sidewalk and into a park, hopping over benches and fences until I was diving into the woods. Several hundred meters later, I made it to a storm cellar with a keypad outside. I pressed my hand against it and the metal doors slid open, revealing steel stairs leading underground. I jumped down the stairs and the doors sealed shut behind me.
I turned the corner and opened another set of doors with another keypad and rushed down a narrow silver hall. I went through two more sets of these doors until I was in a sealed metal room the size of a walk-in closet with a dim light in the ceiling.
I turned and faced the doors with Three’s gun aimed and ready just in case.
I was safe now. No one was going to get in here.
Seconds wore on to minutes and minutes wore on to an hour.
I finally lowered Three’s gun and let myself breathe.
Then I heard a bang.
The storm cellar doors had just been blasted open.
I covered my mouth to stifle a gasp.
This was impossible.
Another bang and the ground shook. Several more bangs followed by ear-splitting metallic screeches. The first set of doors had been ripped open.
Something was coming. And whatever it was wasn’t human.
Heavy footsteps thudded down the hall followed by more ground-shaking bangs.
I held Three’s gun at the doors and my hands wobbled in terror.
There was another screech and I knew the second set of doors had been ripped open.
Only one set of doors was standing between me and whatever this thing was.
I covered my mouth to keep my breathing quiet, but I couldn’t quiet my knees from rattling.
The creature banged on the doors and I saw the metal caving in with every hit. It slammed its fists into every inch of the doors until my ears were ringing.
Then it stopped.
I held my breath, waiting for it to suddenly screech and break through with one final slam. But it didn’t. I took one step backward and felt a hand on my shoulder.
It spun me around and I was face to face with a towering man in a black hood.
Except it wasn’t a man.
He had a body like a man, but his eyes were pitch black orbs and his nose was a shimmering, black beak curving down at me like a sword. As if things couldn’t get any more horrific, the sound of fluttering filled the room as he unfurled a pair of massive, black wings behind him, enveloping us in darkness.
I opened my mouth to scream, but he clasped his palm over my face and slammed me against the door. His talons pierced my cheeks and blood trickled down my jaw.
“No matter where you run,” the bird man breathed into me. “No matter where you hide. I will always find you.”
I stared into his eyes in utter terror and dropped Three’s gun to the floor. My body shook under his weight and tears stung my eyes as they raced down my face.
Then the bird man leaned closer and spoke these final words into my soul: “You will never be safe.”
He aimed a gun into my face, fired a shot, and everything went black.
Original artwork by Andrea Ng