Short Stories

Don’t have time to read a novel? Or maybe the cost is a bit pricey? I don’t blame you. Life gets busy and bills have to get paid. Try something shorter and free. Below are some of my older short stories. I think they provide a good taste of my style and personal taste in topics, themes, and tones. Many of my short stories actually take place in the same fictional universe. Some are just a slice of life in some of my stranger character’s daily routines. I’ll try to add as many free short stories on this page as I can. I’ll be sure to update the homepage whenever there’s an addition.

Enjoy!  And reader be warned, most of my stories can be very dark! 😉

 

This first story takes place in the Black Jack universe, in the city of Crestfall. You may have seen me mention Black Jack on the Questions and Answers page. If you’re in the mood to see through the eyes of one of my most sinister (and intriguing) side characters, this one is an entertaining read. Enjoy!

Black Jack Chronicles: The Hooded Serpent

serpent_2F

By J. Oliver Madison

It feels like a part of me is cracked on the inside. I think I’ve nearly forgotten my reason for existence completely. I’m not sure why though. Tonight is just a night like any other. It’s the same shitty-ass city with the same shitty-ass sacks of meat walking around. By sacks of meat I of course refer to the average people of this city, living out their shitty-ass daily routines they abide by, that they have the audacity to dare call lives. Damn it! It even feels like the same old and worn-down cars drive past while I strut down the same decrepit sidewalk I use on a daily basis. The filth and cracks in the cement remind me of myself in some sort of disgusting way.

It’s weird… funny even. Most of the time, I feel my purpose surging through my veins. It fuels me, charges me up with a pure tingling of ecstasy. It’s the bloodlust I’m accustomed to while ripping through someone’s soft flesh or squeezing out their last breathe of air as I put a cease to their squirming. It’s been too long since I’ve last felt that sensation. There’s a god-like charm that goes along with having the power to put an end to someone’s life at whim. I wish I felt that way all the time. In fact, I usually do. But not tonight.

I notice that the people who happen to walk down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of me; towards me, attempt absurd feats to avoid entering my presence. Some go inside convenience stores to refrain from nearing me. Others go so far as to cross the street when they spot a momentary halt in the traffic. They quickly make it across the road, then continue their leisurely stroll on the other side. They make it look so obvious.

Sometimes I wonder if they can recognize me for who I am. I’m not that infamous. You wouldn’t see my picture in a newspaper or anything like that. Word of my existence only spreads through the rumors of the very few victims who manage to somehow miraculously escape from me. Though to be fair, I bet those few survivors would have a lot to say.

Though, with my black hood up, you’d think it would be harder for these passers to tell. Harder for them to see me for the monster I truly am. It’s not like right now, in this shade of night, they can see my face. I can’t help grinning as I imagine just how scared shitless they’d be if they did get a good look at me. I flash my jagged triangular teeth at the thought of it.

I wonder just how big my reputation has gotten over the years. I guess my transformation really did contribute to the bulk of it. It literally took days upon days to complete the tattooing procedure alone. However, for me, it felt like almost a lifetime. My piercings were quick and painless in comparison, and then there was the long ordeal I endured when I started filing my own teeth. It was something I made a habit of doing in my spare time. It took a couple weeks to finish on my own, but the results were well worth it. The only part that really hurt, that was almost too much to handle, was dying the whites of my eyes. I almost ripped them out myself during the start of the inking process, but I knew that once I began on the first one that there was no going back.  A year ago they were eggshell white just like everyone else’s. Now, they blaze a dark red.

The closest people that anyone would consider calling my ‘friends’ say that I remind them of a snake. I hear them talk amongst one another about me behind my back like I’m oblivious or something. I heard one of them tell another once that when I stare at him for too long without speaking, he feels like he’s about to be swallowed alive. It wasn’t a joke either.

My new face even scares myself sometimes, and I like it. I can only imagine the fear that others feel while under the cast of my gaze. Oh, and they have every reason to be afraid. It’s simply because I’m a monster, on the inside as well as the out. The whole point of drastically altering my appearance was to be reborn and bestow upon myself the image that displays how I truly feel on the inside.

And it was a success.

I actually take it as a compliment to be compared with a snake. I grew tired of being a human like the rest of society. I felt weak and it was boring to no end. Now, I am an animal, a predator; everyone else is nothing more than potential prey. I am a monster, a demon. People can either fear me or be eaten, it’s their call.

This feeling is sublime.

The people I mentioned earlier… the ones who weren’t my friends…I work with them. Apparently they’re having a meeting or something tonight. But I never go to them. It’s a waste of time. I don’t understand the real purpose of the group; it’s a gang, or at least the leader refers to them as one. Though to me, it has a feel more along the lines of a cult. There’s about twenty of us, not including the guy who started up the group and runs the show. Black jackets are the mandatory uniform. Hence their name—Black Jack. They’re lucky black’s my favorite color; otherwise I wouldn’t bother wearing it. Whenever I talk to any of the other members, it’s always business and it’s always kept brief. Even though they technically count me as one of their own, I’m still the loner of the bunch. They only call for me when they need me and my talents. The only reason I’m with them and follow the few rules of their organization is because they help support my preferred lifestyle. On top of that, they feed me and supply me with a room.

I basically have two jobs that I perform for the group. The first is torturing, or as I like to call it, “life’s forbidden play”. I ‘play’ with people until we get any information we need out of them. The other job is nothing more than killing whoever the leader of our gang tells me to, like an attack dog. I like to alternate between the two jobs as much as possible because at least that way it keeps things fresh. However, if I had to pick a favorite it would definitely be the latter. Torturing someone to the brink of insanity is fine every now and then because you get to relax while doing it. You get to take your sweet time and enjoy yourself as you take in their fear. However, too much of it gets boring after a while. That’s when eliminating a man on his own two feet, someone who at least has a fighting chance, becomes much more amusing. At least with that, I feel like I have to stay on my toes. My adrenaline kicks in and I can truly remember my reason for existence. I get the opportunity to put everything I have against my target and mow down his hopes of survival right before his very eyes.

A chill trickles down my spine. Ah, that tingles. I feel the familiar sensation slither down my back whenever I think about it. Man smite. No. Elimination of pests is more like it. Black Jack, the gang I’m with, their job is easy. All they need to do is point a finger in the direction of whoever they want to die next and then simply stand back.

I reach the stop sign at the corner of Smith and Coal Street and turn right. I see a few hoodlums with their pants hanging halfway off their asses walking towards me. All three of them wear baggy jeans. The most built one of the bunch wears a wife-beater, no doubt to show off his physique. One of them is fat, enormously fat, to the point where you know he couldn’t fit in a movie theater seat. Probably made fun of as a kid. He sports a huge blue jacket with random designs marked all throughout it. The last guy is the skinniest. His big blue shirt resembles the ocean hanging down to his knees like a dress. He looks ridiculous to me, but who am I to judge.

The fat one undoubtedly points directly at me. I’m a hundred percent certain they’re not going to try to avoid me like most others do. In fact, it looks like it’s just the opposite. It seems like a confrontation with the three of them is inevitable. I hear them talk about me thirty feet or so away before we collide with one another.

“Ehye man, dats him!” says the fat man still pointing. He looks to be in his early twenties or late teens; no, on second thought definitely twenty-one or twenty-two. “Dats da dude dat killed Willy bout a month ago.”

“Nah, no way man. Not likely,” says the bulky one in the wife-beater. “This dude be scrawnier than Neal.” He gestures over to his thin comrade who I assume to be Neal.

“No, Donnie that’s gotta be him!” replies Neal, the thin one of the three. “He’s got that jacket, so he’s got to be with Black Jack. Plus look at his face! I heard it was a dude from Black Jack with tats all over his face that iced Will.”

Donnie nods his head. “I think your right.”

All three of them stop in their tracks under a street light and form what looks like a human wall. I see that their eyes are all fixed on me as I continue walking closer towards them with my hands hidden within the pockets of my pitch-black jacket. I stare back at them in curiosity, trying to see if any of their faces ring a bell. Nope, nothing. And I have no clue as to who this Willy guy they claim I killed is either. Somewhere along the lines of my job, or hobby rather, I’ve lost count of lives, track of names, back stories, and faces. They’re all just meaningless attachments to bodies anyways.

I stop about a foot or two in front of the small group. “Are you going to let me pass?” I ask in my warm and malevolent deep voice.

“No, you ain’t goin’ nowhere homes,” says Donnie, the bulky one. He reaches over, hastily pulls off my hood and reveals my face. Their reactions are heartwarming. “Oh my GAWD!” He says, more than shocked.

“What the hell’dya do to yourself!?” yells Neal. He turns away for a split second at the unveiling.

Under the glow of the streetlight they clearly see my smooth bald shaved head, completely sketched over with tattoos that resemble the black stripes apparent on many varieties of snakes. The marks start at the back of my head and descend past my neck. More tattoos are prevalent on my face in sharp jagged designs. The patterns focus around my mouth and eyes, along with two more that look as if they point towards my nose. Most of my piercings on my face border around my eyebrows and the bottom sides of my chin. Another row of tiny stubbed piercings is visiblly spiking outwards, traveling down the arc of my nose. Without a doubt, what catches them off guard the most are my eyes. My eyes appear to be completely blood-shot, often giving whoever I look at the most uncomfortable, sickening feeling imaginable.

“Yo, this guy’s a freak!” shouts the fat one, cringing his face. His response makes me smile, showing off my razor sharp smile.

“Listen very closely,” I say to them calmly. “I’m not feeling like my normal self tonight…” Before their very eyes I alter the mood of the situation. “If I were you, I would take advantage of this moment and seek your vengeance on me for what I did to your friend, Willy… I was cruel to him…” I go on, hoping to draw them in. “Inhumane even… but now, with all of you here, and me feeling as horrible as I do, I’m sure the three of you can hand deliver to me the fate I deserve.”

The runt, Neal, is the only one of the three that steps backwards, increasing his distance from me. He can sense it. He can sense the lies spurting from the monster lurking under my facade. “I don’t like this Donnie,” he says nearly trembling. “Stay away from this guy. This dude ain’t human.”

Donnie turns around to Neal, looking like he’s about to talk some sense into him for being a coward… leaving the fat one…wide…open…

I whip my hands out from my jacket’s pockets and wrap them around their fat friend’s thick neck. Before he has the opportunity to even grunt, I jerk my hands and twist them around his throat. Donnie and Neal witness my brutality in disbelief. A mass of blood spills out from their friend’s neck, drenching my palms as well as his now violet blotched jacket. “Yes…,” I whisper to him, restraining myself from convulsing. “I feel it now… Thank you… Thank you for reminding me of my purpose.” I finish with his throat and remove my blood covered hands. The massive motionless body falls to the cold sidewalk with a thud. The body’s eyes remain open, unblinking. A gargling sound is still heard reverberating from its partially opened mouth.

I hold my hands out in plain sight for the other two hoodlums to see. Speechless, they finally notice the two large barbed hooks attached to the center of the palm of my right hand. They resemble two thin parallel crescent moons, both roughly about an inch and a half long. Moments ago, they were clean, shiny, and silver. Now they’re almost entirely soaked and dripping in liquid rubies. Now the hoodlums, the two that remain standing, take a look at my second identical set of fang-like hooks that protrude from my left hand, same as the ones on my right. Unknown to these thugs, my last addition to my personal transformation were these hooks I applied to my palms for easy access to a conveniently concealed weapon. Each is attached to my flesh with deep multiple piercings. They’re painful when I use them I admit, though unquestionably much more excruciating for those on the other end of the blades.

The two once cocky, once proud hoodlums that first wanted to attack me are now petrified. I sense that they can both feel my red glare staring through them. They know I’m sizing them up, wondering who to strike down next. However, I wonder if they figured it out yet—that it’s too late for them to retaliate against me in any way. Once I cast fear into my prey, I know that the game of cat and mouse is over and it’s only a matter of time before I decide to make my killing strike.

Neal looks like he’s trying to wake himself up from a bad dream. Donnie wipes his face for what looks like an attempt to avoid appearing saddened. “Oh, I’m sooo sorry…” I mock the two. “There goes another one of your friends. Now you really need to put me out of my misery.” I let out a legitimate chuckle.

All Donnie does is look at me furiously. I can feel his hatred for me boiling within his face. It comforts me. It fuels me. It… feeds me. I lick my lips while staring at him with crimson eyes. “I bet you hate me, don’t you?” I say egging him on. “You can use it you know.” I gleam my teeth. “You can use your hatred to fuel you.” I gently place my foot on top of their friend’s motionless corpse while I maintain my set glare. Donnie completely blows his temper. “But unfortunately…,” I tell him. “I’m afraid your hate is nowhere near as strong as mine.” Out of a final burst of rage, Donnie pulls back his arm and prepares to sock me dead in my face. I grin with my pearl daggers, knowing that all of his effort will be in vain.

*****

I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of this game we call life. It may always be the same old thing again and again, but that’s half the fun. There are those here who were put on Earth simply to be food for the stronger, the more powerful. Destiny has chosen for me to be the latter.

I stare at the two bodies on the old decrepit cement of the sidewalk, watching their blood soak into the cracks as they add to the filth. While observing the insignificant sight, I tighten my hold onto Neal, the last of the three, by his arm. It streams out trickles of blood, the same shade as my eyes. He doesn’t make a sound or any attempt to escape. I like that. “Now then, Neal was it?” I ask rhetorically. “I’ve decided I’m going to let you live.” I pause. “But only if you spread word of my animosity to all your friends and family. Let them hear about what happened to you and your friends tonight.” He shakes his head up and down, agreeing with me, remaining silent. “Neal…” I say to him playfully. “You know I’m just screwing with you, right?” I swear I can hear his heart beat through his shirt. He shakes his head as if saying ‘no’, utterly horrified.

“I’m sorry Neal, but I’m afraid I need your help,” I tell him. “You see I’ve been feeling pretty shitty lately. I need you to help me feel alive.”

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A Quick word from the Author: The short story below is another slice of life from Black Jack. This time, from one of my main characters. The finished unpublished manuscript that this story is based on follows Lucas, but through a third-person perspective. You’ll meet him in this story too. Enjoy!

Black Jack Chronicles: Tracey Song A.K.A the Archive

Reality Check

By J. Oliver Madison

Pathetic,” says Lucas, my closest friend. Or should I say boss…? Or leader rather, gang leader to be precise. It’s… complicated… He carried so much spite in his voice when he said it.

Lucas silently stares at the group of us with a condescending sneer. There’re nine of us in total, all wearing black jackets the same as his. We stand motionlessly with perfect posture, like a line of soldiers. No, not a line—never mind. It’s more of a staggered clump. Lucas begins smoothly making his way through the crowd as he addresses us.

This…is bad…

I can’t focus on a word he’s saying. Even though I see his mouth moving, I hear nothing. I’m more focused on how mad, and yet so…reserved he seems to be with us. He continues lecturing us on responsibility—or something like that. He sizes each of us up individually while doing so. It’s almost embarrassing for me. But more importantly, for some reason, for some unknown God-forsaken reason, I can’t for the life of me pay attention to him. I keep getting distracted by his perfect oval face, his smooth light caramel skin, lips, and his piercing eyes. Oh my God, he’s gorgeous! He has the eyes of a god. The kind of eyes that make him look as if he knows exactly what you’re thinking, like he’s reading you—easily too—like a children’s book or something. The worst part, or best part (I’m not sure), is that it feels like he wants to hide it too—like he doesn’t want you to know he’s well aware of what’s going on inside your head.

He approaches one of the members in front of me and comes to a halt, facing him directly. Lucas nonchalantly looks through the eyes of a man who appears about a foot taller than him—probably weighs twice as much as him too. To me, the guy resembles one of those professional UFC fighters from TV. Judging by how it looks, it’s obvious that Lucas is unaffected by how big and built the man is. Even still, Lucas just looks through him, as if he were staring though glass. “Greg…” says Lucas calmly. “Who is your partner?” His voice is softer than butter, yet at the same time, solid and cool as ice.

“Sandra,” replies Greg sternly. He glares back at Lucas, trying to intimidate him. He smiles cockily with an, ‘I don’t care what you have to say’, kind of expression. I slip out a small smirk while no one is looking. ‘It won’t work’, I keep to myself. ‘Your tough-guy disguise won’t work on Lucas. He’ll crack you, just you wait.’

“And where is she?” Lucas continues.

“Don’t know,” he responds smugly. “Not really my problem.”

Lucas smirks back. “That’s where you’re wrong, Greg. It’s your biggest problem. Sandra’s presence affects you directly.”

“Oh, is that right?” He clenches his fist, waiting for Lucas to say the wrong thing to him. Greg definitely appears more than willing to escalate the tension to the next level.

On second thought, this may turn out worse than I thought.

Lucas continues playing the staring game with Greg. Things get way too awkwardly quiet in the enclosed area we’re in. It’s bad enough that we’re literally underground in a dusty and forgotten warehouse in the middle of downtown Crestfall—no doubt the most ghetto city in the U.S.—but without anyone saying a word, all that can be heard are the consecutive drips every few seconds from the leaky pipe above us, hidden somewhere in the distant darkness. This place would definitely give most people the creeps—myself included. Besides a few cobweb covered tables, some overturned chairs, and a water heater, I can’t see too much at all. The lighting down here is fairly dim, due to our very limited supply of weak light bulbs at our disposal. I don’t know why we have to meet in the middle of the freaking night in a place like this.

“Don’t get the wrong idea about this talk,” says Lucas, finally retorting back. “I’m on your side.” He sounds like he’s being sarcastic with Greg. Wonder where he’s going with this… “There’s a reason why you’re one of the very few in Black Jack who receives payment on a monthly basis, Greg. You see, I need you and your strength, but there is still far more from you that I require. Your loyalty, for starters. I need to know that I can trust you every second of the day whether you’re in my presence or not. I need to know that you’re always behind me, ready to jump in and catch me should I fall.” Lucas’s smirk disappears. “I need to know that I can count on you to do everything I say, when I say, and exactly how I say it—to the letter.” Greg looks unmoved, underwhelmed by Lucas’s speech. “When I say jump, don’t ask, ‘How high?’” says Lucas making quotations out of his fingers. “Simply…jump. You see Greg, I already know your capabilities inside and out and can calculate your strengths and flaws with each situation that comes our way. As long as you do as I order, your natural response will become the correct one—part of my calculations. Everything on my end is taken care of. It’s your end I’m having second thoughts about.”

It looks as though Lucas is staring at something on Greg’s face. He moves his head around, as if analyzing him. “I don’t need you to think on your own Greg. I don’t have you around to do any thinking at all. That’s what I’m here for. It’s easy. I just need you to do as I say.” He stops himself to check on how Greg’s taking in his talk. Greg is calm, but irritated. “Making sure your partner, Sandra, is present for meetings such as tonight is one of them.” Lucas pauses and smirks again. “When we first met at the gym, I didn’t single you out because you’re the best,” he says malevolently. “You’re strong, but not the strongest.”

Soon enough, Greg’s curiosity gets to him. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” he mumbles.

“In short, it means do your job and you’ll continue to get paid.” Lucas leans his head near Greg’s left ear and whispers something to him. None of the other members seem to be paying any attention to them, but it’s obvious that they’re at least a little bit interested.

Luckily, by reading his lips, I make out most of Lucas’s whispered words. It almost looks like he says, “Medical bills are expensive,” or something like that.

At any rate, judging by Greg’s expression, he appears as if he’s seen a ghost. He turns around at the other members nervously. His face flushes red and he loses his ‘macho man’ vibe. He refocuses back on Lucas. “And how the hell do you know about her, huh?” he replies. It seemed that Greg tried to whisper back, but he was loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. This guy definitely needs to work on maintaining his cool if he wants to hang with Lucas.

Lucas responds simply by staring at him, as if puzzled. He then lets it out. “Greg…you’re thinking again…” He pats him on the shoulder and continues making his way down the nine of us. “Believe me. It would… behoove you, and ‘Vicky’, if you simply follow my orders without question.” He stops and turns back towards Greg who looks stunned, like he just took a punch to the stomach. “Look at me,” says Lucas, commanding him gently. Greg obeys. He turns towards Lucas’s unblinking eyes that communicate with his. As far as Lucas is concerned, the two of them just reached an understanding. “Now, if you agree with me that your partner should and will be here the next time I summon you, nod.” Greg swallows and nods without saying a word. “That’s good,” replies Lucas. “And now, Carson…” He turns his attention towards another member in the crowd.

Once again, I lose my focus. What a powerful man. I wonder if he ever looks at me as anything other than just a Black Jack member.

After ten minutes pass, the lecture ends and Lucas excuses us for the night. He begins to walk off on his own, but I run and catch up to him. “How old was that guy?” I ask, once I reach him. Lucas seems caught off guard that I’m following him. He looks around and sees that the other members are far away from us and well on their way out. He puts on his other face, the gentle and friendly Lucas that I knew before I joined the gang.

“Um, twenty-six,” he says, already knowing who I’m talking about.

“That was so cool the way you put him in his place like that. Like, what did you say to him?” I ask, craving his attention. “I wanna know like all the juicy details.” He looks at me and sighs. He rubs the top of my head with his hand. I don’t even care that he messed up my hair. I just savor the moment, smiling back up at him.

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” he replies. “What time is it? About 11 o’clock? Why don’t you go home for the night? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Damn it. I hate when he treats me like a baby. Though I guess that’s pretty easy for him to do given the age and maturity differences between us—not to mention the major distinguishing differences in our sizes. He’s seventeen years old, five feet, nine inches tall and half black. I’m half Korean, half white and barely reach four and a half feet. I’ve been told by many people that I could just pass as full Korean. That’s probably what’s responsible for giving me somewhat of a baby-face. It also doesn’t help that I’m easily, without a doubt, the youngest Black Jack member at thirteen years of age as of last week. “I don’t have to go home yet,” I say to him. “Wanna hang out for a while?”

“Sorry, I can’t tonight,” he says disappointingly. “I’m busy. Another time, maybe.” His reply feels more like he’s talking at me rather than to me.

It saddens me a little, but I should be used to it by now. It feels like Lucas has been busy every night since he officially recruited me. “It’s okay. It’s no biggie.” I tell him. “Oh yeah! My mom wants you to come over for dinner sometime soon too.”

“Right, let me know what night works for you guys and as long as nothing comes up, I’ll be sure to attend,” he tells me. I love the way he talks! I flash my pearly white smile at him. He always has a way of brightening my eyes and spirit.  He sounds as if he’s actually interested in coming over.

However, part of me is sure that I can’t believe him. It feels like my gut is trying to tell me that he’s just feeding me a lie, but I could never actually bring myself to believe something like that. My brother was wrong about him. He recently told me that Lucas doesn’t care about me, that he only wants to use me for the gang. Use my ‘talent’. It’s what our gang is most famous for. Our shortage in numbers is made up by the quality of our members. Each of us is diverse in what we can do, and we all play a part in the grand scheme of things. Lucas told me once that we’re like pieces of a puzzle, forming a complete picture when we work together. It’s not something gangs normally do, but amazingly, through Lucas’s brilliant leadership and tact, it’s worked so far. We’re taking the city by storm little by little as we tactical strikes against specific individuals, rival gangs, and territory. Lucas sees gang wars as a game of chess involving strategy and precise actions. Everyone else in this city is playing checkers.

But even with my talent being what it is, there’s no way that what my brother said could ever be true. I feel that Lucas and I have some sort of bond. I think if anything, my brother, Lee, is just overly jealous that Lucas recruited me into Black Jack after he had no doubt in his mind that he’d become a member. I haven’t seen them talk to each other ever since.

The two of them were pretty good friends for a while, which is actually how I met Lucas in the first place. He and Lee would hang out at our house from time to time. Then, ever since Lucas and I were introduced, it would be the three of us, just like the three musketeers. Lucas became my first real friend since middle school because in class I played the role of the awkwardly quiet nerdy girl. I was the complete epitome of the classic Asian stereotype. I would keep to myself and focus only on my studies as an outcast to my peers. Luckily that’s not the case anymore.

Nowadays, I sport a custom fit black jacket for my petite body, to which I’ve trimmed the sleeves off of. If anything else, it now resembles a black vest with a hood attached. I also don’t feel silly about ditching my thick rectangular glasses for contacts or letting my hair down either, as opposed to my old geeky ponytail. In my own personal opinion, I definitely look more attractive this way. I’ve also only just now started experimenting with makeup. I don’t overdo it like the sluts at my school though. I just use enough to touch up my face to supply the “wow” factor. Oh, and nail polish too! Tons of black nail polish to match the jacket. I’m more than pleased with my transformation. The other girls at my school definitely don’t make fun of me anymore. It feels good, knowing that the old me is dead. The new me, the new Tracey Song, is a hot bad-ass gangster.

Ha! Or something like that!

“Right, right definitely,” I respond to Lucas thrilled. “My mom’s thinking the best night for dinner is Friday or Saturday, ‘cause that’s the day she gets home early—but any day that works for you is fine. Well except for Sunday evenings, ‘cause those are the days we go to church and-.”

“Noted,” he replies abruptly. “Don’t worry. I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow. Oh, and say ‘hey’ to Lee for me.” I have more to say, but without uttering another word, Lucas turns around and continues walking off alone. The last I see of him is the mysterious way he seems to fade away, piece by piece into the darkness. I hear a clank as he passes through a door on the opposite side of the building that he always takes.

I put my right index finger to my mouth and gently bite down on it. I wonder how he sees me… As a friend, a sister of a friend, a girl, or… as my brother had told me…“a tool”.

*****

Lucas is definitely different from the first time we’ve met, but I can’t put my finger on how. I don’t let it bother me though. Instead, I decide to pick up the pace and leave through the way I came in. I always hate being the last one left in warehouse. The whole building has a ‘Saw’ esc feeling to it. Like, I wouldn’t even be surprised if I ran into a couple of tied up prisoners and a TV screen, telling them the rules to some kind of demented game. I better stop thinking about that now… I’m actually starting to give myself the creeps. I hear the dripping sound again, coming from the pipe as I finally make it outside the meeting room. I don’t even bother turning off the lights. This place seems much larger and much more vacant without the others here.

Now, the only obstacles separating me from the exit and fresh air are two flights of stairs and a narrow hallway that leads to the entrance. I don’t feel the slightest bit ridiculous as I run up the stairs at an abnormally fast pace. If someone sees me now, they’d probably think that I’m running from someone. The truth is, I just want to get back home as soon as humanly possible. I wonder if my mom has realized yet that I’m not at home in my room by now. If she finds out, I’ll definitely be in a world of trouble. I don’t really know how she’d punish me either. It’s not like I’ve ever been one to act up as a kid. My heart races as I jet up the stairs and tune out the metallic echoing of the steps clanging against my shoes. As I sprint, I feel like I might trip and fall over, but I’d rather take that chance than use the grimy handrail.

Finally, I reach the top of the stairs, beginning to make my way through the narrow corridor. It’s constructed out of old bricks, some appearing to be missing. One’s been substituted by a bird’s nest. A beam of light from an outside streetlamp shines its way through a small window on the entrance door. I sigh, and feel like I can finally slow down a little and catch my breath.

Before I even make it halfway down the passageway I hear someone’s footsteps coming towards me. The sound slowly reverberates, becoming progressively louder. I realize now that it’s coming from down the hall on the opposite end, about fifty feet or so directly in front of me. I consider walking a little faster, but soon realize that whoever or whatever is walking in my direction is much closer to my exit than I am. Eventually, I make it within a few feet of the door leading to the outside, but see someone in the corner of my eye. It’s a shadowy hunched over figure, sitting against the wall adjacent to the exit. Even though I’m already feeling jumpy, curiosity ultimately gets the better of me. I grab the door handle and turn my head as I pass the hunched shadow. It may be dark, but it’s not too bad. In just one glance, I’m able to distinguish the type and shade of clothing that the hunchback, a grown man, is wearing. I stop with my hand on the door, turn towards him and utter, “Black Jack?” putting an inflection on the ‘Jack’ to prompt a question.

He slowly raises his head, but I’m still unable to clearly make out his face. It looks like there’s something layered around it, like a thin sheet of saran wrap or something.

“Yes…” he replies. His voice is deep and rough. It sounds like he really needs to sandpaper his throat. “You must be a member as well, hm?”

I let go of the door handle and face towards his direction. “Yeah,” I tell him. “What are you still doing around here? The meeting’s over.”

“Not all members of Black Jack have a home to return to,” he tells me. “A few of us have nowhere else to go. So we reside here, within the confines of the warehouse.”

“Really?!” I asked surprised. “Are you joking? How can anyone live here!?” I find it too hard to believe. “I can hardly stand being here for a few hours. I can’t imagine actually living in this place.”

He laughs in a low voice, sounding like an old man. He slowly stands up, towering over me. “This dusty old place grows on you after the first couple of nights. I’ve only just recently been able to feel its homelike charm.” His head and back still carries a slight hunch regardless of the fact that he’s looking down at me. He’s as tall as a bookcase, but nowhere near as sturdy as one. I also see now, that although he’s a member of Black Jack, his jacket doesn’t t appear to be of the correct type. Even though it is black like the others, it doesn’t look as if it’s made of cotton. On top of that, it drapes unzipped over his entire body, reaching down to his shoes. Instead of a hoodie, it appears to be a trench coat.

“Hmmm…” I analyze him questionably, coming to the conclusion that this man in front of me seems friendly enough. I’d say that he looks along the lines of a gentle giant, but he’s just tall, not really any bulk to him at all. “That reminds me,” I continue. “I don’t think I saw you at the meeting. Were you there?” I ask inquisitively.

He chuckles again, but much more lightly this time. “No,” he replies in a much higher tone. “That would be utterly pointless.” He sounds about twenty years younger from when he first started speaking. “Lucas has me doing much of his busy work as it is. I wouldn’t ever waste my time attending one of his unenlightening…meetings.”

“It might be best for you to go to the next one,” I tell him, trying to help him out. “He makes it a point to get on the case of those who don’t go.” I put my hands on my hips. “He’ll even get on your case if you do attend, but your partner doesn’t.” I try to get a good look at his head by squinting my eyes. In the darkness I can only make out the border of his body and curly blonde hair. But I still can’t see much of his blurry face.

“Is that so?” he asks. He sounds as if he doesn’t care what I’m telling him though. “Our leader, Lucas, sounds like he can be quite the buzz kill.” I see him gleam a small smile.

“What? Oh, no,” I quickly retort in Lucas’s defense. “He’s strict, but he means well. He’s just trying to keep the gang…how did he put it…? “Unified”.”

“Interesting,” says the curly haired hunchback. “You seem very mature for your age. How old are you? Eleven? Twelve?”

“Uh, thirteen.”

“Really, thirteen?” he asks in surprised. “But you’re so small, almost doll-like even. Hm… Let me get a good look at you.” He reaches out an arm for the wall. He freezes and keeps it suspended in the air. “My appearance may frighten you,” he warns me. “Try not to be afraid.” I nod and he flips on a switch that I didn’t know was there to begin with. It catches me off guard when a dim orange cast of light is summoned from an ancient bulb attached to the ceiling above us. I literally jump when I first take in the sight.

Beneath his bright blonde hair are huge long scars, running along random directions all across his face. On both sides of his cheeks, he seems to have ribbons or thick black strings sewn into a design resembling the pattern of shoelaces on a shoe. The strings woven into him look like heavy-duty stitches. They make his face look swollen.

I feel petrified and a thick twisting sensation churns within my stomach. I gasp a terrified, “Oh my God!” and cover my mouth with my right hand. My brain is telling me that now is the time to leave, but I can’t even feel my legs.

“Relax,” he tells me, remaining far too calm. He points towards his face with both hands. “Put your mind at ease. What you see on my face is only makeup. None of the scars you see are real.”

I try to quickly snap out of my shock, but find myself completely unable to slow down my heart rate. “Right, right,” I say to him, trying not to freak out any further. My hand on my mouth moves to my chest and I feel my heart begin to settle. As I begin to cool off, he starts to gander at me, as if I’m some kind of ‘work of art’ or something. He slowly approaches me, circling me, as if examining my condition. “So what’s up with the makeup?” I ask out of curiosity. Well, out of curiosity and as a cover up for my nervousness. I feel awkward with him just staring at me and not saying anything. Something needs to be said to end the silence.

He responds to my question while he continues to walk clockwise around me, studying me. “I’d rather not be recognized by people who may have known me before,” he says answering honestly. I continue staying in one spot, only turning my head slightly to keep him in my sight. He appears to be a blur when I catch him in my peripherals for microseconds at a time.

“And the threads?” I ask, keeping an eye on him, pointing at one of my cheeks.

He smiles, which moves the threads upward at an angle. “Tattoos for some and piercings for others. I’m just a little different is all.”

On his second circle around me, I finally recollect myself and then see something I didn’t notice when the light had first turned on. From about an inch or two from his right shoulder, there’s a small doll hanging from a black thread connected to his jacket. It’s a simple type of rag doll, probably intended to be played with by very young girls. The doll herself is also a little girl. She’s made of wool, has tiny blue button eyes, a dark gold-yellow dress, and is about six inches in height. The member stops in front of me and stares, resting his head to the right against one of his hands. “You are just simply too adorable,” he says, trying to flatter me. “Like a little China doll.” I feel very uncomfortable. He softly brushes my cheek with the back of his icy hand. “Flawless skin. Just a miniature goddess, aren’t you?” I take a step backwards feeling slightly embarrassed. My eyes fixate on the man’s seemingly damaged face. He looks at me with his hand to his chin, trying to attach a name to me. “I think I’ve heard of you,” he tells me.

“You might’ve,” I blurt back quickly. I try to continue directing the topic down this path. “Tracey?” I ask sheepishly, seeing if he truly has heard of my identity.

“Tracey…,” he repeats me and pauses in an unusual fashion. At first, I had thought him to be somewhat of an older man, but his voice seems to change in pitch quite often, making it near impossible to distinguish his age. He definitely has some confusing and awkward traits about him, but I figure that it’s better to learn as much as I can about my fellow members as early on as possible.

“Um, ‘Archive’ maybe?” I tell him one of my nicknames to see if it jogs his memory. “Maybe you’ve heard that name. It’s the alias Lucas gave me when I joined.”

“Archive,” he says, nodding. “Now, that rings a bell.”

“Heh, yeah.” I fake a small laugh. “It’s ‘cause I have like super good photographic memory—better than photographic memory actually. I literally can’t forget anything I’ve seen or heard, regardless of how small the details are.” He doesn’t look like he’s paying any attention… “What’s yours?” I ask curiously, referring to his name or nickname—whichever he decides to tell me.

“I actually have a few,” he replies. “Personally, the one I prefer best is ‘Echo’.”

Echo… “That’s pretty cool,” I admit. “Why do they call you that?”

There’s silence in the room for a split second, then it looks like he cracks a harmless smile. “That’s pretty cool. Why do they call you that?” He mimics back my last statement with a voice and tone that matches mine. I get a chill down my spine after I hear it. The pitch. Tone. Everything he just said was identical to my own voice in every way. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I had unknowingly just repeated myself. In fact, the voice even sounded like it came from where I’m standing too. What’s stranger still, I didn’t even see him move his lips to perform this impressive feat. I know that it had to have come from Echo though, even if there’s no solid evidence to prove it.

Oh my God! Was that you? How did you—”

Do that?” he says, continuing to use my high, immature, girly voice. He reveals that it is his doing as he moves his lips in sync as he speaks. He continues, speaking with my mimicked voice. “It’s a cinch. I’ve been doing it for years.” I’m in total disbelief with what I’m hearing. This situation has just easily jumped to the freakiest moment of my life. I almost feel like I’m having a conversation with myself. “I can do Lucas too,” he says in a voice identical to Lucas’s. His voice turns buttery-warm and deep. It actually makes me feel as if I’m standing in the presence of Lucas as opposed to this man…‘Echo’. For a brief second I start to consider the possibility that maybe Lucas is playing a prank on me, but even that sounds too farfetched to be true.

“That’s just too weird,” I tell him, shaking my head. “Cut it out!”

Echo chuckles again. “Yes, yes, I believe that’s enough,” he says, reverting back to his original old scratchy voice—at least the original voice I had heard from him. For all I know, I might have yet to have heard his normal speaking voice.

Despite the fear I felt a moment ago, I walk closer to him out of awe, as well as for the sake of being polite. “How’d you learn to be so good at that?”

“Listening and practicing,” he says in a low tone. “Unlike your talent that was naturally given to you, mine took many years of practice and effort to acquire. A long while back, I started off as a ventriloquist. It was fun for a while, but only a little while.” He straightens up his posture and places his hands inside his deep trench coat pockets.  “All I need to hear is a sentence or two from anyone whose voice I wish to copy. And with that I can mimic their mannerisms…, characteristics…, pitch, tone, etcetera into a near flawless imitation. I would imagine you thought my impression of you was spot on, didn’t you?” he asks rhetorically. “But to me, it sounded flawed in a number of minor areas. In order for me to match your voice perfectly, I would need to spend about an hour with you…”

I can’t help scratching my head at the bizarre reality of the situation. “I still can’t get over how real it sounded,” I admit perplexed. “Though amazing as it is, what does Lucas need with a skill like that?”

“Mostly, I impersonate figures he deems to be of significant value over telephone calls,” he replies sounding relaxed. This time he’s shifted his voice into a more mature and almost classy tone. “I can be very deceptive towards our enemies. Lucas is very good at discovering unique areas in which to fully utilize the potential of my…expertise.” He smirks. “On top of that, I’m not all that bad with a couple of knives in a street brawl either.”

“Same here!” I tell him excitedly. “When Lucas brought me into the group I thought for sure that I’d be in some gang fights, but so far he’s kept me out of all of them. He’ll bring me along to scraps and meetings with enemy gangs, but he doesn’t ever let me get involved in fights.” I almost feel like I’m telling Echo too much information. Nevertheless, I continue. “He just has me…watching the details of each event he takes me too.”

“It’s probably for the best,” replies Echo. “A girl your age has no business being in a group such as this anyways. You would be much better off if you stick to studying and playing with your toys.”

He doesn’t sound spiteful when he says it. He speaks with sympathy and almost sounds like he cares about me. Though I think he’s naïve for thinking that someone ‘my age’ would still play with toys. I gave away all my dolls when I was nine.

Dolls.

That’s right…he has a doll tied to his jacket…

“Speaking of toys, what’s with the doll?” I ask, pointing his out.

“Hm?” Echo looks down towards the doll hanging from his right shoulder. He rubs its chin gingerly. “Her name is Mary,” he says soothingly. “Do you like her?”

Another abnormal comment.

He sounded as if he was referring to the doll as a real person—a man too, a grown man fondling a doll. I want to laugh at how absurd the situation is, but don’t want to hurt Echo’s feelings. He seems sweet. However, my better instincts fail to prevent me from stating my obvious thoughts on the matter.

“Ha, you’re kidding right?” I ask jokingly. “I’ve been out of my doll phase for about five years now.” My facial expression forces up my eyebrows, and I’m sure I look as if I’m trying my hardest to hold in an uncomfortable laugh. I hold one hand over my mouth and with the other, point at his… ‘Mary’. “And frankly, that’s just creepy,” I say in a voice higher than usual.

I think she’s just jealous!” says a squeaky and high pitch girl’s voice. My first reaction is to instinctively turn around, thinking a third party had just walked into the room.

“No, no, no, no Mary,” says Echo softly. He strokes the doll faster in an almost caressing-like manner. “That’s a rude thing to say. I think you need to apologize to Tracey for that remark.”

I’m starting to think that you like her better than me, Ricky!” says the voice again, which I’m now sure to be coming from the doll.

I’m not sure exactly how to respond to what’s going on. I’m almost entirely convinced that I’m in a dream or something. The whole situation just isn’t processing correctly. The first thing that passes through my mind is that the doll doesn’t look like the kind that can talk. It looks way too old and I didn’t see Echo pull a string, or push a button, or anything. In addition to that, the voice sounds as if it’s legitimately coming from a real child. And then it hits me. It’s Echo who’s doing the talking for her.

He closes his eyes for a second and smiles. “Please excuse her,” he says. “She’s simply being a brat.”

His skills continue to astound me, but the fact that he just talked back to the doll was odd. I don’t interpret it as an attempt at being funny. He looked as if he was really talking with it. “Ha, that’s pretty good,” I tell him. “But wouldn’t that actually make you the one acting like a brat? Seeing as to how she’s not actually real. I mean, you’re the one speaking for her.”

Echo frowns, looking extremely disappointed. He definitely didn’t take my joke the right way. “Real?” he asks quoting me, gritting his teeth. “And what do you mean by that?” He waits for an answer, but I have no idea how to respond. “You can see her, can’t you!” he yells, raising his voice. “I can touch her can’t I? So explain to me exactly what you mean when you say she isn’t real!?”

‘What the hell is he talking about?

My eyes tear up. I don’t know what I did to upset him like this. I can hardly even understand what he’s trying to prove to me.

“But-”

“But nothing!” he barks. “What dictates what we perceive to be real anyways?” he asks rhetorically. “What society tells us is real? Our senses? What is it?” I look at him silently while I slowly walk backwards—away from him—one small step at a time. “Reality is all in here!” he says, tapping his forehead in between three of his scars. “There are no rules to it. Only the mind can tell you what separates illusion from reality. So don’t you dare tell me she’s any less real than you are! She has a personality—and feelings too. The only difference between yours and hers is that Mary’s thoughts and emotions dwell within my mind. I create and project them for her, but that by no means makes her any less of a person than you or me!”

I’m frightened and confused. And judging by how angry he is, I can even imagine him considering to hurt me. “I’m sorry,” I tell him while a tear drop rolls down the side of my cheek. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

He shifts the mood of the situation drastically and smiles innocently. “No, it’s not your fault. How could I expect you to understand right away? And at your age too?” He walks up to me slowly and starts stroking me, as if I’m some kind of dog. There’s a long pause of him staring at my eyes before anything else is said. “You’re beautiful, you know,” he tells me. I am completely unable to process the situation. “I want you to come with me,” he says gently. “I want to show you something.”

I shake my head ‘no’ at him. I can now tell that this man who I had first thought to be friendly is anything, but normal. In addition to his freaky appearance, he seems more perverted now than anything else. I’ve stayed here much longer than I had intended and definitely feel that it’s time to leave. I now know I should’ve done so from the very beginning.

I spurt out a meek, “Sorry.” I observe his facial expression to see how he accepts this response. “I need to go now,” I tell him, fearing that he may not permit me to do so. “My mom will kill me when she finds out I’m not home. I guess I won’t see you at the meetings, but I’ll see you around.” I turn, about to reach for the door handle and leave. Before I do, I feel a strong grip that cuts off the circulation around my wrist.

“Oh no, you can’t,” he says gently, sounding as if he’s looking out for me. “It’s dangerous around this time of night.”

“Let go!” I shout. I kick and scream in his direction and try to rip his hand from off me.

“You should stay here for the night where it’s safe,” he says, in an absurd attempt to soothe me.

“Let go of me you asshole!” I shout, trying to deepen my own voice for intimidation. With my other free hand I pull my wrist, struggling to get it free. Echo fiddles with me and tightens his grip as he essentially drags me along with him. He starts to walk down the hall in the direction he originally came from, continuing to pull me along behind. I scream and shout the whole time. My efforts to release myself double as I see that I’m being pulled out of the light and into the abyss of the hallway. I become so distracted with trying to break free from his clutch, that I don’t even notice that the door to the exit I was planning to take had just opened.

Before Echo pulls me along any further into the darkness he freezes in his tracks. He gets a good eyeful at the man who enters the warehouse. The newcomer is also wearing a black jacket. A comrade? It’s another mysterious Black Jack member I don’t recognize.

“What’s with all the commotion?” asks the stranger with both malevolence and sarcasm. Even though his hood’s up, under the light I can see that he has bizarre jagged tribal tattoos on his face. Also, it’s hard to tell, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the whites of his eyes appear to be completely bloodshot red. He almost looks like a demon; a hooded monster. This new man carries a presence about him far worse than Echo. If I had to describe the feeling I’m receiving from him, his aura, the one way to do so would be to say that he reeks of death. This man will not be my savior. His physical appearance is far more monstrous than Echo’s.

“Jake…The Serpent…” says Echo meekly to himself. He raises his voice so that the newcomer can hear him. “I thought you were already settled in for the night.”

The man identified as Jake slowly continues his way down the hall in our direction. He seems calm and appears to glide with each slow stride he takes. “That’s none of your concern,” he replies unfazed, continuing with his stroll. Echo stopped pulling me along ever since he caught sight of this man. He seems to be inconspicuously keeping an eye on what Jake will do next, as if he can’t be trusted. It feels like half an hour has past, but in reality, it’s only been about ten seconds. Jake smiles mischievously towards Echo as he reveals what appears to be a row consisting only of fangs on the top and bottom of his mouth. “That wouldn’t by any chance be Tracey you have with you over there, is it?” Jake asks him. He finally looks down towards me in acknowledgement. His gaze gives off the impression that he wants to eat me.

In the back of my head a thought passes. Even though we’re all in the same gang, it’s surprising that a man like this knows my name. Lucas is the only one in Black Jack who knows me personally. Only a few other members who show up at meetings might hear Lucas call me Tracey. However, I know for a fact that this man has never been to one before. There’s no way I could ever overlook this monster.

“Yes,” responds Echo to Jake’s last question. “She’s staying here with me for the night.”

Jake pauses after taking another step and focuses his glare back up towards Echo with a wide sharp grin. “Now that’s funny…” he says, as if starting to get a thrill. Out of nowhere, one of Jake’s hands thrusts like a snake making its killer blow, aimed directly towards Echo’s throat. Echo blocks his assailant’s strike at the last second with his free arm, saving his neck. Jake settles with latching his hand around Echo’s forearm with a firm grip.

Saying his spontaneous action took me by surprise is a massive understatement. The only thing I want right now more than anything else is to somehow escape this nightmare and find myself back in my room under the sheets of my bed. Jake mutters something as he tightens his one handed hold around Echo’s trench coat covered arm. “Lucas specifically told me that I get the pleasure of ripping out the intestines of anyone I see who so much as lays a finger on the member named Tracey,” Jake chuckles. “Members of Black Jack included.”

At that moment, Echo immediately releases his grip from me, causing me to lose my balance. I fall backwards onto the cold tiled floor. Echo quickly knocks Jake’s hold off from himself, revealing a tear in his own jacket. Blood leaks out through the immediate area where he was grabbed. I’m left wondering how Jake possibly managed to injury Echo in such a way that caused him to start bleeding so profusely, especially since he appeared unarmed the whole time.

Echo clutches his injury with his other hand and starts backing up against the wall, away from his hooded aggressor. “This…is a misunderstanding,” retorts Echo in his defense. He backs his way in pain, into the shadows of the hallway.

Before continuing closer towards Echo, Jake shifts his eyes down towards me once again. I’m still sitting up stunned, with my arms supporting me from behind. He grunts out a quick “Tfft!” as if annoyed and the sight of me fills him with disgust. “Get the hell out of here,” he says, pissed that he’s even wasting time talking to me.

Without saying a word or even nodding, I silently thank him and run through the open door. I close it shut and run as far as I can, as fast as I can. I cry uncontrollably most of the way home. Halfway to my house I completely run out of stamina. I sniff, trying to hold back my tears. I try not to think of the series of events that played out as I walk the rest of the way to my neighborhood.

I arrive at home much quicker than expected and have a desire to hug my mom. Instead, I pass by her, dropping the excuse that I was just hanging out with Lucas and lost track of time. She looks suspicious, but doesn’t question me any further, so I continue on to my room.

I lay in my bed with the lights on, staring at the ceiling. Thinking…thinking…and thinking… My mind is made up. As wrong as it feels, I reach the decision that it will just be best to quit Black Jack. I’ll tell Lucas tomorrow. I don’t want to let him down, and I know he’ll say things to try to get me to stay, but I’ll just have to be relentless. Of course we’ll still be friends. Why wouldn’t we be? I’m just certain though that I’m not cut out for this type of environment. It’s too dark, grim, impure, and overall, just too much for me to handle. I wish I could deal with it, but at this point I can be honest and say that I’m just too afraid. Tomorrow. Lucas will hate me, but I’ll tell him tomorrow when we’re alone.

*****

The next day at school, time and space don’t seem to flow properly. It’s as if everything I know is meshed together and lingers. I send Lucas like a million text messages, telling him that we need to talk in private ASAP. For half of my messages he just replies the same thing, to wait until tonight after another Black Jack meeting to tell him. The anxiety feels like murder and I don’t feel like I can keep it bottled inside for much longer. I can’t focus in my boring classes, and during lunch, I ended up ditching school for the rest of the day.

*****

Finally, later on around eight at night, the next meeting begins to take place. It feels like the attendance of our members is double than what it was yesterday. The color black swirls around the room as various members of the gang alternate stances. It’s as if they’re all feeling antsy and unable to just sit still. Some stand while others fidget as Lucas lectures us as usual. No sign of Echo though. No sign of the other man neither, my demonic savior, Jake—“The Serpent”, as Echo had first referred to him. I’m unsure of whether or not their absence is a good thing or not. I add up nineteen members in my head, myself included. Minus those two, every member in the gang is currently present. In the back of my mind I feel paranoid and occasionally look around the room to make sure that no one is trying to sneak up behind me.

I’m able to pay attention to the content of the meeting this time around, but only out of respect. However, at the same time, I wonder how exactly I plan on telling Lucas that I’m dropping out of the gang. With the motivation I had last night, I didn’t imagine that it would be this big of a feat to accomplish. But now that I see him in person, now that I’m actually in his presence, I feel helpless and unable to defy him. I think it’s the way he looks at me—looks at people in general. It’s like he knows your thoughts and knows what it’ll take to control your decisions and actions.

I sit on an unopened cardboard box only a few feet in front of Lucas, waiting for the exact moment of the gang’s dismissal. Near the end of the meeting, Lucas tells us about an enemy gang by the name of Advocates. He goes on, saying that their leader attends his school and takes the same route towards his home alone on a daily basis. Lucas assigns three members in particular to intercept the leader tomorrow afternoon. He ends on that note and adjourns the meeting.

I immediately reach him and pull on his sleeve. Unfortunately, at the same time, he gets distracted by another member who approaches, a big guy who I know as Taylor. He’s Black Jack’s main driver. He goes by the nickname of Road Kill. Taylor has somewhat of an interesting personality, reminds me of a young Australian man. He looks around twenty-two years old, has a well-groomed beard with thin sideburns that connect to his hair, and always wears a tea colored cowboy-looking hat. The hat makes him look like he’s about to wrestle a crocodile or something. His black sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and he crosses his arms, staring at Lucas with raised eyebrows.

“Aye Luke. Well, I’d be expectin’ you want a full tank for tommorah then?” He asks, with what almost sounds like a mixture of three different accents, Australian being one of them. Lucas reaches into his pocket, pulls out a twenty dollar bill and slaps it down into Taylor’s open hand. Taylor gives a crooked smile, tilts his hat in Lucas’s direction, and walks off.

“So what’s on your mind?” asks Lucas, redirecting his attention back down at me.

My throat starts to turn dry. I doubt I can bring myself to go through with it. I don’t want to let everyone down. I also realize that if I abandon the gang now, then all I’m doing is showing Lucas that I’m weak and unreliable. Then why would he even want to hang out with me outside of the gang after that? I try to convince myself that quitting is overall the best thing to do. I know that Lucas probably doesn’t even care about me like I’ve always hoped he had anyways. To help me go through with it, I just keep telling myself that my brother was right all along. That Lucas only wants to use me. He doesn’t see me as a friend or even a girl. I’m just a tool for him to use on a whim. I swallow and summon up all the courage I have. “It’s just that I don’t think I can—,”

“Oh yes, that reminds me,” says Lucas in the middle of my sentence. “I was thinking… How does this Friday night sound?” he asks.

“What?” I mutter, his interjection catching me off guard.

“You mentioned yesterday that Friday would be a good night for me to come over for dinner, right? I was thinking we could also check out a movie afterwards too. Sound good?”

My heart skips a beat and my mind feels like it’s playing a trick on itself. He sounded so smooth and cool as he said it. “Oh, yeah definitely!” I respond to him instinctively after a momentary pause. I brush a few strands of hair that are in my face behind my ear and let my hand rest there for a while. “That’ll be fun…” I feel joyously overwhelmed and slightly embarrassed. I feel the need to turn my face away from him because it feels like I’m blushing horribly. God I hope I’m not! I guess this means he does care about me though, at least a little—in some way or another.

“Awesome,” replies Lucas. “Now, what was it you’ve been trying to tell me all day that just couldn’t wait?”

I snap out of my daze and recollect myself. “N-nothing!” I tell him. I fake a smile for Lucas in a sad attempt to convince him that nothing was really bothering me—that I was never planning to leave Black Jack. I figure that it’s too late to say anything to him about it now. It doesn’t even seem like a real option anymore. I guess all I can really do is hope that I won’t regret my decision to continue down this road. At least for a little longer to see where it leads me.

“Hm, nothing?” he asks again, almost interrogatingly. I feel like he wants to squeeze my true thoughts out of me.

I shake my head sideways at him. “No.”

“Whatever,” he says. His lack of an attempt to question me any further surprises me. I don’t mind it though. It’s better if he doesn’t know about it. “Come on. Let’s get out of here,” he tells me with his natural charm. “I’ll walk you out. This place gives me the creeps at night.” I smile and nod at him.

We exit from the warehouse without even speaking a single word to each other. I make sure to walk as close to him as possible. Right now, I don’t even care that I’ve decided to keep myself in this dark atmosphere, this grim reality. I’d choose a life filled with danger and dehumanized individuals over a life without Lucas any day. I feel like I actually glow on the inside whenever I’m in his presence. He has a way of doing that to me. And if it came down to it, I would unquestionable follow him to the end of the world.

*****

End

TraceyEcho

Jake the Snake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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