The officer oscillates between red and blue as he crosses the black pavement of an old antique salon. His colleagues’ voices covered by loud howling sirens. Beyond the makeshift wall of wooden roadblocks a crowd of onlookers have gathered painted technicolor in the storefront’s neon lights. “Get back!” shouts an officer through a bullhorn. With his pistol in hand, the policeman walks to the shop’s glass doors. Taped on advertisement posters for several brands of vices among other things block the view of the interior. The twin slabs partway with a weathered mechanical creek allowing the officer entry.
“Please, chief, please damage nothing,” the officer hears a quivering timeworn feeble voice cry.
“Yeah. Sure… as if everything wasn’t damaged already,” he comments under his breath as he observes some kind of black liquid creeping toward the doorway.
“That is not our concern,” The voice of his section captain grumbles obscured in the siren’s call. “Our only interest is getting whoever is in there out.”
“You tell em, boss.”
He quickly draws his eyes toward a flicker from within the storefront. The shadowed darkness is all that greets his gaze. With a deep breath the policeman slips inside the building. Another flicker from a yellowed tube bulb reveals itself as the source. “My heart skipped over that.“ he chuckles. “I’m really not in the right line of work.“ The room reminds him of some abyss. Everything about the supernatural umbra is wrong as he strained to see anything at all. Aside from the random sparks from the bulb, everything else is saturated in black.
A chill crashes over his spine as the halogen light too disappears. Out of his open mouth a neon colored ghost floats through the suddenly heavy arctic air. He raises his hand to his shoulder and presses the switch on his radio. “Shit, I can’t see a thing and it’s hella cold.”
“Hey Arikado, you scared of the dark are you?” jokes another officer over the line.
“Shut up Vince,” Arikado growls irritated by his remark. Half annoyed of his situation and also that sudden realization it did scare him. Not the unease he ordinarily felt though. Sure there is always concern while walking into dead end shops with possibly armed suspects but this, this is different. It is a living fear, a gripping dread. It claws upon his throat and steals his air. “No, I mean it’s darker than night, I can’t see anything. I can’t feel my fingers either, it’s like I walked into a damn freezer.” Taking a few steps forward Arikado makes out an assembly of shelves knocked atop an inky mosaic of assorted objects. “So much for keeping the place undamaged, damn what the hell happened here?” A rustle from his left side evokes Arikado to turn. He raises his gun pointing to the stretch of unknown. “Come out with your hands where I can see them.” He shouts toward the haunting void.
Red glare, a scream of pain, shouting, his eyes grow wide, a sharp agony bursts from his stomach. He did not realize the splash of his own blood slapping against the polished tile floor. Disorientation, his body is flung across the room. A scream escapes him as he collides with the wall.
Outside, the police are alarmed by Arikado’s hollering. After the crash the captain roars “Get your asses in there. Move, move, move.” Five officers flood into the salon drawing their guns. Arikado screams in misery in the shadowed corner with his arm covering his splayed open stomach. A woman’s silhouette approaches the squad from the darkness. Her static stretched locks spread reaching in all directions. There is a moment of silence offset by Arikado’s whimpers between the two groups staring each other down. “On the ground.” an officer commands but the woman’s only response is to raise her hand revealing sparks dancing between each finger.
A tide of people bash against the barricades bobbing signs up and down reading various slogans against police abuse. A man lunges over the barrier only to meet a police baton against his jaw. “Get back! I said get the hell back.” the officer who dealt the blow demands. Gunfire silences all as its roar drowns out the sounds of protest. The police push back ceasing as the storefront comes alive fast lit in muzzle flash. The suggestion of danger sending much of the crowd fleeing. All eyes frozen onto the flickering storm.
Between flashes, the twisted smile of the woman spreads. Her fingers splay open stopping the bullets in mid-air, hovering for a moment as if impacting against something unseen then drop to the floor with a metallic ping. The woman’s milky white eyes flare a blinding light shattering the glass in the room. A supernatural wind turns the shards into an assault of shrapnel tearing through the law officer’s bodies.
It thrusts the agent’s through the storefront’s windows; their remains rolling in fragments across the now bloodied pavement. The outside officers run for cover behind their cars as the razor projectiles berate everything in their path. Kneeling over their cruisers, they aim into the flare of silhouettes, hearts pounding, gripping their triggers.
Darkness returns to the still storefront. The shattered glass glistens with the first beams of morning light. Every eye gazes unwavering as the silence goes from unsettling to straining. Splintered shards pepper the metal of the police vehicles embedded deep into their chassis. Several officers scream out in pain as they too fell victim to the shrapnel.
From darkness, the woman steps through the hanging remains of the shop doors. She stands brazen with pride, her eyes wide open and her face bearing a crazed toothy smile. Her skin a bronze gold tone embracing the figure of a gymnast. Each stride she takes leaves sparks behind her. “On your hands and knees.” The captain yells. Blood drips off her body in thick streams forming rivers at her toes.
Instead of complying, the woman brings a bloody stride forward. A cackle escapes from her strange feral grin. Unable to coax with his stretched nerves an officer pulls his trigger releasing a shot from the chamber with a loud pop. The led dot flies right at the woman, but it stops mid-air falling to the ground the same as the bullets previously. “It’s a witch!” screams the man. The patrol of officers open fire in a frenzy each bullet bouncing along sparks of electricity that floats and fizzle shielding the conjurer. Step by step, she gets closer to the officers huddled behind their cars. She turns her head like that of a broken mechanical doll straining for movement. A blast of lightning flies from her raised arm destroying a cruiser, turning the nearby police into a pulpy mess of tangled parts.
The “witch” turns her head to see an officer charging her with both arms raised about to slash with his saber. Mid-swing, the woman turns slicing him in half by an invisible force. He splits open at the shoulder to the hip spraying warm blood as he cascades onto the ground.
The roar of screeching tires alerts the strange lady. Her gaze turns towards the dissonance as a pair of trucks come barreling from the end of the street. She steps over the officer’s split body grinning to face the rushing freights. The heavy armored rigs ram through parked cars and knock aside any sidewalk decor shattering everything in their wake. Turning his wheel and slamming the brakes the truck’s driver spins the massive machine around with its cargo port pointed in the lady’s direction.
A metallic groan escapes the hanger doors while they roll open revealing a large steel-plated humanoid machine. It stamps out the back splintering the asphalt under its weighty triple toed foot. The gargantuan body is twelve feet tall resembling something of an armored knight. In its mechanical three-fingered grip is a long specialized rifle with cables and cords snapped into the machine’s forearm. The automated servos whine with each movement as it strides forward. A new group of officers run from the barricade of trucks assembling themselves into three small squads. The decals SDP visible on their shoulders and bulletproof vests.
A tall fellow dressed in a black captains trench coat takes off his hosed mask with an airy hiss. His graying black hair sat atop an experienced pitted face. “Let’s finish this.” yells the older man. He points to one officer hiding behind their police cruiser near the barricades. “Get these assholes out of here. There isn’t anything to see anymore.” The panicked man slowly rises from his feet giving a slow nod. “The regular police, what a bunch of cowards.”
Sparks float in the air in long streams running across the road as the lady growls. Discarded litter from around the city float like leaves in a spiral wind. The armored suit treads in front of the group squaring off with the strange girl. With it’s knee on the ground the pilot takes a sniper position pointing the barrel towards the woman. With a loud shriek, a bolt of electricity ignites toward the machine leaving a pathway of fire in the blast’s wake. It strikes the armor causing a great spark to turn its white plastic plating cyan in the glow, its red lights dim for a moment. The ground flares several seconds after the blast as tethers of lightning roll.
When the goliath moves again the blond monster pales. A single charge from its muzzle blows off her right leg in fleshy red strands, severing her thigh above the kneecap. She tumbles as her limb flies rolling and spinning on the ground. Her ribs break as she thuds onto her side sprawling on the pavement.
The older man chuckles “Good shot. Now pack up so we can get out of here.” A squad of armored police rush in toward the girl with plastic ties, syringes and a large yellow body bag. An officer kneels seizing the woman’s wrist. With a snap he prepares the plastic ties. He catches her sapphire eyes as she gives him a taught pout from her rose-red lips. With her other arm she pushes herself up clutching his collar. He lets out a gasp as her nails dig deep into his throat. A powerful blast blows his skull to pieces with all the ferocity of a shotgun. The disturbing site of the headless officer has the others stepping back from the twisting and twitching witch.
“Quit screwing around. Kill her.” Roars the captain. Drawing their large pistols, they blow her body full of holes. She releases one last laugh as her mutilated corpse dances side to side in the hail of bullets. When they are finished her body is nothing more than a pulpy wad of flesh.
From above the storefront buildings on a rooftop, a shadowed figure in a cloak stands to watch the bloody mess. “What a pity, the lady hadst shown promise.”
Images of a dull burgundy flashes into Apricot’s mind. Asleep deep under the thick cloud of slumber the annoying buzzing pierces the fog of sleep. She opens her lids to see her room transitioning between a red glow and shade. With a stretch she turns her head toward her nightstand. A blinking alarm clock displays in crimson digital lights 8:23 AM. Her eyes grow wide as hearing and vision become comprehensible again. “I will be late again!” Her grogginess has fled as the spark of animation thrusts her out of bed sending the covers cascading to the floor.
Not wasting a minute, Apricot snatches her clothes placing an arm through the long sleeve while she moved through her room. Adjusting the green and white, yellow trimmed sailor, she glances over at her makeup before deciding she hadn’t the time for that today, even though this pained her to admit. “Maybe just eyeliner, that only takes a moment.” she reasons.
Down the stairs into the kitchen, she finds her younger brother, Jasper, already at the table with half-eaten morning toast. His eyes fixated on the television. Typical of Jasper to be attached to the TV in the morning. His ritual often kept her from catching something interesting before she herself got ready for school. Apricot expected to see cartoons or a movie, instead an emergency broadcast has interrupted the usual. A well dolled up lady in a deep red swing coat is explaining the situation. Her voice a dull mumble the volume being too low to make out the reporter’s words. Apricot imagines herself in place of the lady in red. How wonderful would it be to have such an important story? Though she could not shake a guilty feeling whenever she had such thoughts. News media, a constant search for tragedies to exploit in some form. “Whatcha watching?”
“Oh, you’re up.” He snickers. “Your alarm woke me up again. You know, it’s annoying how you don’t shut that off. You have been sleeping through it lately.” Apricot hates how smug her kid brother could be. The least the little brat could have done is wake her up if he knew she was oversleeping. “But look at this! The police had another standoff.”
Apricot opens the fridge. Inside are several leftovers and a few pre-made dishes still wrapped in plastic. Most likely her father’s meals as he often got home late from work. Over time, they built up like a museum of the past weeks’ dinners. She grabs a half carton of milk, drinking from the cardboard fold out, a few eggs and a stick of butter. “You know you could be a good boy for once and help your big sister Jazz.”
Jasper laughs “You could be responsible for once and get yourself up.” His eyes ever fixed on the screen, letting out a gasp. “Wo, there is blood everywhere.”
Apricot lifts her head from the fridge looking up at the image of bodies and limbs and pools of crimson spread like modern art over the wide pavement. “Jasper Signa! You know you are not supposed to watch this stuff!”
Jasper growls “It’s the news, and Mom is not home anyway, so stop lecturing me.”
“But Dad is home.” the color drains from Jasper’s pale face as he turns to see his father standing over his shoulder. He places his hand on Jasper’s back. “What is this?” he asks in a raised tone. A sense of satisfaction fills Apricot knowing her Dad caught him being a jerk. She springs up closing the fridge door with her foot. With the stove top burner, she starts an omelet for breakfast.
“It’s the news… some robber attacked a bunch of people. They had to even call in the SDP.” There is a hint of fascination in Jasper’s chirp. “Sachiban model 4s, Dad.”
“Huh, I see. Well, your sister’s right, your mother would be furious if she found out you were watching this. So turn it off.” He commands before walking over to Apricot. “And missy you are late for school. Think you have time for making breakfast when you are already late?”
“Ah,” Apricot moans as she senses in the pit of her empty stomach he is right.
The thoroughfare is unusually alive with traffic as Apricot races along the abundant streets deep in worry of her recent string of tardiness. She weaves a careful trot through the slow-moving crowd. To her dismay the source of the commotion appears to be a set of barricades blocking all movement. “Not today!” Apricot moans as she sprints up to the fence.
Both her hands find themselves on the barricade’s rail. “Hey, girl go around the other way.” a man in uniform shouts. On the other side, cleanup crews work zipping gory remains into bags. “This must be where the attack happened,” Apricot thought. “Didn’t you hear me?” The man yells. “Go around!” His hands now redirecting her back where she came.
With a sigh, she turns to face the morning street as if walking through a current in the wrong direction. Apricot slips through the unyielding people but made little headway. She knew of another rail line not on her usual route. Although it’s a few blocks away, and this rail did not stop at the university, but it is close enough.
After a short jog, the station was in sight but her heart dives when she sees the line has boarded passengers and room is becoming scarce. She bursts into a full sprint through the cluttered streets bumping into people with sailing apologies. Just before the doors close, a young man holds it clear with one arm and reaches out with the other.
Apricot picks up pace running faster as the cart speeds up, her hand outstretched reaching for the man’s open palm. He lunges forward gripping the side of the train’s door with one hand and clutching her fingers with the other. The young man lifts Apricot off the ground into the threshold of the train‘s closing doors before slamming shut behind her. “Hey there, almost missed your train.” He chuckles.
Apricot blushes saying “Yeah, thanks to you I didn’t.” He smirks looking her up and down, stopping at her bust for an ogle before returning to her eyes. “Oh great, he is a pervert.” She thought to herself.
“Got caught up in the detour, huh?”
She nods. “Mmmhmmm, so, did you?”
“Nah, but quite a few people were complaining about it. I kind of figured.” He uttered as he leans against the support pole with the other hand holding the headrail. “It’s crowded in here this morning. This route is usually empty, it’s kind of why I like it. With all these people, I feel a little uneasy.“
“Yeah, I know the feeling.” Apricot bites her tongue not wanting to say anymore.
“What’s worse, I heard they had to shut down the whole system in Ginzu for repairs. A lightning storm during a robbery. What a load of shit. You ever see a freak lightning storm mess up a rail system?” Apricot shakes her head. “Yeah, I have not either.” A kind of silence visits for a brisk moment. She knew what kind of pause this is; the man is waiting for her to start a conversation, but her mood is not willing after being ogled. Huh, uncomfortable, sure, he knows all about it. Wrote the damn book on it. A sigh rolls from his mouth. “So, what brings you out this lovely morning?”
“Ah, I am going to uni. I ah, I’m studying journalism.” Apricot has always found herself proud of her chosen line of work. There is a certain level of trust between the government and the media that allowed for a careful but controlled relation between the two. Passing the state journalist exam is not an easy feat, especially for a foreigner such as herself.
The guy smirks. “Journalism huh?” he shrugs. “You got a camera?” The question struck Apricot as odd. Her eyebrows uncontrollibly squish together. “O’ I figured a journalist would be into photography. I got this camera I am trying to sell. Thought you might want to buy it.”
“Ah, no. I’m not looking to try photography.” A lie but she assumes the camera is stolen or broken.
The young man raises both arms behind his head stretching. “Oh yeah, well if you ever change your mind I ride the train almost every morning so ah come see me. The name is Cortez, just letting you know.” At first, Apricot thought he was coming onto her but after a moment Cortez waves. “Well, see you around ok.” Unexpectedly, he blends into the crowd of people losing himself among the timbered bodies.
A thin layer of sweat streaks across Apricot’s rosin cheeks. Her clothes soggy from the long jog into and through the university’s entrance courtyard. Her gaze meets an LCD screen displaying a government broadcast along with the current time boxed in the upper corner, “10:04 AM”. An intense anxiety comes over her as she rushes through the sparsely populated halls. One thing she had always noticed is how they twisted into something like a maze. It was as if the designers made the whole building to be as frustratingly confusing as possible. To intentionally cause hardship to students, let alone visitors. Like inside the vaults of each room are treasures hidden and the would be robbers would find themselves lost among the many turns unable to escape.
“The detour, they will keep the door open.” Apricot thought to herself; a solid attempt but failed woefully at easing any tension. Upon seeing the classroom door of 1403B, she could see her instructor Ms. Akagi has already drawn down the off-white paper shade. Her hand hovers just above the door nob. A deep breath fills her lungs as a silent selfish prayer goes out to the almighty for divine fortune. She twists the handle only to meet the resistance of locked metal fastens. With a grunt, she tries again hoping to will the door open, in vain, the knob only jiggles with little give.
Taking a few steps away from the door, Apricot lowers her head putting both hands on the sides of her cheeks. A tightness flowing down her face to her fingertips ending its stream at her toes. She drew in a long breath holding it for a moment before letting her air out with an even longer sigh. “Late again.”
Blue Ash on a weekday is not much unlike any other bustling city, a shadow of the population. Apricot passes by people dressed in the various fashions along a narrow lane. Smells of skewered barbecue over a charcoal grill fills the air. Every sidewalk edge is dotted with food carts and street vendors. The shops that line the road are very diverse selling trinkets, clothing, and consumer goods. This avenue has always appeared more like a hall of commerce to Apricot.
One shop that caught Apricot’s eye is a boutique window selling the latest style spread across mechanical dolls striking an assortment of poses. They look vaguely real to Apricot. Almost, it is in that small gap between the two she found so unsettling and wrong. Something about the eyes, they were dead, yet animate. The bustle of programmed synths diverts her attention to an arcade. “I have little else to do.” She considers, being drawn in by the blinking neon lights, she enters the somewhat dingy arcade.
Inside smells of a piped scent that attempts to cover the humid heat generated by a mix of body sweat and cigarette smoke. Spread across the walls are various flashing machines, each playing an assortment of tunes that blended together to form that iconic arcade sound. It’s a cacophony but has a pleasant ring that Apricot associated with a fun time. One game had been the flavor she is hoping will cheer her up. A side-scrolling hack and slash by Capnom called Queen Of Dragons.
The machines dim while a slight flicker comes over the screens. “Crap, the power is going out again.” A specter of breath fades into the open air from her mouth. Her skin crawls in the frigid air as if she had walked into a freezer. The cold fades as quickly as it appeared but not before causing all the systems to reset. Each one had started their boot sequences which invokes her to let out a whine of boredom. The appeal of battling against pixilated monsters has left and herself along aswell.
She continues to wander the vitrines until finding herself on an unfamilair side street. The shops around here are of another era; dusty old places that are long forgotten. She passes by a hardware store, an electronics boutique, a very shady looking pawn shop, second-hand stores, and a small market called Wiseman’s. A chain she had never even heard of.
The populace wandering the streets here are unlike the previous. If the one’s before were people without a care, these made her consider she may be in danger. After several men gave her unwelcome glances that said everything she needed to know, Apricot decides it would be best to get back onto a more populated street. When she went to turn the corner, she is welcomed by the sight of four guys kicking another man in the ribs. He barks out as each strike knocks his body from side to side. She stood with wide eyes of horror before shouting out “Stop!” As the guys turn to consider her, she realizes the folly of her reflexive action.
Now she had the audience of four rather hard-looking men. The tallest one delivers a final kick into the guys face. “Yeah, let’s get out of here. Remember to have the rest of it punk. If not, get the hell out of town or else.” All four men walk toward Apricot her throat growing tight. Without so much as a glance, the four walk past her. She looks down at the man. He spits a line of blood from his mouth.
As she stares at the guy on the ground, it shocks her to recognize him. It’s the guy she talked to on the train. Apricot narrows her eyes saying “Are you alright? Do I need to call the cops?”
“No.” He groans while getting to his feet. “Don’t do something stupid like that. Stay out. It’s none of your business, reporter.” Without even regarding her, he limps out of the back street. Apricot wanted to go with him to at least make sure he is ok, but she knew it is best if she didn’t. Getting involved with people like that can get you hurt, sometimes worse. Unlike most, Apricot appreciated the unseen. Her wish to become a journalist had brought out a pseudo-respect that some things are best left unknown.
After several streets, Apricot sees a familiar sign “Utopian Theaters” and knows where she is. Further down the road is a small cafe called “Hot Shots.” Upon entering a strong scent of brewed espresso greets Apricot. Inside the decor, a pleasant chocolate wood accented with soft greens and red pastel windows. Light music canvases the senses allowing for privacy but not enough to drain out your thoughts. As she walks to the counter, the smell of fresh baked goods wafts through her nostrils causing an almost Pavlovian salivation to occur. “Hey girl, I thought you had school.” Apricot looks up to see the bright blue eyes of Bonni Willox one of her best friends from high school.
“Bonni!” Apricot chirps with delight reaching over the countertop to give a warm hug. “I did not know you worked here?”
“Yeah, well, I needed a part-time job, turns out you can’t be a movie star without having one.” she laughs. “So what brings you here?”
“I was late for class, stupid detour blocked my train,” Apricot shrugs.
Bonni leans over whispering “I got a story for you. I overheard the cops talking about that. They spoke of the Okabe officials being real upset about not getting the robber alive. Instead though, they didn’t refer to them as a robber but rather “the witch”. A little odd considering the circumstances. How out of place is a freak lightning storm? And how many people died?”
Apricot gives a smirk. “How is that a story? Sounds more like a story for a novel.”
“Heh, well normally I would agree but the way they were chatting about it was not like the typical upset they had to kill her but… like they wanted her for some reason. Kept saying they had a deadline to bag one.” Bonni leans over onto the counter drumming her fingers against the polished wood. “I will tell you more about it later but right now is there anything I can get you?”
Apricot nods her head before placing a finger on her cheek. “Just a coffee with Vanilla and a spot of half-and-half.”