The black pavement shines wet in red and blue lights. An officer stands outside an antique salon.  The voices of his colleagues are covered by the sound of loud howling sirens. They keep a crowd of onlookers at bay with several shouting officers and a makeshift wall of wooden roadblocks. They’re painted in technicolor by the storefronts neon lights. With his pistol in hand, the policeman walks towards the shop’s advertisement plastered glass doors. The twin slabs partway with a weathered mechanical creek.

“Please, chief, please damage nothing,” a quivering timeworn feeble voice cries.

“Yeah. Sure… as if everything wasn’t damaged already,” the agent thought as he looked into the hollow dark.

“That is not our concern,” He hears the voice of his section captain grumble washed over by the loud crying sirens. “Our only interest is getting whoever is in there out.”

The officer whispers to himself “You tell em, boss.” A flicker from within the storefront causes the officer’s heart to jump. He peers into the shadowed darkness with little more than a deep breath. As the policeman slips inside the building, he is greeted by a yellowed flickering tube bulb. It reminds the deputy of some abyss as he tries to look through the supernatural umbra. Aside from the random sparks of the light, everything else is saturated in black.

A chill crashes over his spine as the halogen light too disappears. Out of his open mouth neon colored ghostly breath floats through the heavy arctic air. He raises his hand to his shoulder and presses the switch on his radio. “Shit, I can’t see a thing.”

“Hey Arikado, you scared of the dark are you?” joked another officer over the line.

“Shut up Vince,” Arikado growled irritated by his remark. His chest pounds as he realizes it scares 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 was 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.” Taking a few steps forward Arikado squints his eyes gazing into the shadows making out an assembly of shelves knocked atop an inky mosaic of assorted objects. “So much keeping the place undamaged, damn what the hell happened here. So it looks like someone messed this shop up.” 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 convinced something occupies 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.  Colliding with the wall his own scream seems to trail behind him.

Outside, the police heard the hollering and Arikado’s crash. The captain hollers “Get your asses in there. Move, move, move.” Without hesitation the other officers rush into the salon with their guns drawn. Arikado screams in misery. In the shadows, the silhouette of a woman stands. Her hair is spread as though static has stretched out the each lock. “On the ground.” Another officer yells as she raises her hand revealing sparks of electricity. The room is lit by strobes of muzzle flash.

After this, the crowd had dispersed, only the braver or foolish individuals stay to watch. The remaining onlookers clutch the boundary to get a better view. The officers stop their push back replacing it instead to watch in horror while the building flickers like a storm.

Between flashes, the twisted smile of the woman spreads. Her fingers splayed 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 flash 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 paned windows; their remains rolling in fragments across the now bloodied roadside. The outside officers run for cover behind their cars as the razor projectiles berate everything in their path. The men kneel over their hoods.  Their barrels aim into the flare of silhouettes, hearts pounding, gripping their triggers, bodies tight.

Darkness returns to the quiet 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 cruisers 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 slight chuckle escapes from her strange feral grin. An officer shakes pulling the trigger releasing a single shot from the chamber with a loud pop. The lead 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 an agent. The patrol opens fire in a frenzy each bullet bouncing along sparks of electricity that floats and fizzles shielding the conjurer. Step by step, she gets closer to the officers shielded behind their cars. She turns her head in a way that would remind you of a broken mechanical doll straining for movement.  She raises her arm and shoots a blast of lightning destroying a cruiser, turning the nearby police into a pulpy mess of tangled parts.

One officer draws his saber from his side. He charges the monster raising both arms to slash her in the back. 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.

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. The truck’s driver turns his wheel and slams the brakes causing the massive automotive to spin 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 several 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 rear by the barricades. “Get these assholes out of here.” he motions with his hand to the crowd of onlookers.

Sparks float in the air in long streams running across the road as the lady growls. Discarded litter from around the city floats in the same fashion as leaves in a spiral wind. The armored suit takes a measured tread in front of the group squaring off with the strange girl. Lowering its knee into a sniper position, the pilot points its barrel towards the woman. With a loud shriek, she sends forth a bolt of electricity at 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, the tethers of lightning rolling while fizzling out.

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 just above the kneecap. She tumbles as her limb flies like a bowling pin away from her body rolling and spinning on the ground. She lands with a rib breaking thud onto her side before sprawling out against the cool pavement.

The older man chuckles “Good shot. Now pack that thing up so we can get out of here.” Several of the 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 cuff ties. She turns her head towards him giving a taut pout. With her other arm she pushes herself up clutching his collar. She digs her nails deep into his throat. A powerful blast blows his skull to pieces with the ferocity of a shotgun. “Kill her.” Roars the captain. The officers draw their guns blowing her body full of holes.  They can hear one last laugh in the gunfire’s roar as her mutilated corpse dances side to side.

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 flashing enters Apricot’s mind. She lays asleep deep under the thick cloud of slumber. An annoying buzzing keeps ringing in her ears. As the fog of sleep lifts, she opens her lids from the darkness to see her room transitioning between a red glow and shade. She turns her head over to a blinking alarm clock. Her eyes grow wider as hearing and vision become comprehensible again. Apricot reads in crimson digital lights 8:23 AM. A yelp of shock escapes her mouth reminded of school. With a spark of animation, she thrusts out of bed onto her feet sending her covers cascading to the floor.

Her uniform hung off a polished bronze curtain rod. Not wasting a minute, Apricot snatches her cloths placing an arm through the long sleeve while she moved through her room. While adjusting her 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.

Rushing 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 often keeping her from catching something interesting before she herself got ready for school. Apricot expected to see cartoons or a movie, she glances over to emergency broadcast news bars lining the screen. A well dolled up lady in a deep red swing coat is speaking explaining the situation. Her voice a dull mumble the volume being too low to make out the reporter’s words. Apricot imagines the lady in red is jubilant to have the story and someone else is unhappy to be the story. Such resulted from media. A constant search for tragedies to exploit in some form. “Whatcha watching?” She asks Jasper.

“Oh, you’re up.” He snickers. “Your alarm woke me up. You know, it’s annoying how you don’t shut that off. You have been sleeping through it lately. But look at this! The police had another standoff.” 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.

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 grabbed 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 his head 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 knowing her Dad caught him being a jerk fills Apricot. 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.” Jasper chirps with a hint of fascination in his voice. “Sachiban model 4s, Dad.”

“Huh, I see. Well, your sister’s right, your mother would be furious if she found out you were looking at 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 was right.

She races along a crowded thoroughfare deep in worry of her recent string of tardiness. If she does not hurry, she will miss the next train. She weaves a careful trot through the slow-moving morning crowd. Upon reaching the end of the street, she soon discovers that the stretch to the track is barricaded. “Not today!” Apricot moans as she sprints up to the fence.
She places both her palms upon the rail drawing the attention of a man in uniform.  “Hey, girl go around the other way.” He shouts at her. She can see medical crews on the other side shifting bodies zipping their remains into bags. “This must be where the attack happened,” Apricot thought. “Didn’t you hear me?” The man yells at her again. “Go around!” His hands now redirecting her back where she came.

With a sigh, she turns heading through the morning street as if walking through a current in the wrong direction. Apricot slips through the unyielding people but found herself making little headway. Regardless of any manners she once held Apricot pushes through the onlookers as she is sure as hell not going to miss a train to school.

Several blocks away is another railway, but it was not her usual route. Still it may get her to the university on time if she is fast. 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 burst into a full sprint through the cluttered streets bumping into people with sailing apologies. Just before the doors close, a young man held it clear with one arm and reaches out with the other.

The cart moves as Apricot picks up pace running faster, her hand outstretched reaching for the man’s open palm. He lunges forward gripping the side of the train’s door. He clutches her fingers and lifts her 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 before saying “Yeah, thanks to you I didn’t.” He smirks before looking her up and down, stopping at her bust before moving back to her eyes. “Oh great, he is a pervert.” She thought to herself.

“Got caught up in the detour, huh?”

Apricot 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 a pole and take hold of the headrail. “It’s crowded in here this morning. This route is empty normally, it’s kind of why I like it. I heard they had to shut down the whole subway system in Ginzu for repairs.” Apricot bows. A brisk moment of silent crosses the two.  To Apricot it appeared as if the man was waiting for her to start a conversation, but her mood was not willing after being ogled.  His eyes roll before he lets out a sigh. “So, what brings you out this lovely morning?”

“Ah, I am going to uni. I ah, I’m studying journalism.” A hint of pride welling up inside her as she smiles.

The guy smirks. “Journalism huh?” he shrugs. “You got a camera?” The question struck Apricot as odd provoking her eyebrows to 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 assumed the camera is stolen or broken.

The young man nods his head. “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.” Then blended into the crowd of people losing himself among the timbered bodies.

A thin layer of beaded sweat streaks across Apricot’s rosin cheeks. Her clothes soggy from the long jog into and through the university’s entrance corridor. She gazes up at an LCD screen displaying a government broadcast along with the current time boxed in the upper corner, “10:04 AM”. Intense anxiety comes over her as she rushes through the sparsely populated halls that twisted into something like a maze. “The detour, they will keep the door open.” Apricot thought to herself to at least edge off some of the tension. Upon seeing the classroom door of 1403B, she could see they drew down the off-white paper shade. Apricot pauses to catch her breath wishing for the door to open then reaches for the doorknob. She twists the handle only to meet the resistance of locked metal fastens. With a grunt, she tried again in vain as the knob only jiggled 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 out an even longer sigh. “Late again.” She thought to herself.

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. The smells of skewered barbecue over a charcoal grill fills the air. The edges of the sidewalks are dotted with food carts and street vendors. The shops that line the road are very diverse selling trinkets, clothing, and consumer goods. Apricot had always liked this avenue which appears more like a hall of commerce to her.

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 Apricot thought to herself, almost. It was in that small gap between the two she found so unsettling and wrong. Something about the eyes, they were dead. The bustle of programmed synths diverts her attention to an arcade. “I have little else to do.” She thinks to herself being drawn in by the blinking neon lights.

Inside smells of a piped scent cover the humid heat generated by a mix of body sweat and cigarette smoke. Spread across the walls various machines flashing 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 was looking for to cheer herself up. A side-scrolling hack and slash by Capnom called Queen Of Dragons.

The machines dim while a slight flicker came over the screens. “Crap, the power is going out.” She thought to herself. A specter of breath faded into the open air from her mouth. She felt fridgid 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 had left and with it herself.

She continues to wander the vitrines until finding herself on a side street unfamiliar to her. The shops around here were of another era; dusty old places that were long forgotten. She passes a hardware store, an electronics boutique, a very shady looking pawn shop, second-hand stores, and a small market called Wiseman’s.

The populace wandering the streets here are unlike the previous. If the one’s before remind Apricot of people without a care, these made her consider she may be in danger. She walks by several men giving her unwelcome glances along with a grin that says everything she needed to know about them. She decides it would be best to get back onto a more populated street but, 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 slams into him knocking 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 just 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 all right? 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 was ok, but she knew it was 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 color 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 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 boss being upset about not getting the robber alive.”

Apricot gives a funny expression. “How is that a story?”

“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.” 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.”