The wooden gate to Apricot’s family home opens with the tug of her pale hand. Cars and well-kept shrubbery line her street. The shadows from the fixtures under streetlight purpose a constant suspicion of danger. “They are coming to my house now,” Apricot whispers under her breath, her eyes darting towards every strange shape. Stretching her fingers through her hair she tugs at her roots, the pain steals any hope that this is a bad dream. She draws a deep breath, the cool night breeze makes her shiver as it brushes against her skin. Strangely enough this brings her comfort as the air is not frigid.
Apricot had concluded these phantoms caused phenomena in their surroundings. Arctic temperatures follow them along with electrical disturbances. These two signs satisfied her as guide stones to identify when these beings are near. Moving through the night streets, Apricot could not help notice how empty her quiet burrow seems. As if the civilized world had vanished with the night, like crossing some forbidden threshold. All the talk of terrorist attacks must have people scared from going out she figures.
She stops in the middle of an intersection. A convenience store lights the night street shining like a glowing beacon and there it is, the subject of her curiosity. Peering through the large store window she notices the magazine rack with a stack of Erie Truth’s Monthly on a lower shelf. The store door opens with a synthesized bell. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” she mumbles under her breath as her heart pounds with embarrassment. Behind the counter, an elderly man gives her a quiet nod acknowledging her presence. She waves her hand back to him, a simple but kind gesture of reciprocation. She passes by several assorted racks of junk food, a fixture displaying a new gum, and a cooler filled with various soft drinks. Glancing over the magazine rack she considers grabbing several hoping to mask her intended purchase. Instead she decides to just look through the issues pages. She holds the copy reading over the embellished cover as a bead of sweat drips from her nose onto the magazine’s face. “Well I can’t go back now,” she says as the splotch seeps into the paper.
Apricot tosses the magazine onto the counter flashing a smile at the gruff looking old man. “Will this be all for you dear?” he inquires with a professionalism from a time past Apricot admired.
“Yeah, weird thing to get at night huh.” Apricot submits.
The old man chuckles “I have seen stranger things, hun. These can be quite the entertainers. I read the Daily Notes myself.”
“You don’t say.” Apricot senses the heat around her getting more intense. “You like this place kept warm huh?” she comments.
“The place gets a little chilly every time that door opens. So I like to keep it at a solid 75 degrees,” he says after ringing up the magazine. “Your total comes to five Marks, my dear.”
Apricot draws a plastic card from her pocket swiping against the reader. The little screen displaying the number of marks being taken out of her account with a short animation to show the transaction going through. “75 degrees you say.” Apricot hesitates, feeling as though the heat was well over a blistering 120.
“You know now you mention it. It is feeling a little warm in here.” the old man offers. He raises his hand to his head removing several beads of sweat. He walks over to a beam behind the counter looking at a small white box. “Nope, the heater is set to 75. It seems cooler over here. Must be my dang computer system overheating again.”
“Yeah, the computer system,” Apricot adds. “Maybe temperature changes in general are a signal.” Apricot considers.
The older man doddles back over to the counter. “Young lady, I am sorry if it caused you any discomfort.” he apologizes handing the magazine to her in a white plastic bag.
“Oh not at all. It is fine. I feel bad for you having to work in this kind of heat.” Apricot says. “Thank you, sir.”
“No, no, thank you. Now you go enjoy that magazine of yours.” the man says before lowering behind the counter grumbling about unclogging the dust from the computers fan system.
Apricot could not get home fast enough. As she left the mans store she was close to a full sprint. The heat seemed to follow her. Through her front door, she snaps the locks shut and up the stairs she goes. Once in her room, she jumps onto her bed flopping on her stomach flipping open the magazine. The first few pages were advertisements for survival equipment. Once she found the table of contents, she scans the magazine for anything that may explain things. “I can’t believe I am doing this.” she thinks to herself while browsing the page.
“Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster – P. 04
Religious Cult And Ritual Performance On Stage At Matsume Theater – P. 15
Tricked Into Initiation By Vampire Club – P. 28
Man-Eating Leeches Found In Okabe Sewers – P. 33
Boy Claims To Be Alien From Another Planet – P. 40
Claw Fingers Linked In Ikijoji Murders NEW PHOTOS – P. 42
Mental Travel And Astral Projection – P. 51
Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis – P. 57
International Conference For Paranormal Studies Blocked By Okabe Government – P. 62”
After looking down the list she chuckles to herself, “What am I doing?” Apricot flips to page 42 to see an image of “Claw Fingers” caught on surveillance footage.
“It appears wherever disaster strikes, ”Claw Fingers” appears. Many people have theorized that ,”Claw Fingers” has caused disasters around Okabe since he appeared several months ago. “Claw Fingers” was first photographed during the subway disaster in Tsungdung, appearing inside the subway tunnel while crews were removing the wreckage of red line 45.”
Some grainy images showing what appeared to be the reaper standing accompanied the text of the article. However, it is hard for Apricot to tell considering the images are so blown up and manipulated.
“He has had several sightings around the city since then. There were reports of him watching from the rooftops at the mysterious Bokohara antique shop attack. Still no information on what that was about. Now we have new reports of him being sighted on Ikijoji street last week before and after the murders had occurred. What we can say is that “Claw Fingers” is not going away and is being increasingly sighted. Authorities have refused to comment on the sightings but instead, have suggested that this is some kind of mass public hysteria. I think they perceive something and they are not telling us. What do you think?”
Apricot stops reading the article putting it down. “He said something about being a reaper. Maybe he is there because that is his job or something.” Apricot lets out a laugh. “Listen to me. I am theorizing about a freaking urban legend,” her giggle frenzy comes to a halt with a sober acknowledgment, “One I saw.” Tossing the magazine flapping across the room Apricot leans back in her bed. “They are as clueless about everything as I am. I was crazy to think one of these magazines could hold the answers I was looking for. This “Claw Fingers” is not my threat right now though. It’s these “phantoms”. I can’t keep running away from the truth. The reaper said something about having to stop them. What is he crazy? I can’t fight those things on my own. And I can’t tell the police.” Apricot muses. She lets out a sigh placing both her palms atop her eyes laying against her pillow. “A gun,” she says aloud removing her hands from her face. “I need a gun.”
The next morning Apricot made her way across town. Two subways, a bus ride, a bite to eat at a small restaurant called “The Blue Lady”, window shopping and still she could not find the nerve to purchase a weapon.
She had passed Bullseye’s several times. The shop window plastered with advertisements for ammunition and new tactical gear along with Ready To Eat Meal specials. She watches as a young lady about her own age strolls out of the shop with two bags. “Well, maybe it won’t seem so strange to them,” Apricot assures herself rousing what little courage she has.
She crosses into the storefront she notices her fingers tingle. The unoiled door opens with a creak greeting her with walls overspread with every kind of black tactical weapon she has ever seen. Her eyes grow wide as it strikes her with intimidation. Several glass cases displayed various knives along with some decorative swords. Survival gear and backpacks with an assembly of accessories line the other walls. As she looks around, she is overwhelmed. “You look a little-lost hun. Whatchya in here for.” comments a young man at the counter.
Apricot sheepishly walks to the counter. Each step small and deliberate as she scans the room with her eyes. “I want a gun. A pistol,” she says.
“A lady that knows what she wants. I like that in a girl.” he chirps. “A pistol, huh? First-time buyer?”
Apricot nods looking at a rather menacing long barreled rifle. “Is that, a sniper rifle.”
“Why yes honey that is a rifle. Why this is a Maji-O’ B15A112, pretty little girl isn’t she. If you got the right sights, you can land a shot dead center from half a mile away. Gas piston so she needs a little more love than your spring variant but she is hell’a more accurate.” the man tells her. He bends behind the case picking up a small pistol from the back. “Since this will be your first gun, I suggest the Markov C14 also known as Justice,” he chuckles admiring the short-barreled silver polished weapon in hand. “This little gun is a standard issue of civil servants, has a carrying capacity of
seven 9mm rounds, plus one in the chamber. Lightweight, easy to carry, and won’t break
the bank either. You don’t need to clean it as often but she still needs love too from time to time. It is good for first-time buyers because she is easy to care for and the recoil won’t be breaking your wrist.”
Apricot nods. “Yeah that. That will work. How much?”
“Well, tell you what, normally I would sell this to you for 400 but since it’s your first gun, how about 250?”
Apricot draws several Jade Marks out of her wallet placing them on the counter. “Done,” she says.
The man smirks at her. “I like your enthusiasm. I do. But you need a background check first.” he says drawing several papers out of a folder. “I need you to fill out these forms and then we can send it on in.”
“How many hours do I have to wait?”
“Eager, heh, well, it takes about a week. Sometimes longer depending on how many are sent in.”
Apricot shakes her head. “No no, I need that gun today.”
The man shakes his head. “Sorry sister, that won’t be happening? Gun laws you know. Did you get trouble? If you do, I would suggest going to the police before taking things into your own hands.”
Apricot nods. “I am a student reporter sir. I need a weapon for protection.”
“Heh, you think that will convince me to break the law? Honey, do you understand the amount of trouble I could get in if I let you have this gun without a proper check?”
“I do but, this is different. I really need it. I can’t explain why but I need it.”
“No. I am sorry hun,” he says taking back the papers. “I don’t feel comfortable selling this to you. Like I said if you are having trouble go to the police. I can’t help you. Sorry.”
“Fine, I will do the background check. Look I need this ok.” Apricot retorts.
The man turns. “I don’t feel comfortable with this. I will have to ask you to leave my store. I won’t report this to the police cause I have a feeling you are looking for an article. However, I would suggest you don’t do this with anyone else. You got it.”
“I want to buy a pistol.” Apricot fumes turning away from the counter and out the front door.
Apricot relaxes on a bus hunched over on the small ridge of a windows sill. She watches the buildings and cars below pass by as the bus continues down the long stretch of roadways. Deep in thought, her mind spirals with worries and fears. She realizes she sure as hell was not getting her hands on a gun, not legally that is. However, even illegally, it is not like people advertise that sort of thing. She thought about wandering around the more shady parts of town, however without knowing what she was doing she figured she would be in danger of being trafficked. She could ask Cortez but she was positive he wanted nothing to do with her after the whole camera incident.
Her thoughts turn to identifying people she may know that knows something about illegal firearms. That is when her mind lands on Solenne, she is an officer. Traffic cop most of the time but an officer none the less. Though she considers her reaction to asking her about getting a firearm illegally. If she were to do something like that, she may find Solenne handcuffing her. She has to up hold the law after all. But being a journalist she could offer the idea as being for an article. Apricot smiles to herself taking out her cellphone.
“So why did you want to have tea with me at this hour?” Solenne asks sitting back in a private secluded corner. The fabric of the lounge chairs in the tea house are gray matching the carpets in the cafe’s center. The floors on the raised platform where Apricot and Solenne sat are a warm hardwood. Above them hung large red ball lanterns with golden tassels hanging from its light. The cafe had a yonic shape to it. A live pianist serenades the air with background music.
Apricot sipped her tea with a flushed smile. “You don’t waste time.” she chuckles.
Solenne nods. “Rarely do we go out for tea just the two of us. So I got enough intuition to know,” she says lowering her gaze to Apricot. “What exactly do you want to know?”
“To know?” Apricot says innocently.
“Well, your text kind of made it obvious. Solenne, I am so stressed about my next article. I can’t think of anything to write about,” she mocks Apricot rolling her eyes. “Want a scoop?”
Apricot nods. “I kind of want something specific. I was looking through the official reports about that bank robbery.” Solenne nods her head. “Well, they had illegal firearms. How does a criminal get an illegal firearm here?”
“Oh, there are black markets all over the place girl.” Solenne gesturing with her hand. “You would not believe how many there are. We have an entire department dedicating to busting up illegal firearms.”
“Yeah, so how do you guys find those guys?” Apricot asked.
“Well, they don’t make it easy. It’s not impossible to find them, but like I said it is difficult. Especially for police. They know who is a cop and who is not normal. A lot of our officers get messed up looking for them. We use undercover cops. Infiltration is the best method.” Solenne explains taking a sip of her tea.
“So, how do the undercover cops find these groups?” Apricot sets her tea down grabbing her notepad from her side.
Solenne chuckles seeing the notepad come out. “Oh, I am being interviewed now.”
“Something like that,” Apricot says.
“Well, the first thing to look for is their calling card. It’s normally a bar with a crown with a pitchfork going through the crown. That is how you know it is an illegal arms seller. However, you just can’t ask to buy a firearm. They won’t like that. So we have to find these spots, the symbols can be hard to find but normally the pitchforks base is the arrow pointing in the direction of the ship. You can search all over town until you find the specific shop.” Apricot jots down everything Solenne is saying.
“So how dangerous are these places normally?”
“Hey, you’re joking right?” Solenne says smirking “Dangerous. I know I would not want to be on assignment anywhere near those types of people.”
Apricot nods her head. “I know right. I can’t imagine having to do something so dangerous on a daily basis.”
Solenne pauses straitening her posture. “Apricot,” she says in a firm tone. “Don’t do anything crazy with that knowledge. I think that is enough to give you an article.”
“Plenty,” Apricot says. “Thanks, Solenne.” She puts down the notepad placing it back into her coat pocket. “So, tell me, how are things with you and Arjun?”
The constant clatter of the decorated glass plates and small teacups and the murmurs of distant conversation fill the room. A group of men sit in a distant corner of the tea house. A house servant pours their drink from a large kettle. She bows as the men raise their drinks to her with a smile.
“Now we are alone. Let us begin the real conversation. Something needs to be done about Kyo. She has no respect for the order.” A man with short, fading black hair says. “We all watched her murder my brother and everyone celebrated because of old stories written by a senile woman. I can’t allow this to stand.”
Another man nods his head his head a field of gray. “Yes,” he coughs. “I agree, Naju. Yet, what can we do? She has the support of the lesser order. If we were to remove her, people would blame us for the failure of the rituals.” He takes a sip of tea.
Another man speaks up. “The four of us know what needs to be done. Ujima, don’t act innocent. We need to kill her. The question is. Who will carry it out?”
“I will.” Hegia states. The other men turn to face him. “I already planned to speak with her. We are going to the theater to discuss plans for the future. I will push her off the balcony. The fall will kill her for sure.”
“Then it is settled.” Naju says. “Yhis meeting must be kept secret. If anyone were to find out our discussion took place it would be rather ill received. Do we have an agreement?” The other men nod their heads. “Good, then let it be considered no more.”