Bland bodies sped past, the pallid faces a blur, and their ghostly arms scraped Val's face and chest as he darted through the crowd's masses. The street was full of them, and they went from building side to building side, and each had an umbrella because it was scheduled to rain again. Thunder struck above, which shook the wet asphalt beneath the mob's feet from the BOOM that echoed between the tall structures. Val plunged deeper into the horde, spoiling a new leather jacket to the force and balding his sneakers against the concrete with each spurt. A light post popped up in front of him, and he diverted into a girl in a red skirt.
He fell to the ground, and took her with him. She looked innocent in her white blouse and red skirt, which also sharply contrasted her surroundings. Val's body had kept her from falling directly on the ground, and she got off him without touching the asphalt to tinge her outfit. Val rose, wiping off his jacket to hide his red face. She produced a laugh, which was so sweet and soothing that it evoked a smile out of Val. He looked up into her blue eyes, which were hidden under her blond hair. She wiped it away to reveal her face. She was two years younger than Val at seventeen, which made her innocence all the more cumbersome for him to bear involving her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to––" when she spoke it was such a lovely voice, one that could put the hardest of minds to rest.
"No, no. It was my fault… I'm in a hurry." Val panted, but chuckled. He straightened up to his full height and looked over the heads of the sea of hair and hats around moving the block for any pursuers. He found none, so returned his attention to the cute face in front of him. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." She checked herself over to be certain, and blushed from embarrassment when she realized Val was watching. "Why were you in a rush?" Val stumbled for an explanation that wouldn't implicate her farther into his situation. "Were you getting back to a girlfriend?" "Uh–– no." He glanced at the bystanders, who paid no attention to them, bustling about. "No, I'm not seeing anyone."
"Oh," she sounded hopeful, which was disheartening, "who did you come with? Friends?"
"You came alone?"
"No, not exactly."
She watched him carefully as she swung back and forth on the balls of her feet and bite her lip. "Then why say you're alone?"
Val laughed, and realized this might actually be the first time he had laughed in a whole year, "I don't know. Sounded appropriate." He felt happiness trying to sneak past his panic and hysteria, but it was escaping in bursts. "The people I came with… well, I wouldn't call them friends."
She laughed, "Alright, so what are they?"
Val grimaced, "Um––" He didn't know what to say. Whatever it was it had to be a lie because he couldn't involve her. Her brown freckles showed when she smiled, and that made her cute innocence more important for him to maintain. "I'm working."
"Yeah, warning people about the storm?" Somewhat true.
"I won't be much longer." Val didn't know what made him say that.
"So, you could… watch?"
"Yeah." Did he want to?
"Would you like to watch with me?"
Oh–– "Yeah." Why did he agree? He had to get out of there. It wasn't safe. He forgot himself around her… "I'm Val, by the way. Valentine Duke." Now she's involved.
"Hi Val. It's a pleasure to meet you." She extended her hand.
Val took it and bowed to kiss it. "Pleasure's all mine." She blushed. Val pointed to the lamp post he had avoided, and bumped into as a result, "How about we meet here when it starts." She nodded, and Val let go. "I'll see you then. Bye."
And with those words she disappeared behind the masses as Val sped off through them again. He made for the opposite side of the street, and wrestled through the thickest part at street center to do so. Once on the other side he had to catch his breath. He stood and panted for a second––
A gloved hand yanked Val from the crowded street into an alley with tremendous force, sending him sprawling into a pile of garbage bags that lined the wall of the side alley. Steam rose from the ground in the humid air, and not to mention the sewer drains. The trash stunk to high heaven; God only knows what people threw out. The rats enjoyed it.
Val pulled himself up and wiped his jacket clean. It was useless; none of this stuff was coming out. It wasn't likely that it would matter anyways, with what was in store for Val anyways. He had a piece of lettuce in his hair, which he picked out as he looked to the silhouette in the alley mouth. Skin tight clothing made her feminine form pop in the darkness, and she seemed out of place by her curves natural beauty against the harsh roughness of her surroundings. She stepped out of the shadows, into the flickering light, to reveal an African-American girl in her early twenties. Her long dark bangs fell over her green eyes, which glared at him, and the rest of her hair was in a ponytail that fell over the black leather onesie that she wore.
"Hello, Meredith." Val stepped out of the garbage pile, and she flashed a gat. "Thanks for the warm welcome, and the meal. So I guess now I get to meet the host, huh?" Val grinned wide the whole sentence. Meredith's face remained placid.
"Move it, Duke. You're stalling won't make a difference." She grabbed hold of his collar and shoved him further down the long shadowed alley.
When the shadows run far, the details are lost, but to the blind man they aren't lost. He instead absorbs them through his other senses, which perhaps brings him more wisdom. The creaks echoing through the foundation, the wind rustling through boarded glassless windows, the squeaks of mice and rats scurrying in and out of the holed walls, the slight peel and quick plop of the paint, and the moans and whistles issuing from the exposed and rusted pipes create a soundscape of the environment for the visionless, who then see in their mind their surroundings. Clarity is given to the darkest regions by their smell, and feel, and a fungus growing on a carcass has a pungent smell, and an interesting feel that even a blind man wouldn't go near–– except for Samson Kempt.
He sat in the midst of the dusk particles that sprinkled the air beneath the wooden stairwell, and came to rest on his large shoulders. Dust covered everything: the rundown furniture was covered in it, the floorboards and planks that remained over black space, the supporting structures of the building, the rats were covered in it, and even Samson. He dressed in rags, his hair was long and grungy, and he looked homeless, however he had an advanced surgical addition to his face where goggles, with a metal plate on the left and a socket on the right, were permanently attached over his eyes and wires connected them to his temples. There were numerous dials, buttons, and all types of knobs on the side of them, with light indicators that changed from green to orange for a second. In his hands was the carcass, and his knife was through the fungus.
Light shown from another room, and the loud creaks from that room produced Val lead at gunpoint by Meredith, who held the flashlight. She shined it on the carcass in Samson's hands, and covered her nose. Val used his right hand to cover his, but Samson bolted up and grabbed it. He pulled the hand down, and dropped the carcass at the same. He caught the knife, which slid out of it with fungus clinging to the blade, which he placed on his hand. Val tried to pull away, but his grip was tight. He dug the knife into Val's skin, and blood dripped on the floor. He twisted and turned it for a second, or ten, without looking down as he got close to Val's ear, "Stop fucking about."
The knife dropped, a cane whipped out, and Samson was agilely climbing the dangerous stairs he had been seated beneath. The tip of the cane was shining bright green and that small light disappeared up the stairs quickly. Meredith pushed Val forward with the gun, her hand still covering her nose, and Val ascended the stairs. He was less agile than Samson, and made a lot of noise, as he held his left hand over the stabbed one.
Val didn't count the steps, there were too many to keep track, but instead focused on where to step and that he kept pressure on his hand. That's the point when the stairwell ended, and Meredith grabbed Val by the scruff the neck and shoved him through a door. He nearly fell through a hole in the floor down innumerous flights well below street level, but was able to balance himself back onto the floor that was still intact. Samson crouched nearby meditating. Meredith entered and holstered the gun.
"Alright, Sam, lead the way." Samson rose and flicked a switch on his goggles. The light switched to blue, and so did the end of his cane. He turned a dial, and took a step onto a beam. He rotated his cane this way and that, and turned the dial back to its original position. He took his next step and then his next onto a plank that supported his weight. He made it across the gap, and was moving on to the rest of the crater filled floor. Meredith shoved Val's back shoulder, and he quickly followed Samson's insane path. Each step was physics defying, because he would have sworn that the structure couldn't support his weight and he was stepping onto the thinnest slabs of wood, walking across floorboards that concaved beneath his feet, held his breath over beams that creaked and shook, and still he made distance along the path. Samson was far ahead, and kept moving faster, so Meredith took out her gun and cocked it, "faster," so Val sped up. He went so fast that he lost track of the path––
The flooring collapsed beneath him and he leaped… CRACK! The muzzle blast of the gun lit the beam that saved Val's life, but Meredith fell through the floors down to her death. The bullet hit a beam above, which began to crack. The floor above had weight, and it soon drooped as the beam splintered. Val, despite the pain in his right hand, used all his strength to pull himself up onto the floor as shards of splinters fell down around him. He picked a path and bolted after Samson as the floor above collapsed. A pool table, balls, and cues fell through and obliterated the path back, so all Val had was forward.
Few stars show past the top floor of any building that stands in the middle of a city because light pollution consumes the sky, but would there be a difference tonight? The storm clouds rumbled up above the city where more light than elsewhere in the city shines brightest in the spotlight of tonight's main event. Reynard's sharp grey eyes peered across the vast distance to the brightest star with a content smile and a lit cigar hanging from his lips. He dressed luxuriantly with a blue and yellow cashmere muffler, red silk tie, black button down shirt under an overcoat, which was under an expensive topcoat that reached to just below his knees, his pants were white cotton summer pants, and his light brown shoes were made from the best leather, and polished bi-daily. He let out a silvery ring, which he watched whither away into oblivion as Samson opened the door to allow Val on the roof. Reynard glanced at Val with a smirk, "Mr. Duke, did you have a nice conversation with that young, and very attractive I might say, lady friend of yours?"
Val flashed back to the street where he ran into the blond girl in the red skirt. He saw her soothing smile, heard her rhythmic laugh, and his heart broke. He didn't get her name, and now she's involved because of him. The door behind Val slammed shut, and shook him from his thoughts. He heard Reynard chuckling as he enjoyed his cigar. Val looked back to see that Samson was not with them. Val returned his attention to Reynard who had taken a step closer. "Meredith didn't make it."
Reynard's eyes searched behind Val for a moment, and then he shrugged. "Oh well." He took a drag from his cigar, and Val felt uneasy at his cold emotional connection to what was happening around him. Reynard breathed out smoke and took a step towards the ledge. Val debated in his head whether pushing him was an option, or if he had it in him? Reynard turned to him and laughed. "Cheer up, old fella. Remember it's merely the passage, the right, of all people to go through an event that becomes a unitary moment widely shared. Our great-grandparents had the attack on Pearl Harbor, their kids had the Kennedy Assassination, their kids Nine-Eleven, and their kids… well need I say." Reynard took a drag from his cigar. "Don't be glum because you're going to make it," he said as smoke came with the words, whisking away in the light breeze.
Val breathed heavily, and looked over the edge. They were thirty stories above the dots zigzagging around the street. Val wondered how many words could a person think on his way to the street, and if they were enough to repent a soul before death? He placed his injured hand on the stone barrier as he thought of Meredith. "What am I making it as in this new world where we share this unitary moment?"
Reynard stared at Val's hand. He took out a handkerchief and tossed it to Val, "Here use this for that." Val wrapped his hand. "In the Christian Bible, in Revelation, it states that the anti-Christ would be someone who brings peace to the world, rules over all countries, and speaks all languages. I know this has nothing to do with religion, but it's the message. The message, my boy. The anti-Christ is anti-Conflict, and we humans thrive on conflict. It helps that we're so good at it that it's profitable for us to be in conflict. Wouldn't you want to kill the anti-Christ before he brings about the end of the world?"
Val stared at Reynard, "You're not doing this to benefit the human species. You're in it for you."
Reynard chuckled as Samson came through the door with a Barrett M107 long-range sniper rifle in his arms. A real instrument of peace that sends little diplomats over a mile and a half away, it was custom designed for Samson with a large scope that had a male connector end to go into the socket in his goggles, with a few wires that could be connected.
"Glad you could join us Samson. How are we doing on time?"
"Glad to hear." Reynard returned his attention to Val and Samson went to the barrier and set-up the weapon on its bipods. "I think your high minded thinking will disappear as you get older and experience how the world truly operates." Samson connected the scope to his goggles, and the lights on the scope went on and matched the red lights on the goggles. He searched for a target. "You innocence tickles me though."
Val thought about the girl by herself beneath the lamppost. Her innocence tickled him, but his guilt for involving her churned and knotted his stomach. He wondered what they'd do to her.
"Target acquired, sir." Samson said without movement, as he was fixed steady for aim.
Reynard grinned and reached into his pocket. "I've got something for you," he said to Val. He took a sniper scope out of his pocket and held it out for him to take.
Val gulped and wondered what gift could possibly be at the end of this? His heart already knew, but his brain didn't want to acknowledge the fact, so he took it and went to beside Samson. "Where?"
"It will guide you." Reynard stayed where he was. Val put the scope to his right eye and saw what Samson was looking at through the scope: the girl in the red skirt.
His soul died, and his spirit floated in limbo before he heard his own heartbeat and came to his senses. There she was beneath the lamppost he had told her to be. Val attacked Samson, but for a blind man he was quick and well trained because Val was holding on to the building for his life by the time the scope hit the gravel. Reynard made his way to the edge, picking up the scope on his way. He looked through it, "Why, Valentine, did you involve such an innocent and pretty girl into this ordeal? Isn't there enough trouble for all of us to worry about, let alone a broken heart?"
It began to rain, so Reynard tapped Samson on the shoulder. Two shots ranged out. He repositioned toward the massive light and fired two more shots. By the time the sounds caught back up with the .50 caliber bullets it would be thunder. Samson packed up, and Reynard leaned over the barrier to look Valentine Duke in the eyes.
Val's grip slipped as the stone became slippery from the rain, so he let go.