Chapter 1: Hiding in the Smoke

There is a dark mode button on the bottom right

-Catzzz


“I’m finally free! I’m really, truly, free!”

Father, thank you for dying. Things are looking up for me, and I can’t thank you enough. Though, deep inside, I knew it was wrong to rejoice at his death. My smile once full of satisfaction started to weaken as my eyes took in my current home. 

An empty apartment. 

The trivial feelings of freedom and the silent eeriness resolved itself in me. 

The scar on my ear constantly reminded me of everything I had forsaken and escaped, but it is not something that could weigh me down. I won’t let it weigh me down.

I got up off my bed and flipped the remote switch. The mini TV in my dorm blinked on as the speakers crackled, and the screen hummed with a high-pitched noise. So cheap! But I can’t complain. It’s already more than enough considering I only had enough money to cover tonight’s dinner.

“In other news, people around the world have been reporting cases of supernatural phenomena. Hank, what do you think of this?”

My attention was drawn to the anchor’s words.

“Recent findings reveal that the gravity around San Francisco and Britain dropped from averages of 9.8 m/s2 to 9.6 m/s2. Numerous scientists globally deem the areas safe, but we have no concrete evidence of the effects. Hanna, do you think this will affect our daily lives?”

“Not in the slightest. The worst thing is that it’ll be slightly harder to drive our cars.”

“Well, Hanna, social media has its focus on more than a dozen photoshopped photos and edited videos that show people doing the impossible! A common theme is shared among the fake videos, all of them claiming that something called a “Numen” granted them powers. I don’t know about you, Hanna, but the–” 

POP

The lights streaming from the TV abruptly stopped. I stared blankly at the blue splotch that replaced the news. It seems the TV finally kicked the bucket. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Too many things are happening in the world right now, and the last thing I needed to hear was squabbling about politics… I should just be happy I have this small dorm.

Bah, who am I kidding? It’s been years since I’ve come to this conclusion, but in case you didn’t get the memo, here it is: The world is a pretty shitty place to be. It’s only 2042 and everything had gone up in flames. Five years ago, global warming spiked. China became the dominant world power. Hell, even Putin received a Nobel Prize!

People become mad with power. That was the truth and is the truth. Once you’ve come to accept it like the rest of us, treat yourself to some food and forget the world. 

And speaking of treating myself, the start of my new life should be marked with celebration! The convenience store down the corner should carry exactly what I need. I stumbled into my shoes and out the door. My legs carried me over the cracked concrete, dappled shadows, and past blooming hedges. At the end of it all stood the oh-so-prestigious 7/11.

The cashier glanced up from a magazine partially hidden behind the cash register and flashed a tepid smile. I made my way through the aisles and located the ramen section which was nestled in between the chips section and the row of drinks in the back. I selected 15 bags for $5– enough to last me three weeks.  

“That’ll be $5.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. Where I thought was a $5 bill was occupied only by lint and dust.

“I’ll be right back,” I told the cashier. “Just making a quick stop at the ATM.”

He answered me with a shrug as I exited through the glass doors. 

‘Whatever you choose…’

‘You must be better than me.’

I recalled my father’s words, words he rasped to me before croaking. Such words were needling and unsettling. He had no right to lecture me, but he still managed to assert his influence over me until his very end. I wonder if these thoughts came about because of my bank account or of my stress. Either way, I set my headphones over my ears and drowned the world out with music.

Arriving at the bank, I pushed the headphones deeper into my ears as the glass panes glided open with a push and swung closed behind me, shutting out the gentle breeze and sounds of street chatter. What replaced it instead was air conditioning accompanied by hushed voices. It must have been one of their slow days because not a person was in sight. No lines to wait in. How lucky.

I turned toward the nearest ATM, but smoke swirled up from the openings in the keypad. Taking a step back, I looked around. All the other ATMs had smoke rising from them. An acrid smell scorched my nose, and my eyes stung from the smoke particles gathered in the air. Why haven’t the sprinklers gone off?

The headphones were yanked out of my ears.

“Don’t make a sound.”

I turned around and was promptly greeted by the end of a gun barrel. Behind it was a grizzled man with a white rabbit mask adorning his face. One of the broken lights above us flickered, revealing light grooves upon the mask. 

“Now, give me your phone and sit in the corner.”

The man wore a red tuxedo with a black tie. The tux was heavily creased, with small wrinkles here and there and much more prominent ones around his elbows. One had to wonder what he was doing in this getup to make wearing a tux look so shabby. My eyes remained fixated on his rabbit mask as I slid a hand into my pocket, took out my phone, and held it up for him to see. I soundlessly complied and handed over my phone. He snatched it from me and smoothly slipped it into his blazer pocket.

My gaze roved around the bank as I noted my surroundings. Despite the dimmed lights, I could tell it had a T-shaped floor plan. Before I could reposition myself, something stirred out of the corner of my eye. Shifting my sight, I saw three shapes crumpled on the floor at the center of the room. The glint of their badges revealed their identities: the security guards. The men were soaked in a pool of slick, dark liquid flowing freely from the gaping holes in their chests. Mere bullets couldn’t pull that off… Those holes had to be larger than a man’s fist and looked much too ragged to be from any firearm. 

I stood there petrified, mind racing, unable to suppress the cold chill that arrested my body. How could a single person do this?

The sound of zippers and rustling papers emerged from the right side of the bank, and a large man walked out from around the corner sporting a purple tux and a tiger mask. He towered at what looked to be 6’4”, and his tux strained against his muscles with every stride. Unfortunately for him, while his tux was able to accentuate his build, it was unable to hide his potbelly. Following after was a slim, bronze-skinned woman contrasted starkly by the snow-white suit she wore. Her puma mask was just as immaculate. The two of them each had blue gym bags on hand, the woman with three and the man with eight effortlessly. 

Rabbit, sensing my distraction, put more pressure on my back, forcing me to move forward. I pulled my attention away and saw 15 other hostages huddled in the back. It seemed that the bunch were made up of eight civilians, three civil servants, and four employees. I could see myself reflected in their eyes and that my eyes were as wide with worry as theirs. 

Clack Clack Clack

Clack Clack Clack Clack Clack

Two pairs of footsteps approached, one heavy and the other light and nimble. He must be short. A tall lanky man in a black tux burst through from the door immediately on my left. His voice came out in gasps from behind his monkey mask. The new introductions of characters were making me dizzy.

“Fox went too far. Triggered the backup alarm system.”

As if on cue, a teenager no older than 17 years old came running out in a green tux and a fox mask. Without a moment’s pause, Rabbit pointed a finger at Tiger.

“Take the hostages and Puma to the back. Fox messed up and alerted the police.”

Fox sharply turned his head. His eyes widened as his irises shook in place, but Rabbit continued, “If only you didn’t trip the alarm…” He lifted his gun and aimed it directly at Fox’s head. “This is the last time you are working for us.” 

Rabbit then pointed at Tiger. “Take the hostages. Puma, follow him.”

The fuzzy boom of a megaphone invaded from the outside:

“THIS IS THE POLICE. RELEASE THE HOSTAGES, OR WE WILL USE FORCE.”

I exhaled. Surely, the police would know how to deal with these kinds of criminals. If not them, who el–

BANG BANG

It was apparent that this was not an amateur heist. These robbers were well prepared and more than willing to kill any opposition. I looked in the direction of the sound, but Rabbit blocked the way.

A hush befell the scene. Those guns were not mere methods of intimidation…they were ready to kill at the behest of their masters. Anyone opposing would be silenced.

Monkey broke the silence and sprinted to the back of the bank. I craned my head to catch a better glimpse of what was happening. Soon after a little old woman was dragged out, her eyes fluttering as she stumbled by his side. She looked about the room frantically, but everyone averted their eyes when their gazes almost connected. With her trembling white hair and shaky legs, she was the image of a lamb brought to slaughter. 

‘Oh no’

Rabbit roughly pulled me towards him and twisted my arm behind my back, resting his gun behind my head. “Now… You’re going to stay nice and quiet, ya hear?” I nodded slowly. Receiving my affirmation, he carefully escorted me to the center of the bank. His body was so close that I his scent of brandy and whiskey burn my throat. 

“Move.”

One of the armed men shouted out into the empty room, “We have three hostages under gunpoint! Twelve more are in the back for the pickings. Make the police cars leave now, or else!”

Silence.

“We will count down from five, and if we see any movement, we’ll shoot!”

“5”

“4”

 “3”

These men are insane.

“2”

*Bang*

Five feet from me, a muffled thud resounded. I looked over with my shaky vision, the gunshot still ringing through my skull. A man’s body lay sprawled and blood oozed from the hole in his head. His clothes soaked up the deep red liquid as his lifeless eyes landed on me. He was dead.

“MONKEY, YOU IDIOT!”

Monkey took a few steps back. His eyes shifted from Rabbit to Tiger to Puma, and seeing their disdain, he cursed and kicked at the body before him. 

“It was an honest accident, okay?”

Smoke filled the room covering everything in a gray haze. The sudden burst of smoke shocked the police, causing some to prematurely fire into their surroundings. The tension broke, and the room erupted into a ballistic hell. I reflexively shut my eyes and grit my teeth. A ringing sensation took over my senses as I dove down. 

Maybe the police force wasn’t as prepared as I had thought.

A sketch of puma


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