As Billy wandered home that night, having hung out at the mall with pals after school that day, he heard slow, scratching footsteps from behind.
He had not expected to hear such sinister sounding footsteps so near to him this time of night. What with the streetlamps being the only form of light, and roads free from all traffic, the town was much like it was during the Christmas holidays when everyone left for vacation.
As he strolled the footpath, the sky dark and starless, Billy glanced over his shoulder, making sure some crazed inmate from Oakland Correctional just up the road hadn't escaped and was now following him.
But upon gazing back, he saw indeed it was no crazy person at all but just some grey-haired businessman, his phone pressed against his ear. Probably just heading home from a day at the office.
Feeling his heart slow, Billy placed his ear buds back in—possibly the first stupid choice the seventeen-year-old made that night. He closed his eyes, listening to the sweet sounds of Kenny Mason, continuing up Newfield Street toward home.
It was late September, the air cool and biting. Soon, however, the air around Oakland would become colder still, as all seasoned locals knew, and the morning frosts that froze car windscreens and killed the grass would begin again.
Shivering, feeling the chilly air work its way through his jumper, Billy tucked his hands deep into his pockets.
As music throbbed in his ears, he gazed behind once more, intending to cross Newfield. He noticed the man now gesturing about as he spoke. Must be having an argument with his wife. She's probably wondering why he's back so late. Billy once more noticed his heartbeat returning to normal, the dryness in his mouth having been replaced with moisture once more.
The boy strolled further along the dark, wide street, glancing now and then at those glowing house windows. He soon reached Munro Parkway, peering at his watch. It was pretty late. He knew he shouldn't take Craig Drive—there'd been stories about that street. Strange things seen and heard at night. Weirdos living in the area. But it was half past eight, and hadn't he told Mom he would be home by eight?
He shrugged, removing his ear buds, the screeching voice and thumping bass disappearing. What was the worst that could happen? Some stupid hillbilly calling out slurs from his front door as Billy walked by? Who cared; least he’d be home sooner.
This, of course, was the second stupid choice Billy made that night.
He turned into Craig Drive, glancing over his shoulder again to make sure the businessman was continuing along Newfield. Indeed, he was, his argument more severe as he brushed a hand through slick, gray hair.
Billy continued, hands once more back in pockets, except this time he was keeping a good eye on the windows in those darkened houses nestled alongside the street as he strolled. One sign of those crazy inbreds and he was outta there.
As he walked, he noticed the paddocks around him begin to stretch out, while fewer houses sat beside the road. Now and then he'd pass a single-story farmhouse. He knew a few crazy people who lived along this street—one being Matt Watts from school, the kid who, back in elementary school, had smuggled in a live, venomous snake for show and tell.
Billy breathed out cool air. He would be a damn-well lot happier when he had this cold, heartless street behind him. He glared around in the darkness. Only the odd house sat beside him any longer, while long, sweeping grain fields – overgrown and stinking of rotten, old mice – filled the landscape.
It was at this moment ‒ right, in fact, as he walked past the front yard of Kevin Hanson's house, the man who would find Billy's decapitated body hanging upside down from a tree the following morning ‒ that he heard the shuffling, scraping footsteps from behind once more.
This time when Billy checked over his shoulder, his back was so hunched and eyes so wide he resembled someone from an old folks' home—at least to anyone looking on from the darkness. And what Billy saw there in the shadows of the oak trees made him gasp and drop his mobile onto the rough, dusty roadside.
"What the heck? Get away from me, you psycho. What the hell is wrong with you?" Billy called. He’d said that for two reasons: The first being whatever freak walked toward him from behind had his hood pulled over his face and a long smile, the strange grin only barely visible with the shadows over his face.
The second was the glinting object Billy saw in the man's hand, resembling a knife. But it could have just as easily been a shard of metal, or even some tool taken from a large farming shed in the area, used to cull sheep or cattle.
Billy once more muttered in what he hoped was a loud voice but in reality was weak and trembling, "Get away from me, you freak. What the hell you doing stalking people? Go away."
He darted off. He wasn't going to hang around long enough to see what this inbred freak wanted to do with him. It was a shame, then, that Billy was merely running toward his pursuer's friend, who waited ahead about a hundred yards. She also clutched a knife and wore her own little smile.
Billy gasped, breathing out the cool air as he glanced behind, legs taking long strides. "Freak. Psycho," he muttered as he ran, wheezing a little—probably a result of the few ciggies he'd been having with friends after school lately.
He peered back, somehow seeing that smile above all else on the silhouette’s face. Was probably just the white teeth in the moonlight.
"Get away from me, you psycho."
When he faced ahead once more, a figure stood before him. A woman. A long, sinister smile stretching from ear to ear, or so it seemed. Her dirty jeans and grimy long-sleeved shirt glinted in the moonlight, clothes that farmers wore during the day, and for some reason she still did. The girl burst into a fit of giggles, scurrying toward Billy, holding up that blade.
"This beneatha thou hath arriveth. Shhlum, seecuuhhla," she hissed, eyes wide and crazed-looking, a long tongue licking her lips.
But Billy hardly heard her. He now raced toward a nearby paddock, gasping for air. Why'd I take Craig Drive? Why'd I take Craig Drive?
That's when he saw it.
A third figure, drawing itself up from the dry old wheat in the fields, just beyond the rustic, barbed wire fence. The figure rose and rose, standing almost three feet taller than Billy once he had risen. He held no knife. Held nothing at all.
Yet some power, something deep and foreboding leaked from the man that held all the fury, potential and danger that any weapon could. Billy felt something warm seep into his pants. What the heck...? Who is this? I need to—
He turned to go.
Something warm, sharp, slid into his stomach.
The sensation mystified Billy as well as caused him a great deal of pain. Something so thin. Entering the body. So burning hot. Like it had been heated in a forge.
He tasted something in his mouth and at once coughed. Blood sprayed out, dotting the smile of the man before him. And yet this still did not wipe that grin off the figure’s face. From a few yards behind him, Billy heard the girl mutter, "It hath arriveth, thou Deajia. It hath arriveth.”
He felt cold hands against his back and something horrible, unfathomable sweep through him, and before he passed out he saw eyes ... eyes inside his own mind. And those eyes scared him more than anything else had that night.
Oh God.... What is this? What is this?
Everyone talked about the new girl the Monday after the first murder.
This was because: (a) she was fresh to the school, and kids, at least the ones at Oakland High, liked fresh, interesting things, and (b) because all the boys in the year were wondering who would be the first to ask the tall girl with the wavy black hair out on a date.
But Tyler Boyd didn't stare as the other boys and girls in his class did at the way her skin shone an amber brown or her green eyes twinkled in the projector’s light. Something else about the girl drew his attention.
"Who's that?" he asked, sneaking a glance at the girl as she strolled into the history classroom, peering at her new surroundings, eventually smiling over at Mrs. Davila.
Tyler, a tall boy with blond hair that was a little bleached at its tips, couldn't stop thinking about the girl as Mrs. Davila discussed the story of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Now and then he gazed in the new girl's direction. She sat up front, apparently having made friends with Alicia Turner, a girl Tyler liked but hadn't spent much time with before. He did like the way the new girl's hair slunk over those subtle but strong shoulders. But there was something more to her than that. It was how she sat upright, ready for the world, for the problems it might place upon her, ready to fight back. Also the way she gazed toward the teacher before jotting down notes, while others sat with their heads slumped against their hands. And how she raised her hand to answer questions. What new girl at a school had such courage?
Tyler tried turning his attention back toward Mrs. Davila. The Battle of Actium. The tragedy that ensued.... Yet time and again he found his attention turning toward the girl whose arms were brown and soft and eyes the color of the sea on a wild day. Who is this girl? he thought, not even absorbing the words he jotted down.
Anderson elbowed him. "Can you make it any more obvious, bro?"
Tyler's eyelids flickered as he emerged from his daze. "Huh?" He stared at his friend, who nodded at the girl.
"If you like her, bro," he whispered, "you better ask her out soon, before someone else does. People say that Joseph Davis has taken a liking to her as well." Anderson giggled. "And he's got a few more things going for him than you, Ty." He nodded at Tyler's thin, pale arms, which, in truth, were a little less appealing than Joseph's strong, muscled ones.
Tyler cleared his throat. "I ain't interested in anyone, bro. Why you sayin' something like that for?" He soon giggled, shaking his head, muttering, "Attracted to the new girl. Man, I have better things to do with my time.” After a moment he added, “You playing Dead Space after school or what?"
Anderson chuckled too, shaking his head. "Whatever you say, Ty."
Karachi, Pakistan. September 25th
Sohail ran for his life.
He knew who chased him but for the life of him had no idea why. Had he upset the Adone in some way? How?
He didn't dislike the Adone. If anything, Sohail felt at one with their ideologies. Not only that, but this was apparently a peaceful regime, so why was this stranger, clothed in green and brown khaki, carrying a KPV and stalking him through the dusty Karachi streets?
Sohail pulled into an alleyway, hurrying across rough, sandy tiles. He called out for those near him to run, that the new government wasn't to be trusted. He dashed into an adjoining laneway, heading into the darkness. When he glanced back, he saw the figure.
The outline of a soldier stood in the dusty alleyway, staring at him. In the distance sounded the thunder of machine guns.
Once again his country was at war.
That afternoon, students donned vests of blue or yellow, taking their places on the pitch out the back oval of Oakland High.
Someone threw the ball at Tyler as he dashed up the pitch. He weaved in and out of players, darting this way and that. Daniel Ahmad tried grasping him, but the boy with that flowing brown hair and little brown freckles scattered across his sweaty face skimmed past the lurching student. Tyler slammed the ball down in the end zone, puffing, smiling back toward his teammates who lingered far behind.
"He's so fast," someone muttered.
Soon the yellow team once more threw the ball around.
In the corner of Tyler’s vision, he noticed the new girl's dark amber skin and long sweeping dark hair, the eyes the color of the grass and shoulders thin and strong. Look at her, he thought, the girl running to make a catch up the far end. He had no doubt she could outpace him, and yet he didn't feel the slightest bit envious. Conversely, he felt a deep sense of admiration toward her. He did, however, admit that her sweeping hair and dark beauty added to her … appeal.
As Tyler crouched, ready for the next play, something sliced into his mind—an unexplained thought ripping through those he'd just been having.
He rose, blinking and squinting as sweat trickled down his cheeks. An image of burning hot eyes flashed on and off in his mind. He rubbed his eyes, shaking his head, trying to remove this ... strange hallucination, but those bright red eyes continued expanding and expanding inside his mind. And why the heck did they appear so familiar? Where had he seen them before?
The eyes narrowed, as though this thing—whatever it was—now smiled, perhaps enjoying Tyler’s discomfort. And as Tyler heard the whoops and screams of a touchdown, he blinked a few times, his vision returning to the green pitch before him, to the sweat on the puffing students and the glinting school buildings far off.
A hand touched his shoulder. Luke, from his team.
"You okay, Ty? Look like you've seen a ghost, man. Maybe take a couple of minutes, eh?"
The boy slapped Tyler's back a couple of times before walking off.
The White House, Washington DC. September 26th
Schmidt's knees cracked with each step she took up to the lectern.
Camera flashes blinked before her, microphones pointing at her, journalists bellowing questions.... All this attention, all directed at her.
She kept a straight face, while inside her heart beamed with happiness. Look at all these fools ... giving me the limelight I deserve. That's right, idiots, point your cameras toward me. I'm the boss around here. Fools.
"Good morning, dear friends," Schmidt said into the microphone. Camera flashes erupted, accusations coming from each angle, desperate eyes glaring.
The president nodded, closing her eyes, a gesture she hoped indicated for patience. She raised her hand. "Dear nation...." Silence fell over the press, the camera flashes halting. In a loud, clear voice, she said, "You are all aware of the increasing acts of violence throughout many of our states—"
"All the states," someone interrupted from the back. Schmidt became silent, a hot fury swelling away inside her. I'll have you shot, idiot.
In a calm voice and with a warm smile, she continued. "Many of our states. But today, I wish to reassure you that our government is right at this very second"—her eyes now beamed with glee. Which, for a president who had been under fire from the right and far-left since entering office two months back, was quite a feat—"implementing policies to both reduce and eradicate all acts of unprovoked violence within our states." She glared at the tall bearded man stuffed in at the back of the press conference, his mic pointed at her. "All of them." Douchebag.
Schmidt cleared her throat, tilting her chin up a touch. The white walls of the press room shone with intensity, the swarms of press jammed into the long room. "From tomorrow, all states and territories under our jurisdiction will have special forces allocated, as part of my government's ‘Apprehend and Amend’ initiative, rolling out from tomorrow."
An eruption of questions from the press, lights once more flashing.
Oh yes, point your cameras at me, you fools—it’s the only reason I stand before you little idiots anyway. Shine those cameras at my beauty, you low-lives. "Thank you, dear friends. I'll take questions at the end." The hand rising again, a hush falling throughout. Schmidt smiled, adjusting the collar of her red Portmans' blazer. "With the implementation of ‘Apprehend and Amend’ rolling out nationwide, expect a significant decrease of these random attacks and a return to a safer, more secure USA."
Questions were once more bellowed, the president smiling, waving at the gallery, before turning and walking down the stairs to the hallway. First thing she'd do was take a dump, then fix her make-up in the mirror, which was no doubt a little disturbed from all those hot flashes. After that, the world was about to see how goddamn effective her presidency was.
While the president walked off to a barrage of heated questions, some one thousand kilometers away, in Chicago, a woman lumbered after a man down a dark alleyway.
The man fled.
The looming buildings bordering the alleyway blocked any access to the morning light, which otherwise shone upon most of the buildings and roads in the city. Nick heaved a plastic bin out of his way. The stench of old meat and stinking rotten vegetables wafted as he ran.
He glanced behind him, seeing the shape slipping between two bins as she came toward him. He shoved another plastic bin out of his road, climbing over a stack of pallets, sweat gathering at his chin. As her footsteps sounded from just behind, he heard her muttering in a strange foreign language. Something about … having arrived appeared to stand out, even though it was pronounced, Hath arriveth … hath arriveth….
He stepped over another pallet, tripping on one of the gaps between the planks. He hit the ground, hands burning with the fall, but was soon up, staggering and running. He burst between two large garbage bags filled with things that smelt like they’d been stuffed up a dead-body’s ass for two weeks.
He had to lose this freak.
What in the world was this psycho's problem, anyway? He'd simply been enjoying a nice leisurely walk by the shops; then, suddenly, a lady in a vest and work trousers had scowled at him, coming toward him.
As he looked back, he saw the woman stumble down, having become tangled with the two trash bags she was scurrying over.
She fell onto a pallet on the ground, a nail slicing right through her hand. Blood sprayed in the air, and for a moment the woman looked at it. She soon smiled, her black business wear damp in some areas with blood. Cold, red eyes glared up at Nick, and she scampered to her feet, hissing, dashing toward him once more.
Nick turned to continue before feeling something cold and sharp enter his stomach. The sound of the city was far away from here—the voices of pedestrians and car honks distant and soft. Shadows loomed over him from the buildings, the scent of fish wafting up his nose. A chef, apparently having been on a break out back of his restaurant, had dropped his cigarette, dashing back inside.
Blood rushed to Nick’s head, his breath leaving him. Pain burst throughout his stomach like someone had placed a little bomb in there. He coughed, blood spraying from his mouth to the smiling face of a darkened figure before him. Yes, darkened, but with teeth so white they were almost inhuman, almost a reflection of a soul, rather than physical matter.
The figure breathed into Nick's face, and on his breath Nick smelt rot, decay, death. The stench nearly caused him to pass out. Then, bit by bit, he felt his mind wandering in and out of reality. He was being lowered down by this mysterious figure, blood now dribbling down his chin.
As the shadow of the woman emerged before him, Nick’s mind filtered in and out of consciousness. Who ... why…. Why are they doing this? Who are these pe....
And then he thought no more.