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Downtown looked as if it was under nuclear alert. Not a soul was in sight. However, their litter was another story. Bottles dotted curbs and sidewalks. Old McDonalds bags and business fliers flew in the early morning wind. It sent a chill down his spine. He tightened the heavy coat around him and adjusted his scarf as he hurried on. Oh how he wished he took gloves when he left a month ago.
He was too busy watching his breath in the air as he mumbled in a neverending stream to notice the TV of an electronics store flashing urgent messages on the screen. “The Art Murderers” flew by in big, bold letters. Pictures of mangled bodies were arranged in a slideshow, one after another. The one that was shown as he made his way past had its arms sawed off, its intestines woven together like a scarf around its neck, and its hands stitched to its feet as if it had freakishly long limbs.
“The flash… the flash… oh, the flash…”
He cocked his head around to squint into the darkness of the dimly-lit street. A faint click. A faint flash in the distance. All followed by faint laughter. He picked up his pace with both his legs and his mouth.
“Why – why are you doing this to me?” unable to project his voice, he choked on his words.
The laughter turned into giggling. It was as if the voice was everywhere, surrounding him. He continued on despite this, half tumbling out of the city’s bounds, down a grassy hill, and onto the pavement of a highway. He was lucky – as he tracked mud across the road, no cars came to end his life. However, he jerked his head when he realized there was an artificial light source. A lone streetlight.
Shaking his head at himself, he continued, scrambling over a guardrail. He almost lost his balance, placing his hand on a tree trunk. He couldn’t feel its rough bark tearing the skin of his numb hand. He took a second to look up. The branches above completely blocked out the twilight sky.
He turned around yet again. The flash appeared faintly above the hill. The shadow of a figure wasn’t there for even a second, yet the gleam of his teeth in the light was ingrained in the man’s retinas.
“What do you want with me?” He bellowed across the road. The only reply was laughter, like that emitted from children playing in the schoolyard.
He increased his pace, climbing over brush and becoming one with the darkness. It was as if every single tree chuckled at him. The moisture began to soak through his worn boots, and into his socks. It didn’t matter – he had lost feeling in his toes long ago.
No matter how fast he ran the laughter never ceased – if anything, it amplified, getting louder; closer. Soon, the man was breathless – the epiphany hit him: he was a business man, not an athlete. He was nearing his limit.
He tripped, landing face-first on a fallen tree branch. He pulled a sharp twig out of his cheek, and attempted to stand. He couldn’t see what was slicing his hands, preventing him from getting back on his feet. He finally stopped trying to lift himself up when he realized how close the laugh was. It was around him, so close he could reach out and touch it.
He flipped onto his bottom and began scooting himself backward. His back hit the trunk of a tree. Realization. This was it.
He armed himself with a puny stick he could barely differentiate from a snake in the dense fog of war that hid the world around him. His cheek bled down his face and neck, onto his formally white undershirt. He was a homeless man in a business suit, his jacket lost to either mother earth or the devil himself.
A click. He looked to his right just in time to be blinded by a great white light. He huffed and puffed between each word he spoke. “They never believed me. My wife, my kids, my colleagues. Why did you take them all from me? Why?”
He felt something soft on his cheek. Warm. Comforting. But then something touched his neck, sucking out his body heat. He was terrified – speechless – afraid to even breath.
The reply was by a young female voice. “Because of this beautiful body – a canvas for the most perfect artform. Repay for your crimes against society.”
At that last sentence, he tightened each of his muscles. He felt the blade slice through his skin, then muscle, then tendons, then finally, his windpipe, as if it has taken hours. With the last of his strength, he mouthed the following words: “Jamie, it was all for you.”