Keep Prayin'

April 2, 2012
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It was almost one thirty in the morning when Morgan Kemp finally stopped taking notes from her Criminal Investigations book. She had just spent the last few hours of her life reading about the countless details of DNA analysis, sketching the crime scene and packaging evidence in an attempt to power through her course load. This was her last semester before she finally received her AS degree at only nineteen years old. She had never planned on leaving high school early only to start college and work but her constant need to keep herself extremely busy just couldn’t be found in her old routine. Now there was nothing but being tired and sore and wishing she could just have TWO MINUTES please, if that wasn’t too much to ask without the phone ringing or her mom needing her to run over to yet another place. If she was lucky she had time to eat dinner before showering and falling into bed only to be dragged back out for what felt like a couple seconds later. Morgan knew life wasn’t always going to be like this once the hard work paid off and she was living in the city getting to spend most of her time trying to understand why criminals do what they do while secretly laughing behind their backs. Someday soon…she had to whisper to herself.

She pulled out a stack of comic from her bedside table and absentmindedly sat down with a grin. In her hands she held the first seven comics from her long-time lust and artist Niko Callahan. He was cute of course, but it was his stories that made him shine to this worn-out teen. They had been friends for only a few weeks but as soon as he described the plot line of a devious young girl that basically had no boundaries or respect and lived her adventures in the deepest, darkest parts of L.A., Morgan was snared. It’s was kind of funny how they met considering she was doing the exact same thing as his character: skulking around the city to clear her head when up popped the comic store that was almost bobbing in tune with Emilie Autumn blasting from the speakers inside. Going in you could see it wasn’t the usual place with Spiderman cutouts on the walls and glass cases of Elektra statues, but instead it had black shelves lined top to bottom in alphabetical order with some of the most gruesome and nasty comics Morgan had ever seen. Every genre was there and of course every villain when she saw Niko signing a comic for a fan towards the back where they kept two baby dolls hanging by nooses over the gender-appropriate area. Maybe it was the ragged, almost hurried pony tail, or the ‘Graverobbers do it better’ t-shirt that made Morgan look at him a little differently. Or maybe it was just too cool seeing an artist in action. Either way that night ended on a sweeter note with her and Niko sitting on the roof of her car over a cup of coffee while he told her all about his comic. Over time the issues just happened to trickle in Morgan’s life, appearing at random times. First there was one under her windshield wiper, and then another ‘left behind’ at the register where she worked and yet she hadn’t seen him come in at all. He was weird, but cute, so she couldn’t help but fall.
Sadly, Niko had given her the last issue to read tonight. He told her to call him when she finished but he probably didn’t expect her to be so late. Morgan opened the first page when a book mark slipped out. It was a thick, handmade thing with a silver plated exterior that had fake battle wounds and scars. Two grimy windows and a long jagged tear made up a smiling face. Reminded me of you…was written at the bottom in Niko’s script. She shook her head and smiled. Where did he find this ridiculous stuff?
Morgan set the little trinket aside and gazed down at the pages. Dark, smoldering graphite drawings of his main character Sasha running through the streets with a pained expression on her face. In the last issue she had to convince a cop she wasn’t jumping rooftops, in fact she was horribly afraid of heights and swore she was at home when really she was trying to see if she could mimic Hellboy. Morgan burrowed herself deeper into the covers as she read on. While Niko knew how to make her laugh, he also seemed to know exactly what could bother her as if he had spent a lifetime at her side. Hopefully he wasn’t too busy at the comic store tonight so she could tell him just how amazing this issue was. As she read on, Morgan noticed a slight change in the issue’s tone. Niko usually had witty jokes and finely detailed drawings but in this issue everything had a sharp edge of urgency. Lines were finished rather harshly and even Sasha seemed to have run out of passion. Her boyfriend in the story was supposed to have been walking over her house to help her sneak out and then in the worst way Morgan could imagine, he was killed after a hit-and-run. Morgan put her comic down. What made Niko create that? She took a second look at the comic and realized that not only was the story and artwork off key, but even the pages weren’t printed correctly. They were laminated copies of his original sketches. This wasn’t like him at all. Quickly she grabbed her cellphone and dialed his number, her exhaustion wiped away. Niko hadn’t sounded weird the last time they spoke but this book was so out of whack that something must have been wrong. His phone rang six times before she got his friendly voice mail. She called again. Nothing. Morgan put the phone back down and reasoned that he must have been asleep and turned his phone off, even though he wanted her to call. Normally he would have texted her or something to try to get her to hurry up, but she guessed tonight just wasn’t a great time.

The next morning Morgan woke up early and checked her phone again. There were no missed calls or messages. She hurried to get dressed before kissing her mom goodbye and heading out to the city. Driving a little over the speed limit with a stiff cramp in her neck she finally managed to reach the comic store. She parked and dashed inside but there was a boy she had never seen before manning the cash register.
“Oh, hey.” She said to him. The boy looked up, already not interested socializing. “I’m sorry to bother you. Has Niko come in yet?”
“Who?” He replied with a mouth full of sunflower seeds.
“Niko Callahan. He’s works here and sells his comics?”
“Uh…maybe he’s the guy I took over for today?” Morgan gritted her teeth. How helpful this dude was.
“Alright, well I’ll try again later. Thanks anyways.” The cashier waved her off and resumed gazing at his magazine. Probably something about virtual girls and how to date them. Morgan got back in her car and turned on the radio while she tried to make sense of what she had been told. There was only one eighties station she would listen to on a daily basis but the hosts were jabbering about something else. If Niko didn’t want to go to work, he would have come over and spent almost every waking moment with Morgan until he eventually had to leave. She wasn’t his girlfriend, not that he even had one for all she knew, and yet Morgan felt almost tied to his hip. She looked up at the sky wondering if Niko could see what she was seeing. It wasn’t until something on the radio caught her attention that she finally cast her gaze away. The radio host was recounting a deadly accident that had occurred this morning. Someone had been jogging in all black when they were hit from the side by a speeding driver. The victim’s neck was broken on impact and they were dead within seconds. Morgan’s fingers began kneading the cramp in her own neck. That was such an awful way to die…
“So we received word that the vic from this morning was actually a local artist working at Spooks N’ Slips, you know? That creepy place that sells all kinds of comics? Well, it turns out he was jogging around town with his pockets full of sketches. At least that’s what’s speculating. Anyways hopefully this young man will receive some justice for his death. Oh wait, Nick? No, no, it’s Niko, I’m sorry folks. The victim’s name was Niko.”





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