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A "Hidden City" Story
Ryan P. Macklin
Start at the beginning of the Hidden City series
Jason's cheeks were wet with tears. Even closed, his eyes looked puffy and red. He had been crying for several minutes, and began to feel a dry, dull headache.
He slumped down as much as he could; the rope was anchored on a crossbeam a few feet above him, and was wrapped around and tied against the pole.
Behind the staticky buzz of fear, something in the back of his mind tried to tell him that if he had the capacity for rational thought that people have when they haven't just been kidnapped, abused, bound, and left alone, he might find the presence of the rope here odd. But the dull roar of his terror drowned it out.
He heard some noises from deeper inside the building. It sounded like the scuffling of feet, some distance away. This was the third or fourth time he had heard noises from behind him since his captor ran away.
God! They're coming closer! He began to sob again.
* * *
As he turned onto 16th Street, Michael reflexively turned on the radio. After a pause as it powered up, the radio began to play in the middle of a song.
There's a killer on the road.
His brain is squirmin' like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road...
Michael recognized "Riders on the Storm," by The Doors. As he listened, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
Sue gave him a confused look. "I had this tuned to rap before."
Michael hit the channel preset button for another station. This time, a newer-sounding metal song came on:
You are enemy
You are my hated enemy
I am enemy
Number one rated enemy...
This new song was jarring. Hard electric guitars and rough vocals filled the air, making Michael felt as though he was mentally shifting gears. He gave a weird look at the radio.
Sue pointed at the FM frequency. "Uh, that's classic rock? At least, it's supposed to be."
"Rap and classic rock?" Michael cocked an eyebrow.
"One's for when I'm getting ready to kill someone, and one's for when I'm cooling off. I'll let you guess which is which." Sue grinned.
Espinosa chimed in from the back. "Kill someone?"
Sue whipped around, as if startled. She had reflexively drawn her gun and swung it halfway around to meet the voice behind her before she paused. "Oh, it's you." Espinosa began to breathe very heavily as Sue put her gun away.
Michael looked at her quizzically as he pressed another channel preset button. There was a mellow instrumental bit, and for that moment Michael felt the sensation fade.
Well you feel invincible
It's just a part of life
There's a feud going on
And you don't know...
The sensation came back. He wasn't familiar with the station named in the ID spot that began to play just then, but guessed that this was another out-of-place song.
Sue stared forward as they emerged from downtown and turned onto another street, focusing her eyes on the car approaching them on the other side of the road.
At that instant, she saw a vision of the driver: a young, white man, dressed in a dirty white tank top. His arms were marked in various spots with tattoos. She knew his name. She knew his appetite for violence.
She immediately knew this man was Michael's murderer.
As he was about to pass by, she reached over, grabbed the steering wheel with one hand and turned it all the way to the right. The wheels on the car refused to respond, continuing forward instead.
"The hell?" Michael shouted at Sue, glaring wide-eyed.
She returned his glare with a piercing one of her own. "You mindless fuck!" The other car zoomed past them.
"What?!" Michael replied, continuing to shout.
Sue pulled out her gun again, this time leveling it at Michael's temple. "Turn around. Go after him." She lowered her voice, but there was still a great sense of urgency and anger in it.
Michael didn't acknowledge her. He stared forward, focused on the road and on getting to Jason.
She responded by cocking the hammer and pressing the barrel against his head. "I will do it."
"I thought I was already dead."
Sue paused, and then moved the gun away. It remained cocked. She called back over her shoulder, "You still there, cop?"
Espinosa responded, "Yeah."
Sue whipped her head around and swung the gun at the voice before either of the others could respond. She could only see a vague blur, but was pretty certain that she was aiming at his head -- she felt his fear. "He's not."
Michael looked over at her. "You're going to kill him?"
Sue didn't look away from Espinosa, worried that she might lose track of him again. "You going to turn around?"
"No," Michael said flatly. Espinosa closed his eyes shut. "And you're not going to kill him."
She squeezed the trigger. Everything suddenly switched to slow motion for Michael.
Sue's arm tensed up as the muscles contracted her finger around the trigger. Michael could see the bulge in her forearm next to the elbow begin to inflate slightly. No! Damnit, no!
With a jolt, he ran over a large pothole. The world snapped back to normal speed for Michael. Sue's arm was jarred up as she shot, the bullet whizzing past Espinosa's ear. He winced, burying his head and covering his ears from the tremendous report of the pistol.
Michael continued on, unphased. Sue turned back to Michael. "If you ever do that again, I will kill everyone you care about."
Michael's blood ran cold as he turned to her. She wasn't kidding in the slightest. "Do what?"
"Make me miss."
Michael opened his mouth to question her, then thought about it. Did I make that pothole happen? He decided to not respond, hopefully letting the matter go.
Sue continued. "Turn around. You can still go after him."
In his rear-view mirror, Michael couldn't see anyone. "He's gone, whoever he is. I don't know what your problem is, but?"
Sue cut him off. "That was your murderer, Michael. Couldn't you fucking tell?"
His jaw dropping, Michael shot Sue a puzzled look.
"Oh, Christ. You couldn't tell?"
Michael shook his head.
"Do you know who he is at all?"
"Fuck. Okay. I hate this part." She stared at her lap and started to breathe deeply.
"What are you??"
Sue turned back at him. She said, with every ounce of authority she could muster, "Know him." Those words reverberated in Michael's mind and shook throughout his body.
Inside his mind, Michael saw a man sitting in a car, looking at his watch late at night. He saw himself crossing the street, and the driver accelerating to run him over. He watched as he flew over the car, landing broken and bloodied. He saw the driver step out and make a phone call, then drive off as though his car were undamaged.
Michael saw his murderer. He knew his name.
His attention returned to Sue. "What did you just do?"
"You've been telling these lights to be green, right?"
Michael nodded. "I guess I have. I wasn't really paying much attention."
"You can do that with people, too. It just takes a lot of concentration. Even more, on one of us."
"You mean, you can control people?"
"I've instructed people to kill themselves before, when I needed it to look like suicide. Or kill other people."
Michael stared in disbelief. Sue replied to his look of horror, "I told you what I am, Michael. Anyway, you can probably do it too, though it'll be tiring at first."
Michael looked back at the road. He saw a green light ahead in the distance.
Sue added, "If you try it against me, I will make you feel pain."
The light ahead turned yellow, and then red. Michael stopped. There was no other traffic around.
"Why did you stop?"
"Red light." Michael looked back at Espinosa through the rear view. He could vaguely tell that Espinosa was looking back. He darted his eyes back and forth, motioning to Espinosa. Espinosa nodded and unbuckled his seat belt.
"Your point? You can make it green."
"I'm trying!" Michael shouted as Espinosa climbed out of the Jeep.
"What the fuck are you shouting for?" Sue shouted in return. Espinosa ducked down, out Sue's line of sight.
"I?I don't know. I'm still on edge." The light turned green. Michael turned right, onto the intersecting street.
"You waited for a green fucking light?to turn right?"
"Fuck!" she shouted. Turning around, she couldn't tell if Espinosa was in the back or not, but the door wasn't all the way closed. "You just dropped the cop off, didn't you?"
"Yes. You were going to kill him. That doesn't help me save my friend."
Sue shot Michael in the left leg, near his crotch. Michael screamed in pain and almost lost control of the car until Sue put her hand on the wheel to steady it. "Don't you fucking defy me again, asshole."
* * *
Charlie sat on the bench at the park. Three young black men, dressed in blue shirts, black jeans and blue do-rags, walked up to him with swagger in their steps. One of them called out, "Hey!"
Charlie looked up and smiled. "Brother Ludd, thanks for coming."
"Shit, dawg, you know how it is."
"I have a new recruit who might need your help."
Ludd's eyebrow rose. The two men behind him looked around.
"You like to go cruisin', right?"
The man on Ludd's left responded, "Shit, you know it!"
Ludd smacked him the chest with the back of his hand. "Show some respect, man."
"At who, this homeless dude? This is why we out here?"
"This here is Brother Charlie. This man right here knows everybody, and can hook you up when you in a spot." Ludd replied.
"Whatever man," Lefty muttered back.
"So, what you need?" Ludd turned back to Charlie.
"This new guy, Michael, he's a white dude. Office workin' type. He might need a whole bunch of people cruising around tonight or tomorrow night or sometime."
"What he need that for?"
"Long story. Short of it is, if you can help him out, you'd be helping me out."
"Aight. But my boys are gonna need something more than that."
Charlie chuckled. "You know I got you covered."
"I know that, yeah. But these boys here and the rest of my crew night need a little more."
Out of the corner of his eye, Charlie caught a glimpse of a well-dressed man standing on the sidewalk, a little way away. His tone changed from casual to hurried. "Check out what's waiting for you at home." He got off the bench. "I got some business now that can't wait, man."
"Word." Charlie and Ludd knuckled and gave each other a quick hug.
Charlie grinned. "May the City provide for you." He gestured to the other two. "All of you."
As they walked away, the guy on Ludd's right said, "What was that all about, yo?"
"You'll see when we get back to the crib," he replied.
Charlie walked toward the busier street. The well-dressed man walked along the sidewalk in the same direction. As Charlie passed a young mother sitting on the bench with her toddler son, he stopped and concentrated for a moment, looking at them.
She smiled weakly and spoke to him. "I'm sorry, I don't have any change." His presence made her quite uncomfortable.
Charlie shook his head. "Of course not. You have a boy to take care of. Go home, Linda. You did much better on your interview than you thought."
She looked perplexed for a moment, and then she was completely at ease. She stood up and took her son by the hand. "Thank you!"
"The City provides, child." Charlie continued toward the sidewalk as the woman walked away in the other direction. The well-dressed man was standing, waiting.
Charlie walked toward him, but stopped a couple arm lengths away. "What are you doing in my City?" His tone had become guarded and hostile.
Claude responded, "Good day to you as well, urban sovereign."
Charlie glared into Claude's eyes, his face showing the wrath he felt. "Leave my City."
"I am afraid that my business here prevents me from complying with your request, Charlie."
Charlie responded with silence. He continued staring harshly at Claude.
Claude felt energy flowing from Charlie, could feel Charlie pulling at something from far away. "Calling to Sue? She wouldn't be able to get here fast enough. That is, if I was going to actually do anything to you."
"I am on hallowed ground, viper."
"So you say. Indeed, I can't set foot on such filth." Claude grinned. "But I can strike from a distance."
Charlie heard quick footsteps from behind him. Before he could turn around to see who was there, he was knocked out.
* * *
Michael and Sue pulled up to an abandoned industrial building. Michael's leg still hurt like hell from being shot, but he was able to will away some of the pain.
Nerves are just a highway to the brain. All I have to do is close the highway... He concentrated on the metaphor, thinking back to his high school science classes. It didn't completely work, but the wound hurt a lot less than it did right after he was shot.
"Shit, he took your friend here?" Sue laughed.
"What?" Michael winced as he got out of the car and put pressure on his leg.
"You'll see." Sue responded, watching him limp away from the car. "Jesus, you are a fucking drama queen, aren't you?"
"I thought you said you were going to help me and not give me any bullshit?" Michael spat back bitterly. He held back what he really wanted to say: I'm going to go into that building and rescue my friend. Leave, you sociopathic bitch! You aren't going to hurt him!
Sue went through the fence and held it open for him. "Are you still pissed that I shot you? Fucking hell, man. Lighten up. You're dead. Just tell it to heal already." At that moment, she felt something strange, but pushed it to the back of her mind.
Sue rolled her eyes at him and flicked her gun, shooting herself in her left leg. If she felt any pain, it registered as no more than a twitch on her face.
* * *
Jason heard a gunshot from outside. He felt a horrible presence from somewhere nearby. The scuffling of feet grew slightly louder, and was now accompanied by voices.
Oh god! I'm going to die now, aren't I?
If he weren't already crying and hadn't already soiled himself, he would have been doing both.
* * *
Sue calmly pointed at her self-inflicted wound. Michael watched blood begin to flow out of it. Then she said, in the same authoritative voice from earlier, "Heal." Michael's blood was chilled again, hearing that tone in her voice.
Michael looked at his own leg, took a deep breath, and said "Heal." He found the same commanding voice within himself, and watched his leg stop bleeding. Even more miraculously, he watched as the blood disappeared from his jeans and the hole mended itself.
Then the nausea came. Michael fell to his knees and vomited.
"You get used to it. It's easier for people..." Sue paused, and then continued. "It's easier for things like Claude to do it than you or I."
Michael tested his left leg, getting up from the pavement. It seemed to work just fine. Michael rubbed the spot where he was shot, and didn't feel anything unusual. "Weird."
Sue was already halfway to the building door. "You coming in?"
"Yes. Wait up. I don't trust you." The last part just came out of his mouth without him thinking about it. He froze in terror.
Sue shrugged. "I never said to trust me, Michael."
Michael looked down and somberly shook his head. "I don't get it. One minute, you're trying to help me out, the next you're a stone cold bitch. What gives, Sue?"
Sue looked at him, much of the anger leaving her eyes. They exchanged wordless glances for a moment or two before she spoke up. "Do you want to save your friend or not?"
He nodded. Together, they stormed into the building. As they opened the door, Sue's eyes went wide. "Fuck!" she shouted.
When Michael saw what was beyond the door, he froze in horror.
Story by Ryan Macklin, Copyright 2006
Story image by Jeremy Tidwell, Copyright 2006