Sorry for asking but you're okay with straight allies, right?
in my line of work, you eventually reach a point where you know when you’re being followed. you stop registering exactly what it is that tips you off. it’s one thing, or it’s the other; whether it was the snap of a twig, the skittering of an animal into hiding behind you, or an eerie silence drawn too long, it doesn’t matter. what matters is how you deal with it after you realise.
this is one of those moments i can’t dial back to figure out what set it off. i’m focused on the details of the present. i’m focused on making sure i don’t change my pace. making sure i don’t look like i suspect a thing. the rhythm of walking is familiar, almost casual. you don’t live this long if you’re not good at what you do, and accusations of ego be damned, i am one of the best.
the checklist in my head runs faster than the small hand of my watch, a blur of contingencies. marked: the gun readied in my grasp, the knife in my boot, the twinge of pain in my left shoulder. security got one good hit in before i was gone. some part of me thinks i let that happen. that i wasn’t entertained enough to bring flawlessness into tonight’s equation.
it’s an easy figure that i’ve been trailed since i left. the night is disturbingly still, even for what it is. in this part of the world, the darkness brings a cold that bites right into your bones.
the alley i turn into smells overwhelmingly of blood.
not willing to take chances, i don’t bother stopping to see where the scent’s coming from. i could be drowning in the stuff now and not know it. by the overpowering stench, i might well be. the minutes have been gauged down to the final heartbeat, and this is exactly when it’s about to turn. whoever is following me should know by now that i know. the only thing we have left to figure out is who wins this game.
it doesn’t take longer than a few seconds, drenched in vertigo. there is a resounding crack against the brick wall of the alleyway, and i whirl to take a step forward, handgun-first. my free hand has found its position at the switch on my earpiece, ensuring HQ will hear every second of what is about to ensue. the breath i’ll use to tell my attacker to stand down has already been taken by the time i realise there is no one there.
jerkily, as if witnessed under strobe lights, i lower my weapon. the quiet buzz of my earpiece seems muted underneath my suddenly racing heart. everything flickers. in the suffocated seconds between, i raise my hand to my face. the alley doesn’t smell like blood; my nose is bleeding. i search blearily for a solution. poison? that would explain the fogginess.
a swear under my breath gets filtered out and hidden underneath the sickly saccharine tone of a voice behind me. “sorry for asking,” it croons, “but…”
my vision is a flashing, afterimage-infested mess as i spin to try to track the source of the voice. what i see is something i’m not certain i really see at all, something i doubt you could find in daylight. something i doubt you could find anywhere that still holds life. i fumble for my gun again but the beast before me takes hold of my hand and stills it. it is so close to my face that i can see nothing else. an acrid smell, like petrol, covers up even the blood.
in my head i’m begging for something to happen, praying that my earpiece still works. someone has to hear this. someone has to help or snap me out of this nightmare. i’ve been here long enough to know how to show no fear, but it still catches up with me. i hear the twinge in my voice, spitting, “don’t touch me,” and pretending it is some kind of threat.
the beast doesn’t heed it. it leans in further, brushing against my cheek. i do not want to hear the question it has. i expect it to kill me.
“… you’re okay with straight allies, right?” the beast whispers, and i hear the remaining static from HQ fizzle out.