Running and Returning.

“Think you’re pretty damn smart huh?” The large man enunciated each word and advanced towards him.

Aiden shook his head. “No, nope, not at all currently.” His back hit the cement wall and he flinched. It was very hard to feel smart cornered by three burly security personnel, each at least a head taller than he.

Aiden ducked the first swing but the second caught him hard in the stomach. He buckled and went to his knees gasping. One of them laughed.

“You’re not walking away from this.” The first said calmly. That had been exactly what Aiden had planned to do, walking away, preferably with a large amount of their boss’ money in his pocket… until the three pushed him out of the club’s lounge into the back alley. Now he was seeing more of a run scenario.

But even that was looking hazy. He curled before a kick could break one of his ribs. It still connected and he stifled what might have been an embarrassing cry of pain. “This isn’t going to be much fun.” One of them complained.

Aiden thought about apologizing for being less than entertaining but he was having a hard enough time breathing. Instead he chanced a look up and immediately swallowed any words. The first was holding a pistol.

“You finally look like your taking this seriously.” The man said.

Aiden gulped. Yes, this was serious. They were going to kill him. He drew a shaking breath. What were his options? Lying had gotten him into this in the first place, and they sure as hell were not going to believe anything he said now. This seemed like the wrong crowd for begging. And if he bolted, they’d shoot him. Aiden was having trouble imagining a scenario where they didn’t shoot him.

He held up his hands, working so that his feet were under him. He straightened as a gun leveled with his head. “Is there anyway I am walking out of here alive?” He asked. Hell, if he was already dead it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

The first one smiled and shook his head.

Being smart hadn’t worked, time for something stupid. Aiden balled his left hand into a fist and swung. A man Aiden’s size shouldn’t punch men the size of club security. Everyone knew it, and thus while the hit while largely ineffectual, it did surprise the gunman considerably. Aiden got a moment to bolt.

He took it, half stumbling half sprinting down the broken asphalt of the alley. Aiden careened around the corner and began literally running for his life. He crossed an intersection blessedly empty of cars and chanced a look behind him. No one.

Aiden’s initial relief lasted another block. No one was chasing him, but that was because suddenly and inexplicably he was utterly alone in the middle of an abandoned street. No club goers, no pedestrians, not a pigeon or homeless person in sight.

He stopped, eyes narrowed at the nothing around him. There were buildings and parked cars, litter spilling from trashcans and dull water pooling next to blocked gutters. But empty…and quiet. Fear, much different than the pounding adrenaline he’d faced in the alley, hollowed out his stomach. The buzz of the city was gone. He was truly alone.

*******

He’d tried his phone. Completely dead, wouldn’t turn on and there were tiny burn marks around the battery cap. He didn’t remember that happening. But then he couldn’t figure how he’d started running in one very bustling city and wound up in an entirely abandoned one.

It wasn’t just the lack of people. It was the lack of anything. He’d walked, not sure what to do now that imminent death had been replaced by a different sort of unknown. There were no animals, not even an ant or fly to bother him. The silence felt weighty and still, the constant drone of life he usually overlooked  now startlingly absent.

He might be dreaming. Or dead, maybe a bullet hit him. He checked his pulse, quick but there. Funny how no one had given him a primer on this kind of weird.

The street names and signs were the same, though slightly crooked and often leaning. Everything seemed a little…pressured. It was the only way he could describe it. Like something just on the other side of his vision pressed in on the world around him. The buildings were packed close to one another, the slightly condensed effect throwing dry green tinged shadows everywhere.

He looked up. No sun, just hazy dark sky. The shadows had nothing to do with the dim greenish light, and dark pools of them congealed in odd places. Aiden avoided looking too closely into the alleys and picked up his pace.  But it wasn’t as if he knew where to go. Or how to get out.

The first door Aiden tried was the lobby to a dilapidated hotel. Locked. Aiden abandoned it and tried the next, also locked. The third was open, but the dark inside the peeling office rippled visibly when he stepped in. Aiden backed away slowly and decided to try his luck elsewhere.

He tested a few more doors and wandered through apartments, empty as the streets. Electronics, appliances, food and unmade beds filled them, but their owners were absent. He pricked himself with knife and glared at the drop of blood that welled on his fingertip, bright red amidst the weirdly tinged surroundings. Well he could get hurt here. Good to know.

The clock in the stranger’s kitchen was stopped. Aiden had no idea how long he’d been here but he was beginning to feel the ragged beginnings of panic. He could go anywhere, no one to stop him, but he was trapped.

Aiden leaned his head back against the kitchen cabinets.  He’d slumped to the floor after realizing the enormity of an eternity in an abandoned world. After taking a few minutes to wallow he reminding himself that there was a way here. Roads usually went two ways.

Usually. Applying reason to wherever he was may not be best course of action. The knife was back in the block though he’d never put it there. He stared at it a moment.

Nope. He decided. Not obsessing about that right now. Aiden pushed himself to his feet, time to leave. He’d find the alley again and figure out what dumped him here in the first place. Aiden pushed at the door to the hallway. It stuck and he grumbled at it, which was not particularly effective. Having no desire to escape out the window Aiden placed both hands on the door knob and shoved his shoulder into the wood.

The blast of smell and noise would have sent him stumbling back if he was not already stumbling forward. Aiden fell, managing to get his feet under him as he pitched towards the sidewalk.

A strong hand wrapped around his arm, catching his fall and steadying Aiden. He felt something snap closed behind him even as he looked up. A somewhat familiar, and very welcome face blinked at him. “You.” Aiden said, not quite able to help the slow smile spreading across his face.

Fen wore the half incredulous, half exasperated look Aiden always seemed to provoke. He opened his mouth to ask a question and stopped. Fen shook his head.

“I have no idea.” Aiden grinned, of course. Of course it was Fen.

Fen frowned towards him and then to where Aiden had fallen from. “We should go.”  He stepped between the now very curious onlookers and Aiden, threw and arm around the smaller man’s shoulders, and began to steer him down the street.

Around them the crowds of the downtown evening surged, most busy and impatient to get where they were going. Some had stopped and gaped at the odd exchange and the man who’d fallen from nowhere. Aiden had trouble mustering Fen’s concern about the sudden attention, it was noisy and bright and alive. He was back, he didn’t know how, or where he’d been, but he was back.

 

 

 

 

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