Have you ever felt yourself begin to die?

Have you felt the stings of your organs shutting down? Have you seen your eyes cloud over, black stars flashing at the corners? Have you ever heard yourself scream in pain and wonder why? Of course, by that point, I was well past the screaming stage. This was beyond any stage. This was the death stage.

I clutched my shoulder as it bled, sending spurts of blood between my fingers, going down my arm like raindrops. The sun began to set, lighting up the atmosphere. In winter, a few minutes was left until the sun set. That marked my time. I collected my thoughts.

Six years ago I was what you could call a normal college student of 19. Panicked, anxious, terrified of judgement from both within and without, wondering what came next, and worrying about student loans. I did have a boyfriend who was calmer and more laidback then me, so I had it easy in some ways. However, in the part of town I lived, there was a lot of drug deals and bad shit going on in general. I had learned to ignore it and stayed at my boyfriend's house in a better part of town in order to prevent ruining the mood with gunfire. You can get used to a lot of things.

One day, though, I noticed something off. Two guys in hoodies walked into a bus shelter near my college with me in it, and start talking to each other quietly. At first, I ignored them, those types were everywhere, but some things were off. For one thing, they weren't carrying guns. After a mugging incident I gave a look at an article on how to spot firearms, and I knew these guys weren't carrying them or they were being very professional and not making any signs about it, neither of which fitted for two low-life thugs. Another thing was that they didn't fly any gang colors: their clothes just looked like ordinary clothes. So I watched from the sidelines until the two got up and left, and my bus arrived.

Every visit to that bus stop, they were there at 9:30 on the dot. They talked for an average of ten minutes then left. It was like some sort of a ritual that was as stable as clockwork. It didn't feel right, it was too organized to be two hoodlums. Who were they and what were they doing?

I talked about it with my boyfriend, and he told me not to worry about it. If it's just two gangland thugs, they weren't any concern of mine and if they really bothered me I should probably go to another bus stop. He was kinda right, but I was curious. I decided to try and listen in on their conversations. They were quiet, but I could catch the general gist.

They talked strangely, alternating between code phrases like "Red Star" and "Velvet Jacket Situation" and non-sequiters that were also probably code like "So how's your father?" to which the other would always reply "Strangely friendly". They talked like this every time, switching around the phrases or the order of words but not much else. I decided to finally ignore them, until I got an idea. I tried to break the code. I hid pen and paper on me, and recorded every word in their conversation.

After a bit of thinking and research, I found that the events in the neighborhood matched up with parts of their code. Every time a dog disappeared it was "Yet another one finds it's way to the grave", or when a meth lab was shot up by the DEA they'd say "The pin has been severed". After some connecting the dots and some trial and error, I realized that the remaining code wasn't just reports, it was orders. "Two old dames for the blind king" meant two houses would be robbed, "The canal demands secrets" would mean a teenage girl from a nearby rich neighborhood would go missing, "The exterminator needs a tie" meant that the power would go out tomorrow, etc.

These two hoodlums were somehow controlling something huge. They both gave reports and orders yet their words had effects in the area around me. When they started namedropping people and their activities, that's when I began to pay attention.

When they spoke about people, they talked about the most inane people. The owner of the laundry down the street. The waitress in the diner. A German repairman who lived in the block next door. I knew these people, they didn't do anything important, so why were they concerned with them while they were orchestrating whatever the hell they were orchestrating? More connecting the dots with the code, and then it hit me.

They weren't paying attention to the people just out of some weird Orwellian urge. These were their agents. These people most likely did the ground work of the organization. Whenever the agent did well (I dunno how they measured it), they'd say "Friends should always be humble" and whoever they mentioned would get a raise or win some money in the lottery. Whenever they found that the agent was lacking, they said "Encouragement is as valuable as a diamond ring" and next time I saw that person they'd have a scar on their left hand.

The waitress I mentioned was seriously lagging behind in their schemes, it seemed. She had a lot of scars on her hands and even on her arms when I saw her, and they often spoke in a low tone about her when they did speak about her. One of them looked at the other and said in the most unpleasantly blunt tone of voice you can imagine "The bitch deserves nothing less then a sliced throat. Give the order, then we won't have to deal with her again".

When the bus arrived back at my neighborhood, his voice echoed in my head. What could they do to her? I had to go save her, help her, do something. I began to walk to the diner, going through the rain soaked streets and the scummy air, and arrived. I went through the doors and found her sitting in a booth, looking at the ceiling in her uniform, the mop and bucket leaning against the wall. Her makeup was smeared, as if she had been weeping like nothing else. There was no-one in the diner, so perhaps it was closed. She looked at me in shock, then stood up and turned around, taking the mop and soaking it in water, keeping her face from me.

I walked over to her and took her arm, telling her that it was okay and that I knew. If she had been just dumped by a boyfriend and my conspiracy theory was just two crazy dickheads who happened to predict events by accident, I'd sound insane. I knew I was right when she looked at me with pure understanding. I made her a coffee and she explained everything she knew about the two.

She had only known one of the hoodies, over the phone. She had been rung in the middle of the night and asked if she wanted to earn easy money by just doing a few things. She was in dire straits back then, crushed by debt and praying to God even if she had been an atheist since she was 12. She accepted, and from then on she always got a phone call asking her to put a package of white powder that she'd find in a phone booth outside the diner into the coffee of a customer, or to place a pistol in a plastic bag inside a bin by a disused fire station. She got money for it, and then more and more things started to happen. Her apartment's electrical problems stopped, she got discounts at local stores, even the landlord was treating her nicer then usual. Her life was in fact getting much better then ever.

Then she started getting worried about what exactly she was doing. Asking the wrong questions to the hoodie on the other end of the phone, asking the whys too often. They began to punish her for that. She had nightmares, then she woke up with fresh wounds on her hands and arms. She was about to get out of town when she found she had a recorded message. The hoodie told her plain and simple that she had gone too far and she would die by tomorrow of a cardiac arrest due to an undiagnosed heart condition. So, for now, she was waiting. Too afraid to sleep, too afraid to leave the diner.

"It'll be okay." I said. "They can't just make you have a heart attack, it's crazy."

She looked at me and said "What part of this isn't crazy?"

We talked a bit more, then I had to leave. I kept telling her she would be fine in the morning, just wait and see.

The waitress was found dead in her apartment the next day. Police reports said a cardiac arrest, caused by an undiagnosed heart condition.

I found that my boyfriend had called me three days ago four separate times on my mobile phone. The last one he left me a message informing me that he was leaving me. Every time I tried to ring my friends, they either didn't pick it up or hung up with maybe a "Go fuck yourself!" as hello. My bank account had also mysteriously run out of money, leaving me entirely flat broke. I rang my parents, and found out they had been both killed in a tragic car crash and I had failed to attend the funeral.

I knew now. The hoodlums were ripping my life apart, piece by piece, as a lesson. You messed with us, you tried to find out what's going on, now whatever happens next is your fault and your fault alone.

Yeah. I was alone now. They had taken my family and friends, my boyfriend and my money. I decided enough was enough, and now it was time to end this. I went to the police and told them everything, right down to the heart attack. They thought I was insane and sent me away. I swore I could hear one of them say on the phone "It's a Velvet Jacket Situation" as I left.

So at this point, not even the police were going to help me. I had to solve this myself. I took a pen knife, went to the bus stop, and waited until 9:30. The two hoodies went to the bench, sat down, and stared at me. I couldn't see their faces clearly, but I could tell they were staring daggers at me. I stared ahead, trying not to look at them, feeling the knife in my pocket. Timing was of importance. If these guys knew how to stop your heart, or how to kill you and make it look like you had a heart attack, then they are definitely not to be trifled with wily nily. They were staring at me though, and even then I didn't feel like gutting them before I got some answers.

"Let's not kill each other just yet..." I said, taking my hands out of my pockets. "Listen, I... I have no idea what the hell you guys even are, what you want, any of that. I know I'm in way over my head, and... Look, can you just tell me why?"

One of the hoodlums tilted his head. "Why what?"

"Oh come on, why everything! Why are you controlling the whole damn neighborhood? Why are you pulling the strings of everybody like a puppet show? What the hell is going on here? How did she die?"

The other hoodlum shook his head. "You live in the light, always have. When you saw into the dark, just glimpses, you got frightened and closed your eyes, looking away. We live in the dark and always have, we make you people rob houses and kidnap scared girls for us to fulfill things you wouldn't understand if I explained them in detail. We do this because we need to."

"Bullshit. You're just hiding, this can't be that complicated. You have a reason, you're just so stuck up your own ass you think it's too complicated for me to take."

The first hoodlum said "You know the abandoned house on Mill Street? We take the girls there and there's a basement that can never be properly lit, even if you have a floodlight. We close the doors and then we open them again, and there's just a bloodstain where there was a young white girl. If we didn't feed the basement in the abandoned house on Mill Street, the rest of the houses would become abandoned and you would notice a lot more missing people in the area."

I stared at the first one. The second one sighed and said "You do not understand. It is too complicated for you to take. I am surprised at your tenacity, to be honest. Didn't expect the pen knife. If you go home now, you can have your life back. Boyfriend, your circle of friends, money, even your parents. All of it will be yours, and you will never see us again."

I felt my stomach tumble at the mention of my parents. I felt something well up inside. I knew I couldn't take this bribe, even if it brought my parents back. "Why did you kill them?"

"We needed you to step off. A message." said the first hoodlum. "People tend to be needed to be pointed in the right direction via obvious methods once they get the scent."

That did it. I took out my knife, and charged at them, waving the blade. The second hoodlum sighed and waved his hand, and the blade got knocked out of my hand. I felt something hold me tightly by the arms and legs, even though the both of them were sitting down. I struggled anyway, rage controlling my body.

They stood up and walked around me, heading off in opposite directions. I cursed and screamed for them to come back. When they went out of sight, I collapsed to the ground in a heap. The cursing and the screaming began to collapse into sobs as I felt myself go completely mad.

Six years have passed. I am now 25 years old, homeless, been in and out of mental care homes, seen a lot, and learned a lot. I mainly dedicated myself to finding ways to kill those two hoodie bastards, but I found out other things as well. I have a lot of stories to tell, but those could be lost to time without much damage to the human race anyway. I was stronger now, more adapted to living in the darkness. I understood that city streets are as mysterious as an ancient tomb, with each tenement and alley hiding dark and strange secrets.

Two hours ago, I had found their new meeting place. I found out where it was thanks to careful instructions written in blood in a disused metro tunnel. It was no longer the bus stop but some department store rooftop. I broke in at 7pm with a pistol, a steel sword, three pipe bombs, and the feather of an angel. I arrived at the rooftop, hid in the shadows and waited. When they arrived, I lit a pipe bomb and threw it at them, and so the battle began.

They brought arcane sorcery; I brought bullets and homemade explosives. When I ran out of pipe bombs, I shot at them. When I ran out of bullets, I charged them with the sword. When the sword melted, I made do with the angel feather and my own two fists. I grabbed one of the hoodlums by his neck when he was preparing a lightening spell and tossed him off the roof. His spine snapping in half is probably one of my favorite sounds ever. The last one, however, would simply not give up. We fought and fought until he could barely cast his spells and I could barely breath from the exertion.

"Six years, wasn't it? Six years all alone in the dark, and a creature of light like you is very unhappy in the dark." the hoodlum said, making the air into tiny glowing darts to fire at light speed towards me. "No friends. No family. Nothing at all except the voices in your head jabbering away. You could have stopped this if you just agreed to what I said, but no, you had to be proud!"

I dodged the crystals, but got a few embedded in my leg anyway. I gritted my teeth and yelled "When you kill my family, I'm not just going to let that stand!"

"I could have brought them back." he said, sending lightening my way. "They would have been just like you remembered them."

I ducked the lightening, and closed my eyes tightly to prevent getting myself blinded. "I don't care if you could have brought them back, you killed them anyway!"

More spectacular displays of magical aptitude from him, while I barely fought to defend myself. If I didn't do something now, I would probably collapse and he would finish me off. He'd win.

I stood up and gripped the angel feather in my hand, then ran at him. It glowed with golden light, and he screamed in pain as I held it in front of my face. To be honest, I screamed too. I'd never like to meet a real angel if the feathers can get this bright. I tackled him, tossing the feather off the roof, and we both tangled and tumbled until we reached the edge. He got clocked in the jaw, and while he was dazed I ripped him from below me and held him above the roof.

For the first time, I could see his face and his eyes. Two hazel irises looked up at me with no expression, no feeling. His left hand rose and there was a light spark, and I felt something hit my shoulder, and I felt my grip slide from him. The hoodie plummeted, his eyes staring at me all the way. He landed with a thud on the ground, and I fell back, feeling my body drain away.

That brings us back to now, I suppose.

Am I happy they're dead? I don't know. I suppose so, but it doesn't feel like revenge. I don't feel anything at all. I feel my life slowly go down the drain, down down down like a plughole. Memories, his brown eyes, they're in every memory now. They destroyed my life completely and utterly and I don't even feel anything at their passing, just the ache of my shoulder. I feel myself cry, salty tears pouring down my face.

I wonder, will I see light and the pearly gates? Or will I go to the infinite fire pits that is hell or the infinite grey landscape that is purgatory? Perhaps I shall see nothing but darkness, as my spirit slowly floats up into the deep dark sky with all the stars and slowly drifts apart, and pops, and disappears for the final time. I look up at the sky. For the first time, I can see stars in the city. I turn my head and I can see the lights of the trains and the skyscrapers, forming a mix of silhouettes and light. It's so beautiful I smile.

And then, it's gone.

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