He vaulted the railing screaming profanity, teeth flashing as he dropped to the cold, wet blacktop. He fell, and was gone. Glistening drops of something speckled our faces as we rushed to watch his fall, dashing forward across the metal balcony in the late September downpour. Rain and fog swallowed his descent, and we turned slowly to regress through the heavy door behind us. It opened reluctantly, screaming as the stench of rotting wood emerged cruelly from the dim stairwell to torture our nostrils for a second time. Trees are vindictive in death. We put our sleeves over our noses and mouths to block out the abhorrent stench and watched a multitude of glistening insects flee down the steps, falling from the ceiling and walls in panic as we relit our torches. The first stairs were the worst, their anguished moans amplified by the tight quarters as we tread upon them warily, dreading their betrayal. Our footsteps echoed down the narrow staircase, advertising our presence well in advance, perhaps even to the bottom of the spiraling pit. After a while we no longer saw the insects, the swarm having outdistanced our cautious pace. They vanished into the darkness, and were gone.

The door at the bottom of the stairwell was composed of decaying wood, covered in mold and filth. It opened without protest, its hinges well oiled despite their dilapidated appearance, its handle easily turned though it was caked in muck. As we exited, we could see that the opposite side of the door was in good repair, coated with a thick layer of varnish and having the benefit of a clean, shining knob. The smell of decay finally faded, and was gone.

The unoccupied street outside was full of water. Garbage slowly trundled down the gutters to clog the one inadequate drain, pulled inexorably by the flow. Excess flooded the road, ankle deep, rising by the second. We stood astonished, clothes drenched in the shower, ignoring the biting cold and harsh wind of a dying autumn in the realization that there was not a body. Streetlamps towered over the scene, mocking, their tall black poles a shelter from retribution. Hatred for their immunity and knowledge was soon dulled by gratitude, however, as a lone shadow darted into the night. Our pursuit was long and tiresome, our antagonist both resourceful and rapid; turning often, stopping never. We tracked him through brick-paved back lanes and boulevards well-worn by foot traffic. More than once, he forced us to make an unexpected detour through an unlocked doorway as he exploded through vacant houses, knocking over tables and chairs and shattering delicate, flower-adorned vases in his desperation to escape us.

Then he turned into an alley. We laughed, knowing that it was a blind alley and that its windowless walls were to be his doom. We turned the corner with trepidation, his reputation a final deterrent, and saw him pacing pensively before the opposite wall. Rain flowed down his face, not quite obscuring his deformed features. His eyes were shut, hands behind his back as he walked to and fro. As we approached, a flash of silver! An explosion! Blood.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t even wince as my finger fell gracefully to the ground in slow motion and my left hand erupted in pain. It happened so fast, like a branch being snapped from a dead tree. The sounds of the world around me seemed to dull as I stared thoughtfully at the stump that used to be my thumb, repulsed but not frightened. Maybe I should have been frightened. Sometimes it seems like people can’t stand differences anymore. At least, that was the thought in my head as they closed in from all sides upon me. The last thing I was really aware of, I think, was overjoyed laughter from the gun-wielding man at the end of the alley, barely obscuring the sound of his clothes being ripped from his body and punctuated only by the occasional snapping bone. As I fell, cold hands obscuring my vision, I almost thanked him.