Part One - Real Life

By Rie and Atsuko

The night was lit with the orange glow of the street lamps, but the alley behind the apartment block was untouched by the synthetic light which stained the sky of the city with a purplish taint. Graffiti sprawled over the dark brick walls and the trash cans at the end were overflowing with domestic rubbish. Deep within the alleys concealing depths, a shadow detached itself from the darkness and stepped into the middle of the concrete corridor. Etched on the walls around it were strange symbols, scoured deep into the crumbling brick. The figure made a soft sound, and a ring of candles on the ground leapt into life, the flames leaping high into the night before settling down to their normal size. They were placed around the outside of a circle chalked on the ground. Within the circle a star had been carefully traced, its five points reaching out to touch the perimeter of the circle. The middle of the star formed a pentagon, and it was within this the figure stood. The soft candle light threw stark shadows across his face, blotting out most of his facial features, and turning the scar which slashed his pale forehead to a thin streak of silver. Brown hair fell lazily around his face, and he slowly lifted his arms above his head and turned his face up toward the velvet sky above.

Zell Dincht shifted uncomfortably in his new bed. The room was bare. The wooden boards was cluttered with battered cardboard boxes and festooned with garlands of newspaper. Zell had only moved into his tiny flat today and by all rights should fast asleep. But as exhausted as he was, he couldn't sleep. Somewhere in the block of flats a clock proclaimed it was one o'clock. The dead hours, Zell thought, and sighed. He slid out of bed and padded towards his curtain less window. The view was not exactly beautiful, but it was the only flat Zell could afford, and it was conveniently near his new job.

But the alley yielded an unusual sight tonight. Directly below Zell's window stood a tall, slim figure, encircled by a ring of flickering light. Arms upraised, he stood facing Zell's apartment, face upturned. For a brief moment, Zell's eyes connected with the apparitions. His eyes were like fragments of the winter sky, and seemed to pierce Zell and stare into his deepest self. Zell stumbled back and reached automatically for the phone.

'Shit, there's a freak outside my house performing some kind of...' Zell stopped, 'Some kind of what? What was he doing?' Zell looked at the phone in his hand, as if seeing it for the first time, all thoughts of phoning for help gone. 'After all,' he thought, 'Who would I call? Who'd believe me? Heck, I don't know if I believe it myself!' Gingerly, he stepped up to the window again, and peered into the blackness. There was no-one there. A barely discernible wisp of smoke lingered, as if a flame had been extinguished there recently.

The morning was pale and rain soaked, as if the early morning shower had washed all colour from the world. Zell struggled to keep awake and moving as he sprinted down the stairs three at time. His late night had caught up with him and he had slept in. Great, he thought as he pelted down the never ending stairs, first day on the job and I'm late. Weak sunlight filtered through the broken, cardboard-patched windows, and cast faded tiger stripes of light across the dirty stairs, streaking Zell's hair with gold as he ran past corridors identical to the one in which he lived in, scraps of carpet covering stained wooden floors. Zell burst through the doors and out into the grey spring streets and sprinted toward the warehouse where he'd found himself a job. 'Shit,' he thought, glancing at his watch, 'I was meant to be there five minutes ago!'

The interior of the warehouse was dark and dingy, and Zell had to stop and adjust his eyes to the semi-darkness within.

"Uh...hello?" His shout echoed hollowly around the empty building. "HELLO?"

"WHAT do you think you are doing, Mr. Dincht? You are late. And I'll thank you not to shout in my building. Come this way."

Zell followed the short figure. Mr. Evans was small, round and had a very red face. His smart suit was out of place in the dusty store room, and he had a brusque, clipped manner. He led Zell to a large door at the far end of the room, and ushered him through. He was out the back in a lorry park.

"Put those-" Mr. Evans indicated a large pile of card board boxes. "-in there." He motioned the open back of one of the lorries, and, content that he had done his duty in showing his new employee the 'ropes', he left the way they had come, leaving Zell to work.

Zell spent a boring day loading and unloading heavy boxes from the back of lorries whose surly drivers shouted at him if he wasn't fast enough. It was almost dark when he finally trooped out into the cold streets, and the streetlights glowing red in the gathering dusk. The first stars where starting to show like pinpricks in the fabric of the universe when the footsteps started. They started off slow and soft, padding behind him as soft and sure as a cat. But when he turned, there was no-one there. He turned, but the footsteps followed him, faster and closer. Zell, suddenly aware of the rapidly falling dark and the cover it offered, speeded up. The anonymous footsteps matched his pace and fear started to twist in his stomach, coiling inside him and dragging him down. Resisting the urge to run, he glanced over his shoulder, just in time to see someone slip back into the shadows.

Head screaming with fear, he bolted, feet pounding on the uneven pavement and flashing past nondescript, towering office blocks, now deserted, until the beating of his heart matched the rhythm of his feet on the side walk. He was now hopelessly lost in the concrete maze of the back streets, and all the while the person behind him was getting closer, catching him up, and it was costing Zell more and more to keep going, and the stitch in his side burned and shot red hot agony towards his chest until he thought he would collapse from the pain and the fear. Then he skidded into strong hands and was pulled into an alley. A rather familiar alley. He opened his mouth to scream, but a hand clamped his mouth closed, and a voice hissed at him to shut up. Zell struggled wildly, but his assailant dragged him towards a door in the wall and he was shoved inside. Behind him, the door slammed shut, and Zell realised where he was. Shit! he thought. I'm in my apartment building! A new lease of strength flowed through him and he started up the stairs. Outside, someone yelled, and Zell's pace quickened. He practically flung himself up the stairway, and tore down the corridor to his apartment door. He fumbled with his key, panic building up as he heard someone running upstairs after him. After what seemed an agonised eternity, his door opened, and Zell slammed it behind him and sagged against it as the adrenaline that had fuelled his muscles left him, and he slumped down into an exhausted sleep.

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