Strange Reality, 5

Hours ago, Alina’s arm woke her up by slapping her in the face. She’s finally getting close to some answers.


Was it Alina’s imagination, or did the man look…disappointed when she asked? Almost hurt?

Whatever it was, it was gone in the next instant. He stood up at his full height, over half a foot taller than Alina, and put his gun back in his holster.

“We have to get off the street.”

Several steps later he finally stopped, realizing Alina wasn’t following. She could see now short black hair shaved down at the sides, a round face with the sharp cheekbones and gaunt cheeks that were the inescapable feature of hunger, and a little nick cut out of the top of his right ear. He was glaring at her.

Alina crossed her arms, pretending she wasn’t shaking as she did it. “I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers.”

The man rolled his eyes. “I will give you all the answers you want, but we have to get off the street first. Do you want Officers Fang and Pain to come back? Or are you waiting for the bureau to roll up and finish their job?”

Dreg.

He was right. Alina still had no idea who he was or what was going on or why he wanted her arm, but he was right. She hated it.

“At least tell me your name. So I know who’s going to knock me out and steal my kidneys.”

They were ill-placed statues in the middle of a nowhere alley. Staring at each other. Waiting for the other to break.

The man glanced up at the end of the alley and huffed air through his nose.

“Park, okay? My name’s Park. Can we please get off the street, now?”

Alina sniffed. “Only because you asked so nicely.”

Park stalked off again, not waiting for her. This time Alina followed. Honestly, she wanted to get off the streets as much as he did. She just wasn’t going to let him to jerk her around all day.

“What if they can follow my arm?” she asked him, following.

“They could. Not anymore. We turned that off once we found you. That’s what alerted them. Come on. Questions later.”

It was a maze of alleys. Every time she thought they couldn’t possibly get any deeper without reaching a street, Park would zag left or right down an even smaller passageway. If she looked straight up, between the buildings, she could see the bright blue of a sunny day. Eighty stories up. Down here, it was all shadow and dank and grime. And a hustling man in a gray coat, occasionally turning to make sure she was keeping up. He only stopped when he found it.

A nondescript door in the middle of nothing. Park knocked twice, paused, three times, paused, and then rapidly hammered at the door.

“This is the Wallflower?” Alina asked, glancing at the nothing that surrounded them.

“The what? No. We were never going to the Wallflower. I needed you in the vicinity.”

Alina shifted, and was about to ask all of her questions at the same time when something behind the door buzzed. Park pulled on the door and led her into the darkness.

She wasn’t expecting the stairs, and fell into his back. He steadied her with surprisingly gentle hands, not letting go until he was sure her feet were fully on the stairs again.

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“Forgot what?” she asked.

Park shook his head. “Never mind. Come on, we’re not far now.”

There was something going on here Alina didn’t understand. Obviously, she didn’t understand any of it. But even beyond the basic stuff, she was starting to see there was another layer. The things she thought she understood didn’t seem right, anymore. Something about this man, about Park, was…it was hard for her to explain, even to herself. Was she remembering something? Feeling something? Disassociating? What? What?

Down they went. The stairs ended at a long hallway. They crossed the distance, hopping between pools of thin red light, only to get to the end and find another stairway. And another hallway. And just as she was about to question if they were descending the stairs into hell, Park found another door.

Alina never would have found it. To her, it was like he stopped in the middle for absolutely no reason. She gripped her fists, ready for him to come for her organs. Instead, he ran his fingers along the concrete until he found what he was looking for, and pushed. The a tall rectangle of the concrete broke, swung inwards, and Alina followed him in.

“Park! Did you…”

There were four people in the little room, scattered amongst tables covered high in mod parts and bean bag chairs and kitchen supplies. Another man with dark skin and wide eyes. Two women, each so covered in brightly colored hair and tattoos it took Alina a couple of seconds to realize they were identical twins. And another woman. The one who has spoken and suddenly stopped, standing in the middle of the room. Looking at Alina like she was looking at a ghost.

They all were.

“Everyone, this is Alina Chavez,” Park said, gesturing. “Alina, this is…everyone.”

One of the twins, this one with purple hair and bright tattoos on her arms, chest, and neck, looked at Park. “So, she doesn’t…”

“No.”

“I don’t what?” Alina asked. They all stood where they had been, frozen in time, staring. She felt naked. And completely out of the loop. “Look, I’ve had weird night, and I think I deserve some answers. I don’t know what you people did to my arm, but you’ve torpedoed my life and I just want it back. If someone doesn’t start talking, I’ll leave. I’ll leave and take my chances out there with the police and the bureau.”

“You could,” the woman in the middle of the room said. She tossed what she had been working on and crossed the distance between them. A few years older, taller, wide shoulders, stronger. A scar across her eyebrow. She should have been scary. All of them. Landers. Criminals. Alina should have been terrified. She only felt the sort of annoyance generally reserved for…well, for family.

“You could go back out there,” the woman said again. “Turn yourself into the police, who would turn you over to the bureau. They’d probably just repeat the process. Put you back in your life none the wiser.”

Repeat the process.

“They…they’re not after the arm, are they?”

“No. They’re after you, Gogo.”


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