Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hamburger Insurance

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stop And Smell The Dandelions

Everybody wants me to stop and smell the roses all the time. They say to slow down and enjoy the little things that life has to offer. I tell them that life is too short for that kind of logic. There is too much going on or about to go on or that could go on that I can't wait around for the minuscule things to take place.

What if I'm walking down the street and I see a cute cuddly fly land on a parked car? Then I watch this fly intensely. Truly get to know this fly. The fly and I are on a first name basis by now. We even have a few inside jokes that I'm somewhat embarrassed about. Mainly due to them centering around my sexual inadequacies. 

So naturally his "jokes" lead to us getting into a huge argument. It doesn't matter who started it, but he did. Obviously. Anyways, the point is that it happened. I hurt Carl's feelings and he hurt mine. 

After we make up and get past our outburst, he begins insulting me about my poor fashion sense and I slam my hand down... hard... on the car... out of frustration. I swear to you, my intention was not to hurt the guy. He just really gnawed on my nerves until they snapped into a thousand pieces. 

So what happens in the end? Well, I'm left wiping fly guts off of my hand and feeling like it was my fault that Carl died. I'll keep telling myself that Carl was old and it was just his time, but I know that there will be this guilt deep deep DEEP down inside eating away at me. It will say that I'm a deranged bug crusher and that I liked it and now that I've gotten a taste for it, I'll do it again.

Clearly this is merely a hypothetical situation. I've never had a conversation with a fly. If I did, it would most likely include questions about if they know how disgusting they are. Wow... I can't believe myself. Now I'm putting down a fly I've never even met and then allegedly killed. You see, that's what I was talking about earlier. Slowing things down to enjoy the little things in life will only get me into trouble.

Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. What if I actually just stopped to smell the roses and avoided bugs and animals and people all together. I see a rose. I smell it. I literally stop and smell the roses. 

Why a rose though? I mean it's so cliche and they offer little in the handling department (thorns=ouch). You see, I'm a very touchy feely kind of individual. I think if I were to stop and smell anything, it'd have to be the dandelion.

Sure dandelions lack the warm harmonious smell of the rose, however they are so much more enjoyable. I can pluck a handful of dandelions from the earth and prance through an open field of dandelions while singing 'Highway to Hell.' If I were to pluck a rose followed by prancing through a rose field, I'd bleed. 

Many horticulturists have said to me that a rose transforms a garden into a work of art, while the dandelion is known as a weed, a nuisance, a pest, a disease, the poop flower, and on occasion, Dale Handman (a corrupt cult worshipping city council member known for wearing a dandelion on his lapel). These facts can't be denied. Although I wonder, could Dale Handman have used a rose for his lapel without pricking his finger. I think not. He would most assuredly bleed. 

This seems like an opportune moment to talk about the dandelions determination to take over as much territory as possible. They want to be seen and unseen and then seen again. They will grow low and even high. This is a noble quality to possess. They have ambition. Roses just sit in clumps and look down on other flowers. Then again, if roses actually grew a pair and spread out a bit, they would cause bloodshed. 

I strongly believe that the US Military should take note of the dandelion. It may not be able to cause as much destruction as the rose, however it is craftier and undoubtedly more of a winner. I like to think of the dandelion as the ninja of the flower kingdom. Roses could never be ninjas because once they decide to sneak up on someone, their cover would be blown instantly and there would be blood.

Now one must be wondering at this point, how on earth can the dandelion be the perfect symbol for what is supposed to be a powerful force to be reckoned with? I ask you this. Can you effortlessly kill a dandelion? Yes. I suppose you could just pluck a dandelion out of the ground fairly easily, however it's friends, family and casual acquaintances would then come out of hiding in large numbers and stare at you menacingly. 

Dandelions teach us the power of loyalty in numbers. Roses have small cliques that bully the other flowers into submission. They are the villain to our hero the dandelion. They are the underdog that everyone should be rooting for. A military should aspire to be an underdog because only then will they be properly rewarded when they unexpectedly win. Oh, and if you tried to pluck a rose, you'd bleed and everyone knows that any good war, I mean really good war, should be fought with kindness and hugs. A hug doesn't cause blood.

Side note: Battle of the Hugs would be a lot less expensive. It's a much more cost effective method than spending countless dollars on weapons.

At this point, I would like to digress and address a bizarre and inspiring report that surfaced last year. A dandelion grew out of a man's ear. Say what?! This is true to the best of my knowledge. Sadly, pictures were not taken due to the the individual with said dandelion having a severe case of cameraphobia. Just my luck... As creepy and icky wicky as that sounds, it's kind of amazing. That tale touched my heart deeply. It inspired me to prove a point. I decided to grow a rose out of my ear, which resulted in the most painful and unique ER experience ever. In case you didn't guess it, there was blood, lots and lots of blood. 

Perhaps the most winningest point I must make before we close this rambling dandelion love fest, is that I could select a prepubescent dandelion and blow the seedlings into the warm summer air, watching them dance in the light breeze like drunken fairies. Occasionally, one of those fairies might tickle my lips and cause me to giggle. Now that sounds pleasant. If I did that with a rose, I would bleed.

Dandelions are abundant, inspire the military, and are kid friendly. Despite this, they are still abused and looked down upon. These under appreciated FLOWERS need me. They need my attention. I'm going to give it to them. Not because I'm slowing things down to appease the masses. No. It's due to the fact that I have found my purpose. Through hypothetical stoppage of time, I can see more clearly now. And all I see are dandelions.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Soul Of The Zombie

A good friend of mine once posed the question: do you think zombies have souls? I laughed in his face and told him I thought him to be an idiot. A few minutes later he was bitten by a zombie and became one himself. This troubled me greatly. Especially since he still owed me twenty bucks. 

Despite the fact that my first reaction was to stab the poor bastard in the head, I settled on several short stabs to the torso. Just enough to slow him down and allow me to chain him to a car or what once was a car. Much like my zombified friend, this vehicle had seen better days. 

Now I had, for the first time since the outbreak, the opportunity to study a zombie up close. After all, I once was a highly renowned doctor. Granted I was a podiatrist, I was considered an expert in my field. I even wrote a world famous book on the subject: One Foot Good, Two Feet Better. 

As far as I could tell, my friend's feet seemed to be in good standing. The use of shoes was wise on his part, especially since he was doing a lot of walking on our journey to what we hoped would be civilization in Arizona. Rumor has it that zombies don't like sand.

The more I paced around my friend, Zombie Stan (that's what I called him), the more I questioned whether Normal Stan was still in there somewhere. Sure, Zombie Stan wanted to rip out my insides and devour me, but he also looked at me with these dead vacant eyes. At that moment I knew, based on my medical experience, that Normal Stan was still hanging on for his life. His soul was trapped inside the zombie's soulless body, thus powering the zombie.  

I decided to conduct a series of well thought  tests in order to prove that my best friend was still sort of alive and waiting to be released from this zombie captor. 

My first bit of evidence included my now famous rock experiment. I gave Zombie Stan a rock and to my surprise he didn't chuck it back at me in order to wound me. He gnawed on it for a moment but then spit it out. The zombie knows the difference between food and nonfood. Normal Stan would have done the exact same thing.

The second experiment was slightly more complicated, especially since I didn't posses the proper materials for an IQ test. Still, I did my best. I asked my friend several questions. Some were about past presidents, others involved math, and many included how certain magic tricks were performed. You see, my friend used to be a novice magician and he never revealed his secrets. This bothered me greatly. To my dismay, he still wouldn't share the art of his magic- which is exactly what Normal Stan's reaction would have been. 

In the end, Zombie Stan did fairly well on the test and had a slightly lower IQ than Normal Stan. I attest this to be a result of the stress of being turned into a zombie. It was also difficult to decipher some of Zombie Stan's answers. Grunts and moans leave a lot up for interpretation.

The final experiment would prove to be the most important one of all. If I released Zombie Stan from his restraints, would he try to eat me? There was only one way to find out.

Yes. The answer is a resounding yes. I was bitten quite badly. Once on the forearm with a second attempt at my face. I was stunned more so by my findings than the actual pain that coursed through my body. 

The decision made itself. I quite irrationally yet ever so delicately bashed in Zombie Stan's brain. My dear friend collapsed to the ground with a thunderous thud. 

With my arm still bleeding, I knew I had little time left. Would my soul travel to the afterlife? Might I turn into a zombie instead? Should I stop worrying so much and cut open my friend's corpse in order to do one last bit of research?

Nay to all! I decided to suck the zombie poison from my wound and spit it out much like a venomous snake bite. My brilliant idea saved my life to a certain degree. The left half of my body is now zombified and craves human flesh, while the right half of my body is the same old lovable, genius I've always been. 

It's a struggle to conduct my experiments in my current state. I've eaten a lot more raw meat than I would care to divulge. 

Nevertheless, I'm happy. I've met a great deal of wonderful zombies while my half dead side wanders aimlessly without my consent. I suppose Arizona is now out of the question however, I've been trying to remain as positive as I possibly can.

I've even attempted to organize a softball game with my new friends. The only problem is, they aren't very good about getting back to me. Can you believe they don't use cell phones?!

Life has changed dramatically for me over the past several months and it appears abundantly clear to me now that if I had just put my friend out of his misery early on his soul would have been released and I wouldn't be in my current predicament. Then again, it is cool to live both a normal and zombified life. There is never a dull moment.

In time, I hope to release another book. This one tentatively titled: The Many Adventures of Zombie Stan and his Half-Zombie Man-Friend. Unfortunately, part of me refuses to sit still which makes it difficult to write for more than thirty seconds at a time. As one could imagine, a zombie needs to eat a never-ending supply of raw meat and that doesn't give me much opportunity to continue my work.

Sleeping is particularly difficult. I often pass out from exhaustion while my zombie side drags me along in search of more food. Seriously, do zombies ever get full? I think they just kill for sport sometimes. There is no reason to kill everything that you see. I've learned through my experiences that the zombie is a very greedy creature.

Now, I have one last bit of advice to bestow upon you before I go. What I am about to reveal to you is extremely important. Take out a pen and paper if you have one. If you don't, find one. I'm serious. This is the most important thing you need to know during this most unfortunate time that we live in. 

If a zombie is attacking you, make sure it is a full zombie and not a part human, part zombie hybrid. I would much prefer to live and not be slaughtered for the actions of one half of my body. Thank you for your kindness.

Oh, and stay away from me. I may look nice with my half good side and my partially pleasant smile, but my zombified self will rip your face off. Sorry in advance if that happens. 

Best of luck surviving out there!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Helpful Hannah

Dear Helpful Hannah, 

I write to you not certain that I will live long enough to receive a response. I've been dating a woman for the past three months. At first, everything was euphoric. I'd never felt so strongly about anyone ever in my life. It felt like I was constantly frolicking through a field of roses.

Then a month passes and I begin to notice strange quirks about my girlfriend. She has me over for dinner several times and she always cooks some bizarre stew. One had frog legs in it while another featured EYEBALLS. She claimed they were traditional stews from her homeland. When I playfully asked where her homeland was, a swamp? She calmly tells me, "continue to mock my ways and you shall feel the pain of a thousand snakes." What does that even mean?! At that moment I knew I had landed myself a crazy.

Naturally, I did what any normal sane person would do when they snag themselves a nut job. I attempted to get as far away as possible. So at that very moment I told her that I think we're both very different people and it would be best if we didn’t see each other anymore. She tells me that I can't break her heart. She's too close to my soul and begs me to give her another chance. When I decline, she starts yelling in gibberish words that sound satanic and grabs a kitchen knife. I calm her down and reluctantly agree to stay with her. I was scared for my life if I said no. Then she hurls the knife into the wall, smiles creepily, and starts kissing me! I’ve never felt so violated in my life. 

I’ve hit a road block and desperately need some guidance in order to navigate myself out of this horrible situation. I don't want to be with this woman anymore, but I'm terrified that she'll do something horrible to me if I refuse to be her boyfriend. I can't go anywhere without her hovering around me and whispering strange incoherent things into my ear. When I ask her what she whispered, she tells me, "nothing. Just a love poem." I tell her I want to hear this love poem. I want to hear it instantly. She goes on to tell me, "it's still brewing. In due time."

Helpful Hannah please help ASAP.



Dear Scaredashell,

It sounds to me like you're having intimacy issues. Revert to the basics. Go back to holding hands and see where that leads. Sometimes slowing a relationship down is exactly what the relationship needs. 

Also, it's okay not to enjoy her ethnic meals however, if you want the relationship to work, you should at least try to explore her heritage. It is part of who she is. Embrace her unique customs and perhaps the relationship might still have a chance at a happy ending.

Remember, relationships are all about give and take. Show her you are a willing participant in both. Write her a poem and share it with her. Maybe then she won't be so self conscious about sharing her poetry with you.

Helpfully yours,

Helpful Hannah
Helpful Hannah,

I think you're missing the point. I don't want to be with this woman anymore. She creeps me out and I'm pretty sure she is planning to sacrifice me to the devil or something. Last night I woke up in bed and she was cutting off bits of my hair and burning them into a candle! I was so freaked out that I pretended to still be sleeping. She was also muttering something evil sounding and I’m pretty sure she mentioned the name Jebidiah. What the hell is Jebidiah? Has the devil ever been called Jebidiah?!  

Thankfully I survived whatever weird seance thingy she was doing. My hair was another story. When I looked in the mirror the next morning, I founnd tons of patches of my hair missing. And I’m thinking to myself, is this supposed to be subtle? The funny/ironic thing is that she owns a hair salon. Clearly the worst hair stylist ever! 

I asked her if she knows what happened to my hair. You're going to love this. She tells me, "it must have gone back inside your head. Maybe stress." I seriously felt like I had a big sign on my head saying: This guy is stoopid.

I also did what you said about the heritage thing. I cooked some dishes from my culture. She refused to eat anything I cooked her, saying that she's allergic to everything in all my dishes. All she wants to eat are her nasty stews. I pretend to enjoy them, but if I have to eat one more stew that stares at me with each bite, I will scream. 

Still, I tried to put forth an effort and asked more about her culture. She shows me this book of witchcraft. She says she is this reincarnated woman named Esmerelda. I’m pretty sure my girlfriend is a witch. No, I know she is a witch. I sneezed a handful of spiders this morning!

There has to be a way to convince her that I'm not right for her. Please, I don't want to lose all my hair or continue having strange encounters with insects. I have big plans with my life and want to survive beyond this relationship.

P.S. She hated my poem and said it lacked logic. Still have yet to hear her “love poem.”


Dear Scaredashell,

Congratulations! You are very popular amongst my readers and people really connect with your issues. Take solace in knowing that your pain is felt by many who are learning with you and support you. 

Now, what I’m about to tell you may be hard for you to hear, but it needs to be said. Witchcraft is not real. It is something that only exists in fairy tales. 

Perhaps the stress of this relationship has clouded your mind. The steps you have taken towards having a healthy relationship are quite frankly, appalling. This woman has been very open with you and you are pressuring her to be somebody that she isn’t. 

In addition, your mental health appears to be dwindling towards a negative state. If you’ve ever wondered whether psychiatry might be a good option for you, I can give you a number to a personal friend of mine. He has guided many of my help seekers through therapy and they are always better as a result. His methods are a bit unorthodox. Just know that the canoodling is all part of the healing process.

Moving on to the hair loss conundrum that you wrote about. Most men go through hair loss. That is nothing to be ashamed of or worry about. Is it possible you dreamt that your girlfriend was cutting your hair? Perhaps this is a deep rooted fear that you will go bald prematurely. Top hats are always a nice alternative to a hairless head. 

As for the spiders, I do believe most people eat an average of eight spiders per year while they sleep. Perhaps a spider laid eggs in your nose last week, they hatched, and then you sneezed them out. That would make the most sense.

At this point, I strongly advise you to do something drastic. Either seek therapy or run. Just take off and never look back. Change your name if you have to. 

This relationship is not based on trust and that to me, means that it has little hope of ever evolving into something more. Without therapy, you could be a danger to this poor, fragile, shy, misunderstood, innocent woman. 

This woman sounds wonderful and deserves the best. If you can't be the person she needs and she isn't able to let you go, then you need to separate yourself any way possible. Either option you choose, make sure it is out of her best interest and not based on your selfish and petty reasons. I know men like you and honestly, I'm a little sick to my stomach right now. 

Best of luck to you in your future and remember, Helpful Hannah helps, always.

P.S. Please send a copy of your love poem. I’d be interested in reading it if you are willing to share. 

Thanks for writing,

Helpful Hannah

I don't have much time. A fever has consumed my body and I've barricaded myself in the bathroom. She is coming for me. I'm using the last of my cell phone's battery to email you this message. It may not be the best use of it, but I feel compelled to tell you that you are an idiot. 

After reading your last response to me, I decided on the run far far away option. She hunted me down. She hopped on a broomstick and found me. I managed to get three states away. It was no use. Now she has me dressed in this bizarre colonial outfit and she keeps calling me Jebidiah. I'm not Jebidiah! Not even close. I can't believe you advised me to continue dating this woman. If I don't make it out of tonight alive, please promise me you will stop writing this advice column. You have brought me nothing, but bad advice. 

This woman is clearly psychotic! She omg she's herenooooooo

Dear Scaredashell,

Being rude and Channeling your fear of commitment onto me is not going to save your relationship. I'm appalled that you have lashed out at me like this. For the love of God, this woman is clearly exploring her wild side and you acting immature is just sad. 

You'll look back on this woman one day and realize that you had someone special. Someone who truly understood you. She'll be the one that got away. I know these things. Believe me, you should have hung on to this one.

Unfortunately, at this time I must ask that you no longer write to me. I must shift my attention to help seekers who actually heed my advice. Best of luck to you.

Helpfully yours,

Helpful Hannah
Dear Readers,

It comes with great sadness that I must inform you that I am no longer going to be writing this advice column. Due to some legal issues from a former individual who used to write to this column, it is now impossible for me to continue writing. He has ruined my life. I can’t use his legal name. For the sake of this article, I will refer to him as Scaredashell. 

If you ever come across him, please spit in his face for me. He has a large rat-like tail with pointed dog looking ears and a pig snout. You can't miss him. I think a witch or something must have cursed him. Otherwise he's just naturally hideous. I bet it was a witch though. It's kinda pathetic. He should know to avoid witches at all costs. Those women are evil and not the fun kind of evil. 

Anyways, I digress. It has been a pleasure helping those of you who have written in over the past four years. I’d like to throw out a special thank you to Pickled Pete, who I helped get over his most unfortunate phobia of his mother and Slutty Sally who discovered that sometimes more than one relationship occurring simultaneously is a good thing. 

It is people with real problems that I feel I helped the most. Those impostures like Scaredashell, who are only out to destroy me, deserve whatever fate has dealt them.  

Goodbye faithful readers. You will always remain my favorite people. Your screwed up lives have made me a large amount of money. I mean, I'm set for life and can comfortably retire to a nice exotic location. Seriously, thanks for not having any common sense and having the inability to make decisions on your own. It's much appreciated. 

P.S. Here is Scaredashell’s love poem for your enjoyment. I believe you will find it as pathetic as I do. 

Witches are cool

Witches don’t drool
I’d like to be free
I’d like not to pee
Please don’t kill me
Please let me be

So for the last time, helpfully yours,

Helpful Hannah

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Mysterious Masked Marauder

I'm viewed as a villain, a hoodlum, a wrongdoer, an outlaw. The things I do are not intended to harm, yet my actions have led me to be known as an enemy. The townsfolk think of me as the epitome of evil. To them, I’m The Mysterious Masked Marauder, a sinister being who raids people of their souls. 

I've lived in the shadows for the past decade, trapped by my dark side. My original dream was to right the wrongs that took place in Midnight Village, a town filled with so much evil that it never sees the light of day. I thought I could save the city from the darkness. I thought I would be the one that could make a difference. I thought... wrong.

My sixth night in the town would be the last I remember clearly. Every moment after that is a blur. A vague recollection of terror. I continually hear screaming in my head. The cries, the pleading, the begging, never cease. It was on that sixth night that I became a monster. 

Hours before my transformation, I waited in the shadows of what was considered the darkest corner in Midnight Village. There, I popped the collar on my beat up leather jacket and lowered the brim on my black fedora. Each of my hands rested in my coat pockets, my right one clutching a small pistol. Its perspiration poured over the weapon, anxiously awaiting the appropriate time to unleash its power. 

I kept thinking to myself that I’m only one man. Someone stupid enough to think that they could make a difference. Somehow I would be the one to insert life into this dead city. What led me to this great assumption? Where did I find the strength to take on such an impossible challenge? I can’t really say for sure.

All I know is that I was working a dead end job at a museum. Day after day I read the newspaper on my train ride to work and I kept reading more and more about the evils of Midnight Village. The crimes had gotten so severe that the police had pulled out all their forces and called the city a lost cause. The police chief was quoted as saying, “Let the bastards all rot in there. If they want the violence, then they can have it.”

That statement angered me. If the protectors of the city have abandoned it, then who do the innocent turn to for help? It was then that I decided something needed to be done.

With no experience battling crime or doing anything other than sifting through ancient artifacts, my knowledge of ancient weaponry and fighting would have to be sufficient enough to tackle the evil journey that I was about to embark upon. 

I got off the train that day, hailed a taxi, and told the driver to take me to Midnight Village. The portly fellow chuckled. Our eyes met in his rear view mirror as he said with his husky voice, “No, really kid. Where do ya wanna go?” I replied, “I’m not joking.” 

The driver turned to face me. He warned, “Don’t be stupid. No one ever wants to go to that hell hole. I went through there once and all the tales told are nothin’ compared to what’s really goin’ on. Think of the worst thing you can imagine. Then make it worser. That’s Midnight Village.” 

I silently stared back at the driver, watching the sweat drip down his face. I sternly responded, “I need a vacation. Take me there.” The driver shook his head and turned around. He mumbled something incomprehensible to himself, then began to drive. 

The further we went from my hometown of Wonderment Falls, the less safe I felt. The large, bright city soon vanished in the distant horizon. Fewer and fewer buildings and houses surrounded us. The land on each side of the taxi was lifeless. Abandoned farms were left vacant for what appeared to be many years. Unplowed and overgrown fields featured discolored grasses blowing eerily slow in the wind.

Then as if an entire city suddenly landed in the middle of nowhere, I saw it. The tall twisted buildings. The dark cloudy  sky engulfing the entire city. We may have been driving there during the day however, Midnight Village was unmistakably dark. 

I questioned the driver, “Do you know why the sun never shines over the city?” He snorted. I leaned closer to him and asked, “Is that a yes or no?” The driver wiped the sweat from his brow and said, “Kid, the place is home to more evil than anywhere else in the world. Do the math.” Not really sure what he was trying say, I took that as a no, he did not know why darkness was always present around the city. 

Midnight Village looked more bizarre the closer we got. It reminded me of something out of a nightmare. All the buildings ascended to sharp points and there was not one ounce of color. It was as if I were looking at a black and white film noir movie.

The car stopped abruptly about twenty yards from the large iron gates that adorned the entrance into the city. The sign read, “Welcome to Midnight Village” and had sloppy white graffiti underneath that stated, “Welcome to Death.”

“Sixty-four twenty-two,” he said. I was confused and spoke politely. “I’d like to be dropped off at a hotel in the city if possible.” 

The driver turned around to face me. “This is as far as I’m gonna go. Pay up and get outta here.”

I rummaged through my coat pocket and offered additional money if the driver took me into the city. He told me to, “keep your doe. You’ll need it.” 

I reluctantly paid the fare and got out of the taxi. I walked to the driver’s window, leaned over, and thanked the man, extending my hand. The driver reciprocated not with a handshake, but by giving me an oddly shaped object wrapped in a beige cloth. 

I took the item and slowly unfolded it, revealing a small pistol. The driver, not even looking at me, said, “I don’t know your business in a place like this, but you will need that more than me.” 

He reversed at what seemed like full speed, leaving me surrounded by dust. The sound of the taxi quickly vanished and as the dust finally settled, I stared up at the entrance  to Midnight Village. The buildings gathered together gradually getting taller towards the center. It looked like a large claw poised and ready to snatch me up at any second.
Now was the moment of truth. I had never done anything significant with my life. Perhaps it was the mundaneness of my day to day existence that drove me to come here so unexpectedly. As if the stories of this dreadful place awoke some sort of ambition that I never knew I had. I didn’t even bother to pack any of my belongings. After reading that newspaper article, I knew I had to come. Living life in a calm and peaceful city was not right for me anymore. Midnight Village called to me and I responded. 

Before I was a coward who delved into ancient civilizations to mask my fear of the world. Now I was looking fear right in the eyes and ready to make my own history. I took my first step forward into the city.

Midnight Village reeked of a musty smell that reminded me of rotting food. A mixture between week old eggs and fish. The place was surprisingly quiet with not a soul in sight. Windows were boarded up on the house to my left. Bars adorned the dilapidated drug store on my right. 

Chills ran up and down my spine. I had just entered what was considered the most dangerous city and my only protection was a stranger’s gun. A weapon that I have seen up close in numerous shapes and sizes, but never once fired. It dawned on me. I didn’t have any type of plan. Was I going to walk up to people and scare them while waving a gun around? Surely, that would prove unsuccessful. On the other hand, I couldn’t kill anybody. That just wasn’t in my nature. I had no desire to take another’s life. 

It was at that moment that I started to regret my decision to come here. Fear started taking over. I decided I would stay one night and then go home tomorrow. 

I weaved through several empty streets before I turned a corner and saw a partially lit generic neon sign declaring “Hotel: Vacancy.” As I entered the shoddy establishment, I was immediately greeted by a barking dog of at least sixty pounds. It’s lips foamed and it’s eyes made me feel uneasy. I took a step back, all the while reaching for my gun.

A bell rang. The dog turned it’s head and wagged its tail as it went behind the concierge desk. An old woman with a gap in her smile greeted me. “Come in, deary. Snake is a good puppy. She won’t bite unless given the command.” 

As I inched closer to the front desk, I kept my fists clutched and my eyes searching for Snake. I saw that dog’s ferociousness. There was no way I was going to venture any further without being extremely cautious. 

My heart pounded rapidly. It seemed like several minutes before I reached that front desk. In reality, it was probably less than fifteen seconds. I finally touched the cool marble surface as if to state that I crossed the finish line. I had reached safety.

“Hello,” I said. “Where is everybody?” The old woman looked confused. She replied, “It’s the middle of the night. Most people are asleep, stupid.” I nodded, startled by her unexpectedly rude response. 

She added, “What’s your business in this town?” I nervously stated, “A friend. I’m visiting a friend and I was... I was supposed to meet them, but they never showed up. Are there any rooms available for the night?” 

The woman turned and grabbed room key #12 off of a hook behind her. She practically threw the key at me as she stated, “three hundred dollars.” I set the key down and questioned, “For one night?!” She grabbed the key back and said, ”This is the best hotel you’ll find ‘round here. You’re lucky there is even a room available for the evening.” 

I couldn’t help, but notice eleven other door keys dangling behind her. I said, “I can do one hundred.” She pulled out a pistol from under the counter and pointed it at my head. “I said three hundred.” I cautiously went into my pocket and pulled out my credit card. I asked, “Do you take these?”

The old woman snarled back, “Of course we do. I said this was the best hotel in the area, didn’t I?” She snatched my card and ran it through an ancient looking machine.

After she returned the card I thanked her for her kindness and went up a flight of stairs. Room #12 happened to be the farthest one down the corridor. Why I couldn’t have gotten rooms one through eleven is beyond me. Nevertheless, all I wanted to do was hole up in a room and figure out how I was going to get the hell out of here. 

Room #12 was surprisingly spacious. Sure it creaked whenever I moved, had dark stains on the walls and a bathroom that didn’t look like it had ever been cleaned. Despite these gross out features, I was content with my surroundings. Perhaps my mind had imagined a scene more grotesque. A room filled with blood on the floor, broken windows, and a general sense of death. Upon seeing the room, I felt hopeful that my stay here wouldn’t be that bad after all. 

I made my way to the small floral patterned bed in the corner of the room and collapsed on top of it. Although I didn't do anything physically draining, my nerves were every which way. It felt good just lying there and being able to let my adrenaline power down. The longer I laid there, the heavier my eye lids felt. 

The gun was peaking out of my coat pocket, so I removed it and turned to place it on the nightstand next to the bed. I paused momentarily, deciding instead to bring the weapon close to my face. It was a nice little piece. I turned it over several times in my hands, examining every feature. It had a nice clean black finish with a light brown handle. I opened it, took out the bullets, then reinserted them. I thought to myself how amazing it is that something so small could cause so much pain and potentially take another’s life.

I must have dosed off because the next thing I remember was bolting upright out of the bed in a cold sweat. Screaming rang out repeatedly from outside the hotel.

I stumbled over to the window and peered outside. A woman in a dark blue dress was surrounded by three men with knives drawn. She screamed at them to stop and leave her alone. Instead they laughed and continued to taunt her.

One of the men, the smallest of the bunch, started to dance with the woman. He groped her and even tried to kiss her, but she kneed him in the groin. He fell to the ground. The other two men found this highly amusing and howled with laughter far louder than before. 

I had seen enough. I ran across the creaking floor of my room, down the stairs, and out the front door. I approached the appalling scene and shouted, “Get lost! Leave this woman alone!”

The smallest man got up off of the dust covered street and protested, “Mind your own damn business.”

I pointed the gun at the man and said, “I’m making this my business. You can leave this woman alone and leave peacefully or I can put a bullet in the lot of you.”

The small man looked me up and down before replying, “I’m Carl Triplehorn. This is your ONE freebie. Leave us to attend to our friend or you won’t have any hands left to fire that gun of yours.”

I cocked the gun and fired directly at Carl’s chest. He flew backwards, landing hard on the ground. Each of his two companions stared at me in astonishment. I looked at the thin line of smoke that rose from the barrel of my gun. The world around me felt still and my body numb.

There was a faint barking rattling around in my head. This was followed by a force that struck my back and pushed me forward onto the ground, my head hitting hard upon impact. 

I saw Snake through my blurred vision. She was growling and barking wildly at the two men. Then I could have sworn I saw the dog grow three times its size. Snake bit a large chunk out of one of the men’s sides. He screamed in pain, collapsing to the ground. Blood was everywhere. The other man grabbed the woman by her arm and slowly escorted her away from the intimidating giant dog. 

Once the man and woman made enough distance, a normal sized Snake returned to my side and licked my face. I hadn’t enough awareness of what was going on to push her away. A bell rang out and she backed off. Someone else was next to me. I could feel them towering over me. They lifted me up with an amazing amount of strength and carried me to the back room of the hotel. 

Once inside, I was given a cold compress for my head and my vision began to return to normal. 

The old woman sat opposite me, petting Snake. She spoke calmly, “You shouldn’t be a hero. It’ll get you killed.”

I looked in her eyes intently. “Did you carry me back here?” She pursed her lips and replied, “I did.”

My mind was racing. How could this elderly woman carry me with ease? Did Snake really grow in size or was that my damaged mind playing tricks on me? I had to get answers. I had to know. “I don’t understand, “ I stammered. 

The old woman rose from her chair and began pacing the room.  My eyes followed her every move. Finally she spoke, “Midnight Village is partial to the strange, bizarre, and some very peculiar supernatural individuals. It may have a reputation for violence however, it’s true curse is its gifted and flawed inhabitants. I came here when I was seventy years old. My body was ravaged with cancer. I was searching for death. Little did I   know, I came to the wrong place. I have lived here over forty years now. My strength has returned to me and then some.”

I removed the cold compress from my forehead and questioned further. “If this is a place that heals, then how has it turned so dark?”

She smiled her toothless grin. “Extended life comes at a great cost. Greed has taken this place over. People have tried to harvest its power and keep it for themselves. You see time is slowed down dramatically here. I barely look more than a few years older than when I first arrived. For whatever reason, this place is positioned exactly where aging can’t affect you as rapidly as it does elsewhere. Unfortunately, the additional abilities one may also receive here is also anchored to this city. Once you leave, you no longer possess anything this place has given you.”

I questioned further, “What kind of power do you mean?”

She replied, “It’s a kind of power that comes differently to each individual. Some, like myself, have incredible strength. Others can fly or even get inside people’s thoughts. Snake, has the ability to grow unnaturally large.”

This sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Surely this senile old woman was mistaken. I decided to play along though. “How can I acquire a special power?”

“When the time is appropriate, one will be appointed to you. Just be warned, you may not like what you receive.”

“If this place is so horrible, why do you stay?”

“If I leave, I’ll be over one hundred and ten years old. One step out of those gates and my body would surely give way to life. You see, with my extended life, I’ve had a great deal of time to think. Death frightens me more than the horrors this city presents to me. I’ve decided to remain trapped here so that I may experience more before I part this world.”

“So it ultimately comes down to cheating death. The violence is an inevitable companion.” I ran my fingers through my hair before continuing. “I lied to you earlier about me visiting a friend. My real reason for coming here was to help restore order. Get rid of the evil. My first desire is to save that woman in the blue dress. I need to save her. Do you know who she is?”

The old woman shook her head. “No, but I know the man you killed. He is part of an organization called The Renegades. They are a ruthless bunch who have too much free time on their hands. They’ll kill just because they have nothing better to do. You shot one of their members. I can assure you that they will come for you.”

“Well I better beat them to it. I’ll need to find them first.”

“Then you’ll have to travel Northeast, to the darkest corner of Midnight Village. There you will find them. They will be hard to miss.”

I got up from the chair. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” 

The old woman smiled that familiar grin that I first took fright at seeing. Now it was oddly comforting. She responded, “It’s nice to meet another kind soul ‘round these parts.”

The next few days were spent traveling Northeast throughout the city. Along the way I had stopped a mugging and killed two more people who were attempting to bludgeon a man to death.

I still couldn’t get over the fact that I had lived this long or that I had killed people and felt no remorse. To be honest, I had my doubts that I would live past day one. Now I was approaching the conclusion of a sixth and confident that I was meant to come here. I felt sure that I was doing something important. Something that only I was brave enough to do.

The area I now found myself in felt damp and made me yearn to go back to what I now considered a quaint hotel. I shook the feeling and tried to stay focused on my task at hand. I studied the area from the shadows and tried to understand it as best I could.

There were dozens of people walking around. Some in cars, blasting music, while others laughed in small groups outside of a bar. A couple people yelled back and forth with one another. Others had sexual rendezvouses on the curb not more than ten feet away from me. This area of the city was much more active than any other part I had visited.

My mind began to wonder again as I grew bored of watching people drunkenly stagger about. The old woman said she possessed superior strength and that other people had supernatural abilities too. I had yet to encounter any one person with said abilities or discover other members of The Renegades. Doubts started racing through my mind. How could I trust this old woman? I knew nothing about her. Not to mention, I was in Midnight Village of all places.

I decided I needed to ask around. Perhaps I would get lucky with some drunken fool who would spill some relevant information. 
There was a young, scraggily looking man struggling to stay conscious across the street. He was leaning against an old brick building and nobody else was around him. I gradually made my way over to the man and leaned up against the building next to him. He looked at me up and down suspiciously and asked, “What?”

I responded nonchalantly, “Looking for The Renegades. Know where I can find them?”

The man pointed a finger straight ahead. “Them two big guys over there.” His hand transformed into a burning flame and he threw a ball of fire in their direction. The flame barely missed one of the men, bouncing off the building and scattering onto the pot hole ridden street. 

A large muscular man yelled back, “Harry! I told you to cut that crap out! One more time! I swear! Do it again and I’ll kill you!”

“Marvin, I love you!”

“Screw you!”

Harry looked at me laughing and then he got serious. “You kill that bastard. You hear me? He killed my friend last year. He killed him over nothin’.”

I looked at Marvin across the street, then back at Harry. “You should kill him yourself.”

Harry looked at me like I was crazy. “He’d snap me in two before I ever got the chance.”

I replied, “You just threw a ball of fire, nearly missing his head. There’s no reason you should fear him.”

Harry pulled a dirty rust covered flask out of his coat pocket and took a swig. “I can’t cross a Renegade. I’d be lucky if I was able to scratch him and not lose my head.”

I looked at Harry, not really sure if he knew how pathetic he sounded. He had an amazing talent and instead of using it and being someone people could count on, he drank himself senseless.  It dawned on me, if a majority of the people in this city were losers, no wonder there was so much fear and destruction here. One group of individuals were continually unchallenged. 

I pressed Harry further, hoping that I could talk some courage into the poor fellow. “I need your help. I need to find a woman The Renegades kidnapped about five days ago. She could be in serious trouble.”

He blankly stared across the street, taking another swig from his flask. “She’s gotta be dead by now. Those guys are fierce. They musta used her and dumped her. You could always check the pile.”

“The pile?” I asked.

“That’s where they dump all them bodies that they’re done with. Sometimes they’re not all the way dead. Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

Rage began to boil inside my body. My initial reason for coming to Midnight Village was extremely clear to me at that moment. “I need to put a stop to them. You’re going to help me.”

Harry shook his head. “That I cannot do.”

“Yes you will,” I demanded. 

Harry shook his head again and responded, “You don’t intimidate me. Get lost. You’re buggin’ me.”

I silently stared at the useless individual who now irritated the hell out of me. I wanted to hurt this man. Hurt this useless, worthless piece of scum. He had a gift and could stand up to these men. Instead he pathetically asked others to avenge his friend’s death from a year prior. 

In an effort to cool down, I turned my attention back across the street. I watched as Marvin laughed loudly with his fellow Renegade. They seemed like normal people having a good time. They didn’t appear to be any different than myself having a drink with a friend. 

Then a third large man approached the two of them. He dragged a young man with tear stained cheeks with him. The man pleaded, “Please! I didn’t do it! I DIDN’T-” 

Marvin’s face transformed into a demon with long pointed ears and razor sharp teeth. He bit the man’s arm. His shrieks reached ear piercingly high levels. Marvin chomped on the chunk of flesh and grinned as he wiped the blood around his mouth and licked his fingers clean. The young man cowered over his fresh wound.

I had seen enough. This was too much for me to witness. I pulled out my gun and grabbed Harry by the shoulders, shaking him violently. “Stop them! Do something!” 

Suddenly, I felt a jolt. My body tingled and felt like a thousand pins and needles all over. All sound faded. I shook Harry some more. His face grew more and more pale as he coughed uncontrollably. After releasing him and letting him slide to the ground, I took a deep breath and knew that I now possessed his gift. It was an amazing feeling of strength and confidence.

I dropped my now useless gun and pointed my hand at Marvin. It began to glow red right before a fire ball erupted, hitting Marvin square in his devilish face. He toppled to the ground screaming and rolling around in agony. 

Their prisoner took advantage of the distraction and struck one of the other Renegades in the stomach. Then he took off running. The young man weaved through several confused individuals and the two standing Renegades staggered to keep up with him. 

Mass panic began to spread everywhere. People chaotically ran through the streets. They all ran past Marvin. Some were even forced to jump over the pain stricken man. Despite Marvin’s obvious agony, no one stopped to help him or even attempt to stop me. I had stood up to a Renegade and made the darkest corner of the city, even darker. 

I slowly navigated towards Marvin, quietly gliding around the hordes of people that ran to the left and right of me. They all seemed invisible. Blurred lemmings that I’m sure had no idea what they were running from. 

Marvin, now motionless, was clearly dead by the time I reached him. His face burned and twitched slightly after he finally stopped screaming. Smoke sizzled off his extra crispy skull. 

It was interesting that the other two Renegades didn’t even bother to help their fallen comrade. Sure I had caught them off guard, but were they so scared of me that they would rather abandon one of their own? Perhaps there was more to the trembling prisoner that got away. 

I climbed on top of a mud covered car and squinted into the distance. The escaped prisoner was about fifty yards ahead and just inches in front of one of the Renegades. Then he was blocked by a group of individuals moving in the opposite direction. The man was pushed back toward the two surviving Renegades who wasted no time and tackled the man to the ground. They restrained him before dragging the disheveled man to his feet and down a narrow alleyway.  

I hurriedly jumped off the vehicle I was perched on and approached the alley. With no visual, I had to rely on the faint footsteps I heard clattering across the asphalt. I did my best to match the sounds with my own feet, hoping to hide the fact that I was following them.

I felt powerful. I felt like I could do anything. The rush I had after absorbing Harry's gift was remarkable. I knew no fear and I was determined to save this young man and possibly save that woman who was captured days ago.

Then the  echo of the footsteps stopped. All that was left were my own feet echoing. I instinctively halted, nearly tripping forward due to the speed I was going. There was no sound. I waited a few seconds, holding my breath in order to pick up on the slightest noise. Still nothing. Silence. 

I undid my shoe laces and slipped my sneakers off, creeping forward cautiously. My feet were cold against the uneven ground. The alley wound around in what felt like a constant 's' pattern. 

My thoughts shifted to disappointment and frustration as I wound around yet another set of garbage cans and found myself face to face with a brick wall. My tracking skills had failed me. I had reached a dead end and the Renegades were gone. Damn, I thought to myself. I had them running and let them slip away. 

Then I heard a crash. I spun to my right and released a ball of fire. It hit a trash can with such force that it created a hole through it. The contents sparked to life with an orange glow. 

My heart raced as I moved in closer. I examined the area and shook my head. I'm such a fool, I thought to myself. I reacted without thinking. If the Renegades didn't know I was following them, I'm sure they do now. They're probably watching me from a safe viewpoint and laughing at my incompetence.

The rage started building like it had not more than fifteen minutes before. I don't ever remember being this angry. Was it my failure to save yet another innocent soul that troubled me? Could it be that this place just brings out the worst in people or amplifies their emotions? I wanted justice. I wanted peace. I wanted to be a hero.

I took my frustration out on the brick wall, hurling fireball after fireball at it. Each one smacking against bricks at such a rapid pace, that the whole wall appeared to be engulfed in flames. The more I threw, the less powerful I felt. My rush of energy faded with each toss. Then as I threw one last ball of heat, it hit a brick that shifted inwards into the wall and a portion of the wall slid back, creating an opening to walk through.

My breath was heavy and sweat soaked through my clothes. I attempted to throw a fire ball at the opening. A puff of smoke formed, but nothing more. My fire was no longer with me. It became clear to me at that moment that I may be able to absorb people's gifts however, they were only temporary gifts. 

Now I faced the passage in front of me, certain that whatever lay through there would undoubtedly be more powerful than me. Nevertheless, I had made my choice and turning back was not an option. 

I walked through the small door-like opening and found myself in a tunnel that descended downward. The air was cold and damp. I felt the jagged walls with my fingers as I stumbled down the uneven surface. 

Minutes passed and there was still no light or clear end to this dark passage. I blindly pushed forward. A man needed my help and I was his only hope.

Then I heard it. A piercing scream echoed through the corridor. The young man begged for his life. I caught bits of the pleas. “Please don’t” and “I’m not gifted” were repeated over and over again. 

I crept closer and crouched behind a rock formation. Stalactites lined the ceiling of the cave above me. When I focused my eyes forward, I saw the most unusual thing I ever laid eyes on. There was a massive hole in the ground where blue light glowed upward, lighting the room that was roughly 1,000 square feet. 

The man I saw earlier was on his knees. Each of the large Renegades sandwiching him between them. An eerily slender young woman with light blonde hair and porcelain doll-like skin stood before the trembling man. She was dressed in a flowing light blue gown. Maybe it was actually white, but the lighting in the room made it appear blue.

She spoke calmly to the man. “All I want to see is your gift. Show it to us and we can discuss making this as painless as possible.”

The young man looked up at the woman’s icy stare. He begged, “I don’t have a gift. Just let me go. I swear I’ll leave this place. Just let me go.” The young man trails off and sobs into his hands.

The woman crouches down next to the man and lifts his chin. She stares into his moist, pleading eyes and says, “Go then. If you are not one of the gifted, then go.” She turns and faces the blue glow emanating from the ground.

The young man wipes his eyes. He stands and asks, “Elliot, that’s who you are, right?” The woman doesn’t respond so the young man continues, “What you’re doing here is wrong. Feeding innocent people to the source is not doing any good. This power is untamable. You should leave it alone. Let it do its purpose without human interference.”

Still no response from the woman. The young man slowly backs away and heads towards the exit. The two large Renegades join the woman and stare into the source. 

I watch as the young man approaches where I am crouched and hidden. Then he stops, frozen. His eyes look blank. The woman turns to face him. She moves her hands in a provocative “come here” motion. The young man turns his body robotically and obediently walks like a mindless drone to the woman. He stops inches from her smiling face. 

The woman speaks delicately, “Yes, I’m the Elliot you speak of. Since you know my name, you also know that I can control people’s minds. Make their bodies react to my commands. Let’s see how truthful you really are.”

The young man takes a few rigid steps backwards. Elliot tilts her head slightly to the left and watches as she has him lift his arms. She begins moving her hands as if she is conducting an orchestra. The young man’s body starts rapidly moving into awkward angles. Elliot speaks, “I will unlock your gift and when I do, you will help us become more powerful.”

The man starts convulsing as Elliot digs deeper and deeper into his mind. His back bends backwards unnaturally. She says, “Don’t be shy.” 

Then the young man stops moving. His body is contorted in a painful looking triangle. Elliot smiles widely. “There it is.” Elliot  moves her hands upward in a spiral motion. The young man straightens his body in sync with Elliot’s hand gestures.  

Elliot says, “Okay. You have my permission to dazzle us.” The young man disappears, then reappears ten feet to his left. Elliot walks up to him. She exclaims, “You’re a teleporter! How wonderful. You must be terrified as to why you can’t access your gift around us.” Elliot leans in close to the emotionless young man and whispers, “My friends here are suppressors. They can limit your use of power.” Elliot takes a couple steps to her left. The young man begins to march towards the blue light. 

She was sending him to what appeared to be his death. Now was my moment of truth. I stood and yelled, “Enough! Let this man go!” Elliot and the two Renegades turned to face me. The young man kept walking towards the light. He entered it and hovered inside it’s icy glow. The whole room grew excruciatingly bright. I had to shield my eyes. The young man’s screams were unbearable to hear. Then I felt a surge inside me. I felt strong again. The light beamed to the four people in the room. I saw as Elliot and the other Renegades seemed to be in ecstasy as they welcomed the surge of additional energy.

Then it became clear to me what was going on. They sacrificed other gifted people into the source in order to grow their own powers. They had exposed the source and fed it so that they could be unstoppable. They were cheating the system by gaining additional exposure to the radiation or whatever the hell the blue stuff was. 

The young man was abruptly shot out of the source. His body rolled toward the far corner of the room. The source dimmed back to its original hue. Elliot and the Renegades turned to look at me. 

That’s when I realized a new gift resided within my body. I teleported next to one of the Renegades, struck him hard in the head, then teleported again and kicked the other Renegade into the source. The room lit up again. This time the beam of light only extended to the three of us. More power and strength coursed through my veins. I felt amazing. I teleported to Elliot and struck her twice in the stomach before teleporting back to the last Renegade and holding him close to me, absorbing every last ounce of his power. His face grew pale and the eyes in the back of his head rolled back.

Then my body froze. That’s when I felt Elliot’s mind creep inside of me. My blood grew cold and I struggled to maintain my focus. She turned me to face her. She was clutching her stomach and her eyes were dark. Elliot motioned for me to come over to her. Next thing I knew, I was walking towards her, only it wasn’t me walking. Elliot had me under her spell. I was at her mercy. 

She stopped me inches from her. My mind struggled to obtain the power to control my limbs, but it was useless. I was her puppet and there was nothing I could do about it.

Elliot calmly stated, “So you’re the one knocking off all my friends. That’s not very nice.”

Through clenched teeth I managed to say, “You have no right to kill innocent people. Someone has to stop you.”

Elliot, clearly amused, leaned in closer to me. She was nearly touching my lips with hers. “Looks like we have ourselves another teleporter over here. Too bad you’re more a fool than anything else. We aren’t killing people. We are cleaning up the garbage. Freeing the city from clutter. Unfortunately, you fall under that category.”

Then a brilliant idea sprung into my mind. I contorted my lips in order to speak again. This time it was more difficult, but I managed to say, “Kiss me.”

Elliot backed away, confused and startled by the unexpected request. She said, “excuse me? I’m not some whore who will take pity on you.”

I struggled to free my vocal chords from their frozen state. This time I nearly choked as I spoke, “My last wish is to be kissed by a beautiful woman.”

Elliot leaned in close. I had her attention and better yet, she thought my gift was teleportation. She had no idea that I had absorbed the previous man’s gifts when the source exposed them to me. “Wishes are for the weak.” She pressed her soft lips against mine, giving me a split second edge. With the suppressor’s gift coursing through me, I weakened her, then I gripped my newly freed hands at her throat. I was beginning to acquire her power now. Was there no end to what my gift was capable of? 

Elliot’s face contorted and she winced as I drained her of her strength. As I let her slide to the ground, I imagined her inside the source. My body grew hungry at the thought of acquiring even more strength. I could see why The Renegades catered to the source’s needs. The power was infectious. 

With my newly acquired mind control I raised Elliot to her feet without even lifting a finger. She was my puppet now and it was time to finish her off and end her reign of tyranny. I motioned for her to turn towards the source with my hands. She obeyed without the slightest hesitation. 

I could feel her mind inside mine. It was scared. More afraid than it had ever been before. She didn’t want to head towards the light. She wanted to rule it. Too bad, I thought to myself. You don’t get to cause any more chaos. 

I had her lift her leg and take a step forward. Then the other leg. One more step and she would be inside the source. The blue light flickered anxiously. It could feel Elliot’s presence and it was excited.

Elliot lifted her right foot. It crossed into the light. Then I felt a force of some kind hit the back of my head. I toppled over in pain. My vision was blurred. I saw glimpses of Elliot moving towards me and what looked like the fallen Renegade I had beaten earlier. He lifted me to my feet and continued to beat me with his massive fists. Blow after blow weakened my body. I spit up blood, but he showed no mercy. He had a hold on me. His power had recharged within himself. I was useless. I couldn’t access my gifts. 

Elliot stumbled over to me and grabbed a handful of my hair. I can’t remember exactly what she said to me. I remember fragments. Something about “being cursed” and “suffering souls.” It’s all so hazy to me. 

They dragged me over to the source. I remember momentarily staring at the dizzying light before being thrown into it. My body floated in limbo. I felt my energy slip away. It escaped my body so freely and with such force that I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt death approaching. My world went black.

I awoke staring up at the dark cloudy sky. My body ached and felt like it had been flattened by a steamroller. I reached under my back, attempting to pull out a pointed object that was digging into me. The discomforting item wouldn't budge so I rolled onto my stomach and came face to face with vacant sunken eyes staring back at me. It was the corpse of the woman in the blue dress. She had a permanent look of horror plastered across her pale face. 

I rolled again out of fright, this time sliding down the large pile of trash that I apparently was on top of and landing with a thud on the dirt covered ground. I looked up just in time to see  the corpse of the woman in blue tumble after me and land on top of my back. After pushing her fairly light body aside, I looked up and came to the realization that I had not fallen from a pile of trash, but rather a heap of dead bodies. People were stacked one on top of the other reaching at least twenty feet high. I looked to my left and then my right. More piles of dead bodies surrounded me. They seemed endless.

This was by far the most harrowing scene I could have ever thought to find myself in. The Renegades used all these people for their own selfish gain? So many people gone because of power hungry individuals. What were The Renegades planning? There must be a reason why they want so much power and that reason most definitely is not a good one. At least not for any of the inhabitants of Midnight Village.

I attempted to use my hands to push myself to my feet. Alas, it was no use. My body was too feeble to do anything other than stay mostly still. The only sound I heard was my heavy breathing. I was so tired. My eye lids burned with each blink, until I couldn't keep them open any longer. My world went black again. 

A loud grunting sound rang out. My eyes shot open and I fixed my gaze straight ahead, spotting an older man hunched over a body not more than thirty yards in front of me. He was rummaging through a lifeless man's pockets. After finding nothing of use, he continued to another body. This time he found what appeared to be a small blunt object. He placed the item into a yellow wheel barrel filled with an assortment of random items. I was too far away to make out what any of those items were.

The man appeared very feeble. He was in his own little world. He worked methodically and barely ever found anything of use. I wasn’t even on his radar. Considering my current state, I didn't have any other options than to call out to him. I opened my mouth to shout, but I merely exhaled a hoarse and faint whisper. The man picked up his wheel barrel and began moving away from me. I had to act quickly or I might lose my only hope of survival. I searched the immediate area around me. There must be a way to make some noise. 

The body to my left was shriveled and decayed. The one to my right wasn’t any nicer looking however, it did have something metallic on its wrist. I squinted my eyes in order to make it out. It was a bracelet with an assortment of dangling skulls loosely wrapped around a skinny arm. I reached my right hand forward and clutched the bracelet. When I lifted it up to shake it, the bracelet, quite unexpectedly, slipped through my hand and back onto the ground. My right hand was now transparent. Something was terribly wrong. The source must have caused some strange mutation within my body.

I attempted to clutch at the bracelet again, but it was no use. My right hand might as well have not even been attached to my arm any longer. The faint outline of the hand was visible and I still had the ability to move my fingers, yet it was cold and had minimal feeling. 

With little time to dwell on my newfound problem, I swung my still intact left hand around and dragged my body a few inches forward, quickly grabbed the skulls and jangled them as rapidly as possible. Their clattering sound caused the old man, now barely visible behind a large pile, to stop. He turned his head in my direction. I couldn’t restrain my smile. 

The man leapt high into the air and gracefully landed right next to my head. He grabbed the bracelet from my hand and held it up towards the sun. He sniffed the skulls and quickly pocketed them, before turning to walk away. I grabbed his ankle with my one good hand and pleaded, “Help me.” The old man shook his leg free from my weak grip. He looked down at me inquisitively. Then he kicked me hard in the side. He shouted, “You think I was born yesterday. I ain’t no damn fool.”

“I’m begging you. I’m dying,” I tried to reiterate my suffering.

The man spoke coldly, “Then you’re in the right place.”

He went to kick me again, only this time I grabbed his leg and twisted him to the ground. I climbed on top of him with my adrenaline powering my body and with what little strength I had, put my left hand on his chest. I pushed my body upward and then paused. My hand was warm. It felt good. Light erupted from the man’s chest. My whole body began to glow in a bluish hue that traveled up my arm and eventually engulfed my entire body. The old man’s body twitched uncontrollably. His grey hair turned white, while his skin lost all of its pigment and then began to decay right before my eyes. 

When I removed my left hand, the blue light ceased, leaving me alone with the unrecognizable old man. I looked down at the shadow of a man that lay before me. He had given me my strength back. My right hand was now solid again. I felt powerful, like when I had acquired people’s gifts before. It seemed that I had taken the man’s source of life.

Now it was time for revenge. I leapt forward in an effort to replicate the old man’s unbelievably high leap from earlier. My jump was far less impressive. I only found myself a few feet further in front of me. This perplexed me. I felt the old man’s power. My body yearned to leap high into the sky, yet I could not. 

The following days proved to be confusing and painful. My body ached and I grew partially transparent again. After an encounter with a woman in the street led to a similar scenario like the one with the old man, I began to realize I needed to acquire people’s souls every few days in order to preserve my own life. It seemed that the source had not killed me, but rather cursed me to a life of damnation. If I didn’t want to fade into the shadows, I would need to continually replenish myself with human lives.

This greatly troubled me. Was my life more important than the people I had to kill in order to live? As the days soon turned to weeks, the question sunk deeper and deeper into the back of my mind. I began to act out of instinct now. Survival was the only thing circling around inside my head.  

As I continued to take life after life with each passing day, word spread throughout Midnight Village. A strange figure lurked in the shadows awaiting to steal your soul. He wore a fedora low over his face so that his eyes were constantly hidden and his clothes were dark and torn. The innocent people feared me. The guilty people feared me. I was born anew and labeled The Mysterious Masked Marauder.

The power I gained from each new victim was intoxicating. I would take as many souls as I could snatch within a day. Often dozens of people fell before me however, I still wasn’t able to acquire their gifts. My body felt like it would erupt and had no outlet to use in order to release its power. 

I grew depressed as I lost sight of my initial purpose in Midnight Village. The place had consumed me and now I was part of the problem. 

Several days passed and I found myself taking more and more walks through the piles. So many people gone and I was supposed to be one of them. Perhaps it would have been better if I never awoke after my encounter with The Renegades.

Then I came across the body of the woman in blue again. She was abused and used up for no reason at all. I knelt down next to her and placed my hand on her cheek. Her skin grew flush again and her eyes blinked. I removed my hand and watched in amazement as she stumbled to her feet. She stared at me blankly. I took a few steps backwards. She followed. 

I asked her, “What’s your name?”

She cocked her head to the side and repeated, “What’s your name?”

The woman seemed to be a blank slate. She was a dumbed down version of a human. I touched more dead bodies. Each of them awoke and acted just like the woman in blue. Before I knew it, I had a hundred person army at my disposal. Wherever I went and whatever I did, they blindly followed.

It appeared that I may have needed fresh souls to continue living however, I was also able to control the bodies of those without souls. 

Perhaps my former gift was gone, but my new one appeared to have its own set of benefits. 

I marched with my army to the den of The Renegades, determined to destroy Elliot and her people. Alas, when I traveled down that ‘s‘ shaped alley and was ready to descend into the Earth, I soon discovered that the brick wall had collapsed upon itself. The entrance to the source was covered up.

My army and I dug out the bricks and searched for the blue ray of light that powered the city, but never found it. 

As for The Renegades, I wait, day after day for their inevitable reappearance. For when they do reemerge from hiding, The Mysterious Masked Marauder and his army of souls will be ready. Midnight Village is mine now and defend it, I will.