"You," a voice coughed from the dark. "You promised… why! Why has this happened!" the voice sounded as though their throat was full of liquid. It choked again wheezing as it breathed. A pile of remains rested inside of a puddle of inky black liquid.
"I warned you." said a proud male voice. The footsteps echoed in the alleyway, each step slow and deliberate. "You should have waited. You were not ready to make yourself flesh again."
"You bastard!" said the pile of sludge. The man's black dress shoes stop in front of the puddle. The tip of his cane touches the ground with a click.
A snicker escapes the man's mouth. "You poor eager creature."
Out of the puddle rises the necrotic body of a skeletal creature with melting flesh hanging off its inky corpus. Several arms extend from its spine reaching for the man's leg. "Don't mock me!" roars the creature.
The man slashes his rod at the creature bursting its body back into a puddle as it swipes through the creature's torso. "Hush, all is not lost." He says taking a step away. "You need to feed on the flesh of others and you will build the fiber needed for a body."
"Don't walk away!" the puddle commands. "I am not through with you."
The man stops on his heel, the scuff of his shoe echoing in the dark alleyway. "I suppose you are not," he continues his gate away from the puddle. "Find me, later, or maybe I will find you when you are born into this world."
Two arms burst from the puddle grabbing the pavement, its fingers gripping the solid street. Clawing with its fingers, the puddle slides against the ground moving deeper into the darkness of the alley. "Later you say."
The low bustle of shoppers and wild ringing of cash registers along with the beeps of computers became the ambiance of Ichigari Grocery. People of all types walk through aisles of stocked shelves filled with various foods. Apricot rests on her knees with a crate of milk. She lifts a pair of milk cartons out of the box and places the pair onto a refrigerated shelf. "I am in so much trouble." she thought. "If I was on thin ice when Miss Akagi reports to the beauro of my actions, they will kick me out for sure."
She looks at another carton of milk. A slight measure of condensation dripping off the white cardboard. It appeared heavier this time she noticed. "And I will be stocking shelves for the rest of my life like this. I won't amount to anything." she moaned. "And that rotten Jasper will be a famous engineer or something, he will rub it in my face forever! Oh shit, when Mom and Dad find out, I need to focus on the good things. I got one of the best scoops. I was a first-hand witness to a robbery and I lived. I could be dead right now." she pauses her thoughts for a moment. "I mean I would be dead if not for those officers. I almost died today." she gasped her face fills with frustration. "You would think being a hostage would be a good enough excuse for getting off work," she mumbled to herself.
Apricot jumps out of her skin when a firm hand rests on her back. She looks up to the pitted face of a middle-aged man. He bends over her grabbing a gallon of milk off the shelf pressing his leg against her face. "Thanks for shopping at Ichigari Grocery," Apricot said in a kind tone. The man looks at her with a big goofy grin.
Apricot expected him to move on after but instead the man just stood there looking at her. "What the heck does this guy want." Apricot thought but continued and just ignore the odd behavior. She reached for another gallon of milk to replace the one he took.
With the tap of his foot, the man bumbles "And..." in a low tone.
A grumble escapes her mouth as she screams internally. "And have a nice day!" she says flashing wide blue eyes and a massive grin piercing across her face. The man nods his head, places his milk inside a cart and continues through the aisle. Apricot shakes her head. "This is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life. I want to die! Uhg!
From behind she hears the distinct click of her bosses shoes. It was a skipping sound that echoed about the store. At least it gave her a distinct warning he was approaching. She rolls her eyes knowing from past events he wanted to give her new choirs. If he was happy or at least looked that way he wanted something. She figured it was because he is always stretched tight as a wire; at any moment he could snap. She turns her head to look up into an older man dressed in a white button-up with black pants.
“Apricot,” he says ending his speed walk in front of her.
"Oh hey, Mr.Cawel. How are things going?" she said in a raised voice in an attempt to sound chipper.
He taps his feet a couple times "Oh gotta go gotta go gotta go go go!" His balding head is plastered by an artificial smile. He pokes at his clipboard with a pen a few times. "O girl, hows your project?"
She looks over at the milk crates for a moment and lets out an internal sigh knowing full well he would ask more of her. "Well, I got this left, then clean up. I got a really important article to finish for tomorrow." she hopes her not so subtle hint would be considered.
"Good good good, ok ah, so you're 'bout done. Hey, one more thing. Could you mop the sidewalks?" He walks away before she can answer. "Good ok that's great."
Apricot looks over at the two boxes of milk left and sighs. "Can't I get out on time just once… I was not even supposed to work today!" she moans.
The shine of fluorescents lights the empty night street painting the gray sidewalk faint orange around the edges. Apricot's steps echo on the quiet night pavement. Her black slacks and white oxford style button up shirt are stained with grease and soda. "Mop that parking lot before you go… it should not take too long," she says under her breath. An empty dented soda can rolls by clanking. It reminds her of troubled laughter. "At least it's over now," she says looking at a vast cityscape.
The sidewalk ends at a large staircase. In mid-step, Apricot feels something slam her in the back. She was in airborne free fall flying over the stairs flailing her arms letting out a shriek. Her foot hit a step with a loud snap. Apricot cried out in pain as it surged up her left leg. Seeing the ground fast approaching she slammed her eyes fastened closed. She screamed; the sound echoes as in a tunnel.
Apricot squealed again yet did not receive the impact. After several moments she opened her eyes to see pavement in front of her face. Apricot attempted to squirm but could not. "What?" she said in a faint voice. "What is happening?" Apricot looks just in front of her face to see a pair of very pointed pair of red shoes in front of her. "Who…"
"Tis time for thou to make a choice girl. Doeth thou wish to die or wilt thou choice life?" said a gentlemanly male voice.
"Who are you?" Apricot yells. "What do you mean?"
The man tapped his foot twice. "Thou find yourself moments before thous curtain call. I hast stood in the way of that death to give thou a choice. Doth thou choose life or doth thou choose death."
"You're speaking all weird. What are you trying to tell me?" Apricot yells at the man, she attempts to struggle but finds herself paralyzed.
"Haply 'tis thou that speak the strangers tongue. None the less ye are running out of time to make the choice. Doth thou wish to live or die? I tender life as a gift for thou, choose wise as a serpent." he says with a slight chuckle.
"I choose life!" she yells. Apricot slams into the ground with a heavy impact knocking the wind out of her. She opens her eyes to see she has slid several feet. She pushes herself up with a heavy pain in her chest. "I must have hit my head." she turns to gaze up the staircase to see a shadow looking at her. "What the hell is that thing?"
"Mineth dear that wouldst be a phantom. Thy trial is not over. Feareth not though. You hast the tools to defeat such a fearsome foe." said the strange looking man. Her sight gaze up to a long nosed mask that reminded Apricot of a beak. His clothing was like a jesters. He had two long striped purple and red horns and his hands were like claws. He stood with a very prominent stance that looked weightless. He was about six and a half feet tall by Apricot's estimation. "I wouldst suggesteth thou doth something yarely before that creature notices ye art still alive. I hast left thy power within thou to defeat the phantom. How it manifests is up to thou." He gestures his bladed hand to point at the shadowy creature.
Apricot gets wide-eyed letting out a shriek. With a flash, two white eyes appear on the floating shadow. It splashes onto the ground much like a blob spilling over the stairs. The gentlemanly stranger beside her does not flinch as he watches folding his arms. The shadow rises out of the stairs to expose several dripping arms. Apricot counted eight arms reaching from its back before she turned to run. She turns her head to look at her as an arm slashes at her face with a knife. The arm segmented too many times to be a human arm Apricot noted.
Apricot dodges the attack lunging behind her. She raised her hands up to her face backing away in fear. The creature rose like a centipede from its puddle of black, it's many arms baring knives in hand. The white eyes gaze in the dark. Its reflective might is near blinding to Apricot.
She takes a heavy breath as the creature lurches towards her dripping as its body extends. Apricot feels a warm glow inside her arm growing stronger urging her forward. She dives away from the creatures attack dodging another knife aimed at her face. The image was overwhelming. She huddled up covering her face with one arm and with the other outstretch she shrieked stop. A glow burst from her open palm igniting the creature in a purple beam of light. The creature let out a wet shriek of pain. Apricot's eyes grow wide as she looks at her hand. A purple flame blazed from her palm dancing in the wind. She shivers. "What is happening!" she screams.
"You bitch!" the creature roars before spreading out many more arms as it dives into the air. Apricot throws her arm allowing the flame to slash like a blade cutting through the torso of the creature. It splatters into burning pieces to rain like ash on the ground. The parts fizzle and roll at Apricot's feet until nothing but small orbs of light floating. The fire in her hand fizzles out and extinguishes. Apricot gasps gazing at her palm. "I don't believe this is happening."
"Splendid!" the masked man whispers.
She blinks unable to believe what she had just seen looking over at the strange masked man. "I had to have hit my head." She turns around and walks away. "None of this can be real." Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the man floating in the form of someone wading in water. "You're not real!" Apricot says as she scuffles ahead.
"Tis true thou did hit thy mazard, but ye art not seeing things. Thou hast defeated the first of many phantoms. Thy method of manifesting thy power was rather unorthodox, but it accomplished thy task none the less." he said with no inflection.
Her step comes to a final click echoing around the empty road. Apricot turns toward the stranger with a moment of silence. The blue light from an LCD screen advertising beer colors Apricots medium length fiery hair purple. A few papers carried by the breeze make a shuffling sound. "I just want to go home after having a long day at work. You expect me to believe you're real. I just killed a monster by shooting a laser fire thing at it." She raises her hands to her mouth. "Oh God, I am crazy. I hit my head and now I am crazy. I am talking to a clown in the street at night."
The masked man floats in front of her and lands on the ground blocking her path. He puts his hands on her shoulders and looks into her blue eyes. "Thou ramble like a daw. Thou hast work to be done. The power I hast given thy is not for free. Nay, I hast a task for thou."
"A task? What task?" Apricot asks.
"Thou shalt mortal arbitrament the phantoms from the city." Apricot tries to walk through him. With a powerful thrust, he pushes her back onto the ground. "Doth thou still believe me to be a vision?" he snapped.
Apricot looks scared. She wipes the street dust off her nose and looks up at him with terrified eyes. "I don't know what you want from me. Leave me alone!"
"I gave thou that power to hurlyburly with the phantoms from thy city. Tis mine task to remove them from thous ordinary before I can return to mine home." In a flash, he is before her extending a hand to her.
Apricot grabs the strange person's clawed hand. "What is hurly-burly?"
"To kill the phantoms," he says in a cold voice.
"What if I don't?" Apricot says to him.
He snaps her in close to his face. "Then I shall taketh thy soul as the collection for giving thou those powers."
Apricot scrunches up her face and squints her eyes at him "You can't do that?" With the snap of his fingers, Apricot goes limp and sees the world tumbling. She looks up at the strange figure before her. All the colors are sucked away. She can feel herself rising. Apricot looks to the ground to see her body drooling out of her mouth gasping for air; her eyes rolled back to the whites convulsing. The being's hand opens, and she feels herself go back into her body. Her mouth opens with a painful gasp for air.
"Thou will doth the task I hast given thou. Thou made thy choice. Thou chose life. Anon 'tis time to pay the toll of salvation, Apricot." he said in a firm tone.
"How do you know my name? I never gave it to you!" She screamed at him.
He turns towards her "A reaper knows all names. Goeth, rest for in time thou shalt be called upon to doth thy duty." Apricot blinks her eyes to see she is the only one standing in the street.
"There is no way any of that could have been real." She looked up to see a black starless sky obscured by the street lights. "I need to get home."