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"Quite the daredevil are we Miss Apricot?" Miss Akagi's booming roar echoed inside the large empty lecture hall rattling Apricot's bones. She supposed anyone outside the hall can hear every single word. Miss Akagi's stern finger wags as a bludgeoning rod, brown eyes shift along with it.

"You are to report the current events, my dear, not become part of it." Miss Akagi stops her tongue lashing, straightening her posture adjusting her glasses with one hand while holding Apricots paper in the other.  Apricot dug her nails into her thigh as the stabbing silence continued with no sign of ending.  With an inhale, Miss Akagi continued "Though I must commend you for the article. It is rather thrilling." she turns her back towards Apricot walking towards her podium in the center of the lecture hall. "I would imagine it would be a work of fiction if not for that strike against you. Entering a crime scene unauthorized is a very serious charge missy." Apricot shrugged her shoulders in defeat without repose as Miss Akagi's scalding words blew like flames from her mouth. "I should expel you," the words hung heavy in Apricot's mind stealing her breath away like a grasping hand. "But it is rare that we have anyone so daring? I will tolerate it, this once!" she emphasized. "Do not make this a habit however or else you will be considering a job in the private sector. The foundation will not tolerate such fervent disregard for the law.  Luckily for you, the Bureau of education has left it to me to decide your punishment."

"Yes, Mam," Apricot says hanging her head in shame.

"Good. Now as for your article." Apricot looks up to a calm smirk. "I find it is the thing our school could use. It is a rather thrilling story considering you are a student journalist. Tell me, how would you feel about having this presented before an actual journal?"

"A journal!" Her heart screamed though Apricot found acts of such enthusiasm painted her as a bumbling fool. "Really? A real journal, like a state paper."

Akagi smirked at her reply shaking her head for a moment. "Hm no," Akagi says with a slight cackle in the right place to appear as an ace snob. "Not a state paper but not the student journal either. I consider this kind of publicity for private papers. A magazine. Will you sell me the article? I can see if I can get it published."

"Sell you my story?" Apricot asks feeling an urge to drop her jaw. "I would love to." She adds while a smile grows across her face abandoning any facade she may have had.

"Good good," Akagi says flipping through the pages of Apricots report. "Keep it up and you may pass Apricot, that is, if you can remember to show up to class."


"Yes, Mam," she replies as a warm blush filling her cheeks.

~

The city is alive filled with entertainment as Apricot and her friends walk the streets. The day's events seem to flash away as she loses herself in the amusement. Windowshopping through the megaplex of a mall, stopping for some delicious grilled chicken skewers at a famous street stand called Oorudo Chiifu. While riding up a large glass elevator Apricot's friend's conversation faded as she gazed overlooking the city. It was the largest elevator in the city for one of the largest buildings. A tower known by the locals as Big Tower.

In the past she found this sight to be a marvel. Today, however, it appeared more like a labyrinth. A place to be feared because of what dwelled in strange places. This high up it was peaceful when one was far away. When someone stood down in that sprawl of timbered buildings it became a shadowland of untold dangers. She could not help but speculate, somewhere out there in the concrete jungle something was waiting for her. The masked man Bonni called claw fingers lingering close in mind and that thing with the arms, whatever the hell that thing was.

Apricot admired how cute Solenne looked in her blue and white striped sleeveless hoody. Her black shirt under had an obscured tan logo. When she was off duty outside of her uniform one would never guess she was an officer.

Tucked in her boyfriend Arjun's arms, Apricot found her to have more of a doll-like appearance. Arjun, Apricot would describe as a bear. He is an immigrant, much like herself, from a country in Aslana called Stezyl. From what Apricot came to understand it was a horrible place ruled by an authoritarian dictatorship.

"The city below, so distant." Apricot considered.

"What do you think Apricot?" asked Solenne jarring her out of her trance-like state.

"It's scary." She mumbled.

"Huh?" Machi says scrunching up her face. "How is it scary?"

"No, I mean… notice how high up we are. Imagine if this just… broke, like if a bird flew into the tube. At this height, I bet the air pressure would suck us out and we would fall to our deaths." Apricot said then turned to see Arjan smirking while Solenne had a concerned expression on her face.

Machi shook her head. "Are you sick in the head Apricot? Who talks like that?"

"O', sorry I…" Apricot rubbed her arm turning her back to face Machi who folded her arms.

"Don't worry, I was feeling the same thing. I always do on these. It's… mile up the least right." Arjun's voice was thick and heavy. His Rs rolled too long. His mastery of Uchellian language was lacking.

"It's not even half a mile!" Machi yells throwing her arms to her sides. "Stop talking crazy! I need not think about stuff like this." Apricot snicked and soon Arjun and Solenne joined seeing Machi's eyes just about fall out of her head. "You are all horrible."

~

The clicking of a man's steps echoed in a dark alleyway. "Damn it, they can't keep doing this." He says. Apricot noticed the tug of Machi's arms around hers. The theatergoers were silent watching. Inserting a piece of popcorn into her mouth, Apricot bit down as to not disturb anyone with its jarring crunch.

The screen pans away from the man giving a shot of his back showing the long dark alleyway. From down it the clicking of another man's shoes continues. As he approaches closer, he is obscured by shadows.

Apricot winces assuming that a jump scare was about to happen. She glances over at Machi whose face was one of sheer horror. She could have guessed as much from the nails digging into her arm.

"T-Tobei, is that you?" the young man stuttered. From the dark, the man stops walking for a moment. "Tobei thank God."

Tobei's grinning face passes through the shadow into the street light to reveal his eyes were that of hooked and toothed greasy holes and his mouth opens just as the man screamed out releasing a long tapeworm looking horror that latches onto the other mans face.

At this moment Machi releases a shriek so loud it perhaps overshadowed what was on screen after which half the room joined in her yelp. Apricot's hair stood on end before turning her head wide-eyed in a near panic. Machi shut herself up once she realized what she had done. A sheepish face coming over her face as her lips pouted. She smalled into her chair lowering herself some. Apricot noted a visible rosy pink color coming over Machi's face. "Sorry." She whispered. Apricot pet her hand assuring her it was fine.

~

"Gee you scared the shit out of me Machi," said Arjan over the hubbub and electronic chatter. He was leaning up against an arcade machine his back pressed firming into the board while his leg pressed against another machine modeled to look like the nose of a fighter jet.

Machi looked over her shoulder as she piloted a digital plane. "Shut up, I was not scared it's just… that thing looked so weird." With the click of a button, the screen flashed as a pair of rockets flew into a plane burning it down. From the other side of the arcade machine, a man said "Ah, damn it!" which made a sly smile crawl over Machi's face.

"All right, Machi!" Apricot said. Apricot and Solenne were both leaning over the back of Machi's seat.

Arjan spits a small puff of air out. "Think you pretty hot Machi? Bet you can't beat me." Arjan said to her.

"Arjan, she is enjoying her game let her be." Solenne shuns Arjan provoking an eye roll from him. He slumps over the arcade machine holding both of his arms up.

Machi lets out a small chuckle. "If I did, you would be a disgrace to the military. It would also ruin my sense of safety knowing they let in people that can't even compete in arcade games. I don't want to do either of those two things to you or give that kind of stress to myself." Solenne sighs at Machi's childish retort.

Apricot smirks before saying under her breath to Solenne. "Those two."

"I know you would expect after this much time they would be used to each other." Solenne smiles. "Speaking of safety, I was busy with filing reports. It's like this city is going crazy."

"You don't say?" Apricot curiously asks.

"Yeah, my poor baby been coming home late much night this week. Someday she doesn't even get home." Arjan says before wrapping his arms around Solenne's waste giving her a peck on the cheek. "Leaves me lonely."

Solenne nods her head. "Yeah, it's true. I am not supposed to talk about this but there have been murders left and right. Not to mention that bank robbery the other day." Apricot could sense her cheeks growing warm with a blush. Solenne then paused her eyes narrowing and softening at the same time. "But something disturbing happened. So, in our reports this morning we got one about a singer who got her face chewed off by some of her fans backstage. The photos were terrible. The report made no sense, it was like they were possessed or something. We got the kids who did it in custody. They act like animals. Some people in my department are worried it might be some Arslanian biological or something."

Apricot noticed her stomach turn in a naught. Someone chews your face off is disturbing. "That's terrible," Apricot mumbles to herself.

"You said it. I don't expect I will sleep tonight. Thanks there Solenne." Machi says to her.

"Don't worry, just war hysteria. Fact is Arslana cannot release biologicals here. Including that is not good weapon anyways."

"Arslana and Castor's war has caused issues even in Uchella," Apricot says under her breath gazing down at her feet on the red carpet of the stained arcade floor.

"Which reminds me. Apricot you should change your route home for a while." Apricot looks up from her feet. "If you ever need a ride home, you can call me or Arjan and we can get you," Solenne says.

"Why do you say that?" Apricot laughs.

Arjan shrugs. "You listen, all right."

"All right. I will be sure to."

"Well, did you see anything or hear anything last Ventaro?" Solenne asks.

Apricot noticed a lump slip into her throat. It was Ventaro that she encountered that weird thing. "Ah, no, why do you ask?"

"Several people reported… things and well, some bodies showed up."

As the words left Solenne's mouth Apricot got scared. Solenne must have noticed, her firm arms gripped against Apricot's back embracing her in a hug. "It's ok hun, I know you been through a lot with that robbery. Like I said. Anytime you need a ride just call us ok."

Apricot looks off beyond Solenne, through the crowd of people playing arcade machines, she watches people pass by and the shadow that stood in the dark.  It moves across the wall.  Its long twin horns bent in several directions as a flowing cloak waved along beside it. "Yeah sure," Apricot says as the shadow passes disappearing among the crowd.

"Does anyone else feel like it's hot in here?" Machi asks stepping out of the arcade machine cockpit.

Arjun nodded "Thought I the only one thinking that."

The thing was missing, it was gone. It had passed her by this time. Maybe because of the crowd she guessed. That thing was observing her for sure. Her heart pounds. "Well, it is getting late. So I should head home guys. Thanks for the awesome day out." Apricot continued to follow the shadows as the group said their goodbyes and parted.


~

"Mom, Dad, I am home," Apricot calls out as she kicks off a pair of red and white sneakers. She runs up the stairs into her bedroom closing the door behind her. Flipping open her laptop she sits down at her desk to see if any reports on the murders Solenne talked about were public yet.

As she looked, however, she discovered most of the articles are restricted or removed. The police were not ready to go public with the issue.

A burring of her phone diverted her attention. Picking up the black slap she flicks it with her finger revealing a message from Bonni. "Hey, girl wanna meet up at the park. I got something to show you."

Apricot sighed but texted back "Sure."

~

The park was a shadowed nightmare. Apricot looked at every tree where light prevailed. She twitched with each sound, her heart pounded. When she spied Bonni sitting on a distant bench, she had relief. "Bonni," Apricot called out as she picked up pace towards her. "I am so glad to see you. The park seemed creepy tonight."

Bonni's blue jean legs are crossed with her hand on a magazine that rests on her lap. Apricot could not make out the cover image with Bonni's fingers splayed over it. However, she could make out the title, Eerie Truths Monthly. She would have rolled her eyes but after the events that played out last week she found herself curious. She sat next to Bonni releasing a sigh. "It's nice to get a seat. With the train being out it takes a little longer to get to this side of town."

"I know right. It is a pain. I would show up at your place but I could not figure out how to get over there so I texted you instead." Bonni lifted the magazine. "So I wanted to show you this," her fingers flip through the wagging pages. "I know, I know, this is a weirdo magazine but," she says stopping at a page she had folded. "This is kind of what I was talking about."

The page is filled with poorly taken photos from what Apricot presumed were low-resolution cameras. Bonni pointed to one photo of something jumping off a building. The image struck Apricot as a fake. "Bonni, I appreciate," a finger swiftly interrupts her sentence.

"Wait, before you say anything." Bonni flips the page. A high-resolution photo shows the silhouette of something that looked very much like the reaper she saw floating over the city. Her heart stops. "See what I mean. That is not normal. This thing is seen all over the place. They call him Claw fingers." Apricot could not speak. Her mind raced for what to say. She could not let Bonni know she had seen that thing. At the same time, she had to let someone know. The issue battled against each other as Bonni talked. "He has been reported to offer people powers in return for servitude."

"Bonni, these stories. How long have they been around?" Apricot asked.

"Only a few months. I've been reading this mag for years and it really got first mentioned two months ago. Something else that you may find even creepier is the string of murders that happened last week." Bonni turns several pages ahead to a bent page. As she unfolds it, the header reads "The Ikijoji Street Murderer."

"Bonni!" Apricot shouts standing up from the bench. "Stop it!" She grips her fists looking down at a now wide-eyed Bonni. "You need to get away from these fantasy stories. If you will believe in this stuff don't include me in it." Apricot screamed. Her heart pounded as the fears rolled around her head.

Bonni looked down folding the magazine to rest on her lap. "I thought you would be interested in this stuff too," she said with a sullen voice.

"It creeps me out," Apricot says folding her arms. "I walk down that street almost every night. I don't want to hear about someone butchering people around there." Apricot took a few short breaths. "I got enough on my plate with work and school. I can't be worried about some imaginary spooks."

There is silence. Bonni gets up off the bench with a faint smile. "Well, I can see this all got you scared. Tell you what Api, I won't bug you about it anymore. However, if you want to talk about imaginary spooks, I am always here to listen to you."

"Ah, sure Bonbon. Catchya later I guess." Apricot says. She waves to Bonni before they both head their separate ways down the dark park road. Apricot looked up at the sky. "This is all getting interesting. Too interesting," she says to herself the haunting suspicion of being followed coming over her.
Long time no see right.  I figured I could take the holiday's off but it did not mean I was not working during it.  I just did not bother proper editing.  Today I did however.  Expect more to come in the next few days.

To read the rest check out this link: fav.me/dbuvyry
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