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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Red Coffee

Red Coffee
A Novel by Joseph Barber

I wrote this for me
but Alena also helped
and always, my dad

Part 1
12:01 AM October 17th
Ria Mith wakes up in a motel room unsure of why she is there. She remembers locking the shop up yesterday, remembers that Ellen had been in the shop, so it had been a good day. All she knows is she has never been in this particular motel room before. As her eyes adjust to the dull gloom that seems to pervade all motel rooms she looks around. The first thing she sees makes her jump back. A large handgun lies on the bedside table just next to her. She has never seen a gun so close in real life before. Looking around with a stunned look on her face she notices several other objects in the room.

On the table was about fifty dollars in cash, with a strange device weighing it down. Though she does not know it, it is a lockpick gun, used for any number of nefarious activities. There is a Halloween mask on the floor, by some clothes which she does not recognize. Finally she turns her vision to the television. On it is a blurry picture of someone she vaguely recognizes, a man with a fairly average face and a small mildly unkempt beard, maybe he has been in the shop previously. She also sees Ellen, with a gun pointed to her head. Ria immediately retreats to the back of the bed, head against the board and stares unable to comprehend what has happened to her boring life. She had never done anything exciting before, why was this happening now she thought.

It was obvious that the image on screen was a paused DVD, and after a little less than a minute's contemplation she slides up the bed towards the TV and hovers her finger over the play button. Maybe they had the wrong girl she thought, maybe I'm not supposed to be here, this is all some big mistake and none of this is really happening. Maybe it just wasn't real. She pushes the play button and the image flashes to life.

"Alright bitch, I've got her, you can't have her, you don't even fucking know what's going on you naive cunt." As he said this he waved the gun around erratically and gestured to the air. "I'll let her tell you, you'll see, she'll tell you what a naughty girl she's been." With this he thrust Ellen into the camera and then grabbed her shoulder to make sure she couldn't move. A single drop of blood trickled down it.

"I'm sorry Ria, I didn't know who else to tell, I had no one else. I didn't know he'd do this, I mean I knew he was dangerous but I didn't..." At this point she breaks into tears. He then hits her once, in the back of the head with the gun and props her up again shoving her face against the camera and Ria winced. "I fucked up, really badly. I owe a lot of money to some bad people and now this guy, his name is Simon, he wants it all and I don't have any time. All the money I have in the world is on the table by you." Ria then glances at the table and wonders how much money Ellen could really owe. "I have some bad habits, and, and I owe them a lot of money, he's asking for ten thousand dollars or... or he'll kill me. I'm so sorry Ria, I had no one else. We'll be at the shop in one day, 24 hours, please. I'm so sorry." The screen immediately went black.

Ria rocks back in stunned silence, she had never been much, she had never wanted much, and even though she knew something terrible was happening since the video started she couldn't comprehend the weight that was now on her shoulders. Her last words, "I'm so sorry" reverberate through Ria's head, and she wonders what she is supposed to do, what she could do. Thinking of her savings she was barely feeding herself, and had maybe five hundred dollars in the bank if that. What could she do, who in the world could get her that much money. Certainly not her parents, they barely even acknowledged her existence now, and they weren't exactly a rich family.

Maybe one of her other relatives had enough, but she couldn't just beg for the money. There was no way she could get it in one day anyway. Where was the nearest cousin, somewhere in California or something, she didn't know any of her family. Her sisters would be of no help as well, they never where. Her brother though, that was a possibility. He was always willing to listen to her, to care like no one else had. He had won the lottery a while ago, it's how he had been living his life, surely he had money. How could she justify it though she wonders, she couldn't tell him about Ellen, that was for sure.

Maybe she could say her apartment burnt down, that the insurance wasn't paying and she needed money for it. He may believe her but would offer his place instead, off her house and home but not money. She had never asked him for money and that was what kept their relationship so amiable, she was someone who didn't like him for his money. Frequently he wondered if she was the only one, and Ria silently wondered it as well. He was her only chance though now, and she had to call him up. She would love to talk to him in person but did not have enough time.

She padded through her pockets looking for her phone. She didn't find anything, anything at all. That man had taken everything including her identity, he may be insane but he was not stupid. Panicking she realized that she had almost nothing left, she was a Jane Doe to anyone who found her, if anything happened no one would know and no one would care. It was a terrifying concept to realize that after one day she could be gone from the face of the Earth and no one would mourn. The only person who would care would be Ellen, and she would be gone too. Even with everything gone there was still a chance though, there was the motel phone. The clock said 12:05 She slowly reached for it contemplating exactly what she was going to say when it rung.

7:30 AM October 16th

Bzzz the alarm shouted like it did every morning. Ria hated that, she loved the morning but the sheer act of getting out of bed was the most difficult. Some days she had entertained the idea of simply not waking up, just stay in bed all day, but she couldn't, she couldn't afford to. She was on a tight enough budget and missing a day could mean missing a meal. Still, it was a nice idea once in a while. Turning off the alarm she managed to lift herself out of bed and stare out at her beautiful view, a brick building with a pigeon shit stained ledge. It was what she woke up to everyday.

Ria believed herself to be a perfectly average person. She had medium length brown hair, a slight build, only slightly underweight, and was about 5' 4''. She was an introvert, and had a particular aversion to social activities instead opting to read or to write. She had done this from a very young age which put her at odds to the 'cool' kids in the playground. She had found friends, though they had all drifted off to their colleges or jobs. She had also drifted off, away from her family and everything she knew to the strange big city of New York. She had found a job at a small coffee shop and bookstore which she enjoyed, especially because of the time it gave her, it was not a particularly popular place.

The store had a very eclectic collection, something Ria prided herself in since she had acquired many of their more recent books. She had only been working there for six months but was already the main cashier. Others studied or didn't care about the workplace but for Ria it was the only thing. It was something she had been looking for for a very long time, and the reason she had made such a drastic change in her life. Now though she stood in the doorway and considered again whether it was worth it. She did this frequently and so far every time had decided it was, though today she felt different for some ineffable reason.

Ignoring the feeling though she set out to get ready for the day, taking a shower and brushing her teeth and wondering whether Ellen would come into the store. That was the other reason she loved going into the store, just on the off chance she could see her. Ellen was a beautiful girl who changed her hair seemingly every week. She stood at about average height and had brilliant green eyes that always seemed full of energy. They had such animated conversations, though they seemed to be quickly forgotten by Ellen who Ria had to re-introduce herself to every other week. Sometimes she remembers though Ria thought, she had to, their conversations where the bright spot in the otherwise gray days. She has to remember sometime.

As Ria was thinking these things she was getting prepared for the day, ripping open a package of breakfast pastries with her mouth and shoving them in the toaster in one smooth practiced motion. One she would eat in the brief time allotted for breakfast each day and the other would go into her bag for a mid-morning snack. She also browsed through her in progress pile of books and chose one that seemed to speak to her through it's yellowed pages, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Of course she had read it through before, many times, but she loved it so much she had to reread it every couple of months. She noticed the pile was getting bigger instead of smaller, a consequence of having such wide-ranging tastes.

With her book for the day selected she headed out to the chaos that was New York in the mornings. Most would find it confining or terrifying but she somewhat enjoyed it, it made her feel like she was part of something bigger, that finally she was a member of a large group and it accepted her for who she really was. Of course New York did not care about Ria Mith, it barely even noticed her with her little job and little apartment but in her own eyes it did, and that made the city something special, something magical.

That day was no busier than any other Tuesday, with car horns honking and people shouting. It was getting to the time of year when a perpetual cold swept through the city and promised not to leave until mid-spring. Ria didn't really mind though, because she knew she would have a hot cup of coffee waiting for her once she got to the shop, and it wasn't too bad, not really. It was only a five minute walk with no people or traffic but it took Ria about fifteen minutes. When she finally got to the shop she was the only one there. Like most mornings she was the one to open it up and also the one to close it, it was just her way. The hot water machine was on a timer and as she drifted over to it she set up everything for a nice hot drink.

After she took the first sip she sat on her stool, padded with specifically selected cushions, and began to read her book. After she had read for about half an hour her co-worker, Bill, stumbled in, nose puffy and red, the only part of his face that wasn't covered up by heavy clothing. Bill hailed from the deep south where it never got colder than 50 and it was his first winter in New York. He had prepared for this with a wool orange and yellow hat, a billowy red scarf, and a full trench-coat that stretched to just above the soles of his boots. Once he began taking off his outside clothing a fairly dopey, middle-aged man began to appear.

Once he had lost his wife he decided that he needed a change and moved to a place he had always imagined, New York. He didn't really know what to expect but had built up a sizable reserve of money in case things did not go his way. He was an artist by trade and hoped and prayed to get picked up by a large dealer, but unfortunately his art was not very good, it never had been. He had lived by taking odd retail jobs here and there until he built up a resume so eclectic that it may as well be a random selection of store. Now though he had found a place that he enjoyed, even though he enjoyed complaining about it even more, especially to Ria.

"Terrible weather today isn't it, why is it always so freezing? You don't need to answer that, I know what you'll say, 'it's worse where I come from', well it isn't where I come from, it was never this cold. And of course the shop is empty, no one ever comes here in the morning, I don't even know why I bother to turn up." He was out of breath at this point and collapsed onto one of the armchairs designated for customers.

"You know you where supposed to be here an hour ago, we need someone to shelve a new shipment. A lot of the smaller stores are going out of business and are kindly donating their unsold books to us, it would be a shame to let that generosity go to waste, so get off your ass and do something." Ria was used to this banter, for Bill was perpetually lazy and always needed prodding and poking to do anything. She wondered if it was merely his age or perhaps he was just one of those people who hated doing work.

"I don't see why you can't do it, you know the system better than I do." He said from his chair, unmoving.

"You know that they are too heavy for me, and besides I have to stay here for any customers."

"You know there won't be any for some time now, everyone goes to Starbucks in the morning or their crappy work coffee, no one wants the good stuff, especially in the middle of the week." With this said he slowly propped himself up and moved towards the back room. Ria watched him go, contemplating his words. They were true, she knew they where, but even still Ellen occasionally came early, and she didn't want Bill there, he would disrupt everything, she couldn't speak honestly in front of him.

Today was the day, the day she would ask Ellen out. She had been planning it for some time, prepared the speech in her head, prepared for rejection as well as acceptance, and knew just what she would say. She knew the place, knew the date, and knew what she would talk about. Everything was so planned out it couldn't go wrong. Unless she didn't show up of course, but she would, Ria felt it all throughout her bones. Ellen had to remember this time, they had talked more fervently than ever before last time, last Friday. It had been great, there where no other customers except for a small man in the corner, they had talked about all sorts of fantasy and science-fiction, and for the first time in a long time she was able to fully geek out, and to have someone except her for it.

It had to be the day, everything was aligned so perfectly. Ria need only wait for the bell, that little ding which would tell her that the world wanted it to happen. She had tried to do it before but could never quite work up the nerve. Previously she had been close, had asked her when she was working, and what she was doing on the weekend but she had been too scared before. Now though she was confident, she had read so much and watched so many movies and there was no way it could go wrong. So Ria sat, reading Alice in Wonderland and waited for the inevitable to happen.

The day seemed to drag on like molasses, with every chime of the bell bringing new hope and disappointment. As it was a Tuesday it was fairly slow, with maybe a dozen people coming all throughout the morning, and very few staying for long. Some asked if a book they had ordered had come in, or if they had one of the obscure books that people always asked about that they never had. One man, she thought she had seen him before, sat in the corner and read something of his own, it looked like an address book. He never ordered anything, and he sat in the least comfortable chair in the place, reading his little black book. Ria thought to question him but every time she considered it the bell would chime or someone would ask her a question.

Finally noon came around and it was time for her break. Bill came in from the back room and said, "I'm damn tired, I'm going out to get some sandwiches, you want me to get something for you?" He could be a nice guy at times, even if he was lazy.

"Yeah, if you could just get me one with all the veggies and no meat." He grunted in affirmation and set off, after bundling himself up so much he almost doubled in size. By this point just about everyone was gone as the shop didn't sell any real food, just a few snacks. Still in the corner the man sat, and Ria decided that this time she had to go confront him, it was just so odd. Confronting people was not exactly in Ria's typical day, but today was special, and she felt confident.

Walking over to the man Ria asked, "Excuse me sir, is there anything I can help you with?" She smiled and put on her most helpful face. He slowly looked up from his book and seemed furious with anger, as if she had just insulted him direly. Ria stepped back a bit and he stared at her with a gripping intensity. She didn't know how to respond, as he still refused to say anything, just glared. "Um, sir, if I could please ask you to leave you haven't um, bought anything, and we only let paying customers read here." With that he reached into his pocket and pulled out the dirtiest dollar bill that Ria had ever seen, covered in some unidentifiable black substance.

"Coffee, one cup. Black." Even while he said this he still stared, never taking her eyes off her. She took his money and slowly retreated back behind the counter, and began pouring the coffee. Only once she turned her back did his eyes leave her and return to his book with renewed intensity. Even as she returned and set it down he did not look up. Looking him up and and down he didn't seem like he was homeless, he was fairly well dressed, had a clean jacket on top of a t-shirt and sweat pants. His beard was short and slightly unkempt as was his hair, but aside from that he appeared normal aside from his eyes which where incredibly bloodshot.

She decided it was best not to push the point and retreated back to her book. She watched him for another couple of minutes and observed he never turned the page, just stared at his little unchanging book. She couldn't concentrate well as she began her own, but after a few minutes began to be absorbed back into the world of Wonderland, she was in the hedge maze now. Forgetting about the strange man in the corner she eventually settled into her rhythm, and the words wrapped around her head as she began to loose track of time.

After several hours Ria had almost given up hope when the little bell above the door chimed once again. She looked up expecting to see some straggler, someone who had decided it was too cold outside and they needed a warm place to sit and read. It was not just anyone however, as Ellen entered the door, radiant in her beauty. Today she had decided to wear red hair, and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt seemingly ignoring the cold. Her clothes where tattered and ripped, but attractively, though to Ria anything looked attractive on Ellen. Ria absolutely lit up when she saw this, putting down her book and sitting up straight, acting as professional as possible.

Bill was still shelving things in the back and the only other customer was that strange man in the corner, but it didn't matter now, not to Ria. Ellen looked around seemingly in a daze and drifted over to Ria. "Hello again, it's good to see you. What have you been up to lately." She smiled as she said this, at ease and in her element, talking to people, Ria had noticed how sociable Ellen was, even to the other customers who even Ria had never seen before. It was so nice to have someone so different from herself that she could still relate to.

"I haven't been doing too much, just minding the shop, you know, the usual. It's getting a bit chilly now though, though I can tell you aren't bothered by it. You look beautiful today." She blurted out at the end.

"Thank you, yeah I don't even notice the cold anymore, it's just you know, the usual, once you live here for so long it just blends in to the rest, like the people. Don't worry though, I'm sure you'll get used to it. So I just came in for a little while, I have to go soon, you know places to go people to see, but I'll get a large coffee, it's always so good." With this Ria's face sank a little, she wanted time to build up to it, she couldn't just ask her out with no lead up. Noticing this Ellen responded, "Don't worry though, I can talk for a little while."

Ria was still downtrodden but turned around and prepared a coffee. While she was doing this she was also mentally preparing herself, a debate occurring in her head. She liked it when I complimented her. Of course she did, everyone does. We've talked a lot lately. Have you, you've had two conversations in the past week. They were long though. Not really, time is just an illusion, they didn't mean anything. As she performed this intense mental debate Ellen stared absentmindedly at the wall of books, and reached over the counter to pick up the book that Ria had left there.

The book itself showed obvious signs of wear and tear, as it was yellowed through and through and the cover was quickly fading. The insides however where preserved well, with no distortions. When Ria turned back she saw this and said, "That's one of my favorites as I mentioned, I just love the fantasy world, the world that Carroll creates is just so magical." She hoped to talk about the book for awhile, she was more confident talking about literature than anything else.

"I loved the movie, but have never read the book. I'm sure it's good though, it was so pretty." Just like you thought Ria, but didn't have the nerve to say it, she handed over the coffee and gestured for her book back, afraid Ellen might spill on it. As she danced out of reach she said, "Don't worry, I'll be careful." She hopped back a few paces and held the book up in one hand with her drink in the other. Dancing her way over to the table she sat and began pouring over the page she had opened to. Ria left the counter and went to sit next to her.

"Please just make sure not to do anything to it, I've had it since I can remember, I'd hate for it to be damaged. So, what are you doing this weekend." She attempted to poorly segue-way into her request for a date.

"Not much, not right now. I mean there might be stuff, I'm not too good at planning, right now I'm free though." As she said this she again moved the book out of Ria's reach, toying with her.

"Well okay I was wondering, I mean if you're free, if you'd like to do something. I mean we could go out to dinner or something maybe, there's a good Chinese place I know of, serves some really good dumplings. That is, if you want to." Finally she had managed to ask it, and nothing had gone wrong, she didn't really stutter, confidently she awaited a reply. Ellen stopped moving and looked up, changing her face to an exaggerated thinking expression.

"Sure, it's been a while since I've done something like that, I mean like a quiet sit down thing, it could be nice." With this Ria smiled more than any time she could remember. For her this meant everything, it was the beginning of something great, something which might give her life meaning. She knew it didn't mean that much to Ellen, but it was definitely a start. With this the man in the corner immediately got up and rushed out, Ria gave him no mind however, and just stared into Ellen's eyes, those beautiful green eyes. They were like emeralds now, especially when she smiled.

Ria re-emerged from her fantasy and realized that Ellen was still talking. "Did you hear me Ria, what time do you want to do this?"

"Oh sorry, um how about 8? Or if that is too late I guess we could go for 7, I don't really know when normal people eat dinner. Sorry I mean I normally eat at weird times, I mean, I'm a bit of a night owl." Though she stumbled over her words Ellen didn't seem to mind, merely consented and headed off. She said she was looking forward to it and left the door leaving Ria sitting at the table. Bill wandered back from the storeroom sweat staining his back and arms.

"What are you doing here, I mean I know there is no one here but we have to stay professional right?" He was joking with her like usual, as an excuse for taking a break. She didn't mind though, everything would be alright now. She couldn't imagine anything going wrong now, everything had been set up. Ellen had said yes, Ria was still stupefied over it. She could believe it though, many of her conversations had gone like that, it only made sense. Of course predicting people would work, she had read enough literature on the subject. Eventually these thoughts settles into a quiet excitement. She sat behind the desk and continued to read her book but for the first time in a long time she didn't want to retreat into a fantasy world.

Throughout the rest of the day several people came in and left, but in the end none of them really mattered, especially to Ria. At about five Bill left, saying he needed to get home for dinner, and that the books where as shelved as they were going to get today. She didn't mind that he still had a couple of hours he should be working in, or that his excuses where very half-hearted and she waved him off, giving him permission. Somewhere around 9 Ria decided it was time to pack up, no one else was going to come in. She didn't even have to usher any late readers out of the shop, she hated that part, no no one was there but her.

She went to the back and checked all the windows, and checked that a few of her favorite books where still there. Sometimes one of them was gone, on one of the rare occasions she wasn't at the register someone else had sold it. Those were sad days, it was like losing an old friend who she had assumed would be there forever, but today they where still all there. From the atlas made in the 80's with USSR in all its glory to the reprint of Grimm's Fairy Tales that had many of the original gory tales, not watered down like the Disney versions. She didn't like that, it was why she didn't go the movies much anymore, they could never get books right, never capture the feel. She would never feel quite so accepted as she did amongst a library of unjudging books.

Finally she made sure the back door was locked, counted and tallied all the money in the register in her little green book, today it was one hundred and fifty dollars that they made, about average for a week day, and epitomizing the growing decline in small businesses everywhere. Still, she couldn't be worried, not today, not on her day. Ria stood at the doorway to the street and looked back and sighed, satisfied with the day more than she had ever been before. She pulled the door closed and locked it preparing for the short journey home. Looking out at the street she noticed it was surprisingly empty, not a soul in sight. Oh well she thought, maybe something big is happening somewhere else. Ria felt a sudden burst of pain from the back of her head an collapsed to the ground seemingly in slow motion.

12:10 AM October 17th

"I need to see you as soon as possible, it's a bit of a money issue."
"Yeah, great, I mean not great if you're in trouble but good, I can meet you, I'm actually in New York, where are you?"
"You're in New York? Whatever, um can we meet at my apartment in like fifteen minutes. You've been there a couple of times before, you should know where it is."
"Yeah, I'll see you sis." He hung up rather quickly Ria thought but payed it no mind, she had to get going, and quickly. Without her cards or purse all she had was the fifty dollars and she couldn't spend that on cab fare, she had nothing else, her only choice was to start running.

Walking over to the closet she opened the sliding doors and grabbed a small red duffel bag that lay inside. She unloaded everything from the room into it, though upon reaching the gun she hesitated for several seconds. She realized that she didn't have time to think and thrust it in with everything else, looking at the motley collection of items. She promised to herself that she wouldn't have to use anything but still, it couldn't hurt to have. She then hurried to the door and rushed through it.

Looking left and right she realized there were no numbers on any of the doors, and no people walking around. She wondered what kind of place it was, but decided that she had no time to investigate. Ignoring the elevator she burst through the fire door and sprinted down the stairs. Almost half-way down she tripped and caught herself against the wall. She realized she had to be careful, she couldn't afford a broken ankle. Proceeding more calmly down the remaining steps she tried to rationalize everything that had happened to her.

This was a bad idea, as she was almost overwhelmed by the weight of the situation sliding against the wall. It was simply more than she had ever had to process before, and it almost crushed her. Shaking her head she retreated to the corner of her mind and set off in the physical world, no use getting caught up in the mind when the body has things it needs to do. With new resolve she set about to do her task.

Emerging into the lobby she noticed one middle-aged guard, he didn't even bother to glance up from his television as she left, even as she rushed past. The door out had a broken glass pane and looked weathered from years of use. Once Ria emerged onto the street she was temporarily blinded by the lights of the night. She hadn't realized how dim it had been in the motel. Looking up she realized that the place she came out of has no name, no identifying features at all, it is just one faceless building in one of the endless blocks of the city.

Ria was not far from her home though, so again putting things aside, shoving it all into a little box that couldn't be opened until everything was done. She was reminded of Pandora's box and made sure she would not open it until the day was over, until everything had come to an end. Though she did not normally like to walk through the streets at night, especially so late, she knew no one would bother her if she ran like she had someplace to go. People where nice really she thought, at least most of the time.

She arrived at her apartment out of breath and saw her brother waiting by the door. The last time they had met he had been wearing designer clothes and had a girl draped about both arms. Now he was wearing the cast offs from Goodwill stained by dirt and sweat. On the ground behind him lay almost have a dozen cigarette stubs. As he saw her he raised his arms and embraced her. He smelled slightly of alcohol and strongly of smoke.

"It has been too long, sorry I was so curt on the phone, I just don't like talking like that you know, um can we go to your apartment, it's really pretty cold out here." Though he acted casual Ria could tell that he had been out in the cold for far too long. His hands and face where bright red and his clothes did little to help.

"Been living in Florida too long it seems.” Though Ria joked she was very concerned, “Yeah, sure, let's go inside, it should be warmer." She lead him up to her apartment and realized she didn't have a key, it had been taken from her. She knew that just fiddling with the knob a bit opened it, so she did that, but she realized that she had really lost a lot of her life in that one moment. Once they where inside she started a pot of hot water boiling. The heater was automated and had been on for several hours so it was a much more acceptable warmth. Andrew sat down and sagged into her couch as if he had not been somewhere comfortable for some time. Ria noticed but she said nothing, busying herself with making some tea. Eventually she sat down with the drinks and offered her brother one, he took it and drank it with earnest even though it was scalding hot.

"So it has been some time since we talked, it seems like you are doing a little worse than when I last saw you." She tried to put it as gently as possible.

"Yeah, time hasn't been too kind to me. I try to keep my head up though, something will turn up, it has to." With this his hands began to shake slightly and he put his cup down on the table. "I'm sorry, my life is kind of fucked. I hate to put this on you really, I do, but I just have nowhere else to go." He pleaded with her.

"What, did you do? Is it, did you lose all your money? You where talking about this before, God you couldn't have waited for a worst time. No, you can't have, you should know better. Did you?”

"Yeah, sorry sis, I really messed up. I was living the high life with not a care in the world, then I saw the bills begin to pile up. Turns out you can't live a life of luxury with no income. I bought more tickets but of course it didn't help, I just got lucky the first time. I never learned to live, I don't know how to get a job, I don't know how to do anything." He was more serious than Ria had ever seen him before, he wasn't trying to soften his words with jokes, just telling the bitter truth. "I had one chance, one chance at life and it's all gone to shit. I don't know how to live. With the last of my money I came here, I have nothing left, I can't even feed myself. I'm so sorry." He truly meant his apology, but it didn't help.

"You come into my life after how long and say you are broke, have nothing to contribute, and today, you do it today. Everything was fine yesterday, and then it all just melts. Why, why, why, why." Ria descended into near hysterics, cradling herself in her hands, tea long forgotten on the arm of the chair. Andrew moved over to try to help her and she shouted. "No, fuck you, you can't do this to me. I can't, I don't know what to do, I can't do anything. I just can't."

"Look I said I'm sorry, I have nowhere else to go, mom and dad won't take me back you know that, they have other stuff to worry about, besides they've gone on vacation, out of the country." Ria was now screaming inside of her head but nothing escaped her mouth, as finally the box in her mind had been opened, Pandora grew too curious and nothing more could be done. Andrew moved over to hold her and she didn't resist, it seemed she couldn't do anything. Tears now trickled down his face as he realized there was nothing he could do to help his sister.

"You said you where having some money troubles, and I know that laying this on you really isn't helping, but maybe there's something I can do, I mean I don't have anything but maybe I could help, I'm good at talking to people." As he cradled Ria she looked up at him and stared into his eyes, blue, the same color as hers.

"It's not me, it's well, it's complicated." She slid out of his grip and tried to re-assert herself. It took about a minute but she stood and straightened up. "Right now a great friend of mine is in some great money trouble, she needs ten thousand dollars by the end of today or, or something very bad will happen. She has no one else but me, she can't ask for help. You were my only hope. Now, now I don't know what I'll do. I can't help you, I barely support myself now, and I just can't afford another mouth to feed, especially if you don't provide for yourself at all. I know, you'd try, but honestly I just can't do that right now, I'm sorry." Andrew stared at her in stunned silence. He believed that he could always count on his sister, that was their mutual agreement, but now when he was in his greatest need she had nothing to offer him.

"I wish there was something I could do, I really do, but I can't, and right now my life, everything I know, has just gone absolutely insane. I probably still haven't processed what just happened to me but for now I have shut it off to the point I can deal with rational and coherent thought. What I think now is that you have to go away. Right now I just can't deal with you. I'm sorry, I really am, but I don't have any money to give you right now, you'll have to figure that out on your own. Here is what is going to happen, you're going to go away, hang out somewhere, I don't care where, just stay away for today. Tomorrow I will come for you, I'll help you, I'll deal with all this shit, but for now please just go, I'm sorry."

"So that's it then, there's nothing I can do and you're just leaving me. I mean I know I haven't been the best, especially lately, but still I mean that's really fucking harsh. Fine though, fine, whatever, I'll live on the fucking street I guess." As he shouted this he stood up. He had forgotten about his tea and knocked it over splashing a dirty stain onto the carpet. He marched over to the door and looked back. Ria has sunk down and looked on the verge of tears again. She wanted to beg him to not leave, to stay and help her with her problems like he always had but she couldn't. She knew that this time she was on her own. As he left he said, "Sorry about the rug."

With that he left. She didn't know if she would even be able to find him again, the city was a big place and he had never lived on his own, not like that. Ria was so distraught over her encounter that she almost forgot about the bigger issue, acquiring a large sum of money in a very limited time. There was something that pertained directly to her situation that Andrew had mentioned however, as now she knew she could not even beg her parents for money, as they where out of the country. Her hopes had been lying on her brother, perhaps too much as she knew what his life had been like, knew that eventually the money would run out.

Still she had expected that some miracle would simply appear, there would be an easy resolution. That didn't make any sense though, life was not a fairytale, it wasn't easy. So her brother would be no hope and she had possibly severed her connection to him forever, at least to some extent. So what she thought to herself. Ria never wanted to upset anyone, not even herself, but she had found that in the last little while it had become unavoidable. Lying in her chair she glanced down at her tea, it was shaking. Her whole arm had been shaking, and thinking about she realized it had been since her brother had left, how long ago had that been? Not too long, that would be bad.

Looking at the clock she realized it said it was 12:50, it had been too long since her brother left, she couldn't afford to just hang about doing nothing. She had no plan now though, she didn't have anyone else to ask for money. What kind of place could fifty dollars be transformed into ten thousand. In New York at night there were always places, at least that's what they said when she moved here, the city was much more alive than it seemed, it was just hidden from the day and the eyes of those who didn't pry.

Now though she would have to find these places, and find them with no real knowledge of where they were it just didn't seem possible. Thinking back to the items in her red duffel bag which lay against the couch she briefly contemplated the weapon. What could she do with something like that, she didn't know how to use it, and didn't want to, she had never wanted to hurt anybody, never in her life, not really. Now though her options seemed to be slowly decreasing, and with no money, no ideas, and nothing else she just didn't know what to do.

First she would look for places she could make money, what kind of place would not require any experience and be available in the middle of the night. The very idea of prostitution was appalling for Ria, but she knew people did it, and they made money, a lot of money. She couldn't quite bring herself to do something like that though, it was too dirty and too disgusting. She could try gambling, but had never done it before, not even at casinos or anything. She knew the basic principles behind it, but suspected all that would happen is she would lose the very small amount of money she had.

Looking through her options she realized that nothing was good, nothing was right. It simply wasn't possible, like Hercules she had been given an impossible task and expected to complete it, and within a much more limited time frame than he had. She was also not a demi-god, she wasn't much of anything. Ria was prepared to sink into despair again when she had one more idea, one which had a decent chance of working, and was not too morally questionable.

She had always been an excellent chess player as it was one of the few games which involved effectively no social interaction, and had played it even more recently over the internet, where there was even no human contact. Often times she appreciated the simplicity and peace of the game, where rules where rules and humans could do nothing to interfere, nothing to mess everything up. At the park there where always people playing Chess, and often for money. She supposed that is was gambling, but it was relatively harmless, and it had a much better chance of success than anything else. Ria got up but then sat down again, realizing that though it was a good idea, it would not work right now because they only played from the morning to the afternoon.

She considered just resting, lying down and pretending it was all a dream, but that wouldn't help anybody. She knew there where some things that would not happen at any other time of night, and if she wanted to do these things, to make money that way she would need to act now. The only person who might have any knowledge of these things had already left, but maybe she could go after him, it hadn't been too long, not really. She leaped up from her seat again and grabbed her duffel bag, running out of the room. She printed down the stairs and looked around the lobby, but didn't see him.

Of course he would have left the building, she spent so long just wallowing in her sadness that he could be long gone she thought. Even still she ran out into the night and realized it had begun to rain. The rain was near freezing so Andrew would have had to find some sort of shelter, it was too miserable to be out in weather like that. He didn't know New York too well, so she figured there was no place he could really go. Looking around she could barely see anything through the rain. She didn't know where to go, or what to do.

3:15 PM October 17th

The walk to the park was not bad, but Ria was exhausted from her previous experiences. Looking down at her hands she noticed there was blood on them. That had never happened to her before, she had never been the adventurous type and had just never been hurt, never had the opportunity to be hurt. Of course this was not her blood, it was someone else's, and it was an entirely different experience. She didn't want to re-imagine everything she had gone through, and decided that it was best for her health to simply ignore it. With that issue resolved she wandered into the park and found several old men playing chess.

There was one empty board, so she went over and set up, assuming someone would simply come up and help her solve all her problems. Some terrible, terrible things had happened, and she simply wished that for once that day something could go right. She sat there for some time, but then a large shadow slowly fell over her.

"Would you like a game girl?" He had a vaguely European accent and stood almost seven feet tall, and almost half as much round. He wore an extremely large overcoat and carried an obvious golden pocket-watch, as well as several expensive looking rings. "I have played all these other men, and they are good, better than me sometimes, but I have never seen you here before, perhaps you are not good, do not know how to play, but I think not, I think you are better than all the rest, and you want to play me."

"I don't know if I'm better than these people, but I do want to play. We need to make a bet though, how much do you have to offer?" She looked up at him with a determined stare, knowing that if he didn't have much she simply could not afford the time to play him.

"The question is not how much I have, but how much you have. For the first match I think I will win." He slapped down a hundred dollar bill. "You do not have to pay this though if I win, you only have to pay half, can you afford that?" He chuckled at that, and she realized that he was much better than the rest of the people here, but even still she had to play him, there was no other option.

"Yes, I can pay it." Wit that she drew out fifty dollars from her red duffel bag and put it by the table. Though she was now unsure of the result of the game she decided it was worth it. As the man sat down the bench wobbled a bit, but the pieces stayed still. She had set herself up as white so made the first move. She had done some study on chess and decided that for a game like this she had to try something different from the standard, and led with her knight. With that the gentleman chuckled and she understood her plan had worked, he would assume she did not know how to play properly and he would make a mistake.

Throughout the early game Ria played very quickly, the man responded with slow, calculated moves. Once they got to the middle game though she realized the man was more experienced than she expected, even after his opening. He never seemed to slow down or speed up as well, making the same slow calculated pace he had always even before and after a large exchange. Though she began to slow down, especially after a number of exchanges had panned out and neither player had an advantage she was terrified of losing the game. She could tell that he was confident, and did not expect to lose even though they were even.

He was methodical, mechanical. However he was far from unbeatable, as he made a mistake late game and once he realized it, several moves before he actually lost a piece, he forfeited. However on staring at the board he merely chuckled again, smiling ever so slightly. Ria did not know how to respond, she would have been devastated had she lost, but she figured that money was much less important to him than it was to her, especially right now. He began to get up to leave.

"Wait, I mean, don't you want to play another game?" Her voice clearly spoke of desperation and he stopped to consider her.

"Hmm, you are good, but I made mistake. Maybe we play again, and you, you want to increase stake yes? Well I am confident it will not happen again, will bet five hundred to your one hundred and fifty. You have little to lose now, less than I, it is a good deal for you. This time though, I play White, is only fair." He was clearly confident in his skill, but so was Ria.

"Thank you, I really need this." By this point a small crowd had gathered, as such high stakes where rarely if ever bet on a single game. Most of the other players where homeless or close to it and subsisted off the money they got from playing. Ria however was different, and this was fascinating to the spectators. She decided to play much more defensively this time. He was much more aggressive but still kept up the same methodical pace, even for the first move of the game. She was much more erratic in her speed, especially as she looked at the sky above and realized that the day was slowly slipping away.

This cost her heavily, as she made a large mistake early on, losing a pawn and position. Several of the observers went back to their own games at that point, sure she had no chance. As more and more trades where made and the pieces and people gradually thinned Ria grew increasingly nervous. Finally she stared at the board for a full minute, unmoving. At the end of the minute she saw something which could win her the game. It was a long plan, but almost every move was telegraphed.

She had always been good at long-term planning in games, though had not been particularly adept at it in life. Though she tried her hardest she could never seem to sort those things out, but in this game, in this instance she had a plan, and was sure it would work. She played the next several moves extremely rapidly, with the man keeping the same deliberate pace. He did not realize what she was doing until the final move, when he lost a rook. Finally she knew she had won, and though he did not concede for several more moves he knew it was lost, it was only then that he lost his perpetually cheery demeanor.

"Well girl, it looks like you win again. Congratulations, I don't think we will play again though, it is getting dark and I have many things to do. I am sorry, but keep the money, you have earned it." He had less cheer in his eyes now though, he had expected to win that match. Ria noticed the sky had been getting darker, it seemed like several hours had passed since she had begun, and she had not made anywhere near enough, not for what she needed.

'Wait, how about just one more game. We will play timed, just ten minutes, it won't take long. Please." He looked back at her, and down at his pocket-watch.

"Hmm, girl, I have just the time, you are lucky today. Now the stakes must go higher, it is the way. I will pay one thousand if you win, but you give me everything back if you lose." With that he sat back down and they began, now with a strict time limit. An even larger crowd had gathered, with Ria growing increasingly nervous. She was afraid what would happen if they looked in her bag, if they found out what she had been doing today, what she planned to do. But of course that was impossible she thought, how could they, there's no time to worry about it anyway, she had the game to worry about.

She played Black this time as well. The man responded to the time limit with surprising ease, almost instantly changing his playing speed to triple. He still took the same amount of time for every move, but simply seemed to think faster. Ria had much more difficulty adjusting to it, as she was unable to think quite that fast. Her time gradually ticked down, and she find herself getting increasingly frustrated with herself. She couldn't lose the game though, not now. Even as she said this though she realized she only had one minute left, and had barely any time to think.

Her opponent did not speed up, even when his time ticked down to under one minute, and by that point they where at the end game. Both players had equal pieces, but Ria had no plan, and was simply moving pieces to keep herself alive. Once both of the times reached thirty seconds her opponent sped up once again, moving at the same speed as her but seemingly thinking just as much as before. It seemed he was simply an impeccable foe, and she thought she had lost the game. Then she noticed he had made an incredibly basic mistake, and sliding her rook up to the final row she checkmated him with only seconds to go.

He simply stared at the board, stunned. After several seconds of stunned silence by everyone around he shouted "Otyebis. Idi na khui!" Though she didn't know what he actually meant the intent was clear. Several of the spectators started talking amongst themselves, making jokes at his expense. She couldn't believe her luck and quietly slipped the thousand dollars into her bag, aware that it could get very messy very quickly.

"I can not believe something so stupid. I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you. I will go now, you keep everything. I have nothing more to say." He slowly got up and walked away, calmly. Ria was amazed she got away so easily. Nothing she had done had been wrong, but she still felt like she had cheated in some way. With the sun disappearing though she had to leave, had to get home quickly and figure out what she still needed to do. There was so much, she still had nowhere near enough. It wasn't fair. She still had blood on her hands, and none of it was hers.

11:43 PM October 17th

Ria stumbled into the open frigid air. It was raining again, and it cut into her thin clothes like razorblades. The air was more free than inside though, she could finally breath. There where too many people and things happening at once, but now it was over, at least for now. Stumbling over to under a small overhang she checked through her bag making sure everything was still there. It was, and counting her cash she realized that she might just make it. It was close, she knew that, but she would make it, Ellen would be okay. Knowing that she had enough time was such a relief that she decided that she could take some time, not too much, but something to rest and consider why she was worth it.

Everything else in her life had turned to shit. She had lost her home and didn't really know what she was doing. Her parents, they didn't care, they had forgotten about her when she was young, when she showed she could take care of herself. She didn't blame them though, none of this had been their fault, it was not her mother's problem. She didn't have anywhere she belonged, even at the store they didn't know her, they liked that they had a new employee they could dump all their work on, but honestly she meant nothing to them, just like any other aspiring writer in New York.

She had finally found a decent night-school and had been taking classes, but the other people didn't seem to care, to even notice her existence really. It was just like all school had been, it was why she didn't go to college, she knew she would just blend in to the walls and be ignored, like always. But Ellen had not ignored her, when she had first come to the store and saw her reading Fahrenheit 451 she had talked to her, had acknowledged her existence and showed an interest. No one had ever really shown an interest, not even the friends she had made. They all stuck together because no one else really cared about them, even amongst the group they would come and go and no one would really notice. Occasionally they talked but no one really cared about the words, just wanted to get back to their own worlds.

But for once her world had been made real, she didn't to descend to a fantasy world in every off moment because she finally had a dream of her own, and that was Ellen. She loved her, ever since their first conversation, she didn't want to admit it but given all the shit she had been through in the past day she realized that nothing else could really be true. It felt good to admit it, even if it was just to herself, lying under a concrete overhand in the pouring rain, unsure of if she will even live through the next day but still, it was something.

She didn't need much, not really, and even a true feeling like love was enough for her, at least at that point in time. Finally she was happy, in that one moment she actually felt happy. It was something that just amazed her, and then saddened her when she realized that it would all go to hell if she didn't do anything. With that sobering thought she got up and prepared to set out, again checking her bag before running out into the scathing rain.

1:15 AM October 17th

Retreating back to her apartment Ria considered her options. She could call her brother on his phone but she doubted he would answer, especially if he knew it was from her. It was possible that he would think she had re-considered though, and it couldn't hurt. She walked over to her phone but realized it was slightly off the hook. She had only been out of the apartment for maybe fifteen minutes, it seemed impossible that someone would have snuck in in that time. Even still she looked around for a weapon. She realized that she had nothing but books, so grabbed a hefty looking atlas and looked around for any other sings of disturbance.

It was silly really she thought, she must have knocked it off when she ran out, that was it. No need to be paranoid. Before she sat down she made sure to shut and lock the door behind her. Even as she sat down she kept the book close at hand. Reaching down to pick up the receiver she heard a sound coming out of it, someone was speaking on the other end of the line. She didn't know who it could be, it didn't make any sense. She had no other option though, and she picked up the receiver, ever so slowly.

A voice hissed out with immense malice, "Behind you." Ria leapt into the air and shrieked turning behind her. There was nothing there, only the stillness of the night through the window. The rain pelted down on the window ever harder, it looked like it would not let up for some time. Thoroughly spooked she picked up the receiver of the phone in one had and made a slow circle of the apartment holding the phone up to her ear. "Fear, you are afraid. Hah, of course you are silly little whore. Should be." With that the line went dead, and absolute silence filled the room.

Ria had grown use to abuse through years of being the quiet nerd in school but she was not used to such hatred in people's actions. She knew that the man on the other end truly hated her, wanted her dead. Even though she only wanted to live, that was all she had ever wanted, to live a happy normal life, but she couldn't even have that because of him. She hated him, more than anything else at that moment she hated him. Behind her the door shook with an impact. She turned around frightened, could it be him at the door?

The doorknob shook, and slowly turned. She again picked up her book, but realizing it was pointless she simply held it to her chest, it offered no real safety but did offer some psychological help. Through the door emerged her brother, the exact same as before. He was not even wet. As he opened the door and looked up he seemed surprised to see her there. They both stood and stared awkwardly, daring the other to go first.

"Well I guess I look the part of a fool here. I didn't mean any harm, I really didn't. I just wanted a place to stay, just for tonight. So I came back, and when your door was locked I figured you had gone out to god knows where, I don't know what you do at night. Anyway I'm sorry I guess, I didn't mean to frighten you. Hey, are you alright." He crossed the room quickly but she held her hand out.

"You can't just do that. I know you're used to encroaching on others lives and them accepting it but not now.'I mean, that's not fair, I'll give you a place for the night but first I need help. I shouted at you before, and I'm sorry for that, but I had not rationalized everything then. I still haven't quite but I'll be alright for now. What I need is your help, and I know that after the way I acted I shouldn't, I mean it's incredibly hypocritical but I really need the help now." Ria had not let him have a chance to speak but finally lowered her hand and gestured that he could respond.

"I'll do anything I can, you should know that." He smiled apologetically and both siblings knew that for a brief time at least they needed each other and where willing to help. They both now had a companion, and felt some confidence because of that.

"Okay, now I know this is going to sound crazy, but I know you know how this stuff works. I need to find the underbelly of New York. I need to find fights that I could bet on, or gambling rings, or something, I don't know." With this though Andrew's face sunk immensely.

"You where really serious about that money, shit, I mean I could find you some of those things maybe, but I don't think it's a good idea, especially right now. I'm willing to help, I mean I know you are helping me so much, but for now, I mean it's dangerous out there, you should know that." He sighed. "Of course you know that, you are just that desperate. What can it be, you where so vague before. I know it's for a friend right, well is that friend you? This matters immensely, and don't lie to me, you know I'll know."

"You want the truth? It's for a girl. I like her, and I need to help her. She owes ten thousand dollars to some guy, I don't know why. He is threatening to, to kill her if I can't help. We can't call the police, it won't help her. That's the truth, I couldn't lie about something like this."

"Holy shit that's a lot of money. I mean you'd think I wouldn't think so, I mean I had like one hundred times that right? But I don't anymore, I don't have anything anymore. Of course, that's why you called me, because I had money. Well I don't blame you, it makes sense. That kind of money though, I mean do you have much, you can't make money without having it."

"No, I don't have anything left, the man, he took my money, he took my cards, he took everything I had."

"Bastard, if I find him..."

"You'll do what? Andrew you are not a fighter. You have never been in a fight. I'm sure you've been thrown out of a few places because you where too drunk but you've never taken a punch and sure as hell don't know how to throw one. You think this is like an action movie? You can just go in fighting and punching and it will just resolve itself? No, it won't. This man is completely and utterly insane and he wants to hurt her, he wants to hurt me. I need you to calm down."

"Calm down! You are telling me that you're in danger and so is your friend who's name I don't even know. I mean shit I can't just let this go. This guy attacked your friend or kidnapped her or something, that's insane. Real life shouldn't be like this." He began pacing along the floor at this point. He brought out a pack of cigarettes as he did so and tried to take one out before realizing it was empty. He threw it to the ground and continued pacing.

"Her name is Ellen. I know, it's a lot to handle, why do you think I freaked out as much as I did. He didn't do anything to me though, I know this, I'm okay, just look at me. He won't hurt me, I don't know why but he won't actually physically hurt me. I mean he'll torment me, send threatening phone calls and try to taunt me, to break me, but I won't anymore, I got over it. Please, just help me with this."

"I don't know, but I guess you really aren't giving me any other option. I know I can't go and fight this guy, but if he hurts you, any of you, physically or emotionally or whatever I will hurt him back ten times. People just can't do this, not now, not in this day. It's insane."

"Yes it is, that's exactly what he is. You know that violence won't solve anything, it would only leave you hurt and you know it would just kill me to see you hurt."

"Now that's just a blatant lie, you love to see me hurt. Remember that time, when was it like fifteen years ago when I got the chicken pox and you kept telling me the secret was to scratch them and it would make them go away. You laughed so hard when I cried in pain. Mom almost killed you for that she was so mad, it took weeks to recover properly. You're always like that, unaware of how much you can hurt others."

"Well you know what we can deal with my personal flaws later can't we? I need you to help me to find something, I don't know what, someway to make money. I'm sorry but I'm out of ideas. There are some things I just won't resort to. Please, you have to help me." She looked at him with a puppy dog expression that she had perfected over many years that she had only ever used on him. It always worked.

"Fine, I mean I did a little bit of research I left, before I lost my last dollar and everyone that went with it. There are a few places, one where they have dogs fight one another..."

"No, I don't want to see that much violence."

"Well that's tough, if you want to make money quick it's not going to be pretty, it's going to be dirty and violent. That's the way it is. If we exclude those kinds of places though there are a few places that you could play cards, you any good at that? I'm not terrible, but will lose your money because of my shitty luck. Beyond that I don't know, there's a few things that could be done."

"So you're against violence I suppose, I am too, I'm not suggesting it, just presenting the opportunity. Well how are you against thievery. I learned a few things talking to people, and I reckon I could make some money doing that. It's a little dishonest I guess, but you say you're so desperate." With this Andrew looked defensive. "Now I don't want to tarnish your image of me, I don't do these things, I haven't, but I listen and I learn and I know how to do them, even if I don't need to or want to."

"So you're saying we could cheat to get the money, bet with a loaded deck or something? I guess there is not really any other option. Do you know where to go for this kind of stuff?" She asked.

" You have a deck of cards right? Well that's a start, I can probably rig something up. We head to outside one of these storefronts, especially in a run-down district like this one and we can get some money. But it's raining, it's miserable, no one wants to be outside now. No I don't know if it'll work, even if everything else goes right. The day is just too shitty for it."

"So what you're saying is that even if it did work, it wouldn't work because there are not enough people. You're saying we have no options?"

"That's not quite what I'm saying, I mean like I said there are always the gambling operations, and the fights that you are so opposed to. You ask for a miracle and leave me with nothing, I'm sorry." He smiled apologetically, but an air of sadness tainted his face.

"I know, I know, but as I've said I don't have any damn options. I don't have anything anymore." She gestured at her empty pockets.

"You say that but what about that bag I saw you carrying, what's in there? You haven't told me yet, it seems you where avoiding the subject, something special in there, something you're hiding from me?" He moved forward to open the bag.

"No, don't. I mean, there's no need, I'll tell you. Today I woke up in a hotel room with nothing,well, not quite nothing. There was also a gun, I don't know what type I don't know these things. I know it is heavy and is loaded. There was also a Halloween mask and a piece of equipment, I think it was a lockpick thing or something."

"So what you're saying is he gave you these things for what, self-defense? Was it some fucked up way to get you to use these things? Does he think you'll resort to this kind of stuff? I mean I know you, and you couldn't use them, it's simply not in your nature. Look sis, I don't know what to tell you, I can't use these things, you know me and I'm the same, I can't hurt people. I want to help you, and I've tried, but if it gets to that point I think it may be lost, and I'm sorry for your friend but I just think that we may..."

"What, give up? No!" She screamed at this point, angry at her self and her situation and her brother. "Leaving one person to die is worse than anything else, especially if there is something I could do to change it, some way I can stop it, and there is. I can make this money and deliver it, and everything will be alright. Everything will be alright, we just have to make the money."

"Really, you think that? You don't have this much money and you can't make it, at least not through legal means. Hell with what you're willing to do you won't be able to with illegal either. What we're talking about is dangerous, and here I think I have to put my foot down. I can't let you be in this kind of danger. I don't think I can help you with this anymore, it's getting too much. It was fine before when you wanted money and had an idea of how to do it, but now, what you're talking about will only lead to tragedy, and I can't help with that."

"Here, just don't speak for a minute and think about what you are doing. I know that it will hurt you, it might even come close to killing you but you will live even if you don't make this money, even if she dies you will still be alive. If you do something, whatever you may be thinking of you might not. Do you realize this, you could die if you try to do this. Think about that very carefully, think if you are really willing to die for this girl. I'm not willing to help you kill yourself for her, but if you truly believe her life is worth more than yours than feel free to do whatever you want, just remember that people still love and care about you, no matter what you may think."

With that he got up to leave, praying that she would just leave it, just stay home for a day and live. He doubted she would though, she was always fairly stubborn, especially when it was something important. Before he made it more than a few steps though Ria spoke. "You think that my life is worth more than hers? I'm no one right now, I don't plan to do anything great with my life, I won't become president or discover some great cure to a disease. I'm just me, and right now I have to save this girl. Every life on the planet is worth something, and is worth preserving."

"I'm not exactly an adventurous type, you know this. I wouldn't do this for anyone despite my bold claims to the contrary, I won't lie to myself. But she is worth it to me, if to no one else, and she has no one else. I realize that people will miss me if I die, but I don't care right now. I'm not stupid, in fact I like to think I'm pretty smart, and right now I think I can make this money, and I can do it without hurting anyone including myself. You have doubts about me, I understand, but for now you have to trust me. If you decide you can't help me, and it looks like you have, I'll accept it, I won't ask but one more time. Please help me, this is something I really believe."

Andrew paused for several moments, then spoke. "I've seen a lot of things in my time on high, and I've seen a lot of people come and go. Some I thought I loved, some I thought loved me. In the end they where all there for money, whether they admitted it or not. A few where honest when I lost everything, they said tough luck, but I only liked you for your money. Harsh but true. Others said other things, they where polite, saying they had to move away for various reasons, they had to go wander the earth, but they where all liars. In the end we rarely know the people we think we do, and one of the few things that we can actually count on is family." He stared right into her eyes with a meaningful glance.

"I'm going to be completely honest here, if I lost you I would lose everything. Mom and dad might take me back for awhile, but both of us would resent it, and you know they didn't really care about us to much. I can't lose you, which is why I care so much, and why I'm telling you not to do this. I'm not going to dull the blow here, I'm just saying what I feel. The way you talk about her it seems like you really love her, but does she love you back? I don't think she really does, and though you may think you are all she has to her you are probably nothing but a tool."

With that Ria erupted from her chair and strode over and slapped him, as hard as she could. He took the blow and continued staring at her, daring for some response. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that. It's just, I mean after this she has to. She's the only reason I'm still here, I mean in New York, I was considering going back before I met her. Maybe you understand, maybe you know exactly what will happen, but for now I don't care if she loves me, it doesn't matter."

"Yes it does, but you just don't want to admit it. Alright, I'm sorry for wasting your time, for troubling you now. I'm leaving now though, you should know that, and I won't be back. I know I said before, but I think I can find a good overhang, I got a sleeping bag, I'll live. Don't even offer for me to stay here now, I think it's for the best if I just don't know what you're doing today. I'll be back tomorrow and see if you're still alive. I hate to do this to you sis, but for now I'll say see you later, I hope. Stay away from this, it won't help anyone." With those final words he left, and she let him.

Ria truly did not know whether she would see him again, and either way she mourned for his loss, at least temporarily. Again she was alone. Throughout the years she had thought she would grow used to that feeling, she thought she had, but knowing everything that lay ahead of her, and that she had no one to help her she felt like the world might just be too big for her. Finally considering her options she knew that just wandering around the streets was a terrible idea, but at the very least she could do some research, do some planning. That was all it could be for now.

Part 2

11:27 PM October 17th

Ria slowly inhaled, trying to mentally prepare herself for what she was about to do. She had gone too far to stop now, it would only result in tears if she stopped. She just didn't have enough, and this was the only way. She wouldn't hurt people, she didn't, there was no blood on her hands, not anymore. Hoisting her red duffel bag over her over her shoulder she made sure she had everything. She was wearing the Halloween mask, it was a grotesque image of a human, covered in boils and bleeding from the mouth. It was a tad early for Halloween so they would probably think her odd, maybe insane, but it wouldn't matter, they wouldn't suspect her until it was too late.

In her right pocket was the gun, she still didn't know what type it was. She knew how to shoot it though, knew what it felt like to pull the trigger and feel such destructive potential leaving her. She also knew that she did not have a full clip left, she didn't really have much ammunition left at all, but she shouldn't need to use it. If she did she had already lost, this was supposed to be a very simple operation. She would run in, get the money, run out, nice and easy. It was very hot in the mask, and she had some difficulty breathing. Standing outside the liquor store the rest of her was very cold, as the rain pounded away just as hard as ever, and her coat did little to protect her from it.

Alright, in and out she thought, nothing can go wrong. She walked into the store and noticed no one else was around, that was good, it would just be her and the store owner. It was a relatively small place, but popular enough that she knew it would have money, it had to have. What she did not know is whether it would be enough. She already had more than half the money, about eight thousand she thought, but she wasn't sure and didn't have time to count it, especially not now.

She walked around the store, putting off what she knew she had to do. She browsed the shelves, staring at all the alcohol. For a brief moment she considered buying some and drowning her troubles away, but that wouldn't help her, it never had. Shaking her head she quickly looked at the cashier and the register. She noticed he was fairly young, and didn't seem too concerned about her. She supposed with her slim frame and strange attire he figured she was probably just some drunk, out for some more booze. She was much worse than that though, and finally gained enough courage to approach him.

As she did she slowly drew her firearm out of her pocket, pointing it at him with trembling hands. It was fairly large, especially compared to her, and it was also heavy enough that it was an effort to hold it. He immediately raised his hands and shouted "Oh shit! Please don't fire, just take whatever you want." He was clearly not ready for something so aggressive as this, expecting a simple exchange, maybe some drunken bartering. He was terrified, but Ria felt even more terrified than him, as her shaking grew worse.

"Just, just put the money in my bag." She tossed her bag over the counter. "Just shove it in there. No, no, count it, tell me how much there is." The last part she said very deliberately careful to regain some of her composure, at least as much as possible in a situation like that. He hurriedly opened the register, and began to put all the bills on the counter, slowly counting them one by one. It was clear there was not very much, maybe several hundred dollars. "Is that it? That's all you have? No, no, you have more, you must be lying to me, don't lie to me!"

"Oh god no, I'm not lying, most people pay with cards now, they don't carry cash. I'm sorry this is all I got. Look, I can give you my wallet as well right, I've got like, I've got fifty bucks I think, I'll put it here too, I'm sorry just don't hurt me." As he said this he started crying. Ria felt terrible about this whole experience, especially since she knew she wouldn't have enough money even with this. She was even begin to reconsider when the bell rang and someone walked in the door.

Both the cashier and Ria turned to look at the new arrival, who was carrying a box of chocolates as he walked in. He was clearly dressed up, wearing a collared shirt and pressed black pants. On his face was an expression of pure shock, and he dropped his box and just stared. No one said anything for what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality only several seconds. Then the man began to turn around, maybe to run, unable to comprehend the situation in front of him.

"Don't fucking move.” Ria shouted. “Turn around, come here slowly. Just stop, don't, I'll shoot if you run. Please, just come, and sit down, and no one will get hurt." Ria regained some composure as this new arrival promised more money, and a chance to change the situation. The man however did not turn around. He looked back at her, glanced at the cashier, and made another step towards the door. "Stop, don't, you can't leave, just stay here, and you'll be alright, no one will hurt you." Ria was shouting now, making sure he heard every word of hers, making sure she didn't stutter. Again he turned and looked, but his eyes where glazed and he didn't seem to know what was going on.

In a final desperate attempt Ria aimed above his head and pulled the trigger, just once. The gun roared, and the bullet sparked against the door frame. The man jumped to the ground, as did the man behind the register. Her hands shook even more than before as she barely retained hold of the gun. She realized that the day had taken a significant toll on her, and she was growing increasingly tired. Even still she accomplished her goal, but also alerted anyone in the area that there was a gunshot. The area she was in was not exactly known for violence, but on occasional nights there would be shot or two. She realized that she had to work fast though, and pointed her gun again at the register, ignoring the newcomer.

"Just put the money in the fucking bag and it will all be over soon. No one has to get hurt!" She whispered please in her head but knew better than to say it out loud. The cashier rushed to put all the money into the bag, dropping several of the bills on the floor. "It doesn't matter, just hand over the bag." Ria shouted. He handed over the bag still trembling. She looked down at the man on the floor and realized that he was bleeding. No, no, no she thought. She slowly stepped over to him, terrified of what she might find. He was lying on his back in a pool of his own blood.

She slowly turned him over and looked for his wound. She saw that he had a fairly large gash on his right arm, but with her little knowledge it didn't look too extensive. "Come over here, help him! Bring a rag or something." She was more scared of having this man die than anything else. Somehow she knew that the cashier would do what she asked, even though she had stowed her weapon. He brought the rag over and she tried to tie it around the man's arm, but couldn't get it tight enough, it only encouraged the bleeding. "Help me!"

The cashier looked taken aback at the whole situation, so surprised by the once robber's sudden change of heart. Even so he realized that this man lying on his store's floor was in deep trouble. With little hesitation he sat down and tried to tie the rag tighter as well as held the man's arm trying to apply some pressure. His hands slowly became coated in blood as he grabbed the man's arm to stop it from moving around. Ria simply stood by unable to do anything, feeling helpless just like she had in the morning.

After another minute the cashier stood up and eyed Ria. "I think he's going to be okay. I don't understand though, why did you stop, you know the cops will be here soon. I guess you aren't so different from me and him. You're just scared, I saw it before. Now with a man's life in our hands you just stopped, and you aren't so scary anymore." A loud siren blared outside and Ria looked shocked, the cashier only looked sad. "You did some harm today but tried to fix it, I respect that. I'm sorry that you're going to go to jail for it, I've been where you are." No, no you haven't thought Ria.

"I don't think that's going to happen. I'm so sorry." She took the gun out of her pants again and pointed it to his face. He didn't flinch now though, and Ria was scared that he might try to fight her or to resist. She was not only scared of him, but also of the weapon, she didn't want to hurt anyone else, not again. "We're both going to walk over there, and we'll get them to go in here and help this guy. No one else will be hurt today, especially not me. I don't have time, not today, someone's life is on the line. I don't know if you believe me, and I don't care, but now you're going to walk out towards that car." He turned around willingly, and slowly walked towards the door.

He paused, just before they actually left the shop. "If you give up now it won't be too bad, maybe a fine. I'll say it's all a misunderstanding, with someone like you it will be alright. This though, this can't end well." She believed him, but she also believed she had no other options. The officer was just getting out of his car as she left the building, the cashier in front of her. "If you'd like you can tell me your name, I'm Jake. It doesn't have to be this way."

"I can't tell you my name, not now. It has to be this way. You don't know, now just please shut up." The cop looked up and saw what was going on and drew his gun. He looked worried, he hadn't expected something like this, with a hostage. He just wanted to file a report, then to go home and be with his family. This was dangerous, and though he knew the city was dangerous he still didn't want this, didn't know just how bad it would be. Ria re-adjusted herself so she had her arm around Jake, holding her gun just above his head pointing at the policeman. She shouted, "I'm leaving, if you let me, it will be alright."

The policeman held his gun trained on her but didn't know what to do. He had been trained for these kind of situations he remembered, but now in the midst of this situation he did not know what to do. I've fucked up he thought. He simply stared at the pair, unsure what to do. Ria continued to slowly step towards him, careful to form a circle around him. Slowly, ever so slowly, she edged past him to the point where he was between her and the shop. She knew she had won at that point but did not know what to do, and was unsure how to release her hostage.

"Aren't you going to let me go now." Jake whispered into her ear. "You said you would, I let you, just let me go and it will be alright." She wanted to just toss him away, to toss her gun down and run away but she knew that wouldn't end well. She did not know how to proceed, she had started this crazy thing but did not know how to end it. "Please, just let me go, I'm sure he will let you go free, he's fat, he won't want to pursue you, I doubt that he can. Just run." She considered it, but continued slowly backing away.

The officer had stood still this entire time, plainly contemplating his next move. As the girl circled him he wondered if he should try to cut her off, that's what they did in the movies right? But that didn't seem right, those things never did the research, it was so different to real cops. He should probably tell her something, try to make her give up, but how could he do that. When she had already moved passed him he decided he needed to say something. She continued retreating as he tried to think of something to say.

Finally he shouted, "Put your gun down and release the hostage, it will be better for you if you do it. I don't want to hurt you, and you don't want to hurt me, just come close and we will all be happier for it." He thought that sounded good, and Ria stopped moving for a brief period. She was weighing her options, terrified of what would happen if she chose wrong. After several moments of quiet contemplation she seemed to come to a conclusion, and slowly approached the policeman.

"Thank you for cooperating, it will all be over soon, I know you want this to be over just as much as I do." When she got within about ten feet of him she stopped, then very suddenly threw Jake at the policeman. With one motion she turned around and sprinted off at full speed stowing her firearm as she ran. The police officer looked stunned as the cashier tumbled into him. He managed to regain his balance however and turned and trained his gun on Ria's fleeing back. He seemed to concentrate very hard, and tried to shout. "Stop or I will shoot." The words only got half out however as Jake slammed him into the side of the car.

Ria turned back to see the two tussling on the ground. She did not have the time to investigate further however, and continued to run off praying for the safety of both of them. She knew that her actions today would cause some violence, but she hoped that no one would get seriously hurt. Now someone had, and she had not time to do anything about it, there was nothing to do. With that thought she sprinted off into the darkness unsure of where to go next. She ran for a long time, and in no particular direction, just getting away from the store, away from the police, away from the tattered remains of her life.

Eventually she grew tired and stopped. She realized she had been running almost entirely on adrenaline and sunk down under an overhang in front of a coffee shop. It was still raining, just as it always was. She liked the rain, but now it spelled out an even more certain fate for Ellen. Opening up her bag she saw that some of the money had become blood-stained, and was almost unreadable. Looking at those dark red stains she almost threw the whole thing away from her but thought about it logically and kept it. She decided she couldn't count it though, it was too much.

Staring at the bloody bag for a moment she noticed that her eyes where drooping and sleep was almost upon her. She immediately jumped up and tried to keep herself awake through physical activity, stretching and pacing. She knew that she didn't have the exact amount, but maybe it would be enough. She needed to figure out what time it was, and looked around, but she was in the wrong part of town, all the neon signs where advertising things she didn't want to know about. Reaching into her pockets she remembered she no longer had her phone or any of her possessions really.

All she knew was she didn't have time, she had not had enough time, it wasn't fair, she had been given an impossible task and expected to complete it. But she wasn't special, she wasn't anything, just a regular girl, at least before today. This whole thing was just so fucked up, and she couldn't do anything about it. Staring at her bag again she decided that he had to accept it, if he didn't she would shoot him. She could do it, maybe, she wasn't sure, no she had to be sure. She had to be sure she was prepared to do anything to help Ellen.

She took the gun out of her pocket again and stared at it. The weapon didn't kill anyone though, it was her who killed someone. She didn't mean to, she couldn't take a life on purpose. The whole concept was impossible, she thought that no one could willingly take a human life, it was against everything that the species needed. But that man, what was his name, Simon, he was willing to take a life. He was willing to take a life for no damn reason, no fucking reason. It didn't make sense to her, nothing he did made sense. Maybe he was insane, he must be insane, to take a life is inherently insane.

She had nothing else to do but confront him now, but she knew that if it came down to it she could not kill in cold blood, even when everything was on the line. She felt terrible because of this, but knew that it would hurt her too much to kill someone like that, even a despicable human being like that bastard. She knew that it might be the end for Ellen, and even the end for her, but she could not murder him, it was just impossible. With that she grabbed her bag, put the gun in her back pocket again, just for protection she thought, and set off for her shop, the place which had been safe for her for so long.

4:38 AM October 17th
Ria never thought she would enter a place that could be described as a hive of scum and villainy but that was exactly what the bar she entered so late at night seemed to be. She had spent hours researching places around the local area on the internet and had come up with very little, discovering that amongst many of the things that had not evolved to the 21st century criminal activities, at least on a lower scale, where one of them. The place was called Lucky Loe's and she knew that she would be able to play cards or play any number of gambling games without worrying about taxes or questions or anything really.

However some doubts emerged as she looked around the place at the miserable people splayed out before her. She was soaking as it had not stopped raining and didn't look like it would let up any time soon. Looking around she noticed that she was one of very few women in the bar, and if there where any they where draped around wealthy looking men. Amongst the clientele there was a fair variety, featuring drunkards who simply came to wash their troubles away to disgruntled gamblers who had lost nearly everything at the betting table.

Above these lowlifes who barely lived in this world let alone controlled it where the bosses, the high rollers who dictated the flow of the games. In her research Ria had discovered that the most important element to many of these games was finding out the other players, learning their bluffs and tells. Unfortunately she had neither the time nor money to actually learn these so would be forced to make due. Another important aspect about places like this was figuring out how stacked the deck was in their favor. At casinos it was fair, balanced, the decks where fair even though the game was tilted in the dealer's favor, that was how it worked.

Here though marked cards and secret signal where commonplace, and discovering which table was the least likely to have these was a very important distinction. Ria surveyed the environment, noticing that several tables where set out playing many variations of poker. She had not played cards before, not seriously, but believed she knew enough to win in a game involving reading people. Despite largely staying out of other people's business, preferring her own mind Ria was an oft observer, even unwittingly.

By lingering at the edges she had gained the ability to see people for what they really where, to see dynamics and groups come and go. She thought this would give her an advantage, she was good at telling bluffs, and would be able to tell when the dealer was cheating. That last aspect was the most important she thought as most of the other players would be drunk, or high, and would not be in their full facilities, this would mean they would play unintelligibly, and would be much easier to read than people actively trying to hide their emotions.

Eventually she decided on a table. The dealer looked like he had been going for hours, and was very tired. He had very few actually playing the game, with one player slumped over the table barely keeping conscious. The other three players where clearly at least a little drunk, but where very quiet and sober in their inebriated state, exactly what she wanted, for she was terrified that one of these scary people would try to do something to her. She had her duffel bag with her, and was prepared to at the very least show the firearm inside.

Walking over to the table and sitting down she reached into her pocket and pulled out several dollars, aware how desperate she looked. The dealer stared at her, with cold, dead eyes. It was clear he felt terrible about taking these pathetic people's money, and he was feeling especially bad about taking this young girl's money. Ria was confident though, and as the hands where dealt she payed great attention to how the cards where spread out, making special care to make sure there was no cheating going on.

Even with all her precautions though she lost the first hand, and the next one, and the one after. She grew increasingly frustrated as she began to doubt her own abilities, and considered giving up completely very briefly. She did not however, and her luck changed in one hand. She managed to play one of the especially drunk gentleman and take a good portion of his remaining money, leaving her at a profit. For the first time that evening she thought she might actually have a chance. He did not grow particularly angry upon losing his money, just stared at her with sad eyes, challenging her acceptance of the situation.

Ria carefully looked away, knowing that contemplating what she was doing too heavily could lead to nowhere but bad places. Once she set her mind to something like this she had to go through with it and doubts and depressing thoughts had to be shunted to the back of her mind, she couldn't let it interfere with the situation at hand nor could she let it interfere with her overall goal, the acquisition of ten thousand dollars. That one hand was what kept her going, what made her continue playing even after she lost a string of hands in a row, because she knew it was possible to win.

It was this hope that kept her going for almost an hour at the same table. The drunkards came and went, sometimes mumbling something about going home, or needing to find a better place, but she stayed and consistently took money from the players around her. Even when she saw the dealer was trying to deal marked cards or winning hands he was doing a poor job of it, possibly from exhaustion or just an increasing dissatisfaction with his work. She knew he would let her continue winning for some time. At the end of her hour of success however the dealer said he needed to step out for awhile and she was shunted over to a different table.

By this point several of the other players had begun to give her discouraging looks, and some had been muttering under their breath. She was a little afraid, but was also very confident having won over five hundred dollars. Moving to the new table however shook this new-found confidence however as she realized she was playing with several of the high-rollers, one even had a girl draped around one arm. She was clearly a stripper, or so Ria thought, but her distaste wouldn't change anything, and she prepared to play another game of cards.

Unfortunately however playing with drunks is very different from playing with competent players as Ria quickly found out. Using their superior wealth they where able to bully her out of all but the most inconsequential hands as she slowly bled money simply to have a chance at winning something. Eventually she realized they where doing it on purpose, and planned to crush her when any of them had a truly fantastic hand. She also realized that they where working together somewhat, and where used to taking lower table's money, and that was how the whole situation was set up.

She resolved to change that however, and decided to make more and more risky plays, betting over a hundred dollars off of absolutely nothing. However as the game progressed further she ended up gaining money, leaching it off the wealthier and more experienced players through nothing but blind luck. She has such a good streak that she was actually scared they might accuse her of cheating, but she hadn't, and they all knew it. If anyone was cheating it would be them, she couldn't be, it was impossible.

Even still after not too much longer they kicked her off of the table for a more "exclusive" player. As she left she stored all the cash in her bag, not even bothering to count it but knowing it was more than one thousand dollars. It was not there yet, not even close, but it was a good step she decided. Unsure of how to progress next she walked blindly out of the bar and into the cold rainy night. Lucky Lou's emerged into an alley hidden away from the world, but hanging just outside was more than just the bad weather.

"You, you owe me something." One of the drunks from the bar was outside and was waiting for her clearly. Judging by the vomit stains and how much it had solidified he had been waiting for quite awhile. "Youstolemymoney, you can't just do that to a person. It ain't right. Now, I think the rest of them don't like it neither, but ain't willing to do something about it. Well bitch you can'tjust walk in and do that." At this point he drew a small knife from his right pocket, brandishing it drunkenly.

At this point Ria was about five feet away from him and knew that with his current drunkenness he wouldn't be able to attack her, not truly, but even still she was petrified as he tumbled towards her. She stared at him,looking at everything from his dirtied collar shirt messed from a night of drinking, and his black pants which had a slight stain in the crotch area, clearly he was not quick enough when preparing to take a piss. Though she noticed all of this most of all she noticed the small knife in his hand, it was a Swiss Army brand. Clearly it was not made for assault like this, but it would fulfill it's purpose. In the instant before he actually reached her she noticed that the nail clipper was sticking out as well and she laughed, to exhausted to fully comprehend what was happening to her.

Even still she managed to jump out of the way of the swerving drunk and he crashed into the wall of the alley screaming in pain. Looking back she realized he had managed to stab himself with his own knife as it had bounced off the wall and sunk into his chest. She had never seen blood like that before, not in real life. As a child she had just never done anything, and so had never really been injured, just a paper cut her or there. Looking at the tired normal man lying on the ground howling in pain clutching at the slowly growing red area on his bright white shirt something in Ria snapped.

She couldn't run, couldn't even sit down and try to help him, all she could do was stare at the slowly enveloping spread of red. The one thought that echoed through her mind was a quote from a funny movie, "You got red on you." The situation was so absurd that she began to laugh, at the words in her head and also at the injured man in front of her, she could do nothing else but laugh. Even as the tears began to fall she didn't stop, and running out of breath she slowly slid down the alley wall opposite in near hysterics.

Some of the other people from Lou's had come out to see what all the commotion was about and saw Ria lying down across from the bar and also saw the man stabbed, and crying out in pain. Unable to decide what to do one man bent down and tried to remove the knife. This simply elicited more screams of pain, this time even louder. The men where not in the best of minds and simply stared dumbfounded at the situation they had wandered into. Luckily one of the dealers from inside had decided to step out for a smoke break when he came upon the strange situation.

Observing the situation the dealer decided the best thing to do was to call 911, to call an ambulance. There would be questions about how it happened, he knew that, but he also knew that it wouldn't impact him at all. Ria still laughed on the ground, unable to do anything else. Even when the ambulance arrived she was unable to do anything, just laughed. One of the technicians walked over her and asked if she was all right but she didn't know how to respond, she couldn't respond, the whole situation was simply too absurd. Her life had been normal and it had transformed into some sort of insane satire. The stabbed man still lay on the ground as the ambulance workers where unwilling to move him.

The rest of the drunks where muttering nonsense to the driver, not knowing what had actually happened but still sure they knew something, and where adamant about telling others about it. Ria eventually was able to control herself, reigning in her laughter. The man who had come over to her looked very concerned, but as she regained control and stood up he looked less worried. "I'm sorry, I just, I'm just tired, I think that I should just go home." She muttered this somewhat under her breath, but the man seemed to have understand, at least her intent.

"That's probably a good idea, but first I need to ask you some questions, is that alright? It's just that we need to know what happened here to help as much as possible. We know it's not your fault, don't worry, we just need a few answers." Ria nodded her head, almost drifting off. She was so tired, it had been such a long day already and there was still too much to do. "Alright, well I would like you to explain your side of what happened. Just tell us what happened and then we will let you go."

"Well I was just in the bar, um having a drink or two, I mean not too much, and then I realized how late it was, and headed outside, and this guy he said something about me stealing his money from him, I don't really know, he seemed kind of crazy, but I guess he was just drunk. Then I um, I'm not sure what happened next exactly. I mean I think he came at with something, a knife I guess, then I jumped out of the way, and he fell down. I don't know why, but I thought it was so funny. I guess I'm just morbid, I'm sorry, I'm just tired."

"I'm sure you are. Can you get home alright or do you need a ride?" She nodded her head sideways and then began wandering down the alley, sure she could find her way home and be perfectly fine. Others may think it strange, but carrying her duffel bag she felt safe, and she knew that at the very least the night had been productive. Maybe it was possible she would end the night with enough money, maybe everything would be alright, in the end.

3:05 PM October 17th

Ria no longer had the time to spare that she thought she would, and as the sun slowly dropped her hopes did as well. She had little plan of what to do, and decided that she may as well try her one legal way to gain money. So she headed to the park, planning to play chess for money and to win herself some money that way. As she walked toward the park she noticed several people milling about. Walking along one of the many long avenues which would lead her to central park she stumbled upon a very elegant looking gentleman walking in the same direction as her.

He was wearing a large overcoat and had a gold pocket watch sticking out of his coat pocket. She walked behind him at a decent, observing him. She didn't know why she did it, at least not consciously, but she studied his movements very intently. After following him for some time he eventually ended up walking down an alleyway between two shady looking establishments. She followed him between the buildings still unsure of what exactly she was doing. Eventually though he heard her footsteps and turned around.

He looked surprised to see her, perhaps expecting a vagrant or some sort. Throughout the day she had noticed no one seemed to truly expect her, they all had preconceptions about who she should be or what she should do. She couldn't stand that, she had tried to put up with it all her life but today she just couldn't take it anymore, not with all the shit she had been through. The man still stared, a quizzical expression on his face. She prepared to say something, but then realized there was nothing to say, at least now immediately.

"Hello there girl, why have you come here. Have you followed me, is that it? I would like to know why, tell me girl." He spoke to her like she was a little kid, he did not seem to respect her. She noticed that in the crook of his arm was a very nice chessboard, it seemed he had the same idea as she had. He waited patiently for his answer, because he had all the time in the world, but she did not. She knew that if she said the wrong thing he would run, but he was so fat surely she could catch him, but he might make a noise, she considered carefully.

"I am just traveling the same way as you are, but I notice now that you have a chess set, are you on the way to the park?" She said.

"Yes, I am. But why would you ask this, are you too a player? Ha, it seems unlikely, but then again I look at you, you seem to know what you are talking about. In your eyes now, there is something, some determination. Hmm, maybe I will play you, not just talk about the game. But not here, no, it is dangerous to hang around back alleys, even at this time of day. Come girl, we will go to the park and play." He turned around and seemed to wait for her to approach him. "I will lead you, come."

She hated being talked down to like that, and she knew what she had to do. Like at the bar before she knew exactly what she had to do, and she was prepared to do it. By this point all reservations where gone, the world was what it was and what she would make it to be. She slowly unzipped her bag and reached inside, drawing out her firearm. She stared at it for a second, just a small moment of hesitation, but she saw Ellen's face in front of her, with those beautiful emerald eyes.

"Girl what is taking you so long?" The man shouted and slowly turned around. Before he managed to make a complete rotation though Ria had moved behind him and pressed the barrel to his back. She pushed hard and it dug into his shoulder-blades. He grunted in pain. "Ah, girl, what are you doing."

"Stop calling me girl. Now shut up, don't say a word or I'll fill you with holes. I don't want to though, so if you just shut up, if you don't say a word, you'll get out of this okay. That's what I want and it is what you want, so just don't. I don't want to do this, and I'm sorry, but I need you to hand over your money, all of it. Don't lie either, don't try to hide it, I'll find it and I will take it from you and punish you for trying to hide it. That determination you saw in my eyes, this is it, so hand over your money." Her hands shook, but just a little, the man did not even seem to notice.

He slowly reached into his pocket, acting very deliberately. He drew out a black wallet and slowly withdrew a large number of bills. Even Ria was amazed by how much he was carrying. "You are a blyad. I do not know why you do this, but it is terrible. I earn my money and you take it from me, it is not fair."

"Yeah well tough shit. I don't how to say that in your language, but life isn't fair. My life was fucked to day, you know that? I was a good person, and I got nothing for it. But now it all just, it is all just falling away. I'm sorry, but this money is mine now." She slowly backed away as she said this still brandishing the gun. The man turned to face her and she could see in his eyes that he was hurt. She didn't care though, she didn't have time to. As she backed away more she wondered where she would run to.

"I see you now girl, you are scared, you need the money for something, I do not know, but you will give it back to me now, you will not hurt me, you can not, you are scared." He walked towards he menacingly. He brandished his cane like a sword, pointing towards her in an aggressive manner. She backed away more, terrified of him hurting her but even more terrified of hurting him, and he knew it. He advanced more towards her, and when he got within arms reach she shouted.

"No, stop, I will shoot, I have to have this money, I can't give it up now." As she said this she momentarily shivered, and it made her whole body converse. The man took this as time to strike and rushed towards her with more speed and grace than someone his age and weight should have. She lost herself for a moment, completely blacking out.

When her eyes finally opened again all she saw was red. She had heard the explosion of sound, had known something had happened, but had refused to accept the possibility that she had actually shot a person. Looking down however that was exactly what she did. Her whole body went limp as she stared at the dying man in front of her. The gun dropped to the ground, almost in slow motion as her knees buckled underneath her and she sunk to the ground. Staring at the slowly growing red stain she seemed unable to move.

Once the puddle was almost at her knees however she lept back terrified of the blood, as though touching it would acknowledge what she had done. She cried out "No, no, no, no!" No one came running though, she could barely speak she was so scared, and her voice was drowned by her fear. Looking away from the man she stumbled over to a wall and tried to sit down. Before she could however she turned to it and vomited, spreading foiu bile down the entire wall. The smell made her sick enough that she stumbled to the other side of the alley and simply stared.

The scene had grown increasingly grotesque and would continue to as the man was not dead yet, he was still bleeding and making whimpering noises. She decided she need to go over to him, to at least try to help, but she couldn't she couldn't bring herself to. The world had come to pieces around her and she didn't know what to do. She had promised, she wasn't going to hurt anyone, no matter what it took, she couldn't hurt people, it was so against what she wanted to do, what she stood for, but here was this man, bleeding on the ground, and all because of her.

The thought passed over her mind that maybe it wasn't her fault, after all he threw himself at her, it was self-defense. Even in her mind it sounded completely absurd, and even if it would hold up in court it wouldn't hold up in her head, it would crack and break and destroy. Her head felt like it was exploding, and she couldn't contain it. Unable to do anything about the immense pain she curled into a ball holding her head, trying to shelter it from the terrifying world that was around her.

It just hurt more to stay there though, curled into a ball and denying what she had done. After what seemed like an eternity of pain but was no longer than a few seconds she began to stand up and to assess the situation. Looking at the man's body she doubled over again, afraid she would throw up again. She managed to regain her composure however, and resolved to try to help him in any way she could. Slowly, hesitantly, she took a step, then one more, and one more until she was at his body.

Her shoes where now covered in the sticky blood that dripped out of him, and as she bent down the smell of it thrust itself into her nostrils. She had never smelled death before, not really, but she knew it, instinctively, and knew there was nothing anyone could do to help the man anymore. Even still she bent down and slowly tried to turn him over. He was so heavy she thought, grabbing hold with both hands she heaved with all her strength. This was not however much, especially after the day's events, she was so exhausted that even moving herself was an effort. Even after trying for almost a minute she couldn't budge him.

She stared at him, even sadder than before, aware that there was nothing she could do, the thought crushed on her, tried to push her down. It almost stopped her from breathing as she lay in the slowly deepening pool of blood. She realized that it would stain her jeans, it would make them dark red forever. She stood up at that thought, she couldn't let others know, she didn't have time to go home, didn't have time to do anything else. Quickly she tried to rationalize the situation, to figure out what to do next.

Ria blocked most of it out of her mind, ignoring the events that had just happened, denying them as too absurd to happen to her, restating her belief that her life was normal and that was all it would ever be. Slowly she stooped to pick up the gun, and tried to wipe it off on the side o the duffel bag, managing to stain the bag but it did little to help. She had nothing else to do though and put it back in the bag, still ignoring her surroundings. Dazed and confused she stumbled out of the puddle and started down one end of the alley, then looked the other way.

Thinking back to what she wanted to do before she went down this alley, before she shot a man, no before a man fell down, she didn't know how, it couldn't have been her. She realized the park was the obvious answer, and set out in that direction, ignoring the dark red patch just out of the corner of her eyes as she walked down to the end of the alleyway.

Stumbling out into the light she stared at the street. The day had cleared up some, but still clouds blocked out the sun. There where few people milling about as it was still quite cold, and it was also a Wednesday afternoon. Looking down at her to see if she had dirtied herself when she fell down she noticed her hands where covered in blood, and it was not hers. She wondered how that could be, she hadn't done anything. Setting off for the park she resolved to wash them in a fountain when she had the time. It would come off and then all memories would be forgotten, the water would be cleansing.

Wandering through the park she looked up at all the trees and imagined all their beauty and splendor. They where mostly dead now, killed by the seasons and the cold and time, like all things. They weren't murdered though, and they would grow again just as magnificent next year. She wished she could do that, recreate herself every year, it would be wonderful. The leaves had been growing when she met Ellen, it was wonderful, she remembered on the first day she walked to get lunch and saw the trees and flowers growing, saw the bloom of new life and knew it was something special.

Even with the death of the trees the squirrels still lived, still thrived and jumped around blissfully unaware of the world around them, confident in what they where doing, the same old thing, just like last year. She noticed one squirrel who was alone though, standing on a branch staring at her. Ria knew that squirrel, the loner, the one who stuck out from the group by separating themselves from it She had loved and hated it, but it was simply who she was. She wondered if the squirrel was truly the same as her, or if she was just projecting herself onto it.

Ria wandered over to its tree and slowly pressed her hand against the trunk. The squirrel didn't move, but upon removing her hand she was reminded of her task as she left a bloody hand-print on the bark, a grim reminder of her past which she had forgotten. Staring at it he wondered what it would be like to kill a squirrel, to take its life. It was so small, it wouldn't be hard, they didn't even really think like people so it wouldn't really matter. Nothing would really matter. Ria found herself lost in her thoughts for a long while, drifting from tree to tree. Some events change a person, and some events break a person, Ria was a broken person now.

Broken she thought, the parts don't fit together anymore, they don't fit inside, they dribble out and wander off like errant thoughts, or dreams that disappear in the morning. She didn't want to lose her thoughts though, they belonged to her and she had to keep them. Looking down at her hands she realized that was what was doing it, the red was wrong and was hurting her, she had to go wash it off in the water. She ran around desperately looking for a fountain. She shouted loudly in her mind, screaming, but didn't let it out verbally, people would think she was crazy.

Eventually she found a fountain and stuck her hands in, rapidly rubbing them together. Ria gasped in near ecstasy as the water flowed over and around her hands, finally she would be free. She kept her hands in for a long time, minutes, but eventually slowly withdrew them and stared at them. They looked clean, they where a pale pink, just like normal. She sighed inwardly, but staring at them for a few seconds more and they started to drip. It was slow at first, just underneath her fingernails a little drip, she could barely even feel it.

Then the blood started trickling, dripping from her fingernails onto the ground below. Slowly a dozen little gashes appeared on her palm and on the back of her hand and began dripping, sliding down her hands. She didn't feel any pain from it at all, but as her hands where slowly coated in red she shouted, as loud as she could. A couple nearby walking their baby stared at her, but quickly departed. She shoved her hands into the water again, desperately trying to stop the bleeding, to cleanse herself.

No amount of water would help though as she drew her hands back out and stared at them. Now the gashes had widened and engulfed each other and the very flesh itself had begun to peel off. On her right hand only muscles remained, and her index finger was only a bone with blood still oozing out from a crack, dripping out of the marrow. She screamed to the heavens, unintelligibly, terrified of what was happening and begging it to stop.

And then it did. She begged and pleaded and finally something went her way. Her hands where clean again, no blood, no cuts, and as she looked down she was completely clean of it, aside from the bottoms of her shoes. Glancing around quickly she looked to see if anyone had coming running after her screams, but no one had. There was no one around she realized, they had been driven off by here, maybe thought her a monster. Nothing more than I deserve she thought. Everything I believed in was broken in that one moment. There was nothing more to it, she had to acknowledge what had happened and get over it.

Thinking back to the scene she saw flashes of images, blood and bile and death. It brought her to tears and shakes wracked her body as she sunk down again. She saw her whole life splayed before her, from the beginning to the end, and stared at what she was losing, what she had lost. In the end she had given up her job, her house, her family. That wasn't too much though, not really, not to save Ellen's life. In the end it would all be worth it she reassured herself, it had to be.

Maybe he wasn't dead, she hadn't really checked, she just thought she smelled it, he might live, that would make it all alright. Lying by the fountain she stared out at the trees again. She was making excuses again, and could keep the denial up for a long while. It made sense to her to keep these feelings away, especially on a day such as it was. As she lay on the fountain she thought how comfortable it was really, the stone acting like a pillow for her head. No one was around, it would be fine she decided, just to take a little nap, just for a little while.

5:46 PM October 17th

Ria awoke with a start, staring out at the dawning dusk. She couldn't have been asleep that long, no, she had to wake herself up. Her stomach growled and she realized she had had nothing to eat all day, and killing does make one so hungry. She ignored that thought, and slowly pushed herself up off the fountain. Her legs where unsteady, and lying bent by the fountain had not helped, she almost collapsed again as she tried to lift herself up. Grabbing hold of the lip of the fountain she steadied herself, looking around embarrassingly. There was no one around to see however, and looking up at the sky she saw why.

The clouds where growing again, darker and heavier than before. Even from so great a distance she could see the freezing rain they would bring in, and the pain it would cause. She would hate to be caught out in that, and felt grateful that she had woken up when she did, the storm would be upon the park in under half an hour. Bending down she found her now stained duffel bag and brought it over her shoulder hurrying away from the fountain. Moving at a slow jog she started towards one end of the park unsure of what to do.

Her first concern was food, she couldn't do anything if she didn't have energy and her nap had done little to help. She knew there where fast food places all around, and so decided just walking in one direction would eventually bring her to one. It didn't take too long to get to the edge and the once busy street. There where still cars, there where always cars, but they came much less frequently than in the early afternoon. Jogging across the street and barely avoiding a cab who's driver shouted something obscene at her she rushed into the restaurant.

Sitting just outside was a sight she didn't expect to see for a long time, her brother. She noticed him before he did, and considered running away, avoiding the confrontation. With everything she had been through however she decided that running would do no good. As she stepped towards the entrance he turned his eyes to look at her and froze mouth slightly agape staring at her. The staring contest lasted for several full seconds before Ria broke the silence. "Come on, let's fill that mouth with some food."

He stood up still silent and stared at her, looked into her eyes searching for some meaning. Seeing something, something different than the night before he accompanied her inside. They both walked up in line and still he didn't speak, out of fear or gratitude Ria could not say but she knew he would say something when he was ready. Once they reached the front of the line he finally spoke, ordering a cheeseburger and fries, and she decided to have the same. They waited together by the counter, and when their food arrived they took it to an isolated corner and sat down.

"I'm sorry for before, I shouldn't have shouted." He blurted out, and then looked down, as if ashamed of his apology. "I felt terrible after I left, but I couldn't go back, I was too ashamed or scared or shit I don't know, sad to go back. I just, I don't know, I couldn't lose you, not forever. But I didn't go back, I knew you needed your space so I tried to leave you, I really did. Now you're here and buying me this meal, and you don't have the money for it either. Aren't you such a wonderful sister." The last remark was said sarcastically but she knew he meant it.

Taking her time to finish her bite she slowly said, "When I set out today, when I decided what I had to do I knew I wouldn't be coming back. Just hush now, I don't want to hear what you have to say. After today, after what I've done, I'm turning myself in and going to jail. I will probably go away for a really long time, and I deserve it, I need to." Andrew opened his mouth to say something but she shushed him again, putting her finger over his mouth. "Now I know what I'm doing, and I know why I'm doing it. I have done bad things, and in all likelihood by the end of the day I will do more, but right now I don't care about that, I'm above morality right now. I know that sounds so fucking arrogant, but I don't think I am quite in control of my facilities right now."

"I don't, I mean what do you mean? Not in full control, are you on something, is that it?" He asked accusingly but his eyes betrayed him, he cared too much.

"No, it's not that, I just, I think the things that have happened to me, I think it broke me. I know that sounds insane, I'm not a robot right, you can't just break a person. Well some things can do that, they call it PTSD right, when something really bad happens it just caves in on you and stops you from living, well I think that has happened to me, but it hasn't fully sunk in yet, I still have time, I have today. By the end of this I won't be the same person. You said it before I think, that this would bring me to do things that I believed unthinkable, well I've past that point, there is no returning now."

"But, I mean what do you think will happen to you? You where so fragile before, like a doll I guess, and now what, you just aren't that anymore? Is this what he did to you, is this what that girl did to you? I don't know these people but I hate them for what they made you do." His voice raised at this point, though he was not quite shouting.

"They didn't make me do anything, everything I did I did because I had to, by my own choice. I didn't necessarily want to, but we rarely do what we want to, and now the things that I had to do, I mean I hurt people, I didn't mean to but that's what happens when you need to make money, when the world falls to shit around you."

"You hurt people, shit I mean I thought that's what you where saying but you didn't mean to, I mean they will probably be alright, you couldn't have..." He trailed off and she interjected.

"Yes, yes I could have and did. I fucking shot someone. Fuck, I shot someone and he fell and bled and I didn't do anything. Oh fuck." The reality hit her hard, a hammer right to her head. Andrew tried to reach over, to grab her hand and reassure her but he had second thoughts as she pulled her hand away and clutched it defensively. "No, no, I won't break, I'm okay. These hands have blood on them, you don't want to touch them, don't want to get you dirty too. I'm sorry for involving you in this whole business, I need to go." She stood up ready to leave.

"No, you can't, not yet, we can talk about this." As she moved to leave he grabbed her arm with his hand, and she turned to look at him. In his eyes were tears, and Ria could not simply leave him like that. She slowly sat down, and turned to face him again. "I just, I mean if you shot someone, if you hurt someone, it wasn't your fault. Maybe you meant to, I don't know, but everything will be okay, I"m sure of it. You don't need to go to jail." He was still holding her hand with his but she wrenched away again, distancing herself from him.

"Yes I do, I hurt him, he might be dead, don't you understand! I may have killed him, of my own free will I shot him and left him and tried to hide the evidence. I can't stay in this free world, I don't belong in it, but Ellen does. I don't care what you think, I only care that I love her and that I have given up everything to help her.

"Okay, okay, I understand. That's a lie actually, I really don't fucking understand. You killed someone? I mean that's crazy, this whole thing is crazy, maybe you should just go home, get some rest. No, I know, you have to make this money, you don't have much time. You've said so before but please just, don't get hurt, I couldn't bear it. You saw me out there, I mean shit I'm pathetic without you now, and you say that you are going to prison? In fact you say you want to go to prison, that's, well it's kind of fucked."

"You selfish bastard. You know what fine, I see why you're here. I really thought you cared, but you have no place else to go, you need me. When I go away you can have my damn place, here, take these." She tossed him her spare keys. "Take my job too, you may as well take my whole life, I mean I won't be living it anymore. I'm not making any sense now I know but I'm just, I'm just tired. I'm leaving now though, don't try to sop me, just, just know that I love you, no matter what happens. I love her too though, and I'm sorry that you feel the way you do."

Finally she was able to walk away from her brother, and he let her go. Their last meeting a rift had been created, but with the exchange of power, the giving of a gift, it had been fixed some. Even though physically they would be far apart they had come together for a little while at least and though Ria stomped out of the restaurant angrily she felt happy, knowing that her brother would be alright after she was gone.

Walking out of the door she realized the rain had started, and what was a sprinkling would soon become a downpour. Hurrying off she felt cold, not just because of the weather but also because she realized she no longer had a home. The apartment had not been much, it had been dirty and small and just a little bit smelly but it had been hers, a place to call home. By giving up her home she had helped her brother but she had also given up a little bit of hope of ever returning. Just admitting that prison was the only place she could go was enough to break into her subconscious and extract some of those emotions she had been holding in.

But she fought back, she couldn't break down, not again. She had made the decision to stand strong no matter what, and she would keep to that. Staring around at the world outside she compared it to her mind, and the chaotic sprawl that spread infinitely in both realms of existence. Inside her mind it was all ordered though, and the police stopped all the bad thoughts from escaping the inexplicably dark alleys. Not so in real life, there where no cops to stop her.

8:30 AM October 17th

The morning rush had just begun as she left her apartment again. Ria managed to find her way home after her drunken encounter and stayed inside for some time, terrified of what would happen if she went outside. She was also terrified of staying indoors, not making money and not doing anything really. She couldn't get any rest either, she was too scared of falling asleep and missing everything. She paced, she picked up books and immediately put them down again and she stared at her computer wondering if that magic box could do anything for her.

In the end though she decided that nothing could be done at her apartment, only the world held any promise. The air was cold after the early morning rain, but it wasn't particularly unpleasant, at least to Ria. She had a thought as she was pacing, though she knew it wouldn't be enough. Her boss sometimes came to the store in the morning, it was possible she would be able to catch him, to get her paycheck early. She knew she didn't earn anywhere near enough in even a year to pay the full ten thousand, at least discounting food and living expenses, but every little bit helped.

Walking towards the store she paused to stare at her reflection in a store window. There where obvious bags around her eyes and the clothes that she had were dirty from the alley. Her hair was disheveled as well. She looked right into her eyes though, something she did not normally do. There she saw, that was her motivation staring into her own soul she saw the drive to keep going. It didn't take much when you had already lost everything. Backing away again she resumed her journey and at a hurried pace.

Arriving at the store just before it would normally open she noticed that someone had already unlocked and set it up, that meant Tom was there. Tom was a bit of a surly man, and did not have very many allowances, especially for his employees and even more so for his wife. Even still in such a dire circumstance she needed to ask him, beg him if it came down to it. She resolved not to tell him about her situation though, she had gotten Andrew involved and it hadn't helped at all, in all likelihood just poisoned his head with ideas, it wouldn't do to burden someone else with that weight.

Stepping up to the door she reached into her pocket to pull out her keys before she remembered she didn't have them anymore. Her spare apartment keys did not have a key for the store, that had been taken from her. She rapped on the glass hard, and after a moment of no response she rapped again, harder. Slowly Tom approached the door to see who was so insistent on getting in his store so early and he saw her. His thin face moved briefly with surprise before he opened the door.

He was wearing his traditional suit, well pressed and highly expensive. She never knew quite how expensive it was as he always inflated its cost and frequently changed it, but it was one of his pride and joys. "Ria, I suppose you must have forgotten your key. *tut* *tut*. Can't have you being so forgetful often now can we?" Ria thought that he believed himself to be Lemony Snicket, or some narrator in a story, he always tried to be more poetic than he actually was. Today was not the day to comment on this however, she had to be as polite and humble as possible.

"Yeah, sorry, I had a, um, bad morning."

"No excuse for forgetting something so important though." He interjected. "And tardy as well, why if I where not here what would you do? Ah but 'tis nothing really, continue."

"Um, I don't really have much to say about the morning, I mean it's not really important to you. Sorry I'm just tired, I can't think quite straight, not really. I can't actually work today, I mean it's not actually my day to work the morning anyway but right now something came up."

"Something came up." He said the words very deliberately, placing careful emphasis on every syllable. "Hmm."

"Yes, I have to do something very important, but I can't really go into that now, see I have to run. But the reason I came here is I need my paycheck, today. I don't need an advance or anything, I mean just the one for this week, it's all I need. You can cut it a bit if you want for the short notice but I need it, as soon as possible."

"Your pay-check? I suppose I can deliver it unto you, but that's a very unusual request, especially from you. Some of the others with their habits, I might expect if from them. Rather distasteful though, asking for it now." She waited with baited breath. "I suppose I can deliver your request, just this once though. You really have to tell me about these kinds of things ahead of time you know." He slowly drew out his checkbook and wrote in lengthy, superfluous script.

"Thank you, thank you so much, I mean I won't ask again, I'm sorry for asking now, but I just need the money and didn't have any other place to go. Thank you, so much." As she grabbed her check eagerly her face fell when she saw the amount. He noticed this and raided an eyebrow quizzically.

"Are you unsatisfied perhaps with how much you are payed? This had not come up before, and as you know the store is not doing as well as it once was. Perhaps you believe you deserve more? That what you do is worth more to me than anyone else?"

"No I don't think..."

"Ah no, of course not. Ria, I do enjoy you as a worker, you always come in on time, rarely complain, and show enthusiasm, but we can not have complaining, and I am sorry that I can not pay you more, but that is the way it is. You know I barely eat these days? I simply can not afford it." She knew he ate quite voluminous amounts despite his slim frame but she chose to stay quiet. "Everyone has to make sacrifices, and I'm afraid this is yours, but do not despair, I'm sure it will be enough to cover whatever you desperately need it for. May I ask what it is that you need this for?"

"I um, well no, I'm sorry but I'd prefer to keep it private."

"Hmm, I do understand dear, but I hope you know what you are doing, money does not solve all problems. I am only looking out for you, and do not mean to pry, so continue on with your day, your great quest as it may be. I will not stop you, but merely advise that you consider what you are doing, and why you are doing it. I can say I have been where you are, and it is never worth it, do you understand?" She understood, but she very much doubted he did.

She stepped outside with her money happy with how the exchange went. It had been easier than she expected really, for once things actually went her way. It was such a rare occurrence that she marveled at it for a few seconds savoring and believing quite correctly it would be one of her last of the day. Once out of the shop though she realized she didn't know what to do, didn't know where to go. Her lack of foresight quickly destroyed her self-confidence as she stood paralyzed in the middle of the sidewalk.

People passed her by treating her as just another obstacle in the way of their busy days, nothing more than a lamp post or drunk on the corner of the street, they didn't care nor care to ask what was wrong. Considering her options she knew she had to get moving, that standing there would do nothing to help. With that thought she set off in one direction, somewhat aimlessly. She was having difficulty staying still ever since the morning and could not bear the thought of not moving, of accepting the events of the day.

She started as someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around hoping to see her hope and savoir, or at the very least her brother, someone she knew and could depend on, but it was just a random stranger, pushing her out of his way, apparently he had more important things to do than she did. She thought how absurd the concept of individual worth was in a city as large as she was in. On the grander scale what she did didn't matter at all to the city on the whole, it was merely a diversion for a few people like so many life-changing events.

Ria was hopeless at thinking on the run but couldn't bare to do it otherwise. What are ways to make money she pondered, buying stock and selling it, but that doesn't work on such a shortened time frame. Businesses in general wouldn't help her, not with what she had to work with, nothing on that side of equality would help. She had already gambled and won, maybe she could try it again, but it would be pushing her luck, and once the sun comes up the people tend to slink back to their homes and jobs and lives.

No, she couldn't rely on that element of society, it was simply too random. She pondered her bag again, the mask and the gun and the strange tool. After some research on the internet she had decided it was for picking locks. That would have helped to get in her own house. Now though, she considered how immoral it would be to steal things. It was not a victim-less crime, people would suffer, but not greatly, not really. Some even have insurance, it might be a good thing for them. If she chose her targets very specifically it would be alright she rationalized.

Many of the apartments around where only single people, people who had jobs that had already started. If she waited just a little longer she was sure she wouldn't get caught. If it wouldn't hurt anyone it had to be right, the alternative was much worse. Ria pondered this for some time, marching around the sidewalks of New York. She had no real goal, but was wasting time, ensuring the least chance of getting caught but also draining away precious minutes. Eventually her travels ended her up in front of a building she didn't recognize. It was large and brick and looked like an apartment complex. It was nicer than hers was, with well-maintained and embellished doors, and she decided that it was now or never.

Walking up to the door she realized it had one of the call systems, and she ran her hand up and down the panel until someone responded. As she was let into the building she took careful note of which apartments answered and which did not. Stepping inside the building she saw a relatively empty lobby with only one attendant who looked extremely bored. He barely glanced up as she walked pass him and if he thought she was suspicious he didn't say anything. Walking up some sets of stairs she passed a rushed looking middle-aged man who was probably the one who had let her in to the building. She felt a twinge of guilt, but it quickly passed given what she was about to do.

Setting out to the fifth floor of seven she opened the door onto the main floor of the building. Walking down the hallway she ran her eyes over the numbers, trying to decide which seemed promising. She had no real way of knowing of course, but upon passing 518 had a good feeling and stepped up. Setting her bag down and looking cautiously around she took out the lock-pick gun and put it to the door. Within several seconds she heard a satisfying click. She stowed the tool and put her bag around her shoulder again. Looking behind her again she slowly pushed the door in and upon hearing no objections slipped herself in and shut the door behind her.

Looking around she seemed to be in a student's apartment, there where textbooks and papers scattered about, and the sink was overflowing with dishes. Stepping cautiously into the room she heard a slight sound from the bedroom area. Shit she thought, and tip-toed her way towards the door. She slowly prodded it open and it make a creaking sound that seemed to echo all around the room and was as loud as a jet engine. Looking inside though she saw two intertwined sleeping figures, one male and one female. It seemed they had fallen asleep relatively recently as their was a candle still burning. She suspected they had been studying through the night together but at some point had forgotten the studying aspect.

She shared a private moment looking at them, then realized she was intruding and felt ashamed. Closing the door as quickly and quietly as possible she looked around the apartment and considered what she was doing. Clearly they did not have much, she doubted they had any cash on hand. She did see two laptops sitting next to each other on a table, she figured she could probably sell those somewhere, but she didn't know where. Even if she could she would feel horrible knowing how much work would be on them. Thinking back to her's at home she would lose so much of her writing, so much work from so many years. She couldn't do that to these kids, they looked even younger than her.

Feeling even more ashamed now that she realized she couldn't take anything from the apartment she prepared to leave, but she noticed a small box on the table. It was blue and velvet and slightly curved, she thought she knew what would be in the box and knew how much it meant, but still she bent over it, hating herself for it all the while. She gasped inwardly as she revealed a shiny diamond ring inside. The stone itself was not big but she realized how much it must have cost, and how much it would be worth. On the inside was an inscription, she tried to read it but realized it wasn't in English, looking at it a bit more she realized it was in fact Elvish, and promised that the ring was the One Ring.

She almost laughed at that, the concept itself was so absurd. It would help her money concerns so much to take it, she wasn't sure but knew it would pay for over a large amount of it, maybe half, maybe less but still enough to make her goal that much more reachable. How much was that ring worth though, to the people who it was made for. She thought about the couple intertwined on the bed and thought about her and Ellen, and how much she wanted that, that devotion, that love. She could never have that if she didn't get the money though.

Ria could not do it though. The thought of their reactions upon waking up and finding it gone almost broke her heart. It would be too cruel for them, she remembered that age, though had never come close to the same situation. It must have cost him everything to buy the ring, she couldn't do that to someone else, only herself. Looking longingly at it one more time she slowly put the box back down, and shut it. Leaving it on the table she walked over to the door and hesitantly but her hand on the handle.

She had tried to do something wrong and had failed completely, it was exactly what she was afraid of. She was not willing to give everything up for Ellen, maybe it just wouldn't work out. But had she lost it all, had she given up her morals completely than she wouldn't be the same person, it wouldn't be the same at all. It was not worth it, and by the end of the day she decided even if everything else had gone to hell she had to keep some sense of right and wrong. If nothing else she needed to know how far she had gone, and how far she was willing to go.

Declaring that door a failure she set off down the hall to see about some others. Arriving hesitantly on 502 she decided that it was at least worth a try. Again checking for any other people around she saw an elderly couple walking towards the elevator by her. Standing against the wall as casually as possible she hoped they would not question her, not notice she was out of place. The minute that they walked slowly the man seemed to turn to her and stare, deep into her eyes. Looking past her appearance he said. "What are you doing here? You don't belong, go, get out, you can't be here. They won't accept you now you know, and she won't love you." Shaking her head Ria waited for what seemed like an eternity as the couple passed silently, got in the elevator, and left.

Just like last time opening the door was easy, she slid the device out of her bag, put it up against the handle, pulled the trigger and it made a solid thumping sound as the lock slid open. As quietly as possible she opened the door, still crouched, dodged her way in, and shut the door behind her. Standing up she looked around for any obvious treasures. In this new room everything was very clean. To her left was the small kitchen with a shiny sink, no dishes sitting out, and the only thing dirtying the counter was a cookbook which looked like it didn't even have any stains. There where a few containers as well, all very clearly labeled and unstained.

This was not the place to leave something valuable lying about, not in the open at least, but Ria could tell the house had money. All the furniture was very modern, and very expensive. She saw one of the chairs she had considered but rejected after she realized it would have taken a month's rent. She also noticed that the place was only set up for one, with a small table, a single chair, and no couches or any sort of shared comforts like that. It all spoke of a lonely person, a perfectionist, someone like her.

However Ria was not about to give up, she had plenty of time to search the place, and she suspected that there would be hidden cash somewhere, merely as a precaution. It wouldn't be missed anyway, it was so rare that anyone needed to reach into that fund, especially someone with as much money as the person who owned the apartment was bound to have. Looking through the bedroom she again noticed a sense of detachment, as if the person had led such a clinical life they had forgot to do anything but work and eat and sleep.

There where no photos of anyone, there was no memorabilia of a trip, no stupid collections of anything like snow-globes or toys. The place was so life-less she was almost scared by it, because there was simply no life to it, it was like a robot lived there. She turned pillows over and tore off the cover looking under the bed for absolutely anything but there was nothing. In the closets there where several sets of utilitarian dress suits and nothing else, no casual clothes. On the verge of giving up Ria reached up above the closets and opened the cubby-hole. Inside she found a brown suitcase which she took down and tore through. There where some clothes and little else.

Frustrated Ria slowly began packing everything away again making sure that it was all as it had been originally. When she stood up on the bed to put away the suitcase she noticed a smaller bag behind, impossible to see unless one removed the other suitcase. Pulling it out it was lighter than she expected, seemingly weighing almost nothing. Expecting an empty bag she opened it with little hesitation or expectation. Inside she found a large clutch of bills, several passports, and a couple of plane tickets. Thumbing through the bills she noticed some where different colors, and realized that only a small portion where American.

She cut all idle thought about why someone would have a bag like that and simply set about to counting the money and putting it into her bag. All told there was about three thousand US dollars, she couldn't believe her luck. For a second she considered putting it back, the idea of finding something like that was simply too absurd, it was almost a fantasy. It couldn't be though, if it was she has already lost it and she couldn't bear that, Ellen wouldn't live through it, so she kept the money and put the bag back.

Given the countries of some of the passports it seemed it wouldn't matter too much anyway, they where for places like Italy or France, European countries where the US dollar meant nothing more than Monopoly money. Slowly making the bed Ria considered what kind of person would have something like that, and why they would keep such a perfect house. She couldn't come to any real conclusions and decided it was best not to dwell on it. In the end she couldn't worry about the people she might be hurting, she had to concentrate on the person who would definitely get hurt.

There was no use making up stories she decided, it wouldn't help anyone. Her mind still drifted, assigning arbitrary life events to the person who owned all of this, it was only natural as a writer to analyze people's lives and tell more about them than anyone wanted to know. It was just her way she decided, but she had to fight the impulse as she re-arranged the pillow to exactly what it was before. Stepping back and pausing to admire her handiwork Ria was satisfied, and couldn't help grinning, confident that she would make the money.

Walking back to the door she put her hand on the doorknob but re-considered, she wanted to see what this person had in her fridge. It was an odd quirk of hers but she had always wanted to know what other people ate and how they ate. She imagined the owner of the apartment would have no time to prepare dinner, maybe she would have the premium frozen meals, the microwave looked well used based off how deep the buttons seemed to be pressed in. She paused just before she opened the fridge pondering whether she should just leave, but she decided that it couldn't hurt.

As she opened the fridge a horrible stench hit her like a tidal wave. She recoiled back to the sink and wondered what could be causing such an awful smell. Moving closer while covering her nose the best she could Ria stuck her head in. Opening her eyes she found a pair of eyes staring at her. Shouting as loud as she could manage she flew back again. Inside of the fridge was a partly decomposed head. The eyes where glazed and glassy but might have been blue, and the man's hair was black, though it was frozen and seemed to be thinning rapidly. It looked like his head was cleanly cut off at the next.

Ria quickly turned to the sink and vomited shouting "What the fuck" as she did so, though it was distorted and barely coherent. Coughing as she breathed in the sick she slowly turned away to look back at the head. That was the kind of person who kept such a spotless house, who kept a getaway bag just in case, she couldn't believe someone so insane could live in the same complex as that elderly couple or the newly formed student union. The concept almost made her sick again but she was able to reel in her instincts.

Fumbling about with the faucet behind her she turned on the cold water to rush her bile away. She stared at the head almost unable to comprehend what would drive a person to do something like that. Only then did she notice that it wasn't alone. Wrapped up in plastic bags all around it where various other parts of a person, arms, legs, and various organs all divided evenly and clearly labeled into their parts. That brought on another fit of puking as she stood over the running sink. Opening her eyes again she saw the clear water spilling out next to her cheek. Slowly she saw the water grow slightly red, then the flow slowed as the liquid got thicker.

Within seconds the faucet was spilling out sticky dark red blood. Ria recoiled again this time shoving herself away from the kitchen and into the main living area. The blood slowly pooled and spilled out into the kitchen and she saw the man from earlier, who had stabbed himself, slowly climbing out of the fridge. He wasn't quite right though, it was like a Picasso version of a person, limbs jutting out at seemingly random directions. His organs where not inside him either, but they where still running, his heart was still pumping out blood which fell to the floor creating a rush that sought to envelop her.

As she stared at this hideous monster all she could think to do was laugh again. The flow of blood had met up with her and was slowly covering her clothes but all she could do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. She laughed so hard that she could barely breath and then she looked up and saw the cold glazed eyes of the drunk man, staring at her, inches from her face. He reached out with one of his malformed hands and blood oozed out of where it would connect to a normal shoulder, spilling onto her. As he grasped her arms she closed her eyes and wished it all away, then she looked up again.

She had backed herself into a corner of the room but otherwise everything was normal, the faucet was running and she looked down and saw a bit of bile that she had not managed to wipe away. Standing up she calmly went over to the refrigerator door and shut it ignoring its contents. Bending over the faucet she made sure to wipe all remnants of her encounter away, and satisfied she turned towards the door. As she was leaving she stared at the fridge again, when she saw the head leap out through the door opening its mouth which was now enormous to consume her. Then the image was gone and she was left staring at the fridge where she knew a dead man was stored.

She didn't know what to do, she couldn't admit she had been there, it would destroy her even if they didn't press charges, even if they just accepted that she had happened upon it it would still take too much time. Standing on the precipice she sniffed the air again and felt nauseous, then she had an idea. She opened the fridge, from the side where she couldn't see, and left it open. Stepping over to the door she opened it and propped it open with the chair from inside. Surely someone would investigate, if only to see why the door was open, then they would wander in, smell something and see why the fridge was open, it was foolproof she thought, moving off to the other side of the building.

She decided to press her luck more, and set out for another apartment on the same floor. So far she had at the very least profited if experienced some disturbing imagery, so what was the worst that could happen she figured. Walking as casually as possible she picked another door at random, not really noting the number. Opening the door she slipped in and was met with a fairly similar scene. The new room was not too dissimilar from her own, covered in books and the remains of takeout food.

She felt some empathy with this person, but quickly forgot it as her quest for valuables continued. Opening doors and cupboards essentially at random Ria did not expect to find very much, but subconsciously wanted to know how different this person was, begging for there to be something, some fatal flaw or difference that separated them as people and allowed her to distance herself from what she was doing. Looking through the kitchen she found nothing, though the fridge was unusually empty. She noticed there was quite a lot of meat in the freezer but otherwise it seemed like a stereotypical living place.

Moving on from the kitchen she looked around the living room, hoping for some wallet or set of keys or something. There was nothing, not even any decorations that looked valuable, just the typical clutter of life, filled with junk with no jewels except the ones we carry with us. Moving on she slowly opened the bedroom door peering cautiously inside. It was then that the door burst open and Ria realized why there was so much meat in the fridge.

Erupting out of the door was a large dog, Ria did not know what breed it was, only that it stood almost half as tall as her and seemed to weigh nearly a ton as when it had opened the door it had knocked the wind out of her. It looked eager and stood in the middle of the room slobbering until it slowly turned to face Ria concerned about the new smell upon its property. It seemed to have a genuine look of surprise on its face as Ria stepped out from behind the door. Evidently it had not been expecting company.

Staring at it Ria did not know what to do, either to stand very still and approach it slowly or merely to sprint for the door. She realized that leaving immediately would be admitting defeat, it would mean accepting the fact that she would get nothing from the apartment and it had only served to hamper her. She couldn't do that, and staring at the Mickey Mouse clock on the wall she was reminded just how little time she had. Staring the dog down both engaged in a millennium long staring contest that only lasted a few seconds.

In the end the dog barked and charge and Ria yelped and threw herself into the bedroom, closing the door behind her. The made huge impact sounds as it threw itself against the door attempting to find a way in. Ria could barely hold it as each subsequent impact drove her further and further back, and just when she thought it might break through it stopped completely and she steeped back to reassess the situation. She couldn't run out, that was no longer and option. Glancing around the room she realized she must be on one edge of the complex, and thus should be able to slip outside and be alright.

Tossing pillows aside and reaching under the bed Ria resulted in nothing but dust and an increasingly ominous silence from the other side of the door. Looking around in all the closets and all the clothes inside of them, a wardrobe not altogether too different from her own she mused, she eventually found what she was looking for. In one of the oldest and ugliest coats she found a small envelope containing almost two hundred dollars. Ria decided that it was obviously an emergency fund in case everything else stopped working.

This almost drove her to put it back but she considered the relative needs of both parties, herself and the nameless duplicate of her, and decided that she simply needed it more, and it was too bad that innocent people might have to suffer through it. Looking back from the closet the door began to shake again as the dog renewed its efforts. Ria, terrified, rushed to press her body against the door hoping against all hope that it would stand.Lying with her back against the door it lurched, and it lurched again. Thinking quickly she thought she might be able to use its momentum to her advantage.

Slowly standing up while carefully keeping most of her weight pressed against the door Ria continued to struggle against the near constant assault. Stepping back and taking a stance she prepared to throw the door open at just the right moment. Just before she did it she wondered if others in the building would hear, if they would do anything about it, ignoring that thought for now she threw open the door and jumped to the side. The dog rushed in and slid on the hardwood floor. While it still tried to get a grip sliding its toenails into the floor she rushed through the open door and shut it as quick as she could.

Standing in front of the door panting she wondered what to do. She knew that the dog would not be able to get out, that was why it had been locked in there, but it could still make noise. Considering everything she had in her pack she decided that there was nothing else she could do, it was time to leave, to give up on it for now. Hurrying to the door she heard the thumping resume and turned to do one final check of the apartment. Deciding there was nothing more she could do she slipped out and looked around as casually as possible.

Ria strode confidently towards the stairs and noticed several people hanging around apartment 502. She smiled as she knew that her plan had worked, but her expression slowly disappeared as she saw a child sobbing on the ground. He couldn't have been more than five, and he was sitting on the ground terrified and weeping. She imagined what must have happened, he was wandering around the apartments in front of his parents, they knew nothing could go wrong inside the building so they let it happen.

He rushed into the apartment because it was open, and his parents rushed after him, afraid he would intrude on someone's business. He found something, as he must have seen the refrigerator, seen its horrid contents. It was possible he didn't understand, didn't know what it really meant, but as she passed she looked at his eyes and he looked at hers and she saw, he knew exactly what he saw. He would remember that for years, for the rest of his life she imagined, and turning away she wiped tears from her eyes and set off down the hall. There was nothing more to do about it, it wasn't her fault the world was so fucked she thought as she descended the stairs.

Ria couldn't bare to invade people's lives anymore, it had been too much for her. She felt like she was seeing them naked, in the place they considered sacred. No one should be subjected to that, even the filth that seem to occupy the city. She hated herself for what she had done even though there was no way she could have known. She tried to justify it but the words wouldn't come and as she walked through the lobby all she felt was shame. She was not a monster she thought, she didn't kill anyone and chop him up and keep him around.

After exiting the building she continued walking, unsure of exactly what to do. She couldn't rob homes, she couldn't steal from people, not from their own homes. She didn't know where to go to, she didn't have any place to go. Again she felt like she was directionless, she just didn't know what to do with herself. Stopping for just a second to get her bearings she sagged against a wall. She was so tired, maybe it would be best just to go to her apartment, to sink down on the bed and get some much needed rest.

That was a long way away though she thought, maybe it would be best just to find some other place she thought. Ria slowly slid down the wall and lay her head against the pillar that supported the shop above her. She wasn't really sure where she was but she didn't care, the previous hour's events had been too much for her as she sunk into the sleep of exhaustion.

Ria awoke to the buzzing of her alarm clock. Blearily smashing it she slowly stretched her arms and looked out at her beautiful view. Outside on the pigeon poop stained ledge was a single red splotch that hadn't been there before. Ignoring it she got up to get dressed. Looking at herself in the mirror she realized she needed more sleep, she looked so exhausted. Going into the bathroom she took out her toothbrush and began to brush her teeth. Spitting into the sink she realized there was more blood than usual as the bottom was stained red. She turned the faucet to turn on the water but nothing came out. Trying the other handle and still nothing came up. Spitting again even more blood rushed out and filled the bottom of the sink.

It splashed out onto the floor as well as she felt even more dripping from her mouth like a rabid dog's drool. Stumbling back she felt like her throat was filling up with it as well and she began to have difficulty breathing. Rushing out of her bathroom and into her kitchen she rushed to the sink and tried to pour out some water but nothing came out. Furiously looking around for something to drink she felt herself turning red and wrenched open the fridge. Inside she found the severed head of her brother as well as all the rest of him chopped up and put into nice little bags. Retching she covered the head with blood from her own throat.

Her eyes opened and she looked around disoriented. Blinking her eyes Ria realized she was still on the street. There where a small number of people walking past just as there always were, and all of them ignored her consigning her to the likes of a bum. She considered that notion for a minute, thinking about all the homeless people out there who begged for money and managed to make a living off it. They weren't living well, but it was something. Maybe it was something more than she could get otherwise. There was no other option really, nothing that was assured. It wasn't really lying either, she needed the money, kind people would give it to her, that was how it worked.

Then Ria stopped and considered how much she had given to homeless people over the years. It wasn't much, in fact she wasn't sure if she had given any since she moved to New York, she just tried to ignore them. It was like that for most people she reckoned, they saw the people who fell through the cracks, the ones who had problems that could be fixed if anyone cared enough but no one did. They walked past, so absorbed into their busy lives that they couldn't give a thought to any others. And she had been one of them.

Thinking now she wondered why Ellen was in the situation she was in, maybe she had been just like the rest of the people on the street. She wasn't as bad off as so many people out without homes or money, but she definitely had a problem, it was the only way to explain the sheer amount of money that was needed. If she survived this, if both of them survived this Ria vowed to make sure that Ellen got into a program, that she tried to get help, otherwise it would just happen again, and Ria wasn't sure she would be around to help.

She considered Ellen's desperate pleas again, how was it that someone could have no one else to ask. Ria herself didn't have much of anyone but she had her brother, she had someone who loved her and cared even if he had left her, she had asked him to go really, it wasn't his fault, at least he tried. All Ellen had was her, and that was nothing really Ria thought. In the end it was just madness, but sometimes it is best to just go along with the madness, to let it take its tole and see what happens.

No matter what had happened though Ria decided that if it came down to it, and it looked like it might, she was willing to beg, willing to ask strangers who would ignore her for help. She wondered what she would write though, what could she tell these strangers to catch their attention. If she told the truth they would think she was crazy, but maybe she was, maybe it would help. She didn't really have any of the materials to make a sign though and didn't want to spend the money too, looking at herself in the reflection of a window she decided that she looked pathetic enough to be out there with all the rest.

Standing up and stretching her legs she decided to move to a more central location. Somewhere the lunch rush would pass by, maybe Madison Avenue, she wasn't too far from there, it shouldn't take too long. Picking up her red duffel bag she began to walk along the street, ignoring the passers by just as they ignored her, that was just the way it was in a city the size of New York, an individual simply couldn't care for everyone else, it was too big and too many, they could care for themselves though, and pay attention to a select few friends living one life amongst millions, just like everyone else.

Even still she knew she would make enough money to buy food, enough to help her to make more money, that was the only task, everything else was tertiary. Walking quickly she noticed just how many homeless there where on the streets, how decrypt and old some of them looked, and how young and sad others looked. It doesn't matter who she looked at they all had an air of hopelessness, that was something she begged not to have, because she had a goal, a way out, it wasn't just progression from one day to the next, she was there for something.

With that goal in mind she was not saddened by the need to beg, merely accepted it as a turn of fate which had to happen. That was the way her life was turning, just like the world itself it was bound to happen, eventually. It did not have to be as literal as asking for change on the streets but she knew it would resolve down to begging from someone, that was simply the way life worked Ria figured, you try and you try and it is just never enough, that was what her brother showed her and was the philosophy she had lived on for some time.

Part 3

2:57 PM October 17th

The passers by had been generous, or so she thought. She had made about fifty dollars. Maybe it was because she was a girl, maybe she was in the right part of town, or maybe she just looked pathetic enough, but she had made enough that it would actually help her. It was mostly in change or wrinkled up dollar bills but it was something, and considering she had thought of nothing better it made her feel good to earn money from doing something that wasn't illegal. It was a sobering thought though knowing what she might have to do next.

The other option was gambling again, but that was such a risk, she wasn't sure she could afford to lose anything now, especially given the progress she had been making. There was simply no consistent way to make money, it all fell to shit if you put morals into it. She got up picking up her bag and set out, unsure of exactly where she wanted to go but knowing that she had to leave where she was standing, she hated that, especially after sitting still for so long. Frequently during her session she had wanted to get up, to go somewhere but it wouldn't help her to make money, it would just drive others off.

There was one place she could go she figured, she could go to the park, play chess with the people there. She had considered it before, but doubted it would be any more successful than begging and there was the chance of losing, something which might crush her enough to stop her from even trying. But that wouldn't happen she reassured herself, it was too impossible to even think about. Setting off for the park she decided to stop for some food. She knew that it would hurt her to spend money, but it was necessary to continue even walking, as she realized when she stood up.

Walking into the nearest cafe she went up to the counter and looked at what they had to offer. There where a number of sandwiches, some rolls or breakfast food, and drinks like coffee. There was only one other person in the place, sitting in the corner and reading his paper, she couldn't see his face, but noticed that he was overweight and had a shiny golden pocket-watch. Looking at the waitress at the counter she had dyed red hair and sunken eyes and Ria noticed the telltale signs of someone with greater aspirations who didn't want to be in the food service industry.

She had seen it many times before, especially with some of the other employees at her workplace, and even seen it in the mirror a few times on some of those bleak winter days. She wondered what the counter person thought of her, dirty and tired as she was, she must look like a homeless person, that's why she had been given so much change, she must be being judged by this random woman so much.

"Can I get a ham and egg sandwich please, and um, is the water free?" Ria said.

"Yes, I'll assume you want a glass of that. Sit wherever and I'll bring you your food." The waitress drawled sullenly.

Ria took her seat over in the opposite corner from the man and proceeded to stare at him. He seemed like he shouldn't be there, he was too upper-class, and the place was nothing special. Ria tried not to be biased but she thought her own shop was much better, had a nicer atmosphere and more interesting things to read, to look at even. She would not be surprised to see this gentleman at her shop but at this random coffee house it seemed odd.

Still staring at him she picked up the newspaper that was nearest her and vaguely glanced through the headline. There was nothing of interest, just one of the many sensationalist pieces that where often published to try to slow the steady decline of readers. It wasn't helping, but it certainly made them more interesting to see. This was about how violent television and movies where causing an increase in crimes. It cited a few things he had heard of, and a few studies that she knew where bullshit. She felt bad for the reporter, she knew the kind of pressures they would be put under and their workload, it would kill her. Even working for her own school paper had been hard, working for an actual one would be murder.

Setting it down the waitress brought her her sandwich and water. Setting down the glass on the paper it slipped and spilled all over the table and Ria. "Shit, I'm sorry." Said the waitress, and she rushed off presumably to get paper towels. Ria didn't mind too much, not really, at least she apologized, even treated Ria as any other customer. She began to ravenously devour her sandwich as it was untouched by the water. The waitress came back and muttering something about it being 'not even supposed to be her day' she wiped up the water. Finishing up with that she retreated to the kitchen, and after several minutes it seemed like she wasn't coming out until Ria was done.

Ria felt sorry for the girl, she didn't need to feel ashamed, accidents happen, that was just the way life was. Still, she supposed she had been in similar situations and just run away before, retreated behind invisible or visible walls, it was just her way. That was not who she was anymore though she thought, not after what had transpired. Sometimes circumstances change a person enormously, and for Ria she had been forced to adapt, to react to events far outside the norm that terrified her. That was why she was sitting in that coffee shop and why she was going to leave it soon.

Finishing her sandwich she noticed that the rich looking gentleman was also finished with his meal, and finished reading. He slowly got up groaning as he did so, as if it was an enormous effort just to move. Upon reaching his full height he stretched and began to slowly walk out the door. Ria also stood up, though she did not stretch, nor make a noise, but silently stood and waited. When he had moved out of the door she stepped out behind him, shadowing him at about fifteen paces.

6:57 PM October 17th

Ria had been traveling for some time, alternating between jogging and walking as she realized just how tired she was. She finally had a goal however, as she realized that there where some legal gambling establishments in New York. She knew that those places would be better looked after, they would have security and precautions meant to avoid the kind of thing that happened to her at that back alley, and they would be more regulated than a place like that as well, guaranteed not to cheat, or at least do it in an honest way.

She found herself in front of an enormous flashy building, all neon and flashing lights. It was one of several casinos in New York but she didn't know where any other one was, but knew this one from the time Andrew had come up and dragged her to it. She remembered that trip fondly even though she was miserable at the time, she had been sick the previous day and was not up to any excitement or drinking, but her brother managed to make it tolerable, even if it wasn't conscious. Ria was never entirely sure if her brother really tried or whether it just came naturally, but he always managed to help her.

Or at least he had, now though he didn't understand, and though he tried, she was sure of that, there was nothing he could do, not anymore. She thought again about leaving him at the restaurant, she had beat herself up over it from the minute she left, but turning back was never an option, as it would be admitting he just might be right, and also admitting that she couldn't do things on her own, something the new Ria simply refused to do. She had been on her own for so long what was just a little longer.

Standing at the precipice she prepared to dive in. She knew that she couldn't play poker with some of these people, they where more experienced and less drunk, she would lose money which was something she simply couldn't do. She couldn't play the slots either, they where just luck, and where too small of a payoff, again she couldn't afford the time or the cost. This left her with relatively few options, but before she could get as far as to consider the other options she was stopped just before she could go inside.

"Sorry miss but I'm going to have to ask to see your ID." A big bouncer dressed in a fancy suit stopped her before the door and she looked desperately at him. She couldn't see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but she knew that he wouldn't let her through if she didn't have any identification. She considered trying to explain to him her day, but realized it would sound insane to anyone but herself, and even then it still didn't seem real. No, he would just see it as an elaborate set of excuses and stop her. Ria prepared to walk away, hands in pockets, when she realized there was something in her right pocket.

Reaching in and pulling out a dark blue passport she stared at it, wondering where it could have come from. She supposed she must have taken it sometime during her travels, but she couldn't remember when. Opening it up with trembling hands she saw someone who looked very much like herself, though with a slightly different hair color and thinner cheekbones. Still, it was passable, and staring at her doppelganger she slowly turned around and handed the guard her passport. He stared at it for a little while, then looked at her for a few seconds, then back at the picture.

Ria was terrified he would reject it, call the police and hold her until they could find out who the passport belonged to then she wouldn't be able to save Ellen and everything would fall apart around her, but that didn't happen. He handed back the passport and said, "Welcome, sorry for the trouble." Ria muttered "No, no it was no trouble at all." But she had already moved through the door so he didn't hear her. Looking down into the casino Ria was almost blinded by the amount of lights.

Everywhere sensory input blasted the senses, especially sight and sound but also smell, the whole room was designed to confuse and disorient people, especially inebriated ones. Glancing at the bar Ria considered getting a drink, though she normally was not a heavy drinker, and especially did not do it to while away her troubles. She liked to think of herself as a social drinker, but given how little socializing she did it meant she didn't really drink at all. Even still there was a primal urge in her to have a shot of something hard, just to help ease some of the pressure she was feeling.

She couldn't do that though, because she knew that would only lead to disaster, for her and for Ellen. Looking around the room she saw that though there weren't a tremendous amount of people there were more than she expected on a Wednesday night. Some of them where wearing wrinkled collared shirts, ties undone and a glass of some alcoholic substance in their hand, drinking away the day after work. Those where the worst people Ria thought, the ones who fed their addiction through work, and worked to feed their addiction, there was no point to their lives.

She tried to do something with hers at least, maybe she hadn't done much but she had read and wrote and accomplished something at least, she had not given up on life like the rest of these people. She felt sorrow for them more than anything else, pity as well but she didn't want to pity them, not when they already did that themselves, she just felt sad for so many of them. There where others though, the ones who stood out because they had crowds gather around them. They knew how to play the games, how to win the games. The house always wins but sometimes that means someone else getting some money.

She hoped that person would be her, as she walked down the red carpeted steps into the main room. Looking around she realized she would have to go and get some chips or something, that was how things worked. Looking around for a cashier she found no one and was soon disoriented as a rush of people stormed pass her on some desperate quest. Looking after them she realized where they where going, a new show had started at the main room, and judging by the crowd and their expressions it was a lady taking her clothes off.

Ignoring that she pressed on around the room avoiding any sort of contact or confrontation, afraid to ask for directions because of the consequences that might ensue. Eventually she stumbled onto a reception like area with a girl at the front desk dressed in an outfit that Ria felt was a tad too revealing, but that was all part of the casino atmosphere, a tad dirty but not enough that it was socially unacceptable. Walking up the desk she asked, "So is this where I buy chips or how does this work. I'm sorry I don't really remember how it works."

"Yes, you can buy them here, though the slot machines just take cards if that's all you're interested in. I can do any number of denominations or divisions so just tell me how much you want and I'll charge and change it for you." She said this all in a pleasant voice but Ria could tell she didn't want to be there, and that it was just another day of work for her.

"Can I um, can I buy them with cash?" She nodded her head. "I'll just um, get it out of my bag." Setting down her bag she looked inside. She realized that there was a decent amount of bills that she couldn't show anyone, it was so dirty or stained that any normal person would question where she got it, and she couldn't explain, they would arrest her, take her away to somewhere. Reaching down though she managed to find her paycheck, from when she cashed it. That was clean money, something no one could question, but it was only a few hundred dollars, she wasn't sure how much it would really help. Still, she had to try, and putting the money down as gently as possible she left it to the receptionist to count it.

She picked up the money delicately and flipped through it, counting it near instantly. Within thirty second she had cashed it into a number of different denominations and handed the chips to Ria who was disappointed at how small the stack was, even though she knew that was how it would have to be. Still she had to work with what she had, and she couldn't bear to lose much more. Walking over to the tables Ria surveyed all the players. A few who passed her by had the sunken eyes that showed they had lost so much, and she prayed that she wouldn't end up like them. Walking over to one of the roulette tables she sat down. There where several other people there, but only one of them looked truly interested. In front of him stood a pile of chips stacked high, but examining them carefully she noticed none of them where higher than 5, and most of them where 1s. Still the man jumped excitedly as the little ball spun almost hopping out of his seat.

The others where a little less enthusiastic, decreasing in enthusiasm based off the number of chips they had. One particularly sullen looking gentleman had only one chip in front of him. He was not an old man exactly, but was reaching the cusp of middle-age and acted like it. Staring at the ball turn Ria could tell he was seeing his life spin away. Once it stopped money was awarded, bur really just taken away, and the man slowly placed his last chip on the number 29. Watching him closely Ria saw him bow his head and pray.

Ria wondered how much it could mean to him, this one little chip. It was not a lot of money, it was just 25 dollars but she supposed it could make all the difference. Everyone else made their bets but she just watched him, strained to hear what he was saying under his breath. As she stared the croupier asked her, "Excuse me miss you have to bet if you're going to sit there." Looking abashed Ria took one of her ones and put it on the number 29. The man had stopped praying when the croupier had spoke he looked around seemingly just noticing there where other people at the table. Blinking his eyes several times he stared around, then bowed his head again and resumed his chant.

Ria slowly turned to look at the ball spin round and round. Suddenly it jolted into a hole and the wheel slowly stopped. It had landed on 15 and the hyperactive gentleman jumped and shouted with glee though from what she saw he had actually lost money. The gentleman she had been watching slowly slunk off and she watched him leave, shoulders hunched and a defeated expression evident. Unable to resist her curiosity she threw all the chips into her bag and walked quickly after him. Just before he reached the entrance she caught up with him and not knowing how to contact him just shouted. "Hey!"

The man turned around confused, and saw Ria coming up to him. Standing there awkwardly she wasn't sure what to say, but managed to stumble out a question. "Um, I, I just wanted to know why you bet like that on the game. The roulette game back there I mean. I don't want to intrude, but I just, I don't know exactly why I'm here and wanted to know why you where." She trailed off at the end and considered if that was really what she wanted to know, or whether she said it just to say something.

The man cleared his throat an coughed just once. "Well that's a bit of a complex question isn't it. I don't know you miss but from the looks of it you're young, full of energy and life, try to keep it that way. You see I'm not what I once was, and now this is my only source of I don't know, excitement I suppose you'd call it. Sometimes the long shot is all you have, it's the only thing that is worth anything. I don't mean to be pessimistic, it's just the way things are. I'm sure you think some things about me now, coming to the casino for excitement, but I've accepted my fate, I don't mind telling others about it." He sighed then but Ria didn't feel sorry for him, his request had touched her.

"Hmm, I guess, I'm in a bit of money trouble and I went here looking for the long shot. Maybe I should just take it, that's what you're saying?" Ria asked.

"Bit of money trouble? This place won't help with that, no, it's never helped me. I've come here for God knows how many years and prayed for my last chip every time and I've got nothing, never won anything here, just lost. That's just the way it is though, maybe you'll have better luck than me. Here's my advice, always bet on black, red is too morbid." With that he stepped out of the door and Ria didn't care to pursue him, she learned everything she needed to know.

Some of the people where sad, some of them where desperate, but most where looking for something that the Casino could come close to granting them, some sort of risk, of excitement. She wasn't looking for that, she was looking for money. She supposed that didn't make her too different from the addicts all around but she had a reason behind it, that cause would be enough for lady luck she believed. With that she went over to the roulette table she had been at before. The other players looked at her inquisitively but she didn't say anything, and the excited player continued to jump up and down.

When it came time to betting she considered very carefully. Going just off his word, off her feelings, she could bet everything on one number, it would net her enough, it might even net her more than enough, she would be able to pay the world back for the horrible things she had been forced to do. Still deciding the croupier again asked her to place a bet, and absentmindedly tossing a five onto the board she realized she had bet on 29 again. The wheel spun and spun and all the player's looked on excitedly, though some decidedly less enthusiastic than they had been before she left, looking around she noticed the piles where down a bit.

The ball kept spinning and eventually came to a rest on 29. Ria barely reacted she was so surprised. She looked down as she was handed over 150 dollars in chips and was amazed. Maybe the man's luck had never worked out but hers had to. Deciding carefully for her next action again she pushed the entire amount she had made onto 17. She wasn't sure why she had chosen that, but it just seemed right. More bets where called and added and no one else placed on her number, that made her more confident for some reason. Ria was sure that she would win again, probability was in her favor, it had to be. The ball slowly stopped spinning and came to land on a number. Ria couldn't quite see but given all bets where swept off she was sure it couldn't have been good.

Staring at the table Ria began to doubt herself. She had been drawn in by the same allure as the rest of these people, but she didn't have enough money and was supposed to be smarter than that. No, it had to go her way, she had no other chance she thought, pushing most of her stack over to a number. Going against the man's advice she bet on 16. That had been yesterday, it had been a good day, she decided it had not gone her way because everything had gone wrong on the 17th, but the 16th was good, it was right, it would make everything alright once she won her money back.

Once no more bets where called she realized she had a fifty still sitting underneath her palm. Having no chance to put it on what she felt was such a likely number she almost cowed in sadness, wondering if it would be the deciding factor. It was not however as the ball spun and spun and stopped, sitting plainly on 23. Staring at the wheel she saw her chips just disappear, just like everyone else around her. Even the hyperactive man had calmed down somewhat and seemed to be swearing under his breath as he had lost many of his chips in few rounds. Sometimes luck does not shine on the good Ria thought staring at her one chip.

Looking at the board again she knew she had to bet it, there was no other chance. Laying the chip on 10 she stared, and she decided that given it was her last chip she may as well pray. She didn't know who to pray to really, she had never been too religious and didn't have any particular beliefs, but sitting there in the Casino wit her life on the line she prayed to any being that would listen, prayed that the ball would find its place, and that she would be given the chance to redeem herself. The wheel kept spinning and Ria just wanted to scream as it started to slow down, she knew it wouldn't help but it might make her feel better as the ball landed, and it was not on 10.

She had lost it, lost her chance, she had destroyed it. Staring at the table ashamed the world muted around her she realized the croupier was asking her to leave if she had no more chips left, as other players still had money to place. Hearing this gave Ria an idea. "Do you accept cash? I mean I know I'm supposed to cash it but do you?" The man stared inquisitively at her for a moment, then responded with a nod of his head. Ria's face lit up at this, and she reached inside her pocket pulling out the fifty dollars that had been Ellen's. They where lucky she figured, they had to work, it had something else behind it.

Placing it on Ellen's birthday, the 15th, she looked around at the other depressed faces around her. As the croupier called for no more bets she wondered why she played. There was no strategy, no grand scheme, it was just luck, and that was what they where all betting on. It was what she was betting on, that she was luckier than the casino. As the ball spun she wondered what would happen if she where to pull out her gun, to threaten and start firing and try to get as much money as possible. It was merely an idle thought as the ball eventually came to rest on 15. This time she shouted and cheered and took her payout with an enormous smile as the rest of the table looked at her like she was crazy.

Backing away and laughing awkwardly she hurried over to the counter to cash in her chips and to get some money back, maybe enough money, or at the very least very close. She couldn't press her luck any further anyway, she knew that, she was destined to win only that once, any more would just be invoking the wrath of some higher power like the Casino.

Ria wondered if the Casino's occupants where watching her as she did this, but she didn't mind, she had made her money, and no one could take that away form her. Bringing her chips up to the cashier she felt so satisfied. "Are you sure you want to leave so soon? It looks like you've already made quite a bit, maybe you can make some more if you stay with us for just a little longer." This was another one of the Casino's tricks she decided, playing luck against any of the gamblers, making sure that the house always won in the end and everyone wandered away destitute.

"No, no I'll take this and leave please. I mean it's nice here, but I have places to go." The lady looked at Ria inquisitively, but in the end cashed out the chips like she was obliged to and handed it to her in clean, organized bills.This was the first time she didn't feel bad about getting money, as she had gotten it legally, and through means that weren't even immoral to her. Looking down in her bag she saw a dark, red substance oozing around the rest of the bills, sickly in color and smell. Looking around wildly she was terrified that someone else would smell it or see it but no one else seemed to respond.

Rapidly Ria tossed in her money and close the bag up, hurrying out as fast as she could. Rushing past the security guard she could feel his gaze on her but ignored it because she had reached the freedom of the street, and nothing could touch her after that she thought. Smelling the fresh air Ria was hopeful again, she knew that it was possible to make the money. With that she knew she had time to do something. For once she felt confident.

She wondered where to go then, she had nowhere to go. She was so tired, maybe just taking a rest would be the best thing for her, but she couldn't afford to, she might sleep too long, and then it would be all over. Looking out at the street she started walking in a direction, she started walking towards home, it was a natural destination to go to, it was a place that was safe for her, even if it was no longer exactly hers. She traveled in this direction for some time, walking the streets and seeing the people, for once she seemed to notice everything.

There were beggars on the street, so many people with no money and no hopes. As she passed some she saw their dead eyes, the ones who had totally lost hope. There were others though, they still had some energy left, some of them had recently become homeless she figured, or possibly they were merely putting on an act for their children or wives. Another possibility was that they had seen the generosity that people could give, as some of the many people that had passed had shown her.

There where others as well, ones so obsessed with their own day that they ignored all others. They rushed passed uncaring of what was in their way, that was the typical New York attitude, at least what people believed it to be. These people knew that their lives where more important than those of other people, that all the other people rushing around didn't really know what they where doing, they had meaningless lives, unlike them. Ria was never one of those people, she knew that others had more important and better lives than she had, it was just that she lived her own live. Only today had she had something more, something better than all the rest of the populace running around for no reason or their own reasons.

Then there where others, like her, that where enjoying life. They where very few and far between in the city of things to do and people to see but they existed, you could tell by their slow gait and their eyes, looking around to see all there was to see. Ria was impressed by some of them, the discipline they showed in ignoring the rushing people, accepting their meandering lives. She had wanted to be one of those, but she had never cared too much about all the rest of the people on the streets. That was her fault, as now it was all that she cared about, all the people wandering around with their own lives that she would never see, it was magical to her.

The magic went away when she stopped wandering and ended up at her apartment though. Ria wondered whether her brother was up there, in the place that was only hers and would never be again. She wondered whether she had any right just to stand and stare, as it was now like looking into someone else's life, it wasn't her's anymore, that was all she knew. A single tear fell from her eyes and before any more could come she turned away. It wasn't fair, she knew this, but she knew from the beginning of the day that it wouldn't be fair, that she would do things she would regret, even if she lied to herself about them.

Turning away she looked around for a clock, some measure of the time. Realizing there were none around she decided to ask the people on the street, the ones she had been observing for so long. Attempting to stop several people they just ignored her, consigning her to the same category as the bums who begged for change. Eventually though one person cared to stop, and told her that it was 11 O' clock, almost on the dot. That terrified her, and she almost immediately sprinted off. The man shouted back at her "Are you alright?" She had to ignore him though, as she had places to go.

Running off she knew she didn't have enough, she would have to do something, something radical, that broke the barriers she had formed around herself and as she was running she could almost see the world folding around her, the walls melting as she realized that nothing really mattered anymore. Running along the people passing didn't seem to notice, didn't seem to mind, they where busy in their own lives with their own problems. Sprinting and thinking desperately Ria didn't know what to do. Eventually she came to a stop to gather her breath, to gather her emotions.

She realized she was outside of a liquor store. A store which would have made quite some money over the course of the day. She hated herself for thinking that way but she knew that there was only one option, she had exhausted everything else. Sitting against a wall opposite the store she stared at it. She saw the cashier inside, he didn't look like a bad guy, he probably wasn't, but she had no other option. Reaching into her bag she pulled out the mask that she had picked up what seemed like an eternity ago.

It looked like a malformed human face, a mockery of what a person really was, and it was bleeding, dying just like a normal person would. She knew it was deliberate, it was all deliberate, and planned, even though it was impossible for Simon to have planned it all. He had reduced her to nothing, and then ground her into dust until all that was left was this mask, and the gun. The firearm she stored in her pants, knowing she would need it quickly, she wouldn't have time to rifle through her bag. Staring at the store she knew what she would have to do, and thought about what she might need to do if things went badly, and again she was brought to the brink of tears.

Part 4

12:05 PM October 17th

The phone was ringing and Ria didn't know what to do. She had to answer it, but was so terrified, she had just seen an impossible thing, and everything she thought she knew in life had been destroyed. Ellen was going to be killed if she didn't do anything about it, that madman would kill her. No, Ria had decided that she couldn't let that happen, that was that, it was done. The phone rung again and Ria just stared at it, like a gazelle stares at a lion, terrified of what it might do, and knowing it could kill her at any moment.

The phone rung again and Ria shot out and picket it up. "It is just the beginning for you." The voice on the other end sounded crazed. "I promised her, haha, I promised her, and I lied, ha, ha, you little bitch how could you, no she says don't hurt her, ha."

"I don't, I, what do you mean?"

"Shut the fuck up!" The man, Ria presumed it to be Simon shouted as loud as he could at the phone. "Just shut up you fucking whore, you are dead. Ha, yeah, I didn't tell her, she doesn't know but you are fucking dead, there is nothing you can do about it. You got nothing to lose bitch, but what are you going to do with it?"

"I'm dead, no, I can't, what, are you going to kill me? At the end of this are you going to kill me you bastard?"

"Going to kill you she says, ha, no, ha, I already killed you. I didn't just knock you out, I killed you, ha. There's this thing, it's a drug, I made it, it doesn't have a name, but it kills you. Not immediately no, no it kills you after a day, a bit more maybe, depends on what you do, but it kills you. Ha, you are speechless, don't know what to say, because there is nothing to say, you are dead. It doesn't do shit to your mind though, well not really, you might see some things, see some things if you do things, but you wouldn't, wouldn't hurt or kill right? That's not the kind of person you are you fucking whore."

"Don't even think of saying a word, you already lost, you died, game over. That means no consequences right? Total freedom, it is what I gave you, you should appreciate it, it can be great. I've had it, this freedom, but I'm not dead, because I'm better than you, simple isn't it. Yeah, real simple, ha, you died, I lived, that is the way it's going to be, but the thing is, there is someone else on the line, your fucking date, your fucking lover is it now? Is that what you want? No, not anymore, ha, you lost, that's it."

"There isn't any cure to this, not yet at least. You can't fix it, ha, it's great, you just die. Maybe you could go to a hospital, maybe they could fix you up, but you have nothing to show them, you'll be put on low priority, it will take so long for them to see you that you might already be dead. Even if you aren't and they do find the stuff in you, fuck maybe they can even fix it, I don't know I'm not a fucking doctor, but it will be too late, your little girlfriend, that bitch, she will be dead and it will be your fault. You see, you fucking see?"

"It doesn't matter what you fucking do, it doesn't matter who you fucking see, you are dead. You can still save her though can't you, I did that for you. You won't be the same person, you can't be, because I fucking killed you. Enjoy your freedom whore." Then he hung up. Ria had not said a word because she couldn't, she was stunned. Everything that she had planned or hoped for had gone away with that one phone call. Her entire life had disappeared in front of her eyes as she realized how much she would never have the chance to do.

Ria realized that sometimes she had wished for something more, something exciting. Now give the chance all she wanted to do was to curl up in a corner, read a book and escape from reality. She wouldn't have the chance to though, Simon took everything from her. She hated him so much, looking at the TV screen she saw his face and imagined it burning in a fire. She grabbed the nearest thing to her, the alarm clock, and threw it into the screen with all her might. It smashed and a few sparks flew out, but the image of his face was still there, ignoring the crack in it.

Ria wanted to shout, wanted to scream, she wanted to pray to whatever god would have her but she did none of those things, just stared at the screen showing everything that had gone wrong in her life. She couldn't comprehend where so much malice, so much hate could come from. Then she realized that she was hating him almost as much as he hated her, but she wouldn't kill him, she knew she didn't have it in her. That crushed her more than anything else, she could never sink to his level, to abduction and murder, even with the perfect chance she wouldn't be able to kill him.

She felt like it at that moment though, she could feel the blood rising in her body, but she couldn't do anything about it. All she could was lie on the bed. A full minute went by where she did absolutely nothing, barely breathing she simply stared at the ceiling. Ria nearly gave up hope there, and the oppressive ceiling slowly began to cave in around her, crushing the life out of her. Then she realized that Simon must have been lying, he couldn't make something which could kill someone like that, it didn't make any sense. If he was lying she had a chance, she could live, she could deal with that, with saving Ellen. She remembered her brother, the one saving grace of her life, he could make everything better, he could fix everything. Even when everything had gone to shit she could always rely on her brother thought Ria.

11:45 PM October 17th

Ria ran as hard as she could, even though she knew it wouldn't be fast enough. The police would catch her, she was sure of it, they would find her and put her in custody and send her to jail for the rest of her life. Looking quickly around at every intersection she saw cars of every variety but no police cars, no flashing lights. Though she was relieved she was also terrified, because if they weren't around her maybe they had found out about her store, maybe they would be waiting for her and they would catch her.

Thinking through it though Ria realized that they where just paranoid delusions, as no one had seen her face, they didn't know who she was and there was no way they could track her, she had kept the mask on all the time. As she was running she realized she was still wearing it and stopped ripping it off her head. Cool breathable air entered her lungs and she realized how constricted the mask had made her. She tossed it into the street disgusted by it. They wouldn't find her that way, that was something she was sure of.

Looking around again to make sure no pedestrians payed any attention to her she realized there was no one around, and sped off, running harder than she had ever before. She knew the store was not too far away but if she was late she didn't know what would happen, whether he would just kill her or something worse. Sprinting around corners she passed a few people, ignoring them just as they ignored her. She had no time to stop and look though, no time to do anything but run really and that is what she did.

After just under fifteen minutes she reached the front of the store. It was completely locked up and she almost collapsed as she reached it, instead simply bending down and holding her knees, almost unable to catch her breath for how tired she was. After taking a minute to catch her breath she looked up and almost immediately lost it again. Ellen was advancing towards her and she looked awful. Her jeans where ripped and her shirt was covered in dirt. Her eyes were puffy and red and Ria could see a twig in her hair which was completely tangled. Behind her Simon walked confidently, holding a gun to her back. His eyes were even more crazed than before, but otherwise he looked no different from the video.

"I'm so sorry." Ellen shouted as soon as she saw Ria. Ria wondered what she herself looked like but didn't have time to investigate as Simon hit Ellen with the gun in the back of her head and she fell to the ground, her knees scraping the pavement. "You don't fucking say anything until I tell you to." He shouted at her as she whimpered along the ground. Then he looked at Ria and smiled, asking as politely as he could. "So do you have my money?" Ria gestured towards the bag and he looked confident. "Alright, we are not doing this here though, too open, follow me, and if you do anything she dies. You understand?" Ria nodded.

He grabbed Ellen and hoisted her up abruptly and pushed her in front of him, pointing the gun at her back the entire time. Ria noticed he seemed more collected than before, his sentences where coming out like a reasonable person unlike before when he was shouting like a madman. She followed along trying to keep exact pace with him. The odd trio walked for quite some time, nearly half an hour, with not one of them saying a word. Whenever they encountered other people, which was not often as they took back routes and alleyways, Simon would hide his gun and move to envelop Ellen. Ria hated him all the more for that, but couldn't do anything.

Eventually they reached what seemed to be an abandoned apartment. They where in a bad part of town so most of the places around had boarded up windows or broken glass, but this one looked like the worst of the lot. The trio walked up the stairs and through the broken door and entered into what Ria surmised to be Simon's home. In the room to the right she saw a very ratty looking mattress, and a small table with an even smaller TV on it. As they continue through the house she saw the bathroom, which seemed to have developed a permanent layer of filth, and the kitchen which seemed to have no actual food, just several full mouse traps and a few empty boxes.

Stepping into the final room of the house Ria found what seemed to be Simon's study, given that it had three chairs. It was also the only room in the house which had a proper door which seemed to have a lock on it. Bringing Ellen with him he sat them both down in the chairs farthest from the door, and gestured his hand offering Ria the final seat. Looking around she saw several old books which seemed at odds with the house, with authors like Twain and Shakespeare appearing on various spines.

"So, show me the money, and if it's not enough well that would be most unfortunate wouldn't it?" He said this with an evil little smile. Ria bent down and opened up the duffel bag pouring out its contents. The gun she had already hidden in her pants, so only the money and the clothes spilled out. "Looks like we've been busy haven't we? Well you can't give it to me like that can you? Why don't you count it for me?" With that he pushed his gun further into Ellen's back and she grunted in pain. Ria winced but started arranging the bills knowing it was the only way to end it as soon as possible.

As she began counting Simon began to laugh to himself, still smiling as the money was arranged in neat little piles. Ria just stared at him as she counted, knowing that it wouldn't be quite enough. What she didn't know is what he would do once he found out. One thing she noticed about the study was there was only one exit, the door she came in by. Slowly counting the bills she wondered if she could shoot him and escape with Ellen before he had a chance to do anything. Then she wondered if she could shoot him.

Ria gradually finished up her count and just stared at the stacks splayed out before her. It was everything she had feared, she didn't have enough. She had tried so hard and made so much but in the end she was about five hundred dollars short. As she stared she noticed a small change in Simon's expression. It wasn't anything major, but for the first time he looked just a little bit scared. She looked at him hopelessly and said, "I, I'm sorry, but I don't have it, I'm just under five hundred dollars short. I did everything..."

"You did everything? You fucking liar! If you did everything you would have my money." With that he stood up quick enough to throw his chair onto its back. And began pacing. "No, no, you don't have enough money of course you don't. You tried your best though didn't you, of course you did little bitch! No, sorry, no, that will work, it will be enough, it has to, they will accept it." At this point Ria realized he wasn't talking to her anymore, but to the wall, to some invisible presence. She considered trying to run but knew it wouldn't help her, as Simon still gestured with his gun erratically.

"You, Ria, don't think about what you are doing. Come out though, into the next room, we will have a little talk about what you owe me. You, Ellen, stay put, or I'll blow her fucking head off. In fact I'll kill both of you and rape your corpses, in that order if you are lucky. Don't. Do. Anything." All the time he had a stilted smile on his face. He then grabbed Ria's arm with a vice-like grip and led her out of the room. Throwing her out the door he quickly shut it and locked it. Placing the key very gently into his pants pocket he turned to Ria and gestured towards the room closest to the door and furthest from Ellen.

Ria gradually consented and walked towards the door terrified of what might happen. Simon had his gun permanently pointed at her as well as his icy glare and devilish smile. Leading her into the room he indicated for her to sit on the mattress. Still staring at her he didn't say a word for nearly a minute, barely even moving. Ria barely dared to breathe. "So, you couldn't get enough. I gave you the tools but you couldn't get enough. Had no one to ask did you? No little friends or family isn't it. Because you are a fucking whore and you deserve it, that is why. I should fucking kill you now but I won't, I can't make it that quick. It's not like you have long to go anyways is it?" With that he burst into laughter finally taking his eyes off Ria. She considered drawing her pistol, firing at him with every last bullet but before she could even finish the thought he turned his gaze to her again.

"You need just a bit more though, so you've been busy. You killed people, I could see it in your eyes, the blood-lust, it showed, you know who else fucking saw it? Your girlfriend, she saw it, and even if you lived, ha, you would still be dead to her. I knew I'd break you, you're like a fucking doll sitting there, but someone dropped you, threw you into the pond of life didn't they? I set you free when I broke you and you couldn't do it because of your fucking morals, but those slowly faded as you grew more desperate, didn't they? I knew you, I know all your kind, so pretty and polite on the outside but monsters on the inside."

"You're the fucking monster." Ria's anger had slowly boiled as he insulted her to the point where she had to unleash it. For that he sprinted up with a speed she couldn't believe and smash her head onto the mattress.

"You're just like her, she tried to talk back to me, but I showed her her fucking place. I hope I don't need to show you yours, you already know it, in the ground, in the dust, you are nothing to me. Maybe though, maybe there is something you can do for me. He, you are nothing now but you can still do things. Fucking whore, you would do anything for the last five hundred wouldn't you. Look at me bitch! You'd do anything wouldn't you." Ria looked at him tears streaming down her face and a gash from where she had hit the mattress. Slowly her head nodded and he withdrew a bit.

"Alright then, suck my dick. I'll give you the money, I'll give you Ellen, you'll be home free won't you you fucking whore. Free to fucking die. That's all you can do now, and you'll do it because you are so desperate. You sicken me. Come over here then, on your knees." Ria just stared at him, she couldn't believe he could be so awful. She had known he was a killer but he was something so much worse, he loved to torment people, she could see it in his eyes. She crawled towards him hating herself for it all the time.

He unzipped his pants and slid them down. All the time he had his gun pointed at her head and Ria could do nothing but stare repulsed at him. "Well, fucking do it, we can't have you waiting around all day, you'll die before I cum at this point." Ria prayed that Ellen would never know, that she would never find out the depths Ria had sunk to to save her. Simon said that he had told her already but Ria couldn't believe it, if Ellen didn't want the person she had been forced to become than she didn't know how she could bear it.

Her mouth stretched forward and Simon shouted "Do it whore!" Just before her mouth touched he grabbed her head and threw her back and onto the floor. Her back smacked against the ground with a resounding crack and he quickly redid his pants. "I knew you would fucking do it you whore. You would do anything for her. She'll hate you now, she will see the shame on your face, she will know everything. Pick yourself up." Ria stared at him now having little doubt that she could shoot him if she had the chance. he wasn't a person anymore, he was an animal. No she decided, he was worse than an animal, he tortured his food, he was something that only a human could be, a complete monster.

She was thrown into the back room with Ellen and Simon quickly gathered up all the money into his own bag. The whole time he shouted almost unintelligibly about the people out to get him, how they where always watching and they would know. Shutting the door Ria heard the lock click. Ellen rushed over to her and hugged her. Ria felt nothing, she had always hoped for that moment, that first embrace, but in the cold, desolate place it didn't help her. "Are you okay? If her hurt you I'll, I mean I don't know, I'll hurt him more."

"No, no, I'm okay. Actually I'm pretty fucking far from okay but we will deal with that in a moment, are you alright?" Looking her over again in the dim light of the office Ria could see that apart from a few superficial wounds she seemed alright.

"I guess, I mean he didn't do anything to me if that's what you meant. Christ I don't know what came over him, I mean I've known him for awhile and he was a little odd sure but nothing like this, I didn't think he could do anything violent, but fuck I mean what he threatened us with, what he could fucking do, I don't..." At this point Ellen collapsed into tears and sobbed in Ria's lap. All Ria could do was try to hold her reassuringly. She tried rubbing her arm, just that feeling of human contact that might help, but it didn't. Ria could tell that Ellen had been so alone for so long that she didn't know what to do with the emotions she had been bottling up, and they all came spilling out.

"Ellen, I know, I've done, I've done some things today that I didn't think I'd ever have to do, but we can still get out of this alive. I promise okay, just look at me, look at me!" She tried to turn Ellen's head to look into hers, and they stared into each others eyes. Ria had a grim determination in hers, and Ellen's tear-stained green orbs had something she hadn't had before, some hope. "We will be alright. I won't let him hurt you. If nothing else I can do that now. I don't know what Simon's planning, but I know that I can do something about it."

"Do something? I don't understand, he has a gun and he's so crazy, I mean he's a psychopath."

Reaching into her back pocket Ria pulled out her pistol and Ellen gasped. "Well so do I, look I don't want to use this, I don't want to hurt him but I might have to. I want to make sure you are okay with that. I hate to do it, understand this, but right now we have no choice. I just want you to know that I'm trying to do the right thing."

"I understand. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bring you into this, it all just got so fucked. I couldn't pay for my fix and then he started calling in all the old debts and I had nothing to pay him with, I mean I have nothing now, and then he started threatening me and I didn't know what to do. I don't have anyone but you, I just, I didn't want to be alone, and you where nice to me. I mean everyone else sees me as just another one of the bums on the street but you treat me like a real person, like I matter, I just, I just wanted that again, I'm sorry."

"I know. Ellen I'm sorry too. I've done some things today that I'm not proud of but in the end it was all for you. I, fuck, I hurt people. I didn't want to but I did and now I'm here with you and I will make sure that it is alright. Just hang on for a little longer. If there is anything I can do, I will stop anyone from hurting you, it is all I've ever wanted to do. Just in case, in case things don't work out..." Tears slowly formed in Ria's eyes but she wiped them away. "Just know that I love you. God damn it I can't believe I'm saying this now but it's fucking true, and I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to say it later."

"I know that it sounds crazy but I've loved you from the first moment I saw you. I don't think you know, I didn't talk about my family, they have all kind of gone away now." Now tears where falling freely from both girl's eyes. "But I had you too look forward to, I had nothing else but you. I don't know if I would have lasted here without you, you saved me from all the horrors of the world. I don't think I can explain how important you are to me, I mean I already said it, I love you. You don't, you don't have to say anything, but just know that, whatever happens next."

Ellen was left speechless and both girls simply stared at one another again. For the longest time only vague muttering from the other room could be heard. Eventually Ellen managed to sputter out a sentence. "I don't know what to say. I, I mean I can't say anything. I, I didn't know. Fuck, and now we're in this fucking situation and oh god, it all is just so wrong. Look Ria I haven't been right by you, I know that, but I mean I want to help in any way I can, I just, I don't know what to say."

"It's alright, I don't expect you to say anything, it's a lot to take in. We can just wait here in silence, I don't think there is any way out of this place. He took everything, he even took my identity. That bastard stole everything from me and there was nothing I could do. Don't apologize, it's not your fault."

"Don't lie, it's all my fucking fault. I fucked up and I know it and I'll admit it, don't keep softening the truth, I know what happened and pretending it didn't wont help anything. I don't know what he's doing out there but I know that we can try to do something. Maybe, maybe we could overpower him, take the gun from him before he could do anything, I mean I'm not really strong but together maybe?" Ellen's voice teetered off at the end but Ria knew what she was talking about, and thought that maybe it could work.

"No, it's too risky, what if he got a shot off? I couldn't stand to have you hurt, not when I'm so close. I know you don't want me hurt either, because we are both walking out of this, alive and happy. I don't care if he has taken everything else I can take control of this situation. He thinks he can grind us into nothing because he has that stupid gun well fuck him! We will live through this. Ellen for now just trust me, I'll make sure we both make it out okay. Now stand up, I've got a feeling something is going to happen soon.

Ria stood up and listened with renewed determination. Ellen still sat on the floor looking up at her. Standing by the door Ria could hear voices on the other side, more than just Simon's. Straining her ears she couldn't make out exact words but could tell that Simon was begging, acting very humble. She thought that maybe he was scared of these people, that she could use that against him. The voices grew louder and she backed away from the door unsure of what to do. The lock slowly turned and Ellen still sat on the floor dumbfounded.

Coming through the door where two larger gentleman and one smaller. All of them wore fairly expensive suits and looked like they knew what they where doing. Ria was terrified, as all day she had seen people who where afraid like her, or out of their mind like Simon, but these people where organized, they had a plan and would stick to it, she didn't know how to deal with them. The smaller one made a gesture and said something in a language Ria didn't understand, but she what she thought might be Russian and the two bigger ones picked up an arm each of Ellen and dragged her away.

The smaller one, who Ria took to be the boss stayed and stared at her, his glance passing all the way over her body. She felt naked against his eyes, and though she could not see his eyes because of the expensive designer sunglasses covering them she could tell they would be cool and uncaring. "And what about this one?" The man said in broken English. "You did no mention other girl? I do not want this one, why is she here?" Simon looked uncomfortable, twitching even more than usual. Ria gained some satisfaction from seeing him vulnerable, but it slowly faded as Simon spoke.

"She is nothing, just a little something I picked up, some little whore." He shouted the last word, almost unable to control himself. "I'll dispose of her, don't worry. Make it quick, hmm, don't worry." The man looked satisfied with this and after looking Ria over once again turned to leave. With that Simon turned and stared at her with furious anger. He waited until the man had gone and then shut the door, locking it. Storing the key he walked over to Ria slamming her against the wall, one hand on her neck and the other scratching at the wall, peeling off the paint.

"This is all your fucking fault, you dirty little whore. You couldn't make the fucking money and look what fucking happened. I can't fucking believe you." His hand dug into her throat as he slowly lifted her off the ground. He was incredibly strong and Ria could do nothing to resist him. "You're the reason she's getting fucked in my fucking house you bitch. If I had the money I wouldn't need to, but he fucking needs it or he'll fucking kill me. You see how that works bitch! Someone dies, it's the way the world fucking works, and it wasn't going to be me, not today, not fucking today. I live and you die, that's the way it's going to be."

A trickle of blood flowed onto his hand and he let her down stepping away and staring at the door. Ria wasn't sure he even remembered her as he seemed to be almost unconscious of his surroundings. Turning rapidly back and forth he began shouting. "Can't do anything about it though, kill me. Can't do fucking anything and it's your fucking fault. I can't believe you would do this. Can't kill you though, not yet, can't do that, you have to die painfully, like you deserve. I didn't tell you did I, no, didn't tell you what happens." At this point a bestial hunger appeared on his face as he turned towards Ria, slobber dripping from the corners of his mouth.

"You fucking bleed. Not in one place, no, no your heart it starts working overdrive, starts pumping out too much blood. Your body, it can't take it, it starts filling you see, can't have that much blood, it doesn't like it. Like Stigmata right? But you're no fucking savior, you are a fucking whore, like what was it, Mary, filthy fucking whore. But the blood you see, it doesn't pore from your pores, it comes out of every fucking hole. Hah, it starts with your eyes, you lose your sight, can't see yourself die, that will be sad, but you can still feel it. It writhes around you, the blood, like a worm, terrible, fucks you up.

"They did it to me once. Didn't want to kill me, not then, wanted to scare me. Well it fucking worked didn't it! Once it starts flowing you can't stop it. It starts drowning you, your mouth starts filling even if you leave it open. Can't breathe but the blood keeps coming, everywhere, I couldn't fucking take it. Then it stops as you die, you'll pray for it at the end, I know I did. But I didn't fucking die did I? No, but you will. I injected you with fucking three times what they gave me, you can't live after that. The last thing you'll hear will be my voice laughing."

By this point his mouth was right against Ria's face, and he was breathing directly into her cheek. She could smell his breath, stained from years of cigarettes and other substances it stunk like the house. Stepping away she could almost feel the aura of filth that seemed to linger around him. He just stared at her. Hate filled eyes unable to comprehend. "You think you fucking love her but she doesn't love you. You fucking know it now. You told her and she didn't know what to say, I know how fucking people work, they always fuck you over at the worst times. You fucking knew it all along and she just fucking confirmed it." Ria realized Simon had dropped his guard and had dropped his gun, he had stopped caring about her in his ranting.

"She never even really liked you, it's just that you where the only one who ever fucking cared about her. Well that's not fucking true, I fucking cared. I kept her going, without the drugs she would have died you know. I saved her life more than you ever have."

Drawing her pistol and pointing it directly at his face Ria began shouting. "No you didn't you fucking liar. All I did today I did for her, you just did it for fucking money. That's all this was to you, she meant nothing to you. You think you're better than me? You call me a whore and a bitch but you are a fucking monster. Nobody will ever love you and you will die here, cold, and alone. I have people who care about me, like my brother, and Ellen. I don't fucking care if she loves me at least she fucking cares, you have nothing."

Simon slowly tried to step away from Ria, slowly stepping to his side. "We don't want to be hasty. Now, Ria, I, ah, can't, control myself. It's not my fault you see, the drugs, I can't do anything about them. Can't hurt me, would be wrong." Stuttering out the last few words Ria could see the fear etched in his eyes.

"Ah but wasn't it you who was saying how I hurt people, how I killed people." Ria placed particular emphasis on the word killed, rolling it around in her mouth. "Why couldn't I do it to some loathsome scum like you. You thought you had power but you had nothing, you where just lying to yourself. You have nothing, and you need to admit it. Before I kill you, and I will, I want you to tell me that you are nothing, you have no power, and that all of this, what happened to Ellen, what happened to me, is your fault, and no one else's. If you do that then I will make it quick." Ria's eyes flashed with a steely glare and Simon took a step back glancing around the room looking for any means of escape.

"You made sure of it, there is nothing here. You didn't think I could do it though, and left me with the pistol that you fucking gave me. You are such a fucking idiot. Now tell me what I want to hear quickly, Ellen doesn't have much time and if they hurt her because of you I'll make it last longer. You deserve days of torture for what you've done but I'll cut it short if you just say those little words. Come one now, it's not hard, just open your mouth." Simon quivered, and a damp spot appeared in the crotch of his pants.

"Fine, fucking fine. I'm nothing, you have me in your power, that's what you want to fucking hear! Ellen though, she's out of my hands now, it's not my fucking fault that she's a whore." With that Ria smashed the pistol into his face, caving in his nose and splattering blood across his shirt as well as her face. For a moment she considered how good it felt to have such power, to reverse roles and to be in charge for once in her life. Laughing he spat at her. "Ha, it's taking over now, you know what you want to do but I don't think you can now. You'll fucking hurt me, maybe even shoot me, but you won't fucking kill me, can't, I'm defenseless."With that he pressed his head against the gun.

"Just fucking do it if you are going to!" He pushed Ria back as she was surprised by his increasingly suicidal behavior. Again he pushed her against the wall though this time his hands where at his sides. Ria did not know what to do, but countered his push with some aggression of her own, putting both hands on his chest and pushing with her whole weight. He flew back against the other wall of the tiny room and began to laugh again. Ria had grown to hate his laugh, and staring at him, nose crushed and bleeding down into his mouth she did not pity him, she felt only disgust.

Readying the pistol and aiming it directly at his head he continued to laugh. Staring at the wretched corpse before her Ria thought back to her previous promise and realized she had been letting Ellen be hurt because of her own selfish desires to hurt this man. She had broken the promises she had made only minutes earlier and been swept up in something that was much worse than she had ever envisioned herself doing. Staring at the horrific form before her she lowered her pistol to the ground. Simon slowly tried to stand but Ria leveled her gun again and pulled the trigger.

The bullet took him just above and to the right of his belly button. It splattered blood onto his shirt and Ria stared down mercilessly. Strolling over to him she reached in his pocket and drew out the door key. "I don't have time for this. Think on that pain, there will be more later. Stay put now, we don't want you to bleed all over your nice room now do we." Spitting onto his head just as she left she quickly opened the door and looked at the hall outside. Closing the door she stood quietly and listened.

She thought she heard a sound coming from upstairs. She wasn't sure what was up there but knew she had to save Ellen, and it might be her only chance. Taking a step forward the world immediately swam before her vision, distorting and twisting. Closing her eyes for the briefest moment upon opening them Ria saw a sea of red. The floor had been covered almost a foot high with dark, sickly blood. Ria almost vomited from the smell which permeated the house, but managed to hold it in, taking another step forward. Every step was like wading through thick snow as her feet stuck and the liquid enveloped. Arriving at the stairs Ria looked up to see a veritable waterfall of blood.

Every step was harder than the last as the flow increased more and more. From the first step onwards up to her knees was covered and wading up further was even more difficult. The steps below her began to crack and creak as she made the journey, almost caving under her weight. She could feel them buckle as she tried in vain to surmount the ever increasing flood. Almost in hysterics she heard a girl screaming from upstairs and tried to force her way up. She could barely move because of the tumult, but still pushed forward.

Reaching the second last step she was unable to progress any further for the force. Almost shouting Ria slammed her fist into the wall nearest her. She saw the wall buckle and crack from the impact and then it started opening up showing her brother's decapitated head. Staring at her and weeping its mouth slowly opened and blood began pouring out coating her even more, with gore now covering everything but her head. Ria now began actually shouting, "This isn't real, none of it, it can't be." Slamming her fist into the wall again she felt her brother's face crumble underneath her fist and she closed her eyes a steady stream of tears pouring out.

Opening them again she found that she was at the top of the stairs and there was no blood except for on the knuckles of her hand where she had slammed it into the wall. The house was quiet as well, no more sound of a waterfall. Then she heard the sound of Ellen shouting and sprinting up the stairs Ria looked left and right trying to determine the direction. The shouting continued and she sprinted to the end of the hallway to the right throwing open the door and coming upon a terrible situation.

On either side of the door where the two guards, standing with hands crossed and looking professional. On a mattress in the middle of the room was Ellen, with the smaller boss on top of her. Ria could see several new bruises on her face and her clothes where ripped. Ria also saw several long streaks of blood on the boss' cheek, and she could tell that they were engaged in a desperate struggle. Everyone in the room turned to look at her and the two men slowly reached inside of their jackets.

Without thinking Ria pointed the pistol that she had not realized she was holding at the one nearest to her. Pulling the trigger once she saw a red blossom emerge on his chest. He stumbled back and she turned to face the other one pulling the trigger twice more and making two more crimson stains on the immaculate suits the men had been wearing. Staring at both of the men unable to comprehend exactly what she had done the boss shouted something at her that she couldn't quite hear. As if in slow motion he reached into his pocket and drew out something that looked like a hand cannon. Aiming it towards Ria he tried to pull the trigger.

Ellen was also shouting, and reached up, grabbing the man's arm. Pulling with both arms she threw his aim off and splinters exploded from the wall by the door. Ellen yelped with pain as the splinters hit her and the man turned his attention towards her, pushing the gun directly into her neck. Reality slowly coming into Ria's vision and the image of the boss slamming his gun into Ellen's neck appeared. Without thinking she turned her pistol and pulled the trigger until it clicked empty. She continued to pull the trigger several times after, but realizing it was out she dropped it to the ground, its weight suddenly appearing to her.

The man collapsed over, half a dozen holes spotting his body including one on the side of his head leaving a brilliant crimson splatter on the mattress. Blood seeping out of him Ellen tossed him off of her and turned to look at Ria, who collapsed to her knees. Running over Ellen embraced her fully. "Thank you, thank you. I don't know what I would have done, I don't know what he would have done, I can't, I can't say how much, I mean I, oh god." She cried on Ria as Ria simply stared blankly. She could feel it then, something which she had thought wouldn't happen for another hour at least, the blood.

Maybe it was the sudden violence that had triggered it, the adrenalin pumping through her veins, but she could feel that her heart was running overdrive, that she wouldn't be around for too much longer. She didn't know what she could say to Ellen, there was nothing to say, though she would have to tell her, if it just started happening it would crush her. Beginning to say something she heard a loud creaking coming from the stairs and turned to face them.

"You filthy fucking whore, you fucking shot me." Simon had emerged from the room downstairs which Ria had forgotten to lock. Staring at him she saw the pistol in his hand and quickly grabbed Ellen, throwing both of them inside and behind the cover of the wall. "You didn't fucking kill me though, I knew you couldn't, I fucking told you! You think that fucking wall will protect you do you? You're such a fucking idiot." A bullet slammed into the wall about a foot above Ria and Ellen's heads as they ducked down, fragments of the wall raining down upon them.

Staring into Ellen's eyes Ria could tell she wanted to do something, to hurt or kill Simon. Ria knew that she was justified in that, but also knew that she didn't have any blood on her hands, but Ria did. Ria had so much on her hands that she didn't know what to do with them anymore. She could smell the dead men from where she was, smell the death all about them. Just before Ellen spoke Ria whispered quietly and urgently to her. "Don't do anything. I'll handle this, I have blood on my hands, I'll make this okay. I said I wouldn't get hurt right? I also said we'd both make it out right? Well we will, just stay low and stay still, I'll make sure you get out okay.

Ria mentally prepared herself for what she was about to do. Simon was still shouting and firing, but none of the shots came close to her or Ellen. Sprinting out she grabbed the large revolver that the boss had threatened Ellen with and ran to the other side of the door. As she did this Simon fired off a wild shot which came within a foot of her but still missed. "You bitch, you think you can kill me! You can't, you showed me before, there's nothing you can fucking do to me, I'm fucking invincible!" Rolling out into the door-frame Simon towered over her standing in the opening. Aiming the revolver up at him she pulled the trigger.

She had been aiming for the center of his chest but unused to the weight and kick of the gun her shot went off and hit him in the shoulder. It almost exploded, blood and bone splashing and splintering apart as he fell back, pistol dropping to the ground. Simon had a look of utmost shock on his face as he slowly turned to look at the remains of his shoulder. Only a sliver of bone and string of muscle connected his arm to the rest of the body as he almost went unconscious from the pain and the shock. He stared at her as she approached him, gun twitching in her shivering hands.

"You don't deserve life. I do, but you took it from me. You fucking killed me." She could feel the blood rushing to her head and could see her vision slowly blurring. "People live, monsters die." She pulled the trigger and his torso shattered, splattering Ria with blood. His head lolled and she could smell the death on him. Not content she pulled the trigger four more times shooting his chest again and again each time decorating the floor and walls with more of what was Simon. By the end there was little left and Ria sunk to the ground finally done.

Ellen peeked out of the door and saw Ria crying against the wall looking over Simon's body. Rushing over to her again she could see blood dripping from her forehead. "Ria are you hurt! Did he hit you, do we need to get you to a hospital?"

"No, they can't help me now. No one can help me. He didn't tell you, I didn't tell you, but he injected me with something. Some kind of drug, I don't know what, but it killed me. It won't be long now, I can already feel it. My life is going to come flowing out soon. He killed me, I, I killed him too, you can see. Fuck, I just wanted a normal life, I just wanted you, and he took it all from me." Ria looked up staring at the slowly fading image of Ellen's face.

"It takes away your vision first, I won't be able to see you anymore. I just wanted to love you, and for you to love me back, now I guess there is nothing more to see. Will you stay with me, just for a little while longer, god I hate to ask but I can't die alone."

"Of course I'll stay with you." Ellen move over to hold Ria, the reverse of earlier that evening. "I, I'm so sorry Ria, it's all my fucking fault." Ria could just see the tears slowly dripping out of Ellen's brilliant emerald eyes. She could see red streaks now as the blood slowly covered her eyes.

"No, it's not your fault, you couldn't know. It's just that bastard on the floor, but he won't hurt anyone ever again. I made sure of that didn't I?" Ria coughed and a little bit of blood spilled out. Ellen wiped it away with her shirt, but realized it would soon be a futile effort as Ria's ears slowly began to drip blood.

"Yes, yes you did, thank you. I, I guess I'm innocent in this whole thing. Even if the cops come I'm just the victim I guess. I'll tell them the whole story though, it wasn't you, not really. Don't worry, I'll make sure they know the whole story." Ellen grasped Ria's hand but realized that it was red hot, much hotter than it should have been.

"Don't know the whole story, heh, no one does, can't know." Ria spurted out blood and the rest of her sentence was lost. She had begun to lose feeling and her sight had gone almost completely, only a red haze of a black shape was left. "You won't leave me though, please, talk, can't anymore." Blood trickled out of Ria's mouth as she began to have trouble breathing, gasping for breath.

"I, I don't know what to say. Ria you where the brightest person I ever met, you where cheery and nice when no one else was. You had so much life, I'm sorry fuck, I, remember the first day we met, that was so nice, I was having a shit day but you made it better." Ellen could almost hear Ria's heart beating now it was acting so furiously. Her hands had become covered in blood but she didn't care, holding Ria's hand as tight as she could without hurting her. Ria couldn't say anything now, she was too busy trying to breath, so Ellen continued talking, trying to ease her suffering at all.

"Ria I guess I never fucking realized it until now but I love you. I'm fucking sorry, it's all my fault but here you are now and know that I love you, so much I didn't even know how to feel love before I met you. Please just don't go, don't leave me with nothing again I don't know what I'll do without you. Ria please just don't go." Ria never even thought to question it. Reaching down Ellen gave Ria a kiss of life, breathing some air into her lungs even as she died, spluttering as she came up for breath she reached down to try again. The pool around Ellen had become almost an inch deep as she held Ria begging her not to go.

Ria was already gone though.

Part 5

12:45 AM October 18th

Ellen made sure to keep her composure as she walked home. Luckily it was the time of night that not many people where about because they where afraid, and she knew because of all the blood on her people wouldn't try anything. She was terrified of it herself.

Upon arriving at her small room she threw open the door and slammed it shut, ripping off all her clothes and throwing them to the floor. Running into the shower she tried to wash the filth of the day off. The water was cold, but she had grown used to it, it was always cold in the complex. Letting the water wash over her Ellen couldn't help but remember Ria telling her how much she loved the rain. She remembered Ria's face so vividly it was like she was still alive, like they where still talking in the book shop. Thinking about there last moment's together finally brought it all together, and Ellen began to weep.

The last time she had wept so hard was when she been a little girl and had lost her favorite teddy bear. It had been her favorite toy, it had been a constant companion for years, and then it disappeared. She never found out what happened to it really thinking back, but she knew what happened to Ria. She knew what happened and she knew exactly why it happened, how it was her fault and there was nothing she could do to ease the pain. Crying Ellen thought it'll get better, with time, but in the moment it felt like the only friend she had ever had disappeared again.

Finally she wondered if she really loved Ria. She had said it, and she knew Ria had heard, but she wasn't so sure herself. With all the people she had been with she was never sure what love really meant. She knew what making love was, she knew the mechanical process, but true, real love was something she wasn't sure if she had felt. Ellen was still not sure she had felt it, but knew that having lost Ria meant something to her. Everyone else who had passed on or passed by had just been a car in the rear view mirror, but Ria had been an active thing in her life, and she would mourn.

Ellen was unsure how long she was in the shower, but knew it must have been a long time given how wrinkly she was. Getting out she dried herself off some and went into her other room staring at the bloody clothes. Another reminder of everything she had lost, she would have to dispose of them. Unsure of exactly what to do with something that might be evidence she decided the best way was to make them not her problem anymore, because even looking at them brought back enough memories to draw some tears. Grabbing them in a bundle she ran outside and threw them into the nearest garbage bin. It wasn't an act of forgetting, it was merely an act of repression.

She didn't want to remember Ria, not really, but she had to, to keep the memory alive was the only thing that would keep her alive. Ria had said that Ellen was the only reason she was still alive, the only reason she would go into work everyday, well Ria would keep Ellen alive now. Even her memory was still a powerful force, and Ellen resolved that she needed to chance. She couldn't let the events that had happened ever happen again, she couldn't let anyone get so hurt because of her ever again. She would have to swear off drugs, she would have to go into a program, and get rid of all the ties to her old life. It wouldn't be hard really, she had already burned so much of it, she had almost nothing left. It would ease the pain she thought, but then maybe the pain shouldn't be eased, if she felt it everyday it would make Ria so much more important.

In the end Ellen just wanted to make others happy, and the only way to make Ria happy was to live. In the event of death the only thing to do is to live life as it was meant to be.

3:45 PM October 24th

Andrew stared at the headstone, unable to truly take it in. When he had got the call from the hospital he had been unable to do anything, just sunk down into a chair and stared at the wall. She had promised him he thought, she had promised him that she would be okay, that she wasn't in over her head, and that in the end though she might go to prison she would be okay. At first he felt only anger, frustrated at the world and Ria for what she was putting him through. He didn't remember quite what happened next, only that by the end of it the floor was littered with books and a few fragments of a broken cup.

He had thought that he would take over Ria's apartment for a little while, just while she was gone, but it turned out that he would be staying there for much longer than he or anyone else ever intended. He didn't really want to live in New York, but he didn't have any other choice. Besides, it was what she would have wanted, though she wanted to live with him, in peace and harmony, not lying in the ground. A single tear escaped Andrew's eye and wiping it away he looked around.

There where only a few people at the funeral, none of which he recognized. It had been a short service, and cheap as it came. Though he had no money according to Ria's will she had some money which they could use to pay for her funeral, so she was given a simple wooden coffin. Andrew wanted something more, but after looking at the prices realized that even the wooden one was stretching it. It made him so sad to see someone so meaningful go away in nothing more than a poor man's burial.

There was no priest at the service, Ria had requested that. Andrew had written down a small speech on cards but he couldn't bring himself to read it, so they all just sat around, mourning in there own way, completely alone, isolated from the group. The day had started out sunny and bright but had gradually dimmed and a small shower had started to fall. Andrew felt it was appropriate, rain brought the right tone to the burial. He remembered that Ria had actually always liked the rain, she had loved to frolic in it. He always found that strange, dancing around and getting wet, it was never for him, but for her it was one of her only releases, so he didn't stop her, just taunt her a little bit.

He realized that the last conversation he had with her had ended badly. He didn't want it to be that way, but he thought that maybe he could guilt her into giving up the crazy task she had set herself out on. It hadn't worked though, and she lay in the ground because of it. He blamed himself mostly, he was the reason she was so determined, not only had he taught her to be, but he had actively assisted her in her mad pursuit. In the back of his mind he knew that he wasn't the one to be blamed, but it helped to have someone to lump it all on, and he knew no one else.

Looking around at the faces he realized he truly knew no one. These where Ria's friends and co-workers and he didn't know a single one of them. There was a girl, fairly young, probably a bit younger than Ria had been, he wondered if this was her first funeral as she wept into her closed hands. Standing beside her with a comforting hand on her shoulder was an older bearded man. Andrew could tell that it was not the first person he had seen die, nor would it be the last. He did not cry, but looked tremendously sad, Ria must have meant quite a lot to him Andrew thought.

Next in line was a lithe looking gentleman who looked unhappy at the turn of events. He wasn't sad, not exactly, merely upset at the way things had turned out. Andrew guessed he was Ria's boss, given his detachment from the situation. He couldn't bring himself to hate the man for his attitude, it was just another of those unreasonable responses that people have to death. He knew that he would weep later, or at the very least mourn in his own way, probably over a bottle of some fancy alcohol. Andrew wanted nothing more than to do that, but there was silent worship to be done for the only girl that he had ever loved.

There was one final person there, on the other side of him, away from what Andrew assumed to be the group from work. Wearing what seemed to be clothes from the Goodwill and sporting almost offensively bright colors a girl with emerald eyes stared at the stone. She didn't blink, and no tears fell from her face, but Andrew saw the sorrow. He had seen it many times with the girls he had seen over the years, it was the sadness of having lost something incredibly dear to them. For most it was something material, but for this girl he could tell that Ria meant something much more than just the physical. he wondered how she mourned, what she did to lament the loss of a dear friend.

Realizing they where all expecting something Andrew knew that he would have to say something. He hated public speaking, no matter how boastful he was in his private life, and even in front of such a small crowd the concept still almost made him sick. Ria had always made it better though, she had told him things that helped him to speak in front of class or in front of his friends. Imagining her in front of the tombstone, head held high and a cheery expression on her face he began to speak, very slowly at first, but slowly picking up momentum.

"Ria Mith was something very special, something different to all of us. I wrote a speech to do here, to present to all of you but I can't read it now. It was written in the wrong time for the wrong person, and now I'll tell you exactly what I thought of her. She was my sister, and she was twin, and she was everything to me. I didn't tell her this enough, because I left, I went away for a long time, and just recently I came back, begging for her help. Even after all that time she offered all she had and tried to protect me from myself, that was her, always worrying about others more than herself. I guess that's why she's here isn't it."

"Fuck I didn't mean that. I just mean, she cared, she cared so much and I could never quite give it back. She was such a nice girl but no one seemed to care. Just look around you, there is no one here. Only the five of us in this god forsaken city cared that this wonderful person is no longer around. Even her own parents didn't come back from their vacation to come, because the world was not meant for people like Ria. I don't want to sound preachy, I don't want to lie about what Ria was, but I don't have to. She was amazing, plain and simple, and now she's dead."

"I'm sorry for being so blunt, I just, I don't know what I'll do really. She was everything to me, and I'm sure she was something great to a lot of you, and we're all missing a part of us without her. I don't have anything more to say I guess, what is is, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Someone died, and now we put her away forever. That part is not quite right though, I mean they say you die two deaths. One when your heart stops beating, and one when the last person says your name. Well I won't forget Ria, I won't forget her for the rest of my life. If I have kids they'll keep her alive too, knowing their aunt Ria, someone who died before their time. So that's my bit, anyone else got anything they want to say." Tears had started falling midway through his speech but he ignored them, only wiping them away once he was finished.

There was a great silence for some time as the onlookers contemplated on what he said. They where scared of saying anything, scared of saying something wrong, or something indecent. Many didn't know how to react around death, so did nothing. After several minutes of no one speaking up Andrew decided he needed to end it, people weren't ready yet. Maybe they wouldn't ever be ready, he wasn't happy with what he said, but knew that the thought would count to Ria, it always had. "Alright then, I guess we all go our separate ways now. There's no reception, nothing after, sorry about that, money is a bit tight, and I'm sure you all got places to go on this, um, wonderful day."

After another half a minute the older man and the younger girl walked off in different directions. The one Andrew thought must have been Ria's boss lingered longer, and he decided that it was best to ask him before he completely lost contact. "Hey, look I was talking to Ria before she died and um, she said that you'd probably have a position vacant what with, what with her going, so I was wondering if maybe I could fill it?"

The man considered for several moments, choosing his words carefully. "Hmm, sounds a tad suspect I suspect, but I do believe that finding someone else may be difficult, we don't pay much and the hours are, hmm, less than ideal. If you are willing to work whenever I ask and do whatever I ask then perhaps. I am sorry for your loss though, yes, she was a lovely girl Ria, did some odd things on the day she died though, hmm, though something was strange about her. Nevertheless if you arrive in the store tomorrow promptly at nine I think I will be able to work something out for you."

"Thank you sir, this means a lot, I mean like I said I don't have much, but as long as it is enough to get by I won't complain. Thanks for your kindness, really." Andrew shook the man's hand vigorously and his new boss simply stared at him, an inquisitive expression on his face. Staring at the grave for one moment more he slowly walked off into the steadily increasing rain. The only people left then where Andrew and the strange emerald eyed girl. Walking over directly in front of her Andrew spoke. "So you must be Ellen."

"Yes. " She took a long swallow. "I don't know how much Ria told you, but I can tell you know that I am terribly sorry for what happened. I did everything I could, but there was just, I couldn't do anything. I'm sorry, but it wasn't my fault."

"Of course it wasn't your fault, you weren't the one who led a psychopath to her where you? You didn't bring her into the shitstorm that must have been your life. I didn't say it in front of the rest, but I know it was fucking you. You took her from me, and I'll never forgive you for that. You know it just as well as I do, and lying to me won't help. I had to go identify her body you know, that was the worst experience of my life. I could barely tell it was her from all the blood. What the fuck happened, in fact, spare it, I don't want to know, I just want to know that you are the one who did this to her, it is your fault. You took something from me that can never, ever be replaced. If I never see you again I'll be happy knowing that you've gone and wasted your life away on whatever your drug of choice is, and no one will be there to save you then."

"You think you are the only one who really cares about Ria don't you you bastard. You think I don't fucking care, don't care that she is dead because of me! I know it's my fault." Ellen was shouting at him now. "I know, and it haunts me, and it will continue to for the rest of my life. Don't think you're the only one who cared, because I cared too, she's not your own personal grief to carry with you, I'll ensure she stays alive until the day I die, and it will be a hell of a long time from now. I won't die in a gutter somewhere either, I'm getting help, I've gone to the rehabilitation clinic and it's helping. I know what happened was fucked but I'm trying to change, so don't fucking patronize me." The pair glared at each other, daring the other to speak. Eventually Andrew backed down, shyly turning his head away.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. Maybe I was fucking selfish, I don't know, I just, I just loved her so much. You didn't love her as much as me, I don't even know if you loved her, I know she thought you didn't, but it's difficult to ascertain these things when you're pushed against a wall like she was. Either way I'm going to go off and live a life that was hers, though I'll live it less than she did, but I'll still live. Maybe you will to, in the end it won't matter either way. Just get out of here and let me be alone with her and I won't bother you anymore." Ellen opened her mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it and backed away, slowly turning and retreating into the growing darkness.

"Well Ria, looks like this is it, in the end I won't be buried with you, I'll live, because I know you never liked that sappy twin stuff, dying with one another and stuff. I'll try, I'll try real hard, and that's all I can do really. I hope whatever is next is nice for you, it sure as hell better than what is down here." Taking out a small flask he poured a bit out on the bit of ground and took a large swig from it. Standing up he left the stone standing there alone. It read Ria Mith, 1980-2012, She's in Wonderland now.

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