Seattle. A distant time, like there had been a time loop swooping us all up into the future, or the past, or some alternate-reality-present, maybe to surprise us, make us vulnerable to their powers – whoever they are. Once a kid always a kid, right? Traveling around, seeing all those nasty things, all those cruelties, you’d think I’d be mentally injured for life. I’m not. There was a time when I thought everything were as bad as things could possibly be, and – guess what? – I was wrong.
That first day of insight was a hot summerday, maybe as early as June, but probably somewhere way into July, and my family were spending a week in Seattle. Mom had just graduated from college, something she should have done about eighteen years earlier, and the purpose of the trip was to celebrate this achievement. I was all for it, strotting around downtown, checking the sights, posing with my perfect body figure in front of the drooling boys sitting on benches and skating on the sidewalks. They whistled after me. I merely smiled and walked on by, pretending to be flattered, but uninterested. Being hot and chilly at the same time, you know. A girl’s try at love.
The one thing I remember clearest is the man in red.
And this is where my story begins.
The guy in black sneakers, shorts, and white T-shirt was definitely checking me out, so I wiggled my behind to entice him further. I instantly got the seeked results. Thanks to my extra short skirt and long, slender legs he was flung off his skateboard when it collided with the pavement, hitting rock bottom way before his fifteenth birthday. I had made it my mission to tease men – and especially boys who tried to become men – by stimulating their desires for beautiful, full women, but denying them the joy and pleasure of bedding them. No one ever touched me; if they did, they walked home so beat they never wanted to touch a girl again. My self-chosen “profession” was as an alluring, yet unreachable sex-object practically taken straight out of young men’s wet dreams. I made it my mission to prevent rape on young women – and was quite successive, too.
This afternoon, however, something changed.
I ignored the boy on the ground, left him to tend to his bleeding wounds. It might have seemed cruel, what I did, but it was all for the best. All for the best. Satisfied with the incident, I turned the corner onto Midwell Street. Stores of all kinds were all around me, beckoning to my girlish sixth shopping sense, but I ignored that too. I had more important things going on. Much more important.
Passing an alleyway, someone grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me into the gloom. It all happened so fast I barely even had time to breath, let alone scream for help. For the first time – ever! – in my life, I was actually frightened for myself. Scared half out of my wits, I was certain that this was my last minute in life. Feverishly, as if famined, I glared out into the street, up at the sky, down at the asphalt, literally devouring every single sight, trying to memorize everything in case this was the last time I ever saw civilization.
Whomever had taken me in his custody put a hand over my mouth before I could squeal and pulled me further into the murky darkness of the narrow alley. Amazing how certain places can be so dark when daylight blazes in the rest of your world.
“Ssch,” a man’s voice said softly, “not a sound. I’m not here to hurt you, OK? You have my word for it. I am going to let go of you as soon as we’re out of sight from the street, and then I won’t touch you anymore. Just don’t scream, don’t speak, don’t do anything, don’t make a single sound, do you understand? Nod if you do.”
I didn’t need any time to contemplate it. I nodded slowly.
“Good,” the man said. “Now we’re almost there. I will explain everything to you in just a second.”
We turned a corner in the alley, and after another ten strides we stopped. The man did as he had promised and let go of me, very gently. I instantly whirled around to face him. He did not look like your average abductor; no scars, no frantic gleam in his eyes, no unruly beard, no dirty, trashed clothes. His features were pleasant; dark-brown eyes, almost black, with a certain sadness in them; a somewhat pointy nose; strictly pursed lips, pressed into a thin crack; lustrous black hair which reached down to his chin; pale skin that seemed to glow of some inner pureness; a well-excercised body with broad shoulders and strong, muscular arms.
The funny thing about him was his dressing. He wore a tight, red T-shirt which allowed me to see the cavities in his upper torso, a pair of equally tight trousers the same red shade as the T-shirt, and a pair of black bally loafers. A black belt was attached to his trousers. Seemed rather unnecessary to me; he didn’t need any belt to hold those up – it was a miracle he could even put them on! I also noticed a wristwatch on his left arm, a two-inch-broad bracelet of black fabric on his right, and some sort of necklace in gold around his semi-thick neck.
“This is going to sound wierd,” the man said, a troubled frown on his forehead, “but I need you to listen very carefully. Something bad is going to happen to you today, I don’t know what and when, I just sense that death is looming over you. Go back to your parents, stay with them for the rest of the day, and everything will be fine. You’ll be safe again tomorrow.”
That was obviously everything he had to say, and it surprised me. “What do you mean, ‘something bad is going to happen to me’?” I asked him. “I don’t even know you – you’re a total stranger to me – and yet you think you have a right to tell me what to do?”
The man raised his head slightly, as if to make himself more superior. Did not have to; he was almost a foot taller than me. “I don’t have a right to tell you what to do, but I do have an obligation to warn you about the events of this day, as they will be rather crucial to your further existense on this planet,” he informed me ceremonically.
I was completely taken aback. The guy sounded as if he thought he was some kind of divine savior, a guardian angel sent out on God’s mission. He spoke as if he came from some other faraway place: a secret land above the stars, maybe?
“I don’t believe you just said that!” I exclaimed.
His frown deepened. “What?” he asked.
I let out a bitter laugh. “That shit about today’s events being crucial to my – what did you say? – ‘further existense on this planet.’ What, are you an alien or something?”
“Wish I was,” the man said with surprising sincerity. “Being human is bad enough.” He started to walk away, but I stopped him. Quizzically, he turned to me anew. His dark eyes had an aura of urgency in them.
“You can’t just leave without telling me your name,” I protested.
“Watch me,” he said arrogantly.
“Come on, you owe me that much!”
“I owe you nothing,” he called over his shoulder as he turned another corner of the alley, one I hadn’t noticed when he first brought me there.
With a white-hot rage building inside of me I followed him, but when I got there he was gone, as if he was never there.
“Are you sure?” my sister Amy asked me, disbelieving. “He wasn’t just some kind of drug-inflicted hallucination, a mirage? Because you could have just imagined it, you know.”
“I wasn’t imagining him!” I said angrily. Amy was three years older than me – nineteen – and never ceased to remind me of it. Blond, blue-eyed, pretty, but never less than super-intelligent. Her brains must have measured up to my boobs. “He was really there – I was really there! He dragged me into that alley and told me something bad was gonna happen to me today if I didn’t stay in. Now, is that imagining to you?”
“Depends on what you took,” Amy grinned mockingly.
“I haven’t taken anything! I’m not an addict!”
“Well, one never knows what you are, Loo.”
“And don’t call me Loo, my name is Laura,” I said crankily.
She studied her perfectly manicured finger nails nonchalantly. “Loo fits you better,” she stated. “You were always a pain in the ass.”
With an enraged growl I stormed out of her room and down the to the stairs. It didn’t matter what that wierdo had said; I wasn’t going to expose myself to such namecalling. Two red seconds later, I slammed the front door shut behind me.
I still don’t remember how I turned up there, but suddenly I was standing in the exact same alley that strange man had pulled me into. Did that mean anything? Nah, couldn’t, I decided and kept walking down the narrow passageways. What I discovered was a net of alleyways piercing the city, like a secret labyrinth. I wondered if I could get lost in there. In that case, I would at least be spared of Amy’s wise-cracks in the future. It seemed like a decent plan; I would get lost and never be found, but somehow I would still have sufficient food supplies to keep me sustained throughout my life. And warm clothes for the winter, of course.
Pleased with my silent decision – and my unspoken promise – I didn’t notice the three men until it was too late to run back out. They were standing in a semi-circle, unfortunately facing the way I was coming, and by the looks on their tattered faces it was evident that they appreciated my dresscode more than I would have wanted them to. I was still wearing that tight, pink mini-skirt, the white, semi-seethrough vest that was so tiny you hardly even recognized it as a vest, and my (up to then) favorite heels – black stilettos. But by then, my hair had turned into a fussy furball or something equally disgusting – and, to these thugs, sexy – and sweat was running down the backs of my legs because of my quick-paced walk – or possibly even run – to the alley. Why did the house have to be so far off? Sometimes it was just a bitch to have rich parents. I never liked being wealthy, anyways.
The biggest of the three men instantly started to check me out, and I can’t say that I was very surprised. Equally terrified and revulsed, I started backing.
“No’, hon, whe’ya goin’?” he asked, approaching arrogantly. “It was so nice o’ya to check in, but me and my boyz don’t want ya checkin’ out just yet.” The other two laughed. It was obvious that this guy was the leader of the pack. Or was ‘troop’ the correct term? It worked for monkeys, so why not for these creeps? They were all a dark shade of brown-black, one of them with filthy dreadlocks. One wore slacks and white shirt and definitely seemed misplaced there; the second worn jeans and a hood; this guy, the big one, the leader, too big jeans, hanging far down his buttocks, red T-shirt, and a tattered denim jacket. “Why you lookin’ so scared, hon?” he asked, still approaching, with me still backing away. “We ain’t gonna hurt ya, we just want some fun, ya with me?”
I stopped short of the opening I knew must be about four feet behind me now, defiantly sticking my nose in the air, feigning arrogance and enormous self-confidence which I knew would either ensure me a clean getaway or kill me on the spot. Probably the latter. “You’re not scaring me with your bad gangsta lingo,” I announced, taking one step forward. How far away was the opening now? Five feet? Five-and-a-half? It all depended on the length of asphalt between me and the alley-labyrinth. “Short o’ words now, huh?” I went on. “No quick smart-ass repartee?”
The guy was evidently pissed off by that comment. He pulled up his sleeves. Oh, oh. This really looked bad. Maybe I was being just a little bit confident about my chances of running away from them before they had time to catch hold of me and drag me down? After all, they were the troop. “Ya trippin’ me, bitch?” the big guy asked.
“No, I ain’t trippin’ you, bitch,” I replied mockingly, using my stored-up fury with Amy for fuel. “I’m just tellin’ ya all the shit ya ain’t wanna hear.”
Biggo pursed his mouth in a very hideous way while nodding feverishly. He looked back at his troop, as if to see to their absolute assistance. “OK, ya brought this upon yaself.” He turned to me again, raising one of his huge fists, and that’s when I knew I was finished on this earth. Whoever the guy in red had been had known his premonitions, alright. What he’d told me had actually come true; something real bad was happening to me right now. Had I only listened, had I only not given a damn about Amy’s self-conscious accusations toward me ...
Just when I thought he was about to hit me, the fist stopped in mid-air and did not move again. In fact, the whole troop had come to a complete halt in their motions. Baffled, I looked around to make out the source of this witchcraft. And there, in the murk behind the thugs, were the guy in red. Still wearing the same hilarious outfit. Amazed, I stared at him for what seemed to be an eternity. Ultimately, he started to move toward me, but not with the angelic grace you expect from a savior, but with the swiftness of a feline. “What are you doing, still standing here?” he said unpleasantly. “You better get a move on now!”
I still couldn’t move. I was way too impressed to even blink. “What did you do to them?” I asked.
“I stopped time,” he said impatiently, nonchalantly waving his right hand in smooth circles as he simultaneously took me by the arm and pulled me away from them. “Now move your ass or they’ll finish you off before you even have time to dwell on your options.”
I didn’t want to do as told until I’d recieved some answers. “How can you just stop time?” I demanded to know. “And why didn’t I freeze, too? It’s obviously that you don’t freeze since you’re the one who fixed this, but why didn’t I?”
He sighed heavily and stopped his efforts. “I avoided stopping your time along with the others’. That’s all you need to know – no, in fact, it’s more. I beg you, please get out of here, they will unfreeze sooner than you think. I can only stop time for five minutes every three hours.”
“Why is that so?”
“Please, girl! You only got two minutes!”
Realizing how fast time was running out for me, I hurried round the corner of the opening I had been so consious about only three minutes preceding this, and didn’t stop until I was out on the streets again, four blocks away from the alley-labyrinth. When I finally stopped to catch my breath I saw that the man had not followed. Can’t say that I was all that surprised about that, either.
Arriving at the house I found Mom and Dad arguing about something unessential as usual and passed them without taking any notice of them. I went straight to Amy’s room to tell her about the recent events and prove to her that what I had earlier said was actually true.
“What do you want, Loo?” she asked when I crossed the threshold.
“Just a couple of minutes of your time,” I said innocently.
“Might not be too much to ask, I guess. Go ahead – enlighten me!”
“God, you are so theatrical!” I said with a disgusted grimace. “You know that guy I told you about ...”
“The man in red?” Her tone was even worse than I had expected.
“Uh, yeah, that’s the one,” I said. “He showed again.”
“Yeah? And what did he do this time? Tell you tomorrow might be your last day in life as well? He’s a real genius if he can get the hang of that in just three hours.”
“Oh, stop it, will you? Just let me finish. Right. I went back to that alley where I met him the first time. Don’t know why really, maybe I just wanted to see if he’d reappear, or if it was an illusion like you told me. Instead I found these guys that looked like gang members, all black, and they started to pick a fight with me. And right when the biggest of them was about to punch my lights out ... he was there ...”
“Who? The man in red?”
“Yeah, same man, same outfit.”
“I’d say. Wouldn’t have time to change in that short a time span, would he?”
“Amy, knock it off! There’s no use talking to you, you’re just too damned occupied with yourself to even care about my wellbeing!”
“So you noticed already?”
“This is useless,” I said, and left the room, heading for my own. On my way, I passed one of the windows facing out on the backyard. Casting a quick glance out the window, I thought I caught a glimpse of the man in red, standing down there on the lawn, watching me. But when I got to the window he was gone. Yet he had seemed so real – so vivid – when I saw him from the corner of my eye.
Now he had vanished.