Dreamless Souls

1. Slumber

"Why do people dream? What is the science behind how humans dream? Neurological research has never entered such a stagnant pace thanks to the mystery that reside within our mind. Observation of human brainwaves have revealed that when entering Lucid state, the REM cycle of sleep where dreams frequently occur, electromagnetic activity within the brain escalates at an abnormal rate, as if the person's brain functions just as often as when he is conscious. Further study yields that majority of the electromagnetic activity occurs within the temporal, occipital, and parietal lobes of the cerebral cortex - the main portion of the human brain.

It is understood that these three lobes are responsible for both visual and auditory (and other minor senses) processing and analysis, and that the rate of neurons firing electrical signals are at their peak during Lucid state before dropping, but science has yet to establish a link between the increased brain activity in Lucid sleep with the metaphysical realm that dreams are made of. We must understand though, that this is but one of the many mysteries of the human brain, and how it makes us who we are today.

Nonetheless, neurologists have began taking a greater interest in Dreams in recent times. Even more so with the recent discovery of a rare disorder that is only known as Comatose Dreaming. Experts of the scientific community have refused to announce anything until the situation is certain. Dr. Arcacia, renowned psychotherapist and researcher has proposed a theory that dreams, their effects on the brain and the body, and even functions of such dreams, are deeply connected with the unexplainable disorder:

"Whatever we have studied and learned about the brain for the past twenty years may have actually been but a small portion of what the brain is about. The war against this new disease will be the true test for humanity, because we will be fighting against an unknown disease and the prize at stake, our brain."

I stopped reading then, just enough so that a coworker wearing the Bons apron could walk past my stretched-out legs that settled on a worn iron chair. The kid worked in the bakery department, and as he took off his cap - a part of the uniform - and hairnet, he flashed a bright, metallic smile at me.

"Hey Rin, still reading out loud on your break time?"

"Not like there's anyone who's here to bother me about it." I shrugged, my arms stretched out to indicate the deserted break room.

"Just saying man, since it's interesting you do it all the time." His arms were up in a disarming manner, and I could tell that Joe was not looking for trouble. Still, for him to be leaning over wanting to look at what I held in my hands...

"I don't do it all the time; just when I'm bored of all this shit around me. 'Neways, you should go rinse your mouth, I can see things stuck in your braces. Cake?"

After watching his face alight with horror, I went back to the magazine article. It was published by NSF - National Science Foundation, and a new monthly issue would always be found against the wall on one of the tables in the room. With time to kill, it's easy for me to just pick an issue and start reading.

The rest of the article yammered on about the kind of science crap that anyone would find boring to listen to but interesting if understood. From the gist of what I could understand, the doctor's theory suggests that Dreams were fabricated realities - temporary realms mimicking real life that the brain creates to alleviate built-up stress or psychological issues. Although there were some minor evidences that support the idea, too little about dreams is understood, and as it stands there is no clear answer. However, the author did emphasize that understanding the elements of dreams would go in a long way in solving the recent world-wide phenomenon known as Comatose Dreaming. The actual disorder is something more of a mouthful, called Cerebral Dissonance.

"Comatose Dreaming or Cerebral Dissonance, why can't they at least settle for one name? Besides, isn't the symptoms the same as any other comas?" I muttered to myself, taking note of the name for later research.

"Rin, mind moving your legs?" A new voice, this time a feminine tone, caused me to look up from the magazine once more.

"Oh hi Lise, starting work late again huh?" Retracting my legs for the second time, I set the magazine aside and gave my full attention to the tall and slim brunette. Her name was Elisa, but she insisted that I call her Lise, like all the employees in the store.

"You know it. It's like that for the past week, and if it weren't for school I would be at least slightly happier about damn closing shifts." Giving a soft sigh, the Russian girl knelt beside her locker and worked the combination lock before giving me a sideways glance.

"So, I heard that something happened to you yesterday?" Concerned filled her soft blue eyes, a girl like her giving me time of the day would normally fill my heart with joy, but I could only look away in slight embarrassment. "Ah, don't tell me, you were involve in yesterday's-"

"It's nothing special, really." I felt my hands clench and pulled them closer into the sleeves of my uniform, as if I had something to hide. I darted a look at the fingers and knuckles covered in bandages and looked back at Lise, whose eyes were also focused on them.

"Mmhmm, you sure about that? It's all over the news though..." I could tell she was feigning an unsuspecting smile, but it was still too early to talk about the incident, even if her eyes betrayed her curiosity.

"Yeah I'm sure. The media likes to blow things out of proportions. Anyway-" Why the hell was my face red? Was it shame? Or that a girl was being nice to me? Or was it just because that girl was Lise? But she's just a coworker, nothing more. I reminded myself quickly and settled down.

"Rin, Lizzy, you are both here, good." I twisted my head toward the familiar voice at the entrance to the break back at us was one of my bosses, Assistant Manager Bryan.

I didn't bother to know his last name because everyone was calling everyone by their first name, even if there was a great variation of age among employees and the managers. Bryan looked to be in his fifties with a shade of grey hair, for example, but no one called him by his position first or even use Sir. It was a custom that was so different from the country I originated from but easier to adjust to.

"Yes, what is it?" Lise and I replied in unison, and again, that startled me, but when I glanced at Lise she had already closed her locker with uniform in hand and our conversation forgotten.

"The front's getting busy again, and we're short of hand, so get busy Lise, counting on ya." Clasping his hands together, Bryan beckoned the girl beside me and she responded in haste.

"Now, as for you, Rin, Betty wants to see you up in her office, now." When he looked at me sharply, and at the mention of the store manager's name, I swore hard on the inside. But I also made sure that my face betrayed nothing.

"Got it. I'll be right there." As if my reply had satisfied him, Bryan went about his business and disappeared from the entrance.

"Um, so Rin, guess I'll see you a bit?" As Lise headed toward the door, I wondered if that expecting look she wore meant she looked forward to seeing me or just to confirm all the rumors flying around. In the end, with a knowing sigh, I decided that she just wanted the juicy details of my exploits, like the rest of them.

...

"So, Rin - you have a rather feminine name - how long have you been working in this store?" Sitting behind her table, with documents piled in several small towers and a fountain pen dancing between her fingers, Betty the Store Manager peered over at the computer screen while taking glances at me every so often.

"Nine months." I ignored the part about my name. Rin Katakiri, Japanese-American, one hundred percent male with a girly name that actually had an awesome kanji for it.

"Mmhmm, and of these nine months, do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused our employees and store?" Her eyes were sharp, too sharp, as if staring daggers at me, threatening my will with her authority. How blunt, I like.

"A lot, I reckon. Not so much for the employ-"

"A lot is more than enough, and any trouble to the store is trouble to the employees, okay?" Cutting me off before I could finish my true statement, Betty began to extend her authority even more.

"I've given you plenty of chances, since your relationship with the other employees have been decent, your work and effort have been tolerable, and your friendly demeanor have been a plus among our customers. However-" Here it comes, I thought as I think of all the times justice had failed me to the point of becoming inexistent.

"Here are the incidents you were involved in over the past six months - the time after your probation." Pulling out a slim folder, where I assume my profile as her employee was kept, the manager began reading what would be better described as my achievements:

"Four accounts of attempted apprehension of shoplifters, eight accounts of interfering with Loss Prevention in their duties, six accounts where you chased down customers outside the store just to retrieve what they have stolen. So of course, you are aware that this is not the first time I am meeting with you on this matter, or how many times you have violated Bon's employee policies." Although her tone was stern, and her piercing stare was holding me at knifepoint, it did not stop me from ever wondering just what was so great about the store policy.

In fact, the policies in place were so flawed that it left the employees virtually powerless to protect their work place from any external or internal harm. It was like asking us to be sitting ducks hiding and passively let the criminals get away.

"I am aware, but-" I wanted to defend myself, if to just voice my own opinion, but this was not getting anywhere since Betty the manager here decided she should cut me off from saying anything. It was also not helping that I felt the inner flame in me raging and intensifying.

"But you learned nothing from your past mistakes. In fact, the little stunt you pulled yesterday would have left a serious repercussion that would threaten the safety of all the store employees and customers! You should be grateful that you're not sued!"

"Sued or not, what I did yesterday is nothing of the sort."

I tried to stay cool despite feeling as if the manager was using the rules to belittle me, but as soon as she mentioned what had happened, something burnt away within me. Store manager or no, I needed to let her know the truth even if she already knew.

"Sigh, okay let's go over this, shall we? Last night, at around 9 pm, several shoplifters entered the store."

"They were not shoplifters, but actual robbers with weapons and masks." As incredulous as it sounded, these people actually thought robbing a grocery chain store would make fast money.

"Right, and instead of calling the 911, you had to intervene while putting you and everyone else in the store in potential danger."

"But I didn't precisely because the police always arrive late. Besides, if I did nothing, they would have stayed in the front and got away with all the money." I replied flatly. The police tend to have a fancy of arriving thirty minutes late even though their station was only five blocks away. It was totally pointless to rely on them for anything other than cleaning up the mess.

"Listen, Rin. We all saw the video recording, and whatever the media put up for the public. You stopping them from robbing the store is one thing, but... to do... that" She hesitated to bring it up, but I knew well what she was talking about. Looking down at my hands both wrapped tightly in fresh bandages, I finished the sentence for her.

"That, being I taught the robbers a very good lesson why not to rob at Bons, but shop at Bons instead." I decided to crack a joke, albeit the attempt was lost on her unnerving face.

"Yes, you did. I admit, although too good a lesson can be a bad thing. Look, subduing the robber is one thing, but killing him is not, especially when you-" She had turned the display in the room on, showing black-and-white footage of where I had one of the robbers in a headlock with the milk cooler door, while repeatedly shutting the door down on him until he fell unconscious. "-Do something like that."

Seeing my handiwork from above, I merely shrugged. "What you didn't know was that he tried to stab me with a dagger. I did what I had to do to make sure he went down and stay down. Besides, he was merely unconscious, not dead." I have always been taught to not take a life. What I learned was a way of self-defense with the idea that the strongest offense is the strongest defense. These people might think they were at the top of the food chain with their weapons but without them they were just simpletons with ill intent.

"... And what about this one? Two minutes later, we see you sending one of them, with a bleeding face straight into a pile of beer on display. Look at the damages!" Why was she more concerned about the damages when she could be questioning why the guy's face was all messed up? Did she forget that I had snapped the first guy's dagger and had used pieces of the dagger to carve his buddy's face like early Halloween makeup?

"They're just cheap Choronas. It's not like anyone's going to miss them-"

"Rin! Can you at least act respectful as you should be for your employer?" Betty was infuriated. I couldn't blame her, maybe, but what's so bad about stating the facts?

"Fine, I apologize and will shut up now." Yeah right.

We continued to stare at the fascinating videos of me: a guy with dark hair and apron wrestling one robber down with a headlock and knee to the balls; pitching cans of Progresso soup at another until one struck him flat on his hooked nose and gave it an extra notch of crookedness. Lastly, the big bad man with a handgun arrived on the scene.

"One by one, you took the five down like the first two, and then what? When I thought you couldn't make things any worse, you had to go unarmed against a gunman. Just look at the amount of dangers you put yourself in!"

"He might have been aiming to kill, but he lacks speed and precision. I mean, look at it Betty." I held up my left hand, which was wound with more bandages than normal. "He didn't know how to face against someone who has the skills to disarm and disable someone who's much bigger."

"But he shot you! It went through your palm for crying out loud! Haven't you put yourself in enough danger already? You know, you're lucky that's all it was - a gun and a dagger."

I had the urge to ask her what she would have done if in my situation, but stopped myself. I needed to show some restraint, after all.

"Yes I was lucky, but it's not just that. I can't just stand by and let the robbers do whatever they want with the money, customers, and my coworkers." Looking down again, I saw my bandaged hands and stretched them out for Betty to see. If she were appalled by what she saw, there was no sign.

"Your little fiasco is not bravery, Rin. It was pure stupidity. The cops would have been here already and our loss would be minimum. But instead, you did something that placed your life, and especially the customers' lives, at high risk." Taking out a pen, she began marking down various things at the portfolio containing my profile.

"As of today, Rin, you're suspended from your duties until further notice. While the Union believed that what you did was the right thing, the employee policy stands, and my supervisors all agree. This is a necessary punishment. Anyway, I'm busy, so goodbye."

It was then that I realized what she was on about. Despite being a store manager, she cared very little about anything beside profit, policies, and rules. Perhaps Betty was scared of legal repercussions, or the fact that the robbers would have retaliated since I became aggressive, but in the end, they did nothing as I ripped the knives and pistols off their hands. They were amateurs with weapons unsuited for the kind of crime they were committing. Of all that I did, that I felt was something anyone would do for the sake of what belonged to him, for it to be rendered meaningless with a system of only punishment and negligence. I've had enough.

"Necessary punishment huh? Well let me just tell you this: whereas you are willing to suffer the losses and risk the employees while doing absolutely nothing, I at least did something and put them to their place. I defended the store, but it's okay, I understand. There's no need for suspension. I quit!" Leaving that message loud and clear, I left the office without looking back or caring about Betty's reactions.

As I descend the narrow stairs, exited the door, and entered the front lobby of the biggest chain Grocery store in California, Bons, my hands finally unclenched. The pain of grabbing blades barehanded and burnt marks from knocking pistols out of the robbers' hands returned to ravage my hands. I winced but shrugged it off.

"Hey, Rin, guess everyone's caught wind of the news over here. Headline! Western Addition Bons Employee Singlehandedly Nullifies Five Armed Robbers." I turned my head to the left, and saw the owner of the voice, Caesar. He was a tall man in his thirties, and was also the only coworker to bother learning my mother tongue. "People were going wild over the video leak of all that action, man. You should be proud of yourself." He pointed at me with a finger, as if that were his way of acknowledging my deed.

"Oh yeah? Guess that'll keep them occupied for about three days." I threw a smile, but I guess it came off exasperated as he walked close, his eyes - not as sharp as Betty's - analyzed my words.

"You don't look too happy. Let me guess, Betty scolded you and you're pissed?

"Heh, more like I quit the job." I decided it was easier to just tell the truth, and figure from there if it was actually important.

"Serious? You seriously quit the job because the manager lectured you about why you go all Steven Segal on them?" Why was he smiling all of a sudden? Was he joking with me or against me?

"Who the hell's Steven Segal? Anyway, I did what I had to do. No one was hurt and I did it all in 'self-defense.' Besides, Betty didn't just lectured me; she suspended me, so it might as well be the same as being fired." I was pissed, clearly, anyone could see that as I raised my voice. I could even spot Lise out of the corner of my eyes.

"Well, at least you quit on your own volition, so it's not as bad. Still, you have to realize that even if no one else was hurt, you were. You could have been killed." Caesar was right when he said that. What I did was something that would appear unusual and even crazy in retrospect, but to me, the end result was all that mattered.

"I got off light; it was just some cuts and bruises..."

"Dude; you grabbed someone's switchblade with your bare hands, and I heard that you even knocked down the guy with the gun by knocking his gun away with your bleeding hand. You could have been hospitalized right now, but instead you came back to this shithole yet again..." He gave off an exasperated sigh, as if a father had finished scolding his son after realizing that no amount of physical discipline would suffice.

"Wait, you really did all that, Rin? So the crazy apron guy was really you? The news didn't list any names so I didn't know." Great, Lise was watching me from afar and now I have coworkers badgering me. I felt my anger at the manager ebbing away, replaced by something even more tiresome.

"That's so cool! So you really kicked their asses, Rin. Here I thought Marissa was lying, haha."

"Why would I be lying about that? He's the real deal here, beating up over six robbers and disarming them. That's something you'd only see in movies now."

"Correction, five." I didn't know how to really react to their enthusiasm. So all I could do was stand there like a yardstick against the incoming tide. "So what was it like? Did you feel any fear at all? I mean, come on the dudes had guns!"

"Look, guys, don't you have customers over there waiting? Listen, I'll tell you guys next time, the whole story okay?" I stared at their eyes filled with expectations, and felt my face burning up. Little did they know that I won't ever come back - at least as an employee anyway.

"Yes, come on you people, get back to work." In the nick of time, Bryan had shown up, and with his stern tone, the other employees finally left alone. Caesar did gave me his 'peace' sign, and Lise her thumbs up, but in the end, it was all for nothing wasn't it?

"Hey, I heard about what happened, and it's a bummer to have you leave us like that." Bryan gave me a pat on the shoulders as I faced the exit of the store, its automated doors opened and beckoning me outside.

"It's alright. I did what I could, and the store will be fine even without me." I faked a smile, and said my goodbyes to him and to the coworkers I've come to be acquainted in the past few months.

In the end, however, it was just a job after all. I've only been in there for nine months, and I had realized a few things or two, that people all wore facades to fit into the system. The sympathetic tone in Bryan's voice was just to make me feel better, but I was but an employee to him, and to Betty as well. I was one of the work force, insignificant, and he was just pitying me. A few hours from now he would be worrying about other things, like all the rest of them. A few days or weeks now, someone else would fill my position. So, no big deal... really.

So then, why do I feel... frustrated?

As I stepped out of the store for the final time, I looked from the newly-painted parking lot and up into the deep blue heavens. Streaks of silver clouds littered in that blue oasis, and as the wintery wind picked up, so did the sky and its inhabitants. Seagulls and pigeons fluttered about, congregating upon littered bread and fried chicken alike. Even if it were a parking space with repainted and renewed asphalt, there would always be messes to be found, a result of human filth in the modern society. How I wish to escape this land, and fly away with feathery wings.

I walked toward my car that was parked at the end of the open parking lot, my mind filled with only one thought - what do I do now that I've quit my only source of income. I didn't want to imagine how I'd pay off the rent for the next coming months, or the looks of my apartment manager when I plead with her for rent reduction, but in the end, what will be will be. Because I was lost in thought, I did not see the figures until I was a good distance away from the security cameras of Bons. It was careless of me to not detect them.

"Yo, you there, got some change, buddy?" In a voice obviously covering ill intent, a guy wearing hood had appeared directly in front. Snapped out of my reverie, I looked around. Five - no, six of them total. Hoodlums it looked like - the scum of society. They had the characteristic look of mobs that felt power cornering helpless individuals.

"I don't." I stood still, watching as they encircled me. I didn't bother to look behind me because there were four in my field of vision, so there must be two behind me to cover my attempt of escape.

"Then, your wallet and cellphone would do, kid." One of them stood out. He looked like someone that had been wandering the dark alleys, with clothes in shambles and dark shades. That unclean smile of his would also be characteristic of someone who didn't give a damn about the society. He and the rest of his gang were here to only take, like the parasites they were.

"Hey, I said your wallet and phone, now!" Was he upset by my silence? Perhaps he and his buddies thought I was an easy prey?

"Why should I give them to you? Get a job if you want money so badly." I replied in a slow and clear voice, making sure that all of them heard me.

"What did you say, mothafuck?" Did it entice them? Rile them up? They were pretty close to me now, probably only three-four feet away. Out of their little ring around me I also noticed several passerby. They were watching of course, probably wondering what would happen.

One of the guys walked up to me, and pushed me hard into the chest. Wincing, but not from his push itself, I fumbled backwards, only to feel a hard shove from the back, knocking me off balance. Quickly shoving my arms out, I caught myself before my face met pavement, but the wounds from yesterday also came back with the impact. The pain stabbed at me, and I had to clench my teeth to endure the discomfort. Slowly, I got up back to my feet, and smiled at the people around me.

"I said, get a job so you don't have to mug people who are already as poor as you are." It was a clear provocation, and I knew a world of pain was coming, but I didn't care anymore.

"You fucking chinaman, you're seriously asking for it." These guys were quite brave, I suppose. They didn't care about the people around them as one pulled out a pocketknife and the others getting their fists ready. Then again, if passerby decided to pull their phones out and start taking pictures, I suppose there really was no difference.

"I believe you made two mistakes; first, I am not Chinese. Second, it is you who are seriously askin-" I didn't get to finish my sentence, as someone had punched me hard in my stomach. Getting the wind knocked out, I blanked out in pain for a moment, and felt my knees crumble.

"Arrogant fucker, talkin' shit even when you can't do shit." The guy who looked like the leader of the pack walked around me and immediately, a kick came from my right. Pulling strength into my neck and back, I moved just enough for the blow to be a grazing blow to my face, but it was still enough to knock me sideways onto the pavement.

Doubled in the burning sensation, I felt something flowing down my cheeks. Pressing my bandaged hands to my face, I looked into crimson splotches that could only be blood painted on them. Great, a cut, so that was what that sting came from.

"Listen, buddy. We know who you are. You're the one that gave our pals quite a beating last night, right?" A guy crouched next to me, and gave me a choice with a crooked smile only a mother would endure. What did he say? Is that why they targeted me? "Well, teeth for teeth, eye for eye, no hard FEELING!" A knife came out of nowhere, its metallic glint told me enough for me to collapse into a roll in the opposite direction.

"I see now. So out for revenge, huh?" I grinned. Feeling the undeniable rush of adrenaline within my body, the pain was enough to bring both my mind and body to the ground. Seeing the confused look on the lackey's face since I dodged his knife so easily, I stood up and brushed the dust off me.

"Come on, why don't you pick someone your own size, instead of losing yourselves to someone smaller than ya." I smiled, working that clichéd line almost comically at the guys around me. I was five-foot five, and they look at least five-eight to six feet. I gave them a wave of my hand, and shifted my left foot back.

"You asked for it, asshole. We weren't planning to go easy on you anyway." Glaring and clenching his mouth tight, the big guy lunged for me, and so did the rest of the gang.

Perhaps they thought I was full of myself, pretending to be someone I was not. Perhaps they thought they had the power of numbers on their side. Humans were like that - quick to jump to conclusions, quick to assume and categorize. Well, it was their fault to not heed such stereotypes. I knew from the beginning that they would be in for the time of their lives, but one must wonder - They saw what I did, so why try? Did they think having more people means that'd work in real life? Sure, that would work in action movies and not usually in real life. They haven't met me, though.

I was calm; I breathed in deeply and left out a soft breath. I wound my body up like that of a spring. Fitting to the stereotype of an Asian being the practitioner of martial arts, I waited for the first punch to come at me. Parrying it easily with my elbow, I sank my free hand into the stomach of the assailant and watched in silence as he crumbled into a heap.

Onto my next target. I turned to see that he too had resorted to the use of a knife. He might as well come at me with a longer blade. The guy tried to lunge at my torso, but I shifted sideways and sped past his attacking arm before linking my arm around it. Before he could react to my motion, I pulled his arm hard, with enough force to jolt his bones, and elbowed him in the face at the same time as tripping him with my ankle. As his knees buckled and hands clutched at his face, his knife fell on the ground I spun around to meet the others that swung at me with their long arms.

Maintaining my stance and continue my rhythmic breathing, I blocked one of their crosses and swung a fast kick to the side of one of their heads. As he fell to the resounding impact, I felt a heavy impact to my left, and before I knew it I was on the ground from the tackle. The heavy weight came at my face and I barely moved my arms upwards to parry the punch, the pain and shockwave of the impact jutted my bones but my block held. Still, the wind was knocked out of my lungs and I was coughing. The lower part of my body won't move due to the guy weighing down on me with his entire body so it would just be a matter of time before the other guys restrain me and it would be over.

As he pulled his arm back for more consecutive punches, I pulled one of my arms free and stabbed his eyes with my fingers. Yelping with pain, the guy flinched backwards and it was enough for my other fist to connect to his cheek. Groaning in pain and stress, I managed to get the heavy bastard off my legs, and rolled sideways to escape the others that were trying to kick me. I quickly pulled myself back up, and couldn't even talk as I tried to collect my breath.

For the next minute or two, it became a one-sided battle as all of them came at me in separate intervals. One tried to grab and put me into a lock, but he had no idea that a hard scrape down his shin and onto his foot would be enough to send him reeling. Several of them had pulled out their own switchblades, but their thrusts and swings were not hard to see and predict. I disarmed two of them and threw them onto their backs before landing my bandaged knuckles into their cheeks. The remaining two with the least amount of injuries on them were looking at me apprehensively. All of them were breathing hard and groaning in pain, including the ones on the ground.

"What the fuck's wrong with this guy. How can he be this strong?" They were muttering to each other, and I heard it easily. However, I didn't think I was that strong; I simply possessed more skill and had more experiences than they ever would. Someone like these people who terrorize others with their numbers and seeking illicit gains would never understand the necessity one must obtain to defend against their ilk.

"Do you want to give up, or keep going? I was pretty sure you said revenge, right? Well I'm right here, so decide soon if you're serious about it, or run before you end up like your friends last night." I taunted my opponents, because I knew I would not be defeated by their likes.

It was rather disappointing that people never tried to understand my standard of justice. I did what was right, but instead lost out due to the existing system, and that was enough to make me pissed. I was calm right now, but only because... I didn't need to expose that yet. I'd imagine that if they pull some stunt like the robbers did last night... I hope it will not come to that. Excessive anger and rage might just make things worse.

"Fuck no. Like I said, you're going to regret it." The leader, who I had knocked down three times already, stood up, and his face was livid with anger and hatred. At that moment, something black came from within his jacket, and my instinct told me to dodge the thunder that would come out the next second. I tried, feinting to the left. Fire exploded from the 9 mm before me, and my right shoulder felt the scorch akin to flames.

"Oh my god, he's got a gun! Someone call the police! Someone call the police damn it!" It took a few more seconds for passerby and onlookers to realize, and immediately panic set in as they scattered, running about like headless cockroaches. I didn't worry about that though, because the searing pain on my right arm and the flowing blood were enough shock to my system already.

"Dude, what the fuck you thinkin'! Can't use a fuckin' gun in broad daylight man!" Obviously, his gang panicked as well, but I also didn't care about that. Before the idiot decided to let a second shot go through and harm pedestrians, I commanded for my entire body to move.

I didn't give much damn about the useless arm that came as a result of injury, because one arm, when properly used with its entire body, was enough. The gang leader was busy having a tug-of-war with his lackey over the pistol that neither of them or anyone else saw that I had already reached within my effective range. I could see him trying to regain control of the pistol but it was just too slow.

With the sound of a loud crack, I executed a flying knee to the leader's face. The hilarity of their speechless expression didn't sink in till much later, after I had sent him reeling backwards with a bleeding nose. My arm burnt in pain, but adrenaline had deadened the pain by a tiny percent and that was sufficient. The next strike came as I connected my left fist and his right cheeks. The third was a straight kick to the sternum while my momentum carried me through. I felt a cracking sensation against my fist. I hoped that was the sound of something broken in there so he'll remember it.

Perhaps finally deciding that I was going to continue kicking asses till I bleed dry, the remaining members of the gang dragged their disabled leader back up and ran away into the streets with invisible tails dangling between their legs. They did throw something along the lines of "You won't see the last of us. Better watch your back, fucker!" I suppose their desire for avenging their friends fell short of their desire to escape the pain. Minutes later, the cops finally arrived in their loud sirens, and followed was the ambulance that took me to the nearest hospital, Kaiser Permanente. I would have loved to time the length of wait I had to endure sitting there with a bleeding shoulder wound, but other than the blood it wasn't so bad... I think.

Hours later, with the surgery done and the wound patch up with twenty-four stitches, I found myself staring at the white ceiling of the hospital ward. The bullet that hit me had went through apparently; it was not a direct hit and more like a graze as I had thought. They had to rewrap and repair the stitches due to the damages done to my hands, though because contrary to what most people knew, I had suffered more than just burnt marks. There was a chunk of flesh missing on my right palm. As for the perpetrators, they were caught and arrested shortly after. The cops had told me in their report that eyewitness accounts point to self-defense, so there would be no charges other than for me to appear in court at a later date for the trial of the hoodlums that shot me.

"Well, too bad for them. They just had to pick a fight with the wrong person." I smiled, half derision at myself, and closed my eyes.

Unfortunately, the problem with getting myself in this mess was that of a financial crisis. With the loss of my income, and the lack of stable health insurance now that I had walked out of the door of the Union as a result of quitting Bons, I could already imagine the amount of medical bills that'll come charging at me like hungry sharks. I imagined that this issue would reach its full climax somewhere down the line, maybe even as soon as tomorrow. Living by myself wasn't that great, after all.

"I am so not looking forward to tomorrow..." I held back a yawn and tried to ignore the pain that burnt through my hands and shoulders but it refused to subside, a testament to everything I had done in the last twenty-four hours.

Rin Katakiri was my name. In kanji, my first name, Rin, could be written as phosphorous, an ignitable, flammable substance. I possessed the power to ignite - to lose myself and become something more, from an ember to a raging flame. In another perspective, it meant that a dangerous fury rest within me. What defeated the robbers was not my normal, calm self. It was the self fueled by rage and the desire to protect. Would I have seen myself as one filled with violence in his life? Maybe. Were the fights that I had endured improbable? Yes. Still, this was the remorseless world I lived in.

Last night, when I saw the robbers and how they treated the cowering customers, especially my coworkers and a girl my age that was on a wheelchair, something cracked within me and fueled the fury in me. The videos could only capture my skills and finesse, but not the raw emotions that burnt within me as I sent them to the hospital and engraved my fury on them. As for the guy who had shot me, when the cops finally showed up that night, his face was beaten to a bloody pulp, unconscious but alive, and I was beside him in a site of carnage, with a pool of blood beneath me.

Despite all that happened, though, I never had a chance to speak to that girl. I vaguely remembered seeing her as the paramedics carried me out on a stretcher, and when she had asked me why I did such a crazy and reckless stunt, I gave her my honest reply. As for what those words were, or why she gave me such a look afterwards, I had no fricking idea.

No one thanked me for my actions. They only looked accusingly at me. The cops were skeptical but decided to accept my story of self-defense. Sure, the news headline made it sound like I was not at fault, but did not dismiss the idea that I could be a lunatic and suicidal youngster. In the end, both conflicts ended with the aggressors completely beaten by a single individual. Was it justice served or was I simply seeking the pleasure of danger and combat? Was this truly how I should use my abilities?

As I drifted into uneasy slumber - exhausted over the events of today and last night and the stress of dealing with my financial problems - darkness set into my room as if on cue. The realm of darkness separating reality and the land of dreams engulfed my being, but not before a small voice reached my ears from within the abyss.

-Walk With Conviction In Thy Heart, O' Dreamless Soul, Lest Thee Lose Thyself In The Sweet Illusions Of Nothingness-