I was on my way home from school, hands in my pockets and my bag slung over my shoulder; whistling a tune and smiling widely. I couldn't help it—usually I wouldn't even be able to get near anything that expensive, but that day was the day I got to take that laptop I found home. Well, saying I found it isn't exactly right. More like someone stuffed it into my backpack and forced me to find it. I didn't know whether the guy had just opened the wrong locker or something (which would be pretty difficult, considering I keep a lock on it), or who it could've belonged to, so I handed it over to the lost and found at the school. When they couldn't find the owner, I took it to the police. They told me that they'd put a poster up for it, and if no one claimed and identified it in 30 days, I could keep it. And that's exactly what I was going to do.
Of course, I wasn't expecting all of the random shit that was about to go down in the next few minutes.
I was walking nonchalantly down the street, minding my own business. Then several different things happened, and none of them made any sense. First, I was tackled by some tiny, flying object. It hit me square in the ribs, and knocked me over flat on my back. "What the hell was that?" Then, a gunshot, and one of those really loud ricochet noises, and I said again, "What the hell was that?!" I looked down at the object that had hit me, and found it was... "A midget?!" An incredibly strange midget at that. Her proportions seemed right, and her hair was strangely long. She had luminous, mature, strange green eyes. The strangest person I'd ever seen, bar none.
The aforementioned dwarf immediately jolted up to her feet, saying to herself in utter disbelief, "What am I doing!?" completely ignoring me. She then quickly turned, pulled out a small object from her jacket, and fired it at the rooftops. There was a moment of silence before I sat up and attempted to comprehend what just happened.
"What the hell?! First I get tackled by a midget, then gunshots... What's going on anyways?!"
"I'd prefer you shut up of your own volition," the girl pointed the item—a gun, if you haven't figured it out yet—at my head, "because I don't feel like cleaning blood off of the street right now." I nodded, fearing for my life, as anyone would. I didn't know who the halfling was, why she saved my life, or what was going on, but she had a gun; in my book, that's reason enough to comply. I tried giving her a smile, but I probably just looked pitiful. To my surprise, she... frowned. "Stop looking at me like that," she spat after a few seconds. I pursed my lips, my smile disappearing. "Come on. We have to get out of here." She grabbed me by the arm and helped me stand up. She then went to a nearby car and opened the passenger door, ushering me inside. Now, my mom always told me never to get into big white vans with bearded, gruff-looking men named Gordy offering candy, but she didn't say anything about attractive midgets and K-cars. Besides, she had a gun, so I wasn't going to protest.
"So, who are you exactly?" I tried, once we were moving.
"That's not important," she replied coldly, keeping her eyes on the road.
"Are you a midget?" I asked the question in the forefront of my mind. Which was probably a bad idea. The girl shot me a menacing glance, at which I smiled nervously.
"Negative. I'm exactly four feet and ten inches," she said through gritted teeth. "Or, 149.86 centimeters."
"So you're a tall midget?" The girl sighed in frustration, and continued driving.
"I'm not that short."
"I'm not that short!" she repeated, louder, glaring at me. Before she realized she was driving, and shifted her eyes back to the road.
"Well, who was that guy who was trying to kill me?" I asked. A fair question, if I say so myself. I really had no idea why anybody would want to kill me—or who, for that matter.
"A bounty hunter. You took something that belongs to someone else. Now they want you dead. And they're paying a lot of money for it to be done. These people are going to do anything to get that money, even if it puts their own lives in danger." She looked me over and then added, "Although I'm pretty sure that they're not expecting any significant resistance."
The only thing that could've been was the computer. Ridiculous. "Wha... Why don't they just ask for it back?" She narrowed her eyes at me incredulously. And then stopped. Thought about it.
"I... I don't know. But that isn't going to happen, so there's no point in discussing it."
"I suppose not. Well, a better question to ask would be, 'why are you helping me?'"
And the girl, in turn, reluctantly answered, "I haven't the foggiest idea."
/ Several hours earlier /
I am not insane, am I?
Wondering such a question as often as I did, it only made me question my sanity even more. I soon found myself asking that question at least once or twice a day. And I concluded, every time the question arose, that the answer was no. That my mind was in perfect working order and that everything was fine. Though I couldn't help but wonder whether or not insanity went beyond just the brain itself. If something had corrupted my very being. If I no longer was, for lack of a better term, human, and couldn't be the judge of what was right and wrong—or what was sane and what was insane.
So I answered my question with a question, turning the argument around on itself: What difference does being mentally unstable make? Why should I trouble myself over whether or not I've lost my humanity or my sanity? The important thing, at this point, is survival.
Whenever I thought about it, I would realize that I had more pressing issues to pay attention to. Whatever may have gone on in my mind, it had to keep me alive, no matter what. That was what it came down to: life or death. And if that meant insanity? Then so be it. Any sane person would choose life over death anyways, so that answered both of my questions. It may not have satisfied them. But it answered the questions.
I looked back behind me at the crowd, annoyedly moving around me as I loitered in the middle of the sidewalk, and for a moment, I felt sorrow. A deep sorrow, a sorrow that had been dormant for many years. One that resurfaced every now and again, rearing its ugly head as if to say, "Hey, remember me?"
I allowed myself a brief sigh, the autumn wind turning my cheeks a deep red and leaving me shaking like a leaf. The wind returned me to my senses, and I kept moving with a newfound vigor. I hate autumn, I decided, hugging myself to keep warm. Honestly, I just wanted something else to think about. It's always so cold, and everything dies. Even the quantity of assassination jobs tends to increase during the fall. Fall is a time of decay and ruin, as its name suggests. Everything that the spring and summer has worked for, fall destroys in a matter of days. Everything starts to end. Everything falls into the dirt, dead. I paused, frowning. That took a dark turn quickly... With that in mind, I continued.
Walking down the streets of New York in a big crowd of people in 30 degree weather while not at all dressed for it was a pain. Usually, going out was necessary. How else was I to work a job, or to buy groceries? Though, I never usually went out for groceries; I would just shop for them online. I hated going out more than I hated autumn, by far. And the combination of the two was astronomically more terrible. Worse still was going out in winter. But, worst of all, this walk in particular brought no reward of compensation, or even food.
My fool of a brother had locked me out of the house and told me to return in an hour, no sooner. Said fool backed this proposition up by saying that I needed to "get some fresh air", to "see the world", to "talk to someone for once", to "look at people without murderous intent". As if I needed any of that anyways. He himself would normally have been the only exception, but due to him being absolutely unbearable, I was beginning to plot his assassination. This arrangement hadn't helped matters, but it had given me time to realize that killing that freak would be an impossibility, and therefore a waste of my time and effort. As anyone who knew me would've guessed (and that was a small number indeed), the excursion was destined from the start to yield no treasure except the ice cubes that would be my fingers and toes.
I had visited one place: the sidewalk. It didn't occur to me until on my way home to go into a store, where it would most definitely be warmer, and at realizing this, I cursed my unthinking brain a number of times. I cupped my hands together and blew hot air into them, in a futile attempt to warm my gloveless fingers, before noticing that I would be coming upon my house soon. Which was good, because I might've gotten frostbitten, had I stayed in the cold much longer. Running hot water over my fingers would hurt, but it was a necessity. I quickly stuffed my hands back into my pockets and picked up the pace, seeing the small building in the distance.
I knocked politely at the beaten up wooden door, saying methodically, "Kyō wa."
"Kon'nichiwa. Anatahadare?" I heard from the other side of the door. That would be my brother. He was very loose with his inflection, as always. Familiar, and smooth. Aside from these passwords, I remembered little Japanese. I tried to forget a lot of things that reminded me of home, which was more difficult than it should've been.
"Watashi wa rei, shi, ichi, hachi, batsu, batsu," I answered, and the door opened.
"Hey Al," my brother greeted me with a grin. A stupid, irritating grin that made me want to smash his face into little pieces and crush them under my shoes. What an asshole, smiling like that after making me walk about in the cold for an hour. "How was your walk?"
"Gesu yarō..." I replied indignantly, ultimately deciding against hitting him as it would be useless, in favor of simply shoving past him and into the house. "Why did you do that to me? I nearly kicked the door down in spite of you."
"Well, you were getting weird on me, and we can't have that," Zack answered, pulling a couple of candy bars out of his pockets and handing them to me. I lunged for them, snatching them from his hands and hastily beginning to unwrap them. Before you start making conjectures about me being a sugar addict, I should tell you that I was simply very hungry. Sugar is a good source of energy, and therefore one of the prime resources I use to keep myself going. I could care less about the taste, or the supposed "buzz" it gives you after eating significant amounts of it. I have yet to experience such a thing anyways, since my metabolism promptly takes care of that. "So, what did you do with your time?"
I neglected to answer him, retreating to my only friend, the couch in my living room. The old house never felt like home, but I still tried to make it as comfortable as possible. And as clean. I can't stand to live in my own filth. I slump down into the chair, sweeping a bit of dust off of the couch. "I am not pleased with you," I told my idiot, before popping a piece of chocolate into my mouth.
"Right..." Zack chuckled, and then said, "I think I can live with that."
"Think again," I grumbled. "I know where you sleep." Though I had already figured that killing him wasn't an option, the threat was still on the table.
"Well, I'm sorry, but it had to be done. So can't you just let it go?"
I shook my head, my mouth full of candy. It's impolite to speak with my mouth full, otherwise I would. Even in the presence of such a dunce, I still have my decency.
"Even after I gave you food?" Zack pouted, folding his arms.
"I could've acquired that on my own; you were merely displaying common courtesy, since I'm tired, which I respect. But you're still an asshole."
"Okay, fine, shorty," Zack waved me away.
"Don't call me shorty," I warned him, glancing back at him. It's true that I'm quite short for my age, standing at a stunning 4' 10" (can't even break the 5' barrier), but that's not something I can help, and it irks me in a way nothing else does.
"Don't call me an asshole," Zack replied with a shrug.
"Fair enough," I agreed, nodding.
"Ah, that's right, I've got some news that might make you feel better," Zack claimed with a smile.
I continued eating, mumbling beforehand, "I'm listening."
"Well, I didn't have anything to do—you were out, and I couldn't bother you—so I went searching for jobs for us to do. And I found us a winner." This information piqued my interest. Though I dislike committing crimes, a winner meant the job paid well. And if the job paid well, that meant no work for a while. "A two million dollar bounty on the shoulders of a school kid." I twisted around to give my brother a look of disbelief. Zack picked a laptop off of the kitchen counter and brought it to the coffee table adjacent to where I sat.
"You are... joking, correct?" I looked at the target's photo with disgust. "A schoolboy? He probably isn't even capable of pickpocketing, and he has a two million dollar bounty on his head?" Zack nodded. "Was he a witness to a large-scale crime?"
"I don't know for sure," Zack replied with a shrug, "but I think it was just theft. I do know that the kid's just a kid though. I did some poking around, and the guy has no criminal record to speak of. I mean, he's just seventeen, after all." Seventeen years old, and he's wasting his life as a petty thief, I thought, shaking my head. I was envious of the boy's ignorance, his life. If I had your kind of opportunities, I would study hard, not steal from people.
"Matthew Akker..." I narrowed my eyes as I said it. Strange name. Rolls off the tongue like sandpaper. "So what did happen to him? Is he being punished on account of someone else's wrongdoings, or is this claim of theft actually legitimate?" That was a mistake, I didn't mean to say that aloud. I should mind my tongue. I shook my head directly after saying the words. "Excuse me, I didn't mean that, it's not my place to ask about such things. There's nothing to be worried about."
"Are you sure?" Zack asked, looking back at his computer.
"Yes." I furrowed my brow, trying to form some kind of a hypothesis as to why he could be wanted by someone who had the resources to just give away two million dollars. "...Who wants him killed anyway?"
"The mafia, I'm pretty sure. Italian. No clue why they're offering so much... They only gave a disposable phone number and an address to do business at, nothing more. But whoever they are, they sure do have a lot of something riding on this, if they're willing to pay two million for his body and this laptop he's got with him. Besides that, it's not like the mafia to hire assassins to do their dirty work. They must really want this kid dead."
I nodded without hesitation. "I'll take it." I paused, still thinking about what he could've done to incur such wrath. "What do you think he did? It's got something to do with that computer, of course, but what? Did he steal it?"
"I don't know," Zack answered. "Maybe we should try to find out? Or maybe we shouldn't."
"Shouldn't. That's not our domain. We're never supposed to know anyways. Besides, why do I need a reason to kill someone for two million dollars?" I stopped, blinking. I couldn't believe what I was saying. Had I really become that heartless? Was this really how I felt? Was murder nothing more than a casual greeting to me? It made me wonder again whether or not my sanity was intact. Who cares, I thought, frustrated, if I don't do it, someone else will. May as well ensure a quick death.
At this, though, Zack looked worried. "Well, that doesn't mean you have to just go along with it. Do whatever you think is right."
I looked away, frowning. Now Zack is worried about it too? Ugh, I don't know anymore. I just need to think about this logically. "What I think is right, huh?" I kept eating the candy, letting his comment sink in. What I think is right? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Does he truly believe I'm sane enough to be able to choose between right and wrong? Is there a right and wrong here? Logic suggests that a situation such as this should be decided based on what would provide the most benefit for the least amount of risk and effort. In which case, killing him would obviously be the correct choice, but—Oh, honestly, does it even matter?
I finally chose to tell him, "Zack, I'm a killer. I have no morals. And that means there's no difference between right and wrong except what is rational and what isn't, and rationality is about as far away as you can get from ethicality." I looked down at the ground, and felt doubt in my own words. "At least, that's how it's always been," I added, less sure of my statements. Not sure why I said that to him. That just made me sound like I didn't know what to believe. Even if that was actually the case, I disliked the idea of prolonging such an uncomfortable conversation.
There was an awkward silence between us. I wasn't sure I said what I wanted to say, but I knew it was true. I was right, wasn't I? There was no point in pretending to be a good guy, especially when I was about as far from good as they come. If I had to be a killer, I would be a killer. If I had to be a thief, I would be a thief. It was a simple solution to my problem. Which was part of the reason why it was so dissatisfactory. "When should I leave?" I asked, looking up at the picture on the computer screen again. I couldn't change my answer, for fear of looking a fool, so I stuck by what I said.
"At 7:30. He'll be on his way home from his part-time job then, and it's just after rush hour so there probably won't be many people around. He lives in a pretty remote area anyways, so you should be able to lure him in and knock him out without anyone noticing," Zack responded, sitting back in his chair. "He should have the laptop in his backpack. If he doesn't, well, take him back here, and we'll have to ask him ourselves."
"Do you think he has family?" I asked, almost subconsciously. I stared at Matthew's picture on the laptop, lost in thought. He doesn't look like the type to steal things. In fact, he looks as if he wouldn't harm a fly. And here I am, plotting to take his life... Is that how low I've stooped?
"Why do you ask?"
"No reason. I'm just wondering." I blinked a few times, sighed, and stood up from my seat to throw my trash away. I think I got frostbite in my pinky... I thought, noting it's lingering numbness. Ah, there's the pain, I gritted my teeth, never-mind.
"Something wrong?" Zack asked me.
"You almost got me frostbitten, you pain in the ass," I told him, holding out my discolored pinky.
"Well, who's fault is that?" Zack argued, folding his arms.
"Yours, actually," I retorted.
"Oh yeah, you're right... Um... Sorry?" he offered with a chuckle. I rolled my eyes, and promptly gave him a punch in the arm.
"You'd better be." I wonder why I have to kill that boy, I thought, before realizing how odd that was. I'd never wondered about the why, I'd always either known or just had my own reasons. Something about his face just screamed innocence to me; so much that it felt as if it would be wrong to kill him. I had never felt that way about a target before. All the others were established criminals and lowlives. They deserved death. But for this Akker boy... no reasoning was provided.
"If you don't want to do this, I can go ahead and do it instead," Zack said. I can do it myself, you idiot. I don't need your help.
"No. I'll be fine. Don't worry about me," I assured him, speaking more politely than I wanted to. I worry about myself enough, I thought. I don't need you to do it, Zack. But... am I going to do something about it? I'm not supposed to. I'll get in trouble. More trouble than I care to deal with. And besides, this assassination will allow us to procure quite a large amount of funds. I wouldn't have to kill anyone else for a long time. But... he looks like an innocent boy. I don't feel right killing him when he's done nothing wrong. Ugh, what the hell am I thinking? I don't even know what he did, I can't make any judgements... Despite my internal conflict, I smiled lightly. How stupid... I'm still trying to figure out whether or not I'm psychotic, even though I realize I can't decide what's worth more; a dubiously innocent man, or two million dollars. I guess I really am mentally ill. Any sane person would know to choose the money.
Matthew was walking home from school, an honest-looking smile plastered across his face. I was nearby, with a pair of binoculars to my eyes, observing the carefree boy going about his business. Of course, I could have lured him into an alleyway and taken him hostage a long time before then. But for some reason unbeknownst to me, I hesitated. For minutes. Oh, who am I kidding, I had some doubts about who I was, who I should've been. If I'd killed him, I would've been crossing a line I would never be able to uncross. I just wasn't prepared to take that step. A good thing too; I may have questioned my decisions then, but now, I'm... glad. That I didn't have the audacity.
I'd done some quick research, and from what I could gather, this boy had the most uninteresting, average life a person could have. It must have been miserable. That being the case, I couldn't imagine why someone like him had to pay such a heavy price. There was just no reason for it. That smile just cemented my belief that he'd done nothing wrong. And frankly, it kind of pissed me off. I didn't want to kill a person who didn't deserve to die. I never really wanted to kill anyone. Even though it didn't make any logical sense to me, I just never touched innocent people. Huh, I thought, kind of ridiculous for a murderer like myself to have any sort of moral compass. Nevertheless, I kept simply watching him from a distance as he walked down the street.
And, while keeping him under surveillance, I noticed a small red dot on his forehead. A laser sight. That seemed about right. Nobody around, it was late, he was likely to have a silencer... I wasn't the only bounty hunter around, after all. There were going to be others that would try and kill him. Well, if someone else beat me to the punch, whether I decided to kill him or not, that would mean I wouldn't get a cent. So, I searched around briskly for the sniper, and swiftly found the man, hiding up on a nearby rooftop. I, however, concluded earlier that it was better to stay closer to my target on this particular assignment, for just this sort of occasion.
I hid in an alleyway below, covered by the shadows, and ready to leap out at any given moment. I aimed a handgun at the man, even though he was way out of range. But what if I miss? Or if he shoots first? What do I do then? There's no time to hesitate, think of something. I bit my lip, and soon figured that it would be better to do anything but stand there, and leapt abruptly out of cover, sprinting towards the unsuspecting teenager. I was... running towards him. Putting my own life in danger. For some random kid I didn't even know. Anything but logical. Anything but sensible. Anything but what a murderer would do.
What the hell... am I doing?
A/N: As you have likely noticed, some of the characters in this chapter speak a different language: Japanese. Therefore, for your convenience, I have decided to do two things. I have avoided using any Japanese characters in favor of the English phonetic alphabet (for ease of pronunciation), and I have also posted the rough English translations of the Japanese in these author's notes. If you continue on, you will be able to read the aforementioned translations. To any Japanese-speaking people who read this, please correct me if any of these are wrong, or if they should be simplified, etc.
Kyō wa - Good afternoon
Kon'nichiwa. Anatahadare? - Hello. Who are you?
Watashi wa rei, shi, ichi, hachi, batsu, batsu - I am zero, four, one, eight, X, X (random fun fact for fun: 04/18 is Allison's birthday)
Gesu yarō - Asshole