You rush through the darkness, wishing that you chose not to work overtime. You knew that this city was dangerous, too many things went bump in the night. During the daytime it was easy to pass off these fears as fairy tales, figments of one's imagination. But as you avoid the third pair of hungry eyes on you it suddenly becomes all too real. You are glancing over your shoulder so much that you take a wrong turn and reach a dead end. Instead of your safe, warm house there is an unforgiving brick wall. Behind you there are footsteps and the eerie laughter of children. You clutch your messenger bag tighter to your chest and attempt to return to the right path. As you turn the first corner you notice someone facing one of the walls, a can in one hand. He seems to be spraying graffiti on the wall, drawing an image that reminds you all too well of the monster you claimed lived under your bed when you were five. Lowering your eyes you tiptoe towards the one source of light, your escape route. You're almost there, you can almost taste victory when your foot accidentally sends a can tumbling towards the stranger. The loud sound it makes mocks you as the shadow slowly turns in your direction. You hold your bag impossibly tighter. The person's head tips to the side and your blood runs cold. You try to run through the exit but suddenly your wrists are being held by a tight grip. Now, in the murky light of the moon, you can see the stranger's face. His eyes are huge, never blinking in a way that makes your scream turn to silence. His face has many scars crisscrossing the otherwise paper-pale skin. You struggle against him and beg for him to let you go, that you have a family. At this he tightens his grip, and his face contorts in what could loosely be called a smile. "Why," he asks, lifting one hand up to grab your face, "did you interrupt me?" His eyes grow impossibly wider. You're trying to make a sound but your voice is paralyzed with fear. You feel as if your mute button has been hit. "Answer me," he says. Suddenly your voice works again and you beg for him to let you go, that you need to go home to your family. "I never had one of those," he begins, "could you take me to them?" You think of your family being in your position and shake your head."I know I'm not pretty but that's no reason not to treat me right," he winces. You ask for him to let you go in a small voice, feeling hopelessness build up inside you. "Only if you do something for me," he says in a teasing tone. You look up in surprise, relief flooding you. You ask what it is and he pushes you against the bricks harder. "I need you to get something from a friend of mine. You can find her in the swamps outside of town. Tell her that Jwax needs his payment," he sneers and lets go of you. You scramble away from him, rubbing at your now sore wrists. "If you don't return with my payment then I might just have to pay your family a visit," he smiles, showing off crooked teeth before whisking back around to his art. You get back on your feet and run through the alleyways, never stopping to catch your breath until you're safe inside your house, holding your family close. Yet his words still echo in your head, and the next day you skip work to venture out of the city; into the swamp.



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