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     Something felt… wrong.

 

     It wasn’t the same displaced feeling you got whenever you worried about your social media presence, or whether you’d make some kind of humiliating mistake during your shift. It was the kind of wrong that pulled at your feet at every moment it got, paralyzing you with fear whenever your thoughts sidetracked. It was the kind of wrong that only signalled for bad things to come.

 

     No matter what you seemed to do, you couldn’t block out the white noise that filled your head, noise you figured came from this dread rooted deep within you. You didn’t need this right now—you still had half an hour left before you could go home, and you were working the turntables tonight, god forbid you forget to change the tracks—but you sighed and carried on the best you could. It was probably going to be something you just had to put up with tonight; you were used to grinning and bearing it when problems stood in your way, so you hoped it wouldn't be too hard. Maybe if you could figure out where that feeling might have come from, you might start to feel better, right?

 

     ...Come to think of it, your whole week had been really off. Last Saturday seemed to be the catalyst of it all, when one of your adoptive dads came home from work and immediately closed himself off in his bedroom, unusual behaviour compared to how he usually acted around you. You didn’t get to see him too often since his hours working as a janitor often overlapped with your downtime, but when you did, he often spent his time off with you and the rest of your newfound family. After all, despite his stoic demeanour, he tended to open up quite a bit at home. That night, however, he didn’t even bat an eye at you or anyone else.

 

     You remember starting to worry. Did he watch someone get badly hurt at work? Was he going to be fired? You asked your other dad (or as you liked to call him, MZDad) in the living room if everything was okay, but he frowned, saying he hadn’t a clue. He told you he’d ask about it, since you were visibly upset, but something in the hollowness of his eyes told you otherwise. The rest of that night was spent in your room, playing an old rhythm game on your portable gaming console while Hatena watched intensely, but you couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of anxiousness and despair.

 

     The clatter of frenzied footsteps on the cold dance floor snapped you out of your thoughts for a bit. How long had you been auto-piloting through the night? You hadn’t realized it, but you were staring blankly at the wall on the other end of the building, your performance comparatively low-energy to your usual nights on the job. Were you going to get in trouble for this? Your co-workers tended to be pretty understanding whenever you were feeling particularly turbulent, but you never liked using that as an excuse to slack off. As the next EDM track you played began to pump through the club’s hi-tech speakers, you lost yourself in the bass-boosted drumbeat, and were soon back in your own head, faced with a memory from the past week you wish you hadn’t kept.

 

     It was last Friday, when your break at work started. The hustle and bustle of the club was starting to wear you out that night, so you went outside through the back door to catch a breather, water bottle in hand. What you didn’t expect was to walk in on a group of shady looking adults huddled together in the moonlight, discussing… targets? They used lingo you didn’t understand, but you were able to gather that something wasn’t right. 

 

     You tried to go about your business without disturbing them, but you managed to catch their attention when you accidentally hit your water bottle against the club wall, their eyes watching you like hawks. Without hesitation, each member pulled a gun, and before you knew it, you were backed into a corner with four shiny handguns eyeing up your skull.

 

     You quivered before the threats at hand, panicking and unsure how to proceed at all. Scanning your surroundings for any sort of help, you thought you spotted a familiar face—honey hair, faded green trench coat, and a dark grey cap… but you noticed that he, too, held a gun at your head. This couldn’t have been the same person you knew, right? At this point, even with all the risks involved, you only had one way to find out...

 

     “…Dad?” you called out quietly, wincing. You waited for a loud bang, but nothing came of it. The man in front of you dropped his gun to his knees almost instantly, like a rag doll, staring at you with the heartbroken eyes of someone who had watched everything they loved destroyed before them.

 

     In that moment, you wished you hadn’t said anything. You wished you had been wrong.

 

     The other adults followed suit and sheathed their guns in a much more collected manner, before they each split paths. Too shaken to return to work, you asked MZDad to pick you up and hoped your boss wouldn’t be too upset. You thought about calling in once you got home to explain yourself, but the stained tears on your blankets once you climbed into bed proved otherwise. There was so much to process, but yet so little—

     

     “Hey, Lee. You good?”

 

     This time, you were brought back to reality by your boss, who had swung around and placed his hand on your left shoulder. Startled, you jumped a little and instinctively tried to free yourself, but once you realized who was next to you, you calmed down. 

 

     “I... I mean, I guess?” you replied, a little slower than you hoped. You didn’t quite want to get into what was bothering you, it’d just be unfair to throw that at him. The man nodded knowingly, before brushing away his hair. He stepped away, having overstayed his welcome in your personal space.

 

     “Well, whatever you say. Just wanted to remind you your shift’s over now. Best be getting home now, yeah? It’s pretty late.”

 

     “...Right. Thanks, man.” You forced a smile and waved as you went to the corner of the stage to pack your things, but something still felt just plain off. Granted, things were always a little dangerous at this time of night. Despite the accepting nature of the club you worked at—it was an LGBT+ nightclub, so why wouldn’t it be?—there were sketchy people who liked to roam the premises at night, people who wouldn’t hesitate to harm you under any circumstance. People that you’d be protected from if you asked for a ride home.

 

     That wasn’t necessary though, right? It was late enough that your parents should have both been asleep by now—although you knew MZDad usually wasn’t before you got home from work—and waking them up wasn’t worth the hassle. It was only a twenty minute walk anyways, and you were getting better at weaponizing your light magic. Slinging your bag onto your shoulders and protectively wrapping your arms around your chest, you stepped out of the club’s front door like every other night and began on the winding forested path home.

 

     But something still felt… off.

 

     It was like you were being monitored. Did that word capture your feelings well enough? Somehow, it didn’t feel strong enough. Despite the dread that still clung to you, you continued onward, trying to scan your surroundings. It was too dark, however, and you couldn’t see past anything street lights didn’t already illuminate. On any other night, you wouldn’t have been so deeply bothered by this, but the anxiety you’d felt the whole night made you worry about every little possibility, causing your entire body to feel heavy as you dragged on.

 

     No, you had to convince yourself. No one was going to jump out from the bushes and ambush you. No one was going to try to rob you. No one was going to shoot and kill you. You just wanted to stop panicking already; tonight had been hard enough. 

 

     Suddenly, a pang of intense panic and fear washed over you, and you froze in place, feeling like you were cemented to the ground. You simply couldn’t continue anymore, not like this. You needed to check your surroundings, pronto. Hesitating just a little, you placed your pointer finger to one of the eyes on your hood and spun its pupil around, generating multicoloured windows of light around you. They illuminated enough that you could see further into the forest now, but despite that, you still struggled to identify the threat you sensed. 

 

     Wrapping your arms around your chest again, you spotted an unidentifiable figure in the background, and for a split second, you could have sworn you made eye contact. You felt a sense of familiarity and security looking at the figure—should this have been someone you knew?—but it felt wrong to put trust into a person you didn’t recognize. Especially not with whatever that long object they held was, seemingly positioned over their shoulder.

 

     Everything in your body told you to book it back to the club. By pure instinct, you almost started running the other way, but your workplace wasn’t going to be open for much longer, and anyone who would’ve still been there would have been occupied; they certainly wouldn’t have had the time to take you home. Against every logical thing you could have done, you tried to keep walking, staring mindlessly at the concrete below your feet, its gravelly texture and uneven size keeping your mind at bay.

 

     As it turned out, that concrete would be your last memory. A loud, crackling boom sounded, followed by nothing but silence and an empty, endless dark void.