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Everyone in the Hideout has been thrown into pure chaos. They were all looking for someone to blame. Two brothers, Leo and Theo begin arguing about who’s going to lead them. Leo, being the older and the aggressor of the brothers, spoke first.
“We chose to face him head on?” Leo yelled.
“You know she’s right Leo,” Theo said, his words coated with a heavy German accent.
“We chose to face him head on? That’s bull if I ever heard any! She abandoned us. Either way we all would have died, but she chose to be a coward and ran off with that bastard Atton,” Leo continued to shout. Leo wasn’t necessarily mad at his brother – or anyone in particular. Leo just needed a scapegoat; he just wanted to be mad at someone.
“Calm down Leo, we don’t have to face him head on but we will have to face him. That’s inexorable,” Theo, explained trying to stay composed.
“Don’t use big words when I’m mad!” Leo said, flustered.
“It means no matter what we chose it would have happened,dummkoph. Now they are out there trying to find a way to stop it. All we have to do is stall.”
“Who died and made you leader?” Leo contested.
“Leo right now I need you to calm down,” Theo repeated.
“Du arschloch, Theo! I can scream and shout as much as I want!”
“Leo deinen esei uten beruhigen!”Leo quickly sat down. He was surprised his brother took charge. No one else there understood what just happened. However, they picked up a few cuss words and did not interfere.
“Now,” Theo continued, “to even have a chance, we’ll need weapons; Nirvana-type weapons.”
AsNirvana, Zak, Atton, Ralph, and Reggie passed through the fog; they realized that they’d entered a giant gorge that reeked of evil.
“I don’t like this place,” Zak said shakily, “not one bit.”
“What kind of place is this Atton? Where are we?” Reggie asked with terror in his heart.
“I don’t know but it gives me a real eerie feeling,” Atton said trying not to lose his cool.
“Whoa,” Reggie jumped. “What was that?”
“It wasn’t anything you moron.” Ralph told him.
“Yes it was. That thing that moved in the corner, what was it?” Reggie shook.
“Reggie,” Nirvana began, “there’s nothing there but your own shadow.”
“Look at this fool, afraid of his own shadow,” Ralph mocked.
“I’m not a fool, I know what I saw,” Reggie said as serious as possible.
“Crazy,” Ralph muttered in a cough.
“I am not crazy! I kn–,” his words were cut short.
“Shh,” Zak hushed.
In the crevasses of the darkest corners, something emerged.
“What is that?”
A hand emerged from the corner reaching for Zak’s ankle. He tried to fight it off but it seized him and dragged in, into the shadows.
“Nirvana!” Zak shouted for her. He continued to scream for her until his lungs were packed with hard dirt. His tears wet the dirt.
“Zak!” Nirvana yelled back. She lunged towards him but not soon enough. Weeping wildly, she tried to dig her way into where she saw Zak disappear to but to no avail. Although she knew that it was useless, she continued to dig.
“Nirvana,” Atton said pulling her off the ground. “Nirvana stop, he’s gone.”
“No, he’s not gone.” She smote the ground in a tremendous rage, screaming, “Zak!” She buried her face in her hands. Atton placed his hand on her shoulder but she knocked him backwards.
“What is so special about him? He isn’t your brother, so what?” Atton yelled.
“Zak was my best friend,” she screamed.
“Oh, get over it. Zak was nothing special,” Atton retorted.
Nirvana slapped fiercely him on his left cheek. “No one talks about Zak that way, not even you.”
Their argument continued and a couple of harsh words flew. While this was going on, Ralph and Reggie had their own side conversation.
“What’s with those two?” Reggie wondered. Weren’t they just all lovey-dovey a few minutes ago?”
“Yeah but you see they have a love/hate relationship,” Ralph explained. “Judging by what she just called him, I’d say they’re in the hate part right now.”
“Just tell me why he’s so damn special?” Atton yelled.
“Okay!” Nirvana screamed. “You’re one tenacious little bastard.”
Wiping her eyes, she irritably began the story of Zak Urea. “You really wanna know. This is just racking your mind. Okay. Ten years ago when I was six or seven… my dad – he uh… wanted to take me to the circus…”
 “Hey princess come on down I’ve got a surprise for you,” he called.
I tumbled down the steps and rushed into his arms. I looked up at him with stars in my eyes, wonder-ing what it could possibly be. He tickled my stomach and we laughed together.
“I’m going to take you to…,” he stopped.
“What? Where?” I asked eagerly.
“The circus!” he finally said.
“Yay!” I said excitedly. “Circus. Circus.” I had never been to one and sadly, that was my first and last time.
“Yay. Circus. Circus,” he repeated. “Go get your brother, Charlie, and we’ll leave. Okay?” I ran up the stairs yelling, “Charlie! Charlie Johnson! We’re going to the circus!” Charlie was seventeen and didn’t want to go to the circus, but my dad didn’t trust him in our house by himself.
When we got there, it was amazing! There were tigers, elephants, and men jumping through flaming hoops, I loved it. Then they brought out a man they introduced as the “Blak Hulk.” He lifted everything they gave him; cars, 500 pound barbells, anything. It was incredible.
I remember my dad saying, “Hey Princess, Daddy’s got to find to restroom. Charlie, watch your sister.”
“Whatever,” he said wryly. After he had walked away, Charlie took me to where they kept the animals. We weren’t supposed to be back there, but Charlie knew it’d make me happy.
I saw the lions, tigers, bears, elephants, and then in a cage being whipped, I saw Zak. They wouldn’t even feed him. I saw him grab a whip and pull the man in and he “fed” himself. Another man appeared a few minutes later.
He said, “I told you to behave.” He pulled out a whip. My brother ran to save him from being murdered.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Charlie spoke up.
“You’re just a child. What does a child know?” he cracked the whip at Charlie.
“I know you better not hit me with that whip again,” my brother warned.
He did it anyway, this time twice as hard. He went for a third time but Charlie caught it and snatched it from him. He then whipped the man in his face, and the man charged towards my brother but missed. Charlie went behind the man, and whipped him in his butt. The man turned around, offended and huffed away.
“The French,” Charlie chuckled.
I walked over to the cage and coaxed Zak towards me. When I saw his condition tears came to my eyes but there were none in his.
“We’re gonna get you outta here,” I said reassuringly to Zak.
Charlie unlatched the cage and we escaped with Zak. My dad seemed to be in a hurry to leave, as if something had happened. On the way out a rugged looking man stopped us. He looked to be in his mid twenties I guess.
“It’s time to pay up Lance.” My dad refused, but the man flashed a gun.
“Get behind me,” dad said cautiously. He handed the mugger his wallet. He counted it, $50.
“This ain’t enough Lance.” He took out his gun, “Sorry, boss’s orders,” The man took one shot at my father, and then ran leaving infuriated.
My brother screamed out, “murderer,” then I picked up a jagged rock and hurled at the man. It left an incredibly deep gash in the back of his neck. My dad lay on the ground dying.
“Son… Son…Take care of her,” I remember him saying. He closed his eyes peacefully.
“I will dad,” he said through tears. “I promise.” Charlie ran after our dad’s killer, but never found him. For the next five years, my brother honored his promise, but then he started stealing anything he could get his hands on. He kept getting drunk, doing drugs, and running with the bad crowds. By the time I was eleven, it was just me and Zak. It has been that way, ever since.
“Wow,” Atton said in astonishment. “You had to watch your father die. We’re more alike then you realize.” He was speechless.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll tell you later.” They smiled at each other. In Atton’s mind, this was the perfect time to kiss her. He leaned in closer until– 
“Guess what? Guess what?” Reggie interrupted.
“What?” they said together.
“Well that hand that dragged Zak him down had a rusty golden watch on it,” Ralph told them. “The same watch worn by…”
“CJ McCoy,” Atton realized.
On Earth, the Valinior Force began preparation. They loaded and stocked up on as many of the weapons Nirvana had left behind. They rummaged through old weapons until Leo called out, “Hey guys come here you’ll never guess what I found.” Before him, lay a war supply of Criobite, according to the written label on the box. “How do we open it?” Theo asked. He noticed a keypad on the side. “It’s password-protected.”
“So what’s something Nirvana would put?” someone wondered.
“Something so obvious that it’s the last thing we’d think of.” They tried typing her name, no luck. They tried Zak, Limbo, Valinior Force, Criobite, Vigor and still no luck.
“Can I make a suggestion?”
“What is it?” Theo replied. Leo typed in five simple letters: A T T O N. It worked the box unlocked revealing all the Criobite they’d need. “Leo, you and I will load the guns with this.” He pointed to two men in the group. “Harry and Grin start working on some armor. As for the rest of you get to the sparring room.” For the first time since Nirvana’s departure the Valinior Force had hope.
“Hello,” Zak called out. There was no response except the echo of his voice. “Hello. Where am I? Hello!”
Zak could not see it but he was in a long arching hallway, similar to a deep cave. He walked forward until before him stood a door, 12ft. high. Zak pushed through the door and saw a throne.
On the throne sat seven and a half feet of bones in a long hooded black cloak. In his right hand, he held the almighty scythe. It was five feet long with a two-foot blade that could slice through you so quickly if you blinked you’d miss it, don’t blink, you’d still miss it. When Zak laid eyes on this being, his heart nearly stopped. Being so preoccupied in seeing the Reaper, he hardly noticed the three men surrounding his throne. On the left Werly Adams, in the back was Kip Brown, and at the right hand of the Reaper, CJ McCoy.
Then the Grim Reaper spoke, “CJ, why have you brought him before me?”
Zak’s ears throbbed at his voice. It may have been slightly raspy, but he’d never heard such power, such a commanding voice.
He spoke again, “Why have you brought him here? I specifically ordered you to retrieve the boy!”
“Yes Master, but the boy and his companions care for this… great hulking behemoth so much; I am almost certain the will follow him here,” CJ said unsure of his own words.
“Almost!” He held his scythe to his throat. Technically the Reaper had no eyes, but somehow CJ could still see the anger in them. “For your sake, they’d better pursue this ‘hulking behemoth’ or that’s your neck. You three return to your chambers, now!”
“Yes Master.” Werly and CJ departed first with Kip following lazily behind. They entered their chambers and began conversing.
“I take it you two are still mad at me?” Kip asked. They just glared at him for a while.
“What do you think,” Werly stated. “It’s your fault we’re stuck here.”
“Yeah, you couldn’t just let us go in peace?” CJ wondered.
“No, I couldn’t,” Kip said hoping they would understand.
“Why not? Just answer that for me,” CJ demanded.
“Because, He ordered me to and I obliged to his command. You know what would happen if I didn’t.”
“Yeah, we would’ve escaped,” Werly said.
“I would have died,” Kip said sadly.
“Oh yeah we’re living large now. This is worse than death. Do you honestly think we wouldn’t have come back for you?” Werly asked. “We would have found a way. Now, we owe an eternity of serviceto the Grim Reaper. How is this better than death?”
“So you’d rather have me die!” Kip yelled. “Would that have made you happy if I was dead?” “Yes,” CJ said, as if it were obvious. “Us ending up here is your fault! Your death was necessary, even you said so when you sacrificed yourself. Newsflash; that’s what sacrifice is you die so we can go on!”
Kip stared at them speechless. “I thought we were in this together,” he said, his voice breaking. “I thought you guys were my friends.”
“You thought wrong. Your own son doesn’t even like you, no one does. I’m pretty sure your wife was happy the day you killed her,” Werly said concluding the conversation. Kip abscond to his portion of the chamber, stung by their words.
“CJ McCoy?” Nirvana questioned.
“Yeah he’s a rich, egotistical jerk.” Ralph said infuriated just by hearing his name. “He was probably the most self-obsessed man I’d ever met.”
“Our old boss,” Reggie added.
“I take it you don’t like him,” Nirvana said trying to get all the facts.
“Yeah,” Ralph said. “All this time I thought he was dead.”
“Looks like he works for the Reaper now,” Atton noted.
“You said he was rich. Where’d he get all his money? Gambling? Sports?” Nirvana wondered.
“No one really knows and honestly, I don’t think anyone cares. He could boss anyone around and had the money to back it up,” Atton explained.
“Yeah and he never figured it’d come back and bite him in the ass,” Ralph said seeming happy. “He’d always look to the future, stepping on everyone else to get there. Excuse me, every man; he had a real soft spot for the women. As I said, McCoy would always look ahead never stopped to look behind.”
“And that’s when we got ‘em,” Reggie concluded. “It was bloody murder, everyone took a stab. If you were there –whew; it was awesome!” Ralph nudged him. “I mean what a sad, tragic day, the death of CJ McCoy.” Reggie couldn’t even say that with a straight face.
They tried to stifle their laughter but Atton, Ralph and Reggie could no longer contain it; they all burst out laughing.
“I don’t see anything funny about murdering an innocent man,” Nirvana stated, appalled at their behavior.
“If you’d been what we’ve been through it would have been hilarious.” Reggie calmed his voice to a more serious level. “Look, Nirvana I get where you’re coming from, but he sure as hell was not an innocent man. He was a Hitler to us. He abused us by hand and anything in his hand.”
Atton knew what CJ did because his dad used to come home with immense lashes bestowed on his back, or, as it has been quaintly put, “welts bigger than his ego.” Atton motioned to Ralph and Reggie and the two removed their shirts and turned their backs to Nirvana. Before her eyes, she saw scars, gashes, cuts, bruises, and even a burn on Reggie.
“My God. Why –Why would he do this?” Nirvana said disgusted.
“Because, I told him not to bleach his shirt,” Reggie sneered.
“That’s just the way he is,” Atton put it simply.
“So he’s here in Limbo?” Nirvana asked. They nodded. “Well it seems to me,” she said standing up, “that it’s payback time.”

Submitted: December 01, 2009

© Copyright 2023 Atton Brown. All rights reserved.


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