A group of friends find an old man battered, bruised and lying unconscious in the middle of the road. Who is he and where did he come from?
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Where we stay is quiet, enchantingly so, especially around nighttime. It’s so quiet that everything that happens around here can be heard quite easily: bored barking dogs, the occasional domestic violence of neighbours, couples fighting, children getting beaten, even when trash is being thrown into dumpsters, or a soda can is rolling along the pavement, you can hear them all in the silence around you. Even so, it’s almost as if everything is considerate over their loudness.
At first sight, it’s a trashy neighbourhood for the poor: got a basketball court that’s barely ever used for what it’s meant for; got back alleys and walkways trimmed with trash, such things as candy wrappers, glass bottles, torn clothes, etcetera. Of course, yeah, it’s under-maintained, but it’s really something special, this place, the pale moon, big and bright and high up in the starry sky. It’s really something oddly beautiful, especially around nighttime and all the way up into the zero hours: that’s when the boys and I would meet up and hang out.
In my small group of close friends, there’s four of us teenage boys, but a year ago there were five of us. The fifth kid, Levi’s the name. All sorts of rumors are being passed around about Levi. Truth of the matter is, we were the last ones who saw him, and he looked the same as he always was, all full of smiles, always cracking his signature witty Levi jokes. Those rumours about him running off someplace else because of a negligent mother, or because he found love… none of it’s true. Something happened to him a year ago, and it’s never left our minds. And nobody cares but his ‘negligent’ mum and us.
For the nine months Levi’s been missing, we’d been having our eyes peeled wide open for clues, traces, anything but… it’s all in vain. Absolutely nothing to be found. It’s literally as if he’d just disappeared; literally wiped off the face of the earth, so we don’t blame the cops for not turning up with any good news about him.
Ten months in, call us terrible friends, but we’d lost hope in finding him and have stopped searching. And all we do is hang out late at night, one man short. We’d hang around, sipping on soda, munching on chips, just keeping our eyes open for any dodgy situations that might happen around here—guess you could say we’re the neighbourhood’s silent vigilantes.
It was a Wednesday night when the oddest thing happened. There was this old guy, probably pushing 70, maybe even 80. Balding, scraggly beard, face chased with wrinkles and cuts. He’s passed out in the middle of the road, laying on his back with a pool of blood where his head is. This is just the kind of dodgy situation we’re looking out for, but we can’t even begin to understand what’s going on.
We edge closer towards the passed-out old guy until we’re all standing around him in a circle. I’m the one who hunkers down and taps his shoulder, and I’m going, “Hey, pops, yo. Y’alright, pops? Yo, wake up,” and I’m doing this for like five minutes or so.
The guy just opens his eyes a slit and lazily slurs, “Whurt-hurpened?” as if woken up after a long night of partying and now hungover.
I stand up and the guy puts some force into lifting himself off the ground and sitting up. Maybe it’s to do with the lighting, but now we can all see that the old guy’s been battered and bruised worse than we thought. He’s got a black eye almost swollen shut; got blotches of dried blood everywhere, making his white beard mostly red.
My friends and I start whispering amongst ourselves. We’re saying things along the lines of “Maybe he’s just drunk,” or, “This guy’s shifty; call the cops.” We’re whispering things like, “This doesn’t feel right.”
The old guy’s seated still on the ground, looking up at us, knees up to his chest. Over time, he starts screwing up his face, either in an expression of pain or confusion. And he goes, “Wh-who am I? Wh-where… am I? What’s going on?” and over time, he starts freaking out, shivering, panic building up.
At this point, as scared as we are, we also feel sorry for the old guy—what, he’s suffering from dementia or something? So, when we see him struggling and staggering to rise on his feet, a friend and I grab him by either elbow for support, and we lead him over to sit him down on a bench under a flickering streetlight near the wired fence encompassing the basketball court. The guy stank, all kinds of stink—sweat, mildew, even traces of putrefaction and rotten fish—but he didn’t smell of alcohol- I can tell you that.
No average teenager like myself can be an expert in dealing with needy elderlies, but I’m trying my best here, and I’m telling the old guy, “Sir… pops, calm down, calm down, relax and just try your best to remember, alright, pops?”
And so ‘Pops’ tries his best to calm down. He slows down, takes deeper breaths and then shuts his eyes. Then, a moment of silence, a minute or a half. Eventually, you can see his eyeballs start flickering around behind his closed eyelids as if he’s receiving an overload of information, too much to process. All of a sudden, he shoots his eyes wide open and lets out a loud moan of pain and agony—and this throws us all back a step on our heels.
Now we’re freaking out. One of us, his name’s Mason: short kid, always wearing oversized, baggy clothes, mostly yellow, and a big beanie which makes his head look smaller than it already is. Mason fumbles his hand deep down into his pocket and scrabbles to take his phone out, and he’s going, “Yo- what-the-yo-I’m calling the cops-I’m doing it-I’m calling the cops right now. Yo, this crazy.”
Another friend, name’s Jaxon, dark-skinned, average height for a teenage boy but well-built for his age; doesn’t look like he should be hanging out with us losers, but he does. Jaxon holds Mason’s arm, stops him from phoning the cops. Jaxon tells Mason, “Hold up. Chill. We can sort this out ourselves. It gets outta hand—that’ when we call the cops.”
The old guy stops moaning and just shivers, swaddling himself in his large coat and crying.
Jaxon’s all composed, always is. He’s the group’s ‘Mister Big’, always thinks rationally, always focused. He steps up to Pops and tells him, “Listen, man, we don’t have to get the cops involved, right? They’ve got lot more important things to attend. This is something we can handle ourselves, right?”
In a lagged response, Pops nods his head. Then he frowns as if pulling something deep from his memory. “Cops—you mean, the police? Red flash… blue flash. Sirens. Yes?”
“That’s it, yeah. Red flash… blue flash. White cars, sirens. See? Memory just needs a little kick to a start, then we can get you in touch with your kids or grandkids or something. That’s all, right?”
“Yes, yes. I… I need to take a walk. I think that’ll help.”
“Hey, by all means,” Jaxon says, stretching one arm out to the road.
“You’ll all follow?” Pops inquires, seemingly more calmed down, to which Jaxon looks back at the three of us and we all nod. For a while, Pops hesitates but finally stands up and begins walking. We follow at least five steps behind him.
This all happened two months ago, and it’s easily the most daunting, strangest things I’d ever been involved in, because, as we’re following Pops on his walk, I’m slowly starting to think the guy’s absolutely nuts. Bonkers. Nutty as a fruitcake. He was shivering, scratching the back of his head, saying disjointed words like, “Chattering teeth, white pearls in red,” and he’d turn back to us and get up close to any one of us and say, “Won’t stop screaming, scratching their eyes out. Biting on tongues. Puking pink, bits of flesh. Pulling the skin off.” and he’d chatter his teeth.
All the while, Mason’s getting closer and closer to phoning the cops, but Jaxon ‘Mister Big’ is all composed and thinks he’s got the situation handled, so we’re all just following the jittery, odd, old guy on his walk, shaking in our shoes.
The walk ends at the underpass. Pops can’t go any further; more so than physically, he mentally can’t get past this point. Something’s stopping him, an invisible wall. He’s all frozen, tensed up, terrified, wide eyes fixed onto the dark tunnel. Jaxon walks up beside Pops and asks, “What’s the matter, old-man?”
Horrified and still looking into the gloomy, graffiti-infested underpass, Pops is a normal person all of a sudden, not a crazy guy anymore. He says, “This is where I went missing.”
This is the underpass Levi always took to get back home. He lived in another place and only came down to hang out with us. Plus, he really liked our place, so he’d always looked forward to coming down. Levi did, however, mention how suspicious this underpass is. But right now, tik… tok… it takes some time for the gears in our brains to start working.
Frowning curiously, Jaxon finally figures it out: “Levi?”
The old man looks at Jaxon, connects with a long lost memory. “That’s… my name.”
… A tale from Luminia city.
Luminia city’s a place I came up with ages ago, dating all the way back to a book I wrote about 10 years ago I think. I scrapped that book after 3 years in the making, because I personally thought it was crap, but the story still stuck with me, so I came up with a prequel, “Butterflies”.
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The key slides into the keyhole and unlocks the door when you twist it. Turns out, this key that you took from inside the box is to the unit directly beside your’s. First of all, knock on the door and wait for a reply… but there is none. Now, open the door slightly and peek inside. The first thing you see is a black handheld device on the floor. There seems to be nobody here, so enter and pick up the device. It takes a while for you to realize that it is a GPS receiver. Turn it on and it displays a route to a faraway location.
Look around. You find a snowglobe, a mini fountain, and a painting of a long tunnel. Inspect these items.
Behind the painting of the tunnel, there are some words engraved into the wall. What does it say?
10 letters. Got it? It’s best you write it down.
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