A black cat wrapped its tail around the sign pole, and as it passed by, it disappeared into the shadows.
Luona was on his way home from work today. He was tired, and he had been for a long time, and it showed with those dark circles underneath his eyes. Late insomniac nights spent poring over books had caused them, with countless cups of coffee spread out over the desk, on the floor, covering every available surface in the room…
Yes, he wanted to sleep. He desperately wanted to sleep. But he couldn’t. Not now, when he was so close…
But perhaps he should have let go of those goals of his, at least temporarily, so that he could have rested. Because if he had, then maybe, the end wouldn’t have started so soon.
As he stood by the crosswalk waiting for the signal to turn green, he took out his phone to check his messages. A text from Ava asking him if he wanted to come over to the cafe for some coffee, but that was unread, and from two days ago. He had last texted Thorn six months ago, but the man had never replied. Ranen had nine new messages for him, and Brycen had eight…
The light turned green, and Luona pocketed his phone. So many people today…but it wasn’t unlike usual. This was a city, after all.
But as he crossed, a strange ringing began to start in his head, the same one that had kept him up for many nights. Always momentarily, but…
Luona looked up, and time seem to slow.
In the middle of the crowd of people on the other side of the street stood a familiar figure. He turned, and met Luona’s eyes. Yes, that was him, black and white hair, purple eyes…
But it couldn’t be. Because…hadn’t they locked him up…months ago? What was he doing out here…?
The figure’s eyes widened in alarm just as a pickup truck slammed into Luona, its horn blaring, tires screeching.
Blood, pain, pavement…then whiteness.
Dema widened his eyes as he saw the vehicle slam into Luona, and he covered his mouth with his hand, feeling bile come up. But slowly the corner of his mouth twitched into a maniacal smile. After so long now, and…
Someone came up behind him, putting an arm around his shoulder and leading him away from the scene. “Come on,” Thorn said gruffly, the collar of his black coat turned up. “You don’t want to stay here too long.”
Of course. Thorn was the one in charge of him. It had all been thanks to him that he had gotten out, now…gotten out and away from that awful place… He wanted to go far away from there. As far away as he could…
“Hey, wait up!” There came a voice from behind them. Dema wanted to turn his head and look, but Thorn hurried him on.
“Just ignore him.”
But only a few minutes later did that person catch up to them, riding on a skateboard over the tops of the cars parked at the curb of the street…
“Remember me?” Akira grinned.
Thorn swore, and tried to shield Dema with his body, but it was too late. Akira had pressed the detonator.
Explosions filled the street.
Akira continued skateboarding down the street, ignoring the explosions behind him. Well, his job here was done…
He still had a shift at the cafe that afternoon, so he went that way, ignoring the fact that he smelled heavily of smoke. He tucked his skateboard beneath his arm and pushed the door open. Ava was already there behind the counter, cleaning mugs.
“Hey,” he greeted as he put on his apron. “Everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” she replied.
But when he turned around, he found her pointing a gun straight at his forehead.
Her gaze didn’t waver. “What’s that in your hand?”
“Oh, this?” Akira grinned. “So you knew.” He clutched the detonator which he had hidden in his apron pocket, and placed his thumb on the button.
“Sorry. But you know how it is…”
They pressed their triggers at the same time.
Luona opened his eyes and sat up, groaning. He should have slept…maybe then he would have paid more attention to his surroundings…
Ah, the whiteness. The familiar blank space surrounded him, always there to welcome him after every single death…
Ranen and Brycen were there, too. Had they…?
“Oh, Mr. Luona,” Brycen said when she saw that he was awake. “We were…in the truck. Sorry.”
“No, it’s my fault,” Luona replied. “I shouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the crosswalk…”
It was only here, in the whiteness, that they could truly remember everything, everything that had happened before, before this time and before the time before that…
“Looks like you’re all here, now.”
Luona looked up, and saw the white, cat-like creature, standing on top of the machine, its fluffy tail wrapping around the wires. It had been there, every time…
And he turned his head, and saw that the rest of them were here as well.
The creature sat down, and flicked its tail with a hint of annoyance. “You all lasted longer this time…congratulations. But the way things turned out…” It shook its head. “No.”
“So…?” Luona stood up. “What do you want us to do?”
The creature opened its colorful eyes and stared straight at him. “The same as usual, of course.”
And the others, all around him, the sighs and the groans of knowing that they had failed, and knowing the pain of being wiped over…
“Goodbye, then. See you next time around.”
And the creature’s eyes glowed, and the whiteness surrounded them, until there was nothing left…