Part 1: Forever Old Foes

Preliminary note: I last edited this on November 15th. I ran a poll on whether I should edit it due to recent circumstances, but the poll overwhelmingly decided against that. This is otherwise unedited, as this is not the final version of the story, just a WIP I wanted to show off.
Ok ty ilu bb.


This is a labour of love, and this is not a complete work. As of today, November 14th, 2019, I have finally created a partial work of fiction I am truly proud of. It’s not polished, it’s not even finished as a first draft, but it is here, and I am unleashing it on the world on February 14th, 2020, my first birthday. I was supposed to be born on that day but, wanting to make a good first impression, I was too stubborn to leave, so I finally entered the world ten days later. This is a day of caring, not only for others, but also yourself. Be good.

And now, the shout-outs:

To Will, thank you for being my longest-held friend. We matured together, and without your inspiration and artisanal aid, my series would likely still be collecting dust in some corner of my Google Drive, instead of presented here, today, with your art front and center. You helped me develop my characters into the polished, realistic individuals they are, versus the boring stereotypes and walking jokes they used to be. You helped create PseudoSaga as a universe, and while you didn’t directly have a hand in that, you helped me polish this turd until it was shimmering gold. Maybe one day, when we do our crossover, I can try to return just a few of the many favours you’ve given me. Who knows, maybe when my shit gets inevitably adapted into a movie or five, you’ll be there as my art director, helping me make sure those rowdy producers keep things according to my vision, not just visually.  Thank you, and I love you. Partners in crime, ‘til the end of time.

To Ashton, my fiery friend, you’ve had a greater impact on my life than most people, if not the greatest. Our meeting was by chance, on a sour topic, and with a Lord of the Rings meme to boot, but I quickly grew enamored by your humour and surprising emotional depth and wit, and you’ve made it clear that those feelings, among many others, have been reciprocated. Your art will lead you to a bright future, and while I too find it hard to put my feelings for you into words, allow me to try: You’ve called me your favorite person three times (I’ve counted!), and that’s three times more than anyone else has. Your laugh is infectious, your looks bashful yet stunning, and I’d be damned if I didn’t hold you up to your offer of comin’ to see little ol’ me with you all dressed up like the cowboy you are at heart, complete with saddle and horse. You’re a colt in soul, kicking and sprinting through the plains, and you deserve respect and love for your ferocity. I will always be here for you, no matter what, and you can hold me to that too. Thank you, and I love you too. Ride on, cowboy.

To Felix, you indomitable little shit. Any lesser person would’ve left you to rot in your first set of failures, but I am no lesser person. I see good in you, and even as you’ve disappointed me and others over the years, that good is somehow still there. It’s just a small ember, a spark, but I will hold on to you as long as it takes to turn that spark into a roaring flame. Your passion for linguistics, while a bit grating, is wonderful to see, and I have no doubt you’ll one day have a Wikipedia article written about you in Japanese, or maybe Portuguese, or maybe both. You’re a goofball, a trouble-maker, a heart-breaker, and full of potential, all at the same time. Use your passions for good, find outlets for your anger, and fuel your passions. You’ve got all the time in the world, kiddo, so get to it, eh?

Maybe I was a bit too harsh. You’ve made a lotta progress, and even though you have your relapses, you’re still handily improving, and, if you keep this rate up, you’ll likely find yourself in a better place than even I could imagine for you. Keep it up! Thank you, and, even after everything so far, I love you.

To Megan, who inspired me to take my ideas and finally put them on paper in a way that doesn’t make me wince and cringe at what I’ve written. While our friendship is more of a professional one, I still am indebted to you and the fantastic editing work you’ve done, plus the months of teaching and extremely helpful advice. Who knew limiting myself to ‘15 pages, give or take’ could help me think of things in a totally new, radical way? Gone are my 10,000-14,000 word spiels and blocks of terrible writing, you helped teach me that there truly is wit in brevity, and that has helped my self esteem in regards to writing skyrocket. I don’t need massive amounts of text to get the point across anymore, and I have you to thank for that. So, thank you, as a friend and as a student.

To Mikhail, finding you again was a total blessing. You were one of the first people I met who opened my eyes to the realities of the world, and you especially helped me discover who I truly am. In a way, you saved me from who I could’ve been, a horrible, divisive, bigoted individual, just by being yourself and not hiding any of that. Nowadays, you’re still someone worth looking up to, somebody worth appreciating, and I hope you continue to be an inspiration for others, just as you were for me. And hey, maybe one day, we can get a boba tea together. Thank you for all you have done for me and continue to do for me, and I love you.

There are many, many more folks who I love and appreciate out there, don’t worry. I just got space constraints ‘n shit. 

And without further ado, I present to you:


Act 1: Crocodile Tears
Part 1: Forever Old Foes

December 4th, 1979. It was supposed to be a time of giving, not taking, but if you asked Corey Zolagg, she’d be inclined to say it’s the latter. She sat in a brown-walled room, gloved hands clasped together, eyes fixated on the linoleum floor with a vague intensity common in most victims of ‘shellshock’. It didn’t help that she already had a light case of it, from before, but it was only inflamed by what had occurred earlier in the day. By the reason her gloved hands and winter overcoat were stained red, something she refused to let the nurses wipe off of her.

Every bad day starts normal, and this one started good, in fact. A simple morning, waking up, having breakfast, taking a bus to the university, studying, and then coming back home by noon. Usually by then, her better half had finished her own classes and returned, isolating herself to their apartment’s balcony, reading whatever she could find in Vietnamese. As soon as one noticed the other, they’d made a habit out of walking into their claustrophobic kitchen and hugging, something necessitated due to a nosy neighbor or three. How they met was almost picturesque, stumbling over one another in an airport after Corey’s father, in his last good act, used his connections to pull an asylum request for her. Within a month, she was taking a flight from Johannesburg to New York, and as she went to the baggage claim, she tripped over a huge suitcase being dragged by a woman small enough to fit in it.

Being strangers in a strange land, they felt a connection almost immediately, and the other woman’s tentative grasp of English was something Corey could easily aid with, albeit with her own personal additions and slang that were pulled over the Atlantic with her. Using the last of her father’s connections and this new friend’s naturalized-family, Corey almost started to feel excited for her future. This woman, this wonderful woman, was the daughter of two escapees from the now-Ho Chi Minh City during the fading days of the American intervention in Vietnam. 

We all know how that ended up. 

Still, her parents, having been given citizenship, pleaded for their daughter, who had been out of town when the city was besieged, to be given it as well. They succeeded, and now here she was. And here Corey was as well. That was almost three years ago. In those passing years, a friendship turned into something taboo, and soon enough both were enrolled in a nearby university, courtesy of her father’s money Corey had lined her pockets with before leaving, without any real cares in the world. Corey was enrolled in a psychology degree, her partner-in-crime a degree in biology, and life was simple, but good. Go to class, come back, hug, go out, come back, sleep. It was calming for both of them, having come from similar backgrounds. Her partner had lived in a city torn apart by a guerilla war. Corey did too, although she unfortunately had an active role in the carnage, albeit briefly.

When a nation starts recruiting women to its armed forces, it’s a sign of two things, Corey thought after she’d left: a true desperation for arms to hold guns, or an empire driven by ego to expand its military under a guise of inclusivity. Corey knew firsthand how it felt to be “given” the opportunity to serve back home. She knew how she was “recommended” to go to the nearest recruiting station at “her own discretion”, but the eyes of the recruiter spoke the truth. There was greed and hope hiding in them; greed due to wanting another body on the front line, hope because he thought she would take his place when the time for violence came. Unfortunately for him, neither happened, as two months later Corey learned that the recruiter had found himself in an ambush where only the enemy walked away. But that fleeting bit of hope, escaping his bullet-ridden body, lept and bound through the sahara, diving under brush and between the legs of running animals, before firmly placing itself into Corey’s heart during her first true patrol, just as she finished reading the report announcing that recruiter’s death. 

An omen was hung over her head that day.

And with its presence, death was drawn towards her. She fought in a mixed unit, women and men, black and white, but soon the yells and screams of all creeds filled the air. The hill they vaulted gave way to a swarm of people of the opposing cause, and in an instant it sounded as if the air was being crunched and snapped into atoms, the constant popping of various tones deafening her. And instead of fighting, of using her training, she ran, not towards the fight, but away, wherever the gunfire wasn’t coming from. Her feet kicked up dirt as she let instinct take over, one foot after the other, and she ran until she stopped feeling the explosions reverberate in her chest cavity. The damp air clogged her lungs as she wheezed, and she plucked the barely-fitting cap off her head, using it to wipe away the sweat staining her face. When the sounds of combat finally settled, Corey turned and walked back to her origin, and she forced herself to look over the bloodshed.

Bodies of almost every shape and form laid about, some moving, some still. Crying and moans of pain filled the air alongside the heavy stench of burnt gunpowder, but Corey’s mind immediately flashed to the possible court martial she would get. She didn’t even mind the odd hand or two grabbing at her heels for help, merely if she’d be punished for her cowardice. Lucky for her, nobody knew. Nobody important, at least; her father took to dealing with those who did.

She learned then how good it felt to run away from her problems.

Today, she had learned how bad it felt to run right back into them.

She remembered when her chest cavity pounded as that familiar feeling came rumbling through it. Her mind had instantly flashed back to her first true battle, and she felt her brain disconnect from the outside world for a good minute. It only returned when the warmth of another explosion swept over her body, replacing the cold dampness of her soaked clothes with a prickly sensation that ran over the skin. Her eyes and ears switched back on and focused, and she realized her feet were no longer on the ground, instead laying under her as she sat keeled over on the soaked asphalt. A car, no, two cars, had blown up. And her girlfriend, who previously was holding onto her arm as they hustled down the sidewalk, had disappeared.

Her eyes snapped around the environment, focusing on every prone form as she recollected; like her first battle, bodies laid around the scene, but they weren’t combatants. Just people. Young, old, wealthy, poor. As Corey scanned the chaos, her mind finished buffering, and the scenes of the last minute played out in her mind’s eye with a flash. When the first explosion struck, Corey had looked over to see flame and smoke billowing out of a car across the street. Her first thought, surprisingly enough, was if the car was a Ford Pinto, and not pondering why her girlfriend had immediately detached from her arm and sprinted for a wounded man nearby. She was always one to help the hurt, feeding stray cats that gathered on their apartment’s fire escape, helping senior citizens up the stairs of the complex. A good soul, through and through.

Corey was far, far from that. When a pigeon crashed into the sliding door of their balcony, Corey opened it to examine the twitching thing further. Her eyes drifted to the feathery smudge in the plexiglass, then back to the bird, whose pained cooing had begun to rattle off. No thoughts came to mind about helping the creature or wiping off the smudge. In fact, no thoughts came at all. When it came to suffering, Corey reverted to instinct, and instinct is what caused her to go back inside, put on a steel-toed boot, then return to stomp its skull in. She didn’t have time to help it, she later justified to herself as she swept the tiny body off the balcony to the hungry alley cats below. It could’ve taken weeks, maybe months for it to get better, she agreed with herself as she scrubbed off the smudge on the screen door. When she saw the bodies of the first explosion dotted about, her mind reverted to the pigeon. It couldn’t be helped.

But when the second explosion happened, and she saw her partner among the shapes laid about, that pigeon dissipated into smoke. Instinct kicked back in once more, but not in the way she was used to; she ran towards the flames, not away from them. Her legs carried her across the street to her partner, a crumpled form next to the shrapnel-shredded man she had tried to aid earlier, the fragments of the second explosion reducing him into the human equivalent of chunky salsa; Corey’s mind usually added a bit of comedy to every painful memory, to try and lessen the agony. It usually worked.

Still, he was incredibly dead. But she was not, not yet at least. Corey slid to her knees as she immediately picked up her girlfriend’s head, and observed that her glasses, a semi-permanent fixture on her face most days, had become shards embedded INTO her face. With shaking fingers, Corey began to pluck out the little jagged pieces and fling them aside, only noticing the more serious wounds when liquid began to run off her right hand, the one cradling her girlfriend’s head. When she adjusted her hand, she had to stop it from falling inward when the previously-rounded skull had been replaced by a soft-ball sized cavity.

Doctors said she had cracked her head wide open when the other explosion threw her into the asphalt, severe brain trauma. Doctors also said she probably wouldn’t wake up. 

Doctors are wrong. She will. 

She has to.

Corey’s bloodied gloves glistened under the buzzing tube-light above her head; the waiting room was empty save for her. Today’s freshly-printed newspaper laid on her left thigh, soaked with tears and marked by bloody glove-prints; “Terror Attack, or Mafia Hit Gone Wrong?” What a title, huh? It was like she’d suddenly been thrust into the role of bystander for some cheesy cop thriller, like all the ones she’d watched in the layover flight in Paris, pneumatic stethoscope-shaped headphones firmly plugged into her ears, eyes locked onto the one central screen. She remembered when a car was flipped over in a chase scene, and how the pyrotechnics turned it into a blaze in moments. 

Well, Corey thought as tears started to well back up in her eyes, at least they got THAT part right.

Her hands started shaking again. She clasped them together, and squeezed as tightly as she could.

She relaxed her grip and separated her hands as she leaned back in the rocky fold-out chair. The words of the other members of the concession didn’t even register half the time, and when they did, they quickly turned to static. It was only when her name was repeatedly called did she finally perk up, discovering the hungry eyes watching her.

She plucked the cigarette from her mouth and coughed into a fist. “Err, sorry.”

“No worries.” Came the reply from a weary-looking man who led the circle. “Again, how’ve you been feeling as of late?”

“Not great.” She half-lied; she felt atrocious. “Still hard to get over the fact that she’s not just, waiting there, on the balcony, at home. I open the door, and…” She tapped her cigarette, ash flaking onto the side of her jeans. “Nothing. Just, nothing.”

The man nodded. “The pain’s still new. Losing a friend is hard. We’ve all been there. Hell, some of us are still there, an-“

Friend. That fucking word again. Corey interrupted,“Why does it hurt so much?”

“Excuse me?”

Corey shifted in her chair. “I said, why does it hurt so much? I’m trying to become a psychologist, and even I don’t fully understand the bloody reason it feels like my guts are twisting into a ball every time I open the front door.”

The man nodded again. “You associate that place with her. Every time you go there, your mind brings her back to the forefront of your memories. It won’t go away, but it will lessen with time.”

“How much time?”

“I don’t know. I can’t even guess, as it’s different for everyone.”

A cloud of cigarette smoke lingered in the middle of the group, and Corey’s bruised psyche thought it resembled the spectre of death. It did follow her wherever she went these days after all, floating every closer; she had picked up smoking when Linh died. A pack a day keeps the tears away, right?

That’s what her name was. Linh. She had almost forgotten it, somehow; it was like her body was trying to reject all memory of her like a bad organ transplant. When she was alive, Corey’s hospital visits were brief and fleeting. What was even the point? To subject herself to that grueling visage, a tiny woman covered in bandages and inundated with tubing, unable to move? She was gone, the brain damage too great. That hope that latched onto her years ago had vanished. She used to think staying around her helped lessen the pain, but it didn’t. It only grew worse.

So much worse, in fact, the image of the pigeon returned, laid over Linh’s mutilated form.

This time, the boot was the flick of a switch and a minute of silence.

Corey puffed on her cigarette once more.

“They never found out who did it, did they?” Lyla asked as the pair finished cleaning up the conference hall, putting the chairs back into place and sweeping up debris.
“It’s been two months, Lyla.”

Lyla, a young woman whose parents had brought her to the states from Egypt at a young age, was the only person Corey cared to listen to at the meetings. Her father was drafted in the October War against Israel and lost an arm, and they left hoping to find a better life. She knew violence, at least second-hand. Err, I guess it’s technically first-hand, now. God, that was bad, Corey chastised herself.

That fact made Corey feel slightly less alone, at least. Somebody else with a story of escaping violence, only to run back into it; her parents were killed two years ago in a botched mugging. Corey didn’t even know what happened to her own parents after she left. Or her sister. Or anybody she knew back “home”.

“I read somewhere the chance of finding suspects drops by half forty-eight hours after the crime occurs. If they haven’t found anybody yet…”

Corey scoffed as she brushed cigarette ash into a hand-pan. “That’s reassuring. You should be a bedside assistant with those sweet words of yours.” Oh Lyla, always with the bluntness of a billy club, shrouded in that fading accent of hers.

“I know it’s not exactly what you want to hear, Corey,” Lyla sighed as she started stacking chairs in the corner of the room, “but don’t let this consume you. When my parents died, yes, I was sad. I still am, that’s why I’m here. I couldn’t let it consume me, and I didn’t.” She set a chair down and laid her arms across its spine. “But you are.”

Corey suddenly threw the plastic hand-pan across the room, the hand-broom following it momentarily. “What do you want me to say?” She hissed as she stood up. “That I’m just gonna have to accept what happened and move on without a care? Without even wondering, even THINKING about the terrs who did this?”

Lyla just shook her head solemnly. “I’m saying that you’re letting those “terrs” destroy your life, just like the lives of everyone who died. Don’t give that to them.” She picked up the last chair and folded it, nonchalantly throwing it over her shoulder into the pile of other identical chairs. “Besides, Marvin called.”

Oh god, Marvin Purdue. The only NYPD detective who’d give a damn about what Corey had to say after the explosions, and the only person who was trying to keep her up-to-date on the investigation. Corey wordlessly walked across the meeting room to pick up the pan and broom, before asking, “And? Is it to apologize for lurking about our little meetings here?” Corey knew Marvin was lightly tailing her, to the level of giving both her and Lyla his phone number, for ‘emergencies’.

“He told me how you’re coming to him looking like death. Asking every question under the sun, too.”


“It’s worrying him.”

“…and? Is it wrong for me to want to know if there’s any work whatsoever being done?”

Lyla adjusted her hijab before shaking her head.

“Then why bring it up?”

“Because I saw you doze off during the meeting.” Lyla slowly started walking towards Corey, hands gesticulating as she listed her reasons. “Because I saw, and still see, those bags under your eyes. Because, in the three weeks you’ve been in the program, I’ve watched your cheeks slowly sink inwards due to lack of eating. You’re a psychologist, Corey, at least you plan to become one. Don’t you recognize the causes of your own pain?”

“Why do you think I wanted to be a psychologist? I need to know why everything hurts, Lyla.” Corey ran a hand through her curly hair. “But the pain just keeps stacking up. And why the hell are you being so direct tonight? Like, more than usual?” 

Lyla stopped about a meter away, stuck a hand in a pants pocket, and wordlessly drew out what looked at first like a long black string. As she held it in front of her and let it unfold, Corey realized what it was.
“An ankh?” She didn’t know why she was being shown this, but her eyes quickly snapped to the small necklace Lyla wore; a small, polished metal ankh hung from a black necklace, identical to the one in front of her.

“When my parents died, I didn’t want to keep living.” Lyla explained. “I became a recluse, secluded myself… you know the whole song-and-dance. In an attempt to ground myself, I started to read through some old literature my mother brought with us from Egypt. I don’t know what they taught you in school where you’re from, but the ank-”
“-Is the symbol for life, alternatively used to represent water or air.” Corey finished her sentence, slowly taking the necklace. “Always flowing.”

Lyla smiled, before continuing. “I file these out of aluminium and sell them at the flea market. I wear mine as a symbol to keep living, no matter what. The pain, while harsh, is temporary, and life will continue to flourish, to flow, to circulate. I thought you’d like to be reminded of that.”

Corey stared at the small shape punched out of sheet metal in her hand. She ran a finger over the side of the loop, feeling the rounded corners so carefully whittled down by Lyla. A symbol of life, given to her in that Lyla-trademarked hamfisted fashion.

“This is kind of a direct way of making your point, you know.”

“Well, did it work?”

Corey thought for a moment. “I’ll let you know later.”

And with a shared nod, Corey left.

The streets turned into labyrinths when night fell, and alleys became pits one could easily lose themselves in. Corey found herself staring at the ankh in her hand, the orange glow of the streetlamps causing a glimmer of light to flash across its surface as she walked underneath them. She knew the way home, but usually digressed off it to try and see new sights; and if anyone tried to assault her, she’d finally have an outlet for her pain. But the ankh, the literal symbol of life, along with Lyla’s kludged-together pep talk, caused her mind to stir.

This stirring caused her to realize just how hungry she really was. Her meals were less meals and more emergency snacking to make sure she didn’t collapse most days. Tonight, though, the grumbling in her gut was something fierce, so she made a detour into the sleaziest convenience store she’d seen yet, nestled snug between two buildings double the height; the neon sign above the glass front was simply labelled “STORE”, no “convenience” added. How telling.

The little bell attached to the store jingled as she pulled it open, hands quickly set in her pockets, overcoat hiked up her neck. She wasn’t paranoid, just introverted. The cashier, a white man a few decades too old to be working at a cash register in a perfect world, nodded at her over the shelves as she began to browse the rows of trinkets. Face half-obscured by the miniature aisle, she nodded back, before returning to perusing for something cheap and quick to eat.

As she strolled about the dinky little store, she noted a confusing detail; one of the side walls was still chock-full of halloween livery, with latex masks and cheap props haphazardly stuck onto the hooks of the backboard. “I’m taking those down tomorrow.” The clerk piped up from across the store. “Or next week. Whenever I get to it.”

It was February.

Still, she found herself moving away from the masks and towards an old Coca Cola freezer propped up in one corner, peering over the top at the mouth-rotting fountain drinks inside. A flickering bulb, suspended by a tiny white wire above her head, buzzed incessantly as she looked, filling her ears with audible static. She’d heard this sound before, but her mind failed to pick up where.

But as soon as she put her mind to it, the realization hit her like a bat to the skull.

The waiting room.

Corey then collapsed as her head exploded into memories of that horrible day and its awful night. She only realized this as her bearings returned a few seconds later, noticing the drop ceiling, complete with missing plates here and there, had shifted a good ninety degrees in front of her. As she struggled to her feet and her senses once more clicked back into her ears, she no longer heard the buzzing light. 

What had taken its place was shouting, vile and crude words from a husky voice being thrown at the wavering voice she quickly ascertained was the cashier’s. Corey turned to see over the top of the aisle a man in a yellow ski mask screaming at the clerk, one hand a fistful of shirt, the other clutching a long-barreled revolver she just barely got a glimpse of.

That shadow of death she observed earlier, lingering about her, had come to collect. She immediately ducked, and her instinct, left virtually unused since the day of the tragedy, slowly clicked back on. And like that day, its objective was redefined: run towards, not away. Her mind switched to tactical mode as her old training kicked back into gear, and she slowly peeked an eye around the aisle to see the situation in further clarity. Just as before, a man in a yellow ski mask, armed with a gun, had grabbed the clerk and was threatening him. What she now saw was that the man was a bit of a gangly fellow, wearing a baggy sweater that looked to be made of the same material as his mask. The clerk had both hands firmly glued to the counter, his face and neck scrunched up as the robber tugged on the collar of his polo shirt, but their words didn’t fully register in Corey’s mind.

She was too busy thinking of her options. The most logical would’ve been to creep towards the door and run away to find the authorities, but like before, her mind refused to give her the chance to escape violence. The universe had given her an opportunity to prove to herself that she was no coward. So, on to Plan B. 

She quickly snatched the closest latex mask off the rack of halloween junk behind her, and only realized what it was when she had slipped it over her head and saw her reflection off the side of the aluminum cooler; she was wearing a zebra mask. A fucking zebra, from Africa, how quaint. Still, a mask is a mask, and she didn’t want her face plastered all over the news as a “hero of the day” or “victim of the hour”; she preferred her anonymity, it made it easier to isolate herself from the abrasive world. 

With gentle steps, she walked to the other end of the aisle, the sound of her breathing filling her ears as her exhaled breath flowed over her face. Her eyesight was clear enough, hearing mostly unimpeded, and her mind had been sharpened to a point. Her right hand trailed the edges of the aisles, in wait for if she passed by any ersatz weaponry, but it soon clutched the edge of the last aisle, and she peered around it to see the situation from the rear. Speaking of rear, Corey quickly noted a small brown object sticking out of the robber’s back right pocket; the grip of another gun, more specifically another, smaller revolver of a fashion. Having located her situational weapon on Johnny Two Guns over there, she started to gradually tip-toe across the tiled floor, her left hand having rounded up the end of her trailing overcoat to make sure it didn’t audibly drag or snag on anything.

But even after taking almost every precaution she could, the robber still noticed her, not because of any actions of her own, but a momentary flash of the clerk’s eyes towards her crouched form before returning to the robber’s face. The gunman slowly ceased his husky threats, before throwing himself around to face Corey. Corey, however, had already made it to her feet, football-tackling the man into the counter, right shoulder slamming violently into his gut. Her arms wrapped around his back, hands flailing to find the second gun, but the man reacted by dragging both of them to the ground horizontal to the counter. He threw expletives as he threw punches, slamming down on the nape of her neck, but Corey had isolated his gun-wielding hand by seizing his wrist. Her left hand was still wrapped around him, trying to reach for the other gun, and she felt her heart start pounding at her ribs. Surprisingly enough, being this close to him with the top of her head pressed against his gut, Corey heard the robber’s heart reacting the same way, rhythmic lighter thuds underlying the painful strikes against the back of her skull.

The gunman, marginally stronger than Corey, started to push her away and try to sit up, using his gun-wielding hand, still painfully outstretched courtesy of Corey, to prop himself against the ground. He sent another punch at her, this time to the left side of her face, and Corey’s world flashed as the latex beside her eye flexed inwards, only registering the punch after it happened. But it was almost as if that punch carried an idea and thrust it right into her brain, because Corey suddenly twisted her hips, dragging the man’s upper body above hers as she fell on her back, and she felt her fingers finally brush against the revolver’s grip scales. She pulled on it, her finger naturally slipping into the trigger guard, and tugged. In a moment, she had retracted her arm, pressed it against his stomach, where her head had previously been placed, and pulled the trigger as fast as possible.

You know how, in the movies, people, usually assassin-types, sometimes use pillows as makeshift suppressors? The resulting four gunshots sounded like that, but this time the robber’s chest cavity was acting as the pillow. He merely let out a grunt, and then all the downwards pressure against Corey, save the man’s body weight, ceased. She easily sloughed him off her and scrambled away, and the robber, now laid against the counter, just blinked a few times as red began to pool around his midsection.

The cashier, still standing there with his palms pressed against the counter, looked down at the dying man, up at the masked Corey, back to the dying man, up at the now-climbing-to-her-feet Corey, back to the now-dead man, and finally back to Corey as she threw her elbow into the store’s glass front door, accidentally shattering the upper pane but not entirely breaking it as it flew open, sprinting off into the night.

With a sigh, the cashier reached under the counter and pulled out an unmarked 40 ounce malt and used the counter as a cantilever to pop the cap off it, the fifth ‘cap popped’ tonight. After taking a sip and wincing from the low-quality taste, he reached over the counter and poured it out right on the dead man’s head.

“Asshole.” He scoffed.

Corey ran into a nearby alley, before stopping. Holding her head in her hands, the smoking gun’s frame against her right cheek, and the balled-up zebra mask in the other, Corey started to laugh. A few minutes later, her voice trailed off, and she sniffled. Kill a man, probably the sixth or seventh overall by now, and feel the most alive she had been in years. How quaint. A zebra from Africa, how quaint. A lonely woman, cry-screaming to herself in an alleyway. How quaint.

 Joy and terror, happiness and depression. Forever old foes, these feelings spend your life fighting inside you. For the past two months, sadness had gripped her life, squeezing her until she was only skin and bone. 

But now, the sadness had been shoved aside, and it was the other guy’s turn.