I'm currently sitting on a stone block, staring onto solid iron bars that locked me away in a certain humid dungeon cell.
Why am I stuck here in this dirty cell? I'm innocent you know, in fact, I'm the one that's being offended, being kidnapped and then imprisoned.
I let out a long sigh as I watch the triple handcuffs on my hands and legs. Let's see, from when did it get wrong....
Around three hours ago at a certain pizzeria in downtown Brooklyn
In a fine afternoon with no clouds on sight.
"Ryan!! Get yo ass right here! We got one delivery right now!"
An old, heavy voice can be heard resounding throughout the store.
There is usually no one that order pizza at this hour, it has already passed the lunch time. I wake up from napping on the sofa after I heard my boss calling me. I feel tired. I've been having similar dreams for the last few weeks, fleeting dreams that keep saying 'it's almost time' or 'soon'. The heck is that suppose to mean, can't I have a fun dream instead?
Looking at my appearance right now, I'm just a regular guy who has just entered his thirties. Having heights around 190cm, my shirt and pant are of medium to large size still appear quite loose, in other words, I'm not fat but not skinny either. Nearly shoulder length dark blond hair, slightly wavy. It still looks untidy even after being tied back like a little ponytail. Whenever I look on a mirror, I definitely see a not bad-looking man, at least for common standard, but nobody has ever call me hot either.
Doing various odd jobs like plumbing, fixing leaking roof, running errands, that kind of stuff, I'm known as a useful handyman by the people in the neighborhood. Today, I'm working as a substitute pizza delivery man. Yep, a SUBSTITUTE.pizza.delivery.man. What a wonderful occupation I have, one does not simply get any lower than this.
It's not because I want it to be like this or I was lazy or something you know, it's just 'circumstances' in life made me what I am right now. No romantic relationship, no proper job, no proper education. Great future awaits me. I'm not complaining about my current lifestyle, but sometimes i do envy those with proper jobs and normal family.
So, back to the pizza call. I checked the address, apparently it's the Indian guy again. looking at the hour and how cheap the menu he ordered, he's definitely shooting a prank video again. That guy is notoriously famous around here for having a well-known prank video channel in an online video site.
"Hey boss, it's that prankster again, I'm not sure we should take his order."
"Don't cha complain on any order, son! Any order, whatever kind it is, is money going to ma pocket. In fact, we might got our store famous from being featured in one of his video. That said, be sure to wear all potential advertising material, the uniform, hats, store jacket, everything!"
In appearance, the boss is what you can consider as a big fat old black guy in his sixties, no racism intended, but he really looks like the typical stereotype old black man you can find in most downtown area. The only distinction is that he wears a black sunglasses and uses a walking stick.
That's right, he's blind. I heard he lost his eyesight and family back in 9/11 tragedy. An average guy would go insane or kill themselves from such misfortune, but boss Ben is different, he keeps on living even when he had nothing more. What a tough man. I know all this because I was there some years ago when he still had nothing.
Thankfully, after that series of misfortune, he won himself a lottery, gain just enough to open a store of his own which also become his home.
So he runs a local pizzeria, a little bit stingy on paycheck but is still a nice guy, he even gives free [leftover] pizzas to the homeless around the neighborhood almost everyday.
People around here call him as old Ben, big Ben, or papa Ben like what the name of the pizzeria. I myself prefer to call him boss Ben, it suits his attitude and personality.
"But boss, it's a prank video, I'm not sure it will be a good publicity for the store."
"Prank video or cuisine video, I don't give a damn, he got viewers and I heard it's nearly hundred thousand each."
Aaah, the boss's way of thinking is flawed. But well, for our kind of store, that shouldn't be a problem. After all, we barely got any reputation to be further tarnished anyway. Compared to the popularity of those fancy bistro and chain restaurants, ours is already as low as it can get, we are not even registered in google maps.
I just go with the order and begin delivering the pizza. By delivering, I don't mean with a car. It's a bike, one without that bad air-polluting engine. No no no, Our store's bike is very 'green'-centric, it emits no air pollution and no sound pollution at all. It's even further equipped with self-propelling mechanism, an eco-friendly plastic pedal. It's a bike in its purest original form.
When I left the store, Jerry, an old Labrador who lives in the street around here barks at me as if greeting me. He has a shabby dog tag on his collar, People assume that it was given by his previous owner who maybe left him here because as far as we know, Jerry currently doesn't have any owner. People do feed him leftover food though, especially boss Ben. He barks at me again and wags his tail, what an adorable dog. Too bad I can't play with you right now, got works to be done.
So I ride that badass eco-friendly bike around the streets with a pizza bag strapped to my back. The destination is a six stories building, one that's being used for small scale offices. It doesn't look too shabby, being well-designed and properly maintained.
The customer's office is at the seventh floor, a.k.a. the penthouse, a.k.a. the rooftop. He works in a self-made glass house there. That guy really lives to its name as being eccentric. I heard he was exploiting his racial trait to be a lecherous Yoga guru before. Definitely public enemy number one.
I enter the building. The receptionist girl sees me and give me a pitying look, she knows what happened to me on the several times I delivered a pizza here. For what actually happened that several times, let's omit them for now.
I ride the elevator to the sixth floor. Then I walk-up the stairs to the roof. I stopped in front of the door to the rooftop. I brace myself for whatever kind of prank he sets up behind this door.
Exhaling deeply, I opened the door slowly.
There is nothing here? No big-ass styrofoam pendulum trap, no lunatic killer clown with chainsaw, in fact, there is totally nobody here.
Thinking that this is unusual, I go ahead to the small glass house, the only thing atop this building aside from the usual antenna stuffs.
This glass house is the Indian guy's studio, his workplace. One does not simply get any more swag than this dude. The ceiling glasses are heavily darkened with variety of color while also being covered by plastic vines. Variety of small plantations (fake and real) are being put both inside and outside the glass house, making the inside only half visible. The sound of air conditioner exhaust machine can be heard loudly. So much for being green.
I arrive in front of the door which is also made out of glass. It has a sign that says [chillin and rollin] on it. Man, whatever. I knock on the door.
Oh, I can see a silhouette of a person. Apparently there is someone inside, the glass wall doesn't necessarily show all of the inside.
I can see him coming to the door. Azeez the prankster. He looks the same as always. Dread hair, Caribbean style. Some humongous fake gold ring with dollar symbol on it. Overly big basketball T-shirt that almost looks like a one-piece for men. I'm amazed he doesn't have gold teeth yet.
"Yo ma bruh!" He greets me like a black man with some Indian accent. Please remember your nationality.
"Here's your pizza. One promotion pepperoni extra cheese with no meat on it. $9.49." I don't reply his greeting because I'm still suspicious. This guy smells like a bad luck waiting to happen.
"Wooah, playin da cold dude huh? Me like it!"
I keep my face expressionless.
"Alright alright haha. Don't give that pouting face. Here's your money. Keep the change."
He gives me $10 for the payment. Keep the change.... it would be something if it's at least $15 or $20.
I turn back after I received the payment. But he stops me. Oh no.
"Bruh, you gonna leave me alone with this big-ass pizza? Come inside and chillax a bit will ya?"
Come inside? My alarm is ringing as hard as it can be.
"Nah man. I'm good. I should be going back. Need other stuffs to be delivered." I try to decline politely.
"No no, I insist. I need someone to review my latest work, man. I have nobody else to ask but you right now. From one nigga to another, you'd help right? It's just watching some videos and giving comment, nothing that takes a long time to be done. 5 minutes top!"
Why would you need me for reviewing videos... any of the security guy downstairs is enough. And most of all, who's your nigga, you aren't even one, much less me.
I knitted my eyebrows, giving a look of being annoyed.
"Alright man, you win. I understand I understand haha. Nothing's free. I'll pay ya alright, 10 bucks, how's that."
Ten dollars... My price isn't that cheap.
Yeah, I know, that's still cheap, I'll probably get pranked a little but at least it's better than getting nothing like before.
"What!? Are you trying to rob your brother? Fifteen!"
I've got to stand my ground. We both know this isn't just about watching videos and giving comment.
"Damn bruh, twenty! Give me some slack will ya?"
His tone shows that this isn't simply about giving video review anymore.
"Thirty, I'll even share the pizza with you! And that's the limit, don't push it anymore!"
I thought you said you need somebody to help you finish the pizza. This guy. I turn back and begin walking toward the stairs.
"Alright! Alright! You greedy punk haha. You got your fifty bucks. Come on inside."
He chuckled from my determination. His eyes already silently saying "I pay you so you better give good reaction on this one."
I received the $50, then come inside the glass house. It appears to be more spacious than expected. Contrary to how hot outside, this glass house is pretty comfy.
I can already spot some cameras facing towards my position. I don't know what kind of prank is it this time, but if it dirtied my clothes then I'm going to charge him more.
I follow him and arrive in front of a bunch of monitors. Apparently this is where he does his work. He shows me some prank videos that to my opinion is just mediocre. I wonder whether those poor people got paid too.
He gives me a slice of pizza. Although I slightly doubt him, I still eat it out of being polite.
Now then, midway watching the videos, I notice a figure through the transparent glass walls. That figure is standing facing the safety fence of this rooftop area.
Ah, he takes off his shoes. I immediately stopped eating the pizza and slowly stand from the chair while keeping my eyes on that figure.
Azeez also notice the figure of a guy who's currently climbing the safety fence.
I take a look at Azeez, he also looks at me. Ah, so that's how it is huh, you want me to act the suicide negotiator. Alright, that much I can do.
Azeez takes one of the cameras lying around. We immediately exit the glass house. By now the suicide guy is already on top of the nearly 3 meters high fence, he's sitting sideway on the top curved railing part while firmly holding it with both his legs and hands to keep his balance. Seems like he's playing the scared suicidal, giving me room to talk negotiation.
We arrive near the guy, only around 2-3 meters away. Azeez is standing behind me with camera recording on me.
"Ma man, yo! Isn't today too good to be dying? Look, not a cloud on sight." Azeez tries to start the talk. Bad moves, shitty lines.
The guy who already notices us approaching from before reacts to Azees's statement. His face that looks like nearing fifty years old shows an angry expression.
"Good day?! You call the day I got accused for sexual harassment and being fired a good day? You prick! You picking a fight with me?!"
The guy furiously exploded. He pointed a finger at us while the other hand is holding onto the fence. His acting is pretty realistic, I'm impressed.
"Wooah wooah, chill out man. Life can always become better, take a look at me here, I was jobless and even nearly homeless some time ago, now I got a proper delivery job. See, you lose one job you can always get another."
I tried to throw some persuasion too, too bad it's also crappy like Azeez's. I shall never work on a suicide hotline service.
"It ain't easy if you are over fifty you f***tard!!"
Ah, apparently he's not nearing 50 years old. He begin to use cursing words. Wow, this is so realistic.
"They don't even give me my pension because of the accusation! I f***ing worked 20 years for those as***les!"
He said that with furious tone and now begin crying with a reddened face. His shirt and hair are getting disheveled.
The setting is that kind of being framed and laid-off without pension huh. I've heard this kind of story a few times before, apparently some company can be as heartless as this just to reduce a little bit of expense. Nice job on the backstory there, Azeez.
"Well, uh, you wouldn't leave your wife and kids alone right? Think about how they'll feel if you die. Man up and try again okay?"
The man bursted even more tears after I said that. Is it working? Will this end soon?
"I'm fu**ing sterile you as****!! And my wife left me for a richer man, that bit** is, is.. damnit!"
Woaah, they really make it hard for me, isn't it too much? Can such a sad life drama be coincidentally captured on camera like this?
"Okay okay, just calm down, alright. You know life can be much worse."
I take off my shirt and show him various marks and scars I have all over my body. This should be a good enough show for today. Please don't ask for more.
Both the suicide guy and Azeez are stunned on the view of a body full of scars. The guy even stopped crying. Maybe this is too effective?
"Damn bruh, that's some insane abs you got, what the hell, man?!"
You ignore the uncommon sight and ask about the abs? What a mindset you got there.
"Hush. So, now you understand right, losing a job doesn't mean you lose everything. You were accused? Then you better fix things up, get a lawyer and sue the company for millions."
What a wonderful solution I just gave him. Well, to some extent, my advise is correct though.
"I-, I can get millions of dollars?!"
That's it, that's the cue that the scenario is ending soon.
"Yeah, if not millions, at least hundreds of thousands. See, all you need to do is get down from the fence, then we can talk about it. Look, this guy right here has a famous online channel. He can help your cause too, that dollar will be in you hand in no time."
I begin to say various hyperbole persuasion. Azeez has a famous online channel? Right, a prank channel. I don't really know about such cases, but realistically, I think at most he will only get a few thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars top. But let's not be totally honest for now, this is a white lie and only for show after all.
The suicidal guy begins to shift his gaze between me and the asphalt floor way down below.
"I don't... I don't want to die yet, I want to have revenge... on those bastard that ruin me like this."
Finally it's over, easy $50.
"Good, now come down slowly, we can discuss what to do later. Hell, this creepy Indian guy will even treat you to any dinner you want."
"I can't. Uh, I can't move my body, I'm too scared. I can't move at all."
Oh no... now they want me to get him down too? This is too much.
"Just throw your body to this side, we'll catch you!"
Right at this moment, a strong wind blows from behind me. It's not so strong that it can blow people away, but it carries dust with it.
It frontally hits the suicidal guy's face. Surprised, the guy let go of his holding and begin to wipe his eyes.
His posture waver a little. This is bad.
He begins to waver onto the wrong side of the fence. I instinctively jump, grab the wire fence with my left hand, strongly pull my body up, and try to catch the guy with my right hand before he falls.
I just barely able to catch his tie but his body has already leaned over 45 degrees to the other side.
I strongly pull it before his body lean even more to the death side.
This guy... is heavy. My left hand has already released its grab on the fence to allow me reach higher position. Because of that, I'm currently pulling him without holding into anything. Since he's heavier than me, I managed to pull him back but it's me who's now over the fence and is actually falling down.
Now the situation is bad for me. Really bad. I tried grabbing onto anything, trying to stick my feet to the edge of the rooftop, but all is in vain. I can already see the asphalt far down below getting closer.
When I turned my head back, I only see the fence getting farther away. I think I also hear someone screaming something.
I avert my sight to clear blue sky.Everything seems like in slow motion. My adrenaline is probably pumping like crazy.
Am I going to die? Me? Dying like this? Who would have thought... "Those guys" will probably laugh out loud when they learn about how I die.
Was there any case where someone survived falling from a six stories building? If there is any, what are the chances that it will happen to me too. Even if I survive, the injury... ah I don't want to imagine it anymore. Just make it instantaneous and painless.
That Azeez..... No, I can't really blame him, I should have realized, there was no safety rope on the suicidal guy. That was probably a true event. That guy probably really got fired and was about to kill himself. If I realized sooner, I could have prepared a safety measure for unexpected events like this.
Uuuh, why haven't I reached the ground yet. This slow motion is agonizing.
What's that? I see a bright flash of light, is it the flashback moment now?
The light keeps on getting brighter. Eventually everything appears bright white. It's too bright, I decide to wait my demise with my eyes closed.
Ah I feel like I'm losing consciousness. Have I reached the ground already? There is no pain whatsoever.
So this is what dying is. It isn't that bad. At least I've already finished my goal in this world and I don't know how long I can keep on living normally anyway. Although there are some little leftover regrets, overall, I should feel satisfied. Yeah, I should.
As I convince myself, my consciousness begin to fade away... I truly can't feel anything anymore. This is probably my last moment.
Huh I heard a voice?
Uuh, my body hurts and my head feels really dizzy. It feels like when you woke up after being overslept a long time combined with a heavy hangover feeling. Like when your whole body is stiff, bones and muscle all hurt and you feel like puking but nothing is coming out. Huh? Wait, I can feel something?
I feel like I've been sleeping for a long time while also feel like I'm forgetting something. Did I had a bad dream? It's very confusing. My head is in a mess. I'm coughing really hard.
I opened my eyes but everything is still dark. I also can't hear anything, everything is silent. My sense of direction is also gone.
After a few moment, slowly, I can feel like strength coming back to me. My vision is also slowly coming back. The bright light isn't here anymore. I can feel something hard is pressing against me, it appears that I'm currently lying down on a floor.
I take a glance on my surrounding. My vision is still adjusting to the current condition so it's still kinda blurry, but I can see that there are many people around me. More like, they are surrounding me and seemed like to be dressed in unusual clothing. By unusual, I mean like they are wearing dresses, fancy coats, and some even wear metallic armor. There are over dozens of people circling around me.
My hearing is also slowly returning, I can hear chatters and tell that those people are discussing with one another while looking at me.
In less than a minute, my vision and hearing are nearing their normal condition. I take a look around once more. It seems I'm in some kind of circular hall. It's big and decorated with many fine engraving. This is like those old-catholic cathedral which are made from sculptured stone and marble slabs.
I put my body in a sit down position with my hands holding my upper body. My gaze stops on the fanciest dressed person in the room. His face looks familiar.
"Oh great hero! We've been waiting for your arrival!" The old man with fanciest clothing that I mentioned just now begin talking after our eyes met. Everyone else also shut their mouth to listen to the man speaking just now.
Great hero? What the heck is he talking about. My mind is still a little bit muddled. All the gazes from the people around me also makes me feel uncomfortable.
Seeing that I don't reply his greeting, he continues on.
"It is through great efforts that we can summon you. Oh great hero, with the blessing of the goddess, you shall embark on a quest to slay the demon lord!"
This old man says something about summoning, goddesses, and demon lords. I still can't process it at all.
All the people around has a tense but hopeful expression on their face. I wonder what are they hoping for.
"We shall aid you with all we can in preparation of your—"
"AAH!!" That guy keeps on rambling some nonsense but then I yell while pointing at the old man. That's because my mind finally managed to settle up.
I understand now.
I can already see his figure clearly. That appearance, even with the fancy dress and amazingly long beard, he can't hide that one trait, his Indian face. That's him. Azeez. The prankster. Prick.
Everyone is surprised when I suddenly screamed and pointed at him. Almost everybody has their eyebrows raised.
I immediately stand up and begin to walk towards the bearded Azeez but then some guys with partial metallic armors and spears try to block my route.
Now that I think about it, isn't the prank this time quite high on the budget? Did that guy finally get a sponsor? What kind of person would sponsor a prank show? A bored rich teenager? Anyway, this time I utterly fall for his prank. I really didn't see it coming. Well played, Azeez.
But this is already beyond both the $50 reward and my patience, my body still hurts you know. I wonder how long did I slept. That guy must have drugged the pizza that he gave me like crazy. I feel like I can still taste the drug on my tongue.
"What a great job you've done this time!"
I gives my remark toward him loudly. I even lift both my hands up in exclamation. I've this really wide 'friendly' smile on my face.
Seeing this, Azeez seems to feel everything is okay. He told the guard looking people to stand down and allow me to approach him.
"All of you, stand down! The hero just want to exchange greetings! This is probably how he exchange greeting in his culture!"
All the people around become noisier on Azeez's statement. Got to give this man an applause, he does his job heartfully.
I approach him until I stand right in front of him. I can feel that all eyes are on us. I put my right hand on his shoulder like greeting a comrade. We both have a huge smile on our face.
"Good job on your work today!"
I swing my free left hand and slap him on the cheek while my right hand still grabs his shoulder firmly.
The crowd uniformly make a huge reaction. The guards from before quickly approach us after being surprised too. Azeez holds his right cheek that probably stings a little while looking astonished.
"Wait! Wait! I believe it's just how the hero exchange greeting. It's alright, it's alright!"
The guard stopped right away after Azeez says that. The crowd also gives an understanding looks on me. These people are really professional huh? They can keep up with unscripted events.
Azeez return a smile on my direction. I also gives a 'genuine smile' to him.
Oh, he put his right hand on my shoulder. His left hand seems like readying to be swung.
I blocked his approaching left hand that is being swung to me with my right hand. He seems surprised and looked toward my right hand. He must have not expected me to block him. I bet he wouldn't expect the next one too.
I slap him once more on the same right cheek when he was looking toward my right hand. What was he thinking, did he think I would play 'exchange ridiculous greeting' with him?
Flabbergasted, his eyes show disbelief and surprise. Not only him, now all the eyebrows in this room are definitely raising at maximum point. Everyone's mouth are also wide open making an 'O' shape.
He begin to look at other people like asking for what just happened and people begin to look at one another too. Has he realized that this prank is going to be a big failure now?
"Nice job on making me feel like dying back then. I really really fell for it."
The peanut gallery are making noises again.
"Azeez you punk! Do you think I'll keep up with all your pranks? I demand a bigger payment, and you better add several zeroes behind it!"
I grabbed the long bushy beard and try to remove it from his face.
"Aaah!! Ouch!! Stop him! Stop this madness! OUCH!!"
He begin to retort violently. Huh? This is a really fine fake beard. What kind of glue did he use, I can't take it off.
The guards immediately grab my arms and tackle me down so hard to the floor. They drag me away from Azeez and pin my body and face onto the floor.
Huh? Something feels wrong. They treat me really rough. It actually really hurts when they tackled me down to the ground. Even if I ruin the show, these security guards shouldn't hurt the guest like me this much.
"Such insolence! You dare to lay your hand on his majesty the king!"
One of the important-looking person gives such remark at me.
I'm currently lying down and has my face being held down touching the floor. I don't know how many guys are holding me down. I can only turn my head a little to see Azeez that has both confused and contempt expression.
My alarm sense is tingling again. Something feels wrong. Everything is too realistic to be a set up.
"Arrest this man and throw him into the dungeon!" Says the important-looking man to the guards.
What? What did you just say? Now I'm the one that's confused. Before I can say anything in defense, I already find myself inside a cold dark dungeon....