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He awoke with a start.  Something or someone had roused him from his dream laden state.  A quick glance at his alarm clock showed that it was just past midnight.  He sat up on his bed and scanned the room for anything unusual, anything that might be amiss.  Nothing.  He could barely make out the outlines of his belongings in his cramped studio, but everything seemed just as it was a few hours ago before he went to sleep. He breathed a sigh of relief as he raked his hand through his disheveled hair and let his head drop to the pillow. 

It must have been a nightmare that woke him up he told himself as he tried to relax and let sleep take over him once again.   He was exhausted and had an early morning interview that he had been preparing for some time now.   Landing this job would turn his life completely around and he definitely wanted to be fresh and alert for it.  He was tired of living a poor existence working as a legal aid for a struggling personal injury lawyer.  He was probably getting paid less than what his high school drop out brother was making as a gas station attendant he thought bitterly.  He had worked hard for years trying to move up and advance his career and now he has an opportunity to do just that and he didnít want anything or anyone screwing it up for him.  With these thoughts racing through his mind, he felt his eyelids starting to get heavy and his breathing slow to a steady pace as he gradually slipped in to a state of oblivion.  And suddenly, there it was again.  His eyes flew open and his heart was beating so fiercely that it felt like it was hammering a hole through his chest.  He laid in bed stiff as a board, afraid to move even an inch of his body.  He could sense that something was not right but he couldnít quite put a finger on it. 

Not wanting to hide under his blanket like a pathetic coward any longer, he flung aside the blanket and got up from bed.  He didnít know what was going on, but he was sure as hell was going to find out soon enough.  Grabbing the baseball bat that he normally kept next to his bedside table he made his way through the dark studio searching for an intruder who might have broken in to his apartment.  With the bat resting lightly on his right shoulder, he peered in to the kitchen and saw nothing unusual.   Slowly he inched his way to the door that separated his living space and his bathroom.  It felt like an eternity had passed during the time that it took him to cover the distance to the door.  Holding his breath, he gently turned the knob and quickly kicked the door open with his bare foot.   His eyes darted everywhere scanning every little crevice and corner, but still came up with nothing to shake the uneasiness that he was feeling.  He was relieved that he was alone in his apartment and that a thug hadnít broken in to try and mug him, or even worse kill him. 

A faint noise from outside caught his attention then.  He stood still for a moment straining to hear the noise again, but it never came.  Dropping his bat where it normally belonged, he walked to the window that overlooked the side alley of his apartment.  He lifted the curtains that separated the privacy of his studio to that of the outside world.   The curtain was pushed aside just enough to allow him to look down in to the alley from his second story window.  The alley below was always pitched dark, especially since it was shielded from the brightness of the street lights by the towering apartment structures around his neighborhood.  It was even worse tonight with just a slight sliver of the moonlight shining out in to the night.   By this time, his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, allowing him to make out the outline of some objects.   His eyes were squinted as he strained to listen for whatever it was that woke him up.  His face was pressed up against the window pane hoping to catch sight of something but all he succeeded in doing was fogging up the window pane with his breathing.  Wiping the window occasionally, he stood in this position for several minutes but still did not see or hear anything unusual.  He was just about to give up and go back to bed, but it was the sudden movement coming from the corner of his eyes that caught his attention.  He swung his gaze toward the dumpster located in the far corner of the alley.  He could make out the outlines of two men then.  He could make out the shadows of their appearance, but there was not enough light projected in to the alley for him to make out their facial characteristics.  One man was slumped against the dumpster, barely able to stand up without leaning against the huge metal bin for support.  The other man towered over him and was significantly more built out in proportion.  He wore a trench coat and his hat was pulled low on his head, covering his face for the most part.   

The scene below didnít alarm him in the least bit.  There were always a bunch of disillusioned drunks and big time drug dealers hanging around his neighborhood and this was nothing new to him.   They were probably just another couple of pathetic drunks who lived life day by day, without a care in the world, except maybe to worry about where their next bottle of cheap liquor would come from.  These are the same kind of people that he surrounded himself with every day, people that he called his neighbors.  He himself had been roughed up a few times coming home from work by people who probably didnít have enough alcohol and drugs running through their veins as it was and were desperate to get their hands on some money.   This made him sick to his stomach and the desire for him to land this new job intensified even more.  He hated his life here and the job would be his ticket out of this hell hole once and for all.    

            He focused his attention on the scene below once again, but not out of concern for the man who was at the moment getting the life beaten out of him, but out of mere curiosity.  He couldnít care less what happened to people like that.  Hell, they probably even deserved the punishment with the kind of lifestyles they lived.  He wondered what it felt like to be in absolute control of that kind of situation, to have someone at your complete mercy, begging for their life.  It was almost like playing God, he thought ironically. 

            The headlights of a car passing by maneuvered its way through for a split second, casting a beam of light down the narrow alley.  Any will and strength that the man had left seemed to have crumbled as his legs gave way, sending him crashing towards the cold concrete.  The man in the trench coat stood hovering over the lifeless figure for a few moments before he reached in to the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a shiny object that glistened in the moonlight.  At that moment, he raised his arm and directed it towards the motionless figure lying on the ground.  As the deafening sound echoed through the night, he felt the curtains slipping from his fingers, shutting out everything on outside. 

- Miss Mary Cao -

January 2005