For Nick, conning a mark is easy. After doing it for so long, he has accepted his exceptional abilities as a thief. One day, his world changes. After being caught by his latest mark-one of the most dangerous mob bosses-Nick is injected with a serum. The contents of the liquid share strikingly similar properties to the Disease. This Disease nearly wiped out the entire population of Drayton, the city where Nick was born. Fortunately for Nick, this strain didn't kill him...it transformed him.
Every bit of air I breathed sent needles of pain through my lungs. I was in trouble again, sprinting down the street as Stitch and his gang pursued me. I had been stealing money from him for months and he finally noticed. I pushed past tons of people on the busy streets trying to outmaneuver my pursuers. I headed for the subway. I was tired of running. My muscles were already sore. I'm not even sure how long I've been running. I finally reached the crowded, underground subway system. The only thing to do now is to decide where to go and fast. I could already hear Stitch yelling. They saw me. Too late. A train pulled up in the station and I boarded. I ducked my head as I shoved past even more people. I hoped Stitch and his boys would lose me in the crowd. I couldn't hear them yelling anymore. Did it work? I thought to myself. I continued walking slowly to the back. Nothing. Did I lose them? All of a sudden, I felt rough hands grab the back of my jacket. I spun around and punched one of Stitch's grunts in the nose. I kicked him in the gut and punched him one more time. He crashed to the ground and remained still. I had gotten better at knocking people unconscious. Stitch and the others spotted me. I took off running towards the back of the train. My heart was still pounding at the close-call. In all the chaos of the oncoming gang and the moving train, I barely noticed her. She was sitting at the very back reading a book, her black hair falling about her face. Her head was down but I was more surprised that she didn't noticed me and my 'friends.' As I got closer, I realized that she had blue ear buds in her ears. Music. Time stood still as I ran past her, staring. Slowly, she looked up. She's looking right at me. I couldn't help but briefly notice her bold, green eyes. When I'm done with Stitch, I have to find her. I have to know her name. No, I can't wait. This city's too big. I might never see her again. Hesitantly, I stopped.
"What's your name?" I blurted quickly.
She glanced past me at Stitch and his crew as they pushed past the crowd in an effort to reach me. She looked back at me.
"Audrey Connor," she answered.
I glanced at Stitch as he yelled my name. That's me. Nick. I don't have a last name in case you were wondering. I live on the streets. Who needs a last name? I don't have family. As of right now, I don't have friends either. I'm twenty. No pets. What I like...not dying. What I don't like...my life. Goals? I just try to survive so no, I don't have any of those. Crushes...Audrey Connor. If I survive Stitch's punishment, I'm going to find her again. Back to the subway. Reaching the end of the last car, I jumped. Yes, you heard me—jumped. How's that for an exit? Stitch and his crew stood in the open doorway of the moving train, yelling at me. Probably something like, 'You're a dead man, Weasel!' And yes, my nickname is Weasel. As you can most likely guess, I turn my back to people like Stitch—gangsters. Don't worry, I'm more of a modern-day Robin Hood. Sort of. That money I mentioned earlier, the ones I stole from Stitch, I gave it to a few different charities. It was about twenty-five grand. Oh wait, twenty grand. Told you, I'm sort of like Robin Hood. A homeless guy's got to eat. Anyway, after jumping the train, I got up like a boss and shook off the dirt. Mess with me and you'll get a mouthful of dirt and blood. I don't mean to toot my own horn or anything but I'm pretty popular in this city. Drayton. Yep, an off-brand New York or Chicago. Big, industrial, and highly toxic. No seriously, some of the areas here have toxic chemicals in the air. The government basically used this place as a dumping ground for the entire country's waste products. All this got me to wondering why that girl on the train, Audrey, is living in a place like this. Heading to my cardboard safe house in the slum district, I stopped by a store and picked out some new clothes. Out of the five grand I kept, I only spent $35 (including the clothes I just bought). I picked out a plain, dark grey t-shirt that was a little too tight, navy blue jeans that didn't have holes in them, and a pair of black Chuck Taylors. I know, Chuck Taylors aren't really made for running from thugs but I've always loved the style. With my trademark, a black leather jacket with army patches, the outfit looked rather good on me. It gave me an edge. If only I could do something with my hair. It was too long. My bangs side-swept my face and hung in my eyes. I had enough money to pay for a haircut. I was lucky to find a stainless outfit in the slums and now, I am asking for a decent haircut too. Good luck with that, Nick. Still, a change in hair style might throw Stitch off my trail for a while. I had looked the same and wore the same clothes for so long that everyone who saw me knew who I was. I continued walking down the shops of the slum district. I stopped when I saw a middle-aged woman whose face looked relatively nice and wrinkle-free. Perfect. I sauntered over to her and began sifting through her arrangement of jewelry.
"Looking for a present for your lady?" she asked me sweetly.
I've got her attention.
"Actually, I was thinking about which one of these earrings would bring out your perfect skin," I responded.
Yeah, it was a little corny but, I've found that women always love a compliment, corny or not.
"Do you have a lady?"
She twirled her braids. The twirling of the hair. Nice.
"Well, if you can do me a favor, I might be indebted to a pretty lady with perfect skin."
I gave her a wink. Come on. She giggled. There we go.
"What could I possibly do for you?"
"I need a haircut. I'll pay you."
She gave me an even bigger smile.
"Honey, if all you need is a haircut, I'll do it for free."
Yes! Hook, line, and sinker! What can I say, I have a way with the ladies. I spent the next ten minutes pretending to laugh at the jewelry woman's horrible jokes and gossip. At least she wasn't too difficult. Any other day before today, I might have asked her out or conned her out of her entire stand but today, all I could think about was her—Audrey Connor—and what she was doing in the dump of Drayton. While I couldn't understand her motives for living here, I couldn't forget her face. Her beautiful black hair and startlingly green eyes were burnt into my mind. Thirty minutes later, I left the obnoxious jewelry lady as fast as I could. I ran my hands through my short hair. Feeling how light it was almost made me wish I hadn't had it cut. I wonder if Audrey will recognize me. As I walked down the filthy streets, I began to wonder what life was like beyond the Force. Oh, right. You probably don't know what that is. The Force is essentially an incredibly large, 100-foot-thick concrete wall that keeps the 'disease' in. The people on the other side are supposed to be pure and clean. Disease-free. Not many people know about what's beyond the Force. The ones who do know don't say a word to the other because they're afraid of what everyone will do. The last time someone told the people about life beyond the Force, over seventy-five years ago, Drayton nearly wiped itself out in a panic. More on that later. That place on the other side is strange though. Although it doesn't look much different from Drayton as far as the layout, it has an air about it that will send shivers down your spine. It's so white. Almost like the people running the city are still trying to cleanse its people. How do I know what the place looks like? Have I ever been there? What's it called? It's called Raven City. I know what it looks like because I've seen it. No, I haven't been there and I haven't gone beyond the Force. I have stood on it and looked over at the city. Raven City. A dark name for a sterile-white city. The day I stood on the Force and looked at it, I decided that Drayton might be a safer place. There's something about Raven City that truly terrifies me. You know there's something wrong with that place if I would pick a dirt-poor, kill-or-be-killed city like Drayton. I'm not a guy who scares easy. Still, I wonder what life is like over there. Lost in my thoughts, I failed to notice the trap I had walked into.
"Well, well. I was wondering when we'd find you, Weasel. Nice stunt you pulled on the train. Very classy. Isn't that right, boys?" Stitch asked, his booming voice echoing.
Glancing back, I realized that he had me surrounded. Stitch's gang brandished weapons. Granted, they were old-fashioned, cliché weapons—a bat, chain, chainsaw (that one was new), but all I had was a dagger. You just didn't mess with Stitch. He was the mob boss of one Drayton's largest gangs. They controlled everything from where you could sleep to the clothes vendors could sell. They call him Stitch because of two things. The first was that he had a long line of stitches that kept the left side of his face from falling off. Supposedly, a rival boss took a cleaver to his face. The other reason people called him Stitch was because of his trademark—cutting people open and sticking all kinds of odd stuff inside before stitching them up again. His victims almost always died. The ones who didn't were only alive so Stitch could use them. And here I am, a twenty-year-old thief who pissed off one of the most brutal, stupid mob bosses in the history of Drayton.
"Hey, Stitch. Listen, sorry about the money. I just thought you should do something nice for others. Don't worry, all the donations are in your name," I replied.
Stitch's face grew red with anger.
"You filthy ass—"
"Hey, watch the language. It's not nice to swear."
Making him angry probably isn't the direction I needed to take. Stitch's boys advanced on me. I whipped out my dagger and sliced one of them in the face. I kicked another in the shin, breaking bone. The guy with the chain nailed me in the face. The other guy whacked me across the back with his bat. I was more worried about the chainsaw. Briefly, I saw the chainsaw guy hanging back. Either Stitch doesn't want to kill me, or I get his trademark stamped somewhere on my body. The guys roughed me up a bit before Stitch ordered them to stop. He bent down in front of me as two of his grunts held me down. He's not underestimating me. I can be pretty dangerous at times, if you can believe it.
"Listen here, Nick. I'm not going to kill you. I have something I want you to test out for me. Since I'm not going to kill you and I can't let you walk away with a simple thrashing, I'm going to put you through hell so you'll never forget what you did to me," Stitch said.
My eyes strayed to his face. I never could get used to seeing that long gash held together by a bunch of small stitches. Stitch stood up.
"Hurry up and get it over with then. I've got places to be and people to piss off," I retorted.
Stitch smiled at me. I shuddered as he flashed his rotten, yellow teeth.
"Not here. Like I said, I have something I want you to test out. Something from Raven City."
Raven City? How does he have something from Raven City? Did he get through the Force? My heart sank deeper into my stomach as Stitch and his gang took me back to his headquarters. The people we passed by, people I knew, looked on in horror. It was never good when Stitch got a hold of someone. We passed by the jewelry lady. She flashed me a sweet smile and waved. Then, she went back to counting her money. She played me. And I thought I did a good job of staying away from con artists, you know, when I wasn't trying to con them. Stitch noticed my realization.
"I put out a reward for anyone who turned you in. I'm gonna have her killed tonight for helping you."
I felt sad knowing that someone would die because they helped me, even if it was for selfish reasons. I don't have any room to talk. I was trying to use her. I guess Stitch used us both. That's probably the first smart thing he's thought of. These kind of things happens on a regular basis. Most of the time, people try to rob vendors for food. The people of Drayton won't hesitate to kill if they're being threatened. I'm no exception. I wonder if Audrey is from Drayton or if she came here from Raven City. Both of those thoughts bothered me. She seemed so innocent and unaware of what kind of place this is. Where did she come from? Why is she here? As we passed through the 'Warning: Toxic Spill' signs that indicated we had arrived at Stitch's headquarters, I grew curious about the thing that Stitch wants me to 'test' out. I doubt it's pleasant. The angel statues that loomed over the entrance to the coliseum seemed out of place. I couldn't help but feel like the angels were crying for me. More of Stitch's men showed up and I was handed off to them. I was half-dragged behind Stitch as I struggled to break free. This place creeped me out and I felt like darkness and evil things were waiting for me wherever we were going.