Landon stepped out from under the bleeding street lights and off the curb, letting his steel toed boots clink against the blackened pavement. He was dressed in jeans and a brown cloak, with an Australian cowboy hat on his head. And yet he seemed ill at ease, wearing the clothes like a costume.
He stared across the bleak city street at the rundown building, looking for signs of life. The windows were cracked and the scarred bricks covered in graffiti. The only thing drawing him nearer was the address. 512. He looked down at his palm. 512.
Without looking to either side, he strode out across the street, his boots clinking with a discomforting unfamiliarity. He hadn't been certain whether to bring anything. How could one prepare? The distorted voice on the phone hadn't been too specific. 512, Driggs Avenue...
His footfalls sounded hollow as he entered the alley. Shadows clung to the walls and pooled in the distance beyond the heaping trash cans. Side door. He paused for a moment, hesitating. Doubts came to mind. What sort of an adventure began in such a desolate place?
He recruited enough courage to knock and then raised his black gloved fist. The door creaked inward. The darkness beyond was even more thorough. Feeling like a kid about to enter a haunted house, he told himself it was all make-believe. And then, walking through the door, the rest of his life began.
There was nothing in the room. Darkness choked him. Stillness paralyzed him. Silence beat down upon his mind in waves, disturbing his careful thoughts of skepticism. The monsters would jump out soon. The play would begin.
First, the door closed behind him with a hiss of air as it sealed. Then, nothing happened for another five minutes. He stood alone with his thoughts. They were not getting along.
Then, very gently, a soft light began to grow along the far wall. He stared earnestly at this sight until he flinched, realizing that someone stared back. It was him.
As the room brightened, he recognized the cold interrogation room; it even had the unforgiving metal chair in the center, facing the mirrored wall. The solitary black speaker in the corner would have a distorted voice issuing from it soon. Landon could predict that far in advance. And yet for some reason, he couldn't stop shaking.
"Sit," came the voice. Landon sat. Now he'd be given the back story, like as if it were a role-playing dungeons and dragons game. He waited for it.
There was a lengthy pause. "Did you read the fine print?" asked the voice.
Landon looked up. A pale man with ghosts in his eyes stared back. Landon blinked. His reflection did too.
"Your money is duly appreciated," the voice said.
Landon frowned. He hadn't been worried about the money. And he'd been careful. He'd examined the waivers all night. The deal was sealed.
"You have been played Mr. Gaines." Landon felt his heart go cold. "Your adventure will be a dark one. It's a place no one ever returns from." Landon stopped breathing. "It's the great adventure; the final adventure." Landon panicked.
He watched as his reflection scrambled to its feet in mortification. Then a terrific beat shook the floor and the mirror rattled. Every muscle in his body had gone liquid but he scrambled for the door... And the door exploded.
Blinding lights punched through where the door had been, and Landon fell backwards. There were figures everywhere. Screams of authority were barked through the room as the S.W.A.T. team burst through, passing over Landon's fallen body with swinging guns and black suits.
Landon rolled to a crouch, his head ducked low, trying to see what was happening. Then the mirror exploded. He cried out and threw his arms over his head as the spray of glass covered the room. Shots were fired. Screams responded.
Somehow he was still living through the moment and hadn't passed out from the overwhelming fear. He got to his feet, still in a crouch, his hands over his head and his cloak torn about his scurrying form. Through where the glass had been, there was a control panel and some office chairs. And, lying half on the chairs and half on the control panels, were those who'd been shot. Landon turned away with a lurching stomach and moved for the exit.
But before he could escape into the tantalizing night air, a S.W.A.T. officer stopped him at the door. Landon looked up, only to see his own pathetic reflection in the shining visor. Then, held in contact with this officer, he froze as something cold tingled against the back of his neck. Then the world faded away.