Episode Three - The Contract from a Man with a Pompadour
*THUMP* THUMP *THUMP*
“What the hell…” he grumbles.
*THUMP* THUMP *THUMP*
Someone is hammering on his door, but who’d be doing that? The heavy noise is constant and deliberately rhythmic, and Leon slowly gets up to check. It better not be someone trying to sell knives or insurance because it’s definitely too early for that.
“Who is that?”
Leon looks through the door’s peephole and immediately sees an eye staring straight back at him, pupils and everything. In an abrupt fright, Leon falls back, away from the door. Suddenly, he feels vulnerable and insecure knowing the wooden door is the only thing separating him from this man.
Leon slowly opens the door a crack and peeks out just a bit. “Who are you?”
Standing outside is a skinny man with an arrogant black pompadour hovering over his head and a light goatee around his chin. Though a pair of thin rectangular sunglasses covers his eyes, Leon still clearly remembers the green eye that stared back at him in the peephole.
The man starts rolling up his sleeves. “Who am I? Doesn’t matter who am I, but who are we…” he pauses and makes eye contact with Leon, “we are the Baya. I’m here to cordially inform you that you have been contracted.” The man speaks monotonously as though he is about to recite a speech he’s rehearsed many times before.
“Contracted? For what?” Leon is confused and unsure whether to feel curious, or worried. The knives or insurance don’t look very likely now, either.
“You didn’t let me finish,” the man pauses to adjust the knot of his black tie. “There is now a bounty on your head and you have twenty-four hours before we, the Immortal Aces, come for you. The last day of your life starts after the next sixty seconds.”
A spike of adrenaline rushes through Leon’s veins and alerts his senses. A hint of concern tingles on his face but a part of him still wants to make sense of everything. “Wait, what?”
The man’s polite composure quickly changes and he casually stretches his neck and arms. Just then, Leon notices a three-foot-long metal pipe with a curved tip gripped in the man’s hand.
The man sighs, “You have twenty-four hours left to live. Okay? Understand? I try to be professional here but what’s the point?” He slowly shakes his head. “We’re coming for you tomorrow. To kill you.”
“Wait, wait, wait…why? I don’t even know what’s going on, what are you talking about? How do I get out of this contract?” Leon’s forehead begins to sweat and his mind explodes with thousands of bustling thoughts and emotions. Part of him is still hoping the man would say, ‘Just kidding.’
But he doesn’t.
Instead, the man says, “I’m not sure what you’ve done in your life to warrant this, but we’re here to do the dirty work. And trust me,” the man steps closer toward Leon and enunciates, “I’m DEAD serious.”
Stepping back again, he clears his throat and continues, “All contracts must be fulfilled by Baya. Contracts cannot be broken at any time once the contract has been confirmed, yada-yada-yada. Anything you’re not clear about?”
The magnitude of the situation catches up to Leon. The fear and worry and anger rush to Leon’s mind simultaneously, shoving to be expressed at once. “Who are the Baya?! What. The. FUCK, are you talking about?! You can’t just come over here and tell me you’re gonna kill me!”
This man emerged out of the blue and raised a number of questions, important questions, and no answers.
All the while, the man remains composed despite Leon’s dramatic outburst. “We are the Baya, and we are bounty hunters.” The man slips a piece of paper through the narrow crevice of the opened door and Leon fumbles to catch it before hitting the ground. “That should tell you everything. Have a good day,” and he turns into the stairs.
“Hey wait! There’s gotta be some misunderstanding! Wait! You’ve got the wrong guy!” Leon frantically yells. “I’m going to call the police!”
“If you call the police or try to leave town, we’ll come to claim you immediately,” the man calmly threatens, his voice projecting through the stairwell. “And if you wanna try to kill us before we kill you…”
He returns with a quick step and points the thick metal pipe at Leon, “Try it!” he smiles maliciously. “We never make mistakes. You are the mark, Leon Zylo. See you soon, we’ll be watching.” The man holds up a peace sign with his two fingers as he disappears down the stairs.
“I’m not scared! Fuck you!” Leon shuts the door and locks the deadbolt. He gulps in his throat and scans this important piece of paper labeled Baya at the very top.
One part of his mind considers tearing up the paper and be rid of it. Yeah, that ought to show that arrogant jerk! But then again, he’d be destroying the only source of information he has. Just as his fingers pinch the top, the other cautious side of his mind disagrees with the recklessly impulsive action.
Perhaps it’d be better to look it over.
The paper indicates the time of the notice, 8:41:53. Leon looks at the clock. It is now 8:42 and 24 seconds. Extremely accurate somehow…
Despite the man’s threat, Leon hastily takes out his phone and dials the emergency number for the police. The dial tone rings for a second before a familiar banging comes from the door again.
*THUMP* THUMP *THUMP*
The call gets through and the operator speaks, “Fortune City Emergency services, how may I help you?”
*THUMP* THUMP *THUMP* THUMP*
The banging gets louder, and Leon stands motionless, unsure of what to do. He stares into the peephole and spots the man wagging his finger side to side as if saying, ‘No, no, no.’
“Hello? Are you okay?” the operator continues.
A drop of sweat runs down from Leon’s forehead past his cheeks and stops at the corner of his lips. He breathes in deep, tastes the salty drop of moisture, and speaks, “Um yeah, sorry. Neighbor’s dog was barking but I guess it’s not that big of a deal.” He hangs up.
Immediately after, Leon curiously looks through the peephole again and sees nothing but the empty hallway.
What should he do? He’s never had anyone say they were going to kill him before. What do other people do in these situations? He’s skims the paper again.
‘–LEON ZYLO– was contracted on 7/19/078 at 8:02:21.’
The contract date was yesterday morning. “8:02? What the hell was I doing at 8:02?” Leon anxiously paces around the living room, skimming through every elaborate detail of the contract with careful attention.
‘–LEON ZYLO– is to be hunted and killed, his Soul reaped and granted to the successful hunter.’
Despite the importance of everything written, Leon finds himself physically unable to read. His heart races and his temples throb from anxiety. His forehead is drenched in cold sweat and his vision a blurry haze.
‘–LEON ZYLO– life must be confiscated by the Baya. All attempts to resist will be met with force.’
Tears spew from the corner of his eyes and it doesn’t stop. His body gets extremely warm. Suddenly, the apartment is an oven, suffocating him.
Nothing about the paper implies a joke and each line reinforces the legitimacy of the situation. That man, that dreadful man with that ridiculous hair ruined his day in sixty seconds.
Leon has rarely ever pondered the end of his life. A hint of possibility now and his mind is trapped in fear. His body gets weak and he feels the need to sit. Honestly, he never thought he could die.
The thought of Rachel zooms across his mind and he immediately falls, grasping the wall for support. Things worked out so well yesterday and it’ll all be wasted.
He is unable to breathe, dropping his head to the floor and drowning himself in a salty pool of misery. His eyes are swollen and closed, throat dry and pained, sobbing with despair. He surrenders to the wallowing depression and lies on the ground limp and numb and hopeless.
Time goes by. Hours, maybe.
Leon awakes from his nap to realize nothing has changed. He is in the same situation with the same death threat in his hand. It wasn’t a dream.
Confused and concerned, he rushes to the bathroom and pushes his face under the cold running water of the faucet.
The man said Leon has a day left to live. A tiny part of his mind tries to be optimistic and finds solace knowing he can finally live a day to the fullest. People always say, ‘Live each day like it is your last’, well now Leon really has a chance to.
But will he?
Let’s be real. No, he won’t. He is going to live this day worrying and trying to save his own life.
Mind drawing a blank, Leon decides to head outside for some fresh air. He puts on his jeans, throws on a jacket, and heads out the door. Tacked to the wall outside is a note that reads, ‘Don’t screw with us’.
Leon looks around and wonders if the ‘bounty hunter’ had actually left the building at all, or if he is just skulking around one floor up. Leon doesn’t care enough to look.
The relaxing café across the street seems the most ideal place to try and make sense of everything. After ordering an iced latte and grabbing a seat by the counter beside the window, he finally readies himself for the daunting task of understanding the paper.
Throughout this small five-by-eight sheet are long sections of tiny words and descriptions, and Leon makes sure to carefully read and understand every word of every part. He holds this important piece of paper as though it was made from platinum infused with the joyful hugs of a thousand puppies.
‘Once confirmed, a contract is bound to the individual and cannot be canceled or broken. ALL CONTRACTS MUST BE FULFILLED BY A HUNTER. The contracted individual must be notified of their contract twenty-four hours prior to the hunt.’
“Well, at least they have that professional courtesy…” Leon sighs. His hands tremble from the anxiety and he struggles to hold the iced latte steady to his mouth. With all his concentration, Leon leans forward and quickly sips the whip cream at the top before hastily placing the cup back down. Let’s hope he avoids a nervous breakdown…or another one at least.
Leon clears his throat and continues skimming.
‘Bounty Price for –LEON ZYLO–, 80,000 Soul.’
He pauses, “Soul? What is that?” The reward isn’t even money. He continues on.
‘Bounty time for -LEON ZYLO-, 6 HOURS.’
He skims to the footnotes.
‘During allotted BOUNTY time, appointed Baya crew [Immortal Aces] is to claim the bounty, DEAD or DEAD. If bounty is still unclaimed at half time [3 hours], HEAT time will begin. During HEAT time, other interested Baya crews may claim the bounty for themselves.’
“That man said he was Immortal Aces.” After three hours, people other than that man will try to kill him. How many bounty hunters could there be?
‘From that point, rewarded SOUL for bounty will gradually increase up to 150% [120,000] until end of BOUNTY time [6 hours].’
A point system. Like some game.
Leon rolls his head and hears his stiff neck crack and pop louder than crunching gravel. He sips through the cold center of his drink and tries to relax by closing his eyes, then taking a long, deep breath.
Maybe he should go for a massage. His entire body feels unnaturally tight. His heart’s been beating rapidly for the past hour already, which probably isn’t healthy either. Maybe he’d die of a heart attack before the Baya would even get here. That would be a good joke on them.
‘After Bounty time, the contracted individual must be claimed by the appointed Baya crew or other interested Baya crews.’
“All this stupid paper says is that I’m going to die. That’s all it says. They should’ve just given me a paper with big letters saying, ‘You are going to die’. All these words and none of it explain why this is even happening to me. Damn it.”
Reading the note several more times, Leon realizes that the outcome must inevitably result in his death. He nearly cries out in frustration but instead, forcefully combs his hand through his hair several times. The feeling is relieving, but insufficient. The stress makes him uncomfortable and he fidgets uncontrollably, vigorously bouncing his leg up and down in his seat.
Then, his cellphone starts vibrating in his pocket…but who cares? Things like checking emails or messages are suddenly so trivial, tedious, and such a waste of time.
And he’s right.
Leon reluctantly checks his phone to find another request for an overtime shift. Even now, work still manages to go out of its way to be annoying.
So quickly, his job becomes an incredibly insignificant part of his life, even though just yesterday, he was willing to sacrifice his day off for it. Oh, how shallow routines can be.
Now, he’d rather die than go back to that deathtrap job.
“I should’ve splurged so much more,” the regret in his voice more genuine and honest than it’s ever been in his entire life. Who needs money when you’re dead? All those times, he could’ve ordered a larger milk tea or spent money on snacks at the movies, or actually paid for his music.
Well, maybe not the last one.
Decisions seem so simple now and not only the ones that involve money. His life would’ve been infinitely more pleasurable and stress free if he just stopped caring so much. He could’ve drank more at brunch, or stayed out longer at parties, or gone on that skydiving trip or whatever. The only words that come to mind now are, ‘What a shame’ and ‘Time to binge on everything.’
Maybe he should spend all his money on a nice car and crash it somewhere, or eat the most expensive meal in all of Fortune City, or gamble his entire savings account on one game of roulette. Leon leans further back, letting all his weight fall against the spine of the chair as he breathes out a long, slow sigh of disappointment.
Leon isn’t going to do that. He isn’t going to do any of that.
He really is an unmotivated person.
But a thought comes to mind!
What if? What if there is a way out? Any way possible. Maybe fight back, or leave Fortune City. The Baya said they’d come for him immediately but either way, he is not going to give up his life so easily. Suddenly, a new sense of confidence and optimism rushes over him.
Leon stares out of the window from the counter looking into the busy street filled with people living their lives doing whatever it is they do. He wants to stay a part of them.
“Okay, okay,” he says, breathing out again. Looking at the paper once more, he notices the back side.
The same phrase appears again,
‘ALL CONTRACTS MUST BE FULFILLED BY A HUNTER.’
And just under it reads,
‘No member of Baya can be contracted. No member of Baya can be claimed for a bounty.’
That’s it! This is a way out. If Leon can become a member of Baya, the contract becomes void. He’s read the paper from top to bottom several times already, and if there is any point being made, it is that no contract can ever be terminated.If Leon wants to live, he will have to find a way to become Baya.