Episode Four - Rumble on the Rooftops
The time is 8:25:32. In a little more than fifteen minutes, Leon’s life will be left to fate. He slowly slides out of bed making sure not to wake the sleeping beauty in bed, and kisses her on the forehead.
“I love you,” he softly whispers. Her head tilts closer and with her eyes still shut, she silently mouths back, ’I love you’, before hugging the pillow to her face.
Leon isn’t sure how to start his day. Should he pretend everything is normal and he isn’t going to die?
Yes. He brushes his teeth, washes his face, and gets dressed before putting on his sneakers. It’s better to be nicely groomed for his own funeral.
Before leaving the apartment, Leon takes one last look at Rachel still fast asleep. He wishes he could stay longer, forever even. If not for this horrible, abrupt predicament, he’d be able to.
Her soft cheek rubs against the blanket held tightly to her face, and he hesitates to leave. She looks warm cuddled up in the bed but…there isn’t much time left.
Perhaps the most dreadful decision of his life, he leaves the room without looking back and shuts the apartment door behind him. With no specific place to go, he somberly steps up to the roof of the building, suppressing the urging dampness in his eyes.
The sky is a beautiful clear blue with the sun shining its majestic rays over the grand metropolis. The few lingering clouds tinted golden, float calmly in the distance coloring the city in cool dark patches.
The light breeze combs through Leon’s hair and taps his face as if to say, ’Good Morning’. The noise from the streets below is stifled by the height, and he hears only the calm wind blowing over his shoulders.
A beautiful life to die.
His life is coming to an end, he feels it now. Being alive is the greatest gift the world could’ve handed him, but he took it for granted.
He understands that now.
How amazing it is to control this body and wander the Earth, and yet, he failed to make the most of his time. After succumbing to a lifestyle of lethargy and routine, death would bring an end to his twenty-six years of existence.
The world only respects the living, and Leon would soon be losing his welcome.
Yesterday, Leon failed miserably in finding a solution. He searched the internet and books at the library and found nothing pertaining to Baya or bounty hunters related to his situation.
In a desperate attempt, he even asked his friends who replied to him with the purest form of, ’Spluh?’ Astounded that there was not a single useful piece of information, Leon decided to leave his life to fate.
He’d already spent half the day researching and getting a caffeinated high from his coffee, and couldn’t help but feel he’d wasted his time.
The spirit of impulsivity rushed over him and he called Rachel. They went on a date eating different foods, walking around town, and finally ending with a nice dinner. This day was how their anniversary should’ve been, which pained him with regret.
After a long conversation and reconciliation for the night before, they exchanged apologies and Rachel asked to stay over. Though Leon told her that he would have to be going away for a while, Rachel didn’t seem to mind. She must’ve thought he was being melodramatic.
Returning home in high spirits, they enjoyed a wonderful night of intimacy. Leon embraced Rachel’s warm and supple body, savoring every moment believing this may be their last night together.
His tender hands caressed every inch of her soft cream skin, and his eager tongue tasted every savory flavor her body provided. He couldn’t shake the turmoil and angst troubling his mind, but found relief with each thrust against her welcoming body.
Their joined bodies moved in rhythmic unison until the overwhelming feeling of ecstasy exploded from their senses and expressed in loud, sensuous moans of affection.
“I love you,” they exchanged with their last breaths.
Leon lied awake in bed beside her for hours as she slept, devastated with a feeling of remorse and loss.
If only he hadn’t taken his girlfriend or his life for granted, there could’ve been so many more wonderful days like this one.
Death has truly given him more reason to live his life, but now he has to watch in disappointment.
*BEEP BEEP BEEP*
His watch. The alarm for 8:42 sets off and unlike his usual alarms, this one causes his heart to race. His palms are already moistening and his body tightens from angst and fear. The serene calmness he felt moments ago are dashed and replaced with a heavy feeling of anxiety and tension. He finds his air flow constantly insufficient, and his breaths become short and rapid to replenish the lack of oxygen.
The digits for the seconds tick by on his watch. The wind continues to blow but nothing else happens. He was convinced these ‘hunters’ were inhumanly punctual…so where are they? Did they let him go? Forget about him? Or was it all a joke?
It seems so obvious now. How could he have fallen for such an outrageous prank? Sure, a group of bounty hunters for no reason at all decided to come after his life. He was such an idiot to have believed it!
Leon breathes out a sigh of relief and tilts his head up to embrace another rushing breeze. The thought of cuddling with Rachel in his warm bed is suddenly the greatest feeling in the world, one he wants to quickly indulge in.
But it remains a thought. Behind Leon, a familiar male voice emerges,
“Sorry we’re late but…are you ready?”
Leon sighs with grief, disappointed that his sigh of relief was so quickly overtaken. He turns and his eyes are immediately blinded by the sharp light reflecting off the man’s sunglasses.
Dressed in the same black tie and suit vest over a white shirt is the man from yesterday. In the corner of his mouth is a toothpick fluttering up and down as he nibbles his dry lips. Even more annoying is the thick pompadour hovering proudly over his head.
The man leans both hands on his sturdy metal pipe pushed into the asphalt in front of him. While his right hand stays leaning on the pipe, his left plucks the toothpick from his mouth and he speaks again, “Well, I’m sure you’re speechless, but I gotta tell you—it’s nice you’re offering yourself up like this. No struggle, no excuses. Just straight. Simple. I like that, I admire that.”
“Us? Who’s us?” Leon asks.
“Oh yeah, our crew, the Immortal Aces. If you read the paper, and I’m sure you did many times, we’re your default hunters.”
The man waves his toothpick toward the staircase, and there emerges a taller, bulkier man wearing a dark-red button-up shirt with a black bowtie. He dons a short buzz cut, a gruff five o’clock shadow, and stands about a head taller than the man with the sunglasses. In his hands are two intimidatingly long metal chains winding around each wrist with the ends hanging above the ground. What does he intend to do with those?
“His name’s Renzo,” the man points, then tilts his sunglasses downward until his eyes are directly visible, “and I’m Kitsune. Yoroshiku.”
“I see. Well, at least you guys look classy for a bunch of murderers,” Leon nods at the two hunters and slowly inches toward the railing.
“Of course. I say, ‘Be classy at everything you do, or don’t do it at all.’ What I do just happens to be taking lives,” Kitsune smirks. “Now that we’re better acquainted, how ’bout we get this over with?” He lifts the pipe from the asphalt and casually walks toward Leon like old friends.
Leon knows his nonchalance is not to be mistaken, and continues stepping away until his back hits the railing separating this roof to the roof of the adjacent building.
Leon says, “Yeah well, I’m not sure if you misunderstood me earlier but, I never said anything about offering mysel—” Before finishing his sentence, he turns and hops over the railing, dropping down to the lower adjacent rooftop. His feet land with a heavy thump and he immediately sprints for the door to the stairway.
Though he failed to find any leads to becoming Baya yesterday, Leon decided to make the hunters’ job as difficult as possible. For however long, he would attempt to stay out of their grasp and have them work for their prize. He starts the timer on his watch for six hours.
Leon pushes his legs toward the stairway door until suddenly, a thick metal pipe whirls past him like a deadly boomerang, rapidly spinning and smashing into the doorframe just ahead of him. The incredible impact punctures the wall and a cloud of dust puffs into the air. The sheer blast of the concrete knocks Leon off his feet and he falls onto his back in a slight daze.
Blood rushes away from his head and his vision blurs while his ears ring incessantly. Rubbing the dust from his eyes, Leon sees the punctured hole in the wall and the disfigured door jammed from opening.
“What the? The pipe did that…?”
This is no time to stop. He quickly scuttles back to his feet amid his dizzy state and races to the next adjacent roof.
The apartment complexes in the neighborhood are based on different designs and architectures but they remain relatively the same height, for aesthetic purposes. ’Thank goodness,’ he mutters each time he vaults over a low railing to the next building.
Huffing and puffing as he runs, Leon slaps away bothersome hanging tarps and laundry clotheslines, and pushes against wooden pillars for extra momentum.
“How far do you think you can go?” calls Kitsune’s taunting voice from behind. He sounds closer and closer with each word spoken, but Leon can’t be bothered to check.
He hurries around barbecue grills, big potted cactuses, and leaps over underused and dirty children-sized pools. The obstacles seem more numerous and abstract as he goes along, and such an inconvenience.
By now, his breath runs short and his heart pounds fast. He’s been sprinting and jumping for only a minute but his aching legs already beg to stop. The relentless man was right. How can he keep running?
Leon pants and gasps for air, “Damn, I’m out of shape.”
Though Leon hates to admit it, he probably isn’t the fittest person alive. Regular exercise was not a part of his routine. Who bothers to run three miles when cheesecake slices from the convenience store across the street are going half price? And if that convenience store was any further from his apartment, he wouldn’t have bothered to make the trip.
Despite all the troubles of his mind concerning his unfitness, Leon doesn’t stop moving. The quick motion of his legs and feet continue in a rhythmic pace and suddenly, his pacing becomes easier to handle. His breath gets shorter but his legs don’t melt. The runner’s high takes over and he feels the euphoric sensation of his body moving its fastest.
As he’s going, a part of him worries about losing the momentum if he thinks too hard, while another part of him worries about tripping on a stray rock. That would be the worst.
Leon eagerly reaches the next fence and grabs the rail. Just when his body is ready to hop over, he stops and immediately pulls himself back.
There is a shocking four story difference in height between the two rooftops. Leon quickly reconsiders, though for a moment, contemplates taking the risk.
Personally, he’s never jumped anywhere from so high before and has never spectated anyone else doing it either. Humans can probably survive this height…maybe. Then again, if the fall doesn’t kill him, his legs might break and then he’d definitely be done for.
“It’s time you figured out who we are!” Kitsune approaches fast with his voice and shuffling feet sounding frightfully close.
Just as Leon glances back, the blunt end of the metal pipe comes down over his head. In a split second, perhaps from the adrenaline in his veins or his body still active from running, Leon instinctively tumbles to the ground, rolling his body to the side and avoiding the attack.
His eyes watch as the pipe narrowly misses and tears through the metal railing faster than a knife cutting tofu. The weapon continues down until smashing into the concrete edge of the rooftop.
“Was that railing aluminum?! How’d you do that?!” Leon’s jaw plummets in awe.
“We are the Baya hunters.” With a strong pull, Kitsune dislodges the pipe from the broken concrete of the roof, and turns back to his bounty. “Wakaru?”
Leon hastily pushes off from the railing, just before Kitsune leaps into the air. His leg barely escapes when the pipe smashes a hole into the asphalt just inches away, and he exhales in relief. Getting back onto his feet, Leon sprints toward the fire escape by the side of the building.
“Don’t do this to me,” Kitsune groans, dragging his pipe and reluctantly jogging after Leon.
“You can suck it!” Leon’s fading voice is rude and stinging.
Most inner city fire escapes appear the same. The frame, the steps and the handle bars, everything. They are made of the same fragile, old material that is meant to rust after a month.
Since he was young, Leon has been afraid to step onto fire escapes in fear that the entire thing would collapse under his weight due to shoddy design, but now he is left with no choice.
Other than the metal looking gritty and rusting with the paint chipping away, the entire frame is held up by thin pieces of iron clinging to the wall of the building.
Leon hops down flight after flight of the narrow stairway feeling each landing rattle the entire structure. With every jump, he feels his weight affect the stability of the platform and imagines a quick plummet to the ground to be the death of him.
So many ways to die but so little life to do it with.
Kitsune’s metal pipe makes another appearance, twirling vertically down and ripping through the steps from above. It whizzes past Leon and continues all the way down until echoing a loud clang against the ground.
Almost immediately, the structure of the entire fire escape is compromised, shaking and rattling, the metal creaking and struggling to hold. His worst nightmare has come true.
Realizing he has little time left on the fragile platform, Leon anxiously glances around for another escape route. His fingers fiddle with the window to the apartment, but it’s locked tight.
Looking down, he sees the bottom floor is a frightening three story drop. That’s no good either. Looking to the side, he notices a wooden balcony by the adjacent building about eight feet away, perhaps his only option.
Leon climbs up, nervously balancing both feet on the rail of the trembling fire escape while his hands stick to the wall of the building. He inhales a breath, bends his knees, and leaps.
The jump goes by quickly and he watches his body zoom toward the balcony, feeling nothing but the bare tip of his fingers slamming onto the surface of the flat wooden bannister.
From there, he pulls himself up with all his strength, straining his sweating body to place his elbow over the thick wood. Finally, he throws himself over and drops onto the wooden deck barely trying to land comfortably.
His heart continues to pound hard and rapid like a drum. His hair is covered in sweat and his arms and legs are painfully burning. He hasn’t had any water and his throat is dry and scraping whenever he swallows his spit. Maybe he could lie here for a second.
Just a second.
It would be the most satisfying thing in the world right now if he could forget about everything and have a moment to slow down and take a breather. How nice this firm wooden deck feels on his worn back…the fine cool breeze brushing over his excessively hot face…
Suddenly, the urge to stay alive overwhelms the relaxing comfort of the deck and he sits up. Leon slides open the unlocked glass door and rushes inside the condominium.
The apartment is modern with olive green and brown colored cushions on top of two white couches. Several chairs are shaped in retro designs accompanying a wide television built into the wall. Though it isn’t the best time, Leon finds himself thoroughly impressed and even envious.
“Wow, I’ve been so wrong about my apartment,” he mutters to himself.
A heavy thud shakes the deck behind him, and without turning to look, Leon jets out of the door into the hallway. He sprints down the carpeted floor, passing door after door in this upscale condo until getting to the stairs. From there, he starts hopping down steps in sets of three and four at a time. Flight after flight goes by before his feet finally hit the ground floor and he breaks into the street.
Leon struggles to stand still with the adrenaline rushing through his body as he tries to make sense of his surroundings. His arms and legs twitch and bounce faster than a drug addict looking for a fix. His natural instincts urge him to move somewhere, to stop wasting time and pick a direction and go before he falls into withdrawal.
Maybe too late, a large overwhelming shadow casts down from above. This heavy, dark husk lands with a forceful thump, both legs slightly bent in a squat to lessen the impact.
Gallantly standing in the street now is the man with the dark-red shirt and twisted metal chains. Renzo.
Leon can’t help but admire the man’s awesomely heroic landing, his bulging muscles pushing against his thin clothes. How high did he jump from, anyway?
Never mind that.
Leon pushes off a helpful pedestrian for momentum and breaks off into the street.
The chains unwrap from Renzo’s wrists and he throws them without hesitation. Like the sound of sharp crackling thunder, the metal chains whip against the sidewalk, chipping away bits of concrete with each lash.
Leon feels the wind of the weapons swish by his legs, and he jumps with joy knowing they missed. Desperate to escape, he reaches for a metal trashcan and pushes it toward his assailant. The nearby pedestrians shift to the side and the trashcan rolls, dropping trash along the sidewalk.
With incredible aim and precision, Renzo swings the chain and smashes the trashcan into halves, launching random pieces of garbage in all directions. Papers, magazines, and plastic cups erupt into the air and sway in the wind for several seconds. When the street finally clears, Renzo sees Leon already down the block laughing hysterically at his failure to kill him.
The art of sprinting down a pedestrian-filled sidewalk requires fast feet and even faster thinking. Leon weaves through the stray crowds, turning his torso one way and the next to squeeze past the incessant groups of pedestrians. The people walk slowly without a care in the world, but Leon is impatient.
“Get out of the way!”
Eventually, he stops caring. Suddenly, couples holding hands and people talking on the phone are mercilessly shoved aside as Leon storms past. If he had more time, he would go out of his way to make sure those people fell completely to the ground, but he didn’t. He didn’t have time.
His fast moving body passes a variety of shops, restaurants, and graffiti-painted walls until finally reaching the street corner. The traffic lights currently favor the cars, but that isn’t going to stop him.
Taking a deep breath, Leon runs out into the road and stops when a car passes, then moves ahead and stops again.
“Pok guy! Say hoy la!”
“I’m drivin’ here!”
The drivers honk and curse in various languages but Leon couldn’t care any less.
After ten seconds of painstakingly dangerous car dodging, he reaches the other side of the street completely out of breath, but alive. Turning around panting and smiling, Leon laughs joyfully at his success before abruptly coughing from his painfully dry throat.
The hunter, Renzo, is across the street, pushing past the crowds of people but also not hesitating at the road. He takes a step back, runs and leaps into a long jump. His body soars magnificently through the air and clears several lanes of cars at once. Within a second and a half, his large body flies over the road and lands just beside the curb.
Leon is awestruck at the amazing physical feat accomplished by this god of a man. Before he would even applaud, however, a pickup truck zooms by and rams through Renzo’s thick, bulky body.
The street screams and shouts in frantic uproar at the horrifying scene. The hunter flies several yards across the road and falls flat on the pavement, body motionless and limp.
This is the first time Leon has ever seen anyone hit by a car, and he never expected to derive so much pleasure from it. The collision couldn’t have looked any more delightfully painful, and he smirks.
“Holy crap! That guy flew!” yells one of the pedestrians.
The driver and a few others rush to help, but shortly find their efforts unnecessary. Like watching a zombie rise from the dead, Renzo’s body starts to stand. His palms push off the ground, slowly raising his chest until he stands on his two feet again.
“Oh, come ON!” Leon slowly backs away in frustration. All the hope he possessed a second ago escapes his body and runs for its life, and Leon would follow its lead.
The hunter starts scanning the street, more concerned with catching his prey than his own wellbeing. There is no blood, no fatigue. Only his clothes scuffed and his pants dirtied by the ankles. He stumbles his first few steps, but his walk gradually becomes normal again.
“Guy’s a freak!” shouts another pedestrian.
Leon turns away and pushes through the accumulating crowd, “This is…this is impossible…”
These people. They’re not bounty hunters. They’re some super invincible league of assassins who dress like pompous jerks.