Chapter 3: Impending Doom
The pleasant waft of the office greeted Ryan with it’s usual, fake demeanor. Mark, on the other hand, was simply amazed by what he was witnessing.
“You work here?” he was bewildered.
“Yeah,” Ryan said. That’s right. He had become so accustomed to the office’s charm that it no longer portrayed any sort of effect on him. Though if he were to travel backwards in time and come to the wonderment he felt when first walking in upon this place, he would be exactly where Mark was now.
A flowery scent, not too strong but subtle enough to notice, would greet him on the way in. It was enough to captivate him enough to have his eyes blown away by the official mystique of the clean, neatly furnished floor. The carpets, a crimson red, were cleaned daily, and always retained a fluffy bounce to them when walked on. The greeting desk was tidy, not a paper out of place. The blonde lady that sat there was neat as well, with not a strand of hair askew from her bun.
Ryan gazed around, noting the other desks that were on the main floor; they mostly served to assist customers in their basic financial needs, but to get help with anything else, one would have to ascend to a higher floor. Every desk was polished and seemed new; the dark, oaken wood reflecting the fake smiles that the people at the desks had to wear every day.
The lobby had the same, minimalist style, with two leather sofas, a stack full of expensive-looking magazines, and a low coffee table with coasters stacked in the middle. Ryan knew that this layout was almost identical down to the last scuff mark (if one could even find such a thing) on every floor, but he didn’t want to ruin Mark’s enjoyment.
“Would you like to see the rest?” Ryan grinned at Mark, who’s eyes shone with an excitement only a child could display.
Ryan couldn’t help but smile as they rose in the elevator together. Mark was simply fascinated by the exquisite decor and, as he put it, “fancyness” of the place altogether. Though Ryan couldn’t ignore the feeling of dread as he rose to the top floor of the building, where his fate would be decided by a man who hardly knew his name.
The elevator doors opened with a cheery ding, as if mocking Ryan’s awful situation, and with a gulp, he walked in. Mark stuck close to him, worriedly staring at his stony face.
“What’s going on?” Mark asked, his eyes swimming in a murky confusion.
“I need to talk to my boss about you, okay? We need to switch my hours around, maybe up my pay so I can afford to feed two...stuff like that. Do you want to wait here?” Ryan made the offer, already knowing what the boy was going to say.
“No, I’ll stay with you.” Just as he expected. Ryan smiled understandingly, giving Mark a small nod and a simple “Okay” before they approached the open room together.
For being such an open place, it was rather dark, the only light coming from the windows that lined the back wall of the floor. There was only one desk, and it was a few feet in front of the windows, the same dark, wooden colour as all the rest. The only difference was the unique sets of paper meant only for the boss’s eyes, and a golden plaque with the threatening name engraved on it. John P. Withers.
It was admittedly not as threatening as names go, but anyone who had dared set foot into this establishment as an employee knew that John was no easy customer. Ryan could only hope he had a fighting chance.
“Excuse me, sir, but there is something I need to discuss with you,” he started it nice and slow, the sweat dripping down his neck.
“Name,” the deep, gruff voice came from behind a tall, leather chair. It only made Ryan think of a stereotypical villain in movies. He threw the thought away.
“Ryan. Ryan Ikaika. Sir, I-” Before Ryan could get another word out, John held out his hand, the palm towards him. Ryan clamped up immediately.
“State your business,” he instructed.
“I’m here to rearrange my hours and possibly my wages, sir.”
“And why would you need to do that?” He sounded mildly curious, but Ryan knew it was probably an act.
“I have another resident staying with me, and I need to care for them accordingly.” A small “hmm” from behind the chair, and then it swiveled around, revealing the man himself. Balding, a stout mustache, and years of cold experience outlined his face. He wore a gray suit and tie, which marked his sturdy frame. His eyes peered down at Ryan as if he were a mere pawn in the grand scheme of things - which, in all truth, he was.
“A child, I see,” he stared at Mark, who instinctively drew closer to Ryan, clinging to his pants. John brought his emotionless, black eyes to Ryan’s face for the first time. “and why couldn’t you bring this up earlier?”
“I only saved him last night, there was no time for-”
“There were thugs trying to hurt him, I had to help, there was no way I could just walk away-”
“Meaningless.” Ryan exhaled a shaky breath. John continued. “It would be easier to leave the weak on their own. Besides, you’re still a strapping young man. You don’t need to worry about something as trivial as children. And I’m afraid it’s impossible for me to adjust your schedule or pay at this time. You’ll have to make due.”
Ryan bit his tongue. He couldn’t do it. In the heat of the moment, he couldn’t protest, he couldnt defend himself. It was just like always. He couldn’t ever ascend any higher than his crummy job or crummy status. Ryan lowered his head in shame. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at the boy beside him.
“You’re dismissed. Go, off to work with you.” Mr. Withers gave his final order. Ryan dragged his feet behind him as he went, barely noticing the absence of a child until he spoke up.
“That’s no fair!” Mark’s fists were clenched, his face going scarlet.
“I’m sorry?” Mr. Withers spoke threateningly.
“I said it’s not fair! Ryan was a good person and you’re yelling at him for that?! He saved my life! He deserves a lot more, mister!” Mark was panting, his fists now shaking uncontrollably and his expression determined.
Mr. Withers folded his hands together delicately.
“Is this what you believe?” There was a small trace of mockery that was hidden within his tone.
“Yeah!” Mark shouted right away. “He used his powers to save the day!” An eyebrow was raised in surprise. The glimmer of a smile hidden.
"Powers, now, eh? Ikaika, do you support the utter disrespect your son has shown me?” His dark, penetrating eye rested on Ryan’s, and Ryan felt true fear coarse through his veins.
He drew a shaky breath, his heart pounding. Then, all of a sudden, a warmth spread through him like liquid fire, starting from his heart and expanding throughout his chest. The flames flickered and shined, and Ryan felt for half a second that it would explode in front of him for all to see.
“Actually,” he started, and couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “I do. And...and
if we can’t rearrange something like this, then...I quit.”
“You heard me. I quit.”
Mr. Withers didn’t seem to react the way that Ryan thought he would. He took a deep breath, cracked his knuckles and adjusted his tie, and then smirked.
“Then you are dismissed. For good.” Ryan had a sudden urge to beg for his job back, to plead with his boss and say that Mark was simply overreacting...but he bit it back.
“Goodbye, John,” Ryan felt a lion roaring inside his chest. “And don’t you ever disrespect this boy again. He’s a much better human being than you turned out to be.” And without a bat of an eye, nor a trickle of regret, Ryan swiftly turned upon his heel and marched out of the room with Mark sprinting to keep up.
The doors closed upon the two, and they descended down the shiny elevator.
John P. Withers sat at his desk, a curious and intrigued grin spreading across his face.
“What an interesting development indeed,” he said to himself, withdrawing his cell phone from his pocket and dialing a number. The receiver on the other side picked up, an amused voice speaking through.
“Hmm? Now, Johnny, boy, what brings you to my services?”
“I think I’ve found the one you’re looking for.”
“That. Was. Awesome!” Mark exclaimed frivolously.
“I just quit my job,” Ryan felt as though all the air in his chest had been sucked out.
“You just beat that guy down!”
“I disrespected the boss.”
“That was the best thing I’ve ever seen!”
“We’re going to die dirt poor.” Ryan and Mark walked down the busy sidewalks, keeping close. Though it was all made slightly more difficult by the fact that Mark was bouncing upon his every step the entire way home.
“Why aren’t you happy, Ryan?” Mark’s green eyes shimmered at him. “You totally won!”
Ryan couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle. “Mark, I’m afraid that we have to think about a lot more now.”
Mark’s smile faltered. “Like what?” he spoke quietly.
“Well, I need to get another paying job ASAP so that we can pay bills and get groceries, and I need to ration out the food we have now until then, so...” he stopped when he saw Mark’s expression. Cleared his throat. Continued, “but it should be easy enough. I’m sure we can get through it together, right?”
“Right!” The smile was back.
That was a close one, Ryan thought. He kept forgetting just how young Mark was. He couldn’t drill down the facts of reality down upon him just yet. For now, he could let him live happily and freely, like all children should.
“What’s for dinner?” Mark chirped. Ryan pondered the thought for a brief moment.
“Why don’t we visit Rita? She sells sandwiches and soups.”
“Okay!” Was the response. Ryan needed to tell her what had happened, anyway. Not just with work, but...everything.
Mark slurped up his soup noisily, draining the last of the broth. He, Ryan, and Rita sat at one of the tables in Rita’s coffee shop. Ryan had just finished explaining everything that had happened; saving Mark, the powers, and to end it all - his lack of a job. She sat there in deep contemplation, her fingers gingerly pressed to her nose. Ryan feared that she would yell at him again, but this didn’t seem to be the case. If she had wanted to, she would have already.
Finally, she took a great breath.
“You realize that you are one of the biggest idiots of our century, right?” she kept staring at a spot on the table.
“Yeah,” Ryan shamefully agreed.
“And you realize that you may have just doomed yourself for life, right?” She lifted her eyes to Ryan’s.
“Yeah,” Ryan swallowed, not daring to break eye contact.
“But, it can’t be helped. You’re an idiot, but you need a job. Something that will work.” She seemed to be running over something in her head.
“I’ll find something. I’m going to scour the newspaper for anything once I get-” She held out a hand to cease his chatter.
“It’s not a problem,” she said slowly. “Because I’d be willing to hire you.”
Ryan’s entire thought process stopped. Was he hearing things right?
“You’ll...” he was still trying to get his brain back into a functional organ.
“Hire you? Yes. It’s the least I can do. I can’t say it’ll pay as much as you’re other job, but it’s some-” Before she could finish, Ryan got out of his seat, marched up to Rita, and embraced her in a tight hug. She was understandably surprised, but uncharacteristically embraced him back as well.
“Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you." And there was never a time he didn’t mean it more.
“Be here 9 o’clock, alright? No later. Just ’cuz I’m your friend doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you. Be prepared to work your butt off.” Ryan gave a final nod, smile, and was on his way with Mark as Rita gave him a quick rundown. She waved goodbye to them, heading back inside afterwards.
Mark and Ryan walked in silence, both of them beat down and tired after a long day. Mark was yawning and rubbing his eyes, and Ryan was trying to refrain from doing so.
“We’ll get you to bed right away, okay?” Ryan said. Mark nodded, clearly too sleepy to respond. They came to the street that Ryan’s apartment was on, and were relieved to see that it wasn’t that far away.
The night air was crisp and clear as they walked, the darkness nearly having been completely spread over the horizon. The last traces of the sun were barely peeking over the rest of the buildings, and with the absence of the heat brought a slight chill to the night.
Ryan thought that he imagined something out of the corner of his eye, but when looking in that direction, nothing was there. Strange. He could have sworn it was someone. Then again, even at night the streets were mildly busy. It could have been any passer-by. He returned his gaze to the building ahead of him.
He opened his mouth to say something to Mark, but as he did so an unnerving chill swept its way through Ryan’s body, immobilizing him. He could barely take in a sharp stream of breath before his vision became spotted and blurred. What was happening? He couldn’t tell - his vision was blacking out, though he wasn’t hit in the head...Ryan fell to the ground, unconscious.
The sound of a loved one screaming was the last thing that rang in his ears.
With a great cough, Ryan was brought back. His eyes snapped open, and he keeled over to cough more. He wheezed and hacked, warmth slowly returning to his body. He noticed then that most of his body was ice cold. The warmth sprouted from his chest, and Ryan was able to see through the folds of his shirt that the tattoo of the sun near his heart was glowing with a brilliant aura.
Had he just died?
Better yet, if he had, how did he activate his powers if he was out cold? How was he alive? How was Mark alive?
His heart skipping a beat, Ryan frantically swept his eyes around the street, growing more panicky as he realized with horror that he wasn’t there. Mark was gone. But he wouldn’t just run off. Was he taken? Kidnapped?
Ryan began to pace around, his hands shaking, his mind reeling. What was he going to do? Call the cops? Call for help? Someone? His mind was so boggled that he barely heard the dial tone that rang from inside his pocket. After the third ring, he noticed.
Hesitantly, he reached in his right pocket and pulled out a foreign-looking device. It wasn’t his. It was a small, flat circle of technology, with a blue screen with buttons below. One of the buttons was flashing a bright blue. He pressed it.
A small hologram came up, depicting a person with a mask on. It was a theater mask, of all things, and a smiling one at that. It stuck Ryan as creepy, to understate it. A voice began to speak, and it was clearly a man’s.
“Hello, Ryan Ikaika. If you’ve survived long enough to hear this message, then congrats. You are the one we’re looking for. Now, don’t worry,” the voice chuckled eerily. “we didn’t take any of your personal artifacts. We’re not thugs or any of the like. However...we did take something you seem to care about. Say hello, Marki.” The camera panned over to what appeared to be a jail cell, and there was no mistaking the terrified face of Mark peering through the bars.
“Ryan?” His voice was so frail. So afraid. “What’s going on?”
“What is going on indeed, Marki!” The camera whooshed back to the theater masked man. “Now, lookie here, Mr. Ryan. We’ve done a bit of digging, and it seems you have a very unique set of powers. This is merely a test to see if you are worth anything or not. What fun! Now, listen carefully. We have you’re little buddy camping out with us at a little place we call The Harlequin House. Yes, quite an odd name, I know, but doesn’t it just fit? Anyhoo, what we need you to do is get yourself over here nice and quick. I believe we’ll give you a month to do this. That should be plenty of time to track us down and get here.”
“Oh, I forgot to mention, if you can’t do this measly little task...” He walked over to Mark and pulled out a sharpened blade. His voice instantly switched to a dark undertone. “then you can kiss you’re little one goodbye.” The video cut out at that point, leaving only static for Ryan to talk to.
He was aghast.
He was sickened.
He was enraged.
But most of all, he was determined to get Mark back.