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THE JOINT WAS shitty and rat-infested, fit only for dregs of society, which was exactly what the four wild-eyed teens were.

Typically, and especially when the lights were out, the alleys around town were taken over by marauding street boys who held sway within specific territories. There were many such gangs about, each of them having their unique graffiti, or sigil, painted on the walls of their home alley. So a particular alley could belong to a particular gang and the next to another gang, with each gang operating within its area of dominance.

Actually, they were simply low-lives muggers, parties of misguided kids inspired by big name criminals they’d heard of, whether real or fictitious, like Al Pacino and El Chapo, and wanted to make a career out of doing drugs, rolling dice, wielding pocket knives and molesting hapless citizens who wandered across their paths after dark.

This particular group of boys called themselves ‘the big team’. They mugged people on the streets on regular basis, vandalized cars and public properties, and on some desperate occasions they even resorted to house break-ins, targeting shops and homes when the occupants were out.

When they got high on some illicit substance, they rode down the streets on fast bikes in the dead of night, pulling dangerous stunts and throwing rocks through windows just to spook the people out. They sometimes set wild bon fires and biked around it like demons out from hell, howling and screaming into the night sky.

Tonight however, the initial downpour had served to put a chill on things for the gang, and everyone seemed bored. What the boys needed then was some excitement; something hot to spike up the mood and get the blood pumping again.

Then they heard faint voices from around the corner beside the alley, and the next minute, two loosely clad girls came into view, keeping to the path of the sidewalk with light, nervous steps. They seemed like wanna-be hookers; wild-eyed yet timid. Perhaps they were out of luck, and the customers were scarce because of the poor weather. Or they were simply an adventurous pair of night crawlers looking for where to hang out and catch some fun.

Either way, the boys thought they were in luck the instant they spotted the damsels.

They paused for a moment, gawking pleasantly at what the tides had brought in. Surely, if it was fun the girls wanted, the boys had plenty of fun to give. The unfortunate thing, however, was that whatever the boys had in mind, it was basically going to be one-sided and not very pleasant for the girls.

Oh, bless the god of the tides!

They stared at the girls quietly from the concealment of their hideout. Then they glanced at each other darkly with the vile thoughts in their minds synchronizing. And smiling lewdly like a pack of hyenas zeroing in on a herd of trespassing antelopes, they moved out into the street, one by one, to intercept the girls who instantly realized what terrible trouble they were in.

“Well, hello, ladies?” said the lead gang member. He had both hands in his pant pockets and a dastardly grin on his face that immediately gave a vivid impression of his mischievous intent. Meanwhile the other boys had effectively taken up positions around the girls to prevent them from bolting.

The girls gasped frighteningly, clutching on to each other. They looked quite young, around the same age as the boys who were terrorizing them, and wore comfy stiletto shoes that tapped rhythmically on the asphalt every time they moved. Suddenly, one of them tried to dash through the ring of boys but was pulled back and shoved roughly.

“Where’re you off to, missy?” hissed one of the boys snidely in the girl’s face. He was a brutish fellow wearing a torn leather jacket. He had stained teeth and a scar on the side of his evil looking face.

“Please,” said the other girl. “Please don’t hurt us.”

The boys giggled slyly, amused by her plea.

“Hurt you? Of course, not!” remarked another boy, this one wearing an old army-type boot and black raincoat. He had a plaster beneath his right eye for effect. “We don’t want to hurt you, missy. We only want to play with you

“Really? You won’t hurt us?” said the girl stupidly, and the boys roared in laughter this time.

The sound of their laugh chilled the girls to the bones. One of them who appeared simpler began to sob in panic, while the other one put her hands around her, holding her desperately close in her own perplexity.

“Sure, Missy,” said one of the boys sneakily. “We love to play with pretty little girls like you.”

The girl stopped and gasped. “Let’s just give ’em the money…” she whispered to her friend.

“Shut up, Tasha!” snapped the first girl.

The boys laughed again, enjoying the exchange between the two. Then suddenly, one of them reached out and grabbed the first girl firmly from behind and twisted her arm forcefully, nearly breaking it. The girl groaned in pain, bending over at once. The other girl back-tracked, caught her breath and whimpered in apprehension.

“Oh, no, darling, why the teary eyes?” said one of the boys, putting forward a hand to lift the girl’s chin. “We’re not going hurt you, if you don’t fight us.”

Both girls tried to cry for help at that point, but their voices were quickly drowned by strong arms around their throats and thick gloves shoved into their mouths to muffle their screams. And at knives points, the boys forced their prey further into the dark den and threw them roughly on the concrete, dingy floor flowing with sewage.

At that point both girls came to the frightening realization that there was no use fighting if they were to get out of there in one piece. No one would hear and no one would come. So cringing on the dirty floor, they clung tightly to each other and braced themselves in preparedness for what they knew was about to happen to them.

With their blood rushing and their excitement at roof top, the boys giggled like depraved lunatics, pulling and dragging the girls from all sides, ripping off clothes and giggling all the while.

It took almost a minute before any one of them noticed the shadowy figure right there in the joint with them, sitting with crossed legs like a gentleman in the dumped out single-seat, lice infested cushion chair the boys had picked up and brought in to add some style to their den. But mostly, it was the leader of the gang that took the seat while the others hung around, sat on plastic drums or logs when they were around.

The unknown person just sat there quietly, with his hand resting on his sides and his head slightly lowered as he peered with sordid interest at the ongoing drama. His gaze was piercing, almost spellbinding in its effect. He seemed quite a menacing character, and the boys had a moment of nervous uncertainty when they first saw him there.

But with the cloak of darkness heavy in the alley and particularly around this character, the boys couldn’t get a clear view of him or tell if it was anyone they knew. However, as they wondered how this person came to be there in the first place, what made them even more perplexed was his absolute stillness. He was so still, in fact, that it might just be better to turn away with the conclusion that it was nothing, that there was no one there.

The figure sat there for a tensed, long moment, not talking, not making even the slightest movement. His gaze was fixed on the boys steadfastly, holding each of them rooted to the spot with morbid anxiety and innate terror.

Then he began to laugh, his voice booming and horribly ominous in the growing shadows around them, filling everyone with horror. But more chilling then was the surreal realization that this mysterious person was not laughing outwardly with his physical mouth like it was supposed to be, for most people, at least.

The boys were not hearing the laughter with their ears; it was a vivid feeling akin to putting on an earphone to drown noises around. The den was absolutely and gravely quiet because, in actual fact, the laugh was in their heads; each one hearing it his head and being all too aware that the other was hearing the same laugh as well.

In their heads!

The gangsters turned dreadfully, looking at each other with trepidation.

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