1-1: Crimson Blood
June 28. The voice came from a female high school student. She was holding an envelope that had “To: Catherine” written at the back, holding it close to her chest as she walked along a dark alley late at night. She had tried isolating herself after receiving the said envelope so that she could have some outside air while not being bothered by anyone.
“You said you liked me…even though you knew I liked Jason. You even helped me out so he would notice me.” She paused, still weighing what she had just read.
Another pause. She continued, “I’ve always seen you as a friend, and I never thought you would actually…” Using her free hand, she held her mouth as she began looking flustered. “How do I reply? I don’t want to ruin the great friendship that we have, but...” She paused again, knowing the next words would hurt. “I just like Jason too much to see anyone else right now. What do I do…?”
Just then, she heard several fast-paced footsteps from behind. She turned around and saw three dangerous-looking men.
Meanwhile, at an arcade nearby, two boys were playing a virtual shooting game. It was a game where you played as 1 or 2 (depending on the number of players available at the time) agents who are tasked to prevent the unleashing of a weapon of mass destruction. To this end, the players were to fight against a large organization, shooting lackeys most of the time, and occasionally fighting bosses that had higher life points. The game utilized toy guns and pedals; step on the pedal and you would face the enemies, while letting it go puts you in hiding. This was a game that required both precision in shots and timing on when to attack and when to back off.
The difference in skill between the two boys was clear: one of them was still at full life and was relentlessly shooting at all the enemy lackeys with great accuracy, while his companion, although not entirely bad at the game, got hit a couple of times already and was less accurate with his shots.
“So Red,” one of the boys said as the two continuously shot at the screen. “I know tomorrow’s a Saturday, but are you really sure about staying out so late? This isn’t like you at all. Did something happen?”
The boy named Red heaved a sigh, but his in-game accuracy did not drop in the slightest. “It’s just…something. Sorry, but I just don’t feel like saying anything. Still, I’m really grateful that you agreed to hang out with me today. If we win enough tickets for that toaster, you can have it. I’ll even engrave the words ‘Property of Jason’ on it or something.”
Jason laughed, and in that split second he lost his last life. “Dammit Red, you made me lose my focus!”
“I don’t need you to win this, so knock yourself out. Literally.”
Jason sighed as he inserted a token into the machine. “Man, this is why nobody likes playing with you.”
However, just as he was about to press the “continue” button, his phone rang.
“Go take it,” Red said. “I meant it when I said that I was thankful for your companionship, but I also meant it when I said that I don’t really need you to win this.” He said these things while shooting all his enemies with great precision and without changing the focused expression on his face.
Jason, after internally complaining for a split-second, nodded and left.
“Jason?” Catherine nearly screamed to her phone. She was running. Fast. “Jason? Are you there? I’m being chased. Help! Please! Help me!” She had wanted to ask Jason to hang out with her earlier that day, but he had refused because of his promise he made to stay with Red. She had no idea, however, that the two guys were actually together.
Jason was alarmed. “Being chased? Who’s chasing you? Where are you?”
“I don’t know!” Catherine was panting. “I’m near the apartment Anna stays in. Please hurry! They’re gaining on me!”
She hung up.
Jason did not even bother to put his phone back in his pocket and ran straight back to the arcade.
“Red! We have a situation!”
The two boys were hurriedly running toward the place where Catherine last said she was. Red was well ahead of Jason. He had always been faster at running. But that wasn’t so important at the moment; this was no competition.
At the entrance to the dark alley, Red stopped, signaled Jason to do the same, and gestured at him to keep quiet. Jason stood beside Red and the two took a peek at the area in front of them, squinting their eyes to adjust to the darkness.
What they saw came as a shock. Catherine was unconscious, tied up with her mouth covered by a scarf as she sat on the floor leaning in front of a backdoor of a building. She was beside a gigantic trash pile, and near her were three men with faces stark red of drunkenness talking to each other.
“Oh, man,” Jason whispered. “Three full-grown men.” He wondered what they could possibly want from the girl. Money? Is it because her family’s rich? He thought to himself. Or maybe those drunkards just want to…oh no.
He suddenly heard knuckles cracking in front of him.
Jason panicked. “Don’t do it, Red,” he cautioned. “Those are three huge grown men out there. You can’t just go in and knock them all out. You’d be creamed by those thugs, not to mention endangering Catherine’s life. You don’t even know if they’re armed.”
“You’re missing out on something very important, Jason.”
Jason, with a puzzled look on his face, turned to Red. “I don’t get it.”
“It won’t matter if I’m creamed. I’m merely the son of a bastard who can’t even man up to his mistakes,” Red said. “You, on the other hand, are the son of the president. You’re this big shot who would probably get scolded later for staying up late at night playing at the arcade. Call the cops, you idiot. You have special lines, right?
“Well why didn’t we call the cops in the first place?”
Red was getting impatient. “Too late for that, don’t you think? Just do it! And just in case, call an ambulance for Catherine. Don’t worry about me.” Jason was still unsure of Red’s plan, but he couldn’t think of anything else he could do. His mind was a blur.
“Right, right,” Jason said, trembling. He still had his cell phone in his hand from talking to Catherine. He dialled the necessary numbers and walked away to grab some reception.
“Hello?” Jason began in hushed tones. Those men might hear something. He was calling the personal number of the chief of police. He answered on the third ring.
“Hello, Chief? It’s me, Jason. We have a situation here. One of my friends was taken by three men.” Yes, yes, I know I’m not supposed to be out here late at night. Yes, I know my place in society now can you just please send in some guys over here?” He hated it when officers tried to lecture him. This, especially, was not a time to scold. “Please hurry. She could really be in danger. She’s lying over here unconscious at…”
Unbeknownst to him, while he was busy giving the details of his location and the situation to the chief, Red had already charged in.
The three drunk men were clueless as to what they should do.
“So…we got the girl,” One of a drunkards, a man named Nolan, said. “Now what? Are we supposed to demand a ransom for her? We don’t even know if the girl’s really rich or something.”
“You idiot!” The second man, Bob, commented as he hit Nolan on the back of his head. “I said ‘Hey, let’s hit on her,’ not ‘Hey, let’s hit her’! What is this situation?!”
“She’s really purdy, though,” came the voice of the third man, Douglas. He began running his right hand over the unconscious Catherine’s cheek, grinning menacingly. “We can…have some fun with this girl tonight…” And before any of his companions could order him to stop, his hand went down from Catherine’s cheek, down to her chin, quickly making its way to her chest.
But before he could grope her, the three drunkards heard the sound of a cell phone ringing from Catherine’s pocket. It was an 8-bit ringtone, and it had happened at such a crucial moment that Douglas flinched and fell to the ground.
“Wh-what’s going on?!”
Alarmed, Bob approached Catherine. “We have to turn it off, fast!”
Bob was too drunk, and he struggled to find which pocket the cell phone was. He got it, eventually, and turned it off, relieved. The phone call had come from a person named Red. “What a weird name.”
“Making fun of my name now, are we?” came a voice from behind Bob. The drunk man had been too intoxicated and busy that he failed to register the presence of an outsider prior to this. “Don’t get too full of yourself,” Red warned, with the strongest tone he could muster. “None of you lowlives deserve to touch Catherine.”
Bob turned around to face Red, but didn’t finish the turn. As he moved, he got hit square on the head by a hard, blunt object and began losing consciousness. Everything was a blur, and he couldn’t determine whether it was from the blow or the alcohol. He could, however, feel being grabbed and thrown with great force.
He was able to open his eyes somewhat. He saw his two companions also lying unconscious nearby. They were probably attacked from behind while he was busy with Catherine’s cell phone, he thought. He also saw a boy in front of Catherine – it was probably his attacker, he concluded – with a metal pipe on the ground near them.
“W-Why, you little punk,” he tried to say. Then darkness.
“Cath!” Red exclaimed as he rushed toward Catherine. He removed the scarf covering her mouth and untied the ropes binding her body. “Wake up! Tell me you’re fine! Oh please don’t be hurt.”
It wasn’t so clear before because he was too far and the alley was too dark, but now that he was right in front of Catherine, Red could see some dried-up blood on her head, some bruises on her arms and one on her leg. He wrapped his arm around her.
She probably got caught, resisted, and was beaten up quite badly, he told himself. And they were about to rough her up if I hadn’t come in. Those bastards!
Just then, in the midst of his rage, he heard Catherine groan.
Red’s face lit up. “Cath! Can you hear me? Are you all right? Everything’s fine now, I’m here-”
Red’s eyes widened in shock. Figuratively, Catherine’s words hit him hard, but more importantly, right at that same time a literal gunshot was heard and Red felt an indescribable pain near his abdomen.
He dared not look.
Instead, he gently let go of Catherine, grabbed the metal pipe he had placed on the ground, and ran to Bob, who had somehow managed to regain consciousness and shoot him. So, he is armed.
H…how can he still stand?! Bob thought as his hand began shaking and his head began feeling dizzy from the shock of Red’s attack on him. “N-no! Get away from me! You…you monster!”
With a loud roar, Red approached Bob and hit him on the arm that held the gun. Bob involuntarily let go of his weapon and Red smashed it with his pipe. For good measure, he revisited the two other drunk men and hit them on the arms too. It woke them up momentarily, but it immobilized them so much they could only cringe in pain.
Red let go of the pipe and limped back to Catherine while holding his wound. “Damn,” he said out loud. “I better get her out of here.”
“…I did it, Jason. She’s safe now.”
Jason turned to where the voice was coming from only to see a scene that would forever be etched in the deep crevices of his memory: There stood Red, his best friend, carrying an unconscious and battered Catherine on his back. But underneath was a trail of fresh blood, and it was coming from Red’s stomach. He had heard that shot, and he was too scared to look. The realization dawned on him: Red had neglected covering his wound just to get Catherine away from the three drunkards who had assaulted her.
And yet this heavily injured boy was smiling.
“You idiot!” Jason rushed toward Red who finally gave in and collapsed to the floor. He fell forward in an attempt to cushion Catherine. Jason caught her just in time and set her aside. Red rolled over and was lying down, facing the sky.
“The police and the ambulance are coming soon,” Jason said as he held Red’s shoulders. “Just hang in there, Red!”
Red began coughing up blood. Jason was in a frenzy. Here he was with two of his friends, neither of which he was sure would survive. Red touched his wound and looked at his own blood, only to confirm that the pain he was feeling was real. He cringed. Upon seeing the blood, and the fact that it had spread so much, he gestured Jason to get closer to him. “Listen, buddy…I have a favor to ask…”
Jason, who knew the gravity of the situation the two boys were in, put his ear closer to Red. “I’m listening. What do you need?”
“I…I think I’m dying,” Red said as tears began forming in his eyes. “Catherine, she...she knew that you were out at the arcade, but had no idea that I was with you, right?”
“Yes,” Jason replied. “That’s why she called me; because she had hoped that I was still nearby. She didn’t mention your name, and I didn’t tell her that I was going to hang out with you.”
“When I saved her…she was calling out your name.” Red replayed that moment and flinched. “I want you to fulfill her fantasy, Jason.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want you to be that knight in shining armor who saved her in her darkest moments,” Red said. He could not believe how he was being so poetic at a time like this. “She’ll probably ask what happened. Tell her that…” Red wanted to talk straight but could not help pausing because of the pain. “Tell her…that the drunkards have been taken care of. If she asks who saved her or if it was you, just…tell her this: ‘Everything’s okay now. You don’t have to worry about a thing.’ Exactly those words.” Red flinched again. Whether it was from the gunshot or what he was saying, he couldn’t tell. “She’ll imply that it was you who saved her, and…” He could feel a sting in his chest. “…she’ll be happy.”
“See, this is why I couldn’t reciprocate her feelings!” Jason blurted out. “I knew that she had a crush on me, but I was also equally aware of your feelings for her. I knew that I could never match up to that. She deserves you, buddy, not me. Now stop acting like a tragic hero and live, goddammit!”
Red shook his head. “No. Right now all she sees is you. If this is what it takes to make her happy, then…so be it. If I die right now…and she found out that it was because I tried to personally save her, it would crush her with guilt.” He turned his head to look at Catherine, still unconscious. “I want to protect her smile, Jason. So please…cover up this whole incident for me. You’d do it…right, buddy?” His words trailed off. Red was beginning to lose consciousness. Jason’s heart skipped a beat when Red’s eyes lost focus and began looking past Jason.
“To give your life in order to protect someone else…it’s not such a bad ending…right, mom? They did say that I took after you in more ways than one…” Red wasn’t making sense anymore.
Jason started screaming. But Red couldn’t hear him anymore, nor could he hear the sound of police and ambulance sirens approaching.
The boy named Red, smiling in the midst of all the noise and commotion, looked at death in the face.
“Sir, are you sure about this?” came the voice of a female nurse. She was with a man wearing a white lab gown alongside a doctor and several men in black suits looking at an unconscious boy. The boy’s abdomen was fully bandaged with gauze. The surgery was over, and the bullet was out, but he was far from stable. He had ECG electrodes across his chest, with the monitor indicating that he was barely alive. There was an intravenous line on his right forearm, and another on his left, this time for transfusing blood. He was hooked to a mechanical ventilator, fully dependent on the machine to live.
The nurse kept talking. “While it’s true that there is only a very slim chance, we can still save him using normal means. If you follow through with your plan, you may end up killing your own son.”
The man, who had a syringe in his hand, shook his head. “I’m willing to take that chance,” he replied. His mind was faraway. He had to do it. After all, back then he didn’t get to save the love of his life. He was incredibly powerless.
I hated myself for it so much that I ended up neglecting my only son, the only thing that was left for me to fight for. But now I have the power, he thought to himself. He held up the syringe. “I have the power, and with this I will save my last remaining family.”
He approached the unconscious boy and the nurse looked away in fear.
“You’re not going anywhere, Red,” the man said with a hopeful smile. “I won’t let you.”