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12:45 PM—shoot me dead, NJ



I BLINK BLANKLY AT THE BRIGHT NEON LIGHTS SCATTERED ON THE WALLS. They burn into my retinas, leaving small balls of light on the ends of my lashes. The people around me come and go one-at-a-time, taking their loud, bantering conversations with them.

Slowly, I make my way over to an old dentist chair, oddly placed in the lab of herbs and medicines. I throw my body down onto the squeaky leather, letting my eyes shut and my chest sink.

The smell of stale take-out and essential oils doesn't quite mix the way one would hope, creating a headache on each temple. Oriental music floats through the room, the calm stringed instruments contradicting the crimes that take place here.

It's unsettling to say the least.

But it's quiet enough for me not to care.

"You are Matteo?" my eyes snap open and I tilt my head to look at the woman.

Bai Li is a petite woman with eyes that look like one of the seven portals to hell. The devil must have loaned her the expression on her face—a twisted, sardonic sneer twitching on her skin.

I move back to my posistion and close my eyes once more, shifting my legs until they're crossed one-on-top-of-the-other. "The one and only," I respond, cracking a cheeky smile for the sake of first impressions.

"You are awfully weak looking, no?" she asks, the tone laced around it sounding more like a statement.

I lift a finger in the air, "I'll have you know that I have the physique that most compare to the one of an Ancient Greek god."

"Oh," she starts, and I can almost picture the very rounded 'o' shape her lips make, "I see ... you are delusional, yes?"

I open my eyes again, sitting up as straight as I can. She narrows her gaze at me, the hands folded neatly in front, gripping together tightly. She's the definition of confidence, her vague way of speech making her feel as though she's higher than the rest of us.

"I don't know," I begin, leaning closer toward her, "it's a very strong possibility, seeing I've been emotionally damaged and physically beaten to the ground ever since my father got involved with you." My teeth grit tightly together and the muscles in my jaw start to cramp up. I stare at her for as long as it takes, until she's so uncomfortable by my inability to give a shit about who she is, she leaves.

And she does. She lifts her chin high in the air before whipping her head around and starting to walk off.

My eyes float over to my father, who stands on the opposite side of the room. He looks at Bai Li and she looks at him, a silent conversation going on between the both of them. His eyebrows furrow low and his fists stand still at his sides. He catches my gaze and spends only a moment on me before returning to her.

He nods.

She nods.

Her hand raises to the air and she turns her head to the side, a gesture I know is meant for me.

"Tie him down," she says, no louder than the flowery music that floats through the walls.

Before I can scramble out of my seat, two arms wrap around both of mine, pushing my back violently against the chair. I struggle with all my will, picturing every man I've seen my father take a knife to, unable to stop picturing my face as one of his victims.

They start toward me from both corners, my dad watching her watch me the whole time. She looks calm and I swear I see a flash of pride cross her expression as she watches me struggle. The few people left in the building start to form a crowd, and almost, as though all of this was given a time slot, some of the people from outside join in.

"What the fuck do you want from me?" I ask, feeling sweat start to fall from my hairline. "I've kept all your secrets. Watched innocent people fall down dead at the cruelty of your hand. Never once have I done anything to damage your community."

"This is not about secrets, or violence," Bai starts, inching closer to me by the second, "this is about family."

"Don't tell me shit about family," I snap back, giving another tug at the human handcuffs I've recieved.

"Fine," she finally raises her voice so that it's louder than a nerve-wracking whisper. "This is not about family. This is about blood."

Silence fills in and I slowly look over at my father. He wears a new expression. One of realization as to just what he's done.

"I hate you," I say, letting each word ooze more than the last.

My heart rate begins to accelerate, my eyes beginning to water as I start to struggle again. "Did you hear me? I hate you!" I shout at him until he looks at me.

We look at one another for longer than we have in the past nineteen years.

"Just do it," he says, turning around and walking away.

"Go ahead, walk away! Walk away you son of a bitch!" I continue shouting, finally letting everything out. By the time I'm finished, my cheeks are soaked in tears and I've given in to the arms around me, letting my tired body stop fighting.

They tie a strap around my arm, pulling it so tight it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I don't see their faces anymore, just blurs of almost human beings, relishing in joy at the pain they're causing.

Something sharp tears into my skin ... and the world goes dark.

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