Chapter 1

Buzzing of conversations was present as the locals were rising and preparing for a brand new day. In fact, some of them were such early birds that they were seen already doing the early morning routines, such as washing clothes and hanging those on some racks to dry it off. Still, others were setting up in their shops already. The little town was such a mixture of businesses and houses that it seemed ridiculous if it was at another normal place. However, this wasn’t a normal place. They were far from normal. They chose to build their town that way, doing whatever it was necessary or to their likings. The odder part of the town couldn’t be compared to a threesome who were walking along a street at that point, not caring whether they were allowed to walk on the streets or not. In fact, this particular street was too narrow for any type of vehicle to pass through. It was one of the smaller side streets for residents and some small stall setups. Or just regular shops inside some of the buildings. As the threesome came closer, some of the locals were able to spot the girl walking in front holding a black guitar case and a big backpack slung over her shoulders. Her two companions were behind her and were carrying their fair share of belongings. Almost all of the locals were pulled in by the strange yet comfortable conversation the threesome was carrying on, except for one guy. He was sitting not far from a white building. More specifically, he was in front of it, doing his laundry. His rhythm of pulling different pieces of clothes in and out of the brown wooden bucket in front of him was unbreakable. He didn’t show interest in any of the activities around him–whether of normality or bordering on bizarre. Yet that didn’t mean he wasn’t tuning into the conversation of those three approaching him. He just chose not to pay attention with his eyes.

“I think it’s here,” The girl holding the guitar case said, stopping a few steps from the guy doing his laundry.

“Are you sure this time?” The other girl asked, looking unsure. She turned to the guy. “What do you think?”

They were all staring at the tall white building looming ahead as if it would soon tear through the sky, studying its threatening presence. Though it was white, it sure exuded a sense of unexplainable power, possibly dark powers.

“You three need help?” The guy doing laundry asked casually, still keeping his unbreakable rhythm.

The threesome exchanged some glances among the three of them before stepping closer to the guy doing laundry.

“I’m Angela,” The girl carrying the guitar case introduced herself. “These are my friends, Will and Sandrine.”

“And?” The guy doing laundry prompted, waiting for the relevant part. Though his smile had hinted that he was kidding.

Angela didn’t continue with her supposed question but ended up checking her jeans pockets for something. She finally pulled out a piece of paper and placed it in front of the guy doing laundry’s vision line. He took the hint to scan the contents without needing to be asked.

“You got the right place,” He answered, knowing too well of the question from their words before they had actually addressed him. “Remember to check-in at front desk. The patrol guy is kind of stingy, but you’ll get used to him eventually.”

Angela and her two companions stared toward the mechanical door looming ahead, feeling a bit uneasy.

“Wallace, stop scaring our new neighbors already,” A girl’s voice spoke up at that time, breaking through the somewhat quiet atmosphere.

Angela, Will, and Sandrine could see a girl around their age stepping out of a shop nearby. Wallace didn’t need to look.

“Go back to your shop, Debra,” Wallace delivered, still doing his laundry.

“Behave first,” Debra returned, not threatened by Wallace’s somewhat gloomy tone. Instead, she ignored him after delivering those words. She turned to face Angela, Will, and Sandrine with a friendly smile. “Hey, welcome to the neighborhood, you need help settling in? I could get some of my cousins to help you.”

“Nosy neighbors,” Wallace taunted from his spot.

Debra reached a hand out to hit him before resuming her friendly attitude with the other three. “So, what do you think?”

Angela exchanged another look among her group of three before turning back to Debra, nodding in agreement. Debra smiled and led them back to her shop, claiming she needed to call her cousins out to help. As they left, Wallace’s lips curved into a smile–whether the intention was friendly or otherwise, one couldn’t be sure.

As for Debra, she managed to wake her cousins and recount of the past happenings before ushering them out the door to help the newly arrived neighbors.

“You didn’t have to wake them up,” Angela said as they were heading back to the white building.

“They’re just going to sleep until noon anyway,” Debra pointed out in an as a matter-of-fact tone.

“Sounds like someone I know,” Wallace jumped in as they walked by him again.

Debra’s cousins ended up in hysterical. One of them even approached Wallace and gave him a high five, disregarding Debra’s annoyance. But she soon yelled at them to hurry. Then they were at the front desk. Debra helped them with the registration process before leading them upstairs to their apartment. They were on the seventh floor and had to walk all the way up. It was one of those buildings that didn’t have any source known as the elevators.

“Debra, you’re killing us with this walk,” One of Debra’s cousins whined. “That old cheapskate doesn’t care for anyone to even install elevators. And we didn’t even eat breakfast yet.”

The one doing all the complaining for all three cousins was also the one who gave Wallace the “high five” earlier.

“You don’t have to help us,” Angela spoke up, feeling bad for agreeing to Debra’s offer. “I meant you already help us with the registration process and all. We could just settle in on our own because we don’t have any other possessions anyway. Just these.” She tapped on her guitar and backpack–respectively–for emphasis as she said those last two words.

“See?” The same whining cousin jumped in, looking at Debra. “We don’t need any more exercise than this.”

Debra knew it was impossible to get the three to exert their energies so she stopped in her place. “Fine, go home then.”

The three took that as dismissal and piled down and out of the way, even waving goodbye to Angela and her two friends.

“Lazy bums,” Debra mumbled as she turned around and continued to climb the stairs.

They were on the fourth floor so they needed to ascend three more sets of stairs. Angela, Will, and Sandrine didn’t know what else to say after Debra’s cousins’ departure. So they kept silent and followed Debra’s lead.

“So, what’s this place like?” Will asked when they had climbed another set of stairs, feeling like he should disperse some of the hostility leftover after Debra’s cousins left.

“It’s very much like the rest of our planet, actually,” Debra said, playing with a loose strand of hair. “But a lot quieter, especially around this area. If you live closer to the city hall area, more excitement, but possibly even more dangerous.”

Angela wrinkled her face in confusion and exchanged another look with her friends. “What do you mean?”

“You haven’t heard?”

Angela shook her head. “We got this place through record hall; we just sign up on the sheet and wait for an empty spot before we could move in, like other procedures on this planet.”

“Oh,” Debra mumbled. “Figures.”

“What’s wrong?” Sandrine asked this time, feeling some impatient creeping up from within.

“Someone was murdered two years ago on the night of the traditional festivals we usually have. Interestingly enough, another murder occurred like several months later after that, also on traditional festival night. Imagine that. They said that they caught some girl for it. But some citizens still find it impossible. I meant they think she didn’t look strong enough. But then again, those two victims were quite skinny too.”

As Debra rambled on and on and all the while that they were ascending the steps, Angela did another exchange of looks with Will and Sandrine. They, of course, had lived too far away to even hear about such stories before. They had on their doubtful look and wondered if Debra was just like Wallace after all, loving nothing more than to scare the new neighbors on their first day.

“Where did it happen?” Sandrine asked when Debra finally stopped talking to catch her breath.

“The first one was several blocks down from city hall. It was one of those really dark alleys, so it was possible. The second one was by the seaside, inside that humongous, creepy, and might I say hideous building.”

“If the killer is already caught, then we have nothing to worry about, right?” Angela took over with the questions.

Debra shrugged. “I don’t know about that. If we have nothing to worry about, then why did the authorities cancel our supposedly traditional festivals altogether since the second murder?”

“They canceled it?” Sandrine jumped in again.

Debra nodded. “Yeah.”

“Maybe it’s just for our safety,” Will reasoned. “I mean they might feel that because those gatherings often create opportunities for others to commit crimes, so they just cancel it. Don’t the majority usually go to the city hall, even the rest of the guards? So it makes sense to use that time frame to carry out some suspicious activities.”

“Spoken like a possible opportunist.”

Debra’s compliment sent some uneasiness all around. It was like she was implying that Will had the brain of a possible murderer.

“I’m just kidding,” Debra reassured them, flashing on her friendly smile again.

They finally arrived on the seventh floor. After opening the door, Angela and her two friends separated and took a little tour, trying to determine which room to claim as their territories. While that took place, Debra walked over to the window and stared out toward the street below. The apartment actually faced the back street. She was able to see Wallace hanging his clothes on the racks at this point. It made sense he was already done with the washing task after their laborious walk up the stairs.

“Hey, this place has a nice view all around,” Angela complimented as she walked back out to where Debra was standing. Then she realized that Debra was intently staring at something. She stepped closer to the window and spotted Wallace below as well. “Spying?”

Debra seemed startled out of her trance, her face reddening. “Oh, nothing.”

Angela finally understood. “No wonder you were arguing with him before.”

Debra cleared her throat quickly and looked elsewhere around the apartment, trying to recover from the awkward moment. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I just have to stop him from bullying the new neighbors.”

“And we’re glad,” Angela said, placing a hand on Debra’s shoulder.

Debra cleared her throat once more–as if there was something caught down there. She had leaned on the window frame somewhat and was trying to play cool. “Actually, Wallace’s not that bad. He just likes to tease others from time to time. He’s actually quite helpful around town, especially those who are new. That was how he ended up meeting two of his close friends two years ago. But too bad…”

Angela knew something was seriously wrong from Debra’s smile fading all of a sudden. “What happened?”

Then she remembered something. “Don’t tell me they’re the ones who got murdered those two times.”

Debra shook her head. “His two friends moved away briefly after the second murder took place because they couldn’t take the constant harassment from some of the nosy neighbors. The crazy murderer, I think her name was Claudia. She turned around and said that the three of them were actually murderers, not her. Luckily, the authorities didn’t believe her rants, because Nic, one of Wallace’s two friends, was actually the second girl’s boyfriend at that time. After the authorities cleared their status and announced that they were not linked to the murders, Nic and Tony moved away. Some of us tried to convince them to stay and wait for the rumors to die down, but they couldn’t take it, especially Nic who just lost his girlfriend. I heard he was going to ask her to marry him but he didn’t get to because…”

The room became an eerie silence after that. Will and Sandrine had returned in the middle of Debra’s storytelling but had remained quiet, not wanting to interrupt her. When Debra’s voice trailed, they didn’t need to ask or fill in the rest of the words for her. The story was too tragic. Yet none of the parties in the room realized the four surviving participants’ roles had been swapped during those two murders that had taken place two years ago. But the dark secret that still remained unraveled did not match Debra’s coming words. It was an attempt to dissolve the thickness of the atmosphere, but she didn’t realize how ironic it was to those who knew.

“Hey, guess what?” Debra asked suddenly in a cheerful voice again. “You guys are living one floor above Wallace’s apartment, great or what?”

© Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Posted: Sunday, October 21st, 2012