The night of the festival finally arrived. Cyndi and Claudia went ahead with attending the event anyway–despite feeling unease about what might take place tonight. They arrived to find Wallace, Tony, and Nic already there. Wallace was almost playing host where Tony and Nic were concerned. Cyndi and Claudia pretended like nothing had happened and tried to act normal. It was hard, but they had to remain calm.

“Hey,” Wallace greeted them with his usual friendly smile. “You girls made it.”

Cyndi and Claudia nodded out of politeness. It was hard to believe Wallace could be so relaxed and friendly yet what Cyndi overheard the other day was a totally different story. In fact, his voice sounded so much like how it was in her dreams when he had yelled at Tony and Nic. That made Cyndi shiver yet she faked coldness instead of letting it known that she was just disturbed by his contradicting behaviors.

“So the secret’s revealed, huh?” Wallace continued, his smile widening.

“What secret?” Claudia asked, alarmed.

Wallace’s eyebrows came together briefly. “Your costumes, remember?”

Claudia let out a nervous laugh. “Oh, of course.” She tried to recover her awkward move by doing a twirl in front of them. “So, how do you guys like it?”

Wallace maintained his smile. “Nice.”

“Enough for the festival,” Nic commented, trying to keep it brief.

Tony only nodded.

“If you girls don’t mind, I’m going to take them around and introduce them to some people,” Wallace interrupted the bland conversation.

Cyndi shrugged. “Sure.”

Claudia gave him a smile. “Go ahead. We’ll be walking around and socializing with some friends too.”

Wallace winked. “Sounds good. See you girls later?”

After that, the guys disappeared into the crowd. Cyndi and Claudia let out a heavy sigh before walking in the opposite direction.

“If this keeps up, I’m going to die of suspense,” Claudia admitted.

“Don’t say that,” Cyndi chided Claudia.

“You’re going to be superstitious now?”

Cyndi shrugged, not feeling like arguing with Claudia tonight.

Claudia’s eyes sparkled around then as she turned to look at Cyndi again. “Hey, you know what?”

“What?”

“How about we try to find that girl you saw two days ago?”

Cyndi finally smiled. “That’s right. She could be here.”

“You go left, I’ll take right. Then we’ll meet here again to share notes?”

“Or she didn’t show up.”

“It’s worth a try.”

Cyndi nodded, trying to stay positive.

“Give me your camera then. I only saw your sketch, so I might not be able to identify her. I’ll snap pictures of the ones who resemble her.”

Cyndi didn’t object to that so she unfastened the camera case straps and handed it to Claudia. “Be careful with it.”

Claudia smiled and nodded. “I know.”

It took Cyndi twenty minutes to cover her side of the perimeter. She went slowly on purpose because of the number of people in the room. Just when she was about to join Claudia at the opposite corner of the spacious room, she spotted Wallace exiting one of the side entrances. No signs of Tony or Nic. They must have separated earlier and left one by one to reduce suspicion. She took a quick glance within the crowd to locate Claudia. Another glance toward Wallace’s direction and she was after him. Taking off her high heels, she swapped it with flat shoes she had carried in her little purse–just in case. But that didn’t mean she was going to dispose of her heels. She might need it later when she returned. And looking suspicious was the last thing on her list. Focusing on her target, Wallace soon turned at the corner and actually made his way toward a path that would eventually go toward the administrative area of the city hall. Cyndi tried to stay out of sight–and it wasn’t impossible because the night was so dark at that moment. They were farther and farther away from the ballroom’s light so it had somewhat become an advantage for Cyndi. The moon was their only source of light at the moment.

They walked about ten minutes more before Wallace turned toward a side street. It was farther away from one of those side streets that Cyndi saw the guys met up two days ago. She remained patient, cautious even, trying to look out for Tony or Nic. Wallace seemed to know the place like the back of his hand. Another five minutes and they reached a house. Wallace entered and closed the door. Cyndi listened for sounds coming from the inside, not wanting to miss anything. She realized Tony and Nic were already there. That meant she could roam around without being caught? But she knew better than to celebrate too early. She edged around to find a window or some sort of opening so she could see inside.

“It’s all here,” Wallace’s voice spoke up at that time when Cyndi stationed herself by a side door.

Cyndi could hear some scrapping sounds, like some box being pushed across the room against wood.

“Ours is in there,” Nic returned.

“Count it and decide,” Tony said.

By then, Cyndi heard some clinging sounds mixed in with clicking sounds. It was like they were testing some items. She risked a look inside and saw both parties hunched over some boxes. Wallace was at one corner of the room while Tony and Nic were at another. Was this some sort of transaction where they needed to make sure no one was ripping the other off? But if it was some sort of business, then why the suspicious behaviors?

“It’s all here,” Wallace said a minute later.

“Same here,” Nic confirmed after some more clinging sounds.

“After tonight, we won’t see each other anymore. And I intend to keep my identity a secret.”

Tony nodded. “You have our words.”

“Good.”

After that, Wallace reached into the box set next to him and tried to move some items around. Cyndi finally saw the gold bars inside as he tried to rearrange them so it would fit the box. It wasn’t a big surprise that gold was a universal currency. But she gasped as soon as her eyes laid on the pieces in the box Tony and Nic were closing at the moment. Forgetting to cover her mouth was her mistake. They had heard her and was coming her way. She made a run for it as they abandoned their goods temporarily.

“Stop!” Wallace yelled out, his footsteps coming closer.

Cyndi had to be crazy to listen to him. She ran past the front door and down the wooden steps, not even looking back at all. She only risked a glimpse back when she turned left to find her way back toward the city hall. She had to notify someone. City patrol was only focusing on the area surrounding it, not this far out.

“You’re not going to get away with it!” Tony’s threat followed as the dark clouds above blocked their last source of light.

Even so, Cyndi didn’t dare to stop. She couldn’t. It was too much of a risk. The least she could do was try to conjure up the roadmap in her head. She knew she had to turn somewhere along the way to get back to the ballroom–if only the moon would escape from those patches of clouds soon. That also meant the others would have an edge on her. Yet she didn’t care. When she reached the city hall, city patrol would take care of everything. As she could sense the turn coming up, her mind jumbled up, and she realized the first dream was becoming a reality if she didn’t take caution. Which direction was it?

“You can’t get away!” Wallace’s voice traveled to her at that time.

Were they trying to taunt her into speaking up hence knowing her location? She didn’t care to stop and find out at the moment. It was too much of a risk. She turned right and increased her pace even more. Yet the moon just had to reappear at the moment, revealing her hiding place to them. And she risked a glance behind her, seeing the guys not far from her. They were closing in. That was it. She didn’t have time to think. She dodged into a side street before realizing she had made the wrong turn previously. Yes, in her panicked state, she had made the wrong turn. It was supposed to be a left turn instead of right, and the turn she made was exactly the place where she saw in her dream. The run from somewhere toward that direction. If only she’d took more time to study that side to find out the original run instead of only looking at the possible ending. The only way to patch up things now was to try to outwit them by using different routes that she had explored previously. And she made a decision just then, tossing her high heels toward another side street, wanting to deceive them of her possible route. Then her purse after retrieving her cell phone from it. She could call someone up after misleading them to some unknown route.

“Going somewhere?” Tony asked her when she reached the place where it would turn into a dead end.

Shocked was all she was at the moment. Although she hadn’t come from the center path yet it was just another route toward that dead end. It was the one on the right if she had run from the center path, but the left if she had her back on the dead end. How could they have known she was taking that path?

“Time’s up,” Wallace’s voice echoed from behind her.

Cyndi whirled around to find Wallace’s intimidating presence staring at her with dark cold eyes. It was a scene she had witnessed too many times in the past days, weeks, haunting her to the point of insanity. Yet she couldn’t believe it was really happening. How could her life end like that? How could it? She didn’t have the answer to any of that but she knew she wasn’t going down without a fight. She turned to face Tony again, seeing he was still there–not edging closer to conceal her last exit, which was the path in the center. With some traces of hope in her, she lunged at the chance. And because she’d taken too much time to think of her possible fate, Nic had caught up to them and closed the gap, succeeding in blocking her final chance.

“Game’s over,” Nic delivered, a line too familiar to Cyndi’s ears.

“You should’ve minded your own business,” Wallace said from behind Cyndi.

Cyndi took a step back and was inching closer to the dead end. If she edged anymore, she would be up against the wall.

“I didn’t see anything,” Cyndi attempted, keeping her voice leveled.

“Then why did you run?” Wallace interrogated her.

“I thought you were pulling some pranks during the festival and I didn’t want to spoil your fun.”

“Sure,” Tony said, unconvinced.

“As the people on my planet say,” Nic interfered. “Curiosity kills the cat.”

And Cyndi knew that was the last of the statements because the guys finally moved in. But it didn’t take all three to finish her up. Wallace snatched her cell phone and smashed it into millions of pieces right in front of her. Using her utmost strength–which wasn’t much after those haunted nightmares, she lurched forward and fought for her life. Her struggles ended ten seconds later because Wallace had yanked the little knife in her hand free from her grasp. (The knife had been hidden in her gown as part of the costume yet had proved useful for self-defense in the past.) And Nic had used his own knife to make the final move. The world spun madly as Nic let go of her and allowed her to flow to the ground. The last she saw was the patches of dark cloud ready to conceal the moon once again. The last she heard was her own scream as a final desperate outcry for help, not the dramatic mechanical laugh like in her dream. And the last she felt was the icy cold pavement with the sticky liquid oozing out of her while she clenched onto her stomach.

*****

It took twenty minutes for anyone to take notice of the incident that just occurred. Claudia collapsed to the ground as soon as she saw Cyndi sprawled on the floor with her face half visible. Sobs escaped her as she crawled forward and cradled Cyndi’s body. City patrol arrived around that time and tried to pull Claudia out, not wanting to damage the evidence and much more. The hysterical Claudia refused to cooperate–and was held back by a few of the townspeople while city patrols did their job. Still out of control, Claudia continued to sob and shook her head furiously, her denial mode in place. Yet she was soon forced into alertness as she came to realize the dream had unfolded itself. And there was nothing they could do to stop it. Chills running down her back, she scanned the area, looking for the three men that had been responsible from Cyndi’s recounts. They were nowhere to be seen. And it seemed like no one had cared enough to notice that little detail either. But where had those three disappeared to? What had Cyndi discovered that had cost her life? The answer only remained in the midst of the night and its four participants. One gone, and three missing.

© Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Posted: Monday, June 11th, 2012

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