Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Runner

Ray Baker lived on the top floor of an immense structure, hundreds of stories high. Outwardly, the building had the appearance of a typical skyscraper, with the exception of the ring-like structure that crowned its rooftop. Baker lived in this halo like penthouse. He was not made of money, but through luck had won the lottery several years earlier. Though it was a large amount, Baker had squandered the majority of it through poor investments, frivolities, and the home in which he now lived.

The halo was equipped with a balcony that jutted out several meters, and had no obvious support besides being attached to the greater structure. Baker stood there now, pacing, holding a slim rectangular device to his ear. The balcony appeared to be open to the elements, but in reality there were invisible mechanisms shielding the space from the ruthless winds present at that height.

"No, I swear, I'll have the money by Saturday," stammered Baker. He continued to pace.

The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a local mob boss, James Snyder. Snyder was notorious in the area for providing massive loans to people in need, only to charge an interest rate that most could not pay.

"Listen," said Snyder, "I gave you all the chances you're ever going to get in this world. You've had enough time to get the money together. The only thing of worth that you have left to give to your life." He hung up.

Baker dropped his phone. The glass screen of the black slate shattered into pieces, fragments scattering throughout the floor of the balcony.

"," said Baker, frantically. He scurried to the sliding glass door separating the balcony from the interior of the halo. Opening it by grabbing the handle and harshly pushing it to the left, he stepped indoors.

He still was not sure what Snyder had meant when he said that his life was all that he had left of worth. Why not take the penthouse suite, or one of the hundred other frivolous items Baker had collected using his lottery money?

He didn't have much time to think about it. A sharp pinging noise echoed throughout the halo, the noise reverberating throughout the circular structure. That noise only sounded when someone entered the home through its front door. Baker's heart rate went from faster than normal to dangerously quick in a split second.

"A-a-activate se-security measures!" Baker couldn't speak clearly, his nerves clearly getting the better of him. To his dismay, the halo's newly designed computer assistant failed to respond to his command. He tried several more times to no avail.

Seeing that whoever had intruded into his building had tampered with its security, Baker ran desperately to his bedroom, racing through the large curved hallway that connected the outer edges of his home. When he finally reached the door, he frantically entered the security code to his room, a precaution he had taken previously due to reports of increased crime in his area

He rushed through the opening, shutting the door behind him and engaging not only the key pad lock, but also an archaic steel bolt he had installed out of mixed sense of caution and obsession with his own safety.

He looked at the lock, testing its strength. Satisfied, he staggered backwards awkwardly. He was dazed, and was not in what most would say was a good state of mind.

The halo that he lived in was a massive structure, especially considering it only held one occupant. At nearly six thousand square feet, Baker could often go a month without having to access a particular portion of his home. He knew then that whoever had come to kill him would have plenty of space to search before they came across his bedroom, which was about as far from the entrance of the halo as you could get.

Just then, Baker remembered some key information. He had always stored a weapon in a drawer he kept beneath his bed, a weapon he had acquired during the aforementioned spike in crime.

He equipped it. The weapon itself was of a new design; it did not require ammo and used a form of sophisticated nano technology to clean and maintain itself. Outwardly it looked like a standard nine millimeter pistol from the twentieth century, except for a green indicator light placed right above its handle.

Green meant it was ready to fire, while red meant it was charging up another shot. Blue meant there was a problem with one of its internal mechanisms, but that rarely happened with an expensive model such as this.

Just then, he heard a knock on his door. Each knock shocked Baker. Another knock, and another, and another.

A deep voice sounded out, "Hey Ray, are you in there? Come out, we need to talk with you."

The voice was muffled and mostly unrecognizable due to the sound canceling material that Baker's bedroom door was made from. He didn't hesitate. He fired his weapon, discharging four superheated magnetic rounds. The rounds glowed red, easily boring through his door and into the man who stood behind it. Baker heard the body fall to the floor.

Relieved, he rushed to the door, disengaged both locks and opened it. Before he could examine the face-down body of his assailant, he heard the thud of more footsteps coming from down the curved hallway on his right. The steps sounded agitated; they were obviously attracted to the sound of gunfire.

Baker turned left, back towards the balcony where he had first heard Snyder threaten his life. He slid the glass door open, retreating to the far end, with only a four foot high railing separating him from a two thousand foot drop to the street below.

He frantically grabbed a chair placed on the balcony and crouched behind it, taking as much cover as he could while simultaneously taking aim at the sliding glass door with his firearm.

Baker could see shadowy figures approaching the doorway. He fired a few warning shots, shattering the glass. He heard screams, and celebrated his success in fending off the invaders. He fired off a few more rounds, when the unthinkable happened. The gun locked up. Baker looked down at the gleaming firearm, still hot to the touch. The indicator light flashed blue.

He couldn't believe it. His life flashed before his eyes. The man who had squandered away his life was about to be killed by some mob goons, all because a gun that was supposed to always work had failed him.

Baker's expression turned crazed. He no longer had anything to live for. He desperately placed the gun to his head and pressed the trigger multiple times. Nothing happened. He looked left, right, up, down, forward, and backward, looking more like an animal than a man. Finally it clicked in his mind. He could jump.

Turning around, he climbed upon the balcony's railings. The invisible bubble that surrounded this opening may have protected it from wind, but it could do nothing to prevent someone from jumping off. Perhaps its creators assumed nobody living in such conditions would have considered that course of action.

He smiled in a twisted manner while perched upon the railings, teetering upon the edge of life and death. He could see that the shadowy figures had recovered, and were approaching the balcony opening more more.

"You will NEVER have me," he shouted, spittle emanating from his mouth as he spoke. Then, from his crouched position, he lept from the railing, gun still in his right hand.

The shadowy figures that Baker had been running from cautiously made their way onto the balcony, being careful to avoid all of the shattered glass.

The tallest figure spoke. "Ray....Ray...why?!" She began to cry.

One of the smaller figures to her right spoke.

"Mommy, where did Daddy go?" The youth looked up at his mother, genuine curiosity flashing in his eyes, forgetting in that moment the fear caused by the sound of gunfire. She could only glance at him tearfully, unable to meet his gaze. Dropping to her knees, not caring about the glass scattered across the floor, she began to sob.

Baker, it seems, had grossly misinterpreted the situation. The people that had entered the halo had not come to kill him, indeed, they had come to visit him as they did every year on his birthday. This year they had come a day early, worried about Baker's mental health.

Despite being divorced for years, Baker's ex-wife still cared enough to make sure that her husband, who had always tried so hard despite his inefficiencies, was able to see his two children from time to time. She knew her current husband disliked Baker, thinking he was a man teetering on the edge of sanity, but she had always been one to empathize with people in poor situations, even if they had hurt her personally.

Now, though she did not yet know, both her former and current husbands were dead. One lay motionless in a crumpled bloody heap down the hall behind her, while the other had fallen to his death thousands of feet below.

Baker met the ground below with such force that the noise it caused could be heard from a significant radius. Some bystanders screamed in terror, while more curious types ran up to get a closer look at the corpse. Soon, medical responders had arrived, carrying the body away. Everyone pondered what had caused this man to end it all in such a fashion.

Thousands of feet above, the wife continued to languish in her sorrow, her children not sure how to respond.

Just then, the pinging noise sounded out once more throughout the halo. The wife knew she was the only other person Baker had given access to the penthouse. Could it be the police? Or someone else?

One can never be too sure.

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About The Author

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Nicholas Garcia (M.A.) is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis. He is also a Co-Founder of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Previously, he contributed to and the Davis Humanities Institute.