The Underbelly

· The Harbinger 1 ·

“Whisky, straight.”

Kai sat down on the torn, faux-leather stool and placed his elbows on the bar. He leaned forward and stared at the space between his hands, anxious about drawing attention. Twenty-six years on this earth, and he still hated people staring at his face. There were bruises lining his jaw and cheekbone—faded, but visible in the light. His fingers trembled every now and again as the adrenaline coursed through his veins, pulse drumming in his ears and ricocheting against the inside of his skull.

“That’ll be five,” the bartender, Earl, told him gruffly. His thick, stubby fingers slid the glass forward, the heavy base scraping against the oak stain wood. He’d been working at The Stoop for as long as Kai had lived in Black Hollow. Earl wasn’t a very tall man, with greying hair and a beard that looked like it could nest a family of small animals. The tattoos on his arm—covering almost every inch of skin—were washed out from years of sunlight.

Kai reached into his back pocket and dug around for the crumpled bills. He knew there had to at least be a ten in there.

“Thanks,” Earl grunted when Kai placed the money next to the glass. His bear-like paw dragged the bill off the counter, then clunked down several coins in change.

Sucking in a shaky breath, Kai threw back the whisky and winced as the alcohol burned down his throat. It tasted awful, but it took the edge off.

A slimy dive-bar nestled in the town’s underbelly, The Stoop wasn’t much of a hot spot for the local crowd, let alone a tourist attraction. It served as a safe-haven for its dodgy clientele, most of whom were trash rancid enough to scare off even the hungriest raccoon. Although The Stoop was dimly lit to hide the grime, Kai knew there were traces of cocaine and bodily fluids lurking in the darkest corners of the rickety basement. But the food, while not for the faint of heart, was cheap and served at all hours of the night. As long as Kai could keep it down, he really didn’t give a damn if the burgers were made of minced rat.

The bar was nearly empty, save for a few posturing morons on the opposite end. Monday nights weren’t for the cool kids, and that included Kai. His torn jeans and dirt-covered hoodie were enough to make people cross the street after dark. He kept his unevenly cut, dishevelled mess of black hair hidden under his hood, and the scabs, calluses, and several missing fingernails were mercifully obscured by his oversized sleeves.

He needed new clothes, but with half his savings blown on a shot of whisky, there wasn’t much hope for passing as an acceptable member of society. At least not the legal way. With nothing but a ten-dollar bill, he figured the best he could do was use it to wind down.

Some cocky punk with his pack of yipping fanboys sat across the bar. The cargo pants, heavy black boots, and perfectly styled combover were dead giveaways; he smelled like trust fund money and designer cologne but was acting tough, molesting the waitress and bullying his litter mates. After downing a bottle of vodka on a dare, he ran off to chase skirt in the bathroom. Clearly, the walking sack of shit didn’t have enough blood supply for both his dick and his brain to work at the same time. It would be an easy kill.

When Kai ambled into the restroom, his prey had the waitress backed up in the stall. She shoved him away with both hands and a few choice words, but he only laughed, stumbling to the side before reaching for her wrists.

Kai strolled up and tapped him on the shoulder. As the man whirled around, Kai grabbed him by the back of the neck and squeezed. The colour bled from his face, and Kai’s lips pulled back into a wicked grin.

“Hey there, asshole,” Kai greeted, then whipped his elbow straight across the man’s sweaty temple. After a satisfying crunch, his victim slid down against the bathroom stall like a pigeon turd, blood dribbling from his open mouth.

Raising a finger to his lips, Kai smirked at the woman as she back-peddled into the toilet, wide-eyed and breathless. He grabbed the drooling buffoon by the back of the shirt and dragged him into the open with one hand. Stripping him of his clothes—minus the piss-soaked underwear—he took every penny’s worth before turning back to the waitress. Kai could feel her pounding heart as if he were holding it in the palm of his hand, but he was too exhausted to reassure her.

“He was drunk and attacked you,” Kai dictated to her. “Then he passed out. Hit his head on the sink.” He looked up into her panic-stricken eyes—pupils dilated and darting across the graffitied walls. “You got away. Didn’t see what happened after that.”

She nodded slowly. “Thanks, I guess.”

He shrugged off her gratitude like a muddy coat. “Didn’t do it for you.”

Before he could see her face twist with disappointment, he slipped out the fire escape and disappeared without a trace.

No one ever came looking. No one ever gasped or pointed when they saw his face in town. He was a ghost, passing through the night and wreaking havoc where it suited his whims.

And that’s how he intended to keep it.

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