After my final training session where I literally left a hole in my gym’s wall, I knew that it was time to start my journey. It was time to travel to Phoenix Village where Coal Jenie was supposed to be. I now had four days left before Mr. Pappagul evicted me from my apartment room. I went back home and immediately fell asleep. I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. I truly slept like a baby.
When I woke up, I prepared my bag with whatever food and drinks I had from my small pantry and mini-fridge. By the time I was done packing, I had tons of water bottles and sugary drinks as well as easily transportable foods like granola bars and even ramen. I made sure to bring my tub of protein powder that I saved and have been using ever since my training began. It helps keep me full for long periods of time after ingesting it, so I thought this would help me ration my food effectively just in case it took a long time to find Coal Jenie. Besides food and drinks, I made sure to pack a hoodie and some sweat pants just in case it got too cold during the nights I would be sleeping or searching, and I also cracked open my piggy bank which, after counting, had approximately thirty dollars and sixty-four cents in it.
On this particular day, it was over one-hundred degrees celsius outside, so I decided what I was going to wear and ended up wearing a tan-colored tank-top, grey shorts, short socks, and running shoes which were all evidently appropriate for the weather. After throwing on the tank-top, I took a look at my mirror which was against my wall. I remembered how I looked just a month ago before my training began. I was a scrawny, miserable loser with no clear path or goals. I was exactly what Warren said I was. When I looked into the mirror now, I saw a muscular young man with confidence and determination on his face. I’ve regained all the muscle that I used to have, and I gained even more on top of that. The newly acquired muscles were on full display in the mirror as I stood there staring at it. I saw clear definition, mass, and toneness exerting from my newly acquired gains. Besides the tank-top, I put my hair up using strong gel and styled it to the side. It now looked almost like a spiked-up wave. This new hairstyle was a sign of how I’ve changed in the last month. I truly feel like a different person now. I stepped out of my apartment door carrying my bag and began my journey.
First, I called and got a taxi, telling the man to take me as close to Phoenix village as he can. The taxi driver was an Indian guy named Dhruv Kabal (he oddly had his name stickered on the outside of his taxi), and he told me that he could only take me as far as the Voiceless Forest which was an area in between Dividend City and Phoenix Village. I told him that was fine and asked how much it would cost for him to take me there.
Dhruv Kabal seemed to guess, “Well, I’d say that twenty-five dollars should be good.”
I didn’t really care about negotiating at this point since I already made up my mind on capturing Coal Jenie and collecting the immense money that the bounty held. There was no going back now, and I would never even think of going back anyways. I agreed to his request, and we were on our way. It took about an hour for Dhruv to drive me there, but once he did, I paid him his money, and he told me to call him if I needed a ride back. Dhruv and I knew we were at the right place since there was literally a sign outside of the forest stating, “Welcome to the Voiceless Forest.” Dhruv informed me on our way to the forest that Phoenix Village was about twenty miles straight from where he would drop me off. He mentioned that he knew this because he once made the walk long ago. He informed me that it was about a five-hour walk which was fine by me. After analyzing the sign a little longer, I continued my mission and began my way through the forest.
Upon entering it, I noticed how beautiful it was. There were trees, of course, everywhere with tons of flowers and grass as well. The forest definitely lived up to its name. It was completely silent. No footsteps, no rustling of any leaves or bushes, and scarily enough, you couldn’t even hear the wind. The sun was shining brightly and brutally on me, and I was sweating as a result. The only problem was that... I was sweating a lot. After about thirty minutes of walking forward, I began to realize how unbelievably boring this all was. I went from admiring the beauty around me to almost instantly wishing this walk could go faster, so I began running. I didn’t want to run so fast and long that I’d get tired just in case I somehow came across Coal Jenie, so I paced myself. I was trying my best to toss aside the thought or possibility of Coal Jenie not being in Phoenix Village so that I don’t fall into that “what-if” state and begin questioning myself. There was, of course, the possibility of someone having already caught him or killed him, but I didn’t want to think of that either since my life basically depended on that not being true. That’s how I viewed it at least.
Despite the boredom and immense heat, I got pretty far into the forest although I didn’t really know how long I had been walking and running since arriving. I never thought once to check the time on my phone before I began moving my way through the forest. I was too focused. That was fine though. I knew that I was moving in the right direction, and that’s all that really mattered. After some more time running and walking in intervals, someone unexpectedly yelled at me which actually scared me considering there were no animals or people anywhere since I began this expedition.
I looked around, but I couldn’t see anyone. I was pretty burned out from the non-stop running, walking, and insane heat, so I responded in a pretty dumb way.
The man answered immediately, almost cutting off my one-word response.
“Yes, you! Who the hell else would I be talking to, you idiot! We’re literally in the middle of nowhere in one of the quietest forests in the country!”
I continued looking around until I noticed that the man speaking to me was sitting on a branch high in one of the trees that were around us. I took my time responding to him since the heat was beginning to get to me. I sat down as I replied, trying to catch my breath.
“Damn, yeah. You're like the first thing I’ve heard in this forest, and I’ve been running for hours now.”
The mysterious man looked at me as if he was hoping I’d be able to help him. He was a white and tan-skinned middle-aged man who was wearing a brown, ragged, and somewhat torn up cloak covering his entire body from neck to knees allowing me to only see a part of his pants and boots. He had no facial hair, had some black generic boots on, and from what I can tell, he also wore some ragged brown joggers that matched his cloak. The man had dark brown eyes with pretty awesome-looking hair. His hair was clearly blond, but uniquely, it also had black streaks running in every direction. It was clear that he dyed his hair to meet this kind of style and probably worked hard to get the streaks lined up the way they were.
The cloaked man asked, “What’re you traveling in this forest for kid? Are you heading towards Phoenix Village or Sacramento Village? Or are you maybe here for something else?”
Still gasping for air, I responded, “Phoenix Village.”
He continued in a relieved manner, “Oh thank god! I got lost out here rather quickly and have been roaming around for hours. I’m also headed to Phoenix Village. My name is Jack Swivel. Could you help me out and point me in the right direction?”
I nodded and simply pointed in the direction that I’ve been running all this time which was also the direction my taxi driver told me to travel. The man jumped down from his tree branch which catapulted him right in front of me. He rapidly skidded on the grass, stopped his momentum, and smiled. He annoyingly began talking fast and asking questions.
“Perfect! I think it’d be better for us to travel together from here on out. Maybe it’ll be less boring this way. Oh, and also I wanted to ask. Why exactly are you headed for Phoenix Village? What are you going to that crap shack of a town for?”
I responded with the truth.
“I’m headed there in search of a man named Coal Jenie. I’m trying to capture him and bring him into either the Bounty Hunter Association or police to collect the money being offered.”
The man’s face changed slowly from a smile to a frown.
“Well, this has to be a joke or something. I’m kind of confused right now. So you’re a bounty hunter too? I’ve never seen a bounty hunter dress like you? I mean what the hell, you’re not even carrying tools or anything, and you're not even trying to hide your face or body.”
I responded curiously, “Bounty hunter? No, I’m not like an official bounty hunter or anything like that. I just saw on the news someone talking about this Coal Jenie guy, and so I decided I would go capture him and bring him back since I really need the money.”
He laughed a little and began shooing me away with his hands, “Listen kid. Turn back around and head back, okay?”
I wasn’t breathing heavily anymore. Jack took out a piece of paper from within his cloak and extended it towards me while pointing at it. The paper read, “Locked Bounty: Coal Jenie” with a face of a kid similar to my age on it. There was a stamp on it as well with the letters “BHA” in all caps. I assumed it stood for Bounty Hunter Association.
“See? The old man back at the association already assigned me the bounty, and this one’s locked meaning that no one else is allowed to hunt him. I saw the same thing on TV about three weeks ago and convinced the old guy to assign me the challenge. Listen, I’m not trying to be a jerk or anything, okay? It is the way of a bounty hunter to respect this stamp right here and screw off.”
He pointed at the stamp like I was supposed to know what it meant, but I didn’t. I needed this money, and I wasn’t about to back down from a dude telling me he had “certified dibs” or any crap like that.
I responded, “Bounty hunter? Old man? Sorry, but I don’t care about any of that crap. I’m here to take this guy down and collect the bounty. How about you screw off and take your ass back to that tree branch up there.”
The man frowned at me angrily. He folded the paper and put it back into his pocket which slightly revealed a belt that he was wearing. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think… he had a wooden spoon on it? Yeah, like one of those that you cook with. What the hell?
The man annoyingly stated, “Damn it this always happens to me. Okay, kid, here’s the deal. I’m going to count to five since you seem like a nice guy and all, but if you’re not gone by then I’m going to kill you, okay?”
I was shocked. Kill me? Is that even legal? He began to count immediately as if he needed this over with as soon as possible.
“Five… four… three.”
I was just standing there. He was about fifteen feet from me. Kill me? How? He put his hand up and was now counting with his fingers, putting a finger down one by one until there were no more left. I think he’s full of it.
“Two… one… zero.”
With no hesitation, he shifted his ragged cloak to his left side revealing what was under. He then grabbed the wooden spoon that I saw earlier out of his belt and hurled it at me swiftly. I tried to dodge quickly, but I couldn’t completely avoid it. It was so fast that it ended up reaching me and slicing my shoulder, sending blood scattering from my new wound. Yes, you heard that right. A rounded wooden spoon just cut me.
The man now grabbed the cloak that he had at his side and aggressively threw it at a tree on his left which ended up perfectly landing on a branch where it now hung. After ridding himself of the ragged cloak, everything under was now revealed to the naked eye. The man had not just one belt around his waist, but he even had one on his right arm. The two belts were carrying countless kitchen instruments, tools, and utensils from wooden spoons (which he just used) all the way to spatulas of every size. He had spoons, forks, butter knives, whisks, and even ladles. Besides these tools that he was carrying on his two belts, he had one “weapon” that stuck out the most from the belt; a silver pan. As soon as his cloak came off and he began moving faster all the instruments began dangling and clanging from his belts which yielded slight noise. On top of the brown joggers that he was wearing, he had a plain long-sleeved black shirt with tons of rips and holes within it revealing some skin under. His body was relatively well-built. By no means was he a skinny man, but he was no body-builder either. I could tell from his physique that I was way stronger than him, and it probably showed.
I looked at my cut which thankfully put me at ease because it wasn’t that deep and then at the wooden spoon which was now behind me. How the hell did it cut me? It’s literally a rounded wooden spoon with no crevices or sharp edges. I looked at the man who was now staring at me calmly, perhaps waiting for me to make a move.
“How the hell did that spoon cut me? There aren’t even any sharp edges.”
The man smirked. He slowly grabbed another wooden spoon from the belt on his right arm with his left hand and gripped it intensely. For a moment a brief pulse seemed to resonate from the wooden spoon. I knew right away. This was no regular wooden spoon anymore.
The man responded, “Bounty hunters don’t often just come right out and tell someone what their ability does, but I’m not really worried about losing to you so I guess I’ll tell you. Sharpness. That’s what I gain.”
Gain? What’s he talking about? Can he sharpen anything? Is that what he’s saying? That it’s like an ability or something?
I began to mock him.
“That’s what you ‘gained’? Gained from what? Are you mental or something?”
The man looked at me in pure astonishment and began laughing like a psychopath as if what I just told him came out of the mouth of a comedian. I simply stared at him confused for about a minute while he laughed frantically.
The man said, “This is actually hilarious! You’ve never killed someone! You have no idea what I’m talking about!”
He continued his laughter as I responded.
“Okay, I don’t like when people laugh at me. You remind me of a crazy version of a guy named Warren that I used to know. Instead of laughing like an idiot, why don’t you explain to me what you're talking about.”
The man covered in kitchen instruments responded, “Explain to you? Explain to you how this world works? I mean seriously; are you on the young side or something?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but he continued.
“I mean seriously… I’ve never met a bounty hunter who’s never killed. Listen kid. In this world, when you kill someone, you gain. How do you think the Numbers have their abilities? Once you kill someone in this world, you gain an ability, and every subsequent kill grants strength to that ability. That’s how most people become stronger. Take me for instance. I killed for the first time when I was only twelve years old, and the person I killed was a burglar who tried to rob our house. I killed her in a kitchen with a gun that my father always had hidden in a cabinet. Once I killed her, I gained the ability to sharpen anything that I want whenever I want simply from touching something. So you see, that wooden spoon that I threw didn’t have to look sharp. It just had to be sharp. And that’s what I do.”
I looked back at the wooden spoon again to make sure that it was indeed round and not sharp to the naked eye, and this was definitely the case upon me verifying. I couldn’t believe what this guy was telling me. I mean, so does that mean only murderers can gain abilities in this world? Could that be the real reason why murder is condemned in our world? No, of course not, this is ridiculous. I’m still not buying the idea of this guy having such an ability as well. I decided to assume he did and played along.
“What’s the point of carrying around things like that and having an ability like that when you can just carry things that are naturally already sharp like knives?”
The man smiled as if he was waiting his entire life for someone to ask that question.
“Where’s the element of surprise in something like that? If I revealed belts filled with knives and began throwing them at you, you’d know that they’re sharp and henceforth you’d try your best to dodge them, but if they were regular items you can find in a house or kitchen…”
I was beginning to understand.
“You see, you for some reason decided to dodge my wooden spoon, but that was probably because I scared you by moving too fast. Most strong people would definitely try to dodge things like knives, but wooden spoons or kitchen equipment? I don’t think so. The Bounty Hunter Association gave me the nickname ‘The Chef’ for a reason you know.”
The man was still holding his rounded wooden spoon when he winded back his arm and launched at the branch holding his cloak. The branch was cut in half perfectly.
“So, now that you understand, I’ll give you one last chance to back off or I’ll become serious about wanting to kill you. You don’t have an ability, so it’d be easy work for me. Run that through your head before making your next decision.”
I stared at him for a couple of seconds before turning around and beginning to walk.