It’s been eight years since the lives of my family members were taken by a number, and now it’s been only one month since Spade’s life was taken by a number.
I’ve remained hidden since Spade’s death. I've kept myself away from all forms of modern life even making sure to travel by foot to avoid being found by bounty hunters or police. Ever since Spade’s body was found, the bounty on me has tripled. Of course, they think I did it. Of course, they think I killed him the same way they thought I killed my family when I was only a boy. Of course, I let another number get away. But no more. No more fear and no more running away. From now on, I’m running to them.
I've resided in a forest numerous miles away from Phoenix Village for a while now. Weeks ago, as I began to see more people stroll through the forest, I destroyed the phone that I previously held to make sure bounty hunters don't find me.
Every day, it’s always the same. I wake up and go through the same old routine, lacing up my shoes and strapping up countless weapons around my body. After tying up my weapons, I always throw on a cloak to conceal them, similar to the way of the bounty hunters. I tightened my dark orange gloves onto my hands, making sure to wipe off any debris from the white-colored engraving “LOST” which resided only on the dorsal side of my right glove. The gloves were the only things that I wore that weren't black. I always had to wear them, and every time I did, I always made sure to focus on the engraving. It helps me remember my purpose.
Today, after getting ready the same way, I kicked some dirt onto the campfire beside my sleeping bag, extinguishing it. Afterward, I rolled up my sleeping bag, hid it behind the same old tree and leaves, and began walking towards the same old river.
Splashing water on my face and drinking water out of my hands, I reflected on what happened to Spade. The blood, the fear, and the number lusting over his death. It simply made no sense. Instead of having nightmares about the literal devil that we killed, I instead had nightmares about the number. Perhaps the numbers were worse than devils. These nightmares tormented me every night as I hid out here in this silent forest. I simply couldn't forget what they did to Spade or my family. They're all the same. True monsters.
I feebly let my wet hands fall to my side as I stared at the blue sky. Ice-cold water droplets gently trickled down my face. I’ve been out here for too long. I decided that I needed to leave and continue my purpose. I need to find the numbers, and once I do, I need to make them pay.
I dried my hands off and fastened the sleeping bag behind my body. I began walking carefully through the grass and trees. I walked for miles, deeper and deeper through the forest and away from my campfire. After about three hours of walking, the first interesting thing I encountered was an odd field with cuts on many trees. There was so much damage in the area that it looked like a mini battlefield. Of those pierced trees, I noticed one tree had a peculiarly curious injury as I approached it. As soon as I was in front of it, I began to both observe and analyze it. The center of the tree was ruptured in the shape of a dome, and an extremely deep cut was carved into that dome. Oddly, there was what appeared to be a random cooking pan resting below it. Weird. I ignored it and continued walking.
Mile after mile, tree after tree, and hour after hour, as I walked through the forest I began to see signs of civilization. A paved dirt road, a broken basket of wrinkled and rotten apples against a huge stone, and sounds of cars zooming. I was getting closer to people.
I followed the dirt road, and walking a few more miles forward, I finally found a village. About twenty feet from the open village gate, I walked past a sign reading “Sacramento Village”. After observing the sign for a couple of seconds, I walked through the gate. I immediately covered my mouth and nose with a black scarf.
As I strolled along, I noticed that the village was bustling with people. People were eating various foods from cheeseburgers to rice balls, and kids were skateboarding past me holding balloons and phones in their hands. The village had houses and restaurants made of bricks with tile roofs, and the floor of the village was composed entirely of precisely stone-cut squares. There were even statues of figures I couldn't recognize as well as water fountains scattered everywhere. These people and this village were so different compared to Phoenix’s. I felt like I didn’t belong here.
I walked forward and asked the first man I saw, “Hi, I don’t mean to bother you or anything, but I’m a bounty hunter and am new to this village. I was just wondering where the bounties are posted?”
The man who I was questioning wore fairly modern clothing. He wore a bright red graphic-designed shirt paired alongside what appeared to be high-quality grey shorts. The man looked at me with curious eyes as if he saw through my deception of being a real bounty hunter. He just pointed northwards from where we stood and rambled.
“Village hall. That way. Oh, and just so you know… bounty hunters aren't supposed to tell people that they’re bounty hunters… idiot.”
I thanked him quickly and kept moving. I kept my head down as I proceeded past families of people and countless friendly pets until I reached what was obviously the village hall. It was an incredibly large stone building as it seemed to hold at least five floors. Barely anyone was around outside, so I entered the building. Luckily, there was no one inside either except a lady behind a desk. There were countless bounties plastered on papers against the wall behind her. She was sitting in a desktop chair and looked right at me as I entered. The lady was old, very thin, and tall. She wore red lipstick and an obvious blonde wig. She was clearly no bounty hunter.
I slowly approached her desk and asked precisely through my scarf, “Might there be a bounty for a man named Coal around here?”
She replied humbly, “Oh! You must want the bounty for Coal Jenie! He’s a popular one! I’m sorry to break it to you sir, but we already have two bounty hunters on that one and can’t assign anymore.”
Ugh. Two bounty hunters looking for me, huh? Usually, they only ever assign one at a time.
I responded, “What about a number? Might there be any bounties for numbers around here?”
She smiled at me curiously.
“You must be a strong one! I’ve only ever had one person request for a number’s bounty, and that was just yesterday! She was a woman too! Here you go. It’s all yours!”
Yesterday? Plus, a female hunter was given the job? Interesting. The old woman handed me the bounty.
“So, it says here that this is Number Twenty-Nine?”
The man in the picture had a comb-over haircut with what appeared to be a suit and tie. He was smiling in the visual playfully.
She nodded her head at me and replied, “The first number to ever be photographed. He showed himself at the association’s headquarters about six months ago.”
A number showing themselves freely? A number walking openly into the bounty hunter association?
“What else do you know about this number miss? Why would a number openly walk into a room full of bounty hunters?”
She brought a finger to her chin as if she was thinking about the reason. The nail on her finger was colored and painted red.
She described, “Apparently, that man entered the association with another fellow for some sort of weapon. He ended up getting it too. No casualties.”
I looked her straight in the eye.
“A weapon? What weapon? Your telling me a number risked his life for a weapon?”
She searched for and pulled up a paper from her desk. Quietly, she looked at it for a few seconds and looked back up at me.
“Report says it was a weapon called a ‘sickle’ that a previous bounty hunter once used. Apparently, the bounty hunter was a legendary one that's now praised by many other hunters. That’s all I can tell ya.”
My eyes met hers. I struggled to stay calm. I stood there looking into her eyes for a solid minute, speechless and completely ignoring the words she spoke as I was focusing.
“Sir… sir? Is… everything okay?”
A sickle. Only one bounty hunter I’ve ever known in my life used a weapon like that. I slammed my knuckle and pounded my hand onto the desk. The lady jumped out of her chair.
“Where! Where can I find this number?”
I was beginning to lose myself. She began to look scared as I awaited a reply but didn’t receive one. What am I doing? Of course, a number wouldn’t hide in open sight. The lady softly spoke.
“I don’t have that kind of information honey. We assign bounties here. We don’t know where the ones we hunt actually are… otherwise we wouldn’t be handing out chances for people to earn money. However, the bounty hunter association might possibly help you if you go to them directly. They're known for giving out details on bounties and prey.”
Quickly and without speaking another word, I turned around and rapidly walked out of the building. As soon as I was out, I knelt down by the side of the door recollecting myself. My mind was psychotically filling with thoughts on the different ways I could kill the number. A few minutes passed as I calmed myself down. I walked straight through crowds of people and straight through the village gate, exiting this oddly modern town.
Minutes later, I reached a road. I knelt down once more and began thinking. What should I do? Should I go to the association? I guess I have no choice. I need more information. Number Twenty-Nine is supposed to be one of the weaker ones. He'll be a good start to my vengeance.
I stood still at the open road waving my arms for hours hoping a car would stop. Eventually, one did. It was an emerald green pickup truck with a bunch of damage on the right side of the bumper. The man waved his hands toward himself signaling me to hop in the passenger seat of the car. Once I did, I closed the door, and we briefly talked.
The car’s owner asked, “Hello stranger. I’m heading to the city. Need a ride?”
I replied promptly, “Yes, I do.”
“Well, it won’t be free. I don’t know if I can trust a masked stranger like you, but I know I can trust money! I can take you there for fifty dollars kid!”
The man smiled in greed knowing that I wouldn’t like the answer.
I accepted his demand and handed over the money. He quickly counted it, stashed it away, and began to drive.
I took a small nap in his car as we drove. Hours passed, and he eventually dropped me off at a random gas station in the middle of the city. It’s been dark outside for quite some time now, but despite the darkness, there was no time to waste. I still want my answers. I walked inside the station which was still open, bought a water bottle, and I asked a worker inside for the location of The Bounty Hunter Association. He directed me, and I began to walk.
The night was quiet and the streets were empty. A few people would walk by from time to time, but for the most part, I was alone. After about an hour of more walking, I discovered the city’s center. The center was composed of a giant circle that was illuminated by many street lamps. Restaurants and buildings were also lit up at this time, and countless people were walking around on their phones. Most of the people were wearing hoodies covering their faces as they went about their business, but one specific thing I couldn’t help but notice as I turned my head to my left was the giant sharp television screen on one of the skyscrapers spouting out random bounties.
"Five-hundred thousand dollars for anyone who can catch Jay Sentelo..."
I ignored the screen and kept walking. Walking a few miles further and glancing to my right, I encountered a gym packed with workout machines and dumbbells. It was an odd place. There was a… hole in the gym wall? Yea, it was a hole big enough for someone to walk through. It was plastered with tape stating “KEEP AWAY” and “CAUTION”. Interesting.
Eventually, after about another hour of strolling past restaurants, skyscrapers, and suspicious people. I finally got there. It was impossible to miss. The building was unbelievable. It was so big that it had its own quadrant of the city. There were cameras all over the top of the entrance, but there was no one guarding the door. Walking up the steps of the building, I neared the front entrance and passed a woman and man walking down the steps. They were walking together and were dressed in cloaks. They obviously had weapons hidden under their cloaks from the way they walked. I opened the entrance door and instantly thought of turning back. There were countless people and bounty hunters sitting and standing around pointing and snatching papers off the walls with one long desk accompanied by an old man all the way in the back. I stood still seriously thinking about turning back but decided not to. No more running away. I want to know this number’s location. No, I need to know where the number is located.
I let the door close itself and walked forward past more people. Men, women, children, and police. I passed all sorts of people. Once I got to the desk, I waited my turn behind a man in front of the desk with his back to me. He was talking to the old man casually and was an obvious but unusually looking bounty hunter. The man wore a neon green cloak and had the weirdest haircut I’ve ever seen. His hair was cone-shaped, long, and green, and instead of blades or guns, the man simply held a strapped tiny toy hammer on his back. Weird.
After a few seconds of waiting, the man with the tiny hammer concluded his conversation and walked away. I made sure to keep the cloth on my face tight as I approached the old man. He began speaking in a raspy voice.
“Hello sir! What can I do for ya? Looking for a specific bounty?”
I tried my best to keep my scarf up with one hand as I answered.
“I’m looking to accept the bounty that’s on Number Twenty-Nine. I just had some questions about it that I was hoping you could answer for me.”
The man smiled and responded.
“Finally! Someone with some balls! Yea, kid I can give you some inf-”
The man stopped talking and smiling instantly. He looked at me as if he was looking into my soul.
“Wait… you… you…”
The man was observing me with widened and serious eyes.
“You’re no bounty hunter!”
My heart froze and the man, without warning, flipped a switch that was on his desk sending the entire building into a frenzy. A siren went off in the room startling me, and I turned around frantically. The siren was as loud as a rocket launch. The door behind me closed forcefully, and every bounty hunter and police officer in the room immediately pulled their weapons and pointed them at me. All I thought was one thing.
Damn. I’m screwed.