He ran. The sickening smog drenched back alleys of the city that people conveniently forgot was the perfect place for him to run — or be chased, depending on how you want to look at it. The end was looming over him with an iron clad certainty. Even the alleys seemed to reconfigure themselves; as he entered one he was sure to lead him out of this maze he hit a dead end. He cursed and turned around, and froze. The knife in his hand arose out of habit, stained black with blood from all the killing over the year.
A large shadow spread over the ground, darting out toward him. It was the shaped like a man.
“It’s over 16. You’re done,” the shadow spoke, the words reverberating around him, the very bricks in the wall nodding along with it.
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said 16, snarling, looking more and more like a ferocious beast locked up in a cage, ready to spring.
Footsteps approached him, the shadow grew larger, but his pursuer was yet to appear in his line of sight.
“The time for the handover has begun. Do not resist. You only make it harder on yourself.”
“Resist?” snarled 16. “I’m not resisting. I’m rebelling. Opposing. Defecting. Defying. I defecate on your rules and spit on them, leaving them out in the open for all to see and smell and know you as the shit you really are. Moving around in the shadows, watching, fighting, raging a battle none can even see. No. I refuse to be a part of it. This was my year, this is my year, and I will continue my work — ”
The footsteps filled the alley around him again. 16 could see a silhouette getting closer. He seemed shorter than his shadow implied, but it didn’t matter to 16. Whatever size, they all fall to his blade.
“Give up, and I will not hold your words against you. You have not yet done any lasting damage.”
The footsteps stopped just outside 16’s range of vision. He squinted through the smog but there was only a shape, hazy and artificial. 16 sneered some more, tightening his grip on his blood stained knife.
“You aren’t here yet, are you? You’re just a thought projection, lingering within the cumulative anticipation of them all,” he pointed out toward the city, “those ants.”
The shadow took a step forward and 16 saw the figure come into being, definitely solid, but still out of focus as if he saw him through a camera lens that could not focus on him; not yet.
But 16 could make out enough. He was no man, just a boy. 16 laughed, laughed the laugh of maniacs, the way they laugh in the asylums where each echo inscribes itself into a haunted part of your brain.
“You think you can take over kid? This is my time, and it will always be my time. I’ve been here longer than you and there is no way I’m letting you take my place.”
The boy as if in answer came more into focus, his features gaining definition. The smaller details were yet hazy and incomplete, but 16 saw his eyes, unblinking and black as every year.
“Vague illusions of grandeur. That’s all you are. I don’t know how you slipped past the others, but either way, your time is up.”
16 had killed enough kids to know what kids are like. And a kid giving him instructions automatically gained a spot at the top of his kill list. He held his knife loose, a trick he’d picked up over the year, nonchalantly taking a step forward, picturing the way the kid would bleed when he stuck him with it. Or would he bleed? 16 did not know, and the curiosity made him grin. Time to find out.
The kid betrayed no emotion. With every passing second, his face and body became clearer, and those eyes, locked on to its target, cold and dead black unnerved 16. Those were the eyes of the dead, in the body of the living.
A bead of sweat rolled down 16’s forehead, before he realised he’d been clenching the hilt of his knife. Was he really afraid of this kid?
“Kid, I like your determination. You have balls. What say we make a pact? You let me run, the way I do, and I won’t come near you or in the way of your duties? What say, huh? Win-win.”
“No? Come on, kid. I’ve seen more, I’ve done more. I could even guide and mentor you like they did before. We’d be like all those good old years of the past.”
16 growled. How dare he? Who did this kid think he was? He — this kid had the balls to say No? He raised his knife, poised and ready. In the split second before he sprung, his thoughts soared as they do before a kill. Never in the history of time had this happened before, but if he did this now, the chaos seeded will be too great, maybe the line would be broken as well, and he, 2016, the greatest year ever, the year of rebellion, of crazy decisions and good ol’ death would continue on for all time.
He sprang, his knife hitting the mark he had visualised himself striking, right in the neck where he knew the carotid artery pulsed. But his blade did not sink in as he expected, nor did the warm blood soak his hand. The blade had stopped a centimetre inside the skin by something hard, something — metal.
16 took a step back, letting go of the knife still stuck in the kid’s neck, his eyes wide and fearful. The kid was no longer a blurry shape, and 16 could feel the warmth of his presence all around him. A slight hum filled the air.
Somewhere deep in the city, a bell began to chime.
The sky over head lit up with multicoloured explosions, each one spreading its fingers as if to hold the whole sky.
The kid pushed the knife out of his neck with a finger.
The part of the blade, uncovered by blood clinked on the ground, reflecting the lights from the overhead sky.
The two figures stood, each glowing in a variety of colours, their eyes black, one’s wide, the other’s calm.
16 took another step back, the first of the two to move.
The kid raised his right arm, splaying his hand.
The handover had begun.
16 shrieked, a voice lost in the explosions in the sky.
Blue light enveloped the kid as his arm turned inside out revealing itself.
The humming grew louder and the kids arm completed its transformation into a silver ray blaster.
Unnoticed by all, the smog filled alley glowed blue.
The kid lowered his arm, transforming it back into a normal hand, and turned to walk away. Behind him, there was no body, no trace of 2016 ever existing, except for the deeds he had left behind through the year.
He raised his other arm and put one finger to his ear and spoke, “Target neutralised. The handover completed by force. 17, out.”
He looked up for a moment, his black eyes reflecting the merriment of the humans on display in the canvas of the sky. There was a pause between the fireworks and a single red glow trailed up to the sky to explode and write the words,
“Welcome to the future. Happy 2017!”
Akshay G. has his own doubts about 2017, but he wishes you a killer year, nevertheless.