Allison Crutchfield — You

Hong Kong. The city that never sleeps. The city of a thousand voices. Where the streets are paved with gold. Where East meets West. Not sure which one of those (if any) is correct so take your pick. There’s some truth to all of them – except that the streets were paved with gold. The streets were cobbled.

Alex was sat in the back of a taxi on his way to the central island. His flight had landed less than thirty minutes ago and he was already nearing his end destination – the airport had proved easy to navigate when you’ve got a gun to your back (real or otherwise). His companion for the twelve hour flight, Sylvester, had sat across the aisle and spent the full seven hundred and twenty minutes asleep. Well, Alex had surmised as much; Sylvester’s eyes had been closed throughout but his body had not moved once. He hadn’t even gone to the bathroom. Bizarre.

The flight had given him some much-needed time to reflect. The events of the past week had, until now, condensed into a singular stream of strangeness and fear. It had all started with that phone call, the one he had assumed was from Jean, and then the arrival of The Governor at his door. The fight, the cage, the woman with the transparent skin, Jean and her new companion, the restaurant, the disco, the library, Sylvester’s bloodied hands punching through that wall; when he had retraced his steps a few hours into the flight he had remembered these events like a spectator, like he was riding a ghost train or watching a movie. He spent the first few hours remembering and panicking, trying to think of ways to escape Sylvester on the plane; crawl through the toilet? Alert one of the air hostesses? Hijack the cockpit and force the pilot to radio the ground and call for help? That last one had seemed so tempting, so attractive, and he had spent a few hours thinking of ways to explain the situation, but there was nothing he could think of, no way to call for help without putting Jean and her new friend in danger, and Jean was just about the only thing stopping him from giving up. So, instead, he had ordered several glasses of whisky and got drunk.

The alcohol had helped clear his mind. Well, not exactly, but it had at least dulled his instincts to panic and gave him some resolve to fight his fears. He began to stop asking himself what was going on, but instead move on to why it was going on. The six hours flight-time that remained were long enough for Alex to go through several theories, ranging from being trapped in a sleep-paralysis nightmare to trapped in an ultra-realistic Virtual Reality simulation, until he finally accepted on the descent to Hong Kong that he was not trapped in his own imagination; these people were real, the danger they posed was real, and Jean’s need for help was real.

Although he had not come any closer to understanding what was going on, nor even why it was going on, Alex had allowed Sylvester to guide him through the airport and into a red city-taxi towards an unknown destination. He did so as he now accepted that, although out of his control, the events that were unfolding were his best chance of getting to Jean. And in doing so, he allowed himself to gaze out of the rain-flecked window and marvel at the view of the city that never slept as they accelerated towards it.

Skyscrapers that had to be hundreds of stories high stretched for miles into the sky, each adorned with neon signs and vibrant billboards that advertised brands and products he had never heard of. Behind them were shadows of rolling mountains that blocked the stars from view, and beyond them was nothing. He turned his gaze up to find that the light from the moon (which was full – but more on that later) was dulled by the haze of electricity emanating from the city. It was weird. It was beautiful.

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