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Walking slowly in the rain, I approach the entrance of Hollow Bastion marked by the worn out sign that reads: Hollow Bas. Stopping for a moment, I look around the quiet streets as the rain gradually ceases and the gloomy sun makes its way from behind the clouds, giving the sky a dark pink hue. Suddenly I feel something gently rubbing against my legs. Looking down to examine it I see Chester, an alley cat, rubbing against my boot. I pick him up and pet the brown and white cat as he purrs, completely comfortable in my arms. I'm not really a cat man but in a city like this a person takes any companionship he can get. There are three hundred and fifty two cats in hollow bastion and I have managed to name them all. If not for the occasional alley cat the city would be a complete ghost town. Walking down the middle of the street holding Chester in my arms, I stop petting him as I feel a sort of uneasy change in the air.
"Something's different here," I say to myself as the cat leaps out of my arms.
I walk down the cracked and worn sidewalk close to the side of a building. With my finger on the trigger of my fine polished Desert Eagle, I make my way to the nearest alley. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I carry a gun like this. What kind of person was I before my memory loss; these are the thoughts that consume my mind. The farthest back I can remember is waking up in the middle of the bridge one morning to the gentle taps of rain sprinkling on my face. Struggling to sit up, my hand hit something beside me. Looking over to my left, I found this gun with one missing bullet, lying next to me.
Now, as I walk alongside the building I hear a rustling sound in the alleyway. The pungent smell of garbage fills my nostril which leads me to believe something is rifling through the trash. Something about the sound it makes is unlike that of an animal. I can hear things being thrown around in a kind of order that invokes the thought of intelligence. As I walk around the corner into the alley with my gun hidden behind me, I see a young boy's head pop out of the trash can adjacent to me. We both turn our heads and look at each other, like deer staring at headlights. The boy stares at me, holding various items he scavenged from the trash with a golden puzzle piece he had fashioned into a necklace, hanging around his neck. Jumping out of the trashcan, the boy drops many item as he darts off, leaving a trail of trash behind him.
"WAIT!" I scream, chasing the boy down the alley way.
Every turn I took gave me only a glimpse of the boy making another turn. I run with respect for the boy's speed, giving it my all.
"Dead end," I say walking toward the brick wall, checking it with disbelief as if I was going to find a trap door or secret passage.
I stand around with my hands to my side trying to catch my breath, mystified at this boy's strange ability to disappear. All my time here in Hollow Bastion and I've never once encountered a ghost of any kind, but just maybe... Just then, a can drops beside me as I jump back and look up. I see the boy's foot go through an open window on the third floor of the building.
"Of course you idiot, the fire escape." I say to myself, making it up the stairs.
Climbing the stairs is especially difficult as the fire escape feels like it is ready to give at any moment.
As I approach the window I see the boy inside, eating some chips while sitting on the floor and watching TV. I open the window and enter as the boy runs to the corner of the room, frightened.
"Don't be scared, I'm a friend. My name is Jake Streyga. Wow that feels good to say," I jokingly say, taking my rag out and drying my face.
The boy stands with his back against the wall, holding his bag of chips close to him.
"Are you a policeman?" he asks.
"yeah, something like that." I say as I close the window to keep out the cold.
The boy relaxes after I tell him that, as he loosens his hold on the bag, and sits back in front of the television. "My dad's a cop too but he's not here," he says, eating his chips, and watching the Wheel of Fortune.
I walk slowly around the room, observing the boy; his red shorts, soiled with dirt, white shirt with ninja turtles on it, and even his messy, brown hair. The boy couldn't be more than ten years old. In this shabby one bedroom apartment one can easily see that it has been occupied by a child. Walking into the small kitchen, it looks as if it hasn't been used in ages. I roam around touching pots and dishes lying around counters. I open the microwave, quickly pulling back my hand as the roaches scatter from underneath it.
"Where's your mom, kid?" I ask, opening his fridge and reeling at the awful smell.
"Mom died shortly after I was born so it's just me and dad here. I usually sit here until he comes back from work with food. But lately dad hasn't come home, so I have to find my own food," he says as I walk into the bedroom.
This cluttered room looks exactly like I thought it would, messy; the kind of messy that you would expect to see in a film about a struggling cop. It smelled of dirty clothes and alcohol; definitely no place to raise a kid. I check under his bed hoping that he might have a gun or ammunition hidden somewhere in the room but all I find are more clothes. I walk back into the main room, watching the innocent boy watch the television. As I stand there with my back against the wall, I can't help but to feel sorry for him. Regardless of this, I have a mission to finish, so I sit down next to the child, trying to mimic his position.
"So what are watching," I ask, trying to start a conversation.
"It's the wheel of fortune; it's my dad's favorite show."
I watch the extremely boring show for awhile, trying not to bluntly inquire about the golden piece. Then I realize it doesn't matter to him. See, to the inhabitants of Hollow Bastion, the puzzle pieces are never just that. To them it's always something of value; something they won't usually hand over before I help with some kind of errand. Throughout the years I've been here, I got to thinking that maybe I'm the one who doesn't see it clearly; maybe it's exactly what they think it is, either way, I guess today I'm babysitting.
"Hey kid what's that?" I ask, pointing to the piece hanging around his neck.
"Huh, you mean this? We'll it's my dad's badge," He says holding it as if he thinks I would steal it.
"I got an idea," I say, as the boy looks at me skeptically. "I'll help you find your dad in exchange for the badge. What do you think?" I ask.
The boy, still looking at me skeptically, sticks out his hand for a handshake. I look back at him with a mocking skeptical expression and shake his hand. The boy and I laugh at our ridiculous faces as the rain begins to fall heavily outside.
"Hey, do you mind if we stay here for tonight since its already getting dark?" I ask.
"Okay," says the boy as he lies down, cuts off the TV, and falls asleep.
Sitting here in the dark room of a small apartment next to an abandoned young child, somehow I feel an unfamiliar peace come over me. As lightning strikes outside, momentarily illuminating part of the room, it allows me to see the picture of the boy and his father on top of the TV.
"I hope tomorrow will be a good day for you, kid," I say, rubbing his head.