(I'm typing this on my IPad so please forgive me!)
It's a cold breeze that keeps me awake.
Someone's left a window open, and I realise just how close to falling into the sweet blanket of unconsciousness I actually am. Washing my face clean of blood and snot, the man looking at me from the mirror is a corpse, one that's bloody and bruised and has got no goddamn right to keep on walking. The cuts on my face, thick, red souvenirs from the night's events are evidence for how badly things are going so far. Anyone else, any other person that had come looking for the kid, Baby Josh, would be dead right now, shot and killed the instant he was brought before Father Cross.
I'm lucky. A lucky man who's past his prime.
Having done all I can to get cleaned up in the club's impeccably clean bathroom, I take one last look at the purple bruise that's forming on my forehead, before moving to the door and pulling my mask back down, black goggles showing the world in all it's dark glory. There's a walk I have when leaving the room, one of a man who's on the right path and knows it. If my friends over in Europe could see me now, they'd be cheering, a nice weekly serial to keep everyone entertained.
"Hey man..." Wyatt, the guppie cries upon seeing me return to his office. He's sprawled out on his chair, breathing heavy like a fish searching for water, and I feel a pang of guilt for having gotten carried away earlier. "...I'm cold... please don't leave me."
I ignore him, he'll be fine, and move to the window where I get a view of the streets, a dark and bitter paradise, expecting a dozen gunmen to be outside waiting for me. Surprisingly the street is empty, devoid of anything except for the snow still softly falling onto the ground. The Docks, specifically Pier 42 where the Cult's hiding, will be the exact opposite, packed to the brim with gunmen and zealots and Nazis.
Nazis... god I'm out of my league, and I'd be a fool to show up to the place, dressed as I am and still sporting a major disadvantage in the form of the beating I took, so I turn to Wyatt, look at the outfit he's wearing and smile like I used to do when the world was ending and I'd come up with a crafty way to put a stop to it.
"What size is your jacket?" I ask Wyatt, popping out a cigarette for one more smoke before the grand finale.
The walk to the Docks is long and cold, filled with dangers and sights that I'd rather forget, rabid dogs and the dregs of a society that's already close to tearing itself apart. Wyatt's jacket is a couple sizes too big, but it works, the crucifix chain around my neck is my pass to get into the Cult's base of operations, and it's times like this that I'm thankful for how careful I've been with the mask that's resting in my breast pocket.
They don't know me, they don't know my face, nobody does, so I won't have to worry too much about being recognised unless they notice my voice. A car blasts past me in the street, I catch a look at the driver and recognise him as one of the goons that beat me up earlier, it's a good I tore up the building's phone on my way out, but even still I start moving as fast as my legs will carry me, getting more concerned about my mission. Nearby there's the sound of a mugging, normally I'd stop it, but the thought of Baby Josh being drawn and quartered compels me to ignore it. For now anyway. Walking past the alley it's taking place, I take note of the mugger's features and recognise the assailant but not his name, I make sure he isn't about to kill the victim, and I decide to follow up on it later.
Far above the streets, I hear the sound of New Year's parties still raging, hosted by people too distracted to worry about the end of the world happening around them, one of them blasts the sound of a radio commenting on events taking place far away from here, and with not much else to do other than walk, I give it a listen.
"-ttle of Wake Island still rages! With our brave boys holding off the Japanese assault thanks to the timely arrival of Britain's Stellar Knight and our very own champion of Justice, September Mourning! Regardless of the victor, it's clear the battle, already five days in length, will be a fierce one!"
The words leave a warm feeling in my chest, one of pride and temporary bravado that removes the doubts infesting my mind. "Good luck, boys." I think before adjusting my jacket collar and going off to meet destiny, knowing that, if my friends knew what was going on, they'd be thinking the same.
Wyatt wasn't lying about the Docks, it's good to know someone out there is afraid of me, but regardless the place is tighter than a bank vault. The Cult's formed around their pier, specifically a warehouse that's normally used for packing tuna, but that I'm now beginning to suspect is used for more sinister purposes. In my breast pocket, my mask seems to vibrate, the same as my revolver hiding in my jacket. Then I realise the whole goddamn street is shaking, thanks to a massive vehicle that's moving towards the pier, on its back something resembling a Nazi U-Boat, and for a second I wonder how they drove that thing in public, but remember that the police department are more corrupt than honest. A stupid idea crosses my mind, smart compared to the rest of my evening, and I jump onto the back of the vehicle as it passes me, before letting the thing carry me past the guards patrolling the entrance. Just as the transport pulls up by the ocean, I roll off and jump behind a couple of crates before watching the boat get placed carefully into the sea, just by the warehouse's emergency exit.
"What's the boat for?" A guard asks the driver, on edge and sharp like a blade, machine gun shaking slightly in his hands. That's when I notice the driver of the transport is wearing a Nazi uniform.
It's insane what this world's become.
"An escape route." The driver says, accent thick like cement. "In case things turn sour."
While those two are having their conversation, I'm busy clambering up the warehouse fire escape, quietly entering the building through its exit, and praying that nobody notices me. It looks like someone up there is listening, since nobody spots me, not even when I go to open the door and it lets out a shriek that nearly makes me jump out of my skin.
The warehouse is hot as hell, appropriate for what these mooks are trying to achieve, Hell on Earth. From my position on the building's second story walkway, I can see all the people scurrying around, carrying all sorts of kooky items and artefacts that I don't understand. Then, out the corner of my eye, I spot Father Cross skulking around, guided by a Nazi Private as he talks with Colonel Twilight, who's looking incredibly bored for a military official overseeing the operation. I can't hear what's being said, but it looks like they're calmly arguing about something.
In the centre of the room sits a sacrificial table, surrounded by tapestries with satanic images I've seen a couple times before, during the weird time of my life. The clean, jagged dagger lying on the table gets me focused back on finding Josh, and I remember where Wyatt said he would be and I get angry.
Apparently he's been tossed in a cabinet like some kinda animal.
Moving about the second floor, ignoring the lighter in my pocket begging for use, I catch sight of the storage cupboard that's posing as Josh's prison cell. It's on the other side of the floor, separated by an opening in the floor that leads straight down, so I move along the walkway, trying to come up with a plan to get out of this place with the kid, but not able to think of anything other than 'wing it'. One positive seems to be that most of the guys in here are distracted, and if I'm lucky might not notice me escaping with their sacrifice.
"Hey." I say to the guard standing outside Josh's room, he looks at me surprised, probably very committed to the job he's working. "The boss wants us to swap over, have you outside keeping an eye on the... weapon shipments."
The guy says nothing, then I notice his swastika and figure he doesn't speak a lick of English so I smash him in the stomach and slam his skull against the wall. Nobody seems to hear, so I pocket the key from his body and open the door and feel sick to my stomach.
Josh is small. So small... he's clotheless except for a nappy and he's lying in his back, still, eyes closed. For a second I think he's dead, but then I notice his little chest still moving up and down and I thank God for my luck this evening.
Then a bullet passes through my shoulder as I'm cradling the boy and I remember how cruel the big man's sense of humour can be from time to time. We fall to the ground, my arms keeping Josh away from any harm, and the sound of laughter coming from behind me tells me who's responsible.
It's Cross and a couple of his men. By this point, Josh has woken up and started to cry, but I ignore the tears and turn onto my back to look Death in the face.
"Who is it?" Cross asks, excited by the potential victim lying before him, yet tragically unable to see the pain he's causing. "Who is it?! Is it the Ghoul?"
One of Cross' men draws a pistol and leans forward into the cabinet, pointing it lazily at my body. "If it is, he ain't wearing any mask."
The bullet in my shoulder is cold, it makes my whole body feel like metal and cause it to ache when I move, but I stand up anyway, biting my teeth through the pain.
Now's as good a time as any to die.