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I arrive downtown at around 4:50pm, just prior to the masses being released from their corporate dungeons, eager to flee the confines of the city that belittles them all day for the safety and routine of home. This is the best time of day for this sort of thing, two men alone on a sidewalk might stand out. Two men in a group of hundreds much less so, and Iím not ready to stand out yet. Not like that.

I wait at the corner of 42nd and Main, just outside Carrollís Book Store. Itís cold, and uncharacteristically clear as I find a likely spot where I could be both out of the way and in plain site at the same time. My hands thrust deep into my pockets against the cold, I lean against a light post facing south down 42nd street and wait. To my right is a newspaper box, the headline reads, ďDEAD MAN STILL UNIDENTIFIEDĒ. Thatís exactly the sort of thing Iím trying to prevent on a personal level. It wonít be long, I just hope heís alone.

I first spot him about two blocks down, walking towards me. Iíve been watching this guy for a good month now, I know his routine as well as he does. Theyíre all so damned predictable like that, but I suppose thatís what blending in is all about. Heís dressed as any other young businessman might be, a long dark overcoat with the collar pulled up against the cold and the hint of a fashionable green tie peeking out under his clean shaven chin. They seem to prefer this sort of detached professional look for some reason, possibly because itís this vein of society where itís easiest to blend in as a face among the faceless. His black hair is short and combed sharply to the right, giving him a crisp look of a professional charlatan and in a way, thatís exactly what he is. His eyes are narrow and his face expressionless just like those around him. He seems to be just another corporate soldier trudging home after a long day on the business battlefield. Of course, things are rarely what they seem.

As he gets nearer, I step away from the light post and stand facing him in the middle of the sidewalk. The crowd brushes and elbows past me in their hurry to get anywhere else, hardly noticing my presence beyond the momentary annoyance of someone not conforming to the flock. ďWhat is wrong with you?Ē, one woman says as she pushes past. Good question. My throat tightens and my breathing becomes shallow as he draws nearer. For some reason, it feels like Dad is home and Iíve been a very bad boy. A crushing sense of claustrophobia closes in on me, as I realize heís close enough now that Iím unlikely to get away unseen even if I chose to. I desperately want to turn and run, to scream at the top of my lungs and bolt for the nearest door and lock myself in, but I canít. I told her Iíd do this again, and damn it Iím going to do it. Heís still walking towards me, head slightly down. Close enough now he could hear me if I were stupid enough to raise my voice.

ďGreetings shepherd,Ē I say aloud as the words catch in my throat, ďyouíve been looking for meĒ. Our eyes meet as heís about 20 feet away, and although this one has never seen me before, in his gaze I feel a sense of complete recognition. He stops cold and stares me down, likely unsure why Iím meeting him in the open like this. Heís wary and momentarily confused at my appearance, and frankly I canít believe Iím doing this either. The crowd continues to bump and jostle its way past as we stand confronted, like two stones in a fast moving stream. ďYou are Jon Bradley,Ē he finally says in a confident voice of merciless resolve, ďaged 34 years. You act outside the system. You will come with meĒ. I swallow hard as the reality of the moment begins to sink in, time to say my piece Laura.

ďI respectfully decline your kind offer and instead ask you to relay a message to those above your control.Ē The wind picks up as sprays of snow swirl between he and I, whisking over the unthinking chattel of society still moving around us. I canít believe Iím doing this and neither can he. ďPeople like myself are many and strong, and for them as well as for myself I ask for your disassociation that we might leave this city without further repression. I ask that we be given leave to depart unhindered, free from further rebuke and free from fear of later prosecution or punishment. I ask that you allow us to assemble at a place of our choosing to depart as one, or to trickle out individually as we will by a schedule of our own choosing. We no longer want to take part in your experiment. We no longer wish to be cogs in your machine. We have no more use of shepherds.Ē

The wind howls, and the heartbeat of the noisy city seems hushed.

He hasnít blinked since we first locked onto each other, and neither have I. He breathes deeply and for a moment looks around at the masses of people still oblivious to whats going on in front of them. As he looks he appears sickened and furious at the same time, like an angry man with a bad stomach flu. When his gaze returns to me the sickened part is gone leaving me with his rage, hatred and disdain. He looks like a man with too many things to worry about, and Iím here to give him one more. He takes his hands out of his pockets, fists clenched. ďYou will come with meĒ, he says again. Was that the slight flash of a smile on his face? He still hasnít blinked as he starts advancing towards me, and I know itís time to go. As I turn to run I pull out the envelope with a copy of my pretty sidewalk speech written on it and throw it on the ground between us. Iím hoping he stops to pick it up, but if he doesnít one of the others will and no doubt theyíre on their way. I took too much time with that, I really did.

My back is to him and Iím running now, hard and as fast as I can through the throngs of mindless business zombies that crowd the sidewalk. Iím pushing and being pushed, running and being restrained all by this mob of humanity too wrapped up in itís own individual situations to even be aware of the chase thatís taking place within it. I can hear his footsteps behind me, fighting the same torrent of people. I can hear his breathing, and I can feel his intent. Madly I dash through the crowd with him close behind. I dart in and out amongst the people trying to stay low, if only to get out of his sight for a moment. I grab an older man selling newspapers and use him as support as I wheel around the corner and into the alley. Itís clear of people here, cluttered with garbage and refuse but otherwise empty. It will be him and I now, and no one else. I stretch my steps, almost bounding down the alley and nearly tripping over myself as my feet struggle to keep up to my now terrified momentum.

Behind me I hear the old man yell as heís knocked over by the shepherd. The slapping of business shoes on concrete fills my ears as he charges after me in a furious rage, and I run. He must be gaining on me but I canít look. I canít do anything. My skin burns with tension, and my vision clouds with sweat. My head throbs and my feet hurt, but I keep running like a rabbit from the wolf. Is he about to grab me? I still canít tell. BANG. BANG. BANG. I hear his feet hitting the pavement. Relentless, uniform, unforgiving. Iím flying almost out of control, pushing myself as fast as I can and the alley darkens around me. Around us.

Why the hell did I agree to this?

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The following comments are for "10:18 - Chapter Three"
by datter

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