RAVENVILLE WAS A METROPOLIS OF ELDIS, a developed country gaining importance on the world stage. Eldis was, in fact, a large island a few kilometers from the North American coast. The country's most famous city stood tall; its skyscrapers housed its owners, executives, judges, magnates, and millionaires; kings and queens of contemporary society. Ravenville's royals never mixed with their subjects: the workers who spent hours and hours working to enrich them. They had fun with luxurious balls, private parties, or secret meetings where they drank whiskey and played poker. That was Ravenville: a city corrupted by greed and ruled by selfishness. The city's downtown—its financial heart—looked more like a snake's nest. The power game was constant there, where the only thing that mattered was money.
Nolan Reese was just one of the pedestrians who were hurrying through the heart of the city. With his hands comfortably warm in his coat pocket, the boy tried to notice some difference in the faces that passed by him; however, he felt condemned to the typical numbness of those alienated by the modern world: he was unable to distinguish passersby. Tedious expressions were the link between all those people who walked as fast as possible, anxious for something that even they probably did not understand exactly. Are we really just ants?
However, Nolan was not anxious. Not at all nervous, actually. All he felt was tranquility, as the decision to leave his mother's house could not have been made at a better time. In his 23 years of age, the boy felt the true essence of youth running through his veins. A new city spread out before him, ready to be explored. If he really needed to surrender to Ravenville's frantic pace and plunge into its ocean of interests and ulterior motives, let him do it in the most natural way possible. What good would it do to behave like an outcast if the city would swallow anyone who did not fit its rules? Yes, we are all ants.
Taking a deep breath and barely managing to contain the weak smile on his face, Nolan continued his way as calmly as possible. Musicians played their saxophones on the sidewalks, street artists started their performances, and the city's poignant art rose as a welcome relief from the businessmen's bitter seriousness that dominated those lands. As usual, he reached into his jeans pocket and looked for some change to pour into the turned-over hat of one of the musicians. Oh, shit.
When his fingers found the void, he remembered that he had no money and that his situation would remain precarious until he got a job in the heart of that same bitterness. However, even the uncertainty of his future was not enough to weaken his hope; he was fully aware that he was stepping into the land of opportunity. Getting a job in Ravenville was a relatively simple task; nevertheless, one should not question a new occupation's nature to enjoy such simplicity.
It was precisely what he needed: a totally new and neutral territory, where he could forget the terrible traumas of his past and finally start a new life. From his own experience, Nolan knew that starting over would be impossible while facing the same people every day; people who were part of his life, but that fate had expelled in the most violent way possible. Despite having his doubts about the existence of a higher power, Nolan always found himself thinking about how everything happened in very perfect and appropriate ways. All that perfection needed to be orchestrated. The tradition of praying was firm in his family and, therefore, Nolan took a few seconds to dialogue with God, even if he did not fully believe in his existence.
Judging them too dull, he pushed away his religious thoughts and hurried up while deciding that it would be best to get to his apartment before dark. If he had learned anything new in his two days in the metropolis, it was that Ravenville proved to be a dangerous place at night. The cold seemed to worsen, and he was soon sure that a massive storm was approaching. The rain started out light and shy, but the water came down more willingly less than a minute later. Without bothering to use an umbrella or run, Nolan simply let the drops hit his body and wet his clothes. Nothing is more poetic than hurried people drenched in big cities.
As he was about to open the door to the building, he felt someone grab his shoulder. No, please, no. Before the instinctive reaction to turn around and face the harasser, the encounter of something sharp with his rib made him remain immobile.
"I have no money," said Nolan immediately.
"You live here?" With a harsh and shaky voice, the man exhaled an unbearable odor of alcohol.
"No, it's a friend's apartment." Reese made the quick decision to lie and looked at the alleged assailant for the first time.
In addition to being totally bald, the guy had several scars along his face, probably conquered after street fighting years. His twisted nose betrayed old injuries; the brown eyes were red, and the pupils dilated. Not just a burglar, but a drugged burglar.
"Let's go to your house then."
"Look, man—" He tried to turn completely, but the robber pushed him against the door and pressed the knife harder in the side of his body. "Sorry!"
"Don't try to be smart, you little shit." Probably concerned about witnesses fleeing the rain nearby, the man released Nolan. "Your home. Now."
"Okay, I lied. I live here." He frowned when he admitted his lie and bent his neck to look at him.
"I will rip your throat if you lie to me again." Something in the man's eyes conveyed the certainty that he was not bluffing. "Open that door."
Trying to control the shaking that took his hands, Nolan opened the door and entered the building, followed closely by the assailant. The building's lobby was empty, unfortunately. They went up the stairs to the third floor, where Nolan stopped in front of his apartment door. His heart was racing, and the tremor of his hands was undoubtedly noticeable to the thief.
"The door won't open on its own," said the assailant.
Nolan rummaged in his trouser pocket in a hurry for someone whose life is threatened; as soon as he found the key, he opened his apartment door and stepped inside. The assailant passed him and began to search the place with his eyes.
"Where's your suitcase?"
"My suitcase?" Nolan's mind quickly went into trying to understand how the man who assaulted him could know of the existence of a suitcase. How could a stranger be sure that the boy was new to the city? Something is very wrong.
"I don't have time for that," said the assailant before approaching Nolan.
Reese's eyes widened when the man squeezed his neck brutally, leaving the tip of the blade just inches from his right eye.
"Tell me where the suitcase is, and you can keep your eye."
"Calm down!" The force exerted by the man's hand made any speech difficult. "It's under the bed."
A coughing fit caused Nolan to look for support on the wall. After dropping it, the man went to his bed and pulled the suitcase from the bottom. He turned over the suitcase compartments and dropped everything that was still inside; he bent down and picked up an object that stood out among the rest: a portrait. The portrait had broken with the fall, but it did not seem to matter to the thief. It was the only photograph Nolan had of his father, which had disappeared eighteen years ago. Although he never gave so much importance to his disappearance, that was the only thing that still connected him to his father. Nolan was not about to simply let the thief take it.
"No. That is just a picture. It has no value."
"It is true." The man smiled and strolled over to him, holding the photo out to Reese.
"Thanks." As soon as he touched his father's photo, the robber buried his other hand's knife on his abdomen. "No!"
"You're actually a nice guy, Nolan." The smile grew more and more. "Still, orders are orders." Pulling the knife with the same ferocity with which he buried it, the man kicked Nolan in the chest with the sole of his boots.
He crashed into the wall and slid to the floor, eyes wide and hands pressed against the wound. What did this bastard do? The pain intensified with each passing second, and the hole in his abdomen was all that was in Nolan's mind at that moment. He heard the assailant walk to the door and talk to someone, probably on his cell phone: it's done. Looking at his hands soaked in his own blood, Nolan let some tears escape, and his vision began to darken. Carrying all the regrets and guilt of his past, Reese moved to the city to start a new life; yet there he was, about to have it ripped from him. That was the welcoming committee that the city of dreams offered him. As his strength slowly faded, Nolan finally realized what that city was about. Finally, he understood what it meant to be in Ravenville.
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