An apprentice approached Ben and the old man. The maze of hallways made it feel like stages shifted behind the black walls. Tunnels felt like they moved as the group walked. Yet, each stage looked as fresh as the others. Another patron disappeared, only to reappear on the stage as they neared. And when the Apprentice walked towards Ben, he realized they didn’t need to hide their actions anymore.
“Sir, I believe you seek your inner beauty?”
“I do, young one.”
Ben tightened his grasp on the old man’s arm. The old man’s body jolted at the resistance. An old and heavy gaze fell upon Ben, and his grip weakened. The old man’s voice quivered.
“I volunteer for death. I told you why, so don’t belabor me with reasons to live. Let go of my arm. You don’t want to bruise an old, fragile man, do you?”
Ben let go. He didn’t want to, and every synapse in his brain screamed to pull the man back. I can’t fight these apprentices, not alone. The downcast gazes and huddled figures of the patrons offered no further help. With so few of them left, they didn’t even outnumber the Apprentices nearby. The Apprentice walked the man on-stage and eased him into the chair. The apprentices secured the straps to the chair and turned away from the old man.
“Patrons of the arts, we have our first true volunteer of the night. There are those who beautify, and those who become beautiful. I give honor to this man for his willingness to ascend to beautification. As a courtesy, you won’t feel a thing.”
The apprentice produced a knife and snapped the blade into the back of the man’s skull. The old man’s eyes widened and his entire body rose, but then slumped at the knifes removal. Ben heard the other patrons’ comments for the first time in a while. No one watched as the Apprentice finished his work. By the end, Ben couldn’t recognize the distorted figure of the old man.
Ben walked away before they guided the rest of the patrons. The hall arced. He could see it in the lights. I never asked the man’s name. How could I forget to ask something so simple? Ben wouldn’t forget the old man, who accepted death as if in a pleasant farewell. Ben worried the next stage might be empty for another volunteer. A blast of red light flooded Ben and stopped him in his tracks. The footsteps he hadn’t noticed behind him clattered to a stop. Melody sat in the chair on the stage ahead with Officer Lyle drenched in blood.
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