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Tragedies Stranger Than Fiction - Chapter 4
Throughout the movie, Johnny refills his glass of soda.

He places his feet on the floor until he hears a loud Crunch! under his toes. Johnny stretches his eyebrow. He lifts his feet off the floor to see cracked popcorn pieces.

A confused look remains on his face until Johnny turns to Mateo, who has been unknowingly spilling his snacks on the ground. Looking at the mess, Johnny wants to say something to Mateo when Cricket nudges his shoulder with her elbow.

"Calm down," she reassures him. "We'll clean up after the movie."

Johnny snickers until he hears Mateo groaning, "Get a room, will you? I'm eating over here!"

Examining the kernels and greasy popcorn on the floor, Johnny grunts, "Yeah, you're eating up a storm, alright."

Sliding on top of the couch's arm, Johnny takes the bowl off the table and then eats the popcorn. Salt and butter paint his dry tongue. He drinks one round of Pepsi and focuses on the movie.

Placing her bowl of popcorn on her lap, Cricket chews until a painful sensation stabs her between her back molars. Cricket flinches. She puts her pinkie into her mouth and scratches the kernel out.

Curling beside Mateo, Cricket watches the television series while draining her glass of fizzy orange soda.

Mateo's teeth tear through gummies, chocolate M&Ms, and Twizzlers within a minute. His feet tap anxiously on the floor, annoying the crap out of Johnny. Still, he slides his greasy hand into Mateo's and squeezes it tight until the shapeshifter stops fidgeting.

The atmosphere is cold. A black aura surrounds the three teens, but their only light is the glowing television perched on the plywood table. Cricket grabs a handful of milk chocolate M&Ms from a brown packet, then leans her head on Mateo's left shoulder.

When Helen Lyle and her friend chant "Candyman" in front of the bathroom mirror, Johnny's eyes are glued to the scene.

Cricket, on the other hand, grimaces. She places the cup on the table and points out how stupid the scene is.

"What kind of fucking idiot chants the dude's name five times?" she asked angrily. "I bet you ten dollars that white chick dies at the end."

"How the fuck do you know that?" Mateo asked in disbelief.

"Because in movies like this," Cricket states. "White girls always get stabbed."

"Really?" Mateo scoffs. "Name one movie that-"

"Shush!" Johnny hisses in frustration. "Just let me watch the movie!"

Mateo rolls his eyes. He gets up from the couch and tells the others that he needs to use the restroom.

"Okay," Johnny says irritably. "Just don't block the screen."

Mateo nods. He moves behind the massive couch and heads upstairs.

Heavy rain aggressively taps on the windows. The wind howls in the sky while trees tumble into the road. But despite this, the teens have a relaxing night. No one disturbs the apartment building or its inhabitants.

Popcorn greases their fingers. But as soon as the rain stops, it seems the apartment building has been plunged into darkness. A sinister fog appears like a soft cloak, suffocating the landscape and parking lot. It circles the living room window momentarily until the moon washes it away with its piercing light.

******
Scratching his nose, Johnny watches the movie when his Motorola cellphone buzzes inside his pocket.

"For Christ's sake!" he groans.

Johnny angrily hits the pause button on the remote, pulls his phone from his pants, pushes the ANSWER button, and hoists the phone close to his ear. Cricket, on the other hand, finishes her popcorn bowl. She rests her head against the couch cushion until she catches wind of Johnny's conversation.

"Wren?" he asks urgently. "Is everything okay?"

Suddenly, Johnny stops pacing around the living room and hangs his head.

"What do you mean Kenzie has gone missing?" Johnny exclaims, getting up from the couch. Calm down, please-"

Cricket spins her head around and watches her roommate staring at his phone.

"Shit!" Johnny yells.

He closes his phone, shoves it back in his pocket, and asks Cricket if he can borrow her car.

"Uh, sure," she replies slowly. "Why? What's going on with your sister?"

"My sister Kenzie snuck out of the house to go to a fucking party," sighed Johnny. "So, I might miss out on movie night."

"No worries," said Cricket. "Candyman was a shitty movie, anyway. Maybe Mateo and I will come with you."

Johnny gives her a hesitant look. "Are you sure?"

Cricket crosses her arms. The corners of her lips lift into a teasing smile as she leans toward Johnny ' irritated face.

"What?" she snorts. "You don't think I can handle your sister?"

"Kenzie has this ability to annoy the ever-loving fuck out of everyone, including me," said Johnny. "But if I don't find her, Wren and my grandma will freak out."

Walking up to Johnny, Cricket gives him a warm smile and says not to worry — that they'll bring Kenzie home as soon as possible.

"Alright," Johnny grins. "I'll ask if Mateo wants to come along. Maybe it'll get him out of his room."

******
Fishbone's "Servitude" plays from the car radio as Cricket steers her green Volkswagen Beetle on the highway.

Johnny sits next to her. His right foot props on the edge of the gray chair as Johnny stares silently at the road. His dark red backpack thumps against his left ankle, but all Johnny can think about is his reckless little sister getting high in some girl's bathroom.

Since he left Baltimore, Johnny has been having problems deciding what he wants to be in life.

Now, Johnny loves his siblings. He gave Wren and Kenzie the attention their father never did, but Johnny wanted more than being a caretaker.

There weren't many opportunities for him and his family in Maryland, so in the spring of 1989, Johnny's mother took him and his two siblings to New York. She attempted to get their distant father to look after the kids, but when that failed, Johnny sent his siblings to live with their grandmother in Queens. On the one hand, he kept Wren and Kenzie safe from danger by distancing himself from them.

Johnny even left Wren and Kenzie his number and paychecks in case the money was tight. Though Wren and his Grandma empathized with Johnny's dilemma, Kenzie hated Johnny to the point of cutting him off from her life.

"So," Cricket begins. "Are Wren and Kenzie okay?"

"I don't know," said Johnny. "I haven't spoken to them in two years."

"What the fuck, man?" commented Cricket, navigating the car to her left. "You could've at least called them, you know."

"I'd rather have them scream in my face than watch them die. It's safer that way," Johnny sighs. "Besides, since my mom is in Spain, I must focus on getting enough money for Kenzie's school tuition."

Mateo shifts his Rubik's Cube, then shoves it inside his backpack. He plays with his dreadlocks, then leans against the dark cushion, closing his eyes.

"Are you okay, Matt?" Johnny asks him.

"I am doing fine," Mateo yawns. "I don't mind staying up all night. It's just that I am having problems with—"

"Nadia Swan?" Cricket guesses, her teasing smile stretches from ear to ear.

Mateo sets his jaw, whereas Johnny raises his left eyebrow in curiosity.

"I am sorry, who is Nadia Swan?" he asked.

"That girl who works at her father's theater," said Cricket, wearing a huge grin. "And Mateo 's favorite customer."

"Shut up!" Mateo whines. "I don't like her that way!"

"I don't know," Cricket teases. "I thought I saw your cheeks turning red five minutes ago."

Johnny turns his head to see Mateo shifting awkwardly in his seat. He folds his arms and then glares down at his shoes as if trying to be invisible.

"Look, I might have a crush on her—" Mateo begins.

"You might?" Johnny asks, smirking.

"Okay, fine! I do like her. Way more than my shitty ex-boyfriend Tony."

"Alright, so why don't you just ask Nadia out on a date?" asked Cricket.

"Because I am scared she'll say stupid shit like, 'I have a boyfriend, sorry,'" answered Mateo. "Also, it's hard talking to Nadia when her friends are around."

Mateo grows quiet for a moment, then moves behind Cricket's chair. "Hey, Chris, you're a girl, right?"

"Gee, what gave it away?" Cricket yawns. "Was it my boobs or my ass?"

Mateo pretends he doesn't hear her sarcasm.

"Why do you think girls travel in packs?" he asks. "Do they share each other's hairspray or—"

"How the fuck should I know?" Cricket snaps irritably. "It's not like I had a lot of friends in high school."

Johnny lets out a frustrated sigh when he receives an unsettling vision. Neon lights glow when an ominous force shoves the Mustang to the side of the road. Cracks scatter across the cold glass. The sight traumatizes Johnny until Mateo snaps him out of it.

"Yo, man!" Mateo cries. "Are you okay—"

"Cricket, stop the car!" Johnny yells.

Horrified, Cricket slams the brakes. The car settles before the traffic lights as she spins her head at Johnny.

"Jay!" she screeches. "Are you okay? What did you see in your vision?"

Johnny begins unbuckling his seatbelt. He grabs his bag and then glares at Cricket and Mateo, who stares at him with concern.

"Everyone, get out of the fucking car!" he cries. "Right now!"

Cricket and Mateo don't question his orders.

Instead, they gather their backpacks first and then vacate the vehicle. Though the kids made it out alive, the Volkswagen Beetle didn't. Running outside, Cricket, Mateo, and Johnny witness a towering dog standing on top of the car. Its giant paws transform the Mustang into a pile of debris, and an angry breeze shakes its smoldering black fur. The monstrous dog examines the children's faces until Johnny whips out his pistol from his waistband and opens fire.

The grotesque pooch snarls. It tumbles across the pavement and staggers to its right until Johnny runs out of ammo.

Grumbling under his breath, Johnny tosses his backpack on the floor, unveils his knives, and slashes it at the growling dog. Its paws collide with Johnny's blades when Cricket burns its left side with heaping balls of green fire.

In the meantime, Mateo drops his bag and twists his entire body until he becomes a fierce lion. Mateo gallops towards the raging hound and slashes his claws across the dog's spiteful face, drawing what seems to be blood – judging by the strange liquid trickling down its thick cheekbones.

Biting her lip, Cricket blasts green flames at the dog, who narrowly sprints around Mateo and then gallops toward Johnny.

Struggling to pierce the dog's head with his knives, Johnny lets out a frustrated sigh, abandons his original plan, and decides to do the unthinkable. He grabbed a small arrow from his ankle holster and a lighter from his pocket. Then, Johnny dragged the arrow across his left hand, tilted his head, and licked the dark blood oozing from the cut before igniting the lighter.

Eventually, once he tilts his head to the small flame, Johnny blows it hard. Toxic black smoke flies out of the boy's mouth as Johnny clouds the monstrous dog's vision. Cricket takes a step back, where Mateo turns himself back into his original form and watches the hound become overwhelmed by the demonic smoke, trapping it in an inky cocoon.

With his hand still on the lever, Johnny is about to throw his lighter when the gigantic dog takes off into the streets. Clenching their fists, Mateo and Cricket yearn to follow the fleeing dog when a breathless Johnny places his hands on their shoulders.

"Relax," he urges. "We'll get that thing, but first, we need a fucking car."

Catching his breath, Mateo lowers his hands and sighs, "Even if we did steal a car, we've got to have a plan B."

"Maybe we can get the mutt's attention," Cricket suggests.

"Okay, but how?" asked Mateo.

Cricket glances over Johnny's shoulder. She notices a motorcycle moving past the demolished car and has an idea.

"Hey, Johnny," Cricket asks eagerly. "You're good with motorcycles, right?"

Putting his shaggy hair in a bun, Johnny scrunches his face.

"Uh, yeah. Why?"

"Hey, assholes!" A voice shouts. "Move your asses!"

The trio turns around to see a cocky motorcyclist revving his bike. His blonde hair dances in the wind. His dark blue eyes peer through his dark helmet. He wears a denim vest, acid-washed jeans, and faded leather boots. Intrigued, Cricket grabs the pistol from Johnny's hand and marches to the rider.

Revving his motorcycle, the man shrieks, "Hey, are you losers deaf? Get out of my way!"

"Get off the bike," Cricket orders, moving quickly.

"Get off the bike?" The man repeated, "Listen to me, you black bitch!"

Cricket whips out Johnny's firearm and points it at his face.

"I said get off the bike, you redneck motherfucker!" she screeches.

"Hey," the cyclist croaks, lifting his hands. "Whoa, whoa. I didn't mean it like that. I didn't - "

Using the butt of the gun, Cricket smashes the driver's nose and then calmly pushes the bike over to her shocked friends.

"Are you fucking serious, Chris?" Johnny shrieks.

"Relax," Cricket said, putting the gun in Johnny's hands. "He won't spill to his buddies that he got his ass handed by a witch."

Johnny eyes the unconscious man with disgust before looking up at his excited best friend.

"Alright," he groans. "What kind of plan do you have in mind?"

* * * * * *
The oversized, hound-like demon gallops across the streets with fire in its eyes. Blood drips on the floor, leaving a trail for Johnny to follow. His hands grip the metal handlebars of a stolen motorcycle. His machete shakes violently inside his backpack, but luckily, it doesn't fly out onto the road.

The biting cold air whips against Johnny's surprised expression as he effortlessly maneuvers the stolen motorcycle. Cricket's strategy involves having Johnny lure the beast to the Meatpacking District, where she and Mateo will be waiting in the nearby alley, ready to pounce on the hound.

One thing is sure - the trail left by the paw prints of the beast is one of devastation.

Jagged rocks and debris are sent hurling over Johnny's head, shattering cars and taking innocent lives. But despite the chaos surrounding him, the psychic remains focused and in control. With a tight grip on the handlebars, he steers his bike under the monstrous dog's belly with determination.

As the long roads led to towering buildings, the lively establishments of coffee shops, elaborate lounges, bustling grocery stores, and bustling strip malls now lay dormant.

The once bustling city now exudes a haunting stillness, almost as if it harbors a sense of despair.

Prostitution stretches its reach through the streets as drug dealers conduct their trade, exchanging packets of white powder. Bold and daring gangsters proudly brandish their firearms, yet at the sight of a dog, their faces contort with fear, and they scatter in different directions, causing Johnny to navigate his way around them.

With practiced precision, Johnny swiftly unsheathes his blade from its bag, ready to take on the ferocious canine. In one swift motion, he closes the gap and plunges his weapon deep into the dog's abdomen. A thick, inky substance oozes onto the concrete as the dog lets out a pained howl.

Snarling, it turns its attention to Johnny, who calmly retracts his machete and slips into the left lane. Blaring car horns fill the air as enraged drivers direct their anger towards Johnny. He quickly veers into the right lane, maneuvering through the chaotic traffic.

Speeding through a red light, Johnny expertly dodges innocent bystanders. When he thinks he's escaped unscathed, a bright, crimson glow catches his eye, drawing his focus to the glowing letter E on a nearby building.

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