“It’s my first time” Ashton muttered with a wounded look towards Ace. He picked himself up from the cold asphalt nervously. Ace sneered and shoved him towards the front of the alleyway.
“This job ain’t for scaredy-cats, kid.” He spat. “If you can’t do it then I guess we’ll just have to go through with Plan B.” He already knew what the kid was going to say, but he sensed he needed a little bit more motivation.
“N-no, it’s fine. I’m no scaredy-cat.” Ashton replied nervously. He took a deep breath and rubbed his cold sweaty hands together, trying to steady his breathing. It didn’t work.
Plan B. Ashton didn’t know much about Plan B. All he knew was that it was bad enough to threaten kids with, and that was enough for him.
“Then move it.” Ace glared at the kid. He was tired of getting all the newbies. Why doesn’t Jefferson give them to someone else, he thought bitterly, taking a cigarette out of his pocket. They’re slow and jittery and don’t know what they’re doing. Ah, what the heck, just get it over with.
“I said move it!” He yelled as quietly as he could, but quickly got control of himself. He didn’t want to risk them getting caught, but really, this kid was getting on his nerves.
He knew if they were late with their haul, Jefferson would be furious, but he knew even more how much he would boil over if they got caught. That would be the second group this month.
Ace gave up and roughly grabbed the kid’s arm and dragged him to the front of the alley.
“You see that house over there?” He asked gruffly.
“Uh, n-no. Errr, wait, yeah. Yeah, I see it.” Ashton stuttered. He bowed his head timidly, he knew how quickly Ace’s temper could flair.
Ace rolled his eyes in disgust and continued. “When the second batch of kids enters the house you’ll follow them in with a couple other of our young recruits, and go through the haunted house. A couple other guys and I will be scattered around, about a block in each direction,” He paused darkly, “just in case anyone escapes or something goes wrong, which shouldn’t happen,” he said, eyeing Ashton, “ but it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there. Got it?” He added the last part looking down upon the kid. Ashton nodded shakily and sat down, knees up, head in hands. He thought he would cry but evidently, he was too shocked and scared too.
They had been sitting in silence for a few minutes when Ace began to speak.
“I was just a kid when I was recruited too.” Ace said in a softer tone, putting the lit cigarette in his mouth. Then fell silent again. Ashton didn’t know what to say. He supposed this was Ace’s way of having pity on him, but he didn’t care that he was trying to have pity, so he stayed quiet. Apparently Ace didn’t care. They both sat in silence.
Ashton slowly, trying not to be noticeable, reached his hand up and pinched himself, hoping beyond hope that it was a Halloween nightmare. He sighed and let his hand slump down to his side again. Nope. It was worth a try though.
Ashton wasn’t normally into all that pinch-yourself-and-hope-you-were-dreaming type of stuff, but this didn’t seem like a time where that mattered. He folded his arms around his legs.
Ashton couldn’t believe that a group of people would actually carry out something like this. Kidnapping a bunch of kids and then training them so that they can kidnap other kids for their business. Unbelievable. Cruel. Why couldn’t they just do it themselves if they really wanted to? He guessed that a bunch of kids entering a haunted house wouldn’t be as suspicious as a bunch of sketchy guys.
Time seemed like it was passing like a slug.
The first group of kids had entered the haunted house.
Ashton’s mind drifted.
Why the second group? Was it more suspicious if the first group disappeared? What makes the difference!? What makes the second group have to be kidnapped instead of the first!? How could they get away with this!?
Ashton could feel his heart beating faster the more he sat there in his flaming anger.
“Simmer down kid.” Ace said, between puffs of his cigarette. “No point in getting riled up. Believe me.”
Ashton blinked, coming back to Earth from out of his head. He turned his head away.
“I wasn’t getting riled up.” He said resentfully, anger still present.
Ace snorted and shrugged. “You're actually doing fairly well compared to the other kids I’ve had.” He said in amusement. “Normally they’ve tried to run away by now. Stubborn... a little admirable... but stupid.” He said thoughtfully.
Ashton stood up angrily. He couldn’t take it anymore. Ace’s eyebrows rose.
“What do you know about what’s admirable!?” He said, voice full of anger.
“Fine. Stubborn... and stupid.” Ace replied coolly, standing up.
“No! Not-” He was cut off from a hard stinging slap in the face.
“Shut up, you're too loud.” Ace said without a trace of emotion. He knew exactly what this was. He had a quick temper too, but over the years of being in business, he had learned that at some points, it was better to stuff it down.
“Sit down and shut up.” He said, shoving the kid down to the ground. “You’re going to have to learn sooner or later that tempers aren’t beneficial to you. Better you stuff it down now than have Jefferson teach you how.”
Ashton was stubborn and angry, but not stupid. He knew when he had to stop...and it was now. He already regretted his outburst. Jefferson would definitely hear about this. Ashton felt helpless and miserable and terrified. At this point, he could definitely cry. But he wouldn’t. Not now. Not in front of Ace. He couldn’t show any sign of weakness. He had to let it go. He had to stuff it down. He had no choice but to listen to Ace if he knew what was best for him.
“Stand up.” Ace commanded mercilessly. “You need to go.”
Ashton stood up. He hated having to take orders from someone so unrespectable.
“Where’s your costume?” Ace asked eyebrows furrowing. “Put it on.”
Ashton pulled his vampire costume over his head and picked up the candy bucket.
“Go to the corner of that sidewalk and meet the other kids there. Then you will all go to the house together. Act like you're a group of normal teenagers out to have a fun, scary Halloween night. Follow the plan.” He said gruffly. Ashton nodded nervously.
“Go. Don’t mess this up.” Ace said and pushed him out of the dark alleyway.
Ashton walked slowly to the corner of the sidewalk where he was supposed to be meeting the other young recruits. By now his anger had been snuffed out and it was all fear gnawing at him from the inside.
After about five minutes, more than ten kids had gathered on the street corner. Ashton looked behind him towards Ace. He could see the small light of his cigarette burning in the alley. Ace took a step into the light so Ashton could see his face. It was set in a hard glare sending a dark message to keep going.
“First time?” A tall kid dressed in an alien outfit asked.
“Noticeable?” Ashton replied, trembling.
“Definitely." He said back. “Best if you figured out how to hide that.”
Ashton swallowed. “I know.” He tried to say but all that came out was a dry whisper.
The kid raised his eyebrows and stepped off the sidewalk onto the street. Ashton followed.
They drew up to the house just behind the second group of other kids. The house was ominous. How could they do this? How could he do this? How could he do this to other kids like him?
“Hey. Move.” A girl behind Ashton commanded in a whisper, shoving him closer to the house. She spoke gently, but urgently. “We can’t hold it up.” She shoved him again towards the house. Towards the kids.
“I know. It’s just my first time” Ashton trailed off. As if it being his first time was worth anything. He rolled his eyes at himself. Great, now he was embarrassed too.
He stared at the haunted house and then at the group of laughing kids in front of them. Ashton started to move but it was barely a slow shuffle. Just my first time. He thought. How many more times would he have to do this? How many times has Ace done this? Or the other kids around him? Would it always be this horrifying or would it get better? Did he want it to get better? He made himself stop thinking about it and stepped up into the stairs to enter the haunted house. My first time-and hopefully my last.