I am about to be taken by one of the most humiliating deaths possible. The irony is that I can blame no one but myself. Sure, I could blame the people who are about to kill me, or I could blame the Friends of the Old for bringing me into this mess. I could even blame my friend, Matthew, for scolding me instead of forcing me to give the money back.
It all started in the summer holidays. I was a carefree 13-year-old, loaded with iPods, iPhones and the like. My school wanted me to do something useful so my friend, Matthew (or Matt as he likes to be called), and I joined the Friends of the Old for a spot of charity. Every day we would stand in the busy streets of Hong Kong collecting money for a bunch of fuddy-duddies who couldn't tell one person from another. Needless to say I was not pleased.
"Put more effort into it," Matt told me, "you should be pleased that you're helping senior citizens. Remember that one day you will be one."
"Not if I can help it," I grumbled.
After three weeks of hard work I
had collected HK$5,000. It was a small sum, compared with Matt's amount, but I was proud nonetheless.
But why should I give my hard-earned money to those "seniors"? I had visited them once. They were all unfriendly and cold. I think one even spat at me. So why not just keep the money? The new iPhone was surely a worthier cause!
"Don't do it," Matt advised me when he found out. "You'll be in deep trouble if people find out."
"Shut up!" I told him. That shut him up.
So I spent the money on buying a new iPhone and used the rest to treat myself. I was in and out of almost every shop in the IFC. I was soon loaded with my purchases. Much more rewarding than helping the old. Or so I thought.
On the way home, I saw an old woman watching me. Her stone-cold eyes followed me out of the doors and she began to trail me.
At first, I was too jubilant to notice, but it wasn't long before I felt her cold gaze on the back of my neck. My hairs stood on end and I made my way home as fast as my legs would carry me.
She was still outside when I slammed the door and made my way upstairs, panting. I dragged the shopping bags into my room and switched on the television. My parents had gone on holiday so I had the house to myself.
"Police are still mystified by the death of a 14-year-old boy who was bludgeoned to death near an old people's home," the TV droned. I paid no attention; it was something I would soon regret.
During the following week I saw more and more senior citizens. They seemed to be everywhere, standing on the edge of a crowd or waiting in a queue, watching me with their cold, unfeeling eyes.
When I told Matt about my observation, he said that he hadn't noticed any strange old people. He was still happy about the work and had started collecting for some cancer charity. At the time, I thought he was an idiot. I still did not realise the connection between the old people and the spent cash. I was too busy enjoying my new iPhone.
However, they were beginning to frighten me. Everywhere I went they were waiting. They never smiled, never changed their expressions. Unmoved - like statues. Even worse, I began receiving death threats. Letters came through my door, saying, "You will regret what you did" and "The Order of the Stick will get you". The Order of the Stick? Nonsense, I thought.
Their numbers doubled and I started to see whole busloads of them all staring at me with those eyes. I had never missed my parents as much as I did then.
Matt still insisted that he hadn't seen anything.
I started to recognise some of them, and one, in particular: the old woman who was the first to follow me home. She looked foreign. She had deep blue eyes and, despite her age, she had golden hair. But her face was wrinkled. She appeared the most often, sometimes with one or two other "oldies". She was the first one to speak to me.
"You have upset us."
"You have upset us."
"Upset whom?" I demanded.
"You will pay."
Nothing is scarier than an old woman in a dark alley. I started getting paranoid and began barricading the doors and windows. I peeked through the curtains and looked onto the street below (I live in a tall building on the 41st floor).
Outside a group of oldies were waiting - about 10 of them, staring directly into my eyes. It felt like they were sucking out my soul, reaching into my mind and trying to single out all the bad things I had done. Suddenly I remembered: the money.
I turned around in my house and there she stood - the blonde one. I suspected that she was the leader.
"How did you get in here?"
"No one escapes The Order of the Stick."
She started making her way towards me, one hand outstretched, the other used to support herself with a walking stick. I began to back away, but she forced me towards the window, which was slowly opening. When I had my back to the window, she reached towards me, unspeaking, and pushed me out.
It felt like a dream, as if I were falling, except here I knew that I wouldn't wake up before I hit the ground. Flailing wildly, I grabbed a ledge on the 30th floor. I felt myself slipping and thought that I should just give up, just let go. But I saw the face of that hateful woman watching from the window and it produced a surge of anger in me.
I swung myself onto the floor below and made my way towards the lift. I pressed the button and waited. The doors pinged open, but the blonde woman was waiting. I swore and made my way towards the stairs. At least I could outrun her.
Yet I knew that the group of oldies were waiting for me on the street below. What to do?
I reached the car park on the ground floor, looking left and right. Suddenly I saw it: the purple and green of the postman's van.
It was starting to pull away, but I jumped into the back and closed the doors. The van drove onto the street and I could feel the gaze of the oldies boring into it, seeking me out. But they didn't find me.
After about half an hour, when I thought the coast was clear, I opened the doors. It was getting dark. I rolled out onto the street and made my way towards a McDonald's restaurant in the distance.
I walked through the doors and up to the counter. But behind the counter another oldie waited. He grinned with blackened teeth, and stared at me. This was too much. I bolted out the doors of the restaurant as fast as a rabbit fleeing a fox and waved wildly for a taxi.
The old man was making his way outside slowly, still grinning at me - his McDonald's cap standing out cheerfully in the dreary evening. I gave up trying to find a taxi and ran off in the opposite direction of the old man. The old man got smaller and smaller until I could no longer see his yellow and red uniform. But I was exhausted. All that running had taken its toll. I collapsed on the pavement and fell asleep.
Later I woke up with a start. A man with no legs sat on the pavement beside me, poking me with his collection hat. I took the hint and ran off.
The streets were busy, as usual, and I made my way through the marketplace. Everywhere there were people bargaining and yelling incessantly. I had to be on the lookout because the place was always crawling with oldies. Sure enough, I spotted one, an old woman on a chair, staring straight ahead. Her face was twisted into an ugly grimace, usually the only expression I ever saw on old people's faces. I kept out of her sight, hiding behind a group of mainland tourists who were taking photos of the old woman. You'd think they would have seen plenty of old people from where they came. I shook my head and strode off.
I could have walked to my home, but The Order of the Stick might be watching. I had to stay on the run until I found out who, or what they were. I crossed the road absentmindedly, still deep in thought. Suddenly a tourist bus screeched past me. I stumbled and made a rude gesture at the retreating bus. The darn tourist bus could have killed me!
The bus stopped and did a U-turn right in the middle of the road. Then it started to come back towards me. I realised then that the driver of the bus was really trying to kill me; I saw that woman - that blonde, wrinkled woman hunched over the wheel. Behind her, more oldies peered out, grinning.
I looked around frantically for somewhere to hide. A massive truck sat parked on the side of the pavement. The truck's driver had got out from the cab and was standing smoking. I dived underneath the truck, thinking that surely the oldies wouldn't risk smashing into it. But the bus kept on coming, the blonde woman grimacing determinedly. I braced myself for the impact.
So there I was, hiding underneath a truck with a bus, full of grinning oldies, charging towards me like an angry hippopotamus. How much worse could it get? Then the bus hit the truck. I heard a massive explosion - or at least half of one, because I blacked out before the deafening noise stopped.
I was floating ... floating in absolutely nothing ... doing nothing. It was the best feeling in the world. I never wanted to wake up, but something made me open my eyes; I tried to resist, because I wanted to stay that way forever - away from school, social life - and especially away from those hateful oldies.
One of the oldies was looking down at me. After what I'd been through, any wrinkled face would have made me scream. So I succumbed to my instincts and screamed. She looked startled.
"Calm down, I'm just the nurse!"
Nurse? Throughout the past two weeks a fear of all oldies had embedded itself in my brain. Could one actually be here to help me? Impossible, I thought. I dismissed the thought from my mind.
"What do you want from me?"
"I want you to stop squirming and relax."
Still confused, I looked at a television in the corner. On the news, an excited reporter babbled in Cantonese, while the camera zoomed in on the crash site. Someone had recorded the crash on an iPhone. I saw the driver dive for cover as the bus and truck exploded. All the oldies were reported killed. I was lucky to be alive.
I finally accepted that the old nurse was really there to help me.
"Have you heard of The Order of the Stick?" I asked.
"Nope, doesn't ring a bell."
I slumped back on my bed. The whole experience had changed me.
Now I listen to Matt more and go with him to collect for charity. I give the money to the charity instead of keeping it for myself.
But the Order of the Stick is still after me. I need to find them before they find me.
Read the other entries to our 2012 Summer Story competition.
- The winning story, Eyes of the Departed, by 16 year old Lorenzo Chim
- I Should Have Listened to My Friends by 13 year old Charlotte Chan
- All's Fair in Life and War by 15 year old Brandon Mok
- Dreams of fame turn to tragedy by 15 year old Chaang Vi Ka
- A love to remain forever unspoken by 15 year old Lorraine Ho
- The sad tale of a drowned ghost by 16 year old Gene Lin
- A prank goes out of control by 8 year old Anoushka Hemnani
- It will be spring by the time you awake by 15 year old Emily Archibald