The Unaliving of Riitho Lakin by Sophia Adepoju was submitted in October 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #5 based on the writing prompt: Your main character is in a loop, where he dies at exactly 8:03 p.m. every night and has figured out he can break the curse and live if he figures out who is out to murder him and stops them.
CHAPTER ONE – BANGUI’S NIGHT
The Underbelly of Bangui City rumbled with the groans of gears and engines. Grey smoke blanketed the city, blocking the sun’s rays. It was always night in my part of Bangui.
My boots splashed water droplets all around as I walked along the street. It was quiet as the lamps were beginning to go out. I felt the vibrations of the power plant below us— churning and groaning— reverberate through my foot.
Bangui was coming to life any minute now. While the Upper City went to bed, while the nobles slept, the Underbelly moaned with hunger. A hunger that would leave a few Upper households in turmoil when the sun came out again.
My sensor beeped.
“Zarina.” The AI read out.
“What’s up?” I asked once the call connects, adjusting my jacket.
“Where are you?” Her voice poured into my ears. Her worry seeped through her voice.
I looked around; I was alone. I knew I should tell her. But it could put her in danger. She didn’t deserve this. This was my mess and I would fix it.
“I need to see Saii.”
“Stop.” I raised my voice. I hadn’t meant to. I knew the face she would make. Her eyes would thin out, narrowing, and her lips would form a straight line. She wouldn’t stop until I answered her. Truthfully. But I barely knew what was happening. I promised I wouldn’t.
My sensor beeped again.
“Riitho, I don’t know what’s going on, but you can tell me. You don’t have to do whatever it is alone. Trust me Riitho.”
I let out a deep breath, my fingers mindlessly swiping through the holographic screen projected from my sensor. I pinched the screen, zooming into the route the AI found from its search.
“Riitho?” Zarina’s voice reminded me I was on a call. I knew she was worried, but I couldn’t let her know where I was. Not until I sorted everything.
The clock materialised in front of me. I watch the short hand drop slowly, stealing my time again.
“Zari, I promise I’ll tell you what’s going on. Just trust me, baby. You trust me, yeah?”
My heart pounded against my chest. My shirt suddenly felt a size too small. I saw it coming before I felt it. The command flows from my sensor, gliding through my neural web into my brain and down my veins. I clutched my neck, my fingers itching an invisible discomfort that choked me.
I wrapped my arms around myself, hugging my torso tighter. Maybe if I held on tighter, it wouldn’t come. Maybe I could stop it from spreading.
The clock beeped. Another shock wave sped down my spine. The holographic screen crumbled first, breaking into mismatched shapes. Zarina’s voice distorted, shifting from a child’s to that of an adult man.
“Please be safe Riitho.”
The last thing I heard was Zarina asking me what was happening. But she wouldn’t understand. I rolled on my back, facing the sky.
I watched the fake stars the street kids hung to remind themselves of the good life in the Upper City. But the underbellies knew who we were and dreams had no meaning to us. I closed my eyes, welcoming the familiar blankness, the quietness, and the stiffness. While I died, Bangui’s heart thumped with an insatiable hunger.