I gasp for breath as my body convulses upwards out of my bed, as if I had landed on something sharp. An even sharper pain fills my chest. It feels like a giant block had been resting on me as I slept. I look over at my beat up clock and it flashes 2:00 am.

I can still see the last of my tobacco billowing from the green tortoise shell pipe that rest besides the flashing red light. The only window in my small, square flat is wide open, letting in the November air. The cool air fills my lungs as I slowly catch my breath. This isn’t the first time I have woken up like this and I know it won’t be the last. Sleep has been hard to come by these days.

Lately, I have been having the same damn dream.

I find my self in a sealed hallway with no end in sight. The hallway is dark, the air heavy and moist. I start running wildly, desperately trying to find a way out. Then I hear this sound, almost like music, calm but menacing. It continues to build and build. The music growing louder, growing faster, more urgent. Soon, water seeps into the hallway. Slowly at first, then all at once. I try my best to swim, to keep up. I finally see an exit in the distance but the dream always ends the same. Me floating face down, drowned in my water logged overalls.

I think this case is started to get the best of me.

I’ve been drinking Star whiskey faster than I can buy it, and the only thing I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours was a soggy portobello mushroom burger from Luigi’s diner. My brother is a good guy but he makes a lousy burger. Who ever heard of an Italian making burgers anyways? Still, it’s free and jobs ain’t coming in like they used too.

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The pain in my chest returns, like a swift reminder there is still work that needs to be done.

That same pain, that same pressure, constant and overwhelming

I’ve made little progress in finding the latest princess reportedly nabbed by the notoriously brutal Bowser gang. The less information I seem to find about her, the more I seem to see of her. I see her beautiful face everywhere. On reward posters, inside newspapers, and lately in the reflection of my whisky flask. He blue eyes stare back at me. Not with judgment but with hope. Hope that I will find her. I wish I shared her confidence.

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I know there is little time left, if any, to find her alive. Only a matter of days before she is found in some gutter. No longer beautiful, no longer alive. The papers are still writing stories about the last princess kidnapped by the gang. How her tarnished body was found badly burned in a green dumpster down by chomp alley. Strands of brown hair melted atop her jade jewelry. The words, try again carved into her charred skin. The letters broken and crooked as if they were drawn with broken glass. Another beauty wasted, like a daisy picked before its bloom. Every time I read those stories, I tell myself this time will be different. I couldn’t save the last princess, but this time will be different. It has to be...

Why can’t I find you princess? Where are you? Are you even kidnapped or are you just running from something? What are you running from? Who are you running from?

Now is not the time for more questions. I need answers and I needed them yesterday. I brush my teeth with the last of my star whiskey and grab my blue overalls off the corner post of my bed. Time to see if I can scrounge up any more clues from the goombahs down at the Castle Club. Before I leave, I garb the black steel hammer from my kitchen counter and tuck it into my pocket. Last time I was nice. Let’s see if they have more to say when I start smashing a few heads.