Swan Song

Therese stared through the sight of her sniper rifle. He had his back to her, watching the less-obvious entrance, the last line of defense, counting on his buddies to watch his back. Another reason why Therese worked alone – that many fewer people to fail her at the last moment. She lined up the crosshairs with a spot at his feet and fired. The sleeper bullet whizzed and hit, immediately coating his location with a pale fog. He had just enough time to get a mayday out before the fog forced him under. Perfect.

Therese stowed the rifle and leapt down from the balcony she had been inhabiting. Now for the difficult part. She knew how to get to the dignitary and maintain her wraith status, even with the mayday. She knew how to conduct this with surgical precision. Instead she forced her training and instincts down and got sloppy, running the shortest distance toward the dignitary’s office, aiming to take him between there and the safe room like an ameture. The Florist would kill her for this, but then again, Therese knew she was already dead.

She raced around a corner and slid under the barrel of the gun that was pointed at her face, taking out the assailant’s legs, tumbling back to her feet, and racing on. Normally she’d finish the job, normally she wouldn’t get this close in full tactical, but everything had to go wrong. At least a bullet in the back would be kinder than what the Florist would do to her if this didn’t work.

Shouts ahead, a grumpy politician’s voice, a voice speaking with sharp precision. Therese slowed, checking her corners, a knife now clutched in one hand. One chance if she didn’t want to get shot outright. Her every instinct was screaming at her, shouting that she could still save this, still finish the mission, go back and beg forgiveness. The voices were closer, and a shout behind her – the man she’d left alive. No more time to repeat the arguments she’d had with herself constantly for the past six weeks. Time only to act.

Therese darted around the corner and rolled right into the middle of the group, knife aimed at the man in the middle – the dignitary. She missed – on purpose – landing only a glancing blow across his side. She probably ruined a ten-thousand dollar suit, and the Florist would disown her every action for this, but thought escaped as the Knights attacked – faster, stronger, more lethal than even she had been led to believe.

Therese fought, but fought to lose. Fought to strangle the flashbacks. Within minutes she was on her knees, a Knight holding each arm, blood flooding into her eyes from a long cut. Another Knight slashed through her body armor, revealing her shoulder blade and the rose tattoo held there.

“Well, we got one,” he said.

“Sorry excuse for a Rose though,” another said. Therese felt a sharp pain between her shoulderblades, the world went soft, then dark. Nothing.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 5

The alarms went off at six thirty, the way they had every day for the past three years – and probably since the day Facility had opened its doors. Ryan groaned and rolled over, already regretting his decision to stay up late the night before. Maybe he could catch just a few seconds more…

“I would like to inform you that you are doing this to yourself Gigabyte,” Jeremy Tyler’s voice made its way to Ryan’s sleep-fogged brain a half-second before the blanket was unceremoniously yanked away. Ryan’s feet hit the floor almost before his brain registered what he was doing.

“I suppose I should thank you,” Ryan said as he shoved his legs into uniform pants.

“You should, but you won’t,” Jeremy answered. The dorm room was full of the muffled sounds of a dozen adolescent males waking up and rushing to the hallways. Ryan pulled his mask over his face – he was one of only half a dozen or so who ranked high enough to wear one – and joined the throng. Jeremy stayed close beside him, the breaker’s biceps and reputation providing protection for the much smaller and scrawnier Ryan. Jeremy was the strength to Ryan’s brains, and one of his few friends in this place.

“Anything of interest on the interwebs?” Jeremy asked quietly.

“Same old same old. Your parents bought a new car – 1968 Honda.” Ryan walked almost blindly, relying on Jeremy to guide him as he mentally flipped through zillions of bits of information coming at him through the wifi.

“I bet Dad was happy about that. Here, food.” Jeremy handed Ryan a tray of breakfast – waffles and fresh fruit – then guided his friend to a corner table in the gargantuan cafeteria.

“Don’t forget the assembly in an hour,” Jeremy said.

Ryan nodded. “Have fun punching things.” He waited till Jeremy had moved away before pulling out his datapad. He had an hour to cause chaos in the outside world. Ryan smiled as he logged into the message board for Operation Hide and Seek.

There once was a boss-man named Byte

who thought he was all goodness and light

but though he pled and cajoled,

I will not be told

that I should ignore my own plight

Byte had to laugh at the limerick that greeted him in his urgent mailbox. Sparrow was a good codename for the impetuous operative – she was constantly moving and could never suffer in silence. But somehow she still made a perfect undercover agent; her natural innocence perhaps.

Byte set up his spider to scan incoming traffic while he opened the rest of Sparrow’s message. She was lengthy, as usual:

“Day 329. My cover is holding, although next time can I please not try to play somebody so brainy? It feels like my grey matter has been stretched and folded and stretched again like taffy in my effort to sound like I know anything at all about latent inferiority complexes, narcissism, or sociopathology. I languish inside these sepulchuric walls like Antigone, buried alive amongst whitewashed corpses. Give but the word and I shall open fire on these bastions of manners and culture so a to make the corpses blush with color before returning to the earth from whence they came and from whence they refuse to acknowledge they have come.

“Seriously, everything is white here, and I’d almost welcome a bit of bloodshed. Can I sneak off for a weekend and run a breaker across the border? I want to feel the dirt again, instead of this concrete tomb. This is where dreams come to die – you can almost see the shattered remains glittering in the stone. And the Dreamers. Shuffling corpses, gazing blankly ahead, lost from the world, trapped inside an imagination not their own. They do mechanical labor, anything that requires mostly muscle memory. How can someone choose to live like that? With a pasted on smile because the dream is so wonderfully shallow.

“The tigress will die in here if you don’t get her out soon. The sparrow will suffocate in here if you don’t get me out soon. Inferno est!

“Sparrow.”

Byte wrote back a three word answer: “He’s coming soon.” That dealt with, he spent the next 45 minutes putting out fires in half a dozen other locations around the country – fudging a transmission here, warning a sleeper there – in other words, a day in the life.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 9

The first thing Anastasia became aware of was warmth; then sunlight on her face. Had she dreamed the whole entire meeting of Greta Thomas? But she could not be under the tree still, for there was no grass tickling her neck. Had it indeed been real? She opened her eyes. All was white; but now it existed in space and time. Slowly she understood her surroundings to be bed curtains, each side tied back with a deep red ribbon. Sitting up, pushing back the stark white comforter and its lace coverlet, Anastasia became aware of the rich green carpet and wooden wainscot, the white walls and ornate ceiling borders. In one corner near the door were two burgundy chairs around a small, carved table. On the bed’s other side was a great window framed by lace curtains. What had happened that she would be asleep in bed?

Dressing she noted the bandage on her forearm: the remnants of a doctor’s work. Oh, dear! Surely things were not that serious? Anastasia treaded quietly down the carpeted hall. She descended the spiral staircase, remembering Mrs. Tundlmire’s idle yet pleasant chatter. On the last step she waited, listening for some sound of life. Was this another dream? Where was everyone?

Then she heard a soft voice say, “I’m sure she will be fine. It was just the excitement that caused her to faint so. As for the cut on her arm, it will heal with barely any mark. I just hope all the glass was removed.”

Of course you are right.”

Anastasia felt embarrassed as she recognized Greta and Gerard’s voices. Fainted? What a ridiculously stupid thing to do! Oh, if only they would not remember her as a weakling!

What do you think of her?” Gerard asked.

A muffled giggle echoed out to her. Anastasia could picture Greta’s blue-green eyes laughing as her delicate hand covered her pretty mouth. “I’ve never seen anyone I like so much! Do you know what? I asked father to propose that she come with me to Europe. I hope she agrees!”

Anastasia almost collapsed on the steps. Her first thought had been a sense of hurt from the merriment, then utter surprise, and finally dread. But what was there to dread? Europe was where all people of culture went; perhaps she could prove Mr. Bulfinch wrong and marry well after all; perhaps… Why did she not want to go? Oh, it was rubbish and nonsense! If the perfect Ms. Greta Thomas asked her, she would of course say yes.

Oh, my little birdie! How are you?” Mrs. Tundlemire hurried towards Anastasia, her gray curls bouncing under her quivering white cap. “I was just coming to see how you were getting on. Oh, don’t blush like I caught you at anything! You don’t yet know you’re way around, do you? Come along this way.”

I do hope Gerard doesn’t think I was eavesdropping. She dared not look behind lest he guess she had. As the prattling Mrs. Tundlemire guided her, Anastasia thought over every word between the siblings. How did Greta know whether she was a worthy companion? After all, what had she done except faint? But her train of thought was lost in the heady monsoon of Mrs. Tundlemire.

Soon Anastasia found herself dramatically announced to a marvelous blue dining room with enough gold candelabras and glistening china to welcome a king. At one end of a table long enough for twenty at least sat two gentlemen: the elderly man who had been so kind to her and Mr. Bulfinch.

My dear Anastasia!” the latter boomed at the sight of her. Hastily rising, a beaming smile spread over his pallid complexion, he readily embraced her. “Come, sit, my dear. What a dreadful fright you gave us!”

Bewildered Anastasia accepted the proffered seat. What had happened to Mr. Bulfinch? There was no way he was that excited for her good health, not if all she meant was an extra burden for life. Then again, maybe that was it: if she was healthy it was less money expended. Or, as she feared to guess, it was really about Ms. Thomas’ proposal to take her to Europe.

Thank you very kindly, Mr. Bulfinch,” she said.

I do hope you are well rested?” the elderly gentleman asked. Despite his whitish hair and trim beard, Anastasia detected the same calm expression, the same piercing blue eyes, the same well-bread manner as Gerard. This must be the elder Mr. Thomas.

Yes, thank you, sir, for your hospitality. I’m sorry for-”

No trouble at all, Ms. Bartle. My son has told me much about you, and I am very pleased to serve you.” As if the word was a cue, Mrs. Tundlemire reentered- indeed, when had she left?- with a tray of edibles and tea stuff. “Thank you, Mrs. Tundlemire.” Then he himself, the lord of the house, took the tray and poured out a cup for Anastasia. Politely he offered sugar and cream, then scones and sausage.

Anastasia felt completely humbled and small. No one had ever waited upon her, but to have a man as regal as Mr. Thomas performing such! It was almost unbearable. For once she understood how Peter must have felt at the Last Supper when Christ washed his feet. “Thank you very much, Mr. Thomas.”

Oh, not at all, not at all,” he murmured happily.

Greta and Gerard entered, both cordially greeting Anastasia, asking after her health. Mr. Bulfinch loudly thanked them again for all they had done, especially their generosity in paying the doctor. At the comment, Anastasia could have fainted again. She was not certain if it was for her stepfather’s uncouthness or the Thomas’ kindness.

However, the small repast dwindled leisurely with conversation flowing from every topic. Most of the comments only half entered Anastasia’s mind. The delicate China-ware fascinated her, especially when the sun fractured itself on the spindly long stems of the glasses or glanced around an etched flower and vine. How was it possible to make glass so thin and still carve into it? She felt like it should shatter if she tried to use it. And then the tea cups opaquely luminated by the light. The delicate forget-me-nots and brilliant roses seemed so real it was difficult to know whether or not their scent wafted to her. It was all so exquisite! She felt like a milkmaid at a princess’s tea party.

Slowly she became aware of tales from Europe becoming more frequent. She found her attention arrested from her metaphorical stroll through the forest garden of glass and light, locked instead into far off realms she had never seen. Gradually, she felt her curiosity aroused; she wanted to see the towering spires of ancient cathedrals, tread the ruins of once mighty castles, touch the stones where pilgrims had knelt, watch an artist imitate the master’s piece de resistance. But it would never happen. Or would it?

Oh, father! When shall we go back?” Greta suddenly cried.

Chuckling, Mr. Thomas shook his head as he lit his pipe. “When you can find a better companion then I. Sometimes, Mr. Bulfinch, a woman is good company for a man. But there are times when it is better for her to have another woman.”

I think I understand your point, Mr. Thomas,” the merchant nodded, his oversized belly quivering slightly in his vigorous agreement. “I’m sure many a young lady would be grateful for the opportunity to accompany Ms. Thomas.”

Was it just her imagination, or had Anastasia heard him stress grateful? It was disgusting the way he was almost forcing them to ask her. Why was he making it so blatant that he expected them to ask her? She must refuse now, if only to accommodate for his rudeness.

Ms. Bartle, would you kindly take a walk with me?” Greta rose stately from her chair, reminding Anastasia more of a fairy princess.

Of course, Ms. Thomas.” Rising in turn, her eyes met Gerard’s. They seemed strangely melancholy to her. But that must be because Karen was not here.

Silently the two maidens went out to the park. Every leaf sparkled with the fresh fallen rain, every rose and budding flower glistened. It seemed so lovely. For one wild minute, Anastasia hoped they never spoke, just wandered aimlessly through the mysteriously washed world: a princess and her handmaid. But, no, time could not stand still. And she must apologize. “I am so sorry.”

With a slight laugh, so reminiscent of her brother, Greta asked, “For what, my dear?”

Everything! My bothersome fainting, my stepfather’s rude insinuating-”

She was cut short as Greta laughed clear and free. Threading her arm through Anastasia’s, she said, “Don’t fret, my dear. There is absolutely nothing to apologize for. Besides, Gerard has told me so much about you I just know I love you too much to be upset over yesterday. I wish you were my sister!”

Anastasia was certain it was just a polite speech. Yet, Ms. Thomas seemed genuine enough. “Thank you.”

Oh, please don’t! I have quite a selfish reason for being so interested in you. You see, ever since I’ve been abroad, Gerard and I have written letters constantly. Well, suddenly he began telling me of a wonderful Ms. Bartle who was so kind and intelligent, such a lady. I told father I had to return to London and meet the damsel myself! And now that I have, I am very happy.”

Anastasia felt her cheeks burn. Gerard had written his sister about her? “Thank you. I’m happy to meet you too.” Oh, that sounded ridiculous!

Greta laughed. “Oh, Anastasia! Don’t be so formal. I want to be your best friend. Now, Gerard told me he asked you and your mother to come along to see the ballet in London. But I want to propose something to you. How would you like to come with me to London and then to Europe?”

Anastasia had not expected her to ask. Well, she had expected it, but not at that moment. “Oh, oh!” What could she say? Surely Ms. Thomas was just being kind and did not really want her along. Or perhaps Gerard’s letters had made her conclude things that displeased her, and now she was removing a temptation for her brother. “Thank you, but I could not possible afford to accompany you to Europe. Mr. Bulfinch-”

No, no, dear!” Greta laid her free hand on Anastasia’s arm. “I want you as my companion. You won’t need money of any sort.”

But school…”

Think of it as an education.”

But mother…”

This is an opportunity she would not want you to miss. And I know very well that Mr. Bulfinch approves.”

You don’t have to ask me because of how he acted at the table. I’m sorry-”

My dear, don’t be.” Her voice was soft and full of compassion. It was the same voice Gerard had used when she cried: like a breeze caught in the tree tops. “I’m not asking for him or Gerard or anyone else. I’m asking for you and me. I know what kind of things Karen and her sidekick are capable of; I used to be in their class. When I finally told father, he took me out, saying he could do a better job educating me abroad. Now I know you are in their class, and because of your personality I dare say you are their torture toy. I want you to have the same chance I do: not only to get away from it, but to experience people who are civil.”

Gerard watched as his sister paced with her arm linked in Anastasia’s. He could tell that both girls were getting emotional: their serious faces told him that tears were close at hand. He wanted and then did not want Anastasia to go. If she went, she would probably meet some dashing European man and get swept off her feet as Greta’s last companion had. But then he could not see Anastasia being so romantic; she would probably be more practical about it and marry some rich lord of something- yet somehow that seemed dishonorable to her character. Anyway, she would forget all about him, if she had not already. But if she stayed, he could still be friends with her. Oh, how selfish! How could he call himself her friend when he did not truly want what was best for her? Then she should go and find someone who would love her properly- someone who was not Gerard Thomas.

Anastasia blinked back tears. No one had ever said such things to her, given her such an exalted chance, such a friendship. “Oh, thank you so much!” She sobbed a little. She felt Greta wrap her arms around her. Somehow she just knew that Greta- the perfect woman, the princess- would help her heal from all her fear of love. This friendship which started at this moment would be the beginning of an Anastasia who was strong, confident, and magnanimous. She only hoped that she could do some good for Greta too.

A Beginning in the End pt. 22

Logan                                                                                                                  2020/1/16

There is another human being downstairs. It is the one thing that I have not dared to hope for. I did not even think it was possible that even if there was another survivor that I could find them in this giant world. The chances were so low that I had not dared to hope that I would ever find someone.

Her name is Arabella and I must say I am impressed. She does not look like much at first but she has survived this long which speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. She is beat up from years of hard living but she is still quite beautiful. She must be resourceful and talented as well to have lived this long.

I cannot remember the last time I felt so peacefully content as I do right now. I actually feel a bit of happiness. Just to hear another voice is such an amazing thing that I am nearly in a state of shock.

And yet despite how God has decided to bless me today I am on edge about this place after the story that Arabella told me today. Something is missing from the story and it makes me slightly nervous. I am determined not to worry about it tonight. I’m going to take this night to rest and have a bit more peace before I work to solve this mystery.

I am simply happy to have another human being in near proximity once more. I do not know if it will last but I am going to rest in it while I can. I do not have to talk to the air for a short time and that is all I could ask for. I am not alone.

2020/1/17

Arabella made breakfast this morning. I woke up to food spread out on a kitchen table and a cheerful, albeit slightly nervous, face there to greet me. I can not help but feel that I do not deserve this little bit of happiness in my life, not after what I have done.

“Good morning,” I managed to greet the girl. I spoke first again as I had yesterday. Arabella seemed a bit uncertain and wary still and I do not blame her in the least.

“Good morning,” she returned in a guarded voice. It is oddly satisfying in my opinion that she does not seem to completely trust me yet. She would be an idiot to do so. And yet, by the end of breakfast we were chatting amiably as though we were old friends.

We seem to automatically trust each other on some level. I believe it is because we would not want to do anything else. As possibly the only to humans left alive we both assume that the other is not going to pull any underhanded tricks. Neither of us wants to be alone, that certain, and we both know it.

I have taken quite a liking to this girl. I have just met her and already I trust her with my whole soul. I can tell that she is kind, gentle, and as innocent as one can be in this world. I want to get to know her and providing that we both survive I feel sure that I will.

I feel a strange desire to tell her all about myself but first I will look into that troublesome town barricade. Something is odd here and I am determined to find out what it is. I sense that is is important though I cannot as yet say why .

 

Dymphna.

 

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 4

Drey pulled into the back lot of Kitty’s Coffee and powered down the Pursuer. Friday night, the place was packed. Not the public place, of course. That would be foolish – nothing broke up a party like the authorities. The basement though, where things were a little more hidden and a lot more relaxed, was where the action happened. Drey palmed in her biometrics and entered the Breaker underground.

A blast of smell, sound, and light greeted Drey as she entered. Drey maneuvered through the converted storeroom and the crowd, toward a table in the back where a lively card game was going on. She hooked an empty chair with her foot and swung it around to join the table.

“Deal me in Jack, double or nothing,” she said. The dealer gathered his cards quickly out of her reach.

“No deal Drey, You cheat too easy,” Jack said. Drey smirked, grabbed four cards from the top of the deck, and flipped them over to reveal four aces.

“You just make a rotten dealer.” She tossed the cards back at him and they landed as a king, two fours, and a seven.

“I didn’t think you were still in town,” Tommy, sitting across the table, said.

“I got a steady job now, bring in what I can for the cause,” Drey replied.

“Yeah, and we spend it all on booze,” Kirsten said as she drained a bottle of Coors Light. Drey shook her head, smirking.

“And to think – an outstanding citizen such as myself supporting a bunch of lowlife money grabbers.”

“Speaking of which, you owe me two hundred Tommy,” Jack said. Tommy grimaced as he dug a handful of cash from his pocket.  The card game started back up, people making bids and bluffing money nobody really had. Kirsten tossed her losing hand down on the table with finality.

“I still suck at cards. By the way Drey, Danny’s sick, and we could use a gunner on mission tomorrow if you’re missing action,” Kirsten said.

“You know me, I’m not much of a team player,” Drey answered.

“Me and the boys aren’t much of a team.” Kirsten popped the top off of another beer. Drey laughed as she reached for the neon blue electric guitar which was leaning against the wall.

“If this is another attempt to get me laid, no. Out of curiosity though, where are you headed?”

“Out towards Boulder. Byte has us running a mark down to San Antonio,” Kirsten answered.

Drey nodded absently, busy tuning her guitar. It was always a little sour on the e. She strummed a couple of cords, adjusting the volume and distortion on her amp.

“Play Freebird!” A random voice from the other side of the road called. She probably knew him, but didn’t feel like coming up with a name.

“Kirsten, are you going to play or not? I was beating you,” Tommy said.

Kirsten turned back to the game. “Deal us Jack, I need to teach the pup a lesson.”

“I’ll run interference if you need it Kirs, but I’m not leaving the state,” Drey said. She started strumming, playing with the distortion because she could. She played a couple of scales, then launched into a full-blown rendition of her own take on the cover of an old eighties song.

In a different time she might have sung, making up words to fit the notes that flowed from her fingers, but not tonight. Instead Drey played, taking requests when she knew the song, playing to someone’s voice when she had a singer. It was fun, especially when people started to feel generous and left money in her jar.

Eventually the night grew stale. People wandered off, left singly or in groups through the secret ways, people with something to hide and everything to lose if the wrong people saw them at the wrong time. Drey eventually hung up her guitar. When she turned around Blaze Hopkins was waiting.

“I thought you swore never to come back,” Drey told him.

“Byte sent me. It’s about Meg,” Blaze said. His hands were in his coat pockets as usual, his stance was keyed up, the way it always was, his voice caught when he said “Meg,” the way it had ever since everything had fallen apart.

“Meet me outside.” Drey turned back to the guitar to hide how much her hands were shaking.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 3

Ryan fired one last shot and the mother ship exploded into pixelated wreckage. He smiled. Somehow that was still ridiculously satisfying. Meg used to get so annoyed by the old eight-bit style, but there was something about the blatant unreality of it. In a world where the lines blurred, eight-bit seemed like one of the few honest programs left. Still, they’d had some violent arguments about it – each twin dedicated to their own views. Meg, always dedicated to making things better. Himself, wondering if they’d already reached the best at some point in the past and foolishly lost it. The world was spinning out of control, a repeat of history – of a history where the only end had ever been blood. Right and wrong… maybe Meg was right, maybe it would be better just to let Management have final control. Maybe utopia was worth everything Management and Facility had done. Were doing.

Ryan sat back and attempted to rub the thought out of his head. He knew better. Maybe. Utopia always ended badly in the books, but maybe Hobbes was right and peace was better than liberty. Maybe real life was different from the books, maybe people really didn’t care about freedom, not really. Management did provide safety – freedom from war, crime, hunger, illness… did he have a right to destroy all that like some toddler knocking down a block tower?

“Dear God.” Ryan powered off the computer. The room was thrust into pitch black. Light wouldn’t come on till six thirty am. The start of another day in hell. “Dear God, why can’t things be simple?” Like the thousand times he’d prayed that line before, there was no answer.

 

It was late when Megan finally left the lab – probably close to 1 AM. And in the end she only left because she ran out of coffee and was having trouble keeping her mind focused. She half ran the two blocks to the staff apartment complex, her coat wrapped tight around her against the cold. The apartment wasn’t much better – her roommate must be half polar bear. The psych expert was sprawled across the couch, a blanket mostly sliding on the floor. Megan dumped her coat, kicked off her shoes, flipped on the light in the kitchen and searched the fridge in the vain hope that there was something edible inside. Only two half-empty bottles of beer and a week-old takeout carton filled with something unidentifiable. Megan chugged one of the beer bottles simply to keep Dr. Becky Summers PHD from it and headed for the bathroom.

“You’re late again,” Becky said. Meg glanced in the mirror to see Becky sitting up on the couch, blanket wrapped around her, staring bleary-eyed. “You keep doing this I’ll have to send in a report.”

“I’ll be useless on drugs and Management knows it.” Megan leaned toward the mirror to ensure that each tooth was brushed with the greatest care.

“Well if you’d talk to me maybe we could work out your latent inferiority complex.”

“I’m tired. I am going to bed. Good night.” Megan shoved her way out of the bathroom. Becky attempted to follow her into the bedroom, but Megan slammed the door and locked it.

“Latent inferiority complex my foot,” Megan mumbled under her breath as she dug through her hamper for something vaguely clean. She knew exactly what was wrong with her, and there was no way she’d ever tell some stuck-up half-drunk so-called expert. No, the problem was Ryan – nobody else could get under her skin like her twin brother could. Why did he have to be the special one? The one with a power she’d practically kill for? He could do this crazy cyber-space manipulation thing, and all she had was a brain that wouldn’t shut up. She couldn’t keep up with people like him. She had tried the whole “I’m practically Batman, I don’t need superpowers” thing, and it had nearly gotten her friends killed. Friends who were infinitely more powerful than she was. No, this chance to do science at a real lab, where her ideas could actually be recognized, was much better.

Megan flopped into bed and stared at the pills that lay on her bedside table. They’d put her out for at least eight hours, which put her at… 10am wake up time.

“Its the weekend.” Meg downed the sleeping pills and flopped back under her covers.

A Beginning in the End pt. 21

Arabella                                                                                                               2020/1/6

I was so shook up last night that I couldn’t write about what happened yesterday until now. I still do not know if it was not my mind playing cruel tricks on me. All reason tells me that there cannot be another living human here. It has to be my sick mind messing with me, it has to be.

But then again, what if it is not? What if he is really here in this town with me? I feel like a coward and an idiot for running away yesterday but I couldn’t help it. An all consuming fear overcame me when I laid eyes on him, a terror derived from the possibility that he was not actually there, a potential truth I was not willing to face. I don’t think either my mind or I will be able to survive the disappointment if he is nothing more than an illusion. I will break.

Never-the-less I cannot leave matters as they stand. Despite the fear I must go back downtown and try to find him. It is all or nothing now and I just pray that for once it is not all in my head.

Later

Just as I said I would, I went back to the main street, took a seat on one of the benches still intact, and waited. I sat there for several hours, time dragging as the sun leisurely sailed across the sky. My fear increased with every changing shadow and as afternoon descended it slowly took my hope with it.

I remember rising from the bench, the tears pricking at the corner of my eyes and a sense of utter betrayal and despair encroaching on me when something moved in my peripheral vision farther down the street. I almost didn’t dare to turn, I didn’t want to know. I took my time, my heart racing on the precarious cliff between ecstasy and despair.

The world stopped. A short way down the street stood the man, young and tall with messy, jet black hair. Dark eyes watched me, set in a face defined by a harsh world. That same world had dictated the svelte build of his body, muscular but lean.

I froze, unable to move as the figure approached me, afraid that if I so much as breathed he would vanish. Those dark eyes locked onto mine. I quelled the urge to run again but only with great difficulty. It seems ridiculous but it took everything I had to remain where I stood. My entire body began to tremble at the possible presence of another human being. I hadn’t seen or heard from another creature like me in so long that, contrary to all expectations, I was honestly afraid.

Ye,t even in my fear, I saw as he stopped in front of me that he was a truly handsome man, rugged from living in this harsh world but none the less he had natural good looks that had managed to survive their fair share of circumstantial cruelty. He wore what appeared to be military clothing, not too old judging by their condition. Some of his hair was pulled back in a short ponytail that left the rest to messily frame his face.

His eyes were penetrating and thoughtful, trying to infiltrate my mind although I am sure identical thoughts were rushing through our minds. Both of us were attempting to discern if what was before our eyes could possibly be more than a broken psyche.

Disbelief and curiosity were apparent in his every aspect. I could barely breathe under his intense gaze and yet almost without thinking I reached out and brushed my fingertips against his cheek. His skin was cool under my touch. I felt him shudder, almost start at the contact. I couldn’t help but nearly start as well . In that moment we both realized that we were either hopelessly insane or the other person actually existed. More than anything, more than being truly convinced by our senses, I think we both chose the only option we could, that reality was what we saw and felt.

I withdrew my hand and opened my mouth so speak but no sound emerged. My voice had died in my throat. In the end it was he who spoke first, revealing a deep, baritone voice.

“My name is Logan,” he said, his voice strained and odd from a period time of disuse, “what is yours?”

It took me a several tries to bring my own voice into the air. “My name is Arabella,” I finally half stammered.

Another moment of silence passed between us before he said, “I can’t believe I’ve found another living human being.”

“Me either,” I said, the excitement of finally speaking to another person breaking through the relative shock of the situation. My heart began to race as it dawned on me that I was no longer completely alone. I was not the last human alive, this man called Logan survived with me.

“Is it just you?” he asked, momentarily diverting his eyes from mine to glance around.

I nodded in solemn regret. “It’s just you and me,” I said. “I’ve been on my own for months now.”

“Me too,” a melancholy frown moved bent his mouth. “I was afraid that I was the last man alive. I had begun to suspect that I was doomed to wander this broken land alone until I die.”

“I have been feeling the same,” I replied as a smile crept onto my lips for the first time in a longer span than I cared to calculate. “What are you doing here? Can you not find a safe place to stay either?”

He shook his dark head, “I’ve been wandering since the world fell. This is the safest place I’ve found since the last military stronghold was decimated.”

I was right to conjecture that he’d had dealings with the former military. “This is the safest place I’ve ever been,” I said, sitting down on the bench once more and motioning for him to sit beside me. “These people had a plan and I have a feeling we can be safe here, at least for a little while.”

He sat down beside me and turned his gaze up to the clear sky. “Do you know what happened to them?” he asked, giving me a curious glance.

“I found a journal telling the story,” I answered and proceeded to give him my condensed version of the tragic tale.

“interesting,” he muttered to himself. “This barricade isn’t anything remarkable although it is well constructed. I wonder what really kept them out?”

“What do you mean?” I asked sensing that Logan was a man of vast knowledge where defense and combat against the monsters was concerned. Anyone who had survived so long  had inevitably been through a good deal and had to possess a great wealth of knowledge through sheer experience alone. I know I do.

He continued lost in thought for another long moment before answering, “Granted these people had forethought but with enough time and numbers those things could have gotten through. Yet they don’t even seem to have attacked which is what confuses me. I’m going to take another look.” He leaped up from the bench and sprinted for the barricade. I followed, my curiosity roused and I refused to lose sight of him.

He leapt up the barricade and peered over the other side. “As I thought,” he said after dropping back down, “there is no sign of assault of any kind on the barricade. What kept them out if not that?”

“I don’t know,” I answered unhelpfully, trying to follow his train of thought.

“They didn’t want in,” he remarked, striding away from the barricade and back towards the center of town. “They didn’t actually have any interest in entering in the first place. I wonder why?”

“Is it important,” I asked.

“It might be,” he shrugged, “but for now I think the question can wait. I would much rather spend time with another intelligent creature than try to solve riddles.”

I smiled for only the second time in months. We went back to the house I had taken up residence in and had something to eat. We just talked, loving the sound of each others’ voices and the exchange of rational thought. As night fell we decided that we didn’t want to separate so he took the upstairs bedroom.

I’m writing this before going to sleep happier than I have been in such a long time. This is as close to peace as I think I can get in this life. I am not alone anymore.

 

Dymphna.

 

Young writers reaching out.