The Gift

She was a gentle young woman with beady eyes that were the color of chocolate milk. Her hair was fine, curly, silver, neck-length, and worn in an uncomplicated style. She was tall with an Amazonian build that allowed her to go above and beyond when it came to survival. Her skin was pale due to lack of exposure from any direct bright sunlight for long periods of time (long being months, going on years). Her mouth was small and her lips were thin and pinkish red in color. Her wardrobe was businesslike, but not dressy.

She looked at the death, decay, and destruction that surrounded and consumed her. She had lived her life like this for as long as she could remember and she was only twenty-one years old. Her pale skin was like leather from constant work it took to survive this place she was in. The place was once a city that had been ripped apart to shreds by conquest, war, famine, and death.

All around her she saw makeshift homes and businesses. Streets had been dug out using the mile high piles of garbage and rotted corpses. From the hill, she saw cats and dogs scavenging dead, maggot-infested, rotting corpses of humans and other animals. She gagged as she tried to look around.

To her left, she saw what appeared to be an attempt of a neighborhood. To the right, the same. In the center was a cleared dirt path lined on either side with mountains of trash and corpses. She started down the hill and into the destruction. She looked behind all of this and saw other towns and cities similar to the one she was headed into hundreds of thousands of miles off in the distance.

She was surprised by this sight as she followed the path that led from the hill into the town because she was sure that the war, which had caused death, which had caused famine, which had caused pestilence, had wiped everything out. But as she neared the makeshift town, or city, whichever it was, she noticed that there were at least a few hundred shacks that seemed to be occupied and lived in.

She stopped at the edge of the town just before entering it. The sight made her sick. The smell did as well. She covered her nose and mouth with her shirt as she crept her way into the town. It was actually a city, she noticed as she walked through it and the way she could tell was by, one, all of the houses and business, and two, there was a large population of homeless widows and orphans. This was ridiculous, she had never seen anything like it before in her entire life!

She stopped at one of the burning barrels that had a widow and orphan standing at it. The young woman stuck her hands over the fire with them.

“How are you?” she asked them, smiling.

“What are you?” the widow asked.

“I’m sorry?” the woman said, still smiling but looking curiously at them.

“My name is Cornelia Hartman,” the widow said, “this is Elizabeth Emerson. Answer my question, what are you?”

“I’m not sure I get what you mean ma’am.”

“You’re dressed and speak better than anyone I ever met.”

The young woman glanced down at what she was wearing and then looked back up at Cornelia and Elizabeth, “I’m dressed like you,” she said, shrugging, “what’s the big deal?”

“Why don’t you look sick?” Cornelia asked.

The young woman frowned at her.

“We’ve been slowly dying of whatever this epidemic is that swept over the world, just as everyone else has already seemingly died and yet you look as healthy as anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.” Cornelia said, shaking her head disgusted.

The young woman had never thought about how she looked physically to others, but she knew she wasn’t what Cornelia and Elizabeth thought she was.

“Believe me ma’am,” the woman said, “I’m anything but.”

“You’re up and walking aren’t you, probably got a house and transportation and food still.” Cornelia said angrily.

“Please don’t judge me, ma’am,” the woman said hurtfully, “you have no idea what I’ve seen or…” Cornelia cut her off.

“Don’t play the pity party with me,” she snapped, “I’ve seen and know your kind. Always wanting hand-outs and favors while the rest of us Waller and squirm in our filth and disease!”

The woman’s heart wrenched, “I’m just trying to survive and get along like you.”

Cornelia scoffed, “Yeah right,” she muttered, “what’s your name anyway?”

“I don’t know that I want to say now.” the young woman said coldly.

There was a brief pause.

“I’m sorry,” Cornelia said, “it’s just I’ve been in this condition for so long and watching the city….”

“I understand,” the woman said calmly, smiling, “my name is Christie Ashlee Pittman.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Same,” Christie said, “I don’t blame you for snapping the way you did.”

“Oh,” Cornelia said, surprised, “why is that?”

“I’ve been sick my entire life.”

“With what,” Cornelia asked, “if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, it’s nothing….it’s a rare condition.” Christie said, waving her hand as if to try and play off what she had.

Cornelia chuckled to herself, “you’re sick,” she said, “and possibly dying like Elizabeth and my…” Christie cut her off.

“The kid’s sick too,” she said, more serious than ever now, “what’s the matter with her?”

Christie studied them, the widow and the orphan. The widow had a hunched back and was bent over and had to walk with a cane she had made. She also wore tattered and torn clothes that barely hung on her body with a black hooded robe over it and grey headband that held back her matted hair that hadn’t been washed in months, on her feet were sandals that looked like something out of the days of the people in the Bible. The orphan was dressed about the same, only her clothes weren’t black, they were brown.

“Do you mind if I ask what you’re sick with?” Christie asked Cornelia as she saw no physical signs of illness, just handicap.

“We were struck with many different kinds of plagues and epidemics.” Cornelia said in a low voice and standing face to face with Christie, almost touching her.

“What about you,” Elizabeth said, “what’ve you got? You don’t look sick either?” she seemed annoyed and angered by the fact that what Christie had didn’t seem to affect her physical appearance as much as the inside of her body.

“Never mind that Liz,” Cornelia said, “do you know how to save us or not?”

Christie didn’t know what to say or think. She had never thought much about trying to help others because this was the first time she had had any kind of contact with anyone in years. She had been living just like the widow and orphan all that time, but yet, she had never given any thought to look for survivors because she had thought that the war, death, famine, and pestilence had all wiped everyone and everything in the world out. Now that she had found other survivors, she felt hopeful. But at the same time, she wondered what finding other people would mean.

She laid under an overpass that was just a few miles away from where the widow and orphan had been. As she did, she heard footsteps. She was up in an instance and saw the orphan standing before her. The orphan saw her and smiled big and bright, waving as she happily and excitedly ran over to where Christie was. When she arrived at where she was, she knelt down and threw her arms around Christie like they had known each other forever.

“How are you Elizabeth?” she asked, smiling at her as she let go.

“Fine now that you’re here.” Elizabeth said happily.

“What do you mean by that?” Christie asked.

“Aren’t you the one they said would come and save us and bring us peace?” the girl asked.

“How old are you again?” Christie asked.

“I’m fourteen, almost fifteen.” Elizabeth said proudly.

“What’s this about this prophecy you’ve heard?”

“Come on,” Elizabeth said, taking Christie’s hand, “I’ll show you!”

They walked away from where the girl lived with the old woman, who stayed behind.

“Where are we going,” Christie asked as the girl dragged her along with her, “what’s going on?”

“There’s something you need to see,” Elizabeth said excitedly, “it’s in that thing over there!” she said, pointing to what looked like the world’s biggest coliseum.

They soon reached the coliseum, but there appeared to be no way inside as the door was smashed in. But Elizabeth soon let go of Christie’s hand and hurried to the door and squeezed her way inside. Christie hesitated.

“Come on,” Elizabeth’s soothing, childish voice called from just inside of the doorway that led in and out of the building, “you can fit too!”

Christie slowly and carefully made her way to where the building and Elizabeth were. She squeezed through the door and entered it. Inside was more trash and dead, rotting bodies, just like there seemed to be everywhere else in the world. Christie had quickly adjusted and grown accustomed to, the stench as she followed the path someone had made out of the debris.

“Elizabeth,” Christie called as she followed the path, “where are you?”

The coliseum was round and similar to a maze. Christie didn’t know which way Elizabeth had gone and so she picked a direction to go, not knowing she was going the wrong way. There were doors all around another circle and two staircases on either side in front of the doors. Along the walls were bathrooms and vendor stands.

As Christie walked, her footsteps echoed in the empty concrete building. There were signs hanging from the ceiling that gave directions to each section of the inside circle. She walked up to one of the blue doors and pushed it open and entered the inner circle room.

There were hundreds, if not thousands, of seats in the room which was circular. Scattered about them and the arena below, were tents and people in those tents. The mass destruction hadn’t wiped everyone out like she had originally thought. Or so she hoped.

She walked over to one of the rails and peered over the edge into the arena. Tents filled the entire inner circle, but there had been manmade paths to get around such a small area. In the seats were more tents, but there were about two or three per section, all the way up into the nosebleed section nearest the ceiling. There had to be survivors in here, there just had to. Even if it took all day and all night, she was determined to find them at all costs.

“Over here!” Elizabeth whispered from somewhere in the mess of tents.

“Where are you?” Christie asked, somewhat angrily as she was sick and tired and frustrated.

She followed Elizabeth’s voice to the last of the tents, which were in an alleyway that led into the arena. She jerked back the rainfly to find the girl in a four person tent, but was the only one inside. Christie let out a sigh of relief when she saw the girl was alone and unharmed.

“What the hell are you doing in there,” Christie said shortly, “come on, get out of there, now!” she ordered.

“This is a much safer place than where I just was!” the girl said.

Christie shook her head, “But not much safer.” she muttered as they started back out of the coliseum and back to where they had been earlier with Cornelia.

“Why?” Elizabeth asked.

“This place is disease infested,” Christie said as she covered her mouth with her shirt and coughed like she was choking to death, “it’s too dangerous here for us.”

“But I’m not….” Elizabeth said, but Christie cut her off.

“Look, little girl,” she snapped, “just listen to what I say about this place and others and the world! I’ve lived in it and dealt with its shit and so has Cornelia a lot longer than you have!” she coughed and hacked again after she spoke and staggered out of the building with the girl close behind.

Elizabeth stayed silent as she and Christie exited the building and re-entered the world. She knew Christie was sick. She didn’t understand how or why she was sick, she just knew she was. She had seen it before in her own family, all of whom had died when wasn’t even a year old and so she didn’t remember them at all. The closest person she had as family was Cornelia. The widow whose husband had died early on during the outbreak, just after she had taken the infant in. Even though the young girl seemed extremely upset and hurt by how Christie was talking to her right now, she wasn’t. She was fully aware and understood why she was the way she was.

“How are you?” Christie asked Elizabeth as they walked though the death, decay, and destruction, searching for survivors.

The girl didn’t say anything.

“Elizabeth?” Cornelia said as she and Christie stopped and turned and faced the girl.

She had fallen over on the ground and was motionless.

“Elizabeth!” Cornelia and Christie shrieked as they ran over to where she was, knelt down beside her, and turned her over where her face was up at them.

Christie checked the girl’s pulse, “Dead.” she said, somberly, shaking her head disappointed.

“I didn’t realize she was that sick,” Cornelia said as they stood, “you know what this means, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Christie said as she picked the girl’s body up and started walking again, “we have to find the source of this disease and find a way to stop it before it kills anyone else!” they walked until they found a spot in the dirt to dig a place to bury Elizabeth.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Bury her of course,” Christie said, “she deserves that much.”

“I don’t understand,” Cornelia said, “why this, why now?”

“Well,” Christie said as they neared a spot she thought would fit the girl perfectly, “the Bible tells us that no one knows the day, the time, or the hour, not even the Son of Man.”

Cornelia sighed, frustrated, and shook her head, “I’m so sick of hearing shit like that I can’t hardly stand it!’ she muttered angrily, kicking at the ground as she spoke.

“Oh,” Christie said, “and why is that?” she stared curiously at her as she spoke.

“It’s annoying!” Cornelia said irritably.

Christie and Elizabeth exchanged glances. Christie wondered why Cornelia was behaving the way she was. She had a feeling the girl already knew.

Meanwhile, a group of renegades were frantically searching the area and surrounding ones for survivors.

“Anything or anyone you see move or so much as breath, kill it! Show no mercy!”

Cornell Louie Buchanan, twenty-one years old, five foot nine inches tall, slender, lean muscle build. He had shaggy black hair that made him look kind of hippie-ish and piercing dark brown, almost black, eyes. He was the leader of the renegades.

He had also never believed in anything. How could he? Especially when he had been born into such a world that was falling apart at the seams. He hated the girl he was searching for because of what she believed in. He was determined to find her and convince her that she was wrong and if that didn’t work, he would kill her. Not just kill her, but brutally massacre her and the others.

After Christie and Cornelia had buried Elizabeth, they continued down the dirt path, away from the coliseum, hoping to find a different shelter and other survivors. What they didn’t realize, though, however, was that they were about to cross paths with Cornell and the other renegades. But for now, they walked along the lonely dirt path.

“Listen, Christie,” Cornelia said, “I’m sorry for how I acted back there. It’s just….how can I believe in something or someone I can’t see when I’ve been like you and Elizabeth, being born, raised, and living in such a broken world and having no physical evidence or proof of this power you believe in?”

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. John chapter twenty, verse twenty-nine.” Christie said, smiling.

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Cornelia said angrily, gritting her teeth, balling up her fists, and her body trembling with anger and rage, “why can’t you ever give me a straight answer instead of doing that?”

“Doing what?” Christie asked calmly.

“Giving me stupid verses from some bullshit book.”

Christie shook her head with dismay, “It’s not,” she said, “please, you’ve got to be patient my friend.”

“To hell with patience,” Cornelia said, “I’ve been patient enough for fifty-seven years and I’m sick of and done with it! Why can’t you just wake the hell and grow the hell up already and realize that this bullshit book you believe in is a lie, and so is the God you believe in that supposedly inspired its writing?”

“I know it’s not.”

Cornelia gritted her teeth, “grow up,” she said angrily, “grow up already, when are you going to grow up and realize that if this so-called God of yours existed, then the world wouldn’t be the way it is!”

“It’s not his fault.”

“Oh yeah,” Cornelia snapped, “then whose is it?”

“It’s ours.”

“That’s the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard,” Cornelia said angrily, “I’m a good person. I give to charity and care about people.”

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

“Goddammit,” Cornelia said angrily, “stop, just stop already! How do we survive this place since there’s nothing and no one around to help us do so?”

Christie started to answer her, but Cornelia cut her off.

“Never mind,” she snapped, “don’t answer that, let’s just keep looking.” and with that, they kept walking and didn’t speak another word to each other.

Christie felt her heart wrench. This world had tried to break her down all her life and just when she thought it had, she found she had yet to give up the fight. Even if she and Elizabeth were both considered too sick and unfit to live. She knew Elizabeth would rise again someday as a beautiful princess in the Kingdom. She couldn’t help but smile at the thought of this, but tried to conceal it from Cornelia.

The group of renegades wanted her. The old woman. She was all they wanted and they would stop at nothing to get her.

“She’s aware that we’re hunting her?”

“Yes, why?”

“Well nothing, it’s just….”

“You think she’ll believe the lies of the young woman, yes?”

The young man that was Christie’s age nodded.

The old man that was Cornelia’s age grabbed his shoulder firmly and smiled, “Don’t worry, Cornell,” the old man said, “they will be dealt with for their rebellion and treachery soon enough.”

“Yes,” the boy that was Elizabeth’s age chimed in, “and then there will finally be peace upon the earth and in all men’s hearts.”

The old man laughed and firmly grabbed the boy’s shoulder and shook him with happiness, giving him a brief one-armed hug.

But the young boy, whose name was Eugenio, felt his mind and heart being violently pulled back and forth at the thought of God and Satan. Heaven and Hell. Life and death. It was all so confusing to him. He didn’t understand. All he knew was what the two men, Cornell and Dwayne, had taught him.

“We’re close.” Christine said to Elizabeth.

“To what?” the girl asked.

“I don’t know,” Christine said, “hopefully other life.”

“Where are they?” Elizabeth asked.

“There’s not anyone else here,” Cornelia said, growing more frustrated and angry by the second by Christine and Elizabeth’s ignorance and arrogance, not realizing it was really herself that was this way, “if there was, they would have found us, or vice versa, by now.”

“Cornelia,” Christine said, “just stop already, how could anyone find us when there’s no power?”

“Exactly,” Cornelia said, “there’s no power, hence, no life.”

“Then how do you explain our survival?”

“Luck.”

Cornelia shook her head, “Why do I even try?” her mind wondered.

The sun fell behind the ruins of the city. As it did, Elizabeth grew tired and Christine took it upon herself to pick her up and carry her as best she could because she cared about her even though they barely knew each other, and she knew Cornelia wouldn’t.

“Are we there yet?” Elizabeth said tiredly as she clung to Cornelia with what little energy she had left in her body.

“Shhhh,” Cornelia whispered softly to her, “don’t worry. We’ll be fine. God goes before us and will guide and protect us all the days of our lives.” she glanced over at Christine, who had been fully consumed by her bitterness, malice, anger, and rage.

They soon came to a place that was abandoned. Christine inspected it and tested the structure to make sure it was safe to sit or lay under without having to worry about it falling in on them.

“Looks safe enough,” she said, holding out her hands for the girl Cornelia was carrying, “give her to me and I’ll put her inside.”

“No,” Cornelia said, clutching the girl tighter, “I’ve got her, it’s okay.”

“Come on, I’m not going to hurt her.” Christine said, taking a step toward them.

“I said I’ve got her!” Cornelia insisted.

“Why don’t you trust me to give her shelter?”

“It’s not you,” Cornelia said, “it’s the structure.”

“What about it?”

“It doesn’t look sturdy enough.”

The truth was, Christie knew what Cornelia was. That’s why she didn’t trust her. She knew in her heart and soul that if she entrusted Elizabeth to her care, something bad was bound to happen, and not just because they didn’t know each other. Instead, Christie and Elizabeth stayed outside of the shack. Christie found a pair of sticks and used them to make a fire.

The girl had been asleep all day. In some ways, it scared and worried Christie. She wondered if she should wake her and ask. But as she leaned over to do so, she stopped when her eye caught how peacefully the girl slept. She leaned back, dropping her arm to her side. Christine smiled at Elizabeth. She was suddenly reminded of children’s innocence and how nice it was to live so carefree with unwavering faith and love unconditionally with unfailing love.

“Was this girl the Messiah in disguise?” Christine wondered inside of her mind.

If, and this was a big “if”, if she was, why was she a child and not a woman? And did that mean that Elizabeth had come to save mankind from people like Cornelia? Of course it did, it had to! But Christine knew Jesus was a man. Why, if he had already come back, had he done so in the form of this girl and not someone else or even his actual self? If the girl was Jesus in disguise, why wasn’t she healthy and fine and already saved the world? And why, if she was Jesus in disguise, was she here on Earth and not in the sky like the Bible clearly said. Was she another false prophet and Messiah like she believed Cornelia to be? Or was God trying to tell her something using this girl?

The girl couldn’t be a false Messiah, she just couldn’t. This was something Christie refused to believe for several reasons, the main one being that she was sick to the point of death, but had unwavering faith. But Christie had seen propaganda on television before all hell had broken loose of many false prophets who had claimed to be from God, but weren’t. This thought only further ripped and tore at her mind, body, and soul as she tried to fall asleep.

The men and young boy that was with them knew what the girl that was with the women really was. They had been following them for years, trying their best to destroy them. But something seemed to be hindering them from doing so.

Eugenio, however, was second guessing himself and what he believed in. All of his life he had been told by Cornell and Dwayne how there was no God. But he had felt him, not once, not twice, but many times throughout his short life. This was it, he was sick of feeling this way. He would find those who believed and stay with them. He waited until he was sure the men were asleep and then snuck out into the night in search of the girl and the women she was with.

As he headed through the night, the voices of Cornell and Dwayne throughout his life rang and echoed in his brain. But there was another voice, an unfamiliar voice, telling him to be strong, hold on, and not look back. To do what he had been called to do. And what he had been called to do was find these woman that could lead him on the right path and save him.

Eugenio knew the path well strangely enough. As he walked along it, he wondered what this God he knew existed but had been lied to and told didn’t, was really like. Eugenio tried to imagine what he looked like, but couldn’t. There were still so many questions that filled his mind about how a God so loving could have allowed what had happened, and where was he now? He felt something pull at his heart as he walked and it made him sick to his stomach.

Eugenio soon saw lights. He looked behind him, but no longer saw the place from which had come. He let out a sigh like he had been holding his breath forever and nervously and excitedly made his way to the lights ahead of him.

He soon came to the door of the shack that Christie, Cornelia, and Elizabeth were in. He lifted his hand to knock on the door, but hesitated. His heart pounded in his head and chest. His body trembled like a tree in high wind. The sickness had intensified. But he fought through it and rapidly knocked on the door.

There was a long pause. He started to knock again, but the door opened, revealing the girl his age.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Eugenio,” he whispered, “I’m here because I need help.”

Elizabeth hesitated before letting him inside of the shack.

“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked him as they sat on the place where she had been sleeping.

“I don’t know,” Eugenio said, “something told me to come here.”

“Do you know what it was?”

“No,” Eugenio said, “it was like I heard a voice inside of my head and felt a tugging and pulling at my heart that was telling me there was something not right about the people I was with.”

Elizabeth’s eyes were suddenly wide and bright. Her heart leaped for joy. A million things were suddenly racing through her mind at the speed of light.

“What’s wrong?” Eugenio asked.

“Nothing,” she said, “do you know who the voice was?”

Eugenio shook his head, “No.”

“Well, what all did it say to you and I could probably tell you.”

“It just said run, get as far away from people like Cornell and Dwayne, people who don’t….” Elizabeth finished for him.

“Believe?”

Eugenio nodded, “Yeah,” he said, “how did you know?”

“I’ve heard that voice too,” Elizabeth said, her voice rising with excitement, “Eugenio, do know what this means?”

He shook his head ‘no’.

“You heard God’s voice,” she said, “listen to him, believe, he loves you, he loves all of us and wants a relationship with us!”

“But that still doesn’t explain….” Eugenio started.

“All of the sin in the world is our own doing,” Elizabeth said, “but when Jesus comes back for us he’ll take us home to Heaven with us!”

“You really think so?” Eugenio asked.

“I know so,” Elizabeth said, “you have to too!”

“How do I do that?”

“Admit, believe, and commit.”

“What does that mean?”

“Admit you’re a sinner, and that you need his forgiveness.”

“And that’s it?”

“No,” Elizabeth said, “it’s only the beginning.”

They each got into their own beds and Elizabeth was soon fast asleep. But Eugenio wasn’t. He felt his mind and heart continue to spiral out of control as they wondered what this God Elizabeth kept speaking of was really like. He wanted to know more about him, but for now, he knew he needed rest and he would ask more tomorrow.

As Eugenio slept, he dreamed. In his dream he saw two men wearing hoods in the desert. They came towards him and stretched out their hands to him. He reached for them without thinking with trembling hands and felt them take his hands in theirs and lead him through the desert. He thought at first they were taking him somewhere safe, where he would no longer be sick, in any pain, or have see anymore of his loved ones died. Instead, they brought him to an enormous deep hole that someone or something had dug in the ground. The two men then let go of him and pointed at the hole.

Eugenio seemed to float, hovering just above the ground to the hole. When he got to the edge of it, he turned and looked for the two men. They were gone and had joined him at the edge of the pit. They now pointed down into it. He nervously leaned forward, and peered inside.

He gasped, terrified and horrified by what he saw. Thick, grey and black smoke rose up out of the pit. A million plus people were bowed down to a creature to terrifying and horrendous and hideous to describe. The beast was marking each of the people who were bowed down to its foreheads with the number “666”. Fire burned all around them and sulfur seeped and poured out of the walls of the pit all around everyone inside of it. He faintly heard, over the roaring flames and gushing liquid, the weeping of all those inside and the gnashing of their teeth. As some bowed down to and worshipped the beast, others fell from the sky and into the lake near the pit, which burned all of their flesh and muscle through to their bones. Their cries of agonizing pain rang out in Eugenio’s ears and made them bleed. His heart wrenched as he watched the sight, reaching out his hands to try and help them. But he was too far away. He then saw a beast, man, devil, and his demons, all fall from the sky and into the pit. They screeched and howled in pain as he watched their flesh rot off of their bones and they reached for and tried to grab onto him either to save themselves or drag him down with them or both. But he scooted himself far enough away to avoid this. Then, after he had watched all of this, the sky suddenly split open, and the entire Earth rumbled and shook as if it were about to explode. But it didn’t, instead, a beam of light came out of it and shone on the pit. The beast, man, devil, and demons all howled and screeched more frantically and hysterically, trying to shield their eyes. Eugenio saw the two men walk toward him and the pit. He froze in terror and fear. He wondered if they were here to kill him. Instead, the men seemed to ignore him and fearlessly stepped into the pit. When they did, there was a flash of bright white light.

Eugenio gasped, his eyes snapped open and he was sitting up in an instance as straight as a bored. He was panting, breathing hard and heavily as if he had been running a marathon. Sweat poured from everywhere possible in his entire body and the place where he had been laying was soaked. There was a huge lump in his throat that he couldn’t keep down. He threw the blankets off of himself and got up and stepped outside of the shack into the cool midnight air.

Elizabeth had heard Eugenio talking and stirring in his sleep. She too threw the blankets off of herself and followed him outside.

“Hey,” she said once they were outside, “what’s going? Are you okay?”

He hesitated, “I just had a nightmare’s all.”

“About what?”

Eugenio shook his head, “I…I don’t want to talk about it, it was just a dream. It didn’t mean anything.”

“It might,” Elizabeth said, “it depends on what you saw. Sometimes our dreams are God’s way of telling things we wouldn’t otherwise hear or understand.”

“I don’t even know how to explain it.” he said, his hands on his hips, he shook his head.

“Just try,” Elizabeth said, “and if there’s something you find yourself struggling to tell me, just tell me as best you can and I’ll repeat it to make sure.”

“There was a pit,” Eugenio said, “it was in the desert. There were two men near it pointing into it.”

“Did you see what was in it?” Elizabeth asked.

“I…I walked over to where they were and looked down into, yes.”

“Well, what was in it?”

“Another man and people and some kind of lake.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened, “Eugenio,” she said nervously, “you’re saying you saw Hell?”

“I guess so,” he said, “I saw Cornell and Dwayne in the pit. They were with at least several thousand other people and they were all burning to death alive in a lake.”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth said, “I’d say you saw Hell.”

“Who do you think the man was that led me to it?”

“It was God,” Elizabeth said, “Eugenio, he’s trying to tell you that you need to surrender to him, otherwise you’ll suffer the same fate as Cornell and Dwayne.”

“But I’m fourteen years old.”

“So,” Elizabeth said, “you’ve still got a full life ahead of you. It’s what God wants for you and it’s something you should want for yourself.”

“Well I did like when God came down as a beam of light in the dream and destroyed the pit and the demons inside.” he said with a smile.

“And, you could have been having a vision that’s telling you Jesus is coming soon. Like real soon.”

Cornelia had heard the two stir and talking, “You’re dream is a lie,” she said to the boy, “it means nothing, your mind is just stressed and overactive because of what’s going on.”

“Cornelia, not now.” Elizabeth said, frustrated.

“Why don’t you go somewhere else. Like with Cornell and Dwayne?” Eugenio said angrily as he crawled over the beds that had been made in the shack and crawled into one and went back to sleep.

Elizabeth glared at Cornelia, “I’ll pray for you.” she said in a low angry voice as she crawled back into her bed.

In the night, Cornelia was struck blind and with coughing blood. She died in her sleep, but Elizabeth, Eugenio, and Christie didn’t know it until the next morning.

“Was it something I said?” Eugenio asked Christie.

“No,” Christie said, reassuringly, “it was all God. Just like everything else.”

“How did it happen?” Elizabeth asked.

Christie looked at where Cornelia’s corpse laid, “I….I don’t know. Come on, we can’t stay here.” they packed up what little they had and started out of the shack and back down the dirt path.

“Is that what’s going to happen to all of them?” Eugenio asked.

“No,” Elizabeth said, “remember your dream you told me about last night.”

They soon came to what seemed like the end of the world. There was a temple that covered it.

“What is this?” Eugenio asked.

“A place where none of the renegades shouldn’t be able to enter or harm us it looks like.” Christie said as she and the two teens entered it.

Sure enough, inside of the building was a wooden double door. The hallway curved around it and there were tables on the wall near the door with papers on them. It was similar to the coliseum, but had another floor that had what looked like classrooms and was in perfect shape despite what had happened.

Eugenio suddenly felt relieved. Every kind of pain he had ever felt was suddenly gone and he forgot everything that wasn’t good. His head had stopped pounding, as had his heart. His body had also stopped aching.

“Are you alright?” Elizabeth asked him.

He turned and smiled at her, “I’m fine now.”

“Why is this the only place on Earth that wasn’t completely destroyed?” Eugenio asked.

“There’s no telling,” Elizabeth said, “maybe it’s a sign.”

“From God?” Eugenio said excitedly and happily.

“Could be.” Christie said as they entered the Sanctuary.

The renegades neared the church, but as they did, they burst into flames and vanished into thin air without a trace. They were thrown into a lake of sulfur and fire while Christie and Elizabeth sat safely inside of the church. Cornelia had also joined them. The world as they knew it was ending, but this was only the beginning for them.

I Don’t Care

This angry guy has round green eyes that are like two clumps of moss. His fine, curly, black hair is worn in a style that reminds you of a strange headdress. He is tall and has a graceful build. His skin is nut-brown. He has an elegant nose. His wardrobe is tight and classy, with a lot of white and black.

He had been drinking since noon the previous day. His hair was as greasy as a frying pan, and a matted mess on top of his head. His clothes were wrinkled and dirty. His eyes were bloodshot red and glazed over. He reeked of every kind of alcoholic drink known to mankind just about.

He took a long swig of the alcohol and then staggered toward the door that led into the basement where the boy was. He swung the wooden door open and squinted as he stared hard into the darkness below. He then threw the bottle down into the room. The bottle made a loud noise and shattered at the bottom of the staircase. He grabbed onto the rail and swung one foot in front of the other as he struggled to keep his balance as he made his way down into the basement.

He reached up and yanked the chain to the light above him. A bright white light came on and flooded the entire room, which wasn’t very big. It was just wide, long, and tall enough for a person to move around in comfortably. The walls were dark grey stone and decorated with old posters, most of which were torn and couldn’t be read very easily anymore. There was a light portable bed, of light canvas on a folding frame at the other end of the room. He smiled as he staggered over to it.

The figure that laid on it, facing away from him, looked like a younger version of himself. The only differences though; however, were that the figure was younger, and complete opposite of him as far as behavior and personality and clothing went. He frowned and glared at the young man before staggering angrily over to where he was.

He lifted his hand in which the amber colored glass was in, intending to hit the figure on the cot with it. But he stopped, lowering his hand and dropping it to his side. He instead threw the bottle to one side, shattering it. The noise awoke the young man, who sat upright abruptly and then spun around, now facing the old man. He frowned, glaring at him.

“You’re late.” the old man said gruffly.

The young man’s eyes widened. He glanced at his watch. He had missed serving the old man’s breakfast.

The old man jerked off his belt and lunged at the younger one. He then dragged him out of the basement, up the stairs, and through the hallway. The young man grunted as he struggled against the older one to get away from him, but the older man proved to be much stronger than himself.

They soon arrived at a small room to their left. In it, was a refrigerator, stove, countertops, and a small round wooden table with about four chairs around it that were also wooden. The walls were a dingy yellow-white, and the tiled floor had diamonds on it that were emerald green and turquoise blue.

The old man threw the younger one down on the cold hard tiled floor, “You know what I want.” he said coldly. The young man looked horrifically at him briefly, and then scrambled to his feet as he turned to the refrigerator and hurried and got out the ingredients he needed to prepare the old man’s breakfast.

As he was standing in the kitchen at the stove, scrambling and cooking eggs for the old man, the young man looked around and saw a box of rodenticide. He suddenly found himself fantasizing and saw himself pouring the rodenticide into the skillet with food and serving it to the old man. He felt a grin creep onto his face as he had closed his eyes.

“Boy,” the old man’s gruff voice said from the table, “breakfast, now.” he ordered, but didn’t yell or scream it.

The young man blinked, shook his head, and took the skillet off of the stovetop. He reached up into one of the cupboards and put a plate on the countertop next to the skillet. He then picked the skillet up, turned it sideways, and used a spatula to scrape the food out of it and onto the plate. He turned and walked a short distance over to where the old man sat and set the food down in front of him.

“What to drink?” the younger man asked.

“Coffee,” the old man said as the younger one turned back to the counter and stove where the already brewed coffee sat in a coffee pot, “and not too much sugar or creamer!”

The coffee the old man preferred was a foreign brand. Since the young man could barely read anything other than the Holy Bible, he had no idea what he was serving to the old man as he prepared his coffee for him. He put about two lumps of sugar and barely any creamer as he knew the old man liked his coffee as strong as he could possibly drink it almost.

The younger man watched as the older one drank.

“Ahhhh,” he said, smacking his lips together, “perfect!”

The young man let out a sigh of relief. There then came a sudden knock on their front door as they had no doorbell because the older man didn’t believe in them.

“Get that.” the older man ordered without ever looking at the younger man again as he finished his breakfast.

When the young man opened the door, he saw a man that was like a cobra ready to strike. He had deep-set obsidian eyes and luxurious curly matching colored hair that was like a cascading waterfall. He was very tall, towering over the young man that had answered the door slightly, and had a plump build. His skin was as black as coal and he had stubby-fingered hands. Finally, his wardrobe was very professional and plain and was mostly grey.

“Boy,” the old man called from the other room, “who is that at the door?”

“A visitor,” the young man said, “I think he’s here to see you!”

“Let him in and bring him to me.”

The young man let the guy in and led him into the kitchen. The guy sat down at the table with old man the young man had served just moments ago.

“Bring him a cup of coffee, boy.”

The young man turned and opened the cupboard and poured the coffee from the coffee pot into a small mug. He then set it down in front of the visitor.

“Elijah,” the elder said, “what brings you here?”

“I’ve discovered….” Elijah stopped when he realized the man that had served them was still in the room.

“Leave us.” the old man ordered. The young man turned and hurried out of the room, but he stood next to it where neither Elijah, nor his master could see him.

“So,” the young man heard Elijah say as he stood in the hallway near the basement, “how have you been, Alec?”

“Lonely.”

“Oh,” Elijah said, “but you have….er, what’s his name? Here with you.”

“The boy’s name is Abe and he isn’t very good company at all.” Alec said in the same cold tone.

Abe gritted his teeth and bawled his fists. How dare that son of a bitch say that about him when Abe knew Alec had never given him a chance to have a decent relationship with him, especially since Abe’s parents had died years ago when he was just a baby. Instead, the bastard had done nothing to or for him except make his life a living hell for the past at least ten years.

“So,” Elijah said, “you called me here for what exactly?”

“I need this city cleansed.” Alec said as he took a sip of bourbon he had gotten to replace his coffee. He made a gesture to Elijah, which he refused.

“Cleansed? I don’t get it.” Elijah said with a puzzled look on his face.

“Yes,” Alec said slowly, “there’s too much crime and ungodly in this city that needs to be….dealt with. However, there is a certain group I can’t let you mess with.”

“Oh yeah,” Elijah said, “which ones that?”

“The women.”

Elijah’s eyes lit up, he, like Alec, enjoyed women, money, and booze. He also, like Alec, had always abused this and being the man’s follower and captain of his army, had found favor with him.

“What about the children?”

Alec waved his hands, “let God deal with their sins accordingly.”

“And your nephew?”

“Let me deal with his.” Alec said nonchalantly, waving his hand the same way.

Abe’s face grew hot with raging anger as he headed back down into his room in the basement. He hated Alec and Elijah, absolutely hated them. There weren’t any other two people in the world he hated more than those two. How could they think of anyone the way they did? How could anyone think like that? He hated everything and everyone right now and refused to come out of his room for the remainder of the day and night.

The next morning, Abe heard Alec stirring upstairs. He moved away from the cot that served as his bed and crept toward the staircase that led up to the door and into the actual house. The kitchen was right above the young man’s room, therefore, he could hear the older one’s heavy footsteps and loud voice and noise he made as he slammed cabinet doors and ran into walls in a drunken state, kicking at the floor and walls and cursing everything in sight. The young man knew then what had happened after he had gone to bed. He waited.

In a few minutes, Abe’s day started the way he had come to expect his days to start. Alec was already drunk and demanding his breakfast from him, angry that the young man was late with it even though they had both just barely awaken. Again, Abe served him, and again, there sat the poison in front of him, tempting him. He looked over his shoulder and saw that Alec was quietly enjoying a cigarette and booze before his breakfast. The young man turned and carefully and quietly as he could, reached for the poison.

He stuck the poison under his shirt and in his pants where Alec couldn’t see it as he turned and headed over to the table and served him. There was another knock on the door, just as there had been the day before. Without having to be told again, Abe headed to the door and this time, let in four more men that were with Elijah. Today was Friday, they would be here all weekend possibly because they would be getting drunk and high tonight and eventually pass out while playing poker and end up spending several nights with Abe and Alec. Abe sighed as if he had been defeated and went to a closet down the hall that held supplies and the cots that the men would need to sleep on.

But Abe noticed something different about the men today. They had brought women, possibly some kind of strippers or dancers by the looks of them, with them. The women sat in the front room near the kitchen where the men sat at the table. Abe wondered what was going on, but knew better than to ask Alec about it.

Abe went about his business, pretending not to notice Alec, his friends, or their “women”. Abe detested Alec’s habits and lifestyle, but knew better than to confront or say anything to him about it. What Abe didn’t notice right away, was that one of whores (that’s what he assumed they were) seemed very interested in him as she watched his every move, but not in the way Alec did.

Abe soon headed to his room and didn’t notice the woman he thought to be a whore like the others, following him into the basement. He started to shut the door, but she stopped him.

“Hey,” she said in a surprisingly happy and friendly tone, “watcha doin’?”

“Trying to keep from getting the hell beat out of me,” he thought, but didn’t say it, instead he replied, “just going to bed.”

“It’s only eight thirty though?” she said.

“I’ve had a long day.” he said bluntly.

“Is it alright if I stay down here with you?” she asked, letting herself into the basement.

“Listen,” Abe said, “miss, I don’t wish to….” she cut him off.

“I’m not really a whore, and my name is Amparo Strong, but everyone calls me ‘Amp’.” Amparo said.

“Then why do you associate with them?” Abe asked as he sat on his cot.

She shrugged, “I’ve never had anyone or anything else.”

Abe’s heart wrenched, “what do you mean?” he asked curiously.

“My parents passed when I was an infant and I was raised by gypsies for a time before arriving where I’m at now with the whores.”

“So how do you support yourself if you don’t whore yourself?” he asked.

“I work during the day at a place not far from here.” she answered, smiling at him.

She was a determined woman with droopy brown eyes that were like two tiger-eye gems. She had fine, straight, yellow hair that was long and worn in a style that reminded him of a burning fire. She had an athletically built body and was thin and lean muscled, which Abe found strange, but he said nothing. Her skin was chocolate brown, and as smooth and shiny as glass. Her nose was large and straight.

Around her neck, she wore an emerald necklace. Around her head was an elaborately decorated headband. Her clothes were somewhat baggy and she was barefoot. Abe thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Come to think of it, she was the only person he had ever seen like this. Up close.

“Are you alright?” he heard her ask faintly.

He didn’t mean to, but he ignored her and continued to stare at her, infatuated with her physical beauty. She touched his hand and he jumped slightly.

“Sorry,” he said, “I just…” she finished for him.

“You’ve never been with a woman like this,” she said, smiling.

“I’ve never been with a woman at all. Period.”

“Really,” she said, “Jesus, what does he allow you to do?”

“I don’t really do anything that I’d like to, actually,” Abe said, “I spend most of my days taking care of Alec.”

“You mean waiting on him hand and foot, right?” Amparo said as she walked over to and sat on his cot.

He turned and joined her, “Yeah,” Abe said, looking down at and wringing his hands, “he can’t take care of himself anymore.

Amparo scoffed.

“What?” Abe asked.

“Alec is more than capable of taking care of himself,” she said, “he just doesn’t want to.” she shook her head with disappointment and disgust.

“What makes you say that?” Abe asked.

“I’m more familiar with his kind than you think.” Amparo said softly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What happened to your parents to make you have to live with someone like Alec?” Amparo asked.

Abe shrugged, “I dunno.”

“Oh,” Amparo said, “died before you were born, huh?”

“Right after,” he said, “I was abandoned on Alec’s doorstep shortly after.”

“What did you mean that you’re more familiar with Alec’s type than I think?” Abe asked Amparo.

“Well,” she said, “I grew up n my own. I’m an orphan, I’ve lived with different people off and on since birth. The gypsies I’m with now are the only real family I’ve ever had.”

“Lucky.” Abe muttered.

“Yeah,” Amparo said, “they’ve always treated me well.”

“So why do you come here if you’re not a prostitute?” Abe asked.

“To see you.” Amparo said, smiling and blushing some.

“He finds you with me he’s going to try and kill you,” Abe said, “he’s not as ‘godly’ as he claims to be.”

“Have you ever….you know?” Amparo asked, ignoring everything Abe said about Alec because she knew they both disliked him and she wanted to get his mind off of him to see who he really was, not who Alec had made him to be.

“Ever….what?” Abe asked nervously as Amparo scooted closer to him to where she was right in his face.

“Well,” Amparo asked, “I don’t really know how to ask it considering the kind of life you’ve had up to this point.” she said bashfully.

Abe laughed nervously, “Just ask and I’ll answer as best I can.” he said with a smile.

“Are you still a virgin,” Amparo blurted out, “I’m sorry.” she said quickly, her face turning bright red as she blushed and her heart pounded like it was straining to keep the blood pumping in her body to keep her alive.

“Oh,” Abe said, still nervously, “yes, I am. Why?”

“Lucky.” Amparo muttered.

“What makes you say that?” Abe asked softly.

Amparo sighed and sniffed as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Abe asked, heartbroken by her tears.

She recomposed herself as best she before she choke out, “Your uncle raped me.” she sobbed as she fell into Abe’s arms.

“Wh….when?” he asked softly, trying not to lose his mind, even though he knew he had every right to since he knew rape was wrong.

“Years ago, before you and I met,” she said, “I was just a little kid, you know?”

“How old?” Abe asked, feeling himself shake with uncontrollable anger.

“About seven or eight.”

His fantasies about killing Alec suddenly consumed his entire being and he shook uncontrollably in Amparo’s arms. She let go of him and looked at him with tears still in her eyes.

“Abe,” she said, “what’s wrong?” she took his hand in hers as she spoke.

He couldn’t answer her.

“Abe,” Amparo said, this time more sternly, “what’s wrong? Tell me, please.”

The fantasies and uncontrollable shaking had ceased.

“I’m fine now.” he said, blinking and turning his head and looking at her.

“What was that all about?” Amparo asked.

“I don’t…know.” Abe said, because he really didn’t, that had never happened before and it scared the hell out of him. Literally.

“I’m getting tired,” Amparo said after awhile, “how about you?”

Abe nodded, “Yeah,” he said, “but I’m afraid there’s nowhere to sleep in here except the cot.”

“I’ll just lay here with you then.” she said as she laid down on the cot and smiled and closed her eyes.

“We shouldn’t.” Abe said, referring to laying down beside her on the cot.

He nervously walked over to the cot, and laid down beside her on it. He realized that this relaxed him some. Laying next to someone who seemed to really, truly, and honestly cared about him and didn’t want to cause him anymore emotional or physical pain than what he had already been through up to this point in his life seemed to put his mind, body, and soul at ease.

He relaxed his body and smiled. His heartbeat returned to normal. His head finally stopped pounding like someone was driving a stake through his skull and into his brain. For a brief moment, the pains of years of abuse at the hands of Alec seemed to dissipate. He kept the smile on his face as he started to fall into a deep sleep, the deepest he could ever remember. As he did, he felt Amparo cuddle as close to him as she could and hold onto to him as if for a sense of protection, comfort, and security. After a few more minutes, they were both fast asleep.

The way he knew it was morning, was by the heavy footsteps above. His eyes snapped open. She was still in his arms, which should have continued bringing him comfort, hope, joy, and peace, but now had suddenly brought him discomfort, fear, misery, and distress.

He shook Amparo awake, “He’s awake.” Abe whispered.

“Mmmmm,” she said, “what?” she rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she slowly sat up on the cot.

“Alec,” Abe said in a low voice, “he’s….” he stopped when they both heard the drunk upstairs making all kinds of commotion.

The door to the basement then swung open.

“Hide!” Abe ordered Amparo, pointing under the cot. She dove under it just as the sloppy drunk entered the basement and staggered down the steps and over to where Abe sat on the cot.

Alec staggered through the door and down the steps just as Amparo hid under Abe’s cot. He stood in front of Abe and took the last swig of his booze. He then smiled, his yellow teeth gleaming in the dim light.

He lunged at, and successfully managed to grab, his nephew.

“Let me go you son of a bitch!” Abe cried angrily as he tried to fight back.

But Alec ignored him and hit him on the back of his head with the empty beer bottle, which broke. Abe fell onto the cot, almost crushing Amparo, who was still underneath it and afraid to come out. She reached for one of the pieces of glass that was on the floor from the broken bottle.

As Abe laid on the cot, semi-conscious and more concerned about his wounds and Amparo under the cot, Alec unbuckled his belt from his pants. The man then reached for him again and hit him across the face as hard as his could and then let go of him again and let him fall back onto the cot. Meanwhile, Amparo had managed to pick up a piece of the glass from the bottle the old man had broken and waited for the opportunity to cut or stab or both him.

Alec started to hit the young man with his belt, but changed his mind and instead ripped Abe’s shirt off of him. The young man was barely conscious and unable to speak. Then, the old man jerked his and the young one’s pants and underwear off. He could barely see Abe in front of him and the booze was so strong in his body that it had completely consumed it and his mind. The old man had died and was replaced with the devil himself.

“Please….” Abe said, helplessly.

“Shut up!” Alec cried angrily, hitting him again.

Alec grabbed him and forced him over on his stomach. The young man tried to fight back, but the old one was too strong when he wasn’t sober. The young man tried to turn back over and fight back, but Alec grabbed him again and again he laid his fist into the young man’s chest and stomach.

“Uhhhh….” Abe moaned, his stomach churning as if he were going to hurl his guts out all over Alec.

Alec’s mind was fully aware of what his body was doing to his nephew. But that didn’t stop him and he didn’t care. It had happened to him at a young age and he’d be damned if his masculinity would ever be questioned or tested like that ever again. He had made up his mind long ago when he had gotten sole custody of the man that laid before him that when he was old enough, he would teach him a thing or two about submissiveness, and he felt he had. Over and over again, since Abe had been old enough to understand anything in the world, Alec had done things like this to him. And he had made sure to gain enough control of him to where all the young man knew was himself. But as Abe had gotten older, Alec’s worst fears had been realized and the young man had developed a mind and personality of his own. Now it was time for him to remind Abe who was in control once more.

Just as he had the young man where he wanted him and started to try to arouse himself before actually physically doing anything to Abe, Alec felt a sharp pain suddenly in the top of his foot.

“Ahhhh!” Alec wailed, staggering back away from Abe. He looked down and saw what appeared to be some kind of knife, jammed into the top of his foot.

Amparo scrambled out from underneath the bed. Abe was breathing heavily, trying to keep himself from having a severe panic attack or passing out. He slowly turned and faced his uncle as he pulled his pants back up and button and zipped them. He turned slightly and saw a wooden baseball bat, grabbed it, and then stormed over to where the man laid groaning in pain and holding his foot, trying to dislodge the sharp object from his foot.

Abe walked over to where Alec laid, gesturing for Amparo to join in helping him. They started to drag Alec out of the basement, only to be met by his “friends” at the top of the steps.

“Bastard!” Elijah cried angrily, lunging for Abe. The young man moved to one side and Elijah tripped and stumbled down them, cracking his skull on the floor. He died instantly.

Karl, the next gang member that met Abe and Amparo at the top of the steps, sent them both back down into the basement. The rest of the gang, Quentin and Tyson, towered behind him and their shadows stretched into the basement. They saw Elijah’s dead body behind Abe and Amparo and reached for and grabbed them both, dragging them up into the actual house kicking and screaming.

Quentin and Tyson headed back down into the basement and started cleaning up the mess Amparo and Abe had made by killing Elijah and Alec. Meanwhile, Karl, Quentin, and Tyson tied Abe to one of the kitchen chairs. They then stripped Amparo of her clothes, she and Abe both begging and pleading with their own lives for them to stop.

The men ran their hands all over her, especially her breasts and vaginal areas. Abe begged and pleaded for them to stop over Amparo’s screams and cries. But the men turned and severely beat him, almost killing him, again. They knocked the chair Abe was tied to over to one side and left it there while they each took turns shoving their genitals into Amparo’s while Abe desperately tried to escape the chair to which he tied.

He finally managed to escape, and scrambled over to the counter. He used it to lift himself to his feet before opening all of the drawers and fumbling around for a knife that he finally found. It was a butcher knife. Just what he needed. He turned and stabbed it through Karl’s stomach. He abruptly stopped what he was doing and doubled over in pain as he slowly started to bleed to death.

The other men stopped what they were doing as well and spun around and started to attack Abe. Abe reached into the open kitchen drawers again as the men advanced toward him and grabbed more knives. As each one of the men came at him, they were met with knives being stabbed through their stomachs and each one was left to bleed and die.

“Come on,” Abe said, stepping over their bodies and taking Amparo’s hand, “there’s nothing more for us to do here.”

Three days later, Abe and Amparo had found a hotel whose owner would let them stay for a month, rent free.

As they laid in bed together, “Abe?’ Amparo said.

“Mm?” He said as he closed his eyes and held her close to himself.

“You know how we both said we had never had the right kinds of experiences with sex before?”

“Yeah?”

“Well now we can.”

“No, not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Not before we get married.”

“Okay.”

A month passed and Amparo and Abe moved out of the hotel and into a small house on the other side of town from where they had lived before. They married shortly after and had two children, a boy and a girl. They never spoke of their own lives again to anyone except their children to keep it from happening again and to them.

#thatPOWER

She laid on her side with her legs and hips bent (flexed) up toward her chest and her neck was slightly bent forward.

The metallic hands reached down from somewhere above her to identify the area to insert the needle by orientating themselves toward landmarks on the woman’s body. The hands felt the top of her pelvis bone (on her side).

Once the area had been identified, it was prepared in a sterile fashion, which involved the application of a liquid cleaning solution and drapes.

A lidocaine was then next injected first into her skin and then into the deeper tissues of her lower back to numb the area completely. The injection caused sudden and brief discomfort that burned for an instance before dissipating altogether.

The needle was then injected into her lower back, at the third and fourth lumbar, or fourth or fifth. The needle passed between the two vertebrate to enter the space where the fluid was contained. Being in the fetal position allowed for her vertebral spaces to be more open widely to make the needle passage easier.

The pressure was measured, but this didn’t change the procedure, nor would it ultimately have any kind of affect on the end results.

The fluid was then allowed to collect into a series of three or four vials that were then sent directly to a lab for evaluation.

The fluid collected passively, meaning that it was allowed to drip out into each vial at its own pace. This step took several minutes to collect the full specimen.

After the fluid had been collected, the needle was removed and a bandage was placed over the area.

“Here’s your woman, Aurora Schroeder, facial reconstruction and memory wipe.”

“Intelligence has the British Future Solutions attacking the refinery in about ninety hours from now.”

“We’re ready when she is.”

“This memory wipe will give us plenty of time to get her in and get her past the B.F.S.’s probes.”

“The B.F.S.’s specialty is neuroscience.”

“I’ve done some homework on the B.F.S., your girl’s got quite a reputation and it’s not all good!”

“Okay, she’s no girl scout, but Aurora Schroeder is the B.F.S’s best.”

“They dismissed Aida Randi Compton but Aurora stayed with the B.F.S. and took her mind….”

“Memory wipe initiating.” the computer voice said.

The woman suddenly groaned and cried out in pain as flashes of the last ninety-six hours whizzed past and swirled around inside of her mind like a one hundred mile an hour cyclone. She didn’t understand what any of it meant, but at the same time, she somehow knew what had happened to her and what she now was.

The aircraft went down into the monolith and landing in the middle of the room on a landing platform. The ramp lowered and hit the floor as it opened for her and the others to exit the aircraft. The soldiers oversaw the aircraft’s landing and waited for the other soldiers to step out with the prisoners. Among them was Aurora.

She, unlike the others, had to be specially escorted off of the aircraft as she was currently not in any kind of state to move on her own. As the prisoners exited the aircraft and were led to another room, a man’s voice announced what was going on.

“Keep moving,” he ordered, “we are in control.”

“Do not attempt to escape.”

“Defiance will not be tolerated.”

“This is the British Future Solutions.”

“The British Future Solutions is your world.”

“The British Future Solutions is your life.”

“Submission. Conformity. Obedience.”

“This is the British Future Solutions.”

He stepped back away from the podium at the top of the catwalk as the prisoners stared up and gawked at him. Another man exited what looked like a crate from the wall that was being guarded by two more of the robotic-looking guards. The prisoners shifted and murmured amongst themselves as he replaced the other man at the podium that was above them on the catwalk.

“Welcome to the British Future Solutions ladies and gentlemen. I am Doctor Cole Lewis Potts. You, are my patients. You’re lives now belong to me, you will serve, or you will die!”

The woman reached for one of the soldier’s guns on the holster that was on his belt at his hip. She grabbed it and fired and killed him. Cole looked down at where the gunshot had come from, the other patients had all gasped and staggered back upon hearing the unexpected gunfire.

Another inmate slid in and telekinetically picked up the deceased soldier’s gun as the woman stood off to one side, still holding the gun she had killed the soldier with. Cole and another man like him, stood atop the catwalk and looked shocked, horrified, angered, and appalled at the sight below them.

The other man (who was an enormous three hundred plus pound black man) picked the men up telekinetically and started to dispose of the inmates, but Cole reached for his hand and stopped him.

“Wait,” Cole said, reaching for and taking the gun, “well, serve. Or die!” and with that, he pulled the trigger of the gun and shot and killed the inmate next to the woman.

The prisoners went into a frenzy and the woman glanced over at the man, horrified by what she had just witnessed. The black man lowered both her and the now deceased prisoner both back onto the floor and released his telekinetic grasp on them both.

“Oof!” the woman cried out upon hitting the cold hard concrete floor as she landed on her right arm.

“Take this one to solitary!” Cole ordered.

The robotic police-like soldiers moved in and grabbed the woman her ankles. They then dragged her along the concrete floor through the crowd and out of the room.

Another woman with dark brown hair that was pulled back in a ponytail and dressed similarly to the woman being dragged away, watched the event unfold from atop the catwalk with the B.F.S.’s Nazi-like symbol hanging in a flag style behind her and the catwalk. The woman had blacked out and remembered none of this and suddenly awoke in a dimly lit, almost pitch dark, brick and titanium cell that was about six by eight feet in size.

“Ahhhh!” she groaned as she shot upright as straight and stiff as a board almost on the uncomfortable bed that jutted out from the wall. She pressed her hands to stop the consistent throbbing inside of her entire head and shot through her neck and shoulders as well, against the temples of her head.

She looked around the cell. All she saw was the bed she had awaken on, a very dim yellow fluorescent light above her, and a black steel or titanium (she wasn’t sure which upon looking at it) door with a small square cut into it that been barred. She got up from the bed and inched over to the door and peered out through the barred opening.

Her vision was limited, but she saw other cell doors across from her. She felt hopeful as she wondered if there was anyone else in the other cells besides her. If there was, she knew she would have some kind of advantage in “busting out” of the place.

She heard footsteps and gasped and jumped back away from the door without thinking. When she did, she felt an excruciating sharp pain shoot through her entire spinal cord. The extremity of the pain sent her to her knees. She grabbed onto the back of her neck and let out a loud agonizing groan out of pain and discomfort that echoed out of the cell and alerted the soldiers.

“Open the cell!” one of the soldiers ordered.

The door made a beeping and then clicking and hissing noise as it slowly opened and then made a loud knocking noise as it locked in place upon opening. The soldiers rushed into the cell. They pointed their guns at her as she was picked up off of the floor and started to be dragged out. But she tensed her body and locked down every muscle that she possibly could in her entire body and made herself dead weight and more difficult to pick up and deal with than normal.

The guards struggled with her for several minutes before letting go of her and letting her body slump into a heap onto the floor. The guards then pointed their guns at her to dispose and rid of her. But just as they placed their index fingers on the triggers of their guns, the woman jumped to her feet and roundhouse kicked the guard closest to her in his face, causing him to topple over backwards and aimlessly fire his gun.

But before she could grab his gun, she staggered and almost fell. She caught herself on the bed jutting from the wall. She was dizzy and disorientated, as if she had been drugged. The guards saw this as their chance and she was soon met with the butt of one of their guns smacking her across her face and knocking her out cold again.

When she awoke again, she was still in the same place she had been. Only this time, the guards had been stupid enough to leave the door open. She slowly arose to her feet and this time, realized how much different she felt. She looked down and noticed that her right arm looked robotic, as did her foot, ankle, leg, and hip. She reached up with her left hand and felt the right side of her face. Also robotic. The only thing left flesh and human wise on her seemed to be the left side of her body.

“What the hell?” she muttered to herself as she crept over to the door and peered out. Everything seemed clear now. She needed to get out of this place as soon as possible and figure out what the hell was going on.

She exited the cell and noticed that the room she was in made a half circle and had other cells. In the middle of the room was a platform with a control panel on it. To her far right was an enormous round door that appeared to be locked. She looked around to make sure no one else was in the room with her still before slowly making her way to the middle of the room to the control panel.

When she arrived at it, she realized it wasn’t a traditional control panel as she had originally thought. This one was different. Instead of a button to press or code to input to unlock the door, a pattern was needed.

“What the hell is this?” she wondered as she studied the panel.

She studied it and realized it needed a code. But not just any kind of door code. As she studied the panel, she felt like she was looking at some kind of code within itself. She started randomly inputting numbers without thinking, not realizing that the code was closer than it appeared to be. After exactly ten tries at unlocking the door, she finally gave up and accepted that she would have to wait. But as she waited, she started looking around the room (for what, she didn’t know).

She saw the cells, the door, the platform and the control panel. But there were crates and things that could explode if hit with the right type of explosive, gunshot, or fire. She wondered, and soon starting putting what little of the objects that would explode against the door, then looked around for something to set them off with. She felt herself, but felt nothing. She re-entered the cell she had awaken in and found a silenced pistol underneath the bed.

She reached for it and grabbed it and then walked back out into the room where the door she had put the explosives in front of was. She stood back several feet away from the door, aimed at the explosives, and fired. One single shot slammed into one of the explosives, setting off a deadly chain reaction that didn’t even phase the door one bit.

She tried the door one more time and decided that if she failed again at trying to open the door, then she would use the pistol and end herself. She took her time in trying to figure out the door. Matching the colors wasn’t what she was supposed to do. Just match the patterns.

“Oh,” she muttered to herself, “duh!”

She figured this out and unlocked the door. But the door went on the fritz, opening and closing as if the axis on the parallel tracks of it was damaged somewhere. Gunfire blazed though it and she found herself ducking and running for cover behind a metal crate nearest the door.

“What in God’s name?” she said out loud to herself as she peeked over the top of the crate to find the door still doing what it was doing and the gunfire still pouring into the room.

She used the pistol she had found earlier and popped up over the top of the crate and fired back. But she stopped as soon as she had started when she realized that ‘things’ (she wasn’t sure if they were human or not) were wearing full metal suits. Their helmets covered the tops of their heads, only revealing their mouths and chins and had a visor for them to see and a chin strap to hold the helmet in place on their heads.

Their suits were also metal and donned badges on the right breast plate with the letters “B.F.S.” in bold capital jet black letters.

Firing at the men was useless as the bullets only ricocheted off of their uniforms. To conserve ammo, she ceased fire of the weapon and holstered it on the belt loop on her pants. When the men finally stopped firing, she slowly raised up from behind the crate with her hands raised. Her head stayed down as her neck was extremely weak and fatigued. The men advanced toward her and cuffed her with a device that was “configured to administer electrical shocks when certain predetermined conditions occurred”.

The men quickly overpowered her and seemed to have won. That was, until something shot through the air like an arrow and pierced their hearts and caused them to disintegrate. She toppled over onto the floor and collapsed into a heap as she was extremely weak and fatigued. The last thing she saw before blacking out was a dark shadowy figure above her that closely resembled another woman.

When she awoke again, she found herself strapped down to another device similar to the one she had been before. Only this time, she saw and heard the constant loud beeping noise of the machine that was monitoring her entire body.

“Uhhhh….” she moaned.

No one spoke.

“What the…fuck! Shiiiit!” she moaned as she struggled against the restraints that held her down.

The footsteps echoed as they stepped up beside the device she laid on. A tall, faceless figure stood beside her.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked angrily, her speech slurring from the drug she had been injected with multiple times.

“That’s not important right now,” the faceless man said, “what’s important right now is you listening and being fully cooperative with my associates and I.”

“I think I’m going to be sick!”

The man chuckled to himself, “You’re fine, it’s just a feeling that will pass….eventually.”

“What’s going on,” she asked, “what happened to me?”

“You had a bit of an accident, but don’t worry, we’re currently in the process of fixing it.”

“Fixing what exactly?”

“That’s not important right now,” the man said, “your objective is.”

“My what?”

“Your objective.”

“Which is what exactly?”

“We just need you to do some damage control for us.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Just think of it as a form of  ‘pest control’.”

“I’m not…”

“I know you don’t understand everything yet, but you will….eventually.”

“And until then?”

“You’re going to get some much needed….rest.”

“Good, I feel like I could use it.”

“Of course you do.”

And with that, everything faded to black for her again. When she awoke again, she was standing in a strange place. It was strange to her because it was green and had sockets, a chip set, non-volatile memory chips (Flash ROM) containing the system’s firmware or BIOs. A clock generator to synchronize various components. Slots for expansion cards (the interface to the system via buses supported by the chipset). Power connectors, which receive electrical power from the computer power supply and distribute it to the CPU, chipset, main memory, and expansion cards. As of 2007[update], some graphics cards (e.g. GeForce 8 and Radeon R600) require more power than the motherboard can provide, and thus dedicated connectors have been introduced to attach them directly to the power supply. Most disk drives also connect to the power supply via dedicated connector.

“Aurora, can you hear me?”

“Who are you?”

“Enid Chrystal Hopper, I’m a friend of yours.”

“Okay,” Aurora said, “‘friend’, what am I doing here? How did I get here? And what the hell’s going on already?”

“You want the short version or the long version?” Enid asked.

“Give it to me straight.”

“Okay,” Enid said, “basically what has happened is you’ve been a part of some kind of unstoppable corrupt military police known as the B.F.S., who are hell bent on taking over the world using military and terrorist tactics. And one of the ways they’re trying to do this is by making superhuman soldiers.”

“Kind of like what Hitler attempted in World War two?”

“Precisely, except the B.F.S. has grazed success recently.”

“Oh? How so?”

“With you.”

“How with….never mind, I’m sure I’m going to figure it out eventually.”

“Precisely. You need to get out of here as they’re literally going to bring this place down looking for you!”

“How do I do that?”

“Follow me,” Enid said, “be careful.”

They ran through the halls of the structure as it started to crack and crumble. Dodging debris proved to be difficult for the woman as she could barely move because of the trauma her entire upper body had suffered. But she and Enid somehow still managed to arrive safely at a monolith that safeguarded an enormous jet black colored aircraft.

“Get in!” Enid ordered as she turned and fired at the soldiers as they arrived at the monolith.

The woman dove for cover and ran around to the other side of the aircraft and climbed inside. Enid finished off the soldiers and then climbed into the cockpit with her into the pilot’s seat and started the aircraft. They were up and out of the monolith in no time.

“What the hell was all of that?” the woman asked as she glanced over her shoulder and watched as they flew further and further away from it until it seemed to disappear altogether.

“A failed attempt at correcting a prominent problem.” Enid said half under her breath and to herself.

“And what’s the ‘problem’ exactly?” the woman asked.

“You’ll find out soon enough when we get to where we’re going.” she said, never looking at or speaking directly to the woman.

“Damn!” the woman muttered angrily and wincing in pain as she rubbed the back of her head and neck.

“What’s wrong?” Enid asked.

“Feels like something like this aircraft keeps hitting me repeatedly in the lower back part of my head and neck.” she replied, making a disgusted and pain-induced face as she tried to find some kind of comfort in her head and neck, but couldn’t.

“Don’t worry,” Enid said, “they’ve got what you need for that where we’re going. We should be there soon enough.”

“Oh yeah,” she said, “and what’s that?”

“An island that’s not on any maps anywhere in the world.”

“What’s it called?”

“You’ll remember when we arrive and stay there for awhile.” Enid said.

“How long is ‘awhile’?”

“However long it takes your body to recover and your mind to remember.” she said.

“Any estimate of how long that should be?”

“Twenty-four to forty-eight hours, roughly.”

“Are you sure,” she asked, “that seems a little fast?”

“Positive,” the woman said, “and the drug won’t have any kind of effect on your brain, meaning there won’t be any damage or hemorrhaging to the brain or internal damage to any of your muscles, bones, or organs.”

“That’s a relief.”

“There it is!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“It’s invisible to the naked eye and certain types of radars, signals, and trackers.”

“But not this one?”

“Right.”

She flew her final approach at a thirty degree glide slope, make a nice and smooth descent. She maintained her glide slope angle by using the Visual Approach Slope Indicator installed along the runway. She saw a set of red lights over white ones and knew she was on the proper glide slope. She stabilized her final approach and picked a spot to windshield, a dead bug, that was in line with the runway numbers. She used the controls to keep the spot on the runway aim point. As Enid crossed the runway threshold, she smoothly brought the power to idle and shifted the same spot to the very end of the runaway. This was called the round out. Finally, Enid rotated the aircraft into a flare altitude about five to ten feet off the runway. She held this altitude and let the aircraft smoothly settle on the runway.

The British Future Solutions had lost track of her upon entering the atmosphere of and landing on the island. Enid let out a sigh of relief, “Thank God!”

“What?” Aurora asked.

“They lost you.” Enid replied.

“How?”

“We’re in the atmosphere of the island.”

“So?”

“It’s invisible to the naked eye and certain types of radars.”

“Why is that?”

“That’s just how it was constructed.”

“Constructed?”

“This island was man-made.”

“How is that even possible?”

“It just is.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with this monolith, does it?” Aurora asked as they exited the aircraft.

Enid shook her head, “No,” she said, “the entire island’s like that. Man-made and signal-jamming.”

“Where did they go?” the B.F.S. pilot asked as he circled the area of the invisible island.

“Something,” the leader said, “something’s there that we can’t see.”

“What?”

The man shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, “circle back around and land on that island there.” he said, pointing at a specific area on the aircraft’s radar.

“Yes sir.” the pilot said as he did what the man had commanded him to.

Aurora and Enid walked into a valley that was protected by the monolith. When they stepped into the opening to a cave, they entered a structure that closely resembled the inside of a computer and some type of facility (they were sure what kind).

“Hmmmm….” Enid said as she and Aurora advanced further into the structure.

“What the hell is this place?” Aurora asked as they walked downward into the structure, as it was built similarly to an Ancient Egyptian pyramid.

“I have no idea,” Enid said, “but hopefully we’ll be….” she stopped when she and Aurora both saw people dressed in suits and ties.

“What the hell are those?” Aurora said, half paranoid, half angered.

Enid shook her head as she stared in awe of the people, “I….I don’t know!” she said, stunned.

“Who goes there?” someone said from in front of them, their voice booming and echoing off of the structure.

“E…Enid Hopper and Aurora Schroeder!” Enid stammered.

“What are you doing here?”

“We’re fugitives.”

“Fugitives?”

“Yeah, you know, like….we’re runaways.” Aurora said.

“From where?”

“The British Future Solutions compound on the other side of this place.” Enid said.

The person laughed hysterically and manically.

Enid and Aurora exchanged glances.

“There’s nothing around this place for hundreds of thousands of miles.”

“Then how come the time it took to get here wasn’t very long?” Enid asked.

“This place is everywhere.”

“I don’t get it.” Aurora said.

“Me either.” Enid said in agreement.

“You’re not on an actual island.”

“Then,” Enid said, “where are we exactly?”

There was a pause and moment of silence before they heard the person moving around. A guy revealed himself. He reminded them of a savvy alley cat. He had hooded eyes that were the color of ashes. His hair was fine, curly, very short, the color of polished amber and worn in a severe style. He had a five o’ clock shadow. He was short and had a boyish build. His forehead was high. His wardrobe was unconventional.

“A place that is a stingy galaxy commonwealth noted for its advanced architecture. It was destroyed by social breakdown and now only relics and monuments remain.”

“So,” Enid said, “how does anything live here?”

“We have our ways. What do you want?”

“The top half of my spinal cord is severed,” Aurora said, “we’re seeking medical attention for me and we’re trying to take down the terrorist organization the British Future Solutions.”

“Ahhhh…yes, them.”

Aurora and Enid exchanged glances then looked at the man again.

“We’ve been at war with them for quite some time now,” the man said, “that’s why we built this island.”

“Can you help us or not?” Enid said impatiently, knowing that her friend was in agonizing pain and if she didn’t receive medical attention soon, she would die.

“We can,” the man said, “but it will take time.”

“Just take us wherever we need to go.” Enid said as she took hold of Aurora again.

“That won’t be necessary.” the man said.

“She can’t stand, let alone walk, without me.” Enid insisted.

The man turned and made a noise with his mouth and throat at another group of men. The noise turned out to be a command as about ten to twelve men hurried over to where their leader and the two women stood. They laid a stretcher made of material neither of the women had ever seen before down on the ground in front of them. The man nodded to Aurora and Enid as Aurora was loaded  up on the stretcher and then watched as the men hurried off with her toward the backside of the island.

“Come with me.” the man ordered Enid as he turned and followed after them. She kept a hurried pace after him.

They neared an enormous structure that looked like a hospital, but was made of stone bricks. On the top of it were more stones that spelled out “Eternity Metropolis”. Enid was confused by the name, that was, until she entered the facility. It wasn’t a facility at all, but a city full of all kinds of people and goods and technology. This had to be where the people lived and only used the island for protection and food.

Aurora was taken to the backside of the city, away from everyone and everything else where it was quiet and peaceful. The entire section was the largest medical facility Enid had ever seen and there were medical tools and medicine and technology that she could tell just by looking at hadn’t been invented yet.

She was confused, how could an island not seem to have anything on it and then have all of this? She wonder for too long as Aurora was brought to what closely seemed to resemble an emergency room. She stopped.

“Aren’t you coming with us and your friend?” the leader asked.

“Isn’t that like an emergency room?” Enid asked.

“I don’t know what that is,” the man said, “but people are treated and healed of whatever’s wrong with them beyond these doors.”

“And anyone can go inside that’s not a doctor, er, healer?”

The man nodded.

“Oh,” Enid said, “okay.” and with that she shrugged and followed the men that carried Aurora through the doors.

“Gateway of Beginning” read the letters on the emergency room type room. Enid wasn’t sure, but she figured the name’s meaning meant giving the sick, disabled, and injured a new beginning after they were healed.

As the men started prepping to look at Aurora to figure out what was wrong with her, Enid couldn’t resist and blurted out, “What’s wrong with my friend?”

“We’re not sure yet,” one of them said, “but don’t worry, we’ll discover it in no time.” he smiled and nodded reassuringly as he spoke.

Enid watched as Aurora was turned into the same positions she had been before when the B.F.S. tried to “help” her in Poison City. Enid’s heart sank and then leapt into her throat. She swallowed and forced it down and tried to be as strong as what she knew her friend was.

After hours of watching this, Enid almost opened her mouth to tell the men stop as she was struggling with watching her friend be in so much pain. But they finally stopped before she could get the words out. She let out a sigh of relief and relaxed.

“She needs an operation,” the man said without looking at Enid, “immediately.”

“Okay,” Enid said eagerly, “do it, as soon as possible.”

“We’ll need to admit her into our facility,” the man continued, “there’s an open room down the hall from here.”

“Uhhhh,” Aurora moaned as she was placed into the room, “Enid?”

“I’m here,” Enid said, smiling as she stood at her friend’s bedside, “you’re finally getting the help you’ve been needing.”

Aurora let out a sigh of relief and laughed, “That’s awesome!” she said as she tried to catch her breath.

“You just rest,” Enid said, “and don’t worry about anything. I’ll make sure nothing happens to you and that you’re taken care of.”

Aurora nodded, “Okay.” she said as she passed out from pain and fatigue.

Enid left the room to ask the men for clothes, food, supplies, and a place to stay or sleep while her friend recovered. They met her needs and requests by giving a her a place within the walls and safety of the structure. After she had settled in, she headed back to where Aurora was, but stopped before entering her room as the men were inside, talking. Enid eaves-dropped in on the conversation.

“I can’t believe it!”

“Why not, it’s typical of the B.F.S. to not want to do this type of operation seeing as how they only care about money and power.”

“Which is exactly why I don’t understand why they didn’t do it. And how has she even been able to endure and withstand all that she’s been through when the top half of her spinal cord was completely gone?”

“I don’t know, but she’s better now, that’s all that matters, yes?”

“Yeah,” the man said, “she’s no longer in any kind of pain except surgical, but that will soon pass. But her spinal cord is healed, it’s titanium, but she is healed and now worth possibly millions of dollars at least.”

“How long do you think it will be before the B.F.S. gets word of this?”

“Not long seeing as how they’ve been on the other side of this island this entire time.”

“And they’ll either attack or declare war.”

“Yeah, or both.”

Enid hurried back to Aurora’s room to tell her what she had just heard, “Aurora!” she said, out of breath as she skidded into her room.

“What’s up?” Aurora said, she was sitting up now, perfectly fine except for the surgical pain and medication.

“We’ve got to get out of here…now! I just overheard the men that did your procedure say that the B.F.S. is here on the other side of the island looking for you!”

“Shit!” Aurora muttered angrily under her breath as she unhooked herself from the machines around the bed and started to get up from it. But the sick, dizzy, drug induced feeling she had felt before was back. There was no way she would possibly be able to move without Enid.

“Careful!” Enid exclaimed as she caught Aurora and threw her arm over her shoulders and started out of the room. But the B.F.S. had just arrived at the Gateway of Beginning.

“Great! Just fucking great! Shit! Dammit! Damn this all to fucking Hell!” Enid cursed under her breath as she turned with Aura to another direction and started in it. But it was a dead end.

“Enid…” Aurora said, tiredness and exhaustion in her voice, on her face, and all through her body.

“Just hang on,” Enid said, “I’m going to get you out of here and get you some real help!” she was so desperate to help Aurora, she swore at this point she’d do anything, even possibly kill or be killed, for her.

The women barely arrived outside of the complex. Enid was and had been using all of her physical strength to support Aurora as they moved. There were no vehicles anywhere in sight and Enid wasn’t sure if it was safe enough to call for an extraction.

“Oh my God,” she said, frustrated, “are you freaking kidding me right now?”

Aurora weakly fumbled around in her pockets and found a cell phone. She staggered around and fumbled through the contacts until she found one labeled “extraction”. She didn’t know why it was there, but she sent it a message anyway.

“There!”

“What did you just do?”

“Called for an extraction.”

“How did you remember how to do that?”

Aurora shrugged, “it just came to me.”

“The drugs are wearing off!” Enid muttered to herself.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Enid said, “there it is!”

But as they headed for the aircraft, they came under attack. Without thinking, Enid dropped Aurora and turned and started firing back at the robotic men. Aurora crawled on the ground toward the aircraft. One of the men saw her and turned to fire. Enid saw him and drew a twelve inch kabar and hurled it at him. The knife bounced off the side of his head and he kept advancing toward her. Enraged, Enid rushed over to where he was and tackled and wrestled him to the ground.

It was at that very moment Enid realized that the B.F.S. had been working on their technology and had upgraded since her and Aurora’s last encounter with them. Now, the men wore the exact same suits they had before, but now the suits were different somehow. The material looked better, stronger.

“Osmium.”

“What?”

“That’s what those suits are made out of.”

“What is….how do you know that?”

“I….I don’t know.”

“Why would something used in ballpoint pens, that’s brittle, be used to make the strongest material suits like that?”

“I don’t know,” Enid said, “It looks like it was fused together with titanium.”

“Well,” Aurora said, “if we were to shoot or stab them would the material shatter and break or be able to withstand?”

“I dunno….care to take a stab or shot at it and try?” Enid asked, annoyed that Enid didn’t seem to be taking her intelligence seriously.

“Hands up citizen.” the robotic man ordered.

“Comply or be killed!”

Enid drew her knife again and started hacking away at what flesh (the chin) was exposed of the men. The double over in pain, but jumped right back up and fired as Enid and Aurora as they made their way for the aircraft.

“Fire only at the weak one!”

“Kill her!”

“Yes sir!”

“Will do, sir!”

“Aim for her weakest area!”

“Aim for the neck!”

The men fired rapidly at Aurora and Enid as they ran for the aircraft and were chased by the B.F.S. One of the men ran fast enough to catch up to them and grabbed Aurora and threw her to the ground. Once he had her there, he pinned her down with his knees and pressed the end of his gun against her forehead and cocked and loaded it.

Enid turned and fired at him, but she was just wasting ammo. She ran over to where Aurora and the man were on the ground and tackled him, wrestling him to the ground and off of and away from Aurora. As she did, Aurora scrambled to her feet and headed for the aircraft as fast as she could while dodging bullets. Once she had boarded it, she turned it toward the men and fired its bombs at them. Enid hit the dirt, dodging the bombs. She then ran toward and boarded the aircraft with Aurora.

Aurora let go of the controls and gave them to Enid. Enid turned on the auto-pilot, not realizing it would lead them straight into another trap of the B.F.S. and also the N.M. But for now, they were in danger of the aircraft exploding and killing them both. Aurora was regaining her memory and strength, but didn’t mention either one to Enid. She was also realizing what was in her body, the same material that the B.F.S. “police” was wearing.

“Are you alright?” Enid asked.

Aurora’s heart leapt into her throat as she thought Enid knew that she was regaining her memory and strength.

“I fine!” Aurora said quickly.

Slowly but surely, she was remembering the trauma that had been caused to her spinal cord. She remembered that she had arachnoid cysts on her spinal cord that had caused the nerves on the entire right side of her body to become permanently damaged. To save that side of her body, the bone in the back of her neck had been completely removed and the cyst had been cut and drained and was gone (for now).

The part of her spinal cord that was gone had been replaced with osmium, and she had been seemingly healed. But because she hadn’t had much time to recover was why she had been suffering the way she had been. The B.F.S. and N.M. were both after her for money, while Enid was the only person who seemed to be wanting to protect her and help her get better. Upon realizing this, Aurora also realized that she was much stronger than she appeared.

The plane soon landed in the middle of a city that neither Enid nor Aurora realized was under full control of the B.F.S. and N.M. As they landed at the airport, Aurora (but not Enid) realized this. But before she could say anything about it, a hoard of B.F.S. fully surrounded the aircraft.

“Out of the aircraft!”

“NOW!”

The B.F.S. stormed the aircraft and dragged both Aurora and Enid out of it. They were handcuffed with de-energizing handcuffs and escorted away from the aircraft and into what looked like armored trucks.

“What do you propose we do now?”

“I’ll think of something…just give me a second!”

They were loaded into the backs of the armored trucks and the B.F.S. sped through the city to the other side. They stopped abruptly and dragged Aurora and Enid out by the handcuffs. They were back at the B.F.S.’s headquarters and being led to Cole’s office. When they arrived inside of it, it was much bigger than they had expected. The office looked more like a living space than an office. He wasn’t alone. There were five other people that stood around his desk as if to protect him.

Enid suddenly remembered the cigarette lighter in her right front pocket and felt defeated as she was handcuffed and couldn’t reach it.

“Release them.” Cole ordered.

This surprised everyone in the room. Enid waited until she and Aurora had the restraints taken off and then reached into her pocket for the lighter. She rotated the flint wheel quickly, creating a flame. When she had it, she leaned over and thrusted the lighter at a fire extinguisher near Cole’s desk. The force was just enough to do what she had intended. The flame from the lighter caused the extinguisher to explode and then shoot out of the case it had been in and go sailing around the room, bouncing off of the floor and walls. Aurora and Enid dove for cover under a table near Cole’s desk while everyone else scattered.

Cole popped his head up over the desk to fire at the women, but was met with the extinguisher sailing into his forehead and knocking him out cold. When the commotion as over, everyone in the room came out from where they had been hiding to see if he was dead. Aurora and Enid were first to arrive behind his desk. There was a pool of blood behind his head and all over his face.

“Oh my God,” Aurora said, stunned, “we did it!” she jumped in the air with excitement and hugged her friend tightly against her as the B.F.S. police and others talked amongst themselves about what had just occurred.

Aurora and Enid were released from their arrest. The British Future Solutions was bought out and taken over by the Networked Medical, both of which were maintained and closely watched by a group of military doctors and specialists that had been put together by Aurora and Enid called Spanish Medical.

Everything returned to normal in the next year that followed after Aurora and Enid’s take down of the B.F.S. and N.M. There was still crime and other forms of it that continued to occur in Empire City, but nothing like what had happened to them ever happened again.

Tears Don’t Fall

The man in blue scrubs and long white coat with grey loafers and stethoscope around his neck stepped out of the room and looked down the hall in the direction of the waiting room. He sighed as he reluctantly started the long walk to where the other man waited to hear the news. When he arrived at the waiting room, he peered inside before he entered.
Inside were chairs all the way around the small room with a coffee table in the middle and a TV hanging on a wall to the man’s right from where he stood outside of it. The man he was looking for sat in a chair just under the television, reading a book. The man in scrubs frowned, but walked across the room and sat down beside the man who was reading away without a care in the world.
The man in scrubs cleared his throat and pretended to watch the television as he sat by the man in black. The man in black looked up from his book and placed a rectangular piece of paper in it and closed the book. He then turned his head and looked at the man in the scrubs.
“How is she?” the man that had been sitting in the waiting room this entire time asked without looking at the doctor.
The doctor sighed and briefly scratched his head as he glanced up at the television set, “So,” he said, attempting to change the subject, “what are you watching, anything good?”
“Don’t even try to pull that shit on me,” the man suddenly snapped, turning his head, he faced the doctor, “can I just go see her already, please?” he almost begged.
The doctor hesitated, “Sure.” he said finally as the man stood from where he sat and started for the woman’s room.
“I should warn you though first,” the doctor said, standing as well as the man stopped in the middle of the hallway with his back still to him, “she’s still comatose and could be for awhile.”
The man turned his head forward again as if he had never heard the words come out of the doctor’s mouth and continued down the hall to the woman’s room until he arrived at it. He stopped, frozen with fear. Would she still be comatose? Would she be awake finally to talk to him again? So many thoughts and feelings filled him up to the brim and made him sick to his stomach as he reached for the door and slowly pushed it open.
He stepped into the room and let the door close behind him as he stared at her. The get well soon balloons, cards, and stuffed animals didn’t exist. The television and bathroom a short distance away from himself and her bedside didn’t exist. The IV, machines, chairs, nothing in the room existed. Nothing, that was, except himself, her, and the bed she laid in. He found a chair and pulled it up next to the bed and sat in it.
He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her yet and he didn’t plan to. He looked her up and down slowly, she was wearing a white hospital gown, her hair was still as long and straight and as black as ever. Her skin was still brown and smooth as it always had been. Everything about her was still the same, but different. He looked down at her hand that was laying by her side in front of him. He slowly reached for it and took it in both of his own hands and lifted it to his lips and gently kissed it.
“Please God,” he silently prayed, “let her wake up soon.”
He couldn’t remember what had happened to bring both himself and her here to this place in the hospital. He could, but vaguely and everything was dark and grey and blurry and made no sense. He sighed, frustrated, and kissed her hand again the same way he had before and smiled. He fought back tears and sadness, happiness, anger, and every other human emotion he could. He tried to convince himself that he knew God hadn’t wanted this for either of them, but he found himself fighting that as well.
He let go of her hand suddenly and let down the bed rails. He then pushed the chair back to where he had found it earlier off to the side of the bed in one corner of the room. Then, he gently pushed her away from the edge of the bed where he had been sitting, and laid beside her. He took her hands again as he laid on his side and looked at her, smiling. He placed her hands and his own against his chest where he heart was.
“I know you can’t see, hear, or feel me,” he said softly to her, “but I just want you to know that I’m here for you and I love you and I’m never going to leave you as long as I live.”
A few hours later, the doctor came in to get him. But when he saw the man sitting at the woman’s bedside holding her hand still with his head laying on the bed next to her body, he simply smiled. He reached for the door and slowly pulled it shut as quietly as he could.
The sun was enormous and golden yellow and the sky was several shades of red, orange, and purple as the sun slowly raised into the sky and sat on the city’s skyscrapers. He groaned as he slid off of the side of the bed and dropped his numb hand from her motionless one. He gasped and then sat upright suddenly, jarring his neck.
“Uhhhh….” he groaned as he rubbed his neck and looked her. His pain remained but at the same time went away as he looked at and smiled tiredly at her as he let go of her hand and stood, still never taking his eyes off of her as he stretched. He knew he needed to release his bladder and eat and possibly find some kind of shower or other way to bathe and properly groom himself and get a fresh pair of clothes.
He bent down and kissed her forehead gently, “I’ll be back soon.” he said softly to her, smiling at her as he brushed her hair back off of her smooth face, then turned and headed for the door. He stopped at it and turned and took one last long look at her before leaving.
To stretch his legs, he left the hospital. When he stepped outside, the sunlight, though still semi-dim, blinded him. He blinked his sore eyes to adjust them and rubbed them. When he did, he felt like he was trying rub glass out of them. He opened them again after rubbing them and blinked, now his eyes burned and watered. He lifted his shirt and violently rubbed his eyes again with it until the burning and watering in his eyes ceased. He felt in his pockets and found a cell phone in one and a wallet in the other. He took out the wallet and looked inside of it and found several hundred dollars. He didn’t and couldn’t remember where the money had come from, or how or why he was where he was. All he remembered and knew right now was the young woman who laid comatose in the hospital behind him.
He turned and looked at the hospital, which towered over him. There was a curved driveway with some kind of flat roof-type thing over it and several vehicles parked under it. The sky was dark and grey, and the clouds matched it now. The sunlight was dim now and bearable. He walked stiffly away from the hospital. He hated leaving her in there. He didn’t trust anyone that worked in there as far as he could throw them. But at the same time, he knew he had to get away from the place and clear his head.
As he walked, the woman in the hospital flashed before his eyes. She was smiling as big and bright as anyone ever could. Her hair and skin looked just the way he had seen them in the hospital room earlier. For the first time he saw her eyes, which were big and wide open and dark brown with white around them and a black spot that was the pupil in the middle. Her lips were pink and her teeth were perfectly straight and bright white like pearls. He opened his eyes and smiled as he neared an enormous building.
Actually, there were several buildings, one being a restaurant. The other two were a joined shopping mall and the parking lot in front of the buildings was about halfway full at least. He walked toward the door closest to him and opened it and headed inside. As he entered, he found his mind was consumed, almost obsessed with the comatose woman he had left behind at the hospital. He wanted to know where she had come from, why she kept crossing his mind, and why he had been sitting in the hospital she was in earlier before the doctor came and told him he could go into the room and see her?
He stepped into the mall. It was dead except for people scattered here and there who walked up and down the tiled floor in and out of stores. He casually strolled down the tiled floor, past a video game store and several clothing stores. He stopped when he came to a store called “Romancing the Stone”. He stepped inside of the store and slowly walked in. He looked around for something, anything for the girl that was in the hospital that he couldn’t stop thinking about.
As he looked around the store, he heard someone behind him, “Can I help you sir?” a woman asked.
He turned around and looked at her like a deer in headlights, he relaxed and smiled tiredly at her, “Yes,” he said, “I’m looking for a gift for someone.”
The woman smiled and nodded, “Let me guess,” she said, “a girl, right?”
“Uhhhh….yeah, how did you know?” he asked.
The woman gave him a look, “No guy ever just ‘comes in here’ unless it’s for something important,” she said, “get what you need and I’ll take care of it for you.” she said.
“O…okay,” he said, “thank you.”
He took what he wanted for the woman waiting for him back at the hospital. He thanked the woman in the store once more and then hurried out and back into the main area of the shopping mall. He needed a bath or shower. And clothes. And a shave wouldn’t hurt or kill him. He went to sport’s store that sold clothes and bought as much as he could afford. He then headed to Bath and Body Works for shampoos and soaps. Once he had what he needed, he hurried out of the mall and back for the hospital. But not before stopping yet again at another store that sold nothing but roses.
“Yeah, I need about a dozen roses.” he said to the man working in the place.
“Okay,” he said, “what color?”
He thought for a moment, “Dark red,” he said, “if you have it. If don’t, just red will be fine.”
“I’ll see what I’ve got.” the man said, smiling and nodding to him as he turned and headed into the back of the store.
“Thank you.” he said as he stood in the front part of the store and patiently, yet anxiously, waited.
“Here you are,” the man running the store said a few minutes later as he handed the bouquet of roses over, “that’ll be….” he started.
“Charge it,” the man buying the flowers said, insisting, “I’ll pay for them later….promise.” he said as he turned and left the store to head back to the hospital.
When he arrived, saw doctors hurrying past him with a gurney. He gasped, fearing the worst, he hurried and called the elevator up to the floor the love of his life was on. The elevator ride up to her floor seemed to take forever and a day. But he finally reached her floor and as soon as the elevator doors opened, he bolted out of the elevator and down the hallway to her room. He swung the door open and found her still laying perfectly still the way he had left her.
“Thank God!” he whispered, breathing a sigh of relief as he calmly walked over to her bedside and set the flowers on a table that was beside the bed. He then took out the necklace from the sack it was in, and the box. He carefully and gently lifted the woman’s head and placed the necklace around her neck before placing her head back on the pillows that were on the bed.
“Perfect.” he said softly as he looked at her and smiled like he had so many times before.
There was a sudden soft knock on the door.
The man looked over his shoulder, “come in.” he said as the door slowly opened and revealed the doctor from several days ago.
“Evan,” he said to him as he shut the door as quietly as he could behind him and walked over to where the woman laid in the bed and Evan sat beside her, “I have some bad news.”
Evan’s heart suddenly dropped into his stomach, “Oh God,” he gasped, “No!” he sobbed as he buried his face in his hands.
“It’s not like that,” the doctor said, seeming to know what Evan was thinking, “she just…she hasn’t woke up once since being admitted here weeks ago…Evan, if she doesn’t wake up in the next few days…I’m…going to pull the plug. With or without your permission.”
Evan then burst into tears. The water from his eyes streamed down his face, on both of his cheeks. Down his chin and hit the floor like bullets. He couldn’t lose hope or faith, not now. He had lasted this long. She wouldn’t give up on him if he were in her position and he was more than determined not to give up on her. The doctor seemed to ignore Evan’s breakdown and headed away from him to continue his rounds. About an hour later, Evan found himself at her bedside once more, this time reading a Bible someone had left for her days ago.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” – Mark 10:27.
Evan closed the Bible and looked at his love, smiling through his watery eyes that had produced tears that refused to fall. The verse gave him that much more faith, hope, and love towards the woman of his dreams that laid before him. Though he was still rocked with uncertainty and fear, he fought through them, he knew he would not lose her, he refused to believe he would.
“Do you remember,” he started softly to her, “when and how we met? I do…it was one of the best and most happy days of my life.” he laughed to himself as he used his shirt to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Redfield High School, May two thousand eight….
Evan and Kayleigh sat together on a bench out in front of their high school. Evan was just a freshman and Kayleigh a seventh grader, but they were crazy mad in love with each other. As they sat, Evan scooted closer to her, where he was right next to her, as close as he could get. He carefully held her hand as they sat, not saying a word. He was so nervous he couldn’t stand himself. He didn’t know why, every time they were together in the band room or anywhere else he was fine. But when they were alone together like they were now, it was different somehow.
He loved her as much as anyone could without the relationship turning sexual or weird or bizarre in any kind of way. He hugged her, the first time he had ever hugged anyone the way he hugged her now. Tightly, but not crushing her. Close to his heart. Protecting her. He had no idea how their future would be, what it would hold, but he hoped that nothing would tear them apart-ever.
Now here he sat, at her bedside. He still couldn’t remember hardly what had brought them here. His mind frantically searched through every memory. He remembered everything about Kayleigh and himself, even though she had once told him she couldn’t remember anything about him or herself-not even how they had met. It had crushed his heart to hear her say those words, but he had had a heart full of love for her then, just as he did now. She had asked him to tell her again how they had met and what had happened between them and he had eagerly and happily told her.
He wasn’t sure of anything right now. Nothing, that was, except for his love for Kayleigh. A love that would never die, even after they both did. He then remembered another verse from Kayleigh’s Bible.
The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. – Jeremiah 31:3.
Evan’s heart jumped and something gripped it tightly. He wondered if the verse meant anything to him or his current situation. He looked at Kayleigh’s unconscious body again, but this time, he was concerned and worried for her for the first time. He started to say something to her again, but the door swung open suddenly and a group of about five doctors rushed in, pushing and shoving Evan aside as they prepared to move his love from the bed and to a gurney to take her away.
“Where are you taking her,” Evan asked the doctors desperately, “what’s going on? what happened? what’s wrong?”
“Sir,” one of the doctors said, “please, we need you to stay out of our way right now.” and with that, Evan was shoved aside as the doctors vanished from the room with Kayleigh’s body.
Evan gritted his teeth and clenched his fists at his sides. He stormed out of the room to follow the doctors to wherever they were taking his love, but they were already out of sight.
Evan looked around and saw a nurse, “Excuse me,” he said to her, “do you know where they took Kayleigh Massri?” he asked.
“E.R., sir,” she replied, “you can’t go in there, but there is a waiting room down that way. I can take you to it.”
“Thank you.” Evan said, nodding.
Evan walked down the hallway with the nurse. A million more thoughts raced through his mind about Kayleigh. Was she alright? What had happened? Would whatever happened keep her from ever waking up again? So many thoughts and questions raced around his mind as he neared yet another waiting room.
“It could be a few hours,” the nurse said, “so just make yourself comfortable. Is there anything I can get you?”
Evan looked up at the television set above him. The news report was about Kayleigh’s home country. Egypt. Evan felt a weight drop down on his soul again. He hated what was happening there and that Kayleigh was here in the states with him instead of with her family there. But at the same time, he wondered if it was best, since he knew from what she had told him about Egypt, that she was here instead of there. Not that being in the states was much better than the other place.
“Sir?” the nurse said again, faintly.
Evan snapped out of the trance he seemed to be in and looked dazed at the nurse.
“You can go and see miss Massri now.”
“She’s awake?” Evan said, hopeful, as he jumped up from where he sat.
“No,” the nurse said, “but she is coherent.”
The nurse then led Evan down another long, seemingly endless, hallway. He felt more and more dazed and confused the closer they got to Kayleigh’s room. When they finally reached it, Evan peered inside before he entered. She was still lying in the bed, but the bed had been lifted some.
“Are there….” he started.
“Yes,” the nurse said, knowing what he was going to ask, “there are chairs in the room and we’ve put your belongings in there as well.”
“Thank you!” he said as he hurried and opened the door and entered the room.
The nurse smiled to herself as she turned and headed away from the room. Meanwhile, Evan had found a chair and pulled it up as close to the bed as he could. He took Kayleigh’s hand, only this time, it didn’t seem so lifeless and cold. He smiled at her as he tried to choke back the tears that flowed like the Nile River from his eyes.
“Kayleigh,” he whispered to her, “It’s me….Evan.”
There was a long, dead, silence. Evan’s heart sank. He felt lied to, cheated, and betrayed. Kayleigh wasn’t coherent. She couldn’t be…unless…then, it dawned on Evan what the nurses and doctors had meant. He let go of her hand and pushed the chair back. He then stood as if he were in a trance. His eyes were wide, his mouth slightly agape as he looked in the direction of Kayleigh, but didn’t see her.
“It’s not her!” he gasped as he staggered backwards toward the door, almost toppling over.
“Evan? Evan!” the doctor said faintly as Evan felt himself fall into his arms before blacking out.
When he awoke, Evan found himself in a hospital bed. The things he had gotten for the woman he had thought had been Kayleigh, the love of his life, decorated the room.
“What the….” he mumbled to himself as he fumbled around for the remote that lifted the bed. He lifted it until it sat upright. He let go of the remote, letting it drop off one side of the bed. How had all of what he had bought for Kayleigh gotten here? Had it all just been a dream? As his mind spun even more, trying to comprehend what was happening, he didn’t notice the door opening, or the person who entered.
She pulled up a chair next to his bed and silently watched him before speaking, “Evan,” she said, “Evan, it’s me!”
He gasped and shot upright in the bed, He then slowly turned his head. Did he dare look? He saw her sitting beside the bed, “No,” he gasped, “you should be where I am! Not me!”
“Evan,” she said calmly, “what are you talking about?”
“Y…you were comatose, I…I saw it with my own eyes!”
“Evan, it was just a dream,” Kayleigh said, “see, I’m fine.”
“Then…then how did I…how did we…get here?” he asked as he leaned back against the pillow and tried to subdue the pain that was flowing through his body.
“Evan,” she said, “what are you talking about? You’re fine.”
“No,” he said, almost desperately, “I…I’m not!” he insisted.
“Evan,” she said, taking his hand, “you’re okay, I promise. I’m not leaving you.”
“Y…yes you will!” he said, almost hysterically now, “but I’m not going to let that happen…not again!”
“Evan,” she said, leaning forward, she put her arms around him and kissed his forehead, “relax, please.” she said softly.
He let his body go limp as he shook and the tears streamed down his face from his eyes again. He grabbed onto her, “I…I’m so sorry!” he sobbed.
Kayleigh didn’t say anything, but instead held him. She knew that was all he needed. Someone to console and comfort him. But she wasn’t sure how much or how long she could for him.
“Don’t leave me,” he said softly, “I don’t know what I’d do if you did.”
“Evan,” she said, shaking her head, “I’m not going to leave you. But if you don’t stop this, I will.”
“What?” he asked.
“This, not giving me the space I need.”
“But…but I love you.” he persisted.
“I know,” Kayleigh said, “but this is starting to become an obsession instead of love. Evan, look at what you’re doing.”
“I’m not doing anything,” he said, his body shaking as he fought not to break down in front of her, “I just…” she cut him off.
“I know you love me, but we can’t keep doing this,” she said, shaking her, “we can’t keep worrying about and obsessing over each other.”
“I…I wasn’t though.” he said as his voice cracked and the tears came again.
“Evan,” she said, “I know you were, and how do I know, because you follow me everywhere I go, in real life or on the net. You’ve attacked my friends before in the past and I can’t let you do that.”
“But I….” he started.
“I can’t stay here like this, we’re going down different paths, but thank you for everything. I still love you, but I have to walk away now.”
He kept trying for months, even years, to talk to her. But after threatening never to speak with him again if he persisted, Evan finally stopped and tried his best to let her go.

Unsustainable

Essie watched from the bridge as all hell broke loose. She watched them all fall over dead one by one. The tears tried to come, but she fought them back with everything in her. She would not be known as a weak leader. She refused this. The sky was pitch black from the smoke and fire that filled the air from the continuous, non-stop firing of ammo that came from the spacecrafts in the air and soldiers on the ground. She wanted so bad to help them fight this, but knew she couldn’t, and why.

She heard a low rumble, which she thought at first was in the distance. But then she felt the bridge on which she was standing start to violently shake suddenly and sway and rock back and forth. She held out her arms to try to balance herself and still almost toppled over. She started to fall forward and grabbed onto one of the cables that was to keep people from falling off of the bridge to balance herself.

“What the….” she muttered to herself as she heard a thunderous whooshing noise above her and whipped her head around and turned her eyes to the sky to see what was causing the noise and earthquake-like movement on the ground where she stood on the bridge.

She looked up to see the security ship. The Lawrider, a small, motorcycle-like aircraft that was built to be one of the fastest vehicles in the known galaxies.  Essie watched as the aircraft flew so low over her head that when she saw it coming, she fell to the ground and covered the back of her head as she listened to the deafening roar of the Lawrider as it zoomed over her and the bridge and to the enormous one hundred eight story, one thousand four hundred fifty-one foot skyscraper in the distance in front of her on the other side of the bridge.

Once the aircraft was in front of her, Essie slowly stood and looked curiously at the building in front of her where the aircraft had been flying to. She knew she was in a warzone and needed to get out of it. She started in the direction of the tower. As she walked toward the tower, her body shook and shivered as if she were cold, but she wasn’t. She hated war. Hated fighting. Arguing. Bickering. Anything evil or sinful, she hated. But she had been born and raised into this cold, cruel, sick, dark, and twisted galaxy and there seemed to be nothing she could do about it.

She hated God and refused to believe he even existed since the events in her life had occurred. Watching her mother, father, brothers, sisters, and everyone else in her family perish during the war that had been raging on for almost an entire century had proven to be more than enough to make her this way. But she hadn’t always been this way. She remembered how she had been before. She had been happy, full of life, forgiving, joyful, and everything else that went with it. But that all seemed to be gone now and a person she didn’t even know now resided inside of her.

She slowed her pace to a stop as she neared the end of the bridge. The snow white, usually sparkling, sand, laid before her. The tower sat a patch of dark green and dying grass. The image reminded her of a lighthouse as there was a black ocean in back of where the tower stood in front of her and the bridge. There would people inside of that tower, she knew for a fact there would be. She also knew that some of the people inside would want to kill her because of her sins while others more forgiving would want to protect her from them.

She sighed, frustrated, and kicked at the ground and almost fell as she walked. She neared the tower’s door and stopped and hesitated just a few steps in front of it. Her body continued to tremble and her heart raced inside of her chest. Her head pounded and her stomach felt as though it was in knots. She reached with trembling hands for the door. She slowly pulled the heavy door open and a blinding white light poured out from the building, cutting and burning the darkness of the night and Essie’s soul away for the moment.

She heard the clicking noise that was made as someone pointed the barrel of a revolver gun directly in between her eyes. She swallowed hard and slowly lifted her trembling hands and tried not to burst into tears again.

“Who are you?” the man she couldn’t see because of  the blinding white light that poured out from the lighthouse, asked in a low angry voice.

“E….Essie!” she stammered nervously.

He lowered the gun and placed it in the holster on his belt. He then grabbed Essie by her shoulders and jerked her into the lighthouse and slammed the door shut and bolted it back shut behind her. The light burned her eyes as they tried to adjust as Essie stood in the doorway of the lighthouse and looked around curiously.

“What,” she said as she looked around, “what IS this place?” she asked as she slowly walked around, making sure she looked at every inch of the lighthouse.

“This will keep us safe.” the man said as he started up the staircase. Essie didn’t know what else to do other than follow him. She started up the staircase slowly after him.

She heard the faint firing of guns from the foot soldiers and ships that were in the air and on the ground. She couldn’t help but wonder why they were still fighting, and why they were fighting in the first place. Yes, she remembered when all of this started, but not why.

When they reached the top of the lighthouse, Essie could see gunfire flying back and forth through the air and every once in awhile, a soldier fall to the ground dead or crawling around on it injured or trying to help someone else. The sick feeling in her stomach returned as she tried to turn away, but whatever reason, couldn’t.

“Why is this happening?” she asked the man as she watched in horror at what was going on down below.

He shrugged, “Why does anyone fight a war?” he asked casually as if what was going was nothing to worry about as he plopped down on a cot and sat on the edge of it.

She turned and looked at him, surprised to see another cot across from the one on which he sat. She walked over to the empty cot and plopped down on it. She felt exhausted. Her entire body ached and he muscles felt like they were chained together in tight knots. She felt nauseas, blazing hot and burning up, groggy, and dazed and confused.

“I don’t know,” she said finally, looking tiredly at the man, “why do they?” she asked.

The man chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“What?” Essie said, irritably.

“Are you tired?” he asked.

Essie slowly nodded, her eyes were barely opened and her body felt like it had been chewed up and then spat back out.

“Hungry?” he asked.

She started to answer him with ‘no’, but when she heard and felt the rumbling in the pit of her stomach, she grabbed it and nodded, “Of course!” she said.

“Who are you again?” she asked as she stood from where she sat on the cot and followed the man back downstairs.

“Jackson Howlett. Brigadier.” he replied as they arrived at the first floor and a table that was up against one wall with two chairs pushed up against it and a fridge, sink, microwave, and blender on countertops across from it against another wall, arranged in a half circle to fit the shape of the lighthouse.

“Just have a seat at that table over there.” Jackson said, gesturing to the table as he opened the refrigerator and took some of its contents and then headed over to where there was a counter and started preparing the food he had retrieved from the fridge.

Essie sat down at the table and looked around the lighthouse once more. It was very nice and cozy and comfortable. She was instantly impressed that anyone could make a home out of such a place. She wouldn’t argue or complain about having to live here if she had to. It was much nicer and in better shape and condition than where she had been born and raised.

“Here you go.” Jackson said as he set a plate of food down in front of her and  then sat across the table in another chair that was across from her on the other side of the table.

Essie stared at the plate of food before she started eating. On the plate were tiny portions of several different kinds of foods. These were: baked beans, canned sardines, canned tuna, pineapple, spam, some tomato soup in a bowl on the side, and Vienna sausage. Essie saw a few things on the plate she wouldn’t have eaten before the war broke out, but she had barely eaten or drank anything in almost a year and knew she would die if she kept this behavior of not eating and drinking eventually. She dug in and started eating as if she were starving to death, which, technically she was.

Jackson gawked at her as she ate, unsure of whether to laugh or be concerned or both. Instead, he asked, “Are you okay?”

Essie abruptly stopped eating and looking up at him, the fork to her mouth, “Uhhhh….” she said, unsure of how to explain her situation to him.

“I mean I was just wondering,” he said, “because you’re eating like someone who just got out of prison or something.”

“Oh,” Essie said, dropping the fork and wiping her mouth with her sleeve, “I’m sorry. I’ve never been to prison actually, can I ask you a question?”

Jackson folded his arms, leaned back in his chair, stared hard at Essie, and nodded, “Sure.” he said.

“How has the war not effected you like it has effected me and others?” Essie asked.

Jackson unfolded his arms and leaned forward, still staring hard at Essie, but also curiously, he cleared his throat before he spoke, “How do you know it hasn’t?” he asked.

Essie looked at him, shocked and stunned, “Well I just thought…” she started before Jackson cut her off.

“You thought just because I have a decent place to live and food to eat that the war hasn’t had any effect on me, that everything’s great and grand and wonderful, yes?” Jackson said.

“Well…” Essie said, not sure what to say next.

“My life isn’t perfect,” Jackson said, “it never has been and never will be. I’m more like you than you think.”

“Oh really,” Essie said, “and how is that?”

“I’ve seen what you’ve seen and been where you’ve been.” he replied.

“Meaning?” she asked.

“I know you lost your parents when this war first started.” he said.

“Whoa,” Essie said, offended, “how the hell could you possibly know that, we don’t even know each other!?”

“I…” he started, but stopped when he heard an enormous loud noise that sounded like cannon going off, paper being ripped in half, and a warning siren going off all at the same time.

“What the hell was that?” Jackson said as he and Essie ran to the door and swung it open.

Essie gasped, “Oh no!”

The ships were flying straight for where Jackson and Essie were.

“We have to get out of here, now!” Jackson said, grabbing Essie by her wrist, they dove out of the lighthouse just as the ships fired and flew into it, destroying themselves and the lighthouse.

“What in God’s name were those?” Essie shrieked as she and Jackson headed away from the destroyed lighthouse.

“Suicide bombers.” Jackson said without looking back.

“Like terrorists?” Essie asked.

Jackson shook his head, “No,” he said, “they meant to do that, to kill us.”

“They knew we were in there,” Essie said, “how?”

“Nothing,” Jackson said, shaking his head, “forget it.”

“No,” Essie said, “I wanna know, now tell me.” she said demandingly.

“For-get it!” Jackson said, anger rising in his voice.

Essie reached for him to grab him, but he moved out of her way and made her fall to the ground.

“You don’t need to know who I am right now.” he said as he helped her up off  the ground.

“And why is that?” she asked.

“Because now is not the time,” he snapped, “you won’t believe me, there is too much confusion and turmoil inside of you for anything right now!” he insisted as he took off in front of her in a light jog.

Essie had no clue what he meant by what he had just said. She wanted to know and knew that the only way to get to the bottom of what Jackson had just said, she would need to follow and stay with him. She followed close behind him as he started back across the bridge to the tower.

“What’s in that thing?” Essie asked as they neared the tower.

“Everything we need to….” Jackson started.

The spacecraft swooped down low over their heads and fired at the tower. It rattled and shook violent, but didn’t crack, crumble, or fall to the ground. The spacecraft fired again and again, the tower went unharmed. Finally, the aircraft flew straight at the tower and slammed into it and exploded into nothing. The tower still remained standing the way it always had been, with no damage or any signs of being attacked.

“How is that even possible?” Essie said, amazed as they started inside of the tower and closed and bolted the door shut behind them.

“We can’t stay here for very long.” Jackson said as he hurried around in the tower and threw anything and everything in his sight just about into a black duffle bag.

“Why not,” Essie asked, “this place seems pretty safe to me?”

“It’s not,” Jackson said, “trust me.”

“Did you not see how many attacks this thing took just now and none of them phased it?” Essie insisted.

Jackson shook his head in disbelief without looking at her as he finished packing.

“What,” Essie said, frustrated and border-line angrily, “what is it? what did I do?”

“It’s not you,” he said, “it’s something…never mind, forget it.”

“No,” Essie said, “tell me. Please.”

He spun around and glared at her, “You have no idea what this is really about, do you?” he snapped.

 “Of course,” Essie said as she sat on the cot, “it’s a war.”

Jackson shook his head, “this isn’t about war, but something much bigger than ourselves.”

That night, as Essie laid on her cot and stared up at the ceiling, her mind raced and spun around like a tilt-a-whirl ride at a fair. She knew she had just met Jackson and knew nothing about him, but she wondered what he had meant by ‘this isn’t about war, but something much bigger than ourselves.’? She felt worse than she ever had before. Confusion, turmoil, and the never-ending constant tugging and pulling at her brain and heart had done more than worn her out, she felt it was all close to destroying and killing  her.

She looked over at where he laid on the other cot across from her. She would put her faith and trust in him for now, just because she hadn’t had a good friend in many years. But she swore to herself that the first time would be the last time if it ever came.

The next morning….

The gunfire and firing of the cannons had ceased. Essie gasped as her eyes snapped open and she looked back across the room from her cot to find Jackson had vanished without a trace. She slowly sat up, still dead tired and knowing she still looked like a zombie without looking into a mirror. She slowly stood from the cot and wondered where Jackson had gone, or if he had even existed.

As she was about to head out of the shack to see if it was safe now to go back to life not as she once knew it, but something of the sort, something underneath the cot caught her eye. She bent down and reached for and started to pull the item out from underneath it, but stopped when she thought she heard something or someone behind her.

Jackson cleared his throat, “Glad to see you’re awake finally!” he said cheerfully.

Essie jumped and was on her feet instantly. She stood and spun around to see Jackson. She hadn’t been able to get a very good look at him the night before and seized the opportunity right then and there to do so. He was tall, about five foot eleven or six foot exactly, and extremely thin and lean muscled. His hair was bleach blonde and his skin pasty white. His eyes were dark brown, almost black. His ears were prominent. His nose was soft. His chin was chiseled. His mouth was open.

Essie studied what he was wearing, which was his service uniform, which was dark brown and had the Explorers of The Blasphemous’  (a group of military men and women that were highly trained and dangerous) logo on it. The logo was similar to that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s logo, only instead of the red chevron, there wasn’t anything, and across the sphere was E.T.B. instead of N.A.S.A.

The mission statement of the E.T.B. was similar to that of N.A.S.A., except the E.T.B. also functioned like a military. Essie faintly remembered her father being a Sergeant Major, although she wasn’t sure if that had been him or someone else. By the looks of Jackson, he wasn’t very highly ranked, but still well-known and respected amongst his comrades.

“Are you alright?” Jackson asked, snapping Essie back into reality.

Essie blinked and shook her head, “I’m fine.” she said, half-smiling at him.

“I’ve called for an evac,” Jackson said, “we need to finish packing and hurry and get out of here before we’re discovered.”

“We’re not the only people that survived?” Essie said, surprised.

“Of course not,” Jackson said as zipped the duffle bag closed and headed for the door, “what made you think that?”

“It’s just,” Essie said as she followed him outside, “I haven’t had any human contact hardly in so long, it made me wonder.”

He led her to a Jeep J8 and motioned for her to get inside.

“Well you’re in luck my friend,” Jackson said as he joined her and the driver pulled away from the shack of a place he had been living in, “I know where there are lots of survivors!”

Essie felt relieved, but also confused, frustrated, and angry. Her mind whirled around inside of her skull with thoughts and questions about the survivors. Questions such as, What are their names? What are they like? Will they accept me despite what I’ve said and done? She felt dizzy and nauseas again as Jackson sped down the path.

After what felt like days, but was just hours, Jackson finally pulled up in front of what looked like a power plant.

“What,” Essie said as she and Jackson opened the doors to the truck and stepped out onto the ground and closed them behind them, “what IS that place?” she asked.

“It’s a safe haven,” Jackson said as he started jogging  toward the building, “c’mon, we have to hurry!”

Essie tried to run after him, but her ankles gave way and her feet felt like lead. She tripped and fell flat on her face. She groaned as she slowly lifted herself up from the ground. She brushed herself off and then limped after Jackson until she reached the safe haven.

“Why are you standing outside?” she asked him as she stood with him in front of an enormous garage door.

Jackson felt around in the pockets of his clothes, and sighed, frustrated, he cursed under his breath.

“What’s wrong?” Essie asked him.

“I can’t find it!” he said, again still frustrated as he felt himself once more before giving up.

“What is it you need?” Essie asked, sensing that whatever it was he needed was something that had to do with getting into the building in front of them.

“I had the code wrote down that I always keep with me to get into this place.” he said.

“You’ve been here before?” Essie said, stunned.

Jackson nodded without looking at her as he became more and more frustrated with himself for losing the code to the door.

“When?” Essie asked, “and why?”

He didn’t mean to, but he ignored her as he continued trying at the door. As he did, Essie felt a strange presence. She looked around and saw nothing, but swore there was no way she could be going crazy. She heard the low rumbling of the jet engines again, but couldn’t make out what direction the sound was coming from. She listened harder and continued to look around, but still, she saw nothing and the sound was growing closer and was deafening.

“Jackson,” Essie said, “Jackson, hurry, please!”

He continued punching in codes that wouldn’t work, but was sure he was close to cracking it. The helicopter-like spacecraft  levitated just in front of Essie as it slowly raised itself up from underneath it. Essie gasped, her heart pounded in her head and every muscle in her body locked. She stood, frozen with fear before the helicopter spacecraft.

“Got it!” Jackson said suddenly as the spacecraft zoomed at lighting speed toward them, he turned and gasped, “Essie,” he said, “c’mon!” he grabbed her by her wrist and jerked her through the doorway of the base just as the copter sped toward them and then turned back up into the air as its pilot knew he couldn’t get it through the door to the base and flew away.

Essie turned and stared down the hallway, which was pitch black dark. She swallowed the rock in her throat, she was terrified of the dark, and the war was partially to blame for her fear.

“Hang on,” Jackson said, “I might have a flashlight on me….somewhere.” he muttered to himself as he felt around in his pockets. He realized that he didn’t have any kind of light on him, but decided not to tell Essie for fear of not following him. Instead, he took her by her hand and started leading her down the hallway.

Essie’s mind felt as though it was being torn apart piece by piece as she followed Jackson down the dark tunnel. She wished she knew what had caused it in the first place and that she could figure out a way to end it. She was sick of it and just wanted peace, justice, freedom, and security restored and for things to be right again. She prayed that Jackson knew more about what he was doing and what was going on than she did since he had seen the war differently than she had.

He stopped abruptly then and let go of Essie’s hand.

“What is it,” she asked, “what’s wrong?”

“Sh!” he whispered harshly to her.

Then, they heard it. The gunfire that came from the gunship howled and whistled against the rest of the gunfire from the gunships and overpowered them.

“C’mon,” Jackson said desperately, “Essie, c’mon!” he grabbed her by her wrist again and bolted down the hallway in a dead run until they came to the end of it.

He let go of her hand and opened what looked like a covered sewage drain, “Get in,” he ordered her, grabbing her again and shoving her through the entrance before diving through himself and closing it and locking it tightly behind them.

“We’re getting closer,” Jackson said as he took Essie’s hand again, “keep moving.”

Sure enough, the pair found themselves somewhere several feet under in a combined sewer. The smell reeked of mold and trash as the pair made their way down one side nearest a wall. The water that ran through the middle was full of trash such as plastic cups, plates, knives, spoons, forks, and other random garbage and human waste. Essie gagged at the sight and tried her best to hold her breath as she and Jackson made her way through the sewer.

The sewer walls rattle and shook with everything in them as the cannons fired back and forth at one another. Essie feared that she and Jackson never would reach the survivors, that the entire sewer would collapse and cave in on and kill them both.

She stopped in the middle of the sewer and felt a tremendous wave of fear for no reason. Her heart pounded, her chest hurt, and it got harder for her to breathe. She thought she was going to die.

Jackson stopped when he didn’t hear her footsteps behind him anymore and turned around and faced her, “Ess,” he said, “are you….” an enormous fly-like creature suddenly fell through the roof of the sewer and swooped down, reaching for the soldier, it jerked him up off of the floor of the sewer as it flew straight up back through the ceiling, making another hole in it.

“Jackson!” Essie shrieked as she ran to the hole in the ceiling the creature had taken off with him through. When she didn’t see him, the panic attack came back, but she did her best to fight it off as she bolted through the sewer in a dead run.

“This way!” someone said as she neared the end of the sewer. She found herself under another hole. She stopped and looked up into a blinding bright white light that shone above her.

“C’mon,” the man said, a black hand reaching down the hole for her, “you’re going to die if you stay down there any longer!” he said desperately.

Essie looked over her shoulder to see the swarm of hornet-like creatures zooming down the sewer drain after her at lighting speed. She gasped and frantically started the climb up the ladder to where the man was. Just as she reached the top and reached out for his hand to pull her the rest of the way up, she felt something embed itself into her calf muscle.

“Ahhhh!!!!” she wailed as she let go of the ladder, now dangling in the air, and reached for whatever had planted itself into her calf. She jerked it out and lifted it up to look at it. It was a hornet stinger that was several feet long. She threw it to one side and kicked at the creature as she was pulled up through the hole away from it.

The man shoved her to one side onto gravel as he and three other men hurried and closed the hole before the creatures got out. One of the men threw several bombs down the hole just before the hole was sealed shut. The group dove away from the sewer hole just as the bombs went off, leaving an enormous crack in the ground. Essie slowly stood and crept over to the crack in the ground and peered down into it to see what had become of the creatures.

“Dead.” she said, half to herself and relieved.

She turned to the group and smiled unsurely at them.

“What’s wrong?” one of them asked.

Essie shook her head, “Nothing,” she lied, “I’m fine.”

“Where are we Roman?” one of the men asked the man who had led them through the sewer.

He looked around, “I dunno,” he said, shrugging, “but it looks like an abandoned construction sight.”

“Hey, you!” Essie said as she hurried past the others in the group and to Roman as he led them to the construction sight.

“Roman.” he said, smiling and chuckling to himself.

“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever,” Essie said, “anyways, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yes?” Roman said, dragging the word out.

“I’ve been looking for someone,” she said, “think you could help me out?”

“Oh,” he said casually, “who are you looking for?” he asked.

She reached into her pocket for the picture of the best friend she had been led to believe died with her parents earlier when the war first broke out and handed it to him.

Roman took the picture and studied it, “Hmmmm…” he said as he looked at Essie’s picture.

“Do recognize her?” Essie asked him almost desperately.

“Please say ‘yes’!” her mind screamed.

But Roman shook his head disappointed at her as he handed Essie her picture back to her, “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I don’t.”

“Oh,” Essie said, trying to pretend that him not recognizing her best friend hadn’t hurt her, “thanks anyways.”

Essie, Roman, and the rest of the survivors came to the construction site, which to their dismay wasn’t a construction site, but a facility of some kind.

Essie narrowed her gazed and looked curiously at the structure. It made her sick and the war rage even more. Essie led the group into the construction site.

“Are you sure about this,” Roman said to her in a low voice, “they could be watching?”

“Who’s ‘they’?” Essie asked.

“The E.T.B. of course.” Roman said.

“They’re on our side,” Essie said, trying to sound reassuring, “why would they attack us?”

“You can’t trust the military,” Roman said, shaking his head, “or the government, or democracy, or anyone anymore!”

“What the hell are you babbling about?” Essie said frustrated.

“I’m just saying,” Roman said as they neared the structure, “be careful who you trust.”

Essie gasped when she saw how heavily guarded the place was. Soldiers stood around the entire building with cannons on top of it and tanks out in front of the building on the ground. There were also cameras around every inch of the building and a mote around it filled with sharks and piranhas.

“Get down!” Roman ordered as he shoved Essie and the others down behind a bunker before being spotted by the soldiers and cameras and being shot down and killed before their eyes.

“Roman!” Essie shrieked.

Her call to him triggered the alarms on the building and their deafening roar filled her and the groups’ ears. She fell to her knees behind the bunker and covered her ears, looking over at a survivor who had his ears covered and looked petrified. Essie felt helpless, hopeless, and terrified herself.

As the alarms sounded, Essie crawled over to the survivor and shook him. Still hunched over, he slowly raised his head and looked up at her. There were a million different looks on his face.

“Who are you?” Essie mouthed to him slowly.

The prisoner started to answer her, but then they both heard the firing of a flare gun go off. Essie grabbed the survivor by his shirt and fell to the ground as the shot from the gun light up the sky like it was daylight.

“Find the prisoner and the girl,” the man’s voice said over the speakers, “find them and arrest them, they will pay for what they’ve done!”

“Oh no!” Essie gasped as she and the prisoner started the crawl on their bellies behind the bunker.

“My name is Terence!” he said to her above the alarms.

“Terence what?” she called over her shoulder to him.

“Terence….Uhhhh….” he said.

Essie shook her head in disgust and kept crawling in the dirt, mud, gravel, and other junk. They neared an enormous garage door. The search lights were on looking for them and shining bright white in the orange-red evening.

“What now?” Terence asked.

“Over here!” someone called to them from across the yard.

Essie jumped up to her feet.

“What….what the hell are you doing, are you crazy?” Terrence shrieked.

“We don’t have any other choice,” Essie said as she helped him to his feet, “just run!” she ordered as she bolted off in a dead run toward the sound of the voice.

As the pair ran, gunshots rang out throughout the place and whizzed and zoomed by Essie and Terrence’s ears. They dodged the bullets as they neared an armored truck about fifty feet away from the compound.

“In here,” the man said desperately, “hurry!”

Essie grabbed Terrence by his wrist as they ran and jumped up into the back of the truck. The man, who was another soldier, turned and fired at more of the ugly and disgusting hornet-like creatures as they flew at lighting speed in a swarm at them. Overrun by the creatures, the soldier gasped and turned and jumped up into the truck with Essie and Terrence just as the driver started pulling away from the compound.

“Okay,” Essie said, frustrated, exhausted, and fed up, “would someone please tell me what the hell’s going on?” she said, almost hysterically.

“A war of course.” Terrence said softly.

Essie looked over at him. He was short and stalky like a football play. He had a Mohawk-style hair cut and his hair was bleach blonde, almost white with dark brown, almost black, streaks in it. His eyes were dark brown and his eyebrows were black and seemed to sit on top of his eyelids. He wore a camo military outfit that had no patches.

“I know that,” Essie said, “I’ve grown up in it.”

“Then why did you ask what was going on?” he asked smiling.

“I mean why are things trying to attack us? What are those?!” she said, almost demandingly.

“Well,” Terrence said, “where I’m from we call them Acid Swarm.” he said.

“And why is that,” Essie asked, “who are you, where are you from, why are you here?” she asked, growing more and more impatient.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “where we’re headed will be much safer than here, I promise.”

Essie rolled her eyes, folded her arms across her chest, and shook her head.

“What?” Terrence asked.

Essie looked over at him, “Nothing.” she muttered angrily as she turned her head and looked back out of the small window.

Terrence started to reach for the gun in the holster on his belt, but stopped. He would see where this would lead, but he distrusted the girl as much as she distrusted him. They neared a small village finally, the truck stopping several hundred feet away.

“This is as far as I can take you.” the driver said, looking over his shoulder at Essie and Terrence.

“What?” Essie said, outraged.

“Can’t you get us any closer at all,” Terrence asked, “it’s still so far away and dangerous!”

“This is as far as I can take you!” the driver insisted, growing weary and angry.

Terrence sighed and he and Essie started the climb out of the back of the truck. As they did, a gunship dropped down and blasted Terrence and the truck to smithereens. The shockwave from the blast blasted Essie all the way to the village. As she sailed through the air, for a brief moment, time seemed to freeze. The war was over, and she was in paradise. She saw a man reach for and embrace her with his arms as if to protect her from harm. Then, in an instant, Essie felt her head meet with the concrete building and she slumped  down onto the filthy ground in a heap. Everything faded to black and Essie was unconscious.

When she came to, she found herself still in the same position. She was staring up at the clear blue sky with the bright yellow ball of light shining directly into her eyes and blinding her. She groaned, and started to lift herself up from the ground.

She felt the cold barrel of the gun pressed against her face, “Don’t fuckin’ move!” a deep gravely voice said as its hand clicked the hammer to the gun and loaded it.

“Wait,” she said desperately, “I can explain, please!” she said, almost hysterically.

The figure grabbed her roughly and jerked her up onto her feet with the gun still pressed against her head, “No need for that,” the figure said, “we already know what the status of this situation is.”

He grabbed her and handcuffed her. He then escorted her to a building that was concrete, steel, and titanium. Essie first saw a twenty foot tall fence with barbed wire on top of it. As they neared the building and entered, she next saw  the religious facility, education facility, a gym, hospital, segregation unit, safe cells, visiting area, death row, staff accommodation, service/facilities, recreational area, and finally, an administration area. She felt like she was in a miniature town instead of prison.

Essie was led to a cell that could only be opened by way of keycard. The guard swiped a blue card quickly down a slot that looked like a credit card swipe. There were two quick beeps and then the door to the cell hissed as it slowly slid open. The guard grabbed her by her arm and shoved her as hard as he could into the cell and the swiped the card again. There were more beeps and then the cell door made the hissing noise again as it slid closed.

There was a dead, deafening, silence for several minutes before she heard someone clear their throat in the cell next to her. “Hello?” she said as she moved closer to the concrete wall and leaned against it. Dead silence again.

“Essie,” the voice of a girl, said from the other cell, “is that you?”

“Uhhhh,” Essie said, “yeah, it’s me. Who are you again?”

“Essie,” the girl said, “it’s me.”

“Me who?” Essie asked as she sat on the floor against the wall.

“It’s me, sis…Ilene, remember?” the girl said.

Essie’s heart jumped and a wave of emotions washed over her, but she controlled herself, “I don’t know anyone by that name.” she lied.

The girl in the other cell laughed, “Why are you lying to yourself?” she asked.

Essie paused and leaned her head back against the wall. She closed her eyes and pictured how Ilene had looked the last time they had seen each other before she disappeared. She was tall and thin and faired skinned. She had dark brown wavy hair that had been parted on one side. Her eyes were happy and blue. Her lips were thin and pink. She had been dressed similar to Essie herself, a tight white t-shirt with a greenish-grey vest over it. Brown cargo-style pants around her waste with black and grey kneepads. And last but not least, the pants were tucked into black leather combat boots that were last all the way up.

“Are you still there?” the girl said to Essie, breaking her concentration and snapping her out of her thoughts.

“Yes,” Essie said slowly, opening her eyes, “I’m here.” she longed so bad for her sister back she could hardly stand it, but when she thought about her and missed her, the war was worse than ever.

The girl let out a sigh of relief, “whew,” she said, “thank God, I’ve been praying for someone to come and join me in here.”

“Oh,” Essie said, realizing how much like her sister the girl sounded, “really now?”

“Yeah,” the girl said, “I lost my friends and family long ago to this seemingly endless war.”

“How old were you?” Essie asked.

“Thirteen.” the girl said.

Essie felt her heart jump again. She wondered if the girl she was speaking to through the wall was her sister. She had to be, she just had to. The girl sounded just like her, like Ilene. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the picture she had of her sister and closed her eyes and imagined the girl on the other side to be her. But she then felt the war rage again as she tried to convince herself that the Ilene in the cell next to her couldn’t possibly be her dead sister.

She put the picture back in her pocket and cleared her throat as she closed her eyes again and attempted to rest and relax. But the girl in the other cell plagued her mind. Essie’s eyes snapped open, “Hey!” she said to the girl.

Silence.

“Yeah?” the girl said finally.

“What’s your last name?” Essie asked.

“Kaufman,” Ilene said, “you?”

Essie knew now for a fact she was speaking to her sister, “Sis,” she whispered, “sis, it’s me!”

“Essie,” Ilene said, relived, “I thought it was you, but I didn’t want to believe it!”

“It’s fine, sis,” Essie said, “are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Ilene said, “just a little banged up’s all.”

“Why?” Essie asked, fearing that “banged up” meant something terrible had happened to her sister.

“They caught me on the other side of here and arrested me,” she said, sighing, “they think I have it.” she said.

“Have what?” Essie asked.

Truths Concerning the Maker.” Ilene said.

“And what would that be?” Essie asked.

“It’s the truth,” Ilene said, “and they’re trying to destroy it.”

“Why?” Essie asked.

“To take over the world by brainwashing everyone into believing that the book isn’t the truth when really it is.” Ilene said.

“So what do we do to stop it?” Essie asked, standing, she walked up to the cell door and put her arms through the bars and leaned against it.

Ilene stood and walked up to her cell’s door and did the same as her sister, she shook her head in disappointment, “We….can’t, sis.” she somberly and softly.

“And why not?” Essie said, somewhat offended, again the war raging so bad she could hardly stand it any longer.

“No one believes anymore,” Ilene said as she walked back to her bed and plopped down on it, “and the ones that do believe are all…” her voice trailed off.

Something snapped inside of Essie then. She gripped the bars that made up the cell door and trembled with anger. She looked down at the floor briefly and the n slowly lifted her head and glared out through the bars to the cell across from her. She would end this war, she swore it.

“I have an idea sis.” she said finally.

That night….

Essie had been standing at the door all day-listening. The war was driving her insane and even though finding her sister had lifted some of her burden, she still felt like death warmed over. Her head pounded like someone was beating her brain with a sledge hammer and her brain felt like it was being torn apart, piece by piece. Her body ached and she felt weak and sick to her stomach. She felt dizzy and turned and staggered over to where there was a bed that jutted out of the wall.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands. The room was spinning, her body was numb, and she was drenched in her own freezing cold sweat even though she was burning up like she had a fever. Her head spun, everything that had happened to her recently filled her head to the brim and was now trying to spill over.

“H…hey,” a male voice whispered suddenly, “i…is anyone there?”

At first, Essie thought she was hallucinating, she waited before answering him, “I’m here.” she said finally.

“Thank…thank God!” he said, relieved.

“Ilene!” Essie whispered harshly.

She heard her sister stir in the other cell, then get up and walk to her cell door, “Mmmmm….this better be important Ess,” she said, “what is it?”

“Who are you?” Essie whispered demandingly to the prisoner.

“I’m….” Ilene started.

“Not you!” Essie whispered again in the same tone to her.

“My name is Vincente.” he said, answering Essie.

“How old are you?” Essie asked.

“Nineteen,” he said, “you?”

“I’m twenty,” Essie said, “she’s eighteen.”

“What brings you two here?” Vincente asked.

“I don’t….” Essie said, “I don’t know, we shouldn’t be here…we’re just trying to end this war!”

Silence.

“There is no end,” Vincente said, “at least not for me.”

“And why is that?” Ilene asked.

“I have been in here for several years,” Vincente said, “since I was born to be exact.”

“You’ve been in here since you were born?” Ilene said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Yes,” Vincente said slowly, “I was born here.”

“What happened to your mother and father?” Essie asked.

“My mother….died, just after I was born. I have no father.” Vincente said somberly.

Essie chuckled to herself, “Medical miracle if you don’t have a dad.” she said, smiling and shaking her head.

“My mother was….raped in here.” he said in the same tone.

“What was she in here for?” Ilene asked.

“I never….I never knew.” Vincente said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Essie wondered if Vincente was going through the same thing she was. God had given up on and taken everyone and everything he knew and loved away from him too. She felt grateful though in a way because she knew she still had her sister.

“Do you have any siblings?” Essie asked.

They heard him sigh, “No,” he said slowly, “but I’ve hoped and prayed and wished every day of my life since I can remember that I did.”

“We….we will be your sisters.” she said, smiling weakly even though she knew he couldn’t see her.

Vincente’s heart leapt and he couldn’t help but smile. The feeling made him feel as though he had butterflies in his stomach. His mind raced with happiness, joy, excitement, and every other good emotion. He suddenly became over whelmed with questions and things about himself he wanted to ask and share with the girls. He started to open his mouth to start asking and telling, but stopped when he heard the door to the cells slowly creak open and a set of footsteps echo as they crept down the corridor to them.

“Oh no!” he gasped.

“Vincente?” Ilene said, concerned.

“What was that,” Essie asked, “who’s that?”

“Sh!” Vincente whispered.

There was another deafening silence, then, “No,” Vincente shrieked as his cell door opened, “please, God, no!” the girls listened as he was dragged out of his cell and down the hall.

“Vincente,” Ilene said, “Vincente, no!”

The guard turned back around and headed for the cells Ilene and Essie were in. He first stopped at Ilene’s cell and opened.

“What the…” Ilene said, “let go of me!” she kicked, screamed, clawed, and scratched at the men as she was dragged out of her cell and down the hall.

“Ilene,” Essie said desperately, “Ilene, no!” She slammed her fists into the door and pressed her forehead against it.

She had to get out of the cell and retrieve Truths Concerning the Maker and keep it from being destroyed. But first, she knew she needed to find a way out of the cell. She felt around in the dark for anything to open the door, but found nothing. She knew the only way out was with something that could slide down into the crack of the door like a credit card. She felt around in her pockets, but again, found nothing. She walked away from the door and back over to her bed and plopped down on it again, slamming her fist into it as she did. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

As she sat on the bed, she heard what sounded like a scratching noise on the other side of the door. She looked up and watched as someone or something, slid something underneath the cell door into the cell. She hesitated, then slowly crawled off of the bed and crept over to where the paper was just under the door. She reached for it and picked it up in her shaking hands. The piece of paper read:

“My name is Brigadier Wilber Albion Griffin Contreras. I have been serving in the Circuit Defenders for over a decade. We are here to help over-throw the E.T.B. These are not the military men and women that you thought they were. They are not like N.A.S.A., they are posers. They are actually a race of alien hybrids sent here to destroy the truth we all know and love and force their own on us.”

“But how do we stop them?” Ilene asked.

“Until the book is destroyed, this alien race will continue to overrun and destroy us until we are no more and they’re all that’s left.”

“But this book is the way, the truth, and the life, right” Essie asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Wilber said, “if you wish to get out of here alive, you must follow and trust me.”

“Oh no,” Essie said, “I’m not trusting anyone anymore!”

“Please,” Wilbur said, “listen to me, I can help you guys get out of here and end this war, I promise!”

“Heard that before.” Ilene said.

“I am a highly skilled and trained, not just soldier, but also assassin.” he said reassuringly.

The girls hesitated.

“Okay,” Essie said, “how do we get out of here?”

“I have a keycard on me.” Wilber said in a low voice.

“Awesome,” Essie said happily, “you can get us out of here, c’mon, let’s go!”

Wilber shook his head, “It’s not that simple.” he said.

“Why not?” Ilene asked.

“They watch us.” he whispered as he looked up and around.

“Who?” Ilene asked.

“Silent Rangers,” he said, “the ones that are really in control.”

“In control?” Ilene asked, not sure what he meant.

“Yes,” Wilber said, “they infest our brains and control us.”

“And how do they do that?” Essie asked, not sure whether to believe Wilber was crazy or telling the truth.

“They crawl into our ears and enter our brains while we sleep.” he whispered.

“And what are they doing trying to control us?” Ilene asked.

“Brainwash us of course and make us believe their truth over God’s truth.” Essie said.

Wilber nodded, “and anyone who doesn’t comply they attack and kill.”

“But they can’t be defeated, right, or can they?” Ilene asked.

“They can,” he said, “their main power source is this book, if we destroy it, they’ll die. The only way to destroy the book is to go to the top of Deadbone’s Peak.”

“Where is that?” Ilene asked.

“The other side of this world.” Wilber said.

“Are you crazy,” Essie said hysterically, “that’s…that’s suicide!”

“I know,” Wilber said, “but we don’t have any other choice right now!”

Essie glanced over at her sister, she wasn’t sure what she should do and she hated it. Her sister had always looked to her for guidance because she had always known what to do, but now she didn’t and felt as though she had let Ilene down.

“Okay,” Ilene said finally, “tell us how to get out of here.”

“There’s a hole in the wall underneath your cot,” Wilber said, “it will take you outside.”

“What about you?” Essie asked.

“I’ll meet you out there as soon as I can,” he said, “it might be awhile though.”

Essie turned and walked over to the bed and knelt down. She looked underneath it, but couldn’t see because there was no light, “it’s too dark,” she said over her shoulder to Ilene and Wilber, “I can’t see it!”

Wilber reached into his pocket and bent down and slid a small flashlight under the door to Ilene to give to her sister. Ilene bent down and picked it up and walked over to where Essie was and knelt down beside her, pushing the black button on the flashlight. A bright white light came on and the girls shone the flashlight underneath the bed to reveal a small crawlspace.

“They’re coming!” Wilber said to them in a loud whisper, “you have to hurry!”

But Essie and Ilene weren’t through the hole yet as the guards showed  up and stated their business with Wilber’s cell.

“We need the prisoners.”

“For what?”

“Extermination.”

“But they’re just humans like myself!”

“But you’re controlled,” the beast said, “that is why you have not yet been exterminated.”

“Why do you want to control us anyway?”

“Step aside human, or we will be forced to kill you!”

“Do it you coward!”

Gunshots rang out and Essie saw Wilber’s body slam against the door and then slump down onto the floor, his blood smearing on the door as he did. The Silent Ranger said something in a language foreign to the girl and then she heard the pounding of them trying to break down the door to get inside. She hurried and scrambled through the hole after her sister just as the Rangers entered the cell.

“Dammit!” the lead Ranger shrieked.

“Boss,” another said as he knelt down beside the hole the girls had crawled through moments ago.

The leader pushed past the others and shoved him aside as he knelt down and peered through the hole, “It’s an escape hole,” he said as he jumped back up to his feet, “hurry and stop them before they get off of this planet!”

“Where are we heading now?” Ilene asked as she and Essie ran away from the prison.

“We have to leave!” Essie said as she glanced over her shoulder at the prison.

“Leave? Ilene said, “you mean…” she trailed off.

Essie nodded, “we have to find a ship and get the hell off this planet!”

“But…” Ilene started.

“It’s the only way sis!”

“I don’t see any kind of ships though!” Ilene shrieked.

“There!” Essie pointing to a Ranger gunship.

“But that’s…” Ilene started.

“Do you want out of here or not?” Essie asked.

The girls finally reached the ship and boarded it. The inside had so many different buttons and switches it overwhelmed them.

“Now what?” Ilene asked.

Essie sat down in the pilot seat and randomly started pressing buttons. The ship slowly turned and faced the compound they had just arrived out of and fired several powerful shots simultaneously at it and blew it to smithereens.

“Alright!” Ilene cheered happily.

“Now,” Essie said, “get us out of here!”

She pressed a green button that turned on the ship’s co-pilot and lifted them and the ship into the air.

“Where are we going?” Ilene asked.

“Somewhere safe…I hope!” Essie said under her breath.

The ship took them into space and away from Earth, just as the planet exploded into an oblivion. They were safe for now, even though they had no idea where they were being taken, they knew they had to trust that they would be safe.

The Thespian

“I am here to tell you a story. A story that will torture your thoughts by day and poison your dreams by night. I know I will do my best, there are no words that can be written or brush strokes laid on canvas, that can describe the stark and utter horror of the night that Annabel died.”

Baltimore, Maryland….

Pure white snow blanketed the entire ground. Not one place could be seen. The street lamp flames burned bright, but were slowly dying down. He shivered, hurrying to button his coat with shivering hands and numb fingers. He looked around, beads of sweat slid down the sides of his face and to his cheeks, eventually reaching his chin and dripping off onto his coat though the temperature was below freezing.

“Maurice….” she whispered.

The man started down what should have been the street, but was so covered in snow, that he felt as though that was all he was walking on as his boots pressed down into the snow, almost to his ankles as he hurried away from the direction from which he had heard the woman’s voice.

“Maurice, my love, come with me!” she said, only louder this time.

Maurice sped up his pace until he was almost in a dead run down the barren street in the dead of night.

“Have I gone mad?” his mind screamed as he bolted down the street, turning onto another where his home stood at the end.

Maurice was greeted by arched windows that had black frames and were composed of beautiful stained glass that could barely be seen in the night. The windows were quatrefoils, shamrock-shaped windows. The house also had pointed turrets and bargeboards, decorations at the end of gables and roofs.

His stomach churned as he made his way through the gate and up the cobblestone path to the house. He fumbled for the key to the door in his right coat pocket before he finally found it. The key was pure brass and somewhat heavy as Maurice stuck it in the keyhole on the door and turned it, unlocking the door. He had to push with almost all of his might to open the door.

The door creaked open and revealed an enormous room with a crystal chandelier hanging above Maurice on the ceiling. There was a long winding staircase before him that had been painted black much like the rest of the inside and outside of the house. He shoved the door closed and locked it, placing the key under the mat just inside of the door, he then slowly started up the staircase.

As he was walking up the staircase, Maurice swore he saw something, or someone, pass by in a flash, like a bolt of white lighting, downstairs. He stopped midway up the staircase, hanging onto the wooden rail with his right hand. He turned his head slightly to the right and looked out of the corner of his eyes at the furniture that had been covered with white sheets long ago after the incident.

“H…hello?” he said nervously, turning to head back down the staircase, he now gripped the rail with his left hand as he crept back down the stairs he had just started up moments ago.

He heard the light breathing of a woman. The breathing was soft and slow and dragged out. Maurice crept back down the stairs until he was standing back on the floor.

“This way!” she whispered slowly from the direction of the dining hall.

Maurice took each step carefully toward the dining hall.

“Hurry!” the woman whispered, her voice rising and then lowering quickly, angrily, as she spoke.

Maurice took short, fast, steps in the direction of the hall until he was standing inside of it. There was a long, dark, wooden table in the middle with a chandelier with candles in hanging over the table. There were lit candles in it that were covered in cobwebs. Maurice looked back at the table that was now set.

“Have I gone mad?” he wondered as he inched further into the dining room and headed into the kitchen.

There were grey wooden cupboards that went around where the sink and counters were. There was a small ice box to one side of the cupboards that matched their color, and then a window beside it with tattered curtains that were maroon-colored.

“Where are you?” he whispered to the ghost (he assumed she was one anyway) woman.

He heard her giggle from somewhere behind him and he spun around so fast to try and see her that he almost toppled over backwards. He hurried back out of the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the study.

The room was dark and dingy. Maurice could barely see his own hands in front of his face. He looked to one side and saw a lamp and lit it.

“That’s better.” he muttered as he lifted the lamp to see the book case full of books from around the world in front of him. He inched over to the bookcase and gently pushed on it. When he did, the book case slid slowly to the right and opened, revealing a dark grey stone staircase that spiraled downward into the floor.

“Strange,” he thought, “I’ve lived here for years and never knew this was here!”

As Maurice made his way slowly down the steep staircase, he started to shiver as if he were cold. But he wasn’t cold, he was burning up, as though he were on fire. Sweat poured from every pore in his skin. He suddenly felt dizzy, nauseas, and weak.

“Oh God,” his mind screamed, “what’s happening to me?”

He dropped the lamp he was carrying. The lamp rolled down the staircase to the end of it and set the room ablaze. Maurice collapsed on the staircase and started rolling toward the bottom of the staircase until he reached the end and stopped.

Maurice saw a man dressed in black from his head to his toes standing in the fire’s flames. He started crawling toward the man and tried to call out to him to get out of the flames before he burned to death, but no sound came out when he opened his mouth to speak. The woman Maurice had followed stood beside the man. When he saw her, Maurice used the stone wall to lift himself up onto his feet and then he staggered into the flames to save the man and woman. Walking toward the fire was the last thing Maurice remembered right before he awoke in the white room that gave him a splitting headache.

“Ugh,” he moaned, “What day is it?”

“What month?” he asked, trying to sit upright. As he did, however, his stomach churned and his head pounded like a hammer. His body ached anywhere and everywhere possible and he thought he had been blinded.

“You need to lie down sir, you’re badly injured.” a woman said, gently pushing him back down onto the bed.

“Where am I? Where is my Annabel? Is she alright?” Maurice asked.

“Sir, please, you need to lie down.” the woman said again, strapping him down.

“No, no, NOOOO!” Maurice wailed, struggling and thrashing and throwing himself about in the bed as he was held down by two extremely strong men while two nurses strapped him down by his chest, his stomach, and then his thighs and ankles.

“Sir, if you’ll just calm down for a little while, I can tell you what happened to your ‘Annabel’ as you seem to like to call her!” the nurse shrieked.

But Maurice couldn’t seem to make himself stop and so the nurse was forced to do something which she hated doing. She nodded to the men that had strapped him down on the bed. The men left the room and came back in about five minutes or so and handed the nurse a simple pump consisting of a plunger that fitted tightly into a tube. The nurse pulled the plunger back and filled it with a dark blue liquid and pushed it along in a cylindrical tube (or barrel), allowing the syringe to take in the dark blue liquid and then eventually release it into the subject (Maurice) at the open end of the tube. The open end had been fitted with a hypodermic needle, to help the direct flow to and from the barrel.

Maurice’s eyes widened with fear as the needle seemed to move in slow motion closer and closer to his upper arm. The needle slowly pushed through his skin, breaking it, and he felt the blue liquid go in through his arm and then, almost instantly, into his bloodstream.

“Uhhhh….” he moaned as his eyes rolled into the back of his head and his body started to shake uncontrollably as if he were having a seizure. The leather straps broke off of him as he shook harder and more violently, foaming at his mouth. The nurses tried to hold him down and contain him, but were thrown back against the wall and knocked out cold. After about seven minutes of uncontrollable shakes, Maurice finally stopped. He laid flat on his back, motionless, for about ten minutes. One of the nurses came to and slowly stood She inched over to the man, thinking he was dead by his violent episode. She stood at his bedside, then reached out to touch him. As she did, he suddenly grabbed her wrist, his eyes were still closed for the moment. He gripped her wrist so tight that he was cutting off the circulation. His eyes snapped open and immediately went to her.

The nurse’s eyes widened with fear as the man slowly sat upright on the bed, never loosening his grip, nor taking his eyes off of her.

The weather outside was dark and stormy, even though the snow that blanketed the streets and buildings was fresh and still falling. Cold, freezing, drops of rain that felt like needles when they hit one’s skin fell in sheets from the pitch dark sky. Maurice stormed out of the asylum, leaving the nurse behind in a pool of dark red, almost black.

The night was almost over, he needed to hurry if he were going to make any kind of progress. He waited on one street corner by a fire-lit lamp, shivering, trying to keep his soaking wet body warm as he waited for the horse-drawn carriage. As he waited, Maurice continued to think fondly of his Annabel . He closed his eyes and smiled as he thought about her features.

She was tall and slim. Her hair was straight and pulled back and jet black. Her skin was pale white. Her eyes were golden. Her skin was as soft as silk. She was known for wearing a hat trimmed with frills, feathers, flowers, and ribbons. She wore cameos, bracelets, necklaces, and rings.

As the carriage arrived and stopped just inches from him, Maurice shivered, then opened the carriage door and stepped up onto the platform and into the carriage and sat on the left-hand side that faced where he could see the driver as he shut the door.

“Where to sir?” the driver asked without turning to look at him.

Maurice quickly rubbed his hands together and breathed on them to warm them, “DelgadoMansion….please.” he replied, calmly.

As he rocked along in the carriage, he felt her presence in the carriage with him and he was suddenly back in the time when he had first met her. He had been just a young lad, and she a young lass. He was in his tenth year, as was she. The room was decorated for the occasion, a dinner party for her father’s election as mayor. Maurice had sat down on one side of the long wooden table with his mum and dad while his Annabel sat on the other with hers. He had thought she was beautiful even then, and had pursued her for almost eight years before finally being able to court her. She hadn’t been too impressed with his efforts at first because of his status, but after months of being introduced and exposed to older, richer, men than himself, Maurice’s Annabel finally gave in and ran away from her parent’s home and came to Delgado Mansion to be with him where he hid her for months before anyone discovered it. Her parents were angry at first of course, but when they realized their Annabel was happy with her Maurice, they let her stay, then things went awry.

Maurice’s parents died shortly after Annabel came to live with them and not long after that, her parents passed as well. Maurice and his Annabel had just married and expecting their first child, a boy which was to be named Kristopher Hancock Delgado, when the man, whom everyone only knew by one name (The Thespian), came to their home. He had wanted their son immediately after the child was to be born. Maurice had refused to give his only child to a man he knew nothing about, or anyone else for that matter, and the man had threatened to kill Annabel while still pregnant. Maurice had threatened the man with death to scare him away, but shortly thereafter, Maurice’s Annabel and Kristopher both “mysteriously” died during childbirth. Maurice swore revenge on the man he called The Thespian (an actor from sixth century B.C. Greece), because he didn’t believe that the man had even been real.

Believing for years after the incident that his Annabel and Kristopher were still alive somewhere, somehow, someway, even though he had witnessed their deaths, but never had been able to cope with their passing’s, had almost driven Maurice into complete and total madness. There was no way, in his mind at least, that the boy, nor his mother, had died that night. He wouldn’t believe it, he couldn’t. In Maurice’s mind, they were still alive and well somewhere and he swore since they had disappeared that he wouldn’t give up looking until he drew his last breath.

“Maurice….” she whispered, softly and slowly.

She sounded distance this time and he couldn’t help but wonder why. He could faintly hear Christopher’s cries.

“We’re here, sir.” the driver said, stopping the carriage in front of the mansion.

Maurice snapped out of his thoughts, blinking several times, confused for a moment by the sight of his home. He shook his head and then let himself out before the driver could even think to do it himself. Maurice hurried out of the carriage and up to his home. He swung the door open and ran inside, he remembered the fire that had happened in the basement and ran down to it to see how bad the damage was. But when he arrived inside of it, it looked like it always had.

“My God,” he thought, “What’s happening to me?”

He looked around and saw his Annabel and The Thespian and despised them both. Why were they doing this to him of all people? What wrong had he ever done to his Annabel? He loved her unconditionally still though she had been gone for many years, and his Christopher, though he never got the chance to watch him grow and learn. Why were they now haunting him and making him mad?

Maurice turned and bolted out of the basement and to the front door-locked!

“Blast!” he muttered angrily under his breath as he slowly turned back around and look about the room for another way out.

The man in black reappeared in front of Maurice again in the dining hall. Maurice frowned at him, gritting his teeth as he picked up a cane beside the door and slowly started for the man.

“Maurice….” Annabel whispered.

He ignored her.

“Stop now while you still have a chance.” she said.

He kept walking.

When he was standing in the entrance and noticed the man hadn’t disappeared this time, a smile slowly found its way onto Maurice’s face. He gripped the cane with both hands and crouched down, ready to pounce and beat the man. He saw a flash of sparkling white teeth and the man was smiling at him.

“Maurice, please….” Annabel pleaded.

Maurice let out an angry, desperate, cry and leaped across the table at the man, throwing him through the window and shattering it, they both rolled out into the dark and stormy night. Maurice lifted the cane above his head as he was now sitting on top of the man and had him pinned down on the ground. He swung the cane as fast and as hard as he could to the left and right across the man’s face until he went limp.

“Is he dead I wonder?” Maurice asked himself as he threw the cane to one side and then headed back into the house for his lamp.

Maurice lit the lamp and then headed back out into the night. It wasn’t raining anymore, but thunder cracked and boomed and echoed throughout the place and lighting flashed and tore through the sky against the bright full white moon with the man’s face in it.

Maurice stormed through the mansion’s courtyard in search of the man and found him lying motionless on his back. Maurice frowned at him, but knelt down beside him to get a closer look to see if he could figure who the man that had killed the love of his life was. As Maurice knelt down and moved the lamp closer to the man’s face, his anger suddenly turned to shock in an instant.

“My God,” he gasped, “It cannot be!”

Maurice dropped his lamp and staggered back. The man was barely a man at all, no older than twenty. He looked almost identical to Maurice himself. His hair was dark brown like Maurice’s and his eyes the same golden color of his Annabel’s. His lips were pink. His skin was pale white like his mothers and he was slim, yet, somewhat muscular like Maurice himself.

The man coughed and sputtered then and blinked his eyes and then looked at Maurice.

“F….father, forgive me, please….” he croaked.

Maurice threw himself at the young man and wrapped his arms around him and hugged him against himself without saying a word. He let go and leaned back. He then stood and helped him to his feet and led him back to his home. Maurice found some of his clothes for the man and dressed him in them, the clothes almost fit him. Maurice then headed upstairs to one of the empty bedrooms he had fixed up long ago with his Annabel for their Christopher before Annabel had died and Christopher disappeared. Maurice headed back downstairs to where the man sat in the dining room and joined him.

Maurice sat on the opposite end of the dining room table from he man. His heart was trying to beat through his chest. Beads of sweat ran down his face in freezing cold streams. His body shivered as if he were cold, but he wasn’t and to top it all off, his muscles felt as though they were tied into millions of knots.

“Where are you from good sir?” he stammered.

The man looked at him with his piercing golden-colored eyes and smiled the same way Annabel had always smiled, “I am Prince Christopher Delgado of Maryland.” he said calmly.

“Maurice….” he stopped himself and wondered if the young man knew he was his father but that the last name he carried wasn’t his, but his mother’s.

“Maurice, yes, what is your last name good sir?” Christopher said, smiling and nodding.

“You look just like your mother!” Maurice whispered, his eyes still glued to his ghost son.

Christopher’s smile was instantly gone and he frowned and stared hard at Maurice now, “How do you know my mother?” he asked casually.

“She was….a good friend of mine.” he said.

“Oh, how long did you know her?” Christopher asked.

“Twenty years almost.” Maurice said, trying not to hint entirely too much about who he really was to Christopher.

“How old are you now?” Christopher asked.

“About forty, and you?” Maurice said, nodding.

“About twenty.” Christopher answered, he knew who Maurice was, and he knew Maurice knew who he was.

“What is your occupation?” Maurice asked.

“I’ve held no job in my life, but spent it at an orphanage not far from here.” Christopher answered, the words hurt him almost to the verge of death.

“All boys?” Maurice asked, suddenly feeling guilty that he had never made any kind of efforts to find Christopher, but instead had just assumed.

Christopher nodded, “Yes sir.”

“Do you plan to hold an occupation soon?” Maurice asked.

“Yes sir.” he said.

“Doing what, if you don’t mind my asking?” Maurice asked.

“I’ve enlisted into the Navy.” Christopher said proudly.

Maurice felt his stomach drop and he felt guilty and wanted to talk his son out of going into the Navy so that he could move him in with him and get to know him better. But he said nothing more and offered the man a place to stay for the night and a home if he wanted it.

“I appreciate your offer of letting me live here good sir,” Christopher said, “but I just can’t, I won’t be here much longer anyway, in fact, I leave early in the morning tomorrow for the Navy.”

“The offer is still on the table if you need a place to stay when you come back.” Maurice said.

“Thank you kind sir, I will keep your offer in mind while I am away and when and if I come back.” Christopher said politely.

He spoke and behaved so much like Maurice’s Annabel that it almost killed him. How could he have been so blind as to not see that the orphanage housed and schooled hundreds of homeless and motherless children, not just his Christopher? Had the orphanage led him here? Surely he was out of it now that he was the age Maurice and Annabel had been when he was born. There were so many questions Maurice wanted to ask his son, but now just wasn’t the time, he would have to force himself to wait until the young man came home.

Maurice and Christopher both arose early the next morning, before the sun. Maurice helped the young man finish packing as they awaited the carriage that would come to take the young man away again to the ship that would take him to a far away land with foreign enemies that threatened their peace here.

“Please, my Christopher, write to me everyday while you’re away and return back safely to me.” Maurice said as they walked out to the carriage.

Christopher laughed, he didn’t seemed worried about not coming back home, he had the same carefree nature Maurice remembered his mother having.
“I promise I will write as often as I can father, and I won’t be gone long, I’ll be back before you know it and we can spend the rest of your life catching up on all that we’ve missed out on.” he said cheerfully, almost laughing.

Maurice slept none that night. Annabel wasn’t with him anymore, but Christopher was. He didn’t want the night to end, but when he looked at the clock and saw the time, “5:59”, he knew it already was and his Christopher would be up soon to finish his packing and get into the car that would come shortly after and get into and it would drive him down to the dock with the enormous ship. He would board the ship and the rope that tied the boat to the dock would be cut and release the ship which would then sail away to the country that was far away where war was being fought and he would possibly never see the boy ever again. He arose and opened the nightstand drawer and took out his Annabel’s locket.

It was a golden heart with a flower design on it. Maurice opened it and saw the picture of himself and his Annabel shortly after they had married. As he lost himself in memories, he was snapped out of them by hearing the young man’s heavy footsteps fade away down the staircase. Maurice took the locket with him as he hurried out of his room and down the stairs after him.

Christopher looked surprised to see him, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I was already awake long before you were.” Maurice said, relaxing some.

“What is that?” Christopher asked, meaning the locket that Maurice was holding in his hands.

Maurice glanced down at the locket as if it were the first time he had seen it, “Oh,” he said, surprised, “this, it was….your mother’s, I was going to give it to you as a good luck charm.” he said, walking up to the young man, he placed the necklace over his head and around his neck.

“Was it hers?” Christopher asked.

Maurice stared down at the locket, “Yes,” he said softly, “it was.”

They heard the car honking at them from outside then.

“I must go.” Christopher said, glancing over his shoulder.

“Remember what I told you,” Maurice said, “be safe and come back safely to me soon.”

Christopher nodded as he hurried with his bags out to the car that was waiting for him. Maurice watched as his boy and the man loaded the bags into the trunk of the car. Maurice turned to head back into the house when he heard the man call his name.

“Maurice!” Christopher called to him.

Maurice turned and saw the man running to him with open arms and for a split second, what he saw wasn’t a man, but a boy. The one he had killed years ago. Christopher hugged him tightly one last time before hurrying back to the car and getting into it. The driver slammed the door shut and nodded to Maurice as he walked around and got into the driver’s side and started the vehicle, then pulled off the mansion’s property.

As Maurice watched them drive away, a folded piece of paper floated to him and into his hands.

“Strange!” he muttered as he caught the piece of paper and unfolded it.

Maurice’s eyes widened as he read the note. He suddenly felt dizzy and weak once more, like he had before the man had shown up at his door. He fell over backwards, hitting his head hard on the cobblestone path. Blood dripped from his mouth, his eyes still open, and the note in his cold dead fingers.

Madness

The rain poured in sheets like bullets from the pitch black sky as the car slowly rolled to a screeching halt in front of the enormous two-story Victorian mansion. There was a soft top Runabout with no windows; closed coupe with a single front seat sitting in front of the mansion on a curved concrete driveway out front and a brick mailbox on the grass in front of it. Behind this was the mansion, which was tall, dark, and eerie. The sight made the girl shutter as the taxi stopped on the driveway, just in front of the vehicle parked on the concrete.

“Alright,” the driver said, “this is it!”

The girl and her sister exchanged glances, “Y….you mean we have to walk all the up there this?” she said unsurely.

The driver scoffed, “How else do you expect to get there,” he said, “I can’t drive up on her lawn!”

The girl thought about smarting off, but when she looked out of the corner of her eye and saw the concerned, disappointed, sad look on her sister’s face, she sighed and instead put on her jacket and pulled up its hood, then nudged her sister and handed her jacket and she did the same.

The sky was pitch black with dark storm clouds lingering in it, almost touching the ground while bright white flashes of light filled it every few seconds.

“Well,” the girl said to her sister, “let’s go.”

She pulled the door handle and pushed the door to her right and shoved it open, almost falling out of the car. She stepped out with her sister right behind her with their bags.

“Thanks again.” the girl said happily, smiling and nodding to the driver as she crawled out of the car.

Her sister slammed the door shut, snatched a bag from her hands, then hurried toward the house without speaking. The younger one glanced over her shoulder at the car as it pulled off, then she turned and hurried after the older girl.

The eldest reached the door first. A circular fanlight window was above the door to draw the eye upward.

The door was constructed of good quality hardwood like beech or oak. Pine might have also been used because, despite being a soft wood, it was quite dense and durable. The person living in the house couldn’t afford a solid wood door, and so it had been painted black to try to hide this fact.

The doorknob was round and flower-shaped, made of ceramic, colored-glass.

There was a mortise lock on the door, which was popular because of the  escutcheon (decorative metal plates that slide over the mortise lock opening and add further elegance to the door).

“What,” the girl’s sister said, “no doorbell?” looking around for one as she spoke.

The girl shot her sister a look, “What,” her sister said, “I was just asking?” she said shrugging.

The girl shook her head and laughed to herself as she reached for the doorknocker and used it to knock on the door as loudly as she could.

There was a long, awkward, pause as thunder rumbled low in the distance and lighting flashed and lit the entire place up like a flash from a camera. For a split second, time seemed to stop, and in a dull light, the girls saw the door slowly creak open.

A tall, heavy-boned, stout, woman stood in front of and seemed to tower over them. Her skin was dark and reminded them both of leather. Her hair was long, jet black, and pulled back into a ponytail that went down almost past her waist. Her eyes were brown and dark. Her nose was medium-length. Her lips were full and pink, but didn’t stick out or sink into her face. Her chin came down in an odd shape, like a jagged “V”.

Her attire was a solid black T-shirt that was loose on her, looking as if she weren’t wearing a bra (the girls weren’t sure), and jeans that were so tattered and torn that the girls couldn’t believe the pants were even able to still be on her waist or legs, and her shoes were high-top, black, laced-up, Converse shoes that were also on their last thread with knee-high white socks with double black stripes on the tops of each of them.

“Are you girls going to come in or aren’t you?” the woman said suddenly, making the girls both jump, in a surprisingly friendly tone as she bent down and took their bags out of their hands.

The girl and her sister glanced at each other again, the oldest stepped to one side, “After you.” she said to her sister, smiling as she stuck one hand out and gesturing for her to go inside first.

The younger girl glanced nervously at her and hesitated before stepping into the house, glancing over her shoulder to make sure her sister wasn’t far behind.

“Your rooms will be upstairs,” the woman said, “I hope you don’t mind sharing.”

She looked up at the top of the staircase where two girls, who looked just like her and were several years younger than the two girls that stood just inside the door, stood looking at the girls who had entered their home.

The woman looked back to the girls who had entered her home, “They don’t,” she said, referring to the girls at the top of the staircase, “and they would be more than happy to show you girls to your new room.”

She motioned with her left hand for the girls to come down to where her nieces stood. Her daughters hesitated, then reluctantly started down the staircase to where the woman and their cousins stood.

The twin cousins that had stood at the top of the staircase came down and grabbed the other girls’ bags, then started back for the staircase. The girls nervously followed their cousins up the staircase. As they went up the staircase, the lighting in the house seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer. The eldest of the sisters that had entered the house grabbed her sister by her wrist as they neared the top of the staircase that had a long narrow hallway starting at it and stretching into darkness.

As the girls followed their cousins down to the other end of the hallway, the eldest of them was overcome with fear. She heard faint screams that she thought were coming from somewhere inside of the house. She also heard screeching car tires and the sound of metal crunching and wrapping itself up in more metal and twisting together like a pretzel. She saw red and blue flashing lights, and darkness all around this, as two dark shadowy figures with lights in their hands hurried toward the twisted metal.

“Are you alright?” one of the figures with the flashlight, a man, said faintly.

“Th….they’re all dead!” the girl shrieked.

“Ma’am,” one of the figures said, “could you please stay calm, we’re going to get you out as soon as we….” he stopped as the vehicle exploded into a fiery oblivion and sent the two girls sailing through the air.

Luckily though, however, the officers caught the girls and miraculously kept them being severely injured. But the two adults inside disintegrated with the vehicle, becoming nothing more than charred blackened corpses.

“No!” the youngest wailed as she bolted toward the wreckage.

But the officer grabbed her and jerked her back just as the car burst into flames. The men in yellow with water hoses hurried toward it and turned their hoses on as fast as they could and hurried to put the fire out. Seeing the blackened corpses of her parents had stuck with the girl for the past month. She couldn’t get over it, no matter how hard she tried, and she knew her sister couldn’t either, especially since she was younger.

“Here you guys are,” their cousins said suddenly, snapping the girl back into reality, “your new room, it’s not much, but we think you’ll come to like it.” they said happily, dropping the girls’ belongings in the middle of the room, then turning and leaving the room without saying anymore.

The girl and her sister looked around the room, a tall dark wooden bookshelf was closest to the door, then a dresser that matched was next to that on their left against a light green wall and fill shelves with figurines, ornate pictures, glass bowls, and vases decorated the room for a more Victorian-style add to the room. Above them was a chandelier that had dimly lit candles in it and the beds were decorated with plenty of pillows in floral patterns and soft lace fabrics.

All of this was dark blues, reds, greens, gold and chocolate brown colors, while the upholstery on the furnishings had a floral motif with matching carpet.

“Not bad,” her sister said, nodding and looking around the room, “not the style I would have chosen, but I still like it.”

The older girl glanced around the room and shrugged as she walked over to one of the beds and plopped down on the edge of it and bounced on it, testing its softness and comfortableness, she nodded with satisfaction, “True, I like this bed, it’s really comfortable.” she said, trying to sound happy and enthused, but she was too tired, emotionally, and spiritually, drained from the past several months since her parents had died before her eyes.

her sister shook her head in disbelief, “Antoinette….” she started.

“Ma-ri-na!” Antoinette said, smiling at her tiredly.

The girl didn’t respond, instead, she walked over to the bed next to the one her sister was on and sat down, “Whoa,” she said, surprised, “you’re right, these are comfortable!”

Antoinette giggled, “See, I told you, and so did the penguin!”

“Penguin….oh, him, he’s not real!” she said, laughing as well.

“I know,” Antoinette said, suddenly somber, “you’re right, I was just kidding, I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Marina said as she laid down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling.

Antoinette did the same on her bed and the girls were soon fast asleep. But Antoinette’s sleep wasn’t a peaceful one. She tossed and turned and thrashed about violently in her bed. Images of the cars crashing into one another and instantly bursting into flames on both vehicles plagued the girl’s mind. The flames engulfed her parents both as they screamed and pleaded for help. The firefighters and policemen hurried to the scene just as the car exploded and killed not only Antoinette and Marina’s parents, but also the people that they had had their wreck with.

“No!” Antoinette screamed, her eyes snapping open and she shot straight up in bed. Sweat poured from everywhere possible on her body and she trembled violently as she threw the blankets and sheets to the end of the bed and threw her legs over the edge and slowly stood.

She looked curiously at the wardrobe, and wondered if it had anything inside of it. She slowly stood and started over to it. She placed her hands on its doors handles, and just as she was about to open it, she heard Marina behind her, “What are you doing?” she whispered loudly.

Antoinette flew up out of her skin and spun around and glared at her sister for several seconds, “Why are you awake,” she said demandingly, “go back to bed, now!”

“No,” Marina shot back, “not until you tell me what you’re doing!”

Antoinette turned and looked at the wardrobe, then back at her sister, “I just want to see what’s in there’s all.” she said, motioning with her head to the wardrobe.

“Why,” Marina asked, “it’s probably just full of Aunt Jenna’s old clothes or mom and dad’s old….” she stopped when she realized she had not only lost her sister to interest in the wardrobe, but also to her curiosity as she had disappeared into the wardrobe.

Marina sighed, “Well, crap, I guess I better go in there after her, otherwise she’ll never come out!” she muttered under her breath as she stepped up into the wardrobe, pushing coats and other various clothes hanging in the wardrobe to one side.

The girls stepped through the wardrobe and into the other side, which was an enormous room, with white walls and a white tile floor. There were white cubbies of various shapes and sizes, filled with instruments that fit each one that was filled. These were on an elevated, grey-colored slab of concrete that had a lower level just under it with ten or so red chairs on it and an electric piano/keyboard down on the tile floor that was black with a matching bench.

To the right was a white wooden door that was locked, a shelf that almost touched the ceiling and had books and papers scattered on it. There was another shelf beside that that faced the door the girls had just come through, and it was scattered with instruments and other equipment that had been deemed lost, broken, and unusable. behind this was another wooden door that was open and led to a dimly lit, small room that was filled with marching band uniforms and shoes. Finally, directly in front of the girls was a closed double, metal, door that was white and had doorknobs on either side that were on their last thread it seemed like.

“Hmmmm….” Marina said curiously as she started for the door on the other side of the room.

But she stopped when she thought she saw someone standing on the other side of  the door outside in the alley. She nudged her sister.

“Antoinette!” she whispered loudly.

“What?” her sister whispered back.

“Who is that?” she asked, pointing across the room at the tall and thin, yet semi-muscular dark shadowy figure that was standing outside on the other side of the door.

Antoinette shrugged as she and her sister looked curiously at the figure. He seemed to just be standing motionless on the other side of the door as if he were watching them both closely.

“What do you want?” Antoinette said as loud as she could.

The figure said nothing as it slowly reached for the door and placed its hand on the door’s handle and slowly pulled it back. Antoinette and Marina gasped and jumped backwards a few feet from the door as it slowly opened, creaking and groaning as it did.

But when the door opened, the figure was gone, and so was the darkness on the other side of the open door.

“Strange!” Antoinette muttered under her breath.

Marina started for the open door as if she were in a trance. Antoinette reached for her and jerked her back into the room.

“Are you crazy,” she shrieked, “you don’t know what’s on the other side, it could be dangerous!”

Marina wiggled herself free, “I’ll be fine, Ann!” she insisted as she started for the open door again that shone a bright golden light that blinded the girls into the room.

Antoinette had never seen her sister like this, and by ‘this’, she meant, she had never seen her sister so curious, so seemingly star-struck by anyone she didn’t know. Antoinette had a bad feeling about the shadow figure.

“Sis, are you sure about this….chasing after him I mean, maybe we can go around and catch up with….” she stopped when she watched as her sister step through the golden light that was in the doorway.

Antoinette sighed as if she had been defeated, then reluctantly followed her sister through the bright golden light. But when the girl came through to the other side, she didn’t see any sign or trace of her sister or the mysterious figure that her sister had followed. Instead, she found herself in an enormous open room with several hundred theatre seats on its floor and about twenty to forty or so more up top on a balcony that was just above Antoinette’s head. In front, was a medium-size stage with about sixty chairs in curved rows on it and tall, black, musical stands in front of them and drums and other percussion instruments in back. To the right, near the one wall, and in front of the stage, was a shiny polished black baby grand piano with “Baldwin” in big bold gold letters on its side.

Before Antoinette could open her mouth to stop her sister from going to play on the piano, she looked up and saw that the girl was already over halfway to it. Antoinette crept further into the room after her as she sat down on the bench behind the piano and placed her hands on its white keys.

The soft, beautiful, sound that came from the piano as her sister played gave Antoinette the chills as she walked up behind her slowly and put her arms around her and rested her chin on her shoulder as she listened to her as she continued to play. Marina abruptly stopped playing, with one hand still on the keys, she took the free one and patted her sister’s hands that were on her stomach and just under her breasts.

“I’m trying to play, Ann, please let go.” her sister said somewhat sternly.

“Okay,” Antoinette said softly as if she were under a spell, “I’m sorry.” she let go as she spoke and sat in one of the theatre-like auditorium seats that was right in front of the bench her sister sat on.

The dark black hooded figure watched them from above on the balcony. More particularly, it kept its dark eyes specifically on the girl who was sitting at the piano playing. The figure leapt over the edge of the balcony and fell a short distance down onto the floor silently between the rows of seats in the aisle. The figure adjusted its hood, then crept slowly down the dimly lit aisle toward the girls.

As Marina played Antoinette smiled at her, never taking her eyes off her sister, she watched her play as if she were in a trance. The hooded figure reached the edge of the darkness where it met the dim white light that shown around the front of the auditorium and stopped. The figure knew the girls would see it eventually, but for now, all it wanted to do was look at her-the girl that had been sitting at the piano playing that beautiful music that was so soft and sweet like candy that it made the figure sick to its stomach and left it wanting more. He was hooked on her and wanted more, not of her music, but of her.

Antoinette suddenly felt a strange presence in the room and slowly looked around the room. She looked over her shoulder, right at where the dark figure was standing, but saw nothing.

Marina noticed the look on her sister’s face and ceased playing, “What is it, what’s wrong?” she asked her.

“Nothing.” Antoinette said, suddenly snapped out of the curiosity she had about the man she couldn’t see.

“Tell me,” Marina said, “please, you know I hate it when you do that.”

“Shhhh,” Antoinette whispered, “someone’s in here!”

“Who,” Marina asked, “and where?”

“I’m not sure,” she replied in a low voice, “but they’re…” she stopped when she heard something or someone behind her.

“Antoinette!” Marina shrieked.

The girl spun around in time to see the hooded figure as it he lunged at her to grab her. Antoinette dodged and got out of its way. The figure started to fall forward, but grabbed and held onto Marina. The girl wrapped her arms around it as they fell to the floor with the thing on top of her, still holding on.

Antoinette groaned as she slowly lifted her head and saw the blacked hooded figure on the floor with her sister still trapped underneath it. She gritted her teeth and stormed over to where they were and grabbed the figure’s cloak and jerked him up off of Marina. She shoved him to one side and then started for him again.

“Antoinette,” Marina called after her as she hurried across the room to where her sister and the figure were, “wait!”

The girl felt her sister behind her and as much as she loved and adored the girl, she turned and with one hand shoved her sister almost as hard as she could in the opposite direction of where she and the hooded person were. Antoinette then turned her attention back to the person and knelt down in front of  it.

“Antoinette,” Marina said, slowly sitting up, she gasped when she saw the girl in front of the shadow figure, “ANTOINETTE, leave it alone!” she shrieked as she bolted across the auditorium over to where they were.

Antoinette ignored her, “What are you doing here,” she asked demandingly in a low and angry voice, “what do you want with my sister?” she said, this time louder and more outraged.

The figure said nothing as it slowly inched toward Marina. Antoinette grabbed it accidently by its cloak and ripped the cloak in half as she yanked it off of the figure’s body. The girls gasped when they saw that the figure was a young man who was older than Marina, but younger than Antoinette.

“Good God!” Marina gasped.

Antoinette glanced at the cloak in her hand, then threw it down on the ground and lunged at the man. He vanished into thin air though, and the girls found themselves outside of a vaguely familiar high school.

“Hmmmm….” Marina said as she looked around at where they were.

The school was one big brick and stone building. The side the girls found themselves on had concrete pavement underneath their feet, and two broken-down gazebos in front of them and a plastic grey trashcan up against the brick building next to steps that led up to a double glass door. There was nothing around the girls or the school except pitch black. The girls made their way over to the gazebos and stopped and looked around again.

Marina walked over to the steps and up to the glass door. She peered through the glass and into the school. Inside, she saw a long tiled floor, and a classroom door to the left, with a water fountain and bathroom next to it and pictures of graduates from the school above the water fountain. To the right, she saw lockers that were various colors, and a two chairs sitting just outside of a glass door.

“This must be our high school.” she said as she turned back to her sister, who had stepped up and now stood beside her.

“Only one way inside.” Antoinette said as she made a fist with her right hand and reared back.

Marina grabbed her hand, “Wait,” she said, “don’t you think there’s probably another way inside or that we could possibly find something to break the door?” she said as she let go of Antoinette’s hand.

Antoinette lowered her hand and dropped her arm to her side and stared down at the ground for a moment, when she looked up again, “Wait a second,” she said, glancing around, “if we were just in a high school band room and an auditorium, wouldn’t this be….our school?” she said.

The girls looked behind them and now saw a gravel parking lot with about twelve cars parked on it with a brick building behind them and a lot with grass and trees behind it and on the far side of the parking lot the girls saw a fenced in area with six or so yellow school buses parked inside of it.

To their far left was a small metal bridge that went across the road that was blocked off at the end closest to them and across the street were residential houses. There was another road on the other side of the bridge that was a three-way stop. The girls started for the parking lot.

Across the road, standing in the parking lot, was the hooded man, “Look!” Marina shrieked, pointing across the way at him.

The girls could barely see him though, however, because there was a thick layer of fog lingering just above them. Antoinette started in a furious fit of rage toward him with Marina hot on her heels.

“Okay you son of a bitch,” Antoinette said angrily, “what the hell do you want from us, who are you, where did you come from?”

“Antoinette!” Marina said, frustrated.

The hooded figure slowly raised one arm and pointed past the girl at her sister. Antoinette turned and looked at Marina over her shoulder for a brief moment, then back at the figure and shook her head, “No,” she said, anger rising in her voice, “you can’t have her, over my dead body will you have her!”

The figure reached into its cloak then and pulled out what looked like a light saber. Antoinette almost laughed at the sight (almost), but when she saw the long, sharp, pointed blade, she lost all sense of feeling in her body.

“What’s your name,” Marina asked, anger rising in her voice, not from the hooded thing in front of her and her sister, but from the fact that her sister was being extremely over-protective and not giving the figure a chance, “tell us now or else!” the girl taunted.

Antoinette gritted her teeth and lunged at the dark figure.

“Antoinette, NO!” Marina shrieked, but she was a few seconds too late.

Antoinette was on top of the dark figure in a flash and had it pinned down on the floor. She grabbed it by its neck and started trying to choke it. The dark figure grabbed her firmly by her wrist with one hand and with the other, reached into its pocket and pulled out an extremely sharp dagger. Antoinette ignored the dagger and tightened her grip until the figure was coughing and sputtering, gasping for air as it slowly, with a shaking a hand, tried to move the dagger closer and closer to Antoinette’s neck.

“Stop,” Marina cried, “stop it, you’re going to kill each other!”

“Not….until….he tells me….who he is….and what he’s doing here!” Antoinette said angrily, gritting her teeth as hard as she could and tightening her grip around the man’s neck as hard as she could.

Marina was suddenly overcome by anger, frustration, sadness, and worry for the man her sister was in the process of killing. She hurried over to where they were and reached for her sister’s shirt and jerked her off of the man. The man let out a sigh of relief and dropped his arm and the dagger to one side, gasping for air. Marina glanced over her shoulder at her sister an noticed she was doing similar to what the man was doing.

She walked over to him and knelt down beside him, “Tell me who you are, please.” she said softly as she pried the dagger from his hand.

The man panted so hard, the girls thought he was going to die from the struggle he had just encountered with Antoinette, “My….my name is….” but before he could finish, an aerodynamic projectile came from out of nowhere from behind him, landing in the back of his head and going all the way through to his eye.

Antoinette rushed over to him and her sister and knelt down on beside him. Antoinette reached for the end of the arrow and gripped it tightly and started trying to pull it out. But the man grabbed her wrist firmly and stopped her, shaking his head, “M….my name is….Loveratrix,” he stammered as he was dying, “I…I was just trying….to protect you….you must hurry through this place and bring peace and order to it before it completely….collapses.” he loosened his grip on the arrow as his limp, heavy, dead body sank to the floor. Its eyes were still open and Antoinette let go of the arrow and used her index and middle fingers of her right hand to close Loveratrix’s eyes.

The girls slowly stood and looked up to see another dark hooded figure standing on the other side of the double door that was all glass in front of them. The girls exchanged glances.

“After you.” Marina said in a low voice.

Antoinette turned back to Loveratrix and jerked the arrow out of his eye, slid his actual eyeball off the end of it, cleaned the blood off with her shirt, then made a gesturing motion with her head for her sister to come with her to the glass door.

“How do we open it?” Marina asked.

“What do you mean,” Antoinette said, “push it of course, duh!”

“I just meant….I didn’t know if it was locked or not!”  Marina said sternly, but soon bursting into loud and happy laughter that boomed and echoed throughout the empty auditorium.

Antoinette pushed on the door, “LOCKED!”

“Now what?” Marina asked.

Antoinette reached for her shirt and tore a piece of it off from the bottom.

“Ummmm….sis?” Marina said as the girl wrapped the cloth around her hand.

“What?” she said, turning and looking wide-eyed at her for a moment.

She motioned with one hand to the doors that were behind them on either side of the stage, “Why don’t we try one of those first?” Marina suggested as she started down the aisle to the door closest to them.

The door was wooden and white and had a bolted lock on it that was broken. Marina tried the door, but it seemed stuck. Antoinette pushed on the door with her hand, but it still wouldn’t budge. She shrugged and started across the front of the auditorium, in front of its carpeted stage, and to the other door where the piano sat in front of it and close to the wall.

“Okay,” Antoinette said from across the room to her sister as she made her to her, “if this one’s locked, I’m breaking out the glass.”

“Okay.” Marina said as she leaned against the piano and watched her sister at the door.

Antoinette tried the door, the knob was loose, she glanced over her shoulder at Marina, who stood up straighter with hope, and inched over to where her sister was at the door. After a few more jerks, pulls, and pushes, the door finally rattled open.

The girls walked through a small room that led back up to the stage to their left. There was another door to their right. Marina walked up to the door on the right and turned the knob and slowly opened the door, listening to it creak and groan as she did.

The girls opened the door and stepped into a room with a floor that was eighty-four feet long, fifty feet wide. The rims were ten feet tall at either end. The restricted arc radius was four feet. The center circle diameter was twelve feet, the three-point distance from the basket was twenty-three point seventy-five feet, the width of the key was sixteen feet, and last but not least, the distance of the free-throw line from point on the floor directly below the background was fifteen feet.

The girls walked out into the middle of the court. From where they stood in the center of the court on a large painting of a school mascot, which was a tiger, the girls could see all the way around the room. There were no air conditioners in the room, and the air was thick, hot, and suffocating.

“Hmmmm….” Marina said as she started across the court to one of the double doors that was behind a basketball goal.

Antoinette started after her, but stopped when she heard footsteps behind her. She slowly started to turn, but stopped when she heard her sister shriek with fright and pain in the opposite direction. Antoinette spun around and saw a tall dark figure in a black cloak with the hood up.

“Son of a bitch,” she muttered angrily under her breath, gritting her teeth as she spoke, “I thought I just got rid of you!” she cried as she bolted in a dead run to where her sister and the dark figure stood.

“Antoinette!” Marina shrieked as the tall dark figure had her pinned down on the floor where she couldn’t move.

Antoinette calmed herself and stopped. Closing her eyes, the girl imagined a polished metal hilt that projects a blade of plasma about 1.33 meters long. The handle on the blade fit perfectly in her right hand as she pressed the red button on it that shot out a yellow blade of the plasma. The dark hooded figure smiled as a similar weapon fell from their robe and into their left hand. The blade on the weapon was red instead of yellow.

“Who are you?” she said demandingly.

The hooded figure didn’t answer her though, however, but instead charged at her. Just as it reached her and her sister, Antoinette lifted the sword she was holding and blocked his attack. This angered him and he swung his sword at her as fast and as hard as he could while she continued to block his attacks. The experience felt strange to the girl. She had never fired a gun or swung a sword at anyone before as long as she could remember and yet here she was fighting this hooded thing like she knew what she was doing.

“Tell me your name, NOW!” she demanded as she danced around on the gymnasium floor with the hooded being as they fought and light flashed from their swords and made buzzing and humming noises that were loud and echoed throughout the empty gymnasium in the school.

As they fought, Marina, worried and concerned for her sister’s safety, closed her eyes as tight as she could and tried to hurry and think of another place to imagine them in to get them to safety.

But the hooded man notice her and abruptly stopped fighting her sister, whom he literally shoved into the wall, cracking her head against the concrete wall before hurrying over to Marina. Antoinette tried to lift herself up off of the floor, but was in so much pain from the force of the man’s hand when he had shoved her, she could barely move.

Marina panicked and lifted her left leg and kicked the man as hard as she could in between his legs.

The man hunched over in pain and fell to his knees as Antoinette and her sister crowded around him where he was trapped and could go nowhere.

“My name,” he said hoarsely, “i….is….” before he could finish, a gun fired and a bullet impaled him in his neck and killed him instantly.

The girls spun around just in time to see another dark black hooded figure turn and fly running back into the auditorium and to the left, opposite the gravel parking lot outside. The girls bolted through the auditorium and out into what was supposed to have been the hallway, but instead, they found themselves ankle-deep in golden sand underneath a bright golden yellow sun that’s rays beat down on them and were blazing hot like fire.

“Okay….” Marina said, looking around curiously.

Not only did they find themselves in a vast, barren, desert, and blazing hot heat that had to be at least a hundred degrees or hotter, but the girls felt like they knew where they were, even though they had never been here before.

They soon saw a man that was a little above average in height, sturdy build with long muscular limbs and tapering fingers. His hair was long and thick with some waves. His forehead was large and prominent, his eyelashes were long and thick, his nose was sloping, his mouth was somewhat large and his teeth were well set. His cheeks were spare and he had a pleasant smile. His eyes were large and black with a touch of brown. His beard was thick and had seventeen grey hairs in it. He had a fine line of hair over his neck and chest. His gait was firm and he walked so fast that the others found it difficult to follow him. His face was genial but at times, such as when he appeared to be deep in thought, there were long periods of silence, yet he was always busy with something. He didn’t speak unnecessarily and he always spoke to the point and without any padding.

There was an area of the desert before the girls, the man, and his army, that seemed to be inhabited. The girls continued to follow the man and his followers until they stopped just inside the walls, of where the people were, that had stands that looked like stores scattered here and there.

The man that led the army spoke with the leader of the people inside of the walls, growing more and more frustrated by the second. After several hours, the man leading the army finally ordered his men to attack the people inside of the walls, this onslaught lasted for what seemed like only hours, but was really fifteen days.

The man that had led the attack ordered his men to put the others in chains, and have them executed. But the girls had other plans for the man and his army. They decided to ambush them and save the tribe, creating as modern day of weapons as they could before starting for the people in front of them.

“What are we doing exactly?” Marina asked as she and her sister advanced toward the army.

“We’re going to keep them from executing innocents just because they won’t convert.” Antoinette said, speeding up her walk the angrier she got.

As the girl and her sister neared the tribe and the man and his army, Antoinette stopped and gasped, as did her sister, when they came to the shocking realization that the man wasn’t who they thought he was, but another dark, black, hooded figure that looked just like him.

Enraged, Antoinette let out a loud battle cry and fired the assault rifle she had created at the man, filling him full of bullets and killing him instantly. One of the men in the army yelled something the girl couldn’t understand, and charged at her and her sister. Marina hurried and created a sword and just before the army reached her sister, she stuck the tip of it out to kill him, but failed.

Another man suddenly appeared, racing toward them on a jet black horse that looked so skinny and frail, the girls were surprised to see him even being able to ride it. The man that had tried to kill the girls only moments ago, turned and hurled the sword at the man on the horse. The man on the horse made a sound that sounded like he was choking to death as he died and slumped over and fell from the back of the horse.

Someone in the distant then whistled at the girls. They turned and saw another hooded figure, who was waving frantically with both hands for them to come to him. The girls bolted over to him, the man that killed the other on the horse, followed close behind.

“In here,” the man said desperately, “hurry!”

The girls dove through an orange and yellow swirl of oval-shaped light just as the army charged at them. The portal closed, trapping the army inside of it, the leader wiggled and squirmed as the man that had led them through the portal turned and shoved him the other way and the portal fully closed where the army couldn’t enter.

“Thank you for that!” Marina said, relived.

“Is there anyway we can repay you….” Antoinette said, stopping when she realized that she didn’t know the hooded man’s name.

The man shook his head, “I ask not for anything of the sort!” he said.

“Are you….” Marina said, looking strangely at him, “are you Egyptian?” she asked him.

“How could you tell?” the man asked.

“You have such a thick Arabic accent, it was pretty obvious! And your skin and hair are both pretty dark, your eyes are large and dark, your nose isn’t small or large, you’re extremely thin, but not sickly, and you’re dressed similar to how an American male dresses.” Marina said, chuckling to herself.

“Who are you, what are we doing here, what is this place?” Antoinette said, demandingly.

 “My name….” the man started as if he were in pain and/or out of breath, “is….Sea Quasar, and you are both correct, I am Egyptian.” he said as he removed his hood of his cloak and undid the rope that was around it and his waist. He was wearing a grey muscle shirt, though he had none, with a green, black-striped, jacket, blue jeans that had been made to look worn, with a black studded belt around his waist, and size eleven Suede, leather, Nubuck and canvas materials. One-piece vamp for durability, combination drop-in midsole/sockliner designed for maximum comfort and boardfeel. The outsole was rubber for durability for lightweight flexibility. Minimal upper with a low-profile vamp for a classic skate style.

He looked young, possibly older than Marina, but younger than Antoinette. The girl couldn’t help but wonder who, or what, he was or what his purpose was for being here, but the girls knew they would soon find out.

“Tell us where we are and what we’re doing here.” Antoinette said impatiently.

“I don’t know….” he said, shrugging, “you created this place, YOU tell ME what I’M DOING HERE!”

“Wait, how could we have created this,” Antoinette asked, looking around at where they were, which was part Coptic Christian church and part Islamic mosque, “we’ve never even seen, been in, or heard of this place!”

Sea shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, then looked at the girls once more, “This place was perfect, and happy at one point in time when you two were.” he said.

The girls exchanged glances and then looked at Sea Quasar again, “What are you talking about?” Marina asked.

He shook his head again, “I figured you guys wouldn’t remember me, or this place, or the others for that matter….” he said disappointed, looking up at the girls again, “the only ones who can restore peace, freedom, justice, and security to this place and not only do either one of you realizes it,” he looked down at the floor of the merged religious dwellings, then looked back up at the girls once more, “figures, Hare’s Empire is crumbling to the ground, and has been for months and its creators don’t even seem to care!” he muttered frustrated under his breath.

“What do you mean by crumbling to the ground, this place has looked fine to me so far?” Marina asked.

“Yeah, and also, what do you mean by has been for months when we just discovered it?” Antoinette asked.

“When your parents died,” Sea started, “the eldest of you two went mad and created a place intended to act as an escape from the harsh reality of what really happened, but something has gone wrong since then!” Sea said, almost hysterically.

Marina and Antoinette both opened their mouths to speak, but stopped when they saw another man, similar to the one, in fact identical to the one, that had been in the desert, straddling the crack that semi-divided the church/mosque. He was dressed in a black hooded cloak, sleeveless black shirt, black pants, black socks, and black shoes. But instead of a light saber as his weapon of choice, the man instead held a sword in his right hand, and a shield in his left.

Even though his face was hidden. the girls could still see his rough brown hands  and knew instantly that he was either Egyptian, or something of the sort. He started for them, charging at them.

“Take these!” a voice said to the girls suddenly.

 Time seemed to stop, and two necklaces with crosses on them and letters that corresponded with the girls’ names, floated down into each of their hands, “put them on, hurry!” the voice ordered.

The girls exchanged glances and hesitated before putting the necklaces around their necks, “Who are you?” Antoinette asked, almost demanding.

“That’s not important right now,” the voice said, “just listen to and obey me right now, everything will make sense later, I promise.”

Once they had the necklaces on, time unfroze and the man charged at them again. The girls gasped and coward back away from him, but just as he reached them, he tried to skid to a halt, but failed. He got just a little too close to the girls and the crosses and soon burst into flames before their eyes.

“What….” Antoinette said, “Who….was THAT?!”

“His name was Slavemancer,” the voice said, “he was a “hero” you girls created when you created this place.”

“If he was a hero,” Marina said, “then why did he burst into flames when he got close to our necklaces?”

“He, like many others before him, might have been a hero, which he was, and did good deeds in his life, which he did, but sin still ruled him and was his master and I was not in him.”

“I told you,” Sea Quasar said suddenly, “this place, is of you two’s own doing!”

Antoinette gritted her teeth and spun around and glared at him, “My sister and I didn’t do anything to deserve ANY of this!” she cried angrily.

“We just want out of here!” Sea shouted back.

“Out?” Antoinette and her sister said, suddenly stunned now.

“We hate it here, just as much as your aunt and cousins!” he said as if he had been defeated.

“How do you know them, what have you done to them, where are they?” Marina asked, anger rising in her voice.

Sea Quasar started to answer them, but a projectile fired from out of nowhere, silent, and deadly. It pierced him in his back and through his chest where his heart was. Sea Quasar slowly sank to his knees, the girls rushed over and caught him and went down with him to the beautifully decorated, tile floor of the mosque church.

“I….I’m so sorry….I wasn’t able to help them….forgive me!” he gasped with his last dying breath.

Marina closed his eyes and said a prayer for him, then slowly stood with her sister in the center of the mosque church. Sure enough, they looked up to see a dark black hooded figure that was tall, thin, and lean muscled. Neither of the girls could make out his face as it was hidden underneath the hood of the black cloak he was wearing.

Thinking he was another hero, the girls started for the door of the church mosque where the dark figure was standing, seemingly unarmed. As the girls neared him (still assuming that this dark figure was just like the others and was male), they realized something seemed “wrong” with the dark hooded figure.

In an instant, the hooded figure vanished before their eyes and there was a flash of blinding white light that flooded the entire place where the hooded figure and the girls all stood. The girls suddenly found themselves still in the desert, but now there were objects twisted together.

“What….” Marina said, “what is this place?”

Antoinette shook her head slowly as she inched toward the twisted objects. Marina followed her and was just as confused as her sister about the place. Everything they had been through so far in the creation of their own minds had somehow merged together, but as the girls looked closer, they noticed that while everything was together, it was all only holding on by thin thin threads.

“This way….hurry!” someone whispered desperately to them.

The girls looked at each other and then started walking straight toward the voice that spoke. The girls followed a path made of fairly rough, low grade limestone that was outlined with fine white limestone, pink granite, basalt and alabaster. The sky above them was maroon red with a full white moon and tiny burning white balls that were stars. Dark clouds hung low and lighting flashed all around them as they slowly walked down the long path. On either side of the path was golden sand and on top of the sand was, to their left, a baby grand Baldwin piano, clarinet, cubby holes, chairs, music stands, marching uniforms, and other objects that had some kind of relation to music and writing.

There was school made from numerous types of bricks in shambles behind the musical instruments and equipment that was crumbling to the ground and in flames just like everything else around them. Behind the school was a house that looked much like the girls’ aunt’s house with a car in front of it that closely resembled the one the girls had arrived in at their aunt’s house.

To their left, the girls saw more golden sand, and people who looked like the Egyptian man they had seen earlier that had died, slaving away under the rule of a man who looked just like them, but wore a headdress and held a scepter in his right hand and a long black whip that had glass and thorns in it in his left hand. The builders looked tired and sickly as they dragged enormous stones that looked like the path the girls were traveling on, up onto the top of a hill that loomed over them and looked more like a mountain.

“Do not try to help them, keep traveling this path.” The Voice said suddenly, scaring the girls and making them jump slightly.

“But….” Marina started.

“Keep traveling, trust me, you and them will be alright.” The Voice insisted.

As the girls continued down the path, drops of water started to drip here and there from the dark red sky, even though the sun sat on top of the mountains in front of them behind a castle that had many sharp pointed spires and was dark and grey and cold. As the girls neared the castle and saw that it was being heavily guarded by jackal-headed men that were wearing ribbons and holding flails in the crooks of their arms, the rain was pouring down from the dimly lit sky so fast and hard in sheets that neither one of the girls could see in front of them very well. The lighting continued to flash and thunder rumbled all around them as they pushed forward toward the castle and soon arrived at the door.

“Halt!” one of the guards said suddenly in a loud and stern voice, startling the girls and making them jump backwards several inches.

“Who goes there?” the other said in the same tone.

“Antoinette and Marina,” Antoinette said, somewhat offended, “who the hell wants to know?”

The guard only ignored her, “Only those with proper authorization are guaranteed access into the Castle of Salvation.”

The girls looked strangely at the guard, “What’s that?” Marina asked.

“A place which can only be entered with proper authorization, as I said earlier!” the guard said, louder and more angrily.

“And how do we get that?” Marina asked.

The guard sighed, frustrated, “If you had proper authorization into this place, you wouldn’t have to ask that!”

“You son of….LET US IN….NOW!” Antoinette cried, outraged.

The guard shook his head, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that unless you have proper authorization!” he insisted.

“You’re really starting to piss me off dude, like, seriously!” Antoinette said, still angrily.

Marina sighed, frustrated, “Antoinette, please!”

But Antoinette couldn’t let go, “How do we get authorization into this place, tell me, or I swear I’ll kill you!” she threatened and taunted to the man.

He scoffed and shook his head, “You do that and you’ll never be able to enter this place.”

Antoinette’s anger suddenly vanished and she was now curious, “And why is that?” she asked.

“This place,” the guard said, “is only for those who truly believe, that is why you cannot enter, but your sister can!”

Antoinette slowly turned and looked at her sister, then back at the guard, “Why just her?” she asked.

“Of the two of you, only she truly believes!” he replied, waving for Marina to come closer to him.

Marina unconsciously started toward the guard and, still looking up at him, bent one knee to him and kneeled before him. But he shook his head and made a gesture with his right hand for her to stand, “I am not who you should kneel to.” he said as the gate to the castle slowly opened by itself behind him.

“Inside is what you’re looking for,” he continued, “the Gem of Fear, you must destroy it if you wish to bring balance back to this place and restore it.” he said, hurriedly.

Marina looked out of the corner of her eye at Antoinette, who had suddenly become stricken with an excruciatingly painful headache that had sent her to her knees. She had suddenly seemed to have forgotten everything that had happened to her and her sister recently, but at the same time, she seemed to vaguely remember it all. Her skin on her face turned grey and her eyes became crossed and uncontrollable. She was suddenly extremely tired and sleepy, like she hadn’t slept in weeks. Her head pounded like someone was beating it in with a hammer while at the same time had a belt tied around it and was jerking on it as hard as they could.

“Antoinette,” she heard her sister say faintly, “are you alright?”

“Leave me alone, please, I’m fine!” Antoinette snapped at her.

She suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to use the bathroom and soon wet all over herself without thinking.

When the girl tried to stand, she almost lost her balance, but Marina managed to catch her in her arms before she toppled over onto the ground.

Her muscles twitched and jerked suddenly as she laid in her sister’s arms and held onto her with every ounce of strength she had left in her and Marina hugged her as tight and as close to her as she could.

Antoinette suddenly let go of her sister and briefly pushed her away as she turned the opposite direction and ejected the contents of her stomach in the direction of the guard, who seemed pleased to see both of the girls in their state of so much agonizing fear, pain, and suffering. Marina looked up at him and realized that she and her sister weren’t where they had originally thought.

Marina lunged at her sister to wrap her arms around her and protect her as she knew she was now sick and unfit to function against an oppressor. But the guard reached for her and grabbed her by her long dark hair and dragged her across the coarse ground and then hurled her back behind the gate.

Antoinette looked up at the man, her skin had turned as white as a bed sheet and her eyes were bloodshot red and dilated, she glanced down, her head pounded as if someone had a belt tied around her brain and was yanking and pulling on it as hard as they could. She looked back up at the man and her sister and saw double-visions of them both that seemed to be moving in and out of their bodies. She tried to call out to her sister as she was dragged behind the gate, kicking and screaming for Antoinette.

“MARINA!” Antoinette cried, reaching for her sister, knowing it was impossible for her to reach her.

She laid flat on her face, breathing heavily as if she had just finished running a marathon, and considered dying right then and there where she laid. As the girl laid there motionless in front of the gate, she tried to concentrate and create herself a gun with which she intended to point at her right temple and pull the trigger. She felt she was at her wits end and saw no point in going on any further without her sister, the love of her life.

Darkness suddenly fell all around Antoinette as she laid face down on the ground. The dark figures she and her sister had battle and allegedly killed earlier surrounded her in a circle. The good in the girl had seemed to die and she hated it, all she had wanted was to be with her parents, sister, aunt, and cousins and be happy and feel alive again. But now here she laid on the edges of heaven and hell with no clue as to which one would take her after what she and her sister had done up until this point.

The dark figures formed a circle around the dying girl and reached out their skeleton-like hands for her. The girl panicked and curled herself up into a fetal-like ball where she laid in front of the gate.

“This is it,” she thought, “I’m going to die right here and now….God have your way with me and kill me, please, I beg you….it’s what I deserve after what I just witnessed with and put my sister through!” she sobbed as the water on her brain soon started to seep out of her head and through her ears and eyes.

Everything around her went black and the emperor, ocean, sister, pursuer, and reptile surrounded her and prepared to brutally kill the girl and take her with them to their master who was underneath the paradise. But as they neared her, the group suddenly burst into flames and started to burn into blackened crisped corpses.

“Oh no,” the emperor shrieked, “what….what’s happening to us?”

The group huddled together and tried to put out the orange and gold colored flames, but were unable to do so. The Being that had spoken to Antoinette moments ago lifted the unconscious girl into the air and placed into her a ventricle catheter into her cerebral ventricles to drain the excessive amount of water that was on her head off of it and into her stomach. The swelling on her head soon went down and her head was no longer abnormally shaped. As The Being set her back down in front of the group, the girl remained motionless for several minutes.

The group slowly started for her, but as they did, The Being sent down a large sapphire into the girl’s hands. She slowly lifted her head, startling the group and making them jump back. The gem (the Forgotten Gem of Fear) started to shake violently in the girl’s hands and caught fire, but she remained unharmed as the gem soon exploded and struck fear as it was supposed to into her enemies hearts and pierced them and killed them.

A bright white light surrounded the girl as she hung in the air. There was then an explosion of bright yellow light and the girl fell onto a white tiled floor unconscious. The woman and two girls walked over to the unconscious Antoinette and knelt down beside her and gently shook her and called her by name, but she couldn’t see or hear them.

Antoinette found herself in a place that had nothing but dark green grass on the ground and rolling hills. There were snow-capped mountains in the back ground and a fortified structure with motte, bailey and enceinte, keep, curtain wall, gatehouse, and moat in front of them. The sky was pitch black with no stars, only a half moon that seemed to grin at her, hanging in it with the tiny white balls of gas as white flakes gently fell from it.

The girl shivered as it was below freezing in this place, and slowly started walking toward the castle, hoping to get something to eat and have a place to sleep for the night while she searched for her sister, cousins, and aunt. But as she neared the castle, she saw the woman and two girls crowded around something that was on the ground.

“Hello,” she called out to them as she neared them, “do you….” she stopped when she realized who the girls and woman were and what they were doing, “need….help, oh God, Marina, no!” she wailed as she rushed over to the girl that the woman and other two girls were crowded around laying on a stretcher that was also on the ground and knelt down beside her.

The girl started to try to lift the stretcher herself and almost toppled over as she started for the mountain, but the woman and her girls joined her, one on the side she was on, and the others on the side opposite her. As they started for the mountain, the sleet fell harder and harder from the night sky until the temperature became bitterly cold and the girl feared that she and the others wouldn’t be able to arrive at the mountain fast enough to save her sister.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon!” Antoinette cried desperately as she tried to walk faster.

They stumbled again, frustrating the girl to the point where she turned and lunged at the woman and her girls and started to try to kill them.

“Antoinette,” The Voice said, “stop, please!” it begged and pleaded with her.

“They’re trying to kill her!” she cried as she sank to her knees.

“No, no, they’re trying to help,” it said, insisting, “you have to keep going, you can’t give up now, you’ve come too far!”

They picked up the stretcher again that the girl’s sister was on and started for the mountain again. As they headed down the path, the girl saw what she and her sister had been through all around them, broken, in flames, and crumbling to the ground. Something rumbled and shook the entire place like an earthquake. Antoinette glanced down and noticed that the ground was starting to crack and split.

The slaves around her and the ones that were struggling to help her carry her sister to the top of the Mountain of Righteousness, the tallest mountain that had ever existed, and the closest to Heaven. As she and the people that helped her carry her sister neared it, Antoinette felt helpless, how could she just be giving her sister away like this? She wondered as she started up the side of the mountain.

“Stop!” The Voice ordered.

Antoinette kept walking, as did the slaves.

“Stop now!” The Voice ordered again.

The slaves stopped, causing Antoinette to topple over and drop her sister’s body. She gasped and started for her, but a flash of lighting that suddenly struck the ground in front of her and set her sister’s body ablaze stopped her.

“Marina,” Antoinette shrieked, “No!”

The woman and two girls tried to catch water that fell in rain from the sky in their hands to try to put out the fire that was burning their niece/cousin. Another flash of lighting struck them and set them on fire and killed them also.

“Aunt Jenna, Tammi, Tamika, no!” Antoinette shrieked as she watched her sister, aunt, and cousins burn up in flames and die before her eyes.

There was a long pause and the girl found herself completely alone and surrounded by complete and total darkness yet again.

“Antoinette,” someone whispered, “wake up!”

The girl gasped and found herself in a small, solid white room. She was lying on her back on a metal frame bed that had a semi-comfortable mattress and pillow on it. There was a fluorescent beam light above her that blinded her. She groaned as she slowly sat upright on the bed.

“Good morning!” someone, a man, said suddenly in a cheerful tone of voice that startled the girl.

She looked to her left and saw a man who looked in age anywhere from about thirty-five to forty with semi-dark brown skin and black hair that was thinning on top of his head and thin silver rim glasses on his face. He was wearing a V-neck, dark blue shirt with breast pocket, extra lower pockets, set-in-sleeves, all of which was brushed poplin fabric, and felling stitch and matching tri-color brushed poplin fabric back pocket, cargo, flare leg, felling stitch, Oscar nominated fabric with meticulous embroidery, matching shirt and pants with whitish-grey loafers on his feet.

“Hello there,” he said, “you probably don’t know or recognize me….my name is Doctor Demetrius Reed Brady, Garcia’s head physician.”

“Doctor, Garcia,” Antoinette said, dazed and confused, “where am I, what….is this place?”

“This is just a hospital,” the doctor replied as a younger man, somewhere between Marina and Antoinette’s ages, stepped into the room, “this is my son, security guard Dillon Son Phillips….er, his mother and I are separated.” Demetrius said, smiling and nodding to the young man.

Demetrius turned his attention back to Antoinette, “Do you know why you’re here?” he asked.

Antoinette hesitated for a moment, then shook her head, “No,” she said quietly, “no, I don’t know why I’m here.”

Demetrius nodded as he wrote furiously on a piece of paper, he looked up at the girl, staring her dead in the eye, “You’re here because of your sister.” he said.

“My sister,” Antoinette said unsurely, “why, where is she, what happened to her, is she alright?” she asked.

Demetrius turned his head and nodded to his son. His son nodded and turned and walked out of the room, closing and locking the door behind him.

Demetrius looked back at Antoinette, “Can you tell me the last place you remember seeing your sister?” he asked her.

An image of her sister in the heaven-like place flashed before her eyes, “We were….in Heaven….she stayed there, I didn’t….I should have.” she said quietly, shaking her head in disappointment.

Demetrius scoffed, “Your sister died, Antoinette….she died along with your parents in the car crash.” he said.

Antoinette shook her head, “No,” she said, fighting back tears and going into a mad fit, “you’re wrong, she’s still alive, I’ve felt it!” the girl cried, almost hysterically.

Demetrius shook his head, “No,” he said, “that’s what you want to believe because you loved and cared about her so much.” he said as he turned and reached for a manila folder that was stuffed so full that it was barely shut.

He handed it to Antoinette, who snatched it from his hands and slowly opened it. The first thing she saw inside was a newspaper clipping and her sister and parents’ pictures on the front page with a heading above them that read “Family Dies Tragically in Accidental Fire, Only One Survived”.

Antoinette looked up at the man and was suddenly overcome with hatred, anger, and rage, and threw the paper at him and yelled and screamed and cursed him. The doctor and his son said nothing as they turned and left the insane young woman in the cell for good.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, two years later….

“How have you been since, you know?” Dillon asked Antoinette as they walked down the street past Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Antoinette sighed, “I dunno,” she said, shrugging, “fine….I guess….although I still feel like a total wreck.”

“Oh,” Dillon said, “why’s that?”

She’s still a part of me, you know, I still love her dearly and unconditionally, no matter how many of those stupid counseling sessions I go to, I’ll never forget her, our parents, aunt, or cousins.” she said as she kicked at the ground.

“And you shouldn’t,” Dillon said, “but, I think you do need to accept the fact that they’re all dead and in a better place.”

Antoinette started to say something, anything to shut him up about the subject, that was, until she looked up and saw them, “Do you….” she said to Dillon, “do you see that?”

He followed her gaze, “See what?” he asked.

“My sister, parents, and aunt and cousins are all right there in front of us!” she said, almost over excitedly.

“I think you’re hallucinating, there’s no one….” Dillon started.

In a flash, the man vanished into thin air like vapor and was gone without a trace and the girl found herself all alone, surrounded in complete and total darkness, still trapped inside of her own mind with no way out.