For the better part of the evening I’ve managed to avoid eye contact as we sit across from each other. I’m mortified that he stumbled on me like that. I still haven’t been able to vocalize exactly what I saw. Thankfully, he just helped me onto the elevator and we drove over to the restaurant in silence. I was feeling a bit self conscious about my body odor and had excused myself to the bathroom to wash up. Nothing makes you feel more classy than taking a bath in the sink. To my utter relief, no one had walked in during the process. I even had a chance to wash and dry the pit stains from my blouse. When I came back, Devon had just smiled and we ordered our food.
After only a few moments the waitress returned with our appetizers and drinks. I suspect they probably had them under a heater since it was fried. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a small bite out of them. They were soaked with oil and tasted a little stale. Devon frowned after trying one of his too. “I guess they aren’t known for freshness” he said shaking his head, “let’s hope the food wasn’t under a heater either.” I thought he would leave it at that, but when the waitress came back around he asked, politely, if we could please have fresh spring rolls. The woman acted a little embarrassed and assured him that she would return with something better. He had done it in a way that didn’t sound entitled, or angry just a request. There really was something I respected about a person that was nice, but confident. Maybe there was hope for me yet.
After some prodding and awkwardness, Devon had me gushing over the project and how excited I was to be working on a main character. He asked about how I was getting along learning Maya and integrating photoshop. In no time I was relaxed and had almost forgotten the incident at the office. We devoured our meals, which really surprised me since I normally eat like a bird. I’d been teased about it since I was young but I had always had more on my mind than eating. Especially when I was working on a project. We ordered some sticky rice pudding for dessert and a round of hot tea. I sighed in content at the combination of sweet and sticky and the roasted, clean flavor of the tea. I closed my eyes and leaned back savoring the last of the tea. “A fellow tea lover, I see” Devon remarked. I grinned, opening my eyes and nodding my head. He smiled back at me warmly. A movement caught my eye behind him and I looked over. There had been no one seated behind us and the restaurant was winding down. I frowned, staring at the spot that I knew something had just been.
Devon turned behind him and then looked back at me, “everything OK?” I shook my head, “yeah, sorry I thought I saw something.” The waitress walked up with the check and said to stay as long as we would like, they would be open until ten. We both thanked her, Devon ordered another round of tea and then handed her the card. We waited quietly for her to bring them back. My anxiety increased as the silence stretched on between us. I knew what was coming, it was the end of the pleasantries. I surprised myself by speaking first, “listen, I’m not really sure what happened back there but something spooked me. A shadow, movement, I don’t know. The next thing I knew, I was booking it down the hallway and I ran into you. I feel completely embarrassed.” Devon looked at me and nodded, “I could tell, but I can tell you what it was. I don’t mean to make you feel self conscious, but you’ve been losing sleep.” I look up at him shocked. “How could you tell?” He points up to under his eyes. I must have had some dark rings under them for him to notice. “With Zedd gone, and our project still needing to meet this tight deadline, all of our nerves are shot to hell.” I press my lips together but manage a tiny nod. I didn’t like all of this lying, it just wasn’t me. “When we all,” he paused for a moment, “get back to a normal routine I think things will start to fall back in place.” His voice wavered and I reached out to grasp his hand giving it a tiny squeeze. I kept it there but looked away, unable to look him in the eyes. The waitress walked up and smiled then handed the black card holder back to Devon. I pulled my hand away, embarrassed to display affection in front of her. Plus, I wasn’t even sure what we were. It’s not like we were dating. I wasn’t even sure if he was seeing someone, or married. I haven’t seen a ring on his finger but today a lot of people didn’t that were married. Jewelry can be very uncomfortable. I fidgeted with my fingers, then brought up my arms to grasp my tea. I was eager to put something between the two of us. I have been far too open with this man. Well, except for the lying about the end of the world and what I have seen.
“Kate.” I looked up and realized the waitress had left us. “I was hoping we could talk about Zedd, but I realized I’ve been far too pushy today. After all, we did just bury him.” I can feel tears starting to form but I tilt my head to the side and blink rapidly, trying to shoo them away. Another blur of movement streaks in the same spot and then stops directly behind Devon. It doesn’t move. I don’t want to turn my head, I don’t want to breathe. I just want all of this to go away. I squeeze my eyes shut, drowning out Devon’s words. Please not now, I beg silently, he already thinks I’m a nutcase. Nothing could prepare me for what I opened my eyes to.
Dozens of them filled the room. Just staring at me. The room has gone silent and a thin trickle of ash and debris float around us. I keep my face straight, fighting to not react. I know if I show any hint of what is going on, Devon will see nothing but me freaking out. I focus on my breath, drawing air in and out. It’s not until I really look around that the horror unveils itself. All the people are crumbling ash. It’s the first time they haven’t made me experience the horror of the bomb. I can handle this, it will end at some point.
I force myself to look across the table at Devon and smile. My breath hitches and my chest heaves. He’s not like the others, there are bits of flesh still clinging to his face, chest, and arms. It slumps off of him in a gooey pile, falling on the table and into his lap.
I sound like a bad exercise video, but it’s comforting me. The things notice and move closer, puzzled by my reaction. They are literally feet from me. I look up at the closest one, gritting my teeth. I won’t give you the satisfaction, I yell in my head. I’m hoping that they can hear me loud and clear. A horrible vibration comes over me in waves, washing me with unimaginable pain. It’s all I can do to not yelp in anguish.
I’m coaching myself to fight through the pain. At last it’s too much and I wrap my arms around my belly, rocking back and forth. I remind myself again that Devon is still there in the real world staring at my every move. “Sorry,” I say, “I need to run to the restroom.” I don’t wait a second longer than I have to, before I’m out of my seat. I try and walk normally toward the back, but I know I will have to walk past these awful beings. I expect them to move aside, but they don’t. They just stare at me through the deep, dark hooded cloaks. I groan at the immense pain but put one foot in front of the other.
I manage to release the air again, realizing I had been holding my breath the entire time. Now for the real test. I hesitate a moment, hoping I can get past this thing and not run into anyone else in the process. If I can just make it. I press my jaw together and step forward. Warm, dense air surrounds me, like walking into a sauna. The air is cloying, like dirt and decay. I’ve never smelled anything like it. Don’t stop, I urge, keep it up. I let out a sigh of relief and finally make it to the bathroom. I’ve walked through at least ten of them, all the same peculiar sensation. I burst into the restroom and find the nearest stall. It opens easily and I turn and lock it, then sit down. I made it, I actually made it here. I know I would have acted strange to Devon but I could just blame it on nerves or feeling ill. I rock back and forth, trying my best not to make a sound. I’m still not out of the vision and someone could be in here with me. None of the creatures are here with me as I try and pull myself together. Maybe they will let it go, maybe the vision will end.
Just as I manage to think this, a warm, clammy sensation fills the air. It surrounds me from every angle. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there. Waiting. I could feel the outrage from them, as if they were angry for me even showing an ounce of defiance. The waves of pain suddenly stopped, but in its wake it left fear. If the pain was unbearable a moment ago, what would they have in store now? Please, I reason quietly, none of us have much longer. I’m just one person. I can’t be worth this trouble. I knew trying to reason with them would be a shot in the dark. Whatever I thought would happen, didn’t.
There were a series of flashes and the room was stripped away from me. I was thrown into the open city, floating in front of several buildings near downtown. I watch with growing dread, knowing what was to come. Instead of it happening within seconds, they drag it out. I can tell by the movement in the city below. Everything is moving at a snail’s pace. I orient myself looking at our office building behind me and I know I am facing North. From the right of me, I see the bright light crawling toward us. Why do I keep seeing this? Over and over from every angle.
I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but this round they take that fantasy away.