I stare up at the ceiling in my room, completely lost in thought. Just to be sure, I had even asked Zedd what his dreams looked like. He had described in vivid detail my worst fears: his suffering is identical to mine. There is a small part of me that hopes these monsters just showed us our worst fears─ That maybe they are some sort of creature that feeds off of fear and pain. The more he shared with me, the more I wanted him to stop talking. I roll over on my side and frown at the poem on my nightstand. The nine seems more bold than usual.
There really is no escape.
His words echo in my mind. If that is true, there will be no reason for me to continue any of this. My entire existence is pointless. I want to cry but nothing comes out. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and never stop screaming. It aches to be in my own skin and I am angry that I will be among the few people that knows what will happen. Worse still, I know that there is nothing I can do about it. Even if I do try and call someone or reach out to people─ no one will believe me. If someone mentioned this to me a few days ago I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have thought they were some conspiracy theorist nutcase. Unless─ I sit up and check my phone. It is early, but Devon normally gets in about eight or eight thirty. I might be able to chat with him for a while. I have an idea, but I am not going to mention anything until I am sure. I dress as quickly as I can and hop on the first train.
“Kate, hey” Devon says smiling, “what brings you in so early?” I am surprised to find him already there when I walk in at seven forty-five. I smile nervously at him, checking my pocket for the hundredth time to make sure the piece of paper is still there. I relax as I feel it crumple against my hand. “Hey Devon,” I say, “I sketched this out last night and thought you might want to take a look at it.” He raises an eyebrow, “Oh yeah? Sticking to those old-school guns, I like it. Let’s take a look.” I try to steady my hand as I reach into my pocket. I unfold the paper and see more hooded figures have appeared. The skyline looks clearer and I can make out shapes and finer details of the buildings. The hooded figures wait outside of the city, staring at the buildings.
My legs move and I walk over to his desk. I pass the paper over to him and then back away to gauge his reaction. His hand had briefly touched mine and I am suddenly very aware that I haven’t showered this morning. I must look an absolute mess. I fidget with my hair and tug down at my shirt. He is quiet for a few moments and then furrows his brow. “I don’t get it.” His face breaks into a wide grin, “Did one of the guys set you up to this?” He chuckles and hands the paper back to me. “ Is it some secret code that I have to pour milk or lemon juice on it? Maybe wave it over the stove?” he waves his hands around. “Already messing with the boss, huh?” I smile at his words but at this very moment I die a little inside. Why can Zedd and I see it, but Devon cannot?
It must seem awkward for me to walk in here like this and not have a come back, so I force a chuckle of my own, “You got me.” I want it to sound casual but it ends up sounding even more awkward. It hangs in the air and stagnates. I clear my throat and turn to leave. “Hey, Kate?” His voice sounds off. I turn back to him from the doorway. “Take care of yourself, this job can get really stressful.” My face burns but I manage a lame, “oh totally, no worries.” I spin around, nearly plow into the wall, and shuffle my way out. Great, the end of the world comes and I still manage to make a complete and total ass of myself. I guess some things will never change.
I still feel slightly bitter about my love life but I’ve managed to knock out a ton of stuff for my main character. I have rationalized that if nothing else, this gives me something to do. It’s pointless, the game will never release. I don’t even know what time the bomb will drop. But hey, at least I know the day.
It makes me wonder if it is just going to happen here, or all over. Maybe the beings will only show what will directly affect us. This gives me an idea. It’s my first week, but considering I’ll only have just over a week left to live, I figure fuck it─ road trip time. I finish up my tasks for the day with a couple of hours to spare. Zedd has been oddly quiet today, in fact, I haven’t seen him. It is possible that he decided to work night shift. Most of us hate that schedule, but there is a team that works from four until midnight. Even if he never shows up to work again, it’s not like I can blame him. I mean, it’s one thing if it is only you hallucinating, but to have someone else confirm your worst fear? That’s true terror. I am hoping to talk with him a bit more today. The way we left things last night makes me feel lost. I feel more helpless now than I ever have in my life. I am desperate to think that we can find a way out of this, maybe some hope still exists. I managed to wake up feeling a little better today, but carrying this sort of knowledge weighs you down. I shoot him a text just to check in on him and then head to Devon’s office.
I tap lightly on the door. There are a few murmurs on the other side and finally I hear, “come in.” I peek my head around the door and smile. “Hey, there’s my favorite gal. I just got your completed works for the day. Careful─ you’re making the other guys look bad.” He winks conspiratorially at me and grins. I laugh and shake my head, “Oh, that can’t be true. I’ve seen their work.” He types a few things on his computer and then turns his full attention to me. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”
I smile at the southern drawl. I notice that people here tend to address each other as sir or ma’am but it isn’t in a professional way, it is polite and respectful. I am still getting used to their drawn out words and pronunciations. It took me ages to figure out the guys were saying pen instead of pin, which they pronounced as ‘pin’.
“I’m so sorry to ask this, but I’ve had a family emergency come up. Is there any way that I can work remotely and maybe take half a day off to drive up there?” His face suddenly grows serious. “Oh, Kate. I’m sorry to hear that, is everyone OK?” I shake my head feeling guilty over the lie. “No, no, nothing serious. My dad is out of town and my mom broke her leg. She just needed me to help out at the house until dad gets back Friday.”
“No problem at all. Honestly, just go ahead and take tomorrow off and you can work a half day Friday, how’s that sound?” I’m shocked at how understanding he is.
I’m slightly disturbed at how easy the lie spills from me. I will have to work that out with myself later. One thing at a time. “Oh, and Kate?”
“Hmm?” I respond. “Zedd is not feeling well, but he’ll be in tomorrow. I’m loving the direction you two have come up with.” I thank him and quickly make my exit. This is a weird day, but it isn’t entirely bad. I feel accomplished, which is a bit weird given the circumstances. Perhaps I am taking this a bit too well.
I stare out the bus windows for the hundredth time. I’m not sure what I’m expecting to see, but the tree lined roads are finally giving way to mountains. It’s something to stare at as I listen to my audio-books. I know going too far would be silly and if I go back home, I feel like I will get the same result. With this in mind, I decide to go to New Mexico. It is twelve hours from Dallas but it is far enough away from Dallas that it will help prove my theory. It is better than sitting at home and sulking. My eyelids grow heavy as we get to the last hour or so. This state is huge. I can’t believe how long it takes to get across. I probably could have gone to Louisiana or Oklahoma, but I figured if I was going to go somewhere it was at least going to be pretty. The constant drone of the audio-book’s narrator didn’t help and before I know it, I am out. I blink a few times and realize that I am staring from the familiar building. This time, the entire floor is filled with everyone at the office. Devon walks past and flashes his winning grin, his warm brown eyes crinkle around the edges. I shyly smile back and then start walking toward my desk. Usually the things have appeared by now, but instead it seems like a typical day.
I glance around, curious about where this dream is going. I am vaguely aware of movements at each cubicle as I pass by. People are glued to their monitors, the little clicks of the mice are the only sounds cutting through the silence. At any moment I expect the terror to unfold and then I will look down to stare at my insides. I will sit helplessly as the blast blows me apart. Worst of all, I will feel every agonizing second of it. I squeeze my eyes closed, willing myself to wake up. Please, I silently beg, I don’t want to go through it again. Don’t make me go through this again. The second I close my eyes I feel it. The office shifts and then trembles violently. Seconds later, the screams begin. My eyes fly open and once again I am faced with the tall, spiraling cloud that mushrooms and expands. There is a pause as everyone stands in awe, staring up at the impending doom. Within seconds the wave hurtles toward us and then slams into the building with a crushing blow.
The glass shatters and then embeds itself in my skin. The flesh melts from my face as the wind rips at my body. Adrenaline will not kick in, I can feel everything. People drop like flies around me, their screams eventually replaced with wet gargles. I gasp for air as my lungs fill with blood. My one good eye watches as the earth tilts until finally I make contact with the floor. It’s all that I can do. My body aches and my nerves are on fire but finally it subsides into a dull throbbing. It’s as if my body has accepted this horror. Like the visions before I just won’t die. This should be the part of the dream that you wake up covered in sweat and screaming. My entire life I have had the luxury of just that. Especially if it is one of those falling dreams. Not only can I feel every moment of this living hell, I can taste it. The ash, the blood, and the chemicals. The building groans in the wake of the damage. It sways and then lets out a low, haunting moan. It reminds me of the recordings of wales I had listened to as a child. Yet more industrial as the building begins to collapse in on itself. As we all fall, They appear. I try and close my one good eye but to my horror, I realize that my eyelids are gone. The debris lands on my exposed eye, light as newly fallen snow. I instinctively try to blink but in the end all I can do is stare at the chaos. The burning has become so intense against my exposed flesh that I am sure I am dying. And yet, I can not die.
I can not fucking die.
They close in and sigh in ecstasy as they pluck my suffering from my flesh and my mind. It’s as if I am the last morsel of succulent meat. They feed on the others in mere seconds, but me, god fucking help me─ they are having a four course meal. I try any way I can to die faster. I try biting my tongue, but there isn’t enough of it left. I try in vain to move either of my arms, but too much of the muscle lays piled on the floor. I am stuck here, being consumed piece by piece─ layer by agonizing layer.
Finally I wake up screaming my lungs out. I hear a man curse in the seat in front of me and the driver comes to a screeching halt. I run my hands over my face and then my body as I search everywhere. I relax as I find that everything is in its place. I drink in the air, so much clean, fresh air─ thank god.
I sit back in my seat and let out a sigh. “Hey,” I jump at the shout from the driver, “everything OK back there?” I peer around the row of seats and shrink into my seat at all the confused faces of the passengers. I clear my throat, “um, yeah sorry,” and then I add “I have night terrors.” The entire bus groans and people mutter, throwing angry looks my way. Sorry, I mouth at them. My face is on fire. I scoot closer toward the window, hoping that no one can see me. I draw my legs up to my chest.
Whatever that was, it isn’t a dream. I’m not sure what it is that keeps these monsters feasting on me. I have this sinking feeling that They are the reason I have been kept alive. I shudder running my hands along the length of my legs. Maybe spreading some warmth through them will ease the chill. The air on the bus has grown colder, we must be in the mountains. A quick glance outside confirms it as we chug along uphill. My thoughts turn dark as I stare out across the misty mountains. I had been able to sleep OK last night but what if the dream returns? What if I can never close my eyes again?
The hotel is nothing fancy, but it is cozy. After speaking with the front counter I get my room key and I am all set. I walk down a few hallways until I find the first set of double doors. The man at the front desk has described it well. To my delight it opens into a large pool area. It is all enclosed and there is even a hot tub. I’m glad that I have decided to pack my bathing suit. I had been hoping the place has a sauna or something I can relax in. My mood gets even better when I see in fact that they do have a sauna. At least there is something to look forward to tonight. After I get in my room, I set up my work laptop and plug in my phone to charge. The signal here is awful and my battery is already at forty percent. I check my messages and email. Devon sent me one about an hour ago. It is just to check in and make sure that I have made it to my parents. I send him a response that I am fine and I will be able to work tomorrow afternoon. I add that he is welcome to call or text for any emergencies and then send it out.
I am surprised to find that I feel energized. Despite the dream, it has somehow refreshed me. I glance over the room service menu and then check out some of the local restaurants. I am famished. There’s a small pizza shop that has great reviews and I place my order. In less than thirty minutes it is sitting on the dresser. I have a scary movie playing in the background as I lay the cheesy goodness on the bed. You would think since my own life is the stuff of nightmares, I wouldn’t want anything to do with them. But it’s somehow comforting to watch someone else go through hell instead of me. I’ve seen just about every horror movie made, even the campy ones from out of the 80’s. The boogeyman always fascinated me because they never died. I love Halloween, Michael Myers just keeps coming back. Ironic, given that my own hell in these visions parallel that. Maybe he is just pissed off that he can’t die and takes it out on others. Suddenly, I have a soft spot for the guy. I would never wish this on anyone, but I can at least imagine other people’s struggles, right? I devour three pieces before I finally slow down. I can without a doubt eat this entire pizza, and still I would want more. But after the sixth slice, it seems to do the trick. I sigh and pat my belly. I’m hoping I find that the images change, but so far I have checked and it hasn’t.
I’m not sure what I am expecting, but the hope remains that maybe spending a night in another state will change the paper. If it does then the entities must prey off of fear and also solidifies that this will happen everywhere. Maybe I am witnessing the end of everything. Surely we can travel miles out of the major cities and be safe right? Isn’t that what someone sending a bomb would do? Target all of the major cities? I remember learning in one of my science classes that if several bombs went off it would affect the entire planet and that eventually the fallout will kill us off. Radiation poisoning is no joke. We would not only die, we would die horribly. There really isn’t a bright side to this, no matter the scenario.
I finish the movie and then walk over to the closet. I’m ready for a good, long soak in the hot tub. The chill in the air here is definitely different than Dallas. Even with the heater on, there is a distinct chill in the air. I select a crisp, white robe and smile. This place may have been old, but it is still full service. You would never find things like this in a cheap hotel. Definitely not one that I can afford. I slip it over my bathing suit, grab my key card, and walk down the hall.
A few doors down I can hear someone’s T.V. blaring. It’s loud as hell, the person watching it must be deaf. It reminds me of my grandfather’s westerns blaring at full volume in the living room. I’m pretty sure I heard a horse whinny. At least I know that I’m not alone. I walk into the pool room, hang up the robe and slip into the tub. I am in heaven as the heat sinks into my skin. If the end of the world really is happening in eight days, this is a great way to spend my time. It is perfectly quiet─ just me and the warmth.
My body sags as the weight of the world melts away. My eyes close and I rest my head against the cool concrete. Seconds after I close my eyes, there is a thunderous boom. I jump, whipping my head around. The sound reverberates around the enclosed space, but nothing is here. Both of the doors are sealed tight. My lower lip trembles as the water trickles down my face. That boom, I know it anywhere. I have it etched into my memory. I expect at any moment the room will collapse around me. I imagine the burning blast of air that rips away my insides.
Stop it, I tell myself, just stop. There is nothing here, you’re just tired. I try to rationalize it. Maybe it is my neighbor’s T.V. Or maybe, I think, every time you close your eyes you’ll relive your own death again and again. My blood runs cold at the thought. How long can I last? One day─ two? I shudder despite the burning temperatures of the water. Suddenly, the sauna doesn’t sound so good.
It is around three a.m. when I get the call. When I had gotten back to my room earlier I ordered as many caffeinated drinks as I could. After two monsters and several diet cokes, I am fairly certain that I can taste colors. I keep action movies going in the background and play games on the laptop. I figure as long as I am doing something I can’t fall asleep. I am in the zone blasting away at bad guys when my phone goes off. I pause and look at my phone, it’s Devon. Confused I answer immediately.
There is a pause on the line, followed by a few sniffles. I decide that maybe he has butt dialed me but I talk into the phone anyway. “Hello? Devon?”
“Hey, Kate. Yes, I’m here.” His voice sounds shaky as if he has been crying. I am instantly alarmed.
“Hey, is everything OK?” I ask. There are a few more sniffles. “Kate, I’m so sorry to be calling this late, but I thought it would be better to hear it from me than the news.”
“OK.” I answer. My heart is hammering in my chest, I don’t know what to expect.
“This is really hard to tell you, especially since it’s your first week. I’ll be making an announcement on Friday, but I’ve also been making calls to all the team members.” He sniffs again. “I’m sorry to have to let you know that Zedd will no longer be coming into the office.” My hands won’t stop shaking. I had just seen him less than two days ago. “Did he quit? Is he OK?” I ask softly.
There is a long pause on the other end. I think that maybe he has hung up, but then finally he answers. “Zedd─” Devon’s voice falters and he has to take a couple of breaths before continuing, “took his own life earlier today. I’m so sorry, Kate, but I have to go. We are closing the office down tomorrow, so don’t worry about work, OK?” I thank him for letting me know and hang up the phone.
Part III coming soon.