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Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventures Part III

Part I

Part II

Here is the next chapter of our Twitter stories. More to follow soon. If you’d like to adventure with us, you can vote on my daily polls to see where Anna goes and what she does next!

Anna dove into the grass, rolling out of the direct path of destruction. She pumped her legs as fast as they would carry her. Dirt, and debris showered her. It was getting harder to see. Was she still running in the same direction?

There was no sense in looking back. She ran forward as long as her lungs would allow, the deafening whistle ever-present. Something hard smacked into her side, then after a few more strides across her face. She’d managed to stumble into the woods.

Even as far as she believed she had pushed herself, the screaming of the tornado had not lessened. Trees were being pulled, uprooted as close as 50 feet away. Her body felt as if it would be lifted at any moment. This was it, she really felt it. The end of everything.

#

The ground rushed at Anna’s face as thousands of tiny specs dug into her flesh. She clawed at anything she could as her legs flew out behind her. Her arms were quickly giving out. Maybe this was for the best─ maybe it was meant to be.

Her face crusted with dirt as tears streamed from her eyes. What had she done with herself? What had she done with her life? She was already twenty-nine with a dead end job and living off of her mother’s insurance money. How pathetic could you be?

Anna’s hands kept finding dirt. She stretched with all her strength, each grab more disheartening than the last. How long could this last? When would her arms finally collapse? She choked and sputtered as the dirt flew into her lungs.

Her arms collapsed, the wind whipping her hair in a tangled mess behind her. She felt herself being dragged backward as she pawed feebly at the dirt. The debris pummeled her head as she kept it low to the ground. It was the only way she could breath in the storm.

Anna felt the second she let go. All the good and the bad things she had done with her life flashed into her mind. What would her mother think? Simply letting go without a fight─to what end? Being swallowed up and ripped apart by a bit of rotating air?

A curious thing happened. One that Anna never knew she had within her. It bubbled up and yelled from deep within her, “I will not!” Her hands flew out and clawed deep into the earth. She gripped with all her might, pulling at all the roots, dirt, and debris beneath her.

With a hearty yell, Anna lunged forward a foot, maybe more, and then another. And another. Until her hand found air. She searched it frantically─ looking for solid ground. Finally, she found it. It was directly below her body. A cave? A drop? She didn’t know.

A tree ripped away beside her, a rock narrowly missed her head. It was as if the earth itself were coming uprooted. It was do or die, this moment, and it was her choice. She decided it far better a death than this and took the leap of faith.

#

Anna fell flat onto the other side. She wasn’t quite sure how she had landed on her back and remained upright, but somehow─ here she was.

She sat up, brushing the debris from her face, hair, and neck. The roaring had ceased, leaving behind a deafening silence. She sat very still, just inhaling and exhaling. She wondered if the boy was looking in on her. ‘We’re watching your every move.’ They’d said.

She drew her legs up, and though she didn’t trust them completely, and there was quite a bit of wobbling, she finally stood up. After a few more steadying breaths, Anna finally took a look at her surroundings. Her eyes widened.

The bridge seemed to stretch on forever. The more she looked, the further it went. Surely this was an optical illusion, there had to be a support somewhere. She looked up, and then behind her. It was a dead end, a solid wall of rock. Suddenly she felt very vulnerable on this small, grassy island. It couldn’t have been more than five feet in diameter, the whole of it! She peeked over the edge, only to find that the few pebbles that fell over from her shoes hadn’t made a sound. Was she…on a pillar? Anna spun around searching.

Yes, she found. There was literally nothing around and even if there were, you wouldn’t be able to see it. There was miles, upon miles of fog! It was a wonder that the bridge was so clearly visible. But then, now that she thought on it, they must have done this on purpose.

Anna ran her hands along the rails and gingerly pressed her foot onto the first few boards. There were no creaks or groans, it was incredibly solid. Like it were new, and yet old all at once. Someone had put some incredible work into this bridge.

The first dozen or so feet went by slowly, but after she neared thirty feet, she relaxed to her natural gait. It was a strong bridge, the sort she remembered walking across as a girl when her family went abroad. Those were good times, before her father had gone.

There were noises in the air now. Things that she hadn’t heard before. They were low and continuous, like a drone, and then high pitched sounds mixed in. It was as haunting as it was lovely, ethereal in its own way.

The smell reminded Anna of the sea. The air was chilly and damp. It was the kind of breeze that made you get goosebumps and all the hairs on your arms to stand on-end. She wasn’t sure, but it sounded like water was very near.

To be continued!

Thanks for adventuring with me. Let’s see what Anna gets in trouble with next time. ❤

❤ Grey

 

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Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventure’s Part II

Here is the next chapter of our Twitter stories. More to come soon!

The boy opened the box to reveal a set of soft, grey robes. He left briefly, and then returned with strange bottles filled with varying liquids. The boy trilled at her, the noise calming and pure.

He waved toward the small enclosure. His hand glittered and then suddenly, the room brightened behind her. His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners and soft, pillowy black soot flowed from them. They didn’t leak, but rather dissipated into thin air.

He tugged at her gently and she gathered that the robes and liquids were for her. He glided from the room, the only sound the door closing behind him. She stared down at the bottles, her brows creasing.

After a few whiffs, she noted one smelled like earth, another very flowery, and a third clean and mild.After making an executive decision, she chose the mild, clean scent. The space that was lit was carved from the same stone as everything else. Jetting out from the space were 3 triangle shaped rocks. Below them looked like some sort of pulley.

When she returned to the room, a letter had been placed on her bed. “The High Order has requested your presence before the hour of normal rising tomorrow. Please arrive on time, and in proper attire.” A strange symbol was stamped at the bottom. Something Anna could only assume to be one of the High Order’s names. Then she remembered earlier conversations with the boy about names, power, and meaning. This must have been their way of protecting their name. How very curious.

Anna shrugged off her robe, stepped into the space, and gently pulled down the latch. A blast of very warm water sprayed from every direction. She opened the bottle and poured a bit onto her palm. It smelled delightfully like laundry detergent.

When she woke, she found a tray of what looked like food. Upon closer inspection, it also smelled like food. She brought it up to her face and nearly melted at the smell of freshly baked bread. She devoured the entire loaf and was on her second, when the door opened.

The boy looked at her, smiled, and then sat in the nearest chair. He had a large book with him that he laid across his tiny lap. Anna looked to him, brushing the crumbs from her face. She suddenly felt very dirty sitting next to him and his tidy robes.

His voice sang out beautifully, like a bit of poetry on a wall of text. The book flew open, there was a flash and then images sprung to life before her. “We, the generation of the few, have waited for some time for a moment such as this.” A beautiful swirl of purple skated across the surface of the book and then formed into images of his people─ somehow managing to perfectly illustrate the swirling soot of their eyes. “Once, we lived side by side in perfect harmony.” The shapes changed to form their kind and hers walking together, laughing and hugging.

“But, like all things, that time came to an end.” The boy closed the book before she could see the lighted story that would follow his words. His expression was as silent as his words, showing nothing. “What happened?” she asked quietly.

“That, I’m afraid, must be saved for another time.” He stood and walked her over to the box. “I must advise that you be sure to dress yourself in the clothing provided.” The boy paused, looking up at her through long lashes. “Unless of course you prefer to die a horrible no good, and very painful death.” He giggled at the last statement & then strode toward the door. “Wait─” she called, “what trial? What do you mean death?” The door snapped shut with a metallic click. She sighed looking over at the box. Well, maybe he’ll disclose that later too.

#

The morning air was far colder than Anna expected it to be as she shivered beneath the robes. Some parts, colder than others. This cloth they gave her was far too thin for her liking. She trailed slightly behind the attendant that had come to get her.

They were now crossing into an even further underground area. She could tell it was further underground because the air had grown damp in her lungs. After several heartbeats, they reached an open field. Human sized grass stretched as far as the eye could see.

A scroll fell to the ground & the attendant boomed loudly, “You will be up against your first trial of many. First, we will see how you compare & judge every action that you make. As we have been doing since your arrival.” With that, the girl nodded curtly and turned away. “Now just hold on a min-” she chased after the girl but ran face first into an invisible wall. “What test?” she yelled as loud as she could. But to no avail, the woman kept distancing herself from Anna.

She turned and the clouds behind her roll in hard and fast with a flash of lightening. 

To be continued as the voting progresses!

Stay tuned for our next adventure. You can vote on my Twitter to add your own spin. Let’s see where the fun takes us~

Until we adventure again.

❤ Grey

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🌧️

A spiral cloud forms out in the field less than a mile out. It begins to grow larger and with horror Anna realizes it’s getting closer!

 

 

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Fantasy story – Anna’s Adventures!

Deep in the recesses of Grey’s mind is a story aching to be told. Just about all day every day I imagine things, I daydream, and I love to share it. It’s literally killing me not being able to release the novel I’m currently planning on getting published!

But, (oh, hohoho~) that doesn’t mean I can’t write for all of you still in some capacity. I love interacting with all of you, so I have a fun Twitter account that I like to poll, and tell tales. I realized, however, that some of you might not be able to keep up. So I can recap here! Here we go, enjoy~

Today, a young boy no more than 10 stumbled onto the driveway behind Ms. Anna’s home at 2401 Miracle Drive. He was lost, tired, and very malnourished. As luck would have it, she had just arrived from her trip to the local grocer.

The boy was quiet and answered none of her questions, except that he was lost and hungry. It was late, nearly 10 p.m. and Anna was unsure of what she should do.

Anna offers the boy food, not too much as it seems he hasn’t eaten in quite some time. Curiously, he eats most of it but stores the rest in his pocket. After some convincing, she managed to get him to follow her inside.

Anna knows that it is late, but she feels sorry for the boy and decides to let him stay the night before phoning the authorities. After a huge struggle, mainly because the boy was terrified of the shower, she managed to bathe and clothe him.

After several restless hours, Anna wakes to discover the boy has vanished from the bed. There is a soft light coming from the front of her home. The boy’s small frame is outlined by the bright glow of her phone. He stares at it, hunched over like a little golem. He’s watching videos, enamored by the lights and sounds. He hums along and mimics words. Almost like a baby would do.

Anna shook her head and smiled. The poor child probably couldn’t sleep. As she turned to leave, she bumped into her comfy chair. The boy froze and turned toward her. She blinked, then blinked again. Had her eyes played tricks on her? Maybe her tired mind had made it up. Surely smoke had not drifted from the child’s eyes. He smiled at her and reached his arms up, motioning to be held. Swooping him up, she shuffled them both back to bed.

Morning came just as sure as the March Drench. Anna poured the waffle mix into her iron and glanced over at the boy. He stayed glued to the small screen, kicking his legs and humming. He looked serene and so small in one of her shirts.

Suddenly the thought of losing him felt worse than calling the authorities, but in the end she caved. Anna dialed & waited, each ring more jarring than the last. Finally the brisk voice answered. She said child services would be in touch & then the line went dead.

They spent the day watching t.v. & eating junk food. Anna had tried getting his name a few times, but he wouldn’t say. She was sure child services had forgotten when her phone sounded. The woman on the line sounded cold & detached.

Anna finished making his care package & got him ready for the person who would pick him up. She had sewn his tattered clothes & added in a few colorful patches from her old scarf collection. She’d just dressed him when her phone rang.

The woman on the line sounded apologetic as she explained that she was having car troubles. “Would it be alright if I come by in the morning? I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” Anna smiled and agreed to have her come then. How exciting! Another night.

They had just finished up a movie when the boy yawned and stretched across her legs. He gazed up at her adoringly with deep, dark eyes. She instantly was drawn to how deep a brown they were. They were, in fact, so deep that she spotted something jet across the space next to her t.v. Her head snapped up to barely catch the hint of a small, furry creature no larger than a guinea pig with a long, pillow-y tail. A twinkling laugh escaped from her small visitor as he leaped up & chased after it.

Anna’s eyes grew wide as he rushed through her front door! She had no idea that he could move so quickly. She rushed after him, calling out “boy─wait, it’s dangerous!” She barely saw him fly into the trees behind her home.

Without thinking Anna dove into the forest after the fleeing child. She charged forward as fast as her legs would take her over small dips, brush, and finally leaping over a small creek. She sighed, bending over at the waist.

The boy seemed to have endless amounts of energy, but for some reason or another he paused, staring up at the trees. Anna gulped down a few breaths and lumbered over to him. Her arms wrapped around his small frame and she pulled him close.

Something shone on the edge of her vision, a flash of soft, yellow light. Anna stared at the bend of light, like an event horizon. The center was as black as…the boy’s eyes the other night.

She approached the ring of light, enthralled by the thin yellow line. The black was so dark that it continued forever. Anna felt the boy’s hand encircle her own and he tugged at her gently. His laughter sounded and his other hand extended into the darkness.

For a second, his eyes crinkled and she saw swirls of the same darkness spill from his eyes. Then he stepped into the darkness, keeping his grip on her. Anna stared hard at the direction of her home. What if this sealed up? Would she be able to get back? Her arm passed over to the other side─ It felt warm and safe. When she really thought about it, her life had really taken a turn for the dull.

When had she ever done anything with it? Making a snap decision, she stepped forward and left her world behind.

As soon as she crossed over she felt it. There was no going back. At least, not the way they came in. As far as she could see, there were low ceilings, long stretches of tunnel, & no light. It was just just tall enough for her to stand up─ a little over 5 feet.

Anna screamed as something furry zoomed past her leg. The boy didn’t even seem fazed by it, giggling at her outburst. She quieted, allowing her eyes to adjust. But they never seemed to. Everything was horribly out of focus and dark.

There was a shuffle, and then the child spoke: “lumena” He called softly. From his fingertips came a purple glow. It seemed to encircle only the two of them. It was her turn to latch on to him. “Where are we?” she whispered.

He didn’t answer, but instead let a sort of hum mixed with a …purr? Anna’s brain had decided a purr sounded right. She mimicked the sound back at him questioningly. A loud laugh from him gave her all the response she needed.

Anna sighed as they continued taking a left at one bend, and a right at another. They had been walking for what felt like miles. “At some point,” she said, “you’re going to have to tell me a name.”

He paused, staring back at her. His expression was impossible to read, the only thing that seemed to make any movement was the swirl from his eyes. She’d gotten used to it by now, slowly accepting that it was part of his reality. Which was quickly becoming her own.

“Why do you name all of your things?” he asked. That took her back. “Well, don’t you?” His mouth twisted up at the corner from her question. “We name what is important. And a name, is sacred.” They continued forward, the glow from his hands extending further out.

Finally, they reached the end of the tunnel. By the sounds, Anna knew that they were in a very large space. The boy flicked his wrists & the light streaked over to another area which then lit another, & then another.

A towering, glittering city with millions of lights stand before them. A slight wind picks up Anna’s hair as she stares at thousands of tiny movements below. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Her hand sought his as they moved forward.

After several more hours of walking, they finally reached the entrance. She stared into the open area with people roaming around. They were like the boy, but slightly taller. They took notice of the two of them, but went about their own way.

After several curious moments, she couldn’t help herself. “Why aren’t there any guards?” The boy cocked his head to one side & his eyebrows pressed together, “Guards? Why would we?” She had many more questions after this, but decided to keep them to herself for now.

The two of them finally came to the center. A tower stretched before them, stairs spiraling the outside and lit every ten feet. A double door with carved oak and two brass knockers stood dead center.

The boy pulls her toward the door, knocks three times loudly, and then stands back. The doors open inward with a deep echo. Anna stared around in awe. Everything had been carved completely from stone.

Four large statues depicted human-like faces surrounded by robes. They all surrounded a beautiful glowing stone that shone with a vibrant, purple hue. It dimmed, then grew brighter. The boy next to her froze in place, looking from the stone to her.

Anna watched as the boy’s shoulders dipped down and he let out a sigh. From the shadows, two large figures appeared. A gargled voice sounded from the left, “why have you brought It here?”

A second, smooth and higher pitch voice says, “and on such an occasion, young one.” The boy pressed his hands together in front of him, then spread them apart like he was opening a book. A soft light flashed for a second, and then it was gone.

There’s the briefest of silences and then finally the smooth voice speaks. “You believe It to be so?” The boy hums, then nods. Anna suspects it to be for her benefit. “If I ma─” the smooth voiced figure holds up a hand, silencing the garbled voice.

A long, tense silence follows. The boy’s face stays calm, but there is a gleam there Anna never noticed before. “A trial, then.” The garbled voice states matter-of-factly. The boy flushes, then again nods.

Four symbols appeared in the amethyst stone before them. The boy looked at Anna from head to toe. He appeared to be sizing her up. After a few seconds of deliberation, he chose.

She wasn’t sure what the boy had decided for her as the vertical lines appeared by themselves floating for several moments before vanishing. She was quite certain that this couldn’t be a good thing. Trial? No, definitely did not like the sound of that.

The boy tugged at her arm and inclined his head toward the shadows. After a few heartbeats, he again tugged at her arm. Following suit she bowed her own head and then stood. In seconds, maybe just a breath away, their presence was gone.

#

After sitting in her room for some time, Anna began to worry that maybe the boy had left her. Alone in this strange world. She had no idea where ‘here’ even was. They had traveled through a portal. Were they even still on earth?

The more she puzzled over it, the more it hurt to think about. What of her home? Her job? Would she be here, lost forever? Mother had always warned her she had a squirrel of a brain and jumped from limb to limb without thinking. Anna grinned as the door to her room opened.

Her grin fell at the sight in front of her. It was the boy, yet he was different. He was adorned in deep black robes. So dark in fact that the light wouldn’t bounce from it. With him, he carried a beautifully engraved box. It was purple, with intricate silver etching.

 

More of our story to come soon. Hugs my fellow adventurer’s.

❤ Grey

 

 

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We Are The Last – Chapter 2 – A Sci-Fi Novel

Happy New Year~ (chapter 1 here: https://cagreyson.com/2018/12/08/we-are-the-last-chapter-1-a-sci-fi-novel/ )

Enjoy chapter two on me. 😀

Chapter 2

I walk back to my computer and sit down. I first need to see how many hours I have left in this semester. I know it isn’t much, considering I graduate in a month. I always thought people that graduated in the winter were weird, but really they were just ahead of the curve. I had busted my ass to get to this point, doing dual credits in high school and then taking five classes a semester. I look over at the empty space in the room. There isn’t much here, just a handmade platform bed, my computer, my state issued VR system and the exercise equipment on days I need to work out. Most people would probably find this place entirely depressing. I have zero art on the walls, with a single shelf for my cups, bowls, and plates.

My clothes can fit in a single drawer and consist mostly of two pairs of jeans, socks, and seven pair of underwear, two pairs of shoes and five shirts. Of the five shirts, two are short sleeved, two are tank tops, and one long-sleeved to go with the single pair of slacks I bought for graduation. To me, it felt a bit ridiculous to even own that many. It annoys me that even in these times you had to dress differently to impress a bunch of strangers. Unfortunately, they still require me to show up to graduation physically. Had I have graduated just a few years later, we would all just be online and I could sit at home and wear whatever the hell I want.
I know changing the timeline will have several repercussions, but I have little choice. My future vessel is completely destroyed right now, on a direct path into the sun for all I know. I knew that I needed to get someone’s attention, but who the hell would listen to a twenty-year-old loser with no money? How did I even begin to get anyone’s attention, let alone the world leaders? The answer is simple, but complicated at the same time. I am going to have to learn how to communicate with myself directly before the first global war. I glance over to the VR. Technology is good right now, but it has no way of being able to do what I need it to. I need time to think, which to be honest was something I had in abundance right now. I cringe thinking about all the wasted time I had spent watching shows and playing video games. I was a devoted student, but not devoted to re-channeling my knowledge to something useful before the age of thirty. I crack up at this revelation. Most people would probably kill to be in my position. I’m a fifty-year-old living in a twenty-year-old’s body, doesn’t get much better than this.

In the future, most of us had started the treatments but to get the permanent one─ the one that kept you twenty-five forever, that was something only the well-off possessed. We lowly peons had to save up several months’ salary to knock off a few years. Most people saved up as much as they could throughout the year and at the beginning of the next, shaved off as many years as they could afford. When I had left the future, I appeared to be the age of thirty which let me tell you, took several years to save up for.
The holidays went back to spending time with your family online because everyone understood that no one wanted to die. And no one especially wanted to age.

It is rare that children are born, and the few that are were normally raised by a colony. Our society was built around adults and it wasn’t socially acceptable to bring children anywhere. Especially to restaurants or movies. You would be told to promptly leave and that you were bothering the other patrons. If you wanted to raise your own offspring, you were what was known as a Breeder. You stayed in the colony until your children were of adult age and then you were allowed to come back out. Living in the colonies, from what I was told isn’t bad. They have their own sub communities with everything they need. The only time any of them venture out is usually when they want to get fresh food. Given that we all were under some sort of strict government salary, however, they didn’t come out often. It used to be an incentive to be a breeder. I remember my mother once talking about a time when people were paid to have children. Now, with the establishment of the world population being a chief concern, you were penalized for having one.
My mind shot back to Harris’s words. That was wrong of him on so many levels. Ash had appeared several years older than us for a damn good reason. She had made the sacrifice for her people to become a Breeder. While most of us had appeared to be in our late twenties to mid-thirties, Ash looked to be in her late forties, which wasn’t too far off from her actual age. Breeders are paid far less than everyone else and you have to have several permits on behalf of your government that your people are dying out. Of course, the majority didn’t use the term Breeders. That was exceptionally derogatory. Especially from my time, when the death rate towered over births. We called them Traditionalists. Ash had to have gone through hell to be able to have just the one child, let alone two. It was a miracle that the state allowed her to keep both at the time she had given birth to them. I still smile thinking about the way she spoke of the twins.

My smile fades as I look over to the outdated equipment and sparse surroundings. That was all before humanity nearly wiped itself out. I don’t like thinking about this, because frankly, it isn’t my favorite subject. I’m hoping that by some miracle the others have found themselves back and are looking for ways to contact me. I can’t count on this, however, and know that I must figure out how the fuck to get started. I need to find out a way to grab people’s attention. As far as I was concerned, the fastest way to grab people’s attention was usually one of two: you had a lot of money, or you made a lot of money. I needed to get to my accounts before the war hit and wiped the entire system effectively getting rid of bitcoins.

Currency, as well as credit cards phased completely out when I had been a baby. I used to laugh at my mother’s stories about how you had to go to a place called a grocery store and sit in line to buy food. She really got me rolling talking about several stories of gas crises and how people would get out of bed early to sit at the pumps until the attendant turned them on. People actually left their homes for things other than social events. It was mind-boggling to me. Of course, eventually, we stopped leaving our homes even for that. Some markets usually existed up north, but they were under strict supervision after what happened back when mom died. Eventually, there was no need to ever leave your home and if you did, it was understood you were either in trouble or causing trouble. I walk over to my VR unit and choose to get into a sitting position. I was too restless to lie down today.
With all the cloud-based systems, technology had changed a fair bit over the years. The year I had gotten my VR, it was at its peak. I, unlike many others, managed to own a server farm. My mother had been smart enough to make several investments in her twenties which meant that I had access to just about limitless space for anything I could ever want. The best part was the privacy act, which allowed me to be able to store whatever the hell I wanted to as long as no one but myself had to access to it. Within certain limitations of course. I mean, I couldn’t go and kill people and then upload the footage. Breaking was still as huge a threat now as it was fifty years ago. It was called something else back then. What had my mother said it was called again? I rubbed my chin. I snapped my fingers at the empty space around me. Hacking, that’s it. It was more of a high-risk factor now. If you managed to get caught, it was instant death─ no questions asked.

I had sold a small portion of it a few years ago to pay off my school tuition, but that had been entirely worth it. Many people had theorized that school would be free, and they were right, but to get a real education, you had to have money. That much hasn’t changed. Because knowledge was free and all you needed was the drive. That meant that degrees were suddenly highly specialized. My mother once told me that a passing grade in most colleges could go as low as sixty-nine percent if a professor felt that you gathered as much as you needed for your degree. Honestly, it was no surprise that that generation fucked us all over. The millennials were a shit ton of self-entitled douchebags that apparently handed out these things called ‘participation ribbons’ at all of their events.

She also told me that anything you wrote online could effectively ruin your life. Unless you were famous or had money, then you would just formally apologize to everyone and be done with it. Mom definitely had some colorful things to say about her generation, but I’m honestly glad that I’m away from all of that nonsense. In this era, if you didn’t like what someone had to say, you just blocked them. If you agreed with them, you followed them. Opinions were accepted as opinions and nothing else was made of it.

Our government was currently run by a three-party system. The two-party system had long been phased out after the 2020 election disaster. I’m pretty rusty on my U.S. president history, but my government history class had glossed over it, explaining that it was a dark time period in our politics. The years before that hadn’t been much better, but that very president had taken it upon himself to outlaw the voting system and turn our country into a dictatorship. Effectively shitting on what our forefathers had taken the time out to build. After that, humans weren’t entirely trusted to run a balanced system and candidates were chosen at random by a computer system. A billion times more logical than the radicalism of their time. I could sit and think about how much our politics had changed for the better all day, but what I needed to focus on was something far more important. The survival of the human race. Besides, if our way is so much better, I suppose we wouldn’t have died off.
I had the whole shebang and had invested in a fully immersive VR kit, complete with sound dampening headgear. These machines could do just about damn near anything except read your thoughts. And honestly, with as many well-placed ads as I saw in a day, I’m fairly certain they were beginning to do that. I say that, but I’m pretty sure it was just recording what my eyes chose to read more of, or if something caught my attention for longer than ten seconds. I looked over to my mother’s account, linked on my home screen and it opened instantly. A familiar jingle sounded as it recognized my microchip. My mother’s voice sounded in my earphones and my eyes closed listening to the soft lilt. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed hearing it. For the first time in over thirty years, I got to hear what my mother sounded like again.
“Morning, tough stuff. What can I do for you?” My eyes teared up and my voice came out a little shakier than I’d like. “Morning, mom. Just checking into the accounts, see where I’m at.” There is a brief pause and then I listen as she drones on for a bit. “Last week’s spending habits went above usual, putting a fairly large dent in your monthly stipend. However, if you return back to your normal spending habits, you can recover this debt in sixty days.” I nod. “I will need to pull all of my available funds by the end of this year. Is there a penalty for this?” Several seconds pass before she answers. “Yes. Though you are legally entitled to all funds from your guardian, the United States government is entitled to treat this as a breach of contract and a forty percent tax will be removed from your funds immediately.” I thought as much. I thank her and close my account screen.

It will be a large chunk of funds that go missing, but at this point, it is better than the alternative. In less than a year’s time, there won’t be a government. I won’t be able to take my funds physically, but I can upload them to my cloud storage and then on my wristwatch I’ll purchase in December. That way, I’ll be able to carry it on me at all times. Since it will be uploaded from a private server, no one will know it exists until after I’ve managed to pull all of it off. I log into the university’s website and glance over my class schedule, then pull up the syllabus for this semester.

Most people’s degrees past bachelors didn’t really mean much unless you were getting a S.T.E.M. degree or going to med school. All universities made four-year degrees free unless you were going for one of these other types of degrees in which longer school was needed. You were taxed based off of what type of practice you would be going into and it was calculated before you graduated how much you would be able to make. A medical degree usually took five years to seven years to pay off, whereas a degree in the science, technology, engineering, math or S.T.E.M took up to ten years to pay off. Especially since it was switched over to everything becoming privatized in that field. It meant that a company could choose how much it felt you were worth. Most scientists and engineers pulled in the realm of several million dollars their first year in the field. But there was a handful that everyone wanted to be. The ones in bioengineering. That was where the money was now.

If you could solve the problem of aging, or world hunger─ you would be set for life. You would be more powerful than any man could imagine. After the great science movement in the twenty-first century, people changed forever how things were taught. Most religions of the world were found to be detrimental to progression and thereby outlawed by most countries. Religion remained, but only the ones found to be peaceful and progressive. Most religion now moved toward coinciding with science. At least, it did after what happens in the coming year. It’s so hard to know what is going to happen, but not being able to tell others. If I do, they would lock me away as a terrorist. I would be seen as someone that disturbs the peace, therefore a threat to any functioning society.

I’m thinking about this when my screen lights up. I recognize the avatar instantly and break into a huge smile. That mop of platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and all ego is none other than my buddy Eric. At least, that was his name online.
His avatar reminded me of the old school paladins in MMORPG’s. Which back then, was pretty much like playing Dungeons and Dragons online, only not nearly as in-depth or sophisticated. There was a huge movement nearly sixty years ago that would have made the entire system lame as hell, but that shit got turned right around after the fifth through the seventh edition which made them like 3rd edition without all of the obvious loopholes that made players OP (or, overpowered) as fuck.

We often had arguments over which editions were the best, but we both could agree on 3.5. And when I say 3.5, I mean the superior version called Pathfinder, which was the edition that fixed many of the oversights in the 3rd edition. Eric was always either lawful good, or good. Which bored me to tears, but the guy went absolutely ape-shit on being Mr. goody two shoes. Me on the other hand? I loved sitting in the grey. He was one of those sorts that always felt like good and bad were black and white.

I was in favor of chaotic neutral, chaotic good, or neutral. Which meant that I’m not bound by all of those dumb, boring rules that make my character always do good things or get penalized for it. We would often bust out the Dungeon and Dragons digital world builder and try and to out-DM each other. Since we both enjoyed being the Dungeon Master, we took turns each week telling our stories. Being a Dungeon Master was like being a god. But it took skills to do it. You couldn’t just make something so hard that all of your characters died online, but you couldn’t make battles in which your creatures just fell over in less than two rounds. It was one part story building, and almost always faking it until you made it.

When I first started being the Dungeon Master, my creatures just about always fell prey to the players, because I hadn’t taken the time to actually read through the guides and get to know each player’s abilities first hand. Because it’s so time intensive, D&D came up with cheat sheets for DM’s that allowed us to know our player’s base attacks, abilities, health points, and many other things. Then there was also weapons, and armor that added to that number. Once all that was worked out, you had to figure out what to give as loot and the appropriate time allotted for your characters to level. It is one of those things you have to plan months in advance for. Especially if you are new to it. Needless to say, the world builder took all of that into account and made hours of headaches into a streamlined experience for the DM and the players.
It was our virtual playground, and far more customization than many games out there. It was a sandbox adventure on steroids and the only limit to it was our imagination. We didn’t just play a silly game, this was our haven. Eric was bigger into character development than myself. I was the sort to place all the focus on the players experiencing the world. He liked to gear the story toward focusing on a few key individuals, and I loved for people to become lost and have their own unique experience with not too much focus on the main story arc. Also known as battle porn.

I loved creating bigger and badder assholes to take down the group or create crazy in-depth puzzles that could set back the team by an entire day if they didn’t get it. It drove Eric crazy, but he always went along for the ride. It was refreshing to play each other’s minds and we had made just about any kind of world that you could imagine. The major difference between the two of us was that Eric preferred more classic settings, or Fantasy, whereas I liked to try something new each time. It was extremely rare that he created one with modern day setting. But one thing he did enjoy was adding in modern weaponry and gadgets.

I often worry that he won’t enjoy mine since I prefer changing it up all the time, but he says it is the experience in mine that makes it worthwhile and that he is just set in his ways. Since he knows those high fantasy world’s best, he likes to live in them. Any DM will tell you that the most rewarding, and yet challenging aspect of the craft is your player’s interaction with your story-line. Always be prepared to adjust to situations that your players will throw your way. I once created an adventure that would take my adventurers on a fully thought out mini-game side quest, complete with a wizard’s tower, a bodacious babe, and dueling amongst themselves. It had taken me the better part of two weeks to plot out worst-case scenarios just in case my players found some sort of loophole.

I knew better than to railroad them because that was a DM no-no. Railroading was a trick that DM’s used to force players to go toward their story-line, but it limited the player’s experience. Sometimes it was necessary, but I always enjoyed going with the flow. Until that day. In a matter of two hours, my players had managed to warp all the way to the main bad guy without going through any of my puzzles, or my carefully planned battles, and beat him on a weird technicality that I had to honor on a perfectly rolled D-20. The player actually managed to change themselves into a super virus that the dragon snorted, and then died. I say ‘roll the dice’ but no one actually uses real dice anymore. The dice system usually determined what a player does base off of his stats and his abilities. The dice were rolled to determine how much damage they would inflict, or if they were able to get out of traps, or persuade the non-player characters (or the characters that I created or placed in an area) to not fight, get out of a bad situation, you name it─ there was a dice roll for it. Ultimately, the DM decided what was or wasn’t going to go down in the story, but it was important to take your players into account. That is kind of glossing over the whole thing, but you get the idea.
Since we never saw any of our classmates until we went up to school on lab days, neither of us actually knew what we looked like. On those days, we were sent to assigned sections for testing and no one chanced looking at the other classmates. Not when your degree was riding on these few hours to complete everything you read every six weeks or so. I had no more of an idea of who he was than he did of me. But with all the hours we spent shooting the shit online, I was pretty sure he knew more about me than anyone else. Possibly even my mother.
“What’s up, mi amigo?” I answered smoothly. “Not much, superstar. You get this weekend’s assignment?” I panic. Uh oh. I still haven’t had a chance to research everything I needed to get done today. I relax a degree as Eric erupts in laughter on the other end. “Yeah, me either.” We both laugh. “I don’t know how you manage to score higher than everyone in this entire unit. You must be one of those hyper intellectuals or something. Not fair to the rest of us, who you know, actually have to study for our grades.” He mutters the last part and I know he’s only half joking when he says it. “Hey,” I say, “I study. Once a week or so.” He chuckles on the other end. “Modest as ever I see. You going to share some of those secrets with your buddy anytime soon?” This was something we did. It was a way for us to ease the tension between us. We had been friendly rivals for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t number one in the school system. That honor had been given to the first and only valedictorian for the last decade.

R.A. Cromwell or Robert Cromwell had set the bar on how many extra points were given to students. There wasn’t even a grade that had come close to his and he was a special case. He was the first one to earn several Nobel prizes in his adult life and be imprisoned for treason. There was my clue if there ever was one. If I was going to get anywhere with this, I would need to try and find a way to get into contact with a dead man. No pressure there.

“You wish, shithead.” I countered. He clucked his tongue on the other end and let out a low whistle. “I am appalled at your choice in language today, fuckwad.” I haven’t had this much fun since being aboard the Leviathan. Most people you meet in life take themselves entirely too seriously. Eric was the right amount of both worlds. “At least I have a decent vocabulary, redneck.” Eric has muted his mic which means he’s either cussing me out or laughing his head off. My vote’s on the latter. His somewhat breathy response supports my theory, “Oh yeah? Least I can actually score worth a shit on Phantom.” I bristle slightly but manage to laugh it off. “You mean when I kick your ass tonight and knock you off as top dog?” He snorts on the other end. “Yeah. Fat chance of that. Good luck toppling my score. Have you even logged on today at all?” The color drains from my face. He was already several thousand points ahead of me the last time I checked. “You didn’t,” I say. “See for yourself, friend. You may always get higher scores than me, but you’ll never beat Night Queen.” My jaw drops. “You have got to be kidding me. I just got to her lair last night. How in the hell did you manage to beat her without me? Unless…” I trail off.

Lucky for me, my current memories are integrating with my past. I’m not honestly sure how this was all going to work, but hopefully, I retain all of my prior knowledge. “You sneaky sonovabitch,” I state. “You didn’t sleep last night, did you?” I can hear him snickering on the other side. “Hey, I have to get ahead where I can with you.” We both are quiet for a few moments as I look up his score. My eyes widen as I stare at all the zeros. “H-o-l-y shit,” I blurt out.

His score the following night was at eight hundred and sixty-nine thousand. Today, he topped the charts at a mind-numbing two million points. Two million. My eyes scanned across his name and then over to his avatar. There was something else different about it. “Haven’t noticed it yet, have you?” He asks, practically reading my mind. I zoom in on his avatar and freeze. “No. Way.” I say staring at the colorful marker on the bottom right. There were a few things that Eric was able to do better than me, but this was one. Considering how much time he spent gaming, I’m honestly wondering if he couldn’t actually beat my ass academically but he’s just chosen to channel his efforts elsewhere. This pretty much promoted him to god tier status on campus. Even I was having a hard time believing it. But there it was, the multicolored double moon badge awarded to gaming legends. The double moon was the insignia of the founders of the VR technology, Lunar Lander.
Each color you earned represented your place on the board. They were based on the representation of the color spectrum the human eye could see. Otherwise known as the rainbow. Eric had every single one of them except for one: red. He earned indigo just last night. That meant if he managed to actually gain that last color he would be awarded something far more valuable than school. I started, realizing something. This was something I’d never realized before. While I busted my ass in classes, he channeled his efforts to something that actually worked for him. I’d entirely misjudged him this whole time. So I had great grades, what would that earn me? Notoriety? Fame? The only way I was going to make a dent was if I actually did get US valedictorian and I was down to the last six weeks to do it. He was going to earn all of that and then some.

Suddenly I felt jealous. Something that was making me increasingly uncomfortable. I’ve never experienced this. Mostly because I was always the kid that everyone else envied. I was the one that other kids tried to cheat off of or copy. It was a weird sense of pride I managed to keep up with all these years, until now. Eric needed one more color and then he was gained automatic entry into the United States Special Forces Gaming Division. No one, including myself, could even dream what that was like. It was relatively new and short-lived with the war to come.

War is considered a thing of the past in this time, but competition is still in full force. With just about every aspect of society taken over by machines, roughly eighty percent, we have little to actually look forward to. But gaming? Gaming is worldwide, and the only competition that buys you instant fame.
The most popular games were, of course, sports games. But the next in line were shooters, known as FPS or first-person shooter. They were the most spectated competition online. Traditional sports games were slowly fading as the shooter had evolved to encompass not only the pro-military crowd but puzzle enthusiasts. You could compete in the base game, but the people that obtained top-level scores played the main quest and all of the side quests. Phantom just came out a week ago and it was famous for how many hours it took to solve the puzzles. Night Queen was notoriously hard. An entire team of forty plus people hadn’t even managed to get through the first half of it. Eric had managed to beat it by himself in just over twenty-four hours. I open the game and take a look at the time stamp. It was dated to just over an hour ago, which meant he had beat it in less than twenty-four hours. “Daaamn. Mad respect, man.” I mutter, looking over it all. Maybe he is on to something. “You know it.” He says on the other end.

Suddenly, I need to do some thinking on my own. “Hey man, I need to jet. But, seriously that is fucking amazing. Color me jealous.” I say. He pauses, before adding, “Yeah dude, thanks. You want to try tonight with me?” I look over to my own score and then switch over to my academic scores. I feel a little better, but not much. “Yeah. I need to get to it. Someone’s inspired me to kick my own ass and actually try.” He laughs, “Hey, don’t make the rest of us look too bad, alright?” The right side of my face twitches up, “Cram it out your ass.” I say before logging out.

I don’t have to worry too much about him taking what I say to heart. It was our code for saying ‘take care’ in the only way we knew how. I’m not much of a touchy-feely person, when things get too heavy or I’ve got emotions I need to work out, I find ways to put myself to work so that I can distract myself. After some hard labor, or working out I’m usually good. There are a few times that I can’t get past it with physical activity. Those are days that I pour myself into as much studying as possible or listen to books.
I rarely watch shows and when I do, I get angry. Most of the people on the show are complete morons that make decisions any rational human being would not. I once watched less than one episode of a show, skipped to the end of the season and knew exactly what had transpired. It usually went something like this: Sexy main star is a hard worker, struggles in relationships, and has some dark, broody past that they are ashamed of. They push everyone away until they need help and except it only after some dire situation arises. Enter something that comes in and murders off or seriously maims sidekick, and end season one. It was getting so ridiculously predictable it did nothing but agitate me. Shows that aren’t like real life annoy the shit out of me. I mean, I get it─ if someone just shot the other person in the head instead of chat with them for five minutes about their clever plan that would make for a really boring show.

Drama makes viewers, I suppose and I’m just an asshole that hates things that aren’t real. Don’t even get me started on fantasy shows. Since I can’t imagine anything that isn’t real, fiction has always made me entirely uncomfortable. It’s not to say that I don’t believe in the possibility. Shit, a few hours ago I was on a one-way trip to death and with me the entire population of Earth. And I somehow managed to cheat it by mind traveling to my past self? Yeah, that’s one for the history books.
I had something no one even knew existed and I had no fucking clue how to explain how it worked. I thought back to the ship, then I thought on the position everyone was in before I came back. I have a strong feeling that line of thought is a dead end. It has nothing to do with the crew, and yet we all share something in common that could get us to travel back in town. Then a horrible thought crosses my mind and I don’t want to think about it. What if, I am the only one that made it back? That means that everyone, including Ash, is floating toward the sun at this very moment in the future. Then I have another terrifying thought, what if I am actually dead and these are memories that my mind has managed to conjure before I myself, bite the big one. This one freaks me out the most because if that were true my mind is currently just running rampant and I would have no way of knowing it.

Suddenly my psychology and sociology classes didn’t sound like nonsense. Perhaps my brain was creating my existence in an attempt to protect me from knowing that I was dead. I begin to feel very tired. If that is true, that would mean that I would never know if anything is actually real. God damn it, science, you fuck everything up with your wonky logic. I chuckle, despite my growing apprehension and find myself relaxing. I might as well enjoy my final moments if that’s all that it is. Starting with something I’ve been dying to try since I got here. If I remember correctly, I can still order food and have it delivered within the hour. It would cost me a bit, but it’s been so long since I’ve had it, I can’t help myself. I search online until I find it and stare at all the different possibilities of flavors. Without meaning to, my mouth waters.

Real chocolate. Not that shit made from dates, or artificially flavored protein powder, but real. Purchasing something of this caliber was usually reserved for something like a birthday or graduation day. I rationalized that surviving the apocalypse more than justified a candy bar─ or two. The combinations are insane, but my favorite is always the sweet and salty combinations. I’m torn between two choices, but finally just choose both. This will probably raise my current debt up to four months instead of two, but it’s not like I don’t have the money, it’s just not readily available. So I was doing the typical college thing of spending what I don’t have, who cares? At least I’ll have chocolate. Maturity bonus +1.

I stare longingly at the soda but decide against it. That would set me back for half a year, and I just wasn’t willing to do that. Even if I planned on taking all of my funds out by the end of this year. I could splurge a little, but I needed to be mostly smart about this. True to their word, Alexa notifies me that my package has arrived and I charge over to the front door.
I’m practically skipping as I scoop it up and walk over to the living area. I pull out my portable table and prop up the side so that I can wheel it over my legs. I can hardly wait to tear open the wrapper but try my best to keep it cool. This needed to be done right. I padded over to the mini fridge and propped it open. Everything was stacked neatly. On the right, several packages of mushroom noodles, flavorless protein bricks in the middle and the filtered water pitcher. My glass was still inside, but I knew that I had a little time before I needed to toss it outside. I stare nervously at it. Maybe I should go ahead and do it now before nightfall.

This was a relatively safe area, but crime still happened and it happened after dark. If you were out past sundown, you were pretty much free game. I grasp it and pause at what I see behind it. It is a small bottle of wine, one that I had been saving for graduation day. It wasn’t top of the line but I knew that it had been bourbon barrel aged. It was something I was sent as a gift from Eric to commemorate our special day. It also is probably an unspoken promise to not drink it without him. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to drink something so special. I’d wait for him. I was becoming a huge softy in this time. It probably had something to do with my mind adjusting to everything. Whether you were actually supposed to keep that in the fridge or not, I had no idea. I stare down at the black label. It looked like a darker wine, and over the years I remember that red wines were something that you kept at room temperature. I pull it out and set it on the counter and then frown, noticing something else lodged in the back of the fridge. Is that… I pull it out and my eyes grow wide. It is. I stare at it for several seconds, not believing my luck. It’s a real sugar soda.

I glance over the red can and flip it to the back, it reads made in Mexico. It may sound completely weird, but after the day I’ve had I start tearing up. I’m not entirely sure if it’s my current consciousness meeting up with my future but the collision floods my mind with emotion. I’m bawling like an idiot clutching a soda can on the floor of my one-room loft. I give the can a longing squeeze and then place it back in the cool air, reassuring it that I’ll be right back. And I mean it.
I snatch the water up and walk toward the front door, then pause. If someone sees me dumping mystery liquid outside, I’ll be reported. I need to check and see if there is some watertight container I can use to take outside, or possibly─ I glance around and then walk over to my shelf. Yes! There it is, I still had the bottle. I pull it from the shelf and unscrew the top. The material is incredibly soft and I run my fingers along the outside. The material was velvety, yet durable with holes for straps on each side. The container itself was shaped to be strapped against your waist and leg while you were running.

There were a few attachments that you could use to get the straw up to your mouth. My mother loved staying in shape and was an avid climber in her days. It was another one of the items I have kept of hers over the years. I’m grateful that not only does it allow tubes, much like a saline pack, but it also had a canteen adapter which could be unscrewed. That meant I wouldn’t have to stand outside for several minutes looking like a jackass as I essentially peed out an ounce of fluid. Then I cocked my head to the side. You know, that might not be a bad idea. It wouldn’t look sanitary, and I would get a lot of weird looks, but it would do the job. I’m laughing at my own private joke as I jog down the first three flights of stairs.
Everyone knows that you don’t want to wait on the elevator from our floor. You would be waiting for at least ten minutes. Since there wasn’t really a need for fast moving elevators with the need for travel minimalized, you had to compete with all of the service men and bots that delivered packages to your place. Most buildings had adapted to this in some way with a tube system that funneled from the top, but our building was quite old. And packages literally arrives every few minutes as people ordered everything from home. The building took priority with maintenance users, so naturally, if you needed to get outside, you either took the stairs or you did the smart thing and walked down to the maintenance man’s main office and pressed the button like I’m doing now.

The elevator is here in less than a minute and I hop on and call out to take me to street level. It opens directly onto Cadiz and I turn left toward the small patch of grass and trees. The streets are eerily quiet and my steps come out far too loud but I press forward. The building was maybe fifty feet across the front before I would have to cross a short alley and then reach my destination. My palms are sweating, but I ignore it, placing one foot in front of the other. You got this, I tell myself, passing the first of the six small trees to the right. The sidewalk feels like its sand as I pass the second tree.

Jesus, how the fuck did I get anywhere like this? Was I having a god damned panic attack? I take in several breaths and focus on gripping the water bottle. Somehow, this gets me past tree three and four. My breath comes out more ragged as I get closer to the edge of the building. I grip the container, my knuckles going white. Breathe in, step, grip the bottle, I order myself. I sigh in relief, this seems to be working. I repeat the mantra in my head and do this odd ritual as I finally pass tree six. Ten feet more and then I would be able to cross the small opening near the alley. I halt at the entrance and steady my breathing as my heart screams in my chest. It’s pumping so hard that I can literally hear it drumming in my ears. Keep it together, I spat inwardly.

Despite no one being on the road, I still shoot a glance down the alley and then back to the street. I’m leaning against the building and every fabric of my being is screaming at me to turn around and walk back to safety. My flight system was in full force and it was damn hard to fight.
I let out a huge sigh as the trees are suddenly just several feet away. There’s a loud buzzing noise and I nearly dive under the canopy, hiding from what seems like it may be a potential threat. I’ve somehow made it, but now there could potentially be something worse than my own anxiety. I peer through the multicolored leaves at the increasing buzzing sound and freeze as the object comes into view. Drone. And not just a normal one, it belongs to the local police force. I curse under my breath as it circles our building.

I haven’t been outside more than possibly a handful of minutes and they were already alerted. I know it won’t be long before they actually spot me. I pull at the latch and get the strap from around my leg as I watch the small camera rotate to face the front of the building. Now’s my chance. I dump the entire contents next to the nearest tree and then hastily strap it back to where it was. My eye catches movement and I just manage to pull the second strap in place when the camera spins around toward me. I walk from under the trees and back toward the sidewalk, careful to keep my pace casual as I cross the small alleyway. It pauses and then the camera twists, zooming on my face. It is no doubt reading my chip to see if I am a resident in the building or homeless.

Homeless individuals are not allowed to wander outside of registered citizen’s domiciles. This means that if you are found near one, and not living there, you would be fined and then given cleanup duty. The good news is, if you are actually homeless that means that you are able to have food for your time, and a proper day’s salary. There aren’t many homeless now since most of the lower income people stick together and live in a halfway house. This way, they have the security they need to survive. There are a few actual homeless people that manage to escape microchipping, but those people are stuck to well outside of the city. I’ve honestly never seen a real-live homeless person. My mom told me that there was a lot of them when she was a girl. The bot jingles and then raises back toward the top of the building. It must have cleared me for a resident. This still makes me uneasy. Even though I didn’t technically do anything wrong, it is going to put notes on my record. That is added attention that I don’t need.

Hopefully, I am just written off as some idiot kid and they go on about their business. I am practically running when I reach the elevator. The door jingles and silently slides open. I step in and the door slides shut behind me. I punch the button and lean against the wall, knowing that this will probably take some time. “Welcome, tenant 10127, please do not lean on company property and stand in the center of the circle.” My eyebrows go up at the disembodied female voice, but I quickly comply and stand in the center.

“Thank you. Please place your arms on the side and then raise them slightly to continue.” I again do as I’m told. I’m met with a blast of cool air mixed with a cloud of something pleasant. I’m about to inhale the curious scent more when the voice comes back on. “Please wait to inhale for ten seconds. Never directly inhale the antibacterial liquid, as doing so may be detrimental to your health. Please be sure to remove your clothing upon your immediate arrival and discard them in our biohazardous waste bin located on your left as you walk through the front door. Have a wonderful day, goodbye.” I count out the ten seconds, immediately alarmed that I had already inhaled a bit. Thanks for letting me know sooner, jackasses.
The elevator finally gets to the first floor and slides open. A glance at the display tells me that I have been gone a total of twenty-five minutes. Which meant, I have been waiting on the elevator for at least fifteen minutes of that. I’m glad I won’t need to come out again for another month, this seemed like a total ordeal. Even though over twenty minutes have passed, I realize that my heart rate has just not returned to normal. This is extremely problematic if I need to change the world. I make a mental note to look into anxiety disorders and how to treat them. But first, I was going to sit down, do some studying and heartily enjoy two full candy bars, and a soda.

I carefully pull the delicate chocolate out of the wrappers and place them next to each other. One is split into two, 2-inch bars and contains peanut butter, pretzel, caramel drizzled in one layer of peanut butter and one layer of chocolate. The other is nearly four inches and it has hazelnut spread, caramel, nougat, peanuts and covered in chocolate. The soda is labeled as cola, which means it is a brown caramel flavored liquid with fizzy little bubbles. The twelve ounce can of soda was deemed a health hazard by the year 2020 and heavily taxed. Once it was placed on a warning list, companies were required to list that it was linked to both cancer and heart disease, effectively placing it on the same table as cigarettes. This guy probably ran a cool hundred bucks online.

My mom once said that when she was a kid they were served at birthday parties to all the kids along with cake. I found that completely ridiculous given that a single can of soda contained thirty-nine grams of sugar and a whole slice of cake typically had fifteen. Given the choice between the two, I’d take the cake. Liquid calories have always been strange to me. If I’m going to have something awful for my body, I want it to feel as if I’ve eaten it. Liquid calories were a tricky sort of thing, you could have several cans of soda and still be hungry, but a cupcake or a candy bar especially, filled you up because you’ve typically had some sort of protein with it.

I look at my haul and giggle to myself. In total, I was about to consume 77 grams of sugar totaling out to 590 calories. Which is nearly half of my daily caloric intake, and 52 grams of sugar more than I should have. That would mean that at my height, age, and weight, I would need to perform approximately forty minutes of low impact cardio or thirty minutes of high impact cardio. I stare at the three glistening objects of my desire and shrug, totally worth it.
The sun has just about set for the day, but I walk over to the large industrial windows staring at the iconic skyline. It’s one of the most famous, next to Seattle’s, and I’ll never forget all of its soft curves that blended seamlessly with the pointed ones. Reunion tower and all of the tops of the skyline pulsates a soft orange and yellow to commemorate the coming holidays. I stare for quite some time. So much in fact, that the sky is pitch black and the roads look as though they are swallowing the buildings. It is a strange thing, eerie in fact to stare across a vast sea of concrete that is lit by nothing. Streetlights had been removed some time ago when I was just a baby. Mom explained that it was due to light pollution and wasting energy. Especially since travel was kept to a minimum and during the day.

The lighted buildings were kept on until a certain hour, much like what people did with tiny lights they placed on their homes for Christmas. I did not know what that strange tradition was about, but according to mother it was something people did as part of the festivities and people would drive around in their cars, or even go to parks to see them. This confused the utter hell out of me. What sane individual would cram into a death trap and stare at the same three or four colors that were patterned differently according to the property lines? Complete bullshit and an extremely unnecessary rise in the cost of electricity, not to mention the amount of energy it must have taken to do this every year.

It must have been a nightmare for energy companies. Then I looked outside again at my own glowing orb of fascination and promptly laughed out loud. Ok, maybe there was something to it. But, for hours and to do it more than once? No thank you. I brought both arms over my chest and motioned them together in a prayer-like motion. The curtains drew shut and I padded softly to my meal. The soda now had little beads of condensation but was still cool to the touch.

I stared at the tab on the top. “Alexa, how do I open a can of soda?” “Searching,” came her smooth reply. “I found this. Place your index finger underneath the ring and your thumb on the tab in the center. The ring is the part that is above the opening section. When you lift the ring with your index finger, it will simultaneously apply pressure to the opening section leaving an opening that you will be able to drink through. There is a video, would you like to watch it?” “Yes,” I respond and walk over to the VR headset. I pull it on and look at the video. I watch as the person places their thumb on the tab in the middle and their pointer finger on the ring. Reaching over, I grab the can and mimic the video. Then they get the small part of their finger and push down with their thumb and pull up with their index finger. I do this and nearly leap from the chair at the loud crack and then whoosh that’s let out.

I replay the video and realize there is no sound. I’m completely annoyed by this, but let it slide. The video was put online in 2016. I let out a low whistle, jesus this was ancient. I can’t believe someone hadn’t put up a newer version. Now confident that my can isn’t going to explode in my face, I turn the opening toward my mouth. I hesitate for a few seconds, listening to the small fizzles in the can. Up until this moment, I couldn’t wait to try my first real soda ever. Now, I’m not so sure. I mean, these things were later outlawed for a reason, right? The smell that wafts up is delicious and despite it all, I tip the can into my mouth.
My eyes widen at the liquid sugar as it enters my mouth. I’m not even sure what to make of this. Until I take another sip, and then another. The sheer amount of caffeine and sugar in this one can probably keep me awake for three days. I’m guzzling it down and I’m only down to a quarter of a can before I realize that I still have candy bars. I should probably save this until after I eat them, especially the salty one. I take one of the two-inch squares and bite into heaven. They’ve gotten the golden ratio perfect from every bite and in seconds, the second two-inch bar of chocolate is gone.

I’m greedily eyeing the nougat bar when a notification pops up on my headset. I whine, but open it anyway in case it’s important. It’s a reminder that I need to study for next week’s midterm on Thursday. I frown, looking at the subject. It’s global history and this week’s study guide was covering ancient practices on forgotten religions and how it shaped history or some other such nonsense. I sighed and stared longingly the glass that used to contain my way out. Maybe I should have just gone with my first instinct. I sigh and shake my head, “None of that, Bonham. You’ve got a world to save.” I lift up the second chocolate bar and moan softly. My god, it’s no wonder obesity was an epidemic nearly forty years ago.
“Welcome player 10127” the voice announced. It was one of those cheesy announcer voices that got you pumped, and made you roll your eyes at the same time. It was that over-the-top action flick announcer voice. The kind they used way back in the day when fighting was still a legal sport. God, I remember all the greats and I’d sat through just about every single one of them. Boxing was brutal, kickboxing even more so. Then there was MMA, UFC, and thousands of martial arts and action flicks. Those were my favorite.

If there ever was a way for me to lose days of my life to something that would never benefit me in any way, it was action flicks. We’re talking legendary, bonafide badasses. Bruce Lee, Keanu Reeves, Charles Bronson, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Clint Eastwood, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Liam Neeson, Vin Diesel, Harrison Ford, Yun-Fat Chow, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donnie Yen, Sean Connery, Jason Statham, Tony freaking Jaa─ I could go on all day. Fight scenes were something to be revered.

There was some otherworldly element to a person that could take something as quick and dirty as shoving your fists in another dudes face and turn it into fantasy land. Matrix? Classic and revolutionary. I only list the one movie though, the rest were just garbage. Then there was Ong Bak─ each movie as amazing as the last and Tony Jaa was a martial arts genius. There was something to a man that did everything himself with no stuntman. That was virtually unheard of during that era of film. But what was more amazing was the trendsetter for the next action flicks to copy.

I’m talking about John Wick. Not only, had Keanu Reeves done all of his own stunts, he learned how to properly fire a weapon and do action scenes in one take while somehow still possessing all the grace of a panther. His level of cool went from that memorable one-liner cool to walking away from an explosion without looking cool. He wasn’t just a cool guy, he was a fucking to scale model of Mt. Everest─ can I get a hell yeah? To quote Samuel Jackson, he was a badass motherfucker.
I glance down at the time and groan. Man, I should get some sleep but seeing Eric’s score has lit a fire under my ass. I couldn’t believe that he was that far ahead of me after just one day. Then I realize something. Wasn’t he supposed to jump on with me later today? I shake my head at the clock, it was after one in the morning. Guess he forgot, or finally ended up hooking up with that one chick he was obsessing over. Eric, like most healthy college boys, had two interests: games and boobs. He liked them both equally, and talked about it so often that I would hit the mute button when he got particularly…uncomfortable.

It’s not like I don’t have thoughts from time to time of my own but they are extremely rare. I just don’t understand the motivation for getting involved in all of that nonsense. Some of the brightest people I met in college compromised their GPA because of other people. It was just strange to me. Why bother with something temporary if your career is everything? There were far more valuable things in my mind than hookups and relationships. Namely, how to work toward some sort of scholarship or dethrone Cromwell.

Or─ I look over the scoreboard one last time and it reads as follows:
ERA – 2,000,000 points
JMB – 475,000 points
ARJ ─ 263,000 points
It was so new that only the top three scores were displayed on the boards. The developers wanted to create an old-school feeling with the top scores listed like an old arcade game. They even had the multicolored letters that flashed and rotated on a pixelated screen. As a matter of fact, the whole opening title was nothing like the gameplay. Curiously enough, the graphics looked like something out of the late eighties or early nineties and were completely pixelated. But that’s where the similarities end. It is something that has been debated over on all of the online forums. Some people think it’s an homage to when video games became popularized and arcades were still a thing. Others suggested that it is an easter egg and a clue on how to beat the game. Eric must have been using his time to study to barely get by school and then really excel at the game. What does he know that I don’t? I pull up a browser and type in Phantom. In seconds there are several stories that have popped up yesterday and today. I click on the first link and scroll through the highlights.

Shocking announcements today as Phantom, a genre-bending first-person shooter and puzzle game, announced its planned prizes for the end of the holiday season. Lunar Lander, Phantom’s creator best known for their adventure puzzle games and first-person shooters, announced that they will be selecting the top three competitors from the game to compete against one another at their private location at the end of the year. Just for being in one of the top three meant that you were awarded─
My eyes nearly pop out of their skull as I read through. Holy shit.

I re-read them again and then pull up another tab bringing up Lunar Lander’s Wikipedia. There it is, I can’t believe it. I knew there was something bothering me about why I was so enthralled by the game. Granted, I also love shooters and especially puzzle games but this─ this explained so much. Was my past self somehow aware that I needed to not only beat him, but get into contact with him as well? This opens up so many questions, my mind is nearly dizzy thinking on them. The founder of Lunar Lander is none other than Robert Cromwell. The prize is to be employed by Cromwell’s company and compete in government-funded competitions around the world. For just competing, you got to sit and talk with the owner and CEO of Cromwell Industries and win a five year supply of food, clothing, and have your rent paid in full. This was insanity. Nothing like this has come along in the history of well…ever. And here it was, play a few games and have it handed to you on a silver platter. I can’t believe it. Fuck school.

If I devote any more than I have to it only buys me a slim chance of some crazy rich dude noticing that I scored higher than Cromwell. To which, I may get a personalized video, maybe a scholarship, but nothing like what this is offering. But this? This is how I’m going to prove that not only is Cromwell alive, but that he is the one behind all of this. I know that I cannot be wrong because if I am that’s it. I would need to definitely jump on the forums and read over several of the popular theories that suggest he is alive. Yes, but the real question is why he is. What did he have to gain by collecting the top three players of a notoriously difficult video game? I have a lot of work ahead of me, but this proves that even if he isn’t alive, his company is and that makes it worth pursuing. Politics were kept to an online vote in this era which meant the key to my success and notoriety is going to be climbing to the top and getting in the spotlight. Now I know why Eric has spent the entire night playing and ultimately beating the first major boss battle. It would also explain why he has decided not to play online with me. This article I’m reading is time-stamped at four hours ago, which would have been the time Eric had called me to hop on with him.

This was how I contacted him. This was how I was going to start changing the world. A concept that would have been laughable some twenty years ago, now it’s a way of life. I subscribe to the popular game feed and then switch back to the whimsical scoreboard. I was still in second place by quite a bit. If I just kept at this pace, I could possibly reach up to half of his points and be ok. The problem is, not only am I behind on how many hours he devoted to this but by badges as well. A thought occurs to me and I re-open the tab that had the story on it. I scroll past the other things and then notice at the end of the contest rules, there’s an asterisk. I’m not sure, but I roll my mouse over the tiny symbol and smile when I see it is a hyperlink. I click on it and smile as it re-directs me to Lunar Lander’s official Phantom page. It’s the second part of the rules that aren’t listed on the gaming page.
Participating players will not only be judged on scores, but also on their in-game conduct and trophies earned. This means that the top three players listed, may not be the contest winners and are up to the owner’s discretion on who the official winners will be. This will be made public the day before the contest wins to anyone that did not bother to follow the link provided to see all of the contest rules. Congratulations, player 10127, you have taken the first step to getting ahead of the curve. Please enter the contest with this link provided. The game page this was linked with was set with a dummy form that will not officially enter any applicants that did not take the time out to read all of the official rules. Best of luck to you.
I’m nearly shouting in my chair with excitement as I click on the link, feeling proud of myself for doing what probably no one else had bothered to do─ pay attention. I scan the entire page before clicking on the link, making sure that there were no other tricks or possibly any rules I’d missed. Satisfied that there aren’t, I click the link and a dark grey screen pops up. It looks like most forms, asking for real name, address, phone, etc. but there is one difference after skimming over the first part with all of the personal information. There’s a disclaimer and not just any disclaimer, several pages worth. Since I know that the possibility is high that there is something tucked away here as well, I click on the link that will bring up the readable file. The first four pages are the typical participation jargon that saves the company from getting sued in case you weren’t happy about the rules of the contest and if you lost. But it’s when I get to the last half of the pages that things start to get… interesting.

Not only have half of the participants probably missed the asterisk section, I was willing to bet that just about everyone that got to the asterisk section also hadn’t read the fine print and had hit ‘agree.’ This guy is good. He is counting on the fact that no one will pay attention and he is right. That got me wondering how many people actually are in the running. Not only are the people that are participating in going to get a job at Cromwell Industries, they are going to hold a share in it. That is expected of most industries once you became management or higher up in the food chain, but to be a shareholder based off of being a guy that comes from the streets and plays video games well? The next section also states that there are more prizes than listed publicly and that they will be announced to the winner of the big competition. There has to be much more to this than any of us ever could imagine. I skim a few more lines and then freeze on the following one,

‘…by checking agree in this section, you are agreeing to also waive your family or friends right to sue Cromwell Industries should your life end while competing in the Phantom world.’ My jaw drops as I read that section a second time.

This isn’t just a game competition, it goes well beyond that. What are these assholes hiding from the rest of the world? This reeks of politics masked as a friendly competition. The last half goes on to say that all participants must live in the United States and that only the winner will go on to compete globally for ‘prizes beyond your wildest imagination.’ What that meant, was for them to determine what they would do with you once you proved worthy to their cause. I’m not sure how all of this ties together, or how I knew to come back to this exact point in time, but I know that ‘prizes beyond your wildest imagination’ meant something big. The fact that the stakes are our lives says enough. I click ‘agree’ and then scroll back up to the top of the form. I’m shocked to find that it has filled out all of my personal information except for one: username.
The corner of my mouth draws up into a sly smile as I know instantly what it is going to be. I hit enter and the screen goes completely black. Words start surfacing as I continue to watch the screen─ ‘Cromwell Industries extends you a warm invitation to attend the official contest ball online on Saturday, November 26th, 2067 at precisely 7:00 p.m. CST. Participants are expected to wear formal attire for the event and to the interview after the event. Failure to do so will result in immediate termination of your application. Thank you for your application. Welcome to Phantom Official, Hull.’

Gallery

Vengeance Part 2 – An Action Adventure

Audiobook version

(NSFW!)

Part three is coming next week!

I stand inches from the yellow line, my arms to the side with my eyes pressed shut. The blending of music, voices, and people around me slowly filter out as I concentrate. The cool air gently tosses my hair to the side and the wind caresses my neck. It is the only thing I keep exposed for the air to reach. The familiar rumble echoes and the wind drives itself forward. I breathe in as the rush of wind slaps my face. A fraction of a second passes and I feel the large body of the train scream past. I thrust open my eyes as the blurs of images flood my vision little flashes of the people sitting inside on the train. I can catch people throwing glances here and there on the platform, hesitant to get near me but I stare forward and keep to myself. The screech erupts and the train comes to a halt. Two years. It had been an entire two years since I left the burning remains of my life behind. The crumpled paper stays in my wallet with the neatly typed address. I have not forgotten what I need to do I rode to our home a while ago just to make sure it had been real. Every bit of it was, only now there was a new family living in our home. The scar, one of the few reminders of our growing child, has almost completely disappeared. All that’s left of it is a thread-sized mark across my gut. The doors open to the train, and I step on and sit in the seat closest to the doors.

A man coughs a few seats down and I glance over. I have seen him a handful of times over the last few months always on the J, always at the Broadway junction. It seems like it has been getting more frequent lately. He is an odd sort keeps to himself. I follow him from time to time to make sure he is no one to be concerned over. He is two blocks east of me and lives above a local coffee shop off Bedford. He’s tall, attractive, around his early thirties with dark hair. I never trust anyone and I don’t keep friends. It was my one rule. But over the past several months, I feel as if we share a life. It is sick way to think, but I find myself drawn to him. Each day, he goes through the routine of running before 6 a.m. I follow, but carefully so he does not notice me. I guess I use him as a testament to my own shadowing skills. That isn’t true, and I know it, but it’s what I’m comfortable admitting to myself. On Wednesday nights he volunteers with kids to teach them hockey, and on Thursdays, he plays with a small team himself. He is a simple man, I like that. Always walks to the local bars on Friday or Saturday, and the movies on Sunday. Somehow I feel comfortable watching someone else live normally. A guilty pleasure I really shouldn’t take time out of my training to do.

My apartment isn’t much. It’s a small loft on the west side of Brooklyn, but I keep it clean. Workouts are every single day. I do cardio and core daily, no excuses, and weight training four times a week alternating legs and arms. Three of those days are dedicated to Krav Maga and Jiu-jitsu. It is not cheap. However, money is of no concern. I am taken care of by the Demon’s contract. But appearances are important, so I work at the corner store a few times a week. The owner hired me based off of looks that much I knew. It’s simple. I tell him I moved here after my family died. I didn’t tell him how, or why. But Don doesn’t care, as long as I get the work done and I don’t complain about the pay it’s a perfect employee and employer understanding.

At first, I wasn’t sure how it all worked. How was I going to get my revenge if I didn’t have the slightest clue on how to defend myself? How would I survive? Sure, there was life insurance from Tristan but I couldn’t take that. The second I did, they would all know where I am. I’m not an idiot, and quite sure they kept tabs on me when I was in the hospital. Now that I went missing, I’m sure Ty ramped up his security. Of course, that had happened almost two years ago. My hope is that Ty has assumed I fled for my life. I’m hoping that his arrogance will blind him to my arrival. I slip my hand beneath my coat and finger the gun. I have to go through a great deal to keep them hidden, my frame is lithe.

Marcy Avenue,” the conductor says briefly. Startled I look up, not realizing I have already gone through eight stops. I stand as the train jerked hard to a full stop, noticing a few people stumble that isn’t holding on well. I crack a smile, remembering that’s how it was the first few times for me before I got a feel for them. It disappears when I notice that the guy has drawn his attention to me. He isn’t hiding the fact that he’s staring. The doors open on our stop and he stands. I quickly step out onto the platform.

Hey.” I pretend I don’t hear him as I hurry through the door that leads out onto the street. I get all the way to the light when I feel a hand on my shoulder. Shit. I spin around and look up at him. He’s a tall fucker. I guess I never realized it staying at more of a distance. He’s at least 6’3” probably closer to 6’4”. I bristle, waiting for the inevitable questions and glancing around to see my escape options. I should have bolted.

Hey, hold up. You in some kind of a rush?” Ok. Well, didn’t expect that one. Not, ‘why are you following me? Or─ ‘why are you being a weirdo?’ His voice is nice, pleasant. He is obviously native to New York, but it isn’t a thick accent.

I feign surprise and raise my voice an octave. “I’m sorry?” I say. He releases his grip from my shoulder immediately and brings it up to behind his head. He almost looks embarrassed. I relax a little, seeing that his demeanor has changed. “Sorry,” he mutters, looking at the ground. “Didn’t mean to grab you like that. You dropped your wallet.” I look down at the thin black leather in his hand and reach my hand out. “Oh, thanks. It must have fallen out of my pocket.” He hands it to me and I turn to leave. “Near the corner store, right?” I turn toward him. “What?” I ask. “You live about three blocks west of the Jewish community.” I level my gaze and keep my voice pleasant. “Yeah, you nearby?” He seems really awkward but sure of himself at the same time. My initial assessment wasn’t far off. “Yeah, seen you around. You work at the corner store, yeah? I walk over there a few times a week with the guys.” I know, I think to myself, I’ve seen you and thought I hid well. He must have caught me on a night off walking home.

Damn it, I’m slipping. “Oh, yeah, yeah” I chuckle nervously to sound relieved, “yeah, I moved here not that long ago. Still getting used to everything.” His eyes are soft, a nice brown. His shoulders are finally relaxing. I must have set him on edge earlier when I spun around. My eyes quickly flick to his pants and shirt, nothing hidden doesn’t seem to be a threat. “Hey, you you take care of yourself out here. It’s no place for a lady to walk alone at night.” My mouth involuntarily twitches upward into a half smile. If only you knew how backward that is. I’m who other people have to worry about. But, some time ago he would have been dead-on. “I’m alright,” I offer, “it’s a quiet place, nicer than some places I’ve lived.” His head cocks a little and he smiles, “yeah, it’s a step up for me too. You got someone to walk you home?” I knew what he was asking. It was a way to ask if I was seeing anyone. Don’t do it, moron. You can’t get involved. “No, just me.” Shit. What the hell was that? Why did I just say that? And then I felt it. Don’t you fucking “You?” and I say it. I just asked it. He laughs. “Walk me home? Ha. Not since I was a kid. I can take care of myself.” No, you can’t, I think, no one can. Especially from people like Ty or Daemon.

I suddenly feel incredibly guilty. What is this? Your family dies two years ago and you’re already looking at some guy? I explore my feelings. And realize something. I can’t feel it. I can’t even hardly remember my boy’s face. I’m starting to panic. Blonde, his hair was blonde. Tristan, my husband, his eyes were brown. Yes. Brown like this man. Soft and hardened at the same time. Hardened from years of war in Afghanistan. He’d only been out for a few years. Our child was hung after beaten to death from our porch. The porch that our families built. And my belly holds the faint scars of my unborn son. I feel the switch instantly. Harden the fuck up this isn’t why you’re here. He senses the shift and inclines his head, “hey, you good?” I glance up at him and nod, “yeah, I’m good. You take care of yourself.” I don’t give him a chance to respond before heading down the south alley that will take me directly to my place.

I kick myself mentally. That was fucking stupid. Why did I talk to him? I don’t know shit about that asshole. He could be part of it for all I know. I relent as I take a right down toward the west side. I needed to make a stop. You’ve been watching him for months, there’s no way he’s with them. Or maybe that’s what he was put here for. Who the fuck notices me? I always keep to myself, was damn good at it. It was amazing how much I’d changed in just two years. I would have never thought this way or spoke half as crude, but funny thing death changes people. I wasn’t even sure that I was completely alive, it’s not like I needed air to breathe. It got me curious, I often wonder if I even bleed anymore. I should check that out at some point. I make a note to myself to stop being a moron and steer clear of whoever this new guy is. Time doesn’t matter. Your life ended at gunpoint two years ago, and those same pieces of shit practically ran half of the country. Where was their payment for their crimes where was my justice? I don’t give a shit how pointless it is or what it mattered, but somehow I would win. After all, I’m the one with unlimited time on my side.

– –

Shit. 20 feet. I dodge him and duck into the corner as I watch him look around the train. I was going to be late for my shift, but I can’t chance another interaction with him. He has some sort of weird effect on me and I can’t have that. I sigh as I watch the train pull away and casually walk over to a bench. I’ll just park my ass here until the 7:10 shows. I’ll need to stay near, but not too close. I aimed to find out more about my gentleman caller before making a real choice. Whoa. Choice? A choice about what, exactly? I jumped on the eastbound train toward Brooklyn, trying to shake the thoughts. Forget about the John, Viv. He’s just some rando. Yeah, but a damn good looking one. When was the last time you let a man touch you? Damn it brain whose side are you on, anyway? Jesus, I fight and gain traction, maybe hobo Frank could tell me more about Lily. I’d just visited this morning to check in on Lily, see how she was doing. All was good, thank god. F was one of the few people I felt I could trust. I’d followed him for weeks, several days a week. His routine was always the same, wake up from the alley, work some labor jobs and then head ‘home’. He was old, maybe in his late sixties with a limp. I never saw any track marks, but I did see him drink a little too much for his own good. His liver was probably shot. Then again, he didn’t have much else going on. I don’t blame him. My moving here isn’t entirely a retreat. I have my motives. I was told that I could never talk to anyone that knew me, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t check in from time to time and see how she is doing. Lily had moved here after my ‘death’ and her final graduation. A doctorate. God, I am so proud of her. She never stops moving. Needless to say Frank was more than happy to offer his help when I offered him a working man’s salary to keep tabs on her. Maybe both our luck would change for once, poor bastard. I switch over to the other train, keeping my head down. No sense in drawing any more attention from people, it was best this way.

The subway was busier than usual today normally it died down after 9:30. I hear mumbling and catch a more interesting bit from two guys, “you hear about the company this morning?” His voice was higher pitched and slightly grating in a nasally way. His friend looks over at him, his voice is rich and low with a thick northeastern accent, “What, the new CEO?” the other one chimes in, overlapping “yeah, yeah that but about how he got it?” I keep a casual pace behind them, listening in. “What about it? So, Ty took over, and China has cheap goods, what else is new?” Nasally guy sighs, “yeah, that part but they just released it online less than a few minutes ago.” Rumbles sounds indignant, “well, you going to keep me on pins and needles or what?” Nasally chuckles and leans in, “word is that Daemon was offed.” I struggle to steady my breathing and try and keep my casual pace. The two stop in front of me and I slow my steps as I walk past to sit on the bench. Rumbles lowers his voice, I have to strain but make it out, “yeah? Means there’ll be a spot open” he says. His meaty head is working. I can hear the greed from ten feet away. Nasally sounds guarded, “Well, yeah I guess. But, it will go to whoever’s next in line. You know that.” Rumbles doesn’t bother to hide his next sentence and I get up as I see my train arriving, “Seems things might be changing. Who knows?” I grab my phone pose, and pretend to take a few selfies. Then quickly run to the train before it takes off.

Hopefully, I managed at least one face shot before leaving. I couldn’t believe my luck. Ty’s guys, right here. Then my heart drops. If they are here, does Ty know? Shit, shit, shit. Ok, calm down. Maybe it was just a coincidence. He couldn’t possibly know where I am. I wasn’t on social media at all. I didn’t even allow Don to snap pics of me at work. Could they possibly know where I am? Then my mind shoots to Lily. Could Ty finally be making good on his promise? The first six months had been hell, constantly watching her or paying hobo Frank to snap photos and send them to me. I chuckle to myself. I really should call him something else, he’s since gotten himself a decent apartment and a cat. Guy had really turned himself around and started painting real beautiful stuff, mostly portraits or cityscapes. Still drank too much, but hell at least he had a roof over his head. After a year I started thinking Ty just mentioned Lily to mess with me. Even now, two years later I still call or have F go by her place a few times a month to check on her. I need to find Ty, this was my chance. I go through my phone’s gallery, my hands are shaking and so cold the touch screen is delayed in reacting but I finally get it to open. The first picture is nothing but blurry and a disappointment, I panic as I flip to the next and it’s just a picture of me and the ceiling. Great shot of your nose hairs, dip shit. I hope to hell that I was able to at least get one, just one even if it was blurry. The next one is me smiling and a person walking behind me, shielding the two. I’m flipping through furiously, hoping that the quick snap function had taken more than I anticipated. Thank god for shortcuts. I’m about to give up and then freeze. There. There they are. I tap the screen and zoom in on their faces. They were exactly like their voices sounded. Rumbles is broad and heavy set. His eyes are hard to make out, but even from the photo, I can see that they are a smidge too close together. His nose was broad and crooked it had definitely been broken before. I close my eyes, trying to recall everything in the limited time that I had. What was that smell? Her grandfather had worn the same scent, my eyes flash open. Drakkar. I’d know it anywhere. That was rare is it still being sold these days? It wasn’t just Drakkar it was something else. Something very familiar. And then it came to me. I didn’t want it to, because along with it came hurt. Gunpowder. Not just gunpowder, but the stench of flesh and gunpowder. Rumbles had killed someone that morning. I was up close and personal with that scent, twice. How had the nasally guy not smelled it? Maybe this was another one of my abilities, I reason. It could be possible, after all, it’s not like I’m completely aware of everything that I can do. Focus, girl. What else? My eyes flick over to nasally. He’s taller than rumbles, by at least a foot. He’s thin but solid. He’d be handsome if it weren’t for his odd weak chin and slightly too large nose. Still, he had an odd sense of charm about him. I have a feeling nasally doesn’t struggle with the ladies. I squint as the picture starts to blur at my zooming in. It’s hard to tell what color his eyes are, but they look dark. Possibly brown. Both were fair skinned, but rumbles was a little more on the ruddy skin tone and flushed. Nasally looked more olive and smooth. I save the picture and delete the rest. I smile as the train grinds to a halt a lead, a real, solid lead. This was more than I hoped for, it was proof that not only was Ty still around, he was close.

– – –

“You’re late,” Don complains. I wince and look up at him. “I know, Don, I’m sorry. Missed the train this morning and had to catch the 7:10.” He grunts and points to the back, “yeah, whatever just go get your apron.” I sigh and hurry to the back. I was shocked that he didn’t ask why I was even on the train. I lived less than a few blocks away. “You’re a good girl, never late. Just, don’t let it happen again, eh?” he calls back to me. “Why are you still here?” I yell, “go home to Bev, she’ll be worried.” I can hear his smile as I pull the apron over my head. “Ha. You’re right about that. Got hell to pay when I get home, haven’t gotten a single call or text in hours. Not like her,” he pauses, “unless she’s angry.” My smile drops and I walk out to join him behind the register. “Hey, you should call her,” I say. He shakes his head and laughs, “nothing to worry about. That’s just Bev, ya know? Best I just come home and explain what happened.” I smile and chuckle nervously. “Alright,” I say. He grabs his keys and heads for the door. Something doesn’t feel right. “Don.” He pauses and looks over at me, “Yeah?” “It’s probably nothing, but, just let me know you made it and everything’s alright with Bev.” He shakes his head, “You women, you all worry too much.” He sighs and waves his hands when I scowl at him. “Alright, alright. Che-zus, between you and the old lady I feel like I’m on prison watch.” I smile as he mutters to himself and walks outside. I look up when the doorbell goes off again. “Oh, and Cheryl?” I winced inwardly at the fake name. I really hated deceiving the old man but had to do what was needed. Vivian wasn’t as common as it used to be, was kind of old school. “Yeah?” I ask. “Feel free to eat whatever you want. You’re looking a little thin.” He walks out and then leans back in again, the door held open by his food. “Oh and uh, if no one comes in after ten, just shut down.” I grin and shoo him out, “Yes, yes. Now go! I’ve kept you long enough.” He grunts and walks out. I’m really getting fond of that old coot. I look at my reflection from the mirror behind the register. It’s pretty skewed, but even from this angle, I can tell I’ve lost weight. When was the last time I had eaten? I guess even the dead need food.

– –

I frown as I turn the key, and then jiggle the door to make sure it is secure. I pull out my phone and stare at the empty screen. Not a word from Don all day. Maybe I should run by his place, make sure he’s alright. The trains wouldn’t be running this late, I’d have to Uber or get a taxi. I start to open my app when a police cruiser pulls up to the sidewalk. I look up as he rolls down his window. “You Cheryl?” I nod my head, “Yes sir. What’s going on?” The cop kills the engine and opens his door. He’s tall, it takes him a second to get out. I take the opportunity and glance up and down the street. Not a soul in sight. Could this be one of Ty’s men? I tense, preparing for the worst. He leans on his car and looks at me. “Kind of late to be closing up shop, isn’t it?” I smile and walk toward the car, “Actually, it’s early. Don likes to keep the place open for a few─” I freeze mid-sentence. It’s him. Of all the stupid why had I not followed him to work? You goddamn moron. I’m hung on that last sentence, staring across at this familiar stranger. He smiles and scratches the back of his head. It is the same awkward motion I saw the other morning. “Hey,” he says shyly, “sorry to catch you at a weird time. I, uh, I was actually patrolling the area when dispatch called to come talk with you.” I didn’t buy it, not completely. Was this a trick? Somehow a way for Ty to make me think this guy is my friend? Maybe they have found me out. Shit. I try not to show my panic as I hedge closer to the building. “Oh, yeah, yeah. Hey,” I say and laugh, “sorry, hard to see in this light.” He smiles and looks up and down the street. “Hey, uh, sorry to come at you with this but we got a call today from Don’s wife, Beverly. You know her?” “Yeah, Bev? I’ve known her for almost two years now. What’s this about?” I ask. He can’t seem to meet my eyes, and I know. The worst is coming. “Don didn’t make it home today.” The keys drop from my hand. My hands shoot up to my face and over my mouth. I’m thankful for the dark. He would think it odd that I am unable to shed a tear. A side effect of being dead, I have gathered. He hesitates and then continues, “Listen, Bev’s in a bad state. The only reason I’m here is she can’t tell you herself.” My head shakes back and forth. It’s odd pretending to be so upset. After my death, I’m not able to feel as strongly as I used to. It isn’t entirely faked, Don was a real stand-up guy and Bev was one of the sweetest women that I knew. I cringe, realizing that I’m already thinking of them in the past tense.

Despite their ten year age difference, the two of them seemed exactly the same age and always so giving never asking too many questions. I’m going to miss them both. I know the truth, neither one of them will make it.

It’s a sobering moment. There was more than likely only one reason why they were attacked. Ty’s men were very thorough. Question is who told them? The guys from the train hell, maybe even this guy. Not like I knew everything about him. Stupid girl, letting your emotions blind you. I stare at him openly as I pretend to take deep breaths. Finally, I ask, “Where’s Bev? Anyone there for her right now?” He stares back, his eyes trailing down to my lips. He’s not portraying the typical movements of someone like Ty, he almost looks oh shit. He finds me attractive right now. Especially since I’m vulnerable, I know that look anywhere. It was the same look Tristan gave me on our third date. I’d fallen down in the ice rink and managed to bust open my lip. He had helped me through the whole thing, even asked the guys for the first aid kit. The soft browns that looked at me as they patched me up, were the exact same as the ones looking at me now. Honest concerned. This man is not one of his lackey’s. I could sense it, almost like a human lie detector. It was something that I picked up after I died. He isn’t sweating or twitching, and there are no overly-controlled movements. He clears his throat, “uh, Bev is at Saint Luke’s.” “Saint Luke’s? But Bev and Don live in─” “Brooklyn, yeah I know,” he says, “Bev was out shopping in Manhattan this morning.” That doesn’t seem like her at all, especially on Don’s salary. Bev was always extremely cautious with their money, especially since they were a few years away from retiring. Now I know something’s wrong.

He notices I’m thinking. “You know, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something different about you.” I look up at him, his statement catching me off-guard. I don’t answer for a while, instead turning my gaze to the sidewalk behind him. The street is still oddly quiet, even for a weekday. Maybe the world knew something that I didn’t, some unknown force keeping people locked up in their homes safe and warm. I look back at him and smile, “you think you can give me a ride to Saint Luke’s?” He mirrors my smile and walks over to open the door, “Yeah sure, my shift ended an hour ago. I’ll call it in.”

– – –

You want some coffee?” he asks as we sit waiting. The drive hadn’t been too bad, we’d mostly talked about how funny Don was, or how doting Bev could be. I knew that a lot of regulars came into the store, but I never realized how many people knew them. I didn’t call out the cop on his discrepancy earlier. He mentioned his shift was up, but that dispatch had called him in. So, he’d done it on his time off. There was definitely more to this. “No, I’m good. Thanks, Logan.” I say as he gets up. I’d only just learned his name─ it was a bit awkward saying it. I hated to admit this but it felt good talking to someone about anything. Intensive care─ I knew that it would be bad. I’m honestly surprised that Bev is still alive. Not Ty’s usual MO.

In other news, NC Global said goodbye to a long-time partner today. Founder and CEO Robert Daemon, who was tragically murdered last week in his summer home in Malibu, was finally laid to rest this morning next to his father in Sacred Heart. There are no confirmations on who will be taking his place, as this is an emotional time for everyone that knew Robert and worked alongside him.

The screen switches to people talking about how giving Daemon was, and a few statements from the police. I’m about to look away when he appears on the screen. I stand, walking over to the screen. That same goddamned sneer is stuck on his face. Most people looking at him would have seen someone that sounded sincere and professional, profusely vomiting up lies like it was the truth. I feel my body shudder and burn hot with rage. I’m instantly back at the construction site and he’s hovering over me placing my hair in his mouth and swirling it like a fine wine, the gun pressed to my skull, my entire life over in seconds and the piece of shit had the nerve to just go on living. How many men have you murdered? How many lives have you destroyed? I grab the screen, my fingers digging in and bending the metal on the sides. I hear a few gasps and freeze as a pair of hands wrap my body from behind.

Whoa, whoa. Cheryl, what the hell is going on?” I relax at the voice, it’s Logan. The metal crunches as I let it go and turn toward the waiting area. The entire room is silent as it stares at me. Even the children have quieted. I have to get out and before I know what’s happening, my feet have found the pavement outside and I’m running at full speed.

Shit.

What did I do? What did I fucking do? My mind is racing faster than my legs as I jet east toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Why did I go to visit her? If it is Ty, they would have planted someone there after all this time, all of my hard work and training gone in seconds. Think, I scream at myself, was there any familiar face? My mind goes back to the flash of people’s faces staring wide-eyed at me. Look for something anything. I cross the bridge and turn slightly more South and then East on Fulton. I focus all my energy trying to remember any one person looking different in the emergency room. On the right, there was a family a young girl with her brother next to the toy station, their mother and grandparents all surprised. The middle, there is a teenage girl, her face busted up, her phone dropping to the ground, in the back I remember an elderly woman, a napkin wrapped over her mouth that’s been stained with a dark liquid, probably coffee. No, I yell internally, not it. Then my mind dredges up what I’ve feared the most. There he is Nasally. He’s staring at me, not with surprise but curiosity. He is wearing a jacket, his dark hair matted on one side with blood, his fingers clasped around a phone that he’s holding up. I halt as I finally turn down Bedford and reach the corner store. He was filming me. It is over, Ty knows.

 

Gallery

Vengeance – Part 1 – An Action Adventure

Audiobook Version

(Warning! NSFW)

Gone. Before my eyes the world I knew swept from me in a tide of flame─ never-ending, and twisting to the sky. The barrel of the gun is pressed to the back of my skull. I’m on my knees like a dog, bound to a large steel frame─ part of an unfinished house next to ours. I watch silently, my voice gone from screaming. I squeeze my eyes shut─ God make it stop. I knew the answer to my silent plea. Prayer was for children and fairy tales. We had moved here to start a new life. The whole area had been part of a revamp project to help inner-city families. We’d moved into the first house built on a street called hope. Hope. How ironic. The now glowing embers and faint silhouettes are all that stands of our sanctuary. My eyes wander to their faces. I know I shouldn’t, but force myself to look. They hang from the porch, as if swinging from the gallows. My husband for the first time looks like a sleeping child. The half of his face that is left is serene─ the other half is a pulpy mass. They didn’t waste time on him.

I then look to my son and gag, wanting to purge the image from my mind. The whites of his eyes shine through the quieted flame, like the walking dead he floats and his little face is frozen in anguish. He is still wearing what he wore to bed─ his iron man socks and underwear. They didn’t even have the decency to dress him. His body is so terribly beaten that the color of his flesh is purple. I want to cry, but nothing comes out. There’s a fluttering response in my belly─ almost as if my unborn son knows his fate. I wish I could offer some comfort. I hope that they will end us both soon. Laughter sounds, silencing my thoughts. The barrel nudges me from behind, a gentle reminder of my position. There is a slight movement to my right, crunching gravel and the surrounding laughter ceases. 

You’ve been a bad girl, my dear,” the voice calls. It’s the kind of voice that creeps along your spine with all the eloquence of a black widow. Vertebrae by vertebrae it prods gently─ waiting for the right bit of flesh to sink its fangs into. From the shadows steps a man dressed in the finest suit I’d ever seen─ it’s perfectly tailored for his body. He is tall and solid, the kind of man you avoid on the street. It’s something in the way he holds himself, he doesn’t need to look intimidating─ he just is. Suit’s fedora is placed just so that I can’t get a decent look at him. I don’t need to, I know who he is. Daemon’s right-hand man, Ty. I’ll never call him this− it would somehow make him human. He doesn’t deserve that. To me, he’s just Suit. My eyes search the group as I memorize each of their faces. Finally, they stop on the Suit. 

He sneers, “What, nothing to say for once sweetheart?” He pauses and looks around, chuckling with his filthy hyenas. Sauntering up, he steps behind me. I feel the gun removed from my head. There’s a crunching noise before the heel of his foot is put in its place. “Come on, there must be something,” he quips, digging his foot into my skull. I stare at the ground, mute. He sighs, retracts his foot and then brings it down hard on my head─ a grunt of satisfaction leaving his lips. I wait for the next one, but it doesn’t come. He’s pausing─ for what I don’t know. I wait and begin to fidget. Surely there is more. Then I feel the binds fall to the ground. I jolt forward, but someone slams me back into place. A tunnel of black clouds my vision, but I fight hard and remain conscious. It’s a small victory at least. He grabs both my hands and ties them over my head. I swallow thickly, the worst is coming. His hands brush against mine and trail along my left arm down to my chest. Suit’s hands hover just above my breast. Then he moves it over to my heart and presses against me firmly. For five long beats, he stays this way. Then the rocks scrape across the concrete as he shifts, standing over me.

The world is suddenly ringing─ jarring and cruel. His groans of pleasure sound as kick after paralyzing kick begins. My ribs sing in agony and I feel my right eye swell then finally close. One last kick and he stops, leaning down to my face. I can smell him─ smell the bourbon and rot through his shit-eating grin. I will never forget this smell. He reaches down into his pocket and pulls something out. There is a familiar flick and I jerk feverishly looking up. A lighter. But I’m not given time to panic, there’s a sharp pain in the back of my head. It’s the last I know before darkness creeps in. I wish in these last moments to join my family. 

# 

The breath of life wakes me and I curse at the unwanted gift. Pristine black shoes invade my one good eye, sliding to a halt. In the distance, a wailing siren sounds over the gentle crackling of subdued flame. Were they my sirens? Had someone called in the fire? Tristan… I vow revenge in that moment, for my husband, my two sons─ offering to whatever deity can hear me my servitude. An instant passes−the feint flutter of wings resonates against the buildings. My eye strains and then focuses to the dark stretch of alley visible between Suit’s legs. A lone raven lands and cocks its head to the side. It stares in my direction, then eyes the men. It’s waiting. A single grating voice disturbs the hush and I cringe at reality.

C’mon where’s my feisty little reporter that I so admire. No stories for me?” Even though I know it won’t help, I stay quiet. He shifts and then continues, “maybe one about a particular company? Hmm, Vivian? ” My name slithers off of his tongue as if he were seducing a lover and I retch in disgust. Leaning down, he caresses my cheek. I try twisting away but he holds my face in place.

You and me, we could have a little fun before you go. I’ve always had a thing for redheads.” I growl pulling furiously away from his grasp, but he holds my chin in place.

I level my gaze at him, “I’d rather swallow razor blades while cigarettes are put out in my eyes,” I quip through clenched teeth.

Mmm, well suit yourself, love.” He lets go and with one hand, singles out a small patch of hair near my face. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a knife. When I try to squirm, he just laughs and cuts the strand from my face, nicking my brow.
He stands and parts the hair into two piles. One he pockets and the other, to my growing disgust, places in his mouth. He lets out a low moan, savoring the strands like they were a fine wine. Sick bastard. Suit finishes and leans down to dust off his shoes. 

Now, where were we, my dear?”

I feel the crushing weight of his foot bear down on my gut squeezing what little life is left of the child inside of me. I feel my baby’s fluttering movements as he tries to escape the pressure. I snap and thrust my head forward into Suit’s shin with as much force as I can. He curses and backs away, grabbing at his leg. Before I can stop myself words finally spew out. 

Stop it! You have what you want, they’re all dead.” My desperation does nothing but inflates his anger and he delivers a swift blow to my nose. Blood leaks down into my screaming mouth. Who was I kidding, what wayward deity would heed my call? I prayed for a quick death. There is that hope again─ I knew better. Daemon’s men took great pleasure in drawing out the kill. My husband was an exception to the rule, simply because in the right frame of mind, he would have killed these thugs in less than five minutes.

Suit chuckles, dusting off his pants. His tone comes out dismissive, “Alright, Green. It’s time the newbie earned his spot in the crew. Go on behind her and get your gun ready.” From behind, I hear shuffling and someone slowly walks up to me. I hear Suit sigh and tap his foot.

Kevin, what are you doing? Pull out the gun and place it on her head. We need to teach her a lesson.” I can hardly manage to breathe as I wait.

Yeah, sure I know.” Hesitation, “I just, you know─ do you have to beat her so much?” Suit doesn’t answer. The boy stutters, “I mean, damn man she’s already busted up real bad.” Keeping my head low, I glance at Suit’s shoes as he strolls over to Kevin.

Tell you what, Green. Why don’t you give me the gun and I’ll find a man that has a pair out here to do it for you.” Kevin shifts again before I hear the gun being handed off.

Look, I’m sorry Ty I just I got a soft spot for girls. That’s all, I don’t mean any disrespect─ It’s just whoa─ whoa okay man I’m leaving, alright?” The quick shuffle of his boots sounds as Kevin turns to leave. He gets midway across the parking lot before Suit puts three rounds in him. The deafening slump of his body signals the end of chivalry in the group.

Any more concerns, gentlemen?” When no one speaks, he hands the gun off to the nearest lackey and walks in front of me. Lackey two quickly shuffles and then presses the gun hard into my temple.

There now, all cozy.” He rubs his hands together. “Interruptions, interruptions. Where was I?” He claps, “Ah yes, the fact that you can’t keep your nose out of company affairs.” As if scolding a child, he tousles my hair. 

Well now, can’t have that, can we darling. Mr. Reese is a very busy man, I’m afraid, and can’t make it to your execution. But don’t worry. It will all be filmed for his enjoyment later.” His words sounded like he was explaining them to a business partner, just business as usual. No big deal we’ve murdered your entire family. 

Fuck this.

You spineless piece of shit. You think you’re going to get away with this? I’m sorry, that all of you, are going to get away with this?” She spat blood at the ground wincing from the pain before continuing.

What do you think will happen when a major news anchor doesn’t show for her reveal of the biggest accounting scandal the United States has known? All those poor families tossed aside─ They don’t even know what N.C. Global has in store for them, and all of you?” she paused chuckling─ let them blow her brains out.

All of you just sit back, get richer and watch your former employees die on the street from starvation. Yeah, I stuck my nose in─ right where it belonged, arrogant prick.” A sharp slap across my face sends me into fits of laughter, all sanity thrown to the winds like ashes. He slaps me again and again. The blood’s really flowing now, soaking the ground in front of me. I watch as it snakes around his black boots, untouched and blossoming into wings. At least a part of me can be free. The raven calls in the distance, maybe letting me know it’s still there. Maybe it’s come for the soul I’ve offered. Or maybe I’ve finally lost it. I smile through the long tangles of red matted to my face. My vision is sorely impaired, I can barely make him out. I look up to Suit’s shadowed form and whisper my last words.

Pray I don’t make it out of this alive.”

The Suit stops, watching me from above. I revel in his brief insecurity. For once, he is speechless. But that’s all Fate has allowed. To my dismay, his wheezing laughter sounds.

You think this is only about money? Oh, little girl, it’s more than that. You have−” Quickened crunches of gravel interrupt us, followed by an alarmed voice. 

We got problems, someone reported the fire and shots. We got five minutes, maybe less.” Tick, tock the death clock tolls. Suit clicks through his teeth, “Too bad, I wanted to have a little more fun with this one too.” Leaning down, he presses his mouth close to my ear. “How’s that sweet little sister of yours doing?” No. Not this, let it end with this. I can feel his smile with the next sentence, “Lily, was it?” My eyes widen in disbelief and a gag is thrust into my mouth. God, no her life was just starting. Lily was halfway through her doctorates at Harvard, barely 18. We had just celebrated her 18th birthday a few weeks ago. We knew she was special after testing out of middle school at eight. Lily was the only family that I had. Our parents had passed when we were young and our grandparents had succumbed to cancer several years ago. 

Standing, he turns and walks away. “Time for naughty little girls to go to bed.”

My bravado gone, I scream─ my vocal cords’ tearing until nothing comes out. Suit is gone, I don’t know where─ I desperately rip at my binds. My left shoulder cries in protest but I pull harder, finally dislocating it. It can’t end like this, not like this. They had to pay, all of them. The barrel nestles in the back of my skull. Give me fiery eternity─ I’d barter with any devil, spirit, or demon. The fates willing, even in death, I’d find a way. The resounding click cuts through my thoughts as the hammer is pulled back.

Shit. 

Flurries of wings, the splintering of skull, and silence.

Long moments pass and there is nothing. It feels like hours. I am stuck between existence and abyss. Did he pull the trigger? Maybe this is what they talk about. The minutes of brain function before you slowly fade. I’m in the fade. My thoughts cease as I feel the presence creeping behind me. Slinking, calculated steps. I wince at the glow and then look to see my body lying limp from the pole before me. Bits of gore and blood spray the sidewalk fanning out in a perfect semi-circle. Entranced I stare unable to tear my gaze from the beaten form. I should feel something, but all my emotions feel hollow. Except one─ hate. It fills me.

What is it that you want? The entity calls. Feathers explode surrounding my new body─ tenderly embracing it’s every orifice. I welcome the intrusion, letting it seep in. I halt as I draw breath. It is a curious effect because I feel nothing come in or out. For the first time, breathing is optional. For a moment, I struggle to find my voice─ then it rings out with clarity.

I demand retribution” I growl.

Yes indeed, it whispers, then a pause. And I can help you─ but first, a contract must be formed. I should have known. Nothing is free in the real world, why would it be after death?

I’m surprised at the wariness in my own voice, “Do what you must.”

Laughter reverberates off the enclosed space like autumn leaves. Child, do you know what you are getting into? My chin rises stubbornly though I quake in fear from its mighty presence. “I don’t care the cost, give me the contract.” In an instant, the twin beauties appear before my eyes. Their chrome is embellished with delicate, intricate designs− Desert Eagles, 50 caliber. One forged from obsidian, the other pure silver. Ironic, Tristan always told me they weren’t for girls. He was a retired war vet, so naturally had taught me how to shoot. She winced at the past tense used in her own mind. A shame neither of us were prepared since we moved to our city home. Anger shoots full force as I think about what had been done to both him and our son, Jason─ of the life ruined inside of me. Yes, I would do anything it took to make this right. No matter the cost. Choose the right one to commit the act, or suffer an eternity of servitude without your vengeance. But a warning−patience does not exist within the dark.

Words appear on each weapon, snaking around the intricate carvings. Vengeance to the left on Obsidian: Loyalty to the right on silver. So here was my catch. Vengeance was what I wanted, wanted bad but loyalty made sense since I would be in contract. More than likely, I would have to serve this thing, whatever it was, for the rest of eternity. Or did it anticipate that I would think that and pick vengeance instead as the right choice? Decisions, decisions time was ticking.

What do they both mean? Explain my choices.” Ah, clever girl. I will tell you, but for a price. I’m growing impatient with its games, but I need to know. “What is the cost?”

When and IF you are revived, no one will remember you. Not even your precious Lily─ if you so much as talk with her, the contract is broken and you will be sent to eternal damnation−
“And my vengeance is not given, I get it. Anything else?” I become nervous as the being is quiet for a while, I try to turn but something keeps me at bay. You are not allowed to see just yet, child. Of course not, could this thing be any more infuriating?

Here are the answers in which you seek:

Upon choosing the left with vengeance in mind, 

There can only be Death to the life you are tied

Never to see the light of day

And dissipate your spirit will. 

Upon choosing the right with loyalty in mind

Life will restore but to darkness, you bind

Vengeance is a mystery left to stay

However, your soul will forever remain. 

What did it mean, what did it mean? I try to break it down, so if I choose vengeance my soul goes away and I lose my life. But if I chose loyalty then there’s a chance that I may never get my vengeance. What the hell do I do? Images flash through my mind, my husband Tristan asking me to marry him, our first time to make love. The joyous news of a child and our first home, then Scott’s first steps, his sweet morning kisses. All of it gone in seconds─ precious seconds that now slip past me and a choice that will change everything. 

Time is running out ─ choose or I choose for you. My gaze flits left to right, wavering between the two. I hover for several seconds by Vengeance before finally jerking my hand to the right and gripping my destiny.

Now place the barrel to your temple and pull the trigger. 

Didn’t I have enough bullets to the brain for one night? My hand shakes from the weight of the gun as I put it in place, taking all of my strength to put the finger on the trigger. Ten seconds, twenty─ screw it. I close my eyes tight and squeeze the trigger feeling the bullet of Loyalty scream through. Laughter erupts around me.

The contract is sealed. 

#

Opening my eyes, I stare at stark, white walls. For a moment, I look around before realization sets in. This was it, a second chance. It is my time─ my fate and no one would take it from me again. Glancing down, I spot a neat pile of clothes and grin. On top is a folded piece of paper. Inside in fine print is an address:

105 West Main Street.

I know that it will lead me on the path to finding Suit and his men. The life telling machines beep in alarm as I rip the tubes from my arms and nose. Padding down the hall, I duck into the bathroom. The mirror is not a friendly place. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and my hair has grown long. I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyway. I slowly pull at my shirt and look down. A small scar is visible, the scar where my little one was taken away. I have nothing. How could these bastards live with themselves? For god’s sake, I was seven months pregnant. Anger flows and I punch the glass in front of me.

The answer was simple─ I was nothing personal to any of them. Wiping the blood from my hand I lose myself a little to the madness and laugh. There would be no remorse or pity for them, and I was making it personal. I quickly change and smooth back my hair. Feeling a little less like a cancer patient, I step out of the bathroom. A nurse passes, eying me suspiciously. I take a casual stride as she passes and then slip from the nearest side exit. A blinding world awaits me, the sunlight shimmering down. Was it all a dream? As if in response, I feel the weight in each of my pockets. Reaching my hands inside they find the silky-smooth metal of the guns. There’s a street bike running, ten feet away. I smile as I ride from the parking lot.