The Watchmen – Part VI – The Funeral

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

The service was every bit as horrible as I imagined it would be. Most of the office was there, including the office downstairs. Apparently Zedd was the sort to really reach out to others. At the luncheon people traded stories about just how much of his time and money he had devoted to those in need. It must have killed him, knowing what he did and not able to save anyone else. It just further solidifies the fact that he must have said something to his family. I need to find them, they would definitely be able to shed some light on things. I cross the room, locating Devon near the back by the kitchen. I can’t get over how huge this place is. Imagine if you could the biggest house you’ve ever seen and then double it. I wasn’t even aware they made houses in Wal-Mart size. I approach him slowly, not wanting to scare him away. He is deep in thought, staring out of the large bay windows. He turns when he hears the click of my heels against the tiles. His lips curl into a soft smile. There is definitely more to that smile─ it’s the sort that you give your friends or family when they ask what is wrong. 

I have the strongest urge to wrap Devon into a hug. I find myself more and more curious of how he would feel against me, how he would smell. I have never been in a relationship and up until now I really haven’t thought about it. School and art always took priority over anything else.  After seeing what it does to others and how much it impacts people’s lives, I have run in the opposite direction for years. Devon though, I haven’t noticed a hint of ulterior motive, he is genuine and kind. There had been a few people in college that had shown interest in me but I always shut them down. Not in a mean way, just stated that I did not want anything to do with a relationship. A few of them told me that I could tell them the truth, one even asked if I was a lesbian. Apparently, they had talked amongst themselves and came to the conclusion that since I had not been interested in male partners, I must have liked women. The truth is I have had very little sex drive over the years. It isn’t something that I think about often. I can get urges from time to time but never enough to seek out a partner. It makes my skin crawl thinking about someone touching me. The touching aspect was awful enough, sex mortifies me. I have gotten curious and watched porn a few times. The women never seem to enjoy what is happening. All I can focus on are their faces, there is something about their eyes─ sadness or a longing for love. I cringe at the way men would grope them or shove things into places─ there were no limits to where they did. I rub my arms and hug them to my chest. Given the chance would Devon want to do those things to me? I frown. Even if he is interested, I really get the sense that he would keep it to himself and not allow it to cloud his judgement. For the first time I find myself liking someone. It’s as alien a thought as everything else I’m doing so why do I feel so uncomfortable?

“Hey Kate,” Devon says softly. 

“Hey,” I respond. We sit in comfortable silence for a moment. “I was wondering,” I begin, “If I could maybe talk with Zedd’s family. You know, since I was the last to see him.” His face falls a bit, it’s the first time I can see some real emotion reflected there. He shakes his head, “I’m afraid that’s impossible.” I’m taken back but ask, “what do you mean?” He glances over at the people in the living room and then inches closer to me. He smells like soap, clean and nice. “Zedd lived his life in the system until he was eighteen. As far as either of us knew, he didn’t know where he came from.” My heart speeds up as he leans within inches of my ear. “He had a few clues here and there about his mom but nothing solid. Our family sort of took him in on holidays and events.” At this point, my heart is beating so hard against my chest that I am sure he can hear it. Then he does something unexpected and takes a step back. My shoulders relax and my heartbeat subsides. After several moments I’m back to normal. It is incredibly refreshing to stand next to someone in comfortable silence, it feels natural with Devon. I turn toward him, “I’ve been meaning to ask, did Zedd” I pause a few beats searching for what to say, “say anything odd to you?” His eyes meet mine. It’s the sort of look that strips you bare. “Like what?” he whispers. Those eyes. Those damn eyes. I’m left speechless. My throat dries and my chest grows tight with anxiety. Devon is honing in on my every reaction, trailing from my eyes to my mouth. “You’ve been hiding something from me,” he says, “I can tell. From your first day in the office until now.” My gut reaction is to run. I want to get away as far as possible from him. But, I need answers. Maybe Zedd had mentioned something to Devon that I wasn’t aware of. I shove down my fears. “I have been, but please trust me when I say that I have my reasons.” He raises his eyebrows at me, “If it has to do with Zedd I want to know every single detail,” his voice cracks and he emphasizes the last few words. “You may have your reasons, but I can promise you that you’ll get no judgment from me. Just be honest.” He sighs, takes a few breaths and continues, “please.” I look at the floor, unable to look at his eyes. I manage a small nod. 

“Hey, Devon?” We both look over at the interruption. One of the guys from our meeting is standing in the entry. He looks awkwardly at me and Devon, aware that he probably walked in at the wrong time. “Sorry to interrupt, I uh, think it’s time for your speech and words from friends and family.” “No, no Jason that’s fine,” Devon says, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was that time already. I’ll be right there.” Jason nods then walks out leaving us both back to where we were before. 

“We should─”

“Can we talk about this later?” he asks, not bothering to let me finish my sentence, “Let me take you out for dinner, somewhere public where you’ll feel safe. Is that OK? I can even meet you there if you would rather travel alone.” I bite my lip, my brow creasing, “alright,” I say after a few moments, “I can do that.” His eyes press together, his face washed in relief, “thank you so much Kate. Just let me know where and what time.” I bob my head and scurry out of the kitchen. I can’t believe my luck, but I can get through this. I shouldn’t care about what Devon thinks of me if it means that I could possibly save him too. I would need a way to explain all of this and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to convey it. He can’t see the letters, he will dismiss a government conspiracy, but somehow I cling to some ill thought-out hope he will listen. I pray Zedd has shared this with him so that maybe if I mention some of the same things, he’ll trust what we are saying. Zedd believed it so much that he ended his life. Surely that must count for something.  

#

 We arrive back at the office around two o’clock. There is still enough time for me to get a little work done, and most importantly keep my mind distracted. I worry that Devon will call me into his office but he never returns. In a way it’s a huge relief─ not that I would mind his company, but he’s so damn persistent and I really don’t want to do that here. Jason walks up to me and explains that he will be temporarily taking over Zedd’s duties until a new manager is in place. We go over a few sketches and then what Zedd had asked of me. Jason is quiet, like me, so after we talk business, he is gone. Thank goodness for small miracles. I look at the 2-D design and then import it into the 3-D modeling program. I pour myself into into creating every single detail. It feels so amazing to be back into a routine that I work until my fingers and back scream in protest. At some point I have managed to tuck one of my legs under me and lost all feeling in it. I stand and stretch, content with my completed workload for the day. Most of the office left several hours ago. I spot a few guys in the back messing around in the motion capture room but they are all that is left. I pull out my phone and glance through it warily. I’m surprised to not find a text but ultimately I decide that it’s best if I get this meeting over with. I sniff my pits and further decide that a shower would be a good idea. Apparently stewing in my own soup had done some not-very-pleasant things to my clothes. 

I grab my wallet, phone, and keys and then turn toward the elevator. I am mid stride when the lights turn off. I immediately freeze in place. I have been so preoccupied with everything today that I’ve forgotten about Them. I hold my breath and wait. There is a yell in the back and I exhale. The guys are still here. OK, good maybe the building has timed lights. Not wanting to press my luck I pick up the pace. No way in hell am I going to give these things a chance to terrorize me. They fucking thrive off of it. 

I yelp as a noise blares from my hand. “Jesus christ,” I swear, flipping my screen around. It’s Devon. Shit. He probably thinks I’m going to bail on him. I glance at the time, it is nearly seven. I answer on the fourth ring. 

“Hey, Devon I’m so sorry I was up at the office and I lost track of time working on this character.”

His voice comes out awful, it sounds like he’s been crying, “Oh, that’s OK. I just wanted to check in with you. Did you want me to pick you up or would you rather meet somewhere?” He sniffs a few times and clears his throat. The guys emerge from the back, shoving each other as they walk toward the elevator. “Hey Kate” one of them say. I nod and wave as they shuffle through. “You coming down?” I shake my head mouthing, “no you go ahead, thanks.” He mouths “OK” and in seconds they’re gone. Leaving me to the quiet, dark office and Devon. “Uh, yeah you can pick me up from my place if you want. Just, you know, give me a chance to get the day washed off.” 

“OK, great. Just decide what you want, anything is fine, my treat.” Please don’t make me decide, I plea silently. “Oh, whatever is fine by me,” I offer quickly. He pauses on the line, “how about sushi or Thai?” I bite my lip, noodles sound pretty great right now. Something warm, comforting, and starchy. “Thai sounds great,” I say. “Alright, I’ll pick you up about eight?” “That works,” I reply. We say our goodbyes and hang up. I frown at the slow moving elevator and press the down arrow button. Why did we have to be on such a high floor? I see that they finally make it to the bottom, silently willing it to go faster. A computer restarts in the back and I hear the beep as it resets. The room groans and pops as the wind hits the side of the building. Every click, every pop is amplified by the insufferable quiet. 

Floor seven, 

Floor eight,

Floor nine. 

Come on, I urge silently, just six more floors. 

Floor eleven, 

Floor twelve,

Floor thirteen.

The computer does a start up jingle in the background. I refuse to turn around.Not today, Satan” I mutter. 

Floor fourteen.

The ding goes off as it reaches the fifteenth floor and I squeeze my eyes shut and sigh. Finally, it’s here. The door swooshes and I open my eyes. I stare for several seconds, the color draining from my face. I don’t want to believe what I’m seeing. My hand goes up to my face and I clamp them around my mouth. No, no, no, is all that can run through my mind. I stagger back a few steps, distancing myself from the horrific image. Jesus, there’s so much blood. I close my eyes, take a breath, and then open them. He’s still there and so is the pulpy mass. 

The glassy stare of Zedd’s eyes stare at me accusingly. The back of his head is missing─ there’s blood and brain matter everywhere. The gun lays on the floor next to him cradled in his limp hand. This isn’t real, it can’t be because we buried him this afternoon. I frantically search the room, trying to remember where the emergency stairs are located. I scream as his body jumps and twitches in a seizure-like motion. Zedd grunts and his head jerks toward my scream. His bones snap and pop as he rises from the floor. A few meaty chunks of brain matter slide to the floor, making a sickening splat when they hit. Oh god. I retch several times, trying but failing to reassure myself it isn’t real. He limps toward me as a gurgling sound escapes his lips. I bolt to the left and pump my legs as fast as they will carry me.  I don’t know where the staircase is but I don’t care. I am not about to sit here and let him get close to me, I know it has to be back here somewhere. I flee past several dark offices, glancing behind me every so often. There is no sign of him. I’m all the way at the end of the u-shaped hall when I realize my terrible mistake. If I had just ran to the right I would have found them. Fuck it. 
I charge around the corner and scream as I run into something solid and fleshy. I lash out, shoving hard and screaming. “Whoa, whoa, Kate,” Devon yells. My head throbs from the adrenaline as my heart comes back down from near cardiac arrest. My legs give out and I fall forward on my hands and knees.

The Watchmen Part IV – A Horror Novella

I stand outside for a moment and watch as the cars pass by. Everything moves so much slower here than it does in Dallas. No one seems to be in a rush, or cutting each other off. It really is beautiful and even from here I can make out the mountains in the distance. I will be going back to my place tomorrow. I still have to figure out what I will say to my parents─ what I can possibly say to anyone. Devon’s smile flashes in my mind. I find myself wondering if he will smile at me like that again after my live stream. I think given time, I would have liked to get to know him better. I’m not sure in what way, but I know that I enjoy his company. I certainly don’t want him to die the way everyone did in my visions. No one deserves that. I trudge into my room, set my keycard on the nightstand, and then drop my bag on the floor. Whether I want to or not, I am going to the funeral tomorrow. Not just to show my support to the company, but to talk with a Devon. Maybe Zedd spoke to someone before he passed away or he had confided in someone from our department. I’m not sure of the dynamic between him and his team, but I know that he and Devon seemed comfortable talking to one another. I can worry about that tomorrow. 

I pick up my phone and check my messages. Mom has sent me a link to a pie recipe she found and asks if I would like her to make it this year. Leave it to mom to ask something like that a solid three weeks before Thanksgiving. She has always been that way, about as anxious as they come to getting everything in order. Last year she had managed to cook a full traditional Thanksgiving meal and a full vegan one for her sister. Aunt Marie is obsessed over a few things─ her fine wrinkles, the little bit of weight around her tummy, and the horrible meat industry and how they all lobby together to get the public to buy into meat and animal products. I will get a link to a documentary at least a few times a year. Everyone has an agenda she would say. Though, admittedly she probably isn’t wrong about the lobbying. I’m sure it happens in just about every industry. I admire her for it none-the-less, I certainly can’t do it. I tried being a vegetarian for a while and promptly lost my shit. Even my mom had broken her no cursing rule and told me to stop being such a bitch. I still laugh at that from time to time. My mom, miss prim and proper cursing me out and shoving bacon in my face. I guess we all have our limits and I apparently am a real asshole when I don’t eat meat. I open up my work emails and skim through. There are a few messages from corporate about Zedd and a personal email from Devon. It is titled ‘I’m sorry for all of this.’ I immediately open it. 

Hey Kate,

I just wanted to say again that I am so sorry your first week happened this way. Zedd was a good friend of mine and to say that I am in total shock is a bit of an understatement. I hope that this hasn’t changed your mind about working for us in any way. I hope to have you on our team for quite some time. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow, we’re all going to work half a day and then attend the service. You are more than welcome to join us or head home. You won’t be judged either way. 

Take care, 

Devon  

I reread it and then hit reply. 

Devon,

I want you to know that I plan on staying with the company for a long time. In no way is this anyone’s fault and I would never hold you or the company accountable for someone else’s actions. I’m sure that Zedd had a reason for all of this even if we couldn’t understand them. I lost a good friend of mine this way in high school. Just focus on the good times and the time you shared together. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office. 

Yours,

Kate

I am surprised to find a bit of wetness gathering in my eyes. This stirs memories of my friend James. It would have been eight years ago now. In some ways, he reminds me of Zedd─ quick witted, shy, but very vocal when he was passionate about something. Why is it that some of the best people in the world take their own life? This thought seems to depress me more over the years. I remember taking several psychology courses talking about how some of the most brilliant minds struggled daily with depression. I can believe it. Seeing the world as it really is has to have its downfalls. 

I sigh heavily on the bed and then shove my feet into the shoes on the floor. I just want to be done with all of this. It’s killing me knowing that there is nothing that I can do. I’m done with it all, especially feelings. I have a few hours before I head back to Dallas. We are expected to be in tomorrow morning, so I will have to get back to my place in time to shower and dress. I am not sure if I have something appropriate to wear to a funeral. Most of my clothes are very casual and the few dresses I own are sun dresses. I can’t exactly show up in a flowery sundress to a co-worker’s funeral─ jeans just seem disrespectful. After a little bit of searching, I find an online delivery service that will pick up something from a nearby store and deliver it tonight. I quickly browse through some dresses and pantsuits before deciding on a loose pair of slacks and a blouse. Thankfully I have a pair of decent black flats at home just for this sort of occasion. Now I know why my parents had told me to always have a pair of black dress shoes. 

I sigh, browsing through the T.V. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a funeral. The last one had been my Nana Genny’s. I remember it being a very cold day. It was the sort that makes you shiver no matter how many layers of clothing you had on. I was still in my teens, old enough to understand death, but still too immature to understand. It hadn’t really hit until grandpa Jay had started dating again. When he remarried, mom stopped talking with him. I’m not sure why she did, after all he was only human. I never hated him for it, he had been with nana for over forty years. It must have been hard to be with someone for so long and then suddenly they are gone. I don’t think I would want to be alone either. I still call him from time to time to check in and see how he is doing. Grandpa Jay had hoped someday mom would come around. I do too. A chill runs along my arms and up through my head. I wonder if maybe I am getting sick from all the stress. I am not sick often, but when I do it normally takes me out for a few days. I had the flu once as a child and I’ll never forget it. It is probably why I get my shot every year and wash my hands like it is some sort of religion. The kids always poked fun of me for it, but guess who never gets sick? Let them laugh, cleanliness always wins and I am the proof. 

After wasting some time browsing my phone and trying again for the hundredth time to find these mysterious Watchmen, I decide that a trip to the sauna sounds better. I am pleased to find when I arrive that there is only a family in the pool and an older man in the hot tub. The sauna is people-free. I slip my shoes off and walk into the steamy bliss. The length of my body stretches out on the bench and I wiggle my toes. It feels amazing. The heat stings my lungs a little but I don’t mind. I just want this chill to melt from my bones. I only remember feeling this way once, and it had been the flu. Hopefully I’m not getting sick. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, only focusing on my breath drawing in and then out. I imagine that I am floating in my own ship in the middle of space, staring at the small particles floating by. The sun heats my back as I face out toward the galaxy. Jupiter looms nearby, huge and deadly─ but beautiful. I am mesmerized by the swirling multicolored gas. I bathe in the warm glow of the sun as it kisses my bare skin. I am completely alone. This has been a form of meditation for years. The thought of being completely isolated and floating through space comforts me. I think it would have the opposite effect for most people. To me, it is heaven. Lately I find myself wanting to be alone more and more. I could live by myself with my computer and art. Art has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. I would love to sit outside and draw everything I saw, especially people. I have brought my sketchbook along for this very reason. It’s probably time to do something that calms my nerves before the funeral. I also will need to present something at work. We have weekends off but I never stop drawing. It brings me joy to paint and draw more than anything in this world.

I take several long breaths. Don’t think about that now, I say to myself, think about the warmth. I focus on the heat and my breath. Suddenly, my mind wanders to the first night I had experienced this─ the first night that I had experienced Them. Despite the terrifying sensation of another being thriving off of my pain, I am curious about what They are. Their black hoods flash in my mind and I can see nothing but blackness behind them. Their long, thin bodies would disappear into a sort of translucent grey haze. They never move and stand perfectly still. Deathly still. The beings never say anything, they don’t need to. You can just sense them. Sort of like when you were a child and try to sneak up on your parents. No matter how quiet you thought you were being, they would turn around and shout, ‘boo!’ scaring you instead. Only, these things were dense. They press in upon you until you cannot breathe. Your breath becomes shallow, and your chest feels as though you can be crushed alive at any moment. Your heart feels like it is being torn from your chest. And then comes the cloying, damp air as they invade our plane of existence. They stand there merely existing when they shouldn’t. These awful, horrible creatures shouldn’t be allowed to. And yet I feel as if I can get used to that if it were something as simple as being uncomfortable. Nothing compares to the sensation of death after gruesome death. If this is as bad as my visions, I would lay there and suffer until they decide to release me. Death isn’t what scares me, living does. Please let it take me out in a blast of fiery glory. It will be a welcome end to my suffering. 

There is a thought that is beginning to sprout with each passing day. Little by little, I water it and entertain the idea. Zedd was right to do what he did, and I think that I will follow suit. Whatever these creatures are, they aren’t going to stop. I just know that I will die as slowly as possible. Besides, even if I can stock up and get the hell out of dodge, what then? It won’t save me from the fallout. The odds of me finding someone with an underground bunker that’s willing to share is slim to none. There has to be a few of them out there, right? That won’t save the human race. Because in the blink of an eye, entire cities will be wiped out. There will be a lull as the survivors try to seek shelter or help, but by then the radiation sickness will start─ and then black rain. The bombs will take people out in the city right away but the ones just outside of it will suffer this horror in tenfold. People like my parents, people’s families. Even if a decent size population somehow makes it, the hospitals won’t be able to keep up. It will take decades to recover from it. I sigh and my eyes open. I stare at the wooden ceiling above me. I want to be helpful. I want to be one of those people that decide that no matter what, humanity can prevail and I can save them. The truth is, no matter how hard I try or what I say, I have zero proof. And proof is all that matters. If it were me listening to someone say that the world would end, I would laugh and roll my eyes and then move on. It shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. It’s frustrating, and maybe we were both crazy but it doesn’t stop me from getting my feelings hurt. Humans are weird, emotional beings and sometimes I hate being in my own skin. All I can do is try and warn them all and then I can leave with a clean conscience. As dumb as this idea is, I will make it my mission for the next five days to do what I can. I don’t want to live in this kind of world but I can help everyone else that will be stuck in it. 

The Watchmen – Part III – A Horror Novella

Part I

Part II

Seven days.

Somehow, I have made it through the night. My head feels disembodied and I have the beginnings of a horrible migraine. I down a glass of water and take a few painkillers. My feet shuffle across the cool bathroom tiles and I turn toward the mirror. I take a good look at my reflection and frown. My cheek bones look sharper than usual and my eyes are watery. There are two dark circles under each of my eyes. I paw through my hair several times and then give up. Maybe a shower will help to tame this unruly mane. There is something almost ritualistic to removing your clothing and stepping into a shower. It’s like stripping back old, peeling paint to reveal a beautifully stained wood beneath. I close the glass door behind me and walk into the burning spray. It’s almost too much to bear but after several seconds my body adjusts. I needed this more than anything right now. I would have stayed in here longer but I can feel the water cooling. I sigh and turn the handle back to the center.

It turns out a long hot shower does do wonders for my energy. My head feels floaty but that is to be expected given my impending migraine. I draw a comb through my curls, dab on some concealer, and then lip moisturizer. I am not a huge fan of makeup but I still like to look presentable from time to time. My hair is thick and wavy and it can never seem to make up its mind on color. Some days it is a fiery copper and on others it appears a reddish-brown like the color of a fox’s coat in winter. I remember someone telling me once that it was auburn, but I think it really depends on the time of year. It is something that I have always hated about it, but I have good hair days too. I’m not a tall girl, but I’m not short either. I’m stuck between what guys considered cute and not cute. The girls that got the most attention in high school were small and petite. I’ve always been awkward, and quiet. Dating never made sense to me. I usually get through it by reading, playing games at home, and drawing. No one speaks to me because of my quiet nature and I kind of like it that way. It’s easy to keep track of a few friends from time to time.

I’m not sure why I am reflecting on this now. It has been five years since I have been to high school. Once I had gone to college, I replaced my old friends with new ones. Since graduation we had started moving on with our lives. I’m not really the sort to chase after friends. Besides, I have been comfortable with my own company for years. It’s a hard pill to swallow knowing that the one person I could share this burden with is gone. I have so many things that I wanted to ask him. The worst of it is I only have one week left and still no answers. If this really is the end of the world, I’m screwed. I can’t blame Zedd for tapping out, these visions are awful. They are so vivid that you can’t differentiate fantasy from reality. If fantasy is even the right word. I shiver thinking about the Creatures’ joy as they savored my agony. Will it really be so horrible? Or will I fly into a million pieces and burn to ash after the first blast? Even if the bombs only hit the major cities, the fallout would be devastating. I can’t save everyone, but I can damn sure try. Thinking about it depresses me. Who will take me seriously? They won’t. I sag into the bed and tuck my legs under me. The only way they would understand is if they have seen what I have. That thought has me curious─ if Zedd had seen them there has to be others right? I can go online, seek others through communities, and then maybe discuss it with them. I have seven days, maybe we could all meet up and change other people’s minds. Yeah, like a doomsday cult? Ugh. Nope, we’re fucked. No one will buy it and honestly, maybe it is just a freak coincidence that two people have shared. I know somewhere in the deepest part of my heart this is wrong, but I want to believe that none of it is true.

But, I have put this all off long enough. I stand and walk over to the piece of paper and then open it. I look at the entire page, frown, and then scan it again. It hasn’t changed since yesterday. It changes every day─ why has it not changed this time? What have I done differently? It occurs to me and suddenly I feel like an idiot. Shit, I curse silently, it’s because I haven’t slept. It has even changed the number of days but the picture is the same. I only get to see the illustrations if I actually live that pain in my dreams.  I will have to endure them for another six days, almost seven. At least it’s falling in-line with what I have hypothesize. I had fallen asleep on the bus before and the picture hadn’t changed. I’m fairly certain, however, it has to do with it being the same day. There is only one way to test it and I really don’t want to. I alert the front desk that I will be staying another day. It’s a good thing this is the slow season, so no one has reserved the room. I tell them there is no need for fresh sheets, ask for a few more towels, and then hang up. I feel wiped out, there is no way I am going to stay awake even if I want to. I jot down a note to just leave towels inside even if I am here and then collapse under the blankets. 

#

When I wake the sun is low in the sky and the room has become frigid. I sit up and stretch, then glance at my phone. It is nearly six o’clock. I yawn and throw the blankets off feeling refreshed. I relieve myself in the bathroom, wash my hands, and apply a bit more Chapstick and base. I grab my phone, laptop, the paper, and change into a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt. I take one last look at myself, grab my wallet, and then I am out the door. Thankfully, the town has a little strip and there are several restaurants and coffee shops to choose from. I settle on a diner that has wi-fi and claim to have the best breakfast in town. My stomach grumbles as I slide into the booth, reminding me that I haven’t eaten in twelve hours. The place is warm in colors and modernized enough that it doesn’t feel like a diner. There is no tacky art, or cheap looking benches. The colors are tasteful and calm. I feel comfortable here, it is an environment that invites you to stay with soothing music and friendly staff. I can’t remember the last time that I felt like a place wanted you there for a while. “Hey there,” the lady smiles as she walks up to me, “what can I start you off with?” I can tell she is older, but extremely attractive. She has a kind face with warm brown eyes and silky dark brown hair. I hate to admit it but I am pretty envious of that hair. I have always wanted to rock one of those edgy, straight haircuts instead of my messy waves.  

“Hey,” I smile back, “is it OK if I stay here for a bit after I eat?” The woman grins from ear to ear. “Of course you can, sweetheart. Stay as long as you like. What can I get for you?” I skim over the menu, quickly realizing there are way more options than I anticipated. “Uh,” I stutter, “how about pancakes and sausage with some coffee?” Her eyes crinkle as she jots down my order, “you want one or two pancakes?” “Three,” I say quickly. Her eyes widen, but she nods. “You take cream and sugar?” “Just cream,” I say. She nods again and then walks away calling over her shoulder that she’ll be right back. I’m not sure why I keep putting off looking at the paper. I’m still in shock over the fact that I slept so peacefully. I honestly can’t remember dreaming. Thank goodness for small miracles. I stare at the little sliver of paper as if at any moment, it will catch fire in my bag. I want more than anything for the same city with the same hooded figures to be present. Maybe it is just affecting the new city I moved to. Either way, I am not prepared to find out. I have the weekend to depress myself further. And then what? I wonder. Warn everyone in those two cities to evacuate? Yeah, that will go over well. About the only thing I can do to make people listen is phone in a bomb threat. I’m not familiar with protocol on this, but I’m quite sure they would dismiss it as a practical joke in less than a day. It may save several people’s lives though, so it may be a good option. If they even would issue a city-wide evacuation. I grow more apprehensive by the second. There is no way the city would take a woman’s threat seriously. Even if it is a bomb threat. They probably receive a handful of those throughout the years. Shit, with all the crazy people out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s once a month.

I make a mental list of what I would need to do so people will take me seriously:

  1. Voice changer
  2. Google number
  3. Suspicious activity that could point to potentially being a bomb placed there?

Shit.

This won’t work, why would I even think it would? I suddenly feel sick to my stomach. How in the actual hell do I make other people think I’m not insane? The one person that would have helped me is dead. At least he won’t have to suffer through all of this. I’m very envious of that right now. I would love to be gone, boom─ light’s out. No pain, no skin peeling back or shards raking through the meaty pulp of my exposed flesh, no creaking bones or dangling eyes. I swallow grasping at my neck. Suddenly I feel extremely parched. My hands shake as I guzzle down water the waitress brought me earlier. If there is any hope of finding solace, it is long gone. I feel heavy in my skin. I can’t move. I don’t want to. The weight of everything is seeping in. How could so much have changed in a matter of a week? It went from the best moment of my entire life, to the single-worst experience I’ve known in my twenty-three years. A bullet to the brain isn’t sounding too bad right now. I remember taking a neuroscience class and the professor telling us that there are no pain receptors in the brain. Once the bullet got past the nerves on the flap of skin that covered my skull, I would feel nothing. In a different time these sort of thoughts would have been miles away before today. It’s evolving into a sort of fantasy now. One in which I could squeeze the trigger and─ “Here you go, sweetie.” I jerk slightly at her soft voice, but manage a smile. “Thank you very much,” I reply.

She pauses and then takes on that sort of tone you only hear from your mother, “You OK hun? You’re looking a bit pale.” I take a moment to look into her soft, amber eyes and then shake my head, “oh, I’m fine. Just a little tired is all.” She purses her lips and raises a finely manicured eyebrow at me, “alright, I get it. I was a young girl once. Your food will be right out. You just holler at me if you need anything else.” She places a hand on my shoulder and pats it softly. Normally physical touch would be something that bothers me. I would shy away or tilt my body in a way that would keep them from reaching me. Sort of an unspoken message about boundaries. I have done it all my life. Strange how lately I’ve welcomed other’s touch, like an attention starved child. Both this waitress and Devon have managed to do it in less than a handful of days.

#

I sigh, content with a full belly. I’ve put the note off long enough, but I still go ahead and check my phone messages and emails first. Zedd’s funeral is going to be held on Monday and everyone from work is invited to come and pay their respects. Poor Devon, I want more than anything to make it better for him. It must be hard to both lose someone close and have a new employee that same week. I can’t imagine what he is going through right now. I try thinking of things that I could send in a text message─ maybe some comforting words, but my brain just draws a blank. What do you say to someone that you barely know about someone else you barely know dying? I decide that I will wait and do it later, I feel too scattered right now. I am on my third refill of coffee when I finally decide that I am ready. No matter what that piece of paper shows me, I still have time to think about what I can do. With shaky hands I reach into my bag and remove it. I slowly pry one side open and brace myself for the content. It is now or never. I am about to find out if this is going to happen all over or just in my home town and back in Dallas. I know that it is hoping for too much, to think it is all a coincidence, but who knows? Maybe it is. The city of Santa Fe burns in front of me as I unfold the last corner of paper. Crestfallen, I search the page. The hooded figures are hard to see, but they are there in the mountains. The beautiful, charming city is a pile of rubble. The mushroom cloud looming over it high in the mountain air. A single tear drops down and lands at the bottom of the page. I swipe at my face, embarrassed to be crying in a public place.

Before I fold it back up, my eyes look to where the poem has ended:

This night, hallowed night, They gifted the world to silence.

#

6

I have less than a week. I muse on the last line and then on the poem itself. It sounds as if people are these little, lost creatures that death would guide home. Except this is nothing like I expect it to be. Instead these horrible, awful beings that enjoy my suffering exist in my life. Suddenly I’m bitter. Why me? Why can’t I just live in perfect bliss and die. I remember stories told to me as a child that death would come swiftly to those that remained good and kind. Death bringers were brutal to those that are wicked, not compassionate beings. Except, of course, the four horsemen in the book of revelations. Not that I am educated on any of that. I haven’t touched a single book of religion in my life and from what I did know I was a child at the time. It’s been ages ago, but I do remember that one of the horsemen is a bringer of war. Surely, these harbingers of death aren’t with a divine being that created us. Why would a god create something so─ merciless? This is pointless thinking. Even if I know exactly what they are, I will be powerless to stop it. And six days isn’t exactly enough time to research anything properly. I sink into the chair. Every waking moment is a countdown to the end. I stare outside into the beautiful, quaint town and then over at the kind waitress. I will certainly do everything within my power to protect her. And possibly anyone else that will listen. It may be a fruitless endeavor, but at least I can die knowing that I tried. I really am that brand of idiot. I sigh and pull out my laptop. Maybe I can find something online that will help. Hopefully with any luck others that are like me.

#

After more than an hour of searching, I have just about given up. There are, it seems, a lot of people that believe that the end of the world has been coming for a while now. There’s cultists, evangelists─ standard forums with conspiracy theory nut-jobs, and just about anyone in between but none of them have described what both me and Zedd have been through. I pull the note out again and look it over. What am I missing? We couldn’t have been the only ones. I even google notes about end days, and bombs, and near death experiences with bombs. All of which have had some─ interesting results, but not the ones that I am searching for.

“Hun, I just wanted to let you know that you’re fine to stay as long as you’d like but would you mind scooching over to the smaller table there, in the back?” She motioned over to where the tables were back toward the kitchen. Her face looks genuinely contrite as if she has disturbed me during an important bit of work. My face probably has the serious look my mom would point out as I would become lost in my art. “It’s just, I’ve got a family that needs seating and that table’s a might small for them.” I nodded my head and quickly get up. “Of course” I stutter, “not a problem at all.” It takes a minute to realize how busy the place has gotten since I have come in. I make my way over to the smallest table that I can find and get everything set up. The soft voices have risen to a dull roar as the restaurant fills with noisy guests. I know I can go back to the hotel, but I prefer the company of the waitress and the people. It makes me feel less alone. I unfold the paper for the thousandth time hoping that I may have missed something important. I feel like I have googled everything possible, except─ I glance over the text and on my current online search. Hold on. I blink and then look between the two of them again. One of the forums has mentioned Watchmen and it’s in several parts of the poem. I feel my excitement rising, maybe there is something to that. I try my luck at searching Watchmen. I frown at all the cartoon images and shortly find out that there is a comic, a movie, and a T.V. show by the same name. Damn. I try again, this time adding the term apocalypse with it─ and then, end times. All that manages to bring up are the same nut-jobs. Nothing, or no one is mentioning them specifically. Hooded figures brought up the usual comic-like illustrations of death, but nothing like the hyper-realistic drawings that lined my page. Nothing that could instill the sort of dread I have in the pit of my chest as I stare at their dark, hungry faces. I shiver, running my hands up and down my arms. I know I have been at the diner for a while, but I didn’t realize how long until the smell of food makes my stomach rumble.

I smile over at my coffee mug. The waitress has been amazing and kept it full for me. I wave across at her and she quickly shuffles over. “What can I do for you? You about ready for that check?” I smile sheepishly, “Actually, I’m starving and ready for round two. What’s really good here?” Her smile widens and she glances over at the kitchen, then leans in, “you won’t believe it, but we have the best enchiladas on this side of town. Even better than Enchilada’s up the street. The owner’s son makes his mama’s recipe and I swear to you, that boy puts love into every layer.” I grin back at her, “Alright, um─ I pause looking at her nametag but frown when I don’t find one. “Laura,” she says softly. “Laura,” I repeat. We smile, “I’ll take the enchiladas with red sauce.” She makes an ‘ooo’ shape with her mouth nodding her head, “good choice um─” she looks down at me, her lips pursed comically as she waits, her pen posed in the air. “Kate,” I say giggling at the silliness. Man, I needed this in my life right now. “Alright Miss Kate, I will have those mouth-watering enchiladas out to you asap.” She swishes away and I’m practically glowing from the attention. The sun looks as if it is about to come up. I glance at my phone, and then look again─ it is 5:45─ in the morning. I can’t believe I have been here for nearly ten hours. Enchilada’s must have been an anytime meal here but they sound like a pretty damn good breakfast for me. I watch as Laura bustles about wiping down tables and grabs checks. It is probably nearing the end of her shift. Honestly I’m surprised that she is still here. Aren’t normal hours around six or eight for waitresses? I really want to tell her everything, but not sure how to say it. How do you tell someone to leave town without sounding like a total crack pot? I mean, I don’t look like a terrorist, it’s kind of hard to when you’re still mistaken for a teenager at twenty-three. But she won’t take it seriously unless I word it in such a way that it’s believable. At least I will have time to think about it over a hot meal.

In less than fifteen minutes, a large plate of ooey-gooey stacked enchiladas tower in front of her. Every layer contains onion, cheese, eggs, and crema. The corn tortilla’s smell reminded her of a mom and pop taco shop she had visited as a kid. They were fresh, maybe even handmade. It’s filled and topped with red enchilada sauce, a generous amount of cotija cheese, and a fried sunny-side up egg. It’s so pretty I almost don’t want to dig in with a fork. My stomach has other ideas, however, and I find myself practically wolfing it down. About halfway through, I slow down and really taste all of the flavors. There are little bits of fresh onion and I sigh in content. Normally, I’m not a fan of raw onion but somehow it works with all the ingredients. I need to get this recipe, it  is definitely last meal worthy. Laura hadn’t been joking when she said it was made with love. I panic when I don’t see her for a few minutes, nervous that I have missed my chance to talk. My eyes tear up when she rounds the corner with a fresh steaming mug of coffee. “Hey sweetheart, I’m about to end my shift but I thought I’d bring─” she pauses, getting a look at my face. “I know it isn’t my place, but, you sure you OK? I got a few minutes before I need to head home and feed the pups.” I smile through blinding tears and though I’m trying to be brave, they manage to slip down my cheeks. I pat at the chair across from me. She doesn’t even hesitate and slides into it. “What’s going on? Boy trouble?” She smiles with a faraway look in her eye as she stares out into the street. She turns back to me, her warm eyes widening. She places a hand over mine and pats it gently. “This seems much worse than just a man. You’re not in trouble are you?” She hesitates and glances around before leaning in and whispers, “my brother is a cop, he wouldn’t be awake right now but I could see if there is something that could be done for you.” She crosses her legs and leans back, her cool hand not leaving mine. “Some cities have piss-poor excuses for cops, you know the usual amount of corruption and politics. I’m not saying we don’t have any of that, we’ve got our share too, but the cops around here take care of us and I guarantee Rob would listen.”

I’m floored by this woman’s kindness. Back at home waitresses wouldn’t hardly look at you, let alone offer help to a stranger. Everyone is sort of buttoned up in Pennsylvania. You just didn’t talk about your problems, especially at home. Talking to a stranger? That would be unheard of. Mom and dad were good people, but not warm people. We’ve always been quiet about most things. If I came home with a bad grade, I would get a head shake from dad and my mom would softly say, “Kate, you can do better.” It was that quiet that always pushed me to get some sort of reaction or acknowledgement of my achievements. The best I would get was a satisfied grunt from dad and a smile and pat from mom. Maybe she would even rub up and down my arms affectionately. I lived for those sort of reactions, it made me warm and feel all glowy─ like I could accomplish anything.

It wasn’t as if they didn’t show affection or show that they were worried, it is just a different sort of love. This is open and raw. I really can’t wrap my mind around it, but I appreciate it just the same. Finally, I am able to find my voice, “I need you to listen to me and not judge. Just, keep an open mind─ OK?” My voice comes out shakier than I wanted it to. I never sound strong. I always sound like a scared little girl. I hate how soft my voice is. She raises her eyebrows and nods slowly, “alright, I can do that. Don’t you worry about how you sound.” Her voice is encouraging because she thinks she’s rescuing me from something. She thinks maybe I’m running away from an abusive relationship, or bad parents. If only it were that simple.

I inhale deeply and steady myself to try and sound like a rational human being. How can I word it to where she will listen? I decide on telling her the truth, but add a believable lie. I feel somewhat guilty about it, but it is the only way she will buy what I’m selling. I clear my throat and begin, “my family works in the government,” I start. She frowns and then nods at me. I can tell she is realizing that this isn’t going to be a normal problem. I am not entirely lying about that─ my dad, now retired, had worked in the post office for over thirty years and my mother was a public school teacher. “I came out here because I wanted to see for myself if things were happening like back at home.” My voice sounds a little more confident this time and I feel my shoulders relax. I can do this, I tell myself, maybe I can save people.

Laura has let go of my hand and she’s hugging her arms. “Alright, go on,” she whispers. I look back at the restaurant and then lean in toward her, “You and your brother should get as far away as you can from any major city. I’m talking miles away, go to the desert or the Colorado woods, Arizona, or hell even Texas. Just─ get away from Santa Fe.” Her eyes grow hard and she purses her lips. She crosses her arms and looks me up and down. Laura looks like a real mom now sizing me up. The tears are really starting to come and I grab a napkin and swipe at my face and nose. I can tell she isn’t convinced. “I─” my words falter a bit as I hiccup. I wipe my face and try again, “I just want to tell someone. I don’t expect you to believe me, but Laura,” I look deeply into her eyes, my brows creasing, “Something very bad is going to happen here and I need you to believe me. I’m not crazy, or some sort of conspiracy nut, I just want to help you because you’ve been very kind to me.”

Laura nods and bites down on her lip. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” she pauses, “but this is my home. I don’t know where I would go, and I mean, I just met you. You could be pranking me for all I know.” I sniff and let out a long sigh. “However, I don’t think that you are ,” she adds. She looks off to the side, her voice taking on a resigned quality, “Listen, I miss a day of work and it’s a big deal.” She shakes her head at me, “I’m comfortable, but it’s because I keep my longer hours and I have my regular customers.” She sighs, “even if it were something bad, Antonio could lock up the place and we could just hide in the back or stay put.” She’s dismissing it in her mind and thinks I’m some sort of spooked child. “You can’t hide from this,” I say firmly, “no one can. Laura it will take out half of the planet, please try to hear what I’m telling you.” She stares into my eyes, “you actually believe this, don’t you?” I nod. “I don’t just believe it, I’ve seen it.” She fidgets with her hands, “like, a bomb going off? They would have had that on the news, hun.” I’ve lost her, I can feel it. No matter what I say, she’s going to think I’m just some misinformed girl who’s father has scared her. She probably thinks he’s some government conspiracy nut too. There are a lot of them in government offices. How can I make her understand? The answer is simple, I can’t. I can try my best but at the end of the day it boils down to what she accepts in her own mind. I feel sick to my stomach, but I realize this is all that I can do. “It won’t be in the news. It will just hit.” I gently massage the space that is between my eyebrows and the bridge of my nose with my thumbs. “Listen, I know how all of this sounds, but I have to at least try. There’s nothing that I can say or do to convince you, I just want you to know.” The tears have mostly dried so I dab at the remaining wetness, happy to be free of them.

“Well, I appreciate it sweetheart, but I think someone may be messing with you. If it is something this big, I think half of the world would have known about it by now. Especially with all these damn satellites, and movement detection, and thermo-whatever─ these men have got their war devices on lock down. I don’t think anyone really wants to use them, you know? Doesn’t bode well for the planet’s health and just about everyone would die.” I raise an eyebrow, “Putin doesn’t give two shits about anyone. I could see him doing it easily.” She tilts her head and nods, “fair point. But look, even if it got that bad, we have counter-measures in place for that reason. Lots of people will die, and that is awful, but I don’t think anything like what you are describing would happen.” I nod, lost in my own thoughts. I knew this would be the way it would go, and that’s how it will be with anyone. Even if someone told me the same way that I’m telling her. It is a lost cause. I stand up and extend my hand, “Thank you, Laura. I really appreciate everything that you have done for me today. More than you could ever know. You take care of yourself.” I turn and walk away. I hear her say something but I am several feet away at this point and can’t hear it. It doesn’t matter and I can’t care about it right now. She will be lost just like the rest of them.

Is this how the world will really end?

The Watchmen – Part II – A Horror Novella

Part I

Nine days. 

I stare up at the ceiling in my room, completely lost in thought. Just to be sure, I had even asked Zedd what his dreams looked like. He had described in vivid detail my worst fears: his suffering is identical to mine. There is a small part of me that hopes these monsters just showed us our worst fears─ That maybe they are some sort of creature that feeds off of fear and pain. The more he shared with me, the more I wanted him to stop talking. I roll over on my side and frown at the poem on my nightstand. The nine seems more bold than usual. 

There really is no escape.

His words echo in my mind. If that is true, there will be no reason for me to continue any of this. My entire existence is pointless. I want to cry but nothing comes out. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and never stop screaming. It aches to be in my own skin and I am angry that I will be among the few people that knows what will happen. Worse still, I know that there is nothing I can do about it. Even if I do try and call someone or reach out to people─ no one will believe me. If someone mentioned this to me a few days ago I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have thought they were some conspiracy theorist nutcase. Unless─ I sit up and check my phone. It is early, but Devon normally gets in about eight or eight thirty. I might be able to chat with him for a while. I have an idea, but I am not going to mention anything until I am sure. I dress as quickly as I can and hop on the first train. 

#

“Kate, hey” Devon says smiling, “what brings you in so early?” I am surprised to find him already there when I walk in at seven forty-five. I smile nervously at him, checking my pocket for the hundredth time to make sure the piece of paper is still there. I relax as I feel it crumple against my hand. “Hey Devon,” I say, “I sketched this out last night and thought you might want to take a look at it.” He raises an eyebrow, “Oh yeah? Sticking to those old-school guns, I like it. Let’s take a look.” I try to steady my hand as I reach into my pocket. I unfold the paper and see more hooded figures have appeared. The skyline looks clearer and I can make out shapes and finer details of the buildings. The hooded figures wait outside of the city, staring at the buildings.  

“Kate?” 

My legs move and I walk over to his desk. I pass the paper over to him and then back away to gauge his reaction. His hand had briefly touched mine and I am suddenly very aware that I haven’t showered this morning. I must look an absolute mess. I fidget with my hair and tug down at my shirt. He is quiet for a few moments and then furrows his brow. “I don’t get it.” His face breaks into a wide grin, “Did one of the guys set you up to this?” He chuckles and hands the paper back to me. “ Is it some secret code that I have to pour milk or lemon juice on it? Maybe wave it over the stove?” he waves his hands around. “Already messing with the boss, huh?” I smile at his words but at this very moment I die a little inside. Why can Zedd and I see it, but Devon cannot?

It must seem awkward for me to walk in here like this and not have a come back, so I force a chuckle of my own, “You got me.” I want it to sound casual but it ends up sounding even more awkward. It hangs in the air and stagnates. I clear my throat and turn to leave. “Hey, Kate?” His voice sounds off. I turn back to him from the doorway. “Take care of yourself, this job can get really stressful.” My face burns but I manage a lame, “oh totally, no worries.” I spin around, nearly plow into the wall, and shuffle my way out. Great, the end of the world comes and I still manage to make a complete and total ass of myself. I guess some things will never change. 

#

I still feel slightly bitter about my love life but I’ve managed to knock out a ton of stuff for my main character. I have rationalized that if nothing else, this gives me something to do. It’s pointless, the game will never release. I don’t even know what time the bomb will drop. But hey, at least I know the day. 

It makes me wonder if it is just going to happen here, or all over. Maybe the beings will only show what will directly affect us. This gives me an idea. It’s my first week, but considering I’ll only have just over a week left to live, I figure fuck it─ road trip time. I finish up my tasks for the day with a couple of hours to spare. Zedd has been oddly quiet today, in fact, I haven’t seen him. It is possible that he decided to work night shift. Most of us hate that schedule, but there is a team that works from four until midnight. Even if he never shows up to work again, it’s not like I can blame him. I mean, it’s one thing if it is only you hallucinating, but to have someone else confirm your worst fear? That’s true terror. I am hoping to talk with him a bit more today. The way we left things last night makes me feel lost. I feel more helpless now than I ever have in my life. I am desperate to think that we can find a way out of this, maybe some hope still exists. I managed to wake up feeling a little better today, but carrying this sort of knowledge weighs you down. I shoot him a text just to check in on him and then head to Devon’s office. 

I tap lightly on the door. There are a few murmurs on the other side and finally I hear, “come in.” I peek my head around the door and smile. “Hey, there’s my favorite gal. I just got your completed works for the day. Careful─ you’re making the other guys look bad.” He winks conspiratorially at me and grins. I laugh and shake my head, “Oh, that can’t be true. I’ve seen their work.” He types a few things on his computer and then turns his full attention to me. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”     

I smile at the southern drawl. I notice that people here tend to address each other as sir or ma’am but it isn’t in a professional way, it is polite and respectful. I am still getting used to their drawn out words and pronunciations. It took me ages to figure out the guys were saying pen instead of pin, which they pronounced as ‘pin’.

“I’m so sorry to ask this, but I’ve had a family emergency come up. Is there any way that I can work remotely and maybe take half a day off to drive up there?” His face suddenly grows serious. “Oh, Kate. I’m sorry to hear that, is everyone OK?” I shake my head feeling guilty over the lie. “No, no, nothing serious. My dad is out of town and my mom broke her leg. She just needed me to help out at the house until dad gets back Friday.” 

“No problem at all. Honestly, just go ahead and take tomorrow off and you can work a half day Friday, how’s that sound?” I’m shocked at how understanding he is. 

I’m slightly disturbed at how easy the lie spills from me. I will have to work that out with myself later. One thing at a time. “Oh, and Kate?”

“Hmm?” I respond. “Zedd is not feeling well, but he’ll be in tomorrow. I’m loving the direction you two have come up with.” I thank him and quickly make my exit. This is a weird day, but it isn’t entirely bad. I feel accomplished, which is a bit weird given the circumstances. Perhaps I am taking this a bit too well. 

 #

I stare out the bus windows for the hundredth time. I’m not sure what I’m expecting to see, but the tree lined roads are finally giving way to mountains. It’s something to stare at as I listen to my audio-books. I know going too far would be silly and if I go back home, I feel like I will get the same result. With this in mind, I decide to go to New Mexico. It is twelve hours from Dallas but it is far enough away from Dallas that it will help prove my theory.  It is better than sitting at home and sulking. My eyelids grow heavy as we get to the last hour or so. This state is huge. I can’t believe how long it takes to get across. I probably could have gone to Louisiana or Oklahoma, but I figured if I was going to go somewhere it was at least going to be pretty. The constant drone of the audio-book’s narrator didn’t help and before I know it, I am out. I blink a few times and realize that I am staring from the familiar building. This time, the entire floor is filled with everyone at the office. Devon walks past and flashes his winning grin, his warm brown eyes crinkle around the edges. I shyly smile back and then start walking toward my desk. Usually the things have appeared by now, but instead it seems like a typical day. 

I glance around, curious about where this dream is going. I am vaguely aware of movements at each cubicle as I pass by. People are glued to their monitors, the little clicks of the mice are the only sounds cutting through the silence. At any moment I expect the terror to unfold and then I will look down to stare at my insides. I will sit helplessly as the blast blows me apart. Worst of all, I will feel every agonizing second of it. I squeeze my eyes closed, willing myself to wake up. Please, I silently beg, I don’t want to go through it again. Don’t make me go through this again. The second I close my eyes I feel it. The office shifts and then trembles violently. Seconds later, the screams begin. My eyes fly open and once again I am faced with the tall, spiraling cloud that mushrooms and expands. There is a pause as everyone stands in awe, staring up at the impending doom. Within seconds the wave hurtles toward us and then slams into the building with a crushing blow. 

God no. 

The glass shatters and then embeds itself in my skin. The flesh melts from my face as the wind rips at my body. Adrenaline will not kick in, I can feel everything. People drop like flies around me, their screams eventually replaced with wet gargles. I gasp for air as my lungs fill with blood. My one good eye watches as the earth tilts until finally I make contact with the floor. It’s all that I can do. My body aches and my nerves are on fire but finally it subsides into a dull throbbing. It’s as if my body has accepted this horror. Like the visions before I just won’t die. This should be the part of the dream that you wake up covered in sweat and screaming. My entire life I have had the luxury of just that. Especially if it is one of those falling dreams. Not only can I feel every moment of this living hell,  I can taste it. The ash, the blood, and the chemicals. The building groans in the wake of the damage. It sways and then lets out a low, haunting moan. It reminds me of the recordings of wales I had listened to as a child. Yet more industrial as the building begins to collapse in on itself. As we all fall, They appear. I try and close my one good eye but to my horror, I realize that my eyelids are gone. The debris lands on my exposed eye, light as newly fallen snow. I instinctively try to blink but in the end all I can do is stare at the chaos. The burning has become so intense against my exposed flesh that I am sure I am dying. And yet, I can not die.

I can not fucking die.

They close in and sigh in ecstasy as they pluck my suffering from my flesh and my mind. It’s as if I am the last morsel of succulent meat. They feed on the others in mere seconds, but me, god fucking help me─ they are having a four course meal. I try any way I can to die faster. I try biting my tongue, but there isn’t enough of it left. I try in vain to move either of my arms, but too much of the muscle lays piled on the floor. I am stuck here, being consumed piece by piece─ layer by agonizing layer. 

#

 

Finally I wake up screaming my lungs out. I hear a man curse in the seat in front of me and the driver comes to a screeching halt. I run my hands over my face and then my body as I search everywhere. I relax as I find that everything is in its place. I drink in the air, so much clean, fresh air─ thank god. 

I sit back in my seat and let out a sigh. “Hey,” I jump at the shout from the driver, “everything OK back there?” I peer around the row of seats and shrink into my seat at all the confused faces of the passengers. I clear my throat, “um, yeah sorry,” and then I add “I have night terrors.” The entire bus groans and people mutter, throwing angry looks my way. Sorry, I mouth at them. My face is on fire.  I scoot closer toward the window, hoping that no one can see me. I draw my legs up to my chest. 

Whatever that was, it isn’t a dream. I’m not sure what it is that keeps these monsters feasting on me. I have this sinking feeling that They are the reason I have been kept alive. I shudder running my hands along the length of my legs. Maybe spreading some warmth through them will ease the chill. The air on the bus has grown colder, we must be in the mountains. A quick glance outside confirms it as we chug along uphill. My thoughts turn dark as I stare out across the misty mountains. I had been able to sleep OK last night but what if the dream returns? What if I can never close my eyes again?

#

The hotel is nothing fancy, but it is cozy. After speaking with the front counter I get my room key and I am all set. I walk down a few hallways until I find the first set of double doors. The man at the front desk has described it well. To my delight it opens into a large pool area. It is all enclosed and there is even a hot tub. I’m glad that I have decided to pack my bathing suit. I had been hoping the place has a sauna or something I can relax in. My mood gets even better when I see in fact that they do have a sauna. At least there is something to look forward to tonight. After I get in my room, I set up my work laptop and plug in my phone to charge. The signal here is awful and my battery is already at forty percent. I check my messages and email. Devon sent me one about an hour ago. It is just to check in and make sure that I have made it to my parents. I send him a response that I am fine and I will be able to work tomorrow afternoon. I add that he is welcome to call or text for any emergencies and then send it out. 

I am surprised to find that I feel energized. Despite the dream, it has somehow refreshed me. I glance over the room service menu and then check out some of the local restaurants. I am famished. There’s a small pizza shop that has great reviews and I place my order. In less than thirty minutes it is sitting on the dresser. I have a scary movie playing in the background as I lay the cheesy goodness on the bed. You would think since my own life is the stuff of nightmares, I wouldn’t want anything to do with them. But it’s somehow comforting to watch someone else go through hell instead of me. I’ve seen just about every horror movie made, even the campy ones from out of the 80’s. The boogeyman always fascinated me because they never died. I love Halloween, Michael Myers just keeps coming back. Ironic, given that my own hell in these visions parallel that. Maybe he is just pissed off that he can’t die and takes it out on others. Suddenly, I have a soft spot for the guy. I would never wish this on anyone, but I can at least imagine other people’s struggles, right? I devour three pieces before I finally slow down. I can without a doubt eat this entire pizza, and still I would want more. But after the sixth slice, it seems to do the trick. I sigh and pat my belly. I’m hoping I find that the images change, but so far I have checked and it hasn’t. 

I’m not sure what I am expecting, but the hope remains that maybe spending a night in another state will change the paper. If it does then the entities must prey off of fear and also solidifies that this will happen everywhere. Maybe I am witnessing the end of everything. Surely we can travel miles out of the major cities and be safe right? Isn’t that what someone sending a bomb would do? Target all of the major cities? I remember learning in one of my science classes that if several bombs went off it would affect the entire planet and that eventually the fallout will kill us off. Radiation poisoning is no joke. We would not only die, we would die horribly. There really isn’t a bright side to this, no matter the scenario. 

#

I finish the movie and then walk over to the closet. I’m ready for a good, long soak in the hot tub. The chill in the air here is definitely different than Dallas. Even with the heater on, there is a distinct chill in the air. I select a crisp, white robe and smile. This place may have been old, but it is still full service. You would never find things like this in a cheap hotel. Definitely not one that I can afford. I slip it over my bathing suit, grab my key card, and walk down the hall. 

A few doors down I can hear someone’s T.V. blaring. It’s loud as hell, the person watching it must be deaf. It reminds me of my grandfather’s westerns blaring at full volume in the living room. I’m pretty sure I heard a horse whinny. At least I know that I’m not alone. I walk into the pool room, hang up the robe and slip into the tub. I am in heaven as the heat sinks into my skin. If the end of the world really is happening in eight days, this is a great way to spend my time. It is perfectly quiet─ just me and the warmth. 

My body sags as the weight of the world melts away. My eyes close and I rest my head against the cool concrete. Seconds after I close my eyes, there is a thunderous boom. I jump, whipping my head around. The sound reverberates around the enclosed space, but nothing is here. Both of the doors are sealed tight. My lower lip trembles as the water trickles down my face. That boom, I know it anywhere. I have it etched into my memory. I expect at any moment the room will collapse around me. I imagine the burning blast of air that rips away my insides. 

Stop it, I tell myself, just stop. There is nothing here, you’re just tired. I try to rationalize it. Maybe it is my neighbor’s T.V. Or maybe, I think, every time you close your eyes you’ll relive your own death again and again. My blood runs cold at the thought. How long can I last? One day─ two? I shudder despite the burning temperatures of the water. Suddenly, the sauna doesn’t sound so good.  

#

It is around three a.m. when I get the call. When I had gotten back to my room earlier I ordered as many caffeinated drinks as I could. After two monsters and several diet cokes, I am fairly certain that I can taste colors. I keep action movies going in the background and play games on the laptop. I figure as long as I am doing something I can’t fall asleep. I am in the zone blasting away at bad guys when my phone goes off. I pause and look at my phone, it’s Devon. Confused I answer immediately. 

“Hello?” 

There is a pause on the line, followed by a few sniffles. I decide that maybe he has butt dialed me but I talk into the phone anyway. “Hello? Devon?” 

“Hey, Kate. Yes, I’m here.” His voice sounds shaky as if he has been crying. I am instantly alarmed. 

“Hey, is everything OK?” I ask. There are a few more sniffles. “Kate, I’m so sorry to be calling this late, but I thought it would be better to hear it from me than the news.” 

“OK.” I answer. My heart is hammering in my chest, I don’t know what to expect. 

“This is really hard to tell you, especially since it’s your first week. I’ll be making an announcement on Friday, but I’ve also been making calls to all the team members.” He sniffs again. “I’m sorry to have to let you know that Zedd will no longer be coming into the office.” My hands won’t stop shaking. I had just seen him less than two days ago. “Did he quit? Is he OK?” I ask softly. 

There is a long pause on the other end. I think that maybe he has hung up, but then finally he answers. “Zedd─” Devon’s voice falters and he has to take a couple of breaths before continuing, “took his own life earlier today. I’m so sorry, Kate, but I have to go. We are closing the office down tomorrow, so don’t worry about work, OK?” I thank him for letting me know and hang up the phone. 

Part III coming soon.

❤ Grey

The Watchmen – Part I – A Horror Novella

And the Watchmen wander the streets with a flurry and flutter, the wisp of a coat. With weary eyes they usher;

Tick-tock, little rabbits run to your den.

For on this night, hallowed night, They send the world to silence.

Ever still, ever waiting, ever stoic they remain;

And the Watchmen release their hymn to fall upon deaf ears.

Let the breeze stir, let the night rise. Oh peace, dear quiet surely now you will come!

For the creatures of this world listen to wicked tales spun by devils. Oblivious to this moment, oblivious to stalkers that roam in the night, oblivious to the silence that the Watchmen shall bring. Their eyes how they sag; their bones brittle and weary. They cry for their saviors as their arms reach for the sky.

And the Watchmen remain silent.

For the world in one night the Watchmen did see, as They gaze from the darkness and listen to their pleas; And so it begins, from the earth it rises, mist flowing like water into cracks and crevices; it fills their homes, it fills their lungs, it fills the space until nothing is left;

Save the mist. 

And the Watchmen stay silent until at last, all at once, their eyes look to the sky.

This night, hallowed night, They gifted the world to silence.

14

It is just a note, some silly poetry I’d stumbled across in my old high school backpack. I remember taking a few creative writing courses before college, and then a few more in college. I thought most of my work had been transferred to my blog online, but I guess I had missed one. The number at the bottom intrigued me. I have no idea why it is there or what it is meant to be, but the font on it was different and bold like it held some sort of importance. I can hardly believe that I graduated just a few weeks ago and already starting my new job. My story is like something out of a dream. I doodled all through college, worked on projects with my friends, and submitted a few of my art pieces to companies with some silly dream to be a character designer for games. I couldn’t believe it when I got not one but two different offers─ from the companies I never expected to hear back from. We’re talking major game titles, the guys that went to conventions with millions at their disposal. I still can’t believe it. I am floating on a cloud as I pack my things to move down to Dallas. Texas, man that sounds weird. I always pictured that I would be in Eerie, or some small town in Pennsylvania for the rest of my life. I don’t even know where to begin with clothes shopping, or what to bring. I stare at my shovels and snow boots. I guess these definitely won’t be going with me.

#

After several tear-filled moments and lots of convincing, I tell my parents that I will be sure to call them once I get in my new place and I am all settled in. I had made arrangements for my new place over the phone, but I haven’t gotten to see it. Saying I am anxious to step foot in it is the understatement of the year. Part of the perks of this new job is I get to live in the complex not far from our office. It is a new building and within five miles of Downtown. I would be able to drive anywhere. I am bummed that I will have to look for a car, but according to my new boss I will definitely need one in Dallas. Apparently public transportation isn’t anything close to what we have back home. I smile as the thought crosses my mind. I am still thinking of mom and dad’s place as mine. This is definitely going to take some adjusting. Thankfully, my boss has given me the weekend to get settled before I start Monday.

My apartment is actually larger than I expect. I have room for everything and then some. It is a sad realization that I really don’t have a lot. Except my art supplies and computer which I keep exceptionally organized and stored away. I am not the sort to collect things. Stuff that piles on the shelves or takes up space annoys the crap out of me. In less than a handful of minutes, the internet is working and good to go. I have most of my living area, all of my bedroom, and bathroom, and some of my kitchen put together. I stream some music as I dig through the last box from the living room. I’m not sure why, but I decide to go ahead and look at that poem again. Hell, maybe I will run up to a hobby store and get a frame. It is kind of a neat piece, it even has doodles of some hooded figures around it. After rummaging around, I locate it near the bottom shoved between some art folders. I look at it and frown. There are drawings on it, but this time it is a city skyline that is surrounded by hooded figures. Something else has changed. Maybe my memory isn’t right or perhaps someone is playing a joke on me. But the more I try to rationalize it, the more concerned I become. My parents aren’t the joking sort, especially my mother. Why would they have pulled it out of the box at all? Neither of them would have done that. Despite all that, it isn’t the strangest part. The number at the top of the paper has changed from 14 to 12. It has been exactly two days since I looked at it. The color drains from my face. Were the numbers a sort of countdown? More importantly, a countdown to what? I turn the paper over in my hands, looking from the back to the front. There is no other information on it, no date, just the same words. The skyline looks familiar to me, but I can’t quite place where I have seen it. I pull out my phone and snap a few pictures. Maybe I can search it up online later.

#

I frown at the screen, shift in my seat, and then zoom in on my character. It is my first design for a new game that is still in the planning stages. They have trusted me to come up with the side character designs. I am insanely happy at my role here as it is, but this is going to be a major release game and I get to be a part of it. Me. It really is too good to be true. My first character, to my amazement, is approved and I am adding the finishing touches on her shirt and jeans. I add a patch, remove it, and then add it again. I decide the cute little hooded emblem will work with the dystopian theme and give it a little bit of a punk edge. I grin as I turn on the final layer. She looks badass, and not overly complicated which means other artists could duplicate the style in the department. I click save and get up from my desk to stretch. I look down and blink a few times. I can’t believe it. Have I really been here for twelve hours? A quick peek out at the office confirms it. Everyone has gone except me, the building is completely dark. My mind shifts to the letter and I wonder if the numbers will change again and what, if anything, they actually mean. I push the down arrow on the elevator when I notice a light flickering in one of the cubicles. I guess I am not here alone, one of the other artists must be staying late as well. It is near the back and toward the middle of the isle. The sporadic light patterns remind me of gameplay on a computer, like a shooter or something with fast movements. We don’t have lamps so it must be coming from a monitor. I smirk and turn back to the elevator. Someone is probably just chilling and playing games.

I tap my foot impatiently, it has been a while since I pushed the button. I press it again thinking that maybe someone else had gotten on and it canceled my call for it to come up. The golden ring lights up and I watch as it shows that it is making its way up. A loud bang erupts behind me. I spin around, expecting to see that maybe someone has knocked something over. Instead, I am greeted with complete and total darkness. I panic and freeze in place, not even daring to breathe. Ok, I reason, maybe the lights are on automatic timers. Suddenly there is a flash and then a flickering light toward the back of the office. This isn’t like before, it is the only light coming from the entire space. Even the emergency back-up lights aren’t on. I turn toward the button, fumbling my way in the darkness to find it. Why isn’t the elevator coming up? The light continues its rhythmic pattern, only now there is a loud buzzing sound. Similar to the sound an old florescent bulb makes but amplified tenfold.

My eyes are glued to the light, I am terrified that if I turn away something will get me. The hairs on my arms stand on end and I struggle to breathe. There is a whoosh, and then a sigh as a low groan sounds in the darkness. I can feel Its presence. It is waiting there just beyond the light. I am not sure how I know this, but it is a fact. I am not alone. I squint my eyes and can barely see the outline of a dark, hooded figure. Its presence is full of hate, it wants to hurt me in unimaginable ways. As soon as I am aware of Its presence, It shows me what it is thinking. The vibration intensifies as I watch myself in vivid detail and all of mankind standing helplessly at the towering mushroom cloud that forms in the city. I watch as my face in the vision goes from shock to absolute horror. The cloud seems so far away but then it is on me in an instant. Bile rises in the back of my throat as I watch myself smile wide─ the skin and tissue blasting against the wall in a large, gory pile. The whole time my grin grows wider. My now half-blasted body crumples to the floor in a loud, wet thud as the roar dissipates giving way to silence.
I squeeze my eyes shut and scream as I slam my hand on the down arrow again and again. The buzzing stops and I opens my eyes. I am shocked to find the lights are back on. The bell sounds behind me and the elevator doors open. I stumble toward the elevator, my legs threatening to give out. I yelp as a pair of hands grip my shoulders.
“Jesus Christ. Kate, are you OK?”

I want to cry at the familiar voice, but then I remember that this is my boss. I glance back at the space but find nothing there. It’s back to the soft lighting that had filled the office before. My lower lip quivers but I manage to straighten myself up. “I’m so sorry,” I stutter, “I─ thought I saw something.” Devon releases my shoulders and takes one of my hands. “What on earth happened to your hand? Are you sure you’re OK? I was just coming back up to check on you and close everything down.” His voice sounds guarded as he looks around the office.
I steady my breathing, convincing myself that I am just tired. It has, after all, been a twelve hour shift and my first week here. I am just stressed out over the new job and moving. I force a smile, “Yeah, I’m fine really. I bumped into something and didn’t realize I cut my hand.” His shoulders relax. He turns my hand over and inspects the jagged wound, “Either way, that’s a nasty cut. You should go get that cleaned out at the very least. You may need stitches.” My face is burning hot and I look at the ground. I must look ridiculous, like a scared little girl in an empty office building that freaked out when she was alone. Which is exactly what happened but I am way too proud to admit that in front of him. It’s bad enough that I realize it.
I manage to nod my head, “I will. It’s just been a long day,” I offer weakly. Devon smiles and clears his throat quickly releasing my hand, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to touch you, I was concerned about your cut and didn’t think about it.” I shake my head and smile, “No, no, it’s fine. I think I probably would have done the same thing.” We stand awkwardly for several moments before he takes a step toward the office. “You mind if I take a look at your progress since we’re here?” My grin grows wide, “Sure. Let me go clean up and I’ll meet you at my desk.”

#

I’m talking a mile a minute as I spin the camera around my imported designs on the character. Devon’s face is a mask, I’m not getting anything from him. Occasionally he nods and murmurs as I explain the textures I used and the designs that can be easily duplicated by the team. When I finish, he’s quiet and we sit for a moment as he stares at it. Finally, he gestures with his hand toward my keyboard, “do you mind if I drive for a second?” I shake my head, “no, go ahead” and I slide my chair over. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he pauses and clicks a few buttons, then grabs the image with the mouse, “but I can tell you aren’t as used to Maya as some of my other guys.” He rounds out a section and then pulls back to take a look. I feel my face grow warm but I smile anyway. “Yeah, I mostly use illustrator and Photoshop with Z-Brush. I learned Maya, but I’ve grown a bit rusty.” He chuckles, “Old school, nice. But, I wasn’t trying to say you aren’t talented, I very much think this is a great start. We’ll go over it with Zedd tomorrow.” We sit in comfortable proximity as he sets up a few hotkeys and changes my settings. Devon is getting really in-depth, so at some point I grab a notebook and start jotting down notes. I’m not sure what impresses me more, the fact that he is taking time out of his day to share his knowledge with me, or that the owner of a game company seems to genuinely care about all his employees. I hear so many nasty rumors from friends that I had prepared myself before I started working here. Devon seems to be a perfect mix of teacher and boss He welcomed me to speak about any issues I was having and pointed out my mistakes in a way that I could learn from them. This is perfect. Neither of us realize how late it is until I get a text from my mother. It’s midnight honey, did your first day go OK? We haven’t heard from you.
I quickly respond to her and let her know that my first day is great and that I am sorry for worrying her. She tells me that it is fine and to get some rest and call her tomorrow.
Devon mentions something about us both getting some rest and that my mother is right. He walks me all the way out to the train station when it dawns on me─ the trains won’t be running this late. I walk over to the schedule just to double check and sag. The last one had run at twelve thirty, I’ve missed it by less than ten minutes. I can walk, I reason, it’s less than three miles. Or, I can Uber. I get a slight thrill as I pull out my phone. I’ve never gotten to use an Uber before, my mom used to drive me everywhere when I couldn’t ride the train.

Devon quickly catches on to the situation and offers me a ride. I’m thankful for the dim light because at this point he has seen me blush enough for an entire lifetime. He insists that it’s fine and we’re on our way in less than five minutes. I’m pleasantly surprised that I get to see what the inside of a Tesla Model 3 looked like. I’ve seen a few on the road, but I have never gotten to sit in one. I’m amazed at how clean everything is, especially considering the white seats. It is so quiet, I can’t get over it.

“So, how are you liking it so far?” Devon says. I grinned like a schoolgirl, “oh, I’m loving it,” I say excitedly, “this car is amazing, I’ve never been in one.” His eyebrows raise and he lets out a surprised chuckle, “Well, I meant at the office but thank you. I’m pretty fond of it too.” I’m again thankful for the darkness as I yell at myself to stop being an idiot. I quickly recover, “you should be more clear about the questions you ask,” I say, shaking my head. We both share a laugh as he pulls up to the stoplight.
“Sorry, let me be clear─ how are you liking everything at the new job?” He turns onto the street and I’m almost sad that we will be to my place in less than a handful of minutes. “It’s hard work, but I knew that going into it.” I pause for a few seconds and wait on him to respond, when he doesn’t, I add “but it’s a great job and I’m very thankful to have it. I’m one of the lucky few that can say I draw for a living.” That gets a smile out of him and I relax a degree.
“I’m glad that you feel that way,” Devon says. He looks out the window and then glances at me, “I meant to ask earlier─ Did you get a look at Zedd’s design already?” I furrow my brow and purse my lips, “At Zedd’s? No, I didn’t. Will mine clash with his?” My heart sinks thinking about all the hours I put in today. Maybe I should have checked in with the team first, I haven’t even thought about it.
“Oh no, nothing like that. I just noticed that you both used a black hoodie design on your characters and had collaborated. Just an odd coincidence I guess” Devon responds. I smile at him despite the growing nausea. “Did he design his today too?” I ask. He nods as we both pull up in front of my place. “Yeah,” he says, “that’s why I thought the two of you had spoken about it.” “Oh,” I say, my awkward smile growing, “how odd. I guess great minds.” Devon smiles at me as I try to shrug it off and reach for the handle, “See you tomorrow Kate.”

It’s not until I get out of the car and wave goodbye that fear starts creeping its way back in. Has Zedd seen them too? I mean, a hooded figure is always related to death. Apocalyptic themes, blah blah─ It could just be that our minds are in sync. I toss my keys on the counter and then plop into my computer chair. I’m grateful that our hours are flexible at work. I am able to work the early eight to five, or take the ten to seven shifts. I’m tempted to go in earlier, but honestly it’s crunch time so it won’t really matter. I wouldn’t have much of an evening left even if I did come in at eight. I decide that second shift will work just fine.

#

When sleep finally comes, it comes in fitful bursts. I can’t purge the image from my mind and it again keeps going back to my skeleton grinning from ear to ear. The horrifying feeling as half of my face dangles by a thread, and the image of hot, blinding light as the boom echoes throughout the city. And It is there watching from the corner. Then all at once I realize─ not just It, but They. There, just in the building next to mine and then another standing below. They’re all staring at me, their dark hoods as black as night. I can feel the joy as they sense my suffering, They’re─ feeding from it. To my horror I can feel more behind me. They are right there. I can’t move and somehow I’m still alive. I feel my bones creak and splinter, sounding as brittle as dead branches snapping from the trees. Searing pokers jam into my belly and my skin drips from my sleeves and then falls to the floor in a sickening wet thump. I reach up and tear at my face wanting the sensation of dangling to stop. I can still see with the eye that now faces the floor and the one that remains in my head. I try and move, but I just fall to the ground. All I can do is lie there, suffering. Jesus.
I can’t take it, I just want to die.
Let me die. I try several times to scream but nothing comes out. Nothing exists but the deafening silence.

#

My eyes try to focus as I stare at the screen. I rub at them and stand for the hundredth time to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I need to get my shit together before I have my first team meeting with Zedd. He had looked over my files and seems happy with the direction I am going. I am a little nervous, this will be the first time I have met the guy. We may work in the same building, but most of us keep to ourselves. I was able to meet the sound team earlier today. Let’s just say I’m envious that they get paid to to record different noises for the game. It looks like a blast watching the actors get into character, or the strange things the guys use to make different sounds. I’m sure they have a sound bank, but Devon has explained that they like to add a little flair to each game. I haven’t gotten to talk with him much today, but he seems just as friendly as he did yesterday. I’m really lucky to be here. That’s why it is imperative that I make the best impression possible. I don’t want to be seen as the newbie that can’t keep up. I even walked myself through the hotkeys and shortcuts Devon showed me last night. In the end, all I have managed to do is stay awake and flesh out a few characters and vehicles. I am feeling pretty shitty when one thirty comes too soon. I need to show an entire group of people some scribbles and color concepts. I sigh heavily as I save it to my G-Drive and trudge over to the kitchen for a last minute pick-me-up.

#

“Wow. Kate, was it?” I nod over at Zedd as he shuffles through my files. He projects them up for the team to see and I feel my face grow hotter than the sun. I keep trying to convince myself that I am ready, but I am completely dying inside at all the attention. I can’t wait for them to move on. “I want you to take a look at something,” he says. I watch the screen as he opens a second folder containing his work and then pulls it into an image viewer next to mine. My jaw drops as I look back and forth between the two. They were in different spots, but our characters have matching hooded tattoos. His is way more clever─ hidden between the character’s knuckles and going halfway up his arm in a badass old-school style reaper. Mine is clearly displayed on my characters back and shoulder that goes up into a reaper hoodie. I have decided against the patch today and went with something a little less obvious. Zedd has caught it right away. “I can take out the flair if it messes with one of the mains,” I offer wanting to be done with it. He looks over at one of the other guys and they both grin. “Are you kidding me? This is great. Honestly, I think we should add her to one of our main crew.” Zedd pauses and then leans in to get a closer look. “Is that a scythe, that converts into a hoverboard?” I blink a few times and then stutter, “yeah─ I guess I got carried away.” The whole team laughs as I pray that I melt into the chair.
“I don’t say these sorts of things lightly,” “he really doesn’t,” one of the other guys interject. That gets another hearty laugh and it’s a few more seconds before Zedd calms them down. “But seriously, I see why Devon hired you. Did you get to see our concepts before you drew yours?” I press my lips together and shake my head side to side. “I probably should have, that would have been smart.” He chuckles. “Well, we can clean it up a little bit with the rest of the team and she’ll fit right in. Missy, I think we got ourselves a new main character.”
I’m mortified at the thought, “Well, no, I mean it’s just some scribbles. We should ask Devon first right?” I’m practically stumbling over every word. The corners of his mouth turn up and there’s an unsettling gleam in his eye. “There’s a reason I’m team lead, Kate. Devon trusts me.” “Oh no, well, I didn’t mean that you aren’t─” words fail me and I’m left speechless at the thought of my new responsibility. This is all too much too soon, but I thank him and smile.
I’m flooded with relief as they move on to the rest of the team. I can’t believe the talent I see and they are all working on backgrounds and side characters. I definitely don’t deserve this. As soon as the meeting ends, I am determined to pull Zedd aside and tell him to put me back on the side characters.
The meeting lasts for just over an hour and we’re all packed up to leave. I make a beeline for Zedd and tried my best to argue that someone else’s work should be used before mine─ especially since they had been there longer. That got me nowhere fast and in the end Zedd stuck to his guns saying that he would supervise me every step of the way. After pouting for all of five minutes and slinking away, it suddenly hits me─ why am I being such a baby about this? Anyone else in my graduating class would have killed to be in this position. I need to suck it up and get over this fear. For once in my life I need to allow myself to believe I am here for a reason. I think back to the comments earlier during our meeting and smile, There’s a reason I’m team lead, Kate. Ok, maybe I am being a little harsh on myself.

#

I chew on my stylus as I sit back and stare at my submission art. I want it to be perfect and I have been messing with Maya all day. I pull her into a standing, and then crouching pose before I decided to send her bent on the hoverboard. Both her hands are sprawled out with flair and I make a quick gif of her pose animation for the opening credits. Technically, it’s a whole other team that does that part, but I want to reveal her with style. Zedd tells me that the social media guys were working on a fun build up to release her as a surprise and asks me to sit in on a quick skype with them today. It feels super awkward at first until one of the dudes and me hit it off on another game we love. I describe in detail about her abilities and we come up with several ability trees in less than an hour. It is going to have to be run through Devon, but Zedd says that the rough draft is looking great and that we are early enough in that adding a fourth lead is no big deal. After what feels like a long, but productive day I stand and stretch. I send out my final draft and copy Devon on it like Zedd had mentioned. I look at my Fitbit and frown, I have barely gotten in three thousand steps today. I am definitely going to the gym tonight, especially after the team meeting donuts. I suddenly feel very aware of how many I’ve eaten. Was it two, three? I shake my head, yep definitely gym time.
“Hey.” I leap at the voice and spin around. It is Zedd, but he looks─ different. His normally well kempt hair is wild and his eyes are rimmed with red. He looks as if he has rolled out of bed from a long night of drinking. And god, he smells.

What is that putrid odor? I try to smile, but my wavering words give me away, “oh, hey Zedd,” I reply, “what’s up?” He staggers toward me, his eyes trained on mine. His arm comes up and he points at me, jabbing in my direction, “you saw them too. Didn’t you?” My eyes grow wide at how angry he sounds. “Saw who?” I ask carefully, edging my way back toward the elevator.
His red, watery eyes bore into mine. He looks as if he will fall over at any moment. His hand stays mid-air but he points in a different direction, “them,” he whispers. I swallow thickly, but remain quiet. Zedd looks over toward the area I had first spotted the creature and nods, “I saw your sketches and it made me curious,” he slurs. Is he drunk?
Then it dawns on me, that is the odor I am smelling, vomit mixed with liquor. “So I went back and reviewed the cameras.” I cover my mouth and shake my head, “oh god, I’m so embarrassed, I was really tired and it had been a long day.” His finger comes up to his mouth and he shakes his head. “I saw how scared you were,” he whispers. I shift uncomfortable at his words. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. 
Before I can say anything, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. The crinkling sounds loud in the large, open space. “Here,” he growls, “take a look at this.” He thrust his hand toward me and I gingerly take the paper from his hand. “I thought it was just me until I saw your drawing.” I glance up at him confused and then down at the paper.
The hooded figure glares back at me from the sheet, nearly filling the page. There is no denying it─ the dark creature glares back at me. I can feel the entity’s eagerness oozing from the page. The same words are written on his paper. “Where did you get this?” I demand. He blinks in surprise at the shift in my demeanor.
“You’ve seen this before?” He grabs my shoulders and shakes me─ hard. I try to pull away, but he holds on tight. “You have to let me see it. Does yours─ change?” My body grows cold as I realize what he means. The numbers. He releases me as he studies the look on my face. My legs wobble and I can feel the contents of my stomach rising. I don’t want to, but I scan the page all the way down to the bottom. There, in bold print are the neatly typed numbers:

10

#

“I’ll have the number four, well done, with a coffee,” Zedd responds mechanically. I can tell he’s been here a few times. The waitress smiles and calls him by name. I order a muffin and coffee, smiling politely. Zedd has managed to clean himself up. His brown hair is combed back and he smells a little less sour with a hint of mint. He must have swished some mouthwash and washed up in the office bathroom.
As soon as the waitress leaves, Zedd turns his attention to me. He clears his throat, “hey, listen─ sorry I gave you a scare earlier. It’s just, no one else has” he trails off, taking a deep breath. He seems to struggle with his next sentence, “seen what I have. I thought I was going crazy.” I nod sympathetically, “it’s ok. I thought I was just, you know, tired or something. But, how did you know we saw the same thing? I mean, it was just a hooded figure. There’s tons of those around. It’s not exactly original.” He stares at me, quiet for several heartbeats.
“You’ve seen them, right?” his voice is soft, but it’s emotional. I tilt my head to the side, “I saw them, yes. But I only saw more than one when I─” I hesitate. He is the one that brought me here, but suddenly I feel dumb saying it out loud. “That wasn’t a dream. It’s going to happen.” It is my turn to stare at him, “how do you know that?” I ask.

“You asked how I knew we saw the same thing. I know because I felt that same feeling when I looked at your drawing. Plus, check this out” he pulls out his tablet and opens the files back up. It is our drawings sitting side by side. “It took me a while to spot it, but there it was, plain as day.” He taps on the screen and then zooms in on both images. “Do you remember drawing this?” I frown at the screen, squinting to see what he is trying to show me.
At first all I can make out are what appeared to be a bunch of squiggly lines. I look from one character to the other, trying to find some similar pattern or shape. “You can’t spot it yet, can you?” I shake my head, “no, sorry.” He taps on the screen a few times and then desaturates the images. The color drains from my face as he pushes the screen toward me. “How about now?”
Suddenly, I can see them everywhere. Words scrawl across their clothes, skin, making up part of the scythe, on the hoodie, covered in the background repeating over and over again:
No Escape. My stomach is in my throat as I think about the joy that creature felt as the skin slid from my bones and my insides sprayed the walls. How delighted It was to dine on my terror.
“There really is no escape.” Zedd’s voice sounds hollow. “It has to be what that countdown is on our papers.” I don’t know what to say, because there is nothing to say. After several moments of silence, the waitress brings our food. We both thank her, but neither of us touch our plate after she’s gone.