The Watchmen – Part I – A Thriller Short Story

And the Watchmen wander the streets, gazing at the scampering rodents;

 

The flurries and flutter, a wisp of a coat. With weary eyes they usher;

 

Tick-tock, little rabbits run to your den.

 

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

 

Ever still, ever curious in your abode, you watch;

 

wait.

 

The Watchmen release their hymn to fall upon deaf ears.

 

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

 

You will huddle, sweet nothings, such dears in your homes; Oblivious, diurnal, and fear of the unknown; Eyes drooping and bones weary.

 

For the world, in one night, the Watchmen did see. They gazed from the dark, the mist, while it crept;

 

into the crevices, through humble dwellings and at last, Their eyes cast up to the sky.

 

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

 

14

 

It was 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 was there, or what it was 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 was floating on a cloud as I packed my things to move down to Dallas. Texas, man that sounded weird. I was always picturing 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 stared at my shovels and snow boots. I guess those definitely won’t be going with me.

 

#

 

After several tear-filled moments and lots of convincing, I told my parents that I would be sure to call them once I got in my new place and I was all settled in. I had made arrangements for my new place over the phone, but I hadn’t actually gotten to see it. Saying I was anxious to step foot in it was an understatement of the year. Part of the perks of this new job was I got to live in the complex just next to our office. It was newly built and within five miles of Downtown. I’d be able to drive anywhere. I was bummed that I would have to look for a car, but according to my new boss I was definitely going to need one in Dallas. Apparently public transportation wasn’t anything close to what we had back home.

I smiled as the thought crossed my mind. I was still thinking of mom and dad’s place as mine. This was definitely going to take some adjusting. Thankfully, they had given me the weekend to get settled before I started work Monday.

 

My space was actually larger than I expected. I had room for everything and then some. It was a sad realization that I really didn’t have a lot. Except my art supplies and computer which I kept exceptionally organized and stored away. I wasn’t the sort to collect things, or buy unnecessary items. Basically, in less than a handful of hours, the internet was hooked up and I was good to go.

 

I streamed some music as I dug through the last box. I’m not sure why, but I decided to go ahead and look at that poem again. Hell, maybe I’d run up to a hobby store and get a frame. It was kind of a neat piece, I’d even doodles some hooded figures around it.

 

After rummaging around, I located it near the bottom shoved between some art folders. I looked at it and frowned. There were drawings on it, but this time it was a city skyline that was surrounded by hooded figures. To top it all off, something else had changed. 

 

I could write off the doodles changing as maybe my memory hadn’t been right, or someone was playing a joke on me.But the more I tried rationalizing that logic, the more concerned I got. My parents weren’t the joking sort, especially my mother. They both wouldn’t have done that. Despite it being odd, that wasn’t what was really concerning me. The number had changed from 14 to 12. It had been exactly two days since I looked at it last. My hands suddenly felt very cold and the color drained from my face. Was the numbers a sort of countdown? More importantly, a countdown to what? 

 

I turned the paper over in my hand, looking from the back to the front. There was no other information on it, no date, just the same words. The skyline looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place where I’d seen it. I pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures, thinking maybe I could search it up online later and then put my phone away.

 

#

I frowned at the screen, shifted in my seat and then zoomed in on my character. It was my first design for a new game that was still in the planning stages. They had trusted me to come up with the side character designs. I was insanely happy at my role here as it was, but this was going to be a major release game and I got to be a part of it. Me. It really all was too good to be true. My first character, to my amazement, was approved and I was adding the finishing touches on her shirt and jeans. 

 

I added a patch, removed it, and then added it again. I decided the cute little hooded emblem would work with the dystopian theme and kind of gave it a punk edge. I grinned as I turned on the final layer. She looked badass, and not overly complicated which means other artists could duplicate the style in the department. I clicked save and got up from my desk to stretch. I looked down and blinked a few times. 

 

I couldn’t believe it. Had I really been here for twelve hours? A quick peek out at the office confirmed it. Everyone was gone except me, the building was completely dark. My mind shifted to the letter and I wondered if the numbers would change again and what, if anything, they actually meant. 

 

I’d just pushed the down arrow on the elevator when I noticed a light flickering in one of the cubicles. I guess I wasn’t here alone, one of the other artists must have stayed late to finish up. It was near the back and toward the middle of the isle. The sporadic light patterns reminded me of gameplay on a computer, like a shooter or something with fast movements. We didn’t have lamps, so it must have come from a monitor. I smirked, turning back toward the elevator. Someone was probably just chilling in the quiet office and playing games. 

 

It had been a while since I pushed the button, so I thought it would be close to our floor but the light had gone out. I pressed the down arrow again and it once again rimmed in the golden light. A loud bang erupted behind me. I spun around, expecting to see the person had stood and knocked something over or maybe something fell down. 

 

Instead, I was greeted with complete and total darkness. I panicked and froze in place, I didn’t move or dare to breathe. Ok, I reasoned, maybe the lights were on automatic timers. Suddenly there was a flash, and then the flickering started again. Except, it was the only light coming from the entire space. I turned toward the button, fumbling my way in the darkness to find it. Why hadn’t the elevator come up? The light continued its rhythmic pattern, only now there was a distinct noise to it. It ground into my head, the loud buzzing. 

 

My eyes were glued to the light, I was terrified that if I turned away something would get me. The hairs on my arms stood on end and I struggled to breathe. There was a whoosh, and then a sigh as a low groan sounded in the darkness. I could feel it. It was there, waiting just beyond the light. I didn’t think it, I knew it. I could barely make it out, but just to the left was a dark, hooded outline.

 

Its presence was full of hatred, it wanted to hurt me─ hurt me in unimaginable ways. It showed me what it was thinking. It wanted to watch as me and all of my own kind stood helpless at the towering mushroom cloud that formed in the city less than twenty miles away. I watched as my face went from a curious stare to an apprehensive one. The cloud seemed so far away, but then it was on me in an instant. Bile rose in the back of my throat as I watched myself smile wide, the skin and tissue blasting against the wall in a large, gorey pile. The whole time my grin growing impossibly large. My now half-blasted body crumpled to the floor in a loud, wet thud as the roar dissipated giving way to silence. 

 

I squeezed my eyes shut and screamed as I slammed my hand on the down arrow again and again until there was wetness. The buzzing stopped and I opened my eyes. I was shocked to find the lights were back on. The bell sounded behind me and the elevator doors opened. On shaky legs, I stumbled toward the elevator and yelped as a pair of hands gripped my shoulders. 

 

“Jesus christ. Kate, are you OK?” 

 

I wanted to cry at the familiar voice, but then I remembered that this was my boss. I glanced back at the space but found nothing there. It was calm, soft light filling the room. My lower lip quivered, but I managed to straighten myself up. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” I stuttered, “I─thought I saw something.” Devon released my shoulders and took one of my hands in his. “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 sounded guarded as he peered into the office.  

 

I steadied my breath, convincing myself that I was just tired. It had, after all, been twelve hours and my first week. I was just stressing over the new job and move. I forced a smile, “Yeah, I’m fine really. I bumped into something and didn’t realize I cut my hand.” His shoulders relaxed and he reached out again to grasp my hand. He turned it over and looked at 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.” I blushed scarlet and looked at the ground. I must have appeared 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 realized it. 

 

I managed to nod my head in response, “I will. It’s 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?” I grinned wide, “Sure. Let me go clean up and I’ll meet you at my desk.” 

 

#

 

I’m speaking 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 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 felt my face grow hot, but smiled anyway. “Yeah, I mostly use illustrator and Photoshop with Z-Brush. I learned Maya, but I’ve grown a bit rusty.” He returned my smile, “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 pointed out a few hotkeys and helped me with my settings. He’s really getting into depth, so at some point I grabbed a notebook and started jotting down the things that I needed to learn. 

 

I’m not sure what I’m more impressed with, the fact that he is taking time out to share so much knowledge with me, or that the owner of a game company seems to genuinely care about all his employees. I’d heard so many nasty rumors from other buddies that I was steeling myself before I got here, waiting to be yelled at. Devon seemed to be a perfect mix of teacher and boss with a lot of open discussions. 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 was perfect. 

 

I don’t think either of us realized that it had been as late as it was when I got a text from my mother. 

 

It’s midnight honey, did your first day go OK? We haven’t heard from you.

 

I quickly responded to her and let her know that my first day was great and that I was sorry for worrying her. She told me that it was fine and to get some rest and call her tomorrow.

 

Devon mentioned something about us both getting some rest and that my mother was right. He walked me all the way out to the train station when it dawned on me─ the trains wouldn’t be running this late. I walked over to the schedule just to double check and sagged. The last one had been twelve thirty, I’d missed it by less than ten minutes. I could walk, I reasoned, it’s less than three miles. Or, I could Uber. I got a slight thrill as I pulled out my phone. I’d never gotten to use an Uber before, my mom had driven me everywhere when I couldn’t use the train. 

  

Devon caught on really quick what had happened and offered me a ride. I’m thankful for the dim light because he had seen me blush enough for an entire lifetime, let alone one night. He’s insistent that it’s fine and we’re on my 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 was so quiet, I couldn’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 recover quickly, “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 quickly 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 got a smile out of him and I relaxed a degree. 

 

“I’m glad that you feel that way,” Devon said. He looks out the window and then glanced at me, “I meant to ask earlier─ Did you get a look at Zedd’s design already?” I furrowed my brow and pursed my lips, “At Zedd’s? No, I didn’t. Will mine clash with his?” My heart started to sink thinking about all the hours I put into a few of my characters today. Maybe I should have checked in with the team first, I hadn’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 collabed. Just an odd coincidence I guess” Devon responded. I smiled at him despite the growing nausea. 

 

“Did he design his today too?” I asked. He nodded as we both pulled up in front of my place. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s why I thought the two of you had spoken about it.” “Oh,” I said, 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 started creeping its way back in. Had Zedd seen them too? I mean, a hooded figure is always related to death I suppose. Apocalyptic themes, blah blah─ It could just be that our minds were in sync. Yes, that had to be it. 

 

I tossed my keys on the counter and then sagged into my computer chair. I’m thankful that our hours are flexible at work. I could work the early eight to five, or take the ten to seven. I’m tempted to go in earlier, but honestly it’s crunch time so I know it won’t really matter and I won’t have much of an evening left even if I did come in at eight. I decided that sleep sounds better and to take the second shift. 

 

#

 

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, half of my face dangling by a thread. The hot, white light is blinding as the boom echoes throughout the city. 

 

And the worst part is 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─devouring it. To my absolute horror, I can feel there, just there behind me. It’s right there.

 

I can’t move, and somehow I’m still alive. I can feel my bones creaking and the pain, like searing pokers jammed into my belly. My skin is slithering from my sleeves, falling 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 screamed and screamed but nothing came out. There’s nothing but the deafening quiet. 

 

#

 

My eyes try to focus as I stare at the screen. I rubbed at them and stood for the hundredth time to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I needed to get my shit together before I had my first team meeting with Zedd. He’d looked over my files and seemed happy with the direction I was going. I was a little nervous because this would be the first time I’d actually met the guy. We may have worked in the same building, but most of us sort of kept to ourselves. 

 

I got to meet the sound team earlier today and was slightly envious that they got to spend their time recording different noises for our game. It looked like a blast watching the actors get into character, or the strange things the guys used to make all the different sounds. I’m sure they had a sound bank, but Devon had explained that they like to add a little flair to each game. 

 

I hadn’t got to talk with him much today, but he seemed just as friendly as he did yesterday. I’m lucky to have a boss like him. Really, I’m lucky to be here. That’s why it was imperative that I make the best impression possible. I didn’t want to be seen as the newbie that can’t keep up. This morning, I’d even walked through some of the hotkeys and shortcuts Devon showed me so that I could use them with confidence. 

 

In the end, all I managed to do was stay awake and flesh out a few characters and vehicles. I was feeling pretty shitty when one thirty hit and I needed to show a team of people some scribbles and color concepts. I sighed heavily as I saved it to my folder in our drive and trudged over to the kitchen for one last pick-me-up. 

 

#

 

“Wow. Kate, was it?” I nodded over at Zedd as he shuffled through my files. He projected them up for the team to see and I felt my face growing warmer by the second. I kept trying to convince myself that I would be ready, but I was dying inside at the attention. I couldn’t wait for them to move on. “I want you to take a look at something,” he said. I watched the screen as he opened a secondary folder containing his work and then pulled it into an image viewer next to mine. My jaw dropped as I looked back and forth between the two. They were in different spots, but our characters had matching hooded tattoos. His was way more clever, hidden between the character’s knuckles and going halfway up his arm in a badass old-school reaper style. Mine was clearly displayed on my characters back and shoulder that went up into a reaper hoodie. I’d decided against the patch today and went with something a little less obvious. Zedd had 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 silently try to melt into the chair. 

 

“I don’t say these sorts of things lightly,” “he really doesn’t,” one of the other guys muttered. 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 weren’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 thanked him and smiled. 

 

I’m flooded with relief as they move on to the rest of the team. I couldn’t believe the talent I saw and they are all working on backgrounds, and side characters. I definitely didn’t deserve this. As soon as the meeting ends, I was determined to pull Zedd aside and tell him to just put me back on the side characters. 

 

The meeting lasts for just over an hour and we’re all packed up to leave. I made 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 finally convinced me that it would be fine and that he would supervise me every step of the way. 

 

After pouting for all of five minutes and slinking away, it suddenly hit me─ why am I being such a baby about this? Anyone else in my graduating class would have killed to be in the position I was. I just needed to get over this fear and allow myself to believe I was hired out of talent. 

 

I thought back to the comments earlier during our meeting and smiled, There’s a reason I’m team lead, Kate. Ok, maybe I was being a little harsh on myself. 

 

#

 

I nibbled on my stylus as I sat back and stared at my submission art. I wanted it to be perfect and I’d been playing with my Maya all day. I pulled her into a standing, and then crouching pose before I decided to send her bent on the hoverboard. Both her hands were sprawled out with flair and I made a quick gif of her pose animation for the opening credits. Technically, it’s a whole other team that does that part, but I wanted to present her with style. 

 

Zedd told me that the social media guys were working on a fun build up to release her as a surprise and asked me to sit in on a quick skype with them today. It felt super awkward at first until one of the dudes and me hit it off on another game we loved. I described in detail about her abilities, and we came up with several ability trees in less than an hour. It was going to have to be run through Devon, but Zedd said that the rough draft was looking great and that we were early enough in that adding a fourth lead was no big deal. 

 

After what felt like a long, but productive day I stood and stretched. I sent over my final draft and copied Devon on it like Zedd mentioned. I looked at my fitbit and frowned, I had barely gotten in three thousand steps today. I was definitely going to the gym tonight, especially after the team meeting donuts. I suddenly felt very aware of how many I’d eaten. Was it two, three? I shook my head, yep definitely gym time. 

 

“Hey.” I leapt at the voice and spun around. It was Zedd, but he looked─ different. His normally well kempt hair was wild and his eyes were rimmed with red. He looked as if he had rolled out of bed from a long night of drinking. 

 

And god, he smelled

 

What was that putrid odor? I tried to smile, but my wavering words gave me away, “oh, hey Zedd,” I replied, “what’s up?” He staggered toward me, his eyes trained on mine. His arm came up and he pointed at me, jabbing in my direction, “you saw them too. Didn’t you?” My eyes grew wide at how angry he sounded. “Saw who?” I asked carefully, edging my way back toward the elevator. 

 

His red, watery eyes bored into mine. He looked as if he would fall over at any moment. His hand stayed mid-air but he jabbed it in another direction, “them,” he whispered hoarsely. I swallowed thickly, but remained quiet. Zedd looked over toward the area I had first spotted the creature and nodded, “I saw your sketches and it made me curious,” he slurred. Was─he drunk? 

 

Then it dawned on me, that was the odor I had smelled, it was vomit mixed with liquor. “So I went back and reviewed the cameras.” I covered my mouth and shook my head, “oh god, I’m so embarrassed, I was really tired and it had been a long day.” His finger came up to his mouth and he shook his head, silencing me. “I saw how scared you got,” he whispered.  I shifted uncomfortably at his words, not really sure what he wanted me to say. 

 

Before I could say anything, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. The crinkling sounded loud in the large, open office. “Here,” he growled, “take a look at this.” He thrust his hand toward me. I leaned forward gingerly and took the paper from his hand. “I thought it was just me until I saw your drawing.” I glanced up at him confused and then down at the paper. 

 

The hooded figure glared back at me from the sheet, nearly filling the page. There was no denying it─ the darkness glared back at you, gleefully inhaling all the pain, the suffering. I could feel the entity’s eagerness oozing from the page. And there, right there were the words. The same poem that I had discovered in my box from college. “Where did you get this?” I demanded. He blinked in surprise at my anger. 

 

“You’ve seen this before?” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me, hard.  I tried to pull away, but he held on tight. “You have to let me see it. Does yours─change?” My body grew cold as I realized what he meant. The numbers. He released me slowly as he studied the look on my face. My legs felt like they were going to give out. I didn’t want to, but I scanned the page all the way down to the bottom. There, in bold print were the neatly typed numbers: 

 

10    

 

#

 

“I’ll have the number four, well done, with a coffee,” Zedd responded mechanically.  I could tell he’s been here a few times, the waitress smiled and called him by name. I ordered a muffin and coffee, smiling politely back. Zedd had managed to clean himself up some. His brown hair was combed back and he smelled a little less sour with a hint of mint. He must have swigged some mouthwash. 

 

As soon as the waitress left, Zedd turned his attention to me. He cleared his throat, “hey, listen─ sorry I gave you a scare earlier. It’s just, no one else has” he trailed off, taking a deep breath. He seemed to really be struggling with the next sentence, “seen what I have. I thought I was going crazy.” I nodded 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 stared at me, quiet for several beats. 

 

“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 hesitated. He was the one that brought me here, but suddenly I felt dumb saying it out loud. “That wasn’t a dream. It’s going to happen.” It was my turn to stare at him, “how do you know that?” I asked. 

 

“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 pulled out his tablet and opened the files back up. It was our drawings sitting side by side. “It took me a while to spot it, but there it was, plain as day.” He tapped on the screen and then zoomed in on both images. “Do you remember drawing this?” I frowned at the screen, squinting to see what he was trying to show me. 

 

At first all I could make out were what appeared to be a bunch of squiggly lines. I looked 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 desaturated the images. The color drains from my face as he pushed the screen toward me. “How about now?”

 

Suddenly, I can see them everywhere. Words scrawled across their clothes, skin, making up part of the scythe, on the hoodie, covered in the background repeating over and over again:

 

Tick-tock, little rabbits.

 

My stomach is in my throat as I think about the joy that creature plucked from me as the skin slid from my bones and my insides sprayed the walls. How delighted It was to dine on my terror. 

“There’s no escaping it.” Zedd’s voice sounded defeated, tired. “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 us our food. We both thank her, but neither of us touch our plate once she’s gone.

 

Part II coming soon.

❤ Grey

I will be posting this story on RoyalRoad.com

Advertisements
Gallery

Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventures Part III

Part I

Part II

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued!

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

❤ Grey

 

Gallery

We Are The Last – Chapter 1 – A Sci-Fi Novel

Chapter 1

We are the last.

In three minutes and fifty-nine seconds, we will die and humanity with us. I stare across at the last people on earth and I can’t help but wonder what could have been done differently. How had we reached this point in time to where the entirety of the human race resulted in the three women and two men that existed in this room? None of us can find the courage to look each other in the eye. Maybe it’s that we grow weary of breath.

Each of us has found their respective corner in the room except me. I’m positioned in the center, staring forward at the comforting brown shades pulled shut. A few of them shuffle, growing restless at the last remaining moments. Three minutes. There’s a part of me rising, I expected as much. Human survival instinct is famed for its stubbornness. Or, it used to be. Something is eating at me.

There was something some years ago that a professor had mentioned in my Chemistry class. I hadn’t thought much on it until the following year in Biology. The breaking down of cells, how gravity had a profound effect on humans. Not surprisingly it went all the way down to a molecular level. Aging wasn’t only in our DNA, it was the product of the combined forces of environmental pressures and the strains we placed on our bodies. I’m not sure why I am thinking on this now, but I know I am on to something. All of the others may have lost faith in themselves, but I have never given up.

Three minutes and thirty-nine seconds. The large numbers on our Scyvies glare back at us from our wrists, the once calming blue a countdown to death. I close my eyes and draw a breath savoring the clean, fresh air. This wasn’t like back home, where it was required to walk outside in a mask. I always did, knowing what waited on the other side. That stench would never go away, no matter how many times they cleaned it. It wasn’t the stench that was the hard part. It was what followed from smelling it. Memories. Memories that we would all soon try our hardest to forget.

“Hull, cut it out.” A low rumble cuts the silence.

I ignore him, keeping my eyes pressed shut. I breathe in, then out, my mind grasping at the earlier memories. There’s a faint glimmer suspended in the back of my eyelids. I slow my heart rate, only focusing on my breath and the image.

“I said knock it off,” Harris growls.

There’s a faint scraping noise as Harris jumps to his feet. I again respond with nothing. Let these assholes give up. I’m finding a way out.

“Put a cork in it, Harris.” Ash drawls. I can’t help but smile at the tough son of a bitch. She never takes anyone’s shit and always has my back. She’s never understood me, but she fights like hell by my side. I think it’s secretly because she buys into what I’m selling. I should have gotten into the pyramid scheme business, I would have made a fortune.

“I will not put a fucking cork in it, breeder.” He spits on the floor. Harris has gone too far. That word is inexcusable, especially on this team. The room gasps at the word. I’m waiting for some kind of angry retort, or hear Harris howl in pain. The only thing that sounds is Ash’s snort and then quieted words.

“I’m going to remember that after me and Hull get out of here, shit stain.”
I feel the air stir as someone seats themselves in front of me. Their scent hits me and I know it’s Ash. Her calloused fingers rest over mine and her energy washes over me. It’s warm like summer rain.

“These idiots might not see it, but something’s changed ‘bout you in the last few minutes.” I smile crookedly at her words. Perceptive as ever. I don’t open my eyes.
“You remember last year, by the docks?” She’s quiet for a few beats, mulling it over. “You talking about that time traveling nonsense from your professor again?” The glimmer is turning into a distorted image. It reminds me of looking out from a window in my youth. My breath hitches for a second as sweat beads my brow. It is a window. A small two foot by two-foot window from the old house off of Jupiter Run. The distortion is from the rain, pouring outside. I can’t get over the smell. I’ve never been able to get it right over the years but today it’s there. A strong smell of gardenias, fresh cut grass, and dirt. Ash is here next to me, but still only seated in the room.

“Hull, that’s pseudo-science BS. You know that, right? Time travel ain’t real.” Her voice betrays her inner thoughts. I can tell she is getting excited.

“What the fuck is with you two? Acting like you got some way out of this. It’s bullshit.”
“Harris,” Cutter’s voice is like velvet, but there is a distinct edge to it. “If you don’t shut the fuck up, you’re not going to make the last minute or so with the rest of us.”

Harris quiets and there are footsteps as the others circle around me and Ash. Our Scyvies give us the last minute warning with one small beep. “You two hippies going to enlighten the rest of us?” Dawn has finally decided to join in. Mostly, because Cutter has. They had been travel companions for years before they met up with the group.

“We don’t have enough time for me to explain in full.” I mutter, “You remember what I taught you?”
Harris is on the floor, beside himself in laughter. “Here we fucking go again. Join our consciousness, find your fondest memory, travel back to your youth, our minds are the key. God damn horseshit.” His laughter is the only one in the room as the others quiet. Our breathing begins to sync. I let my mind wander back to that moment. The temperature in the room begins to drop rapidly. I know they are getting it ready for our swift departure. I’d read somewhere that it barely took a handful of seconds before you were gone. Even if this doesn’t work, at least we can die knowing that we tried.

The Scyvies give the thirty-second warning, two small clinks in rapid succession.
In seconds, the room is gone. I can no longer feel myself drawing breath or the goosebumps that have spread across my skin. The dull pain in my back and slowly numbing hindquarters has disappeared as I travel along the length of the glimmer. I find myself wondering what this must look like to the others. Everyone’s ride is different.

What are they seeing at this very moment? Ash is probably remembering the heat, long summers, and popsicles. She could go on for hours talking about the different flavors of popsicles, and each of her favorites and why. It was an odd thing, hearing a teen girl pine over flavored ice, but I knew they meant more than that. Back when her father had been alive, he had run a small Popsicle stand with snacks on the weekends for the local kids. It was an outdated thing for the time, but the kids loved it. They would set alarms on their visors, unplug and venture outside to have one of his homemade masterpieces.

Most of us had plugged in some time ago and never came back. It started around the year 2025 with the VR technology at its peak. Everyone that was anyone owned one. With prices dropping by the months, it was possible for just about everyone to get their hands on one. Eventually, they became state issued if you were of school age and was mandatory to own one for the public school system. Because of the decline in need for office space, and with the new technology, most people contracted from home. If you needed something, you ordered it online. It was then directly dropped through the wall in a chute so that it wasn’t left outside.

Theft was a way of life in most units and was expected. If something was left outside of your door, or you hadn’t had a proper chute installed, that was your own problem. There were a few people that didn’t either have the means, or the mental capacity to actually own VR gear. These were known as the Outsiders and them like many others existed before the drastic decline in the population around 2039.

It wasn’t that the people stopped having children, it’s that there was no longer a desire or need to. Fast forward to 2051 and just about everyone had opted out of childbirth or test tube children. Once we had located the specific chain of DNA that caused aging, along with decreasing the effects of outer stimuli, such as gravity damage as well as pollution, people were living to be hundreds of years old. We had some inkling of aging according to the history books some time ago.

Around the year 2006 scientists had begun to realize that eating too much, in combination with too much direct sunlight also contributed to the rapid deterioration of cells on the molecular level. Once we unlocked the secret of aging in our DNA, most aging could be entirely reversed or frozen. It went from monthly treatments to every six months, and then finally years. Before the global war, the United States had boasted that their scientists were working on a formula that you would need only take once in your lifetime at the exact moment you wanted to freeze your aging.

For the elders, this also meant that in just ten small treatments, they could go back to their peak years in their life. We had finally discovered the fountain of youth, and it came not from the box jellyfish-like people had suspected it would, but by accident from a single man that had spent his entire life isolated from the world.

Robert Cromwell, of the 200 block on Beacon St. in Somerville Massachusetts had been recorded as owning the property since the early 1930s. According to the bank records, the house was family owned and had been passed down for generations. That was only partially true. It was true that it had run in the family and had been since the 1930s, but the owner wasn’t Robert Cromwell Jr. As a matter of fact, Cromwell had no children whatsoever. He had simply changed his name over the years.

When they had discovered his secret in 2033, he had lived to be a hundred and thirty-three years old. This wouldn’t have been odd, except for the fact that he appeared to be a twenty-five-year-old male, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. The man had more money than several generations of families combined, and yet curiously he stayed in the quaint two-story home with blue paint and white trim. It was sad, really when they confiscated his home and he was imprisoned for tax evasion. He later died in his jail cell three months into his sentence and the public was told that he had a rare genetic disorder that didn’t age him on the outside, but that his organs had failed him.
None of us bought that.

It became a long-running joke on the internet. Sites dedicated to finding the man that could cheat death. Like many conspiracy nuts, people would post photos of Cromwell in a cabin in the woods, or in other countries boarding a plane. But there was a difference now, people could immediately tell if the photos were fake or not using simple software you could download from any mobile device, and it was free. More often than not he was spotted in a type of military garb or a lab coat, which lead everyone to believe that he had in fact, not died but had been forced to join a team of scientists so that old wealthy people in California and New York could buy their way into eternity.

Many people believed that we would eventually just upload our consciousness onto a hard drive and into bodies that never aged. But the issue with this was how to do it. It was never taken directly from the source, it was collected from various social Media, texts, emails, recorded Skype conversations, facial recognition software and personality traits related to them, and then used to create a ‘perfect being with no need of organs.’ The issue with this is that even with advanced programming, we still had not mastered the ability to make them entirely─ human.

They could mimic humans and could come damn close to actually being human but they still couldn’t pass the Turing test. Even now, in the year 2067, we still have not mastered it. Though, to be fair we stopped pursuing that quickly after finding the secrets to our own aging process. A.I. was now used as a means of cheap labor, sexual pleasure, and companions. Since humans no longer had a need for procreation, the poverty line grew exponentially.

The middle class completely dissipated, leaving behind two types of societies: the wealthy and those that survived. The ones that were left behind were stacked up on each other in slum-like buildings all over the world. Each space was sized perfectly for the decline in a normal household size. By 2015, the average of 2.54 dropped down to 1.5 by 2055 in the U.S. By the time we had reached the year 2060, most maternity hospital wings had been replaced and children based businesses had been shut down.

I know later generations if in fact there is any left, will probably wonder what all of this has to do with my current situation. I’ll get around to that if I make it through this next part in one piece. I’ve ridden the glimmer many times before but never for this long. Not to mention, I don’t have a current body to go back to so hopefully this all works out. If it doesn’t, well hell─ I guess all of humanity is fucked and this will just be one for the history books when an alien civilization finds it. I’m still pissed off that after all these years, there’s still no sign of intelligent life out there.

Then again, they might have taken one hard look at our society and decided to nope the fuck out. In any case, about five feet in front of me is the answer to all of my questions. Hopefully the solution I’m looking for. I want to walk through the second I see it, but I pause by the entrance of the rift. I’ve never traveled with anyone else, so I’m not sure if I actually am going to see the others or if I just walk through. From down the hall, I hear the ten-second warning from the Scyvies.

If I had to describe what I’m looking at, I’d compare it to a long tunnel made entirely out of fractured light that bent every twenty feet or so in different directions. My footsteps make no sound and you can see directly through the floor. As a matter of fact, I’m not entirely sure there is a floor. I’m fairly certain my brain has decided that the way my head is facing is up and wherever my feet land is down. There is a distinct odor traveling along the length of the glimmer and I know my time is gone. Not a single person has appeared next to me, so I know they either have to meet me on the other side, or they are lost like everyone else. This was it, it was now, or never. I dive through the tear in time and tumble onto the hard floor.

“Winner, winner, sky friend! Come now to collect your prize at 3112 West Main Street. Fame, wealth, and fortune are just around the corner─” I wave my hand silencing the bot. If where I initially thought of is actually where I am, then I know I’m back to my old loft off of Cadiz near Downtown. My head is killing me, but I manage to pull myself up to a sitting position. It’s muggy in the small space from all the rain, so I know it has to be spring or fall. A quick glance out the window tells me what I need to know─ it’s definitely Fall.

I’ve never done this before, so the next part hits me as a bit of a shock. Bile shoots up the back of my throat and spills all over the concrete floor and wall. I’m silently cursing my ignorance because I must have eaten a fucking turkey dinner before I got here. I dry heave for several seconds when the bot starts back up again, “Feeling ill? Try these home remedies from Natural Market supply house. Choose from these all natural flavors─” I growl and wave my hand again. “Alexa, purchase one month of bot-free access,” I yell. “Understood, would you like to enable single voice command purchase now?” I grind my jaw, “yes, fine whatever just shut that thing up.” “You have purchased a one-month premium bot-free access to─” “yes, thank you, Alexa, that will be all.” “Understood. Goodbye.” I sigh and look down at the mess I’ve created on both myself and my loft.

I stiffen as I remember what day this is. Normally, people like to travel back to happier times. Not me. I wore my depression like some badge of pride at this age. It was the first, and last time, that I would be twenty-three years old.

I was born at the tail-end of the depression in the year 2025. They, of course, didn’t call it that, but the recession was just a nicer way of saying, ‘we’re all fucked financially.’ My mother, one of the few traditionalists, conceived me the natural way. She never wanted a partner, so she chose to be artificially inseminated with her best friend, Laura. It wasn’t that uncommon by then for women to blend DNA with other women, it was a simple process using bone marrow. And thus, Jamie May Bonham was born on a windy day in October in a sad, one bedroom apartment with a midwife older than dirt. My mom had been pushing forty at that point, and the doctors had warned her that it could destroy her body if she didn’t get treatments. My mother, with all of her southern charm, told them to promptly go to hell and take their damn technology with them.

Lily May Bonham was nowhere near as delicate as her name would suggest. Mom took pride in being the only female engineer in her department. She was every bit a scientifically minded individual as she was religious and I always found that side of her peculiar. We would have discussions at length on how I believed science was the only answer, and she would talk about how they could go hand in hand. She never told me how to think, and that’s what I loved about her. She never told me I was wrong unless of course, it was on a math problem. She was ruthless with those. The point I’m making is that she never made me feel inferior to her, not for one second. This made me realize later that she was wise much beyond her years. Some people went entire lifetimes and never grasped that concept.

My mother loved to exercise. It was understood that the first part of the morning was set aside for her. It was a quiet time in which I was encouraged to go online and read my books assigned for the semester. I never actually enjoyed reading, but I loved being read to. I had loads and loads of audiobooks at my disposal and I listened to them every morning as I downed my protein shakes. Some time ago, the food crises due to over cropping all of the farmland made actual food extremely expensive. Food vouchers covered the necessities, which were up-to-and-including: nutrient shakes, or bars, water, and salt. If you wanted grown fruit, veggies, or real meat─ it was the equivalent of three month’s salary for one meal. It was a way for the government to claim that it was to help bring down obesity levels and for our own benefit.

A few times before mama died, we actually got to try real fruit. I still salivate thinking about that nearly fifty years later. Ironically, her rigorous exercise routine was her undoing. We lived pretty well for the time, which meant that the neighborhood hadn’t turned into the shit stain it is now. My mother ran for six miles once a day five days a week. I’m not sure why she chose this arbitrary number, but she was very cross with herself if she didn’t make her goal. The day had been much like it is now, rainy and the air clung to your skin. She had given me a kiss on the way out, telling me to be sure to run on the treadmill for a minimum of thirty minutes with a five-minute cooldown. I nodded, eager to get to the next chapter in my latest action adventure and murmured a quick, ‘I love you too’ as I plugged in. The mechanical lock was the last thing I heard before the worst day of my life happened.

I didn’t start to get worried until lunchtime rolled around. At first, I thought that maybe she had decided to stop by the market and surprise me with a candy bar, or piece of fruit. I made the first call to her phone at two pm, then four, and finally five-thirty. I was just about to phone Laura when the apartment’s auxiliary system informed me that an officer was at our front door. It was the backup system since the police did not yet have a direct line to my headset. More than likely, my mother had placed a passcode on her phone which was an incredibly outdated tech for the time and the officers hadn’t known what to make of it.

I don’t remember a lot from that day, but I do remember the knot in my stomach that twisted as I placed one foot in front of the other. I knew if they were there, it meant that they had to have checked her implant since she wasn’t conscious enough to give them the direct line. As I approached, I remember the officer had called out his badge number and informed me that he was there to give me news on my mother. I swallowed thickly and opened the door. At the time, I had barely made out what they said, but I got the gist of it. She had stopped by a local market on the way home. A man that was fed up and desperate had picked that moment to set off a bomb that had taken out half the city. There were no survivors, including the bomber. I had numbly thanked the police officer, took what little was left of my mother from him and closed the door.

The second worst day of my life was the current day that I chose to go back to. That sounds confusing as hell when I think about it. I haven’t fully grasped how I’ve managed to get here, but I have a few good ideas. That’s the key, making sure that I know how so that I can share all of this with the others. I’m nearly thirty years in the past, right before the global revolution took hold. I stare down at the clear liquid in the syringe laying on the floor in front of my feet. I thought that I had put this day behind me, but my subconscious must have chosen this moment because it was a huge turning point in my life. I rolled the needle around the ground with my foot, staring at the temptation for the second time.

Had I have actually done it right back then, maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. When I had pushed the fluid into my arm the first time, I had passed out before I emptied the entire thing. It left me in excruciating pain for hours before my neighbors called it in after getting home from work. I crush the liquid tube beneath my foot into the other mess I made on the floor, digging my heel in defiantly. I would not revisit that place again. I lost countless hours locked away in that place when I could have done so much more for people. Our people. There’s a mechanical whirr as the iBo fires up and starts vacuuming the liquid mess.

It was standard issue for the stacked units, in an attempt to keep out pests. There was one stationed between two units on each level. Each floor in our particular unit was fairly spacious in our building. Compared to most units that preferred to cram in anywhere from 18 to 22 units, our building only allowed 12 units per floor. The only reason that I’ve gathered from this is that my mother left a substantial amount of money when she passed on and she owned this unit in full. Many places in the city started allowing you to pay off a unit if you were born in a certain year. I was lucky enough to actually be grandfathered in and the place was mine. I change shirts and then walk up to the sweeping bot, staring as it removes the contents and then pauses.

The blood drains from my face as I realize what it’s doing. Shit. I leap across the room, knowing that it is going to dock and report its findings. I can’t allow that. I hastily rip at the panel on top, push down and then lift the covering. It’s still charging toward the wall, I’m shocked how much pull this small device has. If it manages to actually make it before I can figure out what to disconnect, the authorities will be here in seven minutes. I have twenty feet at most and it’s moving one foot a second.

Shit, shit, shit.

I’m following along like a dog sniffing at their owner’s hand for food. I could jam the wheels that would buy me time. I find the nearest piece of cloth and rip it off the window. The floor is concrete so it isn’t used to going over the carpet. Most places didn’t have carpet anymore because it was found to be incredibly unsanitary. There’s a groan and then a strong odor as the moving parts get caught around all the fibers. I nearly shout in excitement as it stops eight feet from its destination. It would buy me at least three minutes before the front desk was notified that the bot had malfunctioned. Then a few more before maintenance would be knocking at the door. I locate the belly of the beast and push down the release switch. A warning buzzer sounds and I curse loudly at the empty space. Why the fuck did they make these things so fucking difficult?

Those three minutes would turn into seconds because it would notify the office that someone was tampering with the device. What’s done is done. I still have time before they would come up the elevator. I finally get the container free and open the latch. All of the glass and metal is there. I cross over to the cabinets and pull out a bag, then pick out all the pieces of glass and metal and dump them into it. I have to leave most of the dirt, or it will look suspicious. I’m about to put it back into the vacuum when I realize something. The liquid isn’t there. Fucking idiot.

I hear the ding at the end of the hallway and leap over to the front door. Most units didn’t have a top lock, but ours did. I turned it and then bolted back over to the vacuum. I could hear the men talking as their keys jingled down the hallway. I have ten seconds, twelve at most before they are at my door. I’m frantically searching where I pulled the dry vacuumed contents out, but there is no other container. I angrily flip the vacuum over and finally find it. I want to scream in anger, but I manage to jump to my feet and pull at the island drawer where I kept all of my small tools.

I rip at the small drill and hope that it all charged. Bit, bit, I yell at myself. I locate the smallest sized one and run over just as I hear the guys walk up to my front door. “Alexa, industrial music” I call frantically. Loud mechanical sounds with base start filling the area as I flip the switch on my drill. The noise is softer than the music playing and I sigh in relief. The bolt removes easily, but I have less than a handful of seconds before the men will be beating down my door, or call the authorities. I’m less than happy when I finally tear it free. There are a bunch of clear liquids and then brownish liquids in the front. It’s a series of small rows with several of them.

I press my hands into my forehead as I hear the first knock at the front door. There has to be a code for each unit. It’s evenly distributed into eight cylinders, the two nearest the front being darker─ which meant that they must be older. That left the middle units and the ones near the back. Here was my problem. I couldn’t just remove all of the liquid, that would land me in for questioning by the local PD and if tampering was actually evident it would turn into a federal case. I had to put something into the container or they would know that I had removed it. But which one?

The intercom sounded as a gruff middle-aged man cut over the industrial music. “Please silence your music and answer the door within thirty seconds, or we will contact local authorities.” Alexa paused the music. “The maintenance crew seems to be outside of your unit and is unable to get inside. Penal code 1174-2 paragraph 4─” “I understand, thank you, Alexa. I am complying. Please turn on my shower.” “Understood.” Alexa flipped on my shower. I ran to the bathroom and pushed the telecom button. “I’m here,” I shout, “sorry, I’m in the shower. Give me a minute and I’ll be right there.” The guy lets out a long sigh and grunts. “You got thirty seconds.” I let go of the switch and douse my hair in water, careful to not get it on my shirt. I’m still grasping the liquids as I run over and get a glass from the shelf. It was now or never, I bring the liquid eye level and decide on the back right. It’s clear but has a slight bluish tinge. This has to be it, the other looks like water. A really loud knock comes from the front again.

It sounds extremely impatient. “Yeah, yeah” I mutter. I dump most of the liquid into my glass and stick it in the refrigerator. Then I fill the rest of the tube up with water from the sink. I can’t keep the poison there all day, it will do a scan before I go to bed tonight. But it’s safe for now. I race over to the vacuum, shove the tubes in the way they were facing before and quickly hand screw the bolt in.

“Resident 10127, you are hereby warned that I am going to call local authorities─”
“Sorry” I yell, opening the door. “I slipped on the tub when I got out. It’s going to leave a nasty bruise.”

The man waiting at the door for me is every bit as gruff as I expect. His beady brown eyes are cross as he points a meaty finger my way. “What the hell is going on here?” He hasn’t listened to a word I said. Thankfully, I look about as flustered as I feel and I take a few breaths, steadying my voice. “Like I said, I was rushing to get out of the tub and I slipped and fell.” He stares at me for a few seconds. “Well?” I blink and look from him to the artificial unit next to him.

At first glance, the A.I. units look human, but when you look closely at them, you can tell they aren’t breathing. This unit is a simple older model with red hair and freckled skin. He is tall, close to six foot three and his skin is paler than mine. “You going to let me do my job so I can get to the other few hundred units that need servicing today?” I blush a deep scarlet and step back from the entrance. The A.I. unit looks to me as his partner enters. “You may enter,” I say quietly. The unit nods and steps into my loft. This always makes me uncomfortable, how the older units are programmed. We had to give verbal permission for them to enter. I really don’t like talking with anyone, unless I have to. I hear the older man let out a curse. “God damn son-of-a-bitch ate the curtains. Management ain’t gonna be happy ‘bout this.” He had the lingo that most blue collars did around here, with a heavy accent. He was definitely from the North East.

“Red, get your ass over here. Now.” The unit increased his pace as he rounded the corner to meet with the old man. I pulled the door shut and took a casual stride into my living space. The old man stands as I walk past and grabs my arm. “You do this?” I feign shock and scrunch my brow in confusion. “Why on earth would I do that? Like I said, I went to take a shower and the next thing I know, the two of you are beating down my door. I didn’t see this until I went to answer the door.” The lines deepen on the man’s face as he sizes me up. “What happened?” I again blink at his question, my eyebrows going up.

“What do you mean? I just─” “The bots don’t just come out unless there is a mess.” He threatens. It was that ‘don’t fuck with me’ tone that elders have an annoying way of doing perfectly. “Look,” I say, “I spilled some of my water earlier and broke a glass. I managed to get most of the glass up before it came out. Then I decided to hop in the shower. There isn’t a crime against that, is there?” I challenge him with my own stern gaze. He shrivels a little but still keeps his chest puffed slightly. “Yeah, we’ll see.” He bends down and scans the area.

I know the bot has done a good job, so I don’t hesitate to walk from both of them. “Let me know if you need anything else,” I offer dryly. The man mutters something sarcastic under his breath, but I am already at my computer, stuffing the bag into the small door to the right. I pull up my schedule, double tapping the screen. I need to get reacquainted with my life. I know this is my last semester at the university, but I had no idea what day it was, or if I had classes today. I relax, seeing that it’s Friday afternoon and have nothing going on. Then I wince. Of course, I don’t, this was the day I was planning on ending my life. I hear a few murmurs over my shoulders and slide my hand to the right to put the calendar away.

I stand and walk over to the refrigerator, then grab a glass. I am one of the few people that still keeps the old water pitchers. I prefer the flavor of the charcoal filter versus the filtration system for our units. I knew it was probably in my head, but I swear I can taste some sort of medicinal residue. It always has a bitter, metallic flavor.

“In accordance with penal code 1174-2, paragraph 4 versus─” “Don’t lecture me on something my grandfather helped write, you hunk of junk. I said beat it.” I took a few sips, chancing a glance over at the two. The A.I. stood and turned walking down my short hallway. I tense as I hear the door slam. Apparently, even the older models are programmed with human reactions. The old man sighs heavily and meets my gaze.

I can see he is working something out in his mind. He nods and motions with his other hand for me to come over. I set down my glass and try to control my breathing. What does he know? Great going, Bonham. Your first day back in the past and you manage to make enemies with a man that can turn your life to shit in minutes. I picture the hospital. When I say hospital, I’m using that term very loosely. It was more like a privately funded prison. Most of the best hospitals were stationed further north or on the lunar colonies. For the rest of us simpletons, it was normally a house visit for federally regulated drug prescriptions, or it was diagnosed with your mobile care unit.

There was a mobile clinic in each building. It was a small, 4×4 foot space that you wore provided booties and face mask in. It then took a swab of your saliva or blood sample and quickly diagnosed the issue. Within two hours, the prescription was sent directly to you and you were ordered to quarantine in your quarters for the remainder of the contagious period. Then your entire unit was decontaminated and you could go back to your life. But attempted self-harm cases were different. You had to go under a physician’s care for a minimum of one year, effectively losing your spot on the lease and freezing your accounts until a doctor cleared you to go back into society. If you wanted to go about it the legal way and file for assisted suicide, that was a whole other mess. Much like the first one, you were required by the state to enroll yourself in a year-long program with a psychiatric care physician, then placed on medication and have been on the medication for a year before you were allowed to make that decision on your own.

Which meant it was a two-year minimum to end your suffering. Total bullshit. That’s why I took it into my own hands and did a shit ton of research on how to slowly collect the chemicals I would need to die peacefully. That was mostly here, in the U.S. but there were some countries that were way worse off.

“Look, kid, I don’t got all day.” I jump at his words, but manage to walk around the corner with a straight look on my face. I don’t bother saying anything as I stand in front of him. I’m not really one for words, most the time people just sort of say what they think and I remark here and there to keep them sated.

This guy, there was something about him. Even though he seems like a dick, his voice has softened a degree. His eyes even appear softer. I’m not sure if it’s all in my head when he speaks. “Had a son about your age a few years ago.” I stay quiet, interested in what he’s trying to say. I’m curious because he’s leading up to something, I can tell. He doesn’t sound angry, he sounds sad. “I know it ain’t easy. All this.” He motions with his hand making a circle. “Things aren’t making much sense anymore with all the old people young again. See, me, I’m a traditionalist. I ain’t wanting any of that weird shit, ya know?” I nod pressing my lips into a forced half-smile. Where is he going with all this? Then I freeze as I see his portable analysis machine.

He’s found the small amounts I’ve tried to hide with the water. I try not to panic, but I can sense it’s creeping into my eyes. I can feel them growing wider. I jump as he places his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, alright. As my grandfather would always say, I ain’t no snitch.” He stops and points his finger across from me. “Mark my words, if you make me regret this decision, I’ll make it hell for you and anyone related to you. You get me?” I tear up, trying to not let it slip from my eyes but my body betrays me. I feel the wetness slide down my face and I turn away. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m the only one left.” He grunts and takes a step back. “No family, eh?” I shake my head.

He scratches the back of his head uncomfortably. “I…uh. I ain’t much good at this, but I seen that school you attend. It’s the third best school in the country and your, what, Top eight in your class?” “Five” I whisper. “What’sat?” he asks. “I’m in the top five,” I repeat softly. He cracks a smile, clearing his screen. “Seems like an awful waste to me. With scores like that, you can do just about anything you want.” He bends down and clears iBo system records. I don’t know this guy and he’s doing all of this for me. I’m awkward, unsure of how to thank him. If he would have reported me, I would have repeated the past and lost everything. Now it makes sense.

He had ordered the A.I. unit out in the hallway because it would have reported me immediately. It was legally bound to do so with the Human’s Rights Act of 2045. Basically if a human was a danger to themselves or others they would be reported to local authorities and processed within twenty-four hours.

I let out a long, shaky breath. “I don’t really have much to offer, but─” “yeah, look kid. I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ alright? Just, do good in school and make something of yourself. Cut whatever nonsense this is out, alright? Some of us, you know, wish they got what you do.” I nod woodenly. The bot is back on the floor and heading back to the wall to dock. The guy is almost to the door when it dawns on me. “How’s your son?” I ask. He stops and casts a wary glance back at me. “He made it a little further than you did today, kiddo.” I’m so shocked, I’m speechless. The door closes behind him before I’m able to actually react to what he’s said. I’m tempted to go outside after him, but think better of it. I don’t want to raise suspicion more than I probably have with the A.I. unit. Besides, there was work to be done and I had no idea what the hell I am going to do to prevent what was bound to happen.

 

I will be posting this story on RoyalRoad.com