The Watchmen – Part IX – Three Days – A horror novella

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

 

 

 

“I know what you’re thinking, I would be thinking the same thing.” I said, He looked over at me from his spot on the stool. His expression was hard to gauge. We had moved to the kitchen, now sitting across from each other to talk it out. I’d made some tea for the both of us and then told him everything. Even about what had happened in the office earlier that night with Zedd. That had been especially hard because of the funeral and Devon’s feelings about his friend being gone. Starting with a clean slate  meant that I had to be honest, even if it upset him. A great weight lifted from my chest as I spoke each word, glad to have someone to unburden myself to. I was sure of what would come next, it would be something to the effect of ‘I believe that what you experienced was real to you’ or something like it. I remember taking an abnormal psychology class and how real hallucinations were to people that suffered from schizophrenia, both auditory and visual experiences. The real kicker was how both Zedd and I experienced it together. “I was honestly thinking it was me and there was seriously something wrong. It all started when I moved down here so I thought it had something to do with the job and new surroundings. Then Zedd approached me after the meeting,” I paused, “he described to me in detail about the exact things I had experienced. I was at a loss for words.” He nodded but stayed silent. Devon crossed his arms and put a hand against his chin. I could see the internal conflict plainly across his features. 

 

I gave him space, sipping my tea. I looked out across the sparsely decorated space and realized for the first time how that must have looked to anyone. Especially someone with Devon’s income. I had a few things here and there, some dark blue curtains, matching place mats and rug. I hadn’t had a chance to unpack my kitchen ware and decor. Granted, I wasn’t really the sort to have a ton of pictures or knick knacks. My mother loved them, there was every kind of bird you could imagine scattered throughout our home. Flowery prints on every bed and lace curtains. It was something you would imagine to be popular in the 19th century, especially with her antique furniture. I suppose it was her over-zealous nature that made me lean toward modern and utilitarian design choices. 

 

“From the time I’ve gotten to know you, you don’t seem like the type to make up stories. You’ve undoubtedly got talent and in a lot of ways I saw Zedd in both your work and demeanor.” I said nothing, allowing him to talk this out. It was better this way, letting him come to his own conclusions. I’ve found in life it’s best to take a step back, never push, and always be honest. It was never the easy route to take, but it was the one that made me feel true to myself. It’s bitten me in the ass more times than I cared to admit─ but flawed and all, it was me. “I really want to somehow believe that the two of you are crazy, but this seems like too much of a coincidence to ignore.” Devon sighs and rubs his face, “this really is a lot to think about and it’s been a long day.” I nod, “I agree. Did you still want me to come in tomorrow?” I quietly ask. His eyebrows go up, “of course, why wouldn’t I?” I squirm a little but shake my head, “OK I just wasn’t sure, you know─” He places a finger over my mouth and smiles. “Personal feelings aside, we still have a deadline to meet. Whether the end of the world is coming or not. I think the routine would help both of us.” He stands and walks over to me extending his arms. He wraps me in a warm and gentle hug. It felt right being here as if nothing else in the world could shake me and I was invulnerable to harm. I’m completely relieved that tomorrow will start a new day. One that hopefully wouldn’t involve excruciating death or someone coming back from beyond the grave.

 

He walks me to the door and then he’s gone. I hug myself frowning at the horrors I’d experienced just in these twenty four hours alone. I was going to try and save as many as I could tomorrow, hoping beyond hope people would take me seriously. I would sound like one of those crazy people shouting on the streets, ‘the end is near, it’s coming for you’ or some such nonsense. I knew how mean people could be, and more importantly how they would tear me down and make fun of me. At least I could know the truth and hopefully others would see that.  

 

Four days after today. God help us all.

 

#

 

I’m at my desk, for once feeling completely refreshed. I’d slept in until nine-thirty but I had needed it. I texted Devon to let him know that I was on my way and should be there in less than thirty minutes. When I got in there was hot tea, a fruit platter, and a note waiting for me. I felt my face grow warm at the all the attention. A whistle sounded behind me followed by some playful teasing. Since the office was mostly men, I sort of expected it to happen. That didn’t stop me from blushing. The handwriting in the note was lovely, unlike the chicken scratch that was my own. I rarely had to write anything, but I could draw like the best of them. I’d taken pride in my work, but knew where I stood. I wasn’t the best of the best, but it was solid. I never thought it would land me something as wonderful as this. Then again, I was never confident with anything I touched. 

 

I smiled at his words, ‘have a great day today, I’ll be out with meetings for most of it but I’m with you in spirit.’

 

Talk later, 

Dev

 

I folded the piece of paper and placed it back on my desk. I shook my head at his thoughtfulness. He really was perfect. 

I worked for several hours, only getting up to stretch and grab some water. The fruit platter had stuck with me for most of the day. He’d really overdone it, I definitely wouldn’t be eating lunch. One of the sound guys approached me to glance over the type of weapons my character would be using so they could get a team on it. After a few minutes of checking it over, he left and I was back to my work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave as late as I usually did so I had set an alarm for seven. I’d at least get my eight hours in before the stream. I wasn’t looking forward to people’s comments, but I expected it so I could steel myself against them. I took a sip of water and sat back in my chair. Besides, there was no way that words could affect me as much as these creatures had. Hell, even if I did decide to ride this out until the end at least I would die instantly. I shuddered rubbing my hands along my arms. At least, I wanted to believe that I would die right away. If it was going to go down the way it had in my visions I’d take a stabbing, and a bullet to the head. Even if someone tortured me for days on end it would be a walk in the park by comparison. 

 

I was startled from my dark thoughts when the little jingle from my alarm went off. I grabbed my stylus and pad from the desk to get a little sketching done at home tonight after I addressed the public. I would need something calm and familiar to soothe me. I slid them into my bag heading toward the elevator. I veered off at the last second, deciding that the stairs sounded like a much better option. The elevator and I were beginning to have a complicated relationship. Besides, a little exercise would feel good after all that sitting. 

 

The train ride was uneventful. I had run by the convenience store to grab something quick to eat but that was it for my adventure for the day. I got home shortly after and put some water in the small plastic container. I heated the noodles up in the microwave and sat with the tray of veggies in front of the t.v. I remember what I brought in and set up my pad and stylus on the computer. Just as I sit down the microwave goes off. I shuffle over to it, take my food and sit down in front of the show. My signal was great here, no skipping or loading while I streamed. Hopefully I get the same signal strength when I broadcasted my plea. I allow myself some food and one show. I glance at my webcam throughout it, my anxiety growing. My stomach churns and I’ve suddenly lost my appetite. The credits roll and I stare blankly at them, putting off the inevitable. I peel myself off of the couch moving slower than a child at bedtime. I was so sure of this─ helping other people, that I could do it for the greater good but the truth was I am scared shitless. I’m petrified. Even with what I know it’s hard to convince myself to do it. 

 

I felt ashamed of my thoughts. I knew what all of this meant. I was lucky enough to have a glimpse into the future. It was my responsibility to help. People needed at least a little time to make up their minds. I stand by the desk chair digging my nails into the cushion. Save them, my mind screamed. Do it for them, they deserve to hear it. With shaky hands I slide into my chair and open the recording software. I adjust the webcam for the hundredth time until I’m centered perfectly. I open the website and look at the live stream button. It was now or never. I took in a few deep breaths fighting off the panic as best as I could. I couldn’t come off as some hysterical or overly emotional woman. My mouse hovered over the red dot and then I clicked.

 

It gave me a countdown and within seconds I was live. 

 

“My name is Katherine Tate. What I’m about to tell you isn’t something that I expect any of you to believe. I’m telling you not because I want attention, or believe in some sort of god or being or that I’m part of some sort of a doomsday cult. I’m just asking for your trust in this matter and to listen to what I have to say.” 

 

My view count has gone from zero to two, three, seven and climbing to a few dozen. I swallow thickly.

 

“I have a reliable source that’s told me about something horrible that’s coming our way. Something catastrophic. It will decimate every major city in the U.S. I can’t speak for other countries because I don’t have information on that but if I had to guess, I would say that you should beware too.” 

 

I see words popping up and I try my best not to look at them. Just focus on finishing, get out what you have to say and ignore everything else. I knew this was the only way that I could force myself to do it. You can do this, I urge.

 

“We all hear it from time to time, some nut-job claiming it’s the end of the world. Who knows, maybe my source isn’t as reliable as I thought and we may all be fine. But I couldn’t, in good conscience, stay silent about this. Not after what it would mean for millions of people. For families.” I can feel myself on the brink of tears, but I shove it back down. I can’t get overly emotional, I need to stay strong. 

 

I take a deep breath and release it slowly.

 

“Even if it is false and nothing comes of this, I just wanted to help in some way. I urge you to get out of the city and save yourself and your family. From what I know it will happen three days from now. Please be safe, please be kind to one another.” I look directly into the camera, “I’m sorry if I scare anyone unnecessarily, that’s not my intention, nor is it to create mass hysteria. I’ll leave you to make your own choices, but I’ve already made mine. Thank you to anyone that’s listening and heard me out.” I pushed the ‘end stream’ button and sagged into my chair. I felt exhausted, like I’d just run a full marathon. What would people think? What would happen to me? Then something else popped in my head that I’d never even thought of. What if I get into trouble for creating mass confusion or hysteria? I think about that for a moment. Hopefully I won’t go to jail for the next two days. My stomach twisted as I thought about the way it would end for me. Please let it not hurt. 

 

My biggest fear is that I will do all this for nothing, nothing will happen and I’ll die. The worst part would be what my family would have to suffer because of what I will be labeled. My poor family. I try and reason with myself that it will have been worth it. Even if the world didn’t explode into fire and ash, would these things continue to torture me in new and horrible ways? That was no life to live. I would eventually be committed to some psychiatric hospital, lose my job and family. To lose all that and still live in constant fear─ dying over and over again for as long as they feel like wasn’t going to happen. I would make sure of it.

Gallery

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 devoted to those in need. It must have killed him, knowing what he did and not being able to save anyone else. Which further solidifies the fact that he must have said something to his family. I just need to find them. They would definitely be able to shed some light on things. I crossed the room, locating Devon near the back by the kitchen. I couldn’t get over how huge this place was. 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 approached him slowly, not wanting to scare him. He was deep in thought, bringing a glass of water to his mouth and staring through the large bay windows. He turned when he heard the clicks of my heels against the tiles and his lips curled into a smile. There was more to that smile. It was the sort that you gave your friends or family when they asked what was wrong. 

 

I have the strongest urge to wrap him in a hug. I find myself more and more curious of how he would feel. How he would smell. I’ve never been in a relationship and quite honestly, haven’t thought about it. I had always busied myself with school, or art.  After seeing what it often did to others and how much it detracted from people’s lives, I had zero interest. But this man, he wasn’t like the other guys. There wasn’t even a hint of ulterior motive, he felt genuine and kind. There were a few people in college that had shown interest in me but I had always shut them down. Not in a mean way, just stated that I did not want anything to do with a relationship. With anyone. A few of them had said that I could tell them the truth, one even asked me if I was a lesbian. Apparently, they talked among themselves and came to the conclusion that since I was not interested in any male partners, I must have liked women. The truth was, I had very little sex drive. It wasn’t something I thought about. I would get urges from time to time but never enough to seek out a partner. It would make my skin crawl thinking about someone else placing their hands on me. The touching aspect was awful enough, sex mortified me. I had gotten curious and watched porn a few times. The women never seemed to enjoy what was happening. All I could focus on were their faces, there was something about their eyes─ sadness or a longing for love. I cringed at the way men fondled them or shoved things into places─ there were no limits to where they did. I rubbed my arms and hugged them to my chest. Would he want to do those things to me? I frown.  

 

Even if he was interested, I really got the sense that he would keep it to himself and not allow it to cloud his judgement. For the first time I found myself liking someone. It’s as alien a thought as everything else I’m doing so I’m not sure why it’s making me 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 sped up as he leaned in inches from 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 was beating so hard against my chest that I was sure he could hear it. Then he does something unexpected and takes a step back. My shoulders relax and my heart rate slowly subsides. After a few moments, I’m back to normal. 

 

We’re again in our comfort zones and both of us realize this. It was incredibly refreshing, not needing to strike up any sort of conversation and when we did, it felt natural. 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 is growing 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, from all this. But, I needed answers. Maybe Zedd had mentioned something to Devon that I wasn’t aware of. I stamp down my fears and take a deep breath. “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 up 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─”

“Will you talk to me 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. I mean, Zedd believed it so much he ended his life. Surely it will count for something. God, I hope so. 

 

#

 

  We arrived back at the office around two o’clock, still enough time for me to get a little work done and take my mind off of things. I was worried that Devon would call me into his office again, but he never came back. In a way, it was a huge relief. Not that I didn’t enjoy his company, but given his relentless nature he would give me a nervous breakdown. Jason had walked up to me earlier and explained that he would be taking over Zedd’s duties until a new manager was in place. We went over a few sketches and then what Zedd had asked of me. Jason was quiet, like me, so after we talked business, he was gone. Thank goodness for small miracles. 

 

I looked at the 2-D model and then import it into the 3-D program. I poured myself into the curves, into every single detail. It felt so good to be back into a routine I worked until my fingers ached and my back screamed in protest. At some point I had crossed my legs up on the chair and had lost all feeling in them. I stood and stretched, content with my workload for the day. Most of the office had left a few hours ago. I had spotted a few guys in the back messing around in the motion capture but they were pretty much it. I eyed my phone warily but decided it was for the best to get this meeting over and done. I sniffed my pits and further decided 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 grabbed my wallet, phone, and keys then turned toward the elevator. I was mid stride when the lights went out. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I had been so busy with everything else today that my mind hadn’t had a chance to catch up with the other terrible things I’d been through. I held my breath, waiting for the creatures to make themselves known. There was a yell in the back and I exhaled. The guys were still here. OK, maybe it was just the building that had timed lights. I was practically running to the elevator at this point. No way in hell was I going to give those things a chance to make me feel that way again. Those assholes thrived off of it and I’m not about to give them an evening snack. 

 

I yelped as a noise blared from my hand. “Jesus christ,” I swore, flipping my screen around. It was Devon. Shit. He probably thinks I’m going to bail on him. I glanced at the time, it was nearly seven. I answered 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 came out awful, it sounded like he had been crying, “Oh, that’s OK. I just wanted to check with you and see if you wanted me to pick you up or if you wanted to meet somewhere.” He sniffed a few times, clearing his throat. The guys emerged from the back, shoving each other as they walked toward the elevator, “hey Kate” one of them said. I nodded and waved as they shuffled on. “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 plead 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 sounded 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 opened 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 freeze. No, no, no, is all that runs through my mind. I take a few steps back trying to distance 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 his lifeless eyes look at me accusingly. The back of his head is missing, there’s blood and brain matter everywhere and the gun lays on the floor next to his limp hand. This isn’t real, it can’t be because we buried him this afternoon. I frantically searched the room, trying to remember where the emergency stairs are located. I scream as his body jumps and twitches in a seizure-like motion. His head jerks toward my scream I can hear his bones from further back in the room. They snap in protest as he pulls himself from the floor. A few clumps of brain matter splat to the floor. 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 take me toward the back of the office. I don’t know where the staircase is but I don’t care. I wasn’t about to sit there and let him get near me, I knew it had to be back here somewhere. I flee past several dark offices, glancing behind me every so often. There was 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 been right by them. 
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.

Gallery

The Watchmen Part IV – I’ve Decided – A Horror Novella

I stood outside for a moment as I watched the cars slowly pass. Everything moved so much slower here than it did in Dallas. No one seemed to be in a rush, or cutting each other off. It really was beautiful and even from here I could make out the mountains in the distance. I would be going back home tomorrow. Not back up to mom and dad but to my place in Dallas. I still had to figure out what I was going to say to both my parents─what I could say to anyone. Devon’s smile flashed in my head. I found myself wondering if he would smile at me like that again before we all faced the end. 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 enjoyed his company. I certainly didn’t want him to die in the way that I have been. No one deserved that. 

 

I trudged into my room, setting my key-card on the nightstand and my bag on the floor. Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to that funeral tomorrow. Not just to show my support to the company, but to talk with a close friend of his. Maybe he 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 knew that him and Devon worked together a lot and seemed comfortable talking to one another. I would worry about that tomorrow. 

 

I picked up my phone and checked my messages. Mom had sent me a link to a pie recipe she found and asked if I would like her to make that this year. Leave it to mom to ask something like that a solid three weeks before Thanksgiving. She was forever worried about including everyone. Last year she had managed to cook a full traditional thanksgiving and a full vegan one for her sister. Aunt Marie was always obsessed over something─ her fine wrinkles, the little bit of weight around her tummy, the horrible meat industry and how they all lobbied together to get the public to buy into meat and animal products. I would get a link to a documentary at least a few times a year. Everyone had an agenda. Though, admittedly she probably wasn’t wrong about the lobbying. I’m sure it happened in just about every industry. 

 

I admired her for it none-the-less, I certainly couldn’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 laughed 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 had our limits and I apparently was a real asshole when I didn’t eat meat. 

 

I opened up my work email and glanced through. There was a few messages from corporate about Zedd and a personal email from Devon. It was titled ‘I’m sorry for all of this.’ I immediately opened 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 before high school, so I do have a bit of an idea as to what you must be going through. Just focus on the good times and the time you shared together. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office. 

 

Yours,

Kate

 

I was surprised to find a bit of wetness had gathered in my eyes. It had happened nearly ten years ago but I remember James. In some ways, he had reminded me of Zedd─ quick witted, shy, but very vocal when he was passionate about something. Why did it seem like the best people in the world took their own life? This thought depressed me more and more over the years. I remembered taking several psychology courses talking about how some of the most brilliant minds struggled with daily depression. I could believe it. Seeing the world as it really was had to have its downfalls. 

 

I sighed heavily on the bed and then pushed one foot over the other as I shoved my shoes to the floor. I just wanted to be done with all of this─ done with knowing about it and most importantly, done with feeling it. I had a few hours before I would have to leave for Dallas since it was a ten hour trip. We were expected to be in tomorrow morning, so I would have to go back to my place in time to shower and dress. I wasn’t honestly sure if I had something appropriate to wear to a funeral. Most of my clothes were very casual and the few dresses I owned were sun dresses. I couldn’t exactly show up in a flowery sundress for the death of a coworker, and jeans just seemed wrong somehow. 

 

After a little bit of searching, I found an online delivery service that would pick up something for a nearby store and deliver it tonight. I quickly browsed through some dresses and pantsuits before deciding on some slacks and a blouse. I at least had some black flats at home just for this sort of occasion. My parents had always told me to have a pair of black dress shoes in case of a wedding, or funeral. 

 

I sigh, browsing through the t.v. It had been a long time since I’d been to a funeral. The last one had been my Nana Genny’s. It had been a very cold day, the sort that made you shiver no matter how many layers of clothing you put on. I was still in my teens, old enough to understand death, but still immature as to what it actually meant. It didn’t really hit until grandpa Jay had started dating again. When he remarried, mom had stopped talking with him. I’m not sure why she did, after all he was only human. He’d been with nana for over forty years. It must have been hard to have been used to being with someone for so long and then they were gone. I don’t think I would want to be alone either. I still called him from time to time to check in and see how he was doing. Grandpa Jay had hoped someday mom would come around. I did too.

 

A chill ran along my arms and up through my head. I wondered if maybe I was getting sick from all the stress. I wasn’t one to get sick often, but when I did it normally took me out for a few days. I had the flu once as a child and I’ll never forget it. It was probably why I got my shot every year and washed my hands like it were some sort of religion. The kids always poked fun of me for it, but guess who never got sick? Let them laugh, cleanliness always wins and I was the proof. 

 

After wasting some time browsing my phone and trying again for the hundredth time to find these mysterious Watchmen, I decided that a trip to the sauna sounded better. I was worried that since it was still somewhat early in the day it may be crowded, however when I arrived there was only a family in the pool and an older man in the hottub. The sauna was people-free. I slipped my shoes off and walked into the heated bliss. I sighed, stretching out on the bench and wiggled my toes. It felt good─ really good. The heat stung a little to breathe but I didn’t mind that. I just wanted this chill to ease away. I couldn’t tell if it was all in my head or if I was actually getting sick. 

 

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, only focusing on my breath drawing in and out. I imagined that I was floating in my own ship in the middle of space, staring at the small particles floating by. The sun heated my back as I faced out toward the galaxy. Jupiter loomed nearby, huge and deadly─ but beautiful. I stared mesmerized by the swirling multicolored gas as I bathed in the glow of the sun. I am completely alone. This has been my form of meditation for years. Somehow, the thought of being completely isolated and floating through space comforted me. I think it would probably have the opposite effect on most people. For me, it was a haven.

 

I find myself often wishing that I could be alone. Totally alone with nothing more than me, my computer, and art. Art has been a way of life for me for as long as I could remember. I would love to sit outside and draw everything I saw, especially people. I’d brought my sketchbook along on the trip and thought that it was probably time to do something calming before the funeral. Plus, I would need to present something at work tomorrow. We had the weekend off, but I always grew anxious not having anything to do. 

 

I took several long, slow 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 wandered to the first night I experienced all of this─ the first night I experienced them. Despite the terrifying sensation of another being thriving off of my pain, I was curious about what they were. Their black hoods flashed in my mind, nothing but blackness behind them. Their long, thin bodies would disappear into a sort of translucent grey haze. They would never move, but stand perfectly still and stare.

 

They never said anything. They didn’t need to. You could just sense them. Sort of like when you were a child and tried 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 more like a heavy and dense presence, pressing in upon you until you could barely breathe. Your breathing becomes shallow, your chest heavy. Your heart feels as though it will tear its way from your chest. Then comes the cloying, damp air as they invade our plane of existence.

 

They stand there, merely existing where they should not. Yet, all of that I could get used to if it were something as simple as discomfort. Nothing compared to the sensation of dying again and again, painfully with no sign of reprieve. If it was as bad as my dreams, if that’s even what I could call them, I would lie there suffering until they released me. Death didn’t scare me, living did. I could handle knowing that the blast would take me out in one shot and I’m gone. 

 

There was a thought that had started sprouting with each passing day. Little by little, I watered it and you could see the bud forming just above the soil. It’s perfect little leaves wrapping protectively over it. Zedd was right to do what he did, and I was going to follow suit. Whatever these creatures were, they weren’t going to stop. I was going to die slowly, and horribly. I could try getting out of the city, stock up, and move out to the middle of nowhere, but it wouldn’t save me from the fallout. Unless I could find someone with an underground bunker, that’s willing to share. There had to be a few of them out there, right? 

 

That would save me, but what about the nearly eight billion people out there? In seconds, entire cities would be wiped out, followed by radiation poisoning and then black rain. The bombs would take people out directly in the city immediately, but the ones just outside of it would suffer slowly, painfully, and then finally die after days of agonizing pain. People like my parents. Families. 

 

Even if a decent sized population had managed to somehow make it, the hospitals wouldn’t be able to keep up with that sort of catastrophic event. It would take decades to recover from it. 

 

I sigh, my eyes opening as I stared up at the wooden ceiling. I wanted to be hopeful. I wanted to be one of those people that have decided that no matter what, humanity could prevail and I could save them. The truth was, no matter how hard I tried or what I said, I had zero proof. 

 

And proof was all that would matter. If I was me, listening to someone tell me that the world would end, I would laugh, maybe roll my eyes and move on. 

 

No matter. I would do my best to warn them all and leave with a clean conscience. 

 

I had made up my mind, as soon as I got back, I would make it my mission for the next five days to do what I could. I didn’t want to live in this world, or the way it would be, but I could help everyone else that would be stuck here. 

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You can find all of my work on Royal Road now

If you’ve wondered what I’m about, I’m not just a blogger─ I write novels, novellas, and short stories. (when we aren’t adventuring with our stories on Twitter.)When I have time, I record podcasts and audiobooks for all of you as well. Occasionally, I will post my work on here for you to read but I thought it a good idea to post where you can find all of my work!

I’m aiming to become published, (so that I can write and do podcasting for a living) but until I become one of the lucky few to do that, I like to share it with others. It gives me real joy and excitement to create these worlds for all of you.

If you would like to see what I’m about, you can find all of my written work here. 

I don’t have all of my work up, but I am working toward getting it ALL slowly uploaded (I have to sort through tons of stuff) but I should have it all up in the next month.

If you’re familiar with my work and you’d love to support it, this is a great site to do it through, or through my Patreon page.

For anyone and everyone that takes time out of their day to read my stories and check out my work, thank you.

Have a wonderful Tuesday

❤ Grey

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Hell’s Gate Awakening – A Fantasy Novel

If you would like to read this in it’s entirety, you can find it here. 

 

“My Goddess The Moon Can be as Bright as The Sun,

But She is Only a Reflection.” 

Her eyes flew open, the magnitude of the dream still lingering in her vision. The swirls of darkness lulled above her bed, the last of it lazily rising from her still form. Celeste pressed her eyes closed, willing it away. Please just leave, she pleaded silently, you aren’t real─ you can’t be real. She opened her eyes and focused her vision. The last of the fluid seeped into the ceiling, leaving behind a discolored smudge on the surface. A rustling sounded and she turned her gaze to John. His hair stood out in stark contrast against the sheet─ a sea of black that kissed the golden beach. She frowned, her eyes shifting to the ceiling. Celeste had longed to feel a connection with others, especially with John. But now, she wasn’t so sure. The thought genuinely terrified her.

John sighed softly, and then turned on his side. Her eyes returned to him and then moved down to the chiseled lines along his back. Her eyes lingered on the pale flesh, frowning at the twin scars behind his shoulder blades. Once back when they were first dating, she had mistakenly reached out and touched the marred flesh. He had jerked away and then moved to cover himself. Since then, she mostly kept her curiosity to herself─ but now as he rested, they were open and bare. Celeste couldn’t help but stare.

 Her vision blurred for a moment and she closed her eyes drawing a deep breath. She remembered it like it was yesterday, the first time his lips had graced hers. It had been an exceptionally cold winter last December. They had spent the weekend in her Father’s cabin along the slopes in Aspen. It was John’s first time to travel anywhere. She remembered his infectious grin as he stared up to the sky, marveling at the large flakes as they swirled to the ground. 

 Celeste would never forget how John’s face glowed as they sat by the fire. He was reading his favorite bits of poetry as she lay in his lap. This had been where he found much of his inspiration for his work─ poets that wrote anonymously. He had a real fascination with people not claiming their own work, or working in secret. Celeste never knew where he found them, but they were full of insight, and sorrow─ many speaking of an alternate universe or hidden worlds.

That weekend trip was the first moment she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. She had always felt something that drew her to him, some force of nature. But as she laid there, watching his face light up as he talked about the meaning behind his latest poetry obsession and tying it to the possibility of a multiverse, she knew he was the one.  

John’s sculptures were profoundly beautiful. Among his regular clients, he was considered a modern Bernini. Known for his exquisite attention to detail, most of his works were portraits of mythological creatures and people. John’s ability to capture other’s lives brought many to tears, including herself. It looked as though the stone could simply stand and walk away. Every detail was hand-molded, even down to the flaws. His stone fabric flowed as if it was a real garment.

His sculptures were something to behold, but John’s paintings were even more so. The colors blended in a way that you would swear it was a window into another world. A secret one, far better than our own. It was otherworldly─ just like him.

Celeste’s attention returned to the present as her gaze fell to the addition on her left hand. Surrounding her finger was a silver band with a princess-cut solitaire. A blood red stone sprouted from the center. It was made from garnet, her birthstone. She had never found diamonds appealing, the lack of color reminded her of death. Her eyes shifted to the Baroque paintings and décor in the room. Father spoiled her too much. He knew it was her favorite period in art and made it a point to collect things for her over the years. Each piece of furniture that surrounded her was dainty and hand-carved from dark mahogany wood.  She adored the crushed red velvet that lined the chaise that was next to the fire. It was her absolute favorite. Every night she would curl up with her blanket and book in hand. Celeste knew it was old-fashioned. Most of her friends had some type of reader or listened to Audiobooks. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something magical about holding a book next to the fire. It brought back memories from her childhood. Mama had read to her every night. She would download the app eventually, but for now she was content with paperbacks.

 Celeste looked over and smiled at the crimson drapes along the windows. It was her first real purchase, one of the few things she could be proud of. She had to defend them constantly against her friends. They said it made the room look like something out of a Dracula novel. She stuck her tongue out at them mentally. Let them think what they wanted─ she preferred it this way. 

Shadows drifted along her marble sculptures, Celeste’s eyes stopped on the one close to her dresser. Deep shadows encased the young mother and child holding hands. It was as if it welcomed them into the shadow realm. She relaxed, thinking that maybe this time the dream left her with nothing to fear. The dreams were coming more frequently now, each more menacing than the last. Her head tipped up to the ceiling again and she stared uneasily at the smear and frowned. It was still there. Were they just dreams? Maybe there were warnings of things to come. 

She jumped at the loud tapping sound on the side of her window. She tensed, straining her ears to see if she could hear anything else. When the sound happened again, she released the breath she had been holding in.  It was the Japanese maple her father had planted some years ago. She closed her eyes, listening as it brushed lazily across the house─slow and rhythmic. Celeste had always been fond of them, so for her twentieth birthday, her father had surprised her with one for her housewarming party. Shaking her head, she grinned at the stubbornness of the old man. No matter how many times she refused his gifts, it only strengthened his resolve to do more.

A crackling came from the foot of the bed and she jerked toward the sound. Celeste half chuckled, half sighed in frustration, feeling foolish. It’s just the fire place, Jesus get a grip, she scolded herself. It was one of the major selling points for Celeste. Even though she lived in Texas, and winter lasted all of two or three months, she used it every year. The fire place acted as a sort of divider, separating the small library from the bedroom. It was designed to provide a reading nook on one side, but kept the space open enough that she could see outside through the bay window. 

Unable to sleep, Celeste stretched and pushed back the covers. With cat-like grace she slunk from the bed, careful to not wake John. Grabbing her robe from the chaise she quickly glanced back at John before slipping from the room. Out cold, she mused. 

Celeste emerged from the long hall, her attention shifting to the left. The robe unclasped as she came to a halt, revealing a petite frame beneath the billowing gown. Just to the left of the French doors sat her mother’s piano─ an oasis of red against the desert-colored walls. The keys were worn, but she could never replace it. Celeste knew it was silly, but somehow the thought of restoring it would feel as if the last of her mother would disappear. Her hand trailed the length of the case, and then slowly pulled it back─ revealing the ivory keys. She sat and placed her slender fingers on the cool surface. A millisecond passed, and she began. The chords started shaky and uneven as her mind struggled to remember the notes. Finally, it smoothed itself out and she eased herself into the composition. Celeste swayed back and forth lost in the melody. There was something familiar about it. She couldn’t remember when, or how she had learned to play it─ and yet, the song now flowed easily from her fingertips. She strummed the last chord, blinking back the wetness that had gathered at the corners of her eyes. The air was heavy with silence. It left her longing for the past. Why did you have to die? Celeste wondered. Her mother’s smile flashed through her mind. You were always so warm, she thought.

Celeste rose from the bench and glided from the piano to the patio doors. The Moon’s light drew her in and she pressed herself into the glass, longing to feel the night on her skin. She clutched at the doors and thrust them open. The Moon sensed her, emitting a soft hum as it pulsed─ her own life force felt as if it was joining with it. She stared openly, captivated by its beauty. She didn’t want to, but finally tore her eyes from the glowing goddess. She crossed the threshold into the cool night air. The wood felt soft and warm beneath her feet, it was similar to the feeling of packed dirt. She walked five feet to her favorite spot on the patio and eased herself down.

Celeste stretched out her arms and leaned back on the wooden swing, her legs dangling. Her skin shone like porcelain in the moonlight, further emphasizing her doll-like figure. She stared down from the patio ledge─ the wind gently combing through her long, obsidian hair. She swept a strand from her eyes, troubled by the thoughts that traveled through her mind. She looked down to the untouched gardens─ at the plant life swaying to the Earth’s sigh. It had been years since Celeste felt so normal─ so nice. John was the best thing that had happened to her this past year.

Then what was this feeling slowly curling in the pit of her belly? It was naïve to think that somehow the curse had vanished and that maybe, John had something to do with it. She cringed as thoughts began snaking through her mind. They undulated and curled, twisting around her head. She gasped, as it bit down, pumping the venomous thoughts throughout her brain. No more, she silently begged. Please. She moaned, clutching her head. John, please, no. The thought echoed through her mind over and over until it lost its meaning. She hugged her knees to her chest as the tears flowed. Images of people lost to her flashed within seconds of one another, their faces full of contempt. You did this to us, they seemed to say. Smiles leered from the dark cracks and crevices. They were calling to her, a mix of jeers, and begging. She couldn’t make out a single thing that was being said, it was all a jumbled mess. 

Then suddenly there loomed a sea of faceless demons behind them. The silence was heavy in the air as they drifted closer. There was a low, menacing hum, amplifying with each of their steps. They lashed out─ their grip ice cold against her flesh. She panicked as they drew their frigid limbs across her frame. Her mind screamed in agony as each entity burned through, trying to be heard. It was so cold that it burned. She prayed that it would stop, raising her hands up to her ears and squeezing them tight. All sound ceased, and in a flash─ they were gone. Celeste sighed, her hands falling to the sides. The earth trembled, then turned on it’s side. She screamed, her hands shooting out and gripping the swing as the violence continued. In seconds, something flashed before her, something far worse than before pushing it’s way through. Celeste stared at the face of pure evil─ at death. She was face to face with what the others must have seen seconds before it had claimed her friends and family’s lives. Celeste was looking into the eyes of Hell. It was soulless─ a deep, black pit. The tunnel stretched, and stretched into nothingness. She wasn’t sure how it was possible, but it was there inches from her face. The black death. It was that same smudge, that tar that had oozed from her ceiling. The darkness released her finally as the remaining images roared across her mind like sirens to the damned. Unable to stand it, her eyes shot up to the pure, heavenly body as she pleaded to the sky.

Kami-Sama, please.” Celeste drew herself up on the railing and looked down. She spoke again, this time with feeling “Please, let this end.” She clasped her hands together, her eyes glued to the massive glowing orb. The goddess flickered, and then grew brighter. It had acknowledged her plea, she felt it. She pressed her eyes together and filled her lungs with the wintry air. It was crisp, and clear. All at once, the idea came to her and she knew what had to be done. A breath, then a blink, and she threw herself from the edge. Like an angel her white gown flowed behind her, the illusion of wings on her dark form. For a few precious seconds, she felt the cleansing glow from the Moon’s light. How she longed to be bathed in Its purity. It wrapped her in Its loving embrace, cradling her delicate figure. Child, my child, It seemed to whisper. The sounds of the passing cars filtered through, their drivers’ unaware of the fast descending girl meeting her end. She felt the wind, and peered out at the sprinkle of lights. Each twinkling, pale yellow glow held families. Families that lay dreaming, and warm in their beds. Celeste smiled. It was the right thing to do. The last of her thoughts were swept into the wind as the deafening blow reverberated down the street.

 

*              *                *

The loud thud woke Celeste from her dream. She bolted upright, pulling the sheets from her chest. Her hands ran along the length of her frame as she made sure she was still in one piece. Her hands moved around her throat and she swallowed thickly. It felt extremely dry, she must have been screaming. She glanced around, confused for a few seconds before realizing that she had fallen out of bed. A dream, she thought bringing her hand to her face. She got up and sighed, apologizing to John about the scream. She paused and frowned at the empty space on the bed. He hadn’t come over tonight. Then Celeste remembered John had mentioned a meeting early in the morning with a client. He had probably stayed at his place Downtown. She picked up her phone to check, and then placed it back on the stand? Of course not, she thought. It had been a week since she last heard from him. She was beginning to wonder if they were still dating. Her mind switched to the dream. What did it mean? She wondered.

Celeste glanced down at her barren hand. Why had she dreamed that John had given her a ring? He had asked questions about how she felt about marriage, sure, but he had not asked yet. Maybe one day, she thought wistfully. Or you’re just fooling yourself, she added. John had been spending long hours away from her lately. It wasn’t as if marriage defined her, or she would simply fall over and die from not being married. She just─ wanted to. It was beyond the whole tax thing, or paperwork. It was something she had dreamed about since she was a girl. It was a dumb, old-fashioned sentiment but it was hers. Things had just felt right with John. Or her ovaries were wreaking havoc on her decision making. Stupid hormones. She had the University to keep her busy, and her piano students, but it wasn’t enough to fill the emptiness she had been feeling. John was still warm and loving with the time they had spent together, he just wasn’t always there mentally. She was being silly. They were, after all, both happy. Wasn’t that all that mattered? Maybe she was being too quick to judge. John had been working hard lately and daddy hadn’t been much help, telling John to ‘get a life and a real job.’ Sometimes her father could be a huge traditionalist and it bugged the crap out of her.

Celeste crossed the room and walked out to the kitchen. Her throat felt like needles had been jammed into it. Her hands shook as she grabbed for the edge of the counter. I’ve never had a dream like that before, she thought. Celeste snatched orange juice from the refrigerator, gulping it down. She was wiping her mouth when a series of booms erupted at the front door. She relaxed, realizing that it was knocking. Then she scrunched her face in confusion, looking at the time. Who could be here at this hour? She wondered. It was four a.m. 

She left the kitchen and slowly walked down the stairs to the front entrance. Standing on her tiptoes Celeste peeked through the peep hole. It took her a minute to focus as she flipped the outside light on. Sighing, she unlocked the door. It was her neighbor Sally. Probably heard me screaming my lungs out, she guessed as she pulled it open. Standing before Celeste was a very unhappy Sally─ arms crossed, and a scowl in place.

“Celeste, what on God’s-green-earth is going on over here? It’s four o’clock in the morning and I have to take the boys to school in a couple of hours.” Celeste opened her mouth to respond but did not get a word out before Sally talked over her, “Not to mention, oh, I don’t know? you scared the bejesus outta all of us.” It took all of Celeste’s strength not to giggle at her neighbor. She pronounced ‘bejesus’ with a southern drawl. She started, realizing that it wasn’t just Sally standing outside. 

Celeste leaned out and glanced at several of the neighbor’s worried faces. She waved nervously and apologized. “Sorry, everyone, I had a horrific dream.” They didn’t budge. One of her neighbors stepped forward and spoke. He had an air of confidence in his speech, someone that took to authority well, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to get in your business, but─” he shifted from his left leg to his right, glancing up the stairs. “That was some yell. It woke up half the neighborhood.” His eyes rested on hers and he softened his tone, “Only reason I didn’t call it in is because I wanted to make sure before I went bothering anyone at the station.” That’s right, now she remembered─ her neighbor was a police officer. She frowned, trying to remember his name. Was it Geoffrey? No that didn’t seem right, George maybe? They all stared at her quietly and she realized they might be taking it for something else. She quickly shook her head, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten any of you. It was honestly just a bad dream.” The man nodded, appearing relieved and walked over to his wife. She waved again, her face feeling like the surface of the sun.

She winced, as Sally hadn’t moved from the doorway. Jesus, did the lady have an ounce of tact? Glaring down at her, Sally opened her mouth to speak, but Celeste quickly interrupted, “I’m sorry I woke you and your family, Mrs. Henderson, I’ll try to keep it down.” Nodding, she looked up at Sally, giving her best ‘I’m sorry’ look and pulled the door toward her. Sally, like Celeste knew she would, put her foot in the way. She always had to get that last word in. Celeste yearned for the polite neighbors in Japan. No one would have dreamed of behaving this way, let alone keep doing it.

“Well, alright,” she boomed, “Can’t be too careful these days, what with all the murders going on.” Sally ran fingers through her frizzy hair, her eyes darting outside, then back to Celeste conspiratorially. The curls took on a life of their own as the copper strands bounced around Sally’s face. She had that kind of hair you wanted to reach out and touch. Her light mood darkened as Celeste thought about the locals. Now it made sense, the neighbors weren’t just concerned about a scream. They thought─ oh god. Now she really felt awful. She made a mental note to write an apology to everyone, maybe send them something. 

The deaths were a great shock to the local community. It was all her students talked about on campus anymore. Every time she turned on the news it seemed like there was another murder. So far they had uncovered seven bodies. Were they ever going to catch this guy? All the victims shared the same appearance─ dark hair, younger, and petite. The main connection was how they were murdered. Each was found in some type of water and drained of blood. It sounded like some sort of lame vampire flick.

When Celeste didn’t respond Sally cleared her throat and added, “I just wanted to make sure, you know?” She paused and peered over Celeste’s shoulder, looking inside. Sally had one of those large frames. She was solidly built, but lumpy, like a sack of potatoes. Her eyes, though a vivid blue, were much too small and set close together. She appeared to be in her late forties, possibly early fifties, but wore clothes that no self-respecting sixty-year-old would touch. She looked like something straight out of a bad 70’s film. Sally was a bear of a woman, but honestly, it didn’t take much. Celeste had the stereotypical Japanese build. But that’s where it ended. Her features were a blended with large, expressive brown eyes. She had a more round nose, yet a petite jaw line. Her hair was a soft black, almost brown, and her skin a peachy-white. She was tormented maliciously in Japan, they called her half-breed. It was something Celeste was very self-conscious about. At least here in the States with her adoptive parents, kids had been slightly more forgiving. 

Her adoptive mother, Kotone, had shared a little about her past. Celeste had always assumed that an American soldier had fathered her, or a European man. She long came to the conclusion that she probably brought shame to her real mother─ so her biological mother had given her up for adoption. All she could do was guess, she had never known the truth. Celeste had the kind of frame that people found adorable. If only they knew how annoying it was to have to use a step ladder every time she needed something. Forget trying to see anything at a concert. 

She stared at Sally, sizing her up. The old minx would have put Nancy Drew to shame. She may have looked frumpy, but that’s where it ended. Sally had that keen sensibility about her, the kind that missed nothing. Celeste noticed that the old woman had checked both her shoe rack, and the coat hanger at the front door. And while, she definitely appreciated it this time, she didn’t normally. For as long as she could remember, Sally was at her front door snooping around and asking questions about her life. Especially about John. He had a tough exterior, but was gentle as a kitten. It was a shame that people had the habit of only seeing with their eyes. She forced a grin, and bowed, “Thank you again for your concern, Mrs. Henderson. I am fine.” Saying good night and apologizing, she firmly closed the door.

 

I will be posting this on royalroad.com

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The Watchmen – Part II – No Escape – A Thriller Short Story

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 was identical to mine. There was a small part of me that hoped these monsters just showed us our worst fears. That maybe they were some sort of creature that fed off of fear and pain. The more he shared with me, the more I wanted him to stop talking. 

 

I rolled over on my side and frowned at the poem on my nightstand. The 9 seemed more bold than usual. 

 

There’s no escaping it.

 

His words echoed in my mind. If that were true, there would be absolutely no reason for me to continue any of this. My whole entire existence was pointless. I wanted to cry but nothing would come out. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and never stop screaming. It ached to be in my own skin and I was angry. Angry that I was one of the few people that actually knew what was going to happen, but powerless to stop it. 

 

Even if I were to try and call someone, or reach out to people─ no one would believe me. If someone had told me this a few days ago, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have thought they were some conspiracy theorist or nutcase. Unless─

 

I sat up and checked my phone. It was early, but Devon normally got in about eight or eight thirty. I might be able to chat with him for a while. I had an idea, but I wasn’t going to come off as completely crazy until I was sure. I dressed as quickly as I could and jumped on the first train. 

 

#

 

“Kate, hey” Devon said smiling, “what brings you in so early?” I was surprised to find him already there when I came in at seven forty-five. I smiled nervously at him, checking my pocket for the hundredth time to make sure the piece of paper was still there. I relaxed as I felt it crumple against the weight. “Hey Devon,” I said, “I sketched this out last night and thought you might want to take a look at it.” He raised an eyebrow, “Oh yeah? Sticking to those old-school guns, I like it. Let’s take a look.” I tried to steady my hand as I reached into my pocket. 

 

I unfolded the paper and stared. More hooded figures had appeared and the skyline looked less blurry. I could make out shapes and finer details of the buildings. The hooded figures all stood outside of the city, staring at it. Waiting. 

 

“Kate?” 

 

My legs moved and I walked over to his desk, passing the little paper over to him. His hand briefly touched mine and I was suddenly very aware that I hadn’t showered that morning. I must look an absolute mess. I fidgeted with my hair and tugged at my shirt.

 

He was quiet for a few moments and then furrowed his brow. “I don’t get it.” His face broke into a wide grin, “Did one of the guys set you up to this?” He chuckled and handed 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 waved his hands around. “Already messing with the boss, huh?” I smiled at his words but at that very moment I died inside. Why could Zedd and I see it, but not Devon?

 

It must have been awkward for me to walk in there like that and not have some sort of a come back, so I forced a chuckle of my own, “You got me.” I wanted it to sound casual but it ended up sounding even more awkward than anticipated and it hung in the air, stagnating. I cleared my throat and turned to leave. 

 

“Hey, Kate.” His voice sounded off. I turned back toward him from the doorway. “Take care of yourself, this job can get really stressful.” My face burned but I managed a lame, “oh totally, no worries.” I spun around, nearly plowed into the wall and shuffled my way out. 

 

Great, the end of the world comes and I’m still managing to make a complete and total asshole of myself. I guess some things will never change. 

 

#

 

I’m still feeling slightly sore over my love life a few hours later, but I’ve knocked out a ton of progress on my main character. So, that’s a bonus. I’ve rationalized that if nothing else, this gives me something to do. It’s pointless, the game will never be released. I don’t even know when the bomb will go off. 

 

But I know the day. 

 

It made me wonder if it was just going to happen here, or all over. Maybe the beings only showed what would directly affect us. That gave me an idea. It’s my first week, but considering I’ll only have just over a week left to live, I figured fuck it─ road trip it is. 

 

I finished up my tasks for the day with a couple of hours to spare. Zedd had been oddly quiet today, in fact, I hadn’t seen him all morning. It’s a possibility that he is going to work on the night shift. Most of us hated that schedule, but there was a team that worked from four until midnight. 

 

Even if he never showed up to work again, it’s not like I could blame him. I mean, there was at least some hope that you are just over-tired and hallucinating, but to have someone confirm your worst fear? That’s true terror. I was hoping to at least talk with him a bit more today. The way we had left things last night made me feel beyond depressed. 

 

I felt more helpless than I ever have in my life. I was desperate to cling on to some hope that we could find a way out of this. Somehow. 

 

I woke up feeling a little better today, but having the kind of unwanted knowledge that I did made it that much harder to breathe. I shot him a text, just to check in on him and then headed to Devon’s office. 

 

I tapped lightly on the door. There were a few murmurs on the other side and finally I heard, “come in.” I peeked my head around the door and smiled. “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 winked conspiratorially at me and grinned. I laughed and shook my head, “Oh, that can’t be true. I’ve seen their work.” He typed a few things on his computer and then turned his full attention on me. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”     

 

I smiled at the southern drawl. I noticed that people here tended to address each other as sir or ma’am but it wasn’t in a professional way, it was polite and respectful. I was 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 could work remotely and maybe take half a day off to drive up there?” His face suddenly grew 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 also slightly disturbed how easily the lie slipped from me. I’d have to address that with myself later. One thing at a time. “Oh, and Kate?”

 

“Hmm?” I responded. “Zedd is not feeling well, but he’ll be in tomorrow. I’m loving the direction you two have come up with.” 

 

I thanked him and quickly made my exit. This was a weird day, but it wasn’t entirely bad. I felt accomplished, which was a weird feeling given the circumstances. I’m taking this all 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 knew going too far would be silly, and if I went back home I felt like I would somehow get the same result. I decided on New Mexico. It was twelve hours from Dallas, but it was at least another state and would help prove my theory. 

 

I was still working on that theory, but at least this would hopefully get me another step closer to figuring something out. It was better than sitting at home and sulking. My eyelids grew heavy as we got to the last hour or so stretch. This state was huge. I couldn’t believe how long it took to get across. I 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 wasn’t helping and before I knew it, I was out. 

 

I blinked a few times, staring from the familiar building. This time, the entire floor was filled with everyone at the office. Devon walked past and flashed his winning grin, his warm brown eyes crinkled around the edges. I smiled shyly back and then started walking toward my desk. Usually the things had appeared by now, but instead it seemed like a typical day. 

 

I glanced around, curious about where this dream was going. I was vaguely aware of movements at each cubicle as I passed by. People were glued to their monitors, little clicks of the mice sprinkled through. At any moment the terror would unfold and I would stare at my insides. 

 

I would sit helplessly as the blast would blow me apart and I would feel every agonizing second. 

 

I squeezed my eyes shut, willing myself to wake up. Please, I silently begged, I don’t want to go through it again. Don’t make me go through it again. The second I close my eyes I feel it. The office shifts and then trembles violently. Seconds later, the screams began. My eyes open and I’m once again faced with the tall, spiraling cloud that mushrooms and expands. It hurtles toward us and then slams into the building with a crushing blow. 

 

God, no. 

 

The glass cuts into me, embedding itself as the flesh peels back from my face. Adrenaline will not kick in, I can feel everything. People drop like flies around me, their screams eventually replaced with wet gargles. My lungs fill with blood and my one good eye watches as the earth shifts and I fall to the ground. My exposed nerves and bones take on a dull ache as my body finally accepts what is happening. Just like the ones before, I’m alive and I won’t die.

I had always thought that this was the part of dreams you would wake from and scream. Even in my more terrifying dreams I would wake up just as I was attacked or fell. Not only could I feel the pain, I could taste my own blood, feel the aftershock as the building groaned and tilted.    

 

And then, they are there. Or they always have been and I am just now noticing them. I try and close my one good eye, but to my horror I realize that my eyelids are gone. The debris lands softly on my exposed eye. The reflex to blink happens but all I can do is stare forward. The burning is so intense against all of my softest parts that I’m sure I will pass out from the pain. 

 

I can’t die. 

I can’t die.

I can’t fucking die.

 

They close in on me and groan in ecstasy, peeling my suffering from me as if I were a bit of string cheese. They fed on the others in seconds, but me, god fucking help me─ they were having a four course meal. I tried any way I could to die faster. I tried biting my tongue, but there wasn’t enough left of it for me to get ahold of. I tried in vain to move either of my arms, but too much of the muscle lay piled on the floor. I was stuck here, being consumed piece by piece─ layer by agonizing layer. 

 

#

 

 

I roared awake, my screams filling the bus. I heard a man curse in the seat in front of me and the driver came to a screeching halt. I ran my hands over my face, and then my body searching every bit just to make sure I was there. I drank in the air, so much clean, fresh air thank god. 

 

I sat back in my seat and let out a sigh. “Hey,” I jumped at the loud shout from the driver, “everything OK back there?” I peered around the row of seats and crumpled slightly at all the confused faces of the passengers. I cleared my throat, “um, yeah sorry,” and then I added “bad dream.” The entire bus groaned and people muttered, throwing angry looks my way. Sorry, I mouthed at them, my face on fire.  

 

I disappeared back to my seat and hugged my legs to my chest. 

 

Whatever that was, it wasn’t a dream. I’m not sure what it was that kept those monsters feasting on me but I had a sinking feeling they were the reason I was kept alive. I shuddered, running my hands along the length of my legs trying to spread some sort of warmth through them. The air on the bus had grown colder, we must be in the mountains. 

 

A quick glance outside confirmed it as we chugged along uphill. 

 

My thoughts turned dark as I stared out across the misty mountains, I had been able to sleep OK last night, but what if the dream returns tonight? Could I ever sleep again? 

 

#

 

The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was cozy. After speaking with the front end and getting my room key I was all set up. I walked down a few hallways until I found the first set of double doors the man at the counter had described. I walked through and saw to my delight that it opened into a large pool area. It was all enclosed and there was a hot tub. I’m glad I decided to pack my bathing suit. I was hoping the place had a sauna or something I could relax in. 

 

My mood got even better when I saw they had a sauna as well. At least there was something to look forward to tonight. 

 

After I got in my room, I set up my work laptop and placed my phone on charge. The signal here was awful and my battery was already at forty percent. I checked my messages and email. Devon had sent one about an hour ago and it was just to check in and make sure I had made it to my parents. I sent him a response that I was fine and I would be able and work by tomorrow afternoon. I added that he could call or text me for emergencies and then sent it. 

 

I was surprised to find that I felt energized. Despite the dream, it must have refreshed me. I glanced over room service and then checked out some local food on my phone. I was starving. I finally spotted a local pizza place that had decent reviews and placed my order. In less than an hour it was sitting on the dresser and I had a scary movie playing in the background. Even though my own life was the stuff of nightmares, I still found it comforting to watch someone else go through hell instead of me. 

 

I’d 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 loved Halloween, Michael Myers just kept coming back. Ironic, given that my own hell in these visions paralleled that. Maybe he was just pissed off that he couldn’t die and took that out on others. Suddenly, I had a soft spot for the guy. 

 

I devoured three pieces before I finally slowed down. I was ravenous and sure that even if I ate this entire pizza, I’d want more. But after the sixth slice, it seemed to do the trick and I sighed and patted my belly.  

 

I wasn’t entirely sure how all of this would work, but I checked the image when I first arrived and it hadn’t changed. It was still the Dallas skyline and the hooded figures surrounding it. 

 

I was hoping that spending a night in another state may change it. And if that were true, maybe these things did prey off of scaring you. Or, it meant that this was going to happen everywhere. Maybe we were witnessing the end of it all. Surely we could travel miles out from major cities and be safe right? Isn’t that what someone sending a bomb would do? Target all 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 would kill us all. Radiation poisoning was no joke. We’d not only die, we would die horribly. 

 

There really was no brighter side to this no matter which scenario was true. 

 

#

 

After finishing off the pizza and the movie I decided to go ahead and hit up the hot tub for a good soak. The chill in the air brought a chill to my bones, even with the heater on. I opened the closet and smiled as I pulled out a robe. This place may have been old, but it was full service. You would never find things like this in a normal hotel. At least not one that I could afford. I slipped it over my bathing suit, grabbed my key card, and walked down the hall. 

 

A few doors down I could hear someone’s T.V. blaring. It was loud as hell, the person watching it must have been ancient. Reminded me of my grandfather’s shows of old westerns. I’m pretty sure I heard a horse whinny. Well, at the very least it brought me comfort knowing that I wasn’t alone. I walked into the pool room, hung up the robe and slipped into the tub. I sighed and then smiled, I was in complete bliss. If the end of the world really was happening in eight days, this was my idea of a great way to spend my time. It was perfectly quiet, just me and the warmth. 

 

My body sagged as the weight of the world slipped away. My eyes shut and I rested my head against the cool concrete. Seconds after I closed my eyes, there was a thunderous boom. I jumped, whipping my head around. The sound echoed and vibrated around the room, but nothing was out of place. Both doors were sealed tight. My lower lip trembled as the water trickled down my face. 

 

That boom, I knew it anywhere. I had it etched in my memory. I expected at any moment the room would collapse around me. I imagined the burning blast of air that stripped me of my insides. 

 

Stop it, I told myself, just stop. There is nothing there, you’re just tired. I tried to rationalize it. Maybe it was my neighbors T.V. Or maybe, I thought, every time you close your eyes you’ll relive your own death again and again. My blood ran cold at the thought of possibly never being able to close my eyes. 

 

How long could I last? One day─ two? I shuddered despite the surrounding warmth. Suddenly, the sauna didn’t sound so good and I decided to head back to my room. 

 

#

 

It was around three a.m. when I got the call. When I’d gotten back to my room earlier I had ordered as many caffeinated drinks as I could. After two monsters and several diet cokes, I was fairly sure I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. I kept action movies on and played games on the laptop. I figured, as long as I was moving, or doing something I couldn’t fall asleep. 

 

I was in the zone blasting away at bad guys when my phone went off. I paused and looked at my phone, it was Devon. Confused I answered immediately. 

 

“Hello?” 

 

There was a pause on the line, followed by a few sniffles. I decided that maybe he had dialed me by mistake, but I answered again anyway. “Hello? Devon?” 

 

“Hey, Kate. Yes, I’m here.” His voice sounded shaky as if he had been crying. I was instantly alarmed. 

 

“Hey, is everything OK?” I asked. There were 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 answered. My heart was beating out of my chest, I didn’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 sniffed again. “I’m sorry to have to let you know that Zedd will no longer be coming in to the office.” 

 

My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I had just seen him less than two days ago. “Was it an accident?” I asked softly. 

 

There was a long pause on the other end. I thought maybe he had hung up, but then finally he answered. “Zedd, I’m afraid, 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 thanked him for letting me know and hung up the phone. 

 

Part III coming soon.

❤ Grey

 

I will be posting this story on RoyalRoad.com

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