Surviving Cleveland

(I began this several years ago, it is my story, well at least the part I’m willing to tell.)

Surviving Cleveland

 

Many times I have heard people say everything happens for a reason. I have heard others call in Karma as the great mediator of life’s events. These things I do not truly grasp or hold much confidence in any longer.

I am no one you have ever heard of nor am I some well-educated scholar with a new philosophy that will change your life. I’m just a guy who’s been beat up a bit by the occurrences in my life. I think I am writing this more or less for my sanity. Writing has always been a way for me to create physical renderings of my inner demons. I forget the bad to a point where it’s like all the “bad” that happened didn’t exist. I guess this can be a good survival tool but from what I know of psychology repressing bad experiences is not a healthy means of coping.

Then: I was one of those people who never stopped talking. I loved to learn and would become fascinated by the oddest things. I enjoyed it and happily referred to my behavior as “nerding out.” Susie used to pick on me for it but she seemed to enjoy my ravenous ranting on whatever new topic I was all wrapped up in. She always made me feel so right and so loved. I will talk far more about my Susie later I am getting ahead of myself. I wasn’t always but I had evolved into a hyper-motivated person. Just about everything I did was for the betterment of mine and Susie’s life.

Now: I am withdrawn and I find myself putting forth an effort to have even the simplest conversations with people. I feel rude for this because I sometimes find it hard to keep up with what’s being talked about. All the many things I used to get so wrapped up in annoy me now. I feel anger because I think of all the time wasted learning and doing my “nerding out” activities when I could have been spending more time with the people I love. I am now anti-motivated. I have gone a very long time when just getting out of bed is more than I can bare. Some days I feel that stubbornness is the only thing that allows me to do anything.

“I don’t understand how you haven’t killed yourself,” this was recently asked of me by someone who loves me. She was referring to the events of the past few years and I didn’t know how to answer. At the time I still had hope. I suppose that’s why. I still had love in my heart and somewhere deep inside a desire to do more or better depending on what day you asked me.

In conclusion, I am writing this because I never want to forget a single wonderful, horrid, beautiful, or heart breaking minute of it. I will leave this intro at this. I have only ever loved two women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.

[This I began long ago but I would become so mired in despair as I began to delve into the recesses of my mind I’d ultimately ramble on for five pages then delete the results. This is something I repeated numerous times. I have sent no less than fifty pages of my lyrical meanderings to that great recycle bin in the sky. So now it’s years later and that last sentence above needs a slight rewrite. “I have only ever loved three women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.]

Part I My Susie

 

I have a past just as you do. It’s nothing spectacular and I can’t say I accomplished anything grander than getting off parole early back in 1999 because I was a model parolee. If you must know I went to prison for crimes I committed in 1991 at the ripe old age of sixteen. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually became incarcerated for these crimes. [That in itself is a story which could fill its own book.] Not to downplay the severity of my actions but that was twenty two years ago and I’m not even ashamed of it any longer. It was a stupid drunken teenage rampage and nothing more. I didn’t hurt anyone I just hurt people’s things.

I have battled with depression in its many noted manifestations since I was fifteen years old. At first they said it was “depression.” By age twenty I was labeled with “chronic depression.” It was in my mid-twenties that I was upgraded to “manic depression, bi-polar II” with a laundry list of symptoms. It was around this time that I came to live alone in this little house in the middle of nowhere. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life. I worked only two days a week twelve hours each day on Saturday and Sunday.

I sometimes went weeks without seeing people save for the days I worked and I loved it. I would write when I wanted, I would fish, sleep, work in the yard, or just clean the house. I was so relaxed during this time. Things had been coming to a head for so long that I needed that long break. It was wonderful. I actually kept a normal schedule at this point in my life. I was up early I slept at a normal hour. I found the solitude to be very therapeutic. I got a great deal accomplished during the course of a day. I didn’t have any issues with depression or anything of the sort until many years later.

After a time I ended up moving and changing jobs. I decided it was time to get back into living life and I had a plan. I got a great job working for a friend of mine and actually moved out to his place for convenience. We were replacing carpet and vinyl floors in motels up and down the east coast and Midwest. It was well paying and I was planning to move to another state once I had enough money saved up which wasn’t going to take long and then it happened.

It was April 7th 2006 we had been working for weeks in and around Cleveland Ohio and we were exhausted. The weather had been horrible the entire trip and we needed to relax. So we went out one night after we had finished for the day and that’s when it happened. That’s when all my plans got smashed. That’s when I met her, my sweet, shy, quiet, beautiful, Susie.

I was nearly asleep on my feet sipping a jack and coke when my buddy tapped me on the shoulder as I turned I heard him say “this is Jeff.” I looked down into her eyes and at that moment I knew this was the woman I was going to spend forever with. I never believed in love at first sight or any of that but I’ve learned as I’ve grown older you don’t have to believe in something for it to be true.

We spent every moment we could together. I was moving from location to location as my job demanded and each day when I was finished I would call and she would be there to pick me up. Each morning she would drop me off at 7am before I had to work again. It finally happened our work took us to Toledo and it just so happened to be on a Friday and she drove all the way there so we could spend the night together. We were so very happy. I had never experienced anything like it. I was 100% in love with this woman and she was in love with me. I didn’t get to see here for a week or so after that. Not until the next trip. It just so happened we were driving through Cleveland and my buddies new I wanted to see her so they dropped me off and let me skip the Michigan leg of our trip. I was so happy. I loved those guys for that, and so did she.

It was her birthday and I got to be there with her. She drove me to North Carolina shortly after and I got my things and came back with her. It had only been weeks but I felt like I had known her my whole life. She made me feel so good about myself. She was what I had been missing my entire life but I didn’t realize it until I found her.

I won’t say our relationship was perfect it wasn’t at first. We had some rough times. I am a little hard to handle. She had been through a horrible relationship and had a hard time trusting. She later told my mother that she felt guilty because it took her two years before she fully trusted me.

[So I say to you dear reader, be wary of how you treat people

because if you hurt someone enough you can

 negatively impact every relationship they will ever have.]

 

In contrast I dole out trust like I’m trying to get rid of it and that has caused me nothing but pain and heartache. She was the exception. In all of our time together she never once hurt me. We had nearly five years together and I think we averaged about one argument a year. Once we had been together a few years then yes I can say we had the perfect relationship. I looked forward to coming home to her and I missed her when she wasn’t there. It was true happiness.

With her by my side I started college working on two separate Networking degrees and at this I excelled. With few exceptions, I had excellent grades. I’m not much for algebra I am afraid to say. I made the Dean’s List and I saw her watching me as the Dean handed me the award. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I would have never made it that far without her by my side. She was truly a magnificent woman. She was a giving soul without equal. My God I loved that girl so much.

We always had the neatest looking house. Halloween decorations were up year round and our eclectic taste of décor. I always felt so at home. Whenever we moved the first thing I did was hang her wooden spider in its web in some visible corner of the new living room. This always made her smile. I would say we’re home now and plop down somewhere only to be run back out to the moving truck to unload the rest of our things.

It was October of 2009 when the headaches started. Susie had three appointments with her doctor and each time was prescribed an anti-biotic which did nothing to ease the pain. Finally she was referred to an ENT and was quickly diagnosed with a polyp with no real testing just a brief exam lasting maybe two minutes.

The polyp removal surgery was done the following week I took her home. She was in a tremendous amount of pain. She called the doctor’s office who assured her this was perfectly normal but I knew better. She was not one to complain of pain even when she was hurt. I was getting more and more worried.

The Sunday morning following the surgery she yelled for me when she woke up. She was in tears and said my eye is messed up. We spent three days in the hospital affiliated with the doctor who performed the polyp removal surgery but were finally told by a nurse that we should go to the Cleveland Clinic because they didn’t know what to do and no matter how much of the pain medication they gave her they couldn’t ease her suffering.

A few days later the head of the ENT department at the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Knott, performed surgery on my fiancée. He and the other doctors saved her life. The problem was she never had a polyp. She had cancer and the “polyp removal surgery” punctured a hole in the rear of her nasal cavity and caused the protective fluid around the brain to start leaking out. That’s why she was in so much pain.

Susie was far tougher than I’ll ever be I can assure you of that. She endured weeks upon weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The type of cancer she had was Rhabdomyosarcoma. This is a rare childhood cancer and she was the first adult ever to set foot in the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic with it. That’s saying something considering it is the number one rated cancer center in North America.

I have written about her struggle and honestly I don’t want to delve too far into that subject here. I don’t want to talk about how she died. I want to talk about how she lived. The disease changed our lives and her passing forever changed me. So yes I must mention the affliction which ultimately took her away.

We were very busy creatures her and I. She worked for a large bank’s processing center there in Cleveland. She for the most part liked her job. She had been there for several years before her and I met. She had two cats, Punkin and Gobby, of which I am highly allergic and a dog named Roxy whom thought she was a cat. The cats spent so much time trying to cuddle with Roxy that I was allergic to her as well.

We tried every remedy and every allergy pill on the market and finally I went and saw an allergist. The shots were the answer and I was all for it. She decided to take the cats to her mother’s instead. That’s how much she loved me.

In the beginning I was having trouble finding a decent job so I started working at a local convenience store third shift. The hours were horrible and we were apart a great deal. We decided we were going to move to Maryland where I got an awesome job and went ahead as the advanced party. She was driving down on the weekends interviewing on Mondays using up her vacation days. The separation was rough but by some twist of fate I injured myself pretty significantly about three days before I began my new job.

I was told to stay off my foot for months. I couldn’t because we were trying to get relocated and part of that required two incomes. I worked injured as I was for over three months and by the time I threw in the towel, [Susie told me to come home so she could take care of me] my right foot had changed to many colors and had swollen to an unnatural size. It was green and purple and yellow and some colors I can’t begin to identify. I walked with a limp for over two years. Even now all these years later when I am tired or have been on my feet too long the limp creeps back into being as if it never left.

About a year and a half after returning to Ohio I enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College. In the beginning I had two jobs. I worked as a custodian at the Berea Children’s Home and I was a bouncer at a local bar with a bad reputation. It was a busy existence but I did truly enjoy our life together. After three or four months I let the bouncing job go. It was taking up far too much of our weekend.  My weekdays began at 6:30am and didn’t end until 4:00am. I was going for two Networking degrees as well as a minor in Literature. We only had one good solid “us” day a week but we made it work.

[I shall break for now but I will return to add more in due time. I take the writing of this slow because it tears at my heart strings far beyond anything else I have ever written. Thank you for your patience dear reader. This is the literary equivalent of me moving my own personal mountain of doubt and remorse. That mountain is all my fears come to pass, my nightmares realized, and every imaginable “WTF!” one can imagine…]

           

Eulogy Post VII

newskull

Alex 11

 

Alex couldn’t bear staying the night at that store, so he packed his gear into the car that had belonged to the poor woman who had died so gruesomely at the hands of that vile man. He fueled it up and decided to drive it as far as he could go with it.

He had to leave the road more than once avoiding wrecks and nearly got it stuck more than a few times. He knew that in the event of rain he would be screwed. Using a map he took from Fred’s store he made his way to Burlington. He was not in much of a hurry, knowing to speed on roads where people had spontaneously died while driving would be a hazardous endeavor at best. He took many back roads hoping to avoid major traffic blockages. It began raining early the next day so he parked and slept in the car in a Glen Raven strip mall. The wind blew eerily, howling as it rocked the old Buick. It frightened him out of his sleep.

He had the rifle in his hands before his eyes were fully open. The rain was pounding the car in sheets. He had no choice but to just sit there. There was no hope in traveling in this, with the roads blocked as they were. He smoked cigarette after cigarette, trying to keep his nerves calm. He tried to ignore the memories from the previous day as best he could.

On any other day the rain would have calmed his nerves, but he could see out in the street the vague shapes in the rain, iron monoliths in an asphalt landscape, housing the bones of the dead. He felt pity, sorrow, guilt, shame, hate, fear, pain, and he felt responsible. Hadn’t he always known something like this would happen? How many times did visions of vast wastelands strewn with the bodies of the dead, enter his head as he watched the evening news.

Then it occurred to him that he was being foolish. Who would have listened to me? The wonder mental patient says the world’s gonna end if we don’t hear him out. He could imagine the padded room he’d be put in. Then another haunting thought entered his head. He saw himself disease riddled dead in that same padded cell. When they realize you’re right, you still have to die, they deny you exist, cover you up with dirt and move on to the next problem they need to bury.

He felt he would go mad if this rain didn’t end soon, he needed to be moving. It’s the only thing that helps him now, as long as he is moving he can believe he is getting away from this mad place the world has become. He started drinking beer after beer in the hopes that he could pass out and sleep straight through till the next day.

He was running through a field holding a rifle, he noticed it was a soldiers uniform he wore. How he had gotten here he did not know. There were other soldiers around him, he knew this, but they were to his left and right, just out of sight. He couldn’t even spare a glance at his brothers in arms, the goal was straight ahead.

The smells in this place were nauseating, but he was immune, he had been here a long time, he knew not why, but he had a job to do. Soldiers don’t question orders; they just obey. He then thought and then they die. He can hear the footfalls of his allies all around him growing fainter and fewer as he went. There was no sound in this place other than the footsteps. He saw silent explosions all around him, tracer bullets whipping by him in all directions, some from behind, some from ahead, and from both flanks.

“What kind of hell am I in?” He asked silently.

The explosions of light began to trickle to nothing, and he noticed he could no longer hear the footfalls of his comrades. His rifle was warm and heavy in his hands, his muscles were tense, he began firing at shapes in the distance, this was his target the time was at hand, even if all the rest of his platoon was dead or running away he had a job to do.

He shot till he saw no more enemies in the darkness, he approached slowly ready for a reprisal, but none came. It felt as if he walked for days just to cover this little battlefield. He thought the area was vaguely familiar, but just couldn’t place it. The time came and finally he was upon his prey.

He knelt down beside the first body he came to, the man was on his stomach, the back of his head gone, he appeared fake somehow, Alex rolled him over and  he screamed till he felt his throat would shred itself, but still it was silent in this place as he stared into his own dead eyes.

He heard footsteps approaching, from all around, he snapped out of his shock at seeing he had killed himself. He saw then these were not soldiers. They were just people, dead rotting people and they were all there for him. He saw himself brainless and dead rise from the ground and join the ranks of the undead encircling him. He no longer tried to scream, he had no strength left, they all moved as one to devour him.

He woke, a scream stuck in his throat, still drunk, he had not been asleep more than an hour. He was in a complete panic. The rain had not let up even a little in the hour, if anything it was coming down harder, he cranked the car sure the dead had followed him out of his dream. It was almost full dark now, visibility was no more than thirty feet. He came out of the parking lot sideways clipping a Pontiac that was stalled in the street, but he never slowed his pace. He was doing eighty when he went through the first intersection. Luckily it was not completely blocked. He threaded that needle with his twenty five hundred pound bullet like an old pro.

He made it three miles bouncing off cars, sometimes hitting the curbs to avoid pileups. The car was straining to keep up with his break neck pace through this rain soaked maze. Then finally he came upon a roadblock he just didn’t have room to navigate. He clipped the rear bumper of a large truck causing him to spin out of control. He slid sideways into a curb exploding both drivers side tires and causing him to smash the driver’s side window with his head, rendering him unconscious. The car did a complete 180 and struck the side of a building, where it came to an abrupt stop. He lay motionless mashed into the floor board. His blood flowed unchecked from a gash on his head.

He woke hours later, he couldn’t tell whether the pain in his head was from the wound, or if it was the beer he had drunk. His neck was stiff and he noticed he had broken three fingers on his left hand, these he taped together. He was afraid they may never work the same again without being properly set. He surveyed the wreck, astonished he himself wasn’t dead. The blood had clotted and although he lost a bit, he was fine, only mildly dizzy.

He was a tough man, and growing more so by the day. He left the car and all his things and began walking. It was dark, maybe three or four in the morning he wasn’t sure, he had lost his watch at some point. He found a used car dealership nearby broke the window to the office with a brick he found lining a little flower bed at the edge of the lot.

It took him a while to find the keys in the dark, the power was out here now, and would probably never be back on again he thought grimly. He took an old Ford Bronco, he knew that given the choice between it and one of those large full sized 4X4’s he’d always op for the Bronco.

A friend of his had one years ago, and had once told him they are hard to get stuck. So they got drunk and tried it. He wondered where his friends were and how they had died. He hoped that they had survived, but with each passing day his hope was fading and despair had set in. That feeling of despair was slowly changing into something else. He was beginning to fear loneliness as much as the thought of being attacked by an army of the dead.

“What’s happening to me?” He asked the darkness. “I executed a man yesterday, yeah he deserved it, but my God, who am I?” He added to his query.

He couldn’t understand how he couldn‘t feel the slightest bit remorseful for killing the old man. It bothered him so bad, because he was ok about it. He, who couldn’t even now, bring himself to litter. He thought of movies he had seen where someone with a random mental disorder was put in a crisis situation and ended up losing it and murdering people. He didn’t feel like a murderer. No, the man had been a murderer.

He remembered going to church as a child with his parents and learning the Ten Commandments. He had most definitely smashed one all to hell. He prayed aloud, “God please forgive me for what I did, but I don’t feel sorry.”

He went back to the crash, gathered his things from the battered vehicle and felt a lump rise in his chest when he saw the toys that had belonged to that beautiful little girl. What her name had been, he wondered. It suddenly became very important for him to know. He tore the car apart looking under the seats, several times hitting his injured hand, he ignored this. The pain seemed a faraway memory.

He had searched the car thoroughly but found only a piece of mail with what he assumed was the mother’s name. Sarah. He checked the trunk last and just when he was about to give up hope he found a children’s book. It was inside a little girls purse, the book appeared well read and worn. He opened it and inside it said:

     To Keira, our sweet little angel, on her second birthday. Love Mommy and Daddy.

He saw where she had colored on some of the pages, not random scribbles as he first thought. She had been trying to copy the words. As he progressed page by page the words she had written became more and more legible. He cried silently as he read on. He had never heard of the author, but it was a sweet book about sharing, told through the eyes of little Sugar Gliders, the illustrations were top rate. After finishing the book he tucked it away into his bag. “Well Keira sweetie I hope you don’t mind, but I want to hold onto this a while.”

He found a nice place to park in the front lawn of an enormous house, which seemed out of place in this little town. He pulled under a weeping willow tree and slept soundly for over ten hours. He ached when he woke, “Bronco’s may be wonderful off road vehicles, but they make crappy bedrooms.” He said.

He noticed almost at once how bad he had begun to smell, he relieved himself behind a bush in this nice big yard, he felt silly hiding. Who would see him? But yet he hid all the same. He had brought toiletries from his house, he used bottled water to brush his teeth, but was desperately in need of a shower.

He tried the outside faucets then remembered the power was out. Then he walked around the house and saw this house had a swimming pool, it was covered still for the winter, he pulled the cover back and saw it was still filled and relatively clean. He ran back to the bronco grabbed his soap and shampoo, he knew it was gonna be cold, but figured the chlorine would be good for cleaning the gash on his head, painful yes, but still helpful.

He cleaned the gash as best as he could without starting it bleeding again, he soaked it in the chlorinated water, it was cold and his head ached, but it felt wonderful, he thought it was the best bath he’d ever had in his life.

He bandaged his head using the first aid kit from John’s camping supplies. He was amazed at how good he felt, the world was dead and he felt great. The old feelings of guilt started creeping in, and aloud he admonished himself. “Fuck that, you dick you’re not gonna feel bad for being alive.” At his command the guilt faded.

He wandered around Burlington, still looking for survivors, but still as before, had no luck. He was looking around thinking of all the places he liked to go with his parents. He remembered the little air field used for RC planes that was beside where the old Lowes had been. Then it popped into his head, just down the street from there was an armory.

He turned around haphazardly, well not so much anymore when there are no other drivers on the road. As long as he didn’t hit any parked cars and the rain didn’t come back it would be smooth sailing.

He found the armory just as he had remembered it, a large fenced parking lot with a large decommissioned artillery cannon in the front. The building was plain and aside from the cannon had no other remarkable attributes. The fence was locked, he attached the Bronco’s wench to the chain and threw it in reverse, and he was stuck in a game of tug of war with this big fence. It finally gave, not the chain or the lock, but the gate hinges gave way with a loud crash.

There were eleven different military vehicles here and a few passenger cars. He prayed the owners were not inside rotting for him to stumble across. He looked over one of the largest vehicles he saw, it was a six wheeled drive vehicle he had heard referred to as a five ton. This was what he wanted. He looked at the little Bronco and said, “sorry old girl, you have been out classed.”

He walked towards the building surveying the doors, there was a steel door solidly locked. Even with all his strength he couldn’t make it budge. He went back to the bronco and found a crow bar. It was rough going trying to pry the door, with his injured hand. After a half hour of cursing and a few scraped knuckles, he opted to try the bay doors. They too were solidly built and he couldn’t budge them. He was growing increasingly aggravated, he didn’t know what he expected to be inside, but he felt the need to check. He emptied his gear from the Bronco and slowly backed up to the door at an angled, trying to force the door in with the rear bumper.

He felt the door begin to give. He stopped pulled forward and got out to check his progress, the door was not giving, but he saw the block around it was cracking. This time he put the Bronco in four wheeled drive and hit the door at maybe 5 miles an hour, the thud jolted his entire body rattling his teeth. The block cracked a bit more. He looked and saw blackness through the left side of the door way, just a bit more, one or two more thumps ought to do it he thought.

He got back in and repeated this several times, cursing the fact he couldn’t get the door open. He had in fact made a large enough hole to get the wench cable through, he tried winching the door back out, twice the cable came free flying at the Bronco one attempt had cost him a headlight, another had caused the heavy steel hook at the end to smash the windshield. His progress was slow and he was on the verge of giving up when he remembered the heavy equipment rental place about two miles away. He drove there smashed out the glass in the office door and found the keys to a Caterpillar bulldozer, he smiled. “This is going to be fun.” He spoke to the collection of oversized Tonka Toys.

It took him a while to get the monster started, even longer to figure out what all the controls were and how they worked. He had once driven a much smaller version of one of these, so it wasn’t too long before he was plowing down the street at a nerve wracking five miles an hour. He slowly made his way back towards the armory. He drive right up to one of the large bay doors, the bull dozer tore through the metal like a hot knife through butter. He reversed out and shut down the behemoth.

He grabbed a flashlight and crept slowly inside. He first felt relief because the air stale as it was did not have the smell of death in it. Had he smelled anything he would not be able to go in for fear of getting infected by a corps.

He immediately saw why he wasn’t able to get in, they had barricaded the doors. Upon realizing this he began jerking the flashlight around the room to see if he were about to be killed for breaking into a government building. In the corner he saw a man in a white hazmat suit. Assault rifle by his side, he did not move or even acknowledge he had been found.

“Hey buddy you ok?” Asked Alex thinking maybe he was just asleep. Then dismissing that thought, only a deaf man could sleep through all the noise he’d just made.

There was no answer, Alex came closer, and saw through the face mask this man had died like all the others. At some point he had donned this suit and barricaded this place believing it would save him.

“I guess any hope is better than no hope at all.” Alex said to the dead man.

He looked around and saw why he couldn’t get the doors open, the dead man had driven several jeeps inside and had parked one just inside each of the doors. Alex continued through the building careful as he entered rooms, and turned corners. The dead man was the only body he found.

In a large plain room with shiny concrete floors he found what he had hoped he would. There were guns, lots and lots of guns. There were hundreds of cases of ammunition, crates of grenades, all sorts of things he didn’t know anything about.  He spent the rest of the day loading one of the large trucks, with everything he could lift. He had enough to fight a small war if needed.  He found cases of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) his buddies dad had bought these at the PX for camping trips when he was a kid, they weren’t gourmet, but they were actually pretty good. He made sure he got all of these, he wanted to be prepared.

He camped that night in the parking lot of the armory, built a nice fire and spent hours using the CB radio in the truck. Just before he logged off he was sure he heard a voice in the static, he was tired so he wasn’t sure if it were real or imagined. By the time sleep took him he was convinced he’d imagined it.

Eulogy Post VI

blue skull

Mark 9

Mark woke in an ambulance listening to all the commotion around him, he didn’t open his eyes. He was recounting the events of this evening. Had it all been a dream? He felt groggy and he hurt all over. The pain in his head had only increased. He saw that he was now shirtless, with a long bandage across his chest. His nose was a blazing inferno seemingly consuming the face around it.

“Did you hear that recording the kid made?” Asked one officer to another man, who must have been a detective judging by the suit he was wearing. The officer seemed agitated like he didn’t want to be there, and was just trying to make conversation to pass the time.

“No, what you got? I just arrived on scene, this place is a madhouse. I was in the area, and heard the call, I just stopped to see if I could be of some help.” The man answered.

“It seems the kid here caught his Mother and Stepfather planning to kill him on tape. The kicker is he got his mom to willingly confess, I dunno if that will be admissible, she is half unconscious on God knows how many pills. She also admitted to planning her late husband’s murder, but claimed that he died in an accident before they had the chance. Also some stuff about them embezzling money from her late husband’s company.” The officer paused trying to remember what else he had heard.

“What about the kid, does it look like self-defense?” The detective asked.

“Looks like it, but the kids in shock, he didn’t say much when the first officers on scene arrived, handed them the CD and passed out. He‘s been out about two hours.” He answered.

“Why in the hell is he still here and not at the hospital, he looks terrible?” The detective asked, as he turned to survey the boy in the ambulance with great curiosity.

“Look you didn’t hear this from me, there is some kind of outbreak at County, and the Regional Medical center is reporting cases now. Whole damn place is locked down. National Guard is on the way in.” Solemnly spoke the officer.

“What do you mean, what is it?” Asked the detective, Mark could hear a slight change in his voice, and it bothered him.

“They dunno, but the rumor is, it is something real bad, as in something they can’t fix.” The officer’s agitation was growing more obvious with every word. This troubled Mark.

Mark thought a moment, that’s not agitation, that’s fear. Mark knew fear.

The detective even seemed to be moved by the changes in the officer’s voice. “Hey Sal, I’ve known you lots of years and I haven’t ever seen you this shook before, your starting to worry me.”

“Ted this is between you and me, I could lose my pension over this. You know my sister in law, Eva, is dispatch supervisor, well she called me and told me maybe I should call off today. “He paused a moment gathering his thoughts.

“Yeah I know Eva, you know that, she and my wife are friends, you know that Sal.” The detective knew weather the rumors were true or not, Sal believed them to be.

“Yeah Ted, I dunno, my minds been running all over the place since I talked to her today.” He answered.

“Maybe you should take some time off, take a vacation.” The detective offered.

“That’s just it, from what Eva told me, we might all be taking a vacation, but not willingly.” He stammered.

“Come on now Sal, you’re starting to worry me man, it can’t be that bad, whatever it is the government will step in and fix it.” He was looking at his old friend with great concern.

“Eva said the day started out normal, but by 5pm the phones were ringing off the hook, they didn’t have enough drivers or EMT’s to handle the calls. Thing is all that aside, one of the EMT’s been working in this county twenty years, man named Gerald. He’s fifty seven, picture of health, this guy. Eva says he is in better shape than most of the twenty-something’s they got on the crews. Well he came on duty this morning, she saw him, and he was perfectly fine as always. He came by dispatch at lunchtime like he sometimes does, unless calls have him busy. Well Eva said he looked bad, like he had aged twenty years in four hours.

She said it is the first time in her fifteen years she ever heard him say he didn’t feel well. He tried eating his lunch, but he got sick. She advised him to take the rest of the day off, he refused, didn’t want to leave the rest of the guys in the lurch. Well she says his partner called in saying that he was gonna have to take Gerald to the hospital, he had collapsed on a call and he couldn’t get him revived.” He had to pause; the words seemed to be hurting him.

“Well Sal, they figure out what was wrong with him, he ok now?” The detective asked. He hadn’t so much as blinked while hearing this story.

“He was dead by 4pm, and he died from whatever it is they have the quarantine set up for.” He was shaking, speaking the truth and trying to deny the facts in his own head.

“My God man, why hasn’t there been an alert put out?” Ted demanded.

“That’s just it, a fed came to dispatch and ordered them to not breathe a word of what was going on to anyone, they said if the story leaked the person who did so would be charged with treason. They gave them a list of symptoms, and anyone calling with any of those symptoms were to be reported directly to them, and that was it, no more sending out ambulances.” The officer seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack.

“My God Sal, this is either a terrorist attack, or somebody was playing with the wrong test tube somewhere. Why in God’s name would they hide this from the public?” He demanded to no one but the early morning sky.

“I spoke with Eva an hour ago, she and everyone else who came in contact with Gerald are all sick.” The tears in his eyes seemed to be lost; they didn’t belong on this man’s face, a man who had seen so many years in the line of duty.

They didn’t notice when Mark slipped out the side door of the ambulance and into the darkness. He was already in the garage at the rear of the house before the alarm was raised. He was grateful for the police and although he came across as someone who disrespected authority, he truly didn’t. He verbally attacked anyone online he saw talking bad about cops. He would go on long rants about how if they had ever been beaten, raped, or robbed, they would change their tune, but this usually fell on deaf ears.

His true fear was of the government, his mother had seen him in terrorist chat rooms; she saw his fear as he watched the news. She’d laughed and said, “Your just paranoid, stuff like that doesn’t happen here, those bombings were a fluke, we are perfectly safe now.” How foolish she had been.

Mark had been an avid reader since his early child hood. He had read so many books but whenever something happened he could almost always relate it to a child’s story he had read at one time or another. This situation reminded him of the story about a grasshopper and an ant he had read so long ago he had forgotten the title; he pondered this as he grabbed his back pack he had stored in the garage and jumped on his father’s favorite 4 wheeler. How he had loved riding with him when he was small.

The grasshopper he saw as America, the ants were who ever had done this, “terrorists” if that’s what you want to call them, pretty general term to use he thought. The grasshopper spent all it’s time playing in the sun never concerned with the oncoming winter, he laughed at the poor ant who worked all day getting ready for what was to come. The grasshopper ate when he was hungry, he napped when he was sleepy, but all the while the diligent ant kept right on working.

Then the inevitable happened, winter came and the grasshopper was cold, hungry, and had no place to live that was safe. Luckily for the grasshopper in the story the ant was a nice guy; he gave him food and shelter.

He hit the button to open the garage door. The door was barely high enough to clear the handle bars when he shot out into the night. With a flash he was gone, they had no chance of catching him, he had been planning his escape route for over a year now, he knew that when he turned 18 he would have access to his trust fund and had been taking money slowly but surely from the safe in his dad’s office. He had just over five thousand dollars in his bag, and a few changes of clothing. They had never expected him. Roger would often be piss drunk when he’d take money out of the safe and he spent it like he was printing it. He never actually paid attention to how much was in there.

He knew the place like the back of his hand, there were large estates, he didn’t have to cross many streets, he was taking the extremely long way to avoid running into the police. It took him over two hours to reach the park he and his father had spent so many summer nights in camping, he choked up as he saw the place.

Dawn was quickly approaching and he had made it, he hid in the deepest part of the park he could find, covered the 4 wheeler with branches pulled his bedroll out of his back pack curled up and fell fast asleep. The only thought in his head before he fell asleep was, How nice are these ants gonna be?

He dreamt of his father, they were riding slowly around the back yard on his 4 wheeler, he saw himself laughing unabashedly, the way only a happy child can. He smiled in his sleep.

He woke around 11am that morning. He walked out of the park, it took him nearly an hour to get to a pay phone, where he called a taxi, then thinking of the ambulance driver called right back and cancelled it. He would have to walk, or find a bike. He walked nearly a mile and he saw sitting in someone’s yard a 10 speed, he wrote a note on a small slip of paper he had in his pocket. I needed your bike, was all it said, he folded two one hundred dollar bills into it and placed the note in the mailbox. He never knew, the note was never read, and the money was never spent.

He thought it odd that there was so little traffic, he guessed maybe there had been a warning at last, and people were staying home. The disease spread far faster than anyone could have guessed; Mark tried not to think of the repercussions. He just wanted to get some supplies and go back and wait till whatever this was blew over.

He had ridden six miles when he found the store his father used to bring him to for camping gear. He had been worried it wouldn’t be there or would be closed, Lucky for him it was, the owner lived upstairs. He went inside and began grabbing things he needed, he had nearly fifty lbs. of stuff before he was finished, insulated coveralls, long johns, several pairs of boots, 4 large packs of insulated socks, cooking utensils, a new larger pack, tent, sleeping bag, and a fishing pole and a small foldable fishing kit with lures, pliers, sinkers, flies, and hooks, pretty much a bit of everything.

The proprietor, an elderly gentleman said, “I remember you son, haven’t seen your or you dad in a long time. Over two years if it’s been a day.” He was smiling warmly at the pile of things Mark had assembled.

“Yes sir, my father died in a wreck a few weeks after we were last in here.” He was remembering as he spoke, tears stung his eyes thinking of their last camping trip.

“Well son I am sorry as I can be, your dad was a good boy,” said the old man sympathetically, Mark thought it funny how the old man had referred to his father as a ‘good boy’.

“Thank you, he loved this store.” Mark said politely.

“You know I guess your dad was about your age first time he came in here, he was buying a sleeping bag so he could go fool around with some young lady I imagine, but he kept coming back after.” The old man reminisced with a smile trying to cheer the boy.

Mark vaguely remembered his dad telling him about coming here since he was a boy, it never occurred to Mark the same man had ran it all these years. Mark started talking with the old man about their camping trips and things they had done. It felt good to talk about his dad with someone friendly. It lifted his spirits considerably.

The old man after a while looked at him more seriously, “now you don’t have to tell me son, but for your father’s sake I feel I need to ask, why you buying all this stuff, you running away, are you in some kind of trouble?”

Mark simply answered, “Yes sir.”

The old man, looked at him a moment then added, “Well I ain’t no rat, so I won’t be calling the law on ya.”

Mark liked the old man, and he needed to tell someone what happened, a kind ear to vent to, so he told him everything that had happened the day before. He had one of the CD’s still, but the old man didn’t have anything to listen to it on. It took him nearly thirty minutes to get it all out, at times he began to cry the old man gave him his dignity and found something interesting on his shoe to look at during these times.

The old man had listened to everything he had to say and decided the boy was not trying to pull his chain. He looked stricken when Mark had relayed the conversation that took place between the two police officers. “I thought something funny was going on, now mind you I don’t do much business during the week and all, but cars still drive up and down this street quite regular. Hasn’t been 10 cars passed this morning, half of which were police cars.

The old man came out from behind his counter and started grabbing things handing them to the boy, “take this stuff out to my truck parked just there.” he pointed to an old jeep pickup half rusted through parked on the curb just in front of the store.

The boy did as he was told. By the time he was through, the bed of the truck was nearly full. Finally he asked, “what’s all this for?”

“Son this is for you, can’t have you sitting out in the woods doing without, wouldn’t be Christian of me.

“I have money,” he tried to say.

“If it’s finally happened son, money isn’t gonna do nobody any good.” The old man gravely spoke. “Some of it’s for me, my boy’s in Iraq, and his wife and my grandbabies are all sitting alone in North Carolina, I’m heading that way after I drop you off.

They didn’t talk much, the old man drove right into the park and into the woods where Mark directed him to his little camp site. When all that he had given Mark was unloaded he said, “Listen son, you’re a smart feller, and I owe you a lot for telling me what ya have, It’s my own fault I got so tired of waiting on the news to tell me we were under attack I just stopped watching. Maybe I have enough time to get to them. Your Daddy would be proud of you boy, you keep that in mind. You stay right out here in these woods till that radio says it’s safe.”

“Thank you sir, I don’t know how I can repay you.” Mark returned.

“No need, you just stay safe, and if this mess is as contagious as that cop feller said, you need to steer clear of everything and everybody. “ He shook the boys hand, gave him a brief smile hopped in his truck and drove away.

Mark would often think if he’d known his grandfather, he would have been just like that old man, stern but fair, and very kind. Mark turned on the radio thinking he would have to hunt for the news, it was all that was on, every station.

“It is confirmed there is a viral outbreak, worldwide!” Came one reporter’s voice screaming over a huge crowd, “Shots have been fired by guardsmen.”

Reports like this were on every station, but although there were reporters everywhere telling what they saw, there were still no real explanations. There was just confusion and death. The reporters were nothing more than the crowds they were reporting, screaming crying, sick, and dying without a clue as to why or how.

Red 10

They convened at first light by Phil’s RV as planned.

“What shall we do?” Sherry asked.

“Well, first we need to find a working phone, maybe the land lines still work. Neither of our cell phones work out here, we can call the police and see if they can tell us what to do. For that matter we could probably just go to a store buy a paper and ask the people working what the hell is going on. It’s not like it’s the end of the world, damn stupid kid was playing a prank that’s all.” Phil chuckled with no humor, his words had given him and everyone else listening chills.

“If there was a virus they would have quarantined the sick, wouldn’t they?” Beth asked hopefully.

“I’m sure they did what they could,” reassured Sherry.

Red thought to himself, maybe the kids radio show was a prank, but the emergency services message was surely not a prank. The note on the managers door was no prank, and for damn sure the power being out is definitely not a prank. He then spoke after a brief silence, “well we’re sure not going to find out anything sitting here slapping our gums.” He smiled at Beth and Sherry.

Sandra seemed to be trying to block Phil from their view, hogging him all for herself. She did not speak, even after they had all piled into Red’s Jeep.

They slowly drove the fifteen miles to a small town nearby where Red and Sherry liked to go and eat breakfast sometimes when they were here. They had a small café that served giant fluffy pancakes with every-flavor syrup you could imagine. It was a quaint place that no matter where you were from, you felt at home.

They all noticed except for Sandra who was off in her own little world that they passed not a single car or saw a single soul the entire trip. When they entered the town they saw the gas station which had always been open at this hour before, was closed. Sherry quietly pointed this out to Red. A little further on at the town center was the town’s only stoplight. There had been a huge crash. There were cars in all four directions, seemingly waiting for the light to change.

Sherry, a nurse jumped out of the Jeep and headed for the crash, Red closely followed her. He glanced into the window of a nearby minivan and froze, “Sherry honey, stop.” He sounded nothing like himself, as quietly as he spoke Sherry heard and it chilled her.

She turned and asked, “what is it honey I’m just gonna see if I can help.”

“You can’t help them sweetie. They are all gone, each and every one of them are gone.” His tanned skin had gone very pale.

Sherry approached him, concerned. She then saw what had caused this sudden change in her husband.

Red as many people who lived a while, had seen dead people, now even children had seen pictures of war victims dead in the street of foreign countries. He had never seen anything like what he was looking at now. The couple appeared to be in their late seventies, they looked as if they had died in great agony. Had Red known these two were both in their early twenties, he would have been shocked him even further.

They had died on their way to pick up their baby from daycare, they got stuck behind the crash and died waiting for the rescue workers they and everyone else had taken for granted for so many years.

The virus had hit so fast that most never even knew what it was; only the healthiest made it to the final stages. Most died, or went into comas long before they even realized it was the cause of a terrorist attack. The lines of communication fell quickly, watching the news only confused people. No one knew what was happening. By the time the first outbreak warnings went out, it was too late, the damage had been done. As the millions of Americans fled the cities they carried with them this disease, contaminating every store, every gas station, and every rest stop along the way.

No one would ever know the truth about those who had planned this mass annihilation of the human race. Their plan had worked so well in fact, that it even wiped out villages in third world countries that had no access roads. This to, no one would ever read about, or have a vigil for. There would be no more concerts to feed the starving, there would be no more earth day, and the earth was already healing from centuries of pollution and the carelessness of mankind.

As Red walked back to his Jeep he glanced back one last time at the van, on the bumper was a sticker that read, in bold green letters: Save The World, Kill Yourself!

The others had been watching Red and Sherry raptly, Phil spoke first. “What did you see?”

“They are all dead, everyone. I’m afraid our worst fears have been realized. This may not be the definitive end of the world, but it most surely is the end of the world as we know it.” Red had an unusually serious edge to his voice.

“How could this be?” Sandra screamed. “It’s not possible.”

“Look we have to face facts, as hard as they are to deal with, we must. We are in the middle of nowhere. This is a real small town so we are surely going to find this same sort of thing in the bigger cities.

We should search for other survivors, but keep in mind we are dealing with an extremely deadly and contagious disease. “Red reached out and took Sherry’s hand.

They drove around for four hours looking for someone alive, but their search was fruitless, as they neared the highway they saw long lines of stalled cars filled with bodies and their things. It put Red in the mind of the Pharos; they were entombed with all their most valuable worldly possessions and their families.

Red noticed after passing several grocery stores that troubled him, they were empty; the stores looked like they had been closed and cleaned out of all their wares. Finding food somewhere that hasn’t been contaminated will be a chore he thought as they drove. He decided now wasn’t the time to raise any more bad news.

Beth had silently cried when she heard the news that what the kid on the radio had said was true, and remained silent the entire day, only answering yes and no when spoken to. Sandra was a blubbering mess, it seemed she had reverted to some lower form of functioning, Phil tried to talk to her but all she was capable of were grunts and squeals. Thankfully she was quiet for the most part. Red caught a glimpse of Phil feeding her some sort of pills. They had not noticed him watching.

They returned to the campsite, and at Reds urging all decided to leave together, “strength in numbers.” he had said.

Beth rode with Sherry and Red, and to their dismay Sandra and Phil had to join them only an hour into the trip. The roads were impassible for Phil’s RV. Sandra had fought like a tiger to not leave the comfort of her rolling sanctuary. Phil fed her more pills Red was sure, because in a very short span of time she went from a hellion to a zombie like state.

With all his experience Red wash almost positive Sandra was schizophrenic. It was hard to tell because Phil kept her full of pills. Red wondered how she would be once the pills ran out.

They camped on the side of the interstate that night. Red took Sherry and Beth with him and set out to find a second vehicle, claiming they needed more storage space. This was only kind of true. What they truly needed was more space between them and Sandra. Phil had agreed it was a good idea; he didn’t care what the vehicle was, as long as he could navigate this strange, new age graveyard they had been driving through.

They spent the next few days driving from town to town Red, Sherry, and Beth riding in red’s old jeep. Phil and Sandra followed close behind in the SUV Red had found for them, it was all they could find, it came off a used car lot, and it was the only thing with four wheel drive.

They drove through numerous small towns and back roads always sticking close to the interstate. After two days of this they decided to just keep heading west and hoped anyone else alive would see them on the interstate.

On the third night they were still well east of Raleigh when Red’s CB stopped scanning and for a brief second he thought he heard a voice. He listened intently as they crawled at no more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour, He assumed most of these people had been heading to the bigger hospitals in cities like Durham and Raleigh, and even further west to Burlington and Chapel Hill.

He began to think the voice was a product of his imagination, and his so desperately wanting to meet other people. This would prove that they were not a fluke that his few travelers were alive. He knew that if they were alive there must be others somewhere, but he had to see for himself.

Red had noticed something peculiar happening to himself, the shock of seeing all those dead people passing thousands a day now, was fading away. He had read of such things happening to people in war torn countries, and to soldiers. How sad it must be to see senseless death and feel nothing.

Lost in his thoughts, Sherry was fast asleep beside him and Beth had dozed off in the back seat, he swerved involuntarily when a muffled voice came through on the CB. “Hello, anybody there?”

He picked up the receiver and answered, “Hello, I hear you, can you hear me?”

Sherry and Beth had both been startled awake, then saw Red with the CB, and remained quiet.

They all waited in silence then five minutes later they heard. “Hello, my name is Alex, is there anybody out there. I am in Burlington at the National Guard Armory. Please respond if you can hear me”

“Yes we hear you, we are east of Raleigh, we are headed in your direction,” Red yelled into the handset.

They waited, and again five minutes later they heard the same message. “He can’t hear us Red said aloud, he must have a much higher powered CB transmitter than mine.”

They left it on and listened to this man’s message repeating every five minutes or so, sometimes the same sometimes a bit different, when finally about an hour later after hearing virtually the same message he came through with an entirely different message.

“My name is Alex; I grew up in Yanceyville, North Carolina. I have been alone for over a week, I am not infected. I had been searching for survivors, out in the country near where I grew up. I got lost and saw a store and stopped to see if I could find a map. I was sitting in the parking lot when a man began shooting at me.

He said things that made no sense. Talking like he was in a war, at first I thought he was crazy or sick. I was hiding behind my truck on the ground that’s when I saw that this man had murdered a young woman and had also shot her six year old daughter. I could see that the girl was still alive.

I was forced to wound him, so I could get to the girl. I disarmed him and just as I reached the girl she died right in front of me. There was nothing I could do. I then discovered he had shot another kid maybe about thirteen or fourteen years old, in the back as he ran away. He had set up an ambush, and had six guns loaded and waiting for anyone unlucky enough to pass by.

None of the three people he shot and killed were sick. I did not know what to do with him. I questioned him and he confessed that he was not crazy. He admitted to only killing them because it was his store, and that was his stuff, and they weren’t gonna get him sick.

I shot him with the same gun he had shot those people with. I am not sorry I did this. Criminals are sorry when they kill people. I am not a criminal. I buried the mother and child together and I gave the boy his own grave. I left the murdering son of a bitch to rot there in his parking lot. I don’t know why I am saying this, pretty stupid eh? I feel it’s only right to let anyone coming my way know what I have done.

“I don’t know if anyone can hear me, I am signing off, I will be checking this channel regularly tomorrow. Goodnight.”

Red, Sherry, and Beth all sat in silence. They found a relatively empty section of road and stopped to camp. No one spoke about what they heard, nor did they tell Phil or Sandra. None of them had even heard Sandra talk since the day in that small town. When Sherry had asked Phil how she was, he rudely brushed her off, saying. “I can take care of her!” Sherry let it go without another word.

Eulogy

newskull

(This is my first novel, I began it back in 2001 but did not finish it until 2011 so please forgive me if some of the material is dated. Also, and I beg, keep in mind I have come a long way with my crimes against punctuation since I began on this journey. This is the first 30 pages or so. I hope you enjoy. Any critiques would be greatly appreciated. I will post more as I have a chance to go through and make sure the chapters are legible. I have a horrible habit of thinking faster than I am able to type. Thank you. – JM)

 

 Eulogy

The Beginning 1

Riad woke early as he did every morning, brushed his teeth, showered, and dressed. He quietly made a simple breakfast of sliced pineapple and bananas. He was always respectful to his roommates despite his secret loathing of them both.

He had lived here in this cramped apartment for almost two years as he attended NYU working towards a degree he knew he’d never finish. Riad was a peace loving sort who prayed every night that his people would be free of the infidels’ oppression.

At times he found himself wondering if they were as bad as he had been taught. Then he would remember the flashes and explosions so powerful his hearing had been damaged. This he told his classmates was a hereditary problem.

Then with heart crushing clarity he remembered his mother. The memory of her so fragile, dying in his father’s arms took over. She had a wooden beam deeply lodged in her chest; the pictures flooded his mind. The silent eeriness of it made his heart race and spine tingle even after all these years.

The beam had been driven home by the force of the infidel’s mortar round. Whether human error or an act of nature, the round had missed the warehouse fifty yards away and had blown away the entire corner of his family’s modest home.

His mother had tried to speak but could not form the words. It would have mattered little; he and his father would not have been able to hear. They watched her struggle to breathe her last breaths with destroyed lungs.

He steadied himself, fighting the urge to scream. Hatred hardened his heart. “Yes they are that bad.” He muttered softly under his breath.

He noticed the time and hurried himself. He finished his breakfast and set out just as he had done every weekday for the past two years. It was only five in the morning when he hit the frigid New York streets and he felt revitalized by the brisk air, he kept a quick pace.

He followed his regimen to the minute. He met his train at the usual time, exited at his usual stop. He was known for being one of the first to arrive and last to leave at the school’s massive library. He enjoyed learning and it kept his mind from his most feared enemy: doubt.

He began to study as he had always done but today was of course different than any before. He wondered to himself, will I live through this? He quickly shook this thought off, knowing it wasn’t important. He had a mission and he would do what he was asked no matter what it was.

It was a quarter till seven when the messenger arrived. Riad didn’t know what to make of this man. He was dressed in a canary yellow windbreaker, bicycle shorts, helmet, and gloves, all of which were covered in reflective strips. Riad hadn’t known who would show up, but to trust such delicate information to just any bicycle messenger shocked him.

He signed for the envelope and nonchalantly opened it, feigning interest for the benefit of the nosy librarian who had pointed him out to the messenger. He acted happy as he pulled the card from the envelope.

He said, smiling, “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday,” replied the librarian who went back to her work, disinterested.

Riad had no problem acting; he had been doing so for years. He was after all on the frontlines of the war. He had to do what was expected of him. He had sworn to his fallen mother and the ailing father he had left behind to complete this mission.

The card was one of the musical types and as he opened it he had been afraid it would blare music into the silence of the early morning library, but it had not. It read “Happy birthday son, Love your Mother and Father.”

This made his heart ache. His father had died a year after his arrival in the US. He had been unable to go back for the funeral, fearing it would jeopardize the mission. He scanned the library, making sure no prying eyes were on him. He flipped over the card and saw that where the manufacturer logo should have been, there was instead a fictitious brand name and an address. He gathered his belongings and casually left the library.

He made his way outside, hailed a cab, and went to the address. The cab ride took a long time, which was fine with Riad. He had casually opened a book containing the birthday card and using his thumbnail, tore open the part that normally contained the little device which played the music. He saw that in its place was a small silver key.

“Clever,” he said under his breath.

“Huh,” barked the groggy cabby who looked as if he hadn’t had a day off in weeks.

“Oh nothing, sorry, I was just thinking out loud,” he replied, without a trace of tension in his voice.

He arrived at the address at eight thirty. He paid the cabby, giving him a nice tip.

“Thanks Bub,” retorted the cabby with a grin, “need me to wait on ya?”

Riad replied, “No thanks. I have business to handle here.” I don’t know exactly what business that is, he thought, as the cabby sped off.

He approached the building, which was a plain brick structure with a faded sign that read Jones’s Short Term/Long Term Storage. He entered. There was a reception desk with a grumpy looking old man dozing in an old cushy lounge chair in front of a set of double steel doors.

At the sound of Riad entering the old man looked up and snapped, “Key, where’s your key?”

Riad produced the key. The old man looked it over and handed it back wordlessly, buzzing him through to the storage area. The old man leaned back and began snoring immediately. Riad found this amusing and was grinning as he walked down the narrow corridor towards the locker that matched the number on his key.

The locker was small and the lock made quite a bit of noise, as if it hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Riad imagined it had not been. He knew little of what he was involved in, but he knew that he was not alone. He was comforted to know that many other people just like him, warriors on the front line of this epic battle were following messages this very morning all on different paths driven by faith.

All he knew about what was to come was told to him by a mysterious figure in a dark room four years earlier. “There will be many, and not one of you will know the others involved. This plan was set into motion after the invasion of Kuwait by the Infidel Americans and their supporters. We have been placing people and equipment all over the world since 1993.” He knew that this plan had cost lives, hundreds of millions of dollars, and sixteen years of hard work. He would not fail.

He slowly entered the small storage unit and was convinced there was some sort of mistake. It appeared to be filled with nonsense junk. There were boxes of old clothes, toys, and books. His heart sank. Was this all for nothing? Did someone fail at their portion of the mission? Are we found out? He began sweating, expecting armed assassins to come bearing down on him in a hail of bullets.

He waited a few tense minutes and when nothing happened, he began digging. He inspected box after box and just as he was sure there was nothing of use he saw a box labeled Riad’s Junk tucked away in the back corner. All his fears faded and he knew that once he opened this box there was no turning back. He was filled with strength, knowing that his faith was about to be tested.

As he moved the cardboard box, he found it was bigger than the rest and very heavy, though still manageable. He was very careful with it, not sure what he would find inside. It could be anything, as he had no idea what had been planned for him.

He imagined explosives. That was the simplest way, he had long thought, strap on a bomb and blow myself up somewhere densely populated. He always hoped it wouldn’t be explosives but that was irrelevant. He would do what he must.

He held his breath and opened the box. “Balloons?” He choked. The box was half full of deflated balloons. They were the nice ones you buy for birthdays and anniversaries and such. Pulling the balloons out slowly, looking for some form of instruction, he found a small note taped to the inside of the box which read:

Riad you are a great man and your name will echo through the halls of history through all the ages to come. Keep your faith my brother and you shall be a hero. Fill as many of these as you can carry around with you, release the gas on buses, trains, anywhere the infidels congregate. Do this all this day until you are caught or killed. If you are blessed with one more day, be in Time’s Square at nine am tomorrow. God be with you my friend.

He didn’t know who had written the letter, but it did not matter. He understood secrecy was important so that the architects of this great mission could live on to formulate new scenarios for exterminating the enemy.

He removed all the balloons and saw four helium tanks beneath. He filled and sealed a large bunch of balloons, then tied them in a bunch and added a bow. The old man did not stir as he left and he was careful not to let the door slam.

He waited at the bus stop and whistled Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He was quite fond of classical music. As the lumbering bus approached, his whistling ceased and his lips expanded into a warm smile for the driver as the doors opened.

He sat in the first open seat he came to, he was all smiles to the other passengers but his insides were churning. He noticed a beautiful blond women sitting nearby. He caught her eye and she smiled sweetly at him. He let his mind wander for a moment, imagining her holding him, telling him how much she loved him. He saw their children being born and growing. He saw their future house and their blissful happiness.

The woman noticed he was still watching her as he was lost in his thoughts and her smile broadened. Just as quickly as he let his mind wander he snapped back into reality. Just for a moment, the woman saw the vicious intent in his eyes but he recovered with a quick smile. The young woman did not look at him again and exited at the next stop.

He admonished himself silently. How could you be so foolish, she is as bad as any of them, she may as well have launched the mortar that killed your mother!  They are the enemy and they are not to be trusted!

With that he punctured the first balloon. He went from bus to bus and train to train, careful he did not pop more than one in front of the same people, in order to avoid suspicion.

He traveled all over the city, visiting parts he had never been to before, often feigning disdain if anyone noticed one of his slackening balloons. He returned eight times that day each time carrying away a fresh bunch of balloons and a box of junk to make it appear he was just emptying the storage unit. The people running the place did not seem to care one way or the other.

Riad mused at how easy this all was more than once that long day. They don’t care enough to notice what is going on around them. These people deserve whatever they get.

In the afternoon he stood in a busy subway tunnel releasing balloon after balloon filled with what, he did not know, nor did he care. He had developed a cough that was mild at first and progressively worsened. At first he thought that it was being out so much that day that was making him sick, but then it occurred to him that it was most likely what he was unleashing upon the unsuspecting infidels. They are so prideful, they believe they can attack us in our homes but are safe to come and go as they please.

He spent twelve hours doing as his instructions had bade him until he was too sick to even think of continuing. He had noticed a great deal of sneezing and coughing much like his own during the last few hours.

He returned home at nearly eleven that night. His roommates were both home but did not greet him. They were already asleep. He thought this to be strange, considering neither of them ever went to bed this early. As he dozed off in between his own coughing and sneezing fits, he could have sworn he heard the same sounds of sickness coming from both of his roommates’ bedrooms.

When he woke the next morning he was surprised to see it was already bright outside. He had never overslept in the two years he had lived here. He had trouble getting up and getting to the bathroom. He was running a high fever and sweat poured from his body. There was no sound in the apartment except the wheezing coming from the other two bedrooms.

The gravity of what he had done slowly began to set in. It was obvious that both his roommates had the same symptoms as him and neither of them used the bus or subways. He began to wonder just what was in those helium tanks.

He took a much longer than usual shower, trying to let the steam clear his sinuses but to no avail. He got dressed, but did not eat. He left without waking his roommates. Despite years of acting as their friend, they were nothing to him, just two more enemies that needed to be dealt with.

He left the apartment at seven am and it took him an hour and a half to walk to Times Square. This walk would normally take him no more than an hour but he was very tired this morning. He didn’t want to ride the bus or to take the train so he just walked. He noticed even for this hour there were fewer people than normal. Another thing he noticed were the amount of sirens he heard. More than half the people he did see all seemed to be in the throes of a horrible flu just like him.

Riad found an unoccupied bench in Times Square and waited. He prayed silently to himself. He could not stop coughing but from what he had seen this morning he had done his job well. He smiled despite the fever and pain in his chest. At five minutes to nine a man sat down beside him.

“Riad?” The man asked.

This startled Riad and he slowly replied, “Yes.”

“I only received your name this morning in a note I found with this briefcase, it said that you would be here by nine and that if you had done your job well you would be very sick. My friend I know you did your job well because I am very sick also.”

“I thought this was all to be secret?” replied Riad, a bit shocked.

“I know, my friend. The note told me to explain that I was to meet you before the end because true warriors like us deserve better than to die alone with nothing but the company of infidels.”

Neither of the two sick men spoke again, they just sat and prayed silently for their remaining moments. Each man knew that at exactly nine am they would be at their god’s side. They both sat sickly smiling as the small nuclear device detonated. Times Square was vaporized.

Simultaneously in major cities all across the world similar situations unfolded. Any country allied with the US was attacked, but none to the extent of the US. There were attacks in thirty states. Within minutes the news spread around the globe. Fifteen minutes after the detonations there was a broadcast accepting responsibility.

The static cleared and the familiar face of Osama Bin Laden appeared. The message was short and disturbing. “American Infidels, you and your allies will all be destroyed. The first phase of our attack was more successful than we could have dreamt, the Infidels shall fall!”

The world was thrown into a state of panic. The highways and interstates around the world became jammed with panicked people fleeing for the safety of the countryside. They believed they were escaping certain nuclear death if they left the cities.

Their plan could not have worked better. The millions of people fleeing carried with them a death sentence far worse than they could have imagined. The virus spread like wild fire. There was a complete collapse of emergency services, crash victims died in their vehicles, house fires burned unchecked, and all semblance of order collapsed.

The National Guard was ordered to block all interstate traffic but it was futile. In many cases the guardsmen were over powered by armed civilians. When they tried to defend themselves with force, they were gunned down. There was no stemming the flood of sick from swarming the rural countryside. It was hope that drove them on, and it was hope that sentenced millions more to a horrific death.

By the time the government knew what was happening, it was far too late. The president issued a plea to cease all movement, warning that traveling was only going to spread the virus faster and increase the mortality rate. His plea went unheeded. It seemed none would be spared.

The virus acted fast. Anyone who contracted it only believed they had the flu at first. It progressed so rapidly that by the time the sick realized it was something worse than the flu they were already in the throes of a fever-induced delirium. This aided in the spread of panic. The infected, suffering from diminished mental capacity, resorted to the most basic instincts: fight or flight.

Riad died without knowing what he had released on the American people, but knowing there would be casualties. He believed these casualties would be localized. When the stranger with the briefcase arrived he understood there was a bomb inside but he had not realized that it was nuclear.

The thousands of people he imagined dying were only a miniscule drop in the ocean of deaths that he actually caused. Not even the architects of this intended genocide could have truly grasped its scope.

The bombs had killed hundreds of thousands, being detonated simultaneously at the beginning of the work day in dense areas as they were. The true genius of the plan was made evident during the following days after the explosions.

Within three days American losses had reached 50 million people. These numbers were impossible to substantiate because the infrastructure had all but collapsed.

There were vague stories before the networks went off the air that this was an accelerated form of the Ebola virus. These stories raised more questions than answers. Millions more died each day. In a healthy adult it took three to four days from infection to death. Within two weeks, ninety percent of all human life was snuffed out. This dramatic turn of events was something no one could have foreseen.

2

 

He stood proud, even as imminent death approached. Slowly with great effort, “As you can see no one is immune to these, most unholy of events. Millions of our friends, neighbors,” briefly he paused, choking back tears, “and loved ones have already fallen to the disease that is spanning the globe.”

The last words he had spoken seemed to add weight to his withering frame and he fell to his knees. The podium obscured the view, but it was more than obvious the President was vomiting. The dying man gasped for air, unable to catch his breath. Uniformed doctors, most of whom appeared to be in no better condition than their prestigious patient, rushed to his side. Suddenly without any warning the network feed was cut, ending the last Presidential speech ever to be given.

Alex sat silently hanging on every word. Teary eyed in disbelief he vaulted off the couch towards the TV, aloud he said, “This isn’t real, this is like that comedian, yeah that’s it, the crappy comedian who does the presidential impersonations. That’s not really the President there; this is some sick bastard’s idea of a joke. How could I have been so stupid, it’s obvious he’s a fake, he’s too small, doesn’t have the right skin tone and the voice is way off.” Self-assured this was nothing more than a hoax he changed the channel.

Alex checked all 8 of the stations his television would pick up and was horrified to see that every channel was either static or an emergency services message. His assurance fled him as quickly as they had come. His hope waned, only to be replaced with despair and confusion.

Shaking violently, as he was known to do when reason had begun to fail him, Alex screamed, “This is America, this shit doesn’t happen here!”

He jumped to his feet and half ran, half stumbled to the rear of the house. He stormed into the cramped bathroom grabbing the door to the medicine cabinet, knocking over a ceramic vase which shattered as it hit the tank of the toilet. Ceramic shards rained down around his bare feet, slicing the exposed skin. Oblivious, he continued his search. All that was going through his mind was that he needed his pills.

He had taken himself off these pills as he had done every other time they put him on something new, always giving him the spiel about how he needed to give them a few months to start working properly. He gave it a few months, went as long as four on these. They too, only seemed to aggravate his symptoms more than help. The only good side effect, he could see, was that they were capable of causing him to sleep for extended periods of time. He once slept thirty-six hours after taking only four. At this moment, all he wanted was to go to sleep and forget the world. He would work this all out when He woke up.

They were not where he remembered leaving them. He slammed the medicine cabinet so violently the mirrored door shattered raining even more razor sharp projectiles down on himself. This to, he seemed not to notice.

He tore back towards the front of the house. He over turned furniture, smashed holes in the walls, and launched any inanimate objects which dared be in his way.

Entering the kitchen he began slinging the entire contents of cabinets onto the floor with one sweep of his broad arm. To him the time spent searching seemed more an eternity than the 20 minutes it actually was. He jerked the microwave away from the wall with more force than was necessary. It flew nearly to the other side of the kitchen.

He found what he’d been searching for behind the microwave. “How in the fuck did you get there?” He yelled at the bottle, which he then opened and dry swallowed six 300 mg. tablets of  Seroquel.

Alex, still very much in the midst of a psychotic episode, calmed down considerably, “More than enough, I will sleep a full day, two if I’m lucky.” Talking to the wake of his most recent destructive outburst, he continued. “Just enough time for a smoke,” he told the ruined kitchen.

He righted the overturned couch and sat down. He then noticed that the emergency services loop had gone to static. The pills had begun very quickly to do their magic. He hadn’t eaten in days so there was nothing in his stomach to slow down his digestion. He got up, nearly falling over the battered coffee table and clicked off the TV. He made his way back to the couch, dropped onto it, and with cigarette and lighter in hand passed out.

He dreamed terrible dreams, but the one that He was having now seemed too good to be true. It was real to Him as His dreams always seemed to be. He was with his brother in Cleveland. His brother, a guitarist was on the road and would have been in Cleveland that very night.

There were no diseased people here, everyone seemed happy to see him. In his dream he was thrilled, the concert was packed and going great. Everything felt fine to him, which was quite unusual. At that moment he was happier than he had been in years. It had been a very long time since last he had dared going into a crowded place. It had been two full years since he’d last even been inside a grocery store, but this night, this concert, everything was perfect.

He began to notice that the crowd was all people he knew. These were all the people he cared most about in the world, all his friends, and loved ones were gathered here. Then for a second he thought he glimpsed His Grandmother, who had raised him since he was seven years old.

At first, it didn’t seem very odd to him that she’d be amongst all those he cared about. It struck him suddenly, his stomach dropped as if he were on a roller coaster. “She’s dead, been dead five years now. That was just my imagination.” He blurted. As if on cue, she appeared before him, an apparition breaking through the crowd. She was all smiles and warmth.

“GET OUT!” She screamed. He stumbled backwards towards the bar, blindly landing on a bar stool. She had changed; he was in shock to see the woman he had most admired was now a grotesque rotted version of herself.

The band stopped playing; this drew his attention in the direction of the stage where he saw what he feared more than death itself. His brother was there holding his guitar in a state best described as living death. “Rick, oh God, Rick, what has happened to you?”

“It is ok little brother, I’m ok now, but you need to go,” said the animated corpse of his brother.

They were all dead all around him, everyone he knew. It was not fear that welled inside him, it was sorrow and shame that they were all dead and he was not. Even in his own dreams he had no sense of self-worth.

He began to cry, and the rapidly decomposing crowd all gave sympathetic looks. They began to fall apart silently with no signs of discomfort or even sorrow, as if they were all resigned to their fates. Most were still smiling when their legs crumbled under the weight of their torsos.

The floor appeared to be no floor at all but some benevolent entity greedily swallowing up all he loved. They fell into the all-encompassing darkness. The darkness was spreading. There were no sounds other than a giggle which he was sure had come from his long dead sister. She died along with his parents in the crash, which altered his waking life forever.

Now there were only four remaining. Still on the stage were his brother and the only three other people he had spent any real time with since leaving High School. He began to cry harder looking at these four people he was now sure he’d never see again.

Rick spoke, “Alex you have to leave, you can’t stay in this place, all that made it home is gone. It’s a new world for you now. Live, you hear me? Live.”

“I don’t understand, what happened to you, why are you dead,” He begged.

“That’s how it has to be,” Rick had tears in his eyes but his voice never faltered. “It’s now the perfect world for you Bro, no people,” at this the three people who knew him best standing just behind his brother laughed.

In unison the three said, “Love ya man,” graciously they stepped off the stage and into the darkness before Alex had to witness their decomposing any further.

“I have to go, I love you Brother, take care of yourself, and no matter what, don’t forget to leave,” Said his dead brother. He added earnestly, “It will be hard, but I know you can do it.”

“I…I… don’t understand,” he was cut off as his brother cranked the volume on his guitar stack and started playing a song Alex knew well, Seasons In The Abyss, by Slayer. Still playing with a last look at his brother and a nod he jumped into the darkness.

He was falling. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been falling, but usually he had panicked at this feeling while dreaming. This time it was different, as if he were comforted by his own weightlessness. After the dream and the sensation of falling ebbed away he slept peacefully for 8 more hours.

It was a day like any other day, the sky was visible through the smudged windows of his little room. The somber grey clouds were motionless. With effort, he rolled on his side to see the time and to find a cigarette. He wasn’t sure how he’d made it to his room, but that was normal. He often found himself in different places than he’d fallen asleep.

Seroquel sleep was his favorite sleep; he often woke with his mind a blank slate. He rubbed his temples, trying to remember. “What happened last night?” Then as in answer a sharp pain tore through his head starting at the nape of his neck continuing around to his eyes. As his eyes blurred and tears began to form it all came back to him. “How did this happen?” He yelled at the ceiling.

He remembered the dream with perfect clarity, his brother, grandmother and all his dead friends trying to warn him away, he whispered, “But from what?”

He got up stumbled through the house towards the living room, all the while surveying the damage from the previous night’s rampage. He turned on the T.V. and searched the channels, all were gone. Static is the only reward his search provided.

“How could this be?” he asked aloud.

“No one to run the stations you goof ball,” he heard his brother say in the back of his head.

Checking the stereo He only found an emergency services loop, “By order of the President of the United States of America, all citizens are to cease all movement. The United States has been attacked by terrorists using small nuclear devices, as well as biological weaponry. The only way to stop the spread of this virus is to cease all movement. If you believe yourself to have been infected, do not seek medical help. Find a secure location and quarantine yourself. Seeking help will only spread the disease further. There is no cure; I repeat there is no cure.”

“FUCK YOU!” He yelled, which freshened the unbearable pain in his head. He paced from room to room trying to grasp what had happened. All his thoughts were confused glimpses of horror fantasy coated in a thin layer of reality.

“I’m going crazy”, he chanted to himself under his breath. He walked through the house, looking in every closet, every cabinet, and drawer, as if searching for some lost artifact of sanity, he collapsed on the couch.  The pills he had taken the night before had not yet run their course. He dozed fitfully.

Half asleep he heard a loud bang from the rear of the house. Alex jumped off the couch in a run, tripped over the over turned coffee table and slammed into the TV stand knocking the television to the floor. Stunned he regained his footing and picked his way to the front door.

Silently he begged God that the noise had been His brother. “Rick, Bro is that you?” No answer came as he stood on the porch looking around. Then he heard it again, this time he heard breaking glass.

He couldn’t contain his excitement, “Bro where are you?” he ran, nearly falling as he rounded the corner at full speed. To his disappointment, the yard was empty.

It was cold out; the calm was eerie this early March morning. Alex was grief stricken; in that moment it occurred to him he would never see his brother again. Then he remembered the noise. He slowly continued around his house, near the rear there were three hard cover novels on the ground.

“Alex, over here,” Issued a raspy voice he nearly recognized.

“Who is it?” He asked startled as he turned slowly around.

There in the window of his neighbor’s house, was what looked like a zombie. The once robust family man looked like something from a late night sci-fi marathon. The discharge appeared green in the early morning light and steamed as his neighbor leaned out the window to vomit. It oozed from his nose, ears, and mouth. The eye sockets seemed empty from where Alex stood. He needed to get closer to see if this man were really alive. Being prone to hallucinations, as he was, he wasn’t sure if what he was seeing was real.

Alex had known John for five years and was sure this wasn’t his neighbor. This was not the man he had sat with and watched his two little girls play in the yard. Alex remember watching, longing for a family of his very own. He thought this is someone else for sure. I just saw John last week; this poor guy is at least 50 lbs. lighter. He began to walk closer.

“Stop,” yelled His neighbor. The exertion obviously pained him; he groaned and began dry heaving.

“I, I,” stuttered Alex, realizing his folly, but could not think of what to say.

After gaining his composure, as well as he was able,”Alex is your phone still working?”

“I don’t know, I have a dial tone but I haven’t talked to anyone in several days. My brother is out of town,” answered Alex. “He should be calling soon.” He added.

“I’m going to call you in a minute, I need to talk to you, it’s important.” He wheezed. There was pity in John’s voice; he knew what Alex was denying. The chances that his brother was still alive in all this were very unlikely.

Alex was back on the couch where he spent most of His time, “waiting to die,” he had mused to a friend of his and his brother. He had laughed at the time, but all the while, in the back of his mind, he believed it to be true.

After about five minutes the phone rang, “Hello John?”

“Yeah, how you holding up Alex, I would have called sooner but I thought you left with your brother.” John was having trouble catching His breath.

“I’m sorry, are you guys ok?” He felt like such an ass for not checking on John and his family.

“We were all infected, my girls and my wife died earlier this morning.” John’s voice had diminished to the point where Alex had to turn the volume up on the phone to full just to hear him.

Alex was stunned, again he thought of how he had envied this man for all he had. Now this same man, his only friend beyond the members of his brother’s band, had lost everything. He was now losing his life. Tears began to fill His eyes, as he thought of John’s daughters and how young they were.

“John, I am so sorry,” Alex felt that to be inadequate to tell a man who just lost two children and His wife, but was at a loss of what else to say.

“Thank you,” John was weeping, and just holding the phone up was more than a task for him, but he needed help so he continued. “Alex, how are you feeling, are you showing any symptoms?”

Alex thought a minute, his head was pounding. This was more than he could deal with, he thought, yet he was here. “I have a bad headache, but that’s normal. Other than that I feel fine.” He felt foolish complaining of a headache to a dying man.

“When was the last time you were around anyone? Try and remember, even if it was just a quick trip to the store.”

“It’s been at least 4 days, the day my brother left. I went to the store for smokes.” He answered.

“That’s great Alex, you have been spared.” John choked. Although his entire family was dead, and he too would be following shortly, he meant it.

Alex had always been kind in their brief talks over the years. John knew he was troubled, he drank too much, and listened to heavy metal music to loud. John also knew that if ever there was a problem; Alex was the first one at his door to help. He thought of the time his wife was hospitalized for two weeks due to complications with her pregnancy. Alex had done all his yard work, made sure his trash was taken out, and came by at least once a day to see if he needed anything. He thought to himself, not everyone would agree, but I couldn’t have picked a better person to survive.

“But everyone else is dying, what am I supposed to do?” Alex was trying to stifle his audible sobbing.

“Listen to me Alex, God doesn’t make mistakes. You have been spared for a reason. There will be other survivors, not everyone will die. The people who survive this must ban together and help each other. You must go and seek them out.” John spoke, as reassuringly as his failing health would allow.

“What about my brother, I can’t leave, what if he comes back and I am gone?” Alex began to feel dizzy, thinking he would surely pass out. He closed his eyes waiting for it to pass.

“Alex, you should write him a letter and tape it to the door, tell him you have gone to find other survivors and that he should do the same.” Replied John, he then added, “He will find you, if he makes it, he will find you.” John thought this is not the time for sugar coating.

John began to throw up uncontrollably, he fell to the floor with a bang, leaving Alex feeling hopeless, not being able to help. Alex waited for quite a long while, but could still hear John gasping so he remained on the line.

“Alex, you still there,” gasped John, winded but still alive.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” relieved to hear John’s voice, even as desperate as it sounded.

“Alex I want you to take my truck. Grab my camping gear from the shop and get out of here,” he then hesitated, before saying, “but I need a favor first.”

“Anything John, just ask,” quickly replied Alex.

“I want to be with my family in heaven. Suicide is a sin, being merciful is not.” John had more despair in his voice than Alex had thought possible before now.

“OK John,” he answered before what was asked, had had time to sink in.

“Out in my shop is a gun safe, take everything in it, if not for protection, you will have to hunt.

“Are you sure this is what you want,” praying he would say no.

“There is no one else to ask, all our neighbors are either dead, or they left.” Then as an afterthought added, “those that left are most likely dead as well.”

“I will do it,” God only, knows how, he thought.

“Alex after you are finished and ready to leave, set fire to the house. I can’t stand the thought of my family rotting away like this. The fire will kill the virus.

“John, I wish this hadn’t happened, I am scared, and I am so sorry for what has happened to you guys.” Alex cried.

“Listen Alex, you will be fine, and what happened was not you’re doing. The signs were there all along, but no one thought it was possible. You are a good man; I want you to get away. Go west; get somewhere where there are no buildings and no people. Take all you find with you and start over, but don’t forget us. Tell your children what happened, so they will know better than to do what we have done. Alex, remember this was an attack. Sooner or later the ones who did this will show up, if they survived.” John was becoming delirious from the pain, and was barely audible now.

“John I will never forget you and your family, you had what I’ve always dreamt of having.” Alex was crying again as he said this.

“You will go on to have beautiful children, and you will be a great father,” whispered John through his own tears.

John gave Alex the combination to his gun safe, and told him where he had his spare key to the shop hidden. After telling him where he’d be in the house, he hung up the phone. He could no longer breathe without serious pain and talking was something he’d never do again.

Alex went into the shop. He felt as if he were dreaming all this, for surely this couldn’t be real. He opened the safe, took out a rifle. He loaded it with bullets from a fresh box stored neatly at the bottom.

He found the spare keys to John’s truck. On the key ring was a picture of John’s little girls, forever frozen in time. Their smiles encased in the plastic picture holder his wife had given him. The sight of those little girls, so happy, so far away from where they were now made fresh tears well in Alex’s eyes. Maybe it was John’s words, but at that moment Alex felt a strong desire to be gone from this place.

He only took one gun, he’d come back for the rest of the things shortly. He had something to do. He went into his house and got a cigarette and walked back outside. Slowly he skirted the lifeless bushes, it was still very cold and they had not yet awoken from their winter slumber. He slowly approached his neighbor’s home and made his way around to the master bedroom’s window.

Clearly he could see John through the window kneeling on the foot of the bed praying over the bodies of his wife and children.

Alex slowly raised the rifle to his shoulder; looking through the scope he targeted John’s head. He knew that if he hit him anywhere else or merely wounded him that John would lay there suffering even more than he was now. There would be no way to enter to complete the task without getting infected. The rifle shook in his inexperienced hands. He was sweating despite the cold, he attempted to steady himself, then prepared to fire.

“God help me please,” he squeezed the trigger expecting this to finally be over. Nothing happened; he went weak in the knees nearly falling to the ground. “You gave your word to your friend, now do this!” He demanded of himself.

Surprised at the authority in his own voice he checked the rifle and realized the safety was on. He raised the rifle once more sighting his friends head and slowly squeezed the trigger. As if he knew it were time, John raised his hands towards heaven. The report was deafening, it appeared to Alex that in death John had embraced his family as he fell forward. His friend would no longer suffer.

The sound had scared Alex; he stood for a moment with silent ears ringing. Suddenly he became stricken with the fear that he must be having a psychotic episode. If he had hallucinated all these events, that meant he had just murdered his neighbor. He waited barely breathing like a deer in headlights. He was expecting at any moment for his neighbors to come running down the road screaming, “Murderer! Murderer!” This he even pictured in his mind.

After five minutes or five hours he did not know, there were still no sirens, no police, nothing at all. He was all alone.

Aloud he said, “This is such a small town, if everyone here is dead, then everyone must really be dead.” His own words chilled him.

He stood frozen a few minutes more then slowly walked back to the shop. He began packing what he needed into John’s truck.

He checked every house on his block, yelling from a distance but there were no replies. In a few windows he saw that the corpses of the old and young were indistinguishable from one another. We are all the same in death he thought, just bodies. He could see from the distorted faces that several had died in pain, he felt a twinge of guilt. Then he whispered, “What was I to do shoot everyone on my street? A sane person wouldn’t be able to handle that.”

He wrote his brother a lengthy letter explaining what had happened, and detailing where he planned to go. Then he burned every house on his street except his own. He climbed into John’s truck and drove to the end of the street and just sat and watched the fires. He hoped and prayed someone would see the flames and come, no one did. After an hour of waiting, he left the place he had called home for over twenty years. He never saw it again.

Ter’Mari

(This is a novel I began writing about a year ago and I have fallen in love with my main character. It is based on a friend of mine. I do hope you enjoy it. This is my first project of this type, so I began a bit unsure but I am happy with how it is unfolding. This post is the first 50 pages so it is a bit of a read. I have sidelined this project due to life but I am itching to complete it. I’d love to earn my biscuits by writing but as of yet that dream is not my reality. 🙂 I would appreciate any critiques you’d wish to give, good bad or otherwise. Please forgive the editing mistakes I write quite a bit but I find myself lacking in the editorial department. Thank you. -JM)

Ter’Mari

The light stung Ter’Mari’s eyes when the ancient lady in waiting entered her chamber. The air was still and cold this morning and the thought of a long arduous day placating the squabbles of this corner of the grand king Vilathorn’s kingdom was daunting at best. It was her duty as Lady of House Tiernon. How she longed for the days her father would take her flying over the hills and valleys of the subterranean expanse he ruled. He was gone now and she would honor his name and the sigil of her house; yet she felt troubled as if some impending disaster loomed just out of sight. Hers was one of the most ancient names on the entire planet. There were 343 original settlers to their world. Every child knows this story.

Of the original there were 123 women and 220 men. More than half the men had been sterilized by the poisons which clogged the failing atmosphere of the once glorious earth her ancestors had been from. She thought it odd they called their planet earth. She never understood why they hadn’t named it something pretty. She had watched every film and had examined every picture in the archives and she thought it had to be the most beautiful place in existence. “Earth is dirt mommy.” She had blurted to her mother as she told the story to Ter’Mari no more than five at the time. This received affectionate laughter from both her mother and father.

The men were mostly picked for their knowledge and trade backgrounds and the women were picked based on virility. They had after all been sent to begin a settlement. The texts say that many more ships had been built and were all sent throughout the galaxy to planets which had shown the greatest promise for sustaining life. The settlers had named this new world Copious. It was overrun with game and edible vegetation. To speak that name aloud in Ter’s time was considered taboo; it was believed to be a bad omen.

The old lady busied herself straightening the room as Ter’ pulled the covers over her head and pleaded, “Ten more minutes, sweet Bondy?”

“Sweet miss you’ll miss breakfast if you dally long.” Bondy’s angelic voice echoed through the rafters.

Bondy was the oldest person on their world and Ter’ was all too aware that she too would soon be gone just as her parents were. Bondy was a rarity and had been discussed in great detail behind closed doors during the monthly meetings with all the planets leaders in Vilathorn’s palace. The scientists wanted to study her to see why she had lived longer than anyone else in 400 years. Ter’ already knew the answer and despite her position no one seemed interested in her explanation. She wasn’t a scientist and people of science do not wish to entertain the whims of a mere aristocrat. She felt it was more a matter of pride.

A thousand years after her people arrived on this once verdant planet their sun had begun to die. There was wave after wave of solar radiation. Thousands died and many others suffered severe injuries. Her people fled into the deep quarries, mines, and caverns. The mines and natural caverns provided insulation against the onslaught but thousands more died from malnutrition and exposure. There hadn’t been any warning and they weren’t prepared for such a disaster.

They had survived and they adapted to the subterranean world she had known all her life. They had all the cumulative scientific knowledge of the entire earth at their disposal and all that they had gained in the thousand years before the “darkening” they had come to call it. It took several hundred years before the sun went dark and this had given them time to harness the energy of the planets core itself. The scientist believed that it would be many more thousands of years before the star they circled collapsed and destroyed the entire solar system. This was what bothered Ter’ most. They knew people were dying far too young and that eventually all their descendants would parish in a great cosmic event.

She was almost always furious following the council meetings regarding the fate of her race. She knew better than to openly voice her agitation. To disagree was acceptable but not loudly or passionately. To do so was considered common and anyone acting in such a manner would be drummed out of their position and would be shamed publicly. Her father had taught her to cool her temper before her anger destroyed any chance of making a difference.

Bondy had asthma which further confounded the scientists. They couldn’t grasp how someone with such a debilitating illness would outlive even the healthiest people many years her junior. Ter’ knew it was her father’s doing that had kept Bondy healthy and alive all these years. She was nearly seventy and the next oldest person was forty-two. Bondy had worked for house Tiernon her entire life. She wasn’t a slave or a servant. There were no servants or slaves on Ter’s world but everyone who was able was required by law to work. If you reached age fifty you were relinquished of your duties and then the whole would support you until you passed away but when offered retirement Bondy blurted “Who is goin’ mind that youngun and warsh your shirts Mr.?” That’s all she ever called Ter’s father was “Mr.” but she loved him like a son and her heart was broken when he died. It was her job ten hours a day five days a week and she made it very clear that she was going to keep doing it until she was 150 if the good Lord let her live that long.

Knowing of her condition she was tasked with maintaining the house. The air quality had grown increasingly toxic over the centuries. There were hundreds of engineers who spent tireless hours attempting to filter the air but as the population grew the life expectancy began to falter. Then the populace began to show an increasing sign of respiratory ailments. It was a growing trend and this Ter’ knew had to be alleviated. Her father had fought tirelessly in an attempt to convince the king that each house needed its own air filtration working in conjunction with the massive filters scattered throughout the caverns. They just weren’t doing enough. That’s why Bondy had lived so long even suffering from asthma because she hadn’t set foot outside of Tiernon manner in three decades.

As a child Ter’ abhorred the manor thinking it a prison more than a home until she were old enough to realize her father keeping her in doors was why she was so much healthier than the other children her age. Her father had been an architect and engineer before taking over his mother’s seat as Lord of Tiernon Manor. In his years he had designed and built many working scale models of the air filtration units. There were four purifying the air in Tiernon Manor. It was the cleanest air on the entire planet. Not even the king had such a luxury.

As she thought of her father and her mother she felt an ache in her heart. How she missed them both. Her father spent his entire career as an engineer attempting to better the quality of life for all and her mother a doctor had spent hers treating the afflicted. They both had spent too many years outside in the bad air and had ultimately succumbed to its effects. Even the years inside the manor attending matters of state couldn’t reverse the damage his lungs had suffered. This made her angry but she couldn’t let her emotions get the better of her. How foolish their great and wondrous king was. “Nothing but a fool!” She wished to scream but she was a lady and ladies didn’t behave in such a manner, “At least not when in the company of others.” Her father had told her with a wink and smile, just weeks before his death.

These were the things running through her mind this cold morning. There was no going back to sleep. She checked the time and realized she had been lying there thinking for over half an hour. She jumped from the warmth of her bed into the chill of her frigid chamber. She was slim and very athletic. She knew living in this house with her father’s inventions keeping the air fresher than anywhere else had been almost unfair to the people she resided over but there was no helping it. She did all she could to take the children with the worst asthmatic symptoms into her own home. It had become quite crowded in Tiernon Manor. She didn’t mind the company and she didn’t like waste. She would do anything for these people she could.

She knew that even if she took in every child in the quadrant that would help but it would only be a drop in an ocean and it was only a temporary solution. It was these times she felt the most overwhelmed. To her the dilemma was clear as well as the solution, the purifiers. Or was it? An old memory came flooding back it was something her father had said to her mother when she was just a girl as she sat playing with her toys and singing as she loved to do.

It was his tone that caught her attention and they didn’t notice the singing had stopped. She climbed into an oversized arm chair and peered into the sitting room with her ever inquisitive bright blue eyes and quizzically watched the exchange. Her father never got angry and he never raised his voice so to her seven year old self this was a sight to behold.

“They just won’t listen to me. You know how Vilathorn can be! He thinks all is well and will not hear any sense on the matter. Damn his stubborn pride. At the rate we are going the average lifespan will be five years old in another hundred years. Five year olds don’t have children. You’re a doctor; you know this as sure as I. There is only one solution. These air purifiers they are refusing to use would only be a temporary deterrent. These fools will see us all dead and buried and all the while they’ll sit up in that palace kissing each other’s royal asses with big smiles on their faces.” He paused and turned but little Ter’ was too quick, she ducked low before he saw her. She was astonished. She had never heard her father use such language or say such things about the king.

She sat very still hoping she had not been seen and after a few tense moments she heard her father speak again in a much softer solemn voice, it frightened her because when she braved another glance she saw tears on his cheek. “Dear wife please forgive my outburst. I know you understand how grave this situation is. Only a fool would think differently. You spend your days tirelessly treating these poor children and the sad truth is the only respite they shall receive is death.” His voice broke on the last word and it was then she noticed the tears flowing down her mother’s cheeks. The sight of her mother and father both in tears and the talk of death frightened her worse than being punished for eaves dropping. She ran to them crying her bright blue eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh my sweet darling Ter’ I am so sorry you were not meant to hear that.” He held her close a moment and then he gently sat her on her mother’s lap. She too coddled the frightened child.

Her mother hadn’t spoken or commented during her father’s monologue. It wasn’t until Ter’ was drifting off to sleep had she broken her silence. “The ship.” Ter’s mother died less than a year after that night. She had spent too many long days breathing in the toxic air and like all the others she had died far too young.

Ter’Mari looked into the large floor length mirror. She wore only a nightshirt and had it not been for all the company in the manor she wouldn’t even be wearing that. She just enjoyed being naked especially when she slept at night; clothes made her feel restricted. She let the billowy shirt fall to the floor and purveyed her reflection with that same quizzical expression with which she examined everything new or unusual. She turned this way and that. She knew the men found her beautiful but that meant nothing to her. She wasn’t interested in a man. Her main and only concern was the survival of her people and nothing else. Once she found a way to fix this then yes she wanted a husband and children but she wouldn’t have them living in a hole like the moles she read about from her ancestor’s world.

Her hair was light and most unusual because everyone’s hair was dark; even her own parents had dark hair. They said she was a blessing when she was born. “The sun haired child with sapphire eyes,” they had called her. Her eyes were one of her most exquisite features. They were a blue that hadn’t been seen in millennia. Her eyes seemed to glow and were always the first thing anyone noticed about her despite her many attributes. Her skin was extremely fair as all the rest of her kin having never seen the sun. Her body was lightly toned and this too she found odd because not one other person appeared to be as healthy as she was. Everyone from the king to the lowliest sanitation workers ate the same food. Everything was shared yet she seemed to be the only person who physically prospered. The only difference is the air she breathes. She was twenty two years old and other than when it was necessary she remained inside Tiernon Manor.

She spent a great deal of her free time with the children playing games and teaching them to exercise. She had learned a great deal from her mother about physical fitness as well as from reading the ancient archives. She felt alien looking in the mirror. It wasn’t until she began digging in the archives had she seen anyone who even came close to resembling her. Other than her pale skin she looked just like any other girl from earth. She cut her hair in the fashion of a woman she found in one of the ancient digital magazines. It was short and she never let it grow too far past her ears in spite of being told more times than she could remember that she should let it grow long. Long hair bugged her and she hadn’t let it get long since she was young.

With one last glance in the mirror she began to dress. She was completely stressed and more so than ever, she was not looking forward to her duties as Lady Tiernon. All that kept repeating in her mind was her mother’s sad voice, “The ship.”

2

She entered the chamber which served as the hearing room just off the main foyer of the grand entrance to Tiernon Manor. The entrance was a sight to behold. There was a twenty foot hand chiseled sculpture of a friendly looking dragon that greeted all who entered. On either side were matching stair cases which rose over forty feet. The thing that impressed Ter’ most, even as a child, was the fact that it was all carved out of solid rock. Her father had very patiently answered all her questions as she would follow him around the huge manor.

“How’d they make this daddy?” She would ask with wide eyed wonderment. He had in great detail explained the history of the manor to her. She gasped when he told her it had taken over ten years to complete and later there were additions carved into the stone walls expanding it even farther. “Daddy, that’s more years than I am old.” He had laughed at this. Tiernon Manor was over a thousand years old. There were thirty-four rooms in total of which twenty two were bedrooms. Each and every room besides hers and Bondy’s were now occupied by the worst asthmatic children from Ter’s quadrant. She filled all the other rooms as well. Word had spread and each and every time someone sought out refuge for their child she would find a bed and a place for them.

She had always cherished her time with her father and shadowed him from the moment he returned home in the evenings until she would fell asleep in a little chair he kept by his desk in his study just for her. He knew one day the desk would be hers and he prayed that his efforts would make her life better.

She was jerked from her reverie as the large metal doors creaked open and the procession of plaintiffs began to shuffle in. She dispensed with formality during these proceedings. She had no desire for the pomposity of the great palace or even her peers which controlled the other quadrants. No, she was a matter of fact in her rulings and in almost every case she could easily find a happy median which would satisfy each party. For this she was widely respected.

It was during these hearings she spent a good deal of time observing her people. She didn’t feel superior to the men and women before her. She felt that each and every person was just as valuable to the survival of her race, maybe even more so than she was. It saddened her to watch the effort it took for some of them just to explain their problems. A man explaining a property dispute had begun to collapse and it was the person he held the grievance against which saved him from falling on the hard stone floor. These acts of kindness were common amongst her people. They, even when at odds, took care of each other. She loved them all for this. She needed to do something. She must do something.

The day carried on like each before and despite her anxiousness to do what she did not know, she listened intently and passed judgment as fairly as she was able. She noticed the time and realized she had been holding court for a solid six hours. She called for a break and directed everyone to the kitchen for lunch and refreshment. She was an extremely generous person. During lunch she didn’t eat she only had what passed for water. It was bitter and all she had every known but she couldn’t help but feel there must be something better. She wondered what real fresh water tasted like. She had seen it in pictures and in the archived footage. It must be absolutely wonderful she mused.

Ter’ was lost in thought. Why had that conversation come to her that morning? Why after all this time had she remembered now. She couldn’t shake this growing feeling of uneasiness and impending doom which had taken hold of her. After an hour break she returned to the hearing room which in a few hours would be housing twenty sick children as they rested for the night. She was relieved to see that there were only a dozen more cases to hear and she could get back to worrying. The thought brought a wave of distress on her and she quickly began the proceedings to temporarily block these negative feelings.

Just as she was finishing up with the last case she heard the door slowly creak open and to her surprise it was Lord Mendleson. He was one of her peers from the western most quadrant. This was a great surprise he must have travelled for four days to get to Tiernon Manor. He like Ter’ had one of the ancient names and by reputation he was kind and generous. Ter’ hadn’t ever talked to the man outside of the council chambers and never about anything other than official business. Mendleson never argued but when she had tried to explain why Bondy had lived so long he hadn’t openly dismissed her comments. He had seemed interested but had kept quiet due to his colleague’s negative comments.

Mendleson’s quadrant was in far worse shape than Ter’s. She knew the air quality in the west was far more toxic due to mechanical failures following a seemingly minor earthquake. It had collapsed the thermal vent which powered the air purifier which was deepest in his part of the kingdom. There was no rush to aid the westerners and to this Ter’ had spoken up and offered aid but as per usual was dismissed. “They can fix it.” This was all the fool king had said and the issue was discussed no more.

Mendleson was a scientist before he took his seat as lord of Mendleson Manor. His specialties included metallurgy and electromechanical engineering. Ter’ remembered several late night meetings between this man and her father. She never thought much of it at the time. Being a child she was more focused on the adventures of a child. She felt all that was about to change.

Mendelson stood quietly at the rear of the chamber patiently awaiting an audience with Lady Tiernon. She approached as the room began to clear. “Welcome to Tiernon Manor Lord Mendleson.” She gave a slight bow.

He grinned and returned her halfhearted curtsy. “Why thank you Lady Tiernon.”

“Perhaps you’d like to join me in my study?” She offered.

“Certainly,” Mendleson quietly followed Ter’ up the stairs and down the long hallway to her father’s study. Her mind raced faster with each step. What could this visit mean? Perhaps he wants to discuss the air purifiers? That was the only probable answer she could conceive. Once inside Ter’ took her place in her father’s ancient chair.

Mendleson sat across from her and as an afterthought stood and quietly closed the door to the chamber before returning to his seat. This act caught Ter’ by surprise. Her imagination began to run wild. The anticipation was nearly more than she could bear. Patience had never been Ter’s strong suit. Her father had on numerous occasions told her, “Good things come to those who wait my sweet impatient daughter.”

Mendleson could see how anxious she had become and at this he grinned, “Your father told me of your impatience. I can see he was not wrong in his description nor was he wrong when he told me of the goodness of your heart. You are the most loved of all the Lords and Ladies of our world. You’ve filled your home with the infirm and this has not gone unnoticed. If that fool king we have would have been half as wise as your father we probably wouldn’t be in such dire straits.” He paused a moment.

His words had shocked her. Other than that long ago night she had never heard anyone speak badly of the king. “Lord Mendleson I don’t understand.” His comments had only added to her anxiety. She was nearly bouncing in her chair by this point.

“Please Ter‘Mari, if I may, I’d prefer if we dispensed with formalities I find it quit droll and pompous.” He grinned as he spoke. “Your father told me you feel much the same way.”

She knew then that this man and her father had been much more than colleagues, they had been friends. Ter’ decided she liked him as well. It was quite odd to hear someone of such a high position speak in this manner. “I didn’t know that you and my father were so close.”

“We spent many years working together. We spent countless long days as young men laboring on those damnable air purifiers which do little more than prolong our people’s suffering. Then as Lords of the realm we worked ever so tirelessly attempting to fix the problem with the toxicity levels in our homes.” He paused briefly; his skin was paler than usual even for someone who’d spent forty one years below ground. He began to cough and the sound made Ter’ cringe. She ran out of the office to get him a drink. The coughing had passed when she returned a few moments later but the strain it had taken was visible. “Thank you.” He said gratefully as she handed him the water.

She knew the signs all too well. Her father had coughed like that. It was a scenario which was being repeated by many at that very moment all throughout the subterranean kingdom. She knew this man had maybe six months tops but only if he remained in the pure air of Tiernon Manor. “You could stay here. The air here will ease the coughing fits.”

“My dear child you try so hard to save everyone don’t you? “ He looked at her with a sad knowing smile that made her feel uneasy. She imagined that perhaps his visit had nothing at all to do with the air purifiers. “You can’t save them. Not even half. I am most saddened to tell you that you will only save two dozen if you are lucky. I am sorry it has to be me to tell you this. I feel like the executioners errand boy. I’m guessing you thought I was here about the air purifiers but I am not. I am here to impart the greatest secret of our people on to you as your father passed it to me nearly twenty years ago. Dear girl I am here to tell you about the ship.” He could see the light of recognition in her eyes.

“The ship? I woke with that thought in my head this morning. I was thinking of my mother and father and I remembered them talking and yes my mother had said, ‘The ship.’” Ter’ was nearly overwhelmed. What ship? She couldn’t get the words out.

“You’ve read the archives of our ancestors and our history from the time they landed here. You know of the darkening and the death of all life on the surface but there is a second history unknown by all but a few. There have never been more than ten people who’ve known about what I’m going to tell you at any given time. Our king was not deemed worthy to know what you are about to hear.” He began to cough again but far worse this time and she realized that she had been wrong. Six months was a far too optimistic guess, this man wouldn’t last the month.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Although her question was sincere she knew there was nothing that could be done.

He waved her off and after a few more grueling minutes the coughing stopped and as he gained his composure he began again. “After the darkening and we fled below the surface some of our people decided that we needed to find a way off of this planet. Others argued that we could survive indefinitely below ground. Humans were not meant to live in holes. We evolved on a planet with sunshine and fresh air. This is no life. Yes it’s all we’ve known since birth but just look in a mirror. You my child were a blessing because it was your birth that changed it all. Your father was a brilliant architect and engineer, this you knew but he was so much more. Your father was also an incredible inventor and rocket scientist.” He chuckled as her jaw went slack. Ter’ had the funniest dumbfounded look on her pretty face. He couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Then he resumed with a more serious tone. “He worked himself into and early grave so that you my dear wouldn’t have to. Ter’Mari you were the catalyst that drove him and in turn drove us all to finish a secret project that has been underway since our star went dark.”

“That was nearly two thousand years ago.” She stammered.

“Yes child it was. This project was kept secret because of fools like our great king. They felt safe below ground. They ignored the data the scientist had gathered before having to flee and leave their equipment. We had been here nearly a thousand years and so many restrictions were put on our advancement because the people in charge believed that we would end up destroying our atmosphere the same way we destroyed the earths. So there was no advancement in some areas of science at all. They preserved the ship which brought us but the components were cannibalized for other projects. They left only the hull but thank the Gods someone had the foresight to save the schematics.” He paused. He was terribly winded and needed to catch his breath before he triggered another coughing spasm.

She softly spoke. “My father built a ship?” She was asking herself more than Mendleson. “So these people secretly began an aerospace program?” She remembered that when her father would take her flying it was always late at night which she never found odd at the time but it made plenty of sense now. “He was testing his ship and teaching me to fly wasn’t he?” She let slip out louder than her earlier question.

“Yes child. More than anything he wanted you to not be afraid of flight. Remember when he told you the craft was broken and he couldn’t fix it? It was needed elsewhere. We were testing various alloys for the hull of the ship and your little bird was a perfect test craft. We tested fuel mixes and hull density. We had the schematics for a fully functional spacecraft but we had no clue how to build the individual components. So we experimented. We’ve lost good people to accidents. You must understand we knew it could be achieved but we had no definitive instructions on how to do these things. A great deal of our scientific information brought from earth was lost during the solar radiation storms. We had to all but start from scratch. The fools tried so hard to make this planet a utopia that they stifled any chance of escape if something went wrong and regrettably it did.” He paused briefly.

“How many people can we take with us? Where will we go? How long before we can return to get more people?” She was growing more and more excited having forgotten Mendleson’s earlier words.

“I told you Ter’Mari if we try and put any more than twenty-two people on board then there is a chance that none of you would make it to your destination.” His expression was grim.

“Well ok then we can only take twenty-two at a time. That’s not the greatest but we will just have to make more trips.” She was ever optimistic.

“Ter’Mari I need you to understand that this is a one way trip.” She began to argue and he cut across before she could get a single word out. “When our ancestors set out on this journey it was understood that it was one way and one way only. There was never a plan to go back or to ever try and join up with the other settlers strewn across the galaxy. I am afraid that this is the case here Ter’.” He watched as her already troubled expression grew even dimmer.

“The men and women who came here traveled for forty years. They were young when they left and they were rotated in and out of cryogenic stasis. So in a period of forty years they each only aged ten. The ship we’ve built is exactly like the ship that brought them here only much smaller. One of the major obstacles was that we had no raw materials with which to build. The proper alloys needed to build such a machine were very rare on this planet and the fact that the surface is now uninhabitable and incapable of supporting life made gathering these materials that much harder. You couldn’t survive on the surface for more than a minute unprotected.” He could see she was on the verge of tears.

“These purifiers weren’t an experiment for our survival were they? They were prototypes for this ship?” She couldn’t continue for fear of completely breaking down.

“Yes my dear. You were picked to be our representative on this mission. There is something more I have yet to tell you. First let me explain as to how and why I know what I am about to tell you. Your father kept these things from you knowing your impulsiveness would have you jumping head first into this project. He knew that your heart would end up being your undoing and in an attempt to save everyone you would not even be able to save yourself.” The words burned her and he saw it. “I am sorry. If you can save twenty-two then twenty-two you must save. It’s a hard fact Ter’ but it is the truth. Since the start of this secret endeavor we’ve had many triumphs and many failures. The earlier members tried with some degree of success to start settlements on the surface. Many lives were lost and many resources were expended but they did eventually manage to build a fortified settlement. It was quite small but from inside they were able to observe our star.

This fool king and his ilk have clung to their facts and say that we have many thousands of years before the end but I am sad to say the end has already begun. There were twenty two planets in this solar system when we first left the surface. When the first settlement was built there were twenty-two. In your short life time seven of the twenty-two have broken apart. Since the darkening it would seem our orbit has slowed. The seven planets which have been destroyed are closer to our star and had quicker orbits. The earthquake that collapsed the thermal vent in my quadrant wasn’t a random occurrence. It was just the beginning. The earthquake coincided with the destruction of the planet closest to our orbit. Each year our star grows denser and it’s slowly pulling our planet as well as all the other planets closer to it. Our calculations show that in six months and four days our planet will be in the same orbit as the seven already destroyed planets. It is our belief that we shall share the same fate.”

3

Lord Mendleson was given a room after a bit of jostling around of some of the children. He looked a haggard mess as Ter’ bade him good night. She saw the look of death on his face. It sent a chill down her spine she fought to conceal. It was a look she found was easily recognizable once seen on the face of one you hold dear. She almost felt bad for the relentless questioning she had given him. She wanted to know everything about this ship they had built. She couldn’t conceive of only saving twenty two people.

He had informed her that there would be a crew of seven plus herself and the rest would be the healthiest children from their world. This was unacceptable to her saving only fourteen children, but she had learned to keep her objections to herself. Ter’ quietly thanked her father. She knew that this man would not be alive at the launch so she would be the ranking official over the project and she was going to find a way.

It was late but there would be little time for sleep now. Not with so many little lives at stake. She went down into the recesses of Tiernon Manor to her father’s old workshop. There was a terminal with access to the palaces data base. She needed information and she needed it now. She was aware that all access logs to the main terminal were monitored but she was known to access random information at late hours when she couldn’t sleep it was never questioned.

The first thing she downloaded was the original mission files for the ship which had carried her people three thousand years ago. The next were random files pertaining to that time period. Files she had no interest in but she wanted to make her downloads to appear random. Her next important files were the last surface aerial maps of the original city they had built just before the star had begun to emanate the dangerous radiation. Then along with that she downloaded many other non-essential files. If there were inquiries she would just say it was for teaching purposes; she did have a house full of children. Yes the files were for them but not in the way she would make them believe.

She knew that Tiernon Manor sat below the old coliseum built in the style of the romans so she had a reference point to start from. There was so much to do and so little time. She knew what she had in mind was improbable and there was a chance she wouldn’t live through what she intended but she had to know. Was the original ship still there? How badly had the millennia damaged it? Was it salvageable? She was certain that even if she located the ship there would be no real way to fix it in time but she had to know. She would try until the last second and if only twenty two made it off this planet, twenty one would be children with one person to fly it.

She had no intentions of keeping a seat for herself. She was Lady of House Tiernon and no one on this planet save the king himself could question her word. Mendleson assured her that she would be apprised of all the pertinent data regarding the mission the following week when he returned but at this she scoffed. “You just told me about my father’s secret project and expect me to sit here waiting a week to learn more. No sir! I am coming with you.”

Despite his many arguments and misgivings about his already odd behavior having come so far in his condition without a royal decree, she refused to budge. He quickly learned when Lady Ter’Mari of House Tiernon had made up her mind there was no changing it. She didn’t know how to accept the word “no.”

They left together the next morning under the guise that Ter’ wished to see the conditions of the west and its people. Bondy knew better. When she had come in to wake Ter’ she was shocked to find her awake and packed for a journey. Her bed was not slept in and Bondy realized it was time. Bondy with tears on her wrinkled cheeks embraced Ter’ with a strength Ter’ didn’t expect. Ter’ was caught off guard and her cheeks were soon moist with her own tears.

Ter’ began to speak but Bondy hushed her, “Sweet miss I know where you are going and I know why. Mendleson’s presence here will surely be noted by now. I am most certain Lord Rasten sent an emissary to the king the moment Mendleson arrived to recharge his caravan and to take rest. That means the king knew Lord Mendleson was coming here before he crossed our threshold. There will be inquiries and you know how big a fool Vilathorn is. His father and his father before him were thought to be the biggest fools that palace had ever seen but Vilathorn proved them wrong. A bigger fool has yet to be born!” She spat the last sentence and Ter’ couldn’t suppress the giggle it elicited.

“Oh dear Bondy, you’ve kept this secret too? How long have you known?” Ter’ was quite curious as to why even her lady in waiting knew what she had not.

“My father spent his entire life trying to perfect the fuel for that ship you’re about to get on. He’s the one who brung your father in on this project. He died in the pursuit of this mission and you my dear will see it through. All our hopes rest with you now sweet miss.” She hugged her again and walked out of the chamber.

Ter’ sat for a moment stunned and quickly she leapt to her feet and ran after Bondy. “Bondy please, do you know what is going to happen? Do you know about the seven planets? I can’t leave all these children behind! How could anyone expect me to be so cruel? How am I expected to choose so few from so many only to leave the rest to perish?” Ter’ was as close to hysterics as Bondy had seen her since she had become an adult. The sight of the bright eyed girl with so much love in her heart to be nearly crippled with grief nearly made Bondy cry out in pain.

“Oh dear child, yes I know all too well the plight we face. I can’t imagine what your heart must be feeling and I swear if I were a younger woman I’d bear this task with you but I am old sweet miss and my time like most of us here is coming to an end. Your dear father.” Bondy got stuck on the words and needed a moment to gain her composure before she could go on. “Your dear father knew you would not be able to accept taking so few. He even expected that you’d give up your place so that another could survive. I beg you for your mother and father’s sake go and if there is a way to save more, find it. But please sweet miss go. Your parents spent their entire lives making sure you were healthy. The men and women they are sending with you will not survive the journey. They are to get you going and to keep things in order as long as they are able. You miss are meant to survive because the young ones will need you when you arrive to keep them safe. You noticed even as a child you were different, healthier than all the rest. You stood out but that was for a reason. You’ve been given supplements your entire life. Your father and mother put everything into you. You’ve eaten better and lived better than anyone on this planet. Everything from the day you were born until now was all for this trip. It is what they wanted for you.” Bondy was growing winded, Ter’ helped her to a chair on the side of the corridor.

“It is unfair to put this all on you. From a small child you have been educated in our history. Yes all children know the basics but you are the first child ever to sit and read directly from the royal data base. Your father always smoothed over the access violations claiming he was doing research and there was naught else said. It was all for you. You needed to know our history as well as that of our ancient ancestors because if our race is to survive it will be you to make it come to pass.” Ter’ stood there, tears drying on her cheeks, red eyes glazed over shocked at all Bondy had just told her.

The trip was long and slow. On the third day they stopped at house Reston and to their surprise Lord Reston was not there to greet them. Lord Mendleson’s caravan only consisted of two vehicles each powered by ancient batteries that needed recharging only after two hundred miles. They were told to have lasted a full thousand miles on a single charge when they had been new many ages ago. These were even a luxury to the royalty of this subterranean tomb. The thought made her shiver, but she couldn’t shake it. Each face they passed on the king’s road further enforced her sad conclusion. All these people and all they love will soon be gone. No it’s no tomb, they will not have the dignity of a tomb they will be ripped apart and flung into space along with this god’s forsaken planet. She quietly wept not wanting to arouse suspicion from her driver. She was in the second vehicle and Mendleson in the first as per custom. She must act as a Lady and not give any sign that something was amiss.

Lord Reston had left word that Lord Mendleson be given every courtesy of his home and despite the generosity of House Reston both Mendleson and Ter’ felt uneasy about his absence. She knew they had nearly two full days left before they would be free to speak without unwanted ears nearby. The suspense was taking its toll on Ter’. This was obvious to Mendleson and he said only one thing in regards to their deception. “Two thousand years Ter’, you can survive two more days.” He grinned and made no more mention of their true intent.

As they supped the two spoke only of living conditions, water treatment, and air purification. Each certain their every word was being recorded by Reston’s all too eager staff. They made haste with departing house Reston as soon as they had each feigned a nap. They were more concerned that the batteries were ready for the last leg of the journey. It was 382 miles from Tiernon Manor to Mendleson Manor and they each intended to make the trip as quickly as possible.

The workers they passed on the road haunted Ter’. They all work so tirelessly for our survival completely oblivious to the impending doom of this planet and everyone on it. “In it,” she nearly scoffed aloud catching herself as she noticed the driver watching her over his shoulder. “Lady, are you well?” He asked innocently.

“Yes, sorry just thinking aloud is all. I have a great deal on my mind.” She scolded herself quietly; she needed to keep it together. She had never felt so torn in all her young life.

To the relief of Ter’ they could see Mendleson Manor in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold. She had never traveled to the west in all her years but she had seen pictures. It was carved completely in the side of a great wall nearly 300 feet high. She had studied the diagrams of the great elevators which rose all the way to the grand courtyard nestled at the very top. Massive artificial lights had been installed which were used to grow the algae the people in this quadrant survived on. She had never known anything other than these algae and wondered if it tasted the same to others as it did to her. Bondy’s words echoed in her mind. “Supplements,” She had read of such things in her studies and almost surprised herself as she started recounting all the things she did know about food and harvesting. Facts she had tucked away in her mind never really believing they held much value. Hadn’t her mother been extensive with her education of things she felt were unnecessary?

The responsibility of education was bore by their parents. If your father were an engineer then you would be an engineer. It was only the royal families who had any choice in the career paths they chose. Her mother had been a Buren far from the south and had studied medicine and botany from the time she was a small child. She had married her father when she was only 16 and he had been 15. Royals only married royals and that was a tradition that went back even before the darkening. A great deal of their history was lost as her people fled the radiation but it was believed the king descended from the captain of the ship which brought them here but those records had not been completely salvaged. Names were augmented over the generations to give them a more royal air but Ter’s father had assured her their name is the same as our ancestor who boarded that ship three thousand years ago. Ter’ had set out at one point to find out the names of the crew and passengers of the ship which brought her ancestors over but it was incomplete. She spent weeks going through the data until one day she found an entry that sent her flying up the stairs and through Tiernon Manor raving like she had gone mad.

She had to suppress a giggle at this memory. She had only been ten at the time and as excited as she was her father wasn’t home so her excitement had to wait. She had found Bondy and for the next hour as Bondy prepared their dinner went on and on about Ensign Matthew Tiernon. She had found proof that yes her ancestor was definitely on the ship and he was a crew member.

To her surprise the caravan drove right into the great elevator and before she knew it they were rising quite rapidly towards the summit. The pictures hadn’t done justice to the immense size of Mendleson Manor. She felt like one of those ants she had studied as a child. She felt tiny and insignificant in the face of such a massive structure. The driver casually spoke. “Impressive isn’t it, it was under construction in one form of another for over 300 hundred years. It is the tallest structure on the entire planet”

Ter’ already knew this but she smiled acknowledgment at the driver just the same. Ter’ was extremely impressed as the elevator rose she became dizzy watching the people grow smaller as she ascended. She had to look away. The driver noticed and smiled at her. She thought he was attractive; more so than most of the men she encountered. He had to be in his thirties and already showing signs of the illness that all eventually fall to. Despite his warm smile her heart sank and she knew he was just another who would soon parish in the great cataclysm.

At the summit they drove through the seemingly endless algae fields and after five minutes they had arrived at the entrance to the great hall. It had a carved archway with intricate patterns which appeared almost delicate in design. She thought if her mission weren’t so dire she could spend days wandering this place admiring the ancient stonework and beautiful carvings.

At last the trip were through and she was about to start battering Lord Mendleson with questions until she saw the state he was in. They hadn’t stopped in hours and though he hadn’t looked well from the time he arrived at Tiernon Manor he looked far worse now.

“My dear Lady Tiernon, please forgive an old man.” Ter’ thought a forty one year old calling himself old was ludacris but isn’t that what he was, old? Bondy nearly seventy could run laps around this poor soul. “Perhaps I was hasty in my misgivings about your visit. It would seem the hour is later than I had thought. Your impertinence it seems has served us well. I doubt I could make that trek a second time.”

“Take your rest kind sir I am certain your attendants can see to my needs.” She was worried. He seemed to have aged ten years since they set out. She wondered if he would make it through the night much less the week.

“We’ve much to discuss. As soon as I am settled I will send for you.” With that he left aided by two younger men neither of which were the picture of health. She felt tightness in her breath; it had started not long after they passed through Reston’s lands. It was if the air was heavier here and she supposed that maybe that and not just the height had made her dizzy.

She was guided to a luxurious guest chamber where she quickly settled in for a nap. Despite her excitement she was truly exhausted and she knew she had better rest while she was able.

4

Ter’ woke to a knock at the door. It was the handsome driver, he was all warm smiles. He brought her an iced pitcher of water. This she graciously accepted. She had awoken with an acrid smell in her nose and her tongue seemed to have soured in her mouth. The attendant noticed the way she gulped the bitter liquid and spoke. “It’s the air here Lady Tiernon I am sorry for the discomfort. It has grown worse at an alarming rate.” His tone was sullen and Ter’ thought perhaps even sad. Did he know?

“Once you are ready I’ve been instructed to take you to Lord Mendleson’s private dining chamber.” He turned and dismissed himself.

“I need just a moment.” Ter’s mind was racing and her heart was breaking. She had known of the destruction to come for five days but she could not combat the distress she was feeling. No, her distress had not abated but had only grown exponentially worse. To her every minute was a waste and yet here she sat on this bed wishing she could pull the covers over her head and forget the world as she would do as a child when she had been upset or frightened at a noise in the night. She stared at the closed door and realized for the first time in her life that she was terrified. It was a feeling as alien to her as she imagined bathing in real water would be.

The fear wrapped around her squeezing all that was good out of her. She felt she’d never know joy again. “God’s Ter’ you have to get up and do this. What would people think if they saw you sitting here cowering on this bed like a child?” She mocked herself and in doing so she found strength in one word, “Child.” From somewhere in the pit of her stomach she felt a stubborn burst of courage and she could have sworn she heard her father sigh as he did when she did something that made him smile. “The children,” she spoke aloud as she rose.

Lord Mendleson to her dismay looked no better than at their last meeting. Ter’ hadn’t considered the air when she had thought of his returning. He looked bad at Tiernon Manor but here he looked down right ghostly. He quietly spoke with a strained but pleasant smile, “My dear Ter’ your offer to stay at Tiernon Manor was a great temptation I must admit. It seemed I had reversed the effects of this accursed toxicity. It would seem my condition has advanced further now than it was when I first departed. It was as your mother had surmised. It was her hypothesis that once exposed for too long there would be no chance that the body could heal itself. It seems that clean air can at least alleviate the symptoms briefly but not stop the deterioration.”

Ter’ had tears in her eyes. She had witnessed the two people she held most dear die in this manner and even though she hadn’t had the time to get close to Lord Mendleson she truly liked him and couldn’t stop the tears. “I am sorry.”

“I’ve no doubt you are my dear but a difference it does not make. My lungs will fill and I will go like all the rest.” He weighed what he was preparing to say knowing it would sting Ter’ but the time for coddling had passed. “Just as your mother and father and everyone I’ve ever loved and everyone they loved.”

His words did have an effect on Ter’ but she hadn’t flinched. He had made no offense he had only spoken a cruel and tragic truth. The air was a worry for the dead not the living. That time had come and had passed and though they had tried all they had managed to do was keep their people alive like moles in a hole. No one had lived in over two thousand years. They had only survived. Ter’ began to speak but caught herself and nervously looked at the man who had apparently been assigned to her. Mendleson noticed and grinned, “Ah sorry this is Lanon he’ll be aiding you while you’re here and he has been apprised of our situation. He’s been an extremely helpful addition to our efforts. We’ve broken more than a few of our oldest rules regarding the ship. A necessary evil when haste is the priority.”

She surveyed Lanon in her trademark fashion and at her piercing gaze he began to fidget and blush. She jerked away when she realized she had been staring far longer than she had any right.

“I imagine you two will be spending a great deal of time together the next few months. You have many things to see and even more to learn Ter’. Lanon is going to help you.” Mendleson began to cough like before but this time he wasn’t able to stop. Lanon shouted down the corridor and more men rushed in and carried him away on a stretcher like the ones her mother had used. Like the one her mother was placed on when she died and just the same as her fathers. She couldn’t shake the chill this brought on.

Lanon could see the distress the scene had caused her and he made an attempt to console her but she waved him off. “I’m ok. Let’s get to work.” He led her through passage after passage moving deeper and deeper into Mendleson Manor and after ten minutes they arrived at what seemed to be a blank wall with passages heading in three directions. Ter’ thought without a guide an intruder could get lost in there for hours. It was like the Minotaur’s labyrinth she had read of as a child. Lanon looked left, right, and then back the way they had come and as she was about to ask he pushed in a concealed panel she hadn’t even seen it had been so cleverly carved.

The air was the first thing she noticed. It wafted out around her in a cool rush. It was fresh and she reveled in it. They quickly stepped inside and the large stone door banged shut. It was quit ingenious. She recognized the craftsmanship; it had been built in much the same fashion as the massive elevators.

As ingenious as the door had been to her nothing had prepared her for what she saw as she passed under a skillfully carved archway leading into a massive chamber. The fresh air had made her a bit unsteady on her feet but the sight of the massive craft was far more impressive than anything she had ever seen.

Lanon gripped her elbow as she nearly fell. “Lady Tiernon please be careful, we need you.” She had indeed nearly toppled over staring nearly straight up at the behemoth craft. She placed her hand on his and held it a long moment as she continued to gaze upward. She had seen the photos of the ship which had brought her ancestors to this world but she couldn’t fathom what must have been sacrificed to construct such a craft on a world with nearly no access to natural resources.

She became aware that she was touching Lanon and a it occurred to her that she had never touched a man other than her father and the occasional accidental brushes but she had never even so much as held a man’s hand. Lanon’s hand was course and rough against the soft flesh of her palm. His touch was warm and before she realized she was no longer focused on the craft but was staring blankly across the cavernous hall only thinking of his touch.

She flushed as she looked up into his eyes, “Ter’, please call me Ter’, and thank you.” She slowly removed her hand from his and immediately longed to touch this man, pull him close and press her lips to his. The flush worsened as they started towards the back of the hall where a group of haggard over worked men were preparing a sparse meal and talking quietly. She couldn’t shake the desire Lanon had woke in her. She felt strange almost alien in her own skin but she liked what she was feeling. She had to focus on the task at hand; that was to save as many children as she could. Everything else had to wait.

The men almost hadn’t noticed as she approached. Once aware they all leapt to their feet. “Lady Tiernon they all spoke nearly simultaneously.” They each gave a cursory bow.

“Please, let that be the end of this pompous drivel. My name is Ter’Mari, and I prefer Ter’ so please be done with all this Lady and bowing nonsense.” Her comment almost seemed to confuse the men as if it was a trick and she found their reactions more than she could handle and began to laugh so loudly it echoed all around them.

Ter’ knew that to see a “Lady” act in such a manner must have been a sight to witness for people who had spent their entire lives kowtowing to Ladies and Lords. They adhered to ancient customs she felt outdated and foolish but she had been a servant to tradition her entire life just as they had been.

She caught her breath and coughed a few times then cleared her throat. “You guys really need to learn to relax.” It was a phrase she had picked up, as a child, from an ancient text about a young girl who solved mysteries. She had ran around Tiernon Manor using it on all she encountered enjoying the silliness of the sound of her own voice.

To this some of the men actually began to chuckle. “That’s better,” she beamed at them. None of the men present had ever met Ter’ but they knew right away that the choice they had made had been right. If she were to be the legacy of man they wanted someone who would be a kind and fair leader. Ter’s parents had trained her and had spent her entire life preparing her even without Ter’s knowledge but a decision still had to be made. The project had been worked on for many generations and many had given all to aid in its progress. Her father knew this but he had been right in knowing that she would be accepted because she had a mind for business and a heart for the people. Yes his daughter would lead as many as she was able and he had every faith that she would be successful. The others with a vote had agreed with Lord Tiernon and everything had been geared towards Ter’ leading the mission.

“Captain, if I may,” The voice came from a man wearing a strange silvery suit which she immediately recognized from the archives. It was a space suit. The man couldn’t have been more than thirty five but the lines on his face said eighty. “I’m Arnon; I am in charge of getting this ship in the air and off this planet.” His eyes were stern and she could see this man was all business. She felt like a child again. She felt she was about to get reprimanded for being disruptive during one of her mother’s many lessons on botany. The reprimand hadn’t come but she now knew what Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole.

“Captain,” she said befuddled. She hadn’t realized she was going to be the first captain in three thousand years. Vilathorn would be thrilled, this thought made her grin. “Yes Arnon, let’s begin.”

Ter’ spent the next six hours going over the ship with Arnon; she at several points had to stare in wonder at the sheer capacity of this man’s brain. He seemingly knew everything about everything. He too had marveled at how Ter’ absorbed the information as quickly as he could recount it. Ter’ was surprised at how much she knew about the technology. He father had been an integral part of the design team and she had studied engineering under his tutelage for nearly her entire life. Ter’ was an extremely brilliant designer in her own right. She had for fun built many gadgets and she had built twice as many more beyond the assignments her father had given her.

Now more than ever her seemingly directionless education made sense to her. They were training me to survive on a ship for a very long time with limited resources. She understood how to maintain and operate the air purifiers. The algae hydroponics system she could have built by the time she was eight. The only truly alien component to her on the ship was navigation. This Arnon made clear would take her months to truly grasp and she showed no signs of distress at this news only an eagerness to get underway.

She had paused as the thought of how selfless her parent’s actions had truly been. She had been trained in medicine, botany, alchemy, engineering, electronics, hydroponics, ceramics, and many other things she had found funny but now they all seemed to make sense. She felt her cheeks warm and her eyes begin to moisten. She could see her mother’s ceramic work on some of the larger electrical components. They had used these ceramic parts as insulators.

Arnon noticed Ter’s reaction and quickly he understood. “I loved your mother and father as if they had been my own family. Sometimes it is hard to look around this ship and see the work of so many I cared about. Good people who are no longer here to see their work come to fruition. All I can say is that they did this for you and for the survival of our race. This ship was built by love and paid for with lives. You remember that and you tell your children their stories. Remember us and live that is all we ask.” Such sweet words from this stern man caused Ter’ to let a few tears fall but his words had instilled her with a purpose.

Arnon busied himself for a moment on an open circuit housing allowing Ter’ a moment to gain her composure. They continued their tour after a few moments. Ter’ was silently keeping a running total and estimate of everything that she could remove from the ship without effecting its operation. This she kept to herself, she would inform the rest once she were fully prepared with a plan of action.

The tour concluded with the inspection of the small hangar bay which held the small plane her father had taken her up in so many times when she were a child. It was decisively different than she remembered. Arnon noticed her deep interest in the changes. “This bird has been built and rebuilt over twenty times. It has been to space.”

“My father,” she began but was stopped.

“No, it was Lord Mendleson’s son Elton.” Arnon replied with a grave expression.

“I never met him. I heard he died in a fall exploring the forbidden caves.” Ter’ replied.

“That’s what was publicly announced, but there was a faulty seal. He began to lose compression, it was a small leak but it was enough. Although he managed reentry the damage was already done. He is a hero; with his dying breaths he saved the ship and landed just above this structure where it could be safely retrieved.” Ter’ listened intently as Arnon had conveyed the story. How many people had died for this over the millennia she was afraid to ask but she must know. A history must be kept. She will never let anyone forget what had been done and sacrificed by so many for so few to live.

“Vilathorn called Elton’s death a foolish act and refused to have a royal burial at the palace which has been tradition since our time began here. Lord Mendleson has never forgiven him this trespass. Elton did more for the people of this world than the past two dozen kings combined. They care for nothing but their serving girls and that damnable paste they consume.” Arnon nearly spat the words and quickly regained his composure, “Lady Tiernon, please forgive my vulgar language.”

Giggling Ter’ countered, “Oh no dear Arnon, anytime you wish to make me laugh at that fools expense feel free. I encourage vulgarity whenever I speak of our most humble King Vilathorn.” She bowed low as she spoke Vilathorn’s name and at this Arnon couldn’t stop his own laughter from escaping.

5

Ter’s brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the day. After Arnon had completed the tour of the ship she began to pour over the records which had been kept for generations but were noticeably more focused in recent decades. She gleaned the older records but found little that would aid her in her ultimate mission.

The records of her father’s involvement were what she was most concerned with. They hadn’t even begun construction until fifteen years ago. Luckily the predecessors had taken to stockpiling whatever materials could be salvaged from the surface and the rare deposits sometimes found in the forbidden caverns. The caverns were unsteady and prone to collapse. The caverns were ordered forbidden many generations ago by one Vilathorn or another for whatever whim they had at that moment.

It hadn’t thwarted the efforts of the ship builders. That’s what they called themselves in secret when really only those involved in the past fifteen years had an actual hand in building a ship. Ter’ noticed that these men though content and seemingly happy were extremely serious about their work. They were healthier than most she encountered and they worked nonstop.

There was no end of the day or beginning of the day for them they just worked while they were awake and if they needed to rest they would rest. They worked like no men she had ever seen; tirelessly and selflessly. She had been glued to the data viewer where they had meals for nearly eight hours. She had to stretch and eat. She was famished and realized she hadn’t eaten in days. She saw a makeshift cold cabinet in the corner. As she opened it she was surprised to see that it was actually working. Arnon happened to notice her curiosity. “It’s something isn’t it?” She looked up smiling as in answer to her query. “This is the system for cryogenics. At least this was one of your father’s miniature models. We’ve expanded but it’s taken a combined effort and over fifty years to perfect this technology even with instructions from the ancients.”

Ter’ was impressed it was as advanced a piece of technology as she had ever seen in person but yes she had studied cryogenics as well. “I always pondered why I the daughter of a Lord in a subterranean kingdom would need to understand cryogenics. So much makes sense to me now.”

After a quick meal of algae and water she buried herself back in the archives. She stayed glued to the screen until her eyes betrayed her intent and she were no longer able to force them open. She slept. She dreamed of strange moons with clouds of red and green. She saw animals unlike those from the stories and history lessons, but these seemed to be from a surrealistic nightmare but there was no fear in her dream. There was no fear in her. Even as she slept she felt her purpose, her mission, and her destiny were divine and that neither hand of man nor claw of beast would sway her from her duty.

Ter’ jumped up from the table ready to fight some unnamed horror from her sleep only to find herself standing alone near the giant ship. Her viewer tipped over and her things were scattered about the floor. She had believed she were alone but just as she began to right her viewer she saw Lannon approaching. The sight of him excited her. She felt a wave of passion flow through her body and the closer he got the more she ached.

“Lady Tiernon, are you well?” He was earnest in his asking. She could tell he was a kind soul. Despite very little conversation on the trip from Tiernon Manor he had not let an opportunity to address her wellbeing pass. His constant coddling made her feel cherished.

“Ter’, please call me Ter’.” She wanted him so badly and she didn’t care that royalty didn’t mix with commoners. All she knew was this man before her was all she wanted right now and nothing was going to stop her from having him.

“Yes my Lady, as you wish.” He started to bow and she reached out and grabbed his shoulder to stop the motion. He was strong and despite looking sickly before the oxygen rich cavern seemed to refresh him. He no longer appeared sickly but virile and healthy.

Yes she wanted him and in the face of certain disaster and her current situation who would stop her? “No one,” she whispered aloud as she wrapped her arms around Lannon’s neck and kissed him deeply. Her first real kiss and she enjoyed it more than she had ever imagined. Lannon did not try to stop her. He had wondered since the second he had lain eyes on her what it would be like to kiss someone so beautiful. He was frightened of her. To him meeting a Lady who carried herself and spoke in such a manner was akin to seeing an actual angel walking down the king’s road. She was an anomaly and he was already in love before she had pressed her lips to his.

“Take me to my room please.” Ter’ had decided and when Lady Tiernon made a decision it was set in stone.

Ter’ made her intentions clear when they reached her chambers. She did not speak, she only guided him through the doorway by the hand and once the door had closed she again kissed him deeply. He stood almost stunned watching as she disrobed. Lannon’s eyes were glued upon Ter’s and he too let his tunic fall to the floor. They each in turn examined the others nakedness. He had never seen a woman so alive and healthy. There were other beautiful women in Mendleson Manor but in comparison to Ter’ they no longer existed. He knew that she had been trained and nourished far better than any other and he could see the results before him.

Ter’ felt her face catch fire as she traced the naked man in front of her with her eyes. Her breathing was deeper and she could barely stand the heat rising up from inside. He seemed to be chiseled from pure white stone. Each and every muscle stood out. She could see he needed to gain a few pounds but to her and for her he was perfect. Her eyes went lower and Lannon could see the look she quite often gave things she was studying and he also began to flush.

Ter’ noticed his nervousness and reached out to him. He joined her on the bed each lying quietly staring into the others eyes. Ter’ broke the silence first. “I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I have never seen a man unclothed before.” As she said this she felt a bit embarrassed. “Have you been with a woman?” She asked timidly.

“I was married but I lost my wife to the cough two years ago.” He had a solemn air in his voice.

Ter’ using her hand traced the outline of his face. Yes he is handsome she thought. She rubbed his chest tracing the lines his muscles made below the skin. She was growing more curious and anxious with each touch. Lannon was still quite nervous by what was happening. He other than his wife had never wanted someone so badly in his entire life yet he was frightened to touch her.

She sensed his hesitation and she guided his hand to her lips where she kissed his fingers and smiled the sweetest smile he had ever seen. The look in her eyes and the desire for her overcame his misgivings. She may have been inexperienced but she was no child. Ter’ set out with the same overwhelming passion she applied to every aspect of her life.

Ter’ dozed wrapped in Lannon’s arms that night. In the morning she woke to find him dressing, but she pulled him back into bed naked. She was not yet satiated. Ter’ knew sadly what was to come. He would not be allowed on the ship and even she couldn’t argue taking a man who may be irrevocably ill in place of a child who might have a chance.

As they lay together naked she realized that she had never felt this kind of closeness to any other person in her entire life. Two things occurred to Ter’, she loved this man and she would have to leave him to die. She cried silently in his arms until she fell back to sleep.

Lannon gently rubbed Ter’s shoulder. It was far later than she had intended sleeping. She rose slowly and wrapped her arms around his bare chest. She was shaking and he could hear her soft cries. Lannon knew why she was upset but he also knew he couldn’t allow Ter’ to lose focus on the mission at hand or their people would be doomed.

Ter’ began to speak but Lannon silenced her with a kiss. “I know beautiful why you are sad but there is no reason. I have had too many years in the bad air. This state I am in is nearly magical. I could barely breathe before I was brought in on this project. If I stayed two weeks outside this oxygen rich environment I would be choking on every breath and within two months I’d be bedridden. Your mother wrote the book on this condition I am certain you have read it. Not all follow the path but I am a very typical case. Following your mother’s pathology I have six months to live. Lord Mendleson is not so lucky. He will not live to see us launch.”

Ter’ knew that what he said was true. Her mother had “written the book,’ and there was no denying the inevitable fact that even under the best circumstances he would be gone before the year was out. She did not fight the tears which came. She knew that no one would have the chance to cry over him when the time came so she would let him see her love for him while she could.

“This is love?” She asked Lannon rhetorically and quickly continued, “This is love. How can it be I meet the first man I have ever loved only to get a few months with him? The god’s cruelty knows no limitations.” Her tears had stopped but the look of sadness never left her eyes as again she guided Lannon to her. Despite all that had to be done she pulled him close and as they indulged in each other’s passion she whispered I love you.”

7

Ter’ and Lannon’s arrival to the lab that afternoon had gone unnoticed. It was the way they functioned. Each man had a special area of expertise and toiled many hours alone. Being from a subterranean world it was easy to mix one’s days and nights. Ter’ was deep in thought. She hadn’t been descriptive; she had only said she had some ideas that needed to be discussed.

“How much faster could we work if each man had a twenty man crew under them?” She said to Lannon without ever removing her gaze from the ship.

“The progress would definitely increase exponentially but we mustn’t let that fool king get wind of what we are doing. He’ll have the castle guard at our door ready to shut this all down.” Lannon answered cautiously.

“The castle guard is a joke Lannon. Those fat fools wouldn’t make it a mile much less the entire march to Mendleson Manor.” Ter’ smiled as she told him this. Lannon laughed at her irreverence. Yes he knew there were no other women like her on the planet and he guessed even if every ship had survived the mass exodus of ancient Earth that there could be no one like her in the entire universe.

Lannon set out on his usual duties. He was more or less the glorified gopher of the project but his services were priceless. Each and everyone loved having him around. He wasn’t trained as royalty but he had worked with engineers his entire adult life and was one of the most mechanically inclined people Ter’ had met. He was adept at problem solving. His ability to look at things and not reference a text as she had studied with many unavailable options to her, he referenced his experience and looked for practical ways to solve the issues at hand with available resources.

Ter’ wondered had allowing only royalty to study been a dramatic hindrance to her people? “This is one rule that will be abolished if I am going to be the one to start over for our people.” She blurted aloud and jerked a little in her chair startling herself. She looked around to see had anyone heard her. She whispered, “They would think me mad.” Then she giggled.

Lannon had seen her busy in her work and thought it best to give her a wide birth not wanting to distract her. She did not eat when the others ate she was oblivious to their chatter as she worked. Her plans were ambitious and more than a little dangerous. She knew in council her ideas and plans were readily dismissed but here she hoped for a better audience. She was new and had a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps she could come up with another way that could save more lives.

That night it was her who found Lannon. He was busily insulating wire couplings by hand. It was an arduous task and he took his work very seriously. This was his go to position when not busy with the requests of the other workers. She hugged him from behind and as she laid her head on his shoulder he closed his eyes and savored the moment. They were very much in love and even Ter’, whom was a slave to her wild imagination, even found the situation a bit logically unsound, was blissfully happy for it.

“Can we go now?” Ter’ asked coyly and without words Lannon rose and kissed her forehead and took her hand and pulled her towards the door. She loved how he looked sat her. His gaze made her feel alive like there was no wrong in the world and that everything was going to be ok. She knew this to not be true but then and there as he smiled down at her she promised herself that no matter what she was not going to let her sadness overwhelm the time they had together.

They showered together in the bitter water. It emanated a smell when heated for the shower. Her whole life Ter’ had held a great distaste for the smell. For the first time she realized as they stood together enjoying the warmth spending far too much time according to a Vilathorn kingdom wide decree that she would miss this smell, she would miss him. Ter’ caught herself before she could let the reality set in. “Enjoy the moment while it’s here.” She spoke softly.

Ter’ could not remember a time in her life when she laughed so much. Lannon was her equal in every way. He was a bit of a smartass just as she was and for someone without access to literature as she had been, he was quite intelligent. They laughed themselves to sleep and lay curled in each other’s arms. The next day they woke earlier. Ter’ had insisted, but still couldn’t resist yanking Lannon back into bed for another half hour before they set out for the day.

Ter’ spent the next twelve hours poring over schematics, maps and lists of the workers in Mendleson’s quadrant as well as her own. The night was wonderfully the same as it had been the previous evening and they woke at the same time and started their day in much the same way, they each had an untamable smile as they parted ways for the new days’ work.

The third day Ter’ spent just as the first two and before she and Lannon fell asleep that night she told him, “Tomorrow I’m going to call a meeting. I’ve spent three days coming up with a plan and let’s just hope they take me seriously.”

“I’ve no doubt my dear that they will not take you any way but seriously.” With that he kissed her and they each slept soundly.

8

Ter’s plan was unorthodox and went against every secrecy rule put in place many ages ago by her predecessors. Ter’ realized that they could proceed as originally planned and save a dozen and that would be commendable but she wasn’t looking for commendable she was searching for a miracle in the texts and from her people. “This needs to be a combined effort or we could all perish.” She said to no one, as she studied her presentation.

She knew that to travel to a new world with so few could be folly. With so few they could easily be wiped out by disease or any number of natural sources even predators. They needed strength to pull off mission success and what had she read somewhere in an old magazine file? “Strength in numbers,” as she said this, Ter’ smiled as the first few attendees for the meeting approached.

Arnon was the last to arrive. He stood ominously at the rear of the chamber they met in. Ter chose it for the lengthy conference table but more so for the large view screen mounted on the wall. Ter’ had designed extremely detailed and intricate plans for what she had in mind. “Please Arnon take a seat this, is going to be a lengthy presentation. I know you have been warned that I may be a bit impulsive but I assure you that if it becomes apparent that any of my ideas are going to hamper our mission then they will be scratched. I’m not up here giving orders. I am up here because as many of you know I was specially trained for this, a fact I wasn’t even privy to. So I beg of you gentlemen a few hours of your time to hear what I have come up with would be stupendously appreciated. I do not mean to stand up here and discredit generations of work and loss. I am a fresh set of eyes and sorry to say gentlemen it is quite obvious none of you has set foot outside this place in ages.” As she finished Ter’ gave them her brightest smile and all were silent except Arnon.

“We are listening Lady Ter.’” Hearing him call her Lady Ter’ made her giggle. She loved the nickname and from that point on it stuck.

She began as earnestly and as passionately as she was able. “I have gone over every schematic and every diagram and in turn, every piece of data on all the test results simulated and actual. No matter what these numbers tell us we must find a way to save more. If I arrive at an alien planet capable of supporting human life there is a good chance other things will be living there too. One adult with twelve children on such a mission could be disastrous.”

Ter’ paused, waiting on the inevitable rebuttal, but none came. So she continued on offering ideas on decreasing the weight of the ship without decreasing stability or soundness. She believed that the decreased weight would allow for more passengers and a larger life support system. Ter’ talked nonstop and she was pleased to notice they all listened attentively and some even took notes. It was silent until she said, “What if we launched the ship empty and use the little ship to shuttle the passengers up. Perhaps we could build another. With help we’d have time?”

Two hours had passed since she began and Arnon as well as everyone else in the room realized that she had just turned their project upside down. Some of her ideas had been privately thought of but no one dared say them aloud. Ter’ wasn’t afraid of anyone, not with so much at stake. It was a matter of survival. She meant to survive and take as many people with her as possible. These forbidden thoughts were out and there was no forgetting them. Lady Ter’ had made up her mind and this was going to happen. She laughed and told Lannon, “I always get my way I was just humoring them by giving them a choice. “ Lannon gave her a quizzical look and she blurted as she began to laugh hysterically, “I was terrified.”

They had broken for lunch and reconvened shortly after. This was the discussion portion and she was still worried about what they would say.

Arnon cleared his throat and the room grew silent. “We need lots of folks you know?” He did not pause for an answer. “There will be repercussions and Vilathorn will come and he will try and stop us. His guard will be in tow and they will attack if we do not give in to his demands.” Again he cleared his throat. “I spoke to Lord Mendleson during our recess and I speak for him and myself both, when I say, To Hell with Vilathorn and his ilk!”

To this Ter’ breathed a deep sigh of relief and sank into her chair, the men cheered. “It’s going to happen.” Ter’ spoke with a single tear in each eye.

The next few days were a whirlwind. It was chaotic but necessary. There were heated discussions and much more laughter than ever before. Ter’ was pleased but growing more anxious with each day. Finally they met again this time out by the ship.

Arnon slowly began, “It would seem that if we built another shuttle designed for passengers and freight we could accommodate eighty passengers but and I say this regrettably there are some major obstacles to overcome. Life support adjustments will be a major issue, cryogenics, hydroponics, as well as fuel consumption, just to name a few.”

“We need kingdom wide cooperation. This is where it gets messy.” She gave Arnon a weak smile.

Lannon arranged a conference call with all four houses. Arnon spoke for house Mendleson. Arnon gave Ter’ an introduction and took a seat in front of his own viewer. Ter’ walked in front of the camera and nervously began.

“Lords and Ladies of the kingdom I have dire news. This planet and all who abide within shall be destroyed in a great cosmic event in less than six months.” There were gasps and she signaled Lannon who began sending the data supporting these horrifying claims. “You can see for yourself it is true. The king will view this is a traitorous act so I ask you to choose carefully how you act. We here are committed to this mission no matter the costs. It is the survival of our race I am concerned with not keeping Vilathorn happy.” There were a few gasps as she finished but she could have sworn just off camera she heard a young girl giggle.

She continued to explain how nothing less than a kingdom wide effort would allow them to succeed. “I trust you as the most highly educated of the realm will see the truth in this and aid in saving if not all at least some of our children. I will contact you each in twenty four hours. If I am not answered I will assume that is your answer and will begin our preparations for what is to come along.” Ter’s eyes were red and she was dead on her feet. The call had wiped what energy she had left out.

The next twenty four hours were going to be the longest of Ter’s life. She couldn’t eat or sleep. She was a mess. Even Lannon couldn’t lift her spirits even though he sweetly tried. Ter’ had given up on sleep and was lying in bed going over schematics passing the late hours as Lannon peacefully slept beside her. Just being near him gave her a sense of peace but the hour was late and even Lannon’s presence was having difficulty appeasing her worries. For fear of waking Lannon she went back to the ship. She needed room to pace and a place to be noisy without disturbing her what? She mused to herself. My lover? At this she smiled and spoke, “Yes my lover.”

She was oddly alone in the hangar. As big as it is you could pass the whole day with ten other people in there and barely see any of them, but it was truly deserted so she was brainstorming loudly and extremely animatedly as was her way. Her father had loved her quirks. He adored how she would find old sayings from ancient earth and use them until she got bored and found a new one to mimic. His all-time favorite he had told her was, “Right on!” It never failed to get a laugh out of him even years after she was grown.

The thought of her father made her feel alone and she couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be than curled up in Lannon’s arms. She slept soundly the rest of the night.

New Love Allergic to Your Fur Babies?

People love their animals, but what do you do when the new man or woman in your life requires a respirator five minutes after walking into your house? Do you dump “the one” for your fury bundle of love or is there another way?

I am one of those people who are loved by all animals big and small, regrettably many of these great and small creatures will have me wheezing and sneezing and coughing until I collapse. I met an amazing woman and she loved animals, all of them, each and every single one it seemed. She loved picking up strays and claimed that’s how she got me; I was one of her strays. She had the occasional houseguest in our home until she could find it a safe place. She had a dog, Roxy, and two cats, Punkin and Gobby.

I knew she had pets before I moved in so I prepared, or so I had led myself to believe. I stocked up on Benadryl and Zyrtec but neither had any effect on the fat ball of fur known as Gobby. He followed me everywhere I went. These animals worshipped the ground I walked on. I’d give them tuna every now and again and I’d make the dog and I scrambled eggs.  When I’d wake up Gobby would be wrapped around my head in such a way his front paws would be resting in my left ear and his back paws were resting in my right. Roxy would be sleeping with her head on my chest and shy Punkin would as always be posted under the bed. These three were quite the characters and had I not been gasping for air even I would have found it comical. The Zyrtec seemed completely ineffective and by the time I took enough Benadryl to stop the symptoms I’d be knocked out from the medicine itself.

If you find yourself in a similar situation whether you be the owner or the new love interest don’t be hasty or rash in your decision making. Yes it can be hard especially if it’s directly affecting your health but there is no need to ruin a happy relationship over even the most beloved pet.

If you’ve tried over the counter remedies and met with similar results as me, then I suggest seeing an allergist and asking to try the allergy shots. There are many alternative treatments available now in this area.

If you are the pet owner don’t be discouraged by your new loves literal irritation to your pet’s dander. Keep in mind they willingly moved into a situation where they knew you had animals they were allergic to just to be with you. If you are the allergy sufferer don’t be too hasty demanding the removal of your new flames fur babies, because that’s what they are. They are their babies. People develop attachments to animals in much the same way as they do with other people. Losing a pet is very much like losing a family member so a little understanding is warranted.

You can restrict the offending critters movements to certain areas of the home and no, please don’t lock the poor kitties in a closet. Simply keeping the cats off the furniture and out of the bedroom helped me a great deal. Bathing and brushing your loved ones on a regular basis will help as well as an air purifier. Ultimately it was a trip to the doctor and the allergist that got me straightened out.

I implore you do not run away simply because your new love has pets. You never know they might be the one you are someday celebrating an anniversary with listening as your grandchildren raise their glasses in a toast hoping and wishing they will have a life as happy as the two of you.

-jm vogel

me

 

 

Are You a Sapiophile?

What is a Sapiophile? Well “sapio” is Latin for “wisdom” or “intelligence” and the suffix “phile” is ancient Greek for “fond” or “love.” So a sapiophile is someone who finds intelligence sexy and desirable. I for one am a full blooded sapiophile and proud of it.

There is nothing sexier to me in this world than an intelligent woman. Of course there must be some sort of initial attraction to initiate the first conversation but even if you have the face of an angel and the body of a venus you will lose me if you aren’t able to hold an intelligent conversation. It wasn’t until I realized what my type was that I was able to find happiness. I’ve tried explaining this to my friends and they scoff.

I had one friend rebut that if Meagan Fox somehow appeared on my door step cold, wet, and alone in a rain storm and overly grateful for my assistance that I wouldn’t refrain from her advances. I am a man after all and I am single now, so yes I would indeed move with haste. Don’t judge me, it’s Meagan Fox! His one stipulation is that she has the IQ of a potted plant. Still, it’s Meagan Fox! (In no way am I implying Meagan Fox is not intelligent, this is a what if scenario)

To this added variable I reflected a moment and explained that despite the intense physical attraction I’d have for such a stunning woman that it would not be enough to keep me satisfied. Animal magnetism will only get you so far.

I’ve been there a time or two in my life. Out enjoying the night when I catch the eye of an attractive woman and we hit it off due to liquid libido. The attraction will be mutual but we find ourselves in a very awkward situation the next morning not knowing what to say to each other. Inevitably this awkwardness turns into the dreaded walk of shame. Admittedly had this awkward encounter been with Meagan Fox my walk of shame would be more of a strut to the Gibb brother’s most famous anthem.

Too many times I have witnessed friends commit to relationships that started in this manner. In almost every case they end with one or both hurt and angry. I would advise against committing based on a one night stand. Date, continue to see each other but don’t immediately commit to someone you barely know simply because you had sex. In the past I have heard it said that women use sex to get love and men use love to get sex. I have to disagree. It is a case by case basis. Sometimes the woman falls in love and sometimes it’s the man but mind your heart people there are many unscrupulous individuals of both genders out there. Many men and women alike will use and abuse you if they have the opportunity.

Ask questions. If you are out at a popular night spot but you are typically a homebody who rarely goes out inquire if this is their “once in a while night out” or is it their “every night ritual.” People who live in bars are usually an unreliable bet when it comes to relationships. That’s not to say you can’t find a good person in this manner but it should be a red flag. Are you going to be comfortable starting a relationship with someone who feels the need to party every day?

Always remember it’s your life, so be forthright. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. If this unveiling of each other’s lives proves that you two won’t meld into a happy couple then move on. You cannot force love so DO NOT CHANGE yourself to fit into someone else’s life. You are perfectly you so stay that way.

I have learned to restrain my animalistic urges and let my mind guide my relationship choices. I advise putting stops in place, if you go out take a reliable friend to help you make good choices if you find yourself overcome with lust for the “hottie” in the corner to prevent waking up beside a “nottie” in the morning. Set a drink limit as well, leave your plastic at home and only bring enough cash for a few drinks. That can also help dissuade impulsive behavior.

Find out just what you like, but let that decision be a conscious one. When you do find that special someone who fits into your mold nice and snug you’ll be grateful you used restraint. I was one of the lucky ones I found my great love. Even if you aren’t a sapiophile such as me, I assure you that if you are patient you will find your perfect fit. Don’t give up hope.

-JM Vogel

me