Posts Tagged ‘dark’


 

            Jace was trying to hide his worry from those around him, not that they would notice anyways – they were all still in a great deal of shock. Sophia, who seemed to be the most together of them, still didn’t seem to fully realize that her dog was walking circles around her, trying to get Sophia to run and play with her. Every once in a while the dog would nuzzle its head into Sophia’s hand and she would absent mindedly pet it as she walked but she never looked at the dog, never acknowledge it was there or called its name. She just stared blankly ahead and walked.

Occasionally Sophia turned to Jace and seemed startled that he was still there. She would make brief eye contact with him and force some conversation or ask a question. But it was as though she was not fully sure that he was real, as though part of her might think this was just a bad dream from which she would wake any minute now and fine herself just waking up for the day. Every time it was made clear this was the reality she seems startled by it.

The others in the group where just as poorly off, if not worse. Most of them couldn’t bring themselves to make conversation. Without the link Jace wondered if they could even speak. This seemed a little odd to him, most people still that dependent on the link wouldn’t have been seen as rebellious enough to be sent out of the society. Most people that dependent would have been sent for reprograming. This just made Jace all the more curious as to what their thoughts had betrayed in them. Something radical must have been going on inside their heads to lead to this fate?  What it could be was more terrifying than what it wasn’t. If they still conformed to the social protocols then only extreme criminal desires would have them excommunicated like this. He hoped that the criminal desires weren’t at an extreme end of that spectrum.

Then again, they might simply still be stunned, like Sophia unable to believe that they weren’t just dreaming. Jace wasn’t in this state of denial. He knew what he was walking into. Or thought he had at least, but the drop point was not where he had anticipated it would be. They had moved it about a day’s walk east of where the survivors had been spotted, assuming Jace was remembering the terrain correctly. The ground here was much more hostile than the first drop point. Open land with little shelter. If they failed to find cover before the first acid rainfall they wouldn’t survive long enough to make it out to where the others were.

After walking for what must have been hours the group came to a ridge.  The ground in front of them dropped down a few feet into a small stream which was flowing through the rocky ground on either side. The sun was starting to set in the sky and Jace couldn’t bring himself to take another step. He tried to remember if this stream was classified as drinkable or not. He wracked his brain, trying to remember the maps he had studied, missing the instant knowledge of the link for the first time. Before he could remember the answer, another member of the group approached the ridge, saw the water and jumped down into it before Jace could try and stop them, try to explain that the water might not be safe to drink. Like the rest of them, this young man was only focusing on the thirst he had after walking all day in the sun. After taking a sip he waved the others down to join him. Slowly, one by one, they jumped down from the ridge and followed this man’s lead.

“So, should we join them?” Sophia’s voice was faint, her throat clearly torn up and dry. Jace looked down at those splashing and drinking from the stream below. There was no redness on their skin, no indication that there was still acid in the water at least. No one seemed to have any instant negative effects from the water at least.

“I don’t see why not” he replied hesitantly.

With that Sophia joined the others jumping down from the ridge and the dog followed her. For the first time since they had left the drop point Sophia seemed to become aware of the dog’s presence as it splashed along beside her. “Oh Silver, there you are. Good girl.”

Jace watched for a few more minutes. Still hesitant to go down with the others, the water might be acid free but there were plenty of other slower moving toxins and pathogens which could be present in it. Things which wouldn’t affect you for days or weeks after, things which he doubted they would be able to find the remedies for out in the middle of nowhere. After a few more moments though the thirst he was experiencing got to him. He joined the others below.

The water was cooler than he was expecting, and not overly deep. It barely came up past his ankles in this little stream. He bent down to scoop up a handful of it. It was clear, no discoloration, a good sign. Jace finally brought the water to his lips and let it pour into his mouth, tilting his head back as far as it would go. The water tasted crisp and clean. Jace re-cupped his hands and scooped up another handful of water to take another drink. It might just have been how thirsty he was but this was some of the freshest water he had ever tasted.

After a few more sips Jace joined in with the playful spashing of the others, cleaning the dirt and dust from the walk off his face and arms as they went. It felt good to get cooled down after the long hot day they had.

By the time they were done and ready to move on the sun had dipped even lower in the sky and there was little light left. Down a ways on the banks of the stream there were a few trees and the ridge above swooped over the top in a “C” shape overhang, providing some shelter. Jace saw this place and went to the ridge to start pulling down dead branches and began making a fire. Some of the others, once they had their fill of the water, came and joined in his efforts.

Sophia and Silver were the last to come join them, by this time they had managed to get a fire started which proved to be a necessity as the sun dipped out of sight and the air grew cold. Their soaking clothes deepened the chill and they all gathered around the fire to dry off before they slept.

“Tha…nk you.” A quiet unsure voice came from somewhere to Jace’s right. He looked up to see the face of the first young man to jump down into the stream. So at least one of them could speak, that was comforting. A fellow rebel was always welcome in Jace’s eyes.

“Without you I’m sure I’d still be sitting where the dropped us in shock. And without her,” the man nodded to Sophia and Silver. “Her dog had nudged me until I was willing to follow.” Silver had done this with many of the others too. Jace assumed that like any animal given the chance to come out here Silver would have just run off. The main reason those with pets were allowed to bring them was because they were unwanted in the city and were known to abandon their owners when presented with the chance of freedom at the drop point. For many this was the last heart wrenching blow needed to break them into begging their way back on to the bus. Silver was different.

 When the doors had unlocked Jace was among the first to stumble out. From many of the other compartments dogs and cats had sprung out and wandered off, their owners stumbling out after them, some realizing that their pets had gone, others too stunned by the bright sun and change of surroundings to notice. Silver on the other hand had nudged opened the door and sat inside waiting for Sophia to exit. She had sat with Sophia until Jace had approached jerking Sophia out of her train of thought. Silver had some up and sniffed at Jace as he and Sophia talk. As soon as Silver was convinced Sophia was going to follow Jace Silver had been the first to run over to the nearest person and encourage them to come along, sometimes nudging their backs licking their faces or pulling at the hem of their pants. Silver had stayed with a few of them after Sophia and Jace had given up and this young man was one of those who Silver had wrangled into following along at the last minute.

Even now Silver was at Sophia’s side, licking her drying and enjoying the heat given off by the fire. Sophia in turn was running her fingers through the dog’s long hair, doing her best to comb through it and prevent it from matting or tangling as it dried. They two of them had a strong bond, something the likes of which Jace hadn’t seen before. Sophia looked up at Jace just then and smiled. She looked truly happy and at peace for the first time. Hopefully things would stay that way.

Sophia got up and walked over to where Jace and the young man were sitting, “What are you boys talking about over here Jace?” Her voice had a teasing laugh to it, though she could all but guess the answer. There wasn’t much to be talking about at this time.

“Ummm… this fella and I..” Jace started

“Name’s Sidney, you can call me Sid everyone does, or did I guess.”

“Yeah Sid here and I were just talking about how much of a help your dog was this morning Sophia.”

“Soph, please. Only my mother calls me Sophia.” Soph replied. “Was she really?” by this time Silver had wandered over to join them and Soph patted the ground beside her telling Silver to sit. “I… I hadn’t really noticed.” She admitted, bashfully.

Sid launched into his story about the morning making Sophia smile and laugh. The three of them talked until the ambers started to burn down. Sid got up to tear off a few more branches to get things up enough to provide a little light while Sopha settled down with Silver, using the dog as a pillow. Jace stayed sitting up and watching.

Some of the others had struck up a conversation but a few still had not found their voice. With every new greeting that hit his ears Jace relaxed a little, but the longer the few stayed silent the more he worried about what desires they might have buried in their subconscious that would have been considered dangerous enough to banish them.

Eventually he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer and with the crescent moon high in the sky overhead he let down his guard and let himself drift off. The last thing he remembered seeing as his eyes closed was Sid, looking around and walking over to the water’s edge again, bending down as though to scoop more water up into his mouth, though from where Jace lay with his eyes closing it never actually seemed like Sid took a drink. 


Her neck was still throbbing with tenderness from the incision when the bus came to another stop and the latch on her compartment popped open. Every time the bus had stopped Sophia had held her breath and waited for the metallic click of the lock releasing, but until now it hadn’t.

She’d lost track of how much time had passed, the entire ride had been spent cloaked in darkness. The windows were covered over so you couldn’t see out or in. No passing of the sun to tell you how long it had been since the last stop. You could barely tell if your eyes were open or closed. She had a feeling from the stiffness in her arms and legs that they had been traveling for the better part of a day if not longer.

Soph didn’t even know if she was the only one on the bus or if at every stop they had let someone who wasn’t her off. When the light came in through the crack in the door it was all but blinding. Soph took a moment to let her eyes start to adjust; a moment to wonder and fear what would lay on the other side of the door.

Finally, she got up the courage to open the door and step outside. The sun was high in the sky and blindingly bright. The ground under her feet was rocky and uneven. There was little shade in the area, few trees, little plant life other than grass.

Just as she was beginning to realize that she was being left in the middle of now where, just as the panic started to sink in, she head the door of her compartment click closed behind her and the engine of the bus start again. Before she could react the bus was pulling away, kicking up dust behind it. Soph was in too much shock to cry or scream, still trying to process everything that had happened in the last 48 hours or so. When the dust finally settled and the bus had faded into the distance Soph took a proper look around.

For the first time she noticed that she wasn’t the only one abandoned in this… this..wherever they were. There were a few other figures scattered in a line long where the bus had stopped. A couple of them were sitting on the ground. A couple had started to wander towards the few trees in the distance. A couple, like her, were just standing there, like her, staring at the disappearing bus.

Altogether there were maybe 10 people here. She wondered where the others who had come and gone had ended up. Where they all on the bus and just let off on earlier stops? Had they been forgiven for their transgressions? Had they been sent down a different hall to a different fate? She didn’t think she would ever know the answer.

“Fancy seeing you here,” his voice was a shock to hear, both because her ears were not used to the sound and because there was no way she should have been hearing it again. No way should the man from the hall be here with her now.

She turned to face him, “How long have you been standing there?” he looked, adjusted… the only person in the whole group who wasn’t in total shock. Though there was a little worry in his eyes.

“About as long as you.” He replied. “We should get going, find somewhere less exposed before nightfall.”

Soph looked around at the others. A few still seemed to be in shock, those who weren’t still more or less where the bus had dropped them had all headed out towards the distant trees, trying to find somewhere to get out of the sun that was beating down on all of them. “Should we get the rest of them to come with us?” Soph didn’t know if she wanted his answer to be yes of now. She didn’t want to deal with the burden of caring for anyone but herself, yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave these people here in silent tears.

There was a long pause before he answered, “I suppose we should try at least.” And together they headed over to the nearest person. The first and the second didn’t seem to hear them, or realize they were there. The third looked at them dumbfounded as they talked and covered their ears. Based on their dress Soph wondered if they had ever communicated on anything other than the link. They opened and closed their mouth as though trying to talk but nothing came out. After a moment they stood and followed them.

About half of those who had not headed out already ended up joining them. The rest had just stared back blankly, unmoving, uncaring. They had done all they could, probably more than they should have. They started walking towards the nearest tree where most of the others had headed before them.

“We should head west.” There was something about the sureness with which he said it which shocked her.

“Why west?”

“Just trust me.”

“Why should I trust you? I don’t even know your name.”

He stopped walking for a second and turned to smile at her, “I’m sorry I thought I told you, or at least that you knew Sophia. I’m Jace Acher.”

Soph didn’t know what shocked her more. The fact that he knew her name or the fact that despite everything she had ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere with the last man that her parents had try to set her up with. If only they knew how perfect he had actually been for her, at least so far. Soph started to laugh, and kept laughing until she cried.

“What?” Jace asked.

“You don’t find this funny? That we end up here together after all this?” Sophia gasped out between rounds of shocked laughter.

Jace smiled slightly, “I suppose it is.”

“Well then, I guess you just have to convince the rest of them that we’re headed in the right direction.”

“I don’t think it’ll be that hard” Jace replied.

Looking around Soph thought he was probably right. Most of the people with them had followed with little or no fight; they were all in too much shock to really do anything or think past putting their feet one in front of the other. Even Soph was still shaken, part of her had followed Jace blindly too. Yet, there was something about Jace’s presence, his calmness and sureness that had put Soph at ease. To some extent Jace’s presence before things was the reason she was here at all. His words to her in the fall beforehand had been the whole reason she had stuck to her guns. Soph had no doubt that Jace could have the same effect on the others. The only question was why was he so calm?

Soph wracked her brain to try to remember everything her mother had told her about Jace and his family, everything that she had so blissfully ignored earlier. They walked as she thought and missed the link for the first time. Had she still been connected she would have been able to draw up and re-play the conversation. She would know everything that she was forgetting in a few seconds, know exactly how much faith she should put into Jace and exactly why things were so easy for him.

Without it Soph was struggling to remember much more than his name. She knew that he was from one of the upper-level families. This didn’t explain how he got here though. The higher up the rungs you were the more likely you were to continue on your family legacy, give in to your parents’ wishes. That being said when people of the upper class did turn they tended to, like her, turn harder. They had more information and resources then the lower classes. When Soph was just a girl one such youth had led a protest in the square. Few joined in; all those who did hadn’t been heard from again. Had they ended up out here like the sorry group here now?

The only other thing about Jace and his family she seemed to remember was that his father worked in the government offices, but that wasn’t abnormal for someone of the upper classes. Her own parents worked in the lower level offices. She assumed his father worked in the capital building, but that didn’t tell her anything.

Soph looked at Jace and watched him walk. She watched the sureness in his steps, the glances he made over his shoulder to see who was keeping up, the adjustments he made to his pace to be sure not to lose anyone. Jace seemed to know the area, as though he had been here before. But that couldn’t be. No one would be out here, it wouldn’t be habitable. They must be miles from the nearest city. Still, there was a sureness in Jace that made her feel as though it would be okay in the end. Without the link she would have to trust her gut on this one, and her gut was telling her to trust him.


Jace was probably the only human to ever entered the Determination room without dread and fear in his heart. He was probably the only one who stood at the front of the room and felt at home. He had been in the room before. His father was a member of the fate committee, and had brought him here on more than one occasion to show him how things worked. After all, Jace was supposed to take over his father’s position when he grew up, but that couldn’t happen now. Jace would not see his father’s face in the crowd today. Family members weren’t allowed to vote on the fate of their children for fear it would bias the vote.

Jace was also one of the few people who knew where each of the halls led and what fate lay at the end of them. Again, something his father was in charge of. Each individual who failed to meet quota was given a class and sent down a hall. That is all the average individual in the Determination room knew. The classes were based on how much of a ‘perceived risk’ the individual was to the society, mainly focusing on if they could be scared into falling back in line.

Class C was low risk, usually kids that had ended up on the street one way or another. Nobodies who could easily be re-integrated without any identity reassignment. They were trained, given jobs and given a year to find a partner before they were re-evaluated. When possible these individuals were brought in and re-integrated long before their twenty-second birthday. A good plan, except these individuals and their children were locked into the unwanted jobs for a minimum of three generations after their re-integration. They were limited to finding a partner within their own class, another type C. Between the lack of upward mobility and the fact that the salaries were barely enough for one person to live off, let alone two and a kid, the C class often failed to meet quota, or their children ended up back on the street, starting at square one all over again.

Class B were mid risk, people who came from the middle or upper classes and had just failed to find ‘the one.’ They had families and the families needed to live under the illusion that their child had been punished. As such they were “re-assigned” to another city, usually on a different continent, on the other side of a former country boarder. Some place where if their family travelled they would simply see a girl who resembled their daughter, not their daughter. So the child didn’t reach out their memories were wiped. They woke up in a ‘rehab’ center and told that they were recovering from some sort of drug abuse. They were put into a ‘halfway home’ punishment for another middle class family whose son or daughter had failed to meet quota. They took over the roll which that son or daughter left behind, and given a year to find a partner.

Class A were the threats, people like Jace. People whose will was too strong to wipe their memories, people who didn’t have a longing to conform inside of them. These people would rise up and create anarchy given the chance. They were disconnected from the link and removed from society, left in the sparse wilderness to fend for themselves. Between the extreme acid rain, lack of shelter and non-existent survival skills it was assumed they perished, but this fate was worth the risk to Jace. Having a chance at a life was better than living a life he didn’t want in a society he didn’t approve of.

There was some fight with Jace over his decision. His father was a powerful man after all, they didn’t want to lose the heir to that role, nor did they want to see someone else fill it. But in the end he was voted a Class C and sent down the hall he wanted to walk down, the only one he wanted to walk down. At the end of the hall he came to a red door. Normally his mother would be on the other side of it to disconnect the link, as was her role. However, that wouldn’t be the case today, her assistant or a doctor brought in from another city would do his.

The operation to remove the link was simple, local anesthetic and a small slit in the back of the neck to disconnect the transponder, the rest of the wiring was left in place as it was worked into the brain, full removal would risk brain damage at the best, death at the worst.

After the room with a red door there was another hallway which led out to the back of the building and a bus of sorts. Each set of seats was made into an individual compartment so you couldn’t see how many others were being shipped off like you. The bus would stop at random intervals along the route. Create the illusion that you were to be abandoned alone. No one saw anyone else get on the bus so they didn’t know how many people were on the start.

There was only one drop off point though. Few were ever classes this extremely. The whole trip was another part of the illusion. Another way for them to convince you that you were making the choice, after all they couldn’t afford to lose a man who was capable of changing. They were trying to re-build the world and to do that they needed a population. A few times the person had begged forgiveness and the bus had turned around, they became a class B risk, fear had gotten the better of them. This wouldn’t be the way Jace’s trip ended though, he was determined to make it to the final stop.

On the last time Jace was in to work with his father a discovery was made. There appeared to be a clan living out near the drop off point. A group of the unwanted had survived. Knowing that survival was possible, or might be at least, was enough to convince Jace to turn against the system. It was a broken system and it couldn’t be fixed from the inside. The best chance at reform was the expose the system for what it was. To do that he needed to be outside of it, away from their ability to manipulate his thoughts, disconnected from the link.

Jace rubbed the spot in his neck where the incision had gone it. It at taken all his effort to keep his thoughts from drifting to his plans after he was classes and sent off. If they had known, or even suspected they might have actually killed


“Enough!” Sophia shouted at the top of her lungs, not caring what her parents thought anymore, “I’m not marrying anyone. I’m not going to another party. I’m not worrying about you or the other parents and I don’t care what they do to me. I’m done!”

A deafening silence overtook the room. No one moved, no one seemed to breathe. Soph was just as shocked at her announcement as her parents. She didn’t want to go back on what she said; she thought it was the right call for her. Yet saying it made it real, and it being real made Soph scared. She waited for her father or mother to beg her to change her mind, or to just ignore her and insist on another option for marriage. They didn’t and the silence continued.

Soph stood up; if they weren’t going to speak to her then she wasn’t going to prolong the awkwardness. She was half way through the front door before there was any sound but that of her foot fall. “Wait,” Echoed through Soph’s head in her mother’s voice. She turned and saw one of the staff coming out from the back hall, a cardboard box in hand. “If this is what you want we won’t have it disrupt our lives anymore.”

“Fine” Soph replied, refusing to let the abandonment get to her. She collected the box and once again turned to leave. This time she wasn’t interrupted. She let the front door slam behind her and made it into the car before allowing the emotion to overwhelm her.

Within moments of giving the driver instructions on where to take her and requesting the divider be raised Soph had burst into tears. It was one thing to talk about defying the rules and accepting the punishments that came with failing to make quota. It was another to make the choice official and not be able to undo the decision. Her parents would have done the `right` thing and reported her decision to break quota. When she got home she would be given a few minutes to collect anything she wished to bring with her before they scrubbed her apartment. Removing any trace of her from it and any other locations where photos, images or property of hers would be found. No doubt her parents had given her the box to avoid the scrubbers having to come to their home.

A new round of sobs escaped as she thought of how her childhood bedroom would finally be re-worked into something more suited to a childless household. Quota mandated at least one childcame of every union. There was no maximum, though it was suggested that the preference was for each household to rear at least four children if they came from a privileged living. The world needed to be repopulated. We needed workers to rebuild the society and the world. Families who only had one child, such as hers, weren’t frowned upon per se. But they were expected to rear a perfect child, those who didn’t were made to regret it. Her childhood room would be used for a “purpose which furthered society’s goals.” Most likely her parents would be forced to house a recovering addict or a lesser criminal and act as assistance in their rehabilitation into community. These rehabilitation efforts often failed, forcing the family to relive their failure over and over again.

Her parent’s other choice would be to have another child, though Soph wasn’t sure this would be an option for them, not after the way she had left things. They might not be seen as suitable parents any longer. Either way, the room wouldn’t be the only thing in the house that never changed anymore.

She looked out the window as the car continued to drive. They were approaching the city’s edge, or where the edge would have been years ago when the city was thriving. These days the worn down buildings were little more than ruins. Trees grew up through the place where a roof once had covered the dwellings, ivy and other vines wrapped around the support beams appearing to tear the structures apart, bushes grew over the rubble. Mother Nature was re-claiming the land, or attempting to. For every healthy tree or bush springing up in the once urban paradise three more where starting to die and fall to ruins themselves. For some the acid rain would have finally gotten to them, others would have had their roots hit a former landfill and died from pulling the poison up out of the earth. From her view in the car it looked as though the planet was fighting a losing battle.

Much like the battle I’m waging now. The thought creeped into her head, shocked her, and refused to leave. Maybe she had made the wrong decision. What could one person refusing to live by an outdated system do? What was the point in putting up this fight? Why hadn’t she just given in to her parent’s wishes? Her thoughts continued to spiral out of control.

Now, it would be too late to change things. Now she would have to find out what came of those few like her. She closed her eyes, and laid back on the seat of the car. It would be at least another hour before they returned to her apartment and she had to face the scrubbers. She would spend that time trying to escape reality. Thankfully the emotion of the morning and lack of sleep from the night before allowed her to drift off in a few moments of blissfully dreamless sleep.


The rain had left the garden wet and muddy. There was a satisfying sucking sound every time Jace lifted is foot out of the muck, his rubber boot threatening to slip off is foot and stay lodged in the ground with every step. Even the earth under the apple trees where he was currently walking was this wonderful muddy texture.

When he had been a boy Jace had love to play in the garden after a rain storm like this. He often returned to the house looking like a swamp monster, sending his mother into a fit as he trailed the dirt in through the kitchen and living room into the bathroom to try to clean off before she noticed him. A couple of times his mother had stopped him at the door grabbed the garden hose and sprayed him down before he was allowed to enter the home. A look that was an intense mix of joy, frustration and love had always plastered his mother’s face at these times. She would lecture him about how he shouldn’t get into such trouble but burst out laughing the next instant when he playfully sprayed the water directly into Jace’s face and he returned fire by splashing the water pooling at his feet up at her. If only things were still that simple.

These days Jace still found comfort in being in the garden after the rain. But at his age he could no longer return to the home covered head to toe in mud. He had to satisfy his craving with a walk through the mud, picking apples for breakfast as he went. With every sucking sound of his foot falls the urge to run, jump and roll in the mud seared. His inner child daring him to give in, but the adult in him told the child no, and kept walking.

When he returned to the house he slipped off his boots at the back door, he knew better than to track dirt into his mother’s home these days, and entered into the kitchen. He placed the basket of apples on the counter and washed his hands in the kitchen sink. Once Jace had cleaned his hands he then started rinsing off and chopping up the apples.

Behind him he heard the click of the coffee maker, timed to start brewing a pot at this time every morning. Not long after the click of the coffee pot the rest of the house started to wake up.

The blinds on the windows started to roll up, letting in the early morning light. The shuffle of feet could be heard from upstairs as his mother and father got out of bed and headed to the shower. The sound of cars was heard in the driveway as the staff who didn’t live on site started to arrive to complete their duties for the day.

Good morning Jace” Molly’s voice floated into Jace’s head as he heard the back door through which he had entered earlier. Jace turned to face the cook who was more of a mother to him then his own mother had ever been.

Good morning Molly.” Jace walked over to embrace the now aging women in front of him. Molly was plump, with red cheeks and long curly hair. Crow’s feet and laugh lines were settling into her once smooth face. Her hair, which had once been a rich brown when Jace was a boy, was greying. Jace was always a little shocked by Molly’s appearance. In his mind’s eye she would always be the 30 something mother figure that had taught him how to tell which fruits were ready to pick and showed him how to bake a cake from scratch. Her appearance was another reminder that he was no longer that young boy.

What are we making this morning?” Molly asked gesturing at the apples Jace was slicing and reaching for a couple of coffee cups.

Mom’s favourite. Last night didn’t go as she would have liked. So I’m trying to ease the blow a little. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it through breakfast alive this way” Jace was half joking and half painfully serious in this statement. His mother had discovered that he left the party for a time. Not only that but the date he had been intended for was responsible for some outburst which his mother was confident would not have happened had Jace been talking to her when he should have been. Due to this little incident his parents were being frowned upon by their peers. This moment shouldn’t have happened. It was just as much their fault for inviting the girl as it was her fault for forgetting her manours. Or at least that’s the way society saw it.

Molly didn’t ask for details. She tended to disagree with the way in which these parties were run but would never say so blatantly. Instead of continuing the conversation she asked “What can I do to help?” and got to work on the sauce which Jace was requesting.

His mother’s favourite breakfast food, especially at this time of year, consisted of waffles, made from scratch with a hot apple cinnamon sauce drizzled over them. Molly’s sauce had always been better than the one Jace could make so he was happy to have her help, anything to appease his mother while he still could.

The two of them set into a comfortable and familiar rhythm. After all they had been sharing the kitchen since he was a young boy. This was one of the only ways which Jace had to relax, this and the garden where he escaped. Jace finished cutting up the apples and moved to pull out and heat up the waffle iron. Molly poured their coffees and chatted to him about everything from the weather to movie she had heard was worth viewing. Anything but the party last night, anything to keep her calm.

Once the iron was heating up Jace grabbed a bowl, eggs, milk, flour, salt, sugar and baking soda and started on the waffle mix. The sound of the shower stopped coming from upstairs. It would be about 30 minutes before his mom was dressed and came down. He should be right on time with breakfast. He mixed the batter letting his mind wander, half listening to Molly’s rambling while he worked.

Jace let his mind wander to thoughts about the girl who had caused the outburst the night before. His mother may be embarrassed by the whole situation, but she had found a better match for him then she knew. Part of Jace wished he had talked to her the night before. But if that had happened, his plan may have failed. If he was seen to be happy with her, even if they had not made a commitment, the dead line for the quota may have been extended, especially with their families’ standing in society. It was better that he had assumed, based on her appearance alone, that she was just another society girl looking to take her place on step higher up the ladder. He found himself hoping that her parents didn’t find a “suitable” partner for her, but stopped himself before his thoughts wandered any future. Even thinking of these things was dangerous. If he let his feelings slip to his parents he knew they would have him set up with her sooner than he could blink.

He removed the first of the waffles from the iron and tried to move his thoughts to something anything else, but there was something about Sophia’s image he couldn’t let go of. Molly’s voice came back into his thoughts “I think I hear your mother coming down. Do you want to prepare her coffee or should I?

I’ll grab it.” Jace replied. Pulling another set of waffles off the iron and starting another batch before he moved for the cup.

Good morning Mother,” Jace thought as he heard her foot steps in the hall. “I hope you slept well.” He turned to hand her the coffee and direct her towards the kitchen table, which was off to the side in a sunroom of sorts. The double French doors which allowed it to be closed off from the main kitchen area currently stood open, making it feel like one large room. “Breakfast will be ready in a moment if our want to have a seat.”

A faint smile crossed her lips for a millisecond, “Not as well as I would have liked” she replied as she took the coffee from Jace’s hand and headed over to the table. “When did you wake up this morning?

Around 6:30.” Jace lied. In reality he had jerked awake from a terrifying dream around five AM. A dream in which the world seemed to be collapsing in on itself, a dream that didn’t feel like it was his. It felt as though he was watching someone else’s fear. It was an odd sensation, one he had gone out to the garden to shake. The feeling was still haunting the back of his mind though, the same way Sophia’s image was still floating back there. He knew is mother would frown on him getting any less than 4 hours of sleep though. So he kept that fact to himself. “Would you like anything other than coffee to drink? Orange juice? Water?

The coffee is fine for now dear. What’s for breakfast?” His mother asked more out of a need to make polite conversation than a need for an answer to the question. The smell of the apple sauce and site of the waffle iron was more than enough of an answer.

Your favourite,” Jace replied as he peeled the last round of waffles off the iron. “I figured we could all use a pick me up after last night. I know you were hoping for a different result

Molly started pouring the sauce over the waffles. The smell of caramelized sugar, butter and apples was all but intoxicating.

Thank you dear.” Mother replied as Jace and Molly approached the table with the plates.

Will Mr. Archer be joining us this morning?” Molly asked before returning to the kitchen to clean up and put a third plate together if necessary.

The sounds of heavy footsteps coming down the hall towards the kitchen was answer enough for Molly, she hurried back to the counter top, put together another plate and poured another coffee. She set it on the table as Jace’s father took his seat. Without another word Molly returned to the kitchen closing the French doors behind her. Anyone with eyes could see that Jace’s father was less than pleased this morning, Molly was not one to be caught in the cross fire.

Good morning Father” Jace said. “I hope you slept well.

There was no reply as his father picked up his coffee cup and took a sip before starting on the waffles without a word. He did lock eyes with Jace for one terrifying moment. If looks could kill this one would have.

His father had piercing blue eyes, the kind of blue where every time you looked at them you felt as though you were about to fall into the ocean during an electric storm. The kind of eyes that you would swear could see through you right into your soul. Jace had been told many times that he had is father’s eyes, but he doubted that he could ever make anyone feel the way his father did when his gaze feel on them. Nor would he want to. In that moment Jace knew that regardless of the outcome with his mother he would be dead to his father. He had failed in his father’s eyes.

Isn’t the food lovely dear? Jace picked the apples himself this morning I bet. Didn’t you Jace?” Jace nodding, his father said nothing. At least not to Jace. Jace’s mother’s face told a different story. The link allowed for a whole new version of the silent treatment. If you didn’t want someone to hear you they never would. Based on the look on his mother’s face it was plan that Jace’s father was not happy with him. His father was most likely telling his mother about how they should disown him now so the day itself would be easier on them, on her.

After a silent exchange between the two of them Jace’s father stood up and stormed out. Leaving his Mother with eyes starting to water. Only then did Jace dare to say anything.

Mother?” he thought reaching over to touch her hand. She snatched it away.

Why do you insist on doing this to us?

If I could be happy and make you happy at the same time I could mother. But I can’t. This isn’t a world I want to live in.” Jace replied.

Tears were now following freely and silently down his mother’s face. She refused to make eye contact with him, or take the tissue he offered her. “If this is your choice, make it now. Go, tell them you are not going to make quota, don’t prolong this more than you have to. No one is forcing you to stay. If you aren’t even going to try to live in our world we don’t want you in it any longer.

Mother!” Jace replied, wounded. “I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m trying to do what’s best for the world.”

It’s not what’s best for my world” she replied. His mother stood up abruptly. “I want you gone by the end of the day. I love you, but I can’t have the heart ache of seeing you every day any longer.” She moved to leave.

“Mother wait!” Jace replied allowed, catching her arm. It pained him to see her like this. This wasn’t what he wanted. This reaction was never his intention.

“Go Jace” She replied. Allowing her voice and her sighs to become audible. “I know this is what you feel you need to do. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to let you go.” She pulled him in for one last embrace and kissed him softly on the cheek. “Remember, I will always love you. But I can’t watch them take you away, destroy your things. Leave now. Leave while it’s your choice. Take yourself from me so I don’t have to watch them take you.”

“I will mother,” Jace replied tears coming to his eyes now. “I’m sorry there wasn’t another way.”

I’m sorry too.” She returned to silence, regained her composure, shook his embrace off her and left.

Molly re-entered the room, took one look at Jace and took his mother’s place in his arms. She let Jace cry in her arms, comforting him. When his sobs started to slow “Come” Molly said, “Let me help you pack your things. You are making the right choice for you. That’s all you can do. I will take care of them for you. No harm will come to your mother. You have my word” When she spoke aloud her voice carried an Italian accent which wasn’t present in her thoughts. Though tones changed in the link depending on who was talking to you. Accents and language barriers were translated out of the conversation. Everyone was ‘unique’ but no one was different.

“You promise me that? You promise you’ll watch over them?” Jace replied.

Molly just nodded in reply, and together they headed to his bedroom to pack his things away and prepare him for the trip it would make later that day to make his choice official.


Note from the author:

Some of my friends and family have been bugging me to play with this character again, the girl who cannot die from “A Thousand Times Again.” The original short story was written back in October of 2013, so some of these people have been bugging me to pick up this character for a while now. After a person whose opinion I highly respect on this matter agreed I thought I’d give in. When I had some time this past week I went and “asked” the character if she had another story to tell. It turns out she did. And we will have to see if there are any others down the line she decides to “reveal” to me.  (Yes I am one of those writers whose creative process includes looking to the characters to reveal their story, so sue me).

Hope those of you who have been bugging me for this enjoy. Hope those of you who have just started reading my blog are also loving it.

 

The Sirens’ Roar:

She woke up to the sound of sirens.

Her head was pounding, her breath was shallow, her foot was resting on the ground behind her head.

The sirens where getting closer.

Her right arm seemed to be intact. With it she grabbed her left shoulder and popped it back into place.

Joint by joint, limb by limb she popped every body part back into place.

Crack, pop, crack.

The whole time the sirens drew nearer.

Her body throbbed as the bones started to net together and her skin closed in over the gashes the fall had created. She watched the pool of blood around her grow. Her heart was still beating and blood still flowing out of the hole in the back of her head.

Slowly the pool of blood stopped growing. She pushed herself up into a seated position.

The sirens were deafening now and the lights were visible just down the street.

She pushed herself up until she was standing.

Her spine popped back into place as she straightened herself up to walk away.

She took the first step forward and almost fell back to the ground. Her bones were still knitting together, her knees ready to give out on her.

She took another step forward. This time her step was more stable, her leg more ready to take the weight. She could feel the scabs peeling off the areas where her skin had meshed together. The bruises would be hitting their darkest blue now, but almost black.

Another step. This time stable but with the throbbing pain associated with stepping on a freshly sprained ankle. The pain radiated up her limbs.

Again a step and stab of pain.

Again…

Again…

A then it was gone. As the ambulance pulled up to the spot where she had fallen she was breaking into a run. She dodged down an alley and ran until the red tracks left behind faded and stopped entirely.

She dodged into a back alley. She took a second to listen and made sure that no one had followed her. The sirens could still be heard in the distance but she couldn’t hear any voices or footfalls. She was safe, for now.

Her breathing slowed and a dull ache returned to her body- that kind of ache you feel when you overwork a recent injury. She turned and walked gingerly down the alley. Checking the signs above the alley doors she searched for a clothing store.

The worst part of this whole thing what the way it made you appear. No one ever believed it was your own blood, after all there wouldn’t be so much as a scratch on her in a few moments, barely a bruise after a couple of hours. Near the end of the alley she came upon the kind of shop she was looking for and ducked in.

The store was closed and dark. She kept it that way. Turning on the lights would only draw unwanted attention. The clothes were the basic jeans and t-shirt, nothing flashy, nothing that would stand out.  This was exactly what she needed. She pulled down a grey tee, black hoodie, a pair of washed out jeans and some skate shoes.

She reached into the pocket of her blood-soaked jeans and pulled out her wallet and what was left of her cell phone. Leaving them on the front counter she headed to the back of the store with the new clothes to find the washroom. Closing the door to it she turned on the light and took a look at herself in the mirror.

Her hair was matted with blood.  Her forehead had a huge scratch across it which was slowly fading. Both of her eyes were black. But none of that is what drew her attention. It was her nose which she had noticed first. It was on crooked. She hated it when this happened.

She pulled out a wad of paper towel and stuffed it in her mouth, counted to three and… CRACK… her scream was muffled by the towels in her mouth.

Blood trickled out of her nose. She turned on the tap and started splashing water over her face and hair, rinsing off the blood while her nose re-healed, straight this time.

She took off her shirt and examined her upper body. Breaking and re-setting the bones which hadn’t healed properly the first time as she went, rinsing off her skin when she was done.

Tearing off her shoes and jeans she repeated the process again. Once the sticky feel of drying blood on her skin was gone she grabbed more paper towel and began drying off her skin and hair.

Why can’t I just stay dead for once? She thought to herself. When she had jumped it was out of the window of another lab. Another place looking to use her “gift” for the good of mankind.  Another cold, white, clinical, clean room where facts were all that mattered and she was nothing more or less than a puzzle to be solved. She was desperate to get out of there and not entirely sure if this lab had been one that her parents had agreed to give her to or one of the ones that the doctors had shipped her off to after the ambulance had gotten there before she came back. Right now she didn’t care.

She needed to get out of there, to get away from the needles and tissue samples. Away from the doctors, if they were even doctors. By the time she jumped she was hoping that it would be the last time she had to die. Failing that she was hoping that she would wake up before the ambulance got there. At least her later hope came true.

She stared putting the new clothes on. Tearing off the price tags as she went and stacking them on the edge of the sink. Ten dollars, thirty dollars, twenty dollars, forty dollars, money she wasn’t sure she had. But this was a necessary evil.

When she was dressed she rooted around in the cupboard over the sink. She found a hair elastic and tied her matted hair back. She took one last look at her face.

Her nose was straight. Her eyes we still bruised but better than before. It just looked like she need some sleep. She pulled up the hood up over her head, with the shadow of the hood the bruising was barely noticeable.   She grabbed the pile of clothes off the ground and pulled a kitchen sized trash bag out of the same cupboard she had found the elastic. Her clothes went inside it. The trash bag would come with her until she could find a better place to dump things.

She turned off the light and opened the bathroom door. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness of the store. When they did she made her way carefully to the front. She grabbed the shattered remains of her cell phone and threw it in the trash bag with her clothes. Then she picked up her wallet and opened it. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred, plus the handful of pre-paid credit cards her parents had given her.

The labs she was constantly sent to were similar to college dorms. They had the illusion of freedom, as long as you were willing and stayed inside their walls there was nothing you could want for. Then again, to her they had always been more like a prison in that sense.

At least she could pay for the clothing, she wouldn’t be stealing. Not really. She left the cash on the counter and headed back into the alley where she had come in.

This time she wasn’t going back to one of those labs. This time she wouldn’t make the same mistakes she had in the past. This time she would stay free.


She stood looking out at the people, wondering what made her better than any of them. What gave her the right? Why was she the only one who acted as judge, jury and executioner? Why was this role not only allowed but celebrated by the society around her?

The sun set on the day as she reflected on her sins. The blood under her fingernails started to dry as the lights in the city started to flicker on. The bruise under her ribs began to throb along with the beat of her heart-another reminder that her heart was beating while their heart was not. Or if it was, it would be assisted by machines and tubes by now. She hadn’t stuck around to hear the verdict. As always she had left to cheers when the sirens sounded in the distance. Someone else would finish cleaning up her mess. She swept the scum into tidy little piles. Someone else threw what was left of it into the trash for her. This was the way it always was; this was the way it always would be.

She could vaguely remember the day on which this had all started. Her mother sat in the arm chair by her hospital bed crying again, another treatment had failed them. Another doctor told her mother in a hushed voice that there was no hope, at this point whatever happened was the will of God, the universe or whatever higher power or fate you believed in. There was nothing else modern medicine could do. She remembered watching the tears stream down her mother’s face and being too weak to even so much as lift a hand towards her to offer her a hug. Her hair matted to her head with sweat the same way the blood now matted it.

She remembered thinking that her next breath would be her last.

She remembered dying.

But then, suddenly she was not dead, suddenly she was alive, more alive than ever before. Suddenly she could lift her hands, her head, stand, and walk for the first time in her life. Suddenly the pain was gone, not a gradual recession, just gone. She died and came back to life healthier than she had ever been since birth. She was healthier than any human on the planet ever had been.

Her mom called it a miracle and started going to church.

Her father, who had not shown his face since she was two, came back into their lives and never left her side again.

Her doctors spent well into her teenage years trying to explain it. All they could tell was that at some point her cancer mutated. Instead of her body rejecting the cells it started to accept them, incorporating them into her very being, and at some point that incorporation had made her stronger than she was before. At some point cancer won.

It killed her, or so she thought, then brought her back to live out the rest of what she came to know as a cursed life.

At first it was small things. She was able to climb a tree that a neighbourhood kid couldn’t and saved a cat. Cliché as it may be, that cat in the tree was when it had all started. She had slipped and fallen the better part of two stories on the way back down and walked away with little more than a scraped knee which healed inside a day.

Later she was at a sleepover; the kids decided to tell ghost stories by candle light, someone got scared and knocked over the candle. Before they knew what happened the family and friends had all been dragged out of the burning house by this little girl, covered in third degree burns that seemed to be healing while you watched her walk. By the time the paramedics arrived they were all but gone.

Another round of tests…

Another round of second opinions…

No one knew how, but this all seemed to be related to her childhood illness.

Then things started to get scary.

She had been run over by a car and walked away from it. Rapidly healing was one thing but surviving when she should have died, that was on a whole new level of weird. She got labeled a freak and was an outcast in her teenage years. The scariest part was that no one but her knew that she actually had died that day for a second time. She died; she just never seemed to stay dead.

A few years passed.

She moved a lot. Always to another city, another school, another second opinion.

She found her way into university and that’s when the mask came into her life.

She was walking home from a campus dance late one night and heard a scream. A girl was being mugged on the path ahead of her. She was still wearing the feathered mask her date had given her though she had changed out of the dress to walk home. She ran to help. She had shielded the girl from a stab with her body, pulled the knife out when the bandit let go and returned the favour. The other girl had pressed one of the campus panic buttons. Sirens blared and she ran, suddenly thankful for the mask.

Her description had been all over the papers the next day, some called her a hero; others labeled her a freak. The bandit had survived, though he was suffering from wounds which would have long since healed on her. Between the mask, the make-up and the darkness no one seems to recognize her from the description the other girl had given.

She decided this was a good thing.

She went to a costume store and bought a different mask, one that her date would not recognize. She bought paint at another store to change its appearance further so even the store clerk wouldn’t know it to be her.

She became the guardian of the path.

She put other bandits in hospital.

Sometimes she died, but she never stayed dead.

This was her blessing, as much as it was her curse.

As she snapped back to the present she felt the pain in her ribs start to subside and the throbbing had all but ceased. She was still standing on the roof top looking out at the city as it went to sleep.

The lights were starting to flick off in the buildings surrounding her. The windows went black, just like the eyes of all those she had killed, sometimes in the defense of the innocent, sometimes the innocent themselves. It wasn’t fair, it should never have been her call. It wasn’t right that she had ended those lives. It wasn’t right that she lived on when she should be dead one thousand times over.

She stood looking out at the people, wondering what made her better than any of them. She looked down. Watching the cars on the street go by, she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this time would be the last time. Maybe tomorrow night she wouldn’t have to relive this nightmare.

She felt her heart begin to race and focused on her breathing to slow it down.

Maybe this time things would be different.

She took one last deep breath.

Maybe this time things would be…

She jumped…

She fell…

And died again.