I walk close to skyscraper with my hand reaching to touch its surface. The feel of the slightly rough cement and then the indent indicating the next slab keep me from screaming to the crowds of people going about their seemingly regular day. It will all end, this normal, it will end - is the running mantra in my head which wants to escape to warn this world the apocalypse will happen in three calculated measured days. This wonderful world will cease to exist in this trajectory and veer dramatically and it won't happen the way fiction continually predicts with disease or a dramatic catastrophic event of either manmade or natural causes but with precision, with a plan. The work that I never imagined would come to fruition is about to be played out. The lump in my throat is still there when my brain finally comprehended what was being conveyed in this morning’s meeting. Plan 5889 with amendment Q2F will be enacted at 6 am Friday, May 29, 2144.
Amendment Q2F is mine. The seduction to work with “The Group” started nine years ago. It was a slow beautiful seduction of subtle compliments that included the means for me to obtain my degree. Then, there were the dinner parties and getaways and enticements and the magic of letting one’s imagination create a world that could be better, could be magnificent, could be a utopia. The group of minds, though, knew new and brilliance started with destruction, with an end of one way before the next way could happen. How many years had some type of utopia tried to be achieved with slow measures? With a flurry of thought in this direction, plans were computed and measured. If this than that, if that then this and then the ultimate in achievement for humankind. When the fog of seduction lifted, I scrambled to preserve a small bit of what I love about daily life. It is amendment Q2F and today, I had to play my part as were a few dozen other members of the group setting out to do the same.
I pull away from the wall and stand in the crowd to wait for the signal to cross the street. I let the conversations into my thoughts-
“No, I can’t possible do lunch until one.”
“George, stand still.”
“The McEwen Case takes precedence. Stop everything else.”
“I can’t imagine the blue in that room. I am on my way to pick up the fixture.”
“George, hold my hand.”
The only one talking directly to a human is the mother of her child. The light changes and we walk on in our group. The lump won’t leave my throat.
Four doors down is my place of respite. While sitting at the bank of seats facing the street giving one the view of feet and legs walking by is where I sat when I overheard laughter coming from the main space which is below the bank of window seats. The circle of friends always seemed to be laughing. Some of the faces changed over the weeks and months since the first time I saw them. My life is solitary passing within the walls of the group. I’m not sure when that became the case. But because of my life which was wholly that, the day I sat with them and laughed remains with me in every detail and is why I’m heading there now with lead chips.
The lead chips are tickets out of the destruction phase of the plan. They are a pass to one of nearly abandoned towns in the mountains or valleys beyond the cities.
My mother, often while standing at the sink doing dishes, would ask me, “What do you fear, Wolfeite? What are you going to overcome now?”
I never ask the question in return. My mother’s fears were never known to me. This question had become part of my life and I never question why she asked it.
Today, now, at this moment, standing in front of the house that had become too crowded with its five inhabitants, I ask myself my fear. While I’m thinking on it, I see the old woman with a new load of bags all completely filled. She is hunched over and this hunch is still present when she is not loaded down with a new load.
“What momentous thing are you going to do today, Wolfeite?”
I know the voice instantly. It is Thorite.
“Today, with this blue sky, with the dirt road in front of me, with the woman walking by with her loaded bags. I think I will seek out a house that is empty.”
“A futile task then. They are filled. You know that.”
“Indeed I do.” I walk off following the woman. It has been three months since my group of friends was herded to this village. Three months since one life ended and this new one began. This time my fear wasn’t a fear of being alone. I still feared never seeing her again but now new fears had entered me. Every morning, rising from my bed, I wondered if my knees would ache as much as they did yesterday. When planting my bare feet on the floor, I mentally took note of the degree of pain in my back.
Falling in with slow measured steps of the women, I said a quick hello to just say I was there. We continued our steps in silence.
The dirt road continued and then turned down a hill. I hadn’t been down that hill since I came to Beryl. That is the name we were told but I have never found a sign to confirm the town’s name. She continues along a rocky path that rises. There is still room for me to walk next to her and we continue.
The sun is above us and the trees no longer shade the path. Sweat drips from my hair to my neck combining with trickles running down my back. The path turns into a clearing and I see a brown porch railing. The woman walks up to the door and opens it.
“Come on. I’m in need of refreshment.” She walks into the house leaving the door open.
I’m awe struck when I walk through the door and see the view through the bank of windows. The house must sit on the edge of a cliff because I’m looking at the tops of the mountains.
“It is all yours. I fear Beryl is getting too crowding and I’m not finding much to fill my bags. I leave in the morning.”
Beryl is where I live now. I’m not sure what’s happening in the lowlands. Sometimes there are reports of descent that a few travelers report to us. At first, over a year ago, mail carriers would deliver an official envelope with information about the change that was happening. Our Mayor, Cinnabar, would read every word of the file and then put it in a public folder so we could all read it. A cheer would go up at the end when it congratulated us on our important part in the whole plan. The plan had some number to it that I have forgotten.
Thursday evening is our gathering night. I love it. When I visited, Beryl, before the plan was enacted I would stop briefly for one more use of a flush toilet and buy packaged food before heading into the wood to camp and fish. It was on my last return trip from camping that I moved to Beryl. Actually, I didn’t move here but just didn’t go home. The store clerk informed of the plan and he’d been waiting for my return. He and his wife took me in and I live in their cabin they’d built for grandchildren to stay in when they visited. They don’t know where their kids are now.
Back to Thursday night. It was mandated that each Village of Preserve (VOP) should have a social evening and keep the collective memory. Beryl’s is a party. Everyone brings food and Wolfeite created a band. Tonight, one of the best hunters has made barbecued meat. I’ve made a pig of myself. Sipping on some kind of alcohol recently brewed, I listen to the music and enjoy the evening air which has a hint of winter in it.
“Thorite, is this seat taken?” asked Niter.
“You notice the stranger?” He jerked his head to the right.
“No.” I look and can’t tell anything about the person except that the backpack was bigger than the person’s upper half.
“I think it’s a girl. Remember the last stranger told us of a woman who was rescuing people from the horrors of the lowlands? Wonder if it is her?”
“What? In Beryl? Why would such a legend be here?”
“Because that guy said that she said she was heading to VOPs. Beryl’s a VOP, remember?”
“You’re fantasizing. That guy was telling tells. His story is what people tell when they want to have some kind of hope. This is it, Niter. Enjoy this Thursday. Tomorrow there might not be one.”
Niter mumbled and took another drink. I kept looking over at her. I wondered, did she know that she is welcome to food? To drink? Did she have information about anything beyond the mountain?
Then, I watched her and her backpack titter and fall over. Wolfeite reacted faster than all of us and in two steps, he was off the stage and kneeling next to her. “Amber, Amber,” he said and touched her cheek.
A crowd formed around them. Wolfeite starting giving commands. He was that guy who always knew what to do. Amber? Was that the name the stranger said? Could Niter actually be right and this is that woman?
“Thorite, get her some food,” Wolfeite said and I saw that her eyes were open. “Everyone move back. She’s going to be ok.” He started to get her backpack off and I went for food.
I went to town yesterday to get more eggs. Amber seems to like the eggs I fix her for breakfast and today I’m making an omelet with Desmine’s goat cheese. Everyone came up to me with questions about Amber. I just kept saying, “I don’t know.”
I do know she's the one who gave me and my friends this life instead of the hell that is happening. As least, that is what has been reported to us. That hell took over the streets of the cities.
It must be hell because every time I look into Amber’s eyes all I see is nothing. There used to be light, intelligence, playfulness, knowledge and maybe a little love for me. The last desperate look and knowledge I tried to gain from looking into her eyes in the city before the end, I also saw fear with a titch of rebellion. Ha, how can one see all of that in someone else’s eyes without talking to them? Her eyes spoke to me the first time I saw them. The slight quick blink and then the direct look into my eyes wrote volumes about her, her thoughts, and her knowledge.
I want to shake her to bring something of her back to me. Here she is and nothing. I ache for some sign that she is still somewhere in there.
She is sitting and staring out the window. I bring the omelet to her.
“Good morning, Amber.” I hold the plate out to her. She takes it.
“Thank you, Wolfeite. I appreciate your kindness.” This is the exact thing she says to me no matter what I give her. I sit next to her.
“Do you like goat cheese?” I want to have some kind of conversation with her.
“Yes, this is very good.”
“Why are you here, Amber?”
I wait as she takes another bite and chews. I wonder if she counts bites because it seems to take the same amount of time for each bit. She swallows, her head turns toward me and her dead eyes stare into mine.
She looks out the window again and speaks. “I rebelled.”
I wait for more words and watch her eat. Finally, I push and hope for an answer. “How, Amber? Speak to me, please. Tell me.”
I sit through two more bites.There is not much left on the plate.
The words leave her lips slowly. “I left, after. I lit fire to our work, to the papers, and to the servers. Everywhere I went, people were…. I tried to help some. Then, I looted the pharmacy and now, I’m here.”
Amber got up and took the plate to the kitchen. She ate the last bit of omelet quickly. “Wolfeite?”
“Yes?” Before I put the ‘s’ to my one-word question, I am standing in front of her. I wanted to look into her eyes. Hoping they would convey everything she hadn’t said.
“I want to rebel more.” Her lids close slowly and open. Now, she looks at me and her eyes speak of hate and hell and fury and she lets out a breath. I glimpse determination and a little bit of love for me in her blue-green eyes.