A World Bygone
Growing up, I've always heard that we were living in the end times. That one day, something will happen that will punish everyone who deserved to be punished. At least, that's what I was told. But, does that mean everyone will be punished? Or, will some be sparred? What happens to those who were chosen to be spared? Would they die like the bad people or would they continue to live?
Or, would being able to live be the punishment?
I think about this a lot. Because, since I was born into this world of misery and death, does that mean that I'm a bad person? That I was chosen to be punished? But, why? I didn't choose to be born.
So…why am I here then?
. . .
The world just outside the thin sheet of metal seemed to be tearing itself apart. Thunder raged in the cloudy sky as rain banged the sides of the shack like a drum. Only the sounds of gunfire and the screams of her friends and neighbors broke through the static-like drone of the rain. Her brother, David, sat beside her against the metal wall. Tears slowly moving down her cheeks, clouding her already deteriorating vision. For what seemed like forever, they both sat in silence. Their minds replaying the same event that had just happened. They both could see was their dad disappearing into the sky in their minds. Seemingly sucked into the sky by a ray of blue light that hit him.
"Come on my girl. We're almost there." The last thing he said to her before the lights arrived. She couldn't remember what his voice sounded like when he said that. While she was lost in her mind, her brother gently caressed her hand. His skin was warm, unlike hers. He slightly shook her. She didn't respond in any way; only looking at the ground in front of her. He peered over the open window just above them at the different coloured lights that broke through the rainy sky above. Each ray seemed to pulse to the rhythm of the otherworld bell sound that reverberated through the sky. He tried to spot their dad through the thick fog the shrouded the world. "Maybe, it didn't really happen. Maybe, he's still there. Wondering where we are." He told himself as he wiped the tears from his eyes, trying to clear his vision as best as he can.
"Why is this happening?" She quietly said. He knelt down beside her again and gently shook her shoulder.
"Z…you okay?" He asked her. She didn't respond. He gently grabbed her cheek and turned her head to look at him. As soon as she saw his face reality had come crashing down on her. Tears had welled up in eyes as she fell into his chest, sobbing. He gently hugged her, holding back his own tears.
"Daddy…Why?" She kept repeating through her sobs. "Why? Why is this happening?"
"Be strong. Your little sister is counting on you to be strong." He heard his dad say to him. "Be strong…be strong…" He kept whispering to himself. He still couldn't believe it himself as to what just happened. All he saw was their dads face when he was hit by the light. The look of shock and fear that enveloped him, something he's never seen before. Never that much fear. Never that much shock. Never that much sadness. He kept wondering what must have gone through his mind. What he thought of as he was violently pulled from their hands.
"Z…" He wiped his eyes quickly trying to knock that thought from his mind. "We have to keep going. Mom's waiting for us." He didn't want her to see that he was crying, but the convulsions in his chest made it obvious to her.
"Daddy…you…can't be gone. David, he can't be gone…I can't…" Broken words made their way through her sobs. "I…"
"Shh. That's enough, okay." He let go of her and looked at her. "Come on, Z. We have to keep moving. Mom's just around the corner from here." He wiped her eyes. "Just don't think about it. We'll be fine. We always are, right?" He forced a smile and tried to give her a reassuring look, just how he always did. "Right?" She took a deep breath in and gently nodded her head. He let go of her and grabbed her hand, helping her up. She stumbled and winced in pain once she stood up.
"What? What is it?" He said stabilizing her.
"My foot." He looked down to see her foot slightly turned in. "It hurts." Just as he looked down a loud bang came from the shack door. Startled, they both looked up at the door seeing it shake violently. He grabbed her hand and quickly ran behind a small workbench that was on the other side of the shack. She whimpered in pain from the sudden movement.
"Sorry." He apologized when they both knelt down. While another bang came from the door, his eyes darted around the shack; looking for any type of weapon he could use to defend both of them. Spotting a shovel nestled underneath a pile of cloth, he jumped up to grab it.
"David, no!" She said reaching for his hoodie. "Don't!" She whispered. He didn't hear her. He grabbed the shovel just as the door broke down. A figure fell down along with the shabby metal door.
"Stay back! Stay the fuck back!" David yelled as he swung at the figure without thinking, landing a blow. The figure quickly rolled out of his second attack and crawled backwards holding up its hands.
"Whoa! Whoa! Stop!" The figure yelled. "Hey! Stop! I'm friendly!" David readied himself for another swing but hesitated when he heard that voice. "David?" The figure said still holding up its hands. "Stop, it's me." The figure was wearing a dark jacket with a respirator and had greying hair.
"Jesus, boy, there you are. Been looking for you." Ben said lowering his hands.
"Holy shit…Ben. I thought you were one of them." He dropped the shovel and took a deep breath in. "Didn't recognize you with the mask on." He said coughing from the air.
"Yeah…it's fine." Ben grimaced holding his arm from where David hit him.
"Sorry. I hope I didn't you too hard, old man." He grabbed Ben's arm and helped him up from the ground. He gave him a quick hug.
"Where's Ray and Zoe?" Ben said holding David by the shoulders.
"Ben?" Zoe said peering from behind the workbench.
"Oh, kiddo, there you are." He let go of David who picked up the shovel from the ground. "Been worried sick about you two." Ben said lifting Zoe up from the ground. She stumbled as she got up.
"What happened? Are you okay?" He said holding her arms.
"My foot. It hurts."
"I think she sprained it when we ran." David said grabbing her other arm.
"Can you walk?" Ben asked.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Ben, where's our mom? Did you see her?" David asked him.
"She sent me to look for you two and Ray. She's already on the boat with everyone else." He looked around the small shack. "Where's Ray? And where's you guy's masks?" They both didn't respond to his question, but the looks on both of the kids faces told him something was wrong. They both had glossy eyes and looked like they hadn't slept in weeks. At that moment, he didn't know what to do. What to think. Only just to save them. For their mother's sake at least.
"Aw, I'm sorry kids." He knelt down, just below their height. David looked away from him, wiping his nose and coughing. "But, don't worry okay?"
"Ben, can you take us to our mom? Please?" Zoe asked looking down at her feet.
"Of course." He said wiping her cheek. "But first, we need to find you two some masks."
"Ben…just please take us home…" David said. He didn't want to argue with them. He knew they were heartbroken; just from their faces he could see it. He could feel the pain in his heart to slightly, but it wasn't the time for it now.
"Ok. Zoe, honey, can you walk?"
"I can, but it hurts." She responded wiping her eyes.
"Okay." Ben said. He patted David on the shoulder. "Hey, hey. Come on, boy." He gently said to him. "We have to get you two home." With a simple nod, still looking away from Ben, David picked up the shovel from the ground while Ben picked up Zoe on his back.
"Does this hurt?" He asked her.
"No, not really."
The intense rain that fell from the lit clouds above stung their faces as they walked out into the misty air. Ben let out a small cough from the fog that made its way through his worn-out respirator. While they all walked in silence, Zoe kept glancing up the sky. Looking at all the rays of light that broke through the sea of clouds. She tried to spot something. Anything flying above. But her blurry vision made it near impossible to see anything other than the intense blues, reds, and yellows that fell from the grey blobs in the sky.
David kept wiping his eyes, trying to get the stinging out from the mist. Looking with shrewd eyes, trying to spot any movement in the mist with his shovel at the ready. The gunfire and screams they both heard before had quieted down but still sounded occasionally. In the grey veil surrounding them, he could see the flicker of fires burning in the distance. He strained his hearing, trying to hear something other than the splashing of the ocean on the Marina pier they walked on.
"Ben, what's happening?" Zoe asked, breaking the silence.
"I don't know, kiddo." He responded. "But, whatever it is, I know we'll get through it." She kept eyeing the sky, watching the rays of light dance to the rhythm of the bell that seemed to be coming from the sky itself. Looking back, she saw that the lights seemed to be concentrated only over the Marina. In the distance, where they just left, she spotted two shadows that looked like they were moving.
"Ben, what's that?" She said shaking his shoulder. Looking back, he saw two bright flashes then the shadows fell out of sight.
"Zoe, jump in my arms." He said not taking his eyes off of the shadows, nudging David in the arm. David looked back and saw more shadows seemingly appear out of the grey void in front of them. Behind them, one of the rays of lights shined where the shadows fell and lifted a faint blue glow into the sky.
"David, run." Ben said picking up Zoe in his arms. The shadows started to grow more and more opaque as they started to get closer to them. "RUN!" He yelled. Holding Zoe in his arms, Ben ran alongside David in a fast jog. He tried to not move too much as to not hurt Zoe's foot even more. As they ran, a loud screeching came from behind them. Glancing back, David saw the shadows had grown more in numbers. He saw that they ran though the few rays of light that made it to the ground unscathed. As though they didn't even know they were there.
Rounding a corner, past a small shop, David ran past Zoe and Ben. Out of the broken shop window, one of the shadows fell out in front of David. Tripping over the shadow, David fell down dropping his shovel.
"David!" Ben yelled. Another shadow crept out from the dark shop. David turned over the looked up at the menacing figure above him. Silhouetted against the bright lights above him, he couldn't make out any features of this creature other than a faint, orange glow from its eyes.
"Sinner…" It seemed to say in a garbled mess. Ben came up behind it and shoved the figure to the ground with his shoulder.
"Get up, boy!" Ben said. Quickly crawling backwards, trying to make sense of where his arms and legs are, David tried to scramble to his feet. Just as he got up the shadow that Ben shoved over started to get up to its feet. It made its garbled sound as it seemed to get up with an almost elasticity flow of movement. David quickly picked up his shovel and swung it at the figure, cutting into its side. It dropped to its knees as he ran away trying to catch up to Zoe and Ben.
Zoe was huddled up to Ben, trying her best to stay in his arms and trying to stop her already pulsating ankle from moving any more. She kept her eyes closed as she death gripped Ben's jacket collar. She kept trying to convince herself that this isn't happening. That all this wasn't real and that she was only having bad dream. But as she clutched her eyes shut and gripped Ben's shoulders a sudden thought came into her mind.
For a brief moment, but felt longer to her, she saw her dad. She suddenly remembered what had just happened before her and David made it into that shack.
"Come on my girl, we're almost there." She heard his voice clearly near her ear. As though Ben had just whispered his calming voice to her. "We will always take care of you, okay?" He continued.
"We…David…" She silently repeated to herself. She glanced behind Ben back at David. He had just started to run away from the shadow on its knees. For a brief moment, it sat still as David ran away from it. But after a moment, it got up again. Disregarding the shovel stuck in its side. Glancing back at the figure, David didn't see where he was going.
"David." Zoe repeated once again. A strange feeling started to stir in her chest. Something she hasn't felt before. For that brief second he looked away, he ran into another shadow that had seemed to appear out of thin air in front of him.
"David!" Zoe yelled this time. Ben glanced back to David at the sound of Zoe yelling. He started to wrestle with the shadow trying to break out of its grip.
"Hey! Get off him!" Zoe yelled without even realizing that she did.
"Zoe! Zoe, stop!" Ben called out to her as she broke free from his arms.
"Sinner!" The shadow growled as it started to overpower David. In desperation, David started trying to punch it in the stomach. Trying to bite at its arms. Trying to break free. But the grip that this shadow had on his arms was far too great.
"Get off!" Zoe yelled as she neared the fighting pair. "David! No!" Then time slowed to a crawl for her as she locked her gaze with his. She saw the same look in his eyes. The same look that their dad had when he was hit by the lights above.
"I'm sorry, sis." She heard him say. It was the same style of voice she had just heard a second ago in Ben's arms. As though he spoke softly into her ear.
With a banshee like squeal, the shadow jumped along with David over the edge of the Marina walkway. She jumped with outstretched arms trying to stop them from going over. But, as if fate had stopped her, she was a second late. He screamed as they both fell into the raging ocean that splashed against the walkway that they ran on.
"NO!" She heard someone else say. It sounded like the voice came from somewhere else but yet she recognized her own voice.
"NO! Shit, shit, shit!" Ben yelled as he caught up to Zoe, now laying on her stomach looking down into the raging waters beneath them. "David! Fuck! David!" He yelled once more. He couldn't hear himself yell over Zoe screaming at the waters. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, as though she was trying to part the water for David.
"David!" He called out again. He, along with the shadow that dragged him into the acidic waters, disappeared into the white waves that splashed furiously. As though he had vanished just as the shadow that took him seemed to manifest itself out of thin air. "David!?" He kept searching the waters for him, but the shadows that were already chasing them had started to catch up to them from the grey void.
She kept looking down at the waters, frozen as to what had just happened. She kept hearing his scream in her ears. But, it sounded like her screams. It can't be though. She wasn't screaming. She suddenly felt Ben trying to lift her up from the ground.
"Zoe, we have to go!" He yelled as he struggled to quickly pick her up from the wet ground. The shadows had started to grow nearer as they became opaquer. It looked like there were more of them now. "Zoe! Get up!" He aggressively yelled as he yanked her from the ground.
She didn't realize that she was resisting his pull. She watched as the spot where David had fallen in became smaller. Ben struggled with Zoe as she squirmed in his arms, trying to break free from his grip.
"We will always take care of you, okay?" Her dad said in her ear once more. She was still screaming, but the mist that surrounded them had dried out her voice quickly and soon her screams became silent, airy squeals.
She kept squirming in Ben's arms when he suddenly stopped after a moment of running. Without hesitation, she jumped out of his grasp not realizing that she did. She ran as fast as she could back to the spot where David had disappeared but the pain in her ankle came back to her once again. As soon as she put pressure on her foot, she fell to the ground hitting her head on the ground hard.
She fell on her stomach again. This time her head was turned towards the raging ocean. Her vision was blurred even more than it was when they left the shack. In the unfocused grey void that hid the rest of the Marina from her she saw slight flashes of orange lights on the water. Bobbing along with the waves that traveled in the white waters, they sparkled like the lights in the sky. Only now, she noticed that the lights were now gone. Only the white streaks of the sky above the clouds now remained.
"Goddamnit…" She heard Ben say. Low rumblings of engines accompanied the flickering lights on the water. "GODDAMNIT! NO! NO!" Ben yelled stomping his foot on the ground. She got up from the ground only a little as she wiped her eyes, trying to clear them. Vinyl finishes of large boats past by them as they faded off into the grey unknown that surrounded them. Of the four that past by them, only one had remained intact. The first three that past them had large orange fires burning in their cabins. Billowing clouds of dark smoke rose into the air as they disappeared into the void. "Fuck!" Ben yelled. She felt the side of her head where she hit the ground. She felt something moist and sticky in her already wet hair. Looking back at the shadows that were chasing them, she saw that the shadows remained. Only they stopped. They were standing there in the void. She could feel their gaze on her as she sat up.
She just sat there and watched them and listened to the world around her. The same world that seemed to be tearing itself apart just a few moments ago now stood silent. The rain that fell from the sky was gone the raging ocean beside them was now calm as can be, and the bell that echoed in the air was now gone. But, she could still hear David's screams as clear as the water that was now near them. All seemed to be peaceful now, as though someone had turned off a switch somewhere to the horrors that were happening.
While silently watching the shadows, she felt Ben pick her up from the ground back into his arms. Without a word, he carried her into an alleyway that was cut into the lines of shops that they were passing.
"Come on, Z. We have to keep moving. Mom's just around the corner from here." He wiped her eyes. "Just don't think about it. We'll be fine. We always are, right?" She remembered the reassuring smile he gave her when he wiped the tears from her cheeks. He always had a way of calming her down whenever she would get scared or worried. That's what she liked about him. Sure, being a big brother, he can sometimes be a jerk. Like taking her dolls, scaring her, bothering her while they sat down to eat with their mom and dad. But, he has his moments. Tickling her until tears came from her eyes. Telling her terrible jokes. Comforting and caring for her when mom and dad were out scavenging. He can be alright sometimes.
"Zoe…honey. I'm s-…" Ben struggled to say. He sat on his knees after he set her down behind a dumpster in the alleyway he brought them into. He was looking down at the dirty ground beneath them. "I'm sorry." He said in a broken voice. "I…I'm so sorry." He kept repeating. She only stared at him with a blank expression. She wondered why he was crying. She never saw Ben ever cry. For a moment, he sat on his knees and looked down at the ground silently sobbing. She slowly put her hand on his and kept it there. He took his hand away from her grip and undid the mask he was wearing and wiped his eyes. He looked up to her and put his mask over her and did it up on the back of her brown hair.
"Listen to me. We're going to have to leave Orion, okay?" He said as he finished doing up the mask. "It's not safe here anymore." She didn't respond. Only blinking her eyes, trying to refocus them again. But, the world around her had blurred too much for her to see clearly. She looked away from him, down the alleyway. "Zoe. Talk to me." He said.
At the end of the alley stood one of the shadows that had been chasing them. Only, with the lights gone from the sky and the heavy rain stopped, the figure stood in perfect clarity. Ben looked in the direction she was looking and saw the figure. It was a man.
He was wearing a torn T-shirt and ripped jeans with gas mask. The eyes of the gas mask were gone, exposing the orange eyes of the man. Underneath the torn clothes on his skin, large black blotches dotted all over his body. Some had streams of black liquid that left dark lines as they traveled down the man's body.
"Sinners…" The man growled as it started to walk towards Zoe and Ben. Without hesitation, Ben got up from the ground and quickly looked around for a weapon. Spotting a chunk of broken concrete on the ground, he picked it up and readied himself.
"You will not touch her." Ben said staring down the approaching man. Zoe still sat on the ground, looking up at the pair as they both charged at each other. However, just as Ben launched himself towards the man, they both slowed to a stop. Mid swing of the concrete, Ben froze in place just as the concrete touched the man's cheek. They stopped, as if frozen in time. She started to get that funny feeling in her chest once more. The same one that she felt when she saw David last. With a perplexed look, she observed the frozen pair as the world around her turned to a golden tint. She looked back down the alleyway and at the surrounding walls. They all had the same colour to them. Suddenly, her hands became warm as the feeling in her chest intensified.
"We will always take care of you, okay?" Her dad said one last time in her ear. The world around her suddenly became bright as the sun. Ben and the attacker, along with the golden world around her, suddenly became engulfed in an intense gold light.
She then heard a dull knocking from a door.
"Zoe! Time to get up!" She heard Ben's voice call out. She slowly opened her eyes. The sun beam from the morning sky was hitting her right in the eyes. She blinked once more and moved her head. Her room was blurry, just as it always was. The small storage room she claimed as a room was dark this morning. Only the small stream of light that was hitting her was the only source of light.
"Come on! You're going to be late for work, young lady!" Ben called again. She slumped her head back into her pillow and sighed. She reached over to the desk beside her bed and picked up her glasses and put them on as she yawned.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm up!" She lazily called out.
"Zoe, come on! Get up!" He called out again knocking on her door.
"Yes! I'm up, I'm up!" She yelled louder. That seemed to stop him. She sat up in her bed and scratched her head while she spit hair out of her mouth. She sat with her eyes closed, trying desperately to wake up.
"Jeez. It's no wonder I'm tired all the time. Could never get any sleep around here anymore." She mumbled to herself as she swung her legs out from her blanket.