Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 22

His presence alone set off alarm bells in her head, but as he got closer, Gwynivara could tell from his grim expression that Riley had devastating news for her. “What happened?” She almost didn’t want to know the answer. She almost turned away and covered her ears. She didn’t know how much more stress she could take right now!

Riley, clearly still harboring some adrenaline from what just happened, told her, “They were followed!”

Gwynivara understood what he said perfectly, but her mind blocked the information from getting totally comprehended. She didn’t know how to respond, but luckily, she didn’t have to since Bernadette spoke up first, “By the police?”

“Yes!” Riley confirmed. “The officers thought they were alone, but when they got into the catacombs, they heard footsteps behind them. The policeman almost paged for back up, so Max had to shoot him! I was door guard and heard the whole thing, but I didn’t know what to do except to find you immediately! Are we in trouble?”

Gwynivara rubbed her forehead and tried to think. So much information just got relayed to her, and her head was still reeling from everything else that just happened. To clarify the facts of the situation, she asked, “Is the cop dead?”

Riley answered, “He wasn’t moving when I saw him, but I didn’t check his pulse or anything, so I don’t know.”

Gwynivara darted off instantly upon hearing this. The others tried to stop her, but she ignored them as she made a beeline towards the catacombs. They knew this was a battle they were going to lose though, so they trailed behind her and kept watch. She found the policeman slumped on the floor, motionless. A number of Rebels had gathered with expressions that conveyed confusion, fear, and curiosity. Gwynivara put two fingers to his neck as she heard his radio page him, “Officer Macanta, are you still in pursuit in the graveyard?”

Gwynivara’s spirits sunk hearing that, but it ligthened a little to feel a pulse. “He’s still alive!”

Should I…?” Max timidly asked her. “I mean, should someone finish…?”

“No!” Gwynivara asserted firmly. “Absolutely not!”

But he knows about our headquarters!” John objected.

“We’re not killing him!” Gwynivara exclaimed. “The point of the Rebellion is to find a cure so we can make the world a safer place. The origin is trying to kill everyone on Earth; if we execute him, we’re no better than them! We won’t sink to their level! Get this man out of the catacombs and call for help!”

The Rebels realized she was completely right and hastily picked up the policeman. As they carried him out, the police radio dispatch paged him again, “Officer Macanta, we need you to copy!”

Most of the others seemed to think the issue was resolved until they saw Bernadette, Kierram, and Gwynivara’s faces. Bernadette stood frozen as if she had seen a ghost. Kierram began pacing and periodically cursing. Gwynivara’s head fell into her hands. It took a while to sink in, but once it did, it crushed her. Everything they worked so hard for…This was their home…was…She didn’t want to say it, saying it would make it real. She craned her head up to see the Rebels trying to figure out what was wrong, so she knew she had to steel herself up to help them. Very hollowly, she addressed the others, “We need to evacuate headquarters immediately!”

Everyone got completely shocked to hear this. Cody was the first to speak, “Why? They won’t find him here, so the problem is solved, isn’t it?”

It was hard enough to say it the first time, and Gwynivara had to muster up the strength to say it again. Before she did, Kierram stepped up and answered, “Whether or not the cop lives to tell, the police know something happened in the graveyard. They know fugitives are in the area, and it’s only a matter of time before they search the area. They’ll figure it out eventually. We can’t stay here.”

Everyone began to object, and Gwynivara totally understood why they were upset. She gave them a moment, and then she loudly told everyone, “Listen! Listen! No one wants to go. I certainly don’t. This was our home, and it hurts like hell to leave, to abandon a place that was so good to us, but we got to go. If we stay, they’ll catch us and it’ll be the end of the Rebellion. We’re still in it, the mission will still continue, just not here.”

“But,” Rebekah sobbed, “where will we go?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Gwynivara reassured her. Truthfully, she had no idea where she would hide this many people, but she was sure something would turn up.

At that moment, Bernadette made a noise of utter reluctance. “I’ll have to give her a call!”

Everyone stared at her questioningly. Gwynivara asked, “Her? Who is she?”

Kierram and Gwynivara walked up to the address Bernadette had given them and got a jolt of surprise when they saw it. They knew it would have ample enough space to house the entire Rebellion, but they weren’t prepared to see a small mansion! It was only two stories, but it spread pretty far like a giant brick. Its pastel pink color reminded them of a Barbie’s dream house, but the ivy covering the exterior, fall leaves spread across the lawn, and the short, mossy fence surrounding it gave the place an abandoned feel. A woman with dark skin, an elaborate pink sun hat, and designer clothes walked outside the house and received them, “Welcome to the Ashling Boarding House! Come on in!”

Once they were inside, the lady who greeted them took off her hat, and when Gwynivara got a better glimpse of her face, she could instantly tell that they had just met Bernadette’s mother! They looked exactly alike except for the eyes. Her mother’s eyes were shrewd-looking and gave off none of the warmth that Bernadette’s did. Gwynivara remembered that Bernadette had been so reluctant to contact her, and suddenly she got a very strange vibe from this woman as if she were putting on a show to hide something dark. She gave her a very toothy smile and extended her hand. “Agnes Ashling!”

“I’m Gwyn.” Gwynivara shook her hand and noticed how strong her grip grasped her hand.

“Kierram.” As he shook her hand, Gwynivara could tell he had the same impression of her that she got.

Since they needed her space to house the Rebels, Gwynivara wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with her, so she said graciously, “Thank you so much for letting us use your home!”

“Actually, it’s my second home,” Agnes remarked. “I bought it shortly after my husband’s death. I was so emotional that I just couldn’t be around people, too dangerous!” Kierram and Gwynviara exchanged confused glances, so Agnes clarified, “I have it too. Venenatus Sanguis, I mean.”

Whatever they had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. Kierram inquired, “No one has ever…?”

“Never!” Agnes replied. “The only ones who knew were my family. I’m usually too busy to get too emotional. Feelings have no place in the business world! But if I need a release, I come here.” She glanced at her watch and informed them, “Oh, I have another arrival. Bernadette is waiting for you upstairs. Excuse me!”

They found Bernadette rearranging a closet in a small bedroom that had two twin beds in it. Bernadette kept working, but she told Gwynivara, “I hope you don’t mind, but I started pairing people up as roommates. Figured I’d save you some time.”

“It doesn’t bother me, but I can’t speak for Riley. That’s really more of his thing!” Gwynivara kind of joked but not really.

Bernadette grinned. “There! There’s enough room for your stuff now.” She saw Gwynivara’s surprised reaction and explained, “Everyone has to share a room, and I figured it made sense to pair up the only two female officers. And this room is so small that it’ll just be us in here. Everyone else has at least four to a room thanks to all of the bunk beds already here. Apparently it really was a boarding house at one point, so we got lucky there!”

“Yeah, lucky me, a bunk bed!” Kierram commented sardonically.

“What do you care? You don’t sleep anyways!” Gwynivara teased him.

Kierram tried to hide his smile. “Touché!”

From downstairs, Agnes shouted, “Bernadette! Riley is here! He said he’s gonna take care of the rooms now!”

Bernadette completely cringed when she heard her voice, but she composed herself before she replied, “Okay, great!” She shook off her feelings as she started making her bed.

Gwynivara and Kierram were both thinking it, but Kierram was the first to ask her, “What happened between you two?”

Reluctantly, Bernadette answered, “You know how I said my dad got murdered? They questioned one of his workers that witnesses played on the scene. Daddy was a landlord, and he used to help the community by giving homeless men a place to live in exchange for handyman work. The guy who killed him was a drug addict trying to get clean, so police chalked it up to ‘That’s what crackheads do,” as if he relapsed and just went nuts. The case never went to trial ‘cause the judge claimed that they couldn’t establish a motive. Before Daddy died, he and my mom were arguing. He kept our secret, but it was getting harder to hide, especially since my mom is an emotional basket case and would sprout beasts left and right. He controlled our money to really limit how much my mom left the house. She hated that and threw a fit if he said no to her request. A week before he got shot, she had a huge blow out with him, and he threatened to send her to quarantine. She kept muttering ‘I’ve got to do something! I’ve got to do something!’ I had a real bad feeling before I went on that yacht party, her behavior was just so odd! That murderer roaming the streets right now had a motive alright, she paid him to do it! She had motive to have him killed! The police questioned her but couldn’t prove anything with her either!” She stopped to take a deep breath and collect herself. “She did it! I know she did! I hate the fact I need her help right now!”

Kierram and Gwynivara listened to the story in astonishment. Gwynivara couldn’t imagine what she went through to have her father, whom she seemed to love very much, get murdered, but to think that her mother was responsible for it must have been unbearable! Based on her first impression of Agnes, she believed Bernadette, but she didn’t express this. Unfortunately, they had nowhere else to go right now, so they would have to pretend it wasn’t true for a while. She didn’t express this though, she didn’t have to. She knew that Bernadette knew all of this. Instead, she stated, “Well, we won’t have to be here for too long. I think I know the origin’s location!”

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 20

Once again, we have gathered here to honor the fallen,” a clergyman, who stood at the head of the ceremony room, addressed the crowded room of Rebels. “Another officer has tragically lost their life in the line of duty. It is a hurt that never gets any easier, and today, we must take a moment to let our hearts bleed for him. Losing a member of our community aches as much as losing a string to our heart. Time may heal our wounds, but the scars will last forever. We will never fully heal, but we will make sure that those who sacrificed their life for this cause did not die in vain! We will not stop until we find the cure! Only then will the perished rest in peace! Today, Kennith joins the souls who also died for the mission, and his spirit will watch over us as long as we live. In a way, he never left us. Still, today we gather to say goodbye to his Earthly presence. Let us take a moment of silence for a final farewell.” Gwynivara and the others all bowed their heads, staring at the candles in their hands. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, the clergyman went on, “Thank you, Kennith, for all you’ve done for us as well as mankind. Your efforts will not get forgotten.” A tear rolled down Gwynivara’s cheeks from both the clergyman’s words and the people who gathered here for Kennith today. Kennith was no saint, but his life meant something. The clergyman concluded, “We each hold a candle symbolizing life, and we will each take turns placing them into the fireplace. Our flame may tarnish, but it then becomes part of something greater that does some good for the world. We will honor Kennith’s life in this way and pray that our own flames within stay burning brightly to carry on the wishes of the fallen.” One by one, everyone put their candles into large fireplace behind the clergyman. The combination of his words and a growing fire left everyone feeling warm.

After the service, Gwynivara sat glumly at stone table setup outside of the kitchen. She stared at the orb, wondering why it changed from glowing purple to green. Riley and Bernadette abruptly sat down at the table in front of her. She came out of her funk just as Bernadette inquired, “Any new movement?”

“The creature never seems to visit the same place twice,” Gwynivara replied. “It’s a smart strategy on their part; if it was kept in a place over and over again, eventually someone will notice. Eventually, they’ll take it to a remote location, I know they will! I highly doubt the origin will risk leaving their stronghold to go into our territory, so eventually the henchmen will go to her. I was hoping they would go there straight after the incident, but I guess I have no choice but to stay patient.”

Riley remarked, “Don’t you hate it when the enemy is smart? Though I suppose if they weren’t, we would have gotten them a long time ago!”

Gwynivara chuckled, “Yeah, that would’ve been nice!”

Cody came over carrying a map, which he plopped in front of Riley. “I looked up the addresses you gave me in the phone book. None of them popped as businesses except for one- the Addleson Apple Orchard.”

“The apple orchard?” Riley cried out.

His response peaked Cody’s interest. “Why? What does that mean?”

“Nothing. I just love that place.” Upon seeing Cody’s crestfallen expression, Riley told him, “By the way, good work!”

Overhearing the last part of the conversation, Rebekah commented, “Oh, Cody, I didn’t know you were an officer!”

Cody was about to deny it, but Riley stepped on his foot to stop him. “Oh yeah, he’s been a huge asset to our administrative efforts! Plus, he’s in charge of weapons distribution!”

“Yeah, I am,” Cody responded bashfully. “But they make my job sound way more important than it actually is!”

“But it is important!” Rebekah disagreed in a very admiring tone. “Without our weapons, we couldn’t fight back! So, how do you decide who gets what?”

Riley took the reins of the conversation and said, “Oh, I’m sure he’d love to explain it to you! Here, you two take a seat. We gotta go do the thing…!”

“Oh yes, the thing!” Bernadette played along.

“Yeah, we gotta do the thing!” Gwynivara chimed in.

The three of them got up as Cody, who now seemed pretty pleased with himself, described to Rebekah the process of renting out weapons. Riley, Bernadette, and Gwynivara got to a spot well out of their immediate eyesight, turned back, and watched the scene unfold for a moment. Both of them were smiling broadly while maintaining constant eye contact. “Aw, they’re flirting!” Riley noted delightfully. “Is it cool that I made Cody an officer so he could pick up a chick?”

Gwynivara grinned. “It’s fine. But don’t do that again!”

“Well, obviously!” Riley saw Gwynivara’s face, which portrayed some playfulness but did raise her eyebrows. “And by that I mean yes ma’am!”

Gwynivara and Bernadette giggled. Rebekah and Cody glanced in their direction, so they all scattered to pretend they weren’t staring. At the fork, Riley had gone left towards the training room while Gwynivara went right towards her room. Bernadette fell into her footfall and remarked, “They’re so cute!”

“Yeah,” Gwynivara agreed, “They both obviously like each other. It’s about time they admitted their feelings for each other and become a couple!” After she spoke, she realized that she was walking alone. When she looked back, she saw Bernadette staring hard at her, saying without words ‘Really?’ Gwynivara, now confused, asked, “What?”

Bernadette rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Seriously? That doesn’t ring a bell of truth for you?”

“Truth about what?” Gwynivara genuinely did not understand what she had been referring to.

Bernadette made a noise of slight annoyance, and then she whispered, “When are you gonna admit you have feelings for Kierram?”

Gwynivara nearly had a heart attack from the shock of her accusation. She couldn’t understand how Bernadette even came up with that theory, but the thought of it made her feel a very awkward pressure. “Ugh, I don’t feel anything for him except for a close friendship.”

Bernadette clearly didn’t believe her. “This is a little deeper than friendship. When you talk about him, you smile-.”

“I do?” Gwynivara reacted in surprise.

“Yes!” Bernadette insisted. “And you always find reasons to get close to each other.”

“Only as part of the mission! It’s important to partner up with someone you feel comfortable enough to get close to,” Gwynivara refuted.

“I think you wanna get a little closer than that!” Bernadette said slyly.

“Closer?” Gwynivara puzzled. “We were literally standing against each other! How can we get closer than…?” She caught on to what she meant mid-sentence and blushed furiously. “No! No! No! I’ve never thought about him like that!”

“Maybe you should!” Bernadette suggested. “He is pretty handsome.”

“Well, yeah…” Gwynivara felt a slight temptation to explore the idea of it, but she halted that thought immediately. “No! I’m his superior! That’s not very professional!”

Bernadette teased her, “Your knees are getting weak!”

To her horror, Bernadette was completely right, but Gwynivara would never admit it to her. Instead, she scanned the area to find an excuse to get out of this conversation. She saw the medic coming out of the first aid station with a look of disappointment and frustration. “I should go check on him.” She didn’t look back, but she knew Bernadette was smirking from satisfaction of their conversation. She dashed away before she could say anything more.

Gwynivara approached the medic and inquired, “Are you alright?”

When the medic realized who was speaking to him, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I was about to send for you. You have a difficult decision to make.”

She knew that this could mean only one thing. “No!” She ran into the first aid station to Emorick’s bedside only to see that he had lost consciousness. “No! He can’t be…!” She couldn’t finish that sentence.

“He’s not dead,” a hollow voice from behind her sounded. She turned around to see Kierram slumped in his chair and wallowing in tears. She slowly made her way over to him as he sobbed, “Not yet anyways.”

Gwynivara put a sympathetic arm on his back and pat him gently. “He could still…there’s still a chance…”

“He’s dying, you know it!” Kierram snapped a little. Gwynviara knew what kind of pai nhe was in right then, so she didn’t flinch or get offended by his temper. She continued to hold him as he wept. After a moment, Kierram lamented, “I don’t deserve any sympathy! I’m a terrible son!”

“That’s not true!” Gwynivara emphatically denied.

“I wasn’t nice to him,” Kierram went on. “I pushed him away. He wouldn’t want me here right now!” Kierram cut Gwynivara off before she could object again. “This is just like when Mom died.” Gwynivara fell silent upon hearing this. Kierram so rarely spoke about his past, so she treated this moment with reverence. “She never forgave me for following in my father’s footsteps and joining the military. She kept saying her heart couldn’t take it. Every news story about ‘Nam made her think I was hurt. Every phone call she got, she claimed she had a mini episode thinking that it was the call. I thought she was exaggerating, and she wouldn’t speak to me for years…Then one day, she had a heart attack! The doctors wouldn’t let me see her after surgery. They claim her condition was too awful for visitors, but I’m not an idiot. She told them not to let me in! I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but maybe I didn’t deserve one after all I put her through!” Gwynivara tried to refute this, but he stopped her, “You wouldn’t understand! Your parents are still alive, and you probably have a close relationship with them. If you didn’t, you would’ve mentioned it by now, I know you would!”

Kierram had just been honest with her, so it was her turn to divulge about her past. “Actually, I’ve been avoiding the subject ‘cause it’s too painful. When I first got Venenatus Sanguis, I became a fugitive. They kept sending police to my childhood home over and over and over again. They followed them everywhere- to work, to the grocery store, the post office…They were so sure I’d meet them in secret. I couldn’t let them live like that, so I wrote them a letter telling them to change their names and get out of town. I told them not to come back until they saw a headline about the cure. They listened, and I never saw them again. I have no idea what name they go by now or where they went. I’d like ot think they went to Florida ‘cause we have family there, but really, I have no clue. That’s the whole idea though, they can’t associate with a fugitive. If I had any idea where they were, I would at least check the paper everyday just to know they’re still alive. You’re lucky you got all this time with your parents! I’d give anything just to hold them one more time!”

Kierram sniffled. “I had all this time to spend with my parents and I blew it! I pushed my mom away and then I did it again to my dad. Maybe it’s just me! Maybe I’m just too messed up! Maybe I’m just too difficult to love!”

“That’s not true,” Gwynivara stated firmly. “I…” She didn’t finish her sentence because she realized what she was about to say what she just got through denying. For a second, she wondered if it was the grief talking or if she meant it. He looked at her incredulously, and her heart raced. He was in so much turmoil, and he didn’t deserve it! She admired his character- smart, incredibly brave, so thoughtful…Her instincts wanted to shower him with affection until he healed his emotional wounds, and with that, she knew that she felt more than mere friendship for him! She didn’t say a word though, she couldn’t tell if Kierram shared this sentiment or not. Tears welled up in his eyes again, and she couldn’t help herself- she pulled him in close and held him tight as he broke down.

This tender moment got interrupted when the medic walked in and gingerly brought up, “I hate to intrude, but this is important.” Both Gwynivara and Kierram turned to face him. “Emorick probably has a blood infection. His only shot would be at a hospital. So, my question is do you wanna take a chance with an emergency room or should he spend the last of his days here?” Kierram and the medic turned to Gwynivara, who was dumbstruck. She didn’t know what to do…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 13

So, what’s it gonna be?” Kennith challenged Gwynivara. Everyone turned to her and stared in expectation of a decision. She turned away from them, feeling overwhelmed. She had visions of the origin that she couldn’t explain. Their strong, able Rebel leader got brutally attacked and may not survive. She had just fought a bunch of beasts, and she didn’t realize it until then, but it had emotionally drained her. And before she could fully process any of it, she is suddenly placed in charge of everything! She had all of these thoughts swirling in her head so fast that she couldn’t think. She felt kind of short of breath and hunched over a little. At that moment, she felt a rugged yet warm hand gently pat her back. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that it was Kierram. She felt comforted knowing that she had his support. When she looked straight ahead, she saw Cody standing there looking weary and sort of scared. That prompted Gwynivara to put her feelings aside and do what was best for Cody.

She didn’t know if she would do half as well as Emorick at running the Rebellion, but she felt confident that she could form a logical explanation on what to do with Cody. She turned around to face the other officers. She didn’t have particularly favorable opinions of Kennith, but he did make some good points. Cody didn’t have Venenatus Sanguis, and staying in a community with dozens of people who do have it could put him in jeopardy. She didn’t like the idea of someone his age living on the streets, but he was young enough where he could still overcome these obstacles and have a real life. She felt sure that one day he would forget about this place and in time, this would become a strange memory. Gwynivara wondered how long it would take for him to forget…

Before she could make her decision, she heard Emorick strain in his sleep. She briefly speculated about what was going through his head right now. She didn’t know if he had a sense of his current surroundings or if his mind would go back to where it left off- fighting with that policeman on the playground. Suddenly, that triggered a new train of thought for her…These men had tried to kill Cody, and they left him as a witness. Gwynivara started to think out loud, “Eventually, the cops who tried to kill him will go after him again.” Kennith started to argue, but before he could get a word out, Gwyivara went on, “No, really! Maybe they initially left him there not thinking of him as a threat, but eventually, they’ll realize that he knows their secret. What’s to stop him from going to Chief Forsythe and telling him what they did?”

The others agreed that she had a point. One of them suggested, “Well, shouldn’t we let him do that? Chief Forsythe would shut down that operation, and the origin couldn’t use that ruse to spread the disease anymore!”

Since it had been fresh on her mind, Gwynivara kept thinking about Cody’s memory, which made her conclude, “Eventually, those men will catch up with Cody and ask what he did with Emorick’s body after they fled the scene ‘cause they’ll check hospital records and see that no one checked him in. At that point, they’ll figure out that Cody took him to a hideout. They could torture him and force the information out of him. As long as he’s alive, he has something they want. Once they get it, they’ll kill him. Or they’ll torture him to death for not telling them what they wanna know. Either way, both his life and ours are in danger if we have him go. Cody knows too much about the Rebellion, so he needs to stay.”

Most of the officers didn’t like the idea of Cody living in the Rebel headquarters, but they knew that Gwynivara was absolutely right, so they accepted this inevitability. One officer remarked, “I don’t even what rooms are available right now! Has anyone cleaned out Blake’s room?”

Gwynivara suggested, “He could sleep in Emorick’s room for now.”

Everyone looked at her quizzically. Another officer reacted, “But, I thought since you’re in charge that you…”

Gwynivara felt uneasy about taking Emorick’s room. She had come to terms with her leadership position, but she felt like she was merely babysitting the role. Once Emorick got better, she would happily relinquish control back to him. Moving into his room would feel like they officially gave up hope. Gwynivara felt like her sentiments would be viewed as impractical and dreaded the idea of getting argued into it. Fortunately, before she could speak, Kierram rang in, “It doesn’t make sense for her to move into my father’s room and then move back to her old room when he gets better!”

Kennith pointed out, “If we move Cody in there and Emorick gets better, we’ll have to move him out of there too.”

Bernadette conjectured, “In an emergency, Cody doesn’t have the ability to conjure anything like we do, but he is obviously decent with weapons. So, it would make sense to give him easy access to the armory.”

“You wanna put a kid in charge of the entire weapon supply?” Kennith responded skeptically.

Another officer sided with Bernadette, “He’s unbiased. He’d be fair and honest with who gives weapons to.”

“I agree,” Gwynviara piped in. “He can stay in there for now. I’m not about to move anywhere this late in the night!” She could tell she had made her point to them, but soon after she noticed the crowd still gathered in front of the first aid station, so she told the officers, “Everyone’s worried sick right now, but we can’t have the whole Rebellion get into a state of disfunction. Let’s get everyone to their rooms and then go to bed. Tomorrow is business as usual. No mater what happens, we must make sure the mission continues.”

All of the officers, even Kennith, concurred with Gwynivara. Everyone except for Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette went to address the other members and began to persuade them to maintain a normal schedule during this crisis. The other three agreed to set the example for the group and headed to their rooms with Cody. As they walked down the still empty halls, Gwynivara glanced over at Kierram. His eyes still looked haunted by his dad’s unknown fate, but he seemed a little more subdued than before. She asked him, “How you doin’?”

Kierram wistfully answered, “I just can’t ‘til this is over! Then Dad and I can go back to bickering with each other.” Gwynivara snickered, and then Kierram continued, “Part of me thinks I need to be there and just watch him, like by never taking my eyes off him that he’ll stay exactly as he is. Like, if I take my eyes off him, he’ll…” He cleared his throat, unable to think of his father’s possible demise. “But I know when Dad wakes up and sees me there, he’ll be mad. He wouldn’t want me to waste my time worrying. So, I’m gonna do what I can to take care of the Rebellion for him.” He paused, and then he inquired, “How are you doing?”

They had gotten to their rooms, but Bernadette took the reins of showing Cody where he’d be staying in order for them to finish their conversation. Gwynivara knew that she could trust him, so she replied honestly, “I’m terrified; terrified that your dad is in the state he’s in, but taking over his responsibilities is equally terrifying! But there’s a consistent schedule we all follow, so really, I just have to make sure everyone follows it, right? Piece of cake! And it’s only a few hours ‘til he gets better, right?”

Neither of them said it aloud, but both of them had a feeling it wasn’t going to be that easy. Kierram simply told her, “You’re gonna be fine! I mean, you’re doing good so far!”

Gwynivara smiled. “Thanks!” For a moment, neither of them spoke, but they could both sense that each others’ emotions were running high. After a while, Gwynivara sighed, “I guess I better go inside. I definitely gotta set the right example.”

“Yeah,” Kierram responded sympathetically. “If you need anything though, you know I don’t sleep really anyway. So, feel free to bug me.”

Gwynivara laughed, “Oh, I have permission now?”

Her joke managed to crack a smile out of him. “See you in the morning, Captain!”

“Don’t call me that!” Gwynivara called after him as he opened bedroom door. He gave her a small grin before shutting the door gently. Gwynivara’s heart fluttered thinking that she had successfully helped someone feel better. It was a very satisfying feeling.

She shut her bedroom door behind her and sat down on her bed. After everything that happened and everything she was set to face, she knew there was no way she was going to get any sleep. She laid down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling, her eyes staying wide awake. She kept telling herself that everything would be fine, that everyone knew their duties and that she shouldn’t have any problems. Her nerves were still jangled and she tried to convince herself that any notion indicating that something would go wrong was simply from that. Nothing could quell her nervousness, so she kept her focus on planning out tomorrow. She had no choice but to ignore her ill feelings and hope for the best.

The next morning, Gwynivara ate her breakfast in the kitchen. She had instructed the medics to come find her immediately when Emorick’s condition had changed. She truly had hoped that as soon as she left that a medic would tap her shoulders and tell her that he woke up, so when she got a tap on her shoulder at that moment, excitement flooded through her veins. She turned around, and disappointment crushed her optimism. Although she adored Riley, she doubted that he had any news that she had been wishing for. “Oh…hey Riley! What’s going on?”

Riley seemed to have understood her emotional reaction and didn’t comment on it. “Hey Gwyn. I was just wondering if I could go patrolling for a recruitment mission. I can’t stop thinking about last night, and I think it would help to get out and do something productive to keep my mind of of…”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead,” she authorized him. Riley thanked her and left. After he was gone, Gwynivara knew it was time to face the fact that she would have to run the Rebellion today, at least for a little while. She really hoped that Emorick would interrupt and take over! Gwynivara quickly finished her coffee and headed to the training auditorium.

When she arrived, she expected to walk in on the officers sparring with their practice weapons, but instead, everyone sat on the floor with glum faces. One officer croaked, “Any news?”

Trying to maintain a cheery tone, Gwynivara replied, “Not yet.” Everyone’s hopes seemed to have been dashed, and Gwynivara knew that she couldn’t let it escalate further. She clapped her hands once, and it snapped everyone into attention. “We can’t let ourselves get to the point where we create a bunch of beasts again! We have to focus on the mission!” They all agreed with her and were ready to comply. After thinking about it all night, Gwynivara had come up with a simple plan for today. “None of us got much sleep last night, so there’s no use in trying to learn something new. Let’s just focus on fine tuning what we already know. We’ll start with swordplay. Everyone partner up!”

Everyone obeyed and put full effort into practice, but no one really chatted with each other like usual. The room was pretty quiet through the whole session. Gwynivara hoped some good news would come their way so that the officers would get their motivation back. After a few hours, Gwynivara started to get hungry, so she addressed everyone, “Good job guys! Let’s take a break and get some lunch!”

They all agreed and started to head for the door. Before they could though, Riley burst in. His presence in the training room was odd enough in itself, but at that moment, he gave off a very panicked vibe. Gwynivara noticed his clothes and hair were dissheveled, and he was short of breath. Before anyone could ask, he spouted, “We have to go help! They’re gonna kill them all!”

Heaven’s Headquarters

“How did I get here?” Ethan, a man with silky brown hair, green eyes, and a slim physique, realized he fell asleep on an elevator. He doesn’t recognize this elevator, which has ornate, gilded walls, and he’s mystified as to how he ended up inside. Last thing he remembered, he was walking down the street. He suddenly realized that the elevator had no buttons! The elevator kept going up, and Ethan had no idea where he was going, so he started to worry. Suddenly, the elevator stopped and the elevator doors opened. Ethan stepped out cautiously.

Ethan walked into a reception area and looked around to figure out where he was. The walls and floors were cloudy white. There wasn’t much else there except a lot of doors and a pearly, circular desk at the center. A perky, blonde secretary popped up behind the desk and watched Ethan. Ethan, not knowing what else to do, went up to the secretary, who had a name plate that read: Hailey. Before Ethan could ask her anything, Hailey chirped, “Welcome to Heaven’s Headquarters! Please fill out these forms.” She slid a white clipboard with a couple of crisp papers on it to to him.

Ethan felt totally confused. He had no clue where he was, and yet this woman seemed to have been expecting him. “Forms?

Hailey simply explained, “Yes, to show us what would make your eternity the ideal level of blissfulness.”

Ethan started to think that he either got too drunk at dinner or else someone had slipped something into his drink. Either way, he thought that maybe he had blacked out and had booked some spa getaway in his haze. That didn’t seem like a smart idea, so he tried to clear this up with Hailey, “Look, I’m not sure how I got here, but I gotta leave. I got work in the morning, so-.”

Hailey interrupted him, “Work? No, you don’t work in Heaven. It’s your time to relax.”

Ethan got a little annoyed by this. He knew that companies often had their secretaries try to save their sales, but she didn’t seem to get it, he really didn’t have time for this. “Relax? I got a big presentation in the morning. So, can you-?”

“Listen,” Hailey looked him square in the eyes and talked in a very serious tone at this point. “you’re not going back to work. Or your home or anywhere else. You’re dead.”

Whatever response he had expected to hear from her, it wasn’t that! The ease he felt from what he thought was a logical conclusion to this situation had vanished, and if he hadn’t booked a luxurious hotel in a drunken haze, then he didn’t know what else would bring him here. The fact that she mentioned that he was dead now sent him to a panic. “Is that a threat? Are you holding me hostage?”

“Oh boy!” Hailey sighed. She coolly hit a pager button on her office phone and spoke into it, “Peter, can you come to the Pearly Gates please?”

A handsome man with a nice suit and a clipboard in his arm appeared next to Hailey instantly. Ethan had to blink. He couldn’t explain how the man, who he could only assume was Peter, could appear from nowhere unless it was some kind of theatrical ruse to scare and confuse him. Peter glanced at Ethan and then regarded Hailey, “Who’s this? Let’s see…ah, Ethan Miller. I told you already that he is most definitely welcome here!”

Hailey calmly revealed, “I know, but he hasn’t accepted.”

Ethan, in addition to feeling a little scared, grew frustrated by the lack of answers. He had a right to know what was happening! He spouted, “Who are you?”

Peter smiled gently and introduced himself, “On Earth, I’m known as Saint Peter.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. He didn’t believe that was his real identity, and he resented the task he now had of figuring out who these people were. He remarked to Peter, “Saint Peter, huh? What are you guys, the mob or something?”

“Wow!: Peter seemed bewildered by Ethan’s response, but he kept his composure. “You weren’t kidding about this man! Better send him to the Big Guy.”

“Who? Where are you taking me?” Ethan decided he wasn’t going to let them take him anywhere and prepared to put up a fight.

Peter snapped his fingers, and Ethan instantly disappeared! Ethan reappeared in a huge office. It seemed to be empty except for the same cloudy walls and floors and a big, wooden desk with a computer on it. Whoever “the Big Guy” was, he wasn’t in the office right now. Ethan looked all around him in utter confusion “Okay, what the hell just happened?”

At that moment, a very tall, clean shaven man with gray hair and a light gray suit walked into the room. The man reproached him gently, “Sir, we don’t swear here.” Ethan jumped at his sudden approach. The man kindly instructed, “Go ahead and have a seat.”

A cushy chair appeared before the desk right behind where Ethan stood. He reluctantly took a seat. He needed answers, and he figured that they must lie with this man. “You’re the “Big Guy?”

The man replied, “I’m known by many names. A higher power, Nirvana, Inner Peace, Mother Earth (somehow)…but you probably refer to me as God.”

“Oh, you’re God? Yeah right!” Ethan wondered what was wrong with these people. They were either giving him their nicknames or else he had come across a very delusional cult.

The man seemed unruffled by Ethan’s disposition. He probed, “What makes you doubt me?”

Ethan couldn’t believe that this guy had really believed that he was God! He had to put him in his place, “God isn’t some businessman! He has a really long beard and a robe…”

The Big Guy chuckled, “You mean like this?” He snapped his fingers and, to Ethan’s astonishment, hechanged into Ethan’s description of God. “Yes, this look was all the rage when the Bible was written, but we’ve made some updates since then.” The Big Guy snapped his fingers again and changed back into the outfit he previously wore.

Ethan still didn’t totally accept their claims that he had died or that he was speaking to God, and he didn’t want to feed into that delusion. He had to try to get home. “Look, I don’t wanna be here, in ‘Heaven,’ I want to-!”

“No?” the Big Guy remarked. “Would you rather be in Hell? It’s not as fun as rock stars make it seem. Here, have a look.”

The Big Guy turned his computer monitor around to face Ethan. An automated voice greeted him, “Welcome to Hell Dot Com! I’m Jaime, your virtual host. Let me give you a tour!” The screen changed into a red office with a blonde man in a pepper-gray business suit sitting at a dark, wooden desk. “This is Lucifer’s Chamber! He decides how cruel of an eternal punishment a sinner gets.” The screen changed into a room with some fiendish monsters standing in front of some sharp rocks. The monsters smile and wave to the camera. “This is the physical pain and torture chamber where sinners go to receive a Hell of a lot of, well, pain and torture.” The screen changed to a completely empty room with a small green couch and a wide screen television “This is the viewing room where sinners are forced to watch their worst nightmares over and over again.” The screen changed to small, run down town. “This is Sinners’ Living, the living quarters of sinners. Their homes turn into whatever they would consider the most unbearable living conditions.” The screen changed to a door with the number 666 on it. “This is Area Six Six Six, where the most evil sinners go. It is so gruesome that we cannot display it on the web.” The screen changed to a room full of what looks like operators and telemarketers. “This is the communications room where our “devils” tempt ordinary people to commit a sin.” The screen changed to a picture of an empty reception desk. “That ends our tour of Hell Dot Com. We are currently seeking a Hell Secretary if you’re interested. See you in Hell!”

The Big Guy turned the computer off and swiveled it back so it faced him. Ethan now felt very much perplexed. Ethan supposed that the Big Guy thought that this presentation would convince him that he had died, but he wasn’t buying it! “I can’t be dead! The world couldn’t go on without me!”

“You don’t think so?” The Big Guy reacted. “Well, I can show you that’s not true either. Oh Joseph!” He pushed a button on his phone to summon him. A young man with a gray suit and a white tie, black hair, muscular build entered and looked to the Big Guy to await his instructions. The Big Guy directed Joseph, “Show Ethan his world without him. I gotta go. I’m helping my son throw a party tonight! Hope to see you there!” The Big Guy winked and disappeared.

Joseph grumbled, “Thanks a lot, now I’m going to miss that party!”

Ethan could care less about this man’s desire to go to some party. He didn’t know what they wanted with him, but it seemed like he had no choice but to play their game. He scoffed, “So, who are you? Saint Joseph?”

Joseph forgot about the party and pleasantly answered Ethan, “No! My name is Joseph Love. I was a soldier in the Revolutionary War.”

Whether it was real or not, Ethan grew curious about Joseph’s back story. “Oh, you got killed in battle?”

Joseph told him, “No, after we won, my friends and I had a party and I died there.”

“How’d you die?” Ethan asked him.

“I don’t know.” Joseph shrugged.

This notion triggered a thought, and again, whether it was true or not, Ethan was owed an explanation. “Wait a minute, how’d I die?”

“No one in Heaven is supposed to know,” Joseph educated him. “If they think about their death, they’ll never stop dwelling on it. Though the last thing I remember is swimming, so I think I drowned. But who knows! Anyways, you think the world can’t survive without you, huh? Who depended on you?”

Right away, Ethan came up with, “My fiancee, Diana Shaw. She’s in love with me, so there’s no way she’ll survive without me!

Joseph’s mouth twitched, but he hid his grin. “Is that right?” He snapped his fingers, and they both disappeared.

Ethan and Joseph reappear in a gourmet restaurant that is mostly full of delighted patrons. With all of these magical entrances and exits, Ethan now thought he was in a dream or having some kind of coma vision, so he decided to stop fighting the acceptance of whether or not this was real and just rolled with it. The only way he was going to get through this was to show these people that he told the truth about the world needing him to stay around. He inquired, “Can anyone see me?”

“Nope,” Joseph answered. “Where’s Diana?”

Ethan scanned the restaurant and sees her at a table. His heart fluttered when he gazed at her beauty. She was unlike anyone he had ever met before. Her strawberry blonde hair was done up in a bun and she wore a chic red dress, which made her look even more devestatingly beautiful. For a moment, Ethan wondered what she had been doing there. It took him a while to see that Diana was sitting with a very handsome man that he could only hope was a new boss. If he wasn’t invisible to them, Ethan would have confronted the man. All he could do was stand next to her, listening to her dialogue. Diana confessed, “This the first date I’ve been on since my fiancee died three months ago.”

Ethan stared at Joseph questioningly. “Three months?”

Joseph apologized, “Sorry, Heaven doesn’t have a real concept of time.”

The man admitted to Diana, “I have to confess when I befriended you at work, I always hoped that you would break up with your fiancee. I mean, he’s the greatest guy I know, but I had such a crush on you for a long time! I only hope that I can give you as much happiness as Ethan did.”

“I think you will.” Diana told him. “I have to make another confession. I loved Ethan with all my heart, but ever since I met you, my heart was torn between two men. I know that he would’ve wanted me to move on and be happy.” Ethan wished she could have seen the cross look on his face! She went on, “I could really see myself have a future with you. I think I could be falling for you!”

The man beamed upon hearing this, but he still felt like he needed to ask, “Are you afraid of moving too fast?”

“Ethan will always be a part of my past, but you are my future!” She reached across the table and stroked his hand, smiling lovingly at this man. He held her hand and returned her sentiment.

Ethan blew up, “That bastard! This whole time he was trying to steal my woman! I’ll kill him!” Ethan tried to strangle Frank, but his hands went right through him.

Joseph stood next to him and reported, “A few things. First of all, remember you’re not supposed to swear. Second, you’re invisible, so he can’t see or feel you. And lastly, I doubt the Big Guy will let you into Heaven if you actually did kill someone. I know you’re hurting, so I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see that.”

Ethan still looked frustrated, but he knew that Joseph was right. He sighed, and then he remembered why he was there. “Okay, so maybe she’s move on, but my parents will be devastated!”

Joseph didn’t seemed convinced. “If you say so.” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared from the restaurant.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in his parents’ living room, a very neat and clean space with a lot of comfortable furniture. Mrs. Miller was knitting on her flowery couch with her orange cat curled up beside her and a faint smile on her face. Mr. Miller entered the front door with a broad grin. He announced, “Good news, honey! I got a huge promotion!”

“Oh really?” Mrs. Miller reacted merrily. “That’s wonderful! What’s your new position?”

Mr. Miller proudly told her, “You’re looking at the new manager of the Animal Buffet Pet Food factory!”

“Manager? Oh honey!” Mrs. Miller got up and gave her husband a huge hug. “Ethan would be so proud of you!”

Mr. Miller agreed, “Before he died, he kept trying to get me quit drinking and work harder. If only he could see his old man now! Now we can stop using his inheritance he left us to pay bills and really treat ourselves! Maybe we can visit Cally in France!”

“That would be wonderful!: Mrs. Miller rejoiced. “And instead of selling these blankets to supplement, our income, I’ll give it charity! Oh, I’m so glad we’re going to be alright! I dreaded what life would be like without him, and I’ll always miss my baby boy, but I’m so glad we will be okay without him! He is probably looking at us now, smiling.”

Ethan was frowning. “Now they don’t need me? They even said it! Ugh! My fiancee has moved on, and my parents are happier than ever with me being gone!”

Mr. Miller suggested, “Let’s go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate!”

Mrs. Miller reacted, “Wow, this will be the first time we’ve really dined out since Ethan died six months ago!”

Ethan turned to Joseph, “So, every time you snap your fingers, it’s been three months on Earth?”

“I guess,” he replied. Then he addressed Ethan seriously, “So, your fiancee and your parents can live without you. Are you ready to admit that the world doesn’t need you to go back?”

“No!” Ethan denied it. “My sister must need me! We were best friends-how could she live without me?”

Joseph laughed, “Let’s find out together, shall we?” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared.

Joseph and Ethan appear at the end of a lecture in a large university classroom, and the professor spoke entirely in French. Joseph told Ethan, “Hold on, I can get subtitles.”

Ethan seemed a little relieved, but his mind was elsewhere. “Cally went to another country to study? She probably had trouble making friends so wanted to get a fresh start in France. She was really shy, I was trying to help her with that. She must be so lonely and miserable here!”

Joseph smirked. “Sorry to disappoint you, but she doesn’t look so sad.”

They found Cally pretty easily. She looked a lot like Ethan except she had golden brown eyes and curvy, womanly figure. She listened to the lecture with a lot of interest. After the lecture concluded, Cally gathered her things and walked out of the classroom alone. Ethan pointed out, “See, alone and miserable!”

Cally soon got joined by a handsome young, handsome blonde French man. “Bonjour Cally!” His subtitles read, “Hello Cally!”

Cally smiled big and greeted him, “Salut Jean! Ça va?” Her subtitles read, “Hey Jean! What’s up?”

The young man replied, “Oui, ça va. Et toi?” His subtitles read, “I’m good. How are you?”

Cally replied, “Oui, ça va. Où est-ce que tu vas?” Her subtitles read, “Yes, I’m good. Where are you off to?”

He shrugged, “Chez moi.” His subtitles read, “My house.”

Cally invited, “Je vais aller au café. Tu veux venir avec moi?” Her subtitles read, “I’m going to a cafe. Do you want to go with me?”

He emphatically replied, “Mais oui!” His subtitles read, “Yes, of course!”

As the young man and Cally leave the class together, Joseph pointed out to Ethan, “She asked a guy out. Sounds like she got out of her shyness!”

Ethan was flabbergasted by this development, but he wouldn’t admit defeat. “Hold on. Let’s see how well she does on this supposed date.”

They followed Cally and her date to a small bistro down the street from the college. The young man and Cally sat outside and studied a menu. Joseph sat down and lounged casually but Ethan watched them anxiously. Her date asked, “Qu’est-ce que tu veux manger?” His subtitles read, “What do you want to eat?”

Cally decided, “Un croissant et des thé.” Her subtitles read, “A croissant and some tea.”

The man laughed, “C’est toût?” His subtitles read, “That’s all?”

Cally replied, “Oui. Qu’est-ce que tu vas manger?” Her subtitles read, “Yes. What are you

going to eat?”

He told her, “Je pense que je vais manger un sandwich et un chocolât.” His subtitles read, “I think I’m going to eat a sandwich and some hot chocolate.” He motioned to the waiter. “S’il vous plaît, Monsieur!” His subtitles read: “Please, sir!”

The waiter promptly came to their table and asked, “Vous desirèz?” His subtitles read, “What would you like?”

As Jean repeated their food choices they just made, Joseph nudged Ethan. Ethan responded, “What? I’m trying to read!”

With a hint of mischievousness, he replied, “Just checking on you.” Ethan groaned and returned to reading their subtitles.

The waiter brought Cally and Jean their food, and as they happily munched, Cally inquired, “Qu’est-ce que tu faire avec ton vie?” Her subtitles read, “What do you want to do with your life?”

Her date answered, “Je suis acteur.” His subtitles read, “I’m an actor.”

Cally replied honestly, “Ah bon? C’est cool.” Her subtitles read, “Oh really? That’s cool.”

The young man asked, “Et toi?” His subtitles read, “And you?”

Cally told him, “Je veux être employée de bureau. C’est quoi mon frère a fait.” Her subtitles read, “I want to be an office worker. It’s what my brother did.”

He responded, “Qu’est-ce qu’il fait maintenant?” His subtitles read, “What does he do now?”

Cally revealed, “Il est mort.” Her subtitles read, “He is dead.”

Her date said sadly, “Je suis très desolé!” His subtitles read, “I’m so sorry!”

Cally didn’t seem upset by this. “Ne suis pas. C’est parce que de lui je suis ici.” Her subtitles read, “Not me. It’s because of him I’m here.” She paused for a moment, and then she confessed, “J’aime toi beaucoup!” Her subtitles read, “I like you a lot!”

This made the young man smile broadly. “J’aime toi aussi. Est-ce que tu es ma copine?” His subtitles read, “I like you too. Will you be my girlfriend?”

Cally gushed, “Oui, bien sûr!” Her subtitles read, “Yes, of course! Cally stood up and leaned close to her date, giving him a kiss. He gladly kissed her back.

Ethan was furious, and Joseph rubbed it in, “Wow, not only is she not shy, but she’s gutsy! She made the first move!”

“She’s using my death as a way to pick up men!” Ethan scathed. “Well, I guess she’s okay with my death too!”

“Ready to give up yet?” Joseph grinned and stared expectantly.

Ethan retorted, “No! Let’s go to my old work. They’ll miss me for sure! I just hope they didn’t move the company to somewhere that requires more subtitles!” Slightly disappointed, Joseph dully snaps his fingers, and they disappeared again.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in a row of cubicles, and it was apparent that the office was in the middle of a huge party. People were dancing, drinking cocktails, laughing, and conversing animatedly. They wore much more formal attire than usual with the exception of nametag stickers. Joseph remarked, “Sure doesn’t look like they’re depressed!”

Ethan’s face fell. “We’ve never had an office party before! What’s going on?”

At that moment, the best dressed man there, Gregory, turned off the music. Everyone paid attention as he prepared to speak. “I just wanted to take a moment to remind you all why we’re here and we’re celebrating today. Exactly one year ago we lost a brave hero. Ethan Miller died tragically. He was certainly an asset in his life, but he proves to be an even greater influence through his death. His actions have inspired us to be the company we are today. Profits have soared higher than ever, thanksto his philosophy! So, let’s all have a toast!” He raised a champagne glass over his head. “To Ethan!”

The rest of the office raised their drinks and toasted, “To Ethan!” Gregory turned on the music back on, and everyone resumed the party. Ethan told Joseph, “Don’t even ask. I’m not ready yet. Just because the company doesn’t miss me and is more profitable than ever since I died doesn’t mean my coworkers don’t miss me.” Joseph looked skeptical but said nothing. He let Ethan listen to his coworkers chat.

A man named John commented, “I hope this party makes Ethan proud!”

“You know it does!” Gabriel replied.

A younger man named Paul inquired, “Didn’t I replace him?”

“You didn’t replace him. No one could replace what he did,” a woman named Esther put in. For a moment, Ethan got his hopes up, but then she went on, “ But essentially you took over his duties when he was gone.”

Gabriel told Paul, “You were the only one that was not intimidated by taking his old cubicle. No one thought they could fill his shoes. Lucky you did! The company is doing so well now!”

“Thanks guys!” Paul swelled with pride upon hearing this. “Hey, John! Isn’t that the girl you like over there?”

John noticeably blushed, “No!”

“Yes it is!” Esther almost shrieked with delight. “Look at Sarah standing by herself. Go ask her to dance!”

“Oh, I couldn’t!” John dismissed the idea passively. Everyone could tell he really wanted to go for it.

Gabriel urged John, “Do it dude! Or someone else will!” Although he didn’t want Gabriel to flirt with Sarah, he was still really nervous. The others kept encouraging John to go ask Sarah to dance. He hesitated, but eventually they convinced him to go for it. They watched him from a distance. When she said yes, and they all cheered. As John danced with Sarah, the group changed subjects and talked about their favorite cocktails.

Ethan looked absolutely crestfallen. Joseph put his arm around either and leveled with him, “Your fiancee moved on. Your parents are doing well. Your sister turned out fine. Your coworkers are flourishing. Is there anyone else you want to see, or can we finally go back to Heaven’s Headquarters?”

Ethan inwardly knew that he was losing this argument, but he refused to believe the whole world had moved on without him. He didn’t want to die, so he decided to fight for his life. “I’m not a quitter! Someone in this town must miss me!” Joseph groaned but snapped his fingers to take them away anyways.

Joseph and Ethan popped inside a pub where they see a group of Ethan’s friends toasting to a victory with cocktails. Ethan folded his arms in annoyance. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared.

Ethan stood outside in his old neighborhood. He noted, “I see someone bought my house!” He watched a mother load her infant into a car in the driveway where he used to live. The mother waved hello to the across the street neighbor, who was dressed in a suit and obviously leaving for work. One of his next door neighbors was working on a garden while the other watered his lawn. Ethan walked down the street and saw everyone getting ready for their day. They all seemed so untroubled, which made Ethan pout. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared again.

Next, Ethan and Joseph watched his dentist smiling while working on a patient. Joseph shook his head and snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

After that, Ethan walked down a street that was full of shops and restaurants, listening to several conversations. When he realized no one was talking about him and everyone seemed to be in a pleasant mood, Ethan shook his head despondently. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

Ethan then watched as travelers at the airport. People went to baggage claim, headed towards their gates, got food and drinks at a nearby coffee stand, and waited for their friends and loved ones on vacant seats. He desperately listened, truly hoping to hear one person mention him. Finally, one traveler asked another, “Did you hear about Ethan?” Ethan looks hopeful. When the traveler said he hadn’t, the first traveler revealed, “He’s directing a new movie in L.A.” Ethan was heartbroken to hear this. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

This time, Ethan watched as the mayor gave a speech about public safety. The crowd appeared enthused. Joseph looked at Ethan, who is walked away from the scene with his head down. Joseph quickly followed him.

Joseph caught up with Ethan at a graveyard and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Sniffling a little, Ethan admitted, “I get it. I guess no one misses me.”

“That’s not true!” Joseph disputed.

Before Joseph could say more, Ethan ranted, “Clearly the world is better off with me not in it!”

“Don’t say that!” Joseph reacted with complete sympathy but genuinely disagreed with him.

Ethan argued, “It’s true! If it’s not true, then you wouldn’t have shown me all this!”

Joseph assured him, “You were missed! But you needed to die! I can’t tell you why!”

Ethan didn’t believe him. “Whatever. Maybe Heaven can cheer me up.”

Joseph gently asked, “You ready to go?”

“Can I have a minute?” Ethan requested.

“Of course,” Joseph relented. A cell phone in Joseph’s pocket rang, and Joseph exclaimed, “Hey, it’s J.C.!”

“Who?” Ethan’s curiosity perked up even though he was severely depressed.

“The Big Guy’s son.” Joseph answered the call. “Hey!” He paused while J.C. spoke, and then he reported, “Yes, we’re almost done. How’s the party? George Washington did what?” As Joseph talked on the phone, Ethan gazed forlornly at the graveyard. Suddenly, something caught his eye. He can’t explain why, but he was compelled to look at a statue with a huge angel on it. He ran over to it. Joseph kept chatting, not noticing that Ethan was reading the epitaph on the grave he was drawn to. “Sounds like a great party!” He paused again when J.C. asked him something. “Yeah. I’m watching Ethan! What do you mean, where is he? He’s in the graveyard and…oh shi-! Shoot!”

It was too late. Ethan read, “Here lies Ethan Jacob Miller, who sacrificed his body to save his sister’s life. Even in death, he encourages his loved ones to live life to the fullest. God rest this brave soul!” Ethan closes his eyes, remembering.

His memory flash-backed to Cally and Ethan coming out of a restaurant, laughing and conversing pleasantly. As they strolled down the street, a man came up from behind them with a gun and pushed them into a nearby alley. Ethan and Cally are pushed to the ground by the gunman. They stand up and face him. The gunman growled, “Hand over all your money!” Ethan handed over his wallet, but Cally did not move The gun man ordered, “Gimme your money too, you dumb girl!

Frantic, Cally sputtered, “I don’t have any money, so I didn’t bring my purse! I don’t have anything!”

The robber directed, “Give me your jewelry then!”

Tears forming, Cally cried, “I don’t have any jewelry!”

“Ugh! Quit playing me, bitch!” the mugger was losing his patience.

“I don’t have anything, honest!” Cally was now in tears. The gunman let out a roar of frustration. He aimed his gun at Cally and fired. Cally winced, expecting to get hit. Ethan threw his body in front of her and took the bullet! The weight of Ethan’s body knocked Cally to the ground. Cally howled, “Ethan!”

Someone on the street yelled, “Was that a gun? Call nine one one!”

The robber ran off as witnesses poured in to see what happened. Cally turned Ethan’s body around to face her. She looked at his wound in horror and is horrified to see Ethan’s labored breathing. Cally pleaded, “No! Ethan! Don’t die! You’re gonna make it! Hang on!”

In betwenn breaths, Ethan told her, “There are some things worth dying for! I don’t want anyone to be sad for me. They’ll show me they care by having fun and achieving their potential. Tell Diana not to become an old maid! Tell Dad to quit drinking and get ahead at work! Tell everyone we know to live life to the fullest! Cally, you’ll be getting a lot of money. Use it to go to school in France like you’ve always dreamed of! Don’t cry! It’s my time! I love you, sister! Tell everyone!”

Ethan stopped breathing just as the paramedics came. As they put his body on the gurney, through thick tears, Cally swore, “I’ll tell everyone! I promise!” She cried hysterically as the paramedics took her older brother away.

Back in the graveyard, Joseph came running up to Ethan, who was in tears. Joseph asked, “Are you okay?”

Ethan nodded and wiped away some of his tears so he could speak. “You were right, I needed to die! Everyone moving on was honoring my last wishes! I inspired them! I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Joseph inquired, “Ready to go now?”

Ethan stated firmly, “Yes.” Joseph was about to snap his fingers, but Ethan stopped him. “Wait! I got an idea.”

Ethan took over the empty reception desk at the entrance to Hell. He used his office phone to call the Big Guy. Ethan conversed,“Whew! What a busy morning! A group of Somali pirates’ boat went down, that’s a lot of paperwork! No really, I’m loving this! I get a lot of satisfaction sending evil people where they deserve to go! Oh, someone is coming, gotta go! Thanks again for everything, Big Guy!” Ethan hung up the phone and waited expectantly. A portal appeared and spat out the gunman who murdered him! Ethan smiled triumphantly at him. “Ah, Mister Gun Man! Thought you could out gun the SWAT team, huh? Wow, you’re a lot more evil than just murdering me! Please go straight to Area 666!” Ethan pulled a lever and flung him away. He then put up his feet and sighed happily.

 

 

 

 

 

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 10

How is that possible?” the green skinned woman screeched.

The male that Gwynivara encountered the previous day responded scornfully, “If I had any idea , it wouldn’t have happened!” She gives him a piercing glare, so he quickly apologized, “Sorry, Commander. I just don’t understand how two people in handcuffs and surrounded by police could escape like that!”

The woman sat on her rocky throne and mulled it over. “Did you notice anyone suspicious or unusual?”

“No.” He jogged his memory and couldn’t come up with anything…except…”Unless you count the actual suspect. The one who got taken to the police station.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Why is one more noteworthy than the other?”

“Out of nowhere, she has this ball of light!” he recalled. “She made the alpha creature disappear! Poof! It was there and then it wasn’t! What do you think it…?”

His sentence trailed off when he saw the look on her face. She grew pale, and none of her facial features moved. He had never seen her show any fear, so to see her in this state truly frightened him. Very breathily, she ordered, “We need to find them!” He started to object, but she cut him off, “If they’re successful, the mission will fail. I won’t let that happen to my planet! So, for the time being, finding them will be our top mission.” The man didn’t say a word, but he showed every sign of wanting to argue, so she bellowed, “DO AS I COMMAND!”

“Yes ma’am!” He turned to leave immediately just as a shrill whistle filled the air.

Gwynivara’s head almost hit the counter as she pulled herself back to reality. It took her a moment to realize that she had fallen asleep standing against the kitchen counter. She remembered why she had come to the room, which prompted her to turn off the stove and pour some boiling water into her cup. As she was setting the kettle down, she heard a noise behind her, and her jangled nerves almost made her drop the teapot. She turned around to see Riley in his pajamas, robe, and slippers shuffling into the kitchen. He sheepishly grinned and commented, “Looks like I’m not the only one on edge!” Gwynivara felt foolish for getting scared over something harmless, but she was relieved to see Riley on his feet. Riley inquired, “What are you doing in here?”

“I couldn’t sleep.” Right after the words came out of her mouth, she felt even dumber than before. She told the truth-she had laid awake with her mind racing a mile a minute, so she thought some tea would help her fall asleep. And yet, somehow she had fallen asleep standing at the counter! She knew that Riley would pick up on the irony of the situation.

Sure enough, he did. “Must be some powerful tea!”

Gwynivara begrudgingly laughed and joined him at the island in the kitchen. She told Riley, “I’m glad you’re okay!”

“Me too. Or at least, now I am,” Riley admitted. Gwynivara gave him a questioning look, so he explained, “Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t put up a fight when the beast came for me. I kept thinking about the past, and tonight it just really hurt. When it came for me, I closed my eyes and embraced the end. I thought it would end my suffering, but it made it worse. All I wanted to do was save my own life, but I couldn’t! It’s maddening to feel that level of helplessness! I got lucky that you three ladies came in when you did! I got a second chance at life! Not everyone gets that option. Now, I just wanna find as many people as I can and explain where it came from and how it deceives you. Once you cross that line, there’s no going back, so I wanna find more people and make sure they don’t cross that line. I wanna help with recruitment! I’m done passively waiting for this situation to end- I wanna help make it happen!”

Gwyinvara was shocked to hear that Riley had almost let himself succomb to Venenatus Sanguis, but she felt vastly relieved that he now had an ardent desire to not only live but help others find that kind of fight within themselves. “I keep thinking about that woman in the video that Emorick showed me. She just let the monster eat her! I know she was suffering, and it does seem so hopeless sometimes. It’s not like I’ve never thought that. I suffered through all of my twenties, and I kept thinking that right now my peers are all going to college, getting married, starting families and careers, and here I am struggling for basic survival! I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to have a real life. But then I also kept thinking what if my chance comes tomorrow? I mean, you never really know how long it’ll last- days, weeks, years, but at any point in the future, my chance could come, and it’d be worth the wait. And if I went through my whole life without getting it, at least people could say I tried! I was a fighter my whole life, and I take pride in that! Along the way though, I wanna help as many people as possible so that maybe they don’t have to suffer as much in their life as I did in mine!”

“That’s very noble!” Riley complimented. “Do you think we’ll ever find the cure?”

“I have to!” Gwynivara responded. “Someone has to fight for it! President Ford is too busy with his re-election campaign to give us any federal help. The Public Health Center has been compromised by people trying to destroy evidence. No one else is looking for a cure! The only solution people have come up with is to ‘quarantine’ us. People think if we all get killed off that the problem will solve itself. This is a global epidemic, and as long as one beast survives, it’ll keep spreading until our planet gets wiped out! If we don’t find the cure, the whole world is doomed! That’s why I won’t rest until I figure out a way to find the origin! If we find the origin, we find the cure! I don’t care if takes days, weeks, months, or years, I won’t stop ‘til I make it happen!”

Riley listened to her speech and let the emotions of it settle fore a moment. Then he asked Gwynivara, “They’re destroying evidence?”

“Huh?” Gwynivara slipped into an adrenaline-filled reverie from the feelings that welled up from their conversation, so this question totally threw her off. She needed clarification in order to answer it, “What do you mean?”

“That’s the first I’m hearing of it. Did you see them destroying evidence when you went undercover at the PHC?” Riley probed.

Gwynivara thought back to that day. The receptionist, the staff, the patients, not even the orderlies, no one had destroyed anything. The orderlies sure worked hard to seize them, but no one went after the research or even anyone’s notes. Even earlier that day, in that murder victim’s house, the two men’s behavior was odd, but their destructiveness focused on people and not things. And yet, as she had said it, she knew it to be true. When she tried to think of how she would know that, it made her blink. “I didn’t see anyone destroy anything.”

“Did you hear anyone talk about it?” Riley suggested the idea.

Again, Gwynivara had to mentally review the last couple of days, but she couldn’t recall any conversation where people talked about destroying anything other than lives. Still, she felt like she had heard someone talking about it to another person. It didn’t make much sense, and now Gwynivara started to question her sanity a little. She didn’t know how else to explain knowing something without sensing it in this reality! She finally spoke, “Someone must’ve talked about it, but after going through the last few days in my mind, I know I didn’t hear or see anything. I always assumed that the orderlies were protecting valuable information, but if anyone’s gonna destroy it, it’d be them. It makes sense; they work for the origin, so they don’t want anyone to find the cure. They want to get it so they can keep it from spreading. They put agents in places that might find information, and if someone gets close to the truth, they destroy it!”

Before either of them could ponder this any further, Emorick walked into the kitchen. His eyes flickered between the two of them, and a look of disappointment fell on his face. “Please tell me the two of you went to bed early and just woke up.” Neither of them said a word, but the guilty looks they donned answered his question. Knowing the answer already, Emorick regarded them, “Please tell me you weren’t discussing work related stuff!” Gwynivara and Riley ashamedly shook their heads. Emorick groaned, and he too shook his head. Clearly, Gwynivara and Riley now felt horrible, so Emorick assured them, “Don’t feel bad- this is my fault. I’m your leader, I’m supposed to set a better example. You both went through a lot yesterday, and if you don’t get sleep, you won’t recover. You also can’t become so obsessed with the mission that you don’t have a life! So, I’m ordering you to take today off!” Both of them started to object, but Emorick cut them off, “Look at you two! A day off shouldn’t feel like a punishment! Take today off, have some fun, get some rest, and come back to work tomorrow with fresh eyes.”

“Yes, sir,” Gwynivara reluctantly obliged. Riley followed suit.

Emorick, satisfied with their responses, poured himself some coffee and told them, “Good! If you sneak any work in today…”

“You’ll tan our hides?” Riley finished his thought.

Gwynivara felt relieved to see Emorick crack a small smile. He took a sip of his coffee and responded, “I wouldn’t word it quite like that, but yes.” Gwynivara and Riley chuckled, and Emorick said cheerfully, “Now you two behave while I’m gone!”

Riley kidded, “But I thought you said to have fun!” Emorick heartily laughed and left the room.

After they had finished in the kitchen, Gwynivara and Riley walked down the hall. She fell to his gait, which was still slow because of his medical recovery. Yet he had still wanted to work, and so Gwynivara privately agreed with the point Emorick had tried to make. It was still very early, so very few people were out and about. As they passed the ceremony room, Gwynivara saw a sign that informed them of a meditation class at eight a.m. She saw that Riley had read the sign too, so she pointed out, “Emorick did tell us to relax…”

Riley shrugged. “Sure, what the heck. I’ll try anything once! Just ask my ex-boyfriend!”

“Not sure I wanna know more…” Gwynivara laughed, and so did he.

Inside the ceremony room, Gwynivara and Riley waited for the class to begin, but they were way too early for anyone to show up, so they sat on the pews and waited. The room was so quiet that it started to get on Gwynivara’s nerves. She glanced around and noticed a radio. “We could listen to music while we wait.” Riley silently consented, and when Gwynivara turned on the music, she heard a rock song that she loved. Lately everything had been so serious and scary that a fun, lighthearted piece reminded her what she was missing. She felt compelled to dance, which made Riley grin. “Dance with me!” Gwynivara invited.

“I would, darling, but I’m afraid I’ll get too winded,” Riley replied.

“Fine, you can stay in your seat and dance!” Gwynivara grabbed his hands, and he swayed a little in his seat.

They were having so much fun that they didn’t notice Kierram walk in. He saw them dancing and muttered, “God, I hate morning people!”

Gwynivara thought about making a snappy comeback, but she realized that if he was here, Emorick probably made him take the day off too. Figuring that he needed to enjoy himself, she overdramatically posed for him. “Your turn! Dance with me!”

Kierram refused, “No way! I don’t dance!”

“Oh, you’re scared?” she teased him.

“I’m not scared!” Kierram had a look of wanting to prove her wrong but strongly desiring not to dance.

Gwynivara danced up to him. “Oh come on!”

“No, no, no!” Kierram almost frightened and very uncomfortable as she put her arms around him. He soon felt forced to move and stiffly fell into her movements. The more he did, the more he realized he was enjoying himself. As he got into it and they danced together, Riley merrily clapped his hands. In the midst of it all, Gwynivara suddenly slipped on a rock, and Kierram caught her. “What was that?” he asked.

“I don’t know. A rock?” She turned to the floor and found the perpetrator. It was a black, jagged rock, and she peered at it curiously. She had a feeling she had seen rocks like this before. That’s when it clicked for her, and memories of all her dreams came flooding back to her. Overwhelmed, she slumped onto a pew. Very concerned, Kierram and Riley rushed to her side. They tried to elicit a response, but she couldn’t muster one. She was still trying to make sense of it herself. Finally, without thinking, she spoke, “It’s real! It’s all real!” Confused, the two men looked to her for answers, and all she could give them was, “I’ve met the origin!”

Sabotage, Chapter 20

She never thought she would ever see him again. That was always the goal, but until now, it didn’t feel real. She bellowed, “Papi!”

Hank, still in in his pajamas and robe, clearly had been stressed for a long time, but when he saw his daughter, his tension melted. He grinned broadly as he ran to her. “Carmen!” As soon as she got close enough, he scooped her up and hugged her tight. “Mija, thank god!”

Carmen, overwhelmed with emotion, hugged him tight and started to cry. All of the fear she felt vanished from inside her and came flooding out. when she was a little girl, her dad was a source of strength and comfort whenever she had a nightmare or got hurt, physically or emotionally. At thirty years old, she found that nothing had changed. Now that it was over and he was here, she had a chance to really process all of her emotions. She didn’t realize how scared she was before, but she felt safe now. “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Sorry for what?” Hank asked, slightly surprised.

“I’m sorry for leaving you!” she wailed. “I’m sorry for making you worry about me! I’m sorry that-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Hank interrupted her. “None of that matters. All that matters is that you’re safe!”

In the midst of their hugging, Carmen heard a familiar female’s voice call out, “Carmen!”

Her heart fluttered. It just couldn’t be! Carmen lifted her head to see a blonde woman in her fifties who closely resembled her own facial features and wore army fatigues. “Mom?”

Greta smiled and ran to her. She got on her knees and grasped Carmen tight. “As soon as I found out you were in danger, they sent me back. Oh baby, you had me so worried!” Greta sobbed uncontrollably as she clutched onto her daughter.

After a moment, she glanced over to Zartex and Garith. Zartex bawled unabashedly, and even Garith seemed a little overwhelmed with emotion. As a couple of reporters greeted Garith, Greta and Hank reunited with each other. Carmen told them, “I gotta say goodbye to them.” Her parents were too busy hugging and kissing each other to say anything, but they nodded to acknowledge that they heard her.

When she approached Zartex, she wanted to ask how long he had left, but before she could, he informed her, “It’s almost time.”

Carmen felt a surge of sadness sweep over her. “I don’t know how to thank you for everything!”

“I know how you feel,” Zartex replied. “Literally, I have been watching your emotions this whole time!”

Carmen softly snickered and turned Garith. She was sure he would want to say goodbye to Zartex too. He chatted with his reporter colleagues, so she waited a moment. She didn’t want to appear as though she were eavesdropping, so she watched the crime scene investigators clean up the scene and listened to the rock music the park had turned on. She couldn’t help but hear what Garith had been saying, “Thanks again, Marge! Oh, did you guys hire my production assistant?”

As Marge revealed that she hadn’t, Carmen’s heart stopped. She felt hurt and utterly betrayed. Abandoning all pretense, she grabbed Garith’s shoulder, spun him around, and barked, “You lied to me!”

Completely confused, Garith responded, “What?”

“Remember in Utah, I asked you if you knew anyone that was hiring in the Bay Area?” Carmen vented. “You said you didn’t! That wasn’t true, obviously! You must’ve known that, with my theatre degree, that I could qualify to be a production assistant! You didn’t even consider me for the job! You must not think much of me! And to think I was starting to feel-!” She cut herself off right there. He didn’t deserve to hear anything positive about himself right now.

Garith, with a hopeful gleam in his eyes, stepped up to her. “Yes?”

“Nevermind!” She snarled. “I hope that article was worth it!”

Fuming, Carmen turned her back to him. She saw Garith struggle with a decision, but she didn’t care. As she walked away, something stopped her dead in her tracks. It was Garith, who cried out, “It’s because I love you, okay?”

Garith sighed and confessed, “Things at the studio grew tense as my marriage went sour, and after a bitter divorce, they made a rule about inter-office romances. I know you would be perfect for the job, but…well…The more time I spend with you, the more these feelings grow. I could pretend that there was nothing there, but every day I would see you, and they’d come right back. I would remember what an amazing woman you are, and I couldn’t resist your smile, your curves, your eyes…oh, those eyes!”

Carmen often wondered why certain people couldn’t accept a compliment, but now she got it. Garith was the kindest, bravest, and most handsome man she had ever met. She didn’t feel worthy to inspire these kinds of feelings in him. “But…I…I’m just…I don’t have much to offer. I’m a penniless, jobless thirty year old who still lives with her parents! How could I…How could you…?”

Garith stepped close to her again, putting his hands around her hips. “Hey, you’re enough! Okay, so you got some baggage. I can carry it! I’m real strong, remember?”

Remembering the day they met, Carmen laughed. Garith gazed intensely at her, and her heart fluttered. She couldn’t believe this was real! She didn’t want to admit to herself before, but those feelings that she couldn’t figure out before were romance. Her nerves were all lit up, and she relished in the fact that she would now get to experience the exciting type of love that she so ardently craved. Garith leaned in for a kiss, and her heart beat wildly….!

Suddenly, Garith and Carmen found themselves kissing Zartex’s cheeks! “Sorry guys! I really hate to interrupt, but it’s almost time for me to go, so could I…? One more time? Please!”

Carmen laughed, “Go ahead!”

“Yes!” Zartex exclaimed as the song Nothin’ But a Good Time by Poison played. They soon felt their world morph to a nineteen-eighties concert venue…

(Zartex, totally decked out like an eighties rocker,
sang into a microphone. Garith played the
guitar, Carmen played the tamborine,
Hank played the drums, and Greta
played the bass guitar. Garith and Carmen
stood together to sing back up. All of them
dressed like eighties rock stars.)
Zartex:     Now listen,
Not a dime, I can’t pay my rent,
I can barely make it through the week!
Saturday night, I’d like to treat my girl,
but right now, I can’t make ends meet.

I’m always working, slaving every day!
Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time,
and it don’t get better than this!

(Everyone abandoned  their instruments
and took turns singing into the camera.)
Garith:     They say I spend my money on women
and wine,
Carmen:     But I couldn’t tell you where I
spent last night!
Garith & Carmen:     I’m really sorry for the
shape I’m in,
I Just like my fun every now and then!

Hank:     I’m always working, slaving every day!
Greta:     Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
Hank & Greta:     I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Garith:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
Carmen:      How can I resist?
Greta:     Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
Hank:     And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex, now raised on a platform high above
the rest of the stage, sang as the other
four watched below).
Zartex:     You see, I raise a toast to all of us,
who are breaking our backs every day!
If wanting a good life is such a crime,
Lord, then put me away!
Here’s to ya!

(During the musical break, the other four
dance. During the guitar solo, Garith
grabbed Carmen’s waist, dipped her,
and kissed her passionately. The others
silently said rock on.)

(Greta and Hank dance together as does
Carmen and and Garith. Zartex sang.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex’s stage leveled down to theirs and
he partied with them.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
and it don’t get better than this!

(The audience, which consisted of the police and
the park workers, all sang with the five on
stage for the last verse.)
Everyone:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(As the song faded, the crowd cheered. Confetti
rained down on the stage. Greta, Hank,
Garith, Carmen, and Zartex took a bow.)

The world morphed back into the amusement park crime scene, but Zartex didn’t come back. A thick, azure blue light hovered over Garith and Carmen, who waved goodbye fervently with one arm while their other arm was around each other. Before the light disappeared completely, Hank saluted it with two fingers. Garith and Carmen watched it disappear. Though they were sad to see him go, they were proud of Zartex and really appreciated his role in their journey.

Detective Dinsung shook his head, pulling himself out of a reverie he didn’t remember having. He went over to where Zartex had stood, searching around the area in confusion. “Where did your friend go? We still have questions for him!”

“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you!” Garith replied truthfully.

“Is he coming back?” Detective Dinsung asked.

Hank answered, “He wishes!”

Totally confused, Detective Dinsung shook his head and moved onto another part of the investigation. Carmen grabbed Garith’s other hip, and they both snickered delightfully. Hank pushed himself between them, faced Garith, cleared his throat, and said brusquely, “Excuse me, who are you? I’m the daddy!”

“Papi” Carmen groaned. “I’m thirty years old!”

“What’s your point?” Hank surveyed Garith with high skepticism.

“Mister Alvaro, I’m Garith Kendric.” Garith offered him a firm handshake.

As Garith introduced himself, Carmen stood by his side. Greta joined Hank’s side and surveyed Garith in a very different way than her husband did. She met Carmen’s gaze and silently mouthed, “He’s cute!”

Carmen silently giggled as Hank and Garith got to know each other. After all the wondering about what laid on the other side of her journey, it laid out before her now. She may not have instantly found a job or ran into her own place, but she had something she hadn’t thought of-lots of love and support. In all of Mirage’s secrets to success, they hadn’t counted on how magical having these kind of people in one’s life could be. Money and status would come and go, but friends and family were a constant value that should never get discarded again! In a way, she felt sorry for the higher ups of this cult because they would never know this kind of happiness. They never had a chance because they were always chasing the next big thing. They focused so much on the future that they forgot about the now. The present was important too, and some moments and opportunities will leave if they aren’t captured immediately. She decided to stop worrying about the future and enjoy the bits of joy that would come her way in the present. The biggest lesson she learned was that she had no way of knowing any good or bad in her future, but if something good was here and now, she must savor it!

The End

Epilogue: On a clear television set, a judge asked, “How do you plea?”

The camera panned to Jorden, who stated, “I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Arius, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Elden, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Lilith, who stated, “Your Honor, I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Seth, who very begrudgingly stated, “Guilty.”

On the other side of the court room, Carmen, who now looked relieved, sat by her lawyer, Jayesh Chakrabarti. Garith, who sat in the audience behind her, put his hand on her shoulder. She put her hand on his hand, which showed a simple but very elegant engagement ring!

Munching on some popcorn and lounging on a white couch in a room with mostly white furniture, Zartex, back in alien face, commented delightedly, “Yes Oh, I love Earthlings-my favorite aliens!”

Sabotage, Chapter 19

Carmen’s mind stood still in a dream-like trance. None of this felt real. Seth wasn’t supposed to be here! She wasn’t supposed to be facing a gun! People always said that before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes. That didn’t happen to her. It was more like the effect one has at the end of an epic film-everything came together like a puzzle that was now complete. She couldn’t believe that this was it. She had a hard time accepting that her life didn’t mean more than this; she had goals, dreams, she wanted to make a difference in the world! She searched for a solution, a way out, but she drew a blank. This really felt like the end.

A simple question drew them back into reality. Zartex asked, “How did you get in here?”

Seth answered, “The door in the back was unlocked.”

“There was a door?” Zartex cried out incredulously. “We sure did it the hard way!”

Jorden used Seth befuddlement over that interaction to her advantage. She took out a gun and gently pushed it to Carmen, who quickly scooped it up. Arius reacted vehemently, “What are you doing?”

“Traitor!” Elden declared.

“She saved my life,” Jorden pouted. “I can’t do it! She has a fighting chance now. My conscious is clear.” She folded her arms, clearly upset that she couldn’t stomach her duties to Mirage.

Carmen pointed the gun at Seth, who turned his attention away from Jorden and finally realized what the situation was. Carmen felt uncomfortable toeing the thin line between taking a life and protecting herself. She had no experience with guns, so she really didn’t feel confident at her shooting ability at the moment. If she missed, she would get killed. Or worse, she could get an innocent bystander hurt. She concentrated as much as possible, going over every fact she knew about a gun based on the handful of times her mom took her to the shooting range. She really hoped the police would interrupt this standoff so that she wouldn’t have to make this difficult decision. Inwardly, she knew she couldn’t show fear to Seth right now, so she sarcastically said, “By the way, I’m declining your Head of Security job offer!”

Lilith made an almost hissing noise, but Seth just laughed, “Look at you, pretending to be brave! You never were good at hiding your emotions. You were always scared to go to the field, everyone knew that. I kept waiting for the day it would snap together for you, but you never got it. Truth is you didn’t have the guts to be a manager!”

“She didn’t need to be fearless!” Garith couldn’t refrain from shouting passionately. Zartex had to physically hold Garith back, who was basically shaking from anger. “Each day, she faced her fears! She was braver than you’ll ever be! She walked away from Mirage! She rejected you, not the other way around! She walked away because she was too good of a person to ever rank up! Don’t you dare try to make her feel inferior!”

Arius and Elden pulled out their guns, but Seth just chuckled. “Give them to me!” Even though they were confused, Arius and Elden handed over their guns. “Yours too, Lilith.” Scowling, Lilith reluctantly gave Seth her gun. “Guys, she’s not gonna shoot me!” He put down his own gun and put his hands up. Carmen wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but she didn’t trust him, so she refused to stand down. “Go ahead, shoot me!” Everyone at the scene looked from Seth to Carmen, back and forth. Seth, totally cocky, taunted Carmen, who concentrated only on his movements and fixing her gun at him. “You’re too goody-two-shoes to pull the trigger. That’s the difference between you and us-we do we gotta do to succeed. You have the upper hand! You can solve your problems right now by eliminating me! But you won’t! You’re too weak!” Carmen was starting to get irritated and hoped that it wasn’t apparent. Seth did notice and did a little dance to egg her on. “Shoot me, bitch! Shoot me! Go on, shoot me! Do it! Come on, do it!”

Carmen’s scowl deepened. It was too tempting to pull the trigger. That SOB would deserve it! He was evil and hurt a lot of people! She would but doing the world a favor…Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t hurt anyone unless she absolutely had to. She kept thinking of solutions that didn’t involve anyone dying, including herself. She tried to think of ways to subdue him without killing him. He kept mocking her, which made it hard to concentrate. The situation was tense, no one knew what would happen. If Seth reached for his gun again, she knew she would have to hit him before he could shoot her. But where could she shoot him that would stop him physically but not fatally? Seth saw her arms grew weaker, so he remarked, “That’s what I thought!” He bent down slightly to the left where his gun laid. Instinctively, she aimed her gun and pulled the trigger!

The girls shrieked, and the guys moaned in sympathetic pain. Seth screeched louder than anything Carmen had ever heard. He rolled and writhed in pain as blood flowed from…his groin! Lilith, Jorden, Arius, and Elden timidly turned to Carmen, who still held up her gun. “Get down on the ground!” The four got onto their bellies, peeking at Carmen as she spoke to Seth, “You’re right-I’m not like you. I don’t need to kill people to reach my goals! No, I didn’t spare your life out of pity or remorse. The thing I realized was that upon your death, your body would be at peace. You don’t deserve that! There are things so much worse than death!”

“That’s so cliche’!” Seth groaned. He felt some sharp pain, which made him cry out. “Ugh! You bitch! You bitch!”

“I’m the bitch? I got your balls! You don’t!” Carmen mocked him. She put down her gun and turned to Garith and Zartex, who had a mixed look of sheer terror and utter admiration.

Before anyone could say anything, a group of police swarmed in and surrounded the Mirage executives. “You’re all under arrest!”

“What?” Seth roared out. “She tried to kill me!”

The police informed him, “The amusement park caught you guys breaking in and ambushing them. Thought they were trespassing, we’re gonna let that go ’cause clearly you attacked them!”

Seth argued, “She killed Colt Duncan! We were trying to apprehend her so she could go to jail-where she belongs!”

At that moment, a man in a nice suit flashed his police badge at them. “Detective Disung. I’ve been in touch with the Grand Junction police. Colt’s autopsy showed that he got killed by someone who’s left handed. Carmen is holding a gun with her right hand. We are starting to doubt that she did it.”

Still writhing in pain, Seth pointed out, “So, she shot with her left hand to cover her tracks!”

Detective Disung took out his phone, where he read his notes, “She had the opportunity to let one Teddy Amsan die, but she risked her own freedom to get him help. That just doesn’t seem like the behavior of a guilty person.”

Crying in anguish, Seth yelled, “She wants you to think that! I demand that you arrest her!”

As an ambulance came and began to render him first aid, the police all shrugged at each other. Garith stepped forward and asked, “When was Colt’s time of death?”

Detective Disung gazed at his notes answered, “Colt’s time and date of death: October thirteenth at seven-o-three p.m. Unless you guys have proof of your whereabouts at that date and time, we’ll have to arrest Carmen too.”

Carmen’s heart sunk. She couldn’t believe after everything she went through that it would end this way. As a police officer approached her, Zartex unexpectedly interjected, “Wait, I have proof!” This statement stunned everyone, who watched him with total anticipation as he dug through his pocket and gave something to Detective Disung.

Carmen glanced over the detective’s shoulders, and her sunken heart reinflated. Zartex gave him the photo that they took with the cardboard cutouts at the Green River railroad station! She finally broke her silence, “Look, there’s the receipt stapled to it with the date and time of the transaction! I wasn’t even in the same state as him when he died! I’m innocent! This is proof!”

As Seth got strapped to the gurney, he insisted, “Anyone can fake that! She did it!”

Detective Disung suggested, “Watch what you say-just ’cause you’re going to the hospital doesn’t mean we won’t use what you say in the court of law! Plus, you should be grateful to be alive right now. She could have killed you! I would have!”

As the ambulance wheeled him away, he shouted, “No, she did it! She went into his office and shot him in cold blood! She left him there to bleed all over his family’s picture!”

Detective Disung grinned. “Funny, that detail wasn’t released to any public records!” Seth realized his mistake and cringed as the ambulance loaded him in.

Carmen stood in disbelief. Was it really over? What just happened? What will happen now? The park manager stood before his crew and scolded them, “You guys have GOT to start locking the doors!” Suddenly, it clicked for her-she didn’t have to run anymore! Everyone knew the truth! She was free!

At that moment, something caught her eye that made her beam from ear to ear! She ran in pure joy. She never thought she would ever see…