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 21

I can’t!” Gwynivara didn’t have a problem making important decisions for the Rebellion anymore. At first, it overwhelmed her, but after some time, it became more and more comfortable to do. This felt different though, and she figured out why- the people involved with missions knew the risks and accepted responsibility for any consequences resulting from that decision, but Emorick had no say so on this. He was dying and couldn’t give her advice on his fate. She held his destiny in her hands! The pressure twisted her insides into a knot. The wrong choice could have devastating results, and she didn’t know if she could live with herself if that happened.

“Yes you can!” Kierram gently encouraged her. “You always do the right thing. I trust you.” He pat her hand reassuringly.

His support at that moment was successful in bolstering her spirits, but she still felt on edge. Her nerves were still jangling, but she knew that a call must be made and that she had to be the one to do it. Kierram was his family, and his presence made the process easier because if he didn’t think it was the best idea, he would voice that opinion before anybody acted on it. She placed her head inside her cupped hands and took a deep breath to clarify her mind. She cast out all doubt and mentally prepared herself to do this.

She reviewed the facts of the situation. Emorick was knocking on death’s door, and if he had to pick a final resting place that would give him the most comfort, Gwynivara felt confident he would pick inside the Rebel headquarters. If she sent him to the hospital, he pass away without anyone he cared about by his side. He created the Rebellion, and his zealous passion to find the cure for Venenatus Sanguis brought them all together. The people here loved him and held such a high regard for his character. She witnessed how heartbroken everyone was when they couldn’t bury Kennith, and she knew that no one would want to go through that devastation again. For a brief moment, the choice seemed obvious.

She almost said it, but she couldn’t get the words out. Something was holding her back as if she was missing something. Her logic dictated that if she had to choose where Emorick should die, she knew the Rebel headquarters made much more sense than a hospital. She stared at Emorick almost as if she hoped that he would wake up and make this decision obvious. All of it sudden, it clicked for her- Emorick was dying, but he wasn’t dead yet. If he stayed here, it would totally seal his fate. However, if he went to the hospital, there was a small chance of survival. When he first went into a coma, she was sure he would wake up and want to be here when that happened, but now she was sure if he stayed here, he wouldn’t wake up. The medics couldn’t bring him back, not with the limited supplies they had here, but surely the doctors would have everything needed to save his life. He wouldn’t like waking up in side the hospital, but it was better than not waking up at all! Gwynivara felt a small glimmer of hope, and she didn’t want to dim this light inside of her.

She now felt that taking him to the hospital was the right thing to do, but part of her wondered if she was being selfish. She didn’t know if it’d be right to keep him alive if he awoke to a tortuous life. If he did recover, there was still a chance that he would get his identity revealed and spend the rest of his days in quarantine. It would be cruel to send him back there when he worked so hard to escape that place. They held dozens of people here who chose to stay in the Rebellion than risk going there, no one wanted that. She wondered if it would be more humane to just let him spend what little time he had left at the place where he felt the happiest…

Before she could make a call, a snarling beast that somewhat resembled a reptilian tiger skulked onto Emorick’s bed, snarling at them! From the corner of her eye, she saw a crossbow glimmering in the first aid station’s supply closet. Instinctively, she grabbed it, stood up, and shot the creature right between the eye! It sprawled across Emorick’s bed and became motionless. Gwynivara gazed at the weapon she found curiously and asked the medic, “Why is this here?”

He answered, “When people get badly injured, emotions run high. The risk for monsters are extremely high, so we keep a small stash of weapons here, just in case.”

“I’m sorry,” Kierram apologized. “My dad’s dying and I couldn’t help it! I-!”

“Don’t ever apologize for being human!” Gwynivara cracked a smile, her head brimming with warm memories. “Emorick told me that my first day here. Before I even entered the catacombs, I started crying and created a beast. The thing got killed easily, and I apologized, but he didn’t make me feel bad for it. Then we toured the Rebel headquarters like nothing happened.” Both she and Kierram chuckled while they reminisced. “Funny, when he showed me this room, I never thought I’d seem here like this.” Suddenly, it dawned on her- Emorick already told her what to do!

“What?” Kierram reacted with concern for her sudden change in mood. “What is it?”

She turned to the medic feeling almost giddy from relief that Emorick had made the decision, and now all she had to do was relay his message. “That first day, he told me that if anyone here gets hurt or injured, but our supplies are limited, so if they’re injured enough, they gotta go to the hospital! So, don’t you see? He already gave the orders! We’ll take him there immediately!”

Bernadette peeked out from under a manhole cover with he eyes barely visible above the ground, and when she saw no one around, she sprung up and quietly exited the sewer. She scanned the area, and when she confirmed that no one was around, she motioned to others to come up. Kierram and a couple officers darted out while Gwynivara and a few more officers maneuvered Emorick’s body up the metal ladder and out of the sewer. Kierram and Bernadette received him by grabbing his arms, and the other officers all hovered around him one by one. Everyone hoisted him up and moved him across the factory floor as quickly as possible. This part of the plan made Gwynivara the most nervous. Their uniforms would easily explain their presence at the bakery factory, but it would be awfully hard to explain why they were carrying a body! Luckily, after a very long few seconds, they made it to the back of the truck fast enough! They opened up the back and heaved him inside. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief; they were safe, but their job wasn’t over yet.

Gwynivara quietly ordered, “Okay, now we gotta find a phone and-”

Before she could finish her sentence, an elderly custodian came shuffling into view. Everyone stood still like deer caught in headlights silently praying that the darkness would conceal them. It did not! The old man hobbled over to them and inquired, “What are you doing here?” Before they could blurt out the excuse that they rehearsed, the old janitor jovially remarked, “They sure have been working you guys to death!”

“You don’t know how right you are!” Gwynivara responded. “There’s a half dead man in the back of that truck!”

“Wha…?” the old man reacted in shock.

Bernadetted urged, “Quick! Call 9-1-1!”

He understood the sense of urgency and moved with a surprising amount of agility. The officers took this moment to escape. They all flew back into the sewer, but Kierram, Gwynivara, and Bernadette peeked to watch the scene unfold. After a couple of minutes, they saw the old janitor shuffle back out there, who looked a bit confused about where everyone went. It didn’t take long for police to arrive. They went to the back of the truck and confirmed the old man’s story. Shortly after that, paramedics arrived, and the Rebels took that as their cue to leave. They quietly covered the manhole cover and sped away to catch up with the others. They had done it, Emorick was on his way to the hospital!

On the way back, when they were at a distance safe enough to avoid detection by the police, Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram slowed their gait, walking with heavy steps and long faces. Gwynivara thought out loud, “I wish there was a way we could’ve done this better. I mean, I know that this was the fastest way to get him to the hospital, but it feels so impersonal. I know, I know, when we planned this out, it logically made sense to keep his cover as a John Doe, but it happened so fast! If we could’ve brought him to the hospital ourselves, we could’ve had a chance to say-.”

“We didn’t need to say goodbye!” Kierram reminded her. “He’s still alive, and we’ll see him again real soon!” He aimed these words for her, but she could tell he was also trying to convince himself to believe this.

Bernadette sadly put in, “He’s gonna pull through this, I know it! He’s a fighter! He will…” She had to stop mid-sentence to stifle a sob. Gwynivara put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, so Bernadette said, “I’ll be alright. It just made me think of Daddy. He got shot and he almost made it.” Gwynivara and Kierram fell reverently silent as she revealed a piece of her past that she had been so protective on keeping secret. “I was at a yacht party when it happened, I had no clue that the last time I saw him was the last time I was gonna see him. You don’t always get a warning when someone leaves us forever. We all wanna have one last sweet moment with the people we care about, but life doesn’t always give us that option. You have to do it in your own time in your own way sometimes.” She paused and added, “Not that you’ll have to worry about that with Emorick. He’s gonna make it, I can feel it!”

Gwynivara had so many questions for her that she didn’t know where to begin. Just before they got to their exit point, Gwynivara tried to narrow it down to what she wanted to ask Bernadette first. She didn’t get a chance to ask anything though because her pocket began to get really warm. She stopped to investigate while Bernadette and Kierram stared curiously. She fished the orb out, which felt almost hot to the touch. She found it so strange, but when she saw what it displayed, she gasped, “Oh my god!” She didn’t get a chance to explain herself. Her heart nearly dropped as a figure ran towards them…

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 15

No one spoke for several moments. Just when the tension reached its thickest, Bernadette cut the silence by shouting, “God, I hate that man!” Everyone’s attention shifted over to her as she ranted, “What he’s done to our people is bad enough, but this is his child! How could he? How could he? Was he hoping to get his baby murdered?”

“No way!” Rebekah refuted her claim.

Bernadette felt a twinge of guilt and apologized, “Look, sorry kid! I know that’s not something you wanna hear about your parents, but-.”

“No, it’s not that,” Rebekah explained, “If he was guilty, I’d be the first one to throw him under the bus, but my dad was a regular Dudley Do-Right. He joined the police force to save lives, and it always got under his skin when someone got away with murder. He’s been like that all my life. I mean, for the last year and a half I’ve been in quarantine, and even though I haven’t seen him, I know he’s still the same way. He’s so obsessed with finding the cure ‘cause he misses me so much. The only time I ever heard him wanting someone dead was to the thieves who took the research from the Public Health Center. They had some insight about where the disease came from, and it all went missing! Daddy said with so many people dying from Venenatus Sanguis that when he arrested the people behind the theft, he’d charge them with murder and seek the death penalty. My dad’s a good man. All he wants to do is help.”

Everyone looked stunned by her revelation. She seemed to be honest and would have no reason to lie to them. Kierram remarked, “No wonder he put us on the most wanted list! He believed the orderlies’ story about what went down that day.”

Riley pondered, “But if Chief Forsythe is so adamant about finding a cure, why did the fireman say he ordered the quarantine escapees to be returned dead or alive?”

“He didn’t,” Gwynivara concluded. “Chief Forsythe is grief-stricken and has tunnel vision. The origin sensed his vulnerability and took advantage of it. He created this new police force out of desperation. He has no idea what they’re doing or what they’re capable of! That just makes these henchman that much more dangerous!” She turned to the newcomers, particularly focusing on Rebekah, and informed them, “This Rebellion’s mission is to find the cure and to stop the individual who’s responsible for creating it. You’re free to live your life here, and you have the support of people who have the disease too and know what you’re going through. You have a little more freedom and a lot less judgment. You’re welcome to stay until we find the cure!”

John commented, “Thank God! We can walk around more!”

Max added, “And no more experiments!”

“Experiments?” Gwynivara questioned.

Max explained, “They fed us different drugs, not cures, more like mood stabilizers and ways to ease the pain.”

“None of it worked,” John put in. “They made me feel worse.” The other quarantine victims agreed.

Gwynivara felt horrified by what she learned just now. She couldn’t believe that the quarantine medical team would experiment on their victims without their consent! She didn’t want to picture any of the negative side effects that they had to endure, so she turned her focus onto what was happening at this moment. “Well, I know you’ve all had a long night. Every night for a long time, right? We’ll get you guys situated in rooms, and we’ll go over the rules in the morning. Don’t worry, there’s not a whole lot! Riley here has the inventory of all the available spaces. If you need anything, come find me. I’m Gwyn, by the way, and I’m in charge, for now. Anyways, get some rest, and we’ll see you all in the morning!”

The newcomers gathered by Riley, who immediately took to having an organizational role. Gwynviara felt pleased by this. She also enjoyed seeing the rest of the Rebels heading to their rooms unprompted. A few lingered to introduce themselves to the quarantine victims, and that made her smile a little. She decided to head to her room to plan out the day tomorrow. She didn’t count how many additional people now resided here, but she would need to find out what kind of part they would play whether it would be volunteering at one of the shops or if anyone was suited to become an officer. She was about to walk out until Cody came up to her. “What’s going on, Cody?”

Cody told her, “So, I noticed a daily inventory sheet of the arsenal, but I couldn’t get it open. Do you have the key?’

It had never occurred to her that Emorick had kept the weapons locked up in his room until now. It made sense, but she remembered Riley bringing swords to them when they were battling the beasts, so she assumed the public had access to them. “Hang on.” She went over to Riley and gently interrupted his flow by tapping his shoulder. He switched his attention to her, and she asked him, “Do you have the key to the arsenal?”

“Oh, no. I put it back in Emorick’s pocket.” As soon as he answered her, he returned his attention to the commotion in front of him. Gwynivara realized that retrieving the key would mean seeing Emorick’s body barely clinging to life. This wasn’t something she wanted to see again. She wanted to preserve the image of him feeling strong and happy, and she had really hoped that he’d be awake and coherent the next time she saw him. But the Rebellion certainly couldn’t go through any length of time without access to their weapons, so she resolved herself to the fact that she would have to see him in that grave state.

Cody followed behind her as she headed to the first aid room. He conversed, “If Rebekah wrote to her father every day, how come he didn’t put a stop to all of the horrible things that happened in quarantine?”

Gwynivara mulled it over for a moment, and she came up with, “She either didn’t tell him everything to protect his feelings, or the truth was too horrible for him to accept.”

“Do you think having the police chief’s daughter here will make it more dangerous?” Cody probed. “I mean, Chief Forsythe will totally freak out when he realizes his daughter is missing!”

“Her presence here is no more dangerous than having three most wanted criminals!” Gwynivara replied. “Not unless she has a tracking device…” Suddenly, inspiration struck her. She had a plan that seemed a little far fetched, but she would have to consult an expert to see if it was plausible.

Her attention immediately swayed to Emorick’s limp, unconscious body. “He still hasn’t woken up?” Gwynivara asked the medic watching over him.

The medic’s full attention had been on Emorick, so her sudden company jerked him out of his torpor. “I saw some movement from his eyelids. I think he’s trying to.”

“Of course he is!” Gwynivara responded. “He’s a fighter!” Even though her voice portrayed confidence, her gut wrenched seeing him in this condition. She felt like if his health were getting better that he would have shown more improvement than this. She didn’t dare mention this opinion, hoping she was wrong. “I need to get a key from his pocket.”

“Oh, okay.” The medic moved out of the way for her.

It was weird to dig through someone’s pocket like that! It felt like she was invading his privacy by doing this, but what choice did she have? She felt something round, smooth, and cold to the touch. She pulled it out of his pocket, and she realized that it was the orb. The memory of its ability was impressive enough, and a chill went down her spine just thinking about what omnipotent powers it could contain. She almost put it back, but an overwhelming instinct compelled her to keep it. She didn’t understand all that it did, but she did recall that he played an important video related to his investigation of the origin, so she reasoned that as acting leader of the Rebellion, she must hold on to it. She quickly dove into Emorick’s pocket and retrieved the key as she slipped the orb into her pocket. “Got it! Let’s go.” She nodded to the medic, who nodded back. After this silent goodbye, they headed out. Cody and Gwynivara made more small talk on the way to their rooms, but she didn’t remember any of it. Her mind stayed transfixed on the orb in her pocket, and the wheels in her head were turning about its potential.

She handed Cody the key and said goodnight. As soon as he closed the door, Gwynivara knocked on the door next to his and entered without getting an answer. She couldn’t wait. She had the strangest feeling, and a nervous excitement bubbled at the pit of her stomach. She had apparently walked into Kierram laying on his bed staring at the ceiling. He got up and could sense the peculiar mood that Gwynivara was in, so he inquired, “What’s going on?”

“How hard would it be to find a tracking device?” Gwynivara asked him.

He seemed a little taken aback by her question, but at the same time, he knew she wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, so he considered it carefully. “It’s not really in commercial use. The military are the only ones using them, so Fort Croga would be the place to look. Maybe a military supply store. Why? What are you-?”

“Could you connect one to this?” Gwynivara took the orb out of her pocket and displayed it on her hand so that Kierram could see it.

Instantly recognizing this object, Kierram nodded. “Yes it could.”

“How does it work?” She stared at it curiously. If she hadn’t already seen its ability, she would think that it was merely a beautiful piece of glass. She knew better though, and it was important to the mission to find out how to use it.

Kierram told her, “You have to hone your Venenatus Sanguis enchantments into it.”

“Can you teach me how to do that?”

“Absolutely!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 12

Gwynivara quickly stepped aside as a few men ran up with a cloth, hand-held gurney. They hastily holstered up his limp body and carried him down the stairs. Gwynivara glanced at Bernadette, who stood completely still with her eyes wide open. One the opposite side of the landing, Kierram sat on the edge with his head hung low. Gwynivara still felt devastated by this attack, but she realized that it was especially hard on him. He deserved to know the truth. She handed Cody the torch and sat down next to Kierram. He didn’t acknowledge her presence, but she didn’t expect him to. The way he had his head bent made his hair cover his face, but through his bangs, Gwynivara could see tears welling up in his eyes. She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and revealed, “Your dad is still alive.”

“For how long?” Kierram wiped his cheeks with his sleeve, and without thinking about it, Gwynivara wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight. She could tell he wasn’t used to receiving affection and didn’t know how to handle it, but he didn’t fight it. He let the tears just flow at this point. Gwynivara felt her own eyes watering. She hadn’t known Emorick for that long, but they already had been through so much. He made this rebellion possible, he saved so many lives… he saved her too. With her own family far away from her, she had started to feel like she had found family in him. She couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to him, and the thought made her start bawling into Kierram’s shoulders.

This moment of tenderness didn’t last long. Bernadette shouted, “Guys, we got company!” They raised their heads up to find a panther-like monster crawling towards them! Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette were ready to strike, but Cody was first to act. He hurled the torch at it, and it roared out in pain as it caught on fire. Bernadette used its distraction to create a ball of light and threw it at the beast. It disintegrated, but, oddly enough, they still heard creature noises. Bernadette concluded, “There’s more downstairs!”

“Sounds like a lot of people were upset by what happened!” Gwynivara remarked as she heard a lot of them getting fought off by people downstairs.

Kierram grabbed the torch, and with some concentration, he conjured up some fire and re-lit it. “Come on, let’s go help!”

They rushed down the stairs to see dozens of different beasts lurking in the hall! A few people were fighting them off with whatever make shift weapons they could find, but only a small amount of creatures were destroyed. Bernadette, Gwynivara, and Kierram could only fight one at a time, and they were outnumbered. Luckily, Riley showed up with two handfuls of swords. People grabbed them immediately and the fight became more even. No one could tell just how much time had passed, but soon the hall became quiet again. Gwynivara scanned the room and saw a lot of beasts’ bodies as well as people who, like herself, were trying to figure if the coast was clear. “Is anyone hurt?” Everyone looked around thoroughly, but no one came up with anything. The whole group took a collective sigh of relief.

“That’s a miracle!” Riley commented.

Gwynivara spoke up, “Speaking of miracles, how’s Emorick?”

Everyone rushed over to the first aid station, but Niqun somehow blocked the large entrance with her small body. “No! We don’t have room for all of you! We need to keep working on him!”

“That’s my father!” Kierram objected. Niqun let him pass.

Gwynivara and Bernadette quickly followed. Some people in the crowd objected, so Gwynivara addressed them, “We’re officers!” Some of the other officers rushed forward, so Gwynivara requested, “Can you guys help Niqun stand guard?” They felt their role was important, so they complied earnestly.

Gwynivara watched as a couple of first aid medics sew up his wounds and patched him back up. Cody was also in there answering their questions. “No, it was more like a dagger.”

“Did you happen to grab it?” one medic inquired.

Cody replied, “No, he took it with him. They got an urgent page, so they needed it.”

“A page?” Gwynivara turned to Cody with a tone of vitality, “The people who attacked him were police officers?”

“Yeah,” Cody confirmed. “They were a couple of the new Disease Safety units. Apparently, they only carry knives.”

“They were gonna bring you into quarantine ‘til Emorick stepped in?” Bernadette surmised.

“Quarantine?” Cody puzzled. “I don’t have Venenatus Sanguis!”

Everyone in the room turned to stare at him. Gwynivara didn’t know everyone who lived in the Rebellion, but it was her understanding that only people with the disease resided here. She couldn’t think of anyone else who would even want to live in a place where they could get it! But if he didn’t have a Venenatus Sanguis…Gwynivara probed, “Why were those police after you then?”

Cody recalled, “They had this giant dog-looking thing on a leash. They saw me sleeping under the playground, and they didn’t see that my eyes were kinda open. Then, all of a sudden, they took off the chain! Luckily, I carry a baseball bat with me at all times. Well, when you’re homeless, you gotta do it for safety. Anyways, I managed to beat that thing to death! I was too busy dealing with the dog to notice what the other officers were doing though, and one of them tried to stab my back! But Emorick stopped him! They were wrestling to get control of the knife, and I managed to get him off him with my bat. The other officer came out of nowhere and stabbed in the chest! That’s when they got the page and ran.”

Everyone who heard Cody’s story reacted with shock and appall. Kierram said in disgust, “The new cops are purposely infecting people with the disease? That’s sick!”

Bernadette added, “Whoever the origin is, they successfully infiltrated the police department. I do think Chief Forsythe is acting of his own will, though that’s not really much more reassuring. This new division doesn’t care about people in quarantine, they’re helping to spread it! That’s horrible!”

“Not to the origin!” Gwynivara put in. “For whatever reason, this individual wants to destroy the planet using Venenatus Sanguis. Quarantine would contain most of the beasts that form, and even though some could get out and spread it a little, if the origin wants the disease to spread more rapidly, they would have to purposely infect people. So, they find vulnerable people, people who are outside and not surrounded by witnesses, and they unleash the creatures.” Bernadette and Kierram nodded in agreement. After she got the thought out, something else occurred to her. “But they work for the police now. You can’t exactly stroll down the sidewalk in an area as crowded as downtown with a beast like that! So, where are they bringing them?”

A lightbulb went off in everyone’s heads, but Kierram was the first to say it outloud, “If we track down where they’re hiding them, we’re likely to find the origin!”

Before they could say more on the subject, the medics finished up their work on Emorick. They turned to Gwynivara and the others, and one of the medics informed them, “We’ve done all we can do. He lost a lot of blood, and he’s not responsive. But, with some rest, he should recover. However, the handkerchief that Cody used to clog the burst artery would have to have been completely sterilized to prevent infection. It came from Emorick’s pocket, and it was handled by a homeless person. Plus, we don’t know how clean the knife’s blade was, so we think the potential for infection is high. We can treat minor infections, but if he gets an infection in his blood stream, we can’t help him. However, if we take him to the hospital, there’s a chance that his identity could get discovered, in which case, they would take him to quarantine. So, basically we have to pick the risk we wanna take. Keep him here where we know he’s safe but risk his health, or we take him to the hospital where he would be more likely to stay healthy but only if he doesn’t get sent to quarantine. What do you wanna do?”

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned to each other for answers, but it was such a difficult choice that no one could give a recommendation one way or the other. Cody helpfully threw in his opinion, “I was gonna take him to the hospital, but he told me to take him here. He said he would only go to the hospital if he wanted to die. I mean, I know I just met him, but I feel like if he were awake, he would tell us to keep him here. He risked so much for me, so I just wanna do right by him. I think he’d be mad if he woke up in a hospital.”

The other three agreed with him. Gwynivara asked the medic, “You said with rest, he should recover?”

The medic nodded. “Yes.”

Gwynivara reasoned, “So, it makes sense to me to keep him here for a while, and if he shows signs of an infection, then we bring him to the hospital under an assumed name and pray that no one figures out who he really is. What do you guys think?”

Bernadette and Kierram agreed with Gwynivara, so the medic told them, “Okay. We’ll have a different medic keep an eye on him all hours of the day.”

The two medics sat by Emorick to immediately begin monitoring him. The rest of the officers walked in, and Kennith asked them, “What’s going on?”

Kierram answered, “My dad should make it, but if he gets an infection, we will have to take him to the hospital.”

The other officers were relieved to hear he was alive, but no one liked the idea of Emorick going to the hospital. One officer commented, “We’ll send prayers and positive vibes that he doesn’t go there!”

Another officer suggested, “So, should we find this young guy a room?”

“Poor kid!” a third officer remarked. “I don’t like to hear children getting the disease!”

“I don’t have it,” Cody stated.

The other officers’ tone changed to distrust and a little fearful. “Then he’s gotta go!” Kennith reacted.

Bernadette pointed out, “Cody saved Emorick’s life, and he doesn’t have anywhere to go!”

The second officer sided with her, “He’s homeless, who’s he gonna rat on us to?”

“The police,” Kennith brought up. The other officers hadn’t thought of that and agreed with Kennith’s point.

Cody denied that, “No, two cops tried to kill me. I’m just as wanted as you guys, so I got nothing to gain from turning you in.”

Kennith’s demeanor softened a little. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick, but Cody’s also not safe here. He could get killed by a creature. Or bit. We’re trying to prevent it from spreading, right?”

“There’s a chance of that happening anyways,” Bernadette opinionated. “They tried to infect him before. And Emorick risked his life to stop that from happening! He would want him to be safe. I think he should stay.”

Kennith debated, “He’s safer out there! What if the origin comes and wipes us all out? What would he do? He doesn’t have to live a life of seclusion like we do. He should be free! I think he should go.” The other officers agreed with him.

“Well, it’s not up to you guys!” Kierram spat.

“What are you talking about?” Kennith folded his arms defiantly.

Kierram explained, “My dad said that if something happened to him, Gwynivara was supposed to take over his position. That means until my father wakes up, Gwyn is in charge!” Everyone turned to look at her, almost in shock of the truth. Gwynivara was too stunned to speak, but inwardly, she knew Kierram was right- she was now in charge of the Rebellion!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Sabotage, Chapter 15

“I can’t believe it’s finished!” Carmen exclaimed as they walked down a rustic neighborhood lane with historic shops that still got used in modern times. They still, technically, were in Reno, but as they headed closer to the mountains, the area began to look more like a small town. Actually, Carmen got a small town vibe from the way everyone stared at them-incredulously as if they didn’t understand what was happening. Everyone probably knew everyone, and, more than likely, the three of them would be the source of gossip around here. Luckily, they just needed to get provisions for the night. In the morning, they would take a charter bus to Roseville, California. As long as this journey felt, it also felt like it went by so fast! They just had to survive a night in Reno, then Sacramento, and then they’d be back in the Bay Area! She didn’t let herself get too hopeful yet though-a lot could happen between now and then!

Garith seemed to share her sentiments. “I’m glad we finished the article! It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was just soliciting people involved with Mirage. I began to give up hope that I would ever get to do this story. The last step will be the hardest though. Nowadays, it isn’t easy to publish anything without electronics.”

“I like this place!” Zartex randomly commented. “It reminds me of a town I was assigned to years ago! I didn’t get to stay there long enough to stay long though because my subject died of cholera.”

“Cholera?” Garith questioned. “How old are you?”

Before Zartex could reply, they heard a man cry out, “Yep, I think we found an alien!”

The three of them froze immediately. They turned to see a scruffy man whose scraggly appearance could have fit in naturally as a scalawag in the Old West. He marched over with a slight limp and ogled them blatantly. Carmen spent so much time worrying about someone turning them into the police that she forgot that Zartex’s true identity could be detrimental if revealed. Zartex stammered, “What? Me? You’re quite mistaken!”

“Not you!” He pointed to Carmen, whose heart skipped a beat from shock. She couldn’t believe that he thought she was extraterrestrial! She thought he was utterly mad and was ready to dismiss him until he probed, “Do you have your papers?”

Carmen’s temper flared up. It seldom came up anymore, but occasionally people discriminated against her for being biracial or for her Hispanic heritage. It incensed her! She firmly believed in not judging people based on their ethnicity but their actions and character, and she grew very defensive to see discrimination against her family or anyone else. It didn’t make it easier when it happened to her though. She seethed, “I am a citizen! I was born here!”

“I wasn’t!” Zartex jumped in.

The man ignored him and focused on Carmen. “You’re legal, fine. Prove it!”

Carmen’s blood began to boil. Before she could let her steam out on him, Garith stepped in, “Why don’t you ask her mother, Sergeant First Class Greta Alvaro?”

“Greta? Oh, you’re white! My apologies!” He scuffled away.

Carmen still burned inside and marched towards him, but Garith stopped her. “Fools don’t listen to reason, and we can’t afford his hospital bills! Let that asshole think what he wants, he’s not worth it!” Carmen realized that he was right, but she still felt amped up. Garith directed, “Zartex, take her to our home base. I’ll grab the supplies.”

Zartex agreed, but Carmen couldn’t move. She was still fuming. “Come on, Carmen!” He physically had to steer her before she found her footing and began to recover from that emotional upheaval.

That night, Carmen and Garith laid on a cave floor while Zartex sat by the cave entrance, gazing at the expansive view. Carmen opened her eyes, too wrapped up in thought to really sleep. She still hadn’t fully absorbed everything that happened in the last couple of weeks. This all felt like a strange dream, and she wasn’t sure where it was heading. She couldn’t help but worry about what would happen in California. If they didn’t get killed by anyone in Mirage, they still could get captured by police, especially as they distributed the article. She scolded herself for being so pessimistic, but she realized that this was THE VOBS talking. She got taught to dismiss negative feelings, but that isn’t healthy for anyone, spiritually or mentally. Negative feelings should be felt! She needed to go through the motions and find a way to release the negativity. Having Zartex around during this process actually seemed to really help her because he could read her emotions and she couldn’t lie about her feelings. She found it funny that an alien had taught her how to be human again!

She decided to search deep inside herself and really delve into what she felt right now. First off, this cave floor was totally uncomfortable and the entrance let in too much light for her to sleep soundly. She was nervous about completing the journey, and she was afraid of what would happen afterwards. She felt really low. She used to feel like she was working towards a higher goal and got accepted by a higher class of people-alphas who were at the top of their game. She wanted to get to an elevated place socially so that she could build others up, but she didn’t know where to go for comfort or guidance as she took the first steps towards her new goals. She saw Garith shuffle in his sleep, which reminded her that one person had been helping her. He did benefit by having the groundbreaking exclusive on a dangerous cult, but no one had to go through all that he had. He could easily walk away-he could go back to San Francisco, beg for forgiveness, and get famous from the article, but he chose to stick around until the end. It took a really selfless person to show such loyalty! She felt a rush of admiration towards him now.

Garith peeked behind him and inquired, “Still awake?”

“No, I sleep with my eyes open,” Carmen kidded.

Garith glanced at his watch and then conversed, “A penny for your thoughts?”

“I don’t have a penny,” Carmen lamented. “I don’t have a dime to my name.” She realized the truth of these words as she said it, which made her feel a little shame. “I know money isn’t everything in our society, but you gotta have a little to be normal.”

“No you don’t,” Garith debated.

Carmen groaned, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s what on the inside that counts! I know I’m a good person, but it doesn’t really fill the void.”

“Actually,” Garith checked his watch again and told her, “I was gonna say a lot of people are satisfied being dependent on others for their whole life. Some kids choose to live in their parents’ house, even when they’re middle aged. Or, some women find a sugar daddy who dotes on them like a child. You chose to leave a man with money and make it on your own. You would rather be penniless than be dependent on a man you didn’t love. You are strong enough to leave a life of comfort to start over on your own! A lot of people wouldn’t have the courage that you have!” His words really heartened Carmen. It was true that she actually wanted to be independent, and that was a trait she could be proud of. And, obviously he didn’t think less of her for having no job and no place of her own. He concluded, “You got a lot of hoo-eh-vos!”

Carmen giggled, “I’ts pronounced huevos! You don’t pronounce the h in Spanish.”

Garith puzzled, “Then why did your father’s immigrant parents name their son Hank?”

Carmen reminisced, “Right before my dad was born, literally right before my grandmother went into labor, they got their green cards. A lot of people thought they couldn’t assimilate to American culture. They couldn’t even speak properly! Hank Aaron was the all-American player of the moment, so they named their son Hank. He kind of symbolized that they decided that they belong here. They didn’t let negative people show them who they should be-they took charge of their life, persevered, and made the life they wanted!”

“That’s great!” Garith fiddled with something and tried to hide it from Carmen.

Carmen caught on that he was concealing something. “You better not be doing anything nasty over there!” Garith laughed as he tried to flick on a flame to a lighter. “What on Earth are you doing?” He didn’t answer. The flame lit up, and he set it up to something. Carmen sat up as he put out the flame. “What are you-?”

The wind escaped from her lungs from total surprise. He held up a brown little cupcake with a birthday cake candle lit up on top. “Make a wish!” he invited.

“Wha…?” Carmen’s brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening right now. It felt exciting but she couldn’t totally accept that something amazing was happening right now before her eyes!

Garith showed Carmen his watch. “It’s after midnight, which means now it’s the twenty-seventh!”

“Oh my god, it’s my birthday!” Carmen gasped.

“I don’t blame you for forgetting,” Garith remarked. “It’s not much of a birthday stuck in a cold cave with none of your friends here. I know it’s not much, but…” Garith trailed off, his face looking a little crestfallen.

“Are you kidding?” Carmen’s heart practically exploded from mirth. “This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me!”

“Really?” He perked up.

“Given our circumstances, it’s a treasure! I’ve had years of half-baked gestures that had no thoughts behind them, but this…this!” Carmen started to tear up. No one had ever done anything so sweet! She could still hardly believe that it happened. She closed her eyes an thought of a wish. She decided to wish for more moments like this in the future. She opened her eyes and blew out the candle. He took out the candle and handed her the cupcake. She felt herself smile. Literally, she had to put her hands on her mouth to see that it was true. She couldn’t remember the last time anything made her genuinely grin from ear to ear! Garith beamed warmly. Words couldn’t express how much it meant to Carmen to have someone actually and honestly care about her like this! She flung her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged back very willingly. They lingered for a moment, and Carmen felt as if her heart radiated with light. She realized that she didn’t want to let go! How strang it was to have such a feeling!

All of a sudden, Zartex ran up and scooped them both up. Utterly bewildered, they looked to him for clarification. “Sorry guys, we have company!” They assumed that he meant an assassin or a police officer, but they heard large footsteps and growling. They screamed, which alerted the bear to their presence! Zartex raced to the back of the cave, where there was an opening in the ceiling. “Meet you outside!” He tossed up Carmen then Garith and then he used his teleportation device to beam himself out, leaving the bear totally confused.

In the morning, by a small creek, a figure found Zartex, Carmen, and Garith huddled together, asleep. The figure pulled out a gun and used it to poke Carmen awake. She opened her eyes and gasped, which woke up the other two. They jolted up out of fright. Carmen probed, “Teddy?”

Teddy, who kept his gun pointed at them, greeted her coldly, “Hello, darling.”

This is Teddy?” Garith surveyed him in disgust. Carmen thought she detected a hint of jealousy, but the situation warranted no time to acknowledge it.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he stated firmly.

“So, kill us and get it over with, ” Carmen dared him.

“He won’t kill us,” Zartex remarked. “If he wanted to, he would’ve done it when we were unconscious.”

“You’re right,” Teddy acknowledged. “They want me to, but I can’t! I miss you, Carmen. Come back with me! I’ll protect you. We could have a nice life together.”

Carmen stood up and enspeeched, “Teddy, I don’t love you. It took me a while to realize…I never did! I’m a new person now. Even though the circumstances suck big time, I’m glad that I left my old life behind. I can finally be myself again! I can never go back. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I don’t belong in your world. Sorry, but I have to be true to myself.”

Teddy obviously tried to hide his hurt at her rejection. “Where are you going?”

“To the girl I was the night before Mirage found me,” she replied.

“I’ll figure it out.” He looked around and observed, “You left your stuff somewhere.”

“It’s in that cave.” She tried to warn him, “Don’t go in there!”

“I’m going!” he defied her. “I can’t bring myself to kill you, but I can at least get that article for Mirage!”

As he started scale the ridge the cave was on, Carmen shouted at him, “The article isn’t in there!”

“You’re hiding something there!” Teddy said defiantly.

Zartex yelled, “Yeah, a bear!”

“Yeah right!” He ignored their warnings and cries to stop as he entered the cave. After a moment, they heard him scream.

Carmen immediately sprinted towards the village. Garith caught up with her. “What are you doing?”

“I may not like him, but nothing he’s done deserves him the death penalty!” she exclaimed.

They got back to the shops and ran into the same man that accosted them before. “Help!” Carmen cried out. “There’s a man getting attacked by a bear!”

The man sprang into action. “Ya hear that, boys? Gear up!” A few men came out with rifles.

“You’re not calling the police?” Garith asked.

The man answered, “Listen, it’ll take twenty minutes for the police to come to our neck of the woods. If y’all really wanna see results, always go with a bunch of rednecks with guns!” They hollered to bolster their spirits and ran into the woods.

Carmen stood there looking very shocked. Garith tapped her shoulders. “Teddy has a whole posse to look after him. We have a bus to catch!” She still felt surreal about running into her ex, but she knew Garith was probably right about the townsmen protecting him. Either way, she did all that she could. She very willingly walked off with Garith and Zartex.