Chapter 4 - Part 2
The feed paused unexpectedly. It didn't matter; he was done with this video. He accessed the next one manually since it wouldn't auto play. "Corporate entities are fighting heightened taxations in a new bill proposed by the Council." Seth checked his feed; this one wasn't supposed to be playing. He scrolled through his playlist, clicking on the next item only to have the command ignored. "-claiming higher taxes will reduce the quality of life for their employees." The video froze again, the audio skipping loudly. Seth cursed, waving his wrist over the black sphere to reboot his screen.
A red light circled the circumference of the sphere. A red beam shot across the length of the car, searching, falling onto Seth, who had fallen back into his seat. He scanned the small passenger car for a place to escape the beam. There was nowhere to hide. This wasn't good. He had heard things about government security drones. The wrong combinations of clicks, or accessing questionable content was said to call the hounds. His mind raced over the content he had viewed, was any of it anti-government?
The beam remained fixated between the senior student's eyes. The intrusive light faded, allowing the frightened passenger a moment to release his anxiety with a heavy sigh.
The sphere broke apart, it's geometric pieces hovering in place. Seth was aware of two things at this moment: what was happening was extension of reality and, that time was misbehaving. He didn't know what exactly it was about this moment that led him to think of time as being a cipher of sorts, but he was fully aware that he was the recipient of a message.
The sphere shattered for a second time, breaking up into fragment as though made of glass. Time froze catching the fragments. Seth was aware, time for him carried onward. Time reversed itself, reshaping the sphere into a series of inverted spheres. A powerful sound that was felt but not heard escaped from the device, launching Seth back. The car's silver-pearl surface shattered as he passed through its wall and fell into the wilds of the world outside of the train.
"This isn't real," Seth told himself, feeling the sting of deep cuts bite against his will to move. The skies above swirled in inky blacks, mixing in with dark storm clouds promising rain. The crimson hue marking the horizon told him that it should be sunset, yet some part of him knew that the blood-drenched skyline meant something entirely different.
"It's going to rain," he told no one in particular. Sickly sweet scent with a twinge of copper lingered where the smell of water should have been. He could smell the moisture building up, even as smoke and sulfur began to overpower his senses. He forced himself to get to his feet when the ground beneath his body had grown too hot. Even with the added protection of his boots, he could feel the intense heat radiating from beneath his feet, causing the rubber to stick with each step. He needed to walk at a brisk pace and keep walking.
His only reasonable option was to seek out the rail line. He could follow it back to civilization, regardless of which direction he went. Lightning tore through the sky, ripping open the clouds. He held out an ashen hand, catching droplets of blood and soot. He'd be lucky to reach anywhere before the sun set.
He had heard stories of demon ravaged towns from news feeds, soldier stories and distant relatives of affected families. Blood and ash falling from the sky seemed a bit extreme, as though something was announcing its presence, demanding complete surrender. He sighed. At least he wasn't going to die in the killing fields. The hairs on his arms stood on end as a chill ran up his spine, 'I could die here today'.
The texture beneath his feet changed from burnt soil to pavement. Surprised, he saw the hallowed remains of an ash-covered town for the first time. 'Get it together, Seth!' he shouted at himself inwardly, acutely aware of how fast his heart was racing and the irritating shakiness of his hands. He did not want to draw demons to him by creating unnecessary sounds. He feared that the sound of the blood pumping through his body would be enough to call the dreaded force to him. He must have been too deep in his mind to be as careless to not notice his surroundings. Otherwise, he would have sworn that the town had materialized around him through a will of its own.
He remained still, inspecting the outline of buildings, peering into the window, searching for anything that would pose an immediate threat. Homes lay in ruin; the streets were torn apart as though something had escaped from beneath the city. Bodies in various states lay exposed to the elements, some half-eaten, others posed in grim mockery of human life made up of mismatched parts. Seth squinted against the sting of the sweat dripping from his brow. The heat was too much, like hell itself was released from the depths. He should leave now and never look back.
He saw movement in the distance; a vague human shape shuffled through the street, wiping its face on its arm. It dragged a smaller shape behind it. He chased after it, careful not to shout. If it was a demon, he'd would want to give himself plenty of space to retreat. But if it was human, he needed to help it out of this disaster.
He found himself deeper in the ruined town than he would have liked. A few minutes searching for the retreating form lead to a labyrinth of roadways, none of which ever connected to the road he needed to leave.
He heard the crunching of bone and sloppy chewing, followed by hateful growls and an all out vicious fight. He was compelled to keep moving forward, sparing a glance at the retreating shadows of the demon spawn. His throat had become hoarse craving water. He might as well have been breathing with a couple of paper bags. He felt so useless. His training over the past three years was proving to be futile.
He pushed onward, one foot in front of the other, not that he thought it mattered. It felt as though the town would move toward him. Should he chose to run, he'd be pulled in even deeper, just much faster.
He heard crying, deep and mournful. The sobs of victims forced into terrible acts against their will. Mostly intact bodies rose up, like morbid puppets caught up in invisible strings. The puppets lumbered forward partly due to missing pieces, a leg here, an arm there. Anguish and despair marked their gaunt faces, the dead realizing that they're trapped in a place where their suffering, both physical and mental, would carry on for an eternity. Death would never show these people mercy.
They marched toward him, meat shields for what would be coming. He balled his fists. He could fight, but he would surely die. 'I'm only dreaming,' he told himself, though he didn't believe it.
An eight-year-old child ran passed him, toward the encroaching army of the dead. Her inky black hair swayed around her with a life of its own. By the time he noticed her; she was already ahead of him, running toward what looked like survivors. Her clothes were torn, stained with blood; her sleeve had been completely removed, leaving her torso half bare. In her hand, her teddy bear remained firmly gripped. She took no notice of the stranger in her town.
"Wait!" he called after her, desperate to save her from the trap that would surely kill them both. He chased after her until he was reeled back by an invisible force. That girl needs help! He launched to his feet as his world shifted to the shuttle car interior.
His rage was very real, pumping through his blood stream with a dose of adrenaline. He sat down and rubbed his eyes. He could still feel the toxic sting of polluted air in his eyes. The scents of the dream were still firmly lodged up his nose. Was it a dream? It had to be. There wasn't a scratch on him; and the black sphere remained stationary in the center of the car, intact in its original form.
- Ever had to travel away from family for school? What was that experience like for you?
- Have you had a the kind of nightmare that just stuck with you when you woke? Can you share that nightmare? Why do you think it held on to your waking self the way that it did?
- What do you make of Seth's experience? Dream? Programmed hallucination? A vision of the past?
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