Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Nocturne’s Reaping®: Prelude Chapters’ Category

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 15

Nora headed into the building. Once inside, she signed in at the receptionist’s desk. Not surprisingly, the woman didn’t seem to pay much attention to her. But today, Nora didn’t much care. She sat down at a nearby bench. While there, she could feel her heart pounding and adrenaline rushing through her veins. Try as she might, Nora couldn’t steady her nerves. She began tapping her foot upon the floor. It was getting very close to the time of her appointment. She watched the clock’s big hand draw closer and closer to the appointed moment.

Then, suddenly, it was upon her — only nothing happened. Nora looked about the room. The receptionist was busy typing away. The woman looked up briefly when she sensed Nora was staring at her. At first, Nora thought they would share a common understanding of the situation Nora found herself in. However, the woman then quickly looked back down as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

Still, Nora didn’t think too much of it. After all, it was only a few seconds past … then a minute … then two … then six … then ten. Finally, when twenty minutes had passed, Nora drew into a standing position and walked over to the receptionist’s desk again. She stood there waiting for the woman to acknowledge her. She even cleared her throat. She could tell that the woman knew she was there; the look on the woman’s face said so. It caused Nora to grow incredibly uncomfortable waiting there like that for a response; she still wasn’t used to being treated as though she was merely a pest. Just as Nora was considering returning to her seat, the woman finally looked up at her. Nora looked at the clock. It had taken nearly five minutes for the receptionist to look at her.

“Umm … I was supposed to have an appointment about twenty-five minutes ago.” Nora put forth, trying to sound as positive as possible.

The receptionist just stared at Nora unblinkingly. Nora’s eyebrows furrowed slightly.

“Maybe I have the wrong time?” Nora suggested calmly.

“Well, let’s see. What’s your name again?”

“Nora Montgomery.”

As the receptionist slowly sifted through the appointment book, Nora had a glimmer of hope that she might get some answers. Maybe it was a mistake after all. Maybe her appointment was, in fact, tomorrow instead.

“Oh, yes, here you are.” the woman started. “Yes, you have the right time.”

The woman abruptly shut the book in front of Nora. Then, she turned from her and proceeded to return to her typing. Nora found she was shocked despite the fact that this type of treatment was nothing new. Why had they scheduled her for this time if they were just going to make her wait? Was this appointment just some sort of game they were playing? Had Mrs. Grafton told them about her trouble with the confinement exercise, and this delay was some sort of payback?

“Ugh …” Nora groaned.

The women looked up at her with irritation. Nora grew angrier.

“May I leave, or will my appointment be soon?” Nora retorted.

A self-righteous look crossed the woman’s face.

“Group A is going out right now.” she told Nora with disdain in her voice.

Nora felt the blood drain from her face. She felt herself grow numb. She swallowed and tried to steady herself. She had known it was coming, but still … Nora tried to remember the sounds she had been able to hear from the nearby hanger. She had thought it was just the normal noises from a small airport. Now, it all took on a decidedly ominous turn. She tried, in particular, to remember hearing the voices of Group A, but none had filtered into her mind.

“The weather just cleared enough. Certainly, you’ll agree that’s more important than your appointment being behind schedule.”

Nora breathed out and considered. Then, she turned a doubtful look onto the woman. Was Nora really supposed to be ashamed of her reaction? How could she have known?

Suddenly, the side door opened, and a tall man dressed in aviator gear stepped into the room.

“Nora Montgomery?”

“Yes.”

“I’m ready for you now.” he stated blankly.

Nora followed the man back into the hanger. Once there, she noticed the room was fairly dark and seemed mostly empty. The pilot looked over and seemed to note her expression.

“They’ll be moving more planes in here. They are being housed at a separate on-site facility.” he informed her.

The man acted as though that observation was supposed to please Nora, but it didn’t. It just reinforced the fact that no one in the Administration felt that Group A was coming back. Though, Nora supposed it was still a possibility that both Group A and Group B could make a joint assault. But if that were the case, then why not wait to send out Group A until Group B was ready? It would seem that they would have all gone out at once if that were true. Suddenly, the instructor stopped in front of a plane somewhat bigger than the one Nora had seen at the field the day of the crash.

“This is the training plane. It has plenty of room for two people. I asked them why they needed it so big …” He laughed to himself.

What did that mean? Nora gave him an odd look, but he wasn’t looking at her.

“You’ll be in front, and I’ll guide you from the back.”

Nora again pondered why the recruits’ planes were not so big as this one. She really wanted to ask the instructor but didn’t have the nerve to get her voice out.

That was when Nora spotted it, in a dark corner on the other side of the hanger. She had perhaps been too preoccupied to make note of it before. It was a plane, seemingly much, much larger than what was probably useful under these circumstances. Maybe there was some other reason for the vessel — something completely separate from fighting the nebula reapers. Could it be part of a different strategy? Maybe the escape plan Jack had mentioned? If so, why hadn’t it gone out with Group A? Were they really just gathering information from Group A’s efforts? Nora didn’t want to believe that. She hoped perhaps there was more than one large plane. This one did look brand-new, so maybe it was a replacement. Then again, from this distance it was hard to tell.

“I’m waiting for you, Miss Montgomery.” the instructor suddenly announced.

Nora looked up at him.

“Please get in the front seat.”

And there it was — back to business. Nora was surprised that he even deigned to use her last name, given she was just a cog in the machine to him. Then again, maybe he couldn’t remember her first name.

“Sure.” Nora began to climb the small ladder onto the plane. When she got into the front seat, she secured the seatbelt around her. The man got into the seat behind her. How much better it must be for him, Nora thought. For one, he knew what he was doing. By the calmness of his demeanor, Nora also suspected he wasn’t planning on sharing the same fate that she was.

“Well, the first thing you will need to do is secure the oxygen tube. It will attach to a pilot’s helmet that you’ll be receiving later on.”

Nora looked right then left. On the left, she found the tube. She pulled at it, and it tumbled off the hook and fell on to her lap.

As she reached down to pick it up, she noticed her hand was shaking.

“It’s important to make sure it’s worn at all times. You will fall unconscious if it isn’t on.”

“What if the oxygen doesn’t come out?” Nora asked, her voice quavering.

She placed her hand against the part of the tube that the oxygen should come out of and felt nothing.

“There’s no reason to believe it won’t be there when you need it.” he assured her. “All right now, let’s get started. I’ll walk you through the steps, and you’ll do them. I’ll give you a printout of the instructions to take back to the dorm with you. You need to read it. Then, if you have to, reread it. The next time we meet, I will say nothing, and you will just do it. Okay now, let’s get started.”

 

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

 

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 14

Nora was released from the hospital the next day without much fanfare. She was glad to be leaving that place, which reminded her more of a prison than a place of healing. There was a slight drizzle in the air when Nora finally exited the reception area and then the building. There was a brief moment of happiness when she realized no one had told her where to go or what to do for once. She rarely felt that sense of freedom since the day she walked the streets of Jack’s district — before being forced here against her will.

Thinking about that time reminded her of all the dreams and nightmares she had had since then. How she wished her parents would come and get her! She often thought about how she had done the wrong thing leaving that day. That thought haunted both her dreams and her waking hours. She so wished she hadn’t left on her own. How selfish she had been! To think, if she hadn’t left she’d be sleeping in her own bed tonight. But then, she’d be just living in a state of blissful ignorance that wouldn’t last. Was it better to know the truth or to live with the anxiety of feeling the truth was being withheld from her?

Nora stood stock-still in the field. She didn’t want to go back to the dorm, but could — should she really just stand there indefinitely? Nora laughed softly at herself over the prospect that the administrators would find her there just staring into space. Nora slowly and grudgingly made her feet move forward back toward the dorm.

Upon entering the dormitory, she just happened to glance into the cafeteria. Within it, she spied Jack eating lunch with one of the guys from Group B. Jack lifted his eyes toward her as Nora approached his table.

The guy he was sitting with then turned around and looked at her. He looked years older than both she and Jack. He broke into a wide smile when he saw Nora; it was almost as though he recognized her.

“Oh, it’s you.” he said. Then, he laughed. “You certainly were a source of amusement yesterday. The look on those instructors’ faces when they saw that you got out of that death trap and swam to shore was priceless. Honestly, I laughed the entire time I was in that coffin. Ha, ha! Thanks so much!”

The man pulled out a chair for Nora. She supposed she should be glad he wasn’t rejecting her like the others had.

“Don’t just stand there, girl. Have a seat. I was just telling this guy here about our ‘friends’ who left us to die. You know, the ones who were just so glad it wasn’t them. Seems as soon as Group A takes off, which should be soon, Group C will be fast-tracked into our position. Serves them right as far as I’m concerned. My roommate treated me as though I were already dead. I, for one, don’t intend to die.”

Nora sat down.

“How did you find out that information?” Nora wondered.

“Well, let’s just say that not everyone in this area of the complex is a recruit. So, they don’t just stay in one spot. I’ll leave it at that.” He paused. “Anyway, I heard they like small pilots — the smaller the better.”

Nora looked at the rather large man skeptically.

“Then, why are there tall men here?” she questioned.

“Well, I also heard there are different types of planes, too. Maybe that’s why. Or, maybe they just couldn’t find enough small ones who were old enough. So, they add the small ones in with the big ones.”

Nora was horrified to hear him talk about it like that. It seemed to take the situation to another level of depravity.

The man took one last bite of his sandwich.

“Well, look at the time.” the man noted. “It was great talking to you.”

The man reached his hand out to Jack. Jack took it, and they shook hands.

“See ya, girl.” the man laughed.

The guy then took off. Nora turned and looked after him. She had wondered whether she should have asked for the man’s name, but she decided against it. It seemed obvious the extroverted man didn’t know their names and probably would have asked for them if he had wanted to know. She suspected that he didn’t want to get too close to anyone now. Perhaps, he didn’t want to put himself in the position where he could be betrayed again. Or, maybe he just wasn’t sure the rest of them would make it. Certainly, Nora didn’t seem to be very competent at this point. Nora looked back at Jack again.

“What he said about the others being fast-tracked, wouldn’t that mean we’re going to be going out soon as well?” Nora whispered.

“It would seem.”

A knot grew in Nora’s stomach.

“But we’re not ready at all.” Nora argued — as though Jack had the power to make the decision. “We don’t know anything. Even if we learn to pilot a plane, how do we fight them off?”

“I don’t think there’s much to know … yet.” Jack replied.

“What do you mean?” Nora wondered.

“I’ve been trying to get information. I don’t think Group A knows much of anything about how to attack the nebula reapers either. My guess is they are being used to gather that information.”

“What?!”

“Calm down, Nora. There’s nothing we can do about it. However, I’m working on a plan to get that information, so we can use it to make a decent strategy for ourselves.”

Nora’s eyes shifted. She hadn’t quite wrapped her mind around the idea that all of Group A was probably going to die. Then again, how could anyone possibly know that? It wasn’t as though the Administration would have been forthcoming with that little detail. And yet, Nora couldn’t stand the thought of it. She didn’t know a single one of them, but somehow she felt a connection. Perhaps, it was the connection that only people who will share the same fate can have.

“Nora.” Jack began. She looked at him, her eyes still distracted. He looked back at her with intensity. “We don’t have a lot of time.”

“What about the others in Group B?” Nora wondered.

“What about them?”

“Suppose we do find something out — are we going to include them in any plan we have? It would make me feel less guilty about having to use Group A’s situation …”

“If we did that, we’d run the risk of their turning us in to save themselves.”

“But they’d have a better chance with us if we could make it work …”

“You and I believe that, but they might not. They could, therefore, ruin everything …” Jack paused. “Not only that, but I’ve heard they will be using our group to escort some of the more prestigious citizens off the planet.”

“Evacuation?”

“That seems to be the plan.”

“Why would anyone take that risk?”

“Those people probably believe there’s more of a risk in staying.” Jack replied. “Some people panic when they’re trapped.”

“Yeah.” Nora replied, looking down.

It was hard enough that Jack’s words reminded her of the confinement exercise. But now, Nora was also troubled by the prospect of what could happen to her parents and brother if the people leaving were right.

“Listen, it may just be a few people who lost the nerve to wait around. Still, if there is a plan in the works, and I can get a hold of it, then we might be able to use it.”

“And everyone else? Will we have to use Group B just like the Administration?” Nora asked him. “I don’t know whether I’m okay …”

“I’ll think about it, all right. I’ll try to come up with something.”

“I know you’re trying …” Nora assured him. “I really appreciate all of your efforts.”

Jack’s eyes momentarily slid over toward a clock.

“Well, as I said, I’ll give it some thought. In the meantime, I’m scheduled for a flying lesson in fifteen minutes, so I’ll have to catch you later.”

Jack smiled softly. Then, he stood and headed for the door.

Nora decided to eat something before she returned to her room. She managed to eat a little, but she found herself alternating between hunger and nausea. Finally, Nora had enough and slowly began the journey back to her room. Sleep seemed good right about then.

As she made her way down her hall, she could see there was a note tacked on her door. When she got close enough, she read it. It was a notice giving her the time and location of her flying lesson. Nora was surprised that the lesson was only an hour away. She took the note from the door.

“What if I hadn’t gotten this note in time?” Nora wondered.

Of course, it once again got her to thinking about what they would do to her if she did disobey them. It unnerved her to know that even if she tried to do what they wanted she could still fail and be punished for that failure. Either way, Nora was sure she didn’t want to find out what they would do to her today. She took the note off the door. Even though the appointment wasn’t far-off, there was still time to spare. Nora didn’t feel like sitting around waiting for her appointment to begin. So, she decided to change her clothing then rest before heading off. Nora concluded she could at least have these moments in between tasks to herself. Maybe she could even try to look as nice as she could; it might give her more confidence.

Nora then took notice of the small, complimentary calendar she had picked up at the commissary. She noted she had been forgetting to cross some days off. By the look of it, she’d already crossed into another month. Out of boredom and a lack of desire to think about the flying lesson, Nora decided to update the calendar.

She thought it through and began crossing out dates she determined had already passed. Finally, she crossed out the last day that was no more. To Nora’s surprise, she realized that the first day that remained was her birthday. She had figured it was getting close, but she had no idea it was upon her. Nora sat on her bed. For a moment, she just stared at the date on the calendar. Then, she began to laugh. Just like the note on the door, she could have completely missed it. So much for the calendar! Really, what was the point? So many times people around here didn’t even bother with dates. Everything here was so immediate. It was always today or tomorrow with the Administration. The note tacked on her door didn’t even have the date listed on it. One just assumed that if they didn’t write tomorrow on it then it had to be today. Yet, ironically, the days were so long and yet so intense that Nora was able to distinguish each one in her mind. There always seemed to be at least one event — even if it was a small event — that occurred to set that day apart from the rest. Even a dropped pencil or a recruit with a cough was recorded in her mind.

Nora couldn’t help but think of her parents. She wondered how her parents were feeling this day of all days. How worried they must be. She grew even more despondent thinking about it.

“Maybe these moments of free time aren’t so great after all.” Nora concluded.

Coming to that conclusion was bittersweet. But it was true; the more busywork they made her do the less opportunity she’d have to dwell on things with her last moments.

“Maybe free time is only positive when you’re happy …” Nora remarked aloud.

She looked at the clock. Her appointment was coming up quickly. She sighed. She may as well head out now. At least, then, she wouldn’t have to rush. Nora ended up making it to the airfield with ten minutes to spare. She was pleasantly surprised to see Jack come out of the hanger just as she was heading inside.

“Oh, you! How was it?” Nora asked him.

Her enthusiasm seemed to surprise them both. But Nora figured it was less about her being happy than it was about her being borderline hysterical.

“It was fine.” Jack said. “Not bad at all.”

“Good.” Nora felt relief. Yet, she was surprised to find that she still felt excitement. She wondered what to make of it. Then, it occurred to her that seeing Jack made her happy.

“Hey, I actually found out today is my birthday.” she continued.

“Really?” Jack asked. He seemed genuinely interested.

“Yeah, I’m eighteen. So, I’d rather not have another exercise like the confinement one today.”

“Like I said, it wasn’t too stressful.” he reassured her in a deep voice.

Nora nodded. She considered.

“Oh. I forgot to ask — when is your birthday?” she offered.

“I’ll be nineteen in six months.”

Nora smiled. Suddenly, she couldn’t think of anything else to say — or at least any intelligent thing to say.

“Hmm … yeah birthdays are important.” Nora looked off to the side. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “Actually, I was just thinking about my parents …”

“Well, let’s talk over here then.” Jack advised.

Jack led her away from the entrance of the building and away from any people lingering there. Once they got far enough away, Nora shared her thoughts with him.

“I’ve been thinking — could we get word to my parents? Tell them to leave if they get the chance.”

“I don’t know.”

“They won’t leave without me … or at least not without my telling them to go.”

“But would they realistically be given a chance to leave? And if they aren’t among the ones who are being offered the chance to go, their knowing about the possibility might get them into trouble.”

“Yeah.” Nora acknowledged.

“Besides, we don’t know whether it’s a wise move yet. Until we know the Administration’s plan, how can we know if it’s viable?

“Yeah.”

“Well, we can think about it.” Jack concluded.

“Okay, good.” Nora agreed with enthusiasm. “Listen, I have to get to my appointment. Thanks for talking with me.”

Nora touched his arm with her hand. Both Nora and Jack looked at her hand.

“Well, like I said, I’ve got to get going.” she repeated nervously.

She smiled; she could feel herself blushing. It was hard to turn away, but she knew she had to. There was no point in her waiting around only to be dragged away by force.

 

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 13

Nora could remember hearing voices calling to her, so she must have been in and out of consciousness. Then, when the haze finally cleared, she awoke completely. She slowly opened her eyes. At first, her eyes focused on a strange, bright light above her; the light seared into her. She looked away and blinked as her eyes struggled to adjust. Aside from that one light, the rest of the room was in shadow. Everything looked blurry, and globs of light streamed across Nora’s sight. Nora could make out that there were water pipes overhead, and she could hear water squealing past above her. Maybe it was because of this noise that she had had dreams about her near-drowning experience. At that moment, she almost sighed but ended up coughing instead. Nora concluded she was having trouble breathing because of the water she had inhaled. She sat straight up. As she placed her hand to her chest to stop the aching, she noticed a band on her wrist — sort of a label. The band had her name printed on it. Next, she noticed that her newfound sitting position allowed her to make out more of the room. It was a stark, unwelcoming room. On the walls were rows of metal cabinets. Nora figured she was in some sort of hospital. Yet, there was no buzzer, which would have allowed her to call for a nurse.

Nora sat there for a moment just thinking. Eventually, she found she couldn’t take staying in that bed any longer. Thoughts of the confinement exercise flew through her mind, and, even though she wasn’t tied down, she felt she was being restrained. She had to move! Fortunately, she didn’t have an IV in place to anchor her to the bed. Nora flung back the blanket and jumped up. She could see a light coming from a small window near the top of the exit door. Nora was glad to find the door was unlocked.

Nora opened the door to a long hallway, which was lit with fluorescent lighting throughout its length. On the top of the right-hand wall was the same type of water pipe as before. It made Nora conclude she was in a basement; the hall of which was so empty she could practically hear her breath echoing.

Nora suddenly had this strong desire to get back to her dorm room and blend back in with the others. There was a sense inside of her that she had messed up. She was supposed to have kept her cool, but she hadn’t. Maybe it was her imagination, but she could feel their disapproval — their condemnation — even now while she was alone. If she stuck around the hospital, surely someone would come to speak to her once that person knew she was awake — perhaps even Mrs. Grafton. Maybe if Nora could slide back into the routine, they’d figure she already knew the importance of toeing the line, and they wouldn’t need to threaten her. In the back of Nora’s mind, she could still see the look on Tina’s face after Tina hadn’t gone to that first meeting. Nora figured that she had messed up far worse than Tina had when she simply missed a meeting. Nora not only screwed up her own training but possibly traumatized the others as well. Then again, it wasn’t as though the confinement exercise wasn’t traumatic enough in and of itself. Nothing Nora did or didn’t do would change that reality.

Nora began to step into the hall upon her unsteady feet. The question was which way she should go. The way to the right seemed longer than the way to the left. The part of the hall to the right also seemed to have a connecting hall off to the side. She decided that venturing to the right was the smart choice.

“All right.” she whispered to herself.

Nora was off. She kept her eyes on the pipe to steady herself as she progressed. Nora reached for the wall and touched it. She paused briefly. Then, there was a noise behind her, the sound of a door squeaking open. Nora stiffened and held her breath.

“Wait there, Miss Montgomery. Your bed is back this way.”

Nora turned to see that it was a nurse calling to her. The nurse didn’t look friendly, but that wasn’t particularly surprising to Nora. The nurse approached then. When she got to Nora, she grasped Nora’s arm and began guiding her back to her room.

“Do I have to do it again? The confinement exercise — do I have to do it again? ” Nora asked chokingly as the nurse tucked her in.

“No.” the nurse replied coolly.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” Nora wondered.

“Yes.”

“Well, don’t I have to pass?”

“No. If they let you repeat the exercise, then everyone could maintain he or she couldn’t do it to delay everything.”

She made it sound so logical. Nora felt torn. She certainly didn’t want to do the confinement exercise again, but what if it really was necessary in order to survive what was to come?

“Not that we don’t believe you,” the nurse continued, “but we can’t have the others getting ideas. Still, if you felt you needed the experience you should have tried harder. After all, everyone else managed to make it through — even after your episode — lucky for you the Administration had a spare confinement vessel.”

Nora didn’t call attention to that last part the nurse grumbled in a barely audible voice. Instead, Nora asked, “So, how long am I going to be here?”

The nurse just stared at Nora. It was as though she still suspected Nora of trying to get away with something. In actuality, Nora didn’t want to stay there. It kept her failure fresh on everyone’s mind.

“The doctor will be here in the morning.” the nurse spoke.

There remained an edge to the nurse’s voice, almost a disappointment. The nurse then turned and left the room. The door clicked softly behind her. Nora breathed slowly and stared at the ceiling.

“Did I overreact?” Nora wondered.

No, just the thought of going back into that capsule caused a sudden wave of panic to grow inside of her.

“What exactly was that exercise supposed to demonstrate,” Nora began to contemplate with some anxiety.

Maybe if she could figure out the reasoning for the confinement exercise, she could prove to herself it was pointless and let the fact she didn’t complete it go. Was that the way it was going to be when she was in one of the planes? How small were the planes? They didn’t seem that small when she saw Group A fly overhead. Then again, later, after that one plane had crashed, she heard someone say that more than one person had died. Depending upon how many were inside, they may have been piled on top of one another like sardines in a can. Nora wondered whether it would be worse, better, or the same to be in a small space with at least one other person. She guessed it mattered who that person was. At least she hadn’t been put through the exercise with someone she didn’t know or like. It was bad enough as it was. Then again, if that was the way it was going to be, why delay it? Why not put them with other people during the confinement exercise? In the end, Nora couldn’t help but conclude that freaking out the recruits ahead of time wasn’t helpful to them. Nora doubted the experience was going to make her any calmer when the time to get into a plane finally did come.

But why did the planes need to be smaller than the ideal size needed to comfortably accommodate the pilots? Did it have anything to do with the nebula reapers? Did it make it easier to evade the reapers? Or, was it just because it was easier to get the planes through the force field, which now surrounded the colony instead of the nebula reapers? Nora had wondered how they planned on making it through the new force field after it was mentioned during one of the lectures. She decided that maybe the small size of the plane allowed them to open a smaller hole in the force field. But still, couldn’t they have found a better way? Had they even tried? Probably not, Nora thought. They didn’t seem to care.

Nora could hear the door click open as she lay there. She assumed it was the nurse. Nora had no idea what time it was, but she figured it was too soon for the doctor to have arrived. Either way, Nora didn’t feel like looking at the nurse and having the nurse look upon her with disapproval again. She figured that whatever the nurse had to do inside the room she didn’t need Nora’s attention to do it.

However, when Nora heard footsteps approaching the edge of the bed, she couldn’t help but turn her face toward her right.

“Jack!” she cried out.

He smiled.

“Hey.” he returned.

Nora lifted herself up into a sitting position. Jack found a chair and started to drag it over to her bed.

“I guess I really lost it before.” Nora offered.

Jack looked at her questioningly for a moment.

“How are you?” he asked her.

“All right.” Nora clutched at her blanket with her hands. Jack raised an eyebrow. Nora looked down again. She bit her lip. “Then again, maybe not. I don’t know; I can’t seem to get my head straight …”

Jack nodded and sat down.

“So, did you go through with it?” Nora asked. “The nurse said everyone else did …”

Jack nodded.

“I probably should have just done it.”

“Why?” Jack asked her.

Nora looked at him skeptically but couldn’t think of an answer that would convey what she was feeling. She grew very serious then.

“You shouldn’t have to go through this training at all but especially not now.” she told him. “I do want you to consider what I said before. I want you to leave if you can.”

“You mean you want me to delay for a short time then …”

“What if something happens? What if there ends up being no need for you to go? There’s no point in both of us dying.”

Nora could hardly believe she spoke the last word. In fact, after she uttered it she froze. Jack kept his eyes on her for a moment. He could tell the moment he saw her that she was exhausted emotionally and otherwise. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to him that she’d basically given up on herself. He stood and began slowly pacing around. Suddenly, he stopped.

“I don’t think you realize how much my meeting you that day meant to me. And now, you give me a reason to somehow make it through this situation.” he told her. “You know, if you weren’t here I really wouldn’t care as much what happened to me. Plus, my helping you gives me something to focus on other than my poor, sad self.”

Nora stared forward then.

“Ironically, being above ground with you is probably the best …” Jack began.

“Stop it! Just stop it!” Nora cried out.

Tears formed in her eyes.

“And what if there is no way to win?” she asked.

“Then, at least we tried.” he returned.

Nora was dumbfounded. Her lip quivered.

“I feel so alone, so odd. I feel as though I’m stuck in some nightmare. I only wish I could go back home … go back to reality. Then again, maybe this world is what’s real. Maybe the rest of it is a dream. After all, it’s the world that told us what reality was. Sometimes they’re wrong, I guess.” Nora paused in the middle of her delirious rant to catch her breath. And yet, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from continuing. “I mean, think about it, this threat has been hanging over our heads all this time. They kept it all from us. It needn’t have gotten this bad. They could have had a plan — one that didn’t require people to die like this.”

Jack considered. Should he try to make her feel better or just be honest about what he was thinking? He chose to be honest.

“Yeah, still … I mean, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the reality I’ve lived has never been great.” Jack put forth. “Maybe I’ve just lost perspective, but it all feels like more of the same to me.”

Nora was stunned silent. Then, she thought of something.

“No matter where we were before, it seems we’re all in this same sinking boat now.” Nora offered.

“Some of us; you being one.” Jack spoke lowly. “The rest of this world — I’m sorry, but I doubt it. Circumstances could change for the worse, I suppose. But if they don’t …” Jack trailed off. “As far as our getting out of this situation permanently, you have a better chance of that than I do. I did wonder at the time why you stayed, but I thought you must have had your reasons for not trying to escape. Still, if there’s a chance for you …”

“I have a feeling it’s too late.” Nora said. “They aren’t going to just let me go now. Honestly, I’m pretty sure it was too late the moment I was loaded onto that conveyance vehicle.”

“Maybe. But what if it isn’t? I hate to say it, but they could probably find someone to replace you. You don’t have any skill in piloting a plane or anything that couldn’t be replaced.”

“Would my admitting where I come from repair the situation that the colony is in? Would it be any better for me — or even right?” Nora wondered. “Then again, maybe I’m just afraid of becoming more upset if I’m not believed or if I’m refused anyway. If I get my hopes up and nothing changes … how could I handle it? And if I did go home, I don’t want to sit around knowing this horror is happening to other people and wondering whether it could still happen to me. That’s assuming they would even let me leave now that I know too much. At best, they’d probably just lock me up somewhere to wait it all out. And would our world be spared and ever go back to the way it was or at least the way I thought it was? Or, would I just be waiting to die?” Nora paused. “Still, I admit it does haunt me sometimes that I’m destroying my own life by not trying.”

“Then try.” Jack responded.

“How?” Nora asked him with gravity. “You really want me to confess that I was picked up by mistake to the people who forced me into that coffin? Does it really matter now anyway?”

“No.”

“Then what?” Nora questioned him.

Jack hesitated.

“I have some ideas I’m working on.” he finally admitted.

Nora was taken aback. When she asked that question she hadn’t really expected there to be an answer. Still …

“In the meantime, try to stay sane for me.” he added.

Nora realized how badly her breakdown must have affected him. She nodded slowly.

“I’ll try.” Nora agreed.

“Good.” he said. “I’d better get going before that nurse finishes her dinner.”

Jack sneaked out of the room as silently as he had entered. Nora lay back down. Jack’s talk had done the trick. She did have enough hope at the moment to stay sane, she supposed. But would it last?

 

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 12

 

When Nora arrived, there was already a crowd gathering in the field — this assembling of people occurred despite the cold mist, which continued to hover over them. They looked at her with irritation as she approached. Nora suddenly noticed that not only was there a mix of males and females present, but there were also all types of ages represented as well. Most were her age or older, but surprisingly there were also a few people who were younger than she. It struck Nora as peculiar that the Administration would make an effort to assemble together such a strange mix. Maybe they wondered who would do the best job at the mission at hand and were testing it. Nora shook. No, they could succeed. She had to believe that. This plan of theirs wasn’t just an experiment, which was destined to end in failure.

Then, after thinking about her age, Nora suddenly remembered that her birthday should be coming up soon, and she would be eighteen years old. Of course, she hadn’t thought she’d be spending her birthday under these circumstances. She didn’t think it could get much worse after she was separated from her family, but now that she had no one …

“Well, it seems we have the right number of recruits here.” Mrs. Grafton noticed.

So, there wasn’t going to be a roll call?

“I trust no one entered this group without belonging to it.” Mrs. Grafton concluded with a sort of amusement in her voice, which almost sounded like laughter.

It was true. Who would take their places? In fact, Nora figured if they tried to go back to their original dorms they would probably just be turned in by their former friends in a bid to save themselves — just like that one girl Amber was.

“Anyway, today is the day we’ll be doing the confinement exercise. I know you’ve probably heard about this exercise before, but don’t believe everything you hear. You’ll find if you just think you’ll get through it, you will. So, let’s see … who wants to go first? In other words, any volunteers?”

Nora looked around to see whether any of those near her were going to volunteer. No one did. Well, Nora was sure of one thing; she wasn’t going to be the one to volunteer.

“And your name, miss? Miss?” Mrs. Grafton spoke up. Nora shuddered when she realized Mrs. Grafton was talking to her. Nora looked up at her.

“What’s your name?” Mrs. Grafton asked while fixated on Nora.

“Nora … Montgomery.” Nora’s voice cracked.

“Nora Montgomery. Congratulations. You just volunteered.”

Nora’s hands began to shake. The others around her seemed smug and rather pleased. It was clear that Nora was selected because she had become the least popular of the group. Picking on her wouldn’t get the group agitated; in fact, it would probably score Mrs. Grafton some points. Then, there was also the relief the others would feel. After all, if Nora was singled out they’d probably be treated better by comparison. Nora doubted this treatment was going to be a one-time occurrence either; she feared her being singled out this way was only the beginning of Mrs. Grafton’s harassment.

Suddenly, she could hear someone approach from behind her. Maybe someone was about to volunteer. Then again, Mrs. Grafton probably wouldn’t allow anyone to take Nora’s place at this point. Besides, it seemed clear that Nora would be going soon no matter who volunteered. Even so, Nora decided to turn and smile at the person who felt some pity for her.

“You …” Nora started.

Jack raised his eyes and looked at Mrs. Grafton.

“All right. Let’s head out.” Mrs. Grafton announced.

The rest of the group walked on in a sort of disorganized mass without any hesitation. Apparently, seeing Nora do the confinement exercise was something no one wanted to miss. Jack walked ahead as well — but presumably for different reasons. Nora hesitated. Then, Mrs. Grafton cast a look back at Nora; she seemed to stop and wait for her. It was obvious Nora couldn’t get away. So, she went along with the others. She walked swiftly in order to catch up to the group. Eventually, Jack gravitated back towards Nora again — close enough that they could whisper to each other. After a moment, which Nora used to catch her breath, Jack and Nora began to talk in low voices. Still, to cover it up, Nora looked straight ahead at the back of Mrs. Grafton’s head.

“How are you here?” Nora queried softly.

“It isn’t really hard to get someone to change places with you under the circumstances. I made the switch after the others in Group B came out of the dorm. I looked for a guy who was about my age and my height. There weren’t many recruits to choose from, so he doesn’t really look all that much like me. Fortunately, Mrs. Grafton didn’t get a good look at me before. She apparently didn’t bother. Anyway, I guess there is somewhat of a risk that the switch will be discovered. But still, under the circumstances, it’s worth the risk.”

“Will the others report him?”

“Only if they hate him.” Jack laughed to himself. “Really, I don’t know. The fact nothing has happened yet is a good sign. I’m hoping he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t stand out.”

“But what about you …” Nora started.

“I’d rather be with you than wait for my name to be called in a week or two.”

“You think it’ll be that soon?”

“Yes. They’re running out of time. They won’t be able to keep up the shield much longer, I think. That’s how it seems to me given the way they’re acting.”

Nora was surprised that Jack could be so sure. After all, this was his life that was hanging in the balance.

“I just wish I felt there was a chance for success in Group B.” Nora stared down at the ground. “You could possibly survive if you belonged to another group. Maybe you’d be released even.”

Jack looked at Nora a moment.

“I heard earlier that new recruits are going to be brought in to replace the numbers for both Group A and Group B. If true, that won’t go over well, I think, for the others we know. Obviously, the Administration doesn’t think the problem will be resolved soon. There is no safe place.”

“So, they’ve replaced us already. It’s as though I don’t even exist.” Nora remarked.

“I remember you exist. I can’t forget it.”

“Thank you.” Nora replied softly.

Nora finally managed to smile. Jack smiled as well.

“I’ll find a way to visit you as often as I can.” he added. “We aren’t on the same floor obviously.”

“That’s good … I mean the part about you visiting me.” Nora started. Then, she looked him straight in the eye and whispered. “But it would be better for you if you got out of here.”

“Yeah, well.” Jack replied. “We can’t have everything.”

It was strange to Nora that as they approached the gymnasium they weren’t slowing down. Nora became even more stressed when they bypassed the building altogether. Nora had assumed that they were heading there; she had thought the confinement exercise would be in a pool. Now, she didn’t know what to think. The only thing that was apparent was that the confinement exercise was going to be held at a different site. Nora didn’t think there was any possibility that Mrs. Grafton had reconsidered doing the exercise that day. Nora felt like asking where they were going but decided against it. After all, most of Group B was already down on her, so her speaking up now wouldn’t do her any good. Jack did look over at Nora questioningly. She looked up at him just as they all suddenly stopped.

Nora looked around her and spotted a large, rather murky-looking lake. Not far from her was a small deck with a tiny, rectangular watercraft attached to it.

“For some reason, people tend to get wet in the confinement exercise. That’s the reason why we took the precaution of having you wear swimsuits.” Mrs. Grafton noted.

Nora’s eyes widened in horror.

“Miss Montgomery, you’re up first.” Mrs. Grafton stated. “Step forward.”

Nora looked around her. The only sympathy she received was from Jack.

“All right, Miss Montgomery. There is only so much light in a day.”

Nora looked at the ground. This exercise just kept getting worse; it seemed as terrifying as she had feared. And she couldn’t even see someone else demonstrate it first to reassure her that a person could survive it. Then, the thought occurred to her that if she kept delaying the exercise that Jack would most likely offer to take her place. That might make the connection between them obvious. No, Nora couldn’t have that. Still …

Nora’s first instinct at that moment was to look to Jack, but she stopped short. It occurred to her that she was alone earlier that day. It was great that Mrs. Grafton didn’t recognize him from the Group B meeting. And if the others did, they weren’t saying. Even so, she didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Jack didn’t belong in Group B and had left with the others before Group B’s meeting. If they did find out, would they kick Jack out of Group B or just add back the other guy he replaced? Then again, there had to be a reason that the larger group she had arrived here with initially had been carved up into smaller groups. There might actually be a limit to the number of people who could pilot the available planes. On the other hand, if Jack could get out of Group B and have more time … maybe there was more hope that he would live. Could she really allow him to make this sacrifice for her? Even if he got punished, maybe it would be worth it to get him out of Group B … But then, what if the punishment for the switch was severe? Nora couldn’t think straight. She didn’t have time to think; she’d have to deal with this dilemma later.

“Miss Montgomery!”

“What do I have to do?” Nora finally asked.

“That’s the first helpful question you’ve asked me.” Mrs. Grafton sneered. “Go to the dock, and the man there will give you your instructions.”

As Nora made her way to the dock, she couldn’t help but feel guilty, for she had potentially chosen what was in her best interest over what was best for Jack. What if the longer they waited to tell the truth the worse the consequences would be for him? She couldn’t help but compare his situation with hers. What if she had spoken up when she was first taken? The only positive thing about her worrying over Jack’s fate was that it kept her from overthinking what was about to befall her. The reprieve from her anxiety about her own situation ended when she got a close look at the small vessel; it reminded her of a coffin. She shrank back.

“Hey … hey.” the man at the dock uttered.

Nora finally looked away from the vessel and at the man briefly. Then, her eyes skirted to and fro.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.

“Nora …”

“Nora, my name is Gerald.”

She took up and shook his hand.

“This isn’t so bad really.” the man insisted.

“Really …?”

The man then leaned forward and whispered, “Now, please don’t make me force you in there. I’ve done it before. I don’t want to, but I’ll do it again.”

Nora hesitatingly stepped forward.

“Good girl, I’ll help you inside.” the man said.

Nora cringed as the man lifted the large lid up. There was a faint odor of vomit inside the capsule.

“Get inside.” the man demanded, this time without any compassion in his voice. As Nora hesitated again, he basically shoved her into the capsule. By the time she managed to sit up, he had slammed the cover onto the capsule’s frame. Nora clasped her hands to her head as the noise from the slamming reverberated in her ears.

Nora had held her breath to avoid inhaling the stench while on the dock. Now, as she found herself inside the capsule without the luxury of fresh air to breathe in, she breathed in the putrid air instead. Nora was almost caught up in the instinct to gag. However, as the capsule began to sink, Nora was distracted away from the smell and engulfed by fear. As the water level on the sides of the windows began to creep up, Nora could see Jack on the shore watching her. At first, it was as though she could focus in on his eyes. Then, he became a blur.

Though Nora tried to control her breathing for a moment, she found herself on the verge of hyperventilating anyway. Nora placed her hands on the glass. No water was leaking into the capsule, but there also didn’t seem to be any source of oxygen in the vessel. It was so small and so confining. Nora was overtaken by the need to make sure there was a way out of this trap. Nora began to strike her palms against the hatch repeatedly.

Of course, once Nora was able to slowly dislodge the hatch from the vessel the water from the lake began to leak in. As the water began to fill the tiny place she occupied, there seemed to be no turning back. Nora then increased her efforts to break free, but the lid didn’t seem to want to give her any more of an opening. So, Nora began to use her feet to kick the cover free. Nora took one last breath as the hatch finally gave way. She then put all her strength behind swimming toward the surface.

Nora began to feel her lungs ache. She soon worried that she didn’t have the lung capacity to make it to the surface. Try as she might, she couldn’t resist the urge to breathe. She tried breathing out slowly in order to buy herself more time. However, it wasn’t long before her lungs demanded oxygen brought in. Only, there wasn’t any air to breathe just then. She could see the vessel slowly being pulled toward the surface beneath her as she began to grow lightheaded. She clawed at the surface. She could see wavy forms above her and to the right, but they seemed so far away.

By some miracle, just as she felt herself losing all her strength, she broke the surface. Nora could see a group near the water’s edge. She heard Mrs. Grafton acknowledge that the capsule had made a strange jerking movement moments earlier. Then, the woman told the crowd that they were following protocol and bringing up the capsule.

Nora began coughing violently. And yet, her sounds were faint when compared to the noise produced by the rest of Group B. For, when the capsule came up empty its members gasped and screamed aloud. Nora could see Jack, who stood in the middle of the group, staring at the capsule like the others. Then, he got this questioning look on his face. He slowly started to turn to the right and seemed to trace the ground with his eyes as he did. Nora wanted to call out to him, but her lungs seemed to have seized. She couldn’t breathe despite making every effort to. It was at that moment that the dark spots that had begun to appear in her eyes overcame her, and she passed out.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 11

 

Not much was actually known about the confinement exercise. Most of it was just rumor and speculation. Group A, as the first group was now being called, were an elusive bunch. Upon reflection, Nora believed she saw a group in the cafeteria she never saw elsewhere sitting rather quietly together. It was soon after that first sighting that the rumors about the confinement exercise started circulating. Come to think of it, it was about the time the rumor started that sightings of Group A stopped. Nora had to admit she previously had feelings of relief over not being in Group A’s position. Now, she was.

“After your belongings are delivered to you …” Nora heard Mrs. Grafton say.

Nora had apparently been tuning out most of the words Mrs. Grafton had spoken. But something about this sentence broke into her consciousness.

“Belongings?” Nora heard herself utter. She instantly regretted it.

Mrs. Grafton looked up in her direction. Nora had apparently said that louder than she intended. That and the fact that the trainees in Group B were spread so far apart probably made Nora easy to spot. But it was unnerving all the same. She still remembered Mrs. Grafton from the day she arrived. And that girl … what had happened to that girl? What was her name? Oh, yes, Lisa. What if she had been put into Group A? Nora hadn’t seen her since that first day. She now doubted Lisa was released. And it would have been too extreme to have killed her. Then again, maybe being in Group A was the same as death … If that was true, then maybe Nora had nothing to fear from this woman. After all, she was already in the next group to go.

“Yes, we’ve sent people to collect your belongings. They’ll be sent to a new dorm.”

“With Group A?” Nora wrung her hands. She didn’t really want to ask, and when the woman looked at her with an intense glare she wished she hadn’t. Even so, Nora felt she had to ask all the same.

“No, we’ve been renovating a different building, and it’s ready now.” Mrs. Grafton stated coolly.

Nora was slightly relieved to hear that Group A was still seemingly expected to return to their old dorm. Then again, they hadn’t left yet.

“Now, may we move on?” Mrs. Grafton sighed. “I’m sure there will be time for questions at some point in the future.”

Nora forced herself to nod. For a moment, she thought she’d be in some sort of trouble. But the woman asked whether Nora was done in such a way that it seemed as though she was placating Nora. Mrs. Grafton had been much nastier with Lisa. Nora kept reminding herself that there wasn’t much they could do to her at this point. Maybe that was the reason there was no big confrontation this time; they didn’t seem to have anything to back up the threats with now. They could speed up the timetable of the other recruits, but there was no way to really control anyone in Group B anymore. They couldn’t kick Nora out since she wanted to leave. They could beat her, she supposed, but that might mess with the timetable they seemed to be on. The fact was that some people might prefer to be beaten under these circumstances. So, how could they force them to go? For Nora, it was the fear for her family’s safety that was motivating her the most. But could that be the motivation for all of Group B? To Nora’s knowledge, the Administration didn’t even know about her family. How would they know if the others had one? The threat of death perhaps — if it was threatened to be a painful death — might do it. That possibility was all Nora could come up with. After all, as long as the Administration could make them believe that this plan was their best chance for survival, what choice did they really have? But it required the trainees to believe it, which would be no easy feat.

And yet, it occurred to Nora that no one had been threatened openly. The way they had been forcibly detained and transported here coupled with the reason they had been given for being seized had merely given them that impression. Clearly, Nora had not been the only one to feel it either. They were all expendable; their feelings didn’t matter. Nora wasn’t used to being treated this way, though it appeared the others were. They seemed to be hoping to muddle through it somehow and make it to the other side in one piece. Perhaps, it was human nature to feel this way, or maybe it was past experience telling them to hold on — that the situation might improve. Certainly, they all seemed to feel powerless to change things for the better. What’s more, they seemed to be counting on their captors to just decide to set them free.

“After you get settled, change into your swimming attire.” Mrs. Grafton directed.

“Swimming attire.” Nora repeated.

Every eye in the room turned an annoyed look onto Nora. It struck her then how alone she truly was. And now, the ones she was with seemed to dislike her. She had thought she and her roommates would be kept together. After all, it only made sense; they were in the same classes and occupied the same room in the dorm. Yet, somehow, Nora was chosen to be isolated from the rest. Would all of the recruits have the same outcome? Would those from the other groups grow closer, the separation harder as time passed? Or, would they grow numb and cynical, not caring what happened to anyone? Maybe it was for the best to get this process done and over with now rather than later. Still, Nora could feel the urge to cry come over her. She knew then without a doubt that she didn’t want to die. But it would seem it was out of her hands now. She had been hoping something would change and reverse the situation she was in; that hope was now gone. Unlike the others who had returned to their old dorm rooms, the illusion that she would ever be allowed to return home had been ripped away.

 

***

 

 

At first, Nora thought she’d have to find the new dormitory on her own. But they sent a guide to show the members of Group B the way. Or, was it to make sure they went where they were supposed to go? The first thing she noticed upon entering the building was a small cafeteria. The presence of the cafeteria suggested there would be no more meals with her roommates. How they left things was how they were going to stay. And Nora was going to simply disappear as Group A had.

Next, Nora and the others were given their room assignments. They were then steered toward a staircase. The rooms for the women were on the second floor. Nora could tell by the closeness of the doors that the rooms were small. The door to her room was unlocked; in fact, it didn’t even have a lock. The room housed a desk, a closet, and a single bed. There was also a light overhead. Nora went across the threshold. There was just a little time left before she had to change into a swimsuit, but she figured she may as well look around. One of her first observations was that there were new belongings, recently issued, that had been placed on her desk. There was now a swimsuit among the other articles of clothing. She stared at it for the longest time. The confinement exercise had seemed horrible enough before, but the fact that she now knew there was swimming involved terrified her on a new level. She sat on the bed and began to pray to God.

Eventually, Nora forced herself to stand up. She didn’t want to go, but she didn’t want to be late either. She figured it was too late not to be noticed. Still, maybe she could prevent her situation with the others from becoming worse.

After Nora got her swimsuit on, she didn’t feel quite comfortable. So, she decided to put one of her trainee outfits on over it — the one with shorts and a t-shirt. She then grabbed her towel and headed from the dorm. The dorm seemed nice; well, it was clean anyway. The main problem was how lonely and quiet it was, especially with all the stress going on. Nora hadn’t figured she would miss having a roommate. Yet, she found she really needed to talk with somebody about the confinement exercise and what was going to happen after it. Maybe someone could explain how swimming would help her pilot a plane. Then again, maybe she didn’t want to know.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 10

 

It was strange to Nora how much the supplies still seemed to mean to Elsie. But it wasn’t just Elsie — it was most everyone. The amenities seemed to create a sense of normalcy among the recruits. Though, it wasn’t nearly enough for Nora. Ironically, Nora found herself in a situation that was not unlike the situation she was in the day after the nebula reapers broke free. But that day was before anyone knew what had happened. Maybe she and her family, her classmates, and her neighbors should have asked more questions — not that they would have gotten any real answers if they had. But how could all these people — who knew the truth of what was going on at the Installation — slip into this denial? Maybe it was just too much for them to bear. It was too much for Nora to bear; and yet, she couldn’t see herself just pretending it was all okay.

Nora tried to understand where the other recruits were coming from; she really did. But it just made her feel even more removed from everyone else around her. She had gone into town that day to avoid feeling that disconnect between reality and the life she was living. Now, she found herself in the same situation — only worse — much, much worse. Why didn’t she stay with her family? To go seeking after a sense of understanding and to lose most everything that mattered to her in this life — what a fool she had been. Then again, there was one person who seemed to understand her; that person was Jack.

She had thought a lot about Jack since their time together at the dugout. He was not only a great distraction; he made her feel better just by being there. There was an unspoken understanding that they were on the same page. Nora couldn’t explain what a comfort it was to have someone who just got it. Unfortunately, unspoken feelings were about the only way they could communicate since then. And those lectures — those gut-wrenching lectures — were the only opportunities she had to see him. Even at the cafeteria, she wasn’t able to say much to him. She would put forth the effort to laugh with her friends and try to get eye contact with him. She thought behaving this way made it less obvious that she had a connection with Jack. She thought about passing him a note, but that would be absurd.

She wasn’t sure why she kept her relationship with Jack from Elsie and Tina. Perhaps, the fact that Tina had told Elsie all about Nora’s past made her seem less than trustworthy. Elsie, on the other hand, never seemed like the type of person who could keep a secret. But maybe more than anything, Nora just needed something of her own to hang on to. Nora just wished she could talk with him as she had at that baseball dugout. He was the one — the only one — who made the current loss of her family hurt just a little less. One time, Elsie and Tina went back in the cafeteria line to get dessert. Nora declined; she didn’t feel like it.

“Jack.” Nora uttered when he suddenly came and stood across from her at her cafeteria table. Nora then looked about her to see whether Elsie and Tina were watching.

“Is something wrong? I mean, besides the obvious.”

Nora smiled despite herself.

“No, it’s silly. I’m just afraid of their knowing about us.”

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked with a lilt of humor in his voice.

“No, no. I’m being silly. Please sit.”

Jack sat down across from her.

“What are you afraid they’ll think?” he asked.

Nora looked over at him slyly.

“Nothing. It’s silly.”

She looked down again.

“It’s actually nice to talk with you.” she added.

Jack didn’t seem surprised.

“I’m glad.” he said.

“I just wish we could really talk.” Nora breathed. “You know?”

She looked him in the eye. He looked down then nodded. It was at that moment that Nora saw Tina and Elsie coming back out of the corner of her eye. She turned and looked towards them. She then heard Jack slide his chair back. He stood; she looked up at him. Jack smiled slightly. He then reached forward and grabbed the salt off her table. He turned as the two girls approached and headed back to his own table.

 

***

 

 

It was another rainy day the day after that last encounter with Jack. The rumor was that the Administration submitted a request to the Atmospheric Regulatory Commission to make the rain stop. The understanding around the dorm was that the Regulatory Commission was none too pleased. It seemed the Commission members got it in their heads that this rain was what constituted a regular weather pattern for the colony — as though there were such a thing. The source of the information was reportedly someone overhearing part of a phone conversation at the Administration’s main office. Overhearing was the only way any of the recruits found out information the Administration didn’t want them to know. Sometimes the information wasn’t reliable, but occasionally it turned out to be true. Nora hoped this particular information proved to be false.

The word was that the Administration of Public Defense was adamant about the weather change. If this information was true, it probably meant that the first recruits — those who arrived sometime before Nora’s group — were going to be sent out soon. And yet, it seemed unlikely to Nora that this conclusion was accurate. After the tragedy of the other day, you’d think the Administration would want to take some time before progressing with its plans. Besides, what was the rush? Were conditions deteriorating that fast? Nora noted the rumor but didn’t pay too much mind. In fact, it wasn’t until the Administration summoned the recruits to the auditorium that it was announced that the Atmospheric Regulatory Commission had finally relented and planned to stop the rain. The situation then seemed dire to Nora. The Commission was known to be unyielding and arrogant. What must be going on to make them alter their policy at all?

Yet, the Commission had obviously refused to alter the weather pattern that particular day — the rain proved that. So, the teachers, angered by the inconvenience, announced to all of the second-round recruits — after they arrived at a new, surprisingly smaller auditorium — that Group B would begin confinement training right away. It wasn’t ideal, but the Administration wasn’t going to be held hostage completely by the Regulatory Commission.

“Why—why not just have lectures today?” Nora stammered as she addressed the question to Tina. “And who’s in Group B? Is that all of us? No one ever talked in those terms before.”

Mrs. Grafton must have realized by the students’ blank expressions that they didn’t know what she was talking about. So, Mrs. Grafton, frustrated, searched her attaché case for the list of names composing Group B. Nora looked at Mrs. Grafton skeptically. The woman seemed somewhat smaller to Nora in this new room. Instead of being on a podium in the center of the room, Mrs. Grafton was standing much lower than the students; for the students sat in tiered rows, which formed a semi-circle around Mrs. Grafton. Unlike before, there was no assigned seating. But, once again, there weren’t enough seats for everyone. In fact, the room barely contained the masses. This overcrowding added to Mrs. Grafton’s dwarfed appearance. Yet, Mrs. Grafton seemed determined to offset this disadvantage with a marked display of attitude. Why else put on this big show of disgust? Nora knew the Administration had never told the recruits about the groupings. Then again, maybe Mrs. Grafton was just angry that it was raining. Even so, it bothered Nora that Mrs. Grafton should even playact at blaming all of them for her bad mood. Then, Nora looked at Tina and Elsie, who just stared straight ahead. At first, Nora thought they didn’t get how annoying it was. But then, she realized they were worried. Finally, Mrs. Grafton found the list.

“This is really not necessary to know since all those who don’t go today will be going soon. But I guess those not in Group B may as well be dismissed for the day. Each group is comprised of both men and women from different dorms and floors.”

“Why would they do that?” Nora wondered to herself.

And did it mean that only a couple of people from each place would stay together? Would she still be with Tina and Elsie? Maybe she could be with Jack …

“We’ve decided after the incident the other day to expedite our schedule.”

Nora’s brow furrowed. That was the opposite of the reaction she expected.

“Anyway, here’s the list.”

Deep down everyone was nervous; Nora could tell just by looking around. And yet, there was a difference between knowing something could happen and actually having it occur. That was how Nora felt when her name was called. A chill went up her spine. She turned to look at her friends, and they looked sympathetically back at her but did not look particularly horrified. As the final names were read off, Nora realized she was the only one she knew who was going next. Nora was in shock. Her eyes searched the room. Finally, she caught sight of Jack. He stared back at her steadily.

It didn’t take long for Nora’s roommates to detach from her. In fact, it happened almost instantly. Tina, who was sitting next to Nora, turned away and was facing Elsie. They were talking to each other. Elsie, who was facing Nora, glanced over at Nora briefly then quickly looked away. Nora turned and stared forward. She didn’t need this rejection on top of everything else. She looked down and gripped her chair with her hands.

“Silence, please!” Mrs. Grafton called out. When it was quiet enough, she added, “I will read the other lists when it becomes necessary.”

Mrs. Grafton’s reminder did its damage. The newfound silence became stifling. All of a sudden, the relief of not having their names called out dissipated. After all, it was only a temporary reprieve for the rest. Soon all their names would be called out. Nora wanted to feel sorry for them, but at that moment she could feel nothing of the sort. Even though their total joy had been quashed, there was still a spark of optimism in the girls. Their situation could still change for the better; there was still time for them. Maybe a third group wouldn’t even turn out to be necessary. If that ended up being the case, then it would be Nora and the others in Group B who would be the lone ones among them to face down the nebula reapers. Now, maybe they were worried for Nora; maybe they were afraid to lose her. And maybe this whole turn of events came too close to home for them. Yet, somehow, having them look over at Nora occasionally as though she were already dead wasn’t helping her.

“The rest of you are dismissed.”

Tina and Elsie stood. Nora couldn’t seem to help herself; she looked up at them. Nora hadn’t wanted it to end this way. Unfortunately for Nora, they didn’t look at her again. They just left by the door on Nora’s right. She felt like a fool; her heart sank. It was like watching strangers pass by — like watching someone else’s life. Nora entwined the fingers of her hands. She glanced around her and saw that some of the people, like herself, had remained in their seats. She assumed these people were now in Group B. She tried to get eye contact with some of them. Perhaps, they could relate to what she was going through. Only, they all seemed be in their own world. And even when she managed to get eye contact with someone, he or she looked away. It seemed no one wanted to get closer to anyone — most likely for the same reason that Tina and Elsie had just walked away in silence.

“Amber … you were called.”

Nora could hear someone near the exit say.

“Shh …” Amber remarked.

Amber’s “friend” stood her ground, effectively blocking the girl’s escape.

“It won’t do you any good.” the friend told Amber. “If it’s not you, it will be one of us.”

Eventually, Mrs. Grafton motioned with her head toward the door, and two men came to pull Amber back. They sat her in a nearby chair and stood next to her as the girl sobbed violently.

Then, suddenly, Nora’s eyes were drawn to the movement of someone approaching her. It was Jack. Nora has subconsciously been watching for him to pass by her. It didn’t occur to her at that moment that he should have already left. Now that he was standing next to her, she felt a jolt of relief. Had she just not noticed his name being read? Not a single Jack had been called out. Then again, maybe he had given them a different name. Jack sat next to her then stared straight ahead.

“Are you in Group B?” Nora asked him.

“No.” Jack returned lowly.

He looked over at her to see a horrified look cross her face.

“I thought you needed someone.” he explained.

Nora proceeded to look forward and bite her lip. She berated herself for being so selfish. Then, she said, “It’s fine. I’m glad you don’t have to go right away. Maybe you’ll be spared this outcome.”

And yet, even as she said this, she was on the verge of crying.

“It’s just that … what am I going to do?” her voice cracked as she spoke.

“Stay strong.” he responded.

Nora turned toward him.

“But I’m not going to exist here very much longer. This is the end for me.” Nora whispered. “Why didn’t it occur to me before that this would happen? Maybe I was just hoping that the first group would succeed. They still could, couldn’t they?”

Nora looked at Jack pleadingly. He said nothing. Nora’s face fell further.

“There seems to be one too many here.” Mrs. Grafton announced.

Jack stood.

“I guess they don’t want the rest of us here … yet.” he noted.

Nora watched him take a couple of steps toward the door. Then, he looked at her.

“I’ll think of something, and I’ll see you later.” he said.

Nora forced a smile. She appreciated that he was trying to make her feel better, even though she felt it would be of no use. Jack left Nora alone then. Though Nora didn’t believe she could be saved, she did hope one thing Jack said would turn out to be true. She hoped that somehow, someway she would see him again.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 9

 

The following day, the schedule was altered again. Since the instructors were helping with a test flight, morning classes were cancelled. Instead of just sitting in the dorms waiting, several of the girls on Nora’s floor suggested they go watch the planes take off. Nora wasn’t so sure. They were given such little time to themselves that to lose even a moment of privacy seemed wrong. But it became clear to Nora that Elsie, in particular, wasn’t going to stop bugging her until she agreed to accompany her. What was worse, it seemed Elsie wasn’t likely to go at all without Nora. Tina was planning on going, but, as it turned out, Elsie didn’t care whether Tina went or not. A rift had developed between Tina and Elsie after the previous night’s argument. They hadn’t spoken since their return to the room. Nora figured that the feud would resolve itself in time. Apparently, though, that time hadn’t yet come.

So, rather than having to stay alone in the room with just Elsie, and possibly having to hear all about her anger towards Tina, Nora decided to head outside. Elsie and Nora met up with a group of girls in an open field. The grass was rather yellow and tall as it waved in the slight breeze. Still, despite the wind, the air was rather hot and stifling. Yet, Nora breathed it in — trying to feel the sensation of being alive — even though it was somewhat unpleasant.

When Nora felt some of the others looking in her direction, she smiled. They lost interest. Then, overhead there suddenly flew a jet … then another. At first, it reminded Nora of the Founders’ Day celebration. But then, the smell from the exhaust became a bit suffocating, especially in the heat. A thick haze seemed to settle over the field. Nora began to be overtaken with dry coughs; that additional misfortune was it for her.

“I’ve seen enough.” Nora announced as she started to walk off the field.

Moments later, she heard footsteps behind her. Then, the sound of the planes became louder than before — and that noise had been pretty loud. In fact, it was so loud that it hurt Nora’s ears. She clasped her ears with her hands. And yet, it did little to block out the ferocious rumbling. Seconds later, there was an explosion, a sensation of heat, and the sound of screaming. The screaming seemed to come from the girls surrounding Nora.

Nora turned around, fearing the worst. Since all of the girls had started to make their way off the field before the explosion, they seemed fine. It turned out to be one of the planes that caused the explosion. It had crashed into a storage shed by the control tower on the other side of the field.

But as happy as she was to see that the girls she was with weren’t injured, it occurred to Nora that someone was most likely dead. Anyone who remained in that plane couldn’t be alive, not after that crash. Nora watched as the men and women who worked at the facility slowly began to gather together in order to extinguish the fire. Nora seemed mesmerized by the scene at first. Gradually, however, the wind began to shift, and the suffocating smoke headed in her direction. The fumes from the burning jet fuel began to choke Nora; it seemed to scorch her throat.

“I need to get out of here.” Nora coughed to herself.

As Nora began to walk away, she was surprised to find she couldn’t hear the others following her. Then again, maybe the ringing in her ears was loud enough that she wasn’t able to hear them behind her anymore. She cast a look back toward them. Then, they suddenly started heading her way again. Suddenly, she and the others seemed to instinctively hold the top of their shirts over their mouths as they rushed back to their dorm — possibly the action was the result of a memory of fire drills from their elementary years. On the other hand, it was possible none of the others had gone to school. So, more than likely, they were just following her lead. Since Nora sincerely doubted they were merely being considerate and were waiting for her in the field, there had to be another reason why they seemed to be incapable of initiating any action. After all, most of them were strangers. So, instead, Nora figured they were most likely in shock.

“How sad.” a girl named Tracy wheezed. “What a terrible accident!”

“If it was an accident …” Elsie scoffed.

Everyone looked at Elsie.

“You can’t say it hasn’t occurred before or won’t happen again. One way or the other; isn’t it the same thing — death?”

 

***

 

 

When the rain began to fall later that day, Nora found herself with a rare moment alone. Elsie was taking a shower. So, while it wasn’t ideal, this opportunity would be Nora’s only chance for solitude. There was an old ball field with a dugout, which Nora had seen from afar. If Nora could make it there without getting soaked, she could possibly have a moment of peace — one she could count on.

Nora grabbed a notebook and walked as fast as she could down the halls. She didn’t want to run; it might draw too much attention to her. She quickly headed outside. The first obstacle was behind her; no one tried to stop her. And after a quick look around, it appeared that no one from the dorm was following her either. Nora was grateful to see through the beads of rain that the dugout was empty. Though, really, the fact that no one was around was not a surprise. Not only was it raining, but the recruits were given so little time to themselves that no one probably thought of going to the dugout — if they even knew it existed.

Nora entered the dugout and sat on the bench. When she sat down, she was surprised when a drop of water fell upon her knee. She looked up expecting a leak from the awning above her. When she found none, she touched her face. Her notebook had managed to keep her head dry, but there was a drop of water on her cheek anyway. Nora found she was crying. She hadn’t cried since the night she told Tina about her family. Then, suddenly, she felt someone nearby. When she looked up, there was Jack just a few feet away. He stood at the entrance of the dugout; his hair was soaking wet.

“I saw you leaving the dorm. I was outside talking with some guys about the accident.” he told her.

Nora looked down.

“Yeah.” Nora uttered.

Jack sat down next to her. He leaned back and looked at the rain.

“You seem different somehow — not smiling.” he started. “Though I do remember you that way, it just seems odd under the circumstances.”

Nora looked over at him questioningly. Some time passed.

“I’ve been wondering something …” Nora started. “… could you have gotten away if I hadn’t been with you?”

Jack hesitated.

“Yes and no. I mean, I might have been able to get us both out of it. If I had known what was about to happen, I’d have taken the risk.”

“You could have left me behind.” Nora mentioned.

Jack looked at Nora quizzically. She had seen that look before when they were on the roof together. She had no idea what it meant. She decided to go ahead and ask him.

“What?” she wondered aloud.

“You don’t recognize me, do you?” he put forth.

Now, Nora was particularly confused.

“Of course. From the plaza the other day.” she responded.

“No, before that.” Jack paused. “We met, if you can call it that, a long time ago. You gave me a peach.”

Nora turned a perplexed look out into the distance. Then, suddenly, she turned her face swiftly towards him.

“You!” Nora exclaimed. “I saw you in that gutter when I was a child. I gave you the peach I had with me.”

Jack smiled.

“Now you’ve got me smiling.” he said softly.

“I wish I could have gone back after that day. I really wanted to, but we moved soon after that. You know, I had started to worry that moment was all a dream.”

Nora smiled briefly. But then, just like that the moment was gone, and she frowned again.

“Someone I know doesn’t think what happened today was an accident. What do you think?” Nora queried.

Nora looked at him from over her shoulder.

“I say I don’t know.” Jack replied.

Nora looked down.

“Is that why you’re here at this dugout?” he pursued.

“I don’t know … that’s part of it. But there are a lot of other issues I’ve been trying not to think about as well.”

“Such as …”

“Such as the confinement exercise — I’ve heard it’s coming up. I’m not exactly sure what that term means, but it doesn’t sound good. I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.”

Nora looked at Jack.

“I’m trying to take everything moment to moment — I’m trying not to think about it. But now, I wonder whether the plane crash today was because those on board went through that confinement exercise or something like it. Maybe those people couldn’t handle what they thought was coming.”

“I don’t know.” Jack replied. “Part of me wishes I did. Certainly, I wish I could reassure you.”

“I know. Still, at least I’m helping protect my family from the threat, right?” Nora asked Jack. “I don’t want my brother to end up here.”

Jack just looked at her.

“I want to spare them all from this experience. I want to do my part. But mostly, I don’t want them in trouble because of me. But what if I can’t …” she breathed. “… what if I can’t help, and all I’m doing is destroying myself for nothing?”

Nora looked at Jack for a moment. He just looked back at her.

“I guess, as you said, there aren’t any assurances you can give me.”

“No.” Jack admitted.

Nora nodded. Then, she stared out into the rain. Surprisingly, she felt herself relaxing as the drops crept slowly downward. The tension inside her began to lift. She almost felt as though she could sleep there. Maybe she felt safer with Jack, or maybe she could just picture herself somewhere else during better times. Nora closed her eyes, so she could complete the effect. Yes, she could definitely stay here forever. She could imagine being able to decide to stay here or leave if she wanted. She could imagine herself just outside her apartment building on the steps, her parents and her brother waiting inside. Jack could be there; they could be on their first date. Nora managed a slight smile.

“There you are smiling again.” Jack mentioned.

She opened her eyes again and looked at him.

“So, you never said, is that what you prefer?” Nora asked him. “Me … when I’m smiling, I mean.”

“Not necessarily. It’s either way, really. Though, I do wish you had reason to smile. Still, just being here with you like this is nice, too. It’s nice to be above ground with you.”

Nora looked at him sympathetically. How bad must it be down there?

“At least I have some good memories.” Nora acknowledged.

“Oh, I have some of those. That time with you was one of them.” he returned.

Nora crossed her arms, not out of anger but because she was suddenly cold. She leaned forward. She felt like sobbing. It occurred to her that her listening to him just now had caused her feelings to surface again. Nora suddenly felt his arm around her shoulder. She felt this overwhelming desire to lean into his chest and cry. So, that was exactly what she did. She could hear him breathing as her tears dried up. And though her neck was getting stiff in this position, she dared not move. She wasn’t sure she’d have another moment like this again, and she knew she’d regret it if she didn’t make it last at least as long as she could.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »