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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 4

“What are we supposed to sleep in?” Nora could hear Elsie ask as they entered their room.

“If it isn’t one issue, it is another with this girl,” Nora thought. Nora didn’t care; she just crashed upon the bed. Even so, she could hear Elsie opening the dresser drawers.

“There’s nothing. There’s nothing here!” Elsie exclaimed.

“Give it time.” Nora grumbled with her face wedged into her pillow.

Nora was surprised to hear the sound of a drawer slam. Her eyes opened briefly then slowly drifted shut again.

“Oh well,” Nora thought. “I guess Elsie has a temper after all.”

Eventually, Nora could feel herself drifting off to sleep. Unfortunately, it was a shallow sleep, and it didn’t last long. She awoke repeatedly. Thoughts came crashing into her mind over and over again. Still, Nora continued to grow more and more tired as the night passed. At one point, it seemed as though Nora might actually be able to get some deep sleep. Then, just as Nora was finally able to sleep well, it seemed as though just a few moments had passed when she heard a loud noise coming from the hall.

Nora shot up; the other two girls did as well. They looked among one another in a daze; their eyes were puffy and red. After a beeping noise, an announcer started to speak. Though this voice came from a woman instead of a man, the tone of the voice reminded Nora of the announcement after the nebula reapers appeared on the street. Nora looked off to the side. Certainly, it was just a coincidence; all government agencies must use the same type of announcement for some reason.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Tina groaned “It’s only 6:00 a.m.!”

Nora looked at one of the clocks. Sure enough, it was 6:00 a.m.

“What are we supposed to do?” Elsie asked. “They said we are supposed to wake up, but they didn’t say why.”

“I don’t care!” Tina exclaimed.

Tina crashed back down upon the bed. Every time Elsie spoke again, Tina would audibly groan. Eventually, Elsie stopped asking questions. Nora felt a bit guilty about it, but she found she was relieved Elsie stopped talking. And yet, the question Elsie had asked was actually a good one. What should they do? Nora didn’t really want to go; her lack of sleep was getting to her.

There was a stirring in the hall. Nora looked to her left, even though the door was closed. She could hear people begin to move into the hallway. Voices began to build on one another. Another message began to play over the intercom. The voice directed them all to go to an auditorium, which was apparently next to the cafeteria. The message promised breakfast. Elsie grew excited.

“I wonder what they’ll have for us today!” she mentioned with enthusiasm in her voice.

Nora wondered how many times the people in charge of this place were going to use food in order to lure their captives to where they wanted them to go. They had established a certain trust the night before with the buffet. It certainly seemed to be working on Elsie; it was less effective on Nora. Instead, it was the memory of the threat of force the day before that began to rouse Nora. Nora began to consider the consequences of not doing what they asked. Even though her body craved sleep, she thought that maybe the easiest thing to do would be to go to the meeting. After all, it might be short. Then, she could return and finish sleeping. Besides, was there even much chance that they would allow her to sleep now? Even if people just beat on the door or kept blaring that message, Nora wouldn’t be able to sleep. And what would happen if they did come for her? What punishment would she receive? Then, suddenly, it was the moment of truth. The message ended, and the hallway cleared. An eerie silence ensued.

Nora and Elsie looked between each other in the dim light. Both seemed to get how serious this moment was. Nora knew if she didn’t act now, it might be too late. A rush of adrenaline shot through her. It was enough to wake her up and give her the energy to move. So, Nora went ahead and made the decision to go to the meeting. She pulled back her blanket. Not surprisingly, Elsie followed Nora’s lead right away. They put on their shoes. While she was lacing up her new shoes, Nora looked up in the direction of Tina’s bed. All Nora could see of Tina was a pile of blankets. Nora straightened. She looked over at Elsie briefly then back toward the pile. Almost as though Tina could see the two of them staring in her direction, she grumbled, “I’m not getting up.”

Elsie and Nora looked at each other again. Then, they headed for the door. They instinctively began walking at a pretty fast clip.

“Do you think …? I mean, can she really do that?” Elsie wondered.

“I don’t know.” Nora stated. Then, she sighed. “Let’s just get there.”

Elsie withdrew emotionally, and they walked the rest of the way in silence. When they finally got to the auditorium, Nora and Elsie were dismayed to see a man about to shut the door. Nora wondered whether she should say something. She decided not to. She and Elsie just looked at him with desperation. He, in turn, looked at them disapprovingly, but he fortunately allowed them to enter.

“Thank you.” Nora decided to say. But, as expected, there was no response.

After Elsie and Nora were ushered into the room, they were surprised to find a woman at a nearby table. She asked the two girls for their names and their room number. Elsie and Nora looked between each other once more. Since the girls had been grouped together by number the night before, they hadn’t yet given their names to the people here. Nora had wondered after the fact whether telling her roommates her real name had been the right thing to do. Now, the dilemma was much worse. Nora didn’t know what to do. Should she give them her real name? Was there a way they could find out who she was even if she didn’t? If her parents were looking for her, the people here might find out her real identity. And if they did figure it out from another source, Nora figured she would undoubtedly face punishment of some kind. But it was really the hope that her parents would be able to find her if she did give her real name that caused her to give it.

“Nora Montgomery.” she said.

She could feel her heart race as the woman wrote her name down. Elsie then did the same thing Nora had. After the woman was done writing, she motioned to another woman to direct them to their seats. A speaker in the front of the room was just approaching the podium as Elsie and Nora arrived at a grouping of three seats. The seats were designated by room number. These people had thought of pretty much everything, Nora thought. Nora couldn’t help but cast a look towards Tina’s empty chair.

Nora then noticed a person coming around looking at the empty seats and taking notes.

“Is that …? Is Tina going to get into trouble?” Elsie whispered.

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Elsie hesitated.

“What do you think they’ll do?” Elsie wondered.

“I don’t know.” Nora repeated.

Nora found herself to be almost relieved when the lights went out and the presentation started. Nora was hoping that would be the end of Elsie’s questions.

“Attention. Attention.” The man behind the speaker tapped the microphone. A screeching noise emanated from the front. He reminded Nora of her elementary school principal. Her principal was a very nice man, though; this one, it would soon become clear, wasn’t.

“Shut up now!” the man suddenly shrieked.

The room fell into silence in front of the quivering man. Nora could hear the man breathing heavily, seemingly overwhelmed by his rage. Slowly, he seemed to get a hold of himself.

“All right. You are all here for a very important reason.” the man started.

Suddenly, the man was speaking so softly that his voice became almost impossible to hear. Nora wondered how and why this man was so difficult to hear given the microphone and his formerly loud voice. Nevertheless, his prior display of anger induced Nora, and seemingly those around her, to strain to hear what he had to say.

“Welcome to the Administration of Public Defense. You are the recruits of the Administration. You may be asking yourselves — recruits to what? Well, we have a video.”

The man turned toward another man, who was apparently then given the signal to start the video. The second man leapt from his seat and walked to the middle of the stage. Nora could hear his distinct footsteps strike upon the floor; it was that quiet. Though that frightful night had occurred only days earlier, the video showed the incident involving the nebula reapers. It wasn’t just the actual footage that bothered Nora but also the fact that the video was so expertly made. How had they found the time or possessed the desire to make such a professional theatrical presentation? It was almost as though they had been waiting for something to happen. Then again, there was apparently always video footage being taken of the nebula reaper’s captivity bin. So, at least that part of it made sense.

The video started by showing the captivity bin as it had been for years. Then, suddenly, there was a massive explosion. A screeching noise shook the air. The reapers at first smashed together toward the center of their group. Then, they untangled themselves and spread out. Next, the video showed scenes from the streets of Colony 52. You could see what Nora caught only a glimpse of that night. The nebula reapers had “consumed” many victims under the cover of darkness. Sometimes there were remains left behind and sometimes there weren’t. Nora was conflicted as to whether or not to remove her eyes from the screen. Maybe something important was about to happen. Then again, maybe it was all just for shock value.

A couple of times Nora did look away. When she did, she noticed that the reactions of those around her were a mixture of disgust and revulsion. She could hear someone close by heaving in the near darkness. As the video ended, Nora could see an ashen Elsie shaking so hard that Nora was surprised she didn’t disintegrate on the spot. The lights came back on without warning. The man resumed speaking at the podium.

“As you can see, this situation is of the utmost importance.” he advised them. “This affects all of us. Even if you weren’t at the Institute now, you’d be called upon later. You will be fighting for your lives, and we’ll be giving you the tools to survive. This way, your lives will be in your own hands. Other people will be forced to count on you during this critical time, but you will have the control to count on yourselves. I, for one, am glad to be a party to my own survival. I’m glad that I don’t have to wait around like the others: wondering … worrying … helpless. You don’t have to live with that uncertainty. You have the power. I will now present to you Mrs. Grafton. She will explain to you what you can expect during your stay here.”

The woman, whom Nora had seen when she first arrived, glided slowly to the podium. She nodded slightly as the man stepped to the side to allow her to take his place.

Nora’s eyes began to lose focus as Mrs. Grafton talked about the rooms, the food, the lectures, and the training. Nora couldn’t concentrate anymore. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but she had had enough. All she could hope for now was that Elsie was paying attention. Nora looked over and was surprised to find Elsie dutifully taking notes. That observation was a relief. It was all too much … too much.

“Also, in the future be aware that you will be expected to use the alarm clocks by your bedsides. We will expect you to arrive at the auditorium promptly at 6:30 every morning. You will be given an opportunity to eat breakfast between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.”

The meeting was finally over, and they were released. Nora swiftly rose to depart from her chair. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The aisles were quickly filled, and Nora and Elsie were trapped in their seats. Nora decided to just sit back down again.

“You’re upset.” Elsie stated.

“Yes. Aren’t you?” Nora responded coolly.

“Of course.” she replied.

Elsie clutched the notebook in her hands.

“Thank you for taking notes.” Nora mentioned to her.

“No problem.” Elsie replied, a large smile on her face. “I just wanted to help out. I’m not very good at very many things.”

“I didn’t see you grab that notebook from the room.” Nora admitted.

“I got it from the table when we signed in. I hope they don’t want it back. I don’t have anything of my own, especially now that they’ve taken my old clothes. Did they have to take what we had before?”

“I don’t know. I’m hoping today they will give us some supplies, which we need.” Nora proposed.

“Well, it seems we’ll be busy with the lecture they have scheduled for today, but I hope that they will make the time to give us some stuff, too. I hate sleeping in this outfit.”

Nora turned and watched the people pass by on their way out of the room. It was still slow going. She was hoping to make a quick break for it before Elsie started talking again. Even though Elsie had been helpful by taking notes, Nora found she was too tired to talk anymore. Eventually, the room was cleared enough that they could get in line, and Nora’s facing the other direction seemed to keep Elsie at bay.

Once the two girls managed to get out of the auditorium, they headed for the cafeteria. There they picked up some food to take to their room. Nora couldn’t have cared less at that moment whether they were supposed to take any food back with them — let alone the large pile she had accumulated. Elsie informed Nora there were three hours left before the lecture, and Nora intended to get some sleep right after she finished eating. Actually, eating wasn’t on the top of her list of priorities. However, if she didn’t take something with her now, who knew when she’d be given the opportunity to acquire food again.

The majority of the items Nora had taken were non-perishable. She selected those items purposefully due to the fact they did not have a refrigerator in their room. Though they didn’t discuss it ahead of time, Elsie silently followed suit. They then made their way back to their room.

“I guess Tina didn’t have to go after all.” Elsie sounded mostly relieved as she relayed this conclusion to Nora.

Nora could guess what she was thinking: things were not so bad as they had seemed.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Romans 3

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, “THAT THOU MIGHTEST BE JUSTIFIED IN THY SAYINGS, AND MIGHTEST OVERCOME WHEN THOU ART JUDGED.”

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

As it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NO, NOT ONE:

THERE IS NONE THAT UNDERSTANDETH, THERE IS NONE THAT SEEKETH AFTER GOD.

“THEY ARE ALL GONE OUT OF THE WAY, THEY ARE TOGETHER BECOME UNPROFITABLE; THERE IS NONE THAT DOETH GOOD, NO, NOT ONE.”

“THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN SEPULCHRE; WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY HAVE USED DECEIT”; “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”:

“WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”:

“THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD:

“DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR WAYS:

“AND THE WAY OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN”:

“THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

Now we know that what things soever the Law saith, it saith to them who are under the Law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God [Or, subject to the judgment of God].

Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets;

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law.

Is He the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Do we then make void the Law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Law (Romans 3: 1-31).

Isaiah 54

“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife,” saith the LORD.

“Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;

“For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

“Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

“For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.

“For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused,” saith thy God.

“For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

“In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee,” saith the LORD thy Redeemer.

“For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.

“For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed,” saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.

“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

“And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.

“And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

“In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.

“Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by Me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

“Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of Me,” saith the LORD (Isaiah 54: 1-17).

Isaiah 2

The word that Isaiah the son Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established [Or, prepared] in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks [Or, scythes]: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Therefore Thou hast forsaken Thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of His majesty.

The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

And the idols He shall utterly abolish [Or, the idols shall utterly pass away].

And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself [Or, which they made for him] to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of (Isaiah 2: 1-22)?

Luke 16

And He said also unto His disciples, “There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

“And he called him, and said unto him, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.’

“Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.

“‘I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’

“So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, ‘How much owest thou unto my lord?’

“And he said, ‘An hundred measures of oil.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.’

“Then said he to another, ‘And how much owest thou?’ And he said, ‘An hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and write fourscore.’

“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon [Or, riches] of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

“If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [Or, riches], who will commit to your trust the true riches?

“And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him.

And He said unto them, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

“The Law and the Prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the Law to fail.

“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

“And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

“And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

“And he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

“‘And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.’

“Then he said, ‘I pray thee therefore, Father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

“‘For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

“Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

“And he said, ‘Nay, Father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.’

“And he said unto him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16: 1-31)

 

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 3

After everyone had finished changing in the locker rooms, the large group was divided into smaller ones. Nora’s group was then led into a building, which was going to serve as a dormitory, by several newly arrived guards. The group Nora was in was comprised of both males and females. The boys were going to reside on a different floor than the girls. Regrettably, Jack was not one of the boys in Nora’s group. As they entered the building, Nora noticed that some of the others were in awe of the place; never before had they seen such wonderful accommodations. To Nora, the rooms, which she passed by on the way to her own, seemed sparse and impersonal. But she had other issues on her mind besides this poor example of interior decorating. The first action she took when she found the room she’d been assigned to was to look for a phone. Alas, there was none.

Nora walked slowly over to a bed. She sat upon it and looked down at her folded hands, which she had laid on her lap. Almost instantly, she was distracted by a noise from the doorway. There were two girls there. One was a step ahead of the other girl. The first girl was bawling hysterically. The second girl was taller and had a ruddy face; she stood behind the first girl and stared at her in seeming disbelief. The female members of Nora’s group had counted off when they had reached the second floor. The numbers they had been given corresponded to their room numbers. Nora had been too distracted to notice which girls had been assigned to her room. Apparently, these two were to be her roommates.

Nora stood. She was unsure of what to do for the crying girl. It was true that Nora had mostly been focused on herself until that moment. She hadn’t given much thought to what the rest of the people were going through — with the possible exception of Lisa and, of course, Jack. Nora only remembered wondering on the conveyance vehicle why all these people were there. Then again, maybe the situation was not so bad as she feared, Nora suddenly told herself. If only she could convince herself it were true … Nora approached the crying girl. She laid her hand on the girl’s arm. The action broke the girl’s concentration. She looked down at Nora’s hand; the girl’s look appeared to be one of disgust. It caused Nora to retract her hand immediately. The girl seemed stunned silent.

“I—I’m sorry.” Nora stammered.

“Don’t be.” the taller girl replied. “This is the first time she’s stopped crying since we came to this place. I thought she might drive me insane.”

The taller girl then walked past the timid girl, who still stood in the doorway, and came into the room.

“I can’t help it!” the timid girl cried out.

The taller girl gave the other girl a look that implied she couldn’t care less. The taller girl then claimed the bed opposite the one Nora had sat upon. Nora thought to herself that it was the one farthest away from where the timid girl was standing. The timid girl seemed to comprehend the slight, for she then went and sat on the bed next to Nora’s and farthest away from the one the other girl had chosen. Nora was about to head back to her own bed when the timid girl called out to her.

“Thank you.” the girl managed to say.

It occurred to Nora that the girl was probably reaching out to her merely because she was feeling the other one’s disdain. She most likely just didn’t want to be alone. Even so, Nora managed to smile anyway.

“I wonder what’s in the buffet.” Nora brought up.

The taller girl scoffed.

“Like I would eat their food!” she protested.

Nora thought to herself that their captors might not have much food available at the buffet. It was possible that if the three girls didn’t get down there right away they wouldn’t eat at all. Nora wondered how long they could realistically hold out without eating. It would be worse for them to get desperate with hunger and have to go begging these people for food. Either way, the tall girl’s implication that something bad was done to the food didn’t really make much sense to Nora. Why would these people even want them dead? What purpose would it serve? Then again, it could be possible. Nora considered. She then decided if their abductors really just wanted them dead they’d probably be dead already.

Nora was strangely emboldened by that thought. Whatever the reason for abducting all these people, killing them didn’t seem to be the purpose. Of course, that conclusion didn’t mean that there was no danger involved. Nora’s thoughts suddenly turned to that girl Lisa. What had happened to her? Nora was ashamed to admit she hadn’t seen Lisa since the girl lingered back to talk with Mrs. Grafton. It didn’t seem as though it was Nora’s business at the time, but maybe she should have made it her business. Outside of this situation, back at home, Nora probably would have spoken up. But Nora was just too busy thinking about herself and her family. Plus, she was honestly too afraid to intervene. Besides, what good would it have done? Nora had no power here … and that realization made her feel helpless again. Jack’s presence had lessoned that feeling of anxiety in her. Somehow, just being around him made her feel better. Oh, how she wished he hadn’t been ushered into a different dorm! Still, what became obvious to her at that moment was that she wasn’t going to see Jack again just sitting around in her room.

“Well, I’m hungry.” Nora decided. “So, I’m going to go.”

The taller girl shrugged.

“How about you?” Nora asked the timid girl.

The timid girl looked between the two girls.

“I—I guess.”

“Well, all right. Oh, and my name’s Nora Montgomery, by the way.”

“Elsie Snyder.” the girl replied.

Even though reaching out to Elsie hadn’t exactly gone well the last time, Nora decided to try again. She offered Elsie her hand. They shook hands. It wasn’t until later on that Nora would wonder whether she made a mistake giving her real name.

“Tina Fitzgerald.” the other girl grudgingly added.

Nora felt a sense of accomplishment for having succeeded in improving this mini-crisis. As it turned out, there wouldn’t be many moments of personal satisfaction in the weeks ahead.

All three girls ended up heading for the cafeteria together. Tina, at the last minute, decided to accompany the other two girls to the buffet. When they got there, Nora found that the buffet was actually pretty impressive. This realization was fairly shocking to Nora, especially given how much she had worried that the buffet would be sparse. It also occurred to Nora that the food might taste bad, and Elsie would burst into tears again. Instead, Elsie’s eyes seemed to light up just a little upon seeing the elegant table setting and the variety of the offerings. The buffet had done its trick. As Elsie looked at Nora, Nora could tell that her fears had been allayed. Even Tina seemed to be impressed by the food.

Fortunately, no one asked for Nora’s opinion on whether she thought the effort their captors had put into the buffet meant that things would be okay overall. Nora wouldn’t have wanted to lie, and the truth was that she still felt very uneasy. And no matter how good the buffet looked, it wasn’t going to make Nora feel any better. In fact, Nora wondered whether she could even manage to eat. What she was happy about was the fact that Elsie was finally calm. Even so, Nora wouldn’t have minded it if Elsie stopped clinging so tightly to her arm. Elsie had latched onto Nora the moment they left their room. Yet, Nora didn’t want to directly ask her to let go and have another crisis begin.

Instead, Nora maneuvered herself and the clingy Elsie toward the large line, which had formed next to the buffet table. Tina trailed behind them silently; she seemed to stare off into space. Apparently, Tina’s initial positive reaction to the food was short-lived. Elsie kept her grip firmly on Nora’s arm, seemingly oblivious to how awkward her actions were making their efforts to walk. Fortunately, as they finally arrived at the stack of plates, Elsie realized she had to release Nora in order to be able to gather the food. She became self-conscious and let Nora go.

For a moment, Elsie’s hands shook as she reached for a plate. They shook a little less as her hands gripped the curved edges.

“So, what will you be having?” Nora asked Elsie in a tone that she’d usually reserve for a child.

“I—I don’t know.” Elsie started. “Those eggs look good. Then again, I don’t know. Would the sausage links be better? Which would go better with the french toast? Or, I could get a sandwich instead. It all seems so good, but I can’t tell what I feel like. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

For a moment, Elsie’s nervousness made Nora worry that Elsie wouldn’t be capable of keeping down whatever she did end up eating. Yet, the immediate concern seemed to be keeping Elsie’s choices on the plate. The plate was wobbling to and fro as the people manning the buffet line attempted to offer her the different options. Nora decided that she would help Elsie with that instability. After Nora was able to offer support to Elsie’s plate with one hand, she decided the next thing to do was resolve the girl’s indecisiveness. She concluded the best way to handle Elsie was to request small amounts of every item be placed on her plate. Elsie did help a little with the selection process. Every time she craved more of a particular item, she would look up at Nora longingly. As the food began to pile on, Elsie cast a concerned look toward where the cash register was, even though no one was actually there. Elsie then looked around to see whether someone was standing nearby. She seemed relieved when she found that the cash register was unattended.

It was about this time that Nora managed to ease her eyes toward Tina’s plate. She was surprised to see that Tina’s plate looked almost identical to Nora’s and Elsie’s plates. At first, Nora thought it was a good sign — that maybe Tina was starting to relax a little. But then, to look at her, Tina seemed to still be staring off into space, and her actions seemed almost robotic. Far from getting over the shock of the abduction, it was clear Tina was just going through the motions. Nora didn’t know why she cared so much about Tina’s emotional state. They were all in the same heinous position, and it wasn’t as though Nora was handling these circumstances well or anything. Yet, somehow, Nora felt that if her two companions were calm it would make her feel more optimistic. Their emotional turmoil just reinforced the anxiety that Nora couldn’t quite shake. Nora concluded it was selfish to expect Tina and Elsie to pretend to be happy just to make her feel better. She decided to just let them feel whatever they were feeling.

Finally, the three girls made it through the long line. They then carried their plates into the main cafeteria. While looking around the room for a spot, Nora caught sight of Jack sitting at one of the tables. She wondered whether his appearance there meant that Jack would be eating at this cafeteria regularly. Things were definitely looking up all of a sudden.

Then, Nora made eye contact with Jack. She stopped suddenly —seemingly incapable of pulling her eyes away. It was odd, but she started feeling as though she were back in school. There was a feeling of distance and nervousness between them now. Nora could feel herself blush. At that moment, Tina poked her in the arm. Nora turned and looked at Tina then accompanied the two other girls toward a small spot at the end of one table. They managed to all squeeze in together. Ever since she saw Jack, she had a feeling of normalcy. Her mind, most likely in an effort to protect itself, created the illusion that she was just in a new school system. These were her new friends, and Jack was her new … She turned and looked back at him briefly. Yet, the illusion was broken as quickly as it began. For when she turned back toward the two girls, she was shocked by the looks on their ashen faces. She remembered at that moment that she was no longer in her old life. She felt a chill go through her, and she shuddered slightly.

In order to cover for her nerves, she quickly grabbed a container of chocolate milk and a straw. The other two girls began to eat in silence. Nora, meanwhile, sipped slowly and tried her best to lose her thoughts. Even though Nora didn’t want to think, she couldn’t seem to help herself. She went through the day’s events in her mind. She thought once more about Lisa. What had happened to Lisa? Nora casually looked around the room trying to see whether she could spot her. Yet, there was no sign of her. Perhaps, Nora could have been able to see Lisa earlier when Nora had been standing. Nora now wished she had thought of that possibility before she sat down. If she actively looked for Lisa at this point, it would only upset the other two girls, and Elsie had just stopped crying. Nora told herself it was silly; Lisa wouldn’t have been punished too severely for just asking a question.

Once the milk was finished, Nora had a dilemma. She felt she would have to force herself to taste each item on her plate despite the sudden queasiness in her stomach. She’d have to admit to how dire things were if she just continued to sit there and stare at her food. Of course, there was no way she would be capable of eating all of this food. She decided to save back the items that wouldn’t spoil. For the rest, the trick was to eat as much as she could then minimize the appearance of the remaining food on her plate. At least trying to figure out how to pull off this sleight of hand gave her something to think about other than the circumstances she found herself in.

“So, I wonder what will happen now.” Elsie pondered, much to Nora’s dismay.

Living one moment to the next without panicking seemed difficult enough without pondering the future. It was all too overwhelming, and Nora simply wanted to hide under the table and hope everyone would forget she was there. She had this sudden terrible realization that she had become Elsie’s unwitting crutch. Propping up Elsie when Nora’s own feet were so unsteady seemed like an impossibility at that moment. Tina also seemed annoyed; Nora could see her roll her eyes. This mark of disrespect was also noticed by Elsie, who stared at Tina with a wounded expression.

“Let’s just go back to the room.” Tina spoke up in a gruff voice. “There’s no point in discussing what none of us knows.”

Elsie looked as though she was about to cry again. Nora braced herself for yet another onslaught of tears.

“Oh.” Elsie uttered.

“At least the beds are comfortable.” Tina offered. “We’ll just have to hope that whatever this situation is will be over soon.”

“But I hate …” Elsie started. “Being forced to be here — if it were for a good reason I might have come anyway. I mean, if it weren’t dangerous I would.”

“We all hate it.” Tina interrupted in a confidential tone. “Very few people are happy to be here. The only ones who seem pleased are those who haven’t eaten in a while. The rest of us are just trying not to lose it.”

Elsie blinked several times at Tina. It was as though it never occurred to her that they were all feeling what she was … only quietly.

“Do you feel that way, too?”

Nora was surprised to find that Elsie was asking her that question. Nora’s brow furrowed.

“Of course.” Nora stated.

Elsie looked down with a sulking look on her face, almost like a child who’d been denied a toy. Nora was so grateful to Tina at that moment. She couldn’t imagine being alone with Elsie. Then again, Tina probably felt the same way about Nora being around. Nora stared off into space. Her adrenaline was suddenly gone, and she felt weak.

“You know, this place isn’t really so bad. The underground could be a lot worse some days. Yes, I wish we could leave if we wanted to, but this place is okay all things considered. Maybe this situation is just part of the solution the government came up with for all of us.” Tina put forth.

Elsie nodded.

“You two know each other?” Nora asked. It was now Nora’s turn to be surprised.

Elsie and Tina looked at each other.

“Not really, but you know, we’ve run into each other before.” Tina mentioned. “Most people from the underground know of one another. I mean, I’ll admit I’ve never seen you before, Nora. And some of the other people here I don’t recognize, but mostly we know one another. We’re used to being treated poorly by the government, though this situation is extreme even for them. Then again, why am I telling you this? You must know what I mean.”

Nora just looked at them. They then looked between each other.

“You do know someone here, don’t you?” Tina added suddenly.

Nora squirmed a bit in her chair. Then, she thought of Jack.

“Yes.” Nora replied lowly.

Tina nodded as though she suspected as much. It was a bit disconcerting for Nora that they all knew one another for the most part. Nora hadn’t thought she could feel more isolated; it appeared she was wrong. Nora was afraid to tell them that she wasn’t one of them. But what if they found out anyway? What if they asked a question she couldn’t answer? Nora wasn’t sure what to do, but maybe she didn’t have to decide right away. In any case, it may never come up again. Still, Nora decided to appear relaxed — maybe even cheerful — when topics she didn’t want to discuss were brought up in the future. That way, she hoped, no one would ask her too many questions. It seemed as though they had only asked her about her life when she appeared to be upset by what they were saying.

“Well, it seems people are leaving. Are you two ready to head back to the room?” Tina asked.

It sounded good to Nora, but the look on Elsie’s face suggested she felt otherwise. It was almost as though Elsie thought if she could cling to this one place she would be safe again. But Nora was no longer in the mood to cater to this girl. Nora stood silently, took up her plate, and left the table. Nora concluded that sleep, if she could obtain it, sounded pretty good at that moment.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 2

At first Nora just hung out around her old house and neighborhood. She saw her old elementary school where she had attended kindergarten through second grade. In fact, Nora remembered her parents taking her to a local market when she was in second grade. She had gone off by herself for a little while. She regretted stressing out her mother, but, aside from the worry she caused, she remembered that day as being remarkable — almost freeing.

As Nora made her way to the market, she began to remember a scene from long ago when she saw something in a nearby gutter. Nora’s mind visualized the edges of a face there. Nora blinked and the image in her mind flashed away. Meanwhile, the scene of the current day unfolded in front of her. She had walked the distance to the market so quickly it surprised her.

“I guess adult legs get you there faster than a child’s legs can.” Nora shrugged.

The speed in which she arrived there wasn’t the only thing that shocked Nora. The place didn’t seem the same as it had before. Nora assumed that was the way of it with memories, especially the memories of a child. Maybe it was the way the sky looked. Nora remembered the light cast a golden hue over everything back then. And there were a lot more people around before. They also seemed happier back then somehow. As Nora spied the rundown booths and roughened streets, she began to wonder whether her memory was faulty.

There was one memory left that was hers. She had to see whether she remembered that one right. She followed the same path she had as a child. She felt a lot of anticipation as she came to the spot chiseled in her mind. She wanted to see the gutter to relive the memory. But there was also fear mixed in with her emotions. What if it wasn’t there? There was a person standing in front of where she thought the storm drain should be. Fortunately, the woman stepped aside, and Nora saw it. She grinned.

“I guess the important memories stay the same.” she noted.

There was a sudden movement in the storm drain — sort of like the movement that drew her eyes to the drain all those years ago. Nora approached the storm drain and peered into it. Though, try as she might, she couldn’t see anything but a leaf stirring near the bars.

Then, for some reason, Nora felt someone watching her. She turned. At that moment, her hair blew forward and partially covered her face. She pulled her hair away and saw a young man close to her own age, standing among the crowd. He was taller than she; his short hair was about the same color brown as her own. His face was a bit rounder than hers. He looked at her from underneath his dark eyebrows. He seemed familiar. Suddenly, her eyes were diverted to a spot behind the young man. People began stepping out of the way as a large conveyance vehicle meandered down the street. Nora looked back toward where the teen had been, only to find him gone. Before she had a chance to figure out how she felt about his sudden departure, the conveyance vehicle opened, and many men emerged from it wearing riot gear.

Nora became even more confused when the men entered the crowd and approached individuals. There was no riot here. What was going on? Nora opened her mouth to utter something, though she didn’t know what that something would be. She then sensed someone approach her from the alley located to her left. That person touched her arm. Nora turned and saw the same young man she had seen before.

“Come with me.” he told her.

For some reason, Nora implicitly trusted the teen enough to follow him without hesitation. Then again, she also knew that something was wrong with the conveyance vehicles, so naturally fleeing from them seemed like a good idea. The teen led Nora down the alley. In the distance, at the other end of the alley, Nora could see another conveyance vehicle arrive. Nora was surprised there was more than one.

“This way.” the young man told her. He jumped up and grabbed onto a fire escape ladder. Then, he pulled it down toward them. Finally, he offered his hand to Nora in order to help her overcome the distance between the ladder and the ground. She took his hand willingly.

They climbed the ladder toward the roof. Nora did her best to keep up with him, but it proved to be pretty much impossible. Therefore, the young man had to wait for her at one point. When Nora made it to the landing, the young man pulled up the first ladder. He then set to work climbing the second ladder; Nora followed suit. When she finally got to the roof, the teen offered her his hand and pulled her up a final time.

“You don’t belong here.” he told Nora once she got her footing.

“What’s going on?” she asked him haltingly, as she was out of breath.

“That I don’t know, but I don’t see how this roundup has anything to do with you.” he replied.

“Who are you?” she asked him.

He looked at her funny with his pale blue eyes, so she rephrased.

“What’s your name?”

“Jack.”

“I’m Nora.”

Nora had hunched over in order to catch her breath so her head would stop spinning. Therefore, her hands were resting on top of her legs. Still, she reached out one of her hands to the teen in order to shake his hand. He took her hand briefly. Then, suddenly, a look of concern crossed his face, and he went to the edge of the roof. He then looked back at Nora.

“This isn’t a normal raid.” he informed her.

“Normal raid …” she repeated.

“They don’t seem to be looking for a specific person. They seem to be rounding up everyone they can.”

“Why?” Nora asked.

By the look on Jack’s face, she could tell he didn’t know what to make of this raid.

“I probably should have gone down.” Jack said.

“Down?”

He looked at her with confusion again.

“Well, Nora, we should probably just wait to see what they want. Now, maybe they won’t come up here, and it won’t even come to a confrontation. Either way, like I said, they probably aren’t interested in you.”

It wasn’t long after Jack said those words that Nora could hear footsteps on the stairs coming from inside the building —pounding and getting louder and louder as they approached.

Jack waited in front of Nora as the men burst through the doorway and onto the roof. Nora remembered wondering why they had guns.

“What is this about?” Jack asked them.

No response came from underneath the men’s gas masks. Two men just came forward and grabbed the two teenagers by the arms and ushered them down the staircase. Nora felt pressure inside herself to say something as the men loaded them onto the conveyance vehicle, but she couldn’t seem to get the words out. Maybe if she waited … maybe once someone with some authority introduced himself or herself she would receive an explanation as to why she’d been detained. Meeting that person would give Nora the perfect opportunity to ask to call her parents. Her parents could then verify Nora’s identity. Surely, the fact that Nora hadn’t been in the area long enough to be who they were looking for would make a difference. Nora wrung her hands after she was settled onto a bench aboard the conveyance vehicle. She noticed that Jack, who was now sitting across from her, was looking at her questioningly as though he was expecting her to take some kind of action. But really, what could she say to these people that they would believe anyway? And yet, even though Jack seemed to be putting silent pressure on her to act, she was glad he was with her.

Nora didn’t panic when the conveyance vehicle started up; she was still convinced this misunderstanding could be cleared up easily and swiftly. Nora leaned toward the glass. She pressed her fingers upon the pane. Time passed slowly. Then, suddenly, Nora looked up in amazement as the vehicle headed past a large fence onto a sprawling complex. Was this facility a prison? It seemed odd, on the one hand, that she’d never heard of this seemingly large institution. Then again, she’d be the first to admit she didn’t know everything that happened on this colony; life always seemed to get in the way. But why would she even need to know about this place? This situation wasn’t her fault; certainly, her lack of awareness of this place didn’t create the situation she found herself in now. True, she shouldn’t have gone back to her old neighborhood without telling anyone, but she doubted all of these people were rounded up for wandering away from home. Yet, it was true that if she hadn’t left home she wouldn’t be where she was now.

“No one knows where I am.” Nora mumbled to herself.

Jack raised an eyebrow. She could tell by his expression that he wondered why she wasn’t speaking up. Nora swallowed hard.

“Excuse me.” she said to one of the guards.

The man took a long and angry look at her. It was a look that warned her not to press further. Yet, she was obviously here by accident; she hadn’t committed any crime. Maybe his reaction was for someone who was supposed to be here — someone who had committed some sort of crime. And yet, as Nora looked around her she couldn’t help but notice that the people on the conveyance vehicle were rather an eclectic mix. How could they all be suspected of the same crime? Still, if she did nothing … if she waited too long, they might not believe there’d been a mistake at all.

“I …”

Suddenly, she noticed Jack shooting her a look of warning. So, she bit her lip instead.

Even so, the guard wasn’t willing to let her utterance go.

“Shut up!” the guard’s voice growled in her direction.

Nora recoiled as the man pumped his fist at her. Some of the other guards laughed aloud. Nora looked down pensively. She barely reacted when the van slid to a harsh stop soon after.

Nora rose in a daze when the guards instructed her to stand. Everything seemed like a thinly veiled threat. She had no doubt that the situation could become violent at a moment’s notice. Nora and the rest of the civilians were then sorted into two lines: one for women and one for men. Just as Nora had feared, anyone who resisted the orders was struck. A female guard headed the women’s line. She informed the women that they would be receiving new uniforms, and that they were to change at nearby locker rooms. Nora looked up and made eye contact with Jack, who was standing nearly across from her. She just stared at him as numbness crept over her. This situation was real, yet unbelievable … unbelievable.

The uniforms were sort of like jogging suits, only more form-fitting. Nora’s was black and gray. They were brand- new and looked rather expensive. Nora noticed that there were more uniforms than were needed given the number of people who were assembled there. Nora was curious as to what that meant, but at least it was less creepy than if they had known their sizes ahead of time.

“You are all very fortunate.” A neatly-dressed woman came forward. “You have been chosen to help our colony.”

There was a pervasive silence; Nora figured it was caused by fear. Certainly, no one wanted to ask what the strange woman meant. No one seemed to want to do anything that brought attention to herself.

“You’ll be given more information about this situation in the days ahead. In the meantime, we want to give you all the opportunity to get settled. Oh, and we also have a buffet for you to try after you get your room assignments.”

All the girls looked among one another.

“Excuse me … but what about our belongings? We weren’t allowed to retrieve them before …” one girl spoke up.

Everybody looked at the girl in horror. She had actually spoken aloud and demanded an answer. On the one hand, it was understandable that the group of women reacted this way. Unfortunately, in retrospect, the women anticipating a reaction may have actually caused one to occur. After all, they were all waiting to take their cue from what happened next. If nothing bad happened, more questions were likely to come; the feeling of silent foreboding would have lifted. If it didn’t go well, then it would reinforce their fears, and the invisible control over the group would be maintained.

At first, Nora could make out a slight pulsing on the neatly-dressed woman’s forehead. Then, just like that it was gone.

“What is your name, dear?”

“Lisa … Smith.”

The girl grew agitated by the response from the crowd. Apparently, it hadn’t occurred to her that her question could put her in any danger.

“Well, Lisa, my name is Mrs. Grafton. You and I can have a little discussion after we’re done here. As for the rest of you — in case you’re wondering — we will be providing you with all of your needs during your stay here.”

Lisa looked down and seemed to flush. Why would she need to talk with Mrs. Grafton after her question was answered? Why should she get punished while all the other girls gained benefit from her question? But Nora was more concerned by Mrs. Grafton’s use of the word “stay.” Exactly how long was the “stay” going to be? Would there be hope of being released after some time had passed? Perhaps, this abduction was just part of some sort of a work program? And yet, why wasn’t it optional? There had to be a better way to get compliance than this method. The thought then occurred to Nora that it might be better that they didn’t know she wasn’t living in the area they took her from. Since Jack didn’t seem completely surprised that they were rounding up people, maybe this occurrence happened routinely yet was not widely known about. If this were commonplace, it would seem better to wait it out, to blend in with the others. That way, they wouldn’t know that Nora knew too much. Still, maybe if she had spoken up right away … Nora wrung her hands. What was she going to do now? How was she going to get information about her whereabouts to her parents? She had to find a way to call them, but how? As they were led away from the area near the conveyance vehicle toward the locker rooms, Nora cast a look at Lisa. Nora actually made eye contact with the shuddering girl at that moment. Nora wondered what would become of her — what would become of them all.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016