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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


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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

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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

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 8


The next day was a lot like the last day. And the day after that was the same as the day after that. It was always the same group, the same time, the same dismissal. Then, one day the room was crowded, and all of the people who’d been transported to the facility at the same time, even those who were assigned to a different dormitory, were there. That meant Jack was most likely there.

When Nora got to her seat, she sat on the edge of it and looked around her. Unfortunately, the room was so crowded she couldn’t see Jack anywhere. Every time she thought she’d seen him, the guy would turn, and she found it wasn’t him. Yet, she could almost feel his eyes upon her. It reminded her of something from her past, but she couldn’t quite remember what it was. Nora considered.

Today there was a new face on the stage. He was an older gentleman with a round shape and spectacles. He seemed rather serious to Nora as he sat pensively on a chair near the podium. At least, he didn’t appear to be as high strung as the other male lecturer. Then, the lecture began. Apparently, the guest lecturer didn’t feel like repeating himself, so they decided to have all of the recruits attend one lecture. Nora was happy to hear this man planned on giving lectures at least a couple of times a week. This man’s intended schedule meant that Jack would be around — assuming she could find him.

Nora thought of continuing to look around for Jack. Maybe he was one of the recruits who’d been given a fold-out chair in the back, or one of the ones who had to stand in the aisles on the side. The room was so crowded; it was stifling. How could she find him? Then again, how could she not look for him? After some serious fretting, Nora decided not to draw attention to herself. After all, even if she wasn’t able to find him today there was always next week. And yet, it was a hard decision to make. Nothing about this place could be counted on. In the end, however, Nora didn’t want to risk getting into trouble; she might be taken from the room for disrupting the lecture.

For, Nora soon realized that this speaker was even more serious than the other man — and that was saying something. After all, the first speaker ended up having quite the temper. In addition, this guy must have some power if he was dictating his own schedule. Still, there was nothing that said Nora couldn’t let her eyes wander around the room; she just couldn’t move her head too obviously. Unfortunately, with her limited ability to look around, Nora wasn’t able to spot Jack.

The time ticked by, and it became obvious that the recruits weren’t going to be given a break this time. This man had such clout that the Administration was just going to let him speak until he finished. It would have been nice if the recruits had been warned about this inconvenience ahead of time. However, maybe the delay wasn’t planned but was at this man’s whim. Nora wondered who he could possibly be. Then again, who were any of these people? How could Nora not have heard of an organization like this one before? They couldn’t have just popped up overnight. And if they had existed awhile, what had they been planning or even scheming all this time? And what was in store for Nora and the others? Say they flew those planes and came back. Would they then be released? Or, would they keep being sent out until the threat was over — if it were ever over? And assuming they did succeed, would they be considered heroes or liabilities? The secrecy of this campaign bothered Nora tremendously. And, try as she might, she couldn’t convince herself it was all going to turn out all right.

The lecture was finally over, and there was a long wait in line for the restroom. Nora had wanted to go get her food before the wait. But then, who would watch her plate while she was gone? After all, Elsie and Tina were already in line. So, she decided to join the line as well. It occurred to her that Jack might be gone by the time she arrived in the cafeteria, but it couldn’t be helped. They had just spent too much time at that lecture. Besides, she wasn’t even sure that he was around. She hadn’t been able to spot him during or after the lecture.

Then, just as she came out of the restroom, she saw him, standing near a vending machine by the cafeteria line. She approached; he then looked over at her casually. Afterward, he eased into the lunch line. Then, Nora and the two other girls, who had kindly waited a little while for her, filed in behind a couple of the other recruits, who were behind Jack. Nora felt a thrill from his presence, which melted away a tinge of the overwhelming despair inside of her.

“You know, there’s one question I just thought of — how could they still be alive?” Tina asked. “I mean, they’ve been in that cage for years.”

“Let’s not talk about it.” Elsie interjected.

Nora looked down as the cook ladled a large amount of casserole onto her plate.

“I’ve heard they can store food for a long time after they feed.” Jack suddenly mentioned.

Nora shifted her eyes over toward Jack. He was standing on the other side of Elsie. He leaned back and looked around Elsie at Nora. The way Jack looked at her; it reminded her of something, but Nora couldn’t force herself to look at him long enough to remember. Nora suddenly wished that she could stay with him like this despite the topic of conversation. Yet, the use of the word “feed” after seeing that video — not to mention what she had seen happen in the city that night — caused her stomach to drop.

“But surely, since they’ve been in there so long … I mean, they couldn’t possibly store food for that long.” Tina mentioned.

“I imagine they eat their dead if they have to.” Jack concluded.

“That’s disgusting!” Elsie exclaimed. “How am I supposed to eat now?! You two are ruining my appetite!”

Tina laughed. She seemed more as she had when Nora first met her.

“I’m surprised no one has researched ways to wipe them out by now.” Nora gathered the nerve to put forth.

“Well, one thing is for sure, I won’t feel bad when we wipe them out!” Tina exclaimed.

Nora managed to briefly exchange glances with Jack once more. It seemed he was not so optimistic as Tina was. The group moved into the cafeteria. The room was, as expected, more crowded than usual. But, surprisingly, it was even worse than it had been the night of the buffet. Nora assumed it was because they hadn’t all eaten at once then.

“You’d think they’d have us eat in shifts.” Tina criticized.

“I think they usually do.” Elsie suggested.

“So, why do they need so many of us anyway?” Tina started then stopped. She gripped her tray. “Huh, I guess it turned out to be a good thing after all that it took so long for us to get here. Look! There’s a spot opening up.”

Tina glided forward and headed for the table. Jack broke away from the three girls at that moment and headed for a table filled with boys his own age. Nora guessed it made sense he would sit with the other boys. He couldn’t sit with a group of girls without people wondering why. Still, Nora found she would miss him. His being around her made her feel better. He was the only one who made Nora feel even remotely safe since she was separated from her family. Plus, he was the only one she knew coming into this place. She had felt that from the moment they first spoke he had been concerned about her in particular. Now, given how he had so easily left her after their short reunion, she worried that she read too much into his behavior before. Maybe they both just happened to be in the same area that first day, and he would have done the same for anyone. Nora was disappointed and rather dismayed by that conclusion. Nora went to sit by her roommates. She suddenly remembered the experience she had had her first day of high school. She thought about how grateful she would have been had she had someone to sit by that day — as she had been put into a different district than her friends from middle school. She supposed having someone to sit with was still pretty meaningful now. Nora sat down and began to eat.

“So, you were really taken by mistake?” Elsie asked seconds later.

Nora bit into a carrot. She cast a look at Tina, who appeared guilty. Nora wondered how long it had taken Tina to divulge Nora’s secret. Had it just happened?

“If that’s true, why not just tell them?” Elsie wondered.

Apparently, Tina hadn’t disclosed everything.

“What good would it do?” Nora asked. She looked down and became evasive. “I’m here now.”

“Still, your parents probably have clout.” Elsie believed.

Nora’s brow furrowed.

“No, the area I was taken from is close to where I used to live. My parents would try to help me, but they’d probably be sent here too to shut them up.”

“So, that’s why you were there that day …” Tina started then drifted off. “I wondered.”

It was clear by Nora’s expression that she wasn’t happy with Tina.

“No, I’m pretty sure I told you that. In fact, I told you a lot of things you apparently weren’t listening to.” Nora retorted.

“You don’t have to worry about me!” Elsie piped up. “I won’t say anything!”

Nora managed a smile.

“Neither will I. Not anymore. I promise.” Tina remarked. “I just didn’t know Elsie was off-limits.”

Nora found that last statement hard to believe. Perhaps, Tina could understand now why Nora hadn’t wanted Elsie to know. After all, Elsie’s lack of discretion had just made things difficult for Tina. Then again, Tina hadn’t exactly been discreet either. Even so, Nora’s immediate concern was that she unfortunately couldn’t think of a way to smooth over the obvious truth: she really hadn’t wanted Elsie to know.

“That’s good.” Nora finally allowed.

A few moments passed.

“Did you hear the people behind us talking?” Elsie asked suddenly.

Nora looked around her.

“Not here.” Elsie corrected in a high-pitched whisper. “At the auditorium.”

“No, not really.” Nora returned.

“Me neither.” Tina put forth.

“I heard the people who’ve been here the longest, who came before us, are going out on a test run tomorrow.” Elsie informed them.

Her hand was shaking as she reached for the pepper. Not surprisingly, the pepper tipped over onto the table.

“Oh, isn’t that bad luck?” she gasped.

“No, that’s salt, if you believe that sort of thing.” Tina corrected.

“I don’t need any more bad luck.” Elsie whispered softly.

“So, how long were they here before we came?” Tina pursued.

“I don’t know.” Elsie admitted. “How long could it be — given that it hasn’t been long since the nebula reapers escaped?”

“Maybe these other recruits were trained before the nebula reapers escaped.” Tina offered.

“Either way, it seems we’re next to go.” Elsie pointed out.

“If they have enough planes …” Tina argued. “The first group might just keep using them.”

“Haven’t you seen them bringing more planes onto the complex grounds?” Elsie asked. “I saw it from the window.”

Tina grew silent for a moment.

“Plus, why do they need so many planes?” Elsie pondered quietly. “If their plans work the first time …”

“Nice, Elsie, nice.” Tina remarked.


“Maybe the planes will need to be repaired, and they don’t want to wait to repair them. Did you ever think of that?” Tina countered.

Elsie cast her eyes downward and grew silent.

“I don’t think we should talk about this here.” Nora suggested.

“Funny. I don’t think we should talk about this at all!” Tina burst forth.

Nora was a bit surprised by Tina’s reaction. Tina had seemed so brazen before in the lunch line. Nora had to admit it did seem as though it was a bad sign that they needed so many planes. But Nora doubted the Administration knew for sure that it wasn’t going to do any good. What would be the point to all of this effort if they thought that? No one outside these walls knew about their activities here; at least, Nora doubted that they did. So, all of this effort couldn’t just be to lead people to believe something was being done. Nora recalled the morning after the nebula reapers escaped; the radio had given them no information. What’s more, no one she knew then seemed particularly concerned about what had happened. In fact, it wasn’t until she got here that she found out what really took place. Nora then chided herself. What a price to pay to learn the truth! Nora stared off into space. She caught Jack looking at her from the nearby table. When she forced herself to smile, he looked away. Nora wondered what his reaction meant.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 7


Nora lay down as soon as she got back to the room. She didn’t even care whether the others were going to stay awake or not. She put a napkin over her eyes to blot out any light, which may result from the other two coming in and out of the bathroom. Finally, Nora started to drift off. Unfortunately, Nora awoke a mere couple of hours later. And what was more, she found she was remarkably alert. Unable to shake her skittishness, she went to the tiny bathroom in the corner of the room. There she threw water on her face. On the one hand, she felt it was great that they had a bathroom attached to the room — it was that added touch that made it seem as though the Administration cared about them. Now, though, given Nora’s interaction with the people here, she could see less positive motives for including it in the room design. It did keep people from the halls and from one another’s rooms. Isolating members of the group from one another might limit talking, which could limit any action they might take to free themselves. As it stood now, there was seemingly no legitimate reason to be wandering around. Still, it was nice — nice to have that bathroom.

Nora was careful to turn off the light before she exited the bathroom, so that the brightness wouldn’t disturb her two roommates. Then, she opened the door carefully to avoid making unnecessary noise. It occurred to her, however, that maybe there wasn’t any need. Maybe they weren’t really there at all. Maybe the two girls had disappeared just as Tina had that morning. Nora waited by the doorway in the darkness. She held her breath and listened. She was relieved when she could hear them breathing. It was silly but to her it meant things hadn’t changed for the worse again.

Nora made her way by memory to where she thought her bed was. When she got close to the spot she remembered it being, she reached out her hand and felt for it. Eventually, her fingertips felt the softness of the fabric. Nora followed along the edge of the bed to her end table. She was planning on recovering the food she had left there; she found she was hungry now. At first, it seemed as though it would be a little difficult to feel which item was which. However, one item was fairly easy to recognize, and she pulled the bag of crackers from the bag. She sat on the bed, opened the package, and began eating them as quietly as possible. After she ate the crackers, she lay down again. Unfortunately, this round of sleep did not go so well as the last one had. Nora began to have nightmares almost instantly. They were the kind of nightmares that were so all-consuming that they seemed to be actually occurring.

The bad dreams were about the nebula reapers. They consisted of scenes taken from what Nora had actually experienced that night as well as parts from the video she had been shown the day before. Nora awoke in a fog. There was fear in Nora — yes. But mainly there was this overwhelming loneliness. Nora wanted her mother desperately. The panic, which had been held fast just beneath the surface, began to leak out. Nora clenched her hands and fought hard to keep it from being released. Eventually, there was no stopping it, and it gushed out. Nora began to sob violently. Yet, she still held out hope that her roommates were asleep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that that a light came on from next to Tina’s bedside.

Nora bit her lip as she stared up at the ceiling. She wanted to stop crying, so she’d be left alone — but it wasn’t meant to be. Tina came first then Elsie. They stood on either side of the bed. They loomed over Nora with curious expressions on their faces. Nora looked at the foot of her bed to avoid making eye contact with them.

“What’s wrong?” Elsie asked Nora in an incredulous tone.

It felt like insult to injury to have Elsie standing there judging her. Nora pulled herself up.

“I’m fine.” Nora returned defiantly. Unfortunately, her voice choked at the end. “I just had a nightmare.”

“About what?” Elsie pondered.

Nora shot a glare at her. Was she serious? Nora was then surprised when she noticed Tina pulling a chair over towards Nora’s bed. Tina then sat down and just looked at Nora.

“What?” Nora asked.

“You were screaming. It must have been something.” Tina pointed out.

Nora’s brow furrowed. It felt as though they were annoyed by her interfering in their sleep. This condemnation after all of the stress they managed to put her through! Nora looked down and bit her lip. She was hoping they would take the hint and leave her alone. When she realized their leaving wasn’t happening, she looked between them.

“You mean besides all of this?!” Nora returned in a sarcastic tone.

Elsie shifted uncomfortably; she then headed toward her bed. Good, Nora thought. Elsie’s presence was annoying to her. Yet, she did feel a pang of guilt about it.

“Yes, besides all of this.” Tina said softly.

Nora looked at Tina quizzically. Did Tina think she was being too harsh? Then again, why should Nora care what Tina thought about it? They were all struggling with this reality. Why pretend it was all great?

“I miss my parents, all right?” Nora remarked defensively.

“They weren’t taken, too?” Tina asked. She seemed confused.

“No, were yours?”

“No, I don’t have parents anymore.” she responded.

Nora looked down. She had mixed feelings about being told that. Was she not allowed to be upset because someone else had it worse?

“I’m sorry to hear that. I must seem heartless.” Nora decided to say.

“No.” Tina countered. “I miss mine, too. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Nora looked back at Tina. Nora breathed as she hesitated. Her eyes drifted towards Elsie. After all, she had learned the other day that Elsie could hear most of what was being said. For some reason, Nora didn’t want Elsie to know. Maybe it was the fact that Elsie didn’t seem to get the seriousness of the situation anymore — if she ever really did. As it turned out, it appeared as though Elsie was sleeping.

“I just … I went there that day on my own, and they don’t even know where I went or where I am now.” Nora began to cry again. “This is all my fault. But then, no one deserves to be here — I’m not saying that. But you and the others did nothing wrong. I, on the other hand, brought this situation on myself.”

Suddenly, an odd look crossed Tina’s face.

“You’re not from the underground.” she realized.

So much for Nora’s avoiding the topic of where she came from; it seemed her nightmare had made that impossible.

“No.” Nora replied.

“The old district, then?”

“Well, I lived there when I was a child … but no. We moved years ago. That day was ironically my first time back. I remembered it fondly. So, when I saw the nebula reapers the night before … Well, I thought going there would calm my fears.”

Tina looked surprised.

“But don’t tell anyone.” Nora was quick to say. “I’m worried for my parents. I don’t want them to get involved in this situation.”

“It seems to me that you should be worried about yourself.” Tina pointed out.

Nora had thought about that possibility but was surprised to hear someone else say it. It made it more real. Nora couldn’t figure out whether the heightening of that feeling was a good or a bad thing.

“Well, I’m afraid my parents would get into trouble if they looked for me.”

Tina looked dumbfounded.

“You know, most people probably don’t know about this place and what’s going on here.” Nora thought to add. “They might hurt my parents to keep it a secret.”

“You really think that’s so?” Tina asked. “About them not knowing, I mean.”

Nora’s brow furrowed.

“Don’t you think they’d want to know what the government’s doing about the nebula-reaper problem?” Tina wondered.

Nora considered.

“I won’t say anything.” Tina concluded.

Both Nora and Tina looked over at Elsie, who still seemed to be asleep.

“So, you’re all right now?” Tina asked.

“Yes … I mean, I’m better anyway. Thank you.”

“All right.” Tina decided.

Tina stood and headed back to her bed. Soon the light was turned off once more. Nora lay back down in the darkness. Slowly, she drifted back into an uneasy but less dramatic sleep.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 6


By the time the trio got back to their room, it was clear that something heavy was weighing on Tina. She sat down on the edge of her bed, her hands clasped in front of her and her face downcast. While Elsie was busy looking through her bag of new belongings with renewed vigor, Nora walked over to Tina. It took awhile before Tina raised her eyes toward Nora’s face. It was clear Tina didn’t want to talk about whatever it was. Unfortunately for Tina, Nora didn’t really care at that moment.

“Did you leave the room on your own?” Nora asked in a barely audible voice.

Tina stared at Nora for a moment. A tense silence ensued. Nora thought of telling Tina that she wouldn’t ask anything more about it; but just as she came to that conclusion, Tina shook her head.

“They said I should ask the two of you for details about the meeting I missed.” Tina spoke in a low tone; her eyes were seemingly staring at something below Nora’s face.

“Oh, I took notes!” Elsie chirped. She suddenly sprang up.

Nora was surprised Elsie had been listening in. She watched as Elsie abandoned her bag for her notebook. Then, Elsie took the notebook straight to Tina. Nora could tell by the look on Elsie’s face that she was looking for praise. Instead, Tina just stared at the pages filled with notes unblinkingly.

“I know it’s probably not the same as seeing the video.” Elsie admitted.

There was still no response.

“But honestly, I kind of wish I hadn’t seen the video at all.” Elsie added.

Tina remained silent and withdrawn.

“There is a lecture in a little more than an hour.” Elsie informed Tina.

There was still nothing from Tina.

“You probably didn’t miss anything that isn’t in those notes.” Nora reassured Tina. “There really isn’t much there that is necessary to know either — aside from the daily instructions. I’m not exactly sure what the point of all of it was.”

Finally, Tina looked up at Nora and managed to smile.

“Thank you.” she said softly.

Nora heard Elsie gasp; Nora then looked over at Elsie. A look of confusion seemed to cross Elsie’s face. Nora figured Elsie was confused as to why Nora was the one being thanked. Tina seemed to sense this wounding of Elsie’s pride as well and added, “Thank you, too.”

Elsie nodded, but she still seemed put out by the experience. She left the notebook with Tina and headed back to her bed. She sat at the end of the bed looking sullen; her eyes were cast off to the side.

“We got a lot of food from the cafeteria.” Nora brought up.

Just as Nora said the words, she heard a groan coming from Elsie’s direction. She turned and saw a disgruntled look cross Elsie’s face. To think, Elsie had been the one to guilt Nora about the fact Nora hadn’t wanted to share before. Now, apparently, Elsie was no longer that thrilled with Tina.

“Are you hungry?” Nora continued. “I have some food.”

“Yes. Like crackers or something. I’m not that hungry.” Tina returned.

“Yeah. I think I have those.” Nora concluded.

Nora went to her supplies and found some peanut butter crackers near the bottom of her bag. She crossed the room again and handed them to Tina, who thanked her once more.

“I have a slice of apple pie …” Elsie grudgingly admitted, possibly wanting to be included in the expressions of gratitude. “Apple’s not my favorite anyway.” she added.

“Yeah. That would be nice.” Tina responded.

A frown creased Elsie’s face briefly, but she quickly cast it aside and proceeded to retrieve the promised pie from her bag.

Nora took this moment to contemplate what she had just found out. To think they had taken Tina from the room, and now she was shaken up about it. And why had they done it in secret? Why not make an example of her? Then again, handling the issue in secret was what they had done with Lisa. Maybe they were concerned that the group as a whole hadn’t been made to submit yet. Better to pick them off individually. As it turned out, it was actually creepier this way.

Nora began to stare into space as Elsie watched Tina slowly eat. Nora felt as though she was sinking into herself. Emotionally she wanted distance. Images from the video flashed through her mind. How could Elsie, who seemed so weak, have been capable of watching it all the way through while Nora couldn’t? Nora realized that all three girls were on the verge of falling apart in their own way. All three were struggling. Nora didn’t know them well enough to depend on them for emotional support. She needed her parents desperately. She bit her lip.

First Tina then Elsie turned to look at Nora. Nora purposefully shook off her anxiety.

“So, Elsie …” Nora began, her voice hoarse. “After the lecture, will we have some time off?”

Elsie went over and picked up her notes from where they lay at Tina’s side.

“Yes, but the lecture is set to last until dinner.” Elsie announced.

Nora moaned. She was in no mood for this development. With sleep no longer a possibility — Nora was too filled with adrenaline for rest — it suddenly felt as though there was a long time left to wait for the lecture. And it didn’t help that the room was so stark … so devoid of anything to do. Yet, a lack of entertainment wouldn’t be a problem after the lecture, for there was no doubt in Nora’s mind that she would be able to sleep then — despite the stress she was under. She would be too exhausted to stay awake forever.

Unfortunately, as time passed, Nora became less and less convinced she could actually stay awake until after the lecture. She even wondered whether Elsie and Tina would cover for her if she fell asleep during it. No, somehow she would have to get through it. She couldn’t risk being caught nodding off. Eventually, the intercom emitted its signal, and all of the recruits made their way to the auditorium like a herd of cattle to the corral. It was rather demoralizing to see the passive looks in the eyes of the others. They were resigned it seemed. Nora wasn’t resigned, but she was helpless nonetheless.

All three girls sat together in their designated area after signing in. During the sign-in, Tina seemed particularly concerned that they record her name correctly. Once Tina sat down next to Nora, Tina seemed much more relaxed. Nora wasn’t sure she would ever get Tina to disclose what had happened that morning when she stayed behind in the room. Yet, it seemed clear that skipping meetings had turned out not to be a viable option. The net was tightening around them, and it seemed unclear how bad it would get before they were released … if they were released. No, Nora couldn’t think like that. She had to keep calm; she just had to. If she lost it now, she would probably never again regain her composure.

When the lecture began, Elsie quickly started to take notes. During Mrs. Grafton’s pauses, Nora could hear Elsie’s pen scratching away feverishly at the paper. Nora sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Moments later, she could feel Elsie nudge her. Nora looked over. She was about to protest that she really wasn’t sleeping when she noticed that Elsie was handing her something. Apparently, they were handing out books. Instead of being professionally made, they seem to have just been printed out and bound together in-house. Nora was relieved. At least they didn’t plan for their abduction way in advance; that would have scared her more. For, it would mean that the world Nora knew was always a lie and that there was no hope.

Nora opened the booklet and flipped through it. There was mostly information about piloting planes in there. Nora furrowed her brow. Planes? They were supposed to pilot planes? Were they going to pursue the rogue reapers through the streets of the city? At first the thought was disturbing. But then, the thought occurred to her that if she were let out into the world in some sort of way then this nightmare wouldn’t be so heinous. And possibly, she could even see her parents again. Nora sat up in her chair. She began listening closely to the lecture. There must be something in the lecture — something that would tell Nora she could go home. She wanted to hear there was an end to it; she wanted to hear that they would be released. But Mrs. Grafton didn’t say that. She made no such promises — alluded to no such hope. And then, it was over. Even though time had passed and the rest of the group seemed antsy, Nora was disappointed the lecture was over. She could feel her heart pounding. That couldn’t have been it — it couldn’t be. And yet, people were filing out of the room with those same empty expressions on their faces they had had when they first came in.

Nora could feel her roommates staring at her. The rows were such that there was very little leg room given for people to pass by one another. Elsie could have left, for this time she was seated closest to the aisle. However, she seemed reluctant to leave on her own. So, both Tina and Elsie waited for Nora to stand and walk away. Yet, Nora didn’t want to go — not until they told her what she wanted to hear.

“Nora.” Tina started softly. “Don’t you want to get some sleep?”

Nora looked over into Tina’s eyes. There was some understanding there. Perhaps, Tina could tell that Nora was about to break down. Or, perhaps, Tina could understand what Nora was feeling — a sense of panic — given whatever Tina went through that morning. Either way, Nora couldn’t trap Tina in her seat for the rest of the evening. The room was practically cleared out, and Nora had a feeling that none of them wanted to loiter in the room and draw the wrath of whoever was in charge of closing up. Nora stood. At least, the lecture was over, she thought. But then, the disappointment that she was still trapped by the Administration and was given no hope to cling to about leaving someday crept up on her. Nora almost didn’t catch the despair before it made its way up her throat, but she managed to gulp it down again. It lingered there, buried in her stomach. She could fight the tears. So what that she almost cried? Almost isn’t crying.

Nora didn’t see Jack in the cafeteria. Then, it occurred to Nora that she hadn’t looked for Jack at all that day. She had been so preoccupied with everything going on that she hadn’t thought about Jack at all. She began to grow angry with herself; her face flushed. Maybe he had been trying to get her attention and thought she blew him off. Then, she heard some people nearby discussing how empty the cafeteria was in comparison to the previous night. Apparently, those from the other dorms had just been given the opportunity to partake in the buffet. At first, Nora managed to breathe a sigh of relief that Jack likely hadn’t been there. But then, moments later, she found she was bitterly disappointed. After all, the past was not so important as the present. Would she never see him again?

Ironically, that realization became another blow she couldn’t take at that moment. It became just one of many reasons why Nora would find she wasn’t hungry again. Even so, Nora knew her lack of appetite wouldn’t last. She certainly didn’t want to go hungry or need to ask for food. So, she once more chose food she could take with her. Afterward, she had thought about not waiting for the others to eat and going back to the room on her own. She thought she might want some time alone. And yet, no matter how many good reasons there turned out to be for her leaving, she just sat in that chair in the cafeteria. She felt rooted there somehow. It occurred to her after awhile that what kept her there was fear. She didn’t want to be alone in that room.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 5

The two girls finally made it back to their room. The scene seemed exactly as it had when they left that morning. The pile of blankets, which constituted Tina, was as high as it had been before. Nora felt a pang of envy seeing that lump. After all, Nora did what she was supposed to do and was robbed of sleep because of it. Not that she wanted to see Tina get punished for sleeping in. No, it was more as though Nora just wished she had had the same amount of courage, so that she could have refused to go. Maybe refusing really was a way for the “recruits” to take back the power over their lives. Maybe the only thing to do was to face down the fear she felt. It was even possible Lisa was around here somewhere. Heck, they could have released her and made the rest of them fear what had become of her in a bid to control those foolish enough to remain.

Nora sat on the edge of her bed with her sack of food, facing the pile of cloth that was Tina. Nora just sat there frozen, staring at the monotonous design of Tina’s blanket.

Elsie, on the other hand, was pulling food readily from her bag and eating it. Nora suspected Elsie had slept better than Nora had the night before as she didn’t show the same telltale signs of fatigue. Given how nervous and fragile Elsie had seemed, her newly found composure surprised Nora. How did Elsie manage to suddenly appear so calm? Perhaps, Elsie’s life had been difficult at times in the past, so she learned to be as happy as possible whenever possible. Maybe Elsie did have some strength — some buried emotional reserve — she could draw upon and was fortunately drawing upon it now.

Suddenly, Elsie looked up. Nora then realized that she had been staring at Elsie in disbelief.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Elsie asked Nora sheepishly.

“In a minute.” Nora replied.

Elsie shrugged and continued to consume her sandwich.

“It’s good.” Elsie told Nora. “You might want to go ahead and eat.”

The tone of Elsie’s voice … it was unbelievable. Once again, Nora could sense that Elsie was letting her guard down. This trust came despite the video they saw and the explanation that came afterward. Then again, it wasn’t as though Nora really wanted to think about that nebula-reaper footage either.

“Maybe we should have gotten some food for Tina. Then again, we do have quite a bit.” Elsie put forth.

“I’m going to save mine.” Nora said. “Tina can get her own.”

Elsie appeared to be shocked by Nora’s apparent selfishness. Nora reconsidered.

“I guess if they close down the cafeteria we can share with her.” Nora acknowledged.

Nora was surprised by just how bitter she was about Tina’s opportunity to sleep. It was true that Nora could probably try to sleep again, but the stress she felt would make it difficult. And if she did manage to sleep, would she merely be awoken a short time afterward? Just then, another announcement rang over the loud speaker.

“Good morning, recruits. This announcement is to inform you that you can now begin to obtain personal items at the commissary. When you hear your room number, please make your way to the commissary room at the west end of the lobby. Thank you.”

“You hear that?!” Elsie exclaimed. She quickly placed her remaining food to her side. “Finally! I just hope we don’t have to wait too long to be called up. You don’t suppose they’ll run out of supplies, do you?”

“They’ll probably ration the stuff.” Nora yawned.

Far from being relieved by Nora’s response, Elsie frowned. Apparently, she’d have rather heard there were far too many supplies.

“I hope we get enough.” Elsie muttered.

When it became clear that the room numbers were being called out in random order, Nora decided to go ahead and eat. It didn’t look as though sleep would be forthcoming. And yet, if they were called to get their supplies soon, eating at that moment gave Nora the greatest chance of having time enough to sleep between appointments. Thankfully, it wasn’t long after she finished eating that her room number was called. Since Tina had been sleeping all this time, Nora and Elsie decided to call out to her. After all, she would be in quite the mood if she didn’t get any supplies. Not to mention, that neither girl wanted to share hers with Tina. When there was no answer from Tina, Nora and Elsie looked at each other.

Elsie then stood and headed for the bed with determination.

“Tina, we have to get our stuff!” she exclaimed to the unmoving lump.

Finally, Elsie pulled the blanket off the bed revealing nothing but pillows. Elsie gasped aloud. Her hands began to shake.

“What?!” she cried out.

Nora stood and moved toward the bed to make sure she was seeing things right.

“She—she’s gone!” Elsie gasped. “What do we do?! I mean, where could she have gone?”

Nora had no idea. Everything just looked hazy and unreal to her. What could this discovery mean?

“Nora?!” Elsie’s squeaky call managed to rouse Nora’s attention.

Nora quickly moved toward the bathroom, but she could tell before she reached the half-open door that it was empty.

“Let’s go to the commissary.” Nora announced once she realized she had no better plan.

As the two girls quickly walked the halls, their eyes darted to and fro scanning for any sign of Tina. Of course, Nora felt guilty now for being angry with Tina. As much as she tried, she couldn’t convince herself that everything was fine. There was this nagging feeling Nora couldn’t shake. It just didn’t seem likely given Tina’s mood this morning that she got up on her own. Certainly, there were no latecomers at the presentation, and she never took her assigned seat either. Could Nora and Elsie have missed her at the cafeteria? Nora decided they would check there after she and Elsie got their supplies. One thing felt certain: when you’re told to do something around here — even if they say please — it wasn’t optional. As it was, Nora didn’t want to miss her scheduled time at the commissary and apparently neither did Elsie. Then, as Nora and Elsie approached their destination, they could see a figure in the crowd staring at them.

There was Tina standing next to the commissary door — a ghastly shade of gray.

“There you are. I’ve been wondering whether you’d show up.” Tina uttered. She was trying to sound casual, but the shakiness in her voice betrayed her anxiety.

Elsie and Nora kept sending each other questioning looks. Tina seemed to be avoiding direct eye contact. She stared straight ahead, her face flushed. Nora tried to stockpile enough nerve to ask Tina what had happened. Though, every time Nora began to speak Tina would talk over her; she would rattle on and on about the supplies they were getting. Tina seemed surprisingly interested in the commissary. It was true that Nora knew little about Tina. And yet, even with what little she did know about her it seemed odd. However, Nora and Elsie were in too much of a hurry to question her then. All three girls headed inside the commissary instead.

As far as Nora was concerned, she was underwhelmed with the amenities. Though she was happy to be getting personal items, they were clearly generic and bought in bulk. Yet, even though they were cheap, they were still being rationed. Stone-faced employees reached into unmarked cardboard boxes and grudgingly handed over as little as possible to those waiting in line. It seemed strange given that they had to know how many recruits there were by then. Why did they seem so unsure how much to give them? And if they couldn’t afford to provide enough for them, why had they captured so many people? The commissary experience caused the recruits as much stress as the meals had caused relief. It felt as though they were imprisoned for some unknown crime. They weren’t given the option to pay for anything or to take more of one item and less of another. They were treated as nuisances — nuisances who would take more than they needed if given any slack.

And really, why spend so much money on the food but not enough on other things? Maybe it all came down to the fact that food was more of a mood enhancer than a bar of soap. Even so, this whole process was degrading, and for Nora it completely undermined any gain the Administration had made with the food.

“You know, I got to thinking. What if someone used our names to get more?” Elsie worried. “We have no way to prove who we are.”

That thought had never occurred to Nora. Honestly, it didn’t seem they cared who they were all that much unless it was to punish … Nora suddenly looked over at Tina, whose face was still a mask. It sent a chill up Nora’s spine that Tina seemed rather giddy; it just had to be a facade. First off, this behavior didn’t seem to reflect Tina’s personality. Secondly, the contrast between the reality of the situation and Tina’s reaction to it caused confusion for both Nora and Elsie. Elsie particularly looked dazed. Even during those rare instances when Nora got eye contact with Tina, Tina managed to keep up her act. Thankfully, the three girls eventually made it through the line. Nora was glad to be out of there. The crowd inside the commissary was so large compared to the room’s size that it had quickly became stifling. Nora determined that she would conserve her supplies the best she could. Not only did she not want to go back to the commissary, but she also had no idea when or even if she’d be given leave to do so. She certainly didn’t want to have to ask for more.

“Do you think they have a laundry room?” Elsie pondered.

Nora looked down into her bag and realized someone had put clothing in it. Nora stopped suddenly.

“How do they know my size?” Nora questioned.

“I thought about that.” Tina admitted in a drained tone. “All of our clothing seems to have different color collars, so I figure the color given to us was based on the size we requested that first time. That way, they don’t have to ask again.”

“Oh.” Nora remarked. “I guess that is pretty efficient.”

“Too bad they didn’t ask what we like.” Elsie spoke up suddenly. “I really don’t like lavender soap. I got a free sample at a store once. It made my skin itch for days. What am I going to do? I have to have soap.”

“You can have mine. I got aloe.” Tina told her, her voice still surprisingly hollow.

“Oh, good!” Elsie cheered.

Nora was surprised that Elsie wasn’t being sarcastic and actually seemed happy. She could understand Elsie being relieved, but how could anyone be happy here? Just when Tina seemed to come back to reality, Elsie started to act dizzy again. Maybe, Nora concluded, she should just be glad that so far one of them was capable of being related to at any given moment. All she could do now was hope that they wouldn’t both lose it at the same time; Nora was barely holding herself together as it was.


Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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