I can’t even remember the first time I learned about death. Because of my limited memory back then, I don’t recall it. It must have been a shock for me. And still, how sad and how scary it is that in every moment of my life, which I can think on, I’ve always been aware of death.
The fact is people don’t handle death well; it is absurd to suggest otherwise. Some people say that because it exists it must also be accepted … but it really can’t be. It is too terrible a thing to simply be accepted. A society based on death has no hope. Even I, who believe there’s a chance for life after death, despise death. The pain and the loss, the fear over how it’s going to end can taint even the happiest of times … of memories.
Of course, some people deal with it in a particularly deranged way. They think that if they can cause premature death to happen to other people that that infliction of death will give them a sense of power over it. It’s an illusion, but it makes them feel better. It restores in them the sense of self-determination that death stripped away from them long ago. Unfortunately, it does this with disastrous consequences.
Such as it was for a small colony known as 52, for it was a time in its history when the already dead seemed like the lucky ones. For my uncle Leader Monrage decided one night to unleash on the unsuspecting population of Colony 52 deadly creatures known as the nebula reapers. Had he realized the extent of the horror he would inflict? With a man like Leader Monrage, it’s impossible for me to know for sure all of what he was trying to achieve — but it was indeed horror that he caused.
It was a particularly dark night. The sky was overcast, and the only objects that consistently illuminated the streets were the scant lights, which cut through the darkness. Fewer lights were needed in the city thankfully, as the buildings within its limits were built so closely together and the streets made narrow. People tried not to think about the reason there wasn’t enough power to illuminate a greater area. Still, it helped how dependably the lights came on every night.
Nora Montgomery was doing her homework by the window. Air conditioning was expensive, so she left the window open. Nora’s apartment was on the tenth floor. It wasn’t unusual for the occasional cargo ship or air taxi to fly by at that height.
Given that the streets were so narrow, people traveled at different altitudes to keep traffic moving. Of course, after 23:00 most vehicles weren’t allowed in the residential zones. Right then, it was 22:35. Of course, while the noise reduction would allow Nora to sleep later on it wasn’t going to help her get her homework done. Even so, sometimes just watching the vehicles as they passed by was a nice distraction.
It was not so helpful when the wind picked up. Nora assumed it was an approaching storm. Nora believed it was a storm because the wind was preceded slightly by a deep rumbling noise. Usually the atmospheric regulator managed to allow for the rain to come without any disruptions such as storms, but occasionally they popped up anyway. Nora groaned. Even though the wind was subtle at first, it did jostle some of Nora’s loose papers around. But then, suddenly, there was an odd, low, moaning sound, and all of her papers began to stir.
“Shoot!” Nora exclaimed.
She rushed to the nearby window and shut it tightly. Then, a sound, which Nora had never heard before, came from a small device on her desk. She turned toward her desk with a curious expression. For a moment, Nora just stared at the device. The meaning of the noise didn’t register. She knew the device had a purpose, but … something at that moment drew her attention back to the window. Nora’s eyes lighted upon a movement toward her left. There she saw an air taxi making its way slowly down the street.
Behind the taxi something was quickly approaching. It seemed a crash was inevitable. Nora at first thought to scream, but seconds later she lost her breath entirely. The taxi was by then in the process of being engulfed by a semi-transparent, milky-white form. The creature appeared to be sliding through the taxi. The driver ejected just in time to avoid the form; she continued to hover mostly upward but slightly forward with a jet pack. Suddenly, though, the creature lurched straight up and consumed the woman. Nora gasped and stumbled backward. She fell against her desk as she viewed the woman struggling inside the middle of the form. Then, the form became opaque.
After that horrid occurrence, the lights went out. Nora reached for a flashlight she had stored in her desk. She was afraid to turn it on, afraid of what she would see. She could hear the sound of dogs barking in the street. People’s voices began to clamor there as well. It had to be a stunt of some kind; she couldn’t have just seen what she thought she saw.
No one even spoke the name of the nebula reapers. Certainly, a reaper couldn’t be out in the streets somewhere — preying on people — consuming them. Could one have gotten out of its electric cage? If so, how would they recapture it? Were other reapers soon to come?
Suddenly, there was a knocking on Nora’s bedroom door. She turned on her flashlight and headed over to open it. On the other side of the wooden structure was the ashen face of her father. Her mother came up from behind him and hugged Nora.
“Thank goodness. I knew you usually left the window open!” her mother shouted.
“What’s going on?” Nora asked.
Nora’s voice was a little lower, a little more mature than one would expect from someone so young-looking. Then again, Nora was seventeen years old, hardly a baby, at least in her mind. But her large, innocent eyes tended to make people treat her like a child. She had tried to cut her dark brown hair into a medium, and, therefore, more sophisticated cut, but it didn’t help enough. So, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her parents would react this way. It didn’t mean that things were really so bad.
“Seriously, what’s wrong?” she asked again.
Her parents looked at each other.
“Let’s turn the radio to the news station.” her father finally spoke.
He walked past Nora and headed to her desk. Nora and her mother filed in behind him. Nora’s mother, Rebecca, placed her hands on Nora’s shoulders.
There was a strange noise coming from the radio. It was the combination of static and a high-pitched tone. Nora’s father, Clam, tried to fine-tune the station. Eventually, he got a faint signal. They could hear just the smallest rumbling of a human voice. After a few more moments of refining, the voice was as clear as it would get. Nora couldn’t help but wish the voice hadn’t been found at all.
“This is a pre-recorded message from the Government Emergency Service. An official statement will soon follow. Please secure all of your windows and doors. Do not open them no matter what you hear. Stay tuned to the radio. If you’ve changed your batteries as often as you were mandated to by law, you should be able to leave the radio on for as long as needed until an official statement is released. This message will be repeated …”
“Are we just supposed to keep listening to this message over and over again?” Rebecca asked.
“We might miss something, Becca.” Clam responded.
“Can’t we at least turn it down?”
He shook his head no. Becca turned to Nora, determined, it would seem, to drown out the repetitive noise from the radio.
“Did you see anything, Nora? I mean, we thought we did … at the window.”
“Let’s not talk about that right now, Becca. Maybe you should sit down.”
“I’m fine.” she insisted.
Suddenly, there was a buzzing from their apartment’s intercom system. It signaled someone was at the front door of the apartment building.
“Oh my, what’s that?!” Becca cried out.
“I’m sure it’ll stop.” Clam responded.
“But what if it’s one of our neighbors?” Becca countered. “Wait! That noise comes from the buzzer outside the building, which would mean the person’s outside. But wouldn’t a neighbor have a key?”
Clam headed to the intercom. Once he got to the front door, he pressed the button to speak. “We’ve been told not to open the door. Please go back to your home.” he uttered into the device.
There was static emanating from the intercom. Then, there were some mumbling noises. Finally, a brief moment of silence was broken by more mumbling.
“Why doesn’t that person stop?!” Becca called out.
“And what if one of the neighbors lets them in?” Nora questioned.
“All right. I’m going to seal the front door. Get me some tape.” Clam concluded.
Just then, Nate’s bedroom door opened, and the young boy came out rubbing his eyes. Almost instantly, Becca’s demeanor changed; she grew calm and protective.
“Nate.” She rushed to him. “What are you doing up?”
“I heard a noise.” Nate muttered.
“Nora. The tape?” her father repeated.
“Yes.” Nora replied. She headed for the utility room to retrieve her father’s tool kit.
Nora stared at the box for a moment. How normal it all had seemed when she had last seen this toolbox.
“Nora!” her father called out.
Nora grabbed the dusty toolbox and ran it over to her father. She figured her father could find the tape in the box faster than she could. When Nora got to her father, she handed off the box to her dad. She noticed for the first time that his hand was shaking. Clam found his special industrial tape rather quickly. Then, he started to apply it to the door cracks.
Nora wrung her hands and looked over toward the kitchen space. There, she saw that her mother had made some hot chocolate for Nate. She rather wished she could be protected from the truth — that she could be convinced everything would be all right. However, she knew her mother’s actions were as much about her mother’s feelings as her brother’s; it made her mother feel better to make her brother feel better. Nora then turned her attention back toward the door.
“Was that — the elevator?” Nora asked.
“I’m almost done!” Clam called out.
Nora approached the peephole in order to look out into the hall. From the side, she could see to the end of the corridor with the aid of the auxiliary lights, which lined it. She could tell that the elevator door was open. Only, from what Nora could make out, there was no one there.
“That’s strange.” Nora whispered.
She looked down and over at her father. She saw that he was making progress to cover the final crack of the door.
“The elevator opened, but there was nothing inside.” Nora informed her dad. Then, she turned back toward the peephole. “Wait, there is something. It looks almost like a dark haze of smoke.”
“Smoke is coming down the hall! It may be a fire! What will we do?!” Nora then froze for a moment. “Dad, it’s coming! Wait! Is that a form there? Dad!!”
Nora looked down at her father with a horrified expression. She saw him finally seal the remaining crack of the door just as some force rushed down the hall past their apartment. The sound of the air as it crackled penetrated her ears. It was like a backdraft almost. Clam stood and placed his hands on Nora’s shoulders.
“Stay away from the door.” he told her. “It’s going to be a long night.”
Nora and her father suddenly heard the sound of a window breaking from down the hall. Nora and her father looked at each other then stepped away from the door. The family of four waited there in the dark — huddled together — waiting for some kind of news. Nora was really expecting a message to come over the radio at any moment … but there was nothing. Nora was very afraid when silence overcame the station.
“What’s that?” her mother asked. “What happened?”
Suddenly, there was a fluttering of static. Then, the music came back on. After the first song played, there was station identification. Nora’s family all looked at one another in shock. What was this? Had someone accidently played an old recording? How could the radio disc jockey be so calm under these circumstances? Even if he had been told to act as though nothing was wrong, how could he pull it off this well?
“Is that it?” Nora asked her stunned parents. “Are they really not going to tell us what’s going on?”
It was only a second after she got out the last word that the lights came back on. The other three people in the room began to look around. Their posture eased and slowly they began to stand. Nora couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed. That reaction lasted until she realized her own feelings were silly. After all, her family’s sitting around the radio wasn’t going to make the announcer come back on. Still, as the others seemed to scatter and slowly return to their normal day’s activities, Nora couldn’t help but feel abandoned.
“That was it?” Nora kept playing those words over and over in her mind.
Yet, thinking that way made her feel suddenly guilty. She should want it to be normal; that was what was best. And that was reality, right?
There was an awkwardness at the breakfast table. Nora could tell by the look in their eyes that her parents and her brother were unsure. And yet, the morning played out just as it had a thousand times before. Everything around them said it was fine. So, even though something deep down said it wasn’t fine, the seeming normalcy won out. Yet, Nora was so frustrated by her family’s lack of acknowledgement of the past night’s events she chose not to put her usual effort into getting ready for school. After not having slept the night before, why should she be made to go at all? And why, for that matter, was school in session anyway?
Unfortunately, Nora’s simple act of defiance didn’t seem to be noticed by anyone. And the television lineup, the trip to the bus stop, the day at school proceeded as though nothing had happened. Even though one girl, who lived close to Nora, didn’t show up for school that day, no one made mention of it. Nora seemed to be the only one who would look over periodically at the empty chair. Aside from a few flashes of fear in the eyes of those around her when an unexpected noise occurred, there was nothing to indicate that anything had changed.
When school was over, Nora was so riddled with anxiety that, after she walked her brother home, she decided to go for a walk.
“Where are you going again?” he asked her.
“Just for a walk.” she responded. “I’ll be back before dinner.”
Maybe after a walk, Nora could slip back into normalcy again. Still, the streets seemed filled with that same odd feeling she had had all day. However, the thought occurred to her as she was walking that there may be one place she could go that would be different. Years earlier she had lived in another neighborhood – a poorer neighborhood. That part of town abutted the underground communities where some people lived. When her father finally got that promotion, she and her family had moved. Even so, she never forgot where she came from. Maybe it was just childhood nostalgia, Nora thought, but she could remember being truly happy there. And yet, she’d never be capable of walking there and returning home before it got dark. She’d have to take the bus. It occurred to Nora that she hadn’t mentioned going that far to her brother. Though, chances were good that her parents wouldn’t approve of her plan if she were to go back to tell them about it now. What was more, Nora wished to go there alone. Nora bit her lip. This might be her only chance. If she headed home first, there wouldn’t be time today, and Nora just knew if it didn’t happen now it wouldn’t happen at all. So, as the bus heading in that direction pulled in front of her, she could feel her legs approach and step onto it. It would be the most fateful decision of her life.
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
“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.”
“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
Leader Monrage’s merciless plot has come to fruition — unleashing unspeakable evil onto the universe. The first to feel its effects is a small, isolated colony known as 52. Nora Montgomery had been living a pretty normal life — normal in her view at least. But then, the nebula reapers descend — turning her life upside down and exposing secrets of the world — a world she thought she knew. Together with a young man named Jack Callahan, she must try to claw her way free from the tightening noose that threatens to take all of their lives.
Two different dreams contributed to two of the scenes in this book. One was of the air taxi in Chapter One. The second was about the confinement exercise.
Book One of the Nocturne’s Reaping® series, Prelude, serves as a prequel to the events in Book Two, Dirge. It will also fill this role for the rest of the books in the series.
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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.
“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.
“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
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?”
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.
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.
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
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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