Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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.
“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
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
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
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
Dirge chapters 1-13. For chapters 14-24, click button below.
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.
Nora could remember hearing voices calling to her, so she must have been in and out of consciousness. Then, when the haze finally cleared, she awoke completely. She slowly opened her eyes. At first, her eyes focused on a strange, bright light above her; the light seared into her. She looked away and blinked as her eyes struggled to adjust. Aside from that one light, the rest of the room was in shadow. Everything looked blurry, and globs of light streamed across Nora’s sight. Nora could make out that there were water pipes overhead, and she could hear water squealing past above her. Maybe it was because of this noise that she had had dreams about her near-drowning experience. At that moment, she almost sighed but ended up coughing instead. Nora concluded she was having trouble breathing because of the water she had inhaled. She sat straight up. As she placed her hand to her chest to stop the aching, she noticed a band on her wrist — sort of a label. The band had her name printed on it. Next, she noticed that her newfound sitting position allowed her to make out more of the room. It was a stark, unwelcoming room. On the walls were rows of metal cabinets. Nora figured she was in some sort of hospital. Yet, there was no buzzer, which would have allowed her to call for a nurse.
Nora sat there for a moment just thinking. Eventually, she found she couldn’t take staying in that bed any longer. Thoughts of the confinement exercise flew through her mind, and, even though she wasn’t tied down, she felt she was being restrained. She had to move! Fortunately, she didn’t have an IV in place to anchor her to the bed. Nora flung back the blanket and jumped up. She could see a light coming from a small window near the top of the exit door. Nora was glad to find the door was unlocked.
Nora opened the door to a long hallway, which was lit with fluorescent lighting throughout its length. On the top of the right-hand wall was the same type of water pipe as before. It made Nora conclude she was in a basement; the hall of which was so empty she could practically hear her breath echoing.
Nora suddenly had this strong desire to get back to her dorm room and blend back in with the others. There was a sense inside of her that she had messed up. She was supposed to have kept her cool, but she hadn’t. Maybe it was her imagination, but she could feel their disapproval — their condemnation — even now while she was alone. If she stuck around the hospital, surely someone would come to speak to her once that person knew she was awake — perhaps even Mrs. Grafton. Maybe if Nora could slide back into the routine, they’d figure she already knew the importance of toeing the line, and they wouldn’t need to threaten her. In the back of Nora’s mind, she could still see the look on Tina’s face after Tina hadn’t gone to that first meeting. Nora figured that she had messed up far worse than Tina had when she simply missed a meeting. Nora not only screwed up her own training but possibly traumatized the others as well. Then again, it wasn’t as though the confinement exercise wasn’t traumatic enough in and of itself. Nothing Nora did or didn’t do would change that reality.
Nora began to step into the hall upon her unsteady feet. The question was which way she should go. The way to the right seemed longer than the way to the left. The part of the hall to the right also seemed to have a connecting hall off to the side. She decided that venturing to the right was the smart choice.
“All right.” she whispered to herself.
Nora was off. She kept her eyes on the pipe to steady herself as she progressed. Nora reached for the wall and touched it. She paused briefly. Then, there was a noise behind her, the sound of a door squeaking open. Nora stiffened and held her breath.
“Wait there, Miss Montgomery. Your bed is back this way.”
Nora turned to see that it was a nurse calling to her. The nurse didn’t look friendly, but that wasn’t particularly surprising to Nora. The nurse approached then. When she got to Nora, she grasped Nora’s arm and began guiding her back to her room.
“Do I have to do it again? The confinement exercise — do I have to do it again? ” Nora asked chokingly as the nurse tucked her in.
“No.” the nurse replied coolly.
“Do you know what I’m talking about?” Nora wondered.
“Well, don’t I have to pass?”
“No. If they let you repeat the exercise, then everyone could maintain he or she couldn’t do it to delay everything.”
She made it sound so logical. Nora felt torn. She certainly didn’t want to do the confinement exercise again, but what if it really was necessary in order to survive what was to come?
“Not that we don’t believe you,” the nurse continued, “but we can’t have the others getting ideas. Still, if you felt you needed the experience you should have tried harder. After all, everyone else managed to make it through — even after your episode — lucky for you the Administration had a spare confinement vessel.”
Nora didn’t call attention to that last part the nurse grumbled in a barely audible voice. Instead, Nora asked, “So, how long am I going to be here?”
The nurse just stared at Nora. It was as though she still suspected Nora of trying to get away with something. In actuality, Nora didn’t want to stay there. It kept her failure fresh on everyone’s mind.
“The doctor will be here in the morning.” the nurse spoke.
There remained an edge to the nurse’s voice, almost a disappointment. The nurse then turned and left the room. The door clicked softly behind her. Nora breathed slowly and stared at the ceiling.
“Did I overreact?” Nora wondered.
No, just the thought of going back into that capsule caused a sudden wave of panic to grow inside of her.
“What exactly was that exercise supposed to demonstrate,” Nora began to contemplate with some anxiety.
Maybe if she could figure out the reasoning for the confinement exercise, she could prove to herself it was pointless and let the fact she didn’t complete it go. Was that the way it was going to be when she was in one of the planes? How small were the planes? They didn’t seem that small when she saw Group A fly overhead. Then again, later, after that one plane had crashed, she heard someone say that more than one person had died. Depending upon how many were inside, they may have been piled on top of one another like sardines in a can. Nora wondered whether it would be worse, better, or the same to be in a small space with at least one other person. She guessed it mattered who that person was. At least she hadn’t been put through the exercise with someone she didn’t know or like. It was bad enough as it was. Then again, if that was the way it was going to be, why delay it? Why not put them with other people during the confinement exercise? In the end, Nora couldn’t help but conclude that freaking out the recruits ahead of time wasn’t helpful to them. Nora doubted the experience was going to make her any calmer when the time to get into a plane finally did come.
But why did the planes need to be smaller than the ideal size needed to comfortably accommodate the pilots? Did it have anything to do with the nebula reapers? Did it make it easier to evade the reapers? Or, was it just because it was easier to get the planes through the force field, which now surrounded the colony instead of the nebula reapers? Nora had wondered how they planned on making it through the new force field after it was mentioned during one of the lectures. She decided that maybe the small size of the plane allowed them to open a smaller hole in the force field. But still, couldn’t they have found a better way? Had they even tried? Probably not, Nora thought. They didn’t seem to care.
Nora could hear the door click open as she lay there. She assumed it was the nurse. Nora had no idea what time it was, but she figured it was too soon for the doctor to have arrived. Either way, Nora didn’t feel like looking at the nurse and having the nurse look upon her with disapproval again. She figured that whatever the nurse had to do inside the room she didn’t need Nora’s attention to do it.
However, when Nora heard footsteps approaching the edge of the bed, she couldn’t help but turn her face toward her right.
“Jack!” she cried out.
“Hey.” he returned.
Nora lifted herself up into a sitting position. Jack found a chair and started to drag it over to her bed.
“I guess I really lost it before.” Nora offered.
Jack looked at her questioningly for a moment.
“How are you?” he asked her.
“All right.” Nora clutched at her blanket with her hands. Jack raised an eyebrow. Nora looked down again. She bit her lip. “Then again, maybe not. I don’t know; I can’t seem to get my head straight …”
Jack nodded and sat down.
“So, did you go through with it?” Nora asked. “The nurse said everyone else did …”
“I probably should have just done it.”
“Why?” Jack asked her.
Nora looked at him skeptically but couldn’t think of an answer that would convey what she was feeling. She grew very serious then.
“You shouldn’t have to go through this training at all but especially not now.” she told him. “I do want you to consider what I said before. I want you to leave if you can.”
“You mean you want me to delay for a short time then …”
“What if something happens? What if there ends up being no need for you to go? There’s no point in both of us dying.”
Nora could hardly believe she spoke the last word. In fact, after she uttered it she froze. Jack kept his eyes on her for a moment. He could tell the moment he saw her that she was exhausted emotionally and otherwise. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to him that she’d basically given up on herself. He stood and began slowly pacing around. Suddenly, he stopped.
“I don’t think you realize how much my meeting you that day meant to me. And now, you give me a reason to somehow make it through this situation.” he told her. “You know, if you weren’t here I really wouldn’t care as much what happened to me. Plus, my helping you gives me something to focus on other than my poor, sad self.”
Nora stared forward then.
“Ironically, being above ground with you is probably the best …” Jack began.
“Stop it! Just stop it!” Nora cried out.
Tears formed in her eyes.
“And what if there is no way to win?” she asked.
“Then, at least we tried.” he returned.
Nora was dumbfounded. Her lip quivered.
“I feel so alone, so odd. I feel as though I’m stuck in some nightmare. I only wish I could go back home … go back to reality. Then again, maybe this world is what’s real. Maybe the rest of it is a dream. After all, it’s the world that told us what reality was. Sometimes they’re wrong, I guess.” Nora paused in the middle of her delirious rant to catch her breath. And yet, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from continuing. “I mean, think about it, this threat has been hanging over our heads all this time. They kept it all from us. It needn’t have gotten this bad. They could have had a plan — one that didn’t require people to die like this.”
Jack considered. Should he try to make her feel better or just be honest about what he was thinking? He chose to be honest.
“Yeah, still … I mean, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the reality I’ve lived has never been great.” Jack put forth. “Maybe I’ve just lost perspective, but it all feels like more of the same to me.”
Nora was stunned silent. Then, she thought of something.
“No matter where we were before, it seems we’re all in this same sinking boat now.” Nora offered.
“Some of us; you being one.” Jack spoke lowly. “The rest of this world — I’m sorry, but I doubt it. Circumstances could change for the worse, I suppose. But if they don’t …” Jack trailed off. “As far as our getting out of this situation permanently, you have a better chance of that than I do. I did wonder at the time why you stayed, but I thought you must have had your reasons for not trying to escape. Still, if there’s a chance for you …”
“I have a feeling it’s too late.” Nora said. “They aren’t going to just let me go now. Honestly, I’m pretty sure it was too late the moment I was loaded onto that conveyance vehicle.”
“Maybe. But what if it isn’t? I hate to say it, but they could probably find someone to replace you. You don’t have any skill in piloting a plane or anything that couldn’t be replaced.”
“Would my admitting where I come from repair the situation that the colony is in? Would it be any better for me — or even right?” Nora wondered. “Then again, maybe I’m just afraid of becoming more upset if I’m not believed or if I’m refused anyway. If I get my hopes up and nothing changes … how could I handle it? And if I did go home, I don’t want to sit around knowing this horror is happening to other people and wondering whether it could still happen to me. That’s assuming they would even let me leave now that I know too much. At best, they’d probably just lock me up somewhere to wait it all out. And would our world be spared and ever go back to the way it was or at least the way I thought it was? Or, would I just be waiting to die?” Nora paused. “Still, I admit it does haunt me sometimes that I’m destroying my own life by not trying.”
“Then try.” Jack responded.
“How?” Nora asked him with gravity. “You really want me to confess that I was picked up by mistake to the people who forced me into that coffin? Does it really matter now anyway?”
“Then what?” Nora questioned him.
“I have some ideas I’m working on.” he finally admitted.
Nora was taken aback. When she asked that question she hadn’t really expected there to be an answer. Still …
“In the meantime, try to stay sane for me.” he added.
Nora realized how badly her breakdown must have affected him. She nodded slowly.
“I’ll try.” Nora agreed.
“Good.” he said. “I’d better get going before that nurse finishes her dinner.”
Jack sneaked out of the room as silently as he had entered. Nora lay back down. Jack’s talk had done the trick. She did have enough hope at the moment to stay sane, she supposed. But would it last?
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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.
“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
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
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
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
When Nora arrived, there was already a crowd gathering in the field — this assembling of people occurred despite the cold mist, which continued to hover over them. They looked at her with irritation as she approached. Nora suddenly noticed that not only was there a mix of males and females present, but there were also all types of ages represented as well. Most were her age or older, but surprisingly there were also a few people who were younger than she. It struck Nora as peculiar that the Administration would make an effort to assemble together such a strange mix. Maybe they wondered who would do the best job at the mission at hand and were testing it. Nora shook. No, they could succeed. She had to believe that. This plan of theirs wasn’t just an experiment, which was destined to end in failure.
Then, after thinking about her age, Nora suddenly remembered that her birthday should be coming up soon, and she would be eighteen years old. Of course, she hadn’t thought she’d be spending her birthday under these circumstances. She didn’t think it could get much worse after she was separated from her family, but now that she had no one …
“Well, it seems we have the right number of recruits here.” Mrs. Grafton noticed.
So, there wasn’t going to be a roll call?
“I trust no one entered this group without belonging to it.” Mrs. Grafton concluded with a sort of amusement in her voice, which almost sounded like laughter.
It was true. Who would take their places? In fact, Nora figured if they tried to go back to their original dorms they would probably just be turned in by their former friends in a bid to save themselves — just like that one girl Amber was.
“Anyway, today is the day we’ll be doing the confinement exercise. I know you’ve probably heard about this exercise before, but don’t believe everything you hear. You’ll find if you just think you’ll get through it, you will. So, let’s see … who wants to go first? In other words, any volunteers?”
Nora looked around to see whether any of those near her were going to volunteer. No one did. Well, Nora was sure of one thing; she wasn’t going to be the one to volunteer.
“And your name, miss? Miss?” Mrs. Grafton spoke up. Nora shuddered when she realized Mrs. Grafton was talking to her. Nora looked up at her.
“What’s your name?” Mrs. Grafton asked while fixated on Nora.
“Nora … Montgomery.” Nora’s voice cracked.
“Nora Montgomery. Congratulations. You just volunteered.”
Nora’s hands began to shake. The others around her seemed smug and rather pleased. It was clear that Nora was selected because she had become the least popular of the group. Picking on her wouldn’t get the group agitated; in fact, it would probably score Mrs. Grafton some points. Then, there was also the relief the others would feel. After all, if Nora was singled out they’d probably be treated better by comparison. Nora doubted this treatment was going to be a one-time occurrence either; she feared her being singled out this way was only the beginning of Mrs. Grafton’s harassment.
Suddenly, she could hear someone approach from behind her. Maybe someone was about to volunteer. Then again, Mrs. Grafton probably wouldn’t allow anyone to take Nora’s place at this point. Besides, it seemed clear that Nora would be going soon no matter who volunteered. Even so, Nora decided to turn and smile at the person who felt some pity for her.
“You …” Nora started.
Jack raised his eyes and looked at Mrs. Grafton.
“All right. Let’s head out.” Mrs. Grafton announced.
The rest of the group walked on in a sort of disorganized mass without any hesitation. Apparently, seeing Nora do the confinement exercise was something no one wanted to miss. Jack walked ahead as well — but presumably for different reasons. Nora hesitated. Then, Mrs. Grafton cast a look back at Nora; she seemed to stop and wait for her. It was obvious Nora couldn’t get away. So, she went along with the others. She walked swiftly in order to catch up to the group. Eventually, Jack gravitated back towards Nora again — close enough that they could whisper to each other. After a moment, which Nora used to catch her breath, Jack and Nora began to talk in low voices. Still, to cover it up, Nora looked straight ahead at the back of Mrs. Grafton’s head.
“How are you here?” Nora queried softly.
“It isn’t really hard to get someone to change places with you under the circumstances. I made the switch after the others in Group B came out of the dorm. I looked for a guy who was about my age and my height. There weren’t many recruits to choose from, so he doesn’t really look all that much like me. Fortunately, Mrs. Grafton didn’t get a good look at me before. She apparently didn’t bother. Anyway, I guess there is somewhat of a risk that the switch will be discovered. But still, under the circumstances, it’s worth the risk.”
“Will the others report him?”
“Only if they hate him.” Jack laughed to himself. “Really, I don’t know. The fact nothing has happened yet is a good sign. I’m hoping he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t stand out.”
“But what about you …” Nora started.
“I’d rather be with you than wait for my name to be called in a week or two.”
“You think it’ll be that soon?”
“Yes. They’re running out of time. They won’t be able to keep up the shield much longer, I think. That’s how it seems to me given the way they’re acting.”
Nora was surprised that Jack could be so sure. After all, this was his life that was hanging in the balance.
“I just wish I felt there was a chance for success in Group B.” Nora stared down at the ground. “You could possibly survive if you belonged to another group. Maybe you’d be released even.”
Jack looked at Nora a moment.
“I heard earlier that new recruits are going to be brought in to replace the numbers for both Group A and Group B. If true, that won’t go over well, I think, for the others we know. Obviously, the Administration doesn’t think the problem will be resolved soon. There is no safe place.”
“So, they’ve replaced us already. It’s as though I don’t even exist.” Nora remarked.
“I remember you exist. I can’t forget it.”
“Thank you.” Nora replied softly.
Nora finally managed to smile. Jack smiled as well.
“I’ll find a way to visit you as often as I can.” he added. “We aren’t on the same floor obviously.”
“That’s good … I mean the part about you visiting me.” Nora started. Then, she looked him straight in the eye and whispered. “But it would be better for you if you got out of here.”
“Yeah, well.” Jack replied. “We can’t have everything.”
It was strange to Nora that as they approached the gymnasium they weren’t slowing down. Nora became even more stressed when they bypassed the building altogether. Nora had assumed that they were heading there; she had thought the confinement exercise would be in a pool. Now, she didn’t know what to think. The only thing that was apparent was that the confinement exercise was going to be held at a different site. Nora didn’t think there was any possibility that Mrs. Grafton had reconsidered doing the exercise that day. Nora felt like asking where they were going but decided against it. After all, most of Group B was already down on her, so her speaking up now wouldn’t do her any good. Jack did look over at Nora questioningly. She looked up at him just as they all suddenly stopped.
Nora looked around her and spotted a large, rather murky-looking lake. Not far from her was a small deck with a tiny, rectangular watercraft attached to it.
“For some reason, people tend to get wet in the confinement exercise. That’s the reason why we took the precaution of having you wear swimsuits.” Mrs. Grafton noted.
Nora’s eyes widened in horror.
“Miss Montgomery, you’re up first.” Mrs. Grafton stated. “Step forward.”
Nora looked around her. The only sympathy she received was from Jack.
“All right, Miss Montgomery. There is only so much light in a day.”
Nora looked at the ground. This exercise just kept getting worse; it seemed as terrifying as she had feared. And she couldn’t even see someone else demonstrate it first to reassure her that a person could survive it. Then, the thought occurred to her that if she kept delaying the exercise that Jack would most likely offer to take her place. That might make the connection between them obvious. No, Nora couldn’t have that. Still …
Nora’s first instinct at that moment was to look to Jack, but she stopped short. It occurred to her that she was alone earlier that day. It was great that Mrs. Grafton didn’t recognize him from the Group B meeting. And if the others did, they weren’t saying. Even so, she didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Jack didn’t belong in Group B and had left with the others before Group B’s meeting. If they did find out, would they kick Jack out of Group B or just add back the other guy he replaced? Then again, there had to be a reason that the larger group she had arrived here with initially had been carved up into smaller groups. There might actually be a limit to the number of people who could pilot the available planes. On the other hand, if Jack could get out of Group B and have more time … maybe there was more hope that he would live. Could she really allow him to make this sacrifice for her? Even if he got punished, maybe it would be worth it to get him out of Group B … But then, what if the punishment for the switch was severe? Nora couldn’t think straight. She didn’t have time to think; she’d have to deal with this dilemma later.
“What do I have to do?” Nora finally asked.
“That’s the first helpful question you’ve asked me.” Mrs. Grafton sneered. “Go to the dock, and the man there will give you your instructions.”
As Nora made her way to the dock, she couldn’t help but feel guilty, for she had potentially chosen what was in her best interest over what was best for Jack. What if the longer they waited to tell the truth the worse the consequences would be for him? She couldn’t help but compare his situation with hers. What if she had spoken up when she was first taken? The only positive thing about her worrying over Jack’s fate was that it kept her from overthinking what was about to befall her. The reprieve from her anxiety about her own situation ended when she got a close look at the small vessel; it reminded her of a coffin. She shrank back.
“Hey … hey.” the man at the dock uttered.
Nora finally looked away from the vessel and at the man briefly. Then, her eyes skirted to and fro.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“Nora, my name is Gerald.”
She took up and shook his hand.
“This isn’t so bad really.” the man insisted.
The man then leaned forward and whispered, “Now, please don’t make me force you in there. I’ve done it before. I don’t want to, but I’ll do it again.”
Nora hesitatingly stepped forward.
“Good girl, I’ll help you inside.” the man said.
Nora cringed as the man lifted the large lid up. There was a faint odor of vomit inside the capsule.
“Get inside.” the man demanded, this time without any compassion in his voice. As Nora hesitated again, he basically shoved her into the capsule. By the time she managed to sit up, he had slammed the cover onto the capsule’s frame. Nora clasped her hands to her head as the noise from the slamming reverberated in her ears.
Nora had held her breath to avoid inhaling the stench while on the dock. Now, as she found herself inside the capsule without the luxury of fresh air to breathe in, she breathed in the putrid air instead. Nora was almost caught up in the instinct to gag. However, as the capsule began to sink, Nora was distracted away from the smell and engulfed by fear. As the water level on the sides of the windows began to creep up, Nora could see Jack on the shore watching her. At first, it was as though she could focus in on his eyes. Then, he became a blur.
Though Nora tried to control her breathing for a moment, she found herself on the verge of hyperventilating anyway. Nora placed her hands on the glass. No water was leaking into the capsule, but there also didn’t seem to be any source of oxygen in the vessel. It was so small and so confining. Nora was overtaken by the need to make sure there was a way out of this trap. Nora began to strike her palms against the hatch repeatedly.
Of course, once Nora was able to slowly dislodge the hatch from the vessel the water from the lake began to leak in. As the water began to fill the tiny place she occupied, there seemed to be no turning back. Nora then increased her efforts to break free, but the lid didn’t seem to want to give her any more of an opening. So, Nora began to use her feet to kick the cover free. Nora took one last breath as the hatch finally gave way. She then put all her strength behind swimming toward the surface.
Nora began to feel her lungs ache. She soon worried that she didn’t have the lung capacity to make it to the surface. Try as she might, she couldn’t resist the urge to breathe. She tried breathing out slowly in order to buy herself more time. However, it wasn’t long before her lungs demanded oxygen brought in. Only, there wasn’t any air to breathe just then. She could see the vessel slowly being pulled toward the surface beneath her as she began to grow lightheaded. She clawed at the surface. She could see wavy forms above her and to the right, but they seemed so far away.
By some miracle, just as she felt herself losing all her strength, she broke the surface. Nora could see a group near the water’s edge. She heard Mrs. Grafton acknowledge that the capsule had made a strange jerking movement moments earlier. Then, the woman told the crowd that they were following protocol and bringing up the capsule.
Nora began coughing violently. And yet, her sounds were faint when compared to the noise produced by the rest of Group B. For, when the capsule came up empty its members gasped and screamed aloud. Nora could see Jack, who stood in the middle of the group, staring at the capsule like the others. Then, he got this questioning look on his face. He slowly started to turn to the right and seemed to trace the ground with his eyes as he did. Nora wanted to call out to him, but her lungs seemed to have seized. She couldn’t breathe despite making every effort to. It was at that moment that the dark spots that had begun to appear in her eyes overcame her, and she passed out.
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016
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 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?”
“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.”
“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
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