Dirge chapters 14-15. For chapters 1-13, click button below.
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
Nora headed into the building. Once inside, she signed in at the receptionist’s desk. Not surprisingly, the woman didn’t seem to pay much attention to her. But today, Nora didn’t much care. She sat down at a nearby bench. While there, she could feel her heart pounding and adrenaline rushing through her veins. Try as she might, Nora couldn’t steady her nerves. She began tapping her foot upon the floor. It was getting very close to the time of her appointment. She watched the clock’s big hand draw closer and closer to the appointed moment.
Then, suddenly, it was upon her — only nothing happened. Nora looked about the room. The receptionist was busy typing away. The woman looked up briefly when she sensed Nora was staring at her. At first, Nora thought they would share a common understanding of the situation Nora found herself in. However, the woman then quickly looked back down as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Still, Nora didn’t think too much of it. After all, it was only a few seconds past … then a minute … then two … then six … then ten. Finally, when twenty minutes had passed, Nora drew into a standing position and walked over to the receptionist’s desk again. She stood there waiting for the woman to acknowledge her. She even cleared her throat. She could tell that the woman knew she was there; the look on the woman’s face said so. It caused Nora to grow incredibly uncomfortable waiting there like that for a response; she still wasn’t used to being treated as though she was merely a pest. Just as Nora was considering returning to her seat, the woman finally looked up at her. Nora looked at the clock. It had taken nearly five minutes for the receptionist to look at her.
“Umm … I was supposed to have an appointment about twenty-five minutes ago.” Nora put forth, trying to sound as positive as possible.
The receptionist just stared at Nora unblinkingly. Nora’s eyebrows furrowed slightly.
“Maybe I have the wrong time?” Nora suggested calmly.
“Well, let’s see. What’s your name again?”
As the receptionist slowly sifted through the appointment book, Nora had a glimmer of hope that she might get some answers. Maybe it was a mistake after all. Maybe her appointment was, in fact, tomorrow instead.
“Oh, yes, here you are.” the woman started. “Yes, you have the right time.”
The woman abruptly shut the book in front of Nora. Then, she turned from her and proceeded to return to her typing. Nora found she was shocked despite the fact that this type of treatment was nothing new. Why had they scheduled her for this time if they were just going to make her wait? Was this appointment just some sort of game they were playing? Had Mrs. Grafton told them about her trouble with the confinement exercise, and this delay was some sort of payback?
“Ugh …” Nora groaned.
The women looked up at her with irritation. Nora grew angrier.
“May I leave, or will my appointment be soon?” Nora retorted.
A self-righteous look crossed the woman’s face.
“Group A is going out right now.” she told Nora with disdain in her voice.
Nora felt the blood drain from her face. She felt herself grow numb. She swallowed and tried to steady herself. She had known it was coming, but still … Nora tried to remember the sounds she had been able to hear from the nearby hanger. She had thought it was just the normal noises from a small airport. Now, it all took on a decidedly ominous turn. She tried, in particular, to remember hearing the voices of Group A, but none had filtered into her mind.
“The weather just cleared enough. Certainly, you’ll agree that’s more important than your appointment being behind schedule.”
Nora breathed out and considered. Then, she turned a doubtful look onto the woman. Was Nora really supposed to be ashamed of her reaction? How could she have known?
Suddenly, the side door opened, and a tall man dressed in aviator gear stepped into the room.
“I’m ready for you now.” he stated blankly.
Nora followed the man back into the hanger. Once there, she noticed the room was fairly dark and seemed mostly empty. The pilot looked over and seemed to note her expression.
“They’ll be moving more planes in here. They are being housed at a separate on-site facility.” he informed her.
The man acted as though that observation was supposed to please Nora, but it didn’t. It just reinforced the fact that no one in the Administration felt that Group A was coming back. Though, Nora supposed it was still a possibility that both Group A and Group B could make a joint assault. But if that were the case, then why not wait to send out Group A until Group B was ready? It would seem that they would have all gone out at once if that were true. Suddenly, the instructor stopped in front of a plane somewhat bigger than the one Nora had seen at the field the day of the crash.
“This is the training plane. It has plenty of room for two people. I asked them why they needed it so big …” He laughed to himself.
What did that mean? Nora gave him an odd look, but he wasn’t looking at her.
“You’ll be in front, and I’ll guide you from the back.”
Nora again pondered why the recruits’ planes were not so big as this one. She really wanted to ask the instructor but didn’t have the nerve to get her voice out.
That was when Nora spotted it, in a dark corner on the other side of the hanger. She had perhaps been too preoccupied to make note of it before. It was a plane, seemingly much, much larger than what was probably useful under these circumstances. Maybe there was some other reason for the vessel — something completely separate from fighting the nebula reapers. Could it be part of a different strategy? Maybe the escape plan Jack had mentioned? If so, why hadn’t it gone out with Group A? Were they really just gathering information from Group A’s efforts? Nora didn’t want to believe that. She hoped perhaps there was more than one large plane. This one did look brand-new, so maybe it was a replacement. Then again, from this distance it was hard to tell.
“I’m waiting for you, Miss Montgomery.” the instructor suddenly announced.
Nora looked up at him.
“Please get in the front seat.”
And there it was — back to business. Nora was surprised that he even deigned to use her last name, given she was just a cog in the machine to him. Then again, maybe he couldn’t remember her first name.
“Sure.” Nora began to climb the small ladder onto the plane. When she got into the front seat, she secured the seatbelt around her. The man got into the seat behind her. How much better it must be for him, Nora thought. For one, he knew what he was doing. By the calmness of his demeanor, Nora also suspected he wasn’t planning on sharing the same fate that she was.
“Well, the first thing you will need to do is secure the oxygen tube. It will attach to a pilot’s helmet that you’ll be receiving later on.”
Nora looked right then left. On the left, she found the tube. She pulled at it, and it tumbled off the hook and fell on to her lap.
As she reached down to pick it up, she noticed her hand was shaking.
“It’s important to make sure it’s worn at all times. You will fall unconscious if it isn’t on.”
“What if the oxygen doesn’t come out?” Nora asked, her voice quavering.
She placed her hand against the part of the tube that the oxygen should come out of and felt nothing.
“There’s no reason to believe it won’t be there when you need it.” he assured her. “All right now, let’s get started. I’ll walk you through the steps, and you’ll do them. I’ll give you a printout of the instructions to take back to the dorm with you. You need to read it. Then, if you have to, reread it. The next time we meet, I will say nothing, and you will just do it. Okay now, let’s get started.”
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge
Nora was released from the hospital the next day without much fanfare. She was glad to be leaving that place, which reminded her more of a prison than a place of healing. There was a slight drizzle in the air when Nora finally exited the reception area and then the building. There was a brief moment of happiness when she realized no one had told her where to go or what to do for once. She rarely felt that sense of freedom since the day she walked the streets of Jack’s district — before being forced here against her will.
Thinking about that time reminded her of all the dreams and nightmares she had had since then. How she wished her parents would come and get her! She often thought about how she had done the wrong thing leaving that day. That thought haunted both her dreams and her waking hours. She so wished she hadn’t left on her own. How selfish she had been! To think, if she hadn’t left she’d be sleeping in her own bed tonight. But then, she’d be just living in a state of blissful ignorance that wouldn’t last. Was it better to know the truth or to live with the anxiety of feeling the truth was being withheld from her?
Nora stood stock-still in the field. She didn’t want to go back to the dorm, but could — should she really just stand there indefinitely? Nora laughed softly at herself over the prospect that the administrators would find her there just staring into space. Nora slowly and grudgingly made her feet move forward back toward the dorm.
Upon entering the dormitory, she just happened to glance into the cafeteria. Within it, she spied Jack eating lunch with one of the guys from Group B. Jack lifted his eyes toward her as Nora approached his table.
The guy he was sitting with then turned around and looked at her. He looked years older than both she and Jack. He broke into a wide smile when he saw Nora; it was almost as though he recognized her.
“Oh, it’s you.” he said. Then, he laughed. “You certainly were a source of amusement yesterday. The look on those instructors’ faces when they saw that you got out of that death trap and swam to shore was priceless. Honestly, I laughed the entire time I was in that coffin. Ha, ha! Thanks so much!”
The man pulled out a chair for Nora. She supposed she should be glad he wasn’t rejecting her like the others had.
“Don’t just stand there, girl. Have a seat. I was just telling this guy here about our ‘friends’ who left us to die. You know, the ones who were just so glad it wasn’t them. Seems as soon as Group A takes off, which should be soon, Group C will be fast-tracked into our position. Serves them right as far as I’m concerned. My roommate treated me as though I were already dead. I, for one, don’t intend to die.”
Nora sat down.
“How did you find out that information?” Nora wondered.
“Well, let’s just say that not everyone in this area of the complex is a recruit. So, they don’t just stay in one spot. I’ll leave it at that.” He paused. “Anyway, I heard they like small pilots — the smaller the better.”
Nora looked at the rather large man skeptically.
“Then, why are there tall men here?” she questioned.
“Well, I also heard there are different types of planes, too. Maybe that’s why. Or, maybe they just couldn’t find enough small ones who were old enough. So, they add the small ones in with the big ones.”
Nora was horrified to hear him talk about it like that. It seemed to take the situation to another level of depravity.
The man took one last bite of his sandwich.
“Well, look at the time.” the man noted. “It was great talking to you.”
The man reached his hand out to Jack. Jack took it, and they shook hands.
“See ya, girl.” the man laughed.
The guy then took off. Nora turned and looked after him. She had wondered whether she should have asked for the man’s name, but she decided against it. It seemed obvious the extroverted man didn’t know their names and probably would have asked for them if he had wanted to know. She suspected that he didn’t want to get too close to anyone now. Perhaps, he didn’t want to put himself in the position where he could be betrayed again. Or, maybe he just wasn’t sure the rest of them would make it. Certainly, Nora didn’t seem to be very competent at this point. Nora looked back at Jack again.
“What he said about the others being fast-tracked, wouldn’t that mean we’re going to be going out soon as well?” Nora whispered.
“It would seem.”
A knot grew in Nora’s stomach.
“But we’re not ready at all.” Nora argued — as though Jack had the power to make the decision. “We don’t know anything. Even if we learn to pilot a plane, how do we fight them off?”
“I don’t think there’s much to know … yet.” Jack replied.
“What do you mean?” Nora wondered.
“I’ve been trying to get information. I don’t think Group A knows much of anything about how to attack the nebula reapers either. My guess is they are being used to gather that information.”
“Calm down, Nora. There’s nothing we can do about it. However, I’m working on a plan to get that information, so we can use it to make a decent strategy for ourselves.”
Nora’s eyes shifted. She hadn’t quite wrapped her mind around the idea that all of Group A was probably going to die. Then again, how could anyone possibly know that? It wasn’t as though the Administration would have been forthcoming with that little detail. And yet, Nora couldn’t stand the thought of it. She didn’t know a single one of them, but somehow she felt a connection. Perhaps, it was the connection that only people who will share the same fate can have.
“Nora.” Jack began. She looked at him, her eyes still distracted. He looked back at her with intensity. “We don’t have a lot of time.”
“What about the others in Group B?” Nora wondered.
“What about them?”
“Suppose we do find something out — are we going to include them in any plan we have? It would make me feel less guilty about having to use Group A’s situation …”
“If we did that, we’d run the risk of their turning us in to save themselves.”
“But they’d have a better chance with us if we could make it work …”
“You and I believe that, but they might not. They could, therefore, ruin everything …” Jack paused. “Not only that, but I’ve heard they will be using our group to escort some of the more prestigious citizens off the planet.”
“That seems to be the plan.”
“Why would anyone take that risk?”
“Those people probably believe there’s more of a risk in staying.” Jack replied. “Some people panic when they’re trapped.”
“Yeah.” Nora replied, looking down.
It was hard enough that Jack’s words reminded her of the confinement exercise. But now, Nora was also troubled by the prospect of what could happen to her parents and brother if the people leaving were right.
“Listen, it may just be a few people who lost the nerve to wait around. Still, if there is a plan in the works, and I can get a hold of it, then we might be able to use it.”
“And everyone else? Will we have to use Group B just like the Administration?” Nora asked him. “I don’t know whether I’m okay …”
“I’ll think about it, all right. I’ll try to come up with something.”
“I know you’re trying …” Nora assured him. “I really appreciate all of your efforts.”
Jack’s eyes momentarily slid over toward a clock.
“Well, as I said, I’ll give it some thought. In the meantime, I’m scheduled for a flying lesson in fifteen minutes, so I’ll have to catch you later.”
Jack smiled softly. Then, he stood and headed for the door.
Nora decided to eat something before she returned to her room. She managed to eat a little, but she found herself alternating between hunger and nausea. Finally, Nora had enough and slowly began the journey back to her room. Sleep seemed good right about then.
As she made her way down her hall, she could see there was a note tacked on her door. When she got close enough, she read it. It was a notice giving her the time and location of her flying lesson. Nora was surprised that the lesson was only an hour away. She took the note from the door.
“What if I hadn’t gotten this note in time?” Nora wondered.
Of course, it once again got her to thinking about what they would do to her if she did disobey them. It unnerved her to know that even if she tried to do what they wanted she could still fail and be punished for that failure. Either way, Nora was sure she didn’t want to find out what they would do to her today. She took the note off the door. Even though the appointment wasn’t far-off, there was still time to spare. Nora didn’t feel like sitting around waiting for her appointment to begin. So, she decided to change her clothing then rest before heading off. Nora concluded she could at least have these moments in between tasks to herself. Maybe she could even try to look as nice as she could; it might give her more confidence.
Nora then took notice of the small, complimentary calendar she had picked up at the commissary. She noted she had been forgetting to cross some days off. By the look of it, she’d already crossed into another month. Out of boredom and a lack of desire to think about the flying lesson, Nora decided to update the calendar.
She thought it through and began crossing out dates she determined had already passed. Finally, she crossed out the last day that was no more. To Nora’s surprise, she realized that the first day that remained was her birthday. She had figured it was getting close, but she had no idea it was upon her. Nora sat on her bed. For a moment, she just stared at the date on the calendar. Then, she began to laugh. Just like the note on the door, she could have completely missed it. So much for the calendar! Really, what was the point? So many times people around here didn’t even bother with dates. Everything here was so immediate. It was always today or tomorrow with the Administration. The note tacked on her door didn’t even have the date listed on it. One just assumed that if they didn’t write tomorrow on it then it had to be today. Yet, ironically, the days were so long and yet so intense that Nora was able to distinguish each one in her mind. There always seemed to be at least one event — even if it was a small event — that occurred to set that day apart from the rest. Even a dropped pencil or a recruit with a cough was recorded in her mind.
Nora couldn’t help but think of her parents. She wondered how her parents were feeling this day of all days. How worried they must be. She grew even more despondent thinking about it.
“Maybe these moments of free time aren’t so great after all.” Nora concluded.
Coming to that conclusion was bittersweet. But it was true; the more busywork they made her do the less opportunity she’d have to dwell on things with her last moments.
“Maybe free time is only positive when you’re happy …” Nora remarked aloud.
She looked at the clock. Her appointment was coming up quickly. She sighed. She may as well head out now. At least, then, she wouldn’t have to rush. Nora ended up making it to the airfield with ten minutes to spare. She was pleasantly surprised to see Jack come out of the hanger just as she was heading inside.
“Oh, you! How was it?” Nora asked him.
Her enthusiasm seemed to surprise them both. But Nora figured it was less about her being happy than it was about her being borderline hysterical.
“It was fine.” Jack said. “Not bad at all.”
“Good.” Nora felt relief. Yet, she was surprised to find that she still felt excitement. She wondered what to make of it. Then, it occurred to her that seeing Jack made her happy.
“Hey, I actually found out today is my birthday.” she continued.
“Really?” Jack asked. He seemed genuinely interested.
“Yeah, I’m eighteen. So, I’d rather not have another exercise like the confinement one today.”
“Like I said, it wasn’t too stressful.” he reassured her in a deep voice.
Nora nodded. She considered.
“Oh. I forgot to ask — when is your birthday?” she offered.
“I’ll be nineteen in six months.”
Nora smiled. Suddenly, she couldn’t think of anything else to say — or at least any intelligent thing to say.
“Hmm … yeah birthdays are important.” Nora looked off to the side. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “Actually, I was just thinking about my parents …”
“Well, let’s talk over here then.” Jack advised.
Jack led her away from the entrance of the building and away from any people lingering there. Once they got far enough away, Nora shared her thoughts with him.
“I’ve been thinking — could we get word to my parents? Tell them to leave if they get the chance.”
“I don’t know.”
“They won’t leave without me … or at least not without my telling them to go.”
“But would they realistically be given a chance to leave? And if they aren’t among the ones who are being offered the chance to go, their knowing about the possibility might get them into trouble.”
“Yeah.” Nora acknowledged.
“Besides, we don’t know whether it’s a wise move yet. Until we know the Administration’s plan, how can we know if it’s viable?
“Well, we can think about it.” Jack concluded.
“Okay, good.” Nora agreed with enthusiasm. “Listen, I have to get to my appointment. Thanks for talking with me.”
Nora touched his arm with her hand. Both Nora and Jack looked at her hand.
“Well, like I said, I’ve got to get going.” she repeated nervously.
She smiled; she could feel herself blushing. It was hard to turn away, but she knew she had to. There was no point in her waiting around only to be dragged away by force.
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016