Fiction + Drawings/Paintings
Champion - Adarsh Gadapelli
“Shit, I got an 82.”
I peered over at Marcus, who was gripping the ends of his Multivariable Calculus test with his familiar smile of defeat.
“It’s all good man, the curve was kind of dogshit,” I reassured, yawning.
Little did Marcus know, the test was pathetically curved due to me receiving a 100%. My test was already shoved somewhere in the void of my disheveled backpack. There’s no point in neatly arranging tests in an unscathed folder, as if they’re documents entrusted by the government. I would much rather move on and focus on my next challenge. This is how I have risen the academic hierarchy at Berlin Boarding School.
I am a competitor. It might be the Boston blood in my system. It might be the countless poker nights back home in Detroit. Nevertheless, as an international student at a cutthroat school like BBS, I had to compete.
“Alright Mr. Matthew Doug Pierce. What would be dogshit is us not going to the Café right now to knock out this Physics lab report.”
I chuckled as I slung my black Ogio backpack over the right shoulder of my navy-blue crewneck, branded with golden lion right above my heart. We left the school campus in a suave fashion, stepping out of adolescence and entering the dazzling city. Marcus has always been a carefree individual. From four years ago to now, Berlin’s glow continues to have the same dumbfounding effect on him. In fact, I would not be surprised if his jaw’s range of motion has expanded. However, to me, the city was a testament to my accelerated growth and my success in harnessing my freedom to live the American dream internationally.
We entered the Café. Like always, it was filled with sleep deprived students and businessmen and women, a true environment for intellectual progress. The glass windows were bordered with golden lights that shone on the sage-green couches and gray wooden tables. Marcus dropped his backpack next to a table right by the window and plopped right down on the couch, sighing. I threw my overflowing backpack on the couch, binders poking out, and sat across from him. Outside the window, there were hundreds of people working, shopping, and living.
A couple had just stopped in front of the theater across from the Café. She was wearing brown-rimmed glasses, a brown and white letterman jacket (likely her boyfriend’s) and shorts marked by a black and white diagonally-checkered pattern. He was wearing black jeans and an ironed white tee-shirt logoed by an unfamiliar high school.
Another man, dressed in a fully black suit quickly strode past my window. With his black attire, slicked back black hair, and black sunglasses despite the sun setting, he was likely a government agent sent to document my progress as I climb society’s ranks.
“Before we get started, let us engage in an extremely intellectually stimulating activity, because you will definitely need it Doug,” Marcus said sarcastically, yet eagerly, as he pulled out a Connect-4 the Café hoards next to every table.
“Alright, I will make it as brisk as possible,” I said. He and I both knew that in the past four years, he had never beaten me in Connect-4.
I placed the red chip in the middle row to commence the match. The fingers I use to defeat Marcus every day were covered in paper cuts, battle scars from my origami endeavors. The most difficult yet rewarding task I accomplished was a paper dragon I fabricated late at night after submitting my application to Oxford university. I threw it away right after, as I do to all my origami figures. Guarding objects is the number one cause of complacency. When someone becomes too attached to an object, they become too occupied by what they have done. Throwing away my origami drives me to occupy myself with what I will do.
“Marcus from deep, bang!” Marcus said as he dropped his yellow chip to complete a diagonal victory. His hands were as red as the USSR flag from the tight fist he held.
“What’s the record now, 1000 to 1?” I said in disbelief. I was as close to snapping as a car tied to a string from the ceiling.
“No sir, today I am undefeated! Now on to the lab,” he said, already shoving the chips into the box.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as I collected myself. I opened my eyes and reached for my backpack to pull out my MacBook and start the work.
I might be going to bed a loser tonight, but tomorrow I will come out a champion.
Highway - Thomas Marine
Matthew woke up confused. His head hurt, and he didn’t know exactly what was going on.
Fortunately, Matt knew this feeling well, as he never knew exactly what was happening in the world around him. In fact, he barely knew that there was a world around him. Every time he turned around, everything he knew disappeared, which was probably a side effect of eating an entire rug as a baby. He knew this and simply ignored it, as it would take too much energy from his single braincell to comprehend this. Regardless, he was confused, and differently than normal.
Matthew found himself in the middle of a large street, which he thought strange, as he never remembered going there. On top of that, the process of getting to the middle would be borderline impossible with the number of cars flying by. This was obviously a major interstate, seeing as every car was moving at over 60 mph. Thankfully, Matthew was not hit, as he stood in the barrier between the 2 sides of the road. With safety assured, the only issue was that he could not get back from the middle of the street.
The sound of honking and beeping shredded Matt’s ears. The very idea of going anywhere near the street terrified him, as he liked to keep his body intact. However, not going near the street meant that nothing was going to get done. Fight or flight reactions kicked in, but even the boost of adrenaline could not bring Matt to try to run into certain death. After trying to build up the courage to run across a couple of times, he sat down defeated.
Matt, at a loss, began to pace back and forth along the road, hoping to find an opening to get across. However, after multiple attempts to escape with his life, Matt only made it barely into the first lane before needing to move back. Right now, escape was not a viable option.
Carefully weighing his very few options, he found nothing of worth. If he tried to cross, he would likely be turned into a fine red mist by an 18-wheeler. Nobody seemed to want to stop to let him by (probably because people are not usually stuck in a major interstate). His phone was in his pocket, but he didn’t know that on account of him not knowing anything out of his direct field of view.
He started thinking about what he would do if he just couldn’t get out of the middle of the road. Could he live off of loose asphalt and sprouts that popped up from the cracks in the road, start a thriving civilization, and eventually create the great city of Pierceland? If so, Brad would be the first to pay for his crimes of stealing Matt’s pens at work.
No one loves you Brad.
However, where would he be without his education? He couldn’t exactly teach himself the history of trees or how to count past infinity. He needed all of that to simply exist without feeling like crap. If he stayed in the middle of the street in his godless utopia of Pierceland, his professional’s degree from Berlin would be useless, as plumbing is not often needed in situations like these. On top of that, everyone would miss him: Marcus would never say hello to him at work again, his parents would never be able to visit and criticize the way he kept his house. He was their entire life, as they only existed when he was around. No, staying was never an option.
By now, traffic had slowed down a little bit, but through trial and error, Matt determined that it had not slowed down enough to prevent him from getting decked by a car. Out of easy options, Matthew started to resort to his backup backup plans.
Could he send a message by bird? No, birds avoided him for some reason. Probably because he kept trying to grab them in the park. He should probably stop doing that if he was to get anywhere with birds.
Maybe he was close enough to his house that his hound Brody could hear him whistle. After several minutes of whistling, he decided that he was very far away from home, and no amount of calling could get his dog’s attention.
Could he somehow get someone to slow down and help him? Several minutes of heralding cars like taxis led him to realize what was already obvious: Everyone on the road was going at least 60 mph and had no time to slow down. It was time for the most desperate of measures.
Matthew stood up and prepared to make a break for the other side. He was never a fast runner, as he focused his life on his upper body strength. However, there was no other way across, so he would simply have to make a break for it. He tightened the Velcro on his shoes and began stretching. Stepping to the side of the road, he got into position – and promptly got slammed in the head by the mirror on a cybertruck.
Four hours later, Matthew woke up confused. His head hurt, and he didn’t exactly know what was going on.
My Room - Edward Pabst
Destruction of the Lavatory - Dylan Baer
Matthew Pierce quietly took his seat among the other delinquents waiting outside of the principal’s office. A secretary on the far side of the office looked up from her work. Upon seeing Matthew, she let out a quiet, disappointing sigh and gently shook her head before returning to her work.
An awkward silence hung in the stuffy air, interrupted by the rhythmic pulse of the clock on the wall. He watched the diligent secretary worked through the silence. It was inconceivable to him that a person could be so complacent in letting his or her life be overcome with responsibility while time flows ever onward. Did one’s life not consist of the moments that filled it? What kind of life was this, trapped in an office doing paperwork? How could you let your life be robbed from you?
His thoughts were interrupted when the door to the principal’s office opened and a girl was led out in handcuffs. Matthew recognized the girl; her name was Erika, and she had a reputation for being the school’s drug dealer, or at least one of them.
“Matthew Pierce, Mr. Smith will see you now,” the secretary announced in a slightly irritated tone.
Matthew took a stood up, took a deep breath, and entered the principal’s office.
“Please close the door and take a seat, Mr. Pierce,” Mr. Smith said.
“Why should I?” Matthew said.
Mr. Smith stared Matthew in the eye, trying to withhold his frustration, and, in a strained voice, said, “Because you are closest to the door.”
The two continued to stare at each other for what felt like an eternity. Knowing resistance would only worsen his situation, Matthew finally capitulated, shut the door, and took a seat.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Mr. Smith said. A mischievous grin grew across his Matthew’s face as remembered what he had done to the second-floor bathroom earlier that morning.
“Your chemistry teacher, Mrs. Jackson, reported to me that you stole a piece of sodium during a lab, asked to use the restroom, and then dropped the piece of sodium into the toilet. Said toilet then proceeded to explode,” Mr. Smith said, glaring at Matthew, “I just wanted to know why you did it.”
Matthew, still grinning, looked down and through his giggling said, “Cause’ it was fun.”
Mr. Smith, unpleased at this response, continued, “Matthew, your parents spent a lot of money to have you sent to this boarding school so that we could turn you into a good mannered and disciplined young man. Yet you continue to be unruly despite trying everything in our power to curb your delinquency. I am afraid that we are going to have to expel you. We will notify your parents and drop you off at the airport in the morning so that you can return to your home in the United States. Do you have any questions?”
Matthew shook his head, trying his best to suppress his growing excitement at the prospect of expulsion which had been his goal the entire time. Finally, Matthew had exhausted the last efforts of his parents to reform him into the person they wanted him to be.
Matthew walked out of the principal’s office as if walking on air like a prisoner stepping into the light after years behind bars. In celebration, he lit a joint as he strolled back to his dorm to pack for the journey home.
Graduation - Andrew Terry
You know, as much as I hate Berlin, I do like it more than Boston. As much as living in this frozen school sucks, it beats talking to the people that sent me to it. I guess it’s quieter here too, and at least I met some people like Marcus. There’s probably not much point in recounting everything I like about this place since I’m leaving it, though.
Mr. Dietrich waddles his way up to the podium with the same smug look and blue tie he always wears. He starts his presentation in German, which, of course, I only understand half of. I guess that’s pretty weird considering I have been here for like, two years now. I can sort of piece together his wonderful speech about how our class “overcame adversity” and our legacy would “never be forgotten” at this school. You know, the basic stuff. You could see the tears welling up in parents’ faces as this guy repeats the same garbage he says at every graduation.
Too bad my folks were busy catching the latest episode of whatever the hell they watch instead of also being here.
Unfortunately, my aunt forgot to ask one important person if I wanted to spend the second half of my high school life at a boarding school in another country. She asked my Mom, who said their foreign exchange program sounded like a great way for me to see the world and learn about a different culture. She asked my old man, who said it would “do me good” to learn another language, and the price wasn’t bad. She even asked my school, who liked their program so much, they wanted to start a permanent partnership with the boarding school. You can guess who she forgot to ask.
I can see her standing behind Dietrich at the podium, holding a bunch of diplomas. I guess a bit of anxiety started coming over me as I see those things. I don’t know why my aunt decided to move to Berlin, or how she got such a good position at this school, but she sure loved telling my parents about how great her teaching experience has been for the past eight years. It was apparently enough to get me on a plane, shipped off to another country to live two years. It was a real classic move by my parents just to send me here because it would be in my “best interest." I think I have avoided learning German just to spite them. At least this is a bilingual academy and my classes have been in English, or I would really be screwed.
Dietrich ends his speech and hands it off to one of the students whose name I don’t even know. He gives his speech in English, and it’s not bad. I think I’ve seen his face once or twice at the baking club, one of the few clubs I enjoy. I haven’t really tried remembering every person I have come across, especially since when I go back to the states, I’ll never see them again.
Marcus says thinking that way might be a reason why I don’t enjoy myself here. He also told me that I’m just trying to make myself miserable to “prove a point” to my parents.
He’s not completely wrong, but even if I was trying to enjoy myself, this place is just way to foreign for me to call it a home. The kid finishes his speech and my aunt walks up to the podium. I guess the speeches are finished because she starts calling up kids one by one to get their diploma. All these guys I barely know got their piece of paper from Dietrich and walked off.
She gets to the last names starting with the letter P, and I know I’m up soon. I start getting real worried, but Marcus, sitting next to me, shoots me a wide smile. I met him in a pretty funny way. Even though I don’t understand what a lot of these kids are saying to me, I know how to play poker. Over the lunch table, we would play every day. One day this kid, Marcus, stands behind the table, looks at the cards in three peoples hands, and nods to me. My hand wasn’t bad, so I took his advice and raised, and actually eventually won. It was pretty funny stuff.
He would nod or shake his head, but then go on his phone when people were watching so no one suspected a thing. I will say that was one of my most successful nights playing poker. We hit it off after I went up to him to thank him for his “teamwork." He told me I was doing him a favor for beating “that asshole” at cards. I still don’t even know which kid he was talking about.
A few names later she calls up Marcus. I’ve never seen him happier than right now as he takes that diploma. He always tells me about how excited he is to go to Italy and study. Why you would learn one foreign language just to go to another country and learn another one beats me, but hey, I’m happy for him. Marcus is a very glass half full type of dude, and also another exchange student from the states, which may be why I liked him so much. Not saying I don’t like the other students here, but it helps when I can speak the same language as someone. I liked him a lot more than my friends back in Boston, at least. His positivity did help me: he came here willingly and wanted to learn another language, so he could often translate things for me. He always looks like he is right at home in Berlin, but maybe that’s how he is anywhere. I mean, if he feels so at home here in Berlin, why would he be so excited to leave and go to Italy?
If Marcus was called, that means I’m three names away from getting my diploma. My palms are getting sweaty and I start thinking about my life back home. My dad’s government job always had us relocating, so Boston feels like home as much as Berlin does. I guess that’s what happens when you spend so little of your life in one place, hopping to the next state, or country, every two or three years. Jumping around has made it so I barely have any meaningful connections, and just when I feel like I made one here, he’s travelling to another far off country for college. All this thinking almost made me forget to get up when my name was called.
Moment of truth, I guess. I see Marcus give me a thumbs up as I walk up to Dietrich. He hands me the paper, most of it is in German, except for the name, Matthew Pierce. I think a sense of relief is supposed to hit you when you get this, since it proves that you accomplished something great. I hate to say it, but all I really feel is uneasiness. I know this means I’m going to have to move with new people all over again. Maybe this college life will change things around for me.
I mean, the world is huge, there has to be one place where I can feel like I’m home.
Aruba - Graham Arrison
Their's But To Do and Die - Seamus Wyatt
“Fall into company columns!”
The Regimental Sergeant Major’s call echoed throughout the camp as the July sun beat down on the men. A bugle picked up the order, blowing out the off-key notes of “To Arms." Some of the men in the camp gave shouts and whoops. Most were quiet though, straining their ears to hear the crackle of muskets in the distance.
Private Billy Hazen jumped to his feet from the blanket in his tent. He grabbed his cartridge box and bayonet and straps over his blue sack coat; he picked up his Springfield Model 1861 rifle and held it at his side. He looked around as the other men rushed about, doing the same. Many of the men already stood in the formation, murmuring in trepidation.
“Are they sendin’ us in?” said a voice behind Billy.
Billy turned around. It was Jed Brown, one of the other young privates in the company. “Hell should I know, Jed. It looks like I’ve got stars on my shoulders?”
“No, but your tent’s close to the officers’ tent, ain’t it?”
“Naw, it ain't but—”
“Quiet in the ranks!” Sergeant McLaughlin, a red faced Scotch-Irishman bellowed at the men.
Brown and Billy, along with the rest of the men of the company, quickly stood at attention.
The company’s commander, Lieutenant Martin, stepped in front of the men. Clearing his throat. He shouted, “Men, Colonel Day has informed me and the rest of the brigade that General Sykes is ordering our division under General Ayres onto the line.”
Billy’s eyes widened in excitement as he shared a glance with Brown. Finally, they were being sent into battle for the first time. They would get to “see the elephant” as the veteran soldiers called it.
Turning to the sergeant, Martin said, “Sergeant, have the men march out, when we arrive at the crest, shake out of columns into line of battle and hold position. Colonel Day says he will order the advance.”
“Sir!” McLaughlin exclaimed, saluting. Turning to the men, he barked out, “Company, forward march, double quick!”
The fifty-some men of Company H, 4th U.S. regular infantry took off down the road, followed by the other companies and regiments of the brigade.
Billy squinted in front of him. He couldn’t see much through the smoke and haze as they got closer to the firing line.
A party of stretcher-bearers darted back the opposite way. On the litter lay a man screaming, clutching his mangled stump of a leg. The stretcher was stained with blood.
Billy turned away, sickened and nauseated. The man’s leg reminded him of a hog his father had butchered once. He looked around him. A couple of the new recruits shared his nausea, but most of the men just continued on, grim determination painted on their faces. Billy heard retching behind him. Turning his head for a second, he noticed Brown stumbling, spitting some vomit in the grass. Brown looked up, a little green in the face. Billy locked eyes with him.
Brown met his gaze, took a swig from his canteen, and continued his quick-march, falling back into line as the brigade began to cross over a small creek.
The column of men neared the crest of the ridge. Beyond the haze, in that “valley of death,” as a man beside him quipped, Billy could see a long line of butternut and gray drawing closer, advancing on a thinning line of federals in a wheat field. Dozens of shaken and bloody men in blue uniforms streamed past him, some were survivors of Third Corps, others of Second Corps, judging by the lozenge and trefoil badges on their caps.
Billy looked to his left, Brown beside him with his eyes wide in fear.
“Billy, if I die, tell my Momma I was brave.”
Billy nodded, too nervous to speak.
McLaughlin then shouted, “Fall into line of companies!”
Mechanically, the men of the regiment, then the rest of the brigade, then the entire division all shifted in position, fanning out in a long line of blue.
Billy turned his head to watch Colonel Day gallop along the line with his staff. One staff member clutched the brigade guidon, the blue pennant with a white Maltese Cross fluttering as the man galloped after his commander. Rearing his horse at the center of the line, the old Colonel drew his sword and called out the order; “Brigade, advance!”
Billy looked up and down the line, seeing his fellow bluecoats step forward, advancing down the ridge, and into the wheat field. Bugles echoed the order down the line as the regimental drummer boys picked up the steady beat, tapping out the march. Every twenty seconds, the line stopped, pausing to fire, reload, advance, fire, reload, and advance again as the troops trudged through the field in synchronization. As the brigade fought their way forward, Billy’s face turned black from the spilled grains of powder from the cartridges he bit open to pour down the barrel of his rifle. His throat parched, he felt for his canteen, but it was gone. Damn, he must have left it at camp. Bullets whizzed around him. Dozens of men went down, some screaming when hit, some eerily quiet. A man near Billy spun around and dropped, shot in the chest.
The blue line halted again, the men mechanically bringing their muskets to present, smoke and flame erupting from the rifle barrels as they let loose another volley. Automatically, every man brought the butt of their musket down between their feet, beginning the process drilled into their memories during hours on the parade grounds. Cartridge between teeth. Tear cartridge. Pour cartridge in barrel. Draw ramrod. Ram cartridge. Return ramrod. Cap the hammer. Shoulder Arms.
Billy fumbled with his ramrod as shells whizzed overhead. Shells landed nearby, sending men, muskets, dirt, and limbs everywhere. Looking to his front, he noticed rebels falling back in front of them, they had the rebs on the run! He turned to say something to Brown, but stopped as he saw it.
To the right of the wheat field and the Union brigades, hundreds of graycoats poured over a hill and out of a woodlot.
The charge hit them like a tidal wave. Hundreds of Confederates surged in on the flank of the bluecoats. Bullets whizzed around Billy. He saw McLaughlin go down, a rebel running him through with a bayonet. Martin defiantly stood beside the body of McLaughlin, emptying his revolver into the mass of rebs, dropping several.
The Federal line faltered, on the verge of breaking. Dozens of regulars turned to meet them, the look of a cornered animal in their eyes. They would die game. Incredibly, most of the battered regulars were forming up in their regimental columns, staging a fighting retreat even as Confederates swarmed through the field. Billy didn’t care, he just had to get out of there. He looked over at Brown.
Apparently at the same conclusion, Brown screamed over the roar of battle, “Billy, let’s run!”
Billy didn’t need to be told again. He threw down his musket and his gear and ran, Brown behind him. He ran, harder than he had ever ran before. Damn the heat, damn his thirst. He had to get away, he had to escape.
Billy saw the stream the regiment had crossed before, and pointed, choking out, “Water.”
The two men, exhausted, stumbled towards it. Billy submerged his face into the stream, letting the cool water wash over him. He cleaned the sweat and powder stains. He lifted his head out of the water, noticing it was now tinged pink. Aghast, he recoiled back away from the water, looking to his left. Brown lay in the creek, motionless. His head was turned towards Billy, his eyes glassy. Blood poured from a bullet wound in his back.
Kingdom Come - Liam Brune
The end of the world has its own strange inconveniences. Jess was looking one of them directly in the eye. The deer was a couple hundred yards away from her, grazing peacefully. It was blissfully unaware that the angel of death was creeping up on it in the form of a twenty-four year-old woman with a rifle nuzzled against her cheek. Luckily for the deer, her sight was resting on its eye, which two years prior would have been pitch black, but was now glowing a beautiful bright blue with strings of hazel coiled and circling the center.
Jess’ eyes were drawn to it. A strange sensation of hypnosis radiated through her fingers, holding them from the trigger. For a moment, she thought some otherworldly force was holding her back, then the realization struck her: That’s what she’d always thought Anna’s eyes would look like. The blue from her. The green from Jack. Nothing was physically stopping her from killing the deer—she just didn’t want to—but reminiscing over the dead wouldn’t keep her alive, and she needed to eat, so she placed her finger on the trigger and began to — Ping! The sound came from the back of her neck and shocked her into paralysis. Her time had come. She was marked.
By the time Jess reached the cabin, she held her marker in one hand and a bloody scalpel in the other. She was pulling a wheelbarrow that held her rifle, as well as another piece of questionable cargo that had been covered in a crudely constructed body bag. She was debating which had been more painful—carving the marker out of her neck or asking a nice farmer back in town if she could borrow a corpse. She had the time to mull it over. The cabin was a two-mile walk from the small town that the few thousand citizens of Kingdom Come had been able to cobble together. Presumably, it was the last remaining town in existence.
The cabin was decrepit to the point of near-collapse. It was surrounded by hills on all sides. Jess reached into her backpack and took out an old soup can that she’d filled with glass scrapings and gunpowder. She placed the can on the empty windowsill, then walked carefully across the cabin’s creaky floorboards until she reached a table in the very center. She placed her marker on the table before, much less gracefully, and she pulled the corpse out of the wheelbarrow and dropped it onto the cabin floor. She knelt down to unzip the body bag, which didn’t feel right, but the cost of living is high during the apocalypse, so she pulled open the bag to find the bloated face of a young man.
The sight was overpowering, so was the smell. She immediately wanted to close the bag, but she needed to do this. It was the only way to lure out the crow. She flicked the dead man’s eye and began her monologue, “Testing, testing. Is this thing on? Okay. If you’re watching this message, it means you’re dead.”
Jess sat on a nearby hill, waiting and watching time pass, metaphorically at least. Time had a funny way of working since that fateful day in the August of 2054. She sat staring at the cabin for hours, but the sun didn’t move an inch. The earth was still spinning—it had to be, otherwise, she’d have been launched across the Rocky Mountains at a couple hundred miles per hour. Instead, it was as if the sky was a mirage, trapped in a fixed point of time, illuminating an endless day.
“Huh, I always thought people were stroking my ego, but I guess I really did have a bright future”. Her sarcastic compartmentalization was cut short. A truck was approaching, and The Murder came with it.
The truck was disappointing. Jess remembered the old movies she used to watch, where cartoonish villains would drive equally cartoonish cars, but she was ashamed to admit that she found the evils of reality a little bland. The four members of the Murder traveled in a basic, red pickup truck. Attached to the back was, what, a box? A cage? She couldn’t tell, but even with its inclusion, the truck wasn’t intimidating. It wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t befitting of supervillain status, but the passengers were. They were dressed head to toe in black military outfits that may as well have had the words Bad Guy spray painted across the chest. They were an enigma. A little marker beeps in the back of your neck, then a Murder of Crows pays you a visit, kills you, and leaves. No rhyme. No reason. Not a single word spoken. Then they move on to the next person. There were only a few thousand people left in Kingdom Come, and they were being picked off one by one.
All four passengers stepped out of the truck. Two men, two women. At first, Jess couldn’t make out their eyes, even thorough the scope. It was only when one looked near her direction that she realized why. Their eyes were all sewn shut, except one. He was the only one with both eyes left untouched, and to celebrate that fact, he had a sloppily drawn portrait of an eye carved on his forehead. He was the first to make it to the cabin and peer through the window.
Even with a dead body peering back at him, he had no reaction. He simply turned around and looked at the other three. None of them said a word. None made a single gesture, but they seemed to understand each other perfectly. One pulled the gun off her back and walked to the other side of the cabin. The other two approached the cage attached to the truck. All of them operated perfectly, as if they hadn’t been horrifically blinded. The two opened the cage, and out walked the crow. The fifth and final person—if you could even call this thing human.
It was hunched over, struggling to walk on emaciated stilt-like legs. Its bones looked mangled under its pale ashy skin, which had clumps of black feathers protruding through it. Its face was covered by a metal bird mask with purple eyes peeking through. Somehow, it seemed different than the others. It seemed more human. Jess could see the pain in its eyes as the sunlight touched its skin. It crept its way into the house, followed closely by the four members of The Murder. The crow reached the corpse on the cabin floor and unfurled its hands. One had seemingly been torn off and replaced by a metal canister. The other was stretched and skinny, with a long, white nail sprouting from the middle finger. It held the canister straight out and, with its working hand, pressed a button on the base of its wrist. A hatch opened and pounds of thick dust poured to the ground. It then grasped the corpse by his hair and pulled it up to chest-level, turning it to face the dust. The crow crept his long, white nail across the man’s skull and rested it in the center of his forehead. It tilted its head slightly, and the dead man’s eyes flung open.
The corpse’s eyes glowed like headlights, casting white light across the cabin. Individual flakes of dust began to rise until the entire pile was suspended at different points in the air. A second wave of white light shot from the corpse’s eyes. As it struck the dust, it began to give it form. A third wave of light shot out. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. They began to fire in rapid succession, each one forming the dust, giving it color, giving it texture until it a dead man’s memory appeared before them in the form of Jess herself.
The replica began her monologue, as the real Jess aimed her rifle at the cabin: “Testing, testing, Is this thing on?”. Jess aimed her sight at the very special can she’d placed on the mantle.
“If you’re watching this...," she placed her finger on the trigger, “It means you’re dead." The sound of the gunshot spread throughout the valley, and even before the echo reached Jess’ ears, the bullet struck the can. It was sent flying into the cabin, and toward its five guests. The moment it struck the ground, the gunpowder inside was set off, and small shards of metal and glass were sent careening toward the cabin walls, with no regard for anything unfortunate enough to be in its way.
Two times in one day: The thought that traveled through Jess’ head as, for the second time that day, she was carrying a dead body. Her only consolation was that the crow couldn’t have been more than 60 pounds. This solitary bright spot, however, was offset by the crimson slip-and-slide covering the cabin floor that she’d been forced to wade through. Her boots were covered with the blood of the five people she’d killed, but her only thought when she was up-close-and-personal with the mess she made was. I could really go for a Bloody Mary, she thought.
Two years ago, she would have been in a self-induced introspective hell if she’d slightly offended someone, but now she was broken. Her delicate sensibilities had died with her daughter. When you take everything from someone, you leave them with nothing. She was a husk, just like the eyeless enigmas dead behind her, living for the sake of it. Her final motivation lied in vindication—or revenge—the difference didn’t matter to her anymore. But whatever moniker she used to label her grand plan, the next step needed a truck, and her visitors had been kind enough to leave her one.
Are you ready to meet your better half?
The gate opens on August 5th, 2054
Transportation and tickets to The Miracle in The Kerguelen Islands for only Twenty-Three Hundred dollars!
The poster mocked her. Driving for the first time in two years was hard enough without scenic advertisements about the opening of the gates of hell. But hey, she thought to herself, at least it was only Twenty-Three Hundred dollars for the privilege of dying slightly before everybody else.
A message and a door, that’s all it took to end the world. From what Jess’ remembered, the people of earth had been graced with a message from the beyond. But it didn’t come from the stars. It didn’t come from beneath the ground or the sea. It came from right here—and, at the same time, somewhere else. Somewhere that’s both zero feet and an infinite amount of miles away. And the people of earth, always in constant search for their own self-destruction, were just dying to meet its creator, so they made a door, and they opened it.
Jess wasn’t a doctor, but she was smart enough to know that time flowed in a straight line. Unfortunately, time on the other side didn’t. And apparently, time does not like being violently introduced to its strange peers, so reality started misbehaving. Some of it was normal, like floods and earthquakes. Some of it was stranger, like fifteen-minute ice ages paired nicely with pockets of space where time was stagnant. A person could wander into one, walk ten feet, and come out the other side three weeks later. Luckily, or unluckily, for Jess, the gate was on a small island just off the coast of Antarctica, on the exact opposite side of the globe as the Rocky Mountains.
The area was the last left standing, but among the people, it was chaos. A gaggle of headless chickens, among them, a then-pregnant, widower: Jess. The Colorado National Guard came in and rounded everybody up, but they were still just headless chickens in a smaller pen. Then, came the voice of the prophet, echoing throughout the entire state.
“Please, everyone remain calm. You’re going to be just fine." Then everything went black.
Two weeks later, they awoke with scars on their necks, they being every single living person – a number which was now one tenth the size. Jess didn’t know whose voice sent them into their golden slumber, but her contempt for him, hidden under months of grief, still spread like an infection, controlling her mind. He’d taken the last thing she cared about. She knew immediately after she opened her eyes to the eternal sun. A mother always knows. She’d fallen asleep as two and woke up as one.
She stopped the truck just outside the front door. The giant once-glowing letters atop the building read Terran Labs. This is where they all came from—all those eyeless freaks. This is where he would be. Jess pulled the crow out of the truck and tossed it in front of the door. A beam of green light shot from the wall and scanned the area. But instead of settling on the withered corpse and opening the door it aimed at her. A robotic, yet disturbingly human voice spoke, “Welcome! The Doctor’s been waiting so long for a ‘normie’ like you!” Instead of opening the door, that she’d seen countless armadas of The Murder enter, the ground beneath her feet began to drop.
It carried her like an elevator down into the earth. After dropping two stories, it came to a stop and double doors in front of her opened to reveal a long hallway with a single door at the end and an elevator on the side wall that looked like it had been out of commission for years. Her violent rage turned to confusion, but still she continued.
When she took her first step, screens on every wall flashed to life, showing the same scene: a lone man in a white coat, with a dejected pain in his eyes. Jess continued to walk, and the man on the screen spoke, “I just wanted to be the hero, to save everybody." It was his voice. It was him.
Jess reached the door and saw the name plastered to the right of it: Dr. Grady Reed, the same name embroidered on the man’s lab coat. This is his office, Jess thought. He’s behind this door. Dr. Reed continued, “I just needed to tell someone," Jess grabbed the scalpel and swung open the door: “I’m sorry."
He was sitting in his office chair, dead, his throat slashed from ear to ear. He looked as if he’d been dead for years.
The recording continued: “There was a virus from the other side of that gate. It took me two days to notice it, two more to realize everyone had it, and twenty minutes to realize it would kill all of them, including me and, presumably you. In a panic, I looked for a cure and, shockingly, I found one, but in the chaos, I couldn’t get it to anybody. I pleaded with the national guard, and we decided, in our collective fear of our imminent death, to do something drastic.
They had a device that could connect to every microphone in the state and play a frequency, one so low that everybody would be driven comatose. It drowned out the chaos, and we started moving people by the truckload, injecting the cure into the back of their necks, with markers that could track them and read their vitals, but there were some unforeseen side-effects”. The video cut to another of a man strapped to a bed. The doctor injected a needle into the back of his neck, and he began convulsing. His bones were shifting. They were shrinking – he was becoming a crow.
“Only 1% of the subjects experienced the side-effects, but I needed to be better, to be perfect, so I dusted off an old project, a digitally-programmable parasite that would hunt any kill any virus. I tested it on the members of the national guard, and it worked… too well. It corrupted their minds, turned them into mindless drones with a single purpose: to eradicate the virus in every host, and it realized the most efficient way to do so, was to kill the host."
The Murder, Jess realized. “This is my fault, my doing, but I can’t fix it. I’m too soon, but you’re not.” Another marker fell from the ceiling, landing at Jess’ feet. “The world is broken, but it will correct itself. However, in doing so, it’ll overcorrect. To put it simply: It’ll get hot—everywhere but here. Hot enough to kill anything with a regulated heartbeat." Like someone with a parasite in their head, Jess surmised. “I’m giving you a choice and a chance. Take the chip and they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth—all of them. Get far enough and they’ll drop like flies. This is the end for me, probably for you too, but everyone else can live."
He held up a knife. “It’s either starvation or the blade for me now, you probably don’t think I deserve it, but I’m taking the easy way out." The screen went black. Jess picked up the marker and weighed her options, realizing she was about to listen to the man she’d spent two years planning to kill. The strange inconveniences of the end of the world. One last sacrifice—to prove she was still human, to prove she deserved to meet her daughter on the other side.