The officer was seated across the table from me. Petrov; a bigger and stronger man than myself, still better suited for field work than the paperwork he’d been doing since his recent retirement. He raised his eyebrows, looked away and sighed. He didn’t believe my account of what had happened last night. I don’t blame him for not believing me.
After a moment of silence, he repeated my story, trying to show me that it was ridiculous, as if I didn’t already know.
“A small girl,” he repeated.
“Killed seven armed men.”
“Yes, yes that’s what happened,” I insisted.
He sighed again. I knew it was over for me.
Everyone in the company had already drawn their conclusions; one greedy fuck decided to screw his teammates. Take the money, take the swag, and skip town. But then why did I come back and report the incident? Petrov must have questioned that. Maybe he thought I did it pass the blame.
“You asshole, why would I make this up, instead of something half-believable?” I demanded.
He frowned and crossed his arms. I read his mind.
“You’re not a stupid man, and as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been an honest one. But you have to understand my position here. Seven men with machine guns are dead, and the only survivor is saying they were killed by some, feral girl. In a zone where we’ve made countless expeditions of, and know there are no surviving inhabitants.”
There was no chance in Heaven or Hell that the higher-ups would let me go. Prison if I was lucky, but more likely execution for the murder of my three teammates. The company doesn’t give a shit about the bandits’ lives; if it’d just been their deaths, I’d probably get a medal instead. Stupid scum robbing and killing stalkers, and innocents, whatever shit necessary to keep themselves rich and drunk and happy. But now I was the scum.
Petrov suddenly stood up, and in entered two of the largest company men I’d never before seen. I was to be killed, here and now. Beaten to death like a traitorous bastard. Petrov turned toward the door.
I let loose a torrent of obscenities as I pulled against my restraints, pleading and cursing Petrov’s name. What kind of a trial was this?
“You fucking bastard! Fine, fine! Let me show you! I’ll bring you the girl!”
The men moved both sides of me. In my periphery I could see knuckles fitted with steel but I ignored my executioners and continued speaking to Petrov, who’d stopped moving toward the exit.
“And the bodies! No bullet holes!” I shouted, “Am I right? Their necks and faces and stomachs, you’re going to see the marks, just like I said!”
Petrov turned around and glared at me. I knew I was right. When the bodies had all been recovered and examined, they’d have found no wounds inflicted by bullets or knives, but by teeth and nails. Maybe with a gun, I could have surprised them all, but not with my bare hands. Like she did.
My story was inconvenient and wild, but everything must have pointed to it being true.
Petrov closed his eyes.
“You have one week,” he said quietly, pointing his finger at me, “I’ll have the gatekeepers give you a tracker so you can’t pull any shit. If you try to escape, you’re dead. Bring back this wild girl, alive.”
He walked out the door without another word. He was followed by one of the brutes, as the other released my wrists from the table. I let out a sigh of relief.
Before he left as well, he asked me,
“If you’re not bullshitting,
how are you planning on catching a girl who’s already killed three other stalkers?”
My wings won’t work, I push on them but I can’t make them move. I’ll never leave my tree again.
I’m looking out at the world and I see so much beauty I’ll never experience.
I’ll never touch the top of that mountain, I’ll never feel the freeing wind as I fly to it.
I’m stranded here, but it’s okay. I’m glad to exist in such a place.
I’ll die soon enough, like everything does. But until my last breath, I’ll be happy. All around me there are trees and clouds and stars, flowers, laughing children, smiling lovers. I’m glad.
Today was my first trip above ground. Holy shit, what a clusterfuck.
We were supposed to be searching for props for our colony’s literally underground theater. Anything, really. Make-up, toys, clothes. Kelsie said the idea was to regain a little sense of culture in our world.
You know I’ve never seen the Sun in my life, and I was so excited.
How fucking typical that it was entirely shrouded by the clouds today. Whatever; I’ve never seen clouds before, either. So I guess that’s something.
Anyway, it was me and a few of the guys- Randy, Chris, and Ray. Rob was too busy moving mulch to come.
Chris brought a backpack with some supplies and everyone but me had a shotgun; I was just carrying an empty sack to hold whatever crap we could find. Because God forbid I should be allowed to protect myself. I get that there’s a gun shortage, but come on.
I guess we weren’t expecting to need them, though. The only large wildlife the old vets ever told us about were the occasional bears- but even they never left the woods; they told us how the large beasts would come to the forest’s edge and watch them, but come no closer.
What could we have possibly been expecting in a fucking abandoned theater? Thank God we even brought any guns at all.
So we move out from the old tunnel and walk into town from the woods. We got to see a deer run by us- she was beautiful. A couple of savages came by shortly after, they must have been chasing the deer. The second they saw us, they split. We must have looked like monsters to them, with our heavy coats and gas masks.
Of course when we got to the town it started raining. We got to the theatre as fast as we could, but it was difficult because Ray’s compass started acting up for some reason.
That probably should have been our first clue.
She had told me not to try to follow her, and without turning back, she shut the door behind her.
The door downstairs.
That was a year ago, and I’ve been here alone ever since. Sitting in this cold room, plain tiled walls, tiled floor, no windows; dimly lit by a single fluorescent bulb hanging from the moldy ceiling, a bulb which had never been bright, yet seemed to refuse to die. It seemed like a stripped bathroom, but I never felt the need to relieve myself. There was a small bed which I laid in every night, but I never felt the need to sleep. And there was a small wooden workstation, with this strange laptop that never dies, despite showing a 0% charge. I’d never felt the need to use it. Until now.
One year ago, I let that girl walk through that door and leave me alone in this strange place I’d found myself in, unable to recall anything earlier than going to sleep one night in my bed, in my own home, and waking up in this room, me on the bed, her at the workstation fiddling with something that made a metallic noise. I tried asking her what was happening; where I was, how I’d gotten there. She told me she could not answer; that she was in a position similar to my own. Kidnapped, probably. Left to die in this empty room with no exits. Something about either her or the place deflected any suspicions I had about her. It wasn’t until several hours later when she told me she was leaving that I realized she knew something that I didn’t, and it wasn’t until she told me she was leaving that I could see the door which had been there the entire time.
She’d warned me not to follow her. She told me she’d come back for me. As soon as she was finished. With what, she would not tell me. I wanted to argue with her- to beg her not to leave me, or at least take me with her- but in the back of my awareness, I knew this was something she had to do alone. And for a reason I still can’t place, I was unable to defy her will at the time.
After the first few days from her departure, the walkie-talkie she’d left me could no longer pick up her calming voice, instead transmitting nothing but pure static, regardless of the frequency. I wanted to throw the door open the instant it’d happened.
But she’d specifically told me I’d lose her eventually; and to not panic.
“Above all else,” she warned, “Do not open the door.”
No explanation was given to me, but she spoke in a hypnotic tone that I found myself unable to disobey. I realize now that what she’d been tinkering with at that workstation must have been some sort of weapon for whatever lurked below.
So I didn’t, and I waited in this purgatory for three hundred and sixty five days. I’d marked each day with one of several pencils I’d found in the otherwise empty desk drawers.
The loneliness had finally become unbearable last night, and against the wishes of the only person who seemed to have some kind of understanding as to what exactly was going on, I opened the door. I opened the door and began descending the staircase- old, wooden, creaking under each step I took.
The sun was only beginning to set outside, so the darkness surprised her. She could just barely see the walls of the entrance hallway, the only light from the house emanating from the living room to the right; the dull glow of a television set to an unconnected source. She only made it out with her peripheral vision, because she was afraid to turn from the most eerily dark part of the house, directly before her; the kitchen. A nightlight which had been always connected since her childhood for late-night excursions to the refrigerator was no longer plugged in. It wasn’t just unplugged, she could see its broken shards weakly reflecting light from the television.
Something was wrong. Sam continued standing there, in the unnatural darkness. She wanted to call out for her father, but she couldn’t open her mouth to speak. As the thought to retreat back outside and to a neighbor struck her, so did a sound. From the pitch black of the kitchen, and behind the counter, she heard a giggle.
An ice-cold chill went up Sam’s spine, and she moved her leg backwards to exit the doorway. When she did, she found that she had bumped into someone.
She let out the loudest scream her lungs would allow, simultaneously turning to attack the stranger.