It’s always the same. Rarely do I get involved. Instead, I quietly sit watching it play out time and again. There are some variations, but it always ends the same. She’s one tough girl, I have to give her that. I gave up a long time ago; she never gives up.
Unlike most prisons, this one offers no hope of escape, no hope of eventual release. Still, it entertains me to watch her try over and over again. Her determination is unwavering. I was once like that myself.
By the way, the only reason I am writing this down is that I have nothing else to do when she’s not around. A few days ago, I found a small stone in my cell. By scraping it against the limestone walls of the cell, I can leave intelligible marks. Not that anyone would ever read them, but it gives me something to do with my time.
Now that I’m writing, I’m not sure where to begin. Mine is a long and confusing story and there is no happy ending. On the upside, I have made my peace with it and am content in living out the rest of my days in confinement. As I recall from my time on the outside, some people would pay good money to find solitude; I have it in abundance at no cost.
She’ll be here soon, so I guess we best get to it. Without the benefit of the light of day or a clock, I have developed an internal ability to measure the passing time. I expect we have about fifteen minutes before she arrives. It won’t be enough time to tell you everything, but at least we can get started. Seems appropriate to start at the beginning.
Prior to my incarceration, I lived a normal if not blessed life. The youngest of three girls, I grew up with my sisters being my idols. We did everything together – singing, dancing, chatting about boys in the treehouse our father had built for us. Wherever they went, I went. Whatever they did, I did. I was sixteen when Lindsay, the middle sister, left home for college. My parents were wonderful but I spent the next several years desperately missing my sisters.
Like both of them, I studied at Purdue University after graduating from high school. Unlike them, I didn’t do very well. At the start of my junior year, I dropped out with the intention of traveling the world for a few years before returning to school. Supportive to the point of enabling, my parents funded my plan for adventure.
At first, that’s exactly what it was – an adventure. I started off by backpacking through Europe. During the days, I would visit every historical site or landmark I could find. In the evenings, while staying in hostels, I would download and post videos from my Go-Pro. In very short order, my travel blog had gained a large following. In the minds of my subscribers, I was living the dream.
Truth be told, I guess I was living the dream. After touring Europe, I decided that I wanted to see Asia next. From Vietnam to Cambodia, Laos to the Philippines, I made my way across the continent capturing videos of spectacular views, cultural traditions, and amazing architecture. All the while, I was living off of the generosity of my parents.
I never stayed in five-star hotels or ate at expensive restaurants. I lived a frugal life of travel, dining at inexpensive local establishments and sleeping in hostels that were no more than a few dollars per day. As a young woman at the time, I was probably putting myself in harm’s way on a daily basis, but I never ran into any issues other than a few unwelcome advances by intoxicated tourists or locals.
Both of my sisters joined me in the Maldives for what turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime. We went hiking, parasailing, zip-lining, and deep-sea fishing. They stayed with me for two feel weeks of fun in the sun. That was the last time I saw them… the last time I will see anyone.
I never got married, never had children, and never went back to university. I’m not unhappy with my choices, I just wish things had turned out differently. One day I was sipping on a sweet cocktail with a bright orange umbrella looking out at the white sand beach and the crystal clear water beyond and the next I found myself confined to this dank and miserable cell.
I can’t say with precision but, based on my internal clock, I’m fairly certain I have been here for nearly ten years now. At first, I resisted with everything I had in me. After my first week, I realized where I am at and what had happened. That knowledge changed things. Oh, wait… here she comes. I’ll be back.
“Hey! Let me out of here! What’s going on? Where am I? Someone! Hello!”
“Calm yourself, dear. There’s no one out there to hear your cries.”
“Who the hell are you?” The girl with the golden hair asked as she faced me.
“A fellow prisoner. Consider me a friend.”
“Where are we? How did I get here? I can’t remember anything.”
“Where we are doesn’t really matter. We’re here. Why don’t you come over here and sit down with me? You are the only visitor I ever get. Let’s chat a bit.”
“Chat!?! Seriously? We’ve got to get out of here! This is a mistake! I don’t belong here!”
From experience, I knew that trying to reason with her would prove futile. Instead, I just watched as she continued to yell for help and jerk at the rusty iron bars. As always, she was indefatigable. Finally, she turned back to me as her efforts were proving fruitless.
“Why isn’t anyone coming?”
“There is no one out there to come.”
“That’s insane! Someone has to be out there. Guard,” she yelled through the bars. “GUARD!!!”
Sometimes I like to let it play out for my own entertainment, but today I’m more interested in telling you my story.
“I can help you escape, dear, but you won’t like what you find out there. We can sit and talk or I can show you the way out. I’ll leave it to you.”
“If you know a way out, then get me out of here!”
“Very well,” I said. Lifting my hands as I spread them apart, I bent a large gap in the bars from where I sat.
Goldilocks couldn’t believe her eyes but wasn’t about to stick around for answers. She squeezed through the opening and bolted down the corridor toward the light. Thirty seconds later, she returned.
“What the hell? There’s nothing there. Like nothing! No door. No people. No exit. No anything. What is this?”
I would have answered her questions but she vanished just as quickly as she had appeared. Well enough because I still have my story to finish.
On my first day in this prison, I was much like her. I tugged at the bars, screamed for help until my throat was sore, and looked for anything I could use to dig my way out. That first night, huddled sobbing in a dark corner, I was a mess. Like her, I couldn’t remember how I got here or what I had done to deserve imprisonment.
The next day, when no food came and no guards passed by the cell, I was overwrought with fear. Not only was I locked up in a cell, but I might not ever eat again. The lack of food and water served as my first clues.
One week later, I realized that food, water, or help was never coming. I wasn’t eating or drinking, yet I felt fine other than being irate over the confinement. It didn’t make sense until I finally remembered what happened.
The day after my umbrella cocktail on the beach, I went on a rock climbing adventure tour. Halfway up the face of a cliff, the rope, which had frayed on a sharp outcrop, snapped. I remember falling and then the world went black.
This is my prison. I’m locked in my own mind. My best guess is that my family, not wanting to lose me, has been keeping me alive in a coma or vegetative state. I’m not angry with them. As I said before, I’ve come to terms with my situation and am content.
The girl with the golden locks is me. She visits me daily after her fall from the cliff. Sometimes she’s here for minutes; sometimes hours. Every time, I’m happy to see her again.
The Elevator Lady
Florence Sinclair, a sweet-faced, portly black woman from the Ivory Coast, had been the elevator lady at The Davenport since the dawn of time, by her recollection. It was a job she loved and she took great pride in her work.
The Davenport, a historic upscale twelve-story, red-brick condominium building on the north side of Manhattan had been her place of employment since she’d come of age some forty-odd years ago.
Since her start, she had met many ghosts, most of whom were playful and friendly if not cantankerous, but a few of which were maleficent. Usually, they kept her company on her many trips up and down the twelve floors in the antique elevator; but on rare occasions, the bad seeds caused trouble for the residents and that was something she just couldn’t abide.
Christmas was her favorite time of year and today was December 24th. Three good inches of snow was on the ground when she walked from her apartment to The Davenport that morning. Little children bundled up in their winter coats and cozy mittens were making snow angels on the hills of Central Park. Enamored with the holiday spirit, she didn’t even mind the slushy sidewalks that were soaking her shoes.
Hoping to see Tommy again today, her favorite of the ghosts that frequented her elevator, she hung her coat in the cloakroom and walked over to the brass-encased elevator in her uniform – a simple black and white skirt-suit with a name tag over her left breast.
Her first rider of the day was Clint Barlow, a handsome man in his late 50s with salt-and-pepper hair that reminded her of a slightly younger Sean Connery.
Damn that man is sexy, she thought as she pressed the button for the 8th floor.
“Morning, Mr. Barlow, forget something in your room?”
“Briefcase… Didn’t get much sleep last night… A little absentminded this morning.”
Of course, he didn’t get much sleep; Mr. Barlow was a player. As a criminal defense lawyer, he had a fat wallet and liked to put it to good use in the evenings after long days at court defending criminals who deserved lengthy sentences in jail. Most nights, he would come home with at least two or three women ten or fifteen years his junior and never the same woman twice.
It was nearly eleven before her first visitor arrived – Tommy Reynolds, the ghost she’d been hoping to see.
Sheriff Reynolds had died in a gunfight at the historic OK Corral; why he frequented The Davenport in death, she’d never know.
“Florence,” he asked, standing there with his revolver in his hand and his shiny silver badge on the chest of his heavy black jacket, “you seen Bobby McGuire today? I gotta bullet waitin’ for his chest.”
“Not today, Tommy,” she told him, “but stick around a bit; maybe he’ll show.”
Florence liked Tommy the best out of all her ghostly acquaintances because he was a man’s man – ruggedly handsome, overly confident, and quick on the draw; all good qualities in a man in her humble opinion.
Holstering his gun, Tommy leaned back against the back wall of the elevator and waited, his thick arms crossed and piercing blue eyes intense in anticipation.
Bobby McGuire, guns drawn, arrived just after she dropped off her second customer of the day on the 12th floor. As always with these two, Florence got a front-row seat to a wild-west gunfight.
Bobby fired first, but Tommy ducked and weaved to dodge the ethereal bullet. Florence took a step back to watch the scene play out, already knowing from experience how it would end.
Drawing his revolver lightning-quick, Tommy put two in Bobby’s chest sending him to the floor of the elevator with blood pooling out on his white shirt.
Before taking one to the head, Bobby returned fire with a shot that caught the sheriff in his right thigh.
A man’s man, Tommy didn’t even flinch after being shot in the leg. Bearing down the muzzle of his revolver, he fired the kill shot which took Bobby right between the eyes.
“See you tomorrow, handsome?” Florence asked as the sheriff held a hand over the wound on his thigh to control the bleeding.
“I’ll be here, Flo. I expect Bobby will, as well.”
After her peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch in the park, Florence walked back over to The Davenport to finish her shift. All went well until 3:00 pm when one of her more vile acquaintances joined her in the elevator, an entity that took physical form out of thin air right beside her.
She knew the man all too well as she had dealt with him on numerous occasions – Reginald Tripp. Reggie was a very bad man who liked to inflict pain on others, even in his death.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked the apparition.
“To have a little fun, Flo. Any new residents you think I might be interested in?”
She knew exactly what he meant. Reggie liked to prey on younger single women. He wasn’t a rapist; he just enjoyed terrorizing and tormenting them.
“Sheriff Reynolds just left,” she exaggerated. “He could be back any minute. You should go back to where you came from.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Reginald asked as he pressed the button for the 10th floor. “I think I’ll just have a little look-see before I go.”
Leaving her post when the elevator doors opened on the tenth floor, Florence followed the man out.
At the end of the hall, a young woman dressed in a sharp business suit juggling a heavy purse and a box filled with papers was grumbling in frustration as she fumbled with her key to get it into the lock on her door. Finally succeeding, she rushed inside.
“Poor dear must have forgotten something,” Reginald said with a sneer. “I should probably give her a hand; that would be the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“You’ll not lay a hand on that woman!” Flo forbade. “You’ll have to go through me first.”
Reggie chuckled and walked to the end of the hall with Florence on his tail. Kicking the door in with a hard blow of his boot to the handle, he went inside ignoring the shrieks of the frightened woman who had forgotten her car keys.
Right behind him, Florence entered and went straight to the bathroom. Filling a cup from the sink with water, she rushed back into the foyer.
Reggie was tormenting the girl by shoving her toward the bed and chanting, “We’re gonna have some fun.”
“It’s okay, dear. I’ve got this,” Flo assured as she came up behind the man with the full cup of water in her hands. “They don’t like this… Not one little bit.” In a swift and decisive move, she threw the water across Reginald’s back and he disintegrated.
“What the fuck just happened?” The shaken young woman asked after watching an intruder vanish right in front of her eyes.
“Nothing you need to worry about, my dear. Let’s just keep this between us, shall we? People would think us crazy if we talked about it.”
Up until the advent of The Immersive World Experience by Xavier Hollander’s revolutionary company, DeltaTech, Jadyn Williams had been a typical American immigrant coming from the Ivory Coast to pursue his own version of The American Dream. His goals were simple in concept but difficult in execution – get educated, get rich, and provide for his family back in West Africa.
At 21, with the support of his family, his village community, and the church he had attended since before he could speak, he finally had the money to travel to America and seek out a good education and a prosperous career.
Arriving in New York City in 2059, he found it a city of decadent indulgence. People here had everything! Money. Food. Clothes. Beautiful homes or apartments. It was a completely different world from the one he had grown up in. Jayden’s family in Africa was so poor that, on more days than he would like to remember, he would have to walk through the village under the brutal heat of the day just to get a whiff of the fish cooking on a neighbor’s grill. Fish from the river was about the best they could hope for unless you were rich enough to buy a goat or pig; steak was never an option. The very money that sent him off to start a new life could have put food on the tables of his entire village for a full year!
Being disabled with a bum leg that had to be amputated due to an infection that couldn’t be treated locally and being an immigrant, he was able to get a partial scholarship to Juilliard where he hoped to get a degree in acting. Every weekend back home, he would entertain his friends, family, and neighbors with his performances of famous scenes by Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, or Forest Whitaker. One movie, even as just a supporting character, and his family would never go hungry again.
His plan might have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for the fateful day that he learned about The Immersive World Experience while out with fellow students at a nearby club. At the time, the idea was just catching fire.
Xavier Hollander had created a virtual world like no other, realistic down to every last detail. Members, who had paid a hefty fee, could escape the monotony and setbacks of their mundane lives and be transported to reimagined worlds or to any point in time of the history of Earth. With the flexibility of the VR, they could either be themselves during their experiences or reinvent themselves as an entirely different person. Men could be women. The poor could be rich. The afflicted could be healthy.
When Jadyn first heard about it that night, he wrote it off as a scam, an idea that was too good to be true. As the experience gained a following and Xavier unleashed a marketing campaign that would put Apple to shame, his curiosity got the better of him. On August 14th, just weeks before the fall semester was to begin, he dropped out of school during his second year and used the money from his student loan to purchase a one-year membership. Already burnt out with the hard grind of university, his intention was to take one year off for himself. Four years later, infatuated by his immersions, he still hadn’t returned.
Paying for the experiences wasn’t easy; he’d used every trick he could think of to get his next fix. To cover the second year of his membership, he had secured an FHA loan for a cheap house in bad disrepair. After working endlessly to clean and repair it, he flipped it for just enough profit to cover the cost. During rush hour, he performed on the streets of New York and in the subways to make just enough cash to cover his third and fourth year.
At 25, he was living a hard life with sparse food on the table and meager accommodations, but that didn’t matter to Jadyn. Whenever he went to Xavier’s high-rise on 42nd Street, he got to be whomever he wanted, traveling through both space and time.
His avatar, Roman Delaney, looked the same but was completely different. Roman didn’t have a bum leg and carried a fat wallet, both attributes making him the perfect host for an entirely different experience.
As Roman, Jadyn had traveled the world and the universe in style. He had fought in shootouts in Tombstone in the 1800s and lived the high life of a billionaire in the 28th century. Curious about his African heritage, he had once even experienced life on a plantation in Virginia. During his fourth year of membership in The Immersive World Experience, he had ventured off into space, first as the pilot of an intergalactic spaceship and then as a marine biologist on a new planet.
To say the least, his experiences were mind-altering, but his addiction was getting out of control. Like a crack addict needing his next fix, he started visiting his dealer daily, looking for that next high. At home in his studio apartment, he rarely ate anything other than a cheap cup of noodles from the local convenience store and exercise had become a thing of the past. In December of 2059, his addiction finally got the better of him.
Wanting to support Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s historical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Jadyn requested to be transported as Roman Delaney to The Lincoln Memorial on August 28th of 1963. He arrived surrounded by a quarter of a million participants fighting for justice. The scene was exactly as he had hoped it would be.
Standing unencumbered on Roman’s good leg, he watched from the steps of the monument as Dr. King, standing in front of Abraham Lincoln, began his speech that would forever change the world: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”
When Dr. King reached his quote that has since touched the hearts of billions, “I have a dream…,” Jadyn was overcome by the power of his enlightened words. From the base of his spine, he could feel a tingle rising up through his body similar to the ones he would feel as a boy while attending a particularly moving sermon at his church on the Ivory Coast. He was still shivering from its power when he felt the white-hot heat of a bullet penetrating his back.
While the shooting didn’t take place in history, it had taken place in his altered reality. Entering just below his left shoulder blade, the bullet emerged from his chest while the crowd screamed and scattered.
In that instant, the world changed. Suddenly, he could hear voices that weren’t there, and the people in front of him, Dr. King included, became nothing more than a mirage-like shimmer of fuel from a jet engine that had just fired up.
“We’re losing him! His vitals are off the charts!”
“What the hell happened?”
“No idea, but we need to get him out now!”
The last words Jadyn heard before dying from a bullet wound in 1963 and a heart attack in 2059 were:
“We can never talk about this!”
Maggie suffers from severe agoraphobia. Her home, a 9th-floor condominium in Manhattan overlooking the bustling city, is her only safe haven. It has been this way since she was a child. Moving out on her own when her parents passed away was a traumatic experience that she barely survived. Her heart rate had gone into overdrive, the dizziness set in, she could barely breathe and she felt sharp pains in her chest.
Her condo, bought for her by her father before he passed, has everything she needs – a place to do her work, a kitchen for cooking, and a bed to sleep in.
Maggie leads a simple life in seclusion. In the seven years she has lived here, she hasn’t once ventured out. Groceries are ordered online and delivered to her door. The same is true for nights when she doesn’t want to cook; she is an expert on the best restaurants in NYC that offer delivery.
With her condo paid for, her monthly expenses are minimal. To make ends meet, she runs a blog for agoraphobics offering advice and sharing her own personal experiences. The advertisements and affiliations earn her enough to cover utilities, food, and the occasional online shopping spree for new clothes that no one else will ever see.
As far as friends go, Maggie has two: Ben and Champ. Benjamin Parker lives in the condo directly opposite hers. Now and then, he will carry her groceries in or join her for a meal she’s prepared. He’s a handsome black man about the same age, but neither has ever felt a romantic interest. His dog, Champ, however, is the love of her life. Whenever Ben is out of town on business, Champ stays with her and keeps her company throughout the long nights.
Daily life is pretty straightforward. In the mornings, she will brew a pot of coffee, cook breakfast, and add a few posts to her blog. When that’s finished she takes a shower and changes before becoming enthralled with social media updates. When one is stuck at home, one has to live vicariously. During the afternoons, she normally orders in and either sits down with a good book, romance novels being her favorite, or a soap opera episode she has recorded for later viewing. Her evenings, however, are pretty exciting.
Every night, she cooks a meal based on one of Gordon Ramsay’s instructional videos. With delicious food on her plate and a glass of wine in her hand, she sits down in her living room to watch New Yorkers living their lives through her Celestron refractor telescope.
Two buildings are of particular interest: The Masteri Apartments and The Trinity Condominiums. Both are directly opposite her plate glass windows, so viewing is optimal. In her seven years of spying on her neighbors, she feels as if they are all good friends. Not knowing their names isn’t a problem; she creates her own based on appearances and mannerisms.
Chance who lives in Masteri directly across from her is, in her mind, a young stockbroker from Wall Street who has a fat wallet and loves younger women. On most nights, she can catch a glimpse of him romping between the sheets with a different woman from the night before. Candy, the young woman who lives one floor below him is, as she sees it, a stripper and high-end escort. Between the two, she has always got a show that would make fans of 50 Shades of Gray blush.
By far though, her favorite is Mrs. Winters, a name she gave her for her snow-white hair. Mrs. Winters is an elderly woman who loves her books and her tea. She doesn’t get many visitors, but when she does, she lights up like the 4th of July. On some nights, Maggie finds peace just watching the old woman read in front of her window.
For seven years, it has been the same – eat, work, watch and sleep. Just after midnight on December 26th as the snow was falling on the city outside of her window, that changed. Chance had already fallen asleep after bedding a new girl and Candy was off to whatever work took up her late evenings. Mrs. Winters, however, had an unexpected visitor. Not yet ready for bed, Maggie was watching.
With Mrs. Winters fast asleep in her reading chair with a copy of Pride & Prejudice in her lap, the thug walked in. Maggie knew he was a thug because of his shaved head and prolific tattoos. He hadn’t been invited and he was up to no good.
With a heavy bag in his hand, he was loading up on her cherished belongings. Maggie watched in frustration as he took her antique knick-knacks from the shelf. Cherished items could be replaced, but Mrs. Winters could not. If she woke while he was intruding, she would be in grave danger.
Ben wasn’t at home, so Maggie was on her own. Other than the heat and air-conditioning of her condo, Maggie hadn’t felt a breeze against her skin in years. As she crossed the street, the icy wind stung her cheeks. She could have called 911, but by the time they arrived, it would be all over. As she reached the main door to Masteri, her heart was pounding and her head was dizzy, but she was determined to come to the rescue.
Finding the right apartment was an issue; the numbers on the doors gave her no clue as to her relative position from her own condo. Gauging the distance down the hall, she was fairly certain she had found the right place. With a swift blow, she kicked in the door ready to unleash the hounds of hell.
Mrs. Winters woke at the noise as the intruder stood beside her in panic.
“Get out of here right now! I’ve already called the police. They’ll be here any second. Don’t you lay a finger on that woman.”
“Dylan?” The old woman asked in confusion. “What are you doing here and who is this woman?”
“Times are hard, Granny. I owe people. I had no choice. I was hoping you would think it was a random burglary. I got no idea who she is.”
Maggie was mortified. They were family!
Two weeks later, Mrs. Winters, actually Mrs. Rosalind, topped off Maggie’s teacup in her apartment. “So what has that notorious Chance been up to lately?”
The Ice Princess
Whatever happened, happened fast!
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I need you to listen carefully to my instructions and stay calm. We’re experiencing a complete system failure and I have no choice but to crash land. Again, please remain calm. I have trained extensively for moments like this and the crew of Flight 918 is well versed in dealing with situations like these. Follow their instructions and we’ll get through this together.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the flight attendant with the bright red hair and rosy cheeks began, “please stay in your seats and buckle up. I’m going to walk you through what to expect and how to protect yourselves, so please pay attention.”
Is this really happening, Vanessa wondered? Am I really going to die in a plane crash before I get married or have children? Is this how it’s going to end?
The panic was so resonant that it literally shook the fuselage like a wave of turbulence.
Seconds after the flight attendant provided instructions, the cabin lost pressure from the uncontrollable descent and oxygen masks dropped from the stow compartments above. Pandemonium ensued with people screaming and fighting over each other to get to an exit as if jumping out of the plane was a better plan.
Vanessa, however, did her best to remain calm. At her window seat near the middle of the plane, she kept her head tucked between her legs wrapping her arms around her knees to brace herself. She had never been religious, but at the moment a prayer seemed appropriate. Trying to drown out the chaos around her, she prayed for just one more chance at life.
The impact was surreal! Explosions, grinding metal and the cries of those who were mortally injured were more than she could take. The plane had split in half just two rows in front of her and bodies were strewn across the frosty landscape outside. Fires were raging from the exposed fuel in the wings. Smoke was beginning to billow in a caustic fog of heat and destruction. Her mind unable to process it all, she passed out in her window seat that no longer had a window or a wall.
With no idea how much time had passed, Vanessa woke to the horrors of a plane crash. Though the fires had dwindled from the melting snow, the smoke was so thick it was hard to see and harder to breathe. Still buckled into her seat, she flipped open the clasp and crawled out into the aisle to discover it was blocked by bodies and severed parts.
After vomiting up what little was in her, she opted to go out through the torn-off opening in the fuselage beside her seat.
At least a hundred miles from their destination in Anchorage, Alaska, they had crash-landed in the arctic equivalent of BFE! Immediately, she knew she was going to need two things to survive – at least one other survivor and some supplies.
An exhaustive search of the wreckage revealed that she was the only survivor. That was bad news considering she had a gaping wound in her right thigh with a piece of fuselage still embedded. Limping to the cabin, she found a first aid kit at the flight attendants’ station and plopped down in the snow to deal with her wound.
The pain was unreal and threatened her ability to remain conscious, but she somehow suffered through it. With the large shard of hot metal removed, she tightly wrapped gauze from a spool around the wound. A tourniquet was out of the question because she didn’t want to lose her leg. The gauze at least kept the bleeding under control.
From the kit, she pulled out a bottle of Motrin and swallowed three pills. Looking through it, she could see it included antiseptics and antibiotics. She made a mental note to address that later. For now, she needed to get some supplies before the fires destroyed anything she might use for survival.
There was more onboard the flight and in the luggage spread out around her than she had expected. She found blankets, clothes, a coat, gloves, an Army knife, a small toolkit, a handheld radio, lighters, a magnifying glass, a cold-weather sleeping bag, and an assortment of snacks (beef jerky, chips, trail mix, power bars and more).
With too much to carry, especially on a bad leg, she looked for a backpack and found a military-grade rucksack near the tail of the plane. After loading up her supplies and hoisting them on her back, she set out into the frigid early evening air with snow blowing in her face and the reflection of the falling sun blinding her eyes.
Shelter from the elements was her first priority. After that, she could focus on tending her wound and satisfying the hunger pangs in her stomach.
Wound treated and freshly bandaged, she sought shelter from the harsh cold of night. A fan of Bear Grylls, she knew she could dig out a resting place in the snow. Near what must have been a cliff at the base of a mountain, she found the perfect spot for shelter from the piercing wind. Using her gloved hands alone, it took her over an hour to dig out a space large enough. By the time she was done, she was sweating and exhausted, neither of which were good things in her current predicament.
In the cold-weather sleeping bag recessed into her makeshift home in the snow, she snacked on beef jerky with one of the five bottles of water she had found in the wreckage. Water wasn’t going to be an issue though, because she had learned enough from Bear Grylls’ adventures to know how to boil and prepare her own out of the snow.
As night fell and the temperature dropped, she wondered what could have happened. How did the plane go down? That just doesn’t happen anymore, does it? How am I the only survivor? What the hell do I do next?
Sleep came without warning and she woke soaking wet from the melting snow and shivering violently in the freezing air.
A fire and sustenance… That’s what I need!
Using some in-flight magazines she had picked up for tinder and with the aid of a lighter, she had a nice fire going in no time at all. To keep it going, she tossed on some of the clothes she had scavenged from all the luggage she had gone through. While warming her hands and feet, she dried off a fresh change of clothes.
As she was eating a power bar for breakfast, she tried to imagine what Bear would do if he found himself in this situation. Shelter, food, and water were primary concerns, but unless she could find her way back to civilization, the supplies would run out and she’d freeze to death in the winter wasteland.
A hand-crank version for adventurers, she wound up the handle and searched for stations. Only one was broadcasting and what she heard was far more traumatizing than the plane crash. She tuned in just as three shrill beeps went off.
This is a broadcast of the Emergency Alert System. At the request of the United States National Security Agency, this alert will be broadcast on repeat.
At five seventeen Pacific Standard Time, our planet was attacked by unknown forces. Major cities including London, Paris, New York, Sydney, and Shanghai have been decimated. US military forces in joint operations with Britain, Australia, and Canada are attempting to respond with prejudice. Infrastructure is at a stand-still. Most utility services are offline. Emergency responders are on the streets and FEMA is working to set up shelters.
At this time, we are being told to advise that you shelter in place. I repeat, shelter in place. Do not venture out until we know what we are dealing with and the military gives the all-clear.
Vanessa stared at the radio in disbelief.
An alien attack? Seriously? EMP, isn’t that what they called it? Electro-magnetic pulse? It would explain why the plane suddenly lost all flight control, but it certainly didn’t help her situation. Now, even if she could find her way back to civilization, there might not be a civilization left. Sheltering in place wasn’t a great alternative.
Food. Water. Shelter. Take it one day at a time, Vanessa. You can do this! Make Bear proud….
The Girl In The Park
“Get this to Michaela Roberts in New York.”
That was all she said before she rushed away as if the devil himself was at her back. Thirty seconds later, she was bleeding out in the street.
Mark Harris is a typical middle-aged bachelor living in Seattle. Every morning as the sun begins to rise over the Puget Sound, he takes a long jog around Lake Union Park to get in a little exercise for both himself and Charlie, his furry and playful best friend. From 9 to 5, he puts in his dutiful hours at Microsoft where he codes for a living. His lunches are almost always a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich and a small bag of chips eaten alone under a tree on the campus. Dinners often consist of whatever he can throw together from the fridge and cook without destroying; Charlie always gets his helping. Aside from the occasional dinner out or drinks with peers, he rarely goes out other than to give Charlie his walks through the park, poop bag in hand.
Relationships had never really been his thing. On lucky nights out, he might score a one-night stand. It’s not that he’s unattractive; it’s just that his brief marriage in his early twenties ended disastrously. Quiet, frugal, independent, content… Those would all be good words to summarize Mark’s approach to life. Work and Charlie were the only two things he needed to find happiness and purpose in life.
After yet another rainy day in March, one of a seemingly endless torrent of downpours, Mark got home from work at 5:30 PM with Charlie bouncing at the door. Though his pooch was happy to see him, Mark knew he was begging for relief. Although Charlie had a piddle pad in the hall of the apartment, he rarely used it. Dinner was going to have to wait.
At 39 degrees, the air was chilly even with a coat but it didn’t seem to bother Charlie in the least. Particular about where he did his business, the little bugger held out until they got to the park. On the edge of Lake Union, the park offered fantastic views, bike and running trails, and plenty of prime spots for Charlie to relieve himself before chasing after the geese.
A nightly ritual, they both loved their evening walks. Business done and Mark left to clean it up, Charlie bolted after a goose near the water’s edge before running up to joggers to plea for a pet on the head. Mark was about to reign him in when the girl ran up beside him.
Dressed in a skin-tight black jogging outfit, she looked like Catwoman as she approached him out of the blue. In Seattle, Mark had seen all types, so he wasn’t struck by her unusual attire. She was quite attractive – a young black woman maybe in her mid-thirties at most.
She stopped right in front of him, looked behind her, scanned the park, and then handed him a flash drive. “Get this to Michaela Roberts in New York.” Then, sprinting away as if the devil was on her tail, she was gone.
Mark looked at the USB device in his hands and wondered why he had accepted it. Strange how we tend to take whatever we are offered, even when it’s coming from a stranger. He considered tossing it in the nearby bin but pocketed it instead before retrieving Charlie who was still busy making new friends.
As they were walking back home, Charlie now back on his leash, Mark heard the commotion and stopped to investigate. A gaggle of people had gathered around and the most likely reason was that there had been an accident.
Once he was close enough to see, Mark was shocked by what had apparently transpired. The girl from the park was lying dead in the street. There was no question that she was gone as the blood drained from her mouth, ears, and nose. If a car had hit her, it too was gone.
Listening to the frantic conversations, he overheard that someone in the group witnessed the fatal event. A black SUV intentionally ran her down as she was crossing the street. It had been moving fast, so no one got a license plate.
Mark reached a hand into his pocket and held the flash drive between his fingers. Is this why she died? Is it that important? What am I supposed to do with it?
He tried to remember the details of their brief encounter. He hadn’t been paying much attention, but she had said something that might be important. “Get this to….” He couldn’t remember. Michael Ross? No, Michaela Roberts. Where? New York. New York State or New York City? Since she hadn’t elaborated, he was fairly certain she meant New York City.
How the hell was he going to do that? He had work and Charlie to think about. Still, the strange transfer followed by her immediate death suggested that he was going to have to do something.
After a dinner of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Charlie went to his doggie bed with a huff of exhaustion and Mark went to his computer at the desk by the window.
The flash drive was encrypted, so he got no help there. Candice, a mate from work, was well-versed in cryptography and considered herself a white hat hacker. He would give the drive to her in the morning and see if she could unlock its contents.
In the meantime, he tried to imagine what secrets it might contain that would lead to her death. Then, a very disturbing thought occurred to him: If someone was willing to kill her over the contents of this drive, then what’s stopping them from killing me to get it back?
As he saw it, he was left with three choices: destroy it, dispose of it, or deliver it. The first two options might only make matters worse. If he destroyed it, the people who wanted it might not be very happy. If he disposed of it, they would probably hunt him down and make him take them to it. The only option that seemed to offer hope was to deliver it as requested. Perhaps the recipient would protect him.
Candice had not been able to help. According to her, the encryption used government agency-level cryptography. She recommended that whatever it was, he should turn it over to the authorities.
Mark didn’t want to be interviewed or pulled into an investigation where he would have to testify. Instead, he decided to deliver the device as requested and be done with it. Rarely using sick hours or vacation time, he took one week off from Microsoft on short notice claiming there had been a death in the family. His flight leaving at noon, he dropped Charlie off with Cindy, his favorite neighbor who loved Charlie dearly, at 9:00 AM. The flight took a little over five hours; he arrived at 5:38 PM.
Having never visited the Big Apple, he was a bit overwhelmed by the buildings, signs, and pedestrians in Times Square. After getting a room at the Holiday Inn Express, he took his laptop out to find a good place to work and get some dinner. Carmine’s on 44th Street seemed the perfect place since Italian food had always been his favorite.
At a back table, while waiting on his New York Style Sicilian Pizza, he ran a search on Michaela Roberts in New York City. There were four hits on the white pages and a number of others on social media. Immediately, he realized he had very little to go on. What am I going to do? Call them all and tell them a girl dressed in black asked me to deliver something to them? I don’t even know the woman’s name!
He was already there, so he really had no choice. He started making calls. On the 6th call, he hit paydirt.
“Hello, am I speaking with Michaela Roberts?”
“Hi, Michaela. My name is Mark. This is going to sound really weird, but a young woman in Seattle passed me a flash drive in a park and said, ‘Get this to Michaela Roberts in New York.’ Seconds later, she was run down by an SUV in the street. I thought it at least prudent to try to accommodate her last wish. Does any of that ring a bell for you?”
“Kara is dead?”
“I never got her name, but yes, the woman I met is dead. As I said, an SUV ran her down in the street right after she handed me the flash drive. Am I talking to the right Michaela Roberts?”
“You are and thank you for contacting me. Can you meet me at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park in one hour?”
“I can and I will. I’ll be glad to be rid of this thing since it seems to be worth killing for.”
“Aren’t you the least bit curious,” she asked, holding up the flash drive as if it were the talisman of some secret historical cult. “You didn’t try to take a little peek?”
“I did, but we couldn’t crack the encryption. To be honest with you, I don’t want to know what’s on that thing. I did my part and now I just want to go back home.”
“We really appreciate that you did the right thing, but we can’t risk the possibility that you’ve seen the contents.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that the life you once lived is over.”
Before Mark could react, two men in black suits with dark sunglasses and white earpieces were on him. With the muzzle of a gun at his side, they ushered him to a black Suburban waiting just outside of Central Park. His last thought before being dosed with a sedative was: Charlie!
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Disclaimer: These stories are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the writer’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.