By the Shores of Time
“Why are you here?” her voice held contempt.
Laid before her was Alex, gazing back with his typical smugness. She basked in the fog-induced light within a barren room. Sitting up carefully, he examined her, absorbing her energy as she clenched her dress.
“I’d think you would’ve missed me this whole time,” he scoffed.
“Not at all,” she dismissed.
“Oh, come on. This isn’t you. After all, I’ve known you—”
“There you go, going back to your saving grace. Our history… It’s always about how it was, but never what it’s become.”
“How about where it could be?”
Where it could be, she repeated.
“That look on your face,” he remarked condescendingly. “You’ve changed quite a bit.”
Celeste refrained from looking into his eyes after delivering his undermining words. Looking toward her forearms, she saw new cuts overlapping the old from her experiences outside. Her body had grown thinner, parting her food for those in need. And through the countless nights awake, she still had the energy to press on. She glimpsed the blinds, seeing trails of foggy light seep. Its haunting glow would’ve brought her a sense of peace had it not been the man in front of her.
Pain, sorrow, and regret filled her conscious. Alex cleared his throat, gauging her reluctant gaze upon seeing the lilac tinge. Years of history between them became reduced to an existential disdain. Part of her hoped he’d died out there, a wish she knew was selfish. Yet it was the only way she thought she could move on
“You hate me, don’t you?” he smiled, seeing a jolt in her firm posture.
“Hate? That’s—a strong word,” she replied weakly as she gripped her hem.
“You asked me why I was here, right? You probably don’t care about what happens to me from this point.”
“Of course, I care. But we’ve all sinned.”
“Sin? That’s novel coming from you—”
“Don’t,” she interrupted him upon seeing his grin. “Don’t do that. I’ve always been—Somewhere on the spectrum of what I believe. Whether or not there’s a god, it keeps me awake, thinking… Hoping for an answer.”
She lifted her head, looking directly in his eyes. It was the first time in a while he hadn’t been intoxicated. A glimpse of innocence, a look into what was left of the hollow husk of the man he once was. His long, messy beard shone a gray color, while his blue eyes cast an icy gaze. This exchange was perhaps the most unadulterated between the two.
“Did you ever get that answer?” he asked.
“I—Don’t know,” she responded honestly. “I wonder if this was where I’m supposed to be. No, where we’re supposed to be. I feel a change coming, heh—Imagine, at the end of the world.”
“The world,” he muttered. “It ends with you, doesn’t it?”
She winced as he looked off toward the window, looking into the infinite fog. A gentle touch brought her back into a dark room, which she gazed off toward the blank wall. The dim candlelight cast its usual shadows against the furnishing around her. Gabriel sat by her with an uncharacteristic concern. The strange, dream-like quality lingered just as she slowly sat up.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“You were doing that thing again,” he responded. “You know, the staring off into space.”
“Ack, sorry—Just a bit on my mind. I…No, we all have something on our minds, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“We can talk about it.”
“We could, but…” Celeste’s words trailed off as she looked toward the worn floorboard.
“I won’t pry,” he sighed, knowing he wouldn’t reach her.
“Do you think there’s some grand design behind all this?”
“Is this what we’re destined for? Just death and obscurity?”
“Celeste,” he spoke, reflecting on what she said. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I haven’t thought about all this and that goes back before all of this. My life before this… Probably had a little less meaning, but the things I have now made me grateful for all I have now.”
His eyes reached her smile, observing her nod as she flicked her wavy hair over her shoulder. Gabriel would always find the right things to say amidst her neurotic doubts. When she found herself winded, he’d be there to help her. Such a quality was indispensable to her since her thoughts easily became jumbled through time.
“I still find it hard to imagine how you were before we met,” she continued.
“Maybe that’s all a part of fate,” he shrugged.
“Was that your idea of clever?”
“No… Just shining a light in the dark.”
“Nathanial,” Victoria sighed, gesturing a seat for him. “Thanks for coming, I wasn’t expecting you to come so soon.”
“Of course,” he spoke ghoulishly.
Elizabeth sat with her arms crossed, assessing the priest’s sickly appearance as he sat down. A strange, inexplicable odor came from him, wafting in the cigar-cloaked air. Even with the weak lighting, his skin was ghastly and bloodshot eyes were prominent. The glazed-over expression unsettled the tired nurse, having worked throughout the night to observe the people in the holding cells.
“How can I help you?” he continued.
“You need to talk with your followers,” the lieutenant demanded.
“I beg your pardon? I have no control over their actions. I haven’t even been involved with anything happening.”
“But when you’re around, they listen,” Elizabeth interrupted. “So, maybe you can keep them in check. Do you know how many people got hurt or killed yesterday?”
“Again, how am I liable for this?”
“With Alex back and your Rasputin-like influence, it makes for a bad combination. It would be unfortunate if anything happened with your followers.”
Elizabeth glanced toward Victoria, seeing her fixation upon the dodgy priest.
“Is that—A threat?” he winced uncharacteristically.
“It’s only a threat if I’m not giving you options. There’s no need to put anyone’s life in danger. Your rhetoric divided the house… And if cool heads can’t prevail, we lose everything to those who act on impulse. It’s really simple. It’s in our best interest—”
“Best interest for whom? People were already losing trust when you sent Alex away without much of a say. Now, their expecting him to be reinstated in some capacity.”
“How do you know that if you’re hidden away most of the day,” Elizabeth asked, glimpsing his indifference.
He began twiddling his fingers from the mere glance from the hardened soldier. Silence filled the gap between them, raising further suspicion. Victoria knew the priest to be a terrible liar, but the fact he insisted on lying made it even more amusing to her. It reminded her of those she tortured to get information from; It always started with a friendly conversation before she abducted them later on. She put out her cigar, perhaps the third she had in the past few hours. Elizabeth watched the smoke rise, recalling the sleepless woman declining when she suggested to lay off the heavy smoking habits.
“You gonna answer that?” Victoria pressed, scrutinizing his reaction.
“Do you not listen to what they have to say?” he responded with an assured glance. “People are on edge. They see your leadership as something dangerous.”
“I’ve done more than that stump-armed prick when it comes to taking care of people.”
“Then how about the fact you’ve barred people from leaving?”
“Whose—Trying to leave?” The nurse winced.
“You mean, the scouts?” Victoria sighed. “The circumstances have changed. The fog doesn’t just bring those monsters, but it throws off time. According to Celeste, it only felt like a day since they left. Imagine two weeks go by? It’s insane to think about. Also, we’ve lost too many good people to throw anyone else out there until we can figure out what to do.”
“Have you considered that perhaps nothing can be done?” he questioned.
“No, we’re going to figure this out—”
“Think about it!” he stood up in a rage. “Within two weeks the precinct nearly fell, our food supplies dwindled, and everyone is looking over their shoulders. Your soldiers are far from the guardian angels you portray them. How many times has there been allegations levied against them for misconduct?”
He dismissed her scowl as Elizabeth listened.
“We can’t have it both ways,” he waved his hands in what could be described as grandstanding. “Our leadership in the matter evokes order: one of law and the other of morality. We’ve both failed at what we’re tasked to do, but… I’m not the one with the guns here now, am I?”
“It’s not a tit for tat,” Elizabeth added.
“No, if she’s goes to blame me for everything that’s happened then it’s only appropriate that she admit to it as well.”
“If we both see the issues in front of us, why can’t we address it? It seems like neither of you want to budge and that’ll cost everyone.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” the lieutenant conceded. “We’re at our wits end. We even had to reroute the backup generator source to keep the roof’s lights on. And once that goes—”
A sudden commotion beyond the door drew their attention, which followed with a burst of gunfire. They rushed out to find a shaken soldier stand above a limp body at the main hall. Blood pooled around his weathered boots while a small crowd watched in horror. Visibly panicked, he glimpsed his superior as she approached in her quick strides. As she kept her composure, she noted everyone’s reaction, disgust and disdain coated their gaze as they angrily decried his actions.
“What the hell happened?” she grumbled, seeing a knife in the deceased’s hand.
“He shot him,” someone from the crowd shouted.
“Seems like he tried to run at him with a knife.”
“He spooked me when I was walking by,” the soldier insisted. “He tried to stab—”
“He was harassing his wife,” another added.
“Where’s the woman in question?”
Her question was met with collective silence as she looked around. The crowd took a few steps away when she paced forward to look at each of them. The lieutenant wasn’t sure whom to believe with all the allegations laid amongst her comrades. Elizabeth observed everyone from afar as she had done thus far. The inconsistencies, the pettiness… The order was visibly coming undone with the distrust between the parties. As she walked forward, she glimpsed Celeste and Gabriel watching from the stairs. The silence brought frustration for Victoria as it reminded her of her service as a guerilla. The things she did to get answers resulted in horrific beatings and that impulse had long lingered since the outbreak happened
“Everyone, back in your rooms,” she ordered, hearing the immediate reaction of her soldiers. “You have 5 minutes! If anyone is outside, we’ll throw you into the hold.”
“When are you releasing them?” someone demanded an answer, causing an uproar.
Victoria raised her pistol, firing a single shot through the glass ceiling. Everyone cowered as she maintained her impatient gaze. Holstering her pistol, she walked back to her office, leaving the priest and nurse to their own devise. Celeste watched on, feeling tense as she felt Gabriel’s hand massage her right shoulder.
“5 minutes, nobody better be caught outside,” the lieutenant repeated.
“This—This isn’t going to end well,” Celeste muttered.
“She’s under a lot of pressure,” Gabriel nodded, meeting her concerned glimpse. “No checks and balances, just a bunch of people with guns. But, she’s trying, but… Nathanial is making it real hard for her to adjust.”
“What makes you say that?”
“We all came from the same monastery, and Alex was in charge until recently. It’s pretty obvious where the problem lies.”
“I wish there could be another way.”
“There usually is, but aren’t we a prideful bunch here.”
Celeste tightened her lips, seeing little point in continuing as they observed the defiance below. People became unruly, pushing the lieutenant to the edge. The fake-outs her soldiers contended with, begged for an accidental misfire. The priest watched while the soldiers were focused on maintaining order.
“You can’t do that!” someone protested.
Victoria’s hands crawled along her holster, seeing the violence in their eyes. The constant reminder of her past struck a chord as she took a few steps back. Protestors and enemies alike filled her sight with unsavory imagery as her mind raced. Drawing her pistol at the nearest person, she pulled the trigger, adding to the chaos as she stood aghast by her actions.
She took a few steps back, watching the blood gushing from the massive head wound. Victoria panted, looking around to find everyone’s distress as they cleared the area. Looking toward Elizabeth, she seemed numb by what she had done, as though expected. Without saying a word, she returned to her office while her soldiers began herding everyone to their rooms.
We've reached a point of no return here,
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I- Just hope I execute it well enough!
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