By the Shores of Time
“Can somebody explain what the hell is going on?” the lieutenant growled at the sparsely populated room.
Along the expansive meeting room sat the key players, Gabriel, Ricardo, Nathanial, and Alex who had to be rolled in a spare wheelchair. She looked around, quickly realizing her question would go unanswered. Gabriel and Ricardo didn’t have the opportunity to catch up when the situation got under control. Nathanial’s silence was perhaps the most bothersome to Gabriel. Having seen the grotesque body of the creature, it seemed to inspire reverence in the holy man. Her sigh drew everyone back in as she eased her scowl.
“I guess the bigger question is,” she continued. “How did that thing get inside?”
“Have we accounted for everyone?” Ricardo asked.
“We’re still doing a thorough sweep of the western hall. And well, it’s a bit of a mess in the main hall.”
“I don’t understand,” Gabriel spoke, drawing the priest’s glazed stare. “I know the issue earlier was bad, but—”
“The people can no longer tolerate the wrongdoing of the current leadership,” Nathanial commented, ignoring Victoria’s twitchy glare.
“May I remind you,” she cleared her throat. “This falls on both of us. We can’t just shift responsibility when it's convenient.”
“Or, maybe we’ve reached a point of no return for many.”
“That’s—” Gabriel spoke before Alex lifted his finger.
“C’mon, Gabe,” he interrupted. “Victoria and her troops can’t handle it. This wouldn’t have happened—”
“Hey, shithead,” Victoria replied. “Remember why we took you out in the first place?”
“I was making the tough choices.”
“You damn near turned it into a doomsday cult.”
“That’s a bit of a reach,” Ricardo’s voice projected a sense of authority. “There were a lot of missed opportunities from what I’ve seen. If you asked anybody level-headed what they thought about leadership, they probably say there’s no difference.”
“That’s the thing,” Gabriel nodded. “There’s hardly anybody thinking straight these days. Hell, not even ourselves.”
“Speak for yourself,” Alex chuckled along with an annoying smirk creeping along his heavily bearded face.
“Alex,” his wary detractor responded. “We’re in the same boat, my friend. If I had to say so, this house of cards is on some real flimsy grounds… And we’ve all acknowledged this. Instead of bickering about who’s the worst leader, we can talk about what we can do to fix our situation.”
“If not, it’s all downhill from here,” Ricardo cosigned, observing Nathanial and Alex’s reaction.
The collective silence rang in Gabriel’s head. The committee would have to decide the fate of the precinct with the options laid before them were clear. Regardless of his sentiment on the duo who sat across from him, he wanted nothing more than to cooperate. Alex postured himself, placing his hands on the table. He looked at everyone, uttering little until he got a gist of what they felt. Victoria’s resentment, Ricardo’s frigid demeanor, and Gabriel’s softened glare spoke volumes in place of their words.
“Perhaps,” the priest uttered when Alex’s lips parted. “We’ve already reached the bottom.”
“Oh, that’s a real rosy picture you painted,” the lieutenant remarked sarcastically.
“Do you see it any other way?” Alex asked.
“No, I don’t.”
“Alex,” Gabriel spoke. “For god’s sake, you know you can bring order. I know it’s been shaky between us, but this has to stop.”
“And exactly what have I started?” the former leader probed. “How is my fault that people won’t listen to you shams?”
Victoria drew her pistol at Alex, rustling Gabriel and Nathanial. Alex stared down the barrel of her pistol, chuckling upon seeing her glare. Cocking the hammer back, she pressed it against his head. Cold metal shook against his skin, marking her reluctance to pull the trigger.
“Hey, Vicky,” Gabriel protested calmly.
“You’re not going to do it,” he noted as he nudged the barrel away. “You might’ve been some child soldier in some god-forsaken South American country, but you’re not dumb. You know what happens when you take out a political opponent, you cause a vacuum where anything goes. Say you or I die right now, right here! What do you think happens next?”
The lieutenant holstered her weapon slowly while her wince remained fixated on Alex. Uncertainty plagued their thoughts with each passing day, even as everyone looked over their shoulder. Trust and community had slowly dwindled in time with all but the bitterest amongst them analyzing the other. She reached for the cigar she didn’t have, finding an empty shirt pocket instead.
“Out of light?” Alex grinned, hearing her grumble afterward.
“So,” Ricardo kept the conversation on track. “What are our options here since we’re just bullshitting?”
“My men,” Victoria responded before glancing around. “We’ll continue providing protection. A lot of people died… On both sides.”
“How’s that when you had guns?” Alex questioned.
“Because after what happened earlier, many wanted to show restraint. Now that this happened, you can understand why they’d become a bit antsy, yes? Maybe you should show your face, maybe that’ll keep people in line.”
“After everything that’s happened? I’m enjoying that look on your face.”
Asshole until the very end, Gabriel sighed with a gentle facepalm.
“Well, if there isn’t anything else—” Gabriel muttered tiredly as he stood up.
“Hey, Gabe,” Alex gestured. “I got my eyes on you… And Celeste.”
“The problem is between us.”
“No, that’s not how this works at all.”
Glimpsing Ricardo’s indifference, he walked out silently. There were too many things left unsaid in the tense atmosphere of egos. The advisor, the holy man, the politician, the soldier, and the everyman; a melting pot of conflicting worldviews that have yet to reach its deathly convergence. However, in all of his wisdom, he knew the conditions were ripe.
* * * * *
Shuffling came from the open hole in the dark hall. As the wintry ash settled, a woman carefully dropped down. Elizabeth glanced over at the blocked entrance leading into the main hall. The hole’s light cast but a few feet away, enough to discern the outline of each door frame. Traces of blood were leftover from the sloppy cleaning process from earlier, leaving the smell of rotting flesh along its walls. She gave a thumbs-up, signaling Celeste to enter.
The silence was only exaggerated by their collective breathing as the cold air swept the dark confines. Celeste turned on her flashlight, casting it into the room from which the creature emerged. Shivers coursed, recalling its menacing appearance under the foggy light. The nurse held her hands with her, hoping it would help her focus.
“Hey,” Elizabeth whispered concerned. “You good?”
“Yeah, she nodded. “Just—I don’t know what to expect.”
“Victoria’s soldiers were real hush about it. I wasn’t even allowed next to the thing when they showed up, which—”
“No one was allowed back in, and they never spoke about what they found.”
“Maybe… It didn’t come from the outside.”
They exchanged glances, leaving Celeste full of wonder about what really happened. The certainty she expressed left Elizabeth wondering what she’d seen, or rather what she knew. Celeste shuffled forward, visibly rattled before poking her head through the door from which the clicker emerged. A musky scent wafted when they entered, as the light revealed the disheveled ruins of the room. The bed frames were broken in half, mattresses gutted and bloodied. The floors showed the same sloppily mopped streaks, another common feature of the sealed tomb.
“Maybe they overlooked something?” Celeste suggested.
“Like what?” Elizabeth asked curiously while tracing the light.
“An idea of how that thing got here. The problem is the lights were still on in the roof, but the lights on this side died.”
“The whole wing would’ve went down if that were the case.”
“I—Guess, but I’m not an electrician, I’m a nurse.”
“Over there,” Celeste guided her flashlight, spotting the tattered remains of clothing in the corner.
Elizabeth went over to pick it up, assessing the flannel fabric. The shirt was torn down from the back, while its cuffs were shredded from intense pressure. She looked over at her peer, with a noted expression of confusion. The assured look in Celeste’s eyes confirmed her observation. She knew what was happening was as bad as what lingered beyond the relative safety of the precinct.
“This is one of ours,” the nurse noted. “Do you think it was from that—thing?”
“Yes, look at the rest of the clothes here. They’re torn to shreds.”
“Why the hell would they leave all this behind?”
“We aren’t even supposed to be here.”
A strange gnawing noise could be heard next to them. Celeste guided the flashlight, seeing nothing unusual about its plain appearance. Hearing Elizabeth’s breathing growing shallow, she guided her out. She reached out to the wall, but Elizabeth grabbed her hand in a quiet plea to convince her to leave. Guiding themselves out, the light far from the feet of the blockade as to not draw the attention of the guards posted on the other side. Elizabeth peered into the room where she found the bodies. The imagery never left her mind when she drunk herself into a stupor. She saw Celeste’s steeled resolve as her light hovered over Greg’s office. She took measured strides while the anxious nurse stood close by.
“He had something interesting that he mentioned,” she recalled, her voice certain of its importance.
“What’s that?” the nurse asked.
“A theory of sorts. He only skimmed through it with me, but it was interesting—”
“Celeste, we need to get back before the guards return up top.”
She looked toward the door, second-guessing whether to concede to her colleague’s wishes. The truth or an understanding of it laid beyond the unbroken door. Elizabeth tried to control herself as the gnawing grew louder. Another tug drew Celeste’s annoyance, glancing toward her frightened peer. She held the tattered shirt toward her like a momento of what they found.
“The shirt is enough.” Her voice expressed the unwillingness to enter.
“But, for all this trouble we can get his notes,” she responded, hoping she’d go along.
“We can come back for it once we make our case.”
Before Celeste could respond, they turned in the direction of footsteps behind the barricade. They didn’t waste any time arguing as they scurried toward the hole. Celeste climbed over first as the doors cracked. She pulled Elizabeth up upon hearing the door swing open, seeing a light flash against the wall. The flustered nurse fell onto Celeste, quietly resting on her while remaining out of sight.
Her curly blonde hair fell against her chest, locking eyes with the other. While the doors below closed, the rooftop entrance swung open. The nurse’s adrenaline coursed, maintaining her eye contact with her. Before Celeste could speak, they locked lips as Elizabeth felt along her slender body, feeling feverish as they began panting. When patrol emerged, they paused at the sight of their passionate embrace. Elizabeth looked up, having tucked her lock of hair back.
“What?” she asked with a surprisingly seductive voice
“N—nothing!” the soldier cleared his throat nervously. “Eh, carry on.”
“Was that your idea of improv?” Celeste whispered, reddened by her brash act.
“Well, you looked like you enjoyed it,” Elizabeth scoffed.
The young woman laid beneath the vivacious blonde was left with strange feelings while looking her in the eyes. The purple iris further captivating her as she got off to lay next to her as they watched the gray skies. Neither of them uttered a word, finding comfort in each other’s silence. It wasn’t long before their jovial laughter lingered throughout the hall below.
Things are certainly heating!
You're probably left with a lot of questions too,
Symbolism and dynamics, things are certainly what you make it, no?
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