Ellona Nuclear: One – Preview45 min read

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Enter young Ellona Orta. She a struggling photographer in her mid-twenties who’s had the typical share of ups and downs in life. The last to pop of three kids, and with the least on her resume of life accomplishments, she happens upon a life changing encounter which sends her on the voyage of a lifetime. 
Strong ambition takes her from the irritation of riding on dusty broken-down buses, to the intense fear of coming inches from life and death in the eye of a cataclysmic storm that’s been brewing for decades. 
With the weight of her good name, and reputation and sullying the trust of her brand new employer on her back she does her best not to crumble under the pressure, even when ugly history rears back into her life. 
Will she defeat the wind, storm clouds and thundering trouble before her, or will she simply be set back home empty-handed to bear the shame of simply another failed attempt at glory? Will she have the strength to pick it back up again if that’s the case?

◊  I woke up today doing the normal routine, the normal brew of coffee, the normal oatmeal, the normal chair in front of the normal shabby table that I had gotten from a flea market too many years back to count- it was about as a living thing in this apartment as me. Funny how the things in this apartment all seemed to have existed here way too long, kind of like me. I’d been fermenting here too long and I was starting to stiffen here.

There’s a knock on the door, sort-of loud and it immediately wakes me out of my day-dreaming. I slam down my half-empty coffee cup almost knocking it over, and toss my shabby blanket over my shoulders as I jolt for the emergency call for my attention. My fingers twitch at the bolt as I unlock it. When I finally get it open there’s no one around, I presume a false alarm or a door-salesman, of course. There’s a slip on the stoop, a flyer for a premium vacuum cleaner, which I promptly leave to be blown away in the wind as I slam the door behind me.

I run to my phone, where my alarm is blaring. It’s one thing after another. The signal it’s time for me to shower and ready to leave. I’ve got a couple things to do where I needed to get my life in order, a beginning process of elevating beyond my current point of staleness I hoped.

It wasn’t thirty minutes before I’m into fresh clothing. I skip the lotion, my bottle was about empty, a choice I’ll probably regret later but I really had to go. There’s one last thing that I remember to do- check the mail. There are three envelopes patiently waiting for me, which I can barely see under the bright sunlight. I realize that one is a glaringly red envelope, the other is junk, and another something from my older sister no less. I hurry back to the darkness of my apartment, and burst open the one from my sister and am surprised to see that it’s a neat little card.

It’s a nice white card with a picture of a dog chasing flower petals blowing in the wind, which makes me smile. I open it up and there’s an absolutely perfect block of handwriting on the side which reads:

“Hey, Ellona, hope you’re doing well. It’s been a long time since we spoke. I know that you’ve always been a lone-ranger type of girl, but I worry sometimes and It would be nice If maybe in-between your photography adventures you shot me at least a text every now and then. But, anyways, I know that it can be rough in your work, so I just wanted to let you know that we are all doing fine here and everyone is healthy, little Robbie misses you! And Lex says hi too. Well, I just wanted to let you know we were all thinking about you, and I hope you’re doing well,

Love ya to bits, Marsha.”

I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with joy to hear from her, and just like normal there’s a little bit of her that makes me feel like a huge butt for never calling them to say hi. I should really call. It’s sweet to hear from her, and also rather nice that besides a card she also sent me a check with a good amount I could use for groceries. I reach for my phone but I remember that red envelope and reluctantly I reach for it and grudgingly tear it open. It’s a bill, my electric bill, two months past due and the final, final notice, immediately I remember why I’m so quick to hide myself from my family.

So many years seem to have flown by since I graduated high school and I pitched-off my college semester, which Marsha was pretty nice to pay off. Now here I am in my mid-twenties and not much to show for it. Phone calls were always an embarrassing on load of sympathy from them that only weighed down on me more. I didn’t want them to feel like I couldn’t handle myself or anything.

My keys jingle as they fall back to the long lanyard on my neck, the only way I absolutely remember them. The weather was nice, warm, with intermediate clouds for a chill. It reminds me I forgot my sweater, the walk always warms me up though. The trip walk downtown was a long one but I loved it. Her check was in perfect timing for my day, there was a new organic foods market downtown and it was the first stop in my plans, although my plans were really to occupy myself with the illusion that I had something to do, with some light shooting planned near the end of the day. I could’ve driven, but gas had stayed expensive despite my hopes, and walking at least gave me the excuse to exercise.

It wasn’t long before I was a half a block from the new store, I could almost smell the newness of the building in the air, I could picture a grand opening banner coming into view as I got closer. I rounded the corner with a huge smile, but noticed something I’ve never seen before, something new, which is odd as I usually make a stern note of noticing everything in my town, a photographer has got to be resourceful as a key quality I think. I walk straight up to it, a shiny new office, a small one, right on the corner, but by the looks of it stylish from the inside. I’m not staring for more than a couple seconds before I notice a cleanly dressed guy speaking to someone by a large print on the wall. I couldn’t help it now, and before I know what I’m doing the force of my interest hoists me inside.

The door jingles as I close it, I always consider that a nice touch. It’s quiet but there are slight murmurings further on. It’s a small but long place, of what looked like to be an office gallery of sorts. There are some white pieces of abstract furniture near the entrance where I stood, and further back it looked to be a collection of pieces hanging on the wall where the path eventually wound back to yet another room.

I’m eyeing the furniture awkwardly, noticing the unique detail when the two talking guys approach where I am. The more stylishly dressed man thanks the other lesser dressed man and he turns to leave right beside of me. I couldn’t help but feel like a deer in headlights now. I’m glued to the arm of the very expensive looking couch trying to look as sufficiently distracted as I can while I draw on the fabric with my index.

“Excuse me, can I help you? You’re wiping your fingerprints on some very expensive furniture, I hope you have the money to pay for any damage.”

My eyes almost pop out of my head, and I hop back as stiff as a board. “Gah- I’m so sorry!” I try my best to apologize as I nervously miss every attempt to grab the door handle and make a swift escape. I feel a tap on my shoulder and I shriek in a way a small feral creature in the street might do to protect itself, immediately embarrassing.

“Hey now. I was only kidding, please. I apologize If I startled you.” I hear snickering behind me, my eyes narrow and I instantly notice cruelty in the air. I attempt to turn as my neck takes on the quality of a rusty door hinge and slowly creaks around to cast eyes on my predator.

“That was very distasteful sir, I only came in- well, because this place is new and wanted to take a peek. Is that how you greet brand new visitors? This is not very welcoming indeed.” My face had transitioned from intense fear to the twisted quality probably similar to a little girl who just had her ice cream stolen by a bully. This monster of a man apparently could hardly contain himself from bursting out with laughter. I could see his face turning red, and he was clenching his side like he just been reminded he had eaten gas station sushi for lunch.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just your face. Oh my gosh. I can’t. . .” He said in between his chuckles.

“Okay, well, I’ll be leaving now. Nice place here. Good day to you sir.” I pushed open the door and started out when I heard him call out to me from behind.

“Wait. Wait, I sincerely do apologize. Would you like a look around the gallery, obviously something sparked your interest enough to come inside, please allow me to show you what the place is about.”

His face was slightly more serious now, a more polite smile was on his face, and he sounded genuine enough, so sure I supposed I would humor him.

“Okay. Fine.” I said simply, not to sound overly interested whilst having been insulted, although in reality I was actually interested to a pretty fair amount.

Inside the small office he sat on an expensive looking chair, behind a pretty expensive looking computer system. Seemingly, he was a pretty well-off businessman, of something I guessed.

“So, you’ve seen the prints I have, but I’m not a photographer, I’m actually the owner of a popular blog site. I write in interests of news, photojournalism, pure art, all things interesting basically.”

“That’s pretty awesome, I do take pictures. I sell to some popular sites and I make a decent living off it.” I said embellishing on my personal success. “So I guess you’ve heard about the news of the mysterious mist? It’s got a good amount of people worried online, like it’s some big national thing to come.”

“Not at all. . . Tell me about it.” He said, leaning back.

Wow, he hadn’t even heard? I had only seen it a day ago reading up on some little known stories while sipping coffee. This would be the perfect opportunity for me. “Well, you say you’re the runner of a pretty popular blog, how about I do you better? What would you say if I could get you the first real inside look before it hits the mainstream? It would surely be a big story for your site if so?” He sat silent, and rubbed at his chin for a moment.

“I haven’t really put out any ads requesting outside freelancers yet, and my assistant who does a good amount of our research and fact-checking is actually out sick. You say you’re pretty handy with a camera?”

“Yeah. I have been since high school, I read everything I can, and I’ve been looking to elevate myself in my career lately. I mean, my stock is okay but it really doesn’t allow me everything I want.” I said, I realized I had just deflated a little bit of the image I had created of my status a couple minutes ago.

He took a deep breath, clicked and typed a couple things in his computer while I just stood there trying my best not to rain bullets of sweat down on his probably expensively cared for carpet.

“Alright, well you’ve come at a good time, right when I am organizing expenses for next month, so it should be okay. How about I set you up with a deal for the pictures and whatever else you can dig up? I’ll give you an advance, for the trip, and whatever expenses it takes to get there and return back here in time with some worthy photos and details. If you stop by tomorrow, I can have my assistant Julia write-up the details and it will be ready around noon. How does that work?”

I didn’t know what to say, I’m pretty sure I chirped like a bird before actual words formed in my mouth. I felt a surge of blood hit my head and felt like I might fall over.

“Um, yes! That sounds great. This had turned out to be way better than that new store opening. “I’ll be right here at eleven fifty-nine even.” I said with a smile as big as the room.

“Great, I’ll see you then-” I realized I hadn’t introduced myself as he paused. “Oh, and I’m Ellona.” I quickly told him. “Okay El;ona, cool, I’m Mark. We’ll be waiting for you tomorrow.”

“Great. Thanks so much, you’ll see me for sure.”

~~~

The clacking of the rails was headache inducing and soothing all at the same time, this had been my first long ride on a train in a while.

The ride out town had been a draining one with this new venture I was taking. To my luck there had been a nice assortment of problems, electrical delays due to a sudden, and pretty albeit vicious storm. It had been a long day and-a-half. The voyage had been ripe with transfers and delays so the entire thing had been simply exhausting.

Albeit those inconveniences, I was finally here, well, I didn’t know exactly where ‘here’ was or how useful but I had gotten somewhere at least and I was at least hoping It was the right place to do some snooping. In actuality I was happiest just to be back on solid unmoving ground, and had the ability to get real food.

I walked into a small eatery a subtle beep signaled my presence, the air conditioner was blasting and made me catch chills immediately. It was self-seating, so I chose a nice booth for myself along the wall. A nice reprieve and I was able to lean back and collect my thoughts about my plan, well that is until the crowd came in but whatever, I was so hungry.

A large group of mostly men sat in the middle of the floor right beside of my booth. My nice comfy spot now ruined and cramped. I thought of moving but it felt altogether useless, neither did I want to spend the energy anyhow, I had just finally sat down. Just put up with it I told myself, better to not have the headache from putting up a fuss. I plopped out my tablet on the table and began to swipe through my notes, my head in my palm and straw in my mouth.

The bunch looked a little underdressed to be in this type of place, they were wearing field gear, cargo pants, boots and utility vests and the such. It was strange that they all happened to be dressed that way, I was curious as to why and if I should’ve been worried about it at all. A mixed group, around eight or ten altogether.

The waitress came again and I asked for another minute while I distractedly flipped through the menu. While I was trying to decide between chicken, or burger there was a voice that caused me to completely forget about food options. It froze me solid, and had sounded specifically familiar for some reason. It was the voice of a woman, a medium tone, strong, yet calm, it was unmistakable. My heart was pounding, I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed for the glass of water in front of me, and jammed the straw into my mouth.

Shaking, I was almost unresponsive when the waitress came back for my order, her voice was a low hum that I didn’t quite hear. I absent-mindedly pointed to my selection on the menu and awkwardly placed it in her awaiting hands. I had almost completely gulped down the entire glass of water once I realized who’s voice it was.

My mother.

It was the voice of my freaking mother, I couldn’t believe it. Knowing that, I only had one option now: I had to get out of here, fast.

Promptly leaving the eatery after I had finished my drink, and paid up, I made my way as quick as I could inside town with my food in a to-go box. My hands were shaking, I was sticky, I needed a shower, and barely had slept in over thirty-four hours I had guessed. I had no interest in taking the time away and I’d probably pay for it later. Resting was reserved for once I found worthy clues, any additional piece to this puzzle of a job that I was now my whole life temporarily, this mysterious mist. I walked in a crazed pace through town, looking for anywhere to take a breath.

“My mom, my mom? What the heck was she doing around here?” If she was here then that was nothing but pure trouble for me. What a coincidence that I had even crossed paths with her even, and what did it mean? I thought.

I sweatily swiped at my virtual notebook, it had small bits of information, quick notes from the road, weather reports and strange storms from coffee shops I had gotten news from. Not much was online right now, and I had hoped for it to stay that way. A discovery of my meager findings would mean almost nothing to me it once it was all over the web.

The town I was in wasn’t far from where the strange reports had been made, the news of the mist had already been popping up red flags in dark corners of the net. It had taken a while just to find the location through intensive research, and not to mention the ride. If anything the people here might’ve at least had an upwind or some strange activities to go on.

I had made a spreadsheet of literally nothing but disconnected dots, but here’s hoping something would change soon, I needed it to, specially upon spotting my mom in the same area.

I entered a store, another bell that rung as I walked in but this time the old fashion kind, I figured it a trendy thing in this town. It was a modest shop and there was a middle-aged gentleman wiping down the counters.

“Uh, hello. Sir, I’m visiting town and was curious to whether or not you’ve heard any stories of some strange irregular storms lately?” He looked up almost as if he was surprised that somehow I formulated out of thin air.

“Yeah. Hey there. I seen something like what you’re talking about. Yeah, there were some odd storm clouds here last weekend I think, but nothing on the radio had talked about any rain, no thunder either. We all thought it was quite peculiar now that you mention it.” He said, I leaned forward and clutched the glass so hard I feared breaking it. Finally a score I could go on. C’mon old man, spill it.

“Yes, awesome, tell me more please, what was it like?” I replied, and had to swallow the excess saliva that pooled in my mouth.

He put down the rag, wiped his hands on his camo pants, and studied me before speaking. “You said you’re from out-of-town? Not many visitors here, you some kind of reporter?” Wrong question, I didn’t want him raising the word on anything lest my gig be blown.

“No, I’m just a tourist, I’m passing through. I actually heard about the weather on the news and figured I’d ask to see if it was anything to be worried about, you know? On my travels. But, um, nice looking shop here. What do you sell?” I asked, trying to sound as inquisitive as I could.

He picked up a black box, polished it and placed it in a class display case, “I got pipes and tobacco here. Been in business for twenty years, my son works here too sometimes but he’s always in-and-out. To busy in getting into what you youngsters do. I actually haven’t seen him since this weather sparked up though.” He replied.

“I see. Well, it seems like I wandered into the wrong place, I’m no smoker. Not in the least.” I laughed lightly. “What about this weather, has it affected any of your business?” He scratched at his chin for a moment, “Yeah, I would say so. The weekends normally are the times I get my locals in, I missed a couple of them but didn’t stop to think about why.”

“I see, but there doesn’t seem to be much happening around here, seems a little empty to be honest. Why have a shop here?”

“My wife’s hometown, she lived here and always wanted to stick close to her home so we just ended up here and from a friend I got the building, opened it up with some small stock and its been going ever since.”

“Nice.” It sounded so nice to have work in such a comfortable scenario, I only could’ve wished to have been that lucky in my life.

“So are you a lone soul off on your own? Just traveling trying to avoid strange happenings?” He said slightly jokingly.

“Sort of, yeah. I’m by myself but it’s always been like that for me, never known much different so I just get by.”

“Well, that’s about the best we can do in this life, unless you strike gold and hit riches. The rest of us better be awfully smart or awfully pretty.” He said, this time with a more noticeable tone of humour.

“I agree.” I responded caught in a gaze eyeing some of the expensive looking cigars behind glass, some looked like they might be as big as my hand. He was definitely right on that aspect.

The doorbell chimed, a short statured man in mechanic’s overalls and concealed behind a long grayed beard stepped in, he definitely looked more the part for the shop than me.

“Well, I guess I better get going now.” I decided, as not to rouse any more attention. “Thanks for the info,and have a good workday.” I said with smile and a wave and started my way towards the door.

“No problem, come by again if you’re ever in town, name’s Tom. Safe travels.”

I nodded as I passed the gentleman browsing about and pushed the door open back to the shiny silver sky that reached all around above.

It only took a relatively short while for me to make my way farther from the local block atmosphere. I’d been able to make my way from there to the outskirts of town, farther spaced buildings and rustic houses looking of history. The lack of humanity, and prevalence of nothing but dense fog and trees were really beginning to creep me out. Yet, I had more concerns than the chills going down my spine, admittedly this trip was an adrenaline rush and slightly exhilarating.

But my breath was short now. I was overworking my body and it was crying back at me for it, I’d visited more shops and diners for more bits of info but nothing meaty. Plus to top it all I had been getting strange looks from some of the locals, but I couldn’t blame them. Me a frizzy-haired girl wandering around with a pack strapped to her back who looked like depression was probably the strangest thing they had seen all month. I was ignoring it, like I always had, but now of all things now my pocket was vibrating.

To my luck, it was of course, my sister was ringing me. I had no choice of avoiding it, I picked up in a fumbled sweaty haste and wiped with my sleeve, the dew from above made had my screen all liquidy.

“Lona’ there you are, I’ve been calling you girl. So, are you okay? Where are you?” Her voice was slow and concerning, a bit shaky.

“I’m fine. Just in some small town poking around and things.”

“Oh really? Things? Are you really going to chase down this storm? Why is it important? The news has been talking about it being a possible hurricane Lona. It’s not safe.”

“I’m taking care of myself. I’ll be fine.” I said, not actually knowing whether that was a lie or not. I hadn’t really been doing it too well in reality. “I’m okay Marsha, don’t worry about it I won’t be here long, I’m still on the move.” I replied.

“Well move quickly, this thing is dangerous though Ellona, it’s said to begin sweeping across the hemisphere soon and you’re right in the middle of it’s path.” She said.

“Really?” She might have thought it bad, but I thought it was great news, that meant I was right on track somehow.

“Yes, don’t get yourself hurt just because you want to take some cool pictures. If you need money you know we’re always willing to help you. Please just-”

“I’ll be fine Marsha, I know what I’m doing. I don’t need your money. I’ll do my best to stay out of trouble and call you in a couple of days, okay? Don’t worry.” I said.

“Fine, fine. But, mom? You said you saw her, did she see you? Did you speak to her?” She said in a panic, her voice was all over in pitch.

“No, of course not. I wouldn’t say anything to that woman. Look, I have to go I’ll call you later. take care Marshy.”

I hung up after she said her goodbyes, closed the phone and slipped it back into my pocket. I groaned because now it was beginning to rain, none to my surprise the sky had grayed much more. I had to get where I was going or else I would get caught in the downpour, the only problem was I had only the slightest clue where that was.

I felt bad at cutting my sister off so short but if I hadn’t escaped she would have held me forever and especially being caught in the weather, my time was of the essence. Seeing mom had brought everything in front of me into perspective plus shaken me a bit. Sight of her reminded me about what I had become at this point in life, the youngest of three raised by a single father, knowing I was the least successful, and the struggles I had each week. It was full circle catching up with her now, it was a new hurdle in my mind so there was something that had to give.

I wouldn’t let her come back my life to steal this from me too.

~~~

The rain had continued indefinitely. I had taken shelter at the nearby bus station and using the crummy public wifi I had tracked down something significant on a popular forum. There was some random user who had uploaded key details about the misty storm clouds I hadn’t seen before, even a map location right in the post, it was a jackpot.

I shouted out in excitement and immediately felt awkward once I noticed I’d startled everyone around me, they probably thought me just another bus stop weirdo- jolly. Besides that, the coordinates had finally been the tip I needed, another breadcrumb only a few hours out, it would be the next step closer or at least I hoped.

On the way I gotten a text from Mark, he’d wanted to know how everything was coming along, I told him about the weather and other things and he gave me some encouragement which actually lifted my spirits a little. He was really turning out to be a gracious and kind guy, didn’t even ask about details but I told him all I had anyway, things were coming I assured him with a couple smiley emojis.

A rickety, grey charter-bus was my ticket out-of-town on the move once more after I figured I’d milked this place for all it’s worth.

Although I tried my hardest to keep alert, I had fallen asleep at least twice here during the ride. It felt like death to wake up having neglected sleep for so long plus my head was pounding. On the pocket of my hoodie lie a mostly eaten sub-sandwich that I tossed into the trash quickly after realizing it was about to fall from my lap. Two days I thought, It had been at least that long since I had gotten proper sleep in a bed.

I had been checking the net feverishly since my the last break of info, but it had seemed to of dried-up since my last hit, the fact that the bus had to stop twice for maintenance added to the issue. How many times can a bus break down? I thought. My anxiousness felt like a stone lodged inside my chest- a bird desperately trying to beat its way out of a roasting iron cage and it would kill me if I went for too long without something of substance. I couldn’t help but think on the issue of my mother either. Hurry up bus! I screamed on the inside.

When the bus finally came to its stop at my destination there were lights shimmering through the windows far in the distance, ranger lights. It seemed to have already gotten bad here. There wasn’t much around here either, the station stop, some shacks in the distance, another small building directly in front of me. I hoped it was hospitality then I could shower and get some real food finally. The place really looked like a passthrough or layover spot, but according to the coordinates I could finally get some information I needed here- somewhere.

“If you’re stopping in, the park isn’t open at the moment. So, if that’s why you’re here your mess outta’ luck. It’s a pity really. We’ve got cheap rooms if ya’ need though.” A guy throwing out some trash said to me, a smoking cigarette in his mouth which bobbed with every word. He’d obviously picked up my looks of cluelessness, probably even noticed the fact that I looked like I could use some freshening up.

“Was there some brush fire out there or something?” I said, and smoothed my hair down with my hand.

“No, I reckon’ something a little worse, especially for the area.” As soon as I heard that I was almost giddy with excitement. “Our regional park here is a nationally renowned tourist spot. Most people who come to hike and camp for days still can’t see it all. Also, it’s got some ancient historical points farther in too, if you’re into that.” That really piqued my interest, I made a mental note of it, anything ancient had to be good.

“Lately though, there’s been a lot of talk about some major storm clouds out there, not of this season. People been talkin’ and have said to’ve come out feeling pretty ill. There’s been much commotion with the rescue medical transports in the past weeks.” He said taking a puff. My eyes lit up like lightning. I was close now and I knew it.

“Ok. Well, you said you have available rooms?” I said, trying not to sound too excited, but feeling like I failed at it. He looked at me for a half-second, a curious look on his face but motioned for me to follow after taking a last puff with a half-smile. Now that I was here, the next step would be finding a sure lead in, here was hoping for the best.

~~~

The morning was evil, It had been so long since I had slept in a bed that it felt like I’d sunk into some deep abyss of comfort as soon as I’d laid down, in seconds knocked-out like someone had punched me right in the face.

The sun felt like the second hit of the two piece, right in the eyes, it was a brightness I hadn’t seen in days traveling through nothing but bleak overcast. Weighing reasons, the weather was probably a big reason why I felt so tired too now that I thought of it. I suppose it was a good thing, or at least it would be eventually, as soon as I was awake enough to appreciate it.

There was a chill in the breeze, enough so that it made me throw my arms through the sleeves of the yellow and grey flannel shirt I had tied to my waist, no longer just my weak attempt at a fashion statement unfortunately. Beneath shades, my eyes were scanning my surroundings like a hungry panther looking for its first breakfast mole, or whatever panthers ate, only I was on a prowl for reconnaissance and discovery, although I was pretty hungry too.

Time was ticking away, no reason to waste it, I jumped on the first shuttle in the area, a small rinky-dink vehicle with a warm, stale-air ac and made it as far to the edge of the island as I could. The closer I got the more excited I felt. I saw my destiny right ahead of me, the trouble was that there were also the outpost barriers of the local enforcement there too. Creativity was called for now.

Finally off the shuttle I started making my way towards the first sign of non-hostile activity, right towards the excitement of a group of people in a gaggle near the dock a little ways before the park rangers. “Excuse me sir, are you with the pollution-testing team of this area? I have been looking all day and have to admit that I’ve been frustrated not being able to find the supervisor for the assignment.” I bluffed on the fly to a guy who looked equally baffled and unsure as I felt inside.

“Are you Jessie? Our levels researcher? We’ve been looking for you for about an hour. Just about to leave actually- where have you been?” He said frantically. I made up some typical excuses and he walked me to a small boat where a handful of people were already waiting anxiously.

“Here get in, you’ve arrived just in time.” He said as he guided me down.

“Great. I’m so sorry.” I replied, pretending to be apologetic, while hiding my urge to smile hugely somehow my half-hatched scheme had worked.

The crew aboard looked more than a little distracted, yawns and twiddling with phones and notepads, none of them really acknowledged me, but I figured it better that way. I brushed past them pretending to look apologetic and just took a seat alone next to the water.

“Where’s your equipment?” One woman in a white cap with matching shirt called out to me a couple of seats down. My brain hit a blank, she had a good point if I was to be who I said I was, I pretended to frantically search around.

“Don’t worry about it.” The young faced woman said with a laugh and handed me a small sack, which was heavier than it looked. “Here, just use some of mine. I don’t need all of it.”

“Thanks, I’m Jessie.” I said hoping I didn’t sound too confused myself hearing it come out my mouth.

“I’m Marie. You must’ve gotten lost here on this little grand scheme of barren land huh, I did too. It’s okay, we were really ahead of schedule anyhow.”

“Cool. We’re going out to test and document what’s going here on right? I need a refresher, I went through so many hiccups getting here I swear. I’m glad I actually made it to this ship even.” The fabrication was starting to flow like water. She went to speak, but was interrupted before she could.

“Ready up team it’s time for cast all since we’re all here, hope you all read the briefing. But enough of the boring stuff, lets all get ready for the exciting task ahead!” Everyone around cheered, I found myself caught with the excitement and cheered too. The engine blared and we started to move, suddenly I felt so relieved. The start of the warmth of the day, and the subtle showering of the water near the edge made me feel like everything was going to go according to plan. I only hoped I could what was needed then escape with them none the wiser. I leaned over on the side and looked to the large scope of water ahead as we started to catch stride on the surf.

If anything at least I’m as close as I could be, and that was something.

~~~

Things have never gone downhill so fast for me.

Like a light switch the entire research situation had gone from bad, to worse, much worse.

My shoulder was bruised, it clicked, or something clicked, not a good thing for darn sure. My ribs hurt and I also felt like heaving, this had turned into a huge nightmare.

Everything was so dark, it had gotten impossibly cloudy on a clear day so quickly I couldn’t understand why, or how even. There were massive swirling storm clouds but no downpour, no thunder, no rain. I had stepped right out of confusion into chaos, neither one of which were good to begin with. It had been so long since the crew had lost control and gone astray from the route, first the shipwreck and then the wind and debris, it was all a mess. Marie was gone, and she had been the only one I’d found for what seemed like hours after the crash before the wind had kicked up again, but now I was alone.

This stinks.

I should’ve stayed home, the only thought in my head at the moment. What was I really doing here? Had my life really been that bad that I had left the comfortable security of my soft financial plummeting to actual objects plummeting at me? My ambition led me here, now I didn’t know how it would lead me out safely, let alone to what I came here for at this point. I could barely breathe, and it felt like my body was having a harder, and harder time staying upright by the moment. Everything was so weird. I have to stop, the pain is killing me. I’d been one of the only few I knew of who somehow made it from the catastrophic crash, just to die here suffocated by this strange dark fog. It felt like I was living out the metaphor for my actual life.

My eyes were getting heavier, and I was about two seconds from passing out when a sharp glimmer hits my eye. It started small, but then it got bigger and bigger until I actually had to cover my face with my hand.

“You’ not ‘posed to be here.” The voice sounded of heavily accented English, and adolescence.

“Who are. . .” I only managed to say before I felt myself succumb to stress on my body. The next thing I knew arms grabbed me and I was being lifted into the air.

Everything is all quiet. Euphoria, I was safe again I felt it. I was somewhere new but how? When I opened my eyes I knew for sure I wasn’t in the forest anymore, it was obvious in fact because there were walls around and something incredibly soft underneath my body which wasn’t hard dirt. It was so much more comfortable than hard dirt.

Where was I though? The curiosity was too great, even more powerful than the immense comfort I felt, which meant that I slowly pried open a rather fancy wood door and tiptoed my way out like a child sneaking from bed after their parents laid them down for the night. Out of the room there was a strange smell to the air, I noted it something like wicker, pine, and lavender. It wasn’t bad just different and took some getting used to, foreign but enticing.

When I got out to what I figured was a living room, I swung my head over to the kitchen where there were three people staring right at me. At once my entire body stiffened. “Uh, h- hello?” I said in an upward inflecting chip like a confused bird.

“Hello.” The widely built man who had a skin tone darker than the other two said first, much intimidatingly. The teen boy stepped to me and looked me over like I was some confused patient.

“You seem to be doing okay now. I rescued you, if you’re wonderin’ you’re in our home.” He was taller than me but only by a couple inches, a slim build, wide shoulders, curly black hair, and an accent like I have never heard.

“Thanks.” I nodded, and looked out to the other two with wide eyes of appreciation. The mother’s smile made me feel slightly more welcomed, she had a softer looking skin with long flowing dark hair laid over her shoulder. The boy was chewing on what looked to be berries, dried, he offered me some but I declined, wasn’t in much of the mood for snacking.

“Where am I? I mean, where is this exactly? Are we still in the woods?”

“Yes. But we’re a little ways to the edge of it, near the ocean, here it’s safer at the moment. This is what you might call our cabin home.” The woman spoke, her voice was gentle but it had a warmingly deep and rich tone to it.

“Safer?”

“Yes. My son Moaba rescued you from the fearsome part. There’s dangerous events going on at the moment, we’re currently outside of that but there isn’t much more safety outside of this.”

“Can we ask you what exactly you’re doing there, and how you and your friends even got into the eye of the storm clouds?” The father I presumed, chimed in.

“My friends?” I had forgotten that I had even traveled on that boat, but then I remembered and it came to me, along with a pounding in my head. “I. . . they were some type of researchers I think, they weren’t my friends. I just needed a way here and hitched a ride with them. They had been able to get around the patrol enforcements and I wasn’t.”

I remembered then the crash, right before we fell to the mercy of the weather and the water hurled us ashore. “Did you see anyone else around? Was there anyone else that you rescued?” My eyes were wide and hopeful.

The teenage boy shook his head, “No. It was just you I found. If there was others, I didn’t see them.” He responded. I backed against the couch behind me, suddenly queasy again.

“Please, take a seat.” The mother gestured, she handed me a glass of water. It tasted better than anything I had ever drank, surprisingly.

“I’m sorry to put you through any trouble. I had come here on a stupid ploy, I was trying to bolster my photography career. Now it seems that I almost lost my life because of my dumbness.” I looked down at the floor, and felt my face hang low.

“Besides the worry my son had already caused us, yours is none at all. In all his rampant curiosity, I guess we can say at least that it worked out for him this time. Seems he saved your life.” She said, glaring with a smile at the boy who looked away with an awkward grin and scratched his head.

“Uh. . . Nice camera, by the way.” The boy spoke.

“Heh, thanks.” I said with a laugh.

“Sorry, I looked in your bag while you were sleep.” He replied.

“It’s okay, guess you had to make sure I wasn’t dangerous. You saved my life so you had some right.” I said, trying to lighten the mood.

“I don’t know what would provoke you to come here, but we would suggest that you take better profit in having your life and leaving this pursuit behind. You really have no idea what you’re up against here.” She said, her voice turning slightly sterner.

I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t maintain eye contact with them. The entire idea just seemed completely pigheaded at the moment. I finished up the cup and sat it down on the counter in front of the couple, and she smiled at me with beautiful amber eyes.

I sighed and turned back toward the room, “I appreciate your help, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome and you’re probably right, I should take my leave immediately.” She made attempt to offer me to take more rest, but I insisted, I didn’t have anything to offer them for their hospitality and I just really wanted to be alone at the moment. My moment of failure.

“If you insist. Here, I’ll have my son ride you back out by the safe route. He’ll get you back to the station. He might be mischievous, but he’s the most handy at getting around and knows the lay of the land. He should, this has been our home for decades.” She said, and I nodded to both of them. I followed the son as he led me towards the door, a big smile on his face.

Once outside I quickly noted that it was eerily much clearer than the last time I had seen it. It was almost as if it was unusually calm.

I said nothing and he was silent as he lead me to a quad. It was a bare build with pieces broken off, and a layer of dried mud thick around the bottom. It looked like it had definitely seen a good share of rides.

“I really thank you for saving me, I might have been lost to the woods otherwise, and who knows what would’ve happened then.” I said. He started the engine with an abrupt blare, it hummed and rattled the cage around us.

“You’d be dead. Nobody messes with those woods. You were at the eye of it, and this is bad time. The baddest time there is.” He replied as he drove us over a hump and out into the depths of the woods, the smell of oak and damp foliage hit my nose. I didn’t have the courage to ask exactly what he meant. I would just be glad when we got back to town and this place was in my rear view. I couldn’t think of anything but my plan on how I was going to survive this expenditure once I got back home. Oh and what to tell Mark also, it was going to be a mess of a situation I wasn’t looking forward to, plus any medical bills I would rack up.

We rode for a while with just the hum of the engine and snapping of twigs under the wheels as audio, he didn’t say much, and I really didn’t feel like saying anything at all, not at this point. I was beginning to doze off when i noticed that my thigh was rumbling, here we go again I thought. My hand jerked down into my pocket and I yanked my phone in front of me to see who it was.

It was Mark of course. In scare of the moment I’m pretty sure I almost peed a little.

“Hey, Ellona. . . Ellona, it’s Mark, can you hear me?” I put the phone to my ear, his voice was crackling slightly.

“Yeah, Hi Mark? How is it going?” I replied, I tried to sound as casual as I could amidst the rattling of my voice caused by the bumps of the road.

“Hey, I was wondering how you were doing, I hadn’t heard from you. I tried to call you, but I figured maybe you’ve just been too busy to get back.” I remembered immediately just then that I had forgotten to ring him back, I kicked myself. “But hey, my assistant has been doing some research of the details of where you are, a place called the Kabuki Plane, she told me it was called, long story short it’s not a good place to be right now based on what she read.”

You don’t say. “Yeah about that, I was just actually just thinking about heading back, it’s gotten pretty crazy here.” I said, my tone droning.

“Sounds like a good idea, and don’t worry about the money, at the moment your safety is more important. I could think of a couple things you could do for me here to cover it, beneficial for us both possibly. I mean, this thing is definitely not worth you getting seriously hurt over.” He said with a comforting laugh.

“Yeah. I suppose you’re right. I’m on my way now, I’ll call you when I’m on the first train home.” I thanked him, and he wished me some luck and to stay safe before I hung up. I slowly slipped the phone back in my pocket with a long sigh.

“Your parent?” The boy asked.

“Na. My boss, well kinda.” I replied. He nodded in response.

We bumped along for a while, while I thought of all I had gone through just to make it here, almost dying and all and began to question the worth of it all. I had hoped to take the opportunity to change my life, but It seemed that as usual, nothing at all had changed, how typical. I really couldn’t wait to seclude myself now, the stress of it all was too much.

The density of the trees had begun to break, and when I peered over to my right I saw dark clouds of smoke rising to the sky, there was a distinct smell in the air.

“Campers.” He said aloud suddenly, “Some group here before you, many big trucks and tents.”

“Campers?” I said, thinking who in the world would choose to camp out here in a time like this, but then I remembered. A burst of heat came to my temples, and my blood started to boil.

“My freaking mom.” I said.

“Your mom? Out here? Why she would be out here?” I didn’t register the question, but at that moment I knew I had one thing to do. I couldn’t leave yet, not just yet.

“I need to get off, I’m not leaving.” He passed me a look like I had just eaten bad mushrooms, “What you crazy? You gon’ go back out to get killed?” He responded.

“Nothing is going to happen to me. Bring us around to somewhere to let me off, please.” He stared at me for a moment, but could tell by looking in my eyes I was serious. I wasn’t going to budge off my stance. He shook his head, and started turning the wheel to bring us around to the nearest spot.

I hopped out as soon as we stopped, immediately grabbing my things from the floor while he looked down at me like I had just signed my death warrant. I didn’t take it personally, but thanked him and turned and began walking. I found out exactly how to get back control of my situation, or at least some satisfaction at the least. Just head for the smoke, I thought. That would be the best idea, If they knew anything I would know it too and if I was lucky, I would discover whatever the hype of all this was for before they did.

It was now or never, do or die or possibly both.

~~~

 

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Wolfe Spires

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