CHAPTER 3: WILL
Will woke and found himself overlooking a paradise beyond his imagination for the second day. Despite the relative assurance that he was indeed living and breathing in real time, the thought still nagged him that he must be dreaming.
The faintest stirring of hunger was just beginning to reach the outskirts of his awareness. It was at that time he also came face to face with a feline creature, close in size to a house cat but a breed he had never seen.
Will heard the sound of a voice but saw no outward sign that it was coming from the feline. He stared wide eyed and slack jawed. Oh no, cowboy, no hallucinating, hallucinating very bad. He nudged himself silently.
The feline jumped from the boulder it was perched on and began weaving towards Will, in that way only cats can weave. Will panicked and his feet responded. For every foot the cat moved closer, Will took two to three steps back.
Will heard a tinkle of amused laughter bounce through his mind. The cat stopped, sat on his haunches and looked off into the distance.
“I suppose if I tell you there is nothing to be afraid of, you won’t believe me?” The cat met his eyes and Will could no longer pretend the voice was not coming from it. This, despite the lack of physical movements from areas that sound is normally produced from and… the fact it was a cat.
He must have passed out again because he woke up lying on the ground, feeling a bit groggy. He quickly roused himself and scanned the area, even calling out for the mysterious feline. Nothing. He was alone again.
He went to the stream and cupped his hands. He used the pooled water to clean his face and neck, reviving himself. Again, the intense feeling of wonder at the water’s ability to provide calm but alert and vibrant energy. He took a deep breath and noticed a basket a few feet from him, near the boulder the cat had been perched on.
Responding to the grumbling in his tummy, he headed over to investigate. Peering inside, he found persimmons, berries, a mixture of greens and 2 forms that vaguely resembled large root vegetables but smelled more like bread.
There was a brightly colored shell, sharp on one end, lying at the bottom of the basket. He took it out and after examining it, used it to cut the bread smelling food. The texture was strange, almost like a cross between a thick mushroom and an undercooked baked potato. He took a timid bite and was pleasantly surprised. The smell was accurate. Though it did not have the melt in your mouth quality of freshly baked bread, it did taste remarkably similar. He piled some of the greens on and had himself a strange but very satisfying sandwich. The selection of berries rounded off the meal and much like the water had reinvigorated him, the food seemed to hit every cell and strengthen him from within.
He called out “thank you!” to no one in particular. Shaking his head a little at the wonderment of his situation. “What now?” he mumbled to himself.
He scanned his surroundings and decided the best plan to investigate the island more thoroughly. He slipped the shell into a pocket and made a note of how many trails led away from the water, into the forest surrounding what had become his favorite spot.
There were 7 trails in all. Four trails led from the left side of the water and three on the other. He decided to start with the farthest of the four on his side of the waterway. His plan was to be methodical in his quest for information. He would mark the trail every fifty feet and only go about 200 feet past the point where he could no longer hear the water. He was hoping it didn’t turn out to be the only fresh source.
To his relief, it wasn’t. Near the end of his trek up the trail, a trickle of water started winding beside him. The source seemed to be further up and to his right. Not wanting to veer too far off the trail he only followed the water a short way. He placed three stones on top of each other at the base of a large tree about fifteen feet off the trail and snapped a few mental pictures of the surrounding foliage, colors, sizes and smells.
As he turned to head back, he heard the call of a large bird, a deep throaty echo. There must be a canyon, he thought to himself and wondered if he should follow the stream a little further. A quick examination of the density that lay beyond the boundaries of his newfound waterway, he decided against it. Without anything to cut through the brush it wouldn’t be an easy exploration and after his hour and a half hike, he didn’t think it prudent to push his luck.
He followed his markers back to the starting point and took note of the feeling of home that was already imprinting on his soul when the waterfall came into view. This time he didn’t resist the urge to strip off his clothes and take a luxurious swim in the water. A clarity he had only experienced a handful of times in deep meditation ran through his being and he floated on his back staring up into the canopy of the paradise that surrounded him.
A delirious laughter bubbled up within him that he couldn’t contain and the surrounding area echoed with his laughter. The trees, the ground, the leaves of the tropical flowers all seemed to answer back with their own ripples of subtle laughter. This must be what the word sublime means, he thought, now I know, and fell into another spontaneous eruption of laughter as he emerged from the water.
CHAPTER 4: JANE
Jane was undoubtedly Lucy’s closest companion. Just a few short weeks ago, they were strangers. Their meeting “accidental” if one did not believe in fate or destiny. With fate and destiny your guide, however, it made total sense. Lucy had always been a fate and destiny kind of girl.
Jane hadn’t been. Still wasn’t, truth be told. Jane came from a tough stock of women who knew how to survive. This was not a woman to trifle with. Her delicate features and immense heart hid her tenacity from the purview of average folk but the fact that she was among these four threw any doubt of her strength out the window.
Lucy had arrived with a sprained wrist on what turned out to be Jane’s last day on the job. The security at the hospital had finally been breached, and the onslaught of Rogues overtook the remaining guards with little effort.
Jane had been refilling supplies when the alarm sounded. The two women slammed into each other in the hallway. Lucy scrambled to her feet and ran to the stairwell only to find the door handle locked. “How do we get out of here!” she yelled towards Jane.
Jane ignored her and kept running. The protocol the staff had been given in the event of a breach was not a pleasant one. Don’t stop to help. Don’t answer any questions. Remove any identification and get out at all costs. Rogues were known to take medical personnel hostage, their skills a priceless asset and highly valued bargaining chip.
Lucy was a strong runner, faster than Jane. She was able to keep up with the nurse who seemed to know where she was going. They dashed into an unmarked room and Lucy watched as Jane moved a table, revealing a hidden trap door. “Hurry up if you’re coming and close this damn thing behind you,” she hissed at Lucy and disappeared into the floor.
From the bowels of the basement, they entered a cleverly disguised hidden tunnel. Running full speed with several other hospital personnel they made their way through the dim hollows. After thirty minutes a stairway came into view. They climbed to their freedom a mile and half away from the last remnants of life as they once knew it. There would be no going back now.
One of the other escapees proceeded to a nearby boulder and began counting paces. After 15, she kicked the leaves. The absence of brush and assorted debris revealed a handle. The rest of the group assembled and assisted her in lifting the thing up. Hidden within its chamber, were the only material comforts the lot would have to survive with, until they acquired more or found their way to a compound.
They had all heard of the mysterious compounds but none had ever seen one firsthand. The whereabouts and details were so guarded most had trained themselves not to even think of them. Just in case.
Many Rogues could remote view and this, in the beginning, had caused more anguish than the survivors could readily acknowledge. Like a secret they all wished not to know.
When the reports first came out, distributed through various channels and means, no one really thought it possible. Until people started ending up missing. Until secret locations, passwords, and codes were found despite every effort.
It was finally discovered that few things worked well to counter the interference. Incessant mind numbing music, jingles, or mantras repeated over and over was used until they realized there was a definite distance which reduced the effects. It was also discovered that certain signal scrambling devices allowed some amount of relative safety from the invasive mind-reading, though they were obtrusive and uncomfortable for the users as well.
These were the discoveries that allowed for the escape plans to be made. The most important facilities, the staples of societal foundations, all employed the use of such devices in order to remain a bastion for hope and hold out, for as long as they could.
The hospital Jane worked at was among the leaders in that regard. Was. They could only wonder now, as they grabbed the survival gear and closed the hatch, resettling the debris and hiding evidence of its location once again.
Two of the group moved away quickly, heading in the direction of the forest. They didn’t look back, they didn’t say good-bye and everyone else understood.
Jane and Lucy looked at each other. The dawning of what they were up against suddenly hitting them with ferocity. Jane grabbed a medical kit and set to work wrapping Lucy’s wrist. That moment, the care and normalcy of the situation, hearing the in and out of each other’s breath, gave them both a pause to collect themselves, to size each other up.
Another group, a trio, had set off, this time stopping to embrace the women. Then an older gentleman threw on a backpack and addressed those that remained. “Chances of survival are greater if we separate. Survival is our priority. We all know that.” The group nodded in reply. “May the strength of what humanity truly is, remain within you always. Never forget,” he added solemnly, “Never,” the group answered automatically. The refrain that had kept what remained of humanity sane these last few years.
About this time, Lucy’s internal guide kicked in, something that had always been there but which she had learned young not to speak of. She turned to Jane. “Let’s head this way.”
Without a word, Jane grabbed up her supplies and the two moved briskly away from what was and into the unknown.