The world burned, and with it mankind.
It ended the rule of man’s law, and society.
Yet, we persevered, and rebuilt.
Seventeen years of terrible struggles.
Humans defied nature, stayed the course.
We coalesced into city-states, safe behind our walls.
Then the Wylder appeared, and moved among us.
Myths, Legends, Nightmares walked with us.
Society has once again taken root.
The Wylder roam.
~ Andrew Brooks ~
It always happenened the same way. I awoke in a pool of cold sweat, terrified or maybe exhilarated. I’m never quite sure which. Adrenaline coursed through me, as I sat upright my entire body trembling. I never can quite recall the dream, only remembering small bits. The rest lost to my waking mind. It’s always night. I’m somewhere dark, and it felt neither warm nor cold. I have the sensation of running, but it’s different somehow. I smell something, and instinctually I began to track it, energy surged through me at the thought of a chase. That’s when I lost it. I sat for several minutes, and grasped at the threads of the dream, trying to hold onto them.
With an almost inaudible groan, I looked at the clock. Nearly six am. Time to get up, and I figured I could use a hot shower to wash away the sensations of the dream that lingered. I slipped from beneath the comforting warmth of my bedspread. I stripped the flannel nightgown, and tossed it lightly into the corner hamper. Fifteen glorious minutes of steamy exaltation later, I stood, clean, awake and feeling refreshed. The remnants of the dream faded like the sweat washed from my body. I stood before the large vanity of the bathroom, brushed my teeth and started brushing the kinks from my hair as I looked at myself in the mirror. I grimaced. The mint-flavored paste left a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve never considered myself attractive, in the last year or two though, I definitely noticed the increased attention of the guys in my class. I am short. That might be an understatement since I stood just less than five feet. Petite some would say, to skinny I thought. Add that to the fact that my breasts lacked the size of other girls my age, and I just couldn’t see what they found so attractive. My hair was long, a few inches past shoulder length, and very chestnut brown, coupled with smooth high cheekbones, a narrow pert nose, and full pale pink lips that matched my tanned complexion nicely, and maybe, just maybe I could see what interested them, even if I found it a bit vain. I always gravitated to my eyes however. Mine were striking, at least in my estimation. They were a deep forest green in the middle of summer. The color faded inward lightening to an almost translucent sea-foam green with the faintest flecks of a pale yellow mixed in. Yes, I loved my eyes. I applied what little makeup I allowed myself to wear; just a little eye shadow and eyeliner to accentuate my eyes.
I sighed a little and retreated back to the dark confines of my room, and pulled out the crisp new uniform that all students wore. Bleep Bleep Bleep, the alarm on my desk sounded, startling me. I turned it off and pulled on my panties and bra. With disgust, I inspected my clothes, plain tan khakis and a white blouse, the same for everyone. This year I was starting at the Academy. A centralized school all the youths of my respective age were required to attend. This year we would take an exhaustive plethora of general studies classes that would culminate in a placement exam at years end. This test decided which profession we would be thrust into, next year we would begin training in whatever field we were placed, and be expected to become a contributing member of society. I dreaded it, but on the bright side, I could move away from home.
I pulled my still damp hair into a loose ponytail, and headed downstairs. Breakfast time, a boring routine that I wished I could skip out on. My mother, Margrete, would have thrown a fit if I tried. I plopped down at the table to a hot plate of eggs, and sausage with gravy and biscuits. At least it consisted of something good I thought to myself. I sat in a stark silence, David, my father was gone to work already, as per the norm. He was an engineer for the city and a busy man. My mother would be leaving for her nursing job soon as well, and I would be left to my own devices, which on this particular day involved catching a bus to the academy.
“Are you excited?” Mother asked.
I swallowed a mouthful of eggs before answering. “Excited? About what? School?” I laughed.
She ignored my sarcasm, “Of course. You know the Academy is very important. This is the year that will determine the rest of your life.”
“So you keep telling me. What if I don’t like the job I’m placed in. Or what if I’m no good at it?”
“Honey. Don’t worry so much. Mrs. Davenport and the school board are thorough. I’ve never heard of someone failing their assigned role in the city.”
“That’s just it mom. Why do they get to decide my fate? It’s my life. Maybe I want to decide for myself. What if I want to be a historian and explore the Old World?”
“Nonsense, jobs like that don’t exist anymore. You’ll be an adult soon. It’s time for you to put childish dreams aside, and become a true citizen. We all have to do our part.”
I started to complain further, then stopped. It would accomplish nothing. Mother believed without question that this is the way life had to be. We were each a drone ant, and lived only to grow the colony. Sometimes, it sickened me.
The bus pulled up to the curb, monstrous, designed only for utility, a long construct with a double row of bench seats. As I boarded with a group of first years that lived in my complex, I noticed that the bus was empty. We must be the first stop I guessed. With disinterest, I ignored the others and picked a seat alone content to be left in seclusion. Of course, I knew my privacy would not last, soon my two best friends would join me. Camiella came first, but we called her Cami for short. She dropped into the seat next to me while I stared out the window. I smiled as I looked over at her. Taller than me at around five and a half feet, chesty, blond, with blue eyes and a bubbly personality. She was the poster child of hotness that all the guys wanted. She however, only had eyes for one guy. The bus halted smoothly at the next stop, and our third wheel boarded, Dhamon. He was tall, right at six feet. Though he had gained most of his height in only the last year during a spurt of growth. Brown hair hung just down to his ears with an almost identical colored set of puppy dog eyes to match. His carefree attitude suited him, and he pretended ignorance of Cami pining for his heart. He did this because of one problem, Dhamon was in love with me. We all three knew the score on this, but it never came up in conversation. We’d been friends for so long that none of us wished to jeopardize our friendship with the trappings of young love. Besides, I didn’t love Dhamon. Yeah, he’s cute, but he is more of a brother or a goofy cousin than boyfriend material. I watched Cami’s eyes light up as he strolled through the bus to sit with us, only to see the light sadden a little as she noticed him watching me.
We spent the trip to the Academy catching up on a little summer gossip. We stayed closely in touch during the summer months, so it’s not like we didn’t already know all the juicy stuff. I think that we were just nervous about the new school. The Academy was housed in a complex that had been converted from the old world. The older citizens still around, claimed that before the burning the complex served as a huge mall, filled with more shops than they could count. Now the government used it as the central school for career placement for young adults coming of age. The headquarters for the Nashboro ruling party was located adjacent to the school, in a remodeled hotel from years ago. It overlooked the school like an ominous task master. Each year a new group of students would come here for their general studies, then take the placement test that would decide their fate and the next three years of school, before they would be expected to take their place in society, and contribute as an adult.
I sat in awe staring out the window as our bus pulled into a massive parking area. Already dozens of buses had arrived, depositing their young cargo. An enthusiastic young teacher’s aide directed us to a massive auditorium. The room filled with a huge throng of new students, all wearing the same dull gray drab. I felt out of place, even with my friends near me. Looking around, I did notice that I recognized some of the students, but by and large most were foreign to me. We took seats together, somewhere near the middle of the room, and waited in anxious silence. We weren’t made to wait very long. Soon the lights dimmed, causing an eerie silence to fall over the room. A light passed overhead and a large screen came to life. Sound reverberated throughout the chamber. It was nothing more than a simple introductory video to being a new student at the school; graphics depicting the layout of the grounds, off limit areas, fingerprint identification for our schedules. All the boring prolific things that would make the start of a new year go smooth.
I sighed as I listened. I had never much cared for the controlled learning environment which the ruling party had instituted. I much preferred the freedom of the outdoors; the grass, tree’s, sky and all living things. This place seemed a little too mechanical to me, to unnatural. After two full hours, the assembly ended, and we all proceeded in long lines to the machines that would take our fingerprints, check them against the cities files, and print out our schedules for the year ahead. Soon, but not as soon as I would have liked, my turn came. I placed my hand on the screen and it bleeped at me. With an electronic whirl, a small slip holding my itinerary was deposited into my waiting hand. It was a disaster. I had almost no classes with my friends. Only my first class with Cami, and my fourth class with Dhamon, I grumbled my displeasure with the situation. Cami made out like a bandit, or at least I assumed she thought so. She had three classes with Dhamon, and would get to schmooze with him much more during the day. I retrieved my books from the repository, and made my way to my assigned locker. I gave a timid smile to a young Asian girl standing nearby as I crammed my locker with the books I didn’t have need of. Having secured my things, I began my day.
Cami, and I passed notes during our first class. We paid little attention to the teacher as she rattled on with her own mini orientation, which was no more interesting than the one we had already received. I participated as Cami pointed out which of the boys she thought were cute. I felt as if she did this to try to sublimate her desire to have Dhamon. She acted all into it, but I could tell her heart wasn't in it.
So, my day progressed thus, intermittent trips to my locker, followed by each teacher’s rendition of their particular curriculum. Everyone had the same seven classes I soon learned: Math, Science, Biology, Physical Education, Medical, Technology, and Construction.
Then came time for lunch, and I must say it left an impression. The vast scope of the machinations that fed everyone amazed me. Endless lines of students carried trays, and moved in slow procession through the galley of buffet food offered for our enjoyment. Maybe enjoy was a strong word, as the food was healthy if a bit on the bland side. I filled my tray with what looked like it might be the most appetizing, and spent the next five minutes trying to locate my friends. Together we made our way to a vacant table, and sat down. Of course Cami immediately began ranting on, and on about her classes, and surprise surprise the boys in them. I on the other hand was sullen, and poked at my food absentminded. Dhamon conversed with Cami a bit before breaking through my fog.
“Have you noticed how many enforcers there are here?” He asked lowering his tone to almost a whisper.
I actually hadn’t I thought to myself as I peered around the cafeteria. Enforcers were a daily part of our lives. They were anywhere, and everywhere at all times it seemed. I never noticed them anymore. They were here to protect us from the Wylder, and as I’ve never seen one, I’ve never had much cause to notice the enforcers either.
“You’re right Dhamon. There are a lot of them.” It’s true I mused, in fact, more than I had ever seen gathered in one place. “Maybe they are more worried about an attack on this place than elsewhere?” I volunteered for his benefit. Since I had never seen a Wylder, sometimes I just assumed that it was a scary fairy tale made up by those in charge to keep us complacent, and inside the boundaries of society.
“Maybe.” He returned sounding a little down as if he expected me to have some genius idea on why they were here.
“Does anyone know what this place used to be?” Cami chirped, breaking through the dour atmosphere with her exuberance.
“I heard it used to be a prison before the collapse.” Dhamon said.
I rolled my eyes, of course he would think something dark like that. I swear sometimes I thought he was morbid on purpose. “Then why would the grounds be so open? Where are the bars? The cells?” I asked. “No, one of the older citizens told me once that it was a grand mall, a place of commerce for the buying and selling of more things than you could ever imagine. All wrapped up in one place.” I added.
All our speculations were ended by the harshness of a loud bell, signaling the end of lunch. We disposed of our trays quietly before moving along to our next classes. Physical Education was next, and it consisted of, much to my chagrin, an unending amount of exercise. The bright side of this class, Dhamon, and I were in it together. So at least I had someone to endure it with. Once I had forced my way through that class, the rest of the day passed in a dazed blur before I found myself once again on the bus towards home.
With school out for the day, I found myself with an afternoon free to pursue the one thing that interested me more than anything else. It is what kids called ghosting, exploration of the ruins of the old world. I donned an old set of the same dull gray colored pants and shirt that I was accustomed to, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed out. I seized my bike from the side of the house and rode a few miles north of my home in Mads. Here I came to the edge of the proper part of our society, a chain link fence twelve feet high, and covered in constantine wire. A temporary border, every year Nashboro moved it further out, as they reclaimed more of the world that had been devastated in the burning. Further out in the ruins of civilization sat the permanent concrete barrier. It separated us from the wilds, and the creatures that were said to roam there. I slowed my pace, and glanced around. Of course, no one was around, open patrols were uncommon here, but it never hurt to check. I dumped my bike in a small grove of trees near the side of the street, and walked to a worn down section of the fence. I pried up a loose part, and slid underneath.
As I passed the barrier, the differences struck me. The ruined remains of society so near to us but lost. I returned to this place, a ghost of the past, comforted by wandering the desolation. I moved along the concrete jungle, listened to the sounds of life as it continued to take back what man had in fervor built up over her. Of course, this many years later, nature’s fight turned the tide. I walked through the dirty shadowed streets, long bereft of the touch of humans. Tufts of grass broke through cracks in the poured stone. These spots stood out as vivid patches of vibrant green in the dull gray landscape. Long vines of ivy stretched forth, like grasping fingers, as they tore at the remains of walls, felling them from their heights of glory.
I turned, strolled down a narrow alley between two dilapidated buildings. The old world didn’t make me nervous in the slightest. I’m not even sure why they put up the fence, I’ve never seen anything more dangerous than an errant squirrel. Though on occasion, I wandered for to long and let evening descend on me before I headed for home. On those days I have heard the baying of some creature echo through the air. I’m not sure what kind of creature it was, a wild dog or coyote perhaps, maybe even something as vicious as a wolf. Regardless the sound sent chills through my body. As I roamed the empty lots, I remained concerned about something worse than wild animals, the Wylder. No one told me to fear them. Hell, I didn’t even know what they were. All I had to go on was stories about half human monstrosities that would kill and eat you, or worse.
I spent at least an hour, maybe two wandering the vacant streets. I admired man’s ability to manipulate their environment, and the remnants left behind. The fallen signs, shattered, and broken, lay scattered in painted lots that fought against the green of life. Wheeled carts, upturned at weird angles, and the decaying husks of mass conveyance littered the streets, alongside corpulent buildings, small chunks breaking away in a light breeze with their smashed windows, bits of glass littered the ground, glinting in the afternoon sun, a myriad of small rainbows amongst the green and gray. The mixed beauty of man versus wild appealed to me, I guess that’s why they called it the Old World.
Soon I came upon my favorite haunt. It was a large building, and tucked away on its side was a series of ladders. They rose towards the peak of the huge building. Red patches of rust coated the old ironwork. I took exaggerated care, and started a slow ascent to the rooftop. With trepidation, I approached the lip of the behemoth, stepped up on the ledge, and gazed out towards the horizon in admiration. I looked down, a momentary dizziness washed over me. The height didn’t scare me, but the idea of the trip down did.
Dusk approached, and soon the sun would bid me good evening, descending beyond the horizon. The fading angular light cast a pallor of death over the land as I stared dumbstruck upon it from my perch. No, that is wrong, it looked more as something half alive with the sun’s life, on a slow steady march towards death. I stood, lost in the beauty. I remained transfixed as the shadows reached tendrillike fingers, and placed their claim on the earth.
As the shadows deepened, a shrill howl boomed through the countryside. It broke through my fascination of the Old World. I needed to head home, complete darkness would descend soon, and despite my bravado. I had no desire to remain outdoors after dark, even behind the safety of the wall.
The next day at school progressed not unlike the first. We started with minor lessons in each respective subject. I guess they didn’t want to overwhelm us with work so early in the year. I held out little hope in surviving this school year. Soon, though not soon enough for me, lunchtime came.
Somehow, even though it was only the second day of school, Cami already knew all about the happenings at school. She went on and on during the first half of lunch about who liked who, which boys were cute, which girls were on the do not date list and who everyone hated. To be honest though, I didn’t care. My mind drifted back to the breathtaking scenery of the rooftop from the day before. Even when Dhamon plopped down next to me with his tray of food, I continued spacing.
“Ugh,” Cami groaned at him as he shoveled food into his mouth noisily. “Can you be more of a slob?”
Dhamon grinned, his mouth still stuffed with food. “I could try if you like,” He said, and allowed crumbs to fall from his ajar mouth.
Cami opened her mouth to respond to his uncouth manners. A loud noise crashed through the cafeteria as all the doors slammed shut and clicked, locking automatically. At the far end of the room, a single door opened, and a stream of enforcers poured through. All of them were armed, with weapons drawn. They scanned through the crowd of students, looking for someone in particular. The student body sat in silence. Blank expression looked back at the enforcers and the unfolding scene in abject confusion. They reverted to animals trapped in a sudden bright light.
Just then, a solitary figure stood at a table off to the side, some twenty feet away from us. She was tall, nearly six feet. Her skin a caramel color, with hair pulled into a neat topknot. She looked graceful, and unafraid, as if she already knew what was going on, even if no one else did. The enforcers surrounded her, weapons leveled. After a few seconds, it came to me that I knew this girl, Gloria Hatfield. She had been in our classes for years. I didn’t know her well, she was just another classmate I never grew a friendship with, though I felt no animosity to her either.
A single enforcer stepped forward, cuffs in hand. He made a move to restrain her, and chaos erupted. Gloria loosed a guttural sound that could only be described as a roar. Shocked screams and panicked cries resounded through her fellow students. Her face contorted as if in pain before it slipped into something wild. I’m not quite sure what to describe it as. It looked animalistic, but resembled no creature I had ever seen. I am however positive that she wasn’t done with whatever she was changing into, because in that moment, the enforcers tazed her into unconsciousness. A stifled silence descended over the room as they cuffed her inert form and carried her limp body from the hall.
Right away, the lockdown ceased and a calm voice played over the intercom, “No reason for alarm. Everyone return to your normal activities.”
I laughed a little to myself as the message played, as if anyone could pretend this was normal. That was the day I saw one for the first time. A Wylder.
Classes resumed of course, and everyone ignored the events of the cafeteria. Even I was silent about it, though my head raced with thoughts. It was all I could think about as I ran laps around the track during my Phys Ed class. I remembered Gloria, not well, but I knew her. We had lived only a few blocks from each other our entire lives that I could remember, and she was Wylder?
Was she one the whole time and just been hiding it? Was it something that happened to her recently? What did it really mean to be one? I mean we all heard the horror stories about them, but what did I really know? I Thought.
All I had to go on were stories told to me as a child. They were to be feared above all else, and they lived outside the walls. I wondered what would become of her now that the enforcers had taken her. Would she be killed? Imprisoned? Exiled? I sighed to myself as I tried to control my breathing. I didn’t have the answers, just more questions.
The bus ride home whirled by in a haze. Cami took advantage of my dreamlike state to flirt with Dhamon, which I ignored. Once home I knocked out the light bit of homework, and then found myself alone with my thoughts. My parents were still at work, and wouldn’t be home for a few hours yet. I wandered aimlessly around the house. Today it seemed small, inconsequential, confining. Feeling antsy, I grabbed my things and a half hour later, found myself wandering the vacant lots and dead buildings of the Old World. Perhaps after the days events I hoped to once again find the beauty and peace that seemed to come when I was here.
I walked through the cluttered debris of an alley, kicked a faded crumpled aluminum can along as I went. It clattered along the concrete with each step, the sound echoed in my ears, but then I stopped. I heard something else. Somewhere nearby, I could hear a voice. It was muffled, unintelligible I thought to myself, but there. My excitement grew, it wasn’t often that I ran into others out here. I only had company when Dhamon or Cami accompanied me. With care, I moved towards where I judged the sound to be coming from. I closed in, and estimated that the sound came from a run down building to my right, a dilapidated sign read “The Great Escape” hung above broken door. I sidled up to the demolished entryway and peeked my head around the corner to look inside, better safe than sorry I thought.
Inside I spied a young man. I was giddy with excitement he hadn’t noticed me. He was young, around my age I guessed. I assumed he was not alone, cause he seemed to be carrying on a conversation, but upon closer inspection, I found he conversed with himself, which I thought a bit strange. He had a swimmers build, taller than me, maybe around six foot even. His thick light brown hair hung shaggily about his face; his skin was sun kissed with a tan and had a smooth complexion to it. He wore the same dull gray uniform that was pervasive throughout the city. I crinkled my face, perplexed as to what he was doing out here in the old world.
He appeared to be scavenging. He tore loose bits of wiring from a wall as he complained aloud. “Why do I always get stuck doing these crap jobs.”
He must be doing a project for school I mused. I figured him to be a student in a later grade than myself, maybe an engineer like my father. I watched him, amused when it struck me. This young man was no student. His clothes, though the same, were to dull, faded, perhaps even a bit dirty. His hair left wild and unkempt. He muttered words to uncultured and harsh to have seen much formal education. Only one single word came to mind, Wylder.
The thought came unbidden and caused me to gasp. He heard that single sound, and stopped his rummaging. Then crooked his head sideways, and looked in my direction. I ducked back behind the wall, and hoped that he hadn’t seen me. I closed my eyes and held my breath. Maybe he would think a squirrel ran by. I considered my avenues of escape. My brain was interrupted by a light baritone voice.
“Who are you? I don’t recognize you.” He stated matter-of-factly as I stood there dumbfounded, unsure of what to say.
A slight tremble ran through me, and I noticed I still held my breath. Silly me right? I opened my eyes. He stood right in front of me. A million questions tumbled within the confines of my mind. Yet, none of them seemed to be willing to force my lips apart. Even my fight or flight instinct seemed to have taken its leave and I simply gazed at him as if confused. In that moment, I was caught, prey if he so chose. His eyes penetrated mine, as He looked deep within me, to the dark places hidden in my soul. Those eyes, an odd mixture of the faintest light brown mixed with sparkling emerald flecks. They captivated me. The unusual mix shimmered with an explosion of color I couldn’t follow.
He leaned in a bit closer, I think he was confused by my lack of response, or maybe it was the dreamy look on my face. That’s when things got odd, as if things weren’t already. In that instant, his nose crinkled , and he sniffed me.
Something about this unusual behavior relinquished its hold on my senses. With embellished indignance, I gave him a shove. “What the hell?” I exclaimed, and tried to decide if I was disturbed or intrigued.
“Did you just sniff me? Do I stink or something?” My sudden shove or high-pitched voice surprised him, at least I assumed as much given the perplexed expression on his face as he cocked his head to the side. To my astonishment, he took another deep breath, never uttered a word as he stared at me.
He gave a shake of his head, which caused his loose hair to flip about his face. In one smooth motion he slipped his other arm through the straps of his pack. He paused, and gave me one last look before he dashed off northward, away from civilization.
I knew for sure then that he was Wylder. I’d never seen anyone move with such grace or speed. Even once he had vanished into the ruins, lost to my sight, I stood at a loss for words. The empty horizon left me wondering if it had all been a fancy of my imagination. I shook the thoughts from my mind and turned for home, enough excitement for the day. It occurred to me then, maybe I should have asked his name?
It had been nearly a week since my encounter with the strange Wylder boy in the Old World. Sometimes thoughts of him haunted my mind. Also, mention of the girl, Gloria, became a thing of the past. She was simply gone, and in the week that followed, several more students had been taken. They were taken during classes, or during our lunch reprieve, but all taken nonetheless. Just yesterday a young man, unfamiliar to me, but who sported a jagged scar along his chin was taken. He put up quite the struggle in front of everyone, single-handedly knocked three enforcers unconscious before being subdued. The entire situation came off a bit terrifying, I wondered who was next, and could it be me?
Training ramped up in our classes. The fundamentals were being pressed upon with due diligence for all of the various professions laid out in the reconstruction plan for Nashboro. I sighed as I sat through my medical classes, all this generalized learning, just to take a test that would determine the rest of my life. It hardly seemed fair.
What if I didn’t like my chosen career? What if I was bad at it? So many what ifs and no answers I thought.
During lunch, conversation was terse at best. The repressive atmosphere killed everyone’s desire to talk. We ate in a hushed silence, and waited for that moment when the enforcers would burst in. I groaned and finished off the goop that passed for spaghetti.
“I don’t see the point in taking this physical education class.” I murmured in a low tone to my friends,
“We all know I’ll never get stuck in any enforcer profession.” Cami was more sullen than usual today, and, poked at her food without bothering to look up.
“Are you kidding? You’d make an amazing enforcer.” Dhamon said, “besides, that’s probably the best class I’ve got. It’s so easy.”
As the words left his mouth than Cami perked up. I Glanced over at the movement, and could see the rage that percolated under the surface of her blank face as she set down her milk. Wait. Where did she get milk? They never served that. I had no time to ponder the strangeness of it, as she started to berate Dhamon in a most uncouth way. She ignored the stares her loud voice produced.
“Yeah, being an enforcer would be so great huh Dhamon?” she began. “So you can haul off people you’ve known all your life? Just like Gloria? Remember her? To god fucking knows where? So people can experiment on them or whatever it is that happen to them when they taze them unconscious and drag them unwillingly from their friends and family and everything they’ve ever known?” She spat the words at him.
A dark side of Cami emerged, one that was never seen, reserved only for the most grievous situations as far as she was concerned. With a disgusted huff, she picked up the small carton of milk and chucked the remains at Dhamon. It clipped him in the head before she stood, and stalked off in a fit.
As she stormed off, I heard a muffled retort from Dhamon. “Crazy much?”
I however paid him no attention. I watched Cami. Rather the area around her. I rubbed my eyes, and thought maybe I was seeing things, but no, it remained. Around Cami, something flitted around. It caused the air to shimmer, fluctuate. It darted to and fro around her, never staying in place long. No one else seemed to notice it, and I was confused, unsure if what I saw was real. So caught off guard by the apparition, I stood to follow and make sure everything was okay. The school had other ideas, for just then the lunch bell rang. I was forced to return my tray, and prepare for my next class.
The next class happened to be physical education. Which as I may have mentioned, I hate. I preferred to call it combatives, because aside from the strenuous exercise at the start, the class was nothing more than a trumped up foray into the world of injuring another person. I think the main thing I hated about this class, was that it followed lunch. Doing all this crap on a full stomach didn’t sit well with me, more than once I verged on tossing my cookies. Still in as much of a half-assed manner as I could manage, I went through the motions. I gave myself a reminder to ask Cami what was going on with her and her strange outburst in the cafeteria. Maybe something bugged her that she hadn’t told me about, which would be strange I thought, and struck the heavy bag again.
Another long dreary week passed. Cami remained tight-lipped about whatever was bothering her, so I let it hit the back burner for a while. Dhamon was oblivious, and allowed himself to be caught up more and more with his studies. For my part, I found myself becoming more and more disinterested with learning. It seemed repetitive as the days went on. I felt like the leaves as they withered and fell from the trees leaving them bare. My mind emptied, a blank slate, though I continued to be an unwitting, unwilling participant. I spent my days this way, in a daze as I moved from class to class.
Though I felt as I did, I relished in my free time. I continued to visit the Old World. Perhaps with the silent hope of a glimpse of another Wylder. Today, I explored a building unlike any I had ever seen before. The sign was broken, large chunks had fallen away except for a few letters and a great cartoonish epitaph of a mouse’s head. Inside was strange. Despite the dust, mildew and overall signs of decay, I could tell right away that this had once upon a time been a place of joy and mirth. Strange contraptions littered the entire place; some were like my bicycle, meant to be ridden, in the image of cars, motorbikes and the like. Strange artificial looking guns, in outlandish colors adorned others. A worn rubber mallet stood affixed by a rope to a table covered in small holes. In the corner were several rows of wooden planked lanes, leading up to a small rise of a hill behind which numerous numbered holes had been placed.
Then across the way tucked into the corner, was a collection of tube-like things in the form of a maze, the winding turning paths of which culminated in a mesh enclosed put of hollow colored balls representing the entirety of the rainbow. Partitioned off to the side of the game filled arena were several long rows of benches and a stage. Barely clinging to life was a heavy purple curtain, drawn open. Skeletal robotic remains of the mouse that adorned the sign outdoors stood robust on the stage holding an electric guitar. What I assumed was his ragtag band of friends joined him on the stage.
I could see it all in my mind; the flashing lights, the whir of machines and the steady hum of music along with the delighted laughter of young children. It made me think of what the world was like back then, when humans could take time out to appreciate fun and enjoy life. Nowadays we were locked behind our walls, fearful of what was left in the world, and hid from that which was new or left behind. I shook my head in regret. We did little more than survive.
I forced myself to turn away from the scene, and made my way back outside, I knew right away that I had loitered to long within my thoughts. Dusk approached me in haste. It reached out its wraithlike fingers to take hold of the carcass of the Old World in its grasp. A sigh escaped me, I would arrive home late I knew, and questions would be asked. I always hated to lie to my parents, but they would have a conniption fit if they knew the truth.
I increased my pace, and tried to make up time. My mind was raced, trying to come up with a story that would be believable enough that my parents wouldn’t question it much. I think this is the reason I got lost, I was distracted. At least this is what I told myself when I looked around and didn’t have a clue where I was. I could also blame it on the encroaching darkness. Everything always looks so different at night, it’s almost as if you’ve entered another world. With a mild groan I stopped, looking around. I tried to get my bearings, and decide where I was when it happened. A baleful howl reverberated around me. It echoed off the decayed walls of the buildings around me. Fear coursed through me, rolled through my body in a thick wave, soul crushing in its certainty. The sound filled my stomach with a tepid pool of nausea, and paralyzed my mind and body.
I spotted it almost right away, easily twice the size of the largest dog I had ever seen, not that I’ve seen many, except in old pictures. Though it looked alone, I knew others were sure to be with it, a pack animal they called it. My skin crawled, hairs rising at the nape of my neck; I knew the ones I couldn’t see were watching me. I attempted to ignore the fear, and swallow the lump in my throat. I forced my legs to propel me forward, despite them feeling like jelly. I Based my travel on the deepened twilight, and headed off towards the fence which I knew lay somewhere to the south of me. Soon however I just strived to keep moving, without thought to the direction I was headed. A low guttural growl whispered though the darkness, and a tremble rode it up my spine. Keep moving I thought, and turned down an alley. Halfway down it I looked up mortified. I had cornered myself.
Ahead lay a rusted yet intact chain link fence. It blocked the alleyway between the two buildings. I almost laughed at myself as I turned around. Almost. I backed up towards the rusted remains. I looked to the razor wire atop the fence. It mocked me with a bloodied grin. Two more of the pack joined the huge one, and confirmed that I was indeed stuck between a rock and a sharp place. I was sure that more must be nearby. The foremost, the largest, and I guessed the leader, growled in a low menacing tone. As they approached me ever so slow and licked their jowls in anticipation, no doubt they tasted the fear with each breath. I eyes closed, and wondered why I hadn’t listened to my parent’s warnings about the Old World. Now, just like the cat, curiosity was about to end me.
Terrified, eyes shut, and on the verge of hyperventilating, I waited. My entire body shook with abject fear. After several tense seconds nothing happened, and I dared to open my eyes just enough to see the pack leader spring from his crouched position, its maw of jagged fangs opened, ready, waiting. I think I screamed. I’m not sure though. I do know that in that one instant, time slowed down to a crawl. The entire scene played out like some vague faded stop motion film before my eyes.
The creature lunged, a deep, chesty roar echoed in my ears. A reddish brown blur, caught the large dog midair. Claws and teeth latched onto it, riding it sideways with the momentum of the collision. The two bodies struck the wall of the building, and caused small bits of rock and debris to shower them. The new combatant leapt off its prey and stood between me and the other pack members. This thing was twice the size of the wild dogs, which were themselves of mutant proportions. I stared in disbelief at a cat. No, cat is the wrong word, this thing was far larger and sinister in appareance than the cats I had seen photos of. This thing was huge, sleek, its broad shoulder and muscles rippled with tense rage. Its dark spotted pattern started at the head in close-knit blackish brown spots, only to widen out into larger rosette-shapes along its midsection. Its ears were tucked back, with hackles raised all along its backside as it hissed and swatted an oversized paw at the remaining mutts. The beauty of the scene remained with me. So did the realization that the creatures could be fighting over which had claim to this meal. I shrank back further into the corner or tried to at least. The dogs bayed at the great feline before shrinking back. Their leader struggled to its feet and limped back to his uninjured comrades, and they all began to back out of the alley with purpose. They never took nervous gazes from the beast that had interrupted their meal.
My brain was overloaded, and still I thought that the end might be at hand. I could feel the darkness as it closed in around me, as if someone had turned the television off and the blackness faded into the center of the screen from the outer edges. The last thing I remembered before the lights went out was the beast turning towards me, its head cocked to the side. It seemed familiar as I gazed into its eyes. Beautiful I thought as the shadows took me. Beautiful light brown, with flecks of emerald green that seemed to dance with one another, then, I was gone.
Darkness still blanketed the world. I was certain of that much when I cracked my eyes open for a split second. With that sensation came the realization that I was aware, and if I was aware then I was somehow still alive. The fear, and panic left me drained, and only the flickering amber light kept me from closing my eyes to drift off in a relaxing peaceful slumber again. I could feel the shining warmth of a fire that caused a shocking display of light across my closed eyes, the light bothered the part of my mind that begged for more sleep. The memory of green eyes flashed through my mind as I lay there half in and out of reality. Suddenly, it hit me like a bolt of lightning, all the events leading up to my blackout crashed through my mind in a rolling wave of panicked thoughts.
I surged to a sitting position, scanning my surroundings. A fearful desperation filled me along with a twinge of disappointment in myself. It wasn’t like me to lose control of my faculties in such a way. Not only was it now well into the evening, but somehow I had made it inside a half collapsed building, in which a fire had been built up. Nearby, half the ceiling had collapsed in, leaving the room half shielded and yet still open to the night sky. The fire was small, but well-tended. Small tendrils of smoke drifted up through to the sky till they were picked up by a light breeze and blown away.
I scooted closer to the fire, attempting to break some of the chill that was wrapped around my bones. Next, I checked myself over, looking for broken bones, and the like. Other than a few scrapes and bruises I felt otherwise uninjured. Then, I surveyed my surroundings a little closer, it was an effort in futility however, as of course, being night, everything looked different, and I wasn’t really sure where I was. It was one of the pitfalls of the Old World there were no street signs, and no light pollution. If that could be considered a downside that is.
A noise rose above the crackling of the fire and nocturnal chirps and squeals of animals, the sound of footsteps as they crunched rubble on concrete. A figure moved towards me, hidden within the shadows of the night. The figure caused a dull pit to form in my stomach before stepping into the circle of light produced by the fire. The young man of course was the Wylder I had seen recently, and had come to my rescue just hours before. He was carrying an armful of wood, gathered to keep the fire blazing. He dropped it in a pile near the fire before taking a seat across from me, keeping the flames between us as if I were some dangerous animal to be kept at bay. The thought made me laugh out loud.
He tilted his head, caught off guard by my mirth. He pulled his knees into his chest, resting his crossed arms upon them as he looked at me. His skin carried an almost golden kiss to it as the firelight played across his tanned muscles. His shaggy hair seemed darker, and while not unkempt, was allowed to run wild. He seemed less strange as I studied him, less foreign. I had to remind myself that not long ago, this young harmless looking guy had fought off a pack of wild dogs as an enormous cat creature the likes of which I had never seen before. Now though, he seemed harmless. His strong chin, and high cheekbones matched perfectly with his round curious eyes. Those same sparkling green orbs I had seen on our first meeting, then again earlier tonight.
“You’re a Wylder?” It came out in a quiet tone, half a question, the other half a statement of fact, “And you. You saved me.” I let my voice drift off.
His head cocked to the other side in that same odd fashion of confusion he seemed to wear. “What no questions this time?” I asked, unnerved by his silence. “Not going to sniff me some more?” I began to grow aggravated as he watched me in silence. I’m not really sure what bothered me more, his aloof nature or my helplessness earlier that evening. Maybe it was the fact that he had saved me, and now I felt indebted to him?
I began to throw out questions, attempting to alleviate the silence between us. “Well do you at least have a name? Do you know what time it is? How long was I out?” In vain it seemed was my efforts, as he just watched me. I gave up and watched him watch me. The silence was palpable, broken only by the crackle and occasional pop of the fire as it released small embers that drifted skyward like small fireflies before winking out of existence.
“Tarin.” A single word broke the silence, causing me to raise my eyebrows at him. “My name,” He added as an afterthought to my questioning gaze while absentmindedly poking at the fire with a stick, causing a spastic eruption of orange embers to rise. “And I’m not a Wylder. Only people like you call us that.” I could almost feel the irritation in his voice at the last.
“Then what are you?”
“What do you care? You haven’t even thanked me for saving you.” His tone was indignant, not that I could blame him, he was right, even if it didn’t appease my irritation.
“Thanks,” I returned, letting the steel of rashness free in my voice.
He shrugged and stood; everything about the simple movement exuded a grace that was of another world. “Dawn,” He motioned at nothing in particular. “Is in about an hour. Keep the fire going, though I doubt you will need it. Most of the dangerous things have retired for the night.” He stood, and turned to leave, then paused a moment. “I told you my name. What’s yours?”
“Eliza,” It came out almost too softly. “Eliza Blayne.” Then, he was gone.
I arrived home shortly after dawn, and slid the door open, with as little sound as I could manage. It didn’t matter. My parents sat on the couch facing the door, in quiet contemplation. A look of disappointment marred their usual sunny disposition. Oh crap.
My father started, “Were on earth have you been young lady?” The ire in his tone quiet apparent.
“Dad.” I started, only to be interrupted by my mom.
“Don’t try to make excuses either missy. You tell us right now where you were.” She added.
My mind raced, trying to fabricate a believable story to sooth my parent’s tempers. My pulse quickened, and heat rose to my face as I quelled the tremble in my voice before speaking. “I was with Cami. We had to start work on a project at school. We fell asleep, and I didn’t wake up till this morning. I’m so sorry.”
They looked at me, unconvinced. Then turned away, whispering to each other. I rolled my eyes a little while they weren’t watching, and hoped they bought my story. They looked back at me, outrage and vehemence on their faces, stemming from the fact that it was unannounced and they were uninformed of the situation and had not given their approval. This was one time I was glad that my parents were busy professionals and didn’t move in the same social circles as Cami’s folks. It made it unlikely that they would check out my story any deeper than taking my word for it. As it stood, I got off light I thought, with only a week’s grounding to show for it. I feigned anger at the punishment, when in reality I was relishing the fact that I had pulled the wool over their eyes.
Dhamon was absent from school this day, but I was so tired from the previous night’s ordeal that I didn’t even notice. Cami pointed it out to me during lunch; I shrugged it off that he must be sick and went silent, brooding. After a few minutes of silence between us, Cami leaned in close to me and whispered. “Ok, so what happened?” I gave her an incredulous look that said, I have no idea what you’re talking about. She didn’t buy it at all. “Come on, you’ve been silent and moody every time I’ve seen you today. What gives?” She batted her pretty lashes at me, pressuring me with the look on her face. “Spill it.”
My first instinct was to continue my feigned ignorance; I even opened my mouth to protest that I had no clue. Her blue eyes stared into me, and for the briefest of moments almost looked incandescent. Suddenly I found myself pouring over the story of my near death and unexpected rescue despite my earlier reluctance. In epic detail, I described the mysterious Wylder boy, and how I had come upon him in the Old World. Cami wore what I can only describe as a look of stark utter astonishment. She stared at me wide eyed as she took a few moments to collect herself from the shock of the story. Soon she had a clearer head, and in hushed tones began to interrogate me over our half eaten lunch. Most of her questions were answered with I don’t knows and I’m not sure. Of course that was when she dropped her bombshell question on me, eyes twinkling with anticipatory delight. “Are you going to see him again?”
I hadn’t even thought about it, and was stunned to silence, unable to come up with a proper response. How the hell should I know? Of course I wanted to? She giggled, not really expecting an answer, so she gave one herself. “Of course you are!” She said excitedly. “And when you go out there next time, you’re taking me along!”
After school, I went straight home, part of my punishment. Straight home from school they had said. Parent’s right? I groaned as I tossed my book bag onto the bed. With nothing else to do, except homework, and who wants to do that, I decided to indulge myself in an overly hot shower. While water wasn’t exactly scarce, it took time to purify and maintain a drinking supply, so showers were kept to a minimal length. I locked the bathroom door behind me, stripped down, giving myself a quick once over in the mirror before turning the water on.
It didn’t take long before wafts of hot steam were pouring off the water as it jetted down towards the drain. I tested the temperature and adjusted accordingly, I wanted it hot, but could only bare so much. It took only a few minutes of soaping and lathering to clean myself. I didn’t end my shower there, as was protocol. I simply stood under the falling waves of liquid, indulging in the warmth, setting the heat to higher levels, as I grew accustomed to it.
I’m sure it had only been fifteen minutes or so, but it felt like a lifetime. Eventually I knew it had to end though, and I almost sighed before reaching down to cut the water flow off. I threw open the shower curtain and caused a wave of steam to billow about the room as I reached out grabbing a towel from the rack nearby. With fervor, I began drying myself. Everything was perfectly fine, till I happened to look up at the mirror. That’s when my heart hit the floor. What should have been nothing more than a steam soaked mirror, now had a single word etches across it. It looked as though someone had drawn through the steam with unskilled fervor. Wet lines trailed down the mirror where the moisture gathered in small droplets. My heart leapt to my throat, and I forced myself to swallow hard while staring at the word that chilled me to the core. Wylder it said. That single word, was it a condemnation of myself? Of the things I had been doing? I didn’t know. Who could have known about my ghosting, I had only told Cami. Dhamon may have found out through her but I thought it unlikely. He would find out, but I had just told her earlier this afternoon.
I double checked the bathroom lock, and as I feared it was still latched. No one could have been in here with me I was confused and scared as I threw on my pajamas. So much for homework, I spent all my time huddled under blankets awaiting my parents in fear. I just didn’t comprehend what was really going on.
Publication Date: 03-20-2016
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