Category: Original Fiction
Genre: Contemporary Sci-Fi/Mystery
Word Count: 1367
Story Status: Teaser/Introduction/Chapter 01? I'm not entirely sure, actually. I just kind of wanted to write this and see where it took me. Please enjoy
Shivering against the blackness of night she stood with her back pressed against the ruins of a crumbling brick building to simply watch, and hope her presence would go unnoticed. It wasn’t often she came here. Only when she needed answers. And she knew she must be careful in how she went about getting them. After all, it was not an easy thing to get answers from the very person holding you prisoner, and not letting them ever know it was you.
He was an averaged-sized man with a square jaw and a thick neck. The sort of man who was probably quite handsome in his youth, until life got in his way. Whenever she saw him here, he wore well-pressed suits and plain-colored ties, and kept his nearly-black hair short in the sort of way that gave him the look of a lawyer or politician. This time he was with a girl. A younger, girl with fire-red hair and a face full of freckles who couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen. She was laughing and pulling on his arm – pulling him away from where she could continue to watch them clearly.
So, keeping to the shadows, she followed after him. At least in this place, there were plenty of shadows to keep to. Tall buildings loomed overhead, all of them rundown and abandoned, with their broken windows and crumbling walls stained with fading graffiti. Her own mind wanted to smell smog, sawdust, oil, and damp air, but apparently smell was an underappreciated sense in Mr. Croft’s mind because there was only the darkness and the chill around her. Nothing to smell at all.
“Where are you going, Mr. Croft,” she was careful only to think to herself, “what are you doing?”
And the smiling, fresh-faced pre-teen continued to pull at his arm and giggle. Further and further into the heart of the crumbling remnants of some long-forgotten industrial outskirt in some nameless city they went, and there was nothing else she could do but follow. So, after a few deep breaths to steady her heart, she began to match their pace.
It wasn’t long before it became apparent there were no skylines to recognize in the distance. No signs to indicate that this might be a real place. Real places, or at least the recollection of real places, tended to have more substance, less monotony, and feel less like the base layout of a low budget, three-dimensional video game. At least, in her experience.
So this place, this rundown, industrial bone-yard of vacant, crumbling structures was nothing more than some tiny representation of his subconscious. Or quite possibly, his twisted imagination.
But who was the girl?
Was she also some fragmented piece of his soul, there in physical form to lead him down this unknown path before him. Or was she someone he knew personally that his mind conjured up to keep him company?
It was times like these she wished she’d paid a bit more attention during her psychology classes instead of passing notes in the back of the classroom with Nicole and cheating off whoever it was that sat next to her at the time. At least if she’d have paid better attention back then she’d have something more to base her assumptions and best-guesses on other than the vague recollection of internet articles she’d read through after a quick Google search back when everything started.
She also blamed him: square-jawed, slick-smiled Mr. Croft, for her lack of knowledge. She could be a very quick learner with practice, but all he seemed to see her as was some pathetic excurse for a science experiment.
But it would do her no good to think about such things right now. She needed to pay attention. Watch him. Hope he would give her some sign. Some name. Some place that she could possibly use. Not that she had the slightest idea of what she was going to do with that knowledge, but it was better than doing nothing.
“Benny said the dinosaurs tasted delicious,” she caught the sound of the younger girls voice. “And I want to be a doctor some day.”
She paused in her steps, just as the red-haired girl had done, and watched as Mr. Croft’s long fingers sank into thick curls as he ruffled her hair and smiled. “I’m sure you will be.”
“Can you help me?”
“I can help everyone,” he nodded to her, patting her on the head again as though it were a sign of reassurance.
“Ok. Your boat is here,” her voice turned far more serious, and one slim, freckle-covered arm lifted to point straight ahead of her.
Sure enough, as though it had been there all along, a slim, wooden raft sat waiting just over the edge of a rust-eaten dock, knocking against the splintered wood to the rhythm of the current that would soon carry him away. The inky, black river reflected no stars or moonlight, only cut through the cheapened city like an open wound and instantly, her mind wanted to smell rotten fish, sewage, and salty air. And she quickly made a note to never mock Mr. Croft’s lack of appreciation for scent again.
This was also the instant she began to panic. To get any closer, she would risk being seen, but to stay further behind, she would lose him all together. But how could she stay with him if he was crossing an entire river alone? Real, make-believe, or otherwise, if Mr. Croft’s raft were to tip over, his mind would know that he would fall into the water. And so he would. And so would she. She could not simply will herself to be across the river where he would land, because his mind had not decided where that was going to be just yet.
With no arguments or requests for explanations, Mr. Croft stepped into the boat and untethered it from its rotting post before he slowly began to float downstream. And for the first time since her arrival she began to feel the chill set in, feel the damp, black air press against her skin and the cool breeze pull loose strands of hair across her face as any answer she might have been able to steal from him began to drift away.
She wanted to cry. To scream. To pick up every rock in sight and pelt them at his head. But instead, she stood there and tried to think. Where else could she go? What else could she do? How long did she have before everything went blank again?
She didn’t know any of those answers. And couldn’t think of a single person who could give them to her, other than Mr. Croft. Of course, she knew there had to be others: others with answers. But for now, he was her only known key to finding them.
All he was doing was getting further away. And the girl with the fire-red hair just stood there, continuing to point at the now-vacant spot the raft had been.
She was getting nowhere much quicker than she was hoping, and with one last sigh, stared hard at the back of his head and wished with every fiber of her being that it would either explode before her eyes or he would turn around and just tell her everything she wanted to know. Neither of which happened, to her final regret. And in defeat, she stepped further back into the shadows and turned towards the direction she came. Back down vacant, dingy alleyways that were fading into the nothingness of literal non-existence the further and further away Mr. Croft got from her. The edges of things seemed unfinished and fuzzy much like the edge of an unfinished painting now, and the distance ahead of her was nothing more than empty space; black and infinite.
At the very least, she could be comforted in the thought that he hadn’t seen her; to know that he would wake up in the morning and never know that she had been there at all. Maybe that meant she would have more time. An hour or two, perhaps.
If only she could be so lucky.
Possibly more to come. xD Because, clearly this would not stand on its own.