HARD

CHAPTER 7

‘Oh Yes!’ Rayna screamed to the night sky watching her partner gracefully move, turning her hips, loading her barrel and firing.

Karin shot two more goons down as they clenched their chests and bled out through their lips.

‘Just where are they coming from?’ cursed Karin under her breath.

The cart stopped and Karin got off to inspect the perimeter.

‘Are there more?’ Rayna whispered excitedly.

‘You seem to be enjoying this,’ Karin released her guard, holstered her pistol and tilted her body back to Rayna. The girl stood barricaded by barrels of beans on the cart. She returned an innocent look. There was an awkward silence before the chirping of mockingbirds in the distance broke it.

The forestry was lush, green, something Rayna had never seen before. She dropped down to a soft thud and buried her toes in the grass. It was moist and a little unnerving but Karin calmed her down. ‘Might be a little scary at first, but someday you will wish you were back.’

Karin took off her boots and rested her bottom on the grassy meadow. The wind whistled through the leaves and the night sky bathed them with a cold illuminance. Rayna walked toward Karin, careful with her steps until she found herself adapting and even enjoying it.

‘Is this what you meant by you would show me the world?’

‘Part of it yes,’

‘My whole life I had only seen dust and sex, but just 3 days with you and…’ she started to tear but Karin quickly caught it from falling all the way down to her neck.

‘Dust and sex is good too,’ she replied. They smiled at each other enjoying the glimmer of each other’s eyes in the serenity of the moonlight and the melody of forest.

‘How do you do all that?’

‘Do what?’ Karin furrowed her brows.

‘Be you?’

‘I was always alone, and when you are alone, you survive or die. There is no in between,’

‘I have always been alone too,’

‘and here you are surviving, so I can ask the same thing can’t I? How do you be you?’

Rayna dropped her head over Karin’s lap enjoying the warmth of her partner’s thighs over her right ear. She snuggled her head as her hair softly tickled Karin past her tunic. It didn’t take long before Karin was feeling deeply aroused.

‘Say Rayna,’ she said patting her head, stroking her hair softly. ‘Would you like to learn how to use a gun?’

‘I would,’ Rayna replied.

‘I don’t mean for shooting,’

‘Then?’ She turned her head left to look up. She noticed Karin’s chest moving deep and fast, her nipples conspicuously hard through her tunic. ‘Oh!’ she gasped.

**

Kira held Kim by the shoulders and on they went deeper into the tunnels, as per Kim’s directions. Kira was half-hearted to lay all her trust on her newly found friend but without alternative options, it was the smartest thing to do.

‘There,’ Kim pointed far into a deep hollow tunnel, where a sound of thunderous water roared.

‘You sure that’s not the oil?’

‘No, it’s water.’ Kim freed herself and started limping toward it.

Kim followed wielding her self-made torch in her hand irradiating the place and scurrying all the rats. Kim stopped. ‘What?’ Kira yelled.

Kim stood stationary and then just leaped.

‘No!’ Kira screamed and ran forward only to find a ledge and huge basin underneath, somewhat similar to the one before. She heard echoes from the bottom. ‘What?’ she screamed back.

‘I said ‘GET DOWN HERE’’

Kira took a deep breath and jumped, folding her legs close to her chest and dove deep into a large pool. She rose to the surface and was very pleased not to have a coat of oil on her this time.

‘That way,’ Kim directed her neck and started to swim.

**

Rains poured heavy and with the donkey and the cart draped by a large loose cover, Rayna and Karin had a better idea to make use of their time. Their clothes off, they played with each other in the soaking grass. They hugged, kissed and wrestled in the dirt, their bodies littered with grass that stuck. They played with Karin’s unloaded pistol, rubbing it against each other, introducing it into their vaginas and soon just tossing it aside. Rayna got on top. She felt the oddest medley of sensations. Her top-half was being showered by thick drops of ice-cold rain, as it bathed her back, washed her hair, her neck, her lips and froze her ice cold nipples, her bottom half was hot sliding against her partners warm genitals and her feet against wet dirt and grass. They moaned and moaned in heightened sense of pleasure competing with sounds of the rainfall and roars of the thunder. Every now a bolt of lightning flashed exciting Rayna making her squirm. Kira enjoyed watching every drop of water from the girls’ dancing breasts enter her mouth while her back massaged the cold wet dirt and grass. This was a heaven she had not felt not even the last time they did this. This was different because she felt Rayna be her complete true self. This was her freedom and her gratitude for it.

**

‘That’s a convertible,’ shouted Kira. The ledge had let them to somewhat of a garage. The whole place felt very distinguishable from the rest of where they had been. Kira kept a look out for the flesh eating monsters.

‘Not just any convertible,’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Ben gave this to me when I was 11,’

‘Ben is who?’

‘Ben’ Kim replied gently hoping into the front seat. She stroked her fingers over the dashboard and played with the leather. She grasped the steering hard and squeezed them. She loved the noise tightening leather made.

‘It’s in good condition,’ Kira marvelled at the exterior walking about it. Kim was starting to get protective over it. ‘Hey! Just get in. Don’t touch anything,’

‘Alright.’ Kira retracted. She reached for the handle on the passenger’s side over the right.

‘That doesn’t work. You have to hop in.’

Kira smiled. ‘Now it feels like it came from this planet.’ She insulted jokingly.

‘Say another mean thing about her, and our deal is over,’

‘Wow,’ Kira laughed. ‘Touchy. You must really love your girl. So Ben is like your father?’

‘No, you don’t fuck your father.’

‘God No, you don’t.’ Kira gasped shocked at her response. ‘Wait, you said you were 11,’

‘Yes,’ Kira replied. ‘It was a better time,’

‘Oh,’ Kira was puzzled at her response ‘How old are you now?’

’14,’

‘No you’re not,’

‘Erm, yes I fucking am,’ She started the ignition and the machine roared. ‘Yes, come on baby. You know mommy loves you,’ she smiled patting her sides of car.

‘Wait that means,’

Kira had long lost interest in this conversation. She quickly turned the gears and pumped the pedals. The car sped forward, with headlights brand new lighting the path before them.

It was a long runway before they entered another long dark tunnel, much wider this time, but Kim kept on speeding. ‘Wait what are you doing?’ Kira withdrew into her seat as she gasped. Kim had a devilish stare. ‘STOP! STOP!’ Kira screamed as they sped even faster and faster and just before Kira had her arms to her face they sped through tearing a thick sheet of cloth and on to an open road.

Kira observed her surroundings. It looked as though they had come out of a freeway tunnel and onto a long highway. ‘That was some kind of a parking garage. Or least it was,’ she mumbled to herself. Kira peered further back as the full view of the plant they had just come from revealed its magnanimous metal and cement architecture, half-buried in sand and half-stretching west disappearing to the distance.

‘HAHA!’ Kim screamed as she howled toward the dawning sun. ‘I’m still alive Bitch,’ she honked and sped over the smooth road. Kira noticed cement buildings all around her, all buried in rock and sand, just the top parts visible. The only reason there was a road there would mean, ‘a flyover’ she smiled wondering about the mysteries the planet’s past.

‘You’re a fucking mad one aren’t you?’ Kim responded.

‘Well at least I’m not a fucking alien,’

The thought suddenly came to Kira’s head. ‘Wait, a year is longer here. You mean 12 as in this planet’s time. That would make you 28.

‘Fuck you I’m not 28.’

‘No, I mean I am 32, but in universal time,’

‘Yeah you look 32,’

‘Wait, what does that mean? You think I look 60? Fuck you bitch,’

Kim started to giggle, and seconds later so did Kira.

‘So, the nearest town is Golgotha. I hope you find what you’re looking for,’

‘I need some kind of transmitter. Something good enough to send a help signal,’

‘Don’t know if you can find anything like that there,’

‘Really? What do they have there?’

‘Thieves, whores, and the occasional righteous merchant,’

Kim took a deep breath enjoying the wind in her hair as before. ‘You know I have been lucky so many times already since I landed here. Let’s hope I’ll still be.’

**

The donkey was pleased to have before it an entire bag of beans. Rayna caressed its ear lovingly. She didn’t think she would she become so fond of the animal.

‘Breakfast is served,’ said Karin. Rayna approached the fire and the eggs fried to perfection on a metal plate. Just the smell made her stomach churn. ‘Where did you find them?’

‘The mockingbirds,’

‘What?’

‘Yes, where else do you think food comes from?’

‘I guess,’

Karin had already finisher her portion. She wiped the barrel of her gun and waited for Rayna to finish hers.

‘Can you teach me? Like really?’

‘Of course. Let’s try’

Karin quickly got up to find some rocks and assembled them one of top of the other a few metres from where they sat.

‘Alright,’ she said taking aim.

‘Wait,’ Rayna gobbled down the remainder of the egg and headed straight for her.

‘Hold here,’ she gave the pistol to Rayna and positioned it, adjusting her shoulders and elbows from behind her. ‘Alright, you can do it with one eye closed or both open, whichever helps you aim,’

‘BANG’ the first shot only scattered the birds from the trees but the rocks were still.

‘I missed,’

‘Wait,’ Karin peered hard. ‘You see over there,’ pointing at a scraped bark of a tree to the left. ‘That’s where it went when you thought you had it. Now adjust yourself so you can course correct. Anticipate what you think the bullet sees and not what you see.’

Rayna figured she had to tilt her body ever so slightly to the right and then tried again.

BANG.

They looked hard for the bullets trace. ‘There down those bushes,’ Karin pointed. ‘Now it was too far to the right.’ Rayna whined.

‘Patience dear girl. Give it another go,’

Rayna calmed herself and took aim. She stared long at hard at her trajectory for a good few seconds.

BANG.

The top stone fell but the bullet was nowhere in sight.

‘Shit, I won’t kill anyone like that,’

‘The aim is not to kill. It’s to protect,’

Rayna smiled as she internalised those words. She looked hard at her stoic rescuer, standing strong, lethal but wise and handed the pistol back to her. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘for everything.’

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The Fifth Horseman

You are, and you’re gorgeous

makeup-make-up-artist-make-up.jpg

 

Dr Julie had memorized every bump and scratch on the imperfect varnishing that coated that headboard. Some of those scratches were from her own nails. She rested both her palms to cover them, while her sore knees pressed into the hard mattress, maintaining position. ‘Slow down, that hurts,’ she uttered, uncomfortable, and frankly disappointed. She had to repeat herself twice more while waving her hand until she finally caught his attention. ‘What?’ Mr Jamal responded. The television was probably too loud, or maybe his age was just showing. She pulled herself off, turned around dropped flat, looking at his sorry drained out expression. Mr Jamal pulled up his greying hair, and stood up, zipping up, buckling his belt.

‘So,’ she started. It was the first word she had uttered since she walked in 20 minutes ago.

‘So,’ he replied, nodding his head repeatedly.

‘I noticed the headboard,’

‘What about it?’

‘This is your personal on-call room, and nobody comes here but you,’

‘Well, and you…’

‘Exactly! Which only means ALL those nail marks are ALL mine.’

‘What’s your point?’ Mr Jamal was getting impatient.

‘There’s just too many, and I’m getting self-conscious,’

‘You could always walk out. I told you that from the start.’

She knew to expect such a response but she didn’t want to. She felt that even the inanimate objects in the room were starting to judge her. She knew she didn’t belong, but she desperately tried. She knew she was being used but she ignored everything for a little wishful thought; a fairy tale where she gets to be the one up in the castle tower who is swept off her feet, and it didn’t matter who came with what baggage, just a promise of a happy ending.

She left tearing just a little, swallowing the rest, keeping her head up heading straight for the elevator.

At precisely 2 pm, she approached the ward. A friendly figure came close and walked beside her. Dr Satya, the Psychiatrist. He smiled and nodded. ‘Heard you have bipolar case for me?’ he engaged her.

Dr Lucy collected her thoughts. ‘Yes, and she is a dangerous one, please do what you can Dr.’

The conversation ended as they entered the ward side by side, each taking a diverging path from then on.

Dr Satya read the ward register and quickly rushed to the patient, his arms behind his back, his fingers rubbing against each other, ruminating on how he would make an entrance. He understood the weight of a first impression and he did not want to mess this up with his new case.

‘Hello,’ he said, from outside the curtain. May I come in?’

‘Yes, yes you may,’ replied Sheila unexpectedly.

Dr Satya came in drawing close the curtains after him. He was surprised to see the young intern in a worn out white coat sitting patiently. She wasn’t really doing anything. ‘Just talking,’ she said, ‘she’s all yours,’

‘Very well,’ Dr Satya replied. Sheila got up and exhaled, as though she was trying to internalise something. ‘Must have been some talk,’ Dr Satya retorted. Sheila chuckled just a little. She patted the patient on her restraints and they both smiled at each other before she walked out. ‘Hello, I’m Dr Satya. Those restrains must be tight, you want me to take them off?’ he started.

There was a lot on the list today and she was on top it all but Sheila typically always felt as though she had forgotten something. ‘SHEILA!!!’  Dr Julie yelled from across the ward. She immediately ran to her call.

‘What is this?’ she smacked her fingers on the chart. Sheila looked puzzled and moved close to inspect. The other staff around her were on high alert and quickly made themselves scarce, especially fellow interns who were going on about their business.

Sheila noted a rise in temperature in; 38°C to be exact. This was Mr Ahmed, a kidney patient on dialysis, and he was receiving a blood transfusion after he had suffered a myocardial infarction possibly to due to anemia. A fever in a patient receiving transfusion was always something to be alert about and nobody had noted it to her, nor did she make note of it herself.

‘When did you start transfusing?’ Dr Julie’s voice turned sullen but stern.

‘I? Erm, well the nurse documents the time they start transfusing,’

‘Are you telling me you don’t know? Were you not here to check the bloods before the transfusion? Were you not here to see how she did it, whether the line was working, whether they patient had any immediate reaction?’

‘I… I was…’ Sheila stuttered. ‘I don’t remember the time,’

‘WHAT?’ Dr Julie was pissed, her face red. Sheila tried to reach for the patient’s folder before Dr Julie pulled it away from her. ‘3 hours ago,’ she yelled.

‘But a fever can be expected in blood transfusion,’ Sheila tried to maintain calm.

Dr Julie slowly turned her head towards her. ’But 38?… 38?’

Sheila started to feel her heart beat out of her chest. She looked at her patient eyes wide open, staring at the two of them, his vitals steadily climbing from the monitor.

Unbeknownst to them both, Dr Abdul, the Nephrologist who was on-call was also doing his rounds. He walked right to them and smiled. ‘Hello to the two of you,’ he greeted them oblivious to the tension that had sparked. ‘Why is the patient having tachycardia?’ he enquired.

‘He has a fever, but it’s only 3 hours in,’ Sheila quickly responded.

‘It’s 38 though,’ Dr Julie replied.

‘Yes, but a fever can be expected at this stage right?’

‘Yes,’ Sheila quickly interjected. Dr Abdul stroked his beard. ‘Julie, what do you think?’

‘I think we can wait to see if there’s another spike, we’ll get a full blood work-up then if we suspect infection. Sheila here checked the bloods. She made sure it was all correct. Didn’t you Sheila?’

Sheila nodded her head while all eyes were on her.

‘Good!’ Dr Abdul smiled. He repeatedly squirted alcohol from the dispenser drenching his both his hands.

The tension had been defused, or so Sheila thought. She started to walk out of the cubicle when she heard, ‘SHEILA!’ again. She clenched her fists by her sides, stopped and turned back.

‘Dr Julie exited the cubicle to reach her. ‘Look, you free tonight?’

‘Yes?’ Sheila replied curious.

‘Dinner, 7pm at the Mexican Place. You fine with that?’

Sheila was conflicted, upset, but at the same time, greatly honored to have dinner with her self-acclaimed mentor. She clearly did not anticipate this and her reaction was but a confused, ‘Huh,’

‘Good, see you there.’

**

The evening breeze blew from across the Straits, the sun was setting but not without painting a gorgeous purple farewell. The Mexican Place was 20 minutes away, and Sheila had used the 20 minutes before to make sure she looked perfect. ‘I don’t know how some girls do this every damn day before showing up to work by 7,’

‘We give a crap that’s why,’ Jenny retorted at the door of the bathroom watching her friend apply foundation, doing an impressively good enough job even for someone with a lot less experience.

‘Or you are all just ridiculously insecure about yourselves,’ Sheila answered while padding her brush on a shade of beige.

‘That wouldn’t go for your skin. Do you want to look like a clown?’ Jenny snapped watching her friend tap her brush on the obviously wrong shade. ‘What?’ Sheila jumped.

‘Not that,’ she shook her head. Sheila pointed at the various shades. ‘Nope,’ Jenny repeated and kept shaking her head until Sheila stopped at what her friend finally agreed to.

‘I’m not that dark,’

‘You are, and you’re gorgeous. Applying make-up is about accentuating one’s beauty not hiding it,’ she grabbed the brush from her and stroked it on her friends’ cheeks. ‘There, have fun impressing your date.’ Jenny added.

Sheila looked into the mirror and a felt an immediate boost in confidence; an instant glow. She still looked herself & felt herself, but something was different. It was just ‘more’. ‘I am never going to question your judgement again, Jen.’

‘You’re welcome’ Jen replied.

**

 

Sheila decided to go with a green strapless with gold accents, a knee length skirt with leggings to match her shoes. Nothing on her was without brand recognition. She wanted to impress tonight, and impress she did.

The table had Dr Julie & Dr Yang with one male companion, Dr Wilson, all Medical Officers that outranked her and all from various other specialities. As soon as she approached, they all smiled at her and welcomed her to sit. Dr Yang even complimented her outfit. The three of them looked as though they were dressed to impress too, but Sheila had a feeling this was how it was for all their dinners. They were already midway in conversation about something and Sheila had no idea what it was because it was all in Chinese. These were the times she would wish for magical subtitles to appear at the bottom of her vision, like in the movies. The waiter approached from the corner and asked her for her order from the menu.

‘The fajita, beef, extra Guacamole,’ the waiter smiled before excusing himself.

‘So,’ Dr Wilson initiated, ‘you enjoying it so far?’

Sheila just smiled unsure of what exactly to respond.

‘It’s ok, I understand. I remember my old days as a houseman. Things were very different back then.’

‘Oh you’re not gonna go down a nostalgia trip are you?’ commented Dr Julie. ‘The only reason he likes to bring it up is because he met his wife then.’

‘Oh and where is she?’ Sheila asked to which Dr Wilson replied, ‘On-call. So for tonight I am a free man,’

‘Free, my ass. You gonna pack food and see her later right?’ Dr Yang rebuted.

‘Of course lah Yang, but for now I am free right?’ he laughed to himself.

Their meals arrived. Tortillas, quesadillas, nachos, etc. It was obvious this group had a big appetite. Dr Wilson called the waiter and ordered an extra meal to go.

‘So, Sheila, what do you do, when there is no work?’ Dr Yang asked.

‘I watch a lot of movies,’

‘Oh!’ Dr Julie looked surprised. ‘Did you see the new Dwayne Johnson one?’

‘Yes, I did,’ Sheila laughed. ‘Did you like it?’

‘He’s funny but they really put him in silly scenarios. I mean nudging away a torpedo was just the limit.’

‘I thought the limit was when he broke his cast by just extending his arms,’ she responded.

The table enjoyed the banter, and soon things started to warm up. They spoke about holidays, shopping, family among many others, all except for work. Sheila was having the time of her life. She couldn’t imagine being actually friends with Dr Julie. She put her on such a high pedestal and respected her so dearly. It was amazing to see her actually talk to her like a friend and not see her merely as a subordinate.

‘Eh! Food is here, I have to go,’ excused Dr Wilson, paying his part of the bill.

‘Free man time over bro?’ Dr Yang winked at him.

Moments later even Dr Yang had to excused herself to leave.

It was about to be 9pm, and Sheila and Dr Julie were the only ones left. There were but 2 chips of tortillas left in the basket. Sheila took her last sip from her drink.

‘Dr Julie, this was very nice of you.’ Sheila spoke her mind, and didn’t want to stop there. She was too overwhelmed with excitement. Now that they were alone, she thought she might get a little personal. ‘I really look up to you. I hope I can be like you someday you know?’

‘Like what kid?’

‘Like you know, intelligent, successful, and just all round amazing at your job,’

Dr Julie had been playing with her straw. She was in deep thought about something. In fact, she was contemplating the entire night she had been there.

‘Look at you Shiela,’ she continued, ‘young, full of life and wonder. Why the hell would you want to be like me? Who put you up to this?’

‘Are you kidding?’

‘I don’t know why you are doing this. Hmm?’ she dropped the straw. Something in Dr Julie just snapped.

‘Doing what?’ Sheila grew inquisitive.

‘Saying these things. You don’t think I know passive-aggression when see it? I mean I bring you out, and just “you” by the way. No other house officer has gotten this kind of treatment from me, not since a long time ago and you say these things about me. What am I just a workaholic to you?’

‘God NO, that’s not what I meant,’

Dr Julie had more she wanted to throw. ‘You know people have not been saying the best things about you too girl. They say you’re really slow at work, some even say you’re downright incompetent.’

Sheila suddenly felt the air around her change. She kept quiet while her boss went on, all while trying to keep her pores from sweating and ruining her make-up.

‘I wanted to apologize to you, for maybe being a little too harsh but then I realized something. You don’t deserve it. Why should you? Why must YOU get special treatment? I didn’t. None of us did back then. Yet this generation demands so much. Besides, I was right. You made me look like an idiot in front of Dr Abdul.’

‘No I didn’t’ I promise.’ Sheila’s was horror-stricken by the accusation. It was clearly not her intent and she realized only now that she might have stepped past her boundaries.

‘Listen kid, you think you’re smart, entitled, and special somehow. I get it but let me remind you of something. I can make your life good but also make it very miserable. You best not forget that.’

Sheila became quiet. The threat was real, as many house officers knew, once marked with a target on your back you had essentially kissed your posting credits goodbye. Nevertheless, what was more unacceptable was that it came from Dr Julie herself. She was broken, and tears began to roll down her cheeks ruining all the hard work she did on her face. She quickly grabbed some tissues to pat her eyes and avoid the public humiliation. Dr Julie didn’t want to make things more awkward, and so she got up and left to the counter to pay the bills. ‘Hers is on me,’ she told the cashier.

Sheila felt as though the whole restaurant was watching. She got up, made her way to the restroom and stood in front of the mirror for a substantial amount of time. ‘Who is this girl?’ she squinted at her reflection as her eyeliner ran down her cheeks. Her make-up was all smudged and runny. She was alone apart from one other customer occupying a stall. She thought about what just happened, and it played in head repeatedly until she got slightly lightheaded and her knees got weaker. She stooped her body just a little holding on to the basin while she cried and cried. ‘What an unmitigated disaster. Why? Why? Why?’ she queried herself.

That night, Sheila wanted nothing more than to get home. She rushed back, threw her keys on the counter top and called out to Jenny but there was no one. The fridge had an unopened tub of ice cream but Sheila knew she couldn’t do that to herself. She then tried to read a book. When that failed, she turned on her television and when that also didn’t work, she eventually just cried herself to sleep. She had made her first enemy and it was truly soul crushing that it had to be her very own Dr Julie.

HARD

CHAPTER 6

‘You sure this is safe?’ Rayna looked disgusted as she checked the bottom of the empty wooden barrel. It was bringing up some unwanted mental images from the past she was trying to forget. Her lips quivered just thinking about the darkness, the small space, the thunderous galloping of horses, and roaring engines of trains, the hissing and whooshing across the tracks.

‘Quick!’ Karin ushered her. Reluctantly Rayna lodged her right foot in first and cozied her body into the tiny space. She cowered as Karin closed the lid. She noticed Rayna in tears, wiping them away frightened.

‘Don’t worry,’ Karin said. ‘You can trust me.’ Rayna looked up and saw a little ray of hope borrowed from the high noon shine through Karin’s red unruly hair. The lid was shut and Rayna held tight to her shins.

There was darkness once more, and guns blazing everywhere. She even felt a slight rattle but nothing punctured through. There was some mutter, and more rustling and then it was all over.

Rayna felt the lid shake. She felt her heart beat out of her chest. Her head was pounding. She prayed for a clue, a sign that her saviour was alive, and that this finally would be a chance of real hope.

The barrel started to shake and she felt as though being lifted off the ground. Should she speak? She felt movement, unsteady with minimal swaying. Rayna patiently waited for a sign. Then, ‘I got you.’ said the voice as if God had answered her. Relieved, she wanted to burst out and embrace her but she knew her orders. ‘Stay in and keep silent at all times, until I myself tell you otherwise,’

She felt a sudden thump. There was no movement for a brief second. She felt her sense of gravity switch, and some dust fell on to her face from the side. She rested her back horizontally and then she was moving again. There were soft brays and grunts. She knew now that she was on the cart and heading out north of Golgotha, where the farms met the towns and the road beyond. Tears of joy roled over her cheeks and a feeling of immense happiness bloomed inside her.

Karin had an unscrupulous but formidable plan in place. As soon as they walked out of their shop, there were at least 3 or 4 thugs out at the entrance waiting to greet them. Rayna was covered top to bottom in dirty grey overalls. She wore the ugliest boots to hide the pink of her toes. She masked her face but her eyes blue and the white of her nasal bridge were still visible. Karin stood tall, hitting her chest, her fingers called the thugs close teasing them to initiate. The thugs grinned and mocked among themselves. The first one ran at weilding a tiny dagger. Rayna cowered behind Karin, steady like marble pillar, her defence and shield. Karin used her head, and with one hit, he bounced back, riling up the others. The all pressed forward at once screaming at the attempt to intimidate but she didn’t flinch. As quick as lightning, her trigger finger fired all the shots remaining in her barrel, all on point, scattering 3 of them about, while 2 others fell where they stood. The ones still alive quickly found spots to hide giving Karin adequate time to do the same.

Shots fired back and the people outside scurried. Whores and sellers walked back in, doors closed and shops turned their signs. Karin moved her rescue to the edge of the balcony, shielded by some pots and withered plants. She ducked below and crawled to the opposite side. Rayna paid close attention to Karin and how she checked her ammunition. ‘I’m out,’ she lipped. Rayna’s eyes were wide open, excited and frightened all the same, as if she were watching a live show with her in it. All her hopes were up again when she saw Karin smile to herself.

‘One, two, three,’ Karin counted before dashing back in the shop. Shots fired again, ravaging what remained of the doorway. Rayna caught a glimpse of her friends jump out of their windows and run from the back, all covered in sheets and clothing they first came in. It was a liberating to watch it all come tumbling down.

Karin barged out the door settng it loose from its hinges and finally falling to the ground. She held the shotgun from earlier, holding it vertically over the fore-end. She gave it one shake before taking aim, resting the stock over her shoulder, and ‘BLAST’. Pellets scattered everywhere. There were random twangs, and then another shake and another ‘BLAST’.

person releasing shotgun shell on shotgun

Rayna kept her eyes to the floor, dulling out the noise in all the chaos. It wasn’t so fun anymore and the safest place she could be was in her own head. ‘Come on, come on!’ Karin held her up. ‘Let’s go,’ she smiled at her and lifted up her chin.

Hands held tight, Rayna was being whisked away through the markets and the busy streets of Golgotha, in other sections where the commotion had not yet spread, they remained incognito, hiding amongst passers-by, retailers and workers. Rayna looked at the brothels and the girls in front of the windows staring back at her. She knew they knew and the smiles of ‘good luck’ they granted her were more than enough to keep her going.

There was an empty alleyway behind some shops. A donkey strapped to a cart pleased to see Karin raised it neck to lick her hand.

‘This is Rayna,’ Karin said, ‘she’s a friend.’

Right at the back were large barrels, and Karin went ahead to carefully inspect them. ‘Rayna’ she called and but the poor girl was distracted by the silly donkey’s expressions and paid no heed. Rayna felt a small object thrown at her. She looked towards Karin holding some beans. She finally heeded to her call. ‘Thank you,’ she said, trying to hold in her tears.

‘It’s not over yet sweetie,’ Karin said giving her a kiss over the forehead and opening the lid of an empty barrel. ‘Might be a little uncomfortable, but it has to do,’

‘In there?’ ask Rayna surprised.

‘More are coming. You will have to. I promise you I’ll keep you safe and remember there is only one rule I will need you to follow.’

 

**

 

It was the most magnificent display Kim had ever seen. It danced and swirled, like paint in water. So much water around her weightless body, naked as the day she was born. The water was dark but the colors were luminous. Iridescent patterns repeatedly blew open, like gift wrappings unfolding from its centre, directing her through the current while a soft orchestra played in the background. She opened her mouth, and her lungs filled up. Gills flapped open the sides of her breasts and life was renewed. A soft perfect bubble escaped her mouth and she watched it rise, as it made its own glowing patterns rippling from its center. As the ripples touched it only created more ripples and soon the glow dominated her surroundings.

‘Woah!’ she breathed and it echoed through the water. ‘Mommy!’ the voice of a child from the distance. ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy!!!!’ the voice cried In agony. Kim looked around, finding for the source but there was nothing. ‘Mommy!!!’ it cried again. She saw a strange figure, a woman in the distance floating as well, dead, with her hands reaching for the surface, forever drowning as little bubbles escaped all her pores. A shroud of even brighter glow surrounded her as she sank.

Kim swam, and swam hoping to reach her. She kept pushing forward but only found herself to be further and further away. The lady reached a depth unseen, just pure light illuminated from her and soon she was gone, and the glow with it.

Kim found herself getting lighter, warmer, and soon found it difficult to breathe. The lights were far away and darkness encroached above. ‘NO!’ she gasped, her gills slowly dissolving. She kicked and kicked, pushing herself up toward the darkness. The surface was now but an inch a way. She straigthened her neck, heading with her nostrils as it flared while crossing the realms. She took another breath, a familiar one.

Kim’s eyes were open and her body was in deep pain. She was back in the tunnels, the place she had found death. Her joints frozen, she looked around slowly turning her head. Pass the cliff it was night and there were stars aplenty. Her memories slowly came back to her. She felt a slight warmth from within the tunnels and heard the crackles of a small ember and soon her eyes made out a shadow. ‘I’m not alone am I?’ she mumbled.

‘Nope, no you’re not,’ a voice responded.

Kim sprang up, and an excruciating pain radiated all through her. All but her legs moved. She noted her hands were warmer, and her color slowly returning. A woman about her size and build sat next to a small fire.

‘Did you make that?’ Kim asked inquisitively.

‘Yes, it’s amazing, and it’s still not out yet. It’s the air here,’

Kim chuckled. ‘The air huh? Never seen anyone get so chipper about pyre.’

‘You call it pyre? Like the Greeks,’

‘Who the fuck are the Greeks?’

Kira got up and slowly approached her. Kim tried to move herself back but her legs were still asleep. ‘Hey, hey! Back off,’

‘Nice way of thanking someone who saved your life,’

‘You saved me from drowning?’

‘You were hypothermic, and it looks like your volume is still low but your wounds have dried up. Now you just need some water, which I have carefully transported from down the tunnels. You got to burn the oil off the surface and then you just get the best damn water you have ever tasted,’ Kira opened a flask and offered it to her.

‘That’s mine,’ Kim snatched the flask from her. ‘So you went through all my things as well,’

‘I needed to know if you were dangerous. I mean look at those metal claws,’

‘Listen bitch,’

‘No you listen,’ Kira interjected, I saved your life and now you owe me,’

‘I don’t know owe you jack shit,’

‘Then figure out how you are gonna survive for the next couple of hours,’

Kim was furious, ‘Just who do you think you are talking to me like that?’

‘Kira Okeke, from the Democratic Nations of The New Utopia,’

Kim burst into laughter and kept on laughing for an awkward amount of time. She noticed her toe twitch and immediately grinned.

‘Ok, ok, Kira Okeke from the Demo…whatever, listen. You are fucking crazy ass bitch, and I don’t know how long you have been trapped here but I am not your friend, and I don’t owe you anything. In fact I am going to kill you for going through my things after my legs start working again.’

‘1 day, from sunrise to sunset, or at least that’s how time is measured in most planets. That’s how long I have been here,’ Kira replied ignoring the rest.

‘Planets? OK,’ she felt the sensation finally return to her legs. ‘Maybe you should just,’ she sprang up, quickly on to her feet. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ and dashed for the exit before falling to her face after 2 steps.

‘You think I don’t want to?’ Kira retorted not even attempting to acknowledge what had just happened.

‘My family, my sweet husband, and my kid, my sweet Kate,’ she teared missing them. ‘I’ve never been away this long, and so out of touch. She would be going to another grade of school by now,’ she lamented.

‘Mommy…’ Kim muttered. ‘It was you,’ she turned to look back.

‘I knew you recognized me, I was the one…’

‘the crazy one in the dessert,’ Kim interjected, hiding the fact that she was also the one she saw in her weird psychedelic near death experience. She finally realised that they were same person.

‘Look,’ Kira looked hard into Kim’s face. ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t need to trust me, but help me get out of here, find some civilisation nearby so I can contact home and get help. I promise you that you will be well rewarded.’

Kim’s head started to ruminate. One never says no to money. ‘What kind of reward?’

‘Currency, intergalactic, worth millions here perhaps,’

‘Intergalactic? Ok lady, you can stop the whole alien thing right now,’

‘You people really don’t know do you?’

‘Know what?’

‘There’s a universe out there, planets, ships, stations, hubs, the whole thing is just littered with our kind. You have been left so alone for so long to fend for yourselves you poor things,’

Kim looked out past the cliff into the night sky. ‘Everywhere?’ She wondered for a second if the strange woman might be telling the truth. Then she started ruminating even more. ‘She was in the dessert in some kind of weird air ship. She also knows how to heal people, make pyre and who in the hell can come up with a phrase like ‘Democratic Shanties of La-La Land’?’

‘Ok, I suppose you did save me. So, I will help you travel to the next town. And that’s it,’

Kira smiled pleased to have struck an agreement, and for once on this miserable planet, she felt a glimmer of hope. ‘Thank you, Miss?’

‘Kim,’

‘Just Kim?’

‘No not JUST KIM,’ she retorted, ‘KIM!’

 

The Fifth Horseman

Some days are good

‘Ahhhhh!’ a young woman kept screaming from the top of her lungs. She violently tossed and turned on her bed. The commotion had alerted everyone. ‘YOU! YOU! I WILL KILL YOU!’ she yelled, her eyes transfixed to Sheila, the doctor retracted standing back horror-stricken.

‘And what are you doing?’ asked Dr Julie, shaking Sheila’s shoulder. She noted the needle in her hand, uncapped, sharp dripping blood from the tip pointing away from her. ‘Sheila, put the needle down.’

Sheila shook her head and collected herself. ‘Oh sorry Dr,’ she quickly disposed of the syringe needle in the sharps bin right next to her.

The nurses called in for back up, and immediately 2 broadly built Medical Assistants came rushing in, exactly what you needed for a situation like this. They held the patient down, tying her wrists to the side of the bed. She kept kicking, screaming, and even spat on one the nurses’ faces. Sheila winced, pitying the young nurse, her dear friend. Sheila was the one who called her in to accompany her while she took the patient’s blood for thyroid levels. So, naturally Sheila felt somewhat responsible.

‘Tranquilise with a dose of midazolam 5mg stat,’ commanded Dr Julie. One of the nurses nodded and proceeded to prepare the drug. The syringe was handed to the Medical Assistant or MA in short. The patient kept screaming at him, her eyes wide open, her neck moving away from the needle that came closer to her. Just as timing was right, the MA pulled up her sleeve and punctured it through her shoulder. The patient threw an even larger tantrum but enough hands were on her to keep her down while the medicine coursed its way through her muscles and into her bloodstream.

Sheila wrote in her documentation, still playing the events in her head. ‘KILL ME?’ she asked herself. ‘Poor Nabila,’ she thought thinking of the nurse who had only been the sweetest to her since she started working here. As soon as Sheila was done with the ward tasks, she crosschecked her to-do list once more just to be certain. In precisely 5 minutes, the specialist would come back from her lunch and expect all things be as immaculate as the way she left it, with all orders carried out systematically and without delay.

‘OK, get the CT request, the bloods from Bed 2,5,17,28, 37, and 42, call up pathology to trace cultures of Bed 3,4, and 8, and what else…’ she seemed to have a sneaking suspicion that she had forgotten something. ‘AHHH!’ she heard screaming again from the very same cubicle. Dr Julie exited with a group of nurses right behind her. ‘Sheila, come here!’ said Dr Julie. Sheila immediately ran to her Medical Officer’s call.

‘Here,’ she delivered a tube of the patient’s blood sample to her. ‘Run it to the lab,’

Sheila was grateful. ‘Thank y-‘. Before she could finish her sentence, she had Dr Julie’s hand in her gaze. ‘and I need an explanation letter. For how you handled yourself. That was not professional and certainly not safe. What if she had like HIV or Hepatitis or something? Did you read her file? Let’s just say she has made some questionable decisions in the past. You don’t want any accidents.’

Sheila nodded humbled. Dr Julie was a good doctor, in fact one of the best around. She was her unofficial mentor, unlike the bloke they had initially assigned to her in which the most exchange they ever had was ‘Hi’. Dr Julie had good skills, immense knowledge and great ideas but she was a judgemental prick. Still, flaws aside, Sheila admired her work etiquette.

Sheila crossed another task from her check-list. Her stomach growled but lunch break was now over and the Dr Lily, the specialist was back for afternoon rounds. Dr Julie recounted the events that took place while she was gone. Dr Lily didn’t seem at all surprised at what happened, in fact her first retort was quite sound, ‘why didn’t you just call in Psychiatry and ask them to take the bloods? It’s their patient anyways, we are just helping to hold their patients for them. This will only create panic among our other patients.’ Dr Julie heeded the counter-point and nodded at Sheila. That only meant that it was Sheila’s responsibility to call Psychiatry the next time that happened. If there was one thing Sheila learned, it was the pecking order of the hospital. Sheila couldn’t turn around and nod at anyone else and that was what people meant when they told her that she was going to be at the bottom of the food chain.

As rounds continued, Sheila confidently updated her specialist stressing the parts that she personally crossed out on her checklist. Still she felt strange and anxious that she missed something. ‘And when is the CT planned?’ asked Dr Lily sternly. Sheila flipped through her notes. ‘Shit did I forget this?’

‘23rd this month,’ a voice sounded from behind. Sheila turned to see that it was Ram. He smiled. ‘Good,’ Dr Lily replied.

‘Really? 23rd?’ Sheila asked softly at Ram’s ear. ‘No! I saw the appointment book earlier, and it was a clear date. If you go now, you might still get to book it.’

‘You lied?’

Ram turned a smug look toward her. Sheila was impressed and deeply grateful. Ram had helped her many times this month. She knew she couldn’t ask for a better friend and partner in crime.

As soon as afternoon rounds were done, Dr Julie gathered all her interns around her. Like children in preschool, they ran toward her, nodding and smiling, relieved the day was over. Some had plans for the night, a movie, hitting the clubs, dinner with family, or just plainly sitting in front of a TV. Sheila had one final task before the 5 pm clock-out and that was the handover. She gave her colleague notes on the cases and the instructions that came with them.

‘So? How will you be spending your Saturday night?’ asked Remy, the aforementioned colleague, excited to make small talk. ‘I’m gonna head back. Jenny said she cooked pasta. Gonna try it out,’

‘That’s it? Pasta with Jenny? No PLANS?’ Remy winked.

‘Aren’t we a little old for PLANS?’

‘Nonsense. We’re exactly the right age. This is the point of time we still get to keep our youthful bodies and have disposable income. So we should be doing things with them, both our bodies and our income,’ she nudged Sheila’s shoulder, in case the euphemism wasn’t clear.

Remy was right, but Sheila couldn’t see things that way, not anymore. The moment she steps foot into the hospital, everything stops being about her, and becomes about the people in the beds. And the problem is that doesn’t stop when she leaves the hospital either. As she recalled, most nights, she and Jenny just sat and talked about patients, their Medical Officers, their specialists; day in and day out, always the same thing. This endless circle was what her life was now and ‘PLANS’ was just something the past Sheila would be obsessed about, now the more mature, wiser Sheila with the budding grey hairs.

‘OH SHIT!’ she smacked her forehead. ‘Sorry Remy, gotta run.’ She cursed her way down the stairwell and dashed for Radiology. ‘Oh good, still open,’ relieved. She asked the guy at the counter for the appointment register and quickly booked in the 23rd for the Mr Richard’s Abdominal CT. It was imperative that she had the date. He had a slowly growing abdominal aneurysm, and she had promised him earlier that they would see the results together.

She walked out of Radiology with a huge sigh of relief. Ram patted her on the back while he walked pass. ‘Going home?’

‘Yeah, what else?’ she snarkily replied. She couldn’t see Ram’s embarrassed face walking out. He was not the best at small talk.

There was already a long line eagerly waiting to clock-out holding their punch cards in their hands making small talk with fellow staff. Sheila slowly approached and stood with the rest as more followed behind her.

She felt a towering presence behind her. A large figure loomed over her. She turned behind to notice Mr Jamal, the General Surgeon. He immediately noticed her. ‘You are a house officer here?’

‘Yes,’ inclined to respond.

‘So many of you,’ he sighed.

Sheila nodded tightening her lips. ‘When will this line end?’ she mumbled to herself.

‘Tell me girl, how old are you?’

‘Erm, 28.’

‘Really? You look easily 16 I tell you.’

Sheila smiled again. Her stomach kept growling and her pores kept sweating, drenching her already filthy white-coat. The awkwardness of the whole situation was unbearable to her.

‘Hey!’ someone called out, another specialist but not someone she recognized approached them and shook Mr Jamal’s hand. They started to chatter while Sheila tried to increase the distance between them. ‘Come on, come on, come on,’ she mumbled and as soon as the two nurses were done ahead of her, she placed her card in the machine and heard that glorious sound of freedom. She hurried slotted her card back in the holder and dashed for the exit.

‘Don’t be a stranger girl,’ Mr Jamal called out waving his hand at her while she sped. Reluctantly she turned to smile and nod and then continued back to her car in the parking lot.

As her routine, she would remove her white coat and throw it on the floor rug in the back of the car. Though she once judged people for treating in insides of their cars like laundry baskets, she was now one of them but ‘only till the internship was over’ she always told herself. She straightened her back and massaged her sore neck. Her eyes caught a glimpse of a crow and she trailed it until it reached the balcony of a roof. It was four storeys above A&E. The bird’s eyes wondered, scavenging. ‘Must be a good view,’ Sheila mumbled under her breath before she climbed into her car gently smiling

**

‘Really?’ Jenny didn’t know which story astounded her more; the physical harassment by the schizophrenic, or the attempted flirting by the creepy specialist twice Sheila’s age.

‘I know right?’ Sheila covered her mouth, ‘it was just too awkward. What do I tell him?’

‘And 16?’ Jenny thought, ‘that just screams pedophile.’ They laughed about it, reducing it to a dinner joke, something women did to diffuse such situations so they can go on about their daily lives.

‘What about you?’ asked Sheila.

‘Well, Daniel is still trying to ask me out,’

‘Are you kidding me?’

‘I’m not,’ she smiled, ‘he keeps saying I owe him dinner for some help I asked him once,’

‘The central line,’

‘Yes, and he is good at those things, so I asked him to help because I want the patient to feel better you know. Why poke the patient so many times when you can just get an expert to do it?’

‘So?’ When is the dinner?’

‘Shut up!’ Jenny’s face was no poker face. The blushing, the folding of hair at the back of her ears, the awkward and random smiling were all tell-tale signs just too obvious and familiar, juvenile even. But Jenny couldn’t even realize that they had not spoken to each other for about 15 minutes easily. She just smiled to herself twirling her pasta in deep thought.

‘Well I’m happy if you’re happy,’ said Sheila. ‘And the pasta is amazing,’

‘No! it’s bad!’ Jenny retorted, pouting her lips in disappointed.

‘Yeah, it’s bad,’ Sheila confessed, ‘I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,’ she laughed.

‘It’s OK, I’ll give it another go next time,’

‘Does Daniel like pasta by any chance?’

‘Shut up, Sheila,’ Jenny stormed out to the kitchen. Sheila smiled, ‘you’re adorable.’

All things considered, Sheila had interesting day, and when her parents called her that night, she made sure she only told them the good parts.

Sheila took things a day at a time, because that was the best advice everyone gave her. Some days were good and some days were not so good. Even though her bosses were indifferent to her coming and going, her colleagues loved her and her nurses too. Who wouldn’t if you bought them food apologizing for letting a patient spit at you? Who wouldn’t if you did your job well enough and did perfect handovers? Who wouldn’t if you knew their stories and made them feel more than just sick vulnerable bodies to be poked and prodded?

It was a random day after work. As per her routine, she threw her coat in the back of her car. She looked up and there it was, that same bird again. Something told her to go back in, and find the stairwell. Something told her to go up and open that roof door. She didn’t know until she got there. It was the view, and the peace it brought. She reached the end of balcony and stood next the crow on the ledge. Far away the city lights coming alive in the distance, the lake waters shimmering, and beneath her, all the way down, like ants, a charade of endless sirens and casualty victims begging for help; the kind of help that she was proud to be a part of. She smiled as the wind kissed her cheek, and smiled at the crow next to her. ‘Thanks’ she muttered.

HARD

CHAPTER 5

The terrain had dramatically changed with the wavy dunes now far in the rear, Kira found herself driving on more flat and sturdy ground. The cracks reminded her of old dried water basins. In the proper hands, these lands would have flourished. ‘What a pity,’ she thought. There was not a town, or even a truck stop in sight. She had been off-road so long she was wondering if the folk here even understood the concept. Kira was tempted to give her feet some rest. She hit the ‘cruise control’, moved her legs up over the dashboard, with one hand on the steering, she finally decided to take it all in. She basked under the warmth of the sun and wind soothed her skin as she took big cathartic breaths, enjoying every second of the air aerating her lungs. The atmosphere here wasn’t at all like at the crash site. The air here was fresh, nurturing, and pure. She marvelled at how this place survived this long, all on its own. Where were the vegetation, the hydroponic farms? The trees? How could a planet sustain human life without any trees? These were just some of the questions that kept ruminating in her head while she cruised toward the empty horizon ahead stretching out to what seemed like infinity; a view so exponentially lifeless, her mind rather daydreamed. That or maybe her body just felt like it could finally relax. It was all just putting her to sleep. Maybe it was the exhaustion but the urges were slowly taking over and soon enough her eyes were closing shut even without her permission.

Kira woke up, her body tossed to the back, turned around, face pressed against the backseat. She felt nauseous and completely disoriented. Her head was spinning. All of these lasted for about 30 seconds. Then she finally got a grasp of reality. She adjusted herself to sit and then noticed that the front half of the vehicle was completely obliterated. The cushions torn and the seats broken. The front of the truck was completely smashed into a concrete wall. Kira was unhurt. She actually felt blessed that she wasn’t in the front when all this happened but she had no idea how long she was out, never even realizing she had collided with something in such high impact. She pulled herself out and surveyed the damage. ‘No way is she coming back from this,’ she mumbled. ‘Guess this is my stop,’ she consoled herself.

The wall was high, almost as if to intimidate. She traced the sides until she reached an open entrance leading to an open yard like space between two towering building. It was like the ruins of an old shantytown, littered with junk. Scraps of metal and garbage everywhere, floors of it towering her sides, and the only sunlight came from a narrow opening at the top dimly lighting up the place. She heard movement.

‘Hello?’ she shouted. ‘Is anyone there? You don’t need to feel afraid. I’m unarmed.’

There was a tiny screeching noise, from one of the floors above, ‘What the hell can that be?’

She grabbed a metal rod incidentally found adjacent to her and started to creep toward the noise, where she found a rusty ladder, creaking while swaying left and right. Only problem was, there was hardly any wind in here. The sound became more audible, this time like whispers, like language, like human language. She figured people did speak English over here, or at least that is what the man in the truck from earlier spoke. ‘Hello?’ she called out. She tested the stability of the ladder before beginning her climb. Her heart was beating in anxiety but if she found life, maybe she could find help.

As soon as she was on floor two, she noticed even more garbage. Plastic, metals, paper, cloth, and polymer of all sorts you wouldn’t expect to find in a primitive civilisation. She noted several compartmentalization, akin to rooms, just bordered by old stone and cement. She assumed this was an old housing complex, maybe midway in construction before solar flares forced the project to stop. However, the garbage suggested people lived here once, a lot of people. Maybe it was thriving, maybe there was an earthquake, maybe it was an evacuation site, or even an isolation site. Or maybe it was just something else entirely. There was no way to know for sure, not when there are no legible forms of writing or signs anywhere. What might have been something remarkable was in wasteful ruins, abandoned, far from civilised road, lonely and dangerous. She crept cautiously, a step at a time, lifting her tightly gripped metal rod with both hands in case of an attack. Her neck hairs stiff, her eyes alert. Then, in her peripheral vision, MOVEMENT. She turned right.

The mound of plastic suddenly moved, and from under it, a shadow rose. Kira took a step back, ready. ‘Show yourself,’

A figure ascended, a girl, adolescent. Her hair was red, bathed in mud and slime. Her clothes ragged, brown and withered. Her face dirty, as she smiled, and walked close, bare-footed on top of the mounds of junk, not even cautious to see what she was stepping. Kira noticed her abdomen distended, ballooned, as would a malnourished child. She wasn’t afraid and just smiled. Kira wasn’t really sure if she should smile back. Who was this lonely garbage child? Has she been out her all by herself just surviving eating whatever scrap she could scavenge? The girl stopped before her and reached her hand out. Kira had to make a choice and decided to trust her. She smiled as she gave her right hand. The girl only smiled even more as she swung Kira’s hand left to right. Kira laughed at her silliness. It had been a while since she’d been entertained by a child.

The girl kept swinging, and dancing and laughing, and that’s when Kira noticed her teeth. The little girl suddenly pulled Kira down close to her, and without warning bit into her right in the forearm. Her teeth was sharp edged, like carved with a blade, and it dug right in. ‘Arghh!’ Kira screamed as her flesh was being torn apart. She swung her rod at the girl’s head, hoping to knock her off. But that was not what happened. It didn’t just bounce off leaving a nasty bleed, rather it pierced right through, buried into her skull and lodged in her brain, immediately deforming the kid’s face.

‘AHHHH!’ the kid squealed as her eyes turned red and swollen almost about to pop out. Blood poured out of the wound drenching the rest of her head and her entire body. She cried in agony as she walked back with little piece of Kira’s skin stuck to her teeth, the metal rod slowly releasing her from her pain. Kira pulled back, squeezing her forearm. She tore a bit of her sleeve and fashioned a bandage. The kid grew tired, pale, and fell to her knees before collapsing, silent. Kira vomited, repulsed at the very sight. ‘What the fuck did I just do?’

From behind her, more rustling. She turned back to see at least 20 heads popping out of the ground in the distance. Closer to her she could feel movement. She looked down. There were arms and hands trying to grab her, dirty, withered, brown. ‘Ah!’ she screeched. More and more revealed themselves and growled like feral creatures, hungry, desperate. ‘Shit!’

She moved backward, and tried to reach for the ladder. The bolts immediately came loose as soon as she touched it and the entire construct fell. A loud bang, metal clanging on metal, and the whispers got suddenly very much louder. She could see she had alerted the compound. The mounds of garbage burst open everywhere and everyone was awake, alert. Their eyes watched her, fear-stricken and severely outnumbered. Kira was surrounded by what looked like men, women, children and even infants; dishevelled, horrific looking. These were the eyes of the sick, stripped off all humanity, just craving for pure sustenance, just empty vessels looking to stay afloat another day.

‘Rarrrrr’ a figure launched from her side. She swung her rod, and it mangled his skull. He screamed to his death. She had no choice but to jump of the ledge back down, and so she did. The fall was bad, and she heard her ankle pop. A few others jumped right after her fracturing their fragile bones and immediately killing themselves. Kira got up and felt a sting in her ankle. Her neck was hurting again. She eyed for the closest exit, the way she came in.

‘CLEAR.’

She started to move. The others followed her, running, leaping and crawling, almost toying with her. She limped as hurriedly as she could while swinging her rod viciously at whatever came. ‘Rarrrrrrrr’ launched another from behind. Kira found herself pinned down, nails clawing in to her back. She squealed in agony as she tried to turn herself over. She gave herself one push and flipped. There was what looked like a grizzly old women, her skin pale and sloughy, her hair thin and patchy, her teeth made of razor sharp metal implants. She was frothing from her mouth, chomping away trying to get a bite at Kira’s face.

‘No!’ Kira pushed, her palms resisting hard, and then suddenly, with all the weight the cannibal was forcing on her, Kira’s hands found its way penetrating into the lady’s breasts, through and through, crushing all her ribs and piercing into her lungs. ‘BAHHH!’ the women screamed. She continuously coughed and spouted red gelatinous material onto Kira’s face.

Kira swung the now lifeless body to the side. She pulled herself to get up. 3 of them jumped at her all at the same time. One of them pulled the rod away from her and bit into her shoulder. She screamed and pulled on his face. She tore his skin off and ripped apart his skull from his jaw. She couldn’t handle all of them. Her clothes were torn, her skin had bite and claw marks everywhere. She kicked, punched, smashed a few skulls, broke a few bones, and kept going without much thought or strategy; just pure carnal instinct. She noticed that some of them had left her to feed on the injured ones. She flung the bodies far to buy her the time she needed to escape. As more moved away, she found a small window of opportunity to run back to the entrance.

She limped, and hopped and pushed herself forward. She shook off whatever clang to her calves, stepped and broke whatever hands that held tight to her sleeves. She noticed the ground beneath began to shake unsteadily. She felt as though she was now standing on fragile foundations. As more came at her, it finally broke and she fell into a huge pit filled with what she could only guess to be oil.

The ones that came after her drowned almost instantaneously. She floated to the surface and looked up. More kept diving in but none knew how to swim. The oil was viscid and it was difficult for Kira to keep her head afloat, but at least it she noticed it went somewhere. This was not a dead end. She saw a long stream leading to a narrow tunnel, only half of it in carrying oil. Kira swam ahead to investigate. The echoes were louder from the other side and her body was small and slippery enough to pass through.

She wriggled her way and found herself in another chamber, wider and without any access to the ground above. She felt strange sensations touching her body only to realize it was the dead carcasses floating in the oil. She looked out for a ledge, or just anything she could use to climb out. The oil was toxic, burning into her skin and the wounds much worse.

‘You asked for this, I mean you used to give kids advice about all kinds of stuff Kira. “Careful not to drive while you’re sleepy kids, and you just might end up in some kind of a chemical sewer filled with flesh eating cannibals” was not part of any outreach program that I knew of.’

She noticed the current getting stronger, and drawing her in fast. ‘Shit!’ She knew what this meant. The stream was getting rapid, and it only meant a large drop was coming. The echoes were louder and louder and that only meant a bigger drop. She could vaguely make out ahead that several streams were leading to the same place she was going. She began to force herself upstream again trying to grab on to something besides dead bodies. Some of the bodies had already fallen.

‘Fuck it!’ she surrendered looking at how she had not much of a choice left but just blindly hope her God will save her.

Kira was immediately swept with the current. There was a wide ledge and then, down she went with several other dead appendages beside her. It was at least 20 seconds before she plopped into an even larger basin. The consistency though felt different the deeper she went. This was ‘water’. She could tell ‘water’ no matter what planet she was on. She floated back to the surface, happy to be alive amongst the dead. She dipped back down to drink a gulp and then came back up again. She did this repeatedly until she was satisfied. The water might have been deadly, it might have been toxic, it might have had parasites that could kill her in just hours, but dear God it was fucking water. Kira was seeing things a lot clearer and she felt some energy kick back in. Ahead she found a dimly lit ridge and swam ahead. She climbed up and rested her bottom. She noticed how shiny her skin looked despite feeling like she was on fire.

‘When will this fucking day end,’ she cursed herself. Then echoing from a somewhere, a voice, in English. It sounded like a woman, grunting in pain, cursing just as she was earlier. Kira noticed the voice coming from behind the wall. She followed it to discover an opening- a dark tunnel leading up. ‘Should I?’ she asked herself, ‘What other choice do I have?’

***

Kim was now far from danger, travelling alone in the rainy tundra. She was getting pale and lightheaded and her eyes wouldn’t stay open for much longer The rains were hitting hard and the leaking through the roof. Any moment it would pour right in and short circuit everything. The smell was putrid. To her left, she noticed something familiar. ‘Yes!’ overjoyed. She had been here before – a place she had buried in her memories as deep as it was buried in sand. It was once a refinery, then an abandoned hideout, a den of thieves and drug users. She drove a little to the side, checking the perimeter. ‘I hope it’s still here.’

Ahead she saw two cylindrical monuments facing a ledge and a deep cliff beyond that. ‘That’s it!’ The only problem was getting there. The rains and wind blew wild and she knew she had to stop and make a run for it.

She drove close enough, to where the road ended. She turned off the engine and took a long silent breath. She heeded the thunderous roars from the skies above. The dripping through the roof had became a constant stream and it was pouring over the passenger seat, eating it up as it made its way to the ground. ‘Come on now,’ she told herself, ‘there will be no dieing here. Not today.’

She swung open the door and jumped down. The rain seared her, burning her skin with every drop. She was already half drenched. ‘Argh!’ she moaned. Kim started to pace as fast as she could. Every drop trailing down her skin burned everything in its path even underneath her already thinning clothes. Her hair drooped down, blocking her vision but that didn’t stop her. ‘Just a little bit more,’ she told herself as the soaking bandages around her hands fell off, exposing her wounds.

She finally reached the edge of the cliff and started to navigate along the narrow ridge that separated it from shelter. Just a few minutes of tip toeing and she would be in the clear. She pushed through with all her courage as the unforgiving skies wailed even more. She felt like she was bathing in some weird wet fire. She was not planning to slip, not when she was this close.

With one final leap, Kim was finally under one of the huge cylindrical structures. She walked in a little. The place was dark but at least it was dry. She rested her back against the wall and slowly allowed herself to drop to the ground. She let her arms and legs loose.

She heard a squeak. Little tiny eyes glistened ‘What now?’ she asked annoyed. ‘Rats!’

She remembered something someone had taught her once if ever in a situation like this. She reached into her pants and fiddled a bit until she found a tiny string. With one gentle pull, she removed a wet, blood soaked tampon. ‘You want this you little shit-fucks? You want to suck on this here pussy blood?’ The rats squeaked excitedly as she wiggled it around on the string enticing them before flinging it to the far back. The entire mischief ran after it.

‘Well! There goes my last one.’ She closed her eyes and breathed gently. She felt a feverish chill and her fingers slowly becoming numb. Her head was light and the rain noises became softer and softer though it was pouring only heavier than before. She closed her eyes and finally gave in to rest. She could not hear anything else anymore but the sound of her heartbeat like disappearing far into a distance and into another reality. ‘Hello Death, it’s great to see you again. I’m not sure if I’m only visiting this time,’ she mumbled before her body collapsed to her side.

The Fifth Horseman

Did she say goodbye?

It was somewhere around the late of October, almost a year ago, when Ram had his first encounter with the girl that would change his entire life. It was late in the evening and Ram had arrived early to the new place. Employment was about to start tomorrow, the first ever for Ram as he had never even held an interim job before. He sat quietly by himself at the corner table in ‘Ali’s Restaurant’ and ordered himself a cup of The Tarik and some Roti. He caught a glimpse of her by sheer accident, having coffee and gleefully eating her meal. They sat two tables apart from each other. There was something about her, Ram thought. Maybe it was the way she sipped her hot coffee or how she twisted her fork every so fastidiously, rolling up all the wet noodles into a little greasy ball before treating herself to a juicy mouthful. As she did, it would leave a thin coat of oily residue that painted her lips before she would gently peek out the tip of her tongue to clear them; something about it was attractive, tantalizing even. Perhaps he was paying a little too close an attention, because though it never struck her at first, she quickly became aware. Her eyes just immediately turned to him as she kept sipping. ‘What a creep? She would have thought,’ Ram of course never confronted her about this. Not even when they officially met the next day in that office, -the day she was late for some reason. In all that chaos and confusion, either she had no recollection of seeing him the night before, or she was merely toying with him to see if he would bring it up himself.

‘And did you?’ asked Daniel, curious. The duo were just done with the funeral service in the morning and had decided to dress the gloom away with some breakfast and a movie. Much to their disappointment, there was nothing that peaked their interest in the theatres. Everything was either a sequel or a reboot, a cheap horror flick, a continuous barrage of mind numbingly CGI packed explosions or just bad comedies. Either that or the fact that the two young doctors had finally learned what it meant to be cynical. Ram decided to invite his friend back to his rented terrace unit, a little further from his old place at the apartment they used to share, but he valued the freedom more than the distance. He never really completely furnished the place though. The living room had two sofas and a coffee table on top of a rug carpet. He got himself a 30’’ television to watch football matches and connect his gaming console to and that was pretty much all the effort he put into interior decorating. The rooms were all empty except for the largest one, the master bedroom, where he housed an untidy queen bed, littered with used clothes. The only time he remotely considered tidying up was if his parents were going to drop by or on the off chance, a female guest stays over for the night. Apart from those two explicit exclusions, he keeps his home exactly how he defines his version of ‘HOME’ to be; lived in. Still, his closest of friends though were never put-off by his whole ‘slob’ persona and lifestyle, because those who really knew him saw him as an open book, transparent, as someone you can always confide in, and that was something rare to come by these days.

‘Yes man, of course I did. Not till about 2 months later I think,’

‘You were both in the same department,’

‘Yes, that was hell, being the only two black skins,’ he lit himself a joint of freshly rolled marijuana, and smoked a puff before offering it to his guest. Daniel declined.

‘OBGYN, I fucking hated that place. It was like herding cattle and holding them in a barnyard, waiting for them pop one out and leave,’

Daniel chuckled at the analogy, ‘that’s mean man,’

‘Oh come on bro, don’t act like you never thought about it. They would be waddling around the wards, hoping their cervices dilate, just to wake you up screaming in the early hours of the morning. And when did call buttons become not enough?

‘You should get married, man. Go get yourself a wife in that position. I’ll bet you will be singing a different tune,’

Ram smiled at the thought. ‘It’s not like I never had the idea. Getting married off course, not getting a girl pregnant,’

‘Really?’ Daniel prodded. ‘Didn’t you try with Sheila?’

Ram pulled himself back, resting his entire weight on the sofa. He breathed in all the smoke from his joint, and exhaled a sizable cloud to the ceiling. He kept offering the joint to Daniel, but it always ‘NO’ for the young doctor.

‘I was stupid,’ he tried recalling the events that took place. ‘It was really the nurses’ idea you know. They would ship any minority together. You know that right?’

‘But in this particular case you were interested,’

‘I was infatuated,’

Ram remembered the first time Sheila and him even actually shared a real conversation; something from the heart. It was probably after a month into their new jobs. ‘It’s almost surreal when you think about it. She was having a bad day. It was just one of those days when you’re completely swamped. I think she was heading down to the lab or maybe coming up, that I am not too sure. However, she must have stopped. She was not holding anything, not any papers or blood samples in bags, just sitting by herself between levels Ground and Basement I think. She curled herself up in the foetal position by the corner of the stairs, just crying underneath her white coat. It was the emergency stairwell man. Only staff use it, so you won’t expect that much traffic but happened to be there. I think I went down for a smoke or something and on my way back I decided I’d take a slow incline. You know, get some exercise, pass some time. To hell if I cared if another cow was going to pop, the nurses all had midwifery skills and I had successfully finished by delivery quota. So then…’ Ram had seemed to have lost his trail of thought, and was more focused on the way the smoke circled above his head ‘what happened?’

‘Maybe stop at one joint ah?’ Daniel cackled.

‘You kidding? This good stuff is the one that’s making me remember.’

Ram took a final puff, burning the last bit, holding it in his chest for a moment before blowing it all to the high ceiling. The living room was already foggy, and it was immaterial at this stage whether or not Daniel wanted to share, as he was already feeling his eyes dry up and head ever so slightly swinging. ‘There’s more,’ Ram gestured at Daniel to hand him a casing on the coffee table. He opened it to reveal several ground, filtered and neatly rolled reefers stacked together. ‘What the hell,’ Daniel smiled as he took it for himself first. ‘It’s been a long time,’ mumbled Daniel to himself before lighting it up and taking the first puff. Ram was deep in concentration, his eyes tightly closed.

‘Oh yes, she was crying. And I stood there. Didn’t know what to do at the moment you know. She was my friend. I did kind of like her too. I felt it would do her injustice if I didn’t approach. So I walked up to her. She realised someone was there and immediately wiped her tears while desperately attempting to hide her face. Still for some reason, after she knew who it was, she wasn’t so guarded anymore. That I distinctively remember. For a second, maybe even smiled, happy that it was me and not anyone else.

‘‘Bad day ah?’’ I started hoping to engage.

‘‘What day isn’t?’’ she replied.

‘‘You wanna talk about it?’’ I sat next to her, facing the same direction. I couldn’t just wrap my arms around her, we weren’t that close yet, but I really wanted to help in any way I could, maybe it was partially my feelings for her at that time talking.

‘‘You ever feel like they don’t see you. Like you’re there, and they see you but they don’t ‘’see you’’,’’ she tried to explain.

‘‘I want what you’re having,’’ I joked. She smiled just a little and continued, ‘‘like you do all this, the slogging and the slaving and I know it’s just part of the job but it’s like they think it all just happens magically and things are just laid out before them. When it does, you continue to disappear back into the background,’’

‘‘Yes, of course I do. A simple “thanks” wouldn’t be so bad, right?’’

She continued speaking, and rather passionately too, like she was really meaning to get something off her chest. ‘’No, but when it doesn’t go the way you want it to, that’s when it all turns to shit. Like when the lab results just haven’t showed up on the monitor yet and nobody knows if it did, because well, it’s fucking 8am in the morning, and somethings take a little longer, you are suddenly on the spot. They look at you,’’

‘‘Expecting answers,’’

‘‘See, that’s what I thought initially. But then I kept playing it over and over again. Just the body language, and sometimes even ‘’actual’’ the language. It’s not answers they want. They just want to point their fingers.’’

‘‘Did someone blame you for something?’’

‘‘I’m a big girl Ram, I can handle taking the shit from others. But it’s almost like a pattern sometimes. I sat here thinking that maybe IT IS me. One half of me convincing myself it isn’t and the other half saying it is. But what’s the point. It’s still going to be me, my fault, my responsibility.’’

‘‘Hey if the lab guy is late, he is late,’’ I retorted. She turned to look at me, her eye sharply focused on mine, her face swollen, red. She started to tear again this time just openly, without any shame or attempt to hide her vulnerability.

‘‘I feel helpless Ram,’’ she started letting loose with all the waterworks. I went for the embrace, understanding quite well I was digging my own grave, walking into the ‘’friend-zone’’ category but at this moment I had no choice. I mean what else could I have done?’

‘I feel like it’s just me, even when it’s not, when it’s clearly not. It’s always me they’re looking for. It can’t be race thing right? I just want to cut her fucking finger Ram. So it stops pointing at people, for good.’

Daniel was now lying back on the sofa fully relaxed as well. ‘It felt like she was just here man, like I saw the scene happening before my eyes,’

‘Of course it is,’ replied Ram at Daniel, ‘she is still there. Only there.’ Daniel tilted his head to see his friend deep in thought, his hand reaching to the ceiling , with just a small trail of water having paved a way down his cheeks from the corner of his eye. Ram was feeling the moment, as if it just happened. Then he suddenly sat up, straightening his back, surprising Daniel to an unexaggerated amount that he immediately got off the sofa.

‘I think I told her a joke, maybe something like ‘’ok you tell me who it is, and I’ll make sure she doesn’t have any fingers tomorrow,’’ or something else, I’m not too sure. But I remember laughing, and so was she. She headed back up. I watched her ass from behind, because you know she had a very nice ass,’

Daniel coughed. He took in another puff. ‘You’re such a pervert man,’

‘Screw you man. Everybody knows she has a great ass. Well, had. Now it’s probably all flat like old dough,’ Ram suddenly changed his tone, attempting a morbid and distasteful joke.

‘Oh God man, we’re talking about our dead friend here,’

‘It’s not offensive if she can’t hear it,’

Daniel started looking around. ‘You really think that?’

‘Yes, she isn’t here. She is no more. Her existence obsolete, and,’ Ram wiped his face, ‘and it fucking sucks. It really does.’

Daniel sank back into the couch, unable to stand the weight of it all. ‘It can’t all be just over man,’

‘Yeah man. Don’t you think I don’t know that. But it is what it is. She didn’t even say goodbye did she? The bitch decided on her own to just up and leave.’

‘Well,’ replied Daniel. Ram turned to him. He figured this was the best time to prod. ‘You were there, in her last few seconds of glory. Did she say goodbye?’

Daniel didn’t answer and Ram was already getting agitated. ‘Nothing?’

Daniel looked back at him. ‘What do you want me to say?’

‘I need you to tell me the truth, fucker,’

‘She didn’t say anything,’

‘Really?’

‘Look, I cannot help if everyone wants an answer. I was there but I wasn’t really of much help. I don’t know why she chose me, I don’t know what she wanted except for someone to witness her do it.’

Ram launched at Daniel, his hand firmly pressed against Daniel’s collar bone.

‘Tell me the truth,’

‘The fuck are you doing man?’ Daniel shouted, his hands holding Ram’s wrist, trying to push him off.

‘I’m sorry, man,’ Ram retracted. ‘I don’t know what that was.’ He started pacing. He left to the kitchen and brought out a can of beer only to realise that Daniel was a Muslim and he that didn’t drink alcohol. ‘Fuck, I am so sorry,’ he walked back and exchanged it for a can of soda instead.

Daniel grabbed the can as Ram sat down and closed back the casing. He had reached his limit for now. ‘It just doesn’t make any sense,’

‘No it doesn’t,’ Daniel replied. ‘It really doesn’t. And I don’t know what she was planning to achieve from all this. At least leave a note so we can catch him, right?’

Ram was still trying to clear his head but it didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention. ‘Catch him?’ he asked, ‘Who’s him?’ he glared at Daniel now looking back with an awkward expression.

Daniel opened his eyes wider. Maybe it was the marijuana, or maybe he needed to say it out loud. He knew the next word craving to escape his lips had a nuclear effect and it was probably not the smartest thing to do, but on the one hand this was his friend, desperate for closure, mourning, and seeking answers. If anyone could keep a secret it would be Ram. It was eating Daniel up inside, just the idea alone, no matter how significant or insignificant it might be. Nobody can just sit still if they’re holding a gram of unsteady uranium in their hands, no matter how important it was to do exactly that.

‘Jamal,’ he blurted out. Ram looked aghast. ‘The surgeon?’. And now it was out there, in the open, volatile unpredictable. Daniel sighed but he wasn’t really feeling all that relieved. Ram was smiling. ‘I fucking knew it.’

HARD

CHAPTER 4

Drying off after being drenched in each others’ sweat, their bodies having repeatedly enjoyed each other, their senses were now numb, exhausted, spent, and satisfied. Karin laid comfortably on her back as Rayna gently massaged her toes for her. The soothing nature of which she did it could put anyone to sleep but Karin’s head was instead pounding and pounding hard. She couldn’t decipher why but she had a wild guess. She took one good look at the beautiful specimen before her, that in her mind was nature’s best mistake. Her skin eminating a flushed afterglow slowly dissipating, while the sweat drips gave her a holy glisten. Was Karin falling in love with her whore, someone she paid for to do exactly what she asked and more?

‘Did you enjoy that? Karin broke the long ambient silence.

‘Of course I did,’

‘I mean really,’ she pulled back, sitting up and looked at her straight in the eye, removing her distracting feet away from Rayna, demanding seriousness. ‘The truth. I won’t take offense,’

‘Well,’ Rayna hesitated. The last time she was honest, she was severely punished but she figured her customer wasn’t the type of person that would just let this go. ‘Not many people usually serve me back. The things you did to me, for me…’ she paused mid sentence recanting their night. It made her obviously flush again, like a camouflaging lizard, but her skin was ever smooth and supple. ‘The things you did, well, I have never felt like that in a long time. Thank you.’

‘No problem, they’re just things I learnt on the road,’

Rayna was already intrigued as soon as she saw the stoic, broad chested female in shabby clothing and a fake leg walk through the door but even after unfolding her to her naked center, a small part of Rayna wished she could prod even more, especially since Karin’s one leg was pulled back and the other was just resting still, cold, inanimate but still part of a living being, ever tempting her to touch it.

‘You’re wondering?’ asked Karin, smiling as if to an inquisitive child. She sensed she was shy, and that only made her more attracted to her. ‘Go ahead, ask,’

‘You got this from your travels?’

‘A lover,’

‘She gave you a leg?’

‘More like HE took it. He lost a bet,’

‘And YOU lost…’

‘Not just this leg,’ Karin interjected smiling. ‘I’ve been trying to find that son of a gun for years now. But he hides well.’

‘Son of a gun?’

‘You never heard of that before?’ Karin acted surprised.

She gently shook her head and pouted her lips. Karin saw those beautiful eyes lit up. It struck every nerve inside of her, dried her throat and made her aware of her chest beats. It might be a temporary trance, a hold this witch had on her. It might be gone as soon as she left out that door, but she wanted to convince herself otherwise, that this was somehow different. Maybe it was love or maybe it wasn’t. But she needed affirmation. She needed to test it out.

‘I could show you many things, out there,’

Rayna stopped her. She was feeling a familiar rhetoric, something her customers always used to say to her after they had sex, as though rehearsed. She didn’t want this from Karin. For some reason, hearing those words from her made her want to tear. She got up immediately, and picked up her clothes to fasten it back on.

‘Was it something I said?’ Karin noticed that she had offended the young female.

‘I don’t know why I am feeling like this or why this matters so much to me, but I just remembered, that you paid for this. Funny isn’t it, that i would forget? Could forget even.’

‘Well, this can be the last time someone pays you for something you don’t want to do. Come with me,’ Karin insisted on her invitation.

‘STOP!’ Rayna exclaimed reaffirming her decline. ‘And what? You gonna go out there and show me the world? You gonna rescue me? What’s the plan? I wait for you at dawn at the train station or something? And you will leave now, with promises, promises, promises, and I am supposed to feel like all this is over. As soon you leave that door, your confused body will know itself again, and then I won’t be a muse, a vixen or even a lover anymore.’ She starts tearing. ‘Just a paid fuck. And you will come back again indefinitely, paying whatever else you have, giving up everything for just another 20 minutes of what YOU have told yourself is heaven.’

‘Rayna,’

‘And all those promises? What about them? Just poor whores at the train station patiently waiting, holding on their dear lives, praying not to get caught. Maybe he will come? He has to come, he just has to. Right? But nobody sticks to the plan. You have had your white meat and life moves on for you. But us? We just get hauled back in here, lashes, whips, and of course free service. And you know what free service means. Nobody is prepared for that. Because all holes are open for business…’

‘STOP! Please stop!’ Karin felt overwhelmed. She too was client, and she too paid for everything her heart desired because that was the deal but the things Rayna was describing were all too palpable. The episode Karin had with her might not be the same for her next one, nor the next, nor the one after and it was a shame hearing the obvious come out of the young girl’s mouth, something that everyone knew but refused to acknowledge so as to not ruin their own fantasy, their unique experience. But why was this to much for her to handle? What had made this girl hold such a special place in her that even visualizing her in constant defilement, the nature of her lifelihood suddenly become completely unacceptable?

‘I meant it,’ Karin was ever resilient, only becoming more sure of herself.

‘Sure you did. You wanna go out and come back in, see you still feel the same?’

Karin got up. She picked up her clothes from the floor and started to dress herself. She thought hard and long about what she going to do. Rayna sensed her dilemma, but after the amazing night she had had partially thanks to the generosity of her customer, her guilt coerced her to realize she probably went a little too far. She felt obliged to put her customer’s mind at ease. ‘Look, I’m sorry. Maybe come back next week and I’ll see if they can reduce the price for you, or at least give a longer session, I shouldn’t have said what I said. I am really stupid.’

‘I’m not sorry Rayna,’

‘But you ARE feeling sorry FOR me. I don’t want that. I don’t need you to feel that for me.’

‘I am thinking of a plan. The train station was never a good one. In fact I could feel the insincerity of it as soon as you mentioned it. I would never go that route, not if I was serious. I am sorry if you had to go through all that.’

‘So what will your’s be like?’ Rayna smiled, puzzled at Karin’s proposition, intrigued to know.

‘Call her in, your manager or pimp or whoever the other lady was.’

Rayna immediately reached for the wall next to the door and rang the bell, not one second later, the lady from earlier came in. This time with a shotgun.

‘Don’t think I wasn’t listening,’ she cocked the gun and aimed at Karin.

‘BANG’ a bullet went right through her before she could pull the trigger. Rayna leaped back, her face horror stricken as she watched blood ooze out from her matron’s chest, dirtying her clothes, pooling over the floor boards underneath her slippers. The lady dropped her gun that never fired, grew instantly pale and fell to her immediate demise.

Rayna holding her tunic to her mouth, passed her wide confused gaze toward Karin, now in a partial kneeling stance holding a pistol with smoke billowing from it’s mouth. Karin just got even more interesting and it was stirring upq emotions inside of her.

Karin stood straight, sighed aloud and turned towards Rayna. ‘That’s more like what I would do.’

***

The sirens blared, and the hibernating pods flashed open. Kira was still in a daze. She eyed her surroundings for hoping for some clarity. ‘Oh yes, we are traveling,’ she mumbled. There was imminent panic and one of the engineers were busy below floor level, past the one access hatch. ‘What’s going on?’ she shouted from above.

‘Ma’am, please brace for an emergency.’ ushered the soldier now standing in front of her, checking her pupils and feeling her pulse. ‘There was an incident, and we’re doing our utmost to take care of it. Best if you strap yourself up.’

‘Your utmost? I’m the one trying to fix it,’ shouted the engineer from below.

‘How long has it been?’ She asked. ‘It has been about 4 months ma’am,’ the man in uniform graciously replied.

Kira pushed him aside and made way toward Steve, the engineer hard at work. With him, Dr. Brooks, her Botanist under the hatch that separated the levels. ‘Good morning,’ he smiled.

‘What?’ she demanded.

Steve began to explain, ‘we must have hit something or fried some circuits, fuel tank isn’t responding. Some of the connections got severed. I’m still trying to figure out what. The Voyager is a good machine, but she has aged, and not gracefully,’

A loud screeching hijacked the airwaves. Kira headed for the cock-pit, ignoring the soldier’s orders. ‘Dennis, what’s going on?’

‘Sorry ma’am, we are caught by the gravitational field of the planet.

‘And how is that bad?’

‘Well, we need enough exhaust fuel to push back against gravity to ensure safe landing. If we can’t do that then we can at least glide slowly mid atmosphere until we find some kinda runway but there was something the scanners didn’t pick up. You take a look,’

Past the windscreen, she could see it, the looming hemisphere of a blood red mass, the planet they were looking for but even more obvious, a sizeable whether temperament that looked like a cyclone of continental proportions literally, consuming the sky and the clouds. The problem was that even they were getting pulled in. It made her heart sink as if looking into nature’s wrath, upset that they came here. ‘Dear God,’ she exclaimed. ‘Ma’am?’ another soldier placed his hands over her shoulder. She turned a fierce stern before he pulled back. ‘I’m sorry ma’am, we have to make sure everyone is safe.’

‘And you do that.’

‘Go, Kira, I’ll handle this. I’m the captain for this mission.’ Dennis nodded respectfully, hinting at her to obey. She moved back reluctantly and fastened herself to a chair as per protocol.

The jet trembled and started to shake vioently. The metal innards vibrated and started to fall apart. Everyone onboard could feel the pressure rise and the vessel heat up at an alarming rate. The deafening sirens kept blarring and the vessel was on full security lockdown mode. ‘God damn it,’ she heard Steve curse from below. ‘Steve?’ she called out to see if he needed help.

A loud bang, and then horrific screams to follow before being silenced into the distance. The entire lower portion exploded before they could turn to look. The vacuum sucked out everything through the breach including the spec-ops officer who wanted to ensure Kira was fastened but hadn’t yet secured himself in time. An emergency door sealed off the hatch but it was too late for the souls lost. ‘What the fuck?’ WHAT THE FUCK?’ Kira screamed in hysteria.

‘We’re in the cyclone,’ Dennis clenching his teeth, holding on the the yoke. He tried to override automatic flight controls. The Voyager 200 was designed to be both flight and space shuttle, to deploy wings and ailerons once striking atmosphere and to be a full blown rocket in space. But as soon as the wings deployed, it broke off, leaving them looking like a huge pencil shaped junk floating about aimlessly in the mercy of the wind, lightning and rubble.

‘This is bad,’ mumbled Kira. Dr. Kiran, the biologist next her to chair reach his hand for hers. He starred at her with a dreary look. ‘I’m sorry Kira,’ he said. ‘I really am.’ She starred back at him in horror. ‘No, Kiran, I am,’ she regretted bringing him, ‘your kids will learn of everything you did for me, and for the cause.’

Another loud thud and all them felt like they were being hurled by an unseen force. Dennis gave up on his first plan to land safely. Now he had to just make sure of his passengers’ survival. He shouted over the radio. ‘Get to your escape pods. NOW!…over’

‘There are only the hibernation ones, the escape pods are in space, along with the auxillary engines and 3 good men…over’ replied a sombre Pvt. Cameron over the walkie. Yet she immediately picked herself up braced herself and got out of her seat. She wobbled around till she fell before Kira.’That means you, ma’am,’

‘No!’

‘It’s only protocol. Civilians first,’

Kira gulped but shook her head in agreement. It was the drill, and she understood. She unfastened herself and climbed back in her hibernation pod. It closed shut. Claustrophobic, helpless and scared, her eyes wondered everywhere. She wanted to be sure Kiran was safely in his. They smiled at each other, through the glass and she nodded at the 2 officers will much respect to their servitude and their sacrifice.

BOOM! The pod launched. Kira felt like she was taking the greatest fall of her life only to then start spinning, taking her own course riding the cyclone. Lightning sparks were heavy and soon enough she could feel she was running out of air. The internal system short circuited and then it was just continuous beeping. She was gasping for air while she banged on the glass repeatedly and hard. She was sucking in nothing and she could feel lungs internally collapsing filling up with her own lung fluids forced out. The Voyager now getting ever distant escaped the pull of the cyclone and was off at a tangent, swung off like a Greek God doing a hammer throw and so was she in the opposite direction. She saw the twister ahead of her, magnanimous, shrinking fast in the distance, then just clear sky, and for a glimpse of a second she caught what remained of The Voyager 200 exploding far in the distance, plummeting to its end. She teared for her men and also for herself. Rapidly being pulled downward by a strong gravitational force, head first, eyes up, she was completely blind as to when she would hit the ground, and whether or not this pod would take the fall. She closed her eyes still tearing as her face started slowly sinking in due to the vacuum. All she thought of was her family and the time they might have had. She envisioned her daughter growing up and her husband remarrying and smiling together by the beach somewhere. And suddenly, a loud thud, a thunderous clap in her ears and all went blank.

**

Kira woke up all of a sudden as if breathed back to life, still lying in her pod. The glass was cracked, and the first thing she noticed was that she was breathing again. The air was coarse, thick and it made her lungs wet even more but there was probably some oxygen in the air she was inhaling. She coughed and expectorated heavily while she tried to mobilize her arms and legs. Enduring the pain she understood that she had to make it out of this dead vessel in order to survive. Once her arms were back to obeying her, she gave a solid push and the door broke open. She was bombarded with a gush of heavy winds and sand. She toppled and fell face down, though her legs were still weak, she was grateful to feel ground. She kept on coughing and spitting out phlegm as she tried to get up and observe her surroundings. She took out her pad device from her pocket only to realize it was also dead. ‘Great!’.

After much grunting and moaning, Kira finally found herself on her feet. Gravity pulled strong here, and she noted her first few steps to be a bit awkward, as you would for the first time trying to walk on a new planet surface. She started to pace more steadily, and soon regained her balance and so kept on for quite a bit to search for shelter or help of anykind. The sun was scorching and drying her up even more. Tired, injured and in pain, she was motivated by telling herself she had a second chance and yet pushed forward aimlessly. She soon found no energy to keep going and inevitably fell to her knees. ‘Maybe this IS it,’ she said in remorse, anger and defeat. ‘Sorry sweetie, mommy loves you,’ she mumbled as her cognition started to loose her.

A thunderous roar blared from the north, like an old engine and immediately Kira snapped right back. She peered hard into the distance. A black object was coming toward fast and then just sped past her. On the back of the vehicle was a woman in worn-out clothing and bandaged hands. ‘Hey!, Hey!,’ Kira screamed at her, flailing her arms, suddenly fuelled by a burst of residual energy. A chance of hope came at her doorstep, or so she thought. ‘Hey!’ she squealed in desperation but the woman in the vehicle paid no heed, and just drove off of sight.

‘Oh I know the bitch heard me,’ she kept running in that same direction unaware that there was another truck right behind her, and before she could turn to notice, a large hand grabbed her by the torso and lifted her up to the chest. ‘Shit!’ frightened by the large monster of man gripping her. She struggled to get off. Desperately shaking herself rapidly. ‘STOP that you bitch,’ he yelled back. She shook her head continuously till she knocked his forehead, once, twice, thrice until he started to get drowsy and immediately let her loose. She fell hard and started tumbling down the dunes. Sand got in her hair, her eyes and her mouth. In the knick of time, resilient, not quitting on herself, she forcefully dug her hands and knees into the sand to force a stop not a few feet away. She got up and dusted herself off, spitting out residual sand glued with her own inner chest secretions.

There was a horrible sting in her neck when she forced it to turn back – a cracking noise even. Kira squeeled through her teeth. She heard a long continuous horn and carefully moved her head and torso up tracing the incline until she could view the top. The vehicle was stopped, the man’s head was pressed against the steering and the horn, decorating it with his dripping blood from the forehead. ‘Oh God, did I kill him?’

She limped up the incline toward the vehicle and inspected him. His veins were engorged, his arteries still pumped. ‘He’s ok!’ she told herself. She grabbed hold of his shoulders, careful not to awaken him, and pulled him off the seat with all the might she had. His unconscious body tumbled down and kept on tumbling all the way far from sight. ‘Fuck!’ she paused to catch her breath and clear her throat for a good solid minute, and then hopped on to the driver’s seat. ‘OK! What am I working with here?’ Press this?’ and the ignition started. She looked ahead and back. Either way would lead her to some sort of civilization, or so she figured. ‘Forward,’ she told herself, ‘always forward,’ and made her course.