Short Story: The Nature of Love

Madness. Chaos. Disorder. All in flashes that burn retinal nightmares into the mind. Blood and screams. Far off smoke, nearing. Smells of sulfur, gunpowder, death. Once-tall buildings lay in ruins, any former majesty that kissed or embraced the sky with its dark beauty of Human progress now regressed and weeping; mounds of rubble that burn, scream, and bleed.

He was torn from sleep beside her, sensing her nightmares. He hadn’t seen the images, but knew she was living them. Nightly. Cost of a rising action in Human Evolution forcing him to coddle her to sleep every night, but also hold her tight anytime she tossed and turned, wept or screamed.

He wrapped his arms tight around her. Amber flax, frayed at their ends and needling his skin at breath. She needed a mother. Someone to care for her properly. Someone whom knew what they were doing. A woman– Christ, anyone– he needed them himself.

But all this madness, this chaos… It was too dangerous to go out into. To seek one. Especially for her. Whomever she was.

He’d never gotten her name, but she had one. Who didn’t? Worse, she couldn’t have been ten years old, yet was fully-aware as any adult. More-so, even. Most of them couldn’t recognize the futility in clinging to something that no longer meant anything to anyone but her– and thus, no-one at all.

It broke his heart just once but was all he needed.

She stilled in her sleep. No longer twitching. He’d have another two or three hours before they’d be apart long enough for the twitching night-terrors to restart. He held her anyway. Tight against him for warmth, emitting what little remained in him.

He wasn’t doing a good enough job. He knew that much.

He rested his head on the straw-stuffed sacks they’d collected to call a bed. The distant drip drip, DROP of leaky infrastructure echoed from somewhere too far off to care, but not enough to ignore. Often enough he welcomed the tempo it gave to his thoughts.

Not tonight though. Tonight was just dripping randomosity, chaos incarnate to mirror the rest of the world. Or maybe, simply, to act as an extension of it.

In the mornings he’d often wake to find her sitting, staring into the distance. No doubtthe tragedies she’d seen replayed in her mind. For as many times as he’d seen her bony spine through her ratty clothing, he’d seen memory torture her face.

He tried to comfort her once, but she shied just enough. This, and daytime, weren’t what he was needed for. Only night. And only so she might sleep peacefully.

It stung, but he obliged without hesitation.

She’d spoken a little that first night he found her on the rooftop, ready to jump. He wasn’t sure she’d been all that lucid. She was wounded, mortally. At least for the skills of a child. He put a tourniquet above her wounded leg, tied it off, set the bone and stitched the skin. Skills he’d learned somewhere through life but couldn’t place.

It was poorly done, but it kept her alive.

She’d cried wet rivers of tears, and not oneaudibly. She made no sound, sob, or screamof pain, however much he’d promised she could Whatever she’d been through was worse. He couldn’t begrudge her the strength she’d gained, but he could hate that she’d been forced to gain it.

What little he’d gotten out of her was like pulling teeth. He’d let her rest for a few days before trying again. He’d only bothered the first time ‘round to keep her mind off her bone pain. Over a few nights, he got the general gist of things. Most of which centered around the chaotic global war and rebellion.

Everybody knew the madness was under a smokescreen. The media corporations and companies had aggressively taken-over or quashed any attempts at remaining “free-press”. Freedom of information no longer existed beyond a theoretical (and outlawed) concept. Information was now being held hostage, even by the so-called “good guys.”

Fact was, they both knew, no-one was good anymore. There was “bad,” and “less bad.” He wasn’t sure which he was, but hoped the latter, for her sake. She felt the same, though never admitted it.

No-one knew the true causes of the battles, the wars, the attacks. Just that they were happening. Orwell didn’t want his name anywhere near this clusterfuck. Who could blame him? Evidently, she felt the same, if only because she might now believe such parts of her, name included, were dead.

Probably because they were. Along with her parents. Her friends. Any hopes or dreams she had of ever living a normal existence.

It was another normal morning when she spoke again. Normal of course, being relative. By now, everyone living knew that much. The point remained valid in his mind.

“We need to leave this place.”

He wasn’t sure he’d heard her right– or at all.Rather, it felt as if he’d thought her words in his own mind. But how? It was impossible.

Nonetheless, the severity of her statement was witnessed in the few, meager packs at her feet.

“We can’t go anywhere. They’re looking everywhere for anyone able to fight or–”

Don’t finish the thought.”

It definitely came from his own mind. Her mouth hadn’t moved. Had he lost it somewhere in the process? No. It had to be her. Somehow. He didn’t know how, but he knew.

She gripped his hand, forced a pack into it. He moved to protest, but her eyes met his.

One echo in his mind ordered and pled at-once, “please.”

His eye twitched disbelief, allowing her to usher him along with what remained of their valuables– bare necessities of few toiletries, a half-molded scrap of bread, and a pack of canned non-perishables. She’d already layered her few clothing articles collected for colder nights, presumably having packed his away.

Before he’d regained his wits, they were far beyond the drainage outlet they’d take refuge in. Its massive, grated gate, easily picked and re-locked, had been left askew. They wouldn’t be coming back. Not surprising, but how had her voice done that? Was it him? Was it her? Was she really there at all?

Such questions need answers,” her voice echoed within him. “But now’s not the time. We must get as far away as possible. Now.”

He shook off the last of his confusion and stopped, hand held in hers as she’d led him forward. “No.” She didn’t hesitate, just simply tugged him onward until he went no further. Then, she released him and turned to look upward, “There. Wait.”

He whirled ‘round, “I don’t–”

You will.”

He waited, staring at the empty blue sky, wishing its weren’t just more of the smokescreen.

Then, he saw it: like a dart thrown from Olympus, streaking white smoke and rocketing toward their newly-vacated hideaway.

His eyes lit up, body lurched to shield her. It was pointless.

The missile struck the former hideout. Rubble gravitated inward then back out with a shockwave of heat and G-forces that rag-dolled them across the dusty ground. He landed winded and coughing, scrambling to find her another in the sudden cloud. She found him first, doubled over a rock, wracked with dry breaths that didn’t wish to come. He’d broken half his ribs, knew the feeling too well. It would kill him if he weren’t careful.

She forced him flat, then knelt beside him, hands over his battered abdomen. A minor flicker of light, like heat, emanated from her hands and into him.

“They’re hunting us now. All of us. You’ve helped me and they know. The things I’ve seen, what I can do, have me marked for a fate worse than death. You’ve been kind to me, so I will tell you there is much you do not know, but if your virtue is as it seems, you’ll learn the rest in time.”

She removed her hands and the pain was gone. He breathed normally: broken ribs, mended.

“Wh– how’d–”

“Once,” she said gravely. “They called us Seers. Now, we are the Hunted. And they, the Hunters.”

Something mechanical screamed past overhead, beyond the dust cloud still descending.

“Come, they’ll check for bodies soon. If we’re caught, they’ll spare us no horror.”

He pushed himself up, determined to follow, but confused. “How d’you–”

“It’s why the want me. I do not know anymore than you, save that we must counter them. Be the reaction to their action. That means leaving. Now.”

She led him forward at a brisk walk, but he’d already left his body, was following on instinct. He wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into, if the girl could ever be safe. Or now, him with her.

He shouldered his pack, damned determined to ensure she was. Even if to his last dying breath. Such was the nature of love.

Short story: How typical

Sean O’Leery was a typical middle-school-aged middle-child. Nothing in his appearance nor manners put him out of place in a crowd. All the same, he attracted the ire of his peers as if a quasi-magnetic force drew it toward him from them– what he’d come to refer to as “Jerks.” In fact, if middle-school taught him anything, everyone was a jerk most of the time. The only break was the times he hid away during lunch or after class-work and punching the buttons on his game-pad.

Other times, the taunts of “O’Leery the Queery” were too prevalent to focus on much. Even the few jerks he might’ve called friends on good days, preferred to call him “Queery” rather than Sean. However unable to put it into words, he sensed it was to keep him at arm’s length. Lots of people did that for lots of reasons; his “friends,” random other jerks (people), his parents. For a while he wondered if he smelled bad. Nope, he was just that unremarkable.

Middle-child syndrome meant being too young for independence, but responsibilities; too old to be coddled but free of most childhood oversight. He occupied a curious middle ground in a quasi-bizzaro-land of raging hormones, rabid ignorance, and ineffable urges. In other words; a typical middle-schooler.

And while all things considered, life was going well, something was different.

Like most kids, Sean hated life some days– hated it with the enraged passion of a billion charging wildebeests– but he knew it could be worse. For the most part, he was healthy, clothed, fed, sheltered when needed, maybe even loved (if his parents’ distant words were in earnest.) Moreover, television and internet ads with sickly-looking African kids said there were parts of the world where even that stuff wasn’t guaranteed. So, if he felt things were getting too bad, he tilted his head down, and immerse himself in the mindless repetition of a game.

To say things were going well though, would miss the profound, emotional, nose-dive of modern life amid the teenage years. The roller-coaster of puberty had only just begun for Sean. Soon enough, he’d be screaming his head off through its dips, hoping and praying to any deities that might exist or not, that the restraints held. Such was life. He might’ve known that, but he wasn’t sure enough of anything enough to be sure of it.

That attitude was probably for the best. Especially when in walked Jacob Cartwright and all that came with him.

Jacob was another, scrawny middle-child. Completely unremarkable in the most literal interpretation of the word, he had a face that would blend in any crowd and the shaky mannerisms often accompanying such obscurity. Both boys would come to remember their meeting well:

Just outside the lunchroom’s back-door, lunch-recess; that glorious time of freedom between periods four and five that split the day between, pre-lunch (nap time) and post-lunch, (almost-home nap-time.)

Sean ambled from the door, face down-turned and hands rhythmically button-mashing to a tempo audible only to his ear-bud headphones. The three-headed dragon hydra needed slaying, and he was just the controller warrior to do it.

Until he smacked straight into a group of jerks of the jock-variety– in other words, half the 7th grade football team. His headphones were yanked from his ears with all the scolding pain typical of that action. The running back, or some such nonsense, gave a stiff one-handed shove.

“Watch where you’re going, Queery!”

Sean’s ass hit the ground, his ears burning in and out and his face red over the distant screams of a slain warrior and a triumphant tri-headed dragon. The jerks laughed and hollared, the offender gesturing his group to follow him from the door.

Jacob watched– had watched– from the doorway, blocking it until a line formed behind him. He was fixated on the exchange, headphones and gamepad intact where they were meant to be. He’d watched from the angle of one precisely capable of making the same mistake, but fortunate enough to be stopped short by Sean’s enactment of his own, possible future.

The line shoved him forward and time and the world began to move again. Still, Sean stared up, ass-to-ground, stunned. Jacob stooped beside him, picked up Sean’s handheld, its earbuds dangling like a death-dungeon’s swinging pendulum axe.

He helped Sean up, examining the handheld. The boy allowed it, slow to recover. “Looks alright. No scratches or cracks.” He handed it back, “Why’d they call you that? You ask a lot of questions or something?”

Sean took the game. “Thanks… Wait, huh?”

“They called you “Query,” like a question, right?” He asked, oblivious to his mental misspelling.

Sean’s face was a portrait of confusion. He blinked to make his mind work, but it stayed stuck. Jacob motioned him away from the door as a pair of girls stepped out and almost smacked into them.

A curious magnetism drew Sean along as he took a few, large steps away. “Anyway, I’m Jacob.”

They angled around the outer, rear wall of the lunchroom for a bench there and Sean’s wits finally returned. “Sean O’Leery. And they call me that ’cause it rhymes with my name… and they think I’m queer or something.”

Jake’s eyes bulged, “Oh, that kind of Queery.” Sean nodded. “So are you?”

“Huh?”

“Queer or whatever?”

Sean’s eyes bulged, “What!? No.” He hesitated, then scowled, “I mean, I don’t know. Probably not. People are just jerks.”

Jake shrugged, “Well, sorry. I’m not really in on people’s sayings. I’m new. And I read the dictionary a lot. Guess that’s why I was confused.”

Sean wasn’t sure what to address first, settled on the greatest of the three atrocities. “You read the dictionary!?” Jake nodded smartly. Sean gave him a deranged eye, “Uh… why?”

He shrugged, “It’s fun. There’s always new words to learn! Anyway, query means question. So, maybe next time they make fun of you, try to hear that word instead, it’s not so mean that way.”

“I’ll do my best,” he mumbled. He stiffened up a little, “So, you’re new?”

“Mhmm.”

“Got any friends yet?” He shook his head. “I guess we could be friends then.”

Jake’s eyes lit up, “Okay.”

That was all either of them would come to remember. One conversation drifted into another, then another. It was a typical meeting between two typical kids amid a typical day at a typical school. So much was typical that the word sort of lost its meaning.

Something changed though, and O’Leery the Queery suddenly wasn’t so strange anymore. He was one-half of a crime-fighting duo, sans the crime-fighting. When later it turned out both boys were, in fact, queerier than most, they became two halves of something greater than friendship. Their “tying the knot” was an even more typical affair.

All of that from a simple, mental misspelling; how utterly unremarkable and typical.