PLEASE STAND CLEAR – by Brianna Fenty

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PLEASE STAND CLEAR

 

 

I have mastered the art of being alone without succumbing to loneliness.

Anyone on the outside looking in through the tinted train windows might think such a statement a blatant manifestation of a woman deep in denial, drowning beneath roaring waves of solitude. But that simply is not the case.

There’s no one out there anyway.

Mine are the only pair of judgmental eyes left on this ravaged world—at least as far as I can tell.

I came to terms with my isolation long ago. My hatred for the train was a boiling, scalding thing in my youth, driving me to pound the doors, claw the viewports, tear cables from the ceiling panels in frustrated rage. These tantrums did nothing to slow the train. To this day, it speeds blindingly along the route preprogrammed into the ATO panel—sealed behind an impenetrable, bulletproof bulwark of a door—plodding its never-ending loop though sun-blasted plains, jagged mountains, and gloomy marshes. I fought the metal monster from the inside out for a great chunk of my adolescence until at last, one day, the futility of it all stilled my hand.

The passage of time has an uncanny way of softening the perspective, after all.

This train—the Aegis—is a fully automated, sleek beast of a machine, equipped with anything and everything a girl could ever want, need, or wish for. The greenhouse sustains me on a balanced diet of legumes, fruits, and vegetables. The ventilation room keeps the cars warm in the nuclear winters and cool in the apocalyptic summers. The infirmary’s medical automaton scans my body for sickness and injury every Tuesday afternoon, dispensing vitamins to keep me at the pinnacle of physical health. The vast library, fitness center, art studio, and music gallery maintain my sanity, offering a panacea for the boring tedium of years of seclusion.

Most vital of all was the media theater. Full to bursting with all manner of movies, television shows, documentaries, and grainy home-videos, it ensures that I don’t forget that, once upon a time, people existed. That they laughed and cried and loved; that they had passions and hatreds, conversations and arguments; that they chased their ideas and dreams with zeal and studied the mysteries of the world in which they once lived in a ceaseless pursuit of knowledge, of belonging, of purpose. I oftentimes find myself lugging stacks of books into the theater, losing myself simultaneously in artfully spun tales of life between the pages and moving images of humanity playing across the projector screen, unable to decide which medium deserved my attention more.

I became a master multitasker, reveling in the creations of generations long since turned to dust.

But I was never alone. Not truly.

The man who put me on the Aegis when I was thirteen, who plopped me inside this lavish metal leviathan and wiped my memory slate irreversibly clean, left me with a companion. A puppy, of all things. A baby. A tiny, pathetic creature, mewling for its mother, yellow fur barely dried in the aftermath of its birth.

I can still recall my first onboard memory with such clarity that I feel the smooth titanium of the floor beneath my palms as I push myself up, mind reeling. I reach for the puny creature, cuddling it delicately, coaxing my shaking fingers to stillness in the fear that the smallest movement might disturb him.

At the time, I thought it cruel.

To abandon an adolescent on a train promising her survival was one thing. But a puppy, fresh from the womb, denied the nourishment of its mother’s milk and bodily warmth? Alone, afraid, eyes sealed shut, trapped in a cold steel chrysalis with none but a preteen mess of a girl for company?

Cruel.

But as days, weeks, and months of solitude passed, I thanked my lucky stars for the puppy’s presence. I found kinship in its soft, mud-brown eyes and the unconditional love and trust sparkling within them.

I was young and frightened, as well I should’ve been. The train confused me. The devastated world beyond its walls terrified me. Savage expanses of empty, rolling hills flew by in a ceaseless, dizzying blur, day-in and day-out. The amnesia blackening all recollection of life before the Aegis worried me most.

The puppy was a beacon of solace in my otherwise senseless existence. As much as I cherished him, it took days to bestow upon him a proper name.

One midwinter afternoon, as the train plowed through snowdrifts and roared through clouds of blizzarding white, I read a story by William Sydney Porter. It was my sixth day of internment. Muscles limp and throat raw from a week of searching for escape, I’d reluctantly curled into the suede armchair in the library car. In an effort to calm his longing howls, I engulfed the sobbing pup in a plaid quilt I’d found. I cradled the weeping creature in my lap and read to him The Gift of the Magi. My voice trembled pathetically; my barely-pubescent hands shook and struggled to hold the tome of short stories aloft. But as I read, the dog relaxed, and so did I. By the time I uttered the tale’s final words, the pup was peacefully asleep.

I remember setting the book down on the rickety nightstand, its wooden legs trembling softly with the train’s rocking shudder. Studying the dusty book with sleepy eyes, I discovered Porter’s pen name.

  1. Henry.

The puny puppy, nuzzling his moist, black nose contentedly into my thigh, sniffling against the woolen blanket, at last had a worthy name.

The Aegis boasted many amenities. I was eternally thankful for each and every one. But none were so precious to me as Henry the golden retriever.

My name is Eden Marie Sinclair.

The train is my home, and the train provides.

I love my books. I love my garden. I love my dog.

Life is simple. Life is good.

But I can’t help but dwell on the life I might have lived, the family I might have known, the fate I might have fulfilled before the world collapsed.

~~~

The tin can cracks open, releasing a gassy exhale laced with a foul, pungent stench. I wrinkle my nose, grinding the can opener around the edge until the lid pops off and clatters into the farmhouse sink. The meaty sludge, equal parts unidentifiable lumps and greasy broth, grimaces up at me.

Thank God I’m not a dog.

“Henry!” I call. “Dinner!”

I spoon the can’s vile contents into a dish, setting it down on his placemat in the corner of the kitchen car. My own supper sizzles on the electric stove, filling the coach with the far more pleasant aromas of sautéed spinach, onion, and garlic.

“Dinner, Henry. C’mon boy!”

The shouting strains my vocals, forcing a dry cough from my lungs. I rub my chest. Clear my throat. Shake my head.

Dinner is Henry’s favorite word. It never takes him more than six seconds to pounce through the sensor-activated doors; after all, he never strays more than a few feet from my side and when he does, it isn’t usually for very long.

The delay is uncharacteristic.

With a sigh, I spare a fleeting glance to the wilting spinach and lower the heat. As I make my way to the door, another cough seizes me, this one harder, drier, rooting a stinging ache in my sternum. I pound my chest and take a deep breath but it’s constricted, like my esophagus has shrunk, crimping like an accordion. Must be the damn smoke. The range hood over the stovetop is probably glitching again. I roll my eyes at the thought of yet another afternoon tinkering with its messy electronic innards. I’m an artist with a screwdriver, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy playing repairwoman.

The tempered glass door clicks and opens automatically with a mechanical hiss. I step past the vestibule into the humid greenhouse coach. Flourishing peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetable plants arrange themselves in tidy irrigated lines; sleeves of harvested garlic and drying herbs dangle from racks running the length of the car; hydroponic pools burst with watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, painting the room with a cacophony of color. Cool mist from the drip systems overhead dampen my face and hair. I walk down the aisle between rows of cucumber and potato, craning my neck to search the shaded corners where Henry, in his old age, sometimes naps in the comfort of the fresh air.

Not here either.

I exit the greenhouse and amble into the library car, a cozy, mahogany-and-plaid laden chamber trading windows for beautifully crowded shelves of books.

“Henry?”

I check the plush bed nestled behind the armchair. Nothing.

I cough.

A wave of dizziness sweeps over me. Crushing into my temples, wobbling my knees. I blink hard. Each time my eyes open my vision blurs and struggles to focus. The next time I call Henry’s name it’s a raspy whisper that burns the walls of my windpipe.

Faintly, from worlds away, I hear Henry’s alarmed bark.

When I hack again into my hand, red coats my palm.

My heart spikes.

My throat constricts.

My eyes tear.

I gasp in desperation for oxygen as my body turns against me, unable to form a clear thought.

What the hell is happening?

Another unsteady step toward the door of the next car is all it takes for my balance to fail. I crash to the ground, cheek mashing against the scratchy maroon carpet. Black patches distort my sight.

Henry!

My mouth opens to yell his name but nothing escapes my lips, chapped and splitting painfully in the absence of breath. I heave thick clots of blood onto the rug, forcing my arms forward. My muscles are weak and my hands are trembling, but I forge on, dragging my traitorous body toward the door.

The closer I get, the louder his bark.

I have to get to him.

He has to be okay.

Please be okay.

My upper body thumps to the ground in exhaustion before the glass door. I shiver. I choke. Fire blazes in my chest, scorching the inner walls of my lungs black. Blood dribbles down my chin. I smack my palm against the door. It thuds uselessly against the glass, leaving behind a ghostly imprint.

The door doesn’t open.

I hit it.

I pummel the glass again and again to no avail. I hammer my fist against it and I scream a silent, agonized scream, staring with bulging eyes at the horrified expression reflected back at me through the locked vestibule door.

AIRBORNE CONTAMINATION DETECTED IN CARS 11, 12, 13, AND 14.

A robotic female monotone blasts over the intercom, made eerie by static and mechanical distortion.

CONTAMINANT UNKNOWN. ASSESSING RISK. STAND BY.

My fading consciousness struggles to process the words. Contamination? What the fuck does that mean?

The blows I strike against the door grow weaker.

ASSESSMENT COMPLETE.

Hands numb.

Arms leaden.

Head a thousand kilos too heavy, throbbing as if my skull is cracking, impaling shards of bone into the fleshy bits of my brain.

PROGNOSIS DEEMED FATAL. SEALING DOORS FOR AUTOMATIC PURGE.

Henry’s panicked bark grows farther and farther away, heard from forty meters beneath a storming sea as my hearing fails.

Past the steel wool clogging my ears, a whooping siren screeches over the intercom, the telltale whoosh of air sucks backwards through vent ducts. The car is bathed in a bloody warning light, turning what was once my coveted literary haven into a nightmarish hellscape of red.

My periphery darkens. My fingers curl. My tongue turns to paper.

FIRE ALERT IN CAR 12: GREENHOUSE. COMMENCING BURNOUT PROCEDURES.

I wheeze and I sputter. Behind me, fire consumes the greenhouse, destroying in one fell sweep my only food source. The heat is oppressive, intensifying as it spreads. It leaps from plant to plant, evaporating water to hissing steam, blackening the skins of fruits and vegetables, crumbling leaves and stems and roots until nothing remains but clouds of soot and piles of ash. The door holds against the onslaught of the flames, wafting deathly smoke over the glass until all I see is hazy grey.

OXYGENATOR FAILURE IN CAR 14: VENTILATION. COMMENCING REROUTE. REPAIR PROSPECTS: UNKNOWN.

Henry’s bark is lost in the howl of the siren. In my mind’s eye I see his aged body wilting, his arthritic legs folding beneath him as the oxygen drains from the cars. I reach up with a final ounce of strength, motivated by the image of my frightened companion dying a slow death, and I yank down the scarlet lever built into the wall panel.

“Manual override,” I choke.

ACCESS DENIED.

“Aegis, manual override! Administrator code 55279EMS!”

ACCESS DENIED.

Helpless moans gurgle from my throat. My tongue lolls from my slackening mouth, eyes twitching, clouding over.

And then I see him.

Henry paws at the door in the next vestibule, tail tucked between his legs, pacing in distress.

He’ll die alone. Alone and afraid. Confused. Lost. Thinking I abandoned him. Thinking I did this to him.

No way in hell.

I swallow down one last gulp of the thinning air and use the lever as an anchor to pull myself up on shaking feet. I collapse against the wall. My fingers have just enough tension left to wrap around the carbide glass breaker. Shielding my face with one arm, I use the other to bash at the door, once, twice, three times, four—

SMASH!

My legs fail. I tumble through the opening into car ten. Spears of glass tear through my clothes, lacerating the skin of my face and hands. The titanium flooring of the bedroom car is far less forgiving than the library’s carpet, sending a shockwave of vertigo rocking through my temples when my head cracks against ground. The oxygen purge isn’t prioritized in the unaffected coaches, but now that the door is broken it won’t take long before the rest of the train is voided of air. I suck down a desperate heave and hold it in my lungs, making each and every molecule count.

I crawl and crawl, Henry’s heart-wrenching cries growing louder as I approach the next door.

“Get back, boy,” I pant. “I’m coming.”

The glass breaker collides with the door, showering down upon us a glittering rain of thick, murderously sharp shards. I ignore the way they slice into my knees and palms and scramble over the lip into the vestibule, hugging Henry to my chest. His silvery whiskers tickle my neck. His high-pitched whine is at once relieved and pained.

“It’s okay. I’m here.”

We need to get to the infirmary.

Just one more door.

One more door between us and salvation and sweet, sweet oxygen.

Henry may be old, but he is in no way light. My air-deprived muscles struggle to haul him over my shoulder—adrenaline does its work, pumping energy into my feeble arms and legs and launching me toward the medical bay.

I anchor my body to the side to protect Henry from the glass as the final door falls to the unyielding force of the carbide.

His eyes are fluttering. His body is limp. His whines soften.

“Hang on, buddy,” I beg. “We’re almost there.”

I lay him on the floor and dash into the med bay. Blood is pouring from my mouth now, mutating my racking coughs into moist, gargling sputters, but I’m too close to give up now.

There they are.

I snatch the oxygen mask from the med cabinet and secure it to my face. The rush of air is curative, a blessedly cooling gush of alpine wind eradicating the inferno roaring deep in my chest. I allow myself a half-second of pause before grabbing the second mask and rushing to Henry.

The train shudders violently around a sharp turn, hurtling through a tunnel.

The infirmary descends into darkness.

The tremor throws me to the ground.

Henry’s name becomes a desperate mantra on my lips, muffled behind the plastic mask. I pat the floor, feeling my way across the car.

“Where are you, buddy?”

My hand at last touches a swath of bristly fur. My heart kick-starts, a mixture of relief and anxiety so potent I can taste it like vinegar on my tongue. I use my fingers as a guide to find his snout and press the mask to his face, pulling taught the straps and cranking the wheel switch to open the airflow.

The Aegis emerges from the tunnel. Sunlight floods the med bay. The blinding rays are merciless against the sterile white of the infirmary.

SYSTEM PURGE COMPLETE.

I blink, eyes adjusting to the brightness.

“We did it, boy. We made it.”

I look down at Henry. Spatters of scarlet stain the inside of his mask.

“Henry?”

His tongue spills from his mouth, covered in pink froth.

“Henry, wake up.”

His eyes are rolled back into his head, his limbs are flaccid, and the familiar rise and fall of his chest is gone.

“Henry, c’mon boy. Wake up.”

The train barrels along the tracks at a sound-shattering speed, but the universe around me grinds slowly to a cold, silent, empty halt. It takes eons for my hands to reach out and caress his head. To lift it into my lap, heavy and lifeless. Dead weight.

“You’re okay,” I whisper.

My eyes roam the length of his body, grown frail with age, golden fur dulled grey by the passage of sixteen long and wonderful years.

“You’re okay.”

I release the straps securing the mask, pulling it away from his face. It falls to the floor.

“You’re okay.”

I gently tug him onto my lap, much like that midwinter afternoon sixteen years ago when I read to him my favorite story, bestowed upon him a name worthy of his jolly grin, invaluable companionship, and unwavering loyalty. The fur of his mane is thick and brittle yet somehow still soft as the day he was born. I nestle my face into the crook of his neck. Tears dampen his hair, staining the dim yellow a dark, mustardy brown.

“You’re okay, buddy.” My sob is quiet behind the barrier of the mask. I ache to take it off, to feel the tender kiss of his fur against my nose. “You’re okay.”

I cradle my best friend, my family, my oldest and only kin, hugging him tight and telling him he’s okay and hoping beyond hope that my love for him will be enough to restart his heart.

But it isn’t.

That’s not how life works.

Death is definite. Mean and final, without prejudice.

Oxygen levels critical, the automaton chimes cheerfully. Five minutes remaining.

I want to scream at that damned, cursed, blasted thing, to smash its screens and sever its wires so I don’t have to listen to its blind robotic optimism. But my body is done. Sapped of all motivation and purpose.

The air in my mask thins.

Three minutes remaining.

An agonized wail breaks free.

I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to live without Henry. I don’t want to be alone. I can’t.

I can’t imagine an existence without my faithful dog at my side, warming at night the foot of my bed, begging for scraps by the table at lunchtime, cocking his head as I read to him tales of mystery and adventure.

But I won’t have to.

I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but the Aegis is perishing—complete and total system failure—and when it dies, I will go with it.

One minute remaining.

Mellow sobs continue their quivering journey through my body, but a blanket of calm descends over me, too, draping across my shoulders a silken shroud of acceptance. I savor my final breaths, smacking my lips. They taste of copper and salt, moistened with blood and the tears that have managed to slip past the mask’s seal.

I close my eyes.

I whisper, “you’re okay.”

I’ll see him again soon. Somewhere bright, somewhere clean and happy, without pain.

And then something happens. Something that has never once occurred in all the time I’ve been trapped on this godforsaken train.

The Aegis slows.

The Aegis stops.

Nausea churns in my gut, spinning my head; my body revolts, unaccustomed to the alien sensation of not moving. My butt tingles in the absence of the ground’s familiar tremble.

Thirty seconds remaining.

The faintest and oddest of sounds brushes my ears. The ghastly drone of opening doors—but not the ones I’m used to hearing.

It’s not the mild hiss of the automatic inner doors.

It’s the rushing exhale of the single pair of outer doors in car one. The one and only exit point on the train.

The intercom crackles. The automated announcement is heavily distorted, warped into a mutated perversion of the human voice.

PLEASE STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS.

I take one last breath of air before the oxygen cuts off.

I stagger to my feet, carefully laying Henry down.

I stare in the direction of car one, pressing my final lungful of air deep into my chest.

For the first time in sixteen years, another passenger has boarded the Aegis.

~~~

The Aegis is moving again by the time my lungs are emptied of oxygen. The last thing I see before I collapse is the sign bolted above the door.

Car One

LOCOMOTIVE CONTROLS

It taunts me: close, but not close enough.

I feel my life, my hope, my one and only chance at freedom slipping through my fingers, an ironic mockery of the breath slipping from my body and damning me to death.

A shadow looms beyond the glass. Bulky and awkward, its silhouette is strange, and not just because my vision is darkening and swirling with dancing pinpricks of light. I’ve seen enough dystopian sci-fi flicks to know the outline of a hazmat suit; to recognize the cumbersome, cylindrical tanks connecting to what could only be a respirator. Hands shielded by thick, rubbery gloves seem to move in slow motion as they punch a code into the panel on the other side of the impenetrable barrier locking me out of the control cab.

The twitching in my limbs evolves into a violent seizure. Sharp spikes impale my ribcage, puncturing my lungs, deflating them like pierced balloons. I swear I can hear the helium whistling away.

I see less and less of the mysterious figure. Dropping beside it some hulking mass of equipment, it kneels, partly vanishing behind the impervious pneumatic seal that has kept those doors irrevocably shut for nearly two decades.

The seal releases its four locks. The steel bars retract from the glass, sheathing into the center console with a droning hiss one by one by one.

The console plunks to the ground.

The divine portal to the Aegis’s heart opens at last, gears squealing from an age of disuse as they part for the very first time.

From between the gates of heaven, a hellish monster emerges.

It steps over the vestibule lip into car two where I lay dying. Heavy durosteel boots clang against the titanium floor. An odd smell, a mixture of dust, iron, and bleach, wafts toward me, assaulting my senses with each languid stride it takes toward me. The crackling of radio static fills the coach. The monster speaks.

“The asset’s alive, but just barely. Beginning securement protocols. Prepping for transport.”

Not a monster, I realize.

A woman. A real, human woman, not some apathetic computerized parrot. An emblem of a stylized phoenix rising from a cracked egg decorates the shoulders of her suit. She kneels in front of me, releasing one of the tanks from her back, fiddling with tubes and cranks.

“Don’t worry, honey,” she says. “You’re safe now.”

Am I?

~~~

I wake slumped against the back of the conductor’s chair, on the floor. The respirator is tight on my face, a big, black cluster of synth-rubber and wires. That sixth-sense instinct—and the way the setting sun casts her shadow across the cab—tells me my savior is seated in the chair, and the constant clicking and clacking tells me she’d fiddling with the control panel, all its flashing buttons and rusty levers.

My skull throbs and my chest is twenty sizes too small for my lungs, but the steady flow of oxygen pumping through the ventilator eases the fog clouding my sensibilities. I think of Henry’s sloppy, pearly-toothed grin, an image from happier times, to keep my hand steady as it digs into my pocket. The note inside is old. Brittle against my fingers. I pull it out and unfold the fragile paper with about as much delicacy as a nuclear physicist arming an atom bomb, careful to be as silent as possible. The sixteen-year-old scrap scrunches in my hands. I reread the jagged scrawl for what feels like—what probably is—the billionth time, and my eyes drift closed at the rush of dread it instills.

“Ah. You’re awake. Excellent.”

The seat behind me creaks and I crumple the note hastily, flicking it to the corner of the room before the woman can see. She comes round to crouch before me. Something clicks. The penlight stings my retinas as she moves it back and forth from eye to eye.

“Pupillary response is good.”

She snaps her fingers in my right ear. My left. I flinch away both times.

“Good. Auditory response normal.”

She grabs one of my hands, examining my nails. I snatch it away. The smile she offers is placating.

“Any headaches, flashing lights? Are you feeling faint at all?”

“Who the fuck are you?” I spit.

The woman doesn’t seem perturbed by my venom. Her professionalism only intensifies my distrust. She rises from her squat and returns to the control array, giving me room to shimmy onto my hands and knees. I press myself up to stand, failing once, twice, three times before I finally stagger onto my lame feet.

“My name is Ahora. You probably don’t remember me. We were close, once.” She yanks back a brown lever. The train’s course shifts slightly, careening into the horizon bathed blindingly orange by the sinking sun. “No need to worry, I’m not here to harm you. I’m sorry it took us so long to find you, Eden.”

“Who’s us?

“Fertilitas Medical Technologies. We’ve been scouring the globe for you for quite some time, dear.” I take a measured step back, praying my ailing body doesn’t fail me, that my joints hold and muscles work. “I understand you must be disoriented after such a long period of isolation, Eden, but I assure you, all your questions will be answered in due—”

“What exactly is it you’re here to do?”

Her sigh is almost imperceptible, secreted under her breath.

“To break you out of this prison, of course.” She makes it sound matter-of-fact, but I’m not deaf to the undertone of exasperation hiding beneath her voice. “Why else? The bastard that trapped you here was a deranged madman.”

Another step back.

“We’re taking you home, Eden.”

Another.

“And where exactly would home be, Ahora?”

She turns around, spreading her arms out to lean against the control panel. I freeze my creeping retreat, close enough to the open doors that my boot heel brushes against the heavy pneumatic console lying broken on the floor. Ahora’s green eyes sparkle with a cunning glint that betrays her supposed good intentions. Blond waves of hair plaster to her sweaty forehead behind the suit visor. The resemblance between us is uncanny.

My guts churn.

“Did you do this to the Aegis?” I ask. “The poison, the fire, the vent malfunction? That was you?”

Her smile is sad, complete with a patronizing cock of the head.

“Again, I apologize, but hacking the Aegis’s primary operating systems was the only way to stop its course. As you can probably imagine, it’s no easy task to board a mag-lev running at 300 miles an hour.”

“And pushing me to the brink of death was your solution?” I lower my voice. “Don’t you think that’s a little risky, considering I’m the precious cargo they sent you here to snatch?”

Her eyes harden.

My hand drifts down to my lower abdomen, touching the skin just above my pelvis. My fingers brush the flesh over my uterus, my ovaries.

The last set of working female reproductive organs on a planet sterilized by nuclear and global biochemical warfare.

Fertilitatis would stop at nothing to cut them out of my body, the precious cargo, as my father had warned me when he left me on the Aegis.

My eyes flick to the note crushed in the corner of the cab. I’ve memorized the words by heart, having read it, over and over, every evening of my life.

A father can only protect his daughter in so many ways in this cruel new world. One day I pray you’ll forgive me. But the one thing matters now, my dearest Eden, is your safety.

Be brave. Be smart. And beware the phoenix and the egg.

“Honestly, I might’ve considered going with you. Sacrifice myself for the greater good, and all that.” All pretense of compassion on Ahora’s face is gone, replaced by an ugly, angry sneer. “But that was before you killed my dog.”

Ahora lunges at me over the chair but the space between us is too wide for her to close in time before I heft the pneumatic console from the floor. Every muscle in my arms, my wrists, my hands scream beneath the weight, but my raging anger galvanizes me enough to slam the hunk of metal down on Ahora’s skull. A spray of red splatters the inside of her visor. The sickening crack of bone snaps the silence in half. Her body crashes to the ground. I drop the bloodied console.

My hands do not shake.

My heart does not pound.

Exhausted, crippling apathy consumes any shred of remorse I should have felt after ending my mother’s life.

After murdering humanity’s last hope for a future.

~~~

I slump in the conductor’s seat, holding Henry’s listless body in my lap, wrapped in his wooly plaid blanket. I stroke the tender spot in the crook of his floppy left ear, the one that always made his leg bounce in pleasure. The sunset bleeds warm reds, purples, and oranges into the clouds. We’ve got the best seat in the house. The wrap-around windows of car one offer a sweeping panoramic view of the kaleidoscopic day’s end sky, in all its radiant glory. It’s enough to ignore the bludgeoned body lying dead on the ground behind us; the blinking light on the respirator tank indicating the very little oxygen left inside.

“You’re okay,” I sigh. “We’re okay.”

The Aegis’s familiar rumble rocks me to sleep.

It’s the best sleep I’ve ever had.

***

Author Photo

Brianna Fenty is a state maritime academy alumna hailing from New York’s wonderfully weird Long Island area. After spending a few months learning highland voodoo from Scotland’s resident fairies (AKA taking a gap year), she now keeps busy at home begrudgingly searching for a day job, writing strange stories, and forcing her very moody cat to read them. Brianna has been previously published in Aphotic Realm Magazine and Paragraph Planet, and specializes in writing bizarre speculative fiction, including horror, sci-fi, and dark fantasy.

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