Verzantha Solace: Chapter 1 OFFICIAL

adontisedit

My eyes stung with the light of the morning sun. I turned over on my stomach cursing the sunrise, in that moment I didn’t care how beautiful it must’ve been. The sunrises weren’t as pretty as they once were. The world had changed into something worse than any biblical text could have predicted. The end came as brutal as humanity could have imagined. Correction, worse than.

     In 2014, a team of scientists conducted an experiment. They wanted to see if cross breeding human DNA with Animal DNA could be possible. As if playing God wasn’t enough, they used a mutated bacteria that was not from our planet to give this cross-bred abomination special abilities. For twenty-seven months, two weeks, and three days, their lab born “miracle child” grew in an artificial womb and was monitored until it hatched. I’m not clear on the details of what’s true and what isn’t. I only knew what my mother told me.

Whatever the scientists created in their lab awakened and destroyed them. It had the ability to asexually reproduce and it didn’t take long for it to choose the human race as its food supply. Humans now make up a pitiful thirty seven percent of the earth’s population. What took place was a mass genocide of epic proportions. They called the creatures responsible for our destruction, Xerclanz.

My room was the same as it had been the day Armageddon began. A queen sized bed with navy blue bedding, and one lone pillow that had seen its last fluffy days long ago was where I laid my head. I had a small wicker night stand by my bed, but there was only a small alarm clock on it. I can’t remember the last time I actually used the alarm. The wallpaper was buried underneath movie posters from the early nineties, along with some magazine collages I’d made. I had two dressers but I only kept my clothes in one of them. My little sister’s clothes occupied the second one. There was a small closet in my room but it was full of weapons and other nifty little survival goodies. No, I don’t have papers for any of them. There was no longer any authority to uphold the law, and therefore there were no laws. The whole system fell apart when those things started multiplying.

 

 

I felt nothing but coldness while I lay in bed. I moved my legs but I no longer felt my comforter. At some point during the night I must’ve felt too hot and kicked it off. I sighed when I heard the pitter patter of footsteps coming closer and closer to my bedroom door. I turned my head towards the door and ended up looking through a curtain of my jet black hair. I loved my hair, but because it fell down to my waist it was a pain to take care of sometimes.

 

 

 

My little sister Emery came into my room almost falling onto the floor as she opened the door. She was five years old but she acted far beyond her years sometimes. I’m twenty-four years old and we’re my mother’s only children. Our father was killed by a Xerclan while my mother was pregnant with Emery. I was nineteen at the time. My parents and I were walking home with groceries when a Xerlcan came from out of nowhere. It went after my mother seeing as how she was in a fragile condition. My father attacked the Xerclan with a hunting knife. He only stabbed it once before it tore his arm off. While it fed on my father, I helped my mother get away. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. Hearing my father screaming…Knowing he was being eaten alive while I ran away…I cried so hard and so long. I kept telling myself I had no choice, I had to save my mother and sister. It was one of us or all of us. My mother told me every night it wasn’t my fault and that there was nothing either of us could’ve done. I never believed that. I always felt like I could have done something so that he could have lived.

“Azarah! Mama’s really sick again!”

She was so out of breath I thought she would faint at any moment. Her room was only down the hall from mine but our mom’s room was downstairs just off the living room. I quickly sat up in my bed almost making myself dizzy. I smoothed my hair back with my left hand out of my face before I got out of bed.

“Calm down Em, I’m coming.”

My voice still sounded groggy and sleep ridden but it would wear off. I guess I was moving too slow for her because she ran up to me, grabbed my hand and yanked my arm. I heard a popping sound in my elbow. I frowned at her as I got up from the bed.

 

“Come on! Right now Zara!” She yelled at me.

I was wondering if she thought I was half asleep and not hearing her clearly because she hurried me on downstairs continuing to yell at me. I was wearing a dark purple tank top and black fruit of a looms, no chance to put on a pair of shorts. My mother fell ill about four months ago with a virus known as Aiers’s syndrome. This was another gift that the Xerclanz brought upon the earth. We thought it was just the flu at first. The symptoms in the beginning stages were identical to the flu. The fever, nausea, vomiting, body aches, and fatigue were the common signs. Then, it completely destroys your body slowly and painfully from the inside out. Your vital organs start to weaken and in worse cases shut down causing death. Your bones are sucked dry of calcium over a period of time to the point where walking is too painful. Next, Jaundice due to liver damage of course, green rashes that feel like fire ants were having a party underneath your skin, and lastly you bleed from every orifice of your body in the last stages before you die.

There is no cure, no vaccine. However if you are lucky enough to know the right people, and find those people without being eaten alive first, there is a medicine that can delay the effects of the virus and help your body fight it off. Taking the medicine long enough will take away nearly all of the symptoms, but you would have to take it indefinitely. My mother, Mohani, was now too weak to get out of bed let alone lift a pillow.

 

I was now in charge of taking care of her and Emery. The only reason she’s still alive now is because I’ve managed to get her a month’s worth of medicine.

Emery finally took her death-grip from my hand when we reached my mother’s room. She went inside of the room and stood beside her bed. My mother had been vomiting again. A small plastic bucket that used to be used at the beach was now her sick pale. Emery helped the best she could when I was out trying to get food and find things for the house. She honestly took care of things more than I did most of the time. I noticed a yellow face towel on the foot of my mother’s bed. I knew Emery had run in to hold the bucket for her and clean her mouth. I felt like a horrible daughter. There I was, upstairs comatose while my five year old sister took care of our mom, for shame.

I walked into the room slowly, trying to put on a real smile for her even though I felt dead inside. My mom was sitting up against the headboard of her bed with three pillows behind her back, her head was turned towards me. Even as sick as she was she managed to smile. I always thought my mother had one of the most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen. My mother was mixed raced, Thai and African American. She was brown skinned, a little lighter than milk chocolate with jet black hair and surprising light brown eyes. She had a rounded face with small pouty lips like Betty Boop. Her hair was down to her waist but when she got sick it had lost its volume and thinned out a lot. My father always said I looked like her twin, that all I got from him was his big rounded eye shape.

 

When I got to her bedside, I bent down a little and kissed the top of her head.

“Morning. Are you all right?”

Which was a very stupid question for obvious reasons but she did just puke.

“…Yes sweetheart, I’m fine. How are my girls?”

Her voice sounded a little raspy like she had just finished a four hour lecture but I knew it was because she just threw up.

“We’re good mom. We just want you to get better. Do you think you could eat something light? Like chicken broth and crackers?” She looked away from me for a second seeming to think about it.

“Hm, maybe just a little. Have you two eaten yet?” Before I could respond, precious little Emery butted in.

 

 

“Zara’s been sleeping all morning mama so I fed myself.”

She looked over at me and stuck her tiny pink tongue out at me. I rolled my eyes at her and directed my attention back to my mother. I wasn’t going to stoop to her level, not right now. My mother looked at me with a solemn face, a face I knew too well. She was worried.

“Zara have you been out all night looking for medicine again? I told you it’s too dangerous…You’re stressing yourself out.” She said with a tiny break in her voice. I sighed heavily.

“Who else is going to get your medicine? You only have one dose left after today. I’m going out again to see if I can get some. You’re too sick to lay in bed worried about us all day. I’ll make you some chicken broth before I go out.”

I knew she was going to try and fuss at me like she always did, but I wasn’t going to give her the chance. I kissed her on the top of the head again.

“I love you, just rest all right? Trust me I can take care of myself.” It was her turn to roll her eyes.

“The last time you said that I was working fifty hour weeks to pay for the damage you did to someone’s brand new car and your two month hospital stay.”

 

I turned away and made my way out of the room because this was an argument I wasn’t going to win.

I heard Emery’s little footsteps behind me and I was sure she was heading into the kitchen too. Food was scarce to put it nicely but my late nights out kept the cabinets somewhat decent. The kitchen was my mom’s happy place, or it used to be anyway. She loved tigers so the kitchen had tiger print everywhere except for the windows and floor. There were tiger cub magnets on the refrigerator, a tiger head wall clock and a calendar with tigers in different environments for every month. There was a small, wood, folding table with two chairs next to the window. Emery and me were the only ones who sat here and ate now, sometimes just either of us alone.

 

I saw a saucer on the table with bread crumbs and small dots of jelly on it. She had definitely eaten some toast this morning. I went to the cabinet near the stove to find some chicken broth.

“Clean up your mess little girl. You know mom wouldn’t let you leave it there.” I heard her sigh behind me. I found one of three cans of chicken broth and took one out. It had one of those easy open tabs so I was happy I didn’t need to use the

 

can opener. All of the dishes had been cleaned last night by Emery so all I had to do is take a bowl from the dish rack.

Whenever I came home, the house was clean and mom was tucked in as comfortable as possible sleeping. Emery really did do more than her share for such a young kid. I opened the can of broth, poured it into a deep soup bowl, and put it in the microwave for two minutes. Emery came up beside me with her plate, dragging one of the dining chairs behind her. She still wasn’t tall enough to reach the knobs on the kitchen faucet. Once she got up on the chair she started washing her saucer. I stood next to her with my arms crossed and watched her with a smile.

“I need you to feed mom her broth when it’s done. Can you do that for me?” She looked over at me as she rinsed the plate off.

“Yeah, but why can’t you do it?” The classic phrase, ‘because I want you to do it’ most parents use went through my mind but I didn’t want to make her feel like I was being the bossy big sister.

“Because I have to get an early start today. Mom’s medicine is going to be gone tomorrow and I need to find her more today before the sun goes down. None of my contacts can be found after sunset, I told you this before.” She set her

 

plate in the dish rack but continued to stand on the chair, feeling secure that we were at the same height I guess.

“Your contacts are stupid, the Xerclanz come out anytime of the day.” I almost laughed seeing the little frown on her face. She looked so much like my father when she frowned.

“True, but they move in large numbers at night. Don’t forget we’re running low on food again and the early bird catches the worm Em.” I said reaching up and rubbing the top of her head, giving her instant bed hair. She gasped and responded by jumping on me with her wet hands going straight onto my face. She giggled and her laughter was like that of baby angels chasing each other in the heavens. Her laughs made me laugh every time.

“Lazy birds go hungry when they sleep through the morning Zara!” She was still giggling as she said this and I had to get her back with an intense tickling session. I started tickling her sides and she let go of me, dropping to the floor on her butt. I looked down at her with my best sinister grin before the beeping of the Microwave went off. “No fair! You tickled me!” she said with her little finger pointing up at me. Her hair came down to the middle of her back but was slightly wavy like my father’s was.

 

She had my mother’s eyes like I did though. “Nothing is fair anymore Em. Get up and go feed mom okay? I’m about to head out.”

She got up from the floor with a small grunt before giving me a hug. I hugged her back. “Love you, take care of mom. I’ll be back before dark all right?” She nodded and let go of me. I headed back upstairs to my room to figure out what clothes I wouldn’t mind throwing away just in case I happened to get monster guts on me. It’s happened more times than I’d like to mention. I’m young, but in times like these age is irrelevant. The number of years you survive is what matters. It’s 4032 and it feels like we’ve reverted back to ancient times. At least that’s what it feels like to me.

I rummaged through my drawers and took out a long sleeve, light grey sweater that was a soft, thin material. I wanted to say a mix between cotton and polyester. It was a V-neck but the v was low cut and showed a bit of cleavage; Just a little. I chose some black jean shorts that came to mid thigh to go with it. I was simple, no one to impress anyway. I tossed a panty and bra set on the bed with the outfit and headed to the bathroom.

Once I got dressed, I put my black steel toe boots on and grabbed my black pea coat from the hook on the back of the bedroom door. It was a nice one that came down to the top of my boots. It was warm enough for fall, too warm for summer and just right for spring. Winter? Forget about it. I put on my coat and pulled my still damp hair from underneath it. It fell down onto the back of my coat with a wet slapping sound. I never left the house without two things, my weapon bag and my mother’s necklace around my neck. I always wore her necklace, since the day she gave it to me I never took it off. The necklace had a sterling silver chain that hung past my breasts. The charm was like nothing I’d seen before. It had a dragon carved from an Agate stone sitting on a jade fan, it was my most cherished possession.

I walked across my room to my closet and on the door hung about three sawed off shot guns; I always took one and plenty of shells. I also carried two double barrel pistols on my hips and extra clips in the inner pockets of my coat. That’s my usual arsenal for regular outings. If I thought I was really going to get into trouble I would bring a couple flash grenades but I was just going out for business.

Before there was a legitimate currency, we had no choice but to trade goods for what we wanted. Well, now we were back to trading. Only this time we weren’t trading food or jewelry. We trade energy. Our electricity left when the Xerclanz took over. We have a sustainable source of energy called Beilaj, or “life of the moon”. The energy from the moon is harnessed in an underground facility and then put into specially made containment vials. Every home, apartment building, secured facility, anything that uses energy has a device installed into it where these containment vials are inserted and the energy is used. The Beilaj is possibly more valuable than medicine.

Even though the new trading system sounds simple, it isn’t. Why would someone be willing to trade their precious energy? Because for each Beilaj, depending on the item you’re trading for, you get double of what you are trading for. In some cases triple that. If someone wants a car battery or some fuel however, they will only get one; But with the exception of one Beilaj to go with it. As for me, well no one has tried to hustle me. It could be because of the double barrel hand guns on my hips, who knows. We lived in a city called Halo because of how the sunset seemed to make the entire skyline shine like the heavens. Nowadays no one was brave enough to stay out and admire the little things life offered.

I went back downstairs one more time to check on my mother and Emery before I left. I made a quick stop at the kitchen counter and grabbed my keys with a fast swipe, tucking them in my coat pocket. I found a sweet scene when I came to the doorway of my mother’s bedroom. Emery was sitting in bed with my mom reading a book to her instead of the other way around. My mother was sitting quietly listening while she read. Emery had stopped reading and they both looked over at me.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. I’m leaving now. You know where my ‘stuff’ is if a Xerclan decides to pay a visit.”

Emery just nodded. Neither of us wanted to give our mom a heart attack by talking about the use of guns in her house. Never mind the fact I taught Emery how to use one of my hand guns last year. She isn’t a pro but she hasn’t missed a target yet and that made me feel comfortable having her here with mom.

“Is there anything we need ASAP that I might’ve missed?” I asked. Emery was quiet for nearly a minute trying to really think about it.

“Oh! Mom needs a new catheter and we’re on our last bar of soap. That’s it though.” I smiled and gave her a nod.

“Done and done. Love you guys…”

“We love you too.” I heard them say at the same time before I walked out of the room. It was a heavy responsibility on Emery to take care of my mom and the house while I was gone, but there was no one else. I worried every time I left them, hoping that they would be safe until I could return to protect them.

 

Our house is one level and a decade old. My father and two of my uncles had built it themselves before the Xerclanz had dominated the human race completely. Our house was a prototype for a method of security that would allow people to sleep peacefully in their beds at night. The outside looked like your typical suburban home, but within the walls there was reinforced steel and cement. Of course those things alone are not enough to hold the Xerclanz back. A Beilaj powered magnetic field surrounded the house constantly and that seemed to interfere with the Xerclanz senses and made them vulnerable to attack. The president approved the prototype and created an assistance program so that people could afford such state of the art security.

Like every great invention came problems. Everyone wanted one but wasn’t always approved for the program. The high and mighty high class had to pay but ironically couldn’t afford it so it didn’t take long for most of their houses to be run through by Xerclanz. There weren’t many people who knew how my father’s invention worked so there are only a small number of houses that were built with the Beilaj powered magnetic field. When my father died he didn’t leave any notes with my uncles to pass on the information so now most homes only have the reinforced steel and cement built in. The rest didn’t have either of those things and were in ruins now. Since our house was as safe as it could be considering, I was able to go out and get the things we needed.

My only transportation was a Jaguar motorcycle made by Barend Hemmes in the early two thousands. It was seriously a motorbike with a Jaguar for the body. Back then you had to be rich as hell to own one and lucky to have even seen one. How I got my hands on it wasn’t a very honorable story. About three years ago, a big group of motorcyclists were fighting in the parking lot of a bar. I was on one of my usual errands walking by and spotted the shiny, black beauty on the side of the bar next to a few other nice bikes. I had to get a look at it so I went over to it, yes while all of the drunk fighting was happening. When I was close enough to it, I noticed the keys had been left in the ignition.

I was twenty one, walking home alone just after sunset with about three more miles to go before I made it home. I hopped on the bike and sped off in the opposite direction of all the fighting. I was scared to death that the owner was going to catch me but no one followed me or even noticed me. I can’t remember the story I told my mom as far as where I got the bike from, but I still have it so whatever I said worked.

I went out of the back door of the house and locked it behind me. I looked around making sure no one was watching me before I took my bike out. I loved that bike and I was damned if I was going to let someone try to take it from me.

I walked over to a thick patch of vines and bushes. We didn’t have a garage so I had to leave it outside, but I made sure it was hidden from sight. I reached into my left coat pocket and took out some fingerless grip gloves. They were dark green and black, not my favorite color combination but they kept me from getting calluses. I leaned forward a little and started pulling the vines and bush twigs off of the bike. It was untouched the way I left it. I got a grip on the handles and walked it out of the bushes. Instead of walking it out to the street like most people would, I hoped on, put the key in the ignition, and sped out of the backyard. There wasn’t much grass back there so it wasn’t like I ruined anything.

The city streets looked abandoned. The sun was bright and somewhat centered about one o’ clock so I knew it was after noon. I had to go to an old office building about a quarter of a mile away. I knew a man there who dealt with medical supplies and some household stuff. The building use to hold several companies within it, now it was just a run-down market place. No place was one-hundred-percent safe but people had to make a living. The building was under an overpass among a plaza. There were a few cars in the parking lot but they were in no condition to be driven. I was sure the gas tanks had been emptied and the cars were void of anything useful.

I rode my bike all the way into the building, the doors were long gone. There was no safe place to put my bike but I could put it out of sight. The women’s bathroom was as good a place as any. It looked disgusting and smelled just as disgusting so no one used it anymore.

As I was Walking through the building I could hear people talking in some of the office spaces and in the hallways. The elevator no longer worked due to the fact no one wanted to spare their Beilajs to get it up and running. I only needed to get to the second floor so it didn’t bother me at all.

The second floor was a little louder than I expected, it sounded like an auction was going on. The kind of auction like in the old days where people were waving money and yelling at the seller. There were mostly guys, a couple of teenage girls and two women who looked to be thirty-ish among the masses. I moved my way through them the best I could without having to shove anyone out of my way. There was an office room that said, ‘Louvina Financing’ on the glass but it was just another vendor set up now. I pushed the glass door opened and walked inside. There were a couple of lounge chairs against the wall near the door and a whole crap load of cardboard boxes stacked against the walls. Nothing else stood out except the seller that stood behind the reception desk.

Renny was a short, kind of stocky guy well into his fifties. He was an Indian man and it was a little difficult trying to understand him with his accent sometimes. I walked up to the desk with a smile, he smiled but not like he meant it. The desk was about chest level so I was able to lean on it and still stand up somewhat straight.

“Hey what’s with that phony smile Renny?” He just shook his head and put a hand up as if to say don’t bother asking. I left it at that.

“What can I do for you today miss Azarah?”

“I need a catheter, two if you have any extras.” Renny made his way from behind the desk and went over to a cluster of open boxes not far from the desk. I watched him search but stayed near the door. Never knew when you would need a quick escape.

“Did you get any Vicodin in this week?” I asked sparing a glance back at the door, no one was there though.

“Ah, I believe I have…Three pills left. A lady came in and traded them to me.” He said taking two catheter tubes out of one of the boxes. He returned to the desk and set them down. I looked at them making sure they were in an acceptable condition, by that I mean new and not used. I’ve run into sickos who tried to trade used catheters to me. Yeah, damn gross.

“Did you want the Vikodin?” He asked sounding a little unsure.

“Yeah, I’ll take all three.” I watched his eyes widen for a split second and I laughed a little. “I know they are a rarity around here Renny so I don’t expect you to give me a discount. My mom needs them a little more often now.” I didn’t try to let my smile slip but it did. I couldn’t help it when I spoke of her.

Renny finally gave me a real smile, but it was sympathetic. “I admire what you’re doing Azarah. Your mother is very lucky to have daughters like you and your sister.”

“That’s sweet Renny. What’s my total then?” I sighed dramatically and that got a little laugh out of him.

“Three Beilajs, that will do fine.” I gave him a suspicious stare and he raised his eyebrows. “Is something wrong?” He asked.

“I don’t want to find out you’re treating me differently than anyone else because of my situation. You’ll lose business.” I didn’t mean to sound like his business partner but it was the truth. I knew he was charging me way too little. One Vicodin pill alone was worth at least two Beilajs. Two more of them plus two catheters should have been ten Beilajs at least. But who was I to tell him how to run his business?

He shook his head and bagged the items in a cotton drawstring bag before setting them back down on the desk. “You are my best customer Azarah. The least I can do is give you a bargain price. Besides, you don’t go blabbing to everyone about it.” He said with a smile. I took three Beilajs out from my inner pocket and handed them to him.

“Thank you Renny.”

“No young lady, thank you. Go on and get home now.” I wanted to say my day was just beginning, but I didn’t. I put my mom’s medical supplies in my rucksack and left.

Food was my next mission, but I had to go a little farther from home for that. I always went to look for my mom’s medicine last because I had to hunt down more than one person to get it. When I found them, sometimes they were out of it or hadn’t had any for a while and the search continued. The medicine was called Diglosamine. It was rarer than anything else on the drug market because so many people needed it now. But for now, one worry at a time.

At this time of day the downtown area was occupied with vendor stands and orphaned children trying to persuade those vendors to give them a free meal. I would help them when I could but I could only do so much seeing as how I was trying to keep my own family fed. I parked my bike behind a dumpster near an old luggage store and continued on foot. My rucksack gently bumped my back with every step and it sort of annoyed me. It was distracting when I was trying to keep my focus on my surroundings so I slid it around one shoulder so that it was on my left side.

“Zara! Zara wait up!” I stopped and turned around to look for the person calling me. I smiled when I saw my friend and reliable contact, Mont. He was what people used to refer to when they mentioned the words ‘ginger kid’. Short, curly red hair, his pale face covered with freckles, and green eyes. We met during a Xerclan raid at a night club that used to be a hot spot. Now it’s just a sad looking museum.

“Hey I was wondering when you’d show up, late night again?” He asked giving me a playful shove. I shoved him back before we started a slow walk down the street.

“You could say that. It’s getting harder and harder for me to find the Diglosamine.” My smile again fell apart just thinking about the tiresome nights I’ve had this week.

He nodded. “Yeah I know the feeling. No one I’ve come across even had one drop. I hate to be a downer but the supplies might be starting to run out. There hasn’t been anyone making anymore drugs for a long time. All of the pharmaceutical companies were looted years ago.” I ran my fingers through my now wind-dried hair and then put both hands in my coat pockets.

“True, the last medical supplies are probably in circulation right now. The question is; what are people going to do when it’s all gone? I mean this can’t be it Mont.” He shook his head and I didn’t have to ask what he was thinking. We were all screwed worse than we already were.

“The only thing we can do is what we’ve always done, survive by any means necessary. So to save you a few breaths, I’ll tell you up front. I don’t have what you need today.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Oh well, just means I have a little more traveling to do. The only other person I see for Diglosamine is Zig. The problem is she never stays in one place for long because she’s always stealing other people’s shit.” I couldn’t help but laugh and Mont started laughing too. Zig always had what you needed, but it belonged to someone else probably less than fifteen minutes before you asked for it.

“That girl is trouble, always will be. Why don’t you stop wasting your time and fuel searching the city for her and just ask me for info? I sell more than just medications and tools you know.” I stopped walking, causing Mont to stop walking and look at me.

“What kind of information exactly?” I asked looking up at him. Mont was well over six feet so I had no choice but to look up at him.

“Just tell me what you’re looking for and I can collect the information on it the best that I can. I even help find people if I can, arrange meetings.” He said with a small smile. I noticed a little blush in his cheeks and smiled back. Mont would never admit it to anyone out loud but he was quite the humanitarian.

I took my right hand out of my pocket and touched the tip of my index finger to my chin, thinking.

“How quickly can you find this information?”

“It really just depends on what you’re looking for. The sooner you tell me what you want, the sooner I can be out asking around.” He said crossing his arms.

 

 

“I need to find my mother’s medicine before the end of the day tomorrow. She has one dose left and I’m sure I don’t need to explain what will happen if she doesn’t continue taking it…” His blush melted away from his face and his business face appeared. Focused and serious. I put my hand back into my pocket.

“You’re the third person today who wants info for that, It’s going to be a toughie. Since you are my friend I will give you a head start on any leads I get.” He said with a wink. I raised an eyebrow.

“Flirting now? How unbecoming of a business man.” The blush returned to Mont’s cheeks with a vengeance this time.

“No! No! I was just joking around Zara!” he says this while laughing so I knew he was lying but I just smiled and took one Beilaj out of my pocket for him. We had a deal; no matter what I got from him it would only cost one Beilaj.

I saved his life so he in turn wanted to make my life easier, it works for me. I tossed it up in the space between us like how a coin would be flipped and he caught it.

“I’ll have something for you by sunrise. Where should we meet up?” There were a few places I met people for business. Morning meet-ups were hard because I usually slept in like today. Gotta do what I gotta do I suppose.

“Saint Mark’s Chapel, it’s only two blocks away from my place.” Mont gave me a nod.

“Consider it done, Zara.” I always wondered how he managed to be out all night and live this long considering the risks. During the day, the Xerclanz don’t appear unless you’ve stumbled upon one of their nests. At night, it’s feeding time and you better not be caught in the wrong place at the right time.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then. I know you’ve got places to go.” He said before leaving me to my own company once again.

I continued down the street to check out what the trading stands looked like this morning. The stands looked different with every trader. Some were using those old mobile hot dog carts, others using stands they made themselves. My attention was caught by a brightly painted sign that read, ‘fresh produce’. Mostly everything came out of a can nowadays so I was interested to see what the quality of the food was. Some traders will claim their produce is fresh but looks close to expiration. I was met with a pleasant smile from a woman who looked to be around forty. There were wicker baskets on the sides of her stand and lined in front of it, they were all full of fruits and a few vegetables.

“Hello there, see anything you like?” She asked still smiling. Before I answered her I wanted to get a closer look at what I would be buying. I picked out a couple of oranges, four apples and a little bag of pears. They looked pretty good, definitely ripe but good.

“I’ll take these. How much?” She opened her mouth to answer, but what I heard were the terrified screams of children. I looked down the street where I had seen some kids playing when I arrived and they were running towards me with two Xerclanz coming around the corner after them. I sighed and set the fruit down on the stand. I took both of my guns out and the nice produce lady gasped. I assumed she’d never seen guns before or she thought she was about to be shot. Probably both.

“Get to a safe place and stay there.” I told her but she started gathering up her goods instead. Priorities.

I ran towards the screaming kids and the fast approaching Xerclanz. I wanted them to get to safety before I started shooting but they were getting too close. The Xerclanz were close to ten feet tall, their bodies were covered in black scales that shined with greens and blues. The scale colors reminded me of what a fly’s eyes looked like. They had long tails with poisonous tips similar to a scorpion’s. Of course they were part human so they walked on two legs and had some human characteristics like five fingers on each hand. Except they had long, black claws and were covered in thick scales. Their bodies weren’t bulky but slim, I swear I saw armored cut abs which was just creepy. Even more so, their mouths opened up sideways. Yes they had more than one. Only two eyes from what I could see in my peripheral vision. You never looked them in the eyes, never. They could capture your mind and it was over.

One little boy got knocked over by the other kids trying to get away. A Xerclan was within reach of him and they had a long reach. The little boy looked up screaming.

“Get down!” I shouted at him before I pulled the triggers on both guns. I aimed at both of the Xerclanz as I continued running towards them. My shouting and shooting caught their attention and now they were after me. They jumped and lunged for me. I was forced to make myself fall backwards while shooting up above me. The moment my bullets made contact, the Xerclanz exploded in black and green chunks in the air above me. I gasped when some of their goop and chunks fell onto my face. I got up from the street and holstered my guns. Not too happy about what was sliding down the sides of my face.

I started wiping my face off the best I could but it was just too thick and slimy. I looked down to see a little girl tugging on my coat, holding a piece of cloth. I took her offered cloth and wiped my face off the best that I could. The smell of rotten eggs and spoiled milk was another matter.

“Thank you, what’s your name?” I said looking down at her. She was a brown-eyed, blonde, with deep dimples. She was wearing jeans with a purple plaid dress.

“I’m Madei…” She looked down at the ground as she said her name, becoming shy. I knelt down to her level and smiled, trying to ignore the stench radiating from me.

“Hi Madei, are you all right? Did you get hurt at all?” She shook her head no.

“Did you by any chance find some pretty eggs and try to take some?” My voice was a little less cheery now and her brown eyes widened. She hesitated for a moment but she did answer.

“Um, yes. We thought we could trade with them.” Innocence could be dangerous sometimes.

 

“Listen Madei, those eggs are worthless. Do you know why?” She shook her head no.

“Because monsters live inside of them, monsters like the ones that were chasing you. If you take them, the monsters will get angry and try to hurt you. If you find them ever again, leave them where they are and get as far away as you can. I don’t want you or your friends getting hurt understand?” Madei held her little hands in front of her and twiddled her fingers nervously.

“Yes, Okay…” I gave her a nod before I stood up again.

“Good girl. Now go to your friends and tell them exactly what I told you.” She didn’t ask any questions like I expected her to, she ran to the other children who were cowering in between two buildings across the street.

I looked around to see some of the traders who went to take cover coming back to their stands, but the lady with the fruits and vegetables had left her empty stand where it sat. Except for a pouch of apples and two oranges she disappeared. I took what she had left behind and put them in my rucksack, waste not want not. As bad as I wanted a nice hot shower, I needed to get more food. I got back on my bike and went back towards my neighborhood.

There were very few places to get food around my house, that’s why I always ended up across town. Because of certain events I wasn’t planning on being out until sunset, the stench would seep into my pores and stay there for at least a week if I didn’t wash it off soon. There was a lady down the street from us that made homemade breads and muffins; not every day but most days of the week. If I came by on the days she didn’t bake anything fresh but had leftovers from the day before, she would give them to me free. Here’s hoping today was one of those days.

The house was dark blue and violet but it was time for a new paint job. Their grass was yellow and pale green just like ours. No time for yard work these days. I went to the back door instead of the front and knocked twice. It took only a minute for her to answer.

“Oh hi Azarah!” She said full of energy and glee, for about two seconds. She noticed my slimy coat and hair and her bright smile wilted. She had short cut brown hair with hazel eyes, a little on the heavy side but not so much that she waddled when she walked.

“Sorry Ms. D, I had a little trouble earlier.” I probably looked as pitiful as I sounded because she invited me inside despite my Xerclan stench.

Sure enough she was in the middle of baking. I could smell the warm yeasty goodness of wood baked bread. Her bread was always different than anyone else’s. She had a wood stove and knew how to bake her ass off. I sat down on a lone barstool at her breakfast nook and tried to touch as little as possible, being contaminated and all. I watched her float around her kitchen taking bread out of the oven, putting more in, and slicing loaves that had cooled off.

“How’s your mother and sister?” She said glancing over at me.

 

“Emery acts like she’s the oldest now, and you can’t tell her otherwise. My mom is stable at the moment. She’ll need more meds tomorrow though.” Denettea’s smile had vanished long ago, now she was focused on her bread slicing.

“Hm. No luck with medicine today?” I shook my head no.

“I got everything else but that today. My main contact said Diglosamine might be starting to run out, all of the medication for that matter. I can’t discredit him though. He’s out in the streets talking to more people than I am so he would know.” I sighed.

“Don’t give up hope honey, everything will work out. You might not have found it today, but there’s always tomorrow.” She came over to me smiling with a slice of fresh Rye bread in her hand.

“Here, try it. It’s my first Rye bread loaf in a long time.” I looked down at it for a minute uncertain if I should take it, I felt like I was stealing from her.

“Go on, what’s the matter?” She said starting to sound offended. I took the bread gingerly between my fingers before I bit into the corner. It was heaven the moment it touched my tongue. I had been so busy trying to get things together I had forgotten to eat. Before I realized it I had inhaled the whole slice in under a minute.

“My, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you haven’t eaten in days.” She came to me with another slice and this time I didn’t hesitate to take it.

 

“Thank you, really.” I said in between chewing. Screw manners right now, I was starving.

“Would you like a couple of fresh loaves?” She asked as she began wrapping up some Rye bread and what looked like pumpernickel.

“No, I don’t have enough Beilajs today. Thanks for letting me try some though.” I saw her wave her hand as if waving something away.

“No charge Azarah. You don’t come to see me very often and when you do buy my bread you give me double what I ask for. Consider it a gift won’t you?” I stuffed the last bite of bread into my mouth and thought about turning her down. I wasn’t a con artist. I didn’t give her extra so that it would benefit me later. I know she needs to trade for baking supplies so I help a little more if I can. Was I being stubborn? Nah.

“If you’re okay with it I’m definitely okay with it. We all love your homemade bread Ms. D.” I said smiling again. She wrapped up two loaves of Rye bread and one loaf of white bread and I was on my way.

“Thank you Ms. D, let me know it there’s anything I can do for you.” She shook her head no.

“You just come back and see me more often young lady.” I gave her a nod before she closed and locked her door. I hopped back on my bike for a short ride up the street. Once I got my bike well hidden again, I went into my house. Man I swear the shower was calling my name. Okay, more like Emery calling my name.

 

“Zara is that you?” Her high pitched voice rang from up the short flight of stairs. Our back door was right by the basement stairs and a second set of stairs that led up into the house.

“Yeah! It’s me!” I shouted up to her. She met me at the top of the stairs with a frown and her hand covering her nose.

“God! You reek!” I glared at her but her disgust was stuck on her face, unmoving.

“Thanks, I missed you too you little brat. Move it…” I said shoving her to the side. I headed towards the kitchen so I could put the bread on the table. Emery was at my heels as usual.

“Is mom awake?” I asked turning into the living room.

“Yup, I just finished giving her a sponge bath.”

“That’s my girl. I have some bad news and some good new kiddo.” I came to the kitchen and set the fresh bread on the table. I knew one of them would be half gone in the morning.

Emery stood with her head against the archway of the kitchen looking up at me concerned.

“Bad news first.” She said. I nodded and took off my boots and coat. I held them in my hands.

“The bad news is, I wasn’t able to get mom’s medicine today. The good news is I have a friend who’s going to help me find some tomorrow morning.” Emery stood up straight again and I could see that she wasn’t as worried as much as she was at first.

“Okay then, I’m waking you up just before sunrise then. No coma-sleeping tonight Zara, this is serious you know?” I smiled but a sigh came with it.

“I know Em. I’m going to take a shower and get the Xerclan guts off of me. I’ll come and see to mom after okay?” Emery nodded, finally smiling. I watched her run off out of the kitchen in her pink, princess Ariel pajama gown and I was still so amazed that something so sweet could be so grown-up sometimes.

I headed upstairs as quickly as possible to the bathroom. Once I got into the shower, nothing but the feel of the warm water sliding down my body occupied my mind. I let go and relaxed completely for the first time during the entire day. Some days I wished things could go back to the way they were, before the takeover. My sister and I were born into this life so it’s all we know. Just once I want to know what it’s like not to worry about being killed when I walk outside or scrounging around for every meal. Having days at home with Emery and my mother, to see my mother in good health and happy. The thought awakened my tear ducts and my peaceful shower turned into a personal therapy session.

Let it out Azarah, let it all out damn you…

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