Ouija Bored

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Trena N. Taylor


Berra sat down heavily on the old red trunk, dropping her backpack to the floor and taking a moment to catch her breath before pulling the ancient trunk those last few inches, so that it was fully bathed within the moon’s glow from the skylight above. She coughed out the unsettled dust that coated her throat and now filled her lungs. All around her was chaos, boxes toppled onto their side, contents strewn throughout the room, dusty old cobwebs and fresh spider webs clogging the rafters that slanted upwards above her. The domestic wildlife that had long made the room their home had been unsettled by her fractious rummaging and could, in the near silence, be heard shifting and scurrying about, just outside the reach of the pools of light cast by Berra’s loose circle of candles.

Wiping more sweat from her brow with the hem of her T-shirt, Berra was mumbling, “…don’t care anyway…” when something in the darkness clattered to the floor, startling her into silence.

She looked around timidly, then laughed to herself, then out loud, and then loudly out loud, the exaggerated “Ha! Ha! Ha!” bouncing sharply against the close walls.

“Wicked acoustics,” she said, and again, with as much force as her voice could carry, “Wicked acoustics!” The sound immediately punched back against her eardrums, causing her to flinch and she pressed against her ear, thinking Damned tinnitus.

“I can say what I want,” Berra said, to the left side of the room, before turning to the right and shouting, “As loud as I want!”

She sat down hard on the cold floor, and leaned back against the chest.

“It’s not like anyone’s going to hear me,” she said. “Or see me.” As proof, she twisted a finger up her nose and stuck out her tongue to the surrounding darkness, then reached for her backpack. Pulling it close, Berra delved inside and retrieved a large bottle of whiskey.

“‘You can come with us next year, Berra; next time Berra; no, not this year, maybe next year.'” She wagged her finger in the air, admonishingly, and swung her hips around, imitating her mother. “‘Oh, no Berra, not this time, but maybe next time; yes, Berra, you’ll come with us next time, but not this time, the doctor doesn’t think it’s a good idea, Berra; eat some more celery, Berra; no seconds for you, Berra!'”

Out of breath once more from this outburst, Berra put the bottle to her lips and took a tentative sip.

“Daaaaaaamn,” the word rasped from her throat. “This is filthy! Mom, how do you drink this stuff? Ha, if anyone knew the great and grand Tanya Ferrell hit the hard stuff, what would the Ladies’ Journal say?”

She tipped another miniscule amount into her mouth and twitched her shoulders in an over-exaggerated response to the sting of the alcohol.

“So,” Berra said, setting aside her bag but keeping the bottle close at hand, “What’s the big deal about the trunk, anyway? ‘Never go up there, Berra; never touch your father’s trunk, Berra; don’t do this, Berra; never do that.’ Well,” said Berra, lifting the latch on the trunk, “If you didn’t want me messing with the trunk, you shouldn’t have told me about it. Simple as that. I mean, really, what did you expect? Every day for the past month you’ve been telling me not to come up here, like I don’t know where you hide the key. Telling me I’m grounded if I disobey you. Ground me? If I disobey you? Ha! You may as well have dared me to do it. May as well have handed me the key with a signed consent form!” With a great deal of force, she managed to open the lid, which was so firmly shut that a vacuum-like hiss was released when its tight seal was broken.

Ahhhh…

Berra glanced over her shoulder into the darkness, before leaning over, peering inside the trunk, apparently mistaking the escaping sound for more of the unsettled noise she had stirred up when she had begun her exploration of the attic.

“Um, hellooo? It’s empty?” She sighed her disappointment, loudly. “All that cloak and dagger for an empty trunk? You people are freaks.”

Lightning flashed overhead, casting its harsh white light throughout the room.

“Of course. There would be a storm, wouldn’t there?”

The flickering light continued and abated, with a soft rumble of thunder behind it.

“Oh, hang on.” Berra’s attention had been drawn to something lying flat at the bottom of the trunk.

She reached her arm down and swept her hand across the bottom.

“What’s this?” Her fingers closed on a smooth object and she withdrew it from the trunk.

“What is this, an antique Valentine?” She held the wooden shape to her eye. “Or a magnifying glass?” she speculated, sweeping her body around in an arc to peer around the room through the glass near the point of the heart-shaped object.

“What the hell?” Her hair lifted lightly across her face as a draught quietly swept the room. It seemed to murmur Planchette…

“This can’t be all…” Berra reached down into the darkened trunk, once more, scraping her fingertips against the bottom until something lifted up.

“Ah-haaa,” she said, lifting the board out of the trunk. “So, this is what all the drama was about? What, Jacob was into the occult? Hmmm… I’m not impressed.”

Berra reached once more for the whiskey, this time taking a healthier swig.

She leaned back against the trunk, stretching her legs out wide, and placed the wooden board on the floor before her.

“Well,” she shrugged, “I guess it’s something to do on a stormy Saturday night when your so-called family has left you all alone to go skiing in Europe without you… ” The bottle tipped up to her lips, once more, and she continued, teeth bared and clenched, as the liquor stung her mouth and gripped her stomach, “…on a so-called family vacation, without you, oh but how’s it supposed to be a family vacation if they even take the damn dog but leave you behind, or are you not a part of this family anymore?”

And a longer, healthier drag on the bottle. Berra inadvertently set the bottle down on the edge of the planchette and it tipped over, spilling a good amount of its contents onto the board, which seemed almost to glow beneath the liquid.

“Oops,” Berra said, before gaining a hint of bravado. “Well, so what, that’s what you get. I don’t care if it was Jacob’s. Hell, I never even met the man; what’s he to me? That’s what you get for leaving me here, no television, no radio, what did you expect me to do all week long, twiddle my fingers and toes like a good little girl? So what, it got wet! I hope it’s ruined!”

Berra spit on the board and a blinding light erupted in the room, strobing, mesmerizing Berra as she sat transfixed.

“Daaaaaaaaamn,” She held the bottle at arms length, eyebrow raised. “What’s that all about?”

We are with you.

The lights dwindled and faded, but Berra continued to blink rapidly, acclimating her eyes to the dim room, once more.

“You what?” The whiskey found her lips once more.

We are. We are with you once more.

“Wicked.” Berra leaned over and prodded the wooden planchette around the board.

“Go on,” she said. “Spell something.”

You are returned…

“OK, but spell something.” Berra pushed the pointer around on the board. “Come on! A, B, C, D… Something!”

A great wind howled, speaking to her as if from a distance, and Berra touched her hand to her brow.

“Whoa— What… What’s going on…”

She tried to steady herself on her feet, but her knee buckled and she crashed back down onto it, breath labored and chest heaving.

We are amongst you. Purge and be pure.

“I need to lie down. I really need to… Need… Ohhh—” she plunged her head down into the trunk and retched, stomach emptying its contents.

Berra sat back, not daring to look at the board, clutching at her head, but unable to stop the assault of voices that swelled within her mind.

Born of flame and returned…

“Stop it!” Berra fell back, drawing her knees to her chest, her head shaking violently.

Born of fire and returned…

“STOP it!” her elbows crashed against the floor and she beat against the bare boards with her hands.

Born not to this world, yet returned…

“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” she shrieked against the clamorous baying. Drawing up to her knees, Berra lunged towards the door, but again fell back and, narrowly missing a flaming candle, landed solidly on her bottom.

Sacrificed lamb, you are returned to us and we accept you unto us…

Tears began to fall from Berra’s eyes as the pain behind them mounted. She pulled and tore at her hair in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable, but still the wailing grew and she covered her mouth and nose against the stench that had arisen from the board.

Berra closed her eyes against the light, her body shaking, and she screamed out in pain as her head struck the floor, but she continued hitting her head, driving out the sound and the light and the smell and voices. Eyes wide with horror, now, Berra gaped at the board, as if peering through it to some pit of Hell, and she clutched at her stomach, forcing back the bile that threatened to erupt at any moment.

“Noooo!” she screamed. “What do you want with me? What do you want?!”

Her arms flew out and flailed around her, fending off some demon, fighting back the apparition that had arisen to claim her.

Suddenly the room was filled with a deathly silence and Berra’s very breath was gone, sucked from her body along with the sound and light, and she clutched and clawed at her throat, eyes bulging in fear of the darkness that now surely awaited her.

At once, life seemed to flood back into the room and Berra screamed again, her voice returned. She cried out now in pain with blood streaking down her throat from where her own nails had gouged trenches. And again she screamed as the light assaulted her eyes and she dropped down one last time, finally giving up the battle for her very soul.

As Berra stared bleakly at the board, accepting of her fate, the multitude of voices seemed to beat even further her head, suffusing her mind with its will.

Blood of our blood, the appointed hour drew you to us… Our blood courses through your veins, descendant of Ph’rel… You will feed us, return our life’s blood to us and we will once more be one…”

The tirade echoed in the room and in her head, as all around Berra the walls shook and the sudden wind howled and a great light filled the air.

Finding her strength once more within those words, Berra rose up to her knees, belligerent expression belying the agony she felt inside.

“Screw you,” said Berra, shoving a candle from its perch onto the still damp board. “I was adopted.”

From the board a blinding white flame burst forth and was no more, even as the cacophonous whirlwind suddenly ceased.

Berra had fallen away from the fire and leaned back, coughing and spluttering. She stood up beneath the now smoke-filled shaft of light, caught her breath, and turned her head, speaking into the darkness. “A bit too much flash paper, don’t you think, Murray?”

“Who is director, Berra, and who is actor? House lights, please! Props, we want to bring the house down, not burn it down—easy on the nitrate. Now, if we could back this thing up and take it again from the spilled drink, strobe slights, you expectorate… and a little less of the Grand Guignol this time, please.” Murray approached the stage with his notes.

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Somehow find the time to compose her works of fiction between changing diapers and doing laundry, Trena Taylor enjoys fully enjoys the last-minute, seat-of-your-pants style of writing that can only be found when submitting a 2000-word story at the last possible minute. E-mail: tntaylor101[at]hotmail.com.

Behind Closed Doors

Best of the Boards
Trena Taylor


“Mr. Pollock has $421,646 waiting for you. What do you do?” Malcolm was leaning in far too close now, his odor a constant reminder of the latest diet fad, garlic smoothies.

Rosa leaned back and stood up abruptly to distance herself from him. Her reaction was far from subtle and yet he did not take offense. The relationship was purely professional and of necessity; they were not afraid to show their dislike of each other.

“I take it,” she answered him. “Ask questions later.”

“No!” Malcolm’s impatience was ill-concealed. “The deal’s for half a mill; that’s what we’re in for, that’s what we’re getting!” He held out the Ray Bans case to Rosa, his face set hard as cement, revealing nothing but his determination for this, his last hustle, to succeed.

She took the case. “So, you want me to stand there and, what, count the money? I don’t think so.” As she went on, the faint rattle of the diamonds inside could be heard. “If Pollock is shortchanging us, he’s hardly likely to tell me by how much. If he’s short and I’m really the naive mark we need him to think I am, then I can’t start questioning his honesty, can I?”

Rosa noticed Malcolm was tapping his heel on the floor. She nodded towards it and smiled. “Nervous much?” She would have added “big boy”, but felt it was best not to antagonize him any further.

His leg stilled in an instant and he looked up at her sharply before saying, almost too calmly, “Just get the money. You get the money and you wait for him to leave. Remember, he’s got to leave first. We don’t want pretty boy deciding to follow you back up.”

A red light flashed, and they both turned toward it. One of the small motion sensitive cameras hidden on the lower level had been activated. Malcolm saw the man himself on the monitor. “Right, this is it,” he said, hustling his accomplice out into the hallway. “We’re in this for the big money now, Rosa. Don’t screw it up.”

Malcolm closed the door and sighed a jagged and drawn out breath, evidencing both his relief and his anxiety. The plan was under way and there was no turning back. He flexed his ankle as he thought of the utility knife hidden in his boot. Once Rosa was in the elevator, Malcolm would run to the stairwell. He could only imagine how her face would register surprise at the unexpected attack in the dark, empty garage. If his aim was true, she would not even have time to cry out. But for now, he leaned his forehead against the door, one eye squinting, as he waited for the elevator to close behind her.

The door closed and Rosa drew a deep breath, smiled, and pressed the button to begin her descent to the lower level garage, where Mr. Pollock, her true accomplice, now waited. Knowing that Malcolm would be watching every moment of their exchange, she tried to clear her mind as much as possible, so that when Mr. Pollock punched her and escaped with the briefcase, as they had planned, her stunned reaction would appear genuine. She only hoped he could manage not to break her nose.

As Malcolm took the stairs two and three steps at a time, and Rosa stood in the elevator, staring blankly at the numbered lights counting down the floors, no one was in the room to observe the grey light of the monitor as Mr. Pollock briefly examined a small pistol and concealed it again within his jacket.

And with the sounding of a bell to announce its arrival, the elevator doors opened.
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Trena Taylor is a member of Zokutou, a writing group that formed during the 2002 NaNoWriMo in London. The group has produced several anthologies. Trena won bronze in the fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger contest. E-mail: tntaylor101[at]hotmail.com.

Did You Take These Women……

Best of the Boards
Trena N. Taylor


Steven swayed and trembled in his ill-fitting tuxedo as the bridesmaids stepped in time down the makeshift aisle, his wife Anneke at the rear of their procession. All the expenses had been paid and this renewal of their vows was a lavish wedding ceremony, if a bit unconventional. Steven hoped it would make up for the hasty nuptials they had rushed through seven years ago. He tried to swallow, but the ashen lump in his throat would not shift, would not permit him to gulp the air he needed to draw another breath.

What a coincidence…

It was Sandy. Sandy whom he hadn’t seen since his stag party. The night Steven had not been at all sure that he could go through with marrying the girl he’d thought was the one of his dreams. On that evening, the word “Forever” had seemed to echo in his head as the music overwhelmed and his buddies slapped him on the back, egging him on as this Sandy, this bridesmaid walking not ten feet before of him, had pulled him up by his belt buckle and led him through the small crowd and out the back of the pub. He shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have let her do it, should have stopped her, but, at the time, Steven had been having unrelenting doubts about whether or not he was a “Forever” kind of man.

This can’t be right…

But, behind her… yes, it was Bea! Smiling serenely as she always had in the office, even after their tryst during the Christmas party, on the boss’s desk. His face now flushed a shade of deep pink that is the plague of all redheads, and the thin sheen of perspiration that had been accumulating on his brow began to bead.

This ain’t right…

Steven feared he would fall to the floor as Carole’s face came into focus next. With eyes as smoky as he’d remembered, they always seemed to hint and promise and suggest they could give him everything he’d ever wanted, and he had listened to them and, for one very brief evening five years ago, he had believed.

When Angela next appeared in the processional, Steven began to think, or at least to hope, that perhaps he was dreaming all of this. Perhaps there really was an ocean’s waves crashing nearby. Angela had certainly been one of his bigger mistakes. He’d been confused at the time, not knowing if he was satisfied with the way his life was going, wanting to make a change, to cause an effect, to do something to shake things up a little—take charge of his own life again.

Think… Must… think…

The fifth bridesmaid was Mindy. Steven had known she was there long before he saw her face. She had worn Tea Rose back then and she wore it now, that overpowering scent of roses permeating the room, even though gardenias filled the studio. He felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach, as she drew near, briefly recalling how upset he had been with Anneke for meeting his old college roommate for yet another lunch. And how he had inflamed that anger over vodka mixers. Until, of course, he’d discovered that Anneke’s lunch dates had merely been a cover to plan a surprise party for him. How could he have thought it was a good idea to hook up with Mindy? He had never felt so low, afterwards.

Keep smiling…

As if in a trance, Steven swayed gently from the waist as he recognized the penultimate bridesmaid, Adrienne. Adrienne, who had been underfoot the entirety of that fateful summer, two years ago. Adrienne, who Anneke had constantly left alone with him, practically on a silver plate. It was an inevitability, really. At least that’s how Steven had seen it, at the time, what he’d told himself again and again, afterwards.

Don’t look at the cameras…

And now Linda, who had been like a breath of fresh air—was it already a year ago?—when things had become so strained and difficult between Steven and Anneke. She had been the release he’d thought he’d needed and deserved.

Leave… Go… Run…

The rush in his ears had grown steadily and he now recognized it for what it was, as Anneke came into focus before him. Initially mistaking it for cheering, he now realized it was not. It was jeering.

Too late…

And in that moment, as Anneke stood before him and opened her mouth to speak, Steven knew he was a fool to have agreed to renew their vows on the Springer Show.

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Trena Taylor is a member of Zokutou, a writing group that formed during the 2002 NaNoWriMo in London. The group has produced several anthologies. She is currently editing her 2002 NaNo, “31,” with NaNoEdMo. Trena won bronze in the fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger contest. E-mail: tntaylor101[at]hotmail.com.

Final Countdown

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Trena Taylor


“This is it, Private!” Doos shouted, barely audible above the shrill wail that assured them that Shrikes were descending for another attack. It was the almost nasal shriek of atmosphere being sliced wide in the darkening sky by a razor-skinned enemy.

“Three!” Ein called back, slamming her left hand down over his, her right arm useless and secured closely to her body, forearm blackened, having been infected by contact with of a victim of the creatures. She had learned to deal with the pain just as she had so recently learned to accept her commanding officer’s final decision; quickly and of necessity.

This wasn’t her life flashing, just the last 24-hours that had meant the end of it.

*

“Three!… Two!… One!… Happy—”

A happy new year was never wished, as at that moment red lights began to flash and claxons wailed across Fort Devon. And, above the bleating of the alarm, another sound, as if hell had opened its maw and howled its arrival on Earth.

Ein was the greenest Private on the base and immediately threw her back to the wall, eyes wide and bright with fear, as Drill Sergeant called out commands, almost intelligible over the rising din.

“…suited and OUT!” He saw her crouched low against the wall, and she watched as he shouted in her direction. “…your ass up… I’ll put a bullet in it!”

But she couldn’t move, couldn’t stand, certainly couldn’t launch herself into action. His scowl and her own fear and the madness all around had weakened her legs so that their only use was to push her further along the wall and into a dark corner. A moment later, the wall she had leaned against erupted into the room.

Ein hadn’t blinked since sinking to the floor. She watched silently as a sudden rush of charcoal-black shadow sliced past, no through, Drill Sergeant. His severed body fell and she watched his face blacken before it dropped from sight. Another hole had blown out of the wall opposite, the dark apparition having exited as swiftly as it had appeared, air shrieking behind it.

And more walls were blowing in, more officers falling, more walls blowing out. Heads flew, one sailing towards Ein, whose upraised arms protected her from being hit in the face by it. Limbs and bodies fell, all blackening before they hit the floor.

Then sudden silence. Not even cries or whimpers from the wounded. There were none. Every man and woman who had been attacked had been killed instantly.

Ein didn’t move, but dug her nails into her palms, focusing and centering her attention on that pain to keep from calling out, to avoid drawing attention to herself.

“What’s happening?!” she thought. “What IS this?!”

*

Daybreak found Ein huddled in the same position, knees drawn up, making a bony pillow beneath her cheeks. She struggled to her feet, taking in what was left of the hall. No sign of the previous night’s revelry remained. Instead, the room resembled an ashen block of Swiss cheese. Walls, ceiling, even the floor riddled with almost symmetrical holes, as if they had been cut through by massive diamonds. Daylight shone through, she made it to be early afternoon, and Ein made her way over the corpses and limbs, using peripheral vision alone to navigate her way, not wanting to catch sight of another blackened corpse.

Stumbling out into the light of day, she shielded her eyes and shivered in the winter air. Her arm dropped to her side, sore and leaden, as if it had been slept on wrong. All before her were the bodies of the slain. They looked charred, petrified from the inside out. She leaned closer to an unrecognisable victim and reached down.

“Don’t touch it!” a voice called out to her and Ein looked up, head snapping towards the sound. A hulk of a man stood across the courtyard, holding his arms out warningly to her. “Do NOT touch the bodies!”

She looked down again and backed slowly away, almost expecting the cadaver to spring to life, to make a grab for her, to emit that shrill cry that still echoed in her mind, because if the previous night had been real, Ein thought briefly, then damn near anything was possible.

She stood and waited as the man approached her. He loomed over her; must have been seven feet tall.

“Is this real?” she asked, voice rough, sounding foreign to her own ears. “Are you real?”

“Very,” he answered. “I’m Major Gen—. Call me Doos.”

“Major?” Ein was still wary of this perceived reality. “In a tux?” She reached out and forced a hand towards his chest, half expecting it to pass through, half still hoping it was all some horrible dream.

When her hand met solid silk-clad muscle she immediately snapped to attention, even though her arm still felt lame.

“Private Lissa Ein,” she saluted.

Doos frowned at the clumsy salute and knew she was fresh. Had to snap her into shape and quickly. “At ease!” he barked, and, arm falling listlessly to her side, Ein struggled to keep from blinking beneath the sudden hurricane of spittle from her superior officer. “You’re soft, Private! You’re soup sandwich! The one thing you need to know is this! You will do what I tell you! When I tell you! The one thing you need to do is this! What I tell you! When I tell you! Do you understand me, Private?!”

“Yes, sir, Major, sir!” Ein shouted back.

“Doos, Private!” he reminded her.

“Yes, sir, Doos, sir!” was her prompt response.

“First thing you need to do is put on some clothes! You’re out of uniform, Private!”

Ein looked down and caught her breath in surprise. She was still wearing the silver dress from the New Year’s Eve party. Light flashed into her eyes from the sequins, holding her entranced for a moment and taking her back. New Year’s Eve. Party. Shrieking apparitions. Black death. And pain. Pain in her arm now that felt like a white-hot skewer pressing through the bone. She instinctively reached for the arm.

“Don’t touch that!” Doos caught her left wrist. “Unless you want this hand to go the same way.”

“What do you mean?” Ein asked. She looked at the arm, at the source of the pain, a small darkly bruised patch of skin. “It’s a bruise.”

“You’ve touched a body. Can’t touch what a Shrike kills. It’ll rot you down to the bone and keep on eating away until there’s nothing left of you. Until you’re dead. Come on,” Doos said, his voice softening even if his face didn’t. He realised he had just informed the young woman that she was going to die and that it wouldn’t be pretty. “We’ll put something on that arm. At least keep you from infecting any other part of your body. Or me.”

Doos ushered Ein across the base, to the medical unit, where he deftly dressed her arm, binding it tightly against her torso, and found ill-fitting army greens and a pair of socks to protect her feet, as the strappy high heels were inappropriate and inadequate for the current situation. Since no boots were available, the thick socks would safeguard against contact with contaminated bodies.

Ein began changing clothes as soon as Doos handed them to her, as if on autopilot. She was acting rather than thinking, knowing that thinking would only lead to the thought of her own impending death. And how it would feel as, steadily and increasingly, her body withered and became useless. Would it have been better simply to have been butchered during the attack? What if she had never joined the Army? Would she have been safe off the base? A thought made her heart flutter.

“How many of those things are there?” Ein had reckoned that Doos’s complete self-assurance was caused by more than his rank alone. She felt he knew something about what had happened the previous night.

“How many are there?” she asked again, more forcefully. Doos raised a brow. “Did this happen anywhere else? The rest of the world?”

“I don’t know exactly how many there are.” He answered her, a more relaxed drawl entering his voice. “I only know what I needed to know and that ain’t too much, but I’ll tell you this. There is no rest of the world.”

Ein swallowed hard, not knowing if this was military bravado she was hearing in his voice or if he truly meant it.

“Those things slashed through us here and they kept going,” he explained. And they’ll keep going. Until they come back through us, again.”

“Why?” It was the only question she could think to ask and Ein steeled herself to concentrate on every word of his answer, hoping to still her mind and calm her heart, both racing now.

“That information I didn’t need to know,” was his brief reply.

“Well what the hell did you need to know?! You called them something; you do know what they are! What the hell is going on here?” Ein asked him.

“Remember your rank, Private!” Doos reproved her.

“No world, no rank, Doos!” she shouted back. “Tell me!”

He considered her words and her anger. She was soft. If she’d had any decent amount of military background she would have followed his orders, no questions asked. Of course, if Doos himself had had any life outside the military, he might not have so readily accepted what he knew now to be his fate. He would tell her. What was done was obviously already done and what had to be done would be. “I’ll tell you what I know, that’s the best I can do. Come on.” He directed Ein to the door and they made their way to Fourteen-Seven, an off-limits area of the base.

Doos explained, along the way. “You have to consider the very real possibility that everyone you know…everyone…is now dead or dying.”

He looked at Ein to gauge her reaction. She looked so undaunted that Doos knew she hadn’t fully accepted that the situation was global. He continued, pacing his long strides alongside Ein’s shorter ones.

“I don’t know where they came from, if they came from anywhere. I don’t know who made them, if they were actually created. I just know that they’re called Shrikes and no, I don’t know why. I just know that… Look, this is it.” He directed her into a small stark white room. “I need you to help me set this up.”

Doos sat before a small laptop and began to type.

“Good,” he said with a smile, when the machine began to feed him information. “We’ve still got our links up. We can do this.”

“Do what? What are we doing, Doos?” Ein asked.

Doos stood and sat Ein in his chair, saying, “You’ll see some numbers and letters come up on the screen, here,” he pointed. “When you do, you’re going to type them in, here. Just that. Type what you see. But no mistakes. There’s no margin for error. You mess up one code, once, and it’s over for us, you understand, Private? No mistakes.”

“I understand,” she said, and sat waiting for the codes to appear.

Doos settled before a larger console, typing his commands.

“There’s a contingency plan and right now you and I are executing it,” he explained.

Ein continued typing and asked, “What contingency plan?”

“Don’t you talk. Just type. Can’t have you hitting an L when it should have been a 1 on account of you’re talking. Can I assume you can type and listen at the same time?” Moment by moment, his voice was becoming more countrified. Ein knew he couldn’t actually be relaxing under their current conditions, so she assumed his verbal lapse was due to nerves, worry, possibly even fear. If Doos started to crack, what hope had she?

Ein paused and turned to face him. “If that’s levity you’re trying on, don’t. It’s not your size. And if you’re insulting me? Don’t. Maybe my fingers twitch when I’m insulted.” She smiled and resumed her input.

“I have been duly told,” Doos accepted, never once breaking the rhythm of his fingers on the keys, voice steadying out to the nondescript tones she had first heard from him. “What we are doing is programming a succession of satellites around the world. When all are aligned, we initiate their weaponry. That is the contingency plan.”

Ein opened her mouth to ask a question, but was stopped in her tracks.

“Not a word, Private. Type. You got only one arm to use so make the most of it. Before the Shrikes come back and it’s too late.”

His point was well taken and the only sound in the room for the next five hours was the rhythmic tapping of fingers on keys.

*

Codes entered, Doos and Ein sat back, fingers throbbing, eyes raw and itching.

“So, I can talk now?” Ein asked.

“If you have to,” Doos said, swiveling his chair to face her.

“How long before this,” Ein began to ask, gesturing to her pinioned arm, but then struggled to find her words.

“How long before it kills you?” Doos offered.

She nodded her head.

“It won’t,” he said.

Ein stared at him, incredulously, as if he had said, “You’re just dreaming, child.”

“But you said that it eats away until—”

“Yes, I said that and yes, that’s exactly what it does,” Doos said, calmly. “But, that’s not what’s going to kill you.”

“You mean the Shrikes? You don’t think this plan will work, do you?” Ein shuddered at the thought of being torn apart by the creatures.

Doos heard it first. The caterwaul. Time to tell her.

“Shrikes share a similar genetic code to humans. The armaments on the satellites will saturate this planet with a radiation purposely developed to target DNA. Shrike DNA. It will eliminate them all, almost instantaneously.”

Ein nodded her head, trying to ignore the wailing that was growing louder. She had the feeling she wasn’t going to like what Doos was about to say.

“Unfortunately, that particular genetic code is in human DNA, too. They go. We go. That’s the plan,” he finished.

Ein’s eyes had grown wide. “That’s a stupid plan!” She was now shouting above the roar. “Who the hell’s plan was that? We can’t do that!!”

“It’s my orders, Ein, and it’s the only way. The Shrikes will decimate life on Earth. All animal life. At least this way life on Earth will stand a chance! A new start! There’s no time! This is it, Private!”

Doos grabbed the lever, preparing to pull it down.

In that instant, with the wail of the Shrikes pounding in her ear, Ein made her final mark on a world that would not remember her.

“Three!” Ein shouted, hand over his.

“Two!!!” Doos counted, beginning the slow decent of the lever.

They called out together, as the lever hit bottom…

“One!!!!” …

pencil

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