In College I wrote a 25 page ‘short’ story called The Atoma. In the end this one chapter was a whole book. So I decided someday I should break each paragraph into a chapter. The idea of this story is that you don’t know what is going on for awhile and it is a post apocalypse story that I will likely write into a plot hole to bury forever. However, I believe in writing for the sake of writing and this is all I can think to do.
Chapter 1: What’s in a name?
“I think Aimee is waking up” A man’s voice said. I could hear his excitement warm the room. Aimee? That is an awesome and noble name… for a girl. Who is Aimee? I opened one eye. It was dark, I might have seen the flicker of a candle. I closed my eye again. What Fresh Hell is this?
A female’s voice answered the mans “That is a girl’s tag, it isn’t his. Don’t call him that, he is a male of his species. How would you like to be called a girls name?” Was that a child or a woman speaking? Ugh, how long had I been out? “He’s waking up, he might hear you” he was shushed. I ached. I ached everywhere. I could feel open wounds on my left arm, neck and torso. The sting was helping me come around. What went down? Am I dead?
Another male’s voice chipped in “People have given him nicknames. I call him stiff for being unconscious and some call him lucky because he lived. I like skunk, because he needed a shower when we found him.” That was a rude comment. Who had taken care of me? Why am I wet with water and not sweat?
I think I had been a solider, I bit back tears. I was filled with unresolved emotions. Had I killed someone? Would that all come back? There was a tight feeling in my stomach. Am I safe? Are they safe? Who are they? Fear if I recall, lots of fear. I just vividly remember the grief, sadness and overall darkness the first few days after I awoke. I remember hoping it was all a dream. I hadn’t remembered what I lost and I felt that was worse than knowing loss. I would soon test that idea. I hope I am not giving too much away by telling you that someone is going to die in a story about war and monsters. I trembled until I went numb. Then I opened my eyes and kept them that way.
The group fell silent as I sat up and groaned feeling as if I had been mauled. This was likely because I had been mauled. Mauled by breathless, but I didn’t know that yet. I should be thankful it was not an Odious that mauled me. Don’t worry, I will fill you in. The three people and the one with the girl’s voice watched me blink a few times and then wash the gunk out of my eyes. I had been out for a week. I wanted to pee, brush my teeth and changed my clothes more than I wanted to know where I was. Who cares where you are if you don’t know who you are or where you have been?
“So the man must be AB type, he has woken from the breathless bite. Lucky duck” the woman spoke. “Well Vyra, as always why don’t you do the honors. Fill the new man in.” The first man spoke. He was over by the small rooms door with his arms crossed across his chest. He was friendly looking despite his size.
It was hard to pay attention to him with Vyra in the room. She was perplexing and striking in appearance. She stuck out. What is wrong with her? The three others in the room were all sporting buzz cuts, tight clothes and guns. They were compact. They had the precise movements of a soldier. Their gaze was familiar. I had peered into countless expressions like those. I could tell inside they questioned the orders they followed and their morals. They wondered if the violence and gore was worth it and they would never ever ask if anyone else felt the same because it was too late to go back. They were uniformed, cautious and aggressive looking. Had I looked that way?
Vyra’s on the other hand had long hair. It came to her hips in a light blonde. It jumped from underneath the hood of a light purple cloak. “Fuchsia?” I tried to recall what that color was called.
She smiled, “No! Is that really your first question? Is that fuchsia? Fuchsia is more pink. I would call this a Lilac or a Lavender maybe.” I head a snicker in the room. I didn’t take my eyes off of her to see who. The longer I looked at her the more I got a feeling something was wrong with her. An angel? Am I dead? “Fine Gidget, I will fill him in on all the shades of purple and everything else he lost.” She waved her painted fingers at them. “Take Paulie and Jason to the commons and send in two more that should be on a work shift.”
Gidget nodded and smiled at me and gestured to the gun on his other hand as he left. Was it a threat? I reached for my holster and found it empty. Of course, I was a stranger there. They had no way of knowing the kind of man I was. Neither did I. I suppose that was the day I choose who I would be from that point on. I was still concerned with Vyra. She seemed inhuman, but why? I was fixated on it. She sat at the edge of my cot by my legs. “Is your pain manageable?”
“What? Yeah.” What kind of man says where it hurts? There really was only one answer and I didn’t want to be drugged. I felt out of it enough already.
I nodded. I was sore, I was covered in scratches and bites, my flesh was sore in some places and my joints ached. I may have had bed sores. My sheets had blood. I didn’t have time to choose what to ask. How did I get here? Who am I? Who are those people? Who are you? What’s going on? Vyra was already explaining. I shut up my thoughts and listened.
“Well soldier I think I myself will call you Lucky” she took my wrist feeling my heartbeat “Good and strong. We found you because we heard you fire your weapon as we raided a grocery store for supplies. By the time we got to you Lucky, you were being mobbed by breathless. Yoau were alone” I blinked. I didn’t remember any of that. It felt true. Not in my heart, in my sore spots. Can I trust her? What was I doing alone?
“Breathless?” I asked, this being the first time I heard my own voice that I could recall. I naturally reached up and touched my throat. That was what I sounded like? It was a normal voice but it surprised me that it didn’t sound familiar. I guess with the three intimidating people in the room I hadn’t noticed how odd my own hands looked and how unfamiliar my own voice sounded. The word breathless gave me chills. It made me want to scream and cry..and get a gun. I knew it was a terrible word. I just needed refreshed. I examined the hair on my arms to distract me.
“Yes breathless, the undead masses of the Odious” she took a canteen that was hanging over her shoulder under her robe and offered it to me “Drink.” Oh man am I am parched! I gulped the water down.
“Odious?” there was my voice again. I licked the last of the water from my lips. If the word breathless frightened me Odious was worse. It made my aches more sensitive, it left me empty, listless, dead. Were her eyes changing color? She shot me a glance. She seemed to sense her appearance was freaking me out a bit. What is she?
She sighed “Really, I feel like this is all I ever do. Yes, the Odious. The creatures the Atoma of Xenos let through the portal after the 100 years of peace. If we had printers with ink I would make a pamphlet.” I remembered that we had peace, then we didn’t.
“Oh is that what you want to know?” She started to casually braid her hair. “You were scratched. The first thing that happens to a human who is scratched by the breathless is that they start to lose their personal memories. It dwindles your frontal lobe. Whatever is most important to you is lost most quickly. But– for some reason your blood type fights and defeats the sickness at this stage. Makes no sense to us. Next they get ill. Pass out for a few days. Lose sensitivity and most reasoning abilities. There was a study posted on it in the beginning of the outbreak if you want. Look in our library.” She frowned, a small line formed on her forehead. “Do you remember anything? Maybe the dead coming back to life?”
“I think that I was a solider… and that I like the color green.”
“What about your ability to do math or anything else you learned in school.”
“I don’t know, I have a feint feeling I was never good at school. I think I played football… a small town”
She snorted. “Well then, I will see if we have a place open for a football player”
I ignored her jab. “So who are the Atoma?”
“We replaced your energy resource with ours and cured all sicknesses. We illuminated the skies with improvement!” she shook her fist in sudden anger. “Ungrateful swine. We of course had to enforce our own way of dealing with people who refused to be peaceful..” Scary. Vyra took a few deep breaths “Then the Atoma went home. Or rather most did. We gave up. Your condition could not be cured. Even with peace and prosperity you all wanted more. Nothing satisfied you.” She took a harsher look seeming ten years older than a moment ago “I regret to tell you that when the Atoma left, Odious came through the portal.”
“You gave us 100 years of peace… then monsters?” I asked sitting up. Ow. I moved my feet to the floor. I felt the coolness of the cement. I liked it. I wiggled my toes. I reached for the cool piece of metal that touched my chest and lifted it to read it. “Aimee Martin, that isn’t how you spell Amy..” the room spun a bit. I kept my balance. I let my eyes adjust to the font on the name tag for a bit longer.
“Her parents must have been progressive” Vyra said with a shrug. “You are more curious about an Aimee than a Vyra?”
“I don’t know anything about how aliens spell their names..” I was sure now. She wasn’t alien. I said that out of humor though. Just realized it could have been rude. I don’t know what aliens find funny. “You are Atoma… arn’t you?” I thought I had pieced it together. I felt clever. The look on her face told me I might have just told a totally average girl she was an alien. She drew in a breath. She better be an alien. “Sorry, if you are not I just thought..”
“I don’t think we should label it” she cut me off. Each time I looked at her she seemed to have change a bit. Sometimes she looked older or younger than I she had looked a minute ago. Her eyes seemed to have every color present but in certain light they would choose one color. Her hair length was the only thing that stayed the same. “Lucky…look, we just don’t ask that question. We can just know things sometimes without being told.”
“So yes.” Vyra shot me a look. She seemed to go between light brown hair and blonde hair. It was scary, cool and beautiful. Mostly it was weird. She was not human. Had I remembered other Atoma, just seeing her hair was long would have revealed her species. Unlike humans breathless would not threaten the Atoma. They did not have to fear being dragged off by the hair because the Odious saw the Atoma as an equal. The Atoma could not become breathless. All Atoma’s have hair at least to their elbows. Like their horns and tail, length had much to do with their perception of beauty.But that doesn’t matter and I didn’t know that then. Let me dive back in. She had finally seemed to be the same. Her eyes fixed in a teal color and her hair stayed strawberry blond. Once she chose something it was as if she had been that way always. I forgot that she hadn’t been strawberry blonde with teal eyes. I would learn how to remember. Vyra is a very important part of my story. But, I will get to that. Promise.
She didn’t look anymore like she was from another world. So I eased. She turned on an overhead light and I could see my reflection in the mirror on the wall. Brown hair, square jaw. He looks familiar. He reached for his chin when I did. It was all too much. I wanted to lie down and go back to bed. Maybe I would feel less sick to my stomach if I rested more. Being a stranger to my own reflection was really scary the first day. I don’t know how to get you to imagine it. I imagine you can understand the loneliness of it a bit better if you tried anyways.
“Maybe we can look Aimee up in a computer. That is an army tag. See if the tag numbers to a unit stationed nearby” Vyra then left without saying farewell or hinting she was done speaking with me. “See if she exist still. You are free to go where you like. Or stay here.” She never bothered to tell me where I was. I guess she figured I would figure it out soon enough. “Maybe you will get Lucky, lucky.” I don’t think I have that kind of luck if I am here.
“We’ll see” she hummed as she went out of the small room. Had she just read my thoughts? I should get a tinfoil hat.
Wait. I had never considered that I might be able to get back what I had lost. Who is Aimee and what did she know? Do I even want to know who I was? I guess I couldn’t know that without trying to find out who I was. It wouldn’t be to hard to forget again. It just took a scratch. I avoided the mirror with my gaze as I looked around the room. It was a makeshift hospital room. The cot I had been on was low and the floor was old gritty tile. The lights wires hung loose along the ceiling. Some were taped out of the way. An IV and an old computer system rested next to the cot and a couple empty chairs along the wall and one small table by the bed with an alarm clock and a candle that flickered low.
There was no door, just the cutout in the wall where it used to be. I went though it. The ceiling was just above my head and a light bulb hung every ten feet. We must have been underground, the hall way was a tunnel dug out of the earth. A few people walked around. They had short hair but their clothes were not as tight. Oh, they must not leave base. It must be the people that go out that worry about being grabbed. I followed the metal of an old railway.
A girl eventually ran up to me. Her whole face lit up with genuine joy. I knew from her smile that she was one of those people that you have to love being around. “Hey, Lucky!” she waved at me “Vyra just ran past me and said I should head to the med ward to meet you.” I stared at her. Her tone was different than what I just experienced. She came over to me and wrapped her arms around me. “There there, don’t feel so alone. We have a whole family down here.”
“Er..” I took a step back and shook her hand. “Hi” She had short copper colored cures, high cheekbones, bright green eyes and freckles. She wore hiking boots, dark jeans, with big pockets and a tank top. She also sported a rather large wedding ring.
“I’m Sadie” added “Can I give you a tour?” I nodded. It was better than wondering around. “Oh good, it’s easy to get lost here. We just keep digging when we need more room.” We passed a hall full of little rooms like mine. Some had just mats on the floor instead of a cot. One had Vyra in it with two of the men with guns. Had they just been found too? We turned down a hall lined with doors that rested against the sides of the dirt tunnels. “Rascal has been needing more raiders. He sure will be happy to have another man on the team. It’s not hard to be liked here Lucky. You just have to pull your weight.” Through an open door on my right I saw some kids reading books in a circle on a large yellow carpet. The walls had whiteboards and chalkboards nailed into the plywood. In spots not covered by writable surfaces were educational posters. I counted about 15. Including two adults.
“There are kids here?” I asked.
“Yes, everyone is here. We probably have about 200. Those kids have seen a lot… poor dears..” her voice lost it’s joy for a moment. “Do you have kids?”
Oh God. I don’t know. I stared at her bewildered. “I don’t know. Do you?”
“Oh, Lucky. You should know that in this world telling your story means a great deal. If someone tells you how they got here or what happened to them the day the portal let in the Odious, it means a great deal. We don’t have much anymore and it is hard to trust people anymore. If someone tells you something personal, understand how much they are saying.”
It made sense and it felt like she was avoiding the question. I looked around and saw a bunch of hardened souls carrying supplies, running to stay fit, walking quietly and quickly. They did not look like the type to share their feelings. No one did. “What is this place called?”
“Rascal’s last stand. Rascal is our unquestionable leader.” I raised my brow at the word unquestionable. “He and his troop secured an old mine when all this happened. There are 10 of them total that made up the original group. That was five years ago. They collected people on raids and well.. here we are.” She smiled and shrugged. “They found Harrison and I in a sad situation. If not for Russel and his men almost everyone here would be dead. Some groups have heard of a functioning society and sought us out. We can just keep digging. So we won’t run out of space. It’s the food and supplies we worry about.”
“How do you sustain yourself?”
“We steal generators, we have a lot of coal because we are a mine. So we don’t freeze. We have several gardens on the surfaces and some underground. We are not well fed, but we eat. A lot of it comes from raids. Lots of groups bring food in with them. That helps for a bit. One group brought pigs with them. We have about thirty now. Thank goodness pigs will eat roots, rotten food and almost anything else we give them. They are not very fat pigs. If you head on a southbound tunnel and take a left at the warehouses you will start to smell them. Thirty pigs is not a lot for 200 stomachs. We make due. We have also let the chicken breeding go haywire. They run loose and eat bugs. If you find an egg in good shape it’s yours. One job is to try to gather them back to the pen. They just escape the next day but Russel likes to try to know how many we have. A few people have taken on cats as well.”
She told me a bit more about their electricity and how it ran on falling water from the man made river by the surface farms. She told me about their hospital and computer systems that monitored breathless levels. She took me to a room that there was mostly candles and only a few lamps rigged up. It was lined with beds and hammocks tied to the beams holding up the ceiling. Some sleeping bags lined the room. She took me to a nook dug out of the wall covered by a curtain with a cat pattern on it. “Harrison..” she whispered and shook a man’s foot that stuck out from underneath a cotton sheet. “Honey..” she chimed.
He sat up and stared right at me “Who is this?”
“New guy, Vyra asked us to make sure he adjusts.” She smiled at me “This is Mr. Sadie” she laughed. He was scruffy looking with a beard about three inches long that was well trimmed but as uncombed as his brown hair. His gaze was cool and serious. He had the complete opposite air to him of Sadie. “He majored in early 21st century film, so if he quotes something don’t worry, we don’t know what he is quoting either.” She crawled onto the bed so he could hug her and kiss the top of her head. I felt uncomfortable with the display. Who was I forgetting?
“Umm, hi?” I said to Harrison and he nodded at me; and I thought I was a man of few words!
“Harrison has rations duty in a half hour, you can go with him” she told me. “Harrison, will you get him a place to sleep.”
He crawled out of the nook and stood up. He was taller than me. How tall am I? He took a blanket from a chest by the door and tossed it over a hammock. “Tory was eaten, so you can have his hammock.”
Oh, so that is how it is here. Fill this hammock, pull your weight, don’t question the leaders, don’t question the alien and don’t get attached to people. I don’t know who Tory was and I never asked questions about him. That’s okay. That felt right for now. It meant no one could question me either. I liked that.