by PurpleCrow, 8th
The cracked, vinyl seats gave Bran a sense of displeasure as he fidgeted uncomfortably, trying his best to see out of the fly-splattered window. Bran figured there wasn’t much of a view anyways. He looked around the rundown, moldy old bus and gave a sigh of boredom. He wished he could have brought some books to read, but firemen aren’t allowed to entertain themselves, Bran sighed. Not on such a serious mission. The previously bored firemen immediately sobered at the thought of the now deceased continent waiting for the five firemen and their driver to investigate, trying to figure out what happened. The whole world is holding their breath, Bran realized. They’re all depending on us...on me. Isn’t that what you always wanted? Bran suddenly felt a nervous, buzzing feeling in his throat, and abruptly recognized that the bus had stopped, and the sick feeling that he had sensed while the bus scrambled up and over rocks was suddenly replaced with a queasy sense of foreboding, as he and the other sweaty, middle-aged men unsteadily walked along the aisle and tottered down the the three steps off the bus.
Maybe a break will clear my mind, Bran thought gratefully, as he stepped into the freezing air. Though considering the cold weather, he and the others preferred to stay outside, thankful for a chance to tear away from the smell of sweltering men, warmed by the dusty vent in the ceiling of their rickety bus. Despite that, after spending a few minutes wandering around the dull grounds, looking for a spot to chow down, they instead all ended up on a small bench huddled together with their sandwiches squashed between them. Bran took this moment to look around at their rest stop before they continued on their way. They were supposedly at an abandoned oil company, according to the flaking red letters printed on the side of the huge gray building. Bran let his mind wander as he munched on a piece of avocado that had fallen out of his turkey sandwich onto his lap. He wondered vaguely if this place would become a tourist spot after the mission had been accomplished. Perhaps they’ll have a sign that says ‘Bran sat here and ate a turkey sandwich.’ With an amused expression on his face, Bran looked down at his left and imagined a red bold arrow pointing to him, the color matching to the deteriorating oil company sign, probably gone by the time they were finished with the mission. The mission, Bran thought. Suddenly the feeling he had felt half an hour ago came back. Bran remembered when he had first heard about what had happened. It was two years ago…
⧫ ⧫ ⧫
Bran slammed the front door and took off his jacket welcoming the warmth of the fire, and was about to call out “I’m home!” When a small ball of pink and purple came whizzing down the hallway hit him in the stomach with a “Daddy!” and a huge hug. Bran smiled and lifted her up, swung her around, then kissed her on the nose. “Hello, sweetie!” The little girl waited patiently as her father undid his shoes, then took his finger determinedly into her tiny fist and led him into the living room, sat him down, and jumped onto his lap, bouncing up and down. “Daddy, Daddy!” The little girl yelled,“Iz time for yer sick o cock news!”
“Mm-hm,” Bran replied, sliding her off his knee. “But first I have to say hello to yer mummy!” Growling ferociously, he tickled her in the stomach, and she giggled uncontrollably until she managed to get out of his grasp.
“Hey sweetie!” He said as he entered the kitchen to the smell of pot roast, and the sight of his beautiful wife. “How are you?”
Delilah returned him a quick kiss on the cheek, and then ran over to the oven as a timer went off. “A bit tired, but I’m glad it’s a Friday” She smiled, leaning over the oven with a mitt, her reddish brown hair tumbling over her freckled face. “I don’t know if you noticed, but Marigold has got a slight cold, so I kept her home from kindergarten today... she sure seems fine now!” Delilah laughed her tinkly laugh, looking over at their daughter chasing the dog. Bran entered the living room as Marigold caught their dog’s tail, laughing hysterically as the dog tried to get away. “Stop torturing the dog!” Bran exclaimed, sinking into the huge armchair in front of the television. Groaning, Bran stretched his tired muscles, then reached over for the remote, directing it towards the T.V.
“We have very devastating news today, one of a kind, really.” The Australian woman on the T.V. attempted to form her plastic like face into a concerned expression. “According to Danny here, who carries cargo from Europe over to North America, on airplanes, he says, that when he got there, no one was at the landing spot to take the cargo! He thought that was a bit odd, so he investigated a bit. No-one was there!” a picture showed up on the screen, a picture taken from an airplane, that showed the golden gate bridge, with no cars. A pathology department at a hospital, with no workers. A theater with no line. The pictures continued, as the reporter’s voice became a dull sound in the background. Bran watched in a daze. A little voice in the back of his head told him it was fake news, but no matter how hard he tried to shake away the feeling, Bran’s instinct told him they were telling the truth. The feeling grew as he flipped through other channels, each showing the same photos. And here I thought global warming was dangerous, he thought, and with a resigned sigh, he reached over to his right and grabbed a book he had been reading for his college literature class.
One year later…
“So I hear you’re a detective fireman, eh?” The man blew a smoke ring in Bran’s direction. Bran fought the urge to cough. He succeeded on clearing his throat instead. “Yes sir.”
“No need to call me sir, young man. My name is Richard Price, but you can call me Rick.” Rick winked at Bran, then had a coughing fit over by the window. “Anyhow! Down to business, I suppose…”The man sighed ‘Or would you like some coffee first? It is a bit early.” Bran glanced over at the coffee machine, which emit a foul odor and had a spot of something green on the top. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“Of course, of course,” Mr.Price said, knocking over his mug on the way out the door. Bran looked around, unsure whether to follow him or not, then hurried after.
⧫ ⧫ ⧫
The bus went over a big bump in the road, almost knocking Bran from his perch on the edge of his seat. As they stopped, Bran looked around at the vast wasteland, unused after two whole years. Bran watched the others slowly file out before he got up and joined them. He knew the rules. Everyone is to keep their walkie-talkies with them at all times, and if they were to discover something out of place, to notify the others their location immediately. As they went over the rules one more time, Bran noted that the animals hadn’t disappeared, as a rat scurried by. They had all had many vaccines beforehand, as to not catch any plague the bugs and animals would be carrying around. Bran at the time was distasteful towards this decision, as his mother had raised him to be connected to nature, and not deal with with “all that fake crap those so called doctors stick in you to get money”. Bran was now very grateful he hadn’t heeded her advice for once, as he stepped carefully around a beat up rat about the size of a chihuahua coughing up blood. A second later it was dead.
Bran continued to wander, looking in different houses and peeking through the windows of hospitals. The last thing Bran would do is show his fear, but inside, he wanted to run screaming back home to Ireland, and have his memory erased. When he was little, he had a reoccurring dream. His father had just shown him The Twilight Zone, a series of episodes recording strange phenomenons and encounters that didn’t have any real meaning. Most kids his age were afraid of the dark, or ‘the monster under their bed’ and such, but not Bran. No, Bran wasn’t afraid of these things. The first episode in The Twilight Zone was a man who had gone delirious because he was the last person on earth. In the end, he found out that it was just a mental test. Bran, in his nightmare, would dream the same dream. Except he would never get to the end, where the guy finds out the whole thing is just fake. He would keep wandering, until he almost died from madness. Bran shook his head. Don’t be ridiculous, he thought to himself. There are still people back home, it’s just in North America, not the whole world.
He had just walked out of a hospital when he noticed a little shack that defined itself against the towering buildings surrounding it. He curiosity got the best of him, and he walked towards it. He approached the half torn off door and stepped inside. He was observing the rusty teapot on the blackened stove when he heard a rustling noise in the other room. Bran stiffened, then, softening his steps, he peeked around the cracked doorway. First, seeing a bed, but nothing suspicious, he started to relax. But as he started forward, his heart started pounding so loudly he thought that the girl standing there would hear it. A young, teenage girl stood there with her back to him, her matted hair sticking to her scalp. She was wearing a tattered, what might have once been a beautiful, white dress, grayed from dirt and grime. She was holding a piece of paper and looking down at it in a wistful way. Bran fingered his walkie-talkie nervously, then picked it up, preparing to press the little red button. He started moving slowly out of the doorway, unknown to the small marble that had made its way underneath his foot. He fell slowly, not even aware of the girl turning around, not aware of her looking down on him until she was there. He looked up at her, examining her face that was so young, but with eyes that were so old.
“I’m sorry,” she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks. “I didn’t-I didn’t mean to do it-I didn’t want to, I swear!” She started advancing on him “ I knew it would be bad, I knew it wasn’t right, but I had to!”
At this point she was a foot away from Bran, and he wasn’t quite sure whether to be scared or concerned.
“What did you do?”
But Bran’s words were lost, and the young girl didn't seem to hear his question.
“And now I have to do it to you-and your friends.” As she got closer, she also became calmer.
“I’m sorry…. I’m sorry.”