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“God Damn You All to Hell” – A Post-Apocalyptic Tale

ACT ONE: WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE, TOTO

Zoom in on the unnaturally large animal. The deer is unaware of the hero as it grazes in the grove. It has nothing to fear out here this deep into the woods, it probably supposes. Nothing with hunting in mind ever seeks out where nature thrives so thick.

There isn’t many left to go out seeking. The wilderness’s domain has been strengthened with trees spreading like a disease over the land, taking root on ground where concrete has been split apart, growing up through the wide chasms faster than what is normal for trees to grow. Nothing is normal anymore or made sense. Not since The Rapture changed everything.

Close up shot of our hero: a gaunt young man with bright blue and unblinking eyes.

This is not a movie, Blake reminds himself. He makes himself focus on the buck and the bow in his hands with the loaded arrow. Missing isn’t allowed right now. It had taken him three days to track down the deer in these dank woods. He has already used up all his stores of food, and there isn’t anything edible to be found growing in the woods unless he wants to start munching on dandelions.

He’s hungry, needs the meat, and has not tasted meat of this quality in about three months. If he misses, the deer will scamper off and he’ll spend another three or more agonizing days tracking the damned animal back down. It’s a miracle itself that Blake has such a skill like archery. Such a thing had been rendered obsolete in the world before, but his father had been a hobbyist, owning such primitive hunting devices in a world where remote control drones did much of the weapon carrying and law enforcement. Blake had learned archery from his father.

Blake nocks the arrow, pulling back on the taunt string. He won’t miss. His sight has gotten too good that it’s almost an impossibility.

The arrow is released and it hones in on its target in slow motion.

The arrow bites the deer square in its left eyeball and the animal topples.

Cut back to the hero as he steps out from behind the thick oak that had been his hiding spot, taking careful steps down the sloped terrain to the carcass of the colossal buck. Getting a firm grip on the shaft, he yanks the arrow out of the animal’s eye socket. He flicks the pinkish jelly, the mixed remains of the eye and some brain tissue that coats the arrowhead like chunky slime, into some nearby bushes.

Jump cut.

Blake marches out of the TomHanks Forest two days later. The land is named such by Blake as he had taken into habit of renaming everything as places changed. The TomHanks Forest is named after the actor’s role of Forest Gump.

It has become a habit to rename places after actors. Blake had loved movies before the world ended, quoting choice lines and memorizing useless trivia. Even now, he is accustomed to thinking that he himself is the star in his own sort of movie.

Now the hero will skin this deer. The camera will not show an actual shot of the knife cutting into the dead animal to not offend some of the more squeamish audience members.

That is just self-reflected flattery of thinking himself as some would-be adventurer that his every action is filmed, studied, and enjoyed by a rapt audience. The internal narration is a way to cope by imagining his life as a movie rather than bleak reality. He will only consider himself truly crazy when he starts narrating for himself aloud instead of only in his head.

The sun, a too large, sickly, purple sphere blazing down from the sky, says it was somewhere past high noon by its position. And it’s closer to dusk than midday. Blake decides it is best to find his shelter for the night. It’s probably better to try and scavenge some food along the way as well. It rained yesterday which means his canteen is full but he would prefer something more for supper than old deer and water.

Close up of the hero as gets a better grip on the two garbage bags slung over his shoulder like a poor man’s luggage before setting off into HarrisonFord Territory.

The land, or field of rubble, is made up of upturned chunks of pavement and broken crumbling buildings that reminded Blake of a concrete jungle. Jungles were something Indiana Jones was always trekking through with some sort of sidekick. The stretch of cement piled high with rusted fire hydrants, telephone poles shedding frayed black wires, and long dead solar-streetlights was then deemed HarrisonFord Territory in Blake’s mind.

A great long shot encompasses the mass amount of destruction.

Three hours later sees him clear of HarrisonFord territory and in that time he managed to scavenge a pack of wintermint gum, a diaper bag that held baggies of stale cereal he munched on along the way, a dented but still sealed can of energy drink, some wild blackberries he found growing an picked, a full lighter, and other odds and ends he accepted and rejected.

The hero makes camp at night in a partially looted women’s clothing store. There are pink mini-skirts still on some of the racks and for sale signs declaring clearance on fall items. These things are seen in brief flashes. The cash register is full of needless money when Blake inspects it.

There is nothing to be found that will be useful to Blake except some liquid soap in the bathroom and water from the faucet that flows in spurts tinged a rusty orange. He washes himself with it, wetting brown paper towels and scrubbing at his armpits. His clothes have seen better days, too, an army man’s camouflage uniform he pinched off the skeleton of a dead soldier. He washes the stolen clothes with his remaining soap and hangs them up to dry. He keeps on the combat boots and wraps himself up in the blue tarp he wears fashioned as a cloak over himself during the day. He falls asleep in the nest he’s made himself out of faux fur vests he vaguely remembers just coming into style before The Rapture.

Julia had worn one of those vests. It had looked stupid on all the other girls but had looked good on her. She had made everything look good. That had been part of her charm. Blake had liked other things about her besides her beauty. That is probably why he could not forget her.

Jump cut.

It takes Blake another day to hike out to his destination. The LizTaylor River is his guide; named such since of its violet grey color that matches the actress’s eyes. Blake only has to find the ever widening river and follow it south. The journey usually takes him two days at least but he hasted his march. The remains of the deer is already starting to smell rancid from the garbage bag, nearly intolerable. If the temperature ever got above fifty degrees, he supposes it would smell worse, but for what he is going to feed the deer to, he doesn’t think the smell will be much of an issue.

JamesDean Plaza is his destination that he reaches just as the sun is setting. It was once a learning institution, the buildings all new and freshly carpeted for the start of the semester.

Before The Rapture, the hero had sat in some of the classrooms as a film major. Flashbacks of him sitting at a desk, nodding his head along while the teacher lectures or taking dutiful notes with his stylus-pen on his pocket-pad like a dedicated student. In truth the hero is usually doodling well-endowed bikini-clad women whom wielded machineguns like mercenaries.

Now the campus is crumbling, just as James Dean said in Rebel Without a Cause, “You’re tearing me apart!” The campus itself is being torn apart because of unpredictable land tremors. That’s not to forget the thing that had taken up residence in the area who smashes windows and uproots sidewalk so it can sculpt its nest to its liking.

The hero had spent many an hour observing it. Flashback to show that twice a day like clockwork, it drags its hulking form out from the partially standing buildings of its crumbling domain and crosses the splintered street over to the LizTaylor River. At first the hero thought its intent was to bathe itself – it was to feed. It would swim around and swallow fish down its gaping maw. The waters seemed to get more and more infested with gators by the years so the creature kept itself well fed. It got bigger each year.

The fact that it will soon be too big is what encouraged Blake to get on with devising his plan. Shooting the thing full of arrows surely would not work. Blake had seen it grapple with gators and the reptile teeth shattered when they tried to clamp down on the creature. The hardened skin is a hindrance. Aiming an arrow for an eye will also do him no good. The creature has none. In place of eyes it has two great big nostrils that Blake assumes does its seeing while on land. The nostrils close like flaps when it immerses itself into the river. It must use some sort of sonar system to navigate while submerged.

Blake sets his trap while the beast is in the water. He reasoned that the submerged creature will not be able to sense him on land. When the monstrosity emerges from its territory and crawls its bloated form over to the river, Blake creeps out from inside a parked rusted solar-minivan and makes his way for the riverbed. There he dumps out the remains of the deer from the two garbage bags. He had gutted the animal and put its organs in one bag. The edible meat he himself had been eating before it went bad was kept in the other. Now the contents of the bags are together in one great pile of rotting red slop. The flies are already starting to circle.

Blake retreats back to the solar-minivan, leaving the pile right where the thing will emerge and smell the free meal. It has no problem with eating dead things. Blake had seen it come across a dead gator that had crawled up on land to die and the gluttonous thing had gulped it down without pretense. While scavenging, Blake had found a stick of honest to goodness dynamite in a safety deposit box of an old abandoned bank, and his plan had taken form.

Using the deer meat is risky. Blake doesn’t know if the thing favored deer. Catching a gator to leave out for it had seemed tricky to Blake. Like the deer, the gators are bigger than they were before The Rapture. Their evolved states have bigger mouths which equals more teeth. It seemed easier to him to go to the TomHanks Forest and shoot something of enough mass appeal that was not as likely to kill him when he tried to kill it.

The stick of dynamite is stuck into the pile by Blake and tied off by a string to an antler. When the thing comes out of the river and goes to drop the offering down its gorge, Blake will shoot a lit arrow at the wick of the dynamite stick like an archer at a Viking funeral and… Boom goes the dynamite as it goes down the creature’s hatch. Not an elegant plan, seeing as it could go wrong a half a dozen ways, but if it goes off without a hitch, elegancy doesn’t matter. Blake just has to make sure he doesn’t miss. And he won’t. His sight is just too good.

The thing claws its way out of the river not after long. It streams water off its green fleshy hide. In some contexts… it looks like a giant toad. Its midsection is bloated, riddled with giant warts and budging veins. Its arms and legs are spindly in appearance but strong enough to drag and push its hulking form around on its belly. This creature will get several close ups first off, quick cross cuts focusing on each detail of its monstrosity. Then a shot away from it to combine all the ugly aspects and create the true picture of this otherworldly toad.

Blake can’t tell if the creature is male or female. There are no visible genitals to give indication. Perhaps it isn’t a gender anymore. Once changing into such a thing, there is no changing back. There is no way of knowing who it had once been, just that it had been human. The irremovable metal cuff adorning its wrist that matched Blake’s own, that matched everyone’s in the world, identifies it as previously human. Everyone had had such an irremovable cuff. Each child was attached with one at birth and the bands were mandatorily worn by every country’s law to best eradicate disease.

The device is called PAUL, short for Personalized Ailment Unraveler/Limiter. PAUL was intended to be the technological device of the century, surpassing the different types of technology that had enabled all of the world to switch to solar power or filter pollution or control the weather. All were things that had been groundbreaking by using technology to solve the world’s problems, but PAUL had single handedly rooted out all disease by way nanotechnology. By having the metal PAUL cuff attached to one’s wrist, tiny controllable mechanical microbes integrated into each person’s blood stream. Cancer cells could be targeted and destroyed without harming the healthy ones, mucus in the sinuses could be evaporated, and bones could be made to mend. PAUL was the cure to cancer, the common cold, and human fragility. Then PAUL got even more revolutionary. Everyone had PAULs so they were equipped to connect to the internet and thereby access information and send messages all in one, efficiently making things like mobile phones and computers obsolete.

It had seemed great at the time. But after The Rapture launched, PAUL had not protected this creature in front of Blake and it became this toad. Its new purpose was to gorge itself on meat. Blake cannot say if the thing was even human anymore. It does not look so in its unsightliness.

The creature scents the meat and pauses by it, inhaling the aroma with its flared nostrils big and round as manholes. Blake thinks it smiles. Its slimy lips part which is just a wide slash across its face, revealing the inside of its mouth crammed in with layers of sharp jagged teeth the size of fence posts. Chucks and strips of things Blake has no desire to identify are wedged between those frightening teeth. The creature could use a good floss.

The abomination’s spidery long multi-fingered hand hooks into the pile of organs and remains with a wet squelch. With the rancid meat in its grasp, the creature’s long arm stretches up above itself the drop the bloody morsel down its gullet. A crane shot would show just how far up the creature’s arm can stretch above itself to angle the food into its mouth. There would also be a horrifying shot down into the thing’s massive esophagus.

From the sidelines, Blake is atop the reflective panel roof of the solar minivan with his bow in hand. He has his arrow tip twined in dry grass and had lit it with the found lighter as soon as the creature surfaced from the water. Now he takes aim fifty feet away from the stick of dynamite. It’s a small target for such a distance but a short distance from the creature by comparison. It could easily scent him from this distance, fresh meat, and come galumphing over. He hopes his backup plan of sliding into the solar minivan and rolling up the window to cut off his smell will work.

The hero has a clear shot. The stick is pointed outward. He looses his arrow and it whizzes over the space between him and the monster he has come here to slay, trailing fire like a comet. A tracking shot follows this bright arrow.

The arrow meets its mark, brushing past the wick and igniting the stick before it disappears down the creature’s throat, the mouth closing it in. Blake is left standing stupefied atop the van.

The hero’s witless expression is captured as he realizes that he had little faith in his plan.

Now the thing swallows the lit dynamite with a great gulp – Blake scrambles into the van, cranking up the window behind him. No sooner does he get the window all the way rolled up does the giant bulbous toad explode outward. Wet chucks of green splatter onto the windshield, covering the whole window in a thick layer of the slimy muck. The passenger door to the van does not want to open at first, being much heavier now with the gelatinous remains covering it. Blake goes out the back of the van through the trunk. The creature is quite dead now, the only thing not blown apart is its massive jaw, more terrifying than the skull of a T-rex. Blake only gives it a glance before heading across the street back to JamesDean Plaza.

“Room 1124,” he murmurs to himself.

English 201 was the class Julia was in when The Rapture hit. Blake had not had class that day. He was in town getting a copy of a key-card made. He was supposed to be back at 3:00 to pick her up. He hadn’t. The time was 2:17 when the digital clocks all stopped and the chaos started. Solar cars skidded off roads, planes fell from the sky, volcanos erupted, hurricanes and tsunamis swept in from the seas, earthquakes ravaged the land, nuclear bombs imploded. The world wept and the rain lasted for a straight week.

Even those that had not watched helpless and screaming as their skin and flesh deteriorated off their bones, those left alive had a tough time surviving the aftermath. The worst fate was to follow if you persisted only to start mutating. Still a technical survivor, Blake fails to feel lucky. He thinks himself doomed anyway.

By the time Blake had finally managed to get to the school after The Rapture, and he was very late a month later – the creature had already staked its claim on the area. It was not a thing he wanted to try to antagonize. He had searched for Julia elsewhere. He went to her house and looked for any sign she still might be alive. He found the skeletons of her parents still in their clothes and sprawled across the kitchen linoleum.

He did not give up hope then, he kept looking. It was with panic he searched at first. That morphed into determination. Years later now it was like habit. He would travel far, getting the lay-of-the-land, asking the few that were still friendly if they had met anyone of her description. It seemed all in vain that he searched and found not a whisper of her. Time again he was drawn back to the old school in hopes the creature had left. Maybe then he could find some clue within the deserted grounds. The creature prevailed over time so today he had finally killed it by last resort.

Since all the rooms are labeled it’s his easiest task of the day to find the right one. The door is ajar and inside he is greeted to a room of clothed skeletons.

Some of them are on the floor, some still in their seats with their expanded pocket-pads on the tables in front of them. The professor himself is collapsed in front of the screen board with a stylus-pen still clasped in his skeletal hand. Written on the flickering touch-board in big letters is: What is Atwood trying to tell us – and The Rapture must have hit in the middle of the question mark because it runs off the board. It was a wonder the solar power was still partly working for the screen to flash. Some of the panels on the roof must still be partly operational.

But Blake looks for Julia. He remembers that she had been wearing a yellow sundress that day. The contrast the outfit had had with her raven black hair was beautiful. He had told her so when he dropped her off and she had giggled. He could barely remember the sound of that giggle. The pitch of it whether he complimented her or kissed that sensitive spot behind her ear. It was one of the many places he could kiss her and he would be rewarded by an accompanying sound from her mouth. From giggle to moan, he had cherished each sound.

But then… looking at all of the class assembled, there is no yellow sundress. At first, Blake is elated. Hope sweeps in, an emotion he has not felt for so long that it startles him at its abruptness and shortness of breath it brings him. Then dread follows. She had not been Raptured and died in confusion and terror. She was there to be ravaged by what followed. Blake had gone through that himself and struggled the trials same as her. Such was a fate one does not wish upon their worst enemy, no less the one that bewitches them.

ACT TWO: YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

A week passes. Perhaps two. Blake has gotten out of the habit of counting the time. He wanders, not knowing what else to do. Perhaps that is why he put off killing the thing for so long, to procrastinate from the day he would go into the classroom and find her skeleton. At least such an outcome would have given him closure. Now he is left afloat and rudderless, not knowing what happened to her after surviving the launching of The Rapture.

Hopeless he is, sighing and pitiful as he lurches from place to place. The audience is surely bored with him and starting to throw popcorn at the screen in protest.

Was she dead? Alive? Or changed into a monster? These are the questions he asked himself and the air. Blake did not discount that the creature guarding the campus could have been her but he tells himself that is an impossibility. If she had mutated, what is he still living for? His only purpose is to find her. Still he wanders.

He traverses land he has not before, naming the new places by turn. The NicolasCage Swamp. The JulieAndrews Valley. The ChristopherWalken Plains. MerylStreep Gorge. Now he is traversing the MorganFreeman Hills, a thick grassy unstable stretch of land that had taken root over what he guessed to be old farmland. He passes some smatterings of corn stalks as he walks and harvests the ripe ears as he goes. That is all he has been eating the past few days is corn, snakes, and rabbits. The rabbits are the size of house cats and scamper away from him when he comes near. The snakes are bolder, garden snakes grown to the size of pythons that slither hidden through the knee high grass. Their hiss alert him before they lunge up at his face. He was lucky that his arrows meet them before they do him.

He has a dead brown and yellow striped snake draped around his shoulders like a priest’s vestment and two rabbits hanging off his belt when he finds a rusted tractor. It’s one of the ones with the glassed in cab and solar panel roof. Some poor soul is sitting inside with his hands gripping the wheel. Blake is heaving the farmer’s skeleton out because he plans to sleep inside the tractor, when he hears the scream.

The hero stops what he is doing to listen. The sound echoes across the empty land. It is a woman screaming, that’s easy to decipher by the high feminine screech. The audience’s interest will be perked now after Blake’s uneventful retrieve of wandering.

The question is why the woman is screaming. Snake trouble is most plausible but there are always other reasons. She screams again, a high frightened sound. Since it has been some time since he last saw a human being that was alive enough to scream, Blake leaves the snake and rabbits shut up in the tractor and takes off after the sound of the screaming like he is following a trail of crumbs.

Blake comes up to the crest of a high hill and spots four figures a distance away down in the basin. What he sees makes him drop to his belly down in the grass so he is hidden.

Unfriendlies. At least two of the party are. Two men and two women. The two men are trying to drag the two women back to a dingy red solar pickup with large off-roading tires. The women are resisting, hence the screaming from one woman, hysterical crying from the other.

The hero raises himself up on his hands and knees to peek over the grass back down at the spectacle below. Zoom in on the crying woman who is much smaller and the man that had her thrown over his shoulder. She kicks her legs and beats at his back wildly. The man is large, over six feet, and the thrashing seems not to bother him. He is waiting patiently for the other man. Zoom in on him, he is shy of six feet and trying to get control of the other woman that is doing the screaming. The woman is fighting like a wildcat, kicking and clawing. When her nails draw blood across his cheek, he lets her go, pushing her roughly down onto the ground.

“Bitch!” he hollers, his voice carrying up to Blake. The woman wheels up at him in full fury but he backhands her and she crumples back into the grass. He grabs her up by her hair which is long, red, and curly just like the other woman’s.

The man throws the woman against the hood of the truck getting her arms behind her back. He fits a pair of handcuffs over her wrists with some difficulty. He curses all the while. Once he has her secured with his forearm pressed down between her shoulder blades, keeping her belly still flat to the hood of the car, his other hand goes up to his ravaged cheek.

“Bitch,” he hisses at her again when his fingertips come away scarlet from his face. “How bad is it?” he asks the other man.

“You’re gonna have a nice scar,” he tells his friend, not seeming very concerned.

“Un-freaking-believable,” the man grouses. “And all we’re going to get is shit when we get back with the two of them cause we were supposed to be back three days ago. Hell, I’m gonna get something out of this.” He still has the woman pressed down firmly with his forearm and bent over the hood of the truck and with the other hand, he starts to tug down her pants.

“Stan,” the other man says tiredly. “We’re just supposed to find them and bring them back.” He watches mildly and doesn’t try to interfere as the woman struggles against being stripped.

“What?” Stan says in full innocence. “She was nominated for breeding remember?”

“It wasn’t determined yet.”

“So? It’s not like this filly is all that innocent. She killed three guys to escape.”

The other man sighs, giving in. “Be quick about it. I don’t like the looks of all these snakes.”

The other man is now looking away from the truck, out into the grass as if watching for serpents. The scratched man, Stan, now has the woman’s pants down around her ankles and is struggling with the front of his own pants while he still keeps the woman in a presented position.

Quick cut of the woman’s bared kicking legs look white as milk against the tall dry grass.

Blake realizes that he should leave now. This is nothing that he wanted to get himself involved in. He has learned through trial and error that it’s now no good to be a Good Samaritan. He did not like what was about to happen and he felt sorry for the woman. This is just what things were now and apparently she’s already killed three men. Blake doesn’t want to be the fourth.

Blake turns to retreat back down the hill but the woman screams again and he pauses. It’s his conscience’s fault. He still has one after all this time. He could help of course. He has his bow with him, he never goes anywhere without it.

The hero hesitates, back to the screaming as he considers whether to involve himself. The shot is only of his deliberating face with the feminine screams as a macabre soundtrack.

He’s still thinking when the woman screams again, a sound of frustration, and then shouts, “I hope your dick shrivels up like a raisin and falls off you misogynistic pig!”

Blake pauses. It’s familiar, that angry voice. It’s like hearing a song to whose lyrics he has all but forgotten. That and the red hair… it can’t be her. Could it?

Blake looks back down the hill. The woman is still cursing. It sounds like her. Wasn’t she at school that day with Julia? Hadn’t the two of them had a lot of the same classes that semester?

Blake has an arrow loaded and flying down the hill without thinking. The arrow hits Stan at the nape of this neck and stays lodged through his throat. When Stan gurgles and kneels over with his pants gaping open, an arrow bites into the other man’s eye and he drops too. Blake picks his way down the hill with another arrow loaded in case another man comes out of the woodwork.

The woman by the truck has fallen to her knees into the grass, tripped up by her drawn down pants and awkward with her arms still fettered behind her back. She looks up and Blake sees her face clearly in the twilight for the first time.

Close up of a young woman with green eyes and a face full of a hundred different copper freckles. Then jump to the other woman who is really just a girl of ten or so and looks much of the same as the first female, they undoubtedly share the same genes.

The girl is scrambling at her captor’s belt and she pulls free what looks like a 9mm. She points it square at Blake where he is only twenty feet away now. Blake drops his bow into the grass and holds up his hands in defense.

The hero pauses, mouth working as he best considers his best next move. Zoom in on the uncertainty marking his quirked brow.

“I come in peace,” he intones.

The woman is squinting at him, still sitting in the grass with her pants bunched around her ankles. “Blake?” she asks like she can’t believe it.

“Hey Mary,” he says casually. “You want me to get off your handcuffs for you so you can pull up your pants? Showing your bare ass out here is like asking a snake to bite it.” Breaking the ice with a joke had never failed him before.

“God, it is you,” she says in disbelief.

“Yeah, so tell your sister to point the gun away me please.” It’s making him nervous. The girl’s hands are trembling and triggers are sensitive. This is why it didn’t pay off to be a hero these days. The person you saved trusted you no more than their dispatched attacker. The victim, once liberated, was likely to turn on their savior and steal their supplies if given the chance.

“Abby, it’s Blake, you can put down the gun. Remember him? We dated for like three months before I dumped him. He’s the one who stood outside my window with a boom box and dad called the cops on him.”

“I was being romantic,” Blake defends himself. The boom box thing worked in the movies.

“Whatever. Come over here and help me out of these cuffs before I change my mind and let Abby shoot you.”

Jump cut.

Blake is joined for supper for the first time in a long time. They built a fire out of corn stalks and roasted the rabbits and snake on splits. The corn was boiled in Blake’s pot with water from his canteen. Abby watches Blake with narrowed eyes across from the fire as he pokes the flames with a stick.

“You two came from one of those new cities right?” Blake ventures.

“Why do you think that?” Mary asks, taking a bite out of her cob of corn.

“Besides the obvious? Why else would those guys be sent after you two?”

Mary’s mouth twists. “We came from one of the cities, yeah.”

Blake nods to himself. “But the thing about the breeding and you being nominated?”

“I got nominated to try and reproduce with someone.”

“But breeding’s impossible. People can’t reproduce anymore since The Rapture.”

“Some people still haven’t lost hope. No one’s going to tell me who I let between my legs though. The city we’re coming from, it’s considered a condition for residency. Every year, reproduction’s attempted and people are nominated by vote to take part. There was whispering about – they wanted to try and breed Abby with someone too.”

Blake glances at the girl who is now looking into the fire. “She’s just a kid. How’s she going to be able to conceive even if she did-,”

“The idea was that since The Rapture everyone’s stopped aging – she’s not a child anymore even though she looks it. They said the attempt was worth a shot which is a bunch of bullshit. I said we were leaving. They didn’t like that and threw us in the slammer for safekeeping. They didn’t find my box cutter I kept on me and that’s how we got out.”

Blake shakes his head, he trusts the story is true coming from Mary. “Here’s looking at you kid,” he tips his metaphorical hat to her.

“Christ, are you still quoting those old movies?” Mary rolls her eyes. “That was part of why I dumped you.”

“No, you broke up with me when I told you that I loved you and your reaction was to panic and step on my heart because you have commitment issues,” Blake says wryly.

“Please, if you really did love me, you wouldn’t have fell so hard for Julia right after we broke up,” Mary snorts.

Blake nods, he supposes she was right. The first time he had seen Julia on campus in her tall red boots, long black hair flowing behind her like a river of silk, it was like a lightning bolt sent through his chest. That brought him back the question he had saved Mary to ask her.

“You had that same class as her didn’t you? You guys were both English majors and had the same class that day.”

Mary is quiet. She is not a quiet person and her silence makes Blake fear the worst.

“Blake?” she asks softly. “Why are belts strapped over across your chest? Why do you still have that tarp tied over you? What’s underneath it on you back? It’s not a backpack is it?” The last question isn’t really a question. She has guessed it already.

“It’s nothing,” he says. That’s what he told himself anyway.

“You’re looking for her aren’t you? If she’s still alive, what’s she going to say when she sees that hunch on your back? Quasimodo didn’t get the girl.”

Blake raises his head. “Is she alive? If you know – Mary, you have to tell me. I’ve been searching for her this whole time.”

She shakes her head. “Blake, even if you did find her, she’ll scream when she sees you like you really are the hunchback of Notre Dame. You’re mutating,” she says gently.

“No, I’m not.”

“Blake-,”

“No, you listen. I’m not. There’s things growing out of my back but hasn’t spread at all. If I was going to fully mutate… I would have by now.”

“But would Julia understand that?”

“Of course she would.” He puts down the stick and pulls the pistol out of the cargo pocket of his camouflage pants. “See this?” he holds up the small gun so she can see it. “This is my last resort. If I feel myself start to go… I’ll use this. Right to my temple. There’s only one bullet and that’s all I need. If I ever do go fully mutated, I’d rather die than have Julia see me like that. Like I am right now, she would understand.”

Mary shakes her head. “What if she’s not the same as you remember?”

Blake puts the pistol away. “You’re wrong. She would understand. And stop avoiding the question. Is she still alive? You’ve seen her, I can tell.”

Mary looks at him with clear pity in her eyes. “Blake, you have to believe me right now… you don’t want the answer to that question. It’s best to just give up on her and start looking for something else-,”

“Then what the hell else am I supposed to look for?” he shouts.

The hero can’t help it that he’s angry, face flushed in his frustration. She knew, she obviously did, and she won’t tell him. How cruel can she be? The audience is upset with the shrew too.

Mary looks at him with cool eyes, the flickering of the fire reflecting off her irises like they are really emeralds. “Look for anything else Blake. Trust me on this.”

“No, you have to trust me. If she’s still out there… I have to find her. What if she’s in trouble? She either thinks I’m dead or forgotten her and I can’t stand that. Mary please,” he begs her. “I have nothing left without her. Everyone else is already gone,” his voice hitches.

The hero does a one eighty from anger to despair in ten seconds flat. Tears gather at the corners of his eyes but refuse to fall by the sheer willpower of the brave protagonist. She has to tell him. Can she not see how desperate he is? The audience can see it.

She takes a deep breath, not moved at all by his pleading. “She’s dead Blake,” Mary tells him dully. “She survived The Rapture. She died later. She couldn’t take it and… It’s been years.”

It’s like she has punched the hero in the gut. He can’t seem to pull in any air. His time has been wasted after all. How long has he been chasing her ghost? And what is left for him now? The answer is easy. Nothing.

“You’re lying,” Abby says softly from across the fire and it’s the first time Blake’s heard her speak. He had forgotten about her. She hasn’t looked away from the fire.

“Abby,” Mary hisses at her younger sister.

Blake forces himself not to get his hopes up if it’s just more bad news. “What is she lying about?”

“I don’t know if Julia’s dead or not,” Abby sighs. “But we saw her just last week before we left. She was fine then, probably still is. She’s probably the safest person in the city,” she snorts.

Elation is the hero’s next emotion. It breaks across his face like a sunrise.

“She’s okay?” Blake can scarcely believe it.

“Sure,” mutters the girl. “Not a hair on her pretty head has been harmed since the city was formed.”

“Abby, that’s enough,” Mary barks.

Blake glares at his ex. “Why’d you want me to think she’s dead?”

Mary just looks at him like he’s a fool. “It makes no difference that she’s alive,” she shakes her head. “Even if you do find her you’ll find nothing.”

Blake glares at her “That makes no sense. Maybe your brain has started to mutate.”

“My brain is fine. I can tell that there’s no point in warning you. You won’t believe me even if I tell you.”

Blake makes a noise of irritation. The woman has always loved to hear herself talk. “If you’re done, maybe you’ll tell me some useful. Like where the city is.”

Mary raises an eyebrow. “About fifty miles north of here. They’ve claimed an old baseball stadium for themselves and have red flags flying from the ramparts. Impossible to miss. When you get there and see what there is to see – remember that I told you so.”

Blake scowls at her. “That was always your favorite line.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a real bitch,” she mutters to herself. “Whatever. When you’re trying to blame someone, remember I tried to warn you.”

ACT THREE: ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY WALK INTO MORDOR

There are red flags flying from the ramparts just like she said.

Seeing the fluttering of red against the sky filled the hero with relief. He had half expected that Mary had been lying to him just to get rid of him. Flashback to her and her sister taking the truck so the hero has to traverse the land on foot. In a proper tale, he would have had some sort of loyal steed to carry him to his battles. Alas, the setting was not in the middle ages for this tale.

Blake is eager to rush into the baseball-stadium-turned-town but people were outside the stadium. The grounds surrounding the stadium have been irrigated and plowed to grow crops for the commune. What worries Blake is not the people farming. Instead, it’s the people acting as guards. Some carry guns and as soon as they see Blake’s hunched form lurching up – they will open fire.

Blake waits impatiently till dark for the citizens to retreat back inside the stadium and for new guards to take their posts at the stadium entrances. When the purple sun finally lowers and the orange cast moon takes its place in the dark sky, Blake undoes the many belts he keeps strapped around his torso to lash down what grew out of his back. It’s a relief, as it always was, to be free and stretch out. It’s a thing he does not do often, for to reveal and let loose what grows out of his back is proof he has mutated, more so than his improved eye sight that he had gained due to The Rapture.

Close up of the pair of large bony wings sprouting out of the crease between the hero’s shoulder blades down along his spine in a big V. They are a sickly grey color, leathery and bat-like mostly. Black feathers sprout out here and there in patches like he is in the process of molting. They were wings a daydreamer might acquaint with that of a fallen angel.

Then again, the wings don’t have to look pretty, they just have to carry him places when he wants to fly. And that is the plan now.

Blake makes sure he has everything he needs, the tarp folded up and tucked through his belt and his bow and quiver securely fastened down to that spot between his wings, before stretching out his wings their full length, a good fifteen feet in each direction. Then he bends his legs and pushes himself up into the air.

It is awkward at first from not flying in such a long time, but it’s like riding a bike. It’s easy for him to pick up the rhythm again. He ascends as far in the air that from the ground he will look like any other bird. He lets his wings buffet the air to keep himself aloft as he examines the stadium for a clear entrance. There are only entrances on one side of the stadium and that is where the guards are clustered. Blake wings himself over to the other side of the stadium and manages to land on a ledge without anyone seeing him, behind the scoreboard.

In the cover of darkness the hero creeps into the keep. He is like a shadow at midnight, a raindrop in a thunderstorm, a fart in the wind.

He folds down his wings as tightly as he can to his back and settles the blue tarp back around him like a cloak. Then he climbs down and makes his way for the people.

The green of the field has been ravaged. There is no longer any grass to speak of, just dirt. The space is jam pact with trailers, tents, parked vans with mattresses thrown inside, and even a Teepee mixed in. Chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, and other livestock are penned in along the green. Oil barrels are situated everywhere, shedding light. There are wooden lean-tos built among the stands. The chairs have been ripped out and concrete chipped away to accommodate the construction. Clothing lines are strung from the rafters in the stands.

Further inside the stadium there is further proof of residence. Food storage is kept and evening meals being cooked where concessions stands once were. Looms and buckets with sudsy water are arranged in old gift shops. There are men as well as women working the looms and scrubbing wet cloth against washboards. People are going in and out of the bathrooms, and the flush of toilets can be heard. The plumbing appears to still be working. Blake can’t remember the last time he used a toilet.

There has to be community of around five hundred in the stadium by Blake’s count. He has not seen so many people in a long time, all humans with the irremovable PAULs adorning their wrists.

The hero does not care about the community itself. His eyes are only peeled for a long curtain of black, the beautiful unbound tresses of his long lost love, the hero’s fair maiden.

She was not necessarily wearing her hair loose. It could be wound up on the crown of her head or tied into a long braid. Blake has forgotten until now the many different ways a woman can wear her hair. Yet, he does not see her and his panic increases by the second.

He can stop someone and ask if they know where she was, but… he is already getting some stares because of the tarp. People give him curious glances and then look away, going back to their own business. They won’t think that he’s an intruder, their precautions would have made that impossible. He keeps moving, weaving himself around the tents and trailers, people gathered around lit oil barrels slurping brown soup from novelty cups left over from the gift shop.

He samples the conversation as he goes.

“It’s been over a week. I think those girls are long gone.”

“What about the guys he sent after them though?”

“Maybe they decided to scoot too?”

“Talk about awol.”

If Blake doesn’t already have confirmation enough that he is in the right place, there is that. He’s passing what appears to be a makeshift oven in one of the old vending booths, metal racks set over burning coals surrounded by red bricks, when he hears the voice.

“Thanks Gracie, he’ll like this. He’s still in a sour mood over Mary and Abby leaving.”

Blake pauses to see a woman with black hair scraped back into a messy knot at the nape of her neck. She is accepting a loaf of bread from another woman. He cannot see the black haired woman’s face though she is the right height.

“Sure sweetheart,” the other woman says. “Just tell him to loosen up a little.”

The black haired woman laughs. It’s like the tinkling of bells, and with the sound comes back the rush of memories.

The hero remembers that laugh. She had hated it when he would tickle her, she could sulk for up to a full hour if he did so, but it had always been worth it to hear that laugh of hers. Hearing that same laugh now, the hero knows that his long search is finally over.

“Sadly, he’s only ever tightly wound,” she says and turns to face Blake. He has his hood pulled up, obscuring his face, but he can see her face and it is enough to weep over.

Close up of her face. It is an upturned tear drop with a pointed little chin, her eyes tilted upward and almond shaped, and her skin was just a blush of porcelain. The fair maiden is still beautiful, her dark midnight eyes exactly how the hero remembers.

“Excuse me,” she says, not realizing that it’s him. She’s already stepped around him.

“Julia,” he says turning.

She stops and looks behind herself, confusion marking her face. “Yes?” she asks.

She does not recognize his voice. He puts down his hood. Just as long as she recognizes his face. He knows that she does when her eyes widen as she sees him.

“Blake?” she asks and her voice cracks.

“Hi Julia, long time no see,” he smiles.

She doesn’t smile back. She is blinking tears out of her eyes. “You’re still alive? You’re really here?” she says like she cannot trust her own sight.

“Yeah, I’m here Julia. Worse for wear… but here.”

“Oh my God,” she seems to say to herself.

The fair maiden looks up at her hero with a kind of wonder reflected in her eyes.

“After all this time …” she pauses suddenly and an expression of realization flits across her face. “No,” she says softly to herself. “Blake, what are you doing here?” she asks seriously.

“I’m here to see you of course,” he says. “I’m sorry that I’m late for picking you up but well… some things came up. You had to have noticed. All the mayhem and destruction I mean.”

The fair maiden makes a choking sound like the hero’s joke pained her. It is a laugh caught in her throat sounding like a wounded hyena.

“I noticed Blake, but you can’t be here,” she says urgently.

“What? What do you mean?” Now he’s the one confused.

“It’s not safe,” she says anxiously. “For you of all people especially.”

“What do you mean me?” he checks that the tarp is covering his back, it is. “Why would I be in danger? We should go somewhere alone and talk right now. I’ve got something to show you.” It’s best to tell her right away about his back. He will ease her into it so she isn’t frightened. She has to see already that he is the same and just look past the mutation.

“Blake, no,” she says and that pained look is back. “I can’t go anywhere with you. You need to leave right now. I don’t have time to explain things. Maybe later if you wait for me outside the stadium I might be able to come and talk to you.”

Blake can’t quite understand what she’s saying. “Julia… you’re not making any sense. We can talk now. After that, we can decide what we’re going to do.”

This wasn’t working out exactly how he planned it. In his fantasies, she is much more elated when he finally finds her. They are reunited now and she doesn’t seem happy about. She is anxious, he recognizes her biting her bottom lip in that worried way of hers.

“Julia what’s wrong?” he asks gently.

“Blake, I can’t,” she says, shaking her head over and over, her arms wrapped around herself like she is trying to prevent from falling apart. She is stepping back from him.

“Of course you can,” he tells her in a gentle voice. “You know that you can tell me anything.” He steps toward her, to touch her shoulder, comfort her somehow.

“Not a step closer,” says a dark voice from behind him.

Close up on the hero. It’s as though ice has replaced all the blood in the hero’s veins. It can’t be. The hero hasn’t thought of the person for… not since before The Rapture. He is probably the only person the hero has not grieved for, that of the death of his nemesis.

“Turn around slowly Montgomery,” the cool voice commands. “Now, unless you want me to put a bullet through the back of your head.” There is a click of a safety being turned off so Blake doesn’t have a choice but to obey.

The hero turns and the black eyes stare at him with a penetrative force. Zoom in on those challenging eyes. His nemesis’s gaze has always felt like that of an unblinking snake on him and time has not lessened that feeling. The gun pointed at him, held by the villain, increases it.

“No sudden moves Montgomery,” Park says.

Blake snorts. “You’ll shoot me anyway. We both know you hate my guts.”

Park shakes his head. “Cooperate and I’ll have no reason to shoot you.”

Blake doubts that. This guy got a medal overseas for being trigger happy.

“How’d you get in Montgomery?” Park demands. “Who let you in?”

“None of your business,” Blake responds nonchalantly. This is turning bad fast now. Everyone around is looking, more than one have their own gun drawn.

“Cooperate Montgomery,” Park repeats. “Or I’ll shoot. What have you got under the tarp?”

“Nothing that concerns you.”

“I see,” the man says gravely. “Frank, John, get the tarp from him.”

The hero is unprepared as the two men leap out from the crowd and wrench the tarp off him. The tarp is ripped away from him in slow motion. He doesn’t have time to react and defend himself. The hero is rendered frozen in his exposed state as a universal gasp resounds throughout the crowd that has gathered. All eyes are on the gruesomeness of his back, the giant molting wings. Cut to the expressions of horror on the spectators. Cut back to the hero’s own eyes as they search out that of his fair maiden. Is she sharing in the crowd’s horror, their repulsion? But no, despite the mutation – he is still himself and she would see that. He remembered everything about her and them. He is convinced that it was purely his determination that had stopped him from mutating completely. He has kept his crumbling sanity thanks to her.

The hero cannot find her in the crowd. Scan the crowd with no fair maiden to be seen, just dirty and scared survivors. Perhaps that is a mercy so he would not see rejection in her eyes. He should leave now. The eyes that were on him now would not understand. They were screaming too, how people did before they grabbed their torches and pitchforks to assemble an angry mob.

“Mutated! Mutated! One got in!”

“Shoot him!”

“Kill it now!”

He decided to flee too late. For just as he was about to push himself off the ground and fly away – something heavy hits him on top of the head – an oil barrel.

Zoom in on the face of the hero. His face meets the hardness of concrete before his eyes fail him. The last shot is of his view of things, of the dirty shoes that surround him.

Jump cut.

An utterly black screen. Then a sudden spark to reveal the hero floating in that blackness. The hero has his eyes closed, he is dreaming, and he knows it. In the dream, everything is back to how it should be. As his father had put it, he was wasting his money going to school to study film. The hero had wanted to make movies, great films like the ones of old before everything became all special effects and a feature picture thrived on the presentation of the actors.

Everyone had thought him a dreamer before he met his muse with her sly smile and open arms. She made his grip stronger on his convictions. If she ever told him that he was silly or a fool for pursuing what he did, it was with a wistfulness like he was a rare dying breed.

But it’s all just a dream. There aren’t movies anymore. Blake opens his eyes and at first it is like he has not opened them at all. It’s so dark. He is lying down in dirt. His ankles are bound with rope, as are his wrists which are behind his back and over his wings. He struggles into a sitting position. He’s surprised he isn’t dead. Now that his eyes are adjusting, he sees chain link in front of him. He’s been locked up then. It’s of little comfort.

There is a light approaching now, slowly coming down towards his cell, an old underground batting cage he realizes, just as Park comes into view with a torch in his hand, the light of it reflecting off his PAUL.

Close up of the nemesis, a tall and beefy Korean man. He stops in front of the hero’s cell and just stares. The evil man’s expression is cold, as it had always been. The expression had always stayed the same whether helping an old lady across the street or breaking a man’s arm.

Blake scowls. He can feel that the gun is still in his cargo pocket. Some idiot didn’t search him well enough or they were just too scared to touch him much for fear of contamination. Though, mutation doesn’t spread that way. His quiver and bow are gone. The gun, he would love to use it to shoot Park in his smug face, but Blake’s tied arms made all murder attempts impossible.

“Where’s Julia?” Blake demands.

“That’s not for you to know now,” Park says with a certain amount of vindictiveness mixed into his usual smooth expression.

“Do you have her tied up somewhere too?”

“Why would I need to tie her up? Do you think that she would try to sneak down here to see you? Don’t flatter yourself.”

“And you think she’s chosen you over me?” Blake snorts. “Julia’s parents that wanted her to be with you, not her. They just wanted her with someone else Korean and didn’t like me because I’m mixed. Her dad called me the blue eyed Obama and never even bothered to learn my name.”

Park shakes his head. “It wasn’t your ethnicity they didn’t like, it was that you weren’t going anywhere and she was wasting her time with you. You were a dead end.”

“And you were better is what you’re trying to say?”

He shrugs. “I had a successful naval career and was going places. Not anymore but that’s why I built this city. We’re starting over.”

Blake makes a sound of disgust. “You’re in charge here and the forced breeding nominating shit was your idea wasn’t it? No wonder Mary ran.”

“She failed to understand. We need to find a way to repopulate the earth. Everyone has their own duty to do.”

“Right,” Blake rolls his eyes. “What’s Julia think of that?”

“She has been a willing participant with me for many years now,” Park says calmly.

There is a ringing in Blake’s ears suddenly. “That’s a fucking lie,” he says lowly. “Don’t you dare come in here and tell me lies like that. She could never be with you. She told me so.”

“That was a long time ago. This is now. And you are mutated. How could she want you anymore? Who could?”

“Do I look fully mutated to you? It doesn’t spread. I have my sanity.”

Park ignores that claim, discounting it without any debate. “I need to know if there are others with you planning on invading my city.”

“I came alone,” Blake sighs, he sees no point in lying.

Parks nods, seeming to believe him. “I also need to know about the sisters.”

“Long gone and I doubt you’ll ever see them again. The two guys you sent after them are dead. One of them was about to rape Mary when I put an arrow through his throat,” Blake relates back events in a dull tone. “I really doubt that for all you claim that I’m a monster, I have more humanity than that guy did.”

“You admit freely to having ended a man’s life. Remind me what humanity it is that you claim to possess?”

“You’ve killed people! You were in the Navy operating ship-drones and shooting torpedoes at carrier ships. What humanity do you have?”

“What I did was necessary for the greater good. Those ships had criminals trying to illegally immigrate into the country after they were deported. You killed a man to save a murderess.”

“You were going to force her and her sister to participate in your yearly reproduction trials. She did what she had to do to protect herself.”

“She was being selfish by refusing to participate and help humanity go on. I am trying to find a future in which we are no longer spurned by God.”

“God?” Now Blake is confused. “What has any god got to do with this?”

“He is the cause of this Rapture. He sent his plagues to punish this sinful world. All we can do now is find a way to reclaim his favor.”

“Park, you know that The Rapture isn’t for some bullshit religious reason. The system crashed because of the tech virus.”

The Rapture itself, it wasn’t some end all thing sent by God as foretold by the book of Revelations. It was a new game.

There had been ads for it on the net. This new multi-player game that would be set in a post-apocalyptic world. The basis for it was Angels vs. Demons. Either team could be chosen. The reason the game had been such big news, marketing had decided to put the game out for free on the net for a week as a trial run. It was that game that had been sent to everyone by e-mail, and by extension, to their PAULs, the metal cuffs everyone wore. The game trial sent, it had a virus in it that the PAUL’s didn’t seem to like. Everyone in the world that was connected to the internet at 2:17 when the trial game was sent, be it whether they were social networking, shopping, gaming, or doing actual work, the mechanical microbes filtering their blood streams controlled by the PAULs had started to eat away at all the organic material in their bodies down to the bone.

The internet itself, due to the of the tech virus, crashed. Several things around the world were controlled by technology by way of the wireless internet. Dams, the pollution filters, devices regulating the weather. Inventions created to control volcanos, tornados, land stability, all ingenious creations of their time to cancel out natural disasters, all went caput. The cherry on top of the sundae was really the nuclear bombs going off.

People fortunate enough at the time to not have their PAULs connected to the internet had not been eaten away at from the inside but still had the virus inside their PAULs and thereby their very blood streams. The mutation started, the changing into the avatars from The Rapture, the game. One could turn into some toad creature or sprout wings. Somewhere in that mess of the microbes filtering the blood and changing things according to the virus’s design, aging had stopped and all reproductive abilities had been shot.

It was the wonders of science, that it could bring the world to its knees so swiftly. Perhaps if the world hadn’t been so dependent on technology this could have been avoided. No one saw it coming and innovation had brought about the end of the world.

Park is shaking his head, disagreeing with this known explanation. “This was a message from God, not machine. We were using human inventions to try and control the world he created. Such a thing was blasphemy and the Lord has marked his transgressors by cursing them as abominations. Sacrificing the damned like yourself is one of the ways this city seeks to be saved.

Blake felt dread. “You mean, you’ve killed others like me that have only mutated partly?”

“To please the Lord, we sacrificed their cursed souls before they were damned completely.”

“I have wings but I’m still human! Killing others like me is killing innocent people!”

“And who are you to decide who is innocent in your degradation?”

“Who am I?!” Blake can feel his voice rising. “Who are you to decide!?”

“I haven’t mutated so God has chosen me to help cleanse the land and earn back his grace.”

“Like Hitler thought he was better than the Jews and started killing them in the Holocaust.”

“I’m not killing people. I am slaying beasts.”

“You’re a murder! I’m sure Julia thinks the same thing.”

Park shakes his head. “Do not pretend that you know her anymore.”

“I know her. Better than you ever will. We were in love and you were an unwanted shadow because both your and Julia’s parents wanted to arrange you together. Julia hated that.”

“You think I only sought her because our parents approved? I wanted her for the same reasons as you. Now I have her and you are the unwelcome lurking shadow.”

“You’re as deluded about her as you are about thinking sacrificing anything up to some god is going to do you any good. Everyone is mutating! The infected microbes are in all of us!” Blake throws up his hands. “We’re all doomed!” he says in mock dismay like how some might finish off a ghost story around a campfire. “You’re just a self-righteous asshole using religion as an excuse to do what you want. Julia could tell you that.”

“She admires me for what I am doing and loves me because of it.”

Blake laughs in truth. That is the funniest thing he has heard yet. “She could never love a man like you that calls murder justice. She must cringe away from you.”

The hero’s nemesis is silent, zoom in on his eyes that are more like a snake’s than ever while trained on the hero. The hero is unafraid. He hates this man but could never fear him; not even now as his enemy holds his life in the balance. And the hero knows he is to die. His only regret is that his fair maiden is to be left to the villain.

“No,” Park says softly. “You’re the fool, not I, thinking that everyone is doomed along with you. And thinking she loves you over me… I will correct you on that.”

The stubborn man turns and leaves, taking his torch and the light with him.

ACT FOUR: IT WAS BEAUTY THAT KILLED THE BEAST

Blake has no real way to keep track of the time that he has been kept in his underground cell. He guesses that it’s been two days. He measures this by how hungry he is. A clench of a two day fast holds his stomach in grasp but starving is not the way he thinks Park plans to kill him. Overt execution will be Blake’s fate since Park is one for public recognition. Perhaps he is being kept down here while they constructed a guillotine? A hanging post? A stake to be burned on? There are several execution types. Firing squad, chopping block, buried alive, drawn and quartered…

They do come for him at the end of that second day. Park comes with two men. Without a word they fasten around his neck a leash with a long pole attached. It’s like what used to be used on wild animals. They then undo his bonds, the three of them wrinkling their noses at the smell of him. Blake’s gotten no bathroom breaks while imprisoned. Then he is led to his death by the leash and pole.

Blake has really only one hope for freedom. They still do not know he can fly. It makes sense that they think he can’t. His wings look so sickly. Park must have assumed that he snuck his way past a guard to get in. If he thought Blake had flown, his wings would be broken by now or cut off to ensure Blake has no way of escaping.

Everything depends on whether the sky is open to him. If he manages to get away, there’s the possibility of coming back again to rescue Julia. That is his mandate now.

They lead him down a hallway like a dog. There is a square of light at the very end, an open doorway. After left so long in the dark, Blake has to squint his eyes as he passes through. The light is so overwhelming at first. When his eyes adjust, he sees that he has been led out onto the baseball field.

The cars and trailers have been moved from the field. There is just sand with rust colored splotches spotting here and there. Of the seats in the stands that remain for spectators, the whole city seems to be seated in them while they shout obscenities. It feels like to Blake he is now Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

By the blood stained sand, Blake assumes that this is where they did their “sacrifices” but he doesn’t see an altar or a guillotine of any sort. If they do chop his head off, he already knows what his last words will be – FREEDOM – in a true cinematic tribute. The sky is open to him though. He needs only wait for the right moment to twist loose and he will take to the air. He isn’t so tired and starved that he can’t manage to wing himself away.

No. The hero will not be fleeing. The fair maiden is there standing in the middle of the field. Jump to her and zoom in on her beauty. Her hair is loose around her and she is in a simple long sleeved cotton spun dress that belts at her narrow waist. The skirt of the dress dances around her knees in the wind. With her arms clasped together over her stomach, her dark eyes stare right at him, into him.

He starts towards her, “Julia-,”

He is struck on his temple and falls to his knees.

“Silence, Montgomery,” Park intones. “I do the speaking here.”

He leaves Blake with the other two men turns his back to them to face the crowd. He spreads his arms wide and the crowd quiets in a wave.

“Brothers and sisters, citizens of the last men, the time has come again to prove our loyalties,” he says in a booming voice. “The Lord has brought to us another of his damned so that we may dispose of him. This beast now in our midst is no stranger. Julia and I both knew him before The Rapture fell upon us. I know some of you have also had to confront loved ones that have turned, and in this very arena. Today is no different. Sister Julia shall engage the beast in our usual way, under the open sky, in the view of judgment. We shall all watch on and pray for her victory and that the Lord may guide her hand. We now release the damned.”

The collar is snapped off of Blake’s neck and the men step away from him. Blake looks back to Julia. Her expression is grim as she draws a long knife, a machete, from her belt.

Zoom in on the hero’s shocked and appalled face. A face that wonders what madness this is in the scheme of all the madness that has already befallen him.

Blake looks back to Park. He and the two other men have retreated back up into the stands so Blake is alone in the arena with Julia. Julia is approaching him with dutiful strides.

Blake stands up slowly and Julia is still closing in the space between them. “Julia, you can’t be serious,” he says to her. “You know this is crazy right? I’m not some monster – I’m me!”

She’s close enough to him now that she swings the machete at him. He jumps away in horror and is left with a thin red line slanted across his chest.

“Is he making you do this?” Blake demands, backing up quickly from her. “You don’t have to do this Julia. He’s insane. You have to see that.”

She slashes at him left and right but she isn’t touching him because Blake keeps moving.

“It doesn’t have to be like this!” Blake implores her. “Can’t you see that? I’ve been searching for you this whole time, we can run away together.”

She slashes at him again but he dances out of range. She stops for a moment, panting hard.

“Why are you doing this?!” he beseeches her.

She blinks away tears. “I have to Blake,” she says in a thin voice.

“No you don’t have to, that’s what I’ve been telling you. I can take us far away from here.”

She looks at him imploringly. “And what would we do then?”

“Anything we wanted,” he says desperately.

“No,” she says in a sad but hard voice. “What would we do for food? For shelter? For protection? I have all that here. Why would I leave?” she demands.

“What do you mean why? I love you. When The Rapture hit – I was getting a key-card made, to my apartment. I was going to ask you to move in so we could take the next step. I’ve never stopped loving you. I know you haven’t forgotten about me either.”

She closes her eyes like his words cause her pain, like seeing him hurts more. “Blake, just stop,” she says in a shaky voice. “It’s not going to work with us anymore.”

“Is it the mutating? I only have wings and if you can look past that-,”

“I don’t care about the wings, Blake!” she screams suddenly.

A spark of hope rises up within him. The sight of his mutation does not disgust her. “Then… you don’t agree with Park? You think he’s a nuts as I do.”

“I don’t know, Blake,” she says wearily, her shoulders sagging like she is weighed down up by invisible forces. “But the wings aren’t important.”

“Then just leave with me-,”

“No,” she shakes her head. She blinks and the tears finally break past and roll freely down her cheeks. “You should have run when I told you to and gotten away. He would have looked for an excuse to kill you even if you weren’t mutating, you know that.”

“Exactly. He’s crazy. Which is why we need to leave this city together-,”

“No, Blake. I can’t,” she says raising the machete between them. “I have to do this to prove to Park I’m still loyal to the community.”

Close up on the maiden’s face. She was set in her decision. She believed she had no other choice.

“Julia, no,” Blake says in a pleading voice. “I can take you away from this and we can be safe. Just take my hand,” he steps forward and holds his hand out to her. “I’ll fly us away.”

Zoom in on the face of the fair maiden again. She wants badly to go with the hero, to be whisked away from this awful place. Quick cut to the crowd. They are much too loud now, shouting and yelling at the two of them to fight like this is the only means of true entertainment left to them. Rowdy they are, like drunk baseball fans of old sitting up there in the stands.

“Gut him Julia!” someone shouts.

“Cut off his wings!”

“Get on with it already!”

Cut back to the fair maiden, she glances in the direction of the crowd like she forgot they were there. Then her eyes lock with the villain and something passes between the two of them. Zoom back in on her sharp cut figure as she looks back to the hero and her face, though wet with her tears, is calm, resigned.

“I love you, Blake,” she says softly, brokenheartedly. “I never got the chance to tell you that.”

“I love you too,” he says back automatically, his heart beating only for her. “I thought about you every day we were separated.”

She nods. “But I have to do this,” she says helplessly, through the tears now flowing in earnest. “I’m sorry. I’ve already… sacrificed too much of myself to Park to turn back now. “

Park wasn’t lying then.

Zoom in on the aghast expression of the hero. He hates to think it, to imagine the two of them together, his fair maiden truly in the intimate clutches of the villain, but the words are right there in her mouth. Betrayal, so sour and foul, washes over him, making him feel sick that he would throw up if anything were left in his stomach.

“You really are with him,” he says with no emotion in his voice except for horror.

It is the horror he never thought to imagine.

She nods, ashamed, but unrepentant. “Yes,” she chokes out. “There was no other choice.”

Close up on the fair maiden. Fair, she is still, with eyes of midnight and hair of silk unblemished by time. Maiden, she is no more.

Then she is moving and he doesn’t have time to move, so much is his shock. The blade flashes at him and then his left hand is there on the ground, dirt caked under the fingernails. He stumbles away from her, unsteady, surprised, and hurt. He raises his stump up in front of him in a protective gesture but that doesn’t stop her.

She puts the blade up into his gut, right up to the hilt, so far that the point is poking out his back. He can feel that she must have punctured a lung because he coughs up blood on her, onto that pure white dress that resembles a ritualistic garment.

He looks at her with disbelief. She really did mean to kill him. She had changed this much.

I told you so, the disembodied voice of Mary whispers into the hero’s ear.

“Julia,” he croaks her name one last time, blood coating his lips. They are close enough to kiss. She is just as beautiful as the first day he saw her.

“I’m sorry, Blake,” she sobs and yanks the blade out of him, letting him fall back. There is a brittle snap underneath him as he lands on one of his wings.

She turns and walks away from him, taking one tottering step at a time, like she is ill. Back to the crowd she goes, to what she has chosen over him.

Keep a steady shot on the lost love of the hero as he watches her walk away. The cheer of the crowd applauding for his death, the death of the monster, drowns out all else in a roar. That sound fades into the background. The shot is just of her as she walks away. That is all he sees, her back facing him with her rejection.

This is the end of the road. Blake is not especially distraught over dying. It is better for him to die like this, knowing why to mourn that he had been cast away, then to perish as something mindless. What distressed him was the thought of her. He loved her still, even now, as senseless as that was. Love itself does not make sense. It isn’t something you can control. Leaving her in his clutches, to mutate someday, for he really does believe that they are all doomed, and to have her put to death by order of a madman in this arena like this… He can still save her from that.

Zoom in on the hero’s remaining hand as he feels down his leg to the pocket on his cargo pants. He can still move his arm, his only hand, as the life bleeds out of him. There in the pocket of his pants is the pistol with just the one bullet.

That is all he really needs. Just one bullet. His eyes are just starting to fail him as he pulls the pistol out of his pocket but he is able to point it, point it and aim it at her retreating back, her head. She would see the barrel if she had the courtesy to watch him die. She had been ashamed and turned her back. It’s like she is giving him permission. That is what he thinks as his mind rapidly slips away from him.

The hero pulls the trigger in slow motion and the audience is taken along for the ride with the bullet as it travels, whizzing and spinning through the air straight at the head of the unbeknownst girl.

The screen goes blank at the last second.

Blake’s sight left him. He dies before he can see whether the bullet hit her and accomplished its crude job. In the darkness that remains, he whispers his last words weakly.

It is the last thing the audience hears before the credits roll across the screen.

“Freedom…”

FIN

AE Wilson

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